Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”
And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”
I remembered now, the first time I laid eyes on her in the garden. I judged her, then, as was the mechanism of my design. I saw a woman so in love with the creatures of creation that she could never put her needs before theirs, a woman for whom arrogance was so beyond her ability that her tongue would struggle to speak a word of pride, no matter how great her achievements. Her empathy was so complete that in judging her, I was made for the first time to see life through another person’s eyes--I saw then not my realm of sin and punishment, but a world of hope. She who loved everything from the moment of its conception, marveling at its ability to strive for life, who could see in the chaos of Earth the capacity for harmony, for peace, for love returned, she changed me.
Before I met her, I had never longed for anything. I was content to be Michael’s beast, ripping apart sinners, bringing order. Yet one moment of seeing through her eyes, I was made to wish for more. I wanted to bring her world to life, a world that lived only inside of her. By protecting her, I kept that world from harm. I could never let anyone destroy that light within her, because to snuff that out was to give in to Michael’s realm of punishment. As long as she lived, mankind could feel her love. They long to be better in her presence, I have seen it. Her light changes everything.
How was it she was born without protection? How could she be forced before me to go through this bitter world on her own, every painful interaction threatening the goodness that makes her who she is? If she had no one else, she would have me. I would be the thorns that pierced those who threatened the rose. The poison of the oleander, the snake in the blue river. I would be whatever she needed me to be, because I was in love with the beauty inside her, that existed in no other.
At the time, I didn’t realize this was what snared me. Still bound by the simplicity of a beast’s instincts, I questioned my devotion to her. I called it lust. It was only in reawakening my memories, reclaiming them after the flood, that I could see it was more. That is why I had paid no attention to the women of Uruk, even when I had a body that could please them. Only she would sate me, my queen, my everything. It didn’t matter then what she saw in me--I would have endured her having another mate, if she asked it, so long as she allowed me to remain and protect her.
Perhaps it was an accident of fate that she desired me, in the lifetime we shared. I couldn’t know. All I knew then was she deserved more than Michael, that I couldn’t let him absorb her into his black world. When she became his, Earth would lose its greatest advocate. It too would be lost to darkness. That is why I defied the rule of Heaven and appeared at their wedding, giving in to the fire in my heart. And when she accepted me again, tangling her wings with mine, all was made right again.
I took her deep into the veil, far from Michael’s gaze. Our angelic bodies had been left together in a distant cave, for I knew when I returned, it would have to be alone. The part of me I left in Heaven would watch over her form, for as many millennia it took for this fissure between angels to be mended. Until that day, I knew she would be happy living amongst man, in whatever manner I knew she could devise. Still, I would give her the choice.
We took shelter in a dream the two of us designed, an orchard filled with the sweetest fruit she could imagine, beside a stream bubbling and blue. She laid against my chest; my back was bare against the rocky earth, no longer encumbered by wings.
“You could still go back,” I said, even as my fingers drifted through her locks. “Apologize to Michael. Pretend I stole you.”
She shook her head.
“Never,” she said.
“It’s a prison.”
“Semyaza told me long ago that choosing me would mean pain,” I admitted. “I won’t damn you unless you’re certain.”
This did quiet her. Even so, she traced my abdomen while she thought, playing gently with the tuft of hair I had never shaved.
“I never want to be without you,” she said. “Especially not in Heaven. Father was right--changelessness isn’t perfection. You can’t know what beauty is until you’ve seen it struggle to endure. Yet...the problem with change is, it’s dangerous. To live forever in a world endlessly changing...it terrifies me. But when you’re with me, I can. When I’m with you, I can face it.”
I smiled. Carefully, I pulled her atop me, so she could straddle my waist and press her palms into my chest. Her hair fell like a golden curtain around me, while I caressed her lovely neck.
“Then I will never again let them take you from me,” I said. “I swear now, in every lifetime, I will find you. It won’t matter to me who claims to have staked you for themselves, I will take you back from them. I will protect and cherish you, dawn until dusk, through every hour of the black night, until time itself ceases to be. Our children will be raised with love and discipline. Neither you nor they will ever want for anything. This is my oath to you, Haniel. Gabriel. Nin-lil, Ninsun, Ninhursag, Ereshkigal, Enme, Lilith--no matter what name you take, my oath remains. My love burns eternal.”
She blushed red as anything, half laughing at my hyperbole, but I meant every word. Now was not the time for vagueness. After all, I had threatened Heaven itself for her sake.
“Then, let me swear something in return,” she said, touching my lips. “I promise to provide you comfort and joy, all of my knowledge yours for the taking. I promise to give you home, children for as long as my body allows, and I will always have love enough for you and they. I will shoulder your burdens and accept you for all that you are, no matter what Heaven forces you to become. As long as you uphold your oath, all I am belongs to you. No man will be above you in my eyes. This is my promise to you, Saraquel. Sariel. Lugalbanda, Ninurta, Enki, Samael...your every name will invoke affection in me. I will never love any earthly creature the way my soul loves you.”
I grinned as wide as I ever had. We were the same, she and I. She had matched my every dream.
“Then we are bound,” I declared. “May these words continue our earthly marriage for as long as there are stars in the sky.”
“What if we forget?”
“I won’t forget,” I promised. “I won’t allow myself to. And when you forget, I’ll be there to remind you.”
“Will we fight?” she asked.
“Everyone fights. Pettiness won’t dissolve such a union.”
She hesitated, tensing in my arms, as though I would ever release her.
“If I’m reborn deformed? Ugly?” was her worry. “I cannot remember how to create flesh, I last did it far too long ago. If we are to be reborn at all, I will have to devise a way to do it through our son’s bloodline--there are many variables, when mankind breeds.”
I turned her gaze back to mine.
“You loved me when I was horned,” I replied. “Your appearance means nothing to me, whatever form it takes.”
“If I’m born a man?” she challenged.
“Then I will be a woman. Or I will love you as a man. I suppose such will depend on my mood.”
She laughed, light as the birds in the trees imagined around us.
“Will you always be in service of Heaven?”
“Yes--I will always be their Angel of Death. Part of myself will always have to stay behind the veil to be such.”
“They’ll hate you, for protecting me.”
“They’ve always hated me. As long as they know you are mine.”
“You don’t mind being with Heaven’s Whore?”
Rising up, I held her head, chastising with the tension of my grip.
“You’re no whore, and I will rip apart any who dare to call you such. To be a whore implies that you would give yourself to anyone, yet your crime was that you refused to give yourself to a man who was not me. Those who sneer at you will discover just how much of the beast still lives.”
“Your savage protectiveness...”
“It excites you,” I knew.
I pushed her down beneath me, finding it easier than I remembered. She pretended to struggle, but betrayed herself with her smile. She trusted me, as I trusted her. I remembered the joy of first being able to hold her, touch her. Beast no more, she was mine--she would always be mine.
“I love you,” she whispered.
“No more than I love you,” I said.
We played together, in this world we had made. We fell into the water, dried ourselves in the sunlight, chased each other amidst the trees. She told me of the marriage Michael had nearly sealed her into, where a piece of their soul would forever be integrated into the other. After pressing through my revulsion towards what had almost been done, I asked her how it would have happened.
“A kiss,” she said.
“And you know how to do it?”
She nodded. At once, I pulled her close to me, feeling my heart pound against hers.
“Let me be yours,” I asked.
My wife cradled my face, drawing me near. This time, as I took in her breath, I could feel the light within her warming me. Even as I closed my eyes, I could see her glistening aura, bathing me in hope. I prayed that the part of me she accepted was worthy of her, as perfect as the one she offered me.
Thank you, Father.
Never again would I doubt Him.