“Come here,” Jean-Pierre murmured, sliding his fingers against the back of Aimé’s neck and tugging Aimé up toward him. He’d stood to the edge of the bed, his every inch of skin still glistening with sweat, and as Aimé obediently stood on shaky legs, feeling exhausted right down to his bones, he looked down at the marks he’d left all over the pale, delicate column of l’ange’s neck. Jean-Pierre bruised easily, and the evidence was plain from where Aimé had sucked bruises into and grazed his teeth over the flesh of his throat, his shoulders, his collarbones. He felt dizzy with the evidence of it, as exhausted as he was from everything else, and when Jean-Pierre kissed him, he sighed into the other man’s mouth.
Aimé did not bruise easily, but his lips, he was quite certain, were visibly bruised.
He felt Jean-Pierre’s hands slide down his back, cupping his arse, before whipping behind him, and Aimé broke away from Jean-Pierre as he dragged the two top sheets off the bed, tossing them behind him.
Fascinated by the ease with which Jean-Pierre flicked his wrist, he watched as the laundry hamper leaned out from where it was hidden in a shelving unit, and the wet sheets folded themselves and fell inside it.
With one finger, his lips curved into a knife-sharp smirk, Jean-Pierre pushed Aimé back onto the bed, and Aimé fell freely, feeling himself bounce as he hit the layers of blankets still covering it.
“That mean we’re done?” Aimé asked, aware of how husky his voice was from the sex – God, he wanted a cigarette – and Jean-Pierre laughed, stretching out his arms above his head and rolling his shoulders, making the scars over his torso ripple and shift. Aimé wondered if he’d been joking about the firing squad.
“Your stamina needs work,” Jean-Pierre said casually, “but it will improve with time.”
“Time?” Aimé repeated, not quite comprehending, and then his gaze dropped to Jean-Pierre’s arse, red and marked from Aimé’s grabbing hands, as he stepped to the door.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Jean-Pierre asked, raising his eyebrows and looking to Aimé expectantly. Jean-Pierre had wiped his front down with wet wipes from his side table, and had given Aimé some to do the same, but Aimé could see himself glistening on l’ange’s inner thighs.
“Sure,” he said, and Jean-Pierre padded out of the room, rubbing sleepily at one pretty blue eye.
Looking to the clock, which was a complicated cuckoo thing decorated in the French tricolour that did not, mercifully, chime the hour, Aimé saw that it was almost four – they’d gotten off the bus at a little past twelve. Naked as he was, his thighs aching, and feeling not unlike he’d been wrung dry, Aimé clumsily leaned over the edge of the bed, plucking his phone out of the pocket of his jeans and checking he had no missed texts before dropping it onto the bedside cabinet.
Ordinarily, left alone in the room of someone he’d just picked up, maybe he would have looked around a little, peered into drawers or examined the objects on shelves, but he was tired, and still not quite reckoning with what had just happened. This was real, he was fairly certain – what was real, then, was that the pretty twink he’d been seeing around town the past few weeks had come up to him, picked him up, made him watch a historical drama, and then ridden him for hours.
It didn’t really add up.
Aimé was almost dozing when Jean-Pierre came back into the room, and Aimé sat abruptly up as he placed a mug of tea on the bedside table beside him. “No milk, no sugar,” Jean-Pierre said, making Aimé raise his eyebrows in surprise, and fell on top of him.
Aimé let out a punched noise, sliding his hands around to touch l’ange’s lower back, and he marvelled at the expanse of smooth skin under his palms, at how warm he was, and how very light, despite the muscle packed on his body.
“Are you very hungry?” he asked, laying his chin against Aimé’s sternum and looking soulfully into Aimé’s eyes, and Aimé was taken away by the scent of frankincense that clung to him, mixing with the scent of the tea leaves on the air.
“No,” Aimé said. “I had a chicken roll before you came up to me.”
“Good,” Jean-Pierre murmured, and rolled to the side, curling himself in the crook of Aimé’s arm and putting his cheek on the hairy surface of Aimé’s rounded chest: with no more word said about it, Jean-Pierre picked up the TV remote, and put Rome back on.
Laughing at the absurdity of it all, Aimé dropped his head back on the pillow.
He didn’t mean to fall asleep. He only realised he had when the motion on top of him woke him up, and he looked through hazily lidded eyes up at Jean-Pierre, who was straddling Aimé’s belly as he dragged on a t-shirt, which was emblazoned with complicated Arabic text.
“That your brother’s?” Aimé asked, but he realised as Jean-Pierre pulled the hem around his waist that it was in his size, not his bigger brother’s, and Jean-Pierre glanced down at the t-shirt, then softly laughed at him.
“In niz bogzarad,” l’ange said, and even speaking this language, Aimé could hear his strong accent. “It is Persian. You must dress for dinner – my brother will not serve you if you are nude.”
“Won’t he?” Aimé asked groggily, but took his own t-shirt when Jean-Pierre pushed it into his hands, and watched as Jean-Pierre stood to pull on his leggings. He’d been asleep for an hour and a half, he thought, and he ached to have a drink – he felt very clear-headed, and he didn’t much care for the sensation. “Is this your big brother, or the little one?”
“Both would disapprove,” Jean-Pierre said idly. “It is bad manners to be naked at the dinner table, Aimé.”
It was such a strange statement, so sincerely expressed, that Aimé didn’t know how to respond to it, and therefore, did not try.
“Are all three of you— immortal?”
“No being of this world or the next is truly immortal,” Jean-Pierre said as Aimé dragged on his jeans, aware of how the tired ache had sort of solidified in his thighs, and finding himself glad he hadn’t cycled here. “The only thing truly eternal is an idea – and therefore, the soul.”
Aimé furrowed his brow slightly. Jean-Pierre really wasn’t the airhead he’d expected, and he was yet to find his rhythm – conversationally, that is – with him. “Is that you trying to dodge the question, or were you just distracted?”
“Oh,” Jean-Pierre said, looking at him with his lips parted, and Aimé watched the pink blush form on his white cheeks, watched him look demurely downward, as if he hadn’t spent several hours of the afternoon rearranging Aimé to his pleasure like a favourite sex doll – not that Aimé minded.
“Distracted,” he said, almost shyly. “We are each angels. You have met my kind before?”
“Not really,” Aimé said breathlessly, buttoning his trousers. An angel. Not just angelic, but actually, actually… Shit. “Just— You know, I’ve seen the, um, the Seraphic Choir perform a few times, at my father’s events. Never actually talked to any of them.”
“The Seraphic Choir have an extremely high booking fee,” Jean-Pierre murmured, his lips parting, his head tilting to the side as he examined Aimé. His expression was keen, thoughtful, concentrated: there was a calculated coldness in his eyes that made Aimé shiver, and want to take his clothes off again. “What manner of events were these?”
“Jean!” came the call from downstairs – it was Colm, the Irish brother. “Are you joining us, or not?”
“Come,” Jean-Pierre said pleasantly, and gestured for Aimé to follow him. Aimé glanced at his reflection in the dimmed screen of the TV, at his sex-mussed hair, at the clear hickeys the angel had left all the way up to his jaw-line, and he closed his eyes for a second, and then did as he was told.
* * *
Jean-Pierre took the kettle off the hob, letting the tea steep as he heard the front door open and then slam closed, heard Colm’s footsteps as he crossed the threshold and came into the living room.
“Oh, good, you’re down here,” he said dryly to Jean-Pierre’s back. “How was the sex?”
“Good,” Jean-Pierre said. “He’s more generous than I expected.”
“Well, I expect he’s grateful,” Colm said, and Jean-Pierre shot him a frown over his shoulder, then looked back to the tea as it steeped.
Jean-Pierre had rather meant what he had said, before. He was impossibly beautiful, he knew, with his porcelain skin, his blue eyes, his lightly golden hair – he was not so ethereally handsome as Asmodeus, did not carry the magnetism he did, but often, people met him and were struck dumb by how lovely he was.
He had weaponised these good looks of his: he had charmed armies, gendarmeries, kings, with the beauty of his face, that no one should think of the knife behind his back.
Virtually everyone, in comparison to Jean-Pierre, might be considered ugly – and therefore, he had never troubled himself to dwell on how ugly people were in relation to one another, nor to think on it as something unpleasant.
Aimé was not unpleasant to look at. On the contrary, Jean-Pierre liked very much to look at his face, liked to trace the angles in it, to see it contort into one expression and the next – he looked forward to gleaning far more if it.
His features were homely, perhaps – he had heterochromia, one of his eyes a light-coloured hazel, not dark enough to be likened to gold, and the other one was a dark, dull green, the colour of the scum in pondwater. Jean-Pierre liked ponds. The pupil in his left eye – the green one – was somehow damaged, that the pupil did not constrict as the other did, but he didn’t think anisocoria was truly so troubling a condition, so long as it caused Aimé himself no pain.
He had particularly protuberant ears, but these were almost hidden by the thick muss of his dark hair; his nose was crooked with some scars on its bridge, and Jean-Pierre suspected, based on certain tell-tale scarring on one side of his face, that he had once dislocated his jaw. His stubble, which grew thick and with only a few patches, was made up of hard bristles. When he smiled, his lip didn’t form one complete curve, but weakened at a point, so that his mouth formed a crooked crescent.
Jean-Pierre rather liked this last quality most of all. There was something in that lopsided smile that triggered in him a desperate affection.
“Don’t call him ugly where he can hear,” Jean-Pierre said softly. “He’ll think I agree with you.”
“Did he even ask to use a condom?”
Jean-Pierre frowned at Colm, who was leaning back to look at Jean-Pierre’s thighs, and then he crossed his arms over his chest. “No.”
“That’s really a condemnation of sex education in this country,” Colm said.
“We can’t carry human disease.”
“That’s not the point,” Colm said. “He doesn’t know that.”
“I don’t like condoms.”
“It’s not about whether you like—” Colm huffed out an irritated sound, shaking his head, and he passed Jean-Pierre a mug when Jean held out his hand for one, watching as he poured his tea. “It’s not about that, Jean. How did you pick him up?”
“I told him I was going to watch Rome in the nude, and that he should come home with me.”
“Surely you would worry that was— I don’t know, a sex trafficking thing.”
“He did raise that potential risk.”
“Idiot,” Colm muttered. “I’m going to put dinner on. You two going to join us in an hour and a half?”
“Yes,” Jean-Pierre said. “I expect so.”
It was nice, when Aimé fell asleep beneath him. Despite the lingering stench of cigarette smoke, he mostly smelled of paint turps, oils, and the strangely dusty scent of rose-scented candles. He had a boxer’s body, fat packed loosely over his muscle, and Jean-Pierre found himself very pleased with the plush swell of his warm, hairy chest, and the curved pillow of his belly, which yielded under Jean-Pierre’s pressing fingers.
He liked very much the responsiveness of Aimé’s body, the way he arched at the press upon his shoulder muscles or his lower back – where, like Jean-Pierre, he carried much of his tension – and he liked the way Aimé gasped and hissed when Jean-Pierre touched his nipples, which were apparently very sensitive; the inner crease of his thighs was delightfully sensitive, too, and when Jean-Pierre bit him there, his body drew back like a bowstring.
But he liked it like this, too, still and warm and steady beneath him.
He had made a good selection with Aimé, he thought, even as he pushed him toward wakefulness, when the time came for dinner.
Asmodeus was actually reading a newspaper when Jean-Pierre led Aimé down into the living area. It was Cherub’s Missive, an angelic publication written – as all angelic papers were – in a script knowable only to those who had lived before the Tower of Babel fell, which was a group made up mostly of angels.
“Don’t look at it too long,” Jean-Pierre said when he saw Aimé stare at the black symbols swimming on the grey pages, looking as though he were struggling to focus his eyes. “It is not for your comprehension, and you will only strain yourself.”
“We don’t call it that,” Asmodeus said, and looked over his newspaper at Aimé, examining him critically over his reading glasses. He looked quite amusing, in the moment, some parodic representation of a disapproving father in a film, and Jean-Pierre chuckled to himself, waiting for a moment at the side of one of the chairs and looking at Aimé expectantly.
Aimé, for a long few moments, stared at him, uncomprehending. Jean-Pierre glanced down at the chair before meeting Aimé’s gaze, and made no further indication: seconds ticked by before Aimé, very slowly, not breaking eye contact with Jean-Pierre, walked forward, and pulled out the chair for him.
“So gallant,” Jean-Pierre praised him, cupping his cheek as Aimé looked at him as though he were a particularly complicated alien, and Jean-Pierre slipped into his seat, pulling it forward with him. “Aimé, this is Asmodeus, and that is Colm. Sit down.”
* * *
Aimé sank down into the set place setting that had an empty glass in front of it, and not a pint of beer. Colm was pulling something out of the oven, and the smell was good – he was cooking a chicken, Aimé thought, but on the table was already set a platter of what looked like a mix of fresh fruit and raw vegetables, and Jean-Pierre was already filling his plate from it.
Aimé didn’t really know much about angels.
They were a magical people, that much was true, but they were kind of separate to the rest of magical society, in most countries – they formed their own groups and their own communities, in the areas where there were enough of them, and they were a very private people, didn’t talk much about their lives or their history with outsiders.
He knew that they were mostly immortal, that it was a big deal when one of them died – he knew that they pretty much exclusively Fell and started to live as adults, that there were almost no angel children. He knew that angels were a pretty powerful lobbying force, and that they supported no individual governments or regimes the world over – he knew there’d been one magical country in the 30s, after the First World War, that had attempted to form their own nation-state somewhere in Bavaria, and that the king was killed on the day of his coronation by an angel, and that he’d been a kind of rogue.
He only knew the latter because it was so often depicted in art – in magical card sets, an angel trumped a king, and two angels trumped an army, and the image of an angel in shining armour slitting the throat of a new king appeared a lot in modern art.
“Do you have any allergies, Aimé?” asked a voice from the kitchen, and Aimé looked up from his empty place setting to Colm, who was looking at him with a flat expression on his face.
“Uh, no,” he said lowly, and glanced to Jean-Pierre’s plate, which was decorated with a colourful array of fruit and veg; Asmodeus’ – wasn’t that a demon’s name? – plate had a few cherry tomatoes and pieces of cucumber scattered on the side even as Colm started setting down dishes of roasted vegetables, the chicken, which didn’t seem big enough for four people, a plate of roasted potatoes…
“Jean and De don’t eat meat,” Colm said as Asmodeus began spooning some cooked vegetables and potatoes onto his plate. “Well, Asmodeus does occasionally, but Jean, never. You’re not a vegetarian?”
“No,” Aimé said.
“Buíochas le Dia,” Colm muttered, beginning to cut a few slices off the chicken. He was a Kerryman, based off the thickness of his accent, and Aimé had to concentrate to understand what he said in English or Irish – he spoke loudly, but fast, and every word moulded into the next.
“Do you want an IPA or a summer ale?” asked Asmodeus, who had gotten to his feet.
“Um, a lager’s fine, if you have it,” Aimé said, and Asmodeus laughed. He had an English accent, and had a very deep, rich voice, every syllable sounding smooth and polished as he pronounced it.
“How does wine sound?” he asked, and Aimé felt his eyebrows raise in surprise.
“Sure, okay, thanks,” he said, and after pouring his own glass of a thick, tawny red from a dark bottle, he stepped slowly around the table and poured Aimé some. Aimé could not see the logo on the bottle, nor the name of the wine, but he did see the date on his yellowed, peeling label: 1872.
Bringing the glass to his nose, he inhaled, taking in a sort of fragrant, cedar note, and when he actually tasted it, swilling it on his tongue, he was blown away by it. It was an incredible wine, a claret that moved so smoothly on his tongue it almost felt too silken to actually be liquid, and the cherry-sweetness of it, mingled with spices and flowers, left him struck dumb for a few moments, sitting back in his seat.
Aimé looked from Asmodeus’ fingers, which were a rich rosewood colour, the fingernails kept in a state of perfect manicure, pink and healthy, up to his face, and the cold smile that drew at his handsome lips.
It felt uncomfortable to look at him for too long, somehow – it was like looking at the sun.
“What am I drinking right now?” he asked, breathlessly, disbelieving.
“Wine,” said Asmodeus, and although he didn’t actually pat Aimé condescendingly on the head, when he turned and walked away from him, Aimé almost felt as though he might as well have.
“Be careful,” Jean-Pierre said. “That wine is very strong.”
“Your friend is an alcoholic,” Asmodeus said as he walked away, and Aimé felt his lips part in surprise, but Asmodeus spoke as if he was on Aimé’s side when he added, “I’m sure he knows better how to handle his liquor than you would, Jean.”
“Jean can’t drink alcohol,” Colm said, by way of explanation, and put a leg of chicken on Aimé’s plate alongside some of the slices of breast. “It makes him very sick.”
Every mouthful of wine revealed a more complex profile than the last, and Aimé couldn’t stop looking at the peeling label on the bottle across the room, his fingers twitching. Even for immortals, wine like that wasn’t cheap – it was still worth a lot of money.
What was this guy fucking wasting on him right now? A Lafite? A Coutet? A fucking Soutard?
He looked down at the glass.
“Don’t feel guilty about drinking it,” Asmodeus advised, not even looking at Aimé to say it. “There’s plenty more in the cellar.”
“Jesus,” Aimé whispered.
Aimé wondered how much it was worth, and then wondered if that meant anything to people like Asmodeus.
When Colm was sat down, Aimé watched in horror as he reached across the table for Jean-Pierre’s hand, and offered to take Aimé’s. Aimé’s hesitation was apparently sufficient that he immediately gave up the gesture – Jean-Pierre hadn’t even offered his hand to Aimé – and Aimé sat in silence as the two of them said a quiet grace together, matching rhythms even though one of them spoke in Irish and the other in French.
“They don’t do this at every mealtime,” Asmodeus said from the other end of the table, his glasses back on his face so that he could read his weird, uncomfortable newspaper. “Only when we’re sat at table together – not, ordinarily, when we have company, but I suppose you don’t count.”
Aimé felt himself frown. “I don’t?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t take it as an insult,” Asmodeus said idly, not looking up. “I’m sure Jean doesn’t mean it as one.”
“Shut up, Asmodeus,” Jean-Pierre said, though two furious pin-pricks of red had appeared at the tops of his cheeks. “Aimé, you are a student?”
“Uh, yeah,” Aimé said, even as he copied the angels and picked up his fork to start eating. “I’m studying philosophy at Trinity. I think I’ve, uh, seen you on campus?”
“Yes, I shall be starting my medical degree in September.”
“Ouais,” Jean-Pierre said, and his foot touched against Aimé’s own under the table, making him jump. “This surprises you? My hands did not prove steady enough for your liking?”
“Uh—” Aimé stumbled, but when he looked to Colm and Asmodeus, neither of them seemed surprised or offended: Asmodeus barely seemed to notice that Jean-Pierre had said anything at all, and Colm rolled his eyes, but didn’t complain.
“Are you enjoying Rome?” Colm asked flatly.
“Sure,” Aimé said. He’d barely watched it.
“Mmm hmm,” Colm said, and looked back to his meal.