Cassie had her last relatively good day in mid-October. She
loved her job; it was modest but she did it well, and the feeling
of competence and cameraderie she got there was rare and heady
wine for her.
She was the third daughter of a rich businessman, an
embarassment and a blot on the family escutcheon, having been born
with neither ambition nor brainlessness. Her childhood seemed to
her now like one long horror of expensive gifts and cold
shoulders. Had she been capable, she would have become a spoiled
brat, and gladly too; but it was not in her. Drifting unanchored
through college and various attempts to marry her off, which she
remembered as a revolving series of identical young men parading
past her with identically unimaginative bouquets of flowers and
identically enormous wallets, she had eventually foundered up
Now, all but ignored by her money-sending father and unsure
whether or how to mourn the death of her mother, Cassie had done
the first two real things in her life. First, to feed her biggest
hunger, she had taken the modest job as a cashier in a failing
herbal essence shop downtown. And second, to answer her biggest
fear, she had moved as close to it as possible: to this cozy
apartment in the well-bred section of town, on the thirty-second
As she came home from work on her last relatively good day,
after a twenty-minute drive spent musing on the astonishment of
having no less than four people who knew her name and called her
part of their team, she took the elevator up. Surrounded by
mirrors, she looked at herself without comprehension or desire,
invariably alone, until the bell dinged politely and she stepped
out on the top floor. The top floor was hushed, quiet, breathy
with air conditioning and subdued with ferns, just like the other
thirty-one floors. She walked down the hallway, too well
accustomed after eight weeks to feel uncomfortable in the silence,
and came to her own door.
Entering, she shed her coat, purse, shoes, earrings in a path
through the entryway… past the living room couches… by the
divan against the back wall until she was standing, as ready as
she’d ever be, before the sliding glass door to the miniature
“Okay, Cassie,” she said, hoping the sound of her voice would
give her courage. “You know you can do this.”
She opened the door. Just that was frightening. The wind
outside was no more than a gentle breeze at surface level. Here,
it whistled with cheerful malice, its sounds waiting for her once
the smooth glass door was out of the way. Cassie flinched, then
pretended she hadn’t. “Let’s go,” she told herself.
Herself didn’t follow instructions. There was nothing visible
past the balcony’s tall railing but city; most of it deathly far
away. Was there the slightest trembling of the railway, or was it
At last she forced herself to reach out and touch the walls on
either side of the opening. That much accomplished, she was able
to move her foot–not to lift it off the spotless carpeting, but
to move it–to the metal grooves in which the sliding door ran. It
quivered there, as she strained to put more and more weight on it,
not looking for the moment when it became a step. When it was a
step, irrevocably, she made an awkward scooching motion of her
other foot, drawing it closer to the door.
Outside, altitude waited, like a terrible monster preparing to
pounce. Its name was DOWN and it was more fearsome than anything
the earth had yet conceived. Even her father didn’t scare her
more, or so she’d prefer to think. Death didn’t hold a candle.
“Come on,” she said to herself. Her voice was hoarse. “One more
step. You can do it.”
The decision confronted her: take one quick step and be outside
on the concrete, or move more slowly? The first would get this
horror over with more quickly, but could invite panic. The other
option was a slow and murderous terror. Either way, Down was out
She put her foot on the concrete. Her fingers gripped the sides
of the doorway hard enough to turn them white. She let the foot
rest there; that much of her was outside. There was no room in her
mind for considerations of how silly she must look, one foot out,
the rest of her inside as if she were being held back by some
intruder. There was only fighting to keep that foot there. Once
that battle was done, she’d consider putting another foot out. One
thing at a time.
But her nerve broke. Cassie shuddered back from the opening,
hardly aware she was moving until she fetched up against the arm
of the couch. She huddled against it and breathed for a few
moments, turning her face into the harsh-smelling material of the
upholstery. Finally she reached out her foot, now perfectly
willing to obey her, and slid the glass door shut, closing out the
sound of the hungry breeze outside.
“Good job,” she said to herself. “Last time you didn’t even get
a toe out the door. You’ll be ready to walk out and look down in–
oh, say a year.” She laughed shakily and rose to prepare a plain
supper for herself.
The storm that came to town that evening was no more blustery
than usual; in October, the weather in the city was fierce.
Thunder and lightning and chance of hail, the slick newsman had
said that afternoon. Rain and high winds. Of course the winds
would be higher at the tops of the skyscrapers, but the weatherman
had neglected to mention this as always.
“It does shudder a little when the wind blows hard, Miss,” her
landlord had told her, leaning back in his chair and eyeing her
without the slightest concern for whether she took the apartment
or the next rich father’s daughter did. “It’s designed to do that.
Protects against earthquakes.”
At the time, Cassie had signed the contract against her own
advice, telling herself she was crazy but unable to argue with the
apparently causeless intent that gripped her. And she had found
that it was perfectly true; the highest winds did sway the tower a
little, and not ponderously but with a quiver, as if the supports
of the structure were hard rubber. She had been able to get used
to the silence of the corridors and the way there was almost never
anyone in the elevator but her; but in eight weeks she hadn’t been
able to accustom herslf to what the storm did to her surroundings.
As a result, the first thundercrack, splitting deafeningly and
then rumbling off with a petulent grumble, tossed her out of bed
like a pinched cat. She sat shivering and blanketwrapped, stark
naked, on the living room couch with all the lights on. Every now
and then the tower would just tremble a little, or in the worst
gusts outright wag, and Cassie would wait for everything to come
crashing down. It was an endless suspension of not-quite-terror,
worse in its way than the vertigo-inducing test she forced on
herself daily, and it took her strength little by little.
She considered getting up to make cocoa at least; turning on
the television. But if the electricity should go out, the sudden
no-sound of the television would frighten her worst. As for cocoa,
she wasn’t budging from her spot in the exact center of the
apartment for anything.
Cassie bowed her head as the skyscraper waved solemnly in the
air like an accusing finger, and buried her face in the blankets.
She ruminated a little frantically on the irony of it all; as a
child, even as a baby she had loved the brilliant searing
starkness of lightning striking over her Minnesota hills, and the
cleansing drench of rain that always followed. Now she huddled
terrified, here in this apalling height by her own choice.
At the moment it seemed incomprensible again, as it had when
she’d done it. Over her tenure here, she had come to realize why
she had done it. The defining fear of her life was her acrophobia,
and some part of her, finally having lost her mother’s protection
and gotten away, however nominally, from her father’s tyranny, had
decided to cast loose this fetter too. That part of her had raised
a tiny cheer when she had signed the contract, and again when she
had forced herself to open the glass door for the first time; had
egged her on as she had first stood before that opening and then
forced herself to take the first step.
She supposed that little voice that cheered was the best part
Thunder cracked like the whip of the world, and she flinched
inside her huddle of blankets. Then another sound followed, one
she had never heard before; a crunching smashing explosion that
twitched her out of the nest of blankets like a sword rising from
an unexpected sheath. Darkness greeted her; the lights had gone
out, sometime while she was hiding her face in the blankets. In
that instant, though there was no observer, she was lovely; her
body alert and poised, her blue eyes wide; the crackling golden
mass of her hair thrown haphazardly over her shoulders. There was
no one to see.
She identified the problem at once; some kind of tree had blown
through the window and pushed its branches rudely into the room.
But wait; there were no trees at thirty-two stories up. The broken
glass everywhere was the glass of the sliding door that led to the
balcony, and wind and rain scattered in like shards. Cassie went
slowly to see what it was, careful not to bump into any furniture.
Her bare skin goosebumped as she came close to the doorway.
Dear god, it was some kind of bird! Enormous feathers, dirty gray
in the slash of lightning, extended through the broken upper half
of the sliding door. Cassie halted, staring in amazement. It was
enormous, bigger than any bird she’d ever heard of. The feathers
at the tip of the wing, the great leading edge, were as broad as
her hand. It fluttered a little, and another flash showed her the
redness of its blood sliding down the vanes of its feathers. She
hadn’t the least idea what to do for it, but getting it off the
jagged points of glass seemed crucial, even if she tore it a
little more. She would do that, and then call for help.
She couldn’t reach up high enough to free it without simply
ripping it to shreds. Her dazed mind, stunned with cold and dark
and vertigo, offered no solution. She wanted to walk around the
problem, but the remains of the door were in her way. The mad
thought occurred to her that if she could simply open the door she
would be able to free the bird from the door so she could open it;
but that wasn’t helping at all.
It seemed like twenty minutes had passed since the crash
landing, though she knew better. How long till the bird must die
of shock? She was on the verge of stamping her foot with
frustration, perhaps going on to getting the hammer and smashing
loose the rest of the door. But at that moment the bird made a
sound: a low agonized moan of unbearable pain, held tightly in to
avoid making the hurt worse.
A very human sound.
That changed everything. Electrified, she leaped backward a
distance of two feet from a standing start and remembered that she
was naked. There was a human being somehow tangled up with the
bird; perhaps he had fallen somehow from the roof. She could not
tell the sex of the individual, but it was clearly a person, and
she was naked. She couldn’t help this person in any way until she
had clothes on; she simply wouldn’t be able to think.
She backpedaled a few more steps, shaking her head as if
someone had insisted otherwise, and bumped up against the
loveseat. Turning as if there were ghosts after her, she fled into
her bedroom and frantically searched through the darkness for
something to throw on. All she could find were socks or coats
until she banged her head into the wall and saw brightly colored
shooting stars for a moment. This cleared her head and she slowed
down enough to remember which drawer held nightgowns, which
occurred to her as the proper thinng to put on. It was night,
after all. It now seemed that the bird or man or both must surely
die; she had been horribly incompetent and dithering. Nearly
wailing, she ran back out.
This time without even considering it she grabbed a kitchen
chair and dragged it through the thundering darkness to the broken
glass door. Standing upon it, she was able to survey the situation
better now that it was at shoulder level to her. She had utterly
forgotten that she was higher than floor level; it slipped her
mind as completely as her phone number as she stood there, rain
drenching her by inches, and regarded the enormous bird wing that
had intruded into her apartment.
It was quite definitely a living wing, oversized but very
birdlike, stuffed in through the hole in the upper half of the
door. She looked outside and saw nothing but darkness and heaving
gray feathers, and perhaps the pale flash of someone’s limb,
although that might have been her imagination. She could hear
quite clearly, in the pauses in the thunder, the hoarse pained
breathing of a human being.
She whimpered and touched the feathers gingerly. The drenched
pinions themselves were the chilly temperature of the rain; but
when her fingers met blood it was startlingly, fiercely hot.
Cassie forced herself to feel around the window carefully, tracing
every inch of the damaged wing to see where it could best be
lifted off the points of the glass and pushed back out onto the
balcony. When her fingers closed weightlessly around the warm
light tube of the leading edge, the whole wing jerked and then
jerked to a stop, and there was a shrill screech of agony that she
thought could well have come from some kind of bird. She hadn’t
hurt it herself; she had startled it with her touch into moving.
She didn’t know what to do; had she spoken it would no doubt
have begun thrashing at once, like a taken pigeon. She would have
to work fast before its fear of humans overcame its shock. She
slid her fingers down the feathery wing, looking for the place
where it bent and finding nothing. Everything that was wounded was
the farther half of the wing, past the crucial joint. If she could
get a bird doctor to come get it, it would probably survive.
She found where it was trapped, the jagged edges of the glass
driven into the sparse meat of its wing and then the wing pulled a
little back to sink them in. She wouldn’t be able to get away with
just lifting; she would have to pull toward her first, lift then,
and then guide it back out the window without snagging it again.
She was weeping now; the thing was impossible. Had it remained
utterly still, she might have done it. But shock or no shock, this
operation was going to hurt, and the bird was going to thrash.
Alone, she could not maneuver it this way. But she had no choice
She took firm hold of the wing, her hands outside the doorway
and beaten by rain. Feathers pressed against her, trembling
slightly. She held it for a moment, as if to ready it.
“Okay,” Cassie said desperately, more to quell her crying and
quieten her breathing than anything else. “I’m going to pull this
way and then lift up, and then slowly! we’ll push this back out
the window.” She gulped. “Stay still,” she sobbed, “please don’t
She closed her eyes for one second, a kind of momentary haven
from the lightning and thunder and soaking rain, the bird’s blood
on her hand and the task ahead. Then she let it all come back and
pulled the wing forward, toward her breasts. She felt it come
loose from the glass at the same moment that the breathing down on
the balcony caught and froze. The wing galvanized in her hand,
almost humming with leashed power, but it did not thrash. She
lifted up, ducking her head beneath the dripping feathers to see
if it were totally free. Then came the tricky question of guiding
the less than straight contraption of feathers and tendon back out
She had a moment of panic when she realized that its natural
tendency should be to extend the hurt wing, to push back toward
her in the wrong direction, but it was folding docilely and
intricately; following her every move as if it knew the best thing
for it and counted on her guidance. The breathing was coming
faster below, nearly aspirated in a series of little shrieks. Hot
blood curled over the ball of her thumb.
It seemed to take hours.
Finally the last of the enormous feathers were sliding past her
face, moving of their own accord, as she was unable to hold onto
them once the main body of the wing was out of the way. Now all
she could see out there were gray feathers, brushing the remaining
glass of the window.
She climbed down hurriedly, bracing her hand momentarily on the
back of the chair and getting blood and rain on it too, and opened
the sliding glass door. It went out of the way with a horrible
grinding crunching sound as glass slivers were crushed in the
tracks, and then half the gray wing sagged into the room around
Cassie was in the act of turning to the phone when she suddenly
whipped around and stared at the chair as if it were a snake. It
looked innocently back at her, sitting by itself on the rapidly
soaking carpet. I was standing on that, she realized dimly. The
feathers slumping exhaustedly around her feet, shaking so
violently they burred and buzzed against one another, recalled her
to herself. She glanced at the balcony hurriedly, taking a
startled step over the wingtip in that direction, suddenly sure
that the creature was in its death throes and reminded that there
was a human being involved somewhere.
But now her vertigo was back full force; she couldn’t make her
feet move in that direction. The person under all that bird was
sobbing, harshly, like an abandoned child. The sound, heard dimly
through the rush of rain and the occasional petulant mutters of
thunder, tore at her heart. Cassie forgot that she was going to
call anyone. Locked in a struggle against her fears, she stood
there trembling, soaked to the skin. The possibility that a gust
of wind might snatch her right off the balcony if she went out
there was real now, like a validation of her mind’s panicky
smokescreen images. And whatever creature or creatures were still
alive out there, they might throw her right off into space.
But she faced the intrusive rain and wind and took a step, her
fists clenched at her sides. Another step brought her to the
doorway, where her hands automatically rose to either side,
bracing her as they had every day for eight weeks in her self
tests. Now the exam had come, and she wasn’t prepared; but it
hardly mattered now, did it?
The sting of glass cutting into the ball of her thumb made her
pull her hands away. She inspected the cut briefly. There was a
sigh and a motion from outside that made her look up. Then, as if
it were no more difficult than climbing on a chair, she stepped
between the trembling wing and the doorway, out onto the thirty-
stories high balcony. The wind stroked her gleefully, promising,
teasing. Her nightgown might as well have been tissue paper for
all the warmth it brought; and she was not looking at a bird at
The creature in front of her looked at first to be some
enormous eagle without head or talons, thrown heedlessly across
the naked body of a slender unconscious man. But the feathers were
living, the pinions loose in his abandon, and the strong muscles
that drove the wings were the muscles of his back. He sprawled on
his belly, soaked, naked and bleeding, his head buried beneath the
feathers of what were unmistakably his own wings. Her gaze seemed
to stick where the broad shoulderblades of his back joined with
lovely completeness to the arching beginnings of the wings.
An angel, she thought, unable to put any other name to him. She
didn’t believe in God, much less His messengers, but one’s
disbelief falters at a time like this. She was seeing it, and the
practical part of her told her that she’d better get him inside
and warm before he died on her balcony, and figure out the God
part later. This time she and her practical part agreed. And you
can forget calling the police, it remarked sardonically as it
dissolved back into the chaos she called a mind.
She stepped over the outstretched wingtip with the soft blades
of its feathers, as broad as her hand, and walked around the
lifted, bent arch of the wing joint. Here, it took up so much room
she had to scrape against the low wall that formed the perimeter
of the tiny balcony. Her back pressed firmly against it, she edged
around the wing, aware this time of the drop below, and
consciously putting her fear at arm’s length. Life or death, she
chanted to herself breathlessly; this is life or death.
Now she could reach his human body. When she laid her hands on
his soaked shoulder, the entire assemblage of feathers and tendons
shuddered and lifted, the damaged wing shying lower than the
other, and the rain was suddenly cut off by the enormous fan of
feathers above her as she jerked back. Her startled squeal mingled
with a hoarse cry of anguish from the man, and he got his elbows
underneath his arms and tried to lift his head. He failed at
first, but Cassie swallowed her fear and her growing sense of
triumph together and reached out her hands again. She cradled his
head, feeling him try to help lift it, and as his long hair
flopped damply back, she met the wide colorless stare of his eyes
with a clear sense of never having been alive and free before
this moment. She nearly laughed out loud.
This bizarre sense of triumph stayed with her while she rested
his head on her shoulder and got her arms underneath his to haul
him. She knew at once that it would be impossible for her to get
the wings through the doors. He wasn’t heavy; in fact she lifted
up and came to the balls of her feet with most of him dangling
limply from her grasp. He was no easy lift, but certainly nowhere
near as heavy as a grown man should be. “Help me,” she choked, the
rain falling on her face once more. “Come on… help me!”
The arms that had been dangling down Cassie’s back rose and
wrapped themselves weakly around her shoulders. She felt him rest
his weight more or less on his feet. But the most amazing thing
was the wings… they folded and collapsed themselves in an
economic motion until they stood only two feet up above his
shoulders and ended just at his ankles. They formed a kind of
shield behind him, the right one unable to fold completely and
hanging loose at his side. Cassie couldn’t see what she was doing,
but at least he would fit through the doorway now.
Somehow, the angel helping weakly and herself struggling
mightily, they got the elbows of the wings through the doorway and
ducked him in afterward. She draped him over the couch and went to
draw the curtain to restrict the lightning and rain still
desultorily intruding. Then, groping toward the angel in the
darkness, Cassie fumbled her hand along the couch until it
encountered feathers, which twitched startledly. His hoarse
breathing was very loud in the comparative silence, and Cassie
felt a kind of urgent sympathy.
“I’m here,” she said. “I’m going to help you. You’re going to
There was no answer, but she had heard the listening pause in
his breathing and knew he had heard her. Of course, being an
angel, he could speak English fine, she reasoned. He was either
too hurt or too frightened to concentrate on communication right
She turned her wide eyes momentarily to the curtains. Out there
was the balcony; her greatest fear no longer. Tomorrow, when she
had slept, she would walk out there, and look down over the edge,
and wonder what there had ever been to fear. But not now.
“My name’s Cassie,” she said softly, in tones she would have
used to comfort a frightened child. “Cassie. Let’s get you into
bed. You’re safe here, and when you can fly again I’ll let you
go.” She remembered the trapped eyes of a barn owl she had seen at
the zoo, the first time she had seen a raptor up close, and
thought the angel’s greatest horror must be the loss of his
freedom to fly. When the zoo man had walked around the crowd of
excited children with the bird, she had looked into its hating,
waiting eyes and burst into tears; her father had bundled her off
home and shook his head over her fears, saying again and again
that the bird couldn’t touch her. He had never understood.
She glanced again at the sliding glass door’s remains.
The angel raised his head shakily to look at her, and for a
moment she flinched, afraid his eyes would be the flat feral eyes
of the barn owl. But his eyes were utterly human, colorless as
water, lost and confused in this strange place. His lips seemed to
form words, but his throat made no sound; as clear as a mirror she
read him: where is the wind? Cassie’s heart bled, and she
swallowed her shyness before the beauty of his face and shoulders
and helped him up again. “Come on,” she said, “we’ll get you in
bed and warm and dry and then we’ll see if you can eat anything I
She realized how much she was thinking of him in bird terms.
The enormous wings just changed everything. He draped his
shivering arm around her shoulders and let her support him into
the bedroom. She propped him against the wall, stripped the
comforter and thin blanket off the bed, and turned just in time to
catch him before he fell down again. For a moment her face was
buried in feathers, which were already nearly dry and furnace-hot.
Then he half-fell, half-walked the two steps to the bed and fell
down on his chest. Reflexively the wings unfolded and rose,
forming a wide, feathered canopy over him. From beneath it, he
looked at her with his colorless eyes. She thought there was more
awareness in them now, that he was coming out of his shock.
Cassie made a placating, stay-there motion with her hands and
turned into the bathroom. She left one towel for herself and
brought the other three out for him. She draped one across his
midsection and began drying him everywhere else with the other.
The third she put underneath his head, since his hair was the
wettest part of him. “There you are,” she said when he was
reasonably dry. She left the wings alone, hovering in the air
above her. Then she went into the bathroom and half-closed the
door. Drying herself and putting on a warm robe of blue velveteen
seemed like the heaven she had never believed in.
Then she felt more ready to confront the angel.
He had thrown off the towel she had laid over him; his Greek-
statue fineness was revealed. Cassie looked aside and found
herself looking at his eyes. He seemed alert now, but very weary.
The left wing was folded; the right half-folded and its wounded
forepart stretched over the bed. Cassie held up the first aid kit
from the bathroom and waited until his eyes registered it and then
moved back to hers. There was no expression on his face; if his
eyes had been closed she would have instinctively known him to be
“This is to help you,” she said. She felt foolish, not knowing
how much he was understanding. Either she was talking to herself,
or he would laugh at her. “I need you to hold still while I
bandage the wing. I’m going to spray antiseptic on it, and then
bandage it between the feathers. Then tape it so it’ll stay.”
Cassie looked to him for some sign of comprehension, but there was
nothing. The colorless eyes were fixed steadily on hers, as if her
face were far more interesting than anything she might be saying.
Each star now knows your name
I’ve wished upon them all
Each answer is the same:
“Not ’til the heavens fall.”
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From email@example.com Thu Nov 12 04:31:50 1998
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rosemerry)
Subject: Fear & Desire Pt 2 (M/F, sci fi, virgin)
Date: 12 Nov 1998 10:31:50 GMT
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The lights came back on suddenly, the night light in the
bathroom being the only one she had turned on while sleeping.
There was the hum of the air conditioning picking up and the
digital clock on the bedhead began flashing insistently midnight.
Cassie blinked to adjust her eyes and then turned on the overhead
dimmer very softly so as not to frighten her guest. Colors stole
back into the room, the dim burgundy of the bedspread, the darker
reds of pillows and towels. The angel looked at the globe of white
light shimmering overhead and then lowered his eyes again to hers.
“Okay?” she said, smiling. “Light will help me do a good job…
great.” She opened the box and went to examine the wing.
When she took hold of it again, the great gray pinions
shivered. The angel caught his breath. “I know,” she said
soothingly. “I know.” She examined the torn flesh. “No glass,” she
said to herself. “And I don’t think you broke any bones, though
God knows what kind of little bones you do have in your wings.”
Then she bit her lip and looked up, afraid the angel had caught
the blasphemy. He had managed to roll over halfway, his manhood
flopping down on the sheet, and support himself with his elbow. He
gazed at her as if there were nothing whatever unusual about his
Her cheeks hot, she took out the antiseptic spray and coated
the wounds. The angel hissed a little between his teeth but the
wing in her hand never moved. He kept it still all through her
ministrations, and when she was done he sat up. His other wing
trailing over the edge of the bed down to the floor, he examined
the bandages carefully. Apparently approving, he twitched the wing
to his back, where it still didn’t fold all the way, and held out
a hand to her, fastening the intensity of his gaze on hers again.
“Well, I… well it was nothing,” she said, looking at the hand
in confusion. It was long and thin, a piano player’s hand, fine as
porcelain. He was built like an Arabian horse, all compact
lightness, tendons and muscles crafted toward the singleminded
purpose of flight. She looked up, at the androgynous planes of his
ivory face. The hair falling in lank wet trails down his shoulders
was gray as ash, though his face was younger than hers and his
unlined skin was pale. He gave the hand an impatient little
twitch, and Cassie took it with hers. It was warm, hot; she
worried about a fever.
While she was thinking this, she let herself be drawn to sit
down beside him.
“I should take your temperature,” she said weakly. The angel
looked down at her, frighteningly close, the chiseled line of his
jaw and cheekbone angling up to the enormous clear eyes.
His mouth opened, and he seemed to be saying all right… but
there was no voice. His almost invisible eyebrows came together.
“All right?” she said. “Try again.” She reached a hand up to
feel his forehead; it too was burning, almost startlingly hot. He
wrapped his own slender hand around her wrist and pulled her hand
down, resting it on the protruding line of his collarbone. Cassie
gulped, her stomach tightening. She had so many questions, and
they all seemed to be dissolving in some kind of hypnotism brought
about by his sheer beauty and closeness.
The angel did not appear to be thinking along those lines,
however; to him touch and nakedness appeared to be perfectly
ordinary. She wondered if he were puzzled by her robe, and for a
moment dizziness overwhelmed her as she thought it would be polite
to remove it. She shook her head. “Try again,” she repeated.
He looked at her, his pale lips opening, and again she could
read the words there: try again, he was saying after her, try
again. Almost, this time, in a whisper.
She blinked, leaning forward as if the sheer pull of her will
could bring words from him. “Again,” she breathed, instinctively
lowering her voice to approximate her request. “Just whisper…
The elbows of the wings standing over his shoulders flexed, and
the wings rose, feathers brushing the wall on two sides. “Try
again,” he whispered, “speak to her, my rescuer.” The wings gave a
slow, delighted beat, and he grinned quite brilliantly.
“There!” she said. “You did it.” She was grinning too, less
beautifully, she suspected.
“Vocal,” he breathed, “communicative.” He reached out to stroke
her cheek with his long, burning hand. “Lovely,” he said, and this
time there was a hint of his voice.
She blushed and dropped her eyes; not a good move
strategically, as her gaze landed upon his masculinity. Quickly
she looked up again, and returned his gesture. The flat planes of
his cheek felt like stone, like living marble; softness cloaking
an endless immobility. “Lovelier,” she said embarassedly.
He smiled, showing white, even teeth behind his pale thin lips.
Unexpectedly she relaxed a little; the sight of those even flat
teeth gave her a reassurance she hadn’t known she was seeking. No
“Wings,” she said, reaching also to touch the arch of feathers
over his shoulder. This move gave her a waft of his dry, spicy
scent. She was also close enough to hear his intake of breath and
see the widening of his pupils, midnight swallowing the granite.
For a moment, drawing her hand back away from the taut feathery
muscle of his wing, she thought she had hurt him. But he did not
seem to be in pain, and he smiled at her as she sat back.
“Yes, wings,” he said breathily, “pinions of the messenger,
gifts for the child of heaven.”
“Child of Heaven?”
His colorless eyes peered into hers as if he looked there for
his answer. “Seraphim, messenger, angel,” he replied in the
softest tenor tones. His voice was like his face, spare, planed,
carven in marble by a loving hand.
“Angel,” she said in wonder.
Then he was shaking his head, little whips of ashy hair
threshing his jawbones. “Seeker after winds,” he said, “child of
the sky; messenger.”
She groped after the hints of meaning she found in this
apparent correction, but failed. “Well, whatever you are,” she
said, “you probably need to eat. Right?”
He greeted this question with a nod. She thought, roughly half
an hour later, that seeing him eat was the most surreal experience
of her life. He sat at her kitchen table, taking his ease with his
elbows planted on the tiled surface, naked as dawn, rarely taking
his water-colored eyes from hers. He consumed a sandwich matter-
of-factly, just as anyone else would have done, and got a milk
moustache. Meanwhile she had to keep stepping over the trailing
soft edges of his wings to get to the refrigerator and the sink.
“Do you have a name?” she asked him, awkwardly, once she could
find nothing further to potter with. She took the chair opposite
him. Her apartment kitchen had an alcove big enough for a table
and four chairs, and so that was what it had. No one had ever sat
in any of the chairs; she usually carried her food to bed and
vaccuumed the crumbs daily.
He cocked his head, birdlike, drawing a giggle from her as a
strip of lettuce vanished into his mouth. He swallowed and gave
her a non-answer: “Not for me, no name, identifier of boundary,
“Well, I suppose so,” she said. Her eyes dropped to regard her
fingers twisting anxiously over the beige tiles of the tabletop.
“I guess a name limits you. If you’re John, you’re not George, are
He watched her think it through. She gathered quick glimpses of
him through the honey fringe of her bangs.
“If you’re an angel,” she said slowly, cautiously, “I suppose
you could be George and John both if you liked. But sometimes
limitations are important. I mean… if you’re me, you’re not
anybody else. It’s hard enough just to be me. For me, anyway.”
Cassie looked up in mute apology for the poor sense content, only
to meet warm understanding. How could gray eyes be so warm? she
“Cassie,” he said. It was like a call to arms. She couldn’t
imagine anyone ever saying her name that way. It was as if it were
her name for the first time.
She couldn’t think of anything to say, and so she handed him a
napkin and showed him how to use it. The angel managed the trick
well enough, and then sat in contentment on the chair, apparently
thinking of nothing but his desire to look at her.
Cassie, lost in the confusion of trying to relate to someone
who hadn’t the same social programming, fidgeted under his
mercilessly tender gaze. Finally, seeing that he was done, she
took his plate and glass to the sink. It would be rude to wash
them with him right there… not that he would notice it was
rude.. but she’d know.
At this point in her troubled thoughts, she realized he’d half
turned in the chair to watch her at the sink. If he’d only stop
looking at me! she thought. She turned, her confusion turning
momentarily to anger, but the look on his face stopped her. She’d
fed him and warmed him and bandaged his hurt, actions of care and
providence that she’d never performed for anyone before. The
angel’s new comfort and contentment were like miracles on his
face, marvels of human compassion that were as new to him as to
“Beauty of your gifts,” he said softly.
“You’re welcome.” Cassie leaned against the counter, looking at
him as he continued to gaze at her. He didn’t let her merely look
for long, reaching out and taking both her hands. The heat of his
skin was a shock again. His face was too pale to be fever-flushed,
and his eyes were bright; but she didn’t know how he usually
looked, to tell if he were ill. Anyone, she thought, after being
storm-blown onto a thirty-second floor balcony, would be a little
“Better get you back to bed,” she said.
He nodded meekly and rose to his feet, the rustling of his
feathers against the floor a soft hushing sound. She marveled
again, walking him back to her bedroom, at the rightness of the
join between human back and bird’s wing. It was like, yet unlike
the pictures of angels she’d seen all her life. They had always
seemed awkward, in the pictures. This being looked born for the
Seeker after winds, he had named himself. It shone in every
line of him.
He rested once again on his chest, and she drew the coverlet up
over the curves of his back. He turned his head, soberly regarding
the bandaged wing for a moment, and then swept both of them up and
down once. The breeze of this motion dusted her hair off her
forehead and sounded in her ears, but she didn’t miss the wince of
pain that crossed his face.
“It’s all right,” she said. “You’ll get better. You’ll be able
to fly again soon.”
“Yes,” he answered in his light voice. “Seeking the wind before
She nodded, caught and surprised by a sudden pang of nameless
emotion. So many things she was unused to feeling had happened to
her over the last few hours. Cassie wished only for sleep.
Troubled again by the sense of rudeness, she didn’t know whether
to stay until he slept, for his reassurance, or if he needed
privacy and she should retire to the couch. This problem he solved
for her, reaching for her hand again. She gave it to him with a
sense of helplessness, and sat down beside his broad shoulders.
The undamaged wing shifted out of her way, and she saw the muscles
in his back flex. The tiny feathers that shaded to skin where the
wings began made her want to touch them.
He let his head fall to the pillow, his hair dry now and
flourishing outward richly from his narrow face. He rested her
hand on his shoulder, looking as if he’d rather tuck it under her
cheek but was, like her, afraid of offending. Cassie watched his
eyes close, their brightness subsumed in sleep.
Her thoughts tumbled over one another like water. Messenger,
he’d called himself. What was the message? How could this possibly
have happened, and why was it happening to her? At last her
thoughts turned back to the way she’d walked out onto the
balcony… even rested her back against that deadly barrier,
nothing but indifferently mass-produced wooden balcony between her
and the endless Down. The sense of triumph came back, and she
smiled into the dimness of the room, her hand absently moving on
the hot, smooth skin of the winged man’s shoulder.
She woke in the morning with an unclear sense of things
alarmingly left undone. Memory came back to her in bits and
pieces; first she remembered that she was on the couch because
someone else was in her bed, then she recalled that she’d
forgotten to set the alarm for work this morning. The part about
the wings came back nearly last, and the pleasant sting of
realizing that she’d gone out on the balcony last night was what
brought her all the way awake.
Eager to test this new fearlessness, she rolled off the couch,
recognized her nakedness, and grabbed up the sheet before turning
to the balcony.
Her angel was already there, standing outside on the concrete.
The glass door was shredded all around him, but he was as blithely
naked as he had been last night, and turned to hear her footsteps
stop and start. It wasn’t the balcony that stopped her, but the
flash and glitter of thousands of glass shards, a sea of them
between her and the outside.
The gray feathers tucked against himself, avoiding the wind
that tugged playfully at their tips, he extended his hand to her.
With a mental sigh, she turned back to her couch and grabbed a
blanket. In the chilly breeze from the outside, she laid this over
most of the glass and walked carefully.
The threshold clung to her, but only for a moment. The next
moment her hand was in his, the startling heat of his fingers
distracting her as she took the one step, then the other and laid
her free hand on the balcony, feeling her heart trying to hammer
its way out of her chest.
It was a long way down, but she wasn’t falling.
Feathers tickled her cheek on the other side, and she looked
around to realize he had extended his unharmed wing around her
shoulders, cradling her in gray feathers and cutting off the worst
of the wind’s bite. She was holding his hand far too tightly, she
sensed vaguely, as she rested more of her weight on the hand on
the cold balcony rail. She leaned over, oh, only fractionally, and
glimpsed the street, far below.
Cassie understood something then, something terrible, a grim
exchange for the freedom she’d been given. What she realized was
that her fear, her implacable terror of Down, had been only the
natural consequence of desire. Nothing drew her like that sweet
and fatal swoop of gravity, of plummeting. She pulled back from
the edge, without panic, only with regret and understanding. She
pushed the feathers aside easily and walked back over the
crunching blanket into her bedroom.
He followed her, the nameless angel. Ducking his wings through
the doorway, he stepped unconcernedly along the shimmering pathway
of glass. Cassie curled up on her bed, wondering if she should
call in to work today. Her co-workers would be expecting her. She
didn’t really think anyone would take time to call and find out if
she were all right, but she could probably lose the job if she
didn’t come in. It seemed frighteningly less important than it
would have yesterday.
The winged man settled his light weight on the bed beside her.
Feathers curling behind him, he reached for her hand again. She
took it away automatically. “I’m sorry,” she said at once and gave
it back. “I just… I’m so overwhelmed by all this. But it’s
hardly your fault.” She sighed. “It’s clear I’m not going to work
today, anyhow.” The idea of leaving a broken-winged angel in her
room and spending the day not telling anyone while she sold
perfumes to strangers was inconceivable.
The angel’s lips were like dry silk on her knuckles. Cassie
smiled slightly, thinking about work, hardly noticing the rustling
of his wings as he curled himself around her. The heat of his skin
against her sheet-wound body recalled her to herself, and just as
she realized his interest in touching her was becoming more
aggressive, it was too late because he had drawn her down to rest
against his chest. “Wait,” she said, “I don’t…”
The angel shook his ash-colored hair. “Fear nothing,” he said.
If his tone had been reassuring, Cassie wouldn’t have believed
him, being raised to automatically distrust men and their wiles.
But his matter-of-factness sabotaged her programming. In so many
ways he was different from everything she knew: the wings were the
least of it. She settled her cheek against his shoulder and simply
closed her eyes, without worry or anxiety. The sense of burdens
lifted was amazing, a thing she hadn’t known existed. How much
she’d been carrying, all unawares.
Still, when his hand slid warmly up her arm, his elbow cupping
her back, she opened her eyes and stiffened up. It occurred to her
to wish she could enjoy his caresses without worrying about what
would happen next, but it was beyond her. She didn’t know much
about men, and whatever else he was, he was surely male. When
would she need to stop him, before his desires became too much and
he did something terrible to her?
Or maybe it wouldn’t be terrible. The things she didn’t know
crowded in her mind and crippled her.
But the angel didn’t try anything, as her stiffly made up
mother probably would have put it. He merely held her, warming her
from head to foot with his presence, the shifting canopy of his
feathers speaking in whispers to one another overhead. Cassie’s
thoughts had been turned inexorably from her own difficulties to
his presence, his nearness and his beauty. Embarassment kept her
still for a long time; it was as if her self-consciousness
extended to the room, the hush of balmy morning wind through the
smashed window, the scent of uneasy sleep upon her breath, the
carelessly heaped pillows that had fallen from the bed.
But something else grew on her mind, something that made the
stillness brittle. She wanted to touch him. If he would not take
the decision from her hands, the wish to break her silence, her
The phone rang in the kitchen, and she leapt from the circle of
his arm. The stalemate shattered, her heart pounding, she scurried
away without looking.
“You’re home!” It was David, her boss. “Hey, blue eyes, are you
“I’m sorry, David,” she said, nerves making her stammer the
words. “I don’t feel very good. I was going to call you… really
I was… I’m so sorry….”
“Stop now,” he said reassuringly. “I’ve already called Lisa in.
Is it the flu?”
“Oh no,” she said. Her hand was knotted at her throat.
Determined to make the crime of lying to David a minimal one, she
said, “It’s only a little stomach thing. I’ll be all right. I’ll
come in tomorrow, no problem.”
“You’re off tomorrow,” he said. She could hear the smile in his
voice. Generous David had raised two children her age. For a
moment she wondered if he saw through her, but he sounded warm
enough that it didn’t matter either way. “You stay home, come in
Friday, dear. Feel better.”
“Thanks, David.” She still felt uncomfortable calling him by
his first name, but he had insisted from the first.
She stood in the silent kitchen for a minute after the call.
Even now she couldn’t properly exercise her hesitation without
wondering what the angel was thinking in the bedroom. Her attempt
to think it through went wildly astray, unable to get past the
confusion in her head. Her mind had divided again, into the
practical part and the meek and mild part her parents would have
recognized. The practical part told her she had an opportunity
here… she had read it in the angel’s eyes, in his indrawn breath
when she touched him. Only a fool would pass it up. The meek part
was incoherent with fear, producing transparent arguments like
static. He didn’t desire her, he was here to take advantage of
her, the wings were a clever special effect, she was dealing with
a madman and an intruder.
Practical said she had conquered the balcony. Now look: another
fear had shown up. Meek had been wrong about the heights, which
weren’t out to get her. What were the chances it was right now?
Meek quoted disease and violent crime statistics, took on the
voices of her parents and lectured, ladled guilt about skipping
work on top of that, and stirred well.
“Shut up!” she whispered to herself fiercely. “Shut up and let
You’re cracking up, girl, Meek advised before dissolving.
Practical only smiled. Then they were both gone.
Cassie leaned her forehead against the cool tiles of the
kitchen wall. That was when she heard the muted cry from the
bedroom, and the sudden rattle of pained feathers. She dashed down
the brief hall and turned into her bedroom doorway.
Still seated on her bed, the angel had removed the dressing
she’d put on his wing, the great swoop of its arch stretched out
before him awkwardly so he could reach its elbow.
“Oh, don’t do that,” she hastened in, climbing onto the bed on
the other side of the gray wall of his wing. “You’ll make it
worse.” She chided him, frowning at his unrepentant headshake. The
wound had closed, as far as she could tell through the feathers.
She’d washed it well; no blood crusted the contraption of light
down and wire-tendons. The angel soberly bent the joint, wincing
only slightly, and she saw it tremble. “Please,” she said. “Just
bind it up again. It’ll be better sooner if you leave it alone!”
“Where is the wind?” he asked, but resignedly. “As you say,
“Hah,” she said, without thinking, as she wound the bandages
most carefully, having to slip the length of the white fabric up
between the same two pinions on every turn.
He laughed, a silvery light chuckle that shivered his feathers,
so that the sound seemed to run down them like water and vanish
off the ends. She didn’t hesitate at all, only followed these
elusive ripples of laughter with her fingertips, thinking vaguely
that she might catch them if she was quick enough. The feathers
bent just slightly, elastically, under her touch.
The angel’s eyes ignited, the pale gray of them sparkling as
his head lifted to look into her face over the quivering barrier
of his wing. He closed it, lifting it over his head with the
other, reaching out to her with both hands. She took them, her
head a whirl of awareness, knowing that nothing now was between
them but the cool material of the sheet. Her resolve certainly had
no power to stop things now, if it ever had.
Holding her fear and her desire like burning swords in both
hands, she moved awkwardly on her knees closer to him, unable to
look down at his body without dying of embarassment. The colors
his eyes had picked up from the burgundy bedspread, the light rose
walls, were gone, burned away before the assured fire shining
there now. The angel’s hands tightened on hers, balancing her as
she wobbled toward him.
“I’m sorry,” she said, not knowing what she was apologizing
for, not liking the changed sound of her voice.
He shook his head, a trail of his hair falling over his eyes.
Cassie nobly resisted the temptation to put it back. “Fear
nothing,” he said softly again. “Gift of beauty, earth’s daughter,
hands of the healer.”
“I’m sure you mean someone else,” she said with a shaky laugh.
“You know, I think it must be a problem with your English.
Strictly phrases, and no… no sense at all.” As she said this, he
was enfolding her in his arms. She settled against the heat of his
chest, feeling quite clearly how her body fit against his. She was
aware of places she hardly ever thought about pressing against
skin of his she hadn’t dared dream of. Around her the gray
softness of his wings closed, shutting out the rest of the world.
Cradled in that feathery embrace, Cassie tried to calm her
heart. “I’m afraid,” she said, so softly she could barely hear
herself, fighting her dry throat. “I’m a v– I’m a virgin.”
She felt him nod, his chin pressing against her forehead, but
the sense of his compassion and desire never faltered. His arms
never lessened their tender crush, and she was growing used to
leaning herself against him.
Cassie thought that after today she couldn’t use that word
anymore, and a quiver of fear ran through her. It was the last,
she decided immediately afterward. Meek and Mild might not realize
it, but she’d made her decision. She wasn’t going to push anything
on him, but whatever he wanted of her, he could have. She trusted
As if he felt her reach this conclusion through her skin, he
waited no longer. The dusty velvet curtain of his wings parted as
he straightened, rising to his knees against her. She felt the
shifting firmness of his groin slipping into place at her hip. The
angel’s hands stroked down her back, taking the sheet with them,
so that it tugged at her breasts, trying to slide away from
between them. Cassie drew a deep breath and edged back, against
the warm angle of his arm, and the sheet fell away.
The angel settled his hands on her shoulders and looked gravely
into her face. His eyes followed their natural course, down the
slopes of her breasts and her abdomen, to the fluff of hair that
curled between her legs like a sleeping animal. When his water-
colored gaze met hers again it was alight. Cassie lifted her hand
to his cheekbone, feeling there the unusual heat sinking into her
bones. She had some idea from the movies that this was supposed to
start with a kiss, and so she leaned forward and kissed him–
quailing at the last moment and pressing her lips to his cheek.
This chaste motion nevertheless brought her nakedness and his into
contact, and she twitched back, her breath quick and sharp.
“Cassie,” the angel said suddenly. The word came out harsh, not
in tone but in timbre. It had cost him effort to say it. She
looked at him helplessly.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just I’m so afraid.”
I’m ruining this, she thought. A flicker of annoyance went
through her. If he’d only take her, without all this care… stop
wondering if she were all right and take what he wanted. She’d
find it much easier. Knowing it was a lunatic thought, she lowered
her head lest he read it in her eyes.
The rustle of his wings made her raise her glance. He was
extending the hurt one again, without looking away from her, the
faint shadows of pain crossing his marble face. It flicked
smoothly back into position, with almost the same birdlike speed
as the healthy wing.
“Come,” he said, letting his leg extend off the bed, then
standing up. He kept her shoulders in his hands, drawing her after
him. She followed him meekly, thinking that she owed him something
after messing things up. If only her parents would shut up in her
head, she could think. Propriety was a garotte, and with loving
hands they had tied it around her neck.
That thought collided with the one about fear and desire being
like swords she held, swords of fire that burned her hands, yet
saved her life. If she could use the one somehow to cut the
Cassie’s thoughts were interrupted by the slice of glass into
the ball of her foot as the angel led her toward the broken
window. She hissed and stopped, his hand drifting off her
shoulder, and balanced on the other foot to pull the sliver from
her skin. A bead of blood followed, but it didn’t look too
serious. Picking her way more carefully, she stepped onto the
blanket and followed the gray-winged angel onto her balcony.
The wind tossed her hair about cheerfully, blonde streamers
passing her eyes and tickling her nose. She was cheered simply by
being out here, by letting the wind touch her and knowing it had
no power to pick her up and fling her off. Her nipples hardened
immediately in its relative chill, and she thought how silly it
was to be out here naked. Why wasn’t she screaming and running
indoors for some clothing?
The angel had gotten her used to nakedness, her mind answered.
Besides, Practical quipped, surfacing momentarily, there’s a naked
man with huge gray wings standing next to you. Who’s going to look
She laughed into the wind. The angel turned to her, his ashy
hair blowing around his face just as hers did. His face was
serenely amused, as if he’d heard Practical’s joke. Cassie shook
her head and leaned her elbows on the balcony. If the view down to
the street made her slightly dizzy, it was a natural reaction.
Fear and desire balanced evenly, tugging in different directions.
She wasn’t falling.
The angel’s hands slid over her shoulders again, and he pressed
against her from behind, wrapping her in his arms. His wings
extended toward her, cutting off much of the wind with their
ship’s-rigging creak and ripple. He leaned over her, resting his
chin against her ear, holding her with the heat of his body. She
closed her eyes, the wind and his touch blending together. His
hands cupped her breasts suddenly, touching where nobody had ever
touched. Her nipples, tight with cold, burned against his palms.
She had made some sound, not knowing what it was. His touch
drew away a little, his hands moving to her shoulders, his arms
still wrapped warmly around hers. She leaned back against him,
wanting only comfort. But he was going, pulling back from her,
making her stand on his own and letting the cool wind back against
her skin. She turned to look at him.
The angel leapt catlike, balanced his feet for one instant on
the rails of the balcony, and flung himself off into the air.
Cassie shouted incoherently, grabbing after him, her heart
instantly turning into a sickened pounding thing in her chest.
But the angel had changed utterly. No longer a grounded thing
with incongruous feathers, he had become a bird that looked like a
man. His wings had opened into a sweetly natural position,
carrying him already far off into the wind, horizontal. He wasn’t
The white patch of bandage showed on his wing joint as he
curved his flight, swooping upward, over her head. She heard his
delighted silvery laughter from far away, brought to her by the
wind. Then he was gone behind the building.
Alone, Cassie suddenly felt her nakedness. She crossed her arms
over her breasts, but couldn’t bear to go back inside, not yet,
and admit that her bird had flown. Surely he would come back…?
Each star now knows your name
I’ve wished upon them all
Each answer is the same:
“Not ’til the heavens fall.”
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From firstname.lastname@example.org Thu Nov 12 04:31:58 1998
From: email@example.com (Rosemerry)
Subject: Fear & Desire Pt 3 (M/F, sci fi, virgin)
Date: 12 Nov 1998 10:31:58 GMT
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The rush of wings came from behind her. She’d barely turned
when he was almost upon her. She gave a little shriek at the great
gray thing bearing down, and backed up a step. He cupped the wings
with a hollow boom of air and was immediately thumping to his feet
on the concrete. The wings flickered back to their folded
positions and the angel laughed again.
“You’re better!” Cassie said. “Or anyway, you can fly now.” Her
heart slowing a little, she thought about the first time she’d
realized he was hurt, and how much she’d wanted his freedom. Now
he had it. She couldn’t ask him to stay, she told herself firmly.
“I’m, I’m glad.” Cursing her hesitation, she looked away.
The sun was well and truly up, although her balcony faced the
west. She was in the shadow of the building. It was probably
nearly ten o’clock, if she’d awakened as late as she thought. The
breakfast hour was passed, and she didn’t miss it, but having the
day off would mean she’d spend it at odds in her apartment,
listening to the fretful voices of her parents in her head. Alone.
“Come, merciful child of earth,” said the warm, light tenor of
the angel near her. He’d stepped close, his body shining in the
pale shade. “Seek the wind.” He held out his hand. Cassie took it,
not wanting to let herself understand what he’d just said. The
angel didn’t give her time to think, which was a blessing. He took
her hand, drawing her across his body, and caught her around the
waist with his other arm. She felt his legs heave, his manhood
slide against her–felt that clearly, in the chaos of terrified
sensation–and her feet had lost the pavement.
Cassie fairly screamed, flung her free arm around his neck.
Suddenly he was everything that kept her from death, and she clung
for dear life. The building was gone, everything was gone but the
merciless drop below and the fragile hot construction of flesh and
light bones that she held to. His whole body surged against her
over and over with the flapping of his wings. Their sounds were
all around her, slicing down the wind and slapping up, as loud as
if he were a living sail. She felt his laugh against her breasts,
a sound of pure joy.
“Put me down, put me back!” she cried. The angel made no
response, other than to swoop. Gravity shifted sickeningly, for a
moment she was on top of him, then her arms clinched tighter as
she slung underneath again. It became clear he wasn’t planning to
stop. She felt his chest heaving, felt his arms tremble as he
clung to her waist, but he wasn’t going to stop. She clung with
arms and legs, waiting to be killed.
“Look,” he said, his voice loud over the wind, vibrating
against her ear. He sounded labored. “Look, earth’s daughter.”
She sniffled her terrified tears back and turned her head a
little. One eye came free of his shoulder and neck, and she saw
they were over a completely different part of the city. The
buildings were unfamiliar to her. People walked briskly down the
sidewalk, little more than moving dots at this height. “They don’t
look up,” she said shakily. Her grip on his neck and hips never
The angel’s wings shook the air harder as he lifted them up,
higher, moving over the city at a rapid pace. There was a park, a
playground. Only a few children swung desultorily on its swings at
the hour, but the ducks in the pond took notice of the great
winged shape moving overhead and scattered, panicked. Their shadow
slipped smoothly over the grass, small as an airplane’s shadow far
Cassie’s fear didn’t lessen. No matter how long he flew, she
would remain terrified, she knew. It was wearing her out. But
through it, or past it, she was learning to think for herself. She
couldn’t pay attention to her social programming in a situation as
crazy as this, and the angel had never had any. The voices of her
parents, and of Practical and her wimpy counterpart, were left
behind, blown away from her by the wind that seared her skin with
its chill. And as the angel soared with her over the city she
began to touch him.
Her fingers first became aware of the line of his shoulders
underneath his skin. His bones were so light, hard-edged beneath
their thin, flexing cover of powerfully hot skin. She didn’t
release her left hand’s hold on her right wrist, or let herself
relax in his arms, but her hand slid down the backbone. At the
same time she lifted her head a fraction, letting her mouth come
in contact with his shoulder instead of her eyes. His skin was
sweet, dusted lightly with a pungent sweat. Cassie smiled against
his shoulder, feeling his body twitch against her in reaction.
She took a firm grip on his neck with her left hand, entirely
freeing her right. He was holding her, after all, and her knees
were still clamped around his. She wouldn’t fall. He wouldn’t let
her. So her hand slid down his back, resting lightly on the
working muscles that drove the great wings. As her fingers slid
into feathers, she heard his breathing shudder and the wingbeats
faltered. Then they were plunging downward, the wings motionless
in the air.
She shrieked again and opened her eyes, turning her head,
snatching back her hand to grip the other in a panicky clutch. The
building came at them, nearly smashing them to bits, but he had
somehow swept around it on a rush of wind. On the other side, his
wings still extended and still, there was a lift. Gravity tugged
at her as they rose, circling slowly around on one side of a worn,
elderly building with round little windows. She watched the bricks
descending slowly, until suddenly it was potted trees and
artificial flowers,in among hothouse ivy and tended grass.
Someone’s roof garden was below them, then the angel’s wings
clapped twice and gave their hollow boom, he released her and they
fell together onto the grass.
She rolled twice, jumbled and bruised, and came to a halt,
collecting herself. A quick look showed her an empty garden, with
the roof door that led to it closed if not locked. Good; she
wouldn’t be hauled off to the police for being here, especially
being here naked. She turned her head.
The angel looked as if his last act had been to land her on
this grassy space. He lay unnaturally on his back, his wings
spread in two enormous gray arcs on the ground. Their feathers
trembled slightly, and he was breathing hard, the only indication
that he still lived. His mouth was slack and open, his head turned
to the side, his hair everywhere. She crawled over to him, put
both hands on his sweaty chest. “Are you all right?” she asked
He nodded slightly, both alive and awake, to her great relief.
Cassie looked around more carefully. There was a pool, now covered
up for the season, and the potted trees were mostly palms, likely
to survive the winter in this balmy part of the world. The flowers
weren’t real, the deck chairs were folded away and the grass was
altogether too green. Someone was maintaining this area for its
wealthy owner, who probably lived in the entire upper floor of the
building, but it wasn’t actually in use right now.
“Angel,” she said frankly, “you scared hell out of me.” There
wasn’t a peep from her parents’ mental voices, despite the
forbidden word. They were probably still in the wind somewhere
between here and her apartment.
The angel was laughing at her, his eyes open now, taking on the
green of the grass he lay in. He pushed at her to move back, and
sat up, the wings flipping to a modified version of their folded
position, over his head. It didn’t look comfortable.
Cassie did her best to turn off her brain. Then she settled
back in the grass, flicked her hair out of her eyes, and reached
up to draw him down over her. His wings creaked as they flipped
back down to a resting place, and the heel of his hand landed on
her hair, tugging her head aside. His kiss landed on the corner of
her mouth. His lips were as heated as the rest of him, silky. She
flushed deeply, but didn’t let herself realize it. Fear had been
sliced out of her by the knife of the wind, leaving only desire.
His chest was slick and smooth under her fingers, the nubs of
his nipples as hard as hers, in miniature. He kissed her more
properly. She hadn’t known to open her lips, it happened on its
own, letting his tongue slip in. This made him soften against her,
molding his body to hers, except for the one part that hardened,
which she was hyperaware of, happening against her hip.
Cassie found out about the wings by accident, too. Her hands
wanted to touch and smooth his skin everywhere. Eventually they
naturally gravitated to his back, and when she ruffled up the
little feathers that led to his wings, he gasped, stiffening
against her. She looked into his face, concerned, and at last
understood the meaning of this reaction. Deliberately, she did it
again, feeling the silky, dusty softness of the numberless tiny
feathers under her fingers. The angel gave a sound halfway between
a growl and a moan and put his head down beside her neck. His back
arched, reminding her of a cat she had once petted. Cassie felt a
sweeping rush of something, moving from her groin up through her
body to spread hotly in her chest, a sweet sense of her own power
to make him feel whatever it was that caused that sound.
She kissed him this time, boldly touching her mouth to his.
Somehow things were happening all over her body that she wasn’t in
control of. Her own back strained her up against him, pressed her
breasts against his chest. Her right knee came up, her toes
digging into the grass, while her left, the one he was half-
resting on, was down, welcoming him. And she felt the place
between her legs, the one she’d never been as aware of as she was
right now, slickening itself with a feeling of heat and wanting
she’d not felt since watching evil movies in high school.
Her hands slid down the luxuriance of his wings, feathers
springy and strong under her hands. The angel moaned softly,
burying his face against her neck, his mouth working on her skin.
She felt a shiver go through her, and strained his body closer
against hers. He put his hand on her breast again, this time not
cupping but stroking. His fingers pinched her nipple. It was
extraordinary, as if her nipples were connected by wires of
pleasure to her groin. It was Cassie’s turn to moan.
It had never occurred to her that her body would know what to
do, without any instruction on her part. But her hands guided his
head, her fingers buried themselves in the cool, silky strands of
his hair, setting his face against her breast until her nipple was
taken into his mouth. Cassie let her voice express her pleasure
again, the wind taking it, scattering it over the empty garden.
His body shifted, moving more over her. His hipbone ground a
little painfully against hers, catching a bruised place from her
unceremonious dumping onto this rooftop. She didn’t care. Her
attention was on the way his manhood seemed hard and seeking, yet
springy, its root flexible so that it slid over her hip and
nestled in her pubic hair without hurting him, although his body
was pressed as closely against hers as could possibly be.
Cassie wanted it, knew suddenly where it should go, her body
seeming to hollow itself out in readiness. Her legs were even
opening, her knee canting off at an angle. She raked her fingers
down his back for the reward of his gasp, riffling her thumbs
through the little feathers. He moved his mouth from one nipple to
the other, bracing himself on his elbows, and suckled there. She
let her head fall back to the grass, little sounds coaxed out of
her with every motion of his tongue on the sensitive spot. His
wings extended over her, their quivering feathertips pointing over
her head. She stroked them with both hands.
His hand swept hungrily down her body, sliding over her
ribcage. Cassie caught her breath in astonishment, as her entire
body seemed to leap for his touch. She never would have thought
pleasure so universal, so that every inch of her skin surface
longed for the heat and smoothness of his skin.
His fingers slipped between her legs. Cassie rejected the
impulse to close them, block him out. Instead she merely tensed in
something between anticipation and nervousness.
There was no pain. The lips there welcomed his touch, and she
felt the astonishing heat, coming not from outside but from
within, spreading over her lips and coating her upper thighs as
his hand explored her. Pleasure followed his fingers. She was so
deep there, she could have swallowed his whole hand, though it was
too big around. She shuddered as his thumb grazed the sensitive
spot under its hood, and suddenly wanted the finish of this thing
with twice her urgency.
“My angel,” she whispered, not wanting to hear again that
rough, deepened sound to her voice. Her whole body felt that way.
She knew how it would sound when she spoke aloud.
He slid his finger into her, simultaneously pulling on her
nipple with his lips. Cassie tilted her hips, wanting to drive his
finger more deeply in. Her breast slipped from his mouth, and she
threw both arms around his neck. Wings rustled as she kissed him,
marveling at the taste of her own skin on his lips and tongue.
“Please,” she said when he drew back, his gray eyes burning in his
face. “Now, please.”
He nodded to her, his mobile lips curling in a smile. His knee
slid between hers, bearing his weight as he hovered over her.
Cassie knew without knowing what came next, and her body was tense
and frightened as she made herself open her legs widely. It felt
wanton, improper to do, but she did. She was resolved. The
springiness of his masculinity, its heavy, blunt flop, made sense
to her now as it slipped deliciously against her soaking lips. He
leaned aside, one hand holding him up. The other caught her hand
and drew it down. Cassie realized where he was going and bit her
lip, but let him move her fingers to it.
Hot, as the rest of him was hot, and smooth. It had grown
astonishingly, she thought, from when she had first seen it. Its
dimensions frightened her; was this meant to go inside her? She
stroked, cautiously, feeling the way the skin seemed to move
sleekly over the solid core underneath. Perhaps it was boned, like
the rest of him, although she wasn’t sure how that could be when
its shape had changed so. Either way, suddenly she didn’t know if
she could go through with this.
Her touch had made him quiver. He crouched over her, taking her
hand from him. He lifted it up, kissed the knuckles once, and
rested it firmly on his shoulder. Then while Cassie gripped him
there with panicky strength, he did it. She gasped and closed her
eyes tight while he entered her a little, waited a moment and
pushed forward, waited, and again. It hurt more than a little, but
she didn’t stop him. When he began to move, sliding himself in and
out of her, the pain diminished, fading away slowly until the
experience wasn’t unpleasant anymore.
Cassie let herself relax after that, shaken by the pain she’d
felt. He kept moving, tenderly, over her, his back arching up like
an animal’s. His wings were outspread around her, their leading
edges braced against the ground delicately. His breathing was
coming more swiftly, his hair falling all around her face and
dripping into his eyes. She set it back and he smiled at her,
kissing her wrist while he moved, thrusting into her again and
She felt a dreamy sense of that power again, the ability to
make him feel pleasure. She reached around his chest, under the
supporting arms, and ran her fingers over the strong base of his
wings. He gave a soft sound and the motion of his hips speeded up,
rocking against her. She found her own body moving with his. The
friction was what delighted him, she realized, giving him the same
pleasure she’d felt when he rubbed her. The brief pain had stunned
the pleasure out of her, but she sensed that if he kept this up
long enough, it would come back.
He wouldn’t, though. He was going too fast, driving himself
into her on his own timetable. She simply held him, let him have
his way with her, moved with him, stroking over and over again the
feathers of his wings, the muscles of his back. Once her hand
dared to slip down, feel the tensing and releasing that was moving
him into her. Cassie listened with wonder to his voice, raised in
passion near her ear. She was bringing this out of him, taking him
to this height. It felt wonderful.
The angel met her eyes, his shining and glittering with
eagerness. She couldn’t bear the unguarded look of his face, and
kissed him so that she could close her eyes. His mouth was loose
with pleasure, and he moaned right into her kiss, vibrating her
lips with the sound. Sudden pleasure leapt up in her, warming her
nerves, all of them. He threw his head back, his ash-colored hair
flaring everywhere, and she heard the rattling rustle of his wings
as they tensed and shuddered.
Inside her, he seemed to do the same thing, twitching and
jerking. His voice was the piercing wildness of an eagle’s call.
She felt him stop, trembling as he pressed himself as far into her
as he could, his supporting hands digging their fingers into the
turf.She made a short, gutteral sound, heated by another flash of
dull, faraway pleasure. Mostly she was overjoyed by his ecstasy.
This was what he’d wanted, and she’d been able, despite her
inexperience, to give it to him. It was all she could have asked.
Breathing again, he relaxed down onto her, crushing her for a
moment before he slipped off. His wings folded themselves
langorously, and he dropped his head onto her shoulder, panting.
He slipped out of her, and she felt that most of her lower body
was wet, and he was, too, dampening her outer thigh. Cassie felt
unreal, felt the way a person does when a change has been made but
not yet understood. To her horror she realized tears were sliding
down her temples. Her hand was caught under his shoulders, and she
couldn’t wipe them away.
For a while they lay there. His breathing slowed, but he didn’t
look up. Cassie’s tears dried slowly, and she became aware of a
dull ache where he had used her so thoroughly. She shifted,
turning onto her side and moving into his arms, where he held her
and she wept a little more, quietly.
The angel caught her tears on the ball of his thumb and wiped
them away, saying nothing. She was afraid to look at his face, but
she clung to him warmly. Once she had done crying, his hands
stroked her reassuringly, and his wing curled over her like a
blanket of feathers, keeping out the chill. Cassie snuggled into
him and thought of sleep, now that his desires had been satisfied
and she could count on nothing but caresses of tenderness now.
For a time, that was all he gave her. She even dozed a little
bit, forgetting that she was in a strange place, on grass that
didn’t belong to her. But finally she became aware the the slow
sweeps of his palm were gaining a little in firmness; sliding over
her body with a more interested touch. He stroked her shoulder,
her arm, slid his palm over her breast, nudging the nipple with
the base of his fingers as his hand moved back up. His fingers
trailed over her neck, tilting her head back so he could lay
minute kisses under her chin.
Cassie’s body answered these caresses, writhing very slowly in
his arms. Her breathing came a little faster. She realized
suddenly that there was more pleasure to be had here, and all the
danger had gone out of it.
The angel’s kisses moved over her neck, sending little ripples
of sensation through her. His touch slipped down her spine,
rubbing slow circles at its base. She tried to do as he did, touch
him where she was touched, hoping to discover what he liked. He
smiled and moved against her, humming softly against the place
where her neck and shoulder came together. Cassie sighed, caressed
by his mouth, his fingers, his wingtips. Warm and slow-moving,
pleasure rippled through her like an underground river, flooding
to every part of her. Her nipples were hard again, though she was
anything but cold this time.
The angel mouthed them as he had done before, this time biting
down on them so gently there was no pain, only an exquisite sting
of pleasure. Cassie whimpered. Her fingers forgot what they were
doing and slipped into his hair, holding his head against her. He
curled his tongue around her nipple. She arched against him,
pressing herself against his heat. His moving hand slipped over
her hip, dropping again to the sticky wetness between her legs.
She opened them without hesitation this time, wincing slightly at
the bruised feeling. His fingers entered her again, drawing their
joined fluids out to burn her lips. His thumb pressed lightly on
her clitoris. She gasped, her hips jerked against his hand, and
she gave herself up to his touch.
His fingers worked on her, pleasure multiplying there,
concentrated like honey where his thumb was keeping up a firm
pressure. He pressed her down against the grass with his chest,
which she was grateful for, keeping her involuntary wriggling to a
minimum. She clung to him, unable to believe what was happening to
her. Had he felt this way? It was no wonder he hadn’t been able to
wait for her. The rest of her thought processes dissolved. Her
fingers clawed at his shoulderblades, and she pressed her forehead
against his collarbone, bracing it while his fingers drove against
her, moving faster still.
A breathless moment passed. Her body was taken by a whipcrack
of pleasure that shuddered and contracted her inner muscles,
quivered her thighs, broke a cry from her throat. She shook while
it settled back out of her, her legs closing automatically against
his hand. He held her, easing her down onto the grass again,
tucking her against his warm side, gentling her with his hands.
“Angel,” she murmured into his shoulder. “Mmmm…”
She half-woke some time later, mid-air. Her feet were dangling
in the cold, and that was what woke her. Her arms were loosely
around his neck, but he held her tightly against himself. She
wasn’t afraid, only burrowed her face against him away from the
wind. She was asleep again before they reached her building.
The landing was better this time, although he must have been
exhausted. Cassie opened her eyes when he put her onto her bed,
drew the blanket over her, and settled down on his chest beside
her. The last thing she saw was his wing next to her face, when he
drew the joint down and unwound the bandage from it. He dropped it
over the side and settled down to sleep.
Slept out, she awakened late that evening, alone. The screen
door was still open to the sky, glass everywhere, and the bandage
still lay on the floor bedside; but that was almost the only thing
to tell her it had ever happened. The angel had flown.
The last relatively good day was over.
12 MONTHS LATER
Cassie stepped into the elevator on low-heeled shoes, her
briefcase in her hand. She regarded the figure in the elevator
mirror with some satisfaction. The business suit was smart, even
after a long day; the managerial nametag was still ruler-straight
on her breast. She reached up and pulled her hairpin out, letting
the no-nonsense style down, so that her honey-colored hair fell
about her shoulders. Winking a blue eye at herself, she stepped
off onto her floor.
The door opened without a key. “Welcome home,” a female voice
called from the bedroom. Cassie dropped purse, briefcase, coat,
earrings in a path to the bedroom door, stepping over things
scattered about the floor.
“Diane,” she said, smiling. “How is he?”
“Big as life and twice as troublesome,” the younger girl
answered cheerfully. She stood up with the baby over her shoulder
and handed him to his mother.
Receiving his light weight, Cassie had to smile. She and her
baby engaged in meaningless babble for a few minutes. The baby’s
wide gray eyes looked at her happily as he told her, in gibberish,
everything that had happened while she was gone.
“Still doesn’t weigh enough, ma’am,” Diane said reproachfully.
“Look at him, he’s growing plenty,” she countered. “He’s just got light
bones. Haven’t you, cutie? Let’s go see the sky.”
“I’ll just go on, ma’am,” Diane said, pointing to the door.
“I’ve got homework to do yet.”
“Thanks again, Diane… see you tomorrow.” She and the baby
went out on the balcony. She moved the sliding glass door aside,
thinking as she always did of a time when she couldn’t even open
it without fear. Now the lessons childbirth and motherhood had
taught her were written on her face in lines of confidence. Beside
the door was the framed letter from her father, disowning her in
tones of righteous indignance. The frame was gold.
“What do you see, baby?” she asked absently, leaning against
the railing. She kept her son on the opposite hip, in from the
edge, automatically. It’d be worse later, when the two lumps of
tissue along his back split and the feathers began to grow.
Teething would have nothing on it.
Cassie shaded her eyes. The sky was so blue today. The baby
crowed at the wind, his bits of gold hair blowing across his round
face. She looked up into the cloud-scattered sky, remembering a storm.
The angel had come on the last relatively good day.
There was a speck in the blue, growing rapidly. The baby,
recognizing the signs he’d seen every day since his birth, crowed.
The gray wings of his father, the child of heaven, the messenger,
became visible as a faroff shape in the sky, coming closer, and
Cassie smiled in anticipation.
All the days since had been absolutely wonderful.