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Sam forces his breaths to come evenly, but inside he’s hyperventilating.

This is it, the day his whole life will change forever. He’d barely slept for a week leading up to his 18th birthday, skimming over the pages of the same books he’d read years ago over and over again.

A familiar is a deathless creature from beyond the veil, taking a shape representative of the casters’ soul. The final bond cannot be broken.

No pressure, right? For a moment, Sam’s thoughts wander from the circle he’s drawing in his own blood to his father’s gruff German Shepherd, his brother’s blue-eyed raven. Mary, his mother, had had a Golden Retriever, the kind Sam had always wished for.

Alright, enough of that, he doesn’t want to fudge the incantation. Dean is waiting by the car, just ten minutes away from the little forest clearing Sam is in. He’s close, Sam tries to tell himself. Not close enough to help if your soul produces a monster, the traitorous voice inside him whispers, but Sam stamps it down hard. He doesn’t need this right now.

Sam has always felt that he might not be quite ... right, that he couldn’t slot as easily into the role of a white witch hunting down supernatural criminals all across the US, living out of trunks and motel rooms, as his family did because there was something he lacked. He’d thought that just meant he was meant for a more mundane life, but, well ... what happened at that High School ... to Jess ...

He sucks in a sharp breath, pressing the guilt down, way, way down. He’s good at this - just running away from the pain. He meditates for another twenty minutes, his mind quiet now, until he risks saying the words of the spell that will call forth a creature to mirror his soul.

He’s thrust into Hell.

Pain and the smell of burning flesh surround him, Say yes, a voice rasps, claws wrapped around his throat, pressing down, down, down, and this is how he dies, Sam thinks, but then ...

Then there is light and - and a confusing mess of shapes, cotton candy soaked in blood, sigils and snakes and - his brain can’t parse the images, just the light, white and blinding. Choose, a voice says, it burns in his throat like the whiskey he snuck from John when he was fifteen.

The picture swims, ash choking his lungs again, Sam can feel the claws of the monster digging into his flesh again and - no, no he can’t, he won’t. He grasps onto the light, onto the whiskey burn even as it singes his hands; he swears he hears a chuckle before the pain sets in and he screams.

“-m! Sammy!”

Someone is shaking him. His brain feels like it’s liquefied, but he forces himself to open his eyes anyway. It takes several blinks for the world to return to semi-focus; he has a splitting headache.

Dean. The person whose lap he’s sprawled in is Dean. Why is he here, in a forest? Oh, right, the ritual. Memories of pain and fire and whiskey assault him, and Sam closes his eyes again, groaning.

“Don’t make me get the smelling salts, Samantha,” Dean threatens.

“Ugh, I can’t believe I messed this up,” Sam groans.

“What d’you mean, messed up? I mean, yeah, sure, could’ve done without the screaming and the fainting but ...,”

Sam was already half sitting up before Dean got through his sentence. He’d thought - none of his books ever said anything about having to choose, he thought he’d fucked this up somehow but -

It felt like an eternity to him until he finally laid eyes on the summoning circle he’d drawn earlier. It wasn’t empty anymore. Within sat a cream-coloured cat, all rich browns and golds -Siamese, his brain helpfully supplied - licking it’s paw as if the proceedings didn’t have anything to do with it.

Sam swallowed. He’d always wanted a dog, but he supposed it made sense for it to be a cat, considering his own independence. At least it wasn’t whatever slavering Hell beast it could have been. He needed to ask Dean about whatever happened there later; for now, there was his familiar.

“Hi,” he said, breathless.

The cat’s ear flicked lazily, but it didn’t react otherwise. The telepathic bond wouldn’t set in until they touched, so Sam inched closer to the circle, on his knees, not wanting to tower over his kitty.

Dean held himself in the background as best he could; he wasn’t technically supposed to be here, after all, he’d just come running against his own familiars advice when he heard Sammy scream bloody murder.

Carefully Sam offered his open palm to the cat, held his hand right into the circle where it could reach. Technically, his familiar could still reject him. It didn’t happen, usually, but then, you weren’t supposed to choose either, so with Sam’s luck ...

The cat sniffed at his fingers, then playfully batted his palm with it’s paw.

The moment they touched, fireworks exploded behind Sam’s eyes, a painful, blinding light that seared his insides with cold heat - he was vaguely aware that he was screaming again - then it settled into a hot burn at the back of his mind.

Heya, kiddo, an amused voice said in his head right before Sam passed out again.

The next time he woke up, he was back in the motel room he’d gotten with Dean yesterday night. For a moment, Sam thought he’d dreamt all of it and his familiar ceremony hadn’t even happened yet, before his eyes settled onto the creamy cat rolling around on Dean’s bed, messing up the covers.

He shivered at the memory of the darkness - he’d always known there was something wrong with him, but that - before he could finish the thought it was drowned in amber warmth just this side of not-pain.

Morning, Gigantor, said a voice in his mind. Sam took a moment to study it this time. Male, playful, warm.

“Sam. My name is Sam,” he said, throat still raspy from the screaming. He hadn’t been there when Dean had this familiar ceremony; John had deemed him too young, but he didn’t think Dean had screamed this much.

Whatever, Samsquatch. I’m Gabriel, the flawless, and you should be thanking me on hands and knees right about now. The cat - Gabriel - rolled up neatly, looking for all the world like he hadn’t just messed up Dean’s bed with cat hair and tomfoolery.

Sam’s head hurt. He got up, stumbled into the bathroom and splashed some cold water in his face. He didn’t know how long he stood there, just staring at his own reflection, but it was long enough for Dean to return; he heard his brother yell at Gabriel and smiled involuntarily.

He decided he needed a shower after all that rolling around on the forest floor; it didn’t take him long to discovered the red, slightly raised burn on his hip. It was the shape of a cat paw. He touched it softly, reverently. It hummed with warmth.

About half an hour later he got out of the shower, feeling more like himself despite the ever-present warmth at the back of his mind. Sam wrapped a towel around his waist, having forgotten to bring clothes to change into, and returned to the room.

Dean was sitting at the table, cleaning his gun, map and research books spread out in front of him, the raven, Cas, Dean’s familiar, perched on his shoulder. His muddy shoulder - Dean looks like he’d lost a fistfight with a landslide.

“Finally, Samantha. Did your Queenliness really need to use up all the hot water?,” Dean grumbles.

“Sorry,” he muttered, “What’s with -,” he indicated the entirety of Dean who was scowling and dripping mud on the hideous motel carpet.

“’s not a case, don’t worry,” Dean grunted and got up to head for the bathroom. “We have to meet Dad tomorrow at Bobby’s though,” he added.

Sam made a face; it was almost a seven hour drive from here to Sioux Falls. He watched as Dean grabbed himself some clothes and disappeared into the bathroom, Cas still on his shoulder. It made him blush; even if familiars were in the shape of animals, they were still people; that was still another guy his brother was getting naked in front of.

Speaking of people - the bond at the back of Sam’s mind gave a contended vibration, almost a purr, when the Siamese looked up from where he was cuddled into Sam’s pillow and let his eyes rake over Sam’s half-naked form.

Blushing, Sam grabbed his clothes and put them on hastily with his back turned to his familiar; he was rewarded with a warm twang to the bond that felt like a chuckle.

After he was dressed, it took him a few more deep breaths to calm down enough turn around again. He studied Gabriel for a bit. He looked invitingly soft with a fluffy, dark tail and almost too symmetrical dark socks on all four paws. The rest of his fur was cookies-and-cream mixed with flecks of gold. He seemed small even for a cat.

Gabriel, sensing the scrutiny, looked up at him, golden eyes breathtakingly striking in the dark mask pattern around his face.

“Hi,” Sam said again for lack of better words.

Amusement flooded the bond, Hi, Gabriel purred. What’s a kitty gotta do around here to escape this crushing boredom?

Sam frowned. “I don’t think Dean would like us going somewhere, we have to drive early tomorrow and -,” he cut off at the disapproval he felt scratching at his thoughts. It wasn’t exactly painful, but it made it hard to concentrate on anything.

“Cut that out,” he growled.

Ohh, that’s hot, big boy, Gabriel laughed and Sam instantly blushed crimson. Now come on, don’t tell me you always do what your brother says. If you were that boring it’d be cosmically impossible for me to be your familiar.

“Yeah ... about that ... what - what exactly happened there?,” Sam asked, sitting down on the chair that Dean hadn’t covered in mud.

Gabriel sat up, paws neatly folded now, and studied Sam for a bit. The bond felt oddly cold and withdrawn, so Sam prodded at it with his mind, tried to send emotion across it the way Gabriel did so effortlessly. He didn’t think it worked, but at least it seemed to amuse the familiar, because the warmth returned threefold.

Well, I was bored. Luce already picked you but it’s not like I’m into rules anyway, so I thought ‘why not throw in my bid?’, Gabriel made a gesture that was about as close as a cat could come to shrugging.

“Wait, someone picked me? Doesn’t - isn’t it like, a soul-based assignment?”

In a way. We sense your soul when you cast the incantation and if one of us is into it, they claim you. It’s all very civilized.

“And - and you said ... Luce?”

Gabriel’s little cat face scrunched up. Yeah, my brother. Big bag of dicks, that one.

Sam shivered at the memory of the heat and the pain and the fire. “Thank you,” he said, earnestly. “For picking me.”

The bond was still for a moment and when Gabriel spoke next it came without the tinge of emotion that usually accompanied everything he said. Y’know I was just bored, right? We’re vaguely similar enough for me to claim you but we’re not - I’m not really for you.

Sam made a face. “And your brother the bag of dicks is?”

Yeah. He’s been saying you were his since before you were born. A match made in Hell and all that. I’m just borrowing you. Because I was bored. The bond was still curiously emotionless. He’ll come back for you, you know? Without the second bond he can just snatch you back, and I won’t fight it. Now the thoughts perked back up again, overflowing with memories just beyond Sam’s grasp, I haven’t been on earth in ages, I bet you’ve got so many new delicacies now!

Sam couldn’t breathe. Barely anybody in the history of witchcraft had made the second bond with a familiar - a human binding himself to an ageless being is all well and good, but a supernova of timeless power binding themselves to a human soul? Preposterous. Besides, Gabriel had already said he wouldn’t even fight. This Luce would come back for him and - and. Sam closed his eyes and the images flashed back into focus - the stench of burning meat, the claws around his throat, the despair and the pain and the -

Whiskey-burn warmth flooded his mind before he could grasp the rest of his memories.

Gabriel didn’t say anything when Sam curled up under the covers of his bed and Sam would have felt gratitude if he’d allowed himself to feel anything at all. When he slept, he dreamt of golden snakes wrapped around his body like a warm, scaly hug.