Raphael has been living between the lines for decades.
He used to be better at compartmentalizing. He used to see the stars and feel the lightyears between humanity and divinity and know where he stood. Even when he stopped serving Heaven, when he chose family over faith, he understood something inside of him would always belong to things holier than himself.
These days, though, he dances across the lines he once drew, blurring them with every reckless choice and recalcitrant hope. He takes a step forward, and he can sleep through the night (though he still dreams of angels fighting in holy wars). Then he takes a step back, and he can heal a human with one touch (though even that no longer comes easily). He isn’t sure a line even exists anymore between what he is and what he feels. Maybe it never did. Or maybe he’s fallen so far he can no longer see it when he looks up.
Raphael knows that he loves, though he does not know the parameters. He’s learned there are different kinds of love, and some he is certain of, though some are still blurred and messy and incomplete. No matter what, he’s sure he knows what family feels like.
When he thinks about all that he has given up, he knows that he is right to have done it. There are those who scorn him, who wonder why he has given everything up for a single human, but they are wrong. It was a single human that showed him the rest, but he hadn’t fallen just for Charlie.
On Raphael’s first day on Earth, Charlie offered him a ride and a place to sleep for the night. There had been something so soft, so genuine, in the offer that Raphael had felt the cold wind steal his breath as he thanked the kind human in front of him and got in the car. Eventually, Charlie offered him a home and human friends that he has come to call family and something untouchable by divine intervention. Charlie offered him the world, so Raphael retaliated by offering everything beyond it.
Now, he is sure he cannot keep it.
He is no longer an angel. The realization hurt when it first came, but he is tired. Tired of hurting the people he loves, tired of carrying the weight of the world. Tired of carrying on.
His powers are fading, and they are dragging him down with them. He knows that there is less and less of a gap between him and the humans with every moment he spends with them, but even after all that he has sacrificed, he knows that he can never become one.
His shoulders were made to carry wings, carry the weight of the world, and humanity is both too large and too small a burden for an angel. Bodies meant for ichor can’t pump blood, and his halo is far too sharp for beings so easily broken. Humans are fragile in a way that Raphael can never be.
Something in him aches and aches and aches.
When his powers are gone, he will be, too. He won’t die exactly— he doesn’t think angels are capable of such a human demise— but he will cease to exist.
He hears the voices of his brothers every day, the communion of saints calling him home. They say they can save him. They say that if he comes back, so too will his powers, and he will be forgiven.
They tell him to remember his mission, remember that he belongs to something greater, but when he looks at Charlie and his family among the humans, all he can think is this is it.
The angels offer him redemption, a chance to run from death, but that doesn’t mean they offer him life.
They scorn him for what he has chosen. They call him a cautionary tale, the prodigal son who won’t listen to reason. They haven’t wiped him from memory yet, but that is only because of a combination of their hope that he’ll come back and their need for a scapegoat. It is not easy to keep the faith, and the angels are glad for someone to point fingers at as if to say see, see this is what happens when you lose faith.
He hopes that one day he will be able to hold Charlie’s hand and the love will be louder than the ringing in his ears screaming sin.
Raphael knows that his eyes aren’t meant to see colors the way humans do, but he swears that he can almost see them anyway with Charlie’s hand in his.
When Charlie tells Raphael that angels burn brighter than anything he’s ever seen before, Raphael laughs it back at him. He tells Charlie that angels burn cold, not bright, that the white light he sees is all righteous fury and dying stars and harsh truths Raphael has never cared for. He tells Charlie that the freckles on his skin are better than any of heaven’s constellations, that the northern lights have nothing on the curve of Charlie’s lips. Raphael tells him that humans burn brighter in their fleeting lives than all of the angels could ever hope to match, and Charlie’s hands are the warmest thing Raphael has ever touched without blistering from the burn. Neither heaven’s wrath nor hell’s fire burns as bright as this.
Raphael does not know what salvation feels like, but he knows what love does. He will not go back.
For now, he still has angelic grace in his veins and humanity in his heart. He will use his wings and his two good hands and build a life that is quieter, softer than anything he could have dreamt of. He will live between the lines, between the pages, between the universe and himself. He will be achingly, ecstatically powerless.
He decides to live well, to live beautifully, and he will do it without fear before he fades.
Before the time comes, he will decide to choose loving longer over living longer. He will brace himself to fade, but not until he wrings out every ounce of every moment that he’s granted. He will go out like a supernova.
He will try to feel the sun on his skin and think of neither burning—of flying and falling—or of hiding. He will live like Icarus, like a tragedy choosing to happen, like he is not just waiting for things to turn dark.