It’s been a hundred days; one tenth of my punishment.
Shrouded in the black of a storm cloud, in the damp, smothering scent of rain I kneel there with my eyes closed. Thunder rumbles. Electric pulses ruffle my soaking feathers, sting my skin.
My hair is dripping, my wet tunic sticks to me as cold drops of rain trickle down my body. Every second of every day. Without light.
In this desperate darkness, all that’s lucid are my worst memories.
Fear flashing in the gold flecked green eyes.
‘Please, I am begging you!’
His trembling under my touch.
‘Don't hurt me…’
His voice and my heart, breaking.
I am punished because I couldn't go through with it.
But I deserve the torture for considering it at all.
If I let myself surrender, it could've been like that other time; gold-brown eyes and a nervous smile, pleading in that sweet voice.
“You won’t do this to me, Michael..?”
But I had shut down my feelings. Watched him, but couldn’t see.
Bones cracked and flesh tore under my hands, his scream echoed between the clouds as he fell; a long way down from the heavens.
Why must the best ones fall?
The water, warming up on my hands, feels like blood.
It takes time for Raphael’s voice to reach me through the cloud where my mind is closed in on the wetness of my hands, and for me to realise what it means: the storm has passed.
It was supposed to last a thousand days.
I open my eyes to blinding whites, and stand, emerging from my prison. Squinting in the bright light, I can just make out a snowstorm of feathers swirling around me. The heart of the blizzard, Raphael, lands in front of me on top of the now harmless cloud I was locked inside until a moment ago. I suppose he will tell me the reason for my early release, but his expression is not what the bringers of good news wear. Is he moulting out of anxiety?
I shake my wings, sprinkling water over the book he clutches in his hands; Answered Prayers and Granted Wishes. The book of our miracles.
I raise my chin.
‘That is confidential.’
‘I know. I knocked it off the shelf and… I happened to see a wish.’ Words usually flow easily for him, but this time, he is struggling to find them. I catch one of his feathers mid-air, turning it between my fingers. What on Earth have you seen?
‘Listen, Michael. We’ve made a mistake.’
He takes a deep breath, his blue eyes fixed on me.
‘Selaphiel shouldn’t have been exiled.’
I let the words linger between us and mix with the lost feathers.
‘What?’ I mouth as my breath catches in my throat, drowns my voice.
Don’t take them… Please.
‘He fell victim to ill-wishing,’ Raphael continues. ‘The last wish on earth granted by Selaphiel… was that he shall never find God again.’
My heart shakes like the heavy bronze of a ringing bell and I stretch a wing out to steady myself. I was ordered to rip his wings out. I almost did… And it was a mistake?
Raphael clears his throat.
‘It’s lucky you only stored away his wings as stardust, isn’t it? It would’ve been painfully permanent otherwise, if you broke them like–’
I snap my head up with a stare that makes him lift his hands and the hefty book in defence.
‘All I’m saying is, it can be undone,’ he says quickly. ‘We just need to find the person who made the wish, and Selaphiel. They can revert it, and you can give his wings back. Fix it all.’
How could you fix it all?
I run my fingers through my wet curls as I eye the book. On those pages, somewhere, there is the silent wish we made together, Selaphiel and I. The day I turned his wings to stardust and left him down on Earth. If I could only see whether my wish is to be granted, and what his was–
I shake my head.
‘I trust you can handle doing my jobs for a little while longer,’ I say dryly.
I cannot delay this journey—it’s already been too long.
I never before had to find a specific person on the planet, let alone one I do not know the name of. I only know when the star for his wish was taken down from the sky: the day before Selaphiel came home.
Lost in the concrete maze of a big city, I summon a single feather from his wing into my palm and blow it away.
Find him, I pray, and follow the feather, until turning one corner it becomes stardust again.
When the last golden spark disappears, the wind slaps something into my face. Blinded for a moment, I peel it off with a grimace and hold it in front of me. My heart skips a beat when I see his bright eyes and joyful smile on the poster. Then I see the words, too, the first one looming over his portrait: MISSING.
My head spins, but I force myself to slow down and read all the print. He went “missing” the day he returned to us. I run my eyes over the last lines again:
“If you have any information about Selaphiel, please contact me on…” Why? What do you want from him? “...or return him to this address…” Who are you to return him to?
I scrunch the page in my hand. So handy, leaving that return address.
A black cat stares up at me as I step inside the flat. I suppose this is an unusual occurrence for them on the top floor, but what was I supposed to do, when my knocking was left unanswered and the windows open? I shake my wings and the feline paws at the loose feathers filling the air. This stress… It's all his fault.
The place is quiet apart from the faint noise of running water. Even on a gloomy grey day like today, the white walls and big windows provide plenty of light for the small, open space. One filled with plants, pictures, and cat things. Who names a black cat Crumpet?
First, I find one of Selaphiel cuddling a platypus. Then, him and a dark-haired human beaming at each other.
Could that be the person I’m looking for? That Noah?
He doesn’t look malicious, not like someone who would want to harm Selaphiel like that. Most pictures are warm, happy and innocent. I’d rather he didn’t get close to humans, but despite that, when I see a selfie of them and an okapi, a smile tugs at my lips. Then, my eyes settle on a photo where there is no space left between theirs.
The glass front shatters before I realise I slammed my fist into it.
‘Damn it.’ I wince at my bleeding hand.
I’d rather he didn’t get close to anyone.
The water stops running when I pull the last shard from my hand, and wipe the blood in my tunic. I raise my eyes to the sound of approaching footsteps.
He doesn’t notice me at first. A towel is over his head, covering his whole face as he rubs it into his hair whilst he walks in, completely naked. I take my time to study him, the strong legs and the dark hairs, before I clear my throat. I need his face to confirm. His head jolts up and the towel comes down.
My voice is ice-water, pouring over him.
He jumps back with a loud scream and wraps the towel around his waist, almost tripping over his own two legs. Looking at his face, his dark brown eyes and dark hair, wet and dripping water onto his broad chest, I compare him with the images on the wall. It’s him.
‘Nice to meet you.’ I say, though I couldn't imagine a single thing less pleasant. Him, before me? So what if he is a little handsome, for a human? Why did it have to be him? It’s only been a decade we’d been apart. Seriously, Selaphiel?!
He cusses at me and I raise an eyebrow.
You kissed Selaphiel with that mouth?
His face is burning red as he demands to know how I got into his flat whilst backing away from me.
I was expecting a warmer welcome, to be honest.
‘You left the window open.’ I offer a cold smile. ‘Has Selaphiel not told you about the wings?’
His eyes light up, with both hope and caution.
‘Do you know where he is?’
He looks me over and frowns.
‘Who are you?’
‘He never spoke of you.’
‘He never spoke of you either!’ I counter, sharper than intended.
His jaw hardens.
‘You are from that delusional cult…’
And you are that damned mortal who wished he could not return to us.
I narrow my eyes. Selaphiel held no secrets and yet this man still doesn't know. He'd never seen his wings. My lips twitch towards a smirk.
‘He went too easy on you.’ I huff.
Maybe, it was because of what he told me, how he found that people lost their sight for our wings, except when they were deadly afraid or dying. And then, they screamed in horror. He said when he wanted to help them, he ended up terrifying a dying human. He cried his eyes out in hiding and avoided situations like that after. But I’d like to think he could have shown his real self to this human, if he cared enough about him.
‘I’ll show you delusion.’ I walk towards him, backing him onto the wall.
I should be good.
He is a weak human. He only doesn’t know that, because Selaphiel is gentle; and he was probably too stupid to notice the difference in their strengths.
I see that image of them, smiling into a kiss as my hand wraps around his throat.
‘In a bit,’ I assure him. ‘For now, just watch.’
He is gritting his teeth, his hands gripping my wrist, my arm, short nails digging into my skin. I don’t care.
‘Look at me,’ I hiss, and watch his eyes widen as his arms lose their strength and the reflection of my wings appear in his eyes.
The eyes of a dying human.
On his chest, a feather glows up, imprinted over his heart. An angel’s feather, left there for protection. Selaphiel’s. And this moron doesn’t even know it. I let go of him, watching him collapse onto the floor. The cat hisses.
‘You are nothing to him,’ I say, stepping back. Whether it’s to make a jab at him or to reassure myself, I do not know.
For the first time in my life, I am told to fuck off.
He doesn’t ask what I am. He gets back onto his feet.
‘What do you want from me? Where is Selaphiel?’
‘Why do you care?’
‘Because I love him!’
His words, shouting something I couldn’t even whisper, fill the space between us.
I want to tear him apart. Show him the pain his stupid love almost caused. If only he could be gone from this earth and turned to dust– But I need him alive to undo the damage he did. To take Selaphiel home.
‘You don’t know what love means,’ I growl. ‘I will take you to meet him, because I need to, but that will be the last time you ever lay eyes on him, do you understand?’
He straightens his back before spitting back his answer.
‘I do not.’
I have no choice, either way. He’s got none either: with the stardust, with a feather of his wings, I have the means to find Selaphiel. And Noah holds the power to give back his sight, so I can return his wings.
Set him free.
Noah comes with me willingly, hoping that he would be the one to take him home.
I dare you to try.
The feather we follow sparkles at the edges, and burns up into stardust. We are close.
‘All you need to do is unwish that wish, alright?’ I explain for the third time, raising my voice to talk over the screams.
Noah’s eyes dart stranger to stranger, searching the crowd of the theme park as we walk between the long queues to the circus tent and to the roller coaster ride.
‘I’m talking to you–’
But he isn't listening. His eyes are fixed on somebody behind me, and my knees give out for a split second when I turn to follow his gaze and I see him.
In all skin tight clothes with sequins, contouring his body with diamond shine. His dark-blond hair I’ve only ever seen loose is now tied with a velvet ribbon, and shimmery makeup enhances the gold and green of his striking eyes.
The biggest difference?
It’s still the lack of his wings.
He stares back at us, his lips parted.
Noah darts to him before I can move a limb and pulls him into a hug, kisses him on the lips.
‘Know your place!’ I pull him off Selaphiel and it takes everything in me not to break all his bones.
Selaphiel takes a small breath, lightly touches his lips. What about me..?
‘Michael..? I told you not to watch me.’
‘Are you an actual stalker?!’ Noah exclaims and I twist his arm.
A soft voice stops me from hurting him more, measured and clear.
Selaphiel gives me a sweet smile when I obey.
‘What are you doing here? Both of you…’ He asks, his face flushed red as his eyes flicker between us.
Noah is first to start talking.
‘I was looking for you–’
‘There’s been a mistake!’ I cut him off. ‘This man here wished you’d never find God again. It wasn’t your fault, you can make him undo it and you’ll be free to come home. I can give back your wings.’ I say, my heart racing.
‘Noah, you did what?’ He raises his eyes at him, his voice tinged with pain. ‘We’ve wasted a beautiful star for that.’
‘I didn’t mean to!’ Noah says quickly.
I flirt with the thought of ripping his tongue out.
‘I’m happy to unwish it, if you want me to, just… Come home.’
‘Yes, come home.’ I agree. ‘With me.’
A man wearing a sparkly red fedora steps next to Selaphiel and puts his arm around his shoulders.
‘Are these two bothering you?’
There is something about him, tugging at a memory buried deep in my mind. On Selaphiel’s face there is a hint of a smile I cannot place.
I eye the stranger in shiny red shoes and sequined suit, his fingers drumming on Selaphiel’s shoulder. For a moment I have the urge to break them off one by one.
But something is off.
He smells like stardust.
My throat closes and my mouth dries up as I force out the question I don’t want the answer for.
‘Who are you?’
‘Me?’ He smiles, lifting his face so his eyes meet mine: golden brown and of the stars.
An angel without wings.
‘Have you forgotten about me already, after dumping me from the sky?’ He chuckles.
I labour to breathe. I can feel the weight of his severed wings in my hands, dragging me down, and the warmth of his blood, the stickiness of my hands. That pleading look… I wish I caved, then. His eyes are different now. There’s no trace of love. No trace of any goodwill.
I grab Selaphiel’s arm and gesture at his new friend.
‘Do you not know who this is?!’
‘I do.’ He pats my hand. ‘How could I forget the one who taught me how to make the stars shoot across the sky to make a wish come true? After I messed up so badly trying it by myself for the first time.’
My muscles tense. We don’t talk about that incident with the dinosaurs anymore.
‘And when I mixed up the animal parts and everybody was mad at me for making the platypus, he made the okapi and told me they were the best animals on earth. You used to think he was the best thing in heaven… Until he wasn’t anymore.’
I swallow hard.
‘That was… different.’
‘I understand. You did what you had to do.’
‘Let me just say that didn’t make it hurt any less.’ The warm brown eyes pierce mine and a hot flush creeps up my neck.
‘Selaphiel. Let’s go!’
‘I can’t right now.’
‘Would you care to explain–’ Noah starts, grabbing Selaphiel’s hand and I don’t care to slap it away, don’t wait for him to finish.
‘He is the devil. Satan. The worst.’
We are late.
His voice is a low, enticing whisper.
‘You know I like when you say my name.’ He bites his lip with a smirk. The hellfire temptation flickering in eyes burns the air in my lungs as I hold his gaze, unable to break this spell.
‘Lucifer.’ It slips off my tongue hoarse and heavy like in my darkest dreams.
‘The best thing from Heaven.’