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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 Seventeen: Fraternity

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COLM

It was not other angels that had called them.

That was usually how it worked – an angel they’d served with, at one time or another, would give them a call, and Jean-Pierre and Colm would fill out their numbers, keep in line with old compatriots and get what needed to be done done.

They’d been called assassins, from time to time, but Colm hardly thought that was accurate – certainly, they killed people, but it was never really a matter of receiving a contract and taking out a hit. He knew what that looked like – in his time, he’d done that a few dozen times at least, but this, what he and Jean did now, this was different.

They had a reputation, and they were almost impossible to kill – and more than that, they were each experts in their own right, were tried and tested from a tactical standpoint.

Ordinarily, an angel asked for assistance with a particularly troublesome individual or organisation – Colm and Jean-Pierre would bomb the right building, kill the right people. They weren’t called on to do anyone’s work for them – it was simply that Colm and Jean-Pierre could set the dominos falling with very little risk, and make it easier for the rest of whatever wanted toppling to be toppled.

Jean might slaughter someone’s king pin as Colm slaughtered someone else’s: in the meantime, the rest of the organisation could be gutted and burned to pieces; Jean-Pierre might tear down a building’s warding so that Colm could replace their wardstones with dynamite.

Colm had never felt any guilt about it.

He hadn’t felt guilty about killing during their rebellion, hadn’t felt guilty about killing in any revolution he and Jean-Pierre had ever been involved with, nor in any war. The fact of the matter was that the best way to remove some terrible things from the world was to kill the people that wrought them – and if not the best way, it might be the fastest, the easiest, or simply the most satisfying.

And kings—

Well.

He and Jean-Pierre had each killed royals enough in their time.

Tonight, it was not an angel who’d called on them – it was an old friend of Colm’s that he’d known in Vietnam. They were fae, which meant that Jean-Pierre was uncomfortable with them (fae were far too beautiful for his liking), but Benedictine had spoken with them as they’d passed through Haiti, and had passed Colm’s number onto them in the event that they wanted help. Colm was surprised she hadn’t called them herself, but Benedictine never liked to insert herself into other people’s business.

“Beatha,” Colm said, and Beatha stood slowly from their place, reaching out to shake Colm’s hand.

“Colm,” they said quietly, and then looked past Colm to his brother. “Jean-Pierre.”

“Mr O’Callaghan,” Jean-Pierre said, unerringly polite, but he didn’t smile, and Colm resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

“We’ve been in pursuit of Prince Gwyn,” Beatha murmured. “Even in Cymru they won’t lend him sanctuary of any kind, now – he thinks to flee until he can find some land for his own, I think, and rule by his own law.”

Gwyn’s father had died some years ago, Colm knew, and the territory of his kingdom had been separated out amongst nearby kingdoms in the fae lands of Cymru – Gwyn hadn’t been able to get home to take his crown, as he’d scarce even been able to set foot in Europe in the past thirty years, because too many people knew his face, and even everywhere else, he’d been consistently on the run.

The fae lived by different rules to humans and most other magical society, that much was true, but there was the occasional fae noble who didn’t want to reckon with the fact that stepping out of the fae realms meant leaving the particular privileges of those realms behind.

Gwyn had killed far too many people’s children to expect to find peace for himself now.

Beatha had been on his trail for several months now, and did not wish, so they had told Colm, to let their hunt span into years. They would undoubtedly be given payment for their work, but Colm suspected there was something personal in their focus on it, too, particularly if they were willing to call on Colm.

But then, Gwyn left six dead mundies behind him in São Paolo, and two of them had been children of sixteen. Beatha had known he and Jean-Pierre would agree to assist on that point alone.

“Last I heard, your quarry had taken land for himself in the Pacific,” Jean-Pierre said softly. “Still he flees from you?”

 “I’ve killed almost all of what servants he has left, now,” Beatha said, “and he lacks the funds to hire more, but his trail is cold, and I confess I do not know how best to follow him now. I have his footman captive, but the man won’t talk – money does not sway his loyalty, nor promises of safety. He merely tells me I will not find his master.”

Beside him, Jean-Pierre tilted his head, and Colm met his brother’s gaze as Jean-Pierre looked at him.

Jean-Pierre reached for Colm, and Colm held out his hand, allowing his brother to unbutton his shirt cuffs and carefully roll his sleeves up to the elbow. He was delicate about doing it, slowly baring more of Colm’s flesh to Beatha’s gaze.

“I believe my brother can affect your footman to talk,” Jean-Pierre said, when Colm said nothing.

Beatha’s lips parted, and Colm saw the surprise in their eyes, the distant fascination.

“Very well,” they whispered, and after Jean-Pierre had rolled Colm’s sleeves up to the elbow, they lead the two of them to where they had the footman captive.

*     *     *

JEAN-PIERRE

Jean-Pierre had never had Colm’s gift for using pain to get what he wanted.

Jean-Pierre was sadistic, but his was the sadism of personal connection, of intimacy – he liked very much the depth that pain could bring to pleasure, the way the scrape of his fingernails or the catch of his teeth could affect his lovers to arch and beg for more. And in the event that he went further than that, it was not agony he reached for – he preferred the subtlety of manipulation, enjoyed the bliss of a lover confused, uncertain, relying on him for guidance.

Colm was kinder than Jean-Pierre was – he really, truly was a man of empathy, and empathy was the core of effective torture.

In the event Jean-Pierre wanted information, his body ordinarily sufficed as currency. Men and women alike found him beautiful, enchanting, and he could charm his way very sweetly into their considerations – people found it so easy to believe him a naïf, wide-eyed and innocent, unable to comprehend the complexities of their machinations even as they explained them to him, whether it was over drinks they had paid for, or murmured into Jean-Pierre’s ear while stroking his naked skin.

Colm was capable of charm, of course, and Jean-Pierre knew of occasions where he had proffered himself as honeypot, but this?

Oh, this was where Colm truly excelled. This was his artistry.

They were tears streaked on the footman’s cheeks, and he was rocking slightly in his bindings, his eyes squeezed tightly shut. “Oh, that does look like it hurts,” Colm said gently, sympathetically – and it was real sympathy, too, lacked the mocking edge that Jean-Pierre’s did when he was the one with the torturer’s knife in his hand. Colm hushed the footman gently, even as he delicately raised up his shaking hand, missing two fingernails, soon to be missing a third. “Are you going to make me take another one?”

“You won’t find him,” the footman sobbed, for the seventeenth or eighteenth time. It was really getting quite tiresome. “You won’t—”

“Okay,” Colm said quietly, sadly.

Three quick, subtle sweeps of the knife, and the footman was screaming again.

He broke on the fourth.

*     *     *

COLM

“Take this,” Jean-Pierre said softly. He was sitting on the edge of Colm’s bath, naked, and the blood was staining every inch of skin that had been stained when they’d come upon Gwyn’s hideout – his hands looked as though he were wearing red gloves, and apart from the blood staining his hair and his face, there was more blood spattered down his chest.

Colm, he knew, had looked even worse – they’d gotten competitive about which of them would deal the killing blow, and they’d made a good deal more mess than they otherwise would have.

When they’d come to the threshold, Colm dizzy and sick from the flight, Jean-Pierre teasing him about it, Asmodeus had barked at them not to take another step, and had made them strip out of their bloody clothes before he let them go up to their bath and shower, respectively.

(The bath, Asmodeus had already run for Colm, and was steaming when he slipped into it.)

“What is it?” Colm asked, but he took the two pills Jean-Pierre offered him, and knocked them back with the glass of water. Within a few seconds, though, he felt some of the dizziness began to recede, and he whistled. “Fuck.”

“Good, aren’t they?” Jean-Pierre asked, giving him a smug smile. “They didn’t do much for my sea sickness, but I’ve heard they’re very effective. I’ll give you the bottle. It’s irritating, but at least they work for you.”

“My biology is different to yours,” Colm reminded him, and Jean-Pierre flicked water at his cock.

“I hadn’t noticed,” he said, and Colm laughed, flicking water back at his face. As Jean leaned back from him, Colm saw the cut on the side of his waist, and he reached to touch it. The split was already scabbed over, fresh skin growing underneath, but he didn’t remember Jean-Pierre getting cut. “From the dagger at his wrist,” Jean-Pierre supplied.

“He cut you?”

“It’s barely even a flesh wound,” Jean-Pierre said, pouting out his lips and smacking Colm’s hand away when he touched his thumb to the healing mark, and Colm grinned at him. “What?”

“You remember how we said De would have to decide who got the point?”

“I remember saying so as an act of charity to my brother,” Jean-Pierre said guardedly, furrowing his brow and looking at Colm with a twist to his mouth. “The light left the prince’s eyes before you severed his spinal cord – the killing blow was mine.”

“Even if I believed you, which, I don’t,” Colm said, “he cut you. He didn’t cut me. The point is mine.”

“Your chest is more bruise than not!”

“But he didn’t break the skin!”

Jean-Pierre let out a sharp sound, sucking his teeth, his eyes abruptly full of rage, and Colm had to hold his tongue to keep from laughing at him. “C’est de la foutaise,” he snapped, “il est—”

“What the fuck are you two doing?” Asmodeus asked from the doorway to the bathroom, and Jean-Pierre and Colm both turned to look at him. “Didn’t I tell you to bathe?”

“We’re bathing,” Colm said.

“You’re bickering,” Asmodeus said sternly, looking furious, “and congealing in the process. Jean, go get in the shower. Colm, just— wash. And if you don’t rinse the bath when you’re finished, I’ll drown you in it.”

Meekly – although Colm could see he was trying to hide his smirk – Jean-Pierre stood to his feet and walked out to the other bathroom, leaving Colm in his reddening bathwater.

“You’re going to have to decide which of us won the point,” Colm said as he lathered soap between his hands.

“You did,” Asmodeus said, as if it was obvious. “He got cut, you didn’t.” When Colm grinned, Asmodeus gave him a small smile in return, his hand lingering on the door handle.

“Thanks,” Colm murmured.

“You’re very welcome,” Asmodeus murmured. “Now, wash. Láithreach, Colm, please.”

“Washing, washing,” Colm said, and poured a jug of hot water over his head to wash out more of the blood. A great deal more of it was caked into his hair and onto his skin that he’d realised, and it took him some time to scrub it all off of himself, to get himself actually clean of it all.

He dried himself slowly off, towelling himself dry, and then slipped into a pair of jeans, holding his t-shirt bundled in his hand as he descended the stairs, the warm air touching over his dry skin.

Aimé was still asleep on the sofa, Peadar, the O’Malleys’ ginger tom, sprawled out on top of his chest.

James was setting the table, putting the plates neatly at their places, and Colm felt the depth of feeling in the room: from Aimé, a sense of warm peace, the blissful emptiness that came with sleep; from Peadar a warm and thickly-furred delight, a pleasure at being in a comfortable place with comfortable people who might give him food; from James, a sense of quiet certainty, an understanding that he was on the precipice of change, a change he was ready to explore.

“For Christ’s sake, Jean,” Colm said when Jean entered the room, and Jean looked at him as he continued to towel his hair dry, standing in the centre of the room.

“What?” he asked, tilting one head slightly to the side.

James had turned away from the table, and one of the glasses in his hands clattered on the floor.

“Put some clothes on, Jean,” Asmodeus said from the sink, without turning around. “There’s only one person in this room interested in seeing both pairs of your lips, and he’s asleep.”

“I’m drying,” Jean-Pierre said in a tone of mild complaint, but he loosely pulled a black blouse over his head, shimmying into it and letting its hem settle around his thighs. He continued to towel off his hair as he leaned over Aimé, gently pushing him to wake up.

When Colm turned to look at James, the priest’s grizzled cheeks were burning red under his stubble, and he was averting his eyes away from Jean-Pierre as though he was worried looking at him would make his eyes burn.

The humiliation was so heavy it was palpable – humiliation and desperate, burning shame for looking, for being interested, the abrupt instinct for self-flagellation. It was interesting, in a way, but it was painful too, and Colm reached out and gently touched James’ shoulder, soaked a little of that feeling up and watched some of the blush fade out of the ex-priest’s cheeks.

“He likes to be naked,” Colm said softly. “He’s not like you – he doesn’t feel your sense of shame.”

“I feel shame,” said Jean from the other side of the room, defensive, his hands braced on Aimé’s chest, having dislodged the cat to take his place.

“I can see your whole arse from here, Jean,” Colm said, “it’s evident that you don’t.”

Aimé started laughing even as Jean-Pierre pouted out his lips, and Aimé stood slowly where he’d been sprawled out on the couch, picking up Jean-Pierre’s jeans and holding them out to him, and Jean-Pierre refused to put them on himself, instead falling on his back and putting his legs out for Aimé to put his jeans on for him.

Aimé dragged one of Jean-Pierre’s feet up in line with his shoulder, kissing his bare ankle and giving James Byrne a view that made the blush bloom again in his cheeks, and then pushed Jean-Pierre’s jeans up the length of his legs, leaning to kiss him as he pulled them up over his arse.

“I would be offended that he was doing it on purpose,” James muttered as he stood in line with Asmodeus, taking up one of Colm’s shirts from the sink – Asmodeus had scrubbed it until the stains were gone, although the water was pink, now – and tossing it into the washing machine. “But I can’t help but feel like he barely notices me.”

“He doesn’t,” Asmodeus said in a low, quiet voice that Jean-Pierre didn’t seem to hear from the other side of the room. “You’re not attracted to him, and you aren’t particularly charmed by him – therefore, in my brother’s eyes, you have all but ceased to exist.”

“You two really are brothers,” said James in a low mutter, and Colm held back his laugh as he dipped past James and pulled up the trap door in the pantry.

Asmodeus had laid Colm’s rifle – although, as Jean had predicted, he’d barely used it – and their daggers on the stone table to one side of the room, where they laid in half-encrusted pools of blood; their boots had been likewise set on one of the steps, to be cleaned later.

Colm would set to it tomorrow if Jean-Pierre didn’t – in the meantime, he stepped past and into the other half of the cellar, tugging one of Asmodeus’ wine bottles from the rack. Jean-Pierre’s still was dripping quietly into a barrel, the chemical scent of it thick on the air, and Colm tapped one of the barrels rings before he picked up a bottle of cider and climbed back up the stairs.

Peadar miaowed at him very plaintively when he stepped back into the kitchen – Asmodeus had taken his big dish out of the oven and laid it in the centre of the dining table, and Peadar’s growling sound of complaint came from low in his furry belly. Colm leaned down and gently picked the huge animal up under the arms, pulling him up against his chest and supporting his big arse with his other hand.

Peadar purred very loudly, a trilling sound, his cheek pressing against Colm’s chin, but even as he did so, he craned to look at the table, to see what everyone was eating.

“No meat here tonight, Peadar,” Colm said apologetically, rocking on his feet with the great tiger of a housecat purring in his arms. “Just ratatouille and wine.”

Peadar looked at him with his stupid yellow eyes, and released another plaintive sound.

“Mrs O’Malley is calling him for his supper, Colm,” Asmodeus said as he broke pieces of garlic bread off of the baguette. “You should put him out.”

“You can hear that?” Aimé asked, and Asmodeus nodded his head.

“So can he, I’d wager,” Asmodeus said, and at once, Peadar’s ears pricked up, and he clawed his way out of Colm’s arms, rushing to the front door with his big bushy tail up in the air. “So you see,” said Asmodeus. “The lint roller is on the table in the hall, Colm.”

Colm looked down at his chest, and then he sighed at the orange hairs covering his chest, then looked at Aimé, whose chest still had a few scattered orange hairs staining it, but had obviously been wiped mostly clean.

“Jean already did me,” Aimé said helpfully, and Colm let out a low, half-amused sound, and let the cat out.

It was almost nice, dinner. He tried to concentrate on not leaning on the ex-priest, tried not to snap at him or ask him too many questions. Asmodeus was quiet as he always was just before going away. He wanted to be quiet, wanted to soak it all in for a while, because after this, he’d be on his own for a while.

It wasn’t that Asmodeus disliked being on his own, Colm didn’t think – he just found it as difficult as anyone might, travelling back and forth, without being able to settle at home again for some time.

“Jean said you’re going to be travelling,” Aimé said. “Meeting angels.”

“I greet new angels when they Fall,” Asmodeus said. “I know they Fall, where they’ll Fall… I tell the Embassy when I know for certain, of course, but I’m usually there first.”

“To give them their starter pack?” Aimé asked, raising an eyebrow. “Welcome to Earth, enjoy your new demotion?”

Asmodeus actually laughed at that, to Colm’s surprise, releasing a low, smooth chuckle. “Something like that,” he murmured. “I help new angels register with the Embassy, choose a name, connect them with resources, shelter, if need be. Like we did with George. But you needn’t worry, Aimé. I’ll be with all of you again for Christmas.”

Perhaps it should have wounded him, that Asmodeus had hesitated to promise Colm he’d be home for Christmas, but that he told Aimé he’d be back easily – but the thing is, they were done for different reasons, Colm thought.

Asmodeus had hesitated to promise Colm in case he disappointed him.

Asmodeus was promising Aimé to get the reaction he was getting now.

Aimé’s lopsided eyes had widened, and his lips were parted in slight surprise, his head tipped back. The emotions that came off him were overwhelming for Colm, sat a few seats away, so he hardly knew how they felt for Aimé himself: bafflement, self-loathing, fear, embarrassment… Every emotion became one amorphous mass of painful feeling. Aimé felt like the rug was going to be pulled out from under him at any moment, and Colm let the emotion hang for a moment before he intervened.

“You will join us for Christmas, won’t you, Aimé?” Colm asked, and ignored the expression of sheer delight that showed on Jean-Pierre’s face. “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to, but…”

He trailed off meaningfully.

“Yeah,” Aimé muttered. “Yeah, I, uh… I guess.”

Colm was pleased at that. More pleased than he’d thought he’d be – the more that he thought about it, the more that Aimé hung around, the more, he supposed, that he accustomed to the idea of Aimé being with them for Christmas.

Jean-Pierre smiled at Colm very sweetly, even as he leaned his head on Aimé’s shoulder – although, Colm knew, as much of that sweetness was him basking in Aimé’s uncertainty as it was in Colm’s kindness.

There’d be a lot of them for Christmas this year.

It would be—

Well.

Who was to say if it would be nice?

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