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Three Miles Up

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Sam awoke to the sound of men and bells. He spent a moment blinking away the haze of sleep before he sat up and looked around. The man in the bunk next to him was stretching, arms in the air, half dressed in army issue cargoes. Sam felt the ache of homesickness sink into his stomach. He threw the sheets back and swung his legs to the side, cold air hitting them and raising goosebumps

His trousers scratched and the shirt they'd given him was somehow too large. An impressive feat, considering that he was six foot four and took after his father with his wide chest and broad arms.

"You alright there kid?" The man from the bunk next to him asked. Sam ignored it, he couldn't be talking to him. "Buddy?" Sam felt a hand tap him gently on the shoulder.

"Wha-? You were talking to me?" He turned around, a frown forming on his lips.

"That's right kiddo." The man grinned.

Sam raised an eyebrow and gave him a once over. He was short compared to Sam, but then again so were most people. His hair was mousy brown with hints of sun bleached blonde and it formed cowlicks either side of his head before it tucked neatly behind his ears. He had a large nose, dimpled cheeks, and an overbite that hid his teeth even when he spoke. His eyes were a strange and alluring colour that shone with mirth and seemed to glow. He was wide, with thick arms. The front of his torso was like a short, broad, flat wall. His legs were slightly bowed. He didn't seem like the kind of man to be calling someone like Sam a kid. But here he was.

Sam held back a laugh and a snarky retort, after all he'd just met the guy, that would be rude.

"I'm fine, thanks." He smiled in return.

"Good." The man held out a hand, smaller than Sam's and with thicker fingers. "I'm Gabriel."

'Like the angel' Sam's mind suggested, although Gabriel resembled anything but. He took the hand offered and shook firmly. "Sam."

"Well, Sam, you wanna go get some breakfast?" Gabriel asked, giving Sam's hand a final lingering squeeze and letting go.

"I wouldn't say no." Sam grinned.

They followed the rest of the men to the mess hall and were given identical trays of hastily plated food. Sam followed Gabriel - who seemed to know where he was going - to a table of six chairs, four of them filled by an interesting array of men.

"Morning, assholes." Gabriel grinned.

"How ya doin' Skippy?" A man with a frankly disgusting haircut grinned in return, unfazed by Gabriel's rude greeting. Gabriel pretended to hit him on the head and sat down. For a moment panic rose in Sam's gut and he wondered if Gabriel had actually wanted to sit with him. He was brought back to his second year of high school, the time Dean hadn't wanted to sit with his kid brother at lunch because the jocks he hung around with would give him shit about it. But then Gabriel turned around with the same bright eyed grin he'd greeted Sam with earlier.

"Sam, come on." He nodded in the direction of the seat opposite him.

Sam gratefully moved and sat down. The moment he was sat, Gabriel introduced him to the other men.

"Guys, this is Sam." He began. There were four hellos, varying in enthusiasm, from around the table. "Sam, meet Ash, Balth, Luke, and Kevin."

Ash was the man that had talked first. He was skinny, with a mullet and the eyes of a man that smoked something other than tobacco. He gave Sam an easy, welcoming grin.

Balth was a lean man with short, flat, sandy hair and an unimpressed expression, sat next to Ash. His blue eyes were cold and calculating but there was a softness around them. Sam got the idea that he was used to being listened to.

The third man, Luke, was sat to Sam's right. He had messy blonde hair and darker stubble on his jaw. His grey eyes were a different kind of cold, and held the same sinister amusement as his smirk. He held out a hand to Sam in greeting, shaking firmly. His skin was cold but his shake was warm, which entirely confused Sam.

Kevin was young, ridiculously young. Younger even than Sam. He was tired looking and Asian, his hair a mop atop his head that made him look even younger. Sam felt his stomach sink slightly at the thought of this kid going to war. He looked like he should be at school still, running on coffee revising for finals, not preparing to leave the country and go to war.

"I've known these guys for forever." Gabriel told him cheerfully, and suddenly Sam felt more alone than he had when he'd been left standing.

"Forever and a day." Ash added.

"Sadly." Balth sighed, his British accent catching Sam unawares.

"Aww, stop being so pessimistic Balthy." Gabriel pouted.

"Stop being so optimistic, Skippy." Balth countered, a small smirk gracing his lips.

"Skippy?" Sam blurted, brain to mouth filter not doing anything to stop him.

Ash turned and practically preened, it was obviously his idea before he even said it.

"Or Skip, if he's being less pansy assed." He told him. "I started callin' him it back in high school, 'cause he's the biggest homo this side of the Atlantic. And he acts it too." The men laughed, and Sam felt a small grin come to his cheeks.

Gabriel shrugged and smirked, a defiant sort of gleam to his eyes. Sam could see fear there too. "I am who I am."

"You're not scared to tell people?" Sam asked.

"Don't gotta be."

"He knows that if anyone gives him trouble 'bout it, we'll beat the shit outta them." Ash grinned, "Even if we don't get it, he's our buddy. Don't matter if he likes it up the ass."

Gabriel shoved him but laughed along with the others. It was a bright spark of a laugh that Sam knew lit fires in people around it

"That's real... open-minded." Sam said once the laughter had died down.

Gabriel gave him a look that was both grateful and surprised, and Sam felt something pass between them, a kind of understanding.

"Yeah, well shut up with all this feely, girly crap and eat your goddamn breakfast." Luke spoke up for the first time, his voice matching the cold, sly air that he gave off even when joking around like this. Everybody, including Sam, laughed, and the conversation deteriorated as they ate. Sam felt free to speak, and joined in with the casual banter between the others with surprising ease. Ash made a joke about his hair, and he made one in return, and Kevin reminded them that they'd have to get it cut anyway.

"EASY COMPANY, GET OFF YOUR ASSES. WE'RE RUNNING IN TEN MINUTES." The First Lieutenant yelled, effectively shutting the men up and making them jump in the same instant. He was a handsome man with a permanent smirk and a chip in his shoulder as deep as the grand canyon from what Sam had heard on the bus on the way to the compound the night before.

"Running where, sir?" A voice piped up.

"Currahee hill; three miles up, three miles down." The commander answered, smirk widening. He turned and left, the sounds of complaint striking up as soon as he was out the door.

"Bastard." Luke glared at the exit. "Always has to ruin everyone's day."

"Michael's Luke's brother." Kevin explained.

"Step-brother." Luke snapped.

"How come he's the commander then?" Sam asked. Luke's glare shifted to him and he knew he'd asked completely the wrong question.

"Our father's pretty high up in the ranks, and we've never really got along. Michael, of course, is the perfect son. So when it was announced we all had to sign up for this crock of shit Dad ordered for Mike to be given the highest rank possible while I had to sign in with you scumbags."

"Hey! That was rude." Ash protested. "We ain't that bad."

"Basically; Luke's dad's a dick, so's his brother." Gabriel summed up, ignoring the final comment.

Sam nodded. "I know the feeling."

Before anyone could say anything else on the matter, Kevin spoke up reminding them that they had to be out soon.

Currahee hill looked small from where the men stood outside their hut, but Sam knew it would be a tough obstacle. He'd walked six miles before, sure, but running?

"Easy Company, attention!" Lieutenant Winters yelled. The sound of boots hitting the ground thumped unevenly from around Sam, the men not used to the orders even if they'd read what they meant. Everyone was silent but for one muttering voice to Sam's left.

"Easy company, I'm Commander Milton. I'll be in charge of you lot for the moment. Welcome to the paratroopers and the army. I want to make one thing absolutely clear; tardiness and bullshit will not be tolerated in my company. I expect the very best from you, all of you.

"That includes you, soldier. You talk when I say you can talk."

"Sorry, sir." Came a sarcastic response. It was Luke. The commander's eyes hardened for a moment, the same cold grey shade as his brother's. Sam heard Gabriel snicker to his left, and Milton's eyes shifted to him, his smirk turned into a sneer.

"What's so funny, soldier?" He spat.

"Nothing, Commander." Gabriel replied breezily, voice flamboyant and unafraid.

"Good. Well, thanks to Milton and Novak here, you're gonna be timed. You'll be going up the hill every day, and I hope to see you shave at least ten seconds off your time every day."

Sam could feel the groan that wanted to be let out, and his shoulders sagged.

"Winters, do your job." Milton instructed, then marched off.

"Easy Company, right face." Winters yelled. He looked sorry for them, and Sam saw him shoot a small glare in Milton's direction. "By the left, quick march."

Sam let his legs carry him to the base of the hill on autopilot. He'd done this a thousand times. Dad always made them practice when he was a kid; him and Dean, twenty minutes outside from the day Sam turned six, they'd march to John's count.

"Let's go men; three miles up, three miles down."

That became the routine: get up, get breakfast, get out; the runs were timed, as Milton had instructed, but if it was hot and they were behind their target, Winters stopped the clock a few seconds shy of their last time. Gabriel often led songs on these runs; he'd break out into old campfire songs he learned as a kid, and Balth, Luke, Ash, and Kevin often knew them already. They'd sing them through slowly first, and as people caught on they sang louder and more tunefully.

Other drills and activities took place in the day, except on Saturday evenings and Sundays, when they were free to go to the local town to visit the cinema, bar, and church. Sam became closer to Gabriel and his little gang, along with the rest of Easy Company. He found out a lot about them. Before the war Ash had been studying technology at the best college in the country. Kevin was majoring in math, he was nineteen and had met the others when Luke had kicked an older student in the groin for taking Kevin's books. Balth had moved over from England and initially punched Gabriel in the face for hitting on him, then had been punched in the face by Ash in return. They had become friends after that somehow. Luke had known Gabriel and Ash since they were in middle school. His Dad was an asshole and he'd never gotten on with his brother. His mother had married Michael's father when he was six, and had died of leukaemia when he was ten. Sam warmed up to him, they had a lot in common after all. They bonded over tales of shit fathers and dead mothers. Gabriel had grown up in a house that smelled of weed and incense. His parents were what he called hippies, and Ash called ' fucking awesome'. He had four brothers and three sisters. His parents were free thinking Christians and told their children to remember to love their neighbours no matter what. Gabriel told Sam one night, when he was pretty drunk, how he'd come crying to his mother one night because he knew he liked boys, and she'd hugged him and told him that it didn't matter, that he was her baby boy and she loved him regardless. Sam had cried, or at least that's what he remembered, drunken sniffling into Gabriel's shoulder.

Gabriel liked to tell stories. Whether it were over food or during runs, he had so many to tell. Tales of his childhood, fairytales, all were told. His other friends had obviously heard them all before, and joined in as he told them enthusiastically, not put off by their sarcastic comments and melodramatic reenactments.

When it was announced that they were being promoted and likely sent into the field Sam was with the others in the smoky bar. He was sat next to Gabriel as had become the usual, and when it was said Gabriel was one of the first to cheer. He turned to Sam with a grin wide on his cheeks and his eyes shining gold. Sam was aware of everyone around him celebrating and he was aware of Gabriel's arms reaching tight over his shoulders and chest and pulling him into a crushing hug. Sam laughed and grinned and forgot the fact that they were going to be sent off to kill and be killed. He hugged Gabriel back and felt a shock run straight through him when he felt stubble and then wet lips against his cheek for one fleeting second. Then Gabriel was gone and he was pushed into Ash's arms and into a slight stupor that lasted until Luke pulled him into a bear hug that he remembered to reciprocate.

The time flew by as they trained harder than ever. They jumped from the planes as often as possible, and Sam felt safe sandwiched between Luke and Gabriel.

They were given twenty four hour notice that they were being sent over to France and the good mood that had held since their promotion fell away to reveal the panic and fear. Even Gabriel lost some of his cheer. Even at the news that First Lieutenant Milton had been reassigned - to command a jump school of all things - didn't cheer them up entirely.

The night before the night they would leave, Sam couldn't sleep. He watched the shadows on the ceiling until it bored him too much, and then his head fell to the side and his eyes landed on Gabriel. Gabriel was just staring at him, and when Sam's eyes met his he got out of his bed without a sound and came over to sit on Sam's. He scanned around and Sam did the same; everyone else was asleep, in this moment it was just them. Gabriel pushed Sam gently so the other man pressed up against the wall, making space in the bed. Sam didn't ask what he was doing, nor did he reject him when he threw back the blanket and climbed in beside him. Sam's breath hitched when Gabriel pulled the cover back up and turned on his side to face him, only inches away from him. His eyes were dark but still held the same twinkle in this twilight that they did in the day.

He felt Gabriel's body, warm against him and so close. His heart began to quicken it's pace. His eyes flicked all over his friend's face and his brain worked at as hundred miles a minute as his lungs worked faster to pump oxygen to his speeding heart. He was glad to note that Gabriel seemed to be having the same difficulty breathing as he did. His eyes settled on Gabriel's, which were focused on Sam's lips and coming steadily closer. Gabriel's face stopped so close to Sam's that his nose was brushing Sam's cheek. Sam could smell the mint of Gabriel's toothpaste on his breath.

A moment later he could taste it, as Gabriel's lips met his. It was far from gentle: it was built of months of tension and separate want and it set Sam on fire. He kissed back just as hard, using teeth and tongue and hands through hair. It lasted until they both had to pull away, fighting for air. Sam listened to the quiet gasping as they caught their breaths and then the small, breathless chuckle Gabriel gave. Sam looked at him and found his breath eluding him again. Gabriel was lit by the soft moonlight sneaking through the windows. His teeth were showing where he was grinning, and his eyes were practically silver. His chest rose and fell shakily under the blanket with each deep breath. He looked young and so human but the silver of the moonlight made his tangled hair into a pale halo. Sam found himself thinking back to the day they'd met, his first thought: 'Gabriel, like the angel'. And in this moment he could believe that.

"I think I've been wanting that since I first saw you." Gabriel whispered.

"I think I have too." Sam whispered in return. It was the truth.

Gabriel turned his head and caught Sam's lips in a kiss softer this time than the last before he turned and shifted so he was pressing up against Sam. Sam caught on to the idea and slid one arm under Gabriel and the other around him. Sam fell asleep feeling more content than he ever had.

He woke up with empty arms and a heavy heart. Brushing his teeth after breakfast he took a moment to look at himself: his hair was close cropped to his scalp, so different to the style he'd arrived with - it falling to his ears with a fringe that almost began to cover his eyes; his forehead looked even larger with the short hair than it had before; his face was thinner and three day stubble lined his jaw. He looked like a different person.

They spent the day organising everything; cleaning guns, organising bags, sharpening knives. Sam and Gabriel never talked about the night before, but Sam knew they could both feel the difference. The subtle touches between them, the times Sam caught Gabriel watching him - it had happened before, but now it was different, more relevant. More important.

The plane was noisy and dark. Sam was, as always, between Luke and Gabriel, and when Gabriel's hand sneaked into his he was pleasantly surprised. He linked their fingers and felt the slightest smile come to his cheeks. He didn't look at Gabriel but focused on everyone else. Kevin was sat across from him, clutching something akin to a rosary in one hand so hard his knuckles were visibly white in the dimly lit plane. His eyes were shut tight and he was muttering something, a prayer Sam supposed. Next to him Balth had a cigarette in his mouth and was tossing a lighter from one hand to another. He was starting blankly ahead. Next to Sam Luke was having a conversation with the man on the other side of him: Malarkey. All around him men were doing similar things; praying, smoking, whispering, humming. Walker was tossing his knife around like it was a toy and next to him Garth (who had a surname including numbers that nobody could be bothered to pronounce) looked absolutely terrified.

The sound of explosions and propellers grew closer and more terrifying as the time went by, and all of a sudden they broke through the clouds and there were colours and flashes joining the sound. Winters yelled something that Sam could barely make out, but they all knew what it meant. They stood up and Sam had to let go of Gabriel. His hand felt too empty and his stomach was in his throat as he stood behind Luke. He checked Luke's equipment twice; one mistake and his friend was dead. He'd never be able to forgive himself for that. He felt Gabriel's arms around his waist for a second, followed by a playful and honestly reassuring squeeze of his ass. He laughed slightly hysterically, and couldn't hear it at all over anything else.

A string of positive responses rang out when Winters yelled a second time, and everyone moved forwards.

Sam was on the edge of the plane before he even realised, and Winters patted him on the shoulder with a sure sounding 'You'll be fine, Winchester' and a sad eyed smile before he jumped. He was pulled into the wind and then fell like a rock until he pulled the cord and his parachute caught the wind with a lurch. He didn't look anywhere but down as he tried to control his descent.

He landed on the muddy, sloping bank of a small stream that once must have been much bigger. He didn't know where he was in relation to anyone else and at some point his pack had fallen from his ankle. His feet were half buried in the mud and he staggered under the weight of the collapsed parachute. He scrambled to free himself from the ropes and surveyed where he'd landed. The stream ran along the edge of a field that had probably once been used for crops. The mud was wet and slippery, and Sam fell a number of times as he ran across it into the cover of the edge of a wood. He crawled over fallen trees and followed paths that were more water than ground. He heard voices, but more often than not they were German, and the times where they weren't they were French or Japanese.

He thought he was never going to hear another American again. It had been hours, the sun had risen and was shining proudly in the centre of the sky, making Sam feel paranoid and obvious. He heard a twig crack and expected the click of a trigger to follow, but instead:

"Hey, it's one of us!" A whispered exclamation in a familiar voice from his left. Sam turned, spirits lifting. "Winchester?"

"Milligan!" Sam let himself breathe laugh in disbelief. Adam Milligan was a scrawny boy the same age as Kevin, and no amount of exercise could make him larger or more intimidating. With him was a man with thin lips and a British uniform.

"Good to see you man." Milligan grinned, flipping the safety of his gun back on and pulling Sam into a one armed hug.

"You too." Sam couldn't stop smiling in return.

Milligan pushed him away and nodded to his companion. "This is Harper."

"Alright mate?" Harper nodded, holding out a hand that Sam shook.

"I guess." Sam shrugged. "You seen anyone else?"

Milligan continued grinning and Sam felt his spirits rise even further. "Yeah, there's a camp a mile or so back from us."

Sam thanked him, wished them luck, and said goodbye. The distance between him and the promised camp seemed too far but he persisted until he heard voices, American voices. He burst out of the foliage and threw his arms up as he heard guns raised and someone shouting in alarm.

"It's okay!" He yelled in panic.

"He's one of us." Someone confirmed, sounding relieved.

There were exclamations, some annoyed, some grateful. All of them were drowned out by a familiar, accented voice yelling 'Sam!' and cheering from other people. Sam grinned and let his arms fall to his sides, where they were then pinned by Balth a moment later.

"Sammy boy! We were worried!" The Englishman grinned.

"So was I." Sam admitted. He looked around the familiar faces. Balth, Garth, Walker, Malarkey, Penkala, Colt, Wesson, Campbell. And pushing through them like Sam had never seen him do: Kevin.

The Asian barrelled into him forcefully. "Thank God." He laughed.

"Good to see you too Kevin." Sam grinned.

Kevin flushed and pulled away. "Sorry; I was scared you hadn't made it."

"Well I did." Was all Sam could think to say. He ignored the way his stomach rose at the suggestion and the voice in the back of his head asking where Gabriel, Luke, and Ash were. "Where's Winters?" He asked instead. Balth seemed to sense the other questions too, and his face fell.

"We don't know, the plane was hit just after Walker jumped, and he says he thinks Winters jumped, but the bastard didn't care enough to make sure."

Sam felt the happiness that had filled him start to fall away and reveal the tiredness underneath.

His friends seemed to see the change, and for that he was grateful. "C'mon, you must be exhausted." Balth nodded in the direction of the tents.

"A bit." Sam agreed, and let them lead him to a shabby structure that clearly hadn't expected so many men. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, despite his waterlogged, uncomfortable clothes and the worry weighing his heart down.

The next day he woke, stretched his aching muscles, and followed everyone else to collect a cold breakfast. Nothing happened for most of the day; men were sent out to scout the area, men returned with little to report or shaking hands and smoking guns. Milligan came back alone and with tear stained cheeks. There was muttering and speculation about what had happened to Harper, but in the end nobody really wanted to know.

It was late in the day, Sam was helping sort out the weaponry they'd gathered in one of the tents when they heard a commotion outside. He ran out with everyone else, and could tell who it was before he even saw them by the loud, angry yells.

Luke was battered and holding one arm to his chest. And Gabriel was muddy, he'd lost his helmet, and his trousers had torn on one knee, but he was blessedly alive and in one piece.

He heard the same reaction that had come when he'd arrived, only with less annoyance. Balth pulled him along towards their friends and squeezed Luke tight despite the swearing and cries of pain coming from the other man. And Sam was faced with Gabriel. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, but it certainly wasn't what happened.

Gabriel grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him in to a tight hug. Everyone ignored them and helped with the more important task of removing Balth from Luke and getting the injured man to a medic. Gabriel pulled Sam away from himself and kissed him hard on the mouth. Sam was surprised, but gladly returned the kiss. His heart felt like it wanted to jump out of his chest into Gabriel's. He felt eyes on them and his stomach was jumping too, fearful. He worried what people would say, but at the same time and all the more scary he found himself not caring.

"You had me worried, Sammy." Gabriel panted when he pulled away. "I couldn't see you anywhere when I jumped."

"I'm alright." Sam promised. "You're alright."

Gabriel nodded and grinned proudly. "Takes more than a badly planned jump to get rid of me." Sam laughed at that, and it was as if all the fear and worry left him with the air.

They stayed camped there for as long as they could, but eventually they agreed that it was too dangerous and anyone that hadn't shown had either died or found somewhere else. Ash hadn't appeared. Winters had.

Winters arrived three days after the initial jump; he explained that he'd found another camp along the way, but that First Lieutenant MacLeod, Milton's replacement, had been killed in the jump, meaning that Winters would take command. They asked if Ash had been at the camp; he hadn't.

They trekked for a few days, running into only a few enemy soldiers as they went. Sam stayed near the back of the procession with Gabriel, Kevin, Balth, Luke (who had broken his arm when he fell through the trees) and Garth (who had sprained or broken his ankle and was being helped walk by Malarkey and Milligan).

When they reached the small village serving as a base they were tired, dirty and hungry. Ash still hadn't appeared.

They stayed there, recuperating, for a short while. Luke and Garth were sent to a hospital despite Luke's protesting and cursing. Gabriel, as always, was the lifter of spirits; he'd tell people jokes, make ridiculous innuendos, tell his stories no matter of anyone's mood. He'd act as if they were still in England and nothing had happened.

They moved on, as would become the way, and slept wary of guns and bombs, even though they weren't yet on the front lines. They managed to take down a group of German guns with the help of a Boston boy Sam never found out the name of. He wished he had.

They revelled in their small victories.

At least until they found Ash.

Winters had been the one to tell them. Their friend had survived the jump, and had found a camp five miles from where they had first been. But the camp had in turn been found by a large number of German troops. Too large a number.

Sam didn't want to believe it. Gabriel, next to him, didn't seem able to cope. His hands were shaking and he pulled away from Sam's comforting. Sam's heart hurt. Balth and Kevin didn't seem to be faring any better. Balth lapsed into hard silence for a day and a half; Kevin seemed to break inside, his cheeks permanently tear stained.

They soldiered on, as was their job. But so much of the laughter had left them, even when Gabriel began cracking jokes again they were strained and tired, like a note played on an ancient piano. He was less enthusiastic in his stories now, and Balth and Kevin hardly ever butted in. Milligan had described them, with a slightly bitter laugh, as being held together by duct tape, safety pins and each other. He was shot two days later. Right in front of Sam, right within his reach.

They battled their way forwards, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, the weather and their surroundings their enemy in those situations. They slept in ditches or man made holes in the ground. Sam always with Gabriel, nobody questioning them. They were at their most fragile in the nights, neither of them wanting to sleep for fear that they might never wake, both of them wanting this to be over. Gabriel curled up to Sam's chest, wrapping his arms tight around him and apparently listening to his heartbeat. Sam managed to fall asleep most nights with Gabriel's breath hot and reassuring on his neck.

Sam wished he could say the war was just like in the pictures; the good guys shooting the bad guys and the bullets always hitting their mark, the knives going in with no trace. It wasn't, it really wasn't.

He couldn't count the number of times he heard yells of pain from men both ally and foe because a shot had missed it's mark. He'd seen men writhe in pain until they finally died of blood loss or shock. As many of their men died as German. Including many of his friends. They joined other companies, and met good men. They fought so many battles and won them all. The spirits of the men rose. Gabriel's stories became lighter, more often than not they were fairytales, stories of princesses and golden animals and imaginary creatures.

They all fought different internal battles, as their friends died the threat of depression loomed over them like a cloud full to bursting. Many a time Sam caught himself wondering if it were really all that important that he stayed alive. He always told himself that it was, but all to often that felt like a lie.

He was near to breaking point. His ears rang almost constantly, although his hearing was perfect on top of that. He was jumpy and exhausted. His lips were dry and cracked, his chin was scruffy, and he had a feeling he looked like hell.

In his defence, nobody else looked any better. Balth had dark circles under his eyes, his shaving was half assed and uneven. Kevin's hair was returning to the tangled mop it had been when they first met, although his chin was dark with the beginnings of a beard. And Gabriel's chin sported enough scruff to make him look almost a lumberjack and his hair was similar in length to how it had been when they'd first met, though dirty and messy.

That was when it finally got better. They were given a break, a respite. They were sent back to England, where there was hot water and decent food and no bombs.

Sam, Gabriel, Balth, and Kevin passed out in their separate rooms the moment they arrived. At some point during the night Gabriel had found his way to Sam's, and they slept together in safety for the first time ever. When Sam awoke, in the early morning, Gabriel was looking at him with an oddly blank expression on his face but yearning eyes.

"You okay?" Sam whispered, his voice too loud in the still country air.

"Yeah." Gabriel murmured in return. He leaned in for a kiss that Sam responded to with an easy sigh. He let the other man squirm up him so that the angle was less awkward, and pushed his hands around his waist. "You know what I would love right now." Gabriel purred against Sam's lips. Sam's heart stuttered at even the mention of that word from Gabriel's lips. "A goddamn bath."

Sam found himself laughing until he cried. Mostly out of relief, probably, that they were out of the hell they'd been trapped in; at least for now. Gabriel grinned at him.

There was a bathroom attached to the bedroom; a luxury Sam had never had before, and that he could really appreciate with the situation as it was.

He left Gabriel in charge of running the bath, and stood at the window. The sight through the glass pane could make him believe the war was just a dream. The village was cutesy, for want of better word. The road was cobbled, the houses across from him thatched, with neat little lawns, some even littered with toys and playthings. It was picturesque.

He felt arms around his waist, and although he tensed automatically for a moment, a flash of pain rushing across his heart. He quickly allowed himself to relax back into Gabriel's grip. He could imagine that he was in some kind of romantic picture, where the war was gone and he and Gabriel lived in a beautiful house in the beautiful countryside where they wouldn't have to worry about anything ever again. But dreaming was all he could do.

"You okay with bathing together or..?" Gabriel trailed off. It was at that moment that it occurred to Sam that this was a man that he'd fallen in love with. He thought for a moment; it wasn't like this would be anything he hadn't seen before, obviously, and Gabriel wouldn't do anything Sam didn't want. And Sam thought that maybe this was what he did want.

"Yes." He decided, and the arms around him retreated once a kiss had been placed tenderly on his neck. He turned around and leaned on the wall behind him, hands on his hips, watching as Gabriel pulled his shirt off. He'd lost weight, from running and fighting and not eating near enough. He was still as wide as he had been when Sam had first seen him, but his muscles were harder from the constant use. As he bent over to pull off his socks his back arched and Sam could see each knob of his spine, the way his shoulders moved and the lean muscles pulled and stretched. His heart beat nervously quicker as Gabriel pulled at the string on his trousers to loosen them. He found himself watching every move intently as Gabriel pulled them down and off his legs. He watched the smooth movement of the tendons under the skin of his arms, like ripples on a lake.

"You gonna stop peeping on me and get undressed any time soon?" Gabriel asked, suggestive and amused. Sam felt his cheeks redden and hastily got to undressing, pointedly looking away from Gabriel as he did. As he nearly fell over hopping to get his last sock off he heard Gabriel chuckle. "You're something else, ain't you kiddo?" He teased fondly. "Let me help."

Sam's face burned even brighter as Gabriel moved very into his personal space. And for a moment he forgot how to breathe. Gabriel's hands felt cool against his waist as he undid the knot on his trousers deliberately slowly. Sam felt powerless to do anything but stare at him. Gabriel's pupils were wide, but his irises were still an unnameable colour; gold and brown and green at the same time. He began lowering himself, keeping Sam's eyes as he pulled the clothing to the ground. Sam thought to step out, but only barely, his mind fogged with nerves and lust.

"Okay?" Gabriel confirmed, standing and throwing the trousers in the vague direction of the bed, all the while looking into Sam's eyes.

"O-okay." Sam stuttered. He coughed and spoke more clearly when Gabriel gave him a stern eyebrow. "Yeah, okay."

"Good." Gabriel grinned, "Cause if we take too long the bath's gonna go cold." Sam huffed a laugh and let Gabriel lead him by the hand into the other room. "After you."

Sam tested the water with one foot, and almost groaned in delight. He'd forgotten how nice it was. He didn't waste time getting used to it, but sat straight down and let himself relax, eyes shut, an involuntary grin hovering on his cheeks.

"Make room, you giant." Gabriel laughed, kicking Sam's legs playfully. Sam groaned melodramatically but made space for Gabriel to sit in his lap all the same. It felt good to act like normal people for once. Sam's heart was still beating a mile a minute but some of the nerves were gone.

He felt comfortable, even if he lost his breath when Gabriel leaned back against his chest and sighed. And he still couldn't seem to stop smiling; he'd draped one arm over Gabriel's chest and was running his fingers through his hair using the other with a grin. Gabriel let out a soft moan and leaned back. Sam felt a tightening of nervous energy in his stomach. He could see over Gabriel's shoulder, and his eyes were drawn to his chest, the way each breath he took was drawn out. Gabriel let out another gentle sound with his breath and rocked back into him. He turned his head to the side and smirked at Sam, eyes flicking over his face as if deciding where he wanted to look. They eventually settled on his mouth, even as he spoke. "Are you okay with me doing this?" He asked.

Sam let out a shuddering breath. "I, uh, I don't know." He admitted.

"Okay. That's okay." Gabriel assured him. "If you're not, then you're not, no problem." He gently pulled Sam's mouth to his and gave him a reassuring kiss. Sam sighed into it, letting some of his nerves out. He leaned back and smiled when he felt Gabriel's fingers lace with his.

The day was slow and had it's upsides and it's downsides. Luke had returned, in better shape than any of them, and had greeted them all with crushing hugs and the sly jokes they'd been missing. They were given a group of new soldiers that some men had dubbed replacements, a word that hurt more than Sam cared to say, and that left Gabriel stunned and angry for a while. Then, in the evening, as they all drank and smoked and binged on the best food there was to offer, that they were told the plan. They were given mere days, and then they would be flown out to some remote part of Holland to join English forces in liberating it.

The days passed too quickly, and the nights quicker still. Gabriel had been pulled aside by Milton, who was blessedly not being returned to them, and since the first night had not returned with Sam to his room.

Before they knew it, they were back on the familiar planes, and Sam was sandwiched between Gabriel and Luke just like the first time. The journey was the same, but different. Less people prayed, less people were nervous; some didn't seem to care, others looked to welcome the fight back with open arms. The replacements were the ones clutching crucifixes and muttering pointless prayers, and Sam took pity on them. He still held Gabriel's hand, just like the first time.

The jump went as planned this time, and their entering into the local town was met with friendly faces. All but the ones of the women being humiliated and shaved in the streets.

They soon left the town, and Sam felt relieved, although friendly it had felt strained, restless. They made their way through unfamiliar countryside and met German troops too often for Sam's liking. The days began to blur together until eventually they hit a wall. There was a strong line of Germans blocking their way forward, their way through. Their tanks were the strongest Sam had seen, and he doubted their survival. Countless times he found himself thinking that it was the end, that he was going to be caught in a shell blast, or a German gun would hit it's target. Almost every one of these times he found himself apologising to Gabriel, but on few he said sorry to his brother.

It felt like they lost hundreds of men before the order was finally called to retreat, in reality it was only tens. Sam couldn't see a difference in the numbers. He huddled in a shallow ditch with Gabriel, Balth and Luke, and only wondered vaguely where Kevin was.

They beat them, somehow, fought them back until they surrendered. The celebrations were short lived and once the news reached the four friends that Kevin had been found with a chest full of lead they couldn't join in.

They strode forward, headed to a place with a funny sounding name that was to be their next station. Sam held Gabriel's hand and Balth's shoulder, and Luke next to Gabriel had his arm over his shoulder, sleeve rolled up to where Sam was able to see the shining white scar where his bone had pierced skin in his break. Sam had no idea how many miles they walked or how many people were killed along the way, as long as his friends were okay he didn't care. They surprised a group of SS soldiers with machine guns, on some crossroads in the middle of nowhere; and when poor Garth was shot down near centre of the road Sam wondered if anyone had ever sold their soul there; Dean was into that kind of thing, angels and demons and that tune, so Sam knew quite a bit about it. Gabriel liked those stories, too, Biblical myths and legends.

They overpowered the Germans surprisingly easily, and the few exhausted looking men there were left they marched on as prisoners. Sam watched Malarkey, Penkala and some Brit try to communicate with the captured men in broken German and hand movements. It seemed to be working, as the Germans could respond with short phrases of English and similar hand signals. At points Sam heard them laughing together. It made it that much more obvious that this war was unwanted.

They made it to their next stop, and gave the prisoners into the hands of the locals, hoping they treated them fairly but knowing it unlikely.

After a short halt that the group of friends spent drinking away their pain and trying to act as if nothing had happened, they were told that they were to head into Belgium via France, to defend some city against Germans through the winter.

They trekked through days and spent colder and colder nights huddled in groups with no reassuring or warming fires. They walked past troops of allies, many injured, all obviously sleep deprived and running off fear. Sam lost track of how many extra provisions they gained from these such men, but he knew it still wouldn't be enough to get through the cold.

The blaring of guns and the screeching of shells got ever louder as they trudged forwards to the front line, and when they arrived, in the grey of the evening, there were sights to go with the sounds.

It got colder as the days went by, the weather seemed to be picking up on the mood of war. Sam spent most days huddling in a foxhole with Gabriel, Luke, and Balth. Sleep was practically impossible and every moment was spent fearing the next. Shells landed close but thankfully the Germans still had no idea of Easy's positions. Fires were impossible at night, both because of the frozen ground and the risk of giving themselves away.

On one foggy, freezing evening, someone scrambled over and into their foxhole.

"You alright here?" They asked. It was Malarkey, face muddied and jaw thin and scruffy

"Whadda you think?" Luke responded sarcastically.

"Fair point. Listen, Winters is sending a group of us out to find out where these German sons a bitches are, you in?"

"Why not?" Gabriel shrugged. They followed Malarkey, keeping low to the ground and as silent as possible. It was unlikely noise would make any difference, the shooting from both sides as loud as it was. They met with four other men; Walker, Colt, Penkala, and Campbell. All of whom were dirty and malnourished.

They followed Walker through the fog, passing shell holes and corpses that Sam would rather not describe. It was going well, then everything turned. They heard the Germans before they saw them, and scrambled to shelter. But yells alerted them that they'd been spotted, and even more obvious than that gunshots. Sam threw himself down with everyone else, only it wasn't everyone else. He heard the subtle sound of bullets tearing through flesh, and someone letting out a choked cry of pain. He felt his heart sink when he recognised the voice.

Luke.

The minute he was on the ground he was turning to look at his friend. Luke had fallen feet away from where they were, and was clutching at the side of his throat, where blood was staining his fingers and pouring through the cracks. His mouth was open and he was gasping in breath, his eyes were screaming for help, darting from Sam to everyone else.

"NO!"

Balth was clawing at Gabriel and Colt as they held him back. Tears in his eyes, cries dying in his throat his face contorted into an expression of pained terror.

"We can't get him, we have to wait." Gabriel told him, voice strained and close to breaking. Sam was frozen in place, no tears coming to his eyes, his heart feeling like all the duct tape was tearing, like all the breaks he'd tried to patch up since Ash had broken anew.

Walker, Malarkey, Penkala, and Campbell were firing into the trees, and the shots were being returned, meaning there was no conceivable way of reaching Luke. No way of rescuing him.

Sam was blind to everything but his friend dying on the ground, was deaf to all but Balth's hopeless crying. He wasn't sure what happened next, how they got away. All he remembered was Gabriel tugging him along and looking back to see Luke take his last few hard breaths. Balth was limping beside them, clutching at his thigh.

After that, things looked up. They beat back the Germans, the battle was won. But in Sam's eyes it was their biggest loss as of yet. Too many good men died, right in front of him.

The days began to blur again, one fitting into another. They moved on, into a different part of France. Balth had been ushered away to be treated; when Luke had gone down, one of the bullets had got him too, gone into his leg just shy of the main artery. They told him he was damn lucky, he told them he wished he were dead.

Gabriel told stories again. It was obvious to everyone that it was just to keep his mind busy. He told the replacements about his childhood, told all his fairytales again. Even the members of the original Easy listened, no matter how many times they'd heard the stories before, they found the same solace in listening as Gabriel did in telling.

The weather got colder in this new area and the shelling was worse. Already men had been carted off to hospital, some missing limbs. Walker was among these casualties, rumour spread that he'd laughed when he'd seen his legs ten feet from his body, Sam wouldn't be surprised if this were true.

They were so close to the Germans that Sam wouldn't be surprised to be able to hear someone sneeze. He often wondered how many bullets would find his chest if he walked into the no man's land on the edge of the forest, he thought that someday he might find out.

It was never dark at night, the flashes of guns and explosions providing light. And on one particular night the explosions hit close. Fifteen feet to Sam's left he saw a shell hit and two men fly into the air. Someone's arm hit the ground just meters away from him. He scrambled for cover, to find somewhere where he'd be safe. In his rush he was separated from Gabriel.

"Sammy!" He heard a yell. Gabriel was waving at him from a deep foxhole to his right. "C'mon kiddo."

Those words would stick in his head. The last words he heard Gabriel say. He was just feet away when the shell struck. He saw it come down in the hole and the flash it made blinded him just as the shock threw him backwards. He lay there, stunned, until someone grabbed him and dragged him under a fallen tree.

The attack eased off come morning, but Sam didn't notice. His heart felt heavy in his chest, and broken just as he'd started to repair it. He didn't think it would heal again.

He didn't want to hear anyone confirm it, but it was the news of the morning.

Gabriel was dead. Along with Malarkey and Penkala and Colt and Turner and Hendriksen and too many people. He could be next and it wouldn't matter.

He awoke the next day to the sound of guns and shells.