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02 June 2010 @ 11:21 pm
[Fic] "The Transient and the Eternal: Snowfall" -- Angel Sanctuary  
I'm doing thirtyforthree again, this time for Kira Sakuya/Mudo Setsuna/Mudo Sara from Kaori Yuki's Angel Sanctuary. There will be spoilers in nearly every theme -- given the characters, it's nearly impossible to avoid them! -- and a lot of potentially objectionable content. This is because the source manga has a lot of potentially objectionable content. If incest squicks you, or you know you'll be bothered by some unusual and often negative interpretations of Judeo-Christian theology, you probably won't want to read any of these stories.

With that said...

Theme: #11 - Snowfall
Warnings: spoilers!
Notes: The main plot of this ficlet is set post-manga, in very late 2007. The flashbacks run from shortly after the First Holy War to shortly before Setsuna's birth, and are not all in chronological order. Setsuna is 24; Sara is 23. This falls between Talking Over Distance and "Looking" (which I have not yet finished).

It took me about three years to write this, mostly because I was never quite sure where it was going. I am still not sure it all hangs together logically, but whatever. (6,900 words)

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The Transient and the Eternal: Snowfall
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"I'm going to cut my hair," Sara told Setsuna one Sunday afternoon as they sat on a bench in Ueno Park, bundled in jackets and scarves against the late winter chill. The weather forecasts had promised snow, but Sara hoped the storm would hold off until night; that way she might have a chance to see unbroken snow on the streets before commuters trod it into dingy slush.

Setsuna's hand froze in midair, halfway through tossing a handful of crumbs to the sparrows at their feet. "Why? It's not like anyone's still looking for us. Even Mom gave up after that mess in Yokohama -- and we're not minors anymore anyway, so she couldn't do anything even if she did find us."

"I know that," Sara said. "Do you think I would've agreed to stay in Tokyo otherwise? I want to cut my hair because it's heavy. It's tiring to wash and brush and dry it. I'm sick of sitting on it by accident, sick of you trapping me by lying on it at night, sick of cleaning hair out of the shower and the rugs and the blankets -- just sick of it. It's a nuisance, so I'm getting rid of it."

"I could brush it for you," Setsuna offered. "I can do more of the cleaning, too, and I could braid it for you at night so it stays out of the way."

Sara shook her head. "I've made up my mind. Long, loose hair is for girls, not women. I'll be able to finish college in another year of night courses, and I want to look professional so schools will take me seriously. Nobody wants flighty airheads teaching their children."

"Sara..."

She shrugged, feigning nonchalance. "It's not such a big deal. It's only hair -- you don't have to act like I'm cutting off an arm or becoming a nun."

Setsuna scowled. "I like your hair long. You like your hair long. You've always had long hair. Even when we really needed disguises, you didn't cut your hair -- dye was good enough -- so I don't see why you care what a bunch of idiot administrators think. Will you even recognize yourself if you chop it off?"

"Yes, I will," Sara said flatly. "I'll recognize myself because I know who I am and my hairstyle isn't set by divine preordination. I'm twenty-three years old, Setsuna. At best, we have another six decades on earth before we die and Alexiel and Jibril take over again. I don't need to look like Jibril. I don't want to pretend I'm going to be young and beautiful forever. I have better things to do with the rest of my life."

Setsuna upended his bag of crumbs, showering the sparrows with an unexpected feast. "Fine. If that's the way you feel, it's your hair. But I don't think long hair makes you look like Jibril. I think it makes you look like you. And I don't think getting old means you'll stop being beautiful, either -- you'll still be beautiful when we're a hundred and twenty." He balled up the bag and tossed it over his shoulder into a trash bin. "The only time you cut your hair was when you tried to sneak away from Sevothtarte. I don't know what you're trying to run away from now, but I bet it'll work better if you tell someone instead of taking it out on yourself."

"Setsuna..."

"Think about it. I'm going for a walk; we'll talk after dinner." He stood up, shoved his clenched hands into his jacket pockets, and walked away.

Sara bit her lip so she wouldn't call after him. She wouldn't grovel, wouldn't pretend to be happy and fine when she wasn't; that was what Mother had done after arguments, and see where that had gotten her. If Setsuna wanted to ignore her for a day, fine. She could ignore him too.

Then he turned and smiled -- that secret, special smile, just for her -- before he ducked around a cluster of tourists and vanished behind a cluster of maple trees.

Sara looked down at her left hand. The ring was gone, of course. After eight years, not even the impression of metal lingered on her skin. But she remembered.

"You never change, Oniichan," she murmured. "What did I do to deserve your love?"

"You did nothing," a dark voice said unexpectedly, as its owner leaned down over her shoulders. Leather-clad arms crossed over her chest and one hand flicked at her flyaway hair. "You can't earn love; nobody ever deserves it. That's why love is a gift. God never understood that."

"Not everything in the world leads back to God, but I get the point. Now stop leaning on me and come sit down," Sara said, pushing Lucifer's arms up and over her head.

He vaulted over the bench, startling the sparrows, and sat beside her. After a moment, his regal posture collapsed into Kira's insouciant slouch. "Hey. I thought I'd drop by since it looks like snow today, but if Setsuna's annoyed enough to leave you, it seems I picked a bad time. What's going on?"

Sara shrugged. "Nothing much. I want to cut my hair and Setsuna's angry about it for some reason."

"That's not the whole story," Lucifer observed. A sparrow hopped up to his boot and pecked curiously at the steel toe; he swung his leg sideways, dislodging the bird. The flock swirled, absorbing the disturbance, and then returned to pick at the pile of crumbs. Lucifer frowned. "On a different topic, you've spent too much time in this park, and at least one of you worked magic without proper wards. The sparrows aren't afraid of strange auras anymore, and any reasonably competent hunter could track you and Setsuna from the astral resonance around this bench."

Sara blinked. "We weren't working magic. I don't know how, and Setsuna only uses his power to send letters and little things like that."

"Good. Just because you have power doesn't mean you should use it," Lucifer said. He pulled a cigarette from his jacket and snapped his fingers to light it. "But even if you did it unintentionally or subconsciously, one of you drew a great deal of astral power here, maybe more than once. Can you remember any strange occurrences?"

Sara frowned, casting her mind back over the past half year since they'd started coming to Ueno Park on weekends. Nothing came to mind -- this bench wasn't near any of the main tourist attractions, so they didn't get bothered often, and the weather had always been clear, so there hadn't been anything she or Setsuna would have wanted to change. She said as much to Lucifer. "Why do you think we're the ones who did magic here? Maybe it's just one of the ley lines Kurai talks about."

He smiled. "Ley lines are a passive power source; they don't tangle unless someone pulls on them. And you answered your own question. 'The weather's always been clear,'" he repeated. "Not a cloud in the sky this afternoon, and yet every forecast I patched into promised snow by two o'clock. Think about it."

"But how could Setsuna--"

"Not Setsuna," Lucifer interrupted, pointing his cigarette at her nose. "You, Sara. You're the guardian of water."

The words hit her like a fist to her chest. She couldn't breathe -- for shock, for rage, she couldn't tell. Her head shook, her hands rose to push the idea away. "I'm not Jibril!"

Lucifer raised one eyebrow, as if preparing to slice away her protest with sarcasm, and then frowned. "Sara. Take a deep breath and listen to me."

She pulled back. "No! I'm not an angel, I'm not a guardian, and I'm not Jibril. I can't do magic! I'm human, I'm Sara, and I'm not anybody's reflection! I'm not I'm not I'm not--"

"You're hysterical," Lucifer said, and everything went black.

---------------

Sara sat on the bank of an ornamental brook in a walled garden, listening to the tiny cascades. Water poured over her bare feet as she dangled them into the stream.

"Someday they'll discover your secrets," a familiar voice said from behind her. "Stop helping me. Look the other way and be safe."

"If I turned away, I wouldn't be myself," she said, reaching down to cup a handful of icy water between her palms. "You're stuck with me until death, and probably even after -- I don't have the gift of forgetting any more than you do."

The other woman sighed. "Everyone thinks water is malleable, easy to divert and reshape. They should try arguing with you."

"Earth is the seed of all things. Air is made of many parts. Fire is change made visible. But water is always water -- freeze it, boil it, pour in endless rivers of poison, and underneath it all, water never changes," Sara agreed. She opened her hands. "Accept that. And drink -- you have a long journey ahead."

"Stubborn as a river wearing its way to the sea," her friend said, a hint of laughter in her otherwise solemn voice. "Until next time, Jibril. Nanatsusaya gives his love as well... or would, if he knew what the word meant."

"I'll settle for his respect," she said, and rose to bid Alexiel farewell.


---------------

Sara held her eyes shut for a minute after she woke, trying to anchor herself. She was lying on cushions, not stones, and the air was too warm for outdoors. She thought she smelled coffee. There was no brook, no scent of flowers, no rustle of wings. This was earth, not heaven.

She pushed the fading dream away and opened her eyes to the main room of her own apartment; she was lying on the couch, and someone had taken off her coat and tossed it over her like a blanket. "Did you carry me all the way across the city?"

"Yes. But I used an aversion spell; nobody will remember you acting like a passed-out drunk on the bus," Lucifer said from the kitchen. "Are you willing to listen or are you determined to be stupid?"

Sara sighed and sat up, pushing her hair back over her shoulders. "Fine. So I used to be an angel and I may be able to do magic without realizing it. It's not important. I'm not Jibril -- I don't have her memories! -- and I don't want people to see her when they look at me."

"Nobody does," Lucifer said as Sara joined him at the small table. "Yes, you and she share a soul, and if I look for similarities I can find them, but you're Sara now. Forcing you to reenact the past would be pointless. So forget that. All I want to do is teach you precautions so you don't leave astral traces a blind man could follow." He handed her a mug of coffee.

Sara took a tentative sip -- he'd made it too strong, as usual -- and then stared into the mug, watching a faint swirl of oil on the surface of the bitter liquid. "Setsuna doesn't want me to cut my hair," she said.

Lucifer blinked. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Jibril has long hair."

After a moment, Lucifer shrugged. "I don't see how that matters. Maybe subconscious habit led you to grow your hair long, but you kept it long because it looks good this way. Furthermore, Setsuna knew you long before he ever heard of Jibril -- technically, he's never met her -- so that's not on his mind. You're the only one worrying about her."

"That's what Setsuna said. But..." Sara twisted the coffee mug back and forth between her hands.

"What? If you're wallowing in self-pity, I don't want to hear it."

Sara scowled at him. "Stop being such a jerk. It's easy for Setsuna to draw a line between himself and Alexiel. She's a woman; he's a man. It's harder for me. What do I hold onto and say, 'This is me, that's her,' and know for sure that I'm getting it right?"

Lucifer set down his coffee and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket. "First, I don't see why you care. It's not as if Jibril is a monster. Second, her personality grew from the same foundation that yours did, so it's natural for you to share certain traits, but you're each shaped by your experiences, and those are very different. I know both of you, so trust me when I say that you as Sara and you as Jibril are not exactly the same person."

He set the unlit cigarette on the table and held up his hands. "Third, let me draw an analogy. I met you when you were nine." Left hand. "Now you're twenty-three." Right hand. "You've changed since I first met you -- there are similarities, continuities, between now and then, but there are also differences. You don't think exactly the same way. You don't care about exactly the same things. Still, you don't say that the person you were at nine years old was somehow not you. Right?"

"Yes, but--"

"Jibril is to your human life like your childhood self is to your adult self," Lucifer continued, talking over Sara. "You don't worry about people seeing you as a child instead of a woman, so I don't see why you're so worried about drawing lines between yourself as a human and yourself as an angel."

"Because it's not the same thing," Sara said. "I remember being nine. I don't remember being Jibril. And-- and what happens when I die? She's going to swallow me and nobody will even care, because Alexiel is going to kill Setsuna, too."

"I'd care. So would Kurai and Raphael, at the very least. But you're being stupid." Lucifer conjured a wisp of flame between his fingers; the tip of his cigarette glowed red and a curl of smoke drifted toward the kitchen ceiling. "You won't disappear. Souls with our level of power don't have the luxury of forgetting, not without outside encouragement, so your memories and personality will weave into hers. You could equally well think of it as you waking up with all of Jibril's memories and personality intertwined with yours." He shrugged. "I'm not Nanatsusaya or Kira Sakuya, but I remember being them. I know what they knew, I feel what they felt, and even though I still use my old name, I'm not the same person I was before those other lives."

Lucifer breathed a stream of smoke across the table and smiled wryly. "I told Setsuna that I'm the only person in here anymore, but that's because all three of my lives merged, not because the others were negated. You and Setsuna won't be annihilated. Trust me."

Sara frowned. "So I'll be like-- like a teaspoon of dye in a bathtub. That's not good enough."

"It's all you're going to get," Lucifer said, without sympathy. "Stop obsessing. You're here and you're alive. So live."

Sara tugged at a lock of hair, winding the long strands around and around her fingers as she tried to think. Why did she care so much about Jibril these days? She hadn't minded before... but then, she hadn't thought about the implications before. Her soul had spent thousands of years being Jibril, and only just over two decades being Mudo Sara. What were twenty-three years set against millennia? Even setting aside her fate after death, how could she ever be sure that her choices were her own, not dictated by the weight of an angel's life?

Maybe if she knew more about Jibril, she could be more confident. Half the reason she didn't worry about her childhood self was because she remembered being that girl, and she knew exactly why she'd chosen to change certain aspects of herself and hold onto other aspects like grim death. If she knew who Jibril was as a person, she could decide whether she wanted to share those characteristics.

"You said you could see similarities between me and Jibril," Sara said. "What was she like? From what Raphael said, I thought she was ladylike and a little uptight. Lil said she used to cry for the Grigori and Metatron really liked her, so she was probably nice, but that's hardly anything. You knew her, right? The elemental guardians grew up together and you're Michael's brother. You must have known me -- her -- in heaven."

The shadows around Lucifer deepened and the air sang with an indefinable edge, but his expression remained mild. "You don't want to know."

"Yes, I do," Sara said. She met his eyes and waited for him to give in. King of hell or not, Lucifer was still her friend. He would never hurt her. She refused to let him intimidate her.

Finally Lucifer sighed and the kitchen brightened again. "She was stubborn and headstrong," he said, "though she hid those traits much better than you do. Heaven wasn't a good place to be different, so Jibril did her best to fit in. She disliked corruption and to my knowledge she never fell in love, so it was easy for her to be a paragon of angelic virtue. She liked people and wished she could do more to help them, but heaven was no place to work openly against traditions and laws. She was good with words -- she had to be, to survive the politics in Briah -- and she used to say outrageous things to start arguments and distract me when I wanted to tear Michael's head off." Lucifer laughed, and for a moment Sara saw Kira Sakuya in him so strongly she almost cried.

"She liked pretty clothes and jewelry, especially sapphires and pearls," he continued, "and always got mud on her dress hems when she walked in her gardens. She had a lot of gardens, and she changed the landscapes every decade or so, which is unusual -- most angels grow set in their ways and prefer familiar surroundings. And she..." He trailed off, and shook his head. "That's enough."

"No, it's not. 'And she' what?" Sara asked.

"You're happier not knowing."

Sara raised her chin. "Stop acting like Setsuna! I don't need protection, and you don't have the right to make that decision anyway. Only I do. 'And she' what, Lucifer?"

"And, though nobody ever knew, she was a fallen angel," Lucifer finished. His mouth twisted into a cold smirk. "Just like you."

---------------

"The Cherubim have grown lax," a dark voice said from the windowsill.

Sara whirled in surprise, only to smile when the armored intruder lifted his helm and revealed Lucifer's familiar features. "If you're here, what supports Sheol?" she asked, deliberately setting aside her anger at his attempt to frighten her. "I've received no reports of chaos in hell, nor of any structure replacing your body as the linchpin of that plane."

"You may hear reports of political chaos soon," Lucifer said, sliding to the floor and closing the window behind himself. "As I withdrew, I replaced my bones with spells cloaked in an illusion, and then pretended to remove my own soul so the Satans won't question my double's lack of response. They won't be able to keep the pantomime silent forever... but with luck, I should return before the consequences get out of hand, with a new ally to smooth any complaints about my methods."

Sara nodded. "The guards around Atziluth and Eden have been relaxed and I can find the current passwords by this evening. Wait here and put your helm back on -- pretend you're a spy reporting in from hell. I'll send Katan, my aide, to debrief you, which should keep you from getting too bored while I'm gone." She smiled sweetly. "The news of your soul's disappearance should cause all kinds of confusion in the high command -- just what you and Alexiel will need to cover a quiet escape."

Lucifer's eyes burned against the back of her neck as she slipped from her office.


---------------

"Someone would have known," Sara whispered, fighting the gauzy whisper in the back of her mind that laughed at Lucifer for simplifying a millennia-long dance of veils and patience into the useless black and white of God's categories. "You're lying."

"I try to avoid lies. They're a nuisance to keep straight, and the truth generally motivates people better in any case," Lucifer said.

"Then what do you call all those years when you pretended to be human?"

"An omission. I was Kira Sakuya, as much as I was a sword-spirit. There was no point handing out irrelevant details." Lucifer shrugged. "The truth is a vast, contradictory mess. I tell the parts that get me what I want, and it's not my problem if people ignore what I don't say."

Sara glanced up at his eyes, gauging his sincerity. They were gray ice, as usual, but there was no hint of falsehood on his face, just a trace of irritation.

"What are you not saying to me?"

Lucifer raised his coffee mug. "You're not stupid. You tell me."

Sara scowled and took a swallow of overly bitter coffee to cover her confusion. How was she supposed to know what he wasn't telling her? That was impossible unless she already knew the answers, in which case she wouldn't be asking him! "Jerk," she muttered.

Lucifer smirked.

Fine. What had he told her? Jibril was nice and stubborn, but she couldn't do much to help people and she had to act proper or the other angels would turn on her. Jibril had argued with Lucifer, but he seemed to like her anyway. Jibril was secretly a fallen angel...

Sara blinked. "Hey! If nobody knew Jibril was a fallen angel, how do you know? And what was her crime? It couldn't have been like mine, since you said she never fell in love."

The smirk shaded into a true smile. "Congratulations, Sara; you're as sharp as always. I knew Jibril had fallen because she was my agent in heaven after the war."

Sara set down her mug so fast she slopped coffee over the rim onto her hand. "She was what?"

"My agent in heaven. Sometimes a saboteur, but mostly a spy and a conduit for malcontents to flee heaven and swear fealty to my cause." Lucifer drank a swallow of his own coffee. "Belial tells me you continued that work for generations after God stuffed me into that sword. And all that time, Rosiel and Sevothtarte thought you were incapable of doing more than weeping for bodiless Grigori and scattering alms in the Shamayim slums."

"I-- but--" Sara started, her head spinning from this revelation. She paused. "Why?"

Lucifer wrapped his hands around his coffee mug, an oddly pensive expression lurking in the corners of his eyes and mouth. "When God told me his plan for my life, I needed time to think. I ended up in Jibril's gardens. She found me there three days later. We used to spar with words. She liked that, liked baiting and distracting me -- just like you still do. She pushed me into telling her about God and Alexiel, and while I never asked, never let her say anything aloud, I suspect she couldn't stomach the denial of free will."

His mouth twisted. "It's one thing to obey God's plan when you're commanded to be good. It's another thing entirely to be commanded to be the source and example of ultimate evil, and then condemned for your actions as if they'd been your own choice all along. Raphael didn't lie -- Jibril was a good person. She believed in justice and mercy, in love and compassion. She believed God was good. When she learned the truth, she couldn't support him anymore."

Lucifer shrugged and leaned back in his chair, lifting his mug with a lazy gesture. "So she supported me. And Alexiel." He tilted back his head and drank the last of his coffee.

---------------

"That will be all for today, Katan," Sara said with a smile. "Thank you for helping me organize the reports on the war reconstruction effort for tomorrow's meeting. I'd hate to waste Sevothtarte's time."

Katan looked politely skeptical.

Sara's smile widened. "Yes, all right, I wouldn't mind wasting his time at all, but it seems rude to trap the others with him longer than necessary. Even if I'm annoyed at Raphael."

"When are you not annoyed at Raphael?" Katan murmured. "Shall I accompany you to the meeting tomorrow, Lady Jibril?"

Sara tapped the sheaf of papers on her desk, considering. "I think... yes. I'm not always available, you know, and I'd prefer to give Sevothtarte time to accept you as my new deputy before I throw you in at the deep end. And I may be very busy these next few years."

Katan looked intrigued, but he knew better than to ask. Outside the Cherubim, Sara's reputation painted her a delicate, fragile flower. Her own order knew better, but then, all the Cherubim knew about the game of masks. The Thrones thought that they were Heaven's spies -- and they did bring back useful intelligence, now and then -- but the Cherubim were the real eyes and ears. They were the strategists, the map-makers, the logisticians. They made all the plans; therefore, they needed to know the world as it was, not as the Thrones would have them see it or as the Seraphim would wish it to be.

Sara didn't take many missions, of course -- she was much too valuable as a coordinator and politician -- but there were some matters, she hinted to her staff, that required a personal touch. Rebuilding her double- and triple-agent networks in Hell, and investigating Nanatsusaya's fate, were not things she could leave to anyone else.

"Take the reports and make certain you're prepared for any questions Sevothtarte may ask," Sara said as she handed the sheaf of papers and the backup data chip to Katan. "I'm leaving early today. I'll meet you at the council room tomorrow morning."

As Katan closed the door to her office, Sara activated the astral shields that would protect her from spying eyes and minds. Then she set about creating a portal to earth. The Thrones had found Rosiel's prison. Logically, Nanatsusaya must have fallen nearby. She'd heard nothing from Lucifer, nor any reports of change in Hell's political structure; therefore, he was still trapped in the form of a sword. By now he must have lured a new bearer and put himself back together. He would need a goal to focus his hatred and rage, a hope to restrain his bloodlust, and a challenge to catch his mind.

Sara knelt on the earth of Honshu, running her hands over the construct of Alexiel's and Lucifer's intertwined power that held Rosiel bound and sleeping. If only-- but what was, was. All she could hope to change was the future.

She let her own power spill into the damp air, riding the breath of rain, and whispered, "Nanatsusaya, Nanatsusaya, Nanatsusaya."

He came.

She told him Alexiel's sentence, and set two thousand years of ragged hope in motion.


---------------

Sara frowned. "A spy? A double-agent? I couldn't do that."

"No," agreed Lucifer, "not here and now, not as Sara. You haven't learned the same lessons in this life; you were forged by different pressures. Both you and Setsuna wear your hearts on your sleeves in a way Jibril and Alexiel never could. But the drive to do what's right, to work for fairness and justice -- and kindness, I suppose -- in any way you can... that's still there. That's part of your soul." He smiled wryly, with a hint of a bitter edge. "It took me far too long to realize that's a strength as well as a weakness."

"You were always kind to us," Sara said reflexively, then added, "In a very backwards way, of course. But we always knew you cared."

Lucifer's smile gentled a fraction. "I've never been good at hiding from you or Setsuna. The only reason you didn't suspect me until Kurai and Katan started meddling is that you had no frame of reference for any slips I made."

Sara shook her head. "That's not it. I always thought you had secrets, but I didn't care. Don't you remember how we got rid of Takako? I would have done the same to you, but I knew you would never hurt Setsuna. I don't know how I knew, but I did -- and I was right." She paused. "Was that Jibril, telling me to trust you?"

"Who knows?" Lucifer said. He stood and placed his empty mug in the sink. "If buried memories of me as Lucifer or Nanatsusaya made you more inclined to trust me as Kira Sakuya, that only means you gave me a chance to prove myself instead of jumping instantly to Setsuna's defense. You still had to make the final judgment as Mudo Sara."

"But who am I as Sara?" she asked. "You've said that I'm like Jibril, and that I'm different, and that we're the same person except we're not. How am I supposed to make any sense out of that?"

Lucifer leaned against the sink and frowned at her. "It doesn't make sense because your situation isn't normal. Reincarnations are supposed to work the way Setsuna's did: each human life wiped clean in the Crucible, with only traces of memory and habit adding to the foundation of the next personality in the next life. But Jibril's memories couldn't be destroyed, any more than mine or Alexiel's, so they're only suppressed."

He shrugged. "In a way, that makes you a cleaner slate than other reincarnations -- you built yourself on a clean foundation rather than one etched and grooved by previous lives. In another way, that makes you more influenced by your past life, since Jibril's personality is intact somewhere in your mind, and ideas and emotions may leak across the barrier now and then." He folded his arms. "Of course, your ideas and emotions are just as likely to influence her. Why aren't you worried about that?"

"She's an angel; she can take care of herself," Sara said.

"And you can take care of yourself," Lucifer answered. "Your will is as strong as hers. Look, if you're going to drive yourself crazy over this, cut your hair, start wearing leather, and make a habit of being deliberately cruel to everyone you meet. Then you'll know you're not acting like Jibril."

"I couldn't--!" Sara said. She was sure her face showed how appalling that idea sounded.

"Good. Because that would be stupid. You'd be destroying yourself to spite your past life, who, I assure you, would never want to cause you pain or worry." Lucifer pointed at Sara's mostly full coffee mug. "Are you going to drink that?"

Sara shook her head. "You made it too strong. Again."

He shrugged, and dumped the cooling coffee into the sink. "There's another difference -- Jibril liked bitter flavors. You like spice and sugar."

The lord of hell knew Sara's taste in food. Sometimes the surrealism of her life was more apparent than others. She couldn't help it; she laughed.

"There you go," Lucifer said, his tall, dark figure incongruous in the cramped and sunny kitchen. "You'd look cute with short hair. But don't cut it because you're afraid of Jibril. Cut it because you want to. Or don't. Just remember that it's your life now."

Sara thought about the inconvenience of long hair -- long showers, clogged drains, the heat of blow dryers in midsummer, all the little maneuvers to keep it out of her way and make sure other people didn't grab it or sit on it. She thought about the weight on her head and her neck, and the time she spent brush and braiding and styling.

"Long hair is a nuisance," she said.

Lucifer said nothing.

But she loved the feel of her hair, spilling down her back like rough silk just after she brushed it. She loved playing with different styles. She loved the look on Setsuna's face when she untied her hair and let it fly free, and the feel of his fingers combing through the strands. She loved the way it framed her face and cloaked her body and made her feel beautiful and special.

When she'd cut her hair in Jibril's body, she'd felt so light and strange, as if she might drift up into the sky without the weight of her hair holding her to the earth, or turn her head too fast and separate it from her body by accident.

"I can always grow it back," she decided. The little scissors she used to trim her bangs would only be blunted by the mass of her hair. She needed something larger, stronger. Sara stood from the table and went to the mail table, to find a pair of household scissors.

Lucifer followed, silently.

Sara held the scissors out toward him. "Cut it off just below my shoulders, please. I'll pay someone to tidy it up later."

Lucifer held the scissors like a sword. "Be sure you're doing this from desire, not fear."

"I want to try short hair," Sara said. "Maybe I'll like it. Maybe I won't. But if it's silly to cut my hair because I'm scared of Jibril, it's just as stupid to keep it long because I'm trying to prove that I'm not scared of her. Either way, I'd only be thinking about her, not me. I want to know whether I like short hair."

Lucifer smiled. "Good. Let's do this right, though. I've watched Belial cut her hair often enough, and I know you're supposed to start by washing it. Go dunk your head in the sink while I find a towel."

---------------

"I may need to disappear for a while," Sara murmured as she and Zaphkiel walked side by side in a formal public garden, following the turns of the yew bushes as they wended their way out from the center of the labyrinth.

The blind leader of the Thrones sent an inquisitive look in Sara's direction. "Oh? Do I want to know the details?"

"It's safer not to," Sara told him, stepping closer and linking her arm through his. "I do apologize for ruining your surveillance equipment at the end of Alexiel's last incarnation."

"Ah," Zaphkiel said, his voice low and calm. "...Disappearance is tantamount to an admission of guilt. Perhaps you should simply visit Michael for a time, until I can arrange for a continuous escort."

Sara shook her head. Her hair slithered over the back of her dress, and clung to the heavy wool of Zaphkiel's coat. "Sevothtarte only needs one assassin to succeed, and he is far too skilled at suborning or brainwashing agents. I'm reorganizing the Cherubim to manage without me for a century, if necessary -- I think a triumvirate of Dobiel, Sebhil, and Katan to manage politics, intelligence, and operations, respectively, will work best. I have worked on the front lines before. This will simply be an extended undercover mission."

Zaphkiel frowned. "If Sevothtarte is suspicious of you, and has let that information slip, he is ready to move and sure that you have no way to counter him. Leave now. Worry about the Cherubim later. You can always send messages from hiding -- route them through me if you wish. But leave. In fact, stop wasting time talking to me."

As they reached the exit from the maze, he withdrew his arm, caught her hand, and bowed low, pretending to kiss Sara's fingers. "I wish you luck," he whispered. "Let me look into that some more," he said in a louder voice for the benefit of any watchers. "I'll tell you my conclusions at the meeting, where we can ask Sevothtarte's opinion as well."

"Thank you, Zaphkiel," Sara said, dropping into a formal curtsey. "I look forward to seeing you tomorrow."

She turned left as Zaphkiel turned right, and began walking out of the garden complex, hoping to lose any pursuit among the crowds and narrow backstreets of Raquia. It would be simple enough to enter a bathhouse and walk out with short hair and different clothes -- to exchange her image as the Guardian of Water for the guise of an unranked angel, or an eager young archangel candidate.

She never left the gardens.

A needle bit into her neck, and a voice murmured, "You are skilled at deception, and I know if I gave you a chance to run, you would vanish without a trace. But you are not the only strategist or illusionist in heaven. You will serve my purposes, Jibril, whether you consent or not. I would be most distressed to see you change your appearance. It is so much easier to claim that a delicately beautiful woman has lost her mind with grief than to claim that a ragged, short-haired waif is really the leader of the Cherubim -- don't you agree?"

Sara slumped to the ground, fighting to lift her hand to her neck and remove the needle, or to summon water from the nearby fountains to sweep her attacker away. She failed. Her eyelids fluttered closed -- once, then again, then again, then for good.

The last thing she saw before a wall came down around her mind was Sevothtarte's eyes glinting in victory.


---------------

When Setsuna came home with takeout from a local Chinese restaurant, Sara and Lucifer were back in the kitchen, talking idly about botany in Sheol. Sara's hair hung loose just below her shoulders.

She gave her brother a challenging look, daring him to comment.

Setsuna leaned against the kitchen doorframe with a neutral expression. It was strange not to see his emotions painted clear as day in the set of his eyes and mouth, but watchful reserve seemed oddly natural on his face. Sara wondered, suddenly, if that was one of Alexiel's expressions. Maybe the lines between Setsuna's lives were less sharp than she'd thought.

"Did you cut it because you wanted to, or because you were scared of Jibril or angry at me?" Setsuna asked.

"Because I wanted to," Sara said. She turned her head, letting her hair swirl through the air. It still moved like a living thing, and it was long enough to put up and play with, but her body felt so light without the two extra feet of hair Lucifer had chopped away. "What do you think, Setsuna? Am I still pretty? Do I still look like myself?"

He smiled. "Of course you look like yourself. Who else would you look like? And you're always beautiful, Sara." He set the bag of food on the table and buried one hand in her hair. "I'll miss your old hair, but this is nice too."

Sara tilted her head back, smiling, and Setsuna leaned down to kiss her.

"Another happy ending," Lucifer said. There was a small crackle of flame, and then he blew a stream of cigarette smoke across the table toward his friends. "Save the rest for after dinner, though, unless you want Belial to smell secondhand sex on my jacket when I get home."

Setsuna made a face, tickling Sara's lips, and pulled back to glare at Lucifer. "Nobody invited you anyway."

"I did," Sara said firmly. "We've been talking about a lot of things, and he'll be staying on the spare futon overnight so he can teach us about proper astral shielding tomorrow."

Setsuna made another face. "Not that I mind having you around," he said to Lucifer, "but I do wish you two would ask now and then before deciding my life for me." He walked over to a cabinet and pulled out three plates, then grabbed three sets of chopsticks from a drawer. "I bet Alexiel didn't have to put up with this."

Sara looked at Lucifer, trying to ask a silent question with her eyes and the tilt of her head.

Lucifer smiled. "You've never been good at managing your own life, in any incarnation, Setsuna. You need people to keep you out of trouble. Who do you think kept you safe after we left Eden but before you declared war on heaven? And who do you think got you out of that box in the first place? It's no use asking us to stop now."

Setsuna whirled and stared at Sara and Lucifer in betrayal. "That wasn't-- but you-- I'm not--" He paused, took a deep breath, and slammed the plates down onto the table. "Fine. I give up. You win. Just shut up about anything to do with past lives, okay? For tonight, let's pretend they don't exist. We're two humans and our best friend who happens to be the devil, and we're going to eat cheap Chinese food and talk about our jobs and complain about the weather. Okay?"

Lucifer shrugged and blew another stream of smoke across the table. "Whatever."

"Okay," Sara agreed. They'd talk tomorrow. She'd been wrong to keep all her worry about Jibril knotted up inside, and if Setsuna was worried about Alexiel the same way, he needed to let that out as well.

But that could wait. For now, they were together, and dinner was waiting.

Outside, snow began to fall through the twilight, laying a clean, fresh surface over the earth.

---------------------------------------------

End of Story

---------------------------------------------

In other news, I have obviously missed my posting date for lgbtfest. *sigh* I will try to get the story finished this week and post it next Wednesday, since Wednesdays are amnesty posting days this year. (The story has gone annoyingly political on me... by which I mean that I want to be writing about sexual orientations but the characters are determined to talk about inheritance rules and the political implications of tangled Ymris genealogy and marriage games. *headdesk* Astrin, for my sake, please stop being so private and just tell Rork your main reason for remaining single instead of arguing all the ancillary justifications!)

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Asuka Kureruaskerian on June 3rd, 2010 06:36 am (UTC)
X3333

I love all the brand new emotional issues you can play with when reincarnation is part of game. Ohohoho. And i'm really liking Jibril as an intelligence master, and the idea of Sara using her powers without meaning to.
Elizabeth Culmer, only a *little* bit crazy...: butterflyedenfalling on June 3rd, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
Reincarnation (especially the muddle Kaori Yuki makes of it) is fascinating to play around with. :-) I am having a lot of fun creating Jibril out of the few hints we get in canon, speculation about what characteristics she'd need to survive high-level politics in heaven for several millennia, and extrapolation from Sara's personality.

As for the spy thing, well, I was trying to make sense of the seven angelic orders, and it seemed to me that the Seraphim are obviously the leadership caste, the Thrones are military police and security forces, the Dominions run the legal system, the Principalities run the prisons, the Powers are the elite corps of the army, and the Virtues are heaven's health care system. I suspect both the Seraphim and the Virtues are involved in scientific research. The Cherubim have a think tank and that's all we really know -- but they're the second highest order, which means their jobs must be very important. To me, that suggests they are heaven's strategists and intelligence service.

(I have decided that the last two orders -- Archangels and Angels -- are catch-all orders. Archangels are cadets trying to get into one of the five 'real' orders, while Angels are the general population of heaven. Aions and misfits like Shateiel, the one-winged angel, are not even allowed into that base caste and are instead equivalent to untouchables.)

...I talk too much. But there's no way to make most of this stuff visible in the stories, and it's fun to work out.

Anyway, as for Sara using her powers unintentionally, IIRC Raphael suggests at one point that that might have been Sevothtarte's plan all along. Sara could act as Setsuna's guardian angel because water would protect her whether she consciously asked it to or not, and if she and Setsuna were together, that protection would extend to him. That way Sevothtarte followed the letter of the law by giving Alexiel a guardian angel to make sure her incarnation didn't die until Uriel's curse had set up the worst possible fate, but also got Jibril out of his way.
Unknown Hypothetical Alien Species-Otherkin!: Bringing sexy back REDUX.lanoyee on June 3rd, 2010 07:54 am (UTC)
I think I will henceforth never get over the awesome of Sara telling THE DEVIL that he's being such a JERK.

This is great. I've told you time and again that I love your worldbuilding for this series, I think, and I love, love, love what you do with Sara here. The way you write her is such a joy to read; opinionated and strongheaded and with issues, but not afraid to face them, like in canon. I also really appreciate that the focus here is on her reincarnation and how she deals with it, which is kind of a blank that was never filled in canon.

Elizabeth Culmer, only a *little* bit crazy...: butterflyedenfalling on June 3rd, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I have a great love for Sara telling Lucifer off. She does it in at least two other fics in this series. :-)

I have always been impressed by Sara's strength of will. She's the one who realized how selfish she and Setsuna were being, and that they needed to think of the consequences of their actions, which is why she wouldn't let him rescue her at Lil's expense. And later, she overcomes Sandalphon's brainwashing by sheer force of will and determination not to keep living in the past. I think that is awesome.

I am actually grateful that Kaori Yuki largely ignored Sara's relationship to Jibril in canon, because I think, from her author's notes, that she was intending to have Jibril "wake up" once Sara's soul left her body, and thus make them be two separate people instead of two incarnations of the same person. That would have been yet another form of reincarnation that I'd need to reconcile with the others, and it's already difficult to make sense of the things people say about reincarnation in the manga. So as I say, I'm grateful for the canon blank, because it gives me space to try making sense out of the information we already have.
Unknown Hypothetical Alien Species-Otherkin!: Amira - lookie there!lanoyee on June 3rd, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I think I vaguely remember! She can keep doing that. :)

I wholeheartedly agree. She really impressed me when she went back to Lil instead of just running away. Now that you mention it, yes, living in the past and ceasing to do so was definitely a major theme for her, toward the end. In a way, that reflects the general events that went down at the time: they were basically killing God and thus creating a whole new world-order.

I see! In that way, it is convenient.