Everything Is Wonderful Now

The Requiem Series: Book One

Ten-year-old Sera is isolated and depressed; bullied at school and at home by her father. Her mind gives her no respite, suffering from a panic disorder and a second voice in her head that forces violent, intrusive thoughts.She meets the fallen angel Byleth one night while wanting to end her life. He isn't a fan of kids and intends to leave immediately, but Sera's aura catches his eye. It's dark, and it isn't from her trauma that pulls at his heartstrings. It's also attracted a corrupt angel who wants to rid the world of another Hellspawn child.Sera has a lot on her plate, but as she ages and transitions to Sean, a disabled trans man with C-PTSD, he not only meets more spirit guides from Hell, he realizes that his biggest threat has always been the 'other' that dwells in his own head.

Content Warning; This story contains sensitive subject matter mentioning suicidal thoughts, religious trauma, mentions of past animal abuse, self-harm, an eating disorder, alcoholism, bullying, domestic abuse (with a mention of past sexual abuse), and child abuse.

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THE ANGEL STRETCHED his wings as he sat atop the church. The humans filing in at the break of dawn were none the wiser, regardless of how much they liked to think they understood. The small family, especially, that crossed the threshold last was particularly ignorant.The angel Umabel paused. He’d nearly overlooked it, but such a small human was usually no more than an ant to his kind. He appeared among them with curly blond hair glistening in the sunlight, and his blue eyes expanded as he followed the trio into the old building. It stunk of moldy wood and sin, and he could feel the hypocrisy dripping off of the man who called himself a prophet — a pastor — that joined the family in question. He was tall and handsome in a brown suit, and his wife stood obediently at his side in a skirt and sweater. They all seemed to know each other. The pastor smiled at the child and Umabel zeroed in.“I’m so happy to see you with us this morning,” the pastor said as he held out a hand. The child shook it loosely. “Will you be joining us for service after Sunday School?”The girl nodded and held up what appeared to be a quilted purse, but it opened to reveal a small book with tissue-thin gilded pages. “I brought my Bible.”“And did you do your homework?” the pastor’s wife asked, knowing all too well the answer.The girl smiled shyly.The mother spoke up. “No, she didn’t. Getting this child to do homework is like pulling teeth.”Umabel cringed. Humans were peculiar creatures, but even more so was this child. He cloaked his presence and drifted around her. There was a darkness seeping from her that was very telling, and he knew instantly the stench that surrounded her.Hellish darkness. She’d been claimed by them and she went willingly. For one so young this was surprising, but Umabel dug deeper. As the humans chattered like birds chirping in a tree, he sank to his knees before the girl and stared into her dark brown eyes. When the angel found what he was searching for, rage bubbled up inside him. Of course.Heaven was a mere blink away as Umabel retracted his wings — all four of them. He marched across the white marble floor, his white dress shoes clacking loudly as the other angels stood aside. They knew not to try Umabel’s temper.“Gabriel!” Umabel boomed as he entered the library. He scowled as the equivalent of a Golden Retriever in angel form smiled back at him.“Umabel, hello!” Gabriel’s light voice was filled with joy as he stood to greet his brother. “To what do I owe your presence?”“Byleth.” Umabel’s aura darkened and he clenched a fist. “He’s claimed a child. Apparently, he’s doing just fine for himself down there.”“Oh, wonderful!” Gabriel clasped his hands together. “I was curious about how he was doing. I’ve heard the fall can be very painful.”Umabel backed Gabriel against a wall and slammed his palms against the white and gold marble. This silenced the jovial angel and he stared at his brother with wide eyes that were nearly white. Umabel held no signs of compassion for him or his former relationship.“A child, Gabriel. Byleth has claimed a child and is walking among them. You know as well as anyone that we’re not to meddle with humans, let alone their offspring. What is he planning? Why is God allowing him to walk on the earth unchecked?” Upon Gabriel’s intimidated silence, Umabel shouted, “Tell me! You’re God’s messenger. You work directly with Metatron. What has Father to say about this?”“If I may,” Gabriel said and slipped free from the angel’s arms. “Metatron hasn’t exactly been himself lately. I can’t get much more from him than the old Enochian language he reads from the prophet Solomon’s books when he’s irritated—”“Solomon was a tool,” Umabel sneered. “We tried to use him as an ambassador between Heaven and earth, but the lunatic just lost his mind.”Umabel paused and reflected.“Although upon further thought, humans weren’t exactly the sharpest tools in the shed during that era,” he continued.“To be fair,” Gabriel said with caution. “Father didn’t allow humans much in the way of scientific knowledge.”“My point, brother, was that Byleth is breaking a fundamental rule here.” Umabel fell into thought before continuing. “Unless that child is some kind of Antichrist…”“The Antichrist is a silly myth among humans, Umabel,” Gabriel chuckled.“Regardless,” Umabel snapped. “Denizens of Heaven and Hell are not to meddle in the affairs of humans. God has made that clear.”Gabriel shifted uncomfortably. He’d thought his brother would have been aware of recent developments concerning God, but Umabel was quite distracted most of the time overseeing order within the Heavens. If anyone was to be ratted out for going against God, they did well to avoid Umabel’s ever watchful eye — the one that existed in the angel’s forehead that could see all, even an angel’s innermost secrets.Gabriel took a deep breath. “Speaking of Father…” He paused. “He’s stepped out. For a bit.”“Stepped out?” Umabel quirked a brow. “God doesn’t just ‘step out.’” The stern angel backtracked as soon as he’d spoken, and for the first time in a while, his demeanor shifted to one of defeat. “Wait, are the rumors true?”Gabriel nodded with his eyes on the ground. His blond fauxhawk, a fashion statement he’d grown fond of from the humans, drooped and tickled his forehead. “I’m afraid so,” he said solemnly. “He’s been gone for a short time now, although no one knows where he’s gone.” Gabriel finally looked up at his brother who had gone paler, if that was even possible. “He left no message. Metatron has been searching for clues through all of Father’s old books he’d dictated.”“Then Heaven will go into chaos.” Umabel ran a hand through his hair. “No, no matter. I will have to take things into my own hands.”“To find Father?” Gabriel asked.“No, you idiot. Byleth!” Umabel turned and his four wings flicked out sharply. “I’m sick of that ex-angel thinking he can get away with anything. Father showed him mercy after kicking him from Heaven, which he didn’t deserve. And now he’s recruiting children!”“Perhaps Byleth is lonely.” Gabriel shrugged. “He did have a soft spot for humans more so than any of us.”“No one cares about your love for Byleth that you still hold, Gabriel. I know that’s why you’re being sympathetic.” Umabel ignored Gabriel’s blush and waved a hand in the air.The earth greeted him once more, and he approached a moderate home in a developing city. The family of three had become four with a teenage boy who hadn’t attended church with them that morning, but the boy wasn’t of use. The angel crept into the living room where the parents sat with their daughter while watching an animated film. He smiled.Probing their minds was child’s play he didn’t even need his third eye for. It was obvious that the child’s path had been predetermined by a twist of fate, but now that God was missing, it would be much easier to interfere.

“I DON’T WANT TO be here anymore.”The young girl stared at the floor with long blond hair falling in her face. She couldn’t look at her mom, but she didn’t know why. Her dad always said she should try harder to overcome what was bothering her inside, but she couldn’t conquer something she knew nothing about. She wasn’t sick. Her mom, Kate, made absolutely sure her doctor told her that, even if he seemed concerned when he did.“What do you mean, sweetie?” Kate finally focused on her daughter. She’d been engrossed in Jerry Springer — a rare chance since her husband was on the road for another few weeks.The young girl shrugged and sighed. “I don’t know. I just don’t want to be here.” She glanced at her mom to see that look. The look she hated more than anything because it put her on the spot, and her cheeks burned hot with shame.Kate smiled affectionately and patted the green sofa beside her. “Come here. You want to watch a movie? Princess Goblin? That’s your favorite, isn’t it?”Sera fell onto the couch and stared at the floor. She didn’t want to watch cartoons or go through the usual routine. It was the best way her mom knew to distract her from panic attacks, but tonight Sera was calm. The serenity she’d found frightened her in some ways, but she couldn’t piece together an explanation that would make sense. All she knew was that she wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.Sera mumbled as her mom brushed some of her hair aside, “The Princess and the Goblin.“Alright. Sit still.” Kate stood to open the VHS cabinet while Sera stared listlessly across the room.Their dog, Bear, a Chow, came shuffling in with her purple tongue hanging out, and her perky ears and soft fluff brought Sera a sign of comfort. Bear stole Kate’s spot and the young girl laid her head against a sandy-colored warmth. The familiar sound of the VCR accepting the tape resounded in the quiet room, save for the clock that struck midnight.“Hey, mom?” Sera slid off the sofa as Kate returned with a bowl of macaroni and cheese.“What’s wrong, sweetie?”“Can I just go to bed?”Concern washed over Kate’s features. “You don’t want to watch your favorite movie?”Sera shook her head and made her way toward the dark hallway. Memories resurfaced of the last time she’d sleepwalked down it. Dream visions of a beautiful field of flowers beneath a blue sky comforted her before she regained consciousness. Her hands were outstretched to touch the slatted white doors of the hall closet, and she fell to the floor. Out cold.The girl shivered as a familiar panic threatened to shake her. She didn’t like uncomfortable memories because they only brought the possibility of them happening again, which wasn’t an option. She hurried the rest of the way to her small bedroom and closed the door behind her. She waited to see if her mom had followed, but it seemed she was finally alone. Which is the way it needed to be.A large double speaker tape deck powered to life. Sera carefully selected one of her favorite cassette tapes — Beautiful Garbage by Garbage — and dropped onto her metal frame twin bed. She closed her eyes and waited for the woeful tones of Shirley Manson to lull her to sleep, but no such sleep came. The day had worn her down so much that she was too tired to sleep. Silly.A slight breeze rustled her collection of Spice Girls dolls. Sera sat up from where she’d been contemplating the best way to stop seeing anything at all, and she noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe the wall shelves had come loose.Another cold breeze. It was obvious that time.The girl dived under her comforter and pulled it up to her nose. If she was certain of anything right then, it was that monsters did not dare to harm someone beneath the safety of their blanket. The closet door she made certain to always close creaked before a feeling of being watched alarmed her. Sera swallowed hard when the sensation of a hand brushing over the comforter triggered trembling. Her blanket was yanked to the bottom of the bed and she was left vulnerable — out in the open for the monsters to consume.“You’re pretty young, you know that?” A deep voice with a sarcastic lilt invaded the dark silence. When Sera sought out the source, a passing car’s headlights illuminated a reflective pair of golden horns.“Mom!” The metallic bed frame rattled with the floral bulbs around the bars. Surely, that would’ve caused enough noise for Kate to come running, but it all came to a stop as the visitor leaned over Sera’s bed. His clawed hand wrapped around the metal frame to cease its rattling.“You don’t really want her to come in here right now, do you?” he said. “I mean, the whole reason you’re here is to be left alone.”Sera squeezed her eyes shut as the shaking caused her teeth to chatter. She couldn’t get a single word out to save her life, which was ironic considering her whole reason for seeking out a forever sleep.“I’m not going to hurt you, chill,” the tall figure said. He stepped back into the shadows to observe the shivering child. He hardly considered himself frightening, although to most humans, the sight of horns and red eyes in the middle of the night wasn’t exactly comforting. He was hardly the angel he once existed as, but he still possessed his shoulder-length blond hair and unearthly beauty. That didn’t matter to a kid though, and that was why he never dealt with children. He should’ve never answered the call. “Alright, whatever. I’m not going to eat you, so go back to your self-destructive thoughts alone.”As the being raised his fingers to snap, Sera found her courage. “Wait! What are you?”He twisted his hand in midair, and Shirley Manson’s angst fell to a tolerable volume. “Aren’t you a bit young to be listening to that shit?”Sera’s shivering slowed to a tremble as the sense of danger receded. Surely, he would have harmed her by now if he’d meant to. “I like it,” she mumbled.The figure spun back around to face the child who’d curled up with her knees to her chest. Her eyes were wide and her mind buzzed at impossible speeds. There were so many thoughts turning into a cacophony that threatened to drive the being mad, and it was another reason children were low on his list of humans to entertain. Their minds were chaotic and they were too curious about everything. “Okay, whatever,” he sighed. “Anyway, what’s your deal?”The girl furrowed her brow. “What?”“What…” The being sighed again and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Why do you want to sleep forever?”“Oh, that.” Sera picked at her shirt. “I want to just go to sleep and live in my dreams.”The visitor quirked a brow. Something else had surfaced in that tiny, underdeveloped brain. It intrigued him. “You know that isn’t possible,” he said.Sera took a deep breath and stared at her knees, her fingers squeezing light denim. “Since I can walk while I’m sleeping and still be in a dream, why can’t I just have that happen all the time? There’s a way to do that, right?”Understanding dawned on the visitor and he sobered. The red in his eyes ceased glowing and he sank down onto the girl’s bed with his legs crossed. Her expression told of her confusion when she laid eyes upon him. He looked like a very tall man adorned in a white button-up shirt tucked into a pair of faded jeans. If it weren’t for his horns and strange eyes, she’d think him nothing more than an average person.When their eyes met, he was unwavering in his attention. “You want to die. Why?”The word hadn’t crossed her mind. She knew death meant to stop existing, but was that how people went away to live in their dreams? She’d never known anyone who’d died, but surely, the dead must have had dreams like she did. “I think so, at least.”“Why?” the figure pressed. “You’re ten years old and barely out of the womb. What reason could you have to want to die?” He huffed. “You haven’t even suffered through puberty yet.”Sera’s face scrunched in confusion. “Puberty?”“Oh, hell,” he groaned. “Listen, you’re way too young to be feeling whatever you’re feeling right now. I doubt you have a reason that’ll convince me you actually want to die.”Sera reached for the remote to the small TV on her nightstand and switched it on, and The Munsters drifted over the now barely audible Shirley Manson. “Sorry, it’s too dark and I’m scared.”The figure squinted as his eyes were invaded with light and snapped to turn off the stereo, the loop of the child’s thoughts combined with all the artificial noise too much for his short temper. “You didn’t answer me. Why do you want to die?”Sera grew shy and pulled her comforter up to her chin. She grabbed the small security blanket she’d had since she was an infant and chewed on the silk edge. “I don’t know. I just feel really bad.”The figure’s stare intensified. “Yes, you do know. Why won’t you tell anyone the truth?”The girl finally looked at the figure, and his eyes brought back the fears she often had of monsters. Maybe he was one after all. “Because no one will believe me. I told the principal at school that I was bullied, but I got blamed for it. I’m the one who got in trouble — like always.”The figure’s patience wore thin. “What did you get in trouble for? What happened to make you want to call it quits?”Sera dropped the blanket and grew somber as the memories returned, and it was clear in the way her eyes glazed over. “At lunchtime yesterday, the boy I had a crush on found out I liked him because my friend told him. I was really happy at first because I thought we could be friends, but he told me I was gross. Everyone started laughing at me and I got really sad and started crying.”The figure’s attention turned to the hard floor that was covered by a decorative fuzzy carpet. “And then what?” he asked.“Then I went to the principal’s office with my friend.” Sera’s feet fidgeted under the blanket as she grew more uncomfortable. The memories weren’t anything she liked recalling, and she’d rather just forget about it all. Talking never resulted in any solutions. “I just wanted to go home, but the principal put me in a room alone with some tissues. She said if I cried I’d feel better.”“Human empathy at its finest,” the visitor droned. “What did you get in trouble for?”“This girl in my class, and some boys, beat me up at recess,” Sera continued. “She bullies me all the time. My friend told the principal I started it and everyone lied and got me in trouble. So I got blamed even though I didn’t do anything. They believed my friends.”“Those aren’t friends,” the figure said.He stood to approach a white dresser with a large mirror. Beneath it was a row of small troll figures with gems in their belly buttons, their hair wild and in numerous colors. A clawed hand grabbed a green one that was supposed to be a costumed version of Frankenstein’s monster. The child certainly had an interesting mind full of strange curiosities from what he could catch, but there was a pain there as well that was underlying. It was more than a human of that age should be expected to carry, and there was much more to the story than just being bullied at school and then victim-blamed.There were flashes of memories with a man’s face and a belt in his hands. Blackouts and irrational fears and illnesses — of the mind and body — and days spent in the hospital. He feared a different kind of hospital visit was looming, but he couldn’t be sure.He froze as he caught himself worrying over it all and dropped the troll doll. This wasn’t his problem. He had been curious and only meant to lurk because of the child’s call and her strange dark aura, but it hadn’t been so superficial. Her concerning wishes were real and she meant it with all of her little human heart that hadn’t stopped booming in his ears.The figure turned to face the girl who’d gone silent, and he leaned back on his hands against the dresser. “I don’t expect you to understand, but hear me out.”Sera nodded and stared at the being with rapt attention and wonder.The figure couldn’t hide a smile. It was endearing how she’d seemingly accepted him without much of an argument. He continued, “I’m not a dream or a nightmare, or a bogeyman. I’m a fallen angel. Judging by your Bible on the desk, you already know a little bit about that, but I assure you, it’s all bullshit.”The girl’s eyes widened. “You’re a demon?”“No.” The figure cut her off before she could continue. “A fallen angel is not a demon. We just hang with them because we don’t have a choice. I am a king of Hell, but I’m far beyond even that.” The figure’s ego shined brighter than the headlights blinding the room once more. “My name is Byleth. I can teach you more about me, Hell, and everything else, but you can tell no one I’m around.” Byleth was sure to emphasize the seriousness of the matter. “If the adults find out about me, judging by their spiritual alignment, they’ll try to cut me off.”“But mom knows what’s good and what isn’t—” Sera started.“No, she doesn’t,” Byleth interrupted. “Not in this context, anyway.” He approached the child once more and dropped onto the side of the bed. “I can tell you all kinds of things that would shake your world, but you’re not ready for that yet. What’s important is I’m your ally right now, and judging by everything going on, I’m your only ally. So do you want help or not?”He couldn’t believe what he was considering, but the darkness that seeped from her wasn’t just from illness. It wasn’t something he saw in children, let alone one so seemingly pure. He’d considered its purpose the moment he detected it while her mind was wide open. She was no ordinary ten-year-old.Sera nodded as she remained transfixed on him. “So, you’re actually real?” she asked.Byleth’s laughter lit up the room and would surely be heard by Kate, but he’d masked his presence well. “Yes, I’m real, sweetie. Only you can see and hear me right now. I’ll make sure no one else knows unless it’s necessary.” As the girl opened her mouth, Byleth held up a finger. “Ah-ah, no. We can’t tell mommy. Definitely don’t tell daddy. Definitely not him.” A low growl rumbled in Byleth’s chest like a tiger’s. “We’ll talk more about them later. For now, just focus on surviving and pay attention to what I tell you.”Sera sighed as tears formed in her eyes. “What if I can’t do it? What if I’m not strong enough?”“Stop it,” Byleth chastised gently. He stared into Sera’s eyes until the tears stopped. “You’re stronger than you think you are. Trust me, I know. You can do it.”A deafening alarm bell interrupted them both, and Sera yelped in surprise as her heart boomed in Byleth’s ears.Her shaking hand quieted the alarm and her voice quivered. “Can you walk me to the bathroom? If I wet the bed again mom will get mad at me.”Byleth fell silent in a stupor, and he stared at the child as all emotion drained from him. What in all the Hells had he just gotten himself into?

A MIDDLE-AGED FATHER entered the pastor’s office, overcome with the feeling that he was being watched. He paid it no mind as the angel Umabel lurked around the perimeter of the room, and he took a seat before his old friend’s desk. Pastor Don had been a family friend for many years, and the man had baptized the father’s daughter. While the father hadn’t been the most pious man in spirit for many years, the crucifix he wore hidden beneath his shirt told of his true alignment.Umabel smiled as a plan formed. Yes, that man was perfect. He was already so broken and searching for a sign that would never come. The foolish pastor would offer feigned deliverance, which was Umabel’s entrance.“Jonathan,” Don soothed. He reached across his desk to take the embattled man’s hand. Jon smelled like booze again and it was obvious his distress was only exacerbated by it. “God forgives, Jon. You just need to be saved — you need someone to listen to you. You’re already a regular on Sundays, and trust me…” A plastic smile spread across Don’s face that told of his successful indoctrination. “You can be saved. God sees your dedication and he knows you will fall from time to time. It’s in our nature to sin. It’s why we must ask for forgiveness and dust ourselves off — get back up and try again.”“I can’t accept what I did,” Jon said as his tears dried. “Never in a million years did I think drinking would do this to me.” The man paused to gather his thoughts. “I didn’t have a good life growing up. My father drank, too.”“Your father was also violent,” Don said. “We’ve spoken of this before, but if you need to speak of it again, please let it out. This is a safe place.”“No, I don’t need to go over all of that again.” Jon sighed and regained his composure. His eyes were bloodshot and the call to the bottle was stronger than ever. It poked and prodded at his nerves. “I just want to take it all back.”Don patted the man’s hand. “We can’t take back the horrible things we’ve done, but with God, we can be forgiven and absolved of them. We just have to recognize what went wrong, and you are not the only one in the wrong here.”Jon stared at the man. “I’m not?”“No, my friend. You’re not.”Umabel crept up to the desk to look down on the two men and listened closely. There was more going on than he initially suspected, which would only play into his plan. He could have easily crawled into Jon’s mind to gather the information for himself, but he wanted to hear the raw emotion from the man’s own lips. The pastor, Don, also seemed to have his own agenda based on the book he preached from. The book that contained messages God had carefully filtered to gain his following.Don continued after a moment of contemplated silence. “Women and girls — they are tempters. We’ve known that as far back as Adam and Eve. Genesis was a testament to the wicked ways of women. Lilith, herself, was a terrible temptress and refused to obey the Lord. Eve defied God’s wishes despite his test for her. Adam — men — were dragged into their temptations.”“But she’s my daughter,” Jon cried.“And she’s still a young woman. Don’t you see?” Don smiled. “It’s a test from God, a chance to show your true strength. You feel weak and lost, but my friend, you are only being tested. You must resist temptation and be the man who defies it.” Don sat straighter and motioned for Jonathan to place their hands together, and he closed his eyes. “Let us pray. We will ask him, our Holy Father, to place a blessing upon you to ease your suffering.”Umabel’s anticipation caused his eyes to expand as his wings shuddered. It was his chance.He waited for Jon to close his eyes, and then slipped into the man’s space. The angel set his lips by Jon’s ear and gripped his shoulders, whispering, “God has heard your pleas, and he has an answer for you. You have been chosen to aid him in his plans.”Umabel paused. Humans were so damn cryptic with that sort of thing. He had to think of something convincing. “In three days’ time,” he continued, “I will come unto you again and deliver the Lord’s message in a dream. You are not to inform the pastor of this knowledge, but to keep it between you and the Lord, lest he become angry.” Umabel spoke through the sinister smile spreading across his face. “Now go forth, son of God, and be saved.”The angel backed away and steepled his fingers as he watched the man in the chair. Jon’s eyes opened wide and he stared at the pastor with a buzzing mind. Thankfully, he kept Umabel’s secret, and he thanked the pastor profusely as if his friend had brought the revelation down upon him. Jon then stood and left the office.Umabel looked down at the pastor who had turned to take in the sunlight through the window’s blinds. Although he was a man who stuck to his scruples, which was rare for any kind of person in his line of work, he had a darkness about him that he claimed to be the light. He took the Old Testament as gospel and worshiped its gilded pages like they were his life’s work, which they’d become.He spoke in biblical passages as if he’d been blessed with the total knowledge of all that was written, and while Umabel appreciated Don’s allegiance, he also acknowledged that the man was just another fool in the machine. God hadn’t spoken to him for some time. It was merely the whisperings of the Lord’s messengers that assured His followers’ loyalty, for a time would come when it would be Heaven versus Hell again, and it was bad enough that angels were becoming complacent in God’s absence.First things first. Umabel popped back into the house that would become a point of interest for a while. It was empty save for the teenage boy who curled up on a sofa with his chosen mate. Umabel would have to be careful to mask his presence while Byleth was around, but the fallen angel was still a powerful being. As he was once royalty in Heaven and now a king in Hell, Umabel wouldn’t be able to hide for long.“Umabel?”The angel had been so absorbed in his thoughts he hadn’t noticed the bright form that appeared beside him. He observed Gabriel, who wore their customary white long-coat suit. “What are you doing here?”“I overheard, sorry.” Gabriel shrank. “Surely there’s a better way to settle this anger you feel toward Byleth? Why involve a defenseless child?”“Because it’s two birds with one stone. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. You’re too…” Umabel gestured toward his timid brother. “Soft.”Gabriel stood straighter. “Soft or not, a child is a child. God would never approve of this.”“And God would approve of your persistent love for Byleth despite what he is?” Umabel said as he side-eyed Gabriel. The timid angel worried over his hands. “I saw the way you two interacted before his fall. This is exactly why you need to stay out of this, Gabriel. You’re biased.”Gabriel frowned and extended his wings. “You may be great and feared, Umabel, but I can’t just let this happen. I’m sorry.” Before his brother could respond, Gabriel had disappeared.Umabel uttered a sound better befitting of a demon and stepped out into the sun. A green car pulled into the driveway, and he watched the empowered man step from the driver’s seat. The child and her mother followed, and Umabel realized another challenge. The woman was a neutral force he couldn’t predict. She didn’t have a weakness about her that man did.No, she was protected by a force he didn’t recognize. Umabel huffed. He would have to ignore her for now. She was of little consequence in the grander scheme. The child could still be dealt with.

THE WALLS WERE STARK WHITE and the floor was cold.Mumbling and the shuffling feet of nurses drifted back and forth, but it was all a blur as Sera sat in a chair that stuck to her skin. She held her security blanket close and stared at the teenagers around her, her eyes burning from dried tears. She wanted to go home. She knew she wasn’t sick and shouldn’t be in a hospital, so why her parents had brought her there was a mystery. Although she didn’t know the dark visitor from the other night very well, she wished for his presence. She wouldn’t be alone, at least.She wanted her mom more than anything. If her mom said things were going to be okay, then things would always be okay.“Hey,” a teenage girl said as she sat beside Sera, who had begun to worry over the silk end of her blanket. “Why are you here?”“I don’t know,” Sera shrugged. “My parents brought me here.”The teenager nodded and watched the child with sympathy. “Yeah, mine did too. I swallowed a bottle of Advil and had to go to the emergency room, then they brought me here.”Sera’s fear grew and she turned away from the girl. She didn’t want to be around people who were not well. They were all strangers and unpredictable at best. They were full of odd words and ways that Sera couldn’t claim to understand, and she felt like a black sheep in a room full of scary people.Her bedroom was safe. Danger couldn’t touch her when she was surrounded by familiar walls.“Sera?” A nurse kneeled down before the child with a small stack of papers. The woman placed a booklet into a shaking hand. “This is your schedule for school, which you’ll be attending here. You’ll still get weekends off depending on how much time you’re with us. Are you doing okay?”“I want to go home,” Sera mumbled. Reality had sunk in hard that she was alone, despite the people surrounding her, and it chilled her to the bone.The nurse sobered and spoke in soothing tones. “This is the best place for you right now. You’ll be able to go home as soon as you’re better, I promise.” When the girl’s pupils dilated in fear, a clear sign of an oncoming panic attack, the nurse smiled. “Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable? Do you want a book to read or a snack, or someone to talk to?”“I want my mom,” the girl said. “I just want to go home.” Sera’s body finally fell victim to the panic attack that she could never stave off. Her limbs trembled like leaves fluttering in the wind, and her muscles hurt as they tensed too tight. Her teeth clenched as she attempted to keep them from chattering. Down the hall, she heard the sound of her mom and dad, and she turned as a ray of hope hit her.They looked distressed as they argued with a nurse. Jon spoke up. “My daughter isn’t staying in a place like this.”The nurse took a deep breath. “Sir, she needs to be here. Her psychiatrist recommended it.”“She’s too young for this, and this isn’t what she needs,” Jon said firmly. He was just as concerned as Kate, and it gave Sera hope. Maybe she wouldn’t have to stay there.“I’m sorry, but I can’t release her to you.” The nurse grew firm. “If you take her home tonight, I’ll have to report you for child negligence. It’s not common for a child her age to have suicidal thoughts, and that’s even more reason to keep her under watch. Don’t deny her treatment.”“This is ridiculous,” Kate spat. “Don’t threaten us.” The woman brushed by the nurse and approached her daughter, and held out a hand. “Come on, we’re going home. You don’t have to stay here.”Sera’s heart grew warm with happiness and the tears stopped. Her mom had come to save her like she had many times before, and the girl quickly latched onto the woman’s hand as she was led down the hallway. Jon joined them, and soon they were out of the hospital and on the road with city lights flickering past Sera’s glossy eyes. She was tired and confused, but at least she would be able to sleep in her own bed that night.Sera blinked before noticing a figure sitting beside her. His legs spread wide to sulk in the backseat, and his horns hit the ceiling as he tried to fit in a space that was much too small.“They should’ve made you stay,” he said. The child’s wide-eyed stare sobered him only slightly, but he still held anger for the two in the front of the car. “Use your mind to talk, I’ll hear you. It’s like thinking.”“Like this?” Sera projected.“Exactly, see? It’s that easy.” Byleth shifted as he crossed his arms in an attempt to squeeze further into place. “This was a bad decision,” he ground out.“I didn’t want to stay there,” Sera said. “That was a horrible place.”Byleth observed her with sympathy but remained firm. “You’re not well. Have you ever noticed that other kids don’t act like you do?”Sera fell into thought before looking back at the fallen angel. “Is that why they can go to school and I can’t?”Byleth nodded. “Well, you can, but you can’t. Your illness isn’t a physical one, and no matter what your parents convince the doctor to tell you, you’re ill. It’s an illness of the mind.”Sera tried to swallow as her mouth went dry. She feared being sick and knew bad things came with it, including many of the things that had already happened in the past. Emetophobia came to mind — her fear of vomiting, the one time she grew weak and fainted after taking a pill for an infection, and the time she spent in the hospital bundled up while receiving breathing treatments for something called asthma. “No, I’m not sick! I can’t be. I don’t want to be sick again,” she pleaded as if Byleth had any say in the matter.“You’re not sick like that,” Byleth said as he became impatient. Although he was aware he was talking to a human child with a limited understanding of the world, there had to be something to calm her down and to help her understand. She was a walking bundle of nerves, and to reason with someone like that was nearly impossible, even as an adult.“You won’t upchuck from this,” Byleth said at last. “It’s nothing like what you’ve been through before, alright? An illness of the mind can cause some of those things, but only if you’re overwhelmed. That fear you feel? Your constant worrying? Your aversion to public places and people? That’s called anxiety.”Sera nodded. “Yeah, my doctor said I had that. He said I wasn’t sick, though.”“Your mind is ill, and it’s much more than that,” Byleth continued. “It’s a chemical imbalance that causes you to go into a fight or flight mode when it isn’t necessary. It can get better, but you have to want it to get better.”Tears dropped onto a pair of hands clenching a security blanket. “I’m too scared, I can’t do it. I’m not brave enough.”“You have to try. Don’t you want to see your friends?”Sera fell silent and curled up on the seat, and she watched the city drift by on the other side of the highway. She didn’t like thinking about friends since they were often two-faced as it was, and the memories of what happened any time she went to school were too painful to remember. Being alone and away from that horrible place felt safer, even if her home was just as bad sometimes. At least while at home, she could shut herself in her bedroom and pretend like the world didn’t exist.Sera followed the passing highway lights with her eyes and declined to voice any more concerns. It was so odd to be out that late at night, especially since she was never allowed to be, and it was more fun to think about than her lonely reality. She had school in the morning, of course, which was why the night brought her comfort. She’d come to know it as a time for adults only, but it was quiet and peaceful. No school, no expectations, and no people to bother her. She was allowed to stay curled up in bed and watch late-night shows, and it was a time when her parents were asleep. It was magical. She could do anything. And it had brought Byleth to her, too.Byleth stared at the child apologetically. “Hey, you have friends.”Sera shook her head. “No, I don’t.”Byleth took a deep breath and leaned back in the seat, and he watched the scenery with her. It was odd for a human so small to have so many troubles, all of which a child should never have to deal with. Children were supposed to be outside playing and laughing, hanging with friends, and going to sleepovers. Sera seldom did those things.Although he’d tried to turn off his emotions or anything he’d experienced as an angel, Byleth felt sorry for the kid. It wasn’t his duty to watch over her or even be there at that moment, and he still wasn’t entirely certain why he bothered, but he knew he couldn’t leave her alone.The fallen angel glanced at the man driving and the woman in the passenger seat. They were arguing over something that he didn’t care to pay attention to, but he couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling he got from them. They fought openly in front of the child and spared no scathing remarks toward each other, and they spoke of Sera’s illness as if it weren’t an illness at all but something a child would grow out of. It wasn’t wise to fool Sera into a false sense of normalcy. Forcing normalcy on anyone solved absolutely nothing, but they weren’t even close to normalcy themselves.A low growl rumbled in Byleth’s chest. They were fucking the poor kid up and warping her views of the world, but something caused him to pause, and he focused on the man once more. There was something odd about him the fallen king couldn’t place — something familiar. He brushed it off as the man’s religious affiliation and nothing more. Heavenly things didn’t exactly give Byleth a fuzzy feeling.“Hey,” Byleth said. He finally focused back on Sera and couldn’t hide his smile. She’d been staring at him in wonder, which she should have been. He was very great and important, and she was privileged to even have him in her presence. “You do have a friend.”“I don’t—”“Me,” Byleth chuckled. He felt so pathetic, and he wished he’d never set foot in the child’s room the other night, but something had been calling to him that he was beginning to understand. “Yeah, fuck it. I’m your friend now and we’re going to fix everything, okay?”The first smile in too long graced Sera’s features and she nodded with enthusiasm. “You want to be my friend? Really?”“Yeah, sugar.” A paternal instinct crept up on him that he hadn’t been aware could even exist. “But remember, you can’t tell anyone about me, okay? If you do, I can’t be your friend anymore.”The girl’s brow furrowed in thought as she worked through everything in a way she could digest. She’d learned that beings like Byleth were bad, especially since he was from Hell and not from Heaven, but everyone had been wrong so far. He had treated her with kindness and wanted to help her get better, and since he was a fallen angel, he surely had magic and could make everything go away. “Can you do magic?” she asked.“Magic?” Byleth laughed. “Yeah, I suppose I can do some pretty cool tricks.”The fallen angel held out a hand and a small flame danced in his palm, then floated along his fingers as he waved them for the girl’s amusement. “But I can’t magic away your problems. You have to work with me on that if you want me to continue to be your friend, okay?”“Yeah, I can do that!” The girl smiled wider before taking Byleth’s hand in hers. It was warm and his claws were hard like glass, and it surprised her that she was able to feel him at all. “Whoa! So you are real.”“Yes, and I can make anything happen, sugar.” The fallen angel released her hand and held out a pinkie. “Pinkie promise?”Sera nodded and curled her pinkie around Byleth’s, and at that moment, the fallen angel knew a pact had been made.

JON’S VISION WAS HAZY as he wandered from the indoor/outdoor patio. A half-empty twelve-pack of beer lay torn by the lawn chair he often reclined in, and an open horror novel was left unattended on the pool table. He’d meant to spend a relaxing afternoon smoking and getting familiar with Stephen King’s newest book, but with a foggy mind and no direction that was clear, he was compelled to enter the house and settle into the bothersome thoughts buzzing through his mind. They’d landed him in pastor Don’s office a few days previous.The voice that had spoken to him again last night, however, hadn’t condemned him. The angel Umabel, as the divine being introduced himself, gave the man faith that he would be guided on the path that was necessary, although Jon didn’t know what the end goal was. He feared it, but he knew his faith would guide him in the right direction. The altered states he reached while uninhibited seemed to invite the angel back in much easier, and although Don had called for help to heal him from his addiction, Umabel had other plans.The angel confirmed that as he followed the man through the house. The late afternoon sun painted the walls orange as they passed through the front room, and everything was silent save for the angry tones of Marilyn Manson that drifted down the hall from behind a closed door. Jon had half a mind to chastise his daughter for listening to such offensive music, as he considered it to be, but as he twisted the brass knob to her bedroom, the sight that greeted him caused him to pause. The door was merely cracked so Sera hadn’t seen.“Look at her,” Umabel said. He set a hand on Jon’s shoulder. The other gripped the man’s jaw to hold it in place. The girl was in a trainer bra with a kitten’s face on the front and she was dancing to music. “Remember what the prophet told you? Her purpose is to tempt you. That’s exactly what she’s doing right now. She must be punished.”Jon watched on through his haze, a strange feeling rushing up inside him. “She’s so…”“Blasphemous!” Umabel finished. “Eve’s spitting image of defiance.” The angel released his grip on Jon’s body and backed away. “She must be punished for her sins.”Jon’s brow furrowed. “Why’s she listening to that Satanic bullshit?”“Because,” Umabel pressed to the drunken man he was slowly losing patience with. “She is on that side. You must strike the wickedness from her. It’s the only way.”The angel fell silent as he waited for the man to make a move, but he found something much darker in Jon’s thoughts. The man couldn’t take his eyes off the girl dancing, and when she turned to see him at last, she screamed.“Get out!” Sera covered herself as she tried to hide her body.“Do it! Discipline her!” Umabel commanded. The angel moved to take matters into his own hands before a familiar aura entered the girl’s room, and he jumped back. “Damn it!” He hadn’t the time to expand his wings before he warped out of existence, leaving Jon to back away awkwardly and close the door at last.Byleth wandered over to the door once it was shut and scowled at the wood. “How long was he standing there?”Sera had thrown on a Spice Girls t-shirt to regain her decency and chewed on her thumb nail. “I’m not sure. I was listening to music and then he was just there staring at me.”“Sick bastard.” Byleth backed away from the door and turned to his companion. There had been a faint presence around the man he’d noticed the night they drove home from the hospital, and it was the same one that lingered in the air just then as the man left. Byleth knew it couldn’t be a demon because demons had better things to do than possess a broken human, and it was so faint that whatever was present didn’t want to be detected.He froze.No, it couldn’t be. Would an angel really be capable of something like that under God’s watchful eye?“Byleth?” Sera approached him and tugged on his shirt. “Can we go outside and play on the swings?”“Yeah.” Byleth took a deep breath and ignored his suspicions. “Yeah, let’s get you out of here for now.”The fallen angel ushered the child out the door and remained close without being detectable. They passed by the front room where the family computer sat, where Jon was occupied while waiting for the dial-up service to connect to the internet. He didn’t even glance at his daughter as she passed by, and the two managed to slip out through the front door and into the back yard.Byleth closed his eyes as the girl sat on a swing and kicked her legs. He leaned against one of the red and blue poles and fell into thought, and he searched for any hint of what had been present outside Sera’s door. All he could make out was the damned lawn mower down the hill and the sickening smell of pollen. He opened his eyes to see a fire pit before them, as well as a shed in the background, and a large above ground pool with a deck. It all existed peacefully in the summer evening.Byleth definitely had enemies, but he’d been respected by many while he was in Heaven. Surely it couldn’t be an angel. God would never allow an angel to manipulate a man to be so despicable toward a child, unless there was a deeper meaning he missed.It finally struck him. He’d made an official pact with Sera in the car that night before he realized it, and he ran a hand down his face. He’d sensed that she was something else from the moment they met. Could she really have been destined to go down that path since birth? If that was the case, it was no wonder an angel was out to make sure she never reached maturation.“Hey, sweetie.” Byleth approached Sera as the swing set lifted from the ground from going too high. He wrapped his claws around the chains holding the seat and kneeled down. “There’s something going on that you have to be very careful to watch out for.”Sera nodded. “Is it something bad?”“Very bad, sugar. I’ll be around to make sure nothing happens, but I want to ask you something.” The fallen angel made sure the child was rapt with attention before continuing. “When your parents make you go to church on Sunday, why don’t you do your homework?”Sera shrank back. “That’s a weird question for a demon to ask.”Byleth sighed. “I’m not… Just answer me.”“Because it’s boring.” Sera shrugged. “I mean, I like stories about Jesus because they’re in the books grandma gets for me, but…” Sera looked away. A not so distant memory washed over her that wasn’t good, and it had to do with the strange things that happened to her sometimes while she was asleep. Nightmares that were too real.Byleth rounded the swing and pushed her, and her mood became more positive. “But what?” he asked.“Well, I can tell you because you won’t think it’s weird.” Sera paused and gripped the chains tighter. She still didn’t know why it happened or how, but now that Byleth was around, it started to make more sense. She’d had problems with sleepwalking before, but this was different. She saw things while still lying in bed, and since her closet was in her line of sight in the dark bedroom, she always thought things just came from its depths. “I have a lot of nightmares, and sometimes I see stuff when I’m lying awake.”Byleth furrowed his brow. “What do you see?”Sera was hesitant to continue, but she glanced at Byleth again before divulging. “I usually just pull the blankets over my head so whatever it is will go away, but last time I saw an angel. I’m sure it was.” Anxiety laced her words, which caught Byleth by surprise.“And you consider that part of a nightmare vision?” he said.“Yeah.” Sera kicked her feet and Byleth stopped pushing.He leaned back against the bars again. “Are you afraid of angels?”“I don’t like them. I thought I did, I mean, I’m supposed to, but I was so scared when I saw it.” Sera quickly doubled back on her words. “But it wasn’t real. Mom and dad said that dreams can’t hurt you.”“Hey, I’m real,” Byleth chuckled. “I think I know what’s going on here.” The fallen angel smiled as he watched the girl swing, her feet dragging in the dirt every time she came back down. He held onto the silver bar to keep the set from tipping over again.Byleth had heard of children being born to serve a certain purpose or to follow a certain path. At Sera’s age, indoctrination was easy and most ended up following in their parents’ footsteps, but for some reason, she was completely independent from all of it. Her soul called out for something different, and nothing could change that. Her purpose was clear, and it wasn’t anything Byleth had seen in a hilarious rendition of The Omen or Rosemary’s Baby. He’d had more than a few good laughs at those.He’d been drawn to the child as she’d naturally been drawn to the darkness. She belonged to the flames as much as he did.