SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!!!

I don't own them (mores the pity!); they're DC's and Ah'm usin'em without permission:):) Ah ain't makin' a plug nickel! If ya'll sue me Azrael and Brian are gonna be right peeved ...

Rated PG-17 for some mild m/m slash overtones. So if those sort of things bother ya'll, skedaddle:):)

As ever, Ah have made my own continuity so if something stricks ya'll as a bit off, then that's why! Hee!

Angels We Have Heard On High

An Azrael Tale by Dannell Lites

From the instant I saw him come barreling into the apartment we shared, face aglow and his eyes shining with eager anticipation, I knew that something big had happened. I just didn't know what. And I certainly didn't suspect the true source of his agitation. I can safely say the though that it might be a woman never once occurred to me. In so many, many ways my friend and patient Jean-Paul Valley is such a child that it's easy to forget that he's really a grown man. We celebrated his twenty-fifth birthday just last week.

What Azrael is, is another matter entirely.

"Brian, mon ami, aider moi," he cried, "Aider moi!" When he's excited he sometimes forgets his English.

"Slow down, Jean-Paul, slow down!" I advised him with a smile. "Just what is it that you need help with, my friend?" Startled, his mouth flew open, revealing perfect, even white teeth and I waited patiently for something to emerge.

And waited ...

He blushed furiously and rubbed the side of his neck, perplexed. It's an odd habit of his, you see. When he's at a loss or very uncertain, Jean-Paul rubs his neck as if it were Aladdin's magic lamp, wishing vainly for the answers. Azrael is never at a loss or uncertain so I wouldn't know about him.

I wonder if he has any idea how much I hate that ... that ... thing that steals my friend and companion Jean-Paul Valley from me? For a lapsed Irish Catholic boyo like Brian Bryan (that's me!) it's almost enough to make me believe in God again just so that I can know that Nomoz and Brother Rollo and all their ilk in the Order of St. Dumas are burning in a well deserved Hell for what they did to him. I guess it takes a psychiatrist like myself to truly appreciate the hideousness of taking an innocent child and filling him with such rage and fury that it spills out his hands with the blood his enemies shed. But then, they thought that appropriate, don't you see? Azrael, for all his loveliness, is the Angel of Vengeance and Death, after all.

If I let myself, I can hear Nomoz, the dwarfling charged with his training, bellowing at him; almost imagine the feel, the sting, of that square, calloused hand on Jean-Paul's face.

"Blasphemous FOOL! St. Dumas will curse you! You let one of them escape! Find him, now! KILL him!"

For quite some time he didn't know who he was. They twisted him, tortured him with their hellish "System" until they thought there was nothing left of Jean-Paul Valley. Only Azrael remained. And yet, in the end, he remembered. He beat those bastards at their own game. When Nomoz kicked and screamed at him, "You disobeyed! You've disgraced your mission as an Angel of Vengenance!" he pulled off the mask of Azrael and said quietly, "I'm not an Angel ... I'm a man. My name is Jean-Paul Valley. That was my father's name, too." You can see that he was still a bit confused. His father's name was Ludovic, but that's not important. The important thing is that there is still a Jean-Paul Valley. Frightened and confused, beaten and abandoned, Jean-Paul Valley still persists. And he's getting stronger.

So how does an ex-psychiatrist, ex-drunk, virtually ex-human being named Brian Bryan come to be sharing an apartment in our nations capitol of Washington DC, however temporary it night be, with the worlds only schizophrenic superhero?

God knows. I'm sure I don't.

Oh, the mechanics are simple enough. I met him at the Saint Vincent de Paul Shelter for the Homeless in Gotham City. How I came to be there I haven't a clue. I don't remember. About ten years ago I heeded the advice of one of my patients and crawled into a bottle. Events get hazy after that. It seemed appropriate, now that I reflect on it, that Gotham City, that Sheol of darkness and shadows, is where I hit rock bottom. How Jean-Paul found himself at St. Vincent's is a bit more complex.

The details are sketchy, but in professional terms, I think he suffered what had to be an extended psychotic episode while replacing The Batman as Gotham's resident superhero. Two people died. Why that should be surprising, I can't imagine. I mean, death is what Azrael was created for, isn't it? And what he's best at. The Batman had to know that. What in the name of sanity could he have been thinking to inflict such a burden of responsibility on an unbalanced boy? Heh. Sorry. Apologies Sigmund, good friend. Bit of the old Freudian slip there, eh?

For the third time in his life, Jean-Paul Valley was abandoned by a father figure. The Batman this time. Thrown lock stock and costume out of the Bat Cave and his new home, eventually he ended up on the street. I'm not sure what would have happened to him if Father d'Estaing hadn't taken him in.

For the first three days he was at St. Vincent's he just lay on his cot, unmoving. I don't think he slept; he just lay there. Except at night. I'm a long term insomniac, so I was still awake when he rose from the narrow confines of his rickety army surplus cot and wandered in the darkness. I have no idea where he went, what he did. Like a shadowy, noiseless wraith, he made his way about the Shelter, exploring, marking his territory.

Almost five days passed before Father Calhoun noticed that he hadn't eaten. A kind man, the good father lead him like a child into the dining room and sat him down before a plate of food. An hour later, with a heavy sigh, the food cold and untouched, Father Calhoun led him back to his cot and he lay down once more.

Until night fell.

He began to intrigue me. Quite by accident I discovered that English wasn't his native language. I was clumsily using a needle and thread to patch yet another tear in my much abused linen shirt when the needle slipped and I jabbed myself quite by accident.

"Merde!" I exclaimed, sucking at the blood from the tiny wound. On his cot, he stirred. Sitting up, he stared directly at me frowning from out of those remarkable blue eyes.

"Don't curse," he said clearly in French.

And then lay back down on his cot.

"Ah!" I cried, "pardonne, Monsieur, pardonne!"

We were allowed to leave the shelter during the day, so on the morrow I panhandled a few coppers and found myself a French bakery and deli. The owner was not sanguine. Considering my somewhat tattered appearance in those days, I don't blame him in the least.

"You have money for this?" the baker inquired. His lifted eyebrow spoke eloquently of his doubt. I flashed my meager bit, earned with such hard humiliation and his smile lit the sweet smelling room.

"A loaf of your freshest Provencal, please," I requested hautily, "and a wedge of that delicious Camenbert, if you don't mind. Mind the mold."

On my way back to the Shelter, I bought some apples and an Anjou pear.

Christ alone knows how long it might have been since he'd last eaten. He didn't eat much, even then. A bit of the cheese, a small slice of the bread. But he ate the whole pear. Depression and mental illness can be a great dietary aid, although I don't recommend them. Gradually he began to look less lost and confused. He wasn't much of a talker, but then that's never been a problem for me. A strange thing, that, for a man whose former profession was listening. I babbled away and he listened, grateful for the company. It soothed him, I think. "What's your name, son?" I asked him eventually. For an instant he looked so stricken that I feared I had made a grave error in judgment. I thought he was ready. His lower lip trembled.

"I - I - I can't - re - remember," he stammered out. His hands flew to his temples, tangling themselves in his long blond hair as if their strength could force the answer he sought from out of his uncooperative mind. In despair, he began to curl up onto his cot. Gently, I took him in hand.

"Here now," I crooned, "none of that laddy-buck." Shaking, he clung to me and I closed my eyes, biting at my lip.

"God in Heaven why must you torment me like this, Old Man?" I remember wondering, angry all over again. "Wasn't Job enough for you? What have you against Brian Bryan? I didn't ask for this curse, now did I?"

But when he lifted his head off my chest and gazed at me his eyes were clear and unclouded with pain or doubt.

"M'namen Jean-Paul," he said low voiced but with gathering strength, "Jean-Paul ... Jean-Paul ... Jean-Paul ..." He kept repeating his name like a whispered mantra, warding off the encroaching darkness. I didn't quite trust myself, so I waited until the next day before I found fresh clothes for him in the Clothing Room and took him into the shower.

Now you can believe that started some ugly rumors. Ha! I don't think Jean-Paul even noticed. But when Father Herrera called me into his office to discuss some "concerns" I fancy I handled that simple cleric rather well. Politely, but firmly, I pointed out to him that a public shower was hardly the place for such a thing and that my mission of mercy was accomplished. "John Doe" could now be listed in the Shelter records as "Jean-Paul Last-Name-Unknown". And he was clean. A decided improvement all the way around, yes? Herrera studied me carefully, his dark, discerning face unreadable.

Perhaps not as simple as I thought.

"You're a surprising man, Mr. Bryan," was all he said, though. It made me chuckle.

"Aren't we all, Father," I insisted, "aren't we all."

That was the beginning.

I watched him, now, as he tore through his dresser drawers and his armoire, searching frantically.

"Jean-Paul?" Bewildered, he looked at me with wide eyes from behind a sports jacket he held up for closer inspection and then discarded in a growing pile.

"My help?" I reminded him, gently, doing my utmost not to laugh. "You said you needed my help?" He gulped and looked terribly, terribly frightened.

"A date!" he gasped out, "A lady ... I have a date!"

Flabbergasted, my nice safe little world teetered then reconstructed itself, subtly. I trust it didn't show in my face. I only had myself to blame, it must be admitted. I should have expected this, prepared for it. It just wasn't possible for him not to ... grow up. He might be ready for this, but I'm not at all sure that I was. In fact, if I were a betting man (not my particular vice), I'd bet long odds against it. Still, I tried to put a good face on the thing. If' it had been anyone other than Jean-Paul, I'm sure I'd have failed miserably.

"No," I said with authority, "not that one," and made him change his sweater. I handed him a blue cable-knit I bought him last Christmas that mirrored the exact shade of his eyes and watched him pull it over his head and smooth it across his broad chest.

"Yes?" he inquired, hopeful of my approval.

"Yes," I reassured him.

Peering though his armoire, I tossed him a pair of charcoal gray trousers and managed to discreetly occupy myself picking up scattered clothing while he changed. You'd think I'd be used to such a thing by now ... But, no. And Brian Bryan is nothing if not masochistic.

"Well?"

He looked so nervous it was all I could do to hold back inappropriate mirth.

"Tres bon!" I assured him. "C'est magnifique!" The blush began at the roots of his hair and traveled slowly down until, I'm sure, it reached his toes, could I but have seen them. Recovering quickly, I straightened the thin gold wire of his glasses and stepped back to admire my handiwork.

"Did you remember your wallet?" I inquired sternly. He patted his jacket pocket and smiled at his small victory. Money isn't much of a problem these days, but still the boy is just as likely to wander about without it as not. He seldom thinks of such things. Therefore, I must.

"Cars keys?"

He dangled them triumphantly before my eyes.

"Off with you then!" I cried, pushing him toward the door. He picked that moment to be very French and embrace me. I stiffened slightly, but patted him hesitantly on the back.

Oh yes, I'm convinced that God really does hate me. He must, to torture me so.

"Au revoir," he smiled at me and my breath caught.

Stepping outside, I watched him in silence as he raced along the long hall before plunging down the stairs to disappear, speeding toward his assignation.

Behind the safety of closed doors, I sat for a long time in my favorite battered easy chair. Eventually, I succumbed to the lure of music. Soon the glorious strains of Handel's "Messiah" filled the air in our small apartment and I wasn't alone anymore.

"Glory to God on High," sang the choir, "In Ex-cel-si-us De-o!" Latin. Not my most favored language. I almost failed that course in medical school, I despised it so.

At least it wasn't French ...

I found myself standing in our tiny kitchen searching through the cabinets among the brightly colored pasteboard boxes of Kraft Macaroni with Cheese and Betty Crocker cake mixes. Jean-Paul has quite a sweet tooth and I do my humble best. Ah! Yes, there it was right next to the No Bake Cheesecake, just where I left it.

With an unsteady hand, I drew forth the full, unbreached bottle of Glen Fiddisch single malt. At $120 a bottle, it's about the most expensive Scotch available here stateside.

Nothing but the best for Brian Bryan, these days.

Retreating back into the living room and the dubious comfort of Handel, I cracked the bottle, and poured a glass, enjoying the rich, peaty aroma of the liquor. Scotch smells like the earth and a warm, crackling fire. Perhaps that's why I crave it so.

Perhaps not.

Sitting in the dim, semi-darkness, I stared at that inviting glass and bottle for a very, very long time. Long enough to recall how badly I wanted to pick it up; long enough to be certain I wasn't going to do that. Not this time.

Long enough to remind myself not to think about the fact that Jean-Paul hadn't noticed that I didn't ask a single question about the woman he was so eager to meet. Not one. Softly, the wall clock chimed the hour when next I heard anything save the inner voice of my own condemnation. Two o'clock.

Long enough to know that, at two in the morning, he wasn't coming home. Not tonight.

Slowly, with care, I turned out all the lights and made my solitary way to bed.

The End