When We Meet Again
And behold the angel that spoke in me went forth, and another angel went out to meet him. (Zechariah 2:3)
There was a disturbance in the Force.
Ariel shrugged to himself; it wasn't as though he hadn't expected it. He gave his charge a fond glance and translated to an intermediate plane. Even though he could shield them from the inevitable disapproval, there was no need to waste the energy, nor to cater to the titillated disfavor or invite something at a different time. Humans liked their privacy, and deserved it in Ariel's opinion. Those young ones Yah was recruiting now... he shook his head and waited.
He didn't have long to wait. The air shivered as the other one translated in, fury all over his human-like face -- he probably still felt more comfortable in the form of convenience they used for their work, having so recently shed it. In fact, that likely was his old face, or a beatified version of it. It might have been interesting if it had been familiar, but it wasn't. It was only human. Ariel had not changed, either; anything to save energy was his motto, and there was also a minimum of politeness to maintain. The youngster strode over to him, starting to talk while he was still several strides away.
"Why did you do that?"
"And greetings to you."
"I don't have to be polite to you - "
"No. Of course not." Ariel regarded him without pleasure. The young ones always made him tired. "Why do you think?"
That had been rhetorical; he had more to say; but the other didn't give him the chance. "You want to damn his soul for eternity. You can't - he's mine to watch out for!"
Were they that blind? More likely, they were that short-handed. Ariel shook his head and said, patiently, "I'm not here to damn anybody."
"Hah," the other said. "You lure him into sin! You want him in Hell!"
"Sin? That's your worry? There's more to worry about than sin-"
"There is not!"
Ariel put his hands to his temples. He didn't really have a headache, but he felt as if he should - and the young ones knew the gesture. This one misread him, though, looking triumphant. Ariel spoke slowly. "Sin and damnation have nothing to do with each other. You must know that much. You must know that sin is statutory, that it's not evil. This human - he's prone to sin."
"They all are! That's why the Mercy sends us to remind them about it, to help them fight it off. He could have, if you hadn't been there."
"Well, that's true." Ariel felt a little - what, exactly? Complacent? Proud, maybe? - about that. It wasn't easy when they were as steeped in Yah-worship as this human. Guilt was powerful. But he could make them forget it, put it aside; he could move them beyond guilt. "You've lost him."
"No - not yet."
"Oh, leave him to me. He shouldn't even be your concern. Will he come to Hell when his time is done? Of course he will -- if I have anything to say about it."
"It's my charge to prevent that!"
"You will fail. What is important is that I not fail."
The young one sputtered.
Ariel repeated himself. "This human - he's prone to sin. He shouldn't even be your concern. Run off and find someone who your constant infusions of guilt will actually keep on your strait way and fit for the narrow gate." He used the words of the Douay-Rheims version of the book, the one this human knew.
The young one looked surprised at his words. "How can you - no, that's not important. You must be -"
"Who do you think I am?" Ariel interrupted him.
He drew himself up. "You are a minion of the Evil One, whose name I will not say."
"Oh, for - no, I am not. What do they teach you now - anything? Or do they expect you to know it simply because you've been given angelic form?"
"What do you mean? Of course you are! And what do you mean, `given angelic form'? I am an angel!"
"Of course you are. We both are -"
"Fallen!" The other's voice rang accusingly.
"I didn't fall anywhere," Ariel said, an edge in his voice. "I'm -"
Ariel lost his patience. "I am not. What do you think would happen if you spoke your Word? You'd be all white and pure and holy, and I'd be all black and scaly and demonic? Do it, then. Do it!"
"I will, creature of darkness - and then you'll have to flee."
"Do it," Ariel repeated. "I would take my true form now except that you would accuse me of lying. So speak the Word - compel me."
"You think that I will not? Flee my presence now."
Ariel was tired of it. And he was more convinced than before that this one - whispering in the human's ear words of warning and condemnation, evoking guilt about theft, about fornication, about lying, about lust and anger and pride - was the worst possible angel to keep his soul safe. So he loomed a little and said, "I think you can't."
And of course he could. So he did.
And they both changed. And yes, the young one was all whiteness, wings of silver and pearl and light so bright it would have burned out mortal eyes. But Ariel had never been mortal, and the light was comfort to him instead of pain. He threw out his arms, one hand raised, and his eyes blazed gold, and his wings spread out around him, blue and golden and umber, and his archangelic presence, unleashed by the Word, overwhelmed the young one.
"No - this can't - you can't -" Ant then he fled - half physical flight and half translation.
Ariel called after him. "Yes, young one. Flee - seek Raphael and have him take this memory!" And then he wrapped his wings around himself and waited to see what would happen next.
While he was waiting, he checked on the humans. They were sleeping now, holding each other close. Ariel had often wondered about sex - like so much else animal in nature, when humans did it it was often close to transcendental. Like Love.
There was a shivering in the Force.
Ariel couldn't say he was surprised, not after the way the young one had left. Someone would have to come and find out, after all, and he did come, plummeting downward, all righteous fury and thunder. Not that Ariel reacted in any way to that arrival, except to sigh to himself -- did they really think someone who could send an angel, even a young one, running like that would be impressed by archangelic splendor? A seraph or cherub, even a dominion, perhaps, but not an archangel. But he was surprised at just who it was who had come.
He waited till the beautiful bare feet touched the flowers that rose to meet them before he spoke. "Michael. How long has it been?"
"Not long enough. What did you do?"
"Nothing. Let him see me."
"You shouldn't have done that."
"Maybe not. But he called me an agent of damnation and I lost my patience." He cocked his head. "Look at you. You agree with him."
"Michael." Ariel was disturbed now. "You know better. I don't know what you teach the young ones -- and doesn't the fact that you need young ones mean anything to you, Michael? -- but you know better. You were there."
"You were there," Ariel repeated. "You know the truth. You know that the City is locked inside its walls and its twelve gates in lonely isolation against the Elysian Fields, not against the Powers of Darkness. You know that sin is not evil, but mere statutory wrong-doing, and you know that Yah rejected the others, that they did not rebel against Him."
"-- is unchanging. It is only the interpretations that are at fault."
"Now you quote Aquinas," Ariel said. "Before his mind was changed."
"Shut up, Ari," Michael abruptly descended from his lofty rhetorical position. "Yah created humans --"
"With the others."
Michael ignored that. "-- and it is his right to determine how they must live if they want to come to him."
"No one denies that. We only say there are other places for them to end up, and your constantly loading them with guilt and shame does no one good."
"It saves them."
"Some of them, perhaps. For what is a different topic and I won't press that now. But others it drives to despair."
"It wouldn't if you would stay away from them."
"You are so certain."
"No more certain than you. Only of a different thing."
Ariel nodded. "Truly said. But you lose them --"
"To you. Sometimes."
"I was going to say, and so do we. And those who are truly lost break our hearts. Those in Heaven are gladdened by the damnation of the Lost."
"That is not so. Their joy is not diminished by it, but they do not rejoice in it. There is a difference."
"If you say so... Michael. Can you not be reasonable?"
"No. I don't think I can -- not as you mean it." He shrugged, a coruscation of silver, white, and gold. "Some things are beyond negotiation."
"But still -- even so," said Ariel, wondering why he was trying. Why they always tried. "You know that if he is lost to me, he is not Lost. You know that Hell is not Sheol, and that those who follow the Elohim are not demons --"
"You do not follow Yah."
"Yah and El are brothers!"
"So too were Cain and Abel."
"If you believe your own fables, there really is nothing more to say."
"It is a teaching story," Michael said before Ariel could turn away. "Nothing more -- though nothing less."
"Fine. What does it teach? Blood is better than corn? Younger brothers win? Humans have murder in their hearts?"
"That Yah forgives."
Ariel was silent for a little while. "Cain was exiled."
"But his repentance would not have earned him salvation - only life on earth, while he lived. Michael, what is the point of that story? To us, now, I mean."
Michael paused. "Only that Yah and El will not get along simply because they are made of the same stuff. Nor will you and I."
"We may not." Michael shrugged again. "That's the way it is - by El's choice."
"Does it matter whose? El left."
"Yah caused him to go."
"That old argument will not be settled now, by us. I follow Yah -"
"El is in your name!"
"History," Michael said. "History... And I won't discuss it with you."
Ariel thought of things he could say to that, questions about Michael's certainty or lack of it, but there was no point. So he just went back in the conversation. "You know that losing a human to Hell is not losing him to Darkness. Even if that young one didn't know it - and he should have - you do."
"He's lost to the City."
"And is that worse?"
After a long pause, Michael answered, "No."
"Then stay away from this one. You can't win him for the City, Michael -"
"Well, not now," Michael said wryly; he'd taken a quick look.
"Not before either," Ariel said. "This one - the constant guilt would drive him to the Darkness not pull him to you."
And now Michael finally asked the question that Ariel had begun to wonder if it would ever even occur to him. "Ariel - why are you here? Why are you following this one around?"
"He's important, Michael; can't you feel it? It would be so easy to lose him entirely. The others - one's unjudgeable and one's abandoned - by you, anyway - and one's yours, if he chooses the City when he dies, and the other is up for grabs still. But this one -" He paused and took a quick look himself at the reassuring sight of his charge wrapped in his lover's arms. "He could be lost to Darkness so very easily. To anger, to hate, to cold enjoyment of killing... And if he goes, the others will go, too."
Michael's pause was for accessing all the ambient information, the other men and their relationship with the one under discussion. Ariel waited. He couldn't win the big argument, but this little one?
"You are most likely right," Michael said finally. "But - Ari, what in the name of That Which Is were you thinking when you pushed him into that bed?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"You're right; I don't." Michael flexed his wings. "A little fornication, that's bad enough -"
"But love? Oh, can't have that."
"Not with his own kind."
"Michael, are you even listening to yourself? I know that's a big part of the reason Yah and El fell out, but - Love, Michael? It's Love."
"It's Damnation." He stared at Ariel, and feathers stirred in a wind from nowhere. Ariel stared back, feeling the crackle of energy.
There was a tremor in the Force. To archangelic senses it was flavored with black and crimson, redolent of anger and despair, and sonorant with fire and dust.
The two archangels forgot that they were Adversaries in the face of the Enemy. Wings spread to fullest span, tips touching and shedding light, they stood together, and sparks danced on hands spread wide as well, and eyes flashed golden and silver.
The Darkness subsided and departed.
After a pause, Michael said, "Did you -?"
Ariel canted his head to one side.
"Of course not," Michael said.
"Sort of," Ariel admitted. "It loves it when we fight."
"Yes... It would. I forget that sometimes." He shifted. "All right. I have to trust you, I suppose, Ari. At any rate there's no sense in pitting a youngster against you for that soul, and the rest of us are too busy to shadow one human around."
Ariel refrained from asking why he thought that was, and why, if Yah kept recruiting, they were still short-handed in the City. Now was not the time for that conversation. All Eternity waited. He said only, "I'll keep him from the Darkness, Michael. You know that much is true."
Michael nodded. "I've ... missed you, Ari." And then, as if he'd said too much, he was gone. No grand exit - just gone.
Ariel stood a moment. "Me, too," he said, in a voice no one could hear.
To cheer himself up, he translated back. The humans slept, still - no time at all, really, had passed since he left, that was an advantage of the other planes - and the sight warmed him. "Love, after all," he said to himself, "is the saving grace. And Love will save you from the Darkness, Templeton."
Then he smiled, thinking of silver and white wings flecked with gold. "In the fullness of time, Love will save us all."
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