This story appeared in the zine "LA Vespers 2". Special thanks to SHaron for having it transcribed. The author is not on the internet and doesn't have email. Comments on this story can be sent via snail mail to Flamingo, PO Box 823, Beltsville MD 20704-0823, and will be forwarded to the author.
Heaven Can Wait, Can't It?
"What's the matter with him?" The speaker was an angel, obviously well into middle-eons, and his voice had the ring of thousands of years of authority behind it. He stood, gnarled staff in hand, near a pair of pearly-splendored gates. The word "ENTRANCE" gleamed in polished gold letters nearly a man's height high. It was apparent that the speaker's curiosity stemmed from the singular behavior of a serious-faced young angel who stared down through a maze of clouds at the planet below. So intense was his concentration that he didn't notice the two angels who were watching him.
"Matter with him? He's only been here for--let me think--maybe two earth years. Really a novice still." The second angel spoke softly, as if reluctant to disturb such rapt attention. He was slightly built, but had the same air of authority as his companion, and he absently stroked a small golden harp with his wing feathers. He glanced over at the still figure again, shook his head, then continued. "He appeared to be settling down. But then this--it's been hard for him--the waiting."
"The waiting? Oh, you mean for his review. Well, I suppose that always seems to take forever, doesn't it. You know, Stephen, I can still recall my own..."
"No, no, not that. He's waiting for his friend. He says it's time."
"Ahh... How long has he been standing there?" Sympathy was written on the serene countenance.
"About ten days. They were very close, Michael." Stephen settled his harp on a tiny cloud and flexed his shoulders. His wings winnowed as he addressed the older seraph. "Yes, he was a real problem at first. Attitude was all wrong for one thing." His eyes widened as he remembered. "Didn't want to be here! Can you imagine that?"
Michael nodded so vigorously his halo made a quick orbit around his head. Reaching up, he patted it back in place, then sighed. "I've noticed that about men in his line of work. It's as if they didn't believe heaven existed." He stopped to observe the subject of their discussion. "His friend, is he... ready yet?"
The younger seraph bit his lip, his eyes averted. "Almost. I do wish sometimes that the new ones couldn't see all that happens down there." He lowered his voice and leaned closer. "Michael, it was very bad the day it happened. He actually cried. I didn't believe he would remember how, so few of them do." He met his companion's gaze. "It's very rare, that kind of caring, isn't it? Down there, I mean." Stephen peered through the gauzy layers of clouds.
The older angel didn't answer, merely scrutinized the figure waiting at the gates. Suddenly his eyes narrowed. "What's happened to his wings? They're a little short, aren't they?"
For the first time, Stephen smiled broadly. "Haven't you heard about that? It caused quite a stir at the time." He picked up his harp, settled himself comfortably on the cloud, and began plucking out chords. "When he first arrived he was sent to Angelic Resources; they always try to fit the angel to the job, as you well know. Since there is no need for law enforcement, at least not his kind of law enforcement, we immediately had a problem. Well, they kept him at the Center for at least a month, sending him out on the usual novice jobs: hanging clouds, polishing stars, making sure the moon was just right." A chuckle escaped him as he threw back his head. "Seems he got the moon phases mixed up and reversed the quarters. It caused the tides to ebb, then come thundering in when he corrected his mistake. Oh, we had a terrible fuss about that! They took Astral Responsibilities away from him completely. Bartholomew almost lost his Angelic Calm." Stephen strummed the harp, sending music floating around them. Several angels smiled in response to the ethereal sounds as they passed. The novice at the gates looked their way, then dropped his gaze once again. His left hand clung tightly to one of the gate's silver bars.
Michael adjusted his robes, nodded solemnly at the group of passing angels, then touched Stephen's sandal with his staff. "Well? Finish your story. What happened to his wings?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes. The next problem was a typical one -- CURIOSITY. He had to see who was up here and who wasn't. Spent several months trying to find everyone he had cared for down there." Stephen stared pensively for a moment. "Even then he would come back to the gates and try to see what his friend was doing. I recall last week when it happened -- he never left that spot for a second."
"The wings, Stephen! What happened to his wings?"
A slow smile illuminated the serious face. "Well, about six weeks ago he was assigned to Night Patrol, a sheer stroke of genius on Martin's part. Martin always does things so well, doesn't he?" As his companion nodded, Stephen continued. "And that was the start. That first night he covered more territory than any angel we've had on patrol in centuries! Martin, of course, wanted his secret; and I might just tell you that the novice was loath to share it with him. Martin persuaded him, however, and he explained it was all in the shape of his wings -- aerodynamics he called it. Anyhow, by trimming the tips of certain feathers, and by maneuvering in special patterns, he has managed to patrol a whole sector by himself. Can you imagine that?"
Michael looked properly impressed and stared at the new angel with something akin to respect. There was a faint air of eagerness about him, and the old seraph quirked an eyebrow. "It's nearly time for the next host of new angels, isn't it? Do you know what his friend looks like?"
Stephen got to his feet, but before he could answer there was a flurry of arriving archangels, resplendent with golden trumpets and opalescent wings. As the thrilling strains of their music filled the heavens, the huge gates swung open and a small band of new arrivals was ushered in. They stood, obviously dazed and overwhelmed by the glory of their welcome. Some fidgeted with the wings that were so newly-attached to their shoulders. But smiles began appearing when a child laughed and fell with delighted abandon into a cloud. Two of the new arrivals reached down and pulled him up, setting him gently on his feet.
The two spectators smiled indulgently, agreeing that it was always easiest on the children. But then their attention wandered to where the vigilant angel had been. He was no longer at his post. As they searched the throng, one of the newcomers stepped away from the rest. He was tall, hair shining as brightly as the golden trumpets, and he wore an air of wonder, fear, and also something else. Expectancy shone from the blue eyes as he stared gravely at every face. No one was paying him the slightest attention, and except for the two angels who watched him, he was quite alone.
"Hutch!!" A laugh as joyful as the child's startled Michael and Stephen, and they whirled to see who had called. It was the novice who had been the subject of their concern. He half-ran, half-skimmed the air, arms outstretched before him. Tears flowed easily, matched by those from the new arrival.
"Hutch!" This time the name was said fiercely, and the two friends embraced, oblivious to the stares of those around them.
"Starsky? Is it really you?" The fair-haired newcomer stood back, holding his companion at arms length. "You look so...well, kind of like an angel." He smiled then, a dazzling smile that made his features glow. "What's it like up here, partner? Have you kept out of trouble?"
The other's answer was muffled as he lightly touched his companions shoulder. "I will now. Everything's fine, now. In fact, everything's gonna be perfect from now on."
The seraphs watched as he took the newcomer by the hand, leading him to the gatepost. He pointed down through the white haze. "I watched every day -- before you got here, I mean." There were tears in the blue eyes. "I've waited a long time, Hutch, a long time..."
Stephen stared at Michael, then whispered, "It's been hard on them, hasn't it? They seem to share a deeper friendship than most. The waiting was quite painful."
The archangels had departed, the gates were beginning their ponderous swing shut. Michael took up his staff, nodding briefly as he watched the milling arrivals; there was an unusually restive air about them. "I must move along. These new ones need to get settled in, join their families. Orientation begins tomorrow." He smiled at his companion, then looked around. "Where did our friends get to?" He peered to the left, but didn't see either one.
Stephen spoke softly and played a strain on his harp. "Down there, see them? The one named Starsky is showing his friend how to fly. I heard him mention the Night Patrol. Perhaps Martin can be persuaded to let them work together. It seems appropriate, doesn't it?" There was a wistful edge to his voice.
Michael nodded, halo bobbing, and a rueful smile appeared on his grave features. "I imagine even Heaven would have a difficult time separating them after this. Starsky has waited so long, and now, look at him!" He chuckled.
The angel being discussed had just folded his wings into a perfect V and dived through a great bank of clouds. Moments later he reappeared, head poking through the mist. His voice floated back to the seraphs.
"See, Hutch? Piece of cake!"