"He who fights with monsters might take care
lest he thereby become a monster.
And if you gaze for long into an abyss,
the abyss gazes also into you."
The two men sat at the bar, side by side, and only one was drinking. Neither seemed to notice that the other was there. . .instead their eyes were fixed on the glasses in front of them. One shot glass that had yet to be emptied and another that had seen four or five refills. People passing by found their gazes drawn to the two, even despite the smoke that filled the quiet establishment. The contrast was startling and unconscious art. Both were dressed in black leather . . .both had eyes that wavered in that place between darkness and light. Green? blue? Gray? Even the bartender, who'd seen them up close, couldn't be sure. They looked like a pair of angels. . .or demons. Which one, ironically, was. So hauntingly perfect in their silence and thoughts. One dark and one blond. One sun-kissed and stubbled. . .and the other pale and smooth like alabaster. Like Gabriel and Lucifer at some sort of uneasy truce.
The dark one downed his fifth shot of whiskey and the burn seemed nonexistent. His slender hands did not shake and the only reaction seemed to be the brief closing of his eyes. An instant longer than a blink. The glass thumped back down on the solid wood of the bar and it seemed like the only sound in the family-owned Irish pub.
"Sir, d'ye really want another?" Ryan, the owner's nephew, hesitated with the bottle of scotch, wavering between them.
One pair of eyes up. Cold. Empty. As if Gabriel had been denied God's grace. "Fill it." Words almost too soft to be the order they were.
"I'm sorry," the young bartender shook his head. "I can't be doin' that, Sir. Ye've had too many."
Almost on cue, the other man slid his untouched shot glass to the left with long, white fingers. A smooth, quick motion that landed it right by the determined drinker's hand. His eyes came up as well. They were hypnotic and dark like the depths of a true Guinness. "Never deny a man his drink, Boy." A calm, low, voice. . .filled with age although he seemed barely older than Ryan. "People've been killed for less in this bloody world."
Something in that face. . .made the fresh-faced Trinity college student leave the scotch bottle in front of them and move down to the other end of the bar. It was Lucifer's face. And Lucifer's warning. A fallen angel who'd seen the depths of Hell.
Silence again. The dark man contemplated the gift. And the blond one simply fixed his gaze on the amber grain of the bar's surface.
"Why did you do that?" whispered Gabriel's twin, caressing the side of the shot glass as if it were a lover's cheek.
His benefactor sunk lower on his barstool, shrugging beneath the supple leather of his trenchcoat. "The whelp needed told," he murmured simply, with an idle smile.
This time the lack of sound was more companionable. They sat while the drinker took a small sip from his latest comfort. "Michael," he said softly, French accent like a swish of silk.
"Sp-William." And Lucifer's childe stumbled over his own name, as if unused to the sound.
The exchange was noted and accepted. It had grown late. . .and the bar was emptying slowly. Yet neither showed signs of wanting to leave. It was as if they'd taken root on the oak barstools, not intending to move until the earth opened up and swallowed them whole.
After a long moment and another sip, the one who'd called himself Michael turned his head, staring at his counterpart for the night. And something akin to a smile spread across his face, although onlookers would think it closer to a grimace. "Was she beautiful?" he asked, voice full of bitter knowledge.
It almost seemed like the pale Englishman wasn't going to answer. Then-- "Oh, yes. Bloody stunning." He arched an eyebrow, its natural darkness at odds with his bleached hair. "Yours?" he wondered huskily.
"An angel." The Frenchman suddenly seemed close to tears. . . eyes green with pain. He finished off his shot. "I didn't deserve her," he admitted hoarsely.
The one who'd called himself William laughed and it was a raw sound. Like white-faced mummers leading a funeral parade. "I never had her." He closed his eyes, seeing some vision on his lids and it must have proved too painful because he opened them again automatically. "I would've given it all up. . .all of it to touch her just once. My match. My White Queen."
"But you didn't." The other nodded, understanding all too well. He recognized himself in this man's mirror. Violence. Death. Anger. Regrets. "You couldn't. And she's better without you anyway."
"You've got that right, Mate." More chuckles. Soft and haunting. "No one needs a demon in their lives. Least of all this precious gal."
"Oui." Slipping into his native tongue. The liquor or the memories? "C'est ma cherie. . .ma vie." His beloved. His life. "C'est ma penitence." His penance.
"How many men've you killed?" Not a casual question. Nearly rhetorical. "I can't even remember the first. . .its been too bloody long."
The scotch bottle that young Ryan had left was artfully tipped and golden liquid rushed once more into glass. "With my hands or with a gun? Or the bombs? Do we ever count the bombs?" Back to English. Barely above a breath. "Hundreds? Thousands?"
Finally the blond. . .Lucifer. . .William, seemed to see the use for alcohol. He reached for the bottle and swigged from it as if it was water and he'd been in the desert for ages. "Railroad spikes," he growled, slamming the considerably emptier container back down. "Did 'em with railroad spikes and never regretted it. Not until her."
"Not until her," echoed the dark one. . .Gabriel. . .Michael--two archangels combined. "And then I was damned."
The sound of chairs being stacked. . .floor being swept. The door jingling quietly as the last of the patrons stumbled out into the cool Dublin twilight. But no one came to oust them.
"Damned." The man who many considered the Devil's Own agreed cynically, staring at a man who seemed to be his double even though they looked nothing alike. "Have you ever read Milton, Frenchie?" he asked, not waiting for an answer. "Every one of my kind reads soddin' Milton and memorizes one little part. Its like our maudlin little creed. Lucifer gets his arse kicked out. . .says its 'better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.' That's what we're supposed to believe. People like you and me. . . Hell's our kingdom and we're supposed to be over-bloomin'-joyed." He was suddenly more talkative than he'd been all night. "And I was. I was happy livin' that life once. Slayer had to go and ruin it. She had to look at me with those big brown eyes and make me feel like the murderin' sod I am. The last time I saw her. . .I ran. Ran like a nancy boy from that face. Left her to die."
"Je reve en bleu. . ." And the 'Frenchie' broke off, switching back to English as if he suddenly realized he'd slipped again. "I dream in blue," he translated, haunted. "Kita's eyes are so blue. . .its like the sky passing judgment. Every day. Toujours. For who I am. Who I've become."
The whiskey was finished. The bar closed. The 'whelp' was gone. Perhaps to the back room to count up profits from the night's till. And still they sat. Brooding killers in a darkened corner of the world.
When they at last rose. . .it was in unintentional symmetry. Like a dance choreographed long ago. A coat fell away, revealing a gun. Moonlight streaming in from the windows made it glow. And the selfsame light made pearly teeth gleam in a hooded smile.
"Thanks for the drink."
Man left. Then vampire. Into the night. Into the silence. And the only sound was the gentle swing of the pub's wooden sign in the breeze. The moonlight did its well-timed magic again. . .setting the name alight for a brief moment: Purgatory.
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