One couldn’t call this living. It was being in a dream for good and for ill. While Nageki was no longer tied to one place, his passage through time was still a haze. He was with Anghel, always with Anghel as he was now tied to him. Anghel mentally drifted between reality and fantasy. When he was awake, Nageki could absorb himself at times in that wonder so far from his own troubles. But often Nageki could only focus for short bits, drifting after Anghel at the edge of being, eternal sleep close to lulling him away.
Why was he persisting?
As Nageki’s mind cleared to that question, he noticed Anghel was asleep. He was huddled in a cocoon of blankets, a few creamy brown feather tips showing out from the mass. While Anghel said he didn’t mind (specifically, he said that it was an endurance test of love that he would most certainly pass), Nageki felt bad for leaving him cold like that. He passed through the walls to let his bedroom warm up. Now, what to do? If he left Anghel’s apartment, he’d slip into a haze from being too far and end up right back in the bedroom.
He went to the den of divine inspirations (also known as the art corner) and checked to see what drafts Anghel had lying around. They were a manga team now; Anghel did all the art and most of the writing, while Nageki edited, made sense of things, and patched up the plot holes and characterization. That is, when he got long periods of lucidity to work on things. Otherwise, the main group they worked with would clean up Anghel’s wild visions.
There was a draft copy on the table, one that Nageki hadn’t worked on. How far behind was he now? At least this volume wasn’t published yet. He made some notes in there, hoping that it could get back to the publisher in time. Then he worked on the notebook that would make up the next volume. Was this series in serials? They might not accept the changes if portions had already gone out in magazines.
Shortly after the sunrise, he heard the rustles of Anghel escaping his blanket cocoon. Nageki waited until the door opened to call over, “Good morning.”
“You have escaped the harrowing halls of Null!” he cried out in glee and flew right into the room to hug him. “I had faith that you would triumph, but even those of greatest faith cannot help but worry for their precious partner sending little word from so far beyond.”
Hugs were a paradoxical thing. Nageki felt an icy cold deep within him, with the frailty of a soap bubble. But while he hated those feelings, Anghel had such warm energy, a bright bundle of sunshine that somehow held tight to the soap bubble without bursting it. He wanted to be close to Anghel. “Was I faded for long?” Nageki said, his voice weakening with guilt for distressing him.
“A couple weeks, I was getting really worried,” Anghel said. “Nothing could get you to respond at all.”
“Is that why your backlog is so light now? I’m sorry.” He was slipping into being normal, which for Anghel was a troubling thing.
Anghel was still hugging him, having landed on the bench. “You are my beloved muse, my gentle star that guides me in the dark. But don’t blame yourself for something you can’t help! We all have our battles to fight; I’m grateful you returned from this round in victory. We can go out and enjoy the world today in celebration! Oh wait, no, there’s an unavoidable meeting with the scions of earthly affairs, hmm.”
“Business meeting with the manga group?” Nageki asked as Anghel let him go at that thought.
“Right,” he said, then noticed the papers on the desk. “Ah, has inspiration struck you at last?”
He nodded and shifted one of the papers closer to him. “Yes, I tried writing something myself again. It’ll be too plain for your tastes, but would you read it?”
“Sure,” Anghel said, snatching the paper for a closer look.
In the days I reawakened to the flow of time, I came across a notebook full of scribbles and dialogue. I don’t know why I started; I could have left it alone. But the errors bothered me and I corrected them. You declared it a miracle and left things for me to edit for a month before you could finally see me. She stirred me awake to become my friend; you called me indispensable and gave me something to look forward to.
Then came the day when you entered my sanctuary of the library and told me that you were graduating. I thought it was to be the end; I thought I could fade away in peace with the warmth you both gave me. However, you declared that I was going with you. You did something that I never thought was possible: you dragged me right out of the library, over the threshold I could never cross on my own.
And so I follow you, my savior, even when I can barely see you.
Anghel tilted his head it, reading it again. “Hmm.”
“As much as I’ve read, it’s surprisingly hard to find the right words to what my heart says,” Nageki said, crouching close to the bench in anxiety.
“You did come up with something nice with ‘my sanctuary of the library’,” he said. “But this is just exactly what happened in the mundane sense of things.”
“It’s something I think over a lot,” he said.
“But you could make it more exciting!” Anghel dropped the page onto the desk and hopped over to where he kept notebooks of extra ideas and tangents. For this, he didn’t even have to search. He pulled out a black three-ring binder that had stickers of cartoon ghosts all over it. “We should not accept the mundane surface of the world for it leaves us vulnerable to the more dangerous factors in the universe. Here, I’ve written drafts to that too, in ways more fitting to a manga!”
On opening the binder, he found that Anghel had actually done a lot in trying to fictionalize their story. But there was a word right on the first paper he opened up to that worried him. “Charon? I know that’s an important story to pass on too. But if we’re going to put out something with this story, I’d rather it be a harmless bit of fluff. Just something that’s warm and comforting even if it’s not all that great.”
“We can always hide it behind layers of symbolism,” he said, then hopped off the bench. “If you’ll excuse me, I should go prepare myself for facing the earthly scions. After we endure that trial too, we can be free to fly anywhere you like. We can even sit around and brainstorm that story if you prefer that; that’ll be a great endeavor, a fluff masterpiece for the ages!” He then took off, getting into the shower after a few minutes.
In the meantime, Nageki looked through the notebook.
“Begone you foul beast!” the fallen angel declared, ready to hurl his mighty spear. “You cannot stop me. I don’t care what happens to me, but I will not let my silent prince suffer any longer in this stifling prison!”
(EPIC BATTLE SCENES! And the beast has no heart, so make sure to kill it in some other fashion.)
The silent prince was perched atop his books as usual, as they were his only comfort and refuge before the two had met. “There is no reason for me to leave,” he said in a hushed voice. “Many have died because of me when I did not want to harm them. The world will fall into ruin if I leave this tower. The time we spent together was like a dream; leave it like that, I cannot awake.”
“No, I have found my happiness in bringing you happiness,” the fallen angel said. “I will make the dream a reality; I love you too much, I can’t stand to see you trapped within an icy prison as I was. Come with me.”
It was certainly a more fantastic version of how Nageki had left the library. Of course, Anghel had written it so that all of Nageki’s problems as ‘the silent prince’ were turned into demons that could be defeated in battle. There was no way to do that in reality. Besides, even if his problems could be solved by defeating demons, he wouldn’t have the energy to do so.
But he could close his eyes and imagine what things were like in Anghel’s version. He’d seen so much of his work that it was easy to do. It seemed different, or was it so because it was about them? The library had become a tower of imprisonment that happened to be icy cold and full of books; the images could flow together better, he knew that…
Images of Anghel’s other worlds slipped into his mind. Being was dreaming… wait. Nageki tried to open his eyes back up, but they were heavy again. Things were hazy except his attempt at the story, some pencils, a ruler, and some of the ghost stickers. Shaking out his feathers, or what he remembered of his feathers, he tried to stir himself back to alertness. Anghel had been worried, but he’d been asleep for most of this time that Nageki was alert. Come on… Anghel wanted to go out today since he was awake. He couldn’t fall back into the Null of dreams.
“Hmm?” The loud call rippled across Nageki’s consciousness; the shower was still going. He forced himself off the bench and passed through the wall into the bathroom. “What?”
“Come in here, it might keep you alert,” Anghel said. Not bashful at all, he grabbed Nageki after a moment and pulled him in the shower. “What’s the matter?”
The water passed right through him, losing its warmth as it hit the iciness of his presence. Nageki didn’t want to say anything. In fact, he wanted to leave because he knew Anghel didn’t like cold showers. But Anghel watched him in concern, brushing a wing against Nageki’s head. He could almost feel that.
“I’m so tired,” Nageki said. Even Anghel was blurring into a bright bundle of sunlight, making the water shimmer in a way no one else would see. “But if I sleep, I might not wake up again. I don’t want to cause you grief.”
“It’ll be okay,” Anghel said, although it was clear that he was trying to reassure himself of that too. “Hey, but I called you in here to try that new soap you helped pick out. It’s got a really great scent, maybe enough to invigorate you. And it conditions feathers amazingly well.”
“You shouldn’t waste that kind of thing on me,” he said. He had bought it because it was on sale, but it was a better brand than he usually got.
“It’s fine, I think it’ll help.” And ignoring any further protests, he put a blob of the gel soap on his wings and started scrubbing it into Nageki.
Anghel had a way of forcing reality to accept his perceptions of it, even for things that should be impossible. Like hugging him, or interacting with him at all outside of handling books and pens. Nageki held still and took it this time, not able to muster up an argument about it. It was a nice scent, rosemary and mint. When they’d been at the store, Anghel had insisted that they sniff the ones on sale and pick the one Nageki liked best.
And he did get the soap to stick to Nageki, even turn to suds. It really was a waste, though, since he had no physical presence to get dirty. Still, Anghel cared greatly for him. It came through his touch, warm and full of life. Nageki’s eyes started closing again, soothed by his love. Maybe it would be okay, if this was the last thing he ever knew…
But he didn’t want to leave Anghel alone.
The soap soaked into his feathers. For that matter, so did the water. Anghel’s scrubbing took on a pressure that Nageki wasn’t used to. Being was dreaming… this was taking a strange turn. He could feel steam. The heat suddenly swelled within, causing him to gasp for a breath. Breath? He took another breath and could feel the murmur of his own heart. Was it one of Anghel’s fantasies? They’d never been so… sensual.
“There, that should do it,” Anghel said, brushing over Nageki’s back and making sure the suds were gone.
“No, don’t stop,” Nageki said, not wanting to let go of this dream too soon.
“Huh?” Anghel seemed puzzled, which was odd because he always led these fantasies with so much energy.
The heat was far too much to make sense of all this; he hugged onto Anghel tight. “Don’t stop.”
"Waaah, Nageki?" he called in shock.
"I love you," he said as the haze started to turn black.
“Why do you keep coming to see me?” he asked. “I keep telling you what’s wrong with the stories you let me read and pointing out the flaws of your visions.”
“But that lets me make them even better!” he said, hopping up onto the table in excitement. “I never had anybirdie take what I say so seriously! They all called me a hopeless dreamer, or even a madbird. You’re the one who can see the brilliance and polish it up so that everybirdie else can see it too. And someday, that will save the world.”
“You shouldn’t be up there, but we’re alone here,” he said. “I’ve… never had anyone relying on me like this. I always relied on others, or I was always alone, whenever I can remember…”
“You don’t have to be alone. And someday, I’m gonna bring you out of here and give you so many good memories that you won’t have time to remember being alone. Just you wait.”
“Is this actually real?”
“Yeah, they were asking me how I did it.” He chuckled. “You can't explain miracles! But even though you fainted, I've never been happier! You're a gift from Heaven; I'll have to keep taking good care of you out of gratitude.”
Nageki felt embarrassed at that and looked away. But, it made him happy too. “Life is a gift, especially with you. But why are we in this hospital?"
"We're actually in quarantine," Anghel said. "So we're going to be here a while. I don't want to waste your second chance, especially if you can make a better life of it. Because of that, I called up some old friends and had them test you for demonic seeds. I don't sense any within you, but can't be too careful. And since I was living with you, they stuck me in here too. That's fine, as I'd rather be close to protect you."
"I see," Nageki said. Being stuck in quarantine... it brought back some bad memories. But it was better to be careful. Hopefully no one would try to take advantage of them like this.
"I will fight for you, even to your very nightmares and fears," Anghel declared. "All so that you can have the life you choose to have, even if you decide you'd rather have a normal quiet life. As long as we keep writing and drawing together, I'll be happy with whatever you choose."
“You really are my savior now,” Nageki said, going to snuggle by him.
“And you’re still my muse,” Anghel said, nuzzling his head against him. “They left us some new notebooks. If we’re going to be watched, want to keep working on that story?”
“Sure, we could make a great one now.”