I'll never forget that day. I was so lost and alone in this wicked world, stumbling to find a way that just wouldn't present itself. It was always this, until I came face to face with an angel….

The clouds hung like a permanent sheet over the city; the ground was quite cold and grey beneath them, and somehow even damper. The rain would patter against the cobblestone, driving people to their shelters, but even then it didn't wash away the wretched filth that thrived there. When the showers passed, the ragged beggars and sleazy vendors would always return, each using his own ways to solicit others for money.

No one had any concept of love, compassion, or mercy, even the poor. I hated them all.

It wasn't because I hated those less fortunate that myself. No, I took pity on beggars whenever I could, giving them what I could find in pocket at the time. Not all of it, but more than the lord mayor would have given, that I can promise you.

But most of them were cheats and robbers. They would wear patches to cover good eyes and stumble with a limp that hardly looked real. Some profited from pity, while others threatened and beat what they wanted out of people. Every one rang the city dry.

The rich weren't all that different, though. Their methods were subtle, and often crueler.

My family was decently well off for the first years of my life. There was a roof over our heads and food on the table every night, but that didn't mean a lot to me. I was young and foolish, and all I needed was the love of my parents, my friends, and my older brother Reno. They were my life.

But times were always changing in the city. My father worked as a banker, my mother a housewife and occasional nanny. Reno made friends with a group of boys his age, and together they wandered the streets, doing what Reno would often describe as "odd jobs." I believed him, and when the time came, I couldn't wait to join up with him. I looked up to him so much, and I was so proud when he came home with the money he had earned. I was going to be great, as great as he was. I swore it.

It was around my ninth birthday that I realized that the depression gripping the rest of the world had no intention of leaving me out. Even good people fell prey to it, and in its wake, only the dregs of society would survive. The bank closed down, my father lost his job, and then, as if that weren't enough to wake me up, my brother was brought home in a covered wagon one night, cold and unmoving. There'd been a robbery and a street brawl earlier that night, initiated by another rival gang of boys. Reno had gotten caught in the midst of it.

I cried in my mother's arms that night, while my father used what little he had saved to drink until he couldn't even remember his name.

My parents never looked at each other the same way again. They did their best to find jobs so that we could keep our little house, but even I could see there was no more love between them. My mother always wanted me to be by her side then, teaching me how to clean and cook and other such womanly arts. "I can't lose you like I lost Reno," she would say again and again, hugging me as she sobbed at night.

"Mommy will always protect you, sweetie, so don't ever leave me...Please..."

What a hypocrite she was. She stressed herself out so much that eventually she fell sick, and I was left to watch over her while father worked to bring us food, or went to the pub to drink. More frequently it was the latter. She died not long after, but by then, I didn't care anymore. I didn't care about anything anymore. I probably would have sat there and starved to death if my father hadn't smacked some sense into me.

"Get up, you lazy boy," he grumbled unsympathetically. "There's work to be done."

I hated him. After all, if I didn't work, there wouldn't be enough extra money for him to drink his troubles away. But I found a way to thrive, so I guess I should thank him. I managed to get a few little odd jobs here and there, finally sticking with one at the local laundromat, sewing old clothes and the like, just as my mother had taught me.

I put aside a little money for me and my father was none the wiser, and soon, surprisingly, our relationship seemed to be looking up. My father didn't drink as much, and every now and again he'd come home with something special for the two of us to share. It wasn't the happiest time for me, but I learned to make do with what I had.

I didn't believe there was such a thing as a perfect world. It was a pleasant thought when I was lost in dreams, but I had no time to dwell on it when awake. I'd lost all my faith in the goodness of man; every day I watched the rich rob the poor, the poor rob the rich, and then the poor rob each other. There was no end to the circle of greed and cruelty; no love in this world...

Then one day when I was fourteen, I was told to take some time off. Business was slow and I had worked more than my fair share, so I didn't complain. My father would be busy all week and wouldn't be home to patronize me. There was a local festival of some sort going on this week; a troupe of traveling gypsies stopping through with their caravan to try and make some easy money, but that suited me just fine. So, with that, I made my way to the main street and joined the bustling, noisy crowd.

Little did I know it. That day, going to that festival would change my life forever...

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Lamp posts were decorated with colorful banners and streamers; posters hung from the walls to advertise the acts and popular attractions of the festival. I glanced at the displays and sneered at the falseness of it all. The gypsies, for all the work they put forth in looking trustworthy, were all filthy and ugly, sneering back at me and other fair goers from the stalls as I wandered with the crowd. One woman with tangled black hair and a lazy, beady eye made a comment about my hair, but I chose to let it slide. I was so far above these vermin, all of them. I began to wonder why I came here at all. Their acts were vile and pointless, just reminding me of all the things I hated...

The crowd I was following was made up of adults and children of all ages, from toddlers to old men, pointing and gasping with excitement as they were led to the street labeled "Circus of Freaks." It was here we were led through a large tent, and shown things that I was sure I never wanted to see again. There was a man who befriended the queen of the spiders, demonstrating his control by having them weave him into a ball of silk upside-down. An impossibly fat woman sat in the far corner, covered in hair and grinning behind a 3 foot long beard, smirking with yellow teeth. She waved at us as we passed and I shuddered almost violently. That alone had me wishing this sick little tour was over.

Then we came to another place; a smaller tent that was adjoined to the large one and separated by a thick, red velvet curtain.

"Come see the rarest sight you'll ever see!" slurred the sweaty, heavy-set man at the door. "Come in an' see the fallen angel!"

The rest of the crowd moved in to see the last attraction, but I was frozen in the doorway. What would this next one be? Did I really want to see it?

Looking back on it all, I'm so glad that I did.

I was brought out of my thoughts by an arm in front of me. I stared at the man curiously for a moment, feeling disgust rising in my stomach, and he smirked at me and chuckled darkly.

"Go on, Red," he slurred, his foul breath making the hairs on my neck stand on end. He shoved an old, stained hat in my direction and shook it quickly, his steely eyes never leaving mine.

I couldn't believe I was doing this. Reluctantly I reached into my pocket and pulled out a few coins, tossing them into the hat and glaring back at him.

"Thank ye kindly." And with that, he pulled aside the curtain and I slowly, hesitantly walked in.

The room was dark except for the small amount of light peaking in through a hole in the ceiling. It smelled as if whatever was in here hadn't bathed in weeks, and I practically wretched at the smell at first. I held my nose when I saw several dead rats lying just beside my feet. I really couldn't believe I was doing this.

Hurrying away from the little carcasses, I joined the crowd up ahead where they stood gathered in front of a large cage. I couldn't see what they were looking at, but I heard whispers and gasps from the people ahead. Some were even laughing as the fat old gypsy came in and pushed his way through the crowd.

"Take a look, all you little ones!" He said loudly, barking a short laugh and stepping aside. "See the angel what fell from the grace o' God!"

I stared blankly at first, unable to believe what I was seeing. Inside, on a thin bed of hay and dirt, was a little boy. His hair was a dirty, tangled blond, curling up in random spikes around his head. Even from where I stood, I could tell that it hadn't been washed properly in ages. His skin was like pale snow in the dim light, but I could also see a slightly yellow tint to it. He was so thin, curled up, laying on his side against the bars of the cage in a soft doze, eyelids tightly shut to repel the outside world. His clothes, or more appropriately his rags, were black, short, and filthy, and there were harsh metal chains clasped tightly around his wrists, limiting him from even using the full extent of his cage. Instantly I felt my heart plummeting to the bottom of my stomach.

Then…then he stirred a little, and I saw an absolutely gorgeous pair of wings behind him. They were black as night, not typically what you would think of as an angel's wings, but certainly not demonic either. They were large, like an eagle's maybe, and when the boy began to shift a little in his sleep, I watched intently as those wings folded down to cover his shivering body like blankets.

Needless to say, I was horrified. I listened as the people around me clapped and laughed like he was some kind of animal, here to entertain them. I stood there frozen, watching him sadly. How could anyone treat a child this way? Wings or no wings, he couldn't have been older than twelve...

The boy seemed to notice the growing noise; I saw two blue eyes flutter open slowly. I was instantly mesmerized by them, moving closer to the cage as I felt my soul, my whole history, being probed as his eyes locked on mine. Everything about him was beautiful, but those eyes. They were more than I could comprehend….

He held my gaze for only a moment before those blue eyes snapped wide, and the little angel scrambled to the far corner of the cage, huddling there and trembling violently. The chains stopped him from going far, but they didn't stop him from trying.

I stopped just as I began to reach out my hand, and I heard the old gypsy laughing harshly.

"Taken a liking to him, eh Red?" When I said nothing, he just shrugged and turned to the whole crowd.

"Found this one as a baby, we did. Out wandering the woods with those wings all open! I reckon we saved im." He then drew out a rusty set of keys from his pocket and unlocked the door to the cage and stepped inside, that wretched smirk spreading wider. "They're un hundred percent genuine, my friends! Ya can see for yaselvs."

He walked casually over to the angel boy, who continued to cower and press himself harder against the bars. I cringed at the soft whimper, feeling sicker by the minute. He wasn't going to do it, I thought. Surely, he wouldn't…

He did. The fat, horrid man reached out and jerked the boy away from the corner, throwing him to the floor in the middle of the cage. Chains rattled loudly, and the angel quivered, biting his lip nervously. Then he closed his eyes, shaking even more as the man bent over him, holding him down as he stripped off his clothes for the crowd.

I was tempted to bolt right then. The little angel never said a word in his defense; I wondered if he even had a voice to speak with at all. He only whimpered as his shirt was ripped away, revealing his back as the crowd laughed and jeered. There were long, angry red scars all along the flesh, but in the middle of his back, slightly up towards his shoulders, was what the man really wanted us to see. The area where the wings met his back, fusing into the skin perfectly.

With a chuckle, the gypsy ran a rough finger over them, causing them to twitch and tremble. A few of the children in the front squealed with delight. They were real.

The boy whimpered again, trying to lean up on his elbows briefly before he was shoved back down. The man above him shot a harsh, impatient look his way and swiftly smacked him, causing his head to snap to the side. I winced at the sound, my eyes raking over his body. Without the baggy shirt covering them, prominent ribs stood out harshly in the front, whip marks and a few scattered blue bruises littering the back.

"See? As real as can be!" the man slurred, looking smug. "These black wings'r a curse o' God, they are! This one's gotta serve time on earth for is crimes in Heaven, dont'cha boy?"

The crowd began to boo at this. They believed it! I was so taken aback, though in hindsight I have no idea why I would be. Were they kidding? Not a one of them was honest or sinless enough to judge him! Just because he was born different!

The angel didn't answer the question, instead he tried curling in on himself as much as he could, forming a little ball on the floor. His eyes were now a foggy, pained grey, like the sky, but not a single tear escaped them. Blank and hopeless; not even fearful or pained. It was like he had no emotion anymore…

I realized his torment wasn't even half over. I watched the gypsy grab his hair and yank him up harshly, ignoring the tiny whimper of pain. He then took a bottle of wine that a second gypsy had offered him through the bars.

"Well, we're gonna help im get back to Heaven, aren't we?" he laughed, forcing the stopper from the bottle with his teeth and yanking the boy's head back slightly. "All he gets is the body and blood o' Christ. So come on, boy, take yer communion!"

The man then shoved the mouth of the bottle to the boy's lips. When the blonde shook his head, struggling against him weakily, the gypsy lost his temper. He wasn't going to let some dumb animal make a fool of him in front of the crowd.

"Take it now, ya ungrateful little brat! Be a man!"

He shoved the bottle harder, and still the little angel looked away, eyes tightly shut. Now the crowd was joining in, even the woman and children were egging him on to drink the wine. The man then gripped his tiny throat harshly, causing him to gasp and choke. And the second those lips parted for air, the man tipped the bottle back and emptied its contents down his throat. The room rumbled with laughter as the boy choked and coughed and swallowed the burning liquid, pulling back to breathe and letting some of it spill down his front. He struggled and clawed to no avail.

And then those blue orbs fell on me, helpless, scared. They pierced me like an arrow, slowly draining of emotion as I stared back, mirroring the gaze. How could I help him? He was locked in a cage with a madman, and the crowd was blocking the door. I wanted to go to him, but I couldn't.

His struggling slowly ceased, his narrowed eyes fading into hazy semi-consciousness. The gypsy pulled the wine away, and released his throat, leaving him to fall to the ground.

That was all I could take. I raced out of the tent and out of the caravan, not stopping until I came to a dark alley near my home. I rested my head on the cool stone and threw up, then cried until my voice was hoarse. I ignored the beggars and townsfolk as they passed, raising an eyebrow at this strange boy having an episode in an alley. I didn't care that it was cold and dark and that I felt disgusting, or that the rain had begun to fall.

I thought that my faith in men had been shattered long ago. Not so, apparently. I couldn't believe how vilely they treated that poor boy, all because he was born with something special. More special than anything they would ever have. I didn't think his wings were a curse at all. Even through all of the dirt and scars, he was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. And the fact that he had black wings didn't mean a damn thing to me.

I continued to weep, thinking of his pitiful life in that cage. I thought of those crystal eyes, dulled and broken, and finally understood that moment. He wasn't begging for help.

He was begging for death.

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Despite the pain it caused me, I found myself returning to that hellish circus every day for the rest of that week. I never bothered with the stalls or the cheap little games like the other children; I never even looked the hairy woman or the spider man in the eye. I bypassed all exhibits and went straight to the angel boy, paying more and more of my hard-earned money each day so that I could see him. Sometimes I was with a crowd, other times I was alone, but I always sat in front of the cage, watching the boy inside with sad, sympathetic eyes.

And the more I watched him, the more I noticed how tiny and truly weak he was. I saw the drying, dirty blood on his knee, swarmed by bugs of every sort. But they didn't just stay there. No, they crawled all over his skin and under his hair, latching on and sucking what little life was left out of him. He would scratch at them once or twice, at first, but quickly gave up. It wasn't like they would go away.

The boy never approached me, even when I came alone; instead, he hid in the corner of the cage, quivering and barely meeting my gaze. But his blue eyes followed me closely when I came and left, and I knew he was staring, uncomprehendingly, at this visitor who neither threatened nor beat him, but just sat watching...Always watching...

It wasn't normal. Nothing about this was normal at all, but I didn't care. I had to see him. Even if it meant nothing in the end, I wanted to be the one he remembered...

I watched when the man came to feed him, true to his word in only giving him the food of communion. It was some sort of private joke among the troupe, but I found it absolutely despicable. He would toss chunks of soggy bread into the cage every now and then, which the boy would always devour like a starving dog. When it came to drink, the angel was allowed to have some water instead of wine, but I saw the sick sort of pleasure the old gypsy had in forcing the latter down his throat. He relished his power over the little angel and abused it thoroughly; I had a feeling that somehow my being there made it worse.

One day, the man came to me instead of the angel, holding out a loaf of moldy bread.

"Ya wanna feed im, Red?"

I glared at the smug expression, wishing I could wipe it off his face myself. But without a moment's thought, I pressed a grimy old coin into his palm and snatched the bread away, stepping aside so he could unlock the cage. He snorted to himself and let me in, laughing when the boy's eyes widened fearfully. It hurt to see the boy pushing himself away from me, as though I was just another come to torture him for my pleasure.

"Be back in five minutes." He said, turning and heading back out the flap of the tent. "All the same, lad, don't smack im around too much, eh? He don't bite er nothing, but we can't ave im too bloody..."

I watched his retreating back briefly before slowly stepping inside the cage, seeing the blond tense more. Panic flashed briefly on his face, as he smashed himself further back into the bars and spread the wings around him like a shield. It was dark enough; maybe he thought he could disappear behind them.

My heart went out to him; I wished I could rush forward and hold him gently in my arms. I could hum to him like my mother used to do for me, and tell him everything would be alright...

But that would be a silly thing to promise. I couldn't protect him, I'd made that clear already, and I didn't want to lie when there was already so much fear and betrayal in his heart. The least I could give him was the truth. I wanted him to trust me. To know that, even if I was the only one, I wouldn't hurt him.

I moved even more slowly, trying my best not to frighten him. But I also knew that I didn't have much time. When I reached his little corner I knelt down in front of him, placing a light hand on his uninjured knee. I felt him trembling beneath my hand as he gasped silently, but his wings stayed firmly folded over him, keeping his face and torso hidden from me.

"It's alright..." I cooed softly, keeping my movements slow and simple. "I'm not gonna hurt you..."

Slowly, the wings began to draw back, revealing his thin, pale face. The child seemed to relax slowly as he observed me, but his eyes were trained on me completely, watching for any sudden moves that might spell a beating for him. I smiled a little, still patting his knee.

"You don't need to be afraid of me..." I raised the hand with the bread in it slowly, stopping it a little ways in front of him and motioning for him to meet me half way. He stared blankly for a moment, not understanding, but then seemed to decide that he was too hungry. When he finally reached out and took hold of the bread, I smiled as I felt his small hand brushing lightly against mine. The angel blushed slightly and pulled away, leaving the food still sitting in my outstretched hand. I chuckled, catching his curious gaze again.

"You sure are a shy one, aren't you?" When he looked down, I set the bread in his lap and leaned forward slowly, shifting my gaze so that I could examine the wound on his other knee.

Once the bread entered his little bubble of space, he wasted no time in gobbling it up, looking quite a bit more satisfied once he was done. It made sense; he was a growing boy, after all. I wondered if he needed more than that, given his wings. While he was distracted, I ran my finger over the wound, feeling him wince and tremble but making no move to flee from me.

"I wish I could help you with this..." I murmured, staring off a little as did so. "It looks like it hurts a lot..."

I looked back up at the blond, seeing his still fearful blue eyes and feeling tears come to mine. It was sad to think that my kindness towards him was probably more confusing, more frightening, than anything he had experienced with the gypsies. He probably thought I was tricking him, just waiting for the right time to betray what little trust he had. He was like a cornered animal waiting to go to the slaughterhouse.

But no. He was a child like any other, no matter what people called him, and he deserved to be treated like a human being.

Those eyes were blue again. It seemed some light was returning to them, as he locked his gaze with mine. Thinking back on that time when I'd lost both Reno and my mother, and how hopeless I had felt in that situation, it was like looking into the mirror of my soul.

I could see myself in his eyes now.

I let my tears fall freely now, not bothering to wipe them away. I hoped it was okay for me to cry, maybe because I was showing him how vulnerable I was. Perhaps he would understand and open up a bit more. But I had no idea what he was thinking at all. I sat there for some time, just letting the tears fall and trying to compose myself.

I then noticed the boy looking surprised by my tears, curious like he wanted to reach out and touch them. But, of course, he didn't. He made no move to come to me or comfort me, but I understood. He just had no idea how.

Without thinking about it, I pitched forward and hugged him, laying my head on his shoulder as I cried. It was a sudden, stupid move on my part, considering what could have gone wrong, but at the time, it just felt so right to me. The boy yelped and shivered at the contact as I slid my arms around his waist, hugging his lower back. I knew he was scared, and when he didn't pull away from me, I looked up at him slowly, seeing his eyebrows arched in confusion. And deeper in his eyes, I sensed another emotion just bubbling below the surface. Was it concern?

"I'm sorry..." I whispered, sniffling as my grip on his back tightened. "I'm so sorry..." I was apologizing for so many things; even the things that weren't mine to apologize for. But oh God, I didn't think I'd ever hated the world as much as I did right then. None of it was fair...

And we sat there like that for a few minutes, until the man came back and told me to get out. He seemed surprised that I had gotten so close to the boy, and I secretly pleaded that this wasn't going to cause more trouble for the sweet little angel. But as I pulled away and wiped my eyes, I noticed that he was... he was holding me.

How could I have missed those frail arms hugging me back?

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The week was quickly drawing to a close, and soon the gypsies were packing up and getting ready to move on to their next location. The more time I spent watching the angel boy, the more I began to panic that I really wouldn't ever see him again. I was running dangerously low on money now; soon I wouldn't be able to get in to see him with the rates the bastards were charging. That fat one in particular didn't seem to like me being so close to his pet...

But I had to get back in to see him. Soon he would vanish, just like a dream, and be left to the mercy of these vile people until time decided to provide an escape. I couldn't live with that. Everyday that I saw him sitting there, filthy and sad with those beautiful ebony wings wilted against his back, it broke my heart. I just had to help him. I was the only one he had, and I thought I felt that feeling from him as well. In his own shy way, I think he likedme, and wanted to help him. Call me crazy if you will...

On the final day of the festival, the gypsies were moving things to their wagons, shooing the visitors away. It only took a couple of extra coins, though, for me to convince the fat one to let me back in to see my angel. He let me inside the small tent, now off away the rest of the group, and left me there with a warning of ten minutes. And no trying anything "funny."

He didn't see it when I snatched the keys from his back pocket as he left.

My angel was dozing quietly on his makeshift bed, and for a moment I just stood at the door, watching his chest rise and fall softly in the dim light. In such a short time, I truly believed he'd come to trust me. Although he never spoke a word, he no longer tensed when I came near or fidgeted nervously at my touch. I could pat his head and hold him loosely now, and only get the small quiver. At least, that was how I interpreted it.

I unlocked the door with shaky hands and made my way over to him, touching his bare back and shaking gently. I was careful not to touch his wings; he seemed very sensitive about them, and I wasn't going to violate that. But there were times when I really wished I could. I wanted to touch them, and run my fingers through the soft feathers...

Hazy blue eyes blinked up, the fear calming a bit when he recognized me. I smiled back.

"Hey. How are you feeling?"

He sat up slowly and shook a few loose bugs out of his hair, his wings ruffling a bit so that a few loose feathers fell to the ground around him. He looked at me blankly, as silent as ever.

I sighed, figuring that was as good an answer as I was gonna get, and reached down to unlock the cuffs on his wrists.

The boy shivered as I touched the cold metal, and began nervously trying to pull away. I hushed him softly.

"It's okay. It's okay." I placed a hand gently on his face and looking at him. He whimpered softly at the contact, but not in a way that suggested pain. He even calmed down a bit after the touch. I rubbed my thumb softly in little circles on his cheek, caressing and smearing the dirt a bit. I hoped it felt as soothing as I meant it to.

"I'm going to get you out of here." With that, I began to unlock the cuffs, feeling his curious eyes on me the whole time. The skin was rough and red where it had rubbed against the metal, and my angel hissed quietly as the cool air hit his wrists. But I couldn't wait for him to adjust to it. There was no time to lose.

"Come." I said softly, taking his hand and pulling him to his feet. He stumbled a bit over the ground, not used to walking around much in such a small space, but I carefully led him out of the cage and towards the back of the tent, gently guiding him and smiling, despite my nerves.

"Take this." I said, pulling out a thin green blanket from my bag and draping it over his shoulders. He looked up at me with wide eyes and I tried to make understandable gestures with my hands. "Here, tuck your wings in. Yes, just like that...almost."

The blonde's wings twitched as he watched me closely. He probably had no idea why things were so different today; I could see his muscles tensing once or twice as I helped fold his wings down. I had to help him learn that different didn't always mean bad, but that would take some more time; time that we didn't have to be wasting in here. He looked back at the cage once or twice longingly, as if debating, but I spoke to him gently, coaxing him away and keeping his focus on me. It was slow, but I was doing my best to move things along. We were so close to getting into serious trouble.

I helped the boy onto my back, grunting even though he was really quite light. Once he was up, I pulled a small knife out of my coat pocket and sliced it down the tent, cutting a hole just large enough for us to fit through.

I poked my head through the new entrance I'd made and looked to see that no one was coming. I pulled back in when a burly, angry-looking man walked by, but luckily he didn't see me. After that, the coast was clear, and I looked back over my shoulder at the blonde, jittery bundle of nerves now quivering on my back.

"Don't worry." I whispered reassuringly, when I felt him nuzzling the warm skin on the back of my neck. The blonde spikes tickled as he buried his head there and shuddered. "Just keep your arms around my neck and hold on..."

Suddenly, there was a shout of pure rage, and I turned around to see the fat gypsy looking at me. My eyes widened as the boy on my back began to shake violently, and before the man could tear him away from me, I let him slide off my back and onto the floor with a thump. It was rude, I know, but I couldn't fight if he was hanging off my back.

I brought the knife up to block as the man stomped over and grabbed for my angel. As his attempts failed, he changed tactics and managed to take me by the throat. I started slashing at him as he howled in pain and shook me hard.

"What'dya think your doin, eh?" he yelled, crushing me easily with his strong arms. Before I knew it, I'd dropped the knife, and replaced it on the hand now clenching on my neck. My vision began to swim a little, and for all my kicking was doing, he could have been made of solid steel. Nothing would stop his assault.

"Tryin ta make off with my angel, eh?" He slapped me hard across the face, and I yelped as my very brain seemed to rattle. He slapped me again and again, yelling about what he did to thieves and beating me senseless all the while. I just stood there and took it.

I'd failed him, lied to him; I promised I would get him out, and it was all a lie. This wretched man would beat me dead, and I would have no hope of saving him..

Suddenly the beating stopped, and a choking sound I hadn't made echoed through the room. Peeking my eyes open, I saw the man's filthy, pained face, as he coughed up blood; my knife now twisted in his neck. My angel stood behind him, panting and quivering, his hands still firmly on the hilt. The man spluttered for a moment before his eyes rolled back in his head, his mouth foaming slightly.

The man was dead.

I pried the hand off of my neck and gulped for air, letting the old bastard fall to the dirt where he belonged. For a moment, I just stared at the boy, and he stared back at me. Neither of us moved, and there was a long pause where all I could do was watching his chest heaving from the craziness of it all.

And then the spell passed, and the boy yelped and dropped the knife, backing away from it like it would turn around and kill him too. He backed away until he hit the wall and slid down to the floor, hugging his knees as his wings moved up to hide him. He was shaking more terribly than I had ever seen before.

I ran over immediately, gently moved the wings aside, and pulled his head against my chest. I didn't know what to do now. We had killed a man here. He may not have been much of a man, but it was still a crime. Even if we could get away, who would help us? Not even my own father would be able to protect us, and my angel couldn't hide himself from people forever.

Where did I think we could go?

I started slightly when I felt something warm and wet dripping across my shirt, creating a little spot just above my heart. The boy still had his head lowered, shoulders quivering lightly, but I hardly believed it was true. Very slowly, I slid my hand under his chin and tilted his head up a bit, my eyes widening at what I saw.

Those beautiful eyes weren't grey at all anymore. They were perfectly, deeply blue, and swimming with the first tears I'd ever seen him shed. There was such emotion there that it almost brought me to tears myself. They were tears of such sadness, but the difference with emotion was so great that I couldn't help but love them.

"Shhhhh, it's okay," I murmured, brushing the tears away with my hand. I couldn't let him think he'd done something wrong. He had suffered too much, and still been so sweet.

I leaned in and pressed my lips to his, hearing the soft gasp that followed. It didn't halt me in the least. For just a short while, I blocked out the cruel world around us, caressing his cheek so he would look only at me. I held and cherished him like he was supposed to be, letting our tears mingle as they ran down our cheeks.

It was that time that I realized I had fallen in love. How, why, I don't know. But it didn't matter that we were boys. It wasn't as if we could be much more condemned at this point.

I knew I had to rescue the angel that had stolen my heart...

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We ran, but the mob behind us was getting louder. The gypsies were chasing us further and further away from the town, but no matter how far we ran, they never tired. They wanted revenge for that horrid man, their kin, but I would be damned if I let them take back my angel.

So into the woods we ran. I led the way, pulling him along behind me as quickly as I could.

We had to stop when we came to the river; it was wide and rushing after the recent storm. There was no way we could safely wade across. I looked into his wide, terrified eyes and urged him on. Even if something happened to me, he just had to be free. I would stop the mob, no matter what.

"Go!" I shouted, harsher than I wanted to. I pushed him away and threw my arms wide, trying to scare him. "Get out of here!"

He looked confused and sad. He didn't want to leave me. Even he must have understood what it would mean if I stayed behind. My angel ran to my side and clung to my arm tightly, nuzzling his head in my chest. He whimpered like a puppy, even as I struggled and hit him.

"No! You have to run, now! Don't you understand?"

But he wouldn't let go of me. I knew deep down that even if I beat him, abused him like all the others, he would never let go. Not now. This puppy was firmly attached.

Hearing the rabble draw closer, I had no choice. In my desperation, I pushed the two of us into the river.

It was icy cold, and rushed so quickly that I hardly knew what was up or down. I fell under and was swept away, and that pale hand gripping my arm disappeared before I could grab hold of it. When I managed to surface again, I could barely see, but I could hear the falls rushing up to meet me. Ready to send me down to die on the jagged rocks below.

I called out for him desperately. I had no idea where he was. Panicking, I almost didn't hear the thought that came next.

'I can't lose Roxas again!'

I blinked even as I struggled to stay afloat, almost losing myself in the water. Lose him again? Who was 'he?' Roxas? Where had that come from?

Then, just as I tumbled over the edge of the water, a familiar, tiny hand gripped mine, and suddenly I jolted, stopped in my fall. I looked up to see him. My angel.

He was flying, flapping those wings of his desperately to hold us up. His face was strained with exertion, but he kept us both suspended in mid air. I was so amazed and baffled, and somehow, even just a little bit, I began to believe again...

"You..."

He was so glorious. Maybe he really was an angel...

Then there was a sound like rushing air, and the boy above me gave a rasping cry of pain. I looked up, horrified, just in time to see the shaft of an arrow burying itself just below his chest.

"No!"

And all at once a chain was set forth. The boy began spluttering softly; his wings ceased all flapping. From there, we plummeted back down to the earth below, but as his body fell, he drew me up closer, holding me in his arms as his wings curled beneath him. He was trying to cushion us for the fall...

We hit the water, and I lost all sight from there. Black wings of unconsciousness enveloped me, even as I struggled to breathe and stay afloat, and I fought against them. I couldn't sleep now! I had to get back to my angel! He was in pain; he needed me! I could feel his arms around me, trying to hold me up, but he was struggling himself. He was hurt, and he was trying to protect me...

When I finally awoke, I was laying on wet grass by the bank of the river. I stirred groggily, grasping for my head, which felt like I had rammed it against a wall for several hours. It pounded even harder because I was cold and wet; I shivered violently and grabbed for my arms, rubbing them to warm up.

By the time I had managed to get up, I was desperate to find my angel. I looked down at the ground below my feet and saw what looked to be a large, rumpled black feather. I picked it up and ran my fingers over it, before looking at the ground again. There was a trail of feathers before me, and as fast as I could, I followed it, running along the forest floor. I had lost my shoes somewhere in the river, and I was so achy and tired, but none of it mattered now. I had to find him.

I came to a small clearing not far off and stopped dead in my tracks. The trail was dotted with blood now, all along the grass just like the feathers. And, as I looked up ahead, my heart became cold and even more pained. A crumpled black and white figure lay a short distance ahead of me, its head obscured from sight and laying against the base of a tree.

"No..."

I rushed forward and knelt beside him, unfolding the now stiff, heavy black wings that shield him from view, from me. They were bent strangely and here and there, I saw a bone peaking through the rumpled, wet feathers. "No...Please, no..."

I was as careful as I could be, but my heart was beating frantically, urging me on quickly.

I finally pulled them away and gasped, covering my mouth in disbelief and horror. I found glazed, grey eyes looking skyward right at me. He was dead.

His body lay broken and bloody, pale but for the feathers and the traces of red that lined his torso. The arrow in his torso had broken in half, but was still piercing him. I ripped it out desperately, then moving to the new arrow I saw sticking out of his left wing. A small dribble of blood came down through his hair and down his forehead.

It looked wrong, so terribly wrong on him.

I let out a loud sob and pulled him into my arms, cradling him as the tears spilled forth then.

It was so unfair. I had seen him fly, his one moment of glory after a lifetime of humiliation and misery. But now...He had been shot down like an animal. By those jealous bastards. That was why they hated him so much, I knew, as I pressed my face close to his and nuzzled softly, feeling my tears spread over to his cheek as well. They were jealous of him. They tortured and killed him because they wanted to fly, but never could.

How cruel...

I held him for what seemed like hours, even days. I lost track of all time, holding him, loving him, though there was little left there for me to love. I couldn't bring myself to leave, or even to stand. I sobbed into his hair and kissed it reverently, unable to do anything else. I wished he could be alive to feel it; that this was what love was and what it was like. I was just a boy, but I felt that, now, I knew more about love than even the greatest lovers in the world. And it was all for another boy; one who had never spoken a word and whose name I would never hear...

I laughed bitterly. "Roxas…"

At one point when I could move again, I picked him up. I managed to carry him back to the river, where I cleaned every one of his cuts and bruises; washed his pale skin free of bugs and dirt and the filth this world had festered on him. At least now he could be free of it. Let him find his eternal sleep in the water, where no one would ever find him or use his body again. There, he could rest and fade away from this cruel world in peace...

Just as I was about to let him go, I looked down at his face again. How long had it been since I looked at it? I was so consumed by the loss of him, I held him, but I didn't need to see him. I knew he was there. But now, as I looked down at him, I realized.

Though his eyes were glazed and pained, it seemed the rest of his face told a different story. He was smiling. It was a soft little smile that graced his lips, and for just a moment, I felt my own smile returning. Much sadder, much more pained and lost, but I knew by his smile that finally, he was free. Maybe...maybe it was better this way...

I kissed his forehead, and slowly let him sink away. I just knew he was with the other angels now...