“How did it get this bad?” Sam Winchester asked himself as he clutched his bleeding head, the other gripping his cell phone like a lifeline.
“911, what’s your emergency?” came the voice on the other end of the line.
“M-my name is Sam Winchester. I’ve just...I’ve just been attacked in my apartment.” The words were breathless, disjointed.
“And what is your address, sir?”
It took Sam a moment to clear his head and understand what the operator was asking. “Um. 560 East Highland, Apartment 3A.”
“Okay, sir. I need you to remain calm. I have a squad car en route. Do you need medical assistance?”
Sam blinked a few times, his vision blurring. “I think...I think I’m about to pass out.”
The last thing Sam heard was the hollow thud of his own head hitting the floor.
Gabriel Novak hissed as he burned his tongue on a sip of too-hot coffee. His partner, Benny Lafitte, grinned at the action.
“Shut the fuck up, Lafitte,” Gabriel said without ire.
“It’s just, you do this every morning. You’d think you would learn to wait a damn minute and let your coffee cool off.”
Gabriel sighed and plonked the cup onto his desk, directly in front of Benny’s. “And we have this conversation every morning, too.”
“Well we do have a great routine.”
Before Gabriel could reply, a voice called out across the work area. “Novak, Lafitte, in my office!”
As they entered the chief’s office, Gabriel noticed the somber expression on his face. “Cas? What’s wrong?”
Castiel Novak, younger brother to the detective, sat heavily in his chair and rubbed a hand across his brow. “Sam Winchester was attacked in his home last night.”
Gabriel stared blankly at him. When no other words were forthcoming, he prompted, “Should I know who that is?”
Benny turned and gaped at him. “ Cher , how do you not know who the district attorney is?”
Gabriel flushed and waved his hands in front of him. “I don’t keep up with it! I don’t usually have much to do with them.”
Castiel rolled his eyes and grabbed a file from the mess on his desk before handing it to Benny with a beleaguered stare toward his brother. “In any case, Sam was attacked last night. He sustained a head injury and a few minor scrapes, probably from fighting against the assailant.”
Flipping through the thin file, Benny frowned. “What does this have to do with us?”
“Yeah, bro. We’re more unsolved cases and stalkers than a robbery gone wrong.”
“That’s just it. Mister Winchester is a stalking victim, and his case is as yet unsolved. The officers who responded to the scene said that there are multiple vulgar messages left in the home, as well as ones that are undoubtedly more concerning.”
At this, Benny leaned over to show Gabriel a crime scene photo that made him shiver as his blood run cold. Scrawled on the wall in bright red paint were words that immediately became imprinted on his brain.
YOU CAN’T ESCAPE ME
Castiel nodded. “You can see why we’re concerned.”
“Yeah, for reals. That’s some seriously creepy shit there,” Gabriel agreed as he sat back in his chair. “So what are we doing? Protection detail or active investigation?”
“Investigation. I’ve got a few beat cops in need of extra hours who’ve volunteered to keep an eye on him at night. He’s usually at the courthouse during the day, so we feel he’s fairly safe there.”
Benny nodded, handing the folder to Gabriel, and leaned forward to brace his elbows on his knees. “Chief, I gotta say, I’m not feeling too confident that this will be a one-time thing.”
“It’s not. Sam told the officers last night that this has been escalating over the past several years. This is not the first time his home has been broken into, though he says he’s moved every time it’s happened. This is, however, the first time he’s been attacked.”
“So a known stalker, but no leads on who? How is that even possible?”
“A failing of the system,” Castiel said with a sigh. “Stalkers aren’t given a lot of thought until they grow violent, especially if the victim is a male. Only when things get violent can actual charges be brought up, so most precincts let it ride until it’s too late.”
Snorting, Gabriel said a quick thanks to himself that their own precinct was different. Castiel had instigated a taskforce specifically for stalkers when he’d taken office two years prior. It had saved many victims before their stalkers grew violent, but it was a slow and harrowing process to get the funding they needed.
For now, it was mainly just Benny and Gabriel on the taskforce, though they had some rotating members when there was time and money to pay them.
As he studied the photo of Sam in the front of the file, Gabriel felt a well of protectiveness surge through him. This man was being hunted , for all intents and purposes. It was something that Gabriel couldn’t stand. His fingers tightened on the folder as he promised himself to do everything he could to protect this man and get his stalker off the streets.
"Alright, so Benny and I will go talk to the victim, and you see if you can scrounge up some officers for us?” Gabriel said in the direction of his brother. He slapped a hand on his knee and got to his feet without waiting for a response. He patted Benny on the back as he left the office, signaling for him to follow. They stopped short and turned around when Castiel cleared his throat.
“I don’t need to remind you that Sam Winchester is the district attorney, which means-” Castiel paused and looked at Gabriel specifically before he continued, “-keep this by the books. I want none of your antics.” His tone was stern, and he squinted at his older brother - his version of an intimidating stare.
With a look of fake offense on his face, Gabriel alternated looks between Castiel and Benny, gaping his mouth when neither of them humoured him. “I am shocked that you would think I’d be anything but professional!” he said in a put-upon aggrieved tone.
No reaction came from either men as Gabriel gawked at them, trying to provoke a laugh or even a smirk. Instead, Benny grabbed his partner by the elbow and pulled him out of the chief’s office. As they passed the threshold and closed the door behind them, the large Southern man bellowed with laughter, startling an intern a few feet away. Gabriel chanced a look behind them, seeing Castiel shaking his head with a fond smile.
“You just won’t do, cher ,” Benny said through the laughter.
Gabriel smirked with no small amount of pride. “I know,” he crowed, then grew somewhat serious. “Besides, I gotta give the kid a hard time. Overeager puppy, making captain before I even made detective! No respect for his elders, I tell you.”
Benny choked on more laughter, shaking his head as he plopped into his chair. He shuffled through the thin file he’d taken from Chief Novak, getting himself familiar with the case. He shook his head in disbelief and looked up at Gabriel, who was leaning over his desk.
“It says that Winchester’s been going through this for years! Look at this,” he said as he tilted the file in Gabriel’s direction. “His garbage getting snooped in, items of clothing missing from his gym bag, creepy phone calls and letters. That’s just disgusting.”
Gabriel visibly cringed at the thought of having to go through something like that for years. “This dude is either a badass or traumatized as hell to put up with this for so long.” He quirked an eyebrow when he saw another picture of the crime scene. This whole thing was sick, and that led Gabriel to believe that whoever was behind it had to be truly twisted.
After talking through how they were to handle this investigation, the two detectives gathered their things and headed for Sam Winchester’s home. Gabriel was going to question the victim, since it was his forté, while Benny would look around the crime scene to make sure the CSI unit hadn’t missed anything. It wasn’t a matter of ill faith in the unit so much as it was meticulousness for both detectives. They liked to do things themselves.
A fifteen minute drive and one elevator ride later, the two detectives were knocking on Sam Winchester’s door.
“I can’t believe they didn’t put a uniform at the door,” Benny said quietly to his partner, not wanting Sam to overhear.
Before Gabriel had a chance to respond to his partner, the door opened and a tall man stood in front of him. Gabriel stared in disbelief. At first it was disbelief that anyone could ever get the jump on this guy.
He was tall, with broad shoulders and built like a wall. After that thought had passed, it was a disbelief of how beautiful a man this Sam Winchester was, and Gabriel rarely used the word beautiful to describe men.
But Sam Winchester was beautiful . In addition to being tall and broad, he had long brown hair that nearly brushed his shoulders, hypnotizing hazel eyes, and bulging biceps that were clearly visible even through the long-sleeved plaid he wore over his T-shirt. The bandage on his forehead did nothing to detract from his good looks.
A jab in his side pulled Gabriel from his daze. “W-What? Oh! Yeah, detectives Novak and Lafitte--” Before he could continue the introduction, he was cut off.
“He already knows, cher ,” Benny said with a smirk, having already introduced them.
Sam let out a small laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ve been expecting you. Chief Novak called.” He moved away from the door and gestured them in. “Any relation?”
“Nah, Benny and Cas aren’t related,” Gabriel replied with a smug smile on his face.
Sam huffed out a laugh, this time louder, and Gabriel was mesmerized once again. Luckily, Benny was there to jab him one more time.
Sam walked in front of the detectives, leading the way to his living room. “Please, come on in.”
Benny and Gabriel followed. “This won’t do, friend,” Benny whispered to his partner.
“Did I drool much?” Gabriel asked sheepishly.
The larger man chuckled quietly and kept walking, pulling Gabriel along with him. “Nah, but you might want to wipe that dumb look off your face.” He studied Gabriel for a moment before shrugging and bemoaning, “Nope, that’s just the way it always looks.”
“Har, har, smartass,” Gabriel snarked, taking care to school his features into a more respectable expression. Sure, the guy was attractive as all get out, but he was still here on official business.
As the detectives sat on the sad-looking couch, Sam hurried to the kitchen to pour a few glasses of water. They heard him muttering to himself, but neither spoke on it.
Unbeknownst to them, Sam was having his own freakout.
He was absolutely insane . Had to be. Why else would he even be contemplating an attraction to the cop assigned to his stalking case?
How could life hate him so much?
He muttered to himself about karma and the unfairness of it all as he snagged three glasses and filled them with water from the filtered jug in the fridge. He steeled himself before heading back to the living room, but it didn’t help.
No, the man was still there, still looking absolutely adorable with his goofy grin and the laid-back air he exuded. His hair and eyes were similar in color, a golden brown that Sam could stare at for days.
And his partner? Dean would have a field day. Tall and buff, with a Southern accent to die for. Yep, Sam would be calling Dean later, and not just to beg his help to clean the place.
But thinking of the attack brought Sam’s attention back to why the two men were sitting in his trashed apartment.
“So, uh, what can I do to help? I told the officers last night everything I knew and could remember, which wasn’t really all that much.”
Benny nodded in sympathy but said softly, “Just start from the beginning. When did you first start to suspect you were being stalked?”
Sam let out a breath as he tried to remember. “God, it’s been so long ago. I had just graduated from Stanford Law, a few weeks from taking the BAR. I came home from the library one night to see that my trashcan was dumped over and the bags were ripped open. I thought some dumb kids had knocked it over and an animal had gotten into it. But it kept happening. At least once a week.”
He paused, running a shaking hand over his face, wincing when it caught on the bandage on his forehead. Gabriel and Benny stayed silent, knowing that the people they helped sometimes just needed a moment.
Finally, he continued. “I started to get this feeling that I was being watched, all the time. And sometimes I’d see something out of the corner of my eye. I always told myself not to be silly, that I was just imagining it. But then I came home one night to see my door busted open and my house trashed.”
Gabriel studiously jotted everything down in his notebook. When he heard about the break-in, he stopped and looked up at Sam. “You had a break-in and no one took this case?”
“No, they did. The investigation ran its course for over a month, but they couldn’t find anything. After that I refused to keep spending taxpayers’ money on my case. Especially since I thought it was just a break-in and not related to anything. I didn’t even realize it was all connected, that I was being stalked, until nearly six months later. I moved across town after the break-in, and everything was quiet. Then, five or six months into the new place, it was broken into as well.”
“Was there any surveillance at either residence?” Benny asked curiously.
Sam shrugged. “At the first place, I was a dirt-poor recent grad. The place barely had working locks. After I got a job at a law office downtown, I started looking for a better place. But the second apartment wasn’t much better than the first. Shitty landlords who cared more about getting their money than protecting their tenants.”
Benny nodded. “And what about here? This seems more upscale than either of those places.”
“I’m not really sure. But my super is downstairs. He would probably know.”
“I’ll go talk to him, see if I can find anything that might help us out. Do you mind if I look around before I head down? See if anything jumps out at me.”
Sam agreed quickly, telling the detective where most of the damage had been, but to feel free to look everywhere.
Gabriel nodded to Benny as the other man stood, then turned back to Sam, pencil poised for more notes. “So what happened leading up to the second break-in? Did you notice anything strange, looking back?”
“Not really? I was being worked to the bone and underpaid to boot, so I was almost always out of it going home. I rode the bus mainly, so I wasn’t walking alone at night. I thought it was over with until I found the new apartment ransacked like the first one.”
“Were there any changes you could tell from the first incident?” the detective asked, trying to jog Sam’s memory. He tried not to find it adorable when Sam scrunched his nose in remembrance.
“It was less of a mess, like the person knew what they were looking for and an approximate place to find it.”
“The report didn’t say anything was missing,” Gabriel said sharply, scribbling the new information down.
“I didn’t realize it at the time. It wasn’t until I was packing to move again that I realized a few pieces of clothing were missing, and an old textbook from one of my Criminal Law courses. Even then I assumed I’d just misplaced them.”
“So is this when you moved to San Francisco?”
“Yeah, I figured if whoever it was kept finding me in Palo Alto, I needed to get out of there. So I quit my job, packed everything, and left without telling a soul. I ducked out in the middle of the night after shoving my rent under the landlord’s door.” He snorted at himself. “It almost worked. Or at least, it worked for the last two years. I guess having my name and picture plastered on every billboard from here to Napa Valley ruined that.”
Gabriel snapped his fingers, drawing Sam’s attention. “I knew you looked familiar! Man, they really screwed you over with that, huh?”
Sam blushed as he nodded. “Yeah, seems like. Not long after those billboards went up, stuff started happening again. The feeling of being watched, the trash. I even had someone give me a note from a ‘secret admirer’ on the street once.”
“Well that’s fucking creepy.” Gabriel smacked himself in the forehead when he realized what he’d said. “Sorry, that was tactless.”
Sam laughed. “Don’t be sorry. It’s true. It was very creepy. I didn’t even read it, just threw it in the trash a few steps away.” His expression turned pensive. “Actually, that’s when things started getting more violent. I went to work like normal and came home to find that same note pinned to my door. I went inside, threw it away, and got a shower. I heard a noise and ran out to find my front window busted in.”
“Did you report that?” Gabriel questioned, still writing.
Sam sighed, carding his fingers through his hair in frustration. “No, I didn’t. I should have, but it felt like that would have let them win. And besides, by that point I was disillusioned by law enforcement as a whole, no offense. All they took was the letter, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyways. I just told the super that a tree limb must have slammed into the window to bust it.”
Gabriel scoffed quietly as he wrote everything down. He couldn’t believe that someone as smart as Sam would get caught in a pissing contest with a freakin’ stalker. He took a calming breath and tried to regain his professionalism. “How long ago was this?”
Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to pinpoint an exact timeline with all the chaos that had surrounded his life for the past few years. “I’m not really sure, to be honest. I think that was three months ago?” The lilting answer ended in more of a question, aimed more at Sam himself than at Gabriel.
The detective nodded and wrote the new information down. “I’m sorry to make you go through this again, but I need you to tell me what happened last night.”
Sam rubbed the back of his neck, his discomfort showing on his face. He’d lived through this, then told the officers yesterday, and now he had to tell it again. It was too much. All he ever wanted was to put all of this behind him and start a new life. Apparently, his stalker did not agree. He finally took a deep breath and began.
“Well, it started with that letter. After that, it was creepy phone calls to my office, to my cell, and even my home phone. The creepy part was that they never said anything; the only thing I could hear was their breathing. I’ve felt like I was being watched, more and more often over the last few months. I once walked into my office to find a fruit basket. My assistant said the delivery guy told her it was from Dean, my brother. I opened it and everything in it was rotten. Now, my brother and I are known for pulling pranks on each other, but that was years ago, and I hadn’t spoken to my brother in a while. I called him and asked him just to make sure, and as I suspected, it wasn’t from him.”
Gabriel nodded, feeling that there was more and not wanting to speak and ruin the momentum.
“I’d been trying to convince Dean to move out here, almost since I did. Our dad is a drunk, and he can get pretty mean depending on what he’s drinking. Well, when I called Dean about the fruit basket, he demanded to know what was going on. After he knew the whole story, he was on the next flight out. He lives a few blocks over, works part time at the library while he gets his engineering degree.”
Sam shuddered and shook his head to refocus. “Right. Last night. I got home from work and ate supper while I looked over a few new cases. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I put my files away and got a shower, then went to bed. I woke up a bit when I heard a noise, but I fell back asleep shortly. Then I woke up to something hitting me in the back of the head. I came up swinging, but they got in another good lick on my forehead,” Sam said, briefly touching the gauze there. “I fell back onto the bed and got a good kick in. I heard a grunt and then they were gone. I think I blacked out for a minute, then I called 911.”
Gabriel nodded, trying not to wince in sympathy. He finished writing Sam’s account and sat back, taking it all in. “That’s quite a story,” he finally said.
Blowing out a heavy breath, Sam raked his hand through his hair and nodded. “Yeah, I guess. But I can’t really say my life has ever been normal, so…”
Gabriel quirked a brow, trying to puzzle out how a kid from an apparently abusive childhood had become one of the youngest District Attorneys in the city’s history. “So, what, are you a genius or something to have finished law school so quick?”
Sam snorted. “No, I just took on double the course load and worked my ass off.”
Both brows now raised, Gabriel felt his mouth drop open. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Stanford Law and you doubled the fucking classes?”
“Where I could. Some I had to wait for because they were only offered at certain times and after other courses.” Sam blushed at the look on Gabriel’s face. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Gabriel tried to wipe the dumbfounded look on his face. “I’m just amazed, to be honest. Crappy childhood, working your ass off, and dealing with a stalker, and none of that moved you. You’re a badass, Sam Winchester.”
The flush darkened on Sam’s face at the compliment. He had achieved so much in the past decade, and although making DA was enough of a reward, no one had ever recognized him in such a personal way. The recognition always came for the work he’d done, but no one ever saw what was going on beneath the professional facade. “Thank you.”
The tears forming in Sam’s eyes alerted Gabriel that he might have pulled one of his “antics” as Castiel called it. He became flustered. “Shit! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No, no, really you didn’t. It’s just--” Sam started to explain before a knock on the door interrupted him. He smiled at Gabriel and got up to open the door.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Gabriel mumbled to himself.
Benny chuckled as he walked into the living room. “Tell us something we don’t know, cher .”
Sam was nowhere to be seen. Gabriel blew raspberries at his partner before he flipped him off. “Did you find anything with the super?”
“Don’t go changing the subject. Why are you just now realizing that you’re stupid?”
Gabriel got up and approached Benny, close enough to whisper in his ear, “Because I took you on for a partner.”
Another chuckle left Benny’s lips as he pushed Gabriel away. He snatched the notebook from his partner’s hand and started flipping through it. “That’s a lot of notes,” he stated. It was more accusatory than an observation.
Gabriel squinted at the other detective. “It’s a big case.” Gabriel looked more standoffish than usual, even a little protective. He snatched the notebook back from his partner and flipped it closed. “Where’s Sam?”
Benny smirked. “He’s in the bathroom. You think he needs protecting in there?”
“Screw you, Lafitte. This guy’s been through hell, okay? I’m just checking up on him!” Gabriel huffed.
Growing serious, Benny stared hard at Gabriel. “ Cher , is there gonna be a conflict here?”
Eyes darting away, Gabriel fervently hoped there wouldn’t be a conflict. “Why would there be?” he deflected. “I just met the guy an hour ago.”
“Yeah, and you’ve got that look in your eye.”
“What look?” Gabriel snapped.
Wincing, Gabriel bit his lip and looked away.
“Shit, Gabe, I’m sorry. But I don’t want you getting burned again.”
“This isn’t like that, Benny. I learned my lesson,” Gabriel muttered bitterly.
Sam walked back into the room before either man could speak again.
Benny shot a quick look at Gabriel, cursing internally at the look on his face. Benny knew his partner, and he knew where that look of admiration usually took him. “Well, I think we have enough information for now. We have to go meet with the chief and give our reports.”
Frowning, Sam questioned, “The chief?”
“You’re an important man, Sam. Chief Novak is handling the particulars himself,” Benny replied with a soft reassuring smile on his face. He patted his partner on the back and nodded, eyebrow raised at the unamused look Gabriel sent him.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, Castiel likes to make sure everything is by the books.” Gabriel forced a smile when he truly wanted to glare at his partner. When Sam turned away, Gabriel indeed glared.
Benny simply smirked.
They said their goodbyes and kept the charade up until they were in the car, heading back to the precinct. Gabriel glared out the window before turning his venomous gaze to his partner. “What the fuck, Benny? Last I heard, Cas gave us the case. He’s not invested in it like that.”
“I’m just looking out for you, cher . Knew bringing him up would snap you out of whatever la-la land you were in, looking at Sam,” Benny replied, unruffled by Gabriel’s ire.
“There’s nothing to look out for!” Gabriel cried, waving his hands. “Have you completely lost faith in me, that you don’t trust me to be professional here?”
“Gabe, you’re my partner and one of the closest damn friends I have. I gave you my momma’s gumbo recipe, and that’s a family secret!” When Gabriel remained unmoved by his words, Benny sighed. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I just don’t want to see you hurt again. That with Kali...it broke you. And it almost cost you your job.”
“Kali was different,” Gabriel insisted quietly.
“I know that,” Benny agreed. “But it doesn’t change the fact that I know you. I can tell that you like him.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Ben, I just met the guy!”
Benny rolled his eyes. “I didn’t say you were in love with him. Just that you’re maybe developing a crush. I just want you to keep your wits about you. You may not remember, but I do. This is exactly how it started with Kali.”
Gabriel groaned and let his head drop into his hands. “You’re killing me, man. What do I have to say to convince you that I’m well aware the guy is off-limits?”
“Be straight with me.” Benny resolutely ignored the face Gabriel pulled at the unintended pun. “If it starts to get out of hand, let me know. Attraction is one thing. I get that. But emotions are a different thing altogether.”
“Can we be done with this conversation now, Dad ?”
Benny laughed. “Damn, Gabe. Didn’t know you were so kinky.”
Gabriel sighed loudly, but the joke fulfilled its purpose of breaking the remaining tension, making the ride back to the precinct much more comfortable. Staring out the window, Gabriel caught sight of one of the many billboards with Sam’s visage.
His resolve hardened. He would find whoever did this.