What If? (Wedding Edition)

From the 2018 Christmas collection…

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Angel Hunt | Streifen – Alternate Universe Unrelated

They say a wedding day is a joyous occasion, a joining of families to create one where there once was two.  It’s a celebration of love and all the romantic emotions that come with it. A day where a sacred vow is made, spoken before those one holds dear, a promise to cherish and honor the new spouse for the rest of days.  It’s a party on grand scale, with champagne and dancing and toasts aplenty. The day marks transition, passing from the shelter of family and childhood and creating something new, yet still descended from the old. Tradition is richly laid on, special rituals and words reserved for this unique event.  A wedding is elegant and polished, lux and dignified, ornate and exquisite.

Out of all those things a wedding could–and many argue should–be, that last bit is the only thing this one got right.

The ballroom is magnificent.  Marble pillars rise to the vaulted ceilings with various whorls and curves carved into the surface and beautiful crenulations at the top..  Overhead, the hanging crystal chandeliers create a glimpse into the heavens, the ceiling shimmering with liberally applied gold leaf. Impossibly tall arched windows line two of the walls, the grand and immaculate gardens beyond on display.  Underfoot the flooring is onyx marble shot through with steaks of gold that sparkles in a nod to the grand display above. Not to be outdone by the room itself, the wedding decor would make even the most high-end of wedding magazines jealous.  Flowers in pale, tasteful colors adorn every flat surface, erupting from vases, twisted into garlands, and settled on the lapel of every male guest and the wrist of every female guest. An archway of blossoms is set over every entrance and exit of the room, each one marking the beginning of one of the plush velvet runners that all eventually lead to the main aisle created for the ceremony.  Guest chairs are wrapped in equally luscious velvet ribbon, with one color denoting the bride’s side of the aisle and the other the groom.

The wedding is fancy and refined and pulled together by someone who is a master of taste and elegance.  There’s not a single element out of place or left neglected, not one item overlooked. With such an amazing backdrop, the guests must be besides themselves with excitement and wishes of happiness for the lucky couple… right?

That’s where this wedding has erred, sadly.  The gathered family and friends, business affiliates and acquaintances all seem rather muted.  Take the groom’s side for a moment: first, there’s no one that stands out immediately as a family member.  The chairs are filled with men who appear used to the confines of a suit, who all have that same boardroom haircut, and give hardy handshakes they believe indicate how successful they are.  The women wear dresses that are lovely enough, but largely unadorned and somewhat conservative. Their jewelry is no doubt immensely expensive, but is uninspired, and their chignons and french twists are boringly basic.  Each and every one of them is likely a business associate and nothing more. Over on the bride’s side it’s either kimono or black suits–end of story. The kimono are lovely, of course, but with every woman sporting the same silhouette, it’s actually difficult to tell one from another.  These guests speak only with one another in hushed tones, as if they’re all sharing the greatest of secrets or raising one’s voice to a normal talking volume is taboo. These people are the most boring wedding guests in existence.

The three seated on the end of an aisle would look completely natural in the bride’s section with their dark suits, were it not for their height and general presence.  On one side, Sashi’s face is tilted downward as he gazes at his hands, the only place he could look once his permanent frown and glare started making the surrounding guests uncomfortable.  On the other is Innic, who on first glance appears to be studying the gardens out past the windows, but is instead likely ruminating on the repercussions of the Treaty of Westphalia or the code outlined in the tenets of Brehon law.  Surrounded by those already checked-out before the ceremony has begun, I’ve turned my attention instead to watching our fellow guests, trying to derive from their body language who is secretly having an affair with whom, which ones are likely to contemplate poisoning each other, and how well they can feign interest in their neighbor’s useless prattling.  Indeed, entertainment is in short supply right now.

Although I could be having a lot more fun if some well-applied telepathy could be used on all these humans, nudging people into acting on or speaking aloud what their body language is conveying.  That would totally amp up my interest and I’d already be at work if not for the very specific and very pointed warning I’d received about messing about in people’s minds. A warning that won’t be ignored if I desire to keep breathing, which I certainly do.

So instead I’m left with honing my skills in observation.  Truthfully, I shouldn’t have expected any less from this event, considering this isn’t my first time visiting this mansion.  It was painfully boring two and a half years ago and hasn’t gotten at all better. Sure, it’s owned by a Demon, which could at least be relatively interesting, however after standing in Jenova’s presence for two seconds, I was well aware that I never wanted to do it again.  It’s also certainly magical, with rooms that seem to shift on their own accord, ensuring one never takes the same pathway from one wing to the next. There are lavish furnishings aplenty and a serving staff who seem more like dolls than living, breathing entities. Megumi lives here as well, of course, she’s the reason Sashi and I were here back then and the reason we’ve returned today.  At least this time, in spite of his general displeasure at being dragged to a wedding, my brother isn’t drowning in his own magic. At least there’s that.

A flash of color tears midnight eyes from a woman who clearly lusts after the man she and her husband are seated beside, shifting them instead to the ceremony’s newest arrival.  He appears to be in his late teens, just like Innic and me, although shorter than the two of us by a few inches. The black suit hugs every inch of his toned body and sets off his bright pink and white hair.  And finally–someone who doesn’t want to be here as much as Sashi. They could compete for most ingrained frown. In the span of time it takes for him to walk up the aisle and seat himself in the front row on the bride’s side, I recall where I’ve seen him before.   We’ve never met, but he was one of mansion’s residents I was specifically warned about by the resident Demon. Our paths never crossed in the weeks I was here, and if they had I hadn’t been forbidden to speak with him, only from going anywhere near his mind. Maybe it’s because he’s most obviously not human, not with that magical signature.  Paired with the white hair, I’d guess Angel. Not that I’ve met one, but apparently Sashi and Megumi have had a few conversations about them.

[Who’s he?]  I nod in the Angel’s direction once Sashi looks up from his hands.

The older Dark shifts his attention, his look of general unhappiness never wavering.  [Megumi’s brother, Jun.  I’ve seen him during my visits here, but never been formally introduced.]

The new is not at all what I expected.  For one, I never imagined that Megumi had a brother.  Was that why I was warned away from him by Jenova? [He’s an Angel, right?]  Dark hair shifts as Sashi nods, storm cloud eyes slipping back to his hands.  At least I was right about that, but how does Megumi have an Angel for a brother when she’s definitely not an Angel?  I mean it’s not the weirdest shit I’ve ever run across–it’s not even the weirdest shit I’ve run across in this mansion–but there must be a story behind it.

From the back of the room, a string quartet begins to play, a warning to stragglers that the ceremony will begin shortly.  I try to go back to watching the guests, but time and time again midnight eyes slip to the front row, taking in the unhappiness that emanates like a dark cloud over Jun’s head.  There’s something about him that piques my interest, something that makes me want to make an introduction that’s two and a half years overdue. It probably helps that even with that frown, he’s still super hot.

The music is shifting, gradually bringing in chords for the traditional wedding march, not that I’m paying too much attention to it with so much to look at in the front row.  Unfortunately the viewing is interrupted by the appearance of another Angel, this one taller and with all white hair. He even wears a white suit, of all things. The newcomer folds himself into the seat next Jun, one hand reaching out to squeeze his shoulder as he leans in to whisper in his ear.  Friend? Boyfriend? Normal Angelic greeting? The new guy is an unknown, but suddenly I’m the one frowning.

Fortunately the arrival of the groom, with his flowing white hair and overwhelming presence, signals the wedding march to begin in earnest, and guests rise to their feet and turn toward the back of the room where Megumi has made her entrance.  The ceremony finally underway, I forget about the Angels for a little while…

What this hallway lacks, is good lighting.  Beautiful imported tile floor, ridiculously rare and expensive paintings on the walls and no light to admire any of it.  It’s true that this hallway was likely not intended for wedding guests, seeing as how it’s not in the vicinity of the ballroom and adjacent dining hall.  

But when the mood strikes–and oh hell, how it struck–one has to find a place not so populated by business people and uptight family members.  Innic and I did just that and I very much enjoyed stripping every inch of expensive suiting from his body. A lot of years and a lot of heartbreak had passed between us, but somethings one doesn’t forget, such as how to make your boyfriend moan and scream.  Thus the need for privacy and the reason the darkened corridor is a thing at–

It’s instinct and battle training that wrench my tall frame to the side just in time to avoid the collision, the shorter person in front of me doing the same with equal gracefulness, the two of us ending up standing rather close once we grind to a halt.  For a moment we stand in silence, both obviously not expecting anyone else to be in the hall. There’s enough light to pick out the stark white hair and dyed pink bangs of Megumi’s brother, and even as I allow my gaze to wander over him, his is doing the same in kind.

“I don’t think we’ve met,” I finally say once I manage to stop studying the way his suit jacket nips in perfectly to display his trim waist.  “I’m Zephyr, Sashi’s brother.”

The Angel nods, lifting his gaze until deep, dawn-drenched pink eyes meet mine.  Goddamn, that color is unexpected and absolutely beautiful. The same shade as his bangs, the color can easily get lost until one looks directly into the deep pools.  Another silence falls over us, but there’s something more to it this time as our gazes remain locked, something woven into it that feels like a spark, one that grows brighter and hotter with each passing heartbeat.  The edges of the world begin to blur as I fall into those depths, trivial things like the wedding, my brother, the need to breathe, all eclipsed by that rapidly expanding heat and the new sparks that are beginning to break off and spread outward from my core.

“Oh right, your brother is Megumi’s friend.”  The words snap wandering attention back, pink eyes dropping from mine a second later.  “I’m Jun.”

The Angel suddenly seems a little out of sorts, and I quickly realize what’s happening.  It’s not just that I’m standing in a darkened hallway away from the wedding with my tie untied and my hair still somewhat disheveled, it’s that I must smell rather strongly of magic, sweat, and sex.  I don’t know much about Angels, but Sashi did mention that they have very strong senses of smell, so there’s no hiding the activities that Innic and I just shared.

Since there’s no way to walk around something so obvious, instead I walk right toward it.  I mean, it’s not like I’m upset that I spent the last half hour satisfying my boyfriend in every way.  I flash Jun a smile. “I haven’t been to a lot of weddings, but it seems like what they say about them removing any inhibitions is true.”  

The Angel blinks as the words sink in, then his cheeks slowly tint with scarlet.   “Umm… I mean…” he flusters, “I guess… if you say so…”

Holy shit, the cuteness is insane.  Either he hadn’t piece together what I’ve been doing, which seems impossible, or he didn’t expect me to just come right out and say it so openly.  Whichever it is, I don’t think I can handle this level of adorableness. That pink flush against otherwise pale skin is amazing and I don’t know if I want to scoop Jun up in a hug or keep talking to see if it gets any darker and therefore cuter.  Probably both. No, definitely both.

“There you are.”  Pink and midnight eyes swivel toward the nearest bend in the corridor, a figure dressed all in white just beginning to come into view.  The other Angel is nearly my height, his shoulder length hair perfectly straight and his suit immaculately fitted. Light silver eyes rake over me, nothing at all like the way Jun’s had a few minutes before, instead harsh and critical.  Assessed and apparently found uninteresting, the newcomer turns back to Jun. “The elder Takashi-san is looking for you. Something about family business.”

I can smell a bullshit lie a mile away, and every word that just came from that Angel’s mouth is false.  One white-clad arm is draped possessively around the shorter man’s shoulders and with a turn, the two of them are moving back in the direction of the ballroom.  Silver eyes cut back at me, the glare that’s fired off crystal clear in it’s warning: stay away.  

Too bad I hate being told what to do.  Not to be outdone, I throw my own, undeniable reply glare: fuck you.

For someone who radiates magic on the level my brother does, you’d think it would be hard to lose him.  He should be like a beacon, blazing out to anyone with arcane sensitivities like a neon sign on a dark night.  Somehow, though, he’s managed to elude both me and Innic for the past half hour. Exasperated, we’d finally split up, figuring that if he’s avoiding us, we’ll have better odds of pinning him down if it’s two against one.

Taking a glass of scotch from the tray of a nearby waiter, I turn and step through the door that leads to the balcony.  Night has fallen, the sky a sea of indigo peppered with points of silver, that blocks out the splendor of the gardens. A white marble rail runs along the edge of the balcony, a newly familiar, solitary figure leaning against it, gaze trained out over the landscape.  The door shuts softly behind me, muting the waltz currently being played by the orchestra and is replaced by the soft calls of crickets and the rumble of bullfrogs in the ornate ponds. Soundlessly, my feet cross the tile, halting when I’m also at the railing, my forearms settled on the cold marble.

“We have to stop meeting like this.”  When Jun glances in my direction, I flash him a smile.  Reaching out, I clink his glass against my own and take a sip of scotch.  The amber-tinted liquid goes down with a smoothness that speaks of its high price tag and then kicks like a mule a second later–just the way a good scotch should.  “So you and Megumi are siblings, right?” The other teenager nods. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but how is that possible? I mean, you’re an Angel and she’s not.”

Long fingers push strands of pink from his eyes before Jun speaks, and the urge to reach out and take them in my own to see if they’re as soft as they look hits me unexepectedly.  “It’s complicated,” the words mercifully remind me that I’m in the middle of a conversation, shifting focus from those tapered fingers. “Long story short, I’m adopted. All those people sitting on the bride’s side earlier are related to me on paper and through court documents only.”  The Angel takes a sip of his own drink. “Doesn’t stop them from thinking they can run my life, though,” he mutters, bitterness coating every word.

Ah, complicated is something I know quite well.  When I left the Eyrie several years ago, my life was nothing but complicated.  I had a brother I hadn’t known was my brother, a bitch manipulating me time and time again, and a shift from Streaked to Dark that was so violent I had to be put in a magical coma for eighteen months in order to maintain my sanity.  Once I woke to that, I had to deal with Sashi almost drowning in his own magic, heartbroken and so closed off from the world that he was barely making it day to day. Luckily things have settled down and life is starting to even out.  I tracked Innic down and refused to allow him to avoid me due to feeling guilty about how things had ended between us on the Eyrie. Soon after we rekindled our relationship, all that old hurt and damage washed under the bridge.

“So,” Jun’s voice cuts into my thoughts, “how are you and Sashi brothers when you don’t look anything alike?”

I can’t help but laugh, the sound momentarily overpowering the crickets and frogs.  “That’s not at all complicated, that’s just Selestarri genetics. We can be related and look nothing at all alike.”  Shared blood is still shared, but the way it manifests in physical appearance and in magic don’t have any resemblance at all.  I’m used to it because that’s just the way things are, but I understand why it can seem strange to someone else. “My brother and I were actually here at the mansion for a few weeks two years ago.  I’m kinda sorry we never ran into one another back then, Jun.”

The Angel’s face immediately falls, a flicker of emotion passing over it quickly. Gone before it can be clearly read.  A sigh spills from the other teen’s slim frame and he raises the glass to his lips once again, taking a long sip. “I wouldn’t have been the same back then,” he says quietly, “but I’m glad we met today.”

I clink his glass against my own again, the scotch halfway to my lips when Innic let’s me know telepathically that he’s finally located Sashi.  “Shit, I’m needed elsewhere. This shouldn’t be the last time we meet, okay?” I smile at Jun before turning away and heading back toward the ballroom…

The wedding is over.  The orchestra has played their final piece, the bar hasn’t publicly announced last call seeing as how this is too elegant an affair for such a thing, but final drinks are certainly being implied, and the caterers have whisked away what’s left of the delicate little petit fours that served as dessert.  The guests have been trickling out for the better part of the last thirty minutes, the business people first, then the kimono-clad bride’s family.

Cigarette smoke trails in our wake as Innic, Sashi, and I head for the ballroom’s exit, the thin plume of grey causing more than one brow to wrinkle in disgust at my brother’s habit.  As usual, the older Dark ignores them all, focused on finally being permitted to leave an event he didn’t wish to attend in the first place.

[Are you sure wouldn’t rather stay?] Orange eyes meet midnight as Innic bumps me playfully with his shoulder.  [Spend a little more time with Jun, maybe?]  At my questioning look, the Bright continues, clearly loving every moment he gets to tease me.  [Come on now, Zeph, you and I’ve known each other a long time.  When you’re into someone I can always tell, and clearly, you want to bed that Angel.]  He flashes a grin, the same one he’s been giving me since we were kids.  [You know you have my blessing to hook up with him.  I’m not one of those prudish Selestarri who believes in only being with one person.]  

Honestly, I wouldn’t hate the idea of spending more time with Jun–in or out of bed.  There’s definitely something about him, something that is drawing me in and making me want to get to know him better.  It’s not love at first sight or anything–that’s just Hollywood bullshit used to sell movies, but I can’t deny that I want to see him again.  It will probably annoy the shit out Jun’s friend? Babysitter? Boyfriend? Whoever that other Angel is, he likely won’t be thrilled to see me again.  Not that I care, not when I’ve faced bigger and badder than the likes of him and won.

Winding through the hall that leads to the mansion’s grand entrance, I can’t help but wonder just what might have happened if Jun and I had met the first time I stood within these walls, two and a half years ago…

[Jun, Taz, and Megumi belong to Nezumi.  Zephyr, Sashi, and Innic belong to me.]

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