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(almost like you've) never loved an anchor

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Juviel was blinked into existence mere moments after Corviel.

It wasn’t… odd, per say, but that’s because this sort of thing was too new to be considered odd. Between one moment and the next, Juviel hadn’t existed and then he had. Simple as that. And then he knew things. Knew God and Grace, knew the archangels lined up one by one before he and a swiftly growing Host of angels. He knew Corviel and their connectedness, in that they were twins and they’d be close. His whole future rolled out before him like a grand red velvet carpet.

Archangel Raphael smiled at the Seraphim Corviel and Juviel, and all was Right.

It wasn’t long before the Healer chose them, and he was kind. They’d be his personal apprentices, his seconds-in-command. He was a bright man-shaped being, with very, very long brown hair and a kind, bearded face. As fledglings—that is to say, angels with more youthful minds, and they’d one day burst into full maturity at God’s Will—they were eager to help, to please. Corviel was stronger than he, but Raphael positively lit up when Juviel sang the Lord’s Praise. Raphael even, when the time came, helped them groom molting wings.

(Corviel and Juviel had the exact same molting cycles. If it weren’t for their differing eye colors and their freckles and dimple placings, they’d be the exact same person.)

When Raphael set off to the Void, the vast and empty space from whence God had emerged, the twins followed. Out there, in the cold and dark, they transformed. Raphael’s hair had to be braided back, tight at the sides and melding into a thick, long braid reaching just past his posterior. His angelic robes grew thicker in layers, the sleeves fully covering his arms, the skirts hiding his feet. Six great, white wings flapped strongly as he pushed himself further into the Void. Corviel and Juviel made sure they covered themselves the same way, and did up each other’s hair in elaborate and functional braids. Two pairs of wings each, stretching powerfully from either back, and the wings they periodically had emerged just behind their ears and folded to keep that particular fleshy bit of their bodies warm.

And so began the star mongering. Raphael showed Corviel how to produce the required elements for stars, the hydrogen and the helium hanging like pale, translucent clouds in the Void. Then he showed her how to gather the elements, the swirling beauty of the strange, impossible colors coming together, molding into a perfect sphere in their hands, compressing it into a hardball of gas. When Raphael deemed it ready, he even showed Corviel how to ignite it, and showed her that she had to back away after she ignited it.

When the star exploded, it burst into light. Corviel laughed at the sheer delight of it, and Raphael smiled at them both and then lead Juviel to the next assigned location to show him, too, and Juviel whooped and cheered when he managed to do it completely on his own in his excited haste.

Undoubtedly, Juviel was better at the star mongering.

As it turned out, Corviel was better at the Healing.

When the War begun, Raphael had had an argument with Gabriel and Michael and all the archangels. Corviel and Juviel had waited in the hall, in uncomfortable seats, and watched their fellow angels sprint past holding holy spears and flaming swords in the like, trying to place their armor as they went. Juviel could hear screaming. He wasn’t sure if it was from the arguing archangels or the angels fighting the War.

They didn’t know how long the argument lasted. Long enough that angels they’d seen leave were escorted back wounded severely. One had to, after all, pass this door to get to the infirmary. All the healers in the infirmary were packed to the gills with injured and dying angels, and the Healer was busy having a row with his siblings. Juviel was queasy, yes, and a lot less so than his twin.

Corviel set up camp in the hallway, and healed angels when they passed to go to the infirmary. Juviel helped where he could, and stepped away when his panic began muffling his twin’s orders, and then they were pulled away and up into the once-dark Void by Raphael.

“You will both stay here,” he said grimly and, with a wave, there was a platform, three walls surrounding it, a roof. An open box for them. Inside, Juviel could see the first makings of a nest. He realized, vaguely, this was Raphael’s nest. “I have to assist my brethren in the War, but you are too young. Stay here until I or Uriel come to retrieve you, and only if it is myself or Uriel, do you understand?”

Juviel took a moment to take in his mentor: hair all undone, wispy in the non-gravity of the Void, half-covering his face. His beard was still trim as ever, but there was a raggedness to his face, as though he were the most tired being in existence. His hands slightly shook. He had moved his half-made nest into the Void and invited them both in as a means of protection.

He looked to Corviel, next. She was covered, to the elbows, in holy blood. Her face was spattered and smeared with it. Her red locks were matted with it. She was well and truly shaken, pushed to her limits. The Healer’s apprentice as ever. When she looked to him, a shock ran through Juviel.

He was trembling. It wasn’t from the cold.

“We understand,” Corviel said, voice a rasp in the vacuum. Then, in a blink, she was no longer covered in the angelic blood of their Host, and she dragged Juviel into the box by his elbow.

And then Raphael nodded solemnly at them, and there was neither smile nor youth in his face, and he was gone.

The nest was, indeed, half-made. It smelled of things that didn’t yet exist but Juviel recognized it anyway: Raphael. If God was their Mother, he figured, Raphael must’ve been sort of like their father.

He and Corviel curled around each other in the nest, his face tucked against his twin’s shoulder and her nose buried in his hair, and they waited a long, long time.

Molts were the only real tell of time. They went through five of them before anyone came back to them, and the nest became steadier, fatter with each molt, eight wings’ worth of feathers at a time.

It was Uriel who came for them, not Raphael. Corviel stood, helped Juviel steady himself on shaky legs, held his hand for a few moments as they watched her near. She no longer wore her hair in long braids; instead, it was cut close, short and twining in itty bitty dark spirals. Her glorious white wings flared and she stopped just outside their box. Corviel squeezed his hand and stepped out of the nest to meet her at the edge of their box.

“We’re leaving?” Corviel asked, voice aquiver.

“Yes,” Uriel replied, voice firm and unbroken. “The Healer needs his Winged Serpent and his Holy Staff.”

Apparently there was a warmonger, a new and unusual thing. It destroyed everything in its path with no sense of remorse, angels and Fallen alike. The bodies were piling up in the infirmary, even as Raphael rushed to help everyone he could reach. Juviel swallowed down the squeamishness and got to work.

By the end of the War, Juviel and Corviel lead a company of angels together. Corviel lead them out on the field, and Juviel was the best there was at strategizing. He earned the respect of the archangels the hard way, better late than never. Even as he mapped out enemy territory, dressed in grey as not to alert the Fallen as he flew overhead, he was beating back enemies who he’d known once. Even as he created the first map, even as he thought up the most brilliant of strategies, he was growing and changing into something that could handle violence.

Juviel grew venomous fangs and had eyes for darkness. Being in Fallen territory so often for such long periods of time would do that. It’s why many of the demons that clawed their way back up from the Pit were unrecognizable from there counterparts of Before. He was better in close combat than Corviel, who fought with Raphael’s actual holy staff. During times of rest, she would morph into a slithering, crawling thing and wrap around the staff and Juviel would join her.

When the War ended, Corviel and Juviel were gifted sashes. Green across the left shoulder of their robes and golden across the right. Corviel got a medal pinned on her green sash for bravery and courage on the field and Juviel got a medal pinned onto his golden sash for his War-winning strategies and maps.

Their sashes, nowadays, simply stayed on separate hooks in Raphael’s quarters, on one of the walls adjacent to the nest. Following the War, Raphael took them aside and placed both of them in his nest and had them unfold their wings. He groomed Corviel’s, then Juviel’s, leaving them pliant and exhausted afterward. When they’d gotten their rest, they had Raphael turn his back and reciprocated.

“Are we a family, Raphael?” Corviel asked, combing through the primary right wing.

Raphael took a few moments to ruminate. “I do suppose. You have, after all, built into my nest. I’d call you my own fledglings if you were still young enough to be considered so.”

When he smiled, it didn’t reach his eyes. Guilt and shame hid behind his expression, and Juviel didn’t know whether it was from the War in general or something he’d done or said during.

When the Earth was finished—for God had worked on throughout the whole War—Juviel was among the first to volunteer. A seraph leading the charge set off the first spark, and principalities and cherubim were suddenly toppling over themselves to gain his attention. Corviel told him it was mostly because of his looks, partially because of his status.

Either way, Juviel was getting out of Heaven.

*****

Earth and the Garden of Eden were unlike anything Juviel had ever experienced. It was the most freeing, the most awfully, wonderfully unique thing he got to witness upon its very first days.

Adam and Eve were kind and strong, and they often shouted for him to come off the Eastern Gate. Usually, it was just to talk. Sometimes, they had questions—Eve lead that front, really—and Juviel was made to stop and think very deeply to find an answer. Sometimes he didn’t even have answers to the questions. Sometimes they just wanted to hear him sing, and left him be to sing up on the wall surrounding Eden.

It lasted seven days. Seven glorious, God-given days, and then Juviel was near struck by lightning, and Gabriel was all but shoving him out of the way to get to the first man and woman.

Juviel was told by Gabriel, afterward, that they’d eaten the forbidden fruit, the fruit of knowledge. That Gabriel could sense a demonic presence in the Garden, still, and that Adam and Eve were being kicked out of paradise. He left to Heaven, leaving Juviel with the order to find and eliminate the demon still in Eden. Juviel watched Adam and Eve find the horizon for a long while, then turned and floated down into the now-empty Garden.

But Juviel didn't know what he was looking for. All he knew was that Adam and Eve had been kicked out of Eden by a demon who'd gone undetected up until Gabriel had shown up, and he'd been assigned to find and, at the very least, discorporate the foul fiend.

Eden didn't have very many hiding places. He didn't know it was possible for something that was supposed to be so out of place to remain unseen for so long. He must’ve spent at least half the day searching.

Eventually, Juviel came across a quivering bush. Or, the bush wasn't quivering—something hiding in it was. Maybe the demon, expecting his imminent demise?

Regardless, Juviel pushed aside the bush and leaned down to carefully scoop up the small, shivering pale brown rabbit there, one of its hind legs scarred and mangled. Juviel held the small rabbit close to his chest and petted and shushed it, all the while scouring the Garden of Eden for his hereditary enemy, who he was supposed to have vanquished and smited by now. Lord, Gabriel would be irate.

When Juviel leaned down to peer into the small lake that gathered at the end of the stream that ran through Eden, the rabbit hopped from his arms, making a small splash at the edge of the lake, and then fled, mangled hind leg and all. Juviel stared after it, wondering, and then abruptly ended his search because, really, what kind of a sensible demon would hide under the water?

There was nowhere else to look. Clearly the demon was no longer present in the Garden. He returned to his post above the Eastern Gate of Eden and waited for either Gabriel to yell at him or Raphael to come down, pat him on the back, and tell him better luck next time. Raphael still believed he and Corviel were too young to be fending off the Fallen, even after the War. Juviel didn’t care much to hear it anymore.

And then something moved in his peripheral and Juviel looked away from the horizon where Adam and Eve were disappearing to see a human-shaped being on their hands and knees, trembling and glancing up with tarnished jade eyes through pale eyelashes and hair.

There was a grotesque scar forming on their right knee. Juviel recoiled in shock.

"Oh, my stars," he breathed, pulling up his angelic robes to kneel before the creature. "Are you quite all right?"

When he raised his hands, moving to cup the stranger's face, the being flinched back and snarled a fearsome growl that didn't fully reach. Their heart wasn’t in it, maybe, or they were too wounded to do much damage at all. Juviel wasn’t quite sure he wanted an answer.

"Don't be afraid," Juviel murmured at them. He crept nearer, keeping his hands raised in a more placating manner. "I was trained by the Healer. I won't hurt you."

The being did not flinch away this time, seemed to hum contentedly when Juviel took their face between his hands. Their eyes fluttered closed briefly. Juviel paused, wondering again at this strange being, and then traced one of his hands back to cup the back of their head.

Memories of burning and shrieking and pain flashed through Juviel's mind as though they were his own. He startled slightly, sucking in a quiet breath, but did nothing to scare this poor creature. They slumped a bit forward, forehead coming to rest on Juviel's shoulder, and nothing had felt any more intimate than this. Not he and Corviel hiding in the nest, not grooming, not the way Raphael had held he and Corviel close when they were first Created, nothing.

With his hands still cupping this being's head, Juviel saw more: he saw Gabriel, bloody and battle-worn, and Michael with his spear, he saw dark stone and dark eyes and dark blood seeping out, out, out. He saw grotesquely twisted faces, flies buzzing about, and sterile white, which was worse, so much worse. He saw that this being was generally male-shaped, though with no real connection, and that he was also Fallen.

No sooner than Juviel overturned that particular memory was he grabbed and shoved back brutally. He fell backward, and the force at which his wrist was grabbed and shoved inward caused a definite break. His head slammed against the stone wall. He cut off his own yell of pain, biting his tongue, and took a deep breath. The crack at the back of his cranium and the break in his wrist healed after only a moment of concentration, and only then did he realize he could hear quiet puffs of panicked breath not too far from where he'd been laid out.

The being—a demon, Juviel recalled vaguely—was hunched over himself, breaths wheezing too quick, much too quick. Despite the apprehension, he made it back onto his feet, walked the few steps toward the demon, and crouched back down. He was very slow and kept his hands in sight when he brought them down to pet back the demon's pale hair. It was surprisingly soft, if a little matted by sweat, and he shushed and murmured to the demon.

"I'm not mad," he whispered, settling up onto his knees to pull the demon close, into his arms, against his chest. "I'm not. There's no reason to fear. I didn't mean to do what I did, I know you didn't mean what you did either. It's all right. Look, I'm fine. And I would never intentionally hurt someone or something that doesn't mean to hurt me. I'm not spiteful."

And he wasn’t. He wasn’t spiteful and arrogant as Gabriel, who’d favored his own strategies over Juviel’s during the War, he wasn’t glorious as God like Michael, who went into the War most times with nothing but his hands. He wasn’t even passive as Raphael, who fought in secret, who kept a tight-lipped frown on his face these days.

When the demon's breath finally calmed to quiet, shaky inhales and whooshing hoots of exhales, Juviel said, "I'm called Juviel. Can you tell me your name?"

The demon looked up at him with wide, very green eyes and brows seemingly furrowed by frustrated despair. His mouth went wobbly, and he made a broken sort of squeaking noise, then fumbled his way over something Juviel didn't catch any of. He waisted patiently as the demon let out sounds that were incomprehensible together. Then, growling defeatedly, he stammered, "Zzzz... eeee." He huffed. "Z-eee."

"Zee?" Juviel said lightly, eyebrows raising at the still-shaking demon. "You'd like to be called Zee for now?"

Zee nodded solemnly, even though his lip was still doing that wobbling thing, as though the very idea of being called Zee was the most disgusting and grotesque name he could think to call himself.

"Well, that's all right, then." Juviel pulled away, settling back on his heels. Zee watched him with those wide jade eyes. "I think we'll be good together, bunny."

The blush that lit up Zee's face was nothing short of wonderful. It was a shame, then, that he felt the need to transform back into a small rabbit and flee.

*****

In a different world, a different universe, Juviel would be called Crowley and he’d be more serpent than anything.

In this universe, he was a demon, and he stood alongside an angel with a slightly familiar face at the End of the World. He’d not really remember his twin in the universe, let alone wonder what she was doing. He’d call the angel just that—angel—and nobody, nobody, would give a damn, because he and his angel were free now.

But, for now, Juviel would wake upon daylight feeling as though he’d come out of a pleasant dream and not remember the mysterious angel’s name, even if it was on the tip of his tongue.

He set about in the small gathering of humans, and got to work.

*****

It happened when Juviel went back upstairs to file reports.

He’d already done the filing bit. He’d sat at the little desk and filled out the whole packet, ignoring Gabriel’s glare the whole time. Then, feeling a little heartsick, went to the nest to see how his twin and Raphael were fairing.

“—not my fault!” Raphael was saying. Juviel waited outside the door and decidedly did not eavesdrop. “I didn’t know what Gabriel was planning, and it’s not like I didn’t try to help him.”

“Yes, that’s the thing, Raphael!” Corviel shouted back, and Juviel felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, almost as though he could feel the way his sister’s feathers stood on end. “You didn’t try hard enough! You’re older and stronger than Gabriel, for God’s sake. Michael didn’t even know about it, meaning you didn’t tell her about it, which I told you to do—more than once! Right now, there is a demon on Earth who was once angel brutalized come twice brutalized by both sides, and you neglected to tell anyone about—!”

“I tried, Corviel!” Raphael shouted desperately, and Juviel stepped away from the door at the raw shame in his voice. “With Lucifer Fallen, I was weakened, or should I remind you that he was my twin as you are Juviel’s. Should Juviel Fall, you would feel that same tarnish, that rot, and—”

“DO NOT CHANGE THE SUBJECT!” Corviel shrieked. Juviel flinched. “The leader of one of Michael’s platoons was brainwashed and beaten so badly, he couldn’t stand the touch of his own kind, got sick at the mere notion of us trying to Heal him. Then, instead of telling Michael, you tell Gabriel, which puts you at fault, because Michael won’t even look at me, let alone speak to me outside of required situations. So you not only neglected to tell the General of the Heavenly Host, you also neglected to tell that angel’s superior officer. Who knows what would happen now if Michael got wind of this, Raphael? Did you ever think of the consequences?”

Juviel didn’t hear anymore. He’d turned and fled upon hearing footsteps near the door.

He didn’t think about what Raphael and Corviel were talking about, and didn’t want to think about what would happen if he’d gotten caught not-eavesdropping.

*****

About a year before God sent down the Flood, Juviel stumbled into Mesopotamia and knew, immediately, that something was wrong.

The dirt-packed streets were littered with wandering merchants and small goatherds, and Juviel tugged his off-white headscarf further over his distinct red hair and ducked his head a little when he saw a smallish figure stumbling-limping-shuffling up the street with little but his tattered grey robes and dirtied face and hands and feet, fingers intertwined with each other in the posture of a regular beggar.

He was not a regular beggar. He was a demon from Hell, and Juviel didn’t like that he recalled Raphael and his twin’s argument when he saw the being tripping over his own feet and falling into loose mud.

Zee’s presence also explained the vast majority of sin happening in Mesopotamia now, really. He staggered his way clumsily up the streets in torn fabric and covered in dirt, hands locked together as he stopped before strangers and pushed out a weak, broken, “Pl-ea-se. Pl-ea-se.”

Nobody knew what he was pleading for, but it was clear what happened when someone interacted with him. If they chose to ignore him, sneer at him and keep walking, they’d be damned to Hell for not assisting a stranger, for not helping thy neighbor. If someone stopped to help Zee, they would be damned anyway by giving into temptation to aid a being from Hell. It was genius.

It was also, unnervingly, very sad.

An omen wandering the streets, and he hadn’t even intended to become one. What a strange, unbearable thought. Juviel had not choice but to not get involved; this was undoubtedly his adversary, and being caught in cahoots with him would result in… something. Juviel didn’t want to figure out what, exactly, so he kept his distance and watched Zee plead for some human comfort from afar with a cold ache in his chest.

Juviel went unnoticed for three long, lonely days. Even then, he had to out himself. Someone, on the fourth day, had taken to violence with Zee and, regardless of his race and the fact that he was Juviel’s hereditary enemy, the seraph couldn’t let it stand, not if he could do something about it. He discarded the headscarf in his hurry, it having caught on something as he made a break for it. The small gathering of humans—three or four of them—were surrounding Zee on all sides, two of them having shoved him to the ground.

They, all four of them, were swinging their legs, kicking Zee, helpless on the ground as he was.

Juviel shoved through one and another, got kicked in the shin for his trouble—which, he noticed, blocked that one from catching the demon in the face—and stood between the humans and the demon. He said no words, gave no warning of be not afraid in a voice booming as the horns of Rapture, just stood, slightly crouched, and sneered and glared. The humans had the gall to look slightly offended, but turned and left with no more than spittle flying and hitting Juviel in the cheek.

The angel took a deep breath, heaving, eyes closed, and a simple miracle erased the spit and ensured the four men would have the worst months of their lives. That done, Juviel turned to the demon on the ground.

Lying feebly on the hard-packed dirt, Zee was curled around himself, facing mostly downward, his arms around his head. He was trembling too hard for Juviel not to be concerned but, after a few halfhearted tries, he didn’t lift his head, respond, or even stop his vigorous quivering. The seraph knelt, then got his hands beneath him to fully seat himself on the dirt, crossing his legs. Zee’s breath came ragged, and shivers washed over him in waves at a time.

“Zee,” he called again, voice gentle but shaking, just a little. “Zee, it’s—”

The demon let out a soft cry which his arms muffled, and Juviel flinched at the long-suffering pain behind it. There were bruises quickly forming on what was visible of Zee’s body.

So Juviel sat there patiently, hushing and murmuring quietly to the demon, keeping his hands in sight and to himself the whole while. It was a long time before he was able to coax Zee from hiding, but he never stopped shaking. He was very clearly terrified, but the weight that was settled heavy over the demon’s shoulders gave Juviel the impression that this hadn’t been the first time Zee had experienced this level of cruelty.

“There you are, bunny,” he cooed fondly when wide, pleading jade eyes met tawny ones.

Zee surged forward, burrowed into Juviel’s arms, and began to quietly weep. Juviel hummed empathetically, rubbing small circles into his supposed adversary’s back. As Zee buried is face into the angel’s shoulder more firmly, he couldn’t held but wonder.

How many times had Zee been beaten, ridiculed, ignored? How many had kicked Zee into the dirt and left him, and then how many had seen him like this and stood by and neglected him? How many times had Zee been fooled into backhanded kindness from someone who’d been hurting him before? Why Zee, of all creatures?

The questions soared. They were giving Juviel a headache.

“You think you can stand, bunny?” he asked. Zee was all but collapsed onto him at this point. The demon sniffed, keened, shifted, and then whined. “It’s all right, don’t worry about it. Here, let me just…”

Juviel got one hand beneath Zee’s knees and his back, cautious that there would be definite bruises there, and stood, hefting the demon easily. Zee’s dirt-stained face was streaked from his tears, his expression uncertain as it ever was, too-green eyes very wide and lip tremoring. His face, Juviel noticed now, was sallow and gaunt. It didn’t fit right. Zee was too light was a being of their nature.

Juviel carried him back to the hovel at the edge of the village of Mesopotamia that’d mysteriously and seamlessly appeared there one day, and carefully laid Zee out there. The demon seemed unnerved by the small structure, or maybe that there was really only one main exit and entrance of note. When Juviel lit his sesame seed oil lamps, Zee jolted hard enough that Juviel had to readjust him as not to be pressing onto a bruise. On his way past, the central pit of the hovel simply lit itself aflame.

It should be mentioned that whoever performed this miracle was ambiguous.

Juviel didn’t particularly have a bedframe, per se, but his mattress was nice, as were his linen blankets. He laid Zee out there, pulled the linens up to the demon’s chin, and then pulled over the small wooden stool he often pulled outside to watch humans go about their mornings. He sat carefully, very much aware of Zee’s eyes fixed, unblinking, on his bumbling form, and watched the fire for a few moments.

“I’m taking you to a nice river nearby in the morning to clean you up,” Juviel said carefully. “That might put you a little back into sorts, yeah?”

Zee didn’t respond, just shifted slight and hissed in pain. Juviel pushed away his stool and sat on the floor instead, just beside the mattress. He moved slowly and deliberately, keeping his hands in sight, and reached up to brush back Zee’s mousy white-brown hair. There was a nasty bruise taking shape around the demon’s right eye, and his lip was split, and Juviel hovered his hand over them. The bruise and the lip healed within a few seconds of gentle attention.

“All right, bunny?” he checked when he pulled his hand away.

Zee moved like a viper, grabbing Juviel’s retreating hand with both of his own. His eyes were wide, begging. “Pl-ea-se,” he choked, tears gathering at the corners of his big jade eyes.

Juviel pressed his hand back into Zee’s downy soft hair and paid close attention as the demon relaxed into the mattress. The seraph coaxed the demon into sleep with a hand in his hair and kept it there even after he’d fallen into unconsciousness.

Then, the angel watched over the demon into the night.