Eleison

by Koiwa Shishiko (小岩 獅神)
illustrated by andeburu

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/89129.html)

It was well after the midnight office when the crash called Hugh outside to his garden. Enclosed as it was by the walls of his cell and the one next to his, the noise was perhaps louder than it should have been, though it didn’t seem that it had stirred any of Hugh’s brothers from their own beds. He stumbled outside barefoot, groggy and squinting at what he supposed must be an owl caught in the bean trellis in pursuit of a mouse; he found the trellis smashed. The moon was full and made everything look unreal, which somehow made absorbing the scene before him easier.

He wrestled the prone figure free of the shattered wood, doing all that he could to avoid making worse what he could see were grave injuries. Only when he finally stood again, cradling the poor creature like a like a wounded child in his arms, did he see his face. Hugh’s breath caught in his throat, and he looked away.

He was not at all what Hugh would have expected. Angels are without earthly form, of course, except for those times when they have business among men; Hugh had never heard one described in any detail, but the stained glass windows adorning the church of his childhood contained elegantly wrought shapes with golden locks, white wings, and loving and kind faces. The figure that now shivered on Hugh’s modest pallet was angular in most aspects, with heavy black curls that framed a strong brow and defined nose, resembling nothing quite so much as the Bohemian boys that prowled the markets in the cities. The wing tucked demurely against his back, and the one draped over the full length of the tragically inadequate cell’s floor, was brown speckled with grey and cream. Hugh was humbled by how mundane the assumptions of man were, that a heavenly being might resemble a mere local lord.

The wound on the his temple, which normally would surely foretell a slow death, steadily wept something that neither looked nor smelled like blood. Hugh dragged the water bucket to the foot of the bed and cleaned that and the gashed leg, but he dared not touch the broken wing. The brush of its feathers on his arms felt like a stolen intimacy. He prayed over him instead, begging that the Lord have mercy for one of His most beloved, though by what means he had come to such a fate Hugh could not begin to guess.

Despite his fear and despite his worry, Hugh nodded off sometime in the dark hours of the morning with his head in the crook of his elbow inches away from his guest’s face. His dreams were exhausted and confused, and when he was jolted awake by the brush of fingers on his hair he sat up sharply with unthinking guilt.

The boy blinked at him. His eyes were so dark they were almost wholly black; when Hugh dared look up at him again, his lips curved into a smile so sweet Hugh’s heart halted momentarily within his breast. Then the angel spoke, but the words were alien: sing-song vowels and soft consonants that stirred no recognition. He raised an eyebrow at Hugh’s blank expression, and Hugh, finally fully awake, crossed himself once and knelt as though he were before a pope.

“Forgive me,” he said. The sound of his own voice startled him a little. “I am but the lowest of the most lowly of the servants of God. I am not fit to speak or understand the language of Heaven.” In his fear, he himself had unthinkingly slipped back into French. “Though it must dirty your tongue to speak the words of man, I beg you to forgive one who seeks only to help you.”

His words were met with silence, and after a few seconds he forced himself to look up. The dark eyes were fixed upon him with an expression of bafflement; after a moment that gaze shifted to the wing still awkwardly spread, and then back to Hugh.

“My father was a falconer,” Hugh said hastily, forcing his mouth back to Latin. “I watched him treat breaks such as this, and if you’ll allow me to–” He swallowed. “I can try to tend to it.”

The dark little herald’s brow creased, and his full lips pressed themselves into an angry line as he pushed himself up and tried to draw his wing in. But the broken bones were well-jostled, and he shouted in shocked pain and let it flop to the floor again, useless.

“God forgive me,” Hugh whispered, his head bowed before his own bed. He had been moved to pity before, but now he was afraid, deathly afraid. “God have mercy on me.”

For long seconds he kept his eyes tightly shut and his head low, as he did every morning and every night in deepest prayer. Then the soft touch on his brow came again, as the graceful hand laid fully atop Hugh’s head. The warmth of it made his shoulders ease and the knots in his stomach relax.

“Have no fear,” the angel said in soft French. “God hath naught but the deepest gratitude for thee.”

Hugh could feel the break as he passed his fingertips over the silk-softness of the wing’s leading edge. It was hot to the touch and had a certain springiness under light pressure that bode ill. The angel’s breath caught as Hugh pressed a cloth soaked in cold water against that heat, the excess gliding off the feathers to drip onto the floor. Many of the feathers themselves were twisted and broken, and after some hesitation Hugh set about straightening them, running his fingers over and between them to make them lie flat. To that, his companion pressed his cheek to the thin pillow and sighed deeply. The absurdity of it all had melted down to practicality, made easier by the pre-dawn shadows.

“What is your name?” the angel asked drowsily. His Latin was as gracefully voiced as his French.

“Hugh.” He paused. “Your Grace.”

“Hugh.” The angel closed his eyes and swallowed. The sound of the name on his lips was like a single peal of a bell. “Where are we?”

“The Order of Saint Bruno, your Grace.” The wound that mottled the skin over the boyishly large eyes never quite escaped Hugh’s sphere of worry. “In the Chartreuse Mountains.”

“Chartreuse–” He lifted his head and winced. “The Alps?”

Hugh felt along the length of the limb, relaxed and heavy in his hands. “Yes.” There was another break at the crest. A single tiny bone felt jostled loose, flexing dangerously from the joint as Hugh passed a cautious touch over it. The angel groaned, and for the next few minutes he did not speak again.

After these last few years of near solitude within this cell, it seemed odd how easily casual conversation returned after the initial shock of a new face. He saw his brothers thrice daily over prayer, but little was ever said. They all walked their separate paths with God within an arm’s length of one another. Idle chatter was an anathema to the Order; outside of the walk they spoke only to God and, when absolutely necessary, to the prior. But to house a herald of God, itself in need, and not dare to speak to it seemed the greater sin. “My Lord…?” That felt a little more natural.

The long eyelashes fluttered once.

“Do you have a name that men may speak?”

He was graced only with a moment of grim silence and another raised eyebrow. “Is this… an abbey?”

“…No, my Lord, a charterhouse.” Hugh was awed by the sheer breadth of the wing. Even now, not entirely unfurled, it filled the whole room. As a boy he had held his father’s hawks, and he had often carried aloft felled birds fated for his mother’s cooking pot, but neither had struck this quiet balance of resistance and trust.

“Oh.” The angel swallowed again, a barely audible click, and Hugh felt the muscles in the wing shiver. “What’s the difference?”

That gave Hugh pause. “If my Lord knows of none, then I suppose it’s not of consequence.”

“…I see.” The words were a sigh, frustrated and hollow. Hugh studied the deeply shadowed face sidelong, still gently unbending broken shafts and vanes with his fingers. “Yves,” he finally said, half-blurred by the pillow.

Hugh hesitated. “This is your name? Yves?”

“No.” The angel tucked in his chin and and smiled. He looked like a child pleased with a joke. “But if you have need of a name, it will serve.”

Hugh was again left speechless by the French whispered into his pallet, but he recovered himself and followed suit. “Lord Yves.” He released the wing, laying it down gently; the angel — Yves — again tried to draw it back, but he shuddered deeply mid-way through the motion and merely let it come to rest on the floor. It hurt Hugh to see something so grand and beautiful humbled, but it touched him as well. What could he possibly say to comfort him? Who was he to think he should? “The break is bad,” he said softly. “I can’t–”

He was interrupted by the toll of the chapel bell. Yves lifted his head curiously. “It’s the call to Mass,” Hugh said. Prime had slipped by without his notice, but he didn’t quite feel that he had missed it.

“Ah,” said Yves. Something changed; he laid his head down again and switched back to Latin crisply. “You may go.”

Hugh hesitated; daring to question what was clearly a dismissal, he asked, “My Lord, are you sure?”

“Yes.” Yves smiled a little. “For the time being your bed will do me more good than you can.” He closed his eyes. “Not that your ministrations aren’t appreciated.”

“Of course.” Hugh looked around the bed, squinting in the dark, and located the blanket he’d thrown off mere hours ago. He reached over awkwardly to pull it over Yves, and was startled when Yves, lying on his stomach, reached over his shoulder not to grasp the sheet but the edge of Hugh’s cloak.

“Don’t tell anyone,” he said.

His fingers looked like white marble on the dark wool. Having been granted the freedom of a nurse already, Hugh laid his own hand over them and said, “You’re safe here.”

Yves relaxed, but something about his silence told Hugh he didn’t believe him.

When Hugh returned from morning prayer, his cell was still mostly occupied by the broken wing, and Yves himself had burrowed under the blanket entirely and was well asleep. Hugh managed to get past the bed without stepping on his guest and withdrew into the oratory for Terce. After that he retrieved some tools from his cellar and set about fixing the trellis.

The sun had risen while he was in the chapel, and the situation in his garden now looked far more depressing. The trellis aside, Hugh wasn’t sure if the bean plants could be saved, and some of the pumpkins were looking worse for wear, too. Fixing it would be beyond his means for today then, so the best he could do was to get to work clearing out the wreckage. Hugh plucked a small, fluffy feather from a shard of wood and sighed. Someone might think to ask what had happened on the next walk, but it wasn’t likely; his brothers were not an incurious lot, but given the opportunity to converse they usually had more pressing topics to discuss. A man’s wrecked garden paled in interest next to his dialogue with God. Small disasters are just a fact of mortal existence.

Hugh pressed his fingertips into his temple briefly. The feather he was holding brushed his cheek.

He heard Yves stir and try to get up before the angel announced himself; there was a dull thump, and then a higher one, followed by several emphatic words in the lilting language he’d spoken before. Hugh was unsure if offering help now would be wise, as he was fighting the absurd urge to laugh, but Yves appeared in the doorway presently and it didn’t seem humorous anymore.

“Lovely day,” Yves said, his arms crossed over his chest and his shoulders hunched forward slightly. He leaned on the jamb with all of his weight on his uninjured leg and his broken wing fanned down his side, feathers brushing the ground like splayed fingers.

Hugh stared, standing amidst the ruin of his garden with a broken plank of wood in one hand and a feather in the other. Yves’s mouth twisted a little, bordering on petulant, and he uncoiled himself just enough to point back vaguely over his shoulder. “I knocked over your, ah….” He stood bare to the waist, and though he was even smaller than Hugh had taken him for — Hugh was no giant, but Yves barely came to his shoulder — he was surprisingly strong-looking, lean and wiry. “Mary. I put her back,” he added. What clothing he was wearing was loose at his hips and ripped open at his thigh.

“My Lord,” Hugh breathed, “Why are you out here?”

Yves’s expression softened. He was paler than Hugh had thought, too; in the grey morning light, the contrast between the darkness of his eyes and hair with the whiteness of his skin made him look like a painting. “You are,” he said simply.

Hugh put down the broken post. His brothers would want to get some work in before Sext anyway, and if they stood outside conversing it would be only a matter of time before someone in the cloister noticed. Yves shuffled back clumsily into the cell when it was clear Hugh meant to come inside, putting a hand to the wall and limping badly. Hugh was surprised and distressed; he hadn’t thought the wound on his thigh was so bad.

Yves sank down onto the edge of Hugh’s bed with a sigh, still leaning forward under the dead weight of the wing. The cell was a mess with shed feathers and dirt and, yes, the Virgin in the oratory was knocked askew. Hugh straightened it with a touch and fetched his broom.

Yves plucked a loose feather from Hugh’s blanket — dark at the tip and cream at the base and striped along the edge like a falcon’s. He pinched the shaft and spun it between his thumb and forefinger, letting it twirl into the air and then drift peacefully to his feet. Hugh suddenly wondered, with a small pang of guilt at the possible sacrilege, whether Yves might actually be a child, or what would pass for a child amongst his kind.

“Ah, it’s going to rain.” Yves sighed.

Hugh bowed his head briefly in puzzled acknowledgment and resumed sweeping the floor. When he knelt before the Virgin for the sixth hour prayer, Yves laid down again and was quiet.

eleison_sm

illustrated by andeburu

A lay monk pushed bread and a dish of boiled vegetables through the window that connected Hugh’s cell to the cloister hall at lunchtime, and Hugh wordlessly set it on the floor beside the bed. He mixed water with a little wine and gently touched Yves’s bare shoulder. “My Lord,” he whispered.

Yves shivered at the touch but didn’t wake immediately. Hugh found his eyes drawn to the area of Yves’s back between his wings; it was feathered as well, fine and soft-looking. Hugh frowned. “Lord Yves.”

“Mmn?”

Hugh reached up to his throat to unbuckle his cloak. “Are you not cold?”

“Cold? No, I– oh.” The cloak fell over him uneasily; he wrapped his good wing around himself so the cloth was even, but it tangled with the broken limb. “I don’t think this will work.”

“My Lord cannot go unclothed,” Hugh said firmly.

“I’m not unclothed.” Yves drew himself up to kneeling on the pallet, and then twisted awkwardly to push his legs over the edge of the bed. He frowned at the torn and mud-stained state of his leggings. “These need to be handed over to your girl, though.”

Hugh pressed the water into Yves’s hands. “There are no girls here, my Lord. We each wash our own.”

Yves blinked. He looked down into the cup and sniffed it a little. “Then I suppose you will wash them.”

“Of course, my Lord, but please eat first.” He motioned to the tray of food and then retreated from Yves’s space to sit at his desk. Yves sipped the water and frowned down at the food. After a few moments of what almost seemed a stand-off, Yves leaned down and picked up a piece of the bread, examining it closely. Hugh said nothing as Yves turned it over in his hand, and then, apparently satisfied, dropped it back on to the tray.

“Are there really no women?” he asked.

“Not here, my Lord. The convent of our Order is in Prébayon.”

Yves gazed into his cup moodily and considered this. “It must be very lonely here,” he said.

Hugh tilted his head, pondering his answer. It was rather as though God had given flesh and blood to the little voice of doubt that had sat in the back of his mind when he was still a novice (and, admittedly, woke up still now and again); a chance to debate it openly was not unwelcome. “We are never lonely in the presence of God. Though His angels may not impressed with such a life, owing to their right to worship Him at His throne, God is in all things, thus we are never alone.”

Yves’s brow creased. “Is God not in other people, then?”

“He is. But the brothers and fathers of our Order devote themselves to finding God free of distraction, and in sharing ourselves with Him, find our purpose. And so we look for what is within.”

Yves glanced to the little window in the door to the cloister. “Do you not even speak to one another?”

“We speak to each other at lunch on Sundays, and on a walk outside the grounds on Monday.”

“That’s all?” Yves looked aghast. Hugh nodded slightly. “You…” Yves leaned back suddenly, frowning. “You are not under vows of silence, are you?”

Hugh hesitated, and Yves’s eyes grew wide. “Peace, my Lord,” Hugh said quickly, “it is not a vow as such. We speak when it is necessary.” He laid his hands on the surface of his desk. “If we speak too much, however, we drown out the voice of the Divine.”

Yves looked down into his cup again, and then leaned down to set it beside his untouched food. “Mine is the voice of the Divine,” he said darkly. Even injured and dirtied, there was no doubting him. “And you will speak to me, as I demand it.”

Hugh closed his eyes and bowed his head. “As you command, my Lord, it will be done.”

At None Yves granted Hugh his time to pray; though Hugh could read the Offices beside his brothers easily, doing so before an audience of one was more difficult, and he was terribly aware of the angel watching him from the bed. After that he fetched wood from the cellar for the stove and heated water with which to wash.

“In the evenings, I usually read,” he said. He motioned to the books at his desk, though Yves glanced back to the Offices where Hugh had set back in the Oratory. “Sometimes I write.”

“How old are you?” Yves asked.

Hugh poured the water from the kettle into a large bucket. “Thirty-one, my Lord. I’ll tend to your clothes now, if it pleases you.”

Yves busied himself for what was a worryingly long time to remove his torn clothing from his injured leg, and then appeared wholly unwilling to cover himself with the cloak. Hugh kept his eyes on his task, submerging the leggings into the water. The material was light and soft in his hands. “How long have you been here?” Yves asked next.

“I came to Chartreuse when I was nineteen, and was a novice for two years.” The mud came out easily as he rubbed the cloth. “Then I took the vows of a choir monk. I intend to be a priest.”

The bed creaked as Yves shifted his weight. “You have not left this place in all that time?”

“No, my Lord.”

“You’re very devoted.” Something in Yves’s voice sounded sad. “If I were counted amongst mortals, I think I’d grow to doubt myself, were I left alone for so long.”

Hugh resisted the suddenly powerful urge to turn around. “But I’m not alone.”

“Indeed, you are not.”

They were quiet for a while, leaving Hugh alone with his disrupted thoughts. When he was satisfied that Yves’s leggings were clean, he draped them over a chair before the stove to hasten the drying process; he wasn’t sure how long he wanted an angel lounging around naked in his cell. But if Yves was so unconcerned, then Hugh determined to be as well, as his own clothing needed to be washed. He tugged his habit open and pulled it off over his head.

The bed creaked again. “What is that?” Yves asked, suddenly sounding very alert. Hugh chanced a glance over his shoulder to see Yves staring at him curiously.

For a moment, Hugh didn’t understand. But there were many things that seemed normal in this place that he realized would be quite extraordinary elsewhere. “It’s a cilice, my Lord.”

Before Hugh could protest, Yves rose from the bed; his leg could not hold him, and he sank to the ground. But his curiosity seemed stronger than his discomfort, and he stretched out a pale hand to touch Hugh’s back, clad in tightly woven goat’s hair. He frowned. “Is this… warm?” he asked.

“Not particularly, my Lord.” After the softness of Yves’s clothes, his own felt harsh wet.

Yves raised an eyebrow. “Is it comfortable?”

Hugh laughed. Yves looked startled. “Certainly not, my Lord.”

“The why do you wear it?” Yves knelt beside Hugh on the floor, eying him like he was trying to work out a puzzle.

Hugh considered. This creature, though beloved by God, appeared to have had little to no exposure to how mankind must struggle to relate to Him. He quoted softly, “‘Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.'” He did not look at Yves as he wrung the water from his habit. “As Jesus Christ sacrificed his body to attain holy perfection, we too must do without simple comforts.”

“You mean… you wear it because it hurts?”

“It’s more complicated than that, but yes, essentially.”

Yves was silent, and Hugh set aside his laundry and turned to face him. The angel had a hand up to his head, his fingers pressed lightly around the wound on his brow. It looked darker in this light; to Hugh’s alarm, Yves looked like he was on the verge of tears. “That’s terrible,” Yves finally muttered.

“It’s our path to God,” Hugh said gently. “Mankind is wicked and easily distracted by pleasure and sin. This,” He tapped his chest, “reminds us of who and what we are, and what we strive for.”

“That isn’t true!” Yves cried.

Hugh stared.

“Mankind is not wicked!” Yves drew himself up as well as he could, kneeling and lame; his eyes flashed angrily as his voice climbed. “Pleasure will not lead people away from God. There is no God that would demand pain and suffering from His followers. Man is, at heart, good; that is why he seeks God at all! It is why God would have him!”

“I’m sorry, my Lord,” Hugh whispered, “You think too highly of us. You’re wrong.”

They stared at each other, and Hugh remained steadfast in his conviction even before the judgment of one of God’s own. And judgment it certainly was; Yves’s brow held a scowl more efficiently than any bishop’s, and his good wing rose a little from his back as though trying to make its owner look more imposing. He was unearthly, magnificent in his anger and even his hurt; Hugh felt a deep unease in the pit of his stomach and finally looked away. “But it gives me great hope, my Lord, that you have such faith in us,” he said with a humble bow of his head.

“You have no faith in yourself,” Yves said bitterly. He bumped his injured wing with his elbow and hissed softly. “There is enough pain in the world as it is.”

“Would that we were all angels,” Hugh said, “that we might have such perfect faith.”

Yves’s dark eyes widened again, and then he looked away with something like guilt. Hugh went to his chest for another habit. “It’s going to be cold tonight,” he said. “Please, my Lord, I will mend your clothing, but don the cloak in the meantime.” He busied himself with dressing, pulling rough cloth around him and covering the cilice, and it took him a minute to realize that Yves had not moved from the floor. “…My Lord?”

Yves laughed, but it was a sound of pain, not mirth. “Would that we were all so complete in and of ourselves that God could be found within,” he said. His fingers curled into claws against the wood floor. “Would that the arrogance of man could manifest as divinity! You would have no need for God at all!”

Hugh moved to kneel beside him; Yves’s skin felt cold. Yves relaxed a little but stubbornly glared at the floor. “There is nothing in the desert,” he said softly, “save yourself.”

Hugh thought, this is a test of my faith. But Yves seemed genuinely upset, and so Hugh then thought that it was likely a test for them both. He touched the angel’s shoulder and asked, “Where is God, then, my Lord?”

Yves twisted to face Hugh and grasped for his hand; Hugh allowed this, and allowed him to lace their fingers together. “Here,” Yves said. He looked up at him with aching sincerity though long, dark eyelashes. “God is here.”

For a moment, Hugh was distracted by the cool fingers that slipped perfectly into the groves between his knuckles. “This,” Yves continued, using his free hand to tap the back of his occupied one, “is your greatest strength and virtue, even above faith, and it’s only when you match your flaws and perfections with those of another that you can find what is holy within you.”

This was a familiar litany; Hugh swallowed. “‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love,'” he whispered, “‘I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.'”

Yves cocked his head.

“‘And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing,'” Hugh said. “‘And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.'”

“Yes!” Yves’s smile broke through again, and it was like the sun. “Yes, Hugh, that’s exactly right.” He seemed not to recognize the words at all and was pleased only with their meaning.

“My Lord,” Hugh said, “think me not without love. I love humanity and I love the world. I love God. It is through solitary prayer that I express that love.”

Yves scaled his smile back a little but did not relent. “It is an easy thing to say, that you love the world,” he said. “But the truth is that you have turned your back on it. You are young, yet you sit in a little room and speak to God and hope that He is listening, and the world forgets you.”

“Yes,” Hugh said simply.

Yves squeezed his hand suddenly. “Why?”

“My Lord,” Hugh said, “you were made for better things than to act as a confessor of men. Rest here as long as you must, but to involve yourself with such low, silly creatures will only bring you more pain.”

Yves blinked at the naked evasion, and his brow furrowed as his face darkened again. But he gave no reply, and Hugh carefully slid an arm around him and helped him to his feet. “The bell will toll for Vespers soon,” Hugh said, “And I’ll leave you for the church again.”

“Fine,” Yves huffed. He looked at Hugh sidelong, moodily, as he helped him back to the bed, and as Hugh shifted to lay him down again, Yves whispered, “But leave me not entirely alone.”

Hugh hesitated. “My Lord?”

Yves reached for Hugh’s throat and, without ceremony, plucked his rosary from his shoulders, pulling it over his head delicately. In the same motion he draped it around his own neck, leaving it to dangle down from his bare collarbone and chest. The motion of the little silver crucifix drew Hugh’s gaze downward as it swung gently before Yves’s stomach, and though he looked away immediately the glance was enough to inform him, to his alarm, that this was not the sexless creature his books had theorized about. Yves was smiling, just a little, when their eyes met again, and Hugh took his hands back and stepped away.

In the church, the opening prayer of the evening service came from him more deeply felt than it had in years: O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.

When he returned to his cell, Yves was asleep again, the rosary wrapped once about his closed hand. The polished wooden beads flared against the backs of his fingers when Hugh lit the lamp on his desk, but Yves did not stir. But neither did he look at peace; whatever pain he felt haunted his brow and turned the corners of his mouth down. His wing looked like a dead thing next to its uneasy brother.

Hugh selected a book from the pile he had obtained from the library. He had only read De Coelesti Hierarchia once before because so many other works referenced it; it had captivated him, even disturbed him a little, with its bizarre descriptions of the choirs of heaven, but his studies never led him back to it in the years since. Now he thumbed through it with a thread of desperation, but nothing amongst the details on the Cherubim nor the Thrones nor Principalities nor any other could quite describe the fire that burned within the creature that lay before him. Of mere angels, the lowest order, the messengers of God amongst men, it had little to say.

The hours drifted by with the pages. The first spattering of rain on the cell’s roof startled Hugh from Saint Anselm of Canterbury’s Ethics and its argument that angels were beings devoid of free will, with an inherent inability to do evil. Hugh gazed absentmindedly at the sweep of Yves’s wing and wondered if that was because they were truly incapable of wrong, or if what they did was simply by definition good, on the strength of having been done by an angel.

He rubbed his eyes wearily.

The prior walked through the connecting hall after Compline, and Hugh heard him pause at his door, probably seeing that his lamp was still lit. He was a good man, the prior; when he intruded on his fellows’ space it was out of brotherly concern, not an obsession with abiding by rules. Hugh held his breath at that hesitation, but after a moment the footsteps resumed and faded into echoes.

The only graceful way to see this situation through was to spend this night in vigil and thereafter sleep on the floor, but he felt no particular hurry to rise from his desk. He watched Yves sleep. Yves had turned onto his side, tucking his wings awkwardly between his back and the wall, and the flickering light shone in his glossy black curls and lit a warm line from his shoulder to his hip. It was broken only by the bandages that covered the cruel gash on his thigh, and the blanket where it was half-heartedly pulled over his knees.

Oh, yes, his clothing. Hugh still needed to mend them. He stood and went to the stove, where the fine cloth was draped; it was damp still, but he wanted it done before Yves awoke, so he sat by the fire after he produced his needles and thread and started his work. He was a terrible tailor — a number of his robes stood as pained witnesses to that — but he made the stitches as small and as even as he was able in an effort to mask his clumsiness. It was slow.

After a time he looked up by chance, and found Yves’s dark eyes fixed on him from where he lay, silent and still. Hugh froze; all in a moment, he understood what it felt like to be the mouse spotted by the hawk from a mile off. Escape may certainly seem an option, but in a instant all becomes inevitable.

Yves closed his eyes halfway and squeezed the beads in his hand. “Why are you all the way over there?” he asked softly, half into the bed. His Latin was firm and declarative, but his French was a soft thing that seemed to curl in the air between them, shaded by the growing strength of the rain against the roof.

Hugh felt an immediate flash of guilt for his fear. Yves’s voice was like a child’s, plaintively asking after his mother. And yet his hesitance did not recede. “I am mending your clothing, my Lord.”

“Can’t you do that here?” Yves gestured vaguely to the space beside the bed. He drew his knees in towards his stomach a little as he did, rustling his feathers with his heels.

Hugh stood and picked up the chair, carrying it and the sewing to Yves’s bedside. Yves smiled at him sweetly as he resumed his work. “Better.”

“You should go back to sleep,” Hugh said quietly. “‘Tis late.”

“‘Tis, ’tis,” Yves said. He turned onto his back, flattening his good wing underneath himself and letting the injured one rest against the wall. “And you?”

“The bed is yours, my Lord, as long as your wounds pain you.” It was hard to concentrate on his stitches with Yves’s eyes following the motions of his fingers.

“Your generosity is vast. But I shan’t let you sleep on your table.” Hugh smiled at that, and Yves brought the clutched rosary to his chin thoughtfully. “You have a good face,” he said after a few moments of comfortable silence.

Hugh glanced up at him.

“I thought you were younger than thirty.” He was smiling, like he was sharing a joke. “But why do you cut your hair so short?”

“For ease in washing, my Lord,” Hugh said. The rip in the garment was mended by about a third, but his hands were beginning to ache. “Please, you must rest. Your wounds–”

“My wounds will not heal,” Yves said quietly. “They will only grow worse.”

Hugh blinked, letting his sewing drop into his lap. Yves was gazing at him with no particular expression. Hugh saw now that Yves appeared to be right — the wound on his temple had spread bruised fingers down to his cheekbone, though the shadows from the lamplight tried to hide it. “My Lord, what’s wrong? Are you ill?”

Yves closed his eyes. “No, I’m not ill.”

“Have I done something wrong? My Lord, please, tell me!”

“You’ve done nothing wrong.” Yves sighed. “It’s difficult to explain. I’m not sure how to make you understand.”

Hugh set the sewing aside and slipped from the chair to kneel beside the bed. Yves looked up at him impassively. “Are you dying?” Hugh asked. The words were abrupt and startled even him; he was sure he’d meant to ask something gentler.

Yves hesitated, as though weighing his own choice of words; Hugh leaned in and gripped the boy’s empty hand. “My kind do not die,” Yves finally said, but there was something reluctant in his phrasing.

Hugh bowed his head and dropped his voice, like he did in prayer, and said, “My Lord… please, have trust in me.” He swallowed. “I know little about the affairs of angels. But… if you are fallen, you must not lose hope.”

“Fallen?” Yves asked softly.

“Cast out…? My Lord, you don’t have to tell me! But you have my friendship regardless. You seem at times as though you disagree with God, and He is jealous. But I have seen that your heart is good.”

Yves continued to gaze at him with an almost frightening lack of expression; then he sighed. “I will be honest with you, Hugh,” he whispered. With a wince, he moved to sit up, and Hugh, suddenly afraid, did not stop him. Yves held himself so they were eye to eye and leaned forward so their brows nearly touched. “I’m not an angel,” he whispered.

Hugh stared into Yves’s black eyes, unable to call forth the breath for words. “Not… my Lord?” he finally gasped.

“Not as you nor any in your Order understand angels.” Yves brought a slender hand up to touch Hugh’s jaw. “But nothing I’ve told you is a lie. And I… cannot exist here.”

Hugh held his breath. Yves laughed a little, hopelessly. “But neither can I leave. I can barely walk and the sky has never been so far away.”

“My Lord…” Hugh covered Yves’s hand with his own, cupping it against his cheek. “What do you mean, you cannot exist here?”

Yves closed his eyes and leaned forward another inch so their brows did touch, just slightly. “Hugh,” he breathed, and his name was cool against his lips.

“Yes, my Lord?”

“I must ask something very important of you.”

“Of course.”

Yves’s eyes snapped open again, piercing Hugh straight to his soul. The hawk had closed in the end. “Take off the cilice,” he said, and there was no warmth or humor in his voice now.

Hugh leaned away a little, and Yves was still with a grim resolve. Removing the garment that so offended his guest would involve disrobing entirely, as it was the layer closest to his skin; even as he shifted back, releasing Yves’s hand, the goat hair scratched his flesh. “Every moment you wear that in my presence — every moment you spend aware of it and what it means to you–” Yves shuddered terribly, and Hugh had stop himself from reaching out to steady him. “–you spend denying me,” he whispered. “You and your brothers may find God on this path yet — lo, God is everywhere! — but you are destroying me.”

“My Lord,” Hugh whispered, “I did not know.”

“Take it off,” Yves hissed.

And so he did as he was asked. He pushed the habit’s collar from his neck and tugged it over his head, pulling it off entirely where he knelt on the floor. He let the rough cloth pool on the ground beside him, and then set to tugging loose the knots from the cilice’s laces. Yves watched silently. It only took a minute, but it felt like a small eternity until the cilice was free of his torso and set atop the habit.

He could wear a habit of any weight, and any number of cloaks on top of that. But it was the custom to only remove the cilice to bathe, and without it Hugh truly felt exposed, regardless of his dress. When he looked up again, as naked as Yves was, Yves was smiling.

“What else would you have of me, my Lord?” Hugh asked.

Yves shook his head and opened his arms and his wings, and Hugh leaned forward so the boy could embrace him. Yves leaned his slight weight on Hugh fully, resting his head on his shoulder, sliding his arms under Hugh’s and his good wing around him. His skin and feathers were soft where the cilice had marked him, and for a moment Hugh could hardly breathe. It was like being submerged in perfectly cool water. Yves was shaking a little; Hugh carefully curled an arm around his thin shoulders and slid his other hand into the boy’s curls, supporting him.

“This,” Yves whispered, almost to softly to hear. “Here.”

“This is where God is,” Hugh said.

“Yes.”

Hugh felt dizzy. In all of his years of study and prayer, he had never felt a peace so perfect as this. He pressed his mouth into Yves’s hair and inhaled its scent, clean and grassy.

He had no idea how long they held each other so, but the moment was broken by the toll of the chapel bell. Yves opened his eyes, but said nothing, looked at nothing.

“Matins,” Hugh whispered.

Yves’s eyes moved to focus on Hugh’s face as the bell continued to ring, and the sound of other doors along the cloister hall opened and swung shut.

“God calls for you,” Yves murmured.

“Yes,” Hugh said, and bent down to kiss Yves.

Looking back on that moment, Hugh was never sure what had come over him; it just seemed that he’d had two options before him, and he’d chosen the one that was right. Yves’s lips met his and parted delicately, invitingly, and Hugh groaned with the sudden terrifying realization of wanting. Yves reached up to cup his face with both hands, holding him so he couldn’t shy back.

If hugging Yves had felt like slipping into a pool, then kissing him was like falling into a well; Hugh was aware of nothing but Yves, his mouth, his fingers trailing Hugh’s cheek, the ringlets of his hair insinuating themselves around Hugh’s fingers. He felt Yves smile before he heard him laugh, soft and warm and from his belly. Yves pulled away just enough that he could speak, his lips still brushing Hugh’s, and said, “Here, come here.” He released Hugh from his wing’s grip and sat back on the bed.

It was only after a moment of simple blank awe that Hugh roused himself into thinking in something so mundane as logistics; accepting the invitation involved endeavoring not to lean on or bump anything injured. Yves lay back, his wings spread out slightly underneath him, and Hugh knelt between Yves’s knees. Yves’s smile was spirited now, but Hugh was frankly glad he had the boy’s injuries to occupy himself with while he blushed like a ripe apple.

“There is naught to fear,” Yves said.

“What am I doing?” Hugh asked, almost laughing.

Yves stretched himself beneath him, and then drew his legs up to press Hugh’s hips with the insides of his knees. “Worship,” he said simply, and reached for Hugh’s hands. He pulled him down until Hugh was held by Yves’s inner thighs. “Show God you are thankful He sent me to you.”

Hugh could not think clearly; he felt like he was in a dream. He slid his fingers through the whisper-soft feathers lining the flesh of Yves’s wings, and Yves closed his eyes and shivered. He repeated the gesture, watching his hands vanish into the thick layer of down. He could scarcely believe it.

Yves was smirking when Hugh did it a third time, and he answered the caress with a slow roll of his hips, aligning their loins and allowing them to glance off each other. Hugh gasped, clutching at feathers in his shock; he closed his eyes and curled in on himself, resting his forehead on Yves’s chest, and Yves repeated the motion, slower. He took one of Hugh’s hands delicately by the wrist, lifting it from his wing and laying it on his chest. Hugh gathered his strength and lifted his head, and then looked down at his fingers splayed over Yves’s heart. The rhythm under his palm was steady and reassuringly rapid for all of Yves’s apparent calm.

Hugh ran his hand down Yves’s torso slowly, taking in the curve of his ribs and the milky softness of his belly, and then shyly moved back up his chest. His fingers brushed a dark nipple, winning him a soft “ah!” and another jolt from Yves’s hips. The heat inside him couldn’t bear his hesitation, but when he bent to kiss Yves again Yves had to sit up to meet him partway and pull him down.

The wind outside changed direction and the rain started pounding on the outer wall. Yves licked Hugh’s lips before parting them and slipping inside, and Hugh groaned and rubbed helplessly against Yves’s thigh. Their bodies could not be aligned so sweetly while they lay face to face, but Yves pressed up against the flat surface of Hugh’s stomach and that by itself gave rise to blood. Hugh pulled out of the kiss and moved downward, fumbling wetly at Yves’s throat. Yves purred.

It was clear, though, that this arrangement didn’t quite work; Yves ran his hands up and down Hugh’s back lazily a few times before he gripped his hips and whispered, “Here.” Hugh reluctantly parted with him to sit up, and Yves directed him with gentle touches into lying flat on his own back. Thus situated, Yves moved to sit astride Hugh’s hips, only pausing to arrange his injured leg comfortably.

He had been beautiful before, but now, flushed and breathless and with his hair tumbled before half-closed eyes, Yves took Hugh’s breath away. The rosary was still slung around his neck, but Hugh didn’t need it to make him look down this time; Yves’s manhood was as perfectly crafted as the rest of him, a graceful thing rosy with enthusiasm and wet at the tip. Yves’s smile turned sly when he noticed Hugh’s line of sight, and Hugh was caught between wanting to look away and wanting to stare.

Yves closed his wings around them, shutting out some of the light from the lamp and forming a tiny shadowed space that only contained them. He leaned forward a little, laying his hands on Hugh’s shoulders, and gently slid his hips back. The soft flesh of his inner thighs stroked Hugh’s full length in this fashion; Hugh hissed and arched up, grasping and restlessly rubbing the tops of Yves’s thighs before reaching forward and seizing his buttocks with both hands.

With Yves hovering over him, the crucifix from the rosary rested on Hugh’s chest and was dragged along his skin every time he pulled Yves forward. Yves leaned down to teasingly kiss his chin, but Hugh whispered, “Please, please, I want to see you,” and Yves laughed and drew himself up straight. Hugh spared a hand to reach up and pet Yves’s hair and cheek and neck, and then his chest and belly; Yves loosely closed a hand around Hugh’s wrist, just holding it absently. His skin was as soft as new leaves, and Hugh’s hands were rough from work in his garden and too many nights clutching a quill. It was without rational consideration that his wandering touch slid down Yves’s abdomen and took hold of his lovely cock, but the “ah!!” he earned this time was a cry aimed at his ceiling.

The motion of Yves’s body on top of him blotted out his awareness of self as effectively as clouds drifting before the sun. Yves’s wing snapped up as he suddenly grew harder in Hugh’s grip, only by luck managing to not knock anything over again. His hips rocked sharply as the whole of his body tensed, legs, arms, and wings together, and he shot onto Hugh’s stomach with a feathery groan. The sheer humanity of that and the expression of bliss on Yves’s face was startling; Hugh’s abraded skin itched under the droplets of warm fluid, and the sensation spread to his joints and muscles. Yves’s grasp on Hugh’s wrist slowly loosened as his body went boneless; Hugh sat up and took hold of him, thoughts reduced to a wash of red, and turned to lay him on his side. He tucked Yves’s head against his shoulder, wrapped an arm around his waist tightly, and pushed himself between Yves’s closed thighs.

It was the same as before, but more direct, more deeply buried in Yves’s heat made slick with his sweat; within a minute all Hugh’s madness finally broke open. He muffled a shout against Yves’s hair, and Yves’s hand clutched at his flank. Outside, the rain deepened with thunder.

Yves splayed his fingers along Hugh’s hip and sighed deeply, happily; Hugh panted into Yves’s neck like a broken horse. Normally he imagined he’d be able to hear the choir monks’ voices raised in worship in the chapel, but he could hear nothing over the gathering storm. That grey hum filled him, leaving all in silence outside of him and within. Yves lifted his topmost wing and brushed the long leading feathers down Hugh’s calf in a thoughtless and affectionate caress, and Hugh shivered.

He was nearly asleep when something in the sound of the rain changed subtly, and Yves lifted his head. Hugh eyed the boy’s elegant profile, suddenly alert and watchful, and then it came again: a low distant roll too even in pitch to be thunder. Yves sat up entirely, his eyes wide.

“What is it?” Hugh asked. His tongue was sluggish.

“Stay here,” Yves whispered, and slipped from the bed. He paused only to steady his weight, and then limped to the door to the garden and stepped outside.

“My Lord!” Hugh cried. “It’s pouring!” He gathered his scattered wits, yanking on his habit in a rush and grabbing the lamp from his desk before following Yves into the rain. He pulled his hood over his head as the wind struck his face. He could hardly make out anything but the falling water caught in his little circle of light, but after his eyes adjusted he turned and saw that the door to the cloister’s courtyard in the garden wall was ajar. Through the crack seeped a light like fire.

Hugh held his breath for a moment, but when it proved itself to not be his own lamp blinding him, he hurled through the door in a panic and nearly collided with Yves, who was standing just outside of it, still as a reed. The choir monks and lay brothers had spilled out of the chapel as well and were staring in terror, some crying out, at the apparition that had taken form in the center of the courtyard.

It was roughly in the shape of a man but stood as tall as three, and it burned with the light of the sun. The stone pathway did not buckle under its feet, but Hugh could feel the heat of that flame on his entire body even through his habit. Hugh tried to make out its face, but found he could not look upon it directly; all his mind would hold were eyes that held the world’s fury and a crown that was like a corona. Where the rain fell around it, steam rose like smoke.

That,” Yves said softly, and somewhat unhelpfully, “is an angel.”

It spread its wings — vast jointed structures — covering the courtyard in brilliant light that reflected on golden armor. Yves held a hand to his eyes and said dryly, “They burn with the fire of their love.”

“PAGAN,” the figure said, and Hugh recognized what had sounded so like the thunder. It was not an accusation; it was a form of address. Yves exhaled loudly through his teeth.

“Has he come here for us?” Hugh asked, trying to keep his voice level. Yves nodded almost absentmindedly, and Hugh clutched for a rosary that wasn’t there.

“Have no fear,” Yves said lightly, “and show none. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“SHOW YOURSELF TO ME,” it said, “HIDE BEHIND THESE MEN OF GOD NO LONGER.”

Yves hobbled forward a step with a single hand raised before Hugh could urge him to stay back. “I am here. There is no cause for insult.”

“AND YET IT IS INSULT I FIND,” the angel said, looking down at tiny Yves. “YOU COME TO THIS LAND LIKE A WOLF CREEPING AMONGST SHEEP. I SHALL SEE YOU GONE.”

“I’m not in exile,” Yves said, crossing his arms over his chest. “This land is as much mine as it is anyone’s.”

“YOU HAVE INTRODUCED SIN INTO THE HEART OF A PURE SOUL. YOU WOULD LEAD AN INNOCENT MAN TO HELL..”

Hugh took a deep breath, but Yves spoke calmly. “I did naught but find a man buried beneath the ice of his fathers’ faith.”

“YOU ARE SIN GIVEN FORM, A GOD OF CARNALITY. YOU, YOURSELF SWORN IN MATRIMONY, HAVE CAST ASIDE VOWS MADE IN LOVE BY ANOTHER FOR A POWER HIGHER AND GREATER THAN YOURS. HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS, AND IS, TO COME.”

For a moment, the angel was answered only by the hiss of the rain. Yves’ hands were balled into fists. Hugh, struggling to absorb what was unfolding before him, asked, “You’re married?”

Yves shot an extremely unamused look over his shoulder.

Hugh considered further. “And… a god?”

The angel’s wings clapped with a sound like a mountain falling, and from its belt it produced a sword as long as a man is tall. “YOUR FILTH WILL BE A SCOURGE IN THIS WORLD NO LONGER!”

“What?” Yves took a step back, raising his wings, but his injured limbs still faltered. “You can’t be serious! I am unarmed!”

“INDEED,” the angel rumbled, and swung its blade at Yves.

Yves leaped back, but only barely, throwing himself against the wall that framed Hugh’s garden. Hugh himself was nearly knocked back by the wind of the sword’s passing. “Hugh!” Yves cried. “Go back inside!” The other monks had already fled back into the chapel. Hugh himself could not move; the best he could force his locked muscles to do was to put his lamp down, as it now seemed entirely unnecessary.

“NO,” the angel said. “I BRING NO HARM TO ANY OF GOD’S FLOCK. BUT HE WILL BEAR WITNESS TO THE DEATH OF A FORGOTTEN AGE.”

“Damned show-off,” Yves hissed. He was naked to the rain and nearly cowering in his helplessness, but his face showed nothing but frustration. “Hugh, go back inside!”

The angel lifted his sword again, taking a sweeping step forward that placed him towering over them. Yves’s pale skin glowed under the burning light of the angel’s wings; though he looked as drab as a sparrow beneath the creature’s splendor, his beauty was still greater. He stood up as straight as he could, seemingly unafraid, but Hugh could see a tremor in his clenched hands. “You were created in my image,” Yves said, looking up.

“BE THAT AS IT MAY,” the angel said, and adjusted its footing to strike downward. Yves did not look away, and Hugh, frozen to the spot, couldn’t either.

In that moment, through the rain and the darkness of the sky, and nearly invisible within the sphere of the angel’s flame, a golden bolt of light shot itself over its crown and fell in a sharp, graceful arc before it. Too swift and silent to react to in time, the dart struck Yves and buried itself in his chest. He cried out and fell to his knees; the angel, apparently as surprised as anyone, took a startled step back.

“My Lord!” Hugh cried. His terror overcome in an instant, he dashed to Yves’s side; Yves’s hands were clamped where the arrow protruded, his breath ragged. But he held out an arm in warning as Hugh approached.

Hugh fell back, helplessly watching Yves’s black blood ooze through his fingers, but to his surprise, after a few moments, Yves’s shoulders straightened. He lifted his head, still breathing heavily, and wobbly gained his feet. He lifted his wings for balance as he did so, and they rose together, proud and even. The wound on his brow was gone.

“WHAT WITCHCRAFT IS THIS?” the angel demanded.

Yves flexed his wings, looking disbelieving, and then grinned suddenly and blindingly. He knelt again, touching the ground lightly, and then hurled himself into the air.

Even after caring for a winged boy for a day, Hugh was not prepared for the sight of him in flight. Fully extended, the breadth of his wings exceeded his height several times over and struck the air like a swimmer’s arms. Yves had seemed clumsy before, but in the air his wings and arms and legs struck a perfect balance, a symphony of motion, using the wind of the storm and the pull of the earth instead of fighting them. For a second, Hugh was entranced.

The angel’s roar broke the spell, and the ground beneath Hugh’s feet shook with its rage, but Yves evaded its attempts to strike him and fanned his wings to climb higher into the air. He alit on the roof of the chapel, and the angel stalked towards him angrily, but Hugh did not follow the fight any further. He bolted from his spot and ran across the courtyard, doing his best to avoid the angel’s feet; he had a single goal in mind now, as absurd as it seemed.

He ran along the courtyard’s opposite wall, throwing open garden doors. He had not seen the path of the arrow’s flight — he had barely seen it at all before it struck its target — but the source had to be here. Had he not been so panicked, he would have seen him immediately where he stood at the edge of the light; as it was he nearly ran into him and when he did he could do nothing but fall to his hands and knees.

The man was tall, very tall. Golden hair fell around a perfect face, and he smiled at Hugh as though they knew each other, had known each other their entire lives. He wore a simple white robe, belted at the waist, that bore no evidence of the storm and the rain that howled around him. This was the angel of Hugh’s childhood, who had smiled down at him from the church’s windows, until the year he’d turned nineteen; he only lacked the wings themselves. In his hands he held a simple, elegant yew bow.

“My God,” Hugh whispered. “What manner of creatures are you?”

The man shrugged one shoulder and produced a second bow he’d had his arm threaded through; this one was a more complicated affair, inlaid with silver and etched with decoration Hugh could not make out in the strange light. “These are his,” the man said, also holding out a quiver that bristled with the golden arrows.

Hugh hesitated and then held out his hands; the man stepped forward and pressed the items into his arms. “He needs them,” he added gently.

The ground shook again as the angel shouted behind them, and Hugh nodded, but it took him another few moments to tear his eyes away from the vision before him. The man only smiled and said nothing more, and Hugh finally turned his attention back to the fight.

The angel had not yet managed to strike Yves, but it was not for lack of trying, and Yves was scowling as he darted higher into the sky. His opponent was faster than his size would have suggested, and Yves seemed to be trying to keep the struggle low enough that he could keep to the air without the angel taking wing as well. But the longer that Yves evaded him, the angrier the terrible creature grew, and Hugh could feel the flame of its being on his face from even this distance.

Hugh ran out to the middle of the courtyard. “My Lord!” he cried, trying to cast his voice over the storm.

Both looked down at him. Hugh clarified. “Yves!” He held up the quiver over his head.

Understanding dawned in both of them. Yves snapped his wings back to drop in altitude, but the angel twisted and aimed a blow directly into his path. Yves whipped about in midair, going into a sharp, unforgiving spin, but he recovered himself mere feet from the ground and glided in to land as lightly as a bird, just in front of Hugh. Hugh gasped and fell back, and Yves beamed at him.

“Thank you,” Yves said, taking the bow and quiver. He paused to drop a kiss on Hugh’s palm, and then leaped into the air again.

Hugh watched as Yves swept back to chapel’s steeple, easily balancing himself on the slanted roof with his wings. The angel, unwilling to strike towards a house of God, drew back and reached for him instead with its bare hands, but its hesitation gave Yves a precious handful of seconds. In a single well-practiced motion, he drew a bolt from his quiver, notched it in the silver bowstring, and aimed at the angel’s heart. And the angel froze in place.

Yves took a moment to catch his breath, but when he spoke his voice carried over the wind. “Yes,” he said, “that’s what I thought.”

“YOU WOULD NOT DARE,” the angel growled.

“I do dare,” Yves said. “That’s what I do. Do you think yourself more powerful than me?” He drew his elbow back further, and the angel took a step back. “Do you think God will protect you? Do you think He can?”

Silence. Even the rain seemed muted. “All fall to me,” Yves said gravely. “Man and immortal. My only equal is Death, and you would only strike at me when fate would see me grounded.”

The angel lowered its sword. “WE WILL NOT FORGET THIS.”

“Neither this nor a hundred other slights,” Yves said.

The angel folded its wings back, replaced its sword in its scabbard, and vanished in a fountain of fiery sparks. The rain fell into the space it had occupied with a crash, and then all was calm. Even so, it took Yves a moment to relax his stance. He finally did so, unnotching the arrow from the bowstring and dropping it back into his quiver stiffly. He took to the air again and was at Hugh’s side again in seconds.

“My Lord,” Hugh asked, “you are well?”

“Completely,” Yves beamed. “You saved me. Worry not, it won’t return.” He folded his wings so they lay neatly against his back, and he again looked small.

“I’m sorry.” Hugh lowered his head. “It was my weakness that brought such vengeance on you.”

Yves barely even laughed and lightly waved away the suggestion. “I told you before,” he said, “you have done nothing wrong. God punishes only the truly wicked, but… some of His servants are overzealous. Both on earth and in His sphere.” He took a deep breath and smiled bracingly. “Well, you had best tell me who has come to my aid.”

Hugh did not know how to begin to tell him, so he merely turned and pointed to the edge of the courtyard. He half-expected the spectre to no longer be there, but Yves’s mouth twisted when he looked in the indicated direction. “Ah.”

The man approached them now that everything had settled, and he smiled sweetly at Yves and said, “A cocky little speech you gave there. Equal to Death? Even Death has been bound.”

“Hn,” said Yves. “Psyche must have sent for you.”

“Actually,” the man said, “Jiaolong did. He says he didn’t mean to hit you quite so hard, and he claims remorse. Psyche seemed content to drink tea until you found your way back by yourself.”

“Well.” Yves sighed irritably. “Thank you. I suppose.” He rubbed at the wound in his breast. “That was a good shot.”

“Naturally.”

A sly smile curved the edge of Yves’s lips, and he gazed up at the man coyly through his hair. “Does this mean we’re even?”

Any mirth or cheer in the golden man’s face was swept away immediately, replaced with cold detachment. “No,” he said, and vanished as swiftly and completely as the angel had, leaving an aching emptiness in Hugh’s vision.

“Ha,” Yves said.

“He was angry?” Hugh asked, unsure what had just happened.

Yves shrugged. “It made him go away.” He turned to Hugh, his expression more tender, and silently held his arms out. Hugh was again unable to resist the summons and bent down to embrace him.

“I have to leave you now,” he whispered into Hugh’s shoulder.

Hugh sighed deeply. “I’m not sure what I should do with myself.”

“If it gives you peace,” Yves said, “then you should stay.”

Hugh was mildly surprised by the submission and drew away to look down into Yves’s face. Yves sighed and shrugged. “You seem to mean a great deal to those who would claim responsibility for your soul.”

“My brothers can’t let me stay. I’ve brought down an angel’s fury upon them.”

Yves shook his head. “That angel had no anger for you. If it hasn’t already seen them forget, then I will.” He reached up to his shoulders and slipped Hugh’s rosary off over his head. He kissed the center piece and then stood up on tiptoe to place it back around Hugh’s neck. “Don’t forget me.”

Hugh grasped Yves’s wrist. “Wait.”

Yves paused, eyes round.

Hugh swallowed. “Who are you?”

Yves chuckled softly and, still on tiptoe, pulled Hugh down to him again. The kiss was so soft and sweet it made Hugh’s heart hurt, but after a moment or two he felt light, free and clear-headed. Anything was possible. God was always within reach.

“You know me,” Yves whispered, and Hugh supposed that he did.

Yves stepped away, his quiver slung at one shoulder and his bow the other, and hurled himself into the night sky. He was a bright speck against the storm clouds, and then he was gone.

Hugh did stay. But he never wore the cilice again.

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