Gabriel burst into the bar, his long, brown coat flapping with the rush of air has he flung the doors open and startled the majority of patrons in the room. He apologized profusely for the interruption, which seemed to appease everyone more or less. As everyone returned to their drinks and the jazz combo started up again, Gabriel scanned the room, finding one familiar face at the bar. The man’s face had not turned when he had entered, as it was too busy contemplating the bottom of the half-empty glass. He walked over to the man, excusing himself to all of the patrons he bumped into on the way over.
The man’s features were angular and lean, the face of a man not older than his early twenties. Yet when Gabriel approached him, he saw the deep, sad eyes of the much older man he knew.
“There you are, Michael,” said Gabriel, “I rushed over as soon as I got your call. I thought I was going to find you dead from how you were sounding.”
“Nah, not yet…” said Michael, his eyes not moving from the glass on the bar, “I was working up to it.” True to form, he wore a long, dark coat with a grey knit scarf. It was appropriately fashionable and, if the phone call were any indication, would be matching his mood that evening.
“Michael, it’s your birthday. You’re turning one-hundred today. It’s supposed to be big! I remember my hundredth. It was way back. There was a concert at the local opera house and-”
“It was her birthday too,” interrupted Michael, “She would have been ninety-six.”
Gabriel stopped in his tracks, suddenly understanding. “Cecile…” He was used to not seeing Michael around on his birthday, but he had forgotten why.
Michael nodded, tears welling in his eyes. “Yeah. Cecile…”
“It’s the first year that you’re not at the cabin…”
“Not much use going by myself. Lay in a room and miss her? I can do that from home. More importantly,” he said, standing up and reaching over the bar to grab a bottle of whiskey and topping off his own glass, “I can do it from a coffin just as well.”
The bartender seemed momentarily flustered by the overstepped boundaries, but a venomous glare from Michael led him back to his business cleaning glasses.
“Or you can move on, Michael. You’re an Immortal, for Christ’s sake. You can’t mope for all eternity. She wouldn’t want you to -”
Michael tossed back his glass and stood up, taking the bottle with him. “I knew it was a mistake to call you. I should have just left a damn note,” he said as he moved towards the front door.
“Wait! Michael!” said Gabriel, getting up to follow him before noticing the bartender looking angry again. Realizing Michael probably hadn’t paid, Gabriel quickly fumbled through his own wallet and slid a hundred dollar bill down onto the bar. The bartender appeased, Gabriel now stumbled after his friend.
Michael was already outside, the thick-armed bouncer holding a hand to his chest.
“You can’t take that,” said the burly man, nodding to the bottle.
“I’d be impressed if you could stop me,” replied Michael, shaking off the hand and turning to walk around the bouncer.
The bouncer made a grab for Michael’s shirt and was startled when he found nothing but air. Michael had stepped out of the way and now reached up to grab the bouncer’s wrist with his free hand, leveraging him with the arm that held the bottle and turning the man over his hip, throwing him to the ground.
The man landed with a satisfying thud, groaning at the sensations that his body sent him regarding the fact that his spine had just come into contact with pavement.
Michael walked off, continuing his progress out into the night as if the man were simply a spill that he had walked around. He walked on the edge of the road, oncoming traffic swerving slightly to avoid him as they blared their horns.
Gabriel quickly ran up to the bouncer, kneeling down in front of him and offering a hand. “If it makes you feel any better, I did pay for the bottle.”
The burly man refused the hand, grunting as he got himself off of the ground. “It doesn’t. Just follow your friend and make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone, 'kay?"
“That’s the plan,” replied Gabriel, waving a hesitant goodbye as he ran after his younger friend.
Gabriel trailed just behind Michael, keeping up with his relentless pace.
“You called me, not the other way around. Can you please talk to me?”
Michael walked on obstinately, the only change from his forward motion to take a swig out of his bottle. An Immortal’s metabolism did not exactly process alcohol the same way, but enough of it would start to take its toll. Judging by the volume of whiskey remaining, Gabriel knew that Michael would certainly be feeling it by now.
“I thought you put this behind you! You told me you were dating! That there was a cute girl you were -”
“All lies,” said Michael, gesturing wildly with the bottle, “It’s only six months. How could I put it past me that quickly?”
“Quickly?” said Gabriel, “She was a mortal. You knew this would happen when you met her. It’s the only way this could happen. You’ve had fifty years to prepare!”
Michael wheeled around and threw the bottle at Gabriel, who managed to step out of the way as it sailed past his head and shattered against the pavement behind him. “You can’t prepare! It always hurts, no matter how much you think about it beforehand. No matter how much we talked about it beforehand, no matter how much she told me she wanted me to move on. When she passed, I could see how scared she was, how alone. I couldn’t even…” he trailed off as the tears threatened to return.
Gabriel sighed, his voice sympathetic, “Yes, but you need to move past that. It may be the first time it’s happened to you, but it won’t be the last. It’s the nature of it all, Michael. Just...Michael?”
Michael’s gaze had wandered off, the grief and anger replaced by a curious blankness as he stared at the passing cars.
“Michael, are you okay? You look- Jesus! Michael!”
A car narrowly missed him as Michael suddenly jumped further into the road, standing now in the middle of the lane.
Cautiously looking both ways, Gabriel followed him into the road and reached for his shoulder. Michael struggled, attempting to knock Gabriel's hand aside and move further into traffic. Not having it, Gabriel readjusted, grabbed Michael by the collar of his jacket and threw him bodily back to the sidewalk.
Michael landed on the curb and laid back as his friend walked back to the curb to stand over him. He looked up into the starry night and watched his breath turn to vapor in the cold. “Just let me die, Gabe. I can’t do it anymore.”
Gabriel sighed, offering his arm to help him up. “Come on, Michael. We’re going to take a walk. I want to show you something.”
Michael rejected the hand and stood up, but voiced no word of complaint. “Where?”
It was Gabe’s turn at silence as he began walking along the sidewalk the other way, hands in his own coat pockets, Michael following close behind.
They walked further away from the commercial center to a residential district, covered with old, run-down high rise apartments. Gabriel turned into one of these which looked to have been vacant for at least a decade.
They entered through the creaking door, immediately met by the smell of mildew. The only light was that of the streetlights coming in from the outside windows, casting beams that highlighted the dust motes floating through the air from even the minor disturbance of the pair's entrance. Neither commented on the locale as they climbed the stairs through the building, going up floor by floor until they came to the roof.
The metal door groaned when Gabriel opened it, protesting use after years of neglect. Michael followed cautiously, his curiosity seeming to get the better of his melancholy.
Standing at the door, Michael watched as Gabriel walked over to the side of the building and stepped up onto the ledge, motioning for Michael to join him.
Michael followed cautiously, walking up the side and peering over the ledge. It was quite the drop, well over a hundred feet. Gabriel offered him a hand up and Michael accepted it, climbing out onto the ledge with him. It was nearly as wide as his feet, the toes of his shoes peering over the edge out into empty space.
They stood in silence, neither moving and Gabriel not explaining himself. However, Michael gradually started to notice things about the view. It was higher than the other nearby buildings, allowing a view of the nearby commercial center, visible in all of its well-lit splendor, as well as the forest in the distance and the city proper.
There was something about the sight which moved Michael, causing something to stir in him which he had been fighting down, a thing which wanted to vanish the tears and the anger, throwing it into the wind and resigning himself back into that endless motion of the Earth around the sun.
“Why did you bring me here, Gabriel?” asked Michael, not turning his head from the view.
Gabriel chuckled, “Because this is where I stood just over sixty years ago when Julian died,” he said, looking out at the expanse, “I must have stood here for half the night, thinking about ending my miserable little existence.”
Michael’s eyebrows raised with surprise. “What stopped you?”
Gabriel motioned with his hand out to the city below. “This stopped me. I looked over it all and everything reminded me of him,” he said, pointing to different parts of the city, “That coffee shop used to be a cute little diner where we met. Over there is the library where we would hang out after work, reading books by old dead men and me lying about times that I met them.”
Michael followed the gaze, almost seeing the years strip back to the town as it was in the sixties. He recognized the places of course, but at the time he had wanted nothing more than to see the world and had spent little time in the town. “I remember them. It’s changed a lot by the years.”
“It has, but the memories haven’t.”
Michael looked down at his feet, feeling the sensation of vertigo as he fought his body’s urge to step back from the ledge and onto the firm ground. “That’s what’s killing me, Gabe. It’s the memories. Everything I look at…”
“I know, Mike. But they’re also the only parts of them we can keep alive.” He set an arm on Michael’s arm and looked into his eyes, “That’s our job as Immortals. To keep them alive.” With that, he stepped down from the ledge and back onto the building and walked back inside.
Michael did not follow, but Gabriel did not turn around. Still, Gabriel's heart beat in his chest as he worried what choice his friend would make. Would he open the door downstairs and find his friend splattered against the sidewalk?
He walked slowly, trailing his hand along the dusty handrail as he postponed the moment, hoping he would hear the door groan open above him.
All was silent until he reached the door and exited back into the cold night air. Behind him in the building, back in the staircase, Gabriel heard the familiar creak of the metal door as it opened.
Gabriel sighed with relief and smiled. “Happy Birthday, my friend," he said quietly, "Here’s to another hundred years…”
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