"Hey Mike, wanna cheese fry?"
Michael made a face as Anna held up a greasy stick of what he assumed had once actually been a potato that was now currently covered in impossibly gooey cheese. "Are you sure that's edible?" he couldn't help but ask as he pulled around a chair and straddled it. Anna, affable angel that she was, merely rolled her eyes before taking a sip of her huge chocolate shake.
"Of course it's edible. And quite tasty too, I might add." The plump angel nudged a plate of carrot sticks towards him, and grinning happily, Michael dug in. "Unlike some angels, I'm not into dieting or rabbit food."
"Who's dieting? I just like stuff that actually tastes good. Natural. And not all of us are trying to embody the Mother Earth stereotype," he teased lightly, laughing as Anna preened at the comment.
"You know how many cheesecakes and hamburgers it took to get my boobs this big or my hips this porky? It's all work, baby," she grinned. Michael could quite easily see why her charges were always so bubbly and happy. Hard not to be when you had an angel like her dogging your every step, he decided. "And as for stereotypes," she raised an eyebrow as she took in his latest outfit. Struggling not to squirm like a guilty child under her gaze, he tugged at three new piercings he'd gotten in his left ear. "Well, baby, I can definitely say that no one's gonna look at you and think 'archangel'. Nice black leather jacket, by the way. Very subtle." She laughed at his scowl.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," he dismissed before she could move onto teasing him about the fact that he hadn't bothered shaving in the last week. Or that he hadn't gotten a haircut in the last year or two. "Any idea as to why we're reporting here?"
"The incredible steakburgers?"
"Anna," he shot her a pained glance.
"All right, I was going to wait and see how long it took you to see it on your own, but since it's important, I'll help you along." She gestured indulgently over to a figure sitting alone in one of the back booths, nursing a glass of coke.
"A chaos demon," he blurted out, more than a little startled by how sharp the kid's aura was. So sharp, in fact, that he felt a bit remiss in not having felt it sooner.
"Yes, and a miserable one at that, poor little bugger." She gave a wistful sigh, and Michael hid a smile behind a carrot stick. She was itching to go over there and comfort the sad creature to within an inch of his life. He could tell. "There's going to be quite the fallout from that mood of his."
"So are you going to go over there and soothe him out of it while I do damage control?" He stole a sip of her chocolate shake.
"No baby," she shot him a patronizing look. "I'm not his type. You're more his speed."
"What? But," Michael sputtered as she stole her shake back. "But you're the comforter."
"Hmm, yes, usually. But not this time I think. He's definitely more your type then mine, his preferences aside." She waggled an eyebrow at him, and Michael felt his face turning red. Sneaking a glance back at the demon, he could see the lanky back, the blond hair, the remember-me-not type of clothes. And so yeah, the kid was definitely the make of those he generally hit on, but so what? "Besides, baby, I got charges that I have to look out for, and that kind of chaos is going to spring something major. Probably a natural disaster of some sort."
"What? Wait, Anna," he protested, only to find himself screwing his face up in disgust as she licked her palm and proceeded to pat his hair down with spit. "Oh gross, you know I'm not newly hatched, right? You do get that I've a higher rank than you? Why, I'm your superior, in fact." Nothing deterred her. "Must you?" She backed up to get a better look at him, and then grinned, seemingly satisfied with her work.
"Oh hush, you're perfect now. Good luck." She kissed him on both cheeks and then breezily got up from the table to go pay the human cashier for the food they'd eaten. Unable to resist the urge, he stuck his tongue out at her back as she cheerfully sailed out of the tiny diner. Only she would wish him good luck with a chaos demon. It was a bit like telling someone to break a leg during a skiing competition.
Still, he hadn't been made archangel simply because he looked good in a leather jacket. Sighing, Michael squared his shoulders and nonchalantly made his way over to the booth in the back.
"Well, hello there. You look happy."
Kai barely managed to resist the urge to snarl at the unwanted and unwelcome intruder as he slid onto the bench on the opposite side of the table. He'd done a good job of scaring away the waiter before any of his chaos could rub off on the poor sod. Something about this bloke's cheerful cadence, though, made Kai think that it wasn't going to be as easy to get rid of him. "Yes, I'm a regular ray of sunshine," he sneered at the table top, not wanting to look the intruder in the eye. "No offence, but I'm not in the mood for company. Sod off."
"Would that I could, but you look like you could use a chance to talk it out."
Rolling his eyes, Kai snorted. The sheer arrogance of it, he shook his head. "Oh, and you think you're going to understand?" he challenged, finally looking up to get a better grasp of just who he was facing. The bloke across the table wasn't exactly pretty, but he wasn't exactly hard on the eyes either. Sweet leather jacket, some really strange earrings in his left ear, long black hair and the straggly beginnings of a beard on his lean face, pale blue eyes.
Oh, and the brilliant white wings shining out of his aura. Lovely. Just perfect, really.
"I might," the angel returned, cheekily. "Try me." Right, like his kind weren't the reason that Kai was miserable in the first place.
"Fuck," he groaned, thumping his head back down on the table. "What do you want from me? Which disaster is all my fault, now? How many of your charges died? It's not my fault that you couldn't protect them, you know." Hmm, maybe deliberately baiting the ones who came after him wasn't the smartest of things he'd ever done. Hell, the last group of them had taken it exceptionally personal.
"Ouch. You feed that line to all the angels?" The bloke shot him a pained glance and Kai slumped back in his seat, shifting to avoid some of the more sore spots. "Doesn't really go over all that well, does it?"
"Look, I'll tell you the same thing I tell all the rest. If you have a problem with what I do, what I am, and my purpose in nature, then you can take it to a higher authority." And just like that, the fight went out of him. He was tired, dammit. He was trying to recoup a little. But angels, the whole bloody lot of them, were never satisfied with just that. No, they'd much rather take their frustration out on his hide.
It wasn't like he set out to cause disasters or like he plotted out ways to kill innocent humans. All he did was trigger a random series of events. Whatever occurred after the initial step was beyond his control. Beyond anyone's control, truth be told. He didn't mean for innocents to die, and he didn't always like the results any more than the angels did. They acted like he walked away from it unscathed and unaffected. He wasn't an unfeeling monster, for fuck's sake. Just a chaos demon with a job to do. And maybe they didn't understand why he existed, but he did.
Did angels just not get how fundamentally unhappy their imperfect charges would be, living in a perfect world?
"I am a higher authority. And I want to discuss it with you."
Kai jerked upright at the admission, wincing as the movement hurt more than he'd anticipated. "Fucking hell. An archangel. You're a fucking archangel," he spat out bitterly. As if the regular ones weren't enough of a pain in the ass. As if the plain, run of the mill angel didn't dole out retribution with a heavy enough hand. On no, he had to put up with an archangel.
"You say it like it's a bad thing," the bloke teased, a sick kind of smarmy grin on his face that Kai wanted very badly to punch right off it. He should have known, really. Regular angels weren't much for cat and mouse games. They just came, accused, punished and left. It figured that an archangel would be a bit more sophisticated about the whole business. The angel slid back out of the booth and offered a hand to Kai. "You want to take this to a more secluded spot?"
No. Not really. Not at all. But ignoring their demands only made it worse and he wasn't about to piss off an archangel any more than that archangel already was. Sliding gingerly out of his seat, Kai eyed him distrustfully, before slipping his hand in the angel's. "Do your worst."
They disappeared soundlessly.
"Okay, sit," Michael ordered, gently pushing the demon down onto a stool in his kitchen. From the wary expression in the two different colored eyes, it was almost as if the kid were expecting him to eat him or something instead of just talk. "Let's start with the basics. I'm Michael, and you are," he let the sentence trail off as he stared as the demon stared back stony faced.
"Okay, Kai, first things first, what's with the black eye?" Not because it was really all that important, but more because Michael was simply curious. And the purpling bruise around Kai's right eye just looked particularly painful. Moving around the tense demon, he opened the cupboard under the sink, pulling out a charmed jar of ointment he'd bartered off a healer a while back. It wouldn't magically erase the bruise, but it would take the sting out of the sucker.
"As if you don't know." The demon shot him a hostile glare, which quite frankly, Michael didn't know how to take.
"Actually, I don't." Dipping his hand in the jar, he moved in front of Kai. "Hold still." Kai flinched violently as Michael dabbed the goop on his eye, and Michael suspected that if Kai had been even remotely familiar with the terrain, the demon would have bolted.
"What is that?"
"Just an ointment. It'll take the sting out." Michael tried to look as innocent as possible while Kai glared at him warily. Odd little demon. Angels were generally known for their generosity and helpfulness. After what looked like an intense internal debate with himself, Kai let the brown eye slide close. Although, Michael noted with no small amount of chagrin, that the blue one was still trained on him, waiting for him to make even the slightest aggression. "I'm not going to bite. Really. Archangel and protector of innocents and all that," he tried, half wishing that he'd taken the time to shave this morning and tone down the son-of-Satan look he'd acquired in these last couple of years on his own.
"No, you're just going to heal up the bruises so that they don't interfere with the new ones I'll be getting," the demon spat back bitterly, pushing Michael's arms aside and jumping off the stool in favor of moving back into a defensive crouch in the corner of the kitchen. "It's not my fault that innocents die. It's just chaos. It's a random series of events that occur so that this perfect world those imperfect humans live in suits them. Would you rather they simply sail through life unchallenged by it? Would you rather that they never know a moment's hardship or ever experience the agony of realizing that just as easily as life can be given, it can be taken? How can they truly value what they have if they take it for granted, if they don't know that it can be yanked out from under them without a second's warning? Strength of character comes from facing adversity and overcoming it. Chaos creates that adversity." Michael wasn't sure who the demon was trying to convince more.
"Kai," he said softly, cautiously approaching the demon as he would any other injured creature he'd stumbled across, "I know all that. Chaos demons have an important role to play. It's integral," he tried soothing. From the insulted look on Kai's face, it was a less than successful effort.
"Lovely, so now you're patronizing me? Bloody hell, I hate the whole lot of you." Crossing his arms over his chest, Kai's chin bent down almost to his chest, his blond hair dropping over his eyes. Anna had been right, poor little bugger indeed. Reaching over, he let his hand fall on the demon's shoulder in an attempt to catch Kai's attention. From the pained yelp the demon gave, it looked like Michael managed that and then more so.
"Are there more bruises like the one you're sporting on your eye there underneath your shirt?" he snapped, almost furious as the answers finally started neatly falling into place. Sullenly, Kai nodded.
"You lot get vicious in your grief," the demon's sullen voice was barely a whisper, but it Michael heard it as surely as if the kid had screamed an accusation at him. Moving forcefully now, Michael grabbed the edges of Kai's shirt and started pulling them up. Kai fought him every step of the way, but Michael wanted to confirm it with his own two eyes.
"Fuck," he managed to choke out as he got a glimpse of the bruises covering the blond's now bare chest and back. There were cuts and scabbed over injuries to accompany the bruises, and Michael could see the faint white lines of old scars. How long had this been going on? Right under his own nose, even? "Fucking hell," he ground out, adopting Kai's earlier explicative. Grabbing the demon's hand, he pulled Kai behind him as he made his way to the bathroom. He didn't trust the demon to not bolt the moment he turned his back. After all, who would blame him, given the kind of treatment the demon had already received at the hands of his brethren?
Granted, Michael understood how it could have come about. Angels were inconsolable in their grief when it came to losing a charge. They spent the vast majority of their time siphoning their protective instincts into obsessively looking after their humans. To have that tie abruptly severed in death, well, it often snapped back on them causing temporary moments of insanity.
No, it was easy to unravel the motives behind Kai's attackers, even if they didn't excuse those angels' actions. The truth was, though, that the responsibility fell on him. He was an archangel after all, and it was his responsibility to make sure that angels didn't have opportunities to run rampant like that, and that demons like Kai, who played an important role in the scheme of things and were just fulfilling the purpose they'd been created with, were protected from those grieving angels' ire.
Opening the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, he pulled out a variety of ointments, bandages and pills as they seemed appropriate. "Here, hold this," he shoved half of it into Kai's other empty hand as he talked around the baggie full of butterfly bandages he was holding with his teeth.
Kai, for the most part, seemed bewildered both by the fact that Michael refused to let go of his hand, despite all the squirming around the kid did with it, and by the fact that Michael seemed hell bent on patching him up. It was sad really, because Michael didn't have the heart to tell him that if he'd honestly been doing his job to perfection, that Kai wouldn't have been hurt in the first place. Pulling him into the living room, Michael gently pushed him onto the couch.
"Don't touch me," the demon groused.
"Quit bitchin', and let me help," he managed between gritted teeth and then proceeded on with the rather lengthy process of patching the poor kid up.
Kai blinked sleepily and then jerked, startled by the decidedly feminine face in front of his. He wasn't entirely sure when he'd fallen asleep. Probably somewhere in between watching the television that the blasted archangel had turned on and trying to get the blasted archangel to let go of him so he could get the hell out of here before the benevolence took on a darker tone. "Who are you?" he bit out, less than friendly.
"Oh hush, baby, I ain't gonna hurt you," she clucked. He managed a bleary scowl at the plump angel as she tousled his hair. "Besides, I doubt he'd let me even try," she gestured down even as she neatly avoided his question. Looking down, Kai was torn between fascination and frustration at finding Michael's head in his lap and the bloke's arm curled protectively over his knee.
"This isn't how it's supposed to be," he felt compelled to say.
"Actually, this is exactly how it's supposed to be," she grinned. "But given your aura earlier, I suppose I can understand why you might be confused by the whole thing, sugar." She bustled off to the kitchen, her wings shining a strange pinky-silver.
Puzzled, Kai bent over slightly, noting as he did so that he wasn't nearly as sore as he had been earlier. So the pills, the creams and the bandages had actually helped. Who knew? He almost felt bad for suspecting the worst of the bloke. Almost. Hesitantly, he reached over and pulled some of the black hair that had fallen in the bloke's face back, and tucked it behind an ear.
Asleep, the archangel seemed a lot less threatening.
"Definitely not hard on the eyes, is he."
Bugger, caught in the act of looking. Flinching slightly, Kai peered cautiously at her from under his fringe. "He's not ugly." He decided, opting for honesty.
"Oh baby, that's an understatement and you know it," she laughed at him, and Kai felt another scowl creep into his expression. "I think he looks a sight more than 'not ugly' to you, and I think you're a bit more affected by his kindness than you'd care to admit." Angels. They always thought they knew everything. So the bloke didn't curdle milk. It didn't matter to Kai; he was out of here the first opportunity he got. "You could be good for him. I'm the only real friend he's got. He certainly could use another. 'Course, maybe you don't want to be just friendly."
"Whatever." He rolled his eyes. That sent her into new peals of laughter, and he made a rather disgusted face in return. So Michael wasn't evil incarnate. He still reserved the right to judge the rest of the lot, and so far, this tart was jumping on his last nerve.
"Have a brownie." She pulled his hand over and plopped the brownie in it. He stared at it, not comprehending. "It's not poisoned." She grabbed it back, took a bite and plunked it in his hand again. "Mike's got a thing against food that tastes good. Figured you could use some sustenance."
"That is not sustenance."
Kai couldn't shove Michael off him fast enough as he scrambled from the sofa cushion to perch rather tensely on the sofa arm. Michael shot him a disgruntled glare, and the plump tart laughed at him, yet again. He was so happy that he amused her. Sneering at her, he took a bite of the brownie, which tasted really, really good, all things considered.
"You've corrupted him," Michael told her flatly, before rubbing his eyes sleepily. "Why are you here, anyway, Anna?"
She slid a glance toward him, and Kai stopped chewing. Oh, he knew that look. "Fallout," she said with false perkiness.
"Not good, but not as not good as bad."
"But not good enough for you to be coming here to get me." Michael ran a hand through his hair, and Kai forced himself to resume chewing as the archangel turned to look at him. "You. Stay here. Don't leave, because I will be able to find you."
Debatable, Kai decided, since Michael felt the need to issue the threat in the first place. Amateur. "Sure," he muttered, not meaning it at all. Like hell he'd stay put. He caused it. He had a right to see what had happened, the destruction he'd inflicted on innocents.
He blinked, and they both were gone, leaving him alone with the incessant droning of the telly in the background. Closing his own eyes, it wasn't difficult to block out the noise, nor was it hard to pick up the particular tenor of the thread of chaos he'd started. From there, it wasn't a chore at all to open his eyes and find himself at the very scene that Michael and Anna had described as 'not good'.
It wasn't the first time he'd found himself at a forest fire. Probably wouldn't be the last, either. This particular fire, though, had moved from the realm of wildlife into the populated suburbia of the city, and Kai could see the charred remnants of houses down in the valley amongst the smoldering ashes of the trees surrounding them. On the hill, however, there were humans swarming over body bags, and Kai knew without having to ask or look that they held the burnt remains of those unlucky enough to have not gotten out of the fire's path in time.
Jerked out of his thoughts, Kai found himself facing an angel. A very upset angel with red tinged aura wings, and an unholy fire burning in his eyes. But again, it wasn't as if he'd never seen it before, and really, for the first time in the last twenty four hours, Kai felt at ease if just because it was familiar territory. "Me."
"You did this. You started this," the angel accused heatedly, shoving him hard in the chest and sending Kai stumbling back a step. "He was a firefighter for fuck's sake. One of the good guys. He didn't deserve to die like that."
Kai's heart sank a bit. They never deserved to die like they did. "Do you think that even matters? It's not like the universe keeps track of good deeds, putting them in little columns so that they can be tabulated at the end of the day," he heard himself snapping back. "Bad things don't happen to humans because they deserve them."
"He died screaming in agony. In pain." The angel shoved him again. "Do you even care?"
Hell yes, he cared. It hurt. He ached, knowing that his bad moods could trickle down like this. Intellectually, he understood it. Logically, he could explain it. But that didn't mean that he didn't feel his stomach do a sick little flip every time he stumbled on a scene like this, or that he didn't feel the despair just as sharply as those angels when he saw the manifestations of his destructive nature.
He didn't bother moving to avoid the fist as the angel clipped him hard across the jaw. He didn't have the heart to try explaining himself, and he knew that the angel didn't want to see reason anyway. Kai really couldn't blame him. He braced himself as the angel drew back once more.
But the punch never landed.
"Stand down, Kevin!"
Blinking, Kai was almost blinded by the brilliance of the very real white wings sprouting out of the back that was now between him and the angry angel. He choked down an almost hysterical bubble of laughter. There was a purity of soul, of intention, in the aura in front of him. One that was clearly at odds with Michael's black hair and the now ruined leather jacket that the wings had fairly effectively ripped two holes in. In ways that Kai's nature was unfairness and a macabre lottery of death, Michael was the antithesis of it. Someone who did balance the scales based on merit.
"S-sorry, Archangel," the previously angry Kevin seemed much more subdued. "It won't happen again."
"Good," Michael bit out, before twisting around to face Kai. Almost as if it were someone else standing and waiting for judgment from an archangel in full regalia, Kai watched a few feathers float across in the breeze, landing on the black, brittle remains of that which was once living. "And you. I thought I told you to stay put."
"Yeah, I'm not terribly good at that," he retorted flippantly. Michael's eyes sparked dangerously, and Kai did wince as the bloke's hand fell heavily on his shoulder seconds before the archangel whisked them both away from the scene.
"What possessed you to just show up there?" Michael resisted the urge to reach over and shake the sullen demon as the two different colored eyes watched him warily.
"I had a right to be there. To see what happened. I caused it, after all."
Angry now, Michael stalked over, noting distantly that Kai scrambled away from him until the demon's back hit a wall and he could scramble away no further. "No one's denying that you caused it. What were you afraid some other chaos demon would appear and take the credit?"
"No," Kai snapped back, crossing his arms in front of his chest defensively. "It's not like that."
"Then what is it like?" he demanded. Kai refused to meet his gaze. "Explain it to me." He slammed his hands against the wall on either side of Kai's head, effectively getting the kid's attention. Wild eyed, Kai just gaped at him for a moment, before his expression turned thunderous.
"Why? You wouldn't understand if I did," Kai retorted bitterly. "I'm so sorry I caused a scene with your precious angel."
"A scene?!" Kai thought he was upset over the fact that there had been a scene? No, he was furious over the fact that Kevin had felt justified in taking that swing. He was gnashing his teeth over the way Kai had simply stood there, not raising a hand to defend himself. "Are you blind? He was twice your size and out of his mind. And you just stood there and took it?"
Kai seemed to blink in surprise. "What the hell was I supposed to do?"
"Protest. Try to defend yourself. Say something. Anything," Michael glared down at the demon. He'd seen how far angels could go. He'd seen angels fall from grace in their grief. Kai had been incredibly lucky up to this point that he hadn't sparked an angel to the point where they'd literally torn the kid limb from limb. As archangel, it was his job to keep a short leash on angels in those moments, but he only had two wings. "I can't always be there to step in and stop those idiots for you."
"Who's asking you to?" the demon shot back, brashly.
"God," he said simply, watching in satisfaction as Kai's mouth worked soundlessly for a moment. "It's my job."
"I don't need your help." The demon avoided his eyes.
"No, you need it all right," Michael roughly grabbed Kai's jaw, forcing the kid to stare straight at him. "You might not want it, but that's a whole other matter. Besides, it's not just about you. I'm there to protect you from them just as much as I'm there to protect them from themselves." Michael sighed heavily. "Why do you go back to see what's happened, anyway?"
"Atonement." The demon stared stonily over Michael's shoulder.
"For what?" Michael was mystified. What was there to atone for? It was Kai's very nature to create chaos. After all, the kid had explained it all to him already once before, so it wasn't like Kai was in the dark as to what his purpose in the universe was.
"You wouldn't understand."
"The only reason I wouldn't understand," Michael managed between gritted teeth, "is because you never bother to explain yourself or your actions. We're higher beings, not mind readers."
"Fine," Kai said flatly, his chin falling down to his chest and his bangs falling in his eyes. "You lot just assume that I don't care. That I'm not bothered by it. How arrogant is that, by the way, to assume that you're the only ones affected? Because I do care. I start the chain reaction of random events, yes. But that doesn't mean that I delight in what they lead to, or that I'm happy at what I've accomplished."
"Kai," Michael bent down to the demon's level, meeting the kid's gaze, "I know it hurts."
"How the hell would you know?" The muted sorrow in Kai's eyes prompted him to bring a hand up and trace lightly over the bruise forming on the demon's jaw before resting on Kai's cheek.
"You think I'm unaffected by everything that happens around me? I don't sit around blithely passing around judgment and happily doling out punishments. You think it didn't bother me at all to see Kevin hitting you? Do you think I liked putting him on probation or that I like demoting and reprimanding those angels that I might have been friends with under any other circumstance? You think I'm just completely okay with it when I lose an angel to madness or when they fall so far that their wings are violently yanked away? Because I feel it. And it hurts." Michael blew out a shaky sigh. "But you are what you are, and it's stupid to punish yourself for something that you have no control over. Especially when there's nothing wrong with you to begin with."
"Why do you care?" Michael started slightly as Kai's hand came up to his cheek to rest on Michael's.
"Ah," Michael stalled.
"Why do you dress like that and go out of your way to convey an image that is everything but archangel?" Kai grinned at him softly. Michael let the silence fall between them, uncertain how to respond. "I can tell you why. You don't like the assumptions others make about you based on what you are. You didn't like the assumptions I was making once I knew. You don't like explaining yourself anymore than I do. Hypocrite," on Kai's lips, it almost sounded like an endearment. "I'm not one of your angels."
"No," Michael agreed, "you're not."
And maybe that was why it was so easy to tilt his head in and take possession of the demon's mouth. Maybe that was why it was so easy for the demon to moan into his mouth, kissing him back.