How do you love? Quietly. A whisper in the wind, the gentle caress of a breeze grazing palms. The beggars’ gaze, shuttered and sharp—see me, know me. The press of grass blades beneath feet, the tinkling drizzle of rain on a windshield. Morning dew on a newly blossomed petal.
Quiet, constant, here.
His love is ever-evolving. When it was young—
(if it was ever young—the breach of emotion borne into his being as it settled in his human bones ached with age, eons old even in infancy. It existed in splintered calcium, the muscly sinew between his veins before he could even learn to know his own body)
—it did not stand to the classification of what had been the holy definition of “love”. Truly, in a brand new world of existence, how could meaning be given to this feeling? Had he ever felt the same all-encompassing warmth, the weightless, breathless, fearlessness when the love of the Lord was the meaning behind his entire being as an angel? Does such a feeling compare? Is this what love really is?
He always asked too many questions, didn’t he?
“I gave it away.” You did, you did, you did? You wonderful being. You magnificent thing.
How do you love? When the wave of it—ever prevalent at the warmth of your fingertips—blooms into a hot beam across your body just by the affectionate (hidden, always quickly stifled) gleam in his gaze. Oh, but how you love, muted and desperate. Do you see me? Can you feel this endless, fathomless depth inside of me? Don’t, I would never ask it of you.
On the cliffside of humanity’s destruction (one of many, one of too many). The sky opens wide and heaps seas of rainwater onto villages, people screaming in fear and huddling together for comfort. An ark crests along the horizon, growing smaller in the distance. He stands in the remnants and watches until the last breath is gasped, until the last rooftop is smothered, until the downpour becomes a gentle glaze.
And, of course, there you are. A gentle arc of a wing, halting the cold kiss of the rain. His hair already lays limp and sodden on his head, as do his robes. It’s futile. It’s useless. It curls inside the base of his spine and leaves the corner of his eyes prickling. He blames his wet cheeks on the water dripping from his scalp.
“They will be alright.” A pause. “Humanity. They will survive.”
It leaves a heavy weight in the base pit of his stomach, twists him into knots. It hurts his teeth to grit them so tightly, to quell the flood inside of him. He wonders if he would find relief, if the ache were to stop should he too allow the gates to open up, to flood everything in his path in its destruction. Could a new beginning be borne, faint on the horizon?
Or would he still be standing alone in the aftermath, a purveyor of his own ruin?
“Of course they will. That’s what they do, innit?” In it you would drown, and your final gasp for salvation is not one I can bear.
So it grows. So it goes. How do you love? Here, over a lager of ale, joyous in exaltation. The resounding applause continues in waves, cresting as moments of the play are recounted in the crowded pub by its patrons to the gasps and laughter of the audience. The lighting is muted, glowing and warm. It settles into the shadows that form at the corners of your eyes, lifted in mirth and delight. Here it settles and releases, a clear breath from one minute to the next. The loose sprawl from shoulder to toe, the smooth press of a palm onto the wooden surface of the table. Here it warms, here it lives, a heavy blanket on this chilly evening.
The firelight reflects in the gaze that flicks to him over a raised mug. “And you said you preferred the funny ones.”
But never doubt I love. He raises his mug back in acknowledgment. “Guess there’s something to be said about this one, I s’ppose.”
Demon, he reminds himself in his worst moments, when it begs to split the seams of his skin and spill along the cracked cobblestones they walk down. When his hands shove tightly in his cloak, tight enough to keep them trapped before they could do something as foolish, as detrimental as to try to reach out. How do you love? Like a demon, vicious, always wanting more. A black chasm, gnashing teeth and agony—clawed talons latching on to any available scraps and stuffing them into the ever-hungry maw inside of him.
A contemplative hum. “I believe it is just up here, around the corner.”
“Only you would risk discorporation for crepes, angel.”
“That isn’t something I have to worry about anymore, now is it? Oh! Here we are.”
Demon, demon, demon.
He doesn’t have to remind himself, standing alone on a bridge and watching a slip of paper sink beneath rippled water as the empty space beside him echoes with the angry presence it had just held. He’s already been reminded well enough without having to do it himself. How do you love, here?
The bombs have dropped, the books have been saved, and an angel and a demon lounge on the sofa in the back of a bookshop in Soho. Well, the demon lounges, the angel fusses over the demon’s still-smoldering feet. The burn of it leaves him hissing, the sharp sudden pain spiking up his legs has his tongue clenched between his teeth. The burn of the whiskey down the back of his throat distracts him briefly from the coal fires constricted in his shoes.
He allows his head to drop to the back of the couch, allows himself to pinch the bridge of his nose, allows himself to sink into the puttering sounds around him of water being steamed, of cocoa being made. He sinks into the cushion, sinks into the shudders from outside as the world is shaken on its foundations—
(as they stand, once more, on the edge of humanity’s destruction)
--as gentle fingers wrap around his ankle to remove his shoes, his socks. As he is placed, gentle as glass, into cool water. Sinks into the water the same way he sinks into the gentle shushing noises cancelling out the sirens wails out in the streets. The miracle burns more than the consecrated ground, agony in its tender touch.
“Is that too much?” Hushed, here, in this timeless space. How do you love? After eighty years, how do you love?
Too much, it seems. Still, too much.
You blame the burn in the back of your throat on the whisky. “S’okay, angel.”
How do you love? Here is the first and last time that he wishes he did not. He wants to rip the thought, the plea, the—the prayer from his conscious the first time he thinks it, sitting in the Bentley with a tartan thermos cradled in his palms. It permeates, it echoes, it chokes itself in his gullet—that gaping, desperate, hopeless, ridiculous maw (demon demon demon)—but he cannot help the endless loop of it, banging against his gums and the backs of his teeth to be released.
You go too fast, you go too fast, too fast.
How do you love? He does not, he does not want to, he does not, he does not, he does—
He does. Of course he does.
Here, he loves. On the cresting wave of humanity’s destruction. Over the flowers that bloom in a borrowed garden, over the pealing laughter of a child running through the glass, over the crooning lullaby sung into the shadows of the hallway, where he knows curious ears listen in. Here, he allows it to transform inside of him into something muted, something calming—he uses this to his advantage, he presses the folds of this insurmountable feeling into the child in his arms, he allows it to spill over onto scraped knees, fevers, nightmares—he allows his lips to press it into tousled hair, into a baby-soft cheek, allow it to uncurl the talons and to open his palms to fit a small one inside of it.
He thwarts, when he should be tempting.
“You’re quite good with him, you know.” It’s said like a confession, over a few shared bottles of wine in a bungalow off of the Estate.
The alcohol has made him loose and pliant; the warmth that he has been doling out to the young boy in his charge has made him looser and pliant still. It fills him, in quiet moments like this—he held back the mountain of it so long for fear of it crushing him, to collapse his lungs and leave him broken beneath the weight of it. To his surprise, he has found that the mountain has molded itself to his image, and that he nestles quite comfortably in its crevices.
“Symbiotic relationship, ya think?”
“Nothing, angel, don’t mind me.” He gestures his empty glass for the bottle. “Top me off, would ya?”
It garners a peculiar look, but the swirl of wine fills his glass without comment. He settles more deeply into the settee, settles himself along the ragged ridges pressing to his ribcage. Settles himself.
How do you love? Despairingly, pleadingly—we can run off together, we can be safe, you can be safe—and it hasn’t felt like any time at all since this ache filled him, standing on a bridge alone, standing on the other side of a bandstand (on the other side of the world, on opposite sides). He knows that fear, he knows that hesitation, he can help—let me help you, please. Let me in, just this once, allow me, see me, and I will never ask for anything else.
He has to try one more time, he has to and—of course.
I forgive you.
When I’m off in the stars I won’t even think about you!
Of course he’s alone in this.
The less said about the bookshop the better.
--where are you, where are you, please I’m sorry. I should have stayed, I should have come back, I never should have left this is my fault. Did they find you? Did they target you because of me? Please, please, don’t be gone, please come back, it burns it burns. You’re gone. Oh, God, you’re gone—
(It strikes him sometime later, sitting at a table in an empty pub and drinking away the end of the world, that his pleas on his knees of the burning bookshop floor were eerily reminiscent of his prayers following his Fall. This thought leaves both of the hollowed spaces inside of him throbbing.)
Here he loves, at the crest of the end of the world with his angel standing, blazingly righteous above him. Ask me, he begs with his eyes even as his mouth despairs. Ask me for anything and I will give it to you, just ask—
Time stops. The world, as it so happens, does not end. Neither does theirs.
There is a moment on a bus, where he would like to allow his body to burst apart and become one with the universe, where he is so weary of the world that he would just like to. Cease. For just a moment. He’s anchored to his seat when a tentative hand slips into his grasp, anchored to the bus, to the rock that has hurtled through space for thousands of years and will continue to do so for at least one more day. Anchored to an angel.
How do you love? There are worse ways to do so.
How do you love? Here, on the first day of the rest of their lives. Quiet, constant, here. The warm lights of the Ritz throw him back to a tavern, crinkled eyes in the firelight peering over at him—peering over at him over how many glasses of wine? How many shared meals? Gazing at him over the distance of a bridge, the center console of a Bentley, over the stretch of a bandstand.
Standing beside him on a garden wall. Standing beside him on a cliffside. Standing beside him at the end of the world.
“To the world.”
“To the world.”
How do you love?
“I love you.”