Angel Hunt and Streifen in AU
C H A P T E R O N E : P A R T 06
He’s miserable, there’s no other way to put it.
How long he’s been wandering, he’s not even sure, but what he does know is that he already hates the rain –the unending rain that’s soaked his clothing thoroughly and plastered his pure white locks to his features, he never thought he could hate something as much as he currently does this. It wouldn’t be half as bad if it weren’t for the cold, that miserable, deep penetrating cold that’s already seeped so far down that he can feel it in his bones… it makes him feel as if he’ll never be warm again. He’s irritated enough by it that he’s seriously considering that when he gets back home, he might just end up making an example of Azrael by kicking his ass during the next training session just for all the lies he told him about this realm.
How do these people live in this? How do they even function?
He’s been walking without aim for what feels like hours and every step he takes and every corner he turns, he finds only more of the same compacted buildings, the same gray paved streets and sidewalks, the same roads with the same lights and the same signs. He’d love to take some joy in the newness that surrounds him, to wander around and immerse himself in any sights this place has to offer, to find out where he is so that he may pinpoint where he should be, but he can’t because he’s freezing and the colder he gets, the more sluggish he feels. With every step he takes, he grows more tired and it feels as if he’s been training without rest for hours on end instead of simply walking around at a leisurely pace. He’s never experienced anything like this and he doesn’t like it.
He doesn’t like it at all.
Haniel never mentioned anything about the cold either, he never mentioned the possibility that an ungodly amount of water could pour from the sky and when he gets back home he’s definitely going to have a talk with the other Higher about it because this is beyond ridiculous.
Turning a corner, the tall Angel finds himself on another empty street that looks nearly identical to every other street he’s been on, the various shops and businesses that line the walkway open despite the inactivity –indicated by small dimly lit signs or lights. At the end of the sidewalk and set against the corner near the crossing is an enclosed stand, the vinyl overhead spread a few feet to its front to deflect the downpour and the attendant inside looking cheery despite the misery that surrounds her. The smell wafting out hits Jun’s nose despite the cart being at the far end of the block and along with it, relief for finally finding something familiar, something he desperately needs at this point in time.
Long strides take him past the shops and to the stand, finding a momentary break from the rain as he ducks beneath the overhead hang. The woman’s dark gaze is caught the instant he steps up to the window, her mouth gaping just a little as she takes his features slowly in. Despite the person before her being soaked and looking rather unhappy, she’s struck by his features and his stature in a way she’s never been struck before. Never in her life has she seen anyone as beautiful, from the dual tones of his eyes to his hair, to the perfectly fitted clothing, accentuated even further by the fact that nearly all of it is plastered to his lithe frame, highlighting each toned and well sculpted line and curve of muscle.
Business has been slow due to the weather, and just when she thought the day was going to be as fruitless and dull as the sky, the lord almighty has seen fit to drop an angel right into her hands.
“B-bad day to be out without an umbrella,” the woman manages after a moment and despite her gaping, her voice shows genuine concern.
“Seems like it.” Jun frowns as he slides a hand up to brush wet locks from his line of vision. While he’s not quite sure what an umbrella is, he’s guessing from her words that it’s something that he probably needs and for the hundredth time since he stepped from the building that was supposed to be Central, he wishes he’d ended up where he should have so he could have gotten some sort of debriefing on what to expect and what he’d need once here . He’d been so damned focused in on just succeeding that there wasn’t even a thought that something like this could happen at all.
“So uh, what’ll it be?” she smiles weakly, gesturing to the backboard while her eyes remain riveted on his form.
If Jun takes any notice of her attention, he doesn’t show it, instead spending a minute attempting to make sense of the writing directly behind her head. Latte? Macchiato? Cappuccino? Iced café Americano? What does any of this even mean?
“Coffee” he finally replies, realizing that he’ll probably freeze to death before he figures out even a fraction of the puzzle before him. Coffee is all he wants anyway, something warm and strong enough to help combat the misery that’s currently upon him.
“Sure thing,” she chimes and moving quickly, well practiced hands draw up a large cup before handing it over. “On me today,” she smiles warmly, pointing to the condiments at her side.
Nodding in thanks, the white haired man almost sighs out loud when chilled fingers wrap around the thick paper cup and while it does little to warm him overall, the heat it does give off is welcome just the same. Sliding over to the well stocked condiment bar, early dawn flecked white scan the creams and the sugars and without fully understanding why, he reaches for a couple of each. Peeling back the lid to the small pot of creamer, he dumps the contents into his cup, then ripping several packets of sugar open, he pours them in as well. As he’s pulling the empty packets back, his movements slow when he’s hit with an overwhelming sensation that he’s done this exact same thing before.
He couldn’t have though. These things aren’t allowed in the Heavens and every morning when he’s had his coffee, it’s been as it always is –strong, rich and black. He doesn’t know why he even added anything to this one, it just… seemed like the right thing to do. With a frown, he flicks his head in the slightest to rid himself of the sensation before dipping a small plastic stirrer into the cup. A few quick swirls mix the contents within before he snaps a lid over the mouth, pulling the coffee to his lips and taking a long, satisfying sip. The taste is nothing short of amazing, the heated liquid sliding down his throat and at least momentarily, warming every place within. He takes another sip and then another, and as he does so, finally realizes why that for the last couple of months he’s felt as if something has been missing from his morning coffee and now that he’s found it, he wonders how it is he’ll ever be able to go back.
The Higher is so engrossed in his revelation that when the woman says something to him he pays no attention -a question asked that gets unintentionally ignored. Without another nod of thanks, Jun steps away from the stand and back into the downpour, crossing the street without a glance back. Turning onto another walkway, the shops and offices make way for rows of residential housing and he follows them without thought, his coffee cupped in both hands and held up to his chest as if it will somehow magically shield him from the encompassing cold…
The sidewalks of the business district are packed, the lunchtime rush unabated despite the pounding rain. Umbrellas pop up like mushrooms in the moving sea of humanity, the rainbow of colors and patterns bright against the dreary, washed out buildings and streets. Puddles are splashed by booted feet as all around the walkers range from silent acceptance of the weather to cheerful excitement to bitter complaining. The businesses along the streets have made the best of the cold downpour, posting signs advertising hot drinks, soups, ponchos, and wellies all at special prices.
Sheltered by a large black umbrella, Zephyr makes his way through the crowd, still wearing his sunglasses to ward against the light, no matter how gray and dismal, that seeks to stab directly into his aching head. His cool, flat expression meets any who bump too close or seek to make inane conversation about the downpour, sending them quickly on their way usually with a muttered apology thrown in his direction. He avoids coming to this city whenever possible. Once he had called it home, but now there are too many old memories and too much pain. On this street alone there’s the luncheonette where he’d get Jun’s favorite sandwiches, the bars and clubs they used to frequent, the coffee shop that knew their orders by heart, the market where he bought ingredients for special meals… the list goes on and on. No matter where he looks, there are memories of the years they spent here together, bittersweet memories that only remind him that there will be no new ones yet to come. This place is a graveyard, full of old ghosts to haunt him and fill his chest with heavy, cold pain.
But as much as he’d be willing never to return, to leave the ghosts of memories to their haunting without him, there are still informants here who will only speak to him. No matter how many times he’d assured them of Innic’s trustworthiness, they refuse to cooperate unless he makes a personal appearance. Having lived here for several years, he’d established quite a base to his network, and while he’s moved as much of it away as possible by rerouting information lines and drop off points, there are still some who remain. Additionally, the Bright continue to maintain a one of their operations hubs in this city, so even if he were able to move everything out, he would need to maintain some kind of presence here. Unable to completely remove himself as he wishes, he instead makes these visits as infrequent and brief as possible.
From the corner of his eye he catches a flash of pink just ahead and it pulls his gaze automatically, the old habit of looking for Jun one that has not faded with the passing years, nor has that momentary hope, that flash of desperation that this time he will actually find him. He knows that he will not, that he cannot no matter how much his heart wishes it to be so. He’d done the same thing after he’d left the Eyrie as a teenager, spotting Aly and Mijah and Innic in the crowds of Hong Kong, but it had become more and more rare the longer he’d been parted from them, until eventually it ceased. Jun died ten years ago, yet this ingrained instinct hasn’t wavered. He still looks, he still hopes, and he still is hurt every time that hope is crushed when it turns out not to be the one he loves. This flash of pink turns out to be a teenager, her hair dyed in a bright hue, chatting with her friends before turning into a boutique.
Stepping off the sidewalk into a side street too narrow for anything more than foot traffic, Zeph stops at the door of a small, rundown restaurant. Lowering his umbrella, he shakes it out before leaving it just inside the entrance. The space is cramped, one side taken up by a glass case displaying a variety of Lebanese food, the tabouli, mjadarah, and fatoush sharing space with stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and labneh. A smaller hot case holds kafta, falafel, and kibbeh, with trays of baklava and mamoul perched on top. Three dingy, yet clean tables sit beneath dim pendant lights on the other side of a half wall, yet despite their presence, this place is really meant more for takeout than dining in. Wallpaper likely dating back forty years or more lines the walls, a match for the worn tiled floors.
Behind the register, his back to a wall displaying black and white photographs of deceased relatives, an old man with a white apron looks up as the Selestarri steps over the threshold. A smile lights his lined face when sunglasses are pulled free and he waves Zephyr inside. “Mats!” he exclaims, using the fake name that had been given to him years ago. “Mama,” he calls back into the kitchen, “come see who has brightened our shop!”
A short, stooped old woman appears in the doorway behind the display cases, flour on her apron and dusting her iron gray, neatly pinned hair. Rounded spectacles perch on the end of her nose and as she peers at the Dark through them, her face lights up. “It’s been so long!” she proclaims with an excitement that somehow manages to overshadows her husband’s. Wiping her hands on her apron she moves around the counter until her tiny frame stands close to his taller one. “Let me have a look at you, now.” Behind the glasses her eyes are a deep brown and piercing as she studies him. “Too thin, I think,” she judges after a moment, and then squinting, “and… are you ill, Mats?”
“Soha,” her husband chides, “he doesn’t come here for your fussing.”
She waves dismissively to him, a gesture likely repeated a million times during the course of their long marriage. “Hush, Hassan, it is my way, as he knows.” She continues to stare at him in a way that it seems only mothers are capable, but when he doesn’t respond to her question, she changes tactics. “Let me at least feed you, yes? I have fresh shawarma and pita.” When he nods, she bustles back to the kitchen, listing off, mostly to herself, the possible food she can provide.
“You will take it to go like usual?” Hassan asks, reaching below the deli case to pull out a large envelope tied with string and sealed with wax, pushing it across the counter. “With this, I suspect.”
Zeph accepts the envelope, his fingers clamping down on the thick paper as a wave of fresh pain arcs through his head. It’s been too long since he rested, his meeting with Rallibrid, the walking, and the old memories of this place all adding up in exactly the way that his partner had warned him against. “I think,” he grits out, “that I’ll sit for just a little bit. To stay out of the rain.” He still has errands to complete before he returns to Nova, but if he doesn’t take a break to gather himself, then he’ll have to come back to this city again soon, and his heart just isn’t up for it.
Settling into the table set in the corner, he removes his coat and drapes it over the second chair. The bulb in the pendant light above is blown with the thinnest thread of magic, dropping the space into a more comfortable dimness. Soha reappears with two plates loaded with food, beaming down at him before returning the kitchen. Hassan brings a tall carafe of water, the ice clinking in the pitcher as he pours a glass and sets it on the tabletop. He apologizes for the broken light before leaving to join his wife in the kitchen.
Curling his hands around the glass of water, Zeph takes several long, deep breaths as his head throbs and the room around him tilts uncertainly with dizziness. He doesn’t touch the food, because even though he knows it to be the best Lebanese in the city, the idea of any food sets his stomach rocking. Closing his eyes, he remains as still as possible, trying to ride out the pain by focusing on the rain pounding at the world outside…
Pink flecked white eyes stare at the house before him through the blinding steady downpour raining from above, the cup he holds falling from his fingers and smashing onto the sidewalk beneath his feet as his arms drop limply to his sides.
What little liquid had been left inside spills from the thick paper cup the instant the lid is jolted from the lip, washed immediately towards the curb in the rain as the container rolls in a circle before coming to a stop with a tap against patent leather covered feet.
The Angel’s breath is short and shallow for a reason he doesn’t even understand, his eyes locked on the structure before him, from the low black iron fencing that frames a small kempt yard, to the planter boxes that line it and the flowers and vegetation downtrodden by the rain, to the neatly paved walkway that leads to a modest red door, the aged brick of the building and the arching windows that encompass the entire front.
It isn’t the building that caught his attention while he continued to wander aimlessly down one street or another, since they’ve all begun to blur together to the point that he can no longer tell one from the other. It wasn’t the building that pulled him from his sluggish thoughts as he continued to milk the coffee in his hands in small, short, yet thoroughly enjoyed sips, hoping that if he could prolong its demise, the heat it was providing might somehow stave off the cold as well.
It was the magic that surrounds it –a foreign warding that even he could discern through the haze that’s begun to shroud his mind. The warding shone like a beacon through the dreariness and despair and as he stands in place as if frozen, staring at it with slightly glazed eyes, he can almost make out the individual runes that make up its entirety.
This house might as well be glowing, it’s shining so bright.
He’s never seen anything like it before. It’s unlike any Angelic magic he knows and it’s definitely not Demonic, it’s something entirely new.
Yet as he continues to stare at it, he’s struck with another odd sense of familiarity –one that makes him feel as if he’s stood in this exact same spot before. Considering that this is his first time on Earth and this is a human structure he’s never seen before, he knows it’s impossible and yet the feeling is so strong that it threatens to overwhelm.
It takes a few long minutes before the white haired man finally wills himself from his place, passing through the gate onto the cobbled walkway beyond with little thought spared to his steps. Dual colored eyes remain riveted on the door as he moves closer, the minimal noise his shoes make against the stones completely lost to the steady drum beating down from above. Stopping before it, he doesn’t even notice the temporary reprise from the rain he’s given by standing beneath the thin arching line of overhead brick as tapered fingers slide up to touch, caught instead by a soft ringing that’s risen in his ears and the swift pounding of a quickened heartbeat that begins to pump faster with every new shallow breath he takes.
Something is in this house… something he lost a long time ago, something important that he never should have been without. He doesn’t know how he knows this, but he knows it just the same.
The magic reacts instantly, the runes glowing softly in shades of gold at his fingertips before twisting around and expanding out. The pulse rips him from his trance and he jerks his hand back as if burnt while they dissipate, early dawn flecked white eyes sliding up through soaked strands of snow just as the lock clicks to allow him access. Furrowing his brows, Jun reaches out again and pushes the door open, stepping from the cold into the stale darkness that lies within…
The glass of water is more than half empty, the steam rising from the chicken shawarma faded away, and still his head aches fiercely. The room has stopped spinning, which is a good sign, but every drop of rain that hits the small front window of the shop pounds directly into his skull like a jackhammer. Eyes closed tightly against the pain, he remains as still as possible, breathing slowly. There are two more stops he wanted to make, but with every passing minute it seems less and less likely that he’ll be able to manage. Worse, he’s going to have to concede to his best friend that he was right about how taxing this day would be for him. No doubt it will make Innic even fussier than he’s been the last few days.
But before he can teleport back to Nova, he needs to get out of this restaurant. Scraping himself out of the chair, Zephyr shrugs into his wool coat, fastening the buttons even as black eyes are closing against a wave of pain. Teeth grit as he fights it down, he’s about to call out for Hassan to pack up the food to go, when a ward set years ago and thought of little since suddenly flares to life in his head. For a moment all the Dark can do is stand and stare, so surprised that everything else–his ache, the dizziness, the rain–falls right into the background.
The ward is a simple alarm, placed in order to notify him when the perimeter of a certain building has been breached. For almost nine years it has remained as silent as the building itself, tucked into the back of his head and thought about as little as possible. In that way it’s very much like the building itself, a place he owns, but does not visit despite the fact that it’s the last place where he was truly happy. Maybe because of that, actually.
Pushing himself into motion, Zeph pulls the tray from the table and brings it to the counter, retrieving the sealed package as Hassan packs the food into plastic containers. After a short goodbye from the aged couple, he’s out the door into the empty street, the items he carries disappearing from sight just a moment before he does.
Within the next heartbeat the tall Selestarri stands beside a plush leather sofa in a large, darkened room. Shutters keep the prying eyes of the outside world from peering in, but there’s light enough to see the luxurious, but comfortable furniture, the wide stone fireplace, and the shelving holding books and odds and ends. Turning his head, his gaze slips over the wide center island and tall cabinets of the kitchen, the two spaces arranged to flow into one another seamlessly. All is as he left it nearly nine years ago. The maintenance spells have kept away the dust and cobwebs and mildew, but there is no mistaking that the feel of the place, that sense that no one has lived here for a long time.
Long fingers trail almost absently along the soft leather, the spiking ache in his head ignored as he takes a few silent steps to stand before the mantle of the fireplace. Picking up a framed picture, Zeph stares down at the two people memorialized for all time, their faces happy, their love practically beaming up from behind the glass…
“And this is it!” I proclaim, pushing open the door to reveal the house on the other side. Shutters are pulled back from the tall, arched windows to allow the rarely appearing sun to illuminate freshly painted walls and gleaming hardwood floors, the large room just beyond the entrance completely empty.
Jun steps in next to me, his hand wrapped around mine, deep pink eyes taking in every bit of the space before us. A wide smile breaks over his mouth with each second that lapses. “Zeph, this place is great.”
I nod happily, white-gold hair shifting around my shoulders, and tug him further inside. “It’s a completely renovated carriage house. Like seventeenth century, used to house wagons and the like, carriage house.” I continue on, listing out the renovations and upgrades as we walk through the main floor and then up to the second, sounding much more excited than the real estate agent who had reeled them off one by one the day before. We’d been thinking of moving from our current place for a while now, looking for something different in a way that had become our norm every few years. As long as Jun is by my side, it’s always easy enough to pack up and take off for somewhere new.
Returning to the living room, we stop in front of the fireplace. “So, what do you think?”
Pink eyes lift to meet their midnight counterparts, and I reach out almost instinctively to brush aside a stray lock of hair from my boyfriend’s face. “Isn’t it cold and rainy here most of the time?” I understand the concern, his people aren’t exactly that good with weather that isn’t sunny and seventy-five degrees. We spent a few very difficult months in Sweden several years back that had made that fact quite clear. It wasn’t even a matter of huddle under the blankets, never quite warming up kind of difficult, it was a complete shutdown, I was concerned for his life, kind of difficult. Jun may be somewhat tolerant of cooler weather, but no amount of tolerance can completely override genetics.
Latching onto one slim wrist, I pull him in close, wrapping my arms around his narrow waist, our bodies meeting flush. “What if I promised to ensure you’re constantly warm and make you pancakes every day?”
A wicked smile steals across the Angel’s lips, his body pressing against mine in a way that is not at all accidental. “You already make me pancakes every day.”
Even such a slight touch sends heat flaring along my skin, my body tuned to his after long years of association. It doesn’t take much, and truthfully it never has when it comes to Jun, not since the first day we met. Sliding my hands from his waist, I slip them down to toned thighs before pulling him up, his legs wrapping around me tight. Long fingers cradle my face, pulling me in for a kiss that begins as sweet, but spikes immediately to scorching fire. I’ve kissed Jun millions of times in the thirty years we’ve been together, but I never tire of it in the same way an addict never tires of their drug of choice. Breaking away when lungs begin to demand air, our faces close and breath panting lightly, I grin. “Well then, perhaps we’ll just find new places to make pancakes.” Spinning around, I make my way toward the kitchen. “New places like this island, for starters…”
The memory fades, and shaken, Zephyr steadies himself against the mantle with one hand. The pain that clamps vise-like around his chest easily rivals that of his head, sharp and jagged. It had always been easy to pack up… Turning his head as slowly as possible to avoid a fresh wave of dizziness, colorless eyes skim across the room, everything in exactly the same place as it had been nine years before. Always easy until it shatteringly, heartbreakingly wasn’t…
A faint gleam against the dark floor catches his attention, and setting the frame down, he moves toward it to find a drop of water. His gaze travels along the planks of hardwood, spotting another and then another, a trail that leads toward the kitchen. Following, he moves around the island in the kitchen to discover a sodden heap of fabric on the floor that resolves itself into a thick wool coat when he lifts it with one hand. The drops continue and the tall Dark leaves the garment on the counter, tracing the path partly into the hallway that leads to the guest bedrooms and bathrooms, and then up the stairs to the second floor.
It’s only in the master bedroom, just beyond the opened double doors, that he finds the source of the water.
The Angel, for there is absolutely no doubt that that’s what the other man is, stands with his back to the entrance . White clothing is plastered to pale skin, showing off the definition of each muscle beneath, and what was likely once an intricate braid is now a soggy mass clinging to his back. There is no acknowledgment of his arrival, no shift in stance, no turning of his head, nothing at all to indicate that his presence is even noticed. Given the Angels he’s met in the past, that’s par for the course.
Stepping just over the threshold, a shadow amidst the shadows, Zephyr’s voice is as cold as the winter sky. “What are you doing in my house?”