It seems that most of my Supernatural one-shots involve Gabriel because yep, here's another one. However, now that I'm officially less depressed about Hammer of the Gods, I'll try to get the rest of Once a Bother cleaned up and posted.

Until then, this is my take on Gabriel's return and subsequent disappearance. Although I really think the two-thirds of Team Free Will that were with him at the time could have handled things a lot better.

Gabriel hit the ground hard, the world whirling madly around him and threatening to drag him back into bleak insanity, and he wasn't sure how long he lay on cold stone clinging desperately to remnants of self before things steadied again. Taking flight had been a stupid impulse driven more by fear than anything else, and it was just as well that his instincts had brought him here because it had been less flight and more fall with style. Or lack thereof. Judging by the cracks radiating from his position he'd have taken out a solid city block if he'd landed anywhere populated…hardly the inconspicuous escape that he'd been going for.

He pushed himself to his feet and then realized that 'steadied' might have been a bit of an overstatement. Angry waves crashed against the shore in front of him, dark skies and heavy winds driving them onwards, and he stumbled and fell back against the cold rock.

A bitter laugh escaped, the sounds swallowed by the gale, but there was no disguising the truth of it. A pitiful little storm barely worth the title of typhoon was enough to knock him ass over teakettle, and Team What's-the-Plural-of-Apocalypse expected him to jump in and join the ranks for a fight against Michael? It wouldn't matter which dimension the Michael in question was from—although he could already see the whole multi-dimensional Michaels thing giving him a Dad-awful headache if he could ever focus well enough to wrap his mind around it—he might be able to think rings around his brothers, but even at full power he'd never been a match for Mike or Luci. As diminished, as pathetic, as he was now….

He braced against the stone beneath him and got slowly back on his feet, the shredded remains of his grace steadying him far more than his vessel as he turned and stumbled towards the cliff face behind him. Darkness swallowed him as he finally reached the half-hidden crack that had been waiting there for eons, but it was actual darkness rather than the kind he'd wrapped himself in to distance himself from the constant unrelenting pain, and he welcomed it.

As far as he knew no one, not his siblings, not the adopted family that…as usual his mind shied from that memory, from the betrayal that had shocked him into immobility for one fateful moment, and he let it. The important thing was that no one knew about this place. It was the first safe haven that he'd created for himself; his first stop when he'd escaped the Hell—or what he'd thought was Hell at the time; he'd gotten an up close and personal look at the real thing since—that Heaven had become.

In turns too wet and cold and too hot and dangerous for their fragile bodies, at the time his father's newest creations had considered it a place of ill omen and had given it a wide berth. In the intervening millennia the volcanic eruptions had stopped, the cliff walls and cave systems had shifted and changed with the abuse of wind and water, but the core of the inhospitable land remained, and his hollowed-out sanctuary showed no indication of human incursion. Once again it would serve Gabriel as a place of retreat while he planned his next steps. Or rested and recovered the point where next steps might be more than a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon, anyway.

Even as he put a rock wall between himself and the driving winds he shivered, nearly unbalancing again, and he was reminded once again of how depleted he was. How weak he was. A snap of his fingers brought fire to life out of the cold nothingness of the cave floor, and he sank down beside it. He could still do that much, at least. Parlor tricks. Go him.

He reached for the remains of his grace. Tattered and torn, but there all the same, and that was more of a relief than he could say. Killing As—he sucked in a completely unnecessary breath, another shiver racing through his frame at the mere thought of the name, and the wave of his hand that turned the small fire in front of him into a wall of flame did nothing to dispel the sudden chill. Killing him had used a good portion of the grace which had been returned to him, but he didn't regret it. The he-very-much-hoped-late—because Gabriel himself was a damn good example of how easily death could be bypassed if one was prepared—and certainly unlamented Prince of Hell had been far too great a danger to leave behind. Far too great a terror to leave behind.

And not just towards himself, either. Once he'd been free of…. He shivered again even though he hadn't even let the name cross his mind, and the fire grew so much that if he'd been human he'd have feared being consumed. Once he'd been free of him he might have been able to drag himself out of the darkness eventually, but he wouldn't have been able to do it before he was discovered. After what he'd already been through what a 'severe' punishment would have amounted to he didn't even dare contemplate for fear of paralyzing himself again, and he had no doubt that the only thing left of him afterwards would have been a shell for growing grace-snacks.

But Sam had freed his lips, had spoken softly and at length even in the face of a lack of any response or encouragement on Gabriel's part, had shown a kind touch to Gabriel's vessel despite the history between them. And Castiel…. Gabriel frowned suddenly. In Heaven Castiel hadn't particularly stood out, one quiet and obedient soldier among the masses, but during their interactions on Earth Gabriel had found him to be a stubborn, strong-willed sibling that Gabriel wasn't likely to forget. But when he'd felt grace reaching into the cocoon he'd built for himself, pressing into his vessel insistently despite the complete impossibility of an angel healing an archangel, he hadn't recognized it. There had been the edge of familiarity to it, sure, and once he'd come awake he'd certainly known his little brother, but Castiel had been far too strong. A Seraph, unless he was very much mistaken. That kind of promotion just didn't happen anymore, not since Dad had left. And yet somehow it had.

He scoffed. Just one more thing among who knew how many that he didn't understand. That he might even have been told about but had been too broken to process. But Castiel had opened a connection between them without hesitation, had shown openly that he, at least, had missed his brother, and Gabriel had craved that more than he could say. So when—when he had been crushing them, Gabriel had felt it happening and had, for a few moments, found the strength to shake off the demons who'd recaptured him and be what he was again.

Those moments had been all that Gabriel had had in him, though. Asm—another spiral of fear, and Gabriel shook himself fiercely. He wouldn't—couldn't—let himself be dragged back down that hole.

He had used more of his strength than he'd admitted to Castiel and Sam breaking into the bunker, but it had taken nearly everything that Gabriel had left to smash through the last of the Hell Prince's defenses and let the fire run. Gabriel looked at the fire in front of him again, waving it down to a slightly more reasonable level. Pyrokinesis might be a parlor trick, but there were times when it came in damnably handy.

After the smoke had cleared from the bunker, the best thing for Gabriel would have been to retreat again. Back to the room they'd given him as sanctuary, back to a place he could rest and regenerate, back to quiet, but even as he'd stumbled to the bottom of the staircase Castiel and Sam had cornered him.

They'd been no threat to him, of course, or at least they'd intended neither threat nor harm, but the torrent of words, the recitation of a litany of events that he could barely comprehend had been too much for him.

He flared his wings and then drew them in close. He had a better idea now of the amount of time that he'd been held captive, but there was nothing that could match a cold number against what he'd felt, against the years of isolation and torture in the time dilation of Hell that not even an archangel could overcome. And in that time Gabriel had been talked at, been talked about, but talked to? Not so much. Not even before he'd been so crudely, cruelly muzzled—and that had been how many hundreds of years ago?—had he been willing to risk the influence of God's messenger among those that served him. For so many years the only conversations that Gabriel had had had been with himself in his own mind that even Sam's voice coaxing Gabriel from the darkness of his cocoon had been almost more than he could handle.

It wasn't that he didn't know the individual words. They were simple English, hardly a challenge for someone whose thoughts since creation had been entirely in Enochian. But the ability to process a stream of thought separate from his own, to make coherent sense of it all…Sam's inexplicable interchanging of porn stars and simple hookers had been the first thing that Gabriel had felt completely certain that he'd both understood correctly and had been able to form a coherent response to, and it had been to his great relief that all conversation directed towards him after that had been short and simple.

After the fight, though, no matter how he'd tried to slow them, stop them, Sam and Castiel had kept talking. Words overlapping and intertwining, too many and too much. They'd thought the Archangel Gabriel was back, and for a moment he might have been been, but it hadn't held and the shell of his former self couldn't deal with what they were forcing on him. At the start of their dual monologues—dualogue? If it wasn't a word, it damn well should be—Gabriel had been able to follow perhaps half of what they were saying, but by the end everything had been so mixed up in his head that he couldn't even have named the major players involved if he'd wanted to. And when even that had finally ended…he shivered again at Castiel's earnest words.

Gabriel had understood what Castiel had said then clearly enough, even though he wished that he hadn't because there was no way that he could be what they wanted. No way that he could do what they wanted. He never could have, really, not when it came to Michael and Lucifer. But now, laid low by a demon with his grace shredded to nearly nothing? Even if he wanted to fight some variation of his oldest brother he'd be less use than spit in a furnace.

So he'd made a joke of it, or tried to even if it wasn't exactly up to his usual standards, and left. It made him a coward, maybe—the older Winchester had named him so before and would no doubt have done so again if he'd been around, and the disappointment in the eyes of both Sam and his little brother had been hard to see—but it wasn't like there was any fight left in him anyway. And even if he didn't think they'd trap him, keep him around just to use as a grace battery for spells and whatever else they wanted...after him, Gabriel couldn't risk it.

Gabriel had run. Flown. Crashed. Whatever. He was here, where no one could find him, and maybe he'd be able to rebuild himself here alone and maybe he wouldn't, but he wasn't going to find himself a thing being used by anyone else ever again. For a moment today he'd been the Archangel Gabriel, and he wasn't coming out until he could say that that was true again. Another shiver that had nothing to do with the cold passed through him. If it ever was.