PART ONE — THE BEGINNING
every lover in the form of stars, the road
blocked. All night I stretched my arms across
him, rivers of blood, the dark woods, singing
with all my skin and bone Please keep him safe.
Humankind has always had the notion that it is neutral. A pervasive school of thought has endured for thousands of years and through the rise and fall of dozens of trendy religions that says people have the choice, even the responsibility, to be good or bad. Righteous or evil. Heaven or Hell.
People are wrong. And people have been wrong for thousands of years.
No person is born a clean slate. They are free of sin, sure, free of vices and humours and evils, but so were demons, once. No, people are born with souls already predisposed to one of two things: golden souls belong to the Light, silver souls belong to the Dark. They can fight their natures all they want, but good people will be good in the end, and bad people will be bad. That is humanity’s one truth.
But, then again.
There are sometimes situations where things are, figuratively, a little less black and white. Or, literally, a little less silver and gold. Things are murky. Unclear. People can be swayed; people can be won over.
Those souls, those contested ones, those are Louis’ responsibility.
But it’s not simple, not as easy as snapping his fingers, batting his eyelashes, and coercing a human to behave, to be righteous, to be good.
No, for every drop of good in the bucket, there’s a drop of bad to match. Nature needs balance. For every golden soul born into the world, there’s a silver one born too. For every guardian angel protecting the innocent, the virtuous, the pure, there’s a crossroads demon making deals with the corrupt.
For every soldier of the Light, there’s a warrior for the Dark.
So to balance Louis, there’s a Harry.
And they’ve been dancing for millennia.
But, of course, it wasn’t always that way.
Elis, Greece | AD 41
There’s a boy sitting just over there with hemlock woven in his hair, and for a moment, just a brief moment, Louis wonders if he’s an angel.
But, no. He shouldn’t be; couldn’t be, in fact. Louis, by right of his given place in the cosmos and all, knows every single angel born or made. He’s a Dominion, after all, and that’s what they do — angels are their purview. Every other immortal being spends their time wrapped up in themselves or their offerings or the humans that outnumber them like ants around a spider; they make sure the humans don’t get wild ideas in their heads to do something ridiculous that’ll blow up the planet; they stand at the Gates and judge the humans who want to enter, or they lounge in comfort behind the Gates and laugh at the mortals who are turned away.
But not Louis. Not the other Dominions. Their job is to watch the angels and the other immortals, the minors and majors and those that call themselves gods now and those who are trying to pass as humans. Every angel is Louis’ to guide, to watch, which means he knows every single one of them, their names and ranks and fears and triumphs.
And Louis might have spent the last year caught up in the Caligula drama in the Roman courts, but he never forgets any of his angels. Those are his brothers, his sisters, his family; new angels aren’t created so often that he wouldn’t recognize one in front of him.
And yet, there’s a boy sitting on a steep set of stark stone stairs, and he wears hemlock in his hair, and he looks like a face that Louis should recognize.
A breeze ruffles the chiton around the boy’s knees, the cloth white as untouched snow, his feet wrapped in rough sandals and crossed delicately at the ankle. The hemlock sits like a crown on his head, little white blossoms of poison braided through dark, curled hair. He’s watching the crowd around him as though it’s more interesting to study them than to interact with them; his every expression is so clear it’s like plucking a thought directly out of his head. He doesn’t like that man in the bright, flashy blue standing at the Phillipeon and staring at the statue of Alexander as though he too will one day have the epithet “the Great” attached to his name; he thinks that the priest’s apprentice currently scrubbing the grime off the frieze that runs along the front of the temple doesn’t deserve his honored position and that he himself could do a much better job; he thinks that the girls giggling nearby and peering at him from behind the palaestra are silly and superficial.
The boy scans the crowd; Louis can’t see his eyes, wonders at their color, wonders at their depth. Louis wonders if he lives near here, if the Grecians are so used to him that none of them stop and do a double-take anymore; Louis, in direct contrast, can’t pull his gaze away.
The boy keeps scanning, keeps scanning, and then his eyes catch on Louis and it’s like Louis has been pinned. They watch each other, angel and boy, as though sizing each other up.
The boy gets to his feet. Louis has a moment — ten seconds, perhaps — to decide. Does he run? Does he stay? Louis isn’t supposed to interact with the humans, technically, they aren’t his worry.
Well, they weren’t his worry, but then Louis watches the boy trip and nearly get run over by a chariot, and he starts to think that maybe he’s a little worried about this one after all.
“Τί πράττεις,” the boy greets when he’s finally (safely) crossed the road. He’s pink-cheeked from the near-miss with the chariot, but otherwise fine. “I’m Herakleitos.”
Glory of Hera. Well, it’s a fitting name, as the boy could pass for Hera herself with his wild, unrestrained curls and pale, soft skin, the feminine bow of his lips and the faint flush of his cheeks.
Louis smiles and digs in his head for the proper return greeting — sometimes it takes a while, all those languages rattling against each other up there, some of them not even invented yet — but the boy continues before he can say a word.
“You were watching me,” he says.
“You’re very beautiful,” Louis replies honestly.
“Oh.” It seems to stop the boy — Herakleitos — in his tracks. Then he smiles, and in that moment Louis loses his ability to catch the breath he doesn’t need, his throat going dry like an old well. “That’s alright, then.”
He lives just in the Pisatis district, north of the river, or so he tells Louis, but his mother is in a malaise and his sister is off with her friends, so he’s come to see Hera in her temple. Maybe an offering will soothe his mother’s headache and his sister’s irritability, he says, and shows Louis the lump of honey candy he’d smuggled out from under his mother’s nose.
“Hera likes sweets best,” the boy whispers, as though Hera’s statue, her marble ears, could hear. Maybe he thinks that’s true — it’s not, as Hera is miles away on top of her mountain engrossed in her own affairs, but something about the gesture strikes Louis as endearing.
“I saw Hera, not too long ago,” Louis says. “Nice lady.”
And then he remembers that Hera, to this boy, is an untouchable goddess. Not someone who can just be popped in to check on from time to time, not someone name-dropped casually into conversation. Not just another immortal in the legions that exist, who Louis has met countless times in the millennia before this boy’s branch of the family tree even blossomed.
Louis pretends to inspect the nearest temple’s cornices so as not to watch the dawning realization cross Herakleitos’ face. He can feel the boy’s brow wrinkling in confusion, can already hear the polite excuse so he can get away from the madman saying he’s chatted with the gods.
And this is why Louis doesn’t often actually talk to the humans, no matter how much he might want to.
Herakleitos, though, doesn’t mock or run or back away, muttering prayers for safety. Instead, he laughs, bright and loud like the horns on the warships out at sea, and the noise startles a pair of geese who had been minding their own business in a small fountain nearby.
“You’re very strange,” he says with a grin.
“You have no idea,” Louis tells him truthfully.
Herakleitos gestures widely behind himself, his eyes still caught on Louis’ face. “Sit with me?”
The Greeks were the ones who gave meaning to the olive branch in the first place, and this certainly feels like one being extended right now. Louis shouldn’t, he knows; Hera herself — who really is a perfectly nice lady but also quite a jealous old thing — would roll right off her throne if she knew one of her worshippers brought an angel to her temple. If she was in a really bad mood, something like this might even start a war, and Louis would never hear the end of it from the boys Upstairs.
But then Herakleitos says, “Please?” and, for some reason, that works. Louis inclines his head and Herakleitos grins once more, wide and dimpled, his eyes alight. He gestures again and Louis falls in step, the two of them weaving across the busy road and through the crowds flowing to the marketplace outside of the gates.
They’re outside the edge of the Olympian sanctuary, a sacred spot of land where all the temples and memorials and important villas are grouped conveniently together on top of a hill. The sanctuary is blocked in by thick walls, outside of which cats lay supine on sun-warmed limestone and children chase each other as their parents gossip and bargain. Louis lets himself fall a half-step behind Herakleitos, up the steep stairs he’d been sitting on earlier, through the Propylon, the great gate winged by tall, thick columns, and into the sanctuary proper. Hera’s temple is the first building inside the gate, modest compared to the temple of her husband but no less powerful in Louis’ eyes, pulsing with the ancient sigils and seals meant to keep immortals such as himself away but that are invisible to the eyes of the humans who come and go.
The peripteros, the boundary line around the temple made by bleached stone columns, is Hera’s last line of defence to keep out anyone unwelcome. But Louis is more powerful than she or her devotees will ever be, and he passes between two of the columns and into her courtyard with no more than a light shudder.
“You didn’t give me your name,” Herakleitos says as they take a seat at a bench near another fountain. The stone isn’t really comfortable, but it is warm from the midday sun.
“I’m Louis,” he answers. It’s a truthful answer as much as it is an outright lie; Louis will be Louis one day, or maybe that day starts today, but he also is and forever will be known as Leilel among the immortal classes. Still, he prefers Louis. Less ancient and clunky.
“Louis,” Herakleitos repeats slowly, the syllables foreign in his mouth. “I’ve not heard that before, what does it mean?”
“Famous battle. It’s French,” Louis answers unthinkingly. And then he realizes. “Or that’s what it will mean. Someday.” That’s not making it any better. “When French is invented.” And that’s the worst thing he could say at all.
Still, though, Herakleitos smiles delightedly, like Louis is his favorite new form of entertainment.
“So strange,” he repeats to himself, shaking his head a little. Then, “Louis. I like it.”
Louis finds himself biting back his own smile. “I’m glad.”
“Where do you come from?” Herakleitos asks, head tilted. “Not Greece.”
“No, not Greece,” Louis agrees. He considers saying, I’m from Heaven, actually, and if you look hard enough you’ll see my wings just to see Herakleitos smile his bemused smile again, but he decides to play it safe. “I was in Rome, and when the new emperor took over I was able to leave, so I came here.” He doesn’t mention that he had to leave because the new emperor took over, his job finished and history continuing as it was meant to do, but that’s also probably for the best.
“You’re not Roman,” Herakleitos disputes. “I have friends who are Roman, you are not anything like them.”
Louis isn’t anything like anyone but, again, that’s not exactly something he can say. He dithers for a moment, watching a hawk dip overhead. It’s quiet here, among the silent stone and trickling fountains, the statues not able to give away any of Louis’ secrets. Worshippers and priests are respectful in their quiet discussions, heads together as they confer about the needs of their gods or their own small, tiny lives, the chattering crowds of Elis outside the sanctuary made quiet by the thick gate and walls.
“That’s not what Zeus looks like,” Louis says instead. He nods towards the god’s temple, larger and more ornate than his wife’s. The statue of Zeus visible in the space between columns is, frankly, ridiculous, sitting tall and judgmental over everyone else, his chest like barrels tied together, his legs mighty and muscular, his hair like coiled ringlets. Louis suddenly wishes he had a reason to visit Olympus, if only to poke fun at Zeus’ wish fulfillment in the form of ivory and gold, and to ask if he personally visited the artist himself to make sure the statue came out exactly as he wanted.
“Oh?” Herakleitos chuckles. “Did you meet him when you met Hera?”
Louis was there when Zeus plucked his first lightning bolt from the sky, actually, the same way he was there when Quetzacoatl was given his wings and when Amaterasu and her siblings painted the landscape of the island they’d claimed for themselves. He was there when the earth Became, and he will be there when the earth dies.
But, also, yes; he did see Zeus the last time he met with Hera to discuss their family’s ridiculous squabbles and revenges, so he gives the easy (well, easier) answer.
“Yes,” he says. “And he’s much shorter than you’d think.”
“That says quite a lot, coming from you,” Herakleitos says mildly, and Louis turns to him, a shocked hand pressed to his chest.
“I am perfectly normal sized,” Louis disputes. “I checked to make sure before I came here.”
“Of course,” Harry says, then laughs again. The sound rings against the stones and trees, pure joy conjured up by Louis that lights him up inside like manna, like an offering in his name; he’s greedy with the sound, hoarding it, knowing without a doubt it’s a greater gift than Hera could ever deserve.
From outside their little bubble inside the column boundary, there comes a low whistle. A girl stands nearby, her long hair tied up and bound by a kekryphalos of gold netting, the thread shining in the sun, her chiton dyed the distinctive pink of madder root. “Herakleitos,” she calls. “Mother is calling for you.”
“I have to go,” Herakleitos apologizes, getting to his feet. His sister flicks a curious glance at Louis, but doesn’t say a word as he hesitates, as though he doesn’t quite want to leave. Louis understands completely.
Still, meandering, somewhat meaningless conversations can’t last forever. Louis waves his hand. “It’s fine. Ὑπίαινε, Harry.”
“That’s not my name.”
Louis just grins; Herakleitos is doing that smile again, the bemused one, like it’s a private joke between them even if he doesn’t quite understand.
“Harry,” Herakleitos echoes, rolling the word around. Then, as though it was his idea in the first place, says, “Yes. I’ll take it.”
“Good,” Louis chuckles. “Now go, your mother’s waiting.”
Harry follows his sister, tugging playfully at a curl of hair that’s escaped her hair net. The sanctuary seems duller now, even the sigils on the temples pulsing less brightly than they were before; sound rushes back in now that Louis isn’t hanging on Harry’s every word, idle conversation and the wind harmonizing around him.
“Will you be here tomorrow?”
Louis jumps, turns. Harry is there once more, watching him, leaned against a white pillar. Not quite pleadingly, not quite hopeful. Like he’s already resigned to a no, and he’s telling himself it’s okay. Still, there’s something there that makes Louis want to say yes, that tells him Harry wants that too. To say of course, to say I’m not leaving anytime soon.
But no. He shouldn’t be here tomorrow. There’s a man dying in China and he’s taking his dynasty with him, there’s a civilization in the deserts of what will someday be the New World that could use help pulling water from the ground to survive, there’s a Grecian goddess on a nearby mountain who Louis should probably placate since he used her temple as an excuse to talk to a human boy with a lopsided, wonderful grin.
“Yes,” Louis says. “I’ll be here.”
The smile on Harry’s face is worth anything Hera could throw at him.
It should end there. The entire tale should start and end in Elis, an immortal being caught in the hands of a human for a few minutes, just long enough to make a lasting impression on both sides.
Louis should go, to China to Mesa Verde to Ipswich to Derbent, to anywhere that doesn’t have a Herakleitos waiting for him to show up the next day. He should go and let this human be among his own kind, let his life play out as though Louis was never in it. Harry would be disappointed, of course, but his memory is fallible, just as fragile as the rest of him. In a few months, he’d forget the color of Louis’ eyes, in a year he wouldn’t remember the words they spoke. It was, by any account, a harmless conversation: an exchange of names, a discussion of what events brought them together, some meaningless back-and-forth about the gods that Harry assumed was some sort of strange joking on Louis’ part.
(Was that all that really happened? An entire exchange lasting perhaps five minutes, tops, with nothing of major significance happening in the duration? It felt like a lifetime, it felt like an eternity.)
(But maybe significance isn’t tied up in fanciful words or actions or the length of time spent together; maybe the significance of the conversation rests in the way Harry laughed, the way he tilted his head when Louis spoke as if to hear every word without interruption, the way the breeze plucked at the hemlock in his hair.)
Louis’ memory, unlike Harry’s, isn’t fallible, or short-lived. He remembers everything, including things that haven’t yet come to pass. The entirety of human history and future runs like a stream in the back of his mind, with wars and peace and births and deaths and speeches and treaties and anything else of importance stuck to certain segments, certain days, like pins stuck in locations on a map. Louis knows that here in this year, Caligula was assassinated and Agrippa was made king of Judea and, right there pinned in Louis’ mind as though it was a world event, something that changed everything, Louis knows that he met a boy named Harry.
So he doesn’t go. He can’t go.
The world is old and Louis is even older, but this, somehow, is new. And Louis doesn’t think it’s just because he has never really interacted with humans before, always watching from a distance. He didn’t have to speak to them to know how they were, all full of petty fears and instabilities, insecure in their own humanities. He looked at Harry and he knew, he knew he wasn’t the same.
The next day, Louis passes through the ward around Hera’s temple with another slight shudder, finding Harry already there waiting for him, toe tapping impatiently.
At the sight of Louis he smiles, wide and excited and happy, and even if this is a terrible, terrible mistake, Louis can’t bring himself to regret it.
A product of being immortal, one can safely assume, is that each day passes and seems exactly like the one before, until one suddenly looks back to realize a decade has gone by.
Or, at least, that’s how Louis’ life went before Elis. Before Harry.
He’d never bothered with humans before. They weren’t his problem, and seemed more trouble than they were worth. He had enough on his plate, what with the whole host of angels and immortals and their myriad of problems.
As it turns out, humans are fascinating. Their actions have little to no effect on the cosmos, there’s rarely even an effect on each other, but they are embroiled in emotional skirmishes and egotistical sparring with an intensity as though any wrong word could bring humanity itself tumbling down. Immortals can be petty too, this Louis knows well, but he can spend an afternoon with Harry on their bench outside Hera’s temple and hear more threats and arguments from the humans walking by than the immortal classes could issue in a whole decade.
In the future, humans will get to the point where those who are only interested in studying particular green-shelled crabs on the bottom of only particular parts of the ocean will have the chance to devote their time entirely how they want. That's how Louis feels, here in this bit of land next to a bit of water, a bit of life in the grand expanse of everything: he is a researcher, a collector. He’s learning to understand people, how they tick, and he’s got a world-class teacher to guide him through it.
“That’s Leonidas,” Harry says on Louis’ third day in Elis, leaning close so that his lips brush Louis’ ear. He nods toward a tall, slender man with mousy hair, his face screwed up like he smells something unpleasant. “His house is fighting with Tryphon over land outside the city. Leonidas’ slaves accidentally planted barley on Tryphon’s land, and now Tryphon says he should get the profits when it’s sold.”
“But he didn’t buy the seeds, or do the work,” Louis refutes quietly, watching Tryphon pointedly turn his back on Leonidas.
“Doesn’t matter, he owns the land where it grew. Now he’s saying if he doesn’t get the profits, he won’t allow Leonidas’ men to come back onto his land to harvest it so that no one gets to profit.”
“Incredible,” Louis murmurs, watching Leonidas and Tryphon eye each other from across the marketplace. Harry laughs, then points at a woman buying silks nearby and begins to explain her drama with the fishmonger.
Human scandals are even more fascinating when they directly involve people Louis knows; the longer he stays in Greece, the longer he roams the Elis streets with Harry beside him, the more he comes to recognize the faces around him. The goldsmith who urges Harry’s sister (Gamena, but she looks more like a Gemma so that’s what Louis calls her, and that’s what sticks) to view his delicate necklaces and brooches, the fruit merchant who likes Harry and lets him steal a couple of grapes as they pass, the palaestra guard who winks in greeting when the other guard isn’t watching.
“He’s trying to save money to go to Athens,” Harry says under his breath as they leave the goldsmith’s stand one morning, Gemma once again tempted by his wares but not enough to spend the coin in her purse. She’d lingered for a long time on a golden Herakles knot, the curves inlaid with precious stones, before they’d walked away. “His wife and children are already there, but they’re living with his family until they can afford to live on their own.” Louis looks over his shoulder and catches the way the goldsmith’s shoulders slump as, once again, he fails to make a sale.
About the fruit merchant, Harry whispers, “Her son was a friend of mine when we were young, but he fell ill and died. She’s always been kind to me, but I think I make her sad.” She does look wistful when Harry snags a couple of grapes, Louis notices, and his stomach twists in sympathy even if he can’t really understand how that feels.
The guard at the palaestra “wants to marry Gemma,” Harry confides with a grin, nodding back when the guard winks his greeting. “She keeps saying no, but he says he won’t give up.”
“Tenacious of him,” Louis says as they take a seat on their bench, the geese in the fountain nearby accustomed to their presence by now. “Why does she say no? Does she not love him?”
Harry’s brow wrinkles. “I’ve never asked.”
“Well why would she agree to marry him if she didn’t love him?” Louis asks, matching Harry’s frown. “I thought that was the purpose of marriage. To signify two people are in love and committed.”
“There are lots of reasons to get married,” Harry shrugs. “To continue a family line, to make sure a woman is taken care of if her family is gone, for a dowry or to gain property...”
“Yes, but are any of those reasons to want to get married, or are they reasons people have to get married?”
Harry frowns deeper, letting the question sink in. Louis lets him ruminate, watches the clouds pass lazily overhead, watches a priest laying an offering at the feet of Zeus’ statue. Watches questions and answers run themselves ragged across Harry's expressions.
If regular, non-Harry humans are interesting, then Harry is more striking than lightning. Louis could spend a millennium watching him move, hearing words roll off his tongue. He's spent centuries on earth and nothing has captivated him the way this person has, charm and wit and care and wild Hera-curls, an ocean of experiences and thoughts inside him that Louis wants to dive head-first into. When they part ways that evening, Harry is still lost in thought and Louis is still so enraptured by him he doesn’t even mind.
The next morning, instead of a standard greeting, Harry says, “I asked Gemma if she’s in love with the palaestra guard and she threw an apple at me.”
“So is that a yes, or a no?” Louis asks, bemused.
“I have no idea.”
Time passes, and if Louis thought his fascination with Harry would wear off, he was sorely mistaken.
Louis could spend a century parsing Harry’s thoughts like a miner chiseling precious metals. Harry sends Louis a crooked smile and Louis’ ribcage thumps; or maybe it’s not his ribcage but whatever lives under it, something that goes wild when Harry’s eyes meet Louis’, when their hands brush as they walk. He doesn’t understand Harry in the slightest, and yet he feels like he’ll never know anyone else so intimately.
They spend every day together: Harry wakes at dawn to help the baker deliver his stock of bread to the market, an easy way to earn a few drachmas and it gives him something to do until Louis wakes at a more reasonable time, when the sun is actually up.
(“Where do you live?” Harry asks once, and Louis stammers out something about a villa near the river instead of admitting to Harry that he sleeps in Hera’s temple, he and his conjured bed both invisible to any humans who might be around.)
(Louis doesn’t think Hera would mind. If she ever pops in for a visit, Louis will be sure to get formal permission.)
But then, once Harry’s deliveries are finished and Louis is awake and decently ready to deal with people, their days truly begin.
Some days, they don’t leave the house where Harry’s mother dyes clothing for the wealthy and powerful, silks turned opalescent blue from woad, royalty wool dipped purple from indigo plants, war-cloaks and sandals dyed crimson with madder. The air is always heavy with steam and fire there, heavy and oppressive, but still Louis likes it: the light teasing between Harry and his mother as they work in perfect, practiced sync, being invited into the little familial bubble over lunches and watered-down wine, watching Harry unclip his chiton so his chest is bare to keep the fabric away from the dyeing vats.
The first day he does that, the sun shining brightly overhead and pulling sweat to lay on their skin, Louis sees a wide, dark swath of skin across Harry’s torso for the first time. Harry notices, of course.
“I was a clumsy child,” he grins, as though he’s not still coltish in his movements, grown too fast into long limbs and a broad chest. He stills when Louis lays a hand over the scar, though, the dark skin cooler at the sensitive curve of his waist.
“I tripped and fell next to the fireplace,” Harry says, gesturing idly back over his shoulder at the house, the empty square in the wall blackened with ash and soot visible from here through the open windows. “A log rolled off the fire and burned me.” His voice is carefully casual, but Louis can hear his heart ricocheting in his chest, and for a moment he’s all too aware of his own hand pressing against Harry’s sensitive skin. But he withdraws his touch and smiles up at Harry, and Harry’s heartbeat settles back into something more normal.
“Good thing you outgrew that clumsiness, right?” he teases, and Harry tries to cover his grin with mock outrage.
On pleasant days Louis and Harry help Anthousa (“Call me Anne, παιδί μου.”) carry her basins out to the small, walled-in garden so they can work in the sunshine, the light coloring Harry and Louis’ arms and faces with deep tans as the summer reaches its zenith. They tell stories and myths to pass the time; Louis tells the slightly edited versions of his favorite stories, Noah’s flood and Jonah’s whale and Adam and Eve in the garden. Harry’s are full of his own personal embellishments, inside jokes with his mother or Louis that set them off in giggles.
Anne is by far the best, though, her low, soothing voice painting brilliant pictures of the gods and goddesses of Olympus, the battle of the titans for control of the world, Theseus and the minotaur, Achilles and Patroclus on the battlefield for Troy.
“Sometimes,” Anne confides to Louis as Harry tries to listen in, “when Harry was very small, he wouldn’t go to bed until I walked with him through every room in the house, making sure that the cyclops or the titans weren’t hiding in our rooms, waiting to get him.”
Louis grins, shooting Harry a wink through the steam, and takes the chance to tease Harry for it mercilessly later, walking with him from room to room and calling loudly, “No titans in here, Harry! You’re safe!”
On other days, they follow Gemma and her friends around the marketplace, watching her haggle for food or trinkets, exchanging gossip like commodities and smiles like treasures. Louis likes the atmosphere of the market, the crush of people on each side, mothers piling baskets high with fruits and grains, soldiers watching for trouble nearby, their swords polished and gleaming in their sheaths.
He likes watching others watch Harry, girls with hope in their eyes that Harry doesn’t seem to notice, little boys tugging on the hem of his chiton and begging him to play gladiators with them. (Sometimes they rope Louis into playing too, and he’s not quite sure he’d ever experienced pure joy before chasing a group of five-year-olds around on his hands and knees, he and Harry roaring like the lions in the Coliseum as the little warriors brandish their wooden play swords.)
He likes becoming a familiar sight next to Harry, an expected presence even if no one really knows who he is or where he’s from. Months pass and the call changes from Harry, there you are! to hello, boys! We were wondering if we’d see you two today and something about that makes Louis’ stomach flip.
Some days Louis’ need for adventure gets the best of him, and he pleads for Harry to take him somewhere amazing, somewhere spectacular. They steal onto the warships when the patrols are otherwise occupied and then leap into the river to escape the guard when they’re found. They climb the roofs of sprawling villas, looking out to see the winding blue of the river escape into the faint, horizon-stretching blue of the sea. And some days all they do is terrorize the town in the sweetest way possible, joking and laughing and distracting the merchants, setting little competitions for themselves like who can get the grumpy farmer at the market to smile first, or who can convince and coerce the rich men and women to give them more coins for sweetbreads.
“You got how much?” Louis asks one day, astonished and bemused as Harry pulls a handful of silver drachmas out of his pocket and dumps them onto the bench they’re sitting on. “How did you do that?”
Harry just dimples and shrugs coquettishly, and then gives half to Louis so they can hunt down some delicacies.
But Louis’ favorite days are the ones where he doesn’t have to share Harry at all, even with his own need for action and excitement. They walk along the riverbed and pick up stones, shells, bits of driftwood in interesting shapes. They make deliveries for Anne, and Louis watches Harry gape, wide-eyed, at the entrances to the wealthy villas, the wives of governors and generals waiting for their freshly dyed clothes. They spend hours and hours in front of Hera’s temple, on the bench they’ve claimed as their own, and now when Louis shivers as he passes through her protective wards it almost feels like a welcome, a roll of chills up his spine to let him know he’s in his new favorite place in all the universe.
“Do people marry for love where you come from?” Harry asks, about a week after the first time they’d talked about Gemma and the palaestra guard. Louis hadn’t noticed that it still weighed on his mind, but it seems like it does, the words pre-planned and careful. “Not that you’ve told me where you’re from, of course.”
No, that is one secret Louis still keeps close to his chest. He doesn’t think Harry would scream and run anymore, but that little niggle of apprehension remains that keeps him from being fully honest. Harry used to prod and poke for answers, but he seems to have made his peace with not knowing, at least for now.
“We…” Louis starts carefully. “We don’t have marriage, in the same sense that you do. If people have strong enough bonds between them then they elect to stay together, but they aren’t bound by laws or social rules.”
“No marriage at all?” Harry asks incredulously.
“Not really,” Louis hedges. “If two of… two of us feel that strongly about each other, there’s no need to involve others.” Harry still doesn’t get it, Louis can tell, though he’s trying hard to pretend he does. “Sometimes the people involved only want to be with each other, and that’s similar to your” — he stops himself just in time from saying human, but it’s a near miss — “Greek marriages. But sometimes these… bonds, these groups, are more like families rather than couples.”
“I still don’t understand.”
Louis digs for an example. “Back, erm. Back home, there’s a person called Lottie.” Cassiel is her name, actually, but just like Louis she’ll one day adapt to the times, taking the name Charlotte, then Lottie; some of the more old-fashioned angels still call her Cassiel but most don’t, not anymore. It’s a future that’s sure to happen, so most have already adjusted to it. “She and I… we have the same job, essentially. She is younger than I am but she was also chosen to do what I do, and so we stick together like a family would, for the most part.”
Last he saw Lottie was when they all gathered in Rome, the Dominions overseeing the changing of the guard — quite literally, because a whole new host of guardian angels flooded the emperor’s palace when Claudius took Caligula’s throne and it was Louis and Lottie’s job to control the transition — before he left for Greece and she left for Mesopotamia. He can feel her, though; it’s tough, at this distance, but he can feel her presence as though she’s standing right next to him, can feel the warmth of her thoughts as she acknowledges him reaching out.
“In my heart, she’s my sister,” Louis continues, smiling softly as the connection with Lottie fades away, the little echoes of life in another place disappearing. “We don’t have a mother, or. Um. I mean, the same mother. But she’s the closest thing I have to family.”
Harry is wide-eyed. “You’ve never mentioned a job,” he accuses, somewhat gently. “Or a sister. What do you do? Are you working now? Does your- does Lottie live here?”
“I do have a job, but I’m not working now,” Louis chuckles. “And Lottie knows where I am, but she’s not here. She’s doing her own work, and when we need to we’ll see each other again.”
“You’re so cryptic,” Harry sulks.
Louis laughs again, patting Harry’s knee. “Sorry, Harry. But if it makes you feel any better, it’s for your own good.”
“It doesn’t make me feel better at all, actually,” he says.
Louis is well aware, so he changes the subject. “Tell me about Gemma and the palaestra guard. Has she said anything?”
Harry visibly perks up a little at Louis’ question, even if he tries to stifle the reaction a moment later. “No. She’s being oddly silent about it all. And I don’t know how to get her to listen, but I think the guard could be good for her!”
“Maybe finding out his name first would help?” Louis suggests, biting back a grin. “Learning some basic information about a man before insisting he’s perfect for your sister could go a long way.”
“Good idea!” Harry says, jumping to his feet. “Let’s go talk to him.”
(They’re eventually chased away by the guard captain and chastised for distracting Cosmas — a fitting name for a man who looks at Gemma as though he’s seen every star, but still thinks she shines even brighter — but Louis has a plan. That evening, he and Harry sneak away to find the goldsmith, Harry’s coin purse jingling with the drachmas he’s saved from his morning bread deliveries. When Harry isn’t looking, Louis waves his hand and conjures up a few more drachma, just in case, and so when Harry pours the pile of silver onto the goldsmith’s counter, he’s pleasantly surprised to see he’s got more than enough to buy what he wants, and the goldsmith is ecstatic to make a sale. They take the Herakles knot armband Gemma had lingered over just that morning, thanking the goldsmith profusely, then sneak back to the palaestra to smuggle the armband to Cosmas.)
(The next day, Gemma has the Herakles knot on her arm and a permanent blush on her face, Harry is grinning so widely through the whole day that Louis finds himself smiling, too, and Louis slowly begins to comprehend that he’s in deeper than he even realized.)
Harry and Louis are lounging in the late summer sun on their bench outside Hera’s temple when a couple staggers around the corner, giggling and whispering.
“I missed you, Ψυχή μου,” a young man says, cupping a girl’s face. Her hands find the front of his chiton as their mouths meet.
“I missed you too,” the girl echoes, between kisses.
Harry clears his throat and the couple springs apart, going red. “Ah, Herakleitos!” the girl says, wide-eyed. “We didn’t know-”
“Go on, Euanthe,” Harry laughs, waving them on. “Find somewhere else. This spot is taken.”
Euanthe’s suitor gives Harry and Louis a long, bemused look before he’s pulled away, presumably to find another place to kiss each other without interruptions. Louis’ face feels hot, though they haven’t been sitting in the sun for long, the press of his leg against Harry's stealing all of his attention.
“What was that he called her?” he asks after a few minutes. His voice comes out scratchy.
Harry raises an eyebrow. “You speak Greek fluently.”
“Yes but not,” Louis waves his hands, “colloquialisms, clichés, that type of thing.”
“Ah.” Harry’s cheeks flush a little. “He called her ‘my soul.’”
“Oh,” Louis says. Then, “What are some… others. Other things to call people.”
“Pet names, you mean?” Harry asks, the pink of his cheeks going deeper. They haven’t looked at each other since Euanthe and her boy left them alone. Louis doesn’t know why, but he is sure he’s not going to look at Harry until Harry looks at him first. “Erm, there’s Καρδιά μου, my heart, μάτια μου, my eyes.” He clears his throat and murmurs, “χρυσέ μου.”
“What was that last one?”
“Chrysé mou ,” Harry pronounces slowly.
“I like that,” Louis says, echoing Harry. “Chrysé mou. What does it mean?”
Harry clears his throat again. “It means ‘my golden one.’”
Louis really likes that.
“Can I call you that?” he asks, and Harry stiffens next to him. Louis finally is able to make himself look, the worry he’s somehow offended Harry overriding whatever strange primal urge kept his eyes averted before. “I don’t have to, I didn’t mean-”
“No, I.” Harry stops. His cheeks are bright red now, his eyes bright. “Yes, you can call me that.”
Louis’ shoulders suddenly release their tension. “Good.” He nudges Harry with his knuckles. “Chrysé mou.”
To Louis’ delight, Harry’s blush doesn’t fade for hours.
Elis, Greece | AD 41
It’s been six months since Louis first came to Greece, and the hot, dry summer has finally faded out into autumn. Harry and Louis pool drachmas to buy new cloaks, the breeze off the river chilly as it sweeps around them.
Something’s happening, Louis can feel it; not here in quiet Elis, where Grecians move as they always have, as though time will wait for them to do what they want. No, it’s half a world away, somewhere different and new; forces are gathering, history is happening. It’s an urge like an itch in the back of Louis’ head; he doesn’t get direct orders from the Seven anymore, but this is about as close as he can get to an official summons before Michael himself shows up and drags him away. Louis can feel Lottie’s probing, questioning thought; she’s there, obeying the summons and wondering why Louis isn’t there with her, wondering if everything is alright.
Fine, he pushes back to her, concentrating hard on making the message pass through. I'm fine here.
And he stays in Elis. With Harry.
He can’t imagine going back to hopping around the world, staying aloof from people as though he doesn’t see them. As it turns out, he likes people. Angels are boring. Predictable. Pedantic. But people: people are kind and rude and petty and charming and vindictive and sweet and interesting and he’s happy here, among them. They’ve made him happy.
So he ignores the feeling in the back of his head. He ignores Lottie’s nudging, and the growing awareness of the call to go somewhere else.
Instead, he walks with Harry to Hera’s temple, early moonlight streaming down on them. Harry’s got a bit of cooled honey in his pocket, a placating offering for Hera to help his mother through her allergies as the farmers start to reap the summer crops. The night is mostly quiet, families ensconced in their homes for the evening, revelers at the taverns on the river too far to shatter the peace.
“Mother finished Gemma’s wedding dress today,” Harry says, the words only a little quieter than their footsteps on the stairs, the Propylon a dark shape above them.
“Oh, that’s good news,” Louis replies. Gemma and Cosmas’ wedding is unique, because Gemma doesn’t have a father or uncle to give blessing to her betrothed, and Cosmas, as a mere palaestra guard, doesn’t quite make enough money to be a suitable husband by traditional standards. Still, the two of them are overwhelmingly happy, almost sickeningly so, and Gemma will be married by her twenty-first birthday, so no laws will be broken.
Harry hums in agreement. “Mother is happy too, I think. She worried about Gemma being married to someone cruel or boring.” Harry takes a deep breath as they pass through the Propylon, taking a left around Philip’s memorial and through the wards around Hera’s temple. Harry sets the honey at her feet, lost in thought. Moonlight surrounds him like a silver outline.
It struck Louis, not that long after meeting Harry all those months ago, that Harry is the only human he has ever met whose soul Louis has not seen. It’s an automatic reaction, usually, a quick intake that lets an angel know who exactly they’re dealing with; normally it’s the first thing Louis does when approached, but something kept him from looking when Harry walked up to him the first time.
And it’s odd, a bit like being blinded in that one area when it comes to his best friend. Louis probably knows the immortal claims on every single other human in Greece: the goldsmith’s soul is the same color as his jewelry, the fruit merchant’s is the same silver as the drachmas that rattle in her pocket, Cosmas’ is gentle yellow like morning sunlight, Gemma’s is deep, striking gold like the Herakles knot around her wrist. Anne’s is gold, too, but more murky — common among mothers, who are morally upright and good, decent people until their children are in danger, and who then will do anything, break any laws set by gods or man, to save what is theirs — while Harry’s father, who Louis has never met but who he can read in the belongings he left behind when he went to war, had a soul silver like the reflection of stars on water. He knows all that, but he doesn’t know Harry’s.
Louis thinks that Harry’s soul is gold. It could be silver: it would be bright, not nasty dulled slate or vindictive cool grey. He’s cunning, Harry is, and he’s loyal to the point of doing what needs to be done — good or bad — to keep his loved ones safe. So Harry’s soul might be silver, sparkling like frost on the world. The downfall of those with bright silver souls, though, is that they’re actually good people in public, doing right by everyone; it’s in private where their selfishness shows, their anger or jealousy or greed. But Louis has seen Harry in the crowds of the marketplace just like he has seen him when he thinks he’s all alone, sitting in the carved window of his mother’s small house, watching ships on the river. And Harry is always, always good.
Louis imagines his soul isn’t just colored gold but cast in it, gilded like an emperor’s throne, shining like a king’s crown.
But he isn’t going to check. He has so many things he already can’t share with Harry, by dint of being who they are, what they are; human and angel, from entirely different worlds that just happened to intersect long enough for them to meet. This one thing, such a normal piece of knowledge by Louis’ standards, seems one step too far.
And, really, Louis doesn’t want to know. (Well, that’s not strictly true; he aches to know, just like he aches to know everything about Harry, the entirety of his being. But in this one small instance, the slightly more logical part of Louis’ mind is calling the shots.) He doesn’t want to look inside Harry and see all that there is to know about him; instead, he wants Harry to tell him everything instead.
He wants to know the deepest darkest crags of Harry’s innermost self because Harry wants that too, not because he’s an angel and he can know the deepest, most intimate parts of anyone just with a single look.
It makes Louis feel more human, to be able to have this one thing go the way other human relationships go. Harry can’t meet his parents, he never wants Harry to have to meet his siblings (no matter how much he thinks they’d love him, a choir of Dominions appearing never signals peace and tranquility). Louis isn’t a nice girl from a good family who Harry can marry and spend the rest of his life with. This is one thing that can go normally, or at least normal by Harry’s standards.
As though waiting for that thought to be complete, Harry clambers to his feet, finished with his prayers to Hera. He pulls his cloak tighter around himself, shivering a little in the cool night.
It’s ironic, Louis thinks later, that he’d been so trapped in his own thoughts of giving Harry one normal, human experience that he doesn’t even notice something very much inhuman right in front of his face.
It’s not odd to hear his own name; that’s not what’s strange. What’s odd is that it isn’t paired with Harry’s. They’re a matched set, Louis and Harry, at least according to the people of Elis. No longer two, but one. That should’ve been his first clue something was amiss.
The second clue could probably be the bright, unnatural light suddenly filling Hera’s courtyard, pouring off of someone appearing slowly in front of them, materializing out of nothing into something.
“Θεέ μου!” Harry curses, shocked. He jumps back a few steps automatically, taking Louis with him when he snags a hand in Louis’ cloak, until they’re back inside the columns (and, unknown to Harry, the protective ward) around Hera’s temple. Louis feels safer almost immediately, though the ward is definitely meant to be keeping him out as well.
“Louis,” the voice says again, and this time Louis isn’t so surprised that he doesn’t recognize it.
“Wait,” Harry says, hand still tight around Louis’ arm. “What?”
The light around Lottie’s form fades, leaving sunburst spots in Louis’ vision that he has to blink away. She’s wearing a long-sleeved robe that sweeps the ground, belted over a dress fastened with a brooch on her shoulder. Her hair was light blonde last time he saw her, but to keep from drawing attention in Parthia she’s gone brunette, tangled curls pulled back with a headdress. Her wide blue eyes are lined with kohl, expression blank but hiding multitudes.
“Louis,” she says for a third time. When he doesn’t immediately step towards her, sweeping her up into a warm hug as per usual, her head tilts just the tiniest bit to show her confusion. “We have to go.”
She doesn’t say why, or where; she knows he knows, that he’s been feeling it, the urge to go, to do what he was created to do. “I can’t.”
“What do you mean, you can’t?” she says, exasperation leaking through. “Of course you can. Michael is calling, the archangels are assembled. We’re only missing you.”
“Archangels?” Harry asks from behind Louis, his voice cracking. “Louis, what is going on?”
“I’m not going,” Louis says, voice dropping lower. “Lottie. I can’t go.”
“Louis,” Harry whispers again. Louis feels him freeze when Lottie’s eyes flick to him, her blue irises burning for a second like cool flame as they sweep him, head to toe, assessing him like he’s just some human. Just another in a long line; not like he’s special or interesting or good.
Louis’ skin prickles. She doesn't mean anything by it, he knows that, but surely if she took a second look she'd know. She'd see what he sees.
“Who are you?” Lottie asks.
Louis turns the slightest bit, keeping Lottie in his line of sight as he watches Harry swallow, the fear rolling off of him in waves.
“H-” he stammers, “Herakleitos.”
Lottie looks back to Louis, her brows scrunched in bemusement. “He's just a human. Is this what you're getting all out of sorts over? A little human?”
“As opposed to what?” Harry asks tremulously, but he shrinks back when Lottie shoots him another unimpressed look.
“This is ridiculous,” Lottie sighs. “The entire host is in Nanyue. The battle starts any moment, we’re stalling on your behalf. We have to go.”
She reaches out, takes Louis’ arm, pulling at him like the little boys who tug on the hem of Harry's chiton, begging to play gladiators.
“I'm not going!” Louis insists.
“Yes, you are!” Lottie says. She tugs hard on Louis’ arm and he can’t stop the reaction, the automatic rush of no and don’t and ENOUGH. His wings snap into existence, burning brightly on the edges of his vision, flared wide in warning. The world has gone red, his eyes fiery. His sword glitters in his hand, the stone in the pommel gleaming bright blue.
He is Louis no longer. He's the angel he's been trying to hide for nigh on six months.
“Fuck!” Harry cries out behind Louis, and there's the distinct sound of boots scraping as he scrambles backwards. Louis will explain in a moment, he will , but for now he keeps his eyes on Lottie; her eyebrows are raised and her own sword glitters in its sheath at her side, but she doesn't move to defend herself, doesn’t even look worried. Confused, maybe. Intrigued.
They haven't needed words to communicate in centuries, and being within arm’s reach of each other makes the connection crystal clear. Lottie flicks another infinitesimal glance at Harry, the tone of her thoughts surprised. All this over a human?
Louis wants to refute the implication, to tell her it's more than what she thinks, that it's not as strange as she's making it. But he can’t, not really; it is strange, it is unusual. Harry is just a human, but he’s Louis’ human.
Instead of a rebuttal, even a weak one, what pours out of him is a jumble of pushed-down feelings, the nostalgia of starlit walks by the river and the way Harry's knuckles feel like soft-edged fire when they brush Louis’ hand. Lottie takes it all in, her eyes going wide, wider, her mouth dropping open in surprise.
“Oh, Lou,” she says, and it's only at Harry's intake of air that Louis realizes she's switched to Enochian. “What have you done?”
“Please,” is all he says in answer; please don't make him go, please don't make him leave Harry, please don't tell him just how ridiculous it is to be an immortal who would give up everything for an insignificant, fragile mortal.
Louis’ wings flicker and fade out of existence once more, his sword dematerializing. It's dark now in the courtyard of Hera’s temple, the sigils and wards sizzling quietly from the outburst of Louis’ power.
He's Louis once more, and yet he's not sure he can ever just be Louis again.
“I can let you have tonight to… settle your affairs,” Lottie says finally, switching back to Greek so Harry can understand her as well. “That's the best I can do, Louis. Michael is waiting for us, and we have to go.”
Louis bows his head; Lottie should, by all rights, snag Louis by the wrist and drag him to his station right this instant. He's neglected his job for months, and he can't play at being human forever. No matter how much he'd prefer that.
“I understand,” he murmurs. He steps close to Lottie and wraps her in a hug, and when he pulls back he straightens the headdress he'd knocked askew. Love you, he thinks fervently.
He gets a soft love you too, of course in return, the sentiment echoing quietly in his head as Lottie smiles, still looking a bit befuddled by Louis and what she saw inside his head.
Then she's gone, probably to see her friend Aphrodite at Olympus since she’s so close, or maybe back to Michael for an update. She'll keep her word, and she won't be back before morning, but that promised time seems fleeting as seconds pass and still Louis can't turn around to face Harry and see his reaction. Louis can't hear the sound of the river flowing, or of night insects chirping in the trees; the world has held its breath to see what happens next.
Harry is hidden halfway behind a column, peering out at Louis and shaking. He's looking at Louis like he's seeing something impossible, but that's because he is; in Harry's world, best friends don't turn out to be angels in disguise. In no world is that meant to happen, and yet.
“So,” Harry says shakily. “That's your sister.”
“That's Lottie, yes,” Louis answers carefully. Harry snorts, his pupils still wide from adrenaline and fear. He looks like he might pass out at any moment.
“And you- you're an-”
Harry leans his forehead against the column, then laughs, once, incredulous. A bolt of lightning streaks across the sky overhead; Harry doesn't notice, hovering too close to a breakdown to see it, but Louis can see the sigils on the temples around them brightening. Louis realizes with a jolt that his little spat with Lottie was probably not the most subtle of events, and having it out right in front of Zeus’ wife’s temple was not the best of ideas.
“Harry, I know this is… a lot,” he tries, and Harry laughs again, slightly more hysterically this time. “And I will explain it all to you, I promise. But we shouldn't probably stay here very long.”
“Why?” Harry asks, chuckling wildly. “What's going to happen, will another angel come to escort us away?”
Another streak of lightning, this one making the air go sharp with static, the hair on the back of Louis’ neck rising ominously. “No,” Louis admits. “Not an angel…”
Harry finally seems to notice the sky crackling with electricity, and he's wide-eyed once more. “Is that-”
“Erm, yes.” A bolt strikes the ground uncomfortably close to them, and Harry yells, jumping closer to Louis out of instinct. Louis takes his hand, and tries his hardest to be soothing. “Alright!” Louis shouts at the angry thundercloud suddenly roiling overhead. “I get it, I’m sorry! We’re leaving!”
“So you weren’t kidding,” Harry pants as they sprint towards the Propylon, through the gate and down the wide staircase.
The scene suddenly strikes Louis as so inexplicably Harry, trying to hold a conversation as they sprint away from an angry god, that Louis can’t help but grin. “About what?”
“About knowing Hera,” he replies, hurdling a small hedge by the road, “the first time we met.”
A thunderbolt whizzes by overhead and Louis ducks, pulling Harry with him. Harry yelps again, his palm sweaty against Louis’.
“No, not kidding,” Louis answers, weaving them through the empty stalls of the marketplace. “C’mon, we’re almost there.”
“Almost where?” Harry asks, a little frantic as another lightning bolt shoots past them. “Where are we supposed to go to get away from that?”
He gets his answer when Louis leaps over a low garden wall and into the courtyard of Harry, Anne, and Gemma’s house. There’s a rumble of thunder that sounds a lot like Zeus grumbling in dissatisfaction, but he can’t do anything; Louis has been layering wards over this place for months now. An earthquake couldn’t knock the house down, he’s not worried about some petulant god up on his cloud.
Louis urges Harry to run into the house first, turning to salute mockingly at Zeus as the door shuts them inside. He’ll probably pay for that later; maybe if Lottie really is already in Olympus for a visit, she can smooth things over for him.
Harry leans back against the solid wood of the door, chest heaving from their run. The door won’t actually do much to save them if Zeus is really angry — it is just wood and steel, after all — but the wards on Harry’s room in particular are incredibly strong, and Louis isn’t too terribly anxious about the possibility.
“It’ll be fine,” Louis promises when Harry stays quiet. “He’s not really angry, he’s just embarrassed he didn’t even notice I was here. He tends to lash out when provoked.”
Harry shoots him a baffled look, then crosses the room. He lights a candle, throwing shadows around the room, then perches on the windowsill, drawing a knee up to his chest. He doesn’t say a word, but Louis sighs in answer anyway.
“I should’ve told you,” he starts, but Harry cuts him off.
“Yes, you should’ve,” he says, voice thrumming with worry and anger and fear.
“I wasn’t supposed to stay this long,” Louis protests quietly, a weak reply. “This was never supposed to put you in danger.”
“What do you mean?” Harry asks, then shakes his head. “No, I don’t care. Well, I do, but.” He sighs in frustration, running his hand through his hair. “Who are you? Let’s start with that.”
Louis doesn’t want to do this. He doesn’t want to scare Harry off, not now that he’s in too deep to just walk away. Maybe if this conversation was happening six months earlier it wouldn’t feel like this, but even with all his power he can’t change his own timeline. It’s now or never; he can walk away and spare Harry the knowledge, or he can stay and hope for the best.
He closes his eyes; let no one say he ever dared not to hope.
Louis can hear the moment his human disguise falls away to reveal the real him underneath, his true Form, because Harry gasps, audibly, like he knew something was coming but not this.
“Louis,” Harry breathes.
Louis opens his eyes.
Harry’s bedroom isn’t large enough to show the real span of his wings, so the tips drape awkwardly over Harry’s bed, his desk. The candle sputters from the rush of wind as they unfurl, but the little flame catches the colors of his wings perfectly; black and blue and purple, speckled with white like the night sky and iridescent. The sigils on Louis’ chest and arms burn like brimstone, like fire. His eyes are fire too, he knows, because the world in his vision has gone red once more. The crown on his head is like a flash of sunlight on steel through the dark as it appears, then burns away into something more like moonlight, glowing and prismatic and constant.
Harry is still there; a good sign, Louis supposes. He hasn’t run away yet.
“I am Leilel,” Louis says. His voice rumbles, shaking the walls of the room. “Enforcer of the night, Dominion over lessers. I was here Before, and I will be here After.” He lets his human voice fade back in, his vision going normal as the flames fade from his eyes. “And I’m so, so sorry I didn’t tell you.”
Harry puts an unsteady hand on the wall, like his knees can’t quite hold him up. Louis can hear his heartbeat, thundering away in his chest. He takes a tentative step forward, then again. His hand reaches out and touches Louis’ chest, fingertips warm even through the layer of wool that makes up Louis’ chiton.
“You’re real,” he whispers. “You’re not a hallucination.”
“I’m real,” Louis promises. He takes Harry’s hand, holds it tight against his chest. “I’m real.”
It’s quiet for a long time after that.
Harry stays perched on the windowsill; Louis wonders if it makes him feel better that the possibility of escape feels like an option. If that’s what it is he’ll let Harry have that comfort (and he definitely won’t mention that as long as Harry’s a human, Louis could track him to the ends of the earth without breaking a sweat).
His eyes are stuck to Louis’ wings, the only part of Louis’ real Form that hasn’t faded away yet.
Louis did that on purpose, knowing that’s the hardest part to reconcile in Harry’s mind: the sigils on his skin, the flash of a crown, the flames flickering in his eyes, those could all be tricks of the light, illusions and play-magic. But there’s nothing about Louis’ wings that can be explained away, nothing about the broad swaths of navy across the black feathers that can be painted with any human brush, nothing about the stardust trailing from the tips that can be replicated with anything found on Earth.
Louis is waiting for the questions to start pouring out of Harry any minute; he’s accepted that his best friend is an angel, he’s survived his first brush with a god, his natural curiosity is sure to shine through at any moment. Louis expects the first thing out of Harry’s mouth to be something about eternity. That’s usually what mortals want to know about, the part that affects them most. Heaven, perhaps; what’s it like up there? It’s been a while since Louis checked in Upstairs, but he could give some details. Or Hell. Is it really that bad? Louis has never been, but hyperbole isn’t an angelic strength, so it’s probably pretty terrible.
He should’ve known better than to think Harry would follow any sort of precedent, though.
“Do you have to go?”
Louis’ heart would break if he had one; despite the lack of actual organs there, pain radiates outward from his chest at the worry in Harry’s voice in a way he didn’t know non-stab wounds could do.
“Yes,” he says reluctantly. “Once I’m called, I have to go.”
Harry goes quiet again, slowly draws his other knee up so they’re both pressed to his chest. “Lottie,” he starts hesitantly, “she said Michael was the one calling you.”
“Yes,” Louis answers again. “Michael is a seraphim, they’re sort of. Well, they’re the highest in the angel ranks, there are seven of them. If he calls, I can’t refuse. I shouldn’t have made him wait this long, to be honest.”
“Seraphim,” Harry says, like he’s tasting the word. “Is that what you are?”
Louis would laugh, if the situation was less fraught. “No, not me. I’m a Dominion, fourth tier of the big angel ladder. I answer to them.”
“Make sure the rest of the angel population doesn’t cause any trouble,” Louis finishes.
“Right,” Harry says. “Right.”
And then he’s quiet again.
It’s late, or maybe early — Louis has the entirety of time and space running like a loop through the back of his head, but he can’t be bothered to figure out which it is. All he knows is that the deep black of the sky has lightened to purple on the horizon, and his time with Harry is dwindling.
It’s not goodbye. Or, well. It’s probably not goodbye. The heavenly host doesn’t get called in all that often, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be quick; he could be back in Elis within the week.
It doesn’t have to be goodbye.
He refuses for this to be goodbye.
“I’m going to come back,” he says. It startles Harry, his eyes flicking up to catch Louis’, then up to his wings as though to check those are still there, then back to his eyes. “I’m not leaving forever.”
“I want to believe you,” Harry replies quietly, words muffled by his knees.
“It’s the truth,” Louis promises. He folds his wings against his back to keep from knocking them against anything and crosses the room. He kneels slowly in front of Harry, still curled up on the windowsill. Takes his hand, hesitant as he can be. “Harry, with all my power, I swear to you, I will come back.”
It bursts out of Harry like water through a cracked dam: “Why?” he asks, bewildered. “Why are you saying that? Why are you acting like I’m the frightening one here?”
“No, really, I don’t understand! You’re an angel, an angel, a real life bit of Heaven in front of me and yet you’re looking at me like I’m- like I’m-“
“Like you’re what?” Louis asks. Harry’s hand is still in his, and it spasms like he’s scared.
“Like I’m the one that’s extraordinary,” Harry whispers. Before Louis can say anything to that, to reassure him that Louis has met every angel, every single one of them, from the lowliest, newest guardian angel to Michael himself and his stupid sword and his ridiculous heavenly armies, and Harry is more interesting than any of them combined; before he can say any of that, Harry speaks again. “You can go anywhere. Why would you come back? What is here that you can’t find anywhere else?”
Louis almost laughs once more, but incredulity shocks him into staying quiet. How can he not see? How can he not know?
Louis has been alive since life was a mere concept; he watched the summoning of Man into existence, he was there when Eve took the apple. He’s seen seas break the world into separate pieces, he’s watched empires crumble into dust. He’s seen wildfire consume cities, he’s seen the world painted white with snow. He has known the most beautiful humans to walk the planet, and he has watched the most powerful mortals gather their riches and influence around them and then die just the same as the poorest, weakest humans do. He’s met humans whose motives defy explanation, people who use their lives as battering rams, as tools, as weapons, as chess pieces.
None of that stopped Louis in his tracks.
But Harry did.
The breeze lifts Harry’s hair, the curls dancing around his face as he waits for an answer. He hasn’t worn his hemlock blossoms since that first day, though it’s not unusual to see him with a daisy crown, or one of Gemma’s jeweled pendants tucked among his curls. Louis always wondered why it was he chose hemlock the day they met, if Harry even knew he was wearing deadly poison as an accessory. He always meant to ask.
It hurts now, sudden and sharp, a knife twist, to think of all the things he thought they’d have time to talk about before he had to leave.
(He’ll be back. He’ll have time to ask. This isn’t goodbye. It isn’t.)
“What’s here that I can’t find anywhere else?” Louis asks, barely more than a breath. He tucks a wayward curl behind Harry’s ear, cups his cheek. “You.”
The first ray of morning light breaks over the horizon, splits the navy blue sky into shards of dawn; night is over. Louis’ borrowed time is over.
He leans forward and presses his lips to Harry’s.
A thousand thousand years have never created anything that could match this; Harry’s breath catches and he fumbles for Louis’ shoulders, hands clumsy with want that pours out of him in waves. His knuckles brush Louis’ wings and the jolt of sensation makes them flare wide, throwing the dawn-lit room back into mostly darkness behind him. It’s gentle but paramount, it’s fleeting but necessary. It’s like breathing in lightning and letting it crackle in his veins; like being immersed in liquid thunder, sinking into it like a warm bath.
Harry makes a soft noise in the back of his throat and Louis swallows it, holy blood jumping like a pulse. Harry’s lips are soft, petal pink and precious. He tastes like sweet wine, like honey; Louis wonders if that’s a human thing, or a Harry thing.
Lottie’s here now, Louis can feel the shiver in the air that says they’re not alone anymore, but he doesn’t pull away. Not immediately. Dawn is just breaking, he still has time.
“Louis,” Lottie chides behind him. Harry jumps a little, surprised, his teeth clacking against Louis’. Louis hums and doesn’t let him pull away, pressing another long, lingering kiss to his mouth before he lets him go.
“Come back,” Harry whispers, barely more than a breath of air against Louis’ lips. “Come back to me.”
“Of course,” Louis swears. He can’t step away, can’t do this of his own volition; he reaches a hand back instead, feeling Lottie’s small, soft palm press against his, her fingers squeezing in warning. “I’ll come back, Harry.” The air vibrates around them, Louis’ vision going shimmery. “I promise.”
And then Harry’s bedroom in his mother’s villa in Greece disappears around them, and the smoking battlements of a Han settlement citadel appear.
The heavenly host is here in its entirety already, perched like a flock of multicolored and overdressed birds on every available surface. The humans bustling around in controlled panic can’t see them; the host is here on supervisory basis only.
Michael stands at the centermost point of the citadel wall, his sword aloft. As Lottie and Louis shake off the dizziness from the jump to a new city, Michael makes eye contact with Louis and nods, a greeting and a salute.
He swings his sword forward, points it across the plains to the approaching Han army.
The battle begins.
Nanyue, Jiaohzi (present day Vietnam) | AD 42
Angel battles are destructive and all-encompassing, but there’s something about human war that’s so much messier. Blood flows and steam rises, swords chip and horses scream. Good people die too early, bad people die without reckoning for their sins.
They’re at Nanyue, a small country on the edge of the Han empire. Two sisters, the Trưngs, have retaken control of their land, named themselves queens with the support of their people and a small band of rebelling Chinese villagers. The encroaching army is the Hans, here to take back the city, to crush any rebellion.
The Hans will win. It’s already written, all that’s left is for it to happen. The sisters will be executed, become martyrs for the people. The Han dynasty will continue on, compiling provinces and territories, until China is split into the Three Kingdoms in about two hundred short years.
The heavenly host is to ensure that all happens according to plan. The Trưng sisters are smart, and have desperation on their side, but they are like a fingerprint compared to the fist of the Han empire. It would take a miracle for something else to happen, and the miracle-granters are all here and accounted for. Still, humans are funny. Sometimes things go differently than expected. So the angels watch, just in case.
Louis and Lottie have been stationed at the easternmost tower; they’re invisible to the archers around them, but visible to the guardian angels assigned to protect a certain few of those archers. The guardians influence their humans in their best interests, giving them the intuition to know when to step back, when to reload their quivers.
The morning was spent in battle preparations, the afternoon spent waiting for the Hans to offer one last chance for a surrender. Evening is creeping in as the sisters refuse and take to the front of their ragtag army, proud in their armor, just as they’ll be proud in death. Torches are lit to keep allies from stabbing each other, and a horn rings out, sounding a call to march. As battles go, this one moves quickly; no ridiculous posturing or envoy-sending. It’ll be over soon.
So, really, Louis and Lottie are just here until it’s over; the guardians don’t need help, the Virtues are even further from the battle than the mothers and children hiding in their homes, the Powers are up front behind Michael and his sword, itching to join the battle but knowing they can’t.
“That boy,” Lottie says. The eastern tower has cleared of soldiers so they’re alone, no armor clanking to cover her words. “Your boy, your human.”
Louis doesn’t look her way, continues watching over the battle instead. It’s not going well, but it wasn’t ever really meant to. Humans killing other humans, even in organized masses, are always going to be chaotic. The Han army is slowly circling the rebels.
But not soon enough for Louis to avoid this conversation.
Lottie picks her words carefully, but she decides on a simple, “Why him?”
Why him. It’s a good question.
“He’s,” Louis starts, but breaks off. “I-“ he tries again, but still nothing comes out. Lottie puts her fingers to her mouth, covering a grin. “Hush,” he huffs.
“Never thought I’d get to see you fall in love,” she says easily. So easily that Louis doesn’t even hear the words until he’s agreed.
“Yes, I suppose- wait, what did you say?”
“Love,” Lottie repeats. “That’s what this is, right?”
It shouldn’t be; immortals have fallen in love with mortals before, but those were demigods and witches and cryptids, not angels. Never angels. Angels are the first children of Heaven, they guide and protect humans but they don’t get involved.
Louis, because of who he is, what he is: Leilel, fourth-born, Dominion, enforcer of Night, protector of Creation… all those titles say he shouldn’t feel this way. Not about a human, not about anything.
But then what is this, this feeling that has hooked itself into him and refuses to be shaken free? Something that shouldn’t exist, surely.
But it does exist. It’s there, a rooted tree, a paint swirl of emotion that runs through Louis’ sanctified veins.
“He’s…” Louis tries again. “He’s good in a way I don’t really understand, it’s. It’s ambitious and cunning but also generous, and caring. And he loves with this… this passion that changes the entire city around him. And he…” Louis trails off, his smile small and unfit for their location, surrounded by the dead and desperate. “He is my closest friend. He knows me better than I know myself, and that is without even knowing who I really am.”
“Is he one of ours?” Lottie asks. Gold or silver? she’s asking; to her, it’s probably his most important attribute. And Louis doesn’t even know the answer.
“I haven’t looked,” Louis admits. “I wanted to know him without… without already categorizing him into Light or Dark.”
Lottie grins again. “That’s quite romantic, you know.”
“Is it?” Louis asks, deadpan. “Is it romantic to refused to peek at the deepest, darkest part of a mortal’s soul when I first met him just in case we might become friends?”
Lottie laughs, bright and sweet, but as the sound dies away so does her smile. The sisters out on the battlefield have been fully surrounded, their army decimated around them. Louis can see Michael and his host standing just on the edge of the field, watching the final moments of the short-lived war come to a close. Then Lottie speaks, and Louis doesn’t spend another second watching Michael. “How long does he have?”
The words themselves drip with pity, and Louis’ insides cramp from immediate, slashing worry. “What? What do you mean?”
Lottie turns to him, her brow furrowed. “He’s sick, Louis. Surely you see it.”
“No, I-“ Louis stands. He sways a bit with worry, and Lottie’s eyes go wide; his wings unfurl and spread wide in panic. “What do you mean, he’s sick? Sick how, Lottie?"
Lottie just shakes her head, her mouth open a little. Then the answer hits her. “You weren’t using your Vision, you didn’t want to see his soul,” she breathes, then, “Oh, Louis.”
“No,” Louis says, fists clenched so tight his arms burn with it. “I have to- I have to go.”
The Trưng sisters are captured by Han officers at the exact moment Louis closes his eyes and wrenches himself back to Elis, away from duty and back to Harry.
He opens his eyes and sees the river, his heart beating fast at the familiar sight of the Olympic sanctuary on top of the hill, the great gates of the Propylon open wide and welcome. He didn’t realize this little city by the sea had become home, but the warmth that rushes through him tells him that it is.
Then: “Louis?” a familiar voice asks, desperate hope clear in his voice, and Louis understands immediately why this place became home in the first place. Louis turns, and his wings flare wide again, this time for a new reason.
Harry’s standing with his toes at the edge of the water, as though letting the waves steal the heat from his body little by little. Moonlight wraps around him like it’s trying to keep him warm in Louis’ absence, the stars making patterns for Harry to trace in the meantime. He’s wrapped in a cloak, deep green and soft, a crown of hemlocks in his hair. He looks like the old tapestries, a maiden left waiting for her soldier to return from war, a rose held to her chest to remind her of his love.
There’s no rose in sight, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
“Harry,” he breathes. With the way Lottie was looking at him as though he was already the widow at a funeral, he’d almost expected Harry to be gone already, his fragile mortality swept away by some disease he didn’t even see coming. But he’s alive, and he’s here, and he was waiting for Louis because Louis promised he’d come back. Promised he’d come home.
Louis’ whisper is carried on the wind and he sees the moment Harry hears it, his smile spreading wide and wild. He turns, knees knocking clumsily together, and starts to run toward Louis, laughing in excitement.
“Louis!” he cries, giddy. Louis beams back, holding his arms open wide, planning to sweep Harry off his feet and kiss him until he forgives Louis for leaving.
Harry looks perfectly healthy, dashing towards Louis across soft sand. Louis wonders if Lottie got it wrong, if she saw something benign and mistook it for some kind of hidden danger. Louis could take a quick peek to double-check, just a tiny second of blinking his eyes to see what really is instead of the surface of what appears to be, and he'd know for sure.
He doesn't get a chance.
Harry's about twenty feet away when his knees buckle suddenly, sending him flying forward. He crumples unnaturally to the ground and goes still, immediately unconscious.
Angels don't have hearts; don't have any internal organs, actually. Louis’ human visage is little more than a well-place glamour and grace. His body runs off of his own holy blood, like a water wheel churning away.
Still, in the moment after Harry falls, Louis can feel the heart that doesn't exist stop cold in his chest.
His wings flare wide in panic. He runs.
Anne and Gemma react about as well as expected to seeing Louis materialize in their home right in front of them, frantic with worry, an unconscious Harry draped in his arms. Anne, clad in nightclothes with her hair loose and informal, gasps and stumbles back, nearly falling on Gemma, who shrieks in surprise and drops the candlestick she’d been holding, the little flame extinguishing itself against the stone floor and throwing the four of them into moonlit darkness.
“Louis?” Anne asks, voice shaking a little. “Is that you? What’s wrong with Harry?”
“Yes, it’s me, I-“ he says, then curses under his breath. “Hold on.” He wiggles his fingers where they’re supporting the curve of Harry’s spine and directs the flow of energy to the dropped candlestick, the wick still smoldering on the floor. The candlestick rises and takes its place in an empty slot on on the wall, and then Louis snaps his fingers and the flame flickers back to life.
Anne gasps again, more quietly this time, and draws Gemma close to her. “Louis,” she says, like she’s begging for an explanation.
“I don’t have time to explain,” he says shortly, voice only reasonably calm because he can still see the rise and fall of Harry’s chest, breath entering and exiting normally even if he’s unconscious. “Harry’s ill, he collapsed and fainted, and he needs help.”
Anne’s eyes go wide with panic but then settle, forced maternal calm pouring out of her. “Right” she says, then takes a breath and continues. “Gemma, fetch the physician. Louis, bring him to his room, we’ll set him there.” She leads the way as Gemma dashes the other direction, barely sparing a second to throw a cloak over her shoulders to hide her nightclothes before she’s out the door. Anne lights the oil lamp in Harry’s room with the flame from the candle, throwing his unmade bedclothes into shadowed view before Louis steps in front of the bed, laying Harry gently across the sheets.
His hands are shaking and useless, and he can only stand by as Anne finds a bowl of fire-heated water, dipping a spare bit of cloth into it and wiping Harry’s curls back off his face. Harry’s eyes are flickering under his eyelids, like he wants to wake but just can’t.
“You’re not human,” Anne says quietly, not pausing in her ministrations. “Are you?”
Louis has never felt less like the angel he is in that moment, power heavy in his hands and utterly useless now. He can alter the universe with a flick of his fingers, but he can’t pull the sickness from Harry’s body, not without damaging him; someone else probably could, but he can’t, wouldn’t have the faintest idea how. Still, he answers: “No.”
Anne lets out a slow breath. “Can you do anything?”
This answer hurts so, so much worse. “No.”
“Lottie!” he calls, both with his mouth and his mind, and Anne jumps at the sudden bark of noise. Louis will apologize later; he sends the shout out, back to Nanyue, where the rebelling sisters have been buried with honor, where the Han army is back on its way to the capital, where Michael and the heavenly army do their part to clean the mess. A shiver in the air, then Lottie appears a moment later.
She meets Louis’ eyes, then turns immediately to the bed. Harry is still unmoving in his unconscious slump, and Anne hovers over him, between him and the newcomer. Lottie takes a step forward and, softly, asks, “May I?”
Anne looks past her to Louis, checking for reassurance. Her trust swamps through him and he swallows as he nods, wondering if that trust is only offered because Harry’s health and life hang in the balance, or if Harry’s faith in Louis makes others trust him too; either way Anne acquiesces, nodding to Lottie and moving to sit at Harry’s feet, unstrapping his boots like she needs to do something to keep her hands busy.
Lottie takes another step forward until she’s standing over Harry, and then does what Louis didn’t have the desire, the strength, to do; her eyes flare icy blue as she looks at Harry and then into him, pinpointing the cause of all this and narrowing her eyes. She lays her hand on Harry’s abdomen and pauses.
“It’s here,” she says quietly, motioning for Louis. He hovers his hand over hers and, yes, there it is; a dark, malignant growth there under his smooth, unblemished skin, like a painting hiding a hole in a wall. “See it?”
Louis just shakes his head once, violently; he won’t look. He can’t look into Harry and be forced to confront this thing, this disease that saps the life from him when Louis can do nothing. He couldn’t even imagine being able to see Harry’s soul as he thought it was before, bright silver or gold, healthy and happy — he refuses to see it faded and faint from illness, drained of its strength.
“Fix it,” he says, blank. “I don’t- I don’t know what to do, Lottie, fix it.”
“Louis,” she says sadly.
“Fix it.” His wings flare into existence for the third time that day, his emotions pulsing like some sort of beacon, unruly and overpowering and ripping through him in ways he didn’t know they could do. He can’t- he doesn’t- he’s lost, powerful and powerless all the same in this situation. He’s immortal, he’s of the earth and of the stars and can manipulate elements without a second thought, but this is what matters and he’s worthless, bumbling and weak. Useless.
“I can’t,” Lottie tells him, laying a hand on his arm. “I have as much experience with human ailments as you do, Louis. And you felt it, it’s been there a while, and it’s spreading.”
Louis did feel it, dark and ominous like a storm cloud brewed inside Harry. Its tendrils are far-reaching, the disease not new but creeping.
“The physician,” he tries weakly. “He’ll know what to do, he can-“
“He can give medicine to ease the pain,” Lottie cuts in. “Herbs and potions, nothing more. If this was happening two thousand years in the future, doctors could perhaps fix him. But not now.”
“Then what’s the use of being who I am?” Louis explodes, wings fluttering in agitation. “What’s the use of being an angel who loves a human if I can’t protect him?”
Lottie doesn’t answer; she doesn’t have to. It’s clear on her face.
He was never meant to fall for Harry in the first place.
“I’m sorry, brother,” Lottie whispers. She kisses Louis’ cheek, grabs his chin gently so he has to meet her eyes. “It’s out of our hands. Don’t do anything you shouldn’t.”
Louis doesn’t answer — couldn’t answer, won’t ever swear that he won’t do what needs to be done, not if someone he loves needs his utmost — and her mouth pinches, but she nods in farewell and the air shivers, then she’s gone.
Louis breathes in slowly, a calming motion he picked up from Harry. He steps closer to Harry's bedside, hands clenching and unclenching rhythmically.
Anne reaches over, takes his hand.
For a moment, they're silent, watching the stuttered rise and fall of Harry's clammy chest.
What do I do? Louis thinks desperately. He feels the nudge of sympathy from Lottie inside his own head and he realizes that he must have flung that thought outwards too, pleading for someone to help, and Lottie’s worried non-verbal answer is echoed by his other brothers and sisters in far-off places. They offer no advice, though, just as useless as Louis right now.
If asked, he could conjure up a toy for a child, fill a table with food for a hungry family, rebuild a house fallen during war, but those are minor miracles. He doesn't have something of this caliber in his arsenal.
So, the question remains: what does he do?
As though she can hear him, Anne squeezes Louis’ hand. “We must wait,” she says softly, using her free hand to gently straighten the sheet covering Harry’s slumped, sweaty body. “And we must hope.”
Hope. Yes, Louis can hope. It’s all he can do now.
Angel and mother stand over the bed of the boy they both love, and they wait, and they hope.
The physician is, as Lottie predicted, useless: he feels at Harry's stomach, humming and tutting, and declares him unsalvageable, as though Harry is the chunks of marble chiseled off in the process of making a statue, rather than a living, breathing human.
“I could operate,” the man sighs heavily, wiping delicately at the sweat on his upper lip, “but it would be most dangerous, and mostly unnecessary. He would not survive the procedure, and I do not have the time.”
Louis’ vision flickers red at the flippant tone, but Anne squeezes his hand again and holds him back. “So there is nothing to be done?” she asks.
“I can make up a salve to keep his fever low,” the physician offers with a shrug. “And a potion for the pain, when he wakes.” He spares a look at Harry, still unconscious, and corrects himself. “If he wakes.”
Anne lets go of Louis’ wrist and he takes that as permission: his wings flare wide, buffeting the portly physician with a rush of air and making him turn to take in Louis in his full, avenging glory.
He stumbles back, terrified. “What are you?”
Louis can hear the pit-PAT of the man’s overworked heart in his rotund chest thumping heavily in fear, and that and the prominent shake in his voice erase a little bit of the rage Louis is directing at him.
Not much, though.
“I am older and wiser and greater than you will ever understand,” Louis thunders. “Now, you will make the potion. And you will bring it here immediately once you’re finished.”
The physician is pale with terror, pupils huge in his beady eyes. “R-right, immediately, yes!”
Louis exchanges a quick look with Anne, who is impressively blank-faced. There's a flicker of humor in her eyes though, and Louis wants to match it. Some light in the darkness, perhaps.
“And…” he adds, lifting his chin imperiously. “You'll bring us fresh fruit from the stall in the market.”
The physician doesn’t even blink. “Y-yes, of course!”
“The stall with the purple covering, not the blue,” Anne says, then leads toward Louis to say in an undertone, “The one with the purple cover is a regular customer of mine.”
“Purple covering it is,” Louis agrees, fighting hard to keep his mouth from twitching. He flings out a commanding arm. “Now go.”
The physician squeaks and scurries away, tripping over himself in haste. In the silence that he leaves behind, Gemma turns to Louis, eyebrows quirked. “That's a useful trick.”
“Mm,” Louis hums, his wings flexing. “Didn't even have to use my sword.”
Gemma grins. “You don’t have a sword.”
“I do too!” Louis says, affronted.
“Children,” Anne chides, still smiling herself. “Come help, we’ll move Harry’s bed to under the window. He’ll like the breeze.”
Louis doesn't tell this little not even forty-year-old human that he is not a child, has never been one, and has been alive since before her ancestors discovered fire, but she raises an expectant eyebrow at him and he rushes to help, properly chastised. He has Gemma and Anne help direct him as he snaps his fingers, directing a flow of energy to Harry's bed, lifting it gently off the ground so as not to jostle Harry.
Louis glides the bed over to the wall under the wide stone window, the same one where Harry perched and watched Louis with worried eyes after Lottie’s first visit, the same place Louis broke all the rules and kissed him for the first time. If Harry was awake, he could prop himself up with a few pillows and see outside, straight over the low garden wall to the river, to the cargo ships and military vessels docked at the gangways, to the ocean blue and wide beyond that.
But he's not awake, so he can't. None of them mention that, just rearrange themselves to watch Harry’s restless unconsciousness.
The physician is back within the hour, holding a flask of muddy green liquid. “A mixture of opium and mint,” he says, bowing low, never looking directly at Louis. “This will numb the worst of the pain.”
“Good,” Louis says. “And?”
The physician brandishes a basket of fruits and breads, bowing again.
“Excellent.” His eyes flare red and his wings snap open again. “Now go.”
Even Anne stifles a small laugh as the physician tumbles out of the room for the second time, frantic.
“We should fall ill more often,” Gemma jokes as she pops a grape into her mouth, but the laugh catches in Louis’ throat as he remembers exactly why they’re here, why their insides ache with worry and nausea. Anne is silent too, turning back to Harry, who looks small and breakable in his wide, sunlit bed.
More slow, agonizing hours pass until Harry wakes, and when he does it isn't a slow, peaceful process. Evening silence is startled as he jolts upright, eyes squeezing shut as he presses a white-knuckled fist to his abdomen, groaning.
Anne and Gemma rush forward. Louis hangs back.
He's suddenly not sure if Harry will even want him here, anxiety swamping through him; they left things so oddly, a torrid stolen kiss and then a moonlit reunion before Harry collapsed, and he's not sure if he's welcome.
“Mother?” Harry rasps, voice rough and rusted from disuse. His eyelashes flutter open, his gaze settling on Anne. He turns to find, “Gemma.”
“Careful,” Anne says, a hand to Harry’s back as though she’s the only thing keeping him upright.
And then he looks beyond them, his sleep-dulled eyes widening when he sees Louis there in the glow of a sunset, and he breathes, “Louis?”
Louis’ name in Harry’s voice stirs up a cyclone inside him, and he whispers, “Hello, chrysé mou.”
“I had the strangest dream,” Harry groans, leaning back and covering his eyes with his forearm. “Louis, your sister showed up but she was an angel, can you believe? And so were you, and you said you had to go because an archangel was calling you away to war, but then you ki-” he catches himself, clears his throat, “you said goodbye and then I waited for you on the beach until you returned.”
The ringing silence makes Harry drop his arm, taking in the pallid faces of his sister and mother. Harry isn't sure what his own face is doing, but it's probably not reassuring.
“Harry,” Louis murmurs, but doesn't know what else to offer.
Harry looks his way, a moth to a flame, and then it's like his eyes catch onto Louis’ wings for the first time since waking. They go wide, wider than Louis has ever seen, wide with understanding, wide with panic.
“Louis,” he gasps, “Louis, your wings, they’re out, they’re visible-“
“I know,” Louis reassures him. He wants to step close, take his hand. Kiss him. Kiss him until he’s better. He won’t, though. He gestures to Gemma and Anne. “They know, it’s fine.”
“So does your physician,” Gemma adds, smiling slightly like she’s trying to lighten the mood, squeezing Harry’s hand.
“Physician?” Harry asks. He tries to sit up further, but stops and presses his curled fist to his abdomen again. “What is this, what’s happening?”
The room goes silent, but Anne finally answers. “Harry, παιδί μου. You’re sick, baby.”
“Sick?” Harry asks, voice rising. “How? I don’t feel-“ He doubles over, coughs rattling in his chest. His palm is speckled with blood when he pulls it from his mouth, and he stares down at it in horror.
“We’re going to make it better,” Gemma says, confident except the shake in her words. “Right, Louis?”
Louis doesn’t answer immediately, and Harry looks up from his hand, his eyebrows tilting in worry. “Why are you standing all the way over there?” he asks. There’s fear in his voice. Fear and worry and something that feels a lot like the air between them before their first kiss.
Louis moves forward cautiously, stepping to Harry’s bedside. He waves his fingers to clean the blood from Harry’s skin, careful and soft. When Harry takes his hand, he tries not to squeeze too hard.
“I’m going to fix it,” he promises, even though he doesn’t know how. Doesn’t know where to even start.
“I believe you,” Harry says.
Night falls, the sun ducking behind the hills.
A week passes, two. Harry is too weak to do little more than sleep, restless with pain and slumped in exhaustion in equal parts. He spends a lot of time staring wistfully out the window, the cool autumn breeze sweeping his curls from his eyes. He’s not meant to be trapped within walls, he’s meant to be out among people, among life and action and different words besides how do you feel? He takes his potion diligently, opium and mint soothing the aches but making him drowsy, dizzy from the opioids swirling through his system.
For the first day, Louis stays on the other side of the room; a watchful guardian, nothing more, wings spread and ready if needs arise for quick action. He still doesn’t want to crowd in where he may not be wanted, doesn’t want to force himself into spaces he doesn’t belong, such as next to Harry, holding his hand tight, loving him so hotly he burns Harry with it. So he stays, diligent and silent, all the way across the room. Until:
Harry inhales deeps as he pulls himself from a drugged sleep, blinking fuzzily. “Lou,” he mumbles, syllables blurry. “Why won’t you sit with me? Have I done something?”
“No,” Louis replies, limbs hurting with the need to go to him. He doesn’t mean to stand, but his legs do anyway without permission from his brain. “Of course not, Harry.”
He doesn’t follow up with a question, just watches Louis unhappily and holds out a shaky arm. “I miss you.”
“I miss you as well,” Louis says. His feet step forward, and again. He tells himself to stop. His self doesn’t listen.
“You can’t fall ill, can you?” Harry asks, pulling his hand back a little. “Is that why you’re…”
“No, no,” Louis huffs a small laugh at Harry’s concern. “You couldn’t get me sick, no. I just wasn’t sure…” He shrugs, ineloquently. “Wasn’t sure if you wanted me here.”
“Louis,” Harry chides, sounding far too much like his mother, except for the racking cough that rakes through him. “Of course I want you here. I want you everywhere.”
He seems to realize what he said and his face goes pink, though he’s still holding his hand out determinedly. Louis takes another step and slides his palm against Harry’s clammy one, the heat of Harry’s skin warming him immediately. He hadn’t realized how cold he’d been without Harry to keep him warm.
He had realized that he missed this, though, simple touches with his best friend, love passed through fingertips and quiet smiles. Harry tugs weakly on his arm and Louis bends, letting Harry lean forward and press their lips together: a hello, a thank you, an I’ve missed you. Louis’ wings flutter so hard they knock Gemma’s book off a nearby table, pages flipping wildly, and Harry pulls back with a grin.
“I’ve got to get those fixed,” Louis complains, his wings twitching in excitement again when Harry laughs.
“No, don’t,” Harry disagrees. “I love them.” He traces a finger along a starburst on Louis’ left wing and Louis shivers, helpless.
When Anne comes to check on them later, Louis is acting as Harry’s pillow, Harry’s sleeping head heavy on his chest. His wings are crumpled awkwardly underneath him but he wouldn’t move for the fate of the world, and Anne doesn’t say a word, though she does smile as she places a tray of food nearby for if Harry feels up to eating at some point.
Louis doesn’t leave Harry’s immediate vicinity very much after that. He doesn’t need food, doesn’t have to sleep for more than a few hours every few weeks; it’s almost perfect, how suited he is to keeping vigil over Harry’s bedside, or it would be perfect if it wasn’t so terrible. He spends the nights holding Harry through his restless sleep, spends days keeping Harry’s mind off the increasing pain in his stomach and chest.
When Louis presses his hand there, the dip of Harry’s abdomen, he feels the cool blackness of the disease working steadily outward, up towards Harry’s heart, back toward Harry’s spine.
And so he doesn’t let himself think about it, and doesn’t let Harry do so either.
“Tell me a story,” Harry requests one afternoon. The breeze off the river has them huddled in Harry’s bed under blankets; Louis offered to close the window, raising his hand in question, but Harry told him he liked the color of the sky that day, and to leave it open, so that’s what he did.
“A story?” Louis muses.
“A proper one,” Harry nods. He nudges his head against Louis’ hand, and Louis runs his fingers through limp, sweaty curls. “I know you’ve got some good ones.”
Louis laughs, and he dredges up something he knows Harry will like. “You know the story of Phoebe?”
Harry’s brow scrunches. “The titan?”
“Yes, that’s her,” Louis nods. “Though I know her as Perrie. She’s a goddess of the moon, so we’re friends.”
“Angel of the night and goddess of the moon,” Harry says wistfully, running light fingers over Louis’ wrists. “Tell me about her.”
So Louis does.
Day in, day out, he talks about the titans and the gods, the legends and the myths. He tells the real stories, not the human-embellished ones, tells about Hercules’ fear of animals and how that made slaying the lion all that more difficult (though fear isn’t quite so heroic, so it was left out of the tales), talks about Pan, and how he was good with the fife but even better with people, funny and personable as if to make people forget what he was, talks about Persephone and how she’s the only demigod that has ever actually struck fear into Louis, sweet face and flower-bound hair hiding a mind cunning and sharp and cutting.
And when he runs out of familiar stories that Anne told Harry as a little boy, Harry tentatively asks about Louis’ own stories instead. About angels, and the heavens, of battles and miracles and humans in far-off places. Louis talks about the nine choirs of angels, from the lowliest guardians all the way up to the Seven Named. He tells Harry the story of the Fall, the advent of sin and the birth of demons. He talks of the great flood that cleansed the Earth; he tells about the giant on the fields outside of Gath (a cousin of Perrie’s, actually), felled by a stone from a slingshot; he tells about a Garden so perfect that humans couldn’t stay, cast out by their own humanity and curiosity.
Sometimes Gemma sits with them, playing a game of marbles or checkers with Harry as Louis talks until he runs out of words. Sometimes her future husband, Cosmas, sits with them when he doesn’t have guard duty, his eyes wide like a child, requesting his favorite stories over and over, so enthusiastic it makes them all laugh. Sometimes Anne does her dyeing work right outside Harry’s open window, so she can hear as well.
Sometimes it almost feels normal.
It's a month to the day after Harry collapsed on the riverbank that he wakes with the urge to see the sea.
“You can take me, right, Lou?” he asks, eyes wide and earnest. He's playing it up, Louis knows, but it's working. He itches to give in, would do anything just to see Harry smile (and, to be honest, taking Harry to the beach is a lot simpler than a lot of things he could be asked to do, like pulling down a star for him to hold in his hand, or tearing the side out of a mountain to make a shelter for them to hide away together).
“I can take you to the sea,” Louis agrees cautiously. “But do you think that's a good idea?”
Harry's mouth twists, sadness tilting the corners of his tentative smile. He doesn't argue, and Louis doesn't vocalize his reasons; there's no need. They both understand the situation.
Harry's disease — still unnamed, still dark and cool under Harry's skin like frostbite, like winter-dead plants — has continued creeping through Harry's body, winding blackened tendrils around Harry's organs. He's living off of pain potion and wine now, unable to keep food down for more than a few minutes. His hand grips Louis’ in the night and it's weak, his fingers fragile and thin. The breath in his chest stutters and stalls.
Louis is trying everything he can think of to halt the march of the disease. He summoned Lottie back to Elis to beg her to look for help, to find a spare miracle laying around that no one has claimed. She promised to look, but didn’t promise that she’d be successful. Every few days she reappears, looking contrite and worried.
“This is his story,” she said once. They were in a tableau straight out of a Michelangelo masterpiece (or, perhaps, in fifteen hundred years when Michelangelo starts to paint his masterpieces, a scene like the one they’re in will be his inspiration — again, timelines are tricky in Louis’ head). Harry was sprawled in sleep across the mussed sheets of his bed, Louis keeping him warm now with his arms tangled around Harry’s chest, Lottie perched on the window above them, watching the scene. “And it is his story whether you are a part of it or not. What is meant to be will be.”
“I can’t accept that, Lots,” Louis whispered after a moment. “If there’s something I can do, I have to try.”
“You know our purpose,” she argued quietly. “And you know we’re not meant to interfere with humans unless we’re told to do so. His entire life shouldn’t change just because you found yourself in it.”
Too late, Louis thought to himself. Out loud, he said, “If I have to rip fate apart to keep him alive, then that’s what I’ll do.”
His sister didn’t argue again, looking lost in thought. It was for the best, anyway; there would be nothing she could say to change his mind. Instead, she touched Louis’ shoulder in farewell, promising that if she found someone, or some thing, that could help Harry, she would let him know.
But they both know it’s not likely. Miracles are locked up tight, in secret rooms among the clouds, human locks and keys nothing compared to the blood sacrifices needed to open those doors.
So Louis branches out. He tracks down Perrie and her family in a seaside cavern, salt clinging to the walls in sparkling sprays. They’re like a group of sirens waiting for mortals to take them up on promises of forever, beautiful, strong women and lithe, gorgeous men, all with Perrie’s distinct gold coloring, watching Louis warily until Perrie embraces him in greeting.
“Louis!” she says brightly, and he hugs her close in return.
“Perrie,” he sighs back. It’s good to see her, it’s been far too long; still, this is the wrong time for pleasantries. “I need your help.”
Perrie promises to visit Harry the next night at midnight when her power is at its greatest — and when Harry sees her, half out of his mind with his pain potion swirling in his veins, he wonders aloud if he’s having a fever dream — but she’s apologetic as she places a delicate hand to his stomach.
“I can ease his sleep,” she says, and does at that exact moment, his skin under her hand pulsing cool blue as Harry’s eyelashes flutter and he drifts back into sleep. “I don’t have anything else for him, though.” She turns to Louis, her eyes sad. “I don’t deal with humans anymore, not since we left Olympus. I’m sorry, Lou.”
So he keeps trying. He goes at night while Harry sleeps: visits a witch in Waladli who boils a pot of herbs and gives the mixture to Louis, telling him to have Harry breathe it in. He finds a shaman in what humans will someday call Siberia, a medical scholar in Rome, a demigod in the Scottish Highlands. They teach him spells and enchantments, words of power and herbs of healing. They give him everything they've got.
Still, Harry worsens.
Helplessness is a wretched feeling, so if Harry asks for something Louis can grant — such as going to the sea — then Louis is going to make that happen.
It's a four hour walk from their little spot in Olympia to the mouth of the Alfeiós River where it funnels into the Ιόνιο Sea, and it's a two hour trip by donkey cart. Luckily, Louis doesn't have to bother with either of those methods, instead gathering up Harry in his arms and blinking, hugging Harry close as they instantaneously jump the twenty kilometers to the shoreline.
The wind still has the crispness of autumn but the sun is relentless in its warmth, bright and comforting. Gulls cry overhead, startled by the sudden appearance of two figures on their beach. The water is blue and the blue is everywhere, stretching from the tips of Louis’ toes to the horizon, vast and clear and cool.
Harry takes a deep breath like he’s being revitalized by the surf and the sand, his feet bare, his blanket tucked around his narrow shoulders.
“Thank you,” he whispers.
Louis takes his hand in answer, squeezing just once.
They spend hours there, talking sparsely as the waves roll in. Harry’s curls are windswept back into their former glory, wild and tangled around his face, dried salt and sand flecks of color among the dark strands. The sun does wonders for his pale skin, touching life back into his cheeks.
“I always wanted to be a sailor,” Harry murmurs. The sun is at its zenith, still warm even so far away.
“Did you?” Louis asks, turning to Harry in surprise. “It doesn’t seem like your type of career.”
Harry hums. “Maybe it isn’t. But there’s something about the sea, isn’t there? Something magic.”
“I've never really thought about it,” Louis replies. He was there when this sea was just a crater scooped from the earth, then splashed with saltwater and filled with life; he didn't feel any sort of nostalgia or meaningful thoughts about it before today.
After today, he thinks that'll probably change.
“When my father left for war,” Harry says, scooping up a handful of sand and letting it fall slowly back to the beach, “we stood on the beach and watched the ships until they disappeared. There were hundreds of us, mothers and children and parents and friends, all left behind by the soldiers. I was very young, I don't remember much, but I remember everyone crying, so I cried too. And my mother, she said,” he trails off, pressing a hand to his ribs as he shifts. “She said that my father would always be with me, as long as I stayed near the sea.”
Louis tilts his head. “Do you believe that?”
“I used to,” Harry says. A wave rolls up the sand, sliding over his toes, soaking the edge of his chiton. “It felt like he was with me, when I was here. Like there was a presence I could feel, but not see.” Another handful of sand. “I don't feel it anymore.”
There's a kelpie nest about a kilometer from here, and a colony of kētē just in the next bay, but Louis doubts those are what Anne meant by the spirit of Harry's father being here with him. Maybe she meant the way the rolling waves can sound like a heartbeat, disjointed but loudly, brazenly alive.
The sea, the beach, they crawl with life. Teem with it. Burst with it.
“Here,” Louis says, taking Harry's hand in his once more. “Close your eyes.” Harry obeys, his eyelids lilac in the sunlight. Louis buries their joined hands in the sand, digging his own fingertips into the cooler damp sand under the top layer, so that the back of Harry's hand is pressed to the earth.
Louis sends his consciousness out, nudging at the life hidden around them, crabs hidden in the sand and fish out in the water and gulls overhead, a pack of wild dogs up the beach, a fisherman out in his boat, the kelpies and the kētē, all of it. Then he channels that stream of other consciousnesses and directs it cautiously towards Harry, the brightest spot of life around, even dulled with exhaustion and illness.
It's different doing this with Harry, his human mind so vastly different than what Louis is used to; he doesn't even have to concentrate to reach out and find Lottie, to find his other siblings scattered around the world, Félicté in Assyria, Daisy and Phoebe, ever inseparable, in Cusco. He's never tried connecting to a mortal before, but surely the process is the same.
He nudges at Harry's mind. It feels familiar, like warm days in the sunlight outside Hera’s temple on their favorite bench, like cooled honey slipped into a pocket, like the green of the trees on the sea’s edge.
Louis pushes past the barrier, Harry’s mental protections flimsy and thin compared to immortal minds guarded by thousands of millennia and millions of secrets, and channels the stream of consciousness around them into Harry's mind.
Harry gasps, his eyes flying open.
“What is this?” he asks, bewildered. His eyes are unfocused, catching hazily on things out in the middle distance, probably trying to pinpoint the heartbeats he senses but couldn’t see before with his weak human eyes and ears. Louis blinks into his other Vision so he can see what Harry sees, the pinpricks of light all around them.
“It's life,” Louis answers simply.
“It's beautiful,” Harry whispers. “Is this what it's like for you all the time?”
“I have to be concentrating on it,” Louis answers, “and my senses are better than yours. But otherwise, yes.”
Harry's unfocused gaze swivels, looking overhead to follow a bird across the sky, looking out to sea at a swarm of fish evading the fisherman’s net. In the corner of his eye Louis can see when Harry turns to look at him next, and can hear the way his breath catches.
“You're glowing,” he says, touching the skin of Louis’ wrist like he can't believe it. “Gold.”
“Gold for the armies of Light,” Louis agrees. He doesn’t look back at Harry; he still doesn’t want to see the color of his soul like this, withered and weak.
Louis slowly pulls the stream back from Harry, not wanting to overwhelm him, and Harry's eyes focus once more.
“Thank you,” Harry whispers again.
“Stop thanking me.”
Harry leans over, presses a light, fleeting kiss to Louis’ shoulder.
“I never, ever will.”
One evening, Louis blinks awake from a quick nap and tries to wake Harry as well to give him his nightly dose of potion, and everything suddenly goes from a consistent status quo to terribly, crashingly wrong.
“Harry,” he murmurs, yawning. He pats Harry’s arm, his skin cool to the touch, affected by his weak circulation. “Come on, darling. Wake up.”
Harry doesn’t listen, doesn’t react at all. Louis prods him once more, and Harry’s head rolls unnaturally on his neck, flopping sideways.
Louis, for a moment, goes absolutely still. He refuses to let his mind follow the train of thought that is screaming for attention.
He's so still that, after a moment, he realizes he can hear Harry's heartbeat; faint and irregular, but still alive.
“Gemma!” Louis shouts, sliding out of Harry’s bed and clambering awkwardly to his feet. He paces the length of the room, his wings fluttering in panic behind him. His mind is flying through possibilities, options he’d long discarded unless the situation became critical.
Gemma bursts into the room, her eyes wide. “What? What is it?”
“Try to wake him,” Louis answers tersely. “I- I have to try one more thing.”
He blinks and reappears at the Olympic sanctuary, Hera’s temple deserted in the moonlight.
He shouldn't be here. This is beyond dangerous, it's potentially an act of war, but this is his last option. Nothing else has worked, no one else could help. He wouldn't try this unless the situation was truly, wildly desperate.
“Hera!” Louis shouts up at her temple. “We need to talk!”
She’s not an angel, and gods and goddesses have always had a touch more of the dramatic in them, so her arrival is less a blink into existence and more a cloud-swirling, lightning-filled affair. Hera floats into the entrance of the temple on a puff of pink cloud, face imperious and beautiful and, Louis notes, none too impressed.
“You have nerve, I’ll give you that,” she says, stepping from her cloud, her chiton flowing smoothly around her legs. Her tumbling curls are kept out of her eyes with a tall crown, a simple but effective display of power, pure gold glinting dangerously. “Why do you call me?”
“One of your people is dying,” Louis says, too panicked to worry about formalities, about the wordplay and teasing games Hera and her family love so much. He can’t be anything but blunt, not now. “He’s dying, and I can’t save him.” His voice catches; it’s weakness, but he doesn’t try to hide it. “Save him.”
She studies him for a moment, as if taken aback by the urgency in his tone. “Can’t you do it?”
“No, no it’s- it’s out of my hands, I can’t- Hera, please,” Louis begs.
“I know who it is,” she says, taking a seat in front of her own statue, poised in stone on her throne. She crosses her legs casually, head tilted. “The boy, the human you’ve been using my temple to woo all these months.”
“Yes, that’s-“ Louis says, then stops. Frowns. “I wasn’t wooing him.”
Hera rolls her eyes. “You think I’m oblivious to what happens within my own protective wards?” She lifts a hand and waves, the air between the columns around her temple crackling ominously, pink like the dangerous edge of a lightning bolt. “My husband overlooked your presence here, but I saw you. And you definitely were wooing him.”
It’s not important right now. It’s really, really not.
Hera tips her head, unimpressed. “I’m the goddess of monogamy and marriage. Do you really think you can fool me, trying to hide your love for him? It’s written all over you.” She sighs, waves her hand again. “The boy, he’s ill, correct?”
“Yes,” Louis says, knees nearly buckling with relief that they’re back on topic. “Harry — sorry, Herakleitos — he’s yours, he’s named for you, he prays to you everyday. Surely you can help him.”
Hera makes a noise that Louis would call a snort, except she’s far too regal for that. “Please,” she scoffs. “He hasn’t been mine in months.”
That’s- that’s not the answer Louis was expecting. “What? He prays to you, he brings you offerings, I watched him do it. He’s yours.”
“He prays, but not to me,” Hera confirms idly. “And the offerings are trinkets laid at my feet, yes, but not given for me.”
“I don’t understand,” Louis says, frustrated.
Hera laughs, high and tinkling. “It’s you, Leilel. The moment you arrived here, you stole his soul. He’s mine no longer.”
“I-“ Louis stammers. Holy blood rushes hot in his ears, making it hard to hear. “That’s- that’s not possible.”
“Perhaps not,” Hera says, inspecting her fingernails. “But the two of us, we do impossible things every day, do we not? So maybe we are quick to judge.”
“But does that matter?” Louis asks desperately. “He was still born to you and given your name, he still thinks he’s yours. Can’t you save him?”
Hera sends him a look so utterly baffled that Louis almost wants to laugh, his insides clenching like the holy blood has gone bad, dark and sluggish in his veins. “You are one of the most powerful creations in the universe,” she says blankly. “You were created long before I was, you’ve seen and done so much more. If you can’t save him,” she asks, her cloud materializing around her feet, thunder rumbling in the distance, “what makes you think I can?”
And then she’s gone.
Along with Louis’ last, distant hope.
When Louis returns to Harry’s side, he’s awake, but only just. Sweat mats his hair, and the veins stand out in his arms, his wrists. His breathing is labored, heaving chest pulling in gasps so deep that his spine bends off the bed, back bowed by pain. Anne sits at the top of the bed, Harry's head in her lap, combing limp curls from his eyes. Gemma sits at his feet, her eyes red and teary as she watches her little brother fall apart. Cosmas is in the corner, his usually cheery face drawn and worried. And then there's Lottie, perched above it all once more, watching from the windowsill.
“Louis,” Harry mumbles when Louis reappears at his side. He throws out a hand, squeezing his eyes shut as another wave of pain rolls through him. “Louis, please.”
Louis takes his one thin, fever-warmed hand and squeezes it between both of his own. He holds it to his chest, to the place where his heart would be pounding if he had one, where his sanctified blood rushes and thumps painfully instead, hurting for this boy who should be able to grow into being a man, but who will never make it that far.
“I tried,” Louis chokes out. He aches; no, that's not the right word. This is more than mere soreness, more than a pain that can be overlooked, worked through. This is a pain so deep inside him it's debilitating, like a strand of sharp wire wrapped around his very essence, his lifeforce, tightening with every gasped breath yanked out of Harry. He does so much more than ache — this feels like dying.
This feels like Falling; like fire and ash and sulfur.
“Louis,” Harry mumbles, head thrashing in his mother’s lap.
“I tried,” Louis repeats, words cut through by tears that collect in the corners of his eyes. He drops to his knees, brings Harry's hand to his mouth, presses innumerable kisses to his knuckles. He doesn't know if these words are for Harry, in the slightest hope that something will make it through Harry's haze of pain, that maybe he'll hear and understand and, somehow, forgive Louis for his failure. Or maybe these words are for Anne, supplication and a beggar’s plea for forgiveness, for not being able to save her child. For Gemma, for letting her brother be taken from her. Or perhaps for Lottie, maybe in an attempt to prove that, somehow, handing his immortal heart over to fragile human hands was worth it, if only because it was Harry who got to have him, have his heart, for a little while.
Maybe he doesn't have a reason at all to say these things at all, but the words will claw their way out of him if he doesn't let it happen freely anyway.
“I tried and I failed you, chrysé mou,” Louis whispers. Tears pour and they sting, sting like salt in heavy, horrible wounds. “I spoke to everyone I knew, I tried everything. It wasn't enough.”
Gemma sobs once at that, pressing her hand to her mouth. Cosmas stands and crosses to her, letting her bury her face in his side, tears cutting tracks down his face as well.
Harry doesn't answer, maybe he can't. He might not have even heard; Louis will never know.
Time passes in interminable leaps and drips, and Harry slowly goes quiet, his tired body conquered by pain and disease. His heartbeat thumps like something heavy and labored, a concentrated effort.
At some point, Lottie murmurs, “Louis,” pulling his focus from the bead of sweat that rolls down Harry's temple. He looks up and sees what she sees: the little garden outside Harry's window where she perches, the walled in space where Harry and Louis spent countless days helping Anne with her dye work, teasing and joking and, unbeknownst to either of them, falling in love; in this little space waits a small crowd of immortal beings, watching over the proceedings.
There is Perrie, her moonlight gown glowing gently, a pearlescent crown on her brow. There are Louis’ siblings, worry etched on their faces: Félicité and Daisy and Phoebe, called here by their brother’s anguish sent across the world.
And there is Hera, beautiful and untouchable in her divinity. She inclines her head when Louis meets her gaze, then slowly fades out of sight; hers was a show of support, one that he’ll be expected to return someday. He appreciates the gesture nonetheless.
There's a squeeze of fingers between his, and that recaptures Louis’ attention. Harry's eyes are mere slits, but he is awake, and looking slightly more lucid.
“Are those your sisters?” he asks, voice a mere rasp of syllables against shredded vocal chords.
“Yes,” Louis says, smiling shakily as a tear drops from the tip of his nose. “That's them.”
Harry’s answering smile is an echo of itself, but it’s still something to cling to. “I did always want to meet them,” he says. He shifts slowly, grimacing in pain, and turns to face Louis as fully as he can. His next words are ginger, as though he doesn’t know how Louis will react “You should go with them.”
“No,” Louis says automatically. “I'm not leaving you, not now.”
Harry takes in a deep breath, chest shaking like he’s swallowing swords. “There's nothing you can do here but watch me die,” Harry argues, and it's the most life Louis has heard in his words for the last week. Fervor shines through, a small glimpse of the Harry that Louis met, the Harry that he’s losing.
Louis closes his eyes at the implication of Harry's words. “Then that's what I'll do.”
“Louis,” Harry says, almost chidingly. He coughs, spots of red high on his cheeks. “I know everything about you. I know your memory is perfect, that you'll never forget anything as long as you live.” He coughs again, a wretched sound. “I don't want this to be how you remember me forever.”
“I'm not leaving,” Louis murmurs. “How could you think I would leave you now? I don't care what memories I'm saddled with. They'll be memories of you, that's what's important.”
“No,” Harry argues. “I don't want this.” His words grow louder, more frantic, his sluggish heartbeat picking up. “I don't want this for any of you.”
“Harry,” Louis says, “be careful-”
“If I request it of you,” Harry asks, voice wobbling, “will you go?” He turns to look at his mother this time, his sister. “All of you. Will you go?”
“Harry-” Anne says.
“I don't want to put you through this,” Harry whispers. “Don't you understand? I can't- can’t be what causes you pain, not anymore.”
He doesn't understand, Louis realizes slowly, making eye contact with Gemma as she, too, comes to the same conclusion. Harry thinks that when he's gone, their pain comes to an end. But of course that's not true, of course it’s not; Louis is in unimaginable amounts of pain right now, watching his love suffer endlessly. But when he's gone, when the world is bereft of Herakleitos, the pain will compound into something new and so, so much worse.
But they can't tell him that. Harry can't- he can't die knowing that he's leaving his loved ones in heart-wrenching, earth-shattering grief, not when he’s already had to see the effect his illness has had on them so far.
“I can't make myself leave you here,” Louis whispers. “Don’t make me go.”
Harry's lip trembles. “Don't make me watch you stay.”
That’s the spear that shatters the shield, that’s the drop of water that breaks the dam. Louis sobs, tears coursing down his cheeks. He wonders if this is how humans feel while drowning, gasping to pull in the hope of a little more air, just a little more, just to survive another few seconds.
At this rate, Louis doesn’t think he’ll make it to the surface.
He takes a deep breath — can’t breathe, drowning, but he doesn’t need air, right? He doesn’t even have lungs, doesn’t need oxygen, but then if that’s true why does it feel like his ribcage is caving in? He burns, his throat aches, his eyes sting, he can’t make it stop, make it stop, make it stop — and says the worst three words ever uttered.
“Okay,” he says. The word breaks like a wave against a rock. “I’ll go.”
Harry’s head falls back into his mother’s lap like a string has been cut, tears streaming in waves. He’d asked for it, but he hadn’t actually wanted it; Louis feels the little selfish root in the tears, wanting Louis at his side until the very end, but sending him away because, once more, he’s trying to save others in place of himself.
“I’ll go,” Louis repeats, still gripping Harry’s hand as tightly as he dares. “But I need you to promise me something first.”
Harry turns his head to the side to look at Louis again; his lip trembles like it hurts to look. Louis knows it definitely hurts on his end. “Anything, Lou,” he mumbles throatily.
“Don’t spend-“ Louis starts, but then has to close his eyes, breathe in through his nose, try again. “Don’t spend your last bit of time dwelling on the sadness.” He reaches out and traces the bow of Harry’s lips, red-bitten and raw, pulled down in anguish when they should always be smiling. “Think of good things,” Louis begs. “Let yourself feel happiness. Or if not happiness, at least not regret.”
“I second that,” Anne adds quietly, her own tears silent. She runs her hand through Harry’s curls again.
“I’ll think of you,” Harry promises. He’s red-eyed and debilitatingly thin and shaking like a vase in an earthquake, he’s sweat-drenched and pale and lank-curled, but he’s the most beautiful sight in Louis’ long, long life. “I’ll think of our temple, and I’ll think of the sea, and I’ll think of you.”
Our temple, he says, and Hera was right — Harry is Louis’, fully and wholly Louis’, and Louis didn’t even know. Our temple; it rocks him to the core.
“I love you, chrysé mou,” Louis whispers fiercely, gathering Harry’s hand in both of his once more and pressing Harry’s knuckles back to his lips. “I love you more than I thought was possible.”
“I love you,” Harry replies, shaky but sure. “You make all of this worth it.”
Louis leans down and presses their lips together. Salt mixes with the taste of Harry, cooled honey and warm wind, and Louis drinks it in like manna. He can’t imagine this being their last kiss, but that’s what it must be; he’s not going to deny Harry his dying wish. He’s never going to deny Harry anything ever again.
“Go,” Harry says, voice strangled and choked with tears. “Go, and go with my love.”
Louis’ sisters are suddenly there, all around him, propping him up and urging him away. Harry looks small in his bed when Louis looks back at him, frail and fragile, tears coursing down his cheeks.
Louis throws his head back and wails, anguish pulling at every atom of his being, and then Lottie tugs his arm and they’re gone.
Louis’ sisters take him as far from Greece as possible, settling on the tundra thousands of miles north of the edges of the Roman empire. There’s nothing here to break Louis’ heart, or whatever he has instead of a heart — angelic glory and enough pain to fell a titan, he’d think — just ice and snow and whiteness, blankness.
Félicité conjures up some heavy cloaks and Daisy lights a fire with the snap of her fingers. They don’t get cold but it’s nice to pretend, to huddle together as though body heat and the little fire is all that will keep them alive tonight, here on the expanses of the edges of the world.
Hours pass in silence; Louis thinks the twins doze off for a while, but Lottie and Félicité are still awake, resolute on either side of him, their arms woven through his.
Morning breaks in a place where no human has yet stood.
And Louis sees none of it, mind preoccupied with the thoughts of who he left behind.
Vyadhapura, Kingdom of Funan, (present day Cambodia) | AD 42
Lacking anything else to do, or anywhere else to go, Louis follows Lottie to Vyadhapura, where small settlements of city-states are building up into an equally small kingdom. This time, unlike in Elis, he stays invisible to the humans around them, and he and Lottie watch in silence from on top of the thatched roof of a hut as elders meet and discuss the building of a temple. The mens' guardian angels watch from nearby, sometimes flickering curious glances at Louis and Lottie, but well-trained enough not to ask any questions.
It’s still morning of the same long, never-ending day, sun bright in the sky, when something in Louis’ chest clenches. It’s not possible for him to be sure, but somehow, he still knows.
Eblana, Iouernia (present day Dublin) | AD 101
He checks in with his sisters from time to time. He’s there with Lottie as Judea falls to Rome, he joins Félicité in Teotihuacán as new pyramids are dedicated to deities and rulers, he spends a few years with Daisy and Phoebe watching the Romans build the baths at Aquae Sulis. He never stays long — not long for angels, at least — and never tells them where he’s going next. He sees the concerned looks, hears his their murmured worries when they think he’s not listening.
He doesn’t mind. It makes them feel better to fret over him, and he appreciates that (in theory, if not in practice).
That doesn’t mean he’s going to acquiesce to their demands to stay present, to stay visible. He just can’t do it; decades fly out from underneath him, years passing without his notice. He can’t pull himself back into the present — it just doesn’t interest him anymore.
He doesn’t think of Harry, if he can help it. Hot hurt has dulled over the decades, cooled into an icy ache somewhere near his spine. He thought maybe that would be easier, the numbing of it all, but he’s not sure if it’s done anything at all, actually. It’s not any easier to bear a heavy, cold weight than it was to live with the hot ball of regret in his stomach.
Nothing is easy, not anymore.
He’s settled on an island, green like nothing he’s seen before, to while away a few years until he gets bored and tries somewhere new. There are humans here; Louis doesn’t speak to them, doesn’t make himself visible, in his true Form or his human disguise, either one. He knows there won’t be another Harry out here, he was too unique for that, but there might be someone else that worms their way into Louis’ life.
Louis can’t let that happen again. He’s borne the brunt of humanity’s fragility once, he can’t do it again.
So he stays hidden.
Eblana, the settlement is called, or at least that’s what Louis’ mind makes of the syllables the locals say. Their language is interesting, a far cry from the harsh, hard edges of Latin, different from the rolling, rhythmic Greek Louis lived with for a year. It fits them, though, these hardy people who claim they came from the sea, cheerful and red-cheeked and bright.
“Dia dhuit, ” says one of the locals right next to Louis’ ear. He doesn’t react, knowing they can’t be talking to him; he’s still invisible to any mortal, and if they approach where he’s sitting they’ll get the inexplicable urge to move somewhere else instead so he won’t be bothered. He’s perched on the edge of the freshwater well in the center of the village, right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of daily human life. He’s sure the person speaking is probably just greeting someone else.
He can’t interact with them, with humans, won’t let himself, but he still likes to be in the middle of it all. It’s his one allowance to himself. He just won’t get attached to any of them, that’s all.
“Oi, are ye deaf?” the person says next to Louis. A pale hand snaps in front of Louis’ face. “Heiloooo .”
Louis turns, irritated, to find someone looking right at him. It’s so unexpected that he curses, the Greek curse Harry taught him slipping out without thought, “μὰ τὸν Δία!”
“Oh, that’s interesting,” the man grins, eyes wide in interest. “Not from around here, are ye?”
“How can you see me?” Louis demands, then coughs. He hasn’t spoken in… well. It’s been a few years since he’s seen his sisters, and he doesn’t bother with anyone else. He’s a little rusty. “Can everyone else see me?” He sends a little flare of energy from his fingertips at a woman hanging her laundry from a tree nearby, the energy nudging her like an insistent breeze. She swats at it like it’s an insect, but doesn’t turn around. “Can you hear me?”
“Think it’s just me, mate,” the man says. “Not to worry.”
Louis furrows his brow, then blinks into his Vision. The man is formed like a regular human, bones and muscles and sinews and tissues, but his blood is… different. It looks oily, luminescent and strange. Otherworldly.
The cheerful smile hasn’t left the man’s face, though Louis has the oddest feeling the man knows exactly what Louis was just doing. “Call me Niall.”
Louis could disappear in the blink of an eye, could go anywhere else in the world and not have to deal with another living creature. He could do that. But… something in him doesn’t want to. “I’m Louis,” he says carefully.
“Tá áthas orm buaileadh leat, Louis,” Niall says, dipping his head again. “Fancy a walk?”
“A walk to where?” Louis asks, but he automatically matches Niall step for step as he turns, leading Louis out of the village on the main path.
“Around,” Niall says airily. “How long’ve you been in Dublin?”
“Dublin?” Louis asks.
“Oh, right. S’not the official name, yet, but it will be,” Niall says, winking as he points at the tiny settlement back over his shoulder. “We’re working on making it catch on.”
“How do you-“ Louis starts, then cuts himself off, frustrated. “Who are you?”
“We’ve met before,” Niall says. He sticks his hands in the pockets of his léine, shuffling his boots a little as he walks. For a moment he’s so reminiscent of Harry in his chiton, thin legs bare from the knees down, slim and lithe with his cloak draped around his shoulders, that Louis’ stomach twists. “I recognized you. I was still going by Aengus, back then.”
“Aengus,” Louis repeats slowly, then it clicks. (It’s like Harry said — he never forgets anything. A blessing and a truly unbearable curse.) “Oh, Aengus, I remember,” Louis says. “You’re one of the Tuatha!”
Niall nods. “One and the same.” He looks askance at Louis. “You weren’t going by Louis, then, either.”
“Yes, well,” Louis hems, kicking a pebble on the road in front of him. “A lot of things can change in a millennium.”
Niall laughs quietly. “True.” He whistles for a moment, a trilling sound that a bird somewhere in the trees echoes. “I don’t know if you’re looking for company, but there’s always room in the Court,” he offers, still looking away as though he knows Louis couldn’t stand it if he was watching him right now. “You’ve met me mate Bressie, haven’t ye? He’d be delighted to see you.”
Louis has met Bres, a giant, cheerful half-god who charms everyone in his sight. He always kept a lively Court, even a thousand years ago; Louis remembers spirits pulled from the ground so potent that even he was affected, days spent with a dizzy mind and a blurred vision and so much laughter and joy he didn’t know what to do with himself. At another time he might’ve wanted that. He doesn’t now.
“Or,” Niall offers easily, still looking the other way. “I’ve got me own place, up near Maelblatha. Don’t spend a lot of time there, but it’s quiet. If you’re wanting to talk, or something.”
Louis doesn’t want to talk. Louis doesn’t want to spill his feelings out to someone with objectivity who can take a new look at a situation he’s been trapped in for over half a century now. He doesn’t want help, or affection, or a friend. He wants… he wants…
“Oh,” Louis says, surprising himself. “Yeah, I… I would like to talk.”
Niall takes Louis’ arm and twists, turning on the spot. Time and space squeeze around them and suddenly, they’re somewhere new.
“Home,” Niall says, sweeping his hand out wide over what is little more than a rolling green pasture. Nearby is the edge of a forest, tall greenery arching high overhead. Niall leads the way to a well-beaten path between the trees, dirt soft under his boots, the silence echoing back bird calls and wind in the leaves.
“Maelblatha?” Louis asks, stepping delicately over a small flowering shrub.
“Aye,” Niall says. “Though I’m thinking of changing it. Was thinking something like…” They step out of the trees and into a glen, serene and soft-lit with afternoon sun. In the center of the glen sits what can only be described as a miniature castle, gray stone ivy-covered like it’s being reclaimed by the woods. “Mullingar.”
Niall doesn't rush Louis into a heart-to-(metaphorical)heart as soon as they settle into his home. Which is good, because immortals are set in their ways and Louis has been set in his since before the cosmos were a twinkle in the sky. And since the last person he opened up to broke his heart by, well, dying, he's not particularly eager to open himself up again.
A few days pass. Then a week. Then another.
Most of the time, Louis doesn’t have the energy for exploring and adventuring the way he used to, back with- back in Elis.
Sometimes he and Niall spend hours in front of the fireplace in Niall’s ancient home, drinking cool wine and watching the flames in the fireplace flicker, Niall following Louis’ lead on conversations. The castle is expansive, hidden away from eyes not meant to see — “Faerie magic,” Niall shrugs when Louis asks how that happened — and homey, worn quilts and generous furs piled onto every soft surface, like Niall is a bear nesting for the winter.
“Sorry for being a bad guest,” Louis murmurs one night over dinner, he and Niall alone at the long table in the formal dining room. “Haven’t been around others in… a while.”
“Not a problem,” Niall says, and he looks like he means it. “It’s just nice to have someone here. Can get a bit lonely, rattling around this old place by myself.”
On the third day he’s there, Louis discovers Niall’s library, and he decides then and there he might not ever leave. Books on every imaginable subject — and some unimaginable ones — line the shelves, from angels to dragons to werewolves to silly, wonderful humans, and the smell of old, ancient magic blends with the dry-dust smell of worn scrolls in a way that makes Louis’ stomach flip with happiness. When he starts getting that achey, hollow feeling in the pit of his chest like he does when he’s trying not to think about Harry, he digs through the carefully maintained scrolls and finds everything he can on angelology, going through with a quill and snickering at all the wrong information, pulling himself hand over fist out of that horrible slump of sudden sadness.
But there are some days Louis doesn’t feel like finding a hole to burrow into until the apocalypse rains down. On those days he lets Niall drag him around the countryside. He’s pulled along from the little patch of dirt of what-will-someday-be-Mullingar to the happy little hamlet of what-will-someday-be-Dublin. Up rolling hills and across dale and fen, under cool morning sky and warm evening rays. Niall catches Louis up on the fates of the other Tuatha, his demigod family who nearly rivals Hera and her brood for ridiculous intertwined stories and using humans to bait each other into war.
“Me mam created this river,” Niall says one day as they approach a gentle swath of blue cutting through the landscape, soft currents swirling foam around smoothly polished stones. “Lost her life to creating it, in the end.” He bends and trails his finger through the water. “She's still here, though. I feel her.”
He says it so nonchalantly that, for a second, Louis is envious. How long ago did Niall’s pain leave him, he wonders, and how long do I have to wait until I get to that point? Will he ever be able to stand at the edge of the sea and not think of the blue of Harry's veins under his skin? Will he be able to smell briny air, hear the rush of waves and the crash of surf, and not remember the navy-purple of bruises on Harry's delicate body, the smell of his hair, the curve of his laugh caught in a periwinkle morning?
But he looks again: Niall's face is peaceful, but not painless. He hides depth, not unlike this river, and Louis adjusts his train of thought. Thinks that maybe Niall's pain didn't leave, it just softened into something more bearable.
Thinks maybe all he wants is the same thing.
“Harry loves the water,” he hears himself say, taking a seat at the river’s edge, unlacing his boots and dipping his feet in. Niall doesn't freeze or flinch, doesn’t whip his head around to stare, nothing so obvious. He does slowly pull his hand from the cool current and take a seat next to Louis, though.
“Harry?” he asks easily. It's not even a prod for information, Louis can tell. If he was to say no one, forget it, Niall would shrug and let him be.
But he doesn't want to say that. It bubbles inside him; he wants to talk about it. About him. About his Harry. Wants to share him with someone new, someone who doesn’t already have summer-tinged memories of Harry and who can fall in love with him tangentially through Louis.
“His name is Herakleitos,” Louis tells Niall. Stops, corrects himself. Ignores the break in his own voice. “Was. Was Herakleitos.” Another deep breath, a smile as he watches water carve around the stone in its path. “And I love him.”
And so he talks. He tells their story: a minuscule year in the eternity of Louis’ life, but a year that changed him irrevocably. He tells Niall things that even his sisters don't know, little things like the golden-green of Harry's eyes first thing in the morning. The way he listened as though Louis’ voice was the only thing worth hearing. The birthmark on his knee. The hiccups he got after two goblets of wine. The love he had for everyone, even those who didn’t deserve it.
He talks about watching Harry fall apart in front of him. About how he'd stayed distant from humans for millennia, but one look at Harry and he'd fallen, fallen hard, and then Harry was gone before he even knew what that meant or how to deal with it. About still loving him so much it hurts in the corners of his mind, in the pads of his fingers, his love etched in his very God-carved bones.
He talks and the sun falls into night; he talks and the sun rises again on the other side of the sky. He talks and Niall listens, until Louis runs out of words and the morning is blue above them.
“I'd like to tell you a story,” Niall says when Louis finishes. He laces his fingers around his knee, drawn up to his chest. He's a thousand years old but he looks young here next to his mother’s river, sweet-faced and quiet.
“I loved a girl, once,” he says. “She was mortal, and her name was Caer. And I miss her every day I still breathe.”
“Tell me about her,” Louis urges, nudging Niall’s shoulder with his own. Niall grins, chin tucked against his chest.
“Too smart for her own good,” Niall says, fondness leaking out of him from the corner of his crooked smile. “Brighter than the sun, she was, and more beautiful than anything I've seen on this earth, then or now.” He ruffles his hair, sighing. “She was taken from me, and I spent years looking for her. Begging for help, begging for anyone with news. I found her, got her back. We were happy. And then years passed and she was just… gone,” he murmurs. “Forever. Just like that.”
Just like that is a pretty accurate descriptor, or it could be if it involved a bit more screaming and crying and hopeless, helpless yearning. Like the snap of fingers, sudden and violent; a crack, then gone.
“Immortals aren't built to love mortals, I know that now,” Niall says. He kicks his feet, a drop of river water lands on Louis, “but that we're capable of it means that we couldn't have avoided it. You with your Harry, me with my Caer. They're part of us, like we were part of them.”
“You think we were meant to bear this?” Louis asks, touching the place in the center of his chest that still aches the most.
“I think we do bear it,” Niall murmurs. He leans back on his elbows; a brazen god in his glory, chestnut hair ruffling in the breeze, toes cooling in the river. “I think we know, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, that humans are temporary. We’re selfish, in that way — they’re only a segment of our lives, but we consume all of theirs. And then they’re gone and we deal with the aftermath of that selfishness.”
“I miss him,” Louis whispers.
“That doesn’t go away,” Niall says. He shifts, looks up at Louis with empathy in his eyes. “But it does lessen. Eventually.”
The River Boyne splashes around their feet, the wind rustles through the trees. The world turns, and two immortals survive.
Most of what is considered humanity, ironically enough, did not originate with humans.
Humanity is a conglomeration of virtues and vices stolen from angels and demons, morals taken from deities and messages infused into them by monsters. Humans were created and then let loose as blank, identity-less creatures, and then within a single lifetime they defined what it meant to be a human: cruel and dangerous and loving and kind and careful and reckless and new.
When Louis was still Above, he and his sisters and the rest of Angelkind watching these bumbling, incredible creatures grow and learn and start to decide things for themselves, they were told that humans would learn from them.
“They will take from us Goodness,” said Uriel, voice like trumpets and thunder and terror. “And they will take from demons Evil. It is our Purpose,” he stopped, wings flaring wide, sword glowing on his back, “your Purpose, to guide them to the Light. Let them follow in your path. Let them not be tempted by sin.”
And Louis believed it. He believed that he was only capable of good things, and that demons were only capable of bad. It made sense, then, that humans could be swayed by either, and that he, being an angel, should love them and show them the way.
But then humankind grew. Evolved. Spread across the available lands, and grew interested in their own affairs. And so angels couldn’t guide from afar anymore, but were sent to Earth instead. And that was fine at first. Like getting to watch a show from the front row. Louis wasn’t meant to interact with them, so he didn’t.
But he did still hear their questions.
And, funny enough, they brought up good points.
Surely, they asked, and the question rattled in his mind, surely lust is not always a sin? Surely it is welcome between a man and his wife, surely it is good between a couple bound by law and love? And surely, they asked, envy is only natural? That it leads humans to aspire to their best, to reach to their highest potential to match those they envy? Surely pride is just a person’s confidence in themselves? Surely wrath has its place: in war, in justice?
Louis didn’t dare voice the questions himself, all too aware of the line he would be toeing. He remembered Morningstar, he remembered the Great Fall; he was there when Lucifer closed his green eyes and opened them black. He wouldn’t dissent.
But he wondered.
Maelblatha, Iouernia (present day Mullingar) | AD 120
It takes years, but Louis gets better.
Not okay, never really okay. He still carries Harry like a talisman, his fragile fingerprints branded onto Louis’ skin. But Niall says that’s normal, or at least as normal as could possibly be when immortal falls in love with mortal.
Louis reports to Michael for orders for the first time in over fifty years. He visits his sisters regularly, checks in with Niall every once in a while. He works, he laughs, he protects, he guides. He misses Harry with every fiber of his being. He lets himself feel that, wrapped in memories of sweet honey smiles and hemlock curls.
He doesn't move on. He learns from Niall that it's too late for that; Harry is indelibly part of him, inked into his veins like some sort of contract. Harry is the soul that Louis never had, and lives on inside of him. Even gone, he guides Louis.
But Louis remembers, and even on his worst days he's appreciative of the year they had together.
He lives. And for that, he thinks Harry would be pleased.
Pompeii, Campagna (present day Italy) | AD 79
For the first thirty years after Harry, Louis doesn’t dream.
Maybe that’s not true. Maybe he chooses not to dream.
Or maybe he sees the same things in his dreams that he does when he’s awake, so he doesn’t bother staying in one place long enough to do it. His body doesn’t need more than a little bit of sleep, a few hours of rest a month, at most, but when he doesn’t get that minimal amount his body reacts by slumping him into unconsciousness at the first possible moment.
That moment comes in Campagna.
He dreams of pale, long-fingered hands. Of a dimpled smile. Of a jeweled pin clipped into curly hair.
But more than that, he dreams that there was no disease. That Harry lived, lived a good, long human life. He became old and wise, white-haired with age. He had a dozen children and a hundred grandchildren, and the city of Elis adored him as a statesman as much as it adored him as a wild-haired teen. And Louis was there, still Harry’s friend, still enraptured with the curve of his lips and the sound of his laugh, but he — in this dream, at least — could share, could let Harry have the future he deserved with a harmless, blank-faced woman who loved him endlessly.
Louis startles awake, yanked to consciousness by the ground rumbling, by screaming in the streets.
He runs to the window just in time to see Vesuvius blow.
Maelblatha, Iouernia, (present day Mullingar) | AD 125
Louis, rationally, knows it’s only a matter of time before he’s sent back to Greece.
The world doesn’t revolve around the Roman Empire, but there’s more political scheming and warmongering and general humanity in one square kilometer anywhere in the Empire than there is in the entirety of other civilizations, and so angels and demons alike flock there to attempt to control (or, in the case of demons, to subjugate and ruin and terrify) the region like the most highly revered piece on a chessboard of the world.
“Leilel,” Michael calls, and Louis squints up at the bright sunshine. He can’t see Michael — he tends to stay Above, away from it all — but he feels strange not acknowledging being summoned. “You are needed in Greece. Hadrian has reached Athens, and he journeys to Olympia from there. A plot has arisen to assassinate him. You will not let that happen.”
Louis’ stomach turns.
“Do you understand?” Michael rumbles.
Louis, frustrated by the nausea pooling inside him, snaps, “Stop the bad guys, got it,” then sticks a sarcastic thumbs up towards the sky. Michael won’t notice — he still tends to talk in Thees and Thous, he’s not going to catch a bit of sarcasm.
(Hell, Louis didn’t even understand sarcasm until he’d spent enough time around Harry to catch the upward lilt of a joke when he’d say lovely weather today as he shook rain from his curls. He likes it now, though. Has somewhat stolen it for his own use.)
(Harry wouldn’t mind.)
The direct sunlight beaming down on Louis from Michael’s attention fades back out into the typical green-tinged summer day he was previously experiencing. A breeze stirs at the hair on the back of his neck.
“Oi,” Niall says nearby. “D’you say something?”
“Not to you,” Louis answers, stretching out his toes. He doesn’t particularly want to move, if he’s being honest; the sun has sapped his energy, and Niall had his harp out earlier, the soothing tones light and sweet in Louis’ ear. And, of course, the nausea still weighing heavily in his stomach doesn’t help either. “That was Michael.”
“Ah,” Niall says in understanding, flicking a glance up at the clouds sliding by overhead, cutting the rays into patches across the pastures. Archangels make Niall uneasy, Louis has learned, but he’ll put up with them if the jobs they pass to Louis keep him working and preoccupied. “What’s he want, then?”
“Trouble in Greece,” Louis says.
“Greece?” Niall repeats doubtfully.
“Olympia, specifically,” Louis admits.
“Cac,” Niall curses. “You going to be alright?”
It’s probably an entirely different world there. Eighty years since Harry, entire generations have come and gone since then. The streets will have been updated, the stalls in the marketplace run by new people. Anne’s house is probably occupied by someone else.
It won’t be familiar, Louis thinks. No, he’s sure. He’ll be fine, because it won’t be the same at all.
Elis, Greece | AD 125
It’s exactly the same.
The streets are crowded, as the party began long before the emperor ever arrived, but even with the flags and banners hanging from the windows of the tallest buildings, even with the blinding shine of the metal of countless soldier helmets and saddles and boots, even with the wine flowing so heavily that it runs in the street like rainwater, deep purple and cutting thickly through the dust and dirt of the road.
Even with all that, it still feels exactly like the world Louis left behind.
The crush of humanity is almost overwhelming, especially as Louis lets it carry him forward, towards the teeming crowds in the center of town. Towards the Olympic sanctuary, though he’s trying not to think about that. The great gate is already visible in the distance; he closes his eyes.
The job. Think about the job, think about finding the human with murder in their heart. Think about dispatching them and sending in a few lower angels to clean up the mess.
The throng around Louis pulses with life, their souls — silver and gold alike — bright and blinding from the celebrations. He sends his consciousness sweeping outward, over the thousands of bodies, searching out the one not thinking about wine or song or feasts. Assassins in the line of duty don’t have time for distractions; they should stand out as the one dull spot in the masses of shine.
When Louis finds it, he gasps aloud.
It’s not the sharp silver of an assassin’s soul, it’s black. Black and gaping, a person-shaped black hole here in the middle of a living, carefree crowd.
Louis’ eyes snap open; he doesn’t know if Michael knew this was a demon plot from the beginning, or if he thought it was a routine human grab for power, but Louis feels wildly unprepared. This isn’t his usual thing; this isn’t a normal job at all. He could concentrate his energy and level this pavilion and the demon with it, but if his last — and only — interaction with humans is something to go by, he’d never be able to live with himself causing those type of casualties.
No, he’ll… he’ll just have to extract the demon somehow. Lure it away from the people; if it’s here for Hadrian, it’ll be at least a day before the emperor arrives. It’ll come willingly with no target to murder yet, right? Louis will just have to make that happen. Somehow.
Louis opens his eyes and blinks into his Vision, the outline of every human going silver or gold, their souls glowing in their chests. The blackness keeps drawing his eyes up ahead but he and the demon are still separated by hundreds of people, so he concentrates on slipping through the crowd instead, light-footed and cautious. The black spot settles in a spot at the bottom of the huge staircase leading up to the Propylon, and Louis tries not to think about the horrifically ironic scenario that has led to him tracing a demon to the spot where he first laid eyes on Harry eighty years ago.
Closer, closer Louis creeps. The black spot is still standing in one place, the demon stopping to survey the crowds, perhaps, or to wait out the hours until the emperor actually arrives. Louis doesn’t know, he doesn’t care, he’s never actually dealt with a demon entirely on his own before but he knows they’re filled with fire and sin, danger and death. He’ll want to take this one down quickly, and then to get out of Elis before the sharp-edged nostalgia melts him into a puddle.
Closer. There’s an empty space in the crowd and Louis slides into it. His fingers are fluttering at his sides, an outlet for the stress pumping through him since he can’t unfurl his wings. A huddle of gossiping men and women slowly shift out of the way, Louis is about to pinpoint the demon for the first time —
“Look out!” a voice cries, and Louis wrenches himself backwards just in time to avoid being trampled by a runaway chariot, the soldier who it belongs to lying supine in the dirt as though he’d toppled right out of the basket, wine-drunk and wide-eyed. The horses kick up a cloud of dust as they wheel about, panicked in the midst of all these people screaming and shouting as though that will do anything.
Louis blinks out of his Vision just in time to see one of the horses rear, kicking violently, ready to come down on a child who has stumbled too close. Louis directs a sharp wind at the girl and she topples backward, the horse’s hooves landing where her precious head had been just a second before. A man leaps out of the crowd and grabs one of the horse’s reins, then another grabs the reins on the other side, and soon the embarrassed soldier has his animals back under control and out of the vicinity.
Louis lets out a relieved breath and then, like being hit with a sudden icy chill, remembers what he had been doing.
He turns back to the Propylon, eyes scanning quickly for the black spot among the gold and silver.
Instead of black, he sees white: tiny white blossoms braided into wild brown curls.
He doubles over, shocked.
Is this what it feels like to have a heart? he wonders deliriously, clutching at his chest. There’s nothing there, no muscle or organ or aortas or regular red blood under his hand, but still something thunders like drumbeats, still something pounds like footsteps in a marching line. He squeezes his eyes shut, and he tries to forget what he’s seen.
Because that wasn’t Harry. That wasn’t Harry; Harry’s dead. He’s dead, he died and Louis sees him everywhere so of course he’d see him here, amongst familiar statues and on familiar cobbled streets where the wind smells like his dreams.
But, hell, how he wants it to be Harry. For a moment, that singular thought is all that’s in his head: I wish it was him.
He stands, still clutching his chest.
He opens his eyes.
Green eyes stare back.
“Louis?” Harry says. There are still dozens of people between them, and yet Louis hears his own name as easily as if Harry had whispered it in his ear.
“Harry,” Louis breathes.
It’s not possible. It’s not- fuck, his limbs feel bubbly and strange, unreal. There’s no way, this can’t. It’s not possible, how… how? His body doesn’t feel like a body anymore, it feels like bees in the shape of an angel pretending to be a human, buzzing and frenetic. He must have- he must have survived, somehow, must have found a way to beat back the illness in his veins and he must have pulled through. Louis left too early — following Harry’s pleas, not his fault, but he still left — and Harry pulled through. He’s alive, he’s.
It’s not eighty years ago but it could be, Louis rooted in shock to this bit of road as a beautiful boy with poison flowers in his hair walk his way. Harry looks as though he can’t quite believe this is happening; Louis can’t quite believe this is happening, either.
His hair’s longer, swept back off his forehead. His jaw is sharper, his neck wider. He’s gotten taller; but that just makes sense, Louis supposes. He was seventeen last time Louis saw him, he’s bound to grow a little in eighty-
“Louis,” Harry says again when they’re face to face. His eyes flicker over Louis’ face like he’s absorbing every detail. Louis understands; he’s doing the same thing.
“You’re here, you’re.” Louis takes in a shuddering breath, even though he doesn’t need it. “All this time I thought you were. But you weren’t, you were.” He can’t finish a sentence, can’t get the words out; alive and dead and gone and back seem so much bigger now, like those little words are giant concepts his eternal mind can’t wrap around.
“I’m here,” Harry says, answering the most obvious of Louis’ not-questions.
“You’re here,” Louis repeats dumbly. The not-heart in his chest is still beating wildly. There’s a not-smile on Harry’s face, as though he’s too wary to make it happen in full. There’s a lot of not-talking and not-grinning and not-celebrating for a moment as they just stare at each other.
Then the wind shifts, and Louis’ holy blood rushes for an entirely different reason.
“Sulfur,” he spits, eyes flashing, and he takes Harry’s hand. It’s hot against his palm, wider, longer-fingered, but still familiar like a favorite blanket. “C’mon, we’ll talk somewhere else. There’s a demon around.”
“I know,” Harry says but Louis barely catches that, his senses on high alert; the blackness is pulling at him and it’s close, the demon circling somewhere nearby. Louis tries to pull Harry forward and Harry tugs back.
“We don’t have time for this,” Louis whispers fiercely, still scanning the crowd around them even though he wants nothing more to just stand here in this exact spot and stare at Harry for a century or two. They can do that later; right now, he has to get Harry away from the demon. He tugs again, this time using a little bit of his real strength. Harry still doesn’t budge.
And that, for the first time, registers as odd in Louis’ mind. He turns back.
Harry smiles, a real smile, not a not-smile, but there’s something there that looks a little like guilt and a little like anxiety. He blinks, and his eyes go black, black, black.
“I think we should talk.”
Harry, still holding Louis’ hand, drags him out of the crush of people around them, all of them still reveling and drinking and cheering as though the entire planet didn’t tip sideways on its axis when Harry’s eyes went black.
Black. Black like hell, black like sin, and as Louis stumbles along behind him he realizes he truly is the star being pulled into the inescapable clutches of a black hole. The rational part of his mind is screaming, telling him to rip his hand away, to disappear, to call for backup, to dig up some holy water and douse this thing until it tells him what’s really going on.
But it’s Harry. It’s Harry holding his hand, it’s Harry glancing back at him, his front two teeth biting nervously at his lip as though he expects Louis to actually run.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he says at one point, still pulling Louis along like a child with a doll. Louis almost laughs, because there’s no way that’s true, there’s no way for him to know the chaos of Louis’ clawing, desperate happiness colliding with the basic instinct to get himself away from here. Or… or maybe he does understand, and that’s why he looks the way Louis feels: like he wants to simultaneously tie himself to Louis with the strongest ropes on the planet and also run in the opposite direction until a clear answer appears to him or he hits a sea, whichever first. “But please, please just let me explain.” Then he shakes his head. “Or explain parts of it, at least.” Another shake of his head. “Maybe.”
Louis doesn’t answer, but not tugging his hand out of Harry’s must be enough because they keep moving, snaking their way through the back alleys of Olympia. When Louis sees their destination, though, he stops short.
“Louis,” Harry urges.
“No,” Louis says, then makes a terrible, choked-off sound that was meant to be a laugh. He stares at Anne’s house in front of them, looking exactly the same as it did on that terrible night so long ago. The front gate has a new flowering bush next to it — hemlock, of course — but it’s otherwise unchanged. “You must be mad to think I’d go back in there.”
“I don’t think you’re mad, I think we can either stay out here and be noticed,” he flicks an anxious glance around, “or we can go in and talk.” When Louis still hesitates, he begs, “Please, Louis.”
“This is a terrible idea,” Louis mumbles, but he follows Harry anyway.
The place is empty, no silver or gold souls hidden in the darkness, no black-hole demons waiting to ambush him. Just Harry and Louis, together again despite reason or belief.
Harry leads the way to a room Louis hasn’t been in before, and he’s beyond grateful: he’ll burn this house down before he sets foot in the exact place where he thought he lost Harry to forever. He thinks this might have been Gemma’s room, the fresco on the wall painted with a shaky hand in Gemma’s favorite shades of purple.
“I don’t think we were followed,” Harry says, peeking out the window. Louis casts his mind out, finds nothing living or dead nearby, the parties at the sanctuary drawing the crowds away from the quiet little homes near the river.
“We weren’t,” Louis says. “Is someone watching you?”
“I’ve had a tail for a few days,” Harry admits. “Angel, I think, but I can’t be sure. Still, erm. Still getting used to all this.” He waves his hand next to his ear.
There are dozens of angels in the area, and Michael could’ve used any of them for basic surveillance before he summoned Louis to end the situation. But he knows whoever it was isn’t here now; it’s just Harry, rubbing an anxious thumb over his own wrist.
Or. Or it’s Harry’s body, and some demon is inside it using Harry’s mannerisms and memories to trick Louis into letting his guard down. Louis won’t let that happen; he’s too wary, too on edge. He can escape easily if he needs to, and he’s pretty sure he can fight if it comes to that. He aches desperately, though, for that not to happen. He wants answers, and as of this moment this is the only way he knows how to get those.
“Right, about that,” Louis says. He takes a seat on the edge of the bed, knowing Harry will want the windowsill. “What the fuck is going on?”
Harry laughs shortly, pulls his hands through his hair.
“Honestly?” he says. “Sometimes I don’t even know myself.”
“Start at the beginning. Maybe between the two of us we’ll figure it out.”
“Right,” Harry nods. “Right. So, you left,” he says. It’s not an accusation, but it feels like one. “And I could… I don’t know how to describe it. I could feel it, the- the disease, I could feel it moving through me. Things felt like they were shutting down, and I couldn’t. Couldn’t do anything about it.”
Hell, but if that doesn’t hurt. Louis pushes away the pain lancing through himself, makes himself refocus on Harry. “Then what?”
“I don’t know, I was… I was delirious, I think. The pain potion wasn’t doing anything. I’d sent Mother and Gemma away right after you, I didn’t want them to see me either. I think I must’ve been… I’m not sure. Talking in my sleep, maybe? And I was thinking of you,” he flicks his glance up at Louis, still looking anxious. “I promised I’d think of you, so I did. No matter what happened, I thought of you, and I imagined your voice, but I must’ve been saying the words out loud that I remembered hearing from you first, when you told stories. That’s all I can figure out.”
“What words?” Louis asks.
“I don’t know,” Harry whispers. “It didn’t sound like Greek in my head, but I couldn’t really make sense of anything at that point, so who knows. And I must’ve… must’ve said something that… triggered something. Because next thing I knew, there was someone standing over me.”
Louis’ hands are shaking. “Who?”
“I didn’t know him. He was tall, thin. Said his name was Nick.” The name rings a faint bell in Louis’ head, but he doesn’t bother chasing it, so he shakes his head. “And he said… he asked what I wanted, and I,” Harry draws in a deep breath. “I said I wanted to live forever, or I got the point across somehow. I said I wanted to be an angel, but he said deals didn’t work like that.”
They don’t; Louis isn’t really up on his possession basics, and this is the longest he’s been in the presence of a demon so he doesn’t know specifics (like who, exactly, he’s talking to, if it’s really Harry in there). But everyone knows demon deals are limited to the creativity of the demon involved, tying insubstantial human desires to tangible goods. The talented ones can twist something like I want to be happy into I want to be rich and adored but they take heavy payment in exchange, usually damnation. They definitely can’t hand out angel wings, though, Louis is sure of that; if they could, they’d grant that power to themselves, and then there’d be no difference between the Light and the Dark after all.
It’s also incredibly rare for humans to become angels. Self-sacrifice is usually involved, and a purity of heart almost impossible to achieve. Of course Harry wanted to be an angel; most dying people do. But he wasn’t destined for that.
“But…” Harry trails off. “He said he couldn’t do that, but that he had another proposal.”
“Harry-“ Louis says, stomach twisting. “Please tell me you didn’t-“
“Most demon deals last about ten years, did you know?” Harry asks. His eyes are bright, his silhouette backlit by the sunshine outside. “The demons who make the deals aren’t strong enough to tie humans to contracts longer than that. But Nick, he said he’s a little higher up in the ranks than those demons, and he could make me a better offer.”
It clicks then, where Louis has heard the name Nick before — they worked together, centuries back, in that fiasco with the Tower of Babel. One of the only times angels and demons alike agreed that humans had to be stopped or they’d wreck their entire species and take the planet with them. Demons don’t have titles and ranks like angels do, but if they did, Nick is only a little less powerful than Louis.
And humans becoming demons is just about as rare as them becoming angels. Terrible things have to be done, things Louis knows Harry isn’t capable of, and there has to be a blackness of the soul already there for a demonic spirit to take hold. There’s no way Harry could do it on his own.
But Nick could.
“Harry,” Louis swallows, his throat constricted. He hasn’t cried since- well since the last time he was in this house, and the world was crashing down on him because of this same sweet face.
“I was offered fifty years Below in exchange for eternity on Earth,” Harry says. His voice isn’t shaking anymore, his chin lifted a little as though to invite Louis to criticize his choice.
“As a demon?” Louis asks.
“As a demon,” Harry confirms.
“ὰ τὸν κύνα,” Louis curses weakly. He already knew, couldn’t help but know it, with all his senses screaming out that he needs to go, to get away, danger, danger buzzing inside him. Angels aren’t meant to even be around demons, they’re meant to be on full alert if one is nearby; his system won’t let him settle.
He knew, but it still hurts to hear it.
Harry reaches out as if to take Louis’ hand and, despite knowing that they’ve already touched and the world didn’t crack in half, despite Harry already holding his hand for long minutes earlier, Louis pulls his arm away. He’s loved and ached for Harry for eighty long years, eighty impossible years, and yet.
And yet this is different.
Harry snatches his hand back away too, as though Louis’ little twitch away from him burned him. His eyes are stormy with hurt; Louis gets that. He does. It hurts him too, it hurts like Hell — not that he’d know the specifics of that, but Harry would. Fuck, Harry knows Hell — but he’s been alive too many millennia for his body to not react to a demon reaching out to him.
It hurts it hurts it hurts. The reality of it all is just setting it: he’s an angel, and Harry’s no longer a breakable human with a countdown of a lifespan. He’s a demon. His soul is black. His life, afterlife, whatever, is dedicated to the opposite cause of Louis’. The moment Harry agreed to that deal, he became a soldier on the other side of the war Louis has been fighting all his life.
And the only thing his hysterical mind is capable of producing is well, we had a good run.
“Is this it, then?” he asks. “I could barely get away with spending all my time with you before. But now?” He shakes his head. “Impossible.”
“No, it’s not impossible,” Harry says, voice catching. “Here we are, you and me, and nothing bad has happened. It’s absolutely possible.”
“You’re a demon,” Louis reminds him brokenly.
“And you’re an angel,” Harry shoots back. “You think I don’t feel it? That panic, the buzz that says I shouldn’t be near you, not if I want to live? I feel it, and I’m still here. Why are you trying to run away?”
“I’m not running away!” Louis insists. “This isn’t my decision! If I spend time around a demon, they’ll- they’ll-“
“They’ll what?” Harry murmurs. “What’s the punishment? Who’s doing the punishing?”
And Louis stops, because, “I don’t know.” But. “It doesn’t matter, don’t you understand? You’re a demon, you’re evil.”
“I don’t feel evil,” Harry says. He stretches out his arms at his sides, like he’s trying to show Louis he isn’t hiding any evil in his chiton. “And I haven’t done evil. Not- not here, not on Earth. I was given an opportunity, and I took it.”
“Yes, you took it,” Louis agrees. “You wanted eternal life, you got it, but you can’t have me and immortality both.”
Harry’s jaw drops. “What do you mean, I wanted-“
“Listen, I get it,” Louis interrupts. His wings fade into existence, buffeting the air for a moment because he’s too preoccupied by the love of his long life showing up again as a different species to care about propriety and pretending to be a human. “You were faced with death, and that’s scary. Death is a hard thing for a mind to wrap around. So you wanted to live, and a demon offered that to you. Again, I get it. But,” he enunciates, hoping his desperate aching tears stay where they belong until he gets through this conversation and can get away to cry in peace, “you accepted that deal and you lost me. That’s how that works.”
“I-“ Harry stammers, and he looks like he absolutely has lost every word in his head. “What are you-“
“We don’t have to be mortal enemies,” Louis says, as soothingly as he can over the rough cracks in his own voice. “But we’re on different sides of it all now. What we had, that’s- that’s gone.” Harry sobs, just once, his fists clenching. Louis scrambles to comfort him, because even the black-eyed version of Harry doesn’t deserve to cry. “But you still have eternity, right? You’ll get to see the world change, you’ll see history in motion. Isn’t that why you did it?”
“No!” Harry cries, wiping viciously at his eyes. “No, I didn’t do it just for the sake of living. I did it for you!”
Louis doesn’t have a heart. He reminds himself of that, because something in his chest feels like it’s splintering in half and if it’s not his heart, what could it be? “What?” he whispers.
“You think I begged for eternal life because I was scared to die?” Harry continues, tears free-falling down his cheeks. “You think I was fine with trading my soul and spending years, decades, in Hell just so I could come back for fun? If I could’ve died and had you waiting for me on the other side, I would have let go without a second thought. But you’re here, so I found a way to stay here too.” His voice is throaty; he’s not screaming, but Louis almost wishes he would. “I did what I had to do.”
“I-“ Louis says. There’s no end to that sentence that can fix anything, or do anything.
“I did what I did for you, for us, and if I can’t have that I’ll- I’ll-“
“Harry,” Louis breathes, and he steps close and wraps Harry in a hug before he remembers he’s not supposed to do that. Harry shudders and slumps against him, still crying heavy, aching tears. “Harry, I didn’t know, I’m so sorry.”
“Please don’t send me away,” Harry whispers, “please don’t leave me here. I can’t bear it.”
“Never,” Louis promises, and that’s stupid, it’s so stupid because the boy he loves is now a demon he doesn’t really know, but it’s Louis and Harry and if they can’t be together, nothing in the cosmos makes sense.
Louis doesn’t want to go. So… so he won’t.
And maybe this is the worst idea of all time.
But maybe it isn’t.
“Fifty years,” he says quietly. Fifty years in the most unimaginable sort of place, fifty years for a penance Harry didn’t earn.
“It was hard,” Harry mumbles, almost off-handedly, like it was a unproductive trip to the market rather than a half century spent in fire. “And I’m not- I’m not the same person I was before. I’m different, Louis.” He meets Louis’ eyes meaningfully. “I’m not the boy you fell in love with.”
He's right; the blackness radiating out of the center of him is brand new, like shiny obsidian. He's shaped differently, all whip-cord strength in long limbs, and he talks differently, hesitant and careful, choosing his words wisely, but.
But he looks at Louis exactly the same way he always did.
Louis brushes the hair off of Harry’s face, warm and wet from tears. “Is your favorite color still blue?” he asks.
Harry blinks. “Yes, it is, but-“
“Do you still sleep better with the windows open?”
“Do you still sit by the edge of the river when you need to think?”
“Do you still love me?”
A slow, cautious smile spreads across Harry’s face. “I do,” he confirms. He takes Louis’ hand again, his skin burning like fire. “I didn’t know how to find you.”
Louis squeezes Harry’s fingers. “I was trying not to look for you anymore.”
Louis sways up onto his tiptoes. He’s going to kiss Harry again; it’s been eighty years, it’s been an eternity, it’s been Hell and back — literally for one of them, metaphorically for the other — but he’s going to get to kiss Harry again.
That is, until a trumpet blast somewhere relatively nearby startles them both apart.
“The emperor is here!” someone announces distantly, and a wave of cheers meets the proclamation.
“The emperor,” Harry whispers, pulling back from Louis. “Damn. I have to go.”
“So do-“ Louis stops, turning back to Harry with his eyes narrowed. “So do I. Are you the assassin I was sent to stop?”
Harry grins sheepishly. “No?” Clears his throat, wipes the last few tears off his face. “Um, but I am supposed to convince someone to become an assassin.”
Louis exhales a laugh, startled. “I should’ve known.” He shakes his head, and Harry smiles back at him.
“Just like old times, isn’t it?” he says softly.
“Not quite,” Louis says. He and Harry sprinting through the Olympia streets, chasing each other across rooftops and between market stalls, shamming for drachmas and pranking each other to make people laugh; that was a long time ago. The lives and deaths of humans are all tied up in it now, there are souls and fates on the line.
But then Harry grins, his come on, Lou grin, the one that could convince Louis to take a running leap off the edge of the world.
“May the best man win,” Harry says grandly, extending his hand for Louis to shake.
Louis smiles so widely his cheeks ache, and it’s been so long since that happened that, for a moment, he forgets that a world exists outside of Harry and his smile.
“I intend to,” he says with a wink, and then they're off, stumbling over each other as they sprint for the door, laughter painting the air behind them.
Just like nothing has changed at all.
Louis wins; Hadrian lives to move on to another city and survives another year as the Roman Emperor. It only took some strategic maneuvering and some whispering in the ears of his guards to be in the right place at the right time; Harry sent assassin after assassin (all paid with conjured up drachmas, desperate and hungry and willing to do anything for the coin) and if sheer numbers could overwhelm, he might’ve pulled through.
Unfortunately for him, this is not Louis’ first time stopping an assassination.
Still, there were close calls the entire time. Once, Harry sends a slightly-shaking serving girl to Hadrian’s rooms, carrying a tray with a single pitcher of wine. Louis only barely noticed the faint aroma of poison — hemlock, he thought; maybe Harry felt inspired — before Hadrian put the goblet to his lips, and he had to knock over a statue of Aphrodite outside his rooms to startle him into setting the drink aside so Louis could whisk it away.
“I’m not exactly learned in art,” Harry says later, propping his elbow on Louis’ shoulder and surveying the damage to Aphrodite, her marble arms lying on the ground next to her. “But I think she looks better that way.”
“Don’t let her hear you say that,” Louis says, pinching Harry’s side, and he gets a grin before they’re off again to try something new.
Hadrian leaves Olympia after a month spent in the city, and Harry and Louis watch the departure of his thousands of chariots and wagons from on top of the westernmost villa.
“Are you staying here?” Louis asks. He and Harry are determinedly not looking at each other, watching the stretch of horses and humans all the way to the horizon.
“No,” Harry answers. His fingers brush Louis’ where they rest between them. “Egypt, next. Have to start a plague.”
“That’s a nasty business,” Louis says, trying to keep his tone light.
“Might… might need to go oversee things myself,” he continues, still light, light as air or feathers or something not soul-crushingly huge like offering to follow his newly demonic best friend to a new continent. “Plagues are busy work for angels.”
Harry inhales quietly, fingers twitching in surprise. “You might be right. They could use your help.”
Louis chances a sideways glance at Harry, and finds him looking back already, eyes hopeful. Louis grins, and takes Harry’s hand more firmly before concentrating on sand and eucalyptus winds and not how warm Harry’s hand is in his, then blinks and sends them jumping across space and time in the matter of a second.
He doesn’t let go of Harry’s hand when their feet hit new ground.
In fact, he doesn’t let go for a long, long time.
Louis will never really know what fate Harry was destined for before Nick offered him his deal. Above or Below; he has his guess, of course, but he's been wrong on those things before.
Lottie could tell him; would tell him, if he got up the nerve to ask.
He doesn't want to.
Because this — this is the love story Louis didn't know angels could have. Harry, Louis truly believes with all the grace in his body, was destined for an eternity of peace and white clouds and ever-present happiness. No pain, no guilt, no terror or suffering. And he denied that fate, hell, he turned down that God-given gift, all in the hopes he could spend forever on Earth with Louis.
Harry damned himself for Louis; Louis won't ever forget that.
And, luckily, he's got forever to make it up to him.
Cottingham, Yorkshire, England | January 2016
Louis wakes feeling like he’s been walloped across the back of the head by a large stick or perhaps a small tree. He groans, lifting a hand to his skull: there’s no knot or bump, so he wasn’t attacked in his own flat by something strong enough to knock him out.
A summoning, then, and a badly-done one at that.
“He's awake,” says a timid voice nearby.
“Should we, just... go for it?” asks another.
“Isn't he supposed to have wings?”
“I don't know, what does the book say?”
“Fuck the book, it's all vague mumbo jumbo anyway.”
“Well it worked, didn't it?”
Louis blinks his eyes open, and finds himself squinting up at the dim light emanating from a single lightbulb overhead. The ceiling around the lightbulb is stained and damp, and Louis sighs; this isn’t the first time he’s been summoned to a dirty basement by a curious conspiracy theorist, and it won’t be the last.
He flexes his hands and feels a sting; when he pushes up his sleeve he sees a strange rune carved there in the crook of his right elbow. Louis doesn’t recognize it off the top of his head, but that whoever summoned him was even able to leave a mark on him is interesting enough.
“Not very intimidating, is he?” one of the voices nearby breathes, barely less than a whisper. It snaps Louis out of inspecting the rune, and he remembers where he is, what he was doing. “Are we sure that’s actually an angel?”
Louis huffs to himself, sitting up slowly. He could be intimidating if he wanted to, could do the whole all-powerful-immortal-here-to-raze-you-to-the-ground-how-dare-you-etc-etc routine, but he’s feeling a bit petulant at the moment. His head hurts from a poorly done summoning, he didn’t know he’d be seeing anyone today so he’s still in the stained sweatpants he’s been wearing for the past two days, and he was right in the middle of a decent episode of One Tree Hill. He’s allowed to be cross.
Then a deep rumble from somewhere off to his left asks, “Lou?” and his pity party is derailed.
Louis rubs his eyes and blinks them open again; humans have been trying to trap him and Harry since before there were even books to house the spells to do it, but they’ve never been summoned simultaneously by the same person.
“Hey, Haz,” Louis says. Harry waves sheepishly back at him.
He’s sitting cross-legged in the middle of a pentagram, the outline drawn in salt, waxy black candles flickering at each of the star’s points. Glamours aren’t possible within summoning circles, they slide off the skin like oil, so Harry’s in his true Form. Even after a couple of millennia together, Louis isn’t used to seeing him like this out in public and that, more than the headache bouncing around his skull, tips him off that this isn’t the average summoner looking to wheedle out an easy deal. Something strange has happened here.
Harry flicks his glance past Louis, raising an unimpressed eyebrow at whoever is behind him. Louis turns to see who it was that called him here and things, somehow, make a little more sense and get a little weirder at the exact same time.
A group of six teenagers is huddled together, awestruck and wide-eyed, in the corner of the basement. They’re all wearing black robes, though they aren’t the same heavy, restricting fabric Louis got used to seeing during the height of the Inquisition, where religious fanatics were questioning suspected witches in one dungeon, and in the next one over they were chanting Latin in hopes of summoning anything somewhat fantastic to answer their questions. These teenagers have improvised; one seems to be in a black dressing gown, another is in an academic gown. Louis is pretty sure the spotty one in the back is wearing a Dracula cape from a fancy dress costume.
Altogether, not wholly frightening.
“Alright, then,” Louis snorts, getting to his feet. He’s not contained inside a summoning circle like Harry is, so his human glamour is still in place. He stretches, scratching sleepily at his stomach. “What do you want?”
“Silence, seraphim!” barks the human nearest him. The boy is gangly and sharp-boned, skinny in a way that says he won’t grow out of it, and has a look about him that reminds Louis of an angry chihuahua, all bug eyes and bared teeth. Louis raises an eyebrow at his introduction — for the insolence and for getting his title completely wrong, though he does like that they assume he’s more powerful than he really is — and he hears Harry snort. “We,” the boy continues, then falters, “erm, we are they who- who summoned ye.” He looks down at the black book on an ornate stand in front of him as though it’ll give him a script for this — Louis almost laughs, imagining the header for that particular page: Baby’s First Summoning. “And, um. We demand… uh. We demand…”
He looks around at his friends, like a schoolchild in a play who has forgotten his line. “Recompense?” Louis suggests, and the boy swallows.
“R-right. That. We demand recompense.”
“We want to be popular,” squeaks another, who then shrinks back into the corner when Louis turns toward him. Louis hums as though it’s a great problem to consider and hides a grin; he failed at his dramatic entrance, but he’s totally still got it.
“We want girlfriends, too,” says the leader, a little more boldly this time. “And we summoned you to make that happen.”
“Okay,” Louis says mildly, then gestures to Harry, still sitting in the pentagram with his arms wrapped comfortably around his knees. “Why don’t you ask him to do it? He’s perfectly capable of trading your soul for something so vapid it’s almost laughable, and he’d offer you a decent price, at least. You don’t really need me here, and I’m missing my show.”
Harry snorts again. “Louis,” he chides. His voice — the real one, the one he got when he went Below for a few decades and then came back up all dark-eyed and fiery — has the eerie double timbre Louis used to associate with deep, dark pits and eternal suffering, back before Harry. When that voice is saying Louis’ name, though, it’s not so bad. “Be nice.”
“You speak English!” one of the boys gasps.
Louis quirks an eyebrow at Harry, who smirks. “I was singing Bohemian Rhapsody in Latin before you got here.”
“Nice,” Louis chuckles. He steps toward Harry and squats, surveying the boundary holding Harry in, checking for hidden tricks; he doesn’t think these kids are smart enough to have hidden holy oil under the salt, but there’s no such thing as too much caution. “How’d you end up here? You’re usually better at spotting traps than this.”
“Dunno,” Harry says thoughtfully, thumbing at his lip with a clawed finger. “I was at Niall’s, and then I thought I heard-“
“Silence!” the leader shouts again. Irritation prickles at Louis’ skin, but Harry meets his eyes and a tiny moment of I’m fine, go take care of it passes between them. Louis stands slowly, his eyes narrowed. “We summoned both of you because the book says that if you offer the demon what it desires most, it will be more likely to work with you.”
“We didn’t know why it would want an angel,” admits one of the boys tremulously, pushing his smudged glasses back up on his nose. “We thought it might want to kill you, or something.”
“And you were okay with that, were you?” Louis asks mildly. “An angel being murdered in front of you and you were just going to, what- watch?”
He tunes out their sputtering excuses, spinning slowly and surveying the room. It’s about as basement-in-a-nowhere-village as you could reasonably expect, a ragged couch pushed to one wall, a dusty drum set in a corner, a washer and dryer and a pile of clean whites next to the stairs. Rather boring, Louis thinks. Not really what you’d expect from people who can double-summon an angel and a demon. The only bit of magic besides the demon in the summoning circle, the angel right next to him, and the dark-bound spellbook with a sickly feeling radiating off of it, is a single small blue flame in a jar, being used as a reading light next to the spellbook.
Louis almost rolls his eyes, but keeps it in check — his sisters went through a Harry Potter phase too, but they never went so far as to summon a bit of blue fire just to be like Hermione.
He meets Harry’s eyes again and winks. “What you desire most, eh?” he repeats for Harry’s benefit, still ignoring the humans who brought them here. If Harry still had his human glamours on, he’d be bright pink; as it is, he ducks his head and curls his shoulders, sickeningly sweet.
“Lou,” Harry huffs, smiling bashfully. He’s so cute he’d make Louis’ heart thump, if he had one of those.
“No worries, love,” Louis chuckles. “It’s definitely mutual.”
“Wait,” says the leader of the little wannabe gang who think they’re still relevant to this situation. “Are you two, like, together?” His face twists in disgust, as though a demon and an angel spending time together is somehow worse than six unlikeable children summoning one of Heaven’s highest and one of Hell’s lowest to this shitty little basement to bargain their souls for popularity. And then he makes it worse. “How does an angel fall in love with something like that?”
Louis feels his eyes narrow dangerously, and he catches Harry frowning from the corner of his eye. The candlelight flickers against Harry’s smokeskin; his veins of fire are spiderwebbed through his arms and legs, coursing tiny flames towards his heart and standing out in sharp relief against the dim background. There’s a diamond diadem on his brow that he got back in the fifteenth century for sweet-talking a convent into turning into a brothel instead, and it catches the low light from the lone lightbulb. The flat black of his wide eyes does the opposite, catching the light and keeping it, reflecting nothing in their depths. He’s absolutely terrifying, and he’s the most incredible thing Louis has ever seen.
Meanwhile, there’s this brat standing there in what must be his dad’s dressing gown, drooping sadly off his thin shoulders, smirking as though he expects Louis to join in on ribbing Harry. Louis blinks into his Vision and looks into this teenager’s heart of hearts to see that the silver tinge of his soul is more like dirty slate, nasty and vindictive. Louis, in a glance, can read this child’s deepest fears and darkest thoughts and, ultimately, is wholly unimpressed.
It took Harry a long time — decades, in fact — to be confident enough in himself and their relationship that Louis wouldn’t run away at seeing his true Form. That trust was built up over years, and now this tiny little ant of a creature with the self-importance of Beelzebub himself — Benjamin, what a twat — has insulted what Louis has always felt privileged to see.
Louis waves his hand and lets the distaste curl his mouth. “Hazza, if you could?”
Harry, who all throughout this conversation has been widening a crack in the concrete floor, clambers gracelessly to his feet. Enough salt has fallen into the new crack that the shape of the pentagram is broken, the candles sputtering out in their own wax as Harry’s strength and powers return to him in full. He steps out of his temporary prison with no more than a light shudder, and the boys in black all gasp, scuttling backwards but realizing, a little too late, that they’ve backed themselves in a corner and have nowhere to go.
“Hi, baby,” Louis says, kissing Harry hello. Harry hums against his lips, his own wordless greeting. “Can you take care of them for a moment? I want to burn their stuff so that someone,” he shoots a dirty look at Benjamin, “can’t just immediately summon someone else down here next.”
“No, you can’t!” Benjamin cries, voice gone shrill. “That’s my grandmother’s book, she was a powerful witch in her time!” Louis scoffs; most of the last real powerful witches died out in the Dark Ages (due to a magical flu epidemic that swept through their ranks at one of their annual conventions, not because of any effort made by the laughable notion of human witch-hunters).
Louis flips through the massive bound book for a moment and is even less impressed than before, because Benjamin’s grandmother was a rudimentary witch at best and truly awful at worst. Her Latin was horrendous, too, which is probably how they accidentally managed to capture one of the most powerful demons currently walking the planet instead of some small-time newbie who’s looking for easy souls to claim. Benjamin doesn’t seem to care about that. “Leave my things alone, you piece of-“
“That’s quite enough out of you,” Harry says disapprovingly, waving his hand. The group of teenagers freezes, Benjamin’s horrid little mouth hanging agape mid-insult.
Harry dusts off his legs and walks over to a half-empty bookshelf nearby, where, Louis has just noticed, Harry’s necklace rests on a little piece of black cloth, as though the kids had planned on keeping it for a trophy. He slips it over his head and his glamour reappears, his long curls swept out of his eyes with a piece of patterned silk, tight jeans clinging indecently to his thighs, his eyes green-gold and reflecting the light from the gently swinging bulb overhead. The necklace glints in the dip of his chest, the silver cross a little worn at the edges but still shiny as the day Harry bought it from a vendor in a Venetian shop.
He slides his hand down Louis’ arm, still frowning a little. “You okay?” he asks, leaning in to press a kiss to Louis’ cheek.
“Mm,” Louis says, cheek going warm from Harry’s lips. “A little irritated at our high and mighty captor, but otherwise fine, yeah. Why?”
“I was trying to ask earlier, but I got interrupted,” Harry says, indicating the teenagers with a nod of his head, “I only stepped into the trap because I thought I heard your voice. I hadn’t ever heard of humans having a trick like that, so I thought they actually had you.”
Louis’ brow furrows as well, because that’s a new one for him, too. He rubs his knuckles up Harry’s arm. “I think they just read badly translated Latin, and it had some weird side effects,” he says. “Look at this.”
He shows Harry the front of the spell tome, the black leather cracked and faded with age, the title and description carved in and painted, nauseatingly enough, in what looks like old blood.
Igni natura vincantur integra
Harry wrinkles his nose. “That’s not how the saying goes.”
“I know,” Louis agrees. “But look at this.”
Under the line of bastardized Latin is a carved rune, the same one that adorns Louis’ arm now, right in the sensitive inside of his elbow. It looks a bit like the outline of a fire, a rounded bottom leading up to two shorter flames on each side, a taller flame in the middle. Inside the silhouette of the flame is a hand, stylized and simple. The hand is palm-up, the fingers curled upwards like they’re shielding something from view.
Louis pushes up his sleeve and shows Harry the still-fresh cut, that same rune there on his skin; Harry frowns, and pushes his own sleeve up, and there’s one in the crook of his elbow as well.
“I don’t remember them doing this,” Harry says, brow furrowed. “And they must have done it to you before you woke up, because I didn’t even know you were here until they dragged you in, already unconscious.”
“Do you recognize it?” Louis asks.
“No, but don’t cults and covens make up their own insignias all the time? Maybe this is theirs.” He rubs his thumb over Louis’ elbow. “They had to have a special weapon to be able to do this.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Louis says. He looks back over at the teenagers, assessing, but not a single one of them radiates enough power to be dangerous. The leader, Benjamin, might have enough magical energy to boil a cup of water, but that’s about it. “Maybe they had help. Someone who didn’t want us to see them.”
“Maybe,” Harry says, biting his lip. “I don’t like this.”
“Neither do I,” Louis admits. “But I don’t feel anything in here that would be a powerful enough weapon to make these cuts, and like I said, I think their spellbook just has bad Latin that happened to work in their favor. But, just in case.” He snaps his fingers and Benjamin’s grandmother’s book bursts into flames. It’s ash in seconds, a pathetic pile of grey dust on the concrete.
Harry hums in satisfaction and nuzzles behind Louis’ ear. “Good. Let’s finish this and go home.”
“You’re a genius,” Louis says, then remembers the kids still frozen nearby. “We should take care of them, too, though. They don’t seem nearly as scared of me as they should be.”
Harry rolls his eyes but grins, stepping back a little. He lifts his arms, ready to drop the stasis spell when Louis is ready. Louis blows a kiss and Harry catches it, then waves his hands. Benjamin and his friends blink the cobwebs out of their eyes as Louis drops his own glamours, sliding out of the skin of Louis Tomlinson and into his natural Form. His sigils burn like holy fire across his chest and arms. His wings flare out behind him, black and star-sprinkled like the night sky, tipped in iridescence and trailing stardust. He closes his eyes and when he opens them again the world has gone red, his eyes firelit like embers.
The teenagers return to full consciousness with a Biblical nightmare looming over them. Louis’ sword burns in his hand, burns like the hot gas of a supernova, but he doesn’t feel the heat.
(For someone on the side of Light, it’s possible that he shouldn’t enjoy the terrified screams quite as much as he does.)
(But he does enjoy them. Because those kids are twats.)
“Dabble no more in the sin of witchcraft,” Louis booms, his voice a rumble like an earthquake, shaking the walls of the room. He hopes for Benjamin’s sake that his parents aren’t home as the echoes of his words rock the foundations of the house; that’d be a tough one to explain to mum and dad. Dust falls from the basement rafters; in a full square mile around this basement, a dozen different dogs start howling in terror. “Be steadfast and earnest in your supplications, and you might be forgiven.” He spares a look for Benjamin, thinking to himself that’s unlikely. “Traverse the road of unrighteousness again, and you shall be struck down.”
One of the teenagers bursts into tears. Another falls to his knees, pleading for mercy.
Feeling satisfied and fully appreciated, Louis draws Harry in under his outstretched wing and smiles at him, a grin full of molten, blinding gold. Harry grins back and holds tight as Louis blinks them back to their quiet flat, Chad Michael Murray still on screen where Louis left him.
Louis shivers back into his glamours and collapses onto the sofa with Harry tucked against his side, and he can feel the exact moment Benjamin and his moron friends start praying for forgiveness. The energy glows in Louis’ fingertips, their minor souls not much of a prize, but he’s not one to complain about a little bit of scared straight tactics.
“Those were supposed to be my souls,” Harry says, his own energy dimming a little. He sends Louis a pointed look, popping a piece of Louis’ almost-stale popcorn into his mouth.
“Sorry, baby,” Louis says, brushing a kiss against Harry’s forehead. “To be fair, you’ll probably get a couple of them back in the next few years. Resorting to witchcraft as a teen can lead to some interesting sins later in life.”
“True,” Harry grins, cheered up. “Besides, there are a couple of priests in Lambeth teetering on the edge of Dark, I’ll grab them later.”
And so one of Heaven’s highest and one of Hell’s lowest fall asleep tangled on an old, worn sofa, a blanket thrown over their laps, a teen drama playing on the TV screen.
In a dingy little bolthole on the other side of London, someone else is flipping through an exact copy of the book Louis just burned. She just got an interesting phone call from her nephew, who swears something strange happened when they tried that spell she showed him, and yes, he promises, they got rid of the blessed knife they used.
She makes a note of the spell in question and smiles, sharp like razor blade, sharp like antiseptic in a cut.