Alex stood on the old bridge. He gazed at the water flowing under him. Under the shining moon, his own face looked back - that of a young boy. He stared at his own deep green eyes. No sixteen year old had such eyes; no sixteen-year old had lived centuries and seen the world like he had. And no one had lived so long with mere memories.
A face floated in his mind - a youthful happy one. He smiled as he thought of those twinkling eyes, full of mischief and fun, and that grin which had always adorned his lips. They may be long ago but he still missed those days of companionship and complicity. It was only thanks to those memories that he had survived so long.
A gust of cold wind behind him blew his blond hair and sent goosebumps all over his body. He turned just in time to see the stranger land.
Majestic would be the word to describe his arrival. Large wings spanned both sides, wings as black as the darkest nights. The shoulder-long hair billowed. Dark blue eyes, not different from the skies above their head, stared back devoid of any emotion. He had seen Angels of Death before, but this was the Angel of his Death. He smiled.
“It’s time for you to leave the physical world and join us in the Other World. Fear not. This is not an end, but the journey from one world to the next,” the Angel said. His voice held neither warmth nor coldness. It was flat and expressionless, just like his face. “Come. Take my hand.” He walked a few steps ahead.
“No,” Alex said firmly.
“I fear you don’t have much say in this. This is the rule. When one’s time comes, one has to leave.”
“I understand. But I have a last wish.”
“Yes, like you already know, I’m an Old Soul. I have been on Earth for almost two centuries, under various disguises, to help humans. And I’ve been promised a last wish which I want to use now,” Alex said.
The Angel didn’t answer immediately. He stared at Alex attentively. His next words would decide his fate and also his death.
“I promise to do my best to fulfil your wish. May I know what is it?”
“I want to feel love.”
“I’m afraid I can’t give you anymore time. And I can’t let you meet anyone.”
“I need only one night. End my life before the first ray of tomorrow’s sun reaches me. I’ve given this world two hundred years. Can’t you give me a mere night, some hours?” Alex hated the pleading tone which entered his voice, “And I don’t want to meet anybody else. I’ll be content with you by my side. For this world, I might as well be dead from this moment. And this night, it will be just mine. Completely mine.”
“I can’t give you love. Nor can I make love to you,” the dark stranger said.
“I know. I know,” Alex whispered, “All I want is a companion at my side during my last hours. Someone who understands me and from whom I have no secrets. Will you grant me my wish?”
Alex stared at the stranger. He tried to find something in those eyes, any signs for the answer. His heartbeat fastened.
“Thanks,” he smiled. “Do you know why I came to this desolate old castle forty kilometres away from a small French village? This was where I lived and died for the first time. Here are buried my childhood, my budding teenage years, my best memories. I wanted to visit it for a last time to bid it goodbye. Will you come inside with me?”
He received a tiny nod. It was enough for him. He crossed the bridge to the other side. The Angel followed two steps behind him. The black wings were gone now. But he still looked royal in his black shirt and black pants, like some dark prince.
The gate had long gone to dust. Part of the walls still remained under the heavy growth. And ahead, after the small jungle, where once the most beautiful gardens had existed, lay the ruins of the castle. Memories rushed through his mind as he brushed away the branches.
“Papa was the gardener here,” Alex said, “The flowers were his kids. He spent all his days and most of his nights in here. Maman used to joke that she didn’t fear that Papa would cheat on her with any other woman but that one day, she would discover a step kid, half human and half flower. But it was so beautiful out here. Papa had arranged the plants such that every season the grounds were filled with colours. And it was mostly roses. The first roses were always presented to the Queen first. She loved them so much that she had father look for every colour. We had reds, pinks, yellows, purples and whites. I always picked up the whites for… a friend. He loved white.”
“Merci,” the young boy beamed as he took the white roses. He cocked his head and gently touched the petals.
Alex wiped away the tears that came as he remembered the past days. “Do you have any favourite colour?” he asked the man behind him.
“No,” came back the reply.
They left the jungle and entered the castle. All the towers were gone and half the castle was gone.
“On this side was the kitchen. Maman was a helper in the kitchen. I used to help in here during the festivities, especially Christmas. And Gab - I mean, my friend once offered to help. You should have seen the horror on the face of everyone. Can you imagine it? A prince doing the job of a scullion… He was so modest.”
Ahead of him laid only rocks and boulders but he could see the moving and sweating workers, the steaming pots, the chopped vegetables… Shaking his head, he moved to the other side. The staircase still remained. For a moment, he saw someone run towards him to grab his hand and lead him to the stable to get the horses. But then, the image went away.
“Are you okay?” the man behind him asked. He looked at him. There was no crease of worry or concern in his face.
“I’m fine. Let’s go upstairs. On the left side was the Queen’s chamber. She was one of the kindest women I’ve met in my two hundred years. She was the King’s fourth wife but everyone preferred to solicit her help than to contact anyone else. I once heard that she was no princess or duchess, but a simple farmer’s daughter who married a king. I never learned if it was true or false though.”
Alex looked at the left side. There was nothing. Everything had crumbled to dust. He turned to the right. “And on this side was…” No words came out of as he stared at the very familiar corridor. He walked. Each step seemed to lead him to someone. He looked at the closed door.
Would it be like every time? Would he be there, on the other side? Alex closed his eyes and imagined the room on the other side. He could see him sitting on the bed, waiting for him.
Taking a deep breath, he pressed his hands against the door. After a creaking sound, the door opened. He stepped in. It was empty, completely empty. There was no one waiting for him. Yet, he could feel his presence inside.
“Gabriel,” he whispered. The image of an angelic face came back to his mind.
* * *
“The Christmas Ball is coming,” Alex said. He was lying next to Gabriel on his bed. “Maman said that the queen was thinking of having you opening the ball. She was saying that you were old enough now.”
“Hmm,” Gabriel said. “I heard that too. But no one had asked me anything till now.”
“What if they ask you? With whom will you dance?” Alex asked. Staring at the white ceiling, he imagined a pretty girl dancing with Gabriel. For some reason, it didn’t feel right. Not matter how beautiful the girl was, she would be nothing compared to the prince. Only a lucky one would get such chance.
“I don’t know. And you? With whom would you like to dance?”
Alex knew with whom he would like to dance. He thought of Gabriel and him gliding over the crystal white floors of the ball room with the lit chandeliers overhead. And his face would reflect in Gabriel’s eyes.
Alex shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Do you know how to dance?”
“Not really. I remember a few steps.”
“Want to try?” Gabriel asked. His face was split in a grin. “It would be better to make a fool of ourselves in here rather than in front of everyone else.”
Both boys jumped to their feet. Alex stared at Gabriel. His heartbeat increased when he realized that he would be dancing with him.
“I lead?” Alex nodded.
Gabriel snaked a hand around him waist and pulled him closer to him. Their bodies were pressed against each other. Alex held his breath. He slipped his hand into his friend’s. He shivered as their skin grazed against each other. He could feel the warmth from Gabriel’s body making his way into his.
Cocking his head sideways, the prince smiled at him. Then, they started dancing. Alex had forgotten most of the steps and stumbled most of times. But Gabriel held him and taught him the moves. After a few minutes, they were gliding over the floor with their eyes never breaking contact. Alex’s heart had never beat this fast. They were closer than before now. The places Gabriel’s body pressed against him seemed to be ignited with excitement. Their noses were on the point of touching. Perhaps, one inch more…
“I wanted to tell you something,” Gabriel whispered.
“Yes?” Alex breathed.
“You remember when you asked me if there was someone with whom I wanted to dance? I lied when I said I didn’t know. There’s someone with whom I would love to dance. Someone with whom I love to spend my time with, look at and have very close to. Someone very beautiful, both inside and outside. Do you know who that someone is?”
Alex felt words stuck in his throat. He blankly gazed at Gabriel. He could barely register what he was hearing.
“Maybe, this will give you a hint.”
Gabriel leaned and covered that one inch which remained between them. It could have taken just a few seconds or more than a couple of minutes. Alex just saw the lips coming towards him. He could feel the breath from Gabriel on his cheek, he could smell his scent, he could sense the heat from him.
And then the lips touched.
Gabriel and Alex jumped apart, smoothing their clothes without looking at each other.
“Open up! Quick!” It was Alex’s mother. She sounded really worried and scared.
Both boys rushed to the door and rapidly opened it.
“Good that both of you are here,” she said. “You need to get out of here.”
“Why? What happened?” Alex asked.
“The castle is under attack. The king has been overthrown and the rebels are now out to kill all his blood relatives. They’re already in here. You need to get out of here as quickly as possible.”
“What about my mother?” Gabriel asked.
“She’s getting out. Don’t worry. Now get going quick. Follow me.”
Closing the door behind them, the two boys followed the woman. She seemed to know what was happening where and she led them through deserted corridors. Signs of violence could be seen everywhere - shattered vases, torn tapestries and smears of blood. Screams, noise of metal clashing against metal drowned the sound of their hurried footsteps.
They finally reached downstairs. They opened a door to get out. Two bandits were on the other side. Seeing them, Alex’s mother slammed the door shut.
“Alex, get the prince out of here. He’s in danger,” she said over the noise of the bandits trying to break the door open.
“We’ve sworn fealty towards the king and his family. It’s our duty to protect them,” she said while she pressed against the door, “I’ll try to hold them here. They won’t harm me. Get the prince out.”
Alex grabbed Gabriel’s hand and they ran out towards the stairs. The young boy didn’t have much time to think about his mother; he had to get Gabriel out of here. He was more important.
They ran through the corridors. Even though they had lived here for almost sixteen years, the castle seemed to be like a maze to them now. And the rebels had got further in. The two had no weapons to protect themselves, not that they would help against their huge number. Many times, they had to turn back so as not to confront them. They had many at their heels.
“We’re trapped,” Alex said as they found themselves in a cul-de-sac.
“In here,” Gabriel said. He opened a small trap on the floor. They jumped in. The moment the footsteps came thundering, they closed and locked the door.
It was the wine cellar. They looked around. Only a small window laid above a few barrels. They could hear the rebels talking above them. They stomped a few times on the trap door. It didn’t budge.
“We can get through that window,” Alex said, “We get over those barrels and we get outside. Come.”
“They’ll catch up with us,” Gabriel said. For the first time, he looked exhausted and defeated. “And there’s much more of them outside.”
“No, we’ll escape,” Alex said. “We will.” He looked around. He had to get Gabriel out of here. He couldn’t let anything happen to him. Not Gabriel. “We’ll have to fool them. You get in one of these barrels. When they’ll get in, I’ll get out of the window. They’ll see me and think that you’re with me. And I’ll lead them outside. Meanwhile, you get out of here.”
“And what when they catch up with you?” Gabriel asked. The sounds of the rebels trying to pry the door open resounded in the room. It sounded like the bell of death.
“Oh, come on!” Alex tried to laugh, “They’ll never catch up with me.” Gabriel stayed quiet. Both knew what would happen when they’d catch up with him.
“No, I can’t let you do that,” he said finally. “I can’t.”
“But it’s the only way to save you,” Alex pleaded.
“To hell with me. It’s you, Alex. How can I let something happen to you? And they’re after me. Why should something happen to you?” Tears brimmed in his eyes.
“I’m really sorry. I hope that you’ll understand and that you’ll forgive me.”
“For this,” Gabriel said as he raised his hand. The next thing Alex saw was complete darkness.
* * *
Alex opened his eyes. His head was hurting like hell. He found himself trapped in a closed dark space. Gradually, he recalled what had happened - the rebels, the fights, his mother, Gabriel.
He tried to find a way out. He stood and found a moving surface. It was a lid. As he emerged, he realized that he was in one of the barrels. He climbed out. The small window was open.
“No, this can’t be true,” he whispered.
With his heart hammering in his chest, he climbed onto the barrels and peeked outside. There was nothing. He went back through the trap door into the castle. There was no sounds - no screams, no noises, no fights. No one could be seen. Fearing the worst, he made his way through the corridor. He held his breath as he turned every corner.
He got downstairs. Here also there was no one, just bodies of people he had known. Servants who used to work with his parents, guards, a few aristocrats… But he sought out only one face. And he couldn’t see him. He got out of the castle into the grounds.
The headless body of the Queen laid in a puddle of blood. And under the guillotine, someone else was standing. Gabriel.
“No!” he shrieked. He ran towards him.
“Stop him,” someone shouted behind. “Kill him if needs to.”
Alex saw Gabriel raise his head. His mouth was gagged. He was still, having stoically accepted his fate. But when their eyes met, horror crept in. Tears welled up. Someone grabbed Alex from behind, stopping him from going further ahead.
In slow motion, Alex watched the guillotine descend and tear his world apart.
“No! No! No!” Alex shook his head. At the same time, someone plunged a knife in his chest.
He fell to his knees. He raised his bloody hand in front of his eyes but all he could see was Gabriel. The one whom he had loved, the one who was gone. He couldn’t even dare raise his head to see the scene, the headless body of…
With the agony in his chest, he took his last breath.
* * *
Alex knelt in the middle of the room. His whole body shook as he recalled everything that had happened. Two teardrops rolled down his cheeks and fell on the ground.
“Are you okay?” the dark stranger behind him asked in the same expressionless tone. Alex nodded.
He got to his feet. He looked around. The room was empty. Dark-green ivy had crept on the walls; birds had made their nests in some corners; parts of the roof had caved in. Yet, he felt as if Gabriel was in here. He could hear his laugh, see those twinkling dark blue eyes and feel his warmth next to him…
He walked to the window and gazed outside. White flakes descended from the dark skies.
“It’s snowing,” he said to himself. Turning to the angel behind him, he added, “Have you ever danced in the snow?”
“Today, you will,” he tried to smile. “Let’s go to the roof.”
Taking the lead once again, he walked out of the room. He took a last glance inside before closing the door. With the stranger still two steps behind him, he climbed the devious stairs and got on the roof.
White snow covered the whole surface. He felt one flake land on his face.
“You don’t have much time left,” he heard from behind, “Barely an hour.”
“Thank you,” he smiled. He extended his hand, “You lead?”
Alex grabbed his icy-cold hand and felt the other one snake around his waist like some cold-skinned serpent. He pressed himself against his cool body. As the flakes swirled around them, they started moving around. The steps were flawless, as if they had been doing this for years. Alex raised his head and saw the dark blue eyes staring at him.
“Do you recall anything about when you were a human?” Alex asked.
“Angels don’t remember anything about their lives as a human,” he answered.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Alex said quietly. After a few minutes of silence, he added, “Thank you for granting my wish. You have no idea how much it meant for me. Now, I can leave this world satisfied.”
He embraced him and he felt the two hands around him. He rested his head on his shoulder and smiled. “I’m ready now. You can take me to the other side.”
Tears stung in his eyes but he shook the feeling away. He had promised himself that he wouldn’t cry. One of the cold hands moved to his stomach, to his nexus. Something sharp pierced him. He bit his lips but the pain subsided shortly. He felt the energy in his body draining away gradually, the two hundred years…
“I missed you a lot, Gabriel. I’ve spent every minute of these two hundred years thinking about you,” he whispered in the soft silence of the night. Tears fell on the shoulder, wetting the black shirt. “When I died, they told me that you’ve become an angel, an Angel of Death. I could have moved on but I would have never seen you again. Never. But how could I never see you again, Gabriel? I didn’t get to tell you goodbye. I didn’t get to tell you how much I… The only way was to become an Old Soul, spend these years here at their service and meet you at the end. It was a price I was willing to pay. I knew that you wouldn’t remember anything. Silly me thought that if I brought you here, perhaps… But all that matters are these moments I’m spending in your arms. I have loved you for two centuries and I will for the ones that come. I love you, Gabriel.”
“I love you too, Alex.”
Alex raised his head and saw tears in the dark blue eyes. Pain, regret and helplessness reflected in there. He had seen it before - just before the guillotine fell.
“Yes, I remember everything. I don’t know how or why, but I do. I wish I could tell you before, but if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the task for which I had been sent here. I’m sorry, Alex.”
“It was my time…” he said. He had to lean on the angel now. He could barely stand on his feet.
“But doing it with my own hands? You can’t imagine how difficult it was for me.”
“At least, now we have these few moments together where we can be Alex and Gabriel. I wish we could have some time together but…”
“Wish granted,” he grinned.
“What?” Alex asked. At the same moment, Gabriel stumbled. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” His eyes were closed and his breaths sounded heavy.
For the first time, Alex glanced at the snow under their feet. Red blood, from his own body, flowed onto the white surface and along with was another black substance. He retreated a few steps and looked at the dagger protruding from his stomach. Red blood oozed out, colouring his white shirt. But on the other side of the hilt was another blade, which pierced Gabriel’s black shirt.
“A double-blade dagger,” Alex raised his head and saw Gabriel smiling, “I’ve been carrying it with me for two hundred years in the hope of using it one day. Sometimes, I thought that you had moved on, but something inside me kept this hope alive. You weren’t the only one waiting for this night, Alex. And from now on, nothing can separate us. No death. No after-death duties. It will be just us. Alex and Gabriel.”
“I love you, Gabriel.”
“I love you too, Alex.”
Under the swirling white flakes, they came together. Their lips met, just as they had two hundred years earlier. As time went by, their essence dwindled.
And when the sun rose, they were gone forever. As one.
A huge thanks to Marty for his help
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