Gabriel finds her in a garden. There are no flowers – it isn’t the season – but the tufts of herbs and parchment-thin leaves make a pretty picture, green against the eternal lapis of the sky, or whatever. She is praying; Gabriel catches that display of devotion in one metaphysical fist and quashes it before it can reach the ears of celestial middle management. She’s going to look up, in a moment, and he’s hoping not to alert the entire family to his little daytrip to Nazareth when she does.
Which, as it turns out, is the least of his worries. Mary sees him, and the first noise to leave her lips is an inchoate cry of terror.
Real holy, that.
“You’re breaking my heart, sister,” Gabriel moans, holding his hands up in an approximation of surrender. Or, what he presumes is an approximation of surrender. He’s lacking experience in that area. “Seriously, you got nothing to fear from me. I’m one of the good guys.”
He encircles ‘good guys’ in air quotes, if only so Mary doesn’t make any assumptions about his allegiances. Gabriel is immeasurably bored with people’s assumptions.
She doesn’t understand, though. Typical. Instead, eyes flicking between Gabriel and the nearest exit (a doorway into the ramshackle pile of sticks and dung that passes for a house around here), Mary flings herself to her feet, attempting to flee. Which, all considered, is not the smartest of actions.
As he’s feeling charitable, he gives her three seconds’ head start before snapping his fingers and appearing in front of her. She gasps. She hadn’t even made it out of the garden, though there’s a path of mangled grasses and ezov where she tried.
“Who are you?” she asks, and whether that’s fear or awe in her voice, Gabriel really couldn’t say.
“Nobody,” he admits.
“And why are you dressed so strangely?”
It seems he has forgotten to ditch the furs. Come to think of it, that explains a lot.
After a moment of thought, Gabriel decides to run with it. “’Cause I’m rich and powerful, so listen up.” He crosses his arms, and tries to remember why exactly he had thought that woollen undershirts would go well with his Galilee outfit. He is itchy and sweaty and this is exactly the kind of consequence of defection that he detests. “See, there isn’t a great way to put this, so I’m just gonna come out and say it-“
“You’re not going to assault me?” Mary has a little crease between her eyebrows as though she’s thinking really hard about this one, and Gabriel doesn’t like it one bit.
So, he continues. “Kiddo, the coming moons are going to be a tad difficult for you, being as you’re-“
“See,” says Mary, and now they’re both folding their arms, isn’t that just precious, “when you appeared like that, I thought you were going to attack me.” She looks a little sheepish, suddenly. “As you’re a demon, I felt it was acceptable to use this to defend myself.”
The woman is actually proffering a clay jar. Gabriel has no idea why she lugged the thing out here. Either she was watering the plants, or Mary cheerfully anticipates the odd spiritual brouhaha. And, for that matter: “Where were you even keeping th-“ He catches himself. “Look, no, we’re getting sidetracked.” If he sounds desperate, it’s because he didn’t actually expect Daddy’s virginal handmaid to be threatening to brain him with an amphora.
“From what, demon?” Now, she’s glaring. And muttering under her breath. A prayer, probably, and Gabriel has to mentally stifle it again before the entire Host decides to make with the smiting.
“From your destiny!”
With that out in the open, they both deflate a little. Again, in tandem. This is beginning to feel like reliving a particularly cranium-curdling conversation with one of his brothers, probably Michael, which is so very not okay.
“I have a destiny?” Mary asks, blinking. She manages to pull that off, somehow – really rocking the startled deer look. Good on her.
“Yup.” Gabriel permits himself a long, world-weary sigh. “And those sons of a very specific bitch were just gonna let you live unawares.” He rolls his eyes, including all three hundred and twelve of those belonging to his true form. “Not so smart, in this day and age, but I suppose they’d be willing to wreck a few homes for the sake of a righteous cause.”
“I don’t understand,” says Mary. She’s beginning to look kind of distressed, and Gabriel sees himself as a people person, so he’s considerate enough to take her gently by the arm and sit her back down in the middle of the garden. The jar, he gingerly grasps by one handle. Then he zaps the sucker three parasangs down a bergschrund in Greenland.
“Sweetheart, I sympathise,” Gabriel tells her, giving her a quick pat on the shoulder. (She shies away.) “But that’s fate for you. You know, this doesn’t actually have to be a bad thing. See, the Lord’s got you picked out – you’re just that pious – and, hey, so maybe you don’t get the greatest variety of names to pick from, but your baby’s gonna be a star – almost literally-“
“I… what?” She’s practically lithified, mouth opening and closing like a trout’s. Gabriel’s heard that a number of cherubim had backed the Neanderthals over earth’s current bunch, and right now, he’s inclined to agree. Humanity is not the quickest species on the uptake.
“You’re pregnant,” he says, and watches as her mouth stops closing.
After a very long period of stunned silence, Mary gathers herself. “I don’t think that’s possible,” she informs him.
“Honey, I’m not here to judge.”
“No,” says Mary firmly, “I’m engaged. That’s not possible.”
“Is so,” Gabriel retorts. “Abundantly.”
“Oh,” says Mary, “you’ve got to understand, I’m faithful.”
“Never said you weren’t.”
“Well, there’s no way for that to happen. See, when a husband and a wife love each other very much-“
It is at this exact moment that Gabriel decides that this is not a conversation he is willing to have with the handmaid of the freaking Lord. Abruptly, he stands.
Time to get this show on the road.
“Look, sister,” he hazards, “let’s start this conversation over, because we’re on a tight schedule, and you’ve been pretty insistent on derailing everything I’ve said so far.”
Gabriel closes his eyes, feeling for the metallic lustre of his true visage, finding it sharply delineated against the dusty streets of Nazareth; its silhouette is dazzling gold verging on white, a form composed of creation itself. He allows the power to seep through the trembling membrane of his vessel, spreading a hundred sets of elegant wings. Mary’s face is open and childlike with wonder.
“Fear not,” says Gabriel, with some satisfaction.
She prostrates herself before him, but is not speechless – apparently, Mary is rarely speechless. “I took you for a demon,” she says, “and I beg your forgiveness, oh archangel: Michael!”
Gabriel retracts his wings. Very, very carefully, he replays that last sentence in his head.
When he has regained control of his vessel’s face, he says, “Michael?”
Mary’s doing the deer thing again, eyes carefully averted. “Yes, holy one.”
It seems a lost cause, so Gabriel kneels in front of her, gesturing for her to sit up. He never really got the hang of the whole veneration thing.
…Well, maybe he got it a little. Nonetheless, it feels inappropriate.
“First thing’s first,” he says gently, “I haven’t been holy in a long time. I’m no demon, but if Heaven’s got a problem child – that’s me.” Somewhat more petulantly, he adds, “and, another thing? The name’s Gabriel.”
“Sorry,” she says, as though she understands very little of what he is saying, but expects punishment for just about all of it.
“Not your fault,” he replies immediately, and feels proud of his own magnanimity. Because, seriously – Michael? “It’s like I said: you’re the favoured one, here. You’ve been chosen to give birth to God’s own. Just a human, mind you, but a pretty spectacular one.” This is getting awkward, but he plunges on regardless. “At any rate, Joseph should know. Otherwise he’ll be pissed. And I should be getting off. Otherwise my family will be pissed, too.”
“The father?” asks Mary, quietly.
“Told you,” says Gabriel. “God.”
She looks kind of sceptical, and he gets that, so he says, “Wasn’t your cousin barren? She’s, like, six months pregnant, now. God’s a pretty swell guy.”
Mary nods sagely.
“We done here?” Gabriel asks, and, rather unexpectedly, he finds that she is grinning.
“I’ll serve,” Mary says. “Absolutely. I am the Lord our Father’s handmaid, according to the word of angels!”
“Something like that,” he says. He wants to tell her that no one else was going to do this; that they all thought she could cope in a void. That they would have let her alone and protected her only in the darkest of moments, and the whole thing would have been the most screwed up test of character imaginable. And, maybe he would tell her that he respects the kind of person who might make it through that. That he just wishes that bad things happened to bad people, that that’s how he runs it in his corner – a corner in which she is totally welcome if she ever needs a place to stay.
It’s so much easier to shut up and leave, though, so he gives her an awkward kind of half-hug and a kiss on the cheek, muttering in her ear that whilst ‘Jesus’ is strictly canonical, ‘Gabe’ would totally work as a nickname. Then he smoothes the wrinkles out of his sweaty furs, and leaves her alone in the ezov. The scent of the broken stems anoints her like perfume.