Angel Hunt + Streifen: Rebirth 03


Angel Hunt and Streifen in AU

(Alternate Universe 04)

(Part 01) (Part 02)


C H A P T E R   O N E : P A R T 03


Standing silhouetted against the sun that shines in through tall arching frosted windows to his right, the Angel’s lean frame is cast in a cool but warm light. Pale skin glistens as he stands near center of the wide pool, the thigh deep water rippling softly out to hit the boundaries of the inset marble tub before shifting back in to lap gently at his legs. Pink flecked eyes slowly open and stare through the warm, temperate sheet that rains down from a carved, wide spout set high above him, his pure white locks plastered to neck, shoulders and back while rivers stream over taught muscle and velvet soft skin alike.

How long as he stood in his place, allowing the water from his morning bath to wash away care and sense alike?

The more he attempts to remember, the less he seems able to recall.

Haniel has already left their shared home, making sure to remind him as he usually does not to linger for too long in order to report for duty on time.

What happened prior to his leaving… he no longer remembers. What he can remember is that his night was filled with the usual dreams and then the usual blackness and when he awoke, he and the other Higher ate the same meal they have every morning while sharing the same conversation they’ve exchanged daily for just over four hundred years. There was something… something that pulled him from the table, he was caught, they kissed… and then nothing more.

There is nothing beyond it. There never is. He thought that there had been something else before that happened, something pressing; something that seemed so important to him when he first woke but… but try as he might to remember it, the feeling is simply gone. The moment the other Angel’s lips had touched his own, whatever it was washed away and it became as it always does –that there is nothing else in the Heavens that could possibly matter as much to him as the one who owns his heart.

It’s always like this though, isn’t it? From the very first day he entered the training hall of First House and came face to face with his superior, he found himself caught. When he tries to think, he is unable, when he tries to reason, he cannot and as always, his heart’s desires seem to rule above all. His love and Haniel’s in return has never wavered. It has been the same for all of these four hundred years.

Or it was, up until only a few short months prior when he attempted travel and failed. Then came the dreams, the presence of another, the color taint in his eyes and with them the desire to correct the weakness he had shown. But the desire is always so short lived, his conviction lasting only a moment and he’s never able to remember why he brings it up at all.

With a sigh, Jun lifts his head and slides his arms upwards, tapered fingers slipping into long bangs and he rakes them back, the movement sending the falling water splashing all about before he steps from the stream. Liquid streams down his body in rivulets as he rises from the bath, bare feet touching sun warmed immaculate white inlaid tile while droplets cling to perfect features, glittering in the light like small diamonds scattered across his skin. Stopping at a scrolled stone bench set with a neatly folded pile of finely woven cloth, the Angel slips one free before continuing on through the open archway, drying himself as he moves into the room beyond. His body dry, he allows the cloth free to pool around his feet as he stops in front of a large scrollwork patterned dressing table set with mirrors that stretch out before him, all framed in an intricate gold and silver design.

Jun busies himself with dressing, the crisp white silken fabric of his uniform perfectly tailored, encasing lean muscle like a glove. Long fingers comb through feather soft wet locks, intricate braiding done swiftly and out of habit, while gleaming filigree gold adornments are wound throughout before each sectioned piece is gathered and braided together into one long, multifaceted plait. Allowing the end to go once tied, the Angel pushes his hair back over his shoulder and pays it no more mind as it tumbles heavily to settle at his lower back. Leaning over, Jun is about to lift his uniform hat from the marbled surface when he catches something, a small flash of light just out of the corner of his eyes that stops him dead. Glancing upward, his dual colored gaze widens, his movements frozen and still, halted along with his breath.

The world around him spins dangerously before coming to a sudden and abrupt stop, the edges of his vision obscuring to a soft haze as he finds himself looking at someone he’s only seen in his dreams -a person reflected at him through somebody else’s eyes. His hair is short and pulled back, a neat yet messy spiky ponytail set high on his head –tinged as it is now, white as the freshly fallen snow. His bangs are the same yet entirely different, colored a bright unnatural pink matched in hue to the encompassing early dawn hues of his eyes, swept to the side and pinned by two small, haphazardly placed black clips. Behind him another person lingers, wandering in and out like a ghost while his features remain fuzzy and out of focus as if he’s looking at him through a frosted pane of glass. He sees himself smile as the other steps up behind him, his presence familiar after all these months of watching him in his dreams, fighting besides him and being held in his arms as he dies. An arm, slender yet built and toned is slid around his waist and he sees himself smile before practically melting into the hold as if he’s done this exact same thing hundreds of times in the past. Unable to help himself, his eyes drop to where the other man’s arm should be only to find nothing; the Angel alone despite what’s being reflected at him through the mirrors to his front. Early dawn flecked white eyes flash back up in time to see something whispered into his ear that he knows to be an oddly accented Angelic before he mouths a name that despite the silence, he knows he’s spoken in a language he’s never actually heard and just as it is in all of his recent dreams, he isn’t able to catch it or discern what’s actually being said.

Just as quickly as it began the unfocused light around edges of his world ripples, pulling a small cry from his lips in protest before the vision is suddenly gone. But when Jun takes his next breath, he finds himself no longer in his room or standing in front of his mirror, but standing center in the training hall with his broadsword out stretched in his hand. Blinking in confusion, dual colored eyes dart around the cathedral sized room –flicking from the tall arching ceilings, to the weaponry displays along the stark white, inlaid walls, to the bright mid day sun that shines in through the spanning windows, to his subordinates who are gathered all around him, watching obediently before shifting back to his superior standing with his sword drawn likewise only a few feet to his front.

When moments pass and Jun remains immobile, Haniel flashes him a questioning yet slightly concerned look and in response, the sword he holds that had fallen slightly at his side during his disorientation is slid quickly back up into position, the tip of his curved blade pointed and he on guard.

“…Continue” Jun orders softly, his voice carrying enough instability that it pulls a frown so slight to Haniel’s lips that it’s lost to all who surround.

Despite the reproach that shows for a fraction of a second, the other Higher nods at his command, a half heartbeat passing before he makes his move. Stepping forward, the lightning fast movement of his etched longsword slices through the air quicker than most can blink as he swings and without so much as a flinch, Jun counters, the very tips of his adorned braid shorn as he dips down and away from his opponent’s strike. With graceful ease, his lithe frame spins before he arches back upwards, nine rings chiming melodically when the two Angelic weapons finally meet…

space02The morning has reached its midpoint when pitch-dark eyes crack open, wincing at the light filtering through the slants of a wooden screen pulled across the opening of the niche that houses the oversized bed. The panes of the tall windows lining two of the room’s walls are opened to bring in the sounds of summer: waterfowl, cicadas, and, the gentle lapping of water against stone, as well as the smell of the lake and summer flowers. Mingling, and on certain breezy gusts, overpowering those smells are the unmistakable scent of coffee, dark and rich. Turning his head to the side, Zephyr finds the blankets and sheets rumpled, but vacant. He never sleeps this late, choosing instead to wake with the dawn, and he’s unsurprised that Innic has already left their room.

Last night…

Threading tapered fingers into his hair, Zephyr sighs, the sound echoing through the still room. Last night’s memory had been one of his last with Jun, sitting on the porch at Sashi’s house at night, watching the fireflies light the twilight sky. The Angel’s head was cradled in his lap, his fingers combing through short strands of pink and white, the two of them teasing one another as they drank sake. They were easy together, as they had been from that very first day back at that Demon’s mansion, only now that ease was tempered by experience. Thirty-five years he’d spent by the Angel’s side, and while they’d run their fair share of hurdles through it, they always came out stronger and even more in love. But somewhere in the end, in that last battle, he was careless with the person who held his heart, and it had cost him everything. If only he hadn’t turned his back while Jun was fighting those partners, if only he’d killed the other Dark more quickly, if only he’d been able to leave well enough alone with the Seeker, if only… if only…

The heels of his hands press hard against closed black eyes before falling away, and the blonde stares up at the skylight positioned high above the bed. When he came out of the memory, the ache he always feels for the Angel, that hollowness that never fills that constantly gnaws at him, was so sharp. He’d needed someone, someone to blunt that pain, just for a few minutes and there was Innic. The feel of his best friend’s mouth beneath his own, the strength of toned muscle beneath his hands, the warmth of panted breath on his skin, he can remember all of it, completely and in vivid detail. He’d been the one to reach for the other Selestarri, the one who needed comforting, but staring down into deep orange eyes, the shorter man pinned beneath him, he knew exactly what would happen if he continued. The person in his hands would feel like his partner, it would taste like his partner, it would smell like his partner, but he would only have seen Jun’s face instead of Innic’s and that wouldn’t have been fair to the other Dark. Innic deserves better. He doesn’t have the right to use him just because he can’t get his own shit together, and if he’d continued he knows his best friend would have given him what he’d wanted just as he has on other nights.

The debt he owes to the other man is too great to treat him so poorly. Eight years ago Innic walked away from the Bright without a second glance the night after he’d tried to kill himself for the second time. The only thing asked for in return was to swear the partnership oaths. His best friend has always honored their oaths and provided comfort on those nights where he wakes torn from the haunting memories. It’s only right that he do the same, and using the other Selestarri as a surrogate whenever he needs a more physical comfort is shameful. That’s why he usually finds a stranger when he needs release, someone there just long enough to fulfill that purpose, and he doesn’t hurt anyone when they never hear from him again.

Threading tapered fingers into his hair, Zephyr sighs again, the sound echoing through the still room. Rolling to his side, sheets and thin blankets twist around his slim frame as he pushes away from the mattress. Bare feet pad across the cool tile floor and he steps through an archway and into a rectangular space lined with doors and drawers. Pulling the nearest door open, he selects a black, form fitting shirt and a similar pair of pants, slipping into each before removing his shoes from the wardrobe and closing the door. Another door produces a brush, little attention paid to the automatic movements that draw it through waist length hair. Long strands are gathered behind his head and wrapped with a tie, the shorter white-gold bangs sliding free to frame his face.

He follows his nose into the main section of the room to a long carved and lacquered sideboard. Steam rises from a coffee pot left by his partner, the magic-infused ceramic keeping the liquid at the perfect temperature. Likewise, a similar piece cools a small container of cream, perspiration beaded on the side of the glass pitcher. Sliding back one of the paneled screens in the sideboard, the Dark selects two mugs, adding cream to both and sugar to one before filling each with rich coffee. Sunlight glints off the lake as Zeph leaves the cup with sugar and takes the other, stepping up to the nearest window.

Entwined white and orange runes light up around the room, triggered by a presence outside the door. Flashing an annoyed look over his shoulder, the blonde twists the runes to unlatch the lock, the lacquered panel opening to admit another Dark, his long brown hair tucked behind his ears. “Seeker, we’ve just received word that the Bright have made a drop in Japan.” When he doesn’t respond, the younger man takes the hint and scurries out. Pulling the cup to his lips, Zeph downs half of it before leaving it on the sideboard, the teleport opening beneath his feet a moment later.

The darkness pulls him from his room to a narrow ledge on the side of a cliff, an ironbound door just a few paces to his left. The greater magic of the island prohibits teleporting on or off of Nova directly, leaving flight as the only option, just as it is on the Eyrie. However, one of the ancient Dark had taken it upon themselves to create several links between the island and Earth, mainly for use by the Streaked, none of whom can fly for long distances. Once their knowledge had become widespread within the faction, the passageways had become useful for those wishing for a more instant arrival on the ground. Composed of various doors, archways, and bridges, the links are rotated in and out of use by his decree as Seeker. This particular passage is new, created recently by Sashi and coded to only a handful of Dark and one Bright.

Setting his palm against the worn wood, it takes only a moment for the magic to accept him, the solidness of the door slipping away to allow him to step directly through. Less than a heartbeat later he stands amidst tall shelves packed with bolts of carefully packaged fabric. Patchy light beams down from small casement windows set almost at the roof line of the tiny room, illuminating another door just steps away. Betraying its ancient look, the pocket door glides easily into the wall and Zeph steps into a small enclosure that opens up into the street. Unbeknownst to the people of this small village, Sashi owns the building, which also houses a cafe and a ski repair shop.

He finds his brother seated alone at a table just outside that same cafe, shaded by the leafy canopy of an ancient tree. Black hair streaked very heavily with white falls well past the older Selestarri’s shoulders, the heavy strands ruffled slightly from the gusting mountain breezes. Gray eyes lift from the newspaper spread out before him to rake over Zephyr, a frown appearing on Sashi’s full lips. “You look like hell. Innic says you’re not eating much.”

“My partner seems to tell everyone that these days.” He shoots the other man a withering glare, sliding into the chair opposite. “You’re missing your more pleasant half.”

The Warden glances at the two glasses of chilled green tea and the two empty plates beside the newspaper. “He wanted to pick up some treats for the Hounds. They’ve recently learned to fetch.”

“I can think of nothing more lovely than two teenaged, one-hundred-eighty pound teleporting, partially wild dogs. They’re just as likely to retrieve a moose as a stick.” Since moving to this tiny village high in the mountains his brother has taken in orphaned Hounds from Nova, locating the current pair as tiny pups from the forest outside of the Caeli Tower. He cuts right to the purpose of his visit. “What have the Bright left?”

Sashi slides a parchment envelope from beneath his newspaper and hands it to Zeph. This village was selected as the place for the Oracle to leave messages precisely because of the Warden’s presence. His brother is one of the few he can trust to let him know when something has been left and his reputation assures the Bright won’t stick around. Black eyes flick over the flying crane seal pressed into light blue wax before lifting the flap. Scanning the neat lettering, he hands it back to the other Dark. “Four days from now… and if Rallibrid isn’t able to bring the Council to heel?” Tattooed fingers fold the thin paper, tucking it back into the folds of the newspaper before Sashi leans back in his chair. A pack of cigarettes appears from the pocket of his light haori jacket, and he pulls a slender stick free before offering it to the blonde.

Selecting his own cigarette and sparking the tip with a bit of magic, Zeph pulls it to his lips for a long drag. “Then she’s not worthy of the title, is she?” Truthfully he hopes she’ll be able to create the balance between their factions that’s necessary, but he’ll fight another war if that’s what it takes to get the Bright on the level.

His brother nods, releasing a stream of smoke into the summer air. Several long minutes pass between the two Selestarri in silence, but when he finishes his cigarette, Sashi hands him a second. When that one burns to ash as well and the Warden holds out another, the Seeker sighs. “You’re not going to let me leave until I eat something, are you?”

Storm-tinted eyes meet black and Sashi taps ash into the quickly filling metal tray. “Well I did promise your partner…”

space02[Are we going to talk about what happened today?] His superior inquires softly, his tone almost careful as he speaks.

Jun frowns as his dual colored gaze continues to scan the elegant scrolled writing on the page before him and a few moments of silence passes before he chooses to reply. [There’s nothing to talk about,] he says, unwilling to speak about either the new intrusive vision or the lapse and loss of time. [I faltered, that’s all.] How else is he supposed to explain what happened? How can he say that one moment he was standing in front of his mirrors, watching the perception of himself he’s only seen in his dreams interact with another who also exists only in his dreams, then the next, he was standing in the Training Hall with no recollection of how he even got there or what happened to the time in-between then and the morning that came before?

It would sound insane. It feels insane, and despite the other Higher being different than any other of their kind and therefore, more understanding than most, he’s sure that if he were to tell Haniel the truth of it, even he might consider filing a report.

[Have you forgotten who you are speaking to Jun?] Haniel sighs, turning a gold gilded edged page, [In all these years you have never faltered, not once. I have never gotten a strike in during demonstration, especially during a routine you and I have repeated for hundreds of years. It cost you an entire inch of your hair. I don’t consider that a small “falter”.]

Jun’s frown deepens, but Haniel continues just the same.

[The others may not have seen it, but I know you too well, so either you tell me what happened, or I’ll be forced to take it from you.] A small smirk forms on the Higher’s lips and despite the concern in his voice, a flirtatious hint shifts into his tone.

[You wouldn’t dare,] Jun counters with a small snort as he turns his own page and with the slightest of movements he flicks his head towards their surroundings and the rows of filled marbled stone tables that stretch out behind, to their sides and to their fronts. The Study Hall is as always, busy and bustling. Angels of every rank and status immersed in their duties and required schooling, while others roam the various stories of shelving units spanning all sides of the room lined with books upon books upon books. [Not here anyway.]

[If you continue to evade me, I just might. What’s a reprimand and mark on my record in comparison to the fun of loosening your lips?] The other Angel throws back. [Are you really not willing to tell me? You have never withheld anything from me before; I would hate to see our relationship change to the point that you would begin doing so now…]

Jun frowns again and this time, he glances up. Pink flecked eyes find pure white staring at him and he’s unable to hold his superior’s gaze for very long. Haniel is right, he never has withheld anything from the Higher so why is he doing it now? The other Angel has never done anything to warrant such distrusting behavior so what is it that’s holding him back? Haniel has done so much for him, sacrificed so much, risked so much over the years and this repayment of the other man’s attentions are poor. He doesn’t understand why he suddenly feels the need to keep secrets and to lie to him simply because he’s begun to feel a sense of unrest over some dreams and someone that he knows doesn’t even exist.

[I… don’t know what happened,] he finally admits, guilt flooding his slender frame and shame tainting his now quiet tone. [Honestly, I really don’t know. I had another… dream… but it was different than the others and… I was awake when it happened.]

[Jun…] Haniel begins, [why didn’t you tell me sooner, I would have stopped the dem——]

Without warning, Haniel’s words fade and the rest of the study hall goes still, the silence so abrupt and so sudden that Jun’s eyes are pulled immediately back up. What he finds is not the Higher, but another, his white blonde hair pulled back and held by a scattering of black criss-crossed pins and left to fan in a spray of stiff neat spikes while center parted layered fringe frames his face.

Reflected in midnight eyes is himself only different as always, yet the differences are deeper than before. His own pink bangs are as he always sees them, long and side swept and held from his full early dawn hued eyes by a single black pin. His snow white hair is shorter than it’s been in the past dreams, pulled back similar to the one sitting across from him and held by a pair of red lens goggles strapped behind his ears, spiked more haphazardly in a fan around his head.

A smile, sly and flirtatious is flashed at him and with it, the hall slams back into focus, only it’s changed in every way. The bright light shining in from the arching glass domes over head is gone, the ceilings low and flat and nearly black, spots of unidentifiable markings highlighted every so often by the bright flashing of colored lights. The soft rustle of many pages being turned is replaced by the steady murmur of dueling voices and music so loud with a base so deep that each grinding beat reverberates within. The familiar scent of his kind is gone, replaced by the near intolerable foreign scents of sweat and intoxication, alcohol and the cigarette smoke that causes a fine haze to drift through the room.

Stretched out between them is not the long, immaculate white marble table filled with ancient books, but a small dingy one with a scratched metal surface, an ashtray with a piles of ashes and spent butts yet one burning cigarette is near the other while rows of filled shot glasses are lined up between them with empty ones discarded to each of their sides.

Reaching out, the blonde gathers a glass in tapered fingers and pulls it to his lips, throwing his head back to down the clear liquid inside before dropping the emptied container near the pile directly to his right. Reaching over with his left, he pulls the smoldering cigarette from the full tray and slides it upwards to take a drag, nodding at him with a smirk. Without any thought, Jun reaches forward himself, finding his hand a little unsteady as he draws a glass from the line and pulls it towards him, the smile the other man flashes him as he tilts his head sideways to blow the smoke towards the ceiling sending a streak of fire running down the length of his spine.

His head tilts as he too downs the liquid, the warmth spreading almost immediately through every part of his body and the lightheadedness taking him the instant he slams the glass back down. A command is issued that he cannot hear, but he obeys it just the same and setting his own fingers down on the table, he pushes his slender body up in his chair until he’s on his knees. His hands slip down to the hem of a shirt that he doesn’t recognize –thin and dual colored in pink and black, short sleeved with a rounded collar and some kind of pattern on the front. There’s a chain with a small key hanging around his neck and he realizes too that his arms are covered by black tight ribbed cloth, his wrists encased by some kind of leather strap and chain bracelet set. Sliding the shirt upward, he purposefully takes his time to reveal every new inch of his toned body, knowing full well the gaze from the other is taking what he shows in with lustful glee.

This is a game they’ve played often since they met but one that never, ever gets old. He loves how he looks at him, loves seeing that want and need reflected in those eyes, and sometimes he’ll milk it just to prolong it a little more. God but he yearns to have the blonde take him, to say screw all to their game, the fact that they aren’t alone and beg him to strip him down and fuck him right here on this dirty table deep, fast and hard until he cries out for more. It’s so hard sometimes to keep control and he doesn’t always succeed, sometimes ending their game almost as soon as it began because he’s too damn impatient, his body crying out for the other along with his mind and very soul. Not only does he love the other man with every fiber of his being, he craves him immensely, he’s like a drug with he the addict and when their bodies are apart for any reason, he’s constantly going through withdrawals. The blonde is the only one who’s ever been able to do this to him, to affect him so deeply that he’s willing to toss every one of his inhibitions out the door and he knows there will never be another in his life to do the same.

His surroundings darken momentarily as he finally manages to pull the fabric over his head, but unable for some reason to slip it fully free, he allows it to settle on one of his arms. He sees his body as he always does when he’s looking into those eyes, his own fingers teasing playfully and purposefully over taut muscle, ghosting over collarbone and chest, down sculpted abdominals and over the addition of a black rounded and spiked tattoo that arches around a naval pierced by a silver, pink jewel tipped bar. Gold floods the eyes before him, spotting the edges of deep blue as his fingers stop at the waistband of tight, form fitting black pants set low on the sharp ridges of his hips, trailing over a spiked belt thread through thin loops before tracing the zipper center front. The cigarette in his companion’s hand is snuffed as the blonde is rising up to lean towards him, catching his hand in his own and pulling his entire frame over until the space between their faces is nearly gone. His heart is racing faster than ever before, the touch of those fingers on his skin branding him red hot and all fire and tilting his head in, the mouth he longs to taste so badly is about to meet his own when he loses his balance and the world tilts dangerously to the side.

Before he knows it, he finds himself tipping, overwhelmed by the sensation of falling hard. Early dawn hues shut as he goes crashing down but instead of hitting the table beneath him or the cold sticky floor below, there’s only a softness to meet his head. Suddenly the noise is replaced by the sounds of nature, the soft chirp of crickets and the rustle of a cool wind. Early dawn streaked white snap open to find the high ceiling of his home above shrouded in darkness, his breath heavy and he panting while his heart races wildly beneath his chest. Turning his head to the side he finds his superior’s sleep filled eyes slowly opening, and once again, he has no recollection of how he got from the Study Hall to his home.

“Bad dream again?” Haniel wonders softly, his voice filled with sleepy concern. With a small cry, Jun sits up abruptly and pushes away from his companion, his body tangling in the silken bedding as he turns and scrambles towards the end of the bed…

space01Steam, thick and hot, rolls from the bathroom as I open the door, white tendrils drifting into the bedroom before dissipating. Clad only in loose, drawstring pants, I step from water slick tile to cool hardwood, scrubbing a towel through the back of shoulder length white-gold hair.

Flicking bangs from my eyes with a toss of my head, I drop the terry cloth around my neck, leaning against the doorframe and allowing my midnight gaze to latch onto the room’s only occupant.

The other man stands beside one of the dressers in our room, his back to the bathroom as he sifts through the contents of an open drawer. A towel wraps around his narrow waist, his frame lean and toned with white hair that falls to the middle of his back, wet and clinging to bare skin, and long pink bangs that obscure eyes of the same tint. Around his neck is a fine length of silver holding a key, twin to the one I wear. I know his body as well as I know my own, every line and curve and firm bit of muscle committed to memory long ago. Yet no matter how many times I touch that velvet soft skin, I always find myself wanting more. Even now, no less than five minutes since I’d last held him close beneath the stream of water in the shower, my hands itch for him again. There’s not enough for me when it comes to the Angel, there will never be enough, and that’s part of what draws me to him, over and over. Attention that once shifted to whomever passed by has been held and locked, centered on him and only him for the past twenty years.

“Just choose the pink one,” I suggest, smirking when dawn-tinted eyes turn in my direction.

Shooting me a mock-annoyed look, Jun returns his attention to the drawer. “Have you seen those ones with the pink polka dots?”

Tapered fingers push damp blonde strands from my eyes once again, and I can’t resist messing with him just a little. “White with pink polka dots or black with pink polka dots?”

Jun sorts through the stacks, each pair folded precisely, the neatness one of the few holdovers from his time in the Heavens. “The white… Did you switch them out for a new pair without telling me again?”

“I have no idea why you think I’d do such a thing.” My tone is serious, but I can’t wipe the smirk off my lips. I shouldn’t tease him as much as I do, but I’m literally powerless to stop it when he’s so adorable.

Straightening to my full height, I cross the floor to stand behind him, one arm looping around his waist as I peer over his shoulder. “In the not too distant past, I used to be able to choose my own underwear. I even had briefs and not just skimpy bits of cloth.” The Angel turns to face me without breaking the circle of my arm, and even though he’s frowning, his eyes don’t quite manage to sell it. “Then I met this guy and he decided to slowly replace everything I had with the kinds of panties he likes.”

I try to pretend I’m scandalized by the allegation that I’m the type of person who would do such a thing, but I fail miserably. “When your panties are that cute, I can’t resist taking them off you.” The fingers of my free hand slip below the tucked edge of the towel barely clinging to slim hips, pulling back just to the point where it will slide free. “Are you saying you want me to stop removing your panties?”

Jun tilts his head just enough to narrow the space between our faces, his breath warm against my lips. “Of course not, but it would be nice to have a choice in my own underwear.”

“I’m somewhat sure that free choice is overrated,” I assure him, “but you can choose not to wear any at all. If you did that, then I’d let you have any kind you want.”

Jun grins, somehow managing to look wicked and absolutely adorable all at the same time. “Me not wearing any panties is why we’ve had two showers in the past couple hours and why we’re now late to your brother’s house.”

I shrug, my mouth lightly brushing his with each word spoken. “Sashi has come to learn that we’re never on time anyway.” I close the space between us with a kiss that’s just as light as my words had been.

The Angel melts into me just a little, but he tries to stick to his original line of questioning when the kiss ends. “True, but seriously, Zeph–” Jun breaks off abruptly, his hand lifting to touch gently at my cheek, tracing along the bone. “Hey, are you okay?” All the teasing slides right out of his tone, replaced by concern. “You look so sad all of the sudden. What’s going on?”

I don’t have to see my own reflection to know that the color is draining from my eyes and down into the skin beneath. My arm tightens around his waist, desperate to hold on to him, to feel how solid he is, how warm. But already he feels too light, too insubstantial, and I know I’m losing my hold. “In a minute this will all fade away,” I tell him quietly. “The memory will end, and you’ll still be dead.”

Brows furrowed, Jun shakes his head, mouth opening to speak, but instead a puzzled look crosses his face. Confused, dawn-tinted eyes slide downward to find a broken knife blade lodged in his chest, the metal gleaming faintly in the overhead light. Bright crimson spills from the wound to run slickly down pale skin, blood pumping steadily from a heart that’s already slowing…

Colorless eyes snap open, unfocused, lungs straining for air as though he hasn’t taken a breath in a very long time. For several moments Zeph remains still as he works to calm himself, listening to the rain pound at the roof of the covered porch on which he sits. The lake slowly comes into view, its usual glass-like surface pitted by the driving rain and ruffled by the wind, and then the dark trees of the forest beyond and the cloud-shrouded mountains in the distance. A light blanket is draped over the chair and across his body and when he shifts his gaze to the small table on his left, he finds a tall carafe of water and a screened cloche protecting a plate of food. They have Innic’s stamp all over them, and he wonders how far into the memory he was when his partner returned to their room.

Freeing his arm from the blanket, tapered fingers press against the pain in his chest, the hollowness flaring sharply with each heartbeat. He can still feel Jun’s skin against the palms of his hands, smell his unique scent, feel the feather soft strands of his hair, all of it as though they’d been parted only minutes instead of ten years. For some people, the pain of death eventually fades as time marches, those memories once so bright losing their details. He’s not like some people, though, his particular type of telepathy ensuring that he’ll never forget even a moment of the time he spent with the person he loves. It’s something he cherishes and he wishes never to lose, but at the same time he comes out of these memories with hurt as piercing as it was that first day, with grief as fresh, and with despair so deep it feels as though he’ll be swallowed.

Pulling his hand away from his heart, his eyes skim over the three sets of scars that run the length of his forearm from wrist to elbow. Three times he tried to end his life and three times he failed. Yet in spite of what it does to his best friend and his brother, he knows that he’ll try again. There’s nothing left for him here, no light in his world, no warmth inside. Like his eyes, the color has drained out of his life, leaving it washed out and dreary. He was never meant to live without Jun and he’s exhausted by what it takes to do so, exhausted by the aching hollowness in his chest and by a heart riddled with hurt. He needs the Angel like he needs air to breathe, and without him he’s slowly suffocating. The next attempt won’t be today and likely not tomorrow, but he will try again, and when he does he will ensure success. A finale for a story that had truly ended on that battlefield ten years ago.

Sliding his arm beneath the soft fabric and dropping his head back against the chair, the blonde sighs, his gaze turning once again to the rain-soaked landscape…


…to continue.



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