Sam slams the door of his sleek black car. He looks at the house that he once lived in, years ago, before he ran off to Stanford and to the life he wanted so badly. What he doesn't want badly is the house back. It is bad memories, a ruined childhood, a broken family. The house stares at him with dark, empty eyes, the door sending him a wry, chapped smile made of loose hinges and flaking paint. Sam sneers at it. He would rather be back in New York, in his old apartment, in his old life. The life he liked.
He takes a deep breath and walks up to the front door, key in hand. It feels strangely familiar, both the key and the walk up the path. The key is worn soft by frequent use. It could even be the one Sam used to have as a kid; the key is old. It's like the house has ingrained itself in Sam's mind; it's the same green paint, the same pull-back-a-little and turn-right-then-left movement that unlocks the door, the same squeaky sound when he pushes it open.
The hall is empty. Absent of sounds, but filled with used smells, dead smells. Remnants of motor oil and bacon. Dust. Sam puts down the key on the third step of the stairs, the only place to put anything in a hall that has nothing in it but a few dust bunnies.
Dean's letter — the first in years — is still in Sam's pocket. He put it there when he left for Lawrence. It's short and to the point. Sam needs a house, Dean has one, and that's about it.
I don't know when I'm coming back. Family life isn't my thing and I really need a break. Congratulations on making partner, I guess it's what you wanted. Sorry, I can't stay. Do what you like with the house. If you don't want it, leave the key and the paperwork at Jody's. She'll put it on the market.
It's all there, all the questions, all the accusations, all the hurt. Invisible, in between the lines, the short message says it all. Why did you leave? Why did you pick Stanford over your family? You didn't think we were good enough for you? Sam doesn't have to read the letter again to know what it says. It's the same shit he'd been listening to over and over until he had enough. Family business, family this, family that. It's the worst excuse in the history of mankind. It's all they have in common, blood, their only connection, apart from an exchange of cell phone numbers and a few calls and emails. They're brothers, sure, and Sam won't ever stop loving Dean, but they are better at loving each other at a distance. Sam doesn't know where Dean is going. Dean didn't care to tell him. It makes them even, sort of. Equally dysfunctional.
Sam wouldn't have been here if it hadn't been hopeless to find a house in the area on such short notice, and he definitely hadn't taken Dean's offer, had their childhood home not been less than a ten minute walk from A&A Lawrence. Sam has money enough, one of the perks that goes with the job, but he's not staying in Lawrence for one minute longer than necessary and it seems like a waste to go through all the hassle, buying the house off Dean.
The move is a hassle; the house is merely a part of it. Moving out of New York hadn't been optional, since Abaddon & Alastair don't expect their employees to refuse their offers and the offer — despite the location — is well worth it: Sam is making partner years ahead of his friends from Stanford. The track that might have taken him ten, eleven years to finish has been cut down to six. It's uncommon, and Sam should be grateful. He isn't. It's not that Abaddon & Alastair hired him because they are humanitarians. He's marketable. He has no illusions about his appearance, and clients tend buy what they find interesting. They even get a competent, hard-working lawyer to go with the looks. Sam has billed more hours than most and stayed more night at the office than anyone else at A&A. Billing close to 2,500 hours a year, he has earned the promotion, the Manhattan corner office, the towering raise in income.
It is premature burial.
"We need a man in our Lawrence office. To be precise, we need a man to take over from our man in Lawrence, a partner, and that is you, Winchester. Twelve months," Abaddon had told him as Alastair had pushed the very lucrative contract in front of him. It was true that all partners have earned their place in their luxurious offices at the main office in one of the smaller branch offices and of course, being the youngest partner in the history of Abaddon & Alastair, Sam would not be exempt from that condition.
He had signed the contract after two days of consideration - after Crowley, the senior partner that disliked Abaddon the most, had worked it over, hesitating, as if he'd had the option to say no. He had, but he'd also have been aiming at his career with a shotgun if he'd refused.
It is promotion, but it doesn't feel like it. Because Sam knows his bosses well enough to know that he is not guaranteed a safe and fast return to mid-town Manhattan next year. Alastair and Abaddon might still ask him to stay in Lawrence for longer than twelve months. The law firm is expanding, and Sam thinks that it is the reason Abaddon & Alastair made him the offer; they are in need of qualified, ruthless people to go through with the expansion. Sam sure fits into the first group. Whether he fits into the second... that has yet to be determined. Lawrence is the testing ground. Abaddon & Alastair Lawrence isn't the fast-paced corporate office he's used to, but the numbers are sound: Sam knows he's going to work like mad, and earn a fortune; A&A has a reputation, even here. He's going to prove himself, or the A's will find a way to get rid of him and cut their losses.
Sam shakes it off. He's going to make it worse if he wallows in the disappointment and the discontent. It's merely another step towards the goal he set for himself when he left Lawrence, left Dean and Dad to their own disgruntled devices. Sam hadn't thought that he'd ever return. But he is here and he'll make the best of it. Of the house.
Letting out a deep-felt sigh, Sam directs his attention to the state of his... home.
He opens the door to the living room. Empty. It's not too bad, despite the childhood memories, tied to this place and locked away by time. It's not the same house. It smells empty and abandoned and a little stale, but it is also strangely not-Dean, not-Dad.
Sam slides a hand down the wall where the old wallpaper is torn and somebody has glued it back on.
The house is empty but it feels... lived in. Kept. Contrary to the outside walls, the living room have been painted recently. It's a poor paint job, with cheap paint and unskilled strokes, a feeble attempt to make the house look neat. There are dead flies on the windowsill, their littered black bodies contrasting the pristine white paint on the windowsill. The walls are a hopeful, fresh green. Sam didn't think that Dean would care as long as there was food in the fridge, a bed to sleep in and beers to drink. Maybe Dean has changed, too. It has been years, so why wouldn't he? Maybe he... maybe they should have taken the time to find out?
Sam opens a window to let in some fresh air, then goes to check the kitchen.
It is not what he had expected. Oh, it has a number of cabinets, ordinary old ones, a fridge — also ordinary and old — and a stove of the common variety. Cheap. The kitchen as such is... ordinary.
One thing isn't ordinary, though. There is a man on the floor. He sits, arms wrapped around his knees; a ball of misery and sadness. He looks as if he's been crying.
"Excuse me," Sam says, not particularly worried and a little too surprised to react with any anger. The man looks harmless. "Who are you, and what are you doing in my brother's house?"
"I didn't know where to go," the man says. His eyes are red-rimmed and he clings to an old trench coat as if his life depended on it.
"I see. And you decided that breaking into an empty house would be the solution?" Sam frowns. "You homeless?"
The man on the floor laughs. It's a desperate, weak laughter. "I'm a stray cat. He put me out. Forgot to take me back in."
"Are you okay?" Sam is slightly worried now. Maybe the man is a mental patient or something. "Do you have anyone I could call?"
"It wouldn't matter." The man shakes his head. "He left me."
"I'm sorry about that," Sam says, quickly flipping through a few scenarios in his head. Gay, bad breakup, homeless for some reason. Sam's brain slips into litigation mode. Unlawful entry. Not worth the hassle. Sam just wants the guy to leave without any fuss. "It still doesn't explain why you're in my house. Can I get you a glass of water or something? Then you have to go." Sam pats his pockets. He probably have a few hundred-dollar bills. He's not entirely without compassion and the man looks as if his entire world just broke apart. "Maybe you can get a room at a motel? These should last you a few weeks." Sam pulls out a wad of cash. It's nothing to him, probably everything to the homeless man on the floor.
The man stares up at him, eyes brimming with tears. "He said you were like that. Nice." He doesn't take the money.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have..." The man fights to get up. "I'm going now. Thank you, Sam."
"Hold on!" Sam tries to connect the dots, but a few are missing. "You know who I am? Who are you?"
The reply is so not what Sam had expected. Ever. In any reality known to man.
The man straightens up. He's taller than Sam had expected, built. Handsome. "I'm Castiel. Your brother's husband."
The small coffee shop is quiet. They take the booth at the end wall, it's private and calm. Castiel, Castiel Winchester, Dean's husband — Dean's fucking husband — shuffles into the booth, covering himself with the trench coat like a small animal curling up to die in relative peace under a hedge. Castiel doesn't look as if he is going to die, though. Apart from the heartbroken sadness he seems healthy enough, if a bit malnourished and worn out. He clings to the threadbare duffel he insisted on bringing with him. Sam guesses that it contains what little Castiel owns.
"When was the last time you ate?" Sam asks, watching Castiel watch the girl behind the counter serve a sandwich to another customer with far too much interest. Sam takes off his jacket. He folds it over the back of the chair. The brand name flashes its worth in golden letters and Sam doesn't like the message, although he likes the suit.
Castiel sits there, tight-lipped for some time, before he replies. "I came home. He told me that it was over. I had to leave. For my own sake. That's what he said." Castiel pulls the ragged trench coat even tighter around himself, as if it is able to shield him against the world. He fiddles with the handles on the duffel. "He took... The furniture was his. I don't know where he went. He didn't tell me."
Sam sighs. He didn't think that Dean would be that cruel to a man he had sworn to stand by and love. It's the Dean of old... fuck them and leave them, no ties, no commitment. "You didn't answer my question."
"There was food in the fridge. It ran out. A week, I think. Two. I can't remember." Castiel's eyes glaze over, the pain he must be feeling is turning into tears.
Sam hands him one of the paper napkins from the table. "It's okay," he says, although nothing is. "I'm getting you something."
Castiel sniffles a, "Thank you," into the tissue. He doesn't tell Sam what he likes, so Sam leaves the table to order coffee and soda and a small variety of food at the counter, giving Castiel time to collect himself. They don't know each other and Sam doesn't know how an offer of comfort will be received. Except there is no comfort to give. Perhaps Dean's head on a platter, but Sam's not willing to go that far. Dean should be glad that he is not present; despite his aversion to cutting Dean's head off, he's not opposed to kick his ass. Sam is sure Dean believed it was the right thing to do, leaving Castiel like an unwanted cat at the wayside, however. It is very Dean when he's not thinking clearly.
Waiting at the counter, Sam looks at his brother-in-law and wonders when Dean lost his mind and married this guy, this lost kitten. It is so cruel, abandoning someone like him. Dean must have panicked; he would never have done anything this heartless if he hadn't panicked. The constant litany of 'family is important' that Sam has been exposed to for years also makes him very, very sure that Dean would never have done anything like it if he'd been in his right mind. So it's either a girl or panic. Seeing that Castiel isn't very girly, Sam can't decide which, since Dean might have abandoned girls too. Either gay panic, or commitment issues. Or gay commitment issue panic. Castiel probably doesn't care about the difference. Sam realizes that he can't even berate Dean his behavior without coming off as a total hypocrite. There is little difference between what Sam did years ago and what Dean did now. Except Castiel didn't tell Dean that if he walked out the door he shouldn't bother coming back. Like Dad had done. Oh, Dean learned from the best.
When Sam gets a hold of Dean, he'd be sure to let Dean know what he thinks anyway. In a few select phrases.
"You should eat slowly," Sam says as he puts the full tray down on the table in front of Castiel. "I do not want you to get sick."
Castiel frowns, hesitating, one hand hovering over the sandwiches. He makes a small, unrecognizable sound and puts his hand back in his lap. He's a hurt animal, scared and starved, all eyes and hunger.
"Please, Castiel. Take what you want, but... a little at a time, okay?" Sam slides into the seat as not to hover over Castiel. "You can take with you what you don't eat now."
"I don't know where to take it," Castiel says, carefully biting off a corner. It's bacon and lettuce. A drop of something that looks like curry dressing lands on his hand. He stares at it helplessly until Sam takes pity and wipes it off with his napkin.
"Home, I suggest." Sam slips into lawyer mode a bit too abruptly. "You need to le—" Sam shuts his mouth before he repeats the exact same words that Dean used. "Do you have somewhere to go? Family, friends?"
Castiel's lips turn narrow and tense, pressed hard against each other, as if there are too many words that Castiel wants to let out, but refuses them the freedom. He shakes his head. "No." He doesn't offer any explanations, and Sam doesn't need one.
Unfortunately there isn't pounds for lost husbands. He has to let this one out in the streets. "I'm sorry." Again Sam pulls out his wallet and offers Castiel the dollar bills. "It should be enough for a room. At least until you can find somewhere to stay." Sam hates this. It's Dean's problem, and he wiped it off on him. Sam doesn't know the guy, but this Castiel isn't something dirty one has to wipe off from under a shoe, and yet that is exactly what Sam is doing, mostly because he doesn't know what else to do. He pushes the cash across the table, as if it wipes off the guilt and the shame by the slide across two feet of brown, chipped Formica. "I'm sorry," Sam says again, forcing down an offer of more help before he says the words aloud, committing to something he'd rather not. He gets up. He needs to leave right away or he cannot do this, discarding Castiel like a piece of human garbage. He turns, his back to Castiel, as he pulls on his jacket. "Do you have anything in the house that you want before you leave?" he asks, knowing very well what a callous ass he is. Besides the house is empty. Dean took everything. Sam realizes that corporate law has rubbed off on him a bit too well.
There is no answer. Nothing but the chime of a bell and the slamming of a door.
Castiel has left.
The sandwiches are gone, but the offered dollar bills are still on the table.
"Shit. You silly fool." Sam grabs the wad of cash, thirty silver coins in the shape of a few hundred dollars that is nothing to Sam, but maybe everything to Castiel, and runs outside. The streets are darkening, and Castiel has disappeared.
Sam can't decide whether he should feel really, really relieved or incredibly ashamed of himself.