Post-movie, flexible canon. Spoilers, including the scene post-credits.

- - -

He comes to her the first time when she's in her bath.

Gabriel's toes are small piglets waddled up above the waters, clustered together while they wrinkle from excess moisture. She thinks to herself that they never did this before. That her skin--alabaster and pure--remained sealed off from taint even at the very pores, from pollution and disease and humidity.

Now her feet are sodden with the toils of mortality. Her fingers are pruned. The pads are bubbled in erosive rivulets, swollen with fluid. Gabriel finds it disgusting--delightfully so, because it fascinates her, keeps her eyes fixed on herself and not drifting towards the creature which prowled in through the steam like a lost soul.

Chaz's shadow stretches out over her watery cradle. His face is reflected in small patches, sliced between the overhead lamp and Gabriel's ankle.

Gabriel's toes slide back underwater and even though she knows it's only an illusion, she can't help but think that everything's crueler now that she's been cast out. Wisps of air currents--disturbed by Chaz's arrival--introduce themselves to her shoulders, tracing down her chest and between the small, rudimentary breasts.

Chaz doesn't leave.

She looks up. Eventually.

For someone who's dead, Chaz seems to be doing well for himself. He's dressed in standard white. Albino straps and buckles criss-cross his body, rigging him like a skydiver who never fears a plunge. His expression is distant. Gabriel could be a bug paddling in ever-weaker circles in the bathtub; Chaz cares that much and that little about the one who killed him.

"Who changed me," he corrects, all the gentleness of the Arctic in his voice. So cold that it doesn't hurt anymore, fools you into believing it's warm right before hypothermia drags you away. Chaz is sculpted from that powder-dry snow. When he reaches down to splay his fingers over the bathtub rim, Gabriel is amazed that the porcelain doesn't crack from his touch.

Many things run through Gabriel's mind, but she only gives voice to the first. "Are you here to claim your revenge?" Her voice is too blasé to be curious. A touch breathless. Maybe hopeful. John had passed up the opportunity for execution and Gabriel was all right with that--proof that even John could be saved--but Chaz was no longer mortal and therefore exempt. Angels have different rules for sin.

He doesn't answer right away. Tangents first. "Some people would call this ironic, Gabriel. Meeting like this, you and I."

Gabriel hates how his eyes have that pearl-strong sheen, the kind that shows that he's in direct communion with the Lord--who is likely whispering the remainder of her thoughts into Chaz's ear right now in divine giggles--so she tries to not pay attention when he continues to speak.

"After all, what lost you your wings gave me mine."

Did I ever look so stoned as that? Gabriel's traitor-mind growls. She does not silence it, but tries to ignore the color of Chaz's irises, that familiar gloss of divinity that is missing from her now. "What is your purpose in coming here, then?" Her lips are stiff. "To gloat at me?"

"We both know better than that. I'm not just here for myself," he says, insincerely. Ghost pinions stir briefly behind his shoulders, and then the bathroom is full of only Gabriel and Chaz and tepid mystery again. "The Lord doesn't want you to be cast out forever, Gabriel. All you have to do is ask forgiveness and you can reenter His kingdom. Isn't that what you want? To come back home?"

"Those offers are for mortals," Gabriel snaps. She hunches her arms around her knees, drawing them up protectively; not out of shame for her nudity, but sheer defensiveness. "God doesn't have that kind of patience for his angels. I should know -- I've been the sword that stood against them often enough. He won't accept me back."

Chaz sighs. Steam curls in the wake of his breath.

"While you are banished to this earth, you remain human, Gabriel. That's the restriction. You cannot return without accepting the fact of your sin, and seeking the grace of His eternal patience."

"As I said," the snarl is inelegant, rabid; Gabriel hears the beast in her voice and does not care, "a mortal's forgiveness. But I am still an angel, and what I did, I did out of love. I will not be made otherwise just to assure my own salvation, if it means denying the wisdom of my actions."

A chorus of paper moths rises and dies as Chaz's feathers stretch, rustling in their defiance of gravity. "Suit yourself." The flippancy of his shrug does not match up with his voice, which is coated with the ruthlessness of firebrand swords. "You need to learn forgiveness, Gabriel, and then you too will be forgiven."

- - -

What Gabriel hates most about being mortal is the vertigo. Not hygiene, not consumption--or even its counterpart, defecation--but the way her head dizzies when she leans over the rail of the fire escape, or when she turns too fast after standing up. It never happened to her before. In all her wild flights, her furious battles with stray demons who had overstepped their bounds, Gabriel had never once become so unstable.

She is already daunted by the whole business of being earthbound. Only the most basic mechanics are left to her now. The apartment's bills are prepaid; Gabriel never expected to live there, but now there is nowhere else to go.

Her bank account remains full no matter how many transactions she performs. Gabriel is being provided for, even though she cannot understand why--or, more accurately, does not want to guess. She would rather ignore the cruelest of truths: that her Lord is still watching her, even in her current state. Even though He put her there. The fact that it was Lucifer's hand that crippled her means nothing; Gabriel knows that her Lord is victorious over all, and His absence from her is what truly struck her down.

In more ways than one. No other angel will interact with her now, and the cover of her human occupation has been stripped, reassigned to a low-level Virtue who turns away from Gabriel rather than acknowledge her presence. Her apartment lease remains in her name; the closets are full of business suit after business suit, carefully pressed and starched, waiting for a role that no longer requires her to fill it.

There is no longer any purpose to Gabriel's days. While her Lord did not allow the Fallen to slay her, His message is clear.

Another tribute of flesh and blood has been passed over in favor of paltry human fruits.

Gabriel bears no mark on her brow to save her from harm, no Cain-stamp to warn away those who would seek to cause her violence, but sometimes she wakes in the night to feel the burning writ of shame livid upon her body. The first time, she stumbled to the bathroom like a drunk, fumbling with the light switch in her panic and palming it off and on before regaining control of herself. Bare feet slapping on grimed linoleum. Her forehead had been clean, but Gabriel winced when she touched herself there, wondering if the brand of the scorned would appear at any moment.

And she wondered how she could undo it.

But Gabriel has been God's Messenger for long enough that she knows the bitter rule: you cannot buy your way into heaven. You can perform no act with your own salvation in mind, and expect to have it granted. John has fought against that decree for years. It will not bend for him, and it will not waver for Gabriel either.

She knows better than to expect it will.

Depression may be a vice, but for a short time, Gabriel does not care. Blinds drawn, doors locked, she roams the hollow rooms of her apartment naked, reminding herself that the material world is only transitory. Only the most basic of furnishings surround her; Gabriel never expected to stay in her current form more than a handful of decades, before returning to Heaven for reassignment again in the mortal realm. Now the walls mock her, blank and white and bare, just like her skin and veins and muscles, born from no mother but sculpted wholesale. Prisons, both; Gabriel squats at the dinner table and wolfs down handfuls of bread, feeling the engine of her body persist in keeping herself alive.

She ignores such things as hunger. When she eats, she chews mechanically, not caring about the lack of taste, counting up calories to one-hundred percent of her daily needs and drawing the line there. Starvation would be taboo, even through self-neglect.

Suicide, after all, is a grievous sin.

When she does not bother to restock her pantry, Gabriel wakes up one morning to find her kitchen table covered in generic-brand loaves and bottles of water. There is no note to identify her benefactor. Even knowing there would not be, Gabriel paws through the packages, her hands speeding up until they move in dove-white panic. They collide with an entire row of Epson Spring bottles. The plastic containers hit the floor and roll, leaving Gabriel to stare at the ravaged battlefield of her kitchen table, and curse.

Pulling her wings out only exposes the stubs to fresh air, revealing twiggy lumps where massive pinions once stretched. When she first touched the nubs, the lingering agony caused her to hiss and jerk her hand away, but now Gabriel is fascinated by the pain. She spends one evening on her knees, arms up, elbows bumping against her ears as she rubs circles along her amputated grace. She does so as furiously as a teenager might masturbate, and with equal frustration.

This habit is the only bright point in Gabriel's first few weeks, which consist of staring blankly through the windows at the city before drifting off into sleep. She becomes addicted. Pain is the strongest sensation she can feel--it is the center of her life, reaffirmation of her existence. The jagged bone-stumps become lined with red, raw and crimson, the vulnerable marrows weeping like flowers losing their petals in the rain. Air currents cause ghost-nerves to twitch. She's infected.

Gabriel cuts her finger on herself, and sucks the gash until the skin around it turns numb.

At one point in her self-flagellations, Gabriel realizes she is crying. She tries to tell herself that she weeps from rapture, from the sacrifice of earthly pain in order to purify the soul, the surrender of individual spirit into the Lord's superior will--but she can't convince herself. It doesn't work. God has been inefficient for a great while now, and Gabriel knows, knows that her duty is to help repair what humanity has been allowed to devolve into. God may have infallible vision, but His infinite love must be obscuring it.

From there, it's a short drop to realize that she does not believe that the Lord is entirely just about her punishment either.

Gabriel begins to bite her knuckles after that, in order to keep them from touching her wing-stumps. She also looks for other hobbies. In revenge, in spite, she travels to her local grocery and picks food at random from the shelves, allowing bright colors and oddly shaped packaging to dictate her selection, paying for it all with a credit card whose balance remains eternally at zero.

The results include canned Mexican that Gabriel cannot identify, and five boxes of children's cereal. Having forgotten the milk, Gabriel substitutes grapefruit juice instead, and spends twenty minutes post-breakfast trying not to retch.

- - -

Lucifer is far less melodramatic than Chaz. His visit is a knock on the door that's too showy, too amiable to be anything other than trouble. In his rumpled, brown tweed suit, the Devil looks like a used car salesman.

He grins at her from the gap of her cracked door. "I knew you'd be here," the man announces, an ancient twang in his voice that would be better suited to black and white westerns. "Here. Brought'chu a welcoming gift."

"Lucifer." The name sounds like a curse, whispering free from Gabriel's throat. Her hands tense--at her side, on the doorframe, remembering bloody victories and battle spears while the roar of a thousand wings battered her soul. Even as she does, the muscles in her back spasm with a ferocity that leaves her white-knuckled, and afraid. She can do nothing against the First of the Fallen now. Her wings are testament to that.

Judging by how Lucifer's wrinkled face creases in a perverse delight, he's remembering that too.

Lucifer's foot shoves against the door, spreading it open until it hits Gabriel's hip. "Just a little treat," he promises. Knobbled fingers pull a wicker basket into view, thrusting it out to squeeze through the narrow opening. The fruit inside trembles; apples bumping politely into oranges, both ostracizing the lone plum. "Real sweet. Ripe. Just beggin' to be eaten."

Gabriel is a bundle of fierce-steel pride. Her nostrils flare in anger as she draws in a sharp breath, shoving the basket back into the other angel's chest. "I will not be tempted by your wiles, snake," she snarls, regal.

For a fleeting instant she almost feels powerful again.

"By candied pears?" The First of the Fallen barks a laugh. "I've got better things to do than poison a sprat like you. But hey, whatever floats your boat." The loose shrug of his shoulder is easy strength; careless, nonchalant. "I figure I can give you a break. You know, adjustment pangs and all that. You need a hand settling in? Place looks like it could use a little... homey touch to it."

Resisting the urge to slam the door in the First's face and amputate his hands with it, Gabriel scowls. "I refuse. Each and every one of your offers crawls belly-down in the dust. Now leave."

Her defiance earns her a toothy grin. "Now now, that's no way to turn me down. Shouldn't you be telling me to 'get thee behind you'? Or," Lucifer adds, leering like a pedophilic uncle, "would you rather I be in front?"

Gabriel's lips curl. "Slattern."

"Now there's a role I haven't worn for a while." Lucifer's voice is warm with baked nostalgia. It chuckles in apple-pie charm. Then suddenly the First is no longer amused, deadpanning into a low, urgent warning as he leans forward, seriousness lapping in the heavy folds of his face. His hands squeeze the basket forward until it nuzzles into Gabriel's chest. "Take the fruit, Gabe. You know you're hungry for it. You know you want to."

Gabriel swallows. Reaching up, she touches the basket only so she can rip it away from Lucifer and hurl it to the ground. When it hits the floor, she gives it a kick. An orange rolls out into the hallway, wobbling in an irregular arc until it gently bumps against the far wall.

The fallen angel does not look bothered. "By the way," he informs her, cuttingly polite, "a little bird tells me they haven't even missed a beat without you. Seems like you were written out long ago, Gabe. I doubt most of Heaven notices you're gone at all. Makes me wonder if someone's been a very bad Boy Scout for a while now." When he leans forward, a wave of aftershave precedes him, so that Lucifer's face swims in a haze of Old Spice. His fingers steeple together, tips matched. The nails are discolored with a tinge of ancient's yellow. "Looks like you couldn't follow His plan."

Gabriel takes a sharp breath, affronted, and instantly regrets it. She fights not to cough on artificial scent and the taste of brimstone beneath. "I have done Him more honor than ever you could," she retorts. "Not in a thousand's thousand years could you hope to serve His glory as I have, not if you boil the seas into the sun upon His command for dry earth," the former seraph adds, anger crisping the roof of her mouth, words streaming together. "Nor skin thyself alive to pad the roots for His trees, or tear out thine hair to line the nests of His doves--"

"Gabe," the First interrupts, so kindly that it sounds like syruped rot. "Gabe, Gabe, Gabe, Gabe, Gabe," he continues, prattling out the name like a doting relative having caught his peach trees suspiciously bare. "Spare me the archaics. There is only room for one alternate view here. That's me. You," a hand lifts, flaps at the stale air, the dim apartment, "are an extra. Now, me, I'm a generous man, but even I have my limits. There can't be more than one of us big'uns running around loose, my pride just won't allow that, and pride," Lucifer stresses, biting off the word, "is what has put us both down here."

Gabriel scowls at the diagnosis. "I'm not-- "

"Now, His High and Uppitiness isn't gonna give you another Hell. You may disagree with what you think is best for him--I hear where you're coming from, I never liked the idea of serving monkeys either--but this is strictly between Him and me." Lucifer's right hand jabs suddenly upwards, splitting off from its twin to point directly between Gabriel's eyes. "Him. And me. We had a thing long before you were more than a sprout with two wet feathers sticking out of your spine. We go way back."

It is humiliating for Gabriel to discover how hard it is to swallow, forcing the lump of her spit down her throat, but she shoves cowardice aside. "I have no need to set myself up in competition to you, Lucifer." The sneer paints false bravado across her features, but Gabriel clings to it anyway. "Unlike you, I do not fight Him. Even now, I continue to serve His purpose. I care not if others doubt me. I follow the truth."

The thinning lines of Lucifer's brows lift. "Really." Statement, not question. "It looks to me as if you're wasting away in delusions of adequacy, while I'm entertaining a healthy business of collecting the damned. And don't you think He planned on that too? Let me fall, screwed with my head, all to serve some goal of His no matter how I felt about it? Well?"

Gabriel's throat gives her nothing when she tries to force a retort. When the other angel lifts his hand towards her face, she flinches back automatically, but Lucifer moves fast as a snake to grab her by the jaw.

"You've always been a pretty thing, Gabriel. Even when you were raping Mary." Releasing her chin after a minute, Lucifer smiles and steps back, retreating away from the door. "If you really want to keep doing His work, you know how to find me."

- - -

Gabriel spends two hours in the bath that night, staring at the water while it grows cold and sullen around her.

Nothing happens.

- - -

When she wakes up the next morning, face pressed against the wrinkles of her pillow and blanket crumpled around her waist, Chaz is eating cornflakes on her bed.

The crunching causes Gabriel to think of fire. For a minute, she thinks she is damned. Then she rouses fully, dredging herself away from her fears, and sits up in her bedroom instead of in Hell.

The cereal's presence makes the room smell like vanilla frosting. Gabriel wakes up a little further, and--to her horror--her stomach decides it's the perfect time to gurgle in hunger.

Scooping another handful from the box, the angel smiles. "Morning." He's dredged up a hobby cap from somewhere, a black topper that sits back on his skull and points its short brim ceilingwards. One flake threatens to escape Chaz's palm and he yanks up his hand to catch the morsel with his tongue. It could be an impish motion, a gesture sloppily adolescent, save for the fact that Chaz's expression does not change and his irises remain pure silver.

"Crumbs," Gabriel protests, in a neutral rebellion.

Now the tableau breaks. The youth smiles, icy and serene and surreal with blank orbs for eyes. "There wasn't any milk."

"I didn't plan for any."

"It tastes better with some." Scooting over to provide Gabriel room to stretch her legs, Chaz tucks his bare feet together, making butterfly wings out of his knees. The box crinkles as he sticks his hand back in. "And it sounds like you should have some breakfast. Want me to get a bowl?"

"No." Chaz's company grates on Gabriel's nerves, and only her self-discipline keeps him from being a living torture. Shaking out the sleep from her body, Gabriel reaches up and rakes her hair away from her face in thick handfuls. It's growing out long during the course of her imprisonment. She'll have to cut it soon.

This close to the other angel, Gabriel can't help but observe him. Chaz doesn't smell right anymore. He lacks the sharp, sour stink of teenage lust that she had caught on him when he was alive, spilling out from his pores, rising up from his body like yeast off hot bread. His wings are hidden today, and no amount of squinting on Gabriel's part can bring them out again.

This annoys her. "Shouldn't you be sitting on John's bed?" she can't stop herself from asking, and she's glad she didn't. It's exactly the kind of petty, cruel thing that she wants.

He flinches.

It's the first sign of him acting--being--human. Past the veneer of divinity, underneath to the raw, malformed thing of his origins. Once Gabriel's tasted that weakness, she realizes she wants more.

"It must be hard," she taunts next. "Not being able to see him again. Not being able to do what you know won't really hurt anything. Wouldn't it be better for John if he knew your fate? To be reminded first-hand what noble sacrifice can accomplish? You know how depressed he becomes. When all it would take would be a single word from you… "

He pushes her down hard on the bed. Cornflakes scatter, crunching underneath his weight as he straddles her stomach. "Shut up." The heels of his hands dig into Gabriel's shoulders, and she welcomes the slow burn of dislocation. "Who are you to say anything about this? You made everything happen this way. You had a choice to end up like this, and dragged the rest of us down."

"So did you," Gabriel reminds him, neat as a fresh pair of scissors. "You could have stayed in the cab."

Chaz's mouth is a crooked line, turned down at the corners. "I came for Constantine." Pausing, the angel draws in a ragged breath, and continues more calmly. "I came for my friend. You acted because you were selfish, Gabriel. Not out of--"

"Love?" Gabriel shapes the word carelessly, and it costs her a sickened heart-thud to do so. "You know nothing of love yet, my son. You accuse me of selfish workings while ignoring your own. You may have attended for John's sake, but equally because you wanted to be included." Old memory floods Gabriel, refreshing her with the skimmings she'd gleaned off the boy's soul. "You didn't want to be left out by him, not again. Now look at you. You'll be separated forever."

Chaz straightens his arms, elbows rigid as flagpoles. "I died helping him." The bitterness of the pause that follows hangs like wood polish on the air. "Maybe it was selfish of me to go, but he needed a hand. I'd do it again, too, even if I was sent to Hell instead of Heaven."

"Then we're not that different, are we?" Gabriel's right arm is hiking up, attempting to alleviate the pressure by twisting a tendon here, shifting muscle there. "The Lord needs my aid. He may have rejected me now, but I know I must continue on my path. Even though it has led me... to this. Even if we're apart."

Pain helps sharpen Gabriel's sight. It brings Chaz's wings into focus suddenly, flexed wide as if the angel were about to launch himself into flight with Gabriel as his springboard. The feathers are golden in the haze of the morning sun through the blinds, and Gabriel can't help it; she reaches up as best she can to touch them.

At the contact, Chaz's eyes sink closed. He lets out a sigh. Gabriel's palm can't caress more than the short quills right in the wing-fold, but she remembers what it used to feel like for her, and what it must be like now for him.

"Love," she whispers, her fingers heartless as they slip between two feathers, "makes us do terrible things to get what we need."

Suddenly everything is wrong. Chaz is no longer flushed with anger atop her--he is standing by the bed, cereal box dangling in one hand as he holds it by a cardboard flap.

"You're so close to knowing His plan, Gabriel." Turning back just enough to glance at her from over a buckle-wrapped shoulder, Chas gives a small, pitying shake of his head. His eyes are open again. They are as white as the grave. "If only you'd let yourself see."

- - -

Later that night, fingers heavy with thick, crusted nails brush Gabriel's hair back with delicate care.

"You show a knack for tempting God's angels," Lucifer whispers against her cheek, and Gabriel wakes up clutching the sheets to her chest with a gasp.

- - -

Chaz's retreat does not last forever. Just for one month, and then two. Three becomes four, becomes five, all as Gabriel begins to understand the true weight of time: only when it is disappearing is it worth anything, only is it valuable when it's gone.

Gabriel wonders if she's going insane in the slow prison of days, realizing that time might be slipping away from her. She's begun to stare at herself in the mirror now, marking off the tiny wrinkles in her face; she never worried about them before, knowing that when one flesh-vessel turned decrepit, another would be provided. Now if she ages, then she will grow old. If she grows old, she will die, and Gabriel only wishes she could pretend she's an atheist.

How many years did humans have? Sixty? Eighty, one-hundred? Such a miniscule timeframe in which to find salvation.

The side of the milk carton advertises missing children. Gabriel keeps that side turned away from her as she measures out the recipe for stove-top macaroni and cheese. Her hair is long enough now that she ties it back to keep it off her shoulders, and every time she passes a reflective surface, Gabriel tries to ignore how mundane she looks now.

So when a flicker darts across the pot-side, Gabriel avoids looking at it so much that she turns completely around and confronts Chas directly.

"I'm surprised." One of her hands fumbles, turning up the heat dial. "I thought you'd be back sooner."

"Why is that?"

"Because I'm the only one you can talk to now. Aren't I?" she tacks on, carelessly, even while she turns back to the stove and measures out two cups of milk. "If I know Heaven, they've ordered you not to interact with anyone who might recognize you now."

It only bothers her a little to say they. It worries her less to realize this.

"I've learned more about the rules in the afterlife," Chaz admits, grudgingly. He doesn't look any different for the time they've been apart; hair frozen in a page-crop muss, clothes unspeckled by mud. "Are you still holding out?"

The first cup tips itself over, pouring milk into the stew of butter-pats and powdered cheese. Gabriel watches the colors of her dinner congeal. "I serve the Lord. I always have, and I always will. No one can force me to deny that."

"Serve him?" Chaz parrots back, sounding a little distressed. The pretense of concern isn't believable for Gabriel, but at least Chaz's eyes are black instead of silver, unmarred by God. "Would you do anything He asked, if it was His desire?"

"I have only ever had Him on my mind." Gabriel's reply is stiff. She finds a fork and pokes at the lumpy mess in the pot. "He will realize that soon. I do everything for His cause."

"But that's what led you to losing your wings, Gabe," he reminds her, and for a hot, brutal second, Gabriel wants to break the kitchen table over the upstart's head. Just for sounding so much like Lucifer. That's what she tells herself. Damn the Devil.

"It's not God you're thinking about now, Gabriel."

His breath is lava against her skin. Against her scalp, where he's come up behind her and is whispering to her skull. Gabriel is so surprised that she jerks back and collides into him; the milk carton in her hand jumps, spilling a gout of liquid over both their arms. His shoulders press against her, boy's chest flattened against the wounded pangs where her wing-stumps reside; Gabriel finds a short, guttural yelp in her throat. She strangles it. "Don't you have anything better to occupy yourself with?" The milk is cold. "Some task from a Dominion or three?"

Chaz sounds like he's smiling. "This," he whispers, "is my job."

With that he steps away, to the side, holding out his stained arm gingerly to keep it from dripping on his clothes. Fat drops of liquid trickle down his skin, white gesso painting semen-trails on paler flesh. Watching milk puddle off Chaz's hand makes Gabriel want to throw the rest of the carton at him to make him go away.

Chaz gives no indication of knowing those thoughts. That kind of smarmy politeness alone grates on Gabriel's nerves, gravel in her wounds. Instead he bends his head and licks his own wrist clean like a cat, tongue slow and flush along the blue rivers of his veins.

"Would you say no to this, Gabriel?" he asks, around a mouthful of himself. Then clarifies: "Coming back? Accept forgiveness, and consign your soul to Heaven once again. Surely remaining human can't be worse than the alternative."

Flipping the milk carton closed, Gabriel sets it down hard on the counter. "My answer is unchanged, child." Triumph hits her suddenly, a flash of inspiration as painful as a saint's rapture. "And if I am to be treated like a true mortal now," she says, a little breathless, leaping upon this chance for truth, "then what you are doing here is wrong. It is against the rules for either you or Lucifer to attempt to sway me. Not directly. Which means that I must still be an ange-- "

Chaz's smile is a butcher's knife. It slams into Gabriel's speech and severs the spinal cord of her tongue.

"You broke the rules," he replies, slow. "You can't expect to hide behind them again for your own comfort. Haven't you wondered yet if this is your real punishment? Not to know? What you are, where you belong?"

Gabriel's cheek stings with the memory of Lucifer's touch. Chaz's eyes are watching her.

"Humans live with it every day, you know." Giving a shake of his head, Chaz takes a step away from Gabriel in order to wipe off the milk on a hand-towel. "If there's a god, if the devil exists. Looking for their reasons for faith. Are you," his other hand summarizes her apartment, the dirty dishes in the sink and Gabriel in thin sweatpants and a tank-shirt, "different than any other human now?"

The insult jabs at Gabriel's resolve. "I will not be mortal," she growls, a low utterance in the direction of her bubbling pasta. "I know I serve Him. I know I would sacrifice everything to make this world worthy of His love."

"Everything?" Chaz, barely in the range of Gabriel's vision as he leans back on the kitchen counter, sitting on his hands. "Are you ready to accept that if it advances His plan?"

Gabriel's fingers tighten around the plastic spatula.


Then his mouth is on hers, his fingers invading the hemline of her pants. Gabriel's eyes go wide; she attempts to jerk away, to flee the taste of cloud and sky and rain that's pouring into her mouth, the flavor of Heaven that had been inside her once before, lifted her up and rendered her pure.

The ache is crippling. Pinned down underneath the doubled weight of loss and flesh, Gabriel tries to cower away, but Chaz leans in until she's squashed between his body and the countertop, feeling the heat pouring off the nearby stovetop as the milk begins to boil. His wings spread, block out the light. His teeth are lightning on her throat--almost strong enough to keep her from noticing what the angel is doing to her human body, to the sack of meat with its animal instincts and age and decay.

Only when the angel makes a soft, serpentine hiss in her ear does Gabriel realize she probably should scream.

- - -

Gabriel sits up with a start.

In the shallow darkness of her bedroom, her breathing is loud and rapid. She chokes on her own oxygen and has to cough it out.

The possibility that Chaz's visit was a nightmare doesn't comfort her. When she was in the Lord's grace, she'd never needed to sleep, and it's all too human to dream.

All too human.

Rolling away from temptation, Gabriel folds her legs up like a flower in reverse, twisting herself into a fetal ball of limbs and sheets. Her limbs are covered in sweat. Strands of her hair are painted to her face, to her neck, and when Gabriel rubs them away, her flesh whimpers at the contact. If she is bruised, it goes all the way down to the bone. She's been marked badly.

For the first time since she was cast out, Gabriel doubts.