Blank Pages: Of The Heart
Sam didn’t protest when Gabriel tugged him down at the ruins of Camlann, placing the Hunter’s head in his lap and threading his fingers through his hair, murmuring soothing things near his ear in a language Sam didn’t know. Norse, he guessed, with the way the words rumbled in the back of the archangel’s throat when he spoke. He felt guilty when he came back to himself enough to realize that Gabriel had been comforting him, when it really should have been the other way around. These were Gabriel’s memories after all, littered with pain and mistakes as they were, not Sam’s.
But the anguish of Merlin and Arthur as they died, and of Gabriel as he realized all the wrong he had put them through in letting them alter destiny was something he felt as raw and fresh as though he had lived it.
In a way, he had.
“Gabriel,” Sam said quietly, “I don’t . . .” He swallowed, “I don’t really get the whole ‘Destiny’ thing. What’s the point of it?”
Gabriel laughed, the sound echoing through his body and into Sam’s head from where he had his ear against the archangel’s thigh, “I wish I knew, kiddo, I really wish I knew.” He sighed, fingers clenching in the hair along the nape of Sam’s neck, “There wasn’t always a written fate for everyone, you know.”
“It happened after Lucifer fell, actually. Michael was furious, with the garrisons, with Lucifer, with our Father, everyone. He blamed God, Sammy. He said that God, who was supposed to know all and see all, should have either killed Lucifer long ago to avoid the bloodshed, or warned Michael so that he could have ended it himself.” Gabriel shifted and leaned down so that his breath tickled against Sam’s ear, “So he demanded that all fates, great or small, be written out and spoken by the prophets to come. Thus, the angels could know and act on the destinies foreseen whether it be to stop them, or to help them along.”
Sam closed his eyes, sucking in a breath, “No wonder they were so gung-ho about getting us to sign up to be angel puppets then.”
“Yeah,” The Trickster muttered, “But that part is yet to come in this little timeline. Come on Sammy, get up, we gotta keep moving.”
The Hunter glanced up, rolling over onto his back to stare at the other’s sugar-golden eyes, “Huh? But you don’t-”
“Have control?” Gabriel finished, amusement flickering in his gaze, “See, bucko, there’s this thing about the blood bond. The closer you get to completing it, the more power I regain a hold on. I can now pause,” he snapped and the world shifted, the Camlann dissolving into an open field of small flowers, “And restart this hell-hole.”
Sam pushed himself up onto his knees, pushing the hair out of his eyes as he gazed around him. The air was lighter than where they’d just been, lacking the salty tang of blood with every breath, and the sky was an aqua blue, not a single cloud obscuring it. “Whoa . . .”
“Impressive, huh?” Gabriel grinned, looking more than a little proud of himself. He stood then and brushed off his pants, which Sam just now realized looked absolutely ridiculous. The archangel was dressed in what would be considered nobility clothes for the age, puffy shoulder pads, bright colors, and funny tights. Sam put a hand over his mouth to hold back a burst of laughter.
Gabriel cast him a glare over his shoulder, “Look, just cause you get to skip the costumes of my memories doesn’t mean you have to be rude.”
Sam clutched at his sides, folding in on himself as he laughed, unable to contain it any longer, “Dude, I can laugh all I want!” he wheezed, “You’ve put me through worse in TV Land, and you gave me herpes!”
The archangel frowned before turning on his heels and walking out into the field a little ways. He paused to make sure Sam was watching to witness his fake indifference even as the Hunter began to literally roll around laughing. He didn’t know anyone even did that in real life until then.
But Sam regained composure when he noticed the little girl Gabriel was walking towards. She looked up as the angel approached, eyes widening and lighting up like the sun. Her hair was the same shade as Dean’s, a dark dirty blond that was almost brown, but not quite, and it glinted gold in the glow of the afternoon sky, her blue eyes fixing on the Trickster as he came to stand over her. Sam would have thought a child her age should have been alarmed, terrified to be crouched at the feet of a stranger, but she merely smiled up at him, returning to picking little wildflowers from the grass.
“You’re not scared of me?” Gabriel asked when he kneeled down beside her.
The girl shook her head, beginning to chain the flowers together one by one with more patience than Sam could have ever devoted to such a thing. “No, maman says not to be scared of anges,” she said simply, looking up at him out of the corner of her eyes.
Gabriel smiled, though the way he froze ever so slightly at her words showed Sam how surprised he really was. “Ah, I see,” he said lightly, fingering the end of her flower chain as she worked on it, “Do you know who I am?”
“The Messenger,” she replied instantly, still focused on her flower chain. Then, frowning, she asked, “Do you know who I am, ange?”
The archangel laughed, “You are a very special little girl, that’s who you are, Joan.”
Sam’s breath caught a little in his throat. It wasn’t a shocking revelation, by any means, especially when Gabriel had uttered her name at Camlann. But all the same, the streak of Gabriel’s luck in charges was astounding. Bad luck anyways. “Gabe . . .” He started as he stood and made his way to where the archangel was kneeled on the ground beside the small girl, putting a hand on the other’s shoulder.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she,” Gabriel whispered, voice wavering slightly. Joan had gotten up and plopped herself down in the angel’s lap, still chaining her flowers together one by one. “I didn’t know, Sammy . . .”
“That she would die?”
Gabriel stiffened, shoulders hunching under Sam’s hand. The Hunter sat down beside him and dug his fingers into the knots there in an attempt to knead them loose. “No, I was . . . Michael had forbade Metatron from conveying the whole prophecy to me because he sensed my wavering loyalties.” He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on the top of Joan’s head, lingering for a heartbeat and simply breathing, “Where I only spent a little bit of time with Merlin and Jesus, I practically raised Joan. She was . . . Sammy,” he faltered, “Sammy, she was my whole world. She was mine.”
Sam swallowed, closing his eyes as the world folded in around them, curving into the shapes of a new set of memories all over again.
“Please, sire, I know what I ask is-”
Joan gritted her teeth but relaxed slightly when Gabriel placed a soothing hand on her shoulder, “Yes. But I swear on the Holy Ghost that what I say is true. If we fail to act now, France will fall.”
Dauphin Charles narrowed his eyes at her, reclining back in his seat. From where Sam stood, just a little to Gabriel’s right, unnoticed in the midst of recollection, he could see the stiffness in the to-be king’s posture, though he was clearly trying to appear at ease with the sixteen year old girl’s pleas. His expression (Sam could tell from experience) was of one trying to mask the utter hopelessness of the situation at hand, the face of someone trying to overlook the fact that everything they believed in was falling apart around them. It had already been a hundred years of bloodshed. “And you say that an angel told you this,” he mused, resting his chin in his hand.
“Yes,” Joan said shortly, impatience in her eyes. Gabriel tightened his grip on her shoulder, warning her without words to keep her temper in check. “He urges us into the war, Sire, to end it once and for all. We must be done with caution and reason, and instead turn to battle and strategy. Our opponents are not kind nor are they merciful, and if we continue to pussyfoot around them, we will be slaughtered in our sleep.”
An advisor to Charles’s right coughed into a hand and looked away, while to his left the second frowned with genuine curiosity in his gaze. Charles eyed her for a long moment, “Why should I have any reason to believe your words, girl? You are a peasant, outside of the strife of our nation. For all I know you could be a liar, it would not surprise me in the least.”
Joan narrowed her eyes, placing a hand on top of Gabriel’s, still resting on her shoulder, unseen to anyone but her. “I tell no lies,” she hissed.
Sam watched, awed, as Gabriel’s wings snapped open from the tattoos on his back, ripping through his clothes. The force of the motion sent the candles balanced on the table flying, snuffing out the flames of the ones on the edges of the room so that only the single candle near the door behind them remained, illuminating the shadows of the archangel’s body and wings as they spread across the wall. Charles inhaled sharply, scrambling back and nearly falling out of his chair until his advisors caught him under the arms, frozen to the spot. Gabriel tilted his head back and withdrew his wings as the candles relit themselves with a snap of his fingers, the room as it had been before save for the stunned Charles and his men.
“I tell no lies,” Joan repeated coldly. “I know how the next battle will end, my lord, and if my prediction is correct, I request to be placed at the head of the army. I will lead us to victory, I can promise you that.”
Charles nodded mutely, waving her out of the room with his hand, unable to speak. She stood, followed closely by the archangel as she went out the door and shielded her eyes from the light of the setting sun that hit the doorway just right. “I’m not sure that went well,” she muttered, glancing at Gabriel out of the corners of her eyes.
The Trickster shrugged, “I’ve seen worse.” He smiled when she scowled at him, her hands on her hips. A young lady she was certainly not, Sam thought, for the period she lived in. She acted and spoke as a boy would, stubborn and defiant in every motion and word. Uncannily, she reminded him of Joanna. “You will be a great leader, Joan,” Gabriel murmured then and he grinned at the way her posture loosened, face betraying that she had not expected a compliment just then.
“Thank you,” she said softly, uncertainly, “For your faith in me.”
Joan stabbed a finger down on the fresh ink of the newly drawn map, directly onto a blot at the edge of a sketched out bridge, “If we retake all the bridges, we can gain the advantage,” she explained, casting a wary glance at her co-commander.
John of Alencon stared down at her, raising an eyebrow, “Your rebelliousness has lead us to fluke victories thus far, my lady,” he drawled, ignoring her noise of outrage, “But this is a foolish plan to say the very least.”
She straightened and winced as she tried to turn her head round to glare at him. She placed hand to the bandages wound tightly around her neck, covering the wound she’d received in the last battle. “You dare-”
“I dare,” John said evenly.
“He is afraid you will take total control,” Gabriel said suddenly, moving from where he’d been at the edge of the tent to stand at her side, whispering in her ear, “Reassure him that you wish only the wellbeing of your nation, and require no rewards of any kind.”
Joan hissed between her teeth, but relayed what the archangel had said, watching carefully as John visibly relaxed. “They won’t expect it, sir, since the Rheims is so far away compared to Paris. They will think us rash, after all our defeats, and predict us to go for our capital, not the river and the bridges.”
John rocked back on his heels, studying the map, “But the Rheims has been enemy territory for years now.”
“Which is exactly why they won’t expect it!” Joan exclaimed, slamming her finger down on the map again, “They’ll have their guard down from possessing the area for so long! Like it’s theirs!” She smirked at his startled look, “You know I’m right, Duke, we should head out at dawn, don’t you think?” With that she turned and strode out of the tent with the air of a leader all around her, the soldiers outside nervously jumping to attention as she passed.
Gabriel walked at her side, shaking his head and chuckling to himself, “You do know how to make a point, I must say.”
Joan laughed before defiantly snapping her fingers in his face, “I did learn from the best.”
“Obviously,” the archangel huffed, hanging back as she entered her own tent. He waited as Sam caught up and stood beside him.
“Every bit the stubborn idiot you are,” Sam commented lightly.
“Hey now . . .”
Sam shrugged, “In case you haven’t noticed, Gabe, I hang around with nothing but stubborn idiots.”
“I’ll make sure to tell Dean you said that,” Gabriel smirked.
When the world tilted again, Sam knew instantly that something was wrong. The French countryside was gone, replaced with the now familiar landscape of the Garden, where Gabriel stood nose to nose with Michael, teeth bared and face red with fury.
“The prophecies said nothing about her capture!” he snarled, looking smug as Michael flinched back, eyes narrowed at his younger sibling.
“What I relayed to you said nothing about her capture,” Michael corrected coldly. “Did you really think I would tell you her fate after what you pulled with Arthur and Merlin? You’ve already interfered in fate once, Gabriel, I will not stand for it a second time.”
Gabriel choked, wings snapping out and his entire body quivering with rage, “Then she is to die?!”
“There’s nothing you would be able to do at this point to change that,” The elder hissed.
“I will not let her perish!” Gabriel yelled, “She has done nothing to deserve such a thing!”
Michael frowned, “She is human. She was born.”
The Trickster started, taking a few rapid steps back, “Do you know who you sound like?” he whispered, voice quavering around the words.
“Well maybe he was right,” Michael growled.
Sam stumbled as the memories shifted again, getting a feeling of vertigo from the swiftness of the switch. As he righted himself he found that they were standing in a circular stone room with a single glassless window, upon which Joan was leaning. Even imprisoned she still maintained her almost regal air, appearing unfazed by her dire situation. She didn’t even look up when Gabriel appeared behind her.
“Get me out of here,” she commanded smoothly, gripping the sill so tightly her knuckles turned white.
“Gladly,” Gabriel smiled. His wings, already out after his encounter with Michael, flexed as he grabbed her around the waist and dove headlong out of the window towards the ground below. Sam wasn’t entirely sure if he could die inside a memory, so when he ran to the window to see them land, he didn’t dare follow. He knew that eventually the memory world would change again no matter where he was. Below, Gabriel landed soundlessly, a precaution taken in vain the second Joan touched her feet to the ground. A guard came careening around the corner, screaming about an escape.
“She jumped from the tower and survived!” the guard screeched, “She’s a witch! A witch!”
Gabriel roared, releasing Joan to charge at the man only to be stopped in place, as though literally frozen. Angelically even. Apparently, the Trickster thought so too, as the next words out of his mouth were, “Michael! Michael you coward, face me in person!”
Joan didn’t make a sound as the guard seized her and forced her to the ground as he yelled into the night for help.
“Michael!” Gabriel howled, unable to interfere.
The memories flashed past faster, and Sam knew it was because Gabriel didn’t want to go through them again, didn’t want to remember. He saw more escape attempts, various bits and pieces of a long and painful trial. In one memory Gabriel was screaming and pushing a man away from Joan, now garbed in women’s clothing, nearly ripping the man to shreds for a crime Sam didn’t dare dwell on though he could guess from Joan’s torn garb. He saw Joan standing resolute to her cause as she said, “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me,” nodding once and sitting back down, eyes narrowed in total defiance.
A cry of “Heresy!” and the building of a pyre were the last images to flicker past.
Gabriel stood amidst the crowd as Joan was tied to the pyre, and time slowed down again. Sam wanted to shake him, to disperse the look of utter hopelessness that had settled on the archangel’s frame, but Gabriel barely cast him a glance. “I don’t want to see this,” he whispered, so softly in the throngs of the gathered English Sam barely heard him.
Sam swallowed, pulling the archangel to him and pressing Gabriel’s face into the space between his neck and shoulder as the executioners lit the pyre, the flames licking up around Joan’s ankles. Her eyes scanned the crowd, looking for something, looking for the angel, but Gabriel clung to Sam, not daring to return her gaze only to stand by and do nothing. “I couldn’t do anything then, and I can’t in a mere memory,” he whispered, “I don’t want to see her die. Not again.”
She didn’t make a sound as she burned, and Sam forced himself to watch, Gabriel’s fingers digging into his back. If the angel had gone through this, then he would too. That was the deal of the bond after all.
Looking up suddenly, Gabriel snapped, his hand shaking so bad it took him more than one try. Sam watched, awed as a dove burst forth from Joan’s chest, flapping frantically up into the air unnoticed by most of the gathered, though a few pointed at it as it disappeared into the clouds. “Free passage for her soul,” Gabriel choked, pressing his face back into Sam’s shoulder.
They stood there until the crowd had dispersed, and Joan’s ashes burned twice over, as though to make sure she was really dead. The smoke had long since dispersed by the time Gabriel pulled away, turning from Sam not a heartbeat before there was a pop and a flutter of wings, an angel appearing in front of them.
Sam was used to angels popping into existence at odd times, but this took the cake, and he nearly fell over in an effort to jump out of the way. Not that he had to, as the other looked right through him to Gabriel without hesitation.
The other was not much taller than Gabriel, and his waist length platinum blond hair was tied back out of his eyes, one of which sporting a monocle that Sam wasn’t entirely sure fit the time period. Gabriel stiffened at the sight of him, hands clenching at his sides, “You can tell Michael I’m not coming home, if that’s what you came here for.”
The angel rolled his eyes, “Hardly. I came to see if you needed a place to stay, since as I recall you can’t go back to your pagan friends, they think you’re in eternal damnation tied up with your son’s innards and being poisoned.”
Gabriel growled but raised an eyebrow thoughtfully, “You know, I don’t think I recognize you, brother.”
“I’ve been away since the first war,” the angel clarified, “It’s much more amusing down here, compared to Heaven’s drab décor.” He held out a hand then, which Gabriel readily took, “My name is Aziraphale, and you don’t have to go home any longer.”