The grass was sharp beneath Loki's stomach as he woke, wings spread wide. They flapped as he stretched, a deep-rooted reflex, like a knee jerk. The field was not quite a mile long, but close. That was the good thing about Wisconsin, at least. There was space.
The mid-day summer sun beat down hard, tinting his exposed skin pink. He added sunblock to his mental checklist and lifted himself up, greeting the day once again. Bartleby, still out flying while he can, looked like some kind of dove. He had to squint to see through the light, but he knew he was there.
Loki’s focus turned downwards, sweaty palms wiping stray blades of grass from his chest. He checked his cheap, cartoon-colored watch to see they only had fifteen minutes before the owners of the farm came back. He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled, signaling his partner.
He could feel a dull ache in the pit of his stomach. The absence of her presence like going to bed without supper. There's always hunger.
He felt the rush of wind behind him, followed by the quiet thump of Bartleby's bare feet. That had Loki pulling on his socks and shoes and gathering up what ought to be gathered.
"We’re running late.” Bartleby said, plainly.
“Yeah, whose fault is that?” Loki replied, quiet and indignant.
“You’re such a child.” He scoffed and pulled on his overcoat.
Loki rolled his eyes and donned his own coat. It was shaping up to be a long night.
There was exactly one gay bar in their corner of the great state of Wisconsin. It was called Ricky's and sat ten miles out from bum fuck nowhere. Bartleby and Loki may as well be regular customers. They came for the atmosphere, the people unafraid to be truthful. It was refreshing.
They also came for the free drinks, sent by varying admirers. Bartleby found that spitting his sips back into his glass sent a message that he didn't care to put out into the world. When Loki did it, he winked.
It was a game, seeing how many guys they could get to hit on them. But there's only so much to do in small towns, and the regulars knew their way around the pair. So, Friday night had them each nursing a drink that 1) they couldn't drink, and 2) they paid for. It's very much a lose, lose.
"God, I'm bored." Loki said through gritted teeth. Bartleby catalogued the use of her name, blasphemy becoming more and more frequent between the two of them over the past few years.
Bartleby stirred his drink with his complimentary straw. Time had passed too quickly. He's lost sense of it. "You have an idea." He said this because he knows this. He said this because he knows him.
"I'm just saying," Loki started, though Bartleby knew he was not 'just' anything. "We should stir some shit up. Have a little fun." He sipped his drink, then spat it right back out, watching as it plunked back into the glass. "I heard that new pastor's trying to get this place shut down."
"Of course he is." Bartleby tsked.
"And he'll win—"
"Of course he will. Unless..."
"Unless we do something about it." Loki finished, determined.
"And just what do you have in mind?"
"Publicly shame him." Loki scoffed. "What else is there to do?”
Bartleby sent him a look.
"I don't mean killing him! The world has enough false martyrs." He rolled his eyes. "JFK, Lincoln, Lennon - they were all good, but none of them were holy. Look how the world treats them now."
"Two of those men were presidents. One was a musician. And not much of a good person at all." Bart corrected him, as per usual. "Do you even know what you're talking about?"
"His music was good. No one ever came to fucking Wisconsin, though." Loki shrugged. "Listen, that's not the point. We need to enact some divine justice."
"You may want to rethink your definitions of 'divine' and 'justice'. It's not like we can reveal ourselves to an entire congregation."
Loki shuddered. "Man, I hate pitchforks. I can hardly look at regular forks now without getting the creeps."
"So, we'll improvise. We can't have some schmuck like that trying to kill our only source of fun!"
"You call this fun?"
"Come on," He pat Bartleby's shoulder. "Where else are you gonna get hit on?"
Sleeping was difficult. It wasn’t required, no, but it could be helpful. Loki's body still threatened to quit after a long day. Especially after he’d taken a life, or lives. It's fulfilling his initial purpose that turns him into a pliant pile of mush, that makes his whole body radiate joy.
It's fucked up, it was. He wished that he were designed for something better. He'd rather be Cupid and working than Death and starving. His belly ached at the thought of his past life, his wings twitched at the memory of flying, of freedom.
He felt a cramp starting, up in the muscles between his wings. He waited, hoping it would pass if he didn’t think about it.
No such luck. He groaned and rolled out of bed, trudging his way to Bartleby's room.
Bartleby was spread out on the mattress, on top of the covers with limbs starfished outwards. His eyes were open and fixed on the ceiling, as if in a trance state. It wasn't until Loki knocked and made himself known that he snapped out of it, slowly looking at his partner, then the expanse of his own arm. An invitation.
Loki climbed in, tucking himself under the thin layer of sheet and pressing his body against Bartleby's torso. Suddenly the tension in his body was gone. Bartleby lifted his hand, reaching to comb through Loki's wings. He always knew the right thing to do. At least, when it came to wing related issues. If only there were a lucrative market for that.
Each stroke had him relaxing more and more. He rolled onto his stomach, giving the other more room to work. It wasn’t until Bartleby hits the sore spot that he even brings it up, forgetting it all entirely.
"So, this is the culprit?" Loki could practically hear Bartleby's brow raise. He massaged the area as he spoke. "I should have known you had an ulterior motive for climbing into bed with me. I mean, a man just wants to cuddle - "
"Shut up." He nearly moaned out. Loki braced himself for Bartleby to laugh. He didn’t. He just kept moving his hands.
Loki nodded. "I just wish I could stretch 'em..."
"We just did."
"I mean for longer than five minutes."
"You're very needy, you know that?"
"And you're stubborn."
Bartleby rolled his eyes. "I can stop touching you if that's what you want."
"No!" The answer came out a little too quick. "No, I'm good. All good."
"Yes, you are." He patted Loki's back, signaling he's good to roll over. He did, turning onto his back as Bartleby loomed above him.
It was silent for a moment. It went on long enough that Bartleby furrowed his brows and said "What, I don't get a thanks?" Just as Loki pulled him down into a kiss.
It wasn’t not the first time they'd done this. Bartleby found himself melting into it, like muscle memory, until suddenly he wasn't. He pulled away, almost reluctantly, eyes shut tight.
Loki chased the kiss, only to come up empty. He dove in again and Bartleby pulled back even further.
"Hey, hey. Come on." Bartleby said, just the slightest bit chastising. "I think that's far enough."
"She's not watching." He went back in again. Bartleby conceded for a moment, before pushing him flat onto the bed.
"Loki." He commanded him, almost like a dog. "No."
Loki softened, suddenly understanding the weight of his partner's words. He began to untangle himself from the sheets, but Bartleby had other plans. His hand grabbed a hold of Loki's arm, firm but not hard enough to bruise.
Bartleby pulled Loki to his chest, holding him in his arms. The two of them said nothing, eventually drifting off to a mutually restless sleep.
There, in bright, ugly, laminated letters: a children's sign. Smile! Jesus Loves You! It hung in the opening of the church like an eternal welcome sign. In one thousand years the earth will be destroyed, but this sign will remain, cartoon, smiling suns still intact.
And sure, Loki liked the idea. You know, spreading the gospel, accepting a benevolent and loving God into your hearts. The problem is, that's not the god he knew. That's not the god that punished them. And that's certainly not the god the preacher in front of him spoke of.
"The homosexuals are infecting our city! Like a virus of sin..." He began his tangent, but not before a chorus of Amen's!
"They can't win, can they?" Loki scoffed, leaning over to whisper in Bartleby's ear. "Remember when God loved all believers? Now you gotta pass a criteria. Can't be black, can't be gay, can't have a vagina," He counted each off on his fingers, displaying them under the shadow of the pew. "Can't be Jewish, can't be a pigeon,"
"A pigeon?" Bartleby raised a brow.
"Fuck, man, everyone's out for pigeons." Loki shook his head. "Rats with wings my ass."
"Also serves as an accurate description of you."
"Hey. I know what you are, but what am I?"
The woman in front of them turned and shushed them. They both make a face in her direction. She turned away, annoyed by their presence.
"How soon can we get out of here?" Loki raised brow, shifting in his seat.
"In due time, my friend." Bartleby did that thing where he smiles like he knows a secret. And sure, he did, but Loki hates that smug bastard sometimes.
The preacher took his stance one again. "We know, that in our hearts, God will choose the righteous and smite the sinful!"
"I fucking hate Wisconsin."
"We will not let them poison our children! We will not let them poison our faith!"
Bartleby nodded and stood, prompting Loki to follow suit. He gave Loki a look. Plan 'improvise' was a go.
"Excuse me, sir." Loki stood tall, bringing a manufactured sincerity into his words. "I believe God has spoken to me."
"Yes, son," The preacher nodded, a bit hesitant. "go ahead."
"He says..." He stopped, eyes going wide. "He says..." The room was hooked. Slowly, his facade dropped. "That you're a fucking hypocrite." A gasp sounded throughout the crowd. Mothers covered their children's ears. "Fernando from Poundcake sends his love. You two shared a wonderful night in the back seat of his Chevy, didn't you? Does your wife know you're a catcher?"
The room came to a screeching halt. There were gaping mouths and wide eyes, but more importantly the room is silent. That's the moment Loki always liked - the pure shock.
"That's the thing, about hypocrisy. No one can do it but you! You think you're holy? You think you're exempt from the wrath you teach these people? Think again. You're just another phony."
He looked over to Bartleby, who stood proud at his side. Suddenly, his fist was wrapped up in Bartleby's trench coat and he's pulling him in for a kiss. It was hot and toothy and got the room gasping. Loki pulled back, a loud smack resonating throughout the room.
"Have fun in hell!" He climbed out of the pew, a barely blushing Bartleby in tow. He pointed to the children's choir, giving a thumbs up. His gum stuck in his mouth as he spoke. "You kids are great. Real talent."
The door swung shut behind them and Loki shoved his hands in his pockets, proud of a hard day's work. Bartleby remained stoic, arms crossed over his chest.
"You wanna grab a Mooby Meal?" Loki asked, eyes squinting in the sun.
Bartleby didn't answer for a long moment, fingers grazing over his own lips. "You're a fucking idiot."
"I'll take it."
Loki often looked at Bartleby. He studied the lines of his face, the crease in his brow, his response to things. He'd never known someone like he knows Bartleby, and Bartleby him. He chose Bartleby over God. That had to mean something
It's not like he was in love. He'd have to know what love is, first. There's no skipping steps. It had to be linear.
There was nothing linear about Wisconsin. There was nothing linear about hell on earth. There was nothing linear about desire.
Ricky's wasn't going to close. At least, not due to some unholy gimmick. The boys decided to give it a rest for a few days, lounging in the airport instead. Bartleby hadn’t spoken to Loki all that much after Sunday’s incident.
A girl flirted with Loki while he stood in the checkout line, wielding the newest Mad Magazine. He played along, even choosing to ignore the cross necklace she's wearing.
"Can I get your number?" She finally asked
"I don't have a phone."
He paid for his magazine and left.
Bartleby didn’t look at him. At least, not when he was looking. It was no different when he returned to their seats, watching as Bart observes the passersby. This was like home. The voyeuristic aspect, at least.
"Shouldn't you be watching cartoons?" It was the first thing he’d said to Loki in hours. Days, even. It took a minute for him to recover.
"Nothing good on."
"How do you know?" Bartleby turned to look at him. Finally.
Loki did the same, an almost hopeful look in his eye. "I just do."
They sat in silence for a few more minutes. Loki found it excruciating, but he did nothing.
"I've been working on a new plan," Bartleby started, seemingly out of thin air. "Something to get us out of this rut."
"Come on. We'll talk about it at home." He stood, waiting for Loki to do the same.
It's half an hour before Bartleby speaks, Loki waiting patiently in the recliner they saved up months for. He presents it like a pitch, gearing up as if his job were at stake. He should know there's not much left to lose.
“Loki,” Bartleby crouched down, putting them at eye level. This immediately put Loki at unease. “It’s time to cut off our wings.”
Loki waited a brief moment before bursting into laughter. “What the fuck?” Bartleby did not flinch. Loki’s laughter died abruptly. “You’re serious. What the fuck?”
“She’s not coming back for us,” He rested a hand on Loki’s knee, all too intimate. Loki’s brows furrowed. “You’ve said it yourself. We’re stuck here. We may as well live our lives!”
“What lives, man?” Loki watched as Bartleby attempted to start again. He cut him off quickly. “No, this is what we were built for. Our purpose was to serve Her. Our purpose is to–”
“It’s time to choose our own purpose.” He pulled a pocket knife from his coat pocket. “Listen to me. We can live. We can live, for once in our fucking lives. We can break her rules, get the fuck out of this state, go anywhere in the world. Where do you want to go? Where? We’ll go, and we’ll grow old, and decay like all those idiots we’ve been stuck with for eons. We can take charge of our destiny.”
“How do you know it’ll work?” Loki asked. He suddenly pictured Hell and the fires that waited. Maybe Azrael would pull them out, but he couldn’t count on that.
“I feel it. I feel it, Loki, in my gut, in my bones, I know it will.” And suddenly, Bartleby had kissed him.
Loki was always the one to initiate. Kissing, a comfort. Bartleby, the warmest blanket in the world. He melted like a Hershey’s on a summer day. He never wanted to move. He grabbed a hold of Bartleby’s hand and – the knife. He’d forgotten about the knife.
“Dude.” He pulled back. “You know I’ll follow you. Through anything. I got us in this mess,”
“And I’m getting us out.”
He started with Loki first. The knife hurt until it didn’t.
If this were a movie, the camera would slowly zoom out. The audience would see them happy from a distance. Lighter, and not only due to the absence of their wings.
The audience would have that moment, pure and untouched, before seeing strangers climb into the bus, before seeing the doors almost close, and then opened again for an almost too late passenger.
The audience would see the black spiked hair and trench coat from behind, no luggage to be found. Bart and Loki, however, would only see the voice of their creator, stepping onto a vehicle about to depart. Loki's hand yanked away from Bartleby's in a flash as Bartleby turned stoic, both forms of shock.
"So, where are you off to this time?" Metatron asked, taking the empty seat just diagonal of them.
"Oh, come on. She already knows. She's not stupid, unlike the two of you."
"Anywhere but here." Bartleby said first. Loki could see his hands shake, then ball into fists.
"All this and that's your plan?" Metatron leaned back, taking a moment to roll his eyes. "You two never think anything through, do you?"
"If you're not letting us leave Wisconsin, just stop us, man!" Loki said, exasperated. "Don't drag this out."
"What?" Bartleby furrowed his brows.
"God is touched by... whatever this is going on between you two." Metatron said, as if it was all some big burden. "She's giving you one year to do...well. Whatever."
"She's been watching?" Loki asked.
"Of course she has. You two have become her own private Melrose Place. Now, you have 365 days to be human. I suggest you don't waste them."
Bartleby and Loki were both dumbfounded. They looked at each other, then back to Metatron.
Loki was the first to say it. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me. It's her who did it. I would have just gone ahead and killed you." He turned in his seat. "Good luck." And with that, he was gone.
A moment passed. They could hear the bus gear up to go.
"So," Bartleby asked. "What should we do first?"