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Table of Contents

Chapter One: An Angel Falls Chapter Two: A New Nest Chapter Three: Twisted Feathers Chapter Four: Sunday Mass Chapter Five: The Artist in the Park Chapter Six: Family Dinners Chapter Seven: Talk Between Angels Chapter Eight: When In Rome Chapter Nine: Intimate Introductions Chapter Ten: A Heavy Splash Chapter Eleven: A Sanctified Tongue Chapter Twelve: Conditioned Response Chapter Thirteen: No Smoking Chapter Fourteen: Nicotine Cravings Chapter Fifteen: Discussing Murder Chapter Sixteen: Old Wine Chapter Seventeen: Fraternity Chapter Eighteen: To Spar Chapter Nineteen: Violent Dreams Chapter Twenty: Bloody Chapter Twenty-One: Bright Lights Chapter Twenty-Two: Carving Pumpkins Chapter Twenty-Three: Powder Chapter Twenty-Four: Being Held Chapter Twenty-Five: The Gallery Chapter Twenty-Six: Good For Him Chapter Twenty-Seven: Mémé Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Eye of the Storm Chapter Twenty-Nine: Homecoming Chapter Thirty: Resumed Service Chapter Thirty-One: New Belonging Chapter Thirty-Two: Christmas Presents Chapter Thirty-Three: Familial Conflict Chapter Thirty-Four: Pixie Lights Chapter Thirty-Five: A New Family Chapter Thirty-Six: The Coming New Year Chapter Thirty-Seven: DMC Chapter Thirty-Eight: To Be Frank Chapter Thirty-Nine: Tetanus Shot Chapter Forty: Introspection Chapter Forty-One: Angel Politics Chapter Forty-Two: Hot Steam Chapter Forty-Three: Powder and Feathers Chapter Forty-Four: Ambassadorship Chapter Forty-Five: Aftermath Chapter Forty-Six: Christmas Chapter Forty-Seven: The Nature of Liberty Chapter Forty-Eight: Love and Captivity Chapter Forty-Nine: Party Favour Chapter Fifty: Old Fears Cast of Characters

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Chapter Twenty-Five: The Gallery

1987 0 0

AIMÉ

Aimé had been avoiding his own flat the past while.

After Jean-Pierre had dozed, watching a historical show Aimé didn’t know and hadn’t paid attention to – it had been in Spanish, and he was pretty sure it hadn’t occurred to Jean-Pierre that Aimé couldn’t understand it without subtitles, but hadn’t been invested enough to ask him to turn them on – he had turned in Aimé’s lap, tapping on the cover of the book he had been reading.

“May I ask you a question, mon cœur?” he asked softly. When Aimé blinked down at him, nodding his head, he’d went on, “Are you avoiding your apartment, of late, because you do not wish for your father to visit you?”

Aimé had been surprised. It probably was the main reason he’d been sticking with the angels, but he really hadn’t thought that much about it – he’d been intentionally avoiding thinking about it, and with Jean-Pierre so clingy the past few weeks, it had been easy to just… not go home.

He missed painting, when he thought about it. He’d been sketching a little, but that was all. Jean-Pierre was sensitive to cigarette smoke, and as much as he complained about the paint smell from time to time, it wasn’t the same as painting in the house with him – there just wasn’t great ventilation or anywhere with good enough lighting and enough space to work in this house, except for under the canopy in the back garden.

He hadn’t gone back to pick up any paints, just yet.

He’d been putting it off. He hadn’t let himself think about why.

He’d been quiet for too long, because Jean-Pierre reached up, stroked one of his fingers up the length of Aimé’s wrist, sliding under his jumper.

“Your father has input the enchantment surrounding your flat,” Jean-Pierre said softly. “He commands it, and could always enter if he pleased. I could amend that for you, if you wish.”

“What, so you can control it instead?”

Jean-Pierre smiled, and shook his head. “I can tell you what I do as I do it, you know,” Jean-Pierre said quietly. “You have talent with enchantment – you are literate enough to follow my work.”

“No,” Aimé murmured, shaking his head. There was a kind of thick, uncomfortable catch in his chest, a familiar dragging anxiety, and he wanted to get up and walk downstairs, but Jean-Pierre was a weight in his lap, his cheek pressed against Aimé’s thigh. “I’ve seen the stuff you do. You enchant in twelve styles at once – and a lot of it is Asmodeus’ style, the Egyptian one.”

“You recognise that it is Egyptian, do you not?” Jean-Pierre asked, arching an eyebrow. “You are literate enough that you see where in my enchantment the traditional Welsh style intersects with the Irish, you see where I employ Gallic and Gothic styles. If we went downstairs now, and I pried back the skirting board, you could tell me the origin of every symbol I pointed to, no matter that you might not be able to replicate or even tell me its effect. You are educated in enchantment – you cannot claim ignorance with me, not on this.”

He’d read books on enchantment when he was a kid.

He remembered, distantly, how much it had once interested him – he’d gotten into it more as a teenager, had taken books out of the home library and learned the practical stuff. He wasn’t great at magical theory, and a lot of the descriptions of magic assumed that someone else was giving you practical lessons, but he’d picked up enough – he could keep his wine cool or keep his lunch hot, he could lock a door, he could make an object unobtrusive, he could light a room or mark a spot. Nothing complicated, nothing extremely ornate, but he could do the basics, and he could do them well.

What Jean-Pierre did…

It was the difference between a kid making a circuit with a battery and a lightbulb, and an electrician wiring the whole Sydney Opera House.

He wouldn’t call himself an enchanter.

Aimé had never been allowed in the room when his dad was working, and while he remembered the glimpses he sometimes caught of his father’s office, the complex strings of enchantments pencilled on wax paper so that he could layer them and test them, the little doll houses on which he’d check if they worked, but he’d never really seen him do it.

It was different, watching Jean-Pierre. It was never something private for him – it was casual, easy, and he had explained stuff, before, if Aimé had asked. When De had been here, he’d watched Jean and De show things to one another, too, had seen the way they would pick up each other’s work and ask how they’d done it, why they’d done it that way.

If he’d talked to his father like that…

It wasn’t as if the man would hit him, but the reaction would have been fucking icy, to say the least.

“I can fix it for you,” Jean-Pierre said. “If you want me to. I do not want to take your apartment from you, Aimé – I would have no use for it.”

“You don’t want me hanging around here so much, huh?” Aimé asked.

Jean-Pierre frowned. It was a subtle expression, a little downturn of his pretty lips, a furrow of his handsome brow. “You would have me barred from your flat?”

“No,” Aimé muttered, curling a hand in Jean-Pierre’s hair, stroking through it, “but it’s different, isn’t it? Me hanging around here versus you at mine?”

“Why?” Jean-Pierre asked, tilting his head further into Aimé’s fingers, closing his eyes and arching into the touch like a cat seeking more affection. “Because of Colm?”

“No,” Aimé muttered, scratching loosely over Jean-Pierre’s scalp. It wasn’t Colm – his dad knew where the apartment was, and he knew he or his mother could show up at any time, but that wasn’t the only thing. Colm was right – it was his dad’s apartment, he owned it, and Aimé just lived in it.

Jean-Pierre could change the wards, but it would just be a stopgap, in the event.

“Do you think of God as your father?” Aimé asked.

“He’s your father too,” said Jean-Pierre, and Aimé let out a low, irritated sound, tugging on Jean-Pierre’s hair and making him open his eyes and laugh, smacking his knee. “We joke it about it, from time to time. People ask the nature of Asmodeus and Colm’s relationship to me – they are confused when they see us, three men with such different skin tones, different accents, different features. We say that we share a father: it is true. But I do not think it comparable to your relationship with yours. Does he frighten you?”

“My father?”

“Yes.”

Aimé inhaled, slowly, feeling the air slowly sink down his throat, felt his chest inflate, concentrated on that sensation as he held his breath for a second. “Not like you think he does. I don’t think that he’s gonna hit me, or say anything that’ll hurt me. I’m not scared about him killing me, or having me killed – I don’t think he wants to do that. I just think he’ll do it if I don’t become what he wants.”

“I don’t disbelieve you,” Jean-Pierre murmured. “I have done my own research into your father, Aimé – I hope this does not surprise you. Luc Deverell is an infamously consummate businessman. You know when your great grandfather headed the business, it was as simple as touch locks and strengthened doors. Your father, when he joined your grandfather, innovated – like many businessmen do, he did so with a mix of personal creativity and theft. The result is a security empire, and your father considers himself emperor.”

A sort of cold, uncomfortably slow fear began to trickle down Aimé’s spine, and he stared down at Jean-Pierre’s beautiful face. His expression was entirely casual, innocent, and not, Aimé thought, in the faux way he sometimes looked innocent.

“Jean,” Aimé said quietly. “Have you been researching my dad so you can kill him?”

Jean-Pierre dragged himself up and out of Aimé’s lap, turning to kneel before him on the bed, and his expression was entirely serious, a vision of consternation, as he met Aimé’s gaze and shook his head. “No,” he said emphatically. “No, Aimé, I would never, not without your express permission. He is your father – it is your unimpeachable right to kill him yourself.” After a second, Jean-Pierre added, presumably in response to Aimé’s stunned expression, “Or let him live.”

“Or let him live,” Aimé repeated slightly breathlessly, and Jean-Pierre actually looked nervous for a moment, bit the inside of his lip, tilted his head slightly to the side: his fingers tapped quick patterns upon his own knees even as he leaned in closer to Aimé, so that Aimé could take in that familiar scent of frankincense.

“Your father is not the sort of man Colm and I would be contracted toward. We target people of means, yes, but only those doing direct harm to others – to hoard wealth is in itself a form of violence but we are constrained to some extent by the oversight of the Embassy. There are murders, assassinations, that we can get away with without causing undue stress upon our people. Colm and I both, of course, are capable of making a death look like an accident, but as I say, Luc Deverell is your father. He is within your… territory.”

“So my dad isn’t a trafficker or a murderer, but if he was, you’d kill him?”

“You think I do not respect what is yours.”

“No,” Aimé corrected him slowly, trying his best to be patient, because Jean-Pierre looked offended, looked confused, and it was crazy to him that the angel seemed confused about entirely the wrong things. “No, that’s… That’s not it. I don’t— I don’t want to be responsible for someone dying. I don’t want you to kill anyone and think it’s on my behalf – I don’t want that on my conscience. You understand that?”

Jean-Pierre inhaled, leaning back on his heels, and he looked at Aimé with a neutral expression on his face – there was no judgement in his face, no coldness, only an expression of engagement, interest.

“Do you think me a monster?” Jean-Pierre asked softly. “Because I have taken lives?”

Yes,” Aimé didn’t say. The word burned, almost ready to fall off his tongue, but he didn’t actually lend it voice, just held it in his mouth, rested between his lips, heavy as a bullet. He didn’t want to say it – he wasn’t sure if it was actually true, for one thing, if he really thought Jean-Pierre was a monster, if he still believed it, but more than that, he didn’t want to say it and see Jean-Pierre’s face crumple, see him look hurt.

“I don’t get you,” Aimé said in a low voice. “It’s easy for you, killing people – you don’t have a risk of dying. You don’t know what being afraid of dying is like.”

“A curious thing for a suicidal man to say,” said Jean softly.

“People who are suicidal don’t really want to die, Jean,” Aimé said. He was surprised by how calm he felt, how much he didn’t feel like panicking. “It’s just the only escape route we feel like we have left.”

Jean-Pierre reached for Aimé’s hands, holding them loosely in his own lap, and as he stroked his thumbs delicately over the scars on Aimé’s wrists, it tickled, made Aimé fidget, and then sigh. Jean-Pierre’s gaze was far away, focused on something in the middle distance.

“You ever wish you could?” Aimé asked. “Die?”

Jean-Pierre’s brow furrowed. His lips pressed tightly together – he didn’t meet Aimé’s gaze, but he tipped forward, rested his chin against the crook of Aimé’s neck and slowly clambered into his lap, wrapped his arms around his neck. Aimé’s slid his own hands around Jean-Pierre, crossed them over his lower back and buried his face in Jean-Pierre’s hair, inhaled.

“I would not have you trapped with me,” Jean-Pierre mumbled against Aimé’s shoulder. “With no other home to go to, if you found yourself tired of me.”

“When have I ever said I’m tired of you?” Aimé asked.

For a long while, Jean-Pierre didn’t say anything. The two of them sat there for a pretty long time, wrapped around each other, and Aimé wanted, like always, to ask questions – if he’d wanted to die when his lovers had died, if any of his lovers had ever got tired with, but given that every question he had amounted to “why are you the way that you are, ange?”, he didn’t want to voice any of them.

“There are failsafes in the enchantment,” Aimé said finally. “Tamperproofing.”

Jean-Pierre’s chuckle was dangerous, and when he leaned back, he had a sort of smug, superior expression on his face that made Aimé shiver. “You think I could not circumvent such measures, hm?” Jean-Pierre’s thumb slid over Aimé’s cheek, where stubble was itchy as fuck as it started to grow back, replacing the beard he’d let Jean-Pierre shave away. “And I could show you how to best them, too. You are good at enchantment, Aimé. You do not have need of your father’s tutelage to be great.”

“I don’t want to be an enchanter,” Aimé said. “You know that, right? I don’t want to do what he does.”

“If you wish,” Jean-Pierre murmured after a moment’s thought, “I can adjust the ward structure without teaching you as I go – I can do it, and key it to you. I merely thought you would like to learn.”

“I do,” Aimé said. “But you’re— You don’t have to teach me, you know,” Aimé muttered. “I’m never going to be a master enchanter like you or De.”

“I’m not a master enchanter,” said Jean-Pierre, blinking at Aimé. “I’ve never taken the exams, I couldn’t – I would have to study a great deal to meet the requirements. I enchant like a cowboy, Aimé. Asmodeus has said so – I combine styles, I cannibalise past enchantments, I reroute circuits and turn runic faults into traps for would-be intruders. I don’t have the basis in proper theory, in enchantment history, that you do. Someone must be proficient in at least three standardised enchantment styles and literate in five more to be a master – I am not this, Aimé. Sticking with one style, I couldn’t enchant anything more complicated that a lamp.

“I can teach you how to take apart other people’s enchantment,” Jean-Pierre said softly, “and I can show you the combinations I have learned myself through trial and error – but you could ask any of my brothers, and they would tell you how many times I have burned myself as a result of my haphazard self-tutelage.”

The weight in his chest wasn’t anxiety anymore, it was something else entirely, and to try to distract himself from it, Aimé kissed l’ange, but when Jean-Pierre kissed him back, it just made the feeling swell, his skin burning under his clothes.

“Yeah,” he murmured against Jean-Pierre’s mouth. “Yeah, okay. Teach me.”

Jean-Pierre’s cupped his jaw and kissed him more deeply, and they fell to the side onto the bed together. For the longest time, they didn’t have sex – they just lay there, kissing, and it was—

“I’m in too deep with you, Jean,” Aimé whispered after a while, and Jean-Pierre laughed, and held him all the tighter.

*     *     *

JEAN-PIERRE

He needed the work.

It was not the only reason he suggested he do it, but there was not enough challenge in his current revision, not enough for him to really struggle through studying, and he needed something more complex to dedicate himself to, something that would fill up the whole of his senses and his awareness, that he would be able to submerge himself in.

It was enjoyable, of course, spending time with Aimé, prying back the boards in the flat rafters or insinuating himself into the space in the walls, calling Aimé on his phone and filming the enchantment he was doing while he was doing it, because Aimé could never slide into the gaps in the walls that he could.

It was—

Pleasant.

It was complex work – Luc Deverell used a heavily personalised style of a Welsh-Gallic fusion, and for all it somewhat lacked personally, the actual work was very solid. For any layman uneducated in the process of enchantment, it would be utterly impenetrable, even with certain tools on the market designed for the process; even for someone experienced with enchantment, if they were not proficient in both styles themselves, and had no experience in their combination, it would pose a challenge almost insurmountable.

For Jean-Pierre the work was trying, and satisfyingly complicated, but not at all impossible.

They didn’t talk much as he worked, and in the minutes he took to break, he would sit on the floor of Aimé’s studio or sprawl on one of the sofas, watching Aimé paint.

There was always a certain way Aimé applied himself to his canvases when he hadn’t touched them a little while – he always rolled his shoulders, rolling his head from side to side, too, before he applied his primer, and he did so so very fast one could scarcely make out the brush. He spent some minutes deliberating over his colours, pacing slowly before his shelves, but when he had decided, he would whip out tube after tube, stacking them loosely in the crook of his arm and then stepping to his palette.

“What are you smiling about?” he asked on the third day, as Jean-Pierre rested on the end of the sofa, his chin on top of his wrists and his gaze on Aimé. “I’m not painting you, you know.”

Tomorrow, they would be going to the museum for the exhibition Aimé had mentioned it, and while Jean-Pierre had no particular desire to spend an afternoon about vampires and the other more insufferable immortals who entertained themselves by collecting art, that Aimé was excited, that he was interested, was enough.

“You need not paint me to worship me. I can smile at the latter even lacking the former,” Jean-Pierre said indulgently, and Aimé laughed, tossing his head back to do so. Shooting Jean an amused look, he balanced his paint palette on one arm as he picked up his glass of wine and took a sip.

“Sacrilegious,” he said scoldingly, but he toasted Jean-Pierre as he said it, and he proudly wore his lopsided smile. As he put his glass down and went back to his paintbrush, he asked, casually, as though he had only just thought of it, but Jean-Pierre suspected he had wanted to ask for a while, “How are those nightmares coming?”

He wondered if Colm had mentioned it to Aimé, or if it was simply that Jean-Pierre’s sleep was disturbed of late that had tipped him off, that he woke in the night at times these past weeks, felt the need to crawl closer to Aimé and huddle further beneath the blankets.

Most likely, he was asking because last night, Jean-Pierre had woken in bed to find that Aimé wasn’t beside him anymore, and he had dragged Aimé’s duvet from the bed and crawled to where Aimé was sitting up with his laptop in his lap, and laid silently on the sofa beside him.

“They’re coming,” Jean-Pierre said, shrugging his shoulders from beneath that same duvet.

“What are they about?” Aimé asked. Still casual, still not meeting Jean-Pierre’s gaze and focusing on his canvas, as though it would be easier for Jean-Pierre to answer that way – and it was.

“Past lovers,” Jean-Pierre said softly. “Seeing them… die. And the aftermath of knowing that they are dead. In my dreams, I am confused, caught between epochs, as a ghost between the places it haunts, the events it plays out again and again. And other times, I am tethered in a prison not of my own making.” Most times, actually.

“When you were in jail after trying to kill King Arthur?”

Jean-Pierre nodded.

“Colm said you were in solitary for that,” Aimé said. He wasn’t quite able to retain his casual tone now, and although he tried to keep his gaze on the canvas, his eyes kept flitting to Jean-Pierre, only for a moment each time, but too obviously not to notice.

“Mostly,” Jean-Pierre said quietly.

He remembered it very well, more vividly than he remembered most of his life – long, long hours in a grey-bricked room slightly too cold to be comfortable, no windows, no entertainment, nothing. All he had was a stone bed with a thin mattress and an even thinner blanket, a cold shower head, a simple toilet.

After weeks, he was going mad. After months, he was mad.

And then the visits had started.

“Mostly,” Aimé repeated.

“He started to visit after a year or so,” Jean-Pierre whispered. “Myrddin. There was no trial, no public element to my capture – I had attempted to kill Arthur before, and I believe the king regent had realised that the Embassy – Asmodeus – would never allow for me to be imprisoned in the way he would like. So he did so secretly, and no one knew.”

Aimé did look at him now, and very slowly, he put down his paint palette, and Jean-Pierre could see his hesitation, the way he was torn between coming directly over to Jean and taking a moment to wash his brush first. He dropped it into his paint water to soak, a middle ground for the moment, and Jean-Pierre dropped heavily into his lap as soon as Aimé sank down beside him.

“What did he do to you?” Aimé asked softly, even as with both hands he began to massage slow, wonderful circles on his back, and Jean-Pierre screwed his eyes tightly shut, pressing his forehead against Aimé’s thigh.

“Talked to me,” he murmured. “Watched me, sometimes. Healed me, when I injured myself, but I could never injure myself the same way twice. Fucked me, a few times.”

“He raped you?” Aimé demanded, his voice high and sharp and biting, but his hands remained calculatedly soft. After Jean-Pierre was silent, uncertain how to respond Aimé said, more quietly, “Fuck. Fuck, Jean. I didn’t… know that.”

It wasn’t the word Jean-Pierre would use.

He didn’t know, really, if it was crueller to have fucked him it would have been not to – if Myrddin had never touched him, in all those years he was locked in that dank little cell, he thought he might have split himself to pieces in the aftermath. Six years tethered to one man, in such a way as to make no other man seem alive…

“I begged him, at the time,” Jean-Pierre murmured. “I thought he would stay longer. I could not bear the loneliness, the solitude, that came after a visit of his, so short as it was – I thought if only I could please him, he might stay, if not let me free. Myrddin would leave me alone for weeks at a time – for months, sometimes. When Asmodeus finally came for me and brought me home, I hardly thought that it was real. For nearly a week, I would not let him go. I didn’t dare.”

“I’m surprised Asmodeus didn’t kill him,” Aimé said, and he said it so tightly, with a sort of sharpness to it, a jaggedness, that Jean-Pierre flattened himself further against the sofa, arching his shoulders into Aimé’s hands and squeezing his thighs. Aimé had told him he didn’t want to kill anyone himself, but there were moments, from time to time, where he seemed so close to changing his mind…

And Jean-Pierre liked those moments very much.

 “There are limits to what even Asmodeus can do without retaliation,” Jean-Pierre murmured. “He could undoubtedly kill the king regent with ease, but there would an answer – it would affect the Celestial Embassy. It would affect angels the world over.”

“You’ve never killed a king or queen on the throne?” Aimé asked.

Jean-Pierre thought of Rupert, of blood bubbling up from the base of his throat, of the choked gurgle that sounded from his mouth, his shocked eyes, the screaming…

“Yes, a few times,” he said. “Mundie royalty, for the most part, but not often. It is often best to retain the enemy one knows than to destabilise things in such a way that things will change – to kill the monarch on the throne would lead to another, for the most part. But kill the direct descendants, and when comes that first royal’s death, the people will doubt the inheritor’s legitimacy – their bloodline is too distant, they are surprised by their ascension, they know not how to cope.”

He reached back for Aimé’s hand, pushing it under his blouse, and obediently, Aimé stroked his fingers over Jean-Pierre’s back, pressing hard where he found muscle and making him grunt softly, turning to liquid over Aimé’s thighs.

“Why kill Arthur, then?” Aimé asked.

“Myrddin is regent because Queen Gwenhwyfar declared him so before her death, that he should rule until Arthur wakes. But to kill him would ensure he would not wake.”

“So?” Aimé asked. “That’s no guarantee Myrddin would be dethroned. He’s ruled Cymru-Loegr for like, what, seven hundred years?”

Jean-Pierre sighed as Aimé rubbed at the back of his neck, pressing down hard on the muscle he found there. “I wanted to see what would happen,” he mumbled, and Aimé let out a low, dry laugh.

“Right,” he said quietly. “Right.”

Jean-Pierre fell asleep, a little while after that – he dreamt not of killing Rupert, not of being imprisoned alone, not of lovers being dead, but of Jules and Aimé both. He dreamt of them sharing a bottle of wine, and talking philosophy as Jean-Pierre laid on the floor with Anicroche.

It was a nice dream, pleasant.

When he woke, he found that Aimé had wrapped him in the duvet and put him in one of the tub chairs, and he had carried the chair up to his painting space, knocked a few extra windows ajar and turned the external fan on, so that Jean-Pierre wasn’t unduly affected by the paint fumes, sitting so close.

Jean-Pierre closed his eyes when Aimé turned toward him, and even as Jean-Pierre feigned continued sleep, Aimé touched him gently, touched the side of his cheek.

He was in a good mood, Jean-Pierre thought, and drunker than when Jean-Pierre had fallen asleep: he sang to himself, low and hoarse and not so much off-tune as entirely flat, La Complainte du partisan. It was a wholly ugly sound, and Jean-Pierre basked under it, let it envelop him.

It was a true lullaby, in a way – he slept deeply on its wings, and did not dream at all.

*     *     *

AIMÉ

“I don’t want to go,” Jean-Pierre complained. “Aimé, it is raining.”

Aimé picked up the battered umbrella hanging from the back of the door, and Jean-Pierre looked at it as though it were the most odious object in existence; Aimé next picked up his yellow plastic raincoat, a silly thing he’d picked up for a Halloween party a few years ago, and picked Jean-Pierre’s wrists up like he was a doll, dressing him in the coat like his very own murderous Barbie.

“We’ll get wet,” Jean-Pierre whined. “Can’t we get a taxi?”

“I have an umbrella charm on my bike,” Aimé said, tipping l’ange’s mouth up to his and kissing his lips before he drew away, tugging on the anorak he tended to actually wear on rainy days.

“Is it good?” Jean-Pierre asked doubtfully.

“I don’t know, Jean, I’ll have to decide after you’ve given your critique,” Aimé said, and as Jean-Pierre slid past him, moving stroppily toward the door, Aimé saw the snatch of hidden smile in the hallway mirror, the proof that Jean-Pierre was putting on his brattiness just for the fun of it.

Aimé slapped his arse as he walked past, and Jean-Pierre gasped, but shot him a delighted look, and Aimé shook his head, laughing to himself, as he slung his satchel over his shoulder and pulled his coat onto the other arm, walking beside the angel and pressing on his hips, moving him toward the door.

It felt better, being in the flat and knowing that his dad couldn’t just walk in anymore – Jean had even sorted the downstairs door so that only Aimé and the angels could come in and out, although Jean-Pierre had regretted this as soon as he ordered a takeaway and had to walk all the way downstairs to get it.

(He didn’t: Aimé did.)

Jean-Pierre had slept okay last night too, he thought, although late in the morning, while Jean-Pierre was dozing instead of watching his TV show, he’d jolted suddenly and grabbed for Aimé as soon as he realised Aimé was close to him.

He’d been doing that a lot lately. It bothered Aimé more than the nightmares themselves – Jean-Pierre had always liked to be where people were, had never liked to be on his own, but he seemed more sensitive to it than usual, and it was worrying.

In the lift, Jean-Pierre idly scrolled through his phone, and then he laughed lowly.

“Asmodeus is in Singapore now,” he said, and then tilted his phone toward Aimé, showing a picture of Asmodeus in between a pair of angels that were so short – or, in De’s case, so average-sized – that their heads were in line with his breast, and all three of them were smiling into the camera. Asmodeus was wearing a very tight, wet t-shirt.

“Why are his clothes wet?” Aimé asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jean-Pierre said, shrugging. “Probably to show off his tits.”

“And there was me thinking that was just a side-effect,” Aimé replied, and Jean-Pierre laughed, leaning into him a little. When they stepped outside of the building, Jean-Pierre lingered under the little glass-roofed hall outside of doors as Aimé jogged over to the bike rack to unlock his bike, because God forbid Jean-Pierre walk thirty feet under the rain – and he was smiling about this even as he did it, because it was infuriating, and it should have irritated him, but it was—

Well.

Aimé disliked the word cute, and he definitely didn’t think the word cute should be applied to feral revolutionaries full of bullets and assassination credits, but unfortunately, it did sometimes apply.

It surprised him when his father’s hand grabbed his shoulder to turn him around.

“Get the fuck off me,” Aimé snapped out, twisting his arm around and shoving the other man back: his father was a big man, taller than Aimé, but he couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag even if he wanted to, and he stumbled back from him, set off balance. “Christ, the fuck is wrong with you?”

“You don’t answer your phone,” his father said, “you lock me out of my building, for all I know, you’re dead—”

“Well, I’m not dead, but thanks for your concern,” Aimé said, tugging his chain free and sliding his bike out from the rack.

“You might be soon,” his father said, walking beside him – he didn’t have a coat on, looked like he’d run out of his car, so that his jumper and his shirt were getting soaked under the heavy shower. “You don’t have any idea what you’re taking up with, Aimé – I know I’ve been distant with you, from time to time—”

Aimé started laughing.

“—but that angel will kill you with everyone watching and won’t even bat an eyelid.”

“Good afternoon, Monsieur Deverell,” Jean-Pierre said cheerfully, with a little wave. “Isn’t it lovely weather we are having?”

“Aimé,” his father said seriously, grabbing Aimé’s shoulder again so that Aimé caught his father’s gaze. It actually made him stumble, the look on his father’s face, the turn of his mouth, the wideness of his eyes, the grave expression: he looked seriously, genuinely worried, frightened, and Aimé felt an uncomfortable tug in his chest. His father had never looked at him like that before. “Your mother is beside herself with worry,” he said softly, seriously, almost pleading, “crying all the time, certain we’ll be pulling you out of a gutter or seeing your corpse on the front of a paper. You can’t trust this man, Aimé. Please, I know you don’t trust me, and I’m sorry for that, I am, but please, we just want to keep you safe—”

Aimé slid out from his father’s grip again, getting astride his saddle, and he leaned back as Jean-Pierre slid onto the bike behind him, wrapping his arms around Aimé’s waist and resting his chin on his shoulder.

Aimé didn’t say goodbye as he made his way into the cycle lane, and he could feel his heart pounding in his chest as he glanced back and saw his father staring after him, his greying hair soaked to his head.

“You were not expecting that,” Jean-Pierre said quietly in his ear.

“Nah,” Aimé muttered. “New on the old man’s list of tactics. Don’t worry about it, ange.”

There was a twisting anxiety in the base of his belly as they came into the museum, not to do with Jean-Pierre, really, not worrying about Jean-Pierre hurting him permanently, but just guilt for not having his phone, guilt for avoiding them contacting him, and when they got to the museum, he was grateful for the fact that vampires had no anxiety about day drinking whatsoever.

The Irish Museum of Fae & Magical Art was across one of the finely gardened squares that adjoined the central witches’ market – the magical epicentre – of Dublin. There were two cores of non-fae magical life in the city – there was Mórrigan’s arcade, which was on the other side of the city centre, a tram’s ride away, and this one: this area Aimé would call more cosmopolitan, and Colm would call (and had called) “full of rich cunts and Protestants”.

Aimé had made a very deliberate choice not to ask any questions at all about this particular statement, and luckily, Jean-Pierre, who hadn’t been paying any attention, had changed the subject by coming into the room with Peadar wrapped around his neck, his face buried in the cat’s fur.

It was an ugly building, made of a sort of corpse-grey concrete, four storeys high and with not enough blue glass to make up for the colour of the walls, but once you were inside, it was wonderful – the galleries were high-ceilinged and labyrinthine, easy to get lost in, and they shuffled and updated the exhibits regularly, so that whenever you came in, nothing was where it had been last time.

Aimé had heard from professors in the college that there was a lot of professional rivalry between the two main curation departments, one being all fae and the other being a mix of humans, vampires, and one long-suffering demon called Tycus that Aimé had actually met before – they’d had a drunken argument about whether Van Gogh had killed himself or been murdered in an underground pub on Grafton Street. This rivalry was apparently why the galleries were shuffled around so much, because people kept arguing about what should go where, and he liked it a lot.

“Absinthe,” he said as he came to the bar, which mercifully was open whenever the galleries were. Jean-Pierre was standing in the entranceway to the art museum and drying himself off with a few quick enchantments, just in case someone saw him with mildly damp hair. “And a glass of pineapple juice.” He put an extra ten on the counter and said, “Put a cocktail umbrella or something in it, would you?”

“In the absinthe too?” asked the barman, raising one pierced eyebrow. His name was Daíthi, a Donegal man with a beard made of steel wool that everyone called BJ, and he knew Aimé well enough to pour the half-pint of absinthe and then grab a bottle of the complimentary Sangioevese at the same time. Aimé shot him a grateful look.

“I’ll survive without,” Aimé muttered.

“In the wine maybe?” BJ suggested, holding the umbrella above the glass.

“Fuck off, BJ,” Aimé said, tasting the fresh sweetness of the absinthe on his tongue, and BJ laughed his dark, shuddering laugh, and sprinkled a few candied rose petals on the top of pineapple juice, sticking a cocktail umbrella and a paper bauble on the side of it.

“Like that?”

“Perfect,” Aimé said.

“What kind of fucking girl is this for?”

“The kind that’s not a girl,” Aimé said, and leaned back into Jean-Pierre’s hand as it settled on the centre of his neck.

“Is this for me?” he asked, giving BJ a wide-eyed, delighted look.

Aimé saw the look on BJ’s face, saw the way he blinked twice, looking between Aimé and Jean like it didn’t quite compute, and then he met Aimé’s gaze and raised his eyebrows further, looking a mix of disbelieving and impressed.

“No, ange, it’s for me,” Aimé said. “Do you want the absinthe or the red first?”

“Disgusting,” Jean-Pierre said sweetly, and brought his pineapple juice to his mouth. “Go raibh maith agat,” he said to BJ, who had visibly never heard Irish spoken with such a strong French accent.

“Go ndéana sé maith duit,” replied BJ confidently, and Jean-Pierre beamed.

When he started actually talking, asking BJ where he was from and how long he’d been working here – Aimé thought, anyway, because as much as spending time around Colm had taught him more Irish, it still didn’t quite equip him to understand Irish from Jean – BJ let out a delighted little laugh, and chatted merrily away with him.

Aimé rested his chin on his hand, listening to the two of them talk, and felt the absinthe settle pleasantly in his brain, submerging it and letting him actually relax.

*     *     *

JEAN-PIERRE

There were a great many people milling about, drinking wine and making polite conversation, and to Jean-Pierre’s genuine surprise, most of them knew Aimé by name, and greeted him, and asked him questions – asked what he’d been painting recently, if he was finished with school yet, commenting on how well he looked without his beard.

He didn’t have deep conversations with any of them – it was only casual chatter, small talk between acquaintances, but the mere fact that Aimé was known amongst these people, many of them vampires and artists and sorcerers themselves, and that he knew them in turn, was a pleasure.

He didn’t introduce Jean-Pierre to them – it didn’t occur to him, Jean-Pierre didn’t think, until Jean-Pierre stood at his shoulder and one of them asked, or cleared their throat to hint.

Many of them recognised him, of course.

“Alexandra, it has been such a long time,” said Jean-Pierre, shaking the hand of a strapping woman who had praised Aimé on having had a haircut for once, and he delighted in the slightly frozen look on her face, the uncertainty as she looked between Aimé and Jean-Pierre. He had treated her for broken ribs when she was a little girl – he remembered how livid her skin had felt, how fast her heart had beat, but she was no little girl anymore: she was tall and corpse-cold and dead with the vampiric virus, and her flesh was hard where their hands touched.

Some of them looked at Jean-Pierre, leaned in to speak quietly, surreptitiously with one another, which he rather enjoyed; several of them leaned to look at his thighs, mostly hidden by Aimé’s raincoat, and he liked that, too.

An older woman, a vampire, leaned to kiss Aimé on both cheeks, which Jean-Pierre didn’t mind, but then her hand slid from Aimé’s waist down to his arse, and Aimé must have sensed his abrupt rage even as Jean-Pierre approached from behind him. Before Jean-Pierre could lunge for her Aimé had grasped him tightly by the forearms, keeping them held down at his sides, and was saying more loudly than necessary, “Annette, this is Jean-Pierre, my boyfriend.”

“Oh, aren’t you two just adorable,” said Annette, giving them both a bright and sharp-toothed smile, but Jean-Pierre saw the sudden slight glassiness in her eyes as she took in the look on Jean-Pierre’s face, and she took half a step back from Aimé.

“A pleasure to meet you, I am sure,” Jean-Pierre said viciously.

“Aimé and I had a roll in the hay together,” Annette said, and then added quickly, “years ago.”

Years ago,” Aimé said in a firm voice, almost directly into Jean-Pierre’s ear, leaning in so that Jean-Pierre would look at his face and holding him tightly until Jean-Pierre relaxed.

Jean-Pierre shook Annette’s hand without doing her injury, meeting Aimé’s gaze the whole time, and Aimé mouthed – not entirely sarcastically, or so it seemed to Jean – “Bien joué.”

“It bothers you,” Jean-Pierre said to him as they walked away from her. “That I am protective of you.”

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Aimé disagreed, raising his eyebrows. A great deal of light came into the gallery, and Jean-Pierre liked the way it showed the colour in each of his eyes. “I think you come off like a man defending his dung heap from someone looking to steal his gold, but it’s flattering – as flattering as it is, though, I don’t want you to kill anyone when I’m trying to enjoy people’s art, and a lot of these people buy shit from me at Christmas, Annette included.”

“You would sell your body to sell your art?” Jean-Pierre asked.

“Jean, no one is buying my body. Most people would pay me to put my body away,” Aimé said faux-gravely, squeezing Jean-Pierre’s shoulders. “We slept together once when I was twenty-two, and she grabs my ass when we see each other. She’s not a threat to our marriage vows.”

“You are making fun of me,” Jean-Pierre said.

“I usually am, ange, you make it very easy.” As he said it, Aimé brought one of Jean-Pierre’s hands up to his mouth, and brushed his lips over the back of his knuckles, giving him an affectionate look that made Jean-Pierre warm with delight, and he allowed his simmering irritation that anyone should feel entitled to touch Aimé steam away from him. “Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Calm?”

“Calmer,” Jean-Pierre said, aware that his voice sounded brittle to his own ears, but Aimé either didn’t notice or chose to ignore it, because he held out his arm and let Jean-Pierre take it.

He was aware he had a rather shorter fuse than was ordinary for him: he had never had the greatest command of his temper, even when first he Fell, and his ability to keep his hold on it had ebbed and waned with the decades, but it was at its worst when his sleep was disturbed, and he had been sleeping ill of late.

Even the dreams that didn’t begin with him alone in a windowless room seemed to end that way – dreams of Myrddin, dreams of Aimé, dreams of Rupert, dreams of anyone.

He had never liked to be alone. It wasn’t natural for an angel, he didn’t think – they were of the Host, after all, a collective, and no matter that they were each deposited now in their separate bodies, their separate selves, that was not to say it was their natural state.

He wondered if Aimé’s father had really affected him. He had changed the subject so swiftly, and Jean-Pierre didn’t believe his words had stuck, but the anxiety lingered – he wouldn’t kill Aimé, he would never, not unless he— but he wouldn’t, would he? He couldn’t. He wouldn’t ever have to kill him, so it hardly bore thinking of.

The anxiety lingered, a slithering snake in his veins.

As Aimé led him through the gallery, he didn’t speak much. He would stop before each displayed piece, painting, sketch, or sculpture, and study it for a few minutes at a time – he said a few things at first, but when it became apparent that Jean-Pierre wasn’t listening, and in truth, wasn’t really seeing much either, he went quiet, but kept stroking an idle line up and down Jean-Pierre’s arm where they walked together, and allowed Jean-Pierre to lean his cheek on Aimé’s shoulder.

There was something almost meditative in it, no matter that he had to bend tremendously to manage the position: Aimé was warm and solid beside him, and the world narrowed entirely to the sensation of the marble floor clattering quietly under their feet, to Aimé’s skin, the texture of his woollen jumper, the regular stroke of his fingers, the familiar thud of his heartbeat.

He was almost asleep, as much as he was awake.

They had been in the gallery an hour or so when Aimé touched his cheek, tapping his fingers against Jean-Pierre’s skin to make Jean-Pierre focus, look at him properly.

“I’m gonna go get another glass of wine,” Aimé said, in the tone of a man patiently repeating himself, perhaps for the second or third time. “I have to talk to a few people here, people who want to commission stuff or look at what I have for sale. You want to come with me?”

“Business talk bores me,” Jean-Pierre said.

“Yeah, sweetheart, I know,” Aimé murmured. “You don’t have to stay, if you don’t want – I can call you a taxi.”

“I can entertain myself,” Jean-Pierre murmured.

“What, you’re gonna make friends?” Aimé asked. “You like students and drop-outs, right – is this really your crowd?”

“Rich people, both actual and metaphorical vampires? No,” Jean-Pierre said, making Aimé snort. “But I might look at some of the art.”

Aimé narrowed his eyes, looking Jean-Pierre in the face.

“What?”

“When you say, “look at the art”,” Aimé said, making quotation marks with one hand, a particularly irritating mannerism Jean-Pierre was fairly certain he had never done before meeting Asmodeus, “do you mean you’re gonna sit on that bench over there and look at your phone?”

Jean-Pierre, who had been examining the very bench Aimé was indicating, drew himself to his full height, and scowled. “You know, Aimé, I am not so shallow a stream as you think.”

“Oh, aren’t you?” Aimé asked, raising his eyebrows, but he was grinning as he said it, and his hand lingered on Jean-Pierre’s waist like he didn’t want to pull it away. He was more than a little drunk – the wine wasn’t fortified, but the absinthe had been very strong indeed. He had needed it, Jean-Pierre thought, to improve his mood after being accosted by Luc Deverell, and Jean-Pierre itched to press the matter, to ask— “You want another juice?”

“S’il te plait,” Jean-Pierre murmured, and Aimé patted his cheek and walked away.

It was cold, without him, and lonely, no matter the crowd.

Jean-Pierre huddled in his raincoat and glanced to the list of exhibits on the various floors of the museum, his gaze falling on a new exhibit announcement, not to be revealed until December. He touched its little silver plaque, and approached the stairwell.

*     *     *

AIMÉ

He was away from Jean-Pierre longer than he’d intended to be – he ended up in a conversation with a sculptor from Carrickmines at the bar who he vaguely knew, who mentioned that he hadn’t been on St Stephen’s Green like usual, and they ended up talking about… Everything.

It was weird.

He knew a lot of the people around here – he knew them by sight or he knew them by name, knew the ones that had bought art from him on St Stephen’s Green or in the witches’ market, knew a lot of the other artists and performers who busked or sold art around – but he’d never actually talked to most of them.

They’d talked to him, he thought.

They’d had conversations, they’d made small talk, but it was like he was seeing a lot of them for the first time in a way he never had before – he noticed things about the ways some of the vampires dressed, little flairs that marked them as out of time like certain jewellery styles or tailoring that Jean-Pierre had mentioned while watching historical dramas; he listened more carefully to the languages people spoke with one another, heard the differences between them. Even their faces seemed different to him: he noticed hair and make-up in a way he never had, but he noticed expressions, too, subtle little looks that passed between people, that must always have done so, and that he’d just never noticed.

He was better.

It was that he was better, he wasn’t so lacking in self-awareness not to know that – he noticed more because he wasn’t as fucking hammered as he usually was at one of these events, but more than that, he wasn’t as insular, he supposed.

People talked to him more, and he thought that it was because Jean-Pierre was with him or hovering behind him at first, or because something had changed in his demeanour, before he realised that it was him: he was asking questions before he even thought about it, asking where people were from, if they missed it, asking people about the stuff in their collection, if they remembered why they’d gotten it, if they preferred this medium to that, if they felt young or old.

The vampires liked it when he asked them that, it turned out – it made them look thoughtful, made some of them laugh, and it made them look at him like he was somebody.

Not somebody rich – he’d always been somebody rich.

But someone with a personality.

It was new to him. Aimé was still a prick, he knew that much – he knew it in the way some people got pissy with him, the way he said stuff without thinking about it, got sarcastic, got opinionated, like he always did, but it was different now, because they didn’t walk away when he said it, and he didn’t walk away from him, either.

He wondered if this was what Colm and Jean felt like everywhere they went.

“Did you see where my boyfriend went?” he asked a passing waiter laden down with cubes of cheese when he realised he couldn’t see l’ange anywhere: the ice in his pineapple juice was melting, and the glass was wet with condensation. “The hot blond in the raincoat?”

“He went to peruse the other exhibits some time ago,” the waiter said. “I could not say where he turned to after passing from the main stairwell, though.”

“No worries, cheers,” Aimé murmured, and went to the stairs.

There were people in the museum proper, scattered here and there, and for the first time lacking his phone felt like less of a relief and more of an annoyance, because he couldn’t just text l’ange and ask where he was, moving through the labyrinthine galleries, ducking his head into different stairwells.

He almost walked past the doorway marked off with a pair of red bollards and a sign that said EXHIBIT CLOSED, until he firstly remembered who Jean-Pierre was, and secondly, noted the sign outside the doorway, which read:

ANGELS THROUGH THE AGES, curated with assistance from the Celestial Legation For Angels, Seraphim, Cherubim, Ophanim, and Powers.

Aimé glanced up and down the empty corridor, and then he stepped inside the gallery, hyperaware of the quiet taps his footsteps made on the floor and trying to move more quietly. The gallery was only half-lit, as some of the overhead lights were switched off, and many of the places up on the walls were just empty frames or spaces cleared for art, with no spotlights over them either, but enough light came from the art that was on display already.

Aimé knew some of the pieces – it looked like they’d curated a mix of work by angelic artists and other magical artists who depicted them, and he noted some pieces that were famous and on loan from museums in France and Italy.

He saw l’ange at the end of the long corridor that made up the bulk of the gallery, standing before a huge painting of one he’d looked at when he was first getting into painting at leaving cert level – it wasn’t itself a piece he was really into, but painted in 1971 by Theodule Schafer, it had kind of made him aware you could still do oil paintings, even though the Renaissance had been and gone. He had never seen it in person – it was normally on display at a magical modern art gallery in Berlin – and it was so much bigger than he’d ever realised, the canvas easily fifteen feet high, and Jean-Pierre, standing on the floor in front of it, his raincoat shining under the spotlights, looked tiny in comparison.

Aimé walked forward, looking up at the familiar brushstrokes showing the crowd, all of them looking up to the parapet that the short-lived king – he couldn’t remember his name, Ronald or Robert or Rupert, something along those lines – standing on the balcony.

The king’s crown was just in the process of falling away from his muss of chestnut red curls, each lovingly depicted in curving movements of the brush, and his skin had an unhealthy pallor from the jaw downward, his eyes wide and full of tears, his mouth fallen open.

Just behind him stood the titular L’ange de la mort, a serene smile pulling at his pretty pink lips, his hand settled on the king’s shoulder, his dagger wrenching a huge slit in his neck and sending blood washing over his coronation suit in a waterfall of red oil paint.

Aimé’s gaze slipped back to l’ange in the painting.

He stared at his well-curved jaw, the bright pale blue of his eyes, the golden shine of his hair on his shoulders and the burnished gold of his wings, and then his gaze flitted down to the golden armour he wore, the way it was polished to a shine. He had seen that armour.

There was a pit in his stomach as Jean-Pierre turned around, his raincoat shining under the light and giving him a sort of halo as he turned to look at Aimé, a soft smile on his face not unlike the one he wore in the portrait.

The only difference in their faces, half a century apart, was in the bullet scar that shone on Jean-Pierre’s cheek.

“Did you pose for that?” he asked weakly, and Jean-Pierre’s smile faded into a small, pensive frown, and he looked back at the portrait over his shoulder.

“No,” he said in a low voice. “I don’t like these paintings.”

“Thought you liked being painted.” Aimé’s mouth was dry, and his heart was pounding in his chest, threatening to burst up and out of his throat to settle in his mouth, to knock his teeth out, maybe, and all of a sudden, he felt very sober, and very sick. This was what his father had meant, then, saying that Jean-Pierre would kill him. 

“I do,” Jean-Pierre whispered, but then he crossed his arms loosely over his chest, and he walked closer to Aimé, his hands slid under his armpits as though to keep them warm. He looked sad – not ashamed, but sad, and tremendously small. “But not that. Asmodeus’ petit ami, the antiques dealer in Nottingham, he acquires the ones he can for me, but ones like this belong to the Embassy. This portrait, the Schafer, it ordinarily hangs in Berlin, but its papers reside in Harare.”

Aimé swallowed.

“I didn’t know that was you,” he said. “I didn’t know you were the angel that King, uh, King—”

“Rupert,” said Jean-Pierre. “His name was Rupert. It was me.” He reached out, Aimé thought to took his hand, and he flinched without meaning to: the glass of pineapple juice Jean was reaching for slid out of his hand, and Jean-Pierre caught it with an inhumanly fast movement of his hand, not even spilling a drop.

Jean-Pierre stared down at the orange liquid, his expression solemn.

L’ange de la mort had been King Rupert’s lover. Aimé knew that – they’d been lovers, fiancés due to be married, and l’ange had killed him at his coronation, he knew that, and how had he never connected it in his head? How had he never thought about it, never connected the dots, never realised even when he saw the fucking armour in the cellar?

“I would like to go home now,” Jean-Pierre said quietly.

“Okay,” Aimé assented woodenly, unable to say anything else. He felt numb with the shock, the distant fear, fear the likes of which he’d never felt before, even when he realised Jean-Pierre was a killer. “Okay.”

*     *     *

JEAN-PIERRE

Colm was not there when they arrived home – he had left a note saying he was at Pádraic and Bedelia’s – and after they ate, they went straight to bed. Aimé was very quiet after the gallery, and Jean-Pierre felt a sort of horrible dread all through him, on top of the sadness he had felt, looking at the portrait of himself and Rupert.

He really did dislike that painting.

He did not turn the television on, just crawled on top of Aimé’s chest, and Aimé let him, wrapped his arms loosely around Jean-Pierre’s lower back and stroked his skin, let Jean-Pierre rest his cheek on Aimé’s breast.

“Weren’t you gonna marry him?” Aimé asked. It was the first time he’d said something with more than one syllable in it since they’d gotten home, and Jean-Pierre pressed his cheek harder against Aimé’s chest, squeezing his arms around Aimé, holding onto him tightly. “Rupert?”

“We were affianced,” Jean-Pierre said quietly. “He… It was… Aimé.”

“Yeah, Jean?”

“I didn’t know what he was when I met him,” Jean-Pierre said lowly. “It was in the aftermath of the second war, and things were being rebuilt, magical and mundie, and he… He was a lawyer. We did not have what are called human rights at that time, but this was the area for which Rupert was truly intended, I think. There was in that area of Bavaria a want for a, you know, micronation? You know the history.”

“Not really,” Aimé said.

“It was to be a small republic, magical, the history does not matter – what matters is that Rupert’s maternal uncle, Godard, wanted Rupert to lead, and the people loved Rupert, he was… charismatic, sweet, kind. Very kind. Rupert was descended, very distantly, from Louis XIV, and Godard said it would lend more legitimacy to have a king, for him to be king. He asked me if it was okay, if I would marry him anyway. He knew I had killed nobles in France, he knew this. He knew…”

He remembered it.

He hated the way he remembered it, hated the way Rupert had spoken about it, pacing in their bedroom as Jean-Pierre sprawled on the bed, murmuring to himself. Rupert himself had spoken of this with Jean-Pierre – he had no more belief in the Divine Right of Kings than he did that the moon was made of cheese, but he was willing to attest to his royal blood, to be crowned a king, if it meant a quicker route to legitimacy, to recognition in the global community, and Jean-Pierre had listened as he had explained.

He had never protested, had he? He had never told Rupert he would kill him. He had never said.

He had not been able to say: he had tried, and his mouth had been frozen, his tongue caged by his teeth.

How many times had he wished, at the time, that Rupert would change his mind, that he would renege?

“Jean,” Aimé said, pushing Jean-Pierre’s face up to look at him, and he wiped Jean-Pierre’s tears delicately away from his skin with the pads of his thumbs.

“So you killed him,” Aimé said.

“I didn’t mean to,” Jean-Pierre said quickly, sharply, hearing his voice crack. “Not— not the way I did it, I didn’t mean to. They were cheering so loudly, there was so much noise, and he was saying my name—”

“He mentioned you in his speech,” Aimé reminded him.

“And he shouldn’t have, and I should have left, I should have gone as soon as he first told me, Aimé, but I didn’t, I didn’t want to be…”

“On your own,” Aimé said when Jean-Pierre didn’t finish the sentence for a few seconds. “You didn’t want to be on your own, did you?”

Jean-Pierre shook his head, letting out a horrible, wracking sob that dragged at his throat, and Aimé pulled a tissue out of the box on the side table without pushing Jean-Pierre off him, bringing it up to wipe at his face.

“Hey, hey, you’re okay,” Aimé said in a low voice. “I’ve got you, Jean, I got you. How soon after Myrddin was this?”

Jean-Pierre remembered the way Rupert had looked at him as he fell, and he cried harder, now, and Aimé sat up, dragging the blankets up around them, wrapping them around Jean-Pierre, and he tried to dry his tears, even as he let out low, hushing sounds against Jean’s hair. He was gentle, impossibly so, and Jean-Pierre held onto him tightly.

“Jean,” Aimé said. “Can you answer me, sweetheart?”

“Asmodeus got me out of Camelot in ’46. I met Rupert in ’47, and we were together until his coronation in ’51.”

“Okay,” Aimé said quietly. “Okay.”

“Do you hate me now?” Jean-Pierre asked.

“No, ange, I couldn’t hate you, I’ve told you that,” Aimé whispered, wiping his eyes again, reaching up to stroke through his hair. “I just didn’t know that was you, and it surprised me – and you weren’t in your right mind at the time, huh? And they put you in front of a firing squad for it?”

His thumb touched the scar on Jean-Pierre’s cheek, and Jean-Pierre nodded.

“Would you do it again?” Aimé asked.

“No,” Jean-Pierre whispered. “Not Rupert. I would have— I would have told him not to. I would have left. I would have told him that if he declared himself king, I would kill him. It is not killing a king I regret – it is that I allowed one to be made before me, of a man I loved.”

Aimé held him tightly, and Jean-Pierre’s sleep, when it finally came, was surprisingly deep, and peaceful.

*     *     *

AIMÉ

He waited until he was absolutely certain Jean-Pierre was asleep before he got out of bed, packed his clothes and his laptop into his satchel, and silently went down the stairs. He was unbelievably lucky that Colm wasn’t home, or he wouldn’t have been able to do this, actually slip out without someone asking him about it, and when he cycled home, it was in cold, wet hair, clammy, uncomfortable, but without any actual rain.

He was in his flat for less than half an hour.

He called the taxi while he was dropping the last of his clothes into the case, and he pulled his passport out of the back of a drawer and his money case at the same time – cash was good, just in case.

“What’s the next plane going to France?” he asked at the central desk in the Departures terminal, and the woman blinked at him for a second before searching through the computer system in front of her.

“Uh,” she said, “there’s the 11:50 going to Grenoble, but the next one for Paris is—”

“Grenoble is fine,” Aimé said. “I don’t have a phone, where do I buy a ticket?”

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