Chapter 1: in the beginning
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.
Chapter 2: to the world and to history, we offer a toast
A look into our odd pair's history, and a littler further into what the future just might hold.
(Look in notes for warnings.)
slavery and the accompanying cruelty
Viking ship prisoners, graphic descriptions of squalor,
mentions of blood, death, illness,
mentions of burnt skin
brief mentions of religious sacrifice
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Getting to the river was a long, complicated ordeal which was only long and complicated because Zee’s knee actually gave out halfway through and he refused to be carried. Eventually, he did relent, and Juviel carried him easily across scalding desert to the oasis he’d found not long ago.
Then there was the matter of getting Zee to disrobe and bathe. Juviel had more of a struggle with this than the demon’s stubbornness to be carried.
“You can’t just hop in the river in your clothes,” he protested gently. Zee made a complaining noise that sounded a bit like why not in its intonation. “Well, for one, I was hoping to clean and mend your clothes and, two, you can’t fully bathe with your clothes on! You won’t get all the nooks and crannies, bunny.”
Zee huffed, lips pursed, and red rose up against the apples of his cheeks. He crossed his arms and turned away. It would’ve had more effect had he not still been cradled in Juviel’s arms.
“If it makes you feel any better,” the seraph offered slowly, “I’ll bathe with you.”
It took at least a few moments, but then they were both naked and in the river. Juviel shuddered and released a sigh of relief in the rushing water, and his two pairs of wings manifested from their hiding place in the ether. He stretched them out, groaning, and then ducked his head beneath the surface of the river. When he resurfaced, pushing thick locks of red away from his face, Zee stood as still as he could in the hip-deep water, eyes wide, face concerningly blank.
“Oh, my wings?” Juviel asked tentatively. Zee’s eyes flickered down to meet the seraph’s, almost confirming. “Haven’t groomed them in a while, I don’t think, so I’m sorry if they’re a bit messy.” The demon gave little cringe, but his face smoothed out immediately into something neutral and unassuming. “…I don’t suppose you’d like to have your wings groomed, bunny?”
Then, just as quick as he’d been in the river, Zee was scrambling out of as fast as he was able, pulling himself painstakingly onto the bank in a state of panic. Then he was shrugging into his dirt-colored frock and stumbling away.
Juviel didn’t follow him.
The next day, he was ordered to leave Mesopotamia.
A year later, the Flood wiped out all of humanity. That is, all of humanity except Noah and his wife and kin and their family. And, unbeknownst to everyone save for one single angel and the demon responsible, more or less twenty children of varying ages.
But that’s neither here nor there.
Pharaoh Khufu was a genius.
That is to say, he would’ve been, if one of his strongest slaves wasn’t so eerily familiar-looking.
Juviel had been sent to Egypt on Gabriel’s order, which was… stupid, really, which he’d made sure Gabriel was aware. He’d still, undoubtedly, ended up in Egypt, which just so happened to be where he needed to be, as it turned out. He was conversing with the Pharaoh, talking adjustments and all, mathematics, the like. Then he’d turned out to look at the pyramid under construction and stopped dead when he heard more than saw a whip cracking down.
The slave fell to his knees, face drawn in sharp pain as he collapsed, but Juviel heard not a peep from that opened mouth.
“Oh, you see,” Khufu said, almost admiringly. “Anubis sent a beast for this project. He is as strong as thirty men. He will get back up in a few moments.”
“What do you call this, erm… beast?” Juviel asked, eyebrows drawn. He didn’t look at the pharaoh.
“Prince of Death,” the pharaoh said appraisingly. “He cannot speak in a language the mortals understand. All the slaves around him call him the Omen.”
“Do you ever, hm…” Juviel cleared his throat, which was suddenly very, very dry as the being in the sand scrabbled onto unsteady feet and was outfitted with a rough harness of rope that was connected to one huge block of sandstone. “Do you ever let him rest? Feed him, give him water? It might appease the gods.”
Khufu hummed thoughtfully. “He’s only ever worked tirelessly. Everyone around him drops dead even while he keeps standing. I think a fourth of my pyramid was done by him alone.”
Juviel’s heart sunk. In the distance, a large group of slaves worked with contraptions to move the sandstone blocks. Zee, all alone, with just his harness and his willpower, heaved step after step through the sand, dragging that huge sandstone block behind like the weight of his damnation.
Was this all he’d ever be subjected to? Pain and slavery and cruelty?
Juviel swallowed, and turned to Khufu. “I’d like to implore you to let him rest, just for this one night. If you don’t wish to, I’m prepared to pay a very large sum in gold, and he will rest in my very own guest chambers.”
This plan worked. Juviel watched from his balcony as slaves began laying down to rest in the cool sands all around, eating their bread and drinking their beer. As the demon below began tethering himself to another sandstone block, one of the king’s advisors came to him, took him by the elbow, and lead him away, toward the pharaoh’s palace. When Juviel saw Zee’s jade green eyes, he disappeared into the chambers he was allowed here.
He prepared a warm bath and new linen clothes, sent for one of the palace servants to get fruit and wine for he and his guest.
Juviel had just finished lighting the Dendera lamps in his chambers when Zee was lead inside. The pharaoh’s advisor bowed curtly and left, and Zee staggered forward, narrowly catching himself on the wall. Juviel moved across the room and easily lifted up the demon, carrying him over to the stool beside the bathtub t sit him down.
“I don’t know how you got to be in this situation, bunny,” he said carefully, helping Zee out of his tattered cloth and then to sit in the bathtub. “I plan to get you out before dawn, do you understand?”
Zee blinked sluggishly at him, sitting very still in his bath, and then turned his gaze around the chambers. Juviel could see sand crusted over his demon’s face and eyelids. It hurt his heart a little bit more. He tipped Zee’s head back, and the demon let out a soft, aborted little noise of panic. Juviel shushed him and chattered quietly as he cupped his hands into the bath water and brought it over Zee’s scalp just so. He massaged his hands through the slightly overgrown, dusty brownish curls. His hair was less downy with weight and held a bit more full curl, and it’d become dark with lack of washing.
It took Juviel three minutes to fully wash the sand and dirt out, leaving his demon with thoroughly wetted-down white-gold curls. It curled around his ears and tailed outward at the back of his neck. Juviel got to work on cleaning his demon’s face.
Ears, check. Cheeks, forehead, chin, nose. Juviel carefully and deliberately instructed a half-asleep Zee how to wash his eyes as to not get any water in them or any sand further in them, and then helped his demon wash the rest of his body and get out of the miraculously draining bathtub. It took them some time to figure out dressing after Juviel got Zee dried off, but the demon was eventually clothed in soft, sand-colored linens.
“Sit down for a while and eat and drink, regain some energy,” Juviel said. “I’ll watch over you. We’ll leave before sunrise, bunny.”
Zee ended up sleeping for a while, even, but they did leave before sunrise. Juviel wouldn’t return to Egypt for at least another thousand years.
An oasis… somewhere…
“We really need to get you a better means of communicating.”
Jade eyes looked up at him imploringly. The demon floated lazily in the small lake, being watched by the angel on a nearby sun-warmed stone, and nodded despairingly.
“You know we’ve been on Earth two and a half thousand years and I’ve barely heard you able to utter more than yes or no or please?” Juviel sighed grimly. “Anything longer than one syllable is out of the question for you right now and that makes me… I don’t know. Upset? It should be making you more upset than it is me, but you’ve had a long two-thousand-five-hundred years or more to accept it. I only ever see you every once in a while, bunny.”
Zee disappeared beneath the lake and resurfaced at the bank, sitting cross-legged in wet sand. Juviel cringed and laughed when his demon made an indignant squalling sound upon realizing wet sand was less than comfortable in certain areas of their corporations. The demon backtracked and simply stood, semi-weightless, in the lake.
“What?” Juviel asked, leaning forward on his big, smooth rock. A slow, bright grin lit up Zee’s face, and the seraph felt it was more infectious than anything the humans could ever catch. “What is it? No, seriously, what’s all the glee about, bunny?”
Zee turned in a slow circle in the lake. Then, he cupped his hands into it and brought up palmfuls of trickling water. “Wha-tur,” he annunciated carefully. Then, after plopping the cupped water back into the lake with a gentle splash, he said, “Bun-nnee.” Then, he pointed to Juviel and smiled and said, “Anj-gel.”
Juviel felt a bright thing ignite in his chest. He laughed jovially, and Zee giggled with him.
“Ju-vee-el,” Zee said, slowly and determinedly, and not a single letter was out of place. He smiled so brightly, it rivalled the sun.
“Yeah, bunny,” Juviel managed through a smile. “I think we can manage a little teaching, you and I. Now, get out before you get all pruned up.”
You know what happens.
They were crucifying the Son of Christ.
Juviel sought out Mary first, comforted the mourning mother, and then she went to a figure dressed in the color of the sands and stood next to him. Her demon was sniffling, keening softly, wiping his eyes profusely. She didn’t blame him.
“From the Lord He came,” she said solemnly, “to the Lord He shall now return.”
“He was…” Zee sniffed again, then turned to her and leaned his head heavily on her shoulder. “…nice. Nice to me.”
“I know, darling,” she cooed. “Oh, I know. He told everyone to be kind. It goes to show He set the finest of examples. I take it you knew Him?”
“Hell assigned,” Zee managed. His words and sentence structure was getting increasingly better, but it was still a sizable obstacle to overcome. “Tempted. Showed the world. He said no.”
“Mm,” Juviel hugged her demon. “Did you know his disciples, as well?”
Zee wrinkled his nose. Juviel hummed very quietly in agreement.
“Smelly,” Zee said.
“Oh, yes,” Juviel agreed. “Judas in particular was a bit of a wanker, I think.”
“Yes.” Zee sniffed again, looked up with watery green eyes. “Pretty.”
“Thank you, Zee,” she said. She liked the female corporation a lot. Women were more relaxed around her, more likely to take her word for truth and without fear. She understood why Corviel liked it so much.
Her demon made a small noise of dissent, face turned down. “No.”
“No?” She looked at him properly. He was… a bit of a mess, really. Had Hell been mistreating him? “What do you mean no? No to what, love?”
The demon shifted uncomfortable. There was a stark shadow on his face from one of the crucifixes. “Name. Not Zee.” He made a soft sound, cleared his throat. “Zzz-eer-f-al. Ziirfal.”
Ziirfal. Juviel looked down at her demon, eyebrows having risen. “Closer to your name than before? That’s very good, bunny. I think we should find an inn to rest, now, this much sun isn’t good for you.”
They’d learned this the hard way, way back after Giza when she and the demon had escaped. Ziirfal’s skin had gone red and flaked awfully.
With nothing else to see and nothing else to say, Ziirfal nodded his assent, grabbed onto Juviel’s sleeve, and allowed her to lead him away from Jesus of Galilee.
Somewhere on the Seven Seas
Juviel was very much aware that this Viking ship, in particular, had very precious cargo.
Yes, a very precious cargo, indeed. Very occult in matter, if Juviel wasn’t mistaken, which made the Vikings very dangerous, and so Juviel addressed the captain of the Ave Maria and asked that he be able to check belowdecks when they took the enemy ship down. The captain, seeing nothing wrong with this, agreed.
When the sailors of the Ave Maria boarded the ship of the Vikings, a lot of the Vikings threw themselves overboard or fell on their swords. Juviel marched determinedly passed all this and climbed belowdecks to see… filth.
A fairly large keep of prisoners, covered in their own filth and blood, some of them ill, some dying, and only one of them was chained to the ship’s walls inside the crowded cells. Juviel, unsurprisingly, knew this one.
With a wave of his hand, the cell doors unlocked. Less ill humans fled passed, shoving each other out of the way to get to the light. Others crawled through the dirt and scarce hay and filth. Juviel marched forward, to the crouched being with arms clutched close to his chest.
Two heavy, very blessed cuffs encircled his wrist, and an equally blessed collar lay fitted to his throat.
Juviel lifted his hand and they dropped. Ziirfal’s face was drawn tight and he let out nary more than a quiet, pitiful whimper when the metal, seared to his skin, fell away. Juviel crouched beside his demon just as he collapsed, and kissed his head, and waited for all the humans to abandon the keep. When none more waited, Juviel climbed up onto the deck of the Viking ship, threw a disappearing miracle around himself and his demon, and drew his wings out.
With Ziirfal held in his arms, he flew to the nearest inhabited island, found an inn there, and waited very, very patiently for Ziirfal to wake up. He cleaned up his demon with another careless miracle, and healed him with another, and it was three more days until Ziirfal opened his eyes.
“Jewel,” the demon rasped when he caught sight of the seraph, then grimaced. “No…”
Juviel broke into a soft smile. It wasn’t the first time his demon had made that mispronunciation with his name, and it was a welcome sound, always. “Hello, bunny,” he said. He offered a hand and Ziirfal just held it, light and astoundingly gentle. “You’re lucky I found you. Those Vikings were horrible to you. I’m just sorry I didn’t find you sooner.”
“Not your fault,” his demon reasoned. He licked his lips, grimacing further. Juviel fetched the pitcher of water the maid had delivered that morning, as she did every morning since he’d arrived. He poured his demon a cup, then helped him drink it. “Thank you. I was… scared.”
“Yes?” Juviel set down the water glass and then carefully sat beside Ziirfal on the bed. Ziirfal buried himself into the seraph’s side, hiding his face. “It’s understandable that you’d be scared. I’d have been scared, too, in your situation. For right now, though, you’re safe with me, and you’re going to rest up until you regain your strength. Then we’ll see about taking you to one of the restaurants nearby. Seafood is pretty good when it’s done right, you know.”
No response. A light snore drifted its way up from where Ziirfal was pressed into Juviel’s side.
The angel relented and laid back to rest with him.
Tenochtitlan, the Aztec Empire
When Juviel got there, Ziirfal seemed to be having the time of his life.
The Aztec did, after all, treat their preferred sacrifices well. And, really… Ziirfal seemed to be the preferred sacrifice. He was given tall pitcher after tall pitcher of the spicy-bittersweet xocolatl stuff, and that, as far as the angel knew, was not cheap.
Emperor Tizoc was surprisingly easy to get a word to, and Juviel found himself, very swiftly, having a presence with the ruler. At his request, Tizoc brought in all the sacrifices-to-be, and Ziirfal waved cheerfully when he saw Juviel. Juviel lifted his chin a little, but otherwise ignored his demon. He had an inkling of what was happening, why Ziirfal was so unnervingly cheerful about this.
He spoke with the emperor in the native language of the Aztecs, and asked about how he came across each sacrifice. When it came upon Ziirfal, Tizoc explained, “The gods sent him to us, so it is our duty to send him back.”
“He knows no Nahuatl?” Juviel asked, gesturing vaguely.
“If he knows it, he does not speak it,” Tizoc replied amiably.
“Right, then,” the seraph began, and the emperor looked a bit impressed. “Bunny, do you know the language they speak here?”
“No…?” Ziirfal fidgeted, and the nervousness came crashing down. “Why? What are they planning?”
“You’re a highly preferred sacrifice as of right now, but I believe I can talk them down if they know you understand them. As of right now, they think you are a god, and they think you and I are speaking the native language of their gods.”
“Ah,” his demon said drily. “That’s rather… hm…”
“He’s asking you not send him back,” Juviel said in Nahuatl, addressing the emperor. “The gods would be very displeased if you did. Instead, keep him as an advisor until he chooses to leave. It’s the reason they sent him.”
“Very well,” Tizoc agreed after only a few moments, and Juviel was already scheming of how he could teach Ziirfal Nahuatl. “You will stay with him, yes?”
Oh, that made things so much easier.
“Yes,” Juviel agreed. “Would you have one of your servants show us to our chambers?”
By the time they were both ordered to leave Tenochtitlan, Ziirfal knew how to interpret and even speak a little Nahuatl. Of course, it took him a long time to pull him away due to the xocolatl drink he still much preferred, but eventually Ziirfal went, and he and Juviel went their separate ways.
thank you for reading!! this was originally supposed to be 9k words, but I split it. It'll get much, much angstier in the next chapter, and be warned, it's BAD. I'll put it up when I finish the next planned chapter.
see you again soon!
Chapter 3: to the world and to history, we offer a toast (part deux)
As we progress through our pair's history, a few things need to be understood: the world was not kind to Ziirfal. When he sees someone doing someone else wrong, he is urged to go and fix it, until he's burnt himself out completely. This is the result.
PLEASE LOOK AT THE NOTES BEFORE READING
attempted witch burning and angst at the end
animal/demon cruelty (physical cruelty toward Ziirfal)
discussions of suicide
WWII themes, graphic description of Holocaust victims (multiple times), and technical self-harm
descriptions of healed-over destroyed wings
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
England, I guess
The small village believed Juviel to be a witch, which was downright sexist, it was. She could name more men in this village who practiced so-called “witchcraft” more than women and she wasn’t even properly human!
“I detest this,” she snapped at the witchfinder—a Witchfinder Major in the Witchfinder Army, who’d poked her with his sticky-thingy and then leapt at the chance when she, an angel of God, didn’t feel it. “I don’t dabble in the occult. I am a-a… devout Christian woman and I praise the Lord, my God every morning and every night.”
“Yes, of course,” the Witchfinder Major said. “Step up here, there’s a lass.”
So Juviel was tied to the stake, and just before the villagers put their torches beneath the kindling, a head of white-gold hair appeared in the crowd and climbed the pile of firewood, stunning everyone into silence. Ziirfal hobbled clumsily up, and nearly grabbed onto her bodice when he fell back, but caught himself on the ropes instead. He panted, but gave her a smile despite that.
“That you would doubt my lady wife, a sophisticated woman of this village, when she is telling you the truth is simply…” He punctuated all this with jerking movements as he pulled the ropes off her and pulled her off the stake. “…detestable, and downright disrespectful.”
Juviel had never been happier to see him. She was lead down as though she were something delicate and didn’t have to help this very being to walk half the time. Ziirfal’s words, she noted, were clearer and his voice stronger than they’d ever been before, and he didn’t stumble a single time over three- and four- and five-syllable words at all. They helped steady each other on the grass, and the crowd of villagers parted like the Red Sea, suddenly recalling that, oh, yes, this lady is married to this fine man and they both live here.
“But… she’s a witch!” the Witchfinder squawked indignantly.
“A sophisticated woman,” Ziirfal stated sternly. He brought Juviel’s knuckles to his lips and said privately, “So sorry, my darling. I hadn’t realized you’d been taken.”
So, that said and done, Juviel lead him back to the small cottage she was staying in. She watered the plants in their nooks and crannies when they arrived, and Ziirfal settled himself onto one of the seats by the hearth. She smiled at the domesticity of it.
“There are supposed to be…” Her demon sounded very nervous. He was wringing his hands that way he often did. “Ahem. Well. I’m to be stationed… elsewhere.”
Juviel paused, hiking her skirt up to easier move across the floor. She settled into the only other chair in the room, frowning thoughtfully. “Elsewhere? How far is away is elsewhere, bunny?”
“Uhm. Well, it’s…” Tears welled in his eyes rather quickly, and he didn’t finish that thought. He was still twiddling his fingers, and he refused to look at her. “I’ll be gone a-a… long while, I believe.”
Her heart broke for this sensitive creature before her. Juviel took Ziirfal’s hands, rough-hewn and so strong behind their inherent gentleness, and kissed the palms of each in turn. She tried not to think of their last meeting, how Ziirfal had spoken for an hour without a single tongue-twist, how he’d been so excited to tell her his name, his actual name, how far he’d gotten, how close he’d come before his face had dropped and he’d gone silent as the grave as he told her he didn’t remember.
Again, the cruelty. She squeezed her demon’s hands and let them drop.
“We’ll see each other again,” she said. There was more confidence in her voice than she felt in her chest. “We’re immortal, bunny. It’s not like we’ll never encounter each other again. In fact, knowing my side, they’ll send me your direction within the decade, give or take.”
Heaven did not send her to wherever Ziirfal was stationed.
She went anyway.
The circus was a fairly new thing, and Corviel had come down from Heaven to witness it.
Personally, Juviel had never seen something like this, but it was only eight years old by now. It’d quickly spread in popularity, at least in France, and now there were smaller performances in the streets, and some in canvas tents. Juviel took his twin to one of the canvas tent circuses, and hoped everything would go all right.
The tent was crowded and dark and smelled of sweat and horseshit. Juviel couldn’t help but laugh at his sister when the smell hit her. She was not, after all, above the senses and weaknesses of the corporeal form. In the stands surrounding the ring, people were piling in like… like something packed very tightly in the dark. Juviel had no comparison to make yet.
The tent darkened, and then a spotlight on the ringmaster. Juviel translated to his twin as he spoke.
“Welcome to the circus,” he whispered, “I am your ringmaster. Tonight, we have a very special performance to share, and there will be a big surprise waiting for you at the end. I now introduce to you the Lady of the Sky.”
The first act was an aerialist woman, and people gasped and applauded at her daring and lack of skin-coverage. When she swooped by overhead, Corviel whooped and hissed, “She’s flying like we can!”
“Humans are the most innovative creatures sometimes,” he chuckled back.
Further into the show, and Juviel was very much enjoying Corviel’s company, but he wished there was a certain demon he could share this with. No sooner did he think that did the ringmaster reappear.
“This is our last act.” He watched as a large… box-shaped thing on wheels was rolled into the ring. It was covered in a large tarp to maintain the surprise. Something odd bubbled in Juviel’s chest. “We present… the lion-tamer.”
The tarp was torn away. A lion, indeed, sat cowering in the cage, and the crowds jeered. Corviel made a confused noise. Juviel was frozen to his seat as he watched the ringmaster open the cage door and then back out of the ring very quickly.
Ziirfal was recognizable in most forms. Juviel knew most of them. The lion, he had not known before tonight.
He stood, grabbing onto Corviel’s hand, and then escaped the stands with her. His twin sputtered and protested, yelled about the lion-tamer, the ringmaster, the angel-humans. Juviel lead the way out of the tent and around the back. He stopped near the makeshift backstage area, where performers and acts were settling down and relaxing before final call.
“I see your point, Corviel, I do,” he whispered, staring his sister in the eyes, “but that’s not a lion.”
Corviel blinked. “What do you mean it’s not a lion?” she growled frustratedly. “What else could it be, brother?”
He kept her gaze, unblinking. “I mean,” he said through gritted teeth, “it’s not a lion.”
Then he turned on his heel, trying to ignore the crescendo of loud, jeering cheers from inside, and stalked up to the performers. His twin followed like a shadow.
“Where’d this caravan get its lion?” he asked in French because, really, why would he be so stupid as to speak to them in something other than French?
The performer shrugged nonchalantly. “Somewhere in America. The ringmaster knows.”
He sucked a breath in through his teeth, returned to his place where his twin was hanging back, and waited.
There was a lot of waiting in general. So long, Corviel got twitchy. Never an empty moment in Heaven. Down here on Earth, Juviel often had long moments of nothingness. More than five thousand years of watching progress would instill a deep patience within someone. Comparatively, humans were so patient for beings with very, very limited lifespans.
Finally, he stood up straight and watched as the cage was rolled out, uncovered. Just as the ringmaster was having circus hands put the tarp back on, Juviel grabbed his sister and made a break toward the cage.
“Do not!” he warned in French tongue. The hands and ringmaster alike stopped and stared. Juviel stopped before the cage, fiddling with the locks, and watched a very sullen and pained lion peep from between paws. “This is a creature of God. I cannot stand by and watch you harm him.”
Corviel performed a miracle and the cage door swung open. Ziirfal mewled softly.
“You cannot allow a lion to roam the streets of Paris!” the ringmaster protested.
“And I cannot allow a circus to carry on harming an innocent animal,” Juviel spat back.
The lion rose on his haunches. Sure enough, he was sporting a nasty scar on his back right knee joint. The lion limped forward and Juviel held out his arms wide. Ziirfal purred as he nuzzled into the seraph’s face. Juviel petted the lion’s mane and carefully, deliberately stepped away. Ziirfal hopped down, slow and resistant. Then he broke into a slow sprint, still faster than the humans could catch him, and disappeared entirely behind a stall. All the circus humans very suddenly never recalled ever having a lion in their clutches.
A fine-looking chap with slightly outdated and ragged clothes passed by. Juviel took his sister by the arm and fell into step with the familiar limp.
“I do believe you should be checked on,” he said sternly.
Ziirfal sniffed. There were tears at the corners of his jade eyes, but he refused to look at Juviel. “I believe a… meal and a sleep would be in order first,” he answered shakenly, his words precisely and painstakingly spoken.
“You’re right on the first account,” the angel agreed. “I’m only going to let you sleep if I get to check on you first.”
“Brother,” Corviel murmured.
“Oh, yes,” Juviel said. “Corviel, this is Ziirfal, Earth’s very sweet and not damning demon. Bunny, this is Corviel, my twin. I’ve spoken to you about her before, no?”
“You have,” Ziirfal confirmed. He misstepped. Juviel caught him by the arm and righted him.
“Checking on you first,” he said, and there was no room for argument this time. Ziirfal didn’t try, at least.
Later, at the rooms Juviel had reserved, Ziirfal would be sound asleep with his head on his angel’s lap, and Corviel and Juviel would have A Talk.
This Talk would involve the reasoning behind Juviel’s acquaintanceship with a demon, and then, furthermore, the urging of a sister not to tell their superior officer or anyone, really. Each appeased with the other’s arrangements, they’d go their separate ways.
And if Corviel covered for her twin every once in a while, well… That was neither here nor there.
A clandestine meeting spot we will call The Park.
“I am not getting you holy water!”
Ziirfal was looking at something very far away, eyes glistening. Juviel squeezed tightly to the railing of the short fence between the path and the pond and gritted his teeth.
“It would be for the best,” his demon said vaguely, without much emotion at all. “I would stop getting into trouble, you would no longer worry about getting into trouble and whether or not I’m all right at any given moment.”
Juviel gasped, trying to force himself to take in air, dammit. The tears were quickly coming. “Ziirfal, bunny, I am not going to let you do that, you understand? You don’t deserve that. That isn’t the sort of end I’m going to allow God and Her blasted universe to give you.”
Look! he wanted to yell. I’m blaspheming! Smite me! Wake me up! Tell me this is some terrible, horrible nightmare and then let me wake up to a happy, healthy bunny!
“Dear,” Ziirfal said testily, “I am asking you this favor because—”
“And I am denying you this favor,” Juviel interrupted his demon, “because I need you alive, Ziirfal. Because you—” He cut himself off, squeezed the railing, teetered forward. Lowered his voice. Ziirfal’s face was aimed sidelong, now, the closest thing to his gaze Juviel had earned in nearly half a century. “I’m not giving you permanent death,” he ground out, “because you’ve already been through so much, you’ve come so far. I am not going to let my best friend end himself, do you understand? Please, please God, let me be selfish, if nothing else. I won’t hear what else you have to say on the matter, because you know my answer.”
Ziirfal took a deep breath in, turned away again, far away, and let it out. The whistle of his breath was trembling. “Good day, sir,” he said blankly, and then he turned and left.
Juviel stood in a park alone.
A gallery in France, if that’s what it could be called at this point.
The petite women who worked in this gallery were very frightened and some had fallen ill from stress.
They held up under the pressure. Juviel watched them quiver and tear up at every barked order, watched some of them take down the locations of stolen masterpieces in secret. Women, they’d learned, were keen and cunning. Fantastic actresses, and even able to perform beautifully in the face of terror and destruction and genocide.
Juviel would be heading to Auschwitz next in spite of Heaven’s orders not to, they just had to fulfill this order in France first. Just had to make sure this young woman fulfilled her purpose, and then they’d raid the death camps and take down the Nazis themself if they had to.
The train tracks in the middle distance, somewhere close but not overly so, were silent as the grave.
“You are not one of them.”
Juviel jolted at the young woman’s voice. Their assignment. “No,” they answered. “Not in the least.”
“Very good,” she said. She had a thick French accent, but seemed to be very well off in at least two other languages. “I am Rose Valland. I have information on where the stolen pieces are stored. You seem a strong young man. Would you be able to deliver this to the nearest station of allies?”
They carried out their assignment: told her to keep this information and keep collecting it, and to give it to the right man at the right time, no matter how long it took. That night, in the room they’d been offered upon arriving in France, they woke in a cold sweat. It took them more than a few minutes to wonder at why they woke as they did.
Was it a nightmare? Surely not. There were no holy drops of starlight dripping from their eyes, and no eyes sprouting on their hands or arms, no wings fanning out at their back, no glorious crown of gold streaming from behind their head. Maybe the temperature had changed…? No, couldn’t be. That never mattered to their sleeping pattern. Had their hosts…
In the near distance, a quiet chugchugchugchug hummed along oft-unused train tracks. Then, louder, a shrieking steam whistle. The screeching of wheels stopping on the tracks.
A faint hint of demonic influence.
Juviel sprang out of bed and slammed through the house. Their hosts and the children were panicking. People all about the neighborhood were waking up, turning on lights, shuffling out with coats and slippers and robes. Some gaped at the train pulling to a stop on the platform just a street over. Others cried in terror. Some cried in relief.
Juviel sprinted onto the platform and did not stop until they were sure every single person on the trains were off it. They handed out bread from a bag which appeared suddenly over their shoulder, and the bag did not empty no matter how many bread rolls they passed out. They passed canteens to small groups at a time, clean water and fresh, warm bread for all. Stepping out of the head of the train, faint and trembling and sullen, a pale figure in the moonlight. Juviel ignored him for now.
All that mattered, right now, was treating the sick and traumatized and wounded.
And treat they did. Everyone found family or close friends, everyone was cured of unnoticeable ailments—the lice and insect bites and scurvy and stomach sicknesses—and everyone had a place to go home to that night.
Just passed four in the morning, when the platform had cleared, a demon stepped back onto his mysterious train, but an angel thwarted him with a gentle, pleading hand on his wrist.
“Ziirfal,” Juviel started.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” the demon answered automatically, like he’d had so many versions of this very conversation in his own head that it’d become second nature.
Does he even realize he’s talking to me? Juviel thought sadly. Their demon was turned fully away. “Ziirfal… Bunny. I cannot thank you enough for doing what you’ve done, do you understand? Heaven wanted me to stay uninvolved with this. I’ll surely be punished for my miracle usage tonight, but Raphael’s likely to overrule it. I want you to know I’m sorry, and that I’m here for you. I’m always here for you, bunny, even if it’s just for a word of malcontent or a shoulder to cry on or someone to hold your hand or still your fear. Do you understand?”
A miniscule whisper of an inhale, quivering. “I understand, angel.”
He was gone before dawn broke. Coincidentally, so was Juviel.
And if they met in Auschwitz, liberating so many and mourning so many more, and if a demon passed out pendants of the Star of David for hours upon hours, well…
That was neither here nor there, was it?
Soho, London, if missing a certain bookstore on the corner.
Juviel felt it on a cold, cold day in late March. It felt like a shockwave pressed through his body, his home, the city, the country. He had no doubt that, had any other angels been in the area, they’d have felt it, too.
There was no shiver of a nearby demon holding an armful of holy pendants. This was something completely unheard of, trivial and yet stupid and brave and absolutely… petrifying. Juviel had to leave his home immediately and, for the first time in a few hundred years, opened four great wings and took to the sky. He did not have the time for human traffic and music and wheels. This was a matter of ethereal and occult and, while the Bentley was somewhat… alive in her own way, she was not the thing he needed.
Juviel flew in the direction of a demon entering a church. It took him too long to get there.
When he did, his demon stood, gasping, on consecrated ground, the soles of his feet burning. He was just barely holding himself up on the rim of a well of holy water, and black tears unlike any Juviel had ever seen him cry before trickled off his chin in inky dark lines and sizzled on the surface of his doom.
Then Ziirfal tipped forward. Juviel might have stopped time, or might have broken one or two of the laws of physics, or maybe God had pushed him that little bit forward with the nail of Her pointer finger. Either way, Juviel caught his demon around the waist and held him away from the holy water and just off the cold floor. Ziirfal sobbed out, aching, wailing, and begged incoherently for— something. The seraph did not know whether he was getting tongue-tied again or he was speaking pre-Enochian. He did not know what Ziirfal was begging for. He had the distinct feeling that he did not want to know.
Juviel opened his two pairs of wings and lifted both of them off the ground in the church, flew to the door which was— too far away, good Lord. He landed and stumbled out onto the steps, and he staggered the landing. He and Ziirfal landed, sprawled, on the slushy grass outside of the great, crumbling monument these humans called their place of holy worship. His demon screamed.
“Please,” Juviel whispered, pulling Ziirfal close, holding his hands and then the demon himself oh-so-close, trapped tight against his chest on the freezing-slush ground as he wept. “Don’t do this to me, Ziirfal. Don’t leave me alone here. You can’t leave me alone on Earth. I don’t think I’d went to spend a single day more on an Earth you’re not present on.”
“Le’ me go!” Ziirfal’s cried pierced the air like the chill. Juviel did not let up. “Plea-ease!”
“I’m not!” Juviel snapped. He reigned himself in, calmed, and redoubled his hold when Ziirfal’s flailing gained strength. He hissed, baring fangs and a forked tongue he didn’t usually have, and continued. “I’m not letting you do that, bunny, all right? Anything but that, anything except watching you hurt yourself over and over and over until you’ve…”
Ziirfal dissolved into weak whines and regular, clear salty tears which stung at Juviel’s neck as much as the damned ones did. “Jewel, please. I don’t want to… be here, pl-ease.”
“But I want you to be here, dammit!” Juviel sobbed. “Dammit all to Hell! This whole damned Earth and all Her humans can rot, bunny, don’t you see?! I’d take damnation over never being able to see you any day, Ziirfal. You are the most precious being I’ve ever come to know, empathetic and passionate despite the cruelty God dropped on your head, and I-I…”
“You what?!” Ziirfal cried. “Say it! Get it over with already!”
“I love you!”
The revelation shook the Earth’s core. Coinciding with this moment was an earthquake in California that would echo over and over for decades to come, and a man woke from a twenty year coma, and a little girl was cured of cancer before they discovered it. Ziirfal stared at him with very wide, very wet jade-colored eyes and Juviel stared back down with equally-wide, equally-wet tawny-gold eyes that looked very like the slits of a snake’s pupils in this moment, and two heartbeats-that-should-not-be synched up exactly in time with the pick-up of rhythm.
Juviel wrapped lithe arms around his demon, face burning with embarrassment and tears, and lifted him up, and left the church’s courtyard like a married man would carrying his bride. There was silence as Juviel’s wings flung open abruptly and he flew them to a two-story house in Tadfield, Oxfordshire that was currently being lit solely by moonlight.
That night, Juviel didn’t let Ziirfal go home to his cave in Wales. Instead, he kept the demon in his own home, and ran a bath for him, and helped wash and wrap his feet, and fed him, and gave him hot cocoa the way the Aztecs used to make it. They stayed up through the night by the fireplace, tucked close against each other in a soft, warm blanket as soft orchestral music played quietly from Juviel’s gramophone.
When the sun rose on Tadfield, Oxfordshire—a barely-there village that was not yet there but would be one day, most definitely—it was over an angel and a demon who’d fallen asleep with cold, wet hair and a cocoa-mustache, respectively.
A cave somewhere in Wales, or so I’ve mentioned.
“Good morning, bunny!” an angel called from just outside the curtain that separated World from Demon. “How are you doing today? I’ve brought takeaway from that diner you—”
Ziirfal, having not known Juviel would show up this morning, had had no way of warning the angel that two of the Dukes of Hell had popped up to visit and, allegedly, give him a bit of bad news, but they were too busy fussing over him to really deliver the bad news. Instead, he, Hastur, Ligur, and Juviel all froze when the seraph of God—who Ziirfal was not supposed to know the name of, let alone befriend and, dare he say, love—entered his (very humble and modest) abode.
“An angel,” Hastur snarled.
“I mean no harm, boys,” Juviel said, eyes flicking between the two unfamiliar demons over the lenses of rose-colored glasses. “Ziirfal and I’ve known each other a very long time.”
“Z…” Ligur stammered, squinted at Juviel, then swung his gaze to Ziirfal and back. “Ziirfal?! Who the Heaven is that?”
“Uhhh…” Juviel cleared his throat. “It’s… the demon whose cave you’re standing in…?”
“Beastie,” Hastur said adamantly. “You mean Beastie.”
“Oh, stars, that’s what they call you?” Juviel shuddered. “No wonder you stay up here, bunny. My name’s Juviel, I’m Earth’s resident seraph. I’ll do you no harm if you do none to Ziirfal.”
“Be a funny world if demons went ‘round trusting angels,” Ligur said. “And, anyway, Beastie hasn’t given his opinion on any of this.”
He looked Juviel in the eye. The angel held up the Styrofoam box—Ziirfal could smell the chocolate crepes from where he stood. He smiled. Juviel chuckled.
“Bit of a nonverbal day, then,” the seraph guessed correctly.
Ziirfal was altogether nonverbal in front of Hell in general—they didn’t really think he could speak, even after all these years—but, yes, today the words simply wouldn’t come and that was all there was to it.
“We still don’t know what your deal is,” Ligur growled, blocking Ziirfal from Juviel. “But today’s a good day, so we’ll give you a chance to explain yourself.”
“I met Ziirfal in the Garden of Eden on the seventh day,” Juviel began. “He was hurt and scared. We parted ways. I met him again in Mesopotamia almost a thousand years later, and I saved him from being beaten in the street; this wasn’t the last time. He and I have known each other since the Earth began its slow rotation, and I’ve tried to look out for him at every turn. He seems to always be in danger somehow.” Then, after a moment’s hesitation where Ziirfal felt his heart drop to his feet, the angel added, “He tried to jump into a pool of holy water in 1964. I stopped him.”
Hastur and Ligur turned to him abruptly. The sheer memory of it set Ziirfal dizzy and sickish, and he turned away from prying glances.
“He’d been trying to convince me to get him holy water for literally over a century at that point, but I wouldn’t give in.” Juviel took a few steps forward, like predator stalking prey, if the victim were about to get hugged for too long and then fed a good breakfast. “And I’ve been trying to get him to move in, too, because I don’t like him living alone all the way out in Wales, but he’s stubborn, too.”
“Lord Beelzebub,” Hastur started, “orders us to come up every four years to check up on him, make sure he’s doing at least a little work, and preen him. Kind of like Hell-assigned adoptive… fathers? That’s what Dagon calls us, at least. We could all agree he’s very, erm… stubborn.”
As he spoke, Ligur had been trying to get Ziirfal to sit on his rickety sofa, simply because he’d momentarily (in increasing intervals) lost balance had teetered to the side just far enough to be concerning. The word stubborn was bitten out as it was because Ziirfal was making quiet, complaining noises at Ligur and trying to bat him away. It was of no use. Ligur was probably more stubborn than he. He still put up a good fight.
“Bunny, if you don’t sit down,” Juviel warned, “I’ll eat these crepes all by myself.”
He whined, but let Ligur situate him on the sofa. He huffed, glancing sidelong at Juviel. Do you see what I have to put up with? he willed the seraph to know he was thinking. It’s demeaning.
“He seems to trust you,” Ligur said. “You can stay, but only because Beastie trusts you. That’s a very hard thing to earn from a demon.”
“I’m aware.” Juviel strode in long-legged steps across the den (or the open cave floor, as the angel preferred to call it) and stopped to sit on the coffee table. How very un-angelic of him. “You want this or not?”
Ziirfal held out his hands and Juviel passed him the Styrofoam box of crepes and then a plastic fork. The demon distracted, he didn’t notice the quiet conversation happening around him. He heard it, surely, but processing the spoken words was completely out of the question while he was savoring the chocolatey goodness of this very, very nice crepe his angel had gotten him.
“You said you preen him?” Juviel was asking, voice a bit delicate.
“He doesn’t come down to Hell,” Hastur explained. He sounded a bit gentler than his usual rough street accent. “Ligur and I come up. His wings are a bit… worse for wear.”
“Beelzebub got one glance at them way back before the Earth was created and ze determined there and then that someone needed to make sure they were properly groomed,” Ligur piped in. He moved to stand discreetly behind Ziirfal, hands finding his shoulders. The demon groaned quietly at the newfound sensation. “Heaven had done something really bad before he Fell. No one knows what, but he came down with the worst wounds any of us had ever seen, and that’s saying a lot.”
“I admit I’ve never seen his wings before,” Juviel murmured. He leaned forward, resting his weight on his knees, chin in his hands. “Can he still… fly, do you think?”
“A lot of demons still can,” Hastur said.
“And he can, too?”
The demons looked at each other.
“See for yourself,” Ligur said, and then his thumbs came down in that spot, creeping on either sides of the spine resting just so between his shoulder blades, and it was so stupid how easily they could do that, and—
Two haggard, scarred, absolutely disastrous wings sprung open; Ziirfal bit down a wail as some old wound—a wrongly mended bone, a still-torn tendon, a flesh wound that simply would not close—spiked pain through his back and all the way down to his knees.
Tears very suddenly sprung to Juviel’s eyes. “Oh— Bunny. I…” He didn’t finish.
“He trusts you a lot,” Ligur pointed out, still rubbing circles into the spot with his thumbs. “I think it might do him some good if you… comforted him through this next bit, yeah?”
So Juviel situated himself on the sofa facing Ziirfal, and took the crepes and plastic fork into his hands, scooted between the demon’s legs, and began feeding him as Hastur and Ligur began grooming, and massaging, and taking a needle and thread to the blessed wound that hadn’t closed in six thousand years to sew it shut again, though it wouldn’t stay that way. Juviel leaned past him briefly as his mouth closed miserably around a bite of crepe and he lifted a hand, lightly touching a scarred wing. The pain of the oozing wound bloomed and then subsided near fully, dull in its ache.
“…a Healer?” Hastur said.
“One of his apprentices,” Juviel explained. “My twin stays in Heaven with him, but she knows about Ziirfal and I, and she’s kept it to herself.”
“And how long’s she known?” the same demon growled, hands coming away from Ziirfal’s wings as not to close around them.
“I told her in, what, 1790?” The angel paused, doing the math in his head as he fed Ziirfal another bite of crepe that tasted merely of ash in his mouth. “Little over 300 years, if I’m not mistaken. Needless to say, it’s been a while. If she wanted to tell Raphael and Heaven, she would’ve. I trust her, and Ziirfal trusts me, and you trust him, yeah? My point stands.”
Ziirfal sat quietly as Hastur and Ligur finished grooming his wings. When Juviel finished feeding him, his angel took his bum leg into his lap and very carefully, very gently massaged around his ruined knee joint. Then, just before the dukes of Hell were finished, Juviel snapped his fingers. In his hands appeared a black brace, which he slipped up over the right leg of Ziirfal’s trousers to fit over his knee.
“All done, Beastie,” Ligur grunted, and his hand found its way into Ziirfal’s hair by some strange occurrence. His eyes closed of their own volition at the elder demon’s ministrations. “There we are. You’re all right.”
“Oi, don’t sound so sentimental,” Hastur sneered. Then, contrary to his words, he brought one hand to cup Ziirfal’s cheek, gone in a flash, but his thumb swiped over his cheekbone, and that was really all he needed to know.
Angels and those of angel stock do not have parents. The closest they ever had was the archangel whose jurisdiction they lied under, and God, at one point. Ziirfal had not known Michael very closely, but he was stubborn and cold at the height of the War when he was thought into existence. He’d known a lot of demons, as well, but none so closely as Hastur and Ligur. It could be said, once upon a time, that Ziirfal was popular in Hell, if only because of the destruction he caused when he first Fell. Now, he was cut off from everyone, with only a doorway which stood in the space the two dukes of Hell deliberately kept between themselves.
Ziirfal knew enough about Juviel to be able to tell that his only passage into Heaven was through the strong bond he and his twin had between themselves, made infinitesimally more difficult by the fact that millennia of years in two completely differed cultures and under entirely separate influences had pulled them apart.
Ziirfal also knew that he and Juviel split the difference: love and safekeeping versus company and security. True and deep in its connection, and innocent and truly kind in its intentions. And, as Juviel laced their fingers together, sprawling out on top of the demon with a grin, a familiar question lit up his eyes, one that he always asked and would always ask, up until the day Ziirfal said yes, and the demon smiled a bit when Juviel’s tawny golden eyes lit the query: move in with me?
Juviel’s new cellular phone—What had he called it? A Berry? Something like that—rang. He scowled, standing from the sofa with a thoughtless kiss to Ziirfal’s knuckles and a quiet, “Be right back.”
“The angel will find out eventually,” Hastur said solemnly, and Ziirfal belatedly realized he was back on the subject of the very important news he and Ligur had come to deliver, “but, erm… Ligur and I have delivered the Antichrist. The Earth has eleven years left, give or take.”
Ziirfal’s heart sunk. He felt suddenly sick. About two minutes later, Juviel was hustling into the cave.
“So sorry, love,” he said in a rush, leaning down to catch his demon in a kiss that was just off-center to be endearing. He was reshuffling his cardigan as he pecked kisses across Ziirfal’s cheek and jaw. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, the demon noticed. “There’s a new mother in Tadfield—the one I told you about, Mrs. Young—and she’s having a bit of trouble. I’ll see you again soon. It’s been nice to meet you, Hastur and Ligur. See you around.” Another kiss landed on Ziirfal’s forehead. “Love you.”
And then he was gone, and Ziirfal felt burdened with the decision he had to make.
thank you for reading this chapter if you did, and I'm sorry you had to read it
comments and kudos much appreciated, I'll post when I finish the next chapter