blue_bells: BY <lj user="chosenfire28"> (Supernatural :: Somewhere to Begin - dar)
[personal profile] blue_bells
» Title: Somewhere to Begin - Part VII (MASTERPOST)
» Author: [profile] _bluebells
» Artist: [personal profile] chosenfire28
» Beta: [personal profile] ladyknightanka, [personal profile] mishaphappens
» Pairing(s)/Character(s): Michael/Adam, Dean/Castiel, Lucifer/Sam/Gabriel, Raphael/Balthazar, Bobby and others
» Warnings: NC-17/R for violence, torture, gore, dub-con, angelcest, language, alcohol, and character death
» Spoilers: All seasons, AU from Season 5 finale
» Summary: Adam Milligan was just another casualty of the engine of the apocalypse. After Michael breaks them out of the Cage, Adam is accidentally thrown into the future where peace has finally settled by strange circumstances. With his memories sealed to protect his sanity, Adam learns the censored, Apocalypse-free version of the life he's forged with a suite of archangels, a crabby adopted Uncle, and brothers he never knew he had, but this has all happened before and will happen again.

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Dean thinks he needs to get back into the habit of wearing a watch.

He feels like he’s been walking for hours. It can’t be hours. His palms are sweating and his shirt sticks to his back. He can count it’s been one-hundred-and-seventy-eight corners and a surprise courtyard with fountain effects since he’s seen another living being.

He doesn’t consciously believe that he’s looking for Castiel, but every time he rounds the bend he looks for the first sign of a pale trench coat or that dark head of hair tilted in curiosity.

Dean doesn’t want to see another fucking garden hedge for as long as he lives. He tried climbing their height, but found that although they resisted every attempt to be ploughed through, they would completely bend under his weight and the pull of his hands.

Great design, Gabe, thanks.

Dean is starving. It’s making him light-headed and just weak enough to sway and grab for the nearest hedge when he takes the turns too quickly. He hasn’t seen any of the marks he slashed into the ground to mark his way, unless he accidentally doubled back and he’s beginning to think that this labyrinth will go on forever.

You’ve all lost something, Gabriel had said.

It was nice of Cas to come and help Dean in the search, but it wasn’t going to do him any good if he couldn’t find the angel again.

He finally sinks to his knees at an intersection of three paths and leans his hands on his thighs, his stomach knotting tight with hunger.

“Cut me some slack, Gabriel,” Dean groans and forces himself to raise his head, looking between his options. Every path looked the same. His lip curls, anger rising with the unique frustration of staggering around on an empty stomach when he knew Bobby had made the special effort of bacon and eggs – this was Bobby over a stove, it was worth taking a picture – for all of them that morning.

And then Michael had gone his own way, the bastard.

“Michael!” Dean shouts. He twists around, but nothing stirs on any of the paths. “Gabriel! C’mon, Cas, I’m right here!”

He sits back on his haunches, defeated, when he’s answered only by the thunder of his own heartbeat in his ears.

“I’m right here.” He sighs and shakes his head. Sweat trickles down the back of his neck and he winces, palming the bead away. He feels jittery and thinks he’s getting weak if lack of food was affecting him so soon, but then he reminds himself that he doesn’t have any measure of time here.

He groans and lets his head hang back. He was so damn hungry.

“Where’s Freddie and his hedge trimmers when you need him?” He grumbles and forces himself back to his feet.

When he got his hands on Gabriel, he was going to wring his neck. Nobody kept Dean Winchester from his bacon and eggs when they were so fresh that Dean could point to the exact farm they’d come from. Well, he could, if he wasn’t blinded by this green labyrinth.

Dean’s so busy studying the likeliest choice for his next venture that he almost misses the angel that walks past right behind him.

Dean nearly gives himself whiplash when he catches the smear of cream-coloured material in his periphery.

“Cas!” He bolts after the angel with a head start on him.

Every motion of Castiel’s is deliberated, he steps with intent, and Dean sees he’s still scanning the lines of the path, the leaves of the hedges and Dean is just so stupidly grateful that Cas hadn’t given up on him yet.

He swallows his gratitude when he sees the other angel who appears at the bend to meet Castiel.

“Ah, there you are!” Balthazar hesitates and regards his brother cautiously.

“Balthazar… what are you doing here? Who’s watching—“

Balthazar cuts him off with a frown of impatience.

“I heard a rather disturbing thing, Cassie. A rumour that puts me in a lot of trouble, if it’s true.”

Castiel’s expression turns superior and he looks the other angel over from head to toe.

“Yes. I know.”

Balthazar blinks, straightening in surprise.

“It is? You knew and you didn’t tell me? Why did I have to learn this sort of news—“

“I’ve known for days, Balthazar. Why you didn’t notice yourself is the fault of your own ignorance. Who is watching Sariel?”

Balthazar bristles at Castiel’s tone and Dean could count on one hand the number of times he had seen Balthazar angry.

The blond angel’s voice drops low and grave.

Sariel is bound by ice, seals, and streams of the four – nobody but your famous four are getting past that. He can stew for a few minutes while we have a conversation.”

Castiel shakes his head and Dean can see the tension the way he slowly forces himself to look away from Balthazar, his own patience wearing thin.

“We can’t afford to be arrogant, Balthazar—we watch him in pairs. Two of us at all times. That was our covenant so that he could live. You left Rachel by herself?”

Balthazar’s laugh is abrupt and bemused. He gestures with an open palm down the path.

“You can’t tell me being suspended in stasis on a throne is living. You all made that decision without my vote, I clearly remember advising you to end him and be done with it. You dared to volunteer me for this, well, I’m sorry: something quite significant has come to my attention and I think you can do the courtesy of swapping shifts with me.”

“No.”

Balthazar looks stricken by utter betrayal, which twists into spite as he tightens his jaw.

“I beg your pardon?”

Castiel releases a slow breath and looks around them.

“I can’t. I am… unfortunately, stuck.”

“Oh, Cassie. Did you forget a failsafe?”

“A failsafe?” The low gravel of Castiel’s confusion is the best thing Dean’s heard all morning.

Balthazar motions over Castiel’s shoulder and Dean is surprised that the angel looks him in the eye.

“Well, for the two of you. This is a closed trap: the door only swings one way unless you’re quick enough to wedge it open and let’s face it: I am flash.”

Dean frowns, stopping behind Castiel’s shoulder.

“You can see me?”

Castiel is also frowning, looking between Balthazar and Dean who apparently is still invisible to him.

“The two of who?” Castiel asks.

A slow look of understanding crosses Balthazar’s expression as he looks between them. He shakes his head.

“Oh, you’re kidding, right?”

Dean rolls his jaw, his fingers curling into a fist on impulse, but he remembers how much it hurt to punch an angel.

“I’ve been chasing this dick all morning trying to get him to notice me because Gabriel trapped us here and I can’t find my way out! And I haven’t had a Goddamn thing to eat all day!”

Castiel looks between Balthazar’s sceptical face and the space Dean’s occupying, not understanding and proving Dean’s point exactly.

“Did you hear what you just said?” Balthazar asks, rolling his eyes.

“If you’re not going to help me, then get the hell out of here!” Dean shouts.

“It’s Dean, isn’t it?” Castiel is hushed; there’s something like fear in his voice. “Is he here? Is he well? I’ve been searching for him all morning.”

Dean rolls his eyes.

“Cas, I’m right here.”

Balthazar shakes his head in disappointment.

“You might want to say that a bit louder,” He says.

Castiel’s look for his brother is droll and impatient.

“You’re a dick,” Dean agrees with Castiel’s silent assessment.

“And you’re stuck,” Balthazar counters with a smile. “This is one of Gabriel’s ploys, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Dean and Castiel both answer, equal parts annoyed and frustrated, which apparently cracks Balthazar up.

“Well, did he leave you any clues?”

Dean huffs, tight and impatient.

“He said we’d all lost something. Couldn’t leave until we found it. He sent me in with Michael at first, but even he got lost and –“

“Yes, understood, Deanna – and Cassie? He said you’re all a bit lost,” Balthazar says, taking liberty with his role as intermediary.

Castiel’s face pinches in confusion.

“Dean’s presence disappeared from the human plane. I was concerned and I followed him here.”

“And you’ve both been stuck?”

“I had breakfast waiting for me, man!”

“Well, you’ve found each other.” Balthazar stops and looks between them in that suspicious way again. “Or maybe not, after all. You see – or what you don’t see – is there are labyrinths within labyrinths beside labyrinths where he’s left you. It’s a miracle you found each other at all.”

Castiel looks down and Dean thinks he sees guilt flash in the angel’s expression when he glances towards Dean, or where he would be if he had Balthazar’s perspective.

“But… I can’t see Dean. Why can you?”

“He’s closer than you realise.” Balthazar shrugs. “If I know Gabriel, and I’m glad to say that I do, I have a feeling the two of you aren’t leaving here until you find each other and every entendre that implies. So, have fun with that.”

“Hey!” Dean barks, just as Castiel calls, “Balthazar!”

Balthazar rounds back to them with a smirk of such smug conceit like he knows he’s won.

“I’m sorry, what?” He throws a pointed look at Castiel. “Was that a distress call for a friend in a time of need?”

Castiel sighs, his head hanging for a moment before he opens his eyes with reluctance.

“Fine, I’ll help you in return.”

“I knew you could be reasonable.”

“But you need to speak to her yourself,” Castiel says, his expression unforgiving.

Dean has no idea what they’re talking about. He’s starting to hallucinate that he can smell baked potatoes. The strong hand that claps around his upper arm brings him back to the sad, stale reality of his situation with a slump.

“… Your own advice,” Balthazar is telling Castiel with that mischievous, self-serving look. “And let’s talk about feelings.”

Dean balks at the angel and shakes off the hand on his arm.

“What? I didn’t drift off for that long.”

“Look, I’m not putting my foot in it, but when you’re ready – Bobby.”

Balthazar points skyward and the labyrinth peels back behind them to reveal Bobby sitting on a wooden chair in the grass with a thick book in his lap and a steaming mug of what Dean strongly suspects is Gabriel’s brew.

Bobby looks up from beneath his cap and Dean throws his hands wide for an explanation.

“Uh. It was Gabriel,” Bobby says, sounding that rare side of sheepish when he had an inkling he might have been caught out where he shouldn’t be.

Balthazar thrusts a hand towards Bobby.

“That’s your failsafe. When you’re fit to be released, Bobby can let you out.”

Castiel sighs in frustration, starting toward the older hunter.

“Bobby—“

Bobby blinks owlishly from Castiel to Dean, but before Castiel can insist, the hedges reform like a sentient wall of nature weaving back together.

“Bobby doesn’t actually make the choice, boys, and neither do I. He’s just your gatekeeper and that mug can keep refilling without risk of a bladder break for as long as it takes, so.” Balthazar shrugs like the decision is straightforward. “Have some pity on the man and cut your losses.”

Dean frowns when Balthazar turns for that heel.

“Wait a minute, why can you leave?”

Balthazar shakes his head as though it’s a moot question.

“Foot in the door. Bobby?”

Bobby’s lips are to his mug when the wall peels back again and he deflates with exasperation at the fresh interruption.

“In or out. Pick one,” Bobby drawls.

Balthazar glances back at the men over his shoulder.

“I’m leaving because I agreed to speak to my not-wife… if I can find her. Your turn, boys.”

Bobby shakes his head and shrugs helplessly when Dean sets after Balthazar, rearing back just in time to save himself from catching a mouthful of leaves as it closes behind the angel.

By the look on Castiel’s face when Dean rounds, he doesn’t think the angel wants to talk, and his fears are confirmed when Castiel looks up and his gaze passes right over him.

Castiel sighs, shaking his head.

“Dean. I don’t know if you’re still here, but if you are, and you can hear me… don’t go anywhere. We’ll figure this out.”

Dean watches Castiel settle himself cross-legged in the grass with a look of resignation and, eventually, Dean follows suit, leaning back into the garden wall.

His wrists lie on his knees and Castiel studies his fingers brushing the heads of grass. Dean has no idea where to start. He lets his head loll back, the sunlight makes him squint and he waits with Castiel for the miracle.

It’s maybe five minutes of silence and Dean idly ripping grass stalks from their roots, before Castiel speaks.

“I know why he’s doing this. In Gabriel’s mind, it’s probably simple. Maybe, in a way, my brother is right.” Castiel is looking the wrong way, down the garden path away from the hunter, but Dean’s vantage of his profile, of his resignation, is perfect. “It is simple. In spite of what I want – what you might want – no one will ever be enough for you, Dean. I could never do enough to take first place in your life… I’ve fallen, I’ve sinned, I’ve killed my family. I even died – and I would never ask you to push Sam aside. But I know that if you had to choose, you would exchange everything for Sam’s happiness. That’s love, Dean. I’m proud of you… but I can’t be part of it. I can’t be with you knowing you would twist a knife in my back to save your brother in a heartbeat if it was the only way.”

Castiel shakes his head, but Dean feels like he’s the one who’s just been stabbed with the knife. He watches in disbelief as the words tumble out of Castiel so easily and Dean feels his heart break.

“I love you, Dean. But I wouldn’t survive it. So, I’m saying ‘no’.”

-*-


It’s maybe an hour after Castiel’s admission that Dean realises they have company. He’d considered responding after Castiel had shown Dean his heart, but he hasn’t left much room for Dean to argue. Castiel’s already made up his mind and it kills him.

What’s worse is that he doesn’t know that Cas is wrong. He can’t guarantee that such a scenario wouldn’t come up in their line of work. Dean doesn’t know how long he’s wanted this, but he’s known all his life that Sam came first. Sam has always, always come first and in spite of how much Dean wants Cas to let Dean hold him, Dean can’t say he’s thought about how to make room for someone else. Finding a place in himself where Adam deserved to be had been an uphill battle in itself, but now Dean couldn’t imagine going back.

He doesn’t know how to love Cas any more than he already does. So, he stayed quiet (Cas wouldn’t have heard him anyway), an hour passed, and then there was another angel standing by Castiel’s knee.

“Hey, bro.”

Dean is surprised that Gabriel is here. He wasn’t the sort of angel that had a lot of pity, especially for people who couldn’t out-maneuverer his puzzles, but in comparison to his brothers, Gabriel bore the impression of a saint.

He’s standing over Castiel with his hands in his pockets, studying the younger angel’s slouch with a patient look of sympathy. Gabriel’s mouth quirks in a soft smile when Castiel looks up into his face, unaffected by the bright glare of the unmoving sun overhead.

Dean watches Castiel’s face fall as he leans into the dividing hedge at his back.

“Gabriel. Have you had enough fun today?” Castiel asks.

Another pair of shoes stops by Dean’s knee and he’s surprised for the second time that Gabriel’s brought company.

Adam’s face is sullen and Dean thinks he sees anger in the tight cord of his jaw, thinning the line of his mouth. Dean’s grateful that Adam’s here and able to look him straight in the eye. He’s had enough of being ignored for today.

Adam rocks on his feet and spares a glance for the archangel before he sinks to sit cross-legged beside Dean in the grass. The energy in him shifts, releases, and his shoulders sag, leaving him looking as tired as Dean feels.

“So, how’s your day been?” Adam asks with a cynical brightness that tips Dean off straight away.

“Well, I can tell you being the invisible man would suck without any hot, nakedness to spy on in the meantime. It’s a lot of one-sided conversation and as much as I like the sound of my own voice, the solo act gets kind of tired.” Dean nods at Castiel after Adam blinks at him in bewilderment. “Cas can’t see me.”

“Oh.” Adam looks at the seated angel as Gabriel lowers to a crouch on his haunches and his expression melts into understanding. “Oh.”

“It gets old,” Dean says after it becomes clear Adam’s not going to share his enlightenment. “How about you? You enjoying your day off?”

Dean watches all the emotion slowly drain from Adam’s face until his brother is staring ahead into the hedge, focus vacant as though he’s found a way to look right through it.

“Michael’s gone.”

“… What?”

Adam’s jaw tightens with anger and he draws his legs up, resting his wrists on his knees.

Michael. He’s gone.”

Uh-oh. Dean’s missed something. He steals another glance at Gabriel for clues, but the archangel is still murmuring in hushed conversation with his brother who is refusing to look him in the eye, and Dean’s not in Gabriel’s direct line of sight, so he doesn’t see Dean’s wide-eyed look begging an explanation.

“Gone, like….?”

“Gone like the goddamn wind,” Adam spits, glaring at him from the corner of his eye.

Dean wonders how Adam found out, but he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that his carefully laid and multiply reviewed plan fell to pieces around their feet the day Lucifer showed up on Adam’s doorstep. Dean is going to kill that bastard.

But at the moment, he’s a guy who can sympathise with wanting to change the subject and, more importantly, he’s a big brother. However, Adam continues before Dean can give him the luxury.

“Cas knew,” Adam says, quiet and even. “Your boyfriend knew what Michael did to me. He even helped me forget.”

Adam shakes his head and Dean swallows the sudden dryness in his throat as his stomach drops with the déjà vu of the moment he knows is coming, the moment he’s shared with Sammy so many times, those moments that have broken and driven them apart, before they finally went their separate ways across the country.

He didn’t want that for them and Adam.

“Dean… did you know?” Adam’s voice is so quiet and hopeful.

Dean’s chest twists with guilt. He shakes his head.

“I’m so sorry, kid. But you really were happy. I wanted to let you have that, without the baggage.”

Dean’s braced for it, but when Adam doesn’t respond, he forces himself to meet his brother’s eye and the sad betrayal in Adam’s face guts him.

“… Baggage? Baggage is a dysfunctional family and an ex who won’t stop calling. These are angels and demons, and Dan Brown’s got nothing on us.”

“I wouldn’t wish this life on anyone, Adam. Maybe Sam’s right. Maybe our blood won’t let us keep our heads in the sand. But I wanted to give you the chance, because nobody chooses this. This life chooses us.”

“… It chose you?”

“Our Mom died in a house fire. Pinned to the ceiling by a yellow-eyed demon. We ganked him in the end, but there was always something bigger and uglier waiting behind the next door.”

Adam shakes his head and his shoulders slouch, a tiredness Dean can relate to.

“I’m sorry about your mom.”

“Her name was Mary.” Dean’s not sure why he says it, but Adam looks up from the grass and Dean sees his opening.

“Tell me about her?”

“… Not only could she make a mean sandwich, but she kicked ass, too,” Dean agrees, smiling at the memory of his mother’s bruising knuckles on his cheek. She’d been so small, sweet, and fierce; Dean was proud to be her son.

Adam bounces his knee a few times before he speaks.

“On the days she beat me home, my Mom would sometimes bake a lasagne, extra cheese. She’d bake enough to last most of the week because she worked shifts and she didn’t want things like cooking, laundry, or cleaning to interrupt my studies. Things she should be doing for me as my mom, she said. But she wasn’t home on most days, or she’d already be asleep by the time I got there. When I was younger I’d go to the hospital and sit in the cafeteria, the waiting room, or just find excuses to hang around the children’s ward and help out when she was working in paeds. I really missed having someone to come home to. Her name was Kate.”

“I know,” Dean says softly, continuing when Adam doesn’t respond, gaze still faraway. “Your Mom broke her back to give you a better chance, Adam,” Dean says, because he recognises the ‘absent parent with all the best intentions’ syndrome. It was hard to stomach while you were going through it, but coming out the other end… it was lucky that Sam and Dean could appreciate what their Dad had sacrificed for them.

It didn’t cancel the fact John’s absence had still left a hurt in both his sons that had stayed with them in his absence.

“Castiel took me to see her the first night I woke up,” Adam says and Dean sits up straight, because, hello, that’s news to him. Adam still looks too deep within his own memory to notice Dean’s sudden interest.

“You went to Heaven?”

Adam blinks at him and then rolls his eyes in a delayed reaction.

“Oh, we weren’t supposed to tell you; I forgot. She said to give everyone a chance. I think she knew.”

“Yeah. We knew,” Dean quietly admits and Adam’s mouth quirks, doesn’t quite make it into a smile and he frowns abruptly, swallowing a lump Dean suspects he finds in his throat.

“I heard that, too.”

“Adam… hey….” Dean turns to his brother. “If there was anything we could have done... anything… we would have pulled you out in a second. We used up all our favours, kid.”

Adam searches his face and Dean doesn’t know if his brother believes him, but he had tried. He had limited options, but he’d tried… maybe not hard enough, a small voice of guilt adds from within him.

“What’s going on between you and Sam?” Adam asks, quietly.

“What do you mean?” Dean frowns, because he and Sam were as good as –

“When he talks about you it’s… sort of… sad.” Adam shrugs and he has no idea how tightly his simple words close around Dean’s heart.

Cas was right: Sam always came first. Dean doesn’t want to feel guilty about that, but he doesn’t know how to operate any differently, either. Glancing at his youngest brother from the corner of his eye, he sees Adam isn’t watching him. Adam is giving him his space, but he’s still there and patient and Dean doesn’t want Sam to be the only one that matters.

After all, Sam had made it pretty clear that Dean wasn’t the only person in his life anymore.

Dean swallows the impulse to hook an arm around Adam’s neck, swing him in for a hug, let Adam flail in the imbalance of it and maybe even swear at Dean for the lack of warning.

“Since we were kids, it was just me, Sam and Dad. Then it was me and Sam.”

Adam snorts under his breath, but something in his soft, thin smile makes Dean think that he understands.

“You and Sam against the world.”

“There used to be a lot of other hunters out there. We used to fight against things like angels. The first time I met Cas, I tried to kill him.”

“Couldn’t have bought him a drink first?”

Dean smirks and pushes his legs out in front of him, enjoying the stretch of relief in his thighs.

“Cas was on our side and Gabriel turned for us, but Lucifer… and Michael.” Dean looks at Adam significantly, Adam’s features hardening at the archangel’s name. “They’re dicks. They tried to end the world and a lot of people died for it. So, imagine how quickly I would have called the wedding planner when my baby brother told me he was moving across country with them and putting up the white picket fence.”

Adam looks away, his shoulders drawing in close.

“I can understand why you hate us.”

Dean stares at him.

“Adam, I didn’t mean you—“

“Yeah, me,” Adam interrupts him, “Me and Sam. We both disappointed you. I don’t blame you, I don’t get it either. I don’t know who Michael is. He acts like sugar and spice, but people tell me things… and I remember things…. I don’t know.”

Dean looks at him carefully at the mention that Adam remembered, but his eyes are clear. He just looks tired and forlorn, grinding his knuckles into the grass at his ankles.

“There was a second part to the apocalypse,” Dean tells him.

“Yeah, Gabriel told me. It was almost civil war.”

“Things happen in war.”

He hopes Adam understands because he doesn’t know how better to describe the logic-bending situations they got themselves into, the lines that were drawn, crossed, and the people he never would have expected to end up standing at his shoulder.

How adversity bred new friends and brought his family so close to breaking too soon after that last test of the threshold, Dean knew once they came out the other end that they could survive anything.

How war meant realising he had new allies when the peace came, though it meant giving up his brothers for the ceasefire.

“With us going our own ways… I don’t think it was about you, Dean. We weren’t deserting you. I know Sam was your only family, but then you got me, and Sam….”

“Sam got his own family,” Dean says, and he regrets that some bitterness leaks through even after all of this time. He thought he was at peace with this. He had the Impala and the road, he had Bobby, and his brothers were never more than a phone call away.

“Actually, I think your family just got bigger.”

Adam squirms under Dean’s heavy stare and Dean thinks he even shuffles a little distance away.

“I mean, after today, I’m not so sure. I might have taken us down one, but—“

“It’s funny,” Dean cuts him off for his own benefit because he pities the self-deprecating look that steals across Adam’s expression, though it’s pushed underneath a second later, “I knew that. A part of me knew that, but… you… God. I think you could actually be right about something, Adam. I knew but I didn’t get it… until now. You know what I mean?”

Adam blinks at him.

“You know it wasn’t about you, right?”

Dean shoves his brother lightly against his shoulder.

“Sam misses you,” Adam says. “I think a lot of people have.”

“I never gave you credit for subtlety, kid.”

“Subtlety’s for virtuous folk.”

Dean’s chest tightens around the pitted knot already twisted in his chest through the old wound of their divide with Adam. Adam’s brought all of their history with him into this labyrinth and Dean doesn’t want to talk about it. For the first time since he found Castiel wandering the green lanes in search of him, Dean thinks maybe it was a grace the angel couldn’t see him.

“Your boyfriend was doing me a favour, I get it,” Adam says. “He really can’t see you?”

“Might just be that he doesn’t want to see me.” Dean throws down the stalks of grass he’d been tearing between his hands and slouches back against the hedge wall.

Adam follows his example, hands resting on his stomach as he leans back beside his brother.

“Why’s that?”

Dean laughs under his breath.

“Obviously, you don’t remember everything. Probably for the best.”

Adam doesn’t respond at first and the silence stretches long enough that Dean suspects Adam’s trying to remember despite his brother’s comment.

“What happened, man?” Adam’s asks quietly. “You don’t have to tell me everything, but… is there anything I can do?”

“Ha. Give me a time machine?”

Adam’s frown is dubious.

“You think you’d do things differently?”

Dean considers it. He flicks the scuffed ankles of his jeans and compares it with the memory of his brothers’ laundry. He knows those two actually took the time once every while to sit down with a needle and thread to make the repairs when time gave them the luxury. No, that’s not right. They made time.

“No,” Dean eventually says. “I did what I had to with the information I had.”

“So, you don’t have any regrets?” The doubt in Adam’s voice annoys him.

He shakes his head without hesitation, mouth pulling into a scowl with the effort.

“Nope. Regrets get you killed. Just learn from your mistakes and hit the road again.”

“And did you? Learn, I mean?”

Castiel and Gabriel are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder when Dean looks and Castiel’s expression has fallen the closest to tears that Dean has seen in a long time. His heart clenches seeing his family in pain.

No, not family… but….

“Dean. If you’ve got something to say, man.” Adam sighs. “What’s it gonna take? It’s not like he could hear you right now.”

Dean won’t lie: it’s not as though he’s just been searching for the courage to say those three words that chick flicks are made of. Those three words aren’t enough to clear the slate of what he and Cas have been through, to give them both the guts to look this thing in the eye. They’re not that simple.

“I think I could do it,” Dean mutters, not caring if Adam can hear him or not, but he clears his throat, raises his voice. “Did you know he pulled me out of Hell when I traded my soul to save Sam? He said God had commanded it, but he’s the one who told me I was worth saving. That idiot had faith in me. I think he came to regret it, but... I sort of wish he’d have that faith in me again.”

Adam takes a moment before responding. Dean hears him shifting against the hedge and feels it readjust behind him.

“You think you could do it?” Adam asks, taking up Dean’s words.

Dean is too busy circling his palm on his knee, focused on the strain in the side-seam, to notice when Gabriel’s attention slides over to them, his arm wrapped around Castiel’s shoulders.

“… Yeah. I would. Maybe not before, but now – I’d put him first.”

“Think you could tell him that?”

“Cas wouldn’t believe me. We’ve seen enough of –“ Dean is shaking his head, but Adam cuts him off.

“Don’t keep this sort of thing to yourself, man. Trust me. Secrets….”

“‘Specially with this family.” Dean snorts a laugh under his breath, acknowledging it.

“You’re worth it, Dean.”

Dean frowns at his brother, finally meeting his eye again, and Adam shrugs, not backing down.

“Kid, you don’t even know me.”

“Hey, don’t make me say it again. I’m a pretty good judge of character – angels being the obvious exception.”

Oh, man. Dean had almost forgotten.

“You know, I offered him his name,” Adam says, “I actually thought he’d take it and go, but he just… stood there… and the look on his face…..”

“Adam – I’m sorry—“

Adam shuts his eyes, shaking his head, and Dean knows that look. He backs down. If it’s still too early for Adam to talk about that yet, Dean won’t push him, and he understands why. Adam turns away from the hand Dean means to squeeze his shoulder, but it still stings.

“Just do me a favour: take the shot, because if it works out, I could really stand to see someone come home happy today.” The smile Adam throws at him doesn’t hold for even a second and Dean sighs. He could never refuse his brothers when they looked at him like that.

Thinking about his situation the way Adam framed it… if he’s doing it for someone else, it makes it a little easier. His stomach still churns with nerves at the thought, but… this is Cas.

It’s Cas. He deserves the benefit of Dean’s doubt and Dean just hopes the angel will show him the same courtesy. And again he reminds himself: it’s Cas, the angel had never given him less than everything that he could offer.

Dean’s exhale is shaky, but he manages a stiff nod for his youngest brother.

“All right.”

-*-


Sam doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there watching the galaxy spiral and he doesn’t know if he imagines the low chord of its hum in his bones. There’s no sound in space and his boots are still planted firmly in the garden, the stone bench still cool and sharp beneath his fingers, and he doesn’t know how long Lucifer has been at his side, but when he watches a comet soar past, cold and bright, Sam follows its trail and finds Lucifer there, burnt light glimmering in his eyes.

Lucifer watches the comet fade into the distance of the black and Sam watches him.

Sam’s fingers sink through the short hair behind Lucifer’s ear and he’s smiling when Lucifer meets his eye.

“This place is amazing,” Sam says and his voice is hushed, but Lucifer’s pale, blue eyes don’t reflect the reverence or peace murmuring through every cell in his body.

“It’s based on the path to Eden.” Lucifer looks at the galaxy again and Sam misses the pulse from its core. “But there’s no garden waiting for us at the other side. There’s no exit.”

Lucifer leans forward in his seat and Sam’s fingers slip from his hair, falling to his neck.

“What is it?” Sam asks, sensing the heaviness in the angel and his fingers closer around his shoulder.

“You turned the corner and I lost sight of you,” Lucifer says.

Sam squeezes his shoulder, accepting the apology because it’s not as though he had been keeping the closest eye on Lucifer, either. He’d been so busy searching for a gap in the leaves, a hint, or even a doorknob because Sam had come to learn that Gabriel liked hiding things in the open.

“But look at this place, it’s….”

“It’s beautiful.” Lucifer smiles at him and Sam wonders what’s weighing on his mind that the gesture doesn’t reach his eyes. “I know.”

There’s something the angel isn’t telling him and he knows Lucifer can sense his doubt, he knows and it frustrates him that the angel just sits there staring into the galaxy without acknowledging it at all.

Sam summons the nerve to ask him one more time, tucking the hair behind his ear, he sits up in his seat. Lucifer doesn’t react, as though something within that false vacuum of space has drawn a part of the angel away.

Lucifer is still and silent, Sam’s mouth opens, but he realises he doesn’t know what he means to say, and that’s when Gabriel rounds the corner into this alcove of the labyrinth.

Gabriel’s muttering to himself under his breath and his hands are fisted at sides, brushing the hem of his jacket. Sam recognises the long, exasperated expression on his face the instant those gold eyes flicker up to his.

“What did they do this time?” Sam asks, shifting closer to Lucifer to clear space on the bench for Gabriel.

Gabriel shakes his head angrily and something trembles and sparks in the swirl of stars before them.

“They’re never going to get it. They won’t do it. There’s nothing else I can do and your brother—“

“Come on, this is Dean you’re talking about. You know him. Were you trying to set them up again? You forgot how well that went the last time Adam tried?” Sam squeezes his shoulder, rubs the space between Gabriel’s shoulder blades the way Sam knows will calm him, where Sam knows he’ll shiver and melt if Sam presses the heel of his palm in such a way, and he doesn’t notice Lucifer watching them over his shoulder.

“Castiel isn’t a fool,” Lucifer says.

“… What does that mean?” Sam twists around with a frown and Lucifer’s face is nonchalant as he shrugs a shoulder.

“They’ve loved each other longer than any of us. They’ve had more opportunities to build and break trust. Dean isn’t the easiest person to love.” Lucifer’s look turns serious when Sam’s frown deepens, he doesn’t back down. “Dean doesn’t make it easy.”

“And Cas is a walk in the park?” Sam bites back before really thinking about it because, yes, Lucifer might be right, but his instinct is still to leap in front of Dean against anyone, even these two.

“Guys,” Gabriel sighs and he’s shaking his head, hands rested on his thighs, when they turn back to him. “Let’s not do this now.”

“Then when?” Lucifer prompts without missing a beat and there’s annoyance in the thready curl of his words, but Gabriel glares at him.

“Let’s not do this.”

“How bad was it?” Sam nudges with his elbow and Gabriel cocks an eyebrow at the stars.

“Well, not the stuff of singing telegrams. Castiel might not want to see me for a while.”

“Why do you do this? Why don’t you just leave them?” Lucifer asks, looking between them.

“Lucifer, they’re family! We just want them to be happy,” Gabriel almost snaps and points at him accusingly, and Sam’s ears ring because it’s been so long since Gabriel called his brother by his full name. “Don’t even think about calling me arrogant because I know what you did.”

Sam stiffens, caught between the two angels and the dark cloud gathering over them, but he remembers that moment Lucifer hugged his side, overly casual before they dropped into the labyrinth, and he thinks again how unfair it is that Lucifer doesn’t give them the decency of a straight answer when they’re incapable of hiding anything from him.

“You know… I’m afraid to ask because you said you’d never lie to me.” Sam means to be angrier, accusing, and he doesn’t know where the sad, hoarse note in his voice comes from. Lucifer’s face melts into surprise and Sam shakes his head, pleading. “Please don’t make me ask.”

“I’ve never lied to you, Sam,” Lucifer insists and Sam deflates, shoulders hunching.

“Lucifer.”

“… I told Adam the truth.”

Sam’s eyes slide shut, he shakes his head, his chest bounces with a short laugh, and he balls his fist on his thigh.

“Sam—“ Lucifer stops when Sam’s hand curls over his knee.

“You always do this,” Sam breathes and he isn’t surprised by the careful frown in Lucifer’s face when he looks up, like the angel still needs it to be explained to him. “This is why I asked you to stay behind, I knew you’d try to enlighten everyone. It might be your name, but it’s not your job. You don’t care about consequences! People get hurt.”

Lucifer bristles and Sam is sorry for the flash of pain inflicted by his words, but Lucifer never learns. He refuses to learn.

“I don’t see how this is different from Gabriel’s intervention? He’s hurt people, he hasn’t brought anyone together today.”

Sam looks back at Gabriel’s scowl and the stubbornness there just makes him feel tired. He feels the cap of Lucifer’s knee through the denim and Gabriel is still there against his arm, but Sam stares ahead into the silent pocket of space in front of him and he can’t remember that peace he’d found. Gabriel gave him this, somehow he knew what Sam needed, but there’s something he needs more than a beautiful spectre to admire.

He can’t even remember the last time he saw Lucifer and Gabriel initiate a touch that led to something more without his lead. They were the ones who drew him in at the beginning with their security, their strength that came from their uncompromising (and involuntary) honesty, the trust, and the want that smouldered between them. When did they get to this place?

“You’re right. You two have got to stop doing this.” Sam shakes his head, pulling his hands into his lap. “We have to stop doing this. ”

The silence that follows his directive makes Sam hope the angels will actually listen to him this time, that they’ll stop playing matchmaker, trickster, light bringer, and think before they acted because this –

“This,” Lucifer murmurs and he’s staring at Gabriel when Sam looks at him. Lucifer leans on the word with more weight than Sam understands. “This?”

All the emotion has been carefully wiped from Gabriel’s face.

“He’s calling us stupid Cupids. Maybe you don’t think we’ve helped today –“

“Michael and Adam separated,” Lucifer says and Gabriel’s eyes narrow like his patience is being tried and it’s rare to see that battle so close to the surface.

“And I know Dean and Cas still walked away from each other—“

“They say these things come in threes.” Lucifer’s words seem to shrug, murmured and easy, and it’s that exaggerated casual air again that sets off the alarms in Sam’s head.

Gabriel’s also stopped and Sam doesn’t need any mystical bond to tell he’s shocked as well.

“What – what things?” Sam completely fails to articulate and Lucifer looks him straight in the eye, steady and serious, and the indifference there makes Sam feel like he’s been shoved with a hand around his throat.

“This.”

“Lucifer.” Gabriel sounds like he’s rolling his eyes, sharp and impatient, “Stop it.”

“Gabriel,” Lucifer counters with a coldness that Sam hasn’t heard or believed for so long, it rocks him realising he had forgotten that Lucifer was this as well: powerful, predatory, a prince. “You didn’t just ask me to stay behind. You didn’t even think of me last night when you fell together, and you were happy.”

Sam’s mind spins trying to remember: the dinner, drinking, and then Gabriel had fed him cake, licking the crumbs from Sam’s lips as he rode him into the mattress, and Lucifer… Lucifer –

Sam’s stomach clenches with guilt. Oh God.

“Stop it,” Gabriel grinds the words out. “You’re making something out of nothing and you’re not going to martyr yourself for a stupid trinity of symmetry!”

“No, I’m not,” Lucifer agrees lightly and he threads his fingers through the short hair at Sam’s nape, apparently ignorant to Sam’s growing horror. “It’s not the first time this happened. I’m giving you a way out that doesn’t need any excuses. I won’t pursue the apocalypse. I wouldn’t haunt any of you. I can be respectful.”

Sam answers automatically, shaking his head.

“No.”

“Sam, take your own advice: consider it carefully before you speak,” Lucifer says.

“No.” Sam grits his teeth and pulls Lucifer’s hand to his thigh, tangling their fingers together. He clings to the relief that Lucifer grips him back, but it doesn’t wipe the patronising smile of pity from the angel’s face. “You don’t just get to dump this on us and talk like what I think or feel is less, or – or wrong—“

He hears Gabriel’s sigh before his hand winds over theirs, warm and familiar, and how long had it been since they did something so simple like this?

“Lucifer—“ Gabriel starts, but that’s as far as he gets, Lucifer silences him with a single look.

“And when did you start calling me Lucifer again? Did you even realise?”

Gabriel falls quiet, Lucifer pulls his hand back, and the labyrinth dissolves around them.

-*-


Bobby can’t remember the last time he had a morning so good.

Nobody's ever forced him to sit down with such views of green valleys as this with a bottomless cup o’ the best joe Bobby’s never had in his long and eventful life. He can’t remember the last time he read for pleasure and he actually feels a little guilty about it, like there’s some other case losing out while he’s wiling away his time on this book of fiction.

In the beginning, his fingers twitch around the cover, he rests an ankle on his knee and watches that back door waiting for one of the boys to come out, but nothing changes. The birds sing, there are insects buzzing in the grass, and by the time the warm sun’s climbed to hang overhead, there’s a comfortable breeze tickling along Bobby’s neck in the shade of this pear tree where Gabriel set him up.

He’s almost halfway through the book by this R.R. Martin fella the first time Balthazar and Castiel appear to him, reality peeling back like old, dried wallpaper and Dean’s peering out over their shoulders.

Oh, so that’s what Gabriel had been talking about.

After Balthazar walked out, Bobby had passed about three more chapters, and then there was a snap of power and Michael stalked past him without a word.

The angel’s expression was so dark, it worried him.

“Mike?” Bobby looks back the way the angel had come, but nobody was following. “You by yourself? Where are the other idjits at your--?”

Michael had turned so fast, Bobby thought the angel was going to strike him. He spills his steaming coffee, in the grass and thankfully not on himself, but Michael had just glowered at him, body vibrating with tension.

Bobby startles at the hand Michael presses to his chest. He stiffens with shock at the breathless wind that pushes through, removing the tightness from his lungs, he gasps and, for the first time in weeks, the sound doesn’t rattle with the tickle of a wet cough. Michael straightens and Bobby sucks in a deep, clear breath of astonishment.

“Thought we talked about you laying your hands on people, Mike,” he cracks, but the angel just stares back at him, expression closed.

“Don’t let yourself go so long without treatment again, Bobby,” Michael says, voice surprisingly absent of its usual mocking lilt when he and Bobby would have this familiar exchange. “You’re not as young as you used to be. They’ll need you.”

Bobby had given enough speeches in his time to recognise a strangled goodbye when it came.

“You’re leaving?” Is still all he manages to force out through his shock.

Michael’s mask fractures just for a second and Bobby regrets that he left his walking cane in the house to hook the angel in, make him sit and explain as he was confusingly wont to do when Bobby asked him to.

Finally, Michael just nods and it’s his only farewell before he disappears from the shade of Bobby’s pear tree.

What had just happened?

Bobby hazards returning to his book because Gabriel had made it perfectly clear it was extremely important Bobby didn’t move from this spot until Gabriel came to relieve him personally. Bobby was his guard or something and when everyone was finished their team-building exercise or whatever hippie-loving crusade Gabriel had set them on, they’d make themselves known.

Although both angels who’d emerged so far looked pretty grim and when Dean’s shout rang out over the orchard, the expression on Castiel’s face was no exception.

“You said it first, Cas! Don’t make me take it back!” Dean’s voice thundered from down the end of the orchard, growing nearer.

Castiel stops when he sees Bobby sitting there in his chair, hunched and awkwardly trying (and failing) to shrink out of view.

“Bobby.” Castiel looks worn and exhausted, and he jumps when Dean barks his name again. He glances back the way he’s come with the wary air of someone being hunted and Bobby follows his gaze just in time to see Dean round the line of trees into view.

“Cas! C’mon, man, what’s with the hard to get act? Would you hold up for one freaking minute--?”

“Bobby,” Castiel says instead, looking back to the older hunter and he’s trembling, but his voice is firm. “I’m sorry you had to see this. Will you keep him from… anything stupid?”

Bobby frowns at the angel and his growing anxiety at Dean’s rapid approach.

“From—what did he –?”

“I’m sorry,” Castiel barely gets the words out and then he’s gone.

Dean swings at nothing, barely a beat behind, and Bobby gets an earful of his friend’s frustration cursed at the sky after the angel who’s long since flown further than Dean’s words will reach him. Bobby looks up at the clouds when Dean rips off a fruit from Bobby’s tree and it hurls it high at nothing. Bobby notices Adam watching them from the upstairs window and he doesn’t remember seeing the boy come past. The next time he looks, Adam is gone.

“Can you believe that dick? He just—he just….” Dean laughs incredulously, bright and hysterical, and after the back door slams behind him, Bobby starts to really worry.

He looks around the surrounding trees and clears his throat.

“Sam?”

It feels like years, but it isn’t even five minutes later that he hears their voices.

“Gabe, don’t!”

“I called you a coward!” Gabriel’s voice rings loud and angry, and Bobby twists around in his seat just in time to see Lucifer shove Gabriel against a thick trunk with a hand around his throat.

Sam leaps between them, pushing a hand against their chests, and he may be larger, but neither of the angels break their hostile glare.

“Hey, I said cut it out! Both of you!”

Lucifer’s fingers curl tight around Gabriel’s neck and Sam shouts the devil’s name, finally drawing his attention.

“What the hell is going on here?” Bobby snaps, pushing to his feet, and grips the back of the seat to keep steady.

They turn to look at him as one. Something shifts in the angels like a current beneath the skin, the lines of the vessels softening again to something organic and alive, but when Gabriel and Lucifer look back at each other, Bobby thinks he sees a glimpse of what that final showdown would have been between those two in that false hotel of the Elysian Fields.

Lucifer shakes his head, murmuring something too soft for Bobby’s ears, and then it’s just Sam, Gabriel, and Bobby standing beneath the orchard in Adam’s backyard.

Bobby’s knuckles whiten with his grip on his book. The silence reigns for all of a second before Sam and Gabriel’s voices start rising again, this time at each other, and Bobby realises his whole impression of the morning’s respite was an illusion.

It had only taken one morning for everyone in their camp to tear each other apart and, maybe, Gabriel had set him here for his own benefit. Maybe the angel had known this was coming, though by the sound of it, Bobby may have been giving him too much credit.

Quietly making his exit to the relative sanctuary of the house, Bobby wonders if there was something in the water that morning.

-*-


Adam dreams he’s sitting on the wooden fence of a large field. He recognises it from the photographs on the study wall.

They’ve been freshly harvested, large, round stacks of hay bundled in plastic and dotted around the plot under the grey sky. It’s warm, the air is still and calm.

Michael leans on the fence beside him, hands in the pockets of his jacket, gazing out at the field and the browner paddocks adjoining it, the rising hills in the distance and the border line of young pine.

“I asked you the same thing, you know,” Michael says without preamble, “When I broke out of the cage and I found you, all you wanted was for me to listen. Five minutes, you’d say, that’s all I need.”

They watch a pair of ravens swoop over the field, chasing each other before settling on separate bundles of hay and cawing.

“Did you?” Adam asks.

“No. Not at first.”

“What changed?”

“Raphael tried to kill me and she almost succeeded. My most loyal Lieutenant; she was confused. But you vouched for me and Dean gave me his strength. I never thanked you for that.”

Adam shrugs, it doesn’t matter to him. They’re like stories from another book and it’s academic to him, but he remembers the cage. Those memories were his.

“That wasn’t me. It was somebody else.”

“It was plain in your face, but when I asked you why you loved me, you couldn’t give me a straight answer. I’ve been cruel to you, Adam. I’d done nothing to earn it.”

Adam runs a thumb across the grains in the log. This is an old, old fence, the face smoothed by the weather of many years.

“If there’s one thing I learned from my mom, it’s that you don’t earn love. Most times, you can’t choose it, either: you either do or you don’t. You can earn respect, though.”

“I respect you,” Michael says.

Adam looks down at the archangel from his perch and waits for him to go on. He’d like to hear this and, eventually, Michael sighs, looking out to the fields ahead.

“You’re principled, you’re determined. You’re dutiful and do what you’re asked even when you don’t have all the information.”

Adam snorts, unimpressed.

“Yeah, well, look where that got me.”

Michael nods, seeming to acknowledge that Adam hasn’t enjoyed the smoothest journey.

“You’re brave. You were afraid in the green room, but you still fought me. You’re mortal, but you’ve stood up to each of my brothers at least once,” Michael says with a hint of pride. “However, you should probably stay out of Dean and Castiel’s business or they’ll never overcome their denial.”

Adam snickers under his breath, bouncing his knee.

“Are you saying their UST is my fault?”

Michael is still looking out to the fields, but a small smile curls at the corner of his mouth.

“Not you alone, but you called them on it point blank to their faces. You probably thought that if it was aired in the open, there’d be no need to hide anymore.”

Adam rolls his eyes, him in his infinite wisdom full of great ideas, though he had to agree, that did sound like his logic.

“Castiel looked like he’d been stabbed,” Michael says, thoughtfully. “Dean looked like he wanted to bury you. They’ve been worse ever since.”

“Oh, man.” Adam winces.

“I wish you could have given me an answer back then. I might have had more to tell you.”

“But I’m not asking about me. I’m asking about you.”

“You make me normal,” Michael presses, insistent. “You make me want to be normal. You’re my eyes to the detail of this world. You stand up to me without undermining me – most of the time.”

Adam smiles despite himself. He definitely didn’t have any problems with calling people on their bullshit and, between the stories and the few glimpses of Michael’s bossy side, the archangel seemed like the kind of guy who’d been full of it.

“But you and your brothers gave me back my family. You have no idea how much that means to me.”

Adam studies the pattern of his jeans, his arms tucked against his sides. The temperature’s dropped.

“Well, Raphael’s still offside with most people. And I don’t know what’s going on with her and Balthazar, but it doesn’t look… happy,” Adam says.

“That’s a difficult concept for us. The way you think of ‘happy’ is hard to apply to our nature. Even after we learned, I don’t think she can consider the meaning of that word anymore. If you could have known her how she once was… you wouldn’t recognise her now.”

“It doesn’t sound like the best change.”

“I wasn’t there for her. But she did everything for me when it fell to the two of us.”

Adam glances to the field, then back to Michael.

“Is there anything to stop you helping her now?”

Finally, Michael slowly looks into Adam’s face. He looks puzzled, but at himself or Adam’s question, Adam had no idea.

“See, this is why I need you,” Michael says, softly. “I’ll speak to her.”

God, those stupid, bright brown eyes. Adam decides it doesn’t matter because this was a dream and he lets himself tuck a stray lock of hair behind Michael’s ear.

“I’m sorry for shouting at you today,” Adam murmurs, lingering at the hair over Michael’s ear before he takes his hand back. “You just. You lied to me… about everything.”

“That’s not true,” Michael says, “I was worried.”

“Don’t worry.” Adam rolls his eyes, not sure what Michael’s referring to this time, but he thinks Michael would be good at fretting, that he would be the sort of guy with a compulsive need to fix everything. “Just don’t lie to me.”

Michael shakes his head, the line of his mouth tensing. He blows out a quiet, shuddering breath and his chin drops to his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he says and his entire body seems to fold over the fence. He shakes his head again and Adam catches the edge of his expression when it contorts in pain, before Michael pulls himself back under control. “I’m so sorry for what I did to you.”

Adam thinks he might actually mean it. He can’t reconcile this angel with the one he’s heard about, but they’re the same.

“Michael.”

The angel turns his way, but he doesn’t look Adam in the eye.

“Are you really in love with me?” Adam asks.

“… I feel like a fraud. I care about you.” Michael’s expression twists as though he doesn’t know what he’s saying and, honestly, neither does Adam.

Still, Adam thinks that the answer should have been a lot simpler, one way or another.

“You know, most times… I have no idea what’s going through that head of yours,” Adam muses. He jumps down from the fence and, side-by-side, Michael finally meets his eye with hesitation.

All Adam needs to know is that that wasn’t a ‘yes’.

It’s sort of a shame because if he’d never learned about their horrid past, he might have been in real danger of falling for this guy, and they might have been happy in ignorance.

“I’ll see you around, Michael.”

When Adam wakes up, there’s a new ache in his chest, blunt and hollow. He buries his head under the pillows and chases dreamless sleep.

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