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All That We Hold of Heaven

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Yuuri’s onyx-black feathers shimmer in the moonlight like jewels, shifting and changing with an opalescent rainbow across the dark. Anyone who’s caught sight of him in his natural form says that he’s gorgeous, a sight that even mortals, in their finite memory and lives, could never forget.

Yuuri wishes he could rip them out.

Pluck the darkness from his wings one by one, then tear the feathers interwoven into his hair, and the delicate down that runs down along his arms and backside. Bare himself, bleeding and raw but clean.

But they would only grow back.

His shame mars him, crawls through him in itching guilt that pokes through his skin to show everyone that there is no place for him.

There is a Heaven for the angels that haven’t destroyed themselves and all they’ve loved like Yuuri has. But Hell is a lie. There is no home for him on any plane of existence. There is no family, there are no friends. It’s been centuries since anyone’s tried to find him, and that’s fine by Yuuri.

(Except… when it isn’t. Which is always. It eats through his hollow bones, a constant chant of alone and forgotten.)

The night is icy. It’s not typical of this area at this time of year, but Yuuri doesn’t flee indoors like he would have if his feathers were white. It isn’t that he doesn’t feel the cold, he just puts up with it. He’d like to pretend that it’s because it’s another part of his punishment, but the truth is, the real punishment would be going inside.

And he can’t. He won’t. There’s no one out here to judge his choices except Yuuri himself, and he’s suffered for years. So many years that he doesn’t even know how long it’s been anymore. It’s… exhausting, but he deserves it. He knows he does.

Even if sometimes he doesn’t entirely understand it.

So Yuuri doesn’t move. He hasn’t moved in days. He would have gathered dust, if it weren’t for the wind and snow collecting around him. He used to worry about perceptive passersby seeing him, noticing his wings and knowing exactly what he is, but most aren’t going to notice a thing on the rooftop of the onsen. At most they’ll think they see a crow out of the corner of their eye. And it’s best that a bird is all they see. It’s been a long time since a mortal could perceive him without him trying to be seen, but last time it lead to him fleeing and abandoning his post until the lifetime of that human ended. He shouldn’t even talk to them if they notice.

(Even if he wants them to know him. He wants to scream and shout and be a part of something, anything. But he traded that away a long time ago.)

Maybe he’ll go for a walk soon. Don the skin of his mortal form, attempt to talk to some humans, see how the world is doing. Even if the people he would like to talk to most can’t even see him. Even if it’s like rubbing salt in a festering, ancient wound.

He lets out a soft sigh, watching the steam rise from his lips and into the flurry of snow around him.

This, at least, is a comfort. The moonlight has been consumed in the past few minutes—or has it been hours?—and the snowfall is thick enough that he can’t see beyond the onsen. The winter’s wrapped around him like a blanket, his skin as cold as the wind. The world might as well not exist beyond this little pocket he perches in. It makes it easier to try and forget everything, like he wishes that he could.

He’s just… tired. He doesn’t want this existence. But what else is there for him?

There’s a rustle in the air, a whisper of wind and feathers that Yuuri’s ears just barely pick up on. For a moment he wonders if it’s an actual crow, or maybe a seagull. He loves their cries come morning, a song that Yuuri can lean back and enjoy without ever moving from his spot. But they wouldn’t be out in this weather, at this time.

And neither would they sound so large.

Something settles onto the rooftop next to Yuuri, in a hush of snow and the murmur of wings settling. For a moment Yuuri hopes that if he ignores it, it will go away. But he knows this is the moment he’s been both dreading and waiting for, ever since his wings were stripped of their color.

So he turns, his disused bones cracking and settling and aching as he does so—and he’s nearly blinded. Or he feels blinded. The being next to him is incredibly pale in the dimness; his bare skin is almost glowing like his pure, white wings are, his hair flowing and silver like he’d stolen the stars from the sky and spun them into a fine thread to hang long and loose from his head. And his eyes. They’re like the ocean on a clear, warm day. Or maybe the sky in the middle of winter, pale but vibrant all the same. Even though Yuuri’s spent a long time away from his own kind he knows how attractive they can be, but this being… he’s something above Yuuri’s wildest imaginations.

It makes Yuuri feel oddly naked, even though he’s the only one wearing clothes in this situation. Yuuri’s skin is darker than this angel’s to begin with, but with his time in the sun he’s developed quite the tan. His eyes are an ordinary brown, and his wings—well.

Yuuri should probably say something instead of just stare, even if the angel is staring as well. But Yuuri hasn’t talked in years, and it was never something he was good at to begin with, and—

Then his eyes catch on the sword in the angel’s hand. The blade is thin and crystal clear with a golden hilt, and Yuuri would recognize it anywhere, even if he’s never seen one in person before. Only an archangel can wield something that divine, something with so much power.

Only an archangel can slay another angel.

Yuuri’s heart thunders in his ears, his breaths coming short. He knew this would come, someday. Heaven ties up all its loose ends eventually; it was always a threat of a story as he was growing up and learning his duties. He never had to worry about it—he never thought to worry about it until it was too late.

And now he’s going to die.

(If he has to die by anyone’s hands, though, he might not mind these hands so much. He’s been here, by this onsen, for so long. He’s seen this town shrink from thriving, renovating and downsizing again and again—until it hit this small, uncertain state.)

Yuuri’s tears burn in a way that is entirely unangelic, but not a way that’s unfamiliar. He’s known tears since long before he lost the white of his wings. Maybe it’s just fate that he ended up this way. Everything was planned and meant to turn out like this in the end, was it not?

There’s no point in running. He can fly as fast as his wings can carry him, but he hasn’t used them in ages. He’s not sure he can get out of shape, but he’s rusty, and in front of him is one of the most powerful creatures in existence.

How ironic, that when the drive to move, to run, to exist finally takes hold of him, he can’t use it.

Well, at least knowing his fate, he doesn’t have to think up any small talk.

He just barely bites back a hysterical laugh, instead looking toward the ground and curling his wings a little closer to himself. “Are you only here for me?” His voice is raspy, but whether it’s from disuse or the tears, he’s not sure.

“Would I be here for anyone else?” There’s an earnest curiosity to the angel’s voice that makes something in Yuuri ache.

But he can’t care. He can’t want. At least he’s come only for Yuuri, and everything will continue on without him perched on the onsen’s roof. It’s what he deserves—he’s the one who screwed up in the first place.

Yuuri leans forward and bows his head, his hair falling away and exposing his neck. It’s not as long as it would be if he was human and had neglected it for so long. Still, it’s too long, but… Guess he won’t have a chance to cut it.

What even happens to fallen angels, when their existence ends?

“You aren’t going to fight?” The angel lets out a little breath. “Run? Anything?”

Yuuri actually laughs this time, in a broken sort of way. “Why bother? I have nothing to run for, and you'll just find me. Just… do it. Please. I know I have no right to ask you any favors, but if you can, make it quick.”

Quiet stretches on for a moment, only broken up by the gentle pitter-patter of flakes as the blizzard picks up around them. In this dark, he can’t even see the whole rooftop anymore. The slight glow of the angel only illuminates a small area around them, trapping them in a bubble.

Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut. So much for mercy. Would it be quick anyway, though? How do angels—or, well, fallen angels—die? Will he bleed? He’s cut himself and bled before, but stabbing him through the heart with a mortal weapon would do nothing. He knows this is different, though. He knows that the most disgusting of the fallen are always eventually tracked down and slain.

But… why won’t this angel just do it?

“What are you waiting for?” Yuuri snaps, hands tightening into fists. “Just do it already, haven’t I suffered enough?”

“How… how can you just not fight?” The angel’s voice is so soft and so quiet that Yuuri can’t help but look up.

The angel’s face is carefully blank, but the grip on his sword is white-knuckled, and his eyes are shimmering.

Yuuri’s mouth falls open and he looks up to glare at the angel… “What do you expect? I’ve been sitting here on this rooftop, looking over—trying to be as quiet and helpful as I can to this town, from a distance, for years. Centuries. I… I’m tired.” His voice breaks on the word, and he curses his own weakness. “I’ve lived long enough in disgrace. Now that you’ve found me here I… I have nowhere else to go. This place is…” Hasetsu is home. He’s never been known to the people living here now—well, not technically, anyway. But this is where he found life.

And then lost it again.

“Then why don’t you stay?” The angel kneels down, getting on eye level with Yuuri and… He sets the sword aside.

What if Yuuri just reached out and grabbed it? What if Yuuri stabbed the archangel with it? He could never, the reason he fell was the opposite of something like this. But the fact is that this angel doesn’t know this. Yuuri would assume that he’s new at this job, but no archangel gets to that position without going through excessive trials.

“What… What are you saying?” Yuuri hardly dares to breathe, his words more steam than substance in the frigid air.

The angel reaches out, taking Yuuri’s face and tilting it a little to examine him.

Yuuri knows exactly what he looks like. Ragged. Dirty. Exactly like the gargoyle he’s become to this place—to this onsen, specifically.

But the angel… he doesn’t look at Yuuri like that’s what he sees. Yuuri’s not exactly sure what he sees in those wide, blue eyes, but it isn’t… bad. Maybe this angel’s just very good at acting, but it still makes Yuuri’s heart beat a little faster. When was the last time someone looked at him with anything but disgust? When was the last time anyone looked at him?

“Why are you here, Yuuri?” The angel murmurs, so close that Yuuri would only have to lean forward a few inches, at the most, to feel the heat of his breath.

But, no. This angel… he knows Yuuri’s name?

Yuuri pulls away, falling back into the few inches of snow blanketing the rooftop. His fingers dig into the carpet of white, but he finds no purchase to pull himself back with. Not that there was an escape from this situation to begin with. “H-how do you know my name?”

The angel tilts his head, looking almost like he wants to smile. “I’m afraid that isn’t information for one of the fallen.”

Yuuri winces. “Fine. I know what I did wrong, just… Please, what do you want?” Because Yuuri wants this conversation to end. He hasn’t talked to anyone this long, and about this raw of a subject in… well, probably since Yuuko passed away, if he’s being honest.

“I want to know why you’re out here, sitting in the snow, when you could do anything, and be anything on this earth.” The humor is gone from the angel’s face, instead those icy eyes are cutting right into Yuuri’s core.

And Yuuri can’t take that. He doesn’t want to be bare for anyone to see, not after so long of being able to do things just fine on his own. No one gets to have any piece of Yuuri without his own permission. “Then you’re going to be disappointed. It’s none of your damned business. I don’t even know your name, and you’re here to kill me.”

That damned, small smile blooms across the angel’s face. “Most of the other angels call me Victor.”

Yuuri stares at him for a long moment. “I guess we’re even, then.”

The angel—Victor’s smile falters. “You do know that I could kill you in an instant, don’t you?”

Yuuri bristles, his feathers rustling and fanning with irritation. “Yes. I’m counting on it. So get it over with.”

Victor arches an eyebrow. “No.”

Yuuri blinks, and just… stares. “Aren’t you here to kill me?”

“Yes.”

“And… you aren’t going to do it?”

“No.” Victor sits down, cross-legged and facing Yuuri. “Not yet, at least.”

“But I’m not going to tell you what I’m doing.” Which isn’t to say a part of Yuuri doesn’t want to tell Victor, of course. To finally shed all his secrets and be done with it all.

But telling this angel anything about his perch here means revealing something even more precious than his own life, and he can’t risk it.

“Well, luckily I have an eternity to wait, then.” Victor smiles, and it’s bright, and cheerful, and it makes something in Yuuri’s stomach clench.

(He’s unsure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but something in him whispers so hopeful, so desperate that it’s something good.

Even if he knows better)

 


 

 

It’s strange to not be alone. In a way, it makes Yuuri feel even more lonely. There’s someone inches from him, but he can’t touch. He doesn’t dare talk, in case he lets anything slip. The two of them perch, side by side, and watch the comings and goings of the town in the deep snow for days.

Hasetsu typically doesn’t get snow like this, having more mild winters. And, well, if Yuuri lets some of the magic still in his veins run into the earth and help melt the ice and slush along the pathways for the onsen’s owners, Victor doesn’t say a thing. In fact, it seems like the roads in the rest of town are far less treacherous than they should be, considering.

But Victor’s an archangel and wouldn’t use his own power to interfere like that. Angels aren’t allowed to have an impact that changes the course of fate and angers the higher powers, whatever the hell they may be.

(Yuuri’s stopped begging them for mercy a long time ago.)

So time passes the same, yet only slightly different… until Victor opens his mouth.

And for once time passes not as monotonous—but as torturous.

“Aren’t you bored?” Victor finally asks on the third day.

Yuuri gives him a look from the corner of his eye, but doesn’t answer besides that. He has his knees up to his chest, his arms folded on top of them, and his chin on top of that. It’s a position he’s sat in for days without moving before, this isn’t new to him. He can’t even remember if he ever felt bored doing this.

(Probably not, he knows. The grief was so heavy back when he first started his vigil that he could barely breathe, much less anything else.)

“Don’t you get sore? Or tired?” Victor says some days later, leaning in a little closer to Yuuri.

Yuuri tilts a little farther away, turning to glare at the angel with his pearly white wings tucked tight around him. He looks soft like that, almost sweet—but, too bad for the both of them, that doesn’t do a damn thing to counteract how annoying this being the universe spat at Yuuri is.

“You can leave. You have a job to do, don’t you?” Yuuri narrows his eyes.

And Victor… the archangel pouts. “Why are you so mean to me, Yuuri?”

“Why won’t you kill me already, Victor?” Yuuri snaps.

Victor winces, pulling back. “Ah. You’re still thinking about that, then.”

“Yes, I’m very much so thinking about the fact that my murderer is sitting right next to me, with his sword laying on the ground at his side.” Yuuri gives a shaky sigh. He will not give this angel the gratification of knowing that he’s getting to Yuuri. He’s already going to kill him, in the end. Yuuri has one single shred of dignity left in his entire being, and he won’t let that be taken from him, too.

“Maybe I won’t kill you?”

Yuuri laughs, something colder than the air around them. “Well when you say it like that, it makes me trust you so much.”

“I just…” Victor huffs out a breath. “This isn’t usual.”

“What isn’t?” Yuuri actually turns and looks at Victor, tilting his head a little. This entire situation doesn’t feel usual, but it isn’t as if Yuuri was an archangel and knows their ways. At most he was on the fringe of all the angels; a small, insignificant watchful eye over humanity. It was inevitable that he fell from grace.

“You.” Victor meets and holds Yuuri’s gaze. “You’re nothing like what I expected.”

Yuuri snorts. “I’m a fallen angel, like the hundreds of others that mess up and need to be eliminated from existence. I don’t know what you’re trying to get by flattering me, but—”

“I’m not trying to flatter you.” Victor reaches out a hand, hesitates, and then drops it. “I… that’s not what I’m trying to do. I want to know why you’re here, but I’m not going to force it from you like that. It’s not right.”

Ah yes. Justice and righteousness. How far Yuuri’s fallen that those aren’t top concerns for him anymore—though, to be honest, the lines around those concepts have been blurry at best, nonexistent at worse. He should know these lines, innately. Angels are the hands of the higher power of this universe, they do the best they can to achieve peace and balance…

But Yuuri’s never heard directly from any God.

The only divine interference he’s ever seen, besides his own doings, is the darkened feathers on his back. No angel did that to him. No, the angels’ punishment… that was much worse.

“You’re just…” Victor takes a breath. “All of the other angels that I’ve chased were actively causing harm. Violence, death, pollution, something like that. They did whatever they wanted, swayed the mortals just because they could. I never felt guilty about swinging my sword.”

“You don’t have to be guilty about killing me,” Yuuri murmurs. “No one remembers me. No one will miss me. I’ve done something terrible enough to change my feathers—isn’t that enough?”

“No.” Victor shakes his head. “We all do things that we regret, all of us. Angel, mortal, and everything between.”

“I don’t regret it.” Yuuri closes his eyes, then turns back to the front yard of the onsen, assuming his usual position. “There are things that happened afterward that I regret. But what I did… I don’t know if I’d do it again, but…”

And, once again, everything goes quiet.

Yuuri could do without these interruptions. He could do without Victor. It's not that it takes much effort to watch the townspeople of Hasetsu. He could afford to be distracted for a few minutes, especially with how little the occupants of this onsen leave their house nowadays. He remembers having to fly to keep up with the busy occupants, spending his time being active around the town. But it's sleepier, lately. Yuuri has less to worry about. If he were to leave, permanently, right now… it wouldn't matter.

But he can’t stand knowing that there's someone right there, watching and waiting to figure out all of Yuuri's secrets. Interrupting his sleepy observations with ridiculous conversations that dance around answers for either of them. It's ridiculous. It's stupid.

(Even though he loves it. He’ll never say it in so many words, but it's… nice to know that someone's with him. He's been alone for so long that even sitting next to someone he could call an enemy is a small comfort and warmth that he can't remember having known ever before.)

 


 

 

“Why are you wearing clothes?”

Yuuri resists the urge to reach out and strangle Victor. It would do nothing for either of them besides maybe shut Victor up for two minutes. Yuuri talking to Victor at all is a mistake. Now that he knows Yuuri will respond, Victor asks all sorts of things about the mortals below, curiosity shining earnestly in sharp, blue eyes.

And it isn't lost on Yuuri that Victor isn't asking about his past, that Victor never brings up anything even remotely related to angels.

It isn't lost on Yuuri how… endearing this angel is.

Archangels were always a concept to Yuuri. Something looming and terrifying and serious. He was happy to never so much as meet one—until one came to punish him as thoroughly as the angel knew how.

Which is to say very, very thoroughly.

"Why don't you wear clothes?" Yuuri retorts, even though he knows the answer already. Most angels lack the shame of their body that humans have developed. But Yuuri's accumulated shame in his body like one might collect stamps, or fine wine. A carefully curated and cared for collection of every flaw that Yuuri could possibly acquire.

(It could also be that Yuuri loved being around humans, that he spent enough time in their clothes and eating their food and laughing at their stories that Yuuri isn't sure if he's more angel or mortal. But that judgment is too kind and yet too blasphemous for someone like Yuuri.)

Victor opens his mouth, then shuts it, and gives a contemplative hum. “You know, I've never actually worn any. I've considered getting a belt for my sword, you know, so I don't have to bring it in and out of existence every time I need it, but the others say it’s too primal to wear clothes. But some pieces of clothing look so nice and sleek! And other clothes look so comfortable. Not that we get frostbite or anything, but it must be so nice to not have snow going up your… well, you know.”

Yuuri squints at him. “How are you like this?”

“Like… what?” Victor asks, voice tentative.

Like he’s human. Like he’s passionate about things other than virtue and righteousness. Like he’s like Yuuri. “You just… you don’t seem very much like an archangel.”

Victor leans in a little closer, and though Yuuri stiffens, he doesn’t pull away. “I’ll tell you a secret. I’m not like them.”

Yuuri searches Victor’s face, then moves to his large, pearly white wings, then to the crystal-clear sword next to him that’s half-buried in the snow, and then back to his face again. “You sure look like one.”

“And I act like one most of the time, too! But…” Victor leans in even closer. “I have a theory. I think they’re all just acting. ”

Yuuri snorts. “You’re saying that you think that they’re all just ridiculous and would sit with fallen angels and talk about clothes, and the weather, and dogs?”

“No. Well, maybe they would talk about dogs, have you seen dogs? But no, I think that angels are just as flawed and varied as humans, in some ways. But from when we’re born, we have to live up to standards. Terrible, beautiful standards. We think there’s an ideal angel, but… there isn’t one.”

Yuuri takes a moment to stare at Victor. “How are you an archangel?”

“You’re so blunt, Yuuri! I love that about you.” Victor gives a wide smile, and Yuuri wonders how much of it is the blush that creeps into Yuuri’s cheeks entertains Victor. “But, I’ll tell you another secret, because I like you so much. I wondered the same thing when I was promoted. I do my very best, of course, but I know it’s not perfect, like an archangel should be. But they’re all flawed, some much more than me. I’ve seen every one of them make mistakes.”

“Then… why… why can’t I make mistakes?” Yuuri murmurs, tucking his head beneath his arms and bringing his wings in tight against his sides. His black, cursed wings that show his gravest mistake.

And he knows why his mistake was so much worse than others. He knows why he will never be forgiven by anyone, least of all himself.

(Even if that’s what he craves most.)

For a long moment, Victor says nothing, and Yuuri holds back a sigh. Back to silence, then. This is how their cycle always goes, even if Victor’s starting more and more conversations as of late. But this time Yuuri screwed up and killed the subject.

And that does not mean that Yuuri’s enjoying these talks. Or Victor. At all. He’s just lonely, and…

Maybe he does enjoy Victor, a little.

But he knows better than to get attached.

He knows that there are some things that you can need with every fiber of your being, be sure that you can’t exist without them, and then have them wrenched from you without warning and without mercy.

And he knows what it’s like to have to keep moving forward, despite that.

Something brushes Yuuri’s arm, and he jumps, wings flaring out—

“I’m sorry! I should have asked!” Victor has his hand clutched to his chest, eyes wide and… afraid? Of what? What could Yuuri possibly do to him for touching him?

Yuuri lets out a shaky breath, slightly ashamed of his reaction. Well, it has been a long time since he’s been touched. “It’s… it’s fine.”

Victor freezes for a moment, and then tilts his head slightly. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” Please.

But Victor doesn’t reach out again. Instead, very slowly, and maintaining eye contact, he shifts closer until their arms are touching and their wings are nestled against each other.

“Is… is this okay?” Victor murmurs, hesitant. Knowing him, probably wondering if he should’ve asked first, again.

But he’d given Yuuri plenty of time to move away or tell him to stop. Instead, Yuuri shifts a little closer until their hips are pressed together, and, before he even thinks about it, he rests his head onto Victor’s shoulder.

Victor lets out an awful, beautiful, shaky breath before gently placing his cheek against Yuuri’s hair. “Okay.”

It’s so warm, to have a body next to him. It’s so… nice.

It’s so terrifying.

Something in Yuuri feels propped up and slid back into place, like it’s settling and healing in an aching sort of way. As if something between them has shattered, and lodged itself deep into Yuuri’s chest. But how long will this last? How long can he have this before this archangel needs to complete his duties and take up his sword again?

(Maybe he won’t. A small part of Yuuri dares to hope that this ridiculous side of Victor is more real than the archangel side—but no one becomes an archangel by making easy choices like this.

He knows.

But he hopes.)

The sun arcs across the horizon, so slow yet fast at the same time, until there’s a streaking of dark purples and baby blues and lilacs spread across the sky. Spring is starting to settle into Hasetsu, or at least Yuuri thinks it is. He’s not sure about the time of year—hell, he’s not even sure about the year—but it’s getting a little warmer. The snow melts under the heat of the sun, which is partly good because sitting in snow is unfortunate, at best, but it’s a cushion as well. And the hard surface of the roof isn’t kind to him.

But, he’s been here for years. He’s used to it.

(Or at least, he should be.)

“Do you like it here?” Victor asks, voice soft. Like maybe he’s afraid of scaring Yuuri away—but, honestly, Yuuri’s too comfortable to move.

“I suppose so. I just…” Yuuri pulls in his wings a little tighter around him. “I have reasons to be here.”

“So I’ve gathered. Which, if it makes you feel better, I still have no clue about.” His words are rushed, like he has too much to say and no time to get it out.

But they have as long as Victor lets them have. Yuuri tries to let some of the tension seep from him—but he’s not sure he succeeds. “And you’re still curious about that? After watching me stare at the boring, ordinary mortal lives here for… how long have you been here?”

Victor’s quiet long enough that Yuuri’s not sure if they’re done with the conversation.

He’s not sure if he wants to be done with the conversation.

“This is where you originally worked, isn’t it? Before…?”

That gets Yuuri pulling away, looking at Victor’s face. His expression is blank in a way that’s obviously on purpose.

Yuuri’s feathers flare a little. “How do you know that? Oh.” He shrinks away. “They probably tell you those things when they…”

“Sometimes they do,” Victor agrees easily, his wings glowing a little in the dim afterglow of the sunset. “They… didn’t for you though. They only gave me a name.”

“Then… how?” Yuuri murmurs.

“I… remember you. From when your feathers were white. I saw you in Heaven once and I… I never forgot.” Victor glances away, toward where his hands are clenched on his thighs.

Me?” Yuuri pulls completely away, standing up and flaring his wings, becoming a large shadow, an even darker shade of night. “I—I was nothing. And I don’t remember you. I just. I existed, until…”

“I don’t think that’s true.” Victor still won’t meet his eyes. “You… you smiled so brightly that I couldn’t help but notice. I couldn’t help but ask who you were. You moved like you were light itself. It lit up something in me, and… That’s all I knew of you. Your name, and where you guarded the mortals. When they told me your name for who I had to hunt down next, I…”

Yuuri’s wings flutter slightly at his sides, more of a shake than anything. “Is… is that why you didn’t kill me? Because of an old memory of someone who doesn’t even exist?”

Victor’s head snaps up to look at him. “You exist.”

“Not like you saw me. I’m not… that. I’m messy. I’m anxious. I’m quiet. I’ve only brought the people I love pain.” Yuuri gestures widely, trying and failing to encompass all that he’s left in ruins. “You don’t want… me. You want the idea of me.”

“I wanted the idea of you. You’re right.” Victor smiles a little. “Maybe you’ve hurt others, but you haven’t hurt me. You wouldn’t, would you?”

“No.” Yuuri scowls. “Not on purpose. But you and I both know that you can’t stay here. They’ll notice when you don’t come back. I don’t know if they’ll look for you, but if you don’t go back, there will be repercussions.”

“And what if I don’t go back?” Victor’s voice is so hushed, his lips moving so faintly, that a part of Yuuri wonders if it’s a daydream.

(Yuuri knows it’s not. He remembers that feeling, from before he fell. Before he fully understood what falling meant.)

“What?” Yuuri squeaks, his hands trembling.

“Well, if we’re down here, and I have to leave eventually, what are we doing on this roof?” A smile spreads across Victor’s face, but it’s strained in an unnatural way across his cheeks. “There’s a wonderful hot spring right behind us that we could indulge in. I know you’ve seen it. You can’t have sat here this long in complete ignorance.”

“I know it’s there and I’m not going.” Yuuri crosses his arms tight to his chest. “And you’re avoiding things.”

“So are you.” Victor… Victor winks at him and Yuuri’s brain stops for a solid second before restarting. “And I say it would be much more fun to avoid talking about things if we were enjoying the hot springs.”

“No! They aren’t ours. We’re not guests there. We can’t pay.”

“I’m sure that we can miracle up some money—” Victor’s eyes widen a bit. “That’s why this hot spring is the last one standing in the area, isn’t it? You’ve used your powers and blessed it. You’ve been blessing it so subtly for years that even other angels wouldn’t notice. And yet the people here still are affected and benefit from it. That’s so precise and amazing and… Yuuri.”

Warmth blooms along Yuuri’s cheeks. “It takes barely anything. It’s not impressive, it’s just…” It’s what little penance he can give. And it’s so deeply embedded into the earth and the water that, at this point, the blessing will stay long after he’s gone. The water will heal, the food will be delicious, and the house will always be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It’s small, but it’s enough to keep them in business.

“That takes so much control. Yuuri.” Victor repeats his name like it’s a prayer, something blasphemous. “Now I absolutely have to try it.”

Victor sweeps to his feet and starts walking away, and Yuuri… Yuuri can only stare for a long moment at Victor’s retreating form and oh, he’d forgotten how stunning the angel was at full height. Somehow he seems even more gorgeous now that Yuuri’s gotten to know the angel beneath that perfect exterior. And he can’t help but look at that silver hair long and trailing behind him, those long, graceful wings spreading—

No. No, no, no, no.

Yuuri sprints after him, fingers sliding through silky, white feathers as he fails to grip Victor before he’s in the air, softly lowering himself to the ground. Yuuri shifts his weight from foot to foot for a moment, trying to unravel the staticky ball of panic lodged in his chest. He can’t go down there. He can go anywhere else in Hasetsu, anywhere at all— but not the onsen. He… he can’t…

But if Victor sees, and Victor knows

Before he can think any more about it, Yuuri leaps down, barely catching himself so that he lands softly next to Victor.

“Such fancy moves, Yuuri.” Victor smiles at him, and it’s softer than before, a little more real—

But that doesn’t matter.

“We can’t be here. Please.”

“Yuuri.” Victor tuts softly. “You’ve been here longer than anyone else has. You have to have noticed that every night, this time of the week, no one comes out to use the onsen. The nights are still cold. People don’t want to brave it. And it’s the middle of the week—no one’s indulging in late-night dips.”

“But it’s not late night. The sun just set!” Yuuri’s eyes can’t stay still, flickering between the pools, the doors, and Victor. He knows that no one can see him, especially if he doesn’t want to be seen—but that’s the point.

Victor cups Yuuri’s face in his palms, dragging his attention back to him. “No one’s here. You’re filthy from spending who knows how long sitting up there, in all sorts of weather. You’re safe. I’ll keep you safe.”

A lump crawls up Yuuri’s throat and lodges itself there. He wants to lean into Victor’s hand. He wants to accept safety. He wants to accept someone who knows him.

But he can’t.

He swallows. “You can’t promise that. Not when you’re going to kill me.”

“Maybe I won’t kill you.” And this time, there’s no question in Victor’s voice. That “maybe” might as well not be there with the warmth in Victor’s voice, seeping into Yuuri’s veins and wrapping so tight around his heart he feels held and trapped all at once.

“We… we still shouldn’t…”

Victor runs a thumb along Yuuri’s cheek. “Let me take care of you. I’ll keep you safe. Just… just let me do this. If only this once. Please.”

Yuuri wants to resist… But Victor’s voice is so soft. So warm. So full of trust and asking for the same. Who could resist?

(Yuuri could. He counts off all the infinite ways he could say no in his head—but something in him can’t pull the words out from his own lips. Something in him doesn’t want to deny Victor anything, the same way he’s done for Yuuri. Even if they still dance around each other, they grasp their hands together so tightly that Yuuri can’t imagine letting go.)

“Not for long,” Yuuri breathes into the air, almost hoping that the words won’t take form and will just drift away.

“Not for long,” Victor agrees, his hands sliding down Yuuri’s neck, and his arms, until he laces their fingers together and pulls Yuuri toward the building.

“Be quiet,” Yuuri whispers while Victor slides the door open quietly.

“Yes, of course.” Victor smiles at him as he pulls Yuuri in.

Every shuffle of feet on the ground and every rustle of feathers has Yuuri on edge. He shouldn’t have agreed to this. He should run. He should…

He should notice that there’s something happening here. A pulse in the air that isn’t Yuuri’s own doing, the heart of the universe weaving around them, and keeping them… safe.

Victor’s smile grows as Yuuri’s eyes widen. “I told you I would take care of you, didn’t I?”

Yuuri’s shoulders fall, his wings going limp at his sides. “Thank you.”

“Of course, Yuuri.” And Victor opens his mouth, like he’d like to say something else—but he doesn’t. Instead, he pulls Yuuri into the shower, and even though Yuuri knows no one will hear them, he winces at the noise. But then Victor’s hands gently, reverently, pull off his old, worn clothes, the brush of fingertips against Yuuri’s skin sending electric tingling through his whole body. And before he can come to terms with that sensation, he’s under the warm, warm water, and then Victor’s fingers are in his hair, and he can’t help but melt against Victor.

Some part of his mind wonders if he should ask Victor how he knows that they need to bathe before stepping foot in the onsen. There are a lot of things he should ask. But he… he’s tired. He hasn’t felt another’s touch in centuries at this point, and oh it feels like heaven in a way that Heaven never did.

Just their shoulders touching was enough to change Yuuri, but this, Victor’s fingers and hands moving across his skin just for the sheer purpose of taking care of him, it’s—

It’s almost too much.

(But not nearly enough.)

On some level, he knows what this intimacy could mean to others. He knows that to mortals and angels alike, it would be inappropriate. Nakedness is nothing new for their kind, but touch like this would be unwelcome from a stranger, to say the least. He knows what this would turn into, for others. But, that’s not what it is for them. For them, the only thing that haunts Yuuri is what the angels would say about them.

Yuuri’s fallen, tainted, and Victor’s pure. For Yuuri to look upon Victor in all his beauty and perfection, well. The sight should be the last thing that Yuuri ever sees.

But it isn’t.

It’s the sight that Yuuri’s had at his side for days, weeks, maybe even months. Time is insignificant after living so long.

But Victor’s touch is not.

The water rinses away all the soap that was so tenderly lathered into Yuuri’s skin and hair and feathers. Then Yuuri turns, hesitating the barest fraction of a second before reaching up and running his hands through Victor’s long, long hair.

“My turn,” Yuuri murmurs, a demand even if he still waits for Victor’s shaky nod before turning Victor around and gathering the soap to begin to clean off the dirt from the angel.

It shouldn’t feel so precious to be cleaning an archangel, of all things, but… it does. Victor leans so desperately into Yuuri’s firm touch that it almost seems like Victor’s gone as long without touch as Yuuri has.

Yuuri’s hands slow and still in their movements, gripping Victor tight around his waist. Has anyone touched Victor? Because Yuuri knows what he would think about an archangel—he knows what he did think of Victor. Untouchable, unreachable, perfect, pristine.

But Victor isn’t that.

He’s warm and relaxed in Yuuri’s hands—Yuuri’s hands. One of the fallen. More flawed than anyone else. That’s who Victor chooses to stay with. Yuuri leans forward a bit, his breath ghosting along Victor’s back, but… he can’t. If Yuuri’s lips were to touch Victor, if Victor cared about someone whose wings are such a deep midnight black as much as Yuuri’s come to care for him, and one of them acts on it… Victor’s wings will turn, too.

And oh, Yuuri cares for Victor.

It’s as unsettling as it is grounding to realize that he craves Victor’s presence so much. That he doesn’t know which boundaries he wouldn’t cross to keep Victor by his side.

(That is a dangerous, dangerous thought. One that got him cast out from Heaven and worse.)

“Yuuri?” Victor murmurs, eyes half-lidded as he turns to see what’s wrong.

Instead of answering with words, Yuuri tries to convey in touch what he’ll never say. That their talks may be ridiculous, but they mean more than anything else in Yuuri’s life. That the tidbits of information that Victor dares to tell of himself only make him all the more lovely. That his pout makes Yuuri feel like he could fly across the world again. That when Victor is so happy that his smile turns heart-shaped, Yuuri’s heart flutters in a way that makes him feel more alive than he’s ever felt before. That Victor’s skin against his own makes him feel at home enough that maybe, maybe, Yuuri could find his own reasons to keep fighting and to keep living again.

That Yuuri’s been denying how Victor makes him feel since the moment he laid eyes on him.

(He wonders if the higher powers are laughing at him. He wonders, with the most fragile of hope, if the higher powers would give this to him. He knows better, of course he does. But.)

Yuuri can keep on going the way that he has been. He has the energy to run, more so than he’s had in years. It’s like he’s woken up from a long, long sleep, and the first face he’s seen was Victor’s. And he may have resented Victor for it, for a while, but now he can’t help but be grateful that it was him that drew Yuuri from where he’d been stranded.

Victor hasn’t changed Yuuri, per se. He’s pushed and pulled and tugged Yuuri from the cliff he was perched on the edge of, yes. But it’s more like…

Being around Victor is slowly bringing out what was good in Yuuri, again.

(Because Yuuri knows, deep in his bones, the only one who can heal him is himself. But is it so bad to reach out and take a helping hand on the path there?)

“There,” Yuuri murmurs as he finishes rinsing Victor off. He’s both eager to go out into the onsen—something he hasn’t done since before he was fallen—and unwilling to leave this safe, serene place that they’ve created. “Are you ready?”

Victor smiles, leaning back into Yuuri. “Yes. Of course.”

Yuuri wraps his arms around Victor’s middle, and then nuzzles his head a little into the curve of Victor’s neck. He’s careful to keep his mouth away, no matter how tempted he is to shift, to press his lips along the curve of Victor’s neck and then down every notch of his spine…

Yuuri pulls away, flushed and flustered, and instead takes Victor’s hand and leads him out of the house, back into the open, chilly air full of thin trails of steam rising from the water.

Despite all his earlier protests, it’s Yuuri who slips into the water first, sucking in a breath as the heat meets his skin after having been briefly cooled by the air around them. It’s nice, though, for the warmth to soak so thoroughly into his bones that have been cold for so, so long; to let his muscles relax, and to let his wings fan as much as they can across the surface of the water. His muscles ache from being held so tense for so long—but the heat soothes.

Yuuri turns back to Victor to find him just… staring. There’s a halo of light around Victor from the electric lamps dimmed in the evening hours, eclipsing the natural, subtle glow he has in something far stronger. Victor’s face is half in shadow from it, but Yuuri’s skin prickles with the intensity of those eyes trained on him.

Still, Yuuri holds out a hand. “Aren’t you the one who wanted to sneak down here in the first place? Come on.”

A smile flickers across Victor’s lips as he reaches down, taking Yuuri’s hand and then slipping into the water—and not letting go. They settle in along the wall of the pool, close but not touching and letting the water and the heat and the grips on each other lull them into restfulness.

“How could you have stayed up there for so long and not have spent at least half your time down here, Yuuri?” Victor practically moans, leaning his head back and revealing the arch of his throat.

Yuuri swallows. “You might not believe me, but I used to be busy up there, before the town became quiet.”

“But… that’s not the only reason, is it?” Victor cracks an eye open to look at him.

“Yeah.” Yuuri looks down at the water, running his free hand along the surface and focusing on the shapes the ripples make in the water. “I…”

“You don’t have to tell me.” Victor squeezes his hand.

Yuuri turns back to Victor, finding both of his eyes closed again. “But… isn’t that why you’re staying?”

“You could say that, I guess. I thought you would have put it together by now, but…” Victor takes a long breath, the barest little shake to it. “I’m here for you, now. I was intrigued, before. But the more time I spend on that roof, bickering and laughing with you? The more I realize that I feel more alive than I have in a long time. No one can live how I was trying to survive. Not even angels.”

Yuuri stiffens. That’s… wrong. Victor can’t know how that feels. He can’t know the exact feelings written across Yuuri’s soul. He’s successful, he’s pure, he’s—

He’s admitted to Yuuri before that he feels fragile and flawed. That he feels untouchable and untouched.

And suddenly there’s far too much distance between them, too large a space between two souls resonating at the same frequency.

Yuuri moves closer, and before Victor even has his eyes open, he’s resting his head on Victor’s shoulder, wrapping his arms and legs around him and brushing their wings together where they rest.

And Victor stiffens beneath him.

It takes every ounce of willpower Yuuri has not to tighten his grip more. “I’m sorry, I should have asked—”

“You always have permission to touch me, Yuuri. However you like, wherever you like.” Victor breathes the words into Yuuri’s hair, wrapping his own arms around him until they might as well be a single entity, a being of tangled limbs and black and white feathers.

Yuuri stares at where their feathers press together, a stark contrast of white and black, and for the first time in years Yuuri truly and deeply regrets. “I’m sorry,” Yuuri chokes out.

Victor hums, a questioning noise, as his hands travel upwards to run through the down and hair along Yuuri’s neck and scalp.

“If I weren’t fallen, I wouldn’t—you wouldn’t…” Victor would never have to leave. Victor would never be forced to kill Yuuri. Yuuri could hold him like this for an eternity—longer, if he could, until the aches inside them settle and heal, until their skin isn’t so starved for the touch of the other.

(Yuuri could kiss him. Yuuri could tell him that he’s finding his place in life again, with Victor by his side. But that’s blasphemous enough to stain wings black.)

Victor’s other arm curls around Yuuri’s waist, holding him firm and stable. “Don’t apologize. I wouldn’t have you any other way. In fact…” He goes quiet for a long stretch, but Yuuri feels the weight of this silence, much different from the companionable ones they’ve shared for so many days and nights. “I wish I could be as brave as you.”

Yuuri scoffs softly. “You don’t want this. I don’t want this.”

Victor nuzzles his head over the top of Yuuri’s “I don’t want to be an archangel. I don’t want to be an angel. I want to live, Yuuri, and there’s no life for me in Heaven.”

“Does it look like I’m living?” Yuuri spits out. “They didn’t just take the color of my wings. They didn’t just take my place in Heaven from me. Victor, what will they take from you?”

“I have nothing. I have no home. My family has long moved on, my friends are ones of convenience. Yuuri, I have nothing. For a long time, I’ve had no reason to stay, but no reason to leave, either.”

Yuuri pulls back some, as little as he can but still enough to meet Victor’s gaze and see the tears welling in them, the slight shake of his lips. And he just can’t imagine it. He has no idea how anyone in Heaven couldn’t love this soft man who so easily held out his heart for Yuuri to take hold of, after being alone for so long. But Yuuri knows it’s the truth, that the tears building in Victor’s eyes aren’t a lie.

So he takes Victor’s face in his hands, just like Victor had done earlier. But unlike that time, he leans forward, pressing their foreheads together.

“Victor,” Yuuri breathes into the empty space between them. “I don’t want to be the reason you fall. I… I’ve already made too many mistakes. I have too many burdens to bear. I can’t add on another to that pile, not when it’s you.”

“I…” Victor looks down for a moment, before meeting Yuuri’s eyes again. “I understand that. I’m not ready to make a choice, right here, right now. But when I do, it will be my choice. You can’t have it, Yuuri.”

“But I can’t…” Yuuri pulls his wings in tight, and Victor’s chase them, brilliant white wrapping around them both. “I can’t wreck anything else. I can’t be the temptation that ruins you, I’m not worth it.”

“You’re worth everything.” Victor leans in a little closer, almost too close, making Yuuri’s hands shake where they rest against Victor’s cheeks. “But that won’t be why I fall. It will be a choice I make for myself.”

Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut, fighting back the sting of tears. Victor’s talking like, on some level, he’s already made his choice. He knows what he wants.

(And Yuuri knows what he wants, but he knows better than to take it. He has to know better, for both of them.)

Victor leans in even further, his lips so close

And Yuuri pulls away.

Victor’s face falls, but Yuuri still holds him tight.

“You can make that choice when your time comes, okay?” Yuuri brushes a thumb along Victor’s cheek, and he doesn’t miss the way that Victor’s eyes flutter shut for just a moment. “But I can’t bear this. I can’t. If you fall, you have to choose a way without me.”

This time Victor squeezes his eyes shut, and a distant part of Yuuri is grateful he’s not letting the tears fall. If Victor starts crying, then Yuuri will too, and he doesn’t want that. Not now, wrapped in the comfort of each other’s limbs. Not when they’re tangled up in the little happiness that beings like them aren’t allowed to have.

Yuuri pulls Victor close, nestling his head under his chin and running fingers through his silky, long hair. “But for now, I—” Yuuri scratches gently along Victor’s scalp, trying and failing to ignore the way that Victor’s wings tremble. “I won’t leave you. As long as you can stay, I’ll hold on and never let go. I can’t give you what you want, but I… This is something I want you to have.”

Victor’s grip tightens, his warm breaths shaky against Yuuri’s clavicle. “Please,” Victor begs, fingers digging hard enough into Yuuri’s skin that they might leave bruises.

(Yuuri hopes they leave bruises. A mark, something to prove that Victor was here—even if both Victor and the marks will go away eventually.)

Yuuri nuzzles into Victor’s hair. “Of course.” He wants to promise Victor that he’d give him anything—but he just said that isn’t possible, didn’t he?

So they fall into the familiar embrace of the quiet, only interrupted by the trickle and lap of water in the pools and the distant noise of faint life in this small town. It’s just Victor and Yuuri, Yuuri and Victor, as it feels like it’s been for a while now.

(As it should be.)

“Hello? Is someone there?”

Yuuri stiffens, even as Victor runs hands down his side in what’s probably meant to be a comforting gesture, but is lost to the slow numbness of Yuuri’s skin, the ways his entire body both burns and loses all feeling.

All of his walls that Victor’s been slowly peeling away, one by one, slam back in place and Yuuri both wants to cower behind them and scramble at them, trying and failing to find purchase to scale them and feel Victor at his side again.

But he does neither of those.

A sort of mirage settles over Victor, his wings flickering out of existence in this dimension, and his hair, strangely, shone short, with a silvery fringe falling across his face.

“Yuuri,” Victor hisses, running a hand along one of Yuuri’s wings because, yes, in any other situation, Yuuri should hide them. Some humans are perceptive enough to see their wings, or at least glimpses of them, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

But Yuuri doesn’t have to. He can, but he doesn’t have to. It doesn’t matter. Heaven help him, this is exactly why he didn’t want to come down here in the first place.

Victor gives him an odd look, but Yuuri can’t focus on that right now. Because Victor’s pulling out of Yuuri’s grasp, and turning away, and Yuuri feels like he’s adrift in his own mind. Like his body isn’t quite his, even if he can move his fingers and toes the same way he always has.

Victor says something, voice light, and Yuuri grasps somehow that he’s explaining that he has no place to go—that he’s lost, maybe? It’s a weak excuse, but it’s Victor. And Yuuri knows that the three individuals slowly creeping towards the pool will listen, same as he knows that him saying a word won’t help Victor. It won’t hurt, either. It won’t do anything.

Because Yuuri’s punishment is not just his fall from grace.

It’s not even his family’s fall from grace, which happened too, of course. You commit an act of treason as large as his, and the family is always blamed. He was wiped from their lives and their memories—but that’s not what hurts most.

Oh, it does hurt that he caused them to fall, he caused them to forget their lives and their purpose, and he could do absolutely nothing about it. And that’s not just because he was such a low-ranking angel that he can’t undo the curse that caused them to forget the fact that they’re angels, the curse that keeps them stuck in an endless cycle in a town Yuuri isn’t sure how to love anymore.

Yuuri can do nothing with his family because they cannot see him.