Autumn, year 20
Blame woke aching, pain filling his muscles from his shoulders and shooting downwards. Forcing his eyelids open, Blame remembered he’d fallen asleep on the couch in an uncomfortable position. Nebris and Vechs were gone but the empty pizza boxes still lay on the coffee table. Additionally, there was a fuzzy blanket draped over Blame.
“Huh,” he said aloud, his voice croaking. He sat up slowly from the couch, his shoulders still in pain. He only wondered where the two Angels were for a second before realising they must have retreated to their own bedrooms. With nothing left to do Blame decided to make himself breakfast.
The kitchen was small, with ugly linoleum on the floor. Blame opened the fridge. He was only assuming it would be okay to start eating their food, but they had offered him a place to stay here hadn’t they? Surely it would be okay. Without much further thought, Blame began to make himself coffee.
Nebris woke. Once again, Vechs’ wing was stretched out across his face, and Nebris pushed it away in annoyance.
“Don’t you know how to keep those things to yourself?” He mumbled at Vechs, who rolled over to face him.
“Sorry, they have a life of their own,” Vechs said. “You love it really, anyway. And hey, you’ve stolen all the blankets again. Fair trade.”
Nebris kicked the purloined blankets away, pulling Vechs towards him to quickly kiss him before he left the bed. Smiling, he swung his legs out of bed and stood up.
“Let’s go see how our new friend is doing,” Vechs said. “I think I smell coffee.”
Indeed when they entered the kitchen, Blame was there, making coffee. He blushed a little as the two Angels came in.
“I wasn’t sure whether I should help myself,” he said as Vechs hopped up onto the counter like a cat, swinging his legs and watching Blame.
“Oh it’s fine,” Vechs said. “Just as long as you make some for me. I’m dead tired.”
“Why?” Blame asked, pouring coffee into three mugs.
“Stayed up late talking last night. By the way, you fell asleep on the couch. Do you want to share our bed. I’m afraid there uh, isn’t any other bedrooms.”
Blame passed a mug to Vechs and considered. “Is he as annoying in bed as awake?” He asked Nebris.
“Yes,” Nebris said.
“Hey, I’m not annoying,” Vechs protested.
Blame considered the options, and between breaking his back over the couch and sharing with the two Angels, the latter did seem like a more enticing option.
“Fine, I’ll share.”
“Great!” Vechs said. “Don’t worry, I don’t bite.”
“Hey, want to come with me to cover up that ring?” Nebris said to Blame.
“The ring you came through. It’s best if it were gone. I’m going back to your world to cover it over, and check for any left.”
Blame locked his fingers together. Between being alone with Vechs and Nebris…
“Sure, I’ll come.”
“Great. Have something to eat first, I’m going soon.”
After Blame had made himself toast and eaten it, Nebris explained how they were to get back to Carling as he packed spray cans into a bag and slung it over his shoulder.
“There are less ways out of Offstreet than there are in,” Nebris said. “For Angels anyway. Also this requires flying, but I’m strong enough to carry you.”
He said this as if it were a known fact, despite never having picked Blame up. When Blame looked uncertain, Nebris said,
“It’s fine. You’ll be okay. If I drop you, I can just blame it on someone else.”
Despite Blame’s fears he went with Nebris anyway. They left the apartment block and walked some way down the street before turning into a small lane that reminded Blame eerily of the one he’d been down just yesterday.
Nebris walked down to a spot in the lane as if it were marked out. Glancing up towards the sky, he motioned for Blame to come near.
“Hold on tight,” he said with a small grin. Blame tried to ignore the intimacy of it all as Nebris picked him up, then spread his wings to their full length. They were just as impressive as Vechs’ were, and even more so for their sleek, well-kept nature.
Without much warning Nebris launched himself from the laneway, flying in a direct line upwards towards the clouded sky. It took a long time for Blame to look up, but when he did he saw that Nebris was flying to a point in the air below the clouds, circled by a glowing red ring that seemed to warp and oscillate as if reality itself was not quite there in its centre.
Birds were not common in Carling, having chosen to flee the smog and the dreary concrete environment of the city. But Nebris did remind Blame much of a bird in his flight, his wings beating rhythmically back against the air to propel both of them upwards.
It was too much of a shock to surprise Blame when a zap like electricity pulsed through his body, and suddenly he was in a black cloud and falling fast, his stomach swooping up to his lungs and the city below him was dark and fast coming up towards him and before he could cry out the descent slowed and he heard the beating of wings again, his feet landing gently on the ground as Nebris came to rest behind him.
The arms around him released and Blame stumbled forward, out of breath.
“What was that?” Blame asked, gasping.
Nebris laughed. “Did I scare you?”
“A LITTLE, YEAH.”
Blame looked around. He was standing in the lane in Carling, the red ring still marking the wall.
“Angels get between worlds a different way,” Nebris explained. “Our rings are high up in the air, where humans can’t get to… unless they have an Angel buddy to help them.”
Nebris walked quickly to the wall at the end of the lane, rummaging in his bag as he brought out a couple of cans of purple spray paint. Tossing one to Blame he uncapped his own.
“Help me cover this. Be creative as you want.”
Nebris began to graffiti his own name in large letters, covering the ring until it was no longer visible. Blame looked around the lane. Beyond the other end of it he could see the desolate street, the grey, dead part of his home. Not my home anymore.
Blame fiddled with his own, still capped paint can. He felt cold, despite the hoodie he was still wearing. As he went to walk back towards Nebris, the Angel turned from his artwork.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Nebris sounded genuinely concerned as he dropped the can.
“I’m okay,” Blame said.
“If you say so,” Nebris replied, clearly unconvinced. He paused as if considering something, then stepped decisively towards Blame. “I know what it’s like!” he said emphatically. “When I first decided to stay in Offstreet, every part of me wanted to come back. But coming back does no good.” He took another step closer. “The reason people go there is to escape. Coming back defeats the purpose of escaping. And everyone knows Offstreet is a much better place than here.”
“How can you be so sure?” Blame asked, his back to the wall.
“I know. I lived here for more than half my life, and I lived there for almost as long. The Angels made Offstreet what it is and what it is is so much better than here.”
“The Angels made Offstreet?”
“Yes.” Nebris was close now, so close Blame could feel his warmth again. It was not unpleasant, and Blame felt strangely comfortable for what he was sure should be an uncomfortable situation. “There were Angels living in Heithrun - mostly in Carling - a long time ago. They made it great, a livable, beautiful city. But slowly humans grew to distrust Angels, for whatever reason, and soon the prejudice against Angels became so strong that they were forced to leave their homes. A more powerful form of Angels, the Archangels, that had innate knowledge of parallel dimensions found that there was another place just like Carling… just the city itself, the bare bones of a world perhaps, but a place that the Angels were happy to call their own.
So the Archangels made their rings in the sky, all Angels leaving this world for good and beginning to reshape Offstreet into a better version of Carling whilst simultaneously reshaping its boundaries into something bigger and better than the world. Offstreet is still tiny of course, barely bigger than Carling but it is growing.
But then an anarchist group of Angels - they called themselves the Street Angels - decided to come back here and draw rings on the walls in the laneways. Humans started being able to enter Offstreet - I was one of them, of course - and at first the Angels were unhappy with this. Eventually the Angels decided to respond with the kindness the humans had never shown them and offer humans a choice, between joining the Angels or staying in Heithrun forever. And then, only five years ago, the humans fucking bombed us.”
“Oh,” Blame said. He could feel the anger in Nebris radiating from his clenched fists like heat.
“That’s what we’re cleaning up. The centre of the city is devastated because of the group of humans that came through and planted explosives around the most populated area of Offstreet, felling one of the tallest buildings. About 100 Angels were killed and many more were injured. After that, we started to cover up all the old rings.”
“What the fuck,” Blame said, unable to speak any further.
“I know, and you see why many Angels distrust humans? You see why I’m covering the ring?” Nebris kicked at the paint can at his feet, and it clattered on the grimy asphalt. “The Angels wanted a place to themselves and they weren’t even safe there.”
“I’m sorry,” Blame said. “I’m not really like those humans, though.”
“I know you’re not,” Nebris said, moving suddenly so he was facing Blame. Like this he put his hands around Blame’s shoulders, pulling him from the wall. A shot of pain ran from the place Nebris’ hands touched.
“You’re growing your wings already,” Nebris said softly. “It took more than a week for mine to bud.”
“Well I told you it would, didn’t I?” Nebris smiled a little. “Come on, let’s go back, we don’t want to leave Vechs on his own for too long, he’d probably end up setting the apartment on fire.”
After the thrilling, terrifying journey up through the ring and back down to the street of Carling, the walk back to the apartment was quite a quiet, somber one. The pair trudged up the stairs without words, not until they reached their floor.
“Blame,” Nebris said, in a voice so low Blame could hardly hear it. They stood together at the apartment door.
Nebris moved so close to him that Blame swore he could hear the Angel’s heartbeat. “It’s a lucky thing you came here when you did. I’m so glad I met you before I did what I’m going to do.”
Blame couldn’t process the words and he had no time to, as Nebris was pulling his head close and kissing him. He felt a warm flush running through his face and was surprised to find he liked it. Nebris ended the kiss as quickly as he had started it.
“Just a little something for the road,” he said in his low voice, grinning at Blame and turning to unlock the door, leaving him to ponder over the cryptic words and the sudden kiss.
Blame’s heart was pounding fast as he went into the apartment, and he tried not to seem completely flustered. I guess I was wrong about Nebris’ relationship with Vechs, he thought as he flopped on the couch.
“Hi,” Vechs said, plopping beside him and stretching out his wings. “Have a good time?”
“Yeah,” Blame said, although he wasn’t sure what part of the trip he’d just had he would talk about.
“I guess Nebris took you up through the real ring, huh? That must have been fun.”
“It was an experience,” Blame said. “It was… pretty fucking scary. After we came through the ring in Carling we just, fell.”
Vechs laughed for a long time. “I’ll tell you a secret, Blame. He learned that trick - that freefall coming out the other side - from me. Did the exact same thing to him when he first arrived.”
He looked closely at Blame’s face, and Blame was sure he could see the embarrassment running through his veins as he avoided eye contact.
“Did he - ooh, did he kiss you?”
“You know me too well, Vechs,” Nebris said, coming to sit beside him on the couch despite there being hardly any room.
“Uh,” Blame said. “Not to be too forward or anything, but you two… are you in a relationship?”
Vechs burst out laughing. “Oh you confused him,” he said. “And sure we are, Nebris is just a massive flirt.”
More than a flirt, Blame thought.
“He likes seducing people to get what he wants,” Vechs said in a low voice. “Beware.”
“What, like you did to me?” Nebris said, but he didn’t sound angry.
“Sure,” Vechs said. “You’ve learned from the best.”
“Shut up, Vechs. If anyone has anything to learn, it’s you. And we all know I’m the best.”
Vechs kissed him with a low laugh. “Whatever you say.”
Blame thought he should feel uncomfortable but he didn’t. It felt strangely natural to be around the Angels like this.
“Oh Vechs, guess what?” Nebris said.
“Blame’s wings are growing in. Already. I can feel them budding.”
Vechs looked at Blame with an excited smile. “Really? Awesome!”
“It hurts though,” Blame mumbled.
“It’ll get worse,” Vechs said cheerfully. “I remember when Nebris was growing his. He complained the whole time.”
“Shut up,” Nebris said. “You would too.”