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The Words We Long to Hear

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Sam Winchester does not believe in destiny.

He proves that for the first time when he runs out on his dad and brother, on their life's work, to go to school and have the life he wants, and he proves that for the second time when he reaches his three year anniversary with Jess, a girl who according to every legend out there and everything he knows, is not his soulmate.

Sam grew up looking at those words, small, out of the way and barely readable, positioned just above his right ankle. 'I've been mopping this floor every day for six years.' Not exactly the sort of legacy most people want to leave, and not exactly the sort of thing Sam wants permanently marked on his body, for that matter, but there it is. As far as he knows, Jess has never mopped a floor in her life, and her first words to him were 'Hey, I forgot my ID card, can you let me in?' Jess doesn't have Sam's words, either, but it doesn't matter, because they're happy together. They have been for a long time now. They love each other, they feel safe with each other, and though they never discuss it, they both agree that that is a thousand times more important than some stupid tattoo they got when they were born, before they'd even become the people they are today.

Sam remembers Dean laughing at him when they were kids. Dean said that Sam's soulmate was probably a cranky old guy who cleans toilets. Sam asked Dean what his words are, but Dean wouldn't show him, and Sam, being four years younger, wasn't strong enough to tackle him, though he did try on several occasions. Sam tried to think of embarrassing things it could be, but he never managed to really provoke Dean with this. His brother just kept saying that nothing could be worse than a grandpa toilet scrubber. Said he hoped he was there when Sam met his soulmate, just to see the look on Sam's face.

But now there's no Dean, and there is Jess, and Sam is happy with those choices.

Until that's no longer true, until Dean is back and telling him Dad's on a hunting trip, and Jess is burning on the ceiling and before Sam knows it he's back in the front seat of the Impala and Dean's asking him "Was she..."

Dean doesn't finish the sentence, but Sam knows what he's asking. It might almost be easier to lie, because it means Dean will never bother him about this soulmates crap again, but lying would mean inventing a whole story for why Jess would ever tell him she'd been mopping a floor for six years, and Sam just doesn't have the effort, so he tells Dean no, and Dean drops it, for now.

Sam meets a lot of people during the first year that he's back hunting, and it's not until he gets talking to one specific blond guy in a bar in Iowa that he thinks that Dean may have been right. Not about everything, just about the fact that his soulmate wouldn't necessarily be female. But this particular man just talks to Sam about the case, and then about his life, and then about how beautiful he thinks Sam is, and he doesn't once mention mopping any floors, and Sam is grateful for that. One thing at a time.

He doesn't tell Dean about this incident, either.

Sam thinks nothing of it when he and Dean catch a potential case in Springfield, Ohio. They flash their electrician IDs at a janitor, Dean asks the guy to show them to the office they're looking for, and the man nods once and leads them upstairs. It occurs to Sam halfway up that the janitor may well have been working when the dude was killed, so he asks 'How long've you been working here?" as a segue into talking about the murder.

"I've been mopping this floor every day for six years," the man replies, and Sam's entire body stops working for a millisecond, and he spends the rest of the day feeling like he's just slightly out of phase with everyone else in the world. After all that, after all those years of wondering, this was who his soulmate turned out to be. An ordinary person. A man he'll speak to once or twice, who has a little bit of vaguely relevant information to a case in a town they'll only pass through once.

There was no recognition on the guy's face, Sam muses later, unable to sleep. Sam thinks back to his own words. "How long have you been working here?" They were common words, he supposed. Words the man had heard before and would probably hear again. Since Sam hadn't reacted, how was the guy to know that it was those words, that specific instance of them that he'd been reading about his whole life? Unless it wasn't, of course. Unless the man was Sam's soulmate, and Sam wasn't his.

The thought makes Sam feel lonelier than he has since the night he lost Jess.

Not that it even matters. Because so what if Sam was flirting with the man? So what if he's cute and funny and has these impossibly golden eyes, this color Sam didn't even know could exist in real life? Sure, Sam would be lying if he said he wasn't tempted to stick around for a few days after the case was over, take the guy out for a drink, buy him dinner, maybe try to work out what exactly makes this man so special, so perfect for Sam. But the golden eyed man is a janitor in a college in a small town where he's lived for years, and Sam is a hunter who drives across the entire country on nothing more than a hunch, risking his life every day, and those two things just don't mix well together however Sam looks at it. Soulmates aren't a guarantee, Sam realizes then; they're more of a guideline. A hint from up above to give you slightly better odds. But Sam knows in his heart that the odds are so low for him anyway that the whole soulmate thing doesn't even make a difference.

He's surprised Dean hasn't brought it up yet. Dean's been being a real dick to him recently, after all, and Sam would expect that this would be just the kind of thing he could use to piss Sam off, but there's no word from him about it.

When it turns out the janitor is the Trickster they've been hunting all along, Sam has no idea what to feel. He denies the possibility for as long as he can, because as hard as it is for him to believe his soulmate is somebody ordinary, it's even harder for him to believe that it's a supernatural being who's been around for thousands of years.

Dean suggests that Sam be the one to start talking to the Trickster alone. Sam really doesn't know what he's trying to accomplish. Even at the crucial point of the case, Dean's still trying to get his brother laid? With someone who's killed people? Sam declines, tells Dean to do it himself, and Dean does. Sam and Bobby show up with stakes and then Sam's brother kills Sam's soulmate without even a pause, because that's just the kind of thing the Winchesters do.

Sam had two conversations with the guy and yet he feels empty and drained and like he can't handle speaking to anyone else for a week.

Dean and he make up, Bobby rolls his eyes at them, and everything is back to normal, except it's not, and none of Sam's rationalizations can begin to explain why.

Sam Winchester believes in destiny even less after he kills the yellow eyed demon who had him marked from birth to be his apprentice. Screw destiny, he thinks. Screw Azazel and screw his dad and screw the Trickster, he's opened the gates of hell and he's got work to do.

Sam keeps moving until something stops him; until he's forced to live through a hundred and some Tuesdays and watch Dean die during every single one of them. That damn song has been going around in his head for as long as he can remember and he lives every second just waiting to see his brother die in some strange and fucked up way and when he realizes it's a Trickster controlling all this, that doesn't help at all.

That's nothing compared to the feeling when he finds out it's the Trickster.

Sam feels sick and he can't walk straight and he can't let himself think about the fact that this guy, this thing, is meant to be his soulmate and yet he killed Sam's brother, he put him through absolute hell and why? For fun? To get his attention? Because he gets off on it in some sick way? Sam decides at that moment that the whole concept of soulmates is horrific. He doesn't want anything to do with the Trickster ever again. He doesn't want this connection, not with someone like this, probably not with anyone.

He finds himself scratching at the words above his ankle all the time, ripping at the skin, trying to tear them off, but no matter what he does, they stay there, refusing any kind of damage. He doesn't try anything more drastic, because he knows deep down that even if he cut off his whole leg, the words would probably just reappear somewhere else.

Sam finds the Trickster and he talks to him alone for the first time and finds out that he was just trying to help Sam, to make things easier for him when Dean was finally gone, and Sam thinks that if he was trying to help someone deal with grief, there are a million other things he'd try before this even occurred to him, and what kind of freakishly messed up mind must a person have to come up with this shit? But this isn't a person, Sam reminds himself, trying his best to squash down the voice in his head telling him that he's not exactly a poster child for normality

Sam cries and he begs the Trickster to stop and he's embarrassed about the whole situation and then he wakes up and the world is back to normal and something tells him the Trickster wouldn't have given in if it were anyone else, but Sam's got no proof of that, and it's not like it matters. He has Dean back for a final few months and right now he's just focused on making them the best goddamn months of Dean's life.

Dean doesn't remember any part of the saga, and Sam thinks it's probably for the best, and then he scares himself trying to figure out why the Trickster made it that way.

When they run into Cassie not long after Sam starts hunting again, and he finds out Dean had told her all about hunting and demons and the supernatural after barely knowing her two weeks, Sam wonders if she was Dean's soulmate. He wonders again when they team up with Jo and she and Dean seem to share a special connection immediately. When Dean finds out he only has a year to live and he insists on going to visit a girl, Lisa, from his past, though they'd only ever spent a weekend together, Sam is more sure than ever that he's figured it out. But he doesn't ask Dean, not even when they realize there is no way they can get Dean out of his deal. Dean has hours to live, and Sam doesn't ask who his soulmate was, or if he'd ever met them at all.

Castiel pulls Dean out of Hell, and as soon as Sam can be absolutely sure that it is indeed his brother and not some demon trying to fuck with his head, he knows that he's happier to see Dean than he ever would be to see the Trickster, because yeah, they've both done some equally terrible things to Sam at times, but at the end of the day it's his brother who'll always give Sam a beer when they're done with with a hard case and drive all night so that Sam can sleep uninterrupted, and that's the way it's always been.

Only, Dean is different now. Sam asks him what's changed and Dean says that forty years in Hell is obviously gonna have an effect on a person and Sam knows that's true, but he knows it's something else as well. If Sam had to explain it, he'd say it almost feels like he's sharing Dean.

Sam knows the Trickster is out there still, and sometimes he wonders what he's up to or half expects him to be behind whatever crazy shit is happening to them right now. The thought terrifies him, which explains why it makes his heart beat faster.

Sam decides that if they meet again, it'll be because the Trickster knows about the words, because they're the reason he keeps coming back, and so Sam should say something. If they never see each other again, then the words are a coincidence, and the Trickster knows nothing, and that'll be for the best.

He doesn't know which outcome he's hoping for.

And then one day, Sam finds candy wrappers at a crime scene, and he waits for Dean to bring up the subject first because he's worried it's just his overactive imagination making him look too closely into everything that happens, that he's just looking for anything that could point to the Trickster, but this time Sam turns out to be right and he feels vindicated.

Dean says that he wants to kill the Trickster and Sam knows Dean probably has a better reason than anyone to do that, but Sam's not sure the normal rules apply here. He thinks that maybe, for once, this is a decision that he gets to make. He tells Dean that he wants to at least talk to the Trickster, and Dean's a little less surprised and a little less opposed to the idea than Sam expects.

The Trickster says "I heard you two yahoos were in town. How could I resist?" and something in Sam doesn't really feel like that comment is directed to Dean at all.

Sam becomes a surgeon, and a long-suffering sitcom brother, and a basketball player with genital herpes, and a contestant on a Japanese game show, and then his brother's car, and he's not sure he'll ever quite recover from the last two, and the Trickster tells them he wants them to say yes to Michael and Lucifer, and he points out that they're the ones who started this whole apocalypse, and this time it's Sam who stabs him, in the heat of the moment, because he's so fucking confused and how is it possible to hate someone so much, to feel genuine hatred and disgust and loathing, and yet at the same time be so infuriated by them and so fascinated by them that they're all you can think about? It's all too much and he can't deal with it, so he kills him and then it's over.

Only the Trickster's not dead, and he's not even the Trickster, he's the freaking archangel Gabriel. He's pulled a thousand switches on the two of them and he's manipulated their lives and now he's talking about the apocalypse and Heaven and a decision that will irreversibly change Sam and Dean, and Sam can't get past the fact that despite all this, Gabriel is still flirting. He's flirting and he wants Sam and Dean to become the vessels for Lucifer and Michael basically so he can go on having fun and pulling pranks and living this cosy, comfortable, easy, selfish life he has and Sam doesn't think he's ever met someone whose priorities are quite so different to his own.

Any thoughts Sam ever had of saying something to Gabriel about him being his soulmate, of getting some kind of closure on this, are gone, because how do you even begin to tell a goddamn angel of the Lord that he's supposed to be your soulmate?

Dean told Sam once, in a rare chick flick moment, that back when Mom was still alive, she used to tell Dean before he went to sleep that angels were watching over him. Sam wonders if his mother would still have said that if she knew what angels were really like.

Next time they see Gabriel, everyone is calling him Loki. It seems like Dean wants to ask Sam what the hell is going on, what he really thinks about this guy, and how exactly this whole soulmates thing plays into all the other huge and cosmic stuff that's going on. Sam won't let that conversation even happen. He doesn't know any of the answers; there's definitely no way he'll be able to explain them to Dean. He doesn't even know this guy's real name. Real species.

Gabriel says he loves humanity, that he's on their side, and Sam understands that that's what all this is really about. It's never really been Michael vs Lucifer, because both of them are on Heaven's side; they just have different ideas about what Heaven should be. It's Gabriel vs Lucifer; Sam's soulmate against the guy he's supposed to be the vessel for, Sam's humanity against the darkness inside him; and it's all about him and that means he has to be the one to end it, somehow.

Lucifer stabs Gabriel, and Sam wonders how many times he'll have to watch this man die.

Sam and Dean watch Casa Erotica, and it crosses Sam's mind that maybe he should be jealous that his soulmate is starring in a porn video, because the weight of the world is on his shoulders right now but something about Gabriel always makes him feel like a kid in a playground having his hair pulled by another kid in the grade above.

Gabriel explains to them how to stop Lucifer, how to find the keys to the cage, and it's the most useful information he could possibly give them and Sam has never felt more grateful and he feels himself forgiving Gabriel everything. It's not even within his control, this forgiveness. He doesn't make the decision to forgive. It just flows out of him, and he feels better than he has in years.

Part of him expects Gabriel to say something to him at the end of the video. Something just to him. But he doesn't.

Sam wonders a lot about angels, and whether they believe in destiny, considering that technically they are destiny, or at least they control it. If an angel has a human soulmate, he thinks, does the angel also have the human's first words to them on their body somewhere? Is it on their vessel or on their true form? Could a future angel vessel walk around for years, staring at words that are never going to belong to them, but that were always meant to be said to the angel who is one day going to take over that body? Or do the words change when somebody is possessed? Or do angels not have soulmates at all, just humans who are destined to follow them around for a lifetime, forever wishing things were different?

Sam sees Dean, more than once, twisted around in front of the mirror, trying to look more closely at a mark on his lower back, and he knows that Dean wonders too.

The last thing Sam thinks as he tumbles into the pit is that in the end, Gabriel was right. Sam did say yes to Lucifer; he did what Gabriel wanted him to do.

Sam Winchester doesn't think about destiny at all while he doesn't have a soul. For a while, the words are gone and thoughts of Gabriel don't even cross his mind. Even when he gets it all back, there's Crowley and Purgatory and Leviathans and Lucifer and God's tablets and trials to seal up Hell and the Men of Letters and Metatron and the Mark of Cain, and they're never not busy with something that could potentially end the entire world, and Sam misses the days when he actually had time to think about destiny, and soulmates, and his future. Misses the days before he caused so much damage, back when he thought he even deserved those kinds of things.

There are more important things now.

Sam forgets, or at least, he ignores for long enough to pretend he forgets.

And then one day he's talking to Cas, and Cas is telling him that Gabriel appeared in his dream. Metatron was controlling it all, Cas says, but it was still the real Gabriel. And Sam's spent years trying to tell himself that none of this soulmates business is important and that Gabriel doesn't matter to him, that he won't impact Sam's life any more, but Sam can't control the fact that his head is spinning and his breathing is all messed up because Gabriel's dead and yet he's still trying to help them and if Gabriel can come into peoples' dreams, why hasn't he come to Sam's? Gabriel loves to screw with his life and his head and it seems like just the sort of thing he'd do, so why hasn't he?

Sam's scared to death that Gabriel has forgotten about him so effortlessly after it took Sam so many years of hard work to forget.

They get rid of the Mark, and they manage to do it without Dean killing Sam or Cas or Crowley, and for once, there's peace. None of them are under the illusion that it's going to last for long. Dean suggests Sam goes away for a while, gets his own space, takes some time out from the bunker and from hunting, while he has the chance. Sam's under no illusions as to why Dean's trying to get rid of him. He knows things have changed between Dean and Cas since the Mark's disappearance; knows the two of them are trying to make the most of whatever time they may have.

Sam agrees, on the condition that he gets the Impala, and he takes a road trip to Ohio. It takes him days and he's exhausted by the time he gets there and he can't remember the last time he did quite that much driving, but he doesn't stop at a motel, not yet. He stops at a school.

There's a janitor leaning against the wall outside, waiting for him.

Sam has never wanted to kiss anyone so much; to hurt anyone so much.

"Gabriel," Sam chokes out when he's close enough, well aware that this is quite possibly not real.

"Sam Winchester," Gabriel replies, and then he grins as though this is the kind of casual encounter the two of them have every day and not as though he's been presumed dead for years.

"I thought you were dead. I thought Lucifer killed you. I'm damn sure a lot of people wanted to. How have you been hiding? What have you been doing for the past-" he breaks off, trying to figure out how long it's been, and when he figures it out, he knows, knows immediately that now is the time, knows exactly how this conversation is going to go down- "six years?"

"I've been laying low. Trying to stay in the last place they'd expect me," Gabriel tells him. "I've been mopping these floors. Every day."

"I gotta show you something," Sam says, and he reaches down to pull up the leg of his jeans.

Gabriel holds up a hand. "I know. That thing has been an unnecessary complication in my life for a while now. Come on, like things haven't been crazy enough recently, some dumb Cupid somewhere has to go and stick me with a Winchester, of all people?"

Sam laughs, and it's been a long time since he's laughed, and it sounds strange to him. "Tell me about it. This was a lot easier back when I thought you were just a janitor."

"I am just a janitor," Gabriel confesses, and Sam has never heard him sound like this. "I'm human now. I've been a lot of things, and I haven't always been honest about them, and I know it might have been difficult for you to keep track some of the time. But now, I'm human. That's it."

Sam has ten thousand questions and he knows exactly which one to ask first. "You're human? So... you eat? Actual food, not just ridiculous amounts of candy?"

"Yeah, I eat. Although I still don't think I'd ever turn down a piece of candy, you know, if someone was offering..." Gabriel looks him in the eye, smirks, and winked, and Sam admits to himself that that look is fucking hot.

"Do you want to go for dinner?"

It's many years and several different lives overdue, for both of them, but Sam is finally going to take the golden eyed janitor for dinner and find out why exactly he's so captivating to him.

Sam Winchester does not believe in destiny, but he believes in love, and family, and forgiveness, and he thinks that maybe Gabriel can give him those things.