One wet, freezing night, a beautiful angel and a monstrous demon seek each other’s secret company. Yoshiel and Labal would never be allowed to meet on normal terms, but they’re desperate: they’re both trapped in the human world, and have had a horrific penalty extracted from them by their masters. Only they know what they’ve done to deserve punishment, and only they can appreciate just how ironic and cruel that punishment is. Will they be left to suffer forever in this strange limbo state, or is it a test to see how they may learn from each other? Their forbidden meeting will either prove their undoing – or their release.

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© Clare London

“Nice night for it, eh?”

Yoshiel tilted his head sharply. He didn’t mistake that voice, coarse and mocking. It had come from the far end of the alleyway, where the shadows were deep and everything would stink of ugly, fetid things. He struggled to assess the situation, his logic and evaluation skills tangled up with the sharp stab of panic, and acidic stinging in his nostrils. He thought he could see small movement in the dark, something beyond the shrivelled, rotting food, something beyond the scampering arrogance of city rats.

He straightened up, ignoring the latest shimmer of water that tipped down his neck. “So I’ve found you at last. You’ve made me toil for this, yet I doubt you care. Show yourself now, you coward!”

The darkness in the alley moved again and became a man-shape like his own. And yet–so very not like his own. The figure reared up, suddenly becoming much larger and taller than Yoshiel, even allowing for the distortion from the shadows cast by the dumpsters beside it. Long, multi-jointed arms stretched out, grasping for purchase, or perhaps just gesticulating in protest against the night sky. The head fell backwards, its sodden, matted hair whipping from side to side. The shape was huge and misshapen, defined by shoulders that were too large in proportion to its lower body. In silhouette, the deformity coalesced into a monstrous hunchback.

Yoshiel stepped back in instinctive defence, and stumbled. His boots were flimsy, giving little support, and they slid on the wet ground. His knee wrenched awkwardly as he fell, and he threw out his hand for support. It slipped on the wall, his gloved fingers dragging down between the bricks, failing at first to grip anything solid. A trail of damp lichen was dislodged, leaking under the glove’s wrist strap and seeping down to his elbow. It was cold and clammy on his smooth skin and he cursed again: the words were becoming a habit. With a twist of his hips, he saved himself from complete collapse, and regained his balance.

He’d stepped into a puddle of greasy fat and meat shavings, discarded from one of the restaurants. A thin string of gristle wrapped itself around his ankle, tugging at his thin stocking. The fluids from the pile of waste soaked his foot, making a sucking, squelching noise that turned his stomach. Oh God. He winced at the pain and disgust that wracked him, from his twisted knee to the sopping, stinking mess all around him.

“Oh, what it is to be in the land of humans,” came a hoarse growl from the other creature.

“This would not have been my first choice away from my world,” Yoshiel snapped back with sudden, startlingly vicious resentment. “Why endure such discomfort, such filth, such clumsy, restrictive bodies?” He lifted his boot and shook off the gristle. He couldn’t help the gasp of revulsion that escaped him.

“Like I said,” came the coarse voice again, but this time accompanied by a sharp, barking laugh. “Nice weather for the time of year.”

Yoshiel frowned. “And like I said–”

“I heard you,” the voice snapped. The misshapen figure lurched away from the wall. He dragged his huge body towards the pale sliver of light that ventured no further than the mouth of the alley. It pooled on the surface of one of the larger puddles, illuminating him with deep, looping reflections. He grunted as if his steps caused him pain, and he stopped a few feet away from Yoshiel. “So here I am. Can’t say much for your navigation skills if it’s taken you this long to join me. I’m here and I’m fucking angry, but then, I suspect you know that. And you’ll also know better than to call me a coward.”

“Labal.” Yoshiel sucked in a sharp, painful breath, but his words almost halted at the look on the other’s face. “You know I wouldn’t usually seek out one such as you…”

“An angel seeking a demon? The feeling’s mutual,” Labal said dryly, though there was a glimmer of almost-amusement in his eyes.

“But we are in this together. Do you know what’s happened to us?”

Labal’s gaze glinted back at him, passing in and out of shade as his head rocked from side to side. It was a motion that echoed psychosis, or very deep trauma. “You see me now more clearly than I do myself. I’m sure you recognise what havoc has been wrought on my behalf.”

Yoshiel tried to relax his throat around the knot of shock that grasped it as strongly as a real fist. The pain in Labal’s eyes was rare and, despite his monstrous look, Yoshiel would at one time have felt compassion for him. But when he spoke, he was distressed to hear his usually mellifluous voice emerge hoarse and ragged. “I don’t need to see, Labal. I already share the horror with you. The disgust.”

“Disgust?” Labal’s much deeper voice cracked like a whip. The fierce shake of his head scattered raindrops around them both, pattering down onto the trash below. “I don’t see that at all. You stand there, tall and slender, apparently still with all the trappings of your type. Arrogant, arresting …” Labal’s voice grew quieter. “Beautiful.”

“No.” Yoshiel shook his head. A sodden lock of hair stuck to his cheek. “I have suffered the same violation, and am no longer as I look. You must acknowledge that.”

“I acknowledge the hollow confidence of your approach, the hidden pain in your smooth expression.” Labal started to laugh again, but there was little amusement in the sound. “So yes, if I am honest, it seems you’ve also been damaged.”

“Of course I have!” Yoshiel’s voice rose with his own anger. “I’ve lost everything I treasure, everything I’ve always begged for and aspired to be!”

Labal dragged himself up to his full height, towering above Yoshiel. Yoshiel looked down to where Labal’s reflection stared back from a grimy puddle, rippled by the wind yet recognisable enough. Yoshiel found himself fascinated by it. The shape was ill-lit and mottled grey with the rain, but the smooth, black skin of Labal’s demon face was still familiar. His eyes were heavy-lidded, his mouth full, every feature boldly handsome yet fiercely exaggerated. Yoshiel’s gaze rose, travelling the height of Labal’s body, strong and thickset where Yoshiel’s was lithe. Labal’s arms hung low, the hands brushing the wet ground. Thick, wet hair was brushed back from his wide forehead, and tangled over ears that even in the darkness could be seen to be pointed. Yoshiel knew it was a grotesque body by conventional standards, yet one that had fascinated many other creatures with its own version of athletic, dangerous beauty. His body shivered in response to something other than the night’s chill.

Yes, he recognised desire when it visited him.