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No Matter What You've Heard, Angels Aren't Any Better at Solving the World's Problems than Anyone Else

Chapter Text

Sometimes, the world changed abruptly, all at once, a single event forcing history to take a turn into something that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. Something that historians could look back on and write about as being the definitive moment when something or another had changed permanently.

That didn’t usually happen. Usually it was gradual, change taking place over many years, centuries even, countless people contributing to it. It was rare that one person or even a small group of people changed history over the course of a few days or even a few years.

And usually when those abrupt changes did happen, they were impossible to see coming. A catastrophe that struck without warning. A war. Someone deciding something, the consequences of which didn’t become clear until it was too late. It was rare to be able to look at an event coming up and know that was going to be when everything changed.

But sometimes it happened. Sometimes, Jude thought, it was possible to look at something that was about to happen and know. To know that this was something that was going to be in history books someday, that this was something that was going to change the world. And that was humbling.

And being involved in something of that magnitude, knowing that it would have this impact, knowing that, made it…terrifying.

Jude was just grateful that in the grand scheme of things—the really grand scheme, he guessed—he wasn’t important enough to be making the real decisions. He was there, they were all there, but probably the small number of people who usually decided all this would be deciding it again and the rest of them were just going to watch and hope it didn’t end with them all killing each other. Again.

The last time all the world’s angels and demons had met together to talk…well, actually, it had never happened before. The last time they’d all met together to talk, they hadn’t yet been angels and demons. They’d all been together, on the same side. They’d all been spiders. But the meeting was what had split them, and the world had changed.

Jude took a breath as he stepped into the run-down amphitheatre that was holding the first day of the synod. It was in the eastern city of Teown’s Sound, which wasn’t a sound but had been a long time ago, before the Stag River had been a river. The city here hadn’t existed when there’d been a sound, though a different settlement had existed not far off, and had been called Iena’s Gulf, even though there’d never been a gulf here.

Even when Jude had been human, he’d thought humans strange.

Anyway, Teown’s Sound was a fairly large city for being so out of the way, a little over half the size of the northern capital. It was just to the north of some frankly ominous woods that a dying god had once fallen into, and the only large settlement within striking distance of the eastern border of Dolovai, which hadn’t mattered in the last few millennia since armies had stopped marching from out east. It was a trading town as most cities were, shaped like a crescent. And, like most cities, it was built on the bones of an older city. But Teown’s Sound didn’t hide it as well as other cities, dotted with ruins along its length. It would have been easy enough to cast a small spell over the old stone amphitheatre to make sure no humans wandered into it for a day.

The synod was going to take three days, over three locations. One chosen by the demons, one by the angels, and one jointly. And it was because the demons had chosen this amphitheatre, where once they’d executed thirty-eight people, including seven saints, that Jude was nervous walking in. They’d been at war for so long, and even if almost all the duration of that had been in an unspoken ceasefire, that didn’t mean nobody was going to get hurt. Someone had been murdered at the last synod, after all.

Speaking of murderers, Jude spotted Bartholomew sitting there talking to Magdalene, both of them looking apprehensive. Bartholomew had been there at the fight in the Citadel that had occasioned this whole thing. Jude knew, because he’d been there too. He’d flown in with Raphael to challenge the demons in whatever they were planning, and instead had found a bunch of humans and a god. His God.

Who had attacked them. All of them. Demons and angels both.

They’d split the amphitheatre down the middle, seemingly, angels on the eastern and demons on the western side. Jude was a later arrival than others, so he stood for a second, looking for a place to sit. There was an empty seat beside Bartholomew, actually. But Jude wasn’t going to sit there, not with the history that he had with Bartholomew. It was a while ago now, but it was still a bit awkward.

He could sit over to the end with Willard, who was by himself for once instead of with his two friends. But no, there’d be awkwardness there, especially because Willard was alone—they’d have to talk. They’d never been good at talking. Jude looked away, scanning the room. There was an empty spot just under Roland, but last time he’d been just under Roland hadn’t ended well. Tom had a spot beside him, and he was distracted talking to Dianne, but he looked happy and Jude sitting there might make him less happy, which would annoy Dianne, which was a bad idea.

Jude sighed, looking further, for somewhere that wasn’t going to be awkward for him to sit. And everywhere he looked he saw an ex. Why couldn’t they all sit together in one corner of the room and leave the rest of it to him?

Well, phrased like that it sounded kind of selfish. He gave one last hopeful look over the room, and his eyes alighted on his old friend Rebecca, and the empty seat next to her. Oh, thank God. Jude made his way up there, about three quarters of the way up the amphitheatre, his wings drooped a little behind him, intentional so that they’d be out of the way as he walked. He ended up sitting right at the aisle. “We needed a bigger space for this.”

“I think what you mean is that you need a bigger dating pool,” Rebecca said, looking at him.

Jude just looked away, over at the demons. There were a lot of faces he recognized, of course, but he hadn’t spoken to any of them except in passing since the schism. They looked just as nervous as he felt.

“Well, we’re not dead yet,” Rebecca said, looking where he was looking. “That’s a good sign.”

Jude smiled, nudging her shoulder. “It’s early days yet. Nobody’s even started arguing.”

“Who says they’re going to argue?” Rebecca asked. She was muscular, hard-lined.

Jude liked to think of his lines as a little softer, but he was muscular too, as long as he didn’t sit next to Rebecca, who set an unrealistic standard. “History. Me.”

Rebecca snorted. “One and the same?”

“May as well be.”

Up at the front of the amphitheatre, Raphael had appeared, glowing slightly. He tended to command attention, his power filling the space gently. Tall, blonde and lean, everyone in the room who called themselves angel had power modified by his, so it was hard not to notice him.

Just as hard if not harder to ignore was Cameron, who appeared beside him a second later. Also tall, with horns like a crown, grey skin and a long red and black dress with lace at the neck, she was the most terrifying person Jude had ever met—and he’d thought that back when they were on the same side too.

Raphael claimed to be a match for her. Everyone knew he wasn’t. It was one of the reasons Jude was glad for the technical ceasefire. Fighting against Cameron was the stupidest possible decision one could make.

“We’ve called this gathering,” Cameron said, quieting the room, “to discuss the same issue we discussed at our last meeting.”

She said it as though their last meeting hadn’t been four thousand years ago.

“Our lord Nathen has been reincarnated again,” Raphael said, stepping forward. Cameron looked at him archly. “As we all know, this is not uncommon.”

“What is uncommon,” Cameron said, interrupting him smoothly enough that Jude suddenly wondered if they’d practiced this, “is that this time he’s starting to remember who he is.”

A quiet muttering filled the room. Jude didn’t muttered. He’d been there, he’d seen it. He was trying not to have a crisis of faith over it, but it was kind of hard. Maybe Nathen had just been in a bad mood or something. Hungry, or maybe he’d had a bad breakup recently. Jude could sympathize.

“Is it true?” Rebecca asked him. Jude nodded. “Fuck.” Jude nodded again. It was really hard not to let it drive him to distraction. Being loyal to Nathen had been a pretty big part of all of their identity forever—and if he turned out to be nuts, then they were all going to look stupid.

Plus there was the fact that their entire lives would have turned out to be pointless.

“He attacked us in the Citadel,” Raphael said. “Myself included. Others can vouch for this.”

“His attacks were indiscriminate,” Cameron added. “He was interested only in killing.”

“He was stopped only by intervention from the one we call the devil,” Raphael picked up. They’d clearly practiced this. “And two humans who travel with him, who’d been used as bait to lure him there in the first place.”

“And therein lies all of our problem,” Cameron concluded, as Jude struggled to hold back a giggle despite the circumstances. These two hated each other more than literally anyone else in the world. When had they rehearsed this? That was obviously why it had taken weeks for the meeting to take place.

One of the demons from the other side was giving Jude funny looks. He thought it might be Tam, but it was hard to tell from here. But the spines down his back and useless wings looked like his. Jude had always thought he was pretty. Too bad they’d ended up on opposite sides.

Cameron was still talking. “Half of us are here because we feel that Nathen represents a danger to the world. The other half feel he represents its salvation. All of us have our beliefs challenged when he attacks Raphael and is talked out of a destructive rampage by two humans with no notable powers.”

“Discussion is required,” Raphael said. “It may be time to…reevaluate the basis of our old conflict.”

“You want us to what, stop fighting?” Someone called. Jude didn’t see who it was, but it was one of the demons.

Raphael smiled. “We want what is best for everyone.”

“There is an additional complication,” Cameron said, holding up a hand. “Before you all start heckling.” She paused, as if waiting for someone to ask what it was. Even Raphael was frowning. “Klaus is still alive.”

A deathly hush went through the amphitheatre at that. Jude straightened. When had that happened?

“What the hell is she talking about?” Rebecca asked. Jude shook his head.

“He was there, in the Citadel. Possessing a human.”

“I thought you killed him,” Raphael said, quiet, dangerous, hand twitching as if for his weapon.

Jude understood that. Cameron had killed Klaus well before the first synod. That was what she’d told them all. A disagreement over Nathen—he’d sided with the group that would later become the angels. That was what she’d told him. “Did she lie?” Jude asked. On the surface that shouldn’t be surprising—she was a demon and all—but Jude remembered Cameron. She wasn’t a liar, usually. She was powerful and mean enough that she didn’t need to lie.

“I thought I did as well,” Cameron said, unimpressed with the buzzing. “Clearly I was mistaken. More pressing than my mistake is that after all this time obviously hiding somewhere, Klaus has suddenly chosen now to reveal himself. I can’t imagine it was an accident. I can’t imagine it was a coincidence.”

“I can’t imagine you couldn’t have told me this earlier,” Raphael finished.

Cameron smiled, holding out her hands. “What can I say? I love the theatre. Now, we have much to discuss, only three days in which to discuss it, we all hate each other and nobody brought food. Let’s get started.”

Jude wished he could have Cameron’s confidence. He could see that the world was about to change again, and he was afraid of what it was going to change into.

Chapter Text

Dilapidated old amphitheatre seats were not comfortable to sit in for hours and hours, and Jude was really happy that the making of history was willing to accommodate the fact that his ass was sore and his lower back hurt like fuck.

“Being an angel should have actual perks,” Jude complained as he stood up, rubbing his back.

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “There’s immortality. Powers. Proximity to God.”

“Yeah, but my back shouldn’t hurt.” Jude sighed. “And proximity to God doesn’t help much if he’s trying to kill us all.”

“He’s not trying to kill us all,” Rebecca said, pushing Jude into the aisle so they could move. “Don’t let them get to you so easily.”

They’d sat all day through the synod, mostly listening to Cameron and Raphael talk at each other about what they’d seen in the Citadel and what it could mean. Cameron was sure that Nathen attacking them was a sign that she’d been right all along, that he was a danger who needed killing. Raphael insisted that there was no cause for such an extreme response and that the ideals that the angels had followed all this time still held despite a minor aberration. He said it in a way that made it seem like he might not totally think that. Or at least that was the impression Jude got.

It was a meeting between all of them, so there’d been questions, interruptions. Bartholomew had talked more than Jude knew he was comfortable doing, though Sullivan had remained oddly reticent considering he’d been hanging out with Nathen for months. He hadn’t said a whole lot for most of the day except when directly asked something.

He hadn’t really wanted to side with the demons, Jude remembered that. But he had anyway. It was why they’d broken up. Maybe he was regretting that. Probably not the breakup—would have happened anyway—but the decision.

“I don’t know,” Jude said, in response to Rebecca. “It’s just…I was there. It’s kind of hard to buy that he was just having a bad day. He really tried hard to kill Raphael.”

Rebecca shrugged. “Raphael’s a bitch. I don’t blame him.”

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s true.”

“Just because it’s true doesn’t mean you should say it where he can hear you,” Jude muttered, glancing down at Raphael, who was talking to Bartholomew and a few other angels.

“Whatever. It’s not impossible that he was disoriented. He’d just woken up, which doesn’t normally happen. It bears remembering that Raphael wasn’t always his champion. Maybe he was confused. Maybe he doesn’t know who we are.”

Jude frowned at that, wringing his hands a little. “I know. I somehow never thought of that, though. I just kind of assumed that he would.” He knew, just like they all knew, that Nathen hadn’t intended to be what he’d become, and had no idea that any of this would happen. But it was so easy to buy into the humans’ ideas about him wanting to save them—and Jude did think that was what he’d wanted to do—and assume that other things the humans believed were also right. They’d helped them build a church around it, after all.

“Me too. Anyway, we’re supposed to use this time to talk,” Rebecca reminded him, looking around. Raphael and Cameron had dismissed them to speak among themselves, form opinions. Consensus was the goal here. Which wasn’t going to happen, but it was worth a shot.

“We are talking.”

“We talk all the time, and I already know what you think,” Rebecca reminded him. “I’m going to go argue with Roland.”

“You don’t know that you’ll end up arguing,” Jude said, wishing she wouldn’t. Mostly because he didn’t want to go talk to Roland.

“We will. He’s a tool. Want to come?”

“No.” Jude backed up a step, then stumbled on the stair. “I’m going to go talk to someone I haven’t broken up with.”

“So if I need you I’ll find you either with a lady or a demon. Got it.”

Rebecca headed off to argue with Roland, not letting Jude give his rebuttal. It wasn’t like he’d dated all the guys in the angelic pool.

Just the ones who were into men.

And really, it wasn’t that big a pool, and it had been four thousand years. It wasn’t like he had a new boyfriend every week or something.

Honestly.

Anyway, there were more important issues at stake here than Jude’s dating history, and also now he was standing here by himself like a dumbass, so he turned around and looked for someone to talk to, scanning the clusters of angels who’d gathered together and looking for a viable conversation to join.

On second thought, they were supposed to be here in the spirit of cooperation and all. Maybe he should talk to some demons. Just to get a different opinion. Really try to see their perspective on the situation. The demons were all in their own groups, talking amongst themselves on their side of the amphitheatre, and really that was a shame. Someone was going to have to be the first one to cross the border.

Jude had always been a boundary-crosser. He turned and crossed the aisle, looking into the groups of demons for someone who wouldn’t disembowel him. This turned out to just as harrowing a decision as before, if for slightly different reasons. He remembered fighting a lot of these guys. Shit. It was almost like being at war with someone for millennia made it harder to be friends with them or something.

Okay. Jude knew where to start here. He walked up to the top of the amphitheatre, aiming for a small group of three demons who’d all been at the Citadel. “Hey, guys,” he said in a friendly manner. “Mind if I join you?”

The demons looked at each other. Tam, with his multi-coloured eyes, smiled at him. The other two were named Ned and Sheila. Jude hadn’t known either of them well even before the schism. “Is…it shitty if we say yes?” Ned asked, shivering a little. It was winter, and his feet were big and clawed, so he couldn’t wear shoes.

“Yes,” Jude told him. “Since we’re supposed to be here in the spirit of cooperation. You’re not allowed to be racist.”

“I don’t think it’s racist to tell you to buzz off,” Tam said, crossing his arms. “You’re not a different race. You’re just shinier than we are.”

“Oh, well…” Jude glanced at his wings. “That’s just the whole angel dress code thing.” Raphael had standardized their transformations after the schism. A lot of them had opted for a permanent transformation, but Jude wasn’t alone in mostly using an illusion to maintain the angelic image. He’d never been that into serious body modification, even the first time.

“I know,” Tam told him. “We do know how angels work, you know.”

Jude blushed. “I knew that. Anyway, I was just…curious about your impressions of the Citadel.”

“It was fucking nuts,” Sheila said. She was very short and making up for it by hovering at eye height with the rest of them, her fur seeming to shimmer. “Humans, kicking our asses. You guys want to talk about Nathen and that’s all well and good, but let’s also talk about the kid with the sword who cut Belle’s hand off and killed three of our guys.”

“A human killed three of your?” Jude asked, looking around as if to discern which three. “Seriously?”

“No, I’m making it up.”

“He seemed pretty nice, and all,” Ned said, nervously. “But there is the whole murder thing. Also Cameron attacked him and his friend and neither of them died, so that’s probably bad.”

“Maybe she liked them,” Tam suggested.

“Cameron likes people now?” Jude asked. That seemed unlikely.

“Well, apparently the world’s changing and anything can happen, so I don’t see why not.”

“Just because nothing makes any sense isn’t any reason to be unrealistic,” Sheila said. “I don’t know. What’s your position on the Nathen shit, since you’re here?”

Jude shrugged.

“That’s it?”

“Yep,” Jude told her. “My eloquent theological position on the question of God is ‘I have no fucking idea.’ He…I didn’t think he seemed confused. He seemed pretty sure about killing Cameron and Raphael. Both of them.”

“Not that you can blame him for that really,” Tam joked. “They’re kind of the worst.”

“You trying to get choked with your own spleen?” Sheila asked.

“I don’t think the spleen is big enough to get choked with.”

“I think Cameron would find a way,” Ned warned.

Jude chuckled. It just sort of slipped out. “What’s funny, Feathers?” Tam challenged.

Oops. They were all kind of looking at him now like they might try the spleen choking thing with him. “It’s just…you guys talk about Cameron the same way we do. I figured you’d be more…respectful?”

Tam snorted. “She’s our boss, we can diss her if we want. Just…quietly. We’re not like you guys doing all the bowing and scraping at the hem of Raphael’s robes.”

“Who?” Jude asked, smiling. “Him? He’s kind of a bitch. We only listen to him because he’s got the heavenly light everywhere he goes.”

Now they all looked at him like he was nuts, but Tam started to laugh. Jude liked Tam. “That why you were laughing at him during the big speeches when we got here?”

“Oh.” Jude scratched behind his ear a little. “Not so much. I just couldn’t help the feeling that they’d practiced that. They were finishing each other’s sentences and even though what they were talking about was important and everything, all I could think was that we could have had this meeting a week ago if they hadn’t taken so much time to rehearse.”

“He has a point,” Tam said under his breath, but loud enough for them to hear. “So what do you think we should do?”

“I don’t know, what do you think we should do?”

“I asked you first.”

“I came here hoping the synod would help me decide,” Jude protested. “What’s the point of having it if we’ve all already made up our minds?”

“Fair enough,” Sheila said. “Even if most of us already have. A long time ago. Though Klaus being alive puts an interesting spin on it all.”

“I always liked him,” Jude said. “He seemed like he knew what he was doing. I don’t think the schism would have happened if Cameron hadn’t killed him.”

“You know, I don’t either,” Tam agreed.

“But Cameron didn’t kill him and it still happened,” Ned pointed out.

“Maybe he planned it that way,” Sheila suggested.

“What?” Tam asked. “You think he faked his own death so that his own organization would tear itself apart as part of what, some grand master plan? He was twisty, but he wasn’t nuts.”

“I think we were all a little nuts,” Jude said.

“Past tense?”

“We were talking about history. Doesn’t preclude the present.”

“You know what I think we should do?” Tam asked. “I think we should get something to eat. I thought Cameron was joking but there really isn’t any food here. People are already leaving anyway.”

It was true. A few people had already teleported out. They’d reconvene at the angels’ chosen spot tomorrow morning after forming their opinions tonight. That was the plan. “Are you…am I invited too?” Jude asked, just to make sure.

“Sure,” Tam said with another of his smiles. He was very pretty. “Spirit of cooperation, right? Maybe we can all be friends again. We can at least try to have a serious conversation about the fate of the world and the state of our theology, I think. But not while we’re hungry.”

“I suppose it can’t hurt,” Ned said, sounding nervous. “I haven’t worn my human disguise in a while.”

“I have,” Sheila said. “Not that you need to. Humans only see what they want to see. They’re weird like that.”

“They’re weird in a lot of ways,” Jude said. “Did you guys notice that Teown’s Sound isn’t built on a sound?”

“There used to be one here, didn’t there?” Tam asked him, air shimmering as he put on his illusion. The others followed suit, and soon they all looked conventionally human.

“Yeah, back when the town was fifty kilometers away and also called Iena’s Gulf, even though there’s never been a gulf.”

“I thought you wanted to talk theology,” Shelia said. “Not geography.”

“There are a lot of hours in the night and I’m single,” Jude said. “We can do both.”

“We’ll see about that.” Tam smiled. “Let’s get out of here.”

Jude went with them, kind of weirdly giddy. He’d never expected to be able to socialize normally with the other half of their erstwhile army again. Maybe the world really was changing.

Or maybe they were luring him away to murder him. That was also a possibility. But given the circumstances, he’d risk it.

Chapter Text

“This was a bad idea,” Jude giggled as he staggered down a street in Teown’s Sound with Tam.

“What was?” Tam asked, words running together a little. “The drinking?”

“No, the drinking was a great idea, I’m glad we did the drinking.” Sheila and Ned had left after supper, and Tam and Jude hadn’t left and had instead decided to go get a drink. Or ten.

“Good, because I’m glad we did the drinking too. Probably…” Tam trailed off, shaking his head suddenly. “Probably going to regret the drinking in the morning.”

“Whatever,” Jude said. “That’s what mornings are for. It’s not fair that we get hangovers. That should definitely have been a power we all got.”

“I agree. So…what was a bad idea?”

“What was a bad idea?” Jude asked, wondering why Tam wanted bad ideas. “Um…”

“You said something was a bad idea,” Tam prompted, elbowing Jude. “What was it? The synod?”

“No, that’s good. I think it’s good. We’re all having a crisis of faith and nothing helps a crisis of faith like having a meeting with everyone you ever used to like but then tried to kill, right?” Jude snorted. “Plus then there’s the guys who aren’t on my side.”

“You’re funny.”

“I know. Oh, you know what was a bad idea? Building a town here. This is a bad place for a town. The town that used to be here fell down. Plus isn’t not on a fucking sound and that makes me mad.”

“What even is a sound?” Tam asked, head on Jude’s shoulder now. That was nice.

“It’s like a noise that you hear with…oh, no wait. I mean…stop laughing, I’m drunk.”

“Me too.”

Jude nodded. “I’m glad we got drunk. Let’s do it again.”

“Yeah. We should go home though. There’s a meeting tomorrow at dawn, which might be soon or something.”

“Okay,” Jude said, even though he didn’t want to leave. He looked around and didn’t see his house. “I don’t remember where I live.”

“I don’t remember where you live either.”

“Fuck,” Jude said, pouting. “I don’t want to sleep on the street.” He was too nice to be homeless.

No wait, that sounded bad. Lots of nice people were homeless, it wasn’t their fault.

“No, don’t sleep on the street, Jude,” Tam whinged, pulling him closer. “Okay. I have an idea—I have a house. You can borrow it until we find yours.”

Jude nodded. “Thanks so much, Tam. You’re so nice…wait, no, hold on, that’s a bad idea.”

“Why? I cleaned it and everything. I think.”

“If I go to your house we’re probably going to have sex,” Jude explained. “That’s just usually what happens when I go to people’s houses.” And that would be bad, because then it would be awkward tomorrow.

“Oh.” Tam seemed to think about that. “Do you want to have sex?”

“Yeah,” Jude said, smiling. That sounded like a good idea, he liked sex. “Do you?”

“Yeah. I like you, Jude.” Tam smiled.

Jude laughed. “Now I think you got us drunk under false pretenses.”

“But the drinking—it was your idea.”

“Well, maybe I got us drunk under false pretences,” Jude decided. “Where’s your house?”

“Over there,” Tam said, waving somewhat in a sort of leftward direction. “I’ll take us, come on, hold on tight.”

Jude nodded and put his arms around Tam, and then they teleported into a nice sitting room with windows that were dark since it was night. There was a sofa with a blanket on it and even some oil lamps. “This is a nice house.”

“Thanks. I didn’t build it. I have a bedroom. I think we should go there.”

Jude thought so too, so he followed Tam, tripping over a chair, through a door and into a room with a bed in it, arms still around Tam. There was a reason he wasn’t supposed to have his arms around Tam, but he couldn’t remember what it was so it probably didn’t matter.

Tam grinned as he deposited Jude on the bed. Then he leaned down and kissed him.

Jude liked that so he kissed back, tasting the alcohol on Tam’s tongue. It was a bit sloppy but that was because Jude was drunk, so it wasn’t his fault. Then Jude remembered. “Oh,” he said, pulling back.

“What?” Tam blinked at him, mouth half open.

“A sound is like an inland sea but big and narrow and connected to some oceans,” he told Tam seriously. “Like a straight but wider.”

“Huh,” Tam said, thinking. “Well it’s kind of fucked up that the place is called Teown’s Sound, then.”

“Yeah. It’s been bugging me all day and also for seven hundred years.” Jude tugged on Tam’s hand, something coiled in his belly. “You’re really pretty.”

“I know,” Tam said, chuckling. He let Jude pull him onto the bed, into his lap. And then he kissed Jude some more, holding his head in place to do it, which was nice of him even if it didn’t totally stop the room from spinning.

At some point during the kissing Jude ended up on his back and also his wings were there, spread out behind him, so his illusion must have disappeared while he’d been distracted. All the way too—it wasn’t his fake white angel wings, but the reptilian, folded ones he really had, brilliantly feathered in red, green and yellow. That probably meant his fangs were out too, but that didn’t stop Tam kissing him, tongue in his mouth.

Jude reached around Tam and started to undo his shirt, tied in the back so it could open that way and not tear on his spines, his wings, both of which Jude could feel. The shirt came undone without too much trouble, and Tam helped him pull it away, moving up just a little to facilitate it. He reached down and started to tug at Jude’s own shirt.

Jude shook his head a little, took Tam’s hands and just guided them down to his belt instead. Tam got the hint, started taking the belt off, tossing it aside. Then, in a moment of slight awkwardness, Tam lifted himself up a bit to get his pants off while Jude pushed his own away, giggling as they got tangled. “We’re good at this.”

“The best,” Tam agreed, almost falling back on top of Jude. He touched one of Jude’s wings. “These are prettier than the white ones.”

“I know,” Jude said, pulling Tam back down, feeling his hardness against him. He took a breath, brushing Tam’s cheek. “I like your eyes.”

Tam smiled, pausing as if he hadn’t expected that even though everyone must compliment them. Then he kissed Jude again, distracting him. They lay there kissing, rubbing against each other for a good while, Tam’s cock pressing and rubbing but not penetrating. Tam reached down and pushed a finger inside Jude, who was already wet and ready. But instead of taking advantage Tam slid his finger in and out, using the palm of his hand to press on Jude’s clit.

“Mmmn,” Jude said, holding Tam tighter. “Come on…”

“Yeah,” Tam said, voice soft, but even though he said that he didn’t do what Jude wanted, just kept fingering him and being all nice and warm and buzzy and considerate, and then Tam added a second finger and it felt even nicer, Jude was going to cum just from this and Tam wasn’t even going to put it in, that was it, that was their sex life now, no penetration, just fingers and…

Jude whinged when Tam pulled the fingers out, pushing himself up to get closer, to get more, and Tam gently pushed him back down, one hand on Jude’s belly, and then he pressed against Jude, ready to go in. “Going to…”

Jude just nodded, looking up into those multicoloured eyes, waiting. Tam smiled, and he entered Jude in a rush of air, or maybe that was just the air leaving Jude’s lungs as he gasped, moving his legs farther apart to encourage Tam to go in more, farther, faster.

Tam went in more, farther, but not faster, slowly pushing into Jude in short thrusts that he breathed in tune with, noises entering Jude’s mouth as they kept kissing. Jude expected Tam to speed up once he was all the way in but he never did, he just kept going at that slow speed, that tortuous, awful speed that kept Jude right on the edge but never pushed him over, wouldn’t let him past the threshold of…

“Ah…” Jude said, body tensing as despite his internal complaints, he started to get closer, and closer, and then Tam was holding him tight, hands on his shoulders as he came, filled Jude up, the heat pressing into him, filling him, and a few final thrusts finally pulling Jude over the edge of the world as well. He came with a shout that could have been a prayer, riding out the feeling until there was nothing left to ride.

Then they lay there, Tam still on top of Jude, kissing for another long moment until Tam finally got up and pulled out, eyes closed.

Jude smiled, sitting up even though he wanted to sleep. “That was good.”

Tam nodded, dopey. “I want to sleep but let’s clean up.”

Jude nodded now. “Where’s your privy?”

He went and used it, cleaned himself up, and by the time he was back Tam had fixed the bed. Magic sure was useful like that. Jude crawled into it, getting comfortable, and admired Tam as he came back into the room, naked. “That’s a good look on you.”

“I’m glad you think so.” Tam got into bed with him, resting his head on Jude’s chest. Jude put an arm and a wing around him, taking a breath. “I’m glad we did this.”

“Yeah,” Jude agreed. “It was a good idea.” He was happy, sated, and still pretty drunk. “Thanks, Tam.”

“You too. Goodnight, Jude.”

Jude might have answered, but he didn’t remember, and he fell asleep holding Tam.

Chapter Text

Jude woke up to a summons, and he was really not happy about that. He was warm and sleeping in someone’s arms, and also as soon as he moved a little bit he discovered a nauseating headache.

But still, there was a summons, so with a quiet groan, Jude pushed himself up, looking down to remember whose bed he was in.

Oh, yeah. Tam. He was so pretty, sleeping. He was pretty all the time. Sleeping with him had been a huge mistake, fuck. But honestly it wasn’t a mistake Jude particularly regretted.

What he did regret was the drinking. It had given him a headache, made his mouth taste like cotton and worse, he didn’t remember most of last night except that he’d liked it. And now he had to get up because Raphael was summoning him.

Slowly, Jude got up, grateful that Tam wasn’t sleeping on his wing, sliding out of the bed and looking for the rest of his clothes. They were on the floor right there, which was convenient, even if it meant he had to bend down to pick them up, which made his head positively spin, and not in a positive way.

Jude managed to get most of the way dressed—he was just pulling his pants up—by the time he heard Tam stir. “Morning,” Tam said, bleary.

“Good morning.” Jude smiled at him, feeling oddly embarrassed, then bad as Tam frowned.

“Are you leaving? I was thinking we could have breakfast…”

“I’m leaving,” Jude said, feeling really bad. “Not like that—not…in the shitty way. I just…Raphael is summoning everyone.”

Tam nodded, sitting up. “Meeting doesn’t start for like an hour or something.”

“Yeah. But he’s summoning us now.”

“Okay,” Tam said, then he sighed. “Okay. You could stay for breakfast anyway.”

“I can’t, really.” He wanted to.

“I’ll make porridge.”

Jude shook his head. “He’s summoning me. I have to go.”

“Okay.”

Jude stood up, holding his head against the dizziness. “I, uh, had fun last night. Thanks.”

“Me too. Stay for porridge,” Tam said, rubbing at his eyes.

“I’ll see you later,” Jude said, reaching down and brushing Tam’s shoulder before turning away, focusing on the summons, and teleporting out of Tam’s bedroom.

The second day of the synod was being held in a Kyainese city called Glassheart Castern, which was actually just on the other side of the same woods that were south of Teown’s Sound. Visible from the city to the southeast were the mountains of the Roe Range, and the city itself was built in a spiral leading down, with the lowest point being the centre of the city, which was a pond made from rainwater. It dried up in the summer and often froze in the winter, Jude remembered, but in the spring and autumn it was several metres deep and walkways were erected over it.

It was a stupid place to build a city, honestly. They’d done it because the spiral had once led to a series of huge temples that had collected the water and purified it. But that had been ages ago, before they’d killed the gods that had lived in the sanctuary. Now the city was just a city and the water was just a stagnant pond.

The synod itself was in a large underground room that had been part of that old temple, and then been converted into a shelter during the war, after the temple had been emptied. It was rectangular and much bigger than the amphitheatre yesterday. A major battle had been fought here during the second war, the one between the angels and the demons, and the demons had lost, partially thanks to the help of the humans in the city—one of the first times that they’d taken a side. The first saints had been born here.

Lit by globes of magical light, the room was bright enough that Jude’s eyes hurt when he appeared inside, and he shielded them with a hand. He was far from the last person to arrive, but Raphael was already talking and probably had been since he’d issued the summons. Everyone present was an angel, which reminded Jude to put his illusion up.

“Your tasks for the first half of the day will be to speak with the demons and see what they’re thinking,” Raphael was saying. “If the goal is to be consensus, we must not simply talk among ourselves.”

“Like we’re doing now?” Bartholomew asked. He was sitting closest to Raphael. There had been times in their history when Bartholomew had been all but Raphael’s second in command. Most of those times had been times of war. Usually he faded into the background again after that.

“The demons are doubtless doing the same thing,” Raphael said dismissively.

“They’re not.”

Oops, everyone looked at Jude once he said that. He shrugged, trying not to look hung over. “They’re not,” he repeated.

“And you know this?” Roland asked, arms crossed.

“Yes.” Tam hadn’t been in a hurry to get up, and if Cameron had summoned Jude, he’d have left without remembering to put pants on.

“All the better,” Raphael said, thankfully not asking any questions. “It’s imperative that we figure out how willing they’re going to be to compromise on this.”

“When did compromising with them become our strategy?” Ariel asked from the back wall, yawning.

“When Nathen tried to kill us as readily as he did them,” Raphael said, curtly. “We must find out what happened, and to do that we need to make sure we can do it unimpeded—they can help with that.”

“Why don’t you just tell us what you actually want?” Bartholomew asked Raphael. He managed to sound completely unimpressed with Raphael despite the fact that Jude had seen him get nervous asking for a drink of water before. “It will be easier for us to make it happen that way rather than just expecting us to do what you want without saying anything and then being disappointed when it doesn’t happen.”

Raphael looked at Bartholomew for a long moment, and Bartholomew looked back, and it was all very awkward. Raphael having an agenda had been funny yesterday, but now Bartholomew was making it weird, as if Raphael didn’t always have an agenda. Jude sidled closer to Rebecca while they had their staring contest, but eventually Raphael nodded. “I want us to be able to observe Nathen and keep him from waking again until we’re certain he’s not going to attack us as well. Something may be wrong with him, and we can’t have our lord doing something he’d regret because he’s confused. Not when there’s a possibility he might finally be about to come back for real.”

Jude felt the room still, the possibility of Nathen, of God, coming back for real, permanently, settling upon them. It was what they all wanted. It was what they’d been waiting for. “You could have said that to us before the synod started,” Bartholomew said. “Why keep it from us?”

“Because I wanted to make sure compromise was possible. After yesterday I think it was.” Raphael smiled, as if to himself. “Talk to the demons in the morning. See what they think. I want to be able to address it.”

A lot of people looked uncomfortable. “I talked to a few of them yesterday,” Jude said. “It’s really not that big a deal. It helps to remember that they’re just people too.”

“They’re people who spent a long time trying to kill us,” Rebecca said to Jude.

“We spent a long time trying to kill them too.” Jude smiled at her. “Nobody’s here to fight. It’s really okay. Something else they’re concerned about is that one of the humans had a sword that was able to kill them easily,” he said, just because it was likely to get brought up.

They all kind of looked at each other. “That is admittedly interesting,” Raphael said slowly. “A weapon would almost need our blessing to do that.”

“Yeah,” Jude said. “So someone gave a human a sword.”

Raphael did that disappointed sigh thing he liked to do, then looked up. “The demons will be arriving soon. We will discuss this later.”

And that was it. They broke apart into little groups, talking amongst themselves while they waited. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you talk so much in a meeting,” Rebecca said.

Jude shrugged. “I don’t think I’ve ever had things to say in a meeting. Meetings are kind of pointless.”

“Apparently all it takes is you getting laid to change your mind about that.”

“I didn’t…”

“You totally fucked Tam,” Rebecca said, watching him without remorse as Jude squirmed.

“Okay, yes, a little bit, but in my defence I was drunk and I only remember some of it,” Jude said.

“That’s really not a defence,” Rebecca explained.

“Okay well I won’t tell anyone else that, then. Do you think there’s time for me to go get breakfast?” Jude asked, though he wasn’t sure he wanted to eat. Maybe a cup of water. He could use a cup of water.

“Probably not, but look who’s coming.”

Jude looked over his shoulder, saw Tam approaching. With two bowls in his hand. “Hey. I brought you some porridge.”

Jude blushed as it was thrust into his hand. That was oddly…nice. “Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.”

“I find that giving people breakfast is a good way to make them come back sometime,” Tam said with a wink, heading off to join some of his other friends.

Jude watched him go, his hands warm thanks to the bowl. It smelled like cinnamon.

“Porridge really isn’t the turn-on that he seems to think it is,” Rebecca muttered.

“Not really,” Jude agreed, but still. It was very nice.

And it was good porridge, too.

Chapter Text

“Do we know that it was really Nathen who attacked us?” Theresa asked, hair flowing. Everything about her seemed to flow to Jude. It was a good look for her. “Perhaps it wasn’t him—maybe it was that human he’s stuck in. Maybe he’s the one who hates us, and he managed to harness some of the lord’s power to his own ends.”

“You think there’s a human out there who hates us all that much?” Roland asked, sitting with his legs spread a little, taking up too much space.

“I don’t know, I can think of a few people who might have given him reasons to,” Theresa shot back, glancing at Asher. On orders from Raphael—and Cameron, it turned out—everyone was sitting in mixed groups today. Jude kind of thought they could have brought in more comfortable chairs. But at least there were chairs.

Asher smiled wryly, showing pointed teeth that Jude thought were tacky. He remembered finding them unnerving when they’d known each other before. “We may have done that. So, our bad, I guess. But could a human really have fully harnessed that power without at least a little help from the person he’s harnessing it from?”

“Could a bunch of humans have broken into the Citadel and kicked your guys’ asses?” Theresa asked, smiling back. “Our biggest flaw—all of us—is that we’ve always underestimated them from the beginning. We forgot that we came from them, and thought that we were better than them.”

“That’s really more of a problem on your end of things,” Sheila said, wiggling her fingers in Theresa’s direction. “You guys’ve cornered the market on the high and mighty stuff.”

“Because you lot don’t think you’re better than the rest of us?” Roland challenged.

“She’s not wrong,” Jude said, mostly because Roland was wrong and also a little bit because Roland was kind of an asshole. “We’ve been pretty good at being self-important. We got the humans to build churches about how important we are, didn’t we?”

“You don’t open your mouth for an hour and when you do it’s to defend the other side?” Roland challenged, again. Most of what Roland said was a challenge. He and Jude had only dated for like a week. He’d sucked in bed too.

“There are no sides here, Roland,” Jude told him. “We’re having a conversation, not fighting a war.”

“And when we leave here, Jude?” Roland asked, voice low.

“Hopefully we won’t be fighting a war then, either.” Jude looked up and saw that Sullivan had wandered over to join them at some point, hand on the back of Asher’s chair. It was a gesture that looked vaguely threatening even though it shouldn’t have. Sullivan had always been good at being unassuming in a frightening way. “At least not with each other. What are you guys talking about aside from killing each other?”

“How good angels are at making humans feel inferior,” Jude told him warily, as Sullivan summoned a chair over and sat with them. A few people from either side were just sort of wandering around, joining conversations at random. It was mostly people who were higher up in chains of command, at least on their side. Jude hadn’t realized Sullivan was high up in the demons’ chain of command. But he shouldn’t be surprised, probably; Sullivan had been their master-at-arms way back in the day. He’d literally taught Jude how to throw a punch. But for some reason Jude had never connected that Sullivan would be important on the other side—the side he hadn’t wanted to join.

“You are pretty good at that,” Sullivan agreed. “You built a whole religion around it.”

“The humans built the Catechism, not us,” Roland disagreed.

Sullivan flashed him a smile. “I was there, Rolly. Just because they wrote the scripture doesn’t mean that you didn’t help. You got rid of the stuff you didn’t like, remember? Raphael hand-picked the first few High Presbyters. Which one of you was it that whispered down that story about demons being imperfect angels, again? I don’t think we ever figured out which of you was responsible for that little gem. You don’t get to laugh,” he added, pointing at Asher when he did. “You’re already on thin ice.”

“It was hardly as insidious as you make it sound, Sullivan,” Theresa said as Asher glowered.

Sullivan shrugged. “Not saying it was the wrong thing to do. Just that it’s a good thing you came up with the name Catechism, because calling it the church of circle-jerk might not have gained you as many adherents.”

Jude snorted, covering his mouth with his hand while everyone else glared at Sullivan. Sullivan smiled at him. “I’m not saying we’re not shitty too. They don’t call it the Bone Way because of how much fucking happened there, after all. I just don’t think we should be pretending that any of us smell like roses, you know?”

“Which right there might be the reason why Nathen wants us all dead,” Sheila suggested.

“Because of a bunch of shit that happened when he was dead?” Sullivan asked. “Probably not.”

“Is it possible…” Jude trailed off when Sullivan looked at him, picturing Sullivan naked and tied to a chair, which made it harder to be intimidated by him. “Theresa was asking if it’s possible that it wasn’t Nathen who tried to kill us at the Citadel. Could it have been the human?”

Sullivan was quiet for a second. It was common knowledge that he was friends with Nathen’s current incarnation. “I doubt it,” he said finally. “Cal’s not like that. He’s not angry or violent by nature. That said, if the people he loved were in jeopardy, I think he’d end the world to get them back.”

“So it’s possible,” Theresa pressed.

It was an out, Jude realized. If they could say that about Cal, the human, they could avoid saying it about Nathen. They were never going to agree about that, but they could agree that a human with that power was dangerous. Blaming Cal was an out.

Sullivan looked at her for a minute, calm in that threatening way, and Jude thought he had to know, he had to have known from the beginning. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s possible.”

“So we kill the human,” Roland said, as usual getting the wrong idea.

“No,” Sullivan said. “From your perspective that’s stupid and from ours it’s been tried and it doesn’t work. There’s an easier solution.”

“We keep the human happy,” Jude muttered, because Sullivan was friends with the human. He hadn’t come here only to have them decide that killing Nathen’s incarnation was the right decision. “We keep him happy and don’t threaten him, and he won’t have any reason to attack us. To use Nathen’s power.”

To wake Nathen up again.

“Yeah,” Sullivan said. “And if that’s not reason enough for you, killing him’s a whole lot harder than we think. He’s got a lot of powerful friends and frankly even if Raphael and Cameron went together I bet they’d have trouble between him and all his backup. So we keep him happy.” He shrugged. “Or at least that’s one suggestion on the table. I don’t know, what do you guys think?”

“According to Cameron,” said Asher slowly, “all his backup includes Klaus.”

“Klaus, the murder kid, the guy who survived being slammed through half a building by a chimera, couple of dragons.” Sheila ticked them off on her fingers as she went. “Oh, not to mention you and fucking Bartholomew.” She glared at Sullivan.

Sullivan shrugged. “What can I say, he’s popular.”

“Sounds more like he’s building an army,” Roland grumbled.

“Yeah, if you knew him you’d know what a dumbass you sound like,” Sullivan said, getting up. “Don’t worry about the other guys. It’s Klaus we ought to chat about. First of all, I take extremely vindictive pleasure in saying I fucking told you so.”

Jude rolled his eyes. There had always been a few people who’d claimed Klaus wasn’t dead, Sullivan among them. There’d been no reason to believe it. “Cameron always said she killed Klaus because he betrayed our ideals, right? We’ve been pretty sure for a while that was because he was on our side of the Nathen issue.”

“Maybe,” Sullivan admitted. “But Cameron was fucking lying about killing Klaus, wasn’t she?”

“Being wrong and lying aren’t the same thing,” Asher said.

“Being tossed out a window by a dragon and making a strategic retreat aren’t the same thing either, but the end result is the same, isn’t it?” Sullivan asked politely. “Cameron, and I say this as someone who’s talked to her way more in the last few weeks than you guys, killed Klaus because she wanted to be in charge. The question is why Klaus let her do it.”

“That’s not a question we can answer unless we can find Klaus and ask him,” Theresa said, voice soft, while Jude ruminated on the fact that Klaus hadn’t been as powerful as Cameron even if he’d pretended to be.

“You’re right.” Sullivan smiled at her. “We will, don’t worry, but probably not in the next day and a half. But if he really is protecting Cal, which I’m not convinced is who he’s protecting, he’s got a reason.”

“Who do you think he’s protecting?” Jude asked Sullivan.

“Gavin ven Sancte, based on what happened at the Citadel and what I finally got Cameron to tell me.”

The Dolovin prince. Why would Klaus care about a human prince—and one who wasn’t even going to inherit the throne? But Theresa was right, there was no point in guessing at Klaus’s motives when they’d only just learned he was alive. So instead Jude asked, “You got Cameron to tell you something willingly? She might like you.”

“I’m paying for her next pair of shoes,” Sullivan griped, standing up. “I’m going to do the wandering around thing a bit more. Talk amongst yourselves and shit. We’ve got solutions on the agenda for tomorrow.”

And he left them there, none of them sure what to say. “I’ll be right back,” Jude said, getting up and following Sullivan. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Sullivan said, slowing and letting Jude catch him. “What?”

Jude wasn’t totally sure. He knew what he wanted to ask, but it was probably silly. Sullivan was looking at him now, though. Jude wished they could have talked more before they’d broken up, but everything had been chaotic. “What’s he like?”

Sullivan smiled. “Tell you the same thing I’ve told everyone else who’s asked me. I’ve barely seen Nathen in him. Just that one outburst at the Citadel and a shade of him when Asher and Belle showed up. He was rightfully kind of upset both times.”

“No,” Jude said, shaking his head. He knew what Sullivan would say about Nathen. “I meant the human, Cal. What’s he like?”

Sullivan looked at Jude funny for a second, then sighed. “He’s a good guy. He cares more than he should and sometimes about people he shouldn’t. He gets lonely easily, he’s anal-retentive and he has a bit of a drinking problem.”

He was smiling, Jude saw, just faintly. But genuinely, some pink tinting his ears. “You care about him.”

“Yeah,” Sullivan said quietly. “I do. Get back to your group, you’re the only one over there who’s levelheaded.”

Jude nodded. “Thanks. I’m…glad to see you and Bartholomew getting along again.”

“Thanks. We’re a good team.”

They were. Jude nodded. “I’ll see you around, Sullivan.”

“You too.” Sullivan headed over to the group Tam was in, and Jude headed back to his.

“I think keeping humans happy so they don’t destroy us sets us on a path we don’t want to be on,” Asher was saying, as Jude sat back down.

“It’s the path that we supposedly decided to be on ages ago,” Jude said, sitting back. “When we all decided that protecting humans was important enough to stop being them. We already decided that their wellbeing was more important than ours, didn’t we?”

“The wellbeing of a species and the happiness of one individual aren’t the same thing.”

“I think they’re pretty intimately related,” Jude argued. He’d never much liked arguing, but this was important. They went back and forth all day, but he didn’t find himself tiring.

They were finally talking properly. They had to take advantage of that while it lasted.

Chapter Text

Jude had a migraine, and that migraine’s name was ‘everyone he knew.’

“I think we have to have someone follow him,” Rebecca said, for the third time. “The demons have someone there. It’s only sensible that we do too, especially if we do end up making an agreement with them about it.”

“If we just get someone to follow him, he’s going to get annoyed and probably kill them,” Theresa said. “The demons have Sullivan watching him because Sullivan ingratiated himself with him over time.”

“The demons don’t really have Sullivan watching him,” Jude muttered. He wanted to go to bed. “He’s doing his own thing and it happened to work out for them.”

“And you know what because what,” Roland asked. “You talked to him for five seconds earlier?”

Jude shrugged. “It’s just obvious. That’s what Sullivan’s like. It’s what he’s always been like.” Jude didn’t have to be his best friend to know that about him.

“You’re not wrong,” Bartholomew agreed, and Jude hadn’t noticed him sitting with them. When had that happened? “Sully wasn’t with them to spy on them. If we send someone, Cal will see through it.”

“He’s not smart enough to understand that we just want to keep an eye on him?” Theresa asked, eyebrow raised.

“He’s smart enough not to let us.” Bartholomew smiled at her. “He’s not going to trust any angel who just shows up.”

“Which is why you’re going to do it,” Jude sighed, barely noticing when Bartholomew gave him a somewhat surprised look. “Come on, the rest of us aren’t as dumb as you think. You already know him, and you know Sullivan, so he’ll trust you.” It was obvious.

“Ignore him,” Roland said, shaking his head. “He’s being belligerent today. I think it’s because we haven’t fed him.”

“I am hungry,” Jude admitted. “But that’s not why.”

“No, it’s because you’re a pain in the ass,” Theresa agreed.

“He’s also right,” Bartholomew put in, smiling at Jude. “It’s usually worth it to listen to someone who’s being belligerent.”

“You’d know,” Roland said, tones dripping with what he probably thought was serious meaning. Doubtless he thought he was being subtle.

“Exactly. And does anyone ever listen to me?” Bartholomew sighed. “Anyway, it’s getting late. You guys should get some sleep for tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll be deciding something.”

“Hopefully,” Jude muttered, not needing to be told twice. “Okay, goodnight everyone. Though really the good only applies to some of you.” He waved and turned around.

“Hey,” Bartholomew said, hand on Jude’s shoulder, walking away from the group with him. Lots of people had left. Actually, they were among the only ones left.

“What’s up?” Jude asked, sighing. He was tired.

“Nothing. Just that I’m glad you hear you speaking your mind. You should do it more often.”

Oh. Jude blinked, nodding. “Well…thanks. I’m, uh. Glad to see you being more in-charge again. It suits you.”

“You think?” Bartholomew snorted. “Maybe. I hate it.”

“Most people who are good at it do.” Or at least that was what Jude thought.

“Hm. In that case, maybe I’ll lobby for a promotion for you.”

“Literally if you do that I’ll start dating you again just so I can break up with you as a punishment.”

Bartholomew laughed at that. “Okay. Fair enough, then. You should go, you look like you’re going to die.”

“I am and it’s all Raphael’s fault. Would it kill him to have catering?” Jude whinged.

“Go get some sleep. Dawn tomorrow. You know where.”

Jude did, and he nodded. “Thanks, Barty.”

And, closing his eyes and hoping it would make his migraine go away, Jude teleported out of Glassheart Castern and towards home. He stumbled forward a step upon reaching home, then tripped over a sofa that he knew wasn’t there because he hadn’t rearranged his furniture in seventy-four years. Huh.

Jude opened his eyes. “Uh…”

He was in Tam’s house. Oh, fuck.

And Tam was standing there in one of the doorways, looking surprised. Oh, fuck again. “Hi,” Tam said.

“Hi,” Jude told him weakly. “I…” There was no way not to sound like an idiot here. “I meant to go home and came here instead.”

“Still haven’t remembered where you live, huh?” Tam asked, amused. He came over and took Jude’s arms.

“What can I say? It was the porridge.” Jude smiled, liking the contact, and Tam’s hands on him. He shouldn’t, it was a bad idea. “Actually I think it was the migraine. But the porridge was good. Thanks for that.”

“You’re welcome. You want more food? I’m roasting a partridge.” Tam pulled him towards a chair.

Jude started to nod, then stopped himself. “Wait, why are you roasting a partridge?”

“Because I’m hungry and it will make enough for there to be leftovers tomorrow,” Tam explained. There was a small kitchen off in the other room, and Jude could smell food.

“But…how long have you been home? I only just finished,” Jude protested.

“About an hour. You were really invested in whatever you were arguing with everyone about, so I didn’t want to bother you.” Tam shrugged. “You’ve got good timing. I just decided to give up on doing it naturally and decided to magic it faster. Turns out I’m too hungry to do things the old-fashioned way.”

“Let me at least set the table,” Jude said, refusing to sit and looking around for dishes. “I can do that.”

“If you want,” Tam said, shrugging. “You’re not feeling well.”

“I’m also a grown-up angel,” Jude told him. “I can put plates on a table and have a headache at the same time.”

Tam chuckled, and went back into the kitchen. Jude poked around a bit until he realized the dishes weren’t out here, so he went into the kitchen to find them in a tall cupboard. “You were expecting me to come over, weren’t you?” he asked, as he pulled out some plates.

Tam shrugged again, sprinkling seasoning on some ambiguous vegetables. “I was hoping you would.”

“Why?” They’d spent one night together. It wasn’t like they were married.

“Why’d you come?”

“I don’t know,” Jude admitted. “Maybe I secretly want to get laid again.”

“We can, but you have a migraine,” Tam reminded him.

“Oh, right. Must be the chronic fear of loneliness, then.”

“Hm,” Tam said, letting Jude precede him out into the main room and set the table. He floated all the food onto it, and gestured for Jude to sit. “Wine?”

“No, that’s a bad idea after yesterday.” All of this was a bad idea.

“Agreed. Water it is.”

Jude nodded, sitting down while Tam conjured a pitcher from somewhere. “This is a pretty decent second date,” he said. He probably shouldn’t have said that.

“Thanks. What were you guys there talking about so late?” Tam asked as he sat.

Jude sighed. “Following humans around. It’s pointless.”

“You think keeping an eye on Nathen is pointless?”

“No,” Jude said, while Tam carved the partridge. He figured he could help, and spooned them both some vegetables. He still wasn’t sure what they were. Eggplant, maybe? “I think the synod is pointless.”

Tam raised an eyebrow. “You were optimistic yesterday.”

“Yeah. Then today I realized that Raphael and Cameron have already decided what they’re going to do and are just waiting for the rest of us to agree with them.”

“Well, yeah, but doesn’t that give you hope?”

“Should it?” Jude asked, pouring water now.

Tam gave another shrug, silent for a second while he manoeuvred a piece of meat onto Jude’s plate. “Seems like if they’ve already decided what to do, they’ve done it together. Which means they’ve already decided to stop fighting, right?”

“Well…” Jude frowned. Yes, it did mean that. “You’re right.”

“I know, I’m really smart. I’m also very attractive and a good cook.”

Jude snorted, spearing a carrot. “We’ll see about that.” He ate it, then cut a piece of meat. “Fuck.”

“What?”

“You weren’t lying.”

“Demons only lie when telling the truth doesn’t make us look good,” Tam said. “All that to say, you want to stay the night? Non-sexually since you’re having a headache.”

Jude felt himself a blush a little for no real reason. “Okay, but we’ve only had two dates, it’s too early to turn into an old married couple who don’t have sex.”

Tam grinned. “Well, since we’re probably not going to be fighting, we could have sex again tomorrow.”

“That’s my kind of third date,” Jude agreed immediately. “Let’s do it. You can even come to my house.”

“You plan to remember where it is?”

“It’s over there somewhere,” Jude said, motioning vaguely leftward.

They didn’t end up talking about the synod for the rest of the night, and by the time they went to bed, Jude’s headache was already mostly gone.

Chapter Text

Jude woke up with Tam’s head against his chest, Tam’s body in his arms and Tam’s dick pressed against his thigh, and that was a pretty good way to wake up.

It was kind of a shame that he didn’t really know Tam well enough to wake him up with a blowjob, Jude thought. It was nice, but kind of an awkward thing to do with someone when they’d only fucked once and Tam might not like it.

Jude just lay there for a few minutes, enjoying having Tam in his arms, enjoying the smell of his hair. It had a bit of a citrusy tang to it, which Jude liked. He’d have to find out where Tam got his soap. Tam’s heartbeat resonated against his chest, and his soft breathing made his side rise and fall. The room was otherwise quiet, empty of all but them.

It was really nice. Jude wished they could stay here all day.

But it wasn’t to be. Another minute or so and Tam’s breathing deepened, and then he started to stir, blinking as he woke up. He looked up at Jude. “G’morning,” he mumbled, yawning. “What’d I do to earn an angel in my bed?”

“Porridge and partridge,” Jude reminded him, stroking Tam’s hair. “What’d I do to end up in a demon’s bed?”

“Drinking and cynicism,” Tam said. He stretched a little, lifted his head. “Cardinal vices. Bad boy.”

“You can eternally torment me if you want,” Jude offered.

Tam snickered. “Careful, I’ll take you seriously. How do you feel?”

“Much better, thanks. Was thinking I’d like to give you a blowjob.”

“Hm,” Tam said, shifting a little. “I do seem to be physically prepared for that. Hope it didn’t wake you up.”

Jude laughed, and he kissed the top of Tam’s head. “It’s not that big, you infernal menace.”

“I’m insulted. Adding ten years onto your eternal torture.”

“You can’t add time onto eternity.”

“I’ll find a way.”

“Do you want a blowjob or not?”

“Hmm…” Tam grinned at him. “Me first.” And he shimmied down, trailing kisses along Jude’s belly as he went, halting when he was at waist level, coaxing Jude’s smallclothes down. Jude lifted his hips to let Tam do that, having not really expected this turn of events but not about to complain.

Tam pushed Jude’s legs apart just enough for him to get in, stroking one of Jude’s thighs as he ran his tongue along Jude’s labia, only sliding it inside after a few passes. Jude grabbed a fistful of blanket and held it while Tam explored him, his tongue sending shocks of pleasure through Jude as he figured out where to go with it.

Jude was more than happy to let Tam explore, and he did it with great enthusiasm, slipping his tongue inside and having a good, long look around—taste around? Jude wondered idly, but it was hard to consider the sensory semantics once Tam found—or started paying attention to—his clitoris, focusing his exploration on that and making Jude gasp.

Hearing Jude’s reaction drove Tam to go harder, licking and even sucking on Jude, pulling louder and needier noises out of Jude until finally he pulled something else, a rending wave that rode through Jude like an unveiling, making him see white and cry out Tam’s name.

Jude lay there on his side, panting as he recovered, and Tam emerged, sliding up to face him, smiling. “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” Jude muttered back. “Thanks for that.”

“I had motivation,” Tam told him.

Jude smirked, reaching down and grabbing the front of Tam’s pants. “You did, didn’t you?”

“Also it was fun. I hope you’ll let me do it again sometime.”

“Oh, I definitely think I will. Now hold still, it’s my turn.”

Tam didn’t object as Jude took his turn shimmying down, pulling Tam’s pants as he went, exposing his cock to the air. He looked at it for a minute, holding it in his hand, weighing it and considering its size, nodding. “I guess this is acceptable.”

“What would have happened if he hadn’t been?” Tam asked, voice a bit breathy.

“Dunno, I guess I’d have smitten it with holy light or something.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t do that. Instead you can smite him with the holy something else.”

“Him?” Jude raised an eyebrow, looked up at Tam. “Please don’t tell me you gave your dick a name.”

Tam blushed. “Uh. About that blowjob…”

Jude sighed, shook his head. “You’re lucky you did such a good job earlier,” he muttered, pulling Tam down a little and running his tongue over the head, shutting Tam up before he could say anything else. Tam went quiet, then started to make quiet noises, and Jude took it as a personal challenge to make him stop being quiet.

After a few good licks to get an idea of the flavour—tasted like cock, go figure—Jude took Tam into his mouth, sucking on the head, rubbing the shaft with his hand, going slow. They didn’t have all morning, but he wasn’t going to rush, making sure to give Tam a good, long suck before going any further down, keeping his hand around the base. Jude liked sucking dick, but he didn’t want too much of it in his mouth at once.

Tam didn’t seem to mind, his noises getting louder just by a fraction as Jude worked on him, liberal in his use of tongue and consistent as he sucked. He slowly jerked Tam off, not increasing his hand’s speed even as he started to suck harder. Tam’s cock started to twitch now and then in his mouth, leaking onto his tongue, and Jude greedily lapped at the tip, trying to get more out.

Finally, Tam let out a loud moan as he went tense, spasming in Jude’s mouth as he started to cum. Jude thought about it for a split second and decided he could swallow, holding Tam in place and letting his seed fill his mouth. It tasted like cum, which wasn’t very surprising. Jude swallowed, then pulled off to take a breath, crawling back up to lay in front of Tam. “Good morning.”

“Didn’t we already do this?” Tam’s face was shining.

“Yeah, but now I want to know your dick’s name.”

“Oh, man,” Tam said, sitting up. “I should make breakfast before we have to get to the synod where we won’t talk all day, what a shame.”

Jude thought about grabbing him, but instead he just smirked, put his hands behind his head. “Fine. I wouldn’t mind breakfast in bed if you’re going to be like that.”

“Coming right up, sir,” Tam said, hopping out of bed, and then falling over because his pants were around his ankles.

“Loser.”

“I usually don’t wear pants to bed! I wasn’t expecting that!”

“Just go make breakfast,” Jude giggled.

Tam went, pulling his pants up, and Jude lay in the bed for a few minutes, though he did eventually get up to pee and clean out his mouth. He got dressed while he was at it, since more sex wasn’t really feasible between breakfast and getting to the synod. Also, it was chilly; wherever Tam lived was cold.

“Why is it so cold where you live?” Jude asked when Tam came back in later with porridge.

“I don’t know, I don’t control the weather. Something about winter and the sun and the world being tilted, I think?”

“That seems stupid,” Jude muttered, taking the bowl and letting it warm his hands. “Whoever came up with that was a dumbass.”

“Agreed. Eat before it gets cold. We do have to get going soon.”

“Don’t remind me,” Jude muttered, sighing. “At least we can have the leftover partridge for lunch.”

“I’ll teleport it in and we’ll make everyone else jealous.”

“Good,” Jude laughed, eating the porridge. “This is good? How do you make it good?”

“Magic,” Tam said, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Jude and eating as well.

They had a really nice breakfast that made Jude appreciate breakfast more than he thought he had in a long time, but eventually it was necessary to set the dishes aside, get up and get ready to leave for the synod. “Cameron and Raphael should just announce what they want to do this morning and save us all a day of headaches,” Jude muttered as he checked his illusion.

Fixing his hair in the mirror, Tam nodded. “Yeah. But they won’t, because they’re going to wait for the last possible minute.”

“Fucking drama queens, both of them.” Jude gave a sigh. “How did the two most dramatic people in the cosmos end up being in charge?”

“Nobody wanted to challenge them to a dance-off for it?” Tam suggested.

“I think it was actually a fistfight.”

“Same difference with them.” He offered Jude his arm. “Shall we go? Arrive together and scandalize the masses?”

Jude grinned. Sounded like a plan to him. “Sure,” he said, taking Jude’s arm, and the two of them teleported to the final day.

The only realistic place that the last day of the synod could happen was the place where it had all begun all that time ago. The Citadel looked as it always had, big and dark and imposing. Jude kind of wanted to teleport to the outside and walk in, just for the drama, but it was cold and he’d literally just been complaining about drama queens. They teleported into the big antechamber, which was full of other people, and yes, many of them gave Jude and Tam slightly scandalized looks. Jude smirked, looking around. “You guys kept the place up nicely,” he said, pretending it wasn’t hard to be back. He’d been back a while ago. Nathen had been here.

“Thanks. It was mostly Tabitha.”

“She is awfully fastidious.” And crazy. The antechamber had a tall, vaulted ceiling and two curved staircases heading up, and several doors. The closest doors were a set of double doors leading to the main meeting room, where the fight with Nathen and all those humans had taken place. People were standing around chatting, glancing at the big doors, opened outwards towards them.

Jude understood, he was nervous too. Going in there, not just because of the fight. They hadn’t all been in there in…forever. Lifetimes. But that was where the meeting was. So Jude took a breath, headed there. “Come on.”

“Yeah,” Tam agreed, following. “Feels weird being back, like this at least.”

“It does,” Jude said. “Maybe it’ll feel less weird if we all pull this off.”

The meeting room was huge, shaped like an oval and full of chairs, though there’d been a big table in here when Jude had been here last. Their old army crest, the fist on the spiderweb—the Spider Standard—was painted on the wall. A lot of people were gathered in front of it, but not enough that Jude couldn’t see why. “Who’s that?” he asked.

“I don’t know, some kid by the looks of it,” Tam said. “Come on, let’s go see what’s going on.”

“Someone better not have kidnapped a kid, I swear,” Jude said, heading forward quickly. He wasn’t exactly sure what he’d do, but something. Sullivan and Bartholomew were both there, so the situation was probably under control.

“Not that I know of, at least on our side. It’s possible it was someone with that party of humans who got left behind by mistake.” They reached the group, and Jude snuck through to the front. “What’s going on?” he asked Bartholomew.

“Not sure,” Bartholomew said, looking at the kid. He was stocky, blonde, ruddy cheeks. He looked cold and also looked like he’d just woken up. “He was just here. He wasn’t last night.”

“Look,” the kid said, holding up his hands. “I’m not who you think I am. Don’t think you can get anything out of kidnapping me. I’d rather die than…”

“Shut up, kid, nobody’s going to kill you,” Sullivan grumbled.

Jude put a hand on Sullivan’s arm, taking a step forward. “We’re not going to hurt you. But we can’t send you home unless you tell us who you are and how you got here.”

“I…” The kid looked perturbed, frowning. “I don’t know. I just woke up here. My name’s Nicholas. I…”

“What the hell is going on?” Cameron’s voice rang out, as she and Raphael appeared in the room together. The crowd parted a little, a hush falling. The two of them strode forward, and Cameron scowled. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“He’s fucking lost,” Sullivan said, standing with Jude.

“We were just trying to figure out how he got here,” Bartholomew told Raphael, also moving to block Nicholas, which was when Jude realized that he was standing in between Cameron, Raphael and the kid. Fuck.

“The three of you move aside before he hurts you,” Raphael said gently, voice resonating.

“What…” Jude started to ask.

“Ah, there the two of you are,” Nicholas said, sounding calm suddenly. And suddenly Jude felt him, and he didn’t feel human. “You are late.”

Jude turned, looking at Nicholas with the rest of them. Surrounding him were countless black threads, wrapping around and emerging from every part of his body, moving with his movements. They floated up above his head, through the newly repaired ceiling, leaning vaguely eastward. Jude wondered how far they went. He wondered what the fuck they were. “What the hell are those?” he asked.

“You,” Cameron said, ignoring Jude, “were not invited.”

Nicholas smiled, a smile that didn’t fit his face. He looked too honest a boy for such a cunning smile. “I’m aware. And you know better than anyone, Cameron, that a party to which you are not invited is always the one you want to be at.”

“I killed you once,” Cameron growled, hands held like claws. “I’ll do it again, Klaus.”

“Klaus?” Jude whispered, and he was far from the only one. Nearly everyone in the room echoed him, and all of them fixed their eyes on Nicholas, this boy. On the strings. On Klaus. Their leader, standing under the Spider Standard and smiling at them all as if he’d never left.

“While I’m inhabiting poor Nicholas I’m afraid you’d only inconvenience me, and make his friends very sad,” Klaus said, holding out his hands. “So since your homicidal tendencies cannot be actualized, perhaps we can talk. That is, after all, what you are all here to do, isn’t it?”

Looking at Klaus, looking at Cameron, looking at Raphael, Jude felt the confidence he’d had before start to fade. Whatever elaborate plan had been in place before all of this was rapidly falling apart. He didn’t think there were people in the world who hated each other as much as these three.

Instead of the situation getting better, there was suddenly a very real possibility that Klaus was here to make it all much, much worse.

Chapter Text

“Well, we’re all fucked,” Jude said, hugging himself. “We’re all going to die.”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Rebecca told him, rolling her eyes.

“Me? Dramatic? After that little display?” Jude asked, shaking his head. “No, I think I’m being eminently sensible in saying we’re all going to die.”

They were huddled together, murmuring quietly at one another. Cameron and Raphael were consulting in a corner, and Bartholomew and Sullivan had gone to join them just a minute ago. Klaus was leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets like the boy he appeared to be, strings flowing up into nothing. He looked impatient to be past the part where Cameron and Raphael decided whether to kill him or not.

Which they obviously weren’t, or they’d have done it by now. Jude wondered what they were talking about. For the first time he was starting to wish that he was more important so he could go over there and join them.

“What do you think they’re talking about?” Rebecca asked him.

Jude sighed. “The fact that their nice script went to shit? Probably they want to show a unified front to Klaus so he doesn’t try to pit them against each other.”

“You think Raphael and Cameron want to show a unified front?” Rebecca asked. “I don’t think there are two people who hate each other more than them.”

“I think Cameron and Klaus are probably those two people,” Jude disagreed. “And maybe Raphael and Klaus, who knows.” They’d all always assumed that Klaus would have been on their side—that he and Raphael would have gotten along. But Raphael didn’t seem any happier to see Klaus than Cameron did. “Which bring me back to my main point—we’re all going to die.”

“Don’t know, you seem pretty sure that Cameron and Raphael want to work together,” Rebecca said skeptically. “If they do, that means the synod was successful.”

“We’re past that now. Tam and I figured this out yesterday at supper,” Jude said. “Cameron and Raphael already decided the outcome of the synod beforehand, they want an alliance. We’re all just playing along to a game that they rigged before it started.”

“You had supper with Tam?” Rebecca asked.

“Yeah. You did notice us come in together, right?” Jude asked, wishing he had pockets to put his hands in.

“Yes, but a nice supper date seems even more scandalous than just banging him. You like him, don’t you?”

Jude shrugged. “I guess. I don’t know him that well.” He felt funny saying it like that.

Rebecca sighed. “I know that face. You’re already planning your wedding.”

“Planning our breakup, you mean.” Jude’s relationships never got to the wedding planning phase.

“No, you never date someone because you want to break up with them. That comes later. You like him.”

Jude shifted uncomfortably. “He’s nice. We’re probably not going to see each other after the synod.”

“Why not? You just said Cameron and Raphael already planned everything out and you can both teleport.” Rebecca poked him.

“Because we’re all going to die and it’s all Klaus’s fault.”

“I think you want that to be true so you don’t have to face reality.”

Jude huffed. “You know what? The waiting is killing me. I’m going to go talk to him.”

“To Tam?”

“To Klaus.”

And before she could stop him, Jude took off, heading for the boy. Fortunately, it wasn’t a long walk since the room wasn’t that big, so he didn’t lose his nerve on the way. And unfortunately, it wasn’t a long walk since the room wasn’t that big, so the drama with which he’d set off was, perhaps, slightly out of place.

He reached Klaus, who looked up at him interestedly. “Hi,” Jude said.

“Hello, Jude,” Klaus said back, smiling at him. “You look well.”

“Thanks,” Jude said, unnerved. He hadn’t spoken to Klaus in so long. He’d hardly ever spoken to Klaus even when he’d been alive. “Why’d you do it?”

“Do what? I’ve done a number of things. You shall need to be more specific.”

Was it strange being talked down to by a kid? Yes. But Jude persevered. “Why’d you leave? You obviously weren’t dead. Why…why’d you let us all split up like that?”

“I didn’t,” Klaus told him. “You were the architects of your own future. It’s not as though I could control you after I’d left, could I?”

Jude had a sneaking suspicion that was a lie disguised as the truth. “You didn’t answer,” he said. “Why’d you leave?”

Klaus regarded him for a moment. “There were things that needed doing that I couldn’t do while running the Spider Company. I knew Cameron was planning to kill me. So I decided that she and Raphael could lead you all effectively in my absence and took the opportunity to leave. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you all.”

“Are you really?” Jude wondered. “Sorry?”

“Does it matter?”

“No,” Jude figured. “You did it anyway. What were you doing that was so important?”

“Fighting the war,” Klaus said. “Not all wars are won with armies, no matter how strong.”

“We won that war,” Jude said. They’d won it before the schism. There were no more gods in the world, except for Nathen.

“No,” Klaus said. “We didn’t. We merely reached an impasse for a while.”

Well, that was unnecessarily ominous. Jude regretted this. “And…you think you can win the war,” Jude said, not sure suddenly that Klaus wasn’t nuts, “by dressing up like a human boy?”

“Among others, yes,” Klaus said. “Information is more powerful than any other kind of power that exists. Dressing up as various humans allows me access to a great deal of information.”

“Spying,” Jude said. “You’re spying on people.”

“Yes, if you’d like to put it that way.” Klaus’s smile never changed while he was talking. It was creepy.

“And that kid?” Jude asked. “Nicholas? Is he in there?” Was he trying to figure out what was happening, freaking out about this demon in his brain?

“He’s sleeping. When he wakes up his mind will suggest a series of memories of a very boring day in a library,”

“But you’ve just…kidnapped him from his life,” Jude protested. He wasn’t going to let Klaus off the hook for this.

“I admit I have. But I shall return him unhurt. Besides, Nicholas is special. I created him, you see,” Klaus said. “To be a vessel for me. He’s a homunculus.”

Jude frowned now. He looked like a regular human kid. “How…we researched that during the war. We couldn’t figure out how to make them work. Or at least how to make them work and seem human.” Jude remembered the attempts to make artificial soldiers. They’d been horrifying.

“The practice has been perfected,” Klaus explained. “And a human named Darla helped with some of the refinements. Nobody has ever noticed that Nicholas is anything other than an ordinary schoolboy, not even his closet friends. Not even himself.”

“That’s…there’s something really tragic about that,” Jude said. “Why would you do that?”

“Wars have casualties, Jude. Sometimes our own morality is one of them. Ah, look, it seems Cameron and Raphael have finished deliberating. May I presume you’ve decided not to kill me?”

“Not until you tell us why you’re here,” Cameron said, crossing her arms. Jude moved back so he wasn’t between them and Klaus. “Talk.”

“I’m here for a very simple reason. I was, as you know, also there during the attack on our Citadel,” Klaus said, gesturing to the doorway. “I saw Nathen too, and what he was capable of. And I have a…suggestion.”

“A suggestion,” Raphael said, archly. “Your input was not requested.”

“And yet here it is. Killing him will not work. He will come back as long as his soul is anchored to our world. Your solution will be to observe him, keep him placated in the hopes that he’ll remain quiescent until his incarnation dies of natural causes, and that Nathen is less present in the next incarnation—or more present, but more stable, depending on which side you speak from.”

Raphael and Cameron looked at each other. “Yes,” Cameron eventually said. “That was our plan.”

So it had been. Jude had been right. Now was, maybe, not the time to celebrate that.

“A laudable plan. One that prevents the need for conflict between you. I approve,” Klaus said, nodding Nicholas’s head. “But I have another, which achieves the same effect but to greater benefit.”

“Do tell,” Raphael said, unimpressed. Was it just Jude, or was the heavenly light just a bit brighter than usual?

“The war,” Klaus said, “is not over. Despite what you two wish to believe, and what you’ve told the rest of them, the war, the real war, still wages. There are gods still upon the earth, and they wish our destruction just as much as they did in ages past. And they are beginning to wake up. To gather. To ready themselves.”

“And you believe we should organize to fight these hypothetical remnants?” Raphael asked, sneering. But he didn’t deny the supposition. He knew Klaus was telling the truth. Had he always known? “There can scarcely be a dozen of them, if that.”

“A dozen gods are enough to kill every one of us,” Klaus said calmly. “And all the humans besides. And I expect there are more than a dozen if we look hard enough. But no, I don’t believe we should fight them. I believe we should let them fight each other.”

“And how will we accomplish this?” Cameron asked. “The gods haven’t fought each other since Thunderfall, Klaus.”

Klaus nodded, not affected by the silence that fell around the room at the mention of that name. None of them had been there save Cameron, Raphael and Klaus. None of them were old enough. All of them were grateful. Thunderfall had nearly destroyed the world, and then when it hadn’t, its aftereffects had tried even harder.

“That’s because the gods’ main enemy died at Thunderfall,” Klaus said, smiling again. “But he’s back now as well, isn’t he?”

“You…” Cameron frowned, which then faded, realization coming to her. “You mean Nathen.”

“I do. Nathen’s mission was to destroy the gods,” Klaus said. “I don’t expect that will have changed. And their mission was to destroy him. I propose that we position Nathen near the awakening gods, and we let him kill them. To finally free the world from their tyranny—and his. He will have no reason to be violent once they’re gone. I believe that should solve…well, all of your differences, should it not? You will no longer have any reason to fight.”

Cameron and Raphael looked at each other. So did Bartholomew and Sullivan. Jude looked into the crowd, finding Tam, and locked eyes with him. Klaus looked at them all and smiled.

And Jude felt the world starting to change.