Excerpt: Angels with Clipped Wings

“You ever gonna tell me who put in the complaint?” Eli asked, turning to his assigned handler. Adam didn’t look back at him, just faced forward as if he still needed his eyes on the road. They were parked in a rented moving van outside an apartment building. Eli knew that they should go inside, get started on their assignment, but he couldn’t resist at least trying to get some answers.

“Who said it was just one?”

Eli sighed. Adam had always had a dry sense of humor, and back when they’d been colleagues, he would’ve found such a comment funny, even charming. Now, after he’d been demoted time and time again, he just found it grating. “C’mon.”

A handler, Eli thought. It was insulting.

He’d been given a good talk, all about how handlers were randomly assigned to make sure all the t’s were being crossed and the i’s were being dotted, but he knew the truth. Handlers’ cases were chosen because the angel in question had gotten complaints. Because there were doubts about their performance.

He and Adam had been friends before Adam was promoted above him. Had perhaps been on their way to becoming more… but that was in the past. It wouldn’t be so bad if the other angel didn’t continually look at him like he was a disappointment.

“I can’t tell you exactly who,” Adam said with a sigh. “But I can give you the gist of the complaints, if you want to hear them.”

Eli gave him an expectant look and waited. Though he looked uncomfortable, Adam went on.

“You take too long on mortal assignments, which is why you haven’t been assigned to one in decades.”

“Already guessed that one.”

“You get… you get too involved,” Adam said. “Whether on a mortal assignment or an angelic one. For instance, this case? None of this was necessary. We could have just stayed in Heaven.”

The words stung, and sent a jolt of panic up his spine. Though he watched Adam closely, he didn’t see any hint that he might know the truth.

“Really,” he said, crossing his arms “And how would you go about solving it?”

“We didn’t have to take human guise. If you’d avoided that, we wouldn’t have had to arrange for Samantha’s neighbor to move; wouldn’t have had to requisition all of these things appropriate for two men in their twenties,” he said, motioning to the back of the moving van. “I would have made sure a full-time job opened up for her, and guaranteed she got paid enough from now on to get her back on her medication. And, if I could, I would have ensured the hospital bills were taken care of.”

“So you think it’s all about money.” Eli regretted the harsh words instantly, almost reaching out to Adam as he frowned and turned away. He remembered Adam’s first day in Heaven, the way he’d laughed as he’d learned how to use his wings.

“I think financial security would eliminate a lot of her stress,” he finally said.

“Look,” Eli said. “About what I said. I didn’t—”

“Let’s just get all this stuff inside.”

*~*~*

He should have gone easier on Eli, Adam thought as they opened the back doors of the moving van. He was impulsive and spoke without thinking sometimes, yes, but that didn’t mean he needed to be snapped at. And just because he’d chosen to approach this case in a different way than Adam would have didn’t mean the approach was wrong.

It was just so frustrating to watch someone who was kind and helpful and fundamentally good fail time after time. It almost seemed like Eli was deliberately sabotaging himself.

After Adam had accused him of exactly that, the two of them had stopped talking.

He’d met Eli soon after he’d accepted the position of angel. Eli had been the one to show him around Heaven, to explain everything. He’d been a wonderful guide, and Adam had looked up to him. He’d imagined rising through the ranks with him, imagined other things as well. Eli, clearly, had shared none of those daydreams.

It didn’t matter now, Adam thought. All that mattered was handling this case.

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