When Laurie finally reached the locker room twenty minutes after the day’s shift had started, the only free lockers left were on the top row. She sagged, crushing the urge to kick the stupid metal stack.
A frustrated groan was all she allowed herself before reaching up on her tiptoes. With one finger, she was just able to nudge open one of the silver-grey doors. Not for the first time, she silently cursed angels for being tall. She took a step back and attempted to sling her jacket into the cramped space. She missed gloriously and the heavy garment landed on her head, one of the metal buckles striking a tooth in the rebound. She seethed into the palm of her hand and tossed the jacket on the floor, loosing a cuss word that would have wilted the feathers on the Firsts’ wings.
Someone snorted behind her.
Laurie span to see a young man perched on the table at the other side of the room. She yelped. The guy smirked. She opened her mouth twice before speaking. “That’s it?” she said. “You’re just going to sit there and laugh? Not gonna offer to help?”
“Oh no,” said the unfamiliar young man, shaking a hand. “It’s much more entertaining to watch.” He was sitting with one foot propped up on the table beside him and an arm resting across the knee. His other leg hung off the side where it swung back and forth with easy coolness.
“I thought angels liked helping humans in distress.”
He smirked. “What makes you think I’m an angel?”
Laurie tensed. She surveyed the stranger before her. Tall, muscled, and not too hard on the eyes, he fit the angel archetype. Like them, his hair, though cropped short, bounced with life and shone as though with an aura of its own, and his almond skin looked as healthy as a new-born’s. The only thing that gave Laurie pause was the single freckle on the left side of his chin. Angels rarely had any moles or freckles, or any kind of blemishes at all. Another reason why Laurie felt like a beacon with her freckled cheeks and pale face that was prone to flushing.
Laurie backed away from the unknown young man, colliding with the wall of lockers. If he wasn’t an angel … if he was human …
No, it couldn’t be. Laurie was the only human to ever be inside a bureau. No human would be able to find it unless—
Unless he had followed her after her little excursion that morning. She’d been in such a hurry to get back, she wouldn’t have noticed if someone had been behind her, sneaking through the doors after she opened them with her key card.
She stared at the stranger a little longer. She’d never seen him in the bureau before, and he certainly didn’t act like any angel she’d ever met. Acid began to bubble up inside her as she wondered what the hell she was going to do about this. She couldn’t tell Kian, that was for sure.
As her face lit with panic, the stranger in front of her began to laugh.
“I’m messing with you,” he said, slipped down from the table. “Don’t look so terrified! I’m Lucien. Son of Azuriel.” He extended a hand in greeting but Laurie didn’t take it.
“Azuriel?” she repeated. “As in …” she jerked a thumb towards to foyer and where she’d last seen the two First-level angels. “You’re a First?”
He glanced down at his open hand then back up to Laurie. With a shrug, he tucked both hands into the pockets of his trousers—plain, black trousers. Not like the cargos or leathers humans and Seconds wore.
“Aren’t Firsts supposed to have wings?”
“Aren’t humans supposed to respect their superiors?”
Laurie looked away. Her fingers went to the side of her mouth were her tooth still throbbed. “You know I’m human, then,” she said.
“Well, if your cursing didn’t give you away then your height certainly did.” He smiled enough to show he was teasing. She subconsciously found herself straightening her spine in an act to appear taller.
“You must be the famous Laurie Lucas,” Lucien said.
Laurie brought her gaze back up to his, but her frown didn’t budge. “I’m hardly famous.”
Seemingly relishing Laurie’s discomfort, Lucien rocked back on his heels with a casual grin. “You’re a pretty unique case. The only human to ever affiliate with angels? You must have expected some sort of notoriety. There isn’t a First or Second alive who hasn’t heard of Laurie Lucas.”
Laurie shifted to hide her unease. “What do you want, an autograph?”
“Autographs don’t carry much worth back in the Fields. A lock of hair would do nicely, though.”
Laurie stared at him.
“I’m kidding again. Doesn’t anyone joke around here?”
She turned away from him and stooped to pick up her fallen jacket. “No, not really.”
“Well then no wonder you’re so surly.”
“I am not surly.” She tried again to fling the jacket into the locker, and once again she missed.
“You are. But that’s okay. It’s quite refreshing, actually. The company I tend to keep are always putting on airs. Which bring me back to your question: the wings come and go as we please. Not that any other First would let you know that—they like showing off.”
She raised an eyebrow. “But you don’t, huh?”
Lucien removed his hands from his pockets and crossed them in front of his chest, his smirk morphing into a wider grin. “I don’t need an impressive wingspan. I’d rather be judged for my alluring charm and quick wit.”
“And humility, too, I presume?”
Laurie gave him the benefit of a terse laugh before turning back to the lockers, jacket in hands once again. She readied herself to take another shot.
“You’d better let me,” Lucien said, reaching around to take the coat. He let out a peculiar noise when she handed it to him.
“My feathers, that’s heavy! What’s this thing made of?”
Laurie blinked at him several times. “Are you telling me you’ve never seen a Scaffold jacket before?”
“Is that what it’s called?”
Laurie didn’t answer, certain he had to be joking.
He chuckled. “From the look on your face, I’m guessing that’s a stupid question. Perhaps I should mention that I haven’t been to Earth since before the Fall.”
“Yeah. That would make sense.”
Lucien tossed the jacket between his hands a couple of times, testing its weight. He paused when his hands fell on the hood.
“Is this metal?” Holding the hood in one hand, he used the other the rap the top of it with his knuckles, eliciting three dull thuds.
“It’s steel lined. Kinda like a built-in helmet. And the jacket’s heavy because it’s made of several layers to withstand a bullet.”
“It’s bulletproof? Are things that bad here that you go around shooting each other?”
“Not usually,” Laurie said, only half joking. “And it’s bullet-resistant, actually. Enough to save you from, say, a bolt or a nail dropped from a 40-storey scaffolding. And when the whole world’s a construction site, that’s not a rare occurrence.”
Lucien’s lips pursed in thought. “And what if someone were to drop, say, a hammer from that height?”
“Then you’re dead.”
Squinting his eyes, he inspected the material and didn’t say anything for a moment. A long moment. Laurie was half considering snatching it back when he said, “Does everyone wear one of these?”
“If they have half a brain cell, yeah. You may not die if you don’t wear one, but you’d certainly get fined. It’s kinda the law.”
He peered up at her over the cloth. “You serious?”
Laurie nodded. Lucien went silent again. She looked at him sideways as he continued to examine the coat, emerald eyes lit with intrigue.
“And those ugly trousers you’re wearing. Is it the law to wear those, too?”
The cargos Laurie had opted for that day were dark grey and had a total of eight pockets. They only held her goggles today, but would usually be a receptacle for much of her personal affairs.
“Well no, but they’re about the only trousers you can get these days. And while I’m standing here gossiping with you I’m supposed to be filing paperwork, so could you please—”
“Filing paperwork? The most important member of this bureau and you’re filing paperwork?” He still didn’t move to put the coat away.
“You try taking it up with Kian. You’ll find I’m pretty low in the pecking order here.”
“I think I will. In the meantime, though, my father’s off getting a private tour, and I think I deserve the same treatment. Don’t you?”
“Well I think that’s another case to talk to Kian about.” She went to sidestep around Lucien but he blocked her.
“Well seeing as you’re here, and being as knowledgeable as I’m sure you are, why don’t you show me around?”
She tried to get past him again, but he was a lot larger then she was and kept her trapped between the lockers and table. “I’m already late.”
“Well, fine, if you’d rather get your paperwork done. You just struck me as a person who wouldn’t disobey an order from a First.”
Laurie stilled. She backed up a little. Lucien outranked Kian ten to one. If she went with him, she’d only be disobeying her boss a little bit.
“Okay, fine,” she said, relaxing a little. “What would you like to see first? Mailing room? Delivery room?”
“Oh I don’t want a tour of the bureau,” Lucien said, grin growing ever broader. “I want you to show me the city.”