AN: Prompt given to me by my roommate, who probably didn't expect this to get so long. I don't claim any ownership of Supernatural or its characters and I don't claim any knowledge of anything Navy Seal related. Also, two minor characters deaths, but their only mention is that they are dead. Nothing graphic.

"Are you coming to visit for the long weekend or not?"

Sam huffed. "Dean, I told you, I don't know. Probably not, with the way things are going."

"What things?"

"My thesis paper, Dean. You know, that huge paper I need to write if I want to get my degree? The one I still don't have a topic for?"

"Still? Geez, Sammy, I thought I was the procrastinator in this family."

"It's Sam. And I haven't been procrastinating, I've just been unsuccessful. Now, unless you have something constructive to say I'm going to hang up and go do homework."

Sam could hear Dean rolling his eyes on the other end of the line. "Alright, alright. Go do your thing, psych boy. Say hi to Jess for me."

"I will. Say hi to Castiel."

Sam hung up and proceeded to stare at his laptop for several minutes before flopping onto the couch with a groan.

"Still no luck with the paper topic, I take it?"

Sam looked up to see Jessica standing over him. He shook his head. "Nothing. I thought about doing something with Alzheimer's, but at least half of my class is doing that since there's an old folks home so close, and I thought about doing something with alcoholism, but…" He trailed off but Jess continued to look at him expectantly. "Well, it kind of hits too close to home because of my dad…" he finished lamely.

There had been a time when Jess would have known exactly why he didn't want to talk about alcoholism, would have nodded her understanding without him needing to explain. Lately there had been a gap growing between them that Sam couldn't find a reason for. They just weren't on the same wavelength any longer. Sam didn't know how to fix it, but hoped they could get their closeness back. He missed it.

"You'll find something," she reassured him. "How's your brother doing?"

"Same as always. He gushed about cars, griped about people who don't take care of their cars, and stammered a lot when I asked about his boyfriend. He says hi, by the way."

Jess smiled. "At least you can always count on him to be predictable, right?"

"Yeah, sure. Predictably annoying."

She laughed then, and convinced Sam he wasn't going to have any luck with his homework tonight and to just head to bed.

Shortly after lunch the next day, while Sam was between classes and Jess was at work, Sam's phone went off with the arrival of a text message.

Your paper, it's supposed to be a study of someone with a psychological disorder, right? - DW

Yeah, I'm supposed to interview them. Why? - SW

There was a wait of about fifteen minutes before Dean answered.

Castiel's brother has PTSD and lives about half an hour away from you. - DW

Now he actually had Sam's attention. Seriously? Would he be willing to talk to me? - SW

Cas already called him and he said he was willing if you wanted. I can give you his number. - DW

Yes, please. - SW

The number came through a minute later. His name's Gabriel. Cas says to warn you, he's a little weird. - DW

Sam thought Cas was a little weird - not necessarily in a bad way, but still weird - but figured it would be rude to say so when he was being so helpful, so he just told Dean to tell Cas thanks for him. It did beg the question if 'weird' meant 'even weirder than Castiel' or 'weird by Castiel's standards and therefore fairly normal'. Sam supposed he would see soon enough.

He called Gabriel as soon as he was done with classes and back in his apartment. It didn't occur to him until he heard the click of the phone being answered that he hadn't thought of a polite way to say 'I heard you're suffering from extreme emotional trauma, can I write a paper on you?' Too late now.

"Hello." The voice was much cheerier than Sam had been expecting, both because of the PTSD and because it was Castiel's brother. He'd figured the voice would probably be equally dry and gravelly.

"Um, hi. Is this Gabriel?"

"Depends. Are going to try to sell me something? Because I have an air horn."

That actually wasn't a half bad idea to get rid of telemarketers. Even if he was lying about the air horn, the threat might do the job by itself. "I'm Sam Winchester, Castiel said he called you…?"

"Ah, yeah. My baby brother's boyfriend's baby brother. Been a while, thought you weren't gonna call, kiddo."

"I was in class. But I, um… Well, I really need to know if I can interview you, because I'm sort of pushing it with this paper, so-"

"So you just want to jump right into it. I appreciate that. Well, kid, I can't promise I'll be much help, but the docs say I've got PTSD so I guess that makes me qualified to be a lab rat. You got something to write on? I'll tell you my address."

"That's not really necessary. I mean, I don't want to intrude on you anymore than I already am, we can do this over the phone or by email if that works better for you."

"Kid, I'm not getting psychoanalyzed over the phone. You want to study me? Get your ass over to my place."

Sam swallowed. This guy sure didn't act like he was related to Castiel. Of course, Sam conceded, he didn't really act like he was related to Dean. "Alright. Whatever works for you. When would you like me to come by?"

"I'm living off army pension and inheritance money, Sammy. Come by whenever you want. Just give me a call or send me a text first so I know not to shoot you when you get here."

Sam took the address down, told Gabriel he'd come by around three on Monday, and hung up. After a moment's thought he pulled out a blue spiral notebook to keep track of anything he needed to be sure to remember from his interviews with Gabriel and opened it to the first page.

Gabriel Novak

- Doesn't seem to believe that he has PTSD

- Sounds cheerful (sarcastic, snarky)

- Prefers talking in person over phone/computer

- Unemployed

- Possibly jumpy enough to shoot first, ask questions later

Sam looked at his list thoughtfully for a minute and then went to email his professor that he finally had a person to write the paper on. He had a feeling that interviewing Gabriel was going to be… an experience.

Jess had been glad to hear he finally had a topic, and wished Sam luck on Monday before he set off to meet Gabriel.

Sam's first thought when Gabriel opened the door was that the man was short. Second was that not only did Gabriel not behave like his brother he also didn't look like him. In addition to the shortness, Gabriel's hair was light brown instead of black, and his eyes were - well, it was cliché, but they were golden. As intense as Castiel's though.

Gabriel looked up at Sam, taking in his height, rolled his eyes, and took a bite of a Three Musketeers bar. "You Sam Winchester?"

Sam nodded. "Gabriel Novak?"

"That's me. Come on in." He stepped aside so Sam could walk through the doorway. "You aren't allergic to dogs, are you?"

Sam shook his head, despite facing Gabriel's back. "No, I love dogs."

"Good." Gabriel whistled and a little black and white dog that Sam thought was probably a terrier came running in, jumping into Gabriel's arms and then twisting to look curiously at Sam. "This is Fenrir." He held the dog so he was looking it in the eyes. "Could you eat? I could eat." He set Fenrir down and they both began to make their way to what Sam could only assume was the kitchen. "Come on, Sammy, we can talk while we eat."

Sam followed, scowling. "It's Sam."

Gabriel stopped dead and turned to look at Sam, a terrifyingly mischievous smile slowly forming. He said nothing, just resumed walking and Sam had a terrible, sinking feeling that he had just made a terrible mistake.

Sam didn't exactly go rooting around Gabriel's pantry, but a cursory glance around the kitchen revealed nothing that Sam would qualify as real food. Cake, cookies, brownies, and a ridiculous amount of whipped cream seemed to abound.

"Where do you want to start?" Gabriel asked, spraying whipped cream straight from the can into his mouth and giving Fenrir a cookie.

Sam pointed. "Isn't that bad for dogs?"

"They're dog cookies. Make 'em myself. Not half bad by human standards either, if you want one."

Sam wondered if that meant they were the healthiest thing in the kitchen. He pulled out his notebook and a pencil. "You don't mind if I take notes while we talk, do you?" he asked, belatedly realizing that it probably would have been best to ask before preparing to.

"Kid, you're gonna write a paper about me. Taking notes sounds like a pretty good idea."

Sam nodded and added 'enjoys junk food' to his list. "So, um… Let's start with the basics, huh? You were in the army?"

"Navy seal. Signed up fresh out of high school, served until I took some shrapnel to my right leg and a bullet to my shoulder. I can walk just fine now, but no prolonged running and no carrying heavy loads. Not to mention the whole PTSD thing the army shrink slapped me with."

"So, you don't think you have PTSD then?"

"Hells no. But the shrinks do, good enough for you, right?"

Sam nodded, although he doubted that the diagnosis had been wrong. It did mean Gabriel probably needed help, but the first step was admitting a problem and that was more than Sam was ready for at this point. Arguing with Gabriel about his mental state was someone else's job. "Yeah, good enough. And more interesting than Alzheimer's."

Gabriel laughed. "Kid, I know enough about Alzheimer's to write a paper about it, just from TV shows. Now, come on, what do you need?"

Sam stayed for about two hours, discovering that Gabriel was actually rather pleasant company despite his oddness and wondering how Gabriel was still in such good shape despite all the junk food. By the time he left the list had grown to include, among other things:

- Has a terrier (Fenrir), adopted two months after being discharged

- Two younger brothers, one younger sister, two older brothers

- Doesn't get along with older brothers

- Refuses to talk about circumstances of injury

- Reluctant to tell stories about his friends from the Navy Seals

- Talks a lot, but avoids answering questions

- Only visited the army psychologist for as long as he was forced to

He'd told Gabriel he had to go because his girlfriend was making dinner, but asked if he could come back later in the week. Gabriel had nodded and agreed with more enthusiasm than Sam had been expecting.

It wasn't until he was halfway home that it occurred to him that maybe Gabriel was willing to talk to him because he was lonely.

Gabriel opened his door just after two on Friday afternoon to reveal Sam standing there, notebook tucked under one arm. "You're early," Gabriel commented, perhaps needlessly, but it was the first thought that came to mind.

"Am I?" Sam checked his watch and looked back at Gabriel sheepishly. His expression was amusingly similar to the one Fenrir had when Gabriel caught him eating human food off the table. Not really guilty, but a little embarrassed about being caught and called out.

"I may have gone just a little over the speed limit to get here," Sam admitted.

Gabriel grinned and shot Sam a wink. "Just that eager to see me, sasquatch?"

Sam's face screwed up with annoyance. "Did my brother give you some sort of book called 'Nicknames Sam Winchester Finds Most Annoying'?"

Gabriel gestured for Sam to come in so he could shut the door before Fenrir made a break for freedom. "No, but if I called him up do you think he'd help me write one?"

"Please don't find out."

Which Gabriel chose to interpret as a resounding yes. He and Sam sat down on barstools at the kitchen counter and Gabriel helped himself to some of the cake he'd made the day before - chocolate with raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting. Sam looked like he expected it to bite him and politely declined a piece.

"So," Gabriel said before Sam had a chance to start in on his head shrinking, "if you weren't dying to see me again, why the rush on the freeway?"

"This is California. Everyone speeds."

"Gigantor, you won't eat chocolate chip cookies, you're so concerned about living past a hundred. I don't think you speed enough for it make a difference on travel time unless something's wrong."

"I eat chocolate chip cookies."

"Now you're avoiding the subject. Don't you psychology types have something to say about that?"

Sam huffed. "Is this revenge for trying to make you open up more on Monday?"

Kid was smart, Gabriel had to give him that. Not that he had to admit it out loud. "And the avoidance continues."

Sam rolled his eyes and Gabriel recognized it as the patented 'Little Brother Eye-Roll'.

"It's nothing. My girlfriend and I just got in an argument this morning and I was distracted. I speed when I'm distracted."

"What kind of argument?"

"What do you mean, what kind of argument?"

"Are we talking you're sleeping on the couch, she's moving in with her mother, or are we talking pick up roses and chocolates on the way home and all will be well?"

"Jess doesn't like roses. She thinks they're cliché and overrated."

"Oh boy. You got your work cut out for you. Why's she mad?"

"She's not mad, she just… She wanted to know where our relationship was going and what I was expecting from the future and what I wanted from her and I had no idea what she was talking about."

"So you left?"

"She told me to! She said she had work to do and wanted to be alone and that I should get out of her hair for a while and come talk to you again so I don't flunk out of college."

Gabriel laughed. "You have one hell of a firecracker there, huh, Sammy?"

Sam just glared at him. "May I remind you, we're here to talk about your personal life, not mine?"

Gabriel sighed. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Sam had attempted to apologize when he got home, despite still not being entirely certain he was in the wrong or even what they'd been fighting about, but Jess just wasn't having it. She changed the subject to dinner, to her coworkers, or to Sam's paper every time the conversation started to drift to 'look, Jess, about earlier…' until, eventually, Sam gave up and did his best to pretend the whole thing had never happened.

Dean called about two o' clock on Saturday to ask him how things were.

"Gabriel working out okay for your paper?"

"I'm going to have the best paper on unhealthy coping mechanisms and denial the world has ever seen," Sam told him, distracted from the conversation as he typed up the outline for said paper on his laptop. He wasn't really complaining; it wasn't what he'd been looking for but it still made for a valid and interesting paper.

"So… he's still not talking?"

"Dean, I'm not officially a psychologist yet, but I'm still not allowed to share information about my clients. It's unethical."

"I know that!"

"Then why are you asking?"

Dean paused on the other end before mumbling, "Cas was wondering if you thought he was doing okay."

Gabriel and Castiel were so incredibly different that Sam had nearly forgotten that they were brothers. Of course Cas would be worried, especially if he was aware of his brother's steadfast denial of there being anything to worry about.

"Tell him-" Sam had to think for a minute to find something he could say without lying or violating doctor-patient confidentiality but that would still reassure Castiel. "Tell him Gabriel's doing a lot better than I would have expected." Sam suspected this was because Gabriel refused to acknowledge his problems, and that sooner or later his world was going to come crashing around his ears because of it, but he wasn't going to say that to the man's brother.

"I'll tell him. Thanks. Are you still interviewing Gabriel?"

"I told him yesterday that I'm pretty sure I have everything I need, but he invited me over for dinner on Wednesday because I mentioned Jess was going out of town and he thinks I can't take care of myself."

"Is he cooking?"

"I guess so. Which makes me nervous. Tell Castiel that if he wants to worry about his brother he should worry about him having a heart attack before he hits thirty-five."

"Aw, does he not like Sammy's rabbit food?"

"Shut up."

Dean snorted and hung up while Sam went back to his paper.

Jess returned around four and Sam went to help her unload the groceries and to make sure there wasn't any tension left over from the day before.

"How was work?"

She shrugged. "The usual."

Sam waited, but there was no elaboration. "Um, well, are you excited to visit your sister on Wednesday?"

"I'm looking forward to it, yeah."

Sam tried a few more questions, but Jess let every attempt at conversation fall flat until Sam retreated to his computer, confused. She didn't seem mad, but she certainly wasn't happy either, and Sam didn't know what to make of it.

Jessica's strange not-quite-animosity continued all the way until she left Wednesday morning, giving Sam a kiss goodbye that felt more like habit than anything else.

He'd anticipated sitting around the apartment for most of the day, feeling antsy and upset, but his phone rang around nine with Gabriel on the other end.

"You want to come over early, gigantor? I'm bored out of my skull over here."

Sam agreed maybe just a little too quickly, but Gabriel simply laughed and said he'd see him in a little while.

Sam forcibly reminded himself not to speed so Gabriel didn't think he'd rushed over or anything, but the smile Gabriel gave him was mischievously teasing all the same. "Greetings, my giant friend."

"Hello to you too."

'Don't sound too enthusiastic, Sam. You might hurt yourself."

Sam rolled his eyes and followed Gabriel into the kitchen, where they were surrounded by the usual selections of junk food. Today's star, Gabriel proudly announced, was dark chocolate brownies with espresso, toasted walnuts, and salted caramel glaze. Sam stared at them for a minute and could feel his arteries clogging.

"What are you planning to feed me tonight?"

Gabriel shrugged. "I hadn't thought that far ahead. I figured I'd come up with something out of what I've got in the pantry."

Without asking permission Sam got up and took inventory. He was quickly led to the conclusion that the chances of him getting something that resembled a balanced meal were non-existent.

"Nope," he announced, shutting a cupboard door after seeing three bags of marshmallows and four bottles of chocolate syrup. "No way, we are going to the store and I'm going to make dinner."

Gabriel looked almost hurt. "Why?"

"Gabriel, your cupboards are walking advertisements for diabetes, you know that, right?"

He pouted and Sam spared a moment to appreciate how strange the look appeared on a grown man's face. "Fine, you can cook dinner." He perked up. "But while we're at the store I'm finding something to make for dessert. And you have to walk Fenrir with me."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "I'll walk the dog, but why do you need to get dessert stuff at the store? Don't you have more than enough?" He gestured to the brownies sitting next to them and the cupboards filled with sugar.

"I'm sure I'll find something I need and don't have. And the brownies won't last that long," Gabriel said, grabbing one and cramming it into his mouth. "See?"

"Don't talk with your mouth full."

"Who are you, my mother?" Gabriel swallowed and reached for another brownie.

Sam smacked the back of his hand. "No, thank god. You'd give your mother heart failure with all this junk."

"Good thing she's already dead then, huh?" Gabriel barely seemed to acknowledge what he was saying, happily continuing to stuff his face while Sam sat in shock.

He'd forgotten that the Novak's parents weren't exactly winning any prizes for parents of the year. Their mother had died years ago and their father was absent from the scene more often than not. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"

Gabriel waved him off. "Don't worry about it. Long time ago, I'm not bothered."

So it wasn't just war stories that Gabriel liked to pretend didn't bother him then. Sam wondered if it had started even before Gabriel enlisted, going all the way back to his childhood. Now that he thought about it, Castiel didn't like to talk about his past either. He'd actually say he didn't want to talk about it rather than talking around it the way Gabriel did, but denial was denial. And Sam knew it wasn't healthy. Castiel had Dean to talk to at least, who did Gabriel have? His social circle seemed to consist solely of his dog, and terriers weren't exactly known for their skill as psychologists.

There was internet recipe hunting for a while, Sam on his phone and Gabriel refusing to let Sam look at his computer screen and continuing to eat the brownies, managing to polish them off completely before it was time to walk the dog.

It was a quarter to one when Fenrir suddenly jumped up from where he had been sleeping on the couch, raced across the room, and leapt into Gabriel's lap from an impressive distance. Gabriel barely seemed to notice until Fenrir turned, put his paws on Gabriel's shoulders, and looked his owner in the eye.

"Is-Is this how he tells you it's time for his walk?" Sam asked, struggling not to laugh too hard.

"He's a dog who knows what he wants."

"I can see that."

Gabriel scooped the dog up under one arm, exited out of whatever potentially deadly recipe he'd been reading, and stood up. "Come on, you promised you'd walk him with me."

Sam stood up too and went to put his shoes on, laughing as Fenrir - who had been put down - showed Gabriel where the leash was kept.

"Shoes on, dog leashed…" Gabriel glanced around as if completing a mental checklist. "Alright, let's go."

He led Sam away from the apartment complex and to what Sam figured was probably considered a park by the city but was really just a big field with one picnic table off to the side and under a tree. Gabriel pulled a tennis ball out of his jacket pocket, showed it to Fenrir, unleashed him, and chucked the ball across the field.

Sam let out an impressed whistle. "Your dog can move."

"When he wants to. Give it a few more throws, he'll decide it's no longer worth it and take a nap."

"Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of a walk?"

"Ah, you are assuming the walk is for his benefit, rather than a way to get me out of the house for an hour or two. Fresh air is healthy, you know."

"I've heard that, yes."

Sure enough, by the fourth time Gabriel threw the ball, Fenrir chased after it only to lie down once he got there, having decided he'd had quite enough of that, thank you. Gabriel walked over, informed his dog he was lazy and did not know how to dog properly, and flopped down beside him. He patted the grass next to him. "Come on, Sam, it's a big field. Even a moose can lie down in it."

Sam looked down at him with a raised eyebrow. "Did you just call me a moose?"

"It's fitting. Now, lie down."

Sam rolled his eyes and gave in, mostly because he'd had enough experience with Gabriel now to know that if he refused Gabriel would just pull him down anyway. Several minutes of laying on the grass later, Sam realized it was officially the quietest Gabriel had ever been. He turned his head to see the older man staring up at the sky, one arm out-stretched and idly running his fingers through Fernrir's fur.

"You don't get moments like this in a warzone, you know," Gabriel said quietly, and Sam said nothing. This was the first time Gabriel had ever willingly brought up the war and Sam didn't want to make him shut down again. "Even quiet moments are awful during a war. They're worse even, because something could happen any minute, but then again, it might not. And you never know which. I always hated not knowing which." He looked over at Sam and forced a smile. "Sorry. Didn't mean to get all depressing on you."

"No," Sam told him quietly. "I don't mind. I'm willing to listen, if you want to talk."

Gabriel stared at him as though Sam had started speaking Russian halfway through his sentence, but then nodded, just once, gratefully.

And they stayed lying in the grass for another half hour before returning to Gabriel's apartment.

Gabriel rather enjoyed huffing at Sam as he bought ingredients, and then made dinner, all the way to the food being set down on the table, constantly bemoaning that he couldn't be expected to eat a Greek salad, because, hello, salad, and he was so used to candy and such, how did Sam expect his stomach to handle it?

To which Sam rolled his eyes and told Gabriel it was his own damn fault for not eating healthier all along and he should just stop the whining now. It had never helped Dean and it wasn't going to help Gabriel either.

"You make your big brother eat rabbit food?" Gabriel asked, mockingly horrified. "How horrendous."

Sam grinned at him, and Gabriel admitted that he'd gotten to the point where making Sam grin was one of his favorite things, because the man just seemed to light up every time he smiled.

"It's his own fault," Sam said defensively. "He was mostly in charge of doing the cooking when we were growing up and he always made sure I was getting enough vegetables and enough protein and everything. I don't think he expected me to embrace it so thoroughly."

"Most children don't. They become teenagers and rebel with cheeseburgers and Pronto Pups."

"Oh? Is that your excuse?"

"My excuse is that Michael eats nothing but salads whenever I see him and I find it pretentious."

"Castiel eats salad without complaining," Sam pointed out.

"Castiel is the forgiving sort."

"Who is he forgiving? Michael or the salad?"

"The salad. Cassie isn't that forgiving."

Sam almost choked to death on a cucumber, he laughed so abruptly. "Did you just call him Cassie?"

Gabriel smiled slyly. "What, he's never told you about that nickname?"

"He spent the first six months of his and Dean's friendship complaining about being called Cas!"

Gabriel snorted. "His best friend from kindergarten all through high school called him Cas and Cassie almost constantly."

Sam tilted his head the way Fenrir did when he didn't understand a command. "I don't think Cas has ever mentioned him."

"He wouldn't have. The two of them had some big fallout after graduation, I guess. I was overseas at the time, I don't know much. But Castiel refuses to mention him now."

Sam looked thoughtful as he chewed, and Gabriel decided it was time to change topics before Sam zeroed in on a new psych subject. "How's the paper writing?"

Sam shrugged one shoulder. "I think I'm almost done, thank God. I hate writing papers. I'm good at it, but it's boring as hell."

"And that, Sammy, is why I never attended college." Gabriel finished off his dinner and stood. "You done, gigantor? I'm starting dessert."

Sam swallowed, nodded, and stood up to help Gabriel with the dishes.

Between the baking of the coconut-almond chocolate chip cookies, the watching of Night of the Living Dead (the original, Gabriel was proud to say) while they waited for them to be done, the almost-burning of the first batch, the actual burning of the second batch, Gabriel's insistence that Sam not leave until all the cookies were gone and the ensuing argument over whether or not Fenrir could have the burnt ones, Sam didn't stumble back into his own apartment until just after one in the morning. He didn't even bother to undress, simply kicking off his shoes in the front hallway and collapsing face-first onto his bed.

He woke up the next morning at almost eleven; groggy and disoriented with a sharp pain in his neck and dim memories of a dream involving zombies riding unicycles. He padded into the kitchen, made himself some coffee, checked his phone to see if Jess had called - she hadn't - and had an argument with himself over whether or not he should skip his two o' clock Applied Statistics class, which was exactly as much fun as it sounded.

Jessica returned home at about eight that night, and didn't seem to be in the mood for talking. She unpacked her duffle bag before even saying hello, rolled her eyes at Sam for having eaten Chinese takeout for dinner, and even when she sat down next to him and started watching TV Sam felt as though they might as well have been in different rooms.

"Jess?" he ventured.

"Hmm?" It was the tone she used when she didn't want to talk, but Sam pretended not to notice.

"Is everything okay?"

"Why wouldn't it be?"

Not quite an answer. "You've just seemed really distant lately."

"Just been thinking."

"About what?"

"Why does it matter?" Jess was beginning to sound defensive.

"It matters because I feel like I barely know you anymore. We live together but we could be in different states with all the interaction we have. And every time I try to start a conversation, you shut me down."

"Sam, I'm trying to work some stuff out. I'm trying to decide what I want to do with my life, where I want to be in a year, or five, or ten. And whether or not I want you to be there."

"And you didn't think I deserved to be a part of that?" Sam wasn't sure if he was more angry or hurt.

"I need to figure out what I think, Sam. Before I start worrying about what you think. I'm sorry, but I need the space." She stood up. "I'm going to bed."

Sam watched her go, feeling as though he should call after her, but not knowing what he could say.

He sat in the living room, no light aside from the TV, a terrible soap opera being replaced by reality television, and then late night infomercials. He didn't know how to go to bed with such a huge chasm in between him and the woman he slept next to, and he wasn't tired anyway.

Midnight was fast approaching when Sam's cell phone rang.


"Sam? Are you awake, is it okay that I called this late? It can wait until tomorrow, sorry, I shouldn't have-"

The voice was so much more serious and upset than usual that it took Sam a minute to place it. "Gabriel? Are you okay, what's going on?"

"I-" Gabriel cut off and was quiet, but Sam didn't push. "Did you mean it, when you said you were willing to listen if I needed to talk?"

"Of course. Did something happen?"

Gabriel sighed. "You could say that. I'm sorry I called so late, maybe we can meet somewhere tomorrow when you aren't in class? I don't want to talk over the phone."

Sam glanced to the closed bedroom door. "We can meet now, if you want. I wasn't sleeping tonight anyway. Do you have a place in mind?"

"Do you know the Eight-Legged Horse? It's a bar not far from my place, I've been here for almost two hours."

That explained the weird slur as he talked. "I'll look it up and be there as soon as I can," Sam assured him before hanging up.

The bar was only a twenty minute drive and was almost empty when Sam got there, only four customers in the whole place. Gabriel was slumped over the bar, pouring his own drinks out of a bottle that had been left next to him on the counter. Sam took the seat beside him.


Gabriel looked up and it seemed to take him a moment to place Sam's face. "Oh. Hey. You came."

"I said I would."

"Yeah. But I wouldn't have blamed you if you didn't."

Sam wasn't sure how to respond to that. "What happened?"

Gabriel didn't answer for a long time, alternating between swishing his drink around in its glass and examining the bottle. "I got a call saying a friend of mine died."

"A Navy Seal friend?" Sam guessed.

Gabriel nodded. "Kali. She was good. She was the best. But… I guess she wasn't fast enough this time or something." He mimed a gun being fired and tapped the center of his forehead. "Bang and they're gone."

"I'm sorry."

"I wish they hadn't called me."

"But she was your friend."

"And I'd have been a hell of a lot happier continuing to think that she was perfectly fine. I wasn't planning on ever talking to her - to any of them - again. I didn't have to know!"

"You don't honestly thing that's a healthy thing to do, do you?"

"Fuck being healthy. It hurts like a bitch." Gabriel downed the contents of his glass and filled it up again.

"Right. Because you're clearly not in pain right now."

"Only because they called me. If they hadn't called me I'd be sound asleep right now, not a care in the world."

Sam snatched the glass away, ignoring Gabriel's sounds of protest. "Somehow, I doubt it's that simple. Now, come on, that's enough alcohol for one night. I'm taking you home."

"I can take myself home," Gabriel told him petulantly, standing up and promptly stumbling back into his chair.

"Of course you can. Come on." Sam made Gabriel throw some money onto the bar and pulled him out into the parking lot towards Sam's car. "Let's go."

Gabriel collapsed into the front seat, looking unhappy. "But what about my car?"

"I'll bring you to pick it up tomorrow."

"You're a jerk."

"Sometimes I wonder how I sleep at night."

Gabriel was mostly quiet for the drive to his home, except for the occasional grumbling about the giant talking moose that was bossing him around. Sam ignored him, but took note of the insults in case he wanted to use them for emotional blackmail later.

Fenrir seemed very upset when Sam and Gabriel came through the door, and when Sam tossed Gabriel onto the couch the dog made a point of jumping into the armchair instead.

"I think your dog's mad at you."

"He doesn't like missing out on sleep. I woke him up when I got the call."


Gabriel sighed and patted the couch. "Come sit next to me and tell me something happy."

"Like what?" Sam moved to join Gabriel as he spoke.

"I don't know, tell me about your girlfriend or something."

Sam winced. "How about something different?"

Gabriel wasn't drunk enough to miss that. "Did something happen?"

"I finally got her to talk to me. Apparently, she's been shutting me out so she can decide whether or not she wants to dump me." Sam realized belatedly that he sounded very bitter. "That came out harsher than I meant for it to. She wasn't that mean."

"Oh." Gabriel tilted his head backwards, appearing to try to look directly behind him without turning it. "I've got whiskey in the kitchen."

Sam hesitated, but something reckless in him decided whiskey sounded pretty good, so what the hell.

Sam woke up with blood pounding in his ears, squinting against the light coming in through the front window, and wishing Fenrir would quit pawing at his leg already.

"Go away," he told the dog, but even to his own ears the command lacked confidence.

"He wants to go out," Gabriel's voice said from above and behind him, sounding equally hung-over.

Sam craned his head to look at his friend and realized with a jolt that he was sitting on the floor, back against the couch, in between Gabriel's legs. His head had been in Gabriel's lap, which explained why his back and neck were aching. He got up in a hurry, ignoring the protest in his skull.

He stood in the middle of Gabriel's living room for a minute, staring at Gabriel wide-eyed, before Gabriel's eyes grew bigger too, the realization of how they'd been sitting hitting him too. He stood up. "I, uh, I'm going to take Fenrir out, okay?"

Sam nodded, trying to decide whether or not he should acknowledge that he'd fallen asleep in Gabriel's lap or if he should just ignore it and let them both file it away under 'Dumb Things Done While Drunk That Will Never Be Spoken Of Again'. He was leaning toward the latter and hoping Gabriel felt the same.

Sam ended up just standing awkwardly around the front room until Gabriel and Fenrir returned. "Do you have any aspirin?" he asked, rubbing his temples.

"Yeah, in the bathroom." Gabriel didn't look at him, and Sam wasn't sure if it was because he was busy putting Fenrir's leash back where it belonged or if it was because the other man also wasn't sure what to make of their sleeping arrangement.

Sam ventured into the bathroom, finally finding the aspirin in the cabinet behind the mirror. He shut the little door and checked the mirror, hoping to find that he didn't look as much like death as he felt.

He wasn't expecting to find his hair filled with ribbons, clips, and hair ties, almost all of it bound up in rather impressive tiny braids.

Someone snickered and Sam turned to see Gabriel lurking in the doorway, looking proud of himself.

"Did you do this to me?"

"I think so. I am very into beauty tips while drunk. I once woke up to discover I'd dyed four of my shirts a lovely shade of pink and given myself a haircut that involved an embarrassing amount of glitter."

Sam laughed, despite wanting to be a least a little irritated at Gabriel for getting him drunk and braiding his hair. "I wish I could have seen that."

"I'll reenact it for you sometime."

"I'm holding you to that, I hope you realize."

Gabriel grinned and pulled away from the door frame. "I'll make breakfast. Nothing cures a hangover like pancakes."

Sam dry-swallowed a couple of pills and followed him. "I hope you realize that unique doesn't equal effective."

Gabriel found a spatula and brandished it at Sam like a sword. "Are you insulting my pancakes?"

"I'm insulting you."

Gabriel staggered back dramatically, clutching at his heart. "Sam Winchester, how could you? I trusted you! With my soul!"

Sam snorted and rolled his eyes. "You know you're actually dorkier sober than drunk? Just make breakfast. I'm going to call Jess."

Gabriel let him go, but partway down the hallway Sam heard him call out, "My soul, Sam!"

Jess didn't sound concerned on the phone, but she thanked Sam for thinking to call, telling him she'd see him at home that night. He reentered the apartment, his head throbbing worse than before and his good mood flattened.

Gabriel looked up sympathetically. "Still not good, huh?"

Sam sighed and collapsed into a chair at the table. "I can't say I'm really surprised. The 'spark' went out a while ago, I really should have seen something like this coming. At least she realized this relationship isn't really all that great for either of us anymore."

"One of those things where you stay together out of convenience and habit?"

"I guess. I loved her so much when we started dating. I think I was holding onto that more than anything we have now."

Gabriel patted Sam on the shoulder and presented him with a plate of pancakes that were drowning in strawberry syrup. "It's strawberry, not maple. That makes it a little healthier, right?"

"That's not how it works and you know it." But Sam was appreciative all the same.

"Do you want to talk about Kali, now that you're sober?" Sam asked after they'd both been quietly eating for several minutes.

Gabriel went visibly rigid. "Not really." He took a swig of milk. "Don't you have class?"

Sam checked his watch and jumped up. "Shit." He hastily thanked Gabriel for breakfast and left in a hurry.

He was three-fourths of the way to campus and thinking that he actually wouldn't be late when his phone dinged with a text message.

As pretty as it is, I feel I should remind you that your hair is still braided with lots of pretty ribbons. Which I want back, by the way. - GN

Sam just managed to endure his classes without throwing up or his head caving in, and it only took him forty-five minutes to stop nervously running his hands through his hair, checking for any braids or accessories he might have missed. He really hoped Gabriel hadn't managed to secretly take a picture. He had no delusions of the man being above using such things for blackmail and Sam shuddered to think of what Dean would do if he ever caught a glimpse of it.

His phone rang on his way to his car after class. "Hello?"

"Hey there, sasquatch. How's the hangover?"

"I've had worse."

"Oh? Do tell. Did you get your hair done up all pretty then too?"

"Did you want something, Gabriel?" Sam had had worse, but all he really wanted right now was some painkillers and a dark room to lie down in. He enjoyed Gabriel's company, but the man was no cure for a headache.

"My car. You know, the one you made me leave at the bar last night?"

"… I forgot about that."

"I figured. Look, it's no big deal. I don't do a ton of driving, but I would like it back sooner rather than later."

Sam had reached his car and sat down in it, although he hadn't put the keys in the ignition yet. "Ugh. Can it wait until tomorrow?"

Sam could hear Gabriel pouting. "Alright, fine. But you have to walk Fenrir with me again to apologize. Be here by noon." He hung up, presumably to prevent Sam from arguing about it.

The bombshell was dropped at the end of the semester, the day after Sam had finished his last final and all the class-induced stress was finally gone. He'd called Dean, who said he'd come visit that weekend to help Sam celebrate, and then he'd called Gabriel to thank him, again, for the help with his paper and to invite him along when he went to celebrate with Dean and Castiel. So, for the first twenty-four hours, he had been in a pretty good mood.

"I'm joining the Peace Corps. I'm going to move in with my sister until I leave, and I'll have all my stuff out of here by tomorrow, so you don't have to worry about it."

There had a been a little conversation on each side of that declaration, but not much was left to be said for either of them. Sam felt as though he'd had his world knocked out from under him all the same. He didn't want to make her stay, knew it wouldn't be right and wouldn't make him happy, but she was a central part of his life. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do next.

He didn't want to talk to Jess, didn't think he could handle it if he had to watch as she packed up and walked away from him for good, so he went out driving. He wasn't paying attention, but he ended up at the Eight-Legged Horse and started knocking back shots, barely recognizing what he was drinking.

"Is there a word for backward déjà vu?" a voice asked somewhere around the time Sam lost track of how many drinks he'd had and started toeing the line between tipsy and drunk

Head feeling heavy, he forced himself to look up to see Gabriel, face equal parts worry and amusement. "I thought I was the one with the unhealthy coping mechanisms," the older man said.

"You do have unhealthy coping mechanisms. And denial. You have a lot of denial." Sam stared at his friend for a moment. 'And you're really short."

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Height is subjective, gigantor." He took a seat. "Now, what's up? You sounded fine when we talked yesterday. Now you're trying to murder your liver."

"Jess is leaving. I know I'm being stupid, it's not like it's a surprise, but…"

"But she was still your girlfriend for a long time. It's okay to be upset."

Sam stared at his drink, trying to figure out what it was and whether or not he wanted another one. "I thought I was gonna marry her."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Few years ago. Kinda glad I didn't."

"She just wasn't the one for you, Sam. Nothing wrong with that."

Sam sighed. "My apartment's gonna be really empty."

Gabriel hesitated, then ventured, "You can stay with me, if you need some time away from there. My place isn't great and you'd have to sleep on the couch, but I wouldn't mind the company."

Sam tried to smile, but felt like it was falling off his face. Keeping it up was exhausting. "Thanks. But Fenrir has to sleep in your room. He snores."

Gabriel snorted. "Yeah, I'm sure you sleep like an angel, don't you? What with your moose limbs and your ridiculous hair."

Sam patted his head self-consciously. "What's wrong with my hair?"

"There's too much of it." Gabriel looked at him thoughtfully. "I should braid it more often. You looked good with it all done up."

"I knew giving you back your ribbons was a bad idea." Sam went to take a drink only to discover that his glass was empty.

"You're not horrifically drunk yet, Sammy," Gabriel informed him when he looked up sadly, "and I'd sort of like to keep it that way."

"Fine." A thought occurred to him. "Why did you have all those clips and stuff anyway?"

Gabriel shrugged. "You never know when they might come in handy. I'm like a Boy Scout, always prepared."

Sam stared at him. "You were never a Boy Scout."

"I said I'm like a Boy Scout, not that I am a Boy Scout. What about you, Sammy? Ever a Boy Scout? You seem the type."

Sam frowned. "No. My dad wouldn't let me. My brother taught me how to tie knots and start fires and stuff though. And how to hotwire cars."

"A valuable skill. I don't think it's part of the Boy Scout curriculum, however."

Sam huffed. "Then they aren't as prepared as they think they are."

"Well said. You should write a letter."

"Maybe I will."

Gabriel stood up. "You want me to drive you home, Sam? Or to my place? I don't think you should be driving."

Sam blinked up at him and it took his brain a few moments to figure out why he had to look up to see Gabriel's face. "Don't you want a drink?"

"I'll live without one. Hell, it's probably best if I go without one, right? Unhealthy coping mechanisms and all."

"Oh." Sam squinted, trying to think. What are you coping with?"

"Stuff. Now do you want a ride or not?"

Sam nodded and stood up. "I can sleep on your couch?"

"Sure thing, sasquatch. I'll even let you steal painkillers in the morning if you need them. Now give me your keys, I took a cab here."

Sam handed them over. "Do you promise not to braid my hair?"



"I will give it my most valiant effort," Gabriel promised solemnly.

Sam was skeptical, but he wanted to go to bed now and arguing sounded exhausting. He settled for just giving a threat as they got in Sam's car, Gabriel slipping behind the wheel. "If I wake up with ribbons in my hair again, I'm bedazzling your dog."

"Harsh, Sammy. Harsh. Fenrir never did anything."

"Fenrir needs to learn that the world isn't fair. And damn right it's harsh. Don't touch my hair."

"No, not the hair. Never the hair." Gabriel had adopted a bad impression of a cockney accent and Sam was almost positive he was being mocked via movie references, although he wasn't coherent enough to be certain.

He smacked Gabriel's arm. "Don't be a jerk."

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Yes, sir. Now will you let me drive?"

Sam hadn't been quite drunk enough to be painfully hung-over the next morning, something he was immensely grateful for when he woke up on Gabriel's couch. In the absence of a headache or nausea, however, Sam felt emotionally exhausted, as though he'd cried himself to sleep the night before. He hadn't, he was almost positive.

"Well, good morning, sleeping beauty!" Gabriel greeted, coming in the door with Fenrir.

Sam checked the clock. "It's only nine. Not like I slept for a week. I'm actually amazed you're awake."

"Fenrir gets very upset if he wants to get up and I don't."

"Glad he slept with you then."

"And you should be grateful. He usually sleeps in my chair and he does not like being made to change his habits."

"I'm sorry, Fenrir," Sam told the little dog, tone edging on too serious. Gabriel noticed and just rolled his eyes.

Sam got up, used the bathroom, and padded into the kitchen where Gabriel was sticking frozen cinnamon rolls into the oven. "Thank you, by the way."

"For last night? No problem-o, gigantor. You helped me out when I was drunk, only right to return the favor."

"Well, I appreciate it. Are you willing to share breakfast?"

"No, you have to go scavenge for yourself. What kind of question is that?"

"The polite kind."

"Oh, I beg to differ. You see, I take that as you doubting my charitableness, which I find very offensive. It's rude to doubt the kindness of others, Sammy."

Sam was fighting to keep a straight face, feeling much lighter than he had when he first woke up. "I stand corrected. I'll keep that in mind."

"I would serve you well."

They spent the time waiting for the cinnamon rolls to be done talking about things that pointedly didn't involve Jessica in anyway. They discussed the upcoming night of drinking with their 'lovebird brothers' as Gabriel called them and about what Sam was going to do with his degree once he had his PhD and whether or not Gabriel was going to get a job and become a contributing member of society (the answer to that was a scoff and an eye roll).

"By the way, gigantor," Gabriel said as the oven timer went off and he got up to fetch breakfast, "I'm very disappointed in you." Sam tilted his head in confusion. "I made a wonderful Buffy reference last night and you did not react. It wasn't even disguised, I'm very upset with the entire ordeal."

Sam frowned, struggling to remember. "No, you didn't."

"Oh, I very much did. I even did an impression. You have no excuse for not at least realizing I was making a reference. Eat your cinnamon rolls."

"Oh, you made a reference alright. It just wasn't a Buffy one."

"Excuse me?"

"No, not the hair, never the hair?" Sam didn't bother attempting the accent. "That was in Angel, not Buffy."

Gabriel stared at him, slack-jawed. "Wow. Impressive."

"Uh-huh. Your Spike impression sucks, by the way."


"Learn to accept constructive criticism."

"There was nothing constructive about that criticism. That wasn't even criticism, it was an insult."

Sam grinned at him, all innocence, and ate his breakfast.

He called Dean to tell him about Jessica leaving for absolutely no other reason than to avoid awkward questions when they saw each other on Saturday. Dean had attempted to be supportive, somewhat failed, and sounded grateful when Sam said goodbye and hung up the phone.

Sam, Gabriel, Dean, and Castiel met up at eight o' clock Saturday night in a bar that was considerably more crowded than the one Gabriel was used to frequenting.

"How you doing, Sammy?" Dean said by way of greeting, clapping Sam on the shoulder before pulling him in for a bear hug.

Sam returned the hug, shook Castiel's hand, and the four of them found a booth to sit down in.

"So, you're Gabriel, huh? Nice to finally meet you." Dean said.

Gabriel gave his trademark shit-eating grin. "My baby brother been talking about me?"

"Oh, he's mentioned you, but mostly it's been my baby brother doing the talking." He kicked Sam's ankle under the table.

"Is that so?" Gabriel turned to look at Sam, eyes dancing.

Sam could feel his face growing hot and he hoped that his blush wasn't as outwardly obvious as it felt. Gabriel's smile implied that his hope was in vain. "No, that is not so. I've mentioned you when talking about my paper, that's all."

"Oh?" Dean said and Sam saw Cas roll his eyes in a long-suffering way. "You wrote about his dog in your paper?"

"That's his dog, not him. I talk about stranger's dogs. I'm a dog person."

"Right. All about the dog." Dean winked and picked up his beer.

Castiel, thankfully, changed the subject. "Gabriel, have you spoken to Michael recently?"

Gabriel scoffed. "Have you heard any declarations of war? No? Guess we haven't talked."

Castiel sighed. "I assumed as much. He still send me emails periodically, wanting to know how you are."

Gabriel gave his brother a sharp look. "What have you told him?"

"Nothing. I tell him I haven't seen you. Or I just ignore him."

It was Gabriel's turn to sigh. "Michael needs to learn to mind his own fucking business."

Dean clapped his hands together. "Okay! I'm going to go get some more beers, and then maybe we can steer this conversation to a slightly more cheerful subject?"

He left the booth and the three sitting men exchanged glances, wondering if any of them had another topic.

"So…" Sam ventured. "How's the photography business going?"

Castiel perked up. "Very well. I'm not sure what happened, some internet sensation, I'm sure, but my boss has been giving me much more interesting assignments recently."

"I keep telling him there's a promotion in his future," Dean said, beers in hand and a proud smile on his face.

Cas blushed lightly. "There's no reason to assume that."

"You just don't know how to be optimistic, do you?" Gabriel said, shaking his head, but he was laughing and there wasn't any bitterness in his voice.

They stayed at the bar until a little after midnight, when Dean and Cas began to get a little too touchy-feely for Sam's taste and he suggested they call it a night. Dean and Cas were in their car before Gabriel and Sam made it all the way to the parking lot.

"They're really quite disgusting, aren't they?" Gabriel said, laughing and looking in the direction their brothers had gone.

Sam shrugged. "I guess so. I don't know about Cas, but I think Dean's earned a little disgusting. It makes him happy. Good enough for me."

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. "That was very deep and mature, Sammy." He looked out into the night again. "I agree though. They deserve to be happy." He yawned. "Damn, I don't feel like driving forty-five minutes to get home. Why didn't we pick a bar closer to my place?"

"I'm so sorry we didn't plan my celebration around your commute time."

Gabriel sniffed. "You should be."

Sam rolled his eyes fondly. "You can crash at my place for the night."

Gabriel bit his lip. "I've got Fenrir at home…"

"You can't leave him alone for one night?"

Gabriel considered. "Well, he should be alright. As long as I don't stay late tomorrow."

"Sounds good to me. Go get your car, you can follow me."

The drive was short, but now that he wasn't talking to anyone or doing anything Sam was tired, glad when he could park his car and show Gabriel to his door. "Excuse the mess, I did just have a breakup."

"One you're handling very well, as far as I can see."

"Yeah, well. Like I said, I knew it was coming. We hadn't really been a couple for a while. It's weird, but not all that bad."

Gabriel nodded and let the subject drop. He yawned again. "Where is your couch, gigantor? Our brothers are exhausting company."

Sam snorted and pointed. "See you in the morning. I'll grab you a pillow and some blankets."

The digital clock on the nightstand read 4:15 AM when Sam started awake, unsure of what he'd heard, but knowing he'd heard something. He got out of bed slowly, listening, but the apartment seemed quiet. He stepped out of his bedroom, looking around.

Gabriel was sitting up on the couch, eyes screwed shut and one hand clamped over his mouth like he was trying not to scream.

"Gabriel?" Sam moved over to the couch, hovering a few feet away, unsure if Gabriel would appreciate the company.

The older man nearly jumped out of his skin, eyes flying open and a startled yelp escaping his mouth, only moderately muffled by his hand. "Oh. Sam." The hand dropped, but Gabriel's breathing seemed ragged and he was visibly shaking.

"What happened?" He almost asked if he was okay, but saw no reason to give Gabriel an opportunity to lie about it.

"Nothing." Of course, Gabriel found an opportunity anyway.

"Right. That looked like nothing." Sam sat down next to his friend. "Nightmare?" That was common for people with PTSD, after all. And easy enough to hide.

Gabriel said nothing, but the look on his face told Sam that his guess was almost certainly correct.

He patted Gabriel's knee. "Come on." He got up and headed for the kitchen. It took Gabriel a minute, but he eventually followed. Sam rummaged around his kitchen cabinets for a bit before finding the saucepan he'd been after. "Grab the milk out of the fridge for me, would you?" he asked, hunting for measuring cups.

Gabriel obeyed, looking confused. "What are you making at four in the morning?"

"Cure for nightmares. Dean used to make it for me, and I guess our mom used to make it for him."

"That's really sweet, but what is it?" Sam pulled away from a cupboard with cocoa powder in one hand. "Hot chocolate?" Gabriel guessed.

"Homemade on the stovetop hot chocolate," Sam clarified. "Best way to have it."

"If you say so."

Sam paused and raised an eyebrow. "You make homemade brownies, cake, and cookies, but you're never had homemade hot chocolate?"

Gabriel shrugged. "Never even really thought about it."

"In that case, prepare to be amazed."

The two of them were quiet as Sam made the hot chocolate, Gabriel tracing some undefined shape on the tabletop with his fingertips.

"And, ta-da!" Sam announced at last, setting a mug down in front of Gabriel.

The man took a cautious sip, then looked up at Sam. "That is pretty good."

Sam gave a disdainful snort. "It's better than pretty good and you know it. Now drink up." He poured some into another mug and took a drink himself.

They drank quietly, but Sam was watching Gabriel, hoping he'd want to talk about his nightmare. He thought it might help if Gabriel acknowledged his own problems every now and then.

"It wasn't a nightmare," Gabriel said at last.

"It wasn't?" Sam was skeptical.

Gabriel shook his head, hair flopping into his eyes. "Nightmares aren't real. That- that was real."

"A memory then?"

He nodded. "Yeah." A heavy sigh. "The day I got hurt. There was this kid in my unit. He must have signed up the second he turned eighteen."

"What was his name?"

"Garth. Friendliest guy I've ever met. You could insult this guy until you were blue in the face and he wouldn't ever get upset. Always said that everyone's got their reasons, that you never know why people are the way they are, so don't get mad at them for it."

"Sounds like he was one of a kind," Sam prompted when Gabriel fell silent.

"That's for sure. And now he's dead."

Sam had assumed that much. He reached across the table and gripped Gabriel's wrist tightly, just for a second, before pulling away. Gabriel smiled weakly.

"We shouldn't have had any trouble where we were. Garth was like a lot of new guys, wanting to do everything by the book, but Kali and I weren't worried, we were goofing off a little. Mostly me. And then-" Gabriel broke up and took a large gulp of hot chocolate. His hands were shaking.

"You got ambushed, didn't you?"

Gabriel nodded miserably. "If I'd been paying attention I'd have seen them coming, but I wasn't so I didn't. There weren't a lot of them, but there were only three of us. Gunfire, grenades, whole shebang. Kali got off with just a few scratches, I got shot and hit with shrapnel. And Garth was dead. Right in front of me." He snapped his finger. "Like that and he was gone."

Sam wanted to tell Gabriel it wasn't his fault, but knew no amount of hearing it would ever be enough to make Gabriel believe it.

"Wish I'd never signed up," Gabriel said, staring into his mug. "They advertise like it's gonna make you feel like a hero. That's what I wanted. But I'm not a hero. I'm an idiot who got a great guy killed." He looked up at Sam, eyes looking dead. "I really do need help, don't I, Sammy? I have these nightmares almost every night. They can help, can't they?"

"They can help."

Gabriel sighed. "Guess I should start hunting down headshrinkers tomorrow."

Sam felt as though he should feel a little guilty for thinking it after what happened with Jess, but the next six months were some of the best he could remember. Castiel had been offered a job with some big photography company and Dean had found a garage to buy in the same area and now the two of them were only a few hours away rather than a full day's drive. Jess had called once to apologize for how she'd acted before she left and to tell Sam about the Peace Corps. She sounded happy. Sam felt like his PhD was an actual, tangible goal rather than just an abstract idea like it had for so long. And, perhaps best of all, Gabriel seemed to be improving greatly.

Three weeks after Gabriel's nightmare at Sam's apartment had finally made him acknowledge he needed to talk to someone, the two of them had fallen into a system of dog-walking, dinner, and dessert at Gabriel's every Saturday. Gabriel had made a joke about them getting together for the Ds and it had turned Sam's ears red. Sam had always thought that growing up with Dean had given him a sort of immunity to embarrassment at inappropriate comments. Alas, it seemed not to be so.

Now, almost to Gabriel's door after six months of these days, Sam had finally come to terms with the fact that he wasn't embarrassed because Gabriel was worse than Dean, but because inappropriate comments were much worse when made by someone you wanted to do inappropriate things with.

And as much as he wanted to say it was just him being lonely after Jess and latching on to the nearest friendly face, he knew it wasn't. If that was the reasoning there were at least two guys and four girls who he should have tried with before Gabriel. And he had waited six months, which was supposed to be how long it took to be sure you weren't making a stupid and emotional spur-of-the-moment decision.

He knocked, despite Gabriel having informed him that he could just let himself in when he arrived. Inside, Fenrir began barking and Gabriel shouted to tell him to knock it off, he knew someone was there. The man opened the door with a grin.

"Gigantor! I told you you didn't have to knock. Door's not locked."

"Figured I'd get us off to a good start. I have something to talk to you about."

Gabriel's smile slipped off his face. "Something wrong?"

"No! No, no, nothing's wrong. Well, at least, I don't think so. I think it's all good. I mean, I don't think it's a bad thing, but you might, so I'm not-"

Gabriel slapped a hand over Sam's mouth. "I don't think I've ever heard you babble before, you know that? Come on, I'll grab Fenrir's leash and we can talk about it on his walk?"


They went to their usual field, which was empty, most people finding it to be too cool out to get any enjoyment out of walking through a large grassy area.

Gabriel threw the tennis ball. "What's up, Sam?"

"I, um…" Sam's entire ability to speak the English language seemed to have dried up.

Gabriel picked up the tennis ball and threw it again and then was very suddenly right in Sam's face. "What's the matter? I get you all tongue-tied?" His voice was only just barely above a whisper.

Sam gulped. "Something like that."

Gabriel smiled and turned away to pick the ball up again.

Sam took a deep breath, steeled his nerves, and lunged forward.

It wasn't even a kiss at first, just a clash of mouths, and then Gabriel made a startled noise in the back of his throat and started to respond. Sam brought his hands up to grip the back of Gabriel's neck and one of his shoulders. Fenrir yelped as the tennis ball dropped from Gabriel's hand and then there where hands on Sam's waist and he didn't care about anything at all.

"I think it'd be a good idea to take this slow," Sam said after dinner. He and Gabriel were curled up together on the couch, making fun of a campy old Batman film. He couldn't see Gabriel's face in their current position, but he made a disapproving whiny grumble in response.

"How come?"

Sam hesitated, mentally running through his argument again, hoping he wasn't about to just drive Gabriel away. "I just think it's better for the both of us. I mean, I've only been out of my very long-term relationship for a few months, and you…"

"I'm not terrifically mentally stable?" Gabriel's tone was stiff and Sam winced.

"You've had a bad time, that's all I'm saying. I don't want…" He searched around for the best way to phrase it. "I don't want us to look back a few months down the road and think that we jumped in too fast and screwed everything up for the both of us."

Gabriel huffed, squirming around so he could look Sam in the face. He stared at him, hard, for a minute, just long enough for Sam to start to fidget uncomfortably, then said, "Well, all right then. But I'm warning you, gigantor, if your resolve starts weakening I am going to be all over you faster than Fenrir goes after hot dogs." He punctuated his statement with a firm kiss.

Sam spluttered a little, and Gabriel grinned at him as he trotted into the kitchen to start dessert. "And fair warning, Sammy, I am a terrible tease."

Sam found out very quickly that Gabriel hadn't been kidding about the teasing. His schedule was too full for them to see each other much more than their usual Saturdays, but Gabriel knew how to make the most of his time. He didn't do anything obvious, nothing that would make Sam berate him and remind him that they were taking this slow, just little touches.

He'd brush up against Sam in the kitchen, just close enough to make the taller man jump. Touches would linger just a smidge longer than necessary, kisses border on the edge of too hot and heavy. He started squirming around a lot while they cuddled during movies.

Within a month Sam was certain he was going to go out of his mind and was wondering whether or not he could ethically move this along a little more. Gabriel didn't seem to need the space, after all. Of course, he always reminded himself, until he had that nightmare Gabriel hadn't really seemed to need help of any sort to the average outside eye.

But the fact remained that Sam was beginning to have dreams that caused him to wake up sweaty and panting and he really desperately needed to get laid and his boyfriend would be more than happy to help him out.

Gabriel was eating a lollipop when Sam arrived on purpose and no one would ever be able to convince Sam otherwise.

"Hey there, gorgeous. How's things?" His voice was entirely too innocent and there were bedroom eyes to go along with his tongue flicking in and out.

Sam had every intention of shrugging his shoulders and saying something along the lines of 'things are great, classes are going well' but when he opened his mouth what came out was "You're a fucking bastard, Gabriel."

Gabriel just smiled around the sucker before pulling it out of his mouth with an obscene pop. "Alas, no, Sammy. I may be a bastard, I'll admit that, but I am not fucking. With anyone. At all. Because my beautiful, loving boyfriend doesn't want me to be."

Sam made a noise he'd never suspected himself capable of making, and lunged forward, pushing Gabriel up against the wall. He'd suspected it had been Gabriel trying to get a rise out of him, and the pleased noise that came out of his boyfriend's throat only confirmed it. He was past the point of caring though.

They stayed there, in Gabriel's hallway, Gabriel pressed up against the wall, hands reaching up to tangle into Sam's long hair, until they were forced to break apart, gasping for breath, faces flush.



If they'd gone straight to the bedroom then they just might have made it, but they didn't. They stopped every few feet to push each other up against whatever wall was most immediately available. Sam could feel a hickey forming on his throat and both of their lips were swollen and redder than usual.

They were almost to the bedroom door when the doorbell rang.

Gabriel pulled back, his hands loosening their grip on Sam's shirt and allowing Sam to peel himself off the wall a little bit. "Should I answer it?"

The bell rang again and Fenrir woke up from his place on the couch and began to bark at it.

Sam groaned. "I don't think they're going to leave if you don't."

Gabriel huffed, pulling away. "They'd leave eventually."

"Too late. I think the mood is dead."

"I could get it back. Trust me." Gabriel sounded ready to kill something.

Sam bent down to kiss his collarbone. "Go answer the door." The bell rang again in agreement.

Unappeased by the kiss, Gabriel nearly ripped the door off its hinges when he opened it. His little brother was standing there, not looking in the least bit apologetic. Perhaps he hadn't noticed Gabriel's expression yet.

"Hello, Gabriel," Castiel greeted. He looked past his brother down the hall. "Hello, Sam."

"Castiel." He hoped it wasn't obvious that Cas had interrupted them, he felt plenty uncomfortable enough when he knew he'd interrupted Cas and Dean. Gabriel probably wanted Cas to know though. They were that sort of family.

"What do you want?" Gabriel asked, and it sounded harsh enough that Sam winced on Castiel's behalf.

Castiel tipped his head to the side. "You told me to come by and pick up the books I left here the last time I stayed over."

Gabriel walked away, presumably in search of the books in question. "I sort of thought you'd call first, you know. Make sure I knew you were coming."

"Were you busy?" Castiel asked, and Sam thought his tone was suspiciously innocent.

Gabriel returned with an armful of books and pushed them into Castiel's arms. "Nope. Not busy at all. Here's your books, see you around."

"Wait!" Cas cried as his brother pushed him out the door. "Dean and I wanted to know if the two of you wanted to join us for lunch?"

Gabriel's shoulders slumped a little and he looked back at Sam. "Well, sasquatch? You want to have lunch with our brothers?"

Sam grabbed his jacket. "Sure."

Gabriel pouted at him, betrayal in his eyes. Sam leaned in to kiss him, then moved to whisper in his ear, not caring if Castiel noticed. "I'll make it up to you when we get back. I know how you eat, you'll have to work it off somehow."

Gabriel's eyes went huge. Sam had never seen him get out his own front door so quickly. He chuckled to himself and followed, Castiel trailing behind in confusion.