Dark, stormy clouds filled the sky and dropped countless gallons of rainwater on the city below. Here and there, a bolt of lightning flashed, quickly followed by a boom of thunder so loud it shook the air. In spite of the storm, humans scurried along the sidewalks with umbrellas over their heads, hoods and collars pulled up to protect against the cold. The streets were jammed with vehicles, honking at each other while their engines revved impatiently, and lights glowed from nearly every surface, only magnified by the glistening rain. The humans were unaware of the beings above who used the weather to shield their presence.

Wings fluttering and wands firmly in hand, dozens of Angels flew through the clouds in search of the humans they'd been assigned. One Angel, a male with blond hair and striking green eyes, paused in mid-air, aimed his body straight down, and closed his wings. He dropped like a stone, shooting towards the earth faster than a lightning bolt—any humans that happened to glance up would barely be able to register a blur of light.

Just before the Angel crashed into the roof of a tall apartment building, his wings sprang open and the wind caught him, slowing his descent drastically. He flapped his wings a few times and gently touched down on the roof, sandaled feet splashing in the puddles.

Ugh, if he hadn't already been soaked from the bloody storm, his wet feet would have bothered him a great deal. He hated being wet, but for now he was just going to have to deal with it. This was his last run for the night, and soon he would be able to return home, dry off, and enjoy a nice cup of tea. Maybe he'd curl up by the fire with a book to let the warmth seep back into his bones with a blanket over his legs, like he'd done before he got his wings.

With that pleasant image in mind, the Angel half walked, half flew across the roof and over the side of the building. This was when he was most vulnerable, as he slowly drifted down towards the street below, wings flapping slowly but powerfully to control the speed of his descent. His gaze was intent on the building's windows, searching for the tell-tale glow of his mark.

Ah! There it is!

Eager to finish, he flew to the window and touched the glowing symbol on the glass. It was invisible to humans, and was how each Angel found his or her assigned human. This particular Angel's mark was a Tudor Rose, his favorite flower, and vanished the moment he touched it. Silently but swiftly, he opened the window and entered the room beyond; a quick glance told him it was a little girl's room.

Piece of cake.

A wave of his wand later, the Angel stood perfectly dry in his pristine white toga and leather sandals, his blond hair moving slightly as if there was a breeze. It was more than slightly annoying that in only a few minutes he was going to have to return to the storm outside, but he was glad to be dry for now. Besides, a soaked Angel wasn't nearly as impressive as a dry one, and he needed to make the best impression he could if he wanted to accomplish his assigned task.

Refocusing his thoughts, the Angel turned and examined the girl in question. She was asleep in bed, surrounded by various stuffed animals; the walls were covered by posters and drawings of flowers, fairies, angels, unicorns and other such magical beings, and an overall color scheme of pinks and white. The Angel quickly decided that he liked this kid. Anyone who loved his friends this much was definitely on his good list.

With a quiet swish of his wings, he was across the room and kneeling by the girl's bed. As gently as he could, the Angel placed two fingers on the girl's temple and slipped himself into her dreams.

Large brown eyes widened as the dream-girl looked upon the dream-Angel. They were standing in an odd-looking, empty playground, with warped equipment and strange plants. The dream-girl was obviously frightened and held a stuffed unicorn to her chest. Smiling, the dream-Angel held his hand out to her in a friendly manner.

"Hello, Mei."

The dream-girl blinked. "How do you know my name?"

"I'm your Guardian Angel, Mei. Of course I know your name. Would you like to come play with my friends?"

She hesitated, glancing around the playground to see what friends he was talking about. "Who are you friends?"

"Come see." His hand was still extended, and Mei shyly took it. "Close your eyes," the dream-Angel whispered, and the dream-girl obediently did so. "Now open them."

Mei opened her eyes and gasped, amazed and awed. The warped playground had been replaced by a lush green meadow. The grass swayed in the breeze, there were trees to climb and flowers to smell, and even a pond with a small beach.

"Where are we?" she asked, staring around as if she couldn't quite believe her eyes.

"This is my dream-meadow. You can visit any time you want, as long as you're asleep."

Disappointment darkened Mei's expression. "This is only a dream?"

The dream-Angel chuckled. "Yes, and no. This meadow is very real, but the only way for humans like you to get here is by dreaming."

"Oh. Okay." She was still trying to take everything in when a soft bell-like sound came from behind them.

"Mei, I'd like you to meet my friends."

They turned at the same time, and Mei covered her mouth with her hands as her eyes widened to the figurative size of dinner plates. The dream-Angel smiled, pleased by her reaction.

"A unicorn! And fairies! I knew you were real!" Mei squeaked, too overwhelmed to move as her toy unicorn dangled from her grasp.

"Go play with them," the dream-Angel urged gently. "That's why they're here."

Mei didn't need to be told twice. Only seconds later, she and her newfound friends were off, racing across the meadow. Their laughter—the dream-girl's giggle, the fairies' twinkling laughs and the unicorn's whinnies—made getting wet in the storm seem like a very small price to pay to help someone like that child.

This was why the Angel loved his job.

"Are you finished?" a quiet voice asked from near the dream-Angel's left shoulder.

"Yes. She was my last stop. I'll be home soon." He turned and offered a smile to the flying, mint-colored bunny that had spoken, then vanished.

Opening his eyes, the Angel took his hand away from the still-sleeping girl's temple and smiled to himself. She was absolutely precious, and hopefully his intervention would be enough. But there wasn't time to speculate—his bed and a cup of tea were calling his name, so the Angel left through the window, shut it carefully, and, with a powerful stroke of his wings, shot himself up towards the angry-looking storm clouds.

Rain pelted his face and he was drenched in moments, much to his irritation. At last he was going to get to relax and—

A sudden, searing, unbearable pain struck his back and the Angel screamed; his voice was lost in a boom of thunder. Weak and disoriented, he flapped his wings hard in an effort to remain airborne, but it was no use. The pain was like nothing he'd ever felt before. It was excruciating, and every movement made it worse, until he couldn't fight it anymore and fainted, falling back towards the earth.

XXX

Hands shoved deep into his pockets and a hood pulled over his sandy blond hair, a man trudged along an empty sidewalk littered with trash and half-drowned in dirty puddles. He wore black slacks, black boots and a black jacket with a name tag that read "A. F. Jones." The word "SECURITY" was emblazoned on the back of his uniform jacket in white, alerting anyone who saw him to the fact that he was a security guard and therefore declared that Alfred Jones was not someone to mess with.

It was 5:30am and he was exhausted, but at least the rain was letting up; it was only drizzling now. Still, the gloomy weather made this part of the city even more depressing than usual, which was really saying something. Most people only thought about the bright, flashy side of New York City, but it had its low-income neighborhoods. It was in one of these poorer areas that Alfred walked. There were no other people out at this time, though he could hear a dog barking somewhere. The only reason he was up was because he'd just gotten off of work and was on his way home to sleep.

Even though he was drop-dead tired, he enjoyed these early morning walks. It was peaceful and if he timed it right he could watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was late October, so it was still dark out and the only light came from dim street lamps, many of which needed new bulbs. This meant that the sidewalk was shadowy, and the many narrow alleyways were perfect places for a thief to hide. But Alfred wasn't worried about getting mugged—the very visible glock on his hip would deter any potential attackers, and he could fight better than most. Besides, he wasn't carrying anything worth stealing.

He was still another ten minutes from his apartment when something odd caught his eye. There was a light in the ally ahead, sort of a soft glow that the man found very interesting. He'd never seen anything like it before.

Cautious but curious, he continued towards the alleyway and peered into what would usually be a dark, smelly space. He stared, surprised.

"What the hell?" the blond muttered, picking his way through the piles of trash. This was not happening. Right? But as he stood in the alley, staring at the source of the glow, he couldn't deny what was right in front of him. He couldn't quite believe it, either.

What on earth was a guy dressed in a toga and sandals doing lying in an alley at 5:30 in the morning? Perhaps he'd been at an early Halloween party and had too much to drink. That didn't seem very likely—there'd been no parties in the area that night, otherwise there would have been a lot more evidence of it than one passed out dude. Why else would he be there, though? He was too old for a college toga party, probably in his mid-to-late twenties.

Actually, he was kind of cute.

Dude. Not the time for that.

"Hey, dude, wake up." Alfred nudged the unconscious guy with his shoe. The man groaned and rolled from his side onto his stomach but didn't wake.

"Holy shit!" Blue eyes widening behind glasses, he stared in shock and horror at the massive wound on the strange man's back. It looked like someone had lit his toga on fire then let it burn through and melt the guy's skin, and it looked fresh. No wonder he was unconscious—no one would want to be awake with an injury like that.

Once he got over the initial panic of seeing the burn, something else caught the bespectacled man's attention. Amazed, he reached out and touched the dirty white feathers of what could only be a wing.

Whoa, it feels so real!

The wing was warm and the feathers were softer than he'd have thought was possible, especially considering the fact that they were wet and covered in blood and grime. Fascinated, he ran his fingers over the feathers, and the injured man shuddered as if he could feel it, which was impossible.

"Well, I can't just leave him here, I guess."

Careful of the burn and wings, he lifted the unconscious stranger and carried him out of the alley. He was surprisingly light, and Alfred had no trouble carrying him back to his apartment. Opening the door proved to be a little more difficult, but the smaller man was light enough for him to shuffle him in his arms, pull his key ring from his belt loop and open the front door. The room beyond was, for lack of a better word, plain. Off-white walls, worn gray carpet, a second-hand sofa and a desk lamp on a battered old coffee table were the only furniture in the living room. A door in the wall to the right led to the small bedroom and a half wall across from the couch partially separated the kitchen from the living room. Another door hid the apartment's only bathroom.

It wasn't much of a home, but it was enough.

Kicking the door shut behind him, the tall blond carried his rescue into the kitchen and gently laid him on the table. The wound looked even worse when he flicked on the light. It was red and angry and painful-looking—he hadn't seen anything like it since—no. He wasn't going to think about it. Not now. He had a job to do and it needed to be done quickly.

Alfred washed his hands in the kitchen sink then dried them on a paper towel before he looked at the unconscious man again. As gently as he was able, he removed the ruined toga and blushed darkly to see that the man wore nothing underneath. Other than the burn and NYC alley way filth, the pale body was flawless, and still that soft glow emanated from him. There were no straps on the wings to hold them in place, and he wondered how they were attached, but quickly forced himself to focus.

The First Aid kit he kept on top of the fridge was emptied onto the counter and he selected a bottle of burn gel, then disinfectant and gauze. The disinfectant was first, bubbling and hissing as it encountered the filth from the alleyway. It would have stung like hell if the guy had been awake, especially since Alfred was using a damp paper towel to wipe away the larger pieces of dirt. Next, he took a clean rag from a drawer, rinsed it in warm water and washed the grime from the fragile-looking body. He then carefully applied the burn gel, layering a generous amount of the green goop on the wound, and, lastly, taped a large pad of gauze over the majority of the man's back.

Satisfied with his work, Alfred washed his hands again then picked the man up once more, cradling the petite frame against his chest protectively, and took him into the bedroom. It was as plain and as sparsely furnished as the rest of the apartment, but it was clean and there was nowhere else for the man to rest until he woke. This being the case, Alfred—awkward and blushing—dressed his rescue in a pair of his own pajama pants and a soft T-shirt, both of which were much too large for the still-unconscious male. It was the best he could do for now, so he laid the man on the bed and tucked him in, then found himself brushing the golden blond hair back from the pale face.

He looks so peaceful, like he's never seen anything bad in his life.

Alfred was a little jealous of the innocence this man seemed to possess. After the things he'd seen and done, he envied anyone who could still claim some amount of innocence. But he didn't regret anything, not really, so the jealousy faded after a few minutes and he changed out of his uniform into a pair of sweatpants and left the bedroom, quietly shutting the door behind him. Exhaustion was creeping up on him and he collapsed onto the couch, fully content to sleep there until his mysterious guest returned to the conscious world.