In dreams, Sam flew.
His wings stretched wide and caught the air, and it was perfectly natural to twitch a feather and zoom through the sky, a laugh bubbling from his chest. The land stretched before him, pristine wilderness of crystal blue lakes and endless, virgin forests in a riot of colors, unfolding like a gift as the miles whisked away. He played tag with clouds and skimmed through wisps of fog, felt the refreshing spray of a waterfall as it smashed into boulders smooth with age.
He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew
. This wasn’t a dream, it was a memory. A composite of sensations and memory-fragments from a time when the world had been shiny and new and pure. Sam flew for what seemed like forever, reveling in the sheer simplicity of the dream. He’d never known this kind of freedom. It was heady and exhilarating, diving wildly and gliding on thermals and it had such clarity, Sam kept forgetting it wasn’t really his dream. It was Gabriel’s.
He lit on a mountaintop, marveling at the crisp air and how clear the sky was. No smog, no planes, nothing but an expanse of blue. He sat there until the sun descended below the horizon, slowly spreading a paint of soft pastels in the heavens above him.
The sky abruptly blackened and a sudden wind carried a rotten smell on the air, and Sam realized he wasn’t alone anymore.
He stood and turned around, nearly falling off the mountain when he registered the two people standing behind him. A slender, black-haired woman with the black cataracts of a demon and a sickeningly familiar feel. A tall, thin black man with a face that might as well have been carved from granite.
"Hey Sam!" the demon said cheerfully, and Sam went cold. Ruby.
Somehow, he didn’t think he was dreaming anymore.
Gabriel knew there was something wrong the second he blinked into the motel room. Sam was twitching on the bed, a faint sheen of sweat over his forehead. The smell of rotten eggs hung heavy in the air, and darkness pressed down on him like stone. Gabriel froze for a moment, eyes darting left and right. He didn’t just rely on his vessel’s poor senses; he stretched his angelic ones, peering into every sub-dimensional nook and cranny for what every instinct he had screamed at him was there.
The room, save for Sam and himself, was empty.
He flicked his hands to either side, and Enochian sigils flared to visibility, bright and gold. They hung in the air in lines of fire, as pristine as the moment he’d drawn them. His wards hadn’t been breached. So how the hell
had a demon slipped in past them?
Sam moaned and flailed again, and Gabriel flitted to his side. He laid a hand on Sam’s forehead and hissed at the heat roiling off him. He shook light into his palm, sent healing Grace flowing into Sam, but incredibly, it skittered off, slid sideways, pooled uselessly around Sam’s sides. Gabriel closed his eyes and took a breath, forced himself to focus, as if maybe control had been the problem. But a second application of laying of hands proved just as useless. Gabriel ground his teeth together, feeling the molars grate. Alright then. Time to get creative.
The glow brightened to near-painful levels as he expanded almost beyond his vessel’s capacity to hold him. Maybe he could brute-force his way through whatever the hell was blocking him from helping. A miniature sun birthed itself in his palms and he divided the light, braced himself and slammed his hands down on Sam’s chest. He should have spent more time bracing himself. The resulting explosion of energy threw him across the room and through the wall.
Gabriel coughed as he picked himself up out of the plaster and groaned. “Ow,” he said, clutching his ribs. “That was fun.” He climbed through the Gabriel-shaped hole and went back to Sam as quickly as he could limp. There was no change. At all. A burst like that, enough to knock an archangel ass over teakettle, should have at the very least scratched the far less sturdy human. But Sam was completely unmarked. His brow furrowed. He was officially out of his league here. It was time to go for reinforcements. Luckily, he'd just spent a few hours reacquainting himself with one of those reinforcements.
Halfway to the door, a sudden suspicion stopped him cold. There were seven angels stronger than him. Strong enough to slide around his wards without disturbing them. Strong enough to hide from his sight. Of those seven, one never left Heaven, one wouldn’t stoop to this sort of behavior, one wouldn’t have hid himself, one he trusted, one was missing, and one was locked in a cage.
But one had apparently put a price on his head, and held a grudge longer and more bitterly than even Lucifer.
His shoulders tensed. “Alright, you’ve got my attention. The joke’s over. So get your grubby little paws off my human and get your jollies elsewhere.”
Wings rustled behind him. Cool metal slid through his fingers. Gabriel turned around.
“Hello, Gabriel,” Raphael said, folding the hands of his borrowed body neatly in front of him. “It’s been a long time.”
long enough, Raphael.” He circled back into the room, getting between his brother and Sam, with his blade up defensively. But all Raphael did was turn in place, watching him with mild disinterest. “You’re my brother, and I love you. But if you don't let Sam out of whatever mindtrip you're locked him in and get out of here in the next ten seconds—“ He raised the blade another couple of inches to emphasize his point. “—I’m going to light you up from the inside out.”
Gabriel could remember a time Raphael laughed. He was half-expecting it now, expecting a hint of condescending laughter. Because honestly? The notion of little brother taking big brother out was
somewhat laughable. But Raphael’s lips didn’t quirk. His eyes didn’t crinkle. There wasn’t so much as a hint of humor anywhere in his face. “As if you could. Really, Gabriel. Did you think I’d come alone?”
Gabriel didn’t like the sound of that, and he glanced left and right, but couldn’t see anything. “I didn’t think you’d come at all. Isn’t it your century to be attached at the hip to some prophet?”
“It’s yours,” and there was just a hint of anger in Raphael’s voice. “But you knew that. With you ignoring your duty, it falls to the rest of us to pick up your slack.”
Gabriel shrugged. “What can I say? I never did like a hostile work environment, so I had myself a wildcat strike. And I hear I inspired other disgruntled employees to take a strike action of their own. Tell me, how’s Jegudiel and Selaphiel these days?”
As quickly as it had come, Raphael’s anger faded, and his expression returned to its blank slate. “The traitors will be found and dealt with, in time.”
He smirked. Jegudiel, at least, would give him a run for his money. “Good luck with that.”
Raphael shook his head slightly. “Sarcasm has never become you, Gabriel.”
“And apathy has never become you, Raphael. So I suppose we’ll both just have to suck it up and learn to deal.” He tilted his head to glance over his shoulder, where Sam was still twitching on the bed. “What did you do to him?”
“Is that concern I hear in your voice, brother?”
“Damn straight it is.”
Raphael’s lips curved oh-so slightly. “You needn’t be. The vessel won’t be harmed. He’s very important to our plans.”
Gabriel stuck the tip of his little finger in his ear and wiggled it. Surely he couldn’t have heard that right. “I’m sorry, what? Vessel?”
Raphael nodded once. “The vessel.”
“Sam isn’t a vessel.” Gabriel would know, after all. He built the soul himself with his own two hands. Was connected to it even now, a deep, strong golden cord that went from angel to hunter and back again. There wasn't even a hint of vessel-dom in all that connection.
“Not yet,” Raphael said, and there was a hint of something in his tone Gabriel really
didn’t like. “But he has the potential to be, with the proper preparation.”
His feathers ruffled, and his hand white-knuckled on the hilt of his blade. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
“I’m sorry,” Raphael said, “but it is.”
This was it, then. Gabriel took a deep breath and let it out in a rush of air. He could take Raphael.
But Raphael had gotten a lot better at concealment in Gabriel’s absence, because Gabriel hadn’t even suspected there were that
many angels hidden from his sight.
“As I said,” Raphael continued as the garrison kept popping into the room around him, “I didn’t come alone.”
Against Raphael, Gabriel had stood a chance. Big brother was stronger, but Gabriel had spent untold years on Earth, playing with pagans and monsters and humans. He might not have had overwhelming strength, but he was by far the wilier and craftier of the two of them. Against dozens of angels fledged from the same garrison, his odds plummeted drastically. Toss in an archangel, and he’d be squished like a bug. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try.
He just had to try one last-ditch effort first. “I’m not kidding around anymore, Raphael.”
“I was never kidding around, Gabriel.”
Yeah, that was about the answer he’d expected.
As the first angels started towards him, Gabriel lit up like a supernova, flashing all six wings, crown of fire, blazing Sword, the whole shebang. The first rank of the garrison fell back like wheat, seared by his aura, but the rows behind kept coming, using the bodies of their flightmates as shields against his fire, silver blades glittering like shards of ice in their hands.
Fun and games were over.
They came at him in a rush, and Gabriel stabbed out, making a clean strike through the heart of the nearest angel. He pulled his blade back, whirled and stabbed, whirled and stabbed. Blue light erupted from their corpses, but Gabriel had already moved on to disarm a fourth angel and snap a fifth straight into the heart of a volcano.
He didn’t relish battle, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t good at it. He was a friggin’ seraphim, after all.
He fell into the rhythm of combat, dredging up every last iota of instinct that had served him so well in the nephilim wars. From the corner of his eye, he caught the flicker of a blade coming for him, parried it, and smashed the wielder into the wall with his tertiary wing. Son of a bitch, that hurt!
The tip of another blade skimmed his cheek, parting the flesh. He snarled, squeezed his hand closed and popped that angel’s head like a grape, using the carcass to bowl over several more with a flick of his wrist.
Three angels jumped him from behind. He flexed his wings, tossing them off like ragdolls. But more came in their place, silent, blank, good little Heavenly soldiers. As many as he flung off, as many as he killed, more came to take their places until finally, it was the sheer weight of their combined bodies that dropped him to the floor.
Flat on his back, arms and legs and wings pinned by the survivors of the garrison, Gabriel stared at his brother. He could taste blood in his mouth, and his ribs were screaming and his heart was beating way too fast. It was going to take an awful lot of Grace to heal up this sort of damage.
If, you know, he survived whatever Raphael was going to do to him.
His brother walked forward, crouching beside Gabriel. His face was still blank. “This is your last chance to repent and come home, Gabriel.”
“Screw you, Raphael.” Gabriel struggled, but he was too well trapped to do more than lift a fingertip.
“Vulgarity and sarcasm.” Raphael shook his head. “What happened to you, Gabriel? This was never like you.”
“You don’t have the slightest inkling what I’m like, Raphael,” he spat, lifting a primary wing with herculean effort only to have it slammed down again. “You never did.”
“Clearly.” Raphael raised two fingers to Gabriel’s forehead, and he suddenly knew what Raphael intended.
Gabriel snorted. “You can’t put the whammy on me, Raphael. I’m an archangel. No one but God has the power to do that.”
Raphael smiled then, an actual smile that froze Gabriel’s blood in his veins. “You’d be surprised what you can do when you pool the power of hundreds of angels together,” he said simply, and pressed his fingertips to a spot between Gabriel’s eyes. The smile slid away, and his face was cold. “You’ve derailed too many of our plans, Gabriel. And Heaven has passed its judgement. None of this ever happened.”
The fingers pressed hard. Golden light exploded into his eyes. Fire burned into his mind. Gabriel screamed for a very brief time before the world went white and then went away.