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He’s on his third cigarette. Nicotine stains his fingers (so ugly, he thinks, such a cheap taint), and there is ash … ash everywhere. The stink of smoke has infiltrated his coat, sticking to him like a leach, leaving an after-taste that penetrates through his skin.

The air changes, thins. There is no implosion of life, no sudden flash of existence.

There is just Uriel.

“It’s about time,” he says, ice. Cigarette snubbed out beneath the heel of his boot. “Let me know when you’re done.” He stays where he is, against the charred remains of a wall, with the soot and ash (so much ash that it flecks in the air and stays there). Uriel nods, moves into the smoky remains that stink of a different kind of fear now that Death has dropped in to dance with the corpses.

This Death's scythe is a simple look, the light touch on the shoulder.

He's on his sixth cigarette.

And Uriel moves, calm instead of cold, detached in a way the nicotine has no currency in.

They fall like toy soldiers.

A politician.

(The wound is deep, and it snatches at the tips of his long, blood hair as he coerces the burnt edges of skin back together)

A young woman.

(He weaves her life force back into her body, feels her first, ravaged breath before moving on to the next almost-corpse.)

A child.

(The soul is already long gone, and there is nothing that can be done to entice the boy back into the calcified remains. No words are spoken, but there is a silent plea in the way he unceremoniously thrusts pale, tainted fingers into the rancid poison that only he – an arch angel - sees)

And he wonders, as he sucks down tar and allows a curl of smoke to escape out of the corner of his sneer, if there is even a point.

It is all over before he has a chance to contemplate an answer.

“Next time, try and get here earlier. It makes my job much less redundant.” His gaze feels heavy, his bones hollow and brittle.

“You should go home, Raphael. You look exhausted.” Quiet eyes, quiet words.

Uriel knows that he is onto his ninth cigarette.

Death, for all his morbid attempts at compassion (or an approximation there of) is a kinder victor than death.

One is absolute. The other is all on Raphael.

(Ash and fire and their aftertaste against his skin)

“Whatever,” he says, and Uriel is all looks and no words, and then nothing at all. Just an empty space amongst their sins.

He never knows if they are the sins of a failed healer, or the sins of Death's success. Uriel's timing always guarantees that.

He’s on his twelfth cigarette.