Sam barely tensed when the power cut out. He'd been expecting it, and he knew that he had more than enough supplies laid in to last out the storm and the few days it would take to clean up after it. He kept his post beside the window, sipping his coffee as the sun set behind the heavy clouds, leaving the world outside his window completely dark as the blizzard raged on. The only sounds to be heard were the hiss of snow against the cabin, the crackle of the fire, and the occasional creaking of the trees.
At least, it was quiet until Dee, his guard dog, suddenly sat up and gave him a single, short bark. Sam looked at him sharply and saw that Dee wasn't looking at him, but staring steadily at the front of the cabin. Sam put the coffee down and pulled open the desk drawer. Inside lay a 9 mm. Glock. He checked it over swiftly, assuring himself of its clean and loaded condition before ghosting towards the front door. Dee assumed his position to the right of him and stayed silent, ghosting along as quietly as Sam did.
Peeking out the windows was useless. The snow was too thick to see through. Sam would have to either count on the snow to keep who or whatever was out there away from the cabin, or he'd have to suit up and risk a quick circuit of the cabin to find out what caused Dee to alert. Sam chewed his lip for a few moments, then backed away from the door. He started towards the kitchen, where he had a radio for communication during outages. It was far safer to alert his brother that there was something wandering near him than to investigate.
When Dee realized that Sam wasn't heading outside, for the first time since Dean had presented Sam with the dog, he broke his thorough training. Dee moved back in front of the door and barked, once and then again. Sam paused and looked at him. Dee wagged his tail...and whined. Whatever was out there, Dee wanted to get to it badly. Sam wavered and Dee whined again.
“Okay, boy. Hold.” Dee instantly stilled, although Sam could practically see the anticipation quivering beneath his thick, white fur. Sam dressed swiftly, first thermal underwear, then his snowsuit, boots, and ski mask. He grabbed his emergency pack, which held a compass, several chemical heat packs, energy bars, and a couple emergency blankets, along with a dozen long burning road flares, and slung it over his shoulder as he grabbed a flashlight.
He left his gun in the front pocket of the snowsuit, within easy reach.
Sam clipped the long lead onto Dee's collar and opened the front door. Dee was off like a shot and whined once more when Sam made him pause long enough to leave a flare burning beside the porch steps. Then both man and dog struggled through the thick, heavy snow, with Sam following the dog's lead. Roughly every hundred yards he lit another flare and left it burning to help guide him back to his home and safety. If he ended up using the last one, he told himself, and still hadn't found whatever Dee had alerted on, they would turn back no matter what. He wouldn't risk dying or losing either dog or limbs to the cold just because his dog got anxious. It was probably a bear, startled out of hibernation by something. Maybe a mountain lion?
Sam lit his eighth flare, and glanced behind him, just to make sure he could still see the one before. Dee whined and jerked the lead nearly out of his hand. Sam dropped the flare as he clutched at the lead, suddenly terrified of losing Dee in the blizzard. The way Dee had been acting, Sam had no idea if he'd return when called. Hell, maybe Dee was just sick or something, and the whole damned venture was a product of Sam's superstition and cancer.
Dee pulled him along and then stopped to paw at the snow, whining louder than ever. Under the light of his flashlight, Sam could just make out the bright red of...a coat? He fell to his knees beside his dog and brushed away more snow until he found the rest of the person wearing the thing. It was a man, curled into the tightest ball he could manage. Sam almost fell on his ass when the man's eyes opened. “C-c-could u-u-se s-s-s-some help-p-p,” he stuttered out.
“You idiot,” Sam swore. “What the hell are you doing out in this weather?” Sam jammed the flashlight in his other pocket and stood, carefully hauling the man upright. He was still shivering, which Sam knew was a good sign. It was when you stopped shivering in the cold that you had to really worry. Still, the cold had gotten to him too much for him to walk, and it was almost half a mile back to the cabin. “Clueless freakin' campers,” he muttered as he bent and slung the man over his shoulder.
“C-c-car,” the man began in protest.
“Save it. It's too damned cold to listen to your excuses just now.” Sam whistled to call Dee off of whatever else he had found to sniff at. “Leave it, boy. Time for home.”
“N-no! M-my s-s-s-t-t-uff,” his burden protested, sounding a smidge more alert. He also started to struggle and Sam nearly dropped him.
“Christ, hold still, alright? If it's not too heavy, I'll try to bring it back with us.” Sam dumped him on his ass and called Dee over to sit with him, then struggled over to where the dog had been sniffing. He found a single duffle laying on top of a guitar case. Both, fortunately, had long straps, and neither was all that heavy. Sam slung both over his shoulders, bumping his emergency pack. “Shit, I forgot.” He dug out one of the emergency blankets and opened it. Before picking the man up again, he wrapped the guy in it like a burrito. It would be more useful if the guy weren't already half frozen, but hopefully, between what little body heat made it through both their clothes and the blanket, it would keep the guy from getting any worse.
The flares were still burning, although the closer he got to the house, the dimmer they became. Dee was just as anxious to get to the cabin as he'd been to leave, and Sam couldn't blame him. His eyelashes were crusted with snow, he was pretty sure he had snotcicles hanging from his nose, and that wasn't even counting the half dead dummy on his shoulder.
The heat from the fire hit him like a wave when he got through the door. Dee, as helpful as always, shook off, getting snow everywhere. Sam unceremoniously dumped the now unconscious man in front of the fire and tossed a few more logs on it to build it back up. Then he stripped off his outer gear, leaving him in only the thermal underwear. “Okay, pal, don't take this personally,” he mumbled. He unrolled the blanket and unzipped the red coat. Beneath it, all the guy had on was a single, albeit thick, sweater, with a candy cane knitted into the pattern. Sam stripped him of both then moved to his feet. His boots, thankfully, showed a bit more sense, and were well insulated against the cold. They hadn't helped as much as they could have, since snow had gotten in over the tops, but Sam couldn't see any signs of frostbite having started, although his feet felt like ice. He stripped the guy's jeans off and almost despaired - he wore only a pair of silk boxers beneath, patterned with pictures of Hershey's Kisses. “You really are a genius, whoever you are.”
Sam darted into his bedroom and grabbed every blanket he owned. He made a thick pad of half of them on the floor, then curled his body around the guy, leaving the man sandwiched between his body heat and the heat of the fire. The rest of the blankets went over them. He did his best to keep the man's hands and feet directly against him, but it was a difficult task, since the man wasn't awake to help.
Sam tended to run warm at the best of times. Even in winter, he could usually be found wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a t-shirt to bed because he got hot so easily. He should have been sweltering beneath a mound of blankets that thick, especially since he still wore the thermal underwear. But the chilled body in his arms kept the temperature bearable, even comfortable, and for once, Sam found himself fighting to keep awake.
When his...guest began to warm up, Sam peeled a couple layers off the top to help keep himself from getting too uncomfortable. Dee padded up to him and nosed at the man, then at Sam. Sam scratched him behind the ears. “Good job, Dee. Good boy, buddy. That would have been a hell of thing to find come spring, let me tell you.” Sam didn't really want to think about that, but it was a hell of a good bet that he wouldn't have found the guy until spring. The snow had completely covered him by the time Sam had found him, and it was still coming down. At best, he'd have remained frozen until enough snow had melted off for Sam to spot the bright red of his jacket. At worst, something would have smelled him through the snow and dragged him off as an easy meal.
Dee laid down by his head, breath ruffling Sam's hair. His guest shifted against him, a perfectly natural, sleepy motion. Sam felt his eyes closing and just quit fighting it. The man wasn't very big, nor did he have the type of muscle definition that suggested serious physical training of any kind. If he somehow woke before Sam, he wouldn't be much of a threat. Not with Dee right there, anyway. He slept.
He woke early the next morning and opened his eyes to see whiskey colored eyes staring back at him. He had one moment of feeling nothing but peace and a sense of yes, this is right before the panic set in and sent him scrambling backwards. “What the hell!”
The guy sat up and cocked his head. “Shouldn't I be the one asking that? Last time I checked, I had clothes on.”
Sam stared at him as Dee raced in and took up a position next to him. Memory of the night before returned and he flushed, mortified. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Forgot. Um, body heat is the best way to warm a person up when you can't get them to a hospital.”
A smile broke out over the guy's face. “Yeah, I know. I do actually remember enough about last night to know you saved my life. I was just giving you a little shit. Hi, I'm Gabriel Novak, and I'm not usually a complete moron.” He shoved his hand out expectantly.
Sam stared at it for a moment before half forgotten manners kicked in. He shook it hesitantly. “Sam Winchester. And I never said you were a moron.”
“No, I think it was 'idiot' and 'clueless fucking camper',” Gabriel said cheerfully. “I'll admit, last night wasn't my finest moment. I'm headed to my brother's place, and I was trying to push through before the storm really picked up. Then my serpentine belt snapped, and I got delayed a good four hours in a rinky dink little place with no motel and a really crappy service station. It was about equal distance forward or back to the next place that had a motel, so I tried forward.” He shrugged with a rueful grin. “My car hit a patch of ice and off the road I went. I'd have stayed in the car, but the windshield cracked, and snow was getting in, so I tried to find someplace for help. I thought I'd seen lights, and I thought it was the town. It was supposed to be nearby.”
Sam frowned, head cocked. “I'm not sure what map you're using, but the nearest town is a good ten miles away, over some really crappy roads. Even in good weather, it takes twenty minutes - it's too twisty to drive very fast. In this weather....” He shook his head. “You have to crawl, and that's with snow chains and a good idea of where the hell you're going.”
“So I learned. So, hey, not to impose even more on you, but can I use your bathroom?” Gabriel suddenly went very still. “Uh, you do have a bathroom, right? You don't have an outhouse?”
There was a moment, just a brief moment, where some long buried spark of humor spoke up and tried to get him to say 'as a matter of fact, I do have an outhouse' because the cabin had come with an old one out back. It had long ago been capped off, and Sam hadn't torn the small building around it down out of sheer apathy. Instead he shook his head. “I'm not that backwards, although with the power out, the bathroom won't have hot water, so don't try taking a shower.” He pointed at the short hallway that led to both his bedroom and the bathroom. “Just down there, first door on your right.”
“Thank god, I've got to pee so badly I can't even tell you!” Gabriel jumped up and, uncaring of his nearly nude condition, darted down the hallway.
Sam climbed more slowly to his feet, then bent to put more wood on the fire. Dee followed him when he went into the kitchen and Sam let him outside. When he came back in, he stared with hopeful eyes up at him. Sam sighed and obediently dug into the dog's food bin for his breakfast. Dee sat politely, eyes fastened on Sam as he filled the dish, then waited for Sam's nod before attacking his kibble with gusto. Sam patted his side before moving over to the old, but well maintained wood burning stove in the corner and got a small fire started. He had a modern electric range, of course, but the wood stove was only common sense with where he lived. Although, according to Dean, what would be even more sensible would be installing a generator. Sam didn't mind the power outages that happened throughout the year, though. He'd gotten the knack of cooking on the wood stove, and the scent of the burning wood would fill the cabin. It was a clean smell, somehow, and there were times even in clear weather when he had power that he'd turn off the central heating and use the fireplace instead. It was chillier, but he didn't mind that.
He filled the old camp coffee pot with water, added the coffee grounds, and set it on the stove. When he turned around to start rummaging for something to eat - and to feed his guest - he found Gabriel standing in the doorway and jumped. “Shit! Don't sneak up on me,” he snapped. His tone alerted Dee, who lifted his head from his dish and moved to stand beside him, hackles up.
Gabriel held his hands up defensively. “Sorry, man, I didn't mean to. I'm in bare feet on carpet here, though, so what do you want me to do? Whistle?”
Frowning, Sam turned back to the cupboards and didn't answer. He didn't have much that was breakfasty, really. Usually he just ate oatmeal with a few raisins mixed in, but he had the feeling that his guest's tastes ran more along Dean's lines of pancakes or steak and eggs. “I don't know what you want for breakfast. All I really have is oatmeal. I didn't buy anything perishable, with the storm moving in, since I'd have had to freeze it or let it spoil when the power went out.”
“Do you have brown sugar?” Gabriel asked, bare feet slapping lightly against the hardwood floor of the kitchen as he drew closer. Dee made a low, warning growl in the back of his throat and Sam could hear the nervous swallow from Gabriel that followed. “Uh, is your dog gonna make me breakfast?”
“Only if you piss me off. Dee, off.” Dee relaxed all at once and went back to his kibble. “Yes, I have brown sugar. Why?”
“Oatmeal with brown sugar, maybe some maple syrup is pretty good. Honestly, Sam, I don't want to be a bother here. Whatever you have is fine, don't go to any special effort for me.”
Sam shot him a look. “You're here,” he said, not adding the 'that makes you a bother right there'. From the way Gabriel backed up a few steps, he thought the other man might have heard it anyway. Sam went back to breakfast preparations, easily mixing a double portion of oatmeal. The coffee pot whistled as Sam slid the pot onto the stove to cook. “Coffee? It might be stronger than you're used to, but there's powdered creamer and sugar.”
Sam poured out two mugs and gestured. “Sugar's on the left, creamer's right there,” he said, indicating the plastic container that clearly stated that it was powdered creamer.
“Right. I can read, y'know,” Gabriel grumbled. Sam just shrugged.
When the oatmeal was cooked, Sam dished it up, added his usual raisins to his own, then dug out the brown sugar. Then, on a hunch, he dug all the way to the back of the cupboard and found... “Maple syrup. Sort of,” he said dubiously. He eyed the bottle, left behind from the last time Dean had stayed for a week almost a year ago. Sugar seemed to have crystallized around the top, and Sam wasn't sure it was safe to use. “It's old,” he warned when Gabriel made a pleased sound and reached for it.
“It's fine,” Gabriel dismissed. Sam watched, mildly horrified, as Gabriel added generous quantities of both to his oatmeal, turning an otherwise healthy breakfast into a cavity waiting to happen.
“That's all there is of both,” he managed to caution. “Don't waste it all your first day here. You'll be here a while.”
Gabriel shoved a large spoonful into his mouth and stared at him. “What do you mean?” he asked after he swallowed. “The storm should blow over in another day or so, right?”
Sam rubbed his forehead. “It should,” he confirmed. “But it will be at least a week before the roads are really passable. The county worries about the highway and the town roads first. Out here, we're off the beaten track. I'm not sure why you even got on this road. The highway would have been a better bet.”
“My GPS said it was quicker.”
“Your GPS lied.”
“Well, it sure didn't tell me the road was a death trap, that's for sure. But hey, I'm not dead, and I got to meet a real mountain man, so it's not a total wash, right?” Gabriel beamed at him before shoving another spoonful into his mouth with a barely suppressed moan.
“I'm not a mountain man.”
“Sure you are. You're a man that lives on the mountain. Hell, you're in a cabin, with a fireplace for heat and a wood stove for cooking. You even have the long johns, although of course flannel and a huge, bushy beard would fit better.” Gabriel sipped his coffee, eyes dancing, and Sam realized that he was being teased. Not even Dean really tried to tease him.
“But when I have power, I have a state of the art sound system and a 54" flat screen with satellite.” He didn't add that he actually did own flannel, and that it was only sheer stubbornness that made him shave every morning. Or that he only had the flat screen for Dean's weekend trips up and the rest of the week Sam tended to forget the rest of the world existed.
“So? That just means you're a modern mountain man.” Gabriel shoved another bite of oatmeal in and waggled his eyebrows as though he'd won.
Sam ducked his head and went back to eating before it got cold and congealed. Gabriel finished his breakfast first, then just sat across from Sam fidgeting occasionally. Sam finished his oatmeal and pushed the bowl away with a sigh. "What's wrong, Gabriel?"
"I'm cold," Gabriel admitted. "Um, I don't suppose you have anything I could borrow?"
Sam scowled. "What's wrong with your own things? You insisted that I bring them. You almost dumped us both in the snow, you were so insistent."
Gabriel's lips tightened. "They're wet. All of them, I already found and looked through my duffel."
Sam's scowl softened to a frown, because yeah. Now that he considered it, the duffel had been coated in snow, and Sam hadn't exactly taken the time to brush it off before dumping it in the corner of the living room. And the clothing that Gabriel had actually been wearing had been soaked, and Sam had just flung them off to the side. "Oh. Did you get everything laid out to dry?"
"Yeah, but I doubt any of it's ready yet. Look, I just need something for probably a couple hours, I did put a few things right next to the fire so they'd dry faster," Gabriel wheedled.
"Of course, gimme a second." Sam got to his feet and made his way into the bedroom. Gabriel was practically a midget compared to him, so there was no way that anything of his would even come close to fitting. But the guy had been dangerously cold the night before, and even with the fire and the excellent insulation of the cabin, the place had a chill about it. It wasn't a good idea for him to wander around in nothing but a pair of flimsy boxers. He dug out a pair of sweat pants and a sweatshirt, then found a pair of thick socks. Gabriel was waiting beside the fire, and once Sam looked closely, he noticed that his skin was pebbled with goose bumps and his nipples had tightened from the chill. He looked up and realized that Gabriel was eyeing him, and then realized that he'd just been checking out the guy's nipples for Christ's sake. He felt his cheeks heat in a furious blush and thrust the clothes out at arm's length. “Here. They'll be too long, of course, but you can just roll the cuffs up.”
“Thanks. I really do appreciate all you're doing for me. I realize what an incredible imposition putting me up is.”
“It's fine, Gabriel. Get those clothes on, your system took one hell of a hit last night. The last thing you need is to come down with pneumonia. It would be a long drive to the hospital.”
“Ah, I'll be fine,” Gabriel said cheerfully. “I'm pretty sturdy, I hardly ever get sick!”
Sam just turned away to go rinse the dishes. Gabriel probably didn't realize just how cold he'd really been. That he hadn't gotten frostbite, even on the exposed skin of his face, was a miracle. Sam was kind of surprised the guy was up and about like he was, actually. He would have expected more sleeping and stiff muscles, considering how hard the guy had been shaking.
There was a shuffling noise behind him and Sam turned swiftly. He was less startled to see Gabriel in the doorway, and appreciated the effort the man had made to make at least some noise. Gabriel smiled sheepishly. “Look, I know I've already said all the imposition and pain in the ass stuff, but I'm here to be a pain in the ass and impose on you again. Uh, my cell is pretty much fried, and I should call my brother and tell him I'm not dead.” Sam frowned and Gabriel lost his smile. “Look, I don't know how often I have to thank you and apologize for intruding. I swear, this is the last thing I'll ask of you. I'll just sit quietly somewhere, and hell, I'll reimburse you for the food. But Cas will call out the National Guard to find me, since he knows damned well I was on my way, and I don't want him freaking out.”
Sam scowled. “Why the hell are you yelling at me? I haven't done anything but help you!”
“And I can tell how happy you are to be doing it,” Gabriel drawled. “I swear, if you looked anymore pissed, I'd have extra holes in my head.”
“I wasn't pissed until you started bitching me out for no reason,” Sam returned heatedly.
“Oh yeah? Coulda fooled me, pal.”
“Obviously I did.” Sam took a deep breath. “Look, I'm not...used to people. I apologize if I gave you the impression that you're pissing me off. Don't take it so personally.”
Gabriel stared at him so hard Sam would swear the guy was looking right into his soul. The thought was alarming and Sam ducked his head and turned away to finish rinsing the dishes. “Okay,” Gabriel said finally, voice much softer. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions.”
“May I use your phone?”
“It's a cordless. It won't work until the power comes back.” Sam set the last dish aside and dried his hands on a dish towel. “Your brother lives in Angel Peak, right? That's the town you were headed for?” Gabriel nodded. “Okay. Phone's dead, and there's no cell service out here unless you want to climb a tree, but if you write down your brother's name and number, I have a way to get a hold of my brother, and he can relay the message. He's the sheriff,” Sam explained.
“Okay.” Gabriel sounded somehow intrigued, and hastily scribbled down the name and number that Sam had asked for.
Sam opened a drawer and pulled out a radio. He checked the batteries real quick and turned it on. “Hey, Dean? You there?” he asked.
The response was immediate, as Sam had known it would be. “Sammy, what's wrong? Are you hurt, is someone there?” Dean demanded.
“No, and yes, but it's fine. Dee alerted last night and I found a guy walking through the snow. Well, he had been walking, when I found him he was down and covered. His car went into the ditch and apparently the glass cracked enough to let snow in, so he tried to head for town and found my driveway instead.”
“Wait, that was your driveway?” Gabriel said. “Damn it, I thought it was a road!”
“Sam, please tell me you didn't bring him home,” Dean groaned.
“Uh, okay, but then I'd be lying, and you told me I wasn't supposed to lie to you.”
“Fuck. Okay. I'll head up there right away. You keep Dee close, you hear me?” Dean ordered.
“Dean, don't be an idiot. You aren't heading up here, the blizzard is still going strong! It's too dangerous.” Sam paused to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Look, it's fine. The guy's like, three and half feet tall at best, okay?” Gabriel's mouth dropped open in shock. “Dee's right with me, it's all good. I'm just letting you know, since he was on his way to see his brother, and he doesn't want the guy to worry. The brother's name is Castiel Novak, and his number is 555-8487. My guest's name is Gabriel Novak.”
“I want a description so I can check with the brother,” Dean demanded. “It might not really be him.”
Sam sighed. “Like I said, short, but he's actually five feet ten. Chestnut hair, whiskey eyes, narrow nose, narrow face.”
“Okay, got it. Short dude, brown hair and eyes, skinny face. And don't bother to correct me, Sam. We've had this discussion.”
“Yeah yeah, only fruity artist types and chicks use words like ivory or eggshell to mean white,” Sam replied absently.
“You got it. I want to hear from you every six hours.”
“Whatever you say, Dean. I'll keep the radio on in case this Castiel wants to get a message to his brother.”
“You had better, Sam. Because I swear to God, if I don't hear from you in six hours and I can't get a hold of you, I'm driving up there, blizzard or no damned blizzard. You got me?”
“Yeah, Dean. I got you.”
“Alright. I'll let you know when I've talked to the brother. Dean out.”
Sam set down the radio, but left it turned on. He had no doubts whatsoever that Dean would make good on his promise. “So. Dean'll get in touch with Castiel,” he said lamely.
Gabriel smirked at him. “Yeah, I kinda heard that. So is he worried about your life or your virtue?” He waggled his eyebrows. He probably meant to be suggestive, but he just looked a little silly.
“Whatever,” Sam answered truthfully. He squinted at him. “Are you too warm now? I can get you a t-shirt instead.”
“Are you kidding? I'm still chilled to the bone.”
Sam gestured at his face. “You're flushed.”
“Well, I'm not embarrassed about anything if that's what you're implying.”
Sam reached out and felt the man's forehead. “So, you never get sick, huh?”
“Hardly ever,” Gabriel corrected with a frown. “And yeah, it's been years.”
“Well, your healthy streak is over, I think. You're burning up. Sit down and wait here, okay?” Without waiting for a reply, Sam made his way to the bathroom and returned with a thermometer. “Open,” he ordered. Gabriel looked outraged and opened his mouth. Before he could say anything, Sam stuck the thermometer in. “It's digital, so it'll only take a few seconds,” he snapped when Gabriel tried to jerk backwards, irritated mumbling falling out around the plastic tip. Gabriel clamped his lips shut and glared. After a few seconds of staring at each other, the device beeped to indicate it had a reading. Sam looked at the display. “102.3. Lovely. Are you allergic to any medications, Gabriel?”
“No, I don't have any allergies. Like I said, I'm pretty sturdy.”
“Right. Well, you're sick. With luck, it's just a cold, but like I said earlier, the last thing we need is for you to come down with something worse. So why don't you head into the living room and get yourself comfortable on the couch.” Sam pointed and tried to make it clear that it wasn't a suggestion.
Gabriel stared at him for several long moments. “Are you serious?” he asked finally.
“Yes. Possibly I haven't made it plain just how dangerous a drive to the hospital would be. But I can tell you that in the current weather, we'd be lucky to make it to the end of my friggin driveway without running off and into a tree. You've got a fever. If it devolves into something worse than a cold, we are not in a good position to deal with it. So you need to rest and drink plenty of fluids and take your meds to keep the fever down, okay?”
Gabriel raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, fine. I just don't want to be a pest.”
“You'd be far more of a pest if you came down with pneumonia,” Sam said flatly. “Get.”
Shaking his head, Gabriel shuffled into the living room. Sam followed to make sure the man actually laid down. Gabriel moved several articles of clothing off the couch first, then sprawled over the length of Sam's comfortably worn couch. Sam huffed a little and grabbed one of the blankets off the pile on the floor and tossed it over the man. “I'll be back with some ibuprofen and water.”
When Sam got back from the bathroom, he noticed that Gabriel's eyes had gone somewhat heavy-lidded. “Here. Take these, drink some water, and just try to get some more sleep, okay? I'll be down in the basement, but you can just yell if you need something. Even if I don't hear you, Dee will and he'll let me know.” Sam paused as Gabriel sat up to take the water and pills. “I'd appreciate it if you didn't just go down there.”
“No problem, Sam. I'm just gonna follow orders and rest. If nothing else, I'll try self-hypnosis using the fire. Maybe I can get myself to bark like a dog!”
“Uh, okay. Whatever, dude.” Gabriel snuggled back down and Sam turned to leave. He stopped and automatically scooped up his discarded snowsuit and, more importantly, the gun that was still in the front pocket. Having Dee with him was all well and good, but he'd learned a long time ago not to take chances.
In the basement, he lit several oil lamps and the small wood stove that was in the corner. It was smaller than the one in the kitchen, not meant for cooking, but it did an admirable job of keeping the worst of the chill out of the basement. He settled Dee on his bed beside the stairs and tried to get back to work.
The problem, he realized very quickly, as all he could do was stare blankly at the half-filled canvas before him, was that he couldn't stop thinking about the man dozing on his couch. Just having someone in the house besides himself or Dean was strange enough. But there was something about this particular man that just...wouldn't leave him alone. Gabriel had a near perpetual spark of humor in his eyes, and there was something about the set of his mouth that suggested that he laughed a lot. Not wrinkles - Gabriel wasn't old enough for wrinkles, although he was older than Sam. He had guts, too. Or maybe just brass balls. Anyone else in his situation - dependant on Sam's generosity to keep them sheltered and safe from this kind of weather, not to mention the whole having saved his life thing - would have been nothing but unfailingly polite, meekly requesting anything they hadn't already been offered. Gabriel hadn't been rude, but his requests had been bold enough, if a bit rueful, and when he'd mistaken Sam's seriousness for anger, he'd only taken it for just so long before he'd snapped back. He was short, but obviously used to standing up for himself, even against someone of Sam's size, and Sam knew he could be intimidating.
Without really paying much attention to it, Sam set aside the half filled canvas and replaced it with a fresh one. His hands worked on autopilot, opening and mixing paints, while his mind continued to dwell on the man upstairs. What was the guitar for? Was he simply transporting it, or did he actually play? If he played, did he do it professionally or just for fun? Covers or original material? Country, rock, blues? Did he really have as big of a sweet tooth as he seemed to, or did the boxers just fit his sense of fun and he just happened to like his oatmeal that way?
Would his eyes be that unusual shade even in bright sunlight, or had it been just the dim light of the dying fire that had made them almost glow?
Sam lost all track of time. He paused once to throw another log in the stove and refill the oil in the lamps, but that was it. He didn't stop until Dee got up from his bed and stood at the foot of the stairs and barked once. Once he was listening for it, he heard Gabriel calling. Probably from right outside the basement door, if the volume were any indication. “What is it, Gabriel?” he called back.
“Your brother is trying to get a hold of you on the radio,” Gabriel informed him. “It might just be me, but he's starting to sound a little pissed.”
Sam set his brush and paints aside and went to wipe his hands on his jeans. Only instead of denim, his hands encountered soft, thin cloth, and only then did he realize that he'd never dressed for the day. His mouth tasted unpleasant, and when he rubbed his jaw, whiskers greeted him. He hadn't done any sort of personal grooming. Gabriel had really thrown him off his routine.
When he looked at the new painting, though, his breath caught. It was an abstract, certainly, but it was all bright colors that swirled together in a way that chaotic but somehow still managed to suggest laughter and dancing. He hadn't done anything so...positive in more years than he cared to think about. There wasn't a drop of black or blood red or smoke gray to be seen.
“Sam?” Gabriel called again.
Sam jerked away from the painting, unaccountably frightened. “Yeah, I'm coming.” He took the stairs two at a time and tumbled into the kitchen, nearly knocking Gabriel on his ass in the process. Dee was right behind him, and as soon as his tail cleared the door, Sam slammed it. “Radio?” he asked, holding out his hand. Gabriel pointed at the counter where Sam had left it.
“Sam! I swear to God, if you don't answer this time, my ass is in the truck and I'm coming up there,” Dean threatened as Sam reached for the radio.
“I'm here, Dean. Sorry, I was in the basement and it took Gabriel a minute to get my attention,” Sam answered quickly.
There was the sound of Dean letting out an explosive breath. “Take the damned thing with you if you're going down there,” he snapped.
“Yes, Dean. What can I do for you?”
\“I spoke with Castiel. He'd actually already been in to file a report with Ellen, so he was pretty relieved when I let him know his brother was with you. Once I found him, anyway. He was out driving, and I had to catch him when he stopped to fill up. Everything checks out so far.”
“That's good to know. What's the weather looking like? I haven't checked the radio since yesterday.” He peered out the kitchen window, and thought the snow was beginning to slow down.
“It's improving. A little. This storm should blow over by morning, but the radar looks like we've got another one headed our way. Unless it shifts, we're in for another twelve inches in about three days. Tell me again why we didn't move to Texas?” Dean asked dryly.
“Because I hate the heat and you didn't want to let me go anywhere by myself? Since you apparently think I'm still seven,” Sam responded.
Dean let out a startled laugh. “It would help if you'd learn to tie your own shoes already. And didn't have such a stupid haircut.”
“Your face is stupid,” Sam shot back automatically. Then he realized that Dean had teased him. Dean hadn't done that in a long time, and Sam couldn't figure out what was different. Surely Gabriel, who was, after all, just some guy Sam had fished out of the snow, being there couldn't change the way Dean acted with him.
“Not as stupid as yours, bitch.”
“Yours is way stupider, jerk. You've got those big ass ears that stick out.”
“Hey, leave the ears out of this. Look, Sam, I've got to get going. It's my turn to look for stranded vehicles.”
“You be careful. Take the radio with you, and if something happens, you call me.”
“Or I could, y'know, call Jo on the police radio and have them send someone out.”
“Dean,” Sam warned.
“Yeah, yeah, fine. I always have it with me anyway, Jesus. Calm down, Sasquatch. Dean out.”
Sam put the radio down and looked at Gabriel, who looked back with an amused expression on his face. “What?”
“Nothing. Just, it's nice to hear how well you get along with your brother. I've got a few, but I really only get along with Cas.”
“Oh. Dean's my only sibling.” Sam shrugged. There wasn't much he could say about his brother. They got along. Dean visited regularly, weather permitting, and called almost daily to check in, weather permitting. Dean was his constant, always had been. “How are you feeling?”
“Not bad. A little hungry, actually.”
“Okay, well, go lay down. I'm going to clean up and change and I'll make something for lunch.” He glanced at his watch. “Or early supper. Did you eat anything besides breakfast?”
Gabriel shook his head. “I mostly dozed. Besides, I didn't want to just poke around your place.”
“Poke around,” Sam told him. “Just not in the basement.” He walked past to get to his bedroom, and noticed something that he hadn't before; Gabriel smelled sweet. Like candy sweet. He dismissed the thought almost immediately, of course. The man had probably had candy of some kind in his duffel, and if he'd been hungry but too shy to find something or call Sam, it made sense that he'd eat that. The scent would fade.
He stopped in the bathroom to wash the worst of the paint from his hands, as well as the streaks of it on his forehead where he'd somehow managed to smear it. The water was absolutely frigid, and really woke him up from his post-painting daze. He skipped shaving, which he hated to do with cold water anyway, and threw on the first clothes that fell to hand in the bedroom. When he padded out in the old jeans and tank top, he found Gabriel idly opening and closing cabinets.
“I checked your fridge, and you weren't kidding about the perishables, were you? I make a pretty good cheeseburger, but you don't have any meat at all, so now I'm not sure what to make.”
“I'm a vegetarian, I never buy meat. Dean has to bring his own when he comes.”
“Really?” Gabriel turned in surprise and eyed him up and down. “How the hell did you get that big eating rabbit food?”
“I wasn't always. Anyway, I've got plenty of canned stuff and frozen veggies out in the chest freezer. I could...throw together a vegetable stir fry if you want?”
“That sounds awesome, actually. And hey, dessert!” Delighted, Gabriel pulled a packet from the back of the cupboard. Sam cocked his head. When the hell had he bought a muffin mix?
“Huh. If it needs eggs or milk, you're out of luck. There's some butter in the freezer, but that's it.”
Gabriel scanned the back. “No, just water. But oh.” He looked at the stove in the corner. “It has to bake.”
“You've never seen a wood cooking stove before?” Sam went to crouch beside it. There was still a little heat coming from it, and he pulled open the door to find glowing embers. “This is where you put the wood. Some people used to use coal instead, but I've never tried it.” He added more wood to the fire. He shut the door then pulled open the oven. “Here's where your muffins will go. You have to watch them more closely, since the temperature is harder to gauge and control, but if you know what the end is supposed to look like, it's doable.” He shut that door to keep the growing heat in and stood up.
“Why don't you get a generator?” Gabriel asked. “Wouldn't that be easier?”
“I like the smell of wood smoke. Oh, I don't suppose you put any wood on the fire in the living room?”
“Yeah, I did, although the pile is getting pretty small.”
“There's enough wood. I'll bring in more from outside after dinner. Why don't you go lay down while I get this stuff ready.” Sam reached for the muffin mix, only to have Gabriel shy away.
“No way. I've been laying around all day. I'm bored, Sam. You worry about dinner, I'll worry about dessert.”
Sam hesitated, then relented. Stirring water into some powder couldn't be all that draining. “Alright. Just rummage around until you find whatever you need. I'll be right back.”
While he was out in the garage, Sam let Dee outside. By the time he came back in, Sam had an armful of vegetables to throw in the pot, along with a package of ground beef that Dean must have left there. He carried it all inside and set the meat in the furthest corner of the counter. “You'll want to check the date on that, but it looks like my brother left something behind at some point. Just...you'll have to cook it yourself, and not while I'm in the room, okay?”
“Hey, if it offends you that much, I've got no trouble doing the veggie thing while I'm here. I'm pretty easy, Sam,” Gabriel said as he furiously stirred something in a bowl.
“It doesn't offend me, I just don't...like the smell. And it might not even be any good, I have no idea how long it's been out there. Dean usually knows better.” Sam got the big fry pan out and started in on dinner. He had to step aside when Gabriel went to put the pan of muffins in, and the man hovered beside the stove, checking the things every two minutes. It was something of a pain to have to dance around the guy, but Gabriel was obviously really looking forward to those muffins and Sam, for some reason, really didn't want them to get ruined.
By the time the stir fry was done, Gabriel was making low, pleased noises and yanking the pan from the oven. The muffins looked a little dark to Sam's eyes, but they were no where near burnt. “We've got dessert, Sam. Awesome!”
“You're easy to please,” Sam observed.
“I've learned that it's the simple things in life that you have to savor,” Gabriel told him.
Sam dished up two plates and set them on the table. “What would you like to drink? No milk or alcohol, but there's water, tea, and apple juice.”
“Apple juice,” Gabriel chose, and Sam gave himself mental points for calling it right.
Once they were settled at the table, Sam felt awkward. If it were Dean across from him, his brother would have been chattering at him about everything and everyone and nothing. He would have filled in the silence. Gabriel seemed the type, but for some reason, Sam didn't want to just sit there without saying anything. He nibbled a piece of broccoli and cast about for something. “So...can you actually play that guitar, or are you just bringing it to your brother or something?”
“I can play,” Gabriel said easily. “It's how I make my living, actually. I'm a musician. I play mostly bars, a few of those weird, trendy café places. Well,” he allowed, “I try to make my living that way, but there are times when there's no paying gigs to be found and I get to pick up odd jobs. You wouldn't believe some of the jobs I've had. I was a zombie.”
Sam blinked at him. “A...zombie? Like, an extra in a movie, you mean?”
“Not quite. There's a little town in northern California that's just ridiculously into the whole Halloween thing. They've got year round haunted houses, amongst other things. There wasn't a huge demand for a guitarist there, but one of their main zombies in the haunted corn maze broke his leg, so they hired me on until he got better. Grr, argh!” Gabriel made claw hands at Sam and laughed.
“Isn't it meant to be 'brraaiiinnssssss' instead?” Sam drawled, doing a creditable impression from the movies his brother had terrorized him with as a kid.
“Sometimes, but I like the menacing, yet unspecific growling. Plus drooling, because nothing says 'I want to snack on your still warm flesh' like drool.”
“Nothing says 'I've suffered irreparable brain damage' like drool.”
“Uh, zombie? Aside from being like, mystically diseased, they're also dead. That kind of defines the worst brain damage ever, don't you think?” Gabriel shot back.
“You've got a point,” Sam admitted. “So what kind of music do you play?”
“Pretty much all kinds. Some places don't mind if you play your own stuff, but some places like to have you do live versions of popular songs, so I've got quite a repertoire of country, rock, blues, you name it. I could play some for you after dinner, if you want?” he offered.
Sam made a face. “I don't know if you've noticed, but you're starting to sound a little nasal. But I wouldn't mind hearing some when you're feeling better.” He thought about it as he chewed. “It's quite likely that I'll be sick by then, and the power thing will be iffy, so it will be doubly nice. Unless you actually suck.”
“I do not suck. I'm awesome! You just wait, my fingers are gonna knock your socks off.”
“Alright. You should probably check it over though. I don't know anything about instruments, so I just left it in the case.”
“I did that when I laid out my clothes. So, now you know about me, the amazing wandering musician. What do you do?”
Gabriel raised his eyebrows. “Really? Professionally? Because I kinda called the painting thing anyway, since you came up here looking like a toddler that got into the markers, but I thought it might just be a hobby or something. This isn't what I'd picture for an artist's house.”
“I wouldn't call myself an artist, but I do paint professionally. Dean thinks it's ridiculous what some people will pay for paintings that aren't even a couple hundred years old.”
“What, doesn't he think you're any good?”
“Not at all, Dean likes almost all my stuff. But that's kind of it, really. I don't sell the stuff I like best, or the stuff that he likes best. I sell the...scribbles, I guess. If you can scribble with paint, anyway.”
Gabriel pushed his empty plate away and propped his chin on his fist. “So you're telling me that you sell your junk, the stuff you'd paint over or throw away, and you've sold enough of it, for enough money, to buy this place and not have to take any kind of secondary job to support yourself. Sam, that's got to be the best freakin' thing I've ever heard!”
Sam ducked his head and shrugged. “Don't let on, okay? Or my agent will be pissed. But, I mean, when I first started out, it drove me completely nuts how pretentious some of those rich people could be. There's a few good pieces floating around out there, don't get me wrong, but...I caught on pretty quick that once you're popular, all you have to do is spin whatever you put out the right way, and there are plenty of people willing to shell out a lot of money for, essentially, closing your eyes and throwing random gobs of paint at a canvas.”
“Serves 'em right,” Gabriel agreed cheerfully. “So, can I see some of the stuff you've kept?”
“It's all down in the basement.”
“Okay, sure, no problem. Just thought I'd ask, is all.”
“No, I mean, you can see it, if you want. I just can't work while someone's actually there. Except for Dean, for some reason, but whatever. But just going down to look is fine.”
Gabriel snatched up one of his muffins and jumped to his feet. “Well, c'mon, then. Let's go.”
Sam washed the last of his supper down with water and stood up. “Alright, but just for a little while. Then you get more ibuprofen and rest.” Sam led him down into the basement and turned up all the oil lamps until the room was as bright as it was going to get. His paintings, at least the ones from the last few years, lined the walls. There was a stack in one corner that was meant for his agent to display in the gallery in New York, and for some reason Gabriel headed right for it.
Using the tips of his fingers, Gabriel carefully flipped through the various canvases. “I know squat about art, actually, but these are really interesting, Sam. No boring landscapes, that's for sure. Or snow covered cottages.”
“Those are the ones for sale.” Gabriel gave him a sharp look, then looked around the room.
Eyes wide, Gabriel snatched up one of the lamps and began to walk around. He stopped in front of one, done all in darker shades of blue, and shivered. He flinched back from the next, with its jagged slashes of red and orange against a dark green background. The next he hurried on from, barely looking at something like a landscape, all in tones of gray. He started to turn towards Sam, lips parted on something, then stopped when he caught sight of the piece Sam had been working on earlier, still on the easel. He grinned, finally, and bounced over to it. “Shit, Sam, now this one I could stand to look at every day! What, do you give the brighter ones to Dean?”
“Something like that, yes.”
“Too bad, I bet this would look great in your living room, especially lit by just the fireplace.” Sam shrugged. “Do you ever do portraits?” Gabriel asked suddenly. “Paint anything...real?”
“I have. I can. Sometimes I do, if the mood takes me. I painted our mother for Dean, although I don't know if I got it right. She - died, when I was a baby. I've got some old sketch books up in my bedroom if you're that interested.” He would dig out the much older ones, he decided; from his first couple years at college and earlier. He went and put another log in the stove, then pointed at the stairs. “That's long enough. Meds and rest now, Gabriel.”
“Sam, seriously, I'm older than you are, you know. I can take care of myself,” Gabriel protested.
“Good, then I won't have to actually carry you to the couch or tuck you in or put the pills in your mouth for you. Go on.”
Making an odd face, Gabriel obediently turned and headed up the stairs. “That's fine, Sam, but I want those sketch books. I need something to do while I'm laid up, after all. And then if you get sick, I can play to keep you entertained.”
“I'm good with that, just so long as you rest,” Sam called after him. He stayed behind just long enough to douse the lamps, since he was fairly sure he wouldn't be getting back to work, no matter how early it still was. When he got upstairs, Gabriel was waiting expectantly on the couch, hands folded almost primly in his lap. Sam went to fetch the sketch books and, while he was at it, the ibuprofen and a bottle of night time cold medicine. Gabriel's eyes widened when he returned.
“Wow. That's a lot of sketching, Sam.”
Sam set the dozen or so books down on the coffee table. “Meds. I'll bring in a couple of lamps.” When Sam sat down beside him with another oil lamp to augment the firelight, Gabriel reached eagerly for the top sketch book. He watched, bemused, as Gabriel opened the cover with almost reverent fingers. “They're just sketches, you know. They're not priceless artefacts.”
“Don't talk like that, Sam,” Gabriel admonished him quietly. “You've got a gift. One that should be cherished and respected, not treated like a two dollar comic book.”
Sam - blushed. He hadn't done that in a long time. Not over his art.
The look on Gabriel's face, though, went a bit blank when he actually opened the cover and got a look at the first sketch inside. It was a picture of Dean, much younger of course, but to anyone's eyes, it was...crude. Recognizable, maybe, but hardly what one pictured coming from the pencil of an artist. “Oh, well, this is...interesting,” Gabriel said lamely.
Lips twitching slightly, Sam flipped the book closed and pointed at the date on the cover. Dean had written it, since Sam hadn't learned his alphabet yet. Sam Winchester, 1987. “I was six, Gabriel. You're not allowed to hold my first official sketches against me.”
“Oh! Well in that case, you are one talented guy.” Gabriel opened the book again and studied the sketch. “Is this...your brother? He's older, isn't he?”
“By four years, give or take, yes. That's him. He was always around, and he really dominates the first several sketch books.”
Gabriel turned the page and found two more of Dean, one of him standing, arms crossed in imitation of John Winchester, one of him grinning and showing off a missing bottom tooth. Gabriel squinted in the poor light. “Is that...” He turned and squinted at Sam. “I guess Dean's the only one that got freckles?”
“You can see that? Most people who've looked at these think I was just sloppy.”
Gabriel scoffed. “They're clearly freckles. Should tell 'em to get their eyes checked.” Gabriel turned the page and his eyebrows shot up. “Your father?” he asked, voice gone oddly wistful.
“Yeah, that's our dad.” Back when John had been willing to indulge Sam's odd little hobby, anyway. As crude as it was, you could still kind of see the indulgent amusement on John's face. Sam had made him pose for a whole ten minutes, which had seemed like a very long time to him back then. Sam hadn't quite understood why his father was clearly humoring him, but he'd gone with it anyway.
“Big guy, huh?”
“Not so big, really. I'm taller than he is now. But I was six, and he seemed like the biggest man in the world to me.”
“Well, he would. Most fathers do, I bet.” Gabriel continued to turn pages, stopping at nearly every one to ask about it, why that pose, that expression, could Sam remember what had been going on when he'd sketched it? Some of the pages just held random, scribbled doodles, much like any little kid given a piece of paper and a pencil, but Gabriel seemed really impressed with the number of actual drawings in the book. Sam had used every bit of each sheet, both sides, and Gabriel seemed determined to examine every one. He finally closed the book a bit regretfully. “That's incredible, Sam. I can actually see the progression of time, how your skill and talent grew through the book.”
“Thank you. Dean has the rest of my early art at his place. I've always kept my painting and drawing separate, so when paints were introduced in kindergarten, Dean got custody, since he was a lot more organized than I was. I could hang onto one sketch book, but the multiple sheets of paper, stiff with water based paint were a bit beyond me.” He shook his head. “It's beyond me why he still hangs on to them, but he's got an old army footlocker full of the things.”
“He's your big brother. I bet he's really proud of you.” Gabriel reached for the second book, and before Sam knew it, hours had passed and Dee was not so patiently nudging him for both supper and a bathroom break.
“Shit, what time is it? I better give Dean a yell.” Sam stood up and stretched, joints popping from having sat so long hunched over the sketch books with Gabriel. Gabriel nodded at him, stifling a yawn. He looked flushed and heavy lidded, and Sam automatically felt his forehead. “You feel pretty warm, Gabriel. Take some more meds and relax. I'll make some soup or something, okay? The books will still be there tomorrow.” Gabriel just nodded as he stretched out, and Sam thought he had to be really wiped to not be protesting even a little like he had earlier.
When he slipped into the living room a bit later with a mug of steaming soup in his hand, he thought Gabriel had fallen asleep. He took a moment to just stand and look at him, at the way the firelight made odd shadows dance across his skin and made his hair almost seem to glow. Then Gabriel opened his eyes and Sam's breath caught for a moment, just an instant of paralyzing fear, because the flames were reflected in those eyes. They weren't the deep whiskey color that they were supposed to be, they were fire yellow.
Then Gabriel blinked and shifted and the illusion was thoroughly dispelled. “Soup?” he asked.
“Y-yeah, here.” Sam carried it over and all but shoved the mug under the man's nose. “I'm gonna go clean up the kitchen, just leave the mug on the table when you're done.” He fled, there was no other word for it. He could feel his heart still pounding from residual adrenalin and before he knew what he was doing, he'd snatched up the radio to call his brother. Dee nosed at his hand and paced a worried circle around him. It was enough. He sat on the floor and buried his face in the slightly coarse fur, and Dee held patiently still until he'd gotten his heart and breathing under control. Then he clicked the button. “Hey, Dean.”
“Almost on time for once, Sasquatch. You doing okay?” Dean asked, a bit more concern than expected in his tone.
Sam sighed ruefully. “Yeah, I'm good. Gabriel's getting sick, though. Fever, and he's starting to get congested.”
“Think he'll need a medic?” Dean asked sharply, and Sam knew he was going over emergency personnel and ways to get up to him if it was needed. They had snowmobile rescue in the area, but considering the weather, that crew would be stretched very, very thin.
“Not yet. It's looking to be just a cold, but I've got him planted on the couch. He's not allowed up for anything except food and bathroom, and I'm good on meds.”
“Okay, good. So what's wrong?”
Sam let his head thunk back on the cabinets behind him. “Nothing, really. It's just...I took him some soup, and the fire caught his eyes just right....”
“Ah. But you know it's not him right? There's no chance of that. He's too skinny, for one thing. And he'd have only been seven when Mom died. You and Dad both said the guy is really wide in the shoulders with a long, oval face. Gabriel doesn't look anything like that.”
“I know, Dean. Believe me, if I thought there was a chance in hell, he wouldn't be on my couch. Like I said, it was just the way the fire caught his eyes, reflected back. It caught me unprepared.”
“You want me to come up? The snow's slowing down, and Jeff would let me use his snowmobile, no problem.”
“No, I'll be fine. Really, Dean, it's good. I'll wash some dishes, take Dee out for a quick patrol around the house, maybe sit down with a sketch book for a while. Oh, speaking of, I dug my old ones out for Gabriel to look through. You should have seen his face when he opened up the first one!”
“Did he get that 'shit, he says he's an artist but this is crap what do I say?' face?” Dean had seen a few people with that look before.
“Yup. It was even worse, because I'd already let him look around the basement, so he was really trying to find something positive to say.”
“Is that right?” There was an odd note to Dean's voice, but whatever it was, Dean shook it off quickly. “Between you and Cas I'm really anxious to meet this guy. Cas says he's a wandering musician, of all things. Real gypsy type.”
“So he says. And...Cas?”
“Yeah, Cas. Castiel. His younger brother. Interesting guy, real scholar type.”
“Scholar? Don't you mean nerd?”
“To-may-to, to-mah-to,” Dean dismissed. “Listen, Sam, you keep checking in. And for God's sake, if you need me even off schedule, call! Oh yeah, and keep me updated on the guy's condition. I can scramble a rescue team up there if he starts getting too bad before the roads are cleared. I'm gonna go eat, Ellen just brought in dinner.”
“Okay. Don't pick off the lettuce and tomato, okay? You have to get something half-way healthy in mixed with all the grease.”
“Yes, mom,” Dean sniped. “Dean out.”
Sam pulled himself to his feet, a lot calmer than he'd expected to be after talking with his brother. But he couldn't afford a meltdown, not with Gabriel in the house. The man was sick, and a stranger, and there were things to do. He started with the dishes, although he hated having to rinse them with cold water. But with two people cooking and eating in the house, he couldn't very well leave that quantity of dishes sit until he had power back up. After he put the last dish on the drain board, he dried his hands and went to check on Gabriel.
Gabriel was still awake, although just barely, judging by how heavy his eyes were. The empty mug was balanced precariously at the edge of the coffee table. “How are you feeling?” Sam asked as he picked up the mug.
“Increasingly lousy,” Gabriel informed him. “I can feel my chest getting congested. It sucks, kiddo, let me tell you.”
Sam checked his forehead, but the fever seemed to be under control. “Alright, well, there's cold medicine right there. It's the night time stuff, so it'll knock you out, but rest is the best thing for you anyway.” He frowned at him. “Wait, let me get you a couple pillows or something. Being propped up helps a little when you're congested.” He hurried to his bedroom closet and yanked out the giant, fluffy pillows that he kept for Dean's visits. Dean never minded crashing on the couch, as long as the pillows were in good shape. Still, Sam was thinking of having a second bedroom added on anyway.
Gabriel gave him that bemused look again when he helped the man sit up so he could arrange the pillows behind him, but didn't protest or ask any questions. “You warm enough? You should have a second blanket anyway, the fire dies down at night. I'll keep it built up as long as I'm awake, but....”
“Sure, Sam. A second blanket would be nice.”
Sam laid another blanket over his legs. “Okay. Did you take -“
“Yes, Sam. I took some medicine. Some of the cold medicine, actually, so I'll probably pass out on you fairly soon.”
“Good. I'm going outside. I need to bring more wood into the garage and make sure the snow isn't looking to damage anything. I shouldn't be too long, though, so if you need anything, just holler.”
Feeling strangely awkward, Sam hurried out of the room to suit up. Dee accompanied him out the back door. Outside, Sam was pleased to see that the snow was, as Dean had said, thinning out. It was light enough that he knew crews would already be getting to work on getting the power back on. With a little luck, they'd have power by early afternoon. The roads would probably take a little longer, unless Dean tried to wheedle one of the guys into doing a pass over Sam's road. He had done it before, with mixed results, depending on who he'd asked, and how recently he'd ticketed that person for something.
He made a wide circuit around the cabin, struggling a little through the deep snow. Dee didn't fair much better, since the snow was deeper than he was tall in some places, but he stayed gamely by Sam's side through the entire check. He didn't see anything out of place, any sign that anyone had been near, and Dee didn't so much as twitch an ear. Somewhat reassured, he made his way back inside, bringing a large load of wood into the garage to thaw as he did.
Inside, he found Gabriel deeply asleep on the couch. The man didn't stir even a little at the noises Sam couldn't seem to help but make. Sam couldn't help but notice that, even in sleep, Gabriel retained an air of good humor and mischief. His fingers started to itch for a pencil, although it had been years since he'd been tempted to draw. Then again, it had been years since he'd done anything as bright as the painting on the easel downstairs, too. Or been flattered enough by praise of his work to blush.
Rather than fight it, Sam just gave in. He went and dug out a fresh sketch book and his crayon set. He was fairly sure that Gabriel would scoff and say something like Dean had, that Crayola had never made crayons like these, which was true enough. Artist's crayons were a bit different from anything you'd find in a grade school. But he wanted color, and dragging his easel and paints upstairs would probably make enough noise to wake Gabriel even through the drugs.
He moved the recliner to where he had an unobstructed view of the whole couch without blocking any of the firelight and opened the book. It was easy, so easy, to lose himself in the smooth glide of graphite over paper, in capturing the clean lines of Gabriel's face and form, in shading the colors just right. When the first was done, he flipped the page and immediately began a second, not of Gabriel sleeping, but of him awake and talking, whole face animated and eyes sparkling. The eyes were a real challenge. They weren't simply brown or hazel, and they weren't precisely whiskey colored. They were more like whiskey with the sun shining right through the bottle.
He did a third drawing, one of what his mind pictured Gabriel looking like as a zombie in a corn maze before the intense need to draw finally eased its grip on him. He flipped the book shut and stretched, joints popping again. Gabriel was still out, and his watch told him it was late. Sam was actually fairly tired, and after spending so long immersed in his drawing, he was hoping he would be able to sleep dream free. He let Dee out while he made a very quick check in with Dean, then headed off to bed.
A few short hours later, he woke screaming and crying into his pillow, tangled in his blankets. Dee licked frantically at his face until he was able to choke the screams back down.
Sam couldn't stay in bed after one of his nightmares. He had to get up and check the house and grounds, just to be sure. The compulsion was even stronger that night, and included checking on Gabriel, sleeping alone, drugged, and so very, very vulnerable on the couch.
The house was silent, of course. The area around the cabin was empty, and the snow utterly pristine, without even animal tracks to mar the smooth, otherwordly white glow of it. There was nothing there, nothing burning except the expected fire in the fireplace. Gabriel was breathing a bit heavily on the couch, scrunched into an impossibly small ball. There was nothing out of place anywhere, yet it was hours before Sam was able to relax again. The clouds left the area at some point during the night, so the dawn that he greeted with his gun in his hand was a spectacular sight, with the sun rising over the mountain and turning the snow a brilliant red for a short time.
Sam turned his back on the sight. He didn't care for blood any more than he cared for the stench of burning meat.
Dean didn't wait for him to check in. His voice blared from the radio and had Sam lunging for his bedroom to prevent his obnoxious sibling from waking his guest. “Dude, could you be any more rude? Sick person sleeping up here, y'know!” he hissed.
“Yeah, but I knew you'd be awake, bitch. How'd you sleep?”
“Fine,” Sam lied.
“Bullshit. How long did you make it?”
Sam flopped onto his bed and wrapped an arm around Dee. “About three hours,” he admitted. “But it's fine. I'm fine. I'll take a nap later or something. Don't try to get up here, Dean. I know you.”
“Well, they couldn't have been as bad as usual if your new friend slept through them. He did, didn't he?”
“Like a log,” Sam confirmed, neglecting to mention that the guy had been knocked out by cold medicine.
“How'd the drawing go?”
“Really good, actually. I did three before bed.”
“Maybe that's it. Maybe you just need to do more drawing instead of getting sucked into those dark ass things you've been doing in the basement lately.”
“They sell,” Sam pointed out. “Toss a mysterious title on 'em, and they sell like you wouldn't believe.”
“Oh, I believe it, Sam. I've seen your bank account, I believe it. Hey, speaking of which, when is that bitch supposed to be in town for the next load?”
Rubbing his forehead, Sam yanked open the drawer in his bedside table to pull out his planner. “It's January, right? Uh, looks like she'll be here at the end of the month, weather permitting. And I wish you wouldn't call her a bitch, especially to her face. She always tries to up her commission when you do that.”
“Except that she's got a contract and you'll sue her ass into a homeless shelter if she takes a single penny more than what she's supposed to. So it doesn't matter what I call her, and I call it like I see it.”
“Yeah, whatever. Jerk. Can I go now? I want to get some coffee in me before I head out to clear the drive. I might just see if I can spot Gabriel's car, although I'm not holding out much hope.”
“Sure, whatever. Don't forget to check in later, okay?”
“Yes, Dean. Sam out.” Sam tossed the radio on the bed and stretched. If he wanted to sleep later, then he had to work now.
Gabriel was still sleeping, although he was shifting and scrunching his face in a way that suggested it wouldn't be for much longer. Sam built the fire back up, then went and got both the kitchen and basement fires going as well. Shortly after, the scent of coffee seemed to be the trigger that finally woke his guest, and Gabriel shuffled into the kitchen not long after Sam heard the toilet flush. “Coffee?” he asked, amused at the severe bedhead that Gabriel had going on.
“Um.” Gabriel snatched the mug from Sam's hand, dumped an obscene amount of sugar into it, then practically inhaled it. “Hate cold medicines,” he whined. “Worst hangover ever.”
Sam topped up his mug, then snatched a quick feel of his forehead. “You don't sound any more congested than you did last night, though, and your fever doesn't seem to be returning. The sleep did you some good.”
“Yeah, whatever. Sturdy.” Gabriel doctored his second cup like he had the first, but managed to drink it a little slower. “Food?” he asked hopefully.
“More oatmeal, I'm afraid. Unless you want a couple of your muffins?”
“Oatmeal is fine, Sam. We have to save the muffins for dessert, since I didn't see anything else that would work.” Gabriel scratched at his stubble and finally seemed to focus on Sam. “You're dressed. How long have you been up?”
“A little while. The snow stopped. I'll be heading out to clear the driveway right after breakfast. Do you remember about where you left your car? I thought I might try to find it, see if I could get it out. I've got tow chains for the truck.”
Gabriel made a face. “I'm not sure it's worth it, but I'm pretty sure I spun off right next to your driveway. It's why I thought it was the road. I do have another bag inside, though. If we can find it, I'd like to get the rest of my stuff.”
“Sure, no problem. Sit down before you fall back to sleep.” Sam dished up the oatmeal, then passed over the brown sugar and syrup without being asked. He didn't linger over his breakfast, though. There wouldn't be enough hours of sunlight, and he wanted to make as much use out of what there was as possible. He jumped up as soon as he was done and started to pull on his snow suit. “You just take it easy for the day, okay? The radio is in my bedroom if there's an emergency, and I'll leave Dee with you, too.”
“I need a guard dog?” Gabriel asked, clearly amused.
“You never know. If he barks, call Dean immediately and if you can, flag me down,” Sam said flatly. Gabriel lost his faint smirk and nodded but thankfully didn't ask any more questions.
Sam drive was more of a short road than a driveway. At a couple miles long, it was a pain to clear of snow, and Sam had been forced to get a plow for the front of his truck. Even with that, it still took a while to plow through, since he could only go a short distance before he had to angle the truck to push the gather snow off to the side. But eventually, he made it to the road. He didn't push the last pile of snow all the way off, since he wasn't sure exactly where Gabriel's car was. Leaving the truck idling, he hopped out and started looking. The snow had drifted in several places, and all the drifts looked vaguely alike. Enough so that there was no telling if one of the drifts was a car under a few inches of snow or really just a drift. Sighing, Sam climbed up into the bed of the truck, reached up, and grabbed the longest branch that he could find from one of the trees. Some serious tugging, followed by letting all his weight hang off, ended with the broken branch in his hands. He stripped the twigs off and went car hunting.
Gabriel, as it turned out, had been right. The car was almost directly opposite Sam's driveway, and in the middle of a blizzard, it would have been easy to mistake it for the road itself. Had Sam pushed the last load of snow across, the car would have been buried too deeply to find until spring. He dug the car out and found a little red Nissan, about ten years old. Candy wrappers littered the interior when he looked in.
Shaking his head, he got back in the truck and cleared enough of the snow away to give him room to work. Then he backed the truck up to the little car and got out to hook up the tow chains that he normally used for hauling downed trees home for firewood. After climbing down to reach the driver's side and putting the car in neutral, he was able to ease the car out of the ditch, then got out to check the damage. The entire front end was crumpled, the window a bit more than cracked. A branch had been driven through it, perilously close to where the driver's head would have been. That the air bag hadn't deployed was a mystery, and that Gabriel hadn't been noticeably bruised or worse was a miracle. Swallowing back the sour taste that invaded at the thoughts of what could have happened, Sam got back in the truck and drove home.
The cabin went very, very quiet when Sam walked out. Gabriel went to the window and watched Sam pull out in a big black truck with a plow on the front. He watched the methodical progression of snow removal for a while before boredom set in. He couldn't even watch Sam's face, so there really wasn't much to staring at the truck. He turned around and found the dog staring at him. “Hey, uh, you're not planning on eating me now that Sam's not right here, are you?” The dog continued to stare at him. “I'll take that as a no.”
He went to the fire and poked at it for a bit, stirring it up higher. And then he couldn't resist anymore and practically dove on the remaining stack of sketch books. Gabriel didn't know much about the man that had saved his life. He knew Sam was talented, and he knew Sam was serious to the point of somber, and he was at least 95% sure that a lot of that seriousness was born of grief, although he didn't have a clue who Sam grieved for. He'd noticed that none of the books dated from a time past Sam's senior year in high school, and as of the seventh grade, there had only been three sketches of his father, total. Sam was both handsy and closed off, as though he weren't used to being around people anymore, but back when he had been, he'd been used to casually touching those around him. Sam cared deeply for people, or he wouldn't be mother henning Gabriel so badly over a mild cold, or fretting so much about it getting worse and how they'd get to the hospital if it did.
Gabriel hadn't missed the gun in the discarded snow suit the day before. Nor had he missed the part where Sam had a highly trained guard dog that followed him everywhere he went like a silent, faithful ghost. And Sam's warning to contact his brother immediately if the dog reacted to something showed that his concern for his own safety extended to Gabriel as well. Sam was afraid of something, whether real or imagined he didn't know, but the fear was genuine and over shadowed everything he did.
None of it really added up, at least on paper, to someone that most people would desire to be around. Sam hadn't once smiled, and the fear and paranoia should be making Gabriel itch to leave. Except that Sam had the most beautiful eyes of anyone he'd ever seen, and he couldn't remember the last time anyone had shown real concern for him.
And his drawings! Each one was filled with life and love and a blatant adoration of his older brother. They also spoke of an odd childhood. Some of the drawings had backgrounds sketched in, usually just suggestions rather than anything truly detailed. No room was repeated from year to year and in some of them, Gabriel was pretty sure he'd seen guns or knives left out casually on a table. In the first four, there had been drawings of other children that Sam had identified as his 'best friend in kindergarten' and his 'best friend in first grade'. A new best friend each year. Until fifth grade, and it became a single, obviously quick drawing of a kid that Sam had introduced as 'a kid I hung out with a lot in fifth grade'.
Gabriel didn't know what had stolen Sam's laughter. What he did know was that he wanted to bring it back.
The seventh grade book changed tone on him. There were still drawings of his big brother, which still held that obvious affection and hero worship. But there were other scenes interspersed; seemingly random two story houses with yards. Dogs. A dining room table laid out with a truly impressive Thanksgiving feast. A soccer field, stands filled with a crowd that seemed to be cheering.
Dee barked once, sharply, jarring Gabriel out of his study. The dog was staring fixedly at the front door, entire body held ready. Gabriel couldn't help but remember Sam's caution, but he couldn't make himself truly echo it. Rather than run for the radio, he moved to the window to see what was out there. It was a few moments before anything was, and then he had to shake his head and laugh. “You big dummy,” he chided the dog. “That's Sam, not a rabid grizzly or something.” He pulled on his coat, stomped into his boots, and opened the front door as Sam slowed the truck to a stop in front of the garage. He laughed again. “Sam, really, you didn't have to drag that thing back here,” he said as soon as Sam opened the truck door.
Sam frowned at him, but Gabriel didn't take it personally. He'd gotten a glimpse of Sam's irritation, and it bore no resemblance to that frown. It seemed to be his default expression when he was actually focused on another person. When he was thinking of other things, he face went blank. “You shouldn't be out here,” Sam chided him. “It's cold, and you could make your cold worse.”
“I'm fine, Sam. It's just a little cold. A few minutes of fresh air might help.” He went down the stairs, following the dog as Dee pushed by and raced to his master. Sam rather absently rested his hand on the dog's head. Gabriel looked past him at his car and whistled. “Shit, I don't actually remember there being a giant branch spearing the car.”
“Really? Because from where it's positioned, it would have come very close to impaling your head.” Sam walked over to him and tilted his face into the weak winter sunlight. “You don't have any bruises. How about bumps? I should have checked right away, but I thought it was just cold,” Sam fretted, carding his fingers back through Gabriel's hair.
Gabriel fought the urge to actually lean into the touch. “I'm fine, Sam. I wasn't going all that fast, didn't hit my head at all.”
“Then how did you not notice the branch?”
“Well, I didn't say I wasn't freaked out,” Gabriel grumbled. “I mean, hello? Deserted mountain road in a blizzard? Trying to push through was maybe not the best choice, but I'm not entirely stupid, ya know.”
“I know, I never said....” Sam trailed off, pink darkening his cheeks because, yeah. He kind of had, although Gabriel didn't hold it against him. “Well, but I didn't mean you were completely stupid,” he said lamely.
Gabriel laughed. “That's got to be the most backhanded compliment in the history of ever. Fortunately you're cute, so you're forgiven.” He ducked out from under the hands that hadn't left his head and peered into his car. “Hell, I even left the keys in there, didn't I?”
“Yeah, but to be fair, it's not like anyone was going to get that thing out of the ditch without a truck. You said you had some other stuff in there?”
“Yeah, the bag with my summer clothes, a few books. Nothing major, although....” Gabriel opened the door and scowled at the snow drifted over the seats and floor. It wasn't a whole lot, but if the car ever thawed, it would still leave the interior soaked. As if the repairs to the front end and replacing the windshield weren't enough of a pain, the thing would end up smelling like wet dog for a while, too. But that wasn't as important as the bag stashed under the passenger seat. “Yes! Oh, sweet chocolate, how I've longed for you,” he said reverently, clutching the bag of Snickers to his chest. He turned and beamed up at Sam. “You didn't have to drag that heap all the way back here, but I really appreciate it anyway.”
“No problem,” Sam assured him, blatantly lying through his teeth.
“Let's get it moved out of the way, though. Where do you want it?” Gabriel examined the area, then pointed to a spot beside the garage. “How 'bout there? It won't block the drive, but it'll still be easy enough for a tow truck to get to when the roads get cleared.”
Sam frowned, and there was a different quality to it that said that there was real unhappiness behind it, rather than simply being thoughtful. “Yeah, that will work. Let me get the chains unhooked and the truck in the garage. Then I'll push and you steer, ok?”
Gabriel sighed, even if it made sense. Sam was built like a bear, while Gabriel...wasn't. But the cold had better not last all that long, because as nice as the coddling was, it would start to chafe really damned fast. “Sounds like a plan, my man.”
Sam suited actions to words, and in short order, Gabriel was sliding behind the wheel and trying to ignore the way the snow was melting and seeping through his clothes to chill his rear. They quickly had his car parked, and Sam even went so far as to throw a tarp over it and anchor it with a few pieces of wood to keep more snow from getting in. Then Sam chivvied him into the house and all but stripped Gabriel in his efforts to get him into fresh clothes.
In retaliation, Gabriel made Sam sit with him again and discuss his drawings. They took a break for lunch, then finished looking through the final book just before supper. Sam was gracious enough to allow Gabriel to sit in the kitchen and watch while he cooked. Gabriel propped his head on his fist and let himself enjoy the economical but graceful way Sam moved around. “So why don't you have more drawings of your father?” he asked idly, hoping his casual tone would make the nosy question easier to answer.
From the way Sam froze for a moment, though, it hadn't. “We...don't get along. Never really have.”
“Aw, shit. Sorry, kiddo, you can just tell me to shut up when I get to prying like that. Shame about your dad, though. Me, I got along great with my dad. While he was around, anyway.”
Sam gave him a clearly startled look. “Did he - I'm sorry, did he pass away?”
“No. Well, maybe, we don't know.” Gabriel shrugged as though it were no big deal. “He just up and left one day a few years ago. It's why I'm here, actually. Well, not here in your kitchen, but here in Angel Peak. Castiel called me and said he had news about our father and he wanted to discuss it in person before letting our other brothers know. We're not really a tight knit bunch. Me n'Cas are probably the closest, and this will be the first time we've actually seen each other in years.”
“I don't think I could do that. I mean, not voluntarily. Dean did a hitch in the Marines, so he was gone for a few years there, but we still talked and wrote whenever we could. And he visited a lot while I was at college, once he got out.” Sam slid a plate in front of him, along with a glass of apple juice before sitting down himself.
Gabriel twined his fork through the pasta and frowned thoughtfully at his plate. “Maybe if we'd had the same mother, we'd have been closer. I mean, we lived with dad and all, but there was always this weird distance between most of us. Mike and Luke got along, until some massive fight they had over something stupid. And Raphael was close to them, but I was a little younger, so that didn't help. Zach is just a born douche, I think, but Cas is cool. He's a few years younger than me, probably around your age.” He flashed a smile. “I'd say it was my boyish personality, but really, Cas was always too serious at every age for his own good. People had a hard time believing I'm the older brother.”
“No, really? But you don't act childlike at all,” Sam murmured.
For just a moment, Gabriel thought he was serious. Then he noticed a slight twitch at the corners of his mouth and realized that he'd just been teased. “Hey pal, there's nothing wrong with youthful high spirits. It keeps me young!” he laughed. “Still, while my brothers would generally shush me and shoo me, Cas never had a problem hanging around me. At least until Dad vanished.”
“That seems so strange to me,” Sam admitted. “I mean, our dad took off a lot, which is why Dean pretty much raised me, but we always knew at least roughly where he was and he checked in every once in a while. So any clue what Castiel found out?”
“No.” Gabriel hesitated, running his fork in random patterns through the sauce. “This is going to sound terrible,” he said haltingly, “but I...I almost hope that Cas found out he died, y'know?” He peeked up at Sam, expecting to see some kind of shock or disapproval there, because how horrible of a kid did it make him that he wanted his old man to be dead?
Instead, Sam looked thoughtful. “I think I can get that,” he said carefully. “Because if you find out that he died, then it wasn't his fault that he left. He didn't choose it, he didn't walk out on you. But if he's just been, I dunno, living it up in Mexico or something, well.”
“Yeah,” Gabriel said, relieved. “Exactly. I miss him, don't get me wrong. It sucked beyond the telling when he left. Mike went into a tailspin like you wouldn't believe, kinda hated everyone for a while. He even tracked down Luke to start fighting with him again. Castiel got a little lost in the shuffle for a while there, but it didn't really affect him like the rest of us. He always just said that dad would be back when he was ready, like it was a foregone thing. But the way he sounded on the phone....”
“Just because he's upset doesn't mean that what he has to say is really bad. It might just be that it pisses him off, y'know?” He reached across the table and touched the back of Gabriel's hand gently. “Don't give up hope until you absolutely have to. It's too hard to get it back, y'know?”
Gabriel could only smile and nod, and for a few awkward moments, neither of them seemed to know what to say. Which was his fault, really. Sam probably thought he was a lunatic, unloading all that on someone who was, really, a stranger. Frankly, Gabriel thought he was losing his mind, because it wasn't at all like him to spill personal shit to anyone, much less someone he'd only met two days ago.
Sam took a deep breath. “Awkward moment. Um, so Dean says you're a real gypsy type, move around a lot? No home base or anything?”
“Nope. The longest I've settled anywhere was, oh, a couple months.” Gabriel smiled a little wistfully, thinking about those couple of months.
“I couldn't do that. Well, I mean, we kind of did. I didn't go to the same school two years in a row, like ever. I hated that, and in the summers we'd move on after a few weeks at the most. Sounds like you enjoy it, though.”
“I did,” Gabriel confirmed. “It's getting a little old, though. It might be nice to have a place instead of living out of my car and motel rooms. I never did find what I was looking for, although actually looking was worth it.”
“What were you looking for?” Sam asked, propping his head on his fist.
“Oh, y'know. Adventure, fame, love,” Gabriel said vaguely. “Found plenty of adventure, but the fame and love have eluded me. Which is fine, I guess - from what I've seen, fame isn't all it's cracked up to be.”
“So you wanted the big record deal, groupies, the whole bit?”
“Nah, just fame.” Gabriel laughed a little. “I had the most unformed dreams of anyone I knew. I wanted to play my music and be famous, but I never cared about the money, and I had no idea what I wanted to be famous for. But you! Living the dream, huh? Famous painter, at least kind of rich. I wouldn't mind something like what you've got. Just to be able to make enough money playing to get by.”
“Oh, this kind of happened by accident,” Sam told him, sounding a little embarrassed. “I was actually going to school to be lawyer, and I sold my first few paintings to help make ends meet.”
Gabriel stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing. “That's kind of ironic, don't you think? Here I sit, having spent most of my adult life chasing the kind of life you've got, and you fell into it by accident!”
“Do you regret it?”
“Not a bit of it. I've enjoyed my life, Sam. Just because I'm looking for a change doesn't make that any less true. I was thinking of seeing if Castiel would let me crash with him while I looked for work around here, actually. If I'm going to put down roots, might as well be near my favorite brother, right?”
Sam's face brightened, although he still didn't smile. “Makes sense to me, but then, Dean and I have been considered strangely co-dependant, so I might not be the best one to ask.”
“Pshaw, ignore the haters, Sam. They're just jealous.” Gabriel got up to start clearing the table, because he wasn't the type of guest that just sat on his ass and let someone else wait on him. And couldn't help the sniffle, because the mild congestion had really started to move to his nasal passages. The sniffle prompted a sneeze, which prompted a coughing fit that shocked the hell out of him. When he finished and glanced at Sam, he found the other man frowning stonily. “Let me guess - go rest?” Sam nodded once and Gabriel shuffled off under that hard stare, silently vowing to cook Sam the best dinner he'd ever tasted, just as soon as he was feeling better.
Gabriel's cold worsened rapidly. Sam was not happy about it, and he monitored Gabriel's temperature closely. But even he had to admit that, while the coughing and sneezing and snotting were unpleasant, they weren't life threatening and all Gabriel really needed was rest and fluids. Which is what Sam made sure he got. During the day, whenever Gabriel was awake, he was only allowed to lay around. Sometimes he read, and sometimes they just talked, but he wasn't permitted back outside. At night, he took his cold medicine without argument and slept the night away in a drugged heap.
Which was fortunate for Sam, since his own sleep wasn't anything like restful. Once triggered, his nightmares had a tendency to linger until something broke the cycle - usually Dean getting sick of his exhausted state and climbing silently into bed with him. Sam found it humiliating that he needed to sleep with his big brother to chase away his mental ghosts like a child, and he refused to ask for it. If he'd been on his own, he would have probably avoided sleeping as much as possible, but with Gabriel there and needing care, however minimal, he made himself try. Some sleep was better than none, even if he did wake screaming after only a few hours.
After a couple of days of constant rest, Gabriel seemed to bounce back. He woke, still complaining about the mild hangover he got from the meds, but the congestion was all but gone, and his eyes were bright and lively. He made it plain that he was feeling too good to just sit around again all day, and by the way, he felt disgusting, could they manage a bath of some kind?
Sam, not at all at his best, rocked on his heels for a moment to think about it. It had been a few days for him, too, and the quick rubdowns he gave himself with a washcloth really weren't adequate. And Gabriel, frankly, was getting a little rank. “Sure,” he said finally. “It'll take a little while, and it won't be steaming hot, but...we can manage. I could use a bath, too.”
“Yeah, well, I didn't want to say anything, but you certainly do.” Gabriel grinned. “So, how do we do this?”
Sam shrugged. “Go fill up the tub with enough water that you can get clean. Don't think you're going to get a long soak or anything, the water won't stay warm enough for that.” He went into the kitchen and dug out his two biggest pots, filled them with water, and put them on the stove. When both pots were boiling, he carefully carried them, one at a time, down to the bathroom. Gabriel squeezed himself to the side when he saw the steaming pot to allow Sam to dump it in. “One more, and it should be warm enough for a quick bath.” He pointed at a pitcher on the corner of the tub. “Make sure you save some clean water in that to rinse your hair, otherwise you get to use cold, and believe me, that sucks.”
“Voice of experience?”
“Yes. My first winter power outage, I didn't consider that the bath water would be soapy when I was done. On the other hand, if you're feeling groggy, you might want to try it. It will definitely wake you up.” Sam went back for the second pot while Gabriel laughed, dumped it in, and hurried back to heat his own water.
Gabriel's groan of pleasure a few moments later was loud enough to hear in the other room. Sam felt himself flushing, and tried to distract himself with the heating water.
It didn't work.
Thankfully, Gabriel didn't take long, and wandered out a bit later, dressed in his own jeans, with a button down shirt flapping unbuttoned around him as he toweled his hair. “I feel almost human,” he declared. He sniffed at his armpit. “And I smell human, too.”
“Good to know. My turn, I guess.”
“I filled the tub already, so you're good to go.” Gabriel grabbed the second pot as Sam took the first. He stared doubtfully at the tub. “Is that enough water? You're such a huge bugger,” he mused.
“Very funny. It'll do.”
Chuckling, Gabriel walked out, closing the door behind himself. Sam toed off his socks, and, as he lifted his henley over his head, Gabriel knocked on the door. “Yeah?” Sam asked absently.
The click of the door opening registered a second too late. Sam whirled at Gabriel's gasp and crossed his arms defensively. “What?!” he snapped.
“Uh, your brother just hollered over the radio. The road's been cleared,” Gabriel told him. “Sorry, I shouldn't have - yeah doesn't mean 'come in', I know, sorry.” He jerked back out of the doorway and slammed it closed again.
“Fuck,” Sam swore. He finished stripping and stepped into the tub. The water was just warm enough to be tolerable, and he scrubbed himself efficiently from head to toe. Once he was clean, dry, and dressed again, he went out to the living room and found Gabriel sitting on the couch with his duffel and guitar next to his feet. Heart sinking, Sam lifted his chin to hide how much it hurt that Gabriel was so eager to leave. “You're ready to go, I take it,” he said cooly.
“Well, I figure I've officially outstayed my welcome. I'm sorry about just walking in on you, Sam.”
“Yeah, whatever. Let me get my shit together and I'll drive you into town.”
“Hey, in your own time. I don't want to put you out if you had plans for today or something, I just figured you'd want me gone,” Gabriel said hastily. “I mean, what with me being a jerk and all.”
“Who said you were a jerk? I didn't.” They stared at each other for a minute. “You're not going to ask, are you?”
“Ask about what?” Gabriel said lightly.
“Huh.” Sam glanced at the fireplace, ostensibly to check if it needed more wood. “Y'know, I don't mind the company, if you wanna stay longer. And you did promise to play for me.”
“That's true, I did. I'm not really all that anxious to get into town. We could go tomorrow instead,” he suggested.
“Tomorrow works.” Sam blinked as the lights all suddenly came on. Almost immediately, the faint whir of the central heating kicked in, along with the hum of the refrigerator. “Well. All things considered, we should have expected that.”
Gabriel laughed. “Yeah. But if we hadn't done the whole bath thing, the power wouldn't have come back on. That's just the way it works.” He kicked his bag to the side and pulled his guitar to his lap. “Was there anything you were wanting to do?”
Sam went and flopped into the recliner. “Nope. Entertain us,” he said as Dee settled at his feet.
Gabriel lifted the guitar out of its case and spent a few minutes tuning it. “Okay. This first one is one that I actually wrote. I was head over heels for this woman, but she was too busy making her way through the male population to really give me much notice beyond friendship. She wanted a wingman, not a steady lover.” He started to play, a surprisingly jaunty tune for a song with such a sad premise. Sam was tapping his foot to the beat before Gabriel even opened his mouth to sing. He had a pleasant tenor voice and Sam could easily picture him in either a trendy café or dark, smoky bar getting the patrons up and dancing, maybe singing along. (Insert Thursday, by Jim Croce here)
He clapped, genuinely delighted when the song ended. “You're right, you're awesome. Do another?” he requested.
“Of course. Any requests?”
“Whatever, I'm easy. Do more of your own stuff,” he suggested. “I really like your rhythm. Not that I'm any judge - I'm a painter, not a musician.”
Gabriel beamed at him, clearly delighted, and moved right on into the next song. Sam leaned back and listened, sometimes singing along when Gabriel switched to something that he knew, although he mostly did so under his breath since he had it on good authority that his voice could peel paint.
Sleep was easier to find that night. Even so, the nightmares still came. But instead of waking himself with his screaming, he woke to soft hands and an urgent voice.
“C'mon, Sam, wake up kiddo. It's just a dream, it's okay, c'mon,” Gabriel murmured. Sam flailed a bit until he finally latched onto the front of Gabriel's t-shirt. “That's it, Sam, wake up. It's just Gabriel, everything is fine.”
“Fuck. Fuck!” Panting, Sam could only hang onto Gabriel, head resting against the other man's chest. Dee was beside them, snuffling into the side of Sam's neck as usual. He calmed, eventually, as he always did. When the terror and relieved grief receded a bit, embarrassment took over. “Bet you wish you'd taken that ride today, huh?” he muttered.
Gabriel's hands tightened on his shoulders, then his arms slid around until he was hugging Sam to him. “No. Nobody should have to wake up alone after something like that.”
“You're still not going to ask, are you?”
“No. But if you want to talk, I'm more than willing to listen.”
“Fuck,” Sam said again. “If you move here, you'll probably hear all about it anyway. Hell, even if you just stay in town a few days, I'm sure you'll hear about it.”
“I don't listen to gossips, Sam. You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to.”
Sam sighed and tried to pull away. Gabriel wouldn't let him and, grateful, Sam sagged against the smaller man. Gabriel shifted a bit until he was leaning against the headboard and just let Sam sprawl on him. “When I was six months old, a serial killer murdered my mother.” Gabriel stiffened for a moment, then began carding his fingers through Sam's hair. It was incredibly comforting. “I don't remember, of course. But Dad told me about it later. How the psycho pinned her to the wall and set her on fire, right next to my crib. Dad caught a glimpse of the guy, said he had eyes like a demon's. They looked like fire. The cops couldn't find anything, and of course they didn't take what Dad said seriously. I mean, who has yellow eyes, right? Never mind that you can get novelty contact lenses to make your eyes look like just about anything. He got obsessed with finding the guy and packed me and Dean up to try. He never did, although he found a lot of other killers, which I guess justified how he made us live. At least, that's what he says. I hated it. I hated moving all the time, I hated living in complete dumps or crappy, roach infested motel rooms, I hated not being able to have friends for more than a school year. I hated the way he trained me and Dean like we were soldiers. I knew a dozen different ways to kill a man, and even more ways to cripple one, before my nuts dropped. I wanted to do well in school and draw, and that wasn't acceptable. When I got older, I started to look at colleges, and Dad just about flipped. He could deal with me going into the military, like Dean, since I'd be a better soldier coming out the other side. He could even handle me going into law enforcement. I wanted to be a lawyer, though, and that just - he hated it. We had such horrible fights, I can't even tell you. Being a lawyer wouldn't help find mom's killer, so it was out of the question. So when I got a full ride to Stanford, I went, and he - he told me not to bother coming back.”
“That's rough, kiddo. A full ride to Stanford is damned impressive. He should have been proud.”
“He wasn't, and I didn't talk to him again for years. I met a girl there. Her name was Jessica. I wanted to marry her. But...Dean would come visit, in between helping Dad with his investigations. We went camping the weekend of Halloween, just to get away from all the costumes and shit. Halloween is a bad time for us. Mom was killed November 2nd, so we never really got to dress up and stuff. He dropped me back home, and I went in to find Jess, and I smelled smoke. Our bedroom was on fire, and I couldn't understand what was going on at first. The doorway was completely engulfed and Jess was screaming. I jumped through because what else could I do? She was pinned to the wall, right next to the window with the fire escape. That half of the room hadn't gone up yet. Something hit me, knocked me down. I pushed up and I saw him through the smoke. The man with the yellow eyes. He lit her on fire while I watched, and I couldn't get up. There was a piece of burning wood on my back, and it was too heavy. That's where the scars came from,” he explained, knowing how ugly and twisted the skin of his upper back was. “I was in the hospital for weeks. Dean had seen smoke, and it was the anniversary of mom's death, and he said he just knew. He came back, busted into the apartment, and he was able to help me get the beam off and drag me out, but it was too late for Jess.”
“I'm so sorry, Sam.” Gabriel clutched him closer. “I'm so sorry.”
“That's not the end. Oh no. Dad showed up when they finally let me out of the hospital. He thought I'd go on the road with him, help him track the sick son of a bitch down. And I kind of did, but not with him. I went with Dean, because Dad...the way he talked, it was almost like Jess didn't matter except for how her death made me see how important hunting the killer was. Like grieving wasn't important, only revenge. But she was important. She was, way more than her death. He'd never met her, never wanted to, and he couldn't even be bothered to come see me until I was out of the hospital. But Dean was there, every second. He's the only thing that kept me from falling apart.
“We traveled around, doing a kind of PI thing. We caught some pretty nasty people, too. And then...I met Madison. She'd been mugged and hurt, and it was a serial thing with whoever did it, because she wasn't the first. The cops were having no luck, so we took the case on. She was gorgeous and funny and teased me almost from the second we met. I fell pretty quick and then...she got up to open a window. The air conditioning was on the blink, and we'd gotten sweaty and hot. She opened the window and then she jerked and fell and her chest was just this - giant red stain spreading over my shirt. I didn't see the man with the yellow eyes that time. He just left a note on our motel room door. About how I was his, and I shouldn't forget that, and there wasn't a woman in the world good enough for me and he'd keep taking them away until I realized that. I couldn't do it anymore after that. The feds were finally interested in the case, so we handed over what little scraps we'd gathered on him and picked a spot to move to. Dean wanted a nice, small town, where everyone knows everyone and a newcomer stands out like a sore thumb. I just wanted somewhere far away from people, because he'll come for me again. He said he would, when he was ready, and I believe him. He's killed three women because of me.”
“No,” Gabriel said fiercely. “Not because of you. None of it is your fault, Sam. He's a soulless, evil thing who enjoys killing, enjoys causing pain and suffering, and he's enjoying messing with your head. He might be obsessed with you. It sounds like it. But that's not your fault.”
“Maybe not, but it sure feels like it,” Sam whispered. “And that's what I dream about. Him coming back. He didn't burn Madison, because she wasn't his type. He likes blonds, I guess. So he just shot her. And I keep thinking he'll come and take Dean, too. That I'll be sitting in the kitchen or something, just talking to him, and he'll just slump over with a bullet in his head. Or I'll wake up to smell that stench of burning flesh and find Dean pinned to the living room wall, burning and screaming like Jess did. Or you. I dreamed about you dying, too.”
“Not gonna happen, Sam.” Gabriel made him lift his head. Sam could just barely see his eyes in the dark. “Listen to me. I've been all over this country, and a few others, too. I've seen a lot of shit, and I've come through it all just fine. I'm your friend, and I'm not going anywhere unless you really want me to. If this son of a bitch shows his face, he's going to find it a lot harder to hurt me than he thinks. Small but mighty, right? I'm here, I'm fine, and I'm not going anywhere.”
“Why? You barely know me, Gabriel! I'm a walking mess, even I know it. Why the hell would you want to get involved with me?”
“Because I think you're an amazing person, Sam. You took me in not knowing me from Adam, you've shared your home, your food, and your art with me. Because you took care of me when I was sick, even though most people would have made me do it myself. Because you've got the most amazing eyes I've ever seen. Because I want to know what you look like when you smile. I want to know what your laugh sounds like. I want to see if I can get you to eat frosting right from the can. Because, for the first time in longer than I care to think about, I'm not lonely, and it's because you're actually there. You're not tuning me out or rolling your eyes at me.”
Sam softened and let go of Gabriel's shirt to cup the side of his face. “Gabriel...how could I not be there? You've gotta know how compelling you are. How funny and interesting and - and vibrant you are?” He shook his head. “I can't get you out of my head even when I'm painting,” he confessed. “But he'll be back, and there's no guarantee that he won't hurt you just because you're male. If you stay with me -“
“And I'm telling you that I'm willing to take that risk. I want to stay with you, Sam. I like you. Don't...push me away for my own good or anything stupid like that. You don't even know that he will come back. He could have died in a traffic accident or something, and no one would know because he probably doesn't wear those freaky-ass contacts all the time. You can't live your life like that. It's not living.”
“Alright. Alright. I do want you here,” Sam confessed. “Just being around you chases the fog away.”
“That's one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me.” Gabriel manhandled him a bit until they were both laying down. It was a little awkward for Sam, since he stubbornly refused to give up using him as a pillow, which required him to scrunch a bit more than he was used to. But they managed to find a comfortable position, and Gabriel started to comb his fingers through his hair again, sometimes trailing down the back of his neck. “Go back to sleep, Sam. I'll be right here in case the nightmares come back, okay? You need to be well rested if you're going to drive us into town tomorrow, and considering that I ate the last of my Snickers today, we definitely need to go.”
“Gotta talk to Castiel, too,” Sam reminded him.
“That too, but I gotta have some chocolate. I whither and dry like a flower with no water if I don't have chocolate.”
“That sounds like a truly horrible poem. Are you sure you actually wrote those songs yourself?”
“Shush, you. Go to sleep.”
When Sam woke up again, he found himself staring into whiskey eyes and the sense of yes, this is right. Without thinking, he leaned forward and brushed his lips lightly over Gabriel's, and Gabriel blinked, clearly surprised. Mortified, Sam jerked backwards, apologies tumbling from his mouth too fast to be really coherent.
“Easy, Sam, you're going to sprain something.” Gabriel reached out and caught at Sam's shirt to haul him closer. “Why are you apologizing, anyway? Because if it's for morning breath, well, yours isn't that bad. If you thought I was someone else....”
“Uh, because most guys would be a little upset if another guy just up and kissed them without so much as a by your leave?” Sam said.
“So you knew it was me, you weren't thinking of anyone else?” Gabriel pressed.
“No, I mean yes, I knew it was you. I just wasn't thinking and....”
“Well then.” Gabriel shifted up to lean over him and brought their mouths together again. It was more than a simple brush of lips, but it wasn't a full on, tongue-dueling experience either. It was still enough to have Sam's spine melting and his hands coming up to hold Gabriel close. Gabriel pulled back after a few moments, smiling, and nuzzled their noses together. “That is how you give a good morning kiss, Winchester.” He planted a second, quick kiss on Sam's mouth before he rolled out of bed. “Up and at 'em, kiddo. I'm pretty sure your brother isn't going to be pleased if you don't show yourself today.”
Sam blinked. After last night, he would have expected awkwardness. If he'd had time to think, anyway. He would have expected to be embarrassed by his meltdown, his long, rambling confession of his past. He would have expected Gabriel to, maybe, treat him with kid gloves or something, which would only have made his embarrassment even worse. He would never have expected the easy intimacy, the natural feeling kisses, and Gabriel acting like it was just another day. “Probably not,” he heard himself say as he followed his...what? Lover? No sex, for that it felt like they'd already been that intimate, and he was pretty sure sex was meant to happen before that title was given. Boyfriend? It sounded so juvenile.
“What's going on it that big brain of yours?” Gabriel asked, clearly amused.
“What are we? We aren't lovers. Boyfriends sounds-“
“Very highschool, yes. Partners seems too professional or politically correct. Why don't we just go with very good friends for now until we see where this is headed?” Gabriel brushed his fingers lightly down Sam's arm. “I don't want you making any decisions that you're not absolutely sure of, Sam.”
“I never do. Good friends will do - for now.” Sam caught him around the waist and pulled him flush for another kiss. He smelled like candy, even though his mouth tasted a little sour. “Just for now,” he warned, lips brushing against Gabriel's with his words.
“You're not going to hear me objecting,” Gabriel assured him. “Except about the lack of chocolate in my life. Seriously, Winchester, get your cute little ass in gear.” Gabriel gave the ass in question a light smack before he sauntered out of the room.
Sam felt the corners of his mouth twitch and spread in a small smile and followed.
He had to admit, as they danced around each other in the kitchen getting breakfast and coffee together in between more kisses, that things were moving pretty fast. Sam had taken his time with Jessica, at least, as much as she'd let him. He'd moved even faster with Madison than he was with Gabriel, though, and he'd been ready to tell Dean that they were putting down roots right there. He already knew more about the musician than he ever had about Madison, and he'd revealed more to him than he had to Jessica.
Once made, breakfast was eaten quickly, and then Gabriel dashed off to dress for the day, as eager as a kid on his way to the faire or something. Sam felt stirrings of a similar eagerness, a real desire to see his brother and maybe, just maybe, buy something besides oatmeal for breakfast. He hadn't had Lucky Charms in a while.
Gabriel held his hand in the truck, playing with his fingers. At least until they got out to the road, which was twisty enough, and blown over enough since the plow had gone through, to require both hands on the wheel. Gabriel flipped on the local classic rock station and sang along, poking Sam in the side until Sam joined in.
Sam took it nice and easy, so that it took a good half an hour to reach town. Once there, he idled at the first traffic light, since there was no one else on the road. “So, if we go right, we hit the grocery store. If we go straight, it'll take us to the station and Dean, who can tell us where Castiel lives.” Sam raised an eyebrow. “What's your pleasure?”
“Um. Why don't we get food first? I have no idea what kind of mood I'll be in after talking to Cas, so....”
Sam took his hand and played with the calluses on his fingertips as he turned right.
Gabriel bounded into the little grocery store and made a beeline for the candy aisle. Sam grabbed a cart and followed more sedately, amused to see Gabriel visibly torn between the selections on offer. “Why not get some of each?”
“Because I don't have a job yet? I have to make my cash last, you know.”
“You do realize that we're probably going to get snowed in again when the next storm comes through, right?” Sam pointed out. Gabriel frowned and looked again at the selection. Sam reached by him and started to grab bags of candy, one of each kind that he'd seen Gabriel look at. A dangerous look entered Gabriel's eyes. Sam put his lips next to Gabriel's lips and whispered, “What makes you think it's all for you?”
“Considering I didn't see any evidence of the slightest sweet tooth over the last few days?”
“Just because I don't indulge it on a daily basis, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Besides,” he added as he tossed in a jumbo bag of M&M's, “it's been a long time since I've wanted to indulge myself in anything.” He threw in a bag of twizzlers, “If all else fails, you can earn it.” Gabriel's jaw dropped and the grin spread over Sam's face before he knew it. “I hate doing dishes, and you're not really sick anymore.” He walked away, pushing the cart in front of him.
“I knew it!” Gabriel called behind him. “I knew you had a sense of humor somewhere in there, Winchester. But shit, I had no idea you've got dimples!”
Sam thought the shopping would go quickly once the candy crisis was over. He was wrong. Where Sam could walk down an aisle and rapidly throw whatever was needed into the basket, Gabriel could not. He was a lingerer. He liked to read labels, although oddly enough, never the nutrition information. He liked to comb the shelves for potential new things to try. Sam tried to steer him away from the bakery aisle, but it was a lost cause. Gabriel went into fits over the boxed cake and brownie mixes. There were too many to just choose one apparently. Sam finally had to reach over and grab a couple of each in order to get him moving. And then he tried to flat out refuse to head over to the meat section.
Sam stared at him. “You're not a vegetarian,” he pointed out.
“So? You are. You don't like the smell of cooking meat.”
“Gabriel...I can leave the room while you're cooking it. Once it's done cooking, I have no problem being in the same room,” he pointed out. “Get what you want.”
“What if I don't want anything?”
Sam sighed. “Gabriel, c'mon. I'd still be eating meat if I could stand the smell of it. I miss being able to eat meat. Don't deprive yourself if you don't have to, and you don't.”
“This will be a thing with you, won't it?” Gabriel observed. “Okay then, since you're so insistent.”
When they finally exited the store, they were carrying more bags of food than Sam had ever bought in his life. And Gabriel was talking about their next shopping trip - in two weeks.
They drove to the station. The closer they got, the more pensive Gabriel became. Sam could imagine, a little, how he was feeling. Whenever Dean started a conversation with, “So, about Dad...” his gut clenched, waiting to hear the news that their father had finally tangled with the wrong person and been killed.
Jo was working the desk when they walked in. She looked up and grinned. “Sam! It's about time you showed your face around here again. Dean's been driving us all nuts with his over protective big brother fretting.”
“I do not fret!” Dean yelled from his office. “Sam, get your butt in here.”
Rolling his eyes, Sam guided Gabriel around to the back and pushed his brother's door the rest of the way open. Dean was leaning back in his chair, feet propped on his desk while he nibbled at a mound of soggy looking fries. Across from him sat a slender man with pale skin and dark hair. “Sammy, this is Castiel Novak. I take it this is Gabriel?”
“Yeah. Nice to meet you, Castiel,” he said as the other man turned. He was hit with a serious stare from eyes that were ridiculously blue.
“Hello, Sam. I must thank you for saving my brother's life.” Castiel stood up and reached to shake his hand like he'd seen the gesture in a movie once.
Bemused, Sam took it and glanced at Dean. Dean nodded at him, grinning from ear to ear. “It was no trouble,” Sam said. “Gabriel's been awesome company.”
“You flatter me. I spent most of the time snotting all over your couch. Hey, Cas.” Gabriel reached out and yanked his brother into a tight hug.
“You have recovered from your illness, then?” Castiel asked, firmly stepping back.
“Yup, fit as a fiddle. Can't say the same for my car, though.”
“Not the brightest move, driving those roads during a blizzard,” Dean said.
Gabriel cocked his head at him. “My little brother called me and said he needed to talk to me. It was hardly a whim, Sheriff.”
“Still, it would have been safer, and your brother would have worried less, if you'd gotten a room somewhere to wait it out.”
“Dean,” Sam snapped. “Why don't we let Gabriel and his brother talk? I haven't had lunch yet.”
Dean looked mutinous until Sam frowned at him. Then he sighed and grabbed his coat. “Yeah, sure, fine. Don't trash the office with your wild party, guys. If you need me, Jo can get a hold of me,” he said, the last mostly to Castiel.
As soon as they were outside, Sam punched his brother in the arm. “Ow! What the hell was that for?” Dean demanded.
“For being a dick. You would have pulled the same damned stunt if I'd called you and asked you to come, and you sure as hell wouldn't have waited out the storm first, either.”
“That's different. You wouldn't call me if it weren't life or death important.”
“What makes you think that what they have to talk about isn't just as important?” Sam asked pointedly.
Dean stared at him. “You know what's going on,” he accused.
“A little. And if Castiel hasn't mentioned anything to you, I sure won't. Gabriel is...he's my friend, Dean. He'll be staying with me.”
“Oh yeah? For how long?”
“Indefinitely,” Sam answered evenly. Dean scowled and stomped on ahead. Sam just stood there and waited, and after a few moments Dean stomped back. “I like him. We've talked. There wasn't much else to do, obviously. I like him, Dean.”
“Damn it, you've only known him for a few days, Sammy. Sure, Cas says he's a good guy, but he hasn't seen him in years. Who knows how he might have changed since they were kids? He's been a gypsy for years, there's whole stretches of time where there aren't any records of him at all, not even a parking ticket.”
Sam crossed his arms stubbornly. “So what? I knew less about Madison and you were willing to put down roots right there with me. Why is this so different?”
“Because he's a guy and you're moving him into your house? Because Madison had lived there for years and was a hell of a lot easier to check out? Sam, you're not thinking.”
“No, you're right, I'm not thinking. I'm feeling. I'm feeling something real and light for the first time since Madison.”
Dean deflated. He knew better than anyone just how dark of a place Sam had been in for years. “You're seriously going to do this, huh.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Okay then. Just don't expect me to quit coming around every weekend. He can sleep on the floor, too. I've had dibs on that couch for years.”
Sam glanced away with a slight blush, thinking of the items he'd slipped in with the groceries. “The couch is yours,” he agreed.
“Oh, Sam. Sam, no. Tell me you didn't sleep with the guy.”
“We slept. Just slept, but....” Sam shrugged. “We're taking it one day at a time.”
“Hell. I guess it's a good thing you're not actually a girl, or we'd be headed down for a shotgun wedding already. Don't expect me not to watch him, Sam.”
“Please. That would be like expecting you to stop breathing and eating grease pretending to be food,” Sam scoffed.
“He has been good for you, I'll admit that. You seem happier. I guess, as long as it continues, and I don't find out he's siphoning your money off of you or secretly on the run from the mob or something, I'll let it go.”
“You're too kind,” he said dryly. “Are we actually going to get lunch or did you just want to stand out here and freeze?”
“Fine, fine. Let's get you fed, Sasquatch.” Dean planted a hand in the middle of his back and gave him a push across the street. Dean's favorite place to eat, day or night, was Ellen's pub. Sam liked Ellen well enough, though he didn't really know her. But it would be nice if she weren't so accommodating about providing Dean with food when she brought her daughter Jo her lunch. Ellen was nice, but she cooked nothing but greasy foods.
He slowed to a stop as soon as he reached the sidewalk. Dean kept right on walking, unsurprised that he wouldn't go in. Sam waited, thinking, and naturally thinking about Gabriel. Sam wasn't as familiar with the town as Dean was, but he was pretty sure there wasn't much in the way of jobs to be had. There were the two bars, of course, plus another about twenty miles in the opposite direction that Dean had been trying for years to get shut down, since it was the source of most of his drunk and disorderly problems. There was a library, a few stores, the school, and the mill. He couldn't picture Gabriel happy at the mill, not that they'd be likely to hire him unless he had experience and a damn good reference. He might get an in at the school teaching music, but he'd probably need certification of some kind to teach. Which left him playing the bars, really.
He eyed the door to Ellen's. Even outside, the smell of cooking meat was strong enough to make him faintly nauseated. He'd tried, once, to go in, hoping that the smell of cigarettes and beer would be enough of a mask to let him tolerate the place. It hadn't been. But it was also the middle of the day, and he could tell that there wasn't anyone in the place besides Dean. The smell was old. He went inside.
Dean turned and stared at him in pure shock. Ellen wasn't much better when she poked her head out from the kitchen. “Hey, Ellen.” Sam gave a little wave, breathing shallowly through his mouth.
“Sam, good lord, I was going to bring it out to you. It's never any trouble, honey.” Ellen hurried over to him and pushed him into a far corner, away from the kitchen. She reached up and cracked a window as well, letting a bit of clean air sweep in.
“I'm good, really. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Sure. Dean, you go back and finish your brother's lunch,” she ordered as she pulled out a chair.
“What - I - hey! I'm paying, here,” Dean protested. Ellen shot him a hard look over her shoulder that had Dean slinking into the kitchen, mumbling under his breath.
“So what did you need to talk to me about, Sam?”
“There's a new guy in town. His name is Gabriel Novak - Castiel Novak's brother? Do you know him?”
“I know Castiel, mostly from Dean dragging him in here the last few days.” Ellen laughed softly. “That poor guy has no idea what to do in a place like this.”
“We've met. He's a scholar of some kind. Anyway, Gabriel is a musician. Plays guitar, and he could use some place to play.” Sam tilted his head. “He's good, Ellen. He's got his own stuff, and he can do other people's stuff, too.”
“You want me to hire your musician to play in my bar,” she guessed. Sam nodded. “Sam, I don't know. Most folks are happy with the juke box.”
“Well, just - try it out. I mean, he's staying with me, so of course he might not be able to make it down here all the time, but he's good. He'd be worth it. Let him play a night some time and see if people aren't asking when he'll be back.”
Ellen studied him for a long while before she sighed. “One night. Next week, since we're supposed to have another storm move through here starting tonight. If it works out -“
“You can discuss that with him,” Sam interrupted. “He knows more about how this kind of deal works than I do. I just thought it couldn't hurt to ask if you'd be willing to give it a shot, the rest is up to the two of you.”
“Smart boy.” Ellen ruffled his hair and stood up. “I best get in the kitchen before Dean burns the place down.”
Sam glanced apprehensively at the kitchen doorway, where the faint sounds of swearing drifted out. “Yeah. Oh hey, Gabriel's been kinda stuck eating what I had on hand the last few days. I'm pretty sure he'd appreciate a burger at this point. His eating habits are scary close to Dean's.”
“That brother of yours.” Ellen shook her head. “I keep telling him that the food I serve here is supposed to be an indulgence, not a way of life, but he just doesn't listen. I'll fix your friend something. You go on outside and wait, okay?”
“Sure thing, Ellen. And thanks.”
“Thank me if this arrangement works out.”
Sam slid outside to wait, since he knew as well as Ellen that the fresh infusion of smell would be too much. Dean joined him about ten minutes later looking grumpy. “You owe me nine and a half bucks for your boyfriend's lunch,” he grumbled.
“Sure, whatever.” He accepted the paper bag filled with food from his brother as they crossed back over to the station. They met Gabriel and Castiel on their way out and Sam nearly dropped the bag. Gabriel looked as bad as Sam ever had. “Aw, fuck.” He shoved the bag back at his brother and reached for Gabriel's arm. “Hey, how you doing?”
“Oh, I'm fine,” Gabriel said. “Dad's dead.”
“Shit, I'm sorry,” Dean blurted. “Cas, hell, you shoulda told me, I coulda had Gabriel down here sooner somehow.”
“Nah, it's good,” Gabriel told him, cutting off whatever Castiel was going to say. “Haven't seen or heard from him in years, we kind of expected that he'd be dead if we ever heard anything.”
“But if I had searched harder, sooner, perhaps we would have had a chance to ask him why he left,” Castiel suggested softly. “He has only been dead for a few months.”
Sam understood then exactly why Gabriel looked so much worse than he'd expected. It was both his fears confirmed, because his father had chosen to leave, and his father was dead, so there'd never be any asking him why.
“Don't, little brother,” Gabriel said abruptly. “It shouldn't have fallen to you to look for him to begin with. I could have looked, Mike and Luke and Zach and Raphael could have looked. They were too busy fighting and I was too busy running, and we dumped this shit on you by default.” He ruffled Castiel's hair affectionately. “You did good, you've got nothing to be sorry for.”
“I am sorry that our father is dead,” Castiel corrected him.
Gabriel looked away. “So am I.”
Sam drew him a short distance away. “Hey, did you want to stay with your brother for a few days? I mean, considering the news and all.”
“No. Castiel is fine, mostly. And I could use a few days before I get in touch with the rest of our brothers. Dad...I don't want to talk about it here. Are you done in town?” Sam nodded, frowning. “Then we can get going whenever you're ready.”
“Okay.” Sam walked back over to where Dean was speaking quietly to Castiel. “We're going to head back. We've got a lot of groceries to put away and stuff, so....”
“Sure, Sam. I've got things covered here.” Dean nodded slightly at Castiel.
“We'll come back down after the storm is done,” Sam promised. “Beer and pool at your place.”
“Good plan. Cas hasn't ever played pool before.”
“You haven't?” Sam asked. Castiel shook his head. “Well, we'll have to correct that. Beer and pool is a Winchester tradition.”
“If it is a family custom, perhaps it's not appropriate to include me in it,” Castiel suggested.
“Don't be silly, Cas. It's a social activity. You'll come be social with us.” Dean leaned back to look at Gabriel. “Hey, did you know your brother doesn't know how to play pool?”
Gabriel walked back over, hands shoved deep in his pockets. “I didn't know, but I could have guessed. Why?”
“Beer and pool at my place as soon as the next storm is done.” Dean squinted up at the sky. “Speaking of, it looks like it's starting to move in. If you guys are gonna go, you should probably go now.”
“Right. We'll see you guys in a few.”
The drive back up to Sam's cabin was made mostly in silence. The radio was on, but there was no singing, no talking over it. Gabriel played with Sam's fingers while he stared out the window at the scenery. Once home, they worked together to get the groceries brought in and put away. As the last of their purchases was put away, Sam snagged a bag of M&M's with one hand and looped the other arm around Gabriel's waist. “Do you want to talk about your dad or just inhale some chocolate?”
“Do you want to talk about your dad?” Gabriel asked pointedly.
Sam shrugged. “If you want to hear about him. I've already told you some. I'm just offering to listen, Gabriel. If you'd rather not, that's fine with me.”
With a sigh, Gabriel snagged the candy and paced away. He ended up at Sam's usual thinking spot, right in front of the front window. Sam sat on the couch and watched him eat his way through a couple handfuls of candy before he finally turned to face Sam, butt leaning against the windowsill. “I told you that when we were kids, Dad was great. And he was. Our family is kind of weird; my older brothers all have one mother who died, and Cas and I have a different mother, who wasn't around much before she died. For all intents and purposes, our dad was our only parent. Not that any of us really felt neglected or anything.”
“Why should you? I don't believe that kids have to have two parents, so long as the one they've got pays attention and loves them,” Sam offered.
“And he did. And then one day, he was just gone. Mike and Zach and Raphael all work at dad's law firm.” Sam blinked, a little surprised by that. Gabriel grinned. “Oh yeah, stuffy, upper class lawyers, the lot of them. Dad had a sense of humor to balance things out, but most of my brothers really don't. I was about to graduate highschool. We all got up, and I had my stupid school uniform on, everyone else in their suits, and Mike tells me to go up to dad's room to see what was keeping him from breakfast. It was kind of a rule that we always ate breakfast together. So I run upstairs and dad's just gone. We searched the whole house and there was no sign of him, no note, but his car was still there. We called the cops but there wasn't a whole lot they could do. I mean, they looked, of course, but there wasn't any sign of violence or blackmail or anything to suggest that dad walked out of the house under anything but his own steam.”
“What did Castiel find?” Sam prompted.
“He found that dad had moved to Florida,” Gabriel said flatly. “He had himself a busty blond wife, no kids, and a big house. He died of a heart attack. He was alive all this time and living it up in Florida, sun and beaches and bikinis and all, and never mind all the kids he left behind. We were...so lost without him, Sam, and he never gave us a second thought.”
Sam got up and went to him, unable to keep his distance in the face of the raw pain in Gabriel's voice. He slipped his arms around the shorter man and held him close. “Maybe he had a reason,” he suggested quietly. “We could...head to Florida. Look around the house, check things out. I mean, I'm not as good as my dad or Dean at the investigation stuff, but I'm still pretty good at it. We might find something....”
He trailed off as Gabriel shook his head. “No, Sam. Not now, at least. Maybe - maybe eventually. I still have to call the others and let them know. God, that's not a mess I want to deal with, but I can't let Cas be the one to do it, either.”
“I'm here,” Sam offered. “I know it might not be much, we barely know each other, but I'm here.”
“Means more than you know,” Gabriel told him. He reached up and threaded his fingers through Sam's hair. Sam pushed into the touch, almost purring with the pleasure. He opened his eyes to see Gabriel smiling at him, a little fleck of red candy shell accenting the corner of his mouth, and he leaned down to lick it away. Gabriel chased after it, or rather, chased after Sam's tongue, and sucked it into his mouth. He tasted like chocolate, of course, with a hint of left over, too sweet coffee. Sam moaned into his mouth and pulled him tighter, letting Gabriel feel his rapidly hardening arousal. Gabriel pulled back. “Sam, are you sure? We don't have to...this is pretty fast, after all. We can go at your pace,” Gabriel told him earnestly.
“Shut up and kiss me, Gabriel,” Sam ordered.