She had told herself, over and over, that it was for the best. But her heart knew better. It was evil. Pure evil. Malicious jealousy threatening to drown her. Anxiousness and protectiveness, yes. But she could not be satisfied with this outcome. She would give anything to erase him.
Humanity did not understand angels and demons. Angels were less confusing, because to a certain degree they did do what humans thought. They cared, were kind, and protected humans as best they could. But they were not profoundly powerful beings. Good intentions were their hallmark, but they worked in quiet, simple ways.
Devils were another matter. Some people were under the impression that devils went out of their way to tempt humanity and lead it astray. This was ridiculous. Devils did whatever they wanted, were completely self indulgent, and as a consequence, encouraged selfish behavior in the humans that they interacted with. As time went on and fewer humans accepted the guidance of angels, these otherworldly beings retreated for most of their lives to their home, which, for lack of a more simple explanation, could be explained to the humans as "Heaven."
"Hell" was the home of the devils, and was growing year by year. Angels and devils were not born in a traditional sense, but new ones appeared as human beings acted on selfish and selfless impulses. An angel would occasionally, succumbing to selfishness, fall and become a devil. A devil, once every so many millennia, forsook his ways and began to live for others, ascending to an angelic throne. But more often than not, the meeting of a devil and an angel was a catastrophe. Their natures mingled, each weakening the other, until they simply dissipated.
Kyoko and Mimori were two angels with an adventurous side. While their brothers and sisters hid from the earth for most of their lives, the two girls flitted back and forth from it, resting and reviving in heavenly fields of flowers before descending back to humanity to walk among strangers and give hope. Of the two of them, it could be said that Kyoko had more worldly sense, being older, and that her nature was kinder than Mimori's. But Mimori was a delightful girl and her perpetual happiness was as infectious as Kyoko's generosity.
A dozen or so centuries into their lives, the girls found themselves in their usual haunt, a glossy meadow, bedecked in flowers and sparkling with a celestial beauty.
"Yes, dear?" The older angel rolled onto her side in the soft grass, propping her face in one of her hands and tossing her gently waving golden hair over her raised shoulder and out of her face. Her blue eyes rested tenderly on her friend. Mimori sat, her knees curled up under her chin, and her own long blonde hair, straight and silky, dancing a little in the soft breeze.
"Do you remember that man we met?"
"The boy, you mean? On our last trip to earth? The one that said you were angelic?"
"Yes, him," she said delightedly. "Only, he was a man, because he walked like one. Not like a boy."
"More like a devil," Kyoko corrected in a soft tone. Mimori's smile faded.
"Are you sure?" Kyoko laughed.
"Of course not. I didn't ask him. But he seemed like the type."
"But he wasn't like the last one we met. He didn't chase us back to Heaven. He even gave us lunch, and was kind."
Kyoko refrained from pointing out that he might have been trying to buy favors. It had taken all her cleverness to get them away from the young man Mimori had mentioned. His soft brown hair and eyes had seemed harmless enough at first, but Kyoko had thought his eyes glowed red, and his hair seemed silver in the right light. The look on his face as he had stared at Mimori when he thought neither girl was looking had not encouraged Kyoko either. Angels did not hate devils; that was unkind. A devil was what it was. But a good angel did not spend time with devils. She knew a devil would thwart her efforts to bring lasting happiness to a human soul.
"Well, I doubt we will see him again. Earth is large and time is broad and we won't be going back for a while. At least another dozen of our years."
"Won't we?" Mimori asked, almost begging. Kyoko felt something bitter stir in her and suppressed unkind thoughts towards the young man.
"Mimori, if you want to meet him again, I'll take you. You only have to ask it of me."
"But that would be so selfish!" she gasped. Kyoko smiled.
"If it is your heart's greatest wish, I will give it to you. Even angels have interests. Sometimes we survive by providing for each other, you know."
"I don't want to see him if you think it isn't safe," Mimori reassured her. Kyoko felt herself relax slightly and realized she had been afraid. She hoped the feeling would not return. It was dangerous.
Like that young man.
Time in Heaven and Hell moved in a straightforward way, from an unknown starting point into eternity. Between these realms and earth, there was a fluctuation. Traveling to earth meant traveling through and around time. Experienced navigators could pick the year they wished to arrive in. New travelers went where the waves pushed them.
No one cared what was changed by their actions. In the beginning of Heaven and Hell's time, the first angels and devils had influenced those men and women who would truly shape earth's "history." Now their successors worked only with the mass of humanity, pressing people that would not change the world, but who could be made different by the influences of an unearthly beings.
Mimori wanted to be alone. She realized it was selfish, but she and Kyoko both agreed that some time apart helped them to remember how good it was to be together so much. So she suggested to Kyoko that they part ways for a little while, only a few months, and Kyoko agreed to it. Mimori felt a bit guilty because she knew she was being a bit dishonest. When they were apart, they promised to stay confined in the depths of Heaven, where they could not be hurt. But this time…
She was curious. Was he really a devil? What did she know of devils? Could he just be human?
With these thoughts pressing her, Mimori made her way towards the border between Heaven and Hell. It was not a clear border, a stark line between evil and good. It was an open field that eventually grew sparse and withered until it drifted towards a black horizon. Mimori knew it was dangerous ground to walk, but told herself as long as she hid among the boulders and ruins there would be no real trouble. She would not sing, or make very much noise at all. She would simply sit and think. And if she saw anyone, angel or devil, she would just observe them.
That was all.
"Hello, little angel." Mimori let out a shriek as she woke, throwing herself away from the voice. There was a cackle of laughter, but as she whipped around, there was no one in sight. Her breath caught in her throat. Her stay on the border had lasted only two weeks so far. She had thought she was safe, resting behind the rocks, tucked away so that no one could see her unless they stood right in front of her and looked down. Now, alone and trapped, she realized the dangers of the ground she had chosen to tread. Her knees gave out under her. "It's so nice to know that my eyes didn't deceive me. But you are very lovely when you aren't hiding yourself, aren't you?"
A clawed hand, bedecked in silver studded with gems, slipped around her neck from behind her and slid to cradle her face. The terror remained, but underneath, a warm burning was starting to pulse in her gut. Mimori swallowed, and the captor chuckled as he felt the movement.
"W-who are you?"
"Oh, Angel, you've forgotten me already?" She felt the person behind her lean forward, and she turned when she realized he had brought his face around for her to see. It was the young man from earth, beautiful and smirking in a way that he had not done when she first met him.
"A devil," he answered easily, his disguise melting away to reveal long silver hair and burning red eyes. Draped in pendants and chains, clothed in leather, and looming over her, Mimori had no doubts as to what he was. Her only confusion lay in how she could ever have mistaken him for a mere mortal. His hungry and consuming aura choked her.
"Beautiful," she breathed, not realizing she had corrected him until he laughed. He released her and swung around to stand before her, scrutinizing her. He knelt then, and caught a bit of her hair between his fingers, stroking it thoughtfully.
"It really feels like soft gold," he told her, running his hand across her cheek and back to catch more between his fingers. "The softest…"
"Does it?" she asked naively, absurdly pleased by his praise. He laughed again and she smiled happily. Mimori liked this smile.
"Yes," he answered. "But it isn't as soft as your skin." A careless finger traced her nose as he told her this and she felt her face grow warm. "I'm afraid that of the two of us, you're the beautiful one."
"Oh no!" she disagreed. "I only look like most angels do."
"And I, like most devils," her devil retorted. But it was a gentle reply, and she giggled.
"Well, I don't get to see devils. Kyoko can spot them from miles away and makes sure we avoid them."
"I'm guessing you mean the plain young lady that was with you? She did not look angelic at all."
"Oh, she's much better at hiding her presence. She doesn't need all her beauty to help humans. Just her smile. People like that I'm pretty though."
"I'll believe that," the devil snorted, and was surprised when she blushed again, but this time looked ashamed.
"Not- not like that," she whispered, and the devil learned something.
"Angels aren't innocent, are they?" Mimori smiled.
"Oh, most of us are. But Kyoko and I are in the human world too much to not know at least some things." She glanced at him shyly and smiled. "It seems like you've been there for a bit too long." He laughed.
"I must have, if I let myself be convinced that humans knew anything about you."
"Well, they do know some things," she conceded sweetly. "I think they expect a bit much from us, though."
"Working you to death," he suggested in a low tone, a hand reaching down to caress her cheek. She shivered a little, but shook her head.
"Not at all. Having work to do is good for a person, and we don't get tired very easily."
"Where is your friend?" he asked, glancing around.
"Oh, sometimes we need to be apart. She's off somewhere else right now, but I'll go and meet her again soon." He frowned.
"Just in a month or two. I've only been here for a few weeks." The crooked smile returned.
"I've definitely been with humans for too long. I thought you would only be here for another day or two." She giggled.
"Oh no! That's hardly any time at all. We would barely have been apart."
"Do you want to be alone until you see her again?" Mimori hesitated before she answered. She liked this devil, but something in his tone made her nervous.
"I- I don't know," she finally told him, incurably honest. He stood, offering her his hand and she took it. He pulled her up and into his arms, holding her gently.
"Well, I can't always stay, but I don't mind coming to visit. You'll be here for two more months?"
"Oh, yes," she answered breathlessly.
"Then I'll see you again soon, Angel."
"You're leaving now?" she asked in dismay.
"Yes. But I promise to come back soon."
"Can devils make promises?"
"If it suits them, of course they can. Stay safe, little one. You hid yourself well, but be cautious. Other devils aren't as patient as I am." She gave him a confused look, but he only grinned and stepped back, taking her hand and kissing it lightly. "Farewell."
"Wait, your name!" He disappeared, but his voice whispered in her ear.
"Next time, Angel."
"You sneaky cheater," a voice growled from his doorway. Ren looked up from his desk, running a hand through his hair to shove it out of his face. It was far too long again, but getting it cut was always a nuisance.
"What are you doing here, Sho?" he asked with a sigh. The young devil cocked his head and looked at the papers in front of Ren with amusement.
"Numbers again? You are the weirdest guy."
"And you're obnoxious." As far as devils went, Ren and Sho could visually epitomize the two extremes of the spectrum. Sho's gaudy and sharp look was favored by the younger ones, the human obsession with riches having caught their interest. Ren's style was conservative. He wore black, but mostly because it was expected. His hair was long, in the fashion of all immortals who could not keep track of time and hated going to earth just to see a human barber. His eyes were red, but where Sho's were bright and glassy, his were dark and deep. The only oddity that he could claim was a series of tattoos on his hands and around his neck. He never spoke of why he had them, or what they stood for, but once, when he was in an extremely generous mood, he had mentioned to Sho that they were a reminder. Of what he did not specify, and Sho knew him well enough not to ask. They were not friends and had once been perilously close to enemies when they had taken an interest in the same human woman. But after that fiasco (she had left them both for a human man), they had discovered a tolerance for each other, and Sho sometimes came to Ren for advice. "Did you want to expand on that accusation, or will you leave me alone?"
"Expand. Why didn't you tell me angels were so amusing?"
Ren stiffened slightly, a twinge of an ache in his chest. "They aren't. Fallen ones are useful, but true angels are boring. Straight-laced and tight lipped. Which isn't as fun to kiss as it sounds," he added with an ironic note. "Why? You found one?"
"On earth. Apparently I found two, but one of them was like you described, and she wasn't nearly as pretty."
"If you found her on earth, that isn't surprising. Angels are better at hiding themselves than we are, though you have a knack for it. We don't bother as much because people like us as we are. Angels have to be more careful."
"Well, the second wasn't nearly so careful."
"Which was probably why they were together. Did you have anything important to say? I don't care who you flirt with on earth."
"I think I piqued her."
"The straight-lace?" Ren mocked. Sho snorted.
"The other one. I ran a border check today to see if I could spot another angel and found the less careful one."
"She was wandering the borderlands?"
"She is careless. How boring."
"I thought she was interesting," Sho countered. "It was fun."
"I have no interest in how the encounter ended," Ren stated, turning back to his paper. "And I'm not cleaning up your mess if the Archangels come after you."
"They won't. I think I talked to her for what, ten minutes? Then I left."
"But you'll go and see her again? I'm assuming if you were so circumspect she isn't terrified of you."
"Oh, she doesn't know what to think yet. She doesn't lack instinct, just common sense."
"No wonder she travels with a friend. What did you do with the other one?"
"She wasn't there. They won't be seeing each other for a few months. I have time."
"You've been cooped up here way to long. Months are plenty of time. I'm still 'jet-lagged.'"
"Not my problem. I don't care. Did you come just to tell me you're going to get yourself into trouble? That isn't my concern."
"And you say angels are straight-laced. Seriously, when was the last time you got out? Five hundred years ago? When we were ready to kill each other?"
"I visited earth five years ago."
"Yeah, to pick up a new recruit. I don't know why the Old Guys keep sending you down for that job. You've got mileage, but you aren't as old as them, and they hate leaving recruiting Fallen idiots to the newbies."
"Content yourself with the knowledge that I tell you nothing because I hate interference as much as I hate to interfere with others."
"Oh, somebody's ticked. You only get really starchy when you're peeved."
"Are you finished?"
"For now. I'll stop by again before I head back out."
"You aren't flying straight back to her side?"
"Even I'm not that stupid. I figure I'll survive this since it's in my way to get what I want, but I'm not laying bets on what happens to her. And I'm not laying bets on what happens to me if I get too interested."
"Think you'll Ascend?" Ren taunted.
"Please. When have I ever learned to share? I'd be a dead man, and you know it."
"Just try and get her to earth," Ren sighed. "The border isn't sacred in any way, but no one wants to deal with the trouble of you making your assignations there."
"Why take her to earth? You think I'm gonna make her Fall?"
"That or kill her." His face suddenly grew serious. "Don't let her fall in love with you."
"Why not? It'll be fun."
"Don't," Ren repeated, the note of command causing Sho to jump. Devils did not tend to give orders because they did not expect to be obeyed. "Messy doesn't even begin to describe what might happen if she falls in love with you."
Angels were patient. They lived forever if they stayed out of trouble and it was not in their nature to be uncomfortable. That would be ungenerous.
But never in her life had Mimori realized how long a single day could be. And then it stretched into two days, then three, then four. She was going to give up and head back, but on the fifth day, she felt something around her change. He was not there, but she thought she could feel him coming. And suddenly, she was aware of minutes, seconds even. Tiny increments of time that had never mattered before absorbed her attention and made her anxious. Was this how humans felt, knowing their lives were limited? That every tiny moment was a moment where something could be happening, and was not? Did she like it? Did it even matter?
He was coming.
Kyoko felt that burning sensation in the back of her mind again. It had only been a few weeks since she and Mimori had separated, but twice now, she felt the tremors of fear rock her. And this second one was twice and terrifying as the first. She should not jump to conclusions. Mimori and she had promised to stay in the safe zones when they were apart. She would simply ask a few people, and content herself with whatever answers she received. She was not really afraid. She was not afraid…
"You came back." Her smile staggered Sho. He was used to seeing pleasure, but this unrestrained euphoria on their third meeting was absurd. Certainly she had caught his attention. But he had a passion for things that sparkled, and was only distracted by shiny objects for a time. So what was it about this bright glow that called to him like nothing else had?
"Of course I came back," he answered as casually as he could. "I told you that I would, didn't I?"
"Yes," she answered, looking down meekly. "But you were gone for so long…"
Long? Wasn't she the one who had said months was such a short time?
"Did you miss me?" he asked with a smile. She looked up and nodded, smiling in return. Joy, not simple pleasure, swelled in him, and he was staggered. No wonder Ren had never sent him after angels. This girl was having a greater effect on him than he would have thought possible in so short a space of time.
"Do you know what seconds feel like?" she asked suddenly. He shook his head. "Well, I didn't either. But now I do. Is that strange?"
"I suppose that depends on how you learned it."
"I don't know how exactly. But I realized that you were coming and all of a sudden… I could feel them."
"Oh." Yeah, good for his ego, not for his sense. "Well, I can't say that I've noticed anything like that."
"Oh." She seemed disappointed, and he reached out instinctively, cupping her cheek and stepping forward.
"What's wrong?" If nothing else had managed to shock him yet, the gentleness in his own voice did. Was this what angels did? For the first time in his life, Sho felt himself concerned not with his own desires, but with banishing whatever thought or action had made this exquisite creature troubled.
"I wish you had," she confided. "It would have been nice if you had noticed too."
"But then you might have gotten conceited," Sho teased, hoping to coax her out of her gloom. But this only served to make her shrink further.
"You're right. It was very bad of me." It was almost becoming tedious, this self-effacing nature she had. So why did it torment him so much?
"Now really. If you keep pouting, what am I going to do with you? I thought you wanted to see me again?"
"Oh, I did, I did! I just… hoped that you wanted to see me too."
"Well, I wouldn't have come if I didn't want to see you," he answered practically, earning a weak smile.
"Yes, but I think that I wanted to see you more than you wanted to see me."
"Well, maybe you should try to change that."
"How?" she asked, cocking her head and looking at him in confusion. He chuckled.
"Just like that," he whispered pulling her into his arms and smiling at her little gasp of surprise. "You are far too enchanting."
No one had heard anything. Kyoko was not too surprised, but she had asked people about places that Mimori usually haunted when alone. If her friend was not there, where could she be?
The feeling of terror was growing, day by day. What was she going to do?
It was like a dream for them both. He had only meant to stay for a few days, but when two more weeks had drifted by, he did not think about the consequences. He was too busy teaching her how to paint pictures in the night sky with colored magic and what flowers became her the best. She had forgotten the rest of the world even existed, and was aware only of the passing time, each and every moment.
The ones that taunted her were moments in his arms, or where he touched her, briefly. Those tiny seconds, maybe a full minute, made her wonder if they were not in Heaven after all. And those times, where he looked at her with those eyes that saw only her, she felt her breath slip away and could count how long it took her to breathe again.
"How much longer do you have?" She blinked in confusion. "Until your friend comes looking for you."
"Oh!" Her eyes grew wide in fear and shame. "I- I'm not sure…"
"Oh, you silly little angel! I have to go soon."
"Go?" She was sad, and frightened.
"For a little while. You're getting tired. I've stayed too long."
"I don't mind," she promised. "Just stay. You make me happy!"
"Oh, Angel, what should I do with you?" he murmured, taking her hand and pressing a kissing on her fingers. "I can't stay. We're fading. Go back to your friend. She'll care for you. I'll meet you on earth."
"How? You won't know when we get there, or where we'll be."
"I can find you anywhere," he promised. She looked skeptical.
"How?" He smiled and caught some of her hair, bringing it to his lips and watching her blush.
"I've all but claimed you, Angel. I will find you."
"Oh, Mimori, you're alright!" Kyoko sighed when she saw her friend approaching. She ran over and grabbed the girl, hugging her delightedly. "It's so silly, but I was worried for you this whole time. You look tired. Is something wrong?"
"Oh, no, nothing," Mimori lied a bit uneasily. It had only been a week since their separation, but already she missed Sho more than anything. She was glad to see Kyoko again and sorry to have worried her friend. But what she really wanted was that captivating devil to return to her side. "I'm just a little tired. Probably from traveling while I was away."
"Oh, you poor thing!" Kyoko crooned, accepting this story without hesitation and causing her friend to writhe with guilt. "We'll stay here then, for a while longer. Earth can wait until you're well."
"Oh no! We should go right away," Mimori insisted. "I'll be fine-"
Kyoko cut her friend off with a finger placed lightly over her lips.
"No going to earth if you aren't feeling well. You have a hard enough time hiding your aura normally. We can't have you being spotted by all the devils that haunt the earth."
Mimori thought it would be quite nice to be haunted by a certain devil, but said nothing. She nodded meekly and accepted Kyoko's command. They returned to their fields to relax, and Kyoko, noticing that Mimori seemed a bit upset, went out of her way to cheer her friend.
"Look, that cloud is shaped just like the giraffe we saw last century, when we were on earth." Mimori did look, and acknowledged that the cloud did indeed look like the strange animal they had seen, but it did not seem to cheer her very much. "Don't you remember that young man who so badly wanted to impress you? He wrote you that silly song where he said you were as gentle as the giraffe."
Mimori did laugh at that, but it also caused a pang in her heart. She thought she understood better now how that boy had felt when she had not accepted his feelings. Her devil had seemed to be interested and enjoyed complimenting her, but she had never felt that he was as anxious to be with her as she was to be with him.
"Dearest, don't you like the flowers?" Kyoko had asked one day when she was weaving a necklace for her friend. Mimori looked at her gift and smiled. Kyoko had taken her advice about the flowers she should use and had made a circlet that would perfectly match Mimori's fair countenance. Kyoko stepped forward to drop it over her head, admiring the affect with a warm smile.
"They're perfect. Thank you." Mimori said, blushing happily.
"You're perfect," Kyoko stated with simple pride. "You should always wear flowers. They make you look even sweeter."
"Oh, do they? Do I look prettier?" she asked, all eagerness.
"Yes," Kyoko said matter-of-factly, taking Mimori's golden hair and draping it over her arm, stroking the soft golden mass tenderly. "You look lovely. I wish I had your hair."
"But yours is lovely too," Mimori insisted. Kyoko laughed and accepted the compliment mildly, shaking her head. She knew that as an angel she had a certain beauty, but she had been told a long time ago that she did not look as well as her fellows. Being so young and impressionable, she had taken it to heart and never believed any differently.
With all of Kyoko's efforts put to making Mimori happy, the younger angel relaxed and was able to forget a little her loneliness. She began to recover more quickly and it was not long until Kyoko said she was ready to return to earth. Mimori was all excitement and hid her nervousness, wondering if Sho would really be able to find her. She smiled as best she could and promised to be on her best behavior.
"Picking up a new recruit?" Sho asked the figure that lounged against a wall, watching the people on the street disinterestedly. Ren looked up and rolled his eyes, taking in the deceptively normal looking appearance that Sho presented.
"You've gotten rather good with your covers," he commented. "If you could stop looking naturally rakish…"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Like you're so great at it." Ren was good at hiding his aura, but the problem was that he was just too good looking to avoid attention, even in his human guise. His hair was short and dark and his eyes were brown, but he was tall and fit. His features were well defined and he had moved among humans long enough that he knew how to adapt to their desires. Most of the time he was aloof, but he could be ingratiating or condescending when the situation called for it. He dressed simply, but well, and always attracted attention.
"Got bored with your angel?" he asked, changing the subject. He was surprised when Sho looked away.
"No. I came down here to meet up with her." He met Ren's gaze again, smirking. "I'll have to get her to ditch her friend, but that should be more fun than troublesome."
Ren watched him for a moment and, ignoring the slight burning that started to hum in his veins, spoke.
"Are you kidding?" Sho asked, incredulous. "Why should you care?" Ren shrugged.
"Messing with angels always means more work for me. The Old Ones prefer to let me deal with the messes that show up when devils make trouble with those prissy busybodies."
"Which means less time for pleasure?" Sho suggested archly. Ren ignored his tone.
"Go dig yourself into a pit. I do have a recruit to grab and I'm not your babysitter."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever."
Mimori looked around anxiously, hoping that no one on the dark street paid any attention to her. She had escaped from the hotel that she and Kyoko were staying at after receiving a note on her dinner plate. The scrawl had told her only to leave the establishment and head east. She hoped that it was from Sho and that he would get there soon. Her own stupidity was starting to be apparent to her. She gasped when an arm slipped around her waist, but relaxed into the hold as she realized who it was.
"You surprised me," she whispered. Sho chuckled.
"You can speak normally. No one is going to hear you." She turned in his hold and looked up at him sheepishly.
"You're right. I'm just so nervous. I don't know what I'll tell Kyoko if she realizes I was missing."
"You could tell her the truth," Sho suggested, but this found no favor with his companion.
"She would be so hurt! I'm really betraying her." The admittance seemed not only to depress her, but to cause her physical pain. She clutched at her heart and tears formed in her eyes. Sho, his own body aching, reached out to brush away the moisture. Collecting a drop on his finger, he noticed he had her attention and tasted the tear, watching her eyes widen in surprise and confusion. "Sho…"
"What do you want to do?" he asked suddenly. "We'll go wherever you like."
"We're going back," Mimori told Sho, sitting on a bench at the park, looking at him in despair. "Kyoko noticed I'm not feeling well. She wants us to go back and recuperate. I think… I think she might be starting to suspect."
"You aren't feeling well, are you?" he asked, noticing her face was pale and she looked less… shiny. Her wings, which he could see if he looked hard enough, seemed to have lost some of their luster. He felt anxious for her wellbeing and, ignoring his own instincts to run far and fast, he let himself admit that it was only for her health that he could let her go. The admission made him ill, but he ignored this. It would do no good to pretend he had not slipped. She would be far from him for a long time if he knew anything about her disposition and Kyoko's worrying tendencies, explained to him by Mimori in hideous detail. He might never see her again.
"Kyoko thinks I should stay away for a long time. I don't want to, but I feel like I owe it to her, for lying so much."
"You're probably right."
She hesitated before she answered. "You think I should?"
"We won't see each other for a long time. Not until she's sure I'm better. She won't let me off on my own until then."
"I- I suppose."
"Dearest, I can't leave you right now."
"Please, just for a little while. I know we've only been back for five years, but I think I might feel better if I were on my own."
"You… want to leave me?" Kyoko's face was an open book, displaying the full range of her hurt and betrayal.
"Not forever!" Mimori protested. "Just for a little while. I love you, I really do."
"If- if this is what you really want…"
"Oh, Kyoko! I promise it won't be for long. Just a few months and I'll come right back. I swear!"
"Then we'd best part ways, hadn't we," Kyoko said, her smile not hiding her anguish. "Don't hurt yourself. Take care!"
"Always!" Mimori promised, already taking flight. Kyoko, noticing her wings were not as bright as they should be bit back a final protest, but watched her friend until she was completely out of sight.
The borderlands were cold and seemed to creep closer and closer to the heart of Heaven each year. Once this had worried Mimori, but now she found it meant she might be closer to Sho. She hoped that he could still find her as easily as he had on earth. She waited among some ruins, once grand houses for now fallen Archangels, hiding from everyone else who checked the border and praying daily that she would see her devil again.
Two weeks went by and nothing happened. But one morning Mimori found herself pressed to leave the ruins, so she stepped outside and was greeted with the sight of her beloved, perched on a rock and looking around. His eyes alighted on her and she sighed in relief. He had come.
Before she knew what was happening he was in front of her, grabbing her in an embrace that was much stronger than any of his others had been. She looked up to protest, but was cut off when his mouth covered hers and he kissed her hard. Terror sprang up for a moment, but was replaced with a feeling so warm and tender that she was shocked. She had always loved the people around her, she knew what affection was. This was passion, and it burned in a way that was both painful and exhilarating. When she came back to her senses, she realized her arms were around his neck and she was kissing him back. When he finally pulled away, she was trembling, leaning on him completely to support her.
"Oh, my stupid little angel. You should have run."
"Sho, didn't you miss me?" she almost sobbed, worried by his reaction. He put her mind to rest by kissing her again, more softly this time.
"Every second," he whispered, and she shivered in delight. "Every single moment, you ridiculous temptation."
Mimori liked this form of address to a degree that frightened her since she had always been taught that all temptations were bad. She rested against him, sighing delightedly.
"I missed you too."
"I know. You came back here. Which was dangerous. You shouldn't come here alone."
"But I was here alone last time and you didn't mind."
"I wasn't thinking. And I was with you most of the time."
"Go back to your friend. You aren't safe here."
"I can't! She won't see me again for months. Don't you want to stay with me?" Yes, he did want to stay with her. She could see it in his eyes. But there was sorrow there too.
"Mimori, don't you see? We're going to die. You're lying to everyone you know and I can't pretend that it wouldn't bother me if you got hurt. But I can't share you generously and you can't forget the other people you care about." She looked up at him in horror and he realized she had not thought about this. She swallowed tightly.
"If- if you can't share me then I'll just stay with you. Always."
"That's too selfless, silly. It doesn't work."
"I don't want you to die!" He smiled at her, but it was sad.
"I know. I don't want you to die either."
"Can't we do anything?"
"Forget." She was dismayed.
"I can't. I don't want to!"
"Then we'd better hope for a miracle."
She did not respond, but leaned in for another kiss.
Kyoko was sick. Horribly ill. Angels did not get sick, and that she was so unwell unnerved those around her. An Archangel was summoned, and he looked her over briefly.
"You're ignoring your duty," he said simply. "You know there is trouble. You must fix it. Your whole being knows it. You should obey."
She left that afternoon. The moment she started moving, painful though it was, she felt her strength returning. It would be slow progress, but she would head for the border. An instinct pulled her there.
Sho pulled Mimori closer, trying to find a more comfortable position on the moss covered rocks they had chosen for their bed. She slept often now, his poor, not so innocent angel. This taxed her much more than it did him. His desire to hoard her was in line with his nature. Her desire to want him in the face of her friends was killing her. And his desire to see her well was killing him. Much more slowly, but it was.
She mumbled in her sleep and nestled against him. Her physical appearance belied her condition. He did not understand angels, but apparently her love for him kept her blossoming. Only her wings, limp and greying, betrayed her undesirable state. He stroked her golden tresses gently, hoping she would wake soon. If he wanted to buy her more time, distance would help. He knew she would be lonely and he hated to leave her, especially while she was so defenseless. But if he could buy her just a little more time…
In the far distance, he felt, very faintly, someone approaching. That it was an angel he had no doubt. If one of her kind was coming, he had to leave now.
"Mimori," he whispered, nudging her gently. She whimpered, but he pressed and her eyes flitted open, resting on him with such an adoring look that he had to smile. "I'm going to make you unhappy, Angel." She forced herself to sit up, frowning.
"One of your people is coming, and I think it is your friend." She blinked in surprise.
"Kyoko? But she wouldn't come so early. And I said I would find her."
"You also said she was suspicious. You shouldn't be surprised."
"What are we going to do?"
"I'm going to leave for a few days. I'll come back once she's gone."
"What if she doesn't leave?" Mimori asked, almost panicking.
"Then I'll come get you. We'll go to earth."
"Why don't we leave now?"
"You're too weak, and I'm not strong enough to take you. You love her. She's your friend. Let her help you, and then you can tell her the truth and we can go."
"She'll be devastated," Mimori whispered with a shudder. "She only ever tried to protect me."
"It's either that or lie to her," Sho said softly. "Even if you hurt her, if she knows you trust her she can recover. She'll be alright."
"I don't want you to go!" He kissed her once, but spread his wings determinedly.
"I love you. Stay safe."
"Promise, Mimori." She gulped back a sob.
"I love you too. I promise. Come back soon."
Kyoko was horrified with what she saw. Mimori was sitting on a ruined balcony, looking out over the dead land towards the heart of Hell. Her figure was healthy but her wings were shadowed. When Kyoko landed she noticed her friend had a look in her eye that made her suddenly seem exactly as old as she really was. Her gaze was mostly calm, but a little frightened. But her back was straight and she met Kyoko's alarmed gaze with a steady one of her own.
"You're breaking your promise," she said quietly. Kyoko trembled with rage, her arms reaching out.
"Mimori, you can't. Come back. We'll take care of you. You don't need this-"
"Kyoko, I can't leave him."
"Please. You're my sister, my friend. We've lived together for so long, we've saved people. Don't you want to save people?" Mimori seemed to waver, but she shook her head.
"I'm too selfish, Kyoko. I want him. If I could have both I would, because I do want people to be happy. As happy as I am when I see him. Oh, Kyoko! If you could just meet him once you'd understand!"
"I have met him," Kyoko retorted. "Unless he isn't that devil we saw on earth who tried to get you away from me."
"He isn't like that. He loves me, truly."
"Lies are a part of his being. He'll get what he wants-"
"He's dying," Mimori said flatly. "I'm killing him, and he's killing me, and we don't care. I love him."
Kyoko's arms dropped, her eyes becoming wide. She stared at Mimori hard for a moment, and the younger angel was shocked to see her grab her chest and wince, a haunted look in her face.
"It won't do, Mimori," she said in a hushed voice. "That kind of love… an angel can't have it. You'll Fall. Or you'll die. You can't have that love. Only- only humans can have it."
"I do have it," Mimori snapped back. "And I'm going to keep it. You don't understand-can't! He's making me happy, and I want to stay with him."
"Where is he now?" Kyoko demanded. "Leaving you here, unprotected, on the border-"
"He knew you were coming. He thought you could help me if he wasn't here. Help me get ready to go to earth."
"Mimori, you can't!"
"I will. And he left because he thought you loved me enough to give me what I wanted. This is what I want. The greatest wish of my heart."
"You'll die!" Kyoko was choking on the words, but Mimori, her heart in agony, did not relent.
"If you interfere, I'll hate you," she whispered. "I'll never forgive you if you take me away from him."
Kyoko stood stunned, watching her friend in disbelief. Her fists clenched and unclenched once, and she slumped.
"I'll stay with you until he returns. You can't be left alone, and I don't want you to get hurt." Mimori's face brightened and she dashed forward, hugging Kyoko tightly.
"Oh, thank you. Thank you! You're the best angel in the whole world!"
"What happens to us when we die?" Ren looked up from the book he was reading to stare at Sho, leaning against his doorframe.
"I have no idea. There is speculation of course, but nothing conclusive."
"What do they say?"
"Well, since we only really die if we get involved with angels, the most popular idea is that we dissipate into the universe and our energies form the Young Ones."
"Oh, gross," Sho groaned. Ren did not ask why Sho felt like his dying was even an issue. One look at the boy told Ren a rather disastrous tale.
"There is another thought."
"That they get reborn as humans. Because humans are mixed by nature, and devils and angels are individual enough to be considered true souls, if they taint themselves and don't Ascend or Fall, they lose their immortality and live the human cycle."
"It involves our timelines being different and is tiresomely complicated. And involves reincarnation. Don't worry about it."
"Can humans become angels or devils?"
"No one is sure, but there is some suggestion that those who live lives towards one ideal or the other do get reborn into the immortal cycle."
"I'm guessing that's another one of those complicated things?"
"It's just our life. The Young Ones, the devils, and the Old Ones. Similar for the angels. The Younglings, the angels, and the Archangels."
"I didn't make up the rules, so don't ask me."
"Sounds stupid. Like someone got addicted to prose and was trying to sound all officious."
"I already said-"
"I know, I know." He broke off and stared into the distance for a moment, and Ren felt another of his stupid pangs. "Thanks." Ren blinked.
"For not calling me an idiot."
"You can stay a while longer. I'm sure it wouldn't hurt." Sho smiled, but it was sarcastic.
"I don't need a babysitter, and you just don't want more work."
"Then I'll see you later," Ren answered, turning back to his reading. There was a slight pause before Sho answered.
"No you won't."
And then he was gone.
Mimori was sleeping. Kyoko knew this, and did not try to wake her. She was tired. She needed rest.
The jealousy was real, and so was the anguish. She knew that she would never be forgiven. She knew hatred for that evil being that had stolen her friend away and had made this happen. She knew she was going mad. But that did not stop her from meeting him when he landed on that crumbling balcony. The tears flowed and she could barely make out the look of stunned horror on his face. He must feel her intent, she knew it was strong.
Her fingers were around his neck, squeezing only a little. She knew he was weak. She could feel it. He did not resist her mild strength, but let her push him back. And then, as he was falling, she saw his eyes close in resignation. That he loved Mimori enough to die for her struck Kyoko with a terrible force, and her agony was complete. She buried her face in her hands and wept for what she had done, laughing in vicious triumph all the while.