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Avenger Assembled

Angels Unaware (IC)

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5/16/2011

Midtown

His mother didn't complain, of course she didn't. There was no hiding the extent of her wound, though; the long, deep gouge of burning acid that had cut across her armor and into angelic flesh beneath, inflicting a wound terrible enough that surely any mortal would have died of shock at least. As it was, she simply bit her lip and stared wordlessly at father and son, the harsh reality of the material plane both dulling the agony of her wound and making its treatment all the more urgent. "CALL YOUR FRIEND," said Heyzel's father in that deep, booming voice he used in the material world. "BEFORE WE HAVE TO GO EVEN FURTHER BELOW TO FIND SUCCOR." For his part, the angel of Freedom was worried. He hadn't expected to find the place nearly deserted!

Fleur de Joie was on patrol, or at least garden patrol, when her phone rang. Things had been quiet for the League in the last few months, quite a blessing with her baby growing closer and closer to fruition, and calls on her special League line hadn't come in that often. What was really peculiar, though was the caller ID that told her the call was coming from her own apartment. "Hello, Fleur? It's Heyzel." The Angel of Freedom had been out of town for much of the last few months, but she'd caught occasional glimpses of him on the international news. "I'm sorry to call you," he said, urgency in his rich, warm voice, "but I have a wounded soul who needs your help. Please come back to your apartment as soon as you can."

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Stesha didn't even bother to say anything in response to the call, instead, raising her hand to touch the flowers in her hair and teleport. Suspecting traps was not in her nature, and when a teammate called to say they needed help, she certainly wasn't going to hesitate! She didn't know exactly what Heyzel had been up to lately, but he wouldn't have called if it wasn't important.

Within moments, she was stepping out of a large hyacinth blossom in her own living room and looking around for her unmistakably angelic teammate. She herself was looking quite different from last time Heyzel had seen her; in her green leggings and a colorful maternity smock that showed off a popping tummy, Fleur looked a lot like a blooming flower herself. "What's wrong?" she asked.

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She knew Freedom Angel well enough; Heyzel looking unusually stressed. From the feathers on the floor of her apartment, he'd shed a few in his worry. The other people there were new: the muscular, barrel-chested man in black in the corner, giving worried looks to the badly-injured woman on Stesha's couch. No, not a man and not a woman: the man's wings were as black as Heyzel's were white, looking more like great vulture wings than dove's, while both wore the sort of Romanesque armor that she associated with her friend the angel. "It's my mother," said Heyzel, taking her hand. "She was...she was wounded in a battle elsewhere," he explained as he led the healer to her side. "And none of our arts could cure her." The short, compact brunette was obviously in pain, and no wonder: it looked as though something made of acid had reached out and burned into her ribcage, right through metal armor. "Oh, you're a mother...Father?"

The barrel-chested angel took a step back, carefully avoiding the near-presence of Fleur, and said snappishly, in a voice like the rumbling of thunder, "I DO KNOW MY WORK, BOY. IF YOUR FRIEND CAN HELP, LET HER HELP."

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Eric was on the monorail back to the West End when the sound of wings filled his head. It had been a mostly uneventful day at work -- for once, there hadn't been one of those imminent disasters that drew him out on his thirty minute break. The train was pulling into St. George's stop when he heard the rustling of wings in the back of his head. He was out of the train just before it pulled out of the station, rushing out onto the street. He paused, shutting out the sound of the evening commute and isolating the steady swoop. He ran in the direction of the wings.

I've heard those wings before, he thought as he sprinted down the streets and alleys of Midtown. Which really means something. Guy like that comes and goes silently, ducking through everywhere and leading those who need him on. If he's corporeal, that must mean something big is going on. Don't tell me someone's trying one of those damn binding things...

He stopped outside the unfamiliar apartment, calling upon the shadowy corridor to the chamber that held his costume. When the shadows cleared, Nick Cimitiere emerged. He extended an ear towards the door; when he was sure there was no ritual chanting going on, he gave it a tentative knock.

"Hello?" he asked. "Everything okay in there?"

Aside from the Psychopomp of Psychopomps just deciding to show up in there, that is...

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"Oh, you poor thing," Stesha tutted, after sucking in a quick breath at the severity of the wound. She had a strong stomach, even now, and that was a very lucky thing. "She needs the armor off, and I'll have to get my things..." She half turned at the sound of the knock. Someone coming to the door now? It had to be someone who'd been called, or who just noticed something strange going on. Hopefully not one of her neighbors. "Could one of you get that?" she asked the men, even as she opened a basketball-sized flower and began to rummage through it for her healing supplies.

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The angel of death opened the door for Nick, black vulture wings spreading behind him, eyes flashing with the empty gaze of Eternity. At least until he saw Nick. "HELLO, NICK." Had he been quite so tall and buff the last time they'd met? "I DIDN'T THINK TO SEE YOU AGAIN SO SOON." Past the wings of the Great End, Nick could see Fleur and Freedom Angel bending over a badly-burned female angel on Fleur's couch, Heyzel slowly and gently undoing his mother's armor one clasp at a time.

"She held off the Giallo Imperatore alone when he broke through our lines, I couldn't believe it," Heyzel was muttering to Stesha as the shockingly deep injuries were revealed. "Father and I had to cut her free of his tentacles. When nothing we could do helped, you were the first person I thought of. Ssh, it'll be all right..." As her armor came off, revealing the full extent of her deep wound, she hissed something that was probably untranslatable. "Fleur de Joie is the finest healer on Earth, and she's bringing life herself now. She'll fix this."

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"...um. Hi, Azrael." Nick tried to remain calm; he'd met Azrael once before, and even knowing him, there was this sense of majesty and inevitability that seemed to radiate off him like heat off of a forest fire. He looked over to the couch. "Heyzel? Fleur? And -- oh, God, that woman!"

The fact that the angel of death, the man who would herald the end of time itself, was standing in the doorway. Nick ducked under the angel's wingspan and ran over to the couch. It was only when he got to the couch that he realized Fleur was already hard at work addressing the woman's wound. "Anything I can do to help, Fleur?"

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Stesha looked up, a quick smile crossing her concerned face as she recognized an ally. She wasn't sure what had brought Nick Cimitiere to this neck of the woods, but an extra pair of hands couldn't hurt. "Um, let's see, do you have any healing abilities, narcotic power, mind control?" she asked. "I could use some help managing her pain while I'm doing the healing. I don't know if angels experience shock, but I don't want her to hurt anymore."

She herself had laid out an assortment of what looked like plant-based poultices and infused oils, but at the moment she was washing her hands with alcohol wipes. "I could also use some boiling water, and towels and washcloths from the hall closet," she added, in case his powers didn't run in any of those directions. "It's all right," she told the wounded woman, her voice soothing and confident. "We're going to take care of you."

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Her eyes snapped open as she looked at Fleur, face white with suppressed pain. "Your child will meet a boy when she is but a girl," she hissed in a strange, heavy accent. "They will be in love, but not know it until they are much older. Do not trust him until he know he loves her!" She flinched at that, and fell silent, but was soothed by Stesha and her son' reassuring presence.

"When we're not at war, my mother follows mothers and their daughters," said Heyzel, giving her a worried look. "She must have been...Never mind. Listen to Stesha," he told his mother with an angel' authority and a son's love, "You need to rest. You've fought the fight for Good, just as you always do." He nodded at Nick's arrival and gave him space as well, folding his wings tightly behind him. "The passage from Heaven cleansed the acid from her wound, but the damage had been done already."

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Stesha looked up, a quick smile crossing her concerned face as she recognized an ally. She wasn't sure what had brought Nick Cimitiere to this neck of the woods, but an extra pair of hands couldn't hurt. "Um, let's see, do you have any healing abilities, narcotic power, mind control?" she asked. "I could use some help managing her pain while I'm doing the healing. I don't know if angels experience shock, but I don't want her to hurt anymore."

"I can heal," Nick said. "It's a bit like halting the flow of death, telling it to back up. Never done it on an angel before, but... well, I suppose there's always a first time for everything..." Following Fleur's lead, Nick pulled out a bottle of hand sanitizer and went to work with it before picking up one of the alcohol cloths. He'd taken to carrying it around everywhere, between his nights in graveyards and his days in the coffee shop.

"The passage from Heaven cleansed the acid from her wound, but the damage had been done already."

"That's good to hear," he said. "God, what sort of thing did this? A demon? There's a reason I stay away from -- " Under the make-up, Nick blanched. "Wait a minute. Giallo Imperatore... the King in -- oh, God, not him..."

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The wound itself was far more Stesha's focus now than what had caused it, but even so, she looked up at Nick's tone of voice. "I don't recognize that name," she admitted. "Whoever it was, I'm glad the acid didn't follow you to the mortal plane. Nasty stuff. All right, Heyzel," she continued, giving her friend a compassionate look, "I want you to hold her hand now. This is not going to feel very good. Nick, whenever you're ready?"

She took a vial of oil and unstoppered it, pouring it over the gaping wound. The air was suddenly filled with the pungent scent of herbs and an energy that was purely organic and full of life. It seemed almost as though the oils were less the cure themselves and more a vector or focus for the plant controller's power, but either way, it seemed to be doing something. Stesha followed the first bottle with several more, murmuring under her breath the whole time as the wound began, slowly, to close up.

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Nick could smell the rush of strong herbs, and through his senses, he could feel the flow of death retreating from the angel. He pushed his hand gently against the angel's side; with his touch, he could sense the force shoring up, like an army retreating and setting up a rear guard. He grabbed a hold of the necrotic force and leeched it out, driving down its defenses and causing it to retreat further.

"It's called the King in Yellow," he said to Fleur. "A godlike entity, or something on that tier. He represents this kind of... contagious madness. Man, I wish Warlock were here, he could explain this so much better than I could." He took a breath. "Basically, you've got some of the more amoral death gods, who want everyone to go to that good slumber regardless of whether or not it's their bed time. Then you've got demons and other hell entities, who make it their great work to corrupt, harrow, and blight. Then you've got these guys. They don't want death, or suffering. In some cases, they don't want anything, or if they want it, it's at complete right angles of mortal understanding. Their very being blights creation."

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"THEIR MASTER HAS LAID SIEGE TO THE GATEWAYS OF HEAVEN," boomed the angel of death with a terrible finality. "THE WAR HAS BEEN DIFFICULT." As Jeanne D'Arc's wounds healed, she joined her husband and son in a prayer of thanks before she sat up, taking Fleur's hand. "Thank you, Fleur de Joie," she said, her accent now definitely sounding French. "I am grateful for your help." She laid a hand on Fleur's stomach for just a moment, then rose to confer with her husband in a language that wasn't. That left Heyzel to look to Fleur and Nick.

"I was called away from my work in the Middle East to deal with that. It's been..." He rubbed his eyes. "Very difficult," he admitted, losing another feather behind him. "As much as defending Creation matters, losing the connection to the material world has been so hard. It's all brightness and purity there, but...this is where people actually live." He shrugged, looking a little helpless. "How have things been?"

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"Be careful," Fleur warned Jeanne, "you still lost a lot of blood. You need to take it easy and rest. Can you eat food?" Indeed, Stesha's couch looked as though it could use an entire bottle of peroxide and still would probably not come clean. She pushed herself laboriously to her feet, one hand on the couch and the other on the small of her back as she tried to regain her balance. "Things have been all right here," she told Heyzel, "though we have missed you. It's nice to see you back." She looked from him to the feathers on the floor. "Are you all right?" she asked solicitously.

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"Things have been okay down here," Nick said as he took a look over the woman on the couch. "Met up with quite a few heroes since the last time we talked. Got a good communal headquarters set up for those practitioners who need a place to, well, practice. Dealt with werewolves, time travel, infernalists trying to breed paranoia, Baron Samedi -- the usual."

Something Heyzel had said during the initial mess finally registered in the back of his head. "Wait, wait, wait," he said. "Azrael's your dad?"

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"Yes," said Heyzel, shooting Nick a curious look, as if the discussion that his father was the embodiment of death itself meant nothing. "Did I never-no, I suppose I didn't. Yes, my father is the Malak al-Maut, He Who Has Four Faces and Four Thousand Wings, the all-conquering Angel of Death." He shrugged, looking at his father. "I never really thought it as special. It was his calling in the choir, and how I met my mother. I suppose I should introduce her as well, if I am not to look an ungrateful son! Fleur de Joie, Nick Cimitere, this is my mother Jeanne."

The newly-healed angel nodded, holding her husband's hand, and said, "It is a pleasure. I would take your food," she added to Fleur, "as long as I do not leave your home, the power that keep my husband and I here will allow us your hospitality. Your pardon for the couch," she said as she followed Fleur into the kitchen, "I have not bled so in many centuries. The color will fade in a few hours, but the power of the relics will remain."

"DOES IT SURPRISE YOU THAT I WOULD HAVE A WIFE AND SON, NICK?" asked the angel of death, his black wings folded behind him like a cape. "TO BE ALONE AMONG THE ANGELS IS A GATEWAY TO THE FALL." He eyed Nick and said, "YOU SHOULD TAKE A SPOUSE, NECROMANCER. TO LIVE ONLY IN DEATH IS UNHEALTHY FOR A MORTAL."

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"Oh, don't worry a thing about it," Stesha said lightly, pulling out a dining chair for Jeanne to sit in and opening her extremely well-stocked freezer. "It's just an old comfy thing anyway, I've already moved the good one to our second home. The last thing anyone should worry about when they're injured is whether or not they're going to bleed on the furniture." She looked over the selection of carefully stockpiled and labeled meals, all stored against the days when she'd be too busy and frazzled to cook for herself.

"Here's a vegetarian lasagna," she reported, pulling one out and popping it in the microwave to defrost. "I hope that will work for everyone." She pressed a glass of water on Jeanne, then took a seat herself. The residual adrenaline of the past few minutes had filtered downward, resulting in an epic kickboxing match against her diaphragm that was hardly comfortable. She ran a soothing hand over her own stomach. "So you have been fighting alongside Heyzel outside this plane lately?" she asked. "It sounds like it's been very big."

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For quite a few seconds, Nick really had nothing to say to the fact that the Angel of Death had told him to settle down with someone. When he finally got his act together, he cleared his throat. "Forgive me, Azrael," he said. "Last time we met, I never really got a chance to inquire into the family situation. I wasn't really surprised, just... well, surprised that I know your son."

I really hate being awkward before an emissary of God.

Nick accepted Fleur's offer of vegetarian lasagna with a gracious nod. He looked over to Heyzel. "Last time we talked, you said Baron Kriminel had tried to storm Heaven. Is this just the King engaging in one of his little bouts this time, or has someone tried to start an organized offense amongst the gods?"

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Freedom Angel was on one knee as they came back in, picking up the feathers he'd shed in his nervousness. "This is nothing like the voudon raids," he said, shaking his head. "The pagan pantheons have long-threatened Heaven's walls, and of course the forces of the Adversary have been attempting to climb the mountain for millennia. This is something much worse than that," he added, a look of momentary disgust on his angelic face. "If this had been going on when I left, I'd never have gotten permission to leave in the first place."

"Something has them stirred up," said Jeanne, her voice that of an experienced soldier. "Something on this plane, on the Prime Material, has the forces of the Unspeakable One more agitated than even the oldest angels have seen. We've been concerned their master might be planning to slip his bonds and attack our walls directly. But so far, with the grace of God, it's been only the weaker ones: the Yellow one, the priest of the Star-Spawn, and the rest. It's been hard. Some of those we care for have been taken below. But the trust has been kept. No blessed soul has so much as known fear from the assaults of the enemy." She looked to Fleur and said with a maternal smile, "Yes, it's been refreshing. My son has been diplomat first and warrior next for quite some time." She ruffled Heyzel's curly black hair affectionately.

"Blake Salazar was lucky to escape the taint of corruption when he did," said Freedom Angel to Nick, blushing a little at his mother's attention. "If all that had remained on his soul, he might be facing a grim eternity now." To Fleur, he said, "I might still be there now, if not for this, and for what we've decided. Even with our walls under threat, Heaven can't pretend that we have nothing to do with Earth. I'm still needed here, and now that I have Mother and Father's reassurance, I will be staying."

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"That's good to hear," Stesha told Heyzel with a smile. The news about war on another plane was worrying, but if there was anything she'd learned from being with Dark Star, it was that there were many bad situations that were entirely out of her control, and all she could do was support the ones who fought and hope they were up to the task. She certainly had enough challenges within her own sphere of influence not to even want to take anything else on! "We've missed having you on the League, and in the city. And the muffins just haven't been the same."

Rising once more from her seat, she went over to slide the waxed paper pan of lasagna into the oven, then began slicing up a loaf of homemade bread. "Ah, no one has an aversion to garlic here, do they? I can never keep my mythologies straight on that sort of thing."

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"No aversions over here," Nick said, "allergenic or otherwise." He stewed over the news Heyzel had brought down. He tried to avoid getting into politics amongst the gods and psychopomps -- every so often, he would gleam some knowledge off of Hecate or take an accidental lesson from Ereshkigal, and on occasion he might call upon some of the friendlier deathlords, such as Papa Ghede or Azrael. But an organized assault of this kind was unprecedented, as far as he could tell. And the way Heyzel was describing it, it sounded like the forces of Hell weren't even stopping to trade whispers with the Unspeakable One's children. God only knows what would happen if they decide torture and madness would make a great combo...

He instead focused on lighter things. "I'm glad you're back, Heyzel," he said. "This city does need its angels sometimes. Scary, intense men in black just don't cut it sometimes."

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It wasn't easy making casual table chatter with three angels at the table, but say what you will for angels, they were at least very charismatic. Heyzel talked about the work he'd been doing in the Middle East before his call back to the Heavens, something which he admitted hadn't been going that well. "People want to live in peace, even politicians and military leaders. But governments, nations, causes, they are stern taskmasters that care not for the well-being of humanity. I did all I could, but I think the work will take men, not angels."

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"That's what it always comes down to in the end, we can only do what we can. People have to find their own way," Stesha agreed sympathetically. While talk had been going on around the table and the food cooked, she'd been making a salad. It was a rather fascinating process to watch, since instead of going to the fridge or opening a bag, she'd grown the vegetables in her hands one at a time, then shredded or cut or tossed them into the bowl. It would be a very fresh salad. Finally, with everything prepared, she set the food on the table and motioned for everyone to dig in. "You especially," she reminded Jeanne, "all this is very good for you."

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"When you get down to it, it is the human experience," Nick said as he put the napkin into his lap. "But you did what a lot of us do - you set an example for the people. I know you've got a lot of postmodernists who say that superheroes have become the gods of the new millennium. Well, either superheroes or celebrities, depends on the scholar. But we're still mortal clay -- pretty hardy clay in some cases, but still fallible on occasion. And there have been times when even we cast our shadows, or fall in the face of the odds. You, though -- you represent something transcendent, Heyzel. The possibility to the people of this city of a higher principle, a guiding hand in creation. Justice, decency -- all that comes with the idea of Heaven."

Oh, well. So much for being neutral.

Nick took a bite into the lasagna. "This is incredible, Fleur," he said. "Great use of mozzarella."

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Everyone at the unlikely dinner ate, all of them enjoying the meal Stesha had worked so hard to prepare despite her condition. Faced with another mother, Jeanne delighted in telling stories about her own expectancy, though from the sound of things the process was very different in Heaven. "At least you won't be chasing around a winged baby," she said with a laugh, "even if her father is a flier." It seemed some things were, between mother and son, even in the Hereafter.

"I HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING YOUR WORK ON YOUR NEW WORLD WITH SOME PLEASURE, FLEUR DE JOIE," boomed the angel of death as he ate. "CLOSING DOWN A UNIVERSE IS DIFFICULT WORK. I AM PLEASED TO HAVE IT DELAYED BY MANY EONS YET. ESPECIALLY WITH SUCH WORK IN HEAVEN."

"Has your doctor been able to tell you anything about the baby?" Heyzel asked Fleur, not immediately sure of exactly how things worked in the mortal sphere after so much time away. "Will you be able to give birth at home?" He knew, or thought, anyway, that most women preferred that kind of spiritual connection to the often sterile in too many ways procedures in hospitals. At least having been blessed by angels, he himself could be sure that said baby would be well and happy.

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