Author's Note: I came up with the idea for this one-shot about a week ago and since I love Michael nearly as much as I love Gabriel, I couldn't resist writing this story. This fic was ever so slightly inspired by the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah", although to be completely honest, it wasn't until after I had written the first draft that I thought of using the song as the overall theme. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Legion.
The apartment was a studio. It sat above an Italian restaurant that doubled as a jazz club on Saturday nights. Michael could hear the music from where he was perched on the fire escape, the songs of Coltrane and other standards played by musicians from the local college. The throaty notes of an alto saxophone punctured the crisp winter air, sounding, for all the world, like the cry of a lost child. The tone of the instrument was unsteady, accompanied only by the soft legato of a slightly out of tune piano. Michael listened to each plaintive bleat of the sax and when it faded away, the night felt empty.
Michael shut his eyes. Perhaps he should not have come. Perhaps he should not have dared to draw so close to the nearly imperceptible, but very real border between the celestial and the earthly. But tonight was a night of crossroads, a time that welcomed the unexpected, even as the midwinter twilight sprawled and spread over the horizon, rupturing the barrier between day and night. The world was aging. The world was dying. And soon the final death rattle would sound.
This was the end of things and Michael couldn't see it through without first seeing her. Her…the one he had wronged.
For an hour he had watched her through the apartment window, had seen her eat her dinner at the small, round kitchen table that doubled as a workspace for her laptop. And after her meal, when she had cleared the dishes and left them standing in the sink, when she had poured herself a glass of gin and sat down for a cigarette at that same lonely little table, he thought he saw the corners of her mouth lift in a smile.
"You don't have to stay outside," she said, her words coming in a billow of breathy smoke and tobacco. "You can come in. To be honest, I'd rather not explain to my landlord why there's a huge winged man sitting on my fire escape. Technically speaking, I'm not even allowed to have a window box out there."
Michael raised himself slightly, the muscles in his thighs protesting as he tried to straighten up. "I wasn't sure you would see me."
"After fifty years? I'll make an exception." She wasn't facing him fully when she spoke, but sitting at an odd angle, one leg thrown casually over the other as she stubbed out her cigarette in an ash tray.
"Has it been fifty years?" Michael felt like a fool for asking, but then again, she had always been wiser than him. The measurements of time, the calculations and dates and numbers, were unnatural to him. He knew only the present and in Heaven, the present encompassed all, past, future and the space outside of time. But it would be hard for her to remember that, she who was no longer in a state of grace, she who had been cast out….
"Fifty years," she said, uncrossing her legs as she stood to let him in. With a casual flick of her wrist, she undid the lock on the window and threw it open. "Fifty years, ten months, seventeen days and four hours. It's been that long, Michael."
His name. She had spoken his name. He did not know why, but for some reason, it made his heart break to hear it grace her human lips, to hear her mortal tongue pronounce the string of consonants and vowels in her smart New England accent.
Michael hesitated as he stood before the open window, assaulted by the sudden rush of scents that came from inside her dwelling. There was the odor of incense, not otherworldly, not the frankincense borne to a peasant child in Bethlehem, but the cheap, packaged kind she bought at the card shop down the street. Along with the unmistakable tang of sandalwood came the heavy smell of her cooking, chicken grilled in a saucepan with a little olive oil, some pasta with garlic, a crust of bread and a smear of butter. A plain meal. Simple food for a simple woman. And then there was her scent, her own, particular perfume that he remembered from when she had stood by him so many years ago. She had smelled of rainwater then, but now the odor had been polluted by her human body, by the stinking, mortal flesh that sat on her bones, by the blood that ran through her veins and the organs destined to rot in her gut.
As he stepped inside the tiny apartment, Michael almost recoiled at the smell. It was a perversion, something that offended him only because he knew he had had a hand in creating the offense, because he himself was just as guilty as she was…if not more.
She was standing before him now, pulling back her chair and pushing the table against the wall with her hip to give him some much needed space. Michael's large form, his folded wings, took up nearly all of her kitchen and she had to move into the living room to room for him.
"I had forgotten," she said in a breathless whisper that resonated with something like awe, "I had forgotten how big your wings were. How big…how big mine were…" But then she trailed off, looking askance.
Michael grimaced. This would not be easy. Perhaps that was why he had not come to see her in fifty years. Perhaps he knew all along how painful it would be, how exquisitely torturous. To see her like this now, her brown hair fading to grey around her temples, crow's feet at the corners of her blue eyes, a certain flabbiness showing in her stomach, made him want to weep.
And weep he did, a few, meager tears pooling in his eyes only to be brushed away by the side of his tattooed hand.
"This wasn't what you expected, I suppose," she said, crossing her hands over her middle. She was wearing a grey dress, something with long sleeves and a loose skirt that fell down to her knees.
Michael swallowed away his emotion, although he found he could not look at her for long. Instead, he trained his gaze on the poster she had on her living room wall. It was a picture of a Victorian-era woman on a bicycle, the caption beneath was in French, the words curling together in elegant script. He squinted, trying to make out the lettering. Downstairs, someone plucked away on the strings of a bass and the sound reached him in thrumming vibrations.
Michael's heartbeat matched the music and he emitted a shuddering sigh. "What do you call yourself here?" he asked her.
She tilted her head forward, offering him an expression that was so frank, so perfectly human that he nearly lost control. "As opposed to what you used to call me?" she asked. "Well, generally I go by Helen. The root is Greek. It means 'light'. Do you think that's appropriate? After all, didn't the Greeks have that fantastic story about Helen of Troy? She started a war because she fell in love with the wrong man."
Her sarcasm, though stale, disturbed him nonetheless. "Helen," he said, testing the name on his lips. And she was right, it was the not the name he had called her by, the name that came from the sphere of heavenly brilliance, the name off an archangel….
"Helen," he said, letting the smooth sound of the 'L' roll off his tongue.
She caught his gaze and held it. "Michael."
"I am sorry I did not come sooner," he said, the apology rushing from him in a great gust of air and wasted breath.
Helen considered him, her body shifting as she placed all her weight on her left foot. "Of all the things you should be sorry for, I'd say that's the least of them."
Michael dropped his gaze. She had defeated him already. It didn't surprise him. He had always thought she was the better warrior when she still stood with him in Heaven, crowned in glory, in undimmed, and everlasting radiance.
But even eternity was no longer definite. Michael knew this, just as he knew that he had wronged this woman, had wronged her soul and her heart and everything she stood for and all that she had ever meant to him.
And Helen understood this as well. And she would never, never let him forget,
"Why don't you sit down," she said, gesturing at the futon with the burgundy slipcover that sat against the back wall of the studio. "Have a drink with me."
Michael stepped to the side as she brushed past him, moving into the kitchen where she fetched a second glass and filled it with gin.
He hesitated when she held it out to him, watched as her fingers curled over the glass, her knuckles showing white.
After a moment, he took the glass from her, touched it to his lips and pretended to drink.
Helen laughed. "You thought I forgot, didn't you? You thought I forgot that we didn't need to eat or drink. Well, I'm telling you now, there are some things you never forget. And I remember everything, Michael."
"Everything?" he questioned, setting the glass down next to a bowl of flowers perched precariously on a low side table.
"Everything," she whispered, her hands falling to her sides, her body seeming to go limp. "It's harder that way."
Michael lowered himself carefully onto the futon, fanning out his wings so that the razor tips wouldn't puncture the soft fabric of the slipcover. Yes, he supposed, it was harder that way, harder to understand in a world that didn't, harder to see while amongst the blind, harder to live with the hymns of all the angels of Heaven ringing in your ears and the emptiness of your heart echoing in reply.
It was the condition of one who had fallen of grace. And Michael alone was at fault. Michael alone was to blame for her suffering. For her sordid, sorry state.
Helen poured a glass of gin for herself and lit another cigarette before following him into the living room. She sat on the edge of an old, leather chest, her body pushed forward at an awkward angle as she tried to balance herself comfortably.
"So," she said, jabbing her cigarette at him, "why are you here?"
Michael placed his hands on his knees and squeezed until the veins bulged. He could tell her. He could tell her now, could tell her of all the great, awful things that were to come. Would she be happy, he wondered. Would she be relieved to know that their Creator had once more lost His faith in mankind?
Or would she react as any human would when faced with the inescapable trap of mortality?
Michael looked back at the French poster, saw the smiling woman, saw her peach-colored cheeks and broad-brimmed hat decked with a gauzy veil and flowers.
No, he decided. He wouldn't tell her now.
"You have made a life for yourself," he said, stating the obvious as he glanced around the studio, noticing the polished planes of her dark wood furniture, the framed postcards she kept over a fireplace that no longer worked, the magazines that rested on the edge of her packed bookcase.
"I had to," Helen replied, her words dancing through smoke as she exhaled. "It's what humans do, Michael. They make lives for themselves. They grow up. They find jobs. They make money to buy food to eat which they later shit out. And they spend a majority of their short, empty days with their heads down to the ground looking at the cracks in the sidewalk because they can't be bothered to have a little faith and look up. It's the human condition. What a wicked game He contrived."
"Faith." Michael latched onto the word, a familiar thing in a dark, cold world. "Have you lost your faith, Helen?"
She smiled at him, both corners of her mouth lifting this time, her teeth showing even and ever so slightly discolored from her smoking. "Do you know what I do here?" she asked.
"Do? What you do here?" He was perplexed.
"My job." She took a sip of her gin, her lips leaving a foggy imprint on the rim of her glass. "I'm a professor at the local college. I teach theology. My students think I'm an atheist. Isn't that simply the best joke you ever heard? If they only knew…if they only knew that angels can't be atheists."
Michael nearly winced. It was the first time she had openly acknowledged what she was…what she had been. An angel. An archangel.
And her wings had been the most beautiful shade of grey. Sea-foam. The feathers long, tapered, lethal….a perfect warrior.
"Are you," he started, but then stopped, swallowing away the rising emotion, feeling his throat constrict against his collar, "do you still love Him?"
"Love Him?" Helen had forgotten to knock the ash off her cigarette and the cinders fell to the floor, leaving a dark stain on her bright carpet. "How could I not love Him? I pray to Him every night. I told you I remembered everything, Michael. Well, I remember Him. And I wouldn't ever want to forget. Ever."
Michael's chest expanded, pushing against the metal of his cuirass. Acts of faith never failed to move him, whether they were small or large, the simple prayer of a little child or the dying plea of a martyr.
Helen, he thought, must be somewhere in-between the two.
"But I don't want to talk about Him right now," she said suddenly, waving her hand and sending another spray of ashes across the floor. "I want…I need to know…how is Gabriel? Did he know you were coming tonight?"
Michael felt his brow go smooth, the creases lessening as he tried to smile. "I did not tell Gabriel," he said, "but I know he misses you."
"Bet he never says it though," Helen murmured. She was sitting forward, her ankles crossed. "Well, I miss him too. Terribly. He was everything to me. You both were. I cannot…I cannot begin to tell you what the pain is like…the separation."
"You are not alone," Michael said, the bitter taste of memory coating his tongue. "We all feel it."
Helen exhaled sharply, laying her burnt out cigarette butt in a clay ashtray. "Gabriel. I think I admired him most, more than I ever admired you, at any rate. He did not even protest when I was cast out. He did not speak or plead for me. For him the grey did not exist. There was only right and wrong. And what I did, my sin, my taint, was wrong."
A tremor infected Michael's body and coursed through his limbs until it reached the tips of his ebony wings. It was horrible, this. To see her brought so low. To see her soul, once angelic, twisted and perverted in the flesh of a human being. And it had been his fault, his fault….
"What we did," he muttered, his fingers twitching as they clenched his kneecaps, his knuckles tightening. "The sin was mine as well."
"Humph." Helen's face became grotesque as she grinned, a hint of satisfaction making her look all too mortal, all too flawed. "It's nice of you to admit your wrongdoing now, but I'm afraid it won't do any good. Any damn good."
He flinched at her profanity, accustomed as he was to hearing her lips sprout only hosannas and hallelujahs. This world had reduced her somehow. Had made her crude.
"I don't sleep well," Helen said. She finished off her gin, pulled a face and placed the empty glass on a nearby side table. "And when I don't sleep, I think. A lot. Do you know I get winded walking up the stairs to my apartment? I used to be one of the greatest warriors in all of Heaven. I could fly for days without tiring. I could stand behind you as you led the charge into battle. I was the tip of the spear. One of the Seraphim. And now I have a layer of fat on my stomach and there's cellulite on my thighs and I'm getting old, Michael, old. Do you still think I'm beautiful now?"
What a question! Michael looked away from her, studied the patterns in the carpet on the floor, the trailing vines and blooming flowers and fan-tailed birds.
It was the root of his sin, the recognition of her beauty. She had been a beautiful angel. Their Creator had made her that way.
And Michael, yes, Michael had loved her, loved her not only for her beauty, but for her strength. Her devotion. Her faith. Her temperament, which was unwavering and almost unchangeable, had been much more akin to Gabriel's than his own. She shared his brother's stoicism, his power, his ability to look beyond any sense of personal desire in favor of duty. But there had been a chink in her armor. There always was. Even angels, archangels, were imperfect.
And Michael had been her imperfection, for she had loved him back. And they had loved each other.
Love. It had been love.
But she alone had taken the blame.
The apartment had fallen silent, the sounds of faded music reaching them both from downstairs. Faintly, Michael heard a woman singing, her voice raspy and echoing with a noticeable vibrato. Her words were obscured, but those that managed to filter over the clash of cutlery from the restaurant's dining patrons overwhelmed him with sadness.
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah…
Yes, he thought. This was a night of crossroads. A night of realization. A night of reconciliation.
"I am sorry," he said, leaning forward on the futon so that he was closer to her, his knees nearly pressed against hers in the space of the tiny apartment.
She studied him for a minute, her eyes going narrow, the blue focusing until it became intense, like it had been when she had the light of Heaven in her gaze and the words of the Lord on her lips.
But the vision passed and she looked at him with an expression that was irrevocably human. "Yes, well," she muttered. "What does that mean? What does that mean to me now? You know, I can forgive Gabriel for not speaking on my behalf. It's his nature. I expect nothing less from him, just as he expected more from me. And I can be angry with Him, but only because I'm human and humans are always angry with Him. But it's a child's anger, a petulant thing. Not real. Not true. I love Him too much for that. But you, Michael, I'm sorry to say this, yes I'm sorry, but I can't make an excuse for you. When He asked you if you loved me, you stayed silent. And He knew the truth. I knew the truth. Gabriel and all the others knew the truth, but it didn't matter. It's the silence that counts. The denial. I've had fifty years here to think about it and I have to say, it's not my faith in Him that you have to worry about, but my faith in you. I don't believe in you anymore, Michael. I simply don't believe."
It was horrible. An acute torment. Something that would haunt him. Something that would wound him over and over and over again.
Michael wept. He wept freely now. And as he wept, the music from downstairs swelled. Rose and reached a crescendo.
…and every breath we drew was hallelujah.
Helen was unsympathetic. Running the tips of her fingers over the rim of her glass, she angled it so that the light from her floor lamp filtered through the crystal, throwing pastel-colored rainbows on the wall behind him. "Even though you came here tonight to see me," she said, "I don't think you understand what happened between us. You don't understand it at all. It isn't me He intended to punish with my banishment. I'm not the one who suffers so greatly. It's you, Michael. He has punished you."
There was silence. A perilous moment in which all the world seemed breathless and sound fell away and existence hovered on the brink of destruction, ready to plunge into nothingness. Into the static, unforgiving black.
And then Helen struck a match. And then the world righted itself. The sleepy notes of a slow piano solo followed. The patrons in the restaurant below chattered away.
Helen put a fresh cigarette to her lips and inhaled. "Sometimes I can't stand it," she said, speaking to herself and not to Michael, "sometimes I can't stand their music. Human music."
"Human," he echoed the word, his lips tasting of salt. "I hate what you have become."
"Really?" Helen looked at him, her exhaled smoke forming a halo around her head. "I thought you loved humans."
"Is it because I told you the truth?"
"No." Michael pressed his fingers against the hollow space just above his right eye, applying pressure until he felt the throbbing agony in his head give way. "I knew the truth."
"But it hurts to hear me say it?"
"It hurts because I never said it," he replied. His tongue was dry and heavy, cleaving to the roof of his mouth even as he tried to find the words…the right words. "I will say it now," he managed at last. "I will say it for all the times I remained silent, for all the times when you needed my voice but I was deaf and dumb." A pause. A deep breath. "I love you. I love you still."
Her fingers twisted around the butt of her cigarette, crushing the paper until the tobacco shavings fell all over her skirt. Her eyes caught the light of the spilled cinders. "How unbelievably melodramatic you are," she said. "Well, damn you. Damn you, Michael."
It was a terrible curse-one he knew she didn't mean. Her reaction was instinctual, something born from a habit that had been ingrained in her very human mind.
Helen stood, abruptly, her glass falling from where she had left it on the side table and hitting the floor. Shards danced over the carpet, becoming entangled in the soft, threaded fringe.
"Fifty years," she muttered, her shoes crunching over the glass as she moved into the kitchen. "Fifty years. I should have known you'd come here like this one day. In fact, I'm ashamed to say I waited for it." She rattled the dishes in the sink, turned on the faucet with an angry twist and reached for a sponge. "But what does it mean? What can it possibly mean to me now? Do you want me to tell you that I love you as well? Is that what you came to hear?"
"No." Michael rose to his feet. "I came to warn you."
Helen froze, dropping her sponge into the basin of the sink, the hot water sending tendrils of steam spiraling into her face. She said nothing.
"I came to warn you," Michael repeated. "And I came because I wished to see you…before the end."
"The end. The end of what?"
"Of this," he answered, his voice taking on a sense of calm he himself did not feel. "He has lost faith in man. This will be over…this will all be over in a few days time."
Helen emitted a sound that could have been a sob, her shoulders hunching as she grasped the edge of the sink for support. "The end," she breathed. "Thank God, thank God it has come."
Relief. It was not an emotion he had expected from her. But as he studied her form, her trembling knees and limp arms and the way she hung her head, he realized that the primal need for survival did not exist in her, that there was still a part of her being that was angelic and welcomed the reckoning that was to come.
Michael did not know whether or not he should take solace in her joy, which seemed almost offensive to him, he who still had faith in mankind.
But this night, this strange space of time, was not about mankind or the world or the fate of a little unborn child he had been jealously guarding for some time now. This night he would give to her, the woman he had wrong, the lost sheep who had been forced to wander astray because he was a coward. Because he had sinned.
And seeing Helen now, seeing her relief, her happiness, hearkened something within him, some forgotten feeling of kinship and remembrance and recognition.
They were united still, beyond the limitations of human flesh and angelic spirit, beyond the perilous doubt that existed between them.
Slowly, he stepped into the kitchen.
Helen was scrubbing at her eyes with a dish towel, struggling to hide her tears and the streaks of stale mascara that trailed down her cheeks.
"Are you lying to me?" she asked, still not facing him.
Michael was only a few inches away from her and as he watched her shoulder blades move beneath the fabric of her dress, he recalled the splendor of her wings, now gone, now lost forevermore.
"You know I cannot lie," he replied.
Helen sighed, a soul-shaking, tremulous sort of sigh and threw her dish towel into the sink. "It's really going to happen, then," she muttered. "He is going to end this. I am happy. I am overjoyed. I could sing hosannas from on high and praise Him with every hallelujah and hymn. Because the truth is, I may not be as miserable as you, Michael, but I hate being human. I hate the breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins and the marrow in my bones. I want it to end. I want to go home."
"As you should," Michael said. He raised his hand, wanting to touch her shoulder, but then thought better of it. "But do not expect me to await your return at the Gates. I am leaving."
She started, her whole body jerking as she whirled around, the hem of her skirt brushing against his knees, her perfume, the scent of rain, drifting past his nose as her loose hair settled around her tired face.
"He has asked this of you?" she questioned, her voice sharp, that of the professor, the scholar who knew more than her young students ever could, the mortal woman who had seen the beginning of time and now glimpsed the end of the world. "He has asked you to leave?"
Michael shut his eyes briefly. He did not want to do this to her, he did not want to cause her pain….
"No, I am leaving of my own accord. Against His wishes. He has given me an order I cannot carry out. I must stop this. I must try to restore His faith."
She stared at him, her jaw clenching, the smile lines around her lips tightening as she frowned. "Why?" she asked. "Why? You have never disobeyed Him. You have never wanted to. Michael, you're a fool. Do not do this. Let it be. Please. Please. Just let it be. He has a reason for this, I'm sure. He knows what we don't. You cannot question Him. You cannot…you cannot do this."
A worn laugh pushed past his lips as he looked at her, as he saw her wild desperation and frustration and anger, yes, anger. She was certainly not so controlled now. "I find it strange that you wish to give me counsel," he said. "I have asked nothing of you."
"Except for my forgiveness, which I won't give," Helen replied. She braced her hands on the sink, her arms extended behind her. "And as for my advice, it doesn't matter. You haven't learned a thing in coming here. You still don't understand."
And again, she wounded him. Michael bowed his head. Perhaps it was a lost cause. Perhaps he shouldn't have come to see her, but rather, let the memory of her, of her lost glory and her sea-foam wings and her love fade into oblivion along with the rest of the world.
But he was not like Helen. He still had faith.
Michael raised his hand, his fingers spreading as he moved to touch her cheek, to brush his angelic skin against her earthly flesh.
But she pulled away. She pulled away.
A sigh rose up within him. "This is the end, is it not?" he asked.
She would not look at him. "Yes."
He turned to go. Halfway out the window, he paused, catching sight of her standing in the kitchen, the water from the faucet still running, steam rising, her face obscured by the fog of it.
And for he moment, he almost thought he saw her as she once was. An angel. An archangel.
Michael found a smile for her. "When this is over," he said, "I will come back for you."
"Yeah," Helen said, tossing her head. "I don't believe you."
"Have faith," he said and then cast himself into the lonely, empty night.
Author's Note: Thanks so much for reading! In case you're wondering, I deliberately kept Michael and Helen's back-story vague because I thought you readers might like to fill in the blanks yourselves. ;) Also, there is the slight, slight, slight chance that I might consider expanding this one-shot in the future, although nothing is set in stone.
If you have a free moment, please leave a review. I cherish all feedback. Take care and have a great week!