Angel Love

by Dannell Lites and Tangerine

(Azrael/The Angel)

Pairing: Warren/Jean-paul

SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!: Ah do not own Warren Worthington, the Angel, Jean-Paul Valley, Azrael, nor any other recognizable character in this story! DC comics owns Azrael and Marvel comics owns The Angel. Ah and moi's partner in crime have only borrowed them for the purposes of telling a story. This is a work of fanfiction and not intended in any way to infringe upon copyrights held by DC comics, Marvel comics or any other corporate entity:):) So don't sue moi!

This fic is rated PG-15 for adult themes and m/m sexual references, although nothing is depicted at'all! So if'n that sort of thing isn't ya'll's cuppa, then skedaddle!

Thanks go to moi's most excellent co-author Tangerine without whose help and inspiration this fic would never have been born. Thanks also to all the folks Ah bugged with this thing along the way to its completion: rith and GenX, reccea and all the others! Ya'll are the very best folks:):)

And um. Heh. Dannell wanted me to say something, but I didn't really do anything. This is Dannell's baby, I was just sorta there, in the background. ~ Tangerine

Angel Love

By
Dannell Lites and Tangerine

The sun was setting in the west, moving in steady intervals as it tucked itself beneath the horizon. A deep red cast touched the clouds, painting the world a strange shade of crimson, and Jean-Paul Valley took it in all with cool eyes. It was peaceful on the rooftops of Washington, calm in a way he thought the world couldn't be, and he took solace in the silence.

Until something began to break it.

It started with a rustle, like the rasp of a zipper being drawn slowly downward, then progressed into an angry hiss, growing louder and louder with every second. It sounded like someone falling...

Jean-Paul looked up into the heavens.

And saw an angel?

The cloud of white feathers surrounding the very real body was heading toward him at a dangerous speed, slowed only by the mammoth wings that sprouted from the back. An angel. Jean-Paul didn't know whether to drop to his knees and pray or hope to catch the fallen creature.

He caught him, taking the brunt of the surprisingly light body's weight squarely onto his chest, and fell backwards, sprawling on the rooftop as the angel moaned, choking on the blood that dripped from the broken nose to the open lips.

"Run," the heavenly body muttered, limbs flailing as it struggled to stand, but it was a broken thing, so bloody and bruised Jean-Paul could barely recognize the face as having a human form. "Leave me..."

"Non," Jean-Paul said simply, "but what it is you fear?"

The angel took a moment before it spoke again, breathing raggedly against the length of Jean-Paul's leg, cradled in the arms that held him. When it did come forth with words, they were hushed and painful, "Demons..."

Demons, Jean-Paul noticed idly, that were mere seconds from off the angel.

And so the scene changed.

Jean-Paul Valley changed.

***

Warren Worthington was not a religious man, not really despite the obvious symbolism of his wings. He wasn't sure why; he had looked into the face of Satan and seen evil. So maybe he was just waiting to look into the eyes of God before he could believe anything he had been told as a child, before he could believe that good could exist in his fellow man.

Half gone from the pain and more than entirely convinced he was going to die, he looked up and stared into the eyes of fury. No, he thought idly in his stupor, he was staring into the eyes of death... or salvation, the two were far too similar, seemed to fit far too well together into a complex and frightening puzzle.

An angel, he knew almost instinctively, but not like him. No, it was more real and...

Darker. As he wanted to be... no, as he used to be and was no longer.

As the demons descended, angry and furious that they had lost their prey, Warren found himself staring in horror as the angel began to move, a fast thing that moved with a speed Warren found himself unable to follow.

Streaks of red and black and gold, angry blurs that attacked with a violence Warren had never seen, not even from Wolverine at his worst. Blood poured from the creatures as they squealed, systematically being torn apart as if all this angel had been created for was death and destruction.

But hadn't there been a man there before? Blond hair, Warren thought idly, lighter than his own and more of it, with even sadder eyes when Warren hadn't thought such a thing possible.

And how the demons screamed as they died! How they cried and writhed as the vengeful angel defended the fallen one, united by unearthly things, inhuman things that no human had the right to possess. But while Warren was a fake, he felt, an anomaly, this thing, he knew was real and terrifying.

And angry.

Warren could feel the rage spill from the dark heart of the angel. Such an angry soul, so alive with its hate; so like he wanted ...

No. Warren's head lolled back as he fought to stay conscious, to ignore the severe beating his body had taken, to move beyond the pain that seemed to burn like acid through his nerves. No, he didn't want that.

Yes, a dark part of his soul muttered, yes, you do.

And the darkness became his world.

***

Jean-Paul regarded the aftermath with an odd sense of regret, standing knee deep in demons that were already in Hell where they belonged, bodies quickly decomposing into black sludge, the scent many levels above foul.

The costume was off and Jean-Paul Valley was only human again.

He looked around for the angel and saw him, lying in a mass of awkwardly bent limbs and shallow breathing, the skin dangerously pale. Picking up the wounded body and draping the wings with his coat, Jean-Paul walked calmly but surely home, passing the angel off as a drunken friend.

Jean-Paul marveled at the angel's slight weight, the body as light as the snow white feathers gracing the wings beneath his grip, even more so than usual. Carrying the man into his apartment, Jean-Paul carried the limp body into his bedroom and lay him carefully on the small bed.

The light, blue eyes flickered open, the body startled and the wings rising in defense, but Jean-Paul stroked the bruised face gently, humming assurances. There was no consciousness in that pure gaze besides delirium, and Jean-Paul realized with rising dismay that the skin was hot beneath his hands, a fever.

Entering the bathroom and returning with several wet towels, Jean-Paul began to clean the bloody body, peeling off the stained clothing. The angel's body was long and elegant, abs rippled with tightly defined muscles, back a whir of strength. Beautiful, Jean-Paul thought, il est tres beau.

Jean-Paul snapped his hand to his chest at the gall of his body, twisting away from the gorgeous sight. To be aroused by a comatose man! Did he have no common decency, no control over his body? Jean-Paul was disgusted with himself . 'Yet another curse from God upon you,' he raged at himself. And then he had to fight the anger tearing at him. No. Azrael was not needed here, now. This was for Jean-Paul to deal with. He honestly pondered calling a third party, not able to trust himself with this amazing creature.

The face looked familiar, of this Jean-Paul was sure, but a wallet was long gone and a name refused to appear in memory. Very well, Jean-Paul returned to tending to the body, holding off on help until he was sure going public with this angel was the proper thing to do.

The angel muttered in his fever, every few minutes thrashing about or screaming incoherent words before drifting back to sleep, oblivious to Jean-Paul tending his wounds. Jean-Paul drew names from the outbursts, Jean and Scott, Bobby and Hank, and things yet to happen, like the apocalypse. Jean-Paul smoothed the furrowed brow. What did this angel have to with doomsday? Jean-Paul shivered. Was this a Sign? Could St. Dumas be speaking once again to his wayward Angel? No! he cried. Away from me demon-Saint! Away! Could he have been mistaken? Was this, indeed, a real Angel and not simply a man, after all? His breath caught and he made the sign of the Cross hastily. Ah Dieu! Had God finally answered his penitent prayers? To speak to a real Angel! To finally *know* ...

*Did* the spirit of the Heavenly Azrael live within him as the Order always assured him it did?

He did not know.

And it haunted him.

Hours passed before Jean-Paul noticed, mind exhausted but still acutely aware of the world, that the wounds were almost gone. A healing factor, he rationalized, and the fever was hardly noticeable anymore. In fact, the angel looked to be waking up.

"Hello?" Jean-Paul asked, shaking the shoulder slightly to rouse the slumbering man. The body jumped and the eyes flew open, blinking erratically in confusion, and Jean-Paul held him down with a very strong arm, keeping him still. "I'm a friend."

"You were on the rooftop," the angel replied, voice dry, and Jean-Paul grabbed a glass of water, holding it to the chapped lips and urging him to drink. The angel choked and swallowed messily, his chin dripping wet. "What happened?"

"Demons. They are gone now, do not worry."

The angel nodded and touched his head, attempting to sit up, and Jean-Paul took his elbow, helping him to rise. "Thanks. I feel like I've been through a meat grinder." The man smiled, tugging the sheet over his body where it lay dangerously low across his hips. "Do you have a name?"

"Jean-Paul Valley." He lifted his eyes and dared to look directly at the beautiful angel. "And you?"

"Warren Worthington," the other replied, shrugging like it hardly mattered. Jean-Paul nodded, realizing now why the face seemed so familiar. The tabloids were painted with it. The angel was not a heavenly creature at all but a mutant.

"You're staring."

Jean-Paul blushed horrendously. "My apologies."

"No, it's all right. I don't mind." Warren smiled, touching his hand softly. "Doesn't hurt to look, does it?"

Jean-Paul turned away, taking a deep breath to control himself. The pull between them was strong; for the first time in his life an almost kindred soul sat on his bed, understanding what was in his mind better than Jean-Paul himself could comprehend it.

"I didn't mean to embarrass you," Warren said quietly. "I'm an idiot.Forgive me."

Jean-Paul turned back, calm. "Could I make you something to eat? You've been here for hours, feverish. You need nourishment."

"Okay."

Jean-Paul stored away his disappointment.

Not a real angel, then, after all. A mutant blessed with the face and body of one. A good man, it seemed. But not an answer to his dilemma.

The rest of the evening passed, thankfully, without incident.

*************************************************************

Warren watched as Jean-Paul moved off to prepare food. The smile that rose to his lips was small but meaningful. He was very hungry, he discovered. Hungrier than he'd thought. No embarrassing stomach rumbles yet but if the food didn't hurry ...

'Hey!' he let the thought come, 'if this guy's name and that slight accent are any clue, he's French! I wonder if he can cook?" Warren, who employed a French chef, hoped so.

His mouth watered at the thought. But even as the winged mutant stepped into the offered shower, he chastised himself. 'Don't be such a stereotypical jerk, Worthington,' he thought, toweling himself dry and slipping into a pair of borrowed sweats more than just a bit too large for him.

Still it didn't keep him from hoping.

His hopes, alas, were dashed upon the ragged rocks of reality. Instead of the rich, succulent coq au vin and asparagus almondine, swimming in their heavy cream sauce, floating through his dreams there was Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup from a can and a somewhat charred grilled cheese sandwich awaiting him. In place of the glass of full bodied

Bordeaux of his desires there sat a can of cold Soder cola. Warren managed not to pout. French Jean-Paul Valley might be, but he was obviously no Julia Child. The mutant superhero allowed himself to mutter beneath his breath. Trust his luck to find the only French guy on the face of the planet who couldn't cook. The place was spotlessly clean, though, to Warren's great surprise. Most of the single guys he knew, batching it and loving it, lived in what could only charitably be called mobile disaster areas. Even with the combined efforts of a butler and a maid, Warren's own apartment was rarely this immaculate.

With a sigh Warren sat and smiled at his host. 'Oh well,' he philosophized, biting into the gooey grilled cheese, 'nobody's perfect.' When Jean-Paul gathered the detritus of the quick meal and moved to the sink to deposit them there, Warren studied the play of muscles in the broad back beneath the straining tee shirt with appreciation.

'And for someone who looks like *that*,' he decided, 'I can overlook a lot of flaws.'

While his savior tidied his small kitchen, Warren rested himself on the couch, gazing about. The apartment was tiny by his standards. A bedroom with an open door, this living room and the kitchen. He didn't remember the trip here very well, but what memories he had of it told him that this was not a very good part of Georgetown.

The thing that struck him first were the books. The walls were lined with books. Books everywhere. Ceiling to floor book cases seemed to be the tiny apartments only decor. Intrigued, Warren rose from the couch, studying the hundreds of books, all neatly grouped by category, then alphabetized with care by the author's last name.

'Professor X move over,' the former X-Man thought with irreverence.

The books seemed to be in a variety of languages, French for the most part, but here and there lurked a volume in English and even Latin or Italian.

Warren blinked. Holy Catholic dogma! Warren was convinced that never before in his entire life had he seen so many books about religion in one place. Fingering the leather binding of one volume, he traced the gold embossed lettering of the title: "The Eternal Gospel" by St. Thomas Aquinas. "The Confessions" by St. Augustine. Books on St. Ignacius Loyola and the Jesuit order. And others. Many other books. "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius. Books on Church history. The Path To Tranquility and The Art Of Happiness both by His Serene Holiness, The Dali Lama. My Life For The Poor, by Mother Teresa. The Bhagavad Gita. The I Ching. The Koran and all twenty five volumes of The Talmud.

Whoa. This guy wasn't leaving anything to chance, apparently. Heaven or Bust.

The volumes of poetry were kept separate from the fiction, he noted. Byron, Keats, Shelly, Blake, and Rimbaud abounded. 'Cooleridge and Wordsworth are sort of standard I guess, If you're heavy into Romanticism,' Warren admitted. Poe shocked him, though, but not Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Verlaine

The fiction encompassed everyone from the biting satire of Moliere to the "The Grapes of Wrath", segueing through the Greekness of Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes and Homer straight on through the ages with Plutarch and Pliny, Lives of Famous Romans, Ceasar's "DeBella Gallico" and Virgil's The Aeneid, sailing deftly into the modern era by way of John Irving and Saul Bellow. Again the French influence was heavy: The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas. "The Miller's Daughter" by Emile Zola. "Mademoiselle Fifi" by Guy de Maupassant. "The Stranger" by Albert Camus. Candide by Voltaire. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sarte. That surprised him. Jean-Paul hardly seemed the type for Sarte's sensual yet hard bitten surrealism. In the cause of a name sake, perhaps? Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac had to figure, he supposed.

He laughed when he saw "The Art of War" by Sun Su firmly entrenched in the fiction section. Right along with the Kama Sutra. Mein Kamf, on the other hand, seemed to have found a cozy little niche for itself in the philosophy section. Warren wasn't sure what to make of that.

But the biggest surprise, though, came when he investigated the last remaining section. So many books on computers it made his head spin. Obscure computer languages that Warren had never even heard of and couldn't begin to understand, he was certain. Thick book on software and hardware, brimming with confusing diagrams and flow charts. This was no "COBOL for Dummies", that was for sure. Hastily, Warren returned the book he was examining with a jaundiced eye to its proper place.

Through the door of the bedroom he could see Jean-Paul's most personal and private space and suddenly the books began to make more sense. His eyes fell upon the compact computer filling one small corner of the bedroom and Warren whistled between his teeth.

He recognized it instantly. An experimental model from Cray; fast, accurate with quanta bytes of memory lurking in its deceptively small frame. The Professor had one just like it. Sleek, efficient and VERY expensive. And was that a satcom relay there? Jesus. There was more to this Jean-Paul Valley than met the eye.

Like an invading army a pernicious thought occupied Warren's mind, stubbornly refusing to retreat.

Could it be?

Surely not.

But ...

On the whole, the X-Men had very few dealing with the super-hero information broker known as Oracle. No need. They did, after all, have their own sources of information. The mysterious Oracle, however, had intrigued Warren for some time.

Could he have stumbled onto him by accident? The thought was appealing in its synchronicity and Warren smiled.

It was no surprise that one of the other corners of the room occupied itself with a low, carved table (it looked to be quite old) upon which a votive candle burned, sheltered beneath a print Albert Druer's "Hands". Hands folded in prayer ... bound with barbed wire. Warren winced.

Over the small bed there hovered a golden cross, protecting the slumber of the sleeper below.

The open closet held very few clothes to Warren's critical eye, but they were all neatly displayed and carefully hung. Warren, whose three walk in closets were barely enough to contain his Winter wardrobe, was politely appalled. All off the sale rack at K-Mart, he was convinced, if his practiced eye was any judge. And all in such dark colors, too. Warren tsked. Fantastic face and body, great taste in books, but no sense of style at all. Pity, that.

Drying his hands on a dish towel, Jean-Paul emerged from his culinary duties looking grave and focused. "Are you feeling better?" he asked.

The knock at the door was timely, the mutant hero had to admit. Just not vastly appreciated, was all. Jean-Paul tossed the dish towel aside and answered the summons politely. The tiny elderly woman framed by the door smiled beautifully when she saw the young man. With her she brought the appetizing aroma of fresh homemade chicken soup wafting into the room from the container she clutched. She had to reach up far indeed from her scarce five feet to pinch Jean-Paul's blushing cheek.

"Here this is for you, nu?' she smiled setting the wrinkles on her plump face dancing. She proffered a tin foil wrapped package along with the covered dish. "And a few kniches, too, for mitzvah, you should excuse the expression."

Jean-Paul uncovered the soup, inhaling deeply and sighing with contentment, then leaned down and kissed her forehead. "You're too good to me Mrs. Shulmann," he joked. "Without you I might starve."

She shook her finger scoldingly in his face. "You should eat better, boychick," the ancient woman insisted firm in the convictions of a lifetime. "A growing boy needs his strength, nu? Food from a can! This is nourishment? You could plotz from such food. Feh!" Again she reached tall, patting his cheek in affection. "Listen to an old Jewish lady!" she exclaimed. "Find yourself a good woman! A nice pretty young blonde shicksa to match that golden hair! Have beautiful babies. Enjoy!"

Warren froze.

Blushing furiously, the man with the Heavenly name tapped the foil package in his hand with a smile. "But then I wouldn't have your wonderful cooking to sustain me, would I?" he claimed with a smile.

Gesturing dismissal, Mrs. Shulmann regarded the young man with grateful eyes. "Nu, nu, nu," she claimed. "Not to worry. Such a good boy you are! Agezint af dien pupik! You do my shopping for me. You even bring me that medicine that makes me gag from those quack doctors - God should curse them with boils - what do they know? Do my own children do as much for their Mamme? No! They do not! It would kill them to come and see me sometimes?" She seemed to notice Warren for the first time, then.

"Oy!" she cried, covering her mouth with one aged hand. "You have a guest! And here am I, running on like Solomon himself!" Backing out of the door, she waved at the two men. "Enjoy!" she called scurrying down the hall.

Warren blinked.

It wasn't a very auspicious beginning, Warren had to admit that. But, still, it was a beginning and that was the important thing as far as the X-Man was concerned. 'Even mutant superheroes get lonely,' he decided, 'and it's time I did something about that.' The attraction between them was undeniable. At least from Warren's point of view. He stayed with the other man for two days; long after he could and perhaps *should* have made his way across town, home to his own waiting apartment.

He found himself watching Jean-Paul Valley with hooded hungry eyes. 'Whoa, Worthington!' he cautioned himself in a stern voice that surprised him. 'The best way I can think of to lose this guy is to push him. Go after him like the wolf you are and he'll rabbit for sure.' Warren wasn't good, as a general rule, at waiting and restraint when he wanted something. It wasn't his nature. But he forced himself. 'Careful,' he cautioned. 'You could lose you're membership as a card carrying Hedonist, pal,' he joked. But if he wanted Jean-Paul Valley he had no other choice.

And he wanted Jean-Paul.

More than he'd wanted anything or anyone is a very long time.

Since Betsy, in fact. 'Sucker for a pretty face and a sexy accent,' he chortled privately. But that wasn't the whole of it, was it? There was an innocence about Jean-Paul that ran deep and appealed strongly. It had been a very long time since he had encountered such refreshing naïveté. The young Frenchman seemed oblivious to all his more subtle overtures; the lingering hand, the crooked smile at just the right moment, the double entendre aimed with hope and precision in his direction.

And yet, Warren knew, the hero named for an Avenging Angel was not as immune to Warren as he seemed. He sensed it. The tension grew. By the hour it seemed, until the air was thick with it like an ominous gathering storm. Jean-Paul began to shy away from his merest touch. Warren covered the other hero's hand with his in sympathy at the news of Jean-Paul's father, Ludovic Valley's death. He was quite sincere and that's all it was: sympathy. He remembered the loss of his own father all too well.

But Jean-Paul froze at his touch and fled.

It wasn't until that moment that Warren completely understood the truth.

Jean-Paul was running.

Running away from himself.

Warren bit his lip until it bled and retreated to the kitchen for a cup of strong, black coffee. His hand shook as he lifted the cup to his dry lips. 'God, don't I remember what that was like,' the former X-Man thought, trying to calm his shaky nerves. 'The guilt. The denial of what I was feeling. The things my body was trying to tell me. I hated myself, then. Every damned time I looked at another man or thought about being touched and got a hard on. If it hadn't been for the Professor I'd probably still be a mess. Christ, the things he shared with me. Sometimes I still can't believe them. Imagine that. The Professor and Magneto.'

On the evening of the second day, soon after dinner, it all came to a head.

"I suppose you'll be wanting to go home, soon," Jean-Paul said, not meeting Warren's eyes.

"I guess I should," Warren admitted, schooling his face to calm acceptance.

Peering at the motorcycle housed in the building's garage, Warren whistled low between his teeth once more. Bad habit, that. He resolved not to do it again and hoped for the best. He wasn't good at keeping his resolutions, he knew. New Years was his bane.

But he recognized the bike immediately. Top of the line Ninja Super Shadow 750 from Kawasaki. With all the bells and whistles, too, from turbocharger to air cushion. It gleamed in the soft fluorescent lighting, powerful and obviously very well maintained. A lot of bike for simple transportation, Warren decided. And *very* expensive. Like that computer ...

"I'm impressed," the mutant smiled. "That's a lot of bike."

Jean-Paul colored. "It was a gift. From a - a ... friend ... " he stammered.

Warren's pale eyebrows shot up, reaching for the skies above as surely as his wings. 'That's some ... friend,' the millionaire thought staring at the 20,000 dollar machine and bit his tongue to keep from saying the words aloud. But he couldn't help thinking about them, could he? In fact, he thought about them all the way across town, clinging tightly to the uncomfortable Jean-Paul. It was very pleasant pressing himself to the warmth of that broad back, feeling the rippling muscles of the washboard stomach beneath his fingers. To his horror, Warren felt his flesh stir and knew that Jean-Paul could also feel his body's betrayal.

The French hero pulled off his helmet, blinking when he scanned the apartment building that was their final destination as he stood the massive bike on its stand.

"You live at *The Watergate*?" he smiled.

Warren threw up his hands, grinning hugely in return, protesting his innocence in mocking tones. "Hey! Not guilty, your honor! I was nowhere near the place on the night in question, I swear! And I had nothing to do with the missing fifteen minutes of tape, either! I don't even *know* Rosemary Woods!"

Jean-Paul chuckled, a musical sound that set Warren's nerves tingling. Taking quick advantage of the fleeting moment of levity, Warren offered, "Why don't you come up and see how the other half lives?" After a hesitant moment, Jean-Paul nodded. Warren kick-started his stuttering heart and led the way.

Afterwards Warren never quite knew how it happened.

They talked, eating pizza and take out Thai food. Jean-Paul, to Warren's delight shared his love of hot spicy dishes. He introduced the stunned, reeling Frenchman to the dubious delights of heavy metal rock; the spirit of Twisted Sister and Pearl Jam echoed in the huge apartment long after their reality had faded like morning mist. They roared at the antics of the Three Stooges and Buster Keaton. Chaplin's "City Lights" made the younger man cry and Warren remembered vividly his first taste of The Little Tramp and swallowed the lump in his throat with difficulty. "The Great Dictator" reduced him to helpless laughter and he fell from his chair onto the polished wooden floor, still laughing.

"Was he French?" Jean-Paul demanded with ethnic pride, misled by the surname.

Warren had to smile. "English actually," he admitted with some sorrow. Jean-Paul scowled darkly in mock distaste at the unwelcome news and Warren burst out laughing.

When the time for parting came, they didn't. By mutual consent the young Frenchman slept in the guest bedroom that night. Somehow, he never did make it home. The days that followed were golden ones to the lonely Warren. And to the quiet Jean-Paul as well, the superhero thought. Warren was patient, biding his time. He surprised himself with that. It wasn't his nature, after all. But it was almost a week before they made love for the first time. In the end, it was Jean-Paul who came to him, shy, wide-eyed and visibly trembling with fear; but with the glory of anticipation shining in the sapphire of his deep blue eyes.

"I - I do not know ... " he murmured. "I have never ... never ... "

Warren covered his larger hand with his own fine boned one, warming its chilliness with the heat of his body. "I know," the lover of so many others said. "It's all right. *I* have." He tried very hard not to let his sinking heart show, watching the parade of past lovers march accusingly through the corridors of his memory. So many ... so very, very many ...

Was this the end of that long, sad journey?

Or only another brief stop?

He did not know.

And, just now, he did not care.

Like the gossamer wing of a butterfly came the tentative touch of the younger man's lips upon Warren's. "Te - teach me?" was the whispered request. "Please?"

In the following days, Warren lost himself in the other man, submerging himself with abandon in the many layered protection of Jean-Paul's burgeoning passion. He was prone to doing that. He understood that about himself. Hiding within the shelter of another was safe and comfortable; at once familiar and wonderfully, heart-stoppingly adventurous. Seldom had the youthful industrialist had so responsive and willing a lover.

Jean-Paul was hungry; Warren sensed that from the first. Hungry for love and the simplest bit of affection. Aching for experience and someone to share himself with. It frightened Warren in the beginning, this want, this need. He did not trust himself to fill it, he discovered. And it was so very, very familiar, wasn't it? His memory and body echoed with it, resounding through him until he could barely think.

'God, he's just like me,' the scion of wealth and privilege mourned, 'so damned much like me ... '

No, he did not trust himself at all.

But Jean-Paul trusted him. Trusted him implicitly. He drew silent strength from that. And, for the moment, that was good enough, he hastened to assure himself.

Wasn't it?

Surely it was.

Surely.

They did everything together. The two of them, The Angel and Azrael, even scoured the darkened often rain slick streets of the Nation's capitol as a team, flying over the rooftops and laughing as they went. Even the newspapers took note of it. Warren didn't think he'd ever been happier in his entire life.

It all came crashing down, of course.

Just as Warren always knew that it would.

Part 2

Smiling, Warren reached out and stroked the naked back of the man laying on the rumpled bed, still tousled from their passion of the night, relishing the feel of the smooth pale flesh, the sinuous ripple of the firm muscles there.

"Wake up, Jean-Paul Sleepyhead," he quipped. "Unless you want *me* to burn breakfast, that is."

But even before he saw the gold wire frame glasses neatly folded and discarded forlornly on the bedside table, he knew his mistake. Even before he saw the golden blond hair swept back and sweat slick he sensed it. The powerful shoulders bunched and his lovers body seemed to tense, gathering itself like a coiled spring. He did not need to see the curve of the snarling lips to know that he had used the wrong name.

Jean-Paul Valley was ... gone ...

And the eyes ... God in Heaven the eyes ... He knew instantly that he was going to take the sight of the hellish rage burning in the sapphire depths of those blue on blue eyes to his grave. They were doomed to invade his nightmares, haunting him, for a very, very long time, he suspected. He might never be free of them. A great sea wave, the realization overwhelmed him. The realization that he was naked. And alone. Naked and alone ...

With *Azrael* ...

Even twisted and distorted with fury his was still the face of an Angel. But then Warren recalled that, beautiful and lovely as he was, Azrael was the Angel of Vengeance and Destruction. And he smiled. He remembered then the fear that blossomed like a sweet smelling flower in his belly at his first sight of Azrael, looming over him like a dark shadow, covered in the blood of his enemies. He remembered his Angel of Death.

Like striking lightning those killing hands reached for him. Fast. Futilely he threw himself away from them and then struggled even more futilely when they grasped him with iron firmness and shook him. Reflexively, his wings tried to cover him, protect him from the wrath of those choking hands. He did not even recognize the voice when it spoke to him. No more were the warm and lively musical tones of Jean-Paul. This voice was harsh. Harsh and biting cold as the arid wind of a high desert.

"Blasphemer!" it hissed at him, pushing his restraining wings firmly yet almost gently aside. "You are *not* of Heaven." With his free hand Azrael caressed the soft white feathers, making Warren shiver. "You are not worthy of these. You mock God's glory. Unworthy heretic! You're an ignorant and foolish little man! Given great beauty and power and what have you done with them? Squandered them on carnality. Things of the flesh! Used them to tempt and seduce others; to pander to your pride ... "

'Fight back!' an inner voice screamed at Warren. 'Why don't you fight back?'

But he did not. Could not. But ... hadn't he always known that he wouldn't? Yes, it was fitting that he be exposed for what he was. That his ugliness be unmasked and made known. And he be punished for it. That was, after all, Azrael's purpose ... the reason for his creation. To punish the guilty. For Warren Worthington III, the high flying Angel, was guilty, he knew. And it was to another Angel, Azrael, the Angel of Vengeance and Destruction, that he had turned for his punishment. Brutal fists lashed out, breaking his nose, drenching his face in blood. Seconds later, he was struck again and his jaw snapped. He watched his blood spatter the enraged face of his lover Jean-Paul Valley. With each brutal blow that landed, pounding his unresisting body, Warren was branded for what he was: unworthy as Azrael had so named him. Somewhere in hidden places he did not like to acknowledge he had always known that, hadn't he? Known the flaming heat of the fire he toyed with and that it was destined to burn him.

He was not to be disappointed.

With a flick of his opponents wrist Warren went careening across the huge room like confetti in a whistling wind, slamming hard into the opposite wall. His world exploded with cleansing, purifying pain and he clutched after its brief, fading justice. Something in his chest snapped and he gasped for breath. Sharp daggers of agony greeted his feeble efforts to rise. He did not even hear Azrael's approach. He only knew more pain when the Avenging Angel shattered his shoulder with a touch and he cried out. More blows landed in his ribs and belly; pain paralyzed him and he grayed out for an instant. But he did not cry out again. He was very proud of himself for that. More than human strength lifted him like a feather from one of his own wings and, careful of those same delicate wings, bowed his back over a broad knee.

'My God!' Warren thought. 'He's going to kill me!'

"Jean-Paul!" he gasped, his voice dropping, his plea emerging in a low urgent voice. "Jean-Paul, I know you're in there ... fight him! For God's sake fight him! Please!"

The broad hands that held him trembled, then faltered, loosening their vice-like grip. The voice, when it reached his ringing ears, was soft and familiar once more.

"War - Warren ... ?" whispered Jean-Paul. "Warren, petite ... ?"

The last thing that Warren Worthington III saw before the darkness claimed him was the look of horror and utter devastation in Jean-Paul Valley's wide blue eyes.

He never knew how long he lay there, unconscious, waiting for his body to heal itself. Time had no meaning. Pain became his world. He gasped with the agony of it and could not move. Pursue it as he might, he could not seem to catch his breath. Groaning, he turned his battered body over to free his cramped wings and then lay very still until the world righted itself. Eventually he pulled himself into a sitting position; when his head stopped swimming, spinning crazily, and his vision cleared, he dragged himself to shaky feet. He managed to stumble into the bathroom before retching, heaving up the contents of his raging, abused stomach, clinging to the cool porcelain bowl of the toilet.

With a warm cloth he laved the blood from his face and studied his reflection in the small bathroom mirror. Dazed, he traced with a single unsteady finger the outlines of the battered, bloody face of the ugly stranger staring back at him and smiled. The small grimace of pain that brought was welcome.

"Hi there," he whispered. "Free at last, aren't you?"

This was the only mirror in the apartment, he knew. The only one. One by one they had silently disappeared; all the mirrors through which Warren Worthington measured the value of his life. Jean-Paul had taken them all down. At first he'd thought simply that Jean-Paul was not vain as he himself surely was. And, indeed, he wasn't. Jean-Paul seemed oblivious to his own beauty. It was only later that the passage of time revealed the truth to Warren. The young Frenchman did not like to see himself in mirrors. Warren thought that the reasons for that might be the same ones that would never allow Jean-Paul to accept it when Warren called him beautiful. The X-Man awakened one morning to find Jean-Paul standing before the cracked, broken mirror, sole survivor of Jean-Paul's fears, his tightly curled fist bleeding into the lavatory.

"Lies!" Valley hissed at his still lovely reflection in the now shattered glass. "All lies! Camouflage for the ugliness beneath ... "

But now there was no sign of the other man. Had he taken himself away from this scene of carnage? soft murmur of a familiar voice was his first hint that Jean-Paul had not fled, after all. He followed that breathy whisper into the living room. There he discovered the young Frenchman on his knees, blunt killing hands (so incongruous, those hands, for the mild, studious Jean-Paul Valley, but perfect for Azrael) folded in fervent, almost frantic prayer.

"... Dues meus ... ex toto cor-corde poenitet me ...
omnium meorum peccatorum ... eaque
detestor, quia pec - peccando ... non solum
poenas a Te iuste statutas ... pro- promeritus sum,
sed praesertim quia offendi Te Dues meus ..."

In a rushing flood of memory that swept him into the past, his school boy Latin came back to him and Warren realized that he was hearing the stilted Latin of the Mass. An Act of Contrition ...

... Oh my God ... I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments but most of all because they offend Thee, my God ...

"Stop it, Jean-Paul! Stop it!"

The reverent figure of his lover seemed to sway momentarily, then. Swayed and collapsed into Warren outstretched arms like a marionette whose strings had been suddenly clipped. The dagger that clattered to the hardwood floor, falling from nerveless fingers, was small but very, very sharp. It was only then that Warren spied the blood on his hands where they clutched at Jean-Paul. Felt it spreading like a warm summer tide, flowing wet and red from the long slashes on the Frenchman's wrists.

In a panic, he gathered the other man in his arms, cradling him, staggering into the bedroom. He ignored the pain in his chest the effort cost him and the agony in his still fractured shoulder. He'd learned to be very good at ignoring pain in the past few years. Pain of all kinds.

"You fool ... " choked Warren to the man in his arms, "you damned crazy fool!"

As he lay him tenderly on the crisp, white sheets of the bed they shared Jean-Paul's eyes fluttered open, briefly.

"Non, mon angel," he whispered. " ... non ... G-go ... let me go ... "

"Damn you!" Warren cursed under his breath, his anger building into rage at his lover's attempted desertion. "Don't leave me ... Please don't leave me ... not you, too ... Oh God ... everybody leaves ... "

With fumbling, unsure fingers he reached into the drawer of the bedside table, found his cell phone and somehow managed to dial "911".

"Please hurry," he pleaded with the calm, level voice on the other end of the line. " ... tried to kill himself ... There's blood everywhere ... so much blood ... " He must have stammered out the right address for the paramedics, he decided later, before the phone slipped from his cold, numb fingers to clatter to the floor, lost and forgotten, beeping loudly, stridently, with no one to pay it any heed.

He stumbled into the bathroom again, gathered what he needed and tried frantically to bind the wounds on Jean-Paul's wrists. To staunch the flow of blood. He must have succeeded at that, too, he realized. Because, when the paramedics arrived, the young French hero's color had improved slightly and his harsh breathing had eased a bit.

Warren's hands shook when he answered the door and it wasn't until he glimpsed the look of shock on the faces of the two paramedics there that he realized what a sight he must be: standing there, naked as he was born covered in blood.

"The bedroom," he husked. "In the bedroom." He pointed with a shaking hand and the two paramedics hustled their way passed him into the large, airy room. Bonelessly, he sank down onto the couch and buried his head in his hands, waiting.

It seemed a small eternity later as he dressed and cleaned himself before they emerged at last, talking brusquely to their hospital base over the two way radio they carried. "Copy that, Health One," said the taller, older of the two. "Emergency 57 is inbound. Patient is male, early to mid twenties. Deep, lateral lacerations on both wrists, ending at about the elbow. Apparently self inflected. Alert Psych. Possible suicide. Getting some pretty odd readings on the vitals, Base. Advise." On the stretcher, Jean-Paul lay quiet. So quiet, that for a moment, Warren's heart almost stopped, stuttering in his chest like a stammering child.

He blinked and swallowed, hard, rising to his feet with as much grace as he could find within him, which wasn't much at the moment, he suspected. Wordless eyes pleaded for information and the younger, less occupied paramedic took pity on him.

"We'll be taking him to Mount Sinai General," she said, hoping to calm him. "They're good there. He'll be in fine hands, don't worry. Did you do the bandages?" He nodded, numbly. "You did a great job," she told him, smiling with the confidence of experience. "Probably saved his life, in fact."

"I've ... had a lot of experience," he replied and could not quite keep the bitterness from his voice.

She frowned in sympathy. "Hey, you don't look too good yourself, guy," she hazarded. "Maybe you should ... "

Warren didn't let her finish the kindly meant suggestion. That, he was sure, would hurt more than his dully aching shoulder. "I'll be fine. Really. Can - can I ride along in the ambulance? To the hospital?"

The older paramedic started to shake his salt and pepper head, but his younger colleague whispered something to him and he relented, reluctantly, keeping his silence. Warren knew that the woman didn't think he heard her. But his hearing and eyesight were birdlike in that regard and so he understood her.

"Relax, Harv," she'd advised her companion in sibilant tones. "Look at the guy! He looks like he's been through a damned gang bang or something, for Christ's Sake! If he rides along with us, then we can keep an eye on him, too. In case something happens, you know? Don't worry. I promise to keep him out of trouble and out of the way."

The trip through the rain slick streets of Washington, sirens screaming, seemed well nigh endless to Warren. In a daze, he sat beside the unconscious Jean-Paul and tried not to interfere with the busy paramedics ministering to the young Frenchman. The hand on his shoulder that broke the spell of his reverie was surprisingly light and tentative as if it weren't sure that it should be there at all.

"If it helps any," the young, earnest paramedic murmured, "he's going to be all right, I'm pretty sure. Physically, anyway." The rest was left unsaid.

Always so much left unsaid.

The hospital was a nightmare come to life. The two paramedics disappeared inside with their precious burden, like being swallowed up by the earth itself. Warren tried to follow, but was deflected from his course by an efficient nurse whose heavyset frame and firm hand brooked no interference. Directed to the Emergency Waiting Room, he waited, slouched in a confining, uncomfortable chair. He couldn't lean back without pinching his already constricted wings in their tight harness. God, he hated that thing.

All about him, the world continued on its merry way, blithely ignoring one Warren Worthington III and his pain. Overhead, the intercom blared the names of doctors and patients alike. Strangers all. He was alone. Nurses clad in immaculate white hurried on their brisk way in silent, comfortable shoes. A youthful, chipper candy stripper tried to flirt with him and he cut her short shrift.

He couldn't seem to sit still. Couldn't seem to get comfortable in his stiff, unyielding chair. His wings tried to flex themselves, yearning for the freedom of the skies that was his by right of birth. Groaning, he stretched, trying to find a comfortable position, one that didn't pinch and chafe unmercifully. He failed. Cussing beneath his breath, he shot to his feet. God! He hated that damned harness. At times like these he couldn't imagine how or why he'd ever let the Professor talk him into the wearing the despised, damnably torturous thing. He ached.

He paced, his long legs darting from one end of the small waiting room to the other. He ran exhausted fingers through disheveled, now sweat slick hair and threw his suffering body down into the waiting chair. He thought it might be a different one this time. He wasn't sure. He tossed and turned in the chair's scant comfort, only to rise and pace again, tired as he was.

Still no word.

What were they *doing* in there?

Painful memories surfaced. Waiting outside Hanks small, tidy Infirmary for word from Hank or Cecelia. Pacing outside Moira's lab, pursued by the stinging demons of fear and doubt. Waiting for word on (fill in the blank). Waiting to find out if one of his very best friends in the world (fill in the blank) would live or die.

Waiting ...

It never got any easier, did it?

Never.

Groggily, he set leaden feet lurching toward the coffee machine in the long corridor outside. Caffeine. He needed caffeine. The five dollar bill he inserted popped back out immediately. He cursed roundly, loudly, drawing anxious glances, and reinserted it right side up this time. *pop* Right back out again. Desperately, he searched his pockets for change. Fifty cents. Fifty goddamned miserable cents. That's all he needed. He didn't have it. Someway, he was never quite certain how, he made his despairing way to the nurses station, angry footsteps echoing in the dead, eerie silence.

"Change," he croaked, his dry throat scratchy with disuse. "Anybody have change?" He proffered his five dollar bill and waited.

Of course, no one did.

Finally, a heavy set nurse with kind brown eyes and ginger colored hair

/Scott's eyes; Scott's hair/

/Oh Christ! Scott! Why? Why did you leave me? Was Nate so much more important to you than Jean and I were?/

took his hand and he found himself clutching two bright shiny new quarters in his trembling hand.

He closed his hand and his eyes.

"T-Thank you," he murmured.

But the damned machine was somehow more formidable now. He inserted his precious quarters and watched with trepidation as the LED's flashed acceptance at him while he studied the menu.

Cappuccino.

With or without cream. With double cream. Extra sugar. No sugar. Double sugar.

Expresso.

Single strength. Double strength. With whipped cream. Without whipped cream.

Cafe au lait.

With the works. With nothing. Extra everything.

Mocha latte.

Iced. Hot. Luke warm.

Hot chocolate.

With whipped cream. Without. With marshmallows. Without.

He gritted his teeth. Christ on a Cruise missile! Whatever happened to simple coffee, he wondered? Black. No cream, no sugar. No nothing! Just strong black coffee. That was all he wanted. Just a cup of coffee. Where the Hell was it?

Ah ha! There.

With careful fingers, he punched in the secret code for black coffee with rising relief and watched as, seconds later, the paper cup descended with a rattle.

At an angle.

With mounting despair he watched his much needed, hard worked for coffee pour itself merrily down the cursed machine's drain spout.

Damn!

He managed to hurt his hand when he tried to punch out the thieving machine and his foot when he kicked it. Hopping about, howling his pain, he didn't notice concerned eyes that darted his way, nor the hospital Security Officer who was aimed like an arrow in flight in his direction by pointing fingers and low, urgent, whispering voices.

"Goddamn it!" he exploded. "Goddamn it to Hell and back!"

Reaching out with his long arms, he encircled the coffee machine in a tight embrace, lifted it, and shook it like a child's toy. The muscles that powered his snow white wings, lifting him into the peace and freedom of the blue sky were amazingly strong. He pounded the machine on the floor, cracking the linoleum.

The Security Officer took several steps backward at this display of strength, uncertain, perhaps afraid, to act, blinking rapidly. Soundlessly, Warren slipped to the floor, his knees suddenly weak and useless, now. He closed his eyes and rested his flushed face against the cool, inviting metal and plastic surface of the broken machine, now leaking dark beverage stains the color of dried blood onto the cracked floor. One listless fist struck the machine several very weak blows before it fell powerless to his side. His blows were without strength now, powered only by his yawning despair.

"Coffee," he choked. "I only wanted a damned cup of coffee ... "

"Buddy?" came the guard's tenuous inquiry, soft and gentle as if it were afraid to call attention to itself. "Buddy? Are you okay?"

"God's bloody teeth, Hanrahan!" spat a firm voice that Warren did not recognize. "Does he look okay to you, man?"

"Doctor Bryan!" the beefy Officer breathed a sigh of relief, gusting his gratitude, despite the dig from the pudgy psychiatrist. "Thank God!"

Part 3

"At ease, boyo," Bryan said. "I'll take care of things here, now. On your way! That's a good lad."

He lay a compassionate hand on Warren's shaking shoulders. "Here, now, laddie-buck," he said softly. "Up with you, there," he urged. "On your feet."

The strength in those hunched shoulders, that barrel chest was surprising. Warren blinked back astonishment as he was lifted to unsteady feet and braced easily, lest his knees betray him once more. Brian Bryan was rather astounded himself. For someone so tall and well built, the boy was shockingly light of weight, he knew. As he guided Warren into an unoccupied office, he regarded him critically. Warren fell into the quickly proffered chair with a small 'ooomph' of exploding breath, slumped in dejection, and bowed his head. He was suddenly icy cold and his teeth began to chatter. He hugged himself tightly, as if trying to prevent the dogged escape of precious body heat.

"S-s-sorry about the cof-coffee machine," he began. "I-I-I'll pay for the damage .. "

Brian smiled as he handed Warren a not-so-fresh cup of hot coffee. "Never mind about that," was his sage advice. "I'm sure it was insured." He chuckled. "Can't tell you how many times I've wanted to do that to the damned thing. Did my heart good just to see it."

For long, measured moments Warren simply held the coffee, inhaling the warm fragrance and bathing his frozen fingers in its heat. He took a tentative sip and sighed.

"You must be Warren Worthington," Brian observed. "The young man who came in with Jean-Paul."

"Must I?" the X-Man responded bitterly.

Brian leaned back in his chair, studying Warren carefully, and propped his feet up on the clean, unoccupied desktop. "Don't you want to be Warren Worthington?" came his quiet inquiry.

Scowling fiercely, Warren looked away hastily in wordless reply.

"I'll take that as a no," Brian said cheerfully.

"Take it any way you want," Warren grunted.

"Sorry. Force of habit, I suppose. Asking questions is my job."

Warren lifted one pale blond eyebrow in a silent, unspoken question.

"I'm a psychiatrist," Brian admitted with an infectious grin. "To be more specific, I'm Jean-Paul Valley's psychiatrist."

Warren's blank look of complete confusion was priceless, Brian had to admit. "Jean-Paul has a shrink?" the superhero blurted.

Brian nodded solemnly. "Bona fide, card carrying," he insisted in a chipper voice. "Dually licensed by the District of Columbia and New York State." But then he frowned. "Good Lord, man! By the state of your face I'll hazard a guess that you've met Azrael ... Don't you think Jean-Paul *needs* me?"

Unbidden, Warren's fingers rose to briefly touch the still tender bruises littering his face and he smiled at the small pain they still harbored. Slowly, his hand fell away and the look of honest pleading he shot the stocky psychiatrist was heartrending.

"Please, how is Jean-Paul? Oh God, no one will tell me anything!" He ran his fingers through the tangled mass of his thick mane of blond hair. "I'm going crazy over here!"

Brian clutched his shaking hand and held it tightly. "Jean-Paul is fine," he said. "Physically, anyway," he amended in a small voice.

"What do you mean?" Warren asked.

The look of sudden tiredness that almost overwhelmed Brian Byran's broad features should, perhaps, have been the winged X-Man's first foreshadowing of what was to come. He did not miss it so much as not understand it.

The stubby psychiatrist scratched one thick, bushy eyebrow, almost in despair. "How can I explain this?" he wondered, speaking to himself more than to the anxious young man sitting restlessly in his chair. Finally, grasping the horns of the dilemma firmly, he plunged into the treacherous waters lapping at his reluctant feet.

"Jean-Paul isn't human." he sighed. "Not even remotely."

Warren's sky blue eyes widened in awe and wonder. His voice was almost joyous when he spoke next. "You - you mean he's a - a - *mutant*?"

Saddened, Brian shook his thinning head.. "No," he denied it and watched the disappointment blossom in Warren's eyes like a noxious weed taking root in a bed of flowers. "Jean-Paul isn't a mutant. I'm afraid it's not that simple." His lips stretched then and his craggy features brightened in a smile. Brian Bryan was not a handsome man, Warren noted, but he had a lovely smile. "By the way, boyo," Brian quipped, "you can take off that harness any time now. I recognized you right away. You're the X-Man they call the Angel, aren't you? That damned thing must be giving you fits by now. Take it off and good riddance, I say!"

Warren rose swiftly and already had his shirt half way off before Brian finished his sentence. "I don't understand," he said, his voice muffled by the cloth as he pulled the shirt off over his head and tossed it over the back of his chair. His fingers fumbled with the restraining buckles of the harness. "You say Jean-Paul isn't a mutant, but he's not human. What is he then?"

With a groan of relief that curled his toes, Warren Worthington, the high flying Angel, threw the discarded harness into a dusty little used corner of the empty office and stretched. His great snowy wings unfurled themselves and spread themselves out upon the longed for air. Under the florescent lighting of the office they glowed faintly with an inner light.

"Sweet Mary, Mother of God ... " Brian breathed reverently and only just managed not to cross himself by an act of will. Old habits died hard. "I -I -I can see why Jean-Paul is so fond of you," he marveled. "You're a lovely lad you are. May-may I touch them?"

For an answer, Warren extended one pristine wing tip, resting it on the desk. Might as well get this over with, he sighed. Everyone always wanted to touch his wings.

Tentatively, as if he were afraid to make something so beautiful real and perhaps soil it with unclean hands, Brian reached out and stroked the shining feathers with trembling fingers. His touch was gentle, so very, very gentle ...

Warren shivered and brought his knees together in an instinctive move to deny, perhaps, conceal his arousal. Which was a big mistake, he discovered. The rising pillar of eager flesh between his legs protested. Loudly. And Warren winced visibly.

Brian snatched his offending hand away as if he'd somehow burned it. "Christ. I'm sorry!" Brian cried, "I didn't mean to hurt you! I tried to be gentle, honestly I did!"

Warren looked away in acute embarrassment. He felt the heated blush that suffused him then and was even more humiliated. Damn! How long since that happened, he wondered? He hadn't blushed like that since he was a teenager.

"Don't worry, Doc," he stammered. "You were gentle enough. Maybe too gentle ... " To his abject horror, he blushed yet again. "Those wings are real flesh and blood. Part of my body with blood running through them and nerve endings. They're ... very sensitive." He gritted his teeth. He would not blush again. He wouldn't. "How do I put this tastefully? They're-they're a major erogenous zone for me, okay?"

Now it was Brian's turn to blush. "I - see," he blinked. "Forgive me, then, for taking such a liberty. I didn't realize."

"Jean-Paul?" Warren prompted. "He's not human but he's not a mutant? How can that be?"

Glad for a quick change of subject, Brian nodded. "The precise term, I believe, is 'genetic construct'. Jean-Paul is a clone, of sorts, of his 'father' Ludovic Valley. A clone with ... modifications ... "

Warren frowned in puzzlement. "Modifications?"

"Modifications." agreed Brian tersely. "Aye, there's the rub, don't you see?"

Warren waited patiently, his blue eyes calling desperately for answers. Brian gusted a deep sigh and stippled his fingers on the desk. This was going to be hard. So very, very hard on the young man sitting in that chair. Already he suspected that Warren Worthington cared deeply for Jean-Paul. When did that happen, he wondered? And so quickly. Why didn't I notice? He drew a shaky breath and closed his eyes. Lord God, why do you let such things happen? You're a through going bastard, you are.

Somewhere, somehow he found the words, puny inadequate things that they were.

"Have you ever heard of the Order of St. Dumas?" he asked, his voice distant and level. When Warren shook his bright head, Brian nodded. "I'm not surprised," he said curtly. "They don't exactly advertise in the local paper. As nearly as I could tell, they began in the 14th century as a secret, suppressed offspring of the Knights Templar, under the guidance of a French Knight named Dumas. They stole money from the Templars, disappeared, and never looked back. The heads of the Order became very rich men, indeed. And very corrupt. Somewhere along the way, they decided the Order needed an enforcer to keep the rank and file in line. So they created one."

Warren's eyes widened almost in shock and he swallowed hard. Brian paused to let him digest the unpalatable news. 'Oh, yes,' the psychiatrist decided, the knowledge twisting his guts, 'you *know*; you know very well what's coming, don't you laddy-buck?'

"It's called gene splicing," he continued in an even, steady voice, as if he were lecturing to a class, "and the Brothers of the Order were past masters of the art long before the rest of the world even suspected such a thing existed." 'That's the ticket, Brian me lad,' he congratulated himself, 'you're just passing on information, old son. That's all. Not as if you were speaking about anyone other than a patient. Of course not.' "Jean-Paul isn't human because not all the genes used to create him were human ones. Surely you noticed how strong he is?"

Warren caught his hand mid way to the bruises on his battered face this time and lowered it carefully, tucking it into the warm safety of his sheltering arm pit before Brian could remark on the trembling.

"I ... noticed ... " was all he said.

Brian nodded, schooling his features to blandness. "And how quick. He's a lot more durable than the average man on the street, too. Jean-Paul has never allowed himself to be closely examined and studied before. I don't think he wants to know the answers, frankly. But the doctors here are in for quite a few surprises, unless I'm very much mistaken. My guess is that the geneticists of the Order used certain gene sequences from one of the great apes to augment his strength. Feline genes for grace, speed, and agility, I should imagine. God alone knows what else. I'm sure I don't. And the Order isn't talking much these days. Unless it's to the Devil himself while they roast their arses before the Pit. Jean-Paul destroyed them. Every single one of them. Ironic isn't it? That they should be destroyed by the very thing they created to protect them. Azrael's only purpose was to kill the enemies of the Order. That's why they named him Azrael after the Angle of Vengeance and Destruction."

"Dear God ... " murmured Warren, horror shining out of his blue eyes like a lighthouse beacon.

Brain massaged the bridge of his nose with strengthless fingers. "I'm afraid He had little to do with it," the pudgy man cursed under his breath. 'Careful, Brian lad,' he ground his teeth, 'let's not lose that hard earned objectivity, now, shall we?'

"That's not all, I'm afraid. It gets worse. Much worse."

"How?!" Warren cried. "How? It isn't possible!"

"Yes," Brain assured him firmly, "it is. Oh, it's possible all right. There's Azrael 'training', after all. The Order called it 'the System'. 'The System' turns out to be an *extremely* effective form of operant conditioning involving physical torture as an infant to release a lifetimes supply of pent up rage, psychological torture and hypnosis to ensure his loyalty to the Order and deadliness in combat, and assorted other nastiness. The boy never had a chance. They used Azrael's mask as a trigger. When he puts on the mask he's Azrael with all the killing and destruction that means. Most of the time he's merely Jean-Paul Valley, a young and painfully shy academic who loves books and quiet rainy days and who's hell on wheels at hacking into any computer ever designed. But Azrael is always there, lurking in the background, waiting for Jean-Paul to weaken."

Brian was never sure exactly what it was that alerted the youthful X-Man. Some sixth sense, perhaps? Some faint rustle, a stir, a reflection or echo of something within himself? A commonality. A brother.

Or perhaps, when all was said and done, it was so simple and uncomplex a thing as the look in Brian's autumn colored eyes.

"You love him, too, don't you." Warren said quietly. It wasn't a question.

Brian Bryan's broad face drained itself of all expressing like a cup spilling an unpleasant beverage. "No." he replied carefully. "What makes you say that? He's ... a patient ... nothing more. I'm a doctor."

The look in Warren's eyes denied it. "Bullshit, *Doctor*. Don't try to con a con artist. I know all about those little games, believe me. And I know all about psychiatrists, too. I used to have one. The best that money could buy. Oh, yeah, she was good. So good that I finally had to seduce her to keep her out of my head. I was all of fourteen at the time. She was my first psychiatrist, but not the last. So don't tell me about shrinks, okay? I'm an expert at knowing when they've lost their objectivity. With me it's a survival skill. And I'm a quick learner, Doc. Very quick. We could sit here and discuss defense mechanisms and transference and libidos until the moon turns to green cheese and it wouldn't change a damned thing. You still love Jean-Paul."

Brian sat straight in his chair, visibly gathering his dignity about him like the comfortable folds of a protective cloak. "And if I do, Mr. Worthington?" Bitterness like stale brine reflected its harshness in Brian's brown eyes. "Would it matter? Look at me, Mr. Worthington. I'm fat, balding, and almost twenty years older than Jean-Paul. What chance do you think someone like me would have to capture his affections? You, on the other hand, are as beautiful as the Angel you're named for."

Warren colored again, but this time he didn't try to stop or conceal it. "Why don't you let Jean-Paul decide that?"

Brian resteppled his fingers and regarded Warren with the detached, clinical eye of his profession. "Don't you think that's rather an odd thing to say for someone who cares as much about Jean-Paul as you obviously do?"

For long moments the words simply lay there between them; an unanswered challenge. Warren studied his sockless feet assiduously. 'Bad form Warr, ol' boy,' he remonstrated himself sternly. 'Mummsy would be appalled.' With time, he found his voice once more.

"Because I do care," he whispered into the spreading silence. "I want the best for Jean-Paul. And that sure as Hell isn't *me*."

Still staunchly entrenched behind his shields of psychiatric dispassion, Brian lifted one bushy eyebrow in inquiry. "Why do you say that, Warren?" he asked. His busy fingers itched for his notebook to record the answer. Anything to divert his mind and heart. Anything.

Warren glanced away like an avalanche set upon it's hard path of destruction and desolation. Unconsciously his writhing fingers began to pick at the healing scabs covering the wounds blighting his face until he reopened them and they bled. Slowly, Brian reached out and took Warren's slender hands in his blunter, broader ones, holding them still.

"Warren, stop it," he commanded softly. "Stop it. Answer the question, please. Why do you say that you're bad for Jean-Paul? Why?"

"I'm bad for everyone," Warren's whispered reply was so fast, so immediate, it was virtually an echo. "I destroy everything I touch. I - I *break* things." Warren seemed to catch hold of himself, frowning, then schooling his aristocratic features to calm neutrality. Brian's ears metaphorically perked up but he gave no outward sign of it. His eyebrows didn't even so much as twitch.

"But we're not here to talk about me, are we, Doctor?" Warren insisted brusquely. "We're here to talk about JP."

"Well, in this case I think I'm safe in saying that the two subjects are rather intertwined, wouldn't you agree?" Warren stirred uneasily and Brian decided to practice the better part of valor and retreat gracefully, he hoped. He cleared his throat. "It really would be of tremendous help to me and to Jean-Paul if you could tell me what happened. To the best of you knowledge, of course." the psychiatrist requested earnestly. "Can you do that, Warren?"

Warren nodded, grateful, it seemed, for the subtle change of direction in the conversation. "I woke JP up this morning and ...Well, at least I *thought* it was JP ... I - I was wrong about that. Azrael called me a blasphemer not fit to be cast in the image of an Angel and beat the Hell out of me. When I woke up JP was on his knees praying, slowly bleeding to death. He - he tried to kill himself because he couldn't live with what Azrael had done to me." His hands curled themselves into fists. "I never knew ... " he choked back the simple words. "I knew about Azrael, sure. But, I never knew that he could appear like that; when he hadn't been summoned. I swear I didn't! I - I didn't know! Not consciously anyway... "

The Angel resisted the urge to bite his lip at the inadvertent, revealing faux pas. Damn! 'Careful Worthington,' he cautioned himself. 'You're Freudian slip is showing.'

'And I'll bet my license to practice medicine that you *did* know, boyo,' thought Brian. 'You needed Azrael to punish you, didn't you? After all, that's what Azrael does: he punishes the guilty. I wonder if you even know what you're guilty of'? I don't think you like yourself very much Warren Worthington III.'

"When can I see Jean-Paul?" the winged X-Man asked.

"That wouldn't be advisable," Brian returned cautiously.

The fear that was given birth by those common words overwhelmed Warren's pale features. "W-Why?!" he cried, his voice trembling. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

Brian shook his ginger colored head with vigor. "No, no," the older man appeased. "Not at all. But, Warren, I have to be honest with you. He might not recognize you. Might not even know that someone else was in the room. He's been heavily sedated."

Instantly, Warren's lips peeled themselves back from his perfect, white teeth in the beginnings of a snarl. "Sedated? Don't you mean 'medicated', *Doctor*? Oh, I know all about 'medication'! I've seen patients 'medicated' right out of existence. One of my shrinks prescribed some 'medication' for me once. 'Here,' he said, 'take these. Every four hours. More if you feel as though you need it. They'll help keep you calm.' Yeah, I was calm all right. Really calm. So calm that I could sit down in a chair, because I really didn't feel like doing much of anything else, look up at the clock, blink, look at the clock again and three hours had passed."

Brian sighed. "Warren, that's not the case here and I think you know it. I wouldn't do that to Jean-Paul. Never. If nothing else, I'm a better doctor than that. This sedation is for the best, you have to trust me. Best for Jean-Paul at the moment and for ... others. Can you imagine some poor, clueless fool awakening *Azrael*? The Angel is very close to the surface right now."

The angry X-Man turned ghostly white as all the blood left his face in a rushing tide. He nodded. "Brian, please. I still want to see him. I- I *need* to see him, okay? Just to make sure that he's - that he's - he's not -" The winged mutant swallowed hard.

"That he's not going to leave?" Brian inquired softly. "All right Warren. You've certainly earned the right to see Jean-Paul if you like. Come along, now, laddie-buck."

Warren heard the voices long before Brian did, naturally. As soon as the pair of them turned the corner down the long guarded corridor into the Psychiatric Ward, Warren heard the voices.

A soft feminine contralto. ""How's it going Yablondski?"

A face cracking yawn, then a lethargic baritone. "Boooorrrring! God, I hate suicide watch!"

"Yeah. Copy that. Not a lot of fun. Jesus. Just look at him. What could drive somebody like that to try and kill themselves, I wonder?"

A snort of disgust followed swiftly by an unpleasant snicker. "Down, girl! Down. Darla darlin', he's not you type, sweetheart."

Puzzlement. "What in the Hell are you talking about, Blondie?"

"He's a fag, babe. A fag! Fact is, I hear that's why he's here. He and his little butt-buddy got into one bitch of a fight and Pretty Boy here tried to oft himself."

Anger and indignation. "Yablondski, when was the last time you washed out that sewer you call a mind?!"

Amusement. "Yesterday."

Brian must have heard, Warren decided. Else why grab his hand so firmly to prevent him from storming around the corner and doing something very foolish? "Warren! No!" the shorter man hissed, low in his throat. "Allow *me*."

Stepping around the corner, Doctor Brian Bryan glared at John Yablondski, orderly, the physician's eyes flashing cold fire at the large beefy man. "I'm glad to see you so amused, Johnny me lad," he said cheerfully. "Here's hoping the remains of the day go as well for you, although I'm thinking not, boyo." The big orderly's heart sank. Warren could clearly see that in the larger man's hazel eyes.

Brian's hands came to rest on his wide heavy set hips. "Get out!" he snarled between tightly clenched teeth. "Don't bother to stop and pick up your wages. I'll mail them to you. Leave. Now. Do not pass GO do not collect $200."

Tail tucked firmly between his legs, the orderly slinked away, fleeing down the corridor. Brian turned to the smiling nurse. "Miss Hampton, would you be so kind as to find me another orderly for this watch? And please inform the Charge Nurse that we'll no longer be requiring the services of the unlamented Mr. Yablondski."

"Yes, Doctor," nurse Darla Hampton returned with satisfaction and hurriedly departed upon her urgent errand.

Brian lead the way to Jean-Paul's bedside, then stepped discreetly aside to allow as much privacy as he might under the distressing circumstances. Warren was grateful for that. More than he could say. Jean-Paul Valley was curled into a tight fetal ball on the small bed that was almost to short for his tall body. For several moments Warren simply stood there watching the rhythmic rise and fall of the other man's broad chest, the soft sound of his breathing, just to assure himself that it was there. Jean-Paul's hand, clutching the heavy blanket as though he were cold, was tucked, child-like, beneath his sharp chin. 'He looks so peaceful,' Warren thought, 'so innocent.' Slumbering in his drugged bliss, Jean-Paul fought no demons, waged no endless, losing battles against himself. He looked like an Angel. Reaching out, the mutant superhero who was also an Angel of sorts, albeit a Fallen one in his own eyes, carefully rearranged the tangled blanket.

With fingers that trembled only slightly, Warren stroked the silken softness of that long blonde hair. Beneath his hands, Jean-Paul stirred, curling into the caress. He seemed to know the feel of his lovers touch upon his body and Warren's heavy heart lightened then stuttered in his chest. The tiny blissful smile that spread itself so slowly like the breaking dawn over Jean-Paul's face damn near broke that heart.

"JP?" Warren whispered.

At the sound of Warren's voice the young man lying on the rumpled bed moaned plaintively, keening like a lost child, and moved away from Warren's comforting hands. His body thrashed and writhed and he pulled the scant protection of the blanket's uncertain cover over his head as if that might block out the unwanted sound of that too familiar voice.

"Nonnonnonnonnon ... " he wept in a seemingly endless torrent of tears and that single, damning word.

Shaken and stunned, Warren stepped back at almost the same moment that Brian sprang forward. "Warren, please," the doctor urged the young X-Man who's world was crashing to thunderous ruins all about him. "Please, could you wait outside? For just a bit? Please go."

Without a word the taller man complied. His nose pressed against the observation glass of the tiny room, his tears leaving rainbows streaming down that solid barrier, Warren Worthington saw it all unfold.

Perched precariously upon the frontiers of the hospital bed, Brian Bryan spoke to Jean-Paul Valley. "Shhhh. Shhhh. It's all right. I'm right here, lad. Brian Bryan ... the worlds worst psychiatrist. I won't let anything hurt you, I promise. I promise. Shhhh."

Warren leaned his forehead against the cool inviting glass and closed his eyes.

'Me,' he thought in mounting despair. 'He's talking about *me*'

And then Brian Bryan began to sing. Low and soft, his unskilled, tremulous voice fumbling with the words and the tune, but not the love at the heart of them. A simple song. A child's nursery rhyme.

"Hush little boy now don't you cry
Daddy's gonna buy you a mocking bird
And if that mocking bird won't sing
Daddy's gonna buy you a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring won't shine
Daddy's gonna buy you some columbine ...

Dying slowly inside, inch by inch, Warren Worthington III, the high flying Angel, X-Man and hero, watched as his lover smiled once more. Relaxing muscle by muscle under Brian's tender ministrations, Jean-Paul murmured softly in his native French, and then fell into the peaceful embrace of Morpheus.

" ... belle ... belle ... " he whispered, "... belle ... "

Warren spoke four languages. Among them, French.

" ... beautiful ... beautiful... " he translated, " ... beautiful ... "

He dried his tears with a quick swipe of his sleeve.

'Congratulations, Brian. Well done. Oh, very well done.'

When an exhausted Brian Bryan emerged at last from Jean-Paul's bedside he looked about for Warren Worthington. Frowning when he did not see him, the healer of the mind began to search more thoroughly.

But Warren Worthington was nowhere to be found.

He was gone.

Brian Bryan, the self styled "world's worst psychiatrist" sagged into a chair at the end of the long corridor. Irrationally his mind would not let go of the children's rhyme traipsing merrily through his memory.

"And if that columbine's not sweet
Daddy's gonna buy you some love, petite ... "

The End