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Wings; or, three variations on a theme

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[1. The Egret]

As a priest, Shirasagi constantly strove to live his life according to the words and will of God.  He swore never to use his demonic powers.  He extended his hands to the lowest and neediest, teaching undocumented children who couldn't go to school, comforting the bereaved, giving of himself in every way he could.  And he tended to his spirit and soul as much as he did his actions and deeds, reminding himself to always forgive, to never covet, to turn the other cheek and to repent for his great many sins.  One day, he believed, if he lived nobly, dedicated himself to God, and on his Judgment Day sacrificed that which was dearest to him, his sins would be forgiven, and he would become human and finally receive God's love.

But demons like him couldn't stay on Earth forever, and so when the Power showed up on his doorstep and tried to convince him to go back to Hell, the only surprises were that he smelled of tobacco and spoke quite politely for an angel.  Shirasagi firmly made his refusal known, just like he always did, and that would have been the end of the matter, at least for a little while longer, had Beelzebub's minion Zagan not chosen that moment to stick his nose in and try to drag him back to his master.

It was an unwanted reminder of where Shirasagi had come from, of what he had been, of what he was, and he cried out, on the verge of giving into despair.  Then the Power made his presence known.  He stepped forward, his eyes hard and his wings flaring, and said in a voice far colder than Shirasagi had ever heard, "You are unwanted here.  Leave this place."

He was a Power, and his strength was formidable; Beelzebub's minion or not, Zagan couldn't resist, not on Earth.  He bared his teeth and spat his threats, but he retreated, leaving Shirasagi crouched on the floor, gasping and trembling.

The Power approached slowly, as though Shirasagi were a skittish animal.  "Are you all right?" he asked, his voice warm and gentle with concern, and extended a hand.

Shirasagi reacted without thought, slapping the outstretched hand away.  He glanced up at the Power, at those white wings still bared for the world to see, and his heart clenched and crumpled.  What had this angel done to deserve his wings?  Why did he deserve to hear God's voice?  Why do I not deserve to have even a fraction of the love that God bestows upon you?

But envy was ungodly, and so he only turned his eyes away, burying his face in one hand and pulling in his ghastly black wings.  "Please," he choked out.  "If you have any mercy, then please, leave."

Those angelic wings were the most beautiful thing Shirasagi had ever seen, because they were a sign of God's love and favor.  But he could barely stand to look at them without weeping, for they reminded him of how he feared, deep, deep down, that he would never have either.


[2. The Crow]

For the first time in his existence, Karasu felt true hatred, and that was why Shirasagi broke his vow to God.

As Karasu fought Zagan, he could feel Shirasagi's eyes on him.  Beautiful Shirasagi, caged like a pet, played with like a toy, abused and beaten down and still, still, he cried out not for himself, but for Karasu.  It only enraged Karasu even more, because surely there had never existed a soul that was purer or more full of goodness than Shirasagi's, no one who had ever loved God more, and this was what he received in return?

What did it say of God, that He could witness such barbaric cruelty and merely stand aside?

"Karasu, stop!" Shirasagi shouted.  "If you give in to negative emotions, you'll fall!"

Zagan snarled and lunged forward, sword raised, and Karasu's vision misted red.  He couldn't do anything about God, but he could at least save Shirasagi from Beelzebub's grasp.  I'll kill you, he thought, if I kill you, then Shirasagi will be free–-

"Karasu!" Shirasagi screamed.

And as something inside of him broke, a blinding flash of light sliced through the world.

Karasu winced, instinctively throwing up an arm to cover his eyes.  Somewhere, Zagan screamed.  Karasu peeled his arm away and looked up–-

And saw Shirasagi hovering in the air, eyes closed and wings outspread.

This was the first time Karasu had seen Shirasagi's wings in all their glory, and they took his breath away.  Unlike other demons' wings, which were all claws and leathery skin and bone, Shirasagi's wings were soft and feathered and gorgeous, equal to any angel's.  But unlike angels, his wings were black as sin, and no matter how beautiful Karasu thought they were, he knew that it wasn't enough, would never be enough, not for Shirasagi and not for God.

Shirasagi came tumbling toward the ground, and Karasu ran, reaching, reaching, and caught him.  He cradled Shirasagi close, limp body, limp wings and all, and then he saw the brand upon Shirasagi's chest, and his heart went cold with dread.

In a flash, he understood.  Shirasagi had used his demonic powers.  Shirasagi had broken free of his chains and cage, cast Zagan to his demise, stopped the battle before Karasu could do something no angel could be allowed to do.  He'd done it all, and broken his oath to God to do so.  He'd done it all out of love, and God had punished him for it.

How cruel of you, Karasu thought bitterly, though he knew God couldn't hear him now, and wasn't sure He ever had.  How cruel of you, to make him a demon instead of a man.

Shirasagi should have never had wings at all.


[3. The Bat]

Many years ago, before Shirasagi learned to love God, he had wandered an empty desert wasteland until he met a nameless man.  Still being a demon in all ways, he had tried to draw the man into sin and damnation, but the man only took his hand and said, "If you love no one, then I shall love you, and one day you will learn.  To love someone is to be loved by God, and everyone has the right to receive God's love."  And so Shirasagi decided that, if his sins were ever forgiven, he would pray to become human, for then he could freely love man and God alike, and eventually, God would love him, too.

That was the story Shirasagi told them as they approached the towers, and when Koumori heard it, he averted his eyes and clutched at the thorns in his heart.  That man may have been nameless to Shirasagi, but Koumori knew who it was.  He knew.

You have never changed, he thought, closing his eyes.  You have always believed in love, love above all else.

The cockatoo fluttered down and landed on Koumori's shoulder, talons pinching his flesh.

Koumori saw echoes of himself in Shirasagi and Karasu.  An all-consuming forbidden love with no easy answers, a desperate wish that seemed impossible to make real–-yes, they were a reflection of him, of his terrible choices and his terrible regrets, and it was his duty to ensure that they did not make the same terrible mistake he did.

Love above all else.

So he led them to the towers, and he pushed and pulled in ways obvious and subtle, and he carried the bar from the cross on his back and then he gave it up.  When he sent them to the Scales of Judgment, he could only hope that the wish they made would be right and true, and he barred the path against the angels seeking to stop them with nothing but himself, a half-empty pack of cigarettes, and a pure white cockatoo.

He was dying.  He knew it, had known it for some time.  In truth, he only held on for two reasons:  First, to see his duty to its end, to lead Shirasagi and Karasu to their final destination, wherever it might be; and second, because he had abandoned his one great love once already, and he would not so easily do it a second time.

So as they headed up the elevator to face the Scales and make a wish and a sacrifice, Koumori fought, and fought, and fought.  He found a glaive and took it in hand, and he pulled weapons from the hands of angels he'd felled, and he ripped out blades that had run him through.  Even as he panted for air and slipped on his own blood, he fought, because if he let a single angel through then all would be for naught.  At last, when the final angel lay shattered on the floor, Koumori backed into a wall and slid down, down, down, no longer able to stand on his own two feet.

He had done it.  He had bought them enough time.  The sacrifice had been accepted, and Shirasagi-–no, Karasu would see his wish granted.

Koumori could only hope that the wish had not been a mistake.

Koumori coughed; he could feel blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.  But when the cockatoo appeared and perched upon the end of a glaive that pierced his chest, he couldn't help but smile.  "Hey," he said weakly.

The cockatoo stared at him, sad and reproachful.

I have always loved you above all else, he thought.  But he didn't say it.  The words were too beautiful for what his love had been-–an ugly, misbegotten love that birthed an ugly, misbegotten wish that birthed a great and terrible sin.

He didn't say it, because they both knew it anyway.  

He gazed at the cockatoo, as white as the driven snow, crest raised and wings ruffled.  "Can you do one thing for me before I die?" he asked.  It was getting hard to breathe.  "Just one thing.  I know it's pretty rich, coming from me."

The cockatoo gazed at him, silent.

"I can't die in peace until I know for sure," Koumori said.  Hazy gray spots danced before his eyes; he blinked them away.  "My duty was to see them to the end of the path they chose.  I just need to know if it worked out all right."  He barely had the strength, but he stretched out one shaking hand, held out Shirasagi's cross in supplication.  "Please."

The cockatoo’s wings flared.  For a moment, Koumori thought he might have seen four pairs of wings, greater and more beautiful and pure than any angel's, and he thought he might have heard the gentle tap of feet on stone.  But before he could know for sure, his vision went black, and he thought no more.