It's funny how quickly your whole life can change.
Mine changed the moment Raphael, my friend and colleague, burst through the screen door of our house. He looked the most panicked I had ever seen him, which really set off alarm bells. He wasn't much one for panic Raphael; melodrama though was an entirely different matter, but I digress...
As I was saying, Raphael had practically torn off the door in his panic and I, since I tend towards more of the calm assessment of contingency plans, was already planning escape routes before I'd even asked him what was wrong. Though I didn't even get to ask in the end, he wasn't prepared to wait about for niceties.
"Shit! Shit! Shit!"He exploded, which I must admit startled me a little bit since my mind was more on exits than expletives. I absentmindedly took in the fact that he was making that sort of claw with his left hand that people only ever seem to make when they're trying to articulate distress. I steeled myself for what he was about to say, I think on some level I already knew exactly what it was going to be.
"It's Michael." He was calmer now; the news was delivered in a detached monotone. It was probably the only way he could say it. I let out the breath I didn't know I'd been holding, unfortunately this just made him agitated again and suddenly he launched into an explanation filled with non sequiturs and awkward pauses.
"Oh Gabe they found out about what he was doing. One of those fuckers he was hanging about with, one of them must have told her! That bitch. I mean he was so damn careful otherwise...I can't believe this! I mean... Oh shit Michael... They're going to... Oh shit..." There was a loaded pause; I probably could have filled in for him, deep down I knew exactly what he was going to say. To be honest, I think a part of me wanted to punish him for being the one to deliver the news.
"They're going to burn him. Tomorrow. In front of everyone." The monotone was back but this time it was followed by only loaded silence. Raphael regarding me steadily.
'I haven't thought this through,' I remember thinking 'I let him take the bullet, he had to tell me about Michael's mortal peril, and now he's going to make me take the fall for saying what needs to be said!'
My gaze shifted from Raphael's face down to the grey stone floor, I was avoiding all eye contact with, what were in my mind, his accusatory eyes. It needed to be said alright, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to feel guilty for saying it.
"There's nothing we can do for him anymore, we tried, we tried to make him stop... But he didn't and there's nothing we can do about it now... We have to go..."
He gave me a look dripping in acid and followed it with words doused in more of the same.
"If you think for one damn second I'm leaving him..." He was practically vibrating with anger. I took a step back, maybe I'd read the situation all wrong?
"Look, Raphael, don't do this... We both know we have to go, I mean what do you want us to do? Take on all the armies of heaven? I'm good, yeah, but I'm not that good, we'd just make things worse for him..." I seemed to be getting through to him, he looked a bit unsure of himself, so I went in for the kill, well or so I thought. Placing a hand on his shoulder, I murmured sympathetically. "He wouldn't want us to share his fate...He'd have wanted us to go."
It didn't really have the effect I'd intended, in fact it had the exact opposite effect, he was now more angry than he had been before I'd said anything at all.
"What the fuck?" He took a step towards me; it probably would have been more intimidating if he hadn't been a whole foot shorter than me. "What makes you think you know what he'd want?!"
Well, now I was angry too.
"Just shut the fuck up!" I erupted. I didn't swear too often, and certainly not at people, it just seems such a waste of words. I know I seem pretty verbose on paper, but I'm not like that in conversation at all, I'm very careful with my words. Issues of verbosity aside, my swearing was shocking enough to get Raphael to actually do as I'd asked him to i.e. shut up, so it turned out for the best.
"I'd like to think that after hundreds of years of friendship I might actually have got to know him a little bit. And maybe, just maybe I'd like to think that friendship mattered to him enough that he wouldn't want me to throw my life away on a suicide mission that has literally no chance of even succeeding!"
I could see the spell had been broken and that Raphael was about to interject, and probably with some thing stupid to boot, so I cut him off.
"And stop acting like you're the only one who even cares."
"Well if you care so damn much, then why don't you act like it?" The little bastard countered, he said it in this faux innocent voice, like it was this deep question he was really wondering about. It was a low blow, he knew I was talking sense and he knew there was nothing else we could possibly do. There were no other options.
He didn't like it though. He didn't like the solution and he detested the problem and so he took it out on me. In other words, someone had to take the blame and it would be cruel to assign it to Michael, I mean, I can see all that with hindsight, but at the time I was just really, really annoyed.
I could see he was about to say something else, probably something so hurtful it would devolve into a straight up physical fight. In the end I decided to just take pre-emptive action and well, I'm not proud of this, but I took the easy way out and just knocked him out in advance. It was as simple as that, he wasn't a fighter Raph, so all it took was a fist to the face and he was out like a light.
I stared down at his prone form for a few seconds, unconsciously rubbing my knuckles, but then I shook myself out of it. I reasoned I'd have plenty of time to feel bad about it later (though to be honest I don't really feel particularly bad about it now) but I would never get the chance to at all if I didn't leave now. I had more pressing concerns to attend to; I needed to pack for a hasty departure.
And a whole new life.