“How long do you plan on avoiding me?” Lucifer sat under a tree in the middle of nowhere and looked up at Gabriel. “This childishness is below you.”
Gabriel barely gave him a glance as he scanned the landscape. He saw no point in dignifying insults with answers and he was irritated with Lucifer’s choice to bring them here. It had not changed. Not a single blade of grass out of place, not a single leaf had fallen. This small grove was held in a state of perpetual springtime, a secret garden nestled within steep ice-covered mountains and harsh winds, hidden from view by Lucifer’s magic. A getaway for the pair of them years ago.
“How can you abandon me now, Gabby?” Lucifer rested his head on his knee and started to laugh.
“I don’t see it as abandonment.” Gabriel crossed his arms in front of him and started to pace. “I’ve just wasted enough time on a lie.”
“Yes, truth.” Lucifer grinned. “You all want truth. When I give you truth you complain about that. As many secrets as you have kept I would think you would know the difference between lying and not sharing. You have a lot of nerve making accusations, Gabby.”
“I’m not going to argue over this.” Gabriel closed his eyes and sighed. “I have tolerated so much from you. Even setting the secrets aside, your meddling has caused me and the one I love so much pain and humiliation. You have given strength even to my daughter without explanation or consent, causing us even more reason to distrust you. I won’t even begin to point out the many things you’ve done to aggravate me with this damn Council of yours. I am just tired of it.”
“Do you want me to apologize?” Lucifer laughed. “For giving you all power and favor? For trusting you with the world?”
“I just want you to leave me alone.” Gabriel hung his head. “All you manage to do is make me miserable. This is no longer friendship. It is barely tolerable.”
“What can I do to fix this?” Lucifer whispered.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Gabriel wiped his face and smiled at Lucifer. “All the good we’ve done together and we still manage to fight amongst ourselves.
“Some of us manage to get along.” Lucifer put his arm around Gabriel’s shoulders and laughed away his own tears as he squeezed his friend close. “They will come around eventually. The Wyrms are just overly ambitious.”
“I wish that I could give them what they want.” Gabriel frowned. “If that would give them some happiness and stop this quarreling.”
“It wouldn’t.” Lucifer tussled Gabriel’s hair. “And you know they wouldn’t be satisfied unless you loved them. Now stop sobbing like a woman, Gabby.”
“Gabby?” Gabriel pouted. “If you insist on calling me that I will be the one going into hiding.”
“Ha!” Lucifer jumped to his feet. “I think it suits you.”
“You realize you were shedding tears as well.” Gabriel smiled as he stood. “Lucy.”
“I like it.” Lucifer shrugged. “Of course if anyone else dares to call me that I will have to turn them inside out…”
“I don’t know that all of the damage you have done can be fixed.” Gabriel turned to see Lucifer with his head rested back against the bark of the tree. Tears had run down his face and with his eyes closed his expression was one of defeat, but his fingers were clawed deeply into the earth beside him. “Lucifer…”
“Just go.” Lucifer nearly choked on the words. “If you are that determined to hate me, there is no point in making Maefyl wait.”
“I don’t hate you.” Gabriel scowled at him. “And my determination is not intended to further any such emotion. I am trying to stop the both of us from hurting each other any further. From hurting Maefyl. He is starting to accept you. He is adapting to what you’ve done. He should not have to add keeping peace between us to the burdens he already has. You force enough on him too quickly.”
“Then forgive me.” Lucifer smirked. “Stop over reacting to my gifts.”
“You blame me for this?” Gabriel laughed. “Why bother asking me here? I don’t have time for more of your games. If it’s forgiveness you want for all the misery you’ve caused, you can have it. It is easier than carrying the weight of holding it against you.”
“I want my friend, Gabby.” Lucifer pushed himself to his feet and stepped toward Gabriel. “Of course I want to know you can forgive any pain I’ve caused you, but what good is it to have your forgiveness if it doesn’t come with your smile? If I can’t come to you when I’m troubled you might as well despise me.”
“Then you will have to hate me.” Gabriel took Lucifer’s hands. “At least until I can find it in myself to trust you again. I’m sorry, but I can’t be what you need me to be right now. You have left me too badly broken and I need time.”
“I will leave far more than you broken.” Lucifer held tight to Gabriel’s fingers and pleaded for understanding. “After everything… Why don’t you understand how much I need you?”
“How am I supposed to be a guiding light for you?” Gabriel sighed. “Your own light blinds us all. You have never needed me. You have the love and comfort of your bride, and now Kage as well.”
“Intimate love does not replace friendship.” Lucifer leaned against Gabriel. “Or brotherhood.”
“We are no more brothers than Maefyl and Iesu.” Gabriel smirked. “You are a hypocrite.”
“Forgive me.” Lucifer grabbed Gabriel by his jacket and begged him to reconsider. “Embrace me again as friend and brother and I will help find the Forgotten Child. I’ll accept that damned soul as my own kin if it will satisfy Maefyl’s need to save him. Just give me the peace of knowing I haven’t lost my dearest friend.”
“Give me some space, Lucy.” Gabriel hugged Lucifer before he pulled his suit free of the Dark Lord’s grip. “And I will be holding you to the offer of aid. I would never expect you to name Iehovah’s bastard as kin, but Maefyl does consider him a brother. If you truly value that bond between us…”
“We’ll find the lost carpenter.” Lucifer grinned. “Though he should consider another profession. I recall him having a bit of trouble with a hammer and nails.”
Gabriel glared at him for the inappropriate comment but Lucifer was gone leaving only his laugh and there was not much point in scolding the empty grove.
“Nice to see he learned his lesson.” Gory sighed.
“He can’t help himself.” Gabriel left the solitude of the hideaway to join Maefyl and smiled at the sight he returned to. Maefyl had let the cubs tackle him to the floor and Asura had painted each of his nails a different shade of horrible and was now smearing his eyelids with various colors from a palette. “Couldn’t decide on a single color?”
“He wouldn’t use the one I brought first.” Azazel purred. “The ungrateful have to be punished.”
“They certainly do.” Gabriel winked at Maefyl and went to join Nikolai on the couch.
“Dane ke bali meka?” Maefyl asked as he laughed at his predicament.
“Deseka sesa wazet’tach se vasa.” Gabriel left the answer simple knowing they would discuss it later. He had given into Lucifer’s desperation just as much for Maefyl’s benefit. Leaving him agitated was only going to mean more trouble for them. As hurt as Gabriel was, it was more reasonable to do his healing while maintaining old friendships and ensuring more help and less meddling from Lucifer. “At least he did not force me to wear purple mascara.”
“I might.” Maefyl laughed.
“You could try.” Gabriel smiled.
“I think the purple looks nice.” Asura giggled and rubbed at the shimmery powder in her plastic case. “Especially with this yellow eye shadow.”
“Let’s get his toes, too!” Bezer giggled and pulled at the laces of Maefyl’s boots.
“I love these visits.” Sanguine walked on Maefyl’s forehead and smiled down at him. As he peeked out of one eye and smiled back it sent a shimmer across her skin and she went a deeper shade of red. She shook her head and giggled ignoring the screaming of her own heart. “You look so silly.”
“I’m being abused and you think it’s cute.” Maefyl stuck his tongue out at her.
“I’m glad the two of you come so often.” Nikolai wiped a tear from his face as he smiled. Seeing Azazel and Bezer enjoy their fun was a joy in itself, but it was Asura he was watching with a bittersweet taste in his throat. She adored her fathers. There were still times he felt like he had snatched her away from them too soon. He treasured every moment, but often wondered if she could love him so carelessly if it created distance between her and the family that raised her and gave her life. “It makes her happy and we all love seeing more of you.”
“Now that we have a hostage you two don’t stay away for twenty years at a time.” Azazel scolded them playfully.
“You can’t have her back though.” Bezer hugged Asura and giggled. “We get to keep her forever.”
“You still have to keep a room for me, though.” Asura poked Maefyl in the chest. “That way we have a room for sleepovers!”
“That room has rules, young lady.” Gabriel interrupted.
“I know.” Asura laughed. “No boys. I guess Nikolai and Azazel will have to sleep on the couch.”
“Sleep?” Azazel grinned wickedly. “Like I’m going to waste time alone with Master Nikolai doing that.”
“Ugh.” Maefyl tried to shake off Azazel’s vivid imagination and Bezer’s lurid thoughts. “Not on my couch.”
“Sorry.” Asura leaned down and hugged Maefyl. “I forget you can see everything we think.”
“I try to glaze over your gross.” Maefyl teased as he sat up and returned her hug. “Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s not gross.” Asura grinned.
“It’s super gross.” Maefyl laughed as he watched Bezer biting her tongue and concentrating on her task of decorating his toenails. She had managed to get his boots out of the way and had luckily not made a fuss over the black nails before she coated them all in a hideous color. Now she was using a tiny brush to paint faces on them. “So is that color. What the fuck Bezer?”
“It’s called gorgeous goldenrod.” Bezer purred over her completed smiley faces. “At least they all match. Quit bitching.”
“It should be called vile vomit.” Maefyl wiggled his toes and giggled at the faces. “Those are cute though. Is Nikolai up next?”
“Don’t even think about it, my pet.” Nikolai smiled.
“I’ll bet she thought about it.” Asura hugged Maefyl tighter before she got up and ran to the kitchen to make snacks for the fairies.
“You know what I thought about?” Maefyl made sure his ridiculous pedicure was dry before he crawled over to Gabriel and sat in front of him. “It’s a good thing I never liked chess.”
“You cheated even before you started brain raiding.” Asura laughed. “You moved my pieces while I was eating cookies.”
“Did not.” Maefyl grinned.
“Yes, you did.” Gabriel pulled Maefyl by his hair. “Are there any other social visits we need to make?”
“Let’s find out.” Maefyl reluctantly pulled out his phone and started sending a few messages. Before they even tried to spend any time alone or embark on any further searching he wanted to check on the status of the others. The extended ‘family’ had a way of becoming needy the second he tried to settle in with Gabriel and he figured it was easier to get everyone settled first. If nothing else he wanted to know Kage wasn’t going to go off in a rage over losing Nexus or having to raise the child she left before her death, and that Natasha was adjusting to her new life. He laid his head back in Gabriel’s lap and smiled at him. “De kosh sek.”
“We need a very long holiday.” Gabriel sighed. Even with the mess of color Maefyl was every bit as breathtaking. His smile radiant. Gabriel could understand Maefyl’s motivation to look after obligation before crawling home to rest, but the only obligation Gabriel wanted to see to presently was the one he had as Maefyl’s husband. “And you might want to clean up. Our daughter can turn any page into a masterpiece, but you have the cosmetic skill.”
Asura was about to defend her artistry but was too impressed by the moment they were lost in. She had seen it countless times in her life. Even when she was small and they were hiding their affection, they would just disappear somewhere in each other. Like the world dissolved around them and all they could see was each other. They were always so beautiful, but she always found them the most captivating when they were like this. She hoped that was how she looked in those tender moments when she felt like she did not even need air to breath, just the love she could feel in the arms that held her.
“Looks like you’ll need that touch up.” Sanguine pushed at the phone in Maefyl’s hand after a message blinked onto the screen. “Kage said to come to Tsumi.”
“I want more pictures of the little one.” Asura jumped onto the couch and let Nikolai pull her into his lap. “And tell Karla to call me.”
Maefyl pulled on his boots and started lacing them while his magic removed the imperfect makeup. It was a fun distraction, but he didn’t want Gabriel embarrassed by the mess. He barely finished tying the boots before Gabriel pulled him to his feet. After brief farewells they departed, but when Maefyl reached for Eidolon’s door Gabriel took his hand and pulled him close.
“Thank you.” Gabriel smiled at Maefyl and reached into his pockets. Maefyl gave him a puzzled look and Gabriel laughed softly at the redness in Maefyl’s face as he opened a stick of gloss. Maefyl had cleaned up the mess and left Golod with only his mismatched manicure. “But you could have put your own back on.”
“Are you okay?” Maefyl tried not to smile while Gabriel applied a thin layer across his lips but there was such focus in his expression that Maefyl could not help himself. He laughed and Gabriel pressed him to the wall and leaned against him. Maefyl just hugged him and waited for an answer.
“I am not looking forward to some of the work ahead of us.” Gabriel sighed. “I don’t like the time we’ve spent apart because of all of this and our schedule does not seem to be improving.”
“Let’s go say hello to Kage and his kid.” Maefyl smiled and reached back to knock on the door. “Then we’ll go home.”
“Please do not mention Nexus.” Kage gave Maefyl enough of his thoughts to explain as he stood at the door. “Kaneko is still upset over it.”
“So are you.” Maefyl whispered. Kage let more than words slip to Maefyl. He kept most of the final moments to himself, but he gave enough of his experience to express the pain he felt. Maefyl was not expecting Kage to let anyone know the details of Nexus’ end. That he had just shared another of his darkest moments brought tears to Maefyl’s eyes as he looked at the small girl Kage held. “She is beautiful.”
“Neka is kitty.” The girl wriggled about and swung her tail at Maefyl.
“Yes, you are.” Maefyl pulled the girl from Kage’s arms and walked off with her before Kage could react. “How did you end up with kittens, Kage?”
“How should I know, half-breed?” Kage sneered at Maefyl as he held Neka above him. “Be more careful with her.”
“The child is not made of glass.” Gabriel patted Kage’s back.
“She is made of cute.” Karla grinned.
“Kaneko is also made of cute.” Kaneko had been pouting about Kage taking Neka and monopolizing her but saw an opportunity to play with her again. She jumped over the desk and hugged around Maefyl’s waist. “Nyaa. Give her here, Maefyl! Kaneko wants to play with her.”
“I just got here.” Maefyl laughed.
“Neka is Kaneko’s sister.” Kaneko grinned.
“Last I heard, she was mine, too.” Maefyl stuck his tongue out at her and cuddled with Neka. “So you have to share.”
“You won’t have to be concerned over company.” Gabriel stood beside Kage and watched Maefyl playing with the girls as Karla cheered on both sides of the mock argument. “They already adore her.”
“I intend to raise her.” Kage watched sadly. He wanted her to have the affection, but the life he led didn’t allow for this sort of wasted time very often. “Outside of time spent in my office, she will not be in this realm often enough to enjoy this company.”
“Make time.” Gabriel smiled at him. “It will be worth it.”