"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."
He's repeated the words so often that they lost all meaning long ago. But here, in the midst of a particularly horrible and graphic nightmare about a Romanian civil war he couldn't possibly have been around for and yet which his traitorous memory tells him he took a major part in, he finds himself stepping away from the action as if it were merely a painting hung on a gallery wall, and considering these meaningless words.
Which sin? Of course, the sin of killing. But he's never killed a fellow human being, at least, not one who didn't deserve it. What wasn't evil, he couldn't kill. Which Father, now, wasn't that the better question? Is he looking for forgiveness from the priests, the Church, or the Lord God himself? Does he need approval from his fellow people, or is he on a holy mission? Does he even need forgiveness?
Anna's hand brushes against his cheek, unusually soft for a woman used to wielding weaponry and hard physical labour. Her breath is warm on his face, her body warm in his arms, her lips warm against his own. How can someone who is, without a shadow of a doubt, dead feel so alive? And how can something that feels so right seem so very wrong? He isn't celibate, hasn't got that close ties with the Church. But somehow, knowing Anna, feeling the way he does for her, about her, even now, somehow feels like a sin in great need of forgiveness.
Anna steps away from him, a look of confusion crossing her lovely face for only an instant before being replaced by a more familiar look – tight-lipped determination. Gabriel looks around for the source of the voice, and finds himself in a confessional booth, the lattice between him and the priest concealing the other completely from view. Something tells him that this isn't entirely stuff from his own dreaming mind, that he's being told something, and that it's being translated into terms he can understand.
A sin, you call it. Clever wording, as a sin carries you further from God.
Gabriel leans closer to the lattice in a vain attempt to see who sits behind it. "So I'm to be punished for loving her, and not for any of the deaths? That doesn't seem very fair."
You will not be punished by anyone but your Church and yourself for the deaths. You were sent here for a purpose, and the deaths you deal fulfill that purpose.
"Sent, huh?" The word carries connotations that the man named after an angel isn't sure he wants to consider. "What's this mysterious purpose, then?"
To eradicate true evil.
Gabriel shrugs. "Looks like I'm doing a pretty good job so far."
You are performing the task to the best of your limits.
It seems an odd thing to say. "Don't you mean the best of my abilities?"
No. It is your limits that define you, that allow you to be as effective as you are. We have enormous power, but it is not what you would call 'hands-on'.
We did not think you would remember. You have taken to this corporeal form like a – what is the metaphor? A fish to water. Now, even your subconscious presents you in this body. There's a tinge of disapproval in the speaker's voice. You're quite thoroughly human.
"Thank you?" Well, what do you say to something like that?
It isn't something that deserves thanks. And the speaker suddenly sounds almost...regretful. It is our fault that you are here, suffering the worst punishment that any of us could ever know.
"Fighting monsters? Losing Anna?"
Gabriel takes a moment to digest this. It isn't easy. "You mean I wasn't always human."
It was our fault. We could achieve nothing without limits, and so, we gave you limits. We let you do our dirty work, and called you back once your body had served its purpose.
Gabriel lets the implications of this slip over his head. If he thinks too hard about it, he'll probably wake up screaming, and he needs more answers right now. Needs to know more.
But a tiny part of him is celebrating, Finally, finally someone's admitted that they let him do their dirty work.
We were fools to think that you would be untouched by these limits, that you could just return to us. Having a body changed you, made you more separate. And this – Anna's face swims in the darkness, as he saw her last, or perhaps imagined her last, smiling despite the tears pouring down her cheeks – this has been the final straw.
"What do you mean?"
You fell in love.
You have become fully human.
"And? What does that mean?"
There is a long silence from the darkness behind the lattice. This is very painful for us.
Gabriel acknowledges this with a nod of his head, and realises he is wearing his hat.
You cannot return to us. This will be your final death. You have a soul now, and once you die, it will move on to wherever it may go. The speaker sounds slightly dismissive.
To Gabriel, on the other hand, this is the most important thing anyone could ever have said. At last, he has at least one answer. The fear that he might be a soulless monster identical to the thing Count Dracula became, might not be properly able to die, might never see Anna again, has been extinguished with a few words. Perhaps he's only dreaming, perhaps existential doubt will be there to greet him when he wakes in the morning. But he knows how to deal with that. He's had a lot of practice. But now, he has a lot more hope.
"Thank you," he says, realising his voice is hoarse.
The speaker sounds horrified. It is the worst possible punishment for one of us.
"But I'm not one of you. I'm human."
There is genuine sadness in the voice as it answers, Once, you were an angel.
It's been a full year since I wrote the first chapter of this fic, and I finally got around to fleshing it out. Please, be slightly proud of me.