An angel hadn’t fallen to hell in over a millennia. Longer, even — the last Fall was barely a tickle of memory to most of the heavenly host.
And never a guardian angel, no. Those never fell. It was an impossibility — theirs was the most sacred duty that even the thrones and seraphim were rapturous to be assigned — and not even during the great Fall of Morningstar did a guardian angel tumble from the heavens.
Until one did.
He hadn’t meant to fall — no, none of them ever did, did they — but he had, nonetheless. He had done his duty, had protected and guided his charge as best that he could, but in the end, he had been abandoned.
And he had been angry.
Angry enough that he had been selfish, and stupid, and listened to the lies of a witch over the word of his Father. And so he had fallen, straight into hell and stripped of his wings, the bones torn from his back and the feathers burned to keep his cell alight with smoke and ash and unholy flames that bit and burrowed into his skin until he could no longer tell the burning of his tormentor’s knife from the burn of the mark on his back.
Sinner, the mark said. Fallen from grace. It had other meanings, too, older ones that his tongue barely remembered, but those meanings were locked in the attics of his memory, along with most memories that still mattered to him. Anything that wasn’t locked away had been used to mock him, to twist a knife into his very soul and tarnish every good memory he hadn’t been quick enough to hide.
He should have been stronger. A better guardian. A better friend.
But angels didn’t know the meaning of friendship. Couldn’t understand why staying by a man’s side for decades, through trials and horrors manmade and unnatural alike, would mean so little to that man in the face of another human’s friendship.
Couldn’t understand why he had been left behind, when a cursed bullet from his friend’s own gun had nearly ended him.
Would end him.
He had waited, while the metal in his flesh burned and tore and carved a path for him straight into Death’s waiting arms, waited for his charge to come back to him. Waited, because he no longer had the strength to follow him, to protect him, and in that moment as he lay on the floor of an abandoned church, he understood his failure.
An angel came to him, spoke to him, and she lay dying as smoke filled the air from no earthly fire, and he did not know her — how could he not know her? He knew every one of his brothers and sisters, and he knew her not — and he held her in his arms because he had no strength to carry her to safety.
What’s my angel’s name? he had said, because for a moment he had held hope, hope that she could save him.
He would remember.
He would remember, and he would protect her, as he had been unable to protect his charge.
The smoke rose, and she coughed; he set her down and climbed the belltower, pulling on the cord and praying that help would arrive in time to save her.
It was too late for him.
He pulled on the rope until it slipped from his fingers, until his knees hit the floor and it rushed up to greet him, and the pain was fading into nothingness as he struggled to catch his breath.
He didn’t catch it.
Death was his beloved sister, and he was once her favored brother, but when she came for him there was no love in her eyes, and only ice in her grasp, and she stole the breath from his lungs and the beating from his heart, and dumped his soul on the steps of hell.
He had not even been able to speak her name, still weakened as he was, some strange magic curling into the tattered remains of his soul, his very being, and her gaze on him as he lay at her feet was without mercy.
You are no longer welcome in our house, she said — or some equivalent to the phrase, untranslatable to any human language. There was no word that encompassed what home was to angels, not one that humans could pronounce, at any rate. And those were the last words that any angel spoke to him.
Then the demons had taken him, and he had seen his Fallen brothers and sisters in their faces but not their hearts. They had no wings, and their voices were like fire, and he knew, in that moment, that he would be like them. They would break him, bend him, destroy him, until he was just one more wingless angel in their ranks.
The wings had been what they had taken first. It was an agony — pure, endless agony — because the demons were not kind, and they broke every bone and tore out every feather before they dug their claws into his flesh and cracked his bones, punctured his lungs, shredding his soul and mending it in an endless cycle of agony and horror.
Then they had taken his mind, as they tore through his memories and twisted every moment into a torment worse than any living nightmare, and he had screamed and screamed until they had taken his voice, too, and that they wouldn’t give back until his soul had been patched enough to be torn apart again.
The screams of his fellow imprisoned souls were no comfort, for they all suffered the same miseries, in the end. They were each broken down into the barest stretch of soul strung them together, and dragged back from the brink of insanity until there was no brink left to be drawn from.
But he was different from them. They couldn’t break him, not completely, which in a way was worse. They had long since torn the bullet from his shoulder, melted it down into a thin blade and used it to carve his failings into his skin again and again, but the magic was still there, pulsing and aching and tearing at him in a way the demons could not. It pulsed and it ached and it tore at him as they continued to tear at him, until the magic yanked and the demons screeched in cacophonic rage, and he was pulled out of hell into a blessed silence.
The silence hurt worse than the noise, but at least the aching in his shoulder was gone.
The ache in his back was still there — would be there, for years, long after he had learned to control his new powers and keep his mark hidden, long after he stretched old muscles that hadn’t been used in nearly a century. That ache wouldn’t go away.
He rose from the dusty floorboards of the church a new man — although he couldn’t recall ever being one, not really — with liquid fire in his veins and the song of metal bending to his will. He rose through the ranks of his new demon brethren — the Revenants, they were called, and they were so — and he rose until he had the entire town of Purgatory half under his thrall.
He’d been a general, before his call to guardianship. He had led a host of angels into war, and won, for thousands of what humans would eventually call years, and he had been a general in that army up until he had been summoned to guard a single human man.
His fate will alter the course of their future, he had been told. Protect him. Guard him. Ward him. Warn him. What hunts for him must not be allowed to win.
He never did find out what had been hunting them, not after years at his charge’s side, because what they were hunting ended up being their undoing. His charge couldn’t leave well enough alone, not when innocents were at risk, and as his guardian, there was nothing he could do but follow him.
He had failed.
Failed his duty, failed his Father, failed him self. Worst of all, he had failed his charge.
He had failed the one person he had been bound to protect, and now his charge was dead. He knew this in his bones, in his soul — knew it in the magic coursing through him that tasted of old enchantments and had a nettle’s sting, knew it in the fiery eyes reflected in his mirror and in the eyes of every Revenant that walked within the Ghost River Triangle. For in each of their eyes was the same magic, binding them together in the worst of ways, a magic that told him without a doubt that his charge was gone from that earth, gone beyond his reach.
And he knew this, as he rose from hell, and from the dead, and through ranks of the worst scum of the earth reborn; he knew without a doubt that he could not fail again.
He drove the Revenants under his whip, molded them to his will as he molded himself into something neither angel nor demon, not even truly Revenant, and he watched as a man with Wyatt’s eyes came for them, one after the other, until he could reach him and stop him.
Words worked, at first. The Heirs were easy to manipulate, because he had no duty to protect them, not now, and they came looking for answers with a naiveté that served his purpose. The Heirs were the key to cracking the shackles of magic binding him, and he would be free again. He would be patient, and work with every tool at his disposal, and he would wait for the new wings sprouting from his back to grow and heal until they could finally carry him out of a place that had long ago earned the name Purgatory.
Josiah was first. He’d made a mistake, and Josiah had paid for them with his life, and all his hard work had been wasted.
Then Edwin. The worst. He had nearly died at Edwin’s hand, under the gun that had glowed an unholy glow and threatened to end his last chance at avoiding his fate, and he had killed him for it. The only Heir he had shed no tears over.
Then came Ward. And with him, his angel.
With Waverly came hope, and a new plan, as he and Ward schemed together to break the curse themselves on the solstice, to end the twisted narrative that had bound them both in blood to the land. It nearly succeeded, and would have, if he hadn’t been careless and let seven of his numbers grow too cocky, too restless.
Ward had paid for that mistake.
So had Willa.
Cruel, precious Willa, who had tormented Waverly and hounded Wynonna, and he was cruel, too, and swept her away, keeping her locked in a treehouse, safe from the Revenants and safe until she would be old enough to help him lift the curse.
But he was careless, reckless; too hurried in his plans, and he lost her to the Stone Witch. Then it was a waiting game, waiting and hoping that his Willa would survive whatever the witch put her through, that she would still trust him enough in the end to do her part.
But the years passed, and she was of age, and all the Revenants that had fallen to Ward’s bullets rose again, and there was still no escape for him.
Time continued to trickle by, too slowly and too fast, until Wynonna Earp became the Heir and stormed into his trailer park.
I will remember.
And he had.
He knew her face, but she did not know him, not yet, and he knew she would be no tool he could persuade to his war. She only saw them as Revenants, only as the enemy, and he had no patience left to teach her otherwise. He had too long lived as their leader, and it was harder to remember that once he had loved Wyatt Earp. Harder to remember anything but the fire that blazed hotter with each passing day, that threatened to burn him from the inside out and truly make him one of them.
He had no humanity to cling to, but he tried. Oh, he tried.
He had gone by many names, through the years — General was still his favorite, his true name long since struck from the books of heaven, Robert Svane dead and buried in the earth, and del Rey just shy of not his at all — but Bobo was the name his angel had chosen for him, and he would bear it until he had need of another. She was sweet, his angel — and she was an Earp in all the ways that counted, if not by blood.
I will remember, he had said, and he did, through the years, as his angel grew into a beautiful young woman who he knew was not the creature who had choked on smoke in his arms, but still he protected her.
After all, she was still his angel.
She had given him back his wings.
She had screamed — his angel was in danger, and he had known, known in the way he had known when Wyatt had been in danger, had known the moment his charge had passed from the living — and he knew in that moment that he would never reach her in time. She was too far from his reach, too far and too scared, and something dark had been whispering in her sister’s ear of late, goading and slithering slippery words that he had not the power to fight.
His angel was in danger, so he went to her.
It hurt, oh, it hurt, to have his wings manifest from his soul for the first time in nearly a century. They burned worse than his mark when he used his powers, burned worse than when they had been torn from him, and his scream was lost in the crackle of flame as they rose from his back, each feather tarnished and black and alight with heat and pain, more than he thought he could bear, but he did. He had to.
He was desperate, and that desperation fed the flames licking hot against his skin, drew him through what endless space that angels flew, and he gasped in the cool touch of that hallowed space, his again for only a moment, until he landed, hard, in the snow at the edge of the lake.
There was his angel, chasing a thrown rabbit — and he could taste an old magic there, slinking away through the woods with the retreating older girl — and the ice cracked under its weight and hers, and she screamed.
His wings carried him to her, and he hauled her from the water in a billow of steam, his wings fading back from whence they came as he carried her to the shore.
My angel. My Waverly.
She was safe, and he had his wings.
It was a victory, and he reveled in it, basked in the warmth of wings at his back again, present even if no human or Revenant eye could detect them, and some of the pain there eased. His angel was safe, and he would fly again.
He could not fly again.
His wings would not come at his call.
They would not answer, and for all they were there, they were of no use to him, and he was once more grounded as was a bird with clipped wings.
He raged, and seethed, and howled — but it changed nothing.
His angel continued to grow, until Ward was dead at Wynonna’s hand and Willa was taken away and his angel was sent to live out of his reach, in the safety of a home that knew nothing of the Earp curse. She grew without him, prospered, and he was content in knowing she was no Earp, and the curse would never fall on her head.
She was safe.
Then Wynonna returned to Purgatory — his angel — and all the pieces of his long game were set into motion far sooner than he would have liked. That dark something that whispered at the gates had grown stronger, its voice louder, and he knew whoever could hear its words would be waiting, just as he did, for the opportune moment to strike.
Then Willa was dead, and so was his hope, and in that moment he did not care that his angel still lived, that he had at least temporarily regained his wings.
Willa was dead, and so was his chance.
Shoot me, Wynonna.
She raised Peacemaker, that cursed gun that had started it all, that whispered in the dark and sang as the bullet leapt from its barrel, and Bobo sank into the fiery pits of hell again.
Death did not visit him this time, did not drag him to the gates of hell as she had before. The gatekeeper howled with three voices, unseen and terrorous, and he trembled at the uneven roar.
The demons, at least, were happy to see him. They howled and shrieked, long claws digging into his flesh and peeling it from his bones, and this time they did not touch his wings, the ones that flickered and crackled with an unquenchable fire, just like the one that had consumed his wings on his first visit to hell. His wings were the one piece of him they left untouched, and they pulled the rest of him apart, piece by aching piece, until the he had no screams left to give and no memories left to hide.
Time passed, and he languished in torment, until the bells rang in clear tones that pierced through even the deafening cries of the damned, and he had one moment of laughing, ironic clarity before he was yanked from the pit once more and rose, spitting snow and gasping cold winter air.
The Heir had died, and he was alive.
His angel was dead.
She was not dead.
He knew this, in the same way he knew that Willa was gone past his reach, knew that his Revenants had dwindled in number to the call of Wynonna’s gun. He knew that Waverly was alive, because he had bound his soul to her, years ago, same as he had done to Wyatt, because she was his to protect, and he would do so.
So he was alive, and so was the Heir, and all of Purgatory was… wrong?
They captured him, the humans, while he was still disoriented by the fading screaming of hell, and they took his coat from him and bound him in a straightjacket, as the cloying scent of some new, sickly spell coated the entire town in a daze.
Something was wrong, and the magic he could taste was kin to the magic binding him to the Triangle, and he knew it was wrong.
Then his angel, his Waverly, came to him, and she didn’t know him, not who he had taught her to know him, and she didn’t even know her self. Didn’t know even who Wynonna was, and then he knew there was trouble. So he told her enough, and she came back, with the red-headed deputy who watched her with adoring doe eyes, and for a moment he had hope again.
Then the widows came for him, and he knew, he knew, that it would all go to shit.
And it did.
His angel pointed a gun at him, and somehow his angel was back, from wherever the magic had taken her, and she tasted of smoke and new life and anger, and then he was pulled away by the widows and they were gone from him again.
Then that awful magic was stronger, and Bulshar was waking from the sleep he had long ago been trapped in, and Bobo was… not himself. The magic was strong, and he had no weapons to fight it, had no powers of his own that could protect his hell-flayed mind, and he knew he had been changed when he fought against Doc Holliday, when those cursed words fell from his mouth without his consent.
I pledged him my angel.
I promised him Waverly.
He had failed her. He had failed in his duty again.
And it broke him.
When he awoke in the well, really awoke, with only the last scratchy remnants of Bulshar’s hold lingering in his mind, and he knew she was in danger.
His angel, his Waverly.
And he was trapped in a well, weakened and weaponless and angry, and she was in danger.
She screamed, and he howled, because for all the wrong he had done on that earth, she was the one bit of goodness left in him. The only remaining piece of his heart that hadn’t been scorched away by demonic flame, and she was screaming.
He couldn’t fail in his duty again.
He couldn’t fail her. He would not let harm befall her, not while there was still breath left in his body. Not while there were still wings on his back, useless fucking wings that never did as they were told besides keep him warm on cold nights, wings that had helped him save her once.
Wings that had been of no help to him, since their return, but that was of no consequence. He needed them to save his angel, so he would raise his wings again. He would be an angel once more, for her, if only for a moment — a moment was all he needed.
She screamed again, far away, and he heard her, knew that the moment he reached her would be the breaking point of the growing storm of magic thrumming through the air of Purgatory, knew that somehow, one way or another, something would end that day. All he wished was that it not be her that ended, and if he could protect her, then he would face the consequences of his choice.
He would always choose his charge, no matter what. That’s what had killed him, the first time. He had loved more than he had been loved, and he could not save a man who had already steeped himself in the cursed magic of an ancient gun. He had tried, he had made that choice, and he would do it again. He would choose his charge. He would always choose her.
Bobo spread his wings, and flew.