Gabriel's eyes squinted against the glare of blinding sunlight reflected on the window next to him, the world outside a blur as the bus roared down the unfamiliar road. His warm breath fogged up the icy window, and he swiped the condensation clear with his jacket sleeve, peering out at the passing shops and restaurants and figures of men and women and children trudging through the snowy streets.
Around him, bus passengers sat quietly as they awaited the arrival of their stop. Two young girls chatted excitedly over an open fashion magazine, a sharply dressed gentleman with salt and peppered hair casted longing glances to the back of the bus, where a lovely blonde woman crinkled her nose as she concentrated on a book she was reading, an older couple held hands as they enjoyed the passing scenery, a teenaged boy with a ratty brown cap whistled a soft tune as he scratched dried lavender paint from his trousers. Gabriel sank back in the uncomfortable bus seat, pulling the fur collar of his pilot's jacket up over his chin before he crossed his arms over his chest.
Sam was sitting next to him, nose buried in a book, long lanky legs crossed in front of him. His scarf was wrapped twice around his neck, but Gabriel could still see hints of the love bites and bruises he'd left peeking out from beneath the wool from their session of lovemaking in the bath this morning. The soldier didn't even remember breakfast, his brain was still fogged from it. He could almost still taste the flavour of soap suds and water and Sam's hot flesh on his tongue. Reaching up, he adjusted the material to hide the marks he'd left on the boy, wanting no one to see them. They were only for Gabriel's eyes.
A hazel gaze tore away from the book to look over at him, a slow smile spreading across blissfully exhausted features. "How're you doing?"
"I'm discretely freaking out."
Sam chuckled and clapped his book shut. He patted the soldier's shoulder, knowing anything more intimate would cause unwanted attention. "Like I told you a thousand times since we woke up: it'll be fine. You've been through far worse situations than this."
Gabriel grunted. "I'm still not entirely convinced this'll do anything for me."
"You're a man of action. That's who you are," Sam shrugged. "The fact that this requires nothing but talking bothers you."
The soldier fiddled with a stray thread on the hem of his sweater. "Mental issues don't just magically vanish with fancy words."
"No, but maybe those fancy words will get you taking action and fixing those mental issues on your own."
Gabriel frowned deeply, turning his gaze toward the snowy world outside. The bus had come to a slow stop, letting out the attractive blonde and the teenaged boy. Gabriel huffed a sigh as he stared at a little bakery just outside the bus stop, admiring the cakes and pastries on display there. As much as he despised admitting it to himself, Sam was right.
"Tell you what," Sam suddenly said. "You go to this one session. Just this one. If you don't like it and you don't think this guy can really help you, you don't have to go to any more."
The soldier snapped his attention back to the boy, looking perplexed. "Really?"
"Of course. I mean, why would I put you through something that makes you uncomfortable? It won't help the problems you're already facing now." Sam played with the bent pages of his book. "Just go once, see what it's like, and we'll take it from there."
Gabriel felt his heart swell, and would've given anything to be able to lean over and kiss his young lover. "You're incredible, you know that?"
"So you've told me," Sam smirked, eyeing him out of the tail of his eye. He dove back into his book, and allowed their legs to brush together for a brief moment. "Just relax. We're almost there, anyways."
Gabriel tried to relax, he really did. Resting his head back against the seat, he shut his eyes and felt the sunlight bathe his face in comforting warmth. The bus moved steadily beneath him, a gentle rocking that eased his frazzled nerves, like the gentle cradle of a mother. All too soon it was ripped away, because Sam was nudging insistently at his knee and telling him that their stop was next. As the bus slowed, he and the boy rose to their feet and manoeuvred their way between the rows of crowded seats to the doors, where they climbed out and watched as the vehicle roared away in a plume of exhaust.
Sam adjusted the sling of the book bag on his shoulder and turned to adjust Gabriel's collar. While the boy fiddled, Gabriel stared over at the sign on the simple brick building next to them. Bold, elegant black lettering over a stark white background that read:
DR. CROWLEY McLEOD.
CLINICAL PSYTHOLOGIST AND COUNCELLOR.
The reality of the situation became all too clear at that point, and Gabriel found himself swallowing hard. He didn't like telling others his problems, letting them into his head, allowing them to delve into his thoughts and emotions. He despised weakness. He liked keeping closed up, protected from the judgement of others, as hard as stone. It's the façade he'd kept up all through the war, and was probably the reason he didn't go completely out of his mind. Sam was the only person who had seen him at his worst.
And now, here he was. Getting ready to see this Dr. McLeod, who was going to tear him wide open and expose all his vulnerabilities to the world. Perhaps call him insane and unfixable. It made Gabriel's stomach twist.
"You're sure you want to go through with this?" Sam asked, noticing the soldier's discomfort.
"Yeah… yeah, I am." Gabriel shook his head out. "I need to do this."
The boy took one of Gabriel's hands in both of his, and brought it to his lips to kiss. "You know I love you, right?"
"I do." Gabriel couldn't help the smile.
They approached the front doors of the office, and Gabriel took hold of the brass handle, but went no further than that. He kept his hand there, hesitating, needing to gather his wits about him. Sam stood patiently at his side, and then reached out, placing his larger hand over the soldier's, just like Gabriel had done for him when opening the door to Dean's room all those weeks ago.
"Together?" Sam said.
Gabriel felt his heart swell, and every ounce of uncertainty and fear melt away. "Together."
Using their combined strength, they pushed the heavy wooden door open, and slipped inside the warmly lit office. Gentle record music greeted them, and dappled sunlight shining in through the small windows danced across the faded green flowered wallpaper and rich wooden crown moulding that wrapped around the entire room. Eight chairs lined the back wall, no doubt a waiting area for the patients, and a lovely blonde-haired receptionist sat behind a wooden desk that dwarfed her in its size. She was tapping away at her typewriter, stacks of paper and files at her side, along with a vase of fresh flowers and a cup of tea that had long ago gone cold.
After hanging up their coats on the rack by the door, Sam approached the desk, and the receptionist lifted her chocolate brown eyes in his direction, offering a slight smile and an arch of a thin brow. Her hair was short and styled in lovely sweeping waves. A pearl necklace wrapped around her slender throat, and she smelled of vanilla and spice.
"We're here to see Dr. McLeod." Sam said pleasantly. "We have an appointment for noon."
The blonde turned and sifted through her mound of papers to fetch her leather-bound appointment book. She leafed through the pages, and then nodded. "Gabriel Milton, is it?"
Gabriel limped up next to the desk. "That'd be me."
She nodded and gestured to the chairs. "Have a seat. Dr. McLeod will be right with you."
Sam thanked her and did as she bade, planting himself in one of the chairs and whipping out his book to resume reading. Gabriel, who felt far too jittery to sit, stood next to the boy and admired the paintings on the wall, scenes of roaring seascapes and flowery fields far away from here.
Suddenly, one of the tall wooden doors behind the desk swung open, and an older gentleman with striking features appeared, sharply dressed in a crisp black pinstriped suit. He was short in stature, probably around the same height as Gabriel, and had a full head of dark tousled hair that only just began to recede.
"Come in, Gabriel," He lifted his hand in invitation, voice as velvety and heavily accented as Balthazar's, but carrying a slight and attractive rasp to it.
Gabriel exchanged one last look with Sam, before following Dr. McLeodd into his office, door swinging quietly shut behind them. The room was large, spears of sunlight slicing across the walls and elegantly carpeted floor from between the blinds on the windows. Filled bookcases lined the space, which had carried the same wallpaper and rich wood from the front room, and a desk sat near the back corner, where certificates and diplomas hung proudly on the wall around it. Gabriel noted the two long plush couches at the very center of the room, and assumed one of them was for him.
Dr. McLeod reached out and grasped onto Gabriel's hand, shaking it firmly. "I'm glad you met with me, Gabriel."
The soldier quirked his head, returning the shake. "You are?"
"You're one of the only soldiers in your Company that didn't come to see me after returning from overseas." Dr. McLeod smirked slightly, the light glinting over intelligent hazel eyes. "Balthazar told me about you, as did Chuck."
Gabriel grunted. "Loudmouths."
"Take a seat," Dr. McLeod gestured to the couches, and then went to fetch what he needed from his desk. "It sounds like you were quite reluctant to see me. Why is that?"
"I don't really believe in your practice," Gabriel stated as he lowered himself onto the soft, comfortable cushions. "Call me skeptical, but therapy doesn't really seem like the kind of thing that makes mental problems go away."
"How wonderful to know that all my years of schooling have gone into a useless career."
Gabriel winced. Balthazar hadn't been lying when he stated that this guy was snarky. "I didn't mean it like that."
Dr. McLeod returned with a notebook and elegant black pen, and took a seat across from the soldier. "Believe it or not, your skepticism is quite common."
"Yeah?" Gabriel asked, feeling slightly better.
"Most people don't understand my line of work. We're in the post-war era, and that causes people to believe that action is the best course for change." He cocked a brow. "Guns and bombs may rid you of the physical problem, but the after effects still linger in the mind." He tapped his temple with his pen. "Am I correct?"
Gabriel shifted in his seat, recalling his night terrors. "…Yes."
"And that's where I come in. I'm the best at what I do, Gabriel. If anyone can change a skeptic's mind, it's me." Dr McLeod flipped to a fresh page in his notebook, and got comfortable. "Shall we get started?"
Gabriel took a steady breath, and nodded once.
"Tell me about the war."
The soldier took a moment to think, amber eyes trained on the flower pattern on the rug beneath his feet. He delved deep into his mind, pulling free the memories that had haunted him for so many months, had kept him awake and terrified for nights long after the blast of gunfire had died to silence; the dark reality of violence and loss, the painful understanding of what one twisted mind can do to an entire world. He dug deep, bringing everything to the surface after being pushed back for so long.
Then, he began to speak.
NINE MONTHS LATER.
Sam stumbled out of the bathroom, fluffy towel draped over his head as he dried his mop of chocolate hair. Cooling water dripped down the line of his bare back, puddling at his bare feet as he made his way down the narrow hallway back to his bedroom. Downstairs, he could hear Bobby and Jodi moving about the kitchen, preparing a massive breakfast that already began to fill the house with the scent of sizzling bacon and warm maple syrup.
Sam was beyond thankful for the presence of their long-time neighbour in the house. She had blessed the place with the warmth of a woman's touch that had died away long ago with the loss of Aunt Ellen, and had given Bobby a reason for happiness again.
There wasn't a single Friday night that went by where a seat stood empty at the dinner table.
Using his hip, Sam nudged his bedroom door open and padded inside, the air in the room still scenting of sweat and passion from the previous night. His hips and collarbone were still bruised from bites and kisses and gripping fingers, and his legs were still shaky and aching blissfully. Tossing the towel aside, he smiled at the snoring lump on his bed, a tuft of caramel hair sticking out from the mound of blankets. He sat on the edge of the mattress, tugged one blanket down, and pressed a kiss to the tip of his lover's warm nose.
"Mmph…" Gabriel grumbled and turned over, burying himself deeper in the cocoon.
"C'mon, lazy," Sam chuckled, gently shaking the soldier. "Up you get."
"Five more minutes," came the muffled reply.
Sam rolled his eyes with a smirk, and went to fetch some fresh clothes. In the nine months since Gabriel had first gone to see Dr. McLeod, the soldier's health and happiness had improved at a staggering level. Each week, he visited his therapist, and each week, his night terrors grew less and less frequent. They didn't completely vanish, no. There would be no way they could do that. Dr. McLeod had taught Gabriel a series of exercises to do whenever he woke from one of the terrors; sometimes he would need to breathe and speak calmly to himself to help distinguish reality from memory, others he would take a quick walk through the house to calm himself, it all depended on the severity of the dream. And soon came nights where the terrors didn't even happen at all.
Sam couldn't believe the changes that had been taking place. Gabriel had put on weight, filling out his body and looking healthier, stronger than he used to. The bags vanished from beneath his eyes, he had more energy, and even his limp was less noticeable. Not to mention the fact that he'd become wilder in bed, hungrier for Sam's touch, always eager to try new things that had the kid's mind in a state of hazy bliss for days afterward. Balthazar had even offered Gabriel a job across town, allowing the soldier to get out and become a part of society again. His life was back on track, and Sam couldn't have been happier for him.
Dressing quickly into a pair of slacks and light button-down, Sam brushed the tangles from his hair. The warm breeze of late August morning drifted into the bedroom from the open window, fluttering the curtains and carrying in the melodic call of birds and the laughter of children in the streets.
Near the bed, two suitcases lay open, filled with clothes, books, and everything else belonging to Sam. The boy did a quick double-check, to make sure he wasn't leaving anything behind that he'd need in the months to come. As he sifted through the neatly folded clothes, he came upon something that had his throat clenching with emotion.
He'd taken the photograph from where it had been hanging in Dean's room, and had it nicely framed. It'd been sitting in his room for months, always within view whenever he needed it, and Sam knew he wouldn't be able to go anywhere without it. Brushing his fingertips across the glass, he admired the image beyond, the familiar faces of Dean, Balthazar, and Gabriel smiling back at him from where they stood next to their fellow comrades.
"I did it, Dean," Sam whispered softly. "I hope you're proud of me."
After setting the photograph snugly back into the case and clasping the thing shut, he noticed that Gabriel was sitting up in bed, watching him quietly.
"It's still eerie how you don't make any sound when you move," Sam chuckled.
"Call it a gift," the soldier smiled and reached out for him. When their hands met, Gabriel tugged Sam towards him, moving the kid to straddle his lap. "You doing okay, kiddo?"
Sam nodded, raking his fingers through his lover's mussed hair. "I'm great."
Gabriel placed sweet kisses to the exposed flesh of Sam's throat. "Mm… You smell like peppermint."
"I just showered," Sam purred. "Bobby and Jodi have breakfast waiting downstairs. We should probably join them."
The soldier pouted. "What time does your bus leave?"
"That's only an hour from now." Gabriel grumbled, strong arms locking around the boy's waist and squeezing possessively. "Doesn't exactly give us much time for a morning quickie."
Sam flushed a thousand shades of red, even after everything. "You're insatiable."
"Well, I ain't gonna see you as often anymore." Gabriel nipped Sam's chin. "Once a week with the exception of Christmas and summer break is hardly enough. I gotta savour you as much as possible."
Sam laughed, stealing a lingering kiss. "Mm, I think we both did plenty of savouring last night. Now, c'mon." He hopped off Gabriel's lap and tugged at the blankets. "Get dressed. I'll meet you downstairs."
Gathering up his suitcases, he marched downstairs and into the kitchen, where Jodi and his uncle awaited him with enough breakfast to feed an entire schoolhouse. Sam set his things by the front door, and took an offered cup of coffee, enjoying the way Jodi rose up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek before smoothing out the wrinkles in his shirt. She reminded Sam a lot of his aunt; a strong and lively woman with straight mahogany hair and bright doe-like brown eyes that just began to crinkle at the corners. She led Sam over to the table, where Bobby was busy pouring over the morning newspaper.
Gabriel joined them only minutes later, sliding into the seat next to Sam after planting a big kiss on Jodi's cheek and the very top of Bobby's balding head. The gruff man grumbled, though Sam caught the smile curling at the corners of his lips. They dug into the feast of toast, eggs, bacon, and pancakes laid out before them, filling the kitchen with excited chatter and laughter, everyone buzzing about the huge steppingstone in Sam's life.
Still, through the joy that lingered in the air, there was that sense of sadness that came with the fact that Sam wouldn't be around as much anymore. The boy was just thankful that his uncle had Jodi to keep him company in the months to come, and Gabriel had made a promise to come to dinner every Friday night, as per tradition, even if Sam wasn't there.
It was a blessing to know his family, his new family, would be just fine until he could come home again.
Once the plates were cleaned and the table was cleared, nine o'clock ticked close, and everyone made their way to the bus stop to bid Sam farewell. The morning was bright, the sky above cloudless and the deepest shade of blue Sam had ever seen. Hints of the approaching autumn began to show, touches of gold and red kissing the edges of the leaves in the lush trees. It reminded Sam of that one fall day almost a year ago, where a handsome amber-eyed soldier appeared at his doorstep with his fallen brother's army jacket, and changed his life forever.
He reached over and brushed hands with Gabriel, who was carrying his second suitcase. They locked eyes for a moment, and shared a knowing smile, there not needing to be words at the moment.
They could see the form of the approaching bus down the long stretch of road, and Sam took a deep breath, anticipation and excitement and nervousness all bubbling within him at once. He dropped his suitcase, and took time to embrace his uncle tightly, breathing in the scent of whiskey and motor oil on his sun-baked skin.
"Take care of yourself, kid," Bobby said into Sam's shirt. "I'm damn proud of ya."
Jodi was next, and there were tears in her eyes as she wrapped Sam in a suffocating hug, wishing him the very best of luck, and telling him sternly that he'd better call her once a week.
Without hesitation, Sam swept Gabriel up in his arms and kissed him, kissed him until neither of them had the breath to gasp, kissed him until the taste of the soldier was sure to stay on his lips and tongue for the long, lonely nights to come. He cradled Gabriel's face in his hands, pressed their foreheads together, and whispered for only him to hear.
"You'll visit me every weekend, right?"
"Every weekend." Gabriel vowed.
"And you'll still see Dr. McCloud on schedule?" Sam asked. "Make sure you stay healthy?"
"Believe me, I think he'd come after me with a wooden bat if I missed even one appointment." Gabriel smirked and curled his fingers into Sam's shirt. "You go off and do your lawyer thing. Kick some ass in Stanford. I'll be just fine, kiddo."
Sam nodded, and kissed him again. "I love you. I love you, I love you, and you'd better not forget that."
"I don't plan on it," Gabriel breathed. "I love you, too, Sam. So damn much."
As the bus rolled to a halt next to them, Sam parted from his lover and gathered up his suitcases. The metal doors squeaked open and, with one last glance backwards, he climbed up into the bus and took a seat right at the back. He set his bags on the ground by his feet, peered out the window and, as the bus began to move, waved farewell toward his family below, awaiting the day when he would finally see them all together again.
Lights will guide you home,
And ignite your bones,
And I will try to fix you…