Disclaimer: Marvel owns this lock, stock and barrel. I'm just borrowing for a while.
Author's note: Written for my darling Llewlyn, who asked me for something riffing on the scene in the GR Movie where Blackheart is lighting votive candles in the church. I came up with this...
[Updated 17-02-2008 to fix an error - thank you Princess Artemis!
The streets lay empty under the sodium lights, a passing breeze scuffing at the scraps of paper in the gutters. Silence reigned, that cut-glass, charged silence that only darkness can conjure forth, as though the night itself held its breath.
There was a flicker of motion, blurred and distorted, glimpsed out of the corner of the world's eye. A swish of black velvet. A quick, spiralling lift of air, a wind-flung spray of raindrops that had not fallen from the black sky above. Footsteps echoed abruptly between the street-side walls, a quick, light tread that bespoke both assurance and grace.
And then He was there, and They were there, and the air shivered and the bedrock beneath the asphalt street creaked and groaned at a pitch too deep for hearing. The one who is called Antichrist, Great Beast, six hundred and sixty six, walked upon Earth; in the unlikely surroundings of a back-quarter boulevard in Fort Worth, Texas.
He barely noticed the tributes offered to his passing, his mind abstracted in swift and angry thought. To either side his minions flanked him close, wind and water, dark and fair; they, too, were slighted for attention. The Prince of Hell's vivid blue eyes glanced neither right nor left but were fixed upon his goal, upon the upthrust spine of stone and slate that marked the stronghold of his Adversary. Saint Michael's church, the human had said - Saint Michael, indeed! Archangel Michael, more likely. First sword of the hosts of Heaven, patron of heroes and paladins. Jehovah's enforcer. Caster-out of demons.
Blackheart had never been able to decide whether it was God or his father who should be held to account for the world's possession of a sense of irony.
He paused before the doors of the church, looking up. There was a reason for the nature of sacred architecture, he knew: the strong verticals, the arches, the soaring heights of spires and vaulted ceilings. All combined to draw the eyes of mortals upwards, to guide their gaze to their heavenly Father. A simple illusion meant to comfort and overawe in equal measure.
For a moment Blackheart let his own gaze follow the lines of St Michael's church, sweeping up over the worked stone of the entrance, the stained glass, the steep pitch of the roof. He indulged a whim, letting himself wonder what it would be like to be mortal, to be weak, to be impressed by such a crude device.
And then his survey reached the top of the spire and he found himself gazing into pure and bottomless darkness, and chuckled at the irony. It had the feeling of a good omen, and he took a confident pace toward the door. "Wait here for me. I may be a little while."
His favourite, his fallen Angel of the Waters, lifted his head a little. "Why?" Wallow's voice caught in his throat as always, thick and laboured, a drowned man's death rattle. "Where are you going?"
Blackheart allowed himself a smirk. "Why - to confession, of course!"
As he ascended the steps, he could hear their laughter in his wake.
The door yielded to his hand with a protesting creak of worn hinges. Beyond, the body of the church was a dusty vault of shadows, its cool air scented with incense and the smell of old wood, filled with that pensive stillness that mortals deem to denote the presence of the Holy Spirit. There was a watchfulness in that silence, a mood of warning edging upon anger. The very stones of the church seemed to protest, to whisper in challenge. You shall not pass-!
Old will met youthful defiance, and was broken in the test. One polished black boot and then the other clicked upon the tiled floor of the church as Blackheart stepped across the threshold, shaking off the tremor that brushed between his shoulderblades. He looked about him and a smile curled his pale lips.
O my Father, what would you say? Does it wound you, that your own son can stand where you cannot - in the presence of God?
Candle flames flickered in the sudden draught as the Prince of Hell paced the length of the nave, his step unfaltering as he approached the white sanctity of the high altar. The painted image above of Saint Michael with his foot upon the Devil's back drew his attention for only a moment, meriting no more response than a black flicker of his eyes; that had been Mephistopheles' misfortune, one that Blackheart had no intention of sharing.
No. Whatever might be written in the book of Revelation, Blackheart was not willing to Fall for his father's cause. He stood for a moment, still, listening to the silence of the Divine; and defiance soared in his heart, unfurling from within him like the wings his half-mortal heritage had denied him. Come what may, he would be nobody's willing tool - not God's, not Mephistopheles', not anyone's!
Unlike... a certain other. His glance lit upon the altar and swept upward, until his eyes met those of the image high above in the stained glass of the eastern window. The Christ's face was drawn in anguish, sorrow bleeding from his open eyes; his gaze rested upon his counterpart, his eternal rival, and refused to judge.
Blackheart made no such reservation of his thoughts. "We're not so different, are we?" he said aloud, musingly. "Your Father burned you out like a cheap wax candle to give Light to this world; mine wants to choke me in darkness until I become nothing more than a weapon in his hands. And yet both of us had this battlefield dimension as our birthright! This world is far more ours than it ever was theirs!" A quizzical lift of his black brows. "Did you think of that, I wonder? Is that why you hung on your cross and begged to have your sentence repealed? Are we alike enough to look each other in the eyes at the End of Days?"
He had spoken quietly enough; but his voice rang high in the vaulted spaces of the empty church, and for a moment it seemed that the air trembled. The silence of the Holy Spirit was disturbed, in ripples of fire and cold uncertainty.
And then the Antichrist laughed, brief and mocking, and the spell was broken. "No, of course not. You sacrificed yourself for your Father's grand plan without pausing for so much as a taste of this world first. You'd pity me, and I'd despise you. You insufferable ass." He tossed his head, taunting, flashing his eyes at the silent image above the altar. "I've broken lives to get this far. I've killed and tortured and violated and do you know what? I loved it!" He flung his arms wide with a joyful flourish. "Every wicked moment of it. And I've learned far more about mortals by emulating them than you ever did by setting them an example!
"Then again, I am half mortal, aren't I, God rest my poor mother? Just like you." He sobered suddenly, his expression turning thoughtful. "How does Heaven's accounting balance that out, tell me? Am I human enough that you died for me?" He sucked in his breath with an audible hiss, the sheer enormity of that thought widening his sapphire eyes and making him bite his lip with teeth that briefly glinted sharp around their edges. "What happens... if the son of the Devil repents of his sins?"
He spun on his heel to pace across the open floor before the altar, glancing up again at the image in the glass, his eyes gleaming. "I'd almost try it just to see the old man's face - make that both old men's faces." He chuckled. "And I'd like to see the Ghost Rider come hammering on Heaven's gates after me!"
His eyes turned to the votive racks to either side of the altar, the tiered stands of scarlet candles whose flames shed a steady golden light into the dusty air of the church, every one of them standing for some fervent prayer, some desperate hope or mortal fear, some unspoken wish or unatoned sin. To the Antichrist's heightened senses, the air around the racks was bittersweet with the lingering taste of human emotions merged beyond disentangling. He closed his eyes for a moment, nostrils flaring, breathing in the power of their despair and the poison of their faith with equal fervour. Oh, this was a razor's edge he walked tonight - between the devil and the deep blue sea, indeed! Between Blackheart the Prince of Hell and the doomed Beast of Revelation, the narrow divergence allowed by destiny was closing fast; and his chance to slip through it hinged on one thing. On the Contract of San Venganza, the power of a thousand stolen souls. He had one chance to take this world. Miss it, and...
And he would die his Father's slave, and this glorious, unpredictable, wild dimension that hung so precariously between grace and disaster would become nothing more than an extension of the same old Heaven or Hell - no! Not going to happen. Forgive me, Father, Blackheart thought. Forgive me for I think I'm falling in love with this world, with all its rich frustrations and delights, and I'm not going to give it to you!
Repenting of his sins in truth, he thought with wry amusement, was probably beyond his capabilities. Nor did he wish to - the question was a theologian's riddle, nothing more. But nonetheless, on a sudden impulse he took one of the votive candles from the box beside the racks. For a moment he simply stared at it, turning it between his fingers, feeling its texture soften almost imperceptibly as the warmth of his skin began to soak into it. Nothing but a simple cylinder of scarlet wax - but a word accompanied by one of these little toys would be heard before the throne of God Himself.
He set the candle in the rack and reached for a taper. The image of the Antichrist succumbing to superstition amused him; and yet, he found himself holding his breath as he touched the flame to the wick. After all, if anyone had ever needed a helping hand against the Devil...
Footsteps sounded in the nave behind him, and Blackheart smiled for himself alone. "Forgive me, Father," he declaimed playfully, "for I have sinned."
He turned around, still smiling.
"I've sinned a lot."