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Redemption

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All come from dust, and all return to dust. It’s the ultimate fate of everything that exists in the world: a slow decay from what is whole to something that will one day get lost to the wind. But Reita doesn't share that same fate what with his undying flesh and soot-stained wings. Created to outlast eternity, he’s meant to endure. Even with the loss of his purpose and everything he has ever believed in, Reita has no choice. Angels don't die, so he won't. He can't. It's what was, what is, and what will always be, and Reita has stopped hoping for death a long time ago. So he keeps going. He's not living, merely something close to it, but it's all right because if there's anything Reita has learned since The Great Fall, it's to be content about the little things.

Much has happened since the day Angels began dropping from the skies like blazing comets. The aftermath had left a crumbling world behind: ghost towns and deserted cities, and the epidemic that is sin. Cruelty is now the norm and not the exception — with humanity godless and alone, a lot of people think there's no longer any point in being good. Truth be told, Reita agrees. Nothing and no one matters to the forsaken but the self, and he wonders if the others feel the same way, others like him who are as doomed with their dimming halos and irises that have dulled to a dark, flat bronze. They'd been gold once, but the brightness has faded away and Reita wonders about his eyes as he does many things. Will his vision turn dark once every person who has ever believed finally stops doing so? Will he go blind, wings intact but vision gone? He hopes not, especially since he has developed a fondness for riding motorcycles. It reminds him of flying, not that Reita flies anymore. Mostly and if not on his man-made metal beast, he walks. Pushing his motorcycle along for miles on end, he wanders aimlessly, unsure what it is he's looking for.

 

In his continuing search for something unknown, Reita finds himself stopping over at another decrepit town, one of many that litters the world. Like in the previous ones, they don't want him here but welcome him anyway since no one likes an angry Angel. They cause too much damage and despair, forces who are vicious in their glory and remain the same even in disgrace.

“I don't take money,” the owner of a barely-standing motel tells him when he reaches the only establishment in the area that accepts outsiders. The man behind the receptionist's desk is business-like and not wary at all, and Reita would've been impressed if not for the fact that he doesn't care. “Just services in exchange for your stay. No exceptions.”

Reita drops the duffel bag he has slung over one shoulder on the floor, stretching his arms over his head. Wings shuddering behind him, he only answers after his joints have stopped protesting with bone-deep exhaustion.

“Protection,” he replies with a voice akin to rumbling thunder. “I can watch over you and your guests during my stay. Keep troublemakers away.”

“Position’s taken.” The motel owner throws a careless hand sideways. “Anything else you can offer?”

Reita doesn't even have to pause and think, because what can he not do? He's sunk so low that there's nothing. Leaning forward and against the counter using his elbows, Reita's motorcycle keys jingle pleasantly where it's hanging by a belt loop.

“What needs doing?”

Despite his attempts at being  non-threatening, the motel owner loses composure at the sudden close proximity. His fear tastes like stale bread and bitter alcohol, and Reita wants to gag. But if he wants a place indoors for the evening, he has to pretend he's polite. So he stops breathing because he doesn't need it to live or die — one of very few moments where he can say that immortality has its perks.

“Well.” The motel owner has grabbed a handkerchief from his pocket and is dabbing it all over his face as he starts sweating in nervousness. “Nothing I would trust you with, to be honest.”

Reita tilts his head to the side, voice monotone when he speaks. He must look scary with his lack of emotion, because the motel owner's face pales, and all the more as he replies.

“You're indirectly asking me to go.”

“No, no! Of course not! There's a room no one wants, third floor, very end of the hall to the left. One and a half out of the four walls have been torn down and part of the roof has caved in, so it's open to the elements. You can have it, I'll accept whatever you have to offer as payment.”

Reita holds the motel owner's gaze for a long while in assessment, and then without a word, he looks down and grabs his bag from the floor. Rummaging around, it takes him a while but he eventually finds what he's looking for. He sets the items down on the counter surface one at a time with a heavy metallic clink, keeping his explanation short.

“It's all I have left.”

The motel owner's eyes widen at the sight of the canned goods, one tuna and the other three corned beef, and from ashen his face brightens with a happy smile. Food is as scarce as water, and Reita knows by the reaction he has received alone that he's reserved himself a place to stay in. That's a relief.  

“You can stay for four days, one day each can!”

Reita is already walking away, bag less heavy where it's over his shoulder again and nearly crushing a cluster of feathers. He lifts a free hand with a couple of fingers pointed toward the ceiling just right before he disappears up the creaky wooden stairs.

“I only need two.”

And maybe even less, Reita thinks as he opens the door to his assigned room. The state of the walls and roof hadn't been a joke, and he can see the stretch of desert he'd had to cross to get here like it's a wall-to-ceiling painting. Only, what he's looking at is actually the outside itself. From afar, the sea of endless sand is nearly crimson under the glare of a sun that's ready to depart, and the afternoon rays are blindingly loving in their soft death. And although the room isn't much, it'll have to do. At the very least, there is a bed, half a roof, and enough walls to keep Reita warm as he enjoys a lovely view.

He starts breathing again.

Crossing the space between door and bed, Reita dumps the contents of his duffel bag on the bedspread in search of cigarettes. After, he takes off his gloves, leather jacket, shirt, boots and socks, arranging them all by the foot of the bed before walking over and seating himself on the edge of the room's flooring. Watching the afternoon wane as he smokes, with legs dangling three storeys up in the air, this very moment describes much of Reita's life: the way he's always looking at the precipice of the world with no means down or back, stuck in the middle for all time.

Undying. Always here.

Like he often does, Reita thinks about how lonely it is, being trapped within the expanse of infinity alongside people who will eventually leave him behind and die. And he wonders where all their souls will go, what with no Heaven or god or a clear end, but he supposes it doesn't matter.

What will become of humanity is no longer Reita's concern.

 


 

There's very little light when night finally comes, but there's no shortage of sound. Even the smallest of noises are deafening, and lying face down on his temporary bed, Reita's body is tense as he listens. It had been far away at first, punctuated by the opening and closing of doors, but the squeak of the wooden floorboards as somebody walks on them is getting ever closer. It takes a bit, but eventually, the sound reaches his door. Someone knocks, and when Reita checks, somebody like him is standing out in the hallway.  

“Good evening, brother.”

Reita has the door only half-open with his body blocking most of the view into the room, wary at first but now confused about how another of his kind has found him. But then a realization comes to him just as quickly.

“Are you the one already protecting this place?”

The other Angel has hair the shade of honey, its color brighter than his dulling eyes. He must have been a warrior of some sort before The Great Fall, because there's something about him that is threatening even with the gentle smile — a violence that ripples underneath his eternal flesh, waiting for something to lash out on.

“Yes. The motel owner told me you offered him protection too, which can be permanently arranged. We could use another pair of wings around here if you're interested.”

He and this Angel might be of the same kind, but based on those words alone and Reita immediately knows that they're vastly different. The other has integrated himself with humanity, carved himself a role in their mortal lives, but he doesn't plan to do the same. He will never belong and will not try to.

Stepping back, Reita slowly shakes his head.  

“I'm only passing through and don't plan on staying long. Surely though, you'll find someone else.”

There's an amused quirk to the other Angel's lips as he nods in understanding. “Suit yourself. My name's Uruha, and my room is under yours, if you change your mind.”

“Thank you, Uruha. I won't change my mind.”

Reita considers the conversation to be over and is just closing the door when Uruha raises a hand, palm flat on the old and weathered wood, to stop the action halfway. He still has that amused smile but it's laced with something else that looks malicious now. It makes Reita's skin crawl, the way it's knowing in a manner an Angel's smile should never be.

“Wait, I'm not finished. I also want to tell you that someone will come up here to entertain you. As the one who watches over this territory, I wish to welcome you properly even if you don't intend to stay with us for good. Use him well, brother.”

Reita doesn't like how that sounds. “There’s no need—”

“But I insist,” Uruha cuts off, mouth curling in the same way sin does as it grips your gut with excitement and fear. “Besides, it's his job. He'll want something in return, and if you have it, give it to him as payment. All of us forsaken by Him must help one another, yes?”

With that said, Uruha winks and turns around without another word, and Reita watches him go until he's no longer visible down the hall. And he's tempted to lock the door, but it's no use because just as quickly, someone appears in the dimness and from the same direction the other Angel disappeared to. That's when Reita sees the man meant to entertain him for the first time: he has light blonde hair curling in odd directions as if from sleep, and he's dressed in a tattered robe with his feet as bare as the smile on his face. It almost looks like hope, that smile: untarnished and much like the first rays at the exact moment when the dawn breaks and becomes early morn.  

“I'm Takanori.”

Reita can't think of anything else but how there must be an invisible serpent with him at that instant. It's the only explanation why his heart is racing in his chest with his breaths like blue fire as he continues listening to the man speak.

“I can take you or you can take me, Angel sir.”

Reita steps aside and opens the door a little wider, but despite the goodness in his intentions, even though on the surface he knows that he'll do what is right, the temptation to do otherwise has already embedded itself somewhere deep inside him. He has already taken a bite of the forbidden fruit and just doesn't know it yet.

“Come in, Takanori.”
The apple.
“My name’s Reita.”
Eden's downfall.

The robe comes off as soon as the door closes, leaving Angel and Man alone in a slightly private room with three walls on one side, and the stars and desert on the other. It's cold, the temperature having dropped, but it's not the reason Reita's wings shudder.

“Put it back,” he says with a soft voice, gaze fixed on an expectant face. “All you have to do is sit with me.”

A flash of confusion overtakes Takanori's expression as he wraps his arms around himself, but he doesn't get dressed and continues to stand there naked and shivering.

“You don't like what you see?”

Reita's brows furrow, and it's only then that he allows his gaze to travel downwards to look. There's so much smooth skin, unblemished save for the ink on those arms, and when he's had his fill, his gaze traces the same path back, this time upwards and once more on Takanori's face. Walking over, Reita picks up the discarded robe from the floor and slowly hands it to its owner.  

“I do. You're very beautiful. Have a cigarette with me, if you smoke?”

Takanori takes the robe and wraps it around himself with a quiet little laugh. “All right then, Reita. Not the foreplay I'm used to, but whatever floats your boat and as long as I get something in return.”

“Again, all you have to do is sit with me. Come here, but only if you want to.” Reita settles by the foot of the bed and gestures his guest across him, and he receives a nod and more confusion in a lopsided smile as Takanori does as he's told, seating himself by the head of the bed with his back against the board. “Now what would you like, Takanori?”

“Clothes,” Takanori says quickly without even having to think about it. “Anything in good condition that you can spare.”

Reita lights a cigarette, taking a deep inhale, before passing the stick over with a nod.

“Done. Anything else for your time?”

Takanori does the same with the cigarette, breathes its poison in, with another one of his laughs. “A kiss. It's rare that someone doesn't want me for a fuck, and it makes me want to kiss you because you deserve it.”

The cigarette makes its way back to Reita.

“I deserve no such thing,” he says, thumbing at the filter and watching ashes fall on the bedspread like snow. “You should kiss only the ones you really like. Do for others only the things you want to do for them.”

There's a bout of silence before Takanori chuckles.

“You're probably the only selfless Angel left.”

Reita smiles at that, but it's bitter because those words aren't the truth. He's not selfless but uncaring. Jaded. He breathes out a thin trail of smoke and watches it disappear into the ceiling.

“Humanity and its blind faith,” he whispers, blinking up at peeling paint and a useless light fixture. “No wonder He loved you so.”

“Loved,” Takanori repeats with great emphasis on the tense used. “But not enough, obviously. Who am I to complain though? He left us all with you and your kind. Left you to coexist with us. If anyone has it bad, it's you Angels.”

Reita looks back down and across him to watch Takanori smoke.

“True,” he agrees with a touch of humor. “You've always been a handful, the lot of you. So much need, and want, and sin.”

“You're not supposed to agree,” Takanori shoots back with a laugh that is so much louder and carefree. He laughs so much. “You're supposed to say something like: it's fine, it's an honor to be alongside you. Something like that!”

Reita lights a new cigarette when he sees the first one running out, handing it over to Takanori with a half-hearted smirk.

“But Takanori,” he starts, their fingers brushing together during the nicotine hand off, and something in Reita's stomach ignites like the furnaces of Hell. “You know that's a lie.”

“You know what's another lie?”

There's something knowing in Takanori's eyes too, the same as the one that had been on Uruha's gaze earlier, when he asks the question. Leaning forward, with a palm on the bed, Takanori closes the space between them.

“That you only want me to sit with you.”

And Reita would've disagreed, if he hadn't been too distracted by getting lost in the strangely pleasurable sensation of being kissed.