SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!

Ah don't own anybody heah! DC Comics does! This is a fanfic for entertainment purposes only and not meant to infringe upon copyrights held by DC Comics or any others! So don't sue moi:):)

This is dedicated to Chicago, who wanted to see Jen-Paul have a lover that Azrael didn't beat the crap out of!:):) Bless ya'll Chi-Town!

Encounter in the Night

An Azrael Tale by Dannell Lites

A wide-eyed Brian Bryan stroked the golden head laying on his stout barrel chest with blunt shaky fingers and lay very still. The man in his arms still seemed so unreal; one of his more poignant fantasies, perhaps. This must be a dream. Murmuring softly in his slumber, Jean-Paul Valley stirred restively, the many small sounds of his contentment etching themselves into the void of Brian's racing heart. The psychiatrist cast his eyes toward the Heaven that Jean-Paul so firmly believed in, remembering the countless times he'd reviled God.

'You're a right proper sort, after all, aren't you, Old Man?' he thought.

Brian caressed his lover's silken hair. "Back to sleep with you now, boyo," came the whispered admonishment. The younger man quieted, his small smile the only remains of his near encounter with wakefulness. Slowly, very careful not to disturb the sleeping youth, Brian Bryan rose and padded his sleepless way into the small kitchen.

The orange juice was fresh squeezed and cold on his tongue and dry throat. Early day tomorrow at the hospital. He really should sleep, he knew. But slumber eluded him. Odd. He'd never had trouble sleeping before. Not even in the filthy, grimy alleyways of Gotham City during his ten year sojourn at the bottom of a bourbon bottle. He recalled his first sight of Jean-Paul Valley, then; lost and alone, confused and frightened, abandoned by the world, sleeping in that same alley, fighting for his shoes. It was also his first meeting with Azrael, although he didn't realize it at the time. Something reached out to him then, stronger than the siren call of blessed oblivion offered by the bottle. He looked into Jean-Paul Valley's desparing, raging eyes and glimpsed raw pain and suffering the likes of which he'd never before encountered. And for the first time in more than ten years ... he was needed.

Lost in his memories, Brian didn't hear the other approach. It never ceased to amaze him how silently The Angel could move when he wished. With deliberation, he set the empty juice glass down on the formica table top and forced himself to gaze without flinching into the waiting, watching eyes of Azrael.

"I've been expecting you," he admitted, swollowing hard.

Azrael said nothing. An impenetrible wall of silence, he neither moved nor spoke.

Brian gusted a shaky resigned sigh. "So, it's my turn, now is it?" he asked.

Only more yawning silence was his answer.

The older man shot to his feet and pounded his fist on the tabletop. "Well, get on with it, man!" he cried hotly. "There's nothing to stop you, is there? Do it and have done, damn you!"

Still Azrael did not move. But, at last, he spoke. "You expected me to come? To harm you? And, knowing this, you still ... " The harsh voice trailed off, unfinished, grating on Brian's exposed, aching nerves.

"And still I took him to my bed when he came to me? Yes. Do I look like a fool to you? There's nothing you can do to me that would make me change my mind about that. Nothing."

"You are a brave man, Brian Bryan," said the Angel of Vengeance and Destruction.

The worlds worst psychiatrist sat back down heavily in his once abandoned chair and scrubbed his craggy face with his hands. "No I'm not." he said. "I'm a lonely man. Who's grown weary of being alone. Who sees one last fleeting chance for joy and I'm grabbing it with both hands. I'm only someone who wants to make him happy."

"Someone who loves him," said Azrael.

Brain blinked. This from Azrael? "Yes." The admission came easily to his lips, now.

"And that," explained The Angel in a low voice, "is why I have come."

"You - you're not going to hurt me? Like the others?" He couldn't help the relief staining his voice, spreading through his body like a tide. He'd been afraid. Very afraid. No use denying that, was there? The thought of being at the mercy of Azrael terrified him, loosened his bowels and set the sour taste of vomit echoing in his mouth.

"No."

"I don't understand," Brian managed. "The others ... "

A flicker of something dark and terrible in The Angel's arctic blue eyes briefly reignited his fears but Brian Byan stood his ground. The respect he saw take root and flower in The Avenging Angel's eyes was most welcome.

"The others were not fit," Azrael's belief was firm. "They would not have made him happy. Did you not guess, Brian Bryan? I have been waiting for you." As if electrified, the student of Sigmund Freud and J. B. Skinner sat up straight in his chair, staring at the creature he was beginning to realize might not be his enemy, after all.

"M-me?" His hand trembled and his eyes widened in shock.

"You."

The single word tumbled down upon the stout man like an inexorible avalanche, burying him deep and snatching the breath from his heaving lungs.

"W-why?" was all that emerged from the kaleidescope of jumbled, contradictory feelings that seized him mercilessly, then. "Why?"

"Because you will never hurt him. Because you will always be satisfied with whatever he has left to give you. How fortunate for you that he only knows how to give it all." Brian closed his eyes.

"Because you love him, Brian Bryan," said Azrael simply. "The others did not."

Brian's eyes flew open in anger. "That's a lie!" he cried, wrathful voice rising. "Worthington loved him ... Loved him enough to let him go."

"I leave such things in the hands of those who best understand them. Not I. Wothington was a much wiser man than I took him for, then," agreed Azrael. The muscles of his face worked themselves in silence. "Warren Worthington was a troubled man. Not all his reasons for desiring Jean-Paul were pleasant ones, were they? He wished to be punished. I punished him. That is my purpose. I have no other."

The anger that suffused him surpised the mild healer. It loosened his tongue, else he would never have spoken as he did.

"Oh, no!" he declared. "It's not that easy is it? Not by half! No ...I'm on to you, boyo. I know!"

Azrael grew even more still and silent if that were possible. Brian hadn't thought so, but there it was. "And what is it that you know, Brian Bryan?" asked Azrael in a distant voice as if it had traveled a long way to reach the other man's ears.

Brian sheltered his writhing fingers in his lap beneath the table, hidden from view. "I know about the money and those passports his father Ludovic Valley left for him." Brian claimed. "I know what he really meant for Jean-Paul to do with them. And so do you."

The towering figure before him stirred uneasily but still held his protective silence. Brian pounced with glee.

"He meant for Jean-Paul to run away, didn't he? To deprive the Order of their Azrael. You see, I called that number he left. Jean-Paul never did. It wasn't necessary. The Order found him first. The boy always just assumed that it was a way to contact the Order. He was wrong. The man on the other end of that phone number lives in Singapore. His name is Sing Fan Ho ... but they call him 'The Eraser'. Becaue that's what he does: he 'erases' people. When he's done hiding them no one ever sees or hears from them again. But you knew that didn't you?"

The silence grew heavy and oppressive like the air before the unleashing of a great storm.

"DIDN'T you!" Brian.hissed.

"Yes."

Brian Bryan fell back into his chair with a shaky gulp, blinking in disbelief. He hadn't really expected the other to admit his complicity in such blaphemy. And blasphemy it was in the eyes of The Angel. Perhaps the ultimate betrayal of the Order that created him. Worse, in its quiet way, than his sanction, even assistance, in the Order's destruction at Jean-Paul's hands.

"Why? Why did you do it?"

To Brian's complete astonishment, Azrael looked away, unable to meet the the doctor's probing earth brown gaze. Brian blinked.

"Does it matter, Brian Bryan?" Azrael whispered. "It is done. And in the end it made no difference. The Order found him. And used him. My lapse of faith served only to condemn me to the torments of Hell. As they condemned Ludovic Valley."

"It matters to me," Brian assured him. "And it matters to you, too, I'm thinking. Or you'd never have done it." His eyes softened. "Is it so hard for you to admit? That he's a part of you? That you respect him? After all, of any of us, you know best how strong he is; how hard he's fought you."

Azrael strightened with pride. "As you have fought me, Brian Bryan," he said. "Do you still wish to rid him of me?"

The psychiatrist sighed. "I can't rid him of you," he said softly. "I've finally realized that; faced it. The way you were created, you're an indelible, eradicable part of him, imprinted on the tips of his nerves. You can't be sublimated and to try and extract you would very likely kill him. No, the best I can hope for is to bring peace between you." His voice took on a urgent, almost pleading quality much to his horror.

"Wouldn't you like that?" he offered. "You could have peace, too. Aren't you tired of always fighting, always struggling? I think perhaps you are."

"I was not made for peace and tranquility, Brian Bryan. I am what I am. The living incarnation of Azrael. The Angel of Vengeance and Destruction."

"But an Angel, nonetheless," the older man pointed out in desperation. "How many people have you saved in the past? In the Joker's camp during No Man's Land, when the platique ornaments on that 'Christmas' tree exploded, you shielded Batgirl.from the blast."

Azrael nodded slowly but gave no other sign of his thoughts or feelings.

"And was it you," Brian wished to know, "who clutched that ornament, the figure of an Angel, you gave to Batgirl as a Christmas gift in exchange for the dance she gave you?"

Azrael shook his head. "No, that was Jean-Paul."

"And in the desert, when you searched for Jeremiah Thompkins, Doctor Thomkins brother and found Lilhy's false Azrael. Was it you who spared the life of the blasphemer?"

Brian almost missed the slight nod of acknowledgement, it was so brief. "Yes. But it was Jean-Paul who called him 'brother'. Because he was the only other living on earth who knew the burden and the glory of Azrael. Jean-Paul was the one who wept for him."

"But you are Jean-Paul," he reminded The Angel.

Azrael did not deny it. Brian smiled. He stood and lay a solemn hand on the broad shoulder. He'd never touched Azrael before. It rather surprised him that it was no different than touching Jean-Paul.

"And because you are, I have something to show you. I think it's important that you see this."

Puzzlement crowned Azrael's still face. "See what, Brian Bryan?"

The healer took The Angel's unresisting hand and lead him into the living room. "It's a gift," the shorter man explained rummaging through the contents of a large cluttered closet. "Jean-Paul's birthday is next week and I've gotten him a present. I want you to see it."

With a small triumphant, "Ah ha!" he extracted an unmarked plain wooden box from the burgeoning chaos and sat it upon a nearby coffee table.

"Go ahead," he urged, "open it."

It no longer shocked him when Azrael moved to obey. Carefully, large blunt hands, made it seemed, for the shedding of blood and wanton destruction, lifted the fragile, delicate porcelain figure from its safety, nestled in the heart of the sheltering wood.

He held in his calloused, killing hands the figure of an Angel. Lying prone upon the cold harsh ground, his snow white wings a bit tarnished and tattered, the Heavenly Messenger nontheless turned his face, resolute and hopeful, upward, bathed in a Light that seemed to glow, reflected in his pleading eyes. Arms lifted in suplication, the Angel fought to rise, straining toward Heaven with growing strength.

Reverently, Azrael traced the outline of one pristine wing, his eyes closed, his lips moving in a soft prayer.

Brian Bryan pointed at the figurine. "That's Jean-Paul," he whispered. "And it's you, too."

The Angel's cheeks flamed at the first touch of Brian's chaste kiss.

"Happy Birthday, mon Angel," he said softly. "Happy Birthday."

The End