Sam quietly cleared his throat, as he reached forward to pick up the warm mug in front of him. The coffee inside was stale and bitter, but he drank it anyway; knowing that he would need the all the caffeine he could get his hands on, for the day ahead. He and Dean were both sitting at the table in the kitchen; on opposite sides, not saying a word. An uncomfortable silence had occupied the room for the entire duration of breakfast, and didn't seem like it was going to end anytime soon. Cas hadn't shown up yet, and Gabriel was in the bathroom taking a shower. So, the two Winchester brothers were left with nothing to do but sit and wait for a welcome distraction.
Sam could tell that he and his brother were both unwilling to meet each others' eyes, and he was sure it was because of their morning discussion. Though Dean had accepted that Sam and Gabriel were together, it was apparent that he didn't like it. His stiff body language and lack of amusement at the mention of Gabriel's name made his feelings quite clear. But Sam was glad that he was at least trying to be civil. If there was one thing Sam could always count on, it was Dean's relentless effort to keep his brother safe and happy. Even if it meant playing nice with someone he couldn't stand.
Just as Sam sat his coffee mug back on the table, the bathroom door cracked open in the background. Sam instantly sat up straight, seeing Gabriel's head pop out from the steaming room. The archangel's face was covered in a ridiculous amount of shaving cream, making him look like a younger, blonde version of Santa Clause. And he was clutching a razor in his tiny hand, seeming a little intimidated.
“Uh, kiddo? I think I might need your help in here,” he called.
Dean, of course, spun around to give the archangel a look of warning, which he then promptly turned on his brother. Sam could almost see a hint of disgust in Dean's expression. It was as if he was visually saying, 'that bastard better not be calling you in there just to have sex.' The younger brother took an uneasy breath, before turning his sight back to Gabe.
“What's wrong?” Sam asked, hoping that Dean's assumption wasn't correct.
“I keep cutting myself,” Gabe frowned, pointing to his nicked chin, “I think this razor has it out for me. Can you lend me a hoof?”
Sam gulped, able to see the faint red blood mixing into the white shaving cream. It was amazing how helpless Gabriel could be, when he didn't have his grace. The guy couldn't even be left alone with a razor. It was like Gabriel needed adult supervision at all times; like he was a mischievous little kid, who had no regard for his own safety...
Although Dean's bitch face never wavered, Sam stood up from the table and walked over to the bathroom. He entered the steamy room and left the door cracked open behind him; to make sure Dean could hear them, and know that nothing sexual was going to take place. Gabriel was fresh out of the shower, of course, and only wearing a towel around his waist. The sight of the archangel's glistening bare skin made Sam recall the night before. And the memories made a few electric pulses of arousal flash through Sam's body. But the man ignored his internal lust, to focus on the task at hand. Gabriel smirked in the midst of his fluffy, shaving cream beard, as he held the razor toward Sam.
“I think your brother put a curse on it, so it would kill me,” Gabe whispered.
Sam rolled his eyes, as he tugged Gabe closer to the sink. He carefully took hold of the archangel's wet head, and started shaving his left cheek; mowing down huge streaks of shaving cream. Geez, Gabe had practically used the whole can in one go.
“How old are you, again?” the man asked with a smile, shaking the excess foam from the razor.
“Four billion, give or take a few centuries,” Gabe replied, winking for good measure, “But you can't blame me for not knowing how to shave, kid. In my defense, daddy never taught me how.”
Sam gave a slight chuckle, as he carefully began swiping more cream and stubble from Gabriel's face. He could relate to the archangel's statement on a certain level, because Sam's father didn't teach him how to shave, either. It was Dean, who first stood in the bathroom mirror with Sam, and showed him how to use a razor... Sam cradled the back of Gabe's wet head with one hand, as he shaved him with the other; being careful not to give him anymore cuts. The man could tell that the archangel was staring at him with open eyes as he worked; staring at him with awe and admiration.
“You know, Sammy-boy, for a guy who's slaughtered hundreds of demons and monsters, you've got the softest touch in the world,” Gabe mumbled, curling his bottom lip so that the razor could reach his chin, “I mean it, sweetheart. You could tame lions with those huge hands.”
Sam paused to rinse the razor, holding back a smile. He was flattered by Gabriel's flowery words, and the heroic depiction of his hands, but he didn't exactly agree. Sam's touch wasn't that soft, was it?
“Thanks,” Sam mumbled, not sure of what else to say.
“And your eyes are prettier than Aphrodite's ass,” Gabe continued, reaching up to rake Sam's hair back, “Seriously. I could stare at them all day, without even blinking. It looks like my dad threw some emerald and copper in there, when he made them. Maybe some diamonds, too. Damn, they're just so beautiful. ”
Sam could feel his stomach filling with butterflies at Gabriel's loving words. But the more Gabe talked, the more it felt like Sam's heart was breaking in two. He could hear Dean's voice in his head again; warning him of the inevitable outcome that they were headed toward. 'This is only going to end in one of two ways, Sam.' The statement was rattling in Sam's head like a cobra's tail, making him cringe.
Sam had already decided that he would keep Gabriel alive, whether it would cost his own life or not. He was never going to let Raphael come anywhere near Gabriel again. One way or another, Gabriel was going to make it through this fight. But, even if they defeated Raphael, would Gabe be the same person once he got his grace back? Sure, Gabriel meant what he was saying now, but what about when this was all over? Would he still love Sam this much, when he was as powerful as a God again? Would he still remember Sam's soft hands, or his beautiful eyes?
“What's the matter?” Gabriel blurted, his eyebrows sliding together, “Did I say something wrong?”
Sam tried his best to rid his face of emotion, knowing that his terrible thoughts were probably haunting his expression. Instead of replying, Sam merely finished shaving the last part of Gabriel's soft face, before rinsing out the razor again.
“I need a towel,” Sam mumbled, glancing around.
Without missing a beat, Gabriel smirked a tugged off the one from around his waist. He held it up with a devilish grin, leaving the rest of his body exposed. Sam slowly exhaled a heated breath, when he looked down to see the familiar sight of Gabe's dick. It was hanging seductively between Gabe's short legs; limp, but still enough to turn Sam on. And it was painfully obvious, that Gabriel had exposed himself on purpose; knowing what it would do to him. The man tried to ignore it, though, as he took the towel from the archangel and used it to wipe the remaining foam from his grinning face.
“Well, I don't look like a Bee Gee anymore,” Gabe said, glancing into the mirror, “Does this mean that you'll want to kiss me, now?”
Sam gulped, gently edging his thumb against the rim of Gabe's bottom lip.
“I always want to kiss you,” he admitted in a whisper.
The two of them were staring at each other with passion, then; moving their mouths closer together. Sam meant what he said. He really did love kissing Gabriel, no matter when or where. But uncertainty was still creeping its way up the cavity walls of his chest, filling him with worry. Why was Sam doing this to himself? Why was he letting himself fall so deeply in love with someone, when all logic said that things were never going to last? 'This is only going to end in one of two ways, Sam.' Why the hell did Dean have to say those damn words?
Sam and Gabriel both jumped, at the sound of Dean's voice. He was calling to his little brother from far away; like he was in the living room. The younger Winchester sighed and gave Gabriel's lips a quick peck, before backing away.
“Get dressed, Gabe,” Sam requested, gesturing toward Rufus's bathroom closet.
The man exited the bathroom as quickly as he could, knowing that Gabe was going to try anything he could to make him stay. Sam's heart was pounding with anxiety, as he made his way through the kitchen and to the living room. He was worried that Dean had heard his and Gabe's private conversation, or saw that Gabe had taken his towel off. But, luckily, Dean was busy.
The older Winchester was standing at the table behind the couch, filling a duffel bag with guns, angel blades, and a few sledge hammers. Cas was there with him, too, holding a jug of holy oil. It seemed like the angel was fine; no harm done to him whatsoever, during his brief recon mission. Sam entered the room quietly, not wanting to interrupt Cas, who was already talking about the Raphael situation.
“I observed the church, Dean, and it appeared to be completely vacant,” the angel explained, handing Dean the jug, “I know that it is unwise to assume the coast is clear, but for now, it seems to be unoccupied. I have reason to believe that the altar is there, and untouched.”
“You mean, there wasn't a single angel loitering around it? Not a single henchman guarding the door?” Dean asked, unconvinced, “This is Raphael, Cas. You really think he's that careless?”
“There is a strong possibility that Raphael has not yet become aware of its location,” Cas interjected, “I only learned of its whereabouts through the decoding of ancient messages written on various tombstones. There's no telling how long it will take him to do the same. I'm hoping that we are ahead of him, in the race to find the altar. Though, I'm not sure how much time we have left to destroy it.”
“Then, we need to get our asses moving, don't we?” Dean sighed, finally looking up to meet his brother's eyes. His voice dropped considerably, before he said, “Sam? Are you ready to do this?”
Sam could hear the subtle tone of honesty, in his brother's question. Dean wasn't just asking Sam if he was ready for battle. No, Dean was asking Sam if he was ready to face Raphael again; ready to get his ass kicked, while trying to stop the apocalypse. Ready to be confronted with the possibility of losing Gabriel...
“No, Dickie. You can't come with me, this time.”
Everyone in the room turned around at the sound of Gabriel's cooing voice. The archangel – who was now dressed in Rufus's plaid shirt and worn out jeans – was walking into the living room from the kitchen. His Jack Russel Terrier was in his arms; whining and licking his face. Sam's heart beat abnormally with emotion, at the mere sight of Gabriel comforting his worried dog. Gabe was being so gentle and kind; petting Dickie and kissing his furry head. Ugh, why did he have to be so damn cute?
“Papa has to go kick the shit outta Riff Raph. But I'll be back, okay?” Gabe promised, putting the dog back down on his feet, “Now, run along and hump your moose or something 'til I get back.”
Even though Gabriel had given him a command to leave, Dickie didn't go anywhere. He stayed right next to Gabe, as the archangel made his way closer to everyone else. Dean was slightly scowling at him, of course; probably with left-over resentment, from the night before. And Sam could tell that Gabe was doing his best not to meet eyes with Dean, as he made a pit stop at the table.
“So, Cassie, what's the plan?” the archangel asked, as he casually began stuffing his pockets with Butterfingers.
“We must get to the church immediately,” Cas informed, “Every second we waste, Raphael gets closer to victory. We need to go. Now, Gabriel.”
“Okay. Chill out, little bro. Just getting some snacks for the road,” Gabe grumbled, patting his full pockets.
The archangel dashed back over to the group, where he instantly grabbed Sam's hand. A flash of infatuation raced through Sam's entire body, as he looked down at the archangel's tiny hand holding his own. Shit. How could such a simple, loving gesture make Sam feel so sad? How could something feel so good and so terrible at the same time? Gabe must have seen the anxiety on Sam's face, because his golden eyebrows slid together.
Without warning, Cas stepped forward and grabbed Dean and Gabriel by the shoulders. Sam barely had time to blink, before they were all flashed to a different location. The cool, comfy cabin was replaced with natural sunlight and a gentle breeze. Sam's hand instantly tightened on Gabe's, as he glanced around to take in his surroundings. The four of them were standing on a hillside, now; with lush, green grass and the clear blue sky above them. The church was a few yards away at the bottom of the hill, planted just outside of a thin forest. The building itself looked very old; colonial-style woodwork, gaping holes where windows used to be, moss and vines growing up the sides. There was no parking lot or sidewalk around it, either; no roads or paths in sight. Obviously, this building had been kept off the map; hidden and untouched for centuries.
“The altar is in there?” Dean asked, sounding skeptical.
“Yes,” Cas answered, his blue eyes scanning the scene with caution, “Come. We must move swiftly.”
Sam took a bracing breath, as he turned to face the church again. He was beginning to feel that rush of adrenaline that he always felt, just before doing the worst part of a case. Only now, it was a hundred times more agonizing. Because, this time, Gabriel's life depended on the outcome...
“Hey, wait,” Gabriel called, halting Dean and Cas, “Um, can I have a minute alone with the beanpole?”
Sam – and Dean and Cas, too – gave Gabriel a strange look. Why did Gabe want to talk to Sam alone? And why right now, when every second counted? The archangel was batting his golden eyelashes at Dean, trying to look as innocent as possible. And, by some miracle, Dean actually gave in. The older Winchester huffed a breath of frustration, but started down the hill.
“One minute. That's it,” Dean warned, tugging Cas along.
Sam swallowed harshly, as he watched his brother and Cas make their way to the church. Wow, Dean was being really generous. Sam's eyes slowly flickered back to Gabriel, wondering why the hell he had requested to be alone with him. But, just by looking down into the archangel's pained, honey eyes, Sam already knew the answer to his unasked question. He knew what Gabe was going to say. And he knew it was going to hurt like hell.
“Listen, kid,” Gabriel said quietly, reaching out to take both of Sam's hands, “This week has been the best week of my entire, four-billion-year existence. Hands down -”
“No, wait, let me finish,” the archangel interrupted, stepping closer to clutch Sam's jacket and tug his face down, “I have a good feeling that we are gonna win, Sam. Because you're a Winchester, and you always come out on top. Hell, you were even on top last night,” he added, smirking in reference to the sex they had, “But, just in case things don't work out... If we slip up, and Raphael takes the cake... I just want you to know two things, okay?”
Sam blinked hard, trying to hold the moisture in them, as he nodded. Gabriel coughed, and pawed at Sam's jacket, before continuing.
“First,” he breathed, “You should know that... your fly has been open all morning.”
Sam's face contorted with confusion. His fly was open? The man glanced down between them to see that the zipper on his jeans was, in fact, all the way down. Sam briefly rolled his eyes and fixed it, before returning to Gabriel's stare. The archangel was dead serious again, and the amber orbs of his eyes were large with emotion. One of his small hands slid up to touch Sam's cheek, as he went on.
“Second,” Gabe gulped, “I want you to know that... That you are the brightest, most precious thing that has ever walked the face of this earth. And you deserve to be loved and spoiled and treated like a king. And, I love you. God, Sam, I love you so much that it hurts... So, no matter what happens from here on out, sweetheart, just know that I only want you to be happy. Okay?”
A single, hot tear slipped from the corner of Sam's eye, and a tiny whimper squeaked from the depths of his throat. Dammit. How the hell was he supposed to reply to that?! Gabe's thumb swiped across Sam's cheek; clearing away the drop. But tears of his own were forming in his golden eyes. Gabriel truly meant everything he was saying. And Sam didn't have the slightest clue of how to respond to any of it.
“I... G – Gabe,” Sam croaked, stumbling over his words, “you – you are so... I just...”
Apparently seeing that Sam was in no state for talking, Gabriel yanked him down into a fierce kiss; cutting off his blubbering words. Sam's moist eyes shut, as he tongued the archangel passionately. The two of them were standing on a grassy hillside in the middle of nowhere, and Cas and Dean were probably watching somewhere nearby. But Sam and Gabriel kissed as if they were alone in a comfortable place. Sam wrapped his giant arms all the way around Gabe's warm back; clinging to him, as if he might disappear. And Gabe had fistfuls of Sam's clothes; gripping him hard, with just as much emotion.
It was only after Sam started panting through his nose, that Gabriel parted their mouths. The archangel took a few breaths and unclenched his fists from Sam's clothes, in order to back away. His clean-shaven face had put on a new expression; one of calm and readiness.
“I think our minute is up,” Gabe sighed, using his best a smile, “What do you say, Sammy-boy? Are you ready to go to the altar with me?”
Sam's sadness was no match for Gabriel's humor. A chuckle escaped the man's mouth, at the archangel's subtle 'wedding' hint, and he was back to feeling lighter than a feather again. After wiping the remaining moisture from his eyes and taking a calming breath, Sam nodded and reached for Gabriel's hand. His head was finally back in the game, where it was supposed to be.
“Let's do it,” Sam agreed.
The two of them nodded toward each other, before starting down the hillside with joined hands. Dean and Cas were waiting for them at the entrance of the church, standing in a cluster of weeds at the front door. It seemed like they had been in the middle of their own personal conversation, because they both took a cautious step back when Sam and Gabe joined them. Sammy saw the familiar look of determination cross his older brother's face, too; the one he wore when they were about to do something dangerous.
“Keep your eyes open for traps,” Dean warned, opening his duffel bag to pass out angel blades to everyone, “Just because it looks like Raphael isn't here, it doesn't mean he hasn't already been here. I don't trust this place.”
“Aye, aye, captain,” Gabriel replied, giving Dean a solute.
Dean and Cas met eyes and nodded, before they both turned to face the church door. It took them almost no effort at all, to force the door open. The wood itself nearly fell apart at their touch; cracking down the middle and breaking at the top. Sam held his angel blade up with one hand and tightened his grip on Gabe's fingers with the other, as the door swung open to reveal the inside of the church. Dean and Cas darted inside at once, leaving Sam and Gabe to follow.
The church consisted of a small, one-room sanctuary, with broken windows and a caved-in roof. It was clear that wildlife had slowly begun to take over the building. The floor was basically made of grass and mushrooms, vines and weeds were growing up the insides of the walls, and birds were flying in and out from the windows. The air was hot and thick with dust, making it difficult to breathe. And sunlight was cascading in from the hole in the roof, illuminating the church and all of its woodsy décor.
Sam could feel Gabriel's hand tightening on his own, as the two of them followed carefully behind Dean and Cas. They were all stepping between the broken, crooked pews, that were all facing the front of the church – where a large wooden altar was sitting in the light. Everyone drew to a halt to take in the sight of it. The altar was basically just a wooden box. There was no special writing on it; no unusual symbols or markings. In fact, it seemed less like an altar and more like a large box for hauling cargo on a ship.
“That's it?” Dean asked, sounding just as unimpressed as Sam.
“No,” Cas answered flatly, “it's not.”
Sam and Dean's eyes flashed toward Cas at once, both full of confusion. This wasn't the altar? Had it been moved? Replaced? Cas glanced between the Winchesters, able to see their distress.
“The altar we are searching for is made of stone,” he clarified, “and it is here. I can feel its presence. It's hidden somewhere in this church. We just need to find it.”
“Great,” Dean sighed, kicking at the edge of a pew, “A scavenger hunt. Just what we need, while we're on the stupid clock... Alright. Everybody spread out and look for the damn thing.”
Sam heaved a sigh of his own, before forcing himself to let go of Gabriel's hand. The two of them shared a look of understanding, before doing as Dean instructed. Sam started for the front of the church to look around behind the wooden altar, while Gabriel edged toward the right wall. Dean and Cas were both turning over pews and moving old furniture; breaking things that were in their way, in an effort to find the stone altar. There was nothing in the front of the church that seemed out of place. Sam was trying his best to find anything strange or abnormal, but there was nothing. Just dirt, grass, mushrooms, and a few mice.
“Hmph. That looks nothing like me.”
Sam paused his search to look across the room at Gabriel. The archangel was standing in front of the right wall, staring hard at something hanging there. Sam lowered his angel blade and edged closer to where Gabe was standing, feeling a bit curious.
“What are you talking about, Gabe?” he asked, eying the wall.
“This,” he answered, pointing to an old painting, “It has my name on it, but it looks nothing like me. My wings are way bigger than that.”
Sam eased up behind Gabriel to study the painting in question. The canvas had been warped by years of morning dew, and most of the paint had worn away. But the outline of an angel was still visible. The name 'Gabriel' was carved into the wooden frame at bottom – along with some Latin script.
“Hey, would you stop admiring your stupid selfie, and get back to looking for the damn altar?” Dean growled from across the room.
“Dean, I think there's something here,” Sam called, waving him over.
The younger Winchester was already in the process of translating the Latin, when Dean and Cas came over to join him. He used his many years of studying ancient texts to read the tiny sliver of words.
“It says 'will lead the way,” he said, pointing it out, “Gabe, do you know what it means?”
“Sorry, sweetheart. I've never seen this painting before,” the archangel answered, shaking his golden head.
“Maybe it's code, Sammy,” Dean suggested, taking the painting off the wall to inspect it, “or a piece of one. Are there any more of these?”
“Yes, Dean,” Cas replied, flashing to the other side of the room, “There are two here.”
“And there's another one, over there,” Gabe said, dashing over to grab it off the wall.
Cas and Gabriel both came back to the Winchesters, carrying the paintings. Sam knelt down in front of a pew in the grass and took all of the paintings, placing them side by side in the seat. There were angels in all of them; Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Lucifer. Latin script was at bottom of every frame, just like the first. But as Sam read along, he couldn't make any sense of it. It seemed like they were all talking about different things.
“It doesn't make any sense,” Sam said out loud, glancing at everyone behind him.
“Maybe they go in a specific order,” Dean suggested.
“In that case, Mickey would be first, 'cause he's the oldest,” Gabe answered, reaching down to slide Michael's painting over.
“Lucifer would be next,” Cas continued, moving the paintings around, “followed by Raphael, and then Gabriel.”
Sam looked at the newly arranged set of paintings, taking in the sight of all the archangels. Each one was facing a different way; Michael toward the north, Lucifer toward the south, Raphael toward the west, and Gabriel toward the east. Instead of focusing on their positions, though, Sam called more attention to the Latin words; reading it all through, from one frame to the next.
“The angels shall look, toward the good shepherd, and the good shepherd, will lead the way,” Sam read out loud.
“That's total crap. All the angels are looking in different directions!” Dean barked, gesturing toward the paintings.
“Who is the good shepherd?” Sam asked, flashing a questioning glance at Gabriel.
“Jesus,” Cas answered first, his blue eyes wandering around the sanctuary, “God's word calls him 'The Good Shepherd', in reference to his teachings. He's a sign of compassion and guidance.”
“Guidance?” Dean scoffed, “Too bad he can't guide us right now.”
“Who says he can't?” Gabriel replied, smirking.
Sam raised to stand and dust off his knees, before looking at Gabe with wonder. What was he talking about? Was he saying that Jesus could guide them right now? Gabriel only smiled at him with mischievousness; looking like a child with a secret.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Dean asked.
“You don't go into churches very often, do you, freckles?” Gabriel grinned, shaking his head, “Don't you know what they're full of?”
“Bibles,” Dean said, tossing the archangel a glare.
“Crucifixes,” Gabriel corrected, pointing toward the front of the church.
Everyone turned to face the wooden altar again, where a large, bronze crucifix was hanging on the back wall. It seemed like a normal decoration for a church, which was probably why Sam didn't notice it before. All four of them stepped around the broken pews and the wooden altar, to get to the wall at the front of the church. Sam was sure that everyone was studying the sculpture carefully; trying to find some sort of sign hidden in it. Jesus was hanging on the cross, just like he did in most of the depictions of his death. But his head wasn't turned up or down. In this statue, Jesus was looking toward the floor on his left... with his eyes frozen wide open.
It seemed that Dean was the first to realize the clue. He quickly stepped toward the area on the floor and knelt down to claw the dirt and grass away. Sam quickly knelt down to help his brother; moving large chunks of floorboard and rock. They didn't know exactly what they were looking for. The Winchesters only knew that they needed to follow Jesus' guidance, for once in their lives.
After a few minutes of digging at the earth and searching blindly, Dean and Sam suddenly hit something flat and smooth. They flashed a glance of surprise at each other, before quickly brushing away the dirt from around the cold surface. It looked like a large floor tile, made out of metal. Sam dusted away more dirt at the top, to reveal a handle bolted to it.
Without a second thought, Dean and Sam both took hold of the metal handle and pulled; lifting up the metal hatch to open it. They let the iron tile fall back and clang loudly against the floor, peering down inside. It was dark under the earth, but Sam could faintly make out a set of stairs, leading down into a secret chamber. The man gulped, looking up to meet eyes with Gabriel. They had done it. They had found a trapdoor to a chamber, hidden beneath the church...
Where the altar was bound to be waiting.