Chapter 11 - ‘Love's Embrace’
Jason was leaning against the low wall overlooking Tristfall Gorge when he sensed them. He turned and found himself facing half-a-dozen men. All but one were carrying machine guns. The men carrying guns were dressed in trench coats and wide brimmed hats and their machine guns were old-fashioned as if from the 1950's. He half expected Al Capone to turn up, and would have laughed at their stereotypically mobster costumes if it hadn't been for their unarmed companion.
Damien grinned wickedly, displaying a wide row of serrated teeth. His dull black eyes bore into Jason. "What's this? A ward, caught without his warden? We're going to have fun with you!"
Jason tried to edge along the wall away from them.
"Eh! None of that now," Damien had noticed what he was doing and one of his lackeys fired into the wall a few feet from Jason.
Jason swallowed hard and concentrated on calling Matt with his mind. 'Matt! I fucked up again. I could really use your help right now!'
Damien approached him, "Come along now, Miriam is waiting."
Jason looked at him quizzically, "Miriam? What does Miriam have to do with this?"
"Everything you twit. Miriam and I have a 'business' arrangement concerning you." Damien spat at him. "Lets take a little journey shall we?" he reached out to grab Jason.
There was a bright flash of light as he tried to grab Jason, and he pulled his hand back sharply. It was singed black. "You bastard!" Damien snarled. "That actually hurt." He held the limb with his unharmed hand and flames licked up his wrist and covered his hand. Under the flames, his skin flowed over his hand and healed itself. "I'm going to make you pay for that." He said once the flames had died out.
"That's far enough Damien."
"Matt!" Jason cried as he spotted him behind the mobster lackeys.
With a wave from Matt's hand, the mobsters were knocked to either side and sprawled on the ground. Matt raced to Jason and was about to grab him when Damien again focused their attention on him.
"Well if it isn't the Knight in Shining Armor himself!" he sneered. "But do you know what he really is?"
"Yeah, actually." Jason said quite jovially. He was feeling a lot safer now that Matt was around.
"Well then, I guess you don't mind if I show you exactly what he is." He reached for something around his neck and murmured something that neither Matt nor Jason could hear.
A few seconds passed and nothing happened. Matt and Jason looked at each other and Matt rolled his eyes. Jason was just thinking what an anticlimax it had been, when Matt collapsed to his knees. He was clutching his head in pain and his scream echoed through the gorge. His voice reverberated off the walls and grew louder. Shale started to tumble loose.
Jason crouched down beside Matt and tried to hold him. But Matt knocked him backwards with his arm. Matt was to busy fighting the transformation to notice the havoc he was causing around him. Small rocks were now raining down on them from above, but Matt was still oblivious to it all.
He leaned forwards and wretched, something he'd never experienced before. The clothes he was wearing burst into flame and fell off his body as ash, leaving him naked save for a thin silk cloth loosely wrapped around his waist. The skin on his shoulders split and light cascaded across his back. The light solidified into a pair of dazzling, white-feathered wings. They grew and folded around his shaking body.
Finally, his transformation was complete and the pain subsided. He closed his mouth and the canyon grew quite, save for his gasps of breath and the sound of loose shale settling.
Jason had watched the metamorphosis with astonishment. It had seemed intolerably violent and painful, but the end result was the most graceful thing he'd ever seen.
Matt slowly rose into the air and hovered a few feet off the ground.
"You see what he is?" Damien practically screamed. He was trembling, as he reveled in the pain he had managed to cause Matt. "You see what an abomination he is?"
Jason looked at Matt in wonder and said, barely louder than a whisper, "I think he's beautiful!" And indeed he was. He was an awe-inspiring sight; His perfectly muscular body glowing with a sheen of sweat and empyreal wings hanging gracefully around him.
"Idiot human! You wouldn't know true beauty if it came up and bit you on the ass! You're all the same." Damien snapped. He reached up and extended his arm and Matt, chest still heaving, tumbled through the air. Jason realized Damien was still controlling Matt somehow and was making him float.
Damien forced Matt out over the ravine and Jason realized with a shock what he was intending to do. He turned on Damien and found him already aiming one of the dropped machineguns at Matt.
"No!" he shouted and tried to knock Damien aside, but it was too late. He pulled the trigger and Jason watched in horror as the bullets pounded into Matt's chest and wings.
Jason's world seemed to move in slow motion as feathers drifted in the air and then Matt began to slowly tumble in the air, careening down into the gorge.
"MAATT!" He screamed.
He collapsed against the stone wall, his hand still reaching out as if to save Matt from the fall.
"Take him." He heard Damien order.
He felt the men move around him and then something inside him snapped.
He felt pure, white-hot rage boiling up inside him. His anger at losing Matt, his fear of being taken by Damien, it all welled up, begging for release.
An arm reached out to grab his shoulder and he rose, spinning as he did so and his hand found the man's wrist. It snapped at the elbow and the man screamed in pain. The other men backed off momentarily and Jason looked into the man's face. He had no eyes. His eye sockets were sealed with melded skin and pentagrams were scarred into his face in place of his eyes.
Jason flicked his eyes at Damien and caught sight of his reflection in Damien's back, soulless eyes. His own eyes were blazing with white fire that flowed up his face. He felt the rage inside him, and like a set of floodgates, he released the energy in a torrent.
White fire rushed from every pore on his body, reaching outwards. The fire formed a ball around him and then burst forth like an expanding bubble, consuming everything around him. The fire blotted out his vision, and everything went suddenly white and he clenched his eyes shut.
* * *
Jason opened his eyes slowly. Nothing remained of the mobster-esque lackeys. They had been burnt out of existence by the fire. Damien staggered forwards form the ravine wall where he'd been blown by the blast. His skin was burnt and covered in boils, and in some places, muscle and even bone could be seen where the skin had been burnt away entirely.
He glared at Jason with sightless eyes. They still dribbled down his face as black ooze. "I'll kill you for this, I swear!" he snarled. And then red flames burst from the ground and enveloped him. When they dissipated, he was gone.
Jason sank to his knees. The ground around him was vibrant with life. Newly grown moss covered the rocks and small flowering weeds sprouted from cracks in the wall. He sobbed at his loss.
"Oh, God. Matt!" he cried.
A soft hand took his face and wiped the tears from his face, but Jason couldn't tell whom for the water in his eyes.
"It'll take more than a few bullets to take me out, yet!"
Jason gasped and tried to stop crying. "M-M-Matt?" his voice trembled with emotion.
"It's okay Jase, I'm here. It's OK." Matt wrapped his arms around Jason and held him tightly. Jason hugged him back and sobbed into his chest in relief.
Matt folded his wings around them and held Jason tighter. "It's OK, baby. I'm not going anywhere."
* * *
Eventually Jason's sobbing subsided and he looked up at Matt's face. Night had fallen, and a moonbeam danced across his face.
"That was quite a show, you put on there!" Matt whispered to him.
"What happened?" Jason asked him, disbelievingly.
Matt smiled warmly. "You found your power."
"You tapped into your emotions and fueled your powers. Pretty good for a first timer." Matt chuckled.
"What about you? What happened to you?" Jason asked as he looked deeply into Matt's ice-blue eyes.
Matt stroked Jason's face with a long, soft feather. "It takes more than a few bullets to kill an angel as old as me."
"Is it always like that, when you transform?" Jason asked him.
Worry crossed Matt's features for the first time. "No, never. But it's always voluntary. He forced me to change." Matt remembered Damien holding something around his neck. "That thing he had." He trembled slightly. "I've never felt pain like that before. Damien shouldn't have been able to do that. And I'm worried that he and Miriam may be working together somehow."
Jason sighed and pressed his face against Matt's muscular chest. Matt looked down at him. "Are you okay with me? Being like this I mean?" he asked with concern.
Jason looked up into his face. "You're beautiful, whatever you're form. I love you all the same." Jason closed his eyes and kissed Matt's chest lightly, before snuggling back into him.
A moment of silence passed and Jason felt something drip onto his upturned face. He opened his eyes and gazed up at Matt. A single tear wound its way down Matt's face and sparkled like a diamond in the moonlight. "What's wrong?" He asked.
"Thank you!" Matt said raggedly and leant down and kissed Jason tenderly on the lips.
When their lips parted, Jason licked his lips slowly. "Mmm, you still taste like vanilla." He sighed and Matt wrapped his wings closer about them, insulating them from the cold December air. They fell asleep, still holding onto each other tightly in love's embrace.
* * *
Jason awoke during the night to find he was alone. By the position of the moon, he guessed it to be about two or three in the morning. At first he thought Matt had left him again, but then he noticed a lonely figure perched on a rock in the one place where moonlight struck all night. Matt was sitting cross-legged on the rock, deep in meditation. He quietly made his way over to him, wrapping his arms around himself for warmth.
He was going to wake Matt, but when he saw how peaceful he seemed, he decided to sit down and wait for Matt to awaken on his own. A few minutes passed and Jason noticed a number of red welts develop on Matt's chest. He thought it was a trick of the moonlight, until they got bigger. Now at least ten, angry red spots dotted Matt's chest. They bulged, and then at each point, his skin split open, revealing raw, red tissue inside.
He jumped up and was about to forcibly wake Matt, when the first of them pushed themselves out. With a dull ring of metal on stone, a bullet slipped out of his chest and feel to the ground. Then a second, and a third followed. Soon the night was filled with dull 'pings' as bullets forced their way out of Matt, from his chest and wings. When the last of the bullets had fallen out, the wounds sealed over and healed without leaving a single scar. Matt sighed deeply and opened his eyes a crack. He spotted Jason watching him and almost leapt up in surprise.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." Jason said.
Matt smiled, "It's just the first time I've had an audience." He laughed. He stooped and scooped up the bullets in his hand. He looked at Jason and then pressed his hands together. He closed his eyes momentarily and his hands glowed silver. The glow faded and he opened his eyes. He stepped up to Jason and opened his hands. A delicate metal rose lay, perfectly formed, across his hand. He held up to Jason's nose.
Jason sniffed it tentatively and was surprised to find it actually smelled like a rose. He took it and held it gently in his hands. "Well, aren't you just the man of many talents." He laughed and kissed Matt gently.
Every time they kissed, Jason felt butterflies in his stomach. His tongue danced tenderly across Matt's lips as he relished the vanilla flavor. He still couldn't believe he was being given the chance to kiss Matt.
Their kiss broke and Matt looked at him sadly.
"What is it?" Jason asked.
Matt sighed, "You know this can't last."
Jason stepped backwards from him, "What do you mean?"
Matt looked him in the eye. "Jason, I'm hundreds of years old. I'm not going to die for a very long time." He said solemnly.
"I thought you said you loved me?" Jason demanded.
"I do!" Matt almost shouted at him. "That's the problem! I don't think I could bare to watch you grow old while I stay young."
"Fuck you!" Jason shouted back. "That's the shittiest reason I have ever heard!"
"No, Jason wait! I-" Matt said urgently.
"Fuck you Matt. I thought you actually loved me for a minute there." Jason shook his head. "Of course you'd want to be with another angel wouldn't you? That way you can be together forever."
"Jase, that's not what I meant. Of course I love you-"
"Don't you dare call me that! Only those closest to me get that privilege." Jason snapped. "Sure, you love me, just not enough to stay with me! What is it, am I just not good enough for you?"
Matt grabbed Jason by the shoulder. "Will you shut up for a moment and listen to me! I'm trying to tell you. It's not you that's not good enough for me. It's me! I'm not good enough for you."
Jason looked at him in confusion.
"I want you to have the best. Someone like you who you can grow old with."
Jason removed Matt's hand from his shoulder. "Don't you get it Matt?" he said. "I don't want someone like me. I want you! And as far as I'm concerned, you are the best."
"It couldn't work Jason." Matt said sadly.
"Then let's make it work!"
"The council wouldn't allow it."
"Fuck the council. We don't need them to tell us whether we can or can't be together." Jason insisted.
"Do you really mean that?" Matt asked him. "How far are you willing to go just to be with me, Jason?"
"To hell and back!" Jason whispered. "I love you Matt."
Matt just looked into Jason's eyes, "Do you?"
Jason was taken-a-back by the question. "What do you mean? I just said I did."
Matt shook his head. "Do you love me Jason? Or do you love my body?"
Jason paused for the first time.
"You see," Matt said. "You can't answer me."
"How can I Matt?" Jason asked him, tears beginning to run down his cheeks. "You haven't opened up to me once even. I don’t know YOU at all."
"You see. You wouldn't love me if you knew me. It's better for you this way."
"That's it then?" Jason asked him. "You're not even going to take the chance and see?"
"I'm sorry Jason, I can't do this to you. You have to let me go." Matt kissed Jason on the cheek and began to walk away from him.
"What about Miriam and Damien? Are you still going to be my watcher?" Jason called after him.
Matt shook his head. "You don't need me anymore Jason. Your powers have been awakened, now you have to decide how to use them."
Jason was openly crying now. "Matt, please! Don't do this." But it was to late. Matt was already fading from view. "Matt!" he shouted. "You don't know anything about me if you think that's what I want! Matt, please!"
But Matt was gone. He'd faded away, like smoke in the wind. Jason hugged himself in the cold air and let the tears stream down his face. "Why?" he asked the wind, but there was no answer. Eventually, he turned and headed home, clutching the metal rose to his chest, still crying softly.
When he'd gone, Matt faded back into view. A tear dripped down his face and dropped to the ground. Where it touched, the ground burst apart and a rose bush sprouted. In a matter of seconds, it had reached waist height and blossomed with five, pearly white buds.
"I'm sorry Jase. I'll always love you." Matt said to the night. And then closed his eyes. There was a flash of light and he was gone. Really gone this time. Matt had left Jason. He had set him free.