A Muleskinner was slid across the countertop, from the bartender to a gentle-eyed customer with a head of impossibly white-blonde curls. “Thank you, sir,” the man with gentle eyes said, nodding in the bartender’s direction and smiling kindly.
His politeness seemed to confuse the bartender, setting him into an internal frenzy, deciding what to say next. It merely came out as a “m’course,” and a gruff cough. He walked away to scrub the empty tables with a dry rag. They were already clean.
Next to him sat a taller man, broad shouldered and dressed in plain grays and whites. His hair was an almost black shade of gray and his eyes were serious and brown— so brown that, in certain lighting, they looked a deep, royal purple. The other customers sitting about the saloon— gambling, drinking, talking— all treated him with an unspoken, uncomfortable reverence.
The gentle-eyed man took a sip of the blackberry liqueur and smiled, sighing contentedly, “Goodness, Gabriel, this is quite good,” he said in the direction of the purple-eyed man.
“Figured you’d like it. Since you’re into all that sweet stuff. Don’t know why you put that into your system.” He scoffed in response.
The gentle-eyed man’s expression became a little less vibrant as he looked down at the drink, “Well, thank you for thinking of me.”
Gabriel hummed and glowered at a man who was getting a bit too worked up over a poker game. The man lowered his voice and stopped slamming his fists against the tabletop. Looking back at the gentle-eyed man, he changed the subject, “Now that you’ve settled in here, Aziraphale, we’re gonna need you to… y’know. Keep watch. Set people straight. Be a little intimidating.”
Aziraphale fiddled with the glass of translucent magenta that sat in front of him, “Right… Right…” he was beginning to regret ever moving out of the city.
Gabriel eyed Aziraphale, sighing, “And maybe... Lose the gut. You’re a man of the law, now, Aziraphale! Strike fear into our enemies. We need to enforce law any way we can.”
Aziraphale let out a small, pitiful sound before nodding. He didn’t like the sound of that— No, in fact, he hated the sound of that. Him? Scaring people into submission? Aziraphale didn’t have the heart to.
Why in the world did he agree to follow Gabriel and the others here? He could have just said a simple “no” and stayed in the comfortable city, in his bookshop, reading and leaving the criminals for others to deal with.
But Gabriel, in his letters to Aziraphale, convinced him that great fortune lie in the Southwest. Well, kind of. He mostly just talked about how often law was ignored and how it absolutely needed to be set into place.
But, he also talked about adventure, a landscape unimaginable by anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves, and the miles of beautiful, untouched land. The orange and red cliffs and high mesas that seemed to reach for the heavens sounded almost poetic to Aziraphale-- even when described in Gabriel’s passionless words. Those were the portions of his letters that Aziraphale didn’t skim over. He would have dreamt of the desert horizon every time he closed his eyes if he had only known what it had looked like, so, instead he dreamt of knowing. He dreamt of sitting miles and miles away from civilization, knowing exactly where he was and how to return home, alone with a book, or, perhaps, with someone else.
Aziraphale hadn’t a clue who this someone was or would be. He didn’t exactly care who, either, as long as he cared about them… and as long as it wasn’t Gabriel, Michael, Uriel, Sandalphon, or anyone else he was familiar with, for that matter. Instead, maybe someone familiar with the area, who could show him what beauty the southwest had to offer and take him on all kinds of lovely adventures. Someone benign, who wouldn’t push him around. Someone--
“Aziraphale,” he heard his name being said sternly by an annoyed Gabriel. He may have said it more than the one time Aziraphale actually began to pay attention. It’s not that he really heard his voice over his stream of consciousness, it’s just that Gabriel looked like he had been waiting for something longer than he would have preferred, “Are you even listening to me?”
“Sorry, sorry,” Aziraphale stammered, holding his glass under a white-knuckled grip, “I just-- I got a strange, sudden headache, I’m sorry. Could be from the heat.”
Gabriel cleared his throat, eyeing Aziraphale to make sure he had his full attention. He knew a daydreamer when he saw one, but kept his mouth shut to save time. “Anyway, as I was saying, you’re going to have to stick around town. Since I wouldn’t really say you’re… experienced by any means with handling criminals and the like I thought I’d warn you of a few things.”
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale muttered, “Alright.”
“Watch for people with a scar on each temple-- we call them Demons. If you see one, don’t approach them. Tell someone who’s able to deal with them and stay somewhere safe. They belong to a gang they named Hell,” Gabriel spoke coldly, “They’re unpredictable, the sick bastards-- disgustingly trigger-happy, always drunk, murdering and robbing people left and right. They’d take advantage of a lawman like you.”
Aziraphale shuddered, “What if they’re hurting someone? Couldn’t I do anything to--”
“Let em’ go at it for the time being. You come and get someone of authority.”
Aziraphale looked down. Wasn't he supposed to be "someone of authority"? What was the point of being a lawman if he couldn’t do anything to help the townspeople? He knew pretty well that if he were presented with a violent situation he certainly wouldn't know exactly how to respond-- but that doesn't mean he wouldn't do anything at all! Gabriel had given him a revolver (in which he had presented to Aziraphale in a proud voice as a “Colt’s Dragoon Revolver”. Aziraphale pretended to know that this specific gun was something special) and a blazing-red chestnut stallion with a sharp diamond of white between his eyes that almost looked like a blade. All of it seemed like a whole lot of preparation for nothing.
“There’s another outlaw you should be concerned about-- he belongs to Hell but lacks the identifying scars. Usually travels without the rest of the gang. He's known as the Black Rattler. If you see a tall man dressed in all black with round, black-tinted glasses on a fast jet black mare, watch him. No matter what, don’t trust him. He’s deceitful, he’ll tempt you into befriending him, buy you a few drinks, and then bang, there’s two bullet holes in your chest. He preys on lawmen like us, Aziraphale. He despises us. As the name suggests,” Gabriel paused, finishing his rant with a bit of bite in his voice, “He’s a dirty snake.”
A heavy burn of fear and worry that he’d come into contact with any of these people crept into Aziraphale’s chest and sunk low, into his stomach like a shot of whiskey. Another part of him was rather interested in the characters Gabriel described-- who were they, really? Why did they do what they do? He shifted on uncomfortably at the mixed emotions on the wooden barstool, “I’ll keep an eye out. Thank you, Gabriel.”
Gabriel nodded, briefly, standing up and placing a hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder, “Just… shape up a bit before the Demons drag you off.”
Gabriel removed his hand, walking out of the saloon without a goodbye. Aziraphale took notice that he had never paid for the glass of bourbon he had ordered before recommending a Muleskinner to Aziraphale and shunning him for his love for anything sweet (which may have sounded like a joke, but Gabriel’s tone made it seem like a pretty deliberate dig at him, at least to Aziraphale). Nobody else seemed to notice (or care) that no one had charged Gabriel for his drink either, but, nonetheless, Aziraphale slid enough money to pay for both of their drinks to the bartender. He finished his Muleskinner and left the saloon.
As he walked outside, he stood beneath the roof of the porch, leaning against the thin, wooden supporting beams. He dreaded walking out into the harsh sunlight-- he simply wasn't adjusted to it. Nor was he adjusted to anything here. Aziraphale was patient and would give his adaptation to this new terrain and breed of people time-- but with Gabriel's pressure he felt insecure about his uneasiness.
He groaned softly, looking down at his own figure and then up at the cloudless sky, where the sun hung, bright and unrelenting,