Six years and the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Azriel took in the familiar sights of the Seattle night life; just one more small thing that gave him a bit of comfort. Clubs and bars may have changed names, or even hands, but the ebb and flow of the nightly throngs were as reliable as the tides. As the sun goes down, the tide rushes in to the sounds of music, dancing, and drink; and as the sun rises, it recedes back out again to prepare for the next evening.
Azriel drank it all in as he made his way down the crowded streets in the light rain. Music and merriment wafted out of the various establishments to wash away the desperation of the day. Around here, you were bathed clean of the stress and stink of life by music, food, and drink to suit any and all tastes. Everywhere you went you could make friends for the night over drinks and music or a vid-cast of the local Urban Brawl or other games as each person sought escape from the drudgery of their lives. It was the heartbeat of merriment that the streets of Seattle allowed when the sun went down.
Before long, he found himself in front of the Forgotten Legacy Garden. The two towers standing out front were dressed black vests with white button down shirts and black neck ties. They looked classy, but despite that there were the obvious mounds of muscle visible below it all and an air that broached no tolerance of any kind of trouble. Even for trolls, these two were menacing.
Azriel flashed the charm that Lilly had imparted to him earlier that day as he reached the door. The glowers he received could freeze most men’s blood, but they gave him no trouble as he crossed the threshold into the establishment.
If looks could kill… he thought, grinning.
After handing over his coat to the woman behind the counter at the coat check, the doors to the Garden gave way and he was hit with a tidal wave of sight and sound and smell.
The Forgotten Legacy Garden was in full bloom. What had once been a rat’s nest of a strip club, Lilly had transformed into a thriving burlesque house with a turn of the millennium theme. Patrons sat at tables around the main floor sipping at drinks, eating food and enjoying the music and on stage entertainment. Flower boxes and other plants illuminated by striking shades of light adorned alcoves in the walls once used for private dances. The once shoddy stage had been completely redone. What had once been a spot for many to devour the naked flesh of others with their eyes had been turned into a spot where the spotlight now shown down on the actual talent of dance and other entertainments. He immediately recognized the elf girl on stage. Amaryllis had transformed into a beauty just as Lilly had. Her movements on stage were hypnotic as she moved to the classic rock coming through the speakers. To one side of the stage stood a series of instruments for the live music that was played on the weekends.
Azriel drank it all in before making his way farther in. The bar jutted out into the room a bit allowing people to sit around on almost all side; and behind it, of course, was Lilly. She certainly had no shortage of customers sitting around but she still managed to spot Azriel from across the room just moments after he walked it. Her smile for him was warm and genuine when their eyes met. He didn’t need to see her aura to know what the slight twinge in the back of his head was. Letting the tendril of magic take hold, he heard her voice in his head as clearly as if she were next to him.
“Booth in the back corner.”
“Got it,” he thought back to her and he began to pick his way around to there.
“And Manto, try not to cause too much damage to my place.”
He looked over to her and there was a wry grin on her face. She would never knowingly put him in the way of any real harm, but if she thought there was a chance for things to become physical then they likely would. It was a sobering thought.
“No promises, Awenasa.”
An amused grin spread across her face and he felt the link close between them as she turned back to her customers. Azriel summoned a minor spirit to his side as he continued to make his way around to the booth she had mentioned. It was invisible, but he could feel its presence and sense its eagerness to help.
Must be a young one.A couple of the staff whom he knew years ago did quick double in recognition as he made his way by, but none broke stride from their duties. Finally, he paused and found who it was Lilly had mentioned, and he felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders.
Azriel made his way to stand in front of the table of the fellow who was staring down intently into his drink through long stands of dark hair. He said nothing, merely waiting for his presence to be noticed. When the fellow finally looked up at him, Azriel could see the recognition flash through his eyes. Azriel grinned down at him, but his smile melted away as the recognition in the other’s eyes turned to a dangerous glower. He said no words as he stood up, nearly a full head taller than Azriel and certainly wider. Six years clearly hadn’t diminished his muscle much as the very size of the man spoke of raw power.
It all happened in almost the blink of an eye. The other fellow rocked back and put his full weight behind his fist. Azriel didn’t move; he didn’t have to. He merely had to think and already the spirit by his side was springing to action. One of the empty bottles fell off the table and managed to roll its way underneath the foot of the other man just as he setting it. The full weight of him faltered as his foot flew out from under him and he went crashing down through the table, knocking its contents over onto himself as he collapsed on the floor.
Beer dripping down his hair into his face, he looked up at Azriel with a slight grin.
“I should have remembered the spirits.”
“Yeah, you should have omae. It’s good to see you, Crowley.” Azriel allowed a slight laugh to escape him as he reached down to him.
Crowley took it gratefully and Azriel hauled the man to his feet. His smile was big and genuine as he embraced Azriel and lifted him off the ground. Azriel could almost feel his ribs straining under the strength of the man.
“Air…” Azriel wheezed.
Crowley dropped him to the floor with a chuckle that resonated from the depths of his chest as Azriel took in gulps of oxygen.
“What is it with everyone feeling the need to hurt me as a way of saying ‘Hi’?”
“Guess we’re just making sure you haven’t gone soft,” Crowley responded as he slapped him on the back with a dull thud. “Sit down. Let’s get a drink! HOI! Two Razorbacks!” he boomed out to the nearest waitress who nodded with a smile in response.
“You know, I knew you’d come back here first. Ever since you and that pretty little thing went and got them tattoos. Been here almost every night since I got back, just waitin’ for you. Knew if anyone was gonna make it out of that damned mess; you’d be one of ‘em. You were always too damned stubborn.”
“Guess it paid off then didn’t it?” Azriel responded as two bottles were placed before them on the table. “And you; you’ve been here almost nightly getting sauced just looking for me?”
“Well, the drink is good, the company better. Seemed like as good a place as any,” he said as he took a long draught from his bottle. “Besides, wouldn’t know where the hell to find anyone else. What the hell you been up to?”
“Wandering,” he said into his drink. “You?”
“Same thing we all probably did. Went to ground and stayed there. Just poked my head out a couple years ago. Got tired of playing hide and seek. Glad to see you haven’t lost the support of your little spirit friends,” Crowley said glancing around as if he were trying to see them.
He couldn’t of course. He was not one of the Awakened and so things on the other side of the mirror remained hidden to him. Azriel grinned as he remembered how they always made him so uneasy.
“Had to keep someone around until I found friends again, even if they’re only imaginary,” he said, half mocking him.
The two laughed ruefully at that and sat in silence for a while. Azriel scarcely heard the music through the speakers. His mind was racing. All the “what if’s” and insecurities that he had fought down for so long came flooding back to the surface. It was comforting to know that he wasn’t the only one. Crowley had the same look on his face.
“How have you been?” Crowley asked in an almost severe tone. Azriel could sense the tension, and almost a hint of regret in his voice.
“I’m not dead yet.”
A silence passed between them.
“Do you ever talk about it?” Crowley asked.
“Do you?” Azriel responded.
Another silence. Neither of them really wanted to talk that night. Odds were they were chased by their own personal daemons ever since their split. Both knew what had happened, both knew that too many had died.
How many didn’t need to?
The silence continued as they both tipped their glasses to their lips. Neither of them said anything. Neither of them needed to. They merely drank their silent toast to friends dead and lost.
“Have you found anyone else in your wanderings?”
His question hit Azriel square in the chest and Azriel could feel his stomach drop. He had forgotten that Crowley could read most people like a book. In truth, he had hoped to avoid this all together, but knew the futility of that hope. It was bound to come up, better now than put it off. Despite his slight lack of decorum and common sense, Crowley had a way of being surprisingly perceptive and even empathetic when it came to sensitive matters.
“Yeah,” Azriel almost choked out. “I found Gabriel when I was up in Quebec a few months ago.”
Crowley had an almost expectant look on his face as Azriel took a steading breath.
“They had her laid out and flayed open like some lab rat on a table. I would have been there next to her if I hadn’t gotten out quickly enough. I lost a few good friends that night.”
Crowley said something Azriel didn’t understand. He had never learned Russian, but he didn’t need too much imagination to figure it out. Another moments silence passed between them, punctuated almost mockingly by the music and laughter around them. Crowley looked back to him and held his drink in Azriel’s direction.
“Never lost, just waiting for us,” Azriel responded and the two drank to memories. “What about you? Have you found anyone?”
A smile broke across Crowley’s face. “I was hoping you’d ask that. I got a kitten back home that’s going to be very happy to see you.”
Crowley stood up to leave and Azriel finished his drink and followed suit. He began to make his way towards the door but stopped when he noticed Crowley wasn’t following.
“Don’t tell me you’ve gotten cheap on me in the past few years?” Crowley said looking at the empty booth.
“No, but I see you still are,” Azriel sighed as he made his way back and tossed some of the few credits he had on him on to the table.
“We all make our way in the world somehow, Az,” Crowley said as he put his arm around him. “I just happen to be prettier than you so people pay for me.”
Azriel laughed to himself at that as they made their way to the door. It was comforting to know that Crowley was still himself after six years.
Six years and the more things change, the more they stay the same.