Genre: Angst, basically
Rating: R for language and general 'adult themes', if you want to put it that way
Comments: This is one moment in time for the eleven Milliways patrons that I can claim to know the best - a series of pictures of who they are and who they were and how their lives and memories have been woven together.
Some of these pieces were harder than others; some of the mindsets I can slip into without thought, and others I have barely even begun to feel out. The tone remained stubbornly dark and mostly without dialogue, though there are a couple of exceptions. I have a huge amount of love and respect for these characters and their players, and I hope I came close to doing their creations justice.
This is for you all. You helped me to grow.
The safety catch on a gun makes a distinctive sound, one that Crowley suspects could awaken him from the deepest sleep in an instant. Little things can be like that.
He lies in the darkness, taking what rest he can. The blanket under is cheek is rough, but he can only feel it if he moves. If he lies very, very still the prickling goes away and he can hold his breath against the dry, stale dust in the air and imagine that he is somewhere else. The low chatter of voices and the sliding of cloth along metal can be transformed, with effort, into the everyday sound of the bar and Bernard wiping glasses and trying to ignore Dora’s hand in his pocket, ha –
Someone moves a safety catch again and his heart jumps before he can think about it. He curls his fists against the compulsion to lash out or turn the gun into something highly unpleasant. This place kills memory of who he is: wasn’t there some name, some legend about joining the army to forget? French Foreign Something. That was it. Hastur’s idea of a joke, no doubt.
He can act human and speak human and sometimes it’s only the rubbing of the shades on the bridge of his nose that reminds him – demon, demon, demon – until a night like this when he wants nothing more than to see blood. The lack of opportunities for violence in the middle of a fucking war zone…
- language, my dear, really -
He laughs before he can stop himself, turning it into a cough after an instant but still amused by his own automatic tricks of thought. He makes a half-hearted attempt at pushing the ideas away, but no matter what he thinks about in this situation he’s going to be betraying someone. And no matter how widely he casts his thoughts, it always comes back to the angel. Inevitably. Maybe even ineffably. May as well enjoy himself, though how he’s meant to fucki – oh, sod it, bloody well enjoy the memories when the reality is still a week away is anyone’s guess. It’s not fair.
But then, how many times has he snapped the reality at one person or another? Losing his temper and hissing in English and guttural local tongues and occasionally even his own language, which they cannot comprehend. But the meaning is the same, and they see it in his eyes and turn away. Life isn’t fair.
His hands curl around a length of ribbon, a single feather, a letter folded so many times that the creases have begun to rip at the edges.
The boy doesn’t like tea. This is bordering on unbelievable for Aziraphael, though he supposes that it is only to be expected from someone whose father’s greatest sin isn’t quite his inordinate fondness for coffee, but it may as well be.
What kind of father is it, anyway, that could care so little for a child that he lets them slowly destroy their own life and self-worth that he comes to such a place? Did the son have to fall a certain amount before the father would come up to meet him halfway? It doesn’t take an (admittedly tarnished) angelic nature to see that it’s not right. And not even the Right that he purportedly stands for, the one that turns its back on Wrong and refuses to admit the existence of Well, Maybe Under Certain Circumstances or any of the other shades of grey. The right that is felt, acknowledged, by any being with a soul.
Aziraphael looks at his teacup, wondering that he has managed to drink almost half a pot without even noticing. Again. The leaves have built up, and anyone with the smallest inclination towards future-telling could tell him what is in store now.
He’s never thought of himself as a suitable father figure for anyone. Nothing to teach, apart from a truly awful sense in fashion and a handful of languages that nobody will listen to any more. His knowledge is beautiful, but largely extinct. Lines of poetry scrawled on the walls and a few modest insights in the margins of books that are pried out of the hands of unsuspecting customers with more care than most. Stories worthless to all but those gone before.
…he doesn’t like tea.
The angel closes his eyes, his hands clenched around the cup tightly-tightly but not quite tight enough to break it because it was a gift from Crowley. Picked up in some tiny Dutch village a lifetime and a half ago, and decorated with some awful, gaudy and yet eerily endearing pattern of tulips. He wishes more than anything that the demon were there, if only so that he could open his eyes to a sight of trust and love and ask where did we go wrong?
They had been so relieved, almost proud, of That Episode, back when Adam was young and full of ideals and humanity. Aziraphael wonders, over and over and over, if maybe he could have said something or done something, anything, and prevented that wonderful boy from becoming the dark and dangerously attractive shell of cynicism currently sulking in his spare room.
He doesn’t trust himself to handle it for long. Not alone.
He pours another cup and swirls it, making the leaves dance and disperse, but the tea is cold.
The smell of books makes Adam itchy. He thinks he might be allergic to dust and leather and nostalgia. Once upon a very long time he would have been enthralled by this many books; he would have seen them as gateways to aliens and cowboys and tigers and all those things that meant something, to a child. He can’t find them in his head any more, nor between any pages of any book. All he can see is lies told in pretty words and people who try and pretend that the world is something other than what it is.
He looks around and it’s too quiet, but not the suspicious kind of quiet that used to mean Paul was about to appear behind him and bite his ear and scowl, but fondly, kinda. He did promise himself he wouldn’t think of Paul. The silence is tugging thoughts out of him like iron filings, forming strange symmetrical patterns that lead him nowhere at all.
He remembers: standing in empty corridors, having walked out of a room while the lecturer was talking. Struck by a feeling of not-belonging and that ill the sociologists call a lack of verstehen. Lack of meaning. Subjectivity swallowed by the awful detachment and the agonising burn of isolation that had been slowly invading his nightmares since some years before. His feet had been halfway out of the door under the curious eyes of half the class before his mind could pull itself out of apathy and make a decision one way or the other.
Standing in empty corridors. Looking at the boards and the notices and the hopeful tear-off scraps at the base of public pleas for attention. Often money, for one thing or another. He wonders, briefly, about the reaction that could be gained by advertising for the jobs he wants on these boards. Bright paper, deep menacing red. Strips to tear off. Shreds of his childhood being ripped away one by one, leaving a final and uncertain rough edge.
He won’t miss them.
It doesn’t take a papertrail, though; nothing so obvious. Words and glances and some rough customers and some awkward sneering boys that reek of repression and new money, though the bills left in his hand are old and crushed. He likes it better that way. A couple that actually take a fancy to him, though sliding on cold tiles and holding onto leaking pipes and a closed hard face soon sends them away to lay their misplaced homage at a cleaner door.
Son of his father, created not begotten.
Oh come, let us adore him.
To dream of peace means simply that; resolution. End of conflict. That was important, once upon a time. Now it’s just a fact, reasonably ironic and startlingly real.
Lucifer-Samael is in the bar, which seems to become as big as it needs to be, these days. It’s easy to find a small table in a corner and sit there, dancing flames over shotglasses in a silent shrine of memory to a girl with dark hair and unstable eyes. So many mad girls in the bar. Possibly it attracts their type, though it cannot truthfully be said to be without any type. If you want to be pedantic about it.
He plays with a glass of Chianti; he’s not really drinking it, but it’s nice to have something to occupy his hands and he doesn’t feel like smoking. He picks at his memories as though pressing on a burn, trying to find a hiccup in the unfamiliar peace.
Taking stock. One by one.
Surprising that he hasn’t thought of Joe for a while; they were too alike, perhaps, in the ways that mattered. Their images overwrote each other, and Lucifer was certain to make sure that it was his that was the most vivid. The strongest remnants of the man – oh, and this would make him furious, which is a large part of the appeal – are those that remain of Jamee. The small, dark woman with the angry eyes and foul mouth and the fatal curse of acquiescence that Lucifer played like a perfect chord on Billy’s guitar and Billy’s confusion.
Someone strikes up a song on a piano which seems to be there when it’s needed and disappear when it isn’t. He hums, quietly. He hasn’t sung for a long while in this place.
This is the cue for him to move into another recollection, to call up the sensations of blood dripping down between his wings and Billy’s careful fingers making notes against his wrist and Hob’s hair under his hands as they lost themselves in the dreaming. It would be easy. But he gave them himself and his laughter and even his respect, in the end, and suddenly the very act of replaying their story loses appeal.
What did Hob say? Maybe we’ve matured.
But what does it matter? He smiles at his own reflection, red eyes dissolving in the deep heady colour of the wine. Taking sip after sip like a schoolboy playing at drinking games, I have never I have never…
He has never been one to dwell too long on the past. There are always new faces, and new games to play with old ones. He remembers Meg’s blood on a purple scarf twinned to Thom’s eyes, glazed and cold with power. Potential there. Never boring, to say the least; oh, there is amusement enough if he cares to look.
Lucifer was born of war, but Samael will hold this peace until it pleases him to break it.
Thom resolves, in a moment of lucidity, to ask Delia why she insists on sleeping with so many pillows on the bed. It can’t be healthy. He suspects they are ganging up on him, waiting to spring and cover his face and push downwards until all the words and breathless sarcasm have been compressed around his heart and he is drowned in a puddle of his own wit and purple blood will spill and stain the hateful things and why must his nightmares all end in his own death?
Inside his head it is bright and full of bubbles and Anthy is packing all of her belongings into a suitcase whilst that damn telepathic redhead waits in a car outside. Flash bastard.
“Are you breaking up with me?” he asks. Incredulous. Nobody breaks up with him! He’s perfect.
“I’m sorry,” Anthy says sadly. “You only love me for my pants.”
Thom feels that this would be a bad time to point out that she isn’t wearing pants.
Especially because she is.
“You do come up with the strangest things, doveling.”
“Alex?” He turns, uncertain, and Alex is wearing nothing but blood.
“You like it?” Alex twirls for his approval, grinning. “Nick made it for me.”
“I’m sure it’ll catch on at court.”
“It’s my own blood,” Alex adds. “Nick loves my blood. Nick loves me.”
“I know.” Thom rolls his eyes. Alex rolls the dice.
“Nick loves me.”
“Nobody breaks up with me!” Thom yells at him.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Alex smiles fondly and leans forward to ruffle his hair. “I did.”
“But I’m not jealous!” Thom fumes. “Stop it. Stop this dream. I want to get off.”
Alex is holding an archer’s bow. Thom looks down at his own chest, and watches the blood spread.
“See? It looks good on you too.”
“Why?” Thom sounds like he is fifteen again. The arrow in his heart hurts unbearably. He did not think dreams were allowed to hurt.
“Because you had to die.” Alex looks almost sad. “That’s the only way it can end.”
“Oh, yes. I remember. My dreams are odd that way.”
“Your dreams?” Alex looks bemused, and starts to blur as Thom’s vision dissolves in a dark cloud. “You’re just one of my nightmares, Thom. That’s all.”
The light in the fridge really does go off when you close it. Schuldig knows this because he’s spent the last two hours playing with it, using one finger to push it back and forth and back and forth and time really does fly when you’re having fun. The light blurs against his eyes after a while. He lets the door fall shut and sits on the kitchen floor and can’t think of a single reason to get up and go to bed.
He flicks his lighter and stares at it, too jaded to be bemused and too bored to be careful. The flame is familiar. Nerves on the tip of his fingers dancing and realigning in the heat, creating connections in a mind that was touched by fire not so long ago. Rough iron heat that hid behind red eyes, heat that touched him once with something that masqueraded as interest and then retreated, caged and dangerous but never bestowed again.
Red eyes give way to red hair, another mind that didn’t just sit back and take it and he’s always loved the ones who give as good as they get. Nothing much to dwell on there. Too much, rather, but his thoughts get like this sometimes. Skittish and darting like a moth (to a flame?), never touching on one subject for too long. Red hair. Purple eyes. Unlikely.
Purple hair. Even less likely. He lies back, closing his eyes, searching for an adjective. His English is pretty much perfect, but it’s eluding him now. Or maybe it’s just the nature of the subject. Unpredictable, when touched. Refreshing for that.
Sometimes it seems like a dream, all the colours and the blood. So like and unlike all the other, childhood dreams that it could have been imagined or snatched from the leaking subconscious of another being. But there are too many faces for them all to have beaten through his shields, even if he’s asleep. Learnt to guard his nightmares long ago. Faces of gods and angels and odd girls with roses and strange boys with swords and bland smiles and minds so horrifically shadowed with guilt that even he is given pause.
Brad’s an ass.
He’s not sure why this fact has decided to inflict itself on his mind, but it’s true.
He opens the fridge again and rummages around until his hand closes on a bottle; chilled sake might drive Nagi wild with frustration at his cultural ignorance, but it’s good for insomnia.
The fridge swings almost shut as the cold liquid hits the back of his throat, but doesn’t close all the way. It hangs in limbo; half-open or half-closed, are we feeling like an optimist tonight? Maybe.
After all, the light’s still on.
Galahad wonders if it is possible to read oneself to death.
It’s never really come up before, but this place does things to his head. There is nothing to do; he wants to fight the knots out of his back and the rigidity from his muscles and the dull smoke of boredom from his mind, but he’s been able to beat Mordred since the first time they fought and by now they know each other so well it’s no contest at all. So he retreats, and he reads. He reads book after book, the words swimming through his mind and not really sinking in, searching for engagement in unfamiliar texts. He reads until his head aches and the strange regular writing blurs.
He knows, on one level, that Mordred is worried. He has never liked mirrors; his imagination provides. Sometimes he shakes in the cold and senses thinner limbs, fair skin more white than gold, now, and the deep unhealthy shadows of despair under his eyes. But the more he is worn away, the further into the corner he retreats, dull blond head bent over another never-ending chapter, it seems the brighter Mordred’s smile is when he enters, a private sort of contentment that hits the du Lac square across the face.
A bruise would be all right.
A bruise would be perfect, because then he’d be worth the blow.
There is a murmur of noise from other rooms, usually, something for his mind to latch onto and follow down. He smiles. He is falling apart.
His fingers turn a pair of sunglasses over and over and over and over and…oh. He hasn’t tried them on, yet. It would feel wrong. They act as a connection, twin as they are to the dark shields that lie between him and Mordred’s proud lovely distant golden eyes. Not meant for that, of course, not a gift to bind him further to his prince’s side; but so they are and so they shall stay. Son choix.
Occasionally these days he forgets and his thoughts slip back into French, for the first time since childhood. It’s safer; the vocabulary is more suited to innocence and reflection and abstract ideas.
He wakes speaking words that make no sense, an odd melding of languages that disturbs him in a way he can’t really describe. He wakes biting the inside of his cheek and feeling for a strip of leather that isn’t there. He wakes gasping, remembering past scars and thrilling with the memory and shame. He wakes far more times than he can remember falling asleep, and when he wakes the room is empty.
There are two Mordred Pendragons holding court in the bar at the end of the universe. One is adjusting to the space and the people; to the life, after so long as a pale observer in a pigmented/segmented world. He has been pushed and punched, in this chaotic present, into accepting the past with far more grace than he ever lived it with.
The other is locked in a room upstairs with a pale shadow of the man he loves, and he is close to screaming. There is not enough light to read. Mordred must bite his tongue to keep from telling this to Galahad, because the knight has been swallowed by the pages and his eyes dart up and around in an eternal sequence of saccades, overbright with something that he cannot identify.
In this moment Mordred wishes that he had paid a little more attention to the concept of family whilst he lived. He is accustomed to the word father on his tongue, tasting of salt and betrayal, and cousin. There have been too many relatives in his life and yet there have been none at all in the truer sense. Brother strikes him like the flat of a sword, shocking to think about but with a familiar, comforting edge of blood.
Oh, he would give anything to see Galahad bleed.
He wanders beside the lake and remembers watching Meg dance for the first time, dancing him, telling him things about himself. La Oracle. He remembers maypole dancers from his first lifetime, moving gracefully under hundreds of eyes as the entire court tried to ignore the metal hatred between their king and his heir. May Day brought out the worst in everyone. He can remember back across centuries with almost the same thoughtless clarity that he can recall his latest encounter in the bar, gazing bemused into angry eyes and a smell of smoke.
There is a fragile kind of silence in the room. Mordred sits on the edge of the bed and looks at a cigarette, trying to decide if there is any point to smoking when one is dead. The danger is gone, and all you are left with is habit. Occasionally his eyes move to rest briefly on his lover’s bent head. Time stretches on, measured only in the whisper of fingers against paper.
The air breathes off the choppy water but is surprisingly warm. Mordred frowns and fights against the emotions trying to drag him from one polar madness to another.
Mordred taps his feet and lets smoke fill the room, praying to a God he’s never really believed in for any kind of reaction from the bruised boy in the corner. They are drifting apart too fast for him to close the gap, and his lungs burn from the nicotine and effort.
They dance in the shadows and do war for the love of the best knight ever to die.
They dance in the shadows, until one of them trips and breaks.
Joe lies in bed; it seems there is little else to do, these days. It’s dark because he doesn’t want to see himself, and his watch is somewhere ticking away loudly enough to keep him awake but not loud enough for him to be bothered to find it and throw it against the wall and smash it with his fists and jump on it and scream until his voice gives out and yeah, I’m feeling better now, how about you?
Sometimes he jerks off and he thinks of Billy and grits his teeth, not really enjoying the process at all. Sometimes it’s better and he’s flying like they did on the drugs, way back when, and Billy’s laughing in his ear. Sometimes he sleeps after. Sometimes he crashes, and his hand is sticky and the room is cold.
Sometimes his thoughts slip and once or twice he even thinks of Hob, swearing under his breath as his hand moves and blaming it on the fucking bond before he can remember that there’s nothing holding them together, everything is lost and dissolved with time and tension. So they’re spread over the earth like the four points of some fucked up compass and he’s there at the end of everything and Billy’s in some loud Latin city trying to play flamenco guitar and failing and Hob’s drifting quietly through Russia and Lucifer is everywhere and nowhere and who fucking cares.
Can still find them, though. Still remember. That’s fucked up, Joe Dick.
Fucked, fucked, always fucked, and all he’d ever learnt was that you fucked the world back, as hard as you could. Not here, though. Figures there’d be an afterlife where you strike out against the pretty and the pure and every uncertain face has a harder one behind it, watching its back, ready to fuck you over again and again until you scream that you didn’t mean it and they don’t believe you.
Nobody believes you. Nobody remembers you.
He’s fucked if he’s learning social skills now.
He stares at the ceiling, stubbornly, as though the dark isn’t in the way.
Billy is surprised at how easily a person mends. He expected, sometimes, to carry the weight of his life around forever, a dark but irritatingly persistent song in his mind. It’s been getting fainter of late. He will still, occasionally, whip around at the slightest touch on his arm, his neck. Scared eyes and angry fists ready to tell Joe that this time it will be different, this time…
Logically it seems that the best way to kill one song is to drown it with another. He travels, then, guitar on his back like some fucking blond Mariachi. Tragic romantic past and all, even though you’d have to stretch your imagination a hell of a way before you could apply the word ‘romantic’ to anything that happened while he was alive, towards the end at least. He tries attaching the label to the others. Call it a mental exercise. Lucifer…well, Lucifer laughs and weaves the words into a melody of his own and then lets it go. Hob twists and ducks his head and smiles, a little bit, but the label seems unwilling to stick. Not that it matters, anyway. Billy shrugs and flicks it away.
It’s amazing how many songs you can find when you look. And how many places you can go when you’re willing to sing for your supper. He plays guitar and sings in public squares in Rome, London, Mexico City, some smaller places. Ducking in and out of the bar and learning that sometimes the door will take you where you want, and sometimes it has other ideas. He gets in trouble a few times; busking laws are different in Tokyo and fucking weird in Hawaii. He doesn’t like the place much anyway. Too bloody plastic.
For now, he’s in Barcelona. Nobody notices one more guitar on the streets; occasionally his voice turn heads, rough and American but getting more confident every day. He plays old songs and new songs, screws around with lyrics and improvises a few of the Latin rhythms that he hears in bars in the evening.
Easy bars, normal bars, never mind that his Spanish is appalling at best, because if you can handle yourself where the patrons could be anything and the man whose tequila you’re sipping has wings and a curved cruel smile, you can handle yourself anywhere. He drinks a silent ironic toast to a different ghostly face every night, and laughs at himself afterwards.
Funny that he hasn’t run into them yet. Well, it isn’t, not really, it’s a fucking huge world out there once you start to explore it, but it would be nice to know that Sam didn’t just push him out of the door to admire the view of the back of his head. The fresh air is probably good for him, or something fucked like that. He’s always wanted what isn’t good for him, that’s just the way of Billy Tallent.
The mocking melody of Samael might be almost gone, and Hob’s reproachful eyes nothing more than a few bars that flow painlessly out into the night silences, but he still looks for them in every passing black head. In fucking Spain.
His fingers slip on the chords, but it sounds better that way.
Moscow is an alien city even to someone as well-traveled as Hob Gadling, and he likes it for that very reason.
“You had me wrong, in some ways,” he says. He’s speaking to the night air and the winking urban darkness in Red Square.
“I didn’t want you to take responsibility for my life.” A fur hat and a bottle of vodka and he’d be any other Russian insomniac, strolling and drinking and singing into the hours of the morning. He finds the hats undignified, in some indefinable English way; and besides, the cold air on his face is refreshing. His hair brushes just out of his eyes, soft ashen strands lifted by the breeze and shining under the dull streetlights. A pretty picture, even if there is no one around to see it.
“I just wanted you to hold it for a while. Because it was safer in your hands. I am fully aware of how ridiculous that sounds, yes. No need to comment.”
The churches are old and rotting and golden and comfortable, in a way. Entirely unlike Rome. The pictures are faint and there is hardly a statue in sight.
No angels. Perfect.
They cross themselves backwards, in these churches, which seems faintly blasphemous. Like an upside-down cross or an inverted pentagram, symbol of –
“I’m getting better,” he announces to a stained glass window. “I think you’d be impressed. I can go whole days without seeing you somewhere, without hearing your name and your voice.”
And it is, it is easier. He can freely admit that perhaps he is still in love with Lucifer and with Billy and with pain and life and shadow and love itself. It doesn’t hurt as much. The hurt was burned away a while ago, and now there is simply knowledge and humanity and a certain kind of shining numbness, like scar tissue.
He learned that word yesterday, scar, but it was only in passing and it doesn’t spring to mind immediately now. Give it a moment. He isn’t overfond of Russian, as a language, though the prayers and the songs can be almost hypnotic.
He’s taken to carrying around a camera; a good one, one of the best money can buy. Somehow it seems safer viewing the world from behind a lens, clichéd though that is. He can remain an observer of the classic school, without having to descend into messy social participation, for a while at least.
It’s also a form of artistry that quite appeals to him. Catching the right edge of shade off a bench, or fitting just the right angle of wire into the frame, can bring a glow of neat satisfaction. Not that he’s planning on keeping the photos – the last thing he wants is concrete reminders at this stage in his life. The action is the thing. Subject, not object.
The sun rises over the Church of the Trinity, capturing the greyish air and breathing life into the city’s silhouette.