Title: Tarnished Silver
Genre: Angst, drama, case!fic, slash and preslash, au, fixit!fic, future!fic
Pairing: Sam/Gabriel, background hints at pre-Dean/Castiel
Spoilers: Everything through S5, to be safe
Warnings: See note below
Disclaimer: Not mine. It's Kripke's sandbox, I only play and run away.
Word Count: ~7700
Summary: The lines between reality and dreams, past and present, love and hate are sometimes very, very fine.
Note: This story references a real event, but circumstances and situations and later movie representations have been twisted a bit for the purposes of drama and surprise. No disrespect is meant to persons who have a connection to actual events, nor is light being made of the tragedy which occurred. Link at the end of the story. This story would have been far, far poorer if not for the efforts of morganoconner and samjohnsson; I can't thank you guys enough.
The Impala's heater was working overtime, but still couldn't quite chase the chill that had settled in Sam's chest. He hummed along with the Beatles, a perk of being in the driver's seat, and narrowed his eyes at the traffic they were stuck in. Why the cars were this heavy on a holiday night was beyond him, and if there'd been any other way across the river that wasn't miles out of the way.... But the diner was barely a block over from the far end of the bridge, if he looked to his left he could just see the lights, and his brother would be already there, with pie and coffee and no doubt bitching to Cas about them being – wait.
If Dean was waiting for him, then who –
Gabriel in the passenger seat, head tipped back and eyes closed, for all the world like he was taking a nap Sam was positive that he didn't need. Warmth collided with the sticky cold under Sam's ribs because Gabriel didn't do this, never had, despite all of Sam's secret wishing. "Why drive when you can fly?" Gabriel had said with a smirk, the one time Sam had kind of asked. "Besides, this thing's way too slow." Dean's response to that had been predictable, crude, and loud. Sam pretty much thought that Gabriel had done it on purpose.
But right now, something was not right. "Gabriel?"
"Hmm?" The archangel's voice thrummed low and lazy through the car, and Sam swallowed. "Sam?" Gabriel's eyes opened, warm and dark in the muted glow of the bridge lights and the Impala's dashboard. Sam couldn't seem to find his voice.
Whatever he might have said was lost forever in the gunshot screech as the world lurched around them. No, under them. "What the -?" Gabriel sat straight up next to him as Sam stared around at the shaking lights, the gleam of silver paint. Another sound, the low whine of over-stressed metal and Sam's eyes went wide. "The bridge?!"
He jerked around to look but nobody was going anywhere, or not inside of a car, anyway. The bridge was packed solid, a few people were getting out now, the Impala shivered and dropped an inch or so and someone screamed, the Impala, oh God, Dean would never forgive him, wait - Gabriel. Sam threw out a hand, caught Gabriel's arm, opened his mouth, and the world fell out from under him.
Pain and a crack like thunder. The car jolted, rocked, the light went funny. Somebody was saying, yelling something that made no sense because Sam's head hurt, dammit, what - Something slooshed, the car tilted, and the Impala's engine died.
Darkness, shot with dashboard glow and odd faint lights, shimmery, like they were shining through – "Water," Sam croaked, shock and adrenaline cutting through some of the pain in his head. "Holy shit, we're underwa –"
"Ding! You get the prize!" Gabriel snapped. "If I wanted to talk just to hear myself I'd've built another me! Get out, Sam! Out of the car!"
Good Christ but Sam's head hurt. "Can't you –"
"No, idiot, you –"
The roof caved in and brought the icy river and Sam gasped with the shock of it, grabbed for air before the river washed it away. Something shoved him hard and he was out of the Impala sideways, sharpness of broken glass dragging at his side, current pulling at him, ghostly half-lights in the frigid pitch murk, air, he needed up and air but Gabriel, where was Gabriel? Needed to breathe, but where, surface, but he couldn't, so cold – hands on his arm, pulling, shock tightening already struggling lungs – a face suddenly half-seen – Gabriel – kissing him, kissing –
Air. Air, sweet air, as Sam's freezing brain caught up and opened his mouth and let Gabriel push oxygen into his lungs.
Hypothermia, Sam's mind supplied helpfully, and he knew the clarity wouldn't last long. He locked one hand around Gabriel's wrist and kicked up hard, following the direction of the bubbles he felt across his face. Gabriel swam next to him, pulling, pushing, jerking as the cold started to win out over the adrenaline and Sam's strokes slowed and why wasn't Gabriel just popping out of this, dammit, Sam wanted an answer to that before he drowned and he was tired and cold and his side hurt and Gabriel wouldn't stop pulling at him and he wouldn't ever get that answer if he didn't reach –
The surface. Sam dragged in the winter air in great sobbing whoops, gasping, trying to force numb limbs to keep his head above the surface now that he'd finally found it.
"Shore," Gabriel said in his ear, and then he was in front of Sam, winding a hand into Sam's far-too-heavy shirt. "Swim for the shore, dammit, you've got to get out of the water!"
The frigid air sawed at Sam's brain like a dull knife. "Can't you – just – "
"You think I haven't tried?!" Gabriel looked a little wild around the eyes. "I'm blocked here, I don't want to meet what's doing it, and you are not going to die on me now! Move!"
It was the worst swim of Sam's life; he struggled for years before his foot finally touched bottom and his strength gave out, beaching him half out of the river, face down on the snowy bank. Hands hooked under his arms and yanked and Sam came to his hands and knees, one final act of pure will moving him the last few feet necessary to get completely out of the water.
He collapsed in a tangle with Gabriel beneath him, face pressed into Gabriel's shoulder. He wasn't shivering, which he knew distantly that he ought to be worried about, but it all seemed so very far away. Gabriel was solid against him, around him, holding him to the only real thing there was, and there was something Sam had to do now, before he died. He turned his head and pressed his mouth to Gabriel's neck, wet skin somehow hot against his tongue, hot enough to burn. So that's what archangel tasted like, like –
Okay, just no. "'s Sam," Sam said, or thought he did.
"Sam." Fingers threaded into his hair and gripped, pulling his head up. Gabriel's eyes were wide. "What -?"
"Want you," Sam whispered, because there was no point in lying about it now. "Long time, last chance."
Gabriel's expression did something complicated that Sam didn't have a prayer of figuring out. "Sam," he said hoarsely, and kissed Sam hard on the mouth. He tasted like chocolate and – cognac? "I want you to do something for me."
"What?" Sam breathed, dizzy and tingling, like his brain had pins and needles.
"Wake up now."
Sam stared at him, because he heard the words but they weren't making sense. Gabriel's hands tightened in Sam's hair and his eyes – were they glowing? "Samuel. Wake up."
Sam blinked, and blinked again, and twitched, and –
Sam pried his eyes open at Dean's voice, and suddenly he was sucking in a great breath of air and shivering so hard his teeth clacked.
"About fucking time, dude, you wouldn't wake up!"
Sam rolled his head and stared, saw the motel room, their stuff, the beds, Dean, Castiel. What he didn't see was – "G-bl." Through chattering teeth.
"What?" Dean's brows were practically a solid line, his jaw hard. "Easy, Sam, what –"
Sam got as deep a breath as he could, tried to force his mouth to cooperate. "Ga-bri-el."
Dean's jaw dropped – and the bed bounced as something dropped onto it from about three feet up. Gabriel landed next to Sam, limp, eyes closed, and soaking wet.
Sam's heart nearly stopped, but even as he fought to make his arm work, Gabriel's eyes snapped open and he sat bolt upright, his gaze locking onto Sam. "Oh, thank Dad," he muttered, and visibly relaxed. A snap and his clothes were dry, and he reached for Sam.
Warm. Oh God, Gabriel was warmwarmwarm and Sam made his shaking limbs move somehow and curled himself around Gabriel's hips, practically into the archangel's lap, without hesitation or thought. Dean made a choking sound, but Sam couldn't care about that now. Dean and his issues were just going to have to wait.
Gabriel wrapped down over him, chest against Sam's shoulder and arm around Sam's back, heat spreading from every point of contact. He was whispering something, only occasionally in English, but it all sounded good anyway. "That, that was a dream?" Sam asked eventually, into the tiny space between them, when he could get the words out without stuttering. Much.
"Not exactly," Gabriel murmured, and his arm tightened.
"December 15th, 1967. The Silver Bridge between Pt. Pleasant, W.V. and Kanauga, Ohio collapsed into the Ohio River. Killed 46 people, and they never found two of them." Dean looked up from the laptop. "Cause of failure: a single eyebar with an itty bitty shitty little crack that nobody could even have seen."
"For want of a nail," Sam murmured. He was propped against the headboard of "his" bed, hands wrapped around a cup of seriously awesome veggie beef soup that never got cold, no matter how long he held onto it. "And before that they had all the Mothman sightings, like maybe something was trying to warn them. So what I dreamed, that was, – what? A kind of giant death echo of the land?"
"Of a sort," Castiel said.
Gabriel nodded from where he sat cross-legged on the bed, in the vicinity of Sam's knees. "But not the land. It's the echo of the bridge."
"The bridge." Dean sounded skeptical, not that Sam could blame him. "Dude, death echoes are generated from people dying, living things dying. The bridge wasn't alive." Gabriel tilted his head, an eyebrow and one corner of his mouth going up, and suddenly it all clicked in Sam's brain.
Sam set his soup down on the nightstand before he spilled it. "That's it, isn't it? The Mothman, the way the witnesses described it, as this grey creature with huge wings and red eyes and a screechy voice. It was the bridge itself, trying to warn them that something was wrong. Somehow, that bridge had a spirit."
Dean's eyebrows pulled together. "How the hell does a bridge get a spirit? As itself, and not as people who died there? Oh, man, no," he said as his face kind of smoothed and became thunderous at the same time. "No, don't tell me somebody –"
"No," Castiel said calmly, and Dean looked over at him. "There was no human sacrifice made when the bridge was built, as was done in the past by some cultures to 'anchor' a structure."
Dean's eyebrows asked the next question, but it was Gabriel who answered. "Blood sacrifice like that leaves a trace. Fingerprints, you could say." He waggled his own fingers in the air. "No, this felt more like an animus, or a genius loci."
"But a genius loci would be something older, wouldn't it?" Sam questioned, fascinated. "Something that represented the land, or the river?" One of Gabriel's hands had landed on Sam's leg. Sam wasn't going to point that out, because Gabriel might move it.
"It probably was, originally." Gabriel looked at him. "Then you humans built the bridge, and there was somebody doing major spellwork during the construction, that's for sure. Did they mean to tie into the genius loci ? Who knows, but it did become part of the land and the river, and the land and the river returned the favor. Stir all that together and you've got a seriously powerful sense of place – an animus – and there's your spirit."
"And my dream got tangled up in its echo."
"And dragged me along for the ride, and wasn't that fun?" Gabriel said sourly, but Sam heard something else beneath it. Something nervous. Because yeah, Gabriel had been dragged along for the ride. How strong was this thing?
"So." Dean leaned his elbows on the table. "Question is, how do we gank it?"
Sam stared at him. "Gank it?"
Dean stared back. "It nearly killed you, Sam; how many other people have gotten caught? Maybe it ain't evil, but it's dangerous. We gotta get rid of it."
"Dean, it's a bridge. I don't think we can just dig up its old girlfriend to say "I love you, move on now.""
"But we can talk to it, I believe," Castiel said in his serious fashion. "If we summon it, we may convince it to disperse."
"Summon an inanimate object." Dean's eyebrows considered this.
"Or the spirit of one. Okay. But talk to it? In what? I don't speak 'bridge,' Cas," Sam said.
"You do not, no," Castiel said. But he was looking at Gabriel.
"Castiel," Gabriel said, his expression turning dangerous. Castiel stared back, apparently not at all cowed by his brother's stare, and a whole conversation ensued in tilted heads, raised chins and narrowed eyes.
"Uh, guys?" Dean finally prompted, impatiently.
Gabriel huffed, and blew out a long, unnecessary breath. "Fine." But he couldn't have sounded less happy, and his fingers twitched.
Don't go. Sam moved without thinking, laying a hand on Gabriel's arm. Gabriel's fingers stilled. "You speak 'bridge,' huh?" Sam asked.
"We speak all languages," Castiel said, serenely refusing to be set on fire by the power of Gabriel's glare.
For sheer FML-ery, nothing was going to beat having an archangel along on a fact-finding tour, a snarky, cranky, didn't-want-to-be-there archangel who nevertheless would not go away. Any more of this and Sam was going to smite something. Quite possibly Gabriel, phenomenal cosmic powers or not.
"This was where the bridge approach started," he said, looking down at the simple memorial there in quiet downtown Pt. Pleasant, at Main and Sixth, then out at the river in the distance. "The names of the victims are etched on the bricks here."
"Where they can get stepped on, while the names of the politicians are on the plaque." Gabriel snorted. "Typical. Human government at its finest."
While Sam couldn't much disagree with that, he'd had just fucking enough of this shit, thanks. "Don't think your crowd's doing a bang-up job either," he said, his jaw tight. "Misleading, lying, intimidation, a little out-and-out torture, yeah, that's a fine example."
In the corner of his eyes, Sam saw Gabriel's shoulders go tight. "Don't even think about painting me with that brush, Winchester," Gabriel hissed.
Sam narrowed his eyes. "Oh, I'm not, because you weren't there when they made those decisions, were you? That's right – because you were down here, hiding. And killing my brother."
A sharp breath, and Sam was abruptly alone, the whisper of wings vanishing in the light breeze.
So maybe the archangel wasn't the only cranky one today.
Sam tipped his head back and sighed, long and deep, crossing his arms and letting his chin drop to his chest. Gabriel had mojoed the two of them here to West Virginia because Sam didn't mind travelling by AngelAir, which left Dean and Castiel the car to check things out on the Ohio side. He wouldn't mind the walk back across the river too much either, the new Silver Bridge wasn't all that long and the exercise might finally chase off the last of his chills.
No, what bugged him was the reason why he was irritable, that thing he wasn't thinking about, that made him snap back, made him bite to hurt, all akimbo from their usual sharp banter.
But dammit, Gabriel had started it.
Not in your dream, he didn't, Sam's conscience whispered. That was all you.
Yeah, "fuck" about covered it.
Sam heaved another sigh. With a last look around, he stepped out of the memorial half-circle and headed down toward the river.
Close to the shore stood a simple, dignified white pillar, a plaque at its top saying merely that here once stood the Silver Bridge, and here it had fallen. Sam leaned back against it for a while and looked out over the river, imagination painting a ghostly structure over him. Memory conjured the aluminum-painted steel, and the razor-edged bite of the water. He shivered.
The ice-fire of Gabriel's mouth against his, pushing life into him. The wet-cold, hotter-than-skin warmth of Gabriel's throat under Sam's lips. A taste he couldn't stop remembering. A taste he could wish he'd never had, because he'd never have it again. Sam had spilled his deepest secret and Gabriel had done…nothing.
Maybe the archangel hadn't been the crankier one at all.
Fuck fuck fuck.
Sam heaved himself upright and started back up the hill, rubbing briefly where the pillar had left a cold dent in his ass. Warmth would be good right now. He pulled out his phone and thumbed up his brother's number. Dean had the car, so he could come to Sam.
There had to a restaurant somewhere close by, because people had the urge to contemplate disaster zones by sitting and drinking coffee and staring at them. Human nature.
"So, if it's gonna take some space to do this, the Ohio side is best." Dean paused to aim a smile up at the waitress who refilled his coffee cup and won a smile in return, proving the Winchester charm still to be in full force. "Lots less buildings and stuff," he went on as she moved way. "It's basically open field right down to the river."
"So, no cover really," Sam said. He kept both hands wrapped around his own cup, recently filled for the third time, and wondered absently if the heat was ever going to really sink in.
"Not much, few trees, but it's pretty much wide open. Less chance of getting civilians hurt." Dean took a big sip of his fresh, hot beverage – this place made it the way he liked it.
"Hmm. Well, this side's got a museum and statue and stuff."
"Of the bridge?"
"Of the Mothman. Traffic flow through here dried up when the bridge went down, and never really recovered. So they made a business out of the sightings. Or tried to." Sam's brow wrinkled. "Where's Cas?"
"Said he was gonna look around. Where's Gabriel?" Dean asked, raising his own eyebrow.
I wish I knew. "Around," Sam said, and climbed to his feet, fishing for his wallet.
"Trouble in paradise already, huh?"
"Hey, you two were pretty chummy last night. Figured you'd be picking out rings today, the way you were hanging onto him there."
Dean's variety of teasing was not what Sam needed at the moment. "Bite me."
Dean chuckled, not nicely, and Sam spent a moment or two imagining Dean's epic face if he ever found out Sam's real feelings on the whole thing.
The museum was two blocks up, a raggedly genteel thing in a storefront that seemed a little embarrassed at what it had become. It seemed to be about one-third newspaper clippings, one-third t-shirts, and one-third props from the Richard Gere movie, but they found Castiel inside, standing in front of a case of sketches. All were black and whites, little more than an arch of crude wings and a suggestion of a body, except where some had small, red eyes.
"Huh. Not exactly Rembrandts, were they?" Dean leaned in to look, putting himself deep into Castiel's space without a second thought. Castiel didn't twitch. Behind them, Sam rolled his eyes. If those two weren't fucking yet, they should be.
"Police drawing usually aren't, Dean," Sam said. "Particularly when they probably didn't believe the witnesses anyway."
Dean's snort clearly said 'teach your grandmother to suck eggs, why don't you.' But Castiel was still, except for a slow tilt of his head. Sam thought he knew that tilt. "Cas?"
There was a fine line drawn between the angel's brows when Cas turned his head. "I need to speak with Gabriel."
Yeah, me too, Sam thought unhappily and then wanted to facepalm as Castiel's always-intense blue gaze sharpened. "He is close by," was all Cas said, though, and moved toward the museum door, in the human fashion for once.
Dean looked after him, then over at Sam, and raised his eyebrows in question. Sam just shrugged, wearing "unconcerned" for all he was worth. The twitch of Dean's mouth said he wasn't believing it.
They found both angels close by indeed, across the street and catty-corner to the museum. Castiel stood in front of the statue that crouched there on its cement pedestal, the tops of its tattered wings a good fifteen feet high. A human-shaped body, clawed hands and nightmare face complete with wide red glass eyes finished the picture. The fitful winter sun had emerged from the cloud cover, and the statue's stainless steel skin was blindingly shiny in the light. Gabriel was around the other side of it, sitting on one of the benches under the trees maybe ten feet away.
Dean grinned as they came up on it. "That's – rather impressive, man," he said, circling a little to right to peer up at the sides of the creature.
Sam grimaced. "At least they didn't make the eyes light up, too."
"Only 'cause they ran out of money, website said, which is too bad 'cause glowing red eyes, that'd been cool."
"No, seriously, Sam, this here, the welds, and the way he shaped the steel?" Dean had a hand on the sculpture's leg. "This is really good metalwork. Cas, take a look at this –"
Sam left Dean expounding on the joys of shiny curved metal to a possibly bemused Castiel, and made his way over to where Gabriel sat kicked back in the sunshine, eating something that looked a lot like a Charleston Chew. He dropped himself on the bench perpendicular to Gabriel's, and wondered what he could say that wouldn't sound either douchey or like he was a giant girl. Probably wasn't anything, though, so he might as well get it over with. "So. Find out anything we can use, maybe, to talk to this thing?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Gabriel said slowly and elaborately. "I had understood that my assistance wasn't needed."
Sam hung his head and bit back the urge to groan. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? It was a – I shouldn't have said that, not like that."
Silence, punctuated by a few birds and the low rumble of Dean's voice. Then Gabriel sighed. Sam looked over at him. The archangel's head was back and he was staring off at something, the sun, perhaps. "Well, it's not like you've cornered the market on being a jackass, or anything."
Sam's mouth twitched. "No, I haven't."
Gabriel's head turned. One eyebrow was up, and his hair gleamed like antique gold in the sunlight. Sam's fingers itched and his throat went dry.
Why him? Everyone, anyone in the world Sam might have fallen for – but no: it had to be a short, mouthy, capricious archangel.
Gabriel did that head turn and tilt thing he had, looking at Sam from under his eyebrows, his expression going questioning –
"So." Sam jerked as Dean sat down on the bench. Castiel stood in front of them, and his shadow cut the ground between Gabriel and Sam.
Dean stared past Sam at Gabriel, face full of that set intensity that was about as friendly as Dean/archangel relations had yet achieved. "Cas thinks you might have somethin' on this."
Gabriel looked away, face smoothing over, and Sam groaned silently. Thanks a fucking lot, Dean. "I might," Gabriel said.
Dean put a hand out, a mocking beckoning. "And?"
"And I'll need to shop for supplies for the party circle tonight and my, my, just look at the time." Gabriel popped to his feet, all sudden swirl of energy. "Castiel, you get the honor of carrying the bags."
"Whoa, whoa!" Dean stood up too, a hand out toward Castiel as if that would stop the angel leaving. "An explanation'd be nice here."
Gabriel's smile was charmingly, dangerously false, the one that Sam had hated for Tuesdays unending. "It would be nice, wouldn't it?" He pointed a finger at Dean. "Empty field. Ohio side. Hour before sunset. Bring the salt. And the ice – I like my margaritas on the rocks."
One loud snap, and Sam and Dean were the only ones there.
"Fuck," Dean hissed. He looked down at Sam.
Best defense was a good offense, in Sam's book. "Nice job, bro. No intel and no angels. I like how you operate."
Dean, however, picked the worst possible moment to get perceptive. "What's going on, Sam?"
"You wanna narrow that down?"
"Between you and Gabriel."
Sam rolled to his feet, but Dean just stood there, arms folded across his chest. Sam loomed. Dean didn't budge. "Nothing," Sam said, and the truth of it ached. "Not a God-damned thing."
Dean narrowed his eyes. "Yeah," he said slowly. "I'm getting' that."