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now:

Robert really wants to appreciate the irony of his situation, but the bottom line is: being kidnapped is crap. His eye is swollen where the men punched him, he has a headache, he's thirsty, and he's got a rather dire need to piss.

"What do you reckon she'll cough up for him?" one of the men asks. Robert's not quite sure how many they are, or where each of them is from. These two sound like the extras from a Guy Ritchie film, and after long consideration, he's named them Thing One and Thing Two. He's been blindfolded since he woke up here -- wherever "here" is. Somewhere damp and drafty, that's all he can tell. He's been here a few hours at least.

"Depends, doesn't it?" Thing Two answers. "The boss said he was her husband, but I dunno. Find it a little hard to believe, you know what I mean? Woman like that, guy like this?"

Behind the blindfold, Robert rolls his eyes.

Thing Two goes on: "Real life don't work that way. And nobody's gonna hand over a few million in untraceable bills for a pool boy."

Robert snorts. He can't help it. Just the image of his pasty arse as a pool boy; he's sure Celine would find it as amusing as he would.

"Oh, you think that's funny?" Thing One asks.

Just clearing my throat, he tries to say around the duct tape, shaking his head.

"Suppose we ask him? Just to make sure, like," Thing One says to his partner in crime. "I mean, boss might like it if we took some initiative."

Please, no, Robert thinks. Kidnappers are one thing, but kidnappers with initiative?

"Fuck off," Thing Two answers. "I ain't asking him shit. Not getting paid to ask questions."

"Christ, you do understand what it means when--"

"Don't be thick, I know what it means when your terrifying boss tells you you're not paid to ask questions. I'm just interpreting it a bit more literally, in that, I'm not getting paid enough to torture some rich lady's butt boy. That is above my pay grade. Or below it, whatever."

There's the scrape of a chair against the floor, a creak of wood. They're both sitting again. Robert lets out a slight sigh, about half in exasperation and half in gratitude.

then:

When Robert stumbles into the kitchen six days after their wedding, Celine has a bottle of Glenfiddich already open on the butcher block table.

"Oh god," he says, because he barely remembers the last three days as it is. There's been a lot of sex and a lot of alcohol, and at least one drunken attempt to defend the virtues of haggis. (Robert firmly agrees that the stuff is disgusting, but only Scots are allowed to make fun of it, by reason of cultural heritage.) "Are you drinking already?"

"It's for you," Celine says. She's eating a poached egg on soda bread; she bought both the eggs and the bread from a couple with a homestead a few miles away from the castle. She didn't tell them who she was or where she was staying, and they'd assumed her to be a pretty American tourist, lost on the backroads of the Highlands. She'd played it up with her usual aplomb, and gotten the eggs and bread for about half the price she'd pay in a store.

"It is?" Robert eyes the bottle warily.

"I think I'm pregnant," Celine says. Her calm is knife-sharp as always.

"...Oh god."

He wobbles on his feet, suddenly light-headed, and Celine leans him against the counter, forcing his head between his knees, and gets him a paper bag to breathe into. As he's fighting off his (well-deserved, in his modest opinion) panic attack, he hears the glug-glug-glug as Celine pours him a shot.

As it turns out, Celine is not pregnant. An armful of pregnancy tests tell them so, and the doctor three towns over confirms it.

Robert tries to hide his wild relief. Celine tries to hide her disappointment.

"Think of it this way," he says. "Now you don't have to spend nine months sober."

She turns away from him in bed, but allows him to spoon up behind her, kissing her neck.

"I'd be a terrible mother," she says softly.

"No," he says, because he has to. "You'd be wonderful."

"I don't think there's been a single good example of parenting in my genetic lineage. The Navilles were all terrible people who produced terrible children, who married terrible people in their turn. We have a legacy of loveless marriages."

His own parents aren't exactly Mr. and Mrs. Brady; mostly they were quietly disappointed with him, and he with them. He can't imagine growing up with such a hostile presence as Mr. Naville, though, or someone so terrifyingly nihilistic as Celine's mother. "You're not like that," he says.

"I'd still be a terrible mother."

"I refuse to believe that," he says, because no matter how much dread filled the 24 hours between Celine's announcement and the doctor confirming otherwise, he wants kids. He wants them with Celine. But God, not right now. They're still on their bloody honeymoon. "You'd be... a bear. No, a lioness."

"Lionesses allow marauding male lions to kill their litters, to force them back into estrus."

Robert blinks. "All right, we can stick with bears."

She laughs, quiet and sad, and they fall asleep like that, both of them feeling each others' disappointment and relief and bewilderment.

Robert dreams a gun into Celine's hand. As he watches, she points it up at the sky. BANG, and a star goes out. BANG, BANG, BANG. BANG. Four more stars follow suit. He's running towards her as she takes aim at the moon, sighting it down the barrel.

BANG.

Robert wakes up in an empty bed, with the gunshot still echoing. It takes him a few shaking minutes to sort himself out, where he is in space and time, the particular context of his circumstances. His hand strays to the puckered scar over his chest, and he rubs at it distractedly until he forces himself to get out of bed. He yanks on a pair of pajamas and runs out to the grounds in bare feet. He looks around, cursing the size of the bloody estate. Celine could be anywhere, he could run in circles until dawn and he wouldn't find her unless she wanted to be found. If she even knew he'd look for her.

"Celine?" he calls.

After a moment, there's a faint cough, then her voice. "Over here," she calls.

He turns towards her voice, stumbles over the cold ground towards the kitchen garden. There's a low fence that surrounds it, utterly useless at keeping out rabbits and moles, but somewhat pretty, he supposes. There's a single bottle balancing on it.

Beyond it, he spots Celine's tall silhouette, her blond hair nearly white in the moonlight. She looks like a ghost in her pale silk robe, except for the gun dangling heavy from one hand. (God knows how she'd managed to find a gun within hours of setting foot on British soil, but Robert wasn't about to question it.)

"Don't come any closer," she says, when he starts towards her. "There's broken glass."

Robert looks down. She's right: between the two of them are scattered bits of glass on the ground, former bottle that have presumably been shattered by well-aimed bullets, catching the moonlight like a handful of stars thrown into the dirt.

He looks at her. He would do it, he thinks. He'd risk lacerating the soles of his feet if it meant being able to hug her right now, kiss the tear tracks off her cheeks.

She must see as much, because she's coming to meet him instead, wearing sturdy wellies under her silk robe.


now:

There's a man staring at Celine. Obviously, this isn't anything out of the ordinary, she's been turning heads since she was eleven years old. But they're in a salon in Monaco, and in her experience, even in Europe, the men receiving pedicures are not generally the kind of men who are interested in breasts.

Also, something about him just screams cop. Since when do cops -- even European ones -- care about the state of their feet?

Celine thinks better when there's someone scrubbing at her feet; it's a leftover from boarding school, cramming for exams while still maintaining her image. She's perfectly capable of coming up with plans on the fly, but when she needs to get some heavy, hard, deep planning in? It comes best when accompanied by someone fussing over the cuticles on her toenails. There's something meditative about it.

This is only true, however, when someone who's obviously from Interpol isn't staring a hole in the back of her head. God damn it.

She sits there in silence, paging through one version of Vogue after the other: British, French, Italian, American, special fall fashion issues. She's not seeing the glossy pages of stick-thin models draped in haute couture; she's seeing the facts, as she understands them, of Robert's disappearance. That he left the hotel to go on a walking tour, which she begged off. (She'd cited a headache, but really, it was that she hated anything so plebeian as a walking tour.) The tour guide said she'd lost Robert sometime between the Grand Casino and the opera house, but had thought nothing of it. Tourists wandered off the tour all the time.

That leaves a distressingly large area of the city to search, innumerable witnesses to question, the infinite possibilities of false leads, and no help from any direction. She's on her own.

And the police are apparently watching her.

She waves off the manicurist when she asks, in French, what color varnish Celine would like on her nails. "No polish," she says in English, playing up the haughty American tone of her voice. "Just buff them."

When the woman sitting at the man's feet two chairs over asks the same question, he gives the same reply, albeit in perfectly unaccented French.

Celine leaves an inordinately large tip before grabbing her purse and slipping out the front door. She walks slow and keeps an ear turned towards the salon behind her; sure enough, a few moments later. She walks briskly, listening to the footsteps, the dull slaps of sandals against the sidewalk. He's unused to walking in sandals, it seems. She hears him stumble and curse -- points for creativity, but it's in American English, with a pugnacious accent that reminds her of Al Pacino.

She picks up the pace as she turns a corner, then another corner, and then walks into an alley and pulls the Walther out of her purse, hiding behind a doorway. The man jogs into the alley and stops a few feet in front of her, at a loss when he sees the dead end. She aims the gun at his chest and cocks it, letting the noise of the mechanism get his attention. He freezes.

"Excusez-moi, monsieur," she says. "Are you lost?"

He raises his hands and turns, slow and deliberate. "Celine Naville," he says. "Boy, I'm never gonna live this one down."

"Lessons in humility are always good for us. And I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Mister...?"

"Gabriel."

"Pleasure," Celine says, voice icy. "Which brings us back to my original question. Were you lost? Or do you generally follow women into alleyways?"

"Neither, actually," he says.

When he doesn't follow up with anything else, Celine makes an impatient go on gesture with the gun.

"I'm here to help you find your husband," he says.

Celine stares at him for a moment, then uncocks the gun. Her mind whirs through a number of responses, running the gamut from tough to coy. In the end, though, all she can say is, "You know where he is?"

Her voice is steady, which is kind of miraculous: her stomach feels like a jumble of snakes, slithering itself into a knot. She hates how honest she sounds, how vulnerable, but it's Robert, and she'd do a lot for him. She'd crawl across burning coals, sure, but she'd also make a fool of herself for him, which is a lot less in her nature.

"I know who took him," Gabriel says, dropping his hands. "He's a former... I'd guess you call him a coworker."

"Who do you work for?" she asks. "Interpol? Or are you stateside?"

"Neither, actually. It's a little complicated to explain."

Celine doesn't have time for complicated, but she does need to know one thing. "What are you going to want in return?"

Gabriel spreads his two hands. "Believe me, Miss Naville: I want nothing more than for you and Robert to be happy together."

then:

After the night where Robert dreams of Celine shooting down the moon, there doesn't seem to be a reason to stay in Scotland. They pack up the next morning, one bag each. As they ask, Robert asks,

"So, is that it? Honeymoon's over?" He's trying not to put much disappointment into his voice. After all, it's not like they've had a typical romance in any form. So they've had a short honeymoon. So what? They spent it shut up in a castle in the Highlands, drinking obscene amounts of alcohol and screwing like rabbits, hiding away from the world. His parents spent theirs in Brighton, getting sunburned and increasingly irritated with each other. His father, as he often told Robert, said that the best part of it was when his mother got food poisoning and he was able to go to the aquarium alone.

(He only feels a little guilty about leaving Scotland without seeing his mum and dad. It puts off the inevitable oh so you got married and didn't even invite us, I just wish I could be surprised conversation over a dry pot roast.)

Celine fixes him with her patented Robert, please look. "Who said anything about it being over?"

She turns back to her bag -- she travels light, the hallmark of someone who grew up knowing that wherever they were, they could afford to buy what they needed --and says in a self-satisfied tone, "We've just barely begun."

She's been so quiet and withdrawn all morning: seeing this hint of her old self, Robert can't help but pounce on her, dropping ridiculous, smacking kisses on her neck and cheek. When she pushes him away, laughing, it devolves into a wrestling match, and then into some slightly nervous sex. He hesitates, the second before entering her.

"Robert?" she asks: for a moment, he sees the image of her last night -- pale and ghostly, ephemeral in the moonlight -- overlaid against the sight of her now, breathless and naked and flushed. Then she hooks a hand over his neck and tugs him down into a kiss.

"You're beautiful," he says.

"And impatient," she replies, hitching up her hips. "We've got a plane to catch, remember?"

***

They go to Zurich first, where Celine meets one of her father's far-flung financial acquaintances. He does something mysterious with the money leftover from Celine's kidnapping; neither of them pretend to understand or care. Celine has enough money to live in the manner in which she's accustomed, should she choose, and she sometimes does.

They never spend more than a week in any one place, and they bounce around Europe like teenagers on a gap year. Celine gets tanner and blonder, and starts making contacts in the underground world of white-collar crime. Robert buys a laptop that's entirely too fancy for him, but it allows him to actually start working on a novel. Not the one about the offspring of JFK and Marilyn Monroe; inspired by Celine's forays into slightly less-violent crime than their spree in California, he begins a new one about two art thieves who are unwittingly on the same heist, and are betrayed by their client. With Interpol after them, they must make the choice between finishing their respective jobs, or obeying their wild passions. (Spoilers: they choose the latter.)

He generally lets Celine choose where to go and when to leave, rarely questioning it. Two and a half months into what is still ostensibly their honeymoon, but is coming to look more and more like the life they're going to lead, she books them tickets to the French Riviera.

"Monaco?" he says.

"Heard of it?" she asks.

"I've read about it," he says, neglecting to mention that he's read of it in The Lonely Millionaire's Secret Bride, by Lucy Swindon, Harlequin Press, 1992.

From the look that Celine gives him, she's already assumed as much.

Robert clears his throat. "But really, why Monaco?"

"I'm in the mood to gamble," she says.

"Gamble," he repeats. "Is this the legal kind of gambling, roulette wheels and whatever? Or is this gambling with our lives while stealing other people's fortunes?"

Celine smiles gently. "We go to seek a vast perhaps."

He rests his hand on the curve of one of her hips -- one of the few soft places on her body. She's entirely a woman, Celine is, but not entirely womanly. Nearly as tall as he is, with none of the generous curves that he'd grown accustomed to (though he'll be the first to admit that she's got the greatest breasts to ever grace the earth), he doesn't often think of Celine as a woman, never mind a lady or a girl or anything. She's just Celine, an entity unto herself, with a fondness for guns and tequila and the kind of thrills that usually involve the threat of death dangling over one or the both of them. His wife.

"So, the latter, then," he says.

"Naturally."

now:

Robert's actually managed to slip into a light doze when the bucket of icy water is thrown into his face. He jerks so hard that his chair nearly tips over.

"Easy, young man. Here, let me just--"

The blindfold is snatched from his eyes, and Robert blinks in bewilderment, or tries to, at least. His left eye is still swollen shut, and it takes him a second to focus his right eye on the man in front of him.

Nobody under the age of fifty has any business calling him young man, Robert thinks. Especially this twat, who looks all of thirty-five, and is dressed like the headmaster at some silly prep-school for the children of inbred nobility.

Robert shakes his wet bangs out of his eyes, and wonders that he's managed to get kidnapped by such a twat. Celine is going to be furious.

The man looks at him curiously, takes in Robert's puffy eye and bruised face, the bloodstains on his collar from where the blood from nose dripped down his chin.

"You hurt him?" he asks, not looking away from Robert. Two men stand by the door, and Robert wonders why their faces seem so oddly twisted, and he realizes they're wearing pantyhose over their faces. Really? They couldn't just spring for a balaclava?

God, he's gotten snobby about methods of kidnapping.

"He didn't exactly come with us under his own free will, did he?" one of them answers, and Robert recognizes the voice as Thing One.

Thing Two adds, "Besides, ain't like he didn't throw a few punches of his own."

Robert grins behind the duct tape, feeling a fleeting sense of victory. That's right, he didn't go down easily. He's not a man to be trifled with.

"I wanted him unharmed."

"Christ, man, it's a black eye! How else were we supposed to grab him off the street? Politely suggest he get into the trunk of the car? Tell him there's a kitten and a chocolate in there?"

The man turns and shoots them a glance. Both of them shuffle their feet and look down, which Robert finds a bit odd. This man looks like a poncey schoolteacher. He looks about as dangerous as Robert does on a good day, which is to say, not very dangerous at all.

"Sorry," Thing One says.

"Sorry, boss," the other adds.

The man sighs, as if to say I'm not angry, I'm disappointed. Then he pulls a handgun from underneath his coat, and shoots four times BANG BANG, BANG BANG, quick and rhythmic, like someone tapping their fingers.

Robert doesn't piss himself, but it's a very near thing. The other two men -- who are still standing, warily looking at the bullet holes about four inches from their faces -- weren't so lucky.

The man wrinkles his nose at the acrid smell of gunsmoke, and waves it away. "You're free to go, gentlemen," he says.

Exeunt Things One and Two, tripping over themselves and each other in their hurry to get out the door.

When he sees the look that Robert is giving him, he shrugs.

"Good help is hard to find. But what are you gonna do?"

Not overreact like a psychopath, Robert would say if he could. It's probably best for all parties involved, actually, that there's still duct tape over his mouth.

The man sighs again, and then, to Robert's alarm, leans forward and reaches for his neck. Robert flinches back, tries to twist away, but the man is relentless. Robert tenses, but the man doesn't actually touch him. He unbuttons Robert's shirt instead, which sets off a whole different set of alarm bells. None of it changes the fact that he's currently tied to a chair, however, and quite stuck where he is.

The man unbuttons Robert's shirt down to his waist, then yanks the collar of his undershirt until it tears down to his sternum. The man pushes the fabric aside, gazing at the puckered scar on Robert's left pectoral muscle. He touches it lightly, and Robert feels the oddest sensation, as if cold light were seeping through his skin. Not the blazing fire that cut through his chest on that strange, strange day when he got the scar; something cool, sharp, like sunlight in winter.

"You know what the saddest thing in the world is?" the man asks Robert. He actually waits, like Robert might answer him.

Robert, still having duct tape plastered over his mouth, shrugs.

"It's to watch everyone on Earth fall in love. To see this, this celestial beauty touch people's lives. When you see it as often as I do, you start to think of it as this kind of miraculous mechanism; you line people up like dominoes, give one of them a gentle push, and they all just... fall."

This, Robert would like to tell him, is certainly not his experience of love, but duct tape. Also, psychopath with a gun.

The man crosses his arms, still gazing at Robert's scar. "I thought, people were meant to be in love. It was a sanctified form of ecstasy, who wouldn't want that? Who wouldn't take it when it was in their grasp? And then one day, I realized. That what seemed glorious beyond measure was actually a base experiment in procreation. A failed experiment, no less."

Robert watches the man carefully, starting to get a little worried about where this is going.

"The saddest thing in the world," the man mutters. "Humans need the intervention of angels just to pass on their genetic sequences. You're like farm animals that way."

Robert thinks of the half-dozen negative pregnancy tests that lined the garbage bin in the castle and feels a solid, cold anger sink into his gut.

"Anyway," the man says, "My opinions on the matter didn't make me very popular with my boss, so I lost my job. I've been stuck on this ball of mud for the last two centuries. And let me tell you, watching the things that you apes got up to in that time?" He spreads his arms. "Feeling more than a little vindicated."

Robert has more than a few questions for the man (two centuries? angels? what?), but then man takes the gun out of his holster. He doesn't point it at Robert, just holds it in his hands, considers its sleek lines.

Celine, Robert thinks, as his heart starts beating painfully in his chest. Nothing more, just her name, and for a second he panics, thinking that he's at the end of his short and rather silly life, and he can't remember anything more of Celine than her name.

"This planet," the man says, "is so petty and cruel. And yet, God interceded on your behalf. I've had two hundred years of the silent treatment, but you--" He cuts himself off, looking angry and bereft. Robert could almost feel sorry for him, if he didn't want to kick his face in quite so much.

The man reaches forward with one hand, and -- with a gentleness that Robert isn't expecting, or even sure he understands -- pulls the duct tape off Robert's lips.

"Tell me," the man says. "What it felt like, to be touched by the divine. It's been so long, I've forgotten."

Robert licks his stinging lips, and says, entirely truthfully, "It felt like getting shot in the chest."

The man stands, smiling a little. "Yeah, that sounds about right."

He raises his gun, and Robert shuts his eyes. He thinks again, Celine, and feels a powerful rush of relief when it's accompanied by other memories: her swallowing down six shots of tequila, her aiming a gun at a bored adolescent's head, her in a nightgown and muddy boots with a gun dangling from her hand, her hauling him out a shallow grave, her kissing him in bed, her, her, her--

"It's-- it's beautiful," Robert hears the man say.

Then, before he has time to wonder what he's talking about: gunshots.

***

Celine didn't take naturally to many things. She was a failure at cooking, keeping a house clean, balancing a checkbook, understanding the finer points of high finance, animal husbandry, quantum physics, dream analysis, web design, and so many other things that she stopped keeping track.

Holding a gun, though, came naturally to her. It had always felt like a natural extension of her arm, since the first time one of her mother's boyfriends allowed her to shoot his air pistol when she was eleven. So when she finds Robert -- handcuffed to a chair, dried blood on the collar of his shirt, eye swollen, head bowed -- and a man aiming a gun at his head, finger ready on the trigger, she doesn't hesitate.

The Walther comes up. Her mind clears. She exhales. She fires.

The first bullet hits the man's gun arm, a tricky shot, but she didn't want him to spasm and blow Robert's head off. The next four bullets all landed in his center mass, between his belly button and his collarbone. He's still standing at the end of all that, somehow, so she squeezes off one last shot, hitting him dead in the left eye.

The man topples backwards slowly.

Natural as taking a breath.

Robert's so still that, for a moment, she irrationally believes him to be dead. Then he gasps, throwing his head back and sucking in air. It seems like no time at all before she's there next to him, running her hands over his face, shoulders, chest.

"I definitely pissed myself a little that time," he says, voice shaken. "Sorry."

***

By nightfall, they're in Barcelona. Robert already took a shower before they left Monaco, but he finds himself craving another one.

"How about a bath?" Celine asks. She's chosen a fancier hotel than what they've been staying in the last three months, with an enormous suite that could sleep Robert's entire extended family comfortably. He realizes now that Celine must feel a measure of security in luxurious settings like this, the same way that Robert always feels a bit more comfortable in narrow, uncomfortable beds with cheap linens: it's a sense of safety and familiarity that goes straight back to childhood.

"A bath sounds good," he says. "As long as you're in it, too."

The tub is big enough to swallow both of them up. He pulls Celine's feet into his lap and rubs them, watching her as he does. She looks small and disconcertingly fragile, which is not an adjective he has ever thought in conjunction with her. He tries to think of some way to gently break the silence.

"So maybe this is Stockholm Syndrome talking," he says. "But I feel a bit bad for him. The kidnapper, I mean."

Celine looks up at him. "You going to tell me he had a really good reason for kidnapping for you?"

"Course not, he was a total nutjob. Talked a load of shite about god and angels and being two hundred years old or something." He runs his thumb down Celine's arch, trying to put his feelings into words. "But then he talked a bit about love, what a great sham it is, a chemical stimulus for a biological drive, blah blah whatever. And I just felt bad for him."

"I still don't get it," Celine says, wiggling her toes as he rubs the ball of her foot.

"He's never had what we do. Never will, either, for obvious reasons." He cups her heel in his hands, marveling at its shape and weight, the calluses, the tiny, nearly-invisible blond hairs below the ankle that Celine doesn't bother to shave.

"I just feel so stupidly lucky," he adds, almost as an afterthought.

Celine sits up, sloshing water over the lip of the tub, and puts a hand on his chest, over the puckered scar.

"It was shining," she said, tracing the edges with her wet thumb. "I could see it. The man was mesmerized by it."

He lays a hand over hers, squeezing it.

"I don't want to lose you," she says. To Robert's relief, there's none of that odd fragility he'd sensed in the corners of her eyes and the slant of her shoulders. It's strong, angry, and defiant.

"You won't," he answers. "We've just barely begun, remember?"


after:

Gabriel enters the morgue, unseen and unheard. He checks the names on the drawers until he finds one labeled Jean Dupont. He waits a moment, then raps on the door. "You alive in there?" he asks.

"Ha ha, asshole," There's a groan. "Gonna let me out?"

Gabriel rolls his eyes, then opens the drawer, pulling out the shelf. Michael looks like shit, though at least his eye is mostly healed, if a little bruised and crusty with blood. A cup of coffee and a decent meal, plus a few hours asleep, he'll probably be right as rain.

Michael struggles to sit up, pawing at his foot to pull off his toe tag. "Come to gloat?" he asks Gabriel. "Come to rub my face in the fact that the nearest I can get to Heaven is some idiot's glowing gunshot wound?"

"I've come to offer you a job," Gabriel says carefully.

Michael stills.

"Not your old job," Gabriel hastens to add. "Not sure if you heard, but--"

"They promoted you, I heard." Michael waves away his concern; he was bitter for a while, that they'd replaced him, but he also remembers all the reasons he was never a good fit for it in the first place. "So, what then?"

"Two of my leading operatives are on extended sabbatical. The powers that be agreed you could come back on a trial basis."

Michael shakes his head. "Why now?" he asks. "I just tried to shoot one of your greatest recent success stories."

"There's been a shift in policy," Gabriel says. "Little bit more leniency, a little more willingness to forgive behavior that might have been considered... extreme in the past. If it gets results--"

"I still don't get it. Operatives are a dime a dozen, you can pretty much pick them out of the air. Why me?"

"Whoever does not know love, does not know God, for God is love," Gabriel quotes. "John 4:8."

How like an angel to answer a question with a cryptic quote from scripture. But God moves in mysterious ways: this much Michael has always understood.

"John was a drunk," Michael says.

"All the best apostles were."

Michael rolled over, setting his feet down on the cold floor. "John was a drunk, love is just a trick to get humans to copulate, and God is like the weird uncle at holiday dinners, trying to tell jokes that nobody understands."

"And yet?" Gabriel says. His face is stern, but his eyes are have a familiar glint in them.

Michael closes his eyes, remembering the clear light that had shone out from Robert's chest, the throbbing pulse of his love for Celine: the metaphorical made physical. A miracle, the first he had seen since he'd been booted down to earth for his blasphemy and fits of nihilism.

Against all likelihood and rationale, despite the darkness and discontent of this age--

"It works," Michael says. "Love still works."

"Love is a path of labor," Gabriel says, grinning. "But there are worse jobs in the world."