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the (rapture) will set you free

Chapter Text

The flames of lanterns and bonfires dance in shadow across the walls, and Kit shivers. It’s a strange feeling, running for your life into the one place you know will kill you. She slips around a wall, presses her back flat to the stone and struggles to breathe. The howls of her brethren rise like wolf cries. She presses a hand to her mouth and forces back a sob. Her breath curls in the icy cold like smoke, or burning incense.

She needs to get on the train .

She can hear it’s low whistle, the wailing of the wanderer’s wings in the cold eastern air, and she breaks off of the stone like a falling star. Kit runs, she sprints, she flies across the dew-wet grass in the darkness before the witching hour, and she hurls herself into the boxcar as her brothers and sisters follow behind her, crying out for her traitorous blood.

“Betrayer!” Yanelin cries, black wings spread on the hill. “Liar!”

It doesn’t bother her. She doesn’t care about loyalty.

She cares about the Prophets.

Chapter Text

Seven years later

The Prophecy is scattered. Close, together, but not whole. Uriel can feel something rising, like heat in summer, and she knows, instinctively, that Raphael has done something. Had done something, before she disappeared. She hasn’t felt her sister’s presence in many years, not since she fled to the far beyond, and it’s both wonderful and unsettling. She can feel a strumming in her heart, something calling out to her from the desert wastes surrounding her eldest brother’s chosen city.

Uriel spreads her dark wings under the sun’s sweet radiation and tries to stop herself from following the call. She’s busy. She can’t be off on a whim, searching the sands for something when she doesn’t even know what she’s looking for. The breeze heightens, becoming billowing wind, and Uriel feels the call fade, as if whatever was calling to her is moving further and further away. The feeling is nagging at her, telling her she’s felt it before. She sighs, presses a cool hand to the skin of her forehead, and turns away from the wind, letting it blow at her back, as if trying to push her off the stone. She could feel Raphael in this, could feel her unpredictable, impulsive, decisive sister’s choice in every flicker of the wind.

“What have you done now?” She murmurs, breathing in temptation and temperance. “What have you done to me?” And then she understands the feeling, remembers where she’s felt it before, and she turns back into the wind. “ What have you done with father’s gift?

The wind gives no answer.

Chapter Text

Lexington is on a train. She’s moving west, like they usually do in spring, and she’s copying down names from the sky-black words on her arm. The markings change, often and always, and if she doesn’t write their messages down, they’ll be gone forever. She looks up for the first time in three hours when the markings rearrange themselves into their usual meaningless swirl, and she checks her companions to be sure they’re all still alive. Johnna’s drawing stars on her left leg with a marker she’d found at their last stop, silver-grey skirt hitched up past her thigh so she can reach. Matthais is reading a book, as per usual, something about birds, and Cass and Fallon are curled up in the corner together, discussing angels and playing Strip Your Neighbor with a set of mismatched cards.

All seems well, but Johnna’s hand trembles for a moment, and Matthais’ brow furrows, though he doesn’t look up. Cass is staring up at the boxcar’s roof, a strange look on her face.

“You felt it?” Lexington asks her, and the girl nods, still looking up.

“There’s been a disturbance in the force,” Fallon jokes lowly, putting the cards away. The others offer him strange looks, and he shrugs. Sometimes, when he wasn’t thinking, he made jokes from Before, from a time when he was the only one alive and angels were something to think of in church.

Lexington stood, folding up the paper and sticking the pen in her pocket. Good pens were hard to find these days.

“We need to get off at Rowan if we’re meeting her,” she said, and though her tone was neither forceful nor loud, none of them questioned her.  Johnna made a face, and Matthais sighed heavily, but they gathered the few things they still had.

Lexington gazed out the small crack in the boxcar’s wall that served as a window. The desert sped past, blue sky occasionally flecked with birds or clouds. They kept moving, and the earth moved with them.

Chapter Text

Seven years ago

Kit was waiting for a girl. She didn’t know what the girl looked like, or what she’d say when Kit told her the truth, but she knew it was a girl. There were three girls, Raphael had told her, eyes silver with Prophecy, three girls and one boy.

Raphael had given her a task, and Kit was going to fulfill it.

The first, Raphael said slowly, would be a wanderer. Forever in search of something, forever unable or unwilling to claim it. She would be cold. Lost, and hurt, and harsh. But good, too. Unwavering in her strength and kindness.

Kit had not been looking forward to meeting her. She had jumped aboard the first train she found, rode it all the way down the desert to reach the Crossroads. The best way to travel these days was to ride the trains around the west coast, and if this girl was a traveler, Kit figured her best bet was to search the trains.

She didn’t expect to find her so quickly.

The second train, from what used to be Arizona up to Nevada, was round-trip. The crew who ran it circled up and down, never changing their route, and there was a group who were riding back up from whence they had come. There was a family, loud, a few loners, quiet, and an empty seat in the corner that nobody would take, even if meant they had to stand. In that corner was a girl.

None of the others addressed her, and none of the newcomers were brave enough to ask for the seat beside her, where she had stretched her legs out. She was absorbed in a tattered book, the cover too wrecked to read. Kit felt the air around her waver, silver-thin and steel-strong. The girl carried something far beyond human, and Kit was willing to stake her life it was a piece of the Prophecy. The set of the girl’s mouth, the grim coldness of her eyes reminded Kit of Raphael’s words, and despite her own misgivings, she pushed through the other passengers to sit beside her.

The girl looked up, gloved hands carefully closing her book, and gave Kit a look that would have destroyed her confidence, had she had any to begin with.

“I’m Kit,” she introduced herself, reaching out a hand.

“Hi,” the girl said flatly, going back to her book. Kit settled into her spot, and the girl visibly shrank back, as if afraid she and Kit might touch.

“How long have you been riding this train?” Kit asked, trying desperately to engage in any sort of conversation. The girl shrugged, hiding behind the pages of what Kit now recognized as Dante’s Inferno.

“Long enough.”

“How old are you?” Kit started braiding her hair, bored. The girl sighed, closing her book.

“Look, if you want to play twenty questions, can you find someone else?”

“There is no one else,” Kit said, and the girl eyed her suspiciously.

“Do you know Jeep?” She asked. Kit stiffened. She knew of only one Jeep, and he was more important to her mission than perhaps anyone else. “You sound like Jeep.” Then she muttered something about ‘frickin markings’, and Kit knew she had found her girl.

“No,” Kit said carefully, “But I think I know you.”

Chapter Text

The train stopped at a blown-out shack Kit believed was once a gas station. The workers rolled a large barrel of preserved fuel onto the train, then signaled for passengers to either stay or depart. The girl gave Kit a dirty look, then jumped off onto the pitted asphalt.

“You don’t have to go,” Kit called, following her, but the girl spun around and pressed a hand flat to Kit’s collarbones. She could feel her heart, beating steadily.

“I do now.” She laughed bitterly, running a hand through her hair. “You’ve ruined my anonymity. Now that you’ve spoken to me, they’ll try to as well.”

“You have a great vocabulary,” Kit noted offhandedly. The girl practically snorted.

“You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?” She asked, answer clear in her tone.

“Mmmm no.” Kit shrugged. The girl paused, shouldering her bag more securely. Her grey-green eyes traced suspiciously over Kit’s black clothing and hastily-cut hair. She blinked once, nodded to herself, and turned, already moving on.

“Call me Lexington,” the girl called, crossing her arms and trudging into the desert. “And keep up.” Kit smiled.

“Why Lexington?” She asked, jogging to catch up. Lexington shrugged, keeping her gloved hands wrapped around her elbows.

“Why follow me?” She countered. Kit shrugged.

“You have an aura about you.” Lexington snorted at that, sent Kit a bemused look.

“Does that aura say, ‘leave me alone’?”

“No,” Kit laughed. “It says, ‘I am a Prophet of God’.” Lexington stopped dead.

“And how would you know that?” She asked, eyes wide and cold. Kit shrugged.

“Most angels will, truth be told.” Lex nodded.

“You’re an angel?” She didn’t really need an answer, but Kit nodded anyway.

“I was.” Lex sighed, started walking. Kit followed, in silence, for several minutes.

“Why should I trust you?” She asked, suddenly. Kit frowned.

“Why shouldn’t you?” Lexington smiled, bitterness and exhaustion written into every curve of her too-old-too-young face.

“Good question.”

They walked in silence until they reached the next train station, where Lexington explained that the Las Vegas- Phoenix route met the Santa Fe-Los Angeles route.

They traveled west to Bakersfield, getting to know each other in a cramped boxcar that only let in a slim beam of sunlight and smelled suspiciously like tomatoes and bananas. It took them roughly three days to get there, and by the end Kit was certain Lexington was her Prophet. She hadn’t seen any indication, not truly, but there was a definite feeling about her. Something strong, yet kind. Cold, yet gentle. And the gloves- she never took off the gloves.

They stood against a metal railing that used to divide the highway and the open fields of brush and sand. Lex was perched on it, feet resting between the sheets of metal, and Kit leaned back against it, roughly eye-level with her first Prophet’s knees.

“Are there others?” Lex asked quietly, fingers playing with a dead flower that had been wrapped around one of the railing supports. “Like me, I mean.”

“Three,” Kit replied, squinting into the sun. “Two more girls and a boy.” Lex nodded, breaking a dried leaf off of the flower’s stem.

“Do you know where they are?” Kit shook her head.

“I only found you because I was told I was looking for a wanderer,” She looked up at her. “And trains are the only transportation these days.”

“Are we supposed to find them?” Lex asked, after a moment.

“I am.” Kit sighed, pushing her hands into her pockets. “You could come along if you like.” Lex hummed, thinking.

“What if we split up?” Kit looked up at her, face twisted strangely, and Lex hurried to finish. “I only mean it would be faster if we split the distance. We could each go a different way and agree to meet somewhere at a certain time…” She looked up, eyes fixed on something only she could see. “I want to know,” she said slowly. “I want to know what it is I’m supposed to do.”

“We could meet at Rowan Tree,” Kit suggested, feeling instinctively that this was the right suggestion to make. “Winter solstice.” Lex gave her a small smile, tentative, but there.

“You go west, I go east?”

Kit nodded, smile wide.

“I’ll take the next train,” she said, hearing the whistle. “You catch the one to, oh,” she deliberated. “New Delphi?”

“It’s a plan,” Lex agreed, twirling the flower. “See you soon,” she called as Kit clambered onto the train.

“See you soon,” Kit whispered, watching the Prophet until she disappeared from view. “See you.”

Chapter Text

Seven years later

Cass was shuffling the cards when it struck her. It was a feeling like a knife in her side, so deep and so strong she could swear she was dying. She wrenched forward, mouth opened wide in a silent scream of pain and desperation, and the cards flew from her hand, spread widely and carelessly over the floor of the boxcar. Fallon immediately swept her up, laying her down on the pallet in the corner which served as a bed when anyone was in too delicate a condition to sleep on the ground.

“Did she say anything?” Lexington asked, pulling a long blade and gauze from her bag. Fallon shook his head, holding his sister down as she reached out in her misery for something, anything, to hold on to. Matthias and Johnna hung back, watching carefully as Lexington split the pad of Cass’ index finger open, tracing a mark like a scar over where her heart was. “It’s not her,” Lexington said quietly, one hand holding Cass down, the other pressed gently over her heart, the blood like a bond between them.

“Her archangel?” Fallon asked, disbelief and worry coloring his tone.

“Must be,” Johnna snorted. “From the looks of it, idiot got himself stabbed.” Matthias placed a hand on her shoulder, which she shrugged off. “Don’t even start,” she hissed at him. “It’s true.”

“Don’t you two start,” Lexington said pointedly, marking a series of circles and runes across Cass’ wrists in blood. “Help me sedate her.” Fallon uncapped a syringe with his teeth, handing it to her as he quickly returned his hand to keeping Cass down. Lex injected her cleanly. She struggled less and less, until they both let go and she remained still, murmuring and crying, but more quietly than before.

“What is this,” Fallon asked incredulously, “the sixth time this has happened?” Lex pushed her hair out of her eyes.

“Eighth.” She looked up. “Must have a death wish, that one.” She stared distastefully at the blood on her hands, expression clouded and hard to read. “I’m going to check with the crew. Be back soon.” She made her way to the end of the boxcar before turning and imparting a final word of advice. “If she struggles again, knock her out.”

Fallon nodded, and Johnna palmed her pen nervously, tapping out an old song on her thigh. The door slid open with little struggle and she hopped the gap between cars with the ease of experience. There was bright blood smeared over her forehead and cheek, and it glowed in the sunlight.

“Is that going to happen to all of us?” She asked Matthais. “If we get far enough, are we all going to suffer?” He shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter how far we get,” he said under his breath, glancing over his shoulder at Cass, dazed and fitful in someone else’s agony. “We’ll suffer in the end.”

Chapter Text

Lexington was waiting in the engine room for her unease to settle. The wound, the pain, the way Cass had cried… It seemed far more serious than any sympathetic wound she’d gotten before. Whoever Cass’ archangel was, (and Lexington had her suspicions), they were gravely wounded. She was more anxious for Kit’s help than she had been before, and they were still a half hour away from Rowan.

“Thank you,” she called to the conductor, making her way back to the boxcar. It was more difficult to close the engine car’s door than it had been to open it, and once she’d done it, she leaned back to look up at the sky. The wind fluttered through her hair, and the sun flashed in her eyes. For a moment, with her eyes fixed on the blue, cloudless desert sky, with the wind billowing around her like silk and the earth speeding away under her feet, she felt like flying. The moment faded slowly, and the effervescence drifted away. Then she closed her eyes, stood up, and and sighed.

Flight was a dream in the darkness, and she couldn’t dream for herself anymore.

She jumped the gap, slid open the boxcar’s door and handily slipped inside before sliding it closed. Matthais met her eyes and nodded. She checked the stolen watch around her wrist.

“Twenty minutes,” she announced brusquely. “How is she?”

“Better,” Johnna said, tossing her pen into the air only to catch it again. Fallon shot her a look, then stood.

“The same,” he relayed, slightly annoyed. Lex ignored their arguing, checking Cass’ pulse and temperature.

“She’s got a fever,” she murmured. “Bad one.” She looked at Matthais. “They still have ice in Rowan?” He thought for a moment, then nodded.

“Henry fixed the freezer last year.” She sighed, and he reached out to push her into the corner. The glare she levelled at him would scald someone less used to her.  “You need to sleep, Lex.”

“Not today I don’t,” she grumbled. “It’s barely noon.”

“Yeah,” he scoffed. “And you haven’t slept in three days.” She scoffed at him, dropping onto a pile of blankets.

“I’ll sleep when we get to Rowan.”

“You’ve got about fifteen minutes, then,” he teased her, dropping his book into her lap.

“Yeah,” she sighed, fingers rubbing against the spine of a book that had survived the end of the world. “I do, don’t I?”  She gave in just a little, leaned back against the old wood, flipped through Nostradamus’ unintelligible writings for fifteen minutes. She wasn’t really reading, and Matthais knew it better than anyone.

She did a lot of thinking, mostly about the damn markings, about Jeep Hanson and the responsibility he carried, about Kit and Raphael and the archangel she’d never met who was tied to her soul for all of time. She thought about the trains, about how the angels never attacked them, about how Trinity and Vega and Helena never seemed to acknowledge the escape that lay just beyond their walls. She thought about Cass, and her hope, and how she never stopped hurting, about Johnna and her stars, Matthais and his books. She thought about the end of the world, and whether it was really coming so quickly.

She thought about all of this, all of the time, and never stopped.

“It’s easier to think about everything with the marks, isn’t it?” Cass asked her once, in Colorado. “I mean, if you think about everything, then it’s all there in your head, but if you don’t let it in, it won’t come. You have to let it all open up, let down every wall, or it won’t let you see.” It was easier, for her, than ignoring it like Johnna or pushing it aside like Matthais. Cass understood, in a way that the others didn’t. She understood omniscience,  understood what it meant for this responsibility to crush you beneath its weight and its wideness. Her marks, spiraling like ancient bracelets up her arms, sometimes looked like shackles to Lexington. But Cass loved them, embraced them for all that they were. “They’re mine,” she said, gazing at them with something unnameable glowing in her eyes. “They were other people’s before, but they’re mine now,” she had repeated.

“You ready?” Johnna called to her, as the train slowed. Lexington broke from her musings, standing. Fallon was carrying Cass, still drugged and dazed, Matt following with their small packs and a bag full of books.

“Always,” she said, flashing a predatory smirk at her. Johnna smiled in return, something like satisfaction in her eyes, and they proceeded into the desert heat.

Chapter Text

The path from the station to Rowan Tree was long, winding through a grove of fruit trees and past destroyed homes that had lain empty for decades. Their group was slow, making their way through a town that hadn't been a town for years.

“Do they really need to be so hard to find?” Matthias complained, kicking a branch off the path.

“Right, because you’re so burdened,” Fallon snorted, gesturing towards his sleeping sister, heavy in his arms. Matthias made a face at him. At the end of the path was a large group of trees that grew together, forming a thick tangle of wood and leaves. Beneath the trees, Lex knelt, sweeping leaves and brush away from a wooden door in the ground. She knocked succinctly on the door.

“It’s us,” she said, and the sound of bolts being slid away from the door grate against the quiet clearing. Johnna sighed, crossing her arms.

“You coming?” Matthias asked, elbowing her gently. Johnna shrugged.

Johnna was not especially fond of Rowan. She would tell you it was one of her least favorite places in the entire world. Vehemently. In her opinion, it was, in fact, only slightly preferable to the raging flames of Hell. The others thought of Rowan as a safe haven, a place to return to when they needed help, but Johnna had burned her bridges in Rowan. There was nothing safe there for her. She began to clamber down the ladder, the feeling of worn wood beneath her fingers raising phantom sensations against her skin.

It was all too familiar.

The others waited for her at the bottom, and once her feet hit the ground, Lexington began to make plans.

“Fallon and I will take Cass to the doctor’s. Matt, find Kit and bring her there. Johnna-” and here Lexington stopped, meeting her eyes with conviction and unspoken direction. “Don’t leave.”

“Yeah,” Johnna scoffed, tossing her ice-pale hair from her face. “I’ll do my best.” The truth was, Johnna wanted more than anything to follow Lex and Fallon to the doctor’s, to fulfil a small and inconsequential purpose and then fall asleep in a chair by Cass’ bed. But her role was different here. Her bitterness and anger were more a shield than an expression of true feeling, her indifference a cloak to hide her fear. Here, Johnna knew, she was a traitor and a criminal, a dangerous maniac who once tried to destroy the only world she’d ever known.

“Find Morrow,” Lex said, her cool grey-green eyes difficult to read. “We’ll meet by the doctor’s in an hour.

Johnna was gone before she’d finished speaking.

Chapter Text

Johnna Lesser was not the running type. She enjoyed it, liked the thrill of the chase as much as, (or more than), the next girl, but she wasn’t a coward by nature. In fact, when it came down to it, she was more fight than flight.

Which was why it was more than a little strange for her to be so skittish. Lex knew what it was to run from something, and far be it from her to judge, but Johnna was, usually, the most reckless, least cautious, most most person Lex knew.

“Lay her down here,” the doctor directed them, fluttering about as Fallon laid Cass gently on a white-sheeted bed. “Sympathetic again?” He asked, pushing a pair of bifocals up his nose. Lex nodded, pulling up one of Cass’ sleeves to show him the flickering and writhing marks that crawled up and down her forearms.

“I warded them, but they wouldn’t stop.” The man nodded, using a wet rag to hurriedly wipe away the blood runes she’d painted on.

“You should call your friend about this,” he advised, inspecting the spot Fallon had pointed out as where she had been “stabbed”. On the left side of her stomach, a bruise the size of a fist grew and bloomed. It was spreading, a large teardrop of black and blue and violet, seeming deeper and darker with each moment. Lex stood back as he felt around the bruise, muttering. The door swung open, and several figures rushed through.

“Found her,” Matthias gasped, pointing breathlessly behind him, where a blonde with choppy hair and dreamy eyes swept in after him.

“Again?” Kit groaned, assessing the situation. “Who keeps getting themself stabbed?” She complained, reaching into a pocket that must have been much larger than it seemed, because from it she pulled a large magnifying glass and a handful of black feathers. “Shoo,” she grumbled at the doctor. “Let the professional do her job.” He stepped back, looking rather put out.

“Stay back,” Lex warned him, pulling him further back. Kit was now shuffling through the feathers in her hand, comparing length and shine until she found one she deemed appropriate. She cut the very tip, then held a lighter under its open end. The flame flickered, wavered for a moment, and she closed the lighter, dripping a strange fluid from the feather onto Cass’ wound.

“Angel medicine,” Matt muttered derisively. “Gross.”

Kit shot him a look, and he quickly shut up.

“I asked Johnna to get Morrow,” Lex told her quietly, finishing braiding her hair. Kit sighed. Their group was looking clean and calm for the first time in two months.

“Is this necessary?” She asked Lex, who gave her a long look.

“He's the only angel here,” she answered in a low voice. “What if he knows something you don't?”

“He won't,” Kit snorted.

The rest of them dealt with payment and current events in the underground community while Kit finished fixing Cass. Johnna’s hour was almost up when she woke up.

“Again?” Cass sighed, coming back to herself. She huffed, running a thin hand through her unkempt hair. Fallon snorted, holding out a scrap of fabric for her to tie her hair up with. “Why does this guy keep getting stabbed?” She complained, tying her hair roughly, to a chorus of snickers.

“My question exactly,” Johnna said, entering, leading a man with silver eyes and silver hair into the rather crowded doctor’s office. He and Lex exchanged nods, and Kit gave a small shudder before turning to face him.

“Morrow,” she greeted him tartly, sweeping her eyes up and down his figure in distrust.

“Cat,” he returned easily, unfazed by her vitriol. Johnna faded into the background, easing into her usual place between Matt and Cass, who were gathering their things into a semblance of order after their quick departure from the train and the journey to Rowan.

“It's time we talked about what's happening,” Lex broke in, an order rather than a suggestion. Kit raised an eyebrow, the other Prophets went still, and Morrow gave her a small bow.

“As you wish,” he smiled. Lex didn't smile back, and he rolled his eyes. “You're feeling a draw, yes?” He directed the question at the Prophets, though his eyes were fixed on Kit’s. She stood, fury in her eyes, mouth opening to cut him off, but no words coming out.

“Yes,” Matt said, quiet but hopeful. “Why?”

“Your connections,” he paused, his slick, ominous smile directed at Kit, still struggling with her own anger. “To the Archangels. They're growing stronger.” Lex made a noise, then, small and cut short in her throat. Johnna’s blue eyes narrowed, darting suspiciously across the room. Matt sighed, seeming relieved, and Cass’ hands drifted to the many scars she never received. Morrow smiled still. “They'll be able to find you soon,” he drawled, spreading his arms like wings. “Then you'll really be in trouble.” He laughed, pointing across the room to Lex. “Especially you.”

“Shut up,” Kit said, voice sharp and cold. “One more word and you'll be choking on Empyrean steel.” Morrow just shrugged, and Kit looked away to meet Lex’s eyes before the other woman walked quickly from the room.

“You said he wouldn't know anything you didn't,” Lex said, voice empty, face cold. “Did you know that?”

“Lexington-” she began.

“Of course you did,” she said tightly, hurt.

“Lexington,” Kit tried again, but faded before Lex was around the corner and lost to sight.

“She'll be back,” Matt said softly, reaching out to Kit. “You know Lex.”

“Yeah,” Kit said. “That's how I know she won't.” She bit her lip, crossed her arms. Waited.

Morrow shrugged again. Kit turned, suddenly, to hit him, her fist landing on his jaw with a sickening noise like splintering bone. “You weren't supposed to tell her that,” she said, voice unnaturally calm.

“You're not the only fallen angel anymore, Cataliel,” he said, her name a hiss in his mouth as he spat blood. “You don't get to keep them safe.”

“That's all I get to do,” she hissed in return, before stepping over his prone body. “That's who I am.”

Chapter Text

Fourteen years ago

The wanderer got on the train ten miles from Vega. He wasn’t closed off like most people were, but he wasn’t forthcoming, either. He sat next to the girl in the corner, and she glared at him.

“Jeep,” he said, offering her a hand. She kept glaring, and made no move to take it. “I’ve been alone in a house for a year or two, so my social skills aren’t all that.”

“Lexington,” she muttered, pushing herself further back into the corner. Lexington was not her real name. She knew it, he knew it, the group of quiet redheads in the corner knew it.

“Okay,” he said, settling in. “That’s a nice name.”

“Yeah,” she snorted, pulling a half-burned book from her bag. “It’s grand.” They didn’t speak again for several hours, while the train moved forward and Lexington read her book. It was somewhat uncomfortable, but not unbearable.

And then, for the first time in eleven years, the angels attacked a train.

It started with one of the redheads- the mother, Lexington thought- springing up and pinning Jeep to the wall.

“You thought you could run,” she hissed at him, as he struggled to reach for a knife. “We found you, Joseph Hanson. We’ll find you no matter where you run.” The other passengers, screaming and scared, began to jump out of the sliding side door, running for their lives as the sound of angels landing on the roof of the boxcar grew louder. Jeep was still struggling.

Lexington closed her book. Jeep’s struggling grew less and less, fingers twitching and grasping at the rough wood of the boxcar. She stood, placing a finger to her lips as Jeep’s fading eyes fixed on her behind his assailant.

“You’ll die here,” the angel said with a thick smile. “And those marks will die with you.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” she said breathlessly, burying a knife six inches long in the redheaded angel’s throat. “Actually, I’m sure it isn’t.”

“Yeah,” he rasped, kicking the corpse out the door. “That’s kind of you.”

“I am kind,” she said coldly, wrenching her knife from another angel’s ribcage. “What do you have that they want so badly?” She asked, as the angels crowded them back into the corner where they had started out.

“An archangel’s markings,” he said, unbuttoning his right sleeve and hoisting it up to show her the ink-black lines swirling around his skin.

“Oh, lovely,” she said sarcastically, looking behind her to find her bag. “Do they do anything? Like, anything life-saving maybe?”

“Not as far as I know,” Jeep said, adjusting his grip on her knife.

The angels’ hissing grew higher, louder, and she rolled her eyes.

“Think we can make it out the door?” She asked him, shaking a piece of dark hair from her eyes. Jeep made a face, looked beyond the ring of angels around them, and shrugged.

“We can try?” He said, wincing. She nodded, mouth set and determination filling her face. Her hand twined with his, and a moment later he found himself on the other side of the angels, running toward the door. There was a strange feeling in his chest, like his skin was peeling itself away from his bones, and the wind was rushing loud in his ears. Stop , he tried to say, you need to let go , but the wind was so loud she couldn’t hear him. They jumped from the train, tumbling roughly across the stony ground, sand scraping across his skin like a thousand teeth.

Their hands were still clasped together, and Jeep pulled back in disbelief to see the markings- Michael’s markings, Alex’s markings- tracing like ink and blood from his hand to hers.

“What?” she asked before looking down and dropping his hand. She turned her hand over and over. “What did you do to me?” she asked, distress painting her small face in a harsher light, desperation and anger making her a blaze of fury in the tranquil desert. Jeep tried to find an easy way to explain, but there wasn’t one. She made a strange noise as the markings spread from her right hand to her left. “What have you done to me?” She whispered again, eyes fixed on her fingers, trembling and unsettled.

“I don’t know,” he offered, and she turned on him. “I really don’t know.” She looked at him, then down at her hands again.

“What does this mean for me?” She asked, voice cold again.

“I-” he began, but she cut him off.

“And don’t say you don’t know.”

“It means you’re different,” he said, “but I’m not sure how.” She scoffed, looking up past where the train had stopped moving, smoke flowing from one car.

“We need to move,” she said, tugging her long sleeves lower on her arms. “Especially if I’ve got your angel-magnet markings too, now.”

Jeep watched her walk away, looked back, towards Vega, then followed her.

He had a feeling he wasn’t the first. He knew he wouldn’t be the last.

Chapter Text

Michael was not looking forward to this meeting with his siblings. Uriel had called him to her hidden archive, and he had very little doubt that Gabriel would be there, too. He shivered, feeling a strong wind in his feathers and he shook out his wings to better feel the cold. The ocean below him raged, reaching up to meet him at his perch at the tip of a cliff, straining to pull him in.

“Reminiscing about the glory days?” Gabriel asked him, and Michael turned to find him leaning against a bent tree. “They could always come again,” he offered. “If you felt the need…”

“Enough,” Uriel said, placing a chastising hand on Gabriel’s forearm. “We have something more important to discuss.

“Such as?” Michael asked, curious, but also nursing a strange feeling in his stomach that told him he already knew what this was about.

“Prophets,” she stated gravely. Gabriel laughed, and the other two looked to him in confusion.

“You’re only just now finding them?” Gabriel asked, face filled with mirth and incredulousness.

“What are you saying?” Uriel scoffed. Michael sighed, feeling something wound tightly in him unfold.

“He’s saying he’s already felt them.” He said, and Gabriel’s shrug told him he was right.

“How could you keep this from us?” She asked, outraged and unsurprised. Gabriel was never the sharing kind.

“Well, sister dear, you might recall that we had no idea where you were, and that our brother and I weren’t necessarily on speaking terms.” He gave a rueful sigh. “I had nobody to tell.”

Uriel’s eyes narrowed, and she huffed. Michael eyed them carefully, remembering how easily they had fallen into arguments before. He took no joy in forcing them apart, but he knew in the coming days he would have to do so all too often.

“We know now, Uriel,” he said, placing a hand of his own on her shoulder. She shrugged him off, unappeased.

“Now is not soon enough,” she hissed, unfurling her wings and departing. Her brothers both watching her soar. Gabriel’s eyes fixed on one particular spot on her wing, and he smirked.

“She’s gotten darker in the last few years,” he said, aside, to Michael. Michael tried to see what his brother meant, tracing every feather in her wings, but they remained resolutely black.

“I wouldn’t know,” he replied, stiffly but fondly. Gabriel was the only angel Michael had ever known of who could see their brethren’s true colors. Though every other angel saw their wings as black and anonymous, Gabriel could identify his family from the color of their feathers alone.

Michael remembered the days when Gabriel would oblige the younger angels’ requests to describe their wings. He looked over at his brother, once gentle and kind, passionate and loyal, now so armored and bitter that he was barely recognizable.

Those days were gone.

Chapter Text

Johnna was not having any of this shit.

She had followed Lexington through the entirety of the remaining train system, into a semi-organized hive of scum and villainy, and back to the home where she’d been declared a heretic and almost murdered six separate times. Like hell if Lex got to leave her there.

“Hey!” She yelled, following her down the hall. Lex stopped for a moment, but began moving again once Johnna had caught up with her. “You can’t just up and haul ass like that. Matt and Fallon’ll have a collective aneurysm.” Lex snorted, kept walking. Johnna was beginning to have trouble keeping up. Unlike Lex, she did not have freakishly long legs and could not move as fast.

“I can’t stay here.” Lex wiped a hand across her eyes, like Johnna didn’t already know she was crying.

“Yeah,” Johnna snorted in return, “neither can I.”

“No, I mean I literally cannot stay here.” Lexington had led her back to the ladder. Johnna reached out, grasped her wrist before she could ascend.

“You can’t just leave us,” she said, a command more than a statement. Lex twisted her hand and broke free.

“I have to. If the markings are growing stronger, then-” She wrapped her arms around herself, and Johnna noticed for the first time that Lexington had taken her gloves off in the doctor’s. Her markings weren’t spirals like bracelets, like Cass, or constellation-esque dots and circles and lines like Johnna’s own. Hers were condensed, looping and turning endlessly like a maze. They were also reconfiguring, moving, paths changing, lines reconnecting, over and over.

“Lex,” Johnna began, reaching for her again.

“I can’t let him find you,” Lex whispered, and Johnna understood this time. She looked down at Lex’s markings again, then dropped her hand.

“You’ll be alright?” She asked, and Lex shot her a small, wicked smile.

“Oh, I’ll be just fine.” She looked up, still smiling. “I can handle him just fine. It’s all of you I worry about.” Johnna laughed.

“I once burned this entire city to the ground,” she pointed out. “I’ll be alright.” Lex’s smile faded, became softer, more wistful, as if this had all happened before.

“I know you will.” She hugged Johnna, quickly, suddenly, hard. “Just make sure they are, too.”

And then, like a woman long-practiced in the art of running away, she ascended the ladder, opened the hatch, and disappeared into the light.

Johnna stood there for a minute, enveloped in the loss of her leader and one of the only friends she’d ever had. Then she sighed, ran a hand through her ice-pale hair, and made a face.

“Well, shit,” she said. “Does this make me in charge?”

Chapter Text

“You just let her go?” Cass shrieked, attempting to climb out of her bed with the obvious intent of hunting Lex down and bringing her back. She let out a noise like a strangled cat and Fallon and Matt had to pull her down to the bed again.

“I did not let her go ,” Johnna scoffed, crossing her arms. “She told me to stay here.” Cass stood up again, and Fallon pushed her down. She flopped onto the bed and stayed there this time.

“Coward,” Morrow sneered, wiping blood from his face. Matt turned, shooting him a look that had him shrinking back. Cass was glaring mutinously at her brother and trying to convince him to let her out of bed, and thankfully didn’t hear him.

Johnna did.

“She left for us, not for her,” she hissed, stalking up to him and pressing him back so he was arched over a stack of crates. “She saved everyone here, including you.”

“What the hell is she saving me from?” He laughed, wiping still more blood from his face.

“As far as I can tell, Gabriel isn’t big on forgiveness,” Johnna replied tartly, crossing her arms over her chest. Cass stopped trying to negotiate her release with Fallon, and the other two froze.

“He’s not the one whose forgiveness I’m looking for,” Morrow sniffed, looking at his bloodstained fingers with something like curiosity. “And anyway, you’re not much for forgiving, either.”

“No,” Johnna said after a moment, “I’m not, am I?”  She ignored him after that.

“Why mention Gabriel?” Matt asked, and from his tone Johnna could tell he already had his suspicions.

“Don’t ask questions you already have the answer to,” she snorted, checking where Cass’ wound used to be.

“He’s her archangel?” Matt asked again, and Johnna nodded. “And she never told us?”

“Kit knew, she knew, and now we know,” she shrugged. “Are you really surprised?” Cass shook her head. Matt huffed. Fallon remained silent and judgemental behind his sister. Morrow started coughing blood.

“She was always less keen on finding her archangel than the rest of us,” she said slowly, eyeing her markings as the twisted tighter on her wrists. “I suppose anyone would be, in her position.”

Johnna took her hands into her own, grabbing her full attention.

“We’re going to have to go soon,” she said slowly, as if the words had a second meaning only Cass was supposed to know. Cass nodded, rising slowly as she slipped her hands from Johnna’s grip.

“I’ll find Kit,” she said, and Johnna quelled Fallon’s protests with a glare. Cass had already started walking toward the door, determined and quietly ferocious.

“I’ll go with her,” he said hastily, and Johnna pushed him on. Matt started packing their things again.

“We just got here,” he said to Johnna, the question implicit.

“We have other places to be,” she shrugged. Looking over her shoulder at Morrow, she smiled, turning back to Matt. “I think it’s time we went home, don’t you?” Matt smiled back, and grabbed a twist of rope from her pack.

“We’re going back on foot, then?” Matt asked, tying a series of knots at Morrow’s wrists as the angel struggled fruitlessly beneath him. Bound, gagged, and currently pinned to the floor by an enthusiastic pair of Prophets, he had no chance.

“Seems about right,” Johnna huffed, smacking Morrow’s left arm. “Stop squirming!”

“A little far in this weather,” Matt continued, pulling the rope tighter. “Southern Road, you think?”

“Mm, or Fleet.” Johnna sighed, grasped Morrow’s hair in one hand and slammed his head firmly into the dirt floor. He went still, and Matt handily continued bundling the fallen angel. “There, that’s better,” she smiled, just a little smug.

“Found her!” Cass announced, Kit and Fallon following her with bemused expressions and copious amounts of food.

“Where are we going?” Fallon asked, ignoring the tied angel on the ground.

“Is that Morrow?” Kit asked voice a little shrill. Johnna nodded, proud. “Are we taking him?”

Matt shrugged. “Yeah,” he said, a little too glad.

“We’re heading back to Trinity,” Johnna said, shouldering a bag of apples. “Then Vega.”

“Vega?” Kit dropped an ear of corn. “I am not going to Vega, I cannot go to Vega, you cannot make me go to Vega-”

“Why not?” Matt asked, and Kit pointed up.

“Michael’s not big on forgiveness either,” Johnna said, something knowing in her tone. At Kit’s confused look, she shrugged. “What? Lex told me things.”

“Too many things,” Kit muttered, but there was a combination of fondness and wistfulness in her tone that gave Johnna a pang of something in her chest.

“Just enough,” she corrected her, starting out the door, a bag of apples and books over her shoulder, a hog-tied fallen angel being dragged behind her by the rope in her hand. “And you are going to Vega, whether you like it or not.”

“Michael’s just going to have to deal with it,” Cass said, hooking her thin arm through Kit’s. “He’s had thousands of years to perfect his disappointed face, right? He’ll just have to make do with that.”

“I suppose” Kit said doubtfully, but she moved forward nonetheless.

Chapter Text

It had been a long few years since Lexington had traveled alone. She had forgotten what silence was like, having spent so much time with the others that even in the quiet of night she could hear each of them breathing.

She thought of Jeep, suddenly, wondered if he had ever made it back to Vega, if he had ever truly understood the Markings, or if they belonged to somebody else now. She looked back through the trees, through the heat and the weight of summer silence, and thought that maybe he had, and maybe he hadn’t.

Maybe he was never meant to.

She sighed, pushing dark hair from her face. If the Markings were growing stronger, if Gabriel really was going to be able to search her out, she had to find a place away from other people, away from trains and cities and hidden worlds. She could only hope she had that kind of time.

Maybe he’d let her run, maybe he’d like it. Maybe he’d catch her as soon as he was able, hunt her down and devastate her. Maybe he’d leave her alone, or kill her in her sleep. She didn’t know, could only base her assumptions of him on what she’d heard and felt and what she knew of herself. If an archangel was meant to be the Prophet’s perfect complement, then she could only hope she knew what sort of person would best complement her. She didn’t though, so she ran. She ran far, at first to a crowded town where she thought she might get lost. When the town burned, and an angel with dark eyes and a sad countenance fixed on her, she knew it was time to move on.

She didn’t stop running.

“Come and get me,” she spat into the wind, climbing a flat rock cliff she knew led to a deserted city. “We’ll see what kind of man you are.”

She could swear she heard a voice in the breeze, answering her with words she didn’t understand, but knew . Gabriel, or one of his followers, found her there, too. She came back from a water run to find them ransacking her make-shift shelter.

She ran and ran and ran.

“Come on,” she screamed into the wind, arms spread wide over a valley of sand and bones and long-dried blood. “Look harder!” The voice answered her again, as it did when it was time for her to move on. She saw an angel above her, wings spread against the blue sky, and she snatched up her bag as she ran to the nearest train.

It kept her safe, she knew, but it also kept her running.

“Catch me if you can,” she whispered into the twilight, the stars above her brilliant against the darkness. Somewhere, somehow, she knew Gabriel was looking for her. He searched, she knew, tried to find her in every hidden city and lonely valley. She almost wanted to let him.

But as the months passed, as the constellations changed, the moon passed from new to full to full again, she felt less and less threatened. More and more, she felt his desperation, his yearning for an end to this chase, but she refused to grant it.

He had destroyed her world, and it felt only fair that she kept this one thing, however small, from him.

So when she found nobody following her, saw no wings in the sky, felt no eyes on the back of her neck, she felt safe enough going to Trinity.

That, of course, was the first time she met Gabriel.

Chapter Text

Night had fallen, and the few people milling around had instantly disappeared into buildings once they caught sight of Gabriel. His wings were hidden, but his clothing proclaimed his identity as clearly as a name tag would.

“I’ve been looking for you,” he said softly, and his voice was gentler than she’d expected. His face was strong, willful, but she could tell there was softness beneath. His eyes traced up and down her figure, like he was making sure she was safe. She felt a pull to him instantly, and she hated it.

“I noticed,” she said icily, crossing her arms and trying not to think about how they were so obviously in the middle of the street. The buildings around them were filled with people now, and she could see the curtains moving from the corner of her eye. “So did everyone else,” she added, nodding at the on-lookers.

He smirked, looking at the people around them. He had the gall to raise a hand and wave at a little girl. She grit her teeth.

“Why are you doing this?” She asked, forcing the words out of her throat. He tilted his head, confusion and innocence effusing his expression.

“Why am I doing what?”

“Following me!” She burst out, years of paranoia, frustration and self-loathing rising to the surface. All the years when she was certain she was going to die, all the years she thought she was going insane, and not least of which the last few harrowing months, being haunted and hunted by someone she was supposedly perfect for.

“I was trying to speak with you,” he drawled, mirroring her position and crossing his own arms.

“Well, don’t,” she said quietly. “I don’t want anything but peace from you.”

“I can give you that,” he offered, voice a little hoarse, heartfelt.

“Don’t give it to me,” she replied, spreading her arms. “Give it to all of us.”

“You know I can’t,” he said immediately, stepping closer, lowering his voice. “After what they’ve done, what they’ve caused…”

“What about what you’ve caused,” she hissed, moving closer herself, so they were close enough that she could feel the warmth of him against her skin. “What you’ve done?”

“I-” he opened his mouth, and she smiled bitterly.

“Leave me alone,” she said, voice thick with the past. “Unless you can give me the truth, leave me alone.”

He didn’t follow her, stood wrathful and desperate in the middle of a small human town, made powerless by power and pain. The next morning, he was gone.

She woke to a page covered in symbols pinned to her front door. Offended at first, she made to throw it away, but she soon recognized the sigils from Johnna and Matt’s Markings. From her own. The page told her things, made sense of mysteries the Markings had given her. It was too good to be true, and she turned it over and over, looking for the catch.

Written on the back was a small I’m sorry in thin handwriting she knew instinctively was Gabriel’s.

She kept the page.

Chapter Text

Cass was a little bit relieved to hear nobody had seen Lex in Trinity. At least she was staying away from places Gabriel could find her. They stayed for a month, then moved on, dragging Morrow with them the whole way. They only heard later that shortly after their departure, Gabriel had been seen arguing with a dark-haired woman in the middle of a street, and Cass’ heart sank.

“She’s supposed to be our friend,” Johnna muttered, pacing relentlessly in their small rented room. “How could she just… not come find us?”

“We don’t know what she was doing there, or if she was even there when we were-” Matt began, but Kit slammed her hand into the wall. Morrow, tied up in the corner, visibly flinched.

“She was there, you know it as well as I do,” she gritted out. “She needed help, and she didn’t come to us.” She didn’t come to me, she didn’t say, but they all heard it. Lex and Kit had known each other before they had known any of the others, and even Kit was a little close-lipped about the exact nature of their relationship. Matt shook his head, hands straying almost unconsciously up to where his neck met his shoulder, and traced words given from God himself.

“She didn’t think she could,” he said quietly. “Lex never does.” The day she met Gabriel, he had felt a jolt in his skin, his Markings realigning into strings of illegible words, like typeset handwriting, swirling up across his shoulder, around his neck and up his arm to his elbow. Something had shifted in his reality, and he could feel it even now.

“She’ll come around,” Cass said, something knowing in her voice. “And I think when she does, Gabriel will come with her.” Fallon shot her a look, and she shrugged. “They’re made for each other,” she said casually, as if that explained everything. “Lex needs someone.”

“She doesn’t need him,” Kit said bitterly, and Johnna’s eyebrows rose a solid two inches.

“I’d almost think you were jealous,” she observed, an impish grin spreading across her face. Kit scowled, crossing her arms defensively.

“Of course I’m jealous,” she muttered, clenching her jaw and turning away. “She was mine first.”

“Gay,” Johnna whispered, and Fallon snorted in the corner. Kit looked half-murderous and began to make for the blonde when a small hand came to rest on Johnna’s shoulder.

“Stop it,” Cass said firmly, tone even and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Lex’s when the others got too restless. Kit froze solid, and Johnna looked up with wide eyes. “We can’t fall apart without her.”

“She wanted us to be safe,” Matt agreed, and Kit looked at him, eyes wide with desperation and discontent. “She thought we’d be better off without her.”

“Well,” Johnna said waspishly, after a moment of silence. “She was wrong.” Kit eyed her for a moment, then disappeared into the darkness. Johnna stood and stalked off in the opposite direction.

They didn’t see either blonde for six hours. The other three and their permanently-gagged prisoner began the trip from the outskirts of Galilei to Vega, just as the sun was rising.

“Well,” Fallon said. “That went well.” Cass nodded sheepishly, tugging on Morrow’s bindings.

“I know Johnna’ll be alright,” she said, biting her lip. “But Kit…” Matt sighed. The fallen angel had a terrible habit of stumbling onto people who were trying to kill her.

“She’s only public enemy number two,” Matt pointed out, shouldering both missing girls’ packs. “After Michael, she’s every angel’s favorite target.”

“Speaking of,” Fallon said, eyeing the horizon. “Who do you think Michael’s prophet is?”

“I always sort of thought it would be Lex,” Matt confessed, trading a glance with Cass.

“I don’t know,” Cass said, something strange in her voice. “I always felt there was something different to Lex. She and Michael would be too… similar.” She looked up, still hiking through the undergrowth, breath flowing into the air like smoke. “They’re both leaders, right? Both warriors.”

“Both incredibly stubborn?” Fallon asked, and Matt laughed.

“What?” Cass asked, wrinkling her nose.

“Just some of the things Lex and I have been able to make out from the Markings,” he said, still laughing. “Michael is pretty serious, but also kind of a jerk.”

“A jerk?” A new voice called out from their left, and the trio turned to find Kit striding out of the woods. “Try biggest asshole since Furiad.”

“Worse than Morrow?” Cass asked, fighting a grin. Kit made a face.

“Okay, maybe not that bad.”

“Where’s Johnna?” Fallon asked, trying and failing to sound casual.

“She’ll catch up in a few,” Kit said, ice leaking back into her voice. “She’s getting some things.”

“Like her dignity?” Matt muttered, and Cass elbowed him. “Ow!”

“Yeah,” Kit replied, unfazed. “That too.”

“That’s assuming she had any in the first place,” Morrow snorted, having somehow shaken off his gag, and Cass tripped him. Tied as he was, he struggled to get back up.

“Stop it,” she hissed at him, shoving the fabric back into his mouth.

“He misbehaving again?” Johnna asked, arms full of twiggy tree branches and fruit.

“Not anymore,” Cass glared at him, and he quieted.

“We going to Vega?” Johnna asked, as if that was enough to distract them from the way her clothes were smudged with dirt and her hair was tangled.

“Naturally,” Kit said, still bitter and tight with anger, and the way Johnna’s eyes fixed on her as she turned away said more than even the dirty clothes and tangled hair could.

“Okay,” Cass sighed, “Okay.”

Chapter Text

Lex used Gabriel’s page to fill in the blanks of her lists. Ever since she’d gotten the damn Markings, she'd been making lists of what they told her, ranging from half-names and weather patterns to star charts and coordinates. The small translations and reconfigurations that Gabriel had given her allowed her to complete them.

Here, the rune that turned Choire Elshaivan into Claire Riesen, there the silver squiggle that changed Cygnus and the pole stars of three constellations into a passable map of Vega.

Gabriel had given her peace of mind, a newfound calm, a sense of completeness and resolution.

It was priceless, and she had no idea whether she should thank him, or how, or why he gave her that page rather than the devastation of the entire city. It would be consistent with his usual behavior to leave her the sole survivor of his cruelty, but instead he left her with a fragile piece of paper which gave her something she'd been craving for twelve years.

She had no idea how to find him.

Despite this, she knew in the depths of her soul, (the soul which bore his immutable, irrevocable mark for all of time and she wanted to hate him so much), that he would come to her. He would seek her out from the very ends of the earth if he had to, because he was determined, unwavering, and she knew what she would do if she were in his position.

In so many ways, they were alike. In too many ways, they weren't. She would never be an angel. She'd live and die and disappear into the very heaven he could never return to. He had destroyed the only world she knew, had burned apart her family and her life and all the things that could have been if not for him. He had changed who she was, simply by existing. Their differences- her fragility, his fury- seems insurmountable.

But they were the same. In all the ways that mattered, they were the same.

“Alright,” she yelled into the sky. “Gabriel! We need to talk!” She stood there in the silence for a moment, endless stars splayed above her like the world was still turning. The stars were blocked for a brief moment, though, when a jet-black shadow passed over them, flickered to a stop before her. Gabriel leaned against a tree, eyeing the hollow buildings of Trinity behind her.

“You came,” she breathed, only half-caring that she sounded relieved. He smiled, sadly, wryly.

“You called,” he replied, and in his voice was something like wonder and something like grief. She smiled back, a little broken thing, and all traces of doubt left him.

“I wanted to-” she broke off, looked down at her hands, at the Markings that seemed to rebel against her skin, straining as if Gabriel was a magnet and they were black iron filings, rising and falling away from her. He looked, too, eyes dark with recognition and disbelief. “I wanted to thank you,” she said finally, firmly, and his eyes rose to hers.

“It was a gift,” he said hoarsely, dismissively. “Don't thank me.”

“Still,” she said, his discomfort only making her more determined to express her gratitude. “Thank you.” He shrugged, turned away, unfurling his wings as if to go.

“Why did you give it to me?” She asked , voice seeming much louder and more desperate in the quiet. He froze, as if she'd finally hit on something he couldn't defend, or dismiss, or devalue. “You could have killed me,” she said, doubt trembling in her voice.

“I couldn't have,” he said, so quiet she almost didn't hear. “Killed you.”

“Fine,” she said. “You could have killed them, then. Why give me the truth?” He could hear the desperation in her voice, the need to know.

“It was all you would take from me,” he said finally, spreading his wings wide and taking off before she could get another word in. She smiled, the force of his wings blowing her hair. She didn't mind.

She knew now, in the very fiber or her soul, that all she had to do was call, and he'd come.

Chapter Text

Kit and Johnna refused to speak for the whole week-long trip to Vega. By the end of it, Matt was protesting that he already knew enough about the Italian Renaissance to be Johnna, and therefore didn’t have to talk to her ever again. Kit was sulking, and Cass was forced to stride so far ahead of them that she was barely visible in order to avoid their voices. Fallon and Morrow were having in-depth conversations about the aesthetic qualities of grass as compared to sand, and Cass was about ready to knock them all out and go to Vega alone.

She missed Lexington. They all did, but Cass had always felt a certain kinship with her that was absent from her interactions with Matt and Johnna. Now, she reflected, as the wind numbed her face and sand made its way through her shoes, she felt alone. Even with Fallon, who was the only family she’d ever had, she felt like she was missing something. The sun sank lower on the gold-tinged horizon, and she shivered with a strange joy. The colder the nights became, the more at home she felt in the wilderness.

“We almost there?” Morrow called, oily voice grating on her nerves.

“Mile and a half,” she called back, cresting the ridge to find herself overlooking a vast expanse of destroyed city. And there, in the distance, was Vega. Like the Coliseum in Rome for which Johnna expressed her most ardent admiration, it was round, tall, and imposing. And shiny.

“You’d think they enjoyed being attacked, walls like that,” Kit snorted, coming up beside her. Cass nodded, thinking of Lexington and Jeep and the city neither would return to.

“Maybe they’re just asking for it,” Morrow suggested, tripping over a rock.

“Maybe you are,” Johnna muttered, avoiding Kit’s gaze. “We going to get shelter in the city, or save that confrontation for later?” Cass looked back at the city, a proud, shining oasis in the basin of carnage and darkness.

“We’re going to knock on the front door,” Cass said, starting down the other side of the ridge, bag heavy with books and food from Trinity. “And if they won’t let us in, we’ll go in through the back.”

“Why wouldn’t they let us in?” Kit asked sarcastically under her breath. “We’re so friendly and trustworthy.”

“Speak for yourself,” Johnna said, pushing past her.

They reached Vega’s walls before the moon rose fully, and the light pouring from the walls was startling to them all after nights lit by flame and oil, moon and hand-crank generators.

“Halt!” A mechanized voice filtered through a speaker beside the road.

“We’re halting,” Fallon huffed, dropping Morrow like a sack of fruit.

“We’re visitors from Trinity and Rowan Tree!” Cass called up,  raising a piece of paper in her left hand. There was a moment of silence, before the gate opened and a flood of soldiers subjected them to a very very thorough inspection. Fallon twitched every time one of them touched him, and Johnna literally bit the hand of a soldier who tried to pull her head back to look at her eyes. Kit stood still, cooperating like a doll, eyes steely and mouth clamped shut. Morrow was untied and examined, and Cass was forced forward, thrown into the mess with the others.

“Calm down,” she said, voice calm, quiet, clear. “They’re just afraid.” The soldiers found themselves burdened suddenly with an overabundance of cooperation, the others calming. Johnna still made a snarling noise at the bitten soldier, who made a face at her. Fallon glared at her, and the soldier looked between them, before smiling charmingly at Fallon.

“Ethan Mack,” he introduced himself. Fallon, startled, stuck out his hand awkwardly.

“Fallon Thibedeaux.” Ethan, still smiling at Fallon, missed the entrance of another man, but Kit didn’t.

“Before you say anything,” Kit said quickly, “It was all a misunderstanding.”

“A misunderstanding,” Michael repeated, voice cold.

“What did you do?” Cass asked her again, and Kit made a face.

“Nothing much,” she lied.

“Who are you?” Michael asked, and Cass tilted her head. There was a moment of quiet, as their eyes met. Michael sized her up quickly- small, dark, with a dreamer’s eyes and a heavy bag. Cass took a little longer, tracing the silhouette of twin blades under his coat, the stance he took against Kit, the surety of his movement and the way he seemed to move miles with every step.

“Cassandra Thibedeaux,” she said finally, eyes lighting with something like joy. She reached out one hand, Michael saw, traced with swirls of midnight black. “I’m your Prophet.”

“Told you so,” Johnna whispered, and Matt grudgingly passed her a golden coin.

Michael couldn’t seem to find anything to say for a moment, simply took her hand in his and turned it over, as if looking for something. Finally, he reached out and traced a finger over a symbol on the inside of her wrist, a small smile growing on his usually cold face. “You are, aren’t you?” He asked, and Cass grasped both of his hands with hers.

“Could you maybe stop getting yourself stabbed?” She asked, a grin spreading on her face. "It hurts, y'know." Michael smiled sheepishly, nodded, before releasing her and addressing the assembled soldiers.

“You will refrain from speaking of this to others for the time being,” he told them. “This is a matter of great secrecy.”

“You don’t need to worry about us, sir,” Ethan assured him, leaning one arm on Fallon’s shoulder, then standing up straight when Fallon glared at him.

“Naturally,” Michael responded drily. Cass just kept smiling. “Cataliel,” he began, and Kit winced. “We will discuss this.”

“Naturally,” she replied, swallowing.

Chapter Text

Thirteen years ago

Cass looked over the edge of Trinity’s ridge and sighed. She didn’t want to leave her home. She and her brother had lived there for as long as she could remember, and she had no wish to change that. But Fallon’s word was law, and he had told her they were leaving.

Cass was what people called a Child of the End. She had never known true civilization, had never seen anything from before Gabriel and his army decimated the world. She was ten years old now, and though her brother had often tried to impress upon her that things were different once, she still didn’t quite understand. Not that anyone could blame her- Fallon was never good at explaining.

“But why?” She asked, slumping over the side of the railing.

“Because,” Fallon sighed, pulling her back before she fell, “We need to go somewhere safer.” Cass looked up at this, tawny hair falling over her face.

“We’re not safe here?” She asked, worry rising up to overtake her.

“Not anymore,” he said, leading her toward the staircase down. “We’re leaving for Rowan Tree tomorrow. It’s underground,” he added, as though this was something to be excited about. Cass pouted. Fallon opened the door and ushered her through.

“Is it by the ocean?” She asked suddenly. Fallon shook his head, and she deflated once more. “Is there any water near it?” She whined.

“I think there’s a lake,” he suggested, steering her down the unwieldy staircase.

“Good enough,” she said after a moment.

The journey from Trinity was easy enough- they hopped a train to the Southern Road, made their way to the next train station. Everything would have been just fine if they hadn’t met Jeep Hanson.

But they did.

They were well on their way to Rowan Tree, waiting for the east-bound train, when a man in dark clothes dusted with sand came up beside them. He looked tired. Cass knew tired, had seen people who had stood guard for two days then collapsed in their beds, women who had stayed up to nurse sick friends they knew were going to die. This was a different kind of tired- bone-deep and unyielding. As if life itself had begun to weigh on him and press him deeper into the dirt.

“Hi.” She said, looking over at him. He looked back, dark eyes tinted gold with surprise and sunlight. She waved a little. Sitting atop the roadside fence, she was almost taller than him.

“Cass,” Fallon said, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

“But then I’d only be able to talk to you,” she said, kicking her legs. The man snorted.

“Jeep Hanson,” he introduced himself, offering a hand to Fallon, who eyed him for a moment before taking it.

“I’m Cass,” she said.

“I know that now,” Jeep replied.

“Okay,” she said, squinting into the sun to see if there were any trains coming. There weren’t.

“Where are you coming from?” Fallon asked, ruffling a hand through his hair. Jeep shrugged.

“Near enough to Fleet.” Fallon looked him over again. Cass leaned forward to look at the sand.

“On your way from Vega?” He asked, tilting his head. Jeep shook his head, bitterness leaking into his voice.

“Not anymore.” He looked over at Cass again. “I’m looking for an old friend. I heard she was back into the train system, and I figured I should start looking before she started hiding again.”

“She do a lot of hiding?” Fallon asked, suspicion rising again.

“Don’t we all?” Jeep replied, gazing into the middle distance. Cass leaned back to look up at the sky.

“Some more than others.” Fallon reached into his pocket, grasped the knife he carried.

“How old are you two?” Jeep asked suddenly. Fallon froze.

“I’m ten,” Cass said dreamily, looking up at the clouds in the sky.

“I- She’s not…” Fallon struggled for words. “You don’t get to ask shit like that.”

“How old are you, huh?” Jeep asked, “Twenty? Eighteen?”

“Nineteen,” Fallon grit out.

“And you’re taking your sister across the most dangerous desert in the country for what?” He asked, “For what, safety? There isn’t any. There never is.” Fallon’s fists and jaw clenched.

“You’re kind of a downer,” Cass said, nodding, to the sky. Jeep and Fallon both stared at her for a moment. She looked down, a little bit offended. “There might not be safety, but there’s shelter. And shelter keeps you alive longer than pessimism.” There was a long pause, the two men staring up at the little girl, still kicking her feet against a fence.

“You read a lot?” Jeep asked, finally.

“Yeah,” Cass shrugged. “They have some cool books in Trinity.”

“I’ll bet they do,” Jeep laughed, quietly, a little sadly.  The train’s rumbling came around the corner for them, and Jeep reached up a hand to help Cass down. “M’lady.”

“Thank you,” she said primly, not even noticing the ink-black spirals that looped up her wrists to form bracelets and cuffs, chains of words binding her to a duty and a person she wouldn’t truly know for over a decade. She looked forward, to the train, and Fallon looked back.

“WHat the hell did you do?” He demanded of Jeep, who looked down and sighed.

“I’m sorry,” he told her, “I’m so sorry, but I didn’t do anything.” He knelt, placing his hands on her shoulders. “You’re special, Cass.”

“I know,” she said, smiling. “I’m still alive.”

“No,” Jeep said, smiling sadly, “You’re even more than that- you’re chosen.” He looked up at Fallon, stood. “Her name is Lexington,” he told him. “My friend, I mean. She’s like Cass.” He reached into a pocket, pulled out a piece of paper with dark, thin writing on it. “You need to find her more than I do,” he said.

“Go to hell,” Fallon said.

“Thank you,” Cass said.

Cass took Jeep’s paper. Fallon took her hand.

They got on the train.

They found Lexington, eventually. Six years later, when she was searching so fruitlessly for any sign of the other three Prophets, they found her. Cass cried, and said ‘I told you so,’ and Fallon shook his head, and Lexington told them they were going to meet a fallen angel at Rowan Tree.

It was wonderful.

Chapter Text

Uriel hadn’t responded to Michael’s summons at first. He knew his sister was angry, but he knew when her fury faded she’d want to know what he’d found. Cass and the others had been in Vega for several days when she finally alighted on his balcony.

“What do you want?” She asked him tartly, keeping her wings out. Michael reached out a hand, baring the inside of his wrist for her.

“I’ve met her,” he said quietly. Uriel reached out, as if despite herself. Her hands curled around his, and she traced the symbol carved into his skin like a scar.

“Is she here?” She asked, looking up, hope in her eyes once more. Michael smiled, reaching out to hold both her hands.
“All but one,” he told her, pride and joy mixing in his voice. Uriel drew in a sharp breath, tears welling in her eyes. Her wings fell, curling back beneath her skin.

“At last,” she whispered, hand going to the sigil burned into her thigh. “At long last.”

“And,” Michael told her, mood dimming, “Cataliel is with them.”

Uriel let out a catlike nose, hissing as if she’d been burned.

“That traitor comes with them?”

“Apparently,” he said lowly, stoic in his anger and disapproval. “Moroltiad as well.”

“Traitors and Prophets,” Uriel laughed bitterly. “What a day.”

“Indeed.” He smiled at his sister, feeling a kinship between them once more. She smiled back.

“You two done out there?” Fallon called from the doorway. “Cass wants everyone in your weird nest-room.”

“My bedroom, you mean,” Michael corrected him.

“No?” Fallon said flatly. “It’s a nest. In a room. It’s weird. Come on.”

“As she wishes,” Michael muttered under his breath, fondness in every word. Uriel raised her eyebrows, following them into the building once more.

Cass stood, queenlike and steadfast in the middle of the room, auburn hair pulled tight into a braid that fell over one shoulder, face set, and arms crossed over her chest.

“This everyone?” Johnna asked, popping an almond into her mouth and trying not to let the others see the matchboxes in her other hand.

Cass sighed, plucked them from her hand. “No burning down my angel’s house, Johnna.”

“Whatever,” Johnna said, shrugging. “Who said it was going to be his house?”

“No burning down anyone’s house, Johnna.”

“Warehouses?” Johnna tried, looking just a little too innocent.


“Lexington would’ve let me,” Johnna muttered. Kit snorted, and got kicked for her trouble. Cass gave them both a disapproving look, and they quelled.

“Lexington isn’t here,” Cass said. “That’s why we’re here.”

“Who’s Lexington?” Uriel asked, and Kit ducked when she saw her.

“Our fearless, peerless leader,” Johnna said, still eating. “Sorry Cass, no offense.”

“None taken,” Cass snorted. “I’m not cut out for this.”

“So where is she?” Matt asked. “Not still in Trinity, right?”

“Actually,” Cass said, laying a file on the table for the others to look at. “She is. And she’s not alone.” Fallon opened the file, spreading out various pictures of Gabriel and Lexington speaking, fighting, sitting together.

“Is she his Prophet?” Uriel asked, moving forward, never looking up from the pictures of her brother and the dark-haired girl.

“The one and only,” Cass said, smiling wistfully at one particular picture of Lexington laughing at Gabriel, who had a very disgruntled expression. If she looked though, and looked hard, she could swear she saw satisfaction there, too.

“She seems kind,” Uriel said quietly, fixed on the picture in her hands, drawing a finger over her brother’s half-smile. Michael was both surprised and unsurprised to see such softness in his brother after so long.

“She is,” Johnna said, arms crossed and expression guarded. “Lex is a good person,” she said, as if there was something important about reinforcing that statement.

“I should hope so,” Uriel scoffed. “My brother may be reckless and selfish, but there is still something worthy in him.”

“How do you know?” Cass asked, her tone and face carefully hopeful.

“Prophet and Archangel are meant to complement each other,” Kit said, finally speaking up. “If one is irreparably changed, the other is as well. If one is lost, both are.”

“Are we even certain he's her archangel?” Fallon asked, and both Michael and Uriel sighed.

“Yes,” Kit said. “The fact that he stays with her means he's felt her presence. They're linked,” she explained. “If she wasn't his prophet he'd know immediately.”

“Speaking of,” Morrow said from the corner. “What about these two? Hm?” Kit sighed, rubbing her eyes. “What about their Prophets?”

“Michael’s mine,” Cass said lightly. “Anyone else isn't my problem.” There was an edge to her words that even Morrow caught- stay away from my friends. You're not wanted here.

“It's a good question, though,” Matt said quietly, and Morrow gave him a thumbs up. “How do we know if either of us is even her Prophet?” Uriel stirred, fidgeting.

“Where is Johnna?” Cass asked, like an older sister missing one of many younger siblings. “Johnna!”

“Johnna?” Fallon called, looking out on the balcony. “She's not here. I'm going to look downstairs,” he told them, jogging out the door and down the stairs as the others began discussing possibilities for their friend’s disappearance.

“Cass,” Kit said, a warning in her voice. Cass turned to see her pointing at the table. “The matches.”

Uriel rose, suddenly, as if she had grown in size and feeling by hearing this. without another word, she swept from the room.

“Fire,” Morrow laughed, madness rising in him like blood. “Fire.”

“Archangels are to certain elements,” Kit said slowly. “I never realized-” She broke off, a numbness suffusing her.

“Uriel’s dominion is fire,” Michael said, quietly, unaffected by all the rush. “If your friend is, indeed, as drawn to flame as she seems, it's very likely she and Uriel are each other’s missing piece.”

“Fire and lightning,” Cass said in response, a smile growing on her face. “Johnna once said she dreamed of fire and lightning.”

“What do you dream of?” Michael asked quietly, intensely, looking down at her. She met his eyes for a moment, as though weighing his question against her trust in him.

“A flood,” she told him, quieting her voice almost instinctively, as if this were something sacred. “An ocean, darkness and light as one, rising above the sands of time and destroying all in its path.” Her hand joined with his unconsciously as her voice drew him closer. “A river, endless and unyielding, undying, even under the burning of the sun.” Michael drew in a breath as the distance between them closed, Cass still speaking, still telling a story she'd been hearing her whole life. “A lake, wide as the sky and deep as the heart.”

“Gross,” Kit muttered, crossing her arms and looking away. Michael cleared his throat, stepped back reluctantly.

“I'm guessing you two are water?” Matt observed wryly, picking up a book.

“Indeed,” Michael said sheepishly. Cass smiled and looked unrepentant.

“What am I, then?” He asked, a small smile on his face, curiosity in his face.

“Raphael, I should assume,” Michael said quietly. “The earth and its creatures are within you.”

“Bookworm,” Kit said derisively, but Michael noted the warmth in her voice.

“Always,” he returned with a quiet smile.

“So that's it,” Cass said, looking around. “We all know now. There are no more mysteries.”

“Not quite,” Kit said. “That's just one thing we know. What about the markings? The end of the world? The chosen one?” She made quotation marks in the air above her, and Michael’s gaze sharpened.

“You are not forgiven, Cataliel,” he reminded her darkly. “Remember that.”

Kit met his gaze, unflinching.

“I was never looking for your forgiveness,” she told him, matched in tone and fury.

“Okay, that's enough from both of you,” Cass said dryly, putting her hands over their mouths. “Let's all get along, now.”

“Yeah,” Kit scoffed, turning away. “That's not happening.”

Chapter Text

Fallon did not, in fact, make it to Johnna. He saw a flash of pale hair and was about to follow her when Uriel beat him to it. Fine, he thought.

“She’ll probably be able to actually get through to her,” he snorted. He was on his way back to Michael’s weird nest room when he got sidetracked by one Ethan Mack, who was, it seemed, trying to kill him. Tactical gear had never seemed so attractive. Don’t look too hard, don’t look too hard, don’t-

“Hey!” Ethan called, having sighted him on his way down the stairs. Fallon sighed, stopped averting his eyes.

Military uniforms should not be so attractive, Fallon reasoned. It just shouldn’t be allowed.

“Hi,” he said. Ethan’s smile didn’t fade. If anything, it grew brighter.

“So, uh, I’ve been hearing some rumors, and-”

“They’re probably untrue,” Fallon blurted out. “Most rumors are.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and tried not to look like a turtle.

“Oh,” Ethan said slyly, “That’s kind of a shame. I mean, some of those rumors I wanted to be true.”

“Yeah?” Fallon said, biting his lip. “Well maybe we could go through ‘em, I’ll tell you which ones are true, and which ones…” Ethan had a really nice smile. Like, really nice, like Fallon hadn’t seen a smile that nice since Henry Wilkes in Trinity when he was seventeen-nice. “Aren’t.”

“I’d like that,” Ethan said easily, as if Fallon’s total lack of social skills was cute rather than off-putting. “I’m on break,” he offered.

“Cool,” Fallon sighed in relief.

“Isn’t it?” Ethan drawled, coming up beside Fallon. He looked back, hoping Johnna and Uriel had worked out their… whatever it was they were trying to work out.

They hadn’t.

“I don’t want to be a prophet!” Johnna yelled, throwing a burning candle at the blonde Archangel.

“You can’t hide from your fate!” Uriel yelled back at her, ducking it handily. Johnna growled and ducked under her outstretched arm.

“Johnna?” Kit asked, coming down the stairs. “Uriel..?”

“Not a good time!” Johnna growled, smashing a plate over Uriel’s head.

“Is there ever a good time with you?” Kit sighed, grabbing one of Johnna’s arms so that Uriel could take the other. “Honestly, it’s not like she’s trying to kill you.”

“How do you know?” Johnna panted, struggling to break free. “When has any of this ever turned out well for me?” She landed a kick on Kit, who hissed and grasped her arm more tightly.

“It might,” Uriel said, seemingly unaffected by any of it. “I swear to you,” she said more quietly, into Cass’ ear. “I swear I will protect you.”

“I don’t need your protection,” Johnna hissed, pushing a butter knife into Uriel’s leg, where her armor ended. “I need to go.” Uriel made a strange noise, and Johnna managed to shrug off Kit and throw herself out of the window. Uriel stood, shock and confusion spreading across her face.

“Johnna!” Kit screamed, lunging forward to catch her hand. “Don’t do this!” SHe could feel a long wound, carved into her arm by the broken window, but she was too focused on Johnna to care. The blood running down her arm was beginning to make her hand slick, the effort was making it ever more difficult to hold her up. “Please,” she begged. “Please don’t do this to me.” Johnna laughed, and Uriel came forward, reaching to take her hand from Kit.

“Do what?” Johnna whispered, her hand slipping out of Kit’s. Uriel, as if by instinct, simply leaned over the broken glass, so far she fell forward after Johnna. Kit’s breath caught in her chest as she watched them fall, watched Uriel’s wings unfurl, watched as the Archangel swept the other girl from freefall into the skies.

She felt a pang for the things she knew she’d never have- foresight, Johnna, Lexington. She felt a pang for what she’d never have again- her wings, Raphael, a home. She missed everything and wanted everything, and for a moment she was so filled with longing that she wanted to throw herself out the window, same as Johnna. Only she knew the Archangel wouldn’t save her.

And she still had a job to do.

Uriel landed, covered in other people’s blood, carrying Johnna bridal-style.

“Put me the fuck down,” Johnna threatened her, “Or I’ll stab you again.” Uriel, huffing, dropped her legs first, then, when she was certain of the girl’s ability to stand, released her shoulders. “Thanks,” she muttered. “But I might still stab you.”

“You’ll only hurt yourself,” Kit said quietly. “You remember Cass and Michael.”

“Then why am I not bleeding out from that?” Johnna retorted, pointing to the stab wound in Uriel’s leg. The other two, startled,  found that Johnna was, indeed, unharmed. “I’m fine.”

“Yes,” Uriel said irritatedly, “You are now.”

“What the hell kind of stunt was that, anyway?” Kit asked, anger rising in her again, now that Johnna was safe. “Throwing yourself out of a window?”

“Dunno,” Johnna shrugged self-consciously. “Just felt like I had to.” She looked out the broken window, the skyline of Vega blocked by jagged spires of glass and bent steel frame. “Like there was something waiting for me in the sky.”

“Something, or someone?” Kit asked, suddenly afraid of the answer. Uriel remained silent, no doubt upset at this further setback.

“Someone,” Johnna said, voice somehow thinner.  “If she’s not my Archangel,” she asked suddenly, turning, “Then who is?”

“Raphael?” Kit asked, trading a look with Uriel.

“No,” Johnna said dismissively. “That’s Matt, we all know it’s Matt. There are no more Archangels? You’re sure?”

“Not anymore,” Uriel said.

“There used to be?” Johnna’s pale eyes were wider, somehow, more hungry than before. SHe had found something integral to herself, and was seizing on it.

“Just one,” Uriel said hollowly. “Just Lucifer.”

Chapter Text

“Oh,” said Johnna, faintly. “Cool.”

“Cool?!” Kit shrieked. “This is the exact opposite of cool!”

“If Lucifer is your archangel, I have no doubt that he was the one responsible for your sudden urge to sky-dive,” Uriel said quietly. “He wanted you away from us, as fast as possible.”

“Even if that led to her death?” Kit asked, something strange in her voice. Uriel shrugged.

“I haven’t seen Lucifer in millenia,” she explained. “We all believed him dead. I have no idea what he’s like now.”

“At least I’m one-up on Lex over something,” Johnna muttered. Kit’s eyes narrowed.

“Over what exactly?” She asked, crossing her arms. Johnna laughed and lit a cigarette with a stolen match.

“My archangel is even worse than hers.” She smiled grimly, exhaling smoke through her teeth. “And hers ended the world.”

“Is this funny to you?” Uriel broke in, eyes narrowed.

“Everything’s funny to me right now,” Johnna replied, exhaling one last lungful of smoke before dropping her cigarette and twisting it beneath her heel. “I’m the devil’s soulmate,” she shrugged. “And it doesn’t surprise me. If that’s not hindsight, I don’t know what is.”

“Do you often find yourself in such situations?” Uriel asked, crossing her arms in a way eerily reminiscent of Kit.

“Kind of,” Johnna said, gazing off into the distance, where the shards of bloodied glass blocked pieces of the skyline. “You ever fix your arm, Kit?” She asked suddenly, turning. The fallen angel looked down at the pool of blood on the ground, then at the jagged gash in her arm.

“Oh,” she said, face crinkling in worry. “Right.” Then, rather melodramatically, Johnna thought, she collapsed.

“Lovely,” Uriel said crisply. “A traitor and the my dead brother’s soulmate- just what i need on my hands.”

“Don’t look at me,” Johnna snorted. “I didn’t ask for any of this.”

Chapter Text

Twelve years ago

Johnna met Jeep and Lexington at the same time, though she didn’t know it then. She was about twelve years old, a street rat living in the tunnels of Rowan Tree with all the other children too young or too weak or too something to help their parents with surviving.

Johnna didn’t have any parents, they had died years ago, around two years after the world fell, but she told the others she did so they’d stay with her.

“They didn’t want me, either,” she’d tell the younger children who had lost hope, who were asking to be left behind to die. “But look at me- I lived.” Sal would shake her head and smile, but she wouldn’t correct Johnna. Hope was hope, real or not. Salana, or Sal, Gioverti was the closest thing any of them had to an older sibling, and Johnna worshipped her. Later in life she’d think about how maybe she had a bit of a pattern when it came to her life choices- first the street kids and Sal, then the Prophets and Lexington- but she would let those thoughts go as soon as they’d come. Whatever they were, they didn’t really matter.

She was a good thief, better than most, at least. She was an expert pickpocket- could take a man’s knife before he even thought he might need it. So when Jeep grabbed her arm just before she took his last coin, she was both annoyed and afraid. (Pride, she’d think later, her first sin.)

“What do you think you’re doing?” He asked, and the dark-haired girl beside him looked up, seemed uninterested, and turned back to speaking with the man at the stall.

“Nothing,” Johnna growled, squirming out of his grasp, coin in hand.

“Hey!” Jeep yelled, chasing her through the halls of the complex. He was taller, sure, and his legs were longer, but Johnna had been here longer, had found tunnels where tree roots once burrowed, where animals had lived, where people had hidden from angels. Unfortunately, she didn’t quite make it to her tunnels in time. She tripped, sprawled hard on the ground, and Jeep just managed to grab her ankle.

“Let go,” she hissed, kicking him square in the face with her other leg. “I need this more than you do.”

“Kid,” Jeep began, hand still wrapped like a shackle around her ankle, “You have no idea-”

“Jeep!” The other girl called, coming up behind them. He looked over his shoulder at her, and Johnna took her chance to scramble free of his grip and into the walls.

“Dammit,” he cursed, wiping dirt from his face where she’d kicked him. “What the hell is wrong with people.” Lexington, for that was who she was, snorted impolitely.

“If she hadn’t done it, I might’ve,” she pointed out. “We all want to live.”

“You would’ve stolen from me?” Jeep asked, looking hurt. Lexington shrugged.


Johnna didn’t hear the rest- she was too busy rounding up the other children. One coin could buy sixteen meals if you bargained right, and Johnna and Sal had fifteen other people to feed that day. It would take her a few weeks to really notice the black lines and circles arching up her legs like a madman’s constellations. She’d thought, for about half a month, that they were just really deep bruises.

Chapter Text

Eight years ago

It was midnight when Johnna set the first fire. Sal had died the night before, burning with fever and blood leaking from her eyes like tears. Pox, the doctor had said. (Poison, something in her whispered.) They had burned her body on the surface, smoke worming its way into everything for miles around.

Johnna had cried. Then she’d gone to find some matches. They were cheap, maybe twenty for a good two inches of your hair. (Pride had left her by then, she mused, hacking off a foot of hair.) She started with candles, placing them in strategically awful places, where people would trip over them, knock them over, light everything around them on fire.

When that wasn’t enough, she started burning leaves, books, cloth. She set so many fires there was more smoke than air in the tunnels, more ash than life, more dead than living. They found her lying in the crux of two branches in the tree for which the city was named, pale hair much shorter than it used to be and dress streaked with ash and blood. The dark lines on her legs were moving, oscillating like stars, like planets in orbit and meteors falling.

They would have arrested her, if they had a jail left to put her in.

(Wrath was rising.)

They did arrest her, the second time. They pulled her away from the burning house and locked her away, and she didn’t move from the spot they put her in for a week and a half. They tied her to a stake and made her watch as they burned everything she owned. The other children, children she and Sal had practically raised together, watched, laughing and mocking her. The city decried her, cast her out and forced her away.

She didn’t mind.

She returned, three years later, with Kit and Lexington, Cass and Fallon. It was like returning to hell, and she didn’t make it to the ladder before she began trembling and yearning for a match or two. Lexington’s hand on her wrist stopped her, the grey ice in her eyes cooling her fingers enough to think again.

“It was you,” she whispered, recognizing that blank stare, remembering dark hair and unimpressed eyes.

“Who else?” Lexington asked wryly, that half-smile larger than life and so reminiscent of Sal it almost ached. “You need to calm down.”

“I can’t.”

“You don’t have a choice,” Lex said evenly, hand still immovable on her wrist.

Johnna calmed herself down, made it down the ladder, and began compulsively blowing out a candle and relighting it, over and over again for hours, until Kit was satisfied she could stay.

“Find the fourth,” she told Lexington, looking up at her like she was the moon. “Then come back.”

(Johnna felt as if she’d seen something private, and despite herself couldn’t regret it. Envy burned through her, fast and hot.)

“Of course,” Lex agreed. “Come on, Johnna,” she called, and they left the others behind to go find the last Prophet.

Sometimes Johnna wished she had died in that first fire.

Sometimes she was glad she didn’t.

Chapter Text

They took the long road to the Nevada-California train. The journey from Arizona to Nevada was easier for Lex than Johnna- after all, until three years ago, Johnna had never even left Rowan. In comparison to her older, wiser companion, Johnna felt like a sheltered young girl. Granted, it was a strange sort of shelter that tried to kill you, but that was the least of Johnna’s problems with Rowan.

Johnna was always a few steps behind Lexington, always letting her lead. She didn’t know if she respected Lex, but she definitely admired her. Johnna didn’t think she’d respected anybody in her life, so if she did, it was a new feeling for her.

“How much farther?” She asked, to make conversation.

“Two days to the crossroad, then the train should take us another two to San Francisco.” Lex stopped, lifting a flask to her lips. She took a moment to drink, then held it out to Johnna.

“Why San Francisco?” Johnna asked, taking what Lex passed her.

“It’s the last sanctuary of the scholars,” Lex drawled, gazing into the distance. “Raphael predicted where we would find each Prophet, y’know.” She watched as Johnna tilted her head.

“Is that what we are?” She asked wearily. “Prophets?”

“‘S far as I know,” Lex said, shrugging. “Raphael hasn’t been wrong so far. She told Kit I’d be a wanderer, that she’d find me lost and angry.” Johnna snorted, sliding down to sit at the base of a fallen log.

“It’s hard to imagine you lost,” Johnna laughed. “Now that’s something I’d pay to see- Ms. In Control out of control.”

“I was, though.” Lex seemed to pause, and she looked down at Johnna. “You may yet see it,” she said enigmatically. “She said we’d find Cass ‘unshakeable in her conviction, with a faithful shadow and a willing heart,’ and that was right, too.”

“What’d she say about me?” Johnna asked, enjoying the unhurried honesty. Lex laughed, sitting beside her with a half-smile.

“That you’d be a burning flame in the night- unmistakeable in your righteousness and your passion.” Something about the way Lex said them, arching and pompous, made Johnna think she was quoting Kit. It was funnier, somehow, knowing that Lex, ice-cold and fiercely removed, was really just as unimpressed by the fallen angel as Johnna.

“So the fourth? They’re in a library or something?”

“Mmm,” Lex hummed, taking another drink. “The last true scholar- gathering knowledge for the sake of the people and spreading it amongst his fellows in the spirit of goodwill and survival. Or something like that.”

“This one’s a he, then?” Johnna snorted, standing and stretching. “Poor guy, stuck with three girls.”

“And Kit,” Lex added, still smiling a half-smile, “And Fallon.”

“Neither of whom count,” Johnna corrected her.

“Ah, poor outcasts,” Lex agreed, shouldering her burdens once more.

The train itself took less than two days to reach San Francisco.

“Holy shit,” Johnna whispered, staring around her in awe. Having lived in a clandestine, dirty city beneath a tree her whole life, she was understandably mystified by the idea of any city that was not only above ground, but centered wholly around water.

The city rose like a jagged, shattered spine, arching over hills and spiraling up the sky in ruined spires. Broken glass, twisted metal and skeletons of the dead lay scattered over the ground. In the distance, a bridge, still patchy with red paint, rust and steel, stretched and fell like a broken arm into the bay. The water roiled, blue and opaque like ice, and Johnna felt suddenly dizzy.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Lex asked, warmth in her voice, and Johnna followed her friend’s eyes to a particular tower, which looked as if half of it had been carved away and broken. The open spaces, however, had been patched in with swaths of fabric, paper, anything that seemed at hand. Stretching around the fourth floor of the tower was a sign written in blood that read, OURS NOW. “That’s the Library,” she said, capital letter audible. “That’s where we’ll find him.”

Chapter Text

Uriel carried Kit handily back to Michael’s room, where the others gathered worriedly around her, lain out on Michael’s wide bed.

“Will she be alright?” Matt asked, worry and frustration warring in his eyes.

“She’ll be fine,” Uriel dismissed, leaving Cass and Matt to clean her wound and bind her arm. Michael shot her a look at her callous disposition, but she returned it with a cold glare.

“The blood loss is unhelpful,” Johnna observed bitterly, shoving her hands in her pockets.  

“So was the betrayal,” Uriel sniped back at her. Cass looked up, brow furrowed.

“I take it you’re not soulmates?” She asked, something more like satisfaction than surprise in her tone. Uriel shook her head, a sour look on her face, and Matt sighed, pausing in his bandaging to shove some money into Cass’ hand. She smiled smugly and pocketed it. Johnna shook her head.

“How’d you know?” She asked, resigned.

“She’s your type,” Cass began, “But you’re too alike to be soulmates. You see how you and Kit act.” Uriel snorted.

“I am nothing like Cataliel,” she scoffed. Cass raised her eyebrows doubtfully.

“If you say so,” she muttered. Michael observed, fondness leaking through his cool facade.

“Then who?” He asked Uriel quietly. “She’s undoubtedly a prophet…”

“Lucifer,” Uriel replied, watching her brother shrink back.

“No…” He mouthed, eyes wide and mouth twisted in shock. “But we-”

“You don’t think Gabriel might’ve-?” She intoned, the two of them moving away from the Prophets to speak privately. Johnna looked up, suspicion burning in her face, but returned her attention to Kit once they moved out of range.

“He carries that guilt still,” Michael shook his head. “If he knew of Lucifer’s return he’d be free of it, and gladly.”

“And what of your guilt?” Uriel asked, side-eyeing the fallen angel on his bed. “You were the one charged with the disposal of his body. “

“I buried him at sea,” Michael began, and at Uriel’s rising rage, protested. “He deserved that dignity.”

“You set him free to return!” Uriel hissed. “Did we deserve that?”

Michael, chastised, glanced back at Kit, a darkness settling in his face. “No.” The blonde crossed her arms and glared at him. “None of you ever deserved this.”

“I probably did,” Kit said, weakly. She sat up, with hurried help from Matt and Cass. “All of this is my fault in the first place.” Michael and Uriel turned as one, like two tall statues guarding the entrance to a forbidden world. In a way, Kit figured, they were.

“How exactly is this your fault?” Uriel asked, dangerously low. Kit swallowed her fear, looking up through her jagged bangs, and sighed.

“Tell them,” a voice croaked from the corner. Cass near enough jumped, turning to look at the last member of their audience, the one they’d all but forgotten. Morrow laughed roughly. “Tell them what you did to me. What you did to her .” Cass looked back at the woman she’d thought was her friend.

“Kit?” She asked quietly, and the woman looked away from her, seeming for the first time truly ashamed.

“I’m the reason there are only four prophets. The reason Morrow is the way he is. The reason Lucifer was able to accomplish even this much.” Kit blinked away what might have been a tear. “I ruined everything.”

“And so much more than even that,” Morrow spit at her, seething from his ropes in the corner. Kit closed her eyes, as though his words had physically wounded her.

“And more than that,” she agreed quietly. Meeting Uriel’s eyes for the first time, she set her jaw. “I suppose it’s time I told you the truth, isn’t it?”

“I should think so,” Michael agreed evenly, crossing his arms. “As I recall, your crime was losing the amphorae.” Kit half-smiled and shrugged.

“Actually, I was covering for Miriel in that case.” She chuckled half-heartedly. “What I did was worse. It was…” she spread her still-bleeding hands like a magician. “It was evil, I think, in a way angels aren’t supposed to be.” She shook her head, vacant smile still fixed ruefully on her face. “But in a way I was. It only took me a couple thousand years to figure that out, and by the time I did…” She shrugged again. “By the time I figured things out I was out of time to fix it. So I took someone else’s crime and did my best.”

“What did you do?” Cass asked, unusually cold, arms crossed over her chest and reservation marring her face. Kit was almost proud of how like Lex she was in that moment. Or she would have been, if she wasn’t about to show the blood on her hands.

“Nothing good,” she said quietly. “In fact, I did just about every bad thing you can do, and I did it all to you.”