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It wasn't supposed to be like this.

"Ward, Susan."

The young woman in front of Sam squealed under her breath and flipped her hair over her shoulder. Head held high, she marched proudly towards the stage to the tune of thunderous applause. She was careful as she climbed the steps to the stage, swishing her robe around her heels. Her face lit up in a beaming smile as she shook the president's hand and accepted her diploma. As she walked towards the other side, she raised both arms and waved her diploma triumphantly over her head.

"Winchester, Sam."

Sam moved forward on legs that felt numb. The whole situation was surreal. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

When he looked out at the other students, he didn't recognize any of them. They were his classmates, yes, because they'd attended several of the same courses, but he didn't know them. None of his friends were here. Brady wasn't here. Jess wasn't here. He'd always dreamt about being in the line and watching Jess get her diploma first and then getting his own, walking over to the other side knowing that the two of them were moving on in the world together. Instead, a sea of strangers were clapping politely.

His eyes moved to the audience instead. Somewhere out there he knew that Bobby, Jody, Dean, Castiel and Gabriel were watching him, but he couldn't make any of them out. It was all a blur of colors. He could feel himself sweating, and the president cringed a little when he shook Sam's sweaty hand. Sam swallowed back an apology, took his diploma, and shuffled towards the other side of the stage.

He joined the rest of the graduates and sat back down in his seat. The room was warm and loud. He was exhausted after spending several weeks cramming for exams and writing essays. His classmates should have been feeling the same way, but all Sam could see when looked around was huge smiles. They were all so happy, running on adrenaline, pumped up and ready for the future.

That was all he'd heard about for the last three months. "What are you doing after graduation?" had quickly become Sam's least favorite question in the world. Some people were heading straight to work. Others were pursuing more advanced schooling. Others were planning to travel. Everyone had some kind of an answer except for Sam. The look of pity that he got when he said he didn't know what he was going to do had gotten old after the first five minutes.

Truth was, he still didn't know. At one time, before Jess died, he'd been ready to head straight for law school. Had prepped for the interview, bought all the textbooks, and picked out his courses. This time around, Sam hadn't even tried. He kind of remembered having a long meeting with his academic advisor, during which the poor guy had begged Sam to think about doing something and given him a ton of material to browse through, but Sam had dumped it all in the trashcan on the way back to his dorm.

He had his degree. The promise he'd made to himself - that he would return to Stanford and get it - was fulfilled. But instead of feeling elated, he just felt... empty.

The ceremony dragged on for another hour and a half. Several speeches were made, though Sam didn't hear a single word. Finally, the president of the university and the other officials filed out. As the band played, Sam stood along with the rest of his row and filed out. It was just as hot outside as it had been inside; the late May sun was beating down on his head. He pulled his robe off, balled it up and handed it off to one of the volunteers.


At the sound of a happy, familiar voice, Sam turned. He was just in time to catch his brother. Dean threw his arms around Sam's neck, hugging him tightly. Sam ended up with a face full of feathers. He turned his head so that he could breathe and carefully hugged Dean back. It was dumb, but ever since Dean had become a hatchling, Sam was stuck with the weird idea that he might break Dean somehow.

"Congratulations, boy," Bobby said gruffly, clapping a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Your parents would be really proud of you."

"Thanks Bobby," Sam said as Dean took a step back and beamed at him. Their pride was unmistakable, so why didn't it feel as good as it should've?

"You've done really good, kiddo," Jody said, pulling him into a hug. "Before you know it, we'll be watching you graduate as a lawyer."

"Yeah." Sam forced a smile as he let her go. Over her shoulder, he caught sight of Castiel and Gabriel and his stomach flipped over. For once, the two angels blended in perfectly: spending so much time with Dean had taught Castiel a lot about acting more like a human. They were both dressed in nice shirts and pants. Gabriel's shirt, of course, was an eye-catching shade of pink, but at least he'd tried.

"Congratulations, Sam," Castiel said, smiling at him.

"Thanks Cas."

"You have anything you need to do?" Gabriel asked.

Sam blinked and rubbed some of the sweat from his forehead. He couldn't remember the instructions they'd been given before the ceremony. "I don't think so."

"Great." Dean's smile got even bigger. "Then you can come to supper with us now. Uncle Gabe promised to cook."

It was still weird to hear Dean refer to Gabriel as 'Uncle Gabe'. Still, Sam found himself smiling more genuinely this time. "Sure, that sounds like fun. I'll have to come back afterwards to finish clearing out my dorm, though."

"That can wait." Gabriel slung an arm around Sam's shoulders. "C'mon, Sammy. I'm going to cook your favorites."

"You don't even know what my favorites are."

"That's what you think," Gabriel said with a wink. The world jumped around them, and only Gabriel's arms around him kept Sam's legs from giving out when they landed. His throat tightened as his stomach rebelled, threatening to get rid of the extra tall cappuccino he'd had for breakfast that morning. He pressed a shaking hand to his mouth, swallowing repeatedly.

"Sammy? Sammy!"

"Shh, Dean. Let Gabriel handle this."

"But Daddy -"

"Shh, baby. Come here."

The voices washed over him from a distance. He blinked and found himself sitting on Castiel's couch. Gabriel was sitting on the coffee table, one hand pressed to Sam's forehead. His palm was cool. The touch felt nice. Sam closed his eyes again, leaning into it. He was so tired.

"You Winchesters," Gabriel muttered, sounding frustrated. "Stubborn babies, all of you."

"I'm not a baby," Sam said; he was honestly confused, not attempting to be contradictory. He heard Gabriel chuckle and then another hand was pressed to his shoulder, guiding him backwards and down until he was lying on the couch. He regretted speaking at all when Gabriel's hand slipped away, leaving him hot and bereft.

"Stay there and rest while I cook supper," Gabriel said.

"I don't need to -" He started to sit up, only to freeze when the room spun. Gabriel was a lot less gentle this time about pushing him down. There was no fighting against that hold.

"I said stay," Gabriel ordered, using a stern voice that Sam had only heard once before - that day in Bobby's kitchen, when Gabriel warned him against pushing Dean too far. "If you move your butt off this couch before I say you can, you're going to be in big trouble. Do we understand each other?"

"Yes," Sam blurted out.

"Good. Now close your eyes."

Sam obeyed, not surprised when the room continued to spin. Gabriel snapped his fingers, and then something very cold and damp was being set across his eyes and forehead. It felt wonderful, though he shivered. Instantly a blanket was being draped over him and then tucked up around his shoulders. He felt Gabriel's hand in his hair, stroking it back from his face, and that was even better. The brief touch was over too soon as Gabriel moved away.

He drifted for a while, not really sleeping: his mind was too wound up to really relax. But it helped. It had been weeks since he snagged more than a couple hours of sleep here and there. Not because he didn't want to rest, but because there just wasn't time. He'd been taking a full load of courses, plus working part-time at the coffee house. It was no more than what he'd been doing the first time around, but it sure felt like it. Some days it was all Sam could do to drag himself out of bed.

It was Castiel who came to get him a couple of hours later, removing the cloth from Sam's eyes and helping him to sit up. Sam swayed when he was upright, nauseous all over again. Castiel touched a hand to his forehead, frowning, and shook his head. "You should take better care of yourself, Sam."

"I'm fine, Cas. Lots of people get like this at the end of a term. College is stressful, that's all."

"Yes, but most of those people weren't coming out the other side of an Apocalypse," said Castiel. "You and Dean ran yourselves into the ground back then. He's had time to rest thanks to my intervention, but you haven't."

"I don't need it," Sam said impatiently, gathering the strength to stand up. His legs threatened to buckle, but he refused to let it happen and managed to stay standing. "I eat well, I work out, I get my eight hours of sleep. I'm way better off than Dean."

Castiel raised an eyebrow at him. "And when was the last time you got eight hours of sleep? Or ate anything, much less well?"

"It was just three days ago," Sam replied, not bothering to mention that he'd only gotten eight hours of sleep because he'd passed out and nearly missed one of his exams. And a banana and a coffee counted as eating well, right? "Look, I appreciate the concern, but I'm not like Dean. You don't need to coddle me."

"Alright," Castiel said simply. "If that's how you feel. Come on. Gabriel has supper ready."

Sam made it into the kitchen under his own power thanks to sheer stubbornness. He was surprised to see that Dean was sitting in an adult-sized highchair, and he probably did a really shit job of hiding it, but fortunately Castiel was distracting Dean so that Dean didn't notice. The table was positively groaning under the enormous turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, three casseroles, carrots, peas, corn, cranberry sauce, and fresh rolls, all of them homemade.

He sat down in the seat that Gabriel pointed to and looked at the food. It smelled amazing, but he wasn't sure how well his stomach was going to handle it after weeks of living on coffee, the occasional sandwich, and whatever fruit hadn't rotted by the time he remembered about it. He wasn't going to admit to that, though. He was certain that would only make Castiel and Gabriel fuss even more. It was pretty obvious that Sam was going to have to redraw some lines in the near future; Dean might've been enjoying this, but Sam didn't need it.

"Where did Bobby and Jody go?" he asked, suddenly noticing that the two of them were missing. And the table was only set for four.

"Jody got a call," said Dean absently, thumb rubbing against his bottom lip. Sam averted his eyes when the thumb slipped fully into Dean's mouth.

"She left her regrets, Sam. She didn't want to go, but she didn't have a choice," Castiel said, moving to cut the turkey.

"Oh, that's too bad," Sam said, hoping he sounded more disappointed than he really was. Not having Bobby and Jody around would make it that much easier for him to slip out after supper.

Gabriel narrowed his eyes at Sam but said nothing, picking up Sam's plate and putting some food on it. Castiel was doing the same for Dean. Sam frowned but held his tongue, because it wasn't very polite to complain about something so silly when Gabriel had just cooked him a huge meal - and he knew from talking to Dean that Gabriel would've done everything by hand, no use of mojo.

The meal was mostly quiet. Sam had the feeling that was probably his fault, but he didn't know how to fix it. Or even if he wanted to. He didn't belong here. He'd already known that, but it was becoming more obvious with every minute as he watched Castiel patiently feed his big (baby?) brother. He was the intruder, the one throwing off the rhythm of everything, and by the time dessert was served he just wanted to leave. He didn't eat his pie, and was honestly relieved when Castiel finally set his plate aside and stood up.

"Bath time, little one," he announced, looking at Dean. "Unless you're trying to save some of that pie for later."

Dean giggled. "Nuh-uh Daddy," he said, waiting until Castiel had unlatched the tray across his midsection before he hopped down. He looked intently at Castiel for a few seconds, then turned to Sam. His chin and the top of his shirt and his hands were all smeared with the remains of apple pie. He ducked his head shyly, green eyes peeping up at Sam through long lashes.

"Congrats again, Sammy. 'M really proud of you."

"Thanks Dean," Sam said quietly, stomach churning. Those precious few words meant more than a piece of paper ever would. He watched Castiel scoop Dean up. Dean curled into him, resting his head on Castiel’s shoulder, thumb sliding back into his mouth. They fit, even though it was really weird and Sam couldn't wrap his head around it, and suddenly he just really needed to go.

He pushed his plate away. "Thanks for the meal, but I should be getting back. I don't have anything packed up, and we have to be out of the dorms by the 28th or they want us to pay for another month and I can't afford that right now."

"I'll take you back," Gabriel said, and that surprised Sam. He'd been expecting fight of some kind, not for Gabriel to give in this easily. He looked at the archangel suspiciously, but didn't say anything: Gabriel was his ticket back. Sam didn't even know where they were.

Gabriel leaned across the table, setting a hand on Sam's arm, and the world jumped again. This time Sam was sitting, so at least he didn't feel like he was going to collapse. The nausea made him glad that he hadn't eaten as much at dinner as he'd wanted to. He ended up sitting down hard on his dorm bed, watching as Gabriel looked around the small space with obvious distaste.

"I still don't see why you wouldn't keep those upgrades I tried to make."

"Because these dorms don't come with a king sized bed or a personal bathroom, never mind the huge kitchen," Sam replied. "I have an R.A. inspect my dorm every month, Gabriel. I think they would've noticed." He didn't add that the R.A. was the only one who would've noticed. He couldn't remember the last time he'd brought a friend back with him, to say even less of a girlfriend or one night stand. And thanks to Gabriel going a little overboard when paying the tuition bill, Sam didn't have to worry about a roommate.

"I could've come back and turned it back to normal. Or erased their memory. Either one is easy enough."

Sam gave him a look. "Or I could've made do with the accommodations like a real college student."

"You are a real college student, Sammy. That doesn't mean you have to live in a space small enough for me to touch both walls with my hands out." Gabriel demonstrated. He couldn’t quite reach the opposite wall, but it was a near thing.

"Don’t call me Sammy. And it doesn't matter now, anyway. I'm not a student anymore." Sam stood up carefully and picked his diploma up from his desk - no doubt Castiel's work; he'd have to remember to thank his friend. "I have a degree now and everything." He waited for the inevitable question about what he was going to do next.

But all Gabriel said was, "Right, then. Unless you need something else, I'm going to go."

"All good here," Sam said. By the time he turned around, Gabriel was gone. He stared at the spot where Gabriel had been. He was so mixed up, he didn't really know how to feel - but he did know that wishing Gabriel would come back for him wasn't a good thing.

"Come on, Sam, pull it together," he muttered to himself, hitting himself none too gently in the head with his diploma. "You've graduated. You finally achieved something you've wanted to do since you were like six years old. Get it together, man." He shook his head at himself, set his diploma back down and fell into bed.

Sleep didn't come easily to him. He tossed and turned most of the night and woke up the next morning more tired than when he'd gone to bed. He couldn't stop thinking about the future. Law school was the obvious next step, but Sam had never been less inclined to continue his education. He hadn't told anyone how hard it had been to come to Stanford in the first place. For the first week - hell, for the first month - all he wanted to do was call Dean up and beg his big brother to come get him.

He hadn't, though. His pride wouldn't let him. He'd driven Dean crazy during those first few months after Jess died, talking about how they'd get their revenge and then he would go back to school and keep on with his plan. It took him months to admit to himself that nothing was the same. Sitting in classes for hours on end was incredibly tedious. Writing essays was like pulling teeth. He could barely focus at work, and either he was exhausted to the point where he could barely get out of bed or he was jumpy, restless and full of pent up energy but bored as hell. Learning had always been interesting, but now he just didn't see the point anymore. Nothing held his interest.

It took a lot of effort to keep the charade up for Dean's and Bobby's sake, filling their ears with mostly made-up tales of friends, parties, classes, and general enjoyment, because he couldn’t bear to admit the truth. In reality, Sam was done with school. He'd scraped by with a degree, but the thought of his GPA made him cringe. Chances were very low that a law school would even be willing to accept him. Maybe he'd get in if Gabriel did a little manipulation, but that was the only way.

And really, what would be the point? So he could drag himself through another four plus years of school? Sam didn't think he could do it. Lying there at 5am, staring up at the water damage on his ceiling, he was close to tears. He couldn't do it. He'd dreamt about becoming a lawyer who knew about the supernatural world, but there was just no way it was going to happen. He couldn't live like that. He was just so tired.

It was a struggle to get out of bed when his alarm went off two hours later at 7am, but somehow Sam managed. There were little things that had to be done – his hat needed to be returned, his textbooks had to be taken back to the bookstore, his room needed to be packed up and scrubbed – but none of it mattered. He found himself spacing out a lot, with whole swaths of time where he would find himself staring aimlessly at the wall with an empty box at his feet and an hour wasted to nothing.

The 28th crept closer, the three days passing in no time, and before Sam knew it he was officially homeless. He handed over the keys numbly, watching as the R.A. responsible for collecting keys marked his name off on a list. Another R.A. accompanied him to his empty dorm, did a quick inspection, and then returned his meager deposit of $200 before ushering him aside for the next student on their list.

Just like that, his university dream was over. It should have been a momentous occasion, but all he had to show for it was a piece of paper he didn’t even want anymore, a couple thousand dollars in his bank account and a small car that was crammed with boxes of crap. He didn’t even have a job anymore, because when the owner of the café asked whether or not he was planning on coming back after graduating, he couldn’t bring himself to admit that he didn’t have anything better to do.

He walked slowly over to the car and rested a hand on the hood. It was warm to the touch thanks to the sun. He’d done a lot of maintenance since buying it, using knowledge gained from Bobby and Dean, to keep it running without the costly intervention of a mechanic, but he knew it wouldn’t get him far. Get it out on the highway and the engine started rumbling as soon as he hit 60; he might get a hundred miles away from Stanford but then he’d be well and truly fucked, stuck on the side of the room for whatever monster came along, be it human or supernatural.

His head ached. His eyes felt hot. Sam blinked, turning the early morning sun into a smear of wetness, and lifted an arm to swipe at his face. He stayed like that for a moment, trying to get his breathing under control, listening to the sounds of the people around him: average, ordinary people who had their lives together. When he was as sure as he was going to be that he wasn’t going to burst into tears, he dropped his arm.

Gabriel was standing right next to him.

Sam startled, but he was too tired to make a big production. “What do you want?” he said, more snappish than he’d intended.

“I think you know, Sammy.”

Five little words shouldn’t have scared Sam as badly as they did. He tensed up, breath rattling in his throat. “I told you not to call me that,” he said, and sounded defeated even to his own ears.

“Well, I don’t always listen to little boys who don’t know what’s best for them,” said Gabriel. “Especially ones who are that extra special brand of stubbornness.”

“I’m not a little boy,” Sam said. It was a weak defense and they both knew it, but Gabriel was gracious enough not to point it out.

“You could be. If you wanted to.”

The offer hung in the air between them, and Sam couldn’t say he was surprised. He couldn’t say he wasn’t tempted. He licked his lips, trying to think, but it was hard when his brain was in a fog. “I’m not like Dean,” he said finally.

“I didn’t say you had to be,” Gabriel replied. “Dean needs to give up control. He needs someone taking care of him in every way. Which works out well, because that’s exactly what Cas wants to do. Me, I think having a baby is kind of exhausting. Don’t get me wrong. I love Dean, but I don’t know how Cassie does it every day. I’d be much happier with a little boy who needed lots of help, but who could also do some things on his own.”

“I guess you better start looking,” said Sam.

“I think I’ve already found him.”

Sam shook his head. “I can’t.”

“Have you even thought about it?” Gabriel asked, pressing gently, and Sam’s barriers gave way like melted ice cream.

“Of course. Pretty hard not to when Dean seems to love it,” he mumbled. Bizarre as the situation was, Dean had clearly flourished under Castiel’s attention. There was a marked difference to Castiel, too. The shadows of the Apocalypse were lightening a little more every day.

He straightened up, staring out across the campus. “But that’s different. That’s Dean. I didn’t go through university just to toss my degree aside.”

“What do you plan to do with it, then?”

It was a reasonable question, and it pissed Sam off that he still didn’t have an answer for it. He glared at Gabriel and yanked the driver’s door open, slinging himself inside. He pulled his keys from his pocket and shoved the car key in the ignition, but when he went to turn the key it disappeared. He was glaring even before he turned his head to find Gabriel in the passenger seat, keys in his hands.

“Give me the keys,” Sam snapped.

“No.” Gabriel was so calm, expression unusually serious, and it just made him more angry.

“I said give me the damn keys!” he yelled.

“And I said no. Not when you’re this tired. You’re more liable to get into an accident than actually make it anywhere, and while I can put you back together pretty easily, I’m not in the mood for that tonight.”

Sam made a grab for the keys, but Gabriel easily held them out of reach. In the present situation, it reminded him far too much of what he’d always hated about being a child: that helplessness, the feeling that everything was out of his control and he was just along for the ride. He’d felt that way for most of his life, and to have it thrust upon him again was unbearable.

He might have gone a little crazy, snarling curses and getting up on his knees, practically crawling on top of Gabriel in a mad scramble for the keys that always remained just out of reach. Gabriel bore the assault in silence, not even trying to defend himself against elbows or knees, though Sam weighed enough that the blows had to hurt a little. The first and only time he touched Sam was when Sam stumbled, foot caught on the gearshift, and fell heavily against him.

Gabriel put his hand on Sam’s head then, very lightly, and said softly, “It’s okay, Sammy. You’re okay. I’m here.”

He was crying, Sam realized, though he couldn’t remember when he’d started. Maybe he’d never stopped. He tried to get up, but another hand to his upper back kept him easily pinned. He closed his eyes in embarrassment, swallowing against the whimpers that rose in his throat, and went limp. There was nothing else he could do, and the sobs started to come hard and fast.

“I know. You’re so tired. I know. It’s okay.” Gabriel hugged him, keeping his hands still and strong, a pressure Sam couldn’t even think of fighting against. His lips brushed against Sam’s temple with every word.

Sam lost track of time, cradled against an archangel, his body fitting easily between Gabriel’s thighs. His face was pressed to Gabriel’s shoulder, dampening the fabric of Gabriel’s shirt with his tears. He wept freely for the first time in years, for the first time since Jess had died, because he might have cried once or twice in between, but it was always shamefully. Gabriel held him the whole time, voice a comforting undercurrent whenever Sam caught his breath, with the sunlight warm on his back.

When he’d cried himself out, and he was laying quietly with an even worse headache than before, Gabriel spoke. “What do you think would’ve happened tonight if I’d let you go?”

Words were beyond Sam right then. He suddenly understood why Dean found comfort in silence. He pushed his face deeper into Gabriel's shirt in lieu of an answer, and Gabriel chuckled.

“I think we both know. You can’t keep going like this, Sam. You’re destroying yourself, and if you’re not careful you’ll take innocent bystanders with you. I don’t understand why you and your brother are so scared of what we’re offering. I told you before that Cas wouldn’t leave Dean, and I won’t leave you. I swear it. Even after you grow up, I’ll still be there for you.”

It was the kind of promise Sam had always longed to hear. Having someone other than Dean to depend, especially in light of everything that had happened during the Apocalypse, sounded like a dream. And that’s exactly what it was. A dream. He shook his head.

“I already told you I don’t want a baby, and that’s not what you would be anyway. I can see it in your soul. You’re young, but not as young as your brother. Not a fledgling or a hatchling, but a nestling. The biggest decision you’d have to make in a day is whether you want to play on the slide or swings, or whether you wanted ice cream or cake for dessert. You wouldn’t be helpless, Sam. Just cared for.”

“I can’t,” Sam whispered. His heart was racing. It sounded so good. Too good. After struggling for independence his whole life, he didn’t know if he could give it up that easily. Besides, there was a much bigger obstacle even if he wanted to accept.

“What is it?” Gabriel asked, cupping his cheek and forcing him to lift his head so that their eyes met. “What are you thinking, sweetheart?”

The nickname made his chest hurt, and the words spilled out. “I’m tainted. I’m Lucifer’s vessel, remember? I have demon blood in me. So deep it can’t be burned out. I can’t be an angel.”

“Oh, Sammy. Honey.” Anger sparked as white grace in Gabriel’s eyes, and Sam shrank back a little. Gabriel hastened to reassure him. “I’m not mad at you. I’m just furious with Lucifer. You are not tainted, Sam. You’ve made some poor choices in life, but that doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause. I’m an archangel, remember? My grace is strong enough to cleanse you of demon blood.”

“Really?” Sam stared at him in shock.

Gabriel nodded. “Yes, really. I wouldn’t have offered this to you if I didn’t know it would work. I would never be that cruel.”

“You killed my brother over a hundred times,” Sam couldn’t help pointing out.

“Ah, well, yes. Let’s just say my parenting skills have come a long way,” Gabriel said, and though he didn't apologize, he did sound sorry. “This is going to be a learning experience for both of us, but I give you my word that the next time you need to learn a lesson, I’ll just take away a toy or something like that.”

Sam smiled half-heartedly. He wasn’t even that angry over what had happened to Dean anymore if he was being honest. Not when he compared it to the actions of the other angels during the Apocalypse. Gabriel was a trickster at heart, but none of his actions had been caused by malicious intent. Maybe that was a twisted way of thinking about it, but Sam didn’t care anymore. He didn’t care about anything.

“I’m so tired,” he admitted quietly, ashamed.

“I know you are, kiddo. You’ve been fighting for a long time. Don’t you think it would be nice to take a break?”

It would. It really would. He just didn’t know if he could let himself do it. It didn’t matter what Gabriel said; he was certain that he could never become an angel. Chances were, Gabriel would give him grace for the first time and he’d throw it back up. Or worse. Sam shivered at the thought and looked up at Gabriel with damp eyes.

“It won’t hurt you, Sam. I would never do anything to put you in danger,” Gabriel said.

He meant it, Sam could tell. And he believed Gabriel about that. Gabriel wouldn’t hurt him even if it was just to keep Dean happy, because Dean had Gabriel completely wrapped around his little finger. But how could Gabriel know without trying it? He didn’t want to be a guinea pig. And what if he took to the grace and realized he hated being made to act like a child again?

“Tell you what. Why don’t we try it?” Gabriel suggested, using his thumb to brush a few tears from Sam’s face. “You can get a taste for what it would be like, and if it’s to your liking, then we’ll go ahead with the grace.”

“Stop reading my thoughts,” Sam mumbled, but there was no heat in the words. It couldn’t hurt, could it? He could try it for a little while and then tell Gabriel he didn’t want to do it. Maybe then he’d know what he was supposed to do next. At the very least, it would be nice to rest for a little while.

“Okay,” he said softly.

Gabriel smiled. “Okay.” He pressed a hand to Sam’s eyes, shielding them, and Sam felt the world turn over again. His legs hit the ground – they were outside of the car now – but he was so dizzy he sank back against Gabriel. The hand left his eyes, and then he was being scooped up effortlessly.

It was weird. Sam couldn’t remember the last time someone had picked him up. It was probably back when he was five or six, before he started shooting up like a weed and Dean wasn’t strong enough or tall enough to pick him up anymore. He hooked his legs around Gabriel’s waist automatically, shutting his eyes. Gabriel held him with such ease, as though he weighed no more than thirty or forty pounds, and it was both disorienting and pleasing at the same time.

“Dean?” he mumbled, holding onto Gabriel’s jacket.

“He’s with Uncle Cas,” Gabriel replied. He started to move. “Cas and I built this nest a little while ago. It's connected, but separate. Maybe when you and Dean are ready, we can all live in the same one. But for right now, we thought it would be better if we had separate nests to give you a chance to get used to this.”

Thank god. Sam couldn’t imagine how awkward it would be to be around Dean while he was acting like a child, and he was pretty sure Dean would feel the same way. He clutched at Gabriel more tightly as they went up a couple of steps and kept his eyes shut even when the temperature changed, indicating they had entered a building. Less than a minute later Gabriel stopped, and then Sam was being lowered onto something soft.

He opened his eyes and looked up at a blue ceiling. Gabriel was stepping away from the bed, leaving Sam to look around the room. It was fairly sparse, but that allowed him to see the awesome mural that had been painted on the walls. It was designed to look like space, with rockets ships, planets and moons, asteroids, meteors, comets, and even some astronauts. The blank space in between was filled with hundreds of stars that actually seemed to twinkle when Sam looked at them too long.

“Do you like it?” Gabriel asked him, returning to the bed.

Sam nodded. “It’s awesome.”

“Thanks.” Gabriel grinned and held out a pair of pajamas. “Come on, let’s get you undressed and into bed.”

“I can do it,” Sam said, a little embarrassed, and stood up. He swayed a little but kept his footing, and pulled off his shirt. He didn’t really care about stripping down to his boxers in front of Gabriel; modesty wasn’t really a big deal when you spent your whole life in tiny motel rooms.

He nearly toppled over when he lifted a foot to step into the pajama bottoms. Gabriel grabbed his shoulders, steadying him, and reached down to pull the bottoms up around his hips. Sam stood silent, unsure of how he was supposed to react. He took the top when it was handed to him and pulled it over his head, and again Gabriel took the hem and pulled it down around his stomach.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep,” said Sam, glancing at the bed. It matched the space theme perfectly. It was a deep purple color and covered with exotic-looking plants and animals, as though it were from a foreign planet.

“Just try, okay? You need the sleep, kiddo. You can barely stand up.”

“I’m fine,” Sam muttered, but he laid down anyway. The bed was more comfortable than anything he could remember sleeping in; it cradled his body in all the rights spots. The sheets were warm and the pillow was cool against his cheek. A surprisingly strong wave of exhaustion washed over him, tugging at his bones, and he breathed out shakily as he closed his eyes.

“No, you’re not,” Gabriel whispered. The mattress sank as he sat down beside Sam. He started to rub Sam’s back. “But you will be.”

The pressure of Gabriel’s hand felt really nice. Sam could feel the tension easing out of his body, and maybe that was because of Gabriel, but even if it was, he was so grateful he didn’t care. For the first time in months, he was completely relaxed. He sank deeper into the bed, smacking his lips. Just before he dropped off, he was positive that he felt lips pressing against his forehead in a brief kiss. It left a smile on his face as he succumbed to sleep.