For Love is Strong as Death

Chapter 7

Christmas Day arrived without fanfare, which was strange, considering it was spent in the company of angels. Sam would have thought it'd be more of a big deal to them. Kind of in the job description or something.

"Today's date has no true religious significance," Castiel remarked when he mentioned as much. "It was merely picked to coincide with the Yuletide winter festival in order to ease the introduction of Christianity."

"What, so you don't like it because it's really just a pagan holiday?"

Gabriel cast him a scathing look. "Sorry – we've met, right? That honestly strike you as something I'd object to?" He shrugged. "We don't 'not like' it, anyway. We don't... anything it. It's a date on a calendar we don't conform to. Who cares, yanno?"

Sam raised his eyebrows. "Huh. Okay..."

"Besides," the archangel added, words distorted around the red and white striped candy cane he was sucking on. "It's so commercialised these days."

The Grinch was showing that evening and they sat around the motel room watching it like some dysfunctional Christmas tableau. Cas sat on one of the beds, leaning back against the headboard and looking unusually relaxed for once. He'd borrowed one of Sam's oversized hoodies, had the sleeves tugged down over his fingers against the slight chill in the room. Socked feet emerged from the cuffs of torn jeans, rumpling the covers, and braced against his raised knees was yet another book. He was supposedly reading it, but in fact hadn't taken his eyes from the TV set in over forty minutes.

"This film has none of the traditional nativity symbolism," he commented as they watched Jim Carrey in his Grinch costume prance across Mount Crumpet. "Admittedly, much of it was generally inaccurate, but I'd thought humans seemed quite set on the theme."

Sam gave him an amused glance. He was starting to get used to the casual dismissal of Christian dogma the angels threw out so thoughtlessly. "It's based on a children's story, Cas," he explained patiently. "It's supposed to be funny and kind of surreal. And non-denominational, I guess."

"Yeah," Gabriel chimed in from across the room. "Christianity's so yesterday. Get with the times, bro."

The archangel had unfortunately taught himself how to use the microwave about a week ago, and ever since had proven little but a menace with it, apparently subscribing to the philosophy that anything edible tasted better when nuked. So far he'd managed to utterly destroy one microwave by searing melted chocolate across the interior and another by completely exploding a plastic covered ready-meal he'd forgotten to poke holes into. Sam, not in the mood to spend his Christmas scraping another culinary disaster from the floor or walls, had limited Gabriel to the simplest of tasks this time.

Currently, the appliance gave a beep of completion and Gabriel triumphantly and with far too much excitement extracted a bag of popcorn. "Honeybutter flavour," he proclaimed proudly as an intensely sweet smell suffused the room. He shoved a handful into his mouth, clearly happy with this success.

"Where did you even get that?" Sam asked bemusedly, before deciding he didn't want to know. "You're going to get fat if you keep eating sweets like you used to."

Gabriel started to wave him off, then stopped with a look of faint alarm. "You think?"

"Relax. Your girlish figure is still intact. For now."

The archangel smirked. "Damn straight." He strolled his way back to the couch Sam was sitting on, gracelessly threw himself down onto a cushion, and dropped his legs across Sam's lap, crossed at the ankle.

Nonplussed, Sam gave him a look. "You're not that girlish. Off."

But Gabriel ignored him, preferring instead to settle himself more comfortably into the couch and turn his attention back to the movie, occasionally tossing a sticky kernel of popcorn into the air and tilting his head back to catch it. Sam sighed in defeat, already knowing better than to waste his energy on protest, and let his hands come to rest atop the invading appendages for lack of anywhere else to put them.

He felt instantly startled, and for long moments couldn't figure out why.

At length, it occurred to him that he couldn't remember ever having touched Gabriel out of anything but anger – and even then only once or twice. Now, despite what Dean claimed, as a general rule Sam wasn't all that big on touching, but it was rare for him to never have made contact with a person, if only in passing. Even with Cas he had vague memories of having his hand clasped when they'd first met, or helping to steady the angel when he'd pushed his powers too far. But Gabriel...

The archangel felt strangely, jarringly human. He was loose-limbed and sprawled, kind of heavy and radiating perfectly average body heat through his thrift store jeans. He smelled like horrendously sweet popcorn and fruity shampoo from the shower; clean and male.

Flushing slightly, Sam glanced up, found Gabriel watching him. The archangel was still smirking, and as Sam blinked uncertainly back at him, he raised one eyebrow leeringly at the hand clasping his shin.

Sam let go as if burned, then struggled to conceal the involuntary movement as something else, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck and wondering faintly what the fuck had just happened. He flailed somewhat for a moment, before eventually settling on folding his arms across his chest, hands kept safely to himself this time.

Lazily, Gabriel tipped his head back and laughed, long and loud and thoroughly entertained.

And so Christmas Day departed equally unceremoniously. They didn't exchange gifts, or decorate a tree, or do much at all differently to what they'd been doing every day since their resurrection. It was, however, a turning point of sorts. They'd come to a number of small, unspoken agreements and it left them slightly more settled in each other's company.

Castiel fell asleep some time before midnight, comfortably engulfed in Sam's hoodie and snoring softly atop the covers. Sam and Gabriel remained awake most of the night, drowsily watching infomercials and pleas to call seasonal help-lines. They didn't speak often; every now and then murmuring quiet requests to pass a beer or change the channel. The TV-lit darkness was strangely intimate, almost hypnotic, and at some point during the wee hours of the morning, Sam came back to himself just long enough to take note of Gabriel's toes curled against his thigh, his own hand having moved to encircle an ankle, one finger barely brushing warm skin.

"I think I'm dying. Fuck, you ruptured something. You've killed me again, I don't believe this..."

Sam rolled his eyes and took a drink from his water bottle. "You're not dying, Gabriel. You just had to do a little work for the first time in your life."

Castiel, from where he was propped up against the car with his hands braced against his thighs, managed to pant, "Dean once said that without exercise... he believed I'd grow... 'flabby'."

Gabriel groaned and rolled over onto his back in the grass, one arm flung across his eyes. "I swear, if he recites one more bit of wisdom from the Gospel According to Winchester, I'm going to duct-tape him again..."

Sam snorted, unable to say he'd put much effort into stopping him.

They were out in a field in the middle of nowhere, chosen for the sole purpose of privacy while Sam attempted to teach them to fight the human way. To say the least, they weren't exactly naturals. Neither Jimmy nor the archangel's unidentified vessel had been particularly fit individuals in life, which now meant that neither were Cas or Gabriel. In fairness, Sam supposed, they were soldiers, as Castiel had once angrily reminded him. And they had at one point known how to handle themselves skilfully and with deadly force. But that had been back when they were angels – essentially, back when they were part of a whole different existence; a whole different species, even. It was as if they'd come ready equipped with millennia worth of theoretical knowledge, but lacked the muscle memory, strength or stamina that usually accompanied it. It left them slow and clumsy and quick to tire, much to their mutual frustration.

Cas was still recovering from his sparring session over ten minutes ago, throughout which Gabriel had jeered and laughed as the younger angel faltered and swiftly lost the upper hand. He had, in fact, continued laughing right up until it was his turn, and Sam had at last been presented with an opportunity to make him really regret that Herpexia commercial...

Now, as Sam grinned innocently down at him, Gabriel struggled up from the prone position he'd been put in. He sat on the ground for a moment looking dazed, and then raised one hand into the air as though volunteering for something. "Okay. I'm done. I quit. I wanna be an angel again."

Laughing, Sam reached out and grabbed the waving hand, hauling the other easily to his feet. Gabriel stumbled straight into him and Sam clasped his shoulders to prop him up before turning back towards Castiel.

"So, we done here or are either of you up for another round?"

The angels shared a dark look, and without a word Castiel opened the nearest car door and retreated inside to finish catching his breath. He no longer seemed quite as impressed by the venture as he had been a few days ago when Sam had first suggested it.

Gabriel didn't just look disillusioned so much as utterly miserable. "I mean it," he insisted to no one in particular. "Being human is awful, why do you do this to yourselves?"

"Not really something we have a lot of choice in–"

"I meant hunters!" the archangel snapped. "Man, I have a whole new respect for you guys. Why didn't you tellme it felt like this? I'm over it, kiddo, I promise. You can keep that profession all to yourself."

He was limping slightly from where Sam had kicked the back of his knee, so, taking pity, the human reached out to hold his elbow. It earned him another quirked eyebrow, but Gabriel didn't shake off the support as they made their way over to join Cas in the car.

He did, however, comment, "You're getting awfully handsy of late."

Embarrassed at being so bluntly called out, Sam immediately released him. "Sorry. I, uh..."

Amber eyes danced mischievously. "I didn't say to stop."

Sam knew better than to take Gabriel's flirting seriously.

The archangel hit on most things that moved, a number of which he himself was responsible for snapping into existence. His idea of a fling was with a short-tempered goddess of destruction, and his suicide note took the form of a porn DVD. Hell, he'd borderline flirted with Dean back when they'd first met (before the antagonism had set in), and it wasn't like this was the first time he'd thrown the odd suggestive comment Sam's way, either.

So yeah, Sam knew he couldn't take Gabriel's winks and smirks and innuendoes to heart. Honestly, he suspected it had nothing to do with him personally at all.

He'd been around enough Fallen or Falling angels to know they always eventually tried to fill up the gap where Grace should go with something else, like angelic methadone or something (and wow, there was knowledge he never thought he'd come to possess). With Cas it had been alcohol, and then the pain pills Dean had unthinkingly given him and which Sam had later confiscated – but other examples sprung to mind too. Anna had had her drawings; the medications they'd given her on the psych ward; the thoughtless, needy affection she'd offered Dean and even Ruby. There was Uriel with his misguided allegiance, Zachariah with his politics: the list went on.

Unfortunately, Gabriel's track record said he'd inevitably try to fill the gap with sex, and there was really no getting around that.

Nor was there any getting around the fact that Sam was the only available company unrelated to him, so of course he was going to become the target of flirtation sooner or later. But the real problem came if and when Gabriel took it a step further and actually expected Sam to be his methadone. Now, Sam was an educated, open-minded college guy, so it wasn't that he had anything per se against gay (angel) sex. He just didn't think it was for him, is all.

(And besides, Sam was already in enough trouble after committing the vaguely Faustian sin of fucking a demon. He didn't particularly relish the thought of well and truly cementing his place in Hell by defiling an archangel, too. Even if Gabriel was already kind of slutty.)

One way or another, it all came back to the fact that Sam really shouldn't be encouraging him just because Gabriel's humanity, the newfound physicality of it, was abruptly something fascinating to him. He didn't even know why it was fascinating – only that, before, taking the liberty to casually touch the archangel would have been unthinkable. Now, it wasn't. Now it was easy.

Still. That was no excuse to go about giving off the wrong signals.

Gabriel would get the idea on his own eventually, and they could keep happily to the fine Winchester tradition of Not Talking about things. After that, Sam's only problem would be keeping the archangel away from hookers – and oh god, Sam was going to have to teach him to use protection. Jesus Christ. He made a mental note to buy condoms and some kind of phallic vegetable, physically wincing at the indignity of the prospect.

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