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Of Music and Memories

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Chapter One

Heaven was in a full-blown meltdown and had been since the drunken ramblings of one vessel of Lucifer. Michael and Raphael had been seen (and heard) trying to out-scream one another in an argument that had seraphs scattering to avoid gaining their attention.

So far, fifty-some angels had been sent to Earth to perform a myriad of duties, most of them along the lines of “find the vessel of the Morningstar.”

Samandriel, of the last flock of angels created by their Father, had never expected to have been chosen for a mission. He was the youngest of the angels, the very last one created by their Father, but that did not mean he was young . Samandriel had been alive when dinosaurs were roaming the Earth. He had been a participant in the creation of the saber-toothed tiger. If shouting “It needs more teeth! Raaawr!” in Gabriel’s ear counted as participation. It had resulted in the long canine teeth the prehistoric feline wielded, and much laughter from Gabriel when Samandriel asked if the the length of the beast’s teeth was supposed to make up for its stubby legs.

But that was eons ago, no matter that the incident was branded upon Samandriel’s memory. Gabriel was dead and had been since The War shook Heaven and sent angels Falling, their grace twisted as they followed Lucifer into the plane that would become known as Hell. Heaven, once a place of laughter and joy, had become the battle camp of an army too tired of the fighting to go on but not knowing what else there was to do.

That left them little choice but to follow orders. Few had desires beyond that, for though returning Heaven to the glory and home it had once been was the wish on many minds, succeeding at such an endeavor required a plan. And in Heaven, the only plan that mattered was the one that ended everything.

Samandriel’s wings carried him around Heaven, away from the main areas filled with gossiping angels. The one he sought spent little time among the crowds, preferring stillness and silence.

“Castiel?” he called softly, as he landed lightly on one of the fields. The grass here was a light shade of green, almost jade, and waved in a non-existent wind. Each blade hummed with a quiet song, a soft music that angels had once known the words to and sung along with. Like many things, that had also been lost.

“Hello, Samandriel.” Castiel was sitting on the top of the hill, overlooking the forest of trees that stretched seemingly for miles beneath him. “I have heard that you have a mission.”

Castiel was considerably larger than Samandriel and he towered over the younger angel. He had three sides to his face and it was the human-like face that looked down at Samandriel, while the lion and bull continued to stare over the landscape. “Should you not already be on your way?”

“I wanted to say goodbye,” Samandriel said softly, shuffling his feet. In all honesty, he certainly should have left by now, and if Naomi heard of his hesitation, she would be sorely displeased. Samandriel had always been something of an outcast in Heaven, however, and Naomi was often displeased with him, just as she was with Castiel. Samandriel thought it was worth it to risk her ire to see his favorite brother.

One of Castiel’s wings stretched out, curling around his back and tugging him closer. Samandriel felt a smile curl over both sets of his lips and he snuggled into Castiel’s side. His brother smelled of a warm summer rain and gentle days filled with laughter.

“I am glad you came to see me,” he murmured softly. “Are you permitted to share your mission?”

“I am meant to find the vessel of the Morningstar.”

“That is a worthy mission. Do you know where you will search?”

Samandriel shook his head. His ears, long and tapered like a rabbit’s, flopped against his shoulders. “I will start where we have last heard his prayers originate, but then I shall go where my grace leads me.”

“Then I wish you luck, little brother. May your mission be a success.”

Much to Samandriel’s surprise, it was.

Samandriel did start his investigation where Sam’s last prayers had been heard from. He had not been privy to the prayers himself, having not been one of the numerous angels to whom the prayer was directed, but Heaven had been in an uproar due to the reactions of those that had. Some of the angels, like Zachariah, had locked themselves away. Others had shared what bits they had learned.

Rumor had it that Gabriel himself had been mentioned, though the part of the prayer that discussed him mentioned his death. Considering Gabriel had disappeared during The War that followed Lucifer’s Fall, and was presumed to have died either in that altercation or shortly thereafter, the suspicion that the vessel of Lucifer had The Sight was high in the thoughts of many an angel.

Samandriel did not know what to think. The younger angels, and those lower-ranking, of which Samandriel was both, were not told much about the plans of Heaven. Everyone knew that the vessels of the Apocalypse had been born and that the plans had been left by their Father, but the details were dealt with by the remaining archangels. Orders were passed out and Samandriel had just happened to be one of the angels chosen for a mission. It did not make him anything special. None of the messengers were special anymore.

Samandriel had never stood in a garrison. The soldiers were the angels led by Michael, The Commander, who burned with grace like flames. Samandriel’s grace was like a soft breeze, barely enough to shake a tree branch, carrying with it the smell of autumn and a world drowsy after the long spring and summer. Like all of the angels whose grace was painted with Air, Samandriel was a messenger of Heaven, meant to follow the orders of The Messenger.

But with Gabriel dead for eons, the purpose of his rank had been lost. Heaven had no need of messengers and like his brethren, Samandriel was nothing but another body for random tasks, to be used when needed and forgotten whenever else.

It was much the same and yet worse, he knew, for Castiel, who was the only angel who remained in Heaven with a grace likened to Water, the element of Lucifer.

He often wondered why it was that the other angels bearing grace like Water had Fallen with Lucifer, yet only Castiel remained. There were some angels who claimed Castiel was a spy and should be cast out of Heaven, but enough people had argued against this belief to put it down. Still, it confused and concerned Samandriel. Being like Lucifer in grace did not automatically make Castiel bad. Castiel was clearly able to make his own choices and had , which was obviously why he had not Fallen with their lost brothers. But why was he the only one that had disagreed with Lucifer out of all the angels who were created to follow him? Why was Castiel alone?

“He’s not alone. He has me,” Samandriel told himself, as he winged his way across the earth, following a strange sensation in the air that he couldn’t quite place. It was familiar but elusive, like a song he remembered the tune of but not the words. He had caught a scent of it with his grace at the park where the vessel of Lucifer had prayed from. It was like the smell of a flower exhaling oxygen, or a tree just after it rained, and there was a sweet undertone to it, like sugar and sunshine and laughter.

It almost made Samandriel giddy to smell it. He did not know if it would lead him to Lucifer’s vessel, but his curiosity had grasped him tightly and there were others searching on Earth, as well. He could take a small detour. Naomi would never know.

And Samandriel needed to know what that strange, familiar smell was that made him think, ridiculously, of giant cats and laughter. And home.

Humans were strange, Samandriel had decided, but clever. The four elements that made up the basis of their world were too much for their vulnerable forms, so they built homes to protect themselves. This was not Samandriel’s first time on Earth, of course. He had come down numerous times, but this was his first time on Earth since the turning of The Fifth Day.

Once, in its very early days, Gabriel had led a group of them to Earth and showed them how to take a vessel.

There were no humans at that time, of course. Plants and animals roamed the world alone. Gabriel had brought Samandriel and a number of messengers down, as well as a reluctant Castiel, and explained to them how they could tuck their grace around the soul of another creature. He then proceeded to demonstrate by slipping his impressively-large vessel inside the small body of a reptilian creature that would later be named a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

“Look! I have a big head and little arms!” Gabriel exclaimed excitedly, waving the dinosaur’s stubby arms around.

The crowd of younger angels burst into giggles and excitedly dashed off, ready to try and take their first vessel. It became a contest, Gabriel declaring that the angel who chose the best vessel and showed the most skill would win. Gabriel, of course, was excluded both for his obvious talent and because he needed to be the judge.

He watched with a proud smile as the messengers who followed him laughed and teased each other as they flew around, investigating the various animals that lived in this strange new world their Father had created.

Samandriel had wandered for a while, simply enjoying seeing his Father’s creations, admiring the tenacity of trees that had grown so large and the variety of animals in the world. There were so many! And all of them were different, with different strengths. Some burrowed underground, while others swam (and breathed!) in the ocean. Some even flew like he did, though their wings were vastly different. He was amazed and filled with wonder, trying to imagine how he could possibly decide what he wanted his very first vessel to be. It seemed an important occasion and he didn’t want to waste the memory. He needed to choose carefully.

And then he saw him.

All of the angels looked different. They were cosmic entities formed of celestial wavelengths, made of light and thought and feeling, and they each manifested their forms differently. Their consciousness had a part to play, as well as their personality. What they were, who they were, was not hidden. There was no shame in being who you were, for each of them had been crafted by the hands of their Father, created with purpose and love, and to feel shame for who they were was to reject the hands of their Father.

Things had changed since The War, but Samandriel still remembered being young, in the time before Lucifer’s Fall, when Heaven was a home and love was not a commodity sacrificed for duty, but the duty itself, and one gladly done.

The true forms of his siblings were all of varying sizes. The archangels tended to be larger than all of them, but this was not always true. Orphiel and Zaphkiel, two other messengers, were both larger than Gabriel, their wings stretching for miles in both directions, Orphiel’s many eyes gleamed a rainbow of colors, while Zaphkiel’s two faces, one a fox and the other an owl, laughed with glee.

Samandriel, in contrast, was the smallest of all the angels. His form was tiny, barely four feet in height, and soft. As wavelengths of light and intent, angels did not have fur, but that did not stop Samandriel’s form from giving of the appearance of smooth, thick hair that flowed like a jetstream, rippling silver and white. His legs were long and his hands small, for the purpose of a messenger was better fulfilled with speed than the ability to hold a sword. His wings were long and narrow, dark silver and smooth - the wings of an albatross, he would later discover. His face was human-like in shape, even before humans had been born, with two mouths that sat beneath a long nose, and eyes that circled his head like a crown. He had six ears, all of them long and tapered, like a rabbit’s, though he often forgot to keep them extended and they flopped noisily around his shoulders, tickling his wings.

He slipped his small form into the body of the reptile he had found, and was immediately overtaken by the creature’s senses. Angels could hear, of course, for what good was a message if it could not be received? But as he slipped his grace into the body of the creature he had chosen for his first vessel, he realized that he had only be taking in the sounds on the plane where he and his siblings dwelled. He had not been listening to the world .

The sheer noise was overwhelming on its own. Every movement had a sound, from the rustling of gigantic, leathery leaves to the stomp of a great leg upon the ground. Even the breath of the creature, inhaled deep into massive lungs, made a whispering sound as it entered and exited. And when Samandriel, unable to contain his excitement, laughed, it burst out of the body of the creature in a loud groaning roar that sent small creatures skittering away in all directions.

And the smells! The air was thick with moisture, heavy with the scent of vegetation. There was rumbling grumble - a sound and sensation both! - that came from his vessel’s organs, and the pang of emptiness and a feeling of want that were both foreign and frightening. He inhaled a breath and the smell of vegetation came again, eliciting another rumble.

What was this strange feeling? Why was his vessel’s organs churning? Was it defective?

He stretched the long neck of his vessel around. It took a while. The creature he inhabited was massive, its body taller than some of the trees Samandriel could sense had been alive for centuries. Its movements were slow, but Samandriel eventually dragged its head around to peer at the midsection where the problem seemed to be originating. He did not see a wound on the beast’s body, but he searched with his grace nonetheless. Did he need to heal his new vessel? Would that make it feel better and stop grumbling?

He should go ask Gabriel! Gabriel would know if his vessel needed healing. He pulled his grace away from the beast’s mind, lifting his wings to fly off, but somewhere his grace faltered against his commands, the creature’s mind clinging to his grace, pinning his wings, and Samandriel realized he was trapped.

He strained against the hold the creature had on him but couldn’t get loose. He cried out in fear. Would he be stuck in this form forever? He liked it but he wanted his form and his wings . He didn’t want to be big and slow for the rest of time!

“Gabriel! Brother, help!” he cried in his mind, sending his thoughts outward to the archangel. Terror made the thundering heart of his vessel tremble like a drum within him and the sensation was frightening. Was the beast away of the beat of its heart at every moment? Did it understand its own mortality, know that it was finite and would one day die? What happened if Samandriel was inside it when that happened? Would he die, too? Angels couldn’t die!

The creature’s voice burst in a deep wail that quivered up the long throat. Saliva foamed at the mouth of the beast and he could feel panic stealing its mind, trying to drag his grace down into illogical madness and beastial instinct. He fought it but his inability to escape only made the panic worse and the beast swung around, ignoring his input, sending a tree crashing to the ground with a shudder and Samandriel’s - the beast’s - tail burned with pain.

A loud buzzing thrummed heavy in the air, burning against his ears. Samandriel whipped the beast’s head around even as his angelic senses sought to identify the sound, automatically slowing it down in his mind, until he was hearing each individual beat of the translucent, membranous wings. He blinked in surprise at the dull yellow and dark black of the striped body that came into his view, superimposed over the silver-blue of grace.

Sticky legs, six of them, touched down on the end of his nose and Samandriel blinked, the panic receding at this strange choice. The creature was tiny. The reptile Samandriel had chosen for his vessel, what would one day be named a sauroposeidon by humans scientists, could have swallowed the tiny insect whole. The angel housed in the creature - Castiel, he recognized, as the smell of warm summer rain blended with the humidity of the rainforest - had landed it on his nose with no concern, however, the strange wings stilling.

“C-Castiel?” Samandriel asked, shivering.

Hello, little brother. You seem distressed.”

“I’m stuck!”

”Are you stuck? Or are you lost inside your vessel? It is quite large, Samandriel.”

Despite his fear, Samandriel could not help giggling at the image Castiel conjured between their minds, his tiny form an even tinier ball of vermillion light, traveling the length of the sauropod’s form in search of an exit, and getting stuck in its leg.

“I’m bigger than you,” he said, voice trembling. Was he stuck in the creature’s leg? Would he be trapped here forever?

“Watch, little brother. Forgive me… you are still big for now.”

“Castiel…” he whined, and laughed. He watched in amazement as Castiel’s form condensed, his grace shrinking into a tiny ball, and then seeming to spring out of the insect’s body like a cloud of thick vapor. Immediately, the twisting ribbon of light expanded and Castiel’s true form rose above even the massive dinosaur, stretching up and up.

Light blue wings running with rainwater unfolded and curled around Samandriel’s form, their thick feathers singing with the sound of a summer shower. He noted idly the sensation of the small insect leaving its perch upon his nose, the sound of its wings as it made its way toward another part of the forest, to continue to life of an ordinary insect.

”There. That is much better. You are small again, Samandriel.” The human mouth of Castiel’s true form turned up in a smile and laugher huffed out from between the lips of his lionine face. “Though I believe you are still larger than Gabriel. You must be sure to tell him so.” The tips of Castiel’s wings brushed against Samandriel’s. “Now it is your turn to leave your vessel.”

“What if I can’t get out?”

“Then I shall resign myself to a brother who is a reptile.” Samandriel sobbed. “Be still, Samandriel. I meant only jest. If you cannot get out, then I shall help you. But first, try.”

He did try. And he did get out. They stood together and watched as the sauropod, now free of Samandriel’s control, ripped the leaves off a nearby tree and began to consume them.

“It is absorbing that plant, brother,” Samandriel said, watching as the large leaf disappeared into the creature’s mouth.

“It is eating. These creatures gain nutrients by consuming vegetation and other creatures, turning that into energy. They do not sustain themselves on grace as we do. They only survive because there are other species in this world that they feed on.”

Samandriel eyed his older brother curiously. “This is not your first time visiting this world, is it?”

“Gabriel seems to find great joy in dragging me to this tiny planet and introducing me to its denizens. This is only my most recent excursion here. I suspect it will not be my last.” His wings extended. “Come. Let us find the others before they become concerned.”

When they reached Gabriel, he had left his vessel and was entertaining the other angels with a tale about a tiny mammal that he promised would one day confuse mankind tremendously.

“Humans will separate animals and plants into categories. Mammals have fur and birth their nestlings live. Birds and reptiles lay eggs. Placing these species in categories will be very important to them, so when Father gave us archangels the chance to create a creature each, I had a fantastic idea.” He grinned wildly and Castiel groaned, covering his eyes with a hand. “I created this little creature that had a bill like a bird, and webbed feet, and fur like an otter. And then I made it lay eggs instead of birthing its children live. And to top it off, I made it smell weird!” He burst into laughter. “They’ll be scratching their heads for decades ! And don’t get me started on the coconuts!”

The other angels burst into giggles, even though Samandriel was sure they must all be exactly as confused as he was. The archangels had a larger perspective than the younger angels. They were able to see through time, to see some things as they would be, so whatever an otter was and a coconut surely made sense to Gabriel, just as he would understand what humans looked like and did, but Samandriel could only smile and laugh in confusion.

Gabriel snorted. “Oh, nevermind. I’ll remind you of this moment in a couple millennia. Then you can laugh like you mean it.” He crossed his arms and pretended to huff in exasperation. “Bunch o’ nestlings, the lot of you.”

“We are not!” one of Samandriel’s nestmates cried out in indignation. “I’ve fully fledged!” There were choruses of agreement, but Gabriel only huffed and shook his head.

“Brother, you are presently outnumbered,” Castiel said with a smile.

“What, Castiel? Am I supposed to feel threatened by this group, fresh from their grace-birthing and still squalling?”

Samandriel clapped his hands over his mouths but it did nothing to contain his giggles. Gabriel side-eyed him with a teasing glare. “What are you laughing at, short stuff?”

“I was bigger than you!” Samandriel cried. His wings spread open and he let out a loud laugh as he cried, “Messengers attack!”

Gabriel went down laughing beneath a pile of angels, their grace reaching everywhere it could, trying to tickle him. Castiel didn’t join them but stood back, calling out suggestions of where Gabriel was most ticklish, to Gabriel’s shrieks of mock-outrage. The prehistoric rainforest was filled with the sounds of childish laughter, and it lingered for years, long after they were gone, a memory even the world of the humans refused to forget.

Samandriel kept that memory tucked close to him, hidden deep inside his grace where nothing could touch it. He had few memories of the time before The War. Most of the angels, it seemed, had forgotten what life used to be like except for brief moments. No one knew why and no one talked about it, so Samandriel didn’t dare mention it. All he could do was hold tight to it and keep it in his grace, letting it play out in his mind in the moments when he was alone.

He wondered, sometimes, why the angels did not all share the memories between them. Surely, if they did, they could paint a picture of their past together . But no one ever discussed it, so he did not know what things someone else remembered, perhaps even about him , that he had forgotten, or what things he knew that had been forgotten by others.

Did Castiel remember, he wondered, that that was the day he was named Angel of Thursday? That Gabriel had declared him the winner of their contest because he had taken a dorudon as a vessel and, as Gabriel had said, “went and did the best backflip ever, little bro!” Gabriel had said that it was Castiel’s Day, and then he had stared for a while, in that way that the archangels had, as though he were looking at something far, far away.

“This will be called The Fifth Day by the humans,” he told them all, and though there was a smile on his face, his eyes were serious and shrouded with a knowledge older than all of them combined. “This will be your day.” He stared at Castiel with ancient golden eyes. “Castiel, the Angel of Thursday.”

The laughter had come back, then. The seriousness cast aside in favor of amusement and Gabriel’s teasing, but Samandriel remembered the way Gabriel had glanced his way, as though checking on him for injury, and the look of pride he had worn when he glanced at a distracted Castiel.

Samandriel was never sure, but he thought that Gabriel had heard his cry when he was trapped in the sauroposeidon’s body, and waited, letting Castiel take the lead. Letting Castiel come to his rescue. Because, he remembered, the way the other messengers reacted to the angel changed after that. He was still an outcast among the healers and the soldiers, who looked at him like they were waiting for him to show his true colors and attack, but among the messengers, Castiel had found a place where he belonged.

Even now, years after The War and with Gabriel lost and Heaven broken, the messengers still held together. They did not have a purpose other than fodder for whatever The Commander or The Healer required, but they had not abandoned each other. They stood together, a family despite everything, and Castiel, Samandriel knew, was one of their fold.

He didn’t know if his brother knew that, though, if he remembered it.

I’ll tell him when I get back, Samandriel thought, as he swooped low over the dried, brown landscape of a place in the southern reaches of North America, following the strange smell that so enticed his grace. If he did not remember, then Samandriel would be only too happy to remind his brother that he belonged with them, and that he was loved.

As soon as I get back.

Chapter Text

They called this town Oasis Plains, but Samandriel didn’t understand why it had a name when there was nothing here. Didn’t most towns have the homes that humans had built to protect themselves from the elements, or even larger buildings - the great huge reflective ones that were taller than some of his brothers? No, those went by a different name. Those were… cities.

But they still had more than this place - a grassy field with some strange metal contraptions sitting around. They had seats inside them, but they looked neither comfortable nor good for protection against the harsh wind or heat of this place.

He was confused, but that could be rectified. Samandriel had taken other vessels since his first. All of them animals, but he had learned to pick up knowledge from the mind of the creature, and humans could hardly be too different, except for that one small detail.

To take a human as a vessel, he needed permission.

He wasn’t entirely sure how he was supposed to get permission. He certainly couldn’t show himself to a human. Naomi, who had informed a group of them about their assigned mission (passed to her by The Commander who, of course, was far too busy to waste time on a bunch of messengers), had given them some quick rules about going to Earth. Some of them were things he’d heard from her before - don’t get comfortable, don’t go native, don’t mate with a human (why she bothered to mention that, Samandriel didn’t know - all angels knew Nephilim were forbidden), and don’t show your true form or speak your true voice to a human unless you wanted their eyes to burn out and their heads to explode.

Samandriel shook himself, trying to shake the image away from his mind, but of course it had been burned there. He sighed, his grace letting the breath burst out of him in an unseasonal scent of autumn leaves. Sometimes his imagination was terrible, but that wasn’t something discussed with other angels. Thinking of things that weren’t real was frowned upon in Heaven. Such things had been unofficially prohibited since the last animal was created on Earth, it’s form designed by Lucifer. When he had fallen, none of the archangels had dared to raise their hands to create anything new. It was like Heaven itself had fallen with the Morningstar, and remained in mourning ever since.

It made him sad. He remembered how the messengers had followed Gabriel around as the youngest archangel created animals, laughing as they tossed out suggestions. Michael had been the one to create the western dragons, great fire-breathing quadrupeds with massive wings of leathery membrane rather than feathers. In response, Gabriel had created the bat, a tiny rodent with dragon-like wings, and laughed gleefully at the suggestions to make it eat fruit and bugs, or give it sonar abilities and make it active at night. Like dragons, they lived in caves and dark places, but they were tiny and adorable and oh, Michael had flushed with embarrassment, even his wings turning the color of apples. That, Samandriel remembered, was when the contest for animal creation had begun, and resulted in a number of very odd undersea creatures and the entire continent of Australia.

But that had stopped long ago. There hadn’t been any new creatures crafted by the hands of an archangel in eons, and Samandriel suspected there never would be another. His memories of the laughter of Heaven and of his brother’s’ playful competitions were just that - memories.

Sometimes, it hurt almost too much to remember. Sometimes he wished he didn’t.

It was only his close proximity that let him hear the prayer. It wasn’t meant for him and so the words didn’t reach him, but Samandriel recognize the music of a prayer being spoken, less like speech than a song hummed by a chorus. Surprised, for he hadn’t heard a prayer in centuries, Samandriel angled his grace downward and flattened his wings, letting the air rush around them and accepting the gravity of this planet, letting it grasp him where it hadn’t touched before.

He ignored the physicality of brick and stone and plaster, catching the wind beneath his wings as he leveled out and swooped into the large stone building, gliding with ease through a glass window depicting a human with large white wings. Was that supposed to be an angel? It looked nothing like them.

There were long benches facing a podium, but only a few people scattered here and there. The air was filled with the strangest sensation Samandriel had ever felt. It tingles along his grace, whispered against his ears - wishes and hopes and wants and fears and belief. Belief, so strong he thought he might have been able to take his true form here and harm no one, could have spoken his true voice and been heard, but of course he did not dare risk it.

He folded his long legs so he sat in an approximation of the angle of the benches, though of course he was not truly on the same plane. A few of his ears lifted, listening to softly murmured words. Sounds of grief, whispers of hope, prayers spoken in a human tongue that he could hear, directed to a Father that had left a long time ago.

Samandriel felt grief touch him and his ears flopped back down against his neck. Father had left Heaven after Lucifer had Fallen and he hadn’t been back since. No one talked about it but it was always there, an unspoken knowledge. The favored son had been cast down and none of them were worth remaining for.

Perhaps his Father had gone to another world and made new children. Children who wouldn’t disappoint him and who he could love without needing to run away to escape their faults. Samandriel wanted to not care. Or, barring that, he wanted to wish his Father happiness, but all he could think of was that the only time he had looked upon the one who created him was the moment he first opened his eyes, lying in the still-glowing hands that had formed him. The rest of the time… none of the lesser angels had been worth their Father’s notice. They were not important enough.

So why would this human be?

Something inside him hurt at the thought and he frowned, his wings quivering. It was a feeling not unlike the hungry sensation of an empty stomach - a churning need and want and pain, but his true form had no stomach, nor a need to eat, so of course this could not be hunger.

“What’s that?” a small voice asked, and Samandriel looked up to see a pair of eyes staring back at him.

“I don’t see anything. Matt, come on, we need to go.” An older man said. Samandriel studied him. He looked similar to the boy, though the child had some differing facial features. Perhaps he appeared more like his mother. “I don’t know why you wanted to come here, anyway.” There was a pause and a sigh. “Tell me you weren’t looking for spiders in a church.”

“I wasn’t looking for spiders in a church,” The younger boy parroted, and then smirked at his father’s groan. “I just wanted to look. I wasn’t going to do anything.”

“It’s a place of worship, Matthew. Not a playground.” A hand on the child’s back ushered him forward, though his walk was reluctant as they left the building. “I wish you’d get over this obsession with insects. It’s not healthy.”

The boy didn’t answer his father. As they passed by where Samandriel rested, a pair of dark brown eyes turned to look at him, and Samandriel felt the touch of Sight burn across his skin like sunshine. His wings flared open in surprise. The boy could see him.

What are you? he heard against his grace, similar to a prayer and yet different.

His ears came up, riveted on the boy’s strange mental voice, as he spoke back quietly, brushing against the boy’s mind without thinking about it, instinct carrying his words in a way that would not harm.

“I am the angel Samandriel. Will you help me?”

Taking a human as a vessel was beyond anything Samandriel had expected. It was far different from taking an animal vessel. For one thing, the mind of an animal was general rather simple.

That could not be said even in jest of Matthew Pike.

The boy’s mind never stopped. Animals didn’t have thoughts. They lived on instinct and learned knowledge that manifested more as feelings. Hunger was a feeling, which caused them to use their learned knowledge to fulfill the instinct of eating. The same with thirst or the need to nurse young. Their wants were linked to requirements for their survival. Everything was cause and effect by the need to continue the existence of themselves and their species.

Humans were weird.

For one thing, some of their wants had absolutely nothing to do with their continued survival. In fact, they were directly opposing the potential for their continued existence. Yes, the hunger was still there, as well as the instinct to fulfill that hunger, though it was quieter, more subtle, overrun by the noise of constant thoughts and wants and fears and wishes and dreams. It was inescapable, maddening, and so, so familiar.

When Matthew had given him permission to use him as a vessel, Samandriel had expected the thrum of various needs and instincts in the back of his mind, physiological aches and burns to tell him things, nothing altogether different from an animal.

But then he was inside Matthew, his grace wrapped around the boy’s bright soul, and his thoughts were searing their way into his own mind, terrible and merciless.

Thoughts about being in a new town, so far away from the only home he had ever known. The grief of leaving behind friends he didn’t remember a life without, the loneliness of not knowing anyone. The fear of going to a school where he was the new kid, unknown and prime for attack, with no one to talk to or spend time with or to stand with him against the inevitable string of bullies who would turn their predatory focus on the fresh meat. The fears that it would never change, that he would always be the odd one out, either for being the new kid or for his dreams, so huge dreams. Thoughts like stories that unfolded in Samandriel’s mind, where a young boy wore a white lab coat and fed crickets to a glass aquarium filled to the brim with spiders. Where plaques covered the wall, emblazoned with words Samandriel could not read, but glowing with the dream-logic-feeling of success and amazement and wonder. Dreams of a boy looked up to for his fascination with and knowledge of insects. And yet underneath every glow of wish-dream-want, there lurked a thought, like a seal under thin ice following a herd of penguins - my father is ashamed of me. My father is disappointed in me. My father doesn’t want me, wishes he had a different son, a better son, and not-weird-not-broken-not-strange son.

Matthew had stumbled but caught himself, as Samandriel’s grace ripped away from the thoughts, from his mind, curling right and small within an already small body, crying out in anguished grief at feelings and fears that were too familiar, put into terrible words in the mind of a child.

He vaguely heard Matthew's father (Larry, the boy’s mind supplied) ask him if he was okay, but he couldn’t bring himself to come out yet. Not yet, when he knew he couldn’t control himself and did not know how he was supposed to pretend to be a boy he didn’t know. So he kept himself tucked away, curled into a ball around the child’s soul, until Matthew and his father had returned to their house and the boy had retreated to his nest.

“Are you okay?” He felt and heard the mumble of Matthew’s voice. “Samandriel?”

Oh. Samandriel uncurled himself from his right ball, tentatively reaching out to touch the boy’s mind. Worry blurred yellow across his grace, writhing like worms in putrid mud, and Samandriel brushed a wing against the shining soul, soothing the concern instinctively. He felt Matthew’s sigh of relief like a cool breeze. Funny. It almost felt like his grace.

”I am unhurt.”

“You were crying,” he said, and his voice trembled slightly. Not concern this time. Remorse and loss.

”I have never taken a human vessel before,” Samandriel admitted, slightly chagrined. ”I was unprepared for the vastness of your mind.”

“But you’re an angel. Your mind must be huge.”

”It’s not the same.” He tried to think of how to explain it. The mind of an animal is like a single drop of water fallen from a cloud. It exists only in the place where it is, focused on its present. Sometimes it’s catches grains of dirt - knowledge obtained from past encounters - that it carries along with it, but it is never more than a single drop of water. It has no care of where it came from or where it is going to. It simply is.” For a moment, he let himself focus on the breath entering and leaving Matthew’s lungs. Like the sauroposeidon from so long ago, every breath made a whispering sound and both it and the repetitive act were soothing. ”Humans by contrast… you are an ocean. The tide goes in and out in constant motion, touching a thousand shores in a moment, grabbing grains of sand from a million past deeds and carrying them along. Your minds are made of as much of your past as your present, and yet you reach also for the future. You are everywhere, and yet also within yourself, so vast that sometimes you touch nothing of the world and are a world alone. It is…” Exhausting. Amazing. Wonderful. Terrifying. Beyond anything he had expected from a creature he had heard often called mud-monkies. This human, whose mind was so like his. Breathtaking.”

Matthew face warmed with startling heat and Samandriel’s wings rose in agitation, his grace reaching out to heal a wound or still a fever. Instead, embarrassment and pleasure and uncertainty met his grace and he searched the emotions for the source of this strange physiological response.

“Matthew, what is a blush?”

Matthew’s resulting laughter was loud enough to summon his dad.

It was only after Matthew’s embarrassment faded that the excitement flushed through them. “You said… animals. You possessed them?”

Possessed was a word always associated with demons and Samandriel winced to hear it. ”I have taken numerous animals as vessels in my past visits to Earth.” he admitted.

“Like what?”

”My first was a sauroposeidon. He was the largest animal I had ever taken as a vessel.”

“A saur—A DINOSAUR?”

“Alfie?” a female voice called from another room. “Who are you talking to?”


A soft laugh and then, “Okay, sweetheart.”

Matthew look a deep breath and let it out. He was jittery and couldn’t seem to stand still.

Samandriel was a little confused. ”Alfie?”

“It’s a nickname my parents use sometimes. Mostly my mom. Unless I’m in trouble. Then it’s Matthew Alfred Pike!He snickered a little.

“A nickname. So it is a shortened version of your second name?”

“My middle name, yeah, but sometimes nicknames are random, too. Like my friend from back home. Her name was Cassidy but everyone called her Beetle. I don’t even know why.”

The name Cassidy sounded so similar to Castiel that for a moment, he was lost in the thought of what his brother would be doing at that moment. It also reminded him of another rumor that had been circulating Heaven, that the vessel of Lucifer has mentioned an angel, but he had used the name “Cas.”

Samandriel hadn’t understood why he would only use one syllable that could refer to multiple angels, but this actually explained a lot. ”Are nicknames common for humans?”

“Yeah, especially ones that shorten a name to just a single sound. Like my friends call me Matt, instead of Matthew. It’s quicker.” He climbed onto the bed and laid down, staring at the ceiling. It was covered, Samandriel realized, in light-green pieces of plastic in the shape of stars. Not real stars, of course, since they were actually balls of gas, but he recognized the star shape from some Enochian wards his brothers had created. Castiel was particularly talented at creating sigils and wards. He wondered if his brother would know where the humans picked up this shape from.

“Do you like them?” Matthew (Matt, Samandriel reminded himself) asked quietly. His voice was a little subdued. “My dad thinks they’re childish but… I like them. I tried to put them together, to make the constellations, but I’m not very good at it.”

”Why are they green?” Samandriel asked.

Matt laughed and rolled to his feet. He pulled the shades down over his windows, closed the door, and shut off the lights. Then he walked over and climbed on the bed again, rolling onto his back.

Samandriel’s wings flared open in surprise and he stared. “Father… they glow!”

Matt laughed. “Yeah, they do. Like stars.”

Samandriel stared at them, at this wonder, the innovation of these humans, who were so much more than he realized. “”I love them,” he whispered.

Samandriel wasn’t sure what to do when Matt fell asleep.

At first he didn’t realize what was happening, and he panicked when the boy’s heartbeat and breathing both slowed, and his body temperature began to drop. He’d been inside injured animals before, had felt them dying and used his grace to heal them, but they’d always had a wound. His grace scoured Matt’s body for a wound but it couldn’t find one and he felt his wings shivering in fear. Why was Matt dying? Did Samandriel do something? Was he hurting him? He didn’t want to hurt him!

In a panic, he sent out a rush of healing grace to infuse all of Matt’s body, hoping to catch whatever injury he couldn’t sense and fix it.

Matt’s leg twitched and his eyes opened, blinking blearily. Samandriel felt his heartbeat pick up slightly.

“Smandril?” he murmured, his words running together.

”Are you okay?” Samandriel asked, his grace probing, searching for a recently-healed part of Matt, but there was nothing. What was wrong?


Samandriel grace quieted. This was normal? “What’s sleepin?”

Matt opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. Samandriel could sense, somehow, that he was doing this in lieu of being able to stare at Samandriel himself. “Sleep’s… when you sleep? Rest. So I can be awake.”

”So you’re not… you’re not hurt?”

“No?” he asked, confused. “Everybody sleeps. Don’t angels sleep?”


“Mm… when you sleep, you dream. S’nice.”


“Mmhm,” the boy murmured, but Samandriel could feel his consciousness slipping away again.  He forced himself not to panic this time, just watched.

Matt’s breathing evened out again and his heartbeat slowed, but that was all. Neither stopped. His body temperature lowered but not dangerously. And when his eyes began to move strangely, rolling beneath his eyelids as his mind worked hard, Samandriel reached out and touched his mind.

It wasn’t unlike the dreams that had fell upon him when he first entered Matt’s body. Standing in the center of a large room with long lines of tables covered in equipment, dressed in a white labcoat that was too big for him, Matt fed his spiders and taught crickets how to sing a song about how they could be heroes, which didn’t make any sense to Samandriel, since crickets couldn’t sing, or be heroes.

When Matt turned, he saw Samandriel, which surprised him just as much here as it had in the church. “Wanna see my lightning bugs? They can change colors.”

“What’s school?”

“Um… calling it Hell probably isn’t a good idea, since you’re an angel, is it?”

”Hell isn’t on Earth,” Samandriel said. ”It exists on a separate plane, like Heaven. So this school can’t be Hell.” He frowned, searching the connotations of the word. It was becoming clear to him that humans were not very literal. Matt, at least, seemed very prone to colloquialisms, exaggeration, and misnomers. Hell, however, was where humans who sinned too badly to be saved were taken for punishment, and that was concerning. ”Is it a place of torture?”

“My English class sure is,” he muttered, but Samandriel could sense the irritation there, not fear or pain. “It’s a place where we kids go to learn.”

”Oh!” Samandriel felt his grace thrum with pleasure. ”Lessons!”

Matt laughed and it occurred to Samandriel that he could probably feel his pleasure. “You like school, then? Lessons, I mean.”

”Very much. My older brother, Castiel. He is the one who taught me how to fly.”

“You’re… wait. You have brothers? You have other angel brothers. And sisters?”

”Lots of both. All angels are siblings.”

The emotion he felt then from Matt didn’t feel good. It was a twisting, dark feel that swirled in his chest like a greasy shadow. Samandriel shied away from it, curving his grace so it didn’t touch the foul essence, his wings shuddering at his back.

The feeling gave way, then, not quite dissipating, but fading enough that he could sense the wishfulness beneath. He didn’t understand until Matt’s subdued voice said, “I don’t have any siblings.”

”Did you want some?”

His shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. “I don’t know. I mean, my friends complain about their siblings a lot. Their big brothers are jerks or their little sisters are babies, but… they do stuff with them, too. They play games or just talk. They’re friends.” The wishfulness lingered even as the sadness took hold. Humans felt so much! “A brother would have come here with me, when we moved. Instead all my friends are back home and I’m here and I don’t know anyone except my parents.” He picked up his back-pack and slung it slowly over his shoulder. “I would have liked to have a brother or a sister, I think. Even if they were a jerk or a baby.”

Samandriel didn’t say anything for a while. He thought through what Matt had said as the boy left his house, climbing inside a great yellow transportation device he called a “bus.” Samandriel murmured a quiet thank you as the boy whispered the word. Once he realized Samandriel didn’t know what a lot of things were, he had started explaining them, or at least relaying the names. It was interesting and Samandriel took immense joy in learning all of it, but his mind was focused elsewhere at the moment.

They were pulling into the parking lot of a school before Samandriel spoke. Matt was sitting at the back of the bus, so he had to wait until everyone else got off before he could.

”Angels don’t have physical forms, you know,” he began slowly. ”We have a True Form, made of grace, which is like your soul.” He could sense Matt’s attention and curiosity focused on his words, so he continued. ”Your parents, of course, created your physical body with theirs.”

“Ew, Samandriel!” Matt hissed. “That’s gross!” A girl a few seats ahead of him turned around and gave him a confused look, but she hadn’t actually heard his words, only that he had spoken, and was soon distracted by a friend. “I don’t wanna think about my parents… making me.”

”It’s simply nature--”

“Dude. No. It’s gross.” He shuddered. “Skip that part, okay?”

His revulsion was clear, even if Samandriel didn’t really understand it. The creation of a human form that permitted a soul to be placed inside was a wonderful gift. But he accepted that Matt had to interest in discussing that. He could ask why it was gross later.

”Your… physical form is human, but souls are… different.” He decided to explain the lack of permanent link to species later. That wasn’t pertinent. ”Your body might have been created by… nature.”

“Gross,” Matt whispered.

”But your soul was created by my Father, the same as my grace. So… if you think about it… that makes us brothers.” 

Matt’s school was amazing! Samandriel was only sad that this was his last day attending until after their Yule celebrations were finished. The teachers, Matt said, had given them quite a bit of homework over the holiday, but the final day of classes before break didn’t have a great deal of learning from the majority of the classes. Some of them only had the students sit quietly or read, while others watched a movie, which was a story told on a screen with people acting it out. The one they watched in Math and Study Hall was about a mermaid who fell in love with a human. The colors were vibrant and unrealistic but that was easy to ignore because there was singing.

It was nothing like the singing in Heaven, spoken in Enochian and telling old, long-known tales, or whispering songs about learning or healing or lessons that needed remembered. Some of the songs were downright jaunty, done to a tune that was as jumpy as a lemur in a tree. Even after the movie ended, Samandriel found himself humming the songs. He would stop for a while, but then he would become distracted and find himself singing them, his grace humming along, wings twitching to the tune.

He could feel Matt’s amusement burning bright in his soul, and in a moment between classes when they were walking through a crowded hall, the boy murmured, “Wait til we get home and I introduce you to my DVD collection.”

Samandriel’s favorite class was Science. It was amazing! Humans knew so much! The classroom was filled with pictures of planets named after the Roman gods. Samandriel had met Venus once. He thought her planet was lovely. It was no wonder they had named it after her.

There were also pictures of dinosaurs all along the walls near the ceiling. Samandriel could barely contain himself as Matt scanned the pictures so he could see them. There wasn’t a sauroposeidon listed, though the apatosaurus was similar in physical shape, if smaller. The sight of the dorudon and tyrannosaurus rex was wonderful, however, and he gleefully told Matt about the time Castiel and Gabriel had taken each as a vessel.

And when Matt asked him what other animals he had taken as vessels throughout the years, Samandriel happily recalled his visits to Earth, listing them off. There was the fruit bat (Gabriel’s creation) and the lemur (Raphael’s), the penguin (which led to an explanation of exactly how terrifying leopard seals were), three different species of owls, the mongoose, a chameleon, komodo dragon, and a basilisk lizard (which meant he had to tell Matt about the time a bunch of his brothers had a contest to see who could run on water the furthest).

”Castiel won, of course. Gabriel said it was because of his grace. He connects with water creatures.”

“What do you connect with?” Matt asked quietly.

“What was that, Mister Pike?” the teacher asked, and Matt cringed in his seat. His teacher raised an eyebrow. “Share with the class?”

Matt blushed warm and scarlet, but before he could say anything, Samandriel said, ”Oh! Oh! Ask him why you humans haven’t explored deeper into the oceans! You’ve gone into space!”

Matt could barely contain his laughter, but he managed to say with a mostly-straight face, “I was wondering why we haven’t explored the oceans as much as we have space.”

The teacher looked surprised. “An excellent question, Matthew. Much of it has to do with pressure.”

By the time class was over, Samandriel’s grace was practically vibrating in excitement, and the students were all very excited, because their teacher had taken the entire class period to explain the various reasons humans couldn’t delve too deeply into the oceans, and no homework had been assigned. Matt got a few slaps to the back, which was apparently a physical way for humans to show their gratitude.

”What class is next?” Samandriel asked excitedly.

“That’s it. Science is my last class for the day.” He couldn’t contain his groan of disappointment, but Matt just laughed. “How about… and my mom’s gonna think I’m sick but, when we get home, I’ll do my homework, and we can read the chapter in my science book about tornadoes.”

”I’ve been inside a tornado before,” Samandriel said excitedly. ”I’m an element of Air.”

“Well, maybe you can explain the weather to me, because I think it’s just weird. Thunder’s not really angels bowling in Heaven, right? Because if it is, I owe my gram an apology.”

”What’s bowling?”

“What are we watching?” Samandriel asked, as Matt placed the thin disk into a slot and let the draw slide closed.

“This is one of my favorite movies,” he said, flopping down on the couch and picking up his drink. He called it a Coke. Samandriel liked the taste of it, sweet, and it bubbled hard on Matt’s tongue, almost burning. The sensation of swallowing a mouthful of bubbles made Samandriel laugh. “I think you’ll like it.”

They turned their attention to the television as the movie began, playing in bright colors.

Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind.

Or forgotten.

Chapter Text

“Do you assist your father in building homes?”

He felt Matt’s lips turn down and his nose scrunch up as confusion ruffled through him. “What?”

Samandriel thought of the large machine he had seen during his flight, one that he later saw being controlled by a man, used to dig through the ground and move the earth. “Your father is the commander of your home builders, isn’t he? Do you assist him?”

“Oh, the construction company. No, my dad’s not a commander. He’s just the boss. He tells people what to do and where to put stuff, I guess.”

Samandriel thought that the word “commander” was apt, in that case, but didn’t correct Matt. Maybe that wasn’t a term used on Earth yet? Or perhaps it was one used centuries ago. Language changed rather quickly, according to some of his brothers and sisters who made frequent trips to Earth.

“I’m too young to have a job, anyway. I’m only twelve.”

Twelve seemed rather old for a human, to be honest. Didn’t they only live to be forty? Why were they still being swaddled after a quarter of their lifespan had past?

“I’ll be in school ‘til I’m eighteen, and if I go to college, then I might be thirty before I get out.”

Thirty?! “What will you do then?”

“Well, I want to be an Entomologist and study insects, but I’ll have to work for someone else for a while before I can go off on my own. I’d like to go to the Amazon Rainforest, though, and look for new species of insects! Or spiders. There was a movie once about this new spider they found in the Amazon. It was really venomous, and it bred with a spider from the US and created this whole new species. I got in trouble for watching it, but I think Mom was only mad because she’s terrified of spiders. I think they’re cool.”

Samandriel was very confused, but he didn’t want to ask Matt how long he was likely to live. It seemed a terrible topic to bring up with a creature that was possibly still considered an infant in their own species, even if Samandriel knew that Matt’s bright soul would find a beautiful home in Heaven once he left this realm.

Samandriel hoped he could visit him there, in his Heaven. He liked this boy.

“Spiders were one of Raphael’s creations,” Samandriel told him, thinking of the Healer. “He has eight arms. Gabriel was teasing him one day, so Raphael created the first spider and dropped it down Gabriel’s shirt.”

It wasn’t an actual shirt, of course. In their trueforms, the angels did not wear clothing. It was simply the closest approximation Samandriel could make to easily explain Raphael sticking the spider beneath the outer layer of Gabriel’s grace so its legs would wriggle around against his wings. Gabriel had shrieked so loudly, he caused the massive volcanic eruption that would come to be known as Krakatoa, after the island on which it occurred a few billion years in the future.

“Your brothers sound awesome.”

”They are.” Awesome in all senses of the world, but also terrible. He thought of Lucifer, who had Fallen and taken Heaven with him. Lucifer, who was planning to fight Michael for command over Heaven, in the Final Battle that would determine everything.

And Samandriel was supposed to be finding his true vessel, not playing games with a human.

“Are you okay?” Matt asked, pausing in his walk across the fresh-tilled dirt.

”Yes,” Samandriel said.

Ohana means family.

”I’m fine.”

“Okay,” Matt said, and began walking again, though Samandriel could feel both his disbelief and concern.

”What did you want to do out here?” he asked, to try and change the subject.

“Well, there’s this spider that local to the area, but it’s really venomous…”

“This is how I spoke to you that first time.”

“It’s still weird,” Matt said, from where he was crouched next to the rotting porch. “It’s like I’m having a conversation with a spider.”

“Spiders do not appear to have very elaborate thoughts. Mostly she is concerned that you are large and near her nest.” There was a small movement in the shadows beneath the porch. “I am coming out now. Do not squish me.”

“Of course not.”

“Human instincts might have you reacting without thought. I can feel the toxic nature of her venom. If she were to bite you, you would need immediate assistance.”

“But you have control of her, right?” Matt asked nervously, taking a few careful steps backward.

“Yes. I won’t allow her to hurt you as long as I am present. Either in her body or yours.”

Matt nodded, relaxing. “I’m not worried, then.”

Samandriel found it interesting, being inside the body of an arachnid. It was not a creature he had taken as a vessel previously.

The size, of course, wasn’t much of an issue. He had always been small and had a proclivity for taking small creatures as vessels, excepting his very first vessel. So having Matt tower over his form now was not too different from being towered over by his brothers. And he was accustomed to multiple eyes, since he had ten in his true form that circled his head like a crown. It was the legs that were the truly strange thing, all of them moving independently, unlike the gait of a horse or a dog. It took a moment before he felt completely comfortable in walking, even though he doubted he would fall over with so many legs on which to balance himself.

He could also feel the web sack within the spider’s body and knew instinctively how to spin the silk to craft a web. It was curious how different animals were to humans. Their thoughts were less intrusive and shallower, based on instinct rather than a need to understand , and Samandriel had full control over their bodies, rather than being a presence in the back of their mind, like he was with Matt.

He moved out from beneath the porch with careful steps, feeling the spider’s fear and disgust within him. She didn’t like the bright light of the sun in her sensitive eyes and the area was too open, especially with Matt so close. He carefully guided his grace over to shield the spider’s eyes and ease the fear. Matt wouldn’t hurt either him or the spider, so there was no need for concern, and he had checked that this spider had no yet lain any eggs. They were not stealing a mother away from her unhatched children.

He watched as Matt moved closely, lowered his hand to the ground. Samandriel moved forward onto the proffered palm and held still as Matt lifted his hand into the air and then stood. Even if he did fall off the boy’s hand, his grace would protect both him and the spider. He needn’t be concerned.

“Wow,” Matt whispered. He pulled a plastic box out of the bag he had carried with him, then hesitated. “If I put her in the box, can you still get out?”

Samandriel felt a rush of warmth knowing that Matt cared enough to ask. “Yes.”

Matt nodded, opening the box with one hand and then holding his hand inside it so Samandriel could crawl off. He felt the box jostle slightly around him and the lid snapped shut over it.

“Can she breathe okay?” Matt asked, holding the box up so he could peer in through the clear plastic.

Samandriel took a few testing breaths, then stretched his grace out, testing the edges of the box to make sure they were sealed but not air tight. He could feel oxygen moving easily through the box, unhindered, though the lid was securely latched. He could keep an eye on the spider, but Matt would be safe from it. Even if it did manage to bite him, which Samandriel had no intention of allowing, he would heal the wound and erase any venom from the boy’s body. He had no plans to let the child be hurt.

“Yes, though she is hungry,” he noted, feeling that empty, clawing feeling that had become so familiar when he stayed in a vessel for too long.

“I have some flies and crickets at home. I bet she’ll love them.”

“Hakuna Matata,” Samandriel sang to the tune of the song he had learned from The Lion King.

“It means no worries, for the rest of your days.” Matt could scarcely sing, he was giggling too hard. “Bugs, yuck.”

Samandriel continued to hum even as he pulled his grace out of the black widow, soothing her fear as he passed.

“May I come back in, Matt?” he asked, as he stretched his wings, unfolding his body. It was still so strange to be in his true form and have someone staring at him, comprehending his presence.

“Wait,” Matt said, stepping closer. His eyes were trailing over Samandriel’s form, his lips turning up into a grin.

Samandriel felt a tickle of unease in the place where his stomach would be if he were in a vessel. He knew he was small and his form was soft-looking. He wasn’t a warrior like Michael’s angels, those born of fire and fit for the battlefield. Most of the other Messengers were larger than him and more fierce, with harder angles and wings made for speed. Samandriel looked like a child’s stuffed toy, to be cuddled. Not a creature who could protect or safeguard.

“You look like a rabbit!” Matt said, and his laugh was delighted, not mocking like Samandriel expected, though why he expected mockery he could not say. He didn’t remember any of his siblings mocking him for his appearance. He was as he had been made. “I like your ears.”

Samandriel’s ears lifted without his consent, the top pair folding back across his head in a bashful attempt to hide. They covered a few of his eyes. “You don’t think I look silly?”

“You look different,” Matt admitted, “but not silly.” He studied Samandriel a moment longer, his eyes trailing down the length of a wing. “I think you’re amazing.”

Samandriel’s wings curled forward, hiding his face as embarrassment flooded through him, turning his ears a pale pink.

“I think you’re amazing, too.”

It was strange how right it felt to be back in Matt’s body. Vessels never felt wrong. Strange, maybe, or different from what he was used to, but not wrong. But they also never felt like Matt did. Was it a human thing? Was it because of the way their minds worked, so close to the minds of an angel, if less open? Or was it because Matt could see his grace?

Maybe one day he would get the chance to take another human as a vessel and see if there was a difference, but it wasn’t important now.

“What will you do for the rest of the day since you don’t have school?”

“Well, Dad and Mom will be working and they don’t really like me wandering around by myself for too long. I think they’re worried I’ll find an insect colony and decide to move in.”

”I don’t believe you would fit in an insect colony.”

“You’d be amazed what humans can do when they’re determined to make a point.” There was a rush of joyful humor, sunshine-bright. “We could watch another movie.”

Samandriel’s wings thrummed with excitement. ”Another singing movie?”

“Sure! We haven’t watched Hercules , yet.”

”Hercules? The demi-god?”


”Hercules was born of Zeus and a human woman. That makes him a demi-god.”

“Oh. The movie’s not like the myth, then. Still, it’s good and I like the music.”

Samandriel was excited but also curious. ”Myth?”

“Well, yeah. We learned about Hercules in school, and Olympus and the Greek myths.” He must have felt Samandriel’s humor, because he said, “They are a myth, right?”

”Hercules was a real man. He died a long time ago, of course, but he was real.”

“And the gods? Zeus?”

”Also real,” Samandriel said, his wings flaring open in joy at Matt’s obvious surprise. “I’ve never met Zeus, but I would fly with Helios and Selene sometimes. I think they go by Apollo and Artemis now.”

“I don’t know much about Greek mythology except what we learned in my one English class.”

Samandriel was about to explain that there were a lot of Pagan deities and that some of them traded off duties across pantheons, but he was distracted by a strange smell on the air. He didn’t taste it with Matt’s taste buds. Rather, his grace felt it coil in his wings, thick and sickly-sweet, carried on a wave of woodsmoke. 

Distantly, he was aware of Matt asking him what was wrong, but he could smell herbs on a non-existent wind, not here and now but long ago, stretched back across a century or more. Tobacco, some whisper across time supplied, sage, and a fire to warm us. A fire to light our way, and burn our dead.

Chanting. Low and heavy, deep but rising, filled the air. A hundred voices, perhaps more, all calling out to Spirits that lingered here in this place. Calling. Calling. 

Chanting throughout the years. Calls to make the land prosper, calls for health and safety. Praise. Joy. Celebration. 

Loss. Calls to the Spirits to carry the dead into their fold. 

Fury. Calls for the strength to fight. War. Bloodshed. 

A battlefield.

A lone voice, a fading voice, calling out a chant that called sickness and darkness and pain, filled the bloodsoaked earth with rage and hate and vengeful fury. He could feel it now, beneath the smoke that filled his wings, soaking the sickly-sweet scent of tobacco into his feathers, there lay a mouth, endlessly deep, eternally hungry. It breathed a smoke of poison into the world and devoured all who dared to set foot here. All who dared to dwell on land that had been stolen, soured with death, and cursed. 


Matt’s shout finally broke through and Samandriel came back to himself in time to feel the ground disappear from beneath Matt’s feet, pulled away like a tide was tearing the shore away from him, and then they were falling. 

The smoke was thick in his wings, sticky like tree sap. They flapped uselessly around him, splattering the edges of the tunnel with the scent of burning dead. He could feel Matt’s terror tearing through him as the boy’s scream ripped through the tender flesh of his throat, the earth rushing past them, sand churning around them. The light disappeared above them as they fell down, down, down into an earthly gullet and were swallowed whole.

Matt slowly opened his eyes, his head throbbing in time with his heartbeat and his throat aching. He snorted sand out of his nose and wiped it from his eyes as he lifted his head and looked around. 

He was in a cave. There were stalagmites and stalactites dripping water, the sound echoing in the air, almost like music. The clink of a drop into a pool of water was like chimes. Or bells.

There was light coming from somewhere. The whole cavern was lit as though the walls were made of sunshine and the roof of the caverns painted with stars. 

Matt stumbled to his feet, moving unsteadily forward, further into the cave. It was alive with light, almost humming with the bright shine of life, and though he looked, Matt couldn’t find a shadow anywhere. Even the pool of water at its center was crystal clear to the floor beneath it, the stone of its basin polished smooth and gleaming. 

How had he gotten here? Look though he did, he could not find a tunnel or a hole in the cavern roof through which he had fallen. It might have closed up behind him. There was a pile of sand on the floor where he had awoken. He frowned at it. The sand was dark, now that he was looking at it, dark brown and smeared black, as though drenched in oil. He found himself wiping down his arms, desperate to get every grain off his skin. It was dirty. It was wrong. 

“Samandriel, what’s wrong with the sand?”

His words echoed back at him in the cavern, but no answer followed. 


He reached for that presence that had been in his mind for the past few days, but the place where the angel normally sat was empty, that second mind gone. Matt felt his throat thicken in worry. Had the angel been hurt? Had the fall… could an angel die ?


iel-iel-iel the cavern echoed back at him. 

He spun, searching the cavern for the angel’s familiar lapine form, his large wings or his floppy ears. “SAMANDRIEL!” he shouted, stumbling on a stone and falling backward. He landed heavily in the pool, water sloshing up over his shoulders and soaking his hair. It was warm, not cold like he would have expected, but the comfort of gentle water against his skin did nothing to ease his fear. He felt his eyes fill with tears. He knew Samandriel wouldn’t have left him, so where was he?

“Hush, little one. Do not fear.” 

Startled, Matt twisted around. 

Behind him, standing in the center of the pool, was a woman who hadn’t been there a moment ago. She wore black leather armor over clothes of white, and her hair was pulled back from her face, falling in a twisting braid as silver as moonlight. 

She held something carefully in her arms but she was too tall for Matt to see it, and he was transfixed by her eyes. They coal black but glittered with bright stars, as though each were a galaxy all their own. 

“Hello, Matthew.” Her voice echoed but not like his did, rebounding from the walls of the cave. Her voice echoed in his head, chiming like bells and singing a song that made him think of comets careening through the sky, bright and burning and beautiful. “I am pleased to meet you.” 

“Hello,” he said, for want of a better thing to say. He wiped tears from his face and when she offered him a hand, he took it. Her fingers were calloused from hard use but her grip was strong as she pulled him to his feet. 

“Do not be afraid,” she said, and her smile was as kind as her eyes were vast. “No harm will find you here. I will protect you.” 

“Who are you?” He wondered if he was supposed to know already, but he didn’t, so he had to ask. She knew his name, after all.

“My name is Artemis and I have been waiting for you.”

Waiting for him? His mind caught on her name, though. “You’re Selene. Samandriel’s friend.”

“I am.” She crouched down before him, arms still cradling the bundle she held. It was blankets, he could see. The soft fabrics were every shade of blue the sky had ever shown and perhaps some that Matt had never seen before or known existed. “Do you know what it means that I am Selene and Artemis?”

Meeting her gaze was like defying gravity - like falling upward into space but also like flying, and it was both terrifying and exhilarating to feel like he might peer into them and never come out. “No,” he said. “I remember your name from school. Artemis. But I don’t know what it means.”

Artemis smiled at him, that gentle, pleased smile, as though his ignorance was a joy. Or perhaps it was that he didn’t pretend to understand when he didn’t. He couldn’t learn that way, after all, and there was a lot that he didn’t know. There was a lot that he had learned just these past couple days, with Samandriel there to show him how big the world was beyond his perspective. 

“When I was born, I was tasked with carrying the moon into the sky. My chariot is pulled by two white horses and they held me pull the moon up beyond the horizon and bring the Night. My brother, Helios, or Apollo, carries the Sun in his chariot, and our sister is the bright, vibrant colors of the dawn. 

“I was not a goddess when I was born. We were the children of Titans, who have been called monsters and trapped beneath the world, or destroyed. Helios and I were allowed to remain, for we did not fight the Olympians or try to take over. We did our duty and so were permitted to continue. And then, unexpectedly, we were offered new names. Artemis and Apollo. And new titles. Goddess and god, with more duties besides. 

“I am a huntress and remain the Goddess of the Moon. Among other duties, I have been tasked with protecting children, and that is one of the reasons that I am here.”

“Because I’m a child,” Matt said with some irritation. He wasn’t a baby. 

Artemis smiled softly at him, unbothered by his revulsion. She, after all, was millennia old. “Not just you. I am here for Samandriel’s sake, as well. He is the youngest of his kind, you know. The very last angel born into the world. He did not learn to see the world the way his elder siblings did and so his interactions are different and unrefined. This is to the benefit of you both, and perhaps well beyond you both.” 

“What do you mean?” Matt asked, his head tilting to the side in an unconscious mimicry of the angel whose mind he had become used to dancing within his own. 

“Gods and angels and Titans and creatures of the deep, we are ancient and mysterious, but do not let that fool you into believing we are perfect. We are strong and we hide our errors well, but we are no less filled with imperfection and regret as humans. We are simply better able to disguise them from you, because our perspectives are larger than yours and our means outside your reach. For now. It will not always be so. 

“But do not think angels are beyond error, Matthew. They, too, suffer from the troubles that haunt all families. Siblings, after all, are both a terror and a joy - of that I can attest. Samandriel sees things differently than his siblings and he will not be well received if he is ever to reveal them. And without help, he might defy what he knows to be right and true, in order to not be cast down from the brothers and sisters he so loves.” 

Matt knew what it felt like to fear the rejection of family so deeply you considered giving up who you were. More than once he had considered letting go of his desire to be an entomologist, if only his father would stop looking so disappointed. Either way promises pain and he hadn’t truly made his mind up about which direction he would go, but he understood the dilemma. 

“What can I do?”

“The very same thing that you have been. In comparison to you, Samandriel is an ancient creature, but to his kind, he is still a child. He has much knowledge of the world that he could teach you. Almost as much as you could teach him about humanity and what it means to be human.”

Matt’s nose wrinkled up in confusion. “Being human? All we’ve done is go to school and watch Disney movies.”

“And search for a spider you have never been able to get a close look at because of the danger. To see the world through eyes that never shy from curiosity. To have dreams you have thought up for yourself and follow them, even when doubt hounds you from those you love. To not let fear stop you, or doubt bind you. To love, despite the pain that comes with it. This is what it means to be human.”

Matt looked at her for a long moment, at her fathomless gaze and her hair that spun like stars. “How do you know what it means to be human?” He asked quietly. How could she know if angels could not? She was a goddess!

“Curiosity is not limited to humans, though it comes most naturally to you. I once spent a lifetime on Earth with only the memories of a single human span in my mind. There was love and loss, joy and pain, and I remember those years well. They have helped to shape me. They have made me understand how to love, how to care, and what it means to be a protector. 

“Samandriel fears he is the least of all the angels, for he is not a warrior or a healer or a protector. He does not understand that his place in the world has only just opened, that it has never before been filled by an angel. He will be the first and the brightest of his kind.” She smiled gently. “If you are willing to help him.”

“He’s my best friend,” Matt said honestly, “of course I’ll help him.”

“It will be dangerous. To walk with an angel is to see the world through eyes that stretch further than your own could ever hope to. They are not made to stand on the sidelines and let the world pass them by. You will never be safe.”

The idea was frightening. He would never be safe? He was only twelve. How was he supposed to help an angel when he couldn’t even protect himself from the bullies at school?

She must have recognized the thought on his face, because her one hand reached out and gently traced fingers down his cheek, turning his head so he met her gaze. “The fact that you can see Samandriel outside of a vessel proves that you are stronger than you think. There is more to you than even you can understand yet, and though you may not know now, I promise that the means of protecting Samandriel will come to you when you most require them. But it will not be a pleasant journey for either of you. It would be kinder to separate, for you both to go home and forget about the other. It would hurt less in the end if you turned back to your normal life, became an entomologist, and spent your adulthood studying insects, because if you walk with Samandriel, I cannot promise that you will ever reach adulthood, nor that you will ever touch your dreams.”

When Matt was seven, his grandmother got sick. 

She’d been in her mid-fifties at the time but the illness came on swiftly and aged her almost overnight. Samandriel remembered only vague pieces of that time, though the image of her lying in a hospital bed, thin, her skin dry and hanging where it had previously been full and flesh before, stayed with him. She’d been a different person almost - a woman twice her age and half as energetic, and when she’d died, he remembered sitting in his room crying about how unfair the world was that this woman he had lived had been taken away so quickly when she had seemed fine mere days before she passed. 

He couldn’t quite call up that exact feeling anymore. He still missed her. She had thought his fascination with bugs was interesting and kept a insect identification book around the house, so they could determine what new creature he’d found. The grief wasn’t raw anymore and the hole wasn’t gaping, but he remembered those weeks like pages of a scrapbook decorated with Polaroids. 

He remembered, a month or four after she had died (time seemed to run together sometimes), they were talking about diseases and vaccinations in school. They learned about Polio and the vaccination that wiped the disease out but how their parents probably still had a scar from the vaccine - his father did, he remembered asking. They learned about how a virus could mutate, and about how bacteria was grown so they could figure out how to kill it. And they learned a little about where vaccines came from. 

When Matt looked back ten years from now, he would probably recognize how odd it was that the substitute science professor went into detail about insects used in poultices to relieve pain or inflammation. He might even wonder if the man - such a strange man, with his floppy hair and his ridiculous bowtie, and a mildly concerning obsession with a fez that kept being kidnapped by the art teacher - had somehow known that it was this moment that would define Matt’s desire to be an entomologist. If the man, Dr. Tyler he’d called himself, had ever realized that learning that insects could be used as cures would make Matt think of his grandmother? 

Because that was what had come to mind for him. Not that mashing up insects and pressing it to a wound was gross or that maggots were disgusting, but that if someone had thought to look deeper into insects, or had looked for new insects, they might have found the means to save his grandmother. And since he couldn’t save his grandmother, for even a miracle cure couldn’t bring back the dead, the secret to curing these terrifying diseases that had no cure might still be found in a common ant, or perhaps in a species not yet discovered in the Amazon. 

Whether or not the substitute teacher with the floppy hair and weird clothing choices had known, his lesson had been the catalyst for Matt’s interest in bugs turning into a desire to be an entomologist. More than that, however, it was the first moment when a seven-year-old boy looked at this thing he thought was possible, and then looked at how it might affect not just himself, but the entire world. 

A younger or less-mature child might have turned away from Artemis, accepted the offer to flee and go back to his simple life, where becoming a big scientist was a safe, if perhaps less-adventurous dream. If he hadn’t had a moment in second grade where he thought about how a discovery could affect the entire world for the better, not just now but across time, into the future, as the cure for Polio had meant he never had to bear a scar from the vaccine because they had stopped it, he might have decided that safe was better. He might have thought to take these last few days as a gift, keep the memories as something to think back fondly on, and let Samandriel go find someone else to help him in his terrifying quest into dangers unknown. 


This was bigger than he was. Artemis had all but admitted that. There was more going on here than she was saying, and Samandriel’s place would be something completely new. Something newly discovered. Like an entire new species that could affect the whole world, if approached and studied properly. 

This would be dangerous, sure, but then, life was dangerous. Who was to say that Matt wouldn’t become an entomologist, find a new species of spider, and find out it was more venomous than a fennel spider when it bit him? Who was to say he wouldn’t be hit by a truck walking home today? Life was dangerous, but living made it worth it. Discovering new things made it worth it. 

Imagine what he could discover seeing the world through an angel’s eyes. Imagine what they could learn together? How much could they change the world? How many people might they help? 

How many grandmothers could they save? 

He looked up at Artemis, met her galaxy-strewn eyes, and saw the gentle smile on her face, so like the smile of his grandmother when he would run up to her, a cricket hidden in cupped hands, or a firefly perched on one finger. 

“I want to help him,” he told her, though her smile suggested she had already known his answer, perhaps even before he did. “Even if it’s dangerous, I want to be there to protect him. Even though I’m not strong.”

“You are far stronger than you know.” 

She lowered herself to her knees and held the bundle in her arms out to him. The blankets unraveled, falling into the pool and disappearing into the water as though they had been made from it, and perhaps they had. 

Samandriel lay curled up in her arms. The angel looked so small with his wings curled around him like a downy blanket, his ears folded back around his head. His eyes were closed as he slept, but Matt knew somehow that he was all right. Artemis had kept him safe, because that was her job - to protect the children. 

“Are you certain? If you take him back now, I can’t guarantee you will be able to change your mind. Something is coming that is still more dangerous than the curse that poisons this land and there may be little time left for you to regret your decisions.” 

“I won’t regret it,” Matt said, and though his voice shook, he’d never felt more sure of anything in his short life. “He’s my friend and I want to help him.” 

“Very well.” She held her arms out and Matt carefully took Samandriel from her. The angel seemed smaller than normal, curled up in Matt’s arms, but he was as heavy as Matt imagined holding a full-sized mastiff would be. Matt’s legs quivered beneath the weight but he stubbornly stayed standing. 

“Samandriel?” he called, but the angel didn’t wake. Matt looked up at Artemis in concern. 

“Hold him close to you, Matthew. He is a part of you now, as you are a part of him.” 

Matt held the angel close to him and felt a warmth like sunlight in his chest, as though he was being filled with galaxies and his heart was a shooting star. Samandriel’s form grew lighter in Matt’s arms and then bright - so bright that Matt could barely look at him. He felt the weight leave his arms and then Samandriel’s familiar presence filled his mind, settling back into the place that Matt had begun to see as his

He could tell, somehow, that the angel still slumbered, but he knew that all would be well. He would keep Samandriel safe. 

He turned back to Artemis. She was regarding him with a proud look that made him blush, and she seemed more than pleased. “I think this world will be a better place for having you both in it.” She reaches out and cupped his face in her hands, her smile fading. 

“Listen closely. There is a curse upon the land that you are calling home. It is what brought you low beneath the ground and what attacked Samandriel. Though he will be well, the curse is not gone and must be stopped, or many more will fall to it. In this, you will be of the greatest help, for the curse uses the insects of this land to cause harm, and you know how they should be, and will see how they are .” Her thumbs ran over his cheekbones in a soothing gesture that made him sigh. “Samandriel will sleep for a time yet, but you will not be alone. He will help you now, and again. Do not fear what you See. I cannot fight your battles for you, my little moonbeam, for warriors must stand on their own legs and pull back the bowstrings to grow strong, but I will watch over you as I do all my hunters.” She presses a kiss to his forehead and he shut his eyes as her form flowed into silver moonlight. “Trust him, for he has come to help, and he knows more than he says.”

Matt blinked his eyes open to find the cavern gone. Instead, he was surrounded by walls of rocks and dirt, half buried in the detritus of a sinkhole. The sunlight shone down hot on his back, only to be blotted out a moment later by a shadow. 

“Shit,” he heard above him in a desperate tone, and then a shouted, “Ma- Kid! You okay? Hey, kiddo!”

Matt rolled over, peering up at the man. He seemed a giant, too tall to be anyone Matt knew, and his voice was unfamiliar. Against the bright light of the sun behind him, he was nothing but a shadow. 

”Trust him.” 

Whether it was truly Artemis speaking or just a whispered thought in his mind, Matt didn’t have much choice. The hole he was in was at least fifteen feet deep. How he didn’t have any broken bones was beyond him and probably the work of Artemis or what Samandriel could manage before he had been knocked out. 

Matt tried to talk and choked on sand. He spat the grains out of mouth, grimacing as their crunched between his teeth. “Gross.” 


“I’m okay!” He called up, his voice echoing in the deep hole. “Just… very stuck.” 

There was a relieved chuckle. “I can see that. You all right if I go get a rope?”

“Not going anywhere! Promise!”

The man laughed, though is sounded off somehow. “Good. I won’t be gone long. Don’t disappear on me.” His shadow moved away but then stepped back against the light. “I’m Sam, by the way. All right?”

“I’m Matt. I promise to shake your hand all polite once you get me out of here.” 

“Looking forward to it.” He sounded tired. “Be right back.”

The sunlight was bright and too hot, far more than it had been when he had been walking back home with Samandriel chatting with him about watching Disney movies. There was something wrong with that, though he wasn’t sure what. He couldn’t really focus on it with his mouth feeling like sandpaper, his throat dry from the grains. He wanted to brush his teeth, and he was terribly thirsty. There was also a headache throbbing behind his eyes and Matt wondered if that was from the fall. 

He sat back down, leaning his back against the wall of the hole and closing his eyes. The world spun slightly and he ran his tongue around his mouth, spitting more sand. He wondered if he’d swallowed some because his stomach was upset and he thought he might be sick. 

He tried prodding lightly at Samandriel but the angel was deeply asleep, only the feel of his presence like a weight pressed against him assuring Matt that the angel was still there. No idle dream-thoughts dribbled over and he remembered that angels didn’t dream. How boring. Where did they go when they slept, then? Did their minds just disappear, or did they go somewhere else while their body stayed here? Was Samandriel’s mind in Heaven, or did it just… turn off, like a light? 

He’d have to remember to ask. 

He wasn’t sure how much time passed. At one point, he must have fallen asleep, because he jerked awake at the sound of his name being shouted. Blinking against the searing light, he opened his eyes to find he wasn’t alone in his hole. The giant man was crouched in front of him, long legs folded ridiculously, like a backwards grasshopper, knees somewhere around his ears. 

He giggled hard at the image of a human grasshopper, especially when it’s tentacles started tickling his neck.

“Matt, look at me,” the grasshopper said, and Matt opened his eyes again. Why was he blinking for so long? 

“Grasshopper man,” he murmured, his voice cracking. He was made of sand. He needed a drink of water so he could be a beach. 

A hand pressed against his forehead, cold against his skin, and the grasshopper said a really bad word that his mom would fan his ass for even thinking. “Badmouth,” he grumbled. 

“Matt, I need you to wrap your arms around my neck and hang on. Can you do that?” 

Matt blinked at him. Why was he supposed to do something like that? Weren’t they going to fly out of the hole? Wasn’t that why he had wings. Granted, the grasshopper’s wings weren’t feathered like Samandriel’s. They looked more like puddles where wings should go. Blank spaces waiting to be filled. Maybe blanks couldn’t fly. That was sad. Matt was sad. 

“I want my mom,” he said. 

“I know, kiddo. We’re going to go see her, but I need you to hold onto me. Can you do that?”

Matt nodded, his head not quite doing the action as fluidly as he’d wanted, and he thought it should worry him that his head wasn’t bobbling right. Too much sand in his brain. 

“I need to be a beach,” he told the grasshopper, and his arms were guided around the giant’s neck. He felt himself lifted and couldn’t help but cry out at the sharp ache of his body. Why did he hurt? Did he fall? Was he squished?

His legs were maneuvered to wrap around the grasshopper’s waist and he was pretty sure grasshoppers didn’t have waists. Maybe this one was actually a locust. He’d never seen a locust before. 

The grasshopper was talking but he was thinking about making a sandcastle with all the sand under his fingernails. And then he would live in it and make it his big palace. On the beach. And there’d be sharks. 


He blinked, turning his head to look at the grasshopper. He had hair, which was weird, but then it was all sandy colored so maybe it was just beach. “You’re a weird grasshopper.”

“I’m a new species,” the grasshopper told him. Since when did grasshoppers know if they were new or not? Did they get a name tag that said they were a new grasshopper and their name was… was… 


“That’s right, kiddo. We’re gonna go see your mom, how’s that sound?” 

“Good. I’m thirsty.” 

“I bet. I need you to hold tight to me, okay? And then we’ll go get you a drink and some ice cream. Sound good?”

Ice cream sounded amazing. He was so hot he felt like he was burning and turning into sandpaper. 

“Alfie, I need you to hold on, okay?” The grasshopper jostled his arms. 

“Okay.” He wrapped his arms tight around Sam’s neck. 

“Good boy,” the grasshopper muttered. His arms left Matt, lifting up, and he instinctively tightened the grip of his legs around the grasshopper’s waist. He buried his face against Sam’s shirt as they started moving upward. They were climbing, not flying. Was there a ladder?

“Almost there,” Sam grunted. He smelled like chocolate. Caramel and cherries and something like strawberry licorice or maybe just strawberries. Matt thought it was important but he didn’t know why. Samandriel would know. He wished the angel was awake. He missed him. 

“Don’t drop me,” he muttered to the grasshopper, his fingers digging into the back of his shirt. Why did grasshopper’s wear shirts? “My wings are unconscious.”

“Don’t pass out!” Sam snapped at him, and Matt almost felt like he could feel the panic as well as hear it. Weird. 

But then the bright sunlight was fading and he didn’t have time to care anymore. 

Too bad. He wanted to ask him about his strange wings and why he smelled like candy. 

The sound of pages turning was the first thing that registered in Matt’s mind as he rolled his way unsteadily toward consciousness. There was a strange, too-clean smell in the air, like the inside of a fridge. He thought the inside of his mouth sort of felt like the inside of a fridge, only one where something had died and started to mold. His teeth felt furry and he was pretty sure he had some sand grains flossing his gums. His dentist would be proud of his tooth care for once, at least. Maybe he’d get to pick his color toothbrush next time. They always gave him blue

His eyelids were either sticky or heavy and he couldn’t quite decide which. Regardless, he forced them open, staring at the very white ceiling that didn’t have any glow in the dark stars. What a waste of space. 

Another page turned in a book and Samandriel turned his head to the left, looking to see who it was. Not his parents. His mom didn’t like to read and his dad would be using his laptop or his phone. Not a book. Only Matt liked books.

It was a very large book, with a worn card laminated on the binding that read OPL in block letters. Oasis Plains Library. Well, at least he hadn’t managed to land himself in Oz. He’d look terrible in ruby heels, anyway. 

“S’m?” That was the boy’s name, right? Matt didn’t remember much of his face or what clothes he had been wearing, but those open spaces behind his shoulders, like the missing pieces of a puzzle, were unmistakable. Just waiting on wings to be fit into place. He wondered where you were supposed to get them from. Maybe there was a wing shop in Heaven. 

But then he had to wonder, was this guy an angel?

The book lowered and a pair of eyes peered over at him, a relieved smile sliding over a face scruffy with an unshaved beard. “Hey, Matt. How you feeling?”

“Super.” He saw the needle sticking out of the back of his hand. “Nevermind, I take it back.” He pointed at the plastic line that ran from a bag of clear fluid into his skin . “Oh look. I’ve been impaled. I thought this was a hospital ?”

“It’s saline,” Sam said, standing up and stretching before leaning over and pressing the big red button above Matt’s Head. “You were severely dehydrated and suffering heatstroke. I ended up finding you by accident when I was looking for… something.” He gave Matt a bemused look. “You seemed to think I was a grasshopper.”

“It’s your giant legs. They terrify me,” Matt said deadpan. 

Sam grinned at him and it occurred to Matt that he had no idea who this guy was. Why did he feel like he knew him? Artemis had said to trust him, yes, but there was more than that. Matt felt like he knew him. Like he should know what the void of wings meant, or the glow that seemed to live just behind Sam’s ears, like a halo, or maybe horns made of light. Was he an angel?

“Where’re my parents?” Surely they wouldn’t still be working if Matt was in the hospital. 

“Getting something to eat at the cafeteria,” Sam said, sitting back down. “I wanted to talk to you without anyone here, about the sinkhole you fell into.”

“You mean about the curse.” It was funny watching Sam’s mouth fall open. Matt hadn’t realized that was a real thing outside of cartoons. “It’s using the bugs to hurt people.” 

There were ants. Red ants. Swarming around him, circlings him on the floor of the sinkhole. It had been their tunnels that he stumbled onto, a trap that he triggered, but the bright sunshine of Samandriel’s presence had kept them at bay. Matt didn’t know how he knew that, but he could see it as though he had been conscious when they encircled his prone form. Maybe he had. He didn’t remember. 

“Yes,” Sam said, his eyes pinched. “I’m trying to stop it.”


The two stared at each other for a moment, interrupted when the nurse came in to check on Matt. He put up with her fussing because he was hoping he could get the giant needle taken out of his hand, but not even good behavior freed him from that. 

“Dehydration is serious,” Sam said, once the nurse had left. “It was one hundred and five today. You’re lucky you’re not worse off.”

Matt studied his face. “Have we met before?”

Sam’s eyes widened. “What?”

“You just… you act like you know me and I feel like I know you. So… have we met?”

Sam’s eyes slid away from him. “No. I’m just passing through and happened to stumble on the search party looking for you. Concerned drifter is all.”

He knows more than he says.

“But you’re here about the curse?”

Sam shrugged and looked back at him. “I always thought cursebreaking sounded like a fun job.”

What… what did that mean? “Who do you think you are - Bill Weasley?”

Sam smiled at him. “I’m not nearly cool enough.” He leaned forward in his chair. “What do you know about the curse?”

Matt opened his mouth to tell Sam that he didn’t know anything about the curse besides that it was bad news and using insects, but Artemis’ voice whispered in his ear and he instead found himself relating information he didn’t think anyone but a goddess could have known. 

Sam didn’t look nearly as surprised as Matt thought he should. It was straight out of a Harry Potter book. 

Maybe Sam wasn’t an angel. Maybe he was a wizard.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

“What is that?” 

 There was a heaviness in the air, like humidity and the weight of a pending storm. The charge ran up the length of Matt’s arms, raising the hairs along his flesh and making him shiver. Sweat dampened his hair and ran down his face as he tried to breathe through the thickness of the air.


“It’s the curse,” Samandriel said, looking at the waves of twisted magic, red and pulsing with sickness, that rose from the ground like heat. “It’s getting stronger.”

“Who’s that?” Samandriel turned his attention to the man that Matt was looking at just as Matt whispered, “Is… is he a ghost?”

“Yes.” Samandriel could see with his grace that the man had died decades prior, but he could also see the lines of red sickness wrapped around his arms and legs like ropes. ”He is the spirit of the chieftain who cursed this land long ago. He has remained trapped here by his own magic and now it has grown beyond his control.” Where once the chieftain had been strong, now his back was bowed, his face lined with regret and pain. The bindings of the curse had dug into his soul and it was feeding upon him as much as it was the land. 

“Why doesn’t he just leave?”

”He can’t.” Samandriel wondered what Matt could see of the curse, or if he could only feel it hanging in the air like a pending storm. “The curse has bound him to this land. He cannot leave so long as it exists.”

Long white hair fell around the man’s shoulders, framing the look of weary sorrow on his face. He turned to regard them, his eyes sunken deep and dulled with defeat. 

“There is another who came before you. He has gone on to fight the curse,” the chieftain said in a hoarse voice, as though it had been too long since he had spoken. “When he dies, it will grow stronger from defeating him.”

“That’s why we’re here,” Matt said, meeting the old man’s eyes. “To make sure he wins.” 

The man looked at him with a gaze as tired as it was old. “The foolishness of youth was once endearing to me. Now I find it heartbreaking.”

Neither Matt nor Samandriel knew what to say to that, so they simply turned and kept walking. The presence of the curse grew heavier in the air each step they took, until it seemed as though they were walking uphill through a bog, and dragging weights behind them. 

And then they saw him. Sam. The boy that had come to see Matt in the hospital, who had looked so strange to Matt in a way he couldn’t quite describe, other than to say he had wings that weren’t wings, yet. And Samandriel had wondered who this boy was with his strange not-wings, who was fighting the curse on this land. He had expected, perhaps, another brother who had followed Samandriel to bring him back onto his mission, or perhaps a human that had been a vessel to an angel at one point and some memory of their wings remained, but he had not expected this.

Samandriel had found Lucifer’s vessel. 

Well, more accurately, the vessel had found Matt, and saved his life, if the hysteria of Matt’s parents and the looming doctors were to be believed. That had been unpleasant to wake up to - both the parents’ and Matt’s emotion raging like a storm around Samandriel’s aching grace, and the doctor coming in and poking at Matt every hour or so.

Matt had been hurt by his father’s yelling - and while he did appear angry, Samandriel could feel the fear rolling off him like a wafting cold air. But Matt, struggling to hide his tears from his mother, hadn’t been open to the explanation. He would bring it up later, when the situation wasn’t so dire and their need for focus elsewhere. 

Sam was fighting the curse. 

The vessel of the MorningStar was fighting the curse. 

And Samandriel could think of no reason to fight the curse other than to protect humans. 

He’d saved Matt and he was protecting humans. 

The vessel of Lucifer? Truly? 

“He has wings, see?” 

One of the things they had learned that morning was that Samandriel could hear Matt if he just thought what he wanted to say. Matt hadn’t been able to talk to Samandriel in front of his mom, who had spent most of the morning in the hospital room after Sam had left. Samandriel had spoken to Matt as he usually did, in his mind where no one else could hear, but apparently Samandriel could hear Matt the same way. He’d never had that happen before, but then, Matt was the first human Samandriel had ever taken as a vessel, so maybe that was the difference. 

Somehow… Samandriel didn’t think so. 

“I do see.” And he did, which was… concerning. 

Angels could see things, of course. Or rather, they had a higher perception than humans, and thus the ability to see things in the world that humans were blind to. There were some humans, however, that had the unique ability to see parts of the world that many others could not.

Matt, for instance, was a seer of some sort. That was why he had been able to see Samandriel in the church, before he had taken a vessel. And it was why he was able to see wings on Sam. Not wings that were but wings that would be . Wings that Samandriel would not have been able to see, except that somehow, somehow , he was seeing with Matt’s Sight. Not just with his eyes, with his body. Samandriel was seeing the world with Matt’s soul. 

Was it because Sam Winchester was Lucifer’s vessel? Was that why he bore the space for wings upon his back?

And yet… the void, if Samandriel was to imagine wings filling that void, it would be a single set of wings. Not the three pairs of wings that belonged to an archangel, just one.

Why was that?

Then again, if Matt was only seeing the future, then his Sight might just be seeing wings and not anything so specific as the number or shape of them. 


But why could Samandriel see them? Why could Samandriel see the world through Matt’s soul? He hadn’t been able to before, so what had changed? Why was he different?

”What is THAT!?” Matt’s voice echoed, as it was cried out in his mind and aloud. The boy stumbled backward, away from the creature that rose up from the earth, and it took a moment before Samandriel was able to parse it - to separate what his grace was seeing from what Matt’s sight and Sight was seeing. 

It had once been a spider. Samandriel could see that. Once, long ago, it had been a small orb weaver, nothing remotely interesting about it. And then the curse had suffused through the land, and the orb weaver had been at its center, absorbing the cruel magic as the land did, but lacking the vastness that allowed it to dissipate. Within the earth, the curse spread out, growing only slowly over time, but within the spider, the curse had nowhere to go, and could only grow.

And such a small thing the little orb weaver was. It had so much space to grow into. 

And grow it had. The horror within Matt’s mind was understandable, faced against a creature that should have been less than an inch tall but was now nearly fifteen feet high, it’s legs each thicker than the trunk of a sapling. The eyes of the creature were bulbous black pustules that reflected the light, and every hair on its massive thorax looked like a needle sticking up from its skin. It pulsed with the sick stench of magic that has gone wrong. Its entire form was a cesspool of madness and rot, oozing darkness, and Samandriel felt revolted by the very presence of the thing. Its very sight was abominable. 

And yet… beneath it. Buried so deeply under a magic borne of the need for revenge and the desire to hurt, Samandriel could sense the tiniest presence. A little orb weaver spider, small, fearful of this large thing that it had become, wanting only to bury itself somewhere warm and dark safe. 

The mass of the creature, its form fed on the power of the curse’s magic, rose up from beneath the earth, towering over Sam Winchester, more than twice his height. Samandriel felt the shuddering rush of Matt’s concern and fear, too large to allow the boy to speak, as they watched the massive creature lunge forward, fangs primed. 

But Sam, thank Father, was fast and ready, moving out of the way before he could be struck, but not away . Too much a fool to move away, the vessel of the Apocalypse cried out as his fingers were pierced by the needling hairs on the spider’s body, but didn’t stop his movements as he climbed up the spider’s body to crouch on its back. 

“What is he doing?” Matt cried, even as Sam pulled a blade from his belt and sank it deep into the creature’s back. 

Samandriel felt the rise of bile in the back of Matt’s throat and forced it down with his grace, even as he understood the cause. Neither of them had known that spiders could scream. Samandriel never would have expected one to sound so human. 

The massive creature bucked beneath Sam’s clinging form, eight legs in constant motion as it tried to throw Sam from its back. To his credit, Sam clung on for longer than Samandriel suspected most could manage, and when he hit the ground, he rolled to absorb the impact, rushing to his feet as fast as possible to stay out from under the stomping legs of the angry creature. 

But now Sam was weaponless, the blade he had been using buried to the hilt in the back of the creature, tendrils of curse leaking out around it like steam from beneath the lid of a cooking pot. 

The thought of summoning his own blade entered Samandriel’s mind - either wielding it himself or giving it to Sam, though the second seemed too dangerous for him and Matt if it turned out that Sam Winchester was more like Lucifer than he appeared. 

Grace churning agitatedly, Samandriel held back, not aware he was restricting Matt’s movements until the boy asked ”Why don’t you want to help him?”

It wasn’t that Samandriel didn’t want to help him. He was afraid. Afraid of what the vessel of the Morningstar would do if confronted with another angel. 

And also, perhaps, afraid of what it meant that Samandriel had found Lucifer’s vessel. His mission was complete, so should he not return to Heaven and report? Should he not reveal the identity and location of the vessel to his superiors? Leave Matt and Earth behind for his duties. 

It seemed wrong. It was his duty, his assigned purpose, but it seemed wrong. 

He didn’t want to leave. 

But that meant defying his orders. 

What… did that mean? If he was not a good soldier, following orders, then what was he? Was he even still an angel? 

Sam cried out and Samandriel looked back at the vessel to see blood leaking from his leg where the sharp hairs on the spider’s leg had cut through denim and flesh. Sam was limping backward, his lips moving, voice too low for Samandriel to hear, though he recognized the sensation of magic culminating. Like storm clouds drawing together to form a funnel, the incantation called the magic of the world to the fore in defense. 

Funny. No one had said the Morningstar’s vessel was a witch. 

”Samandriel, please,” Matt whispered, and though he did not think it directly at Samandriel, the angel heard it anyway. I don’t want to have to watch him die.

The thought shook Samandriel from his inattention and he realized he had unconsciously locked Matt into place, kept the boy from moving. He released a hold he hadn’t realized he was able to put on Matt and felt the boy stumble in surprise.  

And then they were moving, staying out of main sight of both the spider and Sam, racing around the back of the creature. 

”What can we do? What can we do?” Matt was thinking in his head, trying to find a way to help Sam. ”I need a giant can of Raid.”

Samandriel flexed his grace, feeling it flow through Matt’s fingers like warm air, twisting around his knuckles before forming into a ball at his palm. It pulsed there a moment, a wind scented with autumn leaves, and then burst like a star, shooting outward even as it solidified. 

”Do you know how to use a sword?” Samandriel asked, and felt Matt’s responding disbelief and uncertainty. 

“Uhh… stick ‘em with the pointy end?” But Matt’s fingers had closed reflexively around the hilt and he held the blade with an awareness of balance that would have been unknown to an amateur. 

And Samandriel could feel Matt’s mind, like a tiny animal, nosing at the knowledge in his own mind. Seeking out the how’s he would need for this process. And there was no way an explanation in words could teach Matt what he needed to know to wield a blade, but if he somehow naturally knew how to attain the information, Samandriel wasn’t going to stop him. 

Except when they moved, it wasn’t just Matt leading. Fingers gripping the blade, Matt stepped forward and Samandriel followed, completed a half-certain movement and brought their arm arcing upward, the point of the blade pressing against needled flesh and then through. And that shriek - that terrible inhuman shriek. 

Sam’s voice rose over the sound of the screeching, magic swirling about the clearing, and Samandriel and Matt moved together, their arm moving their blade and cutting into their enemy. Like smoke, the curse darkened the air, flowing from the inflicted wounds and dissipating as it faced the vastness of the world and the power of Sam’s magic. 

Lost in the sensation of being both Samandriel and Matt, of being some mix of two separate beings - SaMatt, perhaps, or Matriel - it came as no surprise but was, instead, to be expected, when they lifted their arm and it was the part of their mind that was Matt that summoned their grace forth. Not as a blade, this time, but pure energy, formless and fierce. The writhing mass of the spider’s monstrous form came close enough to touch and it was nothing at all to reach out and let that energy release - let the grace within him meet the energy of the curse and not destroy it, no, for not even angels could destroy energy, but break its bonds, tear apart its form, and make it into something new. 

Blue and white light flashed like electricity and the curse’s smoky essence bubbling from the shattered form it had taken, dissipating even as it attempted to cloud the sky. SaMatt felt it turn, the sickness receding from it as it was drawn back into the earth, not a curse anymore, just magic. Energy. Gaia. Whatever word from whatever time would best fit the here and now. It settled deep in the earth, humming with cool power, and already SaMatt could feel it building, feeding the land, and he knew that the following summer would see the barrenness of this land destroyed, buried beneath the beauty of what the earth could create when given a chance. 

He, they, could sense the death of the curse. They could feel the chieftain's relief as the bindings keeping him here released and his soul finally moved beyond this realm. Matt exhaled a sigh and Samandriel released his hold on his angel blade, letting it fade back into grace and cool back within him. 

With a soft exhalation, SaMatt became Samandriel and Matt again, the angel’s grace loosening from the tight grasp it had on Matt’s form, and Matt’s mind eased out of that place where all the knowledge of an ancient being lay. They became angel and human again, though while neither took note then, nor would for some time, something else still lingered. Something… very human, very angel, and very much both at precisely the same time. 

“Oh,” Matt said, bending down and scooping up a tiny form into his hands. 

Samandriel felt sorrow run through him like water leaking down the walls of a cavern, too much like a summer rain to be ignored, and his wings ached briefly before curling forward, suffusing tiny limbs with just a touch of grace. Just enough to spur on the residual magic from the displaced curse. Tiny legs twitched and uncurled, and Matt’s awe and pleasure was a gift Samandriel took a moment to simply bask in. What a beautiful thing was human wonder. Happiness. Joy. 

“Hello, little orb weaver,” Matt whispered, crouching down and lowering his hands to the ground. “Time for you to go home.” The spider moved tentatively off Matt’s palm, and one free, took off as fast as its tiny legs could carry it. Somewhere dark, Samandriel knew. Somewhere safe. He wished the little spider well. 

Matt turned then and Samandriel’s eyes followed, looking at the vessel of the Morningstar, whose would-be wings seemed darker and more ready to be filled than they had before. Almost hungry for their future and the idea frightened Samandriel. He did not want this world to end. 

“Hi, Sam.”  

Sam’s expression was cool and there was a hardness in his eyes that left him looking like someone else, someone cruel. It frightened them and Matt ducked his head, taking a step back. 

“Hello, Samandriel. I see you’ve taken a vessel.”

Samandriel’s wings stuttered in surprise, then curled around Matt’s body protectively. So. The vessel of Lucifer was more than he appeared. Not a witch but something else. Something that knew how to name him. 

“He didn’t take me. I said he could come in. We’re time sharing.”

Rather than grin or laugh like Matt had intended, Sam’s expression went impossibly colder. His hand flexed, as though itching for a weapon, but he didn’t have one and didn’t rise to his feet. Samandriel could see the blood soaking his pant leg, dripping into the ground. 

“Let him go, Samandriel. He doesn’t need to be a pawn in Heaven’s games.” 

Matt wasn’t a pawn! Samandriel would never think he was just a pawn. Matt was his best friend! 

Matt was also saying something, but Samandriel wasn’t listening. He curled his wings inward, condensing himself down, and had just enough presence of mind to recognize Matt’s panicked shout before he pulled himself out of Matt, leaving the vessel and taking to the skies. 

Matt caught himself before he crashed face-first into the earth, his fingers digging into dirt even as his vision blurred with tears. Breath hitched hard in his lungs and he swallowed a scream that wanted to escape, feeling like he’d been kicked to the side of the road and ripped in two at the same time. 

Hands on his shoulders and a voice talking at him, fast, worried, but Matt only staggered back, tears running down his cheeks. 

Artemis had said that they were going to be together forever! What… why had Samandriel left? Matt didn’t want him to leave! 

Fingers curled into the flesh of his shoulders and a brief shake had him opening his eyes and meeting Sam’s. He looked worried, his own eyes wide and face pale. 

“I didn’t want him to go,” Matt whispered. 

Sam’s eyebrows drew down in a frown, but it was confusion this time, not the coldness of before. “I don’t understand. He was talking like he was you.”  

Matt shook his head. “I was talking. Why would he talk like me? He’s himself.” He wiped the tears away, forcing himself to focus. Part of him wanted to be angry at Sam for driving Samandriel away, but the worry clear on the man’s face was hard to be angry with. 

“I’ve seen angels take people as vessels before,” Sam said, and there was something sad in his voice. “They take control. The… human is pushed back. Buried.” A shudder made its way through Sam’s body. 

“Samandriel… has never taken control.” He had prevented Matt from moving during the battle, but the sensation of fear, like smoke, had been around him then. Matt wasn’t even sure Samandriel realized how terrified he had been. “He’s here, but I let him in. He’s… he’s my best friend.” 

“I’m sorry,” Sam said, hand rubbing up and down Matt’s arm. “I thought he was hurting you. I didn’t even know angels could leave you in control.” He frowned then. “Why was he down here anyway?”

“I was looking for you.”

“Samandriel!” Matt cried, delighted. He dropped down into a crouch and stared at the new vessel the angel had taken. “I thought you left for good.”

“No. I just wanted Sam to see that I wasn’t controlling you.” He hopped forward and that was when Matt noticed that the tiny body of the rabbit was shaking. 

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t feel right.”

“Me neither,” Matt whispered. He scooped the rabbit up in his arms and stood, both of them sighing in relief at the physical contact. “I guess Artemis wasn’t lying.”

“I don’t think I’m supposed to leave you,” Samandriel said. He turned his head to regard Sam. “Are you still worried I’m controlling him?”

“No,” Sam said, “but I am confused. Why didn’t you take control of him from the start?”

“How was I supposed to learn anything doing that?”

Sam apparently didn’t have anything to say to that. He simply looked bemused. 

“What happens now?” Matt asked, looking between the two of them. 

Sam frowned. “You said you were looking for me?”

“Heaven is in an uproar. You did some praying that has a lot of people questioning what’s going on. No one can sense where you are and angels have been dispatched to find you. I was one of them, but I don’t want to go back. I want to stay with Matt.”

“I want you to stay,” Matt whispered, rubbing his fingers over Samandriel’s soft fur. 

Sam was smiling softly, like he knew something they didn’t. Matt wondered what it was. 

“They’re going to keep looking for you. They want to make sure the apocalypse happens.” He sighed. “And you’re the vessel of Lucifer.”

“I know,” Sam said, and he didn’t sound nearly as surprised as Matt thought he should. 

“I don’t want the world to end,” Samandriel said softly. “I like this world. I like humans.”

“I’m trying to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Sam said. 

Matt didn’t understand how Samandriel could be so calm about all of this. Lucifer was the Devil! He was evil! But Sam didn’t look either surprised or revolted - just sad. How did he even know all of this? And the Apocalypse? Matt didn’t want the world to end. 

He thought about Artemis telling him that his choice to remain with Samandriel wouldn’t be easy. Maybe this is what she meant. Stopping the end of the world. He couldn’t think of anything harder. 

“What can I do?”

Sam looked at him, smiling with amusement. “Go home and live your life.” 

Matt scowled at him but Sam shook his head. “Do you know that most angels have no idea what humans are really like? They think we’re nothing more than monkeys - mud monkeys, they call us - because they are old enough to have known the world before we began. They saw humans before we evolved into what we are now, and they still think we are as dull as animals.

“If you really want to help, live your life. Show Samandriel what it means to be human. The good and the bad. Then, if you get the chance, show another angel. Let them see humans for what they really are. I can’t think of anything that would help more.”

“What are you going to do?” 

Sam sighed and for a moment, he looked so defeated, looking around at the carnage from the battle. “I’ll head back to school.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, then said “I go to Stanford University, in California. Palo Alto. If you need me, you can call the University and someone will get a message to me.” He frowned. “Or ask for The Feckin’ Bean when you call. Anyone there can help.” He looked at them for a long moment. “You gonna be okay?” 

Matt looked down at the rabbit in his arms, who met his gaze, and grinned. “We’re gonna be awesome.”

There was the honking of a car horn and an ambulance stopped along the nearby road. The window rolled down and both of them looked to see the nurse from the hospital poke her head out. “Matthew Pike!”

“Oh crap,” Matt muttered. 

Sam grimaced. “Want me to come back with you? Say I kidnapped you?”

“Nah.” Matt hugged the rabbit to him. “My mom’s probably just losing her shit. I’ll be okay.” He eyed Sam a long moment, looking at the wings that stretched behind him. “Thanks for your help, Sam.”

He looked down at the rabbit. “You ready to come back in?”

“I doubt they will let a rabbit in the hospital.” 

“Come on, then.” There was a rush of air and the flutter-flap of wings, and Matt sighed in relief as that empty space inside him was finally filled again. “Never leave again.”

”I don’t ever want to.”

Matt turned to see Sam watching them, a strange look on his face like a mix of surprise and curiosity and something Matt couldn’t identify. He tilted his head. “What is it?”

Sam shook his head with a smile. “Nothing. Just… seeing something I hadn’t before. Call me if you need me.”

“I will.”

Matt turned and jogged to the ambulance, speaking to the nurse. He climbed in the back and waved to Sam before shutting the doors and sitting down on a bench with a sigh. 

What a weird day. 

The ambulance started moving and Matt dozed as they made their way back to the hospital. It was not doing to be fun facing his parents after disappearing when he should have been hooked up to the stupid needle drip. 

He woke as the ambulance trundled to a stop and the doors opened, but when he hopped down from the ambulance steps, he realized they weren’t at the hospital. 

Matt frowned as he noted the clearing they stood in, and turned when he heard footsteps behind him. A woman stepped into view, tall, with her hair pulled back right in a bun and a bored look on her face. “Hello, Matthew, I’m Miss Watt. I’m very interested in talking to you and your friend.” She lit a match and dropped it to the ground, and fire swarmed around Matt in a ring, trapping them both. 

He felt Samandriel shake within him, curling his wings in protectively. 

“Very, very interested."