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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 One: An Angel Falls

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JEAN-PIERRE

When the Great Fall happens, it happens all at once.

It does not feel like falling: instead, it is as if the very world comes up to meet it at speed, launched with impossible speed, and when its feet (feet! feet!) are struck from beneath by the awful ground, it screams. For the first time in its existence (for before now, it has never lived) the angel feels pain.

Many new experiences happen in one rush, in one singular moment: it fills lungs, which it never had before, and feels the cold air rush down a new throat to inflate them, feels it sting; it feels the desperate soak of the rain on its skin, trickling down its body and flattening the feathers of its wings; it screams, and it is chilled to find that the noise that comes forth is just that, just noise.

Corporeality cloaks its body in a new skin, made of flesh and bone and hair and blood, and it screams, and screams, and screams.

The rain comes down from the heavens in heavy, steel-grey sheets, buffeting its fresh skin, and it comes down so heavily and so hard that every drop stings. The new flesh is delicate, and the bruises ache as they bloom to the surface, staining the pale expanse: it is gasping, its two arms (two arms!) clutched about its naked chest (a chest, filled to the brim with treasures, two lungs, a heart, a heart!), and its two wings (blessed normality!) curve inward to shield it, even as it drops to its knees in the grass and the mud.

It is alone on the hillside, and it aches, for it has never been alone before: it has only ever been one amidst legions, one amidst an ordered unit, and here, in the grass, upon the earth, the loneliness takes its heart (a heart, though, really! what next? what next?) and cleaves it in two, pours salt into its veins, and its sobs are guttural and heaving, wrenched from its throat.

Time passes.

It has never experienced time before, time as a thing that moves, time as a river that washes over its shivering skin, and it has never experienced such cold as this, cold that eats beneath its flesh, burrows into its bones, the only bare semblance of warmth coming in the tears that eke out from beneath its eyelids, so hot on its cheeks it thinks it will burn, it will burn—

It does not burn.

Exhaustion overtakes it, and it falls still in the mud, the filth clinging sticky to its skin, forming as sludge in its feathers.

When the rain stops, and the sun rises, it does not stir.

*     *     *

“Jean,” said a low voice, and Jean-Pierre stirred slightly, raising his head. His mouth was dry, and waking brought him once again to the sickening ebb and flow of the water beneath the damned vessel they were on. His sleep had been fitful, rolling over and over without any space to do so, and he’d barely been asleep for what seemed like a few heavy, black moments before he was being poked at. “Jean, wake up.”

“I’m awake,” Jean-Pierre mumbled, sitting forward, and he felt Asmodeus’ hand cup his cheek as he tugged him forward, out of the awkward bunk Jean-Pierre had been crammed into. “Why did you wake me up?” He sounded tired and plaintive, he knew, but Asmodeus was not deterred: he met Jean-Pierre’s gaze and smiled. “I haven’t slept in—”

“We’re here,” Asmodeus said softly, and Jean-Pierre stumbled in his haste to get out of the bunk.

His clothes were rumpled and he was still in his shoes, falling over himself on unsteady feet, and as the ship rocked beneath their feet on the back of a small swell, he felt himself gag, and hid his mouth against the crook of his elbow.

“I have your case,” Asmodeus said. “Colm is already on deck.”

“He would be,” Jean-Pierre muttered, and Asmodeus clucked his tongue in disapproval, but still he smiled: he always smiled, did Jean-Pierre’s brother. Jean-Pierre thought at times that it was the coldest smile on Earth.

The journey from their cabin – a small recess upon the damnable ship where Jean-Pierre had spent the entirety of their journey from New York, staring into space and vomiting in turns – up to the ship’s upper deck was excruciating, and Jean-Pierre walked with a heavy haze of nausea wrapped around him like a cowl. His stomach was empty of anything but bile: therefore, it was only bile that he tipped down the side of the ship when he reached the deck’s side and vomited.

“Jean-Pierre,” said Asmodeus, but Colm was already behind him, and Jean-Pierre grunted as Colm put his arms around Jean-Pierre’s waist and tipped him over his shoulder, carrying him to the gangplank that led from the ship.

Perhaps he should have been embarrassed, but he wasn’t, not really: he fisted his hands in the fabric of Colm’s shirt and pressed his face against the hard flesh of his brother’s shoulder as Colm moved quickly with him. The nausea lingered even once they were settled on the safe, sturdy ground of the dock, and as they waited for Asmodeus to join them – Colm had swiftly bypassed a great queue of people, smiling and waving them down as he passed. They had been charmed by him: traditionally, people were very charmed by Colm.

“Here,” Colm said softly, and pressed a bottle into Jean-Pierre’s hand, the plastic cool against his fingers and most with condensation. Jean-Pierre drank from it heavily, half-collapsed as he was on top of Asmodeus’ antique chest, his knees up in line with his chest, and leaning into Colm’s side.

Colm was warm, heavy, solid, and Jean-Pierre leaned his sweated brow against the hard line of his waist without shame for the people that turned to glance at them as they passed on the dock. Asmodeus’ trunk was a huge thing, easily big enough for all three of them to sit on if they wanted to, but for now Jean-Pierre settled on it himself with Colm stood beside him, his own case – a leather case, vintage as Asmodeus’ own, though by decades instead of centuries.

They both seemed quite apart from Jean-Pierre’s own case, which was a cheap white plastic affair, and looked quite silly held in one of Asmodeus’ massive hands.

Asmodeus was tall, strapping, handsome: possessed of squared shoulders and a narrow waist, dark skin and finely-chiselled features, he rather resembled a model at the worst of times, but now, descending the gangplank from the ship in the Dublin sunshine, wearing a tight grey suit and a pink shirt open at the neck, he looked ever more so.

Jean-Pierre’s polypropylene suitcase could only detract so much.

“Feel better?” Colm asked softly.

“Mm,” Jean-Pierre hummed. “Just— hungry.”

“You’ve barely eaten in two weeks,” Colm murmured. “I’m not surprised you’re hungry. We’ll get something to eat before we go find the house.”

Jean-Pierre nodded his head, pressing his face into his hands, his elbows against his knees, and stayed like that as Asmodeus stepped toward them. No matter that he was on solid ground, he still felt very much like it was moving underneath him, and he wondered if the nausea would ever cease.

“Better?” asked Asmodeus, and he reached out to touch Jean-Pierre’s hair, touching it where it had come loose from its sweat-soaked bun. Jean-Pierre grunted a sound that was neither an affirmative or a negative, but took the elastic Asmodeus offered him, and reached up to tie it back. “You’re alright, Jean-Pierre. We’re here. No more sailing. Let’s go eat something.”

“I’ve no appetite,” Jean-Pierre mumbled.

“Here,” said Colm.

“Wait, no, you don’t have to—” Jean-Pierre exhaled a breath without meaning to as Colm brushed his knuckles against his cheek, and he felt the nausea, the unsteadiness, the desperate sickness, drain entirely from his body. With the next breath he took in, though still tired, he felt reenergised.

Colm looked quite pale.

“You needn’t have done that,” said Jean-Pierre. “I am no child, unable to withstand the weight of my own feeling.”

“You need to eat,” said Colm, green about his gills as he coughed against the back of his hand, his throat bobbing as he swallowed back the visible urge to vomit. “Let’s go.”

“There’s a taxi waiting for us,” said Asmodeus, smiling his cold smile, and Jean-Pierre couldn’t help but feel a desperate affection for both of his brothers as he stood to his feet, putting one arm on Colm’s shoulder and squeezing even while Asmodeus gestured toward him. “Take your luggage, will you? It doesn’t suit me.”

“I know,” Jean-Pierre murmured, smiling slightly despite himself, and he took the case Asmodeus pushed into his hands.

*     *     *

“What is it?”

“I found him out by the wheat field—”

“What is it?”

“He looked so… I couldn’t leave him, Maman, I couldn’t—"

The voices were heard through new ears, and the owner of them stayed very, very still, digesting the sound, the physicality, of all it now was. It could feel it: each sound exiting a throat, moving forth with a breath to fill its sails, and the sound expanding outward, stopping where it reached the dirt ground and the thickly padded hay, but bouncing where it hit the hard wood of the building wall. Sound: this was sound.

Sound, before now, had been but a theory, a concept: sound, now, was real.

Before now, a voice was a Voice, and such things as words came imparted heavy in the very mind, understanding instantaneous. Communication happened to other beings: angels Knew, for that was their purpose.

Now, it Knew nothing, and knew even less, and it heard the soft whimper that came from between its dry lips, hissing over its dry tongue. The sound was pathetic, lowly, and it tasted its shame, felt it ring within its body.

It lifts its head, feels the pain that suffuses its very form, and it exhales, staring forward.

“My God,” whispered the human before it, and it watched distantly as the human moved its hands, two fingers tracing a line from its forehead down to its chest, and then from shoulder to shoulder. What it meant, the angel could not possibly know, and it stared down at its own hand, which was caked with mud. The skin was red-raw beneath its blanket of muck, and the hand, as he regarded it, shivered.

“Come,” said the voice of the other one, which was lower, and it felt the touch against its cheek, and it cried out, keened. The touch was so warm, and more than that, it was the touch of life, a soul under that warm skin, a soul— “Oh, hey, hey,” the voice said, and it said it in the angel’s ear, for the angel was wrapped tight around its body, sobbing against the speaker’s chest.

“Jules—”

“He’s fine, he’s fine,” Jules said, and the angel desperately curled its wings around them, pressed its face closer to the breast of the one called Jules, but it was not the same: it was used to being in amongst the natural graces of a thousand angels, a hundred thousand, and this was but one human soul, just one. “He barely weighs anything,” he said, and when the angel felt the pang of sympathy, the new emotion all but knocked it down, its knees buckling. “Oh, hey,” Jules said, and his hands alighted firm on the angel’s waist, gripping it to keep it upright, draped as it was about his neck. “Alright, here…”

The angel didn’t let go as the human Jules gently pushed it backward, bringing it down to sit upon the hay again, and it heaved in gasps of air, feeling the instinct although the practice was new, and it looked, for the first time, at his face.

Jules was a human: a man, perhaps approaching thirty years of age. His cheeks were dusky and tanned with hard work in the sun, and his hair was long and messily cut, drawn back from his face, tied at his neck and put back behind his ears. His nose had been broken before, the angel thought: it had seen humans with crooked noses, like this one, but never from down here, beneath the firmament, only from Heaven.

It had never been to Earth before.

It reached up, touching Jules’ cheek with its palm, feeling the heat, feeling the regular flow of his blood in his veins, and it shuddered in an uncertain breath. Jules had deep brown eyes, and it could see in their depths concern, concern and sympathy, and curiosity… The emotions flooded over it like a wave, and it closed its own eyes, gripping tightly at Jules’ shoulder. Their bodies were flush together, and the angel could not stand to pull away, but it heard the noise of the other human, and it looked at her.

She was older, it thought. It saw in her face the same dusky skin, the same shape in the mouth, and it felt the similarity in her blood, and his blood. This was Jules’ mother

It remembered the first of them, Eve, remembered her heavy with child, and holding the first of them against her breast…

It looked to Jules, and Jules smiled at it. It was a small smile, and it watched his lips curve up to form it.

It hesitated. It felt the face wrapped around it, felt it, and it forced its mouth to move, feeling the strange pull of unfamiliar muscles (muscles! muscles! it had never needed muscles before!), at its cheeks, at its lips…

Jules’ smile deepened, and his gaze came from the angel’s face to its wings, which are… They had feathers, now, and the wings sprout from between its shoulder blades, expanding outward. It had never had feathers, or shoulders, before, never, it never… The feathers were a golden-brown, and Jules reached up, his fingers brushing against the soft down, and the angel gasped at the strange touch, the strange sensation.

“It could be dangerous,” the mother said. It could feel the anxiety radiating from her, and it leaned closer to the other, feeling his quiet confidence, his warmth. This emotion, this too was new: pleasure.

“I don’t think he is,” Jules said softly, fingers still brushing through the feathers, and the angel’s eyes fluttered closed, its face falling against the human’s breast once more, its nose pressed as tight as it could be against the rough wool of its vestments, its fingers gripping tightly at the fabric. “He’s just frightened, and scared. What happened?”

It didn’t respond, not until Jules’ fingers came away from its wing, and instead touched against its chin, pushing it up to look at him. It stared into Jules’ eyes, into his beseeching expression.

“Can you talk?” he asked quietly, not unkindly.

It had never talked before. It knew only the Word, knew instructions, had put forward messages, but it had never wrapped lips and teeth and a tongue about its speech, and made it audible. But the human Jules had asked it, and were it silent, that would be a lie, would it not? It could talk, it thought: it had a tongue, and lips, and a larynx, and a voice…

“Yes,” it said. The sound was soft and mellifluous, though slightly hoarse, and it made Jules smile again, wider this time. It liked that smile. Liked. It liked! Liked! “Fell,” it said. “Was…”

It trailed off.

To Fall was the great punishment: to Fall was to err, and be found judged.

“Did nothing,” it said, overtaken in its own perplexity.

Twin confusion radiated from Jules and the mother alike, and it closed its eyes, the emotion uncomfortable where it touched its consciousness.

“What are you?” Jules asked. His hand, once more, trailed through its feathers, pressing into the down this time, and it clung to him tightly, not daring to let go. His voice was full of wonder: so too was his heart, and the wonderment made it think of blessed creation. It kept its eyes closed, clutching all the harder at this human, at this man, at this soul. It felt such sorrow it could scarcely stand it, and it felt as if it weighed it down.

“Fallen,” it said again, its voice dull even to its own ears. “Fallen.”

"Oh," Jules said, as if he understood, although he could not, he mustn't: his hand curled in the angel's hair (hair? hair!), clutched at it, and drew it closer. He felt the angel's sorrow, it thought, and took such pity on it, such pity. "I'm sorry," he murmured, and the angel didn’t hear as he went on, talking to the woman, the mother, perhaps talking to the angel itself. It heard nothing but the slow beat of the heart beneath its ear, and without really meaning to, the tears a hot and sudden streak on its cheeks, it began to weep.

*     *     *

“… a roast and a pint of milk,” said the waitress, who was named Rosetta, although she was wearing Sandra’s name badge ever since Sandra had gone to work in the med supply factory to keep guys from looking her up on Facebook, and set the plate and pint glass in front of Colm, who gave her a winning smile. She smiled back, even though she didn’t usually smile at men, didn’t really want to encourage them – she didn’t know why she felt like he was safe, why he was alright, but for some reason, she felt that he was.

Jean-Pierre reached up and rubbed carefully at the edge of his temple, trying to work away the threatening headache building there. Two weeks in ship’s cabin had left him isolated from people, who all felt their feelings so very loudly, so openly, and all at once, in a half-full restaurant in the early afternoon, it was overwhelming, now.

“Are you sure I can’t get you anything else?” Rosetta asked Jean-Pierre. “We do have other vegan options, if it’s that.”

Jean-Pierre looked at the rosiness in her cheeks, the set of her mouth, her wide eyes. He had evidently been looking at her for too long, because he felt the wave of uncertainty come from her, and then he heard Asmodeus say, as if through a wall of water, “He’s okay. Thank you, Miss.”

Rosetta nodded, walking back toward the till, and Jean-Pierre stared down at the fruit platter spread out in front of him on the table: melon, pineapple, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, oranges, even a few pieces of starfruit.

“Do you think if I ask, they’ll have dragonfruit?” Jean-Pierre asked.

“We walked past twenty-two restaurants before we saw one with a fruit platter,” Asmodeus said mildly, taking a sip of his tea. “So I doubt it.”

Jean-Pierre picked up a piece of starfruit, putting it in his mouth and chewing, feeling the acid sweetness burst on his tongue, and although they both did their best to hide their relief, he could see some of the tension go out of Asmodeus’ shoulders, and see Colm’s clenched jaw relax.

“Vegan options,” Jean-Pierre said mildly.

“Dublin’s very cosmopolitan these days,” Colm murmured, giving him an easy smile, and Jean-Pierre smiled back, and focused himself on his food. The nausea had passed quickly, once Colm had taken it for himself, and he ate with gusto, albeit a gusto Jean-Pierre tried his best to tune out, as he did the slightly overpowering smell of the gravy.

Asmodeus had just ordered a salad, like he usually did when given the option, and Jean-Pierre watched him pick through for the cherry tomatoes, spearing them with his fork and dousing them in the vinaigrette before he ate them, one after the other, before he’d eat the rest.

Colm, on the other hand, ate from his plate in a clockwise motion, taking a morsel from each section as he went around it: a piece of beef, then some carrots, then broccoli, then potato, then Yorkshire pudding, then back to the beef… One could set a clock by the way Colm ate from his plate.

He felt the emotion swell in his chest, a deep and warm affection for the two men beside him. Colm said, in an idle tone, “We love you too, Jean.”

Jean-Pierre smiled, but his nose wrinkled as Colm picked up his pint glass and began swallowing down mouthful after mouthful of thick, white milk.

“I don’t know how you can do that,” Jean-Pierre muttered.

“We don’t all have your delicate constitution,” said Colm cheerfully.

Asmodeus reached out, plucking a grape from the side of Jean-Pierre’s platter.

“Hey!”

“It’s a sharing platter, Jean-Pierre,” rumbled Asmodeus, but as payment, he offered Jean-Pierre his fork, speared with the last of the cherry tomatoes, and Jean-Pierre laughed as he took it.

*     *     *

The angel shivered as Jules gently dragged the cloth over its skin, scrubbing at the flesh before he rinsed the cloth once more. The water was brown with muck by the time his work was complete, and he was swift about dragging the towel over its skin to dry it.

“Good that you didn’t get your feathers dirty,” he said quietly. The mother – Marguerite – had gone back inside, and they were alone inside a small hay barn. It could hear the sound of animals, now that it listened for them, and felt their signatures behind the wooden partition: two cows, each lain down to sleep for the night. “Are you in pain?”

“Do not know,” it said, because it was true.

Jules gave it a long, long look, and then he gently set the towel aside, reaching out and touching its feathers once more, absently, like he could scarcely stop himself. Immediately, it was forward again, in the human’s lap, its face buried in his neck, and it heard him sigh softly.

“Can you put these away?” he asked.

“Don’t understand,” it said.

“These,” Jules said, and his fingers carded through soft plumage on each side, making the angel sigh, its wings fluttering with quiet satisfaction. “Can you hide them?” It thought about this for some time. Hiding. Nothing hid, once upon a time: the animals of the world lived in harmony, and Eve and Adam hid nothing, for they had no shame.

So much had changed, since then, and yet for the angel, then and now were so recently just a matter of perspective, the direction in which one pointed one’s gaze.

Hide them.

It felt its wings, drawing them inward, folding against its back, and then, a little more. It was difficult to describe the sensation, precisely, but it felt them fold in tighter, inward, and then there was nothing, just a blank expanse of rain-bruised skin. Jules’ hands slid over the bare flesh, feeling the blades of its shoulders, the back of its neck, and it clutched all the tighter at him.

“Do you have a name?” he asked.

“No,” it said. “We don’t have names.”

“There are names,” Jules said slowly, cautiously. “Michael, Raphael, Gabriel…”

It was still. How to explain? Could it explain?

“Not…” It stopped. It had never been an individual before, and it felt as if it had been cleaved away from its natural place, strangely empty when it drew away from the human’s breast, and it did not want to draw away. “Not me,” it said. The very word felt like a blasphemy, but what more did blasphemy matter anymore?

It could not Fall a second time.

“You need one,” Jules said.

“Why?”

“Because everyone has a name.”

“Not… me.”

“You need to,” the human said, and he reached up, gently drawing his fingers through the angel’s hair. It leaned into the touch, its eyes fluttering closed once more, and it felt the thumb that gently played against its scalp, the warmth of hard-worked, calloused fingers, a scarred palm.

“Where… is this?” it asked.

“Outside Chartres,” the human said. “France. Did you fall from Heaven?”

It said nothing, but its fingers gripped, without its permission, tighter at the human’s blouse.

“What… year?” it asked. It knew how time worked, it thought. Seconds into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days, and days… into the rest. It knew them. But—

“1732,” Jules said. Once, it Knew. The dates coincided with events, and there were so many different calendars, so many different philosophies of time, but it used to know what events coincided with what dates, and yet its mind was but a blank expanse, so empty, cut off as it is from the body of knowledge of the Host. It Knew…

But it didn’t, anymore.

“You choose it,” it said.

“I can’t choose it,” Jules said, sounding almost scandalised, and it felt the shift in its face as its brow furrows of its own accord.

“Why not?”

“Because— Because it’s your name.” That stung. The your, in the singular, the dreadful singular, the individual: it was just one, now, instead of legion. How could this be natural, be normal, to be but one body, one mind, one… soul? A soul! What a dreadful thing to be cursed with!

“You name one another all the time,” it said tightly, wishing it could crawl into its own skin and be hidden there. “Heard about it. You give one another names, and assignations, and diminutives, even.”

Jules stared down at it, apparently struck dumb by this retort.  “But—”

“You say I need a name, but now you will not choose one. Make your decision one way or the other.” There is a moment’s pause, and then Jules let out a low, rich sound, breathless and quiet. It leaned back slightly to look at his face, at the smile dragging at his lips, at his teeth. It liked that sound: laughter, it was laughter. “You laugh at… me,” it said, feeling its lips twist into a frown.

“You’re stubborn as an ass,” Jules replied.

“Oh.”

“Jean,” he decided. “Or… No, Pierre. Or— I can’t choose. There are too many names, all of them too common!”

“Jean-Pierre,” it said.

“That’s too common.”

“You said needed a name.”

Jules sighed, and again, it felt that trickle of warm indulgence, of fondness, the emotion that played soft over its skin. It ached, it thought: it could feel the shift of bruises beneath the flesh, the blood seeping beneath the tender skin…

“As an ass,” he said again. “Alright, Jean-Pierre: that’s that. How old are you?”

It considered this question. “Debatable,” it said.

“How can it be debatable?”

“Humans debate,” it said.

Jules sighed, still smiling. “Yes, but they don’t debate age: age is a matter of facts, one way or the other. You are the age that you are.”

“Oh.”

“So, how old are you?”

“Unknown.”

Again, the laughter.

“How old do I… appear?” it asked.

“Late twenties,” Jules said, after a moment’s thought.

“Very well,” Jean-Pierre replied. “Then I am late twenties.”

No,” Jules said. “You need to pick a year, and a date you were born.”

Why?” it asked defeatedly, astonished by the petulance in its own voice. It had never felt like this before: quietly defiant and… annoyed. It was annoyed, irritated. There was a heaviness at its eyes, and even as it mused on the thought, it felt its mouth open unbidden, feels strange, thick air pass from its throat through its mouth. Immediately, it frowned in perplexity.

“That was a yawn,” Jules said.

“Am tired?”

“Yes, I expect so.”

“Oh.”

“Come,” Jules said, and Jean-Pierre disobeyed. Was this what disobedience felt like? It felt good. Perhaps it did deserve to Fall.

It lingered in the hay as Jules rose to his feet, and Jules frowned down at it, his eyebrows furrowing. It looked up at him, unmoving, its mouth set in a thin, loose line. “Fine,” Jules said, and then he bent, and lifted.

Jean-Pierre let out a noise of surprise as arms came beneath its legs and its back, lifting it with ease from the hay bale and taking it outside, into the stinging cold of the early morning air, still dark, still with moisture thick in it. The black night was beginning to give way to red on the horizon. It did not struggle, however, as Jules brought it under the low stoop and into another building that adjoined the first, a house – a cottage.

“Jules,” said Marguerite. “Wh— Oh.” She stared at Jean-Pierre for a long moment, her mouth fallen open, and it felt confusion, fear, uncertainty, and then a curious calm. It was as if it was all smoothed away in her mind, and it stared at her for a long moment, not entirely comprehending as she crossed her arms over her chest, and nodded toward the wooden slats to the edge of the room, where a dog, wiry and brown and thick with fur, tapped its tail against the sheepskin beneath it.

Jules carried the angel to the bed, putting it down there, and he reached for a blanket, throwing it over its body.

“No—” it protested as the human draws away, feeling the dreadful cold, the dreadful loneliness, of the cleaved-in-two feeling set into place again.

“Lie down,” Jules said, and he patted the wooden board beside the angel’s breast. The dog wriggled forward, curling against its side. It was not the same as Jules, but still, life burst beneath its skin, and Jean-Pierre came closer, wrapping one arm about the animal and pressing its nose against the back of its furry neck. It didn’t smell like Jules does, like sweat and hay and wheat. It smelled different: this was how dogs smelled. “This is Anicroche,” Jules said. “She’ll keep you warm.”

It held the dog, felt her tail wag against its calf beneath the blanket, felt her warmth, and it pressed its head against her fur, feeling its softness against his skin.

“Where are you going?” it asked, miserably.

“To work,” Jules replied. “There is labour that needs completing.”

“For how long?”

“Would you know how long how long was, if I told you?”

It paused a moment. The hand touched its hair once more, and it sighed, not opening its eyes. “No,” it muttered.

“Soon,” Jules said, and stood to his feet. It felt him draw further away, heard him talk in hushed tones with Marguerite, felt the separation as the two souls exited the cottage, and went outside. The dog remained.

The dog’s heart beat faster than Jules’ had, and her mind was a flurry of short bursts of emotion: new thing, curious, love, warm, friend, food?, food want, new thing, warm, warm

It sighed, and it felt the dog’s mind begin to slow as she wriggled close against its chest, seeking its warmth. The angel allowed it, and it felt the dog’s drowsiness, felt her mind drift and slow…

This was sleep.

*     *     *

Jean-Pierre heard the click of the door as Colm stepped out from the café, and heard his growl of irritation. “Christ, Jean, how old are you?”

“As old as you are,” Jean-Pierre mumbled against Asmodeus’ neck. “To the day.”

“You’re seriously going to carry him?” Colm demanded.

“It doesn’t bother me,” said Asmodeus, his tone easy, smooth, and mild: Jean-Pierre’s legs were wrapped around his middle and his arms around his neck, and one of Asmodeus’ hand kept a steadying grip under Jean-Pierre’s thigh, keeping him in place as they walked along. “The house is scarce twenty minutes’ walk from here.”

“You spoil him,” snapped Colm.

“I spoil both of you,” was Asmodeus’ reply, and Jean-Pierre heard Colm’s sound of frustration, but did not feel the wave of it, because Asmodeus drowned it out.

Asmodeus was not like humans or other angels, nor like anyone else besides: he was a pit of lacking feeling, a great, black spot on what might be called the radar of Colm and Jean-Pierre’s empathies, and in this blackness, now, Jean-Pierre felt comfort beyond measure, for it drowned out the cacophony of the rest of the world.

Pressed against this nothingness, being as it was a void that Jean-Pierre called brother, and loved beyond measure, he slept.

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