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Fic:Tiger Changing Its Stripes 1/3





Title: A Tiger Changing Stripes
Rating: R
Warnings: Spoilers up through SPN season 6
Summary: A freshly resurrected Gabriel takes care of a special assignment for his Father, while playing 40 different pranks. SPN/Joan of Arcadia crossover. Written for gabriel_bigbang 
Disclaimer: Not mine, never mine.




His Father was supposed to be above petty, mortal concerns like revenge or getting even. God was love, after all, and Gabriel knew he’d been forgiven the instant he’d asked for it.

So why did he have a feeling that Dad was laughing his metaphysical ass off right now?

“We’re going to be late,” the young woman called over her shoulder as she sprinted down the sidewalk. The heavy messenger bag thumped against her leg with every step. “Hurry up, I can’t miss the bus again.”

Gabriel sighed and hurried after her. Dad didn’t believe in revenge, but he did believe in justice. This was starting to feel uncomfortably like exactly what he deserved.



The day Father had saddled (gifted, he reminded himself, gifted) Gabriel with the task of watching over Joan stood out as one of the worst and best days of his very, very long existence.

He remembered the moment he died at Lucifer’s hand, though he managed to shove it down and away most of the time.

His brother drove the weapon into Gabriel’s heart, and the archangel felt real, physical pain for the first time in his life. He stared up into Lucifer’s face, his real one and not the flesh mask he was wearing, catching a glimpse of sorrow mingled with determination, before everything flared white-hot and then faded out to black and cold.

It was warm when he came back to himself, the surface beneath him soft and inviting. Gabriel was at peace.

Which meant he was back home. Surprising, since he thought he’d be dead, and he hadn’t expected to be welcomed back with open arms.

There was a chuckle, gentle and familiar. “It’s not that easy, dear one.”

Father. Gabriel bolted up from a bed that wasn’t really a bed and looked at the being standing nearby. “Where have you been?”

“You know the answer to that, Gabriel. I was among my children on Earth.” The voice was unruffled and patient. “I had seeds to plant.”

“Do you know what Zachariah and Michael have been doing while you were gone?” Gabriel was suddenly angry with his Father, angrier than he’d ever been. “They almost ruined everything.”

“I know, Gabriel. And I made sure that it won’t happen, not the way they want it to.” His Father sighed. “Every one of you is responsible for his own actions. What about yours?” Father’s tone was sad and disappointed, pretty much the template for every parent who’s child had done something they disapproved of.

For the first time in a long time, Gabriel felt the queasy, acrid sensation of guilt. He’d been masquerading as Loki since just after the crucifixion, and Loki had been worshipped. Okay, it was more along the lines of “pay tribute to Loki in the hopes that he doesn’t notice you” than anything else, but Gabriel had set himself up to receive glory that rightly belonged to his Father. It didn’t matter that the last few hundred years had pretty much eliminated that worship. He had pretended to be God, or at least a god, and that came perilously close to Lucifer’s sin.

He didn’t regret running away from his brothers, and if he had to do it all over again Gabriel would still choose to leave rather than fight. The things he had done after, however . . .damn it, his Father had given only one real instruction and that had been to protect and love the humans. Even the jackasses.

“It’s all right, Gabriel.” The metaphorical construct beneath him dipped as the warmth of his Father surrounded him. “You’re forgiven. And I have a special task for you.”

This, of course, lead to Gabriel’s current ordeal (special privilege, damn it!). Dad wanted her to have a companion, someone who could be bodyguard and friend and guide while she (probably unwittingly) prepared for her own future job. Gabriel didn’t know precisely what that job was, of course. No one but Father knew the destiny of His special kids. Sometimes it was a seemingly ordinary life that had major repercussions a generation or two later, and sometimes it was something that was destined for the history books.

Joan’s was going to be spectacular. This one did things that would get her noticed in a few years as long as Gabriel did his job and kept her alive, which meant he better hurry and catch up with her. He’d have a hard time explaining it to a far too perceptive girl when he beat her to campus.

She was waiting at the bus stop when he got there, throwing in a couple of wheezes for effect. The Gabriel Joan knew was a reedy intellectual who reminded her of her brother. Father didn’t want her to catch on that she was being protected, so he was once again undercover, grace tightly tucked away where it couldn’t be seen. “Are we done with the race?” he coughed out, and she looked instantly sorry and a touch guilty.

“Yeah. I just wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the bus. If I’m late for Dr. Rivers’ class again he’ll probably make me take the class over.”

He wouldn’t, actually. Joan was unaware that she was one of the man’s favorite students because of the way she got into the class discussions. They argued frequently, of course, but that only endeared her to him a little more. If there was one thing a law professor could appreciate, it was a student who could argue coherently.

They parted ways at the lecture hall; it would have been too obvious if Joan’s new friend was in all her classes. He lingered unseen in the back of the room instead, making sure that nothing came in to the class that intended to harm her. With the exception of that twit Ryan Hunter a few years ago, thankfully handled before he came onto the scene, nothing supernatural seemed to know she was around. That could all change in an instant, though, and he intended to be ready if and when it did. Joan wouldn’t go unnoticed forever. Gabriel needed to be ready for the eventual invasion of threats.

They met up in the library after Joan’s class, along with a handful of others who slowly drifted away after an hour or so. Gabriel was ostensibly working on a paper for the class he was supposedly taking, but since he had a replica sitting in the class and could write a paper with the snap of his fingers he was spending the time in more interesting pursuits. There was a couple making out in the study carrel two rows down, doing their best to go unheard and failing miserably. Gabriel amused himself passing by and pausing in various guises, starting with a janitor and working up to the girl’s advisor. They finally got some sort of clue before he could escalate into a family member.

He wandered back to the study table, feeling pleased with himself, and settled back down at the table with Joan. “You’re never going to finish that paper if you keep heading off like that,” Joan said, looking up from a reference journal.

“I’ll get it done,” Gabriel said dismissively. He picked up a notebook and one of the books and made a show of scribbling down a few things, though his attention remained elsewhere. His fictitious classes and the pursuit of an unnecessary law degree were the best cover to remain close to his charge, but they bored him on a level he’d rarely experienced. It was far more entertaining to trick the people around him, though Father had made him promise to dial back a little.

Joan was similarly jotting down notes, but she was just as distracted as he was. She kept glancing up and over to the right, looking over his shoulder at something or someone behind him. He finally decided to call her on it. “How’s your paper going?”

“Hmm?” She yanked her gaze back to the table. There was a slight flush to her cheeks when she met his eyes, and Gabriel immediately turned around and looked.

They weren’t hard to see, even if he limited himself to mortal vision. Those two managed to stand out no matter where they went. Gabriel caught himself gritting his teeth when he caught sight of Sam Winchester. Something was wrong there. The younger Winchester shouldn’t be out walking the earth.

He wasn’t surprised that they’d caught her eye, either. Sam was exactly her type and was most likely the reason for the earlier blushing. There was something beyond the aesthetics of the Winchester brothers, however, something that likely pinged on the girl’s internal radar. Part of it was their status as the vessels of archangels, which tended to create some sort of come-hither aura that his own vessel had made a great deal of use in, two thousand years ago. Another was simply how steeped the two of them were in the supernatural. Joan had experienced enough strangeness in her lifetime to make her more in tune with those types of things. But the bulk of it probably had little to do with either of those things, and everything to do with Joan’s damned compassion. Those two had literally been through Hell and Joan wanted to help them.

Dean straightened up from speaking with Amanda at the reception desk (a voice like Eartha Kitt, and he had been planning on chasing that one down as soon as Joan was safely tucked away for the night) and turned in their direction.

Damn it.

There was no doubt in his mind that the hunter was here for either him or Joan, and since he’d taken great pains to stay off the radar and even dropped about 15 years from his vessel’s appearance, Gabriel was fairly sure they weren’t out hunting archangels.

Damn it, damn it, damn it.

The Winchesters had somehow managed to avert the apocalypse without killing either of his brothers, for which Gabriel was very thankful. That didn’t mean he wanted either one of them around his charge. And seriously, how the hell had they even caught wind of her? It wasn’t like Joan took out an ad or something. The only person she’d ever actually told was her old boyfriend, and that douche had thought she’d been hallucinating.

Unfortunately, any attempt to divert those two would likely result in them digging deeper and possibly revealing both of their identities. Since Gabriel was currently trying to stay beneath the radar, whatever plan he developed to distract them was, sadly, going to lack that special flair that screamed ‘Loki was here.’

Even harder than turning away Sam and Dean’s attention would be keeping Joan away from them. Joan usually had good instincts when it came to people, but even if she could tell something was wrong with Sam (and something was definitely wrong, he could feel it), that would only make her more determined to fix it. Gabriel knew Sam’s track record when it came to women, and would prefer to keep the younger Winchester far away from his charge, but if he broke out the usual methods the dimwits might actually put a few things together and uncover his identity again. The archangel had experienced that only once in the two thousand years or so that he’d been in his own personal version of WitSec. Once was more than enough, thank you.

Joan made a muffled sort of squeak when she realized that those two were coming her way and tried to look like she was still engrossed in the stack of reference books at her side. It was a mostly futile effort that would normally have made Gabriel chuckle, but right now it failed to amuse him.

It was somehow even less funny when they got closer and Gabriel could tell exactly what was wrong with Sam Winchester. The howl of a completely empty vessel was almost overwhelming. It was a minor miracle that the man wasn’t continuously surrounded by things looking for a host, since the only thing keeping him from being possessed was a thin layer of ink under the skin that could be easily broken with a knife.

Joan had hidden further behind the book in her hand as they approached until only the bright red tips of her ears were showing. She reluctantly lowered it when Dean cleared his throat, revealing similarly flushed cheeks.

“Joan Girardi?” She nodded, still strangely mute, and Dean gave her a quick, almost reassuring smile. “I’m Agent Campbell. This is Agent Raimi. We have a few questions we’d like to ask you, if you have a moment?”

“Shouldn’t you be on the set of Evil Dead 4 or something?” Gabriel muttered. The stringless puppet standing there with his bland expression grated on his nerves. He wanted to drop it in a pit of alligators or shove it off a cliff, but mostly he wanted it to be away from him. Sam Winchester had been irritating and a little too bleeding-heart for his taste, but he’d at least been real.

Joan kicked him under the table. She glared some warning at him, though he doubted he’d be able to interpret it if he wasn’t capable of reading her mind, and turned her attention back to the Winchesters. “It’s not a problem. Have a seat.”

Sam started to say something, probably an order for Gabriel to leave, but Dean nudged him with one elbow and sat down next to Joan. His brother sat down next to Gabriel, much to both of their displeasure. “What exactly are you investigating?” the archangel asked, feeling a little spiteful. He was ready and willing to create the subject of their scrutiny if it would get the two of them away from here. Dean wasn’t that bad, really, but he was a trouble magnet and every second that he was near Joan was probably putting her in danger. The Sam-shaped golem, on the other hand, he just wanted gone.

“We’re investigating the murder of Lucy Bennett,” Sam said.

Gabriel wished them luck with that one. Lucy Bennett had been killed by a regular grade human, albeit a nasty specimen of one. The cops didn’t have any leads, and even if they managed to connect the dots and place the blame where it belonged they were never going to find Ryan Beck. Gabriel had made sure of that. The asshole had planned on Joan becoming his next plaything.

Whatever weird female quirk had possessed Joan when she first laid eyes on the Winchester brothers, it was gone now. She had been friends with Lucy and when Sam said her name Gabriel felt the surge of anger and sorrow that bubbled up. Her fist clenched momentarily before she forcibly relaxed it. Gabriel saw the warrior that she was going to be in that moment. “What about it?”

“Nothing specific,” Dean said, shooting his pseudo-brother a glance. “We just have a few questions. I understand you were friends with Miss Bennett?”

Joan nodded. “Yeah, we met in undergrad at University of Maryland.”

“Do you know if she was seeing anyone new?”

“She wasn’t,” Joan said. “Lucy broke up with her girlfriend last semester. She said she was taking a year off from dating.”

“Okay.” Dean took this apparent surprise and rolled with it. “Was there anyone new in her life at all? New roommate, study partner, co-worker?”

“She always had new co-workers. High turnover rate at the coffee shop because they always think it’s going to be a piece of cake and then quit when it turns out to be actual work.” Joan was quiet for a second, reflecting, and then spoke again. “There was some new guy in her Ethics study group that was kind of pushy. I think his name was Bryan or Ryan or something. He hasn’t been around in a while.”

Gabriel wasn’t aware that Joan had been paying that much attention, but he approved of it. “Hey, yeah, I remember that guy. I haven’t seen him lately, either,” he added, partly to cement her observation and partly to remind them all that he was here.

Dean made a note of it, making Gabriel wonder if the hunter would be following up on the slim lead. “She had just moved into a new apartment, correct?”

“When she broke up with Jennifer,” Joan agreed, wrinkling her nose. “It was kind of a dump, but Lucy wanted some space to herself.”

“Anything strange about the place? Cold drafts, flickering lights, that sort of thing?”

She shrugged. “The usual for a building that old. The owners redid the wiring a few years ago so that they could rent to students without worrying about computers setting the place on fire.” Some emotion flickered behind that open-book face. “What would that have to do with Lucy’s murder?”

“We’re investigating several leads,” Dean said smoothly. Gabriel rolled his eyes as the man stood up in unison with the soulless shell. He handed over a business card and said, “We’ll be in touch.”

“That was weird,” Gabriel said once they were gone.

“Really weird,” Joan admitted. She was watching them go with another of those opaque looks, and Gabriel wondered what her most recent discussion with Father had been.

“So what was up with all the blushing?” Gabriel asked. He’d learned pretty early on that Joan preferred bluntness to tact.

“Nothing.” The girl picked up the book she’d been hiding behind earlier. “None of your beeswax.”

“Come on, spill.” He nudged her with one foot while inventing a haunting for the Winchesters to investigate and take care of. Hopefully once they were done with that business they’d move on.

She shifted in her seat and pulled the book closer, avoiding his eyes. “I’m not listening to you,” she informed him.

“You know you’re going to tell me anyway.” Gabriel delivered another glancing blow to her shin. “Is it ‘cause you think they’re hot?”

The telltale red crept up her neck and lit up her ears. “I’m not telling you.”

“Someone’s got a crush,” Gabriel sang out. “Which one?”

Her head dropped down onto the table. “The tall one,” she said. “I’ve saw him at the coffee shop yesterday. He bought me a latte. And I don’t have a crush on him. He’s really cute, and he was kind of nice yesterday, but I think there’s something a little wrong with him.”

Gabriel wasn’t surprised that she’d picked up on Sam’s appalling lack of a soul, and since he’d already sent the Winchesters on a wild goose chase he was feeling a little magnanimous. “Speaking of coffee, I could use some. You up for it?”

Her head lifted from its not-that-comfortable resting place on the Federal Criminal Code and Rules and she smiled. “Yes! Something with lots of sugar.”

“It’s like you can read my mind.”

xxx

Joan wanted to head back to the library after her mocha break, but Gabriel managed to talk her into heading back to her dorm room for the night. He had plans for the evening that differed from his original ones with Amanda, and with the Winchesters in town trouble was sure to follow.

The trail that would lead to Sam and Dean’s vengeful spirit had already been at least partly laid with a few stray thoughts earlier, but he wanted to put a few personal touches on it that would be much more fun in person.

The building that Lucy had been living in was old enough to already have a few ghost stories, and thankfully they were nebulous enough that it only took one or two additions to the public record and a “new” grave to make it appear to be a bonafide haunting. Gabriel added a little twist to it in the form of a previous owner losing his wife to another woman and then let it go, knowing it would take on a life of its own with no more effort on his part.

With that done, Gabriel checked in with a few contacts, trying to find out what the Winchesters had been up to in the past year and a half. A demon was responsible for Sam’s resurrection, which wasn’t much of a surprise. Crowley must have called in a few favors to have the body hold together so well without a soul powering it, but that still would have been easier than prying Sam’s soul out of the cage. Gabriel could probably have done it, given time and motivation, but it would have taken an incredible amount of skill and patience to put the soul back together afterwards. Demons rarely had much of either. The Muppet had been working with what was left of the Campbells for most of that time.

Dean was harder to nail down. He’d somehow fallen completely off the radar for that first year, not a single blip alerting any of Gabriel’s informants of his presence. He could always check in with Heaven, of course - Castiel was tied to Dean and would know anything there was to know about his whereabouts and actions – but Gabriel hesitated to do so. His last meeting up with that particular younger brother hadn’t gone well and now that the whole mess was over they should probably kiss and make up, but that would take time that Gabriel wasn’t willing to spare at the moment.

The Winchester brothers had reappeared together about six months ago. Gabriel had his own personal theories about their reported activities since then, especially relating to Crowley and the carrot of Sam’s soul the demon was no doubt dangling over Dean’s head, but right now it wasn’t his problem. Get the Winchesters the hell away from Joan, then address Heaven’s problems.

Intel-gathering complete for the moment, Gabriel checked in on Joan (working on her paper and messaging her friend Grace, safe and sound with the door locked), made sure the Winchesters were safely out of the way for the night, flexed his fingers and started a new project. Ryan Beck was at least partially responsible for the Winchesters and their infuriating presence. Time to make his life as a Roman slave a little more uncomfortable.

xxx

Gabriel was feeling a little more relaxed the next morning, ready to tackle the immediate problem of the Winchesters and then see about helping out back home. Crowley making a play for purgatory was a problem that someone other than him should be aware of. He was ready and waiting with coffee when Joan met him at the bus stop. OK, he made the coffee arrive with a snap of his fingers, but it was the thought that counts.

Amazing how chipper a little well-applied righteous anger could make an angel.

Joan was a little subdued when she took the cup. “Thanks,” she muttered. She clutched it with both hands and brought it close to her face, inhaling the fragrance.

“Works better if you drink it,” Gabriel said. “Long night?”

“That paper is kicking my butt.” She took a long drink, closed her eyes and sighed happily. “And a friend of mine dropped by last night.”

Gabriel’s metaphorical heart skipped a beat on reflex before settling back down. Sam Winchester had been hustling pool across town at the kind of bar Joan wouldn’t set foot in without a divine command. “Anyone I know?”

She shook her head. “A friend of mine from home,” she said. “He always has a lot to say when he shows up.”

Gabriel went back to his former relaxed state, reading between the lines and determining that Father had been Joan’s visitor last night. That was one relationship he didn’t need to concern himself with when it came to Joan, somewhat ironically considering it was the reason he was here in the first place. “Drink up. You need to be in Professor Rivers’ class in half an hour and you know what he does to zombies.”

She remained quiet for most of the day, even in the classes that he snuck into, which made Gabriel wonder what Father had asked of her. It was obviously something she wasn’t going to enjoy, but that was typically Father. With a little luck, it would keep her occupied until Dean and Sam had moved on. The Winchesters were poking around in his little urban legend now. Hopefully they’d do a little salt and burn and move on soon. Sam’s presence, or rather lack of one, was incredibly distracting right now. It was startling how much energy and attention his current role of plucky sidekick and best friend took when he really got into it.

“Gabriel?”

He turned to her, abandoning his current amusement of rearranging all the books in the medical reference section. That would drive those med students insane. Doctors needed to be taken down a peg or two, even little baby ones. “Yeah? Something wrong, Joan?”

Joan shook her head. “No. I just wanted to ask you something.” She looked nervous and uncharacteristically uncertain, which was an odd look for one of Father’s special children, but they all had their flaws. It was what made them perfect for the job they were to do.

“And?”

“Do you think I’ll make a good lawyer?”

“Huh?”

“I mean, I really enjoyed mock trial when I was in high school, and debate was kind of interesting, and I like my classes and all, but will I be good at it?”

“Where did this come from?” It was a legitimate question. Joan wasn’t a girl given to second-guessing herself. It was a fairly common trait amongst Father’s special kids.

“Something my friend said last night.”

“Which was?” He was treading on dangerous ground here. Father’s meetings with Joan were private things, very much on the list of things that were None Of His Business.

“That sometimes it takes people a long time to figure out what they’re meant to do.”

“How did you turn that into this little panic attack?”

She gave him a tired smile. “You’d have to know him.”

Gabriel sighed. He really didn’t have time for existential quandaries right now. “Do you like doing it? The research, being in court, all of it?”

“Yes,” she returned immediately. “I love it. It’s like I’m uncovering the truth and tacking it up on a billboard for everyone to see.”

“And are you good at finding the truth like that?”

There was a little more hesitation, but she finally nodded. “I think I am.”

“There you go. If you’re good at that and you like doing it, you’ll be a decent lawyer.”

“But what if I’m not supposed to be a lawyer?”

“Then something will happen so that you aren’t a lawyer,” Gabriel returned, a headache developing. He hadn’t signed up for ‘meaning of life’ discussions. Mary was never this irritating. Jehanne d’Arc had been, but he hadn’t needed to spend this kind of time with her. “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing, Joan. It’ll all work out.”





Part 2