The air was heavy with the acrid stench of urine. A few vagrants slept off their stupor against a pillar. Those unconcerned about anonymity openly snorted and shot up. She passed a faded blue and white handicapped spot that had been distorted by a brownish smudge where the stick person’s head would’ve been. She noticed similar stains throughout the underground parking garage. It didn’t surprise Her. This was where everyone went when they stopped caring.
It was the last place anyone expected to find the two gentlemen. That’s exactly why She had come here first. They had everything at their disposal: money, weaponry, security. No one would ever think to look for them here. The dark-haired one barely let Him stand up unassisted, let alone expose Him to such filth.
She had to give them accolades: they were smart. Her assignments were never intelligent about the hunt. She knew how to play this game better than anyone, but She had to admit that this couple had proved to be two thorns in Her side.
It was time to pull them out.
She heard footsteps at Her back and picked up Her speed. About time, She thought. She’d worn the armband—the red one with the white wings—on Her left sleeve. Everyone knew that She was one of the Fallen, and yet no one had dared approached Her for fear that the urban legends were true.
Some of them held a modicum of validity, but the majority of it was myth. No, They didn’t have the ability to dream leap. No, They couldn’t force a body to move against its will. But one rumor was true and unfortunately, there was no denying it: They did have wings. And They couldn’t exactly hide them. She’d been burned in training and as a result, Her wings were an ashen grey color. At least She didn’t stand out.
The footsteps became more rushed as though Her pursuer had broken into a jog. The more frequently She heard the scuffing of shoes on the pavement, the more She quickened Her pace. She didn’t stand much taller than five and a half feet, but She had a determined stride. Besides, if She flicked Her wings just right, She could catch a little air and coast without becoming too airborne.
She rounded the corner onto the fourth floor Level E parking. No one ever went below Level C, not if they wanted to come back up alive. Then again, She wouldn’t exactly call what was happening on the surface “living.” But people only went farther down the alphabet for suicide.
Yes. This was exactly where She needed to be.
She stopped and so did the footsteps behind Her. Keeping Her back to Her pursuer, She went about removing Her gloves. She hated having to wear them, but it was simply too dangerous: a Fallen only removed His/Her gloves to kill.
The man spoke in a beseeching manner. “You don’t have to do this.”
She smirked. “Did you just tell me what to do?”
“It’s not His fault.”
“I suppose you’re going to say it was yours?”
“No,” she said turning around to face him. “I know what’s true. I always know what’s true. That’s why they always send me.” She took a step closer. “And you’re lying.” She held her hand over his chest. She didn’t need to make contact for it to hurt; his shirt was already steaming.
“Y-you’re not—” he gritted through the pain, “—not s-supposed to…kill…h-hu-humans…”
“No, but I can hurt them all I want. Now,” she leaned in close so that their lips grazed, “Tell me where he is.”
She would recognize that voice anywhere. It had been so long, but Her memory was vivid enough that it may have been just that morning when He braced himself above Her. Images of their past relations surged to Her consciousness, and She could barely concentrate.
She slowly turned around. Gods, He was beautiful. But how could She have forgotten that? They’d known one another since infancy and even then, He was uniquely magnificent. Any of the Fallen were lovely to behold, but there was a wraith-like mastery to His features, His long body, His wiry fingers. Biting her lip, She remembered how those fingers had felt inside Her, reaching, higher and higher. His stark white hair flowed down to settle on His wings. For a moment, She was reminded of softly falling snow.
She clenched Her jaw and stubbornly willed Her memories of Him to depart. As long as He was just another assignment, She could do it. As long as She didn’t think about it, She could do it.
But for a second, for one Damned second, She hesitated before saying His name, and She knew He’d fly out of this alive.
“—A lifetime,” she finished breathlessly.
His eyes fell on the crumpled body lying on the pressed concrete. He looked back at Her, His eyes smoldering with a rage so wild that for all Her bravery, Her throat worked to gulp down a lump of fear.
“Step away from him. Now.” He spoke the last word so quietly, but He may as well have shouted it at gunpoint. Instinctively, She obeyed without question, Her body still yielding to His seniority, but She maintained a defensive position, angling Her body so that She still fully faced Him.
His wings dragged against the dirty ground as He knelt down to cup the man’s chin. He gentle raised his head for him. “Tanim?”
The voice that responded was hoarse and barely audible. “Mmy…my King?”
Daren lovingly caressed his cheek and kissed his forehead. His lips brushed the worry lines on his skin. The adoration in His voice belied the murder in His eyes. “Everything is all right.” Using His teeth, He tugged the glove from His free hand and placed it over Tanim’s shirt where the cloth had blackened and curled.
Instantly, the man shuddered in relief as the scorching heat in his chest dissipated. Daren kept His eyes fixed on Tanim. His eyelashes fluttered and he noticeably sagged his shoulders in obvious relief.
“You will suffer for this.” Daren hadn’t looked away from His lover, but there was no mistaking to whom the threat was directed. Then, as though to punctuate the promise of brutality, He looked Her straight in the eyes. “Priest.”
She clenched and unclenched Her hands. “You don’t belong here, Daren.” You belong with me. “You…” She wet Her lips, “you belong with someone else.”
“No, I was consigned to someone else. I have chosen to be with him.”
She couldn’t mask Her disgust. “But it’s sick, unnatural, a violation of—”
She was thrown back with the flick of an ice-cold hand. Her wings had been spread open and pinned to the wall on either side of Her head with sharp, silver daggers. She hadn’t even seen Him move, but now His breath was cool and fragrant just inches from Hers.
“If you ever burn him again, I will tear off your wings.”
She ignored the pain lancing through every single feather. “Daren, I can help you.”
“By hurting the man I love?” He leaned in so close that for one insane second, She thought He might kiss Her. But only wrath coated His tongue and made His white teeth glisten. “You branded him.”
He backhanded Her across the face and the taste of pennies filled Her mouth.
“Fine, hit me. It won’t change anything!” Not how I feel about you.
A menacing smile spread across His full lips. “And if I end you? You’ll never touch him again. That’s a change.”
“They’ll send someone else. Daren, please, just think about this! You know where you’re from. You know Our laws. You’ll be hunted down and punished for your crimes.”
He arched a brow and sneered. “My crimes? Tell me my crimes, Priest.”
“You know what you’ve done—”
“—What is my sentence?” He shook Her shoulders roughly with each word.
She winced in pain but spat out the answer nonetheless. “Perversion. Defamy of ideals. Denigration of just Union.” Leaving me. Leaving me and falling in love with someone else.
He laughed bitterly and crossed back to the man still pathetically draped across the concrete. He stood over him protectively, like a wolf guarding its cub. He looked feral and ethereal and She knew She had made a mistake by harming the human. But it had been out of Her control. She couldn’t stand the thought of this plain, lanky, un-extraordinary man ravaging Daren’s body with kisses, gripping onto His shoulders as he thrust himself into Him from behind.
He was supposed to have been Hers.
She watched enviously as He slowly helped His lover to his feet. He leaned heavily n Daren and looked up at Her, his face haggard. She expected more malice in his gaze, but his expression was startlingly sympathetic.
She narrowed Her eyes. “Excuse me?”
He cleared his throat and used Daren’s solid arms to stand up a little taller. “I’m sorry.”
It was Daren’s turn to be taken aback. “Tanim, darling, what are you apologizing for?”
His breathing was labored, but he spoke with conviction. His eyes never left Hers. “I’m sorry that He doesn’t love you.”
Two beings, so different, one supported by an Angel, the other tacked to the wall by the same winged creature. And yet they had something in common.
Her lip trembled. “He was mine.”
“No,” Tanim replied, “He was never yours. He wasn’t given a choice. None of you are ever given a choice.” When he made to shuffle towards Her, Daren placed a restraining hand on his shoulder, but he didn’t stop advancing until they were only a few feet apart. Priest had begun to bleed, the warm, viscous gold flowing from the puncture marks in each wing.
“I would change it,” he said softly, “if I could. It’s not fair to any of your kind… but there’s something you need to know.”
He took a step closer. Daren stood behind him, silent and white as porcelain. When Tanim was close enough, he reached out and tucked a stray lock of hair behind Her ear. She turned Her head to one side disgusted by his mere proximity.
“You need to know this,” he said. Tanim leaned forward so that she could smell the singed flesh beneath his sweater. He pressed his lips against her cheek and kissed you. “Every time he was inside of you, every time he shuddered that molten gold into your body…” he whispered directly into her ear, “He was thinking of me.”
There was no way She could’ve stopped him. He bit into Her neck, his teeth ripping into tendons and connective tissues. He devoured Her jugular like a blood-deprived vampire. Warm gold flowed out of Her neck and into his mouth, down his throat, onto his shirt, tear-dropping onto the pavement.
She was briefly aware of Daren standing nearby. He stood calmly with His arms folded over His chest. She tried to cry out His name, beg Him to help Her, but He just stood there and smiled as His lover drained Her of every last drop until She no longer
A cold hand brought him back to his surroundings. “Darling.”
Tanim opened His eyes and turned towards the voice. He still held the limp form of the Angel in His arms.
“Daren,” he sighed. He didn’t think it was possible, but His lover looked more beautiful than ever. “My King,” He said, soft wonder glazing over His eyes, a peaceful smile settling over His Aurelian lips.
The snow Angel smiled and took Tanim’s hand. Priest slumped to the ground as the two men embraced. They spoke against one another’s hair.
“It’s done,” Daren said, an era of waiting satisfied in one exhalation.
“I wasn’t sure I could do it.”
Daren pulled back slightly, but only to cradle Tanim’s face in His hands. “My love, you were born to do it. You were so perfect.”
Tanim looked down at the body. “Will They look for her?”
He shook His head, silver white locks dislodging and falling over His brow like icicles. “She’s still alive.”
His brow furrowed and Tanim glanced back at the woman.
Daren smiled and kissed Him softly on the cheek. “Not there, darling. In here.” He placed His palm over Tanim’s heart. “The gold is yours now. They’ll never know that it switched hands.”
“Because no one’s ever killed a Fallen before.”
Tanim suddenly felt a searing in His hands. They felt feverish, hot to the touch. He half expected to look down and see them boiling. “What…” He began.
Daren released His lover and bent down beside Priest. He removed one glove and retrieved the other from her pocket. “Put these on, love.”
Tanim did so with Daren’s help. Once His hands were covered, He wiped the gold from His mouth and smiled.
“What do we do now?”
They leaned against one another, a broken body on the ground, pillars of concrete rising like tombstones, but neither had ever been more alive.
Daren held fast to Tanim’s hand. “Fly.”