Monday, December 14, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Author: Rachel E. Bailey
Rating: R
Word Count: Approx. 4,000
Notes/Warnings: Possible triggers. Read at your own risk.
Summary: Two men on a ledge. One has a confession and one takes a fall. Written for the random song (per Chuck Wendig’s prompt) “Jumper,” by Third Eye Blind.

“What’re we doing out here, Dev?”
For once, his lanky, lonely figure was not swaying to music only he could hear, Dev stood stock-still on the ledge. Before and below him, the city of Lenape Landing sparkled and winked like colored gems set in the jeweler’s velvet of the night.
As I warily approached, I could almost hear the smile in Dev’s soft, perpetually amused tenor. “Join me, won’t you, Sunshine?”
Sighing and rolling my eyes—but still more worried than annoyed: after all this building was very high, and even Dev’s nine lives would eventually run out—I shoved my hands in the pockets of my thin, tenth-hand rayon windbreaker, and stopped just a few feet behind Dev. “Well? Come closer, oh, Sunny One. You know I don’t bite . . . much.”
“Uh, how ‘bout I don’t, and pretend I did.” Dev knew I hated heights. I didn’t even like being five-eleven, let alone five stories high, and set on the edge of a cliff, to boot. . . .
And yet, I found myself shuffling a bit closer, for no reason more or less complicated than that Dev had asked it of me.
“His master’s voice,” Dev murmured, still amused and chuckling—this time, at my expense. I would’ve kidney-punched him if he weren’t so close to already doing a swan-dive into the night. “Come closer.”
“Fuck that! What’re we doing up here, Dev?” I demanded again, shivering in the stiff breeze. I was grateful winter hadn’t yet set in. Those winds would’ve been enough to blow both our skinny asses off the roof and straight to Hell. “It’s fucking brick out. Let’s head back to the ‘Landing and see if we can’t scare up some dinner.”
“Dinner. Pah! How plebian. Is food all you think about, Sunshine?” Dev spread his arms as if he expected the wind to lift him off, like Mary Poppins. “Isn’t the night beautiful?”
Scowling at him, even though he couldn’t see it, I horked and spat over the ledge, not bothering to listen for the splat, about a jillion feet below. “That for the night and its beauty, man. I’m fucking cold and hungry. And it’s gonna take us at least two hours to get back into the city proper. Why’d you drag us up here?”
Dev sighed—a dreamy, wistful sound—and turned to look at me. As usual, his dark eyes sparkled—brighter than the city below and the stars above. Cue my heart beating faster for reasons I chose, as usual, not to examine. Just as I chose not to examine the way my body grew almost alarmingly hot when Dev cupped my face in his long, cold hands and stared into my eyes, his own brimming with that boundless joy that drew everyone to him.
It had drawn me, too.
I remember the night Dev and I met—or I should say, I stumbled across Dev getting the shit beat out of him. It’d been late—closer to morning than midnight—and I’d been fucking wasted, staggering back to my shitty apartment alone. I passed the alleyway—it was so narrow it was really more of an ambitious gap—between Molly’s Ice Cream Madness and Pardee Realty Group. From that gap, I’d nearly missed hearing a pained grunt that’d made me pause.
None of my business, I don’t wanna beg, buy, or borrow trouble, my instinct warned even as I turned to look into the alley. What I saw made me gasp, and both occupants of the narrow alley turned to look at me.
The bigger guy—he reminded me of Lou Ferrigno, back in his heyday—had glared at me with eyes that’d almost seemed to . . . glowyellow in the dimly-lit space. He was dressed in dark, trendy clothes that looked tailored to suit his rather massive frame. His dark hair was artfully tousled and gelled every which way.
Pinned to the wall by the aforementioned guy had been another, much smaller guy. Taller than me, but wiry, rather than bulky. His clothes looked as second-hand as mine, and his curly dark hair was messy in a way that was very much due to having it grasped as his head pushed into the brick wall. His eyes, as dark as his hair, had met mine, both forgiving and curious.
I don’t expect you to help, they said, but will you, I wonder, at least bear witness to my suffering?
I hadn’t realized that I meant to do more than bear witness, until I was halfway down the alley toward them. The big guy had laughed . . . a gravelly, amused sound. Then he’d eased his grip on the smaller guy. But not before shoving him into the brick wall once more for good measure. The smaller guy groaned, his eyes closing once more as blood began to droozle from his nose in a thin trickle. His eyes opened, the color of an abyss, and met mine again. I felt as if I was being drawn into them, somehow. As if some long-closed part of me, like a metal door locked by an ancient, rusted lock, had just had the lock broken, so the door could open a crack and let out. . . .
“Beat it, kid,” the big guy had said. “This is none of your conc—
I lost the rest of what the bruiser was going to say as I felt a strange heat build within me—not slow, but fast. It felt like rage, almost, but far too focused, too impersonal. All I know is that I was suddenly barreling down the alley toward the bruiser, who looked momentarily confused, then let go of the smaller guy to face me, fists balled up and raised. He looked annoyed and smug and—I’d noticed with a metric ton of distaste—he had a rager of a hard-on.
Goddamn fucking rapist, I remember thinking, not knowing whether it was true or not, just that whatever this asshole had intended didn’t bode well for the smaller guy, who’d instantly slid to the ground when he’d been let go.
The big guy swung as I hit him like a cannonball to the middle, and tackled him backwards. I took the blow on the jaw—barely felt it—and we hit the ground with twin grunts.
I wasn’t heavy, then.
I’m not heavy, now.
But I’m enough to drive the wind out of someone, if I land on top of them. And while Lou Ferrigno’s double was stunned, I began to wale on him, messing up that brutishly handsome face, landing blow after blow. I didn’t stop when he stopped trying to defend himself and just went limp. I think I would’ve kept going till I was sure he was dead—and maybe even after that—if the smaller guy hadn’t touched my shoulder firmly, squeezing it.
“Stop,” a soft voice said close to my ear.
And . . . I’d stopped, drained all of a sudden. That strange, rage-like focus flowed out of me, and that door in my mind swung shut once more on whatever lay behind it. But there was no lock, now, and that worried me for a moment. As much as I could be worried through the drunken sludge of my mind.
“C’mon . . . he’s down for the count,” that voice soothed. I blinked down at the big guy. His face wasn’t hamburger, but it was close. And my fists were covered in blood and scrapes. “Let’s get outta here before the cops come. Or before Ash sends back-up.”
I shook my head—I felt groggy and inebriated again—and looked up at the smaller guy. His nose was still bleeding a bit and his hair hung in his face. But his eyes were clear and wondering. “Ash?” I asked?
The smaller guy had frowned a little, then shrugged almost irritably. “Ashmedai. An . . . old friend.”
I’d looked back at the big guy. “You need some new friends,” I said, and the smaller guy laughed, reaching for my hand.
“Looks like I’ve got one. I’m . . . Dev, by the way.” He pulled on my arm till I stood unsteadily, then pulled some more until I followed him out of the alley with many a glance back at my handiwork.
“Don’t look back, kid,” he’d commanded. I’d obeyed him, and at the mouth of the alley, he’d taken my arm like we were just another pair of lovers, out for a late-night stroll. “Say, what’s your name?”
“Ray,” I replied, and his eyebrows shot up.
“You mean like a ray of sunshine? A light in dark places?” He’d smiled, a dazzling expression made more so for the contrast of the blood on his face. “How apt!”
I’d shrugged. “Not really. It’s just short for Raymond.”
Dev had batted his eyes facetiously and leaned in close. So close, I’d both hoped and feared he’d kiss me, despite his having nearly been raped and murdered, minutes before. “I think I’ll call you Sunshine.”
“Whatever,” I’d replied, shrugging again, and turning to walk away. Dev had soon caught up with me, and together we’d left the alley—and the rapist/murderer I’d thrashed—behind. I’d glanced at him as he took my arm again, like Blanche DuBois, and with his free hand wiped blood away from his already-swelling nose. He stared at it, wide-eyed and surprised. Avidly interested, as if he’d never bled before.
I don’t know if I even noticed, then, that he was beautiful. All I knew was that I was hungry, tired, and sore about the fists from pummeling the asshole in the alley behind us. I wanted to eat and sleep, and all of a sudden, I knew I wouldn’t be doing either alone. Not when I suddenly had become a we. Because it was beyond questioning that this helpless guy I’d rescued was coming home with me. For as long as he needed.
That thought had surprisingly not filled me with an ounce of trepidation.
And for the past three years or so, I had been trailing after Dev like a smitten puppy. Though I’d told myself I was more of a protector and guardian, recently, reality had been playing hobble-de-hoy with my self-delusions.
“Do you love me, Ray?”
Derailed from my stroll down Memory Lane, I blinked and gaped. Partially at the question, but mostly because no one called me “Ray” anymore. Everyone we knew called me “Sunshine” or “Sunny,” because what Dev said had a way of sticking.
Now, I felt a sense of trepidation as I twisted my face just enough to hint that Dev should let go. But then, Dev never took hints. And, as usual, I was glad he didn’t. But I hid it well.
“I don’t believe in love,” I eventually lied, when neither of us had moved for almost two minutes. Dev sighed again and rolled his eyes.
“Liar. Do you at least trust me, then?”
Implicitly, though I couldn’t tell him that. “I guess. As much as I trust anyone who isn’t me.”
Dev rolled his eyes again, but laughed. “You make it awful hard for a guy to get heartfelt up in this bitch.”
My eyebrows drifted toward my hairline. “Is that what you’re doing . . . up here . . . in the middle of the freezing-ass night?” I joked nervously. Dev leaned closer, his hands sliding down and around my neck, his smile sliding into a thoughtful frown.
“Sunshine . . . Raymond . . . I trust you, too.”
“That’s, uh . . . nice?”
“Isn’t it, though? And I don’t just trust you, I love you. More than I’ve loved anyone ever. Or at least in a few dozen millennia.”
I snorted. Hyperbole, on demand, that was Dev. “Yeah, well,” I began, starting to twist away from him a little. The amount of closeness and . . . heartfeltness was making me uncomfortable. The feelings I’d been fighting so hard not to examine were starting to bubble up to the surface and demand acknowledgement.
And action.
Dev,” I started to say, my voice half husky and half creaky, and he leaned in and down till his forehead rested against mine.
“I want to show you something, Sunshine,” Dev breathed. His breath smelled, as always, sweet. Unlike my own breath, which probably still smelled like cheap, diner souvlaki from lunch ten hours ago. “Something . . . quite unutterably rad.”
“I see. And is this something also tubular, as well?”
“Yes,” he chuckled, “that, too.” Then he was stepping back from me and taking my hand. “C’mon.”
“Uh, where to?” I asked with real wariness, inhaling so sharply the air whistled through my nose. I followed him the few steps to the edge of the ledge nonetheless. Immediately I began to shiver as I looked out at all the space and nothing between us and the ground. It was like all my nightmares come vividly true. Some people dreamed of flying, but I . . . I had always dreamed of falling and of how far there was to fall, literally and figuratively. All my worst dreams were of falling. “Fuck me!”
“Gladly. But later,” Dev said seriously, squeezing my hand. “Glorious view, isn’t it?”
“So you keep saying. Look—you know I don’t like heights, Dev, no matter how great the view. So, how ‘bout we just—
“What I have to show you isn’t that far away, relatively speaking. But I need you to try and trust me, or else it’ll seem a lot worse than it actually is.” Dev’s soft voice was almost entirely stolen by the wind. When I looked over at him, he was watching me, all traces of amusement gone from his dark eyes. His chin-length dark hair was caught in the wind, whipping around his face and in his eyes, but he didn’t seem to notice. His gaze was steadier and more solemn than I’d ever seen it. “What I have to show you . . . well, it isn’t easy to swallow.”
“Can’t you just tell me what’s going on over dinner someplace warm, Dev?” I all but pleaded, my teeth actually beginning to chatter a bit from cold and from fear. It was a long way down and not getting any shorter.
Dev shook his head once. “This is more of a show, don’t tell sort of thing. You’ll only believe it once you see it. Feel it. But you have to trust that I have a good reason for bringing you up here. And for doing this.” Frowning once more, Dev looked broodingly out into the empty air in front of us, then back at me. His eyes were intent . . . intense.
“Doing what?” I asked, just as he tugged on my hand hard, causing me to lose my balance. I teetered, too frightened to even feel it as something other than utter stillness within my body and mind, and Dev then pushed me, so that I tumbled forward, into the empty air, and down to my doom.
The world turned and turned about me, the dark ground growing closer, but I didn’t even scream. Or maybe I did, but just couldn’t hear it over the sudden rabbiting of my heart.
As I somersaulted through the air, I caught glimpses of the sky, the stars, the condemned treatment plant, and Dev—my friend, my murderer—stepping off the ledge, too. Only he didn’t fall . . . he hovered in the air like a gull on a zephyr.
“Trust me, Sunshine!” he called. “The first fall’s always the worst!”
And when he said that, it was as if everything . . . slowed down. Time, I mean, and my fall.
So help me, I felt something within me, golden, warm, and almost yearning, fill me like light—like heat. It began to overflow me, to spill out of me because it was too much for me to contain. Miraculously, I stopped somersaulting, and as I continued to fall, I could see Dev standing far above me, outlined by the night. He seemed to be teetering on the very edge of an invisible perch, rocking back and forth as if waiting for something, Suddenly, more annoyed than frightened, I thought: Well, what’re you waiting for? And engraved invitation? I opened my arms and reached up to him—but not just with my arms . . . with that warmth that seemed to be filling me and spilling over. That warmth, that yearning, that trust—that love—was all for Dev, and I knew that if this was going to be the end of me, I wanted that love and trust to live with Dev forever.
But I really didn’t want it to be the end of me.
If you’re gonna save me somehownow would be an excellent time to do it, Dev!
Then Dev was diving from his invisible perch, speeding toward me head first, like a falcon toward a field mouse. I yelped, and braced myself as best I could—
—only to gasp and grunt as I was caught around my waist, by something that halted my fall even as time sped up to its normal pace once more. I was pulled against a long, rangy body and held tight as my fall—our fall—slowed to a near-stop.
When I dared to squint open my eyes, I was looking over a shoulder up at the cliff from which I had plummeted . . . all its rocks and straggly vegetation.
“Shit!” I screamed, flailing and wriggling just as my feet touched the ground. Then the steel-strong arms around me let go and I crumpled into fetal position, shaking and weeping. “What the FUCK?DEV?!”
“No need to shout, Sunshine. I’m right here,” Dev’s voice said, and a moment later battered red Chucks entered my field of view . . . followed by bony, blue jean-covered knees. Then a gentle hand was smoothing my hair. “I’m right here.”
“You—you—” I stuttered out, looking up just enough to see Dev’s familiar face. He was smiling a tired, ancient smile. His curly hair hung in his face, obscuring his eyes, though the way they glittered seemed as bright as the stars above us. And there seemed to be a . . . glow around him . . . a radiance emanating from his au lait complexion. But then I blinked and rubbed my eyes to clear my tear-trebled vision and the radiance was gone. It was just Dev, kneeling over me, his eyes worried somewhere beneath the seemingly boundless joy that had always drawn me. “Wh-what are you, Dev?”
Dev’s smile turned wry. “I’m just me, Sunshine. Just Dev.”
“Nuh-uh!” I wiped my face and uncurled from fetal position slowly, then sat up, bracing myself with my hands as I leaned away from Dev. He obligingly sat back on his heels, hands held slightly out, as if in supplication. He presented an innocuous figure. I knew, however, that was bullshit. “Nuh-uh, you can fly! The Dev I know can’t fly—he isn’t Superman!”
“Maybe he is, and you just didn’t know it,” Dev said softly, looking down at the ground between us, smiling a little. “I’m notSuperman, of course. And I can’t fly . . . not anymore. But I can dive . . . and make a controlled descent.”
“A controlled—” I laughed manically, burying my face in my hands for a few moments. “Jesus, dude, what are you?” I asked when I looked up again. Dev met my gaze once more, his mouth pursing as if he wouldn’t let himself say. I scowled. “Tell me, goddamnit!”
Dev closed his eyes for a moment, then clasped his hands and began to speak:
“I was called ‘Morning Star,’ ‘Light-Bearer,’ and ‘Son of the Dawn.’ And none was more beloved than I. Or so I thought.
“When the time came for the One whom I loved to choose between me and another, another was chosen. And though I was hurt, I went on as if I was still the best beloved. Then another was chosen ahead of me a second time. Though my love and loyalty were growing ragged and thin, my heart growing agonized, I held on to my illusions and tried ever harder to show my love and adoration, which is, to this day, unending.”
Dev paused, swallowing, appearing to fight the urge to not go on with his tale. Not that he really needed to. I had a really strong idea of where it was going, already. Of what Dev was trying to tell me. The only question was . . . did I believe him?
“There came a third time of choosing, and I wept. I begged. I plead to at last be put first . . . but my pleas were ignored. Again, others were chosen ahead of me. And, as if that opened the wound that’d been festering within me since the first time I’d been passed over, I . . . sought to leave behind the presence of the One I had loved and Whom I would always love. But that was . . . impossible. So I stirred the pot of rebellion, seeking to overthrow the Tyrant who ruled all things, not least of which was my heart. I failed, of course.” Dev closed his eyes for a moment, but that didn’t stop blood-red tears from escaping his eyes to hang in his dark, shaggy lashes before running down his cheeks. “And for my presumption, disobedience, and disloyalty, I was cast out of my home—I, and those who’d felt as passed over as I did, and who had chosen to rebel with me. We were cast out from Paradise, and we Fell. Through icy space, till we hit atmosphere—so hot, it singed and burned our wings beyond usefulness or healing—we Fell . . . to the Earth. But the agony of that, of falling through cold and heat, the agony of losing our wings, was as nothing to the agony of Falling out of Grace.”
And as Dev spoke, he’d slowly been changing, as if an illusion was falling away from him . . . a seeming. Fading away like wisps of smoke, were battered boots, raggedy jeans, threadbare sweater, and a beige windbreaker that wasn’t so different from my black one. In their place was a breast-plate, gleaming a mellow gold in the dim, indifferent light of the distant stars, and a kilt and cape as crimson as heart’s blood, flirting back with the breeze. With its fluttering and shifting, I could see hints of the singed, skeletal remains of wings, not a feather on them. . . .
This can’t be, I thought, nearly gibbering with panicked disbelief. This can’t be for real! There’s no such thing as gods and devils and—and all that bullshit!
But then a quieter voice in the back of my brain added: Just because you’ve never seen proof before now, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It just means that you haven’t seen proof of their existence. And as you well know from Philosophy 101, deities are unfalsifiable beings. There’s no way to prove they don’t exist, and no way to prove they do . . . until now. Although Dev is proof there are beings that resemble angels from Christian lore, not necessarily proof that the Christian deity exists, as well. Furthermore—
The voice would’ve gone on forever if I’d let it. Instead, I tuned out and focused on Dev. He looked regal, yet more despairing than I’d ever seen him. That faint, golden glow was back. And in his right hand was a crimson sword that looked far too heavy for a man—ahuman man—to lift. In his left hand was a golden helm that matched the breast-plate, covered in ornate design and writing.
And his face—his face was the same: au lait skin, Roman nose, high, prominent cheekbones, sensual mouth, wide, deep-set, dark eyes—but even more beautiful, somehow. Perfect. From the cleft of his chin to the tips of the curling, blood-red horns that now rose for at least nine inches from within the long thicket of dark hair.
“And then?” I asked almost numbly, reaching out genuine reluctance to brush the hair back out of his face—out of the Devil’s face—as I’d always wanted to, but never let myself do. “What happened next?”
Dev snorted, dropping his golden helm to bring his hand up to his face, where it caught mine and pressed it against his cheek. “Next?” A desperate, despairing laugh. “We were scattered across the Earth during the Fall. Left to wander among mankind—able to conceal our true natures, but do precious-little else. Most of our kind took mortal wives and those wives bore children. Nephilim, they were called. Stronger, faster, imbued with talents that mortal men couldn’t imagine, those children lived down throughout the ages, also concealing their true natures. Called succubus, incubus, cambion, witch by the ignorant.”
Dev shook his head and looked down. For my part, I couldn’t stop caressing his face. His skin was so soft and smooth, but so cold. “But . . . but what of . . . Hell?”
“What of it?”
“Isn’t that where the Fallen angels were sent? Not Earth?” I asked, confused. Dev sighed and gazed up at me.
“Have you ever heard the phrase: ‘Hell is other people’? Turns out that’s not far off, when the people one is among are the very people one committed a cardinal sin in rebellion against. And compared to the undiluted presence of the One we love, the Earth, even with its . . . myriad and temporary delights, is Hell for most of us. Myself, especially. Or it was, until. . . .”
“Until?” I prodded, when Dev didn’t say anything for nearly a minute, only stared into my eyes and leaned into the touch of my hand.
Then he smiled, and looked away, standing up and pulling me with him. He literally pulled me to my feet without my help. “Until about three years ago, when I met a man . . . an extraordinary, ordinary, mortal man. He selflessly came to my rescue—not the first act of selflessness I’d ever witnessed since being banished to this Earth, but the first that was directed at me. He saved me, that night, in a way I can’t explain even now.” Dev’s hand squeezed mine fervently and his hopeful eyes searched my own. “For I now know what it is to love for love’s sake, not because I expect something in return, whether that something is sex, or to be put first in someone’s heart.”
Momentarily speechless, I swallowed. “Yeah, but . . . if this guy who saved you could give those things to you—and, you know . . .wanted to give those things to you . . . would you say no?” I asked timidly, unsure which surprised me more: me, finally confessing my feelings for Dev—acting on a need, for once in my repressed life—or me plighting troth to the Devil.
I mean, I’d been raised in a pretty secular household. All I knew about Christianity I learned from friends, popular culture, and a world religions class I’d taken in college. But I knew enough about the damn Devil to know he was evil, absolute, right? The source of all human misery?
But then . . . I knew enough about Dev to know he was . . . wonderful. All I’d ever wanted, wrapped in one ridiculously gorgeous package. Larger matters of philosophy and integrity aside . . . I wanted him. I needed him. Whether he was the ultimate in wickedness, or just underloved and misunderstood.
loved him.
And maybe that showed in my—frightened, panicked—eyes, because Dev looked startled for a few seconds, then dimpled at me. “Ofcourse I wouldn’t say no, Sunshine. I’m not stupid. Prince of Darkness, here, not Prince of Dumbness.”
I snorted and leaned closer to Dev. He grinned and leaned closer to me.
“So,” I said, staring at his lips. “What happens now?”
Weeeeeellll.” The tip of Dev’s nose touched mine. “How about I take you back to town, take you to dinner, take you home, then just . . . you know . . . take you?
I swallowed again, and nodded eagerly.
Rad,” Dev breathed, his lips brushing mine feather-soft, before claiming them in a hard, demanding kiss which, though brief, left me breathless. Then he pulled on his helm and sheathed his sword. “Totally tubular.”
Chuckling, he wrapped his arms around my waist suddenly, pulling me against him. His armor was cold and solid against my chest.
“Hang on,” he said, and I obeyed, wrapping my arms around his neck, my brow furrowing.
“I’m taking you places, kid.”
“Oh, yeah? Where?”
“Second star to the right and straight on till morning.”
“Why are all your pop-culture references so dated, dude?”
Dev laughed, and we lifted off the ground hard and fast. I clutched at him with my arms and legs, and tried not to shit my pants as the ground got farther and farther away. “I thought you couldn’t fly!”
“I can’t. But I can jump. High and far.” His eyes twinkled. Indeed, it seemed like we were shooting up, somewhat diagonally, into the sky. “I can land us in the outskirts of Lenape Landing. Right around where the houses stop having acreage. Maybe we can even catch the last bus back into town, proper.”
I snorted. “You keep treating me so fancy, I’ll grow accustomed to this lavish lifestyle.”
“I want you to grow accustomed to a lavish lifestyle.” Dev’s hands splayed on my back. Even around the golden helm, I could see how dead-serious his face was. “I want to give you everything you’ve ever needed, Sunshine. Everything you’ll ever want.”
“You, uh . . . kinda already have, Dev,” I replied, blushing.
As icy air rushed past us, Dev looked into my eyes surprised and gaping. I smiled shyly and Dev leaned his cool forehead against mine, closing his eyes. He was humming something that I finally recognized as “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” by The Darkness.
I rolled my eyes. “Carbon-dated pop-culture references, making me ride the bus, questionable taste in music . . . Jeez, for the Devil, you’re pretty lame.”
Dev burst out laughing again and this time, I kissed him. He tasted cold and sweet, like ice cream. I couldn’t get enough of tasting him—and wondered why I’d waited so long to do it, when I’d wanted to from the night we met.
Then I wasn’t wondering much of anything as we kissed in earnest, beginning our descent.