Sam had been nervous at first. He’s always had a thing for older guys, but normally just the ones on the big screen, like George Clooney and Anderson Cooper. He always admired older men in his everyday life and even had the occasional passive crush on a professor, but he’d never dated anyone more than two years his senior. Besides that, Sam met Gabriel while Sam was working and only jerks hit on the people who have to be nice for fear of losing their jobs. But Gabriel was never too aggressive and he always tipped, regardless of what kind of mood Sam was in. Eventually, Sam found himself making Gabriel’s drink – a triple grande 6-pump white mocha with whip – the second the older man walked through the doors of his coffee shop. Sometimes Sam even took over for the person working the bar in order to do so, only because Sam’s the only barista who knows to make the man’s drink extra hot. Gabriel never orders it that way, but a quick glance at his company credit card told Sam that Gabriel works all the way downtown, which means a non-extra hot drink would get cold during the long subway ride there. Even that sort of attention should have alerted Sam to his crush, but he still managed to convince himself that he was just being a good barista. It was the other things he couldn’t seem to rationalize.
When Gabriel didn’t come in on Mondays, Sam noticed and felt a bit down. When Gabriel came in on Saturday unexpectedly, Sam felt his mood lift. When Gabriel dropped a five dollar bill into the tip jar, Sam hoped it was just because of him. It took about two months before Sam admitted to himself that, obviously, he wasn’t feeling all those ridiculous things simply because he wanted to be employee of the month.
It was a risk writing his number next to Gabriel’s name on the man’s paper coffee cup. It’s one of those things his supervisors get really upset about and there was the possibility of Gabriel never coming back, of Sam misinterpreting all the flirting and making the other man uncomfortable. Sam tried to tell himself he was just a broke art student, that he certainly couldn’t pay for a nice dinner or an evening out or go Dutch on a couple of Broadway tickets. So when his phone buzzed in the middle of his abstraction class, he was equal parts delighted and equal parts horrified.
It turned out that Gabriel was wealthy. Sam knew he had to be well-off – you don’t order a triple shot latte at Starbucks every day without a decently sized paycheck – but he hadn’t suspected the man was rich. But Sam soon found out that the Sullivan & Cromwell credit card he’d seen earlier was actually a partner’s credit card, and if Sam was feeling out of his league before, he almost turned tail and ran the second Gabriel mentioned that particular detail over drinks. He spent most of their first six months together trying to convince himself that a relationship was a bad idea, wondering if Gabriel thought of him as some kind of unofficial male escort. He didn’t want to let himself hope, but Gabriel was sweet and witty and challenging and made a killer brown butter sauce, so he really hoped he could hope.
The older man rented Sam a suit (which had to be expensive, considering Sam’s abnormally large sizes) to wear to the Sullivan & Cromwell Christmas party, which – of course, of course – was being held in the goddamn Mandarin Oriental. Sam was uncomfortable the entire car ride over, trying to figure out how to introduce himself without embarrassing his date, but then they got there and Gabriel said those magical words.
“This is my boyfriend, Sam Winchester.”
Sam almost choked on his drink because, while Sam liked to think of them as together, he didn’t realize Gabriel also did and he certainly didn’t realize Gabriel was willing to publicly claim affiliation. Gabriel’s coworkers were surprisingly charming and kind, shaking his hand and asking thoughtful questions about his work at Pratt. Aside from a couple of harmless jokes about Gabriel being a cradle-robber, his age was barely mentioned at all. He left the building feeling confident and warm, his fingers laced through Gabriel’s as they climbed into a taxi.
“Can I ask you a question?” Sam found himself saying, the warmth of one too many Manhattans igniting his courage and loosening his tongue.
“Shoot,” Gabriel offered with a grin, pulling at the knot of his tie.
“Why haven’t we slept together?”
Gabriel’s eyebrows rose in surprise, but he laughed, pulling his tie out of his collar and shoving it unceremoniously into his pocket. “Wow, kiddo. Right to the point, huh?”
“You called me your boyfriend in there,” Sam said hurriedly, embarrassed by his forwardness.
“Are you seeing other people besides me?” Gabriel asked.
“No,” Sam exclaimed. The amused gleam in Gabriel’s eyes told him the older man already knew that. He sighed in frustration and continued, “It’s just. You never seem to want. I mean-”
“I didn’t want to make you think I was trying to buy you, Sammy,” Gabriel explained, his teasing smirk fading to a reassuring smile. “You can say that age is just a number all you want, but I know there are some common thoughts about old guys with money dating handsome young guys and I didn’t want you to feel any of that pressure. I like you and I like the conversation and I like the fact that you show up to my apartment covered in paint and charcoal. You don’t owe me anything.”
“Oh,” was all Sam could manage, the information slowing sinking into him. “Oh.”
“Yeah, oh,” Gabriel chuckled. He only leered a little bit when he added, “That being said, if you are feeling officially unpressured, I would not be averse to turning the rest of tonight into an adult sleepover.”
“So. You do want to?” Sam clarified.
“Sam, I wasn’t going into your coffee shop everyday just because you make the best latte in town. Although, you do, by the way.”
“A white mocha with whipped cream on top is hardly a latte. It’s basically-”
“If you say ‘diabetes in a cup,’ I will drive you straight home.”
The next day, when Sam went over to Gabriel’s gorgeous brownstone loft, he brought over the piece he painted in abstraction, the one that Gabriel secretly inspired, and offered to let it stay at Gabriel’s. It was then, after they’d hung the canvas on the wall near the balcony, that Gabriel offered to let him stay, too.
That painting was only the beginning. Their apartment - their apartment - is now littered with Sam’s various projects, some of them better than others, but Gabriel insists they’re all wonderful, hanging them in the most conspicuous places and pointing them out to all their guests. Sam shudders to think what Gabriel’s office must look like. He knows that Gabriel didn’t hide that horrendous still life he did in his freshmen year anywhere around the apartment, so he can only assume that the other partners at Sullivan & Cromwell are staring at it every day.
It all started when Gabriel discovered what Sam was paying monthly in student loans on his meager salary. Sam wouldn’t and still won’t let him pay his bills, although Gabriel continues to make valiant efforts. Finally, however, the older man discovers the option of buying Sam’s artwork, which is ridiculous because he and Sam live in the same space in which those pieces get hung, but if Gabriel wants them, Sam can’t stop him for buying them. Gabriel even entices some of his fellow partners into buying, charming them with the romantic prospect of contributing to arts without mentioning that they are also contributing to Sam’s student loan payments.
Sam would love to trade in his barista job for a teaching position, but he can’t find one right out of college, and Gabriel convinced him to open a little (very, very little) gallery in the village in the meantime. He has to admit that he loves having a space to display his work and talk to other people about his work, even if he only gets the occasional buyer. Still, he’d feel better if he were contributing a little more to the household income.
Even after three years of being together, Sam still feels a little unworthy. Sam knows he’s a good looking guy, but Gabriel is completely gorgeous, with his strong jaw, warm expressions, and just a hint of gray touching the hair at his temples. And he looks fantastic in a suit which, considering he’s a high-powered attorney, Sam sees him in quite a bit. Sometimes, Sam’s a bit embarrassed of his own wardrobe, full of ugly flannel (which, contrary to Gabriel’s belief, he does not wear ironically) and paint speckled jeans. The only bright side of his poor taste in clothes is the fact that Gabriel likes to wear those ugly plaid shirts sometimes, especially after sex when he can walk around the kitchen completely dwarfed by the giant button-down, making Sam really interested in pressing him down onto the counter and starting the second round.
He does his best to keep up with any and all commissions, despite the fact that most of his commissions are from old ladies who want watercolors of their dead cats to hang over the fireplace. And Sam really hates watercolors and dead animals, so sometimes it is hard to find the motivation. He has the next two days off at the coffee shop and he’s been fiddling with this Persian monstrosity (aptly named Tiara), sitting on top of the bunch of newspapers in the dining area and trying not to be distracted. Still, when the choice is between a giant Persian cat and Gabriel’s Blu-Ray collection, it’s pretty hard to stay dedicated. He is still working on it when Gabriel comes home and starts chattering about his latest case – all the things he probably shouldn’t be telling Sam according to attorney-client privilege – and cooking something that smells absolutely divine.
“You working on another cat portrait?” the older man asks, looking over his shoulder as he sautés up some mushrooms next to a white sauce.
“Yeah. Dead cat portrait,” Sam says, floating into the kitchen to get a better whiff. Sam bought ice cream and a black forest cake yesterday and the idea of a three course meal sounds delightful after a long day of staring at a blank canvas. He pulls a bowl out of the cabinet and searches through the crisper for some spinach, even as Gabriel hisses at him.
“Spinach is good for you,” Sam says, dumping the greens into a bowl and tossing in whatever toppings he can find.
“Like you’re not in here just to avoid painting the ghosts of felines past,” Gabriel quips. “Why don’t you just tell them you don’t do cats?”
“I can paint cats,” Sam argues. “I just don’t like to paint cats.”
“You should work on things you want to work on.”
“Oh, you mean like you do?” Sam asks, raising an eyebrow. “You really care about rich people divorcing and conglomerates suing other conglomerates for copyright infringement?”
Gabriel makes a vaguely dismissive gesture. “That’s different. I’m a sellout.”
“I should have been a sellout,” Sam complains, not really meaning it completely, although he has to admit that he’s only convincing himself to do all these commissions to make himself worth it, to have some meager amount of money to offer to Gabriel in exchange for food and shelter and love.
“Hey,” Gabriel chides. “You did something you love. Don’t be ashamed of that.”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees halfheartedly. He looks over in the direction of his easel and the quickly-done sketch, feeling a little guilty now that his day has been wasted.
Gabriel follows his gaze and chuckles. “Did you get into the Blu-Rays again?”
“I watched Star Trek, like… three times,” Sam admits. “The color is insane.”
Gabriel explains the hundred reasons he hates his new client over salad, fettuccine alfredo, and black forest cake and Sam does his best to hype himself up about Tiara the cat. However, around 1 AM, Sam is still staring at the canvas, having really only refined his sketch a little, staring into the eyes of a very old and angry looking cat. Sam would be angry, too, if he belonged to the crazy woman who is paying him to do this. He’s drinking coffee, but it never really helps him anymore, not now that he’s been working at the coffee shop for years. He doesn’t even realize he’s fallen asleep until there’s a gentle hand on his jaw, tipping his neck back into alignment. He opens his eyes to find himself propped up against the wall next to his easel, frowning into the dark until Gabriel’s warm smile comes into focus.
“Come on, Sammy. I think it was time for bed an hour ago.”
Sam rubs the side of his face and looks up at his painting, which is still just a quick pencil drawing.
“I have to-”
“It’ll still be there tomorrow,” Gabriel assures him, coaxing him to his feet. He grins and adds, “I’ll make it worth your while.”
Sam follows him because he really is exhausted. In fact, he’s thinking about declining the sex because he sure as hell isn’t awake enough to be on top and he’s almost too tired to spread his legs. But Gabriel only pulls Sam’s head onto his shoulder and brushes his hair away from his face. The blankets are tucked in around them cozily and Gabriel’s hand trails up and down his spine in a soothing motion.
“Christ, kiddo, you need a backrub,” Gabriel murmurs, fingers testing the knots in his shoulders. Sam has no doubt that he’ll get one tomorrow. Were he any less unconscious, he might be overwhelmed by Gabriel’s generosity, his patience, and his willingness to put up with Sam’s weird and useless choice of career. Or maybe all those things are just love.
The next day he paints something that isn’t a cat and Gabriel doesn’t even get the chance to make an offer before someone snatches it up out of his studio, claiming that there are emotions radiating off the canvas. Sam laughs and claims that he isn’t sure about that, but then he thinks of Gabriel’s smile and decides it’s entirely possible.