Sablo fished his phone out his pants pocket, shot a brief text to his brother, and seconds later, someone knocked loudly on their front door.
“What the hell, Sablo?“ Theo hissed. “Couldn’t you have waited a few minutes longer? The table isn’t set, and the salad’s not tossed!”
“But we were almost late. Diego hates tardiness.”
“Tough shit!” Theliel ripped a drawer open, grabbed some multicolored placemats, and stormed in the direction of the dining room. Over his shoulder he threw back at Sablo, “Open the damn door and show your brother the cupboard with the plates, and get the silverware out. Letting the guests set the table is all the rage nowadays.” Muttering to himself he snapped a dishtowel and started to polish the wine glasses.
Rolling his eyes, Sablo opened the door.”Wha—“
“Wha?” Diego frowned at his brother.
“Who—“ Sablo’s gaze jumped from Diego holding a wine bottle in his hand, to the tall slim figure standing behind him. “Theliel!”
The Cupid jerked at his lover’s panicked voice, thunked the glass in his hand on the table, and ran to the front door. “What happened?!” When he recognized the new guest, a broad smile appeared on his face. “Azrael! What are you doing here?” He pushed his lover aside, moved past Diego, and threw his arms around Azrael’s neck.
“Diego invited me to come along.”
“Really? Cool! How do you know each other?”
“How do you know Azrael?” Sablo asked Theo incredulously.
“Everyone knows Az, but we talked a little, sometimes in the past, when—,” Theliel stopped mid-sentence and left it unfinished. Then he turned to Azrael. ”How are you?”
The Angel of Death looked shyly at Diego. “Fine.”
Theo raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?” He took a step back, inclined his head to the left, and clapped his hands together loudly. “You guys help Sablo set the table; I’ll take the wine and get my kit…er...some stuff from my backpack, and meet you in the dining room. To Sablo he hissed, “Don’t start asking stupid questions. Polite and nice is the way to go here, okay?”
Sablo wasn’t to be dissuaded, and followed Theliel to the bedroom. “What are you doing?”
“Shh.... Their auras match. I need to get my spare test kit.”
“Oh no! I won’t allow—”
“That’s not in your work description, dear, but mine.”
“No buts! Get out there and entertain our guests while I finish the food.”
Meanwhile, in the entry hall, Diego raised his eyebrows. “You didn’t tell me you knew my brother’s partner?”
“I didn’t realize Theliel was the same person you called Theo, or that he was with Sablo.”
“Really? Them being hit by silver arrows was the big news for a while. At least among Cupids and Guardians.”
“I normally don’t hang around either.”
“Hmm, considering the reactions from the patrons of the bar, I guess I can understand why.”
“It gets tiring after a while. Everyone in this realm should know I’m rarely on official duty here. If they were humans I could understand the nervousness.”
“Well, humans only see you when they’re dying.”
“There are exceptions; some humans have ‘second sight’. Luckily, most of them refuse to believe they felt or saw me.”
“Wait, you implied you sometimes have duties here?”
Azrael nodded, but stayed silent. Before Diego could ask another question, Sablo returned.
“Don’t just stand around, come on in. I’ll give you the tour…unless you’ve been here before?” He shot Azrael a suspicious look.
“No, Theliel never invited me to visit. You moved in with him after…?”
“After his bastard of a boss shot us? Yeah, he had plenty of room, and the location is convenient for both Cupid Central and Guardian Central. And I thought Diego would appreciate having his own space. Apparently not.” This time, his brother was the recipient of a Sablo glare.
“Where did Theo go?” Diego said to change the topic.
“Well, um, there was a slight delay on the cooking front, so he’s busy in the kitchen. I hope you like vegetarian lasagna?”
“Need I ask the reason for this delay?” Diego said with a smirk.
“Shut up.” Sablo tried to wave him off, but couldn’t prevent a small blush from heating his cheeks.
“I thought so.”
In the kitchen, Theliel sliced the Italian bread one centimeter thick while the griddle pan heated. He popped one of the tomatoes in his mouth to check the flavor. “Hmm.... Good.” Spontaneously, he got some of the buffalo mozzarella, diced it, and mixed it with some of the tomatoes. Not everyone liked cheese on their bruschetta. While the bread toasted, he thought of a plan of action. If he did this cleverly, he could fill his test vials without anyone catching on to what he was doing. He could test them later, after Diego and Azrael went home. Rubbing the toasted bread with a cut clove of garlic, he tried to listen in on the conversation in the dining room.
“I’ll um... go into the kitchen and see if Theo needs any help.”
Great, Sablo was on the way to tell him what to do and what not.
”Listen Theo, I don’t know if this is such a good idea. I mean....Azrael is the Angel of Death. And Diego doesn’t need to be reminded of all the terrible things he had to witness every time he sees him. I think—“
“Please, do I tell you how to do your Guardian stuff?”
“Well, if I remember correctly, you had some choice word to say about Guardians, when we first met.”
“Anyway. This isn’t my decision. Their auras match. Very beautifully, if I may say so. Azrael’s deep purple mixes wonderfully with Diego’s rich green.”
”That sounds horrible, actually.”
“Well, it’s rare, but gorgeous.”
When Sablo opened his mouth to contradict him, Theliel lifted his hands. “It’s science, Babe. They match, if it pleases you or not. I can’t ignore this. It’s my job and task to make people happy. Now, open the bottle of wine and distract them when I serve the bruschetta, so I can fill my test tubes.”
“Shut it!” Theo grinned, while he drizzled olive oil over the bread and salted and peppered it. His big, bad Guardian pouted. After chopping some basil leaves, he mixed them with the rest of the tomatoes, and marinated them with his good balsamic vinegar. He spooned the topping on the bread, arranged it on a large plate, and made his way to the dining room. There, he placed it in the middle of the table.
“Please start without me. I have to take a quick look at the lasagna.”
In the kitchen, he briefly checked on the sizzling dish, then he grabbed his test vials and hid them in his pants pockets and the sleeve of his Henley.
“All is good; I’d say thirty minutes and the lasagna is done.” After glaring at Sablo, his lover launched into a ridiculous story about him guarding a police dog. Diego and Azrael listened with rapt attention. He collected all the samples, without them noticing a thing.
Later, while they were enjoying the lasagna, Diego coaxed Azrael into telling how they gained their duty as the Angel of Death.
His final argument to persuade Azrael to reveal the story had Sablo’s jaw dropping and Theo smirking. “After all, I might have to defend dating you, since apparently most cupids react like Rahmiel rather than Theo, and Guardians seems to prefer ignoring your existence.”
“Very well. Do you know the various stories human religions tell? No? Just as well, because they’re mostly wrong.”
“Wrong about you, or generally wrong?” Sablo asked.
“We’re not going to spoil a pleasant evening by discussing all the bad things caused by human religions. Let Azzie tell his story, Babe.”
“You know I don’t like those silly names, Theliel.”
“Sorry, please go on.”
“Well, originally when there were few humans on Earth, any angel nearby when one died, would capture the spark or soul, if you want to use a human word. But within a few millennia it became obvious there would soon be many more humans than angels. In addition, most of us became disenchanted with the way humans dealt with their world and refused to stay around.”
“I’m not surprised. Cupids are lucky; we only have to witness the nice emotions.”
“Shush, Theo.” Sablo wanted to hear the story without interruptions.
“Anyway, I can’t tell you how, but a call went out to discover any angels who had enough compassion to take charge of this duty. Four of us were selected, but I’m the only one who remains.”
“You volunteered? That was brave.” Diego sounded awed.
“But surely you can’t be present at every death?” Theo exclaimed.
“The other three guys defected?”
Azrael’s listeners spoke on top of each other, and he shook his head looking from one to the other. Finally, he focused on Sablo.
“No, they didn’t defect. They were worn out and gradually faded.”
He turned to Theliel. “You’re right. I’m not physically present at every death, only the special cases.” He glanced towards Diego, who reached out to take Azrael’s hand and mouthed ‘It’s OK’.
Sablo and Theliel looked at each other, the latter with a triumphant grin, and Sablo shrugged in resignation.
With a small start, Azrael tore his gaze away from Diego’s compassionate blue eyes and continued the explanation. “The concept of Death Incarnated handles 99.99 % of all cases. A virtual Angel of Death, if you want to use a modern human term. All sparks are caught and channeled to me, or rather to my cloak. I’m not at liberty to tell you the details, but while the minds of my fellow Death Angels faded, their immortal essence was incorporated into the cloak. This shields me from their fate.”
“I’m glad to hear that. You had me worried for a moment. Did you know this would happen when you volunteered?”
“No, none of us did. And I don’t think we were being brave taking up this task. Dutiful, sad for what would be lost if we abandoned Earth, maybe a bit arrogant in our belief we could handle the task and make a difference. One of my friends thought another solution would be found and held on for ages in this hope, but faded at last. I think the Powers are content with how it works.”
“But are you OK with your job?”
“Most of the time. Remember, I don’t see the events leading to death, the way you do on those missions. I can guess at them, from the circumstances, good or bad, but I don’t experience them. When I feel the pull, I arrive at the exact moment in time and space when the body expires. I grab the spark and pop back.”
“I usually leave the mission site before you do.”
“Yes, um, I don’t have to leave, but normally I’ve no reason to hang around.”
The silence stretched for a while, until Theo cleared his throat. “Dessert, anyone?”