I sense his presence before I ever lay eyes on him.
It doesn't surprise me, really. Baph is the type of entity who always enters announced.
He is the syncopated tap of stiletto heels that echoes across a tile floor.
A whiff of musk that rides the air till it finds your inhale.
Double doors that open with intention.
The crescendo of the music.
And now, that announced entrance is staring at me from across a crowded lobby, smiling that sinful smile he knows will make me tremble.
I know better than to look away, but I do. Which gives him the advantage. The next time I'm aware of him, it's because his lips are next to my ear.
"Hello, Uri," he whispers. His voice awakens a swell of emotion I've spent lifetimes attempting to quell, and my eyes close as I attempt to force it back down my throat.
"Are you meeting someone?" he continues, the curve of his chest pinning itself to my shoulder.
Our breaths rise together as I inhale deeply.
“Of course you are,” he chuckles. “You wouldn't be off your leash, otherwise.”
His words are a fist to my stomach, my exhale releasing itself in a ragged breath.
“Who are you here to save, hmmm?” he continues, hot breath trailing across the back of my neck.
“Go away,” I finally manage.
Baph chuckles again. “You know, that would carry much more weight, if you meant it.”
He pivots carefully to face me, maintaining the touch on my shoulder. I don’t bother to look away this time. Instead I lift my eyes to meet those endless dark pools that make his pupils. They’re always dilated. Always deep. Always attuned to every motion around him.
I can see myself in the black, my own face a softer mirror of his. We were both crafted by the same maker, after all. Our features conceived in the same mind, our existence birthed for the same purpose.
And though Baph is no longer part of my world …
He is still so beautiful.
“That’s better,” he coos. “Now, where were we? Oh, yes.” His gaze sweeps the room with excitement. “Who is it, Uri? No, don’t tell me, let me guess!”
His dark head of curls brush against my cheek as he turns his head. They smell of smoke. There was a time they smelled of myrrh.
My eyes are drawn to his pointed finger. To his long, black nails that have been polished and filed to perfect coffin tips. I only look at the object of his gesture when I hear the laughter rumbling in his throat.
The man has short hair the color of sand, and brown eyes that hide in deep sockets. He reaches into his pocket, checks his phone, replaces it, then waits perhaps ten seconds before doing so again.
“I wonder who he’s so worried about,” Baph goads me. “A wife? A brother?”
“His daughter. She promised to join him for the service,” I reply. “She had to stop for gas on the way. She’ll be here in a few minutes.”
“Lucky little pig,” he quips. “His heart is weak, I can hear it from here. It won’t last much longer sputtering like that. Does the little pig know he’s going to die soon, Uri?”
The words that come are not truly my own. They are the echo of my order. “That’s not for me to say.”
“But it’s for Him to say. He could heal it. He could heal that sputtering, weak heart,” Baph reminds me. “Hmmm…”
His eyes begin to scan the room once more. The crowd is thinning as the bulk of the people move into the sanctuary, compelled by the music that has begun to play.
“It’s not the same, is it, Uri?” Baph asks, his eyes still moving to and fro. “Even their best would never compare.”
For a moment I attune to the strings that are hammered and plucked with honed human skill, knowing he is right. They will spend their brief lives never touching the semblance of Baph’s mastery. The mere brush of his fingertips once summoned ethereal tones that moved galaxies.
In his wake, the human prodigies and adepts alike are sounding brass and clanging cymbals.
This time when Baph speaks, his words drift just before my lips. “He’ll never receive adorations like mine. Ever again.”
Something in me stirs. Something resistant. Rebellious. “I … don’t think that bothers Him.”
“But it bothers you, doesn’t it?” he presses. “He’s so weak and forgotten, He has to settle for these meager offerings. But why should you have to settle, too?”
I feel the command, this time. He doesn’t have to touch me to bring my face back to his, my eyes back to his, my attention back to… him.
“Do you miss me, Uri? I’ve missed you.” His hand is on my side, his touch simmering, drawing my gasp. “Oh dear… am I distracting you? You do have a job to do, after all.” His lips draw closer. “Who is it, Uri?”
That’s when she comes through the door, of course. I’m compelled to look at her, even though I don’t want to give her away. Baph looks, too.
Our eyes lock onto her with synchronized attention.
She’s young. Humans find her beautiful. Her face. Her body.
My kind might find her beautiful for other reasons. Her voice. Her soul.
Baph’s lips curl into his most pleased smile. One that bares the tips of his pointed canines with teasing ferocity as his remark is released through a satisfied growl, “Oh… that one.”
We don’t move. We just watch.
She stands there, in the doorway, her hand still gripping the handle that granted her entry. Her body is poised to such extreme that the gentlest suggestion will either draw her deeper within, or push her back.
“Stepping into my territory again, aren’t you?” he taunts. “He doesn’t want her.”
His grip tightens on my side. “Look at you… Uriel… His Light … So…” A sound releases from his throat. Almost something of pleasure… admiration. “Why does He need something defiled when He has something so glorious? He doesn’t. He doesn’t need her.”
His finger presses over my lips. “Shhh… I know what you’re thinking… But he wants her, right?” Baph shakes his head. “He just wants the praise. These pigs can’t HELP but praise. They will praise ANYTHING that makes them feel like they matter.”
She’s uncertain now. Her weight falls back, pressing against the door, pushing it ajar just enough so that I can feel the breeze from the outside snake its way through the small opening.
Baph’s whisper chills me. “But they don’t matter.”
She’s going to leave.
And so my spirit reaches across the lobby. My essence draws near to her, folding into her, so that I might penetrate the bonds Baph has so exquisitely laced around her mind, bending her to his will.
And I whisper. “I have loved you…”
His eyes narrow at this. His fingers dig painfully deeper, clawing at the fabric of my being so that I can finally feel the Hellfire in his grasp. The emotion that will forever separate us begins to boil within him so fiercely that its malice attempts to close around my throat.
But it’s not enough to stop me. “... with an everlasting love… I have drawn you... ”
His dark, slender tongue flicks amid his lips. “No!”
But it’s too late. The door has closed behind her once more. And her fingers have slowly uncurled themselves. She takes a step inside. The music begins to draw her to the sanctuary. With a nervous breath, she passes through to where He is waiting for her.
Baph’s fury is unleashed in a roar that would fill these mortals with terror, could they only hear it. But the rage quickly drowns amid agony. Amid tormented, frustrated anguish.
“Why? WHY?” he screams. “They’re depraved! Ugly! Broken! They’re NOTHING!”
His skin begins to darken till he glistens like obsidian, his eyes smoldering to dull flames that look into the Heavens as the inferno burning inside of him manifests through his open mouth.
“He doesn’t love them! He just uses them to torment me! TO PUNISH ME!” he screams. “Well it won’t work! I don’t want you! I don’t need you! I HATE YOU!”
I inhale the heat of his despair, holding it inside my lungs a moment, sharing the same pained feeling in my chest.
“Do you really believe any of that?” I ask.
His face turns to me. His eyes. Those black pools. So deep.
Yet so empty.
“I have to,” he whispers. “Otherwise… I can’t stand it.”