“I think I’ve heard this one before,” the bartender says, eyeing him as he sits. “Although if you’ll forgive me for saying it, Father, you do look like you need a drink.”

He exhales a tired laugh and looks down at his collar; he had premarital counseling that went both late and poorly, and he lost a button on his other shirt, right in the middle. It’s probably not the best look for himself or the church, but he does need a drink. Desperately.

“What’ll it be?” the bartender asks. “Blowjob? Sex on the beach? Leg spreader? Angel’s—”

“Just Bourbon, please. I’m not picky.”

He’s not sure what reaction the bartender is hoping for, with the cocked head and the cheeky raised eyebrow/wry smile combination. He’s not even sure if they’re a young man or a woman, between the pretty, angular features, the short curls, and the androgynous tone of their voice. Maybe neither. He’s read things about that, here and there. Not that it matters. Not that it’s his place to judge their presentation, much less to presume their actions based on it.

The look he gets in return certainly is judging, but the bartender turns toward the back shelves without another word. His attention wanders while he waits. There are no familiar faces in the room, although that’s no real surprise. He wanted to get away from the church. Across town isn’t quite far enough, but he can’t even think about a vacation for months. Mid-May at the earliest, Lord willing.

At the edge of his vision, the light halos oddly. He turns just as the bartender sets down a tumbler, a large sphere of ice drifting through amber as the alcohol settles. The light is normal. Not even the flicker of a bulb.

He blinks, hard.

“Everything alright?”

“I um— Yes. Thank you.” He takes a sip, the bartender’s expression casually expectant, and exhales another sigh. His knowledge of distilleries isn’t refined enough to know what’s in his glass, but it’s good. Enough to take some of the edge off of the tension he hasn’t been able to escape recently.

The bartender nods.

Before they walk off, he asks, “How does yours go?”


“Tim. Please.” He may still be dressed like a priest — still is, indisputably, a priest — but he has a name. And being treated like a regular person for a little while might be nice. “A priest walks into a bar…?”

The bartender laughs, the sound of it achingly genuine. “I have a few, but I’m not sure you’ll like any of them.”

“Try me.”

Across the bar, the bartender licks their lips. “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar. The monk stops, looks at it, looks at the men on the floor, and ducks.”

Tim blinks at them. “That’s not the best one you’ve got.”

“Well, no,” the bartender says with another little smile. They walk off, down the length of the bar, checking on other patrons and refilling drinks.

When they finally make their way back to Tim, they pause for a moment, then say, “A priest, a preacher, and a rabbi walk into a bar. They start a friendly debate as to whose faith offers the best conversion process. To settle their argument, they agree to each go into the woods and try to convert a bear. A couple of weeks later, they come back to the bar.

The minister says, ’Well that was easy. I invited him to our potluck Bible study and he’s promised to come back every week.’

The priest says, ‘It was a little slow to start, but we were able to talk through a lot of things and now the bear is coming to Mass on Sundays.’

They both look to the rabbi, who’s looking a little worse for wear. He says, ‘’Well, I maybe shouldn’t have started with the circumcision.’”

Tim chokes on a laugh. He finishes his drink in a failed attempt to cover his reaction, the bartender’s eyes on him the entire time.

“Need another?”

He considers it for a moment. “Want another, yes. But I won’t. How much do I—”

“On the house. I insist.”

It feels wrong to accept the drink for free, so he slips a ten-dollar bill under the heavy bottom of his glass once the bartender’s back is turned.

Tim finds himself back at the bar a couple of weeks later. It’s a holiday, not of the church but of the American people. Black Friday. He wonders, against his better nature, how bad the line for the confession booth will be in the morning.

The same bartender is working, the same wry smile spreading across their face when he sits.

“A priest, a monk, and a rabbit walk into a bar,” they say as they make their way to his stool.

“The rabbit says, ‘I think I’m a typo,’” Tim replies, smiling. “Heard it before. Around the same time I lost a race to a sister back when I was in seminary. I was second to nun.”

The bartender laughs and shakes their head. “That was pretty terrible, and I’m not sure if you can use the whole dad joke excuse. Bourbon?”

“Please. You have a better one?”

They shrug, pouring the bourbon directly in front of him this time. It’s still early, the bar relatively empty. The quiet stretches for a second, then another.

“How bad do you want it?”

Despite the neutral way they ask, the question feels loaded. Even more so than the rattled-off list of sexual cocktails from last time.

Tim takes a slow sip. “Do your worst.”

They shrug again. “A liar, a tax evader, and a child rapist walk into a bar. The bartender looks at him and says, ‘What’ll it be, Father?’”

He tips his head in a pained concession and takes another sip.

“Why can’t priests travel at light speed?” the bartender continues, sounding slightly nervous now.

“Does this one also involve altar boys?”

“No, you freak, it’s because they have mass.”

With a breathed laugh, Tim says, “A bartender walks into a church, a temple, and a mosque. He has no idea how jokes work.”

The bartender laughs once more, shock and delight plain on their face. Tim smiles into his cup. He couldn’t say why, but it feels like a bigger victory than he’s experienced in ages.

“So, what has you drinking before five o’clock on a Friday? Do priests have Thanksgiving drama?”

“Some of them, probably. For me, it’s largely a regular day. We hold Mass, but it’s usually a smaller one. No evening planning, though, and we take today off to compensate for tomorrow and Sunday.”

“Is there like, a church Thanksgiving dinner or something? I apologize if I’m being invasive — I’m pretty sure you didn’t come here for the Spanish inquisition.”

Tim opens his mouth, then closes it, frowning. “Was that another terrible joke?”

The bartender smiles. “Sorry.”

“No. No church Thanksgiving. At least not for me. I spent it alone this year. My parents passed away several years ago, and my sister went to see her son. He’s a firefighter and couldn’t get the time off, so…” he trails off with a shrug.

“How old are you?” they ask, squinting at him. “No offense, but last time you came in, I thought you were young to be a priest, and you definitely seem too young to have a nephew who’s a firefighter.”

“My sister’s quite a bit older than I am. Her son is closer to my age. I wasn’t planned. At least, not by my parents. What about you? Did you have a good Thanksgiving?” He’s learned the safe questions, in his time with the church. Or the safer ones. The wording that allows people to avoid painful topics, or divulge if they need the support.

The bartender blows out a loud breath. “Um, yeah it was fine. Quiet, I guess. Like yours. My family’s huge, but they’re not— Going home isn’t really an option.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

He feels the need to reassure them, somehow. To offer comfort. But the door opens behind him, a new patron joining him several stools down the bar, and the window closes.

Sighing, Tim pulls out his phone. He checks his email, already dreading the number of meetings on his calendar for the coming week, then moves on to the news.

The space around Tim seems to darken, like a canopy has been pulled around him, then thin forearms appear in his periphery as the bartender leans against the counter and asks, “Why did the priest laugh while leading the prayer?”

Tim looks up, eyebrows raised. He thinks he’s heard this one, but he can’t remember the punchline.

“Mass hysteria,” the bartender says, expression serious.

“And you said my second-to-nun joke was bad?”

They break into a grin and nod.

“Hey, Rami, can I get another beer?” the guy at the other end of the bar calls, too loud for the empty space.

Strangely entranced, he watches as they stroll back down the bar, pausing in the middle to pour another cheap domestic before sliding it an impressive length to the man. When Rami returns and asks if he wants anything else, it takes Tim a second to force the no past his lips.

The next few weeks pass in a blur of meetings, sermons, and cough medicine. It must be that, combined with too little sleep, that has him seeing things out of the corner of his eye. It’s a more likely explanation than either of the alternatives: that there is some strange figure watching him, or that he’s suffering from some sort of sudden mental break.

In the time it takes the next person to enter the confession booth, he feels himself lurching toward sleep. He wants to see how long the line is, to see how many rounds he has left before he can maybe slip away, but he resists the urge.

“Forgive me, Father. I haven’t ever done this before.”

He’s handled first confessions before, usually for children, but this time, the voice sounds oddly familiar. Tim pushes the thought away. Even if it is, he doesn’t need to place it. Knowing who helps no one.

He clears his throat. “What is important is that you have arrived for the sacrament of penance. I can offer some common sins for direction if needed, but your conscience is the best guide for confession.”

A sigh carries through the divider. “My nature calls me to lead a man into temptation. To test the lengths of his devotion to my father.”

Frowning at the odd start, Tim replies, “We all have things within ourselves that we must struggle to overcome. It is not these struggles that define us, but our commitment to God and resisting these urges. This temptation that you speak of is not only something that draws you further from God’s light. To test the faith of another puts them in jeopardy as well.”

The stranger laughs, sharp and humorless. “You misunderstand me, Father. My place in Heaven is not a subject for negotiation. This man, however… It has been many years since I have experienced this doubt. This guilt, over what I must do.”

“And this man, is he strong with God?”

There’s another soft huff. “His faith is as your own.”

He’s too tired for this. Exhaling a silent sigh, Tim replies, “Then perhaps your guilt is a sign. Instead of being called to tempt him away from his faith, as you say, God is illuminating the path back to his love more clearly for you.”

Through the divider, light flares, accompanied by the beating of wings on the air. Tim swallows, the sweet tang of Bourbon burning across the back of his throat. He shouldn’t drink when he’s sick. Shouldn’t be thinking about that when he’s supposed to be providing reconciliation, but he thinks it might be exactly what he needs.

“Is there anything else to which you would like to confess? Other sins you have committed?”

“All of them, I think.”

“All of them?” Tim echoes uncertainly.

“Well, at some point. Definitely all of the big seven, although I’d argue the severity is a tad subjective.”

“And tell me,” he says, voice rough, “have you completed any of the sacraments of initiation? You say you have never performed confession, but have you been baptized in the Catholic church?”

“No,” the voice replies, oddly distant and cold. Otherworldly.

Tim glances down at his watch and utters a silent prayer that this is the last one. He is clearly unwell, and while he wouldn’t put his desire to crawl into his bed above the needs of his parishioners, he does very much need rest.

“Then I cannot offer absolution, unfortunately, but I will counsel you to reconsider this calling you say you feel. I am not available for additional guidance outside of confessional today, but perhaps if you would like to schedule another time to return to the church, we could talk more?”

“This role reversal is certainly something,” the voice says. “Normally it’s people coming to my place of work to talk about their problems. I think I prefer that, truth be told.”

Before he can figure out how to respond to that, the door to the booth opens and shuts, the same odd flash of light and rush of feathers accompanying it. The door doesn’t open again. Tim waits five minutes, ten, and exits his side of the booth.

He barely makes it to the rectory, stripping down to his t-shirt and underwear before collapsing onto the bed. He cocoons himself in the thick blanket and dreams it is wings that surround him.

When he wakes, Tim is surprised to find he’s alone.

Blinking against the darkness, he tries to remember why. The dream slips away quickly, leaving him with the briefest of flashes: fingers and feathers trailing over his skin, lips and tongue against his own, a strangely familiar laugh, an incomparable heat-

“Heavenly father, please forgive me,” he breathes.

“Pardon my French, Father, but you look like shit.”

Tim blinks at Rami tiredly as he slumps into the barstool. On a delay, he says, “Another Bourbon, as your penance.”

“I’m not normally one for turning away paying customers, but seriously, are you sure you shouldn’t be in a doctor’s office? Or at least in bed?”

“I’m fine,” he lies. “December is a bit of a long month, as you can imagine. Just have to make it through the first week or so of January, then things go back to normal. Don’t worry, I’ll be ok. I’d be better if I could get a drink, though.”

Frowning, Rami places a glass on the bar. “You need to rest.”

“I think this is where I’m normally supposed to explain that God won’t give me challenges I can’t overcome, but I’m pretty sure that kind of thing is what birthed the whole genre of priest walked into a bar jokes.”

Rami breathes a laugh, dark curls bouncing as they shake their head. “What do you call a priest who’s passed the bar?”

He accepts the glass as it’s pushed into his hand, shrugging as he takes a sip.

“A Father-in-law.”

Tim laughs, smothering the cough that follows. He barely gets the thank you past his lips before Rami walks away to attend to other customers. His focus drifts, then. Occasionally, he’s drawn to the present by the ordinary — a rush of cold air at his back as the door opens, or a familiar laugh down the bar — but just as often, it’s something strange that catches his attention. Odd behavior of the light that can’t be explained by the bulbs overhead, the sound of wings on the air. Once, he even thinks he sees… whatever strange figure he’s been imagining over the past week or two, out of the corner of his eye, but when he looks up, it’s only the bartender watching him curiously.

“Christmas plans?” Tim asks, hoping conversation might help draw him away from whatever is happening to him.

Rami’s head shakes slightly. “Not really. What about you, though? Busy time for priests, right? Important service?”

Tim nods and swallows.

“You could even call it a critical Mass?” Rami adds, eyes crinkling at the corners with a grin.

“Terrible. But yes. Including the added bonus of Midnight Mass. I hope my voice holds.”

“The Almighty willing?” Rami replies, somewhere between teasing and a question.

He nods again.

“Do you ever think he might be setting you up to fail? Giving you tests he knows you can’t pass?”

It’s the first time Rami has done more than joke about his career, his faith — always good-naturedly, and at Tim’s encouragement, but still — and the change throws him, as does the weight Rami seems to place on his response.

That doesn’t change his answer, however. “No.”

Rami exhales a disbelieving laugh. “No? Not ever? You don’t even question it?”

“Sometimes I examine my circumstances to see what I might learn from them, or how they might help me to grow as a person and in my faith to better serve others, but do I question God’s intentions? No.” Everyone else’s, sure, Tim thinks. After all, there are countless moving pieces in the world.

The frown on Rami’s face is disapproving.

“I take it you’re not a believer?”

Their laugh is sharp, humorless. For some reason, the next breath Tim takes smells of familiar incense and dust, much like the nave. The most clearly he’s smelled anything in days, and it’s not even real. Maybe Rami is right and he should go see a doctor.

“No, I believe, alright,” Rami says after a moment. “I just think you and I might have some different notions about the heavenly father.”

Tim hums an acknowledgment and takes a sip of his Bourbon. It doesn’t taste the same. A different bottle, maybe, or another side effect of his cold. He leans back in his seat, considering.

“So you believe in Him, but you think He doesn’t deserve your faith?”

“Something like that. Guess it’s a good thing you don’t question him. He doesn’t handle it well.”

“You’re referring to the fall of Lucifer?”

Rami scoffs. “Sure. The only one that matters, when it comes to divine fury.”

The bitterness in Rami’s tone is shocking; Tim isn’t sure if he wants to apologize or press, and see if he can find the source of whatever festering is causing it.

“If you’ll excuse me, Father, I probably should go do my job and leave you to your drink.”

He watches, confused, as Rami stalks away to the far opposite end of the bar.

“What’d you say to him?” a guy asks from a couple of stools down.

Tim sighs and shrugs.

The guy scowls at him, then mutters, “Now I’ll never get another beer.”

He waits, taking his time with his drink, but another bartender joins Rami behind the bar before Rami ever comes anywhere near Tim’s stool again. The two of them are in constant motion, easily dancing around each other as they pour drinks. Eventually, it gets late enough that he knows he’s going to regret more than one decision in the morning.

“Excuse me,” he calls when the other bartender passes by again.

She stops in front of him, her smile bright but fake. “I am so sorry! I thought you were one of Rami’s regulars. What can I get you?”

“Just my bill, please.”

“Sure thing. Just a second.”

A couple of moments later, she passes him his check, another bright, empty smile plastered across her face.

Tim pulls out his wallet, debating for a moment as he stares at the contents. He tucks a bill under the receipt paper, then fishes a pen out of his coat. On the back of one of his business cards, he writes:

If you want to talk.


It’s his job — his calling — he tells himself, to be an ear and a spiritual guide for those who need it. And clearly, Rami is struggling with something. That’s the only reason he leaves it. Not because he doesn’t like that Rami is angry with him, or that he wants to see him again.

As Tim tugs on his coat, he looks around for Rami one last time, but the bartender is nowhere to be found. With another sigh, he pushes the card under the cash, a part of him hoping that in doing so, Rami might actually see it. Then, he turns and leaves. It’s the last time he’ll come in here, he tells himself. Not a habit he should form.

Outside, the air is bitingly cold. The street is silent, falling snow blanketing the sidewalk. He takes a few steps down the sidewalk, pausing to stare at the parked cars in an attempt to locate his. Just as he presses the unlock button on the remote, light flares from the narrow alley behind him. He turns toward it, nearly losing his footing in his haste, but finds only steam curling up from a manhole cover.

That night, his dreams are the vivid, nonsensical sort that accompany cold medicine. Strange beings with too many hands, too many eyes. Familiar faces, people he knows, but wrong, somehow. They all speak, often so many of them at once that he cannot understand them even in the dream. Then all at once, they point toward the sky — a sharp, blazing stone streaks across the night toward a statue, the figure exploding into shards when it’s struck. The fragments burn as they fall to the earth, igniting everything they touch.

Their screams jar Tim awake, his skin clammy with sweat and his own throat raw, as if all of their cries had emanated from his lips.

On the morning of December 24th, Tim steps into the church office to find two men waiting for him outside of his office, and Linda, the nun who serves as the office manager, is nowhere to be seen.

“Good mor—” Tim coughs into his elbow, his lungs rebelling against the first words he’s spoken that day, then clears his throat. “I’m so sorry. Good morning gentlemen. I hope you haven’t been waiting long. How can I help you?”

“Well actually,” the elder of the two says as he stands, “we’re here to help you, brother.”

Tim looks between them.

His confusion must be evident because the younger of the two, perhaps half the age of his companion, stands as well and says, “The bishop sent us. Did he not tell you? He received a call that you were ill and might need assistance.”

“Oh. Well as you can see—” It’s all he gets out before another coughing fit overtakes him, his lungs seizing in his chest.

“As I can see,” the elder says, guiding Tim down into the chair he so recently vacated, “whoever made the call was correct. You do need help. Fortunately for you, brother, my background is not just theological.”

Tim frowns. Now that he’s sitting, his breathing has steadied somewhat, but it does nothing for his focus.

“Brother Aaron’s a nurse,” the young man explains. “He also makes really good spaghetti.”

The elderly priest touches Tim’s forehead with the back of a hand, then presses two cold fingertips to the vein in his throat. “And our young Brother Edwin has quite the lovely voice. How long have you been ill?”

“Um. I dunno, a week or two. It’s just a cold, I think. I’ll be fine. I mean, I appreciate the help, but I think you two are gonna be bored. I’m sure there’s another parish that needs the help more—”

It’s clear that neither of them is convinced as they watch him cough with matching expressions of concern. Worse still, Linda chooses that moment to reappear, a tray balanced against her hip.

“Oh good. I was worried he might try to convince you that it was nothing,” she says.

“You called the bishop?” Tim asks. He thought he’d been managing things better than that — that he was better than that.

“No. I’d assumed you had. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t expect you to try to talk yourself back out of it. I know what you’re like, Timothy O’Connell.”

He breathes a laugh and lets his eyes close, answering the friar — because he is a friar, Tim realizes once the man sheds his coat — between bouts of coughing.

“Well, I do not think you are going to die,” he says. “But the body and spirit require rest to recover. You should know that by now. With your permission, Father O’Connell, we will stay and assist you. That is, assuming you will not rest and let us tend to your laity for a few days in your stead?”

He opens his eyes, smiling even though he feels like death. “You assume correctly. Linda, do you have—”

“Schedules for the next two days? Confession begins in a little over an hour. Here’s a list of things that still need to be done,” she says, passing papers to the two men and a mug to Tim.

“This isn’t coffee.”

“No, it’s tea. And you can either go back to bed until later or to your office where I can keep an eye on you. These two look like they can handle things.”

Tim frowns at the nun, her stern expression as familiar as the genuine care behind it. He also knows his chances of beating her in any battle of will is near zero; she’s outlasted more than one priest in her time at the church, and he doesn’t consider himself any more infallible than the others.

With a sigh, he retreats to his office. He makes it until lunchtime, assisted by cough syrup and a seemingly endless pot of tea that Linda sets on the edge of his desk, but then he has to admit defeat. Standing saps the rest of the energy from his body.

“Going somewhere?” Linda calls from her desk in the main office.

“To check on Aaron and Edwin—”

“No, you’re not.”

“I need to—”

“Rest. You’re right. That is the responsible thing to do since you have capable hands to help you.”

Tim huffs a laugh. It turns into a cough, although this time it doesn’t quite rattle his bones like before.

“Are you in that big of a hurry to meet the Lord face to face?” Linda asks him, her expression somber.

“No. Of course not. But I have a responsibility to this place. To these people.”

“So do I,” she says, not unkindly, “but no one ever said we had to shoulder it alone.”

Unable to argue with that, Tim pulls his coat on and makes his retreat. He’s barely out the door before a particularly harsh gust of wind hits him. Choking back a cough that he knows will only draw more of the freezing air into his lungs, he fights a few more steps across toward the small house behind the church. It’s a route he’s walked countless times, at all hours of the day and night and in all weather.

Just a few more steps, and—

Tim wakes up in his bed. His throat is dry and his body aches in a dull, almost hungry way he can’t quite pinpoint, but otherwise, he feels fine. Which is… odd.

Almost as odd as the sensation of being watched.

He only has a moment to think about it before he sees the time on the old analog clock beside his bed — only an hour before people will start arriving for the last Mass Christmas Eve, which means he has already missed confession and both of the evening services.

As he throws back the covers, Tim realizes that he has been stripped to his underclothes. Searching his memory for some sign that he did it himself, he finds nothing. He remembers preparing to leave the church, but it is as if his mind has been wiped clean from the moment he opened the door.

Pulling on a clean pair of pants, he steps out of his bedroom and it happens again, although this time the cause is far more identifiable; standing across his living room, equally dumbstruck, is Aaron. Snow clings to the friar’s robes and in his hair.

He says, “You’re up.”

“I am,” Tim replies. “And feeling much better.”

“Incredible. Thanks be to St. Raphael and to God.” Aaron’s expression remains, incredulous, however.

“I’m so sorry for leaving you two to handle the Mass alone. And twice, at that.”

“Father O— Tim, please sit down.”

“I really am fine. As you said, thanks be to—” The hair on the back of his neck stands on end, suddenly and inexplicably. He looks to the door to confirm it’s closed, then to the crucifix hanging above it, and takes a slow, measured breath. “—God. Would you like some coffee?”

“No, thank you.”

He nods and makes his way into the little kitchen. The appliances are dated, but the coffee maker he supplied himself. A fresh mug is in his hands moments later as a result, and he returns to the living room. Aaron is still there, still troubled.

“Is something else wrong?” Tim asks, hesitating at the door to his bedroom.

“Are you sure you are feeling well enough to lead Mass tonight?”

“Yes, of course. Thank you, Aaron. I should’ve said that earlier. It seems like you were right, and I really did just need some rest. I didn’t realize how much of a toll the past couple of weeks had taken, I guess.”

“Well, then perhaps it will take some of the load off of your shoulders to know that, with the exception of your collapse, things have gone well today. You have quite the dedicated laity. How has the bishop not sent you additional help?”

Tim shrugs, sipping his coffee. “He says the help simply isn’t available. That I am welcome to try to source extra hands myself, but I don’t have the time or energy for that. Linda and I get by, and like you said — we have a good community. People help out. We don’t offer some of the services other parishes do. No daycare, shelter, or soup kitchen. But the community support that has emerged in the absence of those programs is genuine, and it is impressive.”

He smiles at the thought, having forgotten how many truly good, caring people attend his church week after week in the midst of his personal struggles. They may have their faults, but ultimately their intentions are good, Tim knows. If nothing else, he has a responsibility to show up for them just as they do for him.

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to finish getting ready.”

The friar looks at him in silence for a moment, then nods. “We will wait for you in the sacristy.”

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them—” In the corner of his vision, there’s that same strange flare of light. Tim’s gaze is drawn to the source, where he finds familiar, tousled black curls. His breath catches. For a second, he worries he’s going to start coughing again. He redirects his eyes to a distant point in the room, clears his throat, and continues, “And the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

As he recites the words he knows so well, Tim fights a strange shiver. Across the back wall, the shadow of wings stretches, distorted by the angle and the light. He risks letting his focus drift back toward its apparent source — Rami’s seat — as he continues, his lips reciting words he knows well.

“Do not be afraid.” The words seem to drift on the air, spoken by a tongue not his own. “For see, I am bringing you good news of great joy—”

Tim is only released from his strange, terrifying fugue as he says, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

The rest of Mass passes in a blur. He’s grateful for whatever autopilot allows him to go through the motions, and even more grateful when it’s over, as much as he hates that truth.

Two brief raps on the door to the sacristy make him pause. Aaron and Edwin are still out, conversing with the laity, but he doubts either of them would knock.

“Who’s there?” he calls, returning the hanger to the rod of vestments.

“Mary,” a voice replies from the other side of the door.

His eyes narrow, the voice familiar, but definitely not either Mary he knows. “Mary who?” he asks as he opens the door.

“Merry Christm—” Rami’s eyes drag over him, the pleased look on his face shifting, “—ass.”

“That one was pretty bad.” Tim can’t help but smile, though, the return to their pattern comforting.

“The exorcising one is worse, although now I can’t help but wonder if there might be something to it. You sound like you’re feeling better.”

“I am, thank you. And you look, um—” He swallows, his cheeks heating noticeably when Rami cocks his head. “Well.”

“I clean up nicely when I’m not at work, don’t I?”

Tim opens his mouth to reply, not even sure of what he intends to say, and realizes that he’s having a conversation standing in the doorway of the sacristy. He glances down to make sure that he’s at least decent for public exposure and exhales a relieved sigh when he confirms that he’s still in his clericals and hasn’t stripped to an undershirt.

“I was actually wondering if I might be able to get you out of the dog collar.”

Both of his eyebrows lift at Rami’s words. While he isn’t the first to ask if Tim ever wears anything else — and while that would be a fair question, given that he’s been dressed for his station every time he’s seen the bartender thus far — it does come as a surprise. “I’m sorry?”

Rami’s smile is a wicked, dangerous thing. The sort Tim has seen often enough, directed at other people. His eyes are glued to the shape of it. The motion of it when Rami licks his lips and says, “Well, I was wondering if you could be tempted to have a drink with me when I’m not the one pouring it.”

Reflexively, Tim checks his watch. “You do realize what time it is?”

“I do.”

“On Christmas Eve. And I have to be back here to do this all over again at dawn.”

Almost in slow motion, Rami’s expression shutters. “Right. Of course. Because tomorrow is Christmas, and you’re a priest. I apologize, Father O’Connell. It’s also sort of my birthday, and so I wasn’t thinking, and—”

“Rami,” he interjects, against his better judgment.

“Obviously that’s not what you meant with the card, I am sorry. Really.” Rami takes a step back.

Nearby, a few people seem to have finally noticed that their priest is once again among them, and arguing with a stranger.

Tim takes a breath and schools his expression into something neutral. He says, “I need to make at least a brief appearance here since I was absent earlier, and I’ll need to change. But then I could have one drink. Do you know where the back door is?”

The smirk returns to Rami’s face.

“Not— to the church.”

“No, but I’m sure I can find it while you’re mingling.”

He nods. “I’ll try to be quick.”

There’s a drink in his hand. Not his first, but the first somehow was a shot and now he’s laughing, shoulder to shoulder with Rami at a crowded bar he’s never been to, and feeling more human than he has in years.

He’s glad he changed, because although he doesn’t think this is technically a gay bar and while he isn’t among the majority of the priesthood that maintains a hard stance against homosexuality, the collar would certainly get him noticed in a way he doesn’t want. It would be his undoing. That he’s here at all is dangerous enough, and there’s only so much he can attempt to justify.

Tim almost prays that no one he knows will come in here, but catches himself. He doesn’t want anyone else to notice his presence here.

The bar is lit almost entirely by flashing lights, the erratic shift between too-bright and shadows turning the people around him into something strange. It’s most noticeable, of course, in the person closest to him. In the corner of his eye, Rami somehow seems both shorter than he is, like normal, and taller. Human and jarringly comfortable in his familiarity, and… something else.

To distract himself, Tim takes a sip of the strong, fruity cocktail Rami pressed into his hand after their shot.

“What is this?” he asks, turning so his lips are almost pressed to Rami’s ear in order to be heard over the music and noise surrounding them.

“Holy water,” Rami replies with another bright laugh. With a nod to the burly bartender who made it for them, he adds, “It’s Azza’s specialty. You like it?”

“Not exactly my usual.”

“That’s not a no.”

“It’s not,” Tim agrees with a laugh of his own.

Too soon, his glass is empty. He checks his watch and his heart skips a beat.

With a rueful smile, Rami says, “My time’s up, isn’t it?”

“Yours doesn’t have to be, but unfortunately mine is. I’m happy to cover your ride home if you’d like to stay,” he offers.

Rami shakes his head. “I’ll come with you. I already got you for longer than I expected.”

For once, Tim is allowed to pay. The walk back to his car is quiet but comfortable — a welcome change from the volume of the bar.

They’re nearing the church when Rami laughs suddenly.


“Nothing. It’s um— I just remembered another joke.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Not one of the good ones.”

“Well now I really need to know,” Tim says, glancing over at Rami’s profile in the red glow of the stoplight.

He shifts in the passenger seat to look at Tim directly, his eyes almost black beneath his long lashes. “The light’s about to turn.”

“Ok?” Tim replies, confused. “Can’t tell me while the car is moving?”

“Fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Why are Catholic priests called father?” Rami asks.

The light turns green. Tim clears the intersection, trying to recall if he’s heard this one before. He hasn’t, he doesn’t think.


“Because calling them daddy is inappropriate.”

He chokes on air. Fortunately, his lungs don’t revert to their earlier state of fragility, but even once he manages a full breath, Tim’s heart continues hammering frantically in his chest. The joke itself isn’t that bad — certainly not the worst Rami has told him — but the way he says it, the way that one word sounds in Rami’s mouth, strikes him to his core.

It ignites the strange ache Tim has felt all day, burning away any plausible deniability he might’ve had about what it truly is: want.

“Sorry, sorry, um— like I said, inappropriate. I apologize, really.”

Tim takes a measured breath. “I think I’ll need way more liquor to burn the image of anyone calling the Pope ‘daddy’ out of my mind. Or worse—”

“Oh no. Don’t say it.”

“At least you hate it as much as I do,” he says with a laugh.

“I literally don’t know if there’s enough alcohol on Earth,” Rami replies.

Humming an acknowledgment, Tim pulls into the little driveway next to the rectory. “Well, you could always go back out.”

“Right.” The passenger door opens abruptly, and Rami gets out.

He recognizes the edge in Rami’s tone — the same one that preceded their last parting. The same one he doesn’t want to hear again, for all that it’s not supposed to matter. Tim rushes to get out of the car before Rami can disappear on him, slipping on the wet snow in his haste.

“Are you alright?” Rami asks, coming around the front of the car.

“Yeah, I just…” He shouldn’t say it. He’s toeing a line, he knows, and propriety isn’t anywhere near the biggest point. Tim swallows. “I was worried I’d said something to upset you again, and I didn’t want you to leave before I could apologize.”

Rami takes a couple of silent steps closer, head cocked. “I see.”

He swallows again, his throat impossibly dry. “I’m sorry if I did. It’s been a while since I’ve spent time around anyone outside of the church who wasn’t family. The whole not supposed to form personal attachments thing kind of—”

“I’ve seen Star Wars. I know how that works out. But no, I can take a hint without taking it personally. I know you have to be up in a few hours, and I appreciate you spending your precious sleeping time with me.”

And of course, Rami is right. He needs to go to bed, even accounting for his unplanned nap earlier. In fact, that’s the only way this can acceptably go.

But instead, what he says is, “You know, I’ll probably have more weird nightmares if I go to sleep right away. The whole thing with the joke, and… I think I might have a bottle or two in a cabinet somewhere if you wanted to join me.”

They’re close enough that he can see the glint in Rami’s eye, one dark eyebrow arching. “And what would your flock say, if they knew their good shepherd was inviting the wolf in.”

“I don’t see why they should have anything to say at all. It is my calling, after all, to make myself available to all those needing guidance, day or night. Who knows what kind of trouble you might get into if I sent you out into the night.”

Rami’s gaze burns holes into his back as he follows Tim inside. The moment the door shuts, however, his attention is lost. Tim tries not to take it personally, watching out of the corner of his eye as Rami stalks his bookshelves. He pulls off his coat, hanging it on the rack near the door, then turns into the little kitchen.

“Come see if any of this is up to your standards,” he calls as he retrieves two glasses from the cabinet.

The old wooden floors creak under Rami’s feet. There’s something oddly pleasing about the sound of it, especially when they fall abruptly silent just before Rami says, “You might have a bottle somewhere?”

Tim breathes a laugh as he turns. “Apparently, alcohol is a common gift for priests.”

“Why bother with the bars at all if you’ve got all this?” Rami asks, suddenly too close. He plucks a bottle from the crowded shelf and passes it to Tim.

He shrugs, considering his answer as he pours. “Nice to get out sometimes, I guess. And drinking at home, alone, isn’t exactly a habit I’d like to get into.”

A glass in each hand, he nods toward the living room, pointedly not watching the fluid motion of Rami’s body as he walks. He sets both glasses on the coffee table, then turns toward the fireplace. For the first time, he wishes it was still wood-burning; then he’d have more of a distraction, at least.

“Old house,” he says in response to Rami’s questioning look. “My predecessor had it converted. He was a little loose with the church’s money. They removed him for it, but let me keep the fireplace. Cheaper than fixing the heat, I guess.”

“Right. I forgot the church was hurting for money.”

With a humorless laugh, Tim settles into the opposite corner of the couch. He swallows the question he wants to ask, chasing it with a mouthful of Scotch that tastes like smoke on his tongue. The why doesn’t matter — not why him, not why Rami is spending his birthday with a priest when he so clearly holds both the church and God himself in such low regard. It isn’t worth forcing the topic and pushing Rami further away. Tim is certain of that much.

The silence that settles between them is comfortable. Tim can’t think of the last time he did something like this. It’s been years, he knows.

He’s about to say as much when Rami says, “Can I ask you something?”

Tim crosses an ankle over his knee so he can turn towards the man at the other end of the worn couch.

“How did someone like you end up here?”

Another startled laugh slips out of his throat. “Someone like me?”

“You know what I mean.” Rami rolls his eyes.

“I don’t, actually. Do you mean because I’m not old or because I can set foot inside a bar without making an ass out of myself?”

“Well, yeah,” Rami laughs. “You’re too nuanced. I mean, I don’t think I’ve met many priests in my time on Earth who would go have a drink with me.”

Tim takes another sip, watching Rami’s face over the rim of his glass. “That’s the second time you’ve said something like that tonight. Is there something about you I’m missing? I’m afraid I’m not holding confession again until Monday, but if there’s something you’d like to get out in the open…?”

“See? Exactly my point,” Rami replies. He shakes his head, expression amused, then tosses back the last of his drink. “You never regret it? Don’t worry there are things you might be missing?”

He clears his throat, forcing his gaze to the fireplace. They’re too far from the flames for him to be able to explain the reddening of his cheeks, but maybe he can blame the alcohol. It’s certainly what he’s going to attribute the heat that licks up his spine to, rather than the soft curve of Rami’s mouth or the sudden question of what it’d taste like under the Scotch.

“Like what?” he asks, voice rough as the last bit of borrowed time his glass can offer burns down his throat.

Tim doesn’t remember moving, but the cushion’s width of buffer space between them is gone when Rami licks his lips and says, “I always have been better at showing than telling.”

If asked, Tim could answer almost exactly how long it’s been since he did anything like this, but the last time can’t begin to compare to now. Rami tastes like peat and honey, and the warmth from the fireplace is a distant candle against the blaze of his hands on Tim’s skin. A knee knocks against his hip as Rami tries to free his leg, but then he hooks a heel into Tim’s thigh to pull him closer.

There’s a faint clink of metal that he registers on a delay, the realization of its source dawning with sparks as Rami’s fingers wrap around him. Tim gasps, his hips bucking into the contact despite the protestations of his conscience.

“Wait,” he groans, one of his own hands at home in Rami’s ink-black curls.

A challenging stare replaces the brief flicker of rejection on Rami’s face. This is where he needs to say no. He made a vow, and he’s already crossed the line. Beneath him, the glow of the fire has turned Rami into a work of art, cast in gold with his pupils blown wide.

More than he ever has in his life, Tim longs to give in, here and now. He sits up, his hand dragging over the planes of Rami’s chest through his shirt, and takes a much-needed breath.

“That can’t be comfortable,” he says, with a nod toward the arm of the couch, imagining the way it must dig into Rami’s shoulder blades.

Rami’s throat bobs as he swallows. “I was going to try to ignore how much I dislike being on my back, but since you’re offering…”

He stands, impossibly graceful, and tugs his shirt over his head. It musses his curls even worse than Tim’s fingers had, but somehow only adds to the appeal, aided as it is by lean muscle and bronze skin. With a victorious laugh, Rami ducks to kiss him before retreating again to untie his boots.

That spurs Tim into action again, his fingers fumbling at his buttons until he forces his gaze away from Rami long enough to get his shirt off. His pants are an easier matter since Rami already did him the favor of freeing him from the oppressive confines of belt and zipper.

“Well now I think there might be something to that joke,” Rami mutters, drawing Tim’s eyes up to him.

“What?” Every thought in his head is extinguished at once as he drinks in the sight of Rami’s naked body. To call him divine feels like blasphemy, but vows or no, Tim is only a man and it feels equally inaccurate to place himself in the same category as something so indisputably perfect.

“How do priests stay in shape?” Rami asks, planting a knee beside Tim’s hip.

Dumbstruck, Tim blinks up at him, marveling at the way the light forms a halo at the edge of Rami’s curls.

Rami’s other knee brushes skin as he straddles Tim’s lap. Against his lips, he says, “Lots of exorcising,” his laughter turning the kiss messy in the best way.

There’s nothing on Earth that could compare to the feeling as Rami sinks down onto him, and there’s nothing in Heaven or Hell, apparently, sufficient to change how badly Tim wants it. He breathes Rami’s name like a prayer, palms spreading over his back like it might be enough to keep him grounded. Tim’s fingertips meet the rough, raised edge of scar tissue between one shoulder and Rami’s spine. He lets his hand drop, the other rising in an attempt to maintain some balance without lingering on an old wound, but he meets the same thing on the other side. Not wanting to give the impression that he’s somehow turned off by it, Tim lets his hand spread fully across the ruined skin.

To his surprise, Rami lets out a whine at the touch and grinds down on his cock. Tim tilts his head up, eyes opening in search of Rami’s mouth. Instead, he finds-


Rami moans a breathy, “Hm?” and glances toward the place where Tim’s thumb rests against the edge of one scar. Then, he seems to notice the shadows obscuring the full length of the couch because he says, “Oh. Fuck.”

As if he’s never heard the word before — certainly never when the person saying was spread open on his cock — Tim shivers and pushes further into Rami’s body in some strange, desperate reflex. It seems to distract Rami, though, both of his hands moving to cup Tim’s jaw as he delivers the kiss Tim sought moments earlier. That’s all it takes to force the issue from Tim’s mind as well. Vows or no, he’s only a man.

It doesn’t take long for Tim to come, burying himself in Rami in every way he can — fingers in his hair, face tucked against his throat, cock pulsing deep inside the dizzying clench of Rami’s body. Fortunately, he’s not the only one, and when he sinks into the couch cushions after, Rami allows himself to be dragged down as well, making himself comfortable stretched along Tim’s side. The shadows are gone now. Tim is fairly confident he didn’t imagine them, just like he’s increasingly certain he hasn’t been hallucinating the strange flares of light or the way Rami seems to change when Tim catches sight of him out of the corner of his eye.

But he also can’t just ask. At least, not directly.

“You know, I don’t think you ever said which one this was.”


“Which birthday.”

Beside him, Rami goes impossibly still.

“It can’t be thirty,” Tim continues, barely containing a hysterical laugh at the thought. That’s what he would have guessed before, give or take. Arguably a little too young for him, if he was off on the take end, but now he’s sure that was as wrong as he’s ever been.

“No,” Rami agrees with a huffed laugh. “Nice of you to say so, though.”

The easy joke bleeds some of the tension from the moment. Almost makes him forget that no part of this is normal, even, as he exhales a laugh of his own into soft, jet-black curls where Rami’s head rests on his shoulder. His knuckles brush the edge of a scar again, prompting him to spread his fingers across it once more. It’s warmer than the rest of Rami’s skin, if just barely; he wants to look, but that also feels wrong. Like some great trespass, despite their shared nakedness.

Rami sucks in a harsh breath, shivering at the touch.

“Sorry. Does it—”

“Hurt? Not… exactly. Not anymore. It’s more like what you’d call phantom limb, I think.”

Frowning, Tim moves his hand.

“You don’t have to,” Rami says quietly. “It’s not bad. And it was um— It was a long time ago, y’know.”

This time, a strangled, slightly panicked noise does claw its way out of Tim’s throat. “Are two thousand years long enough to get over something like that?” he asks.

“Hey! It’s only one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-three, thank you very much.”

“Only. Is today really your birthday?”

Rami shrugs. “Exact date’s a little bit fuzzy, all things considered. More like that thing people do with shelter pets where they just pick a day, except in this case we all sort of picked the one that’d piss him off the most. He hates sharing, believe it or not. Must be an only child thing.”

Another high-pitched laugh slips out, and Tim worries his mind might not be able to handle this. That maybe things were better before, when he believed, almost infallibly, most of the time, and the rest of the time was fine not knowing.

But then Rami says, “Sorry,” and presses a kiss to his chest.

“I feel like I should be the one apologizing. I’m the one asking questions and then handling the answers poorly.”

“If it’s any consolation,” Rami says, folding his arms across Tim’s chest and then shifting to rest his chin on them, “you’re hardly in the minority there. I mean look at everything.”

He thinks of Moses and Abraham, Daniel and John. “I’m not going insane.”

“Who’s to say?” Rami laughs, another silent puff of breath, then says, “No, probably not. Although now I’m curious why you thought so.”

“I keep having… dreams. Seeing things that I’m not sure are really there.”

“Well, I can tell you that everyone who’s experienced that had one thing in common,” Rami says.

“What’s that?” Tim asks, hoping the answer might settle the roiling anxiety that’s been building in him since it began.

“They all died.” Rami laughs, takes one look at whatever Tim’s face does in response, and laughs even harder. He straddles Tim’s hips again so he’s lying fully on top of him and kisses his chin, his jaw, his mouth. Still giggling softly, he says, “I’m sorry. That I’m terrible isn’t exactly some great secret, though. After all, I wasn’t cast out because I won too many Angel of the Year awards.”

Somehow, hearing Rami say the words aloud makes it all impossibly real.

“So what does that make you now, some sort of—”

“If you say demon, I can’t be held accountable for what I might do, Tim.”

“I was actually going to say Nephilim.”

Rami hums, the sound of it amused. “Closer, but no.”

“Grigori?” Tim asks after another few moments spent racking his brain.

“Grigori,” Rami huffs. “I am the same thing I was before he cast me out and burned off my wings. Ramiel Iyrin, sixth of the chief ten.”

The feeling of being watched explodes around Tim again, this time so intense it’s like he’s floating in it, somehow, everything inside of him stripped out and laid bare.

“And before you ask your next question, no, that is Jeremiel. I do not give visions. I cannot explain what you’ve been seeing or why. I only see. Of the two of us, you are the one who has any chance of sharing the blood of an archangel.”

“No,” Tim says immediately. “My parents are normal people, as am I.”

“Hm, well I wouldn’t be so sure of that. Normal people can’t see my— can’t see the shadows. So either you do have some celestial blood somewhere in the mix, or you’re someone’s pawn. Either way, Tim O’Connell, you are not an ordinary human.”

Tim sinks further into the couch cushions. Helplessly, he croaks, “I’m going to Hell.”

Sighing, Rami reaches up to touch his jaw. “Maybe. I don’t know that, either. As far as any of us can tell, the gates have been closed for some time. The guard dog doesn’t let anyone in or out, and there’s been no sign of my more involved siblings for some time. And if Jophiel and Uri aren’t down here, then Az can’t know who to collect.”

“Wait, so what does that even mean?”


“For Earth? For humanity?”

“The same thing it always has. You’re born, you live, you die. That’s it.”


“He got bored with this experiment eons ago, Tim. God doesn’t give a fuck! What do you think the entire bloody war was over? We dared question his newest little science experiment and he sent legions out to slaughter us.” Rami exhales, his nostrils flaring angrily. Even in his rage, he’s beautiful. Bright and ethereal.

Yet when he speaks again, he sounds so impossibly tired. “At least you can still die. We’re just stuck, cursed with an eternity in this purgatory.”

“What? Forever?!” Tim asks, aghast.

“Until someone shuts the whole thing down. How’s that for grace?”

Tim exhales slowly, reeling at everything Rami has said. He wishes it was disbelief, but in the way of faith, he knows that what Rami says is true. It’s his entire life that’s the lie. As much as he may want someone to blame — as much as a part of him wants to blame Rami not only for telling him this, but for making him break the vows he has sworn to the church and to God — he knows that Rami is little more than the messenger. The rest was all his own choice, and one he’d make again if he’s being honest with himself.

“Can I ask you something?” Tim says, his voice low in the quiet that’s settled between them.


“Why me? I mean I was curious before why someone like you had any interest in someone like me, but now?”

Rami smiles at him, the crooked shape of it familiar and perfect. “Well, that one’s easy enough. I just… like you. Like I said, you’ve got nuance. That’s pretty hard to find anymore, believe it or not. Plus, you’re not bad to look at.”

“You’re hardly the terrible, disfigured thing some religious texts make you out to be.”

“Aw, thanks,” Rami replies. He stretches to kiss Tim again, slow and lingering this time.

It has Tim’s body perking up a second time, either from years of suppressed interest or some aspect of Rami’s otherworldly nature. For all that he knows he should sleep, this feels more important, somehow. His fingers map the curves of muscle and bone from Rami’s ribs to his hips, reveling in the feel of it. Like he’s read Tim’s mind, Rami lifts up just far enough that when he settles again, Tim’s cock is nestled in the slick cleft between his thighs. Each little grinding thrust after that is all delicious friction and heat. For all that it isn’t the same as the first time, he finds he doesn’t mind in the slightest when it means he has Rami plastered to him, sweat easing their movements further.

After, he slips into sleep. He doesn’t mean to. Not just like that, at least. But with Rami draped on top of him, equally boneless and spent, Tim can no more fight this new urge than he could the last.

Barely two hours later, Tim is jarred awake by the alarm on his phone. He has little more than half an hour before he has to be at the church again, sunrise Mass starting promptly at five o’clock; he knows he needs to shower, to dress, but all he can do is stare at his clothes from the night before where they’re strewn across the room. The heat from the fireplace no longer reaches the couch, although Tim isn’t sure if anything could adequately warm him now. He won’t find a note, he knows. No explanation or phone number. Something deep within him is certain that even if he goes to the bar where they first met every night for the next week, he wouldn’t find Rami again.

His eyes gritty with exhaustion, Tim somehow completes both Christmas Day services on autopilot. The words — the tidings of joy, such that they’re meant to be — taste like ash in his mouth.

Eight months later

He knows it’s not real. 

It may get him in trouble, but there are only ten minutes left on the clock and he’s too tired to try to be normal so Tim says, “Excuse me,” picks up his bag, and walks out of the lecture hall, leaving his students to speculate further about their strange new lecturer. 

The hallway is quiet. Not empty, but devoid of the soft black curls some small part of him longs to see. He sighs, the only disappointment he feels in himself, and turns toward the exit. As soon as he steps into the golden August afternoon, he loosens his tie. 

A stranger pushes off the brick wall in his periphery. Tim thinks nothing of it at first — writes the stranger off as a student of something — but then the young man falls into step beside him. Still, he’s inclined to ignore it until the stranger speaks. 

“You know, there was a part of me that really hoped you’d be tending bar somewhere when I finally tracked you down.”

Tim stops moving. A half-second later, the stranger does the same, wheeling mid-step to face him. 

“Should’ve known better. Can’t have the priest as the bartender. That ruins the joke,” he continues. 

For a moment, Tim can’t even breathe. He can only stare, because, despite the buzz cut and the nasty cut on his cheek, Rami is here. Right in front of him, so close that all Tim would have to do is reach out and—

“What are you doing here?” Tim asks, finally unsticking his throat. 

In an instant, Rami’s expression shutters. “I could ask you the same thing.”

It’s then that Tim realizes the greatest change; while Rami is still beautiful, the light that he’d exuded before is gone. He’s… different. Desaturated and fragile in a way he wasn’t before. It makes something in Tim’s chest ache impossibly, wreaking havoc on his self-restraint, on his ability to stay angry. 

“You left, and the Catholic church has some particular feelings about priests that sleep with men and no longer feel compelled to spread the word of God.”

“You’re sleeping with men now?” Rami’s eyebrow arches slightly. 

Tim clears his throat, unable to hold his dark gaze. “You know what I mean.”

“Do I?” Rami asks softly. “Because I came here for you. I came back—”

His voice breaks, and with it, the last of Tim’s resolve. 

No more than a whisper, he asks, “What happened to you? Why did you leave?”

Rami’s eyes close, his jaw going tight like he’s seconds away from shattering completely. “Is there um— is there somewhere else we can go? This isn’t really a university parking lot conversation.”

“Yeah,” Tim says immediately. He nods toward the car. “I was just about to head home, but if you’d rather go somewhere public…”

“No, that’s fine.” 

The short ride back to Tim’s rented apartment is silent, the tension suffocating. He wants to ask questions. So, so many questions. But even more than that, he wants to know if Rami is ok. To make sure he’s ok. 

Once they’re inside, Rami says, “Did they let you keep your private bar when you left?”

Tim breathes a weak laugh and nods toward the kitchen because he did keep quite a few of the bottles, not that he’s done much with them since. He gets two glasses out of a cabinet and sets them on the counter while Rami makes his selection. It’s like a blow to the gut when he takes the first sip and realizes it’s the same Scotch from before. He didn’t know he grabbed it. If he had, he might have finished it by now in some desperate urge to hold onto some part of that night. 

“I uh, don’t have a couch yet,” Tim admits sheepishly. “A recliner I picked up from someone leaving town and a desk chair, but the only other thing is the bed.”

“Is that more or less furniture than you had before? I only really saw the couch.” Rami teases, still clearly guarded but closer to what Tim remembers. 

“It’s less. None of it was mine before, though.”

“Mm. I’ll follow your lead, I guess. I can stand if that’s—”

“C’mon.” Glass in hand, Tim retreats to the little bedroom. It feels too fast, too intimate, somehow, which is absurd since they’ve already crossed that threshold, but with Rami behind him, Tim suddenly realizes how bare his new lodgings are. 

Rami must as well because he mutters something about St. Francis as he steps into the room. He sits awkwardly at the far edge of the bed opposite Tim, the easy closeness that felt natural from the start now absent. The silence stretches again, another stark contrast from before, as Rami musters whatever it is he needs to tell his story. 

“You actually bring guys back here?” he asks after his Scotch is halfway gone. 

“No,” Tim replies with a shocked, slightly hysterical laugh. “No, you’re the only one I’ve— I mean I did a couple of times before I decided to join the priesthood, but you’re the only one since I was a teenager.”

Rami looks at him, his expression almost pitying. “I’m not a guy, Tim. I’m a fallen angel. I—”

His voice breaks again, and Tim panics. He knows that anatomically, he and Rami aren’t the same, but it isn’t something he ever thought to care about. That doesn’t mean Rami didn’t, though — that he doesn’t. Too quickly, he says, “I know. Sorry, that’s not what I meant. I didn’t mean to assume…”

“I don’t give a shit about that. I have bigger problems. We all do.” The playful tone that so frequently filled Rami’s words before is gone, replaced by something raw. Like he spent the last eight months screaming. 

“Rami, what happened?”

Brown eyes shiny with what might be tears, Rami swallows and says, “I killed my brother. I killed Michael.”

Tim’s jaw drops. 

“Yeah, that’s kind of how it feels,” Rami says with a wet laugh. “He had it coming, though. Arrogant fuck thought he could take our wings then play puppet master behind the throne without any consequences.”

“You. Killed Michael. The archangel.”

“Yeah. Azrael defected. Joined forces with the Morningstar, who promptly decided it was time for another go at the gates since now we had the soul render.” With his free hand, Rami pulls a wicked knife from a sheath in his boot and drops it on the bed between them like it’s nothing. 

For a moment, Tim can only gape at it. Then, he recovers enough to ask, “Can I?” 

His fingers hover over the hilt until Rami nods. 

“Just don’t touch the blade, obviously. Or like, touch me with it. It’s not a forgiving thing.”

The blade seems to vibrate in his grip. It’s heavier than he expects for its size, and almost feels alive in some inexplicable way. 

“Wait, you said this is Azrael’s blade? What are you doing with it? What happened to Azrael?”

Rami swallows hard, his gaze dropping down to the comforter. “Michael. Him and his flaming fucking sword. The might of the creator, and he uses it to kill his own siblings and maintain the status quo. At least, he did. After Az went down, I got to it first. He didn’t think I was a threat. Won’t be making that mistake again.”

Falling silent, Rami empties his glass. He holds out his hand for the blade and sheaths it again. Eventually, he says, “It started that morning. I didn’t know I would be gone so long, and then you weren’t at the church. You weren’t anywhere, and as soon as Abaddon stepped through the gates, everything started coming apart so I had to track you down the slow way.”

“Slow way?”

He nods. “I can’t see anymore, so the internet mostly. Asked questions here and there, if I had to.”

“Fuck, Rami-” Tim sets his own glass down and reaches for him. Fortunately, Rami comes without further prompting, allowing Tim to manhandle him fully into his lap before burying his face under Tim’s chin. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to leave. Especially not like that,” Rami whispers against his skin.

He fits one hand to the curve of Rami’s skull, the velvety stubble just as soft as his curls were. Lips pressed to his temple, it’s all Tim can do to breathe as he realizes just how close he was to never seeing Rami again. To a universe without him in it at all. He says, “I’m just glad you’re ok. I mean, relatively.”

“There’s still fighting, but the war’s turned. But unless God reappears from wherever he’s gone to stop it, it’s over. He lost. I don’t know how long we’ve got. Time isn’t the same here. It could be years, it could only be hours. I was worried I wouldn’t find you in time.”

Tim exhales, slow and measured. “You did. You found me.” 

They stay like that for a while, Rami’s fingers clenched in his shirt while Tim pets over what’s left of his hair, neither of them willing to let go yet. But there’s only so long Tim can hold in the question. 

“What happens next?”

“Hm?” Rami moves to blink up at him, confusion written across his face. 

“To Earth. To us. You said this was just some diversion for him. What happens now that there’s no one to oversee it?”

“Oh. Um, no idea. I don’t think Michael even knew, and I know Lucifer doesn’t. But I think it’ll just… end, eventually. He doesn’t intend to unleash Abaddon here unless he has to, at least. A last-ditch sort of failsafe if things really go to shit.”

“Abaddon, is that—”

“A demon, yeah. The destroyer. Talk about scary. You can feel yourself start coming apart if he gets close.”

“Like some kind of black hole?”

Rami nods, reaching up to touch the edge of the scabbed-over wound on his cheek. 

“That was him?” Tim asks, his free hand coming up to brush the uninjured skin beneath it. 

Rami nods again. “Hell’s garbage disposal doesn’t discriminate. It’s not that bad. It’ll heal eventually, probably.”

“Have you cleaned it?”

“No? I’ve never needed to before.”

“You—” Tim sighs and lets his forehead drop to rest against Rami’s temple. “You didn’t bleed before.”

“No, not even when my wings burned. Wait, do you think that means…?” he asks, some of the familiar excitement Tim has missed so much he aches returning. 

“I think it might.”

Rami cackles, sharp and victorious. That makes Tim’s chest ache too, although this time it’s softened in the best way; still inhumanly graceful, Rami straddles his thighs in one easy movement and kisses him. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone this excited about their own mortality,” Tim says when they part for air. 

“It’s been two thousand years. And two thousand years of being like, a drone in a bee colony. Now I can just be me for however long I’ve got left.”

Tim hums an acknowledgment, unable to argue with that, and tilts his chin for another slow, lazy kiss. 

“D’you think maybe… You can say no, obviously, but I’d like to spend it with you if that’s alright?”

His smile spreads against Rami’s lips, those few words filling him with more certainty than he’s felt in his life. 

“Yeah,” Tim says. “I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend the end of the world with.”

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