In Lonely Exile Here
Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist

by Tenshi

"It was," Sytry said, wielding the windex sprayer with emphatic force, "A particularly glaring error."

Dantalion paused over his laptop, a trenta pumpkin spice latte halfway to his mouth. "It was one typo on your article. In the footnotes. On a page number."

Even the sound of Sytry's paper towel on the glass was smug. "Nobody respects a demon with an unprofessional online presence."

Dantalion had given up even pretending to hide his eye-rolls sometime around the fourth century. "Nobody respects a demon who spends all his time correcting Wikipedia."

"...said the demon trying to get his associate's in PhysEd, of all things." Sytry picked an invisible speck of lint off the glass. "And failing three semesters running."

"I am under. cover." Dantalion's glare was hot and red over the top of his laptop screen, but made less effective by his whipped-cream moustache. "And staying at this school is part of that. At least I'm not working in a Starbucks and eating my way through the pastry case every damn day."

Sytry checked his reflection in the newly-spotless pastry-case, and tucked a strand of his pretty lavender hair back in his beanie. "I'm looking for Solomon, thank you, and doing a better job of it than you are."

Dantalion made a clattering noise on his keyboard that could not have been legitimate typing, even for a demon. "Oh? By making lattes and stuffing your pockets with madeleines?"

Sytry favored him with an arched eyebrow before whisking around behind the counter again. "Everybody comes to Starbucks eventually, Dantalion. Everybody."

It was dark already by the time Dantalion left the coffee shop, winter darkness descending faster now with every shrinking day. It had snowed steadily for the week, and now the faded light in the sky was replaced by a dim, reflected streetlight-glow on the frozen snow. Dantalion kicked a crumpled soda can out of his path, and it clattered down the narrow channel dug through the knee-deep snow covering the sidewalk.

Three semesters of failure. A year and a half in this thrice-dammed city. Of course it wasn't entirely on purpose, but luckily for his pride it had worked out that way. Because despite all augurs, all portents, all the expectation of Heaven and Hell, Solomon had not come back yet.

Dantalion stopped under the fitful orange cascade of a streetlight, his breath pluming in the cold. When had he gotten used to it here? Used to the old college neighborhood nestled inside the teeming human metropolis, used to Sytry's too-sweet macchiato, used to the worn armchairs of Camio's secondhand bookshop. For years now they'd been here, and any other number of angels and demons besides, popping in and out among the oblivious humans as they waited. But all they had in common was a tremendous absence.

Dantalion put his hand to his throat, feeling the marks that always burned there beneath his human disguise and habitual black turtleneck. Uncounted human ages had passed, and yet. He would always feel that other throat beneath his hand. As he would always feel those lips, that silken hair, the hot brand of Solomon's holy ring pressed against his skin. In all the tongues of angels and demons there were no words for his longing. And though he would only admit it in his innermost thoughts, it was not just for Solomon. More than his king and master, he yearned for--

"Excuse me. I don't want to interrupt... whatever you're doing, but can you not block the sidewalk while you do?"

Dantalion yelped, and then bit his lip halfway though an oath that would have burned most of the city block to ash, had he completed it. Standing in front of him, in the slushy path grudgingly dug through the snow, was the whole of all his longings. For a moment, Dantalion thought him a mirage, or some conjuring of sorcerery. For the streetlight turned his hair to molten gold, and under the thick wrap of his scarf, green eyes shone with a light brighter than all of Dantalion's memories. His cold-ruddy cheeks and look of peeved annoyance, however, were nothing short of authentic.

"I mean," the man who had once been the king of kings continued, "it's not like anyone seems to enforce snow-shoveling code in this town. Is that part of the city ordinances? Or is it on the college? Because this doesn't look like any two feet wide at minimum to me."

Dantalion made a noise. It was mostly one of agreement, and he had to fight off a sudden, powerful urge to wave his hand and summon forth a battalion of imps with red-hot shovels to clear the way for his king, and lissome succubae to strew roses in his path. That voice had given Dantalion commands both tender and cruel--sometimes in the same breath--and even now it was hard for him to resist its implications. It was nothing short of mercy that he had not been directly ordered to move, for Dantalion would have warped time and space to make way for his master. And that, as he had come to learn, always required too many difficult explanations. He didn't feel mentally prepared to make them now, that was for certain. "It's--yes. It isn't."

"Yes, it isn't?" Solomon, or whoever he was now, rolled his eyes heavenward, unaware how much other regions had longed for his appearance on the scene. "Merciful Asimov. Are you a student? Because if that's the grammatical construction they allow in the English classes here, I've got my work cut out for me."

At once, Dantalion recalled with photographic clarity the email he'd been pretending to read while Sytry went on about his Wikipedia article. A campus-wide email, full of the usual mortal nonsense about holiday closures, finals weeks-- and the new English Professor. His name, utterly overlooked in the moment, shone now in Dantalion's memory as though written in ancient Angelic on the very air between them.

"You're... Professor Twining."

He started, and for the most fleeting of seconds--far less than any human could see or catalogue--there was recognition in his face. A draw of his eyebrow, a tilt of his head, a narrowed eye. I know you from somewhere. Dantalion saw it, and within his heart there was a sudden thaw that not even the hottest August day could match.

"Ah. Yes. I am. Why--"

Dantalion held out his hand, and fought to keep his smile warm, but restrained. Not triumphant. Certainly not overwhelmed with longing, as he felt. "Dantalion Huber. I'm in your Tuesday-Thursday composition class. Can I buy you a coffee?"

"Oh." William Twining allowed his hand to be shaken, and they both pretended the shudder that passed between them was only caused by a tiny gust of wind, scattering fresh snowflakes down through the streetlight. "I'm not sure I should be fraternizing with students--"

"It's cold as hell out here," Dantalion pressed. "And besides, the barista on shift is a pain in the ass if you don't know how to handle him."

"I can handle my own baristas, thank you Mr. Huber." But that recognition flitted over his face once more, and he edged up a tiny bit of space, to allow more room for Dantalion to walk on the cleared part of the sidewalk. "But I suppose I can make an exception this time."

Dantalion was not wearing his cloak, but he swept his arm out as though he was, allowing William to pass him by. And with the ice melting unnoticed in his wake, the Grand Duke of Hell followed his king into the winter night.


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