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It Really is That Easy

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Sam adjusted the straps of his backpack as he stood outside the doors of Clark M. Clifford High School.  This was it.  He’d finally made it.  Lawrence utilized a junior high and high school system, so as a ninth grader he’d been stuck back with all the kids and suffered the indignity of extra strict rules and teachers that treated them all like emotional, hormonal time bombs.  Now he was a sophomore.  Now he had reached the level where he could really begin to explore his academic horizons and partake of the privileges offered to mature and responsible young adults.

“You’ll never take me alive!” a boy screamed as he ran past Sam and was promptly followed by a barrage of spitballs.

Several more students ran past him screaming loudly and a teacher who had been stuck with bus monitor duty shouted once and gave up.

He felt someone stand beside him and carefully pick the spitballs out of his hair, and then brushed them off his shoulders and backpack.  Sam looked despairingly at his big brother, who was now eye level with him after Sam’s growth spurt over the summer.

Dean grinned.  “Welcome to high school, Sammy.”

He gave him a thwack on the back and walked through the double doors into the building.  Sam sighed.  Awesome.

***

So maybe high school wasn’t going to turn out to be the Mecca of cultured education he’d envisioned it to be.  Two out of his first three classes had been okay, and he’d already been approached by two seniors and the coach about trying out for the basketball team.  Sam had zero interest in basketball as a spectator sport and had only ever played it with his brother using the portable basketball hoop a neighbor had set up on their street.  But he supposed it was the fate of all six foot tall fifteen year olds to play basketball in high school.  There was no doubt he was going to get even taller, so by the time he was a senior he’d probably just have to stand under the basket and drop the ball in.

Sam didn’t tower over everyone in his school, not yet anyway, but he was self conscious about his height.  He was completely awkward and nothing seemed to fit together right.  He couldn’t imagine what would happen if he got taller and had even longer limbs to try to keep under control.  Dean kept telling him if he put on some muscle it would help balance some of it out.  But how could he put on muscle when he couldn’t even put on fat?  He ate like a horse and was still hungry when he went to bed sometimes.  It wasn’t fair.  Dean had passed through his early puberty with zero awkwardness, acne, or major adjustments necessary.  Of course, he hated the fact that he was so pretty, but Sam was sure he’d grow out of that.  And besides, there were worse things to be in high school than pretty.

But all of that was beside the point.  Yes, high school was turning out to be a bit of a crumbling illusion, but it had accomplished finally putting him back in close proximity to him.

Sam leaned against a row of lockers as a group of students laughed and chatted as they walked down the hallway.  Right in the middle was Gabriel Engel.  A handsome face made even cuter by the perpetual mischief gleaming in his golden eyes.  He was at the top of his class, the ace of the swimming team, and somehow made it cool for a guy to take Home Ec.  To Sam, he was beautiful, if perhaps a little shorter than he remembered.

Unfortunately Gabriel was also a senior which meant Sam was all but invisible to him.  At best he might be remembered as Gabriel’s little brother’s boyfriend’s little brother.  And there was no way that was sexy.

Sam stiffened as the group veered and Gabriel was now coming straight for him.  He looked around to see if there was anywhere he could escape to without making it obvious that he was bolting like a freak.  He looked back to the group, and made eye contact with Gabriel.  His mouth went dry, his palms got sweaty, and he banged his elbow against the lockers behind him when he stood up straight.

Gabriel stopped directly in front of him and cocked his head to the side as he smiled at him.

“Hi, Sam.”

Sam nodded dumbly.

“I didn’t know you’d be here this year.  I thought you were a couple years younger than Dean.”

Sam shook his head.  He opened his mouth to speak and a croak came out.  Several people chuckled and that made Sam aware that the group was still with Gabriel, watching this whole exchange.  He tried again.

“I’m fifteen.  A sophomore.”

Gabriel nodded.  “Well, that’s great.  How’s your first day going?”

“Awesome!” Sam burst out with his giddiness.  The group murmured and hid laughter as they watched him.  Sam shrank back against the lockers.  Gabriel was still smiling politely.

“Well, that’s good.  I suppose anything would be awesome compared to the junior high.  I hated it there.”

Sam nodded but didn’t trust himself to speak.  He was still in awe that Gabriel had deemed him worthy to come over and speak to him.  There were a few moments of silence, but Sam didn’t mind because he got to stare into those warm eyes.

“Uh, Sam?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re um, kind of blocking my locker.”

Sam blinked as he processed that sentence and then started violently.

“Oh!  I’m so sorry!”

Sam darted away and pushed through the group, running down the hall.

“It’s okay!” he thought he heard Gabriel call after him, but he was too mortified to care.

He was so stupid!  Of course Gabriel hadn’t come over to talk to him.  He’d just been in his way!  He careened around a corner and slammed into another student, sending her books and papers flying.  He made sure she wasn’t hurt and then helped her pick up her belongings before ducking into the boys bathroom when the bell rang.  He didn’t even care that he would be late for his next class.

The rest of the day he spent slinking through the hallways and peeking around corners so he wouldn’t accidentally run into Gabriel again.  At last the final bell of the day rang and Sam made his way dejectedly to his locker.  He’d only been in high school one day and already he understood why people called it hell.  As he was working the combination on his locker a voice said behind him, “Hiya, Sam!”

Sam glanced over his shoulder and then did a double take as he saw Gabriel.  He spun so fast his backpack didn’t make it all the way behind him and he stumbled off balance.  Gabriel put out a hand to steady him, but Sam flinched back from it.  A look of hurt confusion passed over Gabriel’s features as he drew his hand back, but then he was smiling again.

“So how did the first day go?”

Sam stared at him.  “Of what?”

Gabriel’s smile grew a little wider.  “Of school, Sam.  How was your first day of high school?”

Sam searched his brain for words in English.  Nothing was coming to him except what he’d had for lunch and he didn’t think “egg salad” was an appropriate response to this question.  The silence was dragging out.  Say something! he screamed at himself.

“Academic,” Sam blurted out.  “It was like learning.”

Gabriel tilted his head again.  Sam felt his face slowly heating up to the approximate temperature of the surface of Mercury.  Yes, that sentence had technically been grammatically correct, but the context was not quite right.  Dear lord what must Gabriel think of him?

Gabriel opened his mouth to speak, but he was called by one of his friends.  He gave Sam another smile and said, “Well, hopefully tomorrow will be just as—edifying.”

He grinned and walked away as Sam slowly turned toward his locker, and then repeatedly began to bang his head against it.

“Tough day, little brother?” a familiar voice asked to his left.

Sam kept banging his head.  “I am such a spaz.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being a spaz,” an equally familiar voice said.

Sam planted his forehead against the locker and turned just enough to see Cas standing to his right looking sympathetic and amused all at once.  He held a red lollipop in one hand and patted Sam’s head with the other.

“We’ve all been there.  It’s called adolescence.  In fact, some of us are still there.”

“If I’m there, so are you,” Dean intoned over Sam’s head to his boyfriend.

Cas just smiled, put the lollipop to his lips and swirled his tongue around it before sucking it into his mouth—his eyes fixed on Dean.  And Sam groaned and started banging his head against the locker again because, gross.

Dean patted him on the back.  “Come on, Sammy.  Remember, if the practice is bad the next time is better?  Or something like that.”

“It’s if the dress rehearsal is a disaster opening night should be perfect,” Cas said.

“Whatever.  That’s what I said.”

Sam allowed himself to be pulled away from the lockers and shuffled despondently out of the school.

***

Dean had been right, sort of.  The next day and several weeks after that had been better.  He adjusted to his schedule and learned to completely avoid the hall with Gabriel’s locker altogether.  Of course that didn’t stop them from running into each other almost every other day.  It was almost like their “bumping into each other” was somehow planned.  Weird.  But the more he interacted with Gabriel, the less nervous he got around him.  Sort of.  At least he got to the point where he knew it was pointless to pine from afar.  Gabriel would be gone to college next year and there was no sense in Sam wasting what little opportunity he had to be with him.  Of course, first he had to make sure Gabriel was clear of his intentions toward him.  He didn’t want to be viewed as just a friend, or worse, a little brother hanger on.

There was just one problem: Sam had never asked anybody out before.  He’d never dated anybody.  It couldn’t just be as simple and going up to someone and telling him that you liked him.  He needed a plan.  He needed someone who had gone through the awkwardness of stuttering out a confession and date request to a hot boy before.  He needed Dean.

Having finally resolved himself to making his move—whatever that might be—on Gabriel, Sam hopped out of his desk chair and walked down the hall to Dean’s bedroom.  He knew Cas was over, but if the door was open that meant it was safe to come in.  A shut door meant no entry or knock if it was an emergency.  Dean’s bedroom door was open a crack and Sam went to push it open further when he heard the soothing riffs of very old blues music wafting through the door.  Sam backed up slowly.  An open door meant it should be safe to enter, but Robert Johnson meant they were getting frisky.

Sam returned to his room and plopped down in his desk chair again, scowling.  He needed advice now, today, or he just knew he was going to lose his nerve for another month.  So, he screwed up his courage, picked up his cell phone, and dialed Jo Harvelle’s number.  She answered halfway through the second ring.

“So, have you asked him out yet?”

Sam’s scowl deepened.  “No.  I don’t know what to say!  I mean, it’s like, you don’t just go up and talk to a complete stranger and ask them out.”

“Isn’t he like, you brother’s boyfriend’s brother?”

“Yes.”

“So, you’ve met him before, right?”

“Of course, but it’s not like the four of us hang out.  Neither Gabriel nor I could stomach being around those two for very long.”

“Yeah, they are pretty gross.  But, don’t you two, like, talk every day?”

“Not every day,” Sam said, but then he considered, it was nearly every day.  How did that happen?

“So, like, you already know him.  Ice broken.  Now you just have to woo him.”

“Woo him?  Seriously, Jo?”

“Yeah, and with him it should be easy.”

“Do tell.”

“Well, what’s that old saying?  'The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.'  And everyone knows he is a total sugar whore.”

“He’s not—” Sam paused as he realized Jo was right.  He just objected to the use of the term “whore.”  “He’s a sugar aficionado.”

“Whatever.  Point is he loves sweets, but he gets like gourmet stuff.  So you can’t just buy him something.  You need to make it yourself.”

“I can’t bake, Jo!”

“Dude, baking is just chemistry, and you have an A in chemistry.  I’ll help you out.”

***

A week later Sam stood anxiously clutching a small, yellow paper bag that was folded at the top and tied off with a bow.  Jo had made it for him and she told him if he took the bow off she’d text the pictures of him running buck ass nekid down to the lake by Uncle Bobby’s cabin to the entire school.  He was waiting by the hallway that led to the cafeteria as he had lunch next period.  Gabriel had calculus next, but they always seemed to run into each other here.  Which was odd because the math hall was upstairs on the other side of the building and this seemed like it would be out of Gabriel’s way for him to pass by here every day.  Weird.  Sam shrugged it off.

Right on time, Gabriel appeared around the corner and smiled as soon as he spotted Sam.  Sam almost melted into the floor.

“Hey, kiddo,” Gabriel greeted him.

Sam just smiled back.  Completely forgetting his purpose.

“So, uh, whatcha got there?” Gabriel asked.

Sam looked down at the bag in his hand.  “Oh!  Right.  This is for you!”   He thrust the package forward.

Gabriel took it with a small smile.  “For me?”

Sam panicked.  “No.  Well, I mean, yeah.  But I mean, it’s not like I made it specifically for you.  Like.  I mean, you know, the band had a bake sale coming up.  And Jo and I made these.  And we had some extra.  And I thought you’d like some.  Because you’re a sugar who—”

Sam snapped his mouth shut and stared wide eyed at what he’d almost said.

“I’m—?”

“Nothing!”

“Okay,” Gabriel chuckled and began to untie the bow.  “So, you’re a band geek, huh?”

Sam shrank in on himself a little.  Why did he bring that up?  He’s such a loser anyway why point that out to the coolest guy in school?

Gabriel suddenly looked up.  “Oh!  I don’t mean like a band geek.  I mean like, you know, someone who’s in the band.”

Sam felt terrible for Gabriel.  He was blushing; probably because he was so embarrassed to be around him and he was so nice by trying to make Sam feel better about being a dork.  Gabriel was such a nice guy to disguise his distaste so well.

“Never mind,” Gabriel said quickly and pulled out one of the brownies from the bag.  “These look great!”

He bit quickly into one and his eyes fluttered closed in what looked a little bit like ecstasy.  “These are so good!”   He chewed thoughtfully on another bite.  “They’re really chocolaty, but there’s also this other flavor.  It’s—different.  But really good.  What is it?” he asked as he took another a bite.

“Well, there’s chocolate chips in there, but you’re probably tasting the peanut butter.”

Gabriel stopped chewing and looked Sam hard in the eyes.   “There’s peanut butter in these?”

Sam nodded.  “Yeah, they’re chocolate peanut butter brownies.”

Gabriel spit the slobbery remain of his last bite out into the bag with the other brownies.  Sam stared horrified for a moment, totally embarrassed and then Gabriel started gasping, “EpiPen!  EpiPen!  EpiPen!  Backpack!”

Sam tilted his head then noticed that Gabriel’s face was getting redder and a little swollen.

“Are you allergic to peanuts?!” Sam shouted, reaching out a hand to Gabriel’s’ shoulder.

“EpiPen!”

***

Sam stood on the sidewalk, watching Gabriel get loaded into the back of the ambulance.  The EpiPen had done it’s work and Gabriel was no longer in immediate danger, but he had to go to the hospital anyway to get a high dose of antihistamines and to make sure the deadly legumes were flushed from his system.  The teachers began ushering the crowd of students back into the building, but Sam stayed put, watching the ambulance drive off.  He was surprised when he felt an arm around his shoulder, but he was too despondent to react to it.

“So,” Dean said. “What’s this I hear about you trying to kill my boyfriend’s brother?”

Sam groaned.  “I didn’t know he was allergic to peanuts,” he mumbled miserably.

“You know,” Cas said coming up on his other side, “he’s usually really careful about that sort of thing.  Especially for homemade stuff.  He just must have been really excited to try it.  You know?”

Sam frowned.  “Or he was just so anxious to get away from me that he wanted to try it and be gone.”

Cas sighed and Sam could tell he and his brother exchanged a look over his head.  Whatever.  He didn’t care about them in their perfect little bubble of happiness.  Gabriel would never talk to him again.

***

As it turned out, Gabriel did talk to him again.  The very next day in fact as he was well enough to return to school.  He thanked Sam for the thoughtful treat and apologized for not being able to eat it.  Sam was mortified and quietly accepted the thanks, but he knew he was going to have to put his “wooing” plans on hold for awhile.

A while turned out to be after winter break, which had been good and bad.  Good because he got some time off school and got to play with friends in the snow (though they were sophomores, so they didn’t “play” they just “hung out”), and Christmas always meant good food and presents.  Bad because the Engels went to Barbados for vacation, and not only did that mean he couldn’t see Gabriel, but that Dean couldn’t see Cas.  And Dean had been a pain to live with for the first three days of break.  Then he'd suddenly gotten happy for a few days.  And then their father stomped upstairs from his basement office, waving a piece of paper in his hand demanding to know if Dean really didn’t think they’d find out about the hours long international calls being made.  Dean had said he didn’t think he’d find out about it that soon, to which their father replied that he’d found out because Mr. Engel had called complaining about the jacked up hotel bill they were getting for the international calls being made on the hotel phone.  He’d also pointed out the late night hour of these calls and declared that Dean would be working at Uncle Bobby’s garage all summer to pay off the nearly thousand dollar bill as he would not be paying for Dean’s phone sex.

There had been red faces all around and Dean had once again been a pain to live with until the Engels came back  and he could have real sex again.  And boy were they making up for lost time.  Every time Sam tried to get a hold of his brother to ask about how to approach Gabriel, he found his brother’s door shut and locked and Zeppelin turned up extra loud.  Zeppelin was well known by everyone to be Dean’s favorite band to drive and have sex to.

Sam was so desperate he asked his chemistry lab partner for advice one day while they were working on a project in Sam’s room, trying to ignore the strains of “Whole Lotta Love” floating down the hall.

“Garth, you seem to be good with people,” Sam said.  “How do you, you know, tell someone you like them?”

“Well,” the scrawny kid started, “I’ve never been very good with words.  I find that showing people how you feel works better.  And humans are very tactile, you know?  Everybody loves to be hugged.  You should just walk up and hug them.  That makes me happy.  Because it’s an honest expression of how you feel, you know?  No possible hidden agenda like there could be with words.”

Sam considered that.  It actually made a kind of sense.  And Sam saw his opportunity to give it a try when he walked Garth out of his house and waved goodbye.  Gabriel was at the side of his house throwing out the trash.  Oh yeah, did he forget to mention the Engels were their next door neighbors?

Sam walked quietly up behind Gabriel who had his back to him.  Sam felt a little stupid, but if he was gonna do this it would be better for it to be a sneak attack.  Less chance of him losing his nerve.  So, he got right behind him and said, “Welcome back, Gabriel!” and threw his arms around his crush.  And it felt so good to feel Gabriel warm and solid against him.  They fit together so well, it was perfect.

And then Gabriel screamed.  Sam immediately let go and stepped back.  Gabriel let out some high pitched whimpering noises and then turned slowly to look at who had accosted him.

“Hey, Sam,” he said weakly.

Sam stared at the approximate lobster-red shade of Gabriel’s face.  It didn’t look like it was because he was blushing.

“Are—are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Gabriel squeaked.  “Just uh, got a little sunburned snorkeling our last day in Barbados.”

Sam felt his stomach drop down to his toes.  “Oh, God, I am so sorry!”

“It’s okay.  How would you know?  Sneak hug attacks happen all the time.”

Sam closed his eyes and wished a hole would open up in the ground and swallow him up.

“No, really, Sam,” Gabriel said.  “I appreciate—the sentiment.”

Sam groaned softly and peeked an eye open.  Gabriel was smiling, but also grimacing.

“I’m, uh, going to go put some aloe on my back.”

“Okay,” Sam said and watched Gabriel shuffle uncomfortably into his house.

Later that night at dinner, Dean suddenly looked up from his distrusting glare at the green beans on his fork and said, “So what’s this I hear about you trying to rip the skin off my boyfriend’s brother?”

Sam shot Dean his dirtiest look, the one Dean like to call his “bitch face” and ignored the questions from his parents.  Instead he said, “I don’t know how you could have heard it over all that Zeppelin playing this afternoon.”

Dean’s smug expression dropped and he shot Sam a disbelieving and pissed off look.

“Dean!” their father thundered.  “I thought I told you that you and Cas needed to take a break!”

“We were just working on a project!  We have history together.  Zeppelin just happened to be in the playlist.”

“Yeah right,” Sam snorted and saw their mother hide a smile.

Dean continued to glare at Sam for the rest of the meal as their father lectured him on the importance of responsibility and moderation.

***

It was nearing spring break before Sam managed not to shrivel in abject humiliation whenever he saw Gabriel around school.  Which made it a very painful two and a half months for Sam since they were now running into each other every single day, sometimes two or three times a day.  It was so weird.  It was like Gabriel was intentionally seeking him out or something, but that idea was stupid, of course.

After spring break had come and gone, Sam felt like he could try again.  The Engels had gone to Colorado to get some end of season skiing in for winter break, so there was a good chance Gabriel wouldn’t have any sunburn.

But he still needed some advice on what to do.  He walked down the hall to Dean’s room.  Per their father’s instruction, if Cas was over, they were required to keep the door fully open at all times.  Sam peeked inside and saw Dean and Cas sitting on the floor on the other side of the bed playing a video game.  Their shoulders jerked as their hands worked the controllers.  He lifted a hand to knock against the door when he noticed that the characters on the TV screen weren’t moving.  He looked back at Dean and Cas, their arms were still working furiously, but a quick glance back at the screen showed Johnny Cage and Scorpion just moving back and forth in their ready positions.  Sam saw Dean’s head drop back against the bed, his eyes closed, clearly not paying attention to the game at all.

Sam covered his mouth to keep in his squeak and backpedaled hard.  Oh, God.  He did not need to see that.  He didn’t even see anything and he did not need to see that.  What the hell was wrong with those two?  Could they really not be in a room without touching each other?  Sam wondered if he and Gabriel could be like that.  Constantly caressing…kissing…touching each other’s—Sam slammed into the doorframe of his bedroom as his fantasy took him someplace he was not ready for yet.  He wondered if Gabriel would want to be with someone so inexperienced.  Maybe he’d have fun teaching him.  Sam blushed and sat down at his desk.  He couldn’t worry about that part of it.  He still had to tell the guy he liked him.

Sam logged on to World of Warcraft to see if anyone he knew was on.  He saw Beerisgood von Ashington hanging out in a tavern, so Sam put on his headset and approached.  He’d been friends with von Ashington for a while now, and the guy always had the ladies swarming around him.  Or at least the female avatars—who knew what they actually were.

“Hey, Ash,” Sam greeted the Level 55 Ogre.

“Sam-o-Sorcerer!  What’s happening?  You know—I would kill for some samosas right now.”

“They are good,” Sam said, thinking of the Girl Scout cookie Samoa.

“Yeah, I love that green sauce.”

Sam tilted his head.  What?

“What can I do you for?” Ash asked.

“Well, this is going to sound stupid, but I’m getting desperate.”

“Desperation is my es-pi-ritu an-i-mal, compadre.

“O—kay.  So, I need some advice on how to ask someone out.  Like, in the real world.  Not in here.  Have you ever—done that—in the real world?”

“Si, si, mi amigo.  It’s real simple too.  All you gotta do is walk in and show them how badass you are.  Announce to everyone you’re the best they’ll ever get, drop the microphone, and walk off.”

Sam bit his lip.  “I’m not sure that would work—do you mean I need to ask the AV Club to borrow some equipment?”

Ash laughed.  “No, man.  I mean be confident.  Everyone is attracted to confidence.  If you know you’re worth it, your future honey bear will know it too.”

“Yeah, confidence.  That makes sense.”

“Right on, right on.”

“Thanks, Ash.”

“Mi conocimiento es su conocimiento.”

“I take Latin, Ash, I have no idea what you’re saying.”

“That’s all right.  Most Spanish speakers don’t know what I’m saying either.”

***

Sam tried not to skip down the hall after the final bell rang, but he was excited.  He always bumped into Gabriel at the exit, and then he would walk with Sam over to the underclassmen parking lot even though the senior parking lot was on the other side of the building.  Gabriel really was a kind and thoughtful guy, but Sam had no idea why he would waste so much energy on him.

He saw Gabriel by the exit and waved as he approached.

“Hiya, kiddo!  How did your math test go?”

“Oh, fine, it was easy.”  Sam blushed a little as they walked outside.  “I can’t believe you remembered that.”

Gabriel kind of ducked his head and shrugged.  “Well, you know.  Anyway, since today is Friday, I was wondering—”

“I mean that test was so easy,” Sam cut in, realizing now would be a good opportunity to enact his confidence plan.  If there was one thing he was confident about it was his academics and he knew Gabriel thought school was important too.

“It was almost like, why do they even bother to test me?  Like, they should give me an A and call it a day, right?”

He laughed and twirled a pen, and then scrambled to catch it as he nearly dropped it.  He saw Gabriel looking at him funnily and knew he needed to recover quickly.

“And why stop at math, am I right?  I’m like, a genius.  I could probably be in college now, but I, like, didn’t want to embarrass my brother or anything.”

Sam stopped talking.  Where had that come from?

“Hey, Sam?”

“Yeah?”

“You feeling okay?”

They were nearing Dean’s Impala, but his brother and Cas weren’t there yet.  They were probably making out in a storage closet since they were more heavily monitored at home now.

“Yeah, I’m fine.  I’m just, you know, a guy who knows—what—who—he is when he’s—like—done good work—?

Gabriel tilted his head, looking very concerned.  He reached up to put a hand to Sam’s forehead and Sam startled away, dropping his pen.

“Oh, I got it—” Gabriel started, but Sam had already bent over to pick it up.  He stood up swiftly and the back of his head connected solidly with Gabriel’s face.  Their difference in height and Sam’s quick actions sent Gabriel sprawling onto his back.

“Oh my God!” Sam cried out as Gabriel writhed on the ground and held his nose.  Blood was leaking around his fingers.

“Gabriel, I’m so sorry!”

Sam started to bend down, but someone shouted, “Gabe!” and got there before he did.

Cas knelt beside Gabriel and petted his hair.

“Hey, are you okay?”  Cas asked his brother, and then looked at Sam.

“I accidentally..." Sam said dazedly, still in disbelief at what he'd just done.  "We bumped heads,” he finished lamely.

Cas raised an eyebrow.  “You ‘bumped heads?’  He’s bleeding, dude.”

“It’s not his fault,” Gabriel said, sitting up.  His voice sounded nasally and muffled as his hand partially covered his mouth as he held his nose.  “It was mine.  I got in his way.”

“No, you—” Sam started and trailed off.  He didn’t know what to say.

Cas helped Gabriel to his feet.  “Come on, I’ll walk you to your car and drive you to the doctor.  We better make sure it’s not broken.”

Sam felt a wave of nausea roll over him.  What if he’d broken Gabriel’s nose?

“I’ll call you later,” Cas said.

At first Sam was confused, and then realized he was talking to Dean who was standing quietly to the side.  Cas put an arm around Gabriel’s shoulders and started to lead him away, but Gabriel stopped him.

“Hey, Sam, it’s okay.  I’m sure I’m fine.  Are you okay?”

Sam nodded, feeling lower than he’d ever felt in his life.  Cas and Gabriel left and Dean moved to stand by his side.

“So, now you’re trying to break my boyfriend’s brother’s nose.”

“Dean,” Sam warned.

“I guess at least your attacks are technically getting less violent.”

“Dean, please!”

Dean ruffled Sam’s hair and he ducked away from the brotherly gesture.

“What’s the matter, Sammy?  It was an accident, right?  No big deal.”

Sam didn’t answer but walked around the Impala to get in the passenger seat.  Thankfully Dean didn’t try to talk to him on the way home.

***

Another two months passed and this time Sam was very successful at avoiding Gabriel in school.  He took different routes to class and went out the back doors of the school even though that meant he had a long walk around the building to the parking lot.  He always looked outside his house first to make sure Gabriel wasn’t around before he went out.  And graduation was looming ever closer.  Soon Gabriel would be gone—but what did it matter?  Sam couldn’t be around him without assaulting the guy, so maybe it was best if he never found out how Sam felt about him.  There was no way he could ever feel the same now anyway.

Sam was brooding and being generally moody as he lay face down on his bed listening to Ed Sheeran croon his pain about the unfairness of the world.  His bed shifted as someone sat next to him on the mattress.  He hoped it wasn’t his mother.  He couldn’t deal with that right now.

“Hey, Sammy.  What’s going on?”

Sam didn’t answer his brother and turned his head away from him.

“Come on, dude, you’ve been moping for weeks now.  What’s up?”

“What do you think?  I’ve made a complete ass of myself in front of Gabriel.  More than once.  I know he hates me.”

“He doesn’t hate you, Sam.”

Sam whipped his head around at the voice.  He saw Cas sitting in his desk chair.  Of course.  If Dean was anywhere, Cas wasn’t far away.  He wondered what that was like.  To have someone you loved so much and got along so well with that you could live practically on top of each other and not get bored or annoyed with the other.  He thought he could feel that way about Gabriel.  He always felt happier when he was around.  When he wasn’t sending him into anaphylactic shock that is.

“Sammy, tell me what’s wrong.  You’ve been acting really weird.  Like, all year.”

“I—I just—I don’t know,” he chickened out.  Could he talk to his brother about this?

“You like Gabriel,” Cas said softly.

“Well, yes.  He’s a nice guy.”

Cas gave him a look and Sam blushed as he hid his face again.  He mumbled his confession into the mattress.

“What?” Dean asked

Sam sat up with a groan and hit Dean with a pillow.  “I like him, Dean!  Like, I like him.  The way you like Cas!”

“Oh!”  Dean thought for a moment.  “You know, I think I knew that.”

Sam saw Cas roll his eyes exaggeratedly.

“So, why do you keep beating him up?” Dean asked with pseudo- puzzlement.

“Dean,” Cas admonished.

“What?”

“I’m not trying to beat him up!" Sam groaned, wittingly taking the bait and not even caring.  "I was trying to ask him out!”

Dean choked on a laugh.  Sam narrowed his eyes as his brother bit his lip and dug his nails into his skin through his jeans to keep from falling on the floor in a fit of laughter.

“Your technique could use a little fine-tuning,” Dean snorted through his snickering.

“Dean, leave him alone,” Cas came to his defense, but Sam could tell he was trying not to laugh too.

“Yeah, I know, Dean,” Sam griped.

Dean repressed a couple more laughs and then reached out a hand to Sam’s shoulder.  “Why didn’t you come to me for advice, bro?”

“I tried.  But.  You’re always busy.”  His eyes slid to Cas.  Cas sobered quickly and ducked his head, his hands twisting in his lap.  “No, Cas!  I like, I don’t blame you.  Or think you’re taking my brother away or anything.  But.  Well.  I used to be like the most important thing in his life.  I know it’s stupid and unfair to feel jealous.  And I’m not jealous.  Not really.  I’m just—”

“Sam,” Dean cut him off.  “Hey, you still are the most important thing in my life, okay?  You’re my baby brother.  I’ve always looked out for you and I always will.”

“I’m only a year and a half younger,” Sam grumbled.

“It doesn’t matter.  I’ve always taken care of you.  And I’m sorry if you feel like I’ve been ignoring you.  I’m not gonna lie—Cas—Cas is—”  Here his brother paused and looked at his boyfriend for a long moment.  Then he shook himself and looked back at Sam.  “Cas is Cas.  But you’re you.  And I will always make time for you.  Always.  You know that right?”

Sam nodded and half shrugged a shoulder.

“Hey, I mean it.  Well, if you’re coming to talk to me about some geek boy thing and Cas is giving me head—”

“Dean!” Cas hissed.

“—I might tell you to scram and come back later.  But, if it’s important—heck, even if it’s not—you come to me, okay?  Promise me you’ll always come to me if you need me.  Tell me you know you can.”

Sam looked up at Dean, his brother's eyes were earnest in his need to know that Sam could rely on him.  He nodded and felt tears threatening to fall, so he hid them by hugging Dean and wiping them on his shirt.  Dean hugged him back and they embraced for a long moment.  Sniffling made them pull apart.  Cas was wiping his eyes.

“That was so sweet, you guys,” he said, real tears running down his cheeks.

Dean threw a pillow at him.  “Shut it.  Alright, Sammy, what are we going to do about you?  You need to figure out how to seduce an Engel boy?  You’ve come to the right guy.”

Cas snorted.  “Oh, really.  Tell me, what is your foolproof plan?”

“Well, I got you easily enough, didn’t I? I just swaggered up to you like a boss and swept you off your feet.”

“Yeah, if by ‘swaggered’ you mean ‘stumbled’ and by ‘boss’ you mean ‘awkward fourteen year old’ and by ‘swept me off my feet’ you mean ‘threw up on my shoes,’ then yeah, that does sound about right.”

Dean made a face at him and turned back to Sam.  “The point is, Engels love Winchesters.  You’re already in my brother.”

Dean raised a hand for a high five.  Sam frowned at him.  “That’s actually the worst advice I’ve gotten from all the people I’ve asked.”

Dean deflated and glanced at Cas.  “You got anything?”

“Yeah, I do,” Cas said.  He leaned forward in the chair and put his forearms on legs.  “Sam.”

Sam turned and looked at him, actually sitting up straighter at his authoritative tone.

“Gabriel has been stalking you all over school all year.  He’s done his best to put himself in your way at every opportunity he gets.  He talks about how smart you are all the time and how you’re not like other fifteen year olds.  You’re special.  He was so anxious to please you he ate something without checking to see if it would kill him first.  He keeps trash by the door so that if he sees you outside he has an excuse to run out and say hi to you.  He bloodied his nose on the back of your head and spent the whole time at the doctor’s office wondering if we should call Dean and make him take you to the doctor to make sure you didn’t have a concussion.”

Sam gaped at Cas.

“Gabriel is head over heels for you, man.  And he’s over at our house right now trying to pick which university to send his acceptance to.  Go over there and talk to him.  And you know what really works on Engel boys?”

“What?” Dean and Sam asked together.  Sam spared an annoyed glance at his brother.

“Tell him you like him.”  Cas smiled.  “That’s it.  Be honest with him.  Just let him know that he’s special to you too.”

Sam sat back.  Was it really that simple?

“You’re special to me, Cas,” Dean said.

“Shut up,” Cas said with a laugh, but he was blushing.

Sam stood up.  “Okay.  I’m gonna do it!”

He bolted from his room, down the hall, down the stairs, and out the front door.  But it was still twenty minutes before he could work up the courage to ring the doorbell.  Cas’ and Gabriel’s sister, Anna, answered.

“Hi, Sam.  What brings you here?”

“Um, is Gabriel home?”

“Yeah.  He’s up in his room I think.”

Anna drew in a deep breath to yell for her brother, but Sam stopped her.

“Thanks, but you don’t need to call him downstairs.  Would it—would it be okay if I went upstairs?”

Anna shrugged.  “Sure.  He’s just picking a school.  And he’s picking one a thousand miles away!” Anna shouted indignantly up the stairs.

“It’s not a thousand miles away!” Gabriel shouted back.  "It’s two thousand!”

Anna scowled and stomped off to the kitchen.  Sam felt his heart sink.  Gabriel was thinking about going to a college that was two thousand miles away?  Even with phones and the Internet, that would totally suck.  Sam walked up the staircase of the modest middle class home and wondered why the Engels didn’t live in some big fancy mansion if they could afford to take all those vacations.  A question for another day.

Gabriel’s room was the first door on the right at the top of the stairs.  Sam remembered from when he used to come over and play with Anna when they were kids.  Gabriel had always seemed so much older and more mature.  He wondered how it was possible Gabriel could see him as anything other than a kid.

He knocked lightly on the partially open door and was instructed to enter.  He pushed the door open all the way and took a couple of steps in.  Gabriel was lying on his stomach on his bed with several brochures spread out in front of him.  He looked over at Sam—and his face broke into a bright smile.

“Hey, kiddo!” he said standing up.  “I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever!  You haven’t been avoiding me, have you?” he said with a little wink that made Sam’s heart flutter.

The two of them approached each other until they stood about a foot apart in the middle of the room.

“Hi, Gabriel.”  Be honest.  “I actually have been avoiding you.”

Gabriel’s smile faltered.

“Not because of you!  But, you can understand why I’m a little embarrassed and wary about being around you.  I tend to break things—on you.”

Gabriel laughed and Sam’s stomach did a little flip flop.  He loved it when Gabriel’s whole face lit up with glee and he swirled around doing a little happy dance when some prank of his went off without a hitch.

“I like it when you laugh though,” Sam blurted out.  Gabriel stopped laughing and raised an eyebrow.  “Like, I keep doing stupid things around you, but I can’t keep away.  Because just being near you makes me feel—good.  You know?  Like whatever bad is going on can’t be that bad because you’re—near.”  Sam took a deep breath.  “I’ll stop rambling, Gabriel.  I like you.  Like, so much that it makes it hard to breathe sometimes.”

Gabriel didn’t respond right away.  He just blinked a couple of times.  Then a small smile curled his lips.

“Wowsers.  That’s some confession, Sam.”

Sam flushed and started feeling a little queasy.  Had Cas been wrong?

“You wanna know mine?”

Sam nodded and Gabriel took a step forward, bringing them even closer together.

“I always thought you were just Cas’ dopey boyfriend’s little brother.  You’ve always been cute and sweet and very smart.  But when I saw you the first day of school last year—I actually walked into a wall you were so hot.”

Sam’s eyes widened.  “You did?  I didn’t see that!”

“Oh, I made sure you didn’t.  You seemed to think I was some super cool popular kid.  I didn’t want to ruin the illusion.”

“It’s not an illusion.”

“It is, Sam.”  Gabriel took Sam’s face in his hands.  “Smoke and mirrors, hon.  I’m a beautiful loser, just like you.”

Sam let out a small noise of surprise when Gabriel pushed up onto his toes and kissed him.  It was short and simple, but oh so sweet.  Gabriel pulled back and waited for Sam to open his eyes to grin at him.

“You know, I’m glad you came over.”

Sam had to swallow and clear his throat before he could speak.  “Y-yeah?”

“Yep.  It helped me pick a school.”

“Not the two thousand mile away one?” Sam heard himself ask before he could stop.

“More like Kansas State.  How does a half an hour drive strike you?”

Sam grinned.  “Very doable.”

Gabriel got that mischievous glint in his eyes again.  “Speaking of ‘doable.’”

Gabriel slid a hand behind Sam’s neck and pulled him down for a much less innocent kiss.  Sam wrapped his arms around Gabriel and held him close.  Just tell the boy you like you like him.  Why hadn’t he thought of it sooner?

***

“Son of a bi—”

Cas clamped a hand around Dean’s mouth and dropped his full weight onto him to keep him from clambering the rest of the way up the stairs from the hiding spot they’d been using to spy on their brothers.

“You know, Dean, I think you’re right.  We Engel boys just love us some Winchester boys.”

“Mmph.”