There was a line. The line was the U.S./Canadian border, and they didn’t cross it.
That was the idea, anyway.
The two men* leaned against the railing as the ferry pulled away from the terminal at the end of Cherry Street and out onto Lake Ontario. It was a grey day: no heavy cloud cover; sky flat like a piece of slate, graced with a few chalky wisps. The taller of the two figures stared up toward the hazy sphere of diffused light, tilting his head back, his eyes obscured by dark Aviator sunglasses. He was dressed all in black, black trousers and a black cotton shirt with sleeves too short for such a cold day. There was nothing particularly odd about him, but if you stared too long, you would start to feel uneasy. If you stared even longer and were particularly observant, you might realize that this was because his shock of thick, dark hair never moved, even though the ferry was steaming along at 55 miles per hour, right into the wind.
“You look ridiculous,” his companion said. He was shorter and broader, wearing a sensible canvas jacket.** “The sun’s not even out. Which I suppose I should be thankful for, because otherwise I’d have to lecture these idiots about solar radiation and proper skincare. Did you know that out of the 473 people on this boat, only 12 of them are wearing sunscreen?”
“That’s ‘cause the sun’s not out,” said the other, grinning.
This earned him a scowl.
The man in black’s smile grew even broader. “It’s December,” he said. “Aren’t you supposed to be full of mirth?”
The scowl turned into a shudder. “Oh, please, you know this season’s the worst. Gluttony and greed and an extremely high suicide rate. Not to mention small children—herds of them, running every which—hey!”
In a nearly divine illustration of his point,*** two boys still lingering in the last safe years before puberty thundered past them, making a break for the ferry’s back railing. A canvas-covered arm shot out and snagged the slightly slower boy’s collar. “Are you nuts?” screeched the arm’s owner. “Or are you the world’s youngest member of the men’s Olympic gymnastics team? Because otherwise, doing a balance beam routine five storeys above churning, ice-cold water?” He gave the boy a slight shake. “That’s a great way to get yourself killed.”
The boy’s eyes had gone wide with indignation, then with shock. Now they narrowed, his mouth turning petulant. “Wasn’t doin’ nothin’,” he said.
The man released him with surprising gentleness, though his tone remained harsh. “Well, you’re not going to now, are you?”
The boy shook his head. “All right, scram,” said the man, and the child ran off—at a somewhat slower, more sedate pace—to rejoin his friend.
“Wow,” said the man in black, lowering his sunglasses as if to look over the rims, despite the fact that his eyes remained completely hidden. “You certainly have a light touch, angel.”
“Oh, shut up,” the angel said. “I see that little smirk you shoot at everyone; you’re no better than a common succubus.” He gestured at his companion’s bare arms. “And you’re making me cold just looking at you. Let’s go inside, hm?”
The dark ridge of an eyebrow shot up over a dark lens; there may also have been a certain smirk involved. “I will if you buy me a drink.”
Despite not possessing a light touch, the angel was a soft one. “Fine,” he said with a bit of a sigh, a bit of a scowl—neither of which could quite disguise the general aura of beneficence that radiated off of him in irritable waves. “But next time—you’re paying!”
The demon’s mouth twitched—slightly, at the corners. The angel had said that the last time, too. And the time before that. And the time before that.
“Sure thing,” the demon said, and the agents of Heaven and Hell strolled slowly inside, the demon’s hand light on the angel’s back.
“My stop,” the demon said as the ferry began the slow process of docking in Charlotte, New York. He slid languidly off the chest of life preservers over which he had been draped, revealing a PLEASE DO NOT BLOCK sign. He turned and headed toward the exit without a backward glance; the crowd parted before him. At the bottom of the ramp, he leaned against a lamppost and waited. He could hear the angel’s murmured “pardon, excuse me”s rising sharply in pitch: “For G— gosh sake, I have vitally important things to do! Get out of my way!”
Finally, the churning mass of bodies spat him out, looking pleasantly rumpled and extremely cranky. The demon grinned. “You know, you could just make them move.”
The angel gestured: vague, dismissive. “Yes, well,” he said. Then his eyes lit up. “Coffee.”
“I thought you had vitally important things to do?”
The angel’s look was pure indulgence. “Exactly. I have to boost the morale of that poor fool, whose only perceived purpose in life is to serve hot beverages to hurried commuters and obnoxious joy riders who spill off the ferry in vast, animal waves and impatiently thrust money at him.”
“Ahh, but this isn’t your jurisdiction, is it?” the demon pointed out. They had an Arrangement, after all.
The angel glared. An angelic glare was quite a thing to behold.† “Yes, bring out the semantics,” he said. “How very 8th Circle of you.”
A demonic glare wasn’t something to be trifled with, either, yet the demon was glad of his sunglasses. “Actually, I’m pretty strictly a 2nd Circle kind of guy,” he said tightly. “Go ahead,” he added, inclining his head toward the beverage stand. “Do your thing.”
The angel flashed him a smug grin and strode purposefully forward. Folding his arms across his chest, the demon settled in to watch him work. At the moment, it seemed as if his counterpart was doing little more than ordering a cup of coffee, no different from the animal masses he had just condemned. But the second the Styrofoam cup was placed in his hand, his whole demeanor changed. He inhaled the coffee’s aroma like a wine expert sampling a choice vintage. With the same degree of reverence, he lifted the cup to his lips and sipped. The demon stared at his mouth, watched the slow, blissful smile that spread across the his face. The angel was not a subtle creature; such a thing could not be faked. The demon watched as he turned to the clerk and thanked him for the best cup of coffee he had ever tasted—it had improved his entire day, the angel said, firing off a quick grin in the demon’s direction as a pleased blush spread across the cashier’s face.
“I thought your people frowned on lying,” the demon said when his companion rejoined him.
The angel laughed. “Don’t be stupid. I didn’t lie.”
The demon raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, yes, I know,” the angel admitted, “the coffee they serve there tastes like liquefied boots and snow tires. Which is why,” he said, holding out his cup, “I changed it into a nice Brazilian Mogiana.” He took a sip and made a noise that toed the line between heavenly and sinful. “Mmm.”
“Can I have a sip?” the demon asked.
The angel hugged the cup protectively to his chest. “No.”
They were walking across the parking lot. The demon could see his car—his beautiful, black, classic Mustang††—maybe a hundred yards away, now. To further the point, the ferry whistle blew. Five minutes until it started its trip back through neutral waters, to the other side.
The demon turned back and saw that the angel was staring in the same direction his own eyes had previously been drawn: at the sleek black hood and shiny silver hubcaps of his car. “You still driving that death trap?” he asked.
“Yup. And with the modifications I’ve made to her engine, she can do over 200 miles per hour, no problem.” His smile toed that delicate line, too. “It’s like...flying.”
“You have wings,” the angel pointed out, as if to a particularly dim child. “You can fly anytime you want.”
He shook his head. “It’s not the same.” He tried to think of the right way to explain, but words couldn’t even begin to cover it. It had to be seen, had to be felt.
His fingers brushed lightly against the angel’s arm. “You wanna come for a ride? I’ll show you.”
For a moment, the angel looked...tempted. But that was just the problem, wasn’t it? The somewhat lustful look vanishing from his face, the angel’s lips twisted up into a wry, knowing smile. “Oh, nice try,” he said, shaking his finger, and the demon grinned in response, like this was exactly, exactly what he had intended all along.
“There’s no fooling you,” the demon said, making subtle adjustments to his sunglasses.
“Precisely,” the angel said.
Sin of Pride, the demon thought. But he knew that the angel would merely say that it was the Virtue of Faith—Faith in oneself, in the just cause, in the notion that everything would work out right.
And maybe it would. But blind trust had never been something at which the demon excelled.
He’d been an angel once. He hadn’t meant to fall. He’d just been unable to write off the ones already downed as lost.
“Well, I’ll be seeing you,” he said, turning away. He walked over to his car and laid a hand against the door, which popped open under his touch. Rather than slide onto the seat, however, he waited. He could sense that the angel was still standing there, quite still, searching him with eyes as blue as the first river in Eden, as the first-ever sky.
“You’re going to miss your boat, angel,” he said.
The angel didn’t say anything, and the demon found himself turning around. Much closer than he’d expected, that other body, shoving a Styrofoam cup into his hand. Reflexively, his fingers closed around it. Then blinking, stepping back, “Here, have it,” the angel said. “I think I’m going to fly home; I’m suddenly in the mood.”
“I know how you feel,” the demon said. He hefted the cup. “Thanks for this.”
The angel grinned. “Well, a good deed’s a good deed, isn’t it?” Then a slight frown: “Just...don’t go using it for nefarious purposes or anything.”
He didn’t bother to roll his eyes, as the angel wouldn’t be able to see. “I promise not to go looking for the untapped potential for evil in a cup of coffee,” he said. “Just this once.”
“I trust you,” said the angel.
“Wise,” said the demon through clenched, white teeth. “Very wise.”
“That’s me,” said the angel, spreading wings. There was a gust of wind as he took flight; the demon’s hair wasn’t ruffled at all.
He watched as the figure shrank against the sky, the angel flying in that odd, lilting way of his, heading vaguely north. Pretty soon he would get in his car and head south, back to New York City and his shiny, sterile apartment. He would don another set of impeccable black clothes and go out for the night, out on the town, out amongst the humans. He would walk among them and make them want things they had never known they wanted, need things they had never wanted to need.
He felt sorry for them, sometimes. Other times, he was just sorry.
But now he smiled into the wind, into the sky, and let the cup of coffee warm his hand.
*One of them would object strenuously to such a description. The other would simply smile, like maybe you pleased him, and it would be enough to make you want to do it again, and again and again and again.
**He was also wearing this shirt under it:
...but that’s beside the point.
***It was actually just a coincidence, but you never know about these things.
†Imagine a convention of dentists, orthodontists, and Crest Whitening Strips salesmen turning and grinning at you all at once. Men have gone blind from less.
††The demon liked to claim that it was the actual car driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt. “Wait,” you might say, were you once again particularly observant, “wasn’t the car in that movie green?” “No, that was just a trick of the light,” the demon would explain. And you would believe him. And take his advice about dropping out of college to form a Queen tribute band, too.