For Love is Strong as Death

Chapter 6

Being bailed out of jail by Castiel, ex-angel of the Lord, was so very far from the proudest moment in Sam's life.

They'd been dragged in under the relatively minor charges of drunk and disorderly, and disturbing the peace. However, a search of Sam had quickly added carrying a concealed weapon to his list of offences, and Gabriel's illegal – and unfair – gambling really hadn't improved matters.

It was nearly morning by the time Castiel paid up with cash from Sam's credit card and they were free to begin walking back to the motel, the car having been impounded. It was freezing, the grass crunching under their trudging boots, and the east sky was an eerie green-blue with coming daybreak.

"So," Gabriel broke the silence after maybe half an hour. "...That happened."

"I hate you," Sam informed him without preamble, factually, as though it was a declaration he'd just been waiting to make.

Castiel sighed, and they continued walking without another word.

They moved on again almost as soon as Sam liberated the car, all of them tense and snappish and sleep deprived. Castiel shamelessly stole his brother's customary place in the back seat and promptly fell asleep there, his old trenchcoat thrown over him like a blanket and his rucksack serving as makeshift pillow. That put Gabriel up front with Sam – neither of whom were particularly pleased by such arrangements.

They went west into Iowa, Sam wanting to cross state lines in case the arrest had stirred up things with the FBI again (that would be just typical, essentially adding injury to insult). Gabriel watched the cornfields pass by through the window as they drove, bored. The radio wasn't getting reception, so he couldn't even fiddle with the stations. Occasionally, he chanced a look across the car, but only ever ended up wincing when he laid eyes on the human.

Outnumbered, Sam had taken a fair few hits in the bar last night before authorities had intervened. Now, in the unforgiving winter daylight, a dark bruise was starkly visible across one sharp cheekbone and his lower lip was split. His jaw clicked whenever he unclenched it long enough to talk, and on the steering wheel his knuckles were cut and swollen.

Gabriel, on the other hand, had escaped without a scratch.

He should have been pleased with himself, all things considered. Would have been, usually. Having always had a talent for avoiding blame and dodging consequences, it was something of a relief to find the skill hadn't deserted him along with his powers. But something was different, in this particular instance. There was something almost... unsatisfying about the whole debacle. He wondered if it was because, this time, he hadn't simply sidestepped the consequences – someone had willingly stepped in and taken them for him.

Sam had willingly stepped in and taken them for him.

Something unpleasant and unfamiliar twisted in his gut. Idly, he regretted eating the spicy chicken wings back at the biker bar.

He absolutely refused to acknowledge the possibility that it might be guilt.

His unease lasted the rest of the day, refusing to let him nap like Castiel was doing, or provide his usual irreverent, irrelevant chatter. He remained subdued throughout the journey, was in the same state when they finally signed into yet another room and he and Castiel watched Sam all but pass out on the first bed he stumbled into, having been running on nothing but nerves for the past two days.

Castiel shucked off his tatty army jacket, tossing it and his rucksack onto the other bed and giving Gabriel a pointed look. "If you really feel the need to cure your boredom again, I'd advise you to find a way to do it inside the building this time."

Gabriel scowled and made a hand gesture that suggested exactly what his little brother could do with his advice.

He couldn't sleep.

Gabriel had discovered a newfound fondness for sleep, once he'd finally figured out the trick to it. To suddenly be deprived of it was apparently yet another cruel and unusual aspect of being human. He fidgeted irritably on the worn and uncomfortable couch, a loose spring digging into his back and every movement dragging an alarming creak from the rickety piece of furniture.

At some point past midnight he admitted defeat with a loud sigh and tossed aside the blanket covering him, shivering in boxers and T-shirt. Trying to ignore the vague sense of self-disgust, he got up from the couch and crossed the room to stand beside Sam's bed, considering the human. Even in the gloom, Gabriel was keenly aware of the bruise on his face and that his split lip had bled again during the night. It wasn't like they were serious injuries – they were nothing, actually, in comparison to other blows Sam had taken over the years. Hell, they weren't even the worst injuries Gabriel was directly responsible for.

Nevertheless, he felt another inexplicable surge of guilt.

Without really thinking it through, he sat himself on the edge of Sam's bed, bouncing the mattress unnecessarily. Sam let out a breath, and without opening his eyes turned on his side, away from Gabriel. The archangel froze, unsure if that had been a coincidental movement of sleep or a pointed rebuff.

Decided it didn't really matter one way or another.

"Hey Sasquatch?" He didn't dare raise his voice above a whisper, reluctant to give what he was about to say volume or substance. He got no response anyway, which actually made things a little easier. "...Look. It's not that I'm admitting fault or anything, just so we're clear. Because I wasn't. At fault, I mean." Damn but he sucked at this. "No one asked you to jump in and play hero. I was... It would have been fine. And anyway! If you weren't such an overprotective control freak–" He cut himself off abruptly, realising he'd been hissing the words at Sam's unresponsive back and pausing to roll his eyes at himself. "You should really try to break this unfortunate trend of self-sacrifice, you realise. You'd think after dying half a dozen times that that lesson would have been drilled into your Cro-Magnon-like skull. This could be your last resurrection for all we know – although it seems unlikely, considering the Winchester tendency towards cockroach-esque immortality..." Well, now he was just getting off topic. "My point is... My point is you should stop worrying so much, kiddo. Me and Castiel are big boys, we've been around a while. Your well-meaning but ultimately naive attempt to play overbearing protector is starting to grate. So just... yanno... unclench a bit and we'll get on fine."

His hand hovered briefly over Sam's muscled shoulder as though to pat it, but after a second or two he dropped it again without touching. He kind of hoped Sam really was asleep. Gabriel hated having to say thanks.

With a sigh, he got up and walked back to the couch, steadfastly refusing to glance back and find out one way or another. Consequently, he missed the glint of Sam's open eyes in the darkness, and, in the next bed over, Castiel's too.

Castiel woke the next morning with a... problem.

He'd been dreaming, fragmented and intense, mental flashes of sensation he wasn't accustomed to and couldn't remember clearly. The phenomenon wasn't exactly a new experience; he'd dreamt several times since becoming human, imaginings and muddled memories filtering through his head, leaving him disorientated whenever morning came. It was, however, the first time he'd ever been physically effected: his cheeks stinging with heat as blood cells gathered beneath the skin there, his heartbeat heavy and fast, and... lower down, everything tense. He blinked at himself – or, rather, at the foreign human vessel that had become himself – feeling perplexed and uncomfortable and vaguely unsatisfied.

The bathroom door opened and Sam emerged, casting him a casual glance in passing before abruptly stopping and performing a double-take. His eyes widened dramatically before darting towards the ceiling and fixing there.

"Uhm, Cas? You maybe wanna... do something about that? ...Please?"

Again the angel looked down at himself, not comprehending what was happening. He'd thrown off the coverlet some time during the night, and the thin bedsheet did little to conceal the bizarre tenting in his pyjama pants. He cocked his head at it, bemused.

Apparently noticing his confusion, Sam winced and turned away. "Oh my god, I'm so not dealing with this." He strode across the room to where Gabriel still slept and leaned down to shake him insistently awake. "C'mon, get up. Wake up."

The archangel struggled back to consciousness, trying to fend the other off. "Jeez, what? You wanna start talking to me again now?" He rubbed his eyes tiredly and yawned. "This mean you're done with the cold shoulder routine?"

Hands on hips, Sam nodded dismissively. "Yeah, sure, whatever. You're completely and totally forgiven – provided you go give your brother The Talk right the fuck now."

Gabriel turned to peer blurrily at Castiel, blinking a few times before his expression slowly lit to something wicked and gleeful. "Is that...?"

"Yes. So would you please just–"

"Aaw. Castiel's first morning wood. Oh, that's adorable."

"It's really not," Sam maintained, prodding Gabriel up from the couch. "Just... I don't know, talk him through it or something. I'm gonna go be... anywhere else, frankly."

True to his word, he made a prompt beeline for the door – not quite managing to escape before Gabriel called out, "Hey, he should just think about Dean. I'm sure he could figure things out from there all on his own!"

The door slammed and Gabriel turned to regard him seriously. "Alright, from now on, not another word about me abandoning responsibilities, because this? Is above and beyond, little bro. Above. And beyond."

Sam came back an hour later with breakfast, pointedly not asking how the impromptu sex ed. session had gone (there were, after all, some things he just didn't need to know about). He handed Gabriel his box of pancakes and Cas his sausage McMuffin, and then hovered indecisively until the attention of both angels slowly drifted towards him.

"S'up?" Gabriel asked messily through a mouthful of syrupy cake.

"I was, uh... thinking I could teach you guys some hand-to-hand. Self-defence, yanno? If you wanted."

Gabriel stopped chewing and swallowed hard, clearly surprised. Even Castiel sat up straighter in his chair, paperback softly placed aside. "Sam?"

"I haven't changed my mind. We're not going on a hunt." He pinned them both with a look that brooked no arguments, before letting it turn wry. "But since you've proven you can still incite perfectly normal humans into trying to kill you, I figure you should at least know how to defend yourself if anything does come up..." He shrugged awkwardly, sheepish.

Castiel gave him the smallest of approving smiles. "I believe that would be wise."

Gabriel, however, scrambled to his feet, pancakes abandoned, as though he half expected Sam to take a swing at him there and then. "Hey, wait, let's just hang on a second. I never said anything about letting you assault me."

"I'm not going to–"

"I bruise like a peach in this stupid vessel! Have you seen me?" He gestured incredulously down at himself – and, in all fairness, he didn't make a particularly impressive sight first thing in the morning, sleep-mussed and boxer-clad.

"I'll go gentle with you, I promise," Sam muttered, rolling his eyes. "Sorry Gabriel, but you said you wanted more independence. I mean–" He grinned. "–I wouldn't wanna be accused of being overbearing or overprotective. Or anything."

The archangel swore quietly.

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