New York, 1992

A car was coming, and the teenage boy crossing the road was right in its way.

It was perfect. Adrian had spent hours setting it up. There was another car speeding along the other way, so there would be no chance for the car to swerve. It was going too fast to brake in time as it came around the corner.

A beautiful clean kill, smack, and he'd be gone. Hangman's pride.

He was counting on it sending the boy's family over the edge. His whole family was dangling in the middle as it was, and a tragic accident like this would be enough to convince them that nobody was looking out for them.

They'd lose faith, do bad things, and that would be four, five mortals marked down for Underneath. Maybe even the kid too, since he spent most of his time with his dropout friends, harassing passing women on the street and smoking weed, these days.

Then out of nowhere, the boy dropped his folder just as he'd reached the middle of the road.

He stopped, bent down to pick it up: the car had enough room to swerve into the pavement and avoid him. Just like that, Adrian's whole morning down the drain.

"What were you thinking?" the angel shouted. "He's on his way to the hospital to visit his sick mother! Are you completely heartless?"

Adrian turned around. The angel was practically bursting with righteous fury. His golden-red hair was all over his face, and both his hands were clenched into white-knuckled fists as if an angel could ever hit a soul.

"You haven't been in this job long, have you?" he asked. The angel was so young that he didn't even have wings yet. "I'm a demon. That's what I do." He grinned, just to make the angel more angry.

"Don't patronise me," the angel hissed. "That was so wrong. How— how do you even— how dare you?"

Adrian couldn't help it, he burst out laughing. The angel was just so funny, telling him off like Adrian was the child here.

"Grow up," he chuckled. He ruffled the angel's bright hair and launched into the air where the angel couldn't follow yet.

When he looked down, the angel was still staring at him, and he smirked all the way to his next assignment.

-o-o-o-

Toulouse, 1993

"Look at that! It's Righteous Anger Angel!"

Rafael jumped and nearly fell off the rooftop. He ground his teeth hard. He recognised that voice.

"Why are you here, little angel?"

"It's my job," he grated. He'd hoped that the demon would just go away, but just as he'd suspected, the demon wasn't going to let it go.

"My name's Adrian," the demon said. He sat down heavily next to Rafael. A roof tile dislodged, slipped off the roof and nearly brained a passing little old lady, and the demon— Rafael couldn't even believe it— laughed.

"Pleased to meet you," the angel muttered in reply, clenching his fists. Was Rafael allowed to ignore the demon until he got bored and left? Probably, but being an angel made it very hard to be nasty on purpose.

"Oh, I'm sorry," the demon said. He didn't sound very sorry at all. "Are you still angry because of the last time? Please, do forgive me."

When Rafael glanced up, the demon was grinning ear to ear. He couldn't not forgive anyone who asked, however, not even a demon who was just taking the piss. It was the rules.

"I forgive you," he said grudgingly. "Even if you are going to keep trying it again."

"That's not very kind, angel."

The demon ruffled his hair again, and oh god, Rafael had never had to work so hard not to clock someone in the mouth in his life.

"For your information, angel, I haven't killed anyone at all since I last saw you. That was a special job. Which you fucked up, I might add. My boss wasn't happy."

"I'm so sorry," Rafael snarled, and immediately felt guilty. Now who was being sarcastic? He was supposed to be above a bloody demon.

"Well I never, the mouse bites," the demon said lazily, and laid back on the roof. "What's your name, angel?"

"It's Rafael." Maybe if he jumped down from the roof just now and hoped the demon wouldn't follow if he booked it?

"Oh, really? Big shot, are we?" The demon fluttered his eyelashes mockingly.

"Not that Rafael," he said. "I'm just named after him. Anyway, you're a great one to talk, Adrian."

The demon chuckled. "Careful now. I almost thought you had a sense of humour for a second. Adrian's not my real name, I just like it better. Come on, you have to admit, it's pretty hard trying to blend into the masses with a name like Dark Prince Kakophel or Shabarath the Curséd."

The corners of Rafael's mouth twitched up before he could control himself. The demon shifted up onto his elbows, staring at him.

"Hey, look at that. You're cute when you smile. You should do it more."

"I smile plenty when you're not around," Rafael said, cursing himself for the slip. He had to be losing his mind, laughing at a demon's jokes. "It's funny how you showing up can ruin my entire day like this."

"Ahh, come on. There's no need to be snarky, I just do my job. Was not God wise in giving his angels a Devil to fight?"

Rafael scowled. "Is that your own observation?"

"Naw," said the demon. "I got it out of some book I read. I'm just saying, though, it's your job to watch over the masses, it's mine to lead them into trouble. If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have a job."

"If it weren't for you," Rafael spat, turning on him, "nobody would need to get hurt."

"Sweet Jesus, Rafael-the-angel. Is that a threat?"

"Of course not." Rafael slumped back on the roof. The bright sun overhead made him have to shade his eyes with a hand. "You know I can't hurt anyone."

"Wish I could be so idealistic," the demon said, with a wry quirk of his lips. "Do you really believe people are worth saving?"

"Of course. What kind of a question is that?"

"A pretty valid one, if you ask me."

The demon sat up, closed his eyes and pointed a finger at random at the street down below. He opened one eye again to see who he'd pointed at, a man walking past with a briefcase.

"Like that guy, for instance, he spent years stealing from his employers. He wasn't caught, even though he stole thousands of francs. He doesn't even feel guilty about it. Every single mortal's done something worth punishing, every single fucking one, and all they have to do is pray forgiveness— oh, now I'm converted! Look at me, I'm so fucking changed in my ways!— and they'll get it without so much as a smack on the wrist. That doesn't strike you as unfair?"

Rafael didn't reply for about a minute. He took a deep breath and let it slowly out again.

"Nobody's perfect," he said. "But I won't give up hope. I think they can get better. No, I know they can. Nobody's completely evil."

He stood up and slung his bag over his shoulder. He didn't want to be having this conversation any more. He had work to do.

"By the way," he burst out, just as he was preparing to climb back down the guttering, "that guy you pointed out? I saw him last week. Some— bad person— in a fast car had run over a stray puppy and hadn't even stopped. The poor thing was screaming in pain and everyone was ignoring it.

"Then he came along, that guy you pointed at, and he picked it up in his jacket and took it to a vet. He paid for the operation himself and took the puppy home with him to look after, since it only has three legs now. And," he said, squinching up his eyes in concentration, "if I'm seeing right, he's just going home now to feed it. He's named it Pétale."

Adrian wordlessly watched the angel vanish down the side of the building and stroll off down the street.

He stared at the empty space for a few seconds, then snorted. A puppy. Of course it would be a fucking puppy.

-o-o-o-

Liverpool, 1997

The angel was sitting on a park bench, feeding the birds and trying to be inconspicuous. It wasn't working even a little bit. No mortal had hair that could glow like his— if humans were able to see him, he'd stick out like a bright ginger sore thumb.

Adrian jumped down from the tree where he'd been hiding, halfway across the park from the angel, and sauntered across the grass. He didn't need to dodge anyone: humans always found some way to unconsciously avoid walking into spirits. He tripped a couple of them up as he passed for good measure, though. He had appearances to keep up.

"Hi, Rafael," he said, when he was in front of the angel. "Me again."

The angel threw the last of his breadcrumbs to the mangy-looking pigeons pecking at his feet.

"You again," he said, not looking up.

"Well, sorry to disappoint you," Adrian said, a bit irritated. He bent down and looked straight into Rafael's face. "Mother of God, what happened to you?"

Rafael sighed and patted the bench next to him. Adrian sat down, still trying to peer curiously at his face.

"Just tired," the angel said.

Adrian caught his chin and lifted his face up. The angel looked awful, and there was no way he couldn't know that. His cheeks were gaunt and his eyes were dark-ringed and bloodshot. He looked like he hadn't slept in weeks.

"You have eyebags that you could shop with," Adrian said. "Seriously, now, angel, how did you get yourself looking like this?"

Rafael glanced at him warily. Even some of the angelic inner glow had gone out of his skin.

"I've just been busy," he said, shrugging. "There's been so much to do recently that I haven't had time for myself. My job is more important."

"Seriously?" Adrian raised an eyebrow. Bloody angels, that was just so self-sacrificingly typical. "When was the last time you slept? Or ate, for that matter? You're skinner than a junkie."

"Only a week or two," Rafael said defensively. He paused. "Maybe three or four, I lost count."

"Goddamn. You need to take a break." Adrian deliberately swung his feet up and sprawled over the rest of the bench so that he would be leaning against the angel, forcing him to scoot over. "You're working too hard."

"I can't do that," Rafael said. "That would be selfish. I've been working because they need me."

Adrian yawned theatrically. "What would be selfish is if you fell asleep in the middle of a job because you didn't bother to take a nap, and left some poor old biddy to her heart attack or something. I'm serious, you look ready to drop."

That got a reaction at last. The angel hunched over and fidgeted with his paper breadcrumb bag, biting his lip.

"But I can't," he huffed. "I've been so busy! Besides, I need to go soon, I have another job in a few minutes."

"Can't some other poor sap look after it? Come on, I'll buy you a drink and a piece of cake and everything."

Rafael was still caught in a storm of indecision. "I… don't know," he mumbled. "Maybe."

He wrung the paper bag between his hands for a minute before he perked up, looking much more decisive. "I know. How about I'll take a break, if you do? That way, it'll even things out. One less angel and one less demon."

"It's a deal," Adrian grinned. "Come on, I know this great little café just down the road. They even use real milk in their coffee."

This was great— he'd actually managed to get an angel to stop working! He'd have to send a message to his colleagues telling them to make havoc in Rafael's absence. This was going to be even better than his stunt with the car.

"Sounds good," Rafael said, innocent as ever, and he smiled that tiny little smile again, the one that made him look like a little kid. "Do they do carrot cake?"

"If they do, I'll make sure you get a big slice," Adrian promised. He slipped his hand into Rafael's and started to pull him away across the park. "They have these cute little window seats and flowers on the tables. You'll love it."

Much to his annoyance, Rafael stopped moving. "Wait, you're not just going to go in and get the drinks?"

"Why, do you like eating in a gutter? Of course I'm not."

"But I'm not allowed to manifest yet. I'm not old enough." Rafael turned those big, concerned brown eyes on him, and Adrian nearly agreed without thinking.

"You call having brunch in some poky Liverpudlian café a manifestation? I hate to think of the religious experiences you'll be giving humanity." He tugged on Rafael's hand, trying to get him to move again. He couldn't pass this chance up. He might even get a commendation.

"Well," Rafael murmured, "when you put it like that," and he allowed himself to be led away.

Nobody blinked an eyelid when a young red-haired man suddenly popped into the physical realm. Adrian was impressed: whatever Rafael said, that had been smooth.

The café really was only just down the street. Adrian liked it because it provided a perfect vantage point to look out over the pedestrian area and put ungodly thoughts into people's heads.

This one time, he'd managed to make some busty woman's shirt pop right open and blow away in a particularly strong wind. The lustful thoughts popping into the heads of most of the men and some of the women around her had brought a cynical tear of joy to his eye.

"Hey, you're right, this is really pretty," Rafael said, gazing around the inside of the café. Adrian resisted the impulse to roll his eyes when he bent over to smell the flowers on the nearest table.

He made the order and went to sit at a window table while Rafael was busy cooing over some proud mother's baby. The ugly little thing was all bright smiles and crazy baby laughter while Rafael was around. He hid his smirk behind the menu.

Humans loved angels, and Rafael was no exception. He had a way of making people feel like they actually mattered when he was talking to them. The mother obviously adored him, answering all his inane questions about her baby like he was the best thing that had happened to her all day.

"Hey, ang— Rafael," he called. "Are you done spreading light and joy yet? 'Cuz if you don't get here before your cake comes, I'm eating it for you."

Rafael had the nerve to laugh like Adrian wasn't being serious. He waggled his fingers goodbye at the baby, grinned at the mother, and went to slide in the seat opposite Adrian.

"I'm sorry, it's just been so long since I wasn't on duty," he said, with a little apologetic smile. "I think you're right, I really need to have a rest."

"That's the spirit," Adrian said. "A nice day off will do you good. Make sure you get a good sleep in tonight, too."

Rafael, who'd been looking at the oncoming waiter and tray, shot him a suspicious look. "I meant to ask. Why is it so important to you?"

Adrian took the tray, giving the waiter a little mock-salute in thanks. She laughed uncertainly and bustled off.

"Well, you know me," he said, winking at Rafael. "I can't resist a charity case."

He handed Rafael his cake— an extra-big piece— and a strawberry milkshake. Rafael didn't even notice that Adrian was making fun of him by buying him the milkshake.

"It doesn't really seem like your calling," Rafael said, although now that his mouth was stuffed full of carrot cake, he seemed much mollified. "Thanks for this. If I can ever repay you, just ask."

"Forget it, it's my pleasure," Adrian said, biting the inside of his lip to hold back his grin. Oh, he was being repaid, all right. This entire area was going to be unwatched for the entire next day and night, that was more than enough. "Pay me back in love and hugs."

"Some demon you are," Rafael said indistinctly around a huge mouthful of cake and milkshake.

"And some table manners you have, you dirty scoundrel," Adrian said, laughing. "There I was thinking that maybe I could shut you up if I fed you."

"Sorry," Rafael mumbled, smiling wryly.

"Hey, Rafael," Adrian said thoughtfully, resting his chin on his hands. "What do you want for yourself?"

The angel looked shocked. He swallowed his mouthful and blinked a few times in puzzlement.

"I'm an angel. I don't want for anything."

"Yeh, I know you don't want for anything, but come on, you can't say there's nothing at all you want just for the sake of having it." Adrian took a bite of his own coffee cake. It was a bit underwhelming, he'd had better. "Not even you are that good. You said it yourself, nobody's perfect."

Rafael looked down at his milkshake and opened his mouth, hesitating. Finally, he shook his head.

"I'm an angel," he repeated. "I'm not allowed to want things for myself. It would be selfish to ask for more than I already have."

"You think?" Adrian leaned forward over the table. "Because pardon me, but as far as I can see, you don't really have much. You have a job that makes you ill. You have a lot of duty. You just barely have a change of clothes."

Rafael plucked at the sleeve of his frayed white woolly jumper. "What's wrong with my clothes?" he said. His face set harder. "I like my job, Adrian. You can't honestly believe that you can tempt me into being ungrateful."

Adrian settled back in his chair. "I know, you're right. I can't tempt you. I think you're deluding yourself if you think there's really nothing you want, though. Come on, admit it, something popped into your mind while you were hesitating there."

The angel's jaw tensed up. He shook his head.

"I want for nothing. Everything I need, the earth provides. I can't ask for more than that, since I'm more fortunate than a great many."

"Aren't we just Perfect Peter?" Adrian teased. "Okay, okay, I'll stop pressuring you."

Rafael still looked slightly suspicious, but no angel could stay in a bad mood for long without a good reason. He finished the last of his milkshake, giving himself an impressive foam moustache in the process. Adrian didn't bother to point it out.

"Thank you for the milkshake," he said again. "And the cake." He took a rather worn-looking pound coin out of his pocket and left it on the table as a tip. "I shouldn't really stay, though. I should get back."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Adrian breezed. "I'm taking the day and night off. You should too. Come on, you look exhausted. Go and have a long sleep or smell some more flowers or something."

"Well…" Rafael rubbed his chin. "I guess when you put it like that, I could do with a nap."

"There's the spirit," Adrian encouraged. A thought occurred to him. "Just one moment." He took a pen and a scrap of paper out of his coat pocket and scribbled his phone number on it.

"Here," he said, handing it to the angel. "Call me. You can come and visit any time you like."

"Thank you," Rafael said, taking the paper. "I've got to ask though, why do you want me around? We're not really obvious best buddies, you and I."

"You're refreshing company," Adrian shrugged. "What, you think I get to hang around with many angels? Just talking to someone who doesn't think it's hilarious to make unsuspecting passers-by fart in humiliating ways is a nice change."

Rafael snorted. "Really?" He shook his head. "I'll call you. Enjoy your day off."

"Ditto," Adrian said, waving at him as he left. He couldn't believe how easy the angel had been to fool.

Somehow, though, he didn't remember to send that message until it was too late to plan any real damage.

-o-o-o-

Sydney, 2000

After a couple of years of meeting in cafes, they decided to just hold their breaks in Adrian's apartment.

He had a very nice home. It overlooked the beach and had its own miniature bar and theatre system. It looked hideously expensive.

Rafael was impressed, but not envious in the slightest. Being effectively invisible meant that he could use a bed pretty much anywhere he liked without having to worry about the electricity bill.

He'd brought flowers. Now, standing outside Adrian's door, he was dithering once again over whether or not they'd been a good idea.

On one hand, Rafael was sure that flowers brightened up any room. On the other, he didn't even know if Adrian liked flowers.

He knocked. There was just long enough of a silence that he wondered if Adrian was out. Then the door swung open, and the nerves fizzing in Rafael's stomach doubled.

"Are those begonias?" Adrian asked. The look on his face said he wasn't sure what to think.

"Yes. And the pink ones are carnations." He held them out awkwardly. "Here, I thought you might like them."

Adrian snorted and took them. "I'd say that's a pretty girly gift. But I guess that being sexless, gender roles are fairly arbitrary for us both, so thanks. What's the occasion?"

"Well, you see— can I come in, please?"

"Sure. Make yourself at home." Adrian stood aside to let him in. "I just put the kettle on. I got some of that chamomile crap I know you love."

Rafael shot him a big grin of gratitude. He could smell it from here. It smelled expensive.

"That's really kind of you. Thank you." He took his tea and went to sit down by the big open window in the sunlight. "Mm, this is nice. I never have stuff as good as this."

"And you're going to pay for it, too," Adrian said, smirking.

"Love and hugs, huh?" Rafael snorted.

The demon slumped into the other sofa, swinging his feet up onto the armrest. "So what were you gonna say?"

"Oh. Oh yeh." Rafael stared intently at his cup. "I'm being promoted soon."

"Yeh?" Adrian's face was blank.

"Mhmm. Guardian angel. I'll get my wings and everything. Just one charge at a time. It's a lot of responsibility."

"That look on your face tells me there's something else you're going to tell me."

Rafael shrugged. "Well, it's a full-time duty. I won't see you any more."

He looked up just in time to catch the flash of shock and— maybe, if it wasn't wishful thinking that Adrian cared that much, hurt— that passed across Adrian's face. It was gone as soon as he'd seen it. Then Adrian just nodded, an odd little smile on his face.

"Oh well, at least I won't have to buy you goddamn expensive tea any more. Congratulations. When are you going?"

"A few months," Rafael said, suddenly more miserable than he'd been in ages. His stomach felt like a stone.

Adrian just nodded like it didn't matter and switched the TV on. The un-noise of a soap opera filled the awkward silence.

-o-o-o-

Adrian surprised himself by how much he cared.

He'd never thought that he had. It was fun screwing around with a prim little angel. It was fun getting him riled up and tricking him into skipping shifts.

What he was realising now was that he was going to miss him.

He glanced up from the TV. The angel wasn't drinking his tea, just swirling the cup around in his hands and staring at it. The sun shone in through the window behind him and limned him in golden light. His red hair shone like a halo.

Rafael was sort of beautiful, Adrian realised. All angels had the same sort of glowing, androgynous perfection, but Rafael was really beautiful.

He bit his tongue so hard that he tasted blood in his mouth. He had to be going crazy.

They watched TV silently until the sun went down, and then Rafael left. He didn't even smile when he said goodbye.

-o-o-o-

Sydney, 2004

Fireworks had been going off all evening, and Adrian was getting sick of it. It was hot, sticky, his air con unit was broken, and if that wasn't enough he'd been waylaid by a couple of poncy flying angels earlier interrupting his plan to overturn a lorry.

He didn't even know what they were annoyed about. It was an oil lorry— he was practically doing the world a favour.

Here he was on New Year's Day, pressing a rapidly melting ice pack to the bruise on his forehead that he got when he'd done some dodgy flying to avoid those angels and flown smack into a high rise. There was a lonely glass of whiskey on his coffee table, and he was sweating buckets.

He found himself thinking a bit wistfully of Rafael.

There was a loud knock at his window, and he jumped a mile.

He swung himself over the sofa to the window, trying to find a dignified place to hide the slushy ice pack. He stopped dead in shock.

"Adrian," Rafael said, smiling weakly. "Hi. Please can I come in?"

He opened the window and let the angel in. He was wearing the same ratty woolly jumper as the last time Adrian saw him, and his hair was still the same unfortunately bright red, but now he had a giant feathery pair of ivory wings sticking out his back.

"How are you wearing that jumper in this heat?" he asked stupidly.

"I was flying high up," Rafael said. "It's cold up there." He folded his wings a bit clumsily, like he wasn't quite used to them yet. "Happy new year's, Adrian."

"You too." Adrian realised he was staring. "I still have some of that tea of yours. You want some? I don't drink it."

"Thanks, but I think it's too hot for tea." Rafael smiled apologetically. "You don't have a t-shirt I could borrow, do you? I didn't expect it to be so—" He waved a hand at the shimmering air out the window.

"Me neither. Having a heat wave. At this point, Hell is looking tempting." For god's sake, what was he even saying? Just because some gingery angel had wandered in through his sitting-room window didn't mean that he was supposed to stand around like he didn't have a clue.

"I'll get you that t-shirt, then," he added awkwardly. He thought he probably had something small enough to fit Rafael's skinny frame, even if he suspected the angel might be an inch or two taller than him if they ever measured up.

He rummaged through his clean laundry basket on the other side of the room and found an old vest. He bundled it up and chucked it to Rafael, who caught it neatly one-handed.

"Thank you, Adrian." He pulled the woolly jumper over his head and chucked it onto the sofa.

Adrian found himself slightly captivated by the strong, lean muscles of Rafael's chest and shoulders. He wasn't as skinny as he looked under his clothes. The vest was a bit baggy, like Adrian had suspected it would be, but it made the angel's shoulders look surprisingly broad.

"Oh, thank goodness," Rafael said, craning his head over his shoulder. "My wings go through the material. I was a bit worried it'd only work with my own clothes."

"Nah. I have wings too," Adrian said, spreading his own scaly brown pair. He normally kept them hidden under his skin, which Rafael didn't seem to have worked out how to do yet. "All my clothes are enchanted to allow for them."

"I'm glad they are," Rafael said. He was intently trying to pull his hair back in a ponytail now, and the slightly too-short strands didn't want to comply. "I wouldn't want to wreck your clothes. Oh, for the love of—!"

"Here," Adrian snorted, "let me do that. What did you cut your hair with, a weedwhacker?"

"Paper scissors," Rafael said, handing the rubber band over to Adrian.

The angel's hair was heavy and silky between Adrian's fingers. Adrian liked it, although being so straight and slippery and badly cut, it was a pain to try to gather back.

"Dare I ask why?"

"Because I don't have your kind of money. I can't really walk into a hairdresser's and say I'll cure their scissor cuts if they give me a trim," Rafael said, shrugging. His shoulder muscles rippled fluidly under the skin. Oh man, putting a vest on him was the best idea Adrian'd had all day.

"You should try making some money. It's liberating." Adrian finally managed a stubby little brush on the back of Rafael's head.

At least with the mangy old rubber band, the ponytail was going nowhere. He'd probably be ripping out a lot of hair when he wanted to remove it.

"There. You should grow this out, it'd be easier."

"Thanks. And don't be silly, I'm an angel. I don't work for monetary gain. Nor am I supposed to be vain about my appearance." He grinned at Adrian, fingering his ponytail to make sure it was secure. "You get to be the looker of the two of us."

"It's true," Adrian said, clapping Rafael on the shoulder in mock sympathy. "You can't stand up to me for a second. Chicks dig bad boys, and all that crap."

"Aw, you're not that bad." Rafael stretched out, flexing his wings. "Oh, lord, that is so much better. I should wear my hair up all the time."

"Now you're just being insulting," Adrian retorted, although he was fighting a smile. "I am too bad, way worse than you. Let's go celebrate the new year, for god's sake. We can't be the only two loners sat inside."

Rafael's grin grew wider. "Lay on, Macduff," he said, gesturing to the door. "Wherever you're going."

"Fuck the door. There's a reason I have extra-large windows." Adrian flung one open to demonstrate and bowed theatrically.

Rafael laughed and took the lead, jumping out and spreading his wings to catch an updraft. He wasn't exactly elegant in the air yet, but he looked oh-so gleeful.

Adrian joined him with a bit more dignity, reaching out to catch his wrist in mid-air. "I'm taking you to the beach," he said. "I know a little one down the coast where it'll be pretty empty. There's a bar nearby."

"If there's a bar," Rafael said, gracelessly bumping along a thermal, "why will the beach be empty? That seems kind of improbable."

"It's New Year's Day. Duh. They'll either be getting shitfaced in the bar, setting off fireworks with family to piss off the neighbours, or home with a hangover from last night. Just watch out for broken bottles on the sand." He took one look at Rafael's wide-eyed concern and burst out laughing. "I'm joking, you moron. Cleanest beach in a long way around. Right out of the way, hardly any tourists go there."

He beat his wings harder to take them both up to the faster air currents higher up. The wind was blowing south-west, roughly in the right direction.

It didn't take long to reach the beach, although by this time the sun had nearly set.

"It's beautiful," Rafael said, landing heavily on the sand. He immediately bent over to pull off his old sneakers and ran into the surf. The water soaked up his jeans cuffs to his knees.

"Hey," he shouted over his shoulder to Adrian, "you want to go for a swim?"

Adrian found himself honest-to-god thinking about daring him to go skinny-dipping. That was enough of that fucked-up train of thought.

"Nah, you'll just get your wings all waterlogged," he called back. "Be a bitch to fly later."

"Point," Rafael yelled, and waded out of the water back onto the sand. He came back grinning like a maniac and flopped down on the sand next to Adrian, flexing his long skinny fingers.

The evening sunlight glinted off the coppery hairs on his arms. Adrian looked away.

"Why the visit?" he asked. "I thought you were starting your new job."

"Tomorrow," Rafael said, the smile gone out of his voice. He stared out at the ocean for a long while.

"Hey, Adrian," he said, tentatively, "do you miss being an angel?"

"What makes you think that?"

"Well, it's just. Every time I talk about this job, you get all quiet. And you, I don't know, you don't seem to enjoy your job like the other demons I've come across."

"Probably newbies," Adrian shrugged. "Us old fuckers, the ones who were around in the start, we've had a long time to get bored of it."

Rafael looked at him side-long. "Jeez, Adrian. You're that old?"

"What can I say? I don't look my age." He puffed out a breath that made his blond hair flap around his face. "The answer to your question—" he started, and couldn't quite manage to finish his sentence. "Yeh," he said instead, very quietly. "I do, sometimes."

Rafael, stupid sweet-hearted idiot that he was, put a gentle hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "What went wrong? If you don't mind me asking."

"Oh, a bunch of shit. I mean, like, there were all these rules, right? You know how that can be."

Rafael hesitated, then nodded once, jerkily, like he wasn't sure he was allowed to. "Yeh." He cleared his throat. "Yeh, I do."

"But we were okay with them, because we all had them. Even when he got his pants in a knot and stormed out because daddy didn't love him best, most of us were convinced we were still okay, he was just overreacting.

"Then all these— these things come along, these primitive little arrogant fucks who think they're some kind of image of the Authority, and they don't get rules like that. Oh, they did at first, sure, but then the big gauzy one pays them a visit and bam, they're all saved, they can get away with all kinds of shit. They're allowed all these things we aren't, they're allowed to create stuff and fuck and fall in love and make mistakes. All these things we want to have.

"So we get together, a bunch of us, and complain. And for our troubles, we get cut off from home forever, no forgiveness for us, not ever. You see? Revenge is all the satisfaction that's left, and even that eventually gets old."

"Adrian, I shouldn't have asked, I'm so sor—"

Adrian shot him a glare, and Rafael shut his mouth. He huffed a humourless little laugh instead.

"I must seem like such a little kid to you," he mumbled, staring at his sand-covered feet.

"Yeh, you do. It's okay. I'm going to get a drink. I'll get one for you too." He stood up, too quickly, knowing that even though it was getting dark the shadows couldn't hide the expression on his face.

"Thank you," Rafael said. He ignored him.

The angel was still sitting right where he had been before when Adrian returned with the bottles. He managed a lopsided smile, dumping the bottle in Rafael's lap.

"Cheers."

"What is this?"

"Some bottled shit. Girly drink. Probably face-melting sweet, but I bet you like that kind of stuff, so drink up."

Rafael squinted at the label on the bottle, but it was too dark to read more than an 'm' and a 'bu', even with the moon rising big in the east sky. Adrian put on a careful pokerface.

"It's not going to make me do something stupid, is it?" Rafael asked suspiciously.

"Naw. It's not even alcoholic. Pretend alcohol, you know. Made to taste like it and not get you drunk."

Stupid trusting son of a bitch, he really believed it, just nodded and uncapped the bottle. It only took one swig for Rafael to start coughing.

"Are you sure this isn't alcoholic?" he wheezed. "I'm not allowed to get drunk."

"Oh, I'm absolutely sure," Adrian said, biting his lip to hide the wicked grin that wanted to spread across his face. "It's real convincing." He sipped his own drink innocently.

Rafael looked even more doubtful, but he still kept drinking it. Adrian had the suspicion that he didn't believe him, just liked the taste. Figured that he would like girly drinks.

After about fifteen minutes of drinking together in silence, Rafael gently sighed and drooped against his shoulder.

Adrian finally let himself smile. The angel had probably never even tried alcohol before. He was going to have a steaming hangover tomorrow morning after nearly a whole bottle of that sugary shit.

"Adrian," Rafael mumbled indistinctly, "I'm glad you're here. I was so sad when I thought I wouldn't see you again."

"That's cute," Adrian said, trying to push him off. Oh god, was he going to be a tragic drunk? That was just his luck.

"Adrian?" he slurred again. One of his hands fell onto Adrian's thigh.

"Yeh?" Adrian sighed.

"You know before, when you asked me if there was anything I wanted?"

"I kind of remember, yeh."

"I wasn't really telling the truth." He looked up at Adrian with those big sorrowful dark eyes, like a sad puppy. "There is something I want."

"That's the spirit. A bit of selfishness does you good."

Rafael's lower lip wobbled, and Adrian leaned away in case that meant he was going to throw up.

The angel just nestled closer instead and buried his head into the crook of Adrian's shoulder, hair humidity-damp and frizzy-feeling against his skin.

"Every time I look at mortals, I get so jealous," he slurred. "Completely sick jealous. Every time I watch them fall in love when I'm not allowed to. I just want someone to love." He sniffled a bit against Adrian's collarbone. "I want someone to love me."

Aw shit, he was that kind of tragic drunk. Adrian was never buying him alcohol again.

"That's great, Rafael. Good luck." He put his hands up to the angel's shoulders, trying to prise him away from his shoulder.

"No!" Rafael burst out, surprising Adrian with his vehemence. "Oh, Adrian. I don't want to start this— this fucking job. I don't want to not see you again, Adrian."

An icy-cold drop of dread fell into Adrian's stomach. "Rafael, I know you're plastered, but please tell me you're not saying what I think you're saying. You will remember this in the morning and be so humiliated."

"I don't care," he said, pawing at Adrian's other shoulder with a damp hand. "I don't want to leave you."

He meant to push Rafael away, he really did, but somehow Rafael's hands latched around his neck, his face tilted up at the same time Adrian leaned down. Then Rafael was lying on top of him kissing him with a franticness he could never have expected, like Adrian was air and he was suffocating.

He didn't mean for his arms to wrap around Rafael's waist, but they did anyway. And god, even if Rafael was too drunk to even know what he was doing and Adrian was a bastard for taking advantage, it was good.

He came to his senses about five seconds later. He had a mouthful of steaming drunk angel. Rafael was fiddling with the waistband of his own jeans like he was trying to rip them off, privacy be damned.

And more to the point, Rafael had his first real job tomorrow. If they were seen like this by any passing angels, there wouldn't be any forgiveness for Rafael either, let alone a position on the career ladder. He thought about letting that happen and decided that even he couldn't do that.

"Rafael," he said against the angel's lips, "stop. You're drunk. Stop it. You're going to regret this enough as it is." He caught Rafael's shoulders and gently pushed him off.

Rafael barely looked like he'd even heard, lying on the sand with his red hair spread all around his face and his pants unzipped. His eyes were half-lidded, lips parted and swollen. He looked completely obscene.

No, he looked fucked up. Adrian pulled himself together.

"Come on," he grunted, pulling the angel up. He zipped up Rafael's open fly and slung him over his shoulder. "Back home for you."

Rafael fell asleep at some point, still dangling over Adrian's shoulder. Adrian put him in his own bed and tucked him into the sheets.

Aw, hell. He was really screwed, wasn't he?

-o-o-o-

"I'm sorry about last night."

It was the first thing Rafael had said all morning. Adrian just nodded.

Rafael was hunched over at the table with a cup of tea in his hands, and he looked a mess. He had to have a hell of a headache. He hadn't said anything about it, though.

The angel licked his lips, like he was about to talk, then shook his head and turned back to his breakfast.

"If there's something you want to say, say it." It came out even more sourly than Adrian expected.

A faint smile touched the corners of Rafael's mouth for a second. When it left, he looked just as miserable as before.

"Why did you push me away?"

Adrian didn't want to look him in the eye. "Why, did you want to get caught?"

"No, of course not. It's just. I know you could have gotten a commendation for that. Maybe even a promotion, right? For making an angel fall."

"Did you consider I just maybe didn't want your tongue in my mouth?" Adrian snapped. He instantly regretted it.

Rafael pushed his tea away. He looked so pathetic sitting there with his hands in his lap, not arguing back.

"Sorry. It was a bad idea," he said finally. "I need to see my superior. My charge is going to be born in an hour or so."

He pushed himself to his feet. He looked totally lost. Adrian hated himself.

That was twice in a row now that Rafael had left without smiling.

-o-o-o-

The job was okay. Rafael liked it. It was pretty simple for the most part. He just had to make sure that the baby avoided trouble and lend a hand to stop it eating dangerous things once in a while. It was so cute when he could pull faces or whatever at the baby behind her mother's back and she'd laugh like a hyena.

Months turned into a couple of years, and the baby grew into a toddler and slowly stopped being able to see him. He sometimes managed days without thinking about Adrian.

The problem was, mortals forgot things real quickly. He'd seen enough heartbroken exes over the years to realise that they didn't exactly stay heartbroken for very long. Mortals had the knack of getting over things.

Spirits didn't. When you lived for eternity, seeing someone every few months was practically all the time. And it took so long to get over losing someone that it sometimes seemed like you never would.

Someone ought to have warned Rafael about this. The irony didn't escape him either way: be careful what you wish for.

He kept smiling and did his job.

-o-o-o-

Ghent, 2007

Adrian had moved house. It still felt like running away.

He got back into his job pretty quickly. In hindsight he could see that he'd dropped it a bit towards the end, gotten too absorbed in Rafael's visits, maybe even some of his goodness had been wearing off on him.

It was a wet year. The rain turned to drizzle as spring rolled on, and all the tiny courtyards in the city centre were constantly covered in a damp grey curtain.

Spring turned into a wet and cold summer. Wind whistled around the corners of Adrian's apartment block. The sound of rain on window panes became a constant lullaby.

He was starting to feel old for the first time in his life. He was so bored of what he did.

He came home. He made himself coffee. He went to bed as soon as it got dark. Raindrops lulled him to sleep.

He woke up in the middle of the night, all at once, tangled up in his sheets and without a clue what had woken him up.

The answer was soon clear. Someone was banging on his apartment door. Motherfucker, he thought. Whoever it was, it was two in the morning. Couldn't it wait?

He pulled his pants on and grabbed an empty wine bottle, holding it by the neck. Whoever was waking him up at this time, he was going to clock that stupid fuck.

He pulled the door open. He dropped the bottle.

"Adrian, I'm so sorry."

Rafael's sad little smile was just as sweet. Adrian stood aside wordlessly to let him in.

"You finally worked out how to hide your wings, huh?" he said at last. He let the door swing closed on its own.

"Yeh. Took me a while. Did it in the end."

Adrian switched the light on. Rafael was completely drenched. His hair, long enough to brush the nape of his neck now, was so wet that it looked brown.

"God's sake, you're dripping on my carpet."

Rafael stood staring at his shoes. "Sorry. It rained."

"You're shitting me," Adrian said. "Stop getting water everywhere. Go have a shower and change, there's clothes in the cupboard."

He put the kettle on while Rafael went to shower. When he opened the kitchen cupboard, he realised that he'd never thrown away that box of chamomile. He dropped one of the teabags into a mug.

"Where do I put these?" Rafael said, coming back into the kitchen with an armful of wet clothes. Adrian pointed at the heater.

"How come you're back?" he said. "Aren't you meant to be working?"

"I quit," Rafael said.

Adrian just stared. "What? Why? I thought you loved your job."

Rafael shrugged. "I did, until you came along. I guess you made me selfish. I couldn't do it any more." He accepted his mug wordlessly. "Nice place. How come you moved?"

"I got bored. I just wanted a change."

"It's definitely not as hot." Rafael sighed. "Hey, Adrian, did you mean what you said?"

"I don't know. What did I say?"

"About you not wanting me to kiss you."

"Oh, that." He hesitated a second. "As much as I want to say 'yes' just to be an asshole, no. I didn't mean it."

"I thought you didn't." Rafael put his mug down on the counter. "I missed you, you awful bastard. If you pull shit like that, I won't forgive you again."

Adrian quirked an eyebrow. "Now that's against the rules, angel."

"I'm done playing by the rules," Rafael said. "Adrian, I'm serious. You ruined my job. You just about ruined my life. Unless you were just being kind kissing me back on the beach, you'd better do it again right now."

"If I was just being kind, I wouldn't have bought you expensive chamomile shit," Adrian said.

Rafael finally smiled properly. He came closer and took Adrian's face in his hands.

It was just as good as the last time, but now they didn't have to stop.

"Rafael," Adrian tried to say in between kisses, "hey, wait a minute."

Rafael paused. "You'd better have a good reason for this."

"Rafael, just because you quit your job doesn't mean you get to break all the rules. You're going to be punished if you do this."

"I know," Rafael sighed. "I thought about that. At this point, I feel like I'm ready to fall."

Adrian's fingers tightened. "You're not."

"It's too late," Rafael said, brushing a strand of Adrian's hair behind his ear. "It's already too late. I can't go back." He hesitated. "I think I love you."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say," Adrian said. "You have abandoned all kind of good judgement."

Rafael's lips twitched. "Yeh. I know."

-o-o-o-

Rafael's hands were freezing. Adrian's skin broke out in little goosebumps when they stopped fiddling with his hair and wrapped around his waist.

"Jesus christ, Rafael," Adrian gasped, muscles in his sides twitching under the angel's fingertips. "How are you so cold?"

"Cold shower," Rafael shrugged, smiling slightly.

Adrian took the opportunity to run his hands over the dips and hollows the movement created in his collarbone. Rafael's shoulder muscles were stiff, and he rubbed at them, trying to loosen them up a little.

Rafael's hands moved down to pluck at the waistband of his pants. "Hey, Adrian?" he said tentatively.

Adrian understood. "God, yes," he said. Rafael's smile turned a bit more genuine.

He pushed Rafael down onto his bed gently. His pants dropped onto the floor unnoticed.

He tugged the angel's borrowed sweater over his head and threw that off as well. It was even better than last time. His wings had developed all the muscles in his torso. The line of muscle running down his chest and stomach was a perfect knife crease.

Rafael's hands ghosted down Adrian's hips and over the fronts of his thighs. Adrian's skin jumped and twitched, and when Rafael's fingertips brushed the crease at the tops of his thighs, he had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

"That tickles," he accused, catching Rafael's wrists and holding them away from himself. Rafael's face lit up, and Adrian mock-scowled at him. "Oh, no. Don't you dare."

They wrestled for about thirty seconds before Rafael managed to rip his hands out of Adrian's hold and tickle him down to the bed.

"That's it," Adrian choked. "I am taking all your privileges away."

"What privileges?" Rafael cocked his head innocently, like a bird. "Tell me, Adrian, what privileges?"

"Clothes borrowing," Adrian wheezed. "Take my pants off. Right now."

"Oh, that's just mean," Rafael said, though he was grinning. He leaned back long enough to shuck Adrian's too-big jeans off onto the floor with the rest of the clothes. "Is that better?"

"Unspeakably," Adrian said. He flipped their positions, so he was kneeling on top of the angel. He gave into temptation and ran his hands through Rafael's still-damp hair, spreading it out around his face in rays.

"I love your hair," he said, wrapping a twist of it around his finger. "I'm glad you grew it out. Goddamn, you beautiful fuck, how'd you do this to me?"

Rafael's laughter was a breathy puff of air on his wrist. "I knew a guy once who never looked at himself in the mirror," he said, planting a kiss on the inside of Adrian's arm. "It was a damn shame."

"You'll have to tell me about him," Adrian said.

Rafael shut him up with kisses.

They learned the map of each other's skin with hands and lips and teeth. Neither of them said anything more about what would happen to Rafael.

They fell asleep holding each other close.

-o-o-o-

London, 2012

Adrian always knows the moment Rafael wakes up, because it's always the moment he stops being still and starts moving.

Normally he cuddles back up to Adrian, who has been awake since about sunrise, and dozes until they need to get out or risk being late for work. Today, he can't seem to hold still, and cold air draughts over Adrian's skin as Rafael flips the duvet up and stumbles out of bed.

Adrian makes a grumpy noise in protest and rolls over. He's fully awake now, whether he likes it or not. He doesn't really want to stay in bed longer than he has to: he only puts up with lie-ins so that he and Rafael can lie together warm and sleepy in that blissful half-hour after waking up in which you're neither quite asleep or awake. So he gets out and stumbles after Rafael into the kitchen, hoping his boyfriend already put the kettle on for coffee.

The morning light is angled so it slants in low through the window, a pearly grey-pink like the inside of an oyster, making a silhouette of Rafael's naked body in front of the glass.

"What's up?" he asks, switching on the kettle himself, since Rafael didn't.

Rafael turns around and wordlessly holds up the long feather he was looking at, giving Adrian an apologetic little smile.

Adrian understands. He just nods.

After about a minute, Rafael says lowly, "It's starting to feel like a dream."

"Yeh. I know."

"It keeps fading. I have to work to remember what it was like. Sometimes I can't remember at all."

Adrian looks at Rafael's face and sees his grief, and it's too close to his own for comfort.

"It's better than falling," he says, not looking Rafael in the eye.

"You think?" Rafael says, and puts the feather back down on the windowsill, still holding it in the tips of his fingers. "If this is supposed to be mercy, I could have gone without it."

Adrian sees the way Rafael rubs his eyes, and his damp eyelashes. There are lines creeping up underneath his eyes and his skin is rough around his jaw, mortal flaws. He comes up and rubs his back consolingly, feeling the long scars that run down each side where his wings were. He has the same scars, on his own back.

"It's better than falling," he repeats, and the words ring a bit hollow.

"I know, I know," Rafael says, not looking at him. "We get to work out our lives by chance and choice and all that. Just. Fuck. I miss it so much."

"Me too," Adrian says. "Come on, baby. Let's go back to bed."

Rafael lets himself be led away. He doesn't let the feather go until the last moment.