Matthew didn’t notice at first that someone was already sitting by the lake. He just walked up to the moonlit water, and only became aware of his companion when a pained groan came from beside him. He spun around, prepared to help whoever it was, but he had to pause and gasp in shock. He pinched himself, hard, to make sure he was really seeing what he believed to be in front of him, and when the sharp pain resonated up his arm, he forced himself to take a careful look at the man – no, that wasn’t quite right – person, beside him.
Sitting slumped on the ground was an androgynous looking being with moon pale skin, eyes like molten gold and long fair hair. They were huddled over themselves and he could see splatters of something that looked suspiciously like blood on their hands and the ground around them. However, though all of these characteristics were unexpected, what really caught his attention were the wings sprouting from the hunched shoulder blades. They were huge, even curled around the figure, and the feathers would be a beautiful spectrum of white-gold when the blood was cleaned from them. Unsure how to process finding an angel in the park, he decided to forget the wings for a moment and focus on helping.
“Excuse me? Do you need help?”
The angel looked up at him, eyes oddly vacant.
“Please…” The reply was almost incoherent but Matthew heard it all the same. He crouched by the angel and gently tugged their hands away from their side. There was a large, deep gash running just under the ribs and it was bleeding heavily but he was sure that it would be fine with a few stitches.
“I need to take you to my house and stitch this up. It’s not far but you’re going to have to lean on me. Can you do that?” Matthew spoke softly but firmly, looking right into the angel’s eyes to make sure he had their attention. A weak nod was given as an answer and an arm began to wrap around his shoulders. Matthew put his own arm around the angel’s waist and carefully pulled them up from the ground. He began to lead them out of the park, the angel resting heavily into his side. He really didn’t live all that far away but he knew it was going to feel like miles having someone almost hanging off him, dripping blood behind them as they dragged themselves along. Fortunately, it was far too late for anyone else to be about to question them so they slowly and delicately made their way to Matthew’s house. When they finally reached it, Matthew cautiously lent the angel up against the wall as he searched his pockets for his keys. Getting inside took a lot of manoeuvring due to the heavy wings but the angel was conscious enough to curl them further around themselves and eventually Matthew managed to seat the other on the sofa. He hurried to grab his first aid kit and quickly set about cleaning and stitching the wound. It was as he was wrapping the bandage that the angel finally spoke again, voice soft and almost silent.
“What is your name human?”
“Matthew,” he murmured in reply. “Do you have one? A name?”
“It is a pleasure to meet you Avery. What were you doing in the park? Can you tell me how you got injured?”
Avery let out an oddly choked sound but when Matthew moved closer to find out what was wrong, he realised that it was an attempt at laughing. He frowned and asked what was funny.
“You ask all these questions but not the one I expected.” Matthew’s frown didn’t let up so Avery continued. “Do you not wish to ask about angels?”
“Oh,” Matthew said uncertainly. “I'm not really sure…about the angel bit…and I didn’t want to seem rude…so…yeah.” He finished stuttering, sure he’d made a fool of himself when he heard Avery’s pained laugh again.
“You are a funny one Matthew. But I am in your debt. You will be rewarded.”
“You don’t have to, I don’t need anything. It was my pleasure to help,” Matthew said hurriedly.
“No.” Avery’s voice was suddenly very firm and Matthew found himself trapped in the angel’s golden gaze. It was burning and inescapable, and his breath quickened in fear. “You will be rewarded. You must be.” He found himself nodding in agreement despite his earlier convictions but there was something darkly compelling in that ethereal stare. “I must rest now.”
“Of course,” Matthew said meekly and went to bed, leaving the angel on his sofa. As he lay there, staring up at his bedroom ceiling, he wondered about what sort of reward one was given for saving an angel’s life.
When Matthew woke the next morning, he spent several minutes replaying the previous night’s events, trying to make his mind up about whether or not they had actually happened. Deciding that the best thing to do would be to go and check his sofa, Matthew walked slowly into his living room, not really sure what to expect. Yet when he saw the empty room, he couldn’t help but feel disappointed. He hadn’t really believed it to be true – after all, angels weren’t real, were they? But still, he had hoped…
Shaking his head to clear all thoughts of angels from his mind, he turned around to go and make breakfast only to stop suddenly with a gasp. Standing in the doorway to his kitchen was Avery, side free of bandages and the pale skin clear and whole.
“You’re…you’re healed,” Matthew stammered.
“Angels heal quickly.”
Matthew just nodded, staring from the healed skin where the wound had been to the clean wings that were as beautiful as he had envisioned them to be. Without realising it, he had moved closer and he soon found himself standing directly in front of Avery. He looked up at the angel, suddenly realising just how short he was in comparison. The gap in their heights hadn’t seemed so great last night when Avery was leaning on him. He tried to speak but he wasn’t even sure what it was that he wanted to say. Avery just watched him, their face calm and unreadable. Matthew glanced quickly from gold eyes to white wings and back, and Avery seemed to read something in his gaze.
“Would you like to touch them?” they asked. Matthew looked at him in shock, eyes wide.
“I…I…I don’t want to cause any harm. But…to be able to actually touch…and you said I had to accept a reward and…well…this would be an incredible one.”
“This shall not be your reward. That will be something much greater,” Avery stated. “But you may touch.”
Matthew hesitated but when Avery’s burning gaze began to darken as it had done last night, he quickly reached out. When his fingers came into contact with the feathers, he couldn’t help but let out another gasp. They were so soft and warm that he began to unthinkingly stroke them. He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, just brushing his fingers across those bright wings but when he realised what he was doing he stopped instantly and looked quickly up at Avery.
“Um…sorry,” he stammered. Avery said nothing but instead took Matthew’s face in their hands.
“What are you…?” Matthew started to ask but stopped at the look in Avery’s eyes. Their golden shine was darkening again but this time it didn’t stop, and soon it was like two blazing fires had replaced the angel’s eyes. He couldn’t look away from the fiery sight; it was drawing him in, closer and closer, and then trapping him so tightly that he couldn’t even remember how to struggle. He felt inexplicably tired all of a sudden and his eyes were becoming too heavy to keep open. The last thing he saw before his eyes shut was Avery staring impassively down at him.
Slowly, he woke. The world was much brighter than he remembered and he couldn’t make out his surroundings for all the light. He tried to look around but he found his body was paralyzed and he had no way of knowing if he was standing, sitting, or lying down. He attempted to call out but his mouth wouldn’t move, and even if it could, he didn’t believe any sound would leave him. Matthew was panicking now, and it didn’t stop when Avery stepped into view. He stared up at the angel, trying to read a clue on their face as to what was happening but they were as unreadable as ever.
“Do not worry Matthew. This is your reward,” the angel said, their voice calming and Matthew found himself relaxing against his will. Even his mouth seemed free once more.
“What do you mean? How is this a reward? What are you going to do?” He asked hurriedly, fearful that his speech wold be taken again.
“I am going to make you an angel.”
Matthew wasn’t sure that he had heard correctly. Make him an angel? What did that even mean? “What?” was the only word he managed to get out though.
“You saved my life. I owe you a great debt and the only way I can see to repay you is to make you one of us.”
“But I don’t want that!” Matthew screamed. “Please, just let me go! I’m happy as I am. And you don’t need to repay me. You owe me nothing.”
“I owe you everything!” Avery’s voice didn’t rise but Matthew had the feeling that this was as close to anger as the angel got. He trembled where he was, body still barely able to move. Tears began gathering in the corners of his eyes but before they had chance to fall, Avery was wiping them away, their touch almost tender.
“You have nothing to fear, Matthew. Yes, it will hurt, but only for a moment as your heart is removed. Then you will see everything as we do and understand why you had to suffer briefly.” Avery’s words were obviously meant to be soothing but Matthew could only panic more.
“Remove my heart? Why?” he cried, hysterical and tears now flowing freely.
“If you have no heart, you cannot be corrupted. And an angel must be incorruptible.” When their words ended, Avery pulled a blade from behind them and Matthew tried to struggle and get away. Unfortunately, there was no moving his body and he just had to watch as the tip of the blade was placed gently to the side of his heart. He looked up at the angel he had saved and wished that he hadn’t helped, that he had left them alone by the lake. He closed his eyes, feeling the blade being pressed harder to his chest. He sent a final prayer for this all to be a horrendous nightmare, then screamed as pain enveloped him.
The young man who was watching the moonlit lake spun around when he heard a cry of pain. His jaw dropped and his eyes widened at the sight before him. An angel was sitting not too far from him, crouched in on themselves and surrounded by a pool of blood. Unsure but wanting to help, the young man stepped closer and knelt beside them.
“Are you alright? My name’s Josh, I’m going to help you. Is that okay?” He leant closer to hear the almost silent voice reply.
“Please. I am Matthew.”