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crack my sides to let me see if the end will set me free

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The Angel of the Panera Bread was having a pretty unpleasant day.

A customer had demanded to speak to him about the quality of service that she had received (she’d sworn the cashier hadn’t said any form of “enjoy your food!” which, as far as the Angel could tell, was neither true nor important even if it was), they had run out of straws and been forced to borrow some from the neighboring restaurant, and somebody had dropped a large iced tea on the floor. Given that everyone was busy it fell to the Angel to mop it up, which of course he was happy to do. He was proud of his dominion, after all. He enjoyed being of service. However, the iced tea had seeped in through his non-slip sneakers and into his socks, and the Angel was frankly, deeply displeased with this turn of events.

And now, at the end of the night, with everyone tired and covered in powder from the nonstick food safety gloves and sticky with various foodstuffs, they were out of pens. He hunted through every drawer, searched the desk in the back room, had the kitchen staff and the cashiers turn out their pockets—and when he did find a pen, several dry and deep squiggles against the morning checklist (one of which scratched through the paper) proved that it did not have ink, and he needed to leave a note for the morning crew, so that he could rest while they managed the morning bake.

There was no legal liability when an angel ran an errand for their dominion, unlike the humans who could claim injury or damages in the event of an accident, or pay for their time, and so, he set off down the street to the nearest corner store, folded himself and his wings through the entryway and purchased a small box of ballpoint pens at the register. The corner store did not have an angel of its own. Likely, it was too small, or not very busy. He felt almost sorry for the cashier, with the dark circles under her eyes and the jumpy way that her gaze flicked over to the door every time the bell rang.

“Careful out there,” she said, but gave no explanation.

On his way back, he kept his path to directly under the bright round haloes of the streetlamps, the horrible stickiness in his socks from the iced tea no better with time or distance, and he longed very desperately for his quarters, the top of the building, reserved for him and him alone, though he was not really supposed to like that very much. Angels didn’t have private lives, but they did need to sleep sometimes.

He made it almost all of the way back to the Panera.

Just outside of an alleyway, not a mere fifty paces to his dominion, he felt—something. It did not draw him in, rather repulsed him, but the Angel of the Panera Bread knew this meant that whatever he felt was very bad.

He paused. There was a faint shifting of fabric, the soft click of a boot against the ground.

“Nameless?” said the creature in the dark. Its voice was unmistakably from the throat of something shaped like a human, and yet still almost a growl.

The Angel of the Panera Bread almost instinctively puffed up his chest, his wingfeathers (which ranged in color from light tan to chestnut) bristling with indignation—he was not Nameless, he had a dominion, he was the Angel of the Panera Bread at the Corner of Guillermo Court and De La Cruz Avenue, thank you very much!—when the full magnitude of the situation hit him, an ice cold chill down his back.

“What does a vampire want with a Nameless?” he asked.

He felt, rather than saw or heard, the thing in the dark draw back.

“Never mind,” said the vampire, and a wave of psychic energy washed over the alleyway—

“That’s not going to work on me,” said the Angel, or Guillermo, as he was known to the Panera employees and a few regulars. “Did you have a task for the Nameless?”

“You do not have the right to ask me that. This is not your dominion,” said the vampire, who had an accent that Guillermo did not recognize. He had a vague impression that it might be Middle Eastern. “I do not have to tell you that. I am leaving now.”

“Do you want the full attention of the Consensus on this street corner?” asked Guillermo. “Look, were you trying to lure someone? Using a Nameless?”

Guillermo stepped into the shadows, and as his eyes adjusted he saw the vampire. His first impression was—tall. Richly dressed, for someone standing in a dark alleyway late at night—but then he noticed, mud around the hems of the vampire’s pants and his cloak (and who wore a cloak, these days? He must have been old). His hair was greasy, and unkempt, but tied up in a half-bun at the top of his head.

“You will call the Consensus on me anyway if I say I was,” said the vampire, and Guillermo had never heard a vampire sound so peevish before. But he was right. Using a Nameless for such a purpose was an appalling crime. An abuse of the utmost magnitude.

“Okay, so,” said Guillermo. “Don’t say it then.”

The vampire stared at him.

“And lie? To an angel?”

Guillermo, despite himself, laughed.

“Are you very hungry?”

Yes,” said the vampire desperately. “It has been days since I fed. I have been… asleep, for a very long time. The world is very different.”

“Yeah, but, you can’t just go ask a Nameless to get you a victim,” said Guillermo. “Honestly, you shouldn’t ever have been able to.”

“There were ways,” said the vampire, lightly. “They did not have to know what they were doing. Only that it was a task. Sometimes, I hypnotized a human to find a Nameless for me and ask themselves.”

Guillermo, as easily as he had been charmed by the vampire a few moments ago, now found himself shivering again. He couldn’t say when the last time was that he’d met a vampire. Perhaps it had been when he was Nameless, himself. They had no need of a restaurant, after all.

…But they might, Guillermo realized, take an interest in a human just outside of one.

“Will it kill you to drink from me?” said Guillermo. “Instead of someone else around here? Like, say, for example—if somebody left my Panera.”

“Your Panera,” repeated the vampire, thoughtfully.

“Will it hurt you?” repeated Guillermo, stepping forward again.

The vampire looked down at him, licking his lips.

Guillermo couldn’t say why he’d done it. It was supposed to be because he was a—a shepherd. Of humans. He was supposed to be a shepherd.

But he’d never heard of a shepherd offering himself to the wolf, though, and leaving the flock behind. Something shifted inside his mind, dizzying and strange, and leaving him almost giddy. It wouldn’t kill him, he rationalized, to be a small supper for the vampire. It might kill the vampire, which would be a… win.

(This was bad, he knew. It wasn’t a war, not in this day and age. He wasn’t supposed to think that way.)

And if he didn’t kill the vampire, well. It was a different kind of thrill, in that case.

“This is what I do, anyway,” said Guillermo, trying to sound nonchalant, and almost certainly failing. “I feed, um, people. Where’s your hunt?”

The vampire scoffed.

“They do not share. We are a small family,” said the vampire. “And they expect me to find my own food.”

“So,” said Guillermo, “you found some.”

He took a deep breath, and searched his pants for the box cutter he carried with him at all times. The vampire watched, breathlessly intent (of course he was, Guillermo realized, he didn’t need to breathe), as Guillermo extended the blade, and drew it across his palm.

The same floaty, giddy feeling returned.

He held his hand out to the vampire, blood welling up and dripping down onto the pavement, where it glowed briefly, and then became a dark stain on the sidewalk, but the vampire’s eyes were on the box cutter.

“How curious,” he said. “A very fine blade, for an angel.”

“It’s—” Guillermo considered explaining that it was actually pretty cheap these days, to get a decent knife, and then decided that the vampire probably didn’t care a whole lot. “Whatever. Just, go for it, I guess.”

The vampire’s hand was cold against his, and though Guillermo saw the brief flash of fangs, all he felt was the vampire’s soft tongue against his palm, curiously gentle. The vampire looked up at him, and swallowed.

“You burn,” said the vampire. “Not… like fire, but like alcohol down my throat, though I doubt you have ever had any, and it has been 800 years since I did. I do not think you have poisoned me, angel. I will remember your kindness. Thank you.”

He took one last lick—Guillermo’s hand was already healing—and before Guillermo could blink, he was gone.

Guillermo might have imagined that he dreamed the entire interaction, except for one thing: the next morning, he awoke to the blaring of trumpets in his head. Well—trumpets were what humans would have called the sound. It was the voice of the Consensus, furious with him.


“My head hurts,” said Guillermo, out loud, before he could stop himself, because he had never had a headache before. It was an entirely new experience, taking up the front of his forehead.


“And therefore it shouldn’t be mine,” said Guillermo.

The trumpets deflated, slightly.


“What is this about?” said Guillermo, aware that he wasn’t supposed to speak out loud to the Consensus, not really, but feeling somehow rather less capable of communicating as he was used to, with the voice that only angels had.


“What for?” said Guillermo, confused. “Is this about last night?”

Okay, he hadn’t been supposed to do what he did, but it couldn’t have been that bad, could it?


The Panera was well in order, of course, and Guillermo had to do very little to make sure that the place was clean, orderly, and calm before the Angel of the Borough Hall, but he still felt a brief heart-thumping thrill of nervousness when a tall and imposing figure, with bold and snowy white wings, flecked here and there with black in the long and shiny feathers, brushed past the line at the register. Guillermo was setting one of the oven timers in the back, and left the task with the newest girl.

“Is there somewhere private we may speak?” inquired the Angel of the Borough Hall, known colloquially as Richmond. In the Consensus of Staten Island, he was very loud, and so while Guillermo had never seen him before his voice was familiar, though it lacked a certain depth and intensity that Guillermo was used to. He was tall and dark-haired and had a perfectly straight nose.

“Sure,” said Guillermo.

Not your quarters,” clarified Richmond.

Guillermo instead took him to a corner of the outdoor seating, which happened to be empty usually at this time of day.

“How long have you had a Name?” asked Richmond.

Guillermo got the sense that this was not small talk.

“Five years or so,” said Guillermo, “they opened up this branch, and it got enough traffic that it attracted—well, I don’t remember, to be honest. I just remember that I was wiping down tables, one day—or well, I wasn’t, until I was there, with the cloth in hand. I’d been a Nameless, before that moment.”

How to describe the feeling of awakening? Guillermo remembered only the moment after, where he’d blinked into life knowing that he was the Angel of the Panera Bread, knowing the street corners though the Angel of the Panera Bread had never walked them himself.

Well—no need, probably. Another angel with a dominion would know.

“I see,” said Richmond, a cold presence against the edges of Guillermo’s mind, blindingly bright like snow. Without his wings, he would have looked like a businessman at lunch. “This building is new, then.”

“Yes,” said Guillermo. “It was an empty lot, and they built the restaurant onto it. It was never anything else.”

Richmond folded his hands on the table.

“This isn’t one of those restaurants that has little meals with toys for children, right?” he asked.

Guillermo had heard him, both inside his head and out, so he knew what he had heard.

“No?” said Guillermo. The Panera was a casual dining chain. Not a fast food restaurant.

“I heard that,” said Richmond.

Guillermo’s mind was flooded with pictures of a tiny toy, a misshapen and oddly proportioned stuffed dog—no, several of them, all different dog breeds, with extremely large noses, as though they were…

“There was once a series of tiny dog toys,” said Richmond. “They were charming. I have never seen anything like them since. It is a shame, because there was one that was shaped like a little German Shepherd and I wanted it very much.”

“…Do you go into every restaurant hoping for the return of a run of McDonald’s toys from almost 20 years ago?” said Guillermo.

Richmond’s face was blank. He did not answer the question. When he did speak again, his voice had the sonorous and resonant tones of a leader in the Consensus.

“You are very young,” Richmond said, finally. “What happened is not your fault. We have lacked in education these days.”

So far, this conversation wasn’t making Guillermo feel great, even though angels didn’t—couldn’t—insult each other. They weren’t supposed to be able to. Most people didn’t insult angels, either, even when they didn’t like what the angel was saying, so Guillermo had very little experience with the feeling, but he was pretty sure this was it. Guillermo poked his finger through the fishnet-like metal of the table they were sitting at.

Richmond continued.

“It is a difficulty of this era. These little dining places come and go, a building changes purposes so quickly. An angel may take a name for only a few years at most, and embrace the Consensus, Nameless again, with a change in property ownership without even once skirting the line of Falling.”

Fall?” Guillermo couldn’t help it, the word came out as almost a squeak. “No way.”

Richmond regarded him silently.

“There is a metaphysical corruption,” he said. “It is akin to human drunkenness, when angels submit to the baser and weak instincts, the petty emotions. Brawling, arguing, gambling, adrenaline rushes… excessive interest in a specific other being.”

Guillermo swallowed.

“It is tempting, but it must be resisted at all cost. They sent me because I have seen it before, and as the leader of the Consensus of Staten Island I was the best equipped to explain. But… I do not enjoy this task.”

Guillermo felt his face flush. Angels did not experience shame. They weren’t supposed to, there was nothing for an angel to feel ashamed about. But now, Guillermo realized that the Consensus had felt what he’d felt last night—the desire to watch the vampire feed, whether it poisoned him or not, the thrill of watching the vampire bow his head over Guillermo’s hand and drink deeply. He might as well have broadcasted it to the whole of Staten Island.

Richmond stood up.

“You know the feeling now,” he said. “You understand what it is you are to avoid, correct? You understand the consequences?”

Guillermo nodded, and he realized that the Angel of the Borough Hall was—embarrassed, as much as he was.

“If you retain your dominion long enough to watch the angels around you, you will see the effects of this type of metaphysical corruption on the rest of the Consensus. When one Falls, we topple. You’ll understand,” said Richmond. He turned back towards the door, and paused. “By the way, you keep this place very well. I am told your Panera has the highest ratings of any in the area on those… human web sites where they keep track of such things. Well done.”

“Thank you,” said Guillermo.

“I would be very sorry indeed if we had to take action to protect the Consensus,” said Richmond, and then he was gone, his wings brushing against the doorway as he reentered the restaurant and left Guillermo outside. And the worst part was, Guillermo was fairly certain that hadn’t even really been intended as a threat.

Of course, like a bold city rat or pigeon, fed once by a well-meaning passerby, the vampire came back. Guillermo felt him around the alleyway behind the Panera, that same repellent darkness. He had felt other vampires’ energy before, but he knew that this was different.

He opened the side door of the restaurant, the one that led out back to the dumpsters, under the pretext of taking out trash on behalf of one of the younger staff members. It was a kindness. Probably.

Somewhere inside, the kitchen night staff was gossiping in hushed tones about a member of the morning staff. A customer quietly cried into their bread bowl, in a corner of the restaurant, and tried not to be noticed. The girl at the register tried to put her headphones in, and the on-duty manager was about to catch her. Two kids did cartomancy at one of the tables (even though everyone knew that the only certifiable form of divination was scrying), and had accidentally spilled their soda on the Page of Cups. Guillermo knew all of these things, listened for them, and wondered what any of them would have said if they knew about what was going on in the alleyway. But it was his job to know the whole public face of the restaurant, and not theirs.

“Shoo,” he said, and a small corner of the darkness, just outside of the streetlamp, melted into a pillar of vampire with a petulant twist to his frown.

“Is it not better for me to seek you out again, when I hunger? Would you not prefer that, over draining an innocent little human under the protection of your dominion?”

“I guess it didn’t kill you, huh,” said Guillermo.

Now, with the grace of several days’ worth of time to think, and a moderate amount of regret under his belt, which was a new and exciting experience, Guillermo knew what he was supposed to do. He was supposed to send the vampire away. He shouldn’t even have let the vampire anywhere near his habitation.

“It did not,” said the vampire. “Did you think it would? Or hope? That is very… vindictive of you. I did not know an angel could be so vindictive.”

Guillermo brushed past him, and swung the garbage up and into the dumpster. It was less nonchalant than he wanted, and required flexing his wings to get the requisite balance, because it was pretty heavy, and he was pretty sure that the bag had half-opened over his shoes, which meant he was probably covered in gross soupy garbage juice.

“Honestly, it’s more like curiosity,” said Guillermo.

“That is not very angelic either,” said the vampire.

“But that is strange, right?” said Guillermo.

“I was thinking perhaps you could tell me,” said the vampire. “I knew it would not, you know, otherwise I would not have drank from you. You did not smell fully like an angel. You still do not. There is a hint of smoke and fire underneath. I thought about trying to hunt down a human, but all I wanted…”

A metaphysical corruption, Richmond’s voice said in Guillermo’s mind, and if he had the capability he was sure he would have flushed.

“What’s your name?” said Guillermo. He had been half drawn in by the floaty, giddy feeling again—and this time, he had a name for it. He was doing something he wasn’t supposed to do. He was being rebellious. The Consensus probably knew by now. He wondered what it would take to—

—stop that from happening.

The thought flashed through his mind, sharp as lightning, quick as a blade, but of course no angel stopped the Consensus from looking in their thoughts, unless they were Fallen, and if they were Fallen there was a lot more to be concerned about.

But as soon as he thought it, the sound of the Consensus in the back of his mind dulled, like ducking into a closet in the middle of the dinner rush. It was so easy he almost hadn’t even realized he’d done it. It was a relief.

“Nandor,” said the vampire. “In my day, they called me Nandor the Relentless. I was a warrior. A ruler. Now, I scavenge in alleyways like a rat. I am weak. I live with three other vampires and they are imbeciles, and they do not even share.”

Guillermo was already taking out his box cutter again. It wasn’t pity, exactly. It was something else. It was something worse. The baser instincts.

“You are very kind to me,” said Nandor. Guillermo offered up his hand again. This time, Nandor’s tongue was not unexpected, and Nandor did not watch him, which made the whole thing feel curiously intimate. Guillermo had half a whim to push Nandor’s hair out of his face, where a few strands fell and threatened to get damp with Guillermo’s blood.

“What’s it like, being a vampire?” said Guillermo. “When your roommates aren’t being jerks.”

Nandor’s dark eyes did not reflect the street lamps.

“I have memories of being strong,” said Nandor, still holding Guillermo’s hand. “I was independent. I was well known. I was powerful. I could break a man’s neck by doing barely more than thinking about it.”

“Sounds violent,” said Guillermo.

Nandor grinned, and his teeth, even in the bare yellow light of the streetlamps, were red in-between with Guillermo’s blood.

“Oh, it was wonderfully so. Thank you, my friend, for the meal.”

And Nandor, in the blink of an eye, turned into a bat and flew upwards. Guillermo did not see which way he went.

“You okay?” said Fatima, from the kitchen staff, when Guillermo made his way back inside. “You were just taking the trash out, right? What took so long?”

“I needed a moment to breathe,” lied Guillermo, and Fatima frowned.

“Oh, wow,” she said, “I knew it had to be a myth that you didn’t take breaks. You work so hard! You totally deserve to take a fifteen like the rest of us!”

“…Thank you,” said Guillermo, touched and ashamed all at once.

This was why humans needed shepherding, he reminded himself, and they did not need angels—who knew better—to let the wolf hang around the back door. The average human, though petty and small and concerned with worldly things, was also well-meaning and kind. Every angel knew this. Guillermo had just… forgotten. Briefly.

He worked harder than ever the rest of the evening, counting the registers’ earnings at a speed that the humans could barely follow, cleaning with an unmatched fervor, and even starting on the inventory a full day ahead of time (it didn’t matter—he could keep in his head the necessary information, and count the sales the next day). He was a model angel, or he tried to be. And all the while, he tried to ignore the feeling in the pit of his stomach.

No Consensus voice visited him the next day. Whatever he’d done had not been worth noticing. He couldn’t be sure, but perhaps it was that he had consciously thought to himself not to allow the Consensus to notice.

And that, too, was frightening, if his thoughts were all it took to drift closer to that—he couldn’t think the word—metaphysical corruption.

But it had felt so good. To be needed. To be sought after, even. No one really liked angels, humans at best thought they were about as comforting as the average security system and about as sentient. Even other angels kept to their own dominions, primarily—the main congregating place being the hivemind of the Consensus, and even that was cold, impersonal, intangible. Guillermo fed the masses of humans every day, and yet nothing about it had ever been nearly as intimate as a nose pressed to his wrist, lips to his palm.

He tried not to think about it. If Nandor came back, he’d have to tell him to leave.

The next week brought with it a dreadful snowstorm, and a visit from the regional manager, Macy, who spoke with the management in one of the back rooms that Guillermo tended not to listen to, and then brought in Guillermo himself.

Guillermo had to stop himself from being distracted from Macy’s request that he speak to her, because the face of the manager on duty—Saul—was so pinched with dismay that it tripped every single angelic instinct in Guillermo’s heart. He was already searching his memory for which of the hot drinks Saul preferred the most (one of the lattes? No, coffee was bad if Saul was already anxious, perhaps just an ordinary hot chocolate would do), trying to understand which table would have the least traffic for privacy while he asked Saul what was wrong—Saul was youngish, tended to take things very seriously. Guillermo could usually remind him that not everything was on his shoulders—

But he dragged himself into the office anyway, and Macy sat him down in the desk opposite the manager’s desk, and told him in simple terms exactly what was happening, and waited patiently while he processed it.

“Sales are dropping?” said Guillermo, flummoxed.

The regional manager, Macy, nodded dismally. She had dark hair, tucked under a cap, and she wore a company polo shirt.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “You’re one of the few branches with an angel, and it’s not that having an angel hurts the location. Honestly, I think you’re probably the only thing saving it. But, for whatever reason, this branch just isn’t doing as well. Corporate needs to see better sales numbers.”

“Oh,” said Guillermo.

He was not really equipped for any of this. There were humans who studied this sort of thing. He’d been called to this location, of course, which—should have meant something, he thought… Should have meant that it was a better place to be, than any of the places around it. There was only one other storefront on the strip mall with an angel, a hair salon, and Guillermo barely saw a single person in the chairs half the time he walked past.

“What… can we do?”

Macy shook her head.

“The managers know their target goals now to keep this place afloat,” she said, which was human code for angels don’t need to worry about business, and Guillermo was—grateful, for that, actually, because it meant he could focus on the important things, like keeping the place clean and safe and welcoming for the customers. “But I wanted to make sure I talked to you, too.”

“Thank you,” said Guillermo, touched by the kindness.

“And separately from the managers,” added Macy, almost a little sharply, “because I know it’s a different question for you, I know what it means for you when a location closes down, or is close to it. I always offer this, and the angels always say no—”

“I can’t,” said Guillermo, knowing without knowing how what she was planning to say, and shaking his head.

“I know,” said Macy, with a small smile. “That’s what they usually say. Still, I have to try. You’re really good at—whatever it is you do. This place is different from the others in the region. It really is. I knew it as soon as I walked in. I just felt a sigh of relief.”

Guillermo smiled, with the pride of a job well done. But she was looking at him—a slyness to her expression, something hiding in her heart that he knew was not a lie but a truth with a purpose behind it. She did not lie. He loved her for that as he did all humans in his dominion, he had to, she was trying her best to do a job that was in front of her, and if she needed to flatter an angel so be it—

And yet he still felt a wall slam into place in himself. It was not supposed to be there. He was supposed to want to help, no matter what.

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” said Guillermo though this was, in some small part, a lie. “I love what I do, truly. It’s what I’m made for. It’s just that, if I did move to another location, I wouldn’t be me any more. I’m me because of this location. I wouldn’t even remember this place, or what I did here. I would be different. You wouldn’t even call me by the same name.”

“They say that, too,” said Macy.

Guillermo looked up at her, suddenly curious.

“Has anyone ever agreed? Have you seen what happens?”

She shook her head.

Of course not, thought Guillermo.

“All I know is, an angel really makes a place different,” she said. “People just feel safe here. If we can keep up the percentage of locations in the region that have an angel, it’ll really boost our brand. We want to make the place welcoming for you. Because you make it welcoming for our customers.”

“Right,” said Guillermo, because the conversation was getting away from him again.

“If there’s anything I can do,” said Macy, “please let me know. I’ll be happy to take your requests into consideration for any other local branch, if you’re willing to take the risk of a transfer. Or non-local? You wanna move to California for better weather than this snowstorm? We can move you to California.”

“I don’t want to move to California,” said Guillermo. It didn’t matter, what he did or didn’t want. As soon as this place was shut down, he would cease to be. She’d never seen it, not really, she’d never understood what she’d seen, so she didn’t believe it. He sighed.

“All right,” said Macy. “I’ll put you down for a no.”

She placed her hands flat on her desk.

“But you change your mind, call me,” she said. “And—Guillermo? That’s what they call you, right?”

He nodded.

“I’m rooting for you and this place,” she said, finally, and that, he appreciated, was an uncomplicated truth.

Nandor did not come again, and Guillermo tried to be grateful.

No vampires hanging around was a good thing, after all. He kept watch on the alleyway, tried to make sure that he caught the trash or the cardboard getting full before any of the humans did. Not that any of the humans ever wanted to take out the trash or the cardboard. If a task involved hanging around the back door, he did it.

It was his duty, anyway, because he knew that there was a likelihood of a hemophage out there who was willing to capture a human for dinner. If management had known, they’d have asked him to do all of this anyway.

He just… didn’t tell them.

Two weeks went by, and Nandor didn’t come. Which meant it was fine to have not told management, really, because if Nandor wasn’t coming back then they didn’t need to know.

Three weeks went by, and something itched under Guillermo’s skin. He slept less, feeling crowded by the voice of the Consensus. He tried not to block it out again, aware of how easy it had been to distance himself from it with Nandor in front of him, and indeed, when he was in his habitation, surrounded by the duties of his dominion, it was very easy to keep himself in tune with the Consensus. He listened so well. He tried, even, to sing with the Consensus when he had a few spare minutes, more often. He had been sure that would resolve the itch. He just needed to be… closer to the rest of the angels. He could not block them off again.

“You’re pacing,” said Elllie, one night. “Guillermo, are you okay? Um, do angels even get… not okay? Sorry, that’s rude to ask, isn’t it?”

They had cut the hours of the Panera, and halved the crew members in the night shift.

“I’m fine,” said Guillermo. It wouldn’t do to have the team worrying about him. “Sorry.”

But by the time he normally went to rest, the overnight bakers taking over to make sure that things were ready for the morning, whatever it was that was wrong had built up in his chest. Singing did not help, and his rhythm was out of step with the others—and after a few questioning thoughts turned his way, he fell back out of the chorus, alone in his room again.

…If he were to go back down now, go out for a walk, it would almost certainly raise some questions, and questions, Guillermo felt, were not what he wanted at the moment, though he did not know what he wanted. He pushed open his window, heaved himself up and grasped alongside some pipes along the edge, which creaked under his weight. But with a little bit of effort, he found himself, panting, on the roof of the Panera, standing on the edge of the building.

He flexed his wings, experimentally. How long had it been since he’d flown? Walking was often easier. But angels flew on more than physical strength, and he felt no fear as he pushed off the ledge. His lack of fear was justified—his wings picked up the air currents beneath him, and one beat, two beats, three beats, and he was up above the buildings, high enough that he could see for a block around.

The itch beneath his skin diminished. He was alone, no one looking for him, no one expecting anything from him, no one under his protection. The air was brisk against his skin, ruffling his hair, and it mattered little that there were so few stars in the sky. What few he could see brought him comfort, and he still knew where the rest were. He felt them, like distant angels in the Consensus, though they did not sing, they merely burned.

But in truth, it was more compelling to look down at the street, see the lights of humans in their apartments and the businesses open late at night, humans on buses and waiting on the street and standing outside.

And the humans didn’t look up, he noted, with a distant fondness for them and their myopic focuses. He wasn’t the only angel out in the air, and if they had seen him, they would have thought nothing of it anyway. Guillermo could feel the others, mostly Nameless, on various tasks and errands across the city, felt the beating of their wings against the air in the same way that he felt his own, but there was enough distance between them that he felt safe to continue his errand. He actually felt safe enough, now, in the air, to admit his errand to himself—

—he was looking for Nandor. He knew the vampire’s metaphysical signature well enough now, and had a suspicion that Nandor resided close enough that the Panera was a reasonable walk away. Guillermo flew in circles, small at first over the block he was in, and growing increasingly wider, until a familiar thaumaturgical energy prickled at the edge of his senses.

He landed at a likely-looking house: worn down with time, painted in all black unlike its more HOA-friendly neighbors. Surely not.

But when he landed on the lawn, he knew. Not from the rude topiaries, but from the energy of death that overwhelmed him. It was not physical—a human might have been unnerved, but likely wouldn’t have picked up very much. But Guillermo knew, with an angel’s certainty, that there were bones in the ground, their souls long since washed away with time, but their grief soaking in the dirt like a spring rain.

It didn’t bother him. It should have bothered him. The Consensus was quiet here. He hadn’t been so far away from his dominion in… never, probably. He didn’t know what he’d done while he was Nameless.

He knocked on the door.

A woman with long dark hair opened the door, and the first thing that Guillermo saw was her sharp red lipstick.

“If you are selling something we do not want it,” said the woman, in a haughty voice, with a rolling Greek accent. “But—”

She paused, and Guillermo could pinpoint the exact moment that she saw his wings, which he had politely folded down behind his back. She had a wonderfully expressive face, her nose wrinkling as though she smelled something bad, and the grimace that she gave displayed her full fangs to impressive effect.

“Nandor!” she called behind her. “Nandor, whatever you have done is getting us a visit from an angel!”

“Damn,” said a man behind her, who Guillermo had to crane his neck to see. “Now I owe Colin Robinson at least one hour of his fucking television programme, what was it called? My First Encounter With Your Mother.”

After they had ushered him into their house, arguing all the while about whether or not he would burst into flames, or they would burst into flames, or the floor beneath him would burst into flames, and pushed him through an… eclectically decorated hallway and into a room which was so unlike Guillermo’s clean, modern restaurant that his eyes had to adjust to what he was seeing for several minutes before he could make out the different art pieces and furniture patterns, they dropped him onto a couch and left in a susurrous bustle of silks.

Guillermo found himself focusing in on some sort of taxidermied animal up on the wall. He felt nothing from it.

“What do angels eat?” he heard the woman say from the hallway. Nadja, she’d said her name was, although she had been very worried about an angel knowing her name.

“Darling, even if they did eat anything, we don’t keep food in the house.”

“Oh yes.”

“Do we even want to be hospitable towards him?”

Guillermo considered calling out that he could hear them, and then realized that this was the best case scenario.

“I do not know what happens when angels get angry! I do not want to find out.”

“Well, we should be fine, since you could drop forty ravenous tigers on an angel’s front lawn, and as long as they’re not touching the humans inside the angel’s dominion they’re fine.”

“Nandor was trying to eat his—his customers!”

“Well, then, Nandor’s the one who’s got to look out,” said the man sensibly. Laszlo was the man’s name, he’d introduced himself in a rushed babble. “But he seems to still be alive, and the angel doesn’t seem to be one of the Fallen, so. We’re quite all right, I can assure you.”

“What other kind of angel would come to a house full of vampires?” hissed Nadja.

What other kind, indeed.

“Look,” said Guillermo, calling out to them. “Is Nandor home?”

“Is Nandor home,” scoffed Nadja. “Of course Nandor is home. Does he do anything else, besides go out and look sad in the back gardens of angel dwellings? He wakes up from a Super Slumber, and all he wants to do is mope.”

“It was the alleyway, actually, behind my dominion,” said Guillermo.

“Oh, yes, the Pan Era Bread,” said Laszlo.

“That sounds correctly depressing and dull and filled with concrete and garbage, just like his attitude,” said Nadja. “I will fetch him for you, but I am not his secretary to be managing his guests.”

He heard her heels click off down the hallway. This left him with Laszlo.

“I say, bread really has changed over the course of the past 500 years, and that’s just the time I’ve been around to watch,” said Laszlo. “So glad chaps like you are keeping the history of it alive. I miss trenchers. Do you have trenchers? Sort of a plate, before there were plates. Only it was bread.”

“We have bread bowls?” said Guillermo.

“Fascinating!” said Laszlo. “Oh, but I suppose I would be entirely unable to partake, myself. Still, a noble pursuit, my good man.”

Guillermo shook out his wings over the back of the chair—he’d never realized how much human couches were not made for angels to sit in—and tried to make himself comfortable. But this had been a stupid idea. He shouldn’t have come.

—And then Nandor was in the doorway, backlit by the light in the hall, which was already an old, warm yellow light, made warmer by the rich browns and reds of the patterns on the walls, and something in Guillermo’s breath caught.

“What are you doing here, angel of the Panera Bread?” said Nandor.

“Checking on you,” said Guillermo. Laszlo ducked out of the room without even a goodbye.

Something about it was so easy, so familiar. Nandor was standing stiffly, one hand folded behind his back like an archaic portrait of a man in an itchy set of furs. Guillermo could feel his hesitation.

“Why?” said Nandor.

Guillermo shrugged.

“It’s what I do. I watch.”

Nandor crossed the threshold of the door.

“Why me?”

“Because you need someone,” said Guillermo, and, oh. Something like understanding flickered across Nandor’s face, just as Guillermo felt it in his own chest.

“Is that what you do?” asked Nandor. “Find a place to be needed?”

“Well, yes,” said Guillermo. “That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Wherever you have a large gathering of humans, there are countless little tasks to be done. Someone to count the heads in the room, someone to watch the stock in the fridge and make sure it never runs low. Someone to tally up the registers at the end of the night. Someone to clean the gum off the bottom of the tables, someone to scrub the floors. Humans can all manage it themselves, of course, but doesn’t it help if there’s someone there to—to guide them? Some authority, to make them feel safe? And you…”

“I am not human,” said Nandor.

“Well, you need it all the same,” said Guillermo, feeling the truth of it in his chest as he said it. Yes. This was right. “I mean, look at this place. There’s so much dust. You’re running out of grave space in the front lawn. No one’s wiped up the blood stains in the hallway. Who even does your dry cleaning? And you’re hungry.”

“You are a very funny angel,” said Nandor. “Very… bossy.”

“Well, you need to drink,” said Guillermo.

Their eyes met.

“Is that an invitation?” said Nandor.

“It’s like, the third time,” said Guillermo.

In a moment, faster than a human could blink but an eternity to an angel who was paying attention—too much attention, Nandor was at his side.

“I must always ask,” said Nandor. “You understand, don’t you?”

“No, not really,” said Guillermo, and then his jaw was being manipulated with gentle hands until all he could see was the dirty and cracked ceiling of the room, his neck exposed, his curls pushed back from his face. “You could just take. But instead you hunt, like a spider. You make the humans trap themselves, or you build a trap for them to walk into.”

“I could,” murmured Nandor.

All day, Guillermo spent with humans. Humans were messy, touchy creatures, though they were afraid of angels, they often got familiar and would sometimes, in rare instances, treat him like a human. He’d shaken hands with humans, been hugged fairly frequently, and on one odd occasion, been given a kiss on the cheek.

This was something else entirely. This was like stone come to life, a trap closing over him. Lips, cold and smooth like marble, pressed against his neck. Teeth grazed against his skin. There was a soft inhale of breath.

“The others complained that I smelled of smoke when I came back,” said Nandor. “Do you know why that is?”

“No,” said Guillermo, nervously. His wings were beginning to cramp, with how they were folded, and he lifted one of them up, resting it over Nandor, sheltering him as if it were raining in the room.

“Neither do I,” said Nandor, “but it is very interesting, is it not? I find it compelling.”

When he bit down on Guillermo’s neck, Guillermo felt himself choke out something that was as unlike the singing of the Consensus as any noise he had ever made. Later, after it was over, Guillermo slumped backwards on the couch and staring up at the ceiling, wondering just how dreadful the mistake he had made had been, Nandor took his hand.

“I did not kill you, right?” he said. It was almost cute, the way that he sounded nervous.

Guillermo felt his neck closing up. He felt—dreamy, somehow. He sat up straight, though it had been nice to stretch, the way that he’d been, and rolled his head, cracking his neck.

“I don’t think you can,” said Guillermo.

“It is not so bad,” said Nandor, after a moment. “Dying and coming back as a hemophage, if it is even possible for you. But I think you would prefer to embrace the Consensus, I suppose, or dissolve yourself.”

Guillermo shook his head.

“It’s losing myself that I’m afraid of.”

And when Nandor’s eyes went wide, Guillermo realized he knew what it meant for an angel to say that.

“Something’s wrong,” announced Celeste.

Celeste, whose dominion was a yoga studio, and whose wings were radiantly golden and shining, had called a flight together—a small gathering of angels in the nearby shopping centers. She hadn’t had enough of a voice to call more than a dozen, though.

They’d shaken the snow off their wings in the foyer of the yoga studio, and were now sitting cross legged around Celeste, who seemed to have posed herself artfully before all of them, stretching out her wings in a way that Guillermo knew would be difficult to hold for a long period of time (at least, if you were anyone but an angel who spent all day doing yoga), but perfectly matched the artful curves of the logo of the yoga studio. It’d been designed after her, when she made it her dominion.

Incense curled from a small burner next to her. Guillermo should have brought a mat. The one that Celeste gave him smelled like human sweat. He liked Celeste, but didn’t like the way that his wings felt against the linoleum floor, and holding them up was making them ache at his shoulders.

“You’ve seen the news, I’m sure,” said Celeste. “The river turning red?”

“The river was some kind of weird algae bloom,” said Colby. “They said on the news.”

“The weird bugs that turned up on the south side of the island—”

“The cicadas?” said Karen. “They were gross, but not that weird.”

“It’s the wrong time of year for them! Everyone said!”

Guillermo felt out of place, somehow, and his foot was falling asleep. He hadn’t heard about any of this. Some familiars had televisions in their dominions, which meant that they often saw the news. The television of the yoga studio was displaying a Spotify playlist, a low, humming song in the background.

“But above all else,” said Celeste, triumphantly, “you can’t discount the dreams.”

There was silence at that.

Guillermo raised his hand. Celeste nodded at him.

“Um,” said Guillermo, “…what dreams?”

All around him was the nervous fluttering of wings, angels shivering at the mention of something that Guillermo didn’t recognize. He knew, immediately, that he’d made a mistake, with the twist of Celeste’s mouth into a sharp frown.

“What do you mean,” said Celeste, “what dreams?”

“The battles,” said a familiar to his left, whose name he couldn’t recall. “The smoke in the air. The screaming. You know, like we’ve all been having for the past few weeks?”

Everyone was looking at Guillermo. He’d never had a single dream like that, at least that he could remember. But he couldn’t shake the familiarity of it, the bone-deep horror. He could smell the blood of the scene, could feel the ground under his feet, the hilt of a sword digging into his palm…

“Oh, yeah,” said Guillermo, “those dreams. Right. Sorry.”

He’d probably had them. How could he remember, if he didn’t have the dream himself?

“No shit,” said Celeste. “So yeah, something’s wrong.”

“I tried to ask Richmond what it meant,” said Colby. “But he wouldn’t say.”

“Well,” said Karen, “what do you want us to do about it, Celeste?”

Celeste sighed dreamily.

“Well,” she said, “we’ve got to get the metaphysical harmony of the city back in balance. The oscillations of the spheres have been disrupted. The ley lines are warping under the pressure, and causing all sorts of thaumaturgical anomalies. The vibes are totally fucking off.”

“And how do you suggest we get them… back on?” said Guillermo.

“Well,” said Celeste, “I was thinking if we got a big enough group of angels to all get together and run through a few quick routines. All of us in sync, hearts and minds as one, as is our gift and the angelic birthright. And you could bring in a few humans, too, if you put up some flyers around your dominions letting them know what we were doing. Of course they’d have to pay for the class—”

“Yeah, no,” said Jameson, standing up. His yoga mat, also borrowed from Celeste, curled up on itself with the squeak of foam sliding against linoleum. “I have to get back to the club. Nice seeing you all.”

The others began to stand up, too, murmuring their apologies to Celeste. Only Guillermo was left in the end, as Celeste argued with the others, and as they shuffled out the door, and Celeste turned to him. He handed back the foam mat to her, unsure what to say.

“I can put up a few flyers if you want?” he offered. “Um, not the ‘fix the metaphysical harmony of Staten Island’ flyers, but maybe just a few regular ones for the studio?”

Celeste sighed.

“It was worth a try.”

Guillermo landed on the wet ground in front of the vampire residence again. A soft, repetitive noise, the scrape of metal against metal, caught his attention from the corner of the garden.

“Oh, Gizmo,” said Laszlo. He shifted his comically large gardening shears to one gloved hand, and waved at Gizmo—Guillermo, he reminded himself, Laszlo didn’t just get to fucking rename him like that—from behind a pair of what appeared to be old-fashioned aviator goggles. “Just doing a bit of touching up!”

Guillermo had never seen a vagina, but he knew what he was looking at. He ducked his face away. But the Consensus was quiet here, still. He didn’t know what it was. He wondered if he went to any other vampire’s residence, if it would be the same. He didn’t want to go to another vampire’s residence to find out.

“Nandor’s inside?”

“You don’t need an invitation, do you?” said Laszlo, and he turned his attention back towards the foliage. Guillermo left him there, and wandered inside.

He wondered, first, if they had a mop, because the bloodstains on the floor were still there. He was halfway through all the closets he could find on the first floor, with not a single mop in sight but clothing from every single era of the past century and more than a few spiders piled high in each one, before he became aware of a presence behind him.

“You know,” said Nadja archly. “Most people would take offense to an intruder in their household rummaging around in their things.”

“Do you have a mop?” said Guillermo.

“And who asked you to come into our house and tidy it?” She put her hands on her hips, and scowled at him. “Who asked you to come back? Was it Nandor?”

“No one,” said Guillermo. “I’m just an angel. This is what I do. I come into a place, and I want to—organize. I want to make it better. What do you need?”

She looked at him as though she’d never been asked that question.

“I don’t need anything,” she said.

“Well, that can’t be true,” said Guillermo. “Look at this place, it’s disgusting. There’s bloodstains all over the entryway, there are spiders and cockroaches all over the place—”

“I like the spiders,” said Nadja.

“I saw a black widow in the corner—”

“I like that one especially. She is red and black, and she murders her mates, just like me.”

“The dust—”

“We do not need to breathe, therefore we do not worry about silly things like dust,” said Nadja. “I need Laszlo, and I need my coffin, and I need my grave dirt, and I am happy.”

“That can’t be right,” said Guillermo, before he could think about it.

“Oh, but it can,” said Nadja. “You have been dealing with petty little humans for too long, angel. They like things so clean and bright and organized, they are afraid of anything else. We rot in darkness, our house filled with mysteries even to us, and we are happy.”

She smiled at him.

“Is that so unfathomable?”

It wasn’t, that was the thing. Guillermo could imagine it all too well. He could imagine himself coming in here to fix the place, like a lance cauterizing a wound. That was, he thought with some dismay, what Richmond or Celeste or Colby or Karen might have done. But he could imagine something else, too, in the dust and the overwhelming scent of blood and the filth. Something burning like a coal in ash, decay teeming with life and warmth.

—And Nadja was looking at him, fingers curling into claws up in front of herself.

“What are you?” she asked. “Why have you come back?”

“I don’t know,” said Guillermo, and the sound of his voice broke whatever spell of fear that had come over her. “I think I like it here. Is that allowed?”

She threw up her hands.

“I will go get Nandor for you,” she said. “Since you are so determined to be his dinner and he seems to be happy on his new diet of angel. Stay, if you like. It makes no difference to me.”

Colin Robinson poked his head out from behind the door.

“You’re a real smorgasbord, you know,” said Colin. “All that tension! Wow. If it helps, it’s fine by me if you stay, too.”

Nandor led Guillermo to what he called the “fancy room,” the same room they had been in before, and he sat Guillermo down on the couch gently, sitting next to him. By now, Guillermo knew his hands, calloused and cold and gentle. This time, Guillermo broke their routine, reaching up for Nandor’s face, too.

Nandor’s eyes went wide, and in truth, Guillermo didn’t know quite what he was doing. Nandor’s face was soft under the pads of Guillermo’s thumbs, and Nandor let him explore by touch, down to Nandor’s jaw and throat.

“Do angels kiss?” said Nandor. “Is that what you want?”

“I don’t know,” answered Guillermo, surprised by how rough his own voice was. Nandor bent down, pressing their lips together, and it was messy and fumbling at first, Guillermo not quite sure how hard to press against him or what to do when their teeth clashed together, but Nandor did not seem to mind, and if Guillermo was fully sure of himself—if he was honest, if only in his own heart—he would have liked a little more violence. Nandor nipped him, and Guillermo laughed—that was allowed?—and he returned the favor, biting down with so much force on Nandor’s lip that Nandor yelped.

“Sorry,” said Guillermo. And he did mean it, even though the sound had sent a pleasant shiver through him.

Nandor pulled back for a moment, and in his eyes, Guillermo saw himself, saw two pinpricks of orange light, reflected from… Nandor gripped Guillermo’s shirt, and pulled him back, until they overbalanced, and it seemed more natural for Guillermo to climb onto the couch and straddle Nandor’s hips. He noticed that Nandor seemed to be taking better care of himself—no longer the sad, greasy vampire of the alleyway, but clean and smelling faintly of something spicy. Guillermo tugged at the elastic holding Nandor’s top knot in place, until Nandor’s thick hair was spilling out beneath his head, and he ruffled Nandor’s hair until the bend in it from the elastic was shaken out, and placed either hand just above Nandor’s shoulders.

“I have never met an angel like you,” said Nandor, and he pulled Guillermo’s shirttails out from where it was tucked in, and Guillermo bent down to kiss him again.

It was everything that Guillermo had wanted that first night in the alleyway. He supposed he had never been so close to another being as he was to Nandor now, pressed chest to chest, as he mirrored Nandor’s careful explorations with tongue, found Nandor’s fangs and accidentally cut his lip on them, and then did it again on purpose for the way that Nandor clutched more tightly at him and drank at the blood they spilled.

Guillermo supposed he’d always had an idea of what sex was for other creatures, had a vague inkling that they wanted it, but, until watching Nandor drink from him, had never really bothered to imagine what it was that they wanted. This wasn’t what he’d have expected, if he’d been asked. This was maddening. He was desperately grateful that he’d figured out how to shut out the Consensus, how little concentration it took to break that link, because Guillermo wanted this for himself, and himself alone.

He rolled his hips against Nandor—could tell that Nandor was hard beneath him, caught up in the new sensations, too, and when Nandor tangled a fist in the feathers of Guillermo’s wings and pulled, it drew a choked moan out of Guillermo.

Nandor’s hips jerked against him, something spilling between them, and Guillermo paused, unsure what to do.

Please,” gasped Nandor, “keep going.”

Guillermo tried to keep up what he’d been doing, the rolling motions of his hips, and when Nandor pulled at his jaw and broke the skin of Guillermo’s neck, drinking deeply, Guillermo felt himself twitch, and spill, too.

Afterwards, Guillermo lay on top of him, burying his own face in Nandor’s neck, while Nandor stroked the feathers of Guillermo’s wings as though it brought him comfort.

“I did not know angels could fuck,” said Nandor.

“We don’t,” said Guillermo.

“Well, if that was not fucking—” huffed Nandor.

“No, it was,” said Guillermo. “I liked it.”

He felt Nandor relax under him.

“That is… a compliment,” said Nandor, gravely, and Guillermo laughed. He could have remained where he was on top of Nandor, he thought, forever.

The next few days were a blur.

Was it days? It was probably days.

“Um,” said Shanice. “Guillermo, are you okay?”

“I’m fine!” said Guillermo.

He did feel fine. He felt bright, even. He felt warm. He felt good. Better than fine, actually! Even though the dinner rush was slower than usual, and very nearly empty. Even though even the regulars hadn’t come in today. That wasn’t that much of a problem. The weather was bad, anyway.

Had he made a mistake? Had he not been welcoming enough, the last time the old man who worked down the street at the office building had been here? Maybe the man had died. Or the lady who came in on her way to visit her daughter, where was she? And the family, whose son liked the clam chowder so they always came on Fridays, where were they?

And then he remembered he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen any of them. They had dropped off, over the past few weeks and months, like flies. Like the gentle erosion of a river bed, under the pressure of time.

“You’ve, um,” said Shanice, “been sort of… wiping down that table for like ten minutes. Is it—is it smoking?”

“Yup,” said Guillermo, slamming the rag down on it. There was, in fact, a little smoldering corner of the table, which was beginning to smell like burning plastic. How had that happened? “It’s fine!”

“Okay,” said Shanice, “but we’re kind of out of receipt rolls.”

“I’ll get more!” trilled Guillermo, and before Shanice could say anything he was out the door. He moved quickly through the streets to the Office Max—today it was just raining, rather than snowing, and so he was grateful that he was warm and cozy in his—er, normal polo shirt. That was probably not a problem. He was sure of it.

The customers—no, wait, these were random passerby, on the street, he wasn’t in the Panera—the passerby looked at him strangely. Which was not weird! An angel on a task wasn’t abnormal, per se, but it did tend to put the humans… at ease. Probably.

He was sure it was helpful. He always helped!

He found himself at a corner, knowing that he’d had a task. And an angel never forgot a task. It was like having a tiny dominion of their own, like having a name for just a moment, that was why the Nameless loved to help. If you gave a Nameless a task, they were, for a brief moment, messenger. They were nurse. They were holder of thing, or driver, or—or—warrior.

But he wasn’t Nameless. He’d had a dominion, and a task. He was sure of it. He didn’t know what it was.

Someone screamed.

He turned to look at them—

—a dark-haired, blue-eyed woman, whose scream turned into a sob. Others stopped to stare at the two of them, and she shook her head.

“Sorry,” she said. “I thought you were—for a moment, your eyes—Um, no, thank you but I’m fine—”

She brushed off an old man in a thick coat who stopped to help her.

“What?” said Guillermo.

“I saw a Fallen once,” she said, and her face flooded bright red. “I don’t really want to talk about it. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—it was… you know?”

“A really bad day, I bet,” said Guillermo. His wings were soaking through in the rain. He could smell, on the air, the wound she’d sustained, the way that it rotted, metaphysically. She would have trouble walking for the rest of her life. A slow death.

“Yeah,” she said, and she drew in a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

Guillermo felt strangely hollow, half back in his own body, half—somewhere else, in dust and a whirling storm, ears ringing with explosions that did not happen on this street, screams he’d never uttered aching in his throat.

“I’m just trying to get some receipt rolls,” he said. “Do you know where there’s like, a Staples or something?”

“Oh!” said the woman. “Yeah, sure. Like—two blocks that way.”

And the city shifted, like a camera coming into focus. The world reoriented itself around him, the angels of the different nearby landmarks and public places settling into his mind like a map. How had he forgotten to tune back in to the Consensus, to find his way? He knew the angel of the coffee shop he’d just passed—very fond of macarons—and he knew the angel of the park that was two blocks back, who sheltered anyone he could find who was unfortunate enough to be sleeping in the park under his large, mothlike wings when it rained. Of course he knew where he was going. That was the benefit of the Consensus. That was what it meant to be an angel.

He apologized again to the woman, and thanked her, and went on his way.

The Office Max he’d found was out of receipt rolls, which meant he had to find another one, three blocks down, and by the time that he was soaking wet from the rain and clutching his plastic bag with the Office Max’s entire supply of receipt rolls in the size he needed, and some that he hoped would fit in the register anyway, it was nearly dark out. The clerk gave him an extra bag to try to cover his purchases from the rain, and he bought an umbrella, too, for good measure.

He opened it cautiously on his way out. He’d never owned an umbrella before, at least not as Guillermo. Perhaps the Nameless he had once been had owned one.

This thought occupied him as he made his way back, this time listening for the angels he knew, and the trip was much shorter, though with some embarrassment he realized how lost he’d gotten on the way. Not again, he vowed to himself, except for the fact that being tuned back into the Consensus now felt rather claustrophobic. What had he been thinking, anyway?

He rounded a corner, streetlamps flickering on above him, and it occurred to him, briefly, that on a night like this just a few weeks ago he’d been out looking for pens and that was what had gotten him into this whole mess.

Why am I always running fucking errands, he thought to himself, irritably, why are there so many fucking tasks?

“You’re an angel,” said a familiar voice, sonorous like trumpets, echoing like light reflecting off of snow on the inside of Guillermo’s mind. “Or have you forgotten?”

And a large shape swooped down from the sky, blinding white wings, with flecks of black, unfolding in front of him, as Richmond caught him by the collar. There was a swelling burst of pain behind his eyes, and the sensation of being lifted, but Guillermo—whose grip on consciousness had been tenuous at best, he realized now, over the past few days—felt himself go limp, and everything went dark.

When he awoke, he tried to tune into the Consensus. He was not bound, he was in a cheap little office in a dinky little chair that creaked ominously when he shifted his weight. But where…?

It was harder than normal, but he could still feel the angels around him, ones with names and dominions and little sectioned off pieces of the city, and then the vast chasm of the Nameless, a roaring ocean of sensation all around, filling the world out for him as a tangible place. In another part of the city, a few miles away from his own Panera.

He was in the Borough Hall on Richmond Terrace, of course. A side office, surely, though no doubt near the large clock tower. Not remodeled since the ‘90s.

“Stop that,” said Richmond, “or we will have to lock you out, I am afraid.”

Guillermo let go, and felt himself senseless again, adrift. Exhausted, he slumped down on the desk in front of him. It was a little bit messy, with papers strewn about, some of them weighted down with a lovely stone paperweight, smooth and glassy and deep white marble. His bag of receipt rolls was on the table, and his umbrella was folded up and resting against the door. The only decoration was one tiny little stuffed dog, dingy-gray and frizzy where it had likely once been white and soft. In the window, Guillermo could see the starless, light-polluted night sky, and in the skylight, Guillermo could see just about nothing, because the glass was extremely dirty. He’d never been far enough away from the city to see more than a few handfuls of stars. He wondered if the Nameless that he had once been ever had. He doubted he ever would.

“I’m not fighting,” said Guillermo. “I don’t really want to.”

“Good,” said Richmond. “You have put the entire Consensus in danger with your antics, you know. The dreams. The metaphysical disturbances around the city. I have brought back no less than three Nameless tonight who went mad, sobbing or screaming and making public nuisances of themselves. It upsets the humans. And it is only the start.”

“I didn’t mean to,” said Guillermo.

“That may very well be,” said Richmond, “but it would have been a poor excuse, had the Consensus of Staten Island in its entirety Fallen because one angel decided that he was more interested in a vampire than in his dominion.”

“What happens now?” said Guillermo.

“Well, you embrace the Consensus,” said Richmond. “It will not be easy, I’m afraid, but it is what you must do. This doesn’t bar you from taking a dominion again in the future, of course. There is no earthly power that can do that.”

“Can I think about it for a day?” said Guillermo.

“Of course,” said Richmond, almost kindly. “We can’t force you. We can only remind you, very strongly, of what it would do to the rest of us, were you to Fall. And, angel, you have no idea how close you’ve gotten.”

Guillermo felt a rush of smoke in his lungs, and knew that this was a vision that Richmond was giving him. He closed his eyes, and let it wash over him.

The smoke was familiar, desperately so, but he knew that he was seeing a battlefield. It wasn’t recent—it was old, the costumes of the humans around him were… they were wearing plates of armor, or at least a few lucky souls among them were, and hacking at each other with swords, and all through it, one woman walked, eyes burning and hair like fire, and where she walked the ground cracked and sizzled, heat warping the air around her, and men fell like flies, their metal armor pooling around them and glowing orange…

She felt familiar, in the way that other angels always felt familiar. Guillermo might have known her from the streets of Staten Island, like he would have known a regular in the restaurant. When she looked up, there was a smile on her face, and Guillermo recognized it like looking in a mirror.

—And he was back in the office again, looking up at Richmond.

“What’s that supposed to tell me?” he said.

Richmond looked at him.

“You and I both know what you saw,” he said. “The question remains, will you subject the rest of us to such a state with you, or will you do the right thing?”

And he was gone, in a flurry of blinding-white wings.

The next day, Richmond came back, with a blanket for Guillermo.

“I have something I would like to show you,” he said, and he held out his hand. There was a small, golden feather in it. “This was once my friend.”

“I’m sorry,” said Guillermo, and he did mean it.

“I do know what I am asking of you,” said Richmond, and for the first time, there was something like compassion in his voice. “I am sorry to do it. It’s for the good of the Consensus, so I must. But it doesn’t make me happy.”

Guillermo drew the blanket around his shoulders, and did not pick up the dissolution feather of Richmond’s friend, though he felt it, humming with the song of a dead angel. Fucking morbid, actually.

“I suppose I am bringing you this to show you that it is not so final as it could be,” added Richmond.

Could be worse, thought Guillermo. Could be dead.

“Just… wiping the slate clean,” said Guillermo. “Starting over.”

“Exactly!” said Richmond. And he smiled at Guillermo, cold and bright, like the sun reflecting off of snow.

“It’s not that I could take a dominion again in the future,” said Guillermo.

“What?” said Richmond.

“What you said yesterday,” said Guillermo. “You can’t prevent me from taking a dominion again, you said. Just so we’re clear. It won’t be me who does that. It’ll be the Nameless that I’m about to become. The Nameless isn’t me.”

“Semantics,” said Richmond. “We’re all Nameless, in truth, even the words picked for us by the humans are merely a convenience. When we have enough of a long-term task that our selves are constant for them. Location markers, unusual facets of the building, street corners. We become synonymous with our dominion while we have it. Even this place will change someday—there will no longer perhaps need to be a Borough Hall, in this building, in this city, and I, too, will embrace the Consensus, and drop back down among the ranks of the Nameless, my time here forgotten. That’s how it works for us.”

Guillermo dropped his head down on the desk. Richmond left again, and all Guillermo heard was the door.

The next day, Richmond brought him neither the memento of a dead angel, nor a gift, but simply pulled up a chair, and sat next to Guillermo. He said nothing, simply sat quietly.

Guillermo liked him for it a little bit better, and decided to extend something of an olive branch.

“What will happen to my Panera?” Guillermo asked.

“Oh, it is shutting down,” said Richmond. “I’ve advised them that it is no longer the dominion of an angel. That, it seems, was the final straw for the place. They’re transferring most of the crew to other branches, though some people quit. I am told that a ‘Shanice’ cried when she was told that the angel had left.”

Guillermo realized he was crying, too.

“How am I supposed to embrace the Consensus?” he asked.

“You listen,” said Richmond. “Sing with them. Let yourself sink back in. Be sure not to cling to thoughts of your little restaurant, or your name, and certainly not vampires.”

Something flickered in the window behind him, a familiar shape, with two little points on the top of its silhouette. Guillermo sat up.

Guillermo concentrated. If he listened very hard, if he shut his eyes, he could hear—

“I saw him!”

Not quite the singing of the Consensus.

“You wouldn’t know him from a human with a backpack on under his coat, my love. I know quite well that I wouldn’t.”

“I would! It was him, I swear it! He had the same glasses and the hair, and he was dressed like the little sad man on your television program!”

“Darling, you have it the wrong way ‘round. George Costanza dresses the way he does because he is meant to be a caricature of an average man, it is not meant to be a distinctive style. This is like saying ‘the man is wearing a derby hat,’ it tells the listener nothing but that the man is conventional and boring. And it is not my television program, it is something that Colin Robinson makes me watch when he can’t annoy his officemates any further without getting fired.”

“They don’t dress that way now! And I am telling you, Laszlo, he had wings like a pigeon!”

“Oh, yes, famously distinctive pigeon wings as well.”

Another flicker, this time above them. Guillermo had the impression of a long, sweeping movement, like the bottom of a cape drawn across the skylight.

“He is in there,” said a rich and deep voice, one that Guillermo felt in his chest, though it was far away. “He is speaking with another angel. This one looks very powerful, not like the ones at the entrance to the building.”

“I told you!”

“So you did, so you did, my lady love. I do not know why I doubted you.”

“Well, how do we get in there?” said a fourth voice. This one was nasally, and painfully Midwestern. “I mean, yeah, we could take the humans, but can we take the angels? I don’t mean to be a downer, but I’m really not sure I understood the plan here.”

Guillermo took a deep breath.

“And how do we even know that he is in danger?” said Laszlo. “Isn’t that sort of what they do? They take up a place, they make it run, then they’re gone. And they go back. They become Nameless again.”

“I know him,” said Nandor. “He does not want this. But I do not really want to cause a scene…”

Guillermo picked up the paperweight from Richmond’s desk, not letting himself think about what he was going to do before he did it. Richmond’s eyebrows furrowed, and he opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, Guillermo was hurling the paperweight through the window, which shattered easily. Standing up, he swept everything off the table, and for good measure, he swung the chair he had been sitting in at Richmond with a roar. It fell, a good two yards short of Richmond, but he felt his point had been made.

“What the—?” said Richmond, standing up straighter and extending his snowy wings, but a dark mist was already seeping over the shards of glass, pouring into the room like a flood, and it reformed as three figures in all-black. Nadja formed first, her hair tall and her dress shining like satin in the light, fingers curled like claws in front of her.

“I think he wanted you to make a scene,” said Nadja, grinning, fangs bared. “Sorry, Guillermo, that Nandor is such a great big coward with a yellow belly.”

Nandor formed next, regal and broad shouldered and looking curiously bare in only his shirt and trousers—and Laszlo, forming last, beside Nadja, with a sumptuous fur cloak around his shoulders—

“Hey, that’s mine,” said Nandor, snatching the cloak off of Laszlo’s shoulders.

“Sorry, mate,” said Laszlo, trying to get himself out of it, though it caught on his collar and he and Nandor engaged in a brief struggle. “I hate when our mists get mingled.”

Nandor swung the cloak over his shoulders, and pointed at Richmond.

“You have kidnapped my—my Guillermo,” he said. “You have held him hostage, with the whole of Staten Island as the ransom of his heart. I am here to save him.”

My Guillermo echoed in thoughts of the angel, who knew he had no right to call himself by that name, whose head had been spinning for the past hour. He knew enough to know, when he felt the warmth in his chest, that it was bad. He wasn’t supposed to feel this way.

Then why did it feel so right?

“You don’t know what you’re doing!” said Richmond, though he must have known he would not win against three old vampires. “You’d put this whole city at risk! Oh, for fuck’s sake, there’s another one?”

Colin carefully climbed into the room, over the shards of glass in the window sill.

“Don’t mind me,” he said, holding up a hand as if to wave off an offer of help from Richmond, which of course did not come. “Just trying to keep up with my friends here. Not all of us can turn into a gaseous form, you know…”

Inside of Guillermo’s head, something was beginning to happen, a change. My Guillermo. He was supposed to let go of something, it would have been so easy to do it, only he didn’t know how. The room was beginning to look strange behind his glasses, which seemed to be losing their shape on his face. He took off his glasses, and they were warping in his hands, the metal somehow soft, the glass beginning to lose its form. The room went blurry. He thought he might have heard someone screaming, in the distance.

Oh, of course. He was no longer the Angel of the Panera Bread. Angels were dishabited every day. He might have let himself be swallowed up by the grief of it, and he would fold in on himself, until the only thing that was left was a single golden feather. He might have shut his eyes, let go of his name, and become another Nameless wandering the streets.

What he was doing right now—holding onto his name—was hard, and painful, like putting his hand onto a stove. But it was easier, here, with Colin, Nadja, Laszlo, and of course, Nandor.

“Guillermo, are you all right?” said Nandor, urgently.

“Oh dear,” said Nadja. “That is not very good.”

“I saw pictures of a city after a battle with Fallen,” said Colin Robinson, almost dreamily. “It was in a textbook. There was nothing left.”

“Nandor, good fellow, I begin to wonder if perhaps we’ve made a mistake,” said Laszlo.

“I’ve never been better,” said Guillermo, and something crackled behind his voice.

He dropped his glasses on the floor, and they landed on one of the papers.

“We should all get out of the building,” said Richmond, and his voice was strangely high and panicked, thinking it as much as he was saying it, and Guillermo could hear him in both the physical world and in the Consensus. “Consensus, get out of the city—evacuate, now—”

Guillermo smelled smoke.

Guillermo could feel it, like a gravitational pull, every other angel in the vicinity turning their attention towards him. Nandor was striding across the room to him, taking Guillermo’s hands in his.

“Guillermo,” he said, and Guillermo looked at him, seeing the flames in his eyes reflecting in Nandor’s own dark irises. “Tell me, do you want to stay, or do you want to let go? Only tell me, and I will let you go.”

“I want to stay,” said Guillermo.

Nine thousand angels of the Staten Island Consensus screamed, tumbling against one another, a hivemind’s equivalent of a fire in a theater, but Nandor only smiled and pressed his head against Guillermo’s.

“Oof! Ouch, you are very warm,” said Nandor. “Let us get you out of here, yes? You may come home with us, if you do not destroy all of Staten Island.”

And the last thing that Guillermo remembered was Richmond crumpling, just as his own knees went weak, and he fell into Nandor’s arms.

Was this what comets felt? He felt it everywhere, but it was the worst in his eyes, his hands, for those were the main vectors of communication with the outside world, and he saw nothing, touched nothing. More time than he had ever seen passed, and somehow it also seemed to be the same instant, stretching forever. It was like being Nameless again, and yet he had enough consciousness to know that this was not how it was supposed to be. A Nameless never knew that.

He was aware that he moved, somehow, the ground steady under his feet, that there were hushed whispers where he went, and someone who dabbed at his forehead (this was not bad, as far as hazy sensations went), and sometimes he was conscious of a rawness in his throat (this one was very bad, and he couldn’t make it stop, and he couldn’t make it go away, and it hurt still less than the burning).

There was one moment that he remembered, where the world came into blurry shapes in front of him, and a familiar bearded face, with a dark topknot, was close—close enough to—

“Guillermo,” said the face. “Oh, you have stopped screaming, that is nice. Guillermo, are you—”

He slipped under again, and it was the closest thing to relief. I am Guillermo, he thought, and that thought stayed and did not crumble to ash.

The next time he came to, he was tucked underneath a bed in a large and richly decorated room. He was alone. He knew many things that he had never understood before: he knew that stars and angels were made of the same materials, that a flame was only the ignited gas around a fire, that the face of an angel, too, was only the bright flicker above something dark and hot and hungry. He knew, with the wave of a hand, he could reduce the city to rubble. He knew why the Angel of Ishtar had gone insane.

He looked at his hands. They were not, as he expected, hollowed and blackened and crumbling like coals, nor were there glowing embers in them. He felt raw all over, a physical ache, more than exhaustion and more than exertion. Like something under his skin had tried to claw its way out. He wondered if it, whatever it had been, had succeeded.

And it was quiet.

Guillermo had never heard such quiet before. Always in the back of his mind had been the chorus of the Consensus, humming like a beehive, like a party in another room, the distant conversation of his fellows. He could have tuned into it, like a radio, and it would have become clearer, but he had never been able to turn it off. Now, there was only silence.

Somehow, instead of being frightening, it made the residual ache bearable. The pain had been the price, and he had paid it, and now there was silence, a gift, a novelty, and a sunbeam coming down through the curtains. He couldn’t have said the last time that he had just lain in a bed, watching the sun—rise? Set? He couldn’t be sure, and he had no desire to find out.

He rolled over, and buried his nose in his pillow. For the first time in days, he could smell, and this place smelled wet and dusty and filled with mold, which probably would have made a human very sick, but to Guillermo just smelled like Nandor.

…This was Nandor’s house!

Of course it was. He’d been here before. He hadn’t recognized it in his previous state, but the memories came back.

With the clarity of self again—and that was a question all its own—he knew that he was Guillermo, who had once been an angel and was now something else, that he was in the home of the vampires who he had taken as his family, and he had been here for some time. He looked at his hands again. Still soft, still tanned, and if he shut his eyes he could remember his hands in front of him, counting money from a register, putting bread bowls onto oven racks, ladling soup into cups, wiping down tables. Grief pulled him under for a moment, as surely as if it had grabbed him by the ankles, though he couldn’t have said what he was grieving for or how he had lost it. He almost reached out to the Consensus—

—but then there was that silence again, ringing all around him, a dark well stretching upwards where there had once been countless angels singing, and he settled into the contentment of it, and there he lay until the sunlight faded from the windows and night crept in, at which point he got up and began to explore.

There was a newspaper on the table. Who the fuck even read newspapers any more? Well, okay, fair if anyone would, it would be vampires, Guillermo supposed. It wasn’t as if they kept phones.


The angel, formerly of the Panera Bread at the corner of Guillermo Court and De La Cruz Avenue, went missing after a failed attempt to embrace the Consensus. It is believed that the angel Fell, and the resulting Fall’s effects were felt across the city for days, including in the destruction of a wing of the Staten Island Borough Hall. Multiple reports surfaced of odd angelic behavior in the nearby dominions of Staten Island, such as confusion, unconsciousness, and anxiety among the remaining habited angels of the Consensus, and crowds of Nameless gathering at public landmarks, with no reasoning given for their congregation, some of whom were visibly disturbed. Three vampires aided in the Fallen’s escape. The Angel of the Borough Hall has been reported missing as well. No dissolution feather has been found.

Guillermo sighed, and put down the paper.

It was dark now, and he wondered if the vampires would be stirring. Instead of going to find them, he made his way to the kitchen, and checked the pantry.

As expected, there was nearly nothing. Not that he needed to eat, nor did anyone else in this house. But because evening was settling into darkness around the house, two bright orange lights in the dusty window startled him. When he looked closer, it was only his eyes in his own reflection. His gaze burned, flickering eerily.

That was new.

He checked underneath the kitchen sink. There was a dusty old rag that almost crumbled when he picked it up, but seemed to have enough structural integrity that he might be able to get it wet and clean the window, which needed attention badly. He turned on the tap, and nothing came out.

“Are you having fun snooping around the house?” said Nandor from behind him. Guillermo yelped.

“Sorry! That’s not what I meant!” His voice came out hoarser than he expected, and he wondered if it would ever be the same again. He’d never heard of a Fallen speaking.

“I thought you would never wake up,” said Nandor, and in the blink of an eye he was peering around Guillermo. “Oh! Your eyes. They stayed like that.”

“Yeah,” said Guillermo sheepishly. “It’s—I don’t know if it’s going to stay like that forever. I might still be recovering.”

“It is very frightening,” said Nandor, as though he were admiring a fashion choice that Guillermo had made. “Very intimidating. If I were to see it on the battlefield, I would run away screaming.”

“Thanks,” said Guillermo, who mostly hoped it would go away so that he could maybe move about the world in peace.

“So,” said Nandor, “how are you feeling? Are you feeling murderous and rampage-y?”

There was something like that, yes, thought Guillermo, underneath. Whatever it was that had not been burned out of him. But it was quiet, for now.

“You wouldn’t happen to have Windex, would you?” said Guillermo.

Nandor blinked at him.

“Is that a type of modern human weapon?”

“No,” said Guillermo, “it’s for cleaning windows. This is really dusty. Also, do you know if you’ve paid your water bill recently?”

Nandor looked at the tap like he’d never seen it before.

“Never mind,” said Guillermo.

“So I take it you are not feeling murderous and rampage-y,” said Nandor. “And that was a test.”

Guillermo shrugged.

“Did we pass?” asked Nandor, anxiously. “Was it a test for you or for me?”

“For me,” admitted Guillermo. “I’m kinda disappointed that you don’t have Windex, because this is going to bug me, but this isn’t—a dominion, or a habitation. And I’m not angry about it. I don’t think I want to tear this place to the ground. I mean, I could, but I’m not going to. How am I not dead or turned over to the Consensus?”

“Our hunt is not opposed to sheltering a powerful ally,” said Nandor. “The Master of our hunt, the Baron, seems to have made an arrangement with your Consensus. It is not publicized. I do not know what he gave them in return. But you may stay here with us, as long as you are not murdering or pillaging or whatever. We vouched for you. So please do not murder or pillage anyone.”

Guillermo almost had to sit down.

“I could’ve woken up and leveled Staten Island,” said Guillermo. “You didn’t know. There was no way you could’ve known what would happen. You—all of you vouched for me?”

“Well,” said Nandor, and now it was his turn to be sheepish. “I suppose… I did. Laszlo and Nadja and Colin nodded when I talked, so it got written down that they did, too.”

Guillermo swallowed. Nandor was almost wringing his hands, and so, Guillermo took them in his own. Nandor stared at where their skin touched. He was cold, but Guillermo knew that.

“Guillermo,” said Nandor, quietly. “Is that still your name?”

Guillermo nodded.

“You called me that while I was…” Guillermo wondered how to describe it. “Waking up. It grounded me.”

Nandor smiled, a true smile that crinkled around his eyes, and Guillermo’s breath caught. He was aware, suddenly, of things that he had seen and not understood before, the curve of Nandor’s lips and the softness of his fingertips against Guillermo’s, the way his dark eyes caught the light of the kitchen. Guillermo had not known before Nandor how a body could have presence without warmth, but he felt it now, the way that Nandor smelled like damp earth, and something he didn’t have a name for, that same sweet and sharp and smoky smell like incense. And of human death, too, but Guillermo didn’t fear that. It didn’t repulse him. He wasn’t a human, after all.

Nandor bent down and kissed him, almost sweet, without blood. There would be time for hunger later, but for now there was only satisfaction.

“It was your name before I got there,” said Nandor, almost shy. “I only—reminded you. Did you want a new name? Are you still… you?”

Guillermo shook his head.

“But I’m enough the same that I don’t mind,” said Guillermo. “And I wouldn’t be, if you hadn’t reminded me. I’m different—I still died—but I… came back. I guess you can’t do that without changing a little bit.”

“I know the feeling,” said Nandor, and Guillermo laughed and kissed him again.