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Persistence of Memories

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YEAR ONE

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    Gabriel Novak was surprised to see a family moving into the house next door that late May. Not even his eldest brother Michael had known anyone to live in that home. Only father remembered; an elderly couple had lived there until a few years before Michael had been born, and were carted off to a nursing home in Massachusetts. To see the lights on in the windows (though they flickered) and to see a Chevy parked in the driveway was almost surreal.

    “I wonder how long it will take for them to renovate a house in such a state.” Castiel had commented once, as the two watched a man and a woman, probably married, starting to repaint the outside of the house. As the days passed, the house slowly went from a dull, sun-damaged gray to a vibrant sky blue. They replaced the broken shutters with newer ones and painted the door a bright crimson. The old yellowed trim and windows became a gleaming white, and the shingles that were once missing were soon replaced with new shingles. The house became beautiful on the outside. However, it took some days for the lights to stop flickering. Gabriel recalled sneaking into the house once with Lucifer and knew of the damaged state of the interior. The family still had quite a ways to go with the renovation.

 

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    It turned out the family was not limited to the dark-haired man and the blond woman. Castiel would often see two young boys running around the yard or helping their parents fix their new home. He wondered if he should’ve visited them and welcome them to the neighborhood, well if one could even call it that. There were perhaps four more buildings within their five-mile radius, and two of those were barns. Town was an hour’s walk if you were fast, and a quick drive, but they were still relatively isolated. The thought of new neighbors was admittedly daunting, and debate had sprung up among his brothers on whom would be the first to speak to them. Castiel had offered, but he was shoved down by his elder brothers for being ‘too young’. Too young his ass, he was fifteen for god’s sake.

    “I’m the same age as Balthazar, and he’s allowed to do quite a number of things. I can handle myself. Anyways, if you’re all so scared why not just wait for Michael to come back from his job?”

    “Your twin isn’t allowed to do those things, Castiel. He just does them anyways. And we aren’t scared. We just want to send the right person to greet them.” Raphael was actually half convincing. “For instance, if we sent Lucifer over there—“

    “Do you really want to finish that sentence?”

 

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    It was decided Castiel would greet the new neighbors. He asked for a few days to prepare himself, (hey, anyone who would move into a house like that was worth being wary of, even though they did make it pretty nice) however before he worked up the courage, he’d found he wouldn't have to worry about it.

    “Hey.” a voice came from behind Castiel as he was feeding Hanna and Samandriel, the chocolate lab and the hyper beagle that were now jumping up on his legs. “That looks like a handful. Need help?”

    He turned around to find the older of the two boys standing in the grass with his hands shoved in his pockets. He wore a leather hunting jacket and jeans with work boots, which all looked rather cumbersome and clumsy like he didn’t really fit into them quite yet. His hair was probably originally cut military style, but it had grown out and stuck up in multiple directions. He looked to be about fifteen or sixteen-year-old kid, about Castiel’s age.

    “My name’s Dean, by the way. I live next door.” He added. Castiel nodded and offered Dean a small smile.

    “Hello Dean, I am Castiel. And…yes, if you could, it would be quite helpful if you would keep them occupied for a couple of seconds.”

    “It’s no problem.” Dean smiled.

 

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    “So, Dean. How are you liking Lebanon?” Castiel asked when they’d had a chance to sit in the grass and have an actual conversation.

    “It’s nice. My brother is pretty happy we’re gonna get to stay here.” Dean replied with a shrug.

    “What do you mean?”

    “We traveled a lot for my dad’s job, the family business, so Sammy and I—Sam’s my brother’s name—never got to grow up like normal kids. But mom put her foot down, and dad found some work around here.” Dean explained. “What about you?”

    “Well, I have been living here my entire life. Even my father lived in this town when he was an adolescent. It’s pleasant here. Tranquil.”

    Dean nodded before a shout of his name could be heard from his house.

    “I’m coming!” he yelled back before standing up and brushing off the grass. “I gotta go now. But if you wanna come over, my parents have been meaning to come over for awhile, but stuff with the house came up, and they didn’t really have time. Hey, you could come over right now if you wanted to.”

    “That would be pleasant, just allow me to tell my brothers where I’m going. I will meet you there.” Castiel had replied before they both parted, Dean across the meadow to his waving mother and Castiel through the rickety door of his home. He set down the bag of dog food before shouting into his house. “I’LL BE NEXT DOOR!” was yelled so loudly it left a unpleasant ringing in Balthazar’s left ear.

    The door to Dean’s house was open, and Castiel could see people flitting about the kitchen and living room. He put a hand on the door frame and knocked softly to see the blonde woman turn around and come to greet him at the door with a smile. “Hello dear, you must be Castiel. Dean told me you would be coming over.”

    “Yes, I hope that’s okay Mrs…?”

    “Winchester. But you can call me Mary.” She beckoned him inside. “Come in; there aren’t too many places to sit, but I’m sure we can make do.”

 

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    While Dean and Castiel had gotten to a smooth start, Sam and Castiel’s brother, Gabriel had started on a bit of a rough patch. When they first met, they had a relatively friendly conversation, as Sam had done with most of the other Novaks. However, things went awry with a joke gone wrong and they ended up bickering with each other for the better part of June. 

    Gabriel had blamed the faulty rope. 

    It all started when one of Gabriel’s pranks for Lucifer involving an alarm clock and an Asia song was sprung on Sam, eventually spiraling out of control and ending with the two of them nearly killing each other. Dean, who had been caught in the crossfire of the war, threatened to go after Gabriel with a baseball bat (that plan vaporized as soon as Mary entered the room). 

    However, their relationship took a turn one afternoon when Gabriel saw Sam in town. A couple of older kids seemed to be bothering the scrawny fifteen-year-old, but he paid them no mind until a girl, whom Gabriel recognized as Kali, pushed him into a wall. 

    “Hey, leave him alone,” Gabriel yelled at the group as he crossed the street to meet them.

    “Oh please, Gabriel, we’re just having a bit of fun.” Kali smirked as two of her lackeys closed in on the younger Winchester.

    “Yeah? Well, get it elsewhere.” Gabriel snapped, jamming his thumb in the other direction. “This one’s mine.”

    “Oh really? Says who?”

    “Says nobody. I don’t belong to any of you!” Sam shouted before punching one of the guys in the jaw and sweeping his foot behind his legs. He fell to the ground with a grunt, and Sam barely managed to touch the other guy before he went running for the hills. “Can’t anyone in this town just leave me alone?” he complained before storming off. Ignoring Kali’s taunts, Gabriel jogged after him. 

    “What do you want Gabriel?” Sam muttered.

    “Jeez kiddo, are you always this uptight?” Gabriel shook his head as soon as the guy gave him an ugly look. “Hey, I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

    “For your friends or that freaking alarm clock?”

    “Both. Hey, didn’t know you could fight like that.”

    “Yeah, well, those guys are slow and I take karate.”

 

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    It took a few days before the two managed to really warm up to each other, but the creek was what really brought the two of them closer.

    The first time Gabriel had taken Sam down to the creek that ran behind their houses, he’d had to wade through it with Sam clinging desperately to his shoulders and his legs around his waist. Sam didn’t know how to swim, and despite the water only coming up to Gabriel’s waist, he refused to walk through it.

    “I’m really clumsy. I could trip on a rock and fall over and hit my head.”

    “That won’t happen. Even if it does, I’ll be here to drag you out.”

    “Promise?” Sam grunted into his shoulder.

    “Cross my heart and hope to fly.” Gabriel grinned over at him before continuing to wade across the creek. Sam only gripped him tighter, and Gabriel hardly refrained from laughing even after they had crossed.

 

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    Dean sat lamely in the creek, leaning against a large rock as he watched his limbs drift in the moving water.

    “I can teach you how to swim.” a scratchy, gravelly voice came from behind him.

Dean turned to see a lanky frame and electric blue eyes.

    “Hi Castiel” Dean looked over at him, slightly quizzical.

    “Hello, Dean.”

    There was a long pause after that, and two stared at each other for what seemed to be an endless amount of time. Dean was surprised to find he didn’t feel uncomfortable with it, only…scrutinized.

    “I can teach you how to swim.” Castiel repeated.

    “Who says I can’t?” Dean raised an eyebrow.

    “Your face does.” Castiel responded in a deadpan tone. Dean laughed.

    “Okay then. Teach me how to swim.”

 

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    Gabriel came over to the Winchester’s house for lunch every Tuesday for a month, and he and Castiel would visit on Thursdays and weekends to teach Sam and Dean to swim. Dean seemed to be wary of Gabriel, but Sam would beam at them and invite them into the kitchen where his dad played Kansas on their old-fashioned record player, and his mother cooked and baked. The Winchesters fit right into their life in Lebanon, Kansas. Mary found a job at a bakery in town, and John opened up a mechanic and repair shop in the garage as a part-time job/hobby. Sam and Dean would go to the same school the Novak brothers did come September.

 

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    The third time Gabriel brought Sam down to the creek, Sam tried to wade across, tediously following the path Gabriel seemed to make so effortlessly. True to his word, Sam ended up tripping over a rock and fell in shrieking. Gabriel could barely contain his laughter as he hauled Sam out the other side.

    “I lost my shoe.” Sam’s face was despondent as he looked at his one bare foot.

    “Eh, don’t worry about it, Sammy. We’ll find it.” Gabriel replied. They spent most of the afternoon searching for the dirty red Converse, but they found nothing. Mary scolded them when they trod through the house, soaking wet and missing a sneaker, but when they fled to Sam’s room to change clothes she could barely contain her laughter.

    “What’s so funny?” John walked up behind her and wrapped his hands around her waist, kissing her cheek.

    “Oh, nothing.” She chuckled. “By the way, Sam needs new shoes.”

 

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    Sam and Dean weren’t particularly the most friendly people on the planet when it came to strangers. The brothers were constantly glued to each other’s sides, and with the exception of one of the Novaks, they would rather spend time with each other rather than with friends. But hey, new town, new people, new school, new September.

    The elder Winchester along with Castiel sat at one of the tables in the corner of the cafeteria, and the table was noticeably empty. However, Charlie Bradbury was undeterred by this, beckoning her companions to follow her.

    “Come on guys. I wanna talk to the new guy.” The redhead tried to drag Kevin Tran and Jo Harvelle over to the corner.

    “Charlie, they’ve been pretty standoffish in all of our classes. I’m not so sure they want to talk to anyone.” Kevin hesitantly shuffled away from Charlie’s pull on his arm.

    “Aw, come on, live a little, Kevin.” Jo laughed and helped Charlie drag the complaining boy slowly but surely over to the table.

 

    In the meantime, Jessica Moore was keeping a low profile. She kept her head down and started towards the nearest empty table. Only three more years of this hell hole and she could get into some college far, far away. She had begun to look into pre-med programs across the country, and Stanford was where she was headed as soon as she got that damn diploma.

    Lost in her thoughts, she ended up walking right into another person and dropped her tray with a resonating crash. A few kids pointed and snickered, but other than that the general mood of the cafeteria remained placid and uninterested.

    “Sorry…I wasn’t looking where I was going.” She felt her face flush as she mumbled, hastily picking up her tray and gathering the spilled food on it. There was no way she was eating what had been on a public school floor, so she tossed it out in the trash can next to her.

    “Hey, it’s fine. If you want, you can share mine.” The guy she bumped into smiled shyly. “It was fifty percent my fault anyways.” he held out a hand for a shake. “I’m Sam.”

    “Jess.” She smiled in return as she shook it.

    “You wanna come sit with my brother and me?”

    “Sure.” Jess shrugged before raising her eyebrows. “You’re one of the Winchesters, aren’t you? You were in my pre-calculus class.”

    “Yeah, Dean’s my brother. He’s sitting over there with Castiel…and apparently three other people I don’t know. You know who they are?” Sam asked.

    “Nope, I’m new just like you. Let’s find out shall we?” Jess grinned, and the two of them jogged over. Perhaps public school wouldn’t be so bad, so long as she had friends.

 

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    Soon, the Novak and the Winchester family grew closer. At least once a week, the two houses (quite different in dignity, but friendly nonetheless) would have dinner together, often inviting friends from work or school to join in on the…festivities(?). It didn’t matter whether the families ate dinner in the Winchester or the Novak house or even picnic in the meadow between them. It was loud and chaotic and well-spirited.

    However every dinner would always have a specter lurking in the background, never truly coming forth. Chuck Novak rarely attended these dinners, but Sam and Dean wished he would. He had so many interesting stories to tell when he did come to the gatherings.

    “Why doesn’t your dad ever come?” Dean asked Raphael on a chilly evening as they were watching the embers die in the Winchester’s fireplace.

    “Our father is…busy. He hasn't spent much time at home since our mother died and our Aunt…well, he just doesn’t seem to find time for us.” He shrugged. “It’s okay, though, we’ve learned to fend for ourselves.”

 

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    The eighth time Gabriel had taken Sam down to the creek, nearly all of the traces of October having vanished. He crossed the creek in three long bounds, not even blinking.

    “This can be our kingdom.” Sam said as the boys came across a mossy clearing. You couldn’t tell you were in the middle of Kansas here. It looked magical, almost. An old oak tree offered a canopy of branches over moss-covered rocks, a patch of grass, silver and sparkling from the frost, and wildflowers that had frozen over along with it. Sunlight shone through the branches, scattering the light and offering an ethereal effect. It was beautiful.

    “What should we call it?” Gabriel asked, sitting on one of the rocks and picking a few remaining vines off the oak.

    Sam thought for a moment. “Adohi. It means kingdom in…some language that started with an E.”

    “Estonian? Esperanto? Enochian?” Gabriel supplied.

    “No Idea.”

    “Huh. Well, I like it.” Gabriel had made flower crowns out of the ivy at his feet and set them on top of their heads. Sam found some old wooden planks and large branches and set them up into a fort, using some ivy vines to tie the pieces together.

    “How’d you know how to do that?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow, admittedly impressed by the structure Sam had managed to create.

    “Dean and I have gotten into tough situations before, ended up learning some survival skills.” Sam shrugged.

    Gabriel didn’t mind the childish play-pretend things he and Sam often did. After all, it seemed neither of them had much of a childhood. Before Lebanon, Sam was never able to stay in one place for more than two months, and Gabriel took care of Castiel and Balthazar until they were nearly twelve, due to their typically absent father, his older brothers scrambling to find work and Lucifer and Michael bickering over household chores.

    The two of them tied a rope to a tree branch overhanging the creek so they could swing across without getting wet. Sam had suggested a bridge, but they couldn’t find enough wood for that after building their ‘kingdom.'

    “We can build a bridge later.” Gabriel promised. “this will work for now.”

 

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    “You ever wanna leave Lebanon?” Gabriel asked Sam as they sat in the frozen leaves of Adohi, snow falling gently and covering them in white powder. “Like. permanently? After you finish school?”

    “No. Well maybe one day, cause I sure as hell don’t wanna take up the family business, like my brother, but I like it here.” Sam grinned as he let the snow fall through his fingers. 

    “Good, because who else could I prank without them wanting to kill me?” Gabriel smirked as he grabbed a handful of snow and started to pat it down.

    “Gabriel…what did you do?” Sam slowly turned towards his friend with a paranoid expression.

    “Nothing…yet.” Sam barely had time to register the words before his vision was blinded when a fistful of snow hit him in the face. Gabriel’s maniacal laughing echoed somewhere off to the left as he frantically brushed it off.

    “OH, IT IS SO ON!”

    In the end, it was Gabriel who got the worst beating. The fifteen-year-old had grown to be taller than him and sat on him while he rubbed snow into his hair. Gabriel was sure he would feel cold until summer.

 

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    “Hey, can you help me with number eight?” Sam asked, squinting at his Geometry homework.

    “Try using the Corresponding Angles Postulate instead of…whatever the hell that is.” Jess laughed at the mess of chicken scratch in Sam’s notebook.

    “What would I do without you?” Sam shook his head at himself, smiling at her before erasing his clueless scribbles.

    “Crash and burn.” Jess responded after a moment’s consideration. “I have to go now; it’s my dad’s birthday, and I want to surprise him by making something. The bakery closes in a bit so I’ll have to hurry.”

    “Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow. Say hi to my mom for me.” Sam smiled as she stood up and packed her bags and tugged her turquoise vans back on.

    “See you then.” She kissed his cheek on an impulse before heading out. Sam reached a hand up to brush the spot.

    “What was that for?” Sam called out from behind her.

    Jess shrugged, smiling lightly. “Was there a problem with it?”

    “Not at all.” Sam broke into a grin.

    “See you soon then.”

    “Bye Jess.”

 

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    There was a gas explosion at the bakery in town where Mary and Jess worked. The Winchesters drove over at the exact moment they heard about it. They could barely see the burning building from the firetrucks blocking their view, but Sam caught a glimpse of a blonde woman on a stretcher and felt his blood run cold as he watched one of the firefighters pull a white sheet over her burnt body.

    Next, they brought out a smaller body. The face was burnt beyond recognition, but Sam recognized her charred-but-recognizable turquoise vans. His breath caught in his throat, and his entire body felt frozen in place.

    This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t possibly be losing them both.

    “Sammy, what’s wrong…” Dean jogged over to his brother before following his gaze, first seeing the firefighter carrying Jess, then the stretcher.

    The sheet didn’t cover Mary Winchester’s arm, and the brothers stared at the abalone face of the watch that John had given her for their first anniversary. Dark, fluttering ash fell around the Winchesters as John placed his head in his hands and cried.

 

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YEAR TWO

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    Sam barely remembered the funerals. It all passed in a blur, and he could only remember misery and feeling like the stars themselves shattered. He knew Dean had him in his arms the entire time, and all he could do was cling to that last feeling of safety.

    Dean could remember every moment of the funerals. It passed like every moment he sat staring at the metal urn was its own eternity. He could remember agony, Sammy clinging to his shirt, and watching his father cry for the first time. He remembered exactly how many times someone said “I’m sorry for your loss.” (forty-two). Dean accepted their condolences with a brief nod, but no matter what anyone said it wouldn’t fix jack squat.

    Sam Winchester was not a scared little kid. But in this moment, he seemed so vulnerable. Gabriel was afraid that if he so much as touched him, he would break him. He thought about taking a step back, a step away from the younger Winchester. Gabriel took a glance at Sam as he stood at his friend’s grave. Sam shook his head, staring at the ground before fleeing to the car, praying he wouldn’t be followed.

    Dean Winchester was not a cold, broken kid. But in this moment he seemed so distant. Castiel was afraid that if he took a step back, he would lose the older Winchester. When Dean threw the handful of dirt into his mother’s grave, Castiel stepped forwards and touched his arm. The look on Dean’s face begged him not to let go. He only nodded and wrapped his arms around him, gripping him tight.

 

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    “Hey, Dean?”

    “Yeah, Sammy?”

    “Remember that song mom would always sing for us?”

    “You mean Hey Jude?”

    “Yes, that one.”

    “Yeah, ‘course I remember it.”

    “Will you sing it for me?”

    “Sammy…”

    “C’mon, please?”

    “But I don’t want to wake up dad.”

    “Please, Dean?”

    “…alright.”

    “Thank you,”

    “Hey Jude, don't make it bad

    Take a sad song and make it better

    Remember to let her under your skin

    Then you'll begin to make it

    Better better better better better better, oh

    Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey Jude

    Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey Jude.”

 

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    One foggy evening, perhaps a little after midnight, frantic knocking at the door woke Castiel. He and Lucifer groggily made their way downstairs to find Sam and Dean hunched over in the doorframe. Sam clung tightly to Dean’s arm, but it seemed that Dean was leaning against him. It was obvious the older Winchester had dressed hurriedly since he was wearing a leather jacket in the middle of Summer. Dean practically fell inside the house, but Sam caught him before he could hit the floor.

    “Sorry to be a bother, but could we borrow your couch?” Sam’s voice was raw and scratchy. Castiel immediately nodded and together they dragged Dean towards the living room, setting him down. Castiel tried to take off Dean’s jacket, but he only clutched it tighter around his chest, refusing to let go. The other Novaks soon flooded into the room, woken up by the commotion.

    “Sam?” Lucifer asked calmly. “What happened?”

    Sam stood there silently, looking like a deer trapped in headlights. He looked over at Dean, who gave him a pleading gaze.

    “Um, we…Dean fell…and dad…he’s not home.” Sam bit his lip. His hands trembled, and Castiel could tell by the look on Sam’s face that neither of those things was true. Gabriel stepped forward next.

    “Sammy, what's wrong?”

    Again, no response. Sam just shook his head and went over to kneel next to his brother.

    “I’ll be alright Sammy, don’t you worry about me.” Dean murmured, slowly reaching out to ruffle Sam’s hair lightly.

    Sam only shook his head again, and, for the first time since his mother died, the Novaks watched as the sixteen-year-old lowered his head and cried.

 

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    The Novaks said nothing as they went about their Sunday, trying not to disturb the two brothers passed out in their living room. Gabriel had spent the previous evening holding Sam as he tormented himself over Dean, and Castiel hadn’t left Dean’s side until he’d assured him he could sit up on his own. Dean, of course, hadn’t told him it set his ribcage on fire, but it would heal eventually.

    They’d eventually dropped the subject of how Dean was injured, as whenever it was brought up Sam would panic, and Dean would go rigid. Dean refused to take off his jacket even when the summer heat penetrated the walls and soaked his hair with sweat. He clung to the jacket as if it were a life vest, and only Sam heard his thoughts screaming.

    We can’t tell anyone.

    “Their father was wearing his work gloves,” Michael reported to Lucifer and Raphael as he came back from visiting the Winchester’s father. “I couldn’t tell if he hit them or not without being indiscreet.” he paused for a moment before asking “Do you know if they went out last night?”

    “I think I saw the car drive out, but only Mr. Winchester was in it. I don’t remember it coming back.” Lucifer responded with a frown. “What could they possibly have been doing?”

    None of the brothers had any ideas.

    The sound of a guitar came from downstairs, and the three came down to see Sam with their mother’s old guitar, probably offered by Castiel. 

    “What the hell happened to classic rock?”

    “Dean, listening to Panic! at the Disco is just as honorable as listening to Styx.”

    “Just play the damn guitar, bitch.”

    “Jerk.” Sam laughed, a small victory in itself.

    Sam started to pluck out a few chords as Dean began to sing. Gabriel and Castiel sat next to them, watching intently.

    “When the moon fell in love with the sun,

    all was golden in the sky,

    all was golden when the day met the night.”

    Michael could’ve sworn he saw Castiel blush. He smiled. They would be good with each other, even if they didn’t know it quite yet.

 

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    Sam didn’t know how many more nights he could fight off the drunks who his dad got rough with. At this point, nearly every evening, Dean would get a call from Ellen, the manager at the nearest bar saying his father was causing trouble. And every evening, Sam and Dean would drive over and break up whatever fight their father had gotten himself into (often getting into the fight themselves) before dragging their violent drunk of a father home.

    John would never try to hurt his sons, only hitting Dean accidentally when he tried to drag him away. Most of the brother’s injuries came from his father’s opponents.

    Dean never wanted Sam to go with him, but Sam always insisted, saying “If you’re the one handling dad, who’s gonna drive?”

    If worst came to worst, Jo would run out from the back with a stun gun (Which she probably wasn’t allowed to have) and call the cops to break it up (Which they usually wouldn’t). And when the two of them dragged themselves to school the next morning (Dean would make Sam stay home, Jo was less inclined), Dean and Jo would act as a shield for each other and practically growl at anyone who would comment on the bruises, well-intended or not. 

    The real reason Sam insisted on coming was because of what happened the only time he decided to stayed home. Not willing to put up with his father’s problems, he’d remained locked in his and Dean’s room until morning. The next day, while Dean was out working a gig in Louisiana, his father exploded, screaming about what a horrible son he was and how he might as well not be, and that he should leave and never come back. 

    Sam had cried in Gabriel’s arms that first night and it took all of Raphael’s restraint to stop Castiel from going after John Winchester then and there. Dean nearly punched his father in the teeth himself when he came back and saw his brother curled up in a ball on the Novaks' couch.

 

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    Sam did end up disappearing for two weeks. Dean, Castiel, and Gabriel nearly lost their minds looking for him. Lucifer even managed to get hold of security cameras around town. But the youngest Winchester was virtually undetectable. On a Wednesday, Lucifer received a voicemail from a burner phone. Sam’s voice sounded rough and metallic

    “I’m okay guys. Please stop looking.”

    It only made them look harder if that was even possible.

    A few days later, Dean got a call from Bobby, and nearly cried in relief as soon as he heard the words “I found Sam. I’m driving him over to you now.”

    Dean attacked his weary little brother in a bear hug before Sam could even process Dean was there.

    “Don’t you ever do that to me again, bitch.”

    “I’m sorry Dean, I should’ve stayed, but dad…he told me never to come back.”

    “He was drunk; he didn’t mean it, Sammy.” Dean held him at arm’s length.

    “Why do you always defend him?” Sam asked frowning.

    “Because he’s our father.”

    “Well.” Sam scowled “I need a better excuse than that.” he spat before storming into the house.

 

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    “Father has returned.” Castiel looked out the front window as their dad’s car pulled into the driveway after two weeks. “He looks…excited…?”

    “Why on earth would he be excited about coming home?” Lucifer snorted. “He’s made it quite clear we aren’t worth the effort.”

    “Perhaps he has something to tell us.” Michael commented before Chuck Novak stepped into their house and shouted.

    “Everybody, come to the living room, I have an announcement to make.”

 

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    “Dad, we are your children.” Lucifer glowered at his father as the other Novaks watched silently. “How could you put your work before us?”

    “Luce, I‘m sorry, but this is what I have to do. It’s for your own good I promise you—“

    “Oh, like you’ve ever kept a promise! You missed, what,” Lucifer counted on his fingers. “fifty-three birthdays between the six of us, left us to fend for ourselves for a year and a half in which time our family nearly fell apart, oh and we can’t forget the time your sister almost killed me.” Lucifer ran a hand over his collar bone where the scar poked out from under his shirt.

    “Son, please—“

    “DON’T CALL ME SON, YOU ARE NO FATHER TO ME!” Lucifer exploded.

    Raphael and Michael glanced at each other before beginning to usher their younger brothers upstairs before the real fighting began. Still, the halls echoed in the spacious house, and the arguing continued through the night.

    “YOU HAVE CORRUPTED ME, YOU HAVE RUINED THEM. YOU FORSOOK YOUR FAMILY AND EVERYONE THAT WAS STUPID ENOUGH TO LOVE YOU!”

    “I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO FOR OUR FAMILY. YOU NEEDED TO LEARN TO FEND FOR YOURSELVES WITHOUT ME!”

    “WHY? WE WERE KIDS DAD. YOU ABANDONED US, AND THAT’S NO WAY TO RAISE A FAMILY.”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “Luce, where are you going?” Lucifer looked up to see Michael sitting up in his bed, watching as he stuffed different objects into his backpack.

    “Dad…he…uh, he’s kicking me out.” Lucifer muttered, wiping away tears that threatened to spill over. “I’m leaving Lebanon. I’m not to step foot in this house again. He’s leaving our property to you now, by the way.”

    “No, you can’t go.” Michael stood up and placed his hands over his brother’s to stop him from packing. “Please don’t. Hell, I’ll fight him to let you stay—“

    “I don’t want to stay here anyways.” Lucifer snapped. Michael’s eyes widened with surprise, and he took a step back. “Just…too many bad memories.” He muttered, his shoulders sagging. Michael stood there with a shellshocked expression and didn’t move nor make a sound.

    “I know it’s a lot to ask but—“ Lucifer pushed a hand through his hair. “Do you think you could give me a ride out of town? Say as far as Lawrence. I’ll make my way from there.”

    “That’s an almost 250-mile drive, and it’s two in the morning.” Michael tried to stall, but Lucifer knew the deed was good as done.

    “Thank you, brother.”

    “I’m going to miss you so much.”

    “I know, just, don’t try to be dad’s pet anymore. Okay? Stand up to him if you have to.”

    Of course, Lucifer had always been the rebel, not Michael. 

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    Gabriel woke up the next morning to find that Lucifer was gone, and Michael was sitting on the couch, staring at the wall.

    He barely moved for six days.

 

    On the seventh day, Michael stood up and went to work. From then on, all he did was get up and work before falling asleep on the couch once more. Raphael took over household chores, Cas and Balth started their junior year, and Gabriel worried.

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “Do you still want to leave Lebanon?” Gabriel asked as he and Sam sat in the dirt poking at wildflower shoots that broke through the ground of their kingdom. “Like permanently?”

    “Well, I sort of just tried.” Sam laughed humorlessly.

    “Seriously, Sam.”

    “Yeah, I wanna get out of here as soon as I can. I’m gonna go to college somewhere away from this damn place. Far as I can get.” Sam scowled. “Screw my dad and the damn family business.”

    “What about Dean? What about me?”

    Sam looked down. Gabriel reached over and tilted his head upwards.

    “Hey, look at me.” 

    Sam stared at him for a moment before taking the sides of Gabriel’s face and kissing him. It was a closed-mouth kiss, and there was a sort of hesitance to it, but Gabriel found he didn’t want him to pull away.

    “I shouldn’t have done that, sorry.” He muttered, but Gabriel pulled him closer and offered a chaste kiss in return.

    “It’s fine, Sam, I just always thought I’d be the one who would make that first move.” He laughed lightly, tugging him into his lap before whispering in his ear. “Still want to leave?”

    “Yeah, but if you would, I’d like it if you’d come with me.”

    “You are such a sap, you Sasquatch.” Gabriel taunted jokingly before leaning in and pressing another soft kiss to his lips.

    “Says you.” Sam broke it when he snickered.

    “Oh really? Well, you know what?” Gabriel leaned back as a smirk traveled across his features. Sam tried to hide his growing alarm but to no avail, and Gabriel nearly lost it there.

    “What? Gabe what the hell did you do!?”

    Gabriel threw a handful of leaves at him.

    The name Adohi was meaningless. It didn’t need a name, it was their kingdom, and that was all that mattered.

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “Sammy?” Dean lay facedown on his bed, mumbling through the sheets.

    “Yeah, Dean?” Sam responded distractedly.

    “I think I’m in love with Cas.”

    “No. Really?”

    “Is that sarcasm?”

    “No, this was a total surprise.” Sam said sarcastically.

    “How did you know?”

    “The way that you look at him.”

    “And how is that?” Dean sat up to look at his brother.

    “It’s how Ellen looks at Bobby and Charlie would look at Gilda and…how Mom would look at Dad.” Sam explained.

    “You’re making me sound like a lovesick teenager.” Dean complained.

    “You are a lovesick teenager, jerk.”

    “Shut up bitch.” Dean paused for a moment. “What about you and Gabe?”

    “That? Oh, um…” Sam smiled and looked down at his feet. “I don’t know.”

    “On a scale of Becky to Gadreel to Amelia?” Sam flinched slightly at all three names. “Oh, sorry.”

    “It’s fine,” Sam said, considering this. “I can’t exactly explain it, but, the last person, who made me feel this way…it was Jess.” He shrugged. “How do you feel with Cas.”

    Dean made an incoherent noise.

    “Very specific.”

    “I think Cas is my Jess.”

    “Why don’t you go tell him that?”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    Michael eventually took the initiative again, taking over his father’s and his Lucifer’s role in getting things done in the Novak household. The Winchester brothers would help out when they came over, and Dean was the one to teach Castiel and Balthazar to drive. Sam studied with Gabriel and ended up skipping the eleventh grade. The two families weren’t necessarily happy, but they were as stable as they could be. Sam and Dean visited their mother’s grave for the anniversary of her death the same day Chuck Novak left Lebanon for his new job.

    It was a light at the end of the tunnel, of sorts, but the stress of extra schoolwork and testing accompanied by so many painful reminders, the light might as well be hellfire.

    May is a horrible time of year Sam thought.

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

YEAR THREE

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    May blurred into June, which soon became July. Bobby offered Dean a good job at the Singer Autoshop to keep the Winchesters on their feet that would get Dean home in time for dinner rather than working himself to the bone at odd hours. Sam would scour the papers to find some work so his college tuition wouldn’t make them dirt broke. He eventually found himself in a classic diner on the side of a highway on weekday and Saturday afternoons, making milkshakes and waiting tables. Gabriel often snuck his way into the back, ambushing him though he’d already been kicked out multiple times (having Crowley catch them making out in an empty kitchen only once was one time too many for Sam).

    But Sam was most truly surprised when he walked out from the back and up to the counter to serve their next patron only to come face to face with five feet and eight inches of tawny hair, golden eyes, and a smirk that would send adults running for the hills.

    “Gabe?” Sam raised an eyebrow, fighting back a smile.

    “You only call me Gabe when you’re amused, annoyed, or angry.” Gabriel mused. “Which are you today?”

    “Since when have you been keeping track of that?” Sam let out a quiet peal of laughter that made Gabriel’s shit-eating grin only grow wider.

    “Since we started d—“

    “Okay, I know that sentence is not going to end with the word ‘dating’ so I’m gonna stop you there.” Sam let himself smile. “Why are you here Gabriel?”

    “What? I can’t visit you during my lunch break?”

    “You never have before. Well, not to order lunch…”

    “Who says I’m here for lunch?”

    “Gabe…” Sam started.

    “It’s an early Tuesday afternoon. No one else is here but Charlie and do you really think she’ll rat you out?” Gabriel tugged him over the counter by his apron.

    “You really thought this through didn’t you?”

    “Well I wasn’t planning on it…this is more of a…heat of the moment sort of thing.”

    “I can’t believe you sometimes.” Sam laughed and pushed him away. “I’ll get you a Pig ’n a poke and a milkshake.”

    “The hell is a Pig ’n a poke?”

    “You’ll see. Dean seems to love them for some reason.” Sam replied as he retreated into the kitchen, giving the order to his smirking red-headed friend. “Oh shut up, you know we all heard you and Dorothy in the garage last Saturday.”

    “Alright alright, touché, Winchester.” Charlie raised her hands to mime surrender. “Go change the playlist, will you? Think…80’s.”

    “By 80’s you mean Katrina and the Waves.”

    “Well, I wouldn’t mind if you added Walking on Sunshine.”

    “I’m on it.” Sam shot her a thumbs up before scrolling through the iPod he had hooked up to the diner. He quickly created a new playlist, adding Charlie’s request as well as some other music of similar caliber. His thumb hovered over Hey Jude for a moment, but Asia caught his attention and he scrolled down to Heat of the Moment with a smirk. He plugged the speaker jack into the device and hit play, pleased to hear Gabriel audibly jump when the song began to play.

    I never meant to be so bad to you

    One thing I said that I would never do

    One look from you and I would fall from grace

    And that would wipe this smile right from my face

    “Better get started on that milkshake.” he murmured to himself before getting back to work. 

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “Why don’t you sing more often, Dean?” Castiel asked him one evening as the two sat on the swing on the Winchester’s porch.

    “Never really thought about it, it just seemed more of like a thing to do in the shower when nobody was listening.” Dean snorted a bit sardonically. “Preforming isn’t really my thing.”

    “You would be magnificent at it.” Castiel shrugged.

    “I only sing for people who are close to me.” Dean replied, fighting back a blush as he remembered the day he and Sam had sung that song after the Novaks had taken them in. He’d sung it for Cas, though he’d never admit it. Cas was his moon.

    “You sang for me once.” Castiel remembered.

    “I did.”

    “Would…would you ever sing for me again?” Castiel asked

    “I’d do anything for you.” Dean said it before realizing what just came out of his mouth. 

    And still, it was all true.

    Dean didn’t notice Cas turn a brilliant crimson or the small smile he wore. But he did sing. He wouldn’t meet Cas’s eyes as he did so, but he knew he was watching him as he belted out a verse from American Pie.

    “Did you write the book of love and do you have faith in God above

    If the Bible tells you so? Now do you believe in rock and roll?

    Can music save your mortal soul?

    And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

    Well, I know that you're in love with him 'cause I saw you dancin' in the gym

    You both kicked off your shoes, man, I dig those rhythm and blues

    I was a lonely teenage broncin' buck with a pink carnation and a pickup truck

    But I knew I was out of luck

    The day the music died.”

    Dean stopped singing after that and glanced over at Cas. He was smiling.

    “Thank you.”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “Sammy, our room? Seriously?”

    “Hey, at least we shut the door. You should’ve known not to come in!”

    “I was listening to music!”

    “Aren’t you always the one telling me to ‘get laid’?” Sam made air quotes for emphasis.

    “Well not in our bedroom.”

    “Oh, and where should we go? Next door? Yeah, let’s have Raphael or Lucifer walk in on us why don’t we? Oh, maybe we can give Cas some mental scarring.” Sam spoke every syllable with limitless sarcasm.

    “Better him than me.” Dean muttered. Sam had paused for a moment before something seemed to dawn on him.

    “Is this about Cas?”

    “What? No!”

    “Because, well I mean ever since you figured out—“

    “If you’re implying that I have a stick up my ass because our best friend and I haven’t slept together…”

    “Okay okay, just asking. But you really should tell him at some point, you know. Like, before you both graduate and move across the country?” Sam nudged his brother’s shoulder. “You have ten months left. Make the most of it.”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    That evening, Dean parked the Impala in a field out in the middle of nowhere and he and Castiel sat on the hood, watching as clouds formed above them. They’d done this a couple times in the past. However, they’d always brought beer or a book or something to share as they escaped their home lives.

    This time was different, though, Dean and Castiel could both feel it. Ozone was prominent in the air, and Castiel felt like every molecule in his body was charged with electricity. 

    They made simple, pleasant conversation, about classes, what Castiel wanted to do in college and where Dean wanted to travel when they graduated. Soon the rain that came with the clouds crashed down on them, soaking them in moments, but neither seemed to mind. It was a feeling of safety, of familiarity, until Dean yanked him out of the bubble of euphoria the two had made for themselves and yanked them into a sea of uncertainty by saying;

    “So um, I put some thought into it, and I think…I might be…bisexual.”

    This jerked Castiel to attention, and he felt himself sit a bit more rigidly. “Hm.” he hummed in response, giving him a sideways glance. “And how did you come to that conclusion?”
    “Well there’s a guy I like, I’ve liked him for forever, now that I think about it. I just didn’t know it yet.” Dean looked down at his lap with a bashful smile. “God, he’s…I dunno, he’s one of the most amazing people I know. He might like me back, but I don’t know.”

    “Does Sam know about him?” Castiel asked hesitantly.

    “Yeah, actually he’s the one who told me just to go for it. Tell him as soon as I saw him.”

    “And who is he?” Castiel looked over for a brief moment, trying to hide the hurt in his eyes.

    “He-He’s you, Cas.” Dean laughed nervously, and Castiel felt like his entire body was hit with a thousand volts of electricity. “It’s always been you.”

    “What…” Castiel breathed. “Don’t mess with me, Dean Winchester.”

    “I’m not, I’ve got it bad for you, Castiel Novak.” Dean admitted, shyly looking up at him.

    Castiel thought about that for a moment. This seemed surreal. After all of these months, these years, he had only dreamt of Dean saying that to him. For him to be saying it now, to him, it was rapture mixed with disorientation and paranoia all hitting him at once.

    “You…like me…you like me…you like me.” Castiel practically melted from the bashful, but hopeful smile his best friend wore. It was unlike any expression he’d ever seen Dean wear. But he also saw fear, and he only ever saw fear on Dean Winchester’s face if he was terrified of losing something.

    “Cas. I love you. Two years now.”

    “Two years?”

    “Yeah, took me awhile to figure it out but hell yeah.”

    “Well, then…” Castiel thought for a moment. “…kiss me.”

    “What?”

    “Kiss me.”

    “Cas!” 

    “Dean, kiss me.”

    “No.” Dean laughed. “You kiss me.”

    Evidently, Dean wasn’t expecting Castiel to follow through, because when he took Dean’s face in his hands and pressed their lips together, Dean audibly gasped, causing Castiel to pull away with a peal of laughter, brushing the wet hair away from his face.

    “Well this is a real chick-flick moment, now isn’t it?” Dean joked, running a hand along Cas’s cheek. “Too bad there aren’t any stars out.”

    “I don’t need the stars.” Castiel smiled. “I need you.”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “Ever think we’re too old to play pretend?”

    “Why would you think that?”

    “Well for one you’re nineteen, you have a job, college, a life outside of this town now—“

    “—And you’re seventeen, you’re graduating high school a year early, applying for one of the best schools in the country. But you’re here, I’m here, and I don’t see either of us complaining. Unless this is your way of saying you’re breaking up with me…”

    “Shut up Gabe! Seriously, you don’t think this is stupid after all this time?”

    “Nothing is stupid if you care about it this much, Sam.”

    There was a brief pause.

    “Aw, I think that might be the closest you’ve ever come to an ‘I love you’!”

    “Quiet Sammy, don’t ruin the moment—“

    “But—“

    “Shhhhhh.”

    “But—!”

    “SHHHHH.”

    “…”

    “…hey Sammy?”

    “…hmm?”

    “I love you.”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

    

    Dean shoved his baseball uniform into his bag as he rushed out of the locker room. He’d made the team for the spring season thanks to Bobby’s coaching and Sam’s insistence to ‘do something for himself for once’. It felt good to be part of something ordinary, almost calming, despite the grueling training their coach had them do. For once he really did feel normal. He was participating in school activities, he had a boyfriend, his father just got his sixty-day chip.

    Dean had been careful to make sure he was the last to leave, so when he hurried into the gym, it was only Castiel standing there. Dean grinned as he bounded over and pecked his cheek.

    “Hey, Cas.”

    “Hello, Dean.”

    “How’s life?”

    “Quite incredible.” Castiel replied with a small smile before kissing Dean softly. He hummed softly in response and wove his hands through his hair. They were alone, for once, and yes they’d been acting like utter lovesick teenage clichés, but the both of them needed a bit of time not to feel like ninety percent crap.

    After a few minutes, Dean had to pull away because his lungs were beginning to burn from the lack of oxygen.

    “I forgot if they have security cameras here.” Dean murmured quietly as he ran a hand through Castiel’s dark hair, mussing it up even further.

    “Let us hope not.” Castiel laughed quietly, brushing his fingertips over Dean’s lips.

    “God, I’d hate to know what my coach would do. He gave us this whole speech about balancing team, social and academic life…” Dean shook his head with a chuckle.

    “I cease to understand the enjoyment of sports, though I suppose if it makes you happy it’s good enough for me.” Castiel admitted.

    “What about swimming? And I remember hearing one of you brothers mention dancing?”

    “Ah…yes.” As had apparently thought this fact had been long since buried. “I once took a ballroom dancing class for a wedding. Apparently I was an acceptable dancer. ”

    “Dude, you’ve got to show me.” Dean smirked as he scrolled through the music on his phone, playing Across the Universe and setting it down on the floor.

    “Dean!” Castiel flushed in embarrassed protest.

    “Nuh uh, the only way to avoid bloodshed is to say yes.”

    “Fine.” Castiel muttered, “Put your hand on my shoulder and…” he shuffled their arms before they were standing in the correct position. “Mirror my movements with your feet.” he ordered. They tried this for a minute. However, it turned out that Dean was horrific at dancing. Castiel soon gave up, and they just swayed back and forth to the music.

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    Dean knew tonight would be bad, but nothing prepared him for what fate had laid in front of him that evening. His dad had been sober for three months; he was doing great, and then he found out Sam had applied of Stanford rather than going to a local college and helping out with the family business. Their evenings now consisted of Sam and Dean dragging John home from bars but rather John raiding the liquor cabinet and shouting violently before passing out on the floor. Sam or Dean (usually Dean) would stay up to make sure he wouldn’t choke on his vomit before hauling him upstairs.

    But that evening, his father seemed a bit more desperate, and he had spoken some truly unforgivable things. Dean flinched even thinking about it, and could barely look at Sam without getting a sinking feeling in his chest. He’d only stood there quietly when their father screamed in his intoxicated state until Dean managed to restrain him. For hours, his brother stared at their bedroom ceiling, spread eagle on the floor. For once, he refused to talk about feelings and would only reply in incoherent mumbles or one-word responses. He didn’t move until the drunken yelling, and resounding crashes from downstairs ceased to silence.

    “I’m going out.” Sam said abruptly, rising and beginning to walk out.

    “Where?”

    “Does it matter?”

    “Hell yeah.”

    “I’m not a kid anymore, Dean. I can take care of myself.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Yes! I’m pretty damn sure!”

    “Promise me you’ll be okay.”

    “Dean…”

    “Promise me!”

    “Fine. I promise.”  Sam muttered before slamming the door.

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “Sam, you’re going to friggin college in two months, why are you running now?”

    “I’m done with my father, his drinking and his conspiracies and how we keep taking beatings for him when he just gives me blame in return. I don’t know why the hell Dean puts up with it, but the only way I’ll ever get away is to leave.”

    “But what about us? Cas, Dean-o, me?”

    “Dean would never, which means Cas wouldn’t even think about it…you’re all who’s left on the list—“

    “Dammit, I don’t mean running away!” Gabriel took a shaky breath. “Sam, I can’t run away. I just…I need you stay here with me.” he implored him. A part of Gabriel wanted to do it, run off with Sam with no plan, no help, and no restraints. But his family was here. His little brothers were here, and he couldn’t just leave them.

    “I can’t and you know it. I’m leaving tomorrow.” Sam had a spark in his eyes. A spark that made Gabriel nervous, scared even. He’d only seen traces of it, a nearly year ago when Sam had vanished. He couldn’t let that happen again, especially now. What had gotten into him?

    “Sammy, what did he say to you?” Gabriel stepped forward, taking his arm.

    “Gabe—“ Sam squeezed his eyes shut.

    “Sam, what. Did. He. Do?”

    “IT WAS NOTHING GABRIEL!”

    “…It doesn’t seem like nothing.”

    There was a charged silence. Neither of the two moved. Sam inhaled deeply before a hard look set on his face.

    “Adohi. I’ll be there until six in the morning.” Sam murmured, looking down.

    Another long silence.

    “I love you.” Gabriel finally said, letting go of his arm.
    “W-why would you say that now?” Sam took a step back.

    “Because I don’t know when, or if, I’ll ever see you again,” Gabriel said. “and if I don’t…I’ve always wanted that to be the last thing I said to you.”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    The Novaks woke up Wednesday afternoon to agonized screaming from next door. The brothers raced out of the house as Dean’s wailing continued, accompanied by John Winchester’s shouting.

    “SAMMY! SAM WAKE UP!” The voices came from down by the creek

    Gabriel’s heart plummeted to see Dean cradling Sam’s head in his hands, yelling his brother’s name. He felt like the air had been sucked out of his lungs as he gasped for breath.

    “SAMMY—“ Dean’s voice had turned raw, cracking involuntarily as he shook.

    “Dean! he’s gone, it's too late,” John kept repeating to his son.

    “SHUT UP DAD, SHUT THE HELL UP. THIS WAS YOUR FAULT YOU SON OF A BITCH. YOU BROKE HIM, AND YOU SCREWED HIM UP, AND YOU FUCKED WITH HIS HEAD—“

    “Dean—“

    Everything sounded like it was underwater, coming from miles away. Gabriel sunk to his knees as water flooded his vision.

He couldn’t breathe

    Dean was crying

    Castiel gripped his arm for support

    John was yelling

    Michael was calling the police

    Balthazar stood motionlessly

    Dean wept

    Sam didn’t breathe

    Gabriel couldn’t breathe.

    “Sammy, I’m so sorry…” Gabriel wasn’t sure if it was him or Dean who said it.

    Gabriel hadn’t been there when Sam had swung over the river.

    He wasn’t there when Sam needed to be saved.

    Gabriel couldn’t remember much else from that day. However, he could remember his and Dean’s shared anguish almost perfectly.

    “Sam, please…come back.”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “I didn’t want to leave them, mom. Not really.” Sam told his mother as they watched the commotion by the creek.

    “I know, sweetie. I know. You know I couldn’t wait to see you again, but I didn’t want it to be soon.” Mary Winchester wrapped her arms around her son. He and his mother shared the same heaven. If he’d had his own, he would’ve still been able to visit her, as they often visited Mary’s parent’s, but all either of them had ever wanted was to settle down and live a normal life. The home was spacious, and had a rustic feel to it, with high ceilings and large windows that let the light that scattered through the oak leaves into the house. Jess would stop by to visit sometimes, and Sam would tell her about Dean and the Novak brothers. Life—well, death—wasn’t too bad, if he didn’t think about how desperately he missed the people he left behind. 

    “I still can’t believe the rope broke.”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    Dean found Sam’s acceptance letter from Stanford in the mailbox a week after the accident. He stared at it for a good hour and a half before tossing it into the sink and throwing lighter fluid on it, setting it aflame. Castiel watched him silently from the door until the flame burned out and Dean started to shake. He stepped into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Dean’s waist and rested his chin on his shoulder. He felt Dean lean into his touch, and Castiel reached his hand up to touch his cheek, wiping away the tears as he guided him over to the couch.

    “Cas…I need you.” Dean’s voice sounded scratchy

    “I’ll always come when you call.”

    “Thank you, Cas.”

    Castiel nodded and cradled him in his arms, beginning to hum Hey Jude. Dean’s breathing slowed, and by the time he reached the chorus Dean had fallen asleep. Castiel ran a hand through Dean’s hair before going to stand up.

    "Stay."

     "Okay. I promise."

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

YEAR FOUR

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    Gabriel set to work early in the morning, dragging planks of wood down to the creek. He lay them flat across the moving water and started to nail them together. He didn’t stop until late afternoon, and when he stepped back, he laughed for the first time since Sam had died. He laughed at the bridge he built, and he laughed at the pointlessness of it because he and Sam were the only ones who were stupid enough to swing across the creek on a rope. No one else would ever want this bridge because he built it for Sam, and Sam was dead.

    He stood in the water and laughed in his rising hysteria, laughed until the adrenaline wore off, and laughed until he cried.

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

YEAR FIVE

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “What’s this for?” Dean asked as Castiel slipped the black stainless steel onto his ring finger. “C-Cas what—“

    “It’s a promise.” Castiel replied, pointing to an identical ring on his own hand. “I know it’s been a difficult few years for you, but no matter what happens I am here for you, whatever you need. And I’ll wait for you, forever, if I have to.”

    “But…why…?” It was all Dean managed to stammer out.

    “Because.” Castiel wore a deadly serious expression. “I learned long ago that no matter what happens to us, I will always love you, Dean Winchester.”

    “But…you deserve…a lot better than…me.”

    “And you deserve to be loved.”

 

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

YEAR SIX

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

 

    “We need to do this. My therapist said it would help us move on, or something.” Dean said, picking up a cardboard box of Sam’s things. Gabriel and Castiel followed suit, and they spent the afternoon and evening moving Sam’s things to the Winchester’s attic. Both houses were relatively empty now. Castiel’s brothers had all moved out, Gabriel and Balthazar occasionally visiting but never staying long. Dean wasn’t sure where his father was. He’d come back home from work one evening, and his father was drunk. They’d argued, they’d yelled, and blame was exchanged. The next morning John was simply gone.

    It was late into the night before any of them realized the time, so the three sat on the attic floor and ate whatever leftovers Dean could scrounge from the fridge. Gabriel spotted something resting on the top of one of the boxes near Dean.

    “What’s that?” he pointed at the small object. Dean picked it up and held it out to him.

    “Sam’s iPod.” He explained as Gabriel took the device and turned it over in his hands. It was only a few years out of date when Sam first bought it, but now it looked like a brick compared to more modern technology.

    “Pass me the box?” he asked, and Castiel hauled it over to him. Gabriel rummaged through it until he found a power chord. He plugged the device in and watched it slowly power on. “Shall we?” he held it up, hitting the shuffle button. The speaker made a crackling sound before sputtering to life, playing some song that was new a few years ago. 

    This is gospel for the fallen ones

    locked away in permanent slumber

    assembling their philosophies

    from pieces of broken memories.

    Dean laughed wryly. “I always tried to get him to listen to more classic rock. But he only actually listened to this after mom died. It was…alright, but alternative music wasn't really my thing.” he bit his lip. “I see why he liked these songs.”

    If you love me let me go

    Cause these words are knives 

    that often leave scars

    The fear of falling apart

    And truth be told I never was yours

    The fear the fear of falling apart

 

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YEAR SEVEN

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    “Hey, Cas?”

    “Yes, Dean?”

    “Will you marry me?”

    “It’s been three years since we’ve had a proper date.”

    “I can take you out this weekend.”

    “You know this is absurd.”

    “I know.”

    “Yes.”

    “You…you will?”

    “Of course.”

 

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YEAR EIGHT

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Dear Sammy

    Cas and I are getting married today. You were supposed to be my best man. Gabe refused to take the position, so I guess I don’t have a best man.

    Bobby is going to give me away. I told him he didn’t have to, but I’m glad he is.

    Dad went missing a little while ago. I don’t know where he went. He could be dead for all I know.

    I don’t know what I’ve done to be able to marry Cas, but I’m the luckiest man in the world because of it. Thanks for giving me that push all those years ago.

    You know, Gabriel would’ve been lucky, if he’d gotten the chance to ask you to marry him. Knowing you, you would’ve said yes. Hell, it might’ve even kept you in Lebanon. He still keeps the ring.

    I hope you and mom and Jess are together, wherever that is.

    I miss you so much, Sammy.

    I love you.

        Your brother,

                —Dean

 

    Dean looked at the letter, read it over briefly before setting it down next to the granite headstone along with a sunflower. Five years had passed, and moss and wildflowers had grown over the place where they’d lowered the grave. Their kingdom was Sam’s final resting place. A kingdom built by two lost children. Dean had thought Sam should be buried near his mother, but Gabriel told him he should be here. Dean didn’t argue upon seeing it. Here felt safe. Here felt peaceful.

    And here? It was beautiful.

 

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The End