The demon lives alone in a fine house, repenting of his sins. He cannot say how long he has been there, time moves strangely for him, nor can he count the hosts of angels he has seen wandering the hallways and flickering on the stairs. He tries to thank them, for they mend the glass and keep his gardens looking fair. But they do not speak to him. They pretend not to see him. He assumes this is part of his repentance, this solitude. He is grateful that they come to him at all.
He remembers his expulsion, though not his crime. Cast down, he is bound in shadows, shadows cling to him like cobwebs, they choke his lungs and glue his eyelids shut. He thrashes against them with the panicked strength of suffocation. When he at last breaks free, he is here.
This is what he remembers.
The house is empty, vast and hollow as a shell. Dazed, he staggers forth into the moonlight, clacking cloven hooves upon the floor. His sweat rises in steam and stinks of sulphur. He beats his leathern wings against the air and flings himself across the room, battering the walls and windows with his body, until exhaustion leaves him crumpled in a ball.
He wakes in a pool of sunlight. It sears his skin and burns his eyes. When he tries to lift his broken wings, they shift inside their skin with a sickening sound of parchment and dry bone. They crumble as he drags himself away. The demon huddles bleeding in a corner, watching them smolder in a black and twisted heap.
His wings have burned away to fine white ash. It sifts through the floorboards and stirs in the air, glittering on shafts of sunlight, suspended in shafts of moonlight. It settles in the corners, in the rafters, on the window sills. It fades into the woodwork. He sits so still he can hear his heart, his wings, beating, so still he can feel the house settling around him. His breath is its respiration, his heart beats in the floorboards, in the walls and in the rafters, his wings beat in the woodwork, while the sun and moon play tag across the sky.
This he remembers, this stillness pure as marble. His heart is hollow as a shell.
He has found a piece of silvered glass, which he turns over and over in his hands. His reflection is terrible to behold. He wanders the gardens, and flings his wingless body through the trees, agile as a cat. He wanders the sprawling silence of his house. Somehow the glass is shattered, it lies in pieces on the floor. Each piece contains the moon.
The moon is spilled from a silvered shard of glass, which he turns over and over in his hands. How tender is the flesh at his wrist, how tender and how pale. His blood is ichorous, hot and spilled in vain, for the angels come in the morning and wipe it all away.
The angels. He cannot see them, they flicker faint as light on water, too fine, too subtle for his eye. But he knows they are there. They fill his empty house with furnishings and rugs. They take up residence, tending to him, tending to his home, calling to each other in voices soft and insubstantial. He thinks they are singing. Praying for his soul.
They are good to him, his angels, but they do not stay long. They are fragile butterflies of light. He wearies them with the incessant beating of his heart, with his breath which stirs foul drafts throughout the house. He knows he is a thing of sin and darkness, but still he begs for them to stay.
Waiting, he keeps the rats at bay. Only the cockroaches do not fear him. He does not have the power of the angels to mend the glass, to stay the rotting of the wood, but he preserves the place as best he can, waiting for their return.
Hosts of angels rise and fall like breath. Many seasons pass this way, in cycles of privation and renewal. Each time they come, they stay a little longer, grow a little clearer. Each time they go, they are in memory distilled. As this image of perfection is by slow degrees revealed, it is impressed in pain upon his body. Hunger hollows out his cheeks and smoothes his skin. His hooves split and crack away. It is agony to walk on them, but with each transformation, each sacrifice, he becomes more like his angels.
How he longs for them, even standing in their midst. He begs them for a look, a word, a sign. With every fevered breath he prays them his devotion. Their response is long in coming, and there is no comfort in it when it does.
A sign, a vision, and angel, bound in cloth as white as a burial veil. Shrieking, it has raged against the walls, battered, it is dragged away, spitting blood and blasphemy. This one, this angel, mocking him. It fights with the panicked strength of suffocation. It thrashes until exhaustion leaves it crumpled on the floor. The demon buries his face in his hands, crushing out this vision with the heels of his palms.
This one, this angel who mocks his pain. He cannot say what discerns it from the rest. He is hiding from them now, watching from the tree-tops as they mill about the yard. Daily the angels walk in the garden, and daily he calls this one his eyes can set apart. From the height of the trees and the depth of his sorrow, he calls to it, he tries to coax it to him like a fawn. See how it lingers, how it tips its little head, leaning like a flower to the sun. As if it hears him. As if it even knows that he is there. But it comes no closer than the edges of the orchard, beyond this the courtship does not progress.
Comfortless is his exile, stricken weary in his heart he turns away. But there are footsteps in the orchard, the softest rustling of leaves. He knows the timid step of this angel, a step so light, as if it feared to bruise the grass beneath its feet. The demon looks and it is there, standing on the narrow path that winds between the trees. He peers through branches tangled, black from a night’s heavy rain. The angel’s face is framed in leaves and blossoms.
He looks but for a moment, then in terror flees.
So long has been his solitude, so dear and lonely has his penance been. That these eyes should meet his own is startling enough. But these were not the eyes of an angel, these were not the eyes of a fawn. These were the eyes of a woman, as corporeal as his own.
Outrage, blasphemy, horror. The demon seethes in anger and wounded disbelief. Somehow this creature has tricked them, cloaked itself in magicks and illusion, its form obscured in the aspect of an angel, all but for the earthly nature of its eyes.
Its eyes. Its beautiful eyes.
Her eyes, like honey and smoke. He is haunted by them, even in his sleep. He hides from her in the attic, where he has made his bed, but though he cannot see her, she will not let him rest. He can feel her footsteps on the stairs and on the floorboards. She sings wordless down the hallways, touching everything, fixing things or breaking them at whim. Her hands are everywhere inside his home, her slightest move sets currents running through the house.
Her witch’s voice lifts soft into the rafters. He knows he cannot suffer her to live.
He stalks her down the corridors, slipping through the shadows and the dark. At last he finds her alone. She is standing at a window, looking out into the night. Her breath forms steam upon the window-glass, steam which turns to teardrops at her touch. The night sky weeps beneath her fingers, she is drawing runes that whisper to the sky.
This he remembers, this sudden, unfamiliar pain. Her reflection is as pale as the moon.
The demon stands transfixed, so close behind her he can feel her weight upon the floorboards, the warmth and gentle rhythm of her breath. Her hair slips silken through his fingers as she turns, an angel bound in flesh and scent, in blood and ivory bone.
* * *
It is spring, and the wind is a scattering of blossoms. He teaches her to climb the trees, he shows her all the secret places angels do not go. She is with him in the rafters, in the tree-tops. He draws her up among the branches, and never once is she afraid that he will let her fall. It pains him to deceive her so, to hide the coarser nature of his soul. The demon is a thing of sin and darkness, of passions hot and tempers vile. She, his tender angel, does not understand such things, and he would not explain them if he could.
He bares his throat to her curious touch, light suspends in amber in her eyes. She does not see, she does not know, she does not understand. Were he stronger in his penitence, he would not let her come. His breath is foul upon her fingertips, yet he whispers to them, every syllable a kiss. He swears that he will never hurt her, never let her fall. Even as he speaks these words, he knows they are a lie.
And he dreams. He dreams of her and wakens tangled in his sheets. He knows that he was holding her, that she pressed against him trembling in the night. Her trust in him is boundless, her innocence absolute. An angel cast in mortal flesh, such a fragile, dangerous thing. He lies awake, staring up into the rafters, damning himself.
Dream turns to nightmare, demons from is past, and he wakes in terror, in sweat and crying out. There are hands on him, soft hands on his shoulder, so soft, the cheek that brushes his, and he clings to her, buries his face in her hair and pulls her tight. His fingers dig into her back, and he weeps in loss and horror at the visions slowly cooling in his mind. But she is there, she has heard him, or known through some supernatural sense. She is there, stroking the back of his neck, her touch so tentative, so soft, so soft.
His mouth finds hers in passion and in sorrow. Soon he must dismiss her. Or corrupt her. Either choice weighs heavy on his heart. He prays for guidance, prays for strength, but this decision, in the end, is not his to make.
Pretty child, dear and precious to his heart, she is led in heavenly procession to the light. They are wise, his angels, in removing her, before his influence becomes too strong to break. Into the light, the bright and cleansing sunlight, she is led. He watches from the shadows of the orchard. Coward that he is, he would let her go without a single word, even as he sees how this has hurt her, even as she turns her injured eyes to search the trees. She pauses, tips her head to listen, but still he does not call.
Unmannered is the hand that propels her, and in this harsher, truer light his angels do not seem as lovely as before. She flinches from their touch, breaks free of them as they persist. An then she runs, her shoes fly loose in the garden, the grasses part to the flashing white blades of her feet. Her attendants give chase but she is swift and slight as the wind.
She is standing on the narrow path that winds between the trees, breathless, shivering like a frightened deer. He tells her to go, whispers it, begs. One hand, one pretty hand, as dear and precious as a child’s, rises up to him and hovers waiting in the leaves.
They are calling for her, coming for her, to return her to the light. The demon draws her up among the branches. He hides her in his shadow as they pass.
Night is long in coming, and there is no comfort in it when it does. She lies in the long grasses, staring up at the moon. He paces, cursing his weakness, his angels, and himself.
It is too much to ask, they cannot have her, yet he knows he cannot keep her as his own. He will not suffer her pollution, he will not suffer that he put such stain upon her soul. It is flesh that binds her to him, flesh that tempts transgression, that wants and needs and sins. Should he unhouse her of this mortal flesh she would be free, of shadows and of him.
He kneels down beside her, but he does not pray. He is past all redemption, dying every moment as he looks at her. How soft is the arching of her slender throat, how softly it would yield to the pressure of his hands. Her eyes are grey by moonlight, grey as silvered glass.
A vision, an angel, bound in flesh as mortal as his own. Shrieking, she has raged against her captors, battered, she has sought the comfort of his arms. He would keep her from the shadows and the darkness, but this decision, in the end, is not his to make.
For her eyes hold his reflection, and in her eyes he sees himself made whole.
The night is cold, it gnaws at him in bitterness and spite. He is weary, eaten hollow from the inside, worn and beaten and cold. So cold. Insider her mouth it is warm and moist, summer in her kiss, her breath is life. Flesh seeking flesh in darkness, darkness intermingling with light.
His wings have burned away to fine white ash, but are not lost. They are suspended in the moonlight, in the rafters and the tree-tops. He hears them beating on the wind and through the grasses, and here, where he rests his head against her heart. Her breath is his respiration, her heat beats in the floorboards and the rafters, his wings beat in the woodwork, while the sun and moon play tag across the sky.
This is what he remembers.