The Way We Were.
Even though the pain and heartache
Seem to follow me wherever I go
Though I try and try to hide my feelings
They always seem to show,
Then you try to say you're leaving me
And I always have to say no
Tell me why is it so
That I never can say goodbye
Gabriel screwed his eyes shut. One foot in front of the other, just keep moving. Keep moving or you’ll drop. Keep moving, or you’ll never see them again.
His breath was coming out in short busts, fogging up the air. Feet dragging, eyes drooping, chest heaving, head spinning… He was mess. He’d never felt so weak – not in a million lifetimes.
He was hardly even sure how he made it, in the end. Perhaps his father was still watching over him, somewhere, because just as his feet began to fail him, and he felt that he could walk no further, he found himself there. The concrete under his feet told him all he needed to know, and at once he began to hammer for all he was worth on the stout door. For a long while he heard nothing but the echo of his own knocking and almost gave up hope. But then, with alarming suddenness, the door flew open, and he was finally looking into the face he knew, oh so well.
He managed a smile. And then fell prostrate into Sam Winchester’s arms.
Sam looked at the small figure on the bed and sighed. In his memories and his dreams, Gabriel had been larger than life, but here he was. Small, helpless and looking about as human as possible. Sam wondered what on earth had happened to the man – the Angel- he had once called a lover.
Gabriel's breathing had evened out, and Sam was glad. When he'd first collapsed on the doorstep Sam had be sure that he was halfway to death already. But Castiel had taken control, laid him out and sponged him off. Now he looked better – fragile, but better none the less.
Sam twisted his hands together as he quietly paced the room. He wondered what Dean would say when he came back. ‘Gabriel’ was a forbidden topic. Dean never spoke about him and immediately left the room if someone so much as mentioned his name. How would he react when he found Gabriel very much alive, sleeping on a spare bed in the bunker? Sam wasn’t sure but he knew Dean wouldn't be happy.
As far as the three of them – Sam, Dean and Cas- were concerned, Gabriel had died in the Elysian Fields hotel, protecting them. They had seen neither hide nor hair of him since, so that was their logical conclusion. Dean had spent the proceeding days and nights in a state of drunken stupor and then suddenly moved on. And the topic became a taboo.
Dean couldn’t forgive Gabriel’s sacrifice. He felt as though he had thrown his life away for no reason. He hadn't been able to deal with the loss and had let anger take over from his grief until he couldn't even bear to hear Gabriel’s name mentioned.
The four of them had been close, as lovers and as friends. Dean and Gabriel were kindred spirits – so similar that they almost aways clashed. They had been the best of friends, closer than the other two had ever realised. And when Gabriel was gone, Dean almost forgot how to live.
Without Gabriel, life seemed empty and so much harder than it had been before. But they struggled on together and if anything, the experience bought the remaining three closer. Dean took refuge in the love that Sam and Cas gave him and tried to feel only anger for Gabriel. It helped him to move on, somehow.
None of them forgot Gabriel, though. And looking at him now, Sam wondered how on earth they had carried on without their sweet, laughing lover.
Castiel walked into the room, very quietly. He didn’t look up, just sat down at Gabriel’s bedside and gently swept the hair off his face. He held Gabriel’s hand so tenderly Sam almost wanted to look away.
“Will he… Will he be okay?” Sam murmured.
“I don’t know.” Cas replied quietly. “He’s human. He looks as though he suffering from exhaustion, possibly malnutrition too. He’ll need rest and care.”
Sam nodded. Cas had experience, after all. He was human too.
Sam moved to stand behind Cas, gently placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine.” He reassured. Cas looked up at him helplessly.
“What about Dean?” He asked, and Sam could only sigh.
“We’ll just have to wait and see.” He bent and dropped against on the top of Cas’ head and left the room, casting one last troubled glance backwards towards Gabriel.
He walked through the bunker slowly and eventually went to wait for Dean in the kitchen. He tried to plan in his head what he would say, how he would explain, but nothing came up. Nothing sounded right.
“Our ex-lover who we thought was dead is currently lying passed out on the spare bed.”
Just didn’t seem to cut it.
He was still worrying when Dean entered the kitchen, whistling cheerfully with the groceries in his hand. He stopped short at the anxious look on Sam’s face.
“What’s up Sammy? Someone switch your fancy conditioner for washing up liquid?” He joked, beginning to unpack his shopping.
Sam looked down at the floor.
“Somethings happened, Dean.” He said softly. Dean straightened up and crossed the kitchen swiftly to stand in front of Sam.
“What is it?” He said anxiously. “Are you sick? Is it Cas?”
Sam could only shake his head. “It’s… Not that. It’s Gabriel.”
Dean’s face hardened. “What about him?”
“He’s here. He turned up this morning and I couldn’t send him away. He’s sick, Dean. He’s so pale, and small, you’d hardly recognise him…” Sam trailed off as he saw the look in Dean’s eyes.
“He’s here.” Dean said slowly. “After all this time. You’re telling me, he’s not only alive, but he’s here?”
“Yes.” Sam said softly, but Dean had already turned away.
“After what he put us through. After he just threw his life away, like it was nothing, like we were nothing…” He muttered. “He wasn’t even dead. He faked it. Is that it?” Dean suddenly shouted. “He wanted to get away from us so bad, he pretended to die?”
“I don't know, Dean! We can't just jump to conclusions. Maybe he died. He’s human now…” Sam replied, his heart suddenly aching. “Please don't do this. I know you're angry with him but… Give him a chance to explain.”
“He doesn’t deserve a chance. I won't give him one. If you want your heart broken all over again, that's your damn business. But I will never…” Dean’s voice cracked and he looked away. “I will never look at him again.”
In his dreams, Gabriel could feel someone holding his hand. It felt so good he could hardly bear to wake up. He could hear a soft voice calling his name and some sweet lips kissing his forehead. It was the best sleep he had ever had.
He woke up cold, but not alone. Blinking himself awake was difficult and it took a while to get used to the darkness of the room. But he was rewarded for his efforts, because sitting on a chair beside the bed was one of the people he had longed to see so deeply.
“Castiel.” He murmured with his parched lips. The hand holding his squeezed gently.
Overwhelmed with relief and thankfulness, he tried to sit up and get a proper look at his little brother. His body protested, though, so he settled on tugging Castiel’s hand so he came closer.
“Lie with me.” He murmured sleepily, and after a moments hesitation, Castiel was beside him, holding him close beneath the covers. For a moment he was contented, but something was missing, he could feel it.
“Where’s Sam?” He mumbled. “And Dean?” But Cas just hushed him gently and he couldn’t fight against sleep any more.
Breakfast was awkward the next day. Dean was moody and hungover and Sam could barely meet his eye. The three of them had slept apart for the first time in years and it felt wrong, somehow. Cas kept casting anxious glances between Dean and the corridor and the atmosphere became so oppressive that eventually Sam excused himself silently and went to check on Gabriel.
Gabriel was obviously exhausted and very weak but he made an effort to talk to Sam. He tried to explain what had happened to him but Sam told him to hush, it could wait. So they just held hands in silence and smiled gently at each other. Sam had forgotten how nice it felt to hold Gabriel’s small, soft hand.
Gabriel didn’t seem himself, either. There were no jokes, no sarcastic quips. It worried Sam and tugged at his heart. More than once he asked “Where’s Dean?” And his face always fell when Sam changed the subject or refused to reply altogether.
Nobody was at ease. The easy chemistry that had fizzed between them before had faded into nothingness. Dean’s disapproval was glaringly obvious. He wouldn’t even go near Gabriel’s room and had taken to ignoring Sam too. They didn't sleep together anymore and any effort that Cas made to reach out to Dean was immediately rejected.
As Gabriel got stronger physically, he began to feel worse and worse inside. He wasn't stupid. He knew Dean was ignoring him and once he thought about it it didn't take long to work out why. He had abandoned them all. Dean obviously hadn't forgiven or forgotten.
Gabriel could tell that his presence was slowly killing the relationship and began to make plans for leaving. The sooner he was gone, the sooner Sam, Dean and Cas could get back to the way they were, and forget about him once again. And he would go. Soon. Once he was better, and back on his feet. He would.
Sometimes he lay alone at night and pondered on why Dean hated him so ferociously. Was it because he had gone without saying goodbye, or was it because he had come back? He didn’t know, but he wished Dean would just explain. They all needed the peace of mind.
After a week, Gabriel was still weak, but back on his feet. He didn’t leave his room unless Dean was out of the bunker. He didn't know how Dean would react if they met – would he punch him, or snub him? Gabriel wasn't even sure which he would hate the most.
But of course, Dean couldn’t avoid him forever. Gabriel had to eat. He usually went to the kitchen at odd, irregular times when people were less likely to be there. So far he’d been lucky and had only met Sam or Cas but it was inevitable that Dean would turn up at some point.
Gabriel was making toast, carefully spreading honey onto the warm bread. He was bent low over the side board, trying to look inconspicuous – not that it did him any good.
Dean walked into the kitchen with a coffee mug and stopped short at the sight of his ex-lover. Gabriel froze too, and the knife he had been using to spread the honey trembled in his hand. For a moment they were both perfectly still and then Dean walked straight past him.
He walked to the sink and rinsed out the cup without even casting a glance at Gabriel. And then he began to walk away again.
Gabriel couldn’t bear it. He couldn’t let it happen. He just wanted an explanation – anything would do. So he called out, soft and low: “Dean!”
Dean stopped walking but didn’t turn around so Gabriel tried again.
“Dean. Please. Don’t do this. Don't just walk away from me. You used to tell me everything, remember? For old times sake, at least tell me why you hate me so much?”
Dean still didn’t turn around. Perhaps he couldn’t bear to look. Perhaps he thought if he turned around, he might crumble.
“I don’t have anything to say to you.” He said calmly. “You made my life a living hell. You broke my heart, Gabriel. You waltzed out of our lives with another one of your cheap tricks. You don’t get to waltz back in again, just because there's no one else stupid enough to trust you.” He spoke the words with such venom that Gabriel took an involuntary step back.
“I died to protect you. To give you more time. What would you have had me do, look on while lucifer destroyed you and Sam?” He asked, his heart almost beating out of his chest. “I died for you and that was my choice to make. I wanted to do one thing, one thing to make my life worth living. To save you and your brother. I loved – I love the both of you with all of my heart.” His voice broke. Dean still didn't turn around.
“You didn’t even say goodbye.” Dean whispered. “I can't forgive you. I can't forget it. We can’t be what we once were, so stop trying.” His voice became fierce. “You don’t know the meaning of love, if you think it means throwing yourself on a sword to ‘protect’ somebody.”
“You’re a fine one to talk!” Gabriel retorted. “You went to hell to save your brother. I went into limbo. Where's the difference? Look at me, Dean! I’m not perfect. You know that. I made a mistake. Are you going to hold this grudge for the rest of your life?”
But Dean didn’t reply. Perhaps he couldn’t. He just walked away and left Gabriel to cry alone, wishing he really had died at Lucifer’s hand that night in the hotel.
“I just want to be forgiven.” He whispered to himself. “I just want them to hold me again. All of us together, like we used to be... Is it really so much to ask?”
Nobody answered his question.
Of course in the end, it was Cas that brought them back to the fold. Cas was the driving force, the magnet that forced them to come together once again. Cas loved them all so whole heartedly, so unconditionally, the feud hurt him more than any of them. He was pale and quiet, hardly saying a word to anyone and casting sad, deep looks at both Dean and Gabriel. It hurt both of them to see him so morose but neither felt they could do anything about it. Gabriel was sure that the solution was for him to leave and never come back, and perhaps he would have done, if things had not turned out the way they had.
Sam was also at breaking point. He felt as though he was losing his mind. "There's a lone werewolf in Arizona.” He announced one morning, busily shoving things into his duffle bag. “I'm going to take it. On my own.” He continued packing, ignoring Dean’s immediate outburst of complaints. “You need to stay here. Sort out your issues before I get back. If you don’t, I might not be responsible for my actions.” Sam kept looking down at his bag so he didn’t have to look into Dean’s eyes. He didn't want to leave, but what other choice did he have? He walked out of the door before anyone had a chance to complain or try to stop him from going.
The bunker was incredibly silent after Sam was gone. It's inhabitants kept themselves to themselves. Dean drank to forget. Gabriel wallowed in pain and tried to pick up the strength to leave. And Cas… Well, neither Dean nor Gabriel saw him for days on end. He only came out of his room to eat very occasionally.
Dean was buried too deep in his own personal problems to be as worried about Cas as he should have been. In fact, it only occurred to him that he had barely exchanged words with Cas since Sam had left. And it was only when he literally ran into Gabriel in the corridor to the bathroom that he found out why.
At first, he ducked his head as usual so he didn't have to look at Gabriel. Then he realised that Gabriel wasn't moving, wasn't going away. He was hovering, looking like he had something to say. Dean’s curiosity got the better of him.
“What is it?” He asked. He even managed not to snap. Gabriel looked surprised, his hands twisting together in the sleeves of his shirt.
“It’s.. Cas.” Gabriel said hesitantly. He looked at the floor, the wall. Anywhere but Dean’s face. “He’s sick. It’s flu, or something. He hasn't been looking after himself, he’s so unhappy because, well-“ He cut himself off and bit his lip. “Anyway. I was gonna get a cloth to wash his face.” Gabriel finally looked at Dean. His face was utterly helpless. “I don’t know what else to do. I’ve never done anything like this before.”
Dean’s heart leapt into his mouth. Cas was sick. Because of him. And as he looked into Gabriel’s terrified, hopeless face, he decided it was time to come out of the empty shell that he'd been hiding in for the last few weeks. Cas needed his help and he would be damned if he wasn't going to do his best. Gabriel or no Gabriel.
So Dean nodded once. “Go back and sit with him. I'll be there in a minute, I just have to get some stuff.” He turned away and walked back down the corridor so he didn't have to see the gratitude and relief in Gabriel's face.
Gabriel held Castiel’s hand, stroking it gently. His face was pale and sweaty and Gabriel didn't like it. He didn't know much about human illnesses but he could tell that Cas was in danger. His sleep was fitful and his eyes flickered beneath their lids. Gabriel sent up a desperate prayer: just let him be ok. He let out a shaky breath as he heard Dean’s approaching footsteps.
“You’ll be okay Cassie.” He whispered. “You'll be just fine. Dean's gonna look after you and you're gonna get better. And I'm going to go and get out of your lives and you can go back to being happy again.”
Dean walked into the room and dropped an armful of supplies on the end of the bed. He put his hand on Castiel’s forehead and felt his pulse. He wiped the sweat from his face with a damp cloth and made sure the blankets were properly covering his chest. He'd nursed Sammy enough times to know exactly what to do.
Gabriel looked on helplessly as Dean fussed over Cas. He stepped quietly away from the bed, knowing that Dean wouldn't want him around. This was all his fault after all. Better to leave Castiel in Dean's very capable hands… Get his stuff together… And leave the bunker, once and for all...
“Where are you going?” Gabriel made it to the door before Dean quietly called out to him. He turned around to where Dean was sitting on the bed, holding Castiel's hand, and shrugged.
“I shouldn't be here. I mean, this is my fault, isn't it? I caused this, all of it. It's better if I go now before I cause more damage.”
Dean’s jaw twitched lightly. “It's my fault as much it is yours.” He said gruffly. “Running away again isn't going to help anyone. I need you here to help me look after him, ok? So just… Stay. Stay for now, anyway.”
Sitting together at Castiel's bedside, tending for him day and night, Dean and Gabriel spoke very little. They caught each other’s eyes and looked away before they got in too deep. They focussed on getting Cas better. Although they both knew that he would get better, neither could bear to leave him for longer than it took to have a shower. Both felt incredibly bad for driving someone they loved to illness.
They had been sitting at his bedside for three days. It was midnight, and Cas seemed to be sleeping easily. Gabriel was stroking his forehead gently, brushing his fingers through the messy black hair. He jumped slightly in surprise when Dean spoke up, his voice rough.
“Why’d you do it, Gabe?” He asked simply. Gabriel bit his lip. He'd been waiting, hoping for a chance to explain. And now it was here, he wasn't sure what to say.
“I'll start at the beginning.” He murmured, looking down into Cas’ face. “I guess that's the best place to start.”
“When Lucifer walked into that hotel, I knew I had a choice. It was you guys, or it was me. Not exactly, a hard choice to make, you know. I could let him kill you and Cas and take over Sam’s body – or I could try to fight him, and probably get killed. And, well, I died. And I stand by my choice, because it was the right one. I'm sorry I caused you pain but… I can't apologise for sacrificing myself to a worthy cause.”
He looked up to see Dean nodding silently. “I understand that bit. You… thought you were doing to right thing. I've been there. I've done it myself. I… can't quite forgive you for it but I can understand. What I don't get is… Why did you stay away so long? If we meant so much to you, why didn't you come back as soon as possible?”
Gabriel looked Dean in the eye. “I did, Dean. If you'd let me explain… When I dropped down at your door, I'd only been alive for a few weeks. And it took me that long to find you guys, otherwise I would have been here sooner, believe me.” He looked down at his hands. “Metatron resurrected me. He thought it would be amusing to have an archangel to do his dirty work. He kept me locked up most of the time. I didn't have enough power to escape. And when he was defeated, I used everything I had to bust out of the cage he had me in. It drained me dry.”
Dean stared at Gabriel with his mouth slightly open. “Do Sam and Cas know about this?” He asked, still trying to wrap his head around Gabriel’s explanation. “And why didn’t you tell me this before?”
Gabriel snorted out a dry laugh. “You didn’t exactly give me a chance, you know. I wanted to explain, but you just pushed me away. I’m not blaming you, or anything,” he said hurriedly, seeing Dean’s face darken. “You were angry, and hurt. You thought I’d abandoned you. I understand why you weren’t willing to listen to me.” He looked down at his hands. “I explained to Sam and Cas and they understood. I like to think that they’ve forgiven me for staying away so long.”
Dean bit his lip and looked at Gabriel properly for the first time since he'd come back. He was thinner, paler. There was something harrowed and dark in his eyes that hadn't been there before. It made Dean shiver with remorse.
“I’ve been a complete asshole, haven’t I?” He said quietly. “I’ve hurt you and Cas and Sammy. I've made all of our lives a misery.” He bit his lip, knowing that he’d have to say it now or he never would- “I’m sorry, Gabriel. I’m so fucking sorry.”
Gabriel looked slightly startled. “You? You're sorry? No, Dean. This is on me, not you. This is my fault.” He gripped the arm of his chair hard and looked down so Dean wouldn't see the tears flooding into his eyes.
Dean sighed deeply and stood up, walking around the bed. He knelt down next to Gabriel's chair. “You don't get to tell me whether or not I get to be sorry.” He said gruffly. Gabriel flinched and opened his mouth to apologise but Dean cut him off before he could start.
“Listen, Gabe. You fucked up. You made a pretty shitty mistake… But, damn, you paid for it. You paid for it when you died. When Metatron locked you up. And… when I made your life hell. So yeah, I fucked up too. And I only just realised it. So I am sorry.”
He gently put his hand over Gabriel's and squeezed. It was slightly wet with tears.
“We've got a lot of stuff to talk about later. But, listen to me now, ok? I forgive you for what you did. I forgive you, and I'm willing to move on. If you are.”
Gabriel swallowed hard and looked down at Dean. “I want to move on. Please, Dean. I know we can't be… what we were before. But, god, I just want to make you happy. You and Sam and Cas. You deserve to be happy.”
Dean smiled and stood up, nudging Gabriel gently so he could squeeze into the chair with him. Gabriel inhaled sharply as Dean’s arm found its way around his waist.
“So do you, Gabriel.” Dean said softly. “We’ll work on it.” He pressed a small kiss to Gabriel’s temple and pulled him close.
“We’ll work on it together.”
When Cas woke up, he felt better than he had in weeks. Granted, his head was pounding a little bit, but he felt as though a weight had been lifted from him. He sighed and opened his eyes, blinking a little in the dim light.
There were two people in the armchair beside his bed. Cas could hear them whispering softly to each other, and for a moment he thought he must be dreaming. Surely it couldn’t be Dean and Gabriel? But as he rubbed his eyes, Cas realised that he wasn’t dreaming, or hallucinating. Dean had one arm around Gabriel’s waist, and Gabriel’s head was resting on Dean’s shoulder. They seemed to be completely wrapped up in each other.
A sudden feeling of warm relief spread through Castiel’s chest. It was like he could finally breathe again as the worry and pain that had been eating him from the inside died.
He sat up slightly and caught Dean’s eye. “Are you… alright?” He whispered. Dean smiled back at him and nodded.
“Yeah. We’re ok. I think we’re going to be just fine from now on.” Dean slipped out of the armchair and sat on the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry.” He whispered. “I caused you a whole lot of pain for no reason. I never meant to hurt you but I was so wrapped up in myself I didn’t even notice and I’m so, so sorry. Can you forgive me, Cas?”
Castiel sat up and wrapped his arms around Dean, hugging him as tight as he could.
“Of course I forgive you, you ridiculous man.” He sniffed. “I’m just so glad you’ve seen sense. Gabriel needs you. We all need you.” He buried his face in Dean’s neck for a moment. “I don’t expect us to go back to the way we were before. But I want us to be a family again.”
Dean smiled and swiped at his face. “Me too, Cas. Me too. But you’d better not tell Sam that you saw me cry, ok? Otherwise I won’t be responsible for my actions.” They both shared a smile and looked over to where Gabriel was slumped against the side of the chair, now snoring quietly.
“He’s going to need help.” Cas murmured. “He’ll be scared of making a wrong move and ruining everything again. We’ll have to help him.” And Dean squeezed his hand.
“We’ll give him what ever he needs. We’ll show him just how much we love him. I promise.”
Cas grinned and kissed Dean square on the lips. “I love you. I love you all so much.” He looked around. “Is Sam back yet?”
Dean shook his head and stroked Cas’ cheek. “He’ll be here soon. I called him and he's on his way. Come on, let's get some sleep. We can talk in the morning, all together.”
Cas nodded and lay down, watching with a smile on his face as Dean fussed over Gabriel and made him comfortable on the bed. He knew they all had a lot of work to do, but he had high hopes that one day, they would be the family that they all needed and wanted.
Panic gripped Sam as he made his way through the bunker. He didn’t know if Cas was better or worse and he had driven through the night to get home. He wanted to crash through the corridor into Castiel’s room and hold him, to make sure that he was still alive, but that wouldn't help anybody. So he approached the door on tiptoe and pushed it open carefully.
The sight that greeted him nearly stopped his heart. Tears brimmed in his eyes and he gripped the doorframe for support. Of all the things he'd been imagining, it had never been…
Cas, very much alive and looking better than he had been in weeks, lying fast asleep with his head on Dean’s chest. Dean’s arm wrapped protectively around Castiel and his head turned slightly to the side in sleep. His free hand joined with… Gabriel's. Gabriel, looking peaceful and happy, with his head tucked up against Dean’s neck.
The tears that had been threatening to spill cascaded down his cheeks and he stood, transfixed by the sight before him. He half expected that he was dreaming. Perhaps he was. He couldn't bring himself to care.
Sam closed the door quietly and toed off his shoes. The bed was barely big enough to hold the three of them already in it but Sam couldn't help himself. He climbed onto the bed and wrapped himself around Gabriel from behind, burying his face in that familiar sandy hair. He took a shaky breath. Finally, finally, he was home.