"Mm?" Scarlet stared at the hand clasped in hers, at the loosely linked fingers. She could feel the slight warmth of the contact burning her soul.
"Do you ever feel that something dreadful is going to happen, you can feel the pain waiting to fall, and you're fighting against disaster, with all that you are… but there's really nothing you can do? Like trying to hold back an avalanche…"
Momoko lifted her ridiculously tragic face to Scarlet, so pretty and vulnerable, and the angel fell, finally, to temptation.
It was one of those moments after which a lifetime of rationality couldn't undo the results of a split second of surrender to emotion. Scarlet tipped a finger under Momoko's tear streaked face and tilted her mouth up to her own.
There was no pretext this time, no mistletoe to excuse the silken touch of lips on lips, only a need to comfort mixed with longing until Scarlet could no longer differentiate between the emotions. She let her free arm slide around the other girl's back and draw her closer. When Momoko didn't pull away, just remained warm and yielding in her arms, Scarlet sighed against her mouth and gave in control altogether, letting her lips part and her tongue caress the sweet mouth beneath hers.
"Sca – Scarlet!" Momoko pushed suddenly, hard against her, and the girl half-fell across the bed. She looked dazedly up at the younger girl, whose face was flaming, blue eyes wide with shock. "What are you doing?"
"I'm sorry!" Scarlet flung herself from the bed and leapt out the window, her wings spreading automatically without need for full transformation, driven by distress and the overpowering need to escape.
The night air cut like a freezing-hot blade through her thin nightdress as she plummeted through the darkness, lights from the houses she had passed sending brief flashes of illusory warmth. For a moment it seemed as if she could out rush her pain, until it caught up with her and her flight grew ragged. She crashed behind a tree into a shadowed corner, sobbing tearlessly.
//Is this what it is to be human?// she wondered helplessly. //Do they feel like this often? How do they survive…// She shook against the tree, uncertain as to whether it was from cold or pain, as her wings folded into themselves and disappeared. She speculated dully whether she was human enough now to actually freeze to death, but it didn't seem to matter.
Momoko hated her now. She had finally found real friends, when Freesia's death had convinced her that side of life was closed to her now, and now… How could she face them all again? And worse… she realised that she had betrayed Momoko finally, taken advantage of her grief, and that hurt worse than her knowledge of her own destructiveness.
A voice reached inside her grief, and with it, a familiar prickling feeling of abhorrent presence. Scarlet tensed, her instincts shrieking warning.
Devils… And close, so close.
Murderous fury washed over pain, drowning it. If Freesia had not been taken from her by devils, she would not be in this position… A tingle of guilt reminded her of the hard road she had fought by Momoko's side to transcend the ethic of vengeance, but in a strange way that only froze and hardened her hatred. If Momoko's sweetness and light and human warmth were lost to her, what need had she to abide by the Angel Peach's rules of compassion?
She didn't even need to frame the transformation words before they burst from her lips.
~Wedding Graceful Flower~
Somewhere in her mind, she found the space to wish she had a more impressive transformation command.
For a moment she felt the satin wedding gown enfolding her, the accompanying golden rush of love and well-being, and then the final transformation took hold, bringing with it strength and unadulterated power. She was herself again, not a confused human girl, but the Angel Salvia, the weight of the twin swords comforting in her hands. Something to hold onto, a last resort that would never fail or betray her… She screamed, less as a warning than as a battle cry, and launched into the air again.
For one dizzying second Salvia was aware of who she was attacking, and tried to halt her flight, and then a blow caught her from behind, sending her spinning into the snow.
"What - what is it?" Yousuke's voice asked, sounding confused. He stepped forward under the street lamp, trying futilely to see into the shadows.
"It's alright," Peach said calmly, reassurance spreading magically through her sweet voice. "Everything is under control. You should go home." Hidden by the darkness, she hauled Salvia to her feet, but her hand remained on her arm, not as an apology for knocking her flying but as a restraint.
The stupidity of humans, as always, shocked Salvia; Yousuke once again failed to realise the voice of the transformed girl who was supposed to be his true love. Even his demon heritage didn't save him. The power in Peach's voice again did his task – he turned, dazed, and started home.
The angels stood silently together as the he left. For the first time in her life, Salvia found herself avoiding someone's gaze. She was sickeningly aware she had just made everything worse. She stared at her boots like a scolded schoolgirl, until a pair of wing-ankled little feet intruded into her vision.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" It was worse than Salvia had expected – Peach was literally trembling with rage, her gentle face transformed. "I don't understand what's wrong with you!" She drew a deep, steadying breath. "This is not like you at all."
Salvia averted her face. "What's not like me? Making an error?" Spite, which she regretted the moment after she spoke, made her add, "He is still of demon essence." //And I wasn't exactly thinking straight,// she finished in silent apology.
Peach's hand snaked out, connecting hard with the other angel's cheek. "I meant you don't usually hit on me and then attack my boyfriend!"
It was a strange moment for Salvia to realise that not only could she never strike her companion, she could never even feel real anger against her. From a distance, she heard her own voice asking, "Will Yousuke be alright?"
Peach's face crumpled, as the anger drained from it. With alarming swiftness, the fierce fighter angel was just a sad little girl again. "He'll be fine… He's probably with Takourou by now." Much to Salvia's bewilderment, the rose-haired angel burst into helpless weeping again.
"Peach, please don't cry." I can't believe we're back at this point again, Salvia berated herself, as she gathered her friend close. And I certainly shouldn't be doing this again… But Peach's tears were as irresistible as Momoko's had been, and Salvia simply didn't have the human social skills to comfort her with words. All she could do was give in to the instincts of the heart and body, and wrap her in her arms and affection. Try, wordlessly, to love away her distress.
It seemed to work. Peach relaxed in her arms. Finally she said, in a small voice, "I always knew he had a crush on Yanagibi. It couldn't have been more obvious. But it didn't seem to matter, we all had crushes on Yanagibi, even Hinagiku… It was just a game." She sniffled pathetically against Salvia's shoulder plate. "And then Yanagibi… Limone and Lily were just destined to be together. And I thought we were, too… We fought so hard to be allowed to love each other… He does love me really!" She was sobbing like a little girl now, and Salvia rocked her, aching with pity and love. "Just not that way…" There was a moment of incoherent sobbing, and then, finally, "And now he and Takourou…I guess they have a lot in common, being ex-devils and all, but oh, Salvia..."
Salvia soothed her as best she could, realising with stinging clarity why Peach had been so obsessive about Hinagiku and Takourou 'coming to terms with their feelings.' For the moment, her own helpless love didn't matter; all she wanted was to stop Peach hurting. She hugged her, stroked her back and fairyfloss hair, crooned wordlessly, and it seemed to help. The angel in her arms quietened her crying.
Peach lifted her face, red-eyed, swollen and flushed with crying and cold, and utterly exquisite. "Why did you kiss me?"
"I'm sorry –"
"That's not an answer." Even if this state, Peach was capable of a glint which could remind Salvia who the leader of the love angels was.
"Because you were sad, and because I love you." The words sounded almost too calm on the freezing air. Perhaps a human would have said it more dramatically. But Salvia could only ever be what she was… time to accept it, perhaps.
"Oh." Unexpectedly, Peach hugged Salvia even tighter, burying her face in red hair. The icy air whirled around them, but it had less power to affect the angels than human girls, and the contact between them yielded far more warmth than the snow could drain from their bodies.
"Peach, why did you follow me?"
Peach raised her face again to look into Salvia's eyes, and blinked. "I was worried about you… You were so upset, and it's the middle of winter. I wanted to make sure you were okay, and apologise. I was so sorry I pushed you away." She caressed the side of Salvia's face. "Everything is so confusing… and I was taken by surprise."
"Oh." Salvia's response was flatter. She was aware of hugely conflicting emotions – pain still, and compassion for her friend, but underneath it all a warm happiness that the other angel-girl cared about her.
"I always just assumed that Yousuke and I were meant to be. It's taking a little time to understand what it means if I was wrong." She snuggled closer. "Scarlet?"
Salvia startled at her human name being used in her angelic form. "What is it, Peach – Momoko?"
"Kiss me again?"
Their sighs mingled as their lips met, then their tongues, caressing gently. It was the most intimately intense feeling Salvia had ever experienced, alarmingly sweet. She had tears in her own eyes as their mouths parted.
"I love you," she said again, heartbreak in her voice.
Peach smiled through her own tears. "I always wanted you to be my best friend, like Yuri and Hinagiku. They're so close, I always felt left out. When you came, I knew, even though at first you were… difficult… I knew we'd love each other."
"I don't know if we mean the same thing by love." Salvia forced the words out.
Peach inclined her head very slightly, and caught Salvia's lower lip between her own, sucking gently. Salvia shivered as wet warmth convulsed within her. "Maybe I didn't," Peach whispered against her mouth. "But I do love you, I always did. I was always so caught up in my Romeo and Juliet forbidden love affair. But if Yousuke and I are not meant to be… You know, Mama says that ther'es really no such thing as one-sided love. There's one-sided affection, lust, crushes, infatuation… But true love, angelic love, is never one sided. It's always mutual by definition – mutual, unquestioning, eternal. Souls meeting and matching and melding." Salvia was awed, as she always was by the rare occasions when Momoko turned the sweet intensity she usually wasted on everyday things, on her up-and-down moods, to something serious and important. "And Mama should know," Peach added, giggling a little, but her eyes were still very serious.
"Peach… Momoko…" Salvia sighed back.
"Do you truly love me, Scarlet?"
There was no space for hesitation. "With all my heart and soul."
The kiss was different this time, changed. The pink-haired angels' mouth was open beneath her own, hungry and passionate. Salvia felt as if her soul was being pulled form her body through the kiss, and replaced by hot golden light.
"Then I belong to you," Peach whispered at last, laying her cold cheek against Salvia's. She kissed the wind-frozen skin. "Let's go home…"
Salvia stared at her, realising what she was promising. "You're sure?"
Peach pouted a little, adorably. Salvia couldn't resist nipping at her lips. "Ooh… Um, as I was saying… Don't punish me for being slow to pick up on things. And, yes, I'm sure. Tonight and forever. I love you. And I'm safe with you."
"Forever and more safe." Salvia crushed her close. "Sweet darling girl." She couldn't think of any more words to match the gratitude and love and pure happiness she felt.
"Of course, if you don't want me to give myself to you-" Peach added brightly.
"Let's go home," Salvia said hastily, her wings spreading. They dove through the night together, Salvia's heart rushing ahead of them through the night.
Far below, the last straggling group of carollers heard, high above, the love-filled laughter of angels.
Merry Christmas, with love from Kanna-Ophelia. Christmas Eve, 2001.