An Interlude for Angels



One day, Mao took it into his head that the children needed to be told stories.

It was a strange thing to do, certainly, but nearly anything Mao did for the children was strange. And they weren't even really children, not anymore. Maybe if Mao had taken them in earlier, had found them earlier, but he hadn't, and by now the dark one was fourteen and the pale seventeen. Not children, not really, not in this world. After all, eighteen-year-old boys of the Red Dragon were gunned down weekly in the backstreet battles, and in just a year the pale one would be old enough for the Titan draft and, really, you don't send a boy into a hell like that unless you think he's a man.

But Mao still told them stories. Annie thought it wasn't a half bad idea, and her husband just smiled, and the other executives still couldn't figure out what Mao wanted with those particular lanky half-feral beasts. And every night for a week Mao stoked a fire with real wood, and the dark boy sprawled out on the carpet, stretched out to an incredible length by his latest growth spurt, and the pale boy perched in an armchair, watchful as a hawk, with both knees drawn up to his chest and bare toes curled into the upholstery and a sword laid beneath them. And Mao pulled up an armchair by the fire, facing them both, and smiled and told them everything he thought was important, and it unfolded through the evenings into a mythology of blood.

And three years later Spike turned to Vicious, fresh back from Titan, and said, apropos of nothing, well, I'm your age now and I don't think I ever was an angel anyway. And Vicious smiled with eyes that had gone from chilled to subzero ever since he'd come back from the war and said, well, that means you aren't a demon either, so I still get to kill you. And they both laughed, because back then, back before they both blackened, it was all still a joke.

But then, they were fourteen and seventeen, and so came easily into each other's beds, without pain or anger or hesitation between them, and twined like creepers in the dim morning, together like nightshade and bittersweet. And the dark one said, with a laugh, then and many other times, that the pale one was like a demon, and the pale one leaned back naked in the murk and ran both hands through silver hair and said, well, remember what Yenrai-san told us, I must have been an angel once, maybe before I can remember, why, don't I look it?

Mao told them stories about the beginnings of things, because he thought them important; and he told of the most primal fall, of Lucifer, again and again, that simple tale into which all the dichotomies of the world are bound. And he spoke of the origins of evil with fierce and reserved pride, and of the virtues of care and the virtues of savagery with equal conviction, and, being children, they soaked it up until their souls were bathed. He spoke too of war and blood and savage heroism, and so the pale one, a year later, took the draft and went off to Titan. His girlfriend, whom he may or may not have cared for, gave him a music box before he left, and his mentor gave him a mission of espionage, and, like all love and cruelty in their world, they became the same thing.

Vicious slept with his sword even then, when they were fourteen and seventeen and he passed some nights with one hand grasping the twine-wrapped hilt and the other the bony side of the other boy. They wondered together, in the night, that demons happened because angels fell from heaven, because all children think that demons just come out of nowhere, or straight out of hell, and have always been that way. And Spike wondered, alone, that it seemed even then, years before they came to feud, that the sword on his lover's other side would one day kill him. But that was less of a miracle, for, under the tutelage of Mao Yenrai, love and cruelty coexisted so easily that they were barely separate things. There was a single word for them, almost--business.

And, too, it was neither strange nor blasphemous, merely correct, that both those boy were in the habit of having battles in church. It was, after all, a deserted heaven in which such demons could make their home.


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