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exhilaration and fear

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Sam doesn’t quite know what makes him walk into the bookstore.

From the exterior, it’s nothing special. Rather shoddy, actually. The door looks to be barely hanging on and its blue paint is peeling off in long stripes, revealing rotting wood underneath. The only thing that seems remotely looked after is a clutter of bright yellow flowers rooted in a flower box hanging in front of the window.

And yet.

Back when Sam was still at college, he was once caught in a thunderstorm while driving down route 80 to visit his brother during spring break. Rain splattered against the windows in heavy strokes, like paint on a canvas—so thick that the windows were a watery blur. He had gripped the wheel in iron-tight fists, and it still felt like the car was going to be thrown off the road and into a ditch. And yet—he’d found himself smiling during it. It was addictive, knowing that his whole life could be over in the blink of an eye by something more mighty and powerful and uncontrollable than himself. It reminded him of just how human he was.

It’s stupid, because this is only a bookstore, but staring at it gives Sam that same feeling; a cross between exhilaration and fear. His hands curl into tight fists at his sides and his heart thumps widely in his chest. He almost wants to keep walking down the sidewalk, but his curiosity gets the better of him.

There’s no sign saying whether or not the store is open, but the door is unlocked, so he slips inside, a shrill sound announcing his presence.

“Hello?” Sam calls out, unsure of himself. “Is anyone there?” He’s met by a dull, resounding silence.

Sam looks around the store. He takes his time; after all, he has nothing better to do; nowhere else to go; no one else to need him. His brother doesn’t get off his job as a mechanic until five, so Sam still has a couple of hours until he’s expected back at the apartment.

The room is circular, which is odd because from the outside the store looked square. Tall bookshelves occupy every inch of space, spread out at angles like clock hands. He can’t see any organization—no sign proclaiming a section fantasy or history—just books thrown anywhere with no rhyme or reason.

Footsteps echo through the space. Sam freezes. The door to the bookstore was unlocked, but that fact doesn’t stop Sam from feeling like he's somewhere he shouldn’t be.

“Hello,” a voice calls over his shoulder, gruff and deep.

The hairs on the back of Sam’s neck stand on end. Sam spins around with wide eyes. “Hi,” he mumbles.

The other man looks as otherworldly as the bookstore. His hair is an untidy chaos of dark locks, his mouth is a thin line, and underneath his piercing blue eyes are bags that make him look as tired as Sam constantly feels. The man is wearing a wrinkled white dress shirt under an ill-fitting tan trench coat and a blue tie flipped backwards. He resembles a kid trying on grown-up clothes for the first time.

The man sticks out his hand, and Sam reaches forward and takes it with unsure fingers. His hand is cold. Sam pumps it once, twice, before dropping his hand to his side.

The man doesn’t say anything else, and the store is quiet, with not even the whirl of a fan to offset the awkwardness. Sam scrabbles for something to say, swallowing over the dryness of his mouth. “So, umm, I assume this is your bookstore? How long have you had it?”

The man frowns, but the shift of his eyebrows is robotic, as if not suited for his face. “A long time,” he says, voice distant. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-four,” Sam supplies. He probably shouldn’t be telling telling personal information to a near-stranger, but he finds himself too fascinated by the other man to lie.

“This store has been in my posession far longer than you have been alive, then.”

Sam squints, trying to do the math in his head. The other guy doesn’t look seem than late-twenties, and Sam doubts he’d been running the bookstore since before he could read. Though maybe he’s older than he looks. He does have that kind of energy about him.

“Oh sorry,” the guy said, ducking his head almost shyly. “I forget some pleasantries. My name is Castiel.”

“Huh. Interesting name. It has… angelic origins, right?”

“Yes,” Castiel says, no shred of humor in his voice. After a few seconds, he lets out a rough laugh. “Sorry. I haven’t interacted with someone for awhile.”

You and me both, Sam thinks. Every minute alone in the apartment had felt like a minute closer to the cold, unyielding hands of death. It's why he needed to get out and wander around town so badly. “I’m Sam,” He offers.

“A very respectable name.”

“Thanks… I guess?"

There’s a lull in the conversation. Sam fiddles with the buttons on the sleeve of his blue flannel. “Well, uh… would I be able to buy a book or two from you?”

Castiel seems taken aback for a second, his eyebrows drawing up and his eyes going wide.

Crap. Sam must’ve misread the situation. Again. “Unless, umm, this isn’t a bookstore. Emphasis on store. In which case, obviously I wouldn’t ask you to part with some of your treasured collection.” Sam takes another look around the room. Though, there are a lot of books; much more than any one man could read in his lifetime. It probably wouldn’t hurt to take a few, right?

“I can’t give my books away to just anyone,” Castiel says.

“Oh. Okay. Of course–”

“That’s why I should get to know you some. Do you like fruit turnovers?”

Sam grins. "Absolutely."

 

Sam is currently sitting in Castiel’s sitting room, elbows propped up on the surface of the circular table off to the side on the room as he munches on the best scones he’s ever had. Not that he's had many scones, but the point still stands. He's listening to Castiel ramble on about some of the philosophers he admired.

“Hold on, Emerson knew Henry David Thoreau?” Sam asks, wiping crumbs off his mouth with the back of his hand. He’d left college before they’d completely covered Emerson.

“Yes. The two often took long walks in nature as they conversed. Though Thoreau detested higher education, while Emerson embraced it, and they clashed on a few other matters, the two were good friends.”

“Hmm.” Sam has a bit of strawberry glaze on his fingers, which he licks off with little laps of his tongue.

“I do admire Emerson greatly,” Castiel continues. “He believed that that God was in everything and everyone, and that to truly express this divinity, one has to find who they truly are and then live out their individuality as well as they are able. And that idea that we are in charge of our own life, our own actions… well it speaks to me.”

“I mean, free will is a nice idea and all, but it’s not always possible."

"Why not?"

"Sometimes you mess up too many times," Sam says, a bit bitterly.

“I am sorry you feel that way. I suppose I just… choose to see it more optimistically. Mistakes are a chance to do better.”

Sam can't stop himself from snorting.

Castiel doesn't say anything else, just stares into space a bit wistfully. Maybe Sam has overstayed his welcome. Maybe Castiel is too polite to outright tell him to leave. "Well, uh, I guess I should be–"

“What do you want?” Castiel asks suddenly.

“Huh?”

“In life–what do you want?” Cas fixes a steady gaze on Sam. All the attention is a bit unnerving. “You seem to be a lost soul. Maybe I can help you find some direction.”

Sam settles back in his chair, thinking. He often knew what other people wanted. Dean would always said he was a smart kid, should go become a big-shot lawyer and make enough money to pull them out of their lower-middle class lifestyle they never seemed able to dig themselves out of. He tried. Back when he and Jess were still dating, and he'd introduced her to his dad, John had said, "you need to marry that girl.” Sam tried.

Sam is usually too busy worrying about disappointing others to even think about what he wants.

Sam’s eyes land on a disorderly stack of books behind Castiel. Books cover every single inch of the space, and it's a bit comforting. “I like books. Love them, actually. Though I haven’t read for pleasure in… I don't know how long.” Sam swallows. “I uh, I remember whenever teachers in elementary school would read to the class, I’d think ‘I want to do that when I grow up. I want to tell kids stories. Make them happy.’” Sam hangs his head, his shoulders drooping. “I know it’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid, Sam. I think it’s very virtuous and respectable." Castiel's eyes are kind.

“Thanks,” he mumbles. “But–it’s too late. The train has left the station. I missed my chance."

"It's not," Castiel insists. "It's never too late to fight for your happiness."

Sam hums. Maybe Castiel is right. He'll have to think more about that later. He's not sure he's ready to go back to college, but maybe... something. A baby step.

Castiel studies him for a long moment, and Sam swears the air fills with the simmering ferocity of before a thunderstorm. But then Sam blinks, and the moment is over. Castiel pushes his chair back and stands up. “Have you decided on a book of mine you would like?”

 

Dean has been watching Sam like a hawk all during dinner. Sam is twirling pasta on his fork when Dean asks, “Why are you smiling so much?"

Sam smiles wider in spite of himself. “I’m not smiling.”

“You are,” Dean says, a shit-eating grin on his face. “And I’m not, like, calling you out or anything, it’s just… it’s nice to see. What brought it on? Did ya meet a cute girl?”

“No.”

A beat. “A cute boy? A umm… a cute person?” Dean asks, flushing red. Dean is always so awkward about these sorts of things, but Sam’s glad he tries; better to be awkwardly supportive than not supportive at all.

“Not exactly.”

“So it is someone cute?” Dean’s smile is back in full force.

Sam blushes, ignoring in in favor of looking down at his plate. He’d finished his salad off within minutes—minus the croutons Dean knew he didn't like but always insisted on throwing in—and only picked at his linguine. Even all of Dean’s impressive cooking ability can’t make him a fan of pasta.

He wants to tell Dean all about Castiel. He wants to tell Dean so badly it feels like his heart is going to burst. But... a part of him also wants to keep Castiel for himself. “I think I’m ready to get a job,” Sam says instead. “For real this time, actually fill out job applications and ring up people to recommend me and everything.”

If Dean seems surprised by the sudden topic change, he doesn’t show it. “That sounds nice, Sammy. Real nice.” Unlike the last couple of months, his smile doesn't seem forced.