Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Autumn, Year 20
Dinner was tense, despite the relaxed atmosphere as they sat on the couches in the living room, watching tv and talking. Cambriel sat cross-legged on the floor, quietly eating the meal Vechs had prepared. They didn’t join the conversation much, despite Vechs and Nebris speaking about them as if they weren’t there.
Blame felt torn. He’d been forced to try to pick a side, despite nobody telling him to. He felt loyal to Vechs and Nebris for taking him in, for being the first Angels he met and they were nice.
But so was Cambriel.
But they had done something bad, and Blame had been told so, and he kept quiet, his feet drawn onto the couch and his eyes away from the Angel that sat on the floor. What was left of Cambriel’s severed wings twitched occasionally and Blame wondered if they were trying to emote like Vechs often did with his wings, but couldn’t.
He fluttered his own sore wing buds, stretching them out and drawing them back. He could just control the muscles they were attached to now, and although it felt alien he was getting used to this new set of limbs.
Cambriel had showered and although the stubs of their wings were still red and scabbing, the blood had washed from their remaining feathers, pure white and sulfur yellow. Cambriel had pulled their straw-coloured hair into a loose ponytail, falling down between the wings.
A nudge jolted Blame out of his musing.
“What’cha staring at?” Vechs said in a low, teasing voice.
“Sorry,” Blame replied, turning his eyes down towards his food. He hadn’t meant to be rude about Cambriel’s injuries. But Vechs was laughing.
“Don’t let Nebris catch you at that.”
“Hey!” Nebris’ voice rose in mock-indignance. “Let him do what he wants.”
“Yeah, I’m not hurting anyone.”
Cambriel twisted and stood, casting a look across Vechs and Nebris’ amused face. Blame fell silent, watching them. They had a taut grimace pulling at their lips, and they walked to the kitchen with their plate and not a single word.
“What’s up with them?” Blame whispered.
“I think they know you were staring.”
“I didn’t mean to stare.” Blame watched as Nebris’ purple eyes flicked upward and he slouched back into the couch. “I just watch, sometimes. It’s a good way of working out what people are like.”
Nebris chuckled. “Worked out anything interesting about them, then?”
Blame’s mouth stopped halfway open as he tried to dig up what he had learned about Cambriel. All he could think was that they were gentler than they looked. Beyond that, they were an enigma.
“Okay, you got me,” Blame said. “Can’t read them.”
Nebris nodded, pursing his lips. “They’ve always been that way.”
Blame stood, gathering his empty plate with Nebris and Vechs’ as they handed them to him. He went silently to the kitchen.
Cambriel was in there, and smiled when Blame walked in and put the plates on the counter. It’s a smile Blame didn’t think he deserved. Cambriel said nothing, nodded at him, and walked out. Their wings jerked briefly as they passed through the doorway, stretching out then lying flat again. A white feather freed itself and fluttered to the ground.
What are they trying to do? Do they want my sympathy this bad?
Blame stepped over the feather and rejoined his friends in the living room.
Blame had given into Nebris’ offers of sleeping in he and Vechs’ bed (‘not like that’, Nebris had assured him, with an eyebrow waggle), to let Cambriel have the couch.
He wondered why he didn’t just suggest they buy an inflatable mattress for him to use but he dismissed the thought as he sat on the edge of a bed with a creak. He could bring up the idea tomorrow, but for now, he was not uncomfortable with sleeping there, beside Vechs.
Not uncomfortable. There are worse ways to feel… Blame slipped his shirt off and wandered into the bathroom to brush his teeth.
Blame liked it here. No, he loved it here, and not just Offstreet in general. He loved this apartment, and living here. He stretched out his wings, giving them an experimental flap. Watching himself in the mirror, he eyed the down fuzzing the limbs. A reminder how inexperienced, how new he was to this life still.
And he wouldn’t go back. Thoughts of Carling barely crossed his mind now; he supposed it should worry him, but he was forgetting to worry.
He folded his wings close to his back, resuming his tooth-brushing and regarding his face in the reflection with a low stare.
Blame woke struggling to breathe with a mouthful of feathers at a time he knew couldn’t be morning; the room was dark as the night and he couldn’t see a thing.
“Ugh.” He pushed the broad side of a wing off his face, rolling over to step out of bed. Through the slice of light just coming in from the crack between the curtains he could see that Vechs had turned in his sleep, spreading a wing across Blame’s side of the bed.
Wouldn’t hurt to get a snack while I’m up. Blame stared at the blinking green face of a digital alarm clock until the blurred lights became legible numbers. 3:11 A.M.
“Well shit.” Blame was sure to open and close the bedroom door without letting it creak, padding barefoot down the short hall towards the kitchen. Not wanting to wake Cambriel, he slowed as he entered the living room, but stopped.
One of the curtains across the tall glass panes was still drawn back. The city was a blaze of yellow and orange light laid behind it it like an impressionist painting, blurring across Blame’s tired vision. It cast a dappled square across the carpet, between the couch and the tv.
The square was cut through by the dark shape of Cambriel. They were sitting up on the carpet, back straight and facing away from Blame. He frowned, halting. If he went to the kitchen they would hear him, no matter what efforts he took to stay quiet.
So he stayed, wondering what they were doing. Their silhouette moved with a heaving breath in, and then made small motions.
When they pressed an object to their ear and began to speak, he started to understand.
Their voice was tinged with a strain of something that never normally entered their quiet voice. It persisted when they repeated the single word, the syllables dissolving into the night.
Blame waited until Cambriel had clearly hung up, moving the phone from their ear. He waited a few more seconds then continued his pace across the living room, flicking the kitchen light on and noisily opening the fridge. He didn’t look into the living room, just focused on what was in front of him.
Grabbing a couple of wrapped cheese sticks, Blame returned to the entrance. Cambriel had twisted to face him.
“Little later than that,” Blame said. “What are you doing up?” Lie coolly, act like I never saw that. Like I never heard that.
“Oh you know.” Cambriel gestured out to the city. “Felt like reflecting, less like sleeping. I haven’t had a view like this for a long time. I love it.”
Blame stepped from the doorway. When he was at an angle where he could see the full view from the window he stopped, watching the forest of lights blinking before him.
“It is very pretty.” He bit thoughtfully into his snack. “Well, I better head back to bed. Sleep tight, Cambriel.”
Blame finished his second cheese stick and returned to the bedroom. Vechs’ wing hadn’t shifted at all so he attempted to move it, folding the swathe of feathers by Vechs side. Blame prayed he wouldn’t stretch again in his sleep, climbed into the small space allowed for him, and closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to envelop him again.
“Your wings, dude.” Nebris’ voice crackled and he cleared his throat. He sat up, pushing black feathers away from his face to see that across the bed, Blame had suffered the same fate beneath Vechs’ untameable wings.
Vechs woke, rolling over and folding the offending limbs. Nebris pulled his tousled head down to kiss him, soft as the light falling through the cracked curtain. He smiled into the kiss. He’d become accustomed to this kind of softness, the kind that came after years of loving the same person, comfortable and faded like an old t-shirt. It didn’t used to be his thing but Nebris accepted the change.
“Sorry about my wings,” Vechs called as he pulled away from Nebris. “They do that.”
“I noticed,” Blame said. “They hit me in the face.”
“You learn to live with it,” Nebris explained, getting out of bed. “I’ve come to love the sensation of waking up with a faceful of feathers.”
“I’m sure,” Blame said. His wings stretched as he flexed his muscles and Nebris watched them with admiration. It had taken himself a lot longer to learn how to move his wings independently.
“Good job,” Nebris said softly. Blame turned. “Your wings.”
“You seem to already know how to use them. You’re like, a natural at this.”
“At being an Angel?” Blame frowned.
Blame accepted the compliment with a shrug and a half-smile.
Nebris’ mobile phone rang and he frowned at the screen. The caller was labeled clearly as ‘Marque Tito’ but there was no fucking way he could have that number in his phone. His hand shook a little as he picked up.
“Hey,” Nebris said. “How did you get this number?” It seemed like a prank, and anyway, he’d never had the number in his phone so how could there be that name?
The voice on the other end said, “No need to ask.” It was a low male voice, hoarse and bored-sounding.
“So why are you calling me?”
“You’re Nebris Ray, head of the cleanup crew at the tower, right?”
“Mhm. Unofficial head, I guess.”
The voice stopped to cough. “You know who I am, don’t you?”
Of course Nebris did. It was a name he’d learned over his time in Offstreet and a name he’d learned to respect. It was not a person he’d ever imagined calling him.
“You’re Marque, Archangel of Autumn.”
“Yeah. Anyway I know that cleaning up is taking far longer than it should. I’m offering… I’ve been asked to offer you some help. I’ll come down on Monday and clear the whole thing up for you.” Marque didn’t sound thrilled at the prospect.
“Yeah really. Don’t sound so excited, it’s not like I want to do this. Ila wants the mess gone. Aureylian forced me to help. It’s the usual deal.”
“Okay…” Nebris said slowly. He was grateful for the help, no matter how begrudging it was. “See you then, I guess.”
“Mhm. Bye.” The voice was gone abruptly and Nebris hung up too, staring at the phone in his hands.
“Nebris?” Blame asked.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Nebris remarked, putting the phone down.
Nebris laughed. “Oh you know. Just a call from a fucking Archangel. Who’s going to help us on Monday.”
“Oh wow, an Archangel?” Blame sounded just as surprised as Nebris felt. “How did he get your number?”
“Who knows. The Archangels work in strange ways.”
Nebris was excited at the prospect of meeting an Archangel, and his favourite one at that. Most people had a preference after learning about them all, and Nebris admired the Archangel of Autumn. Nebris recited his roles in his head: Archangel in charge of life and death, illness, poison, and deadly animals, the afterlife, evil and immorality, greed, impatience, making mistakes and fixing them. Destruction. Power. Ambition. Protection. Nebris didn’t align himself with all of those values but the pursuit of power struck a chord in his mind. Marque was regarded as the least favourite Archangel among many.
Nebris could understand that.
“I want to know more about these Archangels,” Blame said. Nebris sat on the edge of the bed, wondering where to start. His head was filled with years of research of the Archangels, from ancient texts and new world of mouth.
“Well,” he began. “There’s four of them. You probably already know that. Each has domain over a certain season and they each have different roles. Ultimately, their goals all combine to protect all Angels and their world. So there’s Marque, Ila, Aureylian and Kurt. Marque governs autumn and his power is to destroy. Ila governs winter, her power is building. Aureylian governs spring, and her power is sight. And Kurt governs summer. His power is movement. Understand?”
“So they all have good powers except for Marque,” Blame replied. “Got it.”
“It’s not like that! All of them can use their powers for good or for evil. And all of their values align with keeping Angels safe and the protection and growth of Offstreet.” Nebris felt awkward and defensive.
“Right.” Blame turned towards the bathroom. “Thanks for the crash course.”“No problem.” Nebris stood up and watched Blame go, his wings flickering slightly as his muscles moved.