Warnings: Alternate Universe. Serious playing around with religion and other things that are hot buttons for some people. Yaoi. R.
Disclaimer: Tatsunoko owns Gatch. This is a flight of fancy, intended purely for entertainment.
The first thing Ken noticed was the cold against his legs. He shivered and, still half asleep, tried to find the blankets with his toes, so he could drag them back up.
But he stretched his leg out all the way, and found neither covers nor the end of the bed.
Strange, he thought drowsily, and settled his wings more closely over himself. At least my wings will always keep me warm . . . no matter what happens to the blankets . . .
The next things he became aware of were the crick in his neck and ache in his shoulder, from using his arm as a pillow. He scrabbled for the errant thing, and found nothing. The discomfort was enough to make him mumble and turn over, arm outstretched . . .
But, as he rolled onto his back, the sudden stinging pain from his behind brought him completely awake. Hissing, he sat up, gingerly trying to find a position that did not hurt. After a moment, he discovered that kneeling seemed to be best, and did so, wings curled about his shoulders, hands braced on his thighs, trying not to think about the pain.
But not thinking about it led to thinking about other things, like his companion and what they had done. A glance around told him that it was midmorning, and confirmed that, as he had thought, he was quite alone on the cloud. Then he had to try not to think about what he felt about that.
Of course, he told himself firmly. The devil only had a pass for one night, and he had to get back to Hell for . . . for whatever it is that devils do in Hell. For some reason, his inner voice was not terribly convincing.
Carefully, he got to his feet. The pain had faded to a subtle ache, flaring up only when he moved too quickly, or put too much pressure on that tender area.
His loincloth did not fall as it ought; it was askew about him. Straightening it out, Ken found that it was kind of wadded, sticking together in spots. He pulled it apart, and found that there were clumps of something off-white staining the filmy fabric, binding folds of it together.
It occurred to him then that he also felt kind of . . . stuck together. Or maybe just sticky. He lifted his loincloth again, and brushed a hand over himself. White bits of . . . something—perhaps the same thing on his loincloth?—flaked and fell away. Strangely fascinated, he brushed again at the short curly hairs that surrounded his member, felt them tug at his skin and eventually spring free of the adhesive . . . whatever it was.
What is this stuff? he wondered, trying to remove it with long slow sweeps of his hand. Dried sweat seemed to coat the rest of his body, in addition to this, and altogether, he felt rather less clean than he did after a strenuous aerial acrobatic session.
Then, quite unexpectedly . . . the tingle was back. It was running through him, pulling him taut, bringing with it memories of all that the devil had done to him, and how much he’d enjoyed it. Even the ache he was still experiencing was not all bad, because it reminded him of the immense pleasure they had shared, of the closeness between them.
He remembered the rugged features, grinning down at him, the large hand around his member, stroking up and down . . .
Reluctantly, Ken pulled his hand away. It felt good. But it didn’t feel quite as good as when the devil had put his hand there and . . .
He shivered, and sat down again, wincing slightly at the discomfort. He pulled one knee up and rested his chin on it, letting his other leg dangle off the edge of the cloud.
He wondered where over the earth he was. Clouds didn’t stop moving just because one little angel hitched a ride. But he didn’t think too long or hard about it, and his thoughts quickly drifted away to other places.
Joe opened his eyes and wished he hadn’t. Groaning, he covered his eyes with one arm, and asked himself why, why devils still had hangovers. Aren’t we supposed to be the ones doing the torturing? he asked himself. I thought so, anyway. So why have I got this hammer pounding in my skull?
After a few minutes of wallowing in self-pity, he forced himself upright. His head throbbed, and he cradled it carefully in both hands, slumping on the edge of his bed, quietly thinking up curses to use upon unsuspecting bartenders.
The chiming of his message machine didn’t help matters much.
How many glasses of scotch had he had? Had his tolerance really slipped that much?
Hands on his wings, passion reddened lips, wide blue eyes . . . And Joe straightened in surprise, the pounding in his head increasing in frequency as he did.
Ah. Yes. That. What had driven him to have what felt like about three more glasses of scotch than was good for him. What had ruined, or nearly, the first night out he’d had in more than a century.
The angel, the oh-so-tempting-and-tempted angel. He hadn’t been able to get the fledgling out of his head the rest of the night, and the disgust he’d felt with himself had led him to down those extra shots of scotch. The woman he’d chosen to degrade had escaped with her dignity and soul intact, because he kept getting distracted, kept seeing the angel’s pretty face in his mind.
Fuck. He was getting hard just thinking about him.
Wouldn’t that be nice? Waltzing in for his shift with a raging hard-on? “You had your chance last night,” he told his stirring cock, his voice savage, covering his eyes with one hand. “With her. But nooo . . .”
When he realized what he was doing, he resisted the urge to flop back down on his bed. I’m talking to my dick. Not a good start to the day, here . . .
And that chiming was getting fucking annoying . . .
Finally, he decided that it would probably be best if he gathered himself together and showed up for his shift at something like on-time. With some difficulty, he found his feet. He wandered into the bathroom and splashed some cold water on his face, in an attempt to force the hangover away. It refused, but he did feel slightly more able to handle his day.
But this was Hell; there were no aspirin to be had, no matter where he looked. Swearing under his breath, he began to look for his work clothes, then remembered he had to shimmy out of the clinging leather before donning them.
The chiming seemed to take on a slightly impatient tone when he started searching for his boots. Growling, he slapped at the “play message” button, then sat down to pull on the single boot he had found.
The voice of his immediate superior came from the machine, and, as usual, the calm and measured tones rubbed him the wrong way.
“Joe. Considering your state of inebriation last night, I’m sure you don’t remember . . .”
Joe snorted, and carefully bent to look under the bed for that wayward boot.
“. . . why I’m leaving this message. Please report to me 15 minutes before your shift starts this morning. I have something quite important to discuss with you . . .”
His fingers on the leather boot, Joe heard the time given and jumped. Unfortunately, he was still under the bed, and knocked his head hard enough to see stars. Quickly reversing himself, he crawled out and looked up at the clock, then swore and lurched toward the door.
Flying in the corridors was not expressly forbidden, but that was the only way he was going to make it to his Boss’s office on time.
He still had to put on that other boot, too.
As he darted around other demons in the corridor, at last he recalled that this was why he hadn’t taken a pass to the Outside in well over a century. The morning after just wasn’t worth it.
“. . . and has not yet returned to Heaven. Alert. Alert. At seven-oh-three pee-em Greenwich Mean Time, an Angel of the Hunter class . . .”
Katse slammed a hand down on the console, turning off the annoyingly androgynous voice and its repetitive notification. It was beginning to grate on her nerves. She returned to her angry pacing, blond hair fluttering in her wake and wings twitching in agitation.
The Luminous One was not going to be pleased with her for letting an angel be out of Heaven all night. Especially a Hunter, and as young and untrained as Ken . . .
I’m going to have to close the back gate for good now, and she sighed at the thought.
The reason for the slack-seeming watch on Heaven’s back door had nothing to do with its near inaccessibility from Hell. The only reason for that portal’s existence at all was because of the younglings, the fledglings and the newly-matured. They had their little rebellions to go through, and if it made them feel . . . empowered to sneak out of Heaven, well, then, let them think they were sneaking. The fact that it was actually allowed, if only tacitly, would guarantee that there would be no sin involved.
And the comings and goings through the back gate were quite well regulated, rather than the opposite. Someone in Heaven always knew which fledglings had snuck out, and when, and when they came back in again. Nothing was ever said, of course, about their sneaking out, and no one ever told the younglings that what they were doing was all right.
But then, they’d always come back. Never, in all the years that Katse had been in her position, had an angel stayed out of Heaven all night.
And the implications of this prolonged absence . . . well, they were disturbing, to say the least. Even more so when taking into consideration that Ken was one of the most promising Hunters that Katse had seen in an age.
Having expected this contact for some time, Katse turned to the com and opened the link. “Yes, Luminous One?” she asked, respectfully.
“The Hunter. Has he returned?” The Luminous One’s voice was deep, echoing slightly, but emotionally void.
She closed her eyes. “No, Luminous One.”
“What actions have you taken?”
“I . . .” Her voice came out as a high-pitched squeak, and she cleared her throat. “I have assembled a number of Seekers and other Hunters to go out and search . . .”
“Good. See to it immediately.” There was a ‘click’ and the connection was closed.
Katse relaxed, and immediately morphed into his male form. The stress was apparently too much, and he was unable to control the change as he usually did. At least he usually wore robes, so that the change didn’t catch him as off-guard as it would if he wore a loin-cloth, as was more common for the male angels. It had happened once or twice, when he’d first been appointed to his position, and so disconcerted the other angels, when they found a female wearing nothing but a loincloth, that he’d immediately taken to wearing the robes.
He turned away from the console and resumed pacing. How am I going to do this? Where should I send them first? And . . . what if they can’t find him? Oh, dear Luminous One, don’t even think that . . .
“Archangel?” The soft voice drifted in through the open doorway and brought him out of his musings with a start.
When he turned toward the door, he saw a young female angel, very pretty, with huge green eyes. She was just barely out of her fledgling stage, and had started working for him only recently. Rather than snapping and taking his frustration out on her, he smiled. “Yes, Jun?”
“I . . . I do have that information you requested, sir.” Her head was bent slightly, her green tinted hair brushing her shoulders.
Katse nodded toward his desk. “If you would . . .? I’m afraid I’ll have to look at it later.”
Jun nodded and placed the stack of printouts she carried onto Katse’s littered desk. Then she hesitated, and looked up at him through long lashes. “Sir . . .”
“Yes?” His voice was just a hint sharper this time.
She winced, but forged on. “Sir . . . is something wrong? I’ve heard the requests for the Seekers and Hunters over the com . . .”
Katse let out a breath, watching her. Her wings were trembling ever so slightly, as if she were agitated. Spinning on his heel, he stalked over to one of the great wide windows that overlooked one of Heaven’s parks. “I suppose you ought to know, in case anyone else asks . . .”
“Yes, sir.” He could hear her shuffle her feet, and then there was silence, as she waited for him to explain.
“Last night . . . an angel left Heaven through the back gate. He hasn’t returned yet.”
She gasped. “Snuck out? But . . .”
Katse faced her again, smiling slightly. “But how do we know? Jun, of course we keep tabs on the back gate. Sneaking out is allowed, from time to time. But you mustn’t tell any of your friends about that,” he said, a stern note creeping into his voice. “That will have to change now, anyway . . .” he added, more to himself than her.
“But . . . sir, I mean . . .”
“So that’s why I’ve been calling in the most senior Hunters and Seekers. I need them to go out and find him, and bring him back.” As if forgetting her presence, Katse began to pace once more. “That silly Hunter . . . he’s going to have to be punished . . .”
“It’s Ken, isn’t it? Oh, please, sir . . .”
Surprised at her suddenly distraught voice, Katse looked at her. “How did you know that?” he asked her fiercely. “Were you listening in to . . .”
She shook her head. “I . . . I went to see him this morning, and he wasn’t in his aerie. He wasn’t there last night, either, when I . . .”
“Why were you going to see him?”
This time she flinched at his cutting tone. “We . . . we often study together, sir,” she responded just above a whisper, “even though we’re of different classes. He . . . he’s my friend.”
Something in her voice made Katse’s feminine side stir, enough to give her an appraising glance, but not enough to cause the change. The girl’s cheeks were pink, and she could not keep her hands still. The feminine side immediately decided that the girl had a bit of hero worship for the missing angel—not that she would blame her! Having seen a holo of the boy, she could quite understand it. But then Katse’s eyes were his own again, and those thoughts were dismissed.
Jun was watching him now, her eyes pleading. “Please, sir, may I help look for him?”
Despite being tempered by the understanding of his feminine side, Katse found that his patience with the girl was quickly becoming exhausted. “Don’t be foolish, Jun. This is a job for a Seeker or a Hunter, not a Gatherer.” When she bowed her head, he sighed. “If your duties are complete, just return to your aerie. We will find your friend.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, already hurrying out the door. “Thank you.”
He spared a moment to watch her leave, but almost immediately returned to worrying about how to find the errant boy.
His boss was polishing his glasses when Joe stumbled into his office. “You’re late,” was all he said.
Joe stood there, panting, temper simmering, and waited while his boss finished his task and neatly tucked his handkerchief back into his breast pocket.
“I asked you to be here 15 minutes before your shift started. When you arrived, it was already 2 and a half minutes past the appointed time . . .”
Joe gritted his teeth. “I do apologize, Lord Nambu,” he ground out. “But . . .”
Nambu looked at him over the tops of his glasses, and he subsided, shuffling his feet.
“After your . . . somewhat incoherent presentation last night, I did report the matter to our leader . . .”
“To himself?” Joe gasped, paling slightly.
“Yes. After all, I was able to confirm that you were telling the truth, and angelic seed is as specific in its differences from that of mortals as our own is. As I say, I brought the matter to Sosai’s attention, and he has directed you to search for that angel and, if possible, bring him to us.”
Several long seconds ticked by, as Joe simply stood there in shock. “Let me get this straight,” he said at last, disbelief patent in every word. “You want me to search for an angel who may or may not have returned to Heaven, may or may not be on Earth, and may or may not be tempted further?” He laughed shortly. “Why I don’t I just convince the Pope to have an orgy with an abbey of nuns while I’m at it?”
“Because his heart wouldn’t stand it, for one thing.” Nambu sighed and leaned forward, steepling his fingers before him on the desk. “This is no time for sarcasm, Joe. He’s very serious about this. For some reason, he really wants that angel to be brought down here. He’s decided that, since that angel found you attractive enough to have sex with you, he might be willing to follow you to Hell. And, even if he doesn’t, then he still might render himself unfit to be an angel. In the end, whichever way it turns out will be all to the good for us.”
Joe sighed. “All right, I understand.”
Nambu leaned back in his chair. “I knew I could count on you. Now, I know this will be difficult for you, but we’re falling behind. I need you to work at least half your shift down in the Pit, and then go out and search for the angel boy. Yes, yes,” he raised a hand, forestalling Joe’s half-formed objection. “I realize that you’ll be out during the day, and normally, that wouldn’t be allowed. However, I think that the extenuating circumstances warrant it. Sosai has provided the special pass for you, as well.” From the corner of his immaculate desk, he picked up a piece of colored paper and handed it to Joe.
As soon as he touched it, Joe felt an electric little tingle run through his fingers and up his arms. He shivered in response, and stared down at the paper. Sosai’s scrawling signature stared boldly back at him. Then he looked back up at Nambu. “My lord, if I’m not able to find him today . . .”
“Then we will address that problem when you return.” Nambu eyed him. “And you are not to spend time in a bar or house of ill repute when you should be looking for this boy. If we discover that you have done so . . .” He left the threat hanging.
Inwardly, Joe sighed. That was part of working in Hell, he thought sourly. No trust. No trust at all. “Yes, sir,” he replied. “I’ll do my best.” He folded the pass and placed it in an inside pocket, where it would not be damaged by the fire or smoke in the Pit. “Is there anything else?”
Nambu waved a negligent hand. “No. Go on. You’ll still be 3 minutes late for your shift, even if you fly top speed all the way.”
Joe’s pointed tail was out the door before he even finished speaking.
Jun was in a veritable frenzy, and had been ever since the Archangel had confirmed that Ken was missing.
She had to admit, though, that despite the far-flung places her research had taken her, she’d never discovered any documentation that sneaking out through Heaven’s back door was not only permissible, but encouraged. Too bad the Archangel doesn’t want me to tell anyone . . . She sighed and took another turn around her aerie.
Where would Ken have gone? She paused, and considered the question closely. There was little doubt in her mind that he’d originally snuck out to practice his flying. But he certainly would have come back, flushed and glowing from the supposed illicit nature of his excursion.
That left one option. He was unable to come back, for whatever reason.
Jun felt her heart give a little stutter as she considered the possibility that Ken had been injured in some way, and her over-active imagination pictured him, broken and bleeding on some distant cloud . . . or, worse yet, lost on Earth . . .
She clenched her fists, her pleasant demeanor much changed, now grim and determined.
I don’t care if Katse has sent out all the Hunters we have! she thought. I’m still going out to look . . .
Without pausing to change out of her short, thin robe, she took off, stepping from her aerie into the air, and headed to Heaven’s back gate at top speed.
It was the noise that finally caught Ken’s attention, pulling him out of his reverie and forcing him to pay attention to the world around him. He sat very still, head slightly cocked to one side, concentrating on the sound.
He was not sure what instinct drove him, but a second later, he discovered he was lying on the cloud, knees tucked up, head bent, wings covering all of him, camouflaging him as part of the fluffy white matter around him.
What am I doing? he asked himself, surprised at his own actions, and was about to uncurl when he heard voices along with the sound of wings cutting through the air. It sounded as if they flew along next to the cloud, but not over it.
“Did you smell that, Fariel? Brimstone, and so strong . . .”
Fariel’s reply was lost in the rush of air as the angels sped by Ken’s cloud.
The first angel’s voice carried back to him on the wind. “. . . normally not during the day . . .”
Once he was sure they weren’t going to circle back and do a second sweep of his cloud, Ken swept his wings back and sat up, chewing his lip indecisively. Another glance up at the sun told him that several hours had passed since he’d awoken.
He sighed at his own laxity. I should have known better, he thought, the words accusing. I should have gone back to Heaven as soon as I woke up . . . no, as soon as we . . .
Then he frowned, brows drawing close together. The words were unclear in his memory, but he’d woken up slightly as the devil spoke, the deep, rumbling voice unfamiliar enough to rouse him, but not really threatening enough to bring him fully awake.
It was a devil! Ken told himself severely. Of course it should have been threatening enough . . .
Then he recalled the wonderful lassitude that had stolen over him, making his limbs feel disconnected from the rest of him, the way he’d simply lain there, pinned beneath the devil, pleasure radiating through him, and blushed, because he knew he could have done nothing.
Heated hands on his body, touching him everywhere, chest and legs and wings . . .
Ken shivered as the tingle came back, more strongly this time, centering on those parts of his anatomy that the devil had seemed most interested in. The still-lingering ache in his posterior warned him that he probably would not enjoy again so soon what the devil had done to him last night. But . . . he wanted it.
Perhaps, he thought, his heart thumping a little faster against his ribs, perhaps I just want to see him again . . .
But finding him would be a problem. It wasn’t as though he could just walk up to the gates of Hell and ask for . . .
Only then did Ken realize that he didn’t even know the devil’s name. He shriveled a little inside at that, wondering if it had been an oversight, or more deliberate.
He felt only marginally better when he recalled that he hadn’t given his name, either.
It made the situation even more problematical. He stood up and began to pace across the cloud, managing to ignore the muscles that protested, and wracking his brain to discover a way to find his demon again.
He stopped, astonished at his own thoughts. His demon? Where did that come from?
Just then, a faint scent tickled his nose, and he sneezed. When he turned to trace it, following his natural impulses and Hunter training, the recognition came upon him so suddenly that it left him stunned.
He blinked, then blinked again as the idea slowly took form. Yes! he thought, excitement growing. If I go down to Earth, I can track any devils that come out tonight by scent, and ask them about the ones that were out last night, and maybe find him again that way . . .
Feeling more energized than he had since waking, he didn’t hesitate to let the flaws in that plan come clear, but leapt into the air and threaded his way through the thick layer of clouds to the world below.
Wings tiring from the long flight, Jun threw herself down on a soft bit of cloud. She continued to flex her flight muscles, though, because she knew that they’d stiffen painfully otherwise.
It felt as though she’d been around the Earth at least twice already, though logically she knew she had not flown nearly that far. She’d constructed a methodical search plan on her flight to Heaven’s back gate, and had followed it without pause.
It still had not led her to Ken, and she was tired and puzzled and frustrated.
She drew her knees under her chin, still exercising her wings, and considered where she had been thus far. Most of the major cloud formations that had formed since the previous afternoon had already been checked by the Hunters and Seekers, but with no success, so she felt little need to re-do that work.
“Where are you, Ken?” she demanded angrily, but there was no answer besides the rustle of her own feathers in the breeze.
She swiped a hand over her cheek, tried to will the tears away. Blinking, she looked across the breaking cloud cover . . .
Then she blinked again, and peered into the distance, blinded a bit by the refracting sunlight. Something was heading toward the Earth at a frightening velocity.
It was much too far away to be more than a glittering white shape against the sky, but something about it convinced her that it was an angel.
But it was the way it dove down so recklessly that made her certain that it was Ken.
Immediately, she launched herself again, but she knew that she did not have the experience—or strength—to attempt such a steep descent as Ken was taking. Grudgingly, she plotted out a gentler course, hoping desperately that she wouldn’t be too far from what she projected as his landing site when she herself came to earth.
She wanted to scold him and take the first piece out of his hide, before even the Archangel had a chance to do so. Then she wanted to hug him tightly and never let go.
Swearing bitterly, Joe squinted as he emerged into the bright afternoon. Despite Nambu’s orders, he had been unable to break away from his shift any earlier than this.
That meant that he was going to have to search twice as hard in half as much time. Not to mention that I have no idea where to begin . . .
Well, where would an angel boy be most likely to go? His immediate answer—Vatican City—helped him not at all, not the least of which because he couldn’t get within 3 miles of the place. Damn holy people, he groused, landing none-too-gracefully near a tree. He ducked gratefully into its shade, and leaned back against the rough trunk to consider his options.
For a moment, he wondered what would happen if he disregarded Nambu’s warning and sat in a pub all night . . . but he wouldn’t be able to refrain from drinking, even if he didn’t overindulge, and Nambu would certainly be on hand to greet him when he returned to sleep.
“Talk about looking for a needle in a haystack,” he muttered. Then he sighed. “Well, he’s certainly not going to get found if I just stand here.” He lurched into the air again, hoping vainly that the wind from his flight would make him feel just a little less hung over.
Despite his precipitous descent, Ken was able to bleed off enough speed to land safely. In fact, touching down barely bent the blades of grass beneath his bare feet.
He looked around, sniffing, as the first doubts crept into his mind. There were so many different scents in the air, so many of them man-made and . . . bad, that he began to re-think his plan. Not at all like the clean air of Heaven, he thought, frowning slightly.
It appeared that he had landed in a rural area of some kind; the trees were tall around him, the grass growing wild, higher than his knees. There was a small body of water nearby, casting dazzling reflections onto the leaves of the trees. A dusty patch of air off to one side seemed to indicate a road.
He was trying to catalogue all the different smells that were drifting to him on the breeze—the dry dust, the lush green scent of the grass and trees, the faint whiffs of acrid asphalt—and starting to have qualms about finding and following one alone, when once again the trace of sulphur touched him, immediately recognizable.
He relaxed, smiling. I guess it won’t be too hard to find a demon after all.
First, though . . . He turned to regard the pond almost hungrily. The water glittered back at him, not terribly deep, but clear all the way to the bottom. Without hesitation, he waded into the cool water. It lapped gently at the long flight feathers of his wings, pooling about his thighs, causing his loincloth to waft about him. He dove beneath the surface, letting the water soak into his wings. After a few minutes of frolicking in the pond, he made his way back to the shore.
For a while, he sat in the sun, wings spread wide to catch the sun and breeze. His loincloth dried in next to no time. Now and again, brimstone tickled his nose, and finally, he decided to wait no longer. He had just wrapped his loincloth about him once more when a voice spoke from only a short distance away.
“Where are your clothes, darlin’?”
He jumped and spun around, his heart-rate quickening. A woman stood by one of the trees, one hand resting casually on the trunk, watching him. Her hair had started to escape from her braid, and straggled around her face. Muddy eyes looked at him curiously from behind her glasses. Her tee-shirt was marked with sweat, indicating that she had been walking in the sun for some time.
“I’m sorry, I . . .” Ken stuttered. Even when he realized that she was not out of her fledgling stage—perhaps not even as old as Jun—he still could not find his composure. Most of his concern was focused on his wings. They quivered behind him; he couldn’t make up his mind to wrap them around his body or hold them as much out of sight as he could.
Not that the great white things would be easy to hide in any case. He could only assume that she’d seen them . . .
O, Luminous One, he thought, as close to despair as he’d ever been, please let me . . .
But he never got the chance to finish his plea; she stepped away from the tree, her round face split by a friendly grin. “You know, you really shouldn’t be swimming in Farmer Martin’s pond,” she said, as if confiding a deep secret in him. “It’s no wonder your clothes have gone missing. I don’t doubt that Freddy Martin has stolen them. At least you had the sense to keep your undies,” she added, eyeing his loincloth, grin widening.
Ken blushed, and his hands fluttered as if he was trying to decide whether or not to cover his groin with them, but she had already turned away, and was picking her way through the brush and trees. “It’s all right. Come with me,” she called over her shoulder, still grinning. “My brother left a bunch of his clothes at home when he went off to school. We might be able to find something to fit you.” She faced forward again, apparently confident that he would follow without question.
Hoping that her open nature—and the fact that she had not yet mentioned his wings—could be taken as proof that she meant him no harm, he followed. He knew little enough about mortals, but remembered now that clothes were necessary for moving among them. He certainly would not fit in clad as he was in only his filmy loincloth.
The girl—he learned her name was Maria—chattered at him incessantly as she led him through a more densely wooded area, and then into an open field. The flow of her words was actually calming; he listened to her attentively, doing his best not to let his concentration waver, though he said very little in response. Little pangs of guilt prodded at him because he did not correct the assumptions she made. I’m not lying to her, he told himself over and over as they walked. If I don’t say anything, it’s not a lie.
In the middle of the clearing stood a weather-beaten house and barn, in dire need of a coat of paint. Maria went straight up to the front door of the house, opened it and started up the stairs inside. Ken hesitated at the door, then pulled his wings in close to his body and entered.
Sunshine flowed through the door after him, and made the wooden floor and walls gleam like gold. He looked around, awed at the workmanship belied by the exterior of the house, and happened to catch sight of his shadow on the floor.
His wings stood out in sharp relief, springing darkly out of his shoulders on either side, the long flight feathers outlined by his knees.
Quickly, he shut the door behind him, and the shadow disappeared. He let out a breath.
A few minutes later, she came clattering down the stairs again, her arms full of clothes. She grinned at Ken, standing nervously in the entryway, and shoved him gently further into the house. “Don’t just stand there, darlin’. Get into the bathroom and change. If they don’t fit, let me know and I’ll find something else . . .”
Without further ado, Ken found himself chivvied into a small blue and white tiled room, the load of clothes dumped into his arms and the door closed firmly in his face. With a sigh, he began to sort out the clothes.
A few moments later, he discovered the difficulties of clothes not meant for a personage with wings; there were no openings in the backs of the shirts for them to poke through. Carefully, he ripped the tee-shirt, trying to be quiet, until he had two suitable holes, and wiggled into it. Once it was on, he shook his wings to get the disrupted feathers to settle back into place, then picked up the blue chambray shirt with something akin to dismay. He didn’t mind tearing the thin cotton tee, but this shirt was obviously of a better make. Instead, he put it to one side and pulled on the jeans, then sat to put on the shoes.
Just as he was standing once again, Maria opened the door. Her mouth dropped open, then she smiled. “Very nice! Oh, yeah, it’s too hot for that,” she said, taking the light blue shirt from him. “Just tie it around your waist or something, just in case it gets cool later.” She bent as if to suit action to word, but seemed to think better of it, and just held the shirt, smiling at him beatifically.
He bowed his head slightly. “I am honored by your graciousness. Thank you, Maria.”
She laughed and led him back to the door. “You’re welcome, darlin’. I just hope you’re able to find who you’re lookin’ for.”
Ken gave her a shy smile. “I do, too.” Then he frowned. “But . . . I can’t repay you for the clothes, though . . .”
Maria grinned impishly and waved her hand. “Oh, don’t worry about it! He’s got so many he won’t even know those are missin’.”
“Still . . .” Ken leaned down and kissed her chastely on the forehead, as he had done to Jun many a time. “I do appreciate it,” he said very softly. He straightened, smiled and started back the way they had come.
Maria stood watching him, a foolish grin plastered across her face, until he disappeared into the trees again. Then she sighed. “If he had wings, he’d be an angel . . .”
Panting, Jun touched down at the edge of a glade. I could have sworn Ken would land somewhere around here . . . She sank to her knees, her tired wings drooping about her. She didn’t even have the energy to keep them moving so they wouldn’t stiffen.
After a couple minutes, she regained her breath, and brushed a sweat-soaked lock of hair off her cheek. Even with the gentler descent she’d plotted, she’d still had far too much momentum on her re-entry, and had had to beat her wings furiously to slow enough to land safely.
You were paying too much attention to the ground, she scolded herself. You were looking for Ken when you should have been watching your landing!
And now, having had to maneuver very cautiously to avoid crashing into one of the numerous trees, she had no idea where Ken was. Nervously—she’d never been allowed to go to Earth before, though she’d read a lot about it—she started walking, hoping that no one would see her.
She had only taken a few steps, however, when the breeze carried to her the thrum thrum of powerful wings moving the air. She looked up just in time to see a bright-winged shape flit over the treetops, speeding straight into the west.
Almost, she called out, but the wind also brought her the sound of human voices and machinery. Muttering under her breath, she hoped that no one would notice a second large bird, and beat her leaden wings to take to the air. She was tired; it was all she could do just to keep him in sight.
By the Luminous One, Ken, she thought, her temper rising once more, what on Earth are you looking for?
Joe scowled at the people around him. He’d descended into the first city he’d come across and stole a bottle of aspirin from a convenience store. Headache finally on the wane, he debated for a moment taking off again, then decided that he might just as well search here as well as anywhere else.
It was too crowded, though, and he wanted some room to stretch out his wings.
Nobody seemed phased by his glower, though. In fact, it seemed that most of the people around him wore one to match it.
As he shuffled along in the jostling crowd, watching the city lights blink on one by one, he wondered—as he had almost since he’d left Hell—why he was actually out and seriously looking for the angel-boy.
Because he was. He’d no idea, really, where to begin searching, but he was looking left and right at every head with shaggy dark hair, hoping that he’d get lucky.
—sweat trickling down his cheek, blue eyes gleaming, mouth passion-red and hungry—
He shivered, and swore silently at his twitching prick. Now is not the time! he told it firmly.
Anatomy subdued for the moment, he returned to his thoughts. Yes, Sosai had ordered him to do it, but he didn’t have to take it as gravely as all this . . . did he?
Just then, his stomach growled. Loudly. The woman next to him looked at him disdainfully and sniffed. He curled his lip at her, and wished he could extend his wing enough to bat her around. She moved on without a second glance.
Damned mortals, Joe thought. It’d be so different if she could see my tail and wings . . . He spent a very pleasant moment imagining the woman’s possible tortures in Hell, then his stomach rumbled again.
With a sigh, he sidestepped out of the crowd, thinning now as the evening grew darker, and studied his surroundings. The city street was filled with stores still open to catch the evening rush hour business, and a few hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Across the boulevard, he saw a neon sign announcing food and drinks. He grinned and crossed, dodging nimbly between the cars and gleefully flipping off the drivers who blared their horns at him.
Something edible and a nice smooth scotch . . . and I won’t get in trouble for it if I say that I stopped to eat . . . He sauntered up to the door, and grinned at the bouncer.
It wasn’t just a bar, he discovered moments later; it was a bar with entertainment. Even better, Joe thought, and happily paid the cover.
Night was drawing on. The lights of the city were enough to make Ken a bit wary of actually flying into town. Instead, he landed in an open area just outside the halo of light surrounding the tall buildings.
The scent of brimstone was so strong in his nostrils he wondered that none of the mortals around him could smell it. He followed it eagerly, then had to remind himself not to. It might not be the demon from last night, he insisted in the face of the strange light hope that rose in him. Just stay calm.
But his steps came faster and faster, and he couldn’t keep the blush from warming his cheeks. He wanted to see the devil again.
Ken was completely oblivious to the looks, the glances and the outright stares he attracted as he made his way through the city. Women of every age and description, and not a few men as well, stopped and watched him as he walked, drinking him in. Eyes caressed him, the wild hair waving in the breeze of his progress, the startlingly blue eyes, the pleasantly broad line of his shoulders, and then, as he passed, the lean line of his back, tapering to slim hips and long legs, outlined by denim that clung in all the right places.
Eventually, however, he became aware that people—many people—were observing him closely. His wings fluttered nervously, and he caught his breath. Can they see them? he wondered, sneaking glances out the corner of his eye, cautioning himself not to chew his lip. He started to hold his wings stiffly behind him, trying to keep them from brushing anyone.
Quite suddenly, he caught a waft of brimstone so strong that he stopped short. Scenting quickly, he scanned the buildings near him. It’s definitely coming from that one, he decided, seeing one with signs glowing above its entrance and along the walls that faced the street. He took a step toward the door, and paused uncertainly. There was a man standing in the doorway to that particular building, heavyset and muscular. Slowly, his gaze was drawn to Ken, who simply stood staring and biting his lip, despite all of his good intentions to the contrary.
He blinked at Ken, then smiled, and Ken felt a shiver run though him. It was not a reassuring smile. Something you’d see on a . . . and he stopped that thought, because the devil last night had not smiled at him like he was a . . . feast, some kind of delicacy to be savored.
—hands running over him, fingers caressing, tongue tasting, probing—
A wave of heat swept over him, and the grin the big man wore grew wider. “You wanna come in, sweet-cheeks?” he asked, his voice deep and rough.
Licking his lips, Ken nodded a little hesitantly. “Yes,” he replied, taking another step closer. “I . . . I’m looking for a friend . . .”
“Ain’t we all?” the man asked, still grinning, but Ken just looked at him in confusion. With a sigh, the man moved away from the door and motioned Ken to enter. “Don’t worry about the cover, babe. I’ll take care of it for ya.”
As he passed the man, taking a step into the darkness beyond the door, Ken sensed the movement of air behind him and sidestepped just fast enough to avoid the hand that had been aiming for his behind. It swished harmlessly through the air where he had been, and when he glanced over his shoulder, he laughed quietly at the dumbfounded expression on the man’s face.
Then the scent of the devil was luring him on, into the pulsing noise and heat.
The entertainment was . . . very entertaining. In complete bliss, Joe gazed up at the boy dancing on the bar in front of him. His legs just seemed to go on forever . . . He took a sip of scotch, felt the warm glow spread through him in an instant, and sighed happily, reflecting that this was better than the fruitless search that he had been on.
At that moment, the dancer missed a step, jarring Joe out of his appreciation. The boy recovered, but was moving without the grace he had previously, and when Joe glanced up past his waist, he saw the boy was staring beyond him, toward the door that led in from the stairs. Just then, there was a sudden lull in the white noise of the club, and Joe twisted around, to see what had happened.
The talking started up again, louder than before. Joe just sat on his barstool, mouth gaping open like a fish.
How the hell did he find me?!
His angel—his conquest!—from the previous night was walking toward him through the crowd, like a vision. Joe blinked twice, but the angel-boy didn’t vanish as he expected, only became more and more vivid. The big white wings nearly glowed in the dim, smoky atmosphere of the bar, but it was the bright eyes that caught him, piercingly blue, and kept him pinned to his seat.
He noticed again all the things that had been so attractive last night; the long legs, muscular arms and the boyishly pretty face.
—the forbidden scent of angel musk tickling his nostrils, needy wondering cries in his ears, hands clutching at him—
The stares the fledgling was attracting weren’t on account of his wings, either, because Joe was certain that no one but he could see them.
As much as he wanted to, Joe found he could not relax into the nonchalant pose that would have been most appropriate, nor could he summon the smug little grin that would have gone along with it so well. He did manage to close his mouth when he saw the angel, sweeping those brilliant eyes around the bar, his brows drawn together, start upon actually seeing him, and then give him a smile that was heavily tinged with something very like relief.
The angel-boy’s progress was hampered by the strange sidesteps he was forced to make every few strides. Joe frowned when he realized that the angel was trying to avoid the hands reaching out to touch his rear. The fledgling was obviously growing ever more confused, and under other circumstances, Joe knew that he would probably be laughing his ass off.
For some reason, though . . . it just was not amusing this time.
Ken was simply amazed to find the devil he had really been searching for; he’d honestly thought he would find someone else. But he was glad, too, and smiled.
I just wish everyone would stop trying to . . . touch me! he thought, annoyed.
He was even more surprised when, just a few steps away, he saw the devil scowl, then stand. He was unprepared when the devil reached out to yank him into a hard embrace. Ken let out a small sound, wriggling against the demon’s chest, and the demon hissed in his ear, “Don’t move! If you pull away, they’ll just start molesting you again.”
At that, he tried to relax against the devil, but it was difficult, the hot heavy scent of him in his nose, the hand against his back perilously close to his wing joints. He wrapped one arm around him, his hand on the devil’s back, mimicking him, and was rewarded with a puff of air against his ear.
After a moment of glaring over the angel’s shoulder at those who still showed interest, Joe pulled back and sat down again on his stool, pulling the angel down so he straddled his lap. Startled, the angel instinctively fluttered his wings, seeking balance, and the breeze ruffled the clothing of those nearest to them, causing them to cast puzzled looks around. Even though the boy’s body tightened in reaction to the abrupt change in position, he did not fight Joe at all, and Joe felt no small satisfaction as the angel’s hands wound themselves into his hair.
Then he leaned back slightly, so he could look into the fledgling’s face, pushing him away just a little bit, but keeping a firm grip on his hips. “Not that I’m not glad to see you, Angel-cakes,” he said, his voice so low the angel had to strain to hear him over the noise, “but . . . how the fuck did you find me?”
Ken blinked, confused at the unfamiliar word in the devil’s question, then shrugged and replied, “By scent.”
The devil raised one eyebrow as if incredulous. “By . . . scent,” he repeated slowly.
He nodded. “Brimstone is very . . . recognizable.”
Joe just stared at the angel on his lap as his thoughts churned, some half-remembered bit of information teasing him by staying tantalizingly out of reach. “What kind of angel are you?” he asked sharply, the haze over his memory starting to lift slightly.
The angel boy just smiled, and Joe sucked in a breath; with the light behind him, just so, giving him the illusion of a halo, and that smile, blue eyes twinkling at him, the boy looked every inch the angel he was. So stunning was he that Joe, caught up in appreciation, nearly missed the answer to his question.
“. . . Hunter. Technically, I’m still in training, but . . .”
“Wait, wait.” Struggling to catch up, Joe interrupted him, his fingers tightening on the boy’s hips. “You’re a Hunter?”
The angel nodded, his brows drawing together once more in perplexity. “Yes.”
Joe slumped back against the bar, completely dumbfounded. Of all the angels in Heaven, he had to pick one of the warrior caste to tempt; one of Michael’s own, no doubt. I am so fucked.
Then it occurred to him all at once that the angel was here, in his arms, in his lap, a little uncertain, maybe, but certainly not protesting. The angel boy had sought him out, had come looking for him . . .
“Why are you here?” The question was pulled out of him almost without his own awareness. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted the angel to respond, to tell him that he’d come to kill the devil that had dared tempt him . . .
So it was probably forgivable that he was surprised when the angel blushed and ducked his head. He had to lean close to hear the angel’s words.
“. . . again.”
Slowly, the light dawned and Joe grinned. “What?” Just to make sure, he told himself. Not at all because it’s good for my vanity . . .
Ken had never been so embarrassed, his cheeks burning hotter with each word, but he repeated what he had said. “I . . . I wanted to do it again. What we did last night. You . . . you said we . . .” He shifted on the devil’s lap, shuffling closer to him. It felt like the devil was deliberately moving his knees further apart, to make him slide closer or fall to the floor.
For a moment, Joe took great delight in forcing the angel to inch closer, feeling the tightening of fabric along his thighs, watching the boy’s wings tremble slightly, trying to keep his balance.
Then, quite suddenly, they were together, the angel’s chest brushing his, their stomachs touching, and he could not stop the little strangled noise from escaping his throat, his prick so hard so fast that it nearly hurt. He forced himself to breathe deeply, and inhaled the still lingering perfume from the angel’s wings as well as the acrid smoke of the club.
It didn’t help.
Ken actually gasped when his pelvis met the devil’s. He was tingling again, everywhere, from the tips of his fingers at the back of the demon’s neck to his curling toes. His hands tightened in the devil’s thick brown hair, and he made a noise that could only be described as a whimper.
He wanted more. More contact, more flesh beneath his fingers, more pressure against that part of him that was stirring and straining against his trousers.
Joe heard the little mewling sound the angel made, but didn’t move until he felt the fledgling start to rock against him, back and forth, minute movements that tore his libido from his control. He pushed the angel away from him, forcing him to stand, and surged to his feet before the hurt look could even finish forming on the boy’s face. “Let’s go,” he growled, latched a hand around one wrist, and dragged the boy to the door.
Ken stumbled after the devil, surprised by the speed with which he was pulled out of the club. The big man at the top of the stairs snickered behind his hand as he watched them. The devil tugged him down the street, then around a corner into an alley. And then he shoved him roughly up against a wall and kissed him.
Heat. Something hotter even than the fires of Hell was burning in him, strange and frightening and yet wonderful even so. He melted beneath the devil’s kiss, letting the other’s tongue plunge into his mouth, letting it stoke him into an inferno of need . . .
But something drew the devil back before Ken was ready to let him, something sent a shudder though the dark membranous wings, and he moaned as the devil stepped back.
“Come with me.”
Ken opened his eyes, blinking at the devil in a daze. “What?”
“Come with me. Back to my . . .”
Joe started; he hadn’t even heard the wing beats above him until the voice called out. He got a glimpse of white over his head and quickly moved out of the way, as it looked like the angel was about to drop on top of him. The angel-boy jumped, too, and looked up, his face falling slack in shock.
The angel—a girl, Joe noticed with interest—landed without much grace. She looked exhausted; her hair was matted and tangled, and sweat dampened her thin shift, making it nearly transparent in spots. Her wings drooped behind her, the long flight feathers trailing on the pavement. But she stepped right up into his angel-boy’s face—at which Joe scowled—and started to berate him as one would a small child.
“Ken, what are you doing here? I’ve been so worried about you!” Without warning, she flung her arms around the boy’s neck and buried her face against his shoulder.
Joe could feel a snarl curling his lip, and had to put a tight rein on his temper.
Automatically, Ken folded his arms around Jun, who was shivering against him. “It’s all right, Jun,” he said softly, trying to comfort her. “I’m fine . . .”
She stepped back to arms-length, though to Joe’s eyes it was clearly further away than she wanted to be, and returned to her scolding. “Don’t you know that the Archangel has turned out most of Heaven looking for you?”
The streetlight at the mouth of the alley clearly illuminated the blush staining Ken’s cheeks, and he ducked his head, avoiding the female angel’s eyes.
She dropped her arms and drew back, aghast. “You did know,” she whispered, almost fearfully. “But you didn’t go back.” Then she was at him again, clearly furious this time, hands fisted to pound on his chest. “You idiot! That’s a sin! Why? Why?”
Joe curled one arm around her waist and easily pulled her away before even one blow could land. A growl rumbled warningly through him as she started to hit his arm instead, and he flung her away from himself. She stumbled away, falling to her knees with a pained gasp.
Somehow, he’d gotten turned around, and was now standing in between the two angels, his back to his angel boy.
The angel-girl climbed unsteadily to her feet, and Joe could see the dark trail of blood trickling down her shin. For a second, she just gaped at him; in her joy at seeing the angel-boy—Ken?—she had obviously forgotten that there was another presence in the alley. Then, as she took in his tail, twitching in agitation, his wings spread wide and trembling, her mouth fell even further open. “A devil?” she whispered, the words almost lost in the sound from without the alley. “A devil? Ken . . .”
Ken stepped around him. “I didn’t go back to Heaven because I was looking for him.”
Joe was surprised at the strength in Ken’s tone, the way the words rang out and echoed in the alley. They reached out and wrapped around him, around something inside of him, and caused his heart to beat a little faster.
Jun simply looked up at Ken, unable to comprehend what was going on. “Ken . . . wh-why were you looking for . . .” She gestured helplessly at the devil, now standing shoulder to shoulder with him. “I just don’t . . .”
Ken put his hands on her shoulders, and said quietly, “I wanted to see him again. He was the reason I didn’t go back to Heaven last night, and today. And he’s the reason I’m not going to go back with you tonight, either. I want to be with him.”
Jun’s lip quivered. “But . . .” She swallowed, but the words still tumbled from her mouth unsteadily. “Ken, it . . . it’s wrong . . . the Archangel wants you to come back, and if you don’t . . .” With a wide-eyed glance at the devil, she whispered, “You might not be able to . . .”
Ken smiled down at her, but it was a sad smile, and just then, she wanted nothing more than to make all his sorrow go away. Angels have no cause to be so sad . . .
“I can’t go back anyway, Jun.”
Jun grabbed hold of his arms, trying to find some stability as the world wobbled about her. “Why?” It came out as little more than a gust of breath.
“Because I’ve already sinned. The Archangel won’t let me back into Heaven.”
“But . . . but . . . you can atone!” She was crying now, fat tears glistening in the dim alley light. “If you atone, I know Katse will let you back in . . .”
“I can’t atone for wanting to do it again.” His eyes caught and held hers so she could not look away. “And I don’t want to atone, because . . . I just can’t believe that it’s a sin.”
Lightly, he brushed her tears from her cheek. “Go back to Heaven, Jun. Tell Katse you saw me . . . consorting with a devil. And then . . .” and despite the softness of his voice, his words rang out clearly once more, “change it. Change their way of thinking . . . make the angels and the Archangel and the Luminous One see that it’s not a sin.”
Joe smirked, but the accompanying snort was too soft to be heard.
“. . . what’s not?” she asked, her voice small and uncertain.
Without an instant’s hesitation, Ken spun around to the devil, who had been lurking behind him, wound his arms around his neck, and kissed him.
Jun’s eyes grew as wide as saucers.
Joe was surprised at the fervor that the fledgling threw into his kiss, at how heady it was, how arousing, despite his inexperience. He pulled the angel-boy closer, and began to kiss him back.
The angel moaned, a quiet little sound that echoed in Joe’s mouth, and curved against him in innocent sensuality. Joe had to pull away to maintain a shred of sanity, his hands gripping Ken’s shoulders hard, fingers digging into firm muscle.
Ken managed not to sway, panting as if he’d flown a dozen loops, but it was a near thing. Without looking away from the demon, he said, “Goodbye, Jun.”
Then, with a sweep of his wings, he was airborne, hovering a few feet off the ground, reaching down to the devil with one hand, and a brilliant smile.
Joe took off like a shot, grabbing Ken’s hand as he rocketed past him, and pulling him along behind him. A moment’s clumsiness, and then Ken was beside him, easily keeping pace.
Jun reached out as if to catch the bright wings, but they disappeared into the night before she could even close her hand. Despair settled over her like a blanket, and she sank to her knees, wincing at the pain in the one that had been sliced open. For a while, she just wept.
It didn’t bring her much comfort. Hiccupping and wiping her cheeks, she forced herself to her feet despite her exhaustion, and took to the air on wings that ached.
Looking back over his shoulder, Ken’s sharp eyes caught sight of a white shape that slowly started to ascend. Nodding in satisfaction, he faced front once more.
Joe slanted a glance at him from the corner of his eye. Even in the faint moonlight, he could see the taut lines of apprehension in the angel’s face. Something in him wanted to soothe them away. He coughed uncertainly, and suddenly, those bright eyes were on him again.
The angel nodded, a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth.
The smile grew. “Nice to meet you.”
Joe shook his head. “Polite, aren’t you?”
Ken just grinned at him, and Joe felt something inside him twist. He started to fly a bit faster. “Come on, Angel-babe,” he called over his shoulder. I’ve been dreaming of this all day!
He didn’t voice that thought, but Ken responded as if he had heard it, a surge of speed that nearly left Joe behind. “Come on, devil,” he taunted. “Show me what you got!”
September 1, 2004© randi (K. Shepard), 2004