6 months conceived.
“My son will need the best protection!”
“We understand that, Mr. Kirschtein, we really do-“
“Then why are you giving us a baby!?”
A young man and woman, the latter round with child, were seated before a wide, oak desk, a massive window behind it in place of a wall. The vast cityscape could be seen from behind the red velvet chair, a beautiful view of The Empire’s Northern Brass Wall, brightly gleaming with noonday sun, a stark contrast against the cyan sky. In the velvet chair sat the Executive Director of G.A. Labs. Fingers weaved together beneath his narrow nose, he leaned forward, bracing his elbows against the desk before him.
“Creating them takes time, sir, years, and the best G.A.s are trained and chipped from birth.”
The young man, Mr. Kirschtein, scowled through his glasses, his eyes unseen behind the glare of sunlight gleaming off them. “My wife will be a new mother,” he said, “and as though raising one child for the first time isn’t hard enough, you want to place her under the burden of raising two!?”
The Executive Director smiled, a dry chuckle sliding out from behind his thin lips. “Sir, I think we’re both aware that the beautiful Mrs. Kirschtein,” he paused to wink in the woman’s direction, “won’t be involving herself in something as menial and lowly as child rearing.” He spat the last two words out through gritted teeth. “Nannies are wonderful things, aren’t they?” he continued. “We have our very own line of them, specially enhanced, in fact! If you’re interested, they’re available—and in heavy stock, I might add—at the spare laboratory near the edge of Jinae, eh?” He raised his eyebrows at his own proposition, grinning hopefully, but Mr. Kirschtein only scowled harder.
“We’ve got a nanny,” he replied. “Now stop changing the subject. Why can’t we have an older G.A.? An already trained one?”
There was a sigh, and the Director separated his previously linked hands to rub tiredly at his eyes, groaning. Mrs. Kirschtein leaned forward, eyes wide and bright.
“Don’t tell me there was another breach….?”
The Director waved a hand at her. “It… it’s confidential. I’m only permitted to say that we’re experiencing a shortage of well-trained G.A.s. Luckily for us, a large batch of unaborts just came in, but that’s not good enough.”
The room was silent for a moment as the Kirschteins let this new information sink in. Then, “Very well.” Mr. Kirschtein folded his arms over his chest, sighing in surrender. “What will raising a G.A. entail?”
With a clap of his hands, the Executive Director stood from his chair and made his way around his desk, heading straight for the door. “Follow me; I’ll briefly fill you in while we head off to meet our newest little trainee.”
As soon as the three adults exited the carpeted room, Mrs. Kirschtein spoke up, her heels clicking along the linoleum floor and echoing about the vast and empty hallway. Inhaling the scent of stainless steel and antiseptic, she said, “Your newest? Why are we getting the newest one?”
“It’s the most qualified! All physical evaluations indicate that it is 98.236% qualified—on the most basic level, at least—for all the modifications a G.A. requires. Very little chance of death and almost guaranteed success, as well as the promise of being the top of its class. It’s actually the most qualified of all the unaborts we received. A healthy little boy.”
“At least our child will have a friend,” Mrs. Kirschtein murmured to her husband, to which the Director butted in with an, “Absolutely! They’ll be growing up together. It’s most likely that a strong bond will form between your child and this one. Your G.A. will be willing to give its life for your child’s sake.”
Mrs. Kirschtein nodded approvingly.
“Yes, but what about the drawbacks?” Mr. Kirschtein growled, tone edged with impatience.
“Well, you’ll need to bring it back here periodically, as well as allow it regular weekend training on Olympus. How would you like it wired? All G.A.s get their wings in time as well as the correct training for exemplary strength and endurance, but as for the other abilities….”
“Everything. We want the best.”
“Ah…. about that.” The director stopped, just outside a frosted glass door, turning to face the wealthy couple. “We cannot overpower a G.A., no matter how much a customer is willing to pay. The ‘shortages’,” he lifted his hands in two sets of air quotes, “are bad enough as is. Such a G.A. is dangerous and a threat to all around them, especially themselves; although this particular child’s chance of survival is high, too many enhancements can kill even the most capable of G.A.s. As such, you are permitted two enhancements.”
“Do we get time to consider?”
“Of course! A few years, even. Now,” the Director sighed, “How about we go in and meet our most promising little G.A.?”
They nodded, Mrs. Kirschtein cradling her bulging womb.
“Alright, follow me. And not that I need to remind you, but do keep your voices down…” he turned and ran his identification card through the scanner near the door, opening the electronically locked door. “It’s their naptime, “ he whispered.
The Kirschteins followed the Executive Director into a wide open room, lights dimmed and walls lined with small beds—incubators, to be exact. Glass cases which regulated temperature and oxygen levels, soft beds inside, and on each bed rested an infant.
The Director stopped at a bed in one corner of the room, glaring into the glass case. “We keep them highly regulated, so they’re in prime condition for wiring when it begins. This one is already seven months old… The Clinic received him four months ago. Been prepped ever since.”
The Kirschteins peered into the incubator at the sleeping child inside; he had full cheeks suited better to a chipmunk than an infant, and dark hair was already coming in.
“Does he already have a name?” Mrs. Kirschtein whispered.
“Here in the lab…? No. It’s known as trainee 070323. But its mother did request it be called by a certain name. We told her we’d make it official, but of course we never hold our customers to such silliness, so you can name him whatever you-“
“A request from one mother to another,” she hummed. “Honorable. What was the name?”
“Marco,” she repeated. “I like it. And the last name?”
“You’re not going to place it under your name…?”
“Of course not; he’s not my son, he’s my child’s G.A., and he will have his own last name.”
“R-right… the last name was Bodt.”
“Marco Bodt,” she said, this time addressing the sleeping child directly. “My child’s very own Guardian Angel.”
“So it’s decided then!” clapped the Executive Director. “Chipping and wiring will begin tonight!”
Marco Bodt then opened his wide, brown eyes, and let out a warbling cry.
5 years old.
“Macko, ready or not, here I cooooooome!”
“It’s Marco, I tooold you!”
A tiny boy with light brown hair was racing through his parents’ back garden, the air buzzing with the screams of cicadas. With narrow hazel eyes, he glared up the trunk of a nearby tree to where his friend sat, legs dangling over a branch.
“You’re not s’posed ta talk, Macko, you gave away your hiding spot!” he chastised.
“And I told you climbing trees is against ta rules! I can’t climb up there!” the hazel-eyed child stomped his foot, crossing his arms over his chest like he’d seen his father do. “How do you do that?”
Marco shrugged, shimmying his way down the tree and leaping to the ground from the nearest branch. “They teach me lotsa stuff at the school, Jean. I gotta be able to protect you!” he beamed.
Jean pouted. “But I wanna protect myself.”
“Your daddy says you gotta keep learning stuff so you can be the boss of his company. It’s okay Jean, that means you’ll be smarter than me!”
Jean frowned, tilting his head a bit as he looked up at his friend. “Do all really strong people at your school have those spots?”
“H-huh?” Marco’s mouth gaped open, revealing a recently-lost tooth on the top row of his mouth.
“Those spots!” Jean repeated, placing his tiny finger against Marco’s cheek, eliciting a smile from him.
“Oh… those. There’s this older kid who does mean stuff to me ‘cause of them, but all the other kids in my class like them. They call them…. Uh… fecklers.”
“Y-yeah… I think that’s what they said…”
Jean stared up at Marco for a long moment, frowning, before lifting himself up on his tippy-toes and pecking a small kiss to his chin, just below his mouth. Marco stumbled back with a squeak, wiping at the spot.
“W-why’d you do that!?” he spluttered, eyes wide with confusion.
Jean just frowned. “I saw mommy and daddy do that once. Nanny Shadis says it’s ‘cause they’re best friends. You gotta be my best friend, even if you meet other dumb kids at school, ‘cause I don’t got any other friends since I can’t leave the grounds.” He puffed out his cheeks, nose going bright red, and he sniffled. “It’s not fair. I’m your best friend, right Macko?”
Marco blinked, once, twice, then shuffled over to where Jean stood, sniffling and rubbing his eyes. “Are you crying, Jean?” he said quietly, bending down slightly until he was eye level with him. Indeed, the child’s eyes were watery, a small pout on his lips.
“Yes. You’re my best friend. And we’re gonna grow up together, ‘cause I’m your G.A., remember? And we’ll always be together.”
Jean sniffled again, wiping at his eye.
“Do you wanna hug?” Marco asked. The smaller boy nodded, and he wrapped his arms around him. “We’re gonna be best friends forever.”
7 years old.
Jean ran down the hall, sliding down the staircase banister as fast as he could, dodging house servants left and right. His nanny had expressly told him to leave Marco alone, but he couldn’t do it. Slipping around the corner and ducking under the legs of a hurrying maid, he quickly bounded into Marco’s room.
The lights were off, but the second the light from the hall spilled in, a choked sob rang out. “Close the door!” came a cry.
Jean quickly obeyed and ran to Marco’s bed, where he was laying on his side, curled up and facing away from the door. “Marco!” Jean whined. “Marco, are you okay?”
The boy was facing away from him and towards the wall, shoulders shaking, but even in the near-darkness, Jean could make out the bandages that were wrapped around Marco’s head, dark strands of hair falling over it. “It hurts so much, Jean….” His voice was choked, and Jean knew he’d been crying.
Jean climbed up into the bed next to Marco, shifting around until he was between him and the wall, facing him directly. There, Jean could see that the bandages covered his eyes, dark splotches soaking them through, dried blood crusting on his cheeks just below them. “We should change your bandages,” Jean whispered, but Marco shook his head vigorously. “No, don’t. It’ll hurt more…”
Jean frowned, feeling his eyes prickle as they pooled with tears, and he leaned his face in close. “I’m really sorry… I’m sorry my parents are making you hurt.”
“But Jean,” Marco said, voice raspy from screaming and crying, “I need to be strong to protect you. I need these extra abilities. The professors say I’ll be able to see so much stuff when I’m healed.”
“B-but… you’re blind.”
“Only for the next bunch of months. Then I’ll get to tell you all about the stuff I see….”
Jean sniffled, wriggling his nose as he fought back tears. He hated seeing Marco in this much pain. Sure, he came back from Olympus after long weekends with questionable bruises and cuts, but he’d always insisted they were no big deal, and that everyone at the school got them, because training was tough. But this was too much…. He was bleeding from his eyes, a lot, and screaming and crying. Poor Marco.
Jean leaned in and placed two tiny kisses against Marco’s bandages, one over each eye. “That’s so the pain goes away. I read it in a book once,” he said. “I dunno if it works, ‘cause no one’s ever done it to me, so I hope it helps.”
Marco smiled in his direction, a tiny and weak smile that quivered just a bit. “I feel better already,” he said feebly.
“Good, ‘cause I’m gonna take care of you until you’re all better.”
“Thank you, Jean.”
10 years old.
Jean was crouched in the bushes, near the gate that enclosed his family’s estate. So very close to freedom. To ground he’d never set foot upon. The moon was high in the sky, a slim crescent against a backdrop of black, a few stars managing to twinkle overhead, despite The Empire’s awful light pollution.
“Jean, this is a really bad idea,” Marco whispered, kneeling next to him.
“Shhh. No way, it’ll be fine,” he snapped.
“I’m supposed to keep you safe, not help you sneak off your dad’s property in the dead of night!”
“You’re my G.A., you’ll be with me, so I’ll be perfectly safe. Relax. Besides, I just really want to see what the rest of The Empire is like.”
Marco grimaced, giving Jean a weak shrug. “It’s not that big of a deal, Jean, just a lot of too-fancy buildings with cars and highways and a lot of people with weird senses of fashion.”
“That’s easy for you to say, you get to go out into the city every weekend!”
“Well, to Olympus-“
“Whatever. No difference. Just come on, and stop being a wuss.”
Slinking along begrudgingly behind his friend, Marco frowned, the two of them approaching the gate, when a slim figure in a stark black suit could be seen outside the gate. Jean pulled Marco down into the bushes with him, the two of them taking shaky breaths as adrenaline and fear pumped through their veins.
Jean could just barely make out the faint glow of the eye scan as his father unlocked the gate, walking down the paved path and onto the grounds. Luckily for Jean, the gate would remain open for another thirty seconds. “Let’s go!” he whispered, grabbing Marco’s wrist and pulling him along, hurrying through the gate while his father’s back was turned several yards away. The two children raced away into the night, over the nearest hill, through the private sector of Trost Mansions and out onto the busy road.
“We’re freeeeee!” Jean crowed, jumping up and down as he skipped down the empty walkway. His voice echoed about the vacant neighborhood. Marco, glancing warily around with his shoulders raised uncomfortably, was much less enthused. The bright streetlights cast their shadows long across the sidewalk, cars zooming overhead along the designated track space. “Jean,” Marco said quietly, “This isn’t safe. I don’t think the city is a safe place at night…”
Jean rounded on him, hands on his hips and a cocky smile on his lips. “Shit, Marco, what do I have you for?”
Marco froze. “Jean! Y-you said…. You said a bad word!”
The other boy merely laughed, turning on his heel and continuing down the road. “I know! I heard it on the screen, once! Grownups say it. You should start growing up too, Marco, you’re a whole year older than me!”
Scowling, Marco ran up to Jean’s side, grabbing his wrist as they rounded a corner. “Stay close to me, please,” he mumbled. The next road was crowded with not only cars flying by, but people milling about, casually walking from one store to the next. There was a huge square in the center of the plaza, a sprinkling fountain right in the middle.
“Woooow,” Jean gasped. “The city is really pretty!” Marco kept his hold tight on Jean as he tried to race forward, jerking him back. “Lemme go, geez, I’m fine!”
But Marco wasn’t so sure… a dull shiver was creeping through him, and Jean could hear the mechanisms whirring in his eyes as he glanced about, zooming in and out and flitting through all available lenses. “Whatcha see, Marco?” he whispered.
Marco didn’t know. There were too many people around, a good portion of them glaring inquisitively at the two of them; they were two kids out alone in the city at night, after all. One woman was taking a long drag of her cigar, frowning sadly at them. He eyed her nervously, examining her bones, her muscles, her thermal state as the smoke was exhaled from her lungs and billowed up and out from her mouth-
“Are you kids lost or something?” she called out.
She’d meant no harm, that much was obvious, but Marco was just too spooked to do much else than grab Jean and book it, running as fast as he could away from her, several other adults calling out to them.
“Marco, stop!!! Slow down!!!” Jean yelled, barely managing to keep up, shoes slamming against the pavement. “Marcooooo.” Jean yanked his arm back, nearly ripping his arm out of its socket in the process, and hearing his friend’s yelp of pain, Marco let him go.
“S-sorry!” he panted, the two of them pausing to catch their breath outside a closed coffee shop.
“Seriously, what’s your problem? We’re perfectly fine!”
“I-I’ve got a really bad feeling about this, Jean…”
“So can we please go back? I was taught in school to trust my feelings, and I feel like we should go back home.”
Jean groaned loudly. “I finally escape, and right when I’m out here in the city, before we can have any fun, you tell me to go back!? No way, that’s totally not fair! Besides, if anything bad happens, you’ll protect me, right?”
Marco swallowed thickly around the lump in his throat. “I-I… I’m scared, Jean. What if something happens and I’m not strong enough to fight back? I’m still in training… and I’m still a kid. I’m not a perfect G.A. like you seem to think.”
Frowning, Jean leaned back against the coffee shop. “…. Okay. I’ll listen to you Marco. Can we stay out here for at least fifteen more minutes, though? I still want to explore. Like, is there any fun stuff to do?”
Marco sighed in relief, a small smile gracing his lips. “Thanks…yeah, fifteen minutes. I can do that.” He glanced up and down the road, eyes lingering a little too long on the cars up above as he examined the passengers within, staring through the bottoms of the vehicles and into their contents. “And. Uh, I dunno about what people do out here at night. It’s mostly just adult stuff. We should have sneaked out during the day, y’know?”
“Oh… well, sneaking out during the day is a lot harder. But maybe we can do that another time?” he asked hopefully, a tiny excited smile slowly spreading and stretching his mouth.
Tearing his eyes away from the cars, Marco nodded at Jean. “I’d feel a lot better about that. But what we can do i-“
He froze. Jean watched as Marco’s gaze focused in on the shadows of the side street next to them, a small alleyway beside the coffee shop they were standing by, and his eyes narrowed, widened, then narrowed again. “What is it?” Jean whispered, standing up straight. But he didn’t answer. Instead, it came from someone else…
Both boys nearly jumped out of their skins, Marco planting both feet firmly on the ground and taking on a protective stance as Jean ran to get behind him, nearly tripping over his laces in the process, eyes wide with apprehension as they watched a tall, slim figure shuffle out of the darkness, heavy and thick leather boots scuffling against the pavement.
They were wearing a long black jacket; their hair was pulled up into an odd sort of pony tail, and on their nose was a pair of rectangular spectacles. On their mouth was a wicked grin.
“Now, now,” they smiled, hands tucked safely into the pockets of their jacket, “What is a little boy gonna do to a big adult like me?” They tilted their head teasingly. “You’d think I was abducting you, or something.”
Jean clutched at the back of Marco’s shirt, tugging at it. “S-say something,” he whispered. But Marco was too busy examining the stranger from all lenses. Their thermal state was normal. Pheromones, normal. At the skin level, they were… naked. Okay. Veins. Okay. Muscles. Alright, they were pretty strong. They had all their internal organs, too.
It was the nervous and skeletal systems that caught Marco’s attention.
Because he could see the wires attached to the spine and nerves, the long, coiled wires that could expand into wings on a whim tucked into the stranger’s skin.
“You’re a G.A.!” Marco gasped, letting his guard down. Jean pushed himself up on his tip-toes to glance over his shoulder, still unsure.
The stranger smiled, bringing a hand up to rub at the back of their neck. “Eh… not really. Those days are over, little trainee. But what’s interesting is….” The stranger strode forward and knelt in front of Marco, bringing their feminine eyes to his level, “That you can tell what I am just by looking at me.” They leaned in, eyes creepily wide, the smile almost face-splitting. “You’ve got the eyes, don’t you?”
Swallowing, he nodded, wondering if he should be telling this person the truth. But then their eyes moved from Marco’s face to glance curiously behind him. At Jean.
“Ahhhh, let me guess. Your master?” they said.
Marco scrunched up his nose in distaste. “We’re best friends,” he corrected, reaching behind him to hold Jean’s hand. Jean jerked his head in some sort of shaky nod, giving Marco’s hand a squeeze.
The stranger barked out a sharp laugh. “Ehhh, you’ll grow out of that. I had a ‘best friend’ too, back in the day. Don’t worry, your master’s true colors will show in time, and then you’ll run out like the rest of us.” They reached out to pat Marco’s head, but he smacked their hand away.
“I’m serious! We’re gonna be best friends forever!”
“Ahhhh, such adorable naivety!” The stranger stood up, towering over the two boys. “Oh well. You’ll see, one day. I’m terribly sorry about this, but we have to do what we need to survive. Until the next planned breach, that is.” They lifted a hand to their lips, and placing two fingers just behind their teeth, let out a shrill whistle.
In the first second, Marco’s eyes flitted back to the dark alley.
In the next, he was able to switch to the thermal lens, and zoom out.
In the third second, he turned to Jean and began pushing him along, telling him to run, to hurry.
But in the fourth, a large group of people—children – swarmed out from the alley, all not much older than Marco or Jean, some even younger. They grappled the two of them, Marco fighting back feverishly, kicking out the legs of a few and swinging his fists at the others. But Jean was too weak, he hadn’t been trained, he’d spent his days being tutored and spoiled and playing with Marco. They pounded into him relentlessly, his tiny body easily overcome by the strikes and kicks of countless others, and they dragged him away into the dark alley, away from the light.
“Check him for anything of value, kids! He’s got his own little G.A., so his family’s wealthy. I’m sure they’ll be willing to pay a high price for the return of their little son!” the stranger called happily, swooping into the ring of children surrounding Marco.
“That one’s hard to get, Hanji!” one of the children said, hopping up off the ground and wiping the blood from under their nose.
“He’s specially trained, so it’s no surprise,” Hanji replied, grabbing Marco up and dragging him into the alley as well.
He struggled all the way, his enhanced eyes searching for a weakness on the stranger’s body. A loose or sensitive wire in the skin. A fractured or broken bone. If they weren’t a G.A., their pressure points would be perfect, but unfortunately for Marco, all G.A.s had been specially fortified in those areas.
Jean gave out a cry in the darkness, and Marco kicked out wildly. I gotta protect him! I gotta protect him! I gotta protect him!
“Stop yer sobbing,” Hanji sighed, and Marco realized he’d been thinking out loud. “It’s such a poisonous institution they send us to as kids. ‘Protect your master at all costs.’ ‘Give your life for your master’. ‘Without your master, your life is meaningless’. As though we aren’t people too. People they’d made this way, engineered to be the perfect little soldiers.”
Hanji grabbed Marco, slung him around and pressed him into the wall along the side of the coffee shop, holding him in place by his hair and throat with both hands. Marco’s fingers scrabbled at Hanji’s hands, but other than that, he stilled, breathing heavily.
“I’m not a soldier… I’m a G.A.,” he sputtered weakly.
“There is no difference in this world,” they replied. Their tone was neither cynical nor condescending, not even teasing; only somber, and matter-of-fact. “All G.A.s will become a soldier in time. The only other option is de-wiring, and you know what that means, only all too well.”
Marco whimpered. He did know. De-wiring was the most painful death a Guardian Angel could suffer. Each year, he and his classmates were required to watch the execution of an ex-G.A., the entire process of de-wiring, to remind them of the fate of any G.A. who fought against The Empire.
“That’s what happens when you refuse to become a soldier.”
“A… are you a soldier?” Marco asked.
“I am,” Hanji answered. “Not for The Empire, though! Heavens no. The fun thing about being a soldier is that you get to pick a side.”
Marco’s eyes widened, taking in the silhouette of Hanji in the dark alley. “The Fallen…?” he whispered.
“Ding-ding-ding! You’re correct!”
“But what are you doing in the walls!? In The Empire!?”
“Saving,” Hanji answered. “Saving all the unaborts who can’t save themselves. Some before they get to The Clinic. Some after their physical evaluations indicate that they’d die from the G.A. modifications. You know what happens to those unaborts, don’t you?”
Marco swallowed and nodded. They were euthanized. Thousands of unaborts were euthanized each year. There was no room in The Empire for children that nobody wanted.
“I can also save you, you know. You can come with us, leave your master behind. You’d make a lovely little soldier among The Fallen, outside the walls.”
“I’m not leaving Jean,” Marco growled. “And the land outside the walls is uninhabitable!”
Hanji leaned in close. “If the land outside the walls is so uninhabitable,” they whispered, the wicked grin back with a vengeance, “then why are we thriving?”
He had no answer. But it seemed one wasn’t needed; Hanji paused, cocking their head to the side. Listening. “Fuck,” they muttered, releasing Marco and standing up straight. “Kids! Forget him! Police are coming! Run! Get back to Levi!”
Hanji then stepped back, the wires uncoiling and expanding, three sets of metallic wings unfurling. As they rose, the wings vibrating not unlike a dragonfly’s, a high-pitched ‘eeeeeee’ tore at Marco’s eardrums, the metal “feathers” scraping against one another.
“Ah, yeah. And you should be more careful when out in public from now on. The two of you shouldn’t go blabbing about you being a Guardian Angel, that makes our job way too easy!”
And then, with a flap of their rapid-moving wings, Hanji was gone, up over the buildings and weaving through lines of traffic.
Marco found Jean sitting on the ground in the dark, nursing what was probably a broken leg, and the two of them limped out of the side street together, Jean’s weight placed on Marco with his arm thrown around the other’s shoulders. Police converged upon them as soon as they re-entered the light of the square.
They were heavily questioned that night, Jean getting patched up while Marco explained everything that happened, and the two of them were quickly returned to the Kirschtein Estate. The two of them were sitting outside Jean’s parents’ office while his parents discussed what they were going to do about the situation. They were awaiting their sentence.
“I’m going to get in so much trouble,” Jean grumbled, picking at his new cast grumpily. “I’m also a cripple now, too. This stinks.”
A sniffle and sob from Marco caught Jean’s attention, and he turned to find that his G.A. was crying, large teardrops rolling down his freckled cheeks.
“M-Marco!? What’s wrong!?” Jean leaned in close. “I’m sorry, okay? This was all my fault, and I should have listened to you. We should have never snuck out. It’s okay now, so you don’t hafta cry…”
“But I couldn’t protect you,” Marco cried. “You got hurt. Because I let you get hurt.” Another shuddering sob ripped through the small boy’s form. “I’m a failure. I’m a terrible G.A…”
“Nuh-uh!” Jean yelled. “No you’re not! You’re the best G.A.! I don’t want any G.A. who’s not you, Marco! You did great! I didn’t know how good you were at fighting until tonight. You’ve been holding back on me all these years, haven’t you?”
Managing a smile through his tears, Marco nodded, wiping at his snotty, tear-soaked face.
“But what we gotta worry about now,” Jean said, “Is what kind of punishment I’m gonna get.”
But Jean never received a punishment.
“Jean, dear, you’re free to go. Get some sleep, I know you’ve had a busy night.”
“Oh!” Jean smiled brightly up at his mother, unable to contain his relief. “Marco too?”
“No,” she said, nonchalant and indifferent. “Marco is going to be admitted for remedial training.”
Marco felt the blood drain from his face, heart nearly stopping in his chest. He looked over at Jean with wide eyes, silently screaming at him for help, to save him. Not remedial training. Anything but remedial training.
But he only cocked his head in answer, clearly confused.
“What?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”
12 years old.
“Happy Christmas!” Jean shouted as he raced down the hall, several servants turning and smiling down at him in greeting. Choruses of “Happy Christmas to you, too!”s echoed about him as he ran through the mansion, the entire estate decorated with holly and tinsel and wreathes and mistletoe. The massive Christmas tree in the foyer of the main mansion was overflowing with orbs and Christmas lights, and the floor underneath it was overflowing with mountains of presents. But Jean had refused to open them without Marco.
Bursting into Marco’s room, Jean exclaimed a cheery, “Happy Christmas, Marco!”
His G.A. was anything but happy.
Marco was curled up on the floor, splatters of blood coating the carpet beneath him and soaked into his shirt. He was facing away from Jean, and from his back, he could see two long, quivering wires sprouting out, one on either side of his upper spine.
“Marco!” Jean yelled, running to his side. “Marco, what’s happening!?” There was so much blood, so much blood, and Jean didn’t know what to do. Marco smiled up at him weakly.
“My wings… are coming in. I’m thirteen, remember?”
“D-does it hurt!?” Jean asked, eyeing the strange protrusions in his back with alarm. One was curling up on the carpet comfortably, while the other was spasming and twitching violently, more blood spurting and gushing out from its point of growth.
“Yeah… i-it hurts a lot,” he replied weakly. “And this is only set one of three. The feathers haven’t even come in yet…”
Jean stared at his friend, horrified. How could he be so okay with that!? How could he be okay with the pain he was experiencing, knowing that so much worse was to come!?
“Don’t worry, Jean,” he said, as though he’d read his thoughts. “It’s worth it. I’ll be able to fly. I’ll be able to protect you more. This is all for you, Jean.”
Jean swallowed the bile in his throat. “I don’t want this,” he growled, gritting his teeth angrily. “I don’t care if you’re able to protect me or not, Marco, I don’t want you to be in so much pain!”
“I’m your G.A.-“
“You’re my friend,” he corrected.
“It doesn’t matter,” Marco whimpered, cheek pressed to the blood-soaked carpet. “From the day I was wired, this was going to happen. No matter whose G.A. I ended up as. This is what a Guardian Angel has to go through.”
Jean frowned helplessly. There was nothing he could do for Marco except sit by and watch him suffer.
“I’m glad you’re my G.A., then.”
He smiled. “Me too.”
Jean was soon dragged out of Marco’s room by one of the housemaids, informing him that his parents were waiting for him in the foyer. Pictures of him opening his presents were to be taken that morning, and the entire household was getting impatient. When he resisted, telling her about Marco’s pain, she brushed it off.
“He’s a G.A., that’s just what they go through.”
When Jean looked up at the smiling angel atop the Christmas tree, he couldn’t help but feel as though it was a cruel mockery to Marco’s pain that day, and he scowled in all of his Christmas pictures. Jean Kirschtein, heir to the Kirschtein Armory Corporation, gained the reputation of being an ungrateful, spoiled child that Christmas.
15 years old.
Their teenage years brought forth more problems, but these problems didn’t solely belong to a G.A. and his master; these were issues that all teenagers face: hormones.
Jean had gained the habit of locking himself in his room in recent years, and since Marco was required to be stationed beside him at all hours of the day, he’d had to stand guard outside his door. And Jean had politely requested that Marco keep his eyes out of his room, to which Marco always respectfully complied. An order is an order, he shrugged. Not that he didn’t have an idea of what Jean was up to; The thought of what was going on behind Marco’s back on the other side of door never failed to make the Angel blush.
But this particular day, with Marco standing outside Jean’s door, wasn’t like most other days. On this day, Jean was failing at keeping quiet.
He’d been impressively successful at remaining silent while taking care of his business behind closed doors for years, but he was getting too comfortable, and was starting to let his guard down. When Marco heard the stuttering moan from the other side of the door, he froze, his back straightening in surprise. He… hadn’t really just heard that, had he?
But then it came again, slightly louder this time, and Marco told himself to ignore it, just ignore it. A whimper and keen later found the G.A. with his forehead pressed against the door, gaze focused on the young man inside the room, mechanisms in his eyes whirring.
Jean was sitting on the edge of his bed, pants tugged around his ankles with his swollen dick in his hand. Pumping himself feverishly, his eyes were closed, mouth half open as more lewd sounds spilled out from it. Forgive me, Jean, Marco thought, licking his lips as his eyes zoomed in, and a slight beep was heard from the back of his skull as he selected the ‘record’ feature.
After that, Marco never once obeyed Jean’s order to keep his eyes off his room while he “took care of some business”.
16 years old.
“Sucks that you can’t really talk, though…”
“It feels like I’m talking to a wall.”
“A wall with a face,” Jean laughed, and Marco shoved him over. The two of them were lounging about in the gardens, under an old tree that had been there since they were children. Marco had fond memories of climbing that tree. It was a warm and sunny spring day, and the two wanted to take advantage of the nice weather.
In Jean’s lap was a thick text book that he was supposed to be studying, titled The Science of Finance, but he detested the subject and preferred to talk to Marco instead, even if he couldn’t talk back.
Marco sat right next to him, their backs against the rough bark of the tree trunk, and wrapped around his throat was a thick layer of gauze and bandages. He’d recently undergone his second enhancement.
Rolling his eyes but smiling all the same, Marco jabbed his finger at Jean’s text book, indicating that he should be studying. But when he looked up from the book and right at Jean, he found that the other boy’s face was entirely too close. Marco’s breath caught in his throat as his gaze halted on Jean’s amber irises, a light pink dusting his cheeks, and a slight breeze rustled his two-toned hair. He wanted to say something, but he couldn’t speak, so he only stared back, half scared and half hopeful.
When Jean’s lips met his, his heart slammed up against his ribcage, and he could have melted right there, but Jean had pulled away too soon. Marco opened his eyes, not too sure when he’d closed them, and looked to find Jean staring up at him, sharp eyebrows turned up in worry.
“M-Marco… I know it’s kind of cruel to do this when you… can’t really talk. But… I mean, I guess I’m just too much of a pussy to say it when you can, because I. Uh. I’m afraid of what you’ll say. So. Uh.“ Marco hung onto his every stuttered word, trying his hardest not to smile, lest Jean think that Marco was making fun of him. Say it, he thought, Just say it!
Jean swallowed loudly, bringing a hand up to rub at the back of his neck, a nervous gesture. “Maybe you can just shake your head yes or no? But. I, uh… shit, I sound like an idiot,” he frowned, looking down at the ground. “I really like you, man. And not in the ‘best friend’s way. I mean, we’ll always be best friends. And I know it’s kinda weird, because you’re my G.A. and all, but…” He took a deep, shuddering breath, squeezing his eyes shut as he said, “IreallylikeyouandIwanttobeyourboyfrienddoyoulikemetoo!?”
He kept his eyes shut like that for a moment, before cracking one open and peering inquisitively up at Marco, face flushed a deep red. And Marco couldn’t help it; Jean was just being too cute and too silly and too blind and too funny, and so his shoulders quaked with silent laughter, head thrown back while his hands clutched at his stomach.
Jean looked as though his entire world had been smashed to pieces. The corners of his mouth twitching downward, brows furrowed, narrow eyes tightening, one could almost hear his heart crack in half inside his chest. “You… don’t have to laugh,” he croaked. “You.. just had to shake your head no. I… you’re right, it’s stupid. I’m stupid. Sorry. I’m. I’m just gonna-“ Jean slammed his book closed, scrambling to his feet as fast as he could, his hands shaking as he picked up his bag, hiding his face from Marco.
But Marco, realizing his folly, grabbed Jean’s wrist and yanked him back down, reaching his other hand up to cup the back of his head and pull him in for another kiss.
His bag and book toppled back to the earth, his arms going limp. Jean tried to pull away, but relaxed almost instantly when Marco started kneading at his lower lip with his teeth. The kiss deepened from there, Jean tilting his head to the side while Marco’s lips worked against his, and Jean even went so far as to lick along Marco’s mouth. It was a good minute or two before they separated with an audible ‘smack’, strands of saliva breaking between them.
“You,” Jean panted, flushed and flustered, “You like me?”
Marco grinned from ear to ear, bringing a finger up to point at his eye.
“I,” Jean repeated.
Marco pointed to his chest, right over his heart.
“Love.” Jean’s voice cracked.
Marco pointed at Jean.
“You,” he whispered. “You love me….” Jean dove in for another kiss, this one much rougher than the last. “You fuckinf scareda shit outtame,” he mumbled against his lips. “Bastard, mmf.” Marco, elated beyond belief, kissed him back just as eagerly, pushing his tongue past Jean’s lips and slipping it against the roof of his mouth. Jean pulled away again, scowling. “How long!?”
Blushing, Marco sheepishly held up four fingers.
“Four? Four what? Four days?” Marco shook his head. “Four weeks?” He shook his head again. “Four months?” Rolling his eyes, he shook his head yet again. Jean deliberated for a moment before saying, quietly, “Four hours?”
Marco threw his hands up in exasperation before lightly smacking his palm against Jean’s temple.
“Whaaaat?” Jean whined. “I refuse to believe that you’ve loved me for four goddamn years. Why didn’t you say anything!?”
Marco shrugged, looking down at his hands as he twiddled his thumbs. Peeking back up at Jean from beneath thick eyelashes, he mouthed, “G.A.”.
Jean scowled. “Yeeayyy?”
Marco smacked his hand to his forehead before trying again, this time a lot slower.
“Heee…. Ayyy… Oh!” His eyes widened in realization. “G.A.!”
Marco smiled, nodding, and Jean leaned in to place his forehead against the Angels’, his rounded button nose pressed against his own sharp one. “Yeah. You’re my G.A., and you’re my boyfriend now too. You can be both.”
That afternoon was spent making out in the garden and whispering sweet nothings to one another, their fingers intertwined and their hearts beating fast. Marco found it incredibly silly that after loving Jean for four years and saying nothing, he’d found out about his feelings for him when he could say nothing at all.
17 years old.
Jean’s hand roved over the surface of Marco’s back, fingers tickling along the crevices and raised flesh of scar tissue. He’d asked to see, and of course Marco had complied, he deserved that much after what they’d both been through. All three sets of Marco’s wings were out, hanging limply off his back while Jean explored his body.
The previous month, Jean had experienced a true nightmare. He hadn’t expected a break-in; his father’s estate was the safest in the city, with all the best alarm systems and protection. But it hadn’t been enough. They’d still gotten in.
Jean could remember all the blood, how Marco shielded him with his body, surrounded him with his wings, bullets pounding endlessly into his back. Jean had cried out his name so many times, but each time, Marco had given him that reassuring smile. “I’m your G.A.,” he’d said. “This is what I do.” And then he’d coughed up blood.
Jean escaped that night’s horror with nothing but a knife wound to the side, but Marco had been shot, stabbed, and finally tased. Jean could still remember how his body had spasmed, his wings convulsed. And in his final last-ditch attempt, Marco had saved him. “Cover your ears,” he’d managed to say, grabbing Jean’s hands and bringing them up to either side of his head. He obeyed, nodded, and when Marco opened his mouth next, it was to emit a frequency so awful, that the intruders on his other side fell to their knees, and Jean saw blood shoot from their ears and eyes. Even with his own covered, Jean suffered momentary deafness, and had a reeling headache for days. Marco never stopped apologizing, and Jean never stopped thanking him.
Marco had healed spectacularly, and Jean’s parents had never been more happy to have purchased a G.A. for their son. Jean, on the other hand, struggled to sleep at night without Marco beside him.
Jean trailed his fingers down Marco’s spine, admiring the way it sent shivers shooting through him. “I love you,” Jean murmured, leaning forward to press his lips to the nape of Marco’s neck. Marco hummed happily, sitting up straighter on the edge of Jean’s bed, and Jean took the chance to brush his fingertips along the arch in the small of Marco’s back. Inspired by his answering moan, Jean brought up both his hands and began to knead at the muscles along Marco’s shoulder and neck.
“I’m no masseuse,” Jean murmured, “So don’t judge me.”
Marco was practically melting into Jean’s touch, his head rolling back and shoulders going limp. “N-no,” he muttered, “It feels great.. ah.”
Encouraged by his boyfriend’s response, Jean continued to massage all down Marco’s back, taking in his soft sighs and moans with pride and admiring his muscular stature at the same time. Marco was strong, and built, and Wow, I’ve got a really hot boyfriend, Jean thought, working down Marco’s spine. I’m lucky. He supposed it was a given, considering that he was a G.A., and had undergone all kinds of brutal training, but that didn’t account for how cute Marco was; he had the cutest smile and the best laugh, and adorable freckles and soft hair, and goddamn if his eyes weren’t, in a word, beautiful. Jean considered himself the luckiest guy in the entire Empire.
Jean began to absentmindedly press his fingers into the bases of Marco’s wings, a slight bulge from which each golden wire protruded. Whenever he prodded the sensitive spot, the corresponding wing would jerk, and Jean laughed at the involuntary response.
“Jean,” Marco chuckled, “What are you doing?”
“Just messin’ with your wings,” he answered, prodding at another one. He continued to go down the line until he reached the very last one, the bottom-right wing near the base of his spine. This particular wing’s response was… a little different. Jean pressed into its base, expecting the same knee-jerk reaction that all the others had… except it didn’t just jerk; it quivered. Jean watched with wonder as the tip of the wing’s wire curled and uncurled, and fascinated, began to massage his fingers into that same spot.
The curling and uncurling increased in speed, the wing practically vibrating, and Jean chuckled. “Aww, look at this little guy. I wonder what his deal is, huh?” Jean dug his fingers in harder.
Jean stopped. Eyes wide and mouth hanging open in awe, his gaze raked up the straight line of Marco’s back to his raised shoulders to the back of his head; Jean could see that his face was flushed, mouth slightly parted.
Raising his eyebrows so high that they threatened to disappear into his hairline, Jean massaged the base again, this time keeping his eyes on Marco as he worked the spot with two fingers. Marco threw his head back, a tiny, shaky moan, spilling past his parted lips.
“J-Jean, stop,” he gasped, “You don’t know what you’re doing-ng.”
But Jean, grinning cockily, was very much aware of what he was doing.
I guess it’s just hooked up to a really sensitive line of nerves, Jean thought.
Keeping his fingers pressed to the base of Marco’s sixth wing, he leaned over so that he was overlooking Marco’s shoulder, peering down the line of his body to spot the impressive bulge in his pants. Jean pressed a kiss to the side of Marco’s neck as he continued to massage that spot, snaking his other hand around to slide down Marco’s abdomen.
“Hey, Marco,” Jean murmured, “If you really want me to stop right now, say so. I’m fully aware of what I’m doing.” And then he dipped his fingertips beneath the waist of the G.A.’s pants.
Marco didn’t tell him to stop, instead opting to thrust his hips forward a bit, his hands clenched into the sheets along the edge of the bed.
“Someone’s excited,” Jean teased, nibbling at his throat.
“F-fuck,” Marco murmured as Jean’s hand wrapped around his dick, and he brought his other hand around to yank his pants down and pull Marco free. “Nnnot my fault,” he panted. “Waited too long for this.”
Jean licked at Marco’s earlobe before whispering, “Oh? Is this how you imagined it happening?” He started stroking along the Angel’s length, reveling in the low moan it elicited, but then Marco said, “N-no.”
Jean stopped. And before he knew what was happening, Marco had grabbed both his wrists, twisted himself around and pushed Jean onto the bed, pinning him to the mattress with one hand while he made quick work of his pants. The maneuver had been so quick that it left Jean breathless and confused, until his dick was out. “This is how I imagined it going,” Marco smiled before grinding his cock down against Jean’s, both of them hot and hard.
“Ah, shhhhiittt, Marco,” Jean gasped.
Marco paused, hovering over his boyfriend. “A-are you okay with this?”
Jean stared up at Marco with wide eyes, incredulous, before stuttering, “Y-yes! God, Marco, hell yes, keep going!”
“Oh. Haha. I love you, Jean.” Marco leaned down to bump his nose against the other’s, dicks still flush against each other.
“I love you, too.”
Marco rocked his hips forward, and Jean arched his back with a quiet keen.
18 years old.
“They’ve been complaining that my grades are going down.”
“I told you to pay more attention in class,” Marco chastised.
“That’s kinda hard to do when I’m getting my brains fucked outta me every night, Marco. I get tired!”
Marco burned a bright red at that, but still smiled pridefully all the same.
“Are you suggesting we stop for a while?”
“What? Fuck no! Don’t even say that.”
Jean and Marco were lounging about in the screen room, Jean flitting through the channels absentmindedly, his head in Marco’s lap. Marco’s fingers were stroking through the messy strands of Jean’s hair, and he soon found that he was struggling to stay awake.
“So,” Marco said, “The Halo Program is getting another upgrade, soon. More memory cache, they said.”
“Mmm?” Jean hummed. “Sounds nice.”
“That means there’ll be more room. For more… recordings.”
Jean looked up at his boyfriend to find that he was waggling his eyebrows down at him suggestively, and he lifted his hand to lightly smack at his forehead.
“I can’t believe you filled your entire extra memory cache with those videos!” Jean lifted his hands in exasperation. “You’re a kinky motherfucker, I hope you know.”
Marco leaned down to kiss the scowl off Jean’s face. “And yet, you always agree to let me record you. Silly.” He pressed his nose to Jean’s, nuzzling them together.
The two boys sat up straight, Jean’s head almost colliding with Marco’s, to find that it was only another of their maids. Thank god. They sank back into the couch in relief.
“The Masters are requesting the G.A.’s presence in their study. Immediately, they said.” The tiny maid was blushing, a small smile on her lips as she glanced between the two boys. The entire household knew of the less-than-platonic relationship between them—well, actually, everyone but Jean’s parents. And it was an unspoken rule that it would stay that way.
Marco hopped off the couch, pausing to lean back down and steal another quick kiss from Jean. “Be back in a flash, okay?”
“Mmhmm,” he hummed, flopping back onto the couch and sprawling out across it, letting his eyes slip closed. “Wake me up when you get back.”
He didn't return.
Jean was woken up by a strong hand shaking his shoulder, warmth seeping through his shirt from the contact. “Mmm, Marco,” he mumbled. “Jus’ lemme sleep a lil more. I’ll do that thing you like… later. Promise.” He tried to turn away, but the hand only shook him more violently.
“Young master, please wake up.”
That sure as hell was not Marco.
Jean cracked his eyes open to find one of the butlers staring down at him, his hand still on Jean’s shoulder. A nearby window informed him that the sun had already gone down, the sky black with night.
“What’s going on?” Jean wondered, sitting up and rubbing at the grit in his eyes. And where’s Marco?
“Your parents have scheduled an evening dinner for the entire household. You’re to wash up and join immediately, they say.”
Cocking his head curiously, too tired to do much else, Jean obeyed, stumbling towards the nearest bathroom to wash his hands and face. The mansion smelled of roast, and he knew he’d be eating good that night. When he arrived in the family dining hall, he was surprised to see that not only were his parents seated at the long table, but all of their servants and workers as well. A dinner for the entire household indeed. Jean took the last remaining seat at the end of the table, mouth watering at the sight of all the warm food that awaited him.
“That’s everyone,” Mr. Kirschtein said loudly, “We can all eat now. Please, dig in.”
Nobody hesitated for even a second.
Jean piled his plate up high, excited and wondering what the occasion was. Marco loved roast, he was probably already stuffing his face right then. Jean glanced up, scanning along the table to search for his boyfriend. Along the left. Along the right. At the end, where his parents sat. All the chairs were filled, and yet, Marco wasn’t there.
Pausing, appetite suddenly lost, Jean scowled around at everyone. Surely they noticed too? “Where’s Marco?” he asked, setting his silverware down with a ‘clang’. A few servants looked in his direction, but his voice hadn’t carried very far over the din of silverware and china and the low buzz of conversation among the servants. This time, Jean made sure he was heard. “Where,” Jean said loudly, making sure his parents looked up at him, “is Marco!?”
Everyone paused. The servants looked around at each other, a few shrugging across the table, but Jean noticed how one or two looked shamefully down at their laps.
“Your ex-G.A.,” Jean’s mother corrected, “Should currently be at Olympus.”
Jean felt his stomach drop. Ex-G.A…. My ex-G.A.?
“What do you mean,” Jean said hoarsely, “ex-G.A.?”
Mr. and Mrs. Kirschtein sat up straight on their end of the table, looking across at their son with cold, uncaring eyes. “We thought it best to get rid of a G.A. that corrupts our son,” his father said.
Jean stood up angrily from the table. “Corrupts me!? Why in the hell would you think Marco’s corrupting me!? He’s saved me! He’s my best friend! He hasn’t done anything!”
His eyes narrowed in on his mother.
“Tell us the truth. Have you, or have you not, been having sexual relations with your G.A.?”
The entire room was silent. Jean swallowed as he stared back at his mother, unsure of what to say. More importantly, how had she known? He glanced around the table at all the servants, all of them shrugging and shaking their heads. “Wasn’t me,“ grumbled one, the rest of the table shushing them.
“H..how did you-?”
“We saw, Jean.”
He felt sick, his stomach churning with dread and mortification. He still didn’t understand. Seeing her son’s confusion, Mrs. Kirschtein raised one slim finger and tapped it to her temple.
I can’t believe you filled your entire extra memory cache with those videos!
Jean could have thrown up right then and there, if he hadn’t been so angry.
“Why the fuck were you going through his memory cache!?” he yelled, slamming his hands down on the table.
“Jean, calm do-“
“No! You took Marco away, I’m not gonna fucking calm down! Why were you going through his memory cache!?”
Mrs. Kirschtein sighed. “You’ve been slacking in your studies. We were wondering if your precious little G.A. might have any clues as to why that is. If we’d known he was indulging in pastimes so obscene with you, we’d have sent him back sooner.”
“Fuck you!” Jean cried out, kicking his chair over and knocking his glass to the floor. The glass shattered across the tile. “Fuck this, I’m going to Olympus, I’m bringing him back!” he turned around, striding out of the dining hall, fists clenched at his sides and jaw working furiously.
A chair scraped across the floor as Mr. Kirschtein stood up. “You will not! The entire grounds are on lockdown. The guards will shoot on sight if they see anyone leaving or entering the estate.”
Jean turned, glaring at his father. “You want to kill me….?”
Mr. Kirschtein raised his hands in exasperation. “It’s just a simple solution, Jean. You’re our heir. We need you to carry on the legacy, and not tarnish our name.” In a quieter voice, the man said, “I’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.”
He couldn’t say anything. Jean left the hall quietly and ran up to his room.
Jean seethed in his room for hours. He wouldn’t get any sleep that night, he already knew. Marco was gone, and he didn’t know how to get him back. What even happened to an ex-G.A.!? Were they reassigned? The thought of Marco being anyone else’s G.A. made Jean feel sick. He spent that evening in his room, pacing back and forth, almost tearing his hair out in frustration. He just wanted Marco back.
So when Marco slammed against Jean’s bedroom window, he almost had a heart attack.
“Marco!” Jean exclaimed, running forward to open it up, pulling his boyfriend inside. “Marco, you’re here!” he threw his arms around him, and Marco returned the gesture with greater fervor, almost crushing Jean’s lungs.
“Jean,” he said hoarsely. “I’m so sorry… I could only erase 30% of my cache before… they just.. .they saw-“
“I know, shut up.” Jean pulled him into a kiss, lips crashing together haphazardly, his hands winding into his dark hair. Pulling away, Jean said, “How the hell did you get into the estate!? The guards, they should’ve shot you, o-or something, or…”
“Jean, I’m a G.A., I’m trained for this sort of thing, you know…”
He smiled up at him. “I know.”
Marco smiled back, until his eyes watered, nose turning red. “I’m so sorry, Jean.”
“Stop apologizing, it wasn’t your fault,” Jean told him. The fact that Marco was close to tears was starting to scare Jean. “Y-you okay?”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“Why?” Jean frowned. “Why are you sorry?”
Marco bit his lip, swallowing loudly as he blinked away tears. “This is the last you’re going to see of me, Jean. I’m really sorry.”
Jean shook his head, the information refusing to sink in. “W… wait, what? Nuh-uh… Marco, what are you talking about!?”
“I’m either to be a soldier for The Empire, or de-wired.”
“It’s a death sentence, Jean. The worst there is.”
“Wait, hold on, why would The Empire need you to be a soldier? I thought those days were over, The War was forever ago!”
“There’s always been a war going on, Jean….”
“I don’t understand. Marco, which did you choose? Are you becoming a soldier for The Empire!?”
Marco shook his head, and Jean wished he could kill himself right then and there. Seeing the look on Jean’s face, Marco hastily corrected himself. “I’m not getting de-wired either, Jean! Listen, I’m leaving The Empire. I’m joining The Fallen.”
Jean scowled up at Marco. “The Fallen? I thought that was a terrorist group! You’re becoming a terrorist?”
Marco shrugged. “It’s the only option for me, Jean. I’m not becoming a soldier of The Empire. You know what they do. That’s worse than any terrorist group I could ever join.”
Jean grimaced. He was right.
“Besides. It’s more of a refugee group than a terrorist group.”
“When do you leave?” he whispered.
Tears welled up in Marco’s eyes again. “I’m lucky, they said. The next breach is scheduled for tonight.”
He licked his lips, taking a shaky breath as he stared at him through red-rimmed eyes. “In three hours.” And then Marco had pulled Jean into an embrace, head cradled between his shoulder neck. He sobbed against him, hands clutching at the shirt on Jean’s back. “I’m going to miss you so much, Jean.,” he cried. “I almost chose to get de-wired instead, oh I’m going to miss you.”
Marco’s words stabbed into Jean’s heart, a piercing pain that spread throughout his chest, burning up his throat until his eyes were hot, tears streaking down his face. “N-no,” Jean whispered. “I’m coming with you.”
Marco paused, taking a step back. “But Jean! Your parents! Your life!”
“I don’t have a life here, man! I’m cooped up on this estate, being tutored until my brain rots. I don’t have a life here, not with my parents, and not without you.”
“Your parents will miss you,” Marco murmured sadly.
“Nah. They won’t. Dad just said he’d rather have a dead son than a gay one. S-so… better let him think I’m dead, yeah?”
Marco gasped at that. “He didn’t…”
“Please, don’t be so surprised, because I sure wasn’t. They don’t love me, Marco. So let me come with you. Please.”
“….It’s dangerous out there, Jean. What if you get hurt… or killed… or-“
“Weren’t you trained your whole life to protect me?” Jean said quietly. “Come on, Marco, do your job. You’re my G.A., remember?” He lifted his hand to cup the Angel’s cheek, thumb stroking along his freckles and wiping at the faint tear-tracks that clung to his skin.
Marco smiled softly, another tiny tear spilling over and down his face. “Pack light?” he asked quietly. Jean kissed him in reply, the gesture soft and sad and wet with tears.
Marco flew through the city holding Jean close to his chest, a small backpack slung over the latter’s shoulder. The night was chilly, and Jean was glad to have worn his warmest jacket, huddling into it as the cold wind bit at his nose and ears. Once they neared the Northern Brass Wall, Marco made a sharp dive for the ground, Jean yelping in fear and clinging to the Angel.
“Flying’s not your thing, is it?” Marco teased as he set Jean down, but Jean could only scowl in answer, pulling his jacket tighter around his thin frame, glancing warily around him. They’d landed smack dab in the center of a large group of people. Several of them were around his age, and Jean guessed that a good portion of them were G.A.s. An equally large portion of them were much younger, nothing more than children.
“Move, move out of my way, goddamn.”
The group parted to reveal a short little man clad in a thick, forest green hoodie, his dark hair shaved into an undercut and black eyes beady. The man stopped in front of Jean, glaring up at him, and despite being much taller, Jean felt intimidated. The man turned his gaze on Marco.
“Oi, freckles, who the hell is this?”
“O-oh, Levi, this is Jean, my friend-“
“That’s wonderful. What’s he doing here?”
Marco chewed his lip nervously. “I, uh. He’s coming with us. He wants to, I mean.”
“Wants to come with us, or wants to come with you?”
Marco had no answer, and Jean spoke up instead. “Does it matter?” he asked.
Levi stared up at him. “I guess it doesn’t. You’re already here, so we either kill you or take you with us. Killing is messy. Just don’t fuck anything up, alright?”
Jean gave a curt nod, and the man called Levi turned away.
“Alright, all of you, listen up, because I’m not going to say it again,” Levi called out, and everyone turned to give him their full, undivided attention. “When our sentry opens up that grate, we have thirty seconds to slosh our way through that nasty-ass tunnel to the other side of the Brass Wall. Personally, I’d like to make it in ten, but the Brass Wall is extremely thick, and a good portion of you all are slow as hell. Just don’t get left behind. If you fail to make it to the other side in time, you’re either left to rot in The Empire, or left to rot in The Empire’s sewage system. Frankly, I don’t know which is worse, but I’d rather not find out. So don’t be slow. The grate opens up in the next thirty seconds.”
Realizing what little time they all had left, the entire group scrambled to the edge of the wall, poised next to the grate as they waited for it to open. It actually felt like a lot longer than thirty seconds to Jean, but that was probably because he was freezing his ass off.
Soon enough, the grate was sliding open, and children were dropping themselves down into the sewer and running as fast as they could. Levi was among the first, shouting, “Move move move move!” as he took off through the sewer, the sound of his boots splashing against the putrid wastewater echoing up through the tunnel. The entire group surged forward, pushing one another down into the sewer. Marco and Jean made it in with 15 seconds to run.
Running through the dark, hand in hand, the two of them almost didn’t make it. They were among the last of the runaways, save for one blond guy, his hair chin-length, thick eyebrows curtained with bangs. The grate started to close as they approached it, three yards away, and Marco let go of Jean’s hand to skid forward through the water, bracing his body beneath the grate and heaving up against it. Jean quickly ducked under it, but the blond guy was just not in luck. He tripped and fell into the water not even a foot away from the exit, and Jean, cursing under his breath, grabbed him by the forearms and hauled him out, Marco releasing the grate, and ducking out of the way as it clanged shut.
Seeing that his entire front was soaked with nasty sewer water, Jean took pity on the guy and slipped his jacket off, draping it around the smaller guy’s shoulders. “Thanks,” he said, pulling it closer around him. “Both of you. I’d be stuck in the sewers without you guys.”
Marco nodded, smiling a bit. “No problem. What’s your name?”
“Armin. I’m a failed unabort. You?”
“I’m Marco, and this is Jean,” he said, gesturing to himself and his boyfriend. “I’m Jean’s G.A.”
Armin glanced between them, raising his eyebrows. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” Jean said. “Also, don’t failed unaborts usually get euthanized when they’re a lot smaller? What are you doing still alive?”
Marco jabbed Jean in the ribs with his elbow, glaring at him for his poor choice in words, but Armin didn’t seem to really mind.
“Failed unaborts get used for a lot more. When there’s a surplus of failed unaborts—which there always is—they’re euthanized. As for myself, I was used for product testing.”
“Like, what they used to do with animals?”
Armin nodded. “But who needs to animal test, when we have so many unwanted humans running around? Overpopulation is a scary thing, you know.”
Jean was a little creeped out at how indifferent Armin seemed to be, and he couldn’t be sure in the darkness, but he thought he’d seen him smiling as he said all that.
“Oi, you brats need to hurry the fuck up!” Levi called.
The three of them turned away from the closed grate, and Jean was practically blown away, letting out a low whistle of surprise. Outside the fabricated environment of The Empire, things were vastly different; the sky was not a vibrant Cyan, but the deep red of pooling blood in a dark room, darker around the edges of the horizon but fading to a sickly orange the further one looked up. Black, twisted, leave-less trees dotted the landscape, and the earth was flat in all directions, hard and dry-packed, with very sparse vegetation, a few rare shrubs here and there. Jean wasn’t sure how it was possible for anyone to live out there.
Marco, Jean and Armin quickly jogged to catch up with the rest of the group, everyone glancing desperately around at the environment, expressions of dread and fear on several faces. “You all look like you’re about to shit yourselves,” Levi droned. “Relax. We’re not even at the base, yet.” Jean tilted his head to the side, wondering where in the hell their “base” could be hidden on all this flat land. There was nothing in all directions, and the vast emptiness left him feeling vulnerable and exposed. “First of all, congratulations. You’re all Fallen. Good for you. You escaped The Empire, humanity’s heaven on earth. That’s all the celebration you’re going to get. You guys are in for a hard life. Some of you had it harder back in The Empire, and if that’s the case for you, then wonderful; you’re in for an easier life. Now all of you need to gather the shit you just lost and shove it back up your ass, because you’re gonna need to follow me, unless you plan on getting lost out here in the middle of nowhere. Hanji’s waiting for us. Let’s go.” Levi then turned on his heel and began making his way towards the bleeding horizon, everyone following in his wake.
Jean felt a warm hand slip around his and grip it tightly, and he turned to see Marco smiling softly at him. He returned the smile, giving Marco’s hand a squeeze before the two of them set off with the rest of the group, trudging along behind Levi.
Jean was headed towards a new life with his very own Fallen Guardian Angel.