AN: This is it, everyone! The final chapter of With a Whimper. Thank you so much to everybody who stayed along for the ride, who read and wrote reviews and generally enjoyed themselves. I appreciate every single one of you and I really couldn't be happier at the friendly concrit and the positive feedback. It's been one hell of a ride (no pun intended) and I'm glad I got to share it with you all.
The fifth time, Adam Milligan was born from darkness.
Floundering in the consuming black, unable to open his eyes, Adam pushed and kicked as he tried to gasp for air but nothing happened except that he felt a crushing chokehold on his throat. He clutched at it but the motion threw off his balance and he careened wildly, head over heels, eyes shut tight as he tried to will away the spinning and the dizziness; nausea was threatening to make him throw up all of the dinner he'd eaten that night.
And then as soon as it started it was over, and Adam found himself slammed into the hard ground, spine making contact with what felt like asphalt. Adam grunted in pain and rolled onto his side, cradling his elbow, which had apparently also taken a hit. His cheek rested against beige sidewalk and he felt the rough caress of gravel as he grit his teeth.
"Jesus, Cas," Adam spat, "you talk about Ascension like it's this holy process but this is the least holy landing ever."
From somewhere above him, Castiel said, "My apologies. I haven't done this before. I had no idea what the landing would be like."
Adam picked himself off the ground slowly, testing his limbs for any extensive injuries, but found that he was still in one piece. Castiel watched him with a slight smile on his face as Adam straightened up and asked, "So the two graces are working for you?"
"Yes. With both of them...I feel fully restored," Castiel said with a nod, flexing his fingers on his right hand as though feeling for the doubled power coursing through his veins. "Stronger than when I only had my own grace." He caught Adam's eyes and blue met blue. "Thank you, Adam."
The two of them grinned at each other before Adam took the time to look at their surroundings and recognize where they were. "...We're in Windom."
"Of course. We're in your mother's Heaven. I thought I'd bring you here as your starting-off point." When confronted with Adam's questioning look, Castiel elaborated. "You're technically not dead, so you're allowed to travel wherever you want. You can visit other peoples' heavens, reconnect with loved ones lost, go exploring...you have free reign in Heaven, Adam. Why do you think God doesn't let just anybody Ascend? He needs to know He can trust the ones He chooses."
"And He thinks I'm trustworthy?" Adam asked, awestruck at the very thought.
Castiel's eyes sparkled. "He didn't exactly give consent yet, seeing as He's nowhere to be found, but I'm fairly certain He'd not mind giving you the run of the place. I can't see you doing much damage here, Adam. It's not like you."
A familiar female voice went right through Adam's chest and pierced his lungs, taking the breath from him instantaneously as he and Castiel turned around to face Adam's house in Windom, looking the way it did three years prior. Standing on the front porch in a pink-and-white cooking apron with the remnants of flour on her rolled-up sleeves was Kate Milligan, her blonde hair in a haphazard bun and a shocked look on her delicate face.
Adam must've been standing there stunned for a moment or two because he suddenly felt Castiel's firm hand on the small of his back, pushing him forward slightly. "Go. You'll be fine here, Adam."
Adam looked at the angel with shining eyes but Castiel was smiling at him. "You're welcome," he said to the thanks that didn't need speaking. As a farewell, he added, "I know you'll be happy here. At peace. And I wish you all the best."
"Thank you," Adam said breathlessly, a little too late, but it needed to be said.
Castiel pushed him forward again and that was all the momentum Adam needed to move his legs until he was running at his mother, falling into her open arms and shamelessly crushing her smaller body to his. When her arms wrapped around his back and she squeezed her face into his shoulder as he stood taller than her, Adam whimpered but tried not to cry, not now, because he had to at least try to talk to her before he dissolved into a sobbing mess.
"Mom," he greeted hoarsely, his voice failing him for the moment.
Kate sighed into his shoulder; he could feel her lips trembling against his shirt. "Adam. Sweetheart."
"It hurt, Mom." Holding back his tears didn't work as well as he thought. "Dying."
She shushed him and rubbed soothing circles into his back, rocking him back and forth slightly and making him sway almost in sync with the calming breeze that made the grass rustle and the wind chimes on the porch roof tinkle. Adam held her like a lifeline, shaking with sobs so long overdue that no sound came out; he sounded as though he were being strangled.
Kate pulled away, resting her hands on Adam's shoulders, and grinned at him. "You're here a lot earlier than I expected, hon."
Adam laughed through his tears. "I had a little help. My friend Cas brought me up here early..." At the mention of the angel-turned-human-turned-angel, Adam looked back at the sidewalk, but Castiel was already gone.
Kate peered over his shoulder and said, "The man you were with? He's an angel, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he is. He helped us out a lot on earth."
Kate used the pad of her thumb to wipe Adam's tears away before cupping his cheek and smiling. "Why don't we go inside, I'll cook you some dinner, and you tell me all about it?"
Despite having just eaten a last meal fit for kings when he was on earth, Adam found that Ascending took a lot out of his system, and that included whatever had been in his stomach. Kate's dinner, therefore, was probably the most filling, most delicious meal he'd ever had. It was like he tasted food for the first time, what with her homemade macaroni and cheese that he devoured like a starving man. Granted, her cooking had always been the best thing in Adam's opinion, but now it was just heavenly, no pun intended.
Kate refrained from eating, instead taking to sipping from a glass of water while she sat across the kitchen table from her son, who was telling his story with his mouth slightly full but she grinned and let him carry on anyway, manners be damned. He was excited and she wasn't about to yell at him for that.
Telling Kate all about what he'd been through was a reminder of why Adam loved his mother so much. She reacted perfectly at all the right things, in all the right moments. Horror when he told her about falling into the Cage and the torture he'd endured there (though he spared her the gruesome details, for the most part). Skepticism when he first mentioned Michael, which then turned to quiet surprise and finally a twinkling understanding. She was interested in Sam and Dean, and she thought Bobby sounded like 'quite the character.' Sadness was reserved for the moment when Adam relayed Castiel's situation, and she rolled her eyes good-naturedly at Balthazar. A shadow fell over her face when Adam finally introduced Dick Roman and she looked petrified at his retelling of their final battle.
At the end of his story when he finally finished telling her about Ascension, Kate leaned back in her seat like she'd just satisfied and engorged herself on a Thanksgiving meal, fingers laced over her stomach and back fully reclined against the chair. She wasn't smiling.
"Honey," she said gently, "you've been through so much."
Adam scraped the last bit of mac and cheese from his bowl and nodded without looking up. "I know. It's been a bit of a rough ride."
She grinned only slightly. "You're doing yourself a disservice by calling it only a rough ride. Most grown men wouldn't have been able to deal with what you've been through."
"I didn't do it all on my own," Adam said with a modest shrug of the shoulders. "I mean, without Michael's help I probably wouldn't have gotten past growing that set of wings." The very act itself seemed years ago, decades, hidden away in a part of time that was unreachable. Everything that had happened between growing his wings and sitting here with his mother was smudged, like someone had taken an eraser to his life and tried rubbing away. "But I'm just...really glad I'm here." He glanced up at Kate. "I've missed you so much."
Kate smiled brightly at last. "I've missed you too, Adam. You've been here, though. Well, your younger self," she amended, seeing the confused look on his face. "Apparently my version of Heaven was that one morning I let you have ice cream and cake for breakfast, remember? On your birthday in the second grade?"
Adam grinned, recalling the chocolate cake he'd eaten in place of cereal, the ice cream instead of fruit, the chocolate milk instead of orange juice. It had been a great start to the day, there was no doubt about that. "Yeah, I remember. Why's that your favorite memory though?"
"You were so happy back then," Kate said wistfully, eyes glazing over as she recalled the memory. "We both were. Before life got complicated and the past caught up with us." She meant John, but she didn't say so.
Adam studied Kate for a moment, looking at the comfortable way she held herself, at the slight glow of her face as she sat there, at the way her whole body sighed in relaxation in a way he hadn't seen in years. The stress of her work had kept her busy almost constantly, but now, here, she seemed truly at peace. Happy, even. With a grunt of effort, Adam pushed himself out of his seat and walked to stand next to her before crouching down so he was leveled slightly below her eye line. Kate looked down at him and, for the first time, Adam could see a layer of tears building up.
"I'm here now, Mom," Adam said gently, smiling encouragingly. "And I'm not going anywhere. Not this time."
Kate smiled through her tears. "I know, hon. And I'm glad you're here. But part of me...part of me is angry for thinking that. You should be out there in the world living your life, not stuck here with me, never changing, never experiencing new things—"
"Mom, wait." Adam stopped her with a hand on hers. "I want to be here. This was my choice, remember? Nobody else's." He gave her smaller hand a squeeze. "I love you, Mom. And I want to be here with you."
"I love you too, Adam. So, so much."
Adam grinned; he'd missed hearing those words more than he thought. Kate ran a comforting hand through his hair, looking down at him with such a combination of sadness and joy that Adam wasn't sure whether he felt like laughing or crying.
Before he could get a good handle on his emotions, however, she pulled her hand away and asked, "Would you like seconds? You always were a hungry kid. Don't think much has changed."
Adam chuckled and stood up with Kate. "You got that right. I think I got that from the Winchester side of the family."
Kate pulled out another box of pasta from the cupboard, thinking to herself that out of her son's bravery, loyalty, compassion, and deep ability to love, that this wasn't the only trait he'd inherited from John Winchester.
Time in Heaven was irrelevant. Adam couldn't keep track of how many days he'd spent there, nor did he actually care. They were perfect, picturesque days filled with nothing but time spent with his mom. He helped her cook all the meals, which was a fairly new experience considering she usually had work to do. He taught her how to make all his favorite dishes, which were more complicated than the dinners she'd make for herself on late nights at the hospital, in another life. When they weren't making meals, they were relaxing around the house, watching movies, reading, going through junk in the attic and reliving the memories of days long left in the shade of the past. Occasionally, Adam would run to the local store to restock on food, and when they were feeling up to it, together they'd go to the movie theater or the diner or a fancy restaurant for kicks. It was as if Heaven was a carbon copy of all that made Windom good and peaceful, and Adam and Kate Milligan were making the most of it.
It was only after what felt like months in Kate's Heaven that something shifted into place.
"You should go exploring," Kate said randomly one afternoon as they were returning from a day in the theater (X-Men: First Class got four stars in Adam's book). She shrugged her jacket off her shoulders and tossed it onto the couch in the living room. "There's a lot to see out there. Heavens overlap, click into place next to each other. You could run into somebody."
Adam snorted and dropped onto the couch next to his mom's jacket. "Like who? 'S not like I know a whole lot of dead people, other than dear old dad, and I'm not exactly keen to run into him just yet."
Kate shook her head as she stood next to the couch, arms crossed over her chest. "I wasn't suggesting John. I just meant...honey, you know I love having you around." She smiled. "And I'm happy you're enjoying spending time with me. But...you should get out of the house, too. Wander a bit. I did some of my own journeying before I settled in here. It'll do you good. Open your eyes a bit to what's out there."
Adam shrugged. "What is out there?"
Kate grinned. "Everything."
Adam cocked an eyebrow but before he could ask her what she meant, she turned and waltzed into the kitchen to make dinner. He remained sitting on the couch, turning her suggestion over in his head. She was right, after all; she wasn't going anywhere, and their house would always be here. There was no harm in wandering around outside the limits of their Heaven and straying into others. Maybe he'd make a new friend or two.
And so it was the next day that Adam left the house alone for the first time and wandered down his street. He was bundled up in his trusty beige jacket that had somehow found its way into his closet in Heaven; autumn was in full swing despite whatever season it was down on Earth.
He didn't expect to find much, to be honest. He knew this road and knew that if you walked down it far enough, it winded sharply to the right before straightening out again and leading to a row of nice, huge houses that were part of a recent development in Windom a few years back. Past the houses would be the elementary school Adam attended as a kid, and past that would be the main center of town with all the shops, Main Street, and the restaurants. It was a pretty standard town and Adam figured he had the layout already mapped out in his head.
Imagine his surprise when he rounded the sharp right hand turn and found himself in an alleyway in someone's Parisian Heaven.
Adam did a double take and looked behind him. Sure enough, the road in Windom was still there, flawlessly transforming from grey asphalt to brown cobblestones. The trees melted into each other and became red and brown brick buildings stacked haphazardly against a clear blue sky that matched the one in Windom. It was warmer here though, and his jacket became unnecessary. Without thinking twice about it, Adam shrugged it off his shoulders and tossed it onto a nearby chair outside a café.
Kate was right. There was a lot out here.
Adam spent the rest of the day exploring what he dubbed Paris 2.0. He ran into plenty of people during his journey, but didn't stop to speak to any of them. Instead, he chose to play spectator. He watched elderly couples walk arm in arm with each other into flower shops, young kids (which pained his heart, but nevertheless, they looked happy) run around and chase each other, making the pigeons scatter and take off into the sky. There were street vendors 'selling' their wares, but really they were giving things away for free because apparently here, money wasn't an issue. Adam was grateful for this, because damn if he was going to try and get a nutella crepe from Paris 2.0 and not have the Euro to pay for it.
He sat down heavily on a nearby bench and ate his crepe, savoring the warmth and gooey feeling of the nutella in every bite. Yeah. This was Heaven, pun intended.
Since finding Paris 2.0, Adam's days in Heaven were filled with a lot more exploring. It turned out that every day, that one road led somewhere different each time, but no matter how long Adam spent in a new country or city or continent, the road would always lead right back to his house in Windom.
On several occasions, Kate went with him. She wasn't strong or powerful enough to wander on her own, but because of Adam's "special circumstances" they were able to travel out of Windom's boundaries as long as she was with Adam. They took a gondola ride in Venice together and had a lovely Italian meal on a bridge that jutted out across the water. They climbed the steps of the Parthenon and watched the sun go down, sitting side by side eating Ouzo cookies. They finally visited the Empire State Building like they'd always wanted to and, despite Kate's insistence that it was probably unhealthy to do so, Adam ate a few hot dogs and pretzels from the street vendors. Continental borders had no meaning, nor did the passing of time, nor did the distance between places. Everything was as close or as far as they wanted it to be; in short, the perfect distance. The perfect places. The perfect companions.
For once, Adam's mind was at peace. The puzzle pieces of his life that had once been rearranged and scattered were slowly slotting back into place and filling him with a kind of completeness he'd thought was lost to him. Step by step, he was healing and feeling better about where his life had taken him. It may not have gone in the direction he'd wanted at first, but he was here now and he might as well make the most of it.
There was a change in the atmosphere one morning as Adam sat at the foot of the staircase lacing up his Chucks. He couldn't quite put his finger on it or discern the way the air shifted, felt lighter, warmer, but all the same he felt more refreshed this morning than he had on any other. Where would he and Kate end up today? Only time would tell...except when Kate descended the stairs, she was still in her pajamas and bathrobe, her blonde hair a ruffled mess but her face bright with a smile.
"Uh, Mom? Shouldn't you be dressed or something?"
Kate's smile didn't even waver. "Actually, I was thinking today would be a good day for you to explore on your own again. You haven't done that in awhile."
Adam blinked. "Well, yeah. Because I like going with you."
Kate settled herself down on the steps next to Adam and brushed a wayward piece of blonde hair from his forehead. She leaned to kiss his temple and he sighed, closing his eyes in contentment. "And I'm glad that you don't think you're too old to hang out with your mom. But I'm still a little tired from yesterday anyway, hon. The Mayans built one too many steps to their temples." She chuckled good-naturedly. "You have fun wherever you end up, alright?"
And so it was that Adam found himself fifteen minutes later ambling down the street by himself, turning the familiar corner, and anticipating...anticipating what? He wasn't sure where he wanted the road to lead him this time. He didn't have any particular preference at the moment, and to be honest, he liked letting the path surprise him all the time. It did come as a surprise, then, when Adam rounded the corner and found himself surrounded by nothing.
Nothing. Everything was white – the ground beneath him, the spot where the sky should've been above him, the places where the trees once were...everything. Adam turned to look behind him and saw that the road in Windom was still there, but everything else had been colored out as though a kid went crazy with White-Out.
Adam made a motion to go back and try again – perhaps his and his mom's comings and goings had short-circuited Heaven's services – when he spotted a patch of color in the distance to his right. He squinted and was able to make out a park bench with a figure sitting there, hunched over and head bowed. Thoroughly creeped out by the presence of the single bench and broad-shouldered figure in the middle of all the nothingness, Adam blinked and stood there quietly, trying to survey if there was any immediate danger in approaching the stranger. It was only when the stranger picked his head up and Adam caught sight of the dark hair that his heart pushed against his chest and threatened to burst.
All thoughts of leaving the whitened landscape behind, Adam broke into a run that left his legs burning and his lungs on fire with the effort, but it was worth it when he shouted, "Michael!" and the figure turned in his seat. Blue eyes met green for the first time in what felt like decades, centuries even, and Adam nearly tripped over his own feet in his panicked sprint.
He hadn't expected to see Michael again, much less with that shocked and disappointed look on his face, a storm of anger brewing in the green of his eyes. Adam practically skidded to a halt in front of him; maybe this was an illusion. His Michael wouldn't look at him so crossly, not when this was their first time seeing each other in God knows how long...
Michael violently grabbed his shoulders and that's when Adam knew he was real. "What are you doing here?" Michael demanded.
There was nothing that indicated happiness on his face or in his eyes. This was a soldier of Heaven glaring at him, not the archangel Adam had grown to love. Adam nearly choked on his own fear and dismay. Had being in Heaven erased all of Michael's feelings for him, wiped him clean?
Michael tightened his grip on Adam's shoulders. "I asked you what you're doing here. You're supposed to be alive and fighting, Adam. Not dead and in Heaven. What did you do? What did you do?" Tears welled at the corners of his eyes and Adam realized what was going on.
"Michael – hey! Hey," Adam said calmly, bring his hands up to cup the former angel's face, forcing them to lock eyes. "I didn't die to get here, okay? Cas used his and Gabriel's mojo and he helped me Ascend up here. I fought Roman, okay? I fought him and I won. I won." He brushed his thumb over Michael's cheekbone and searched his face for some kind of understanding. "I didn't kill myself to be with you or anything, alright? I wouldn't have done that and left everything behind unfinished. I was done and tired and I came here to be with my mom."
Michael's anger slowly subsided and the creases in his forehead smoothed out, the gentleness Adam found so familiar returning to his eyes as he listened to him. "Y-You Ascended...?" He sounded perplexed.
Adam nodded and dropped his hands from Michael's face to his shoulders where he squeezed comfortingly. "I did. Cas had enough power in the end to do it. I've been here for...I don't know how long. But I found my mom and we've been living in our old house ever since I got here and—" His voice cracked as he swallowed and tried to go on. "And I've missed you and didn't think I'd see you again after everything...I didn't know if you'd be here because you were an archangel so I thought you'd be on some other plane of existence or something. And I'd almost given up on finding you but I needed you and will always need you and—"
Michael cut him off with soft familiar lips against Adam's, pressing gentle but firm as though he'd been waiting a lifetime for this. Adam's eyes closed as he clutched himself closer to Michael and the puzzle pieces of their bodies slotted together, finding home again. Michael's arms moved around Adam's waist and together they were able to remember how it felt to hold each other, feel each other's warmth, fit somewhere, belong to someone. It had been so long but the knowledge was always there, the familiarity and the longing always present, just tucked away to spare themselves the pain of never knowing when they'd see each other again. But it was here and now in the middle of the nothingness in between Heavens that they finally found each other.
Adam pulled back from Michael's lips breathlessly but kept his forehead pressed to the other man's, sighing into Michael's touch as his hands gently soothed Adam's back.
"I'm so proud of you," Michael sighed against Adam's lips as he bent for another shorter kiss. "And happy. And relieved. I've missed you so."
Adam let out a short, tearful laugh and pulled Michael in for a hug, pressing his face into the space between his neck and shoulder and breathing in his scent. "I've missed you too."
"I love you." It was only his second time saying it but for some reason the words sounded so familiar to Adam's ears, as though he knew all along how Michael felt about him.
Adam swallowed hard and sighed in contentment. "I love you too." He picked his head up to say something else when he noticed the outlines of trees and clouds filling themselves in around them, as though someone were holding a pencil and was sketching the world from scratch. In a moment of panic, Adam moved closer to Michael for protection. "Wh-what's going on?"
Michael chuckled and wrapped an arm around Adam's waist again, holding him close as they watched splashes of green and blue appear as the leaves colored themselves in and the sky painted over, the brown of the tree bark deepening and darkening to a lovely but surreal bronze hue. "I have been waiting in this landscape of white for...for I don't know how long, exactly. And I don't know for what I've been waiting. I suppose, in the end, it was you." He pressed a kiss to Adam's hair. "As much as this looks like a beautiful landscape, however, I believe it is high time we leave."
Adam furrowed his eyebrows. "You haven't left this place at all?"
"As I've said, I've been waiting...for you. I couldn't leave yet."
Adam smiled and nodded before walking backwards, his eyes never leaving Michael's, lips breaking into a full grin. "Well, I'm here now, and you can leave." He held out his hand. "Let's go."
Michael stared at Adam's outstretched hand and Adam hadn't realized until now how much he'd missed the trademark look of utter perplexity on his face. "Go where? Do you have any ideas?"
Adam pretended to think about it. "Well, I told my mom everything that's happened to me, about you and the Leviathans and the Winchesters. And based on her reactions to everything, I think she likes you." He shrugged one shoulder. "Wanna meet her?"
Michael hesitated before stepping and taking Adam's hand, confident that he would lead him in the right direction. "Let's."
They started to walk slowly as the greens, blues, and browns finished filling in around them and Adam looked around at the unfamiliar park in which they were standing. There was a comfortable silence between them before Adam asked, "Was it worth it?"
Michael blinked. "Was what worth it?"
Adam shrugged before indicating their surroundings. "Everything. Heaven. Losing your grace. Dying. All this."
"Loving you?" Michael smiled as Adam nodded. "Yes."
Kate had predictably taken to Michael so well that she invited him to stay in the guest room until the end of time, even though Michael insisted he could wander and find someplace else to sleep like he'd been doing since he arrived here. He didn't want to impose, but once Kate Milligan got a hold of you, you were as good as stuck.
Dinner conversation later that night revolved mostly around dialogue between Kate and Michael. She was so intrigued by his 'work' as an archangel (commanding Heaven, seeing the world a hundred times over, living through all of history), and likewise he was interested in how she grew up, what her life on Earth was like, what it was like raising Adam. She'd joked around that he was a handful as a child and Michael had teased right back that he was no different as a boyfriend, and the two of them had laughed about it like they were old friends while Adam sat and rolled his eyes good-naturedly. At least they were getting along.
Adam was quiet most of the dinner, which he didn't mind at all to be honest, but he had to jump in and protest when Kate started explaining what baby photos were to Michael, and asked the former archangel if he'd like to see any of Adam's. The embarrassed young man had to pull out dessert in order to break through the dangerous territory the conversation was taking. The last thing Adam needed was Michael looking through one of Kate's photo albums with his baby photos (some of which did include choice shots of Adam's naked bum).
It was well into the dusking hours when Michael, who'd been poking around the living room and flipping through the Milligan collection of CDs, noticed that Adam wasn't there. He went into the kitchen where Kate was clearing up dessert and asked where Adam had disappeared to and Kate merely pointed up.
"His room?" Michael clarified, but she grinned and shook her head and Michael knew: the roof, just like old times. Just like the last time Michael had been in this house, only back then it had been on Earth just before his demise.
He jogged up the staircase and headed into Adam's room, where the window was wide open and the green shades were flapping gently in the breeze. He looked out the window and saw Adam sitting on the roof, knees tucked up to his chin and a lingering smile on his face.
Normally Michael would shout out to him. But instead of yelling at him to get down, Michael decided that, this time, he would go up there and really see why Adam liked it so much.
There was no sixth time. Only peace.