Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Nebris and Vechs didn’t even bother inviting Cambriel to join their shopping trip. Blame felt a pang of guilt as they left the apartment and Cambriel stayed but they insisted they had their own plans anyway, and would be fine left alone.
He wasn’t going to mention what he witnessed last night but he was dead curious, wondering who Cambriel had called, and remembeing that plaintive note in their voice. Blame turned the scene over and over in his mind like a puzzle.
“Hello?” echoed in his mind.
The three walked down the street. It was a bright morning and many Angels were out, enjoying the sunny weekend, despite a chill in the air that came with a low, biting wind.
Vechs led them down a street that led to an open mall, bordered by shops.
After some observation, Blame had discerned that Angel shirts had a low scooped back to accommodate wings that sat comfortably over the fabric. Other items like sturdier jackets had slots for the wings, fastened at the top with buttons or velcro.
His own wings were in less pain - although that was relative - today. He flexed his shoulders, feeling the new limbs moving behind him. He felt almost embarrassed with his juvenile wings tucked under his hoodie. Angels would know his were growing, know he was new and naive. At least he had Nebris and Vechs, flanking him like bodyguards. Vechs, as usual, had his wings stretched out, not touching Blame but feeling like an embrace around his shoulders anyway. Nebris’ sleek wings fluttered as he readjusted them occasionally.
Vechs steered him into a shop and headed straight for a rack of black shirts. He picked out a few different shirts, thrusting them at Blame. “Here. These’ll look good on you. Plus, you seem to like black.”
After Blame had tried on several clothes and bought some basics, Nebris insisted in looking for a warm coat.
“It’s going to get colder,” Nebris explained, pushing Blame into a shop that seemed too expensive for Blame’s taste, “You’ll need to keep warm. Here.”
He held up a black coat with a row of gold buttons shining down the front. “You’d look great in this. C’mon, try it on.”
“I don’t think I can afford that,” Blame said, not even looking at the price tag. He knew it would be too expensive for his meagre salary.
“Oh, my treat,” Nebris said. “Come on. Don’t want you to be cold when winter comes.”
Blame still kept his distance, not even wanting to touch the coat. It was beautiful. “You can’t afford that!”
“Yes I can.” Nebris grinned. “I still have money saved up from my s- from my old job.”
“Just let him do this,” Vechs advised. “May as well enjoy it.”
After a moment of hesitation, Blame took the coat and slipped his arms into it. It was warm and fit snugly, and as he turned in it he became aware that both Vechs and Nebris were staring at him.
“Uh, I like it, but…” Blame trailed off.
“I’m getting it for you, okay? It fits well,” Nebris said. “And you look really good in it.”
Blame looked at his feet while heat rose to his cheeks. He really didn’t want to argue more, so let Nebris buy the coat for him.
“C’mon,” Vechs said, shifting from foot to foot. “I’m hungry. There’s a nice cafe where we can grab lunch.”
Blame was happy to see more of the city. He figured that as his new home, he should know the place well. Vechs led them down a laneway crammed with cafes and smoky restaurants and coffee bars.
Vechs indicated a small cafe with tables on the pavement outside and went inside to order, while Nebris and Blame sat down.
“So,” Nebris said, leaning forward on his elbows and grinning at Blame. “This is cute, isn’t it?”
“This little date.”
Blame sat up straighter. “Is this a date, then?”
Nebris shrugged. “Do you want it to be?”
Blame didn’t think he was ready to address the feelings growing in the pit of his gut, like they were gestating, not ready to be revealed. He laced his fingers together under the table, looking at the purple-eyed angel smiling at him.
Nebris and Vechs had become something to him, he knew. Something important, something intrinsic that he could never leave; when he thought harder, the right word came to him. Home. They had become home; warm and welcoming.
Maybe that was just the city, though. Maybe that was Blame’s feeling of belonging growing like his wings, this entire place becoming familiar to him, the way Carling never seemed to. But he thought he would be lost without Nebris and Vechs, and they were a part of living here that he couldn’t imagine ever leaving.
“Sure,” he said. “It’s a date.”
He watched Nebris’ eyes flare, and Vechs came and sat with them, explaining he’d been held up chatting to a waiter. The waiter was an old friend of his, he said, and he hadn’t visited him at work in a while.
They sat for a while, chatting in the cool sunshine, until the waiter brought them their coffees. For once Blame’s eyes were drawn to his bright red hair, rather than his wings first - though the brown wings also had red feathers barred through them.
Vechs introduced the waiter as Chad, and made him stay for a few minutes to talk before he had to get back to work.
“I used to go to this cafe a lot more,” Vechs explained. “Don’t know why I stopped. Times change, I guess.”
“You met me,” Nebris said, a laugh fading from his voice.
“True. You took up a lot of my time. And I’m happy about that!” Vechs grins. “And now I have you, too, Blame. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Blame sipped his coffee and watched the sunshine in Vechs’ sky blue eyes. His smile was like the sunshine, spreading across his face to the corners of his mouth, the corners of his eyes. Blame had never seen sunshine or a smile like that in Carling.
He curled his hands around the mug and felt the warmth blooming in his stomach.
They spent the rest of the day at home. Cambriel had gone out, but nobody knew where to. Vechs and Nebris didn’t appear to worry much, even when Blame questioned it.
Day melted into evening and night, and Blame lay on the bed after dinner, Vechs’ folded wing pressing against his side. He’d purchased some books while out and was reading one; a history of Offstreet. It was interesting enough, detailing the exodus of the Angels from Heithrun to Offstreet, how it was created, the Archangels’ involvement.
But Blame was less focused on the book than his situation. His heart was thumping softly, and he could feel it.
Something had shifted. Vechs and Nebris lying warm beside him, even though they were quiet, felt natural and beautiful, in a way Blame didn’t quite know how to describe. The feeling he didn’t quite want to admit to himself glowed in the dark at the back of his thoughts, pleading to be noticed. He ignored it, turning his gaze to the side.
Vechs was also reading, his eyes flickering across the page behind glasses, intently focused on the story before him. Beyond, Nebris was napping; a streak of sunset light across his closed face, body curled on the bed.
Vechs’ eyes slid sideways and he met Blame’s gaze. He smiled.
Blame woke the next day, ache pressing into his back from his shoulders, curling downwards. He groaned, stretching his wings, and stood.
“Ooh!” Vechs was up, standing so close behind Blame that he could feel his breath. “You have a pattern coming into the down.”
Blame felt his wings flutter involuntarily. “Oh yeah?”
“Mhm.” Blame felt the light trace of a finger across the back of his wing, a slow curve that sent a tickle racing through the wing, down to his spine. He breathed in, trying not to let Vechs notice that it had caused such a reaction.
Blame knew wings were sensitive, but he hadn’t imagined they would be this sensitive to the touch of another Angel. He flicked out the touched wing, batting Vechs somewhere in his chest.
“Oh, sorry,” Vechs said. “I know. It tickles, doesn’t it? Anyway, they’re looking pretty…” Vechs paused and stepped around Blame to face him, cracking a grin. “Fly.”
Blame couldn’t help but let out a small laugh as Vechs made finger-guns.
“That was terrible,” he said.
“You’re smiling,” Vechs replied.
“No I’m not,” Blame said, smiling. “Anyway, what do my wings look like?”
“Pretty. They’re black and white, with patches. Like, uh, a…”
“Collie dog?” Nebris suggested, from the bed.
“Nah. More like a magpie. I think. Anyway, they’re beautiful, and you should be proud.”
Blame spun and put a hand up to touch the fluffy edge of his wing. “Why does everyone care so much that I have pretty wings? Would you care if I had really, really ugly wings?”
“Blame!” Nebris stood and stepped forward, stretching out his own wings. For one of the first times, Blame could see their undersides - grey and black. “Listen. Wings are one of the only things that separate us from humans, you know? They’re very important. Of course everyone wants you to have pretty wings.”
“So appearance is the only thing that matters?” Blame countered. “Humans would call that superficial.”
“I do not give,” Nebris flexed his wings, “a fuck what humans think.”
“You were once a human.” Blame curled his hands into fists, unsure why anger had swelled his chest.
“And? I’m not any more. I don’t want to remember what it was like to be human. I don’t want to be human.”
The tension in the air had surged, charging the atmosphere with static like a lightning storm. Blame stepped back.
“Hey, hey. Come on now, we need to get ready for work, or we’ll be late. Remember, we have a special guest today.” Vechs placed a hand on either of Nebris and Blame’s shoulders.
“Oh right. The Archangel.” Nebris relaxed his wings, re-folding them. “Yeah, we better get going.”
Blame stayed closer to Vechs on the walk to work. He didn’t want to avoid Nebris but he felt uncertain, like he’d tripped on something and now had to constantly watch his feet. Although he wasn’t human, he felt like one, and he felt defensive.
Will there come a time, he thought, when I will feel the same way about humans as Nebris does? Am I still too human?
He flexed his wings again. Still small and featherless, still aching. Still in transition. So maybe he wasn’t entirely Angel, not just yet.
When they arrived at the site, it was evident the Archangel had not come yet. The other workers were sitting down, talking.
“Marque’s not here yet?” Nebris asked.
“What?” The Angel named Pakratt stood and frowned. “Marque?”
“Oh right!” Nebris clapped his hands together. “I should tell you all. We’re having a special visitor today. The Archangel of Autumn, in fact. He’s going to help out. Which, I imagine, involves blasting all that rubble to bits.”
“What? How the frick did you get him?”
Nebris smiled. “I have no fucking clue. He just called to tell me he’s coming so…” He shrugged. “I guess we’ll see.”
Blame wondered what the protocol was for greeting an Archangel. Should he bow or salute? Were there customs in Offstreet that he didn’t know yet? Vechs and Nebris hadn’t briefed him, so he wasn’t sure what to expect.
It wasn’t long before a normal-looking Angel approached them from the street, stepping inside the fence. His gait was slow and slouched, and as he assessed the group in front of him, something told Blame he’d rather be anywhere but here.
The Angel pulled the stub of a cigarette from his mouth and dropped it to the ground. “Which one of you is Nebris?”
“That’d be me.”
He approached Nebris, who was still close to Vechs and Blame. Blame thought his his hairstyle was a little over-the-top: an undercut, the shaved part brown with a sweeping, orange-dyed fringe nearly obscuring one eye. It matched his wings though, similarly flame-coloured red and orange feathers that were unkempt and ruffled.
“Huh, you’re hotter than I expected,” Marque said, in a drawl. His voice sounded rusty. Wrecked, no doubt, by the cigarettes, Blame thought.
Nebris raised an eyebrow. “I like you even more now.”
Blame had been expecting something different. He wasn’t sure what, but Marque was too normal, and it surprised him. He looked too much like all the other Angels.
Marque scanned Vechs and Blame, scowling at Blame. “Hey, what’s up with you?”
“Huh?” Blame tensed, pulling his wings close behind his shoulders.
“Your wings. Small. Still downy. You’re new here, are you?”
“Hm. Haven’t seen that in a while.” He scoffed and turned back to Nebris. “Alright, everyone’s gonna have to clear off. Wouldn’t want any accidental deaths on my hands. You can watch from the street.” He flapped his hand towards the exit in the fence.
Vechs walked with the others out onto the street, a safe distance from the site. He stayed close to Blame, feeling strangely protective.
As much as Nebris had always spoken well of Marque, Vechs wasn’t convinced he was a good person. It was obvious he wasn’t nice, but Vechs had always thought he’d be, at the very least, polite.
He watched as Marque walked further into the wreckage, then turned, stretching his wings to their full length and holding his arms out. Vechs had heard of the Archangels’ more powerful form before, and the transformation it took, but he wasn’t sure what to expect.
A few seconds later, bright orange flames shot up from the ground, engulfing Marque to his head. Before Vechs had even processed this the flames flared higher, doubling in height then blooming, opening up like a great flower.
Hovering above the ground, Marque was now at least twelve feet tall, completely glowing with bright orange. He now had six eyes, six wings, and six arms, and a haze of light encircling his head. As Vechs watched, he flew above the destruction and summoned bolts of orange fire, hurling them at the rubble and destroying it in seconds.
The destruction shriveled away into nothing, burning to the ground and leaving nothing but thin plums of stinking smoke curling from the blackened block. It was completely flat now, clear of all the wreckage.
Vechs whistled as Marque returned to the ground, folding down back into his regular form, losing his extra limbs and eyes. He stumbled a little as he landed, and the workers moved back across to the fence.
“Holy shit!” Nebris enthused. Vechs watched. He could tell Nebris’ admiration of the Archangel had increased tenfold at this display of his powers. “That was awesome.”
“I know.” Marque lit a cigarette and looked around. “Well, that’s over with. I better go.” Before anyone said a word he kicked off from the ground, spreading his sunset-red wings and lifting into the sky, leaving the group blinking around at the dust.
Nebris felt a huge weight had been lifted from his body. He would never have to look at that pile of old, twisted metal, that every time he saw twisted something similarly in his guts. It had always been a terrible reminder of things he tried to block out, and for years, had tried to remove from sight.
It wasn’t even that he came by here often. But seeing the destruction eliminated by Marque was cathartic. It was gone, and maybe he could rest easier now.
“We should celebrate,” he suggested as they walked home. “Y’know. Go out to the club or something.” He turned to Blame. “Is there anything you want to do?”
“Uh, not in particular. I don’t know any good places around here, so…”
“We’ll go back to Empyrean,” Nebris said, his eyes sparkling. “Don’t worry,” he added, at the expression on Blame’s face. “You’ll enjoy it!”
He turned to Vechs and winked, unseen by Blame. Vechs nodded, and wordlessly, they continued home.
Cambriel wasn’t there when they got back. Blame frowned at the empty apartment, worried.
“It’s okay,” Vechs said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Cam was always like this. Leaving without saying where or why. They’ll be back soon. Or later. Doesn’t matter.”
Blame nodded, distracted, and went into the bathroom to shower.He stretched his juvenile wings before the mirror. He could see, now, the patterns Vechs had noted; white patches over black, still soft down, no feathers. He traced a finger down the line between the two colours, remembering Vechs’ touch from the morning. His spine tingled.