This is my NaNoWriMo project. It's primarily Destiel/Sabriel with a few other pairings thrown in, but all are very slow-build. It will be 25 chapters long with my final word count goal being 60,000. It will be finished by the end of November with a new update coming every day or two, so stay tuned! It will also probably be the only fic I update this month becauseof NaNoWriMo.

Please give me some feedback! I'd like to know what you think!

Celestial City, 2016.

In the front of Our Lady the Defender cathedral, a casket sat, closed and lonely, on the first step of the altar. A four-year-old boy with green eyes and sandy-blond hair sat next to his father and baby brother in the first pew. None of the three were crying, although they had every right to. The man and his older son were both still in shock. The baby, for some unfathomable but merciful reason, was asleep. John Winchester put his arm around his older son and pulled him close.

He more sensed than heard footsteps approaching from behind and turned to see a young-looking man heading up the aisle toward him. His suit looked smart and tasteful, just a shade lighter than black and perfectly pressed. He had glasses, a rather scruffy-looking beard, and a friendly sort of face. He was also only about five-foot-seven to John's five-foot-eleven. He wasn't sure why, but his first reaction was to trust this man. He stood up immediately.

"John Winchester, correct?"

"Yes, that's me. And you are…?"

"Chuck Milligan." He shook John's hand quickly. "It's nice to meet you. I'm sorry it had to happen under such unfortunate circumstances." Milligan glanced at the casket. "I'm very sorry for your loss. My condolences."

"Thank you, Mr. Milligan."

"Please, just call me Chuck. I hate being formal unless it's absolutely necessary."

John nodded in acknowledgement. He couldn't help wondering what Chuck wanted, as nice as he seemed.

"Your son?" Chuck asked with a glance toward the four-year-old. He had turned around, his knees still on the seat of the pew, and was peering over the back toward the stranger his dad was talking to. His eyes fixed on a point near the other man's knees.

"Yes, this is Dean. And my other son, Sammy, is sleeping right now."

Chuck cocked his head slightly and nodded when he saw the baby carrier. "This is my youngest, Castiel," he said, indicating a tiny figure that John had just noticed hovering right behind his father. He must have been only about a year and a half old with wide blue eyes and a mop of dark hair. He also wore a miniature version of the suit Chuck was wearing, down to the shoes. His eyes seemed to be locked right on Dean, not that John or Chuck noticed. "It's tough, raising them by yourself," Chuck added with another glance toward the casket.

John swallowed and nodded. "You know the feeling, then?"

"Absolutely. My wife died four years ago."

John looked back down at Castiel curiously. Chuck caught the unspoken question. "Castiel is adopted. So is Raphael. But my other three aren't."

John's eyes widened. "Five? That is definitely a challenge."

Chuck nodded, half-smiling. "Michael, my oldest, is seven. It's been difficult, but I think it'll be worth it." He reached down and gently ruffled Castiel's hair, causing the small boy to look up at his father with a brief flash of curiosity. "If you don't mind me asking, John, how did it happen?"

John's hand, which had been resting on the back of the pew, clenched up. "It was a fire. It… it actually started in the nursery." He let out a long, shaky breath. Dean looked at his father, wondering why adults talked about stuff that made them upset. He knew better than to ask, though. Things had been very strange since the moment Daddy put Sammy in his arms and told him to run outside.

He understood, in some small way, the concept of his mother being dead. He knew by now that she wasn't coming home ever and that all the things that had filled his days with happiness were gone. He wondered if Sammy would be able to remember what she looked like or anything else about her. He heard his father in his bedroom crying the night before and realized he'd never heard his father cry before. It made him cry, too. He'd wanted to sneak into Sammy's room and hold him, but he figured his father wouldn't be too happy, especially if he accidentally woke up Sammy. Still, something about this all seemed wrong.

"Well, thank God your boys are alright," Chuck said quietly. "I'd be lost if anything happened to my children."

"How did your wife…?" John couldn't help feeling a little bit curious, and since Chuck had asked about Mary, he felt it was only fair to ask the same of him.


It was then that John caught sight of movement over Chuck's shoulder. In the rear of the cathedral were four other little boys and another man, all in suits. The youngest-looking one, the one with long, golden hair, looked to be about four years old. He had what appeared to be a sucker in his mouth. "I'm sorry. How do you manage?"

"I have help. Some close family friends have always stood by me. All in all, I'm blessed." Chuck seemed to square his shoulders. "And that's actually why I'm here. To offer you help. If there's anything you need, anything at all, my door is always open. One father to another." Chuck produced a card from seemingly nowhere and handed it to John.

"I-I don't understand. We're complete strangers. Why would—?"

"Like I said. One father to another. Everyone needs a little help sometimes. And even if you never ask, consider knowing it's available as a means of reassurance. Dark things happen, John. But sometimes good things happen, too." Chuck gave him a smile and turned around, heading back toward the rest of his family. Without a word from his father, Castiel trailed after him, glancing back at Dean only once.

Dean looked up at his father. "Daddy, who was that?"

"I'm not sure, Dean." John swallowed hard. But let's hope we never have to see him again. John wasn't an idiot. He knew nothing came for free. The strange thing was, he just couldn't figure out Chuck's price.

The boys were well-behaved enough to know not to mess around in a church. It would be the ultimate form of disrespect and if there was one thing their father did not tolerate, it was disrespect.

Luce, of course, had learned that the hard way. Enough snide comments to Raphael about being adopted (spewing the word like venom that no six-year-old should possess) had sent the younger boy crying to Daddy on more than one occasion. Chuck didn't yell often, but when he did, it was truly frightening. Ever since then, he learned to keep his overtly rude commentary to himself, but he still wasn't above making a sly, offhand remark every now and then. Whenever Chuck happened to hear, he would fix his son with a stern look and say, "Lucifer," in the warning tone that only a parent could perfect, and Luce would quickly babble an apology and hide for an hour.

Castiel never received such treatment from Luce, and Chuck could never quite figure that out. Maybe it was because the older boy had some vague understanding that Castiel wouldn't be hurt by such words just yet, but Chuck had a feeling his time was coming, and it was the same with Gabriel. It wouldn't be too much longer before he asked the inevitable question, "Why don't we have a mom?" And Luce, if he was present, would probably answer with something like, "Because you killed her."

And that was a mess, too. If Michael or Raphael blamed Gabriel for their mother's death, they never verbalized it. To be fair, Luce hadn't, either. But if anyone was going to say something that callous to the boy, it would be Luce. He was definitely the problem child of the bunch.

But there were times when he could be incredibly sweet, too. It was almost eerie, how Luce could go from being mean to comforting in about three seconds. Chuck never knew what to make of it, but when the good moments came, he enjoyed them. He tried to reinforce them as much as possible, hoping one day, Luce might understand that this behavior was preferable. He still had hope. He believed all of his children were inherently good.

Gabriel was slumped against the back of the pew in front of him, arms draped over the wood with a lollipop in his mouth. He idly toed at the kneeler he stood on, a look of pure boredom on his face. Daddy was taking forever up there. He didn't see why they'd had to come along with him for this. He sighed lightly. Finally, he rolled his head to the side to take in his three older brothers.

Michael, their father's little pet, was sitting benignly on the pew just a few feet away, hands folded in his lap. As the oldest, he felt it was his job to set the example for his younger brothers, a job he took very seriously. And Raphael, who always ran to Michael when their father wasn't around, emulated his example perfectly. He sat on Michael's right, sneaking quick peeks at him and making sure he was sitting exactly as Michael was.

Luce, on the other hand, was sitting in the same row as them but across the aisle. Actually, he wasn't so much sitting as laying, his whole body against the seat with his arms cradling his head. He looked utterly relaxed and may have even been sleeping if his blue eyes hadn't been wide open, staring at the cathedral lights and stained-glass windows. Of course, Joshua noticed almost immediately and crossed the aisle to lightly smack the top of Luce's head.

"Ow! What?" Luce snapped as well as he could in a near-whisper. He clutched his head, looking annoyed.

"Sit up straight, boy," Joshua commanded. "You're in a church. Have a little dignity."

Telling a six-year-old to have a little dignity probably wasn't the best way to get the job done, but Luce knew that if he disobeyed Joshua, there would be Hell to pay from his father later. He rolled to a sitting position, tucked his feet under his butt, and crossed his arms, giving Joshua a look of loathing but not saying anything.

Joshua must have deemed Luce's new posture acceptable because he walked back over to the other three and hovered behind them. He scanned Raphael, Michael, and Gabriel, and sighed. Gabriel was apparently going to give him problems today, too. Joshua tapped the four-year-old's shoulder and when Gabriel turned around, the boys' caretaker jerked his thumb over his shoulder. The boy instantly understood and reluctantly slid his tiny body onto the seat. Satisfied, Joshua backed up to the wall and waited. Gabriel lightly kicked at the kneeler.

After an agonizing wait, there was a flash of movement from the front. All four boys suddenly straightened up as their father returned with their youngest brother in tow. Chuck went right to Joshua and they exchanged a few words, far too quietly for any of the boys to make out. Then he turned to his sons. "Alright, children. It's time to go."

Gabriel immediately hopped off his seat and pushed past Michael and Raphael. Luce unfolded himself and gingerly straightened up, realizing now that sitting on his feet had been a bad idea; his legs had fallen asleep. Raphael waited for Michael to stand up and exit the pew before following him.

As soon as the boys were assembled, Chuck picked up Castiel and balanced him carefully on his hip. The toddler wrapped his arms around Chuck's neck and cuddled closer to his father. Chuck looked over his sons one more time and led them out to where the limousine was waiting.

John Winchester held out for close to a year. A year of drinking, a year of seeing whatever respect his older son may have had for him draining out of his eyes, a year of missing Sammy's first words, Sammy's first steps, Sammy's first teeth. Missouri had been a huge help in caring for the boys while he was holed up in some bar or another, refusing to accept payment after John finally lost his job. He felt guilty for that and ended up drinking even more.

And all the while, he kept remembering Chuck Milligan's offer. "If there's anything you need, anything at all, my door is always open. One father to another." It bounced around in his head whether he was drunk or sober, and even when he tried to forget, even after ten and a half months, he still knew exactly where Chuck Milligan's business card was. Finally, he gave in, if only to shut that voice up.

He isn't going to help a drunk, he told himself, and that was enough reason for him to dig up the card and dial Chuck's number.

He picked up on the second ring. "Chuck Milligan."

John could barely muster his voice. He couldn't believe he was about to do this. He was a Marine, after all, and Marines could take care of their own. But right now, he was actually feeling like the statement "There are no ex-Marines" was a lie, and that he was living proof of that. "He-hello. This is, uh, this is John Winchester. You probably don't rem—"

"Ah, John! How are you?"

This was unexpected. "I've been better."

"I'm sorry to hear that. How are Dean and Sammy?"

Apparently, Chuck did remember them. "They're fine."

"Dean's almost six now, isn't he?"

"In January. Sammy will be eighteen months in November."

"It's certainly been awhile, hasn't it? I actually expected your call awhile ago, but better late than never, right?" Chuck gave a short laugh that sounded genuine. "What can I do for you?"

Now came the hard part. "I… I lost my job."

Chuck let out a low whistle. "That's rough. How long ago?"

"About a month and a half."

"Laid off?"

It would be so easy to lie, to say that the business had been downsized, that he was just a victim of circumstance. But somewhere deep down, John knew that lying about something like that was asking for trouble. "No. I, um… I showed up drunk one too many times."

Chuck was silent for a few moments. "I can help you, John. I can find you another job. But you have to promise me that, if I do this for you, you won't be fired for your drinking. For yourself and for your boys, you need to keep this job, okay?"

John swallowed. "I can do that."

"Okay." Chuck was quiet again, and John wondered if he should say something. But then Chuck started speaking. "What was it that you were doing?"

"I was an auto mechanic."

"Did you like it?"

"Excuse me?"

"Would you want another job as a mechanic?"

"Ideally, yes, but I'll take whatever's available."

John could almost visualize Chuck nodding. "Aside from your drinking, how was your work performance?"

"I was an excellent mechanic." That was definitely the truth. His boss had actually expressed regret in losing John, but had decided that she couldn't afford another drunk working for her, even one as talented as him.

"Alright. Give me a week, and I'll call you back. What's the best number to reach you?"

John gave him his phone number and hung up, feeling stunned.

A week later, there was a knock on his door. When John answered, Chuck was standing there with a smile on his face and two men in suits who must have been over six feet tall behind him. Chuck was also wearing a suit, but without a tie and with his dress shirt unbuttoned at the top. "John!" he said brightly, his glasses catching the light. "I've got good news! There's a job waiting for you." He handed him a business card. "Be at that address tomorrow morning at seven. They'll be expecting you." He glanced down and, smile widening, tugged up the legs of his trousers to allow him enough slack to crouch down. "Good afternoon, Dean. You've certainly changed since I saw you last."

Dean, who had been hiding behind his father, looked from John to Chuck in mild confusion but more curiosity. "Hello," he said slowly. "You have a job for my dad?"

"Yes. I'm only here to help. Your dad wants to do what's best for your brother and you." Chuck seemed to read Dean's face for a few long moments. "You'll do what's best for your family, too, won't you?"

Dean nodded. "Yeah. It's my job to protect Sammy."

Chuck smiled. "And I'm sure you're doing a wonderful job. And I'm sure you'll keep doing a wonderful job." He affectionately ruffled Dean's hair before straightening back up and addressing the elder Winchester again. "Good luck, John. I have complete faith in you." He shook his hand, still smiling faintly. "I'll be in touch." He turned and passed between his bodyguards, leading them away from the house and toward a sleek black limousine. One of the guards held the door open for him and he slid in, and the other followed. The first slammed the door, went to the driver's seat, and got in.

"I'll be in touch." The words didn't sit well with John. He was grateful for the job, but again, he couldn't help wondering about the price he'd have to pay.

Like it? Hate it? I know it's a bit different, but I'm setting up the main conflict and I'm really starting to love Chuck, so he's going to get a lot of word time.

And yes, this chapter is supposed to be set in 2016.