Chapter 26: Fulfillment
My beloved spoke, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
- The Song of Solomon
Dust and silence, a certain reverence that hung in the air as though the house were holding its breath. Audrey pulled closed the door behind them, shutting out the falling night. And in the dim shadowed entryway, Gabriel looked down at her. There were tears on her cheeks.
It came to him then that no words of love and devotion had been spoken between them. No promises made or accepted. No merging and melding of souls in the ways that lovers often bonded. These things had simply come to be, and they were the only things that mattered.
She had nearly died. He had nearly killed her. He had saved her life. They had come to a truce, and then to a tenuous friendship. And now to this. This was all.
But beneath the simple facts there ran the thread of something beyond words. Something of flickering lamplight and theological arguments and banter. Of nine freckles on a bared shoulder and the smell of blood, hurled books and tears and nights spent watching a mortal sleep.
Gabriel touched her cheek uncertainly, and Audrey moved closer to him.
She was weeping.
"You don't know what I went through, trying to get you back. I can't believe that I even wanted you back, but I did. One moment you were going out to get me fruit…the next thing I knew, Michael and Uriel were in the cave and we landed in this mess." She had gained weight during their separation, and she was soft and warm and sweet in his arms. He lowered his head to breathe in her scent.
"I am sorry that you suffered, Audrey. It was not my intention to cause you distress."
"None of that was your fault! Those two, that lord of the Fourth Tier or whatever and the General of Heaven's armies, it was on them. But I stopped being angry about it. Well, not angry at Michael, anyway. Uriel is impossible."
At this, Gabriel sighed and pulled away slightly, taking her hand instead and leading her into the dark interior of the little house. Into the scents of dust and old books and stale air that had not moved in years. No electricity, though the gas was still on. It would not help to offer them light. Only warmth. He found one of the candles and reached automatically for his flint and steel. But of course they were not with him. None of his possessions were with him. Not even his wings. He felt too light without them, as though the first strong breeze would blow him away.
"Uriel was not always impossible. He has endured much. Your kind were troublesome to him in ways that you were not to those of the warrior class. We were all told to love you. But the soldiers were also told to kill those of you who disobeyed. Uriel and Raphael were not. They played with you in Eden, and your pain at the Fall was their pain. Uriel is bitter, but he remembers that love." He found the matches in their small box, and struck one on the rough strip of the side. Light flared into being. 'And God said, 'Let there be Light', and there was light.'
He lit the candle, then moved about the room to light the others. Outside, there was the soft sound of distant thunder. It was the season of storms, as it had been when they spent time in the cave high up above the valley floor.
The room they were in was filled with white sheets draped over furniture. Audrey began to remove the coverings, revealing a gingham sofa, a rocking chair, a table and two chairs, tall floor lamps, a small piano. All around on the walls and the mantle above the fireplace were pictures of Howard and Millie in their youth. Howard standing with his arm around her on their wedding day. Howard graduating from veterinary school. The two of them with a little girl, their daughter who moved away and doesn't visit much. Millie standing in what must surely be the kitchen, her hands plunged deep in bread dough, her hair piled atop her head in a messy bun, smiling. The neat detritus of a life well lived surrounded them. It made Audrey feel happy and warm. Gabriel, however, noted the progression of age in the faces of the two people. The ephemeral dance of time across their features, each second bringing them closer to the end.
"Isn't this great? Better than the cave, right?" Audrey knelt down by the fireplace and began tossing large logs into it. Gabriel touched her shoulder, urging her back.
"I will do this. Bring the provisions into the kitchen and see that they are secured. There are mice here."
And this was the first test of their new relationship. A direct order given. Audrey, who had tried to fight her way out of Eden, who had argued with God Himself, who had incurred the wrath of angels and faced death and cried over the separation thrust upon the two of them felt a momentary stab of annoyance…but then it passed. For the first time in her life it passed. A mark of the change her time with Howard and Millie and Michael had wrought upon her defiant spirit.
It was with a strange kind of pride that she heard herself speak.
And she did as she'd been told.
Gabriel carefully arranged the wood and the kindling, then set it alight. As he did so he thought about the sudden obedience. Audrey had fought him tooth and nail in the beginning. Now, he could hear her humming to herself as she put things away in the little kitchen. Then the whisking sound of a broom being used. Doors opening and closing. The sound of the shower spray for a few moments. She was nesting, making this place comfortable not just for herself, but for him as well. Was this love at work? Was it temporary? Would there come a time when they would quarrel? Perhaps even return to their old and disagreeable ways, fighting with words because he would not raise a hand to her even in the worst moment. One blow could kill her. But would it be during a fight, speaking in anger, that he snarled out the price he'd paid for their scant three score and ten years together? She must never find out. Never.
And so began what would become a lifetime of gentle, loving, protective deception.
"I cleaned the kitchen a little. And I found the bedroom and stripped the bed. There were mouse nests in the blankets! Gross. But I found some fresh sheets in a tiny closet by the bathroom. It's not perfect, but we can sleep clean tonight at least. And I sprayed the dust out of the shower stall and checked the sink for spiders. There's dust all over everything! Tomorrow when it's light I'll clean up the rest of the house. Tonight I thought we could, you know, talk. I'm sure you know I have about a million questions. And you should know a couple things that happened, too." She chewed her lip, coming forward to sit on the couch while he stood up and dusted off his hands. "This might make you angry, but I kind of had a fight with God. I….yelled at him."
Gabriel's shoulder blades twitched, but of course there was no corresponding fluffing of wings in agitation. He turned toward her, looking down at the little mortal with the bottle of wine in her hands, her eyes not daring to meet his.
"I know. That was disrespectful, Audrey. I hope that you at least watched your language. But how did you come to stand before the Lord at all? It could not have been Michael who brought you there. He lay beside me in the home of Howard and Millie, and we faced death together. Was it Uriel?"
"Yes. But he only brought me because he saw how determined I was to get out of Eden!"
"I had heard that you'd been to Eden. So it is true then?"
Audrey nodded, working at the corkscrew, her head down. "Yeah. And I took a bath in this pool that fixed my leg, and Uriel followed me all over the fuc…all over the darn place like some kind of sheepdog. And I found the tree with the huge green apples on it, and I was going to steal one so I could get kicked out of Heaven and sent back to you…"
"Eden is not in Heaven. It is in a sheltered valley not far from Hell, ironically enough."
"Ok whatever. So I tried to steal an apple, only Uriel freaking FLEW at me and spanked me with his sword…"
Gabriel, opening a window to let in the cool rain-scented breeze, paused and looked at her over his shoulder. "He what?"
"…then said something about 'Oh, do you know why I beat the shit out of you? It's because you didn't do what I said.' And I was like 'Gabriel's going to kill you when he finds this out!' And he was all, 'Gabriel would have beaten you with a Roman something-or-other so count your blessings.' And I was really upset, but we both calmed down after that and we talked about how he taught Eve to dance and how he was really hurt when she got kicked out of the garden and he said he watches humans all the time. He seemed really sad. After that I didn't try to steal any fruit, of course. And I kind of just bided my time because he said that he was just waiting for Michael to come back so he could talk to him, because he thought that maybe they'd made a mistake when they came to take me away. I mean, OBVIOUSLY."
The cork came free, and Audrey poured two cups full of white wine. She held one up to Gabriel, and he reluctantly took it and sat down with a creak on the sofa beside her. Surprised, aggravated, amused and touched by the story that was unfolding. Audrey took a large gulp and continued.
"So I must have fallen asleep at some point, because when I woke up it was dark and there were literally trillions of stars. None of the constellations I knew, not even the Big Dipper. I could even see planets with rings around them, and clouds of gas that were a hundred different colors. I thought I was alone, but when I sat up I saw Uriel sitting on the grass not far off from me, just watching me with those big blue doll eyes of his. He really looks like what an angel is supposed to look like, you know." She smiled, teasing him gently, hearkening back to the time she'd berated him for not looking like an angel. Gabriel set the wine aside on the coffee table and rubbed one temple with his fingertips, closing his eyes.
"Ok. So he was just sitting there, and I realized that I didn't want to fight with him. It must have been kind of nice to have a human in Eden again after he'd been alone there for so many centuries."
"Millions of years, actually."
"Millenuries, then. Or however you say it. He must have been sad and happy at the same time. And he was worried that Michael didn't come back, and he thought for sure you two had fought. I felt bad for him. I didn't say anything, I just moved over until I was next to him, and we watched the sky together. When the sun came up, he took off without a word to fly above me. Just going in circles. I guess it helps him think. Because when he touched down again, he suddenly announced that he was taking me before the Throne." She took another drink, and finally met Gabriel's stern gaze. "So that's how I met God. And his dog."
"You met Zeus? I am fond of him."
"He was huge, and a little temperamental. God called him a hound of Hell."
"He is something of the sort. A friend to The Almighty, not a human or an angel but something between the two. He prefers the form of an animal to that of a man. Zeus has come to love his life as the hound of the Lord over the years. A favorite among the soldiers. He is not always a dog though. I have seen him as a great black lion, as a black swan, and many other forms. He is always black though. You can tell his true nature by the color. And the eyes. Do not trust him."
"I don't think we'll meet up again. I doubt after this I'll ever see Heaven." Audrey said a little sadly. She took another drink, and Gabriel gently lifted the cup from her hands and set it beside his. He kissed her palm and pressed it to the place over his heart.
"Do not say such things, child. You will walk through those gates the moment your soul departs from this world. I have received this information as a promise from the Most High."
It was like lifting a heavy stone from her heart. Audrey grabbed both his hands and held them, her eyes filling with tears. All her life she'd been so sure that she was just a piece of shit, incapable of goodness and well beyond the possibility of redemption. And now, here was the left hand of God telling her that she would see Heaven! She felt like laughing and crying at the same time.
"Gabe are you serious?! Wait, you're always serious. This means we'll get to be together forever, since you'll be there too!"
He looked away, then stood up.
"I am very pleased that you are happy, Audrey. But your joy will not keep you from joining me outside to feel the rain, will it? I trust that you are not so softened and used to being pampered by our friends that you will shy away from getting cold and wet?"
His tone was light, and the little digs went right to her heart. He was so wonderfully different now, almost friendly and playful! She got up, feeling just the tiniest bit dizzy, and ran to the door.
"Softened?! I'll show you softened!" She kicked off her shoes and opened the door, darting out into the yard to hold her hands up to the sweet cool rain that was just beginning to fall.
Relieved, Gabriel followed. And together they held hands and lifted their faces to the sky to receive the blessing of the elements.
They were soaked to the skin by the time they returned, with Audrey laughing and muddy and shivering. She'd slipped in a puddle while trying to run from the big archangel, and fallen to her hands and knees in soft mud. But she was elated, beside herself with happiness. This was better than any fancy date she'd been on, better than the pro football game she'd been to with Vick so many years ago or the lobster dinner that some used car salesman took her to while his wife was out of town. There was a purity to dancing in the rain with a wingless angel, the kind of purity that she thought would never come into her life again.
For his part, Gabriel had not danced before. It was not his way. His body was built for war, designed for battle and destruction, not lightness of foot and being. But when Audrey caught his hands and spun him around, laughing, he had no choice but to follow her. It was tender and simple and so very human that he understood all at once why Uriel felt such pain at the loss of his fragile fallen charges. They were not an abomination at all. He, Gabriel, had been so very wrong about them when he sought to destroy the species. Michael had been right.
He wanted to see his brother again, but had no way to reach out to him. No way to leap into the sky and find him. What was he to do? Pray? There seemed little point in that now.
They closed the door behind them, and the warmth of the room immediately set to work easing the cold from their bones while the fresh rain continued to fall outside. Audrey took both his hands again and pulled him through the kitchen, through the living room, past the fireplace and into the bathroom off the little bedroom with its one double bed. Only when they were in the bathroom and the oil lamp had been lit did Gabriel begin to feel the warning clamor of moral unrest well up within him. Audrey closed the door and reached into the shower stall to turn on the water. Steaming and hot, unlike the cool pond water he'd bathed her in during her terrible time of sickness.
"We should not be…naked. Together." He said hesitantly.
But Audrey was already peeling off her wet dress. She looked up at him in the too-large bra and too-small panties, and her makeup was smeared by the rain. She was beautiful.
"You fought pretty hard to be allowed to come back here, Gabe. Are you afraid of a little skin? I won't make you do anything you don't want to do. This isn't like before, when I was trying to tempt you out of spite. Ok? I just want to get warm and clean. And I don't want to be away from you for a minute. What's the big deal? You washed me while I was unconscious. You've seen me naked already. And I know what a man looks like under his clothes. Look, I won't touch you if that will make you more comfortable. Alright? And I'll keep my eyes above your waist. It's dark as hell in here anyway. Just the one lamp. It will be like showering in the dark."
Hesitantly, Gabriel began to remove the linen shirt he'd been dressed in after the Lord had painlessly removed his wings.
And it was then that Audrey gasped.
"Gabriel. Your collar. It's….gone!"
He touched his throat, meeting her eyes in the halflight.
"Yes. When my wings were removed, the collar was as well. I am not a servant of the Most High anymore, Audrey. I have been released from my duties, and from my servitude."
She reached up to touch the unfamiliar skin where the hateful iron collar once encircled his strong neck. Her fingers were tender, kind, gentle. Gabriel closed his eyes and lowered his head.
This moment. Surrender fully to this moment, and all others until the very end.
"Did it hurt?" Her voice was quiet, barely audible above the rush of the heating water. Gabriel shook his head.
"It did not."
Satisfied, Audrey unclasped her bra and stepped out of her panties, entering the shower with a sigh of bliss as the warm water hit her skin.
"Come ON! It's wonderful in here. You have to feel this."
Still he hesitated. But finally, after a little more cajoling, he removed the rest of his clothing and hung it over the towel rack to dry. Then stepped into the shadowy darkness of the shower with her. Shy, despite his immense strength and size. She giggled and cupped water in her hands to pour over his cold chest.
"Come stand under the spray. You'll feel better.
And he did. And she was right. The hot water cascaded over them both in deeply pleasurable waves, bringing feeling to frozen extremities and sluicing the mud away from Audrey's hair and legs. She lifted the little bottle of shampoo that Millie had thoughtfully given to her, handing it to Gabriel and turning around.
"Will you wash my hair?"
In the flickering dark, his deep voice brought gooseflesh to her arms. Gabriel, noticing this change, very slowly bent to press his lips to her bare shoulder. Audrey's eyes closed and she leaned against him to fully enjoy this sensual moment. She'd been taken in a hundred different ways by a hundred different faceless lovers. Some mediocre, some substandard, all of them forgettable. But nothing in her life felt as erotic and sweet and intimate as this single kiss, bestowed in the warm dark of an unfamiliar shower. His hands were kind on her head as he worked in the shampoo, massaging her scalp with fingers that were more suited to holding a mace. That would never hold a mace again, if he could help it. The mercenary in his freedom, washing a girl's hair. And it was not the color of cinnamon, but of honey.
Raphael's words came back to him again. 'It was worth it.'
She turned around, blinking water from her eyes. Her face clean of makeup, shining instead with happiness. And her arms went around his neck, the tick of her pulse in her wrist against the sensitive skin of his newly exposed neck. He paused for only a moment, then drew her against his body and held her.
"Keep this up and I'm going to pounce on you, big guy."
"I am aware. But I ask for your restraint and patience in this. It is something of no small amount of importance and magnitude." His forehead was against hers. Eyes open, looking at one another, hushed in the power and tension of the moment.
"I will hold you tonight as you sleep, warm in a bed and not a cave. You will awaken in my arms. Hands that once tried to kill you will stroke your hair away from your face. We shall talk. I will tell you many things, and answer as many of your questions as I am able. I do not know if you love me…"
"I do. Gabriel, I do. I do love you."
Silence for a few heartbeats. The hesitation melted from his heart like night ice at the rising of the sun. He took her face in his hands and looked from eye to eye, seeing there the truth. The unshakeable truth that he had dared believe in during all his trials.
"I love you as well." He answered.
And it was said. Finally, the words had been spoken. He lowered his lips to hers without holding back this time, and she kissed him with passion and warmth. There was no need to instruct him. There was no need to keep himself in check. The barrier had been broken, and there was only this.
He lifted her into his arms, her small hands fumbling behind her to shut off the water, and the thunder rumbled comfortingly outside as he carried her into the bedroom. There was only one candle here, burning on the antique dresser and reflected in the mirror. Gently, he set her down on the edge of the bed and wrapped a robe around her shoulders to dry her white skin and keep her warm. With the same amount of tenderness shown to a newborn lamb, he dried her hair, her arms, the spaces between her toes. It made her giggle and blush that he showed such care to her when no one ever had before.
She reached up for him when he rose to his feet again, and this time he obliged her. Lying down with her beneath the cotton sheets and the handmade quilt, their damp naked skin against one another and their breath mingled.
Never before, save in the Garden when an innocent man and an innocent woman came together in wonder at the singing of their own brand new beings, had there been such a moment as this. It was honest and pure, beautiful and bigger than both of them. She guided his hands to her body, to the softness of each curve. Hip to thigh, arm to wrist, breast to belly. And she touched his battle scarred chest and glided her fingertips over the places she'd stitched closed his skin with such anger that first day. She kissed the scars there, her lips working a tender sort of magic and erasing the memory of the pain. For Gabriel, each and every sensation, movement and sigh were completely new, as new and as ancient as the morning. She trailed kisses up from the wound at his side to his broad chest and the tender neck, then found his lips once more.
He rolled her onto her back to lie beneath him in the quiet mystery of the simple double bed, too small for them but somehow just right. There was no need for words. They had moved beyond them, and did not need to speak to communicate. The sweet ache that had grown to a crescendo of torment in the cave and had not been satiated was finally given its freedom of expression now in the sacred dark where all things begin. Her hands moved down between them, touching a part of him that had never known the sensation before, guiding his body to the place where they would join. He did not pull away or hide his face in shame. He felt no hesitation, no fear, no sense of warning. Not now, with honey colored hair spread across the white pillow and her eyes looking up into his. She trusted him.
At the moment of entry, Audrey suddenly stiffened and cried out in pain and surprise. Something had torn within her. Gabriel instantly stilled, alarm flooding his nerves.
"I've hurt you. Forgive my clumsiness, little one. I have not done this before."
"No it's…it's alright. I don't know what…I mean, I've been with so many….I don't understand…"
But he did. All at once in a rush of realization, Gabriel understood. He held her tightly against him, careful not to move within her until the pain passed.
"The Healing Pool. You said that Uriel brought you to the Pool to heal your fractured leg."
"It healed everything, Audrey. Everything. You were made new again."
"You mean…?" There were tears in her eyes again, and now they were not just tears of pain. She wrapped her arms around him and cried against his shoulder. "Gabriel."
"Yes, my dear one. You were pure in spirit already, to my eyes. It is not a woman's physical body that defines her worth or her goodness. I loved you when your flesh bore the fingerprints of a legion of men. I love you no less and no more in this moment. But I know what it means to you."
Slowly, carefully, he eased within her and hushed her small cry with his kiss, whispering against her lips. "I know what this means. The past is gone. It is nothing. You are free."
Audrey's tears wet her face as they made love for the first time, and her entire body was illuminated with sensations that she had never felt before. Her hands moved down his back, tracing the scars where the huge black wings had once lifted him into the sky. He kissed her white throat, and there were tears on his cheeks as well. The feeling was unlike anything in creation. It was at once sublime and beyond the scope of expression, and also earthy and human and bright with bliss made all the more miraculous for its tremulous impermanence. Again and again that night he took her, and they did not tire. For so long she had sought to find fulfillment in every wrong place. For so long he had hungered and thirsted for a love that had no name and was never permitted to be his. And now they were finding precisely what their souls had longed for, each with the other.
They were Adam and Eve. They were Raphael and Anat. They were the Earth and the sky. The flowers of Eden and the warm kiss of the sun. They were two fireflies mating in the final hour of their lives.
And it was perfect.