rosivan: (Default)
[personal profile] rosivan
wordcount: (this part) ~18,500 (total ~36,800)
warnings: implied abuse, street kids, youth shelters, sex (legal age)
summary: Sam is a volunteer at a youth shelter. He takes a personal interest in Gabriel, one of the kids who was recently brought in.

NOTES: I only wrote Gabriel. (But also his brother.)



The kid looks like utter shit. And he is a kid--seventeen, maybe eighteen at most, all scrawny and short and bedraggled blond-gold hair. He's got a pair of the fiercest eyes Sam's ever seen, the most watchful and wary gaze he's come across in a while. Working at a shelter for homeless youths puts you in the way of a lot of distrustful gazes, but Sam's never quite seen one this intense, this hurt.

He's shooed away by Kaitlin after getting a good eyeful of the kid, who's being walked--okay, half-carried--in by three senior execs. Sam's 23, but he's still only been here a month or two, so the more "feral" street kids are left to the seniors.

That doesn't stop him from sneaking back later, when they've bundled the new arrival into a room--one that's locked from the outside, he notices with a vague tinge of worry. He likes this place well enough, but sometimes... He bargains a key from one of the janitors and unlocks the kid's door, leaning his head in, keeping his eyes averted just to the left, settled on the wall.

"Checks. How're you doing?"

Gabriel is by the window. It's barred and shaded, and he can't open it because there's no dangling cords (a kid could kill himself that way, you know), but he pretends he can see the street outside, see the sky, see the stars behind the clouds, behind the curtains, behind the bars, behind the closed lids of his eyes, and god, can he see.

"Fine," Gabriel says clearly, neutrally, in response to the voice shivering in the air over his shoulder. Or maybe it's Gabriel who's shivering. He thinks about it for a moment, wonders if it's because his blood is rushing through him, rushing through him, rushing through him, rushing-

"I'm fine," he repeats, quieter. "Get out."

His bluntness surprises Sam. They usually either lash out violently--which this kid doesn't seem prone to doing, at least not until Sam's in close range--or try to go about it subtly. "Sorry, I..." He half-smiles, rubs the back of his neck. "I wanted to see if you needed anything." They've given him clean clothes, Sam can see. A pair of nondescript grey pants and a black t-shirt.

Needing was a funny thing, and the thought of what do I need? makes Gabriel open his eyes and stop seeing out the covered window. The room feels smaller, then, Gabriel and everything in it having a presence, all slotted together like anchovies -little quiet sardines with their eyes open and staring, and piled together in a can.

He sweeps his hair back out of his face, fingertips grazing lightly over the bruised side of his face. It'll be a purple sunrise in the morning, stretched over his cheek. Now it's just dusk, dark as the room, deep as the voice of the man at the door.

"Don't be sorry," is all that Gabriel says. Don't be sorry. Stop being so fucking sorry. The words echo in his throat, and he's tempted to say them, twist them around, but instead he swallows hard. He rubs a hand along his neck and wonders why the words are tasteless.

Jesus, Sam thinks. He shuts the door, doesn't lock it. It's so against protocol that it's painful, but he only steps across the hallway to grab a bottle of water from one of the refrigerators the staff keep stocked for kids that wander in and out periodically. He reopens the door and slips inside the kid's room.

This isn't smart, not at all. Not even vaguely. Shit could go really wrong, he could be busted, maybe they won't let him volunteer again, and then what'll he do with his free time? How will he help?

Sam shakes the thoughts and slips a step into the room, closing the door behind him. "I have water for you," he says conversationally, softly.

When Gabriel turns around there's actually a bottle of water for him, and he shouldn't be so surprised about it, but he is. Surprised that there's water, and it's in a bottle, and it's for him. He doesn't think when he digs through his pockets, looking for something, anything really, that he can offer in return.

He finds a feather, light and airy, a pale breath across his palm. It distracts him so completely that Gabriel leans back against the window, bars digging into his spine. He thinks of open skies. He slides to the floor, legs going askew and the little feather cradled in his hand. "I don't need water," he decides.

Sam's eyes go wide as the guy slips to the floor, and he sets the bottle down on the scratched desk in the corner and ventures closer. He's beat up; he has bruises all down the side of his face and his neck, and Sam's pretty certain they continue beyond what he can see, down the kid's chest and along his shoulders. He notices the feather and leans forward to see. "Golden finch," he murmurs, looking at it. "Pretty, aren't they?"

"I guess," Gabriel says, because he's never seen a golden finch, but they sound beautiful and free. His fingers close over the feather and he slides it back in his pocket, drawing one leg up in front of him. He is a rock, a clump of dirt on the ground, and the man towers over him, leaning, looking, like he's going to fall and drop, and break Gabriel up. Because they always want something, Gabriel tilts his head back, way back, and looks up at him. Doesn't say a word.

Christ. The kid's eyes are fucking gorgeous, but lost. His body language screams "lost", screams broken and hurt and I don't care anymore. Sam's breath catches a little in his throat as he slides down to sit opposite the kid. "So what's your name?" he manages, voice still soft.

Gabriel heart does a funny thing as the man folds himself to the floor, and only when he stops moving can Gabriel breathe again. His hands had clenched, tight patterns in his faded jeans, and he forced himself to relax. To draw his other leg up and create a sort of barrier between them. "Gabriel," he says. He suddenly wants that bottle of water, and searches through his pockets again.

Sam recognizes the behaviours, both the folding up of Gabriel's legs (to make a shield, protection) and the searching of his pockets (which he had done when Sam brought the water). He stands and grabs the water bottle, then comes back down to sit, offering it to Gabriel. "Here. I'm Sam."

He thinks a little hello? and squints at Sam, wondering if he would be heard. It goes unnoticed and Gabriel's gaze shifts to the offered bottle. "I ain't got anything, Sam." It's a painful admission, and his chest hollows briefly, his breath going shallow. Fuck, oh fuck. He leans back, chewing on a previously bloodied lip, thinks of birds until he can breathe again.

It clicks. Gabriel expects to trade him, to give him something. Sam sits perfectly still, eyes down, body language nonthreatening until Gabriel's panic attack passes. "It's all right," he says, offers the bottle again. "I don't expect you to have anything."

Again, it wasn't the answer that Gabriel had expected, but that in itself makes him feel uneasy. He reaches for the bottle anyway; eyes steady on Sam, half expecting him to grab him as he does.

Sam offers the bottle in the tips of his fingers and drops his hand when Gabriel takes it, his eyes on Gabriel's, unrelenting but certainly not threatening. He's picked things up; the right body language, the right way to behave around people like this. He knows that, to some, "people like this" means people who are useless to society. To Sam, it's people who've been hurt.

"How old are you?" he murmurs, scooting over to lean against the bed, folding his long legs up into his chest.

"Nineteen," Gabriel replies automatically, a response he trained into himself, since it was two years off mark. He's more interested in the cool plastic crackling under the pressure of his fingers, and how strange the weight of the bottle feels, sloshing from side to side. He imagines the same, now unfamiliar, feeling of water in his belly. He tilts his face away from Sam again as he drinks and keeps his arm raised in front of his bared throat. A distant part of his mind savours the spill of liquid across his tongue.

He's covering his throat. Fucking Christ. Sam's belly drops miserably, like he's just hill hopped and realized his Jeep is about to come crashing down on someone's puppy. He gives Gabriel a few moments before eyeing him with a little more scrutiny this time and murmuring, "No you're not. I'd say... sixteen, maybe seventeen at most. I won't tell them, though. You're safe with me." He stands, strips off his jacket, leaving him in a t-shirt and jeans as he sits again. "Good liar, though. Practice a lot?" Sam knows a lot about lying about ages. Hell, he did it himself, back when he thought he could make it on his own and ended up here for a few months.

"Everyone lies," Gabriel says vaguely, not admitting to anything, which was essentially the same as doing it anyway. He twisted the cap back on the bottle, licking a drop of water from his thumb. He absolutely didn't watch Sam ditch his coat, absolutely didn't think about what that meant for Gabriel, as the older man settled back against the bed. Which was between Gabriel and the unlocked door. Safe was not a safe word, and Gabriel supposed he was lying when he said he didn't have anything.

"True," Sam agrees. He lounges back against the bed, perpendicular to Gabriel and facing a side wall. He's not trying to be between Gabriel and the door, not really. "They give you the whole mumbo-jumbo doctor talk when they put you in here?" He's used to it. We're going to let you rest and recuperate, dinner's at 5, you can see a doctor tomorrow and we'll assign you someone to consult with...

"Apparently I'm being helped," Gabriel murmurs. One knee slides a bit, angling so he can't see the light from the hall peeking in under the door. "Or something." He prefers the latter, because help shouldn't feel like a cage, and help should have open windows, or at least windows you can always look out of.

Sam snorts. He's never been really up front and honest with a shelteree before; he tells them it's great, the best thing that could happen. "It's better once they have you see a doctor. Since you're underage, they might place you with a family. You'll be here a couple months, though. In a better room than this. This is just a temp."

Everything in Gabriel stills at the word family and he swallows hard, not hiding it very well. "I'm nineteen," he insists, and can't help but add, "I'm fine." Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is- "Fine."

It's not hard to see he's triggered something. Sam slides forward a little. "Then we'll tell them you're nineteen and you stay here a couple months and then we figure out how to get you somewhere safe," he says, eyes quiet and on Gabriel's, holding his shaking gaze. "Okay?"

Evenly, as if he had any power at all over what was going to happen to him, Gabriel suggested, "Or, I leave tonight and then someone else can come here and be 'safe'."

Sam clenches his teeth. Delicate situation has to be handled with care. He has to keep Gabriel here for his own safety, but he can't make it seem like he's caging him. "You could," he murmurs, noting the edge on safe. "But I'd really like to talk to you more."

He couldn't, but it was nice of him to say so. Gabriel didn't really get the point of 'nice'. "I'd really like the blinds to be open." If he was going to be stuffed in the little room, he was going to suffocate. He could feel it, like his collar was too tight, and his sleeves were too big. He took another sip of the water, a quick up and down, just to wet his moth.

Oh. Oh. "Hm..." Sam stands, moves in deliberate steps to the window and reaches up to the very top, where the blinds meet the metal rod that holds them up, and rolls the end, pulling so they roll up and around, letting real, true sunlight into the room. What's more, Sam sees that the window can be opened through the bars and threads long fingers through to tug it upward, let fresh air in. He closes his eyes, sighs out relief. "There. Better."

A shudder of relief shakes through Gabriel and it's enough make him ignore Sam towering over him again. The room is less of a cage, and Gabriel turns against the wall, presses his cheek to it, and imagines it's a paper prison, that he could reach out beyond the drywall and wiggle his fingers in the sunshine. He'll dangle his fingers out the window, but later, when Sam isn't quite as tall and looming, and Gabriel can whistle to himself and have conversations with pretend birds.

God, Sam's heart aches. It burns in his chest, fucking squeezes like it's a sponge, trying to soak something up and coming clean with zilch. "Gabriel..." he says softly, crouches down beside the kid, eyes the press of his pale cheek against white wall."Who hurt you?"

"No one," Gabriel says, and believes it. He doesn't move, but his eyes slide Sam's way, peering at him. His fingers press secret codes into the wall by his shoulders. Messages, invisible, and written in gibberish. He brought it on himself, did it to himself - he took the step, made the choice, he did this, he did. "I." The thought stops there.

Sam's hand slides up, his fingers pressing over Gabriel's, just resting there. "Where did you get these?" He moves his hand, touches the side of Gabriel's face.

Gabriel's gaze goes empty and he doesn't turn away from the touch like he's probably supposed to. It's just him and the feather, Gabriel knows. Doesn't have anything but himself and the feather, and he already decided not to give the feather away. "I fell," he explains distantly.

"Gabriel," Sam says, voice softer still, his thumb tracing the amoeba outline of the purple-black bruise. "Tell me the truth."

Because he thinks it's expected, and he thinks maybe he should have drunk the entire bottle of water, Gabriel turns his face slightly to press his mouth against Sam's palm. He flicks his tongue along a crease of Sam's skin, and then waits, detachedly still.

Sam stiffens, stills, his entire body flushing cold. "What are you doing," he says, in a voice that's so soft and flat it's barely even a question. He's scared, he realizes belatedly, scared, holy fuck, of what line he might have crossed.

Gabriel frowns, just slightly, turns his face away. "...I don't-" He shuffled back, sliding away from Sam. He's going to have to fucking give the feather. But he did have the window, now. Gabriel offered it silently, rubbing the heel of one hand under one eye. Fuck.

The little feather is black and dusted gold, settled in the center of Gabriel's palm. Sam folds long fingers around his hand and closes it, turning it into a shell over the fragile thing. "You don't owe me," he says quietly. "I don't want anything from you, Gabriel. I swear."

He can't really wrap his mind around it, but the hum of Sam's voice is soothing and Gabriel can't help wanting to listen to him. He deflates a little, slouching against the wall, and whispers a reluctant, doubtful, "...Okay."

"Okay," Sam echoes. He slides down to sit, and then contemplates. "Well, I would like one thing from you. Will you talk to me?"

A very strange request and it's enough to draw out a faint smile across Gabriel's mouth. It feels odd, a little awkward and halfway to something familiar. "I suppose," he says lightly, no promises - no more, never.

Sam gives him a warm, bright smile in response and unfolds himself, long and leggy. It's almost time for dinner, and it looks like he's staying past his shift time.

He heads to front desk and requests an extra set of pillows and the scrappy blankets they have as well as a second tray of dinner, which sounds fantastic--lasagne and salad and breadsticks with chocolate cake. It's surprisingly easy to make himself comfortable in Gabriel's room, the pillows and blankets spread on the floor and Sam on his stomach on them, waiting for dinner.

"So," he says when they're both settled again. Lamest segue ever, cliché, but he has to. "Going to tell me about those bruises, Gabe?"

Out the window as much as he can by the time that Sam gets back, Gabriel almost doesn't notice him return. He seems a little more present, a little calmer. He even raises a questioning eyebrow at the impromptu picnic on the floor, but doesn't comment. He touches a hand to one of the linoleum floor tiles, smoothes over the pattered speckles, just to make sure they're not secretly ants, waiting to all swarm and crawl onto their private picnic. Or maybe march one-by-one hurrah, hurrah.

Gabriel looks down at Sam's unmarked face and makes the motion of shrugging without really meaning it. "I have a temper," he confessed plainly and left it at that.



Sam lets it go; there's no point in arguing it. "Food's good," he says instead, pushing Gabriel's plate toward him a little. He has no idea how long it's been since the kid last ate, and he wants to be sure Gabriel knows he's giving the food, not expecting anything else or any sort of payment.

It's easier to take the plate than it was to take the water, because Sam had a plate too, so it wasn't like Gabriel was sitting there, the only one with food, not sharing. It didn't...it made him feel less conspicuous, less like...well, like a target.

He starts with the pasta because it's red and warm, and it's all he can smell, so it fills the air with taste, and fuck he's so hungry. Gabriel is skeptical about the salad and the breadsticks, but he'll still eat them, but the thing he's really looking forward to is the cake. The dark slice, like a breath of chocolate-home, and he tastes noodles but thinks cake, slivers of chocolate and soft and sweet and so so good. It's a better dinner than he's had in a long while and the textures and tastes are too inviting - he'd always loved food. He's more than a little distracted.

Gabriel looks so entranced by his food that Sam wonders if he should go down and ask for another plate. He decides that he will if he needs to, but for now, he eats his own and watches Gabriel, watches the slight light in his eyes and, when Sam's done, he slides his piece of cake onto Gabriel's tray. He hasn't missed the way the kid keeps eyeing his, like it's some kind of treasure.

"So where're you from?"

"Around," Gabriel mumbles through a mouthful of salad, his eyes darting over to the second slice of cake. His stomach aches at the sight of it, thinks of Trivial Pursuit, and how maybe he's done something to win another piece. He looks back at Sam, sees he's done, and shakes his head, nudging the slice in his direction.

"I'm fine," Sam responds, pressing his hand over Gabriel's and stilling it before standing to take his tray over to the desk. "You need it more than me, and if I keep eating our cake I'm gonna get fat. So go ahead." He gives Gabriel an easy smile and plops back on the floor. "Around? I'm from Kansas."

Eating our cake - the words roll unsaid in the back of Gabriel's throat. Sam says it like it's a common thing, these gorgeous slices of baked delicious, and Gabriel wonders for a moment if thinking that makes the shelter a little less confining makes him a shallow person. His bounty of two slices makes him decide he doesn't care.

"Yeah? ...I'm Tennessee." He impatiently chomps through his breadsticks. Cake cake cake.

"Tennessee. No accent," Sam comments, eyes bright and on Gabriel's. It seems like he's a little more... contained, a little more lucid. "But then, I don't have one either. I guess it kinda comes from living all over the place. Oh, hey." Jesus, he's acting like a neurotic kid with ADD. "After you're done we can get you a shower, how's that? Usually everyone goes in rounds a like eight or so, but it's better when it's private."

That's not why Gabriel doesn't have an accent - he tucks his away all nice and safe, because city boys think they're so much better than anyone from the south. Here he is, getting his rocks off over a cake, so maybe they were right. He pauses with his fork poised over his dessert, lashes lowering slightly over his gaze. Everything comes out in the wash. Hot water would be nice. Being in a building is nice. Privacy would be nice. "Okay," he said slowly.

Sam goes quiet after that, just watching, head tipped back and slightly to the side so he can see, his bangs flopped in his eyes and his knees tucked up, arms folded over them. "You're sweet," he finally says, the truth, because he wasn't at all expecting the latest feral to turn out like this. Sure, Gabriel has... issues, clearly, but he seems good-hearted, and that's enough for Sam.

He isn't sure how to take that so Gabriel doesn't say anything in response for a moment as he thinks about it. He's lingering now, each forkful of smooth chocolate some sort of sinful pleasure he knows he's going to pay for later. For a moment he wonders about hiding the other piece away for later, when he's feeling unsteady and angry, because who could be angry with that lovely thing.

"Your fault," Gabriel tells him, licking the icing off his fork.

"My fault?" Sam chuckles, amused. "You being sweet is my fault?"

Gabriel stares at him, then at the cake, and then back at him again. Then slowly, because he has a strange amount of control over his expressions, he raised one eyebrow.

Sam's mouth slides up at the edge, lazy and slow. He likes watching Gabriel's face. He's very, very animated at times, and the amount of control he has is... freaky, yes, but interesting. "Gonna save that or eat it?

It occurs to Gabriel, perhaps a bit belatedly, that Sam might actually understand some things. "...Later." One more lick at his fork, and he slid it beside the cake on the plate, scraping lightly into the side of it. Picture perfect. If he hadn't just eaten a slice he might have thought it unreal. Gabriel shifted the plate slightly, just to make sure. Maybe he'd keep it on the window sill, attract a bird or two.

Cleanup is fast; Sam lifts the slice of cake carefully and leaves the dinner dishes on the desk. They send people around to pick them up from the room, and they know this one's occupied now. "Here." He lets Gabriel know where he's going and heads for the small kitchen that's down the hallway and tucked behind the cafeteria, then saran-wraps the cake and writes a note on a piece of paper. "Don't f'n touch the cake. -Sam."

He sticks it on and pushes the cake into the staff refrigerator before returning to Gabriel's room. "Shower time?" he asks, poking his head inside.

"Suppose so," Gabriel said, fingers wiggling in the holes at the cuffs of his jacket sleeves. It's back to just him and the feather again, because if you didn't have it on you, then it really wasn't yours. That was a lesson learned the hard way. He found himself staring up at Sam again, even though they were both standing. He got the feeling that everyone looked up at him, kind eyes in a kind face, framed by blue and clouds and sky...or ceiling, and tiles and rows of lights. It made Gabriel's neck hurt.

Christ, Gabriel really was gonna have to stop doing that. The way he looked at Sam, like he was... Fuck, he didn't even know. The way Gabriel looked at him, eyes guarded and soft and whiskey-golden... Intoxicating, that's what it was. Sam cleared his throat. "C'mon, I'll show you."

Gabriel weaved his fingers through his hair, gaze dropping to the floor as he followed Sam out of the room. Fringe in his eyes, hands stuffed in his pockets, he didn't make eye contact with anyone and hardly said a word as they walked. Not that he was chatty, not anymore.

Thankfully no one stopped them, and Sam locked the shower door when they got there. The shower was built like the ones at the YMCA nearby: large and open with stalls that are closed off by flimsy white curtains. There was also a bigger, open shower that no one used, and after brief consideration, Sam led Gabriel to that one. "I won't look," he offered, swiping up a towel and some donated all-in-one soap. "This one isn't used very much, so it's clean and nicer than the stalls. Anything else?"

With the soap lifted to smell, Gabriel shook his head. He examined the stall skeptically, eyes flicking over to ones with curtains. He didn't really believe Sam, because all the people who worked at the shelter looked, for your own safety and just in case. Gabriel hadn't been there for long, but every shelter was the same. Some were just had better funding. And chocolate cake.

Gabriel undressed quickly when he moved into the stall, not quite facing away from Sam, because the room was too large behind him without a curtain to draw across. When he turned the water on, it splashed harmlessly over his head and he had to step back into the spray. It was as hot as he could manage, and Gabriel watched Sam out of the corner of his eye, fingers lathering in the soap as he did so.

True to his word, Sam didn't look. He owed Gabriel that, the basic human dignity, and he really did like Gabriel, so like hell was he going to betray him like that. Instead he sat tucked up against the other wall, aware that those sharp, catching eyes were on him. He texted his roommate, Brady, told him he probably was going to be in late forwarded a text to Jess about a get-together next Friday. But he didn't look.

A little touch of mischief flared low in Gabriel's belly, and the feeling was so long-suppressed that it confused him for a second. He was tempted to try something, push a little at the trust that Sam was showing, but almost in the same instant that he decided he was going to do it, Gabriel changed his mind. Instead he washed and then stood under the water for as long as he could manage, before the steamy heat made him feel too loose and relaxed. He twisted the knobs for a bit, playing with the temperature, and then shut the water off, listening to the water drip a litany onto the floor.

He stepped out, legs sticking against his hastily pulled on jeans, and wiggled his pruned toes against the floor. Water from his slicked back hair dripped a trail down the back of his neck, and he turned back to the stall to make sure he didn't leave anything behind.

The rustle of denim told Sam Gabriel was at least decently clothed, and when he thought it was safe he glanced up, gasping at what he saw. Gabriel's entire back was draped in the most beautiful tattoo, bold, sweeping lines of black and delicate texture work that bore wings across his back, between his shoulders and down.

"Oh, wow," he breathed, staring without meaning to, phone forgotten at his side. "That's gorgeous."

Gabriel flinched, realizing what Sam was talking about. "It was a present," he said. A present he couldn't ever see without some impressive twisting, and a few mirrors, couldn't feel, and really, mocked him whenever he thought about it. He pulled his shirt over his head, hiding it away again.

"From who?" Sam asked, curious as he dragged himself to his feet, phone sleek in his hand again.

"My brother," he said. The sweater was zipped up all the way, another barrier over his back and against the world. He looked for somewhere to put the used soap and towel.

"You have a brother?" This was just to keep him talking, keep Sam learning. Sam grabbed the towel and soap and tossed them in their respective boxes, but didn't make any move to leave the showers.

"A few," Gabriel shifted, putting a stall wall behind him. A shivery little impulse made him ask, "Want one?" The joking smile came a beat too late, making an unsteady joke.

Sam laughed, soft and full. "That's good," he chuckles. "I haven't heard a decent brother joke in a hell of a long time. But hey, I'll take one of yours if you take mine." He patted Gabriel's shoulder, ruffling his hair on instinct.

Whatever he was going to say in response was strangled in his throat at Sam's touch. He jerked back, hitting the wall hard enough to make him gasp through gritted teeth. It took his brain a few moments to catch up, to realize that Sam was being friendly. Sharing cake, privately showering, opening the window, friendly.

Sam's hands were dropped to his sides in an instant, palms facing Gabriel, fingers spread, eyes down, shoulders hunched to make him look smaller. "I'm sorry," he murmured, still not making eye contact. "You all right?" Shit, he should have thought better of that. If Gabriel had undergone abuse (which it was apparent he had), then some sort of haptophobia was inevitable.

Again, like he had before, Gabriel said, automatically, "Don't be sorry." He repeated it under his breath, walking further away from Sam, moving along the wall. He didn't like Sam when he wasn't tall and tree-like, blocking out everything around him, redwoods, giant redwoods, tall and strong, towering, tall - Gabriel leaned against the wall, turning away from Sam, despite the instinct not to, and simply breathed for a moment.

"Gabriel," Sam said softly, watching him turn away, curl in on himself. "Gabriel, please talk to me." He didn't often press people for their stories; he'd hated it when people did that to him, back in his day. But there was something about Gabriel, something fragile that Sam wanted to cup in his hands and protect, like a baby bird.

The shower wall was cool against his cheek. He could feel the water from his hair pooling along the collar of his shirt, and it should have been uncomfortable but it reminded him of walking in the rain. "I wouldn't trade brothers with you," he said softly. It was an answer of sorts, even though Sam hadn't yet asked the question - the why of things. Gabriel wasn't so stupid as to think it wasn't coming.

It clicked in Sam's head then, with a hollow, sharp sound like the sting of a gun. "Your brother," he said quietly, voice empty. He didn't say anything else, only took a step closer. This--this kid had been--- "Your brother?"

"I have a temper," Gabriel reminded, dragging up the particulars of their conversation, things that he's now understanding that Sam likely wrote off as strange responses. "Everybody lies."

"So--wait." Sam's eyes narrowed, his thoughts flying. "Gabriel--You don't blame yourself. It's not your fault." He didn't know anything about what had happened, but he could see from Gabriel's reaction that he hadn't provoked it, hadn't asked for it.

He'd brought it on himself, Gabriel knew, and his shoulders curled in as he crossed his arms over his chest. He peeked back at Sam. "No. But I objected." And it had been enough.

Sam's eyes were soft. "Objected to what?"

Words boiled in the back of Gabriel's throat and he pressed a hand beneath his jaw as if to keep them there. He wanted to melt into the tiles, ooze between the little squares and cool in the humidity of the room, silent. Maybe he would evaporate, pull apart and drift away. He shook his head, breathed out, huffed away his secrets.

"Gabriel, please." Sam shifted a step closer, peering down at the obviously-distraught Gabriel. "I won't do anything. I won't try to find your brothers, I won't hurt you. I just want to know."

Gabriel turned even though he didn't want to, because facing him was better than not. He didn't trust Sam enough to do this, to just tell him about Michael and Lucian, and what had happened, and why Gabriel- He shook his head again, backed up a step to look Sam in the face, to try and read the reaction there, denying him twice, saying no Sam I won't, which might as well be no, brother I won't, I can't, please don't, this isn't the way, don't you dare-

Oh fuck. There was fear there, in Gabriel's eyes, and a hesitance, and a... something resigned, like he was already sure of his fate. "Gabriel," he said again, and reached out to take the younger boy's shoulder in one strong hand, cup it and pull him a step closer. He was forgetting etiquette, forgetting where he was and what not to do. "It's okay."

Luce had tried to hug him, in a moment just like this, right before he'd hurt Gabriel. Blindly, Gabriel tried to jerk away, hand slipping along the tiled wall. Not this time. His heart was hammering in his chest, mouth a tight line.

Sam released Gabriel immediately, pissed at himself for his mistake, and dropped to one knee in front of Gabriel, watching him. "It's okay," he repeated, softer. "You're safe."

"No, I'm." Nothing came to mind. He wasn't safe, he was closeted in, pinned into a shelter, watched over by the man kneeling on the floor, and stuffed inside a skin too tight for comfort. "I'm fine." Fine, because it wasn't an indication of anything. It was existence, and being, and mostly alive.

It was Gabriel's be-all answer, his attempt to make everything all right. Sam stood, bracing his hand on his knee, and surveyed the kid for a long moment. "Let's go for a walk, okay?"

I'll run he almost warned, but Gabriel still had enough presence of mind to reel that thought in. He nodded curtly, anything to get out of the room, and go and be somewhere else.

Sam led Gabriel outside, through to the back to the playground-like area that the shelter proprietors kept functional. It wasn't the best; some of the equipment was rusty and the grass was mostly dead, but there was a garden and trees and birds, and it was outside. Sam back off Gabriel, let him do his thing. Didn't press.

Gabriel basically crumpled to his knees in the grass, dead or not, and pushed his fingers into the dirt. He had no interest in the play structures (except maybe the teeter-todder) or the garden (gardens reminded him of Luce), and really, he was just so fucking relieved to be outside again. It was as if a weight had lifted off him, and the open air above him made him feel lighter, more insignificant in the scope of things, like he was invisible to everything and everyone at all.

Sam watched, eyes locked on Gabriel. It looked like he was experiencing some sort of... connection with the earth thing, some sort of healing. And he needed it. Sam would have to sit back, watch, be patient.

After a few long moments, Sam unfolded his legs and loped over to the swings, dropping in one and pushing off, no matter the fact that he was too tall, and too old. It felt good, the wind on his skin, and part of him hoped Gabriel would come closer.

When his heart was distant and quiet, Gabriel looked over at Sam, an absurdly long shape tucked beneath the arch of the swing set. He twisted on the grass, legs drawn up in front of him to watch, arms dangling out from over his knees. If he made a break for it now, he might actually make enough of a head start to make a difference once Sam started running. Maybe.

He pulled a few blades of grass, twisting them between his fingers. "How old are you?" He called out, not meaning to imply he was too old for the swing (who says there are age limits on swings) but the question just occurred to him.

"Twenty-three going on ten," Sam called back, pleased that Gabriel was talking to him. He swung a little higher, kicking his legs and swinging a little higher. He knew Gabriel could make a break for it, knew he could run. Sam was hoping he wouldn't.

A whole toddler older than him. Unsurprising. Gabriel watched him swing a little more, weighing his options. Forward - run, back - stay, forward - run, back -stay... He stood, grass dropping to the lawn (forward - run) and hesitated. (Back - stay.)

"Pretty tall for ten," he said, making a decision and walking closer to the swing set.

"Hit my growth spurt early." The elder man's tone was light-hearted, and he kicked harder the next time he swung past the ground, savouring the connect of his feet. When he saw Gabriel venturing closer, however, he slowed, raised one eyebrow. "Race to get highest?"

"Yeah, okay," Gabriel said. He moved forward and took the swing next to Sam, twining his fingers with the chain links. He kicked back off the ground, and started swinging his legs, getting to the same height as Sam.

Jesus fuck, this was something Sam was going to lose, and he didn't even have to try to do so--it just happened. Gabriel was faster and smaller, and he kicked higher than Sam in a matter of a minute. Sam, puffing, slowed after a few rounds of stretched-leg, high-up swinging and let himself come to drift to a halt, feet flat on the floor. "I concede. You win rights to be smug all day."

He leaned his temple against the chain of his swing and watched Gabriel. "I'm sorry about earlier. I don't know when to stop pushing sometimes."

Gabriel might have snickered, but it drifted away on the wind as he climbed higher, literally falling into the downswing after a heartbeat of hang time. He swung, a little longer and slid forward off his seat, letting his momentum throw him in an arc through the air. He landed in a crouch, and then sat, breathing deeply and smiling, before turning to look back at Sam.

"My brothers betrayed each other, and I was left to choose." He gazed out over the grounds, eyes narrowed against the sunshine, "And I didn't."

That had most definitely a smile, and Sam was most definitely not watching the curve of Gabriel's back as he stood, the arc of his spine, was not wondering how Gabriel's tattooed skin would look, bared and flexed in the same way.

"So what happened?" he asked, wrapping his hands around the chains of the swing and watching, Gabriel's form outlined by sunlight.

"They didn't exactly like that," Gabriel said with a shrug. He bent over to pluck a blade of grass from the lawn, and he slipped it between his lips. He'd tried to get them to stop. Didn't exactly work either. Gabriel contemplated the playground looking at the teeter todder again.

Sam's eyes narrowed. He came over to stand beside Gabriel, hands in the pockets of his jacket. "They both... What did they do to you? Where were your parents?"

Gabriel shook his head, crossing an arm over his chest. "Just one. And...I dunno. Gone." The three of them raised by a man Gabriel could vividly remember, then suddenly, the man had been gone. Mom had been a mystery. Most of the time Gabriel had the notion that there wasn't ever one.

Gone? That meant Gabriel's brothers--or one--had been old enough to take care of him. "What did your brother do?" he asked, eyes not on Gabriel, but further, on the setting sun.

Gabriel chose to deliberately misunderstand. "They raised me," he said, scuffing the toe of his runner in the dirt.

"Gabe," Sam murmured, voice softened. "You know what I mean. You're a smart kid, I can tell."

He kicked a rock further into the grass, and reluctantly offered, "Luce has a temper too."

Sam nodded, still staring at the fading light of the sun. They'd be doing night checks soon; Sam would have to leave. "Do you like me, Gabriel?"

The question made Gabriel wonder if he was supposed to check off a box somewhere - yes, no, maybe - and he looked over at Sam to see if he were holding out a piece of paper for him to mark. The older man was looking out at the sunset. Gabriel turned to look at it as well, "Don't hate you."

Sam glanced down at Gabriel, nudged him gently with his shoulder. "Don't hate me enough to see me again?" he asked, his voice soft. "Because I'd really like to talk to you again."

He looked up at Sam, a little wide eyed, but not as panicked as he would have been earlier. "You're leaving?"

"I have to. I volunteer here, they don't usually let us stay overnight." Sam gave Gabriel a lilted half-smile. "I can come back tomorrow."

Gabriel blinked, then nodded. "..'kay. Yeah, okay." Tomorrow. He could handle tomorrow.

Sam's smile widened. "C'mon, let's get you back to your room. And blankets, they hadn't given you any yet."

"Blankets're nice," Gabriel said, walking back to the building, glancing over his shoulder at the playground one more time.

"I like 'em." Sam gave Gabriel another one of his sunshine grins as he led the younger boy back down the hallway to his room. The large storage closet on the way there yielded two large comforters and a few pillows as well as a change of clothes for Gabriel, all of which Sam carried, juggling them back and forth. "Get the door for me?"

Gabriel felt more inclined to trip him, only because his arms were full, and Gabriel always thought big stacks of things collapsing was hilarious. He made a noise, though, and opened the doors, thinking maybe it was a better idea to maybe make a friend in the shelter. Then it would be someone other than him and the feather.

Sam slipped gratefully in and dumped the blankets on the bed as well as the pillows, then handed Gabriel the soft pair of sweatpants and the t-shirt he'd snagged from the closet as well.

Gabriel was strange. He was... mischievous and witty under all that, Sam could see, but he was also deeply scarred and pained. Sam just had to get past this exterior, the shell, and see what Gabriel was really like.

"I'll come by tomorrow, okay?"

Gabriel gave him a halfhearted salute with his hand, already kicking his coat and shoes off to pile on the floor. "Bye Sam," he said shortly, examining the sweatpants. They were going to be much too tall on him. Gabriel wasn't surprised.

Sam gave Gabriel a wide smile and wished him goodbye before slipping out, making sure to let one of the night watchers know it was all right to leave Gabriel's window open.




He got to the shelter early the next morning, around eleven. Gabriel would have had his doctor's appointment at nine or so and been moved into his room, so he checked the board for room reassignments and was surprised to find Gabriel's name--still no last--scrawled across the same temp room he'd had the night before.

Unable to track down a nurse that knew what he was talking about, Sam headed for the source, letting himself into Gabriel's room with a soft murmur of the younger boy's name. "Gabe? You here?"

A wiggle of fingers appeared over the top of the bed, as Gabriel recognized the voice. He was lying on his back, looking up out of the window from the floor. After a moment he sat up completely, peering at Sam over the bedspread. His eye was a little swollen, and lip fat from being split earlier in the morning.

Sam's breath hitched a little; he forced himself to speak evenly when he asked, "What happened to you?" None of the shelter staff would hit him, so...?

Gabriel's eyes shifted to the side as he thought about how to phrase it. He'd gotten into a fight, partially about meds and having to let people touch him, and partially about the way that one of the other kids had been looking at him. "My fault," he told Sam.

"I didn't ask whose fault, I asked what happened," Sam responded, coming over to sit with Gabriel behind the bed, leaning against the wall and locking their eyes. "Come on, I won't tell anyone else."

"I...freaked. A little," he mumbled, tumble of hair falling over his eyes, "Hit someone. Got hit back."

Sam reached up and brushed Gabriel's hair back, the way his brother had done for him when he had his head tucked down, talking about why he didn't want to go to school that day. "Freaked why?"

There were so many answers to that - most of them biting and sarcastic, and Gabriel licked at the cut on his lip before replying, "I don't fucking need a doctor."

Oh. Oh. "Oh, Gabriel." Sam sighed and rested his head against the wall, hair flattened close to it. "It's just to make sure you're healthy. Like a check-up. Nothing invasive."

"I'm fine," he insisted, fierceness showing in his gaze. He twisted his fingers in the holes of his sleeves. There were free clinics, sometimes. Gabriel knew better than to ignore them.

"I know you're fine, but if you want a better room you have to let the doctor see you," Sam said firmly. "I'll go with you, okay? The rooms upstairs have bigger windows."

The thought wormed into his belly a little - bigger rooms, bigger windows. His eyes darted to the open blinds, the patch of blue and white beyond them. Sam - did he trust Sam? He looked at him, sitting on the floor, patient, so patient with him. "...Okay." Maybe he did trust Sam.

Sam smiled and rubbed his shoulder. "Thank you." He frowned and glanced at Gabriel's lip again. "Who hit you?"

Gabriel's face pullled tight with a short laugh. He thought it was funny - probably was the only one who did. "Some girl," he told him. Dark skin, dark eyes, very pretty. She had a temper too.

"A girl," Sam snorted, and rubbed Gabriel's shoulder again. "Must've been a real firecracker to get you that good, huh?" He stood and offered Gabriel a hand, one eyebrow quirked.

Don't touch me! She'd snapped, fist connecting with his mouth, hands quick to react. He hadn't meant to shove her, had been surprised when she'd held her ground, blocking his escape from the shelter staff. A firecracker, like his brothers - a thought equally comforting and unsettling.

Sam was soft and sharp, concerned. Gabriel took his offered hand, really only thinking about how touching him wouldn't get him another split lip.

Sam squeezed Gabriel's hand and let him go, unsure of how much contact was comfortable for the younger boy. "You have your feather?" he asked, remembering how Gabriel had clutched at it the day before.

Gabriel looked up at him, surprised that he'd remembered. He slid a hand in his pocket confirming what he already knew, and nodded. "Do you-" want it now?

"No," Sam said, grin quirking upwards. "I just wanted to make sure you didn't leave it behind." He glanced back across the bare room. "Soon as your appointment is over, you can move into your new room, remember?"

Gabriel didn't know what Sam was looking for, considering Gabriel didn't have anything other than the clothes on his back and the feather in his pocket. "I'm sure it'll take us days," he said quietly, a hint of a smile lingering at the corner of his mouth.

Sam ruffled Gabriel's hair and opened the door for him, herding Gabriel out in front of him and dropping a hand on his shoulder as they walked, almost a claim. If any of the higher-ups tried to argue with Sam about taking over Gabriel's care, he would have no problem informing them that he was the only one Gabriel cooperated with.

The small doctor's office built into the upper floor smelled like sanitizer, something Sam had always found eerily comforting. He leaned over the white reception desk and said he was here late with Gabriel for his appointment. The receptionist shot him a wide-eyed look and whispered, "I thought we had agreed he was a special case."

It was loud enough for Gabriel to hear, and more than enough to set Sam off. His eyes narrowed as he hissed, "That was unnecessary. Now if you'll please do your job and let us back to see the doctor, that would be great."

She stepped back, wide-eyed, and stammered, "Sorry," as she pressed the button to admit them.

Gabriel didn't know whether the hand on his shoulder was support or restraint, so as they walked, he fancied it a bit of both. Sam was the mediator, the connection at the shoulder was a switch, a tighter grip was a warning to stop, pause and don't freak, don't lash out and run off, don't be afraid. If the hand were to lift, Gabriel thought it might be a release, the go ahead, approval and encouragement, go go go.

Special case and I thought we agreed - the words were heavy, a weight at the back of Gabriel's throat, and he bristled slightly. Did he trust Sam, did he like him? Do you like me, Gabriel?

Then anger - low and sharp, a breathe of disapproval above Gabriel, and he stood quite still. Anger because the receptionist had mentioned he was a special case and it wasn't supposed to be talked about? Anger because he'd been called a special case and Sam didn't agree?

Gabriel didn't look at the woman as he passed by, didn't comment on anything.

As soon as they were alone, back in the too-white hallway that led down to the doctors' offices (three in all), Sam muttered, "Fucking people can't ever be decent, can they?" And then, to Gabriel: "Don't listen to her. She doesn't know what she's talking about, Gabe."

Gabriel walked a little bit slower, then, three ominous doors in a eggshell hall, just waiting for a crack, something there to break. "They think there's something wrong," he said out loud, eyes darting to the ceiling, because that was always where cracks began. He felt as if his words could collapse the hallway.

Sam could feel it, the beginning of Gabriel's panic. "No they don't," he soothed quietly. "And if they do, they're wrong. They just don't like how you fought with that girl earlier. That's it."

"She said we agreed like you'd talked about it," Gabriel muttered. The look he gave Sam, head tilted back to look at him, was mostly suspicious with a thin layer of hurt.

"Me? No. I haven't spoken to anyone but the lady at the very front desk." Sam shrugged. "I guess she assumed that since you were with me, I'd been informed." He spat the word out and rubbed Gabriel's shoulder again. "I'm not that kinda' person, kiddo."

Gabriel made a noncommittal noise and looked away. Pick a door any door, any door at all- "Which one am I supposed to go to?"

"Which one are we supposed to go to," Sam corrected absently, wanting to make sure Gabriel knew he wasn't alone here, and peered down the hall. Dr. Coller was the nicest, but her door was closed, and Dr. Lindsay was on vacation, so that left--"Dr. Hall," he said, somewhat resigned. Dr. Hall was not known for his tact. "Third one down."

Dr Hall at the end of the hall - Gabriel wondered if he (she?) where the one to command the rest of the doctors. We want open offices they'd say and he'd say no! we will be arranged along a hall! "All right." He probably had a moustache to twirl.

Dr. Hall was actually an eerily tall (almost taller than Sam) man, bald and with needle-sharp eyes behind round glasses. Sam didn't like him one bit, never had. "I have Gabriel with me," Sam mumbled, letting Gabe file in behind him. The office was small, but Sam wasn't about to leave Gabriel alone with this guy.

"Ah, yes," the doctor responded. "The one from earlier." He eyed Gabriel. "How did your fistfight go?"

And the hall shall be long and narrow, just like me! Gabriel silently continued his internal story theatre, blinking up at the man. If Sam was a tower, the doctor was a spire. "Coulda been worse," Gabriel told him. He didn't move too far from Sam, was barely a step away from him.

"Hhrrn. Yes, it could have. They could have returned you to where you belong." Dr. Hall stood as Sam shot a glare at him, approaching Gabriel. "Sam, if you will--"

"I'm staying," Sam insisted, dropping himself in the plastic chair across from the examination table. Dr. Hall narrowed his gaze, clearly displeased.

"Yes, well. Gabriel, I'm going to need you to take off your shirt."

Gabriel didn't know if he liked the tone of where you belong, but Sam's glare made him feel a bit better about hearing it. He eyed the doctor warily, gaze flicking over the diplomas on the wall, before looking back at Sam for a moment.

He dug his fingers under his shirt hem and tugged it off, along with his sweater. It was held tightly in his hands and he watched the doctor carefully.

The doctor looked vaguely displeased at Gabriel's clutching, but only narrowed his eyes and prodded the youth's chest a bit before sliding his left hand around to press at the small of Gabriel's back, his right placing a stethoscope over Gabriel's heart. "Breathe."

His blood was rushing in his ears, Gabriel knew, and the reminder to breathe was a stupidly welcome thing. Gabriel stared blankly at a spot on the wall and tried to breathe smoothly, as if it were okay, everything was okay, he didn't need meds, nothing was wrong.

Sam waved his hand, caught Gabriel's eye, gave him a nod and a warm smile. You're doing fine. He didn't know why this kid's situation sucked him in, why he held Sam's attention like a em>magnet, but he'd stopped caring. Dr. Hall made doctor-noises and moved from here to there, then nodded and pulled out a clipboard. "A few questions. Your full name?"

Gabriel couldn't help the flicker of a smile that was automatically offered in return, and his focus relaxed a bit after remembering that Sam was there with him.

"Gabriel Engel," he said softly. If he had a middle name, he didn't know it.

"Middle too," Dr. Hall snapped, clearly already pissy from both Sam and Gabriel's attitudes. Sam sniggered, then raised his hands innocently when Dr. Hall turned to glare. "... Moving on, shall we. Age?"

Sam mouthed, "Nineteen."

Gabriel's brows dipped in irritably, "Don't have one, I don't think. I'm nineteen." He didn't need the reminder from Sam, but at least he knew Sam wasn't going to call him on it.

Dr. Hall looked pissed at that, too, but he didn't comment. "All right. What about your home life? Siblings? Single parent, both?"

Sam winced. There was always a psychological evaluation, but he hadn't expected it so soon.

Mouth twisting, Gabriel focused on the string of his sweater, and he played with it in his hands. "No parents. Two older brothers."

"No parents? I assume your elder brothers raised you, then. Correct?"

"Yes."

"Why did you leave home?"

"Seemed like a good idea."

"And your reasoning, aside from that, was...?"

"It was better than staying."

"Was it so bad?" the doctor continued, relentless.

"Everything was perfect, so I left," Gabriel said with precise sarcasm.

"This is serious, Gabriel. We need to know if there was abuse occurring, etcetera. We do our best to fix the situation." Sam's teeth clenched so hard his jaw creaked. It was such a patented line.

"Fix how?" Gabriel asked, truly interested in how they thought they could fix something like that. "Is there a pamphlet guide?"

"Well, erm. No. If there was abuse going on, we will attempt to counsel the person responsible, and, if there is liable proof, we can press charges."

A muscle in Gabriel's cheek tightened. That was a funny definition of 'fix'. "There was no abuse." That was a blatant lie.

"Then why leave home? And I do recall that the bruises on your cheek and neck were there when you arrived yesterday."

Sam's eyes narrowed as he watched. There had been abuse. He was sure of it now.

"I fell," Gabriel said, the oldest excuse in the book. He ignored the first question.

Dr. Hall's expression tightened. "Listen to me, young man. I have a firm basis of belief that there was abuse occuring in your home, and admitting to it will make this process much easier."

Sam sat up straighter, a warning growl echoing in his throat. Dr. Hall had seen him mad before, but never pissed.

Gabriel misunderstood Sam's reaction, thinking he was urging him to explain. He shook his head, feeling suddenly cornered in the shoebox of a room. To buy himself some time, he pulled his shirt back on.

Uhoh. Sam could see Gabriel close himself off and stood, crowding into Gabriel's space and gently tipping his chin up. "Listen to me," he said quietly, eyeing Dr. Hall. "If you don't want to say, it's fine. He's just pushing because he's an apathetic asshole Right, Dr. Hall?" He glanced back, crouched over Gabriel like a lioness. The doctor cleared his throat and glanced away, busying himself with the clipboard.

Arms half through the sleeves of his sweater, Gabriel deflated slightly, entirely too relieved that Sam hadn't been pushing him like he thought. He leaned a little closer to Sam, whispering quietly enough that Sam probably could barely hear him, as close as he was. "I won't admit to something I've already accepted." His gaze almost pleaded for Sam to understand.

Sam's eyes widened just the slightest bit, and he nodded, dropping his hand on Gabriel's shoulder and pulling him a little closer. "We're done for now," he said, not bothering to turn around. "I'll move Gabriel to his new room and we'll get Dr. Coller next time." He gently urged Gabriel toward him and opened the door, shooting Dr. Hall a look as they both left. He made sure to slam the door on the way out.

"Jesus," he huffed. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize he'd pull that."

Gabriel pulled a handful of shirt and twisted it around his fingers. He kept his gaze to the floor, white and polished, like everything else. "Will the windows open?" A bit of a topic jump, but he didn't think he could keep telling Sam to stop apologising.

"Yeah, yeah, they will. They're barred, too, a lot of them have sit-in windowsills." Sam ran a hand back through his hair and reached out to untangle Gabriel's fingers from his shirt. "It'll be okay," he promised softly. "Come on, let's find your room."

Gabriel's hands folded around Sam's for a brief second, squeezing gratefully. He didn't believe in thank yous, and didn't believe in apologies. Not out loud, anyway.

Sam grinned down at Gabriel. "Oh, hey. When we get to your room, I brought you some stuff," he said, a little awkwardly. "Just... homey stuff, y'know?"

"Not really," Gabriel said, "But okay." He smiled something small, but still a little guarded.

"Gabe," Sam murmured when they reached the end of the hallway, a little secluded. "If you don't want me to ask, I won't ask again. But... your brother. Luce. He... What did he do?"

"What everyone seems to assume," Gabriel said plainly, shrugging one shoulder. It wasn't that he didn't accept it, he did - he just didn't really want to talk about

Sam glanced over, traced the bruise on Gabriel's cheek with the backs of two fingers. "I don't think it was your fault," he said, and let it go at that, pushing the door open so he could head outside, expecting Gabriel to follow him.

"It was," Gabriel murmured, mostly to himself as he followed after Sam. If he'd stayed quiet, it wouldn't have happened.

"I sincerely doubt that," Sam responded, just as low, and kept walking until he found room signouts. He crossed Gabriel's name off Room 12 and found the sheet for the upstairs rooms. "144," he murmured. "144, remember that. Elevator's this way."

Gabriel watched Sam cross his name off, feeling a little uncomfortable of how his name looked that way. He continued after Sam, just a tiny bit excited about riding in an elevator (easily amused, small pleasures) and stuck close to him, almost a shadow.

Luckily, there was no one else in the elevator; Sam slid in, held the door for Gabriel, and pressed the button for the third floor. There were four in all. The bottom floor were mostly offices, the cafeteria, etcetera. Second floor was temp rooms, third doctors and permanent rooms. Top floor was storage and more permanent rooms. "Excited about a real room?"

Gabriel was sort of seventeen-going-on-six, and he was probably going to have to take the stairs from then on, but it was worth it to brush his fingers against the buttons. To hit three quarters of them in a four-floor elevator, really it wasn't that big of a deal... "Do I share?"

Sam grinned as Gabriel pressed all the buttons, watched them light up, dull yellow-gold, duller than Gabriel's eyes. "I used to do that all the time," he commented, and reached over to press the button for the fourth. He kind of hoped Dr. Hall was walking by it when it opened to reveal nobody. "Nope, you've got your own."

"Then a real room'll be kinda nice," Gabriel said. He bit back a pleased grin at Sam pressing the remaining button. Empty, echoing with errant thoughts, but nice

Sam hummed. "You know, I lived on the streets for six months before I found this place."

"Yeah?" He couldn't imagine Sam, tall towering Sam, living anywhere but a nice house with a picket fence, and fifty dogs, a big car and beer in the refrigerator.

"Mmhm. Ran away from my dad's. Thought I could make it." Sam watched the door open and close twice before stepping out onto their floor. "Lot of shit happens to you on the street."

"Yeah," Gabriel repeated, changing the inflection to agreement. He walked beside Sam this time, watching the numbers on the door for the one that was his.

Sam half-smiled, stopping at a door partway there. 126. "This was mine," he mumbled, dropping his hand to the familiar pockmark on the door. "...Mm." Picking up his step again, he headed down and around the corner, down a little hallway that contained the 140's. 144, he stopped, pushed the door open. "Tada."

The room was larger than the one downstairs and brightly lit from the single large window, which, as Sam said, had a sit-in windowsill. The foot of the bed was at the door, the head of it under the window. There was a desk off to the left, a dresser to the right of the door. It was painted a soft blue.

Gabriel lingered at the doorway to Sam's old room, as if he could peer inside and see a younger version of Sam, angry and roughed up. He wondered for a moment if he could breathe in the ghost trails of the other man's existence, somehow connect with the past and say heya.

Sam was considerably further away by the time Gabriel looked back to the real thing, and he hurried to catch up. The room was nice, admittedly, and the bed being under the window already had saved him the trouble of moving it. The presence of a desk and dresser was interesting, and Gabriel wondered when he'd ever get the chance to accumulate his own possessions again.

Sam set his backpack on the bed and glanced up at the window, then clambered up on the bed and yanked the curtains down, along with the bar that held them in place, baring the window. "There," he said, tossing the curtains in a corner. "Need some light." He opened his backpack and dug in it, pulling out a multitude of things. A desk lamp, a candle, a blanket--an actual real, decent blanket--a few books, some of Dean's old shirts.

He'd forgotten that Sam had said he'd brought some things for him. Gabriel stood silently in the middle of the floor, unsure if he'd disturb the reality of things if he moved. It was strange and surreal, watching Sam make the room look like someone was actually living in in. He shuffled forward slightly, and then, when the blanket and backpack, and Sam didn't vanish, Gabriel went to inspect the book titles.

Catcher in the Rye, Straydog, Wide Awake, Good Omens. All some of Sam's favorite books. "I don't know if you like reading," Sam murmured, moving across to plug in the desk lamp, "but I do. I figured I'd bring some of my favorites by just in case."

Gabriel moved on to the shirts, holding one up to judge size. Too big. He wasn't surprised. "These yours too?"

"My brother's. He's closer to your size than I am." Sam put the candle on the top of the dressed and grinned to himself. "He left them at my place, so... Put 'em to good use, yeah?"

"Sure,' Gabriel said, letting it settle down on top of the other shirts in the pile. He ran a hand through his hair, rubbing fingers at the back of his neck. "You don't always do this for kids." It wasn't a question, and probably should have been, but Gabriel was fairly certain he was getting some exceptional treatment. It'd been in his favour so far, but he didn't know quite how to take it.

"No, I don't," Sam responded, pausing and meeting Gabriel's eyes. "What can I say, you caught my attention." He gave Gabriel a smile and grabbed the shirts, pressing them into the top dresser drawer.

"...why?" He asked, putting the candle on the window sill - without the curtains, it wasn't really a fire hazard to put it there.

Sam turned back, leaned against the dresser. "I dunno. Your eyes." It was the truth, even if it sounded ridiculous. "I like you."

"And you don't want anything from me." Gabriel still didn't understand it - kept waiting for the other shoe to fall down.

Sam's eyes softened. "No, I don't. Like I said, I'd like to keep talking to you."

Gabriel sat on the bed with a soft 'whump'. He ran his fingers over the blanket Sam had brought, thoughtfully. "Okay."

"Okay," Sam echoed, moving the books to Gabriel's desk and sitting down on the bed as well. He flopped onto his back, lying crosswise with his eyes closed.

Gabriel pulled a leg up onto the bed, feeling open enough to gaze down at Sam and scrutinize him without being watched. He drifted his fingers over the sprawled fan of Sam's hair, barely touching, then pulled back. "Got nothing to do?" Gabriel didn't mean to sound like he was trying to get rid of him.

Sam could feel Gabriel's touch, but didn't respond. "Nope," he said easily. "I don't have work until Friday, and I'm on break for classes, so..."

Sam had just come to see him, then. It was unexpected. "You teach?" He could imagine it - Sam in the circle of a bunch of kindergarten kids, knees to his shoulders and colouring pictures.

"Huh? No!" Sam chuckled. "I'm in school still. College." He opened his eyes, looking up at Gabriel, and was surprised to find him so close.

"Oh," Gabriel said. He blinked, leaning back from Sam, though Gabriel's hands rested just beside his shoulder. "What for?"

"Shooting for lawyer," Sam said, almost guiltily. "I took the full ride offered to me for the program, and I'm happy with it, I suppose. I kind of wanted to teach high school, but I'm good at the lawyer stuff, you know?"

Gabriel raised an eyebrow at this. But hey, a full ride was a full ride. "You suppose," he repeated. Not that he was an expert in life decisions and things that Make You Happy, but that wasn't exactly the best thing to hear.

Sam shrugged, folding his arms behind his head and closing his eyes again so he would stop looking at Gabriel. Because looking was proving to be unhealthy. "Yeah. I mean, I don't have the money to pay, and I'm good at it. I do enjoy it, don't get me wrong."

Gabriel shrugged though Sam couldn't see him. "If you like it, whatever." Beyond that, there wasn't really anything to say, right? Things could be worse, always.

"What do you want to do?" Sam asked, still lazing on the bed. It was really comfortable. Nostalgic.

Nothing, just sit here like this. He'd never say it to Sam, but at the moment he actually felt...safe. Gabriel had no doubt that it was entirely Sam's doing. "Read, maybe," he mumbled. "Or a game?"

"Oh, no, I mean--" Sam chuckled, opening his eyes again. "For college. Career. But for now, I'm content to... like, lay here. It's a lot more comfortable than the bed in my dorm."

"....oh. Right." Gabriel flushed just slightly, and he looked away. "I dunno. Haven't really thought about it, I guess."

Sam gave him a smile and sat up so he could shift around, folding his legs to one side of Gabriel and resting on his side, eyes still closed. It was barely one and he was tired again. "You should. There are some good places around here, and the shelter runs programs to help you get in."

Gabriel rolled his shoulders uncomfortably, swinging the leg that he had hanging off the bed. "That how you got yours?"

"Yeah. I took the entrance test for the college near here." Sam shrugged, patted the other side of the bed.

Gabriel swung his legs up into the space. Got the brains and the looks, did you? At one point he might have said it aloud. Not yet. "There's a brain under all that hair, then?" He teased lightly, instead, testing the air.

"Somewhere," Sam said, sunshine grin again. He walked his fingers along Gabriel's knee, teasing back. "Glad you have a good sense of humor, kiddo."

"Oh, it's in here," Gabriel confirmed softly. He bounced his knee a little, being distracting as he preferred to be.

Sam tapped harder, teasing, and closed his eyes again. "Might take a nap," he mumbled, drawing his arm back.

"Your blanket," Gabriel said with a shrug.

"Your room," Sam responded, but tugged the blanket up over himself anyway, and tossed it over Gabriel's legs as well.

"You're in it," Gabriel shot back. He pulled the pillow from behind him and dropped it on Sam's face.

Sam jerked upright, yelping, hand flying up. When he realized it was a pillow, he whuffed and shoved it back at Gabriel playfully. "You're a brat."

Gabriel fell back on the bed hands over his face, laughing into his palms. Too good - too good, just like when he used to- His breath hitched, thinking of his brothers, laugher slowing quickly. "Yeah, well."

Had he crossed a line? Sam hovered there for a second, leaning over Gabriel, then pulled back and flopped down, shoving the pillow at him. "Come on. Nap with me. Or read or something. It's weird lying down with you not."

Resisting the urge to tell Sam that he was indeed lying down, or the ceiling had moved, Gabriel sighed a little at him. He nudged the pillow back with his foot and snagged one of the books Sam had brought him. "I'll read," he said. He wasn't quite ready to trust Sam that much.

"Mmkay." Sam curled under the blanket, tucking his legs up and curling his back. "Wake me before, like, four, okay? That way I can go down and get dinner for us."

Gabriel laid back with his arm beneath his head and flipped the book open one handed. "Gotcha."

Sam laid quiet for a moment before touching Gabriel's leg. "Hey, Gabe?"

He sat up a bit to peer over at Sam. "Yeah?

Sam quirked a smile and burrowed further down. "It was definitely your eyes."

Mouth twisting slightly, Gabriel winked once, before resting back again. "I've got contacts."

Chuckling, Sam slid down again and, after a moment, rested his arm against Gabriel's legs. It didn't take him long to fall asleep like this, at ease and comfortable.

Gabriel nudged him the side just to make sure he was sleeping, and murmured, "Just kidding."





A few weeks passed. Gabriel warmed up to Sam, let him a little closer. Sam still held back on touching him, though Jesus Christ, it was like every time he looked at the kid there was something there, and Sam refused to call it sexual tension because that wasn't fucking right. It would be like taking advantage. So he left it there, let it hang, and pretended it didn't exist.

He did, though. Like Gabriel. Gabriel had proved himself not only sharp and witty with his comments but extremely intelligent, if quirky. He still had his odd moments where Sam could see that fear in his eyes, but it wasn't often with Sam, just with other people. Sam kind of liked that.

He arrived early on a Saturday morning. He'd fibbed the day before and told Gabriel he would be busy all week, and couldn't wait to see Gabe's face when he found out what they were really doing today.

Notadatenotadatenotadate.

He took the stairs and loped his way down to Gabriel's room, knocking twice. "Hallo~? Housekeeping!"



Sitting on the window ledge in shorts without a shirt, Gabriel glanced back at the door, frowning. Was that- He was supposed to be- "Sam?" He scrambled for a shirt, ignoring the way his brain went a little funny at the surprise appearance. He flipped his blankets free from the bed and looked for the shirt he'd had a few moments ago... "Uh, just...er..." It was gone, somewhere for a bit, and Gabriel abandoned it for his dresser drawers, pulling out the first tee inside.



Sam listened to the open and close of drawers, amused. "Dude, do you seriously not have clothes on?" he called, attracting strange looks from passerby. "Classy, Gabe."



"You like it," Gabriel muttered good humouredly to the inside of his shirt as he pulled it over his head. He padded over to the door barefooted, and pulled it open, smiling and a little ruffled. "I can wear what I wanna. My room, right? I thought you were busy?" It came out in a rush, propelled by pleased surprise and his breathless search for clothes.



"I lied," Sam said cheerfully, and proffered a backpack as he ruffled Gabriel's hair. "Here. Grab a change of clothes. There's sunglasses and bottles of water already in it. A swimsuit, too. I guessed your size, but it ties tighter, so..." He was almost bouncing on his toes, encouraged by Gabriel's bright grin.



Gabriel caught Sam's wrist as he ruffled his hair, giving it a brief squeeze before grabbing the backpack and turning back into his room. It didn't take long to grab another shirt and a pair of jeans, and he stuffed it unceremoniously into the bag. "Where are we going?" He chose shoes over sandals, after a moment's deliberation and pulled socks on.



"Navy Pier. It's about an hour away, but I cleared you to be gone with me overnight, so if we take too long we can get a hotel room downtown." Sam grins at Gabriel, tan shorts and sandals and red polo and fucking huge grin. "Surprise."



Gabriel stared at him for a long moment, backpack a strange weight in his hand. He felt as if the world had shifted just slightly to the left for a moment. "Y- really?" There was a nervous, gleeful energy just simmering under his skin, but he held it tightly for a moment.



Sam's grin lilted upward at one side, bangs flopping in his eyes. "Definitely. I decided like a week ago, you have no idea how hard it was to keep it a secret until now."



"Holy crap," Gabriel said, lurching forward to leave the room, "I woulda spilled. Let's go!" He had visions of cotton candy, high off the ground in a ferris wheel cart. Maybe they'd get stuck, have to stay in the air for hours. But- leaving the shelter and overnight and- Overnight? At Sam's? "Holy crap," he muttered again.



Sam snagged him in a swift hug in the elevator, squeezing him as he did their by-now customary sweep of all the buttons, him touching the top two and Gabriel the bottom. "Excited?"



Gabriel grinned, laughing in the small space of the elevator, "Hells yeah. I gotta say, I totally didn't see it coming."



"Good. That was the point." Sam nudged their shoulders together, pulling his keys out as they headed swiftly through the lobby, Sam waving to the front desk receptionist. His car was parked out front, a red Jeep, one of the older ones, with an open back and flimsy doors and all. Perfect beach car. "Backpacks in the back and let's go!"



Gabriel bit back his grin, totally digging Sam's jeep. It was a little silly, to Gabriel, but so was Sam, so all-in-all, kinda perfect. He tossed his bag in the back and climbed in the passenger seat, tipping his head back to look at the sky. Awesome.



Sam couldn't resist staring a moment before he remembered he was supposed to be starting the car. He did so, pulling smoothly out into traffic. "You look good in the sun, Gabe," he said, and by that, he meant Gabriel looked well and truly happy, but it came off tinged with that weird silky UST shit between them, so he fell silent for a while, finding his way to the highway that would take them all the way into Chicago.



"I feel good," Gabriel admitted, propping his knee up against the dash. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in a car, on any road, miles ahead and sun on his face. He hummed with the music playing from someone else's car on the road.



"Oh, right." Sam reached over, opened the glove box. "What kind of music you like?"



Sun-lazy, like most days when he didn't see Sam and spent his time lounging by his window, Gabriel pressed his hand to Sam's outstretched arm, tugging on the sleeve of his polo. "Anything's fine," he half-drawled.



Sam glanced at Gabriel's hand on his arm and nudged it into the younger boy's open palm. "... Mmm..." He selected a CD at random and slide it in, which, of course, started right in on Melissa Ferrick's Drive. Of course. Sam glared at it and switched lanes.



Gabriel grinned, and completely unbiased as he said he would be, started humming to that instead. He wasn't familiar with it, but was quick enough to note the patterns in the music. It was a slow crawl of a song, and that suited him fine, wrigging its way up his spine.



Oh, Jesus. Sam wasn't going to last this day. But he had to. Once they were settled and going a steady 70, Sam tipped his head to the side. "You know how to drive?"



Gabriel's eyes slid open a little, "Yeah. Had a permit." Michael taught him to drive in a beat up old pickup with shitty powersteering that took both of them to turn. "Been a while, though."



"Should get your license when you're eighteen. Then you can split driving with me." Which meant Sam was sticking around until Gabriel was eighteen. At least. He'd also kind of been thinking about asking Gabriel to get a place with him, but it had only been five or so weeks since he'd known the kid, and that was a little much.



"Where we goin' when I'm eighteen?" He asked, stretching his arms out behind his head. He opened his hands to the sky and let the wind rush through his spread fingers.



Sam grinned, tipped his head back for a brief moment. "Where do you want to go?"



"Hmm," Gabriel thought for a second, face tipping Sam's way. "I dunno. Somewhere new."



Sam met his eyes, gave him a slow, warm smile. "We'll just drive, then. Take a road map and drive." He turned back to the road, pressing the gas down as something by AC/DC came on.



Gabriel's gaze lingered long enough for him to decide, "You look good in the sun, too, Sam."



Okay, maybe his stomach jumped a little. Sam glanced over, grinned, if a little uneasily. "Thanks, man." And pressed the gas pedal down, 75 to 80 and up, flying towards Chicago.



Gabriel smiled to himself and settled in for the drive, watching the trees and signs whizz by. The silence was comfortable, filled by the music off the cd, and the rushing wind.



After three, yes, three tollbooths, Sam was finally pulling onto the big looping highway that went through Chicago, then around it and out to Navy Pier. He missed the exit twice and had to circle, as always, but when they were finally parked he was practically vibrating with excitement. "Swimming first!" he proclaimed, jumping out and grabbing his backpack. "Come on, come on."



"I should mention," Gabriel said, hurrying to keep up with Sam, "I float. Not swim." His attention was focused on the ferris wheel, looming happily above them.



"Fair enough. Just don't sink." They made it topside, hot concrete and people everywhere, and Sam rented a locker for the day for them to shove their crap into, then swiftly changed and yanked suntan lotion from his bag, which was hastily applied. He tanned well anyway. When Gabriel was changed as well, he offered the bottle and settled down on a bench, decidedly staring at the lockers and not Gabriel.

Okay, so maybe swimming had been a bad idea.



Gabriel watched the beach as he put the lotion on, slower than Sam with it. He was more concerned about a burn since he really didn't have much of a base tan to work in his favour. He had his front done, neck, face and arms, and had twisted his arm around to smooth the lotion awkwardly over his back. "Just don't think I'm kidding if I start flailing like I'm drowning," he said to Sam.



"I'll save you," Sam sing-songed, grabbing the lotion to put away. The twist of Gabriel's back showed off his tattoo.

Fuck.

"Ready?" Sam forced out, grinning again and tossing flipflops on. He had two towels under his arm and a pair of sunglasses in the pocket of his trunks. Christ, he'd missed swimming.



"Race you!" Gabriel said suddenly, slapping Sam on the arm. He took off towards the water, weaving between the people without waiting for a response from Sam.



"Head start!" Sam called after him, dropped the towels and shucking his shoes, which further delayed him, but by the time he reached the water he was fucking ready. He practically dove in, the ever-warm, clear water of Lake Michigan spilling down over his shoulders and slicking his hair back. He burst up, crouching so he was submerged up to his shoulders. "Ohh my god, that feels good."



Gabriel floated a little, really only in to mid-chest, but he'd dunked under once already, slicking his hair away from his face. "Didn't shower this morning or what?" He teased, grinning widely.



"Yeah, I only do maybe once a month or so." Dry-voiced but grinning, Sam dunked himself under again and sat until his chin rested just above the water. "You never learned how to swim?"



"I wasn't gonna say anything, might hurt your feelings," Gabriel said easily. He flicked water at Sam, "I learned enough to stay afloat. All the important bits."



Sam surveyed him, then tugged his arm. "Come on. I'll teach you. There are more important bits than staying afloat."



"I think the most important is the not drowning bit," Gabriel said, lifting his feet from the ground so he could be pulled along.



"Yes, well, when you end up in deep water and don't know how to swim, you'll die, and you dying isn't good for my mental health." Sam pulled him out deeper, until Sam could stand but Gabriel couldn't, with Sam supporting Gabriel's weight on his arm.



When Gabriel could see that Sam was standing in the water, he knew he was entirely too deep for his own height. He grasped Sam's arm perhaps a little too tightly, but then decided that's what he got for dragging Gabriel out that far. "Then maybe you shouldn't pull me out to deep water then."



"You can swim," Sam responded, rolling his eyes. "And if not, I'm here, and I'm standing." He pushed Gabriel out a little. "Go on, let go. Don't panic, just move your arms and legs, real slow. You've seen people tread water."



"I hate you a little right now," Gabriel told him, without heat, and flailed a little in the water. It took him a bit to get it smoother, without thrashing around so much, but it wasn't the best.



"Here." Sam moved a little closer without thinking, took one of Gabriel's hands in his and moved their arms together, one long, sweeping motion. "There. Smooth."



Gabriel followed the instruction, and mimicked the movement with his legs as well - sweeping kicks under the water. He kept his fingers tight on Sam's still nervous about being out so far.



"There you go." Sam grinned, voice low, relaxed. He let go and smoothed his hand between Gabriel's shoulders, where he could feel him tense. "Relax. I won't let anything happen."



"Sure you're not gonna be a teacher?" Gabriel asked, not for the first time. He tried to relax enough to tread water without feeling awkward about it, and was only half successful about it. Eventually he slowed, getting used to the bouyancy of the water, and how much it could hold him.



Sam huffed laughter out into Gabriel's ear. "Relax," he said again. "And yes, I'm sure."



"Shame," Gabriel murmured, tipping his face back, looking up, always up. Water splashed against his chin.



"Why, am I good at it?" And, okay, maybe Sam was purring a little there, and yeah, he was still pressed up a little too close to Gabriel's back, but Gabriel didn't seem to want him to move...



"Yeah," Gabriel breathed, "You're good." He bumped against Sam's chest and stayed there, arms and legs swirling the water around them.



Sam's breath hitched. He couldn't help it. Gabriel's back was fuck pressed up to his chest. And all he could do was hope Gabriel hadn't heard that. He dunked himself under and circled under Gabriel's feet, popping back up in front of him with a smirk. "Now you're swimming."



Gabriel blinked, sputtering water for a moment. "Great, I'll add it to my resume." He started paddling around in the water experimentally.



Sam chuckled, watching. "So I was thinking after this we go in through the stained glass museum. There's a mall inside, some shops we can look through, and an awesome cafe. Then... a movie, maybe?"



"Dinner and a movie," Gabriel summarized, realizing that he liked paddling around on his back much better. "Sammy, you sweetheart." He was joking....mostly.



This boy was going to be the death of him. "Gabriel," Sam said, more strained than he meant, and when he realized, he dove under again, surfacing after a moment to cool his head. "C'mon, let's go in."



Gabriel started swimming in, now that he could, with a concerned glance at Sam, but he didn't push.



The swim in was easier than expected, and both were back at the locker and dressed within ten minutes. Sam led Gabriel up into the mall, lingering at small shops as they traveled through the open-air part back into the actual enclosed mall. There was some leather jewelry that caught Sam's eye, and he let Gabriel stray from his side to look, confident that he wasn't going to take off.



Gabriel didn't wander far, too charmed by the shops and their wares. He thumbed through books and stacks of postcards, browsed through clothing - even the women's - and sifted through a box of lapel pins, all the while keeping Sam's tall frame ever present in the corner of his eye. Looking through everything, he almost wished he could get something for Sam, if he had anything to trade - or more realistically, because sometimes he forgot, that he had some cash. He'd have to make it up to Sam some other way.



When he'd finished, Sam came back up to Gabriel's side, hands in his pockets again, posture lazy. "See anything you like?"



"Yeah," Gabriel said with a smile all for Sam. "Neat stuff, here." He ran a hand through a display of windchimes, just to make the sound ring around his hand. "You?"



"I got a couple things." Sam eyed the winchimes. They fit Gabriel. He fished his wallet out and handed a twenty over. "Go nuts. I'm heading up to the popcorn place just down here. Find me when you're done." And, before Gabriel could argue, he vanished, weaving in and out of the crowd.



Gabriel stared at the twenty in his hand, unable to even try and return it to Sam. He never felt so wealthy in his life. He watched Sam's retreating back and then turned and went the opposite direction, practically making a beeline to a vender he'd seen earlier. When he finished, he went to find the popcorn place, mostly finding it by smell. Delicious, delicious smell.



Sam had purchased a bag of grape popcorn and was munching it outside the popcorn store. When he saw Gabriel, he grinned and proffered the bag, then said, "Okay, we gotta go back through the stained glass museum to get to the cafe." Leaving Gabriel with the popcorn, Sam hefted his backpack and turned left to go into the inner mall.

The stained glass museum was practically empty and still, so quiet that Sam could hear himself breathing. He half-closed his eyes, savoring. "I love it here," he heard himself say, and slowed his steps.



Gabriel stuffed the popcorn into his backpack uneaten, feeling a little disjointed from Sam as he followed after him into the museum. He was semi familiar with stained glass - mostly just from being named after an angel, and having sat in churches with his father. Seeing the backlit panels in their display cases was little like glimpsing polariods of the past.

Gabriel stepped into place beside Sam, arm to arm, and was determined to keep him there this time. "It's nice," he said, a customary response for him, but said with a little more feeling than usual.



Gabriel rubbing up against him wasn't unwelcome to Sam's id, but Sam's superego was practically busting its cage trying to tell him to back off. He bit his lip, unwilling to say anything, but shifted minutely away. "Isn't it? One of my favorites is this way, it takes up a whole wall."



Gabriel followed after him again, silent. He focused instead on the beautiful panes of glass, stained and cut in scrolling patterns. He ignored the saints and angels, and let his eyes linger on the flowers, the circle rose windows, and every pretty sky-blue piece of glass.



Sam could tell Gabriel was upset and put off, and when the younger boy headed into one of the darker, walled-in displays, Sam sighed and told himself to grow a pair, then followed him in.

"Hey," he murmured, coming round the side to stand with Gabriel. "Look..."



"Thanks," Gabriel interupted, even though he didn't say thank you's. Anything that started like Sam was starting it, he didn't think he wanted to hear. "You've been really awesome. Not just today." That's all Sam was going to get, because that's all he could offer.. Gabriel leaned away from Sam to peer closer into the display case.



Eyes half-closing for just a second, Sam reached over and gently pressed his fingers to Gabriel's cheek, turning his head so he could look him in the eye. "What do you want from me, Gabriel?"



"Nothing I wouldn't give you," Gabriel said honestly, looking up at him warily. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, for the first time in some while.



Sam's lips parted like he was surprised, and he rubbed his other hand down his face, then back through his hair. "How long?"



Gabriel shrugged one shoulder. "Does it matter?"



"Yeah. A lot." Sam rubbed his thumb over Gabriel's cheek.



He didn't exactly know, and didn't know why it was important to Sam, so he answered, "Long before today."




Sam ground his teeth for just a moment, then sank down onto the bench inside the secluded exhibit. "I feel like I'm taking advantage. Of you."



The silence held onto Gabriel's surprise. "Wh- me? You haven't done anything to me." He tried not to sound too disappointed about it.



"If I do this," Sam responded. "If I do this, I feel like I am."



"Oh," Gabriel said. "Well."

He stepped forward into Sam's space, nudging knees apart with his own so he could step between them. Gabriel's eyes were clear as he looked down at Sam, serious and certain. "What if...I..." He leaned forward to brush his mouth against the corner of Sam's.



Sam broke. All the weeks of careful measuring, all the moment of restraint, all of it melted away. He threaded his hand swiftly up into Gabriel's hair, cupped the back of his neck and pulled him in closer, right hand finding his thigh and pulling him partially over Sam's lap. "Guess it's okay," he breathed into Gabriel's mouth, because his body was certainly pleased.



Gabriel breathed in sharply, sliding up against Sam, his hands curled over Sam's shoulders to stop himself from climbing into his lap completely. "Better be," he murmured, licking carefuly at the swell of Sam's lower lip, before finally pressing down.



Sam's hand smoothed at the small of Gabriel's back, pulling him in closer, until they're resting together. He nipped the younger boy's bottom lip, lapping at the seam of them, asking, always asking, his fingers rubbing circles in the back of Gabriel's neck.



He made a soft noise in the back of his throat, and Gabriel's fingers pushed at the fabric of Sam's shirt, rubbing at skin he couldn't quite touch. He was still young, not his pretended nineteen, even, and a smouldering flame lit low in his belly, scorching wherever Sam touched him. Gabriel's mouth, mostly inexperienced, was eager, opening for Sam.



Oh God, Gabriel was new at this. He probably hadn't kissed many people, Sam thought, and that only heightened the experience. He licked into Gabriel's mouth, slow and exploratory, coaxing Gabriel into doing the same, his hands gentle and urging on Gabriel's back, heat curling in him.



Gabriel shivered, mouth following Sam's, and couldn't stop his hands from wandering. He had been polite before, only soft touches, brief contact with him, but now it was if he had rights or something, maybe allowances. Fingers gliding over the wide breadth of Sam's shoulders, pressing into curves and collar - his towering frame, folded neatly on the seat, and Gabriel loved how there was so much of him. He smiled against Sam's lips, so very utterly pleased.



Sam broke away first and dropped his head on Gabriel's shoulder, catching his breath as he surrounded himself in the kid's warm scent. "Do you know how much I shouldn't be doing this," he murmured, but his hands were just as present as before, holding Gabriel close.



He wove his fingers lightly through the softness of Sam's hair. "I don't care. You're the only one who really gives a shit."



Sam turned his face into Gabriel's neck, breathed him in. "I don't think I'm the only one, but I do care. A lot," he said softly, pressing his lips under Gabriel's jaw.



"I think you're the only one," Gabriel muttered softly, full of petulant youthful pessimism. He shifted into Sam's lap, turning his gaze away from a large stained glass display above them, two angels on a hill.



Chuckling, Sam slid his hand up Gabriel's back and lifted his head to meet the younger boy's eyes. He slid his thumb along Gabriel's cheek, under his eye. "You've come a long way from the kid who could barely stand me in the same room."



Gabriel blinked up at him, lashes brushing Sam's fingertip. "You're just that awesome," he said, slightly in jest, but there was entirely too much seriousness to his gaze for him not to mean it.



Sam's gaze softened, and his hand slid around to cup Gabriel's cheek, pulling him closer, in for a kiss. "You're that awesome, too," he responded, leaning back. "I knew you were under there."



Gabriel smiled lopsidedly at him, one eyebrow quirked as if to say where else would I be? He dug into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small box, chewing his lip thoughtfully before pushing it into one of Sam's hands. "Here," Gabriel said. He bought it with the twenty Sam'd left him, and Gabriel had zipped down to one of the jewelry stores, where they'd curled his little feather inside a glass bead and strung it along a woven bracelet.



Sam blinked down at the box in his hand, then gently lifted the lid and pulled the bracelet out. It took just a second of blinking in the dim light of the exhibit to realize what it was. "Your feather," he breathed, remembering from those weeks ago. "Gabe, I--" He flushed like a girl and pulled on the bracelet, wrapping his arms tight around Gabriel and burying his face in his neck. "Thank you. It's perfect."



I know, Gabriel wanted to say, arms thrown around Sam's shoulders. There was nothing else he had that was his exclusively, and giving it up was like giving a part of himself away. Giving a part of himself to Sam.



The meaning behind this made Sam's gift seem like it wasn't enough. But he could make it more. Had no problem making it more. "Here, I..." He shifted a little, dug in his pocket, set his keys on the bench beside him and pulled out his own box, handing it over. It was a woven leather necklace with a pewter, crosshaired charm of a pair of soaring birds, side by side, etched into one another like they were almost the same. "Here," he murmured, handed it almost shyly over.



Gabriel laughed lightly, delighted that they'd been on the same wavelength somehow. He burned the sight of the necklace in the box, pretty pair of birds shining up at him, into his mind. He brushed his fingers over the charm then pulled it out to put it on. The weight of it was reassuring, the cool metal warming up against his skin. Gabriel kissed his thank you to Sam's cheek, hugging him again.



Sam slid both hands up to make sure it was clasped, rubbed circles into Gabriel's neck before hugging him hard. "One more thing," he said softly, "if you want it." He reached down for his keys and worked the ring open, sliding one off. He lifted Gabriel's hand and pressed it into his palm.



"Wh-" Gabriel stared uncomprehending down at the key in his palm. Understanding filtered in soon after, and he steadied himself on Sam's arm, lips parted in something like shock. "Is this for your..." He couldn't bring himself to say apartment, because he still invisioned a big house and a white picket fence, dogs and tomatoes and carpark for his jeep.



"Yeah," Sam murmured. "My apartment. I was thinking, really, if today went well--which it has, obviously--I'd let you know that whenever you want to get out of the shelter, you can live with me." He smiled a little, nudged their foreheads together. "It'll take a week or so for me to get things set up, but-- you know. If you want." He pulled back, flushing darker.



Gabriel regarded him silently, fist tight around the key, the jagged teeth digging into his hand. "But I'm-" Underage. Broke. Broken. He swallowed hard, felt that familiar shiver of panic in his chest. "You want to?"



Sam's eyes softened again, one hand smoothing back through Gabriel's hair, the other curling around his side. "You're what?"



He shook his head and then pulled the necklace from his neck, unclasping it so he could drop Sam's key on the chain with the birds. He had to do it before he thought about it too much and gave it back.



"Gabe." Sam reached up to reclasp the necklace once his key was on it and left his fingers there, rubbing the nape of Gabriel's neck. "Tell me."



Gabriel relaxes a little under the touch, leaning forward. "I.." he hesitated, voice soft in the space between them, "I have nothing else to give you." Except himself, but even that's not at its best.



Sam smiles, leans forward again to rest his forehead against Gabriel's. "I told you, I don't want anything from you. You moving in would be nice, though."



"I know," Gabriel said, lightly cupping Sam's jaw. "I just want..to." He had to make it clear that this wasn't quite about equal trade. If it had been, he wouldn't be at the pier, wouldn't know Sam nearly as well. Wouldn't be much but a shadow on a window sill, wishing to fly. "And that would be nice. ASAP would be nice."



Sam broke into a wide smile. "ASAP is perfect, Gabe." He tipped his head into Gabriel's hand, nuzzling his cheek into the younger boy's palm. He lifted his own to cup Gabriel's, kept it held firm to his cheek. "Can I ask you something? Private."



"You me and the stained glass," Gabriel promised, rubbing his finger tips over Sam's skin.



"When you first came to the shelter, you were...." He lifted a hand, seesawed it. "What did you think of yourself?"



Gabriel still felt a little wavy, but he'd just gotten better at keeping it reeled in. "I dunno.." Broken. In far too many piece to be walking. "Jigsaw, I guess."



Sam nodded. "I could see it, sometimes," he said softly, haltingly, like he was embarrassed to be speaking his thoughts. "Like... I dunno. Like, you would try to piece yourself together for me, but I could see pieces?" He rubbed the spot under Gabriel's chin, like he was a large cat. "I had a lot of people ask me why I was 'helping' you. Told me you were worthless, a lost case. You'd grow up and join a gang, do something else stupid."



Gabriel shook his head, breathing out loudly, even though he knew it wasn't Sam who thought these things - it was just strange hearing it drop from his lips. "After- no. Why would I."



"Shh." Sam smoothed a thumb across his lips. "None of them bothered to listen to anything I had to say, so..." He kept his eyes steady on Gabriel's. "I never told them I wasn't 'helping' you. I was getting to know you. You were--shit, you were a mess." He ruffled Gabriel's hair. "Still kind of are. But they thought there was nothing there."



"I told you," Gabriel mumbled into Sam's touch. "Only one who really gave a shit." He sighed a little, pulling back slightly. "Why're you telling me this?"



"I don't know," Sam breathed, still meeting Gabriel's gaze. "I needed to. I almost passed your door. There were times I almost listened to them."



It stung to hear that, but at least it stung honest. "But you didn't." Gabriel said, with slight finality. He didn't want to think about what would happen, should Sam change his mind. He looked away from him.



Sam touched his cheek, drew his gaze back. "No, I didn't. You know why? Because every time I was away for more than a day, I'd worry. Shelter's a good place, but a lot of 'em didn't get you. I couldn't be that one more person who turned their back on you." He shrugged, leaned back against the back of the bench. "I guess I'm just--really glad you're here."



Gabriel gazed at him for a moment and couldn't think of anything to say. "Universe does some funny shit," he said, sliding from Sam's lap to stand, stretching his arms above his head, "But I guess it knows what it's doing."



"Mmm, sometimes." Sam leaned forward, rucking Gabriel's shirt up a little to press a kiss to his stomach. "We still have things to do," he said, standing and offering his hand, snagging his keys off the bench with the other.


[continue>/a>]
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