Author's Notes:  This is a fusion with the Earthian manga and anime, though it will differ greatly at times from the set storyline.  There will be other anime
characters popping up through the fic, but the main are from Gundam Wing (particularly Duo and Heero).  You shouldn't need to know any of the other anime
to follow this story since the plot will sit as an 'Alternate Universe' more than anything.
Summary:  As the only black-winged angel to be born on Eden, Duo has spent his life as an outcast.  When he's adopted by an eccentric Archangel, his life is
turned upside down.  Suddenly he finds himself attending school with the top echelons of Eden, and playing academic rival to one of the most competitive and
confusing angels he's ever met, Heero.  It's a partnership made in Hell, set in Eden, and sent to Earth.
Category:  Anime, Yaoi, Gundam Wing, fusion with Earthian, AU
Warnings:  minor angst, will contain shonen ai, violence, sap, and lemon/lime content
Pairings:  1x2, minor 3x4, RaphaelxMichael, and others
Author:  Arigatomina


Part 1:  The Adoption

The car that came to pick him up was the most expensive one Duo had ever seen.  If he hadn't been so despondent, he would have enjoyed just riding in the
vehicle and looking out the tinted windows.  He'd always wanted to see what it was like looking out from the inside of one of them.  But sitting in that luxurious
seat, with the dark glass partition separating him from the unseen driver, Duo had no thought of enjoying himself.  

It was almost certainly the only time he'd be in such a vehicle, something he should have been experiencing for all he was worth so he could remember it for
years to come.  At the very least, he should have been looking around at the furnishings so he could tell the younger kids about it when he got back to the
orphanage.  And yet he couldn't seem to look above his hands, folded and pale in his lap.  

He'd never been taken for an interview before.  It made his hopes rise.  He wished they'd simply come to him like the others.  Then he'd be able to hide when
the inevitable tears came.

For the last fifteen years of his life, the same ritual had been reenacted over and over, at least three times a year.  Someone would come and look at him, ask
him questions as if it mattered what he said, and then, when he had done his best to appear the same as any other child, he'd be asked that final question.  It
was always last.  

Once, he'd tried to do it the moment he walked into the room, but the woman had waved the suggestion away and pretended she hadn't already made up her
mind.  He'd had hope that time, and he'd sat through the interview, each of her lovely smiles making his heart jump into his throat.  But the time had come, like
always, and she'd finally asked to see his wings.  She left immediately afterwards, and he'd gone to his private hiding place in the garden to cry.  

That was the last time he'd allowed himself to hope.  Since then, he didn't try so hard, didn't buy into the seemingly interested questions he was asked, the
fake smiles he was given.  He merely waited for that final question.  

And eventually he was able to stop the tears.  They'd burn his eyes as he hugged himself, but he wouldn't let them fall.

He didn't know why they continued to seek him out.  

He'd been at the orphanage since birth, left there by parents unknown.  Other children found their way to the place after accidents, the rare disease that left
children orphaned, and the Earthian-caused casualties that took checkers away from their families back in Eden.  Those young ones rarely stayed long, and
some were there mere days before eager parents swept them up.  

Children were rare, as angels mated at irregular intervals.  And the beautiful ones were often fought over in the offices of the orphanage.  Duo had seen that,
lovely adults arguing over who could provide the best home for the sweet child waiting in the hall.  

He knew exactly what sort of behavior was best for a child who wanted to be adopted, and he'd made it a habit to instruct new arrivals on just that.  It meant the
ones who liked him best were gone sooner.  

Sometimes he wondered at that, why he'd help his only friends to leave him as quickly as possible.  But he couldn't not tell them.  No one wanted to be at the
orphanage for any longer than absolutely necessary.  

It didn't matter what he did during his interviews, but the others were different - behavior and looks determined who was chosen.  And he'd been around long
enough to instruct the new arrivals on exactly how to become what the would-be parents wanted most.

That advice of his led the adults running the place to think he had a way with the other children.  They had no idea that he was telling the other children how to
act, teaching rambunctious boys how to pretend to be sweet obedient darlings, and helping the girls to look as pretty as possible while reminding them to smile
and look as happy as if their entire futures weren't riding on the results of a single interview.  

The ones running the orphanage thought it was his engaging personality that won the others over, and that was half the reason he continued to get
interviews.  They bragged about him as if they had no idea that to the rest of Eden he was something better left hidden if not forgotten, or disposed of

The adults liked him enough to hurt him again and again with potential parents, but not enough to adopt him themselves.  If he hadn't been grateful to receive
any kind of appreciation, he'd have hated them for their kindness.  

But he couldn't bring himself to act badly and make them stop talking of him as if he were an upstanding youth.  He didn't want to live in a place without at least
one person being glad he was there.  

So he continued to be on his best behavior during the interviews.  He held back the scorn and the words that wanted to break free from his lips.  He didn't offer
to show his wings the moment he stepped into the interviewing room.  He did his part and pretended he didn't know the people had only come to see the

And now he was going a step further, he was actually going away for an interview and allowing himself to get his hopes up.

He didn't know what to expect when Helen had told him he'd be having the interview outside of the orphanage.  She'd seem very excited about it, smiling even
more than she usually did when she told him about the people who were going to interview him.  

For as long as he'd known her, the woman seemed incapable of letting the repeated failures bother her spirits.  She always had that same glitter in her eyes,
the reminder that this time it could be different.  

He'd come to hate that smile, those words she gave again and again.  But he loved her for caring enough to at least pretend someone might actually want
him.  It was better than nothing, and nothing was what he got from most everyone else.  

She'd taken him from the kitchen and told him the news, beaming as she explained that it was an archangel who would be interviewing him.  The very idea had
made him want to raise an eyebrow and then respectfully decline.  

Even the manual laborers turned him down.  What was the point of being interviewed by an archangel?

Of course, he couldn't say anything like that to Helen, not when she started her ritual "maybe this time" speech.  He'd done his best to smile at her and
pretend to have just as much hope as she did.  

He hadn't bothered to ask where he was going until the car arrived.  By then, there wasn't time to find out.

The ride took longer than he'd expected, though he hadn't known what to expect, and he had more than enough time to think about what was to come.  He
could only hope they'd send him back to the car right after asking to see his wings.  While he'd gotten good at keeping the tears from falling, he didn't know if
he'd have as much control if others were watching him after the rejection. He'd grown reliant on that little spot in the garden behind the orphanage, his
sanctuary for over ten years.  

He was five when he realized his tears bothered Helen.  She'd led him from the interviewing room and stopped in the hall as he started crying.  And she had
left him there.  

He could still remember how hard he'd sobbed at being abandoned even inside his home.  The adults who'd interviewed him stared when they found him just
outside the door, and he'd run from their looks.  He ended up finding Helen in the garden, and that was when he realized she didn't like to see him cry, and
she didn't want him to see her cry either.  

Since then, he'd found his own place in the garden, just like she had, so no one would see him.  It was what he took to be the 'adult' thing to do, and it made it
easier.  He never again wanted to receive looks like the ones those adults had given him when they came out of that room.  Even at five he'd known they were
more disgusted by his tears than they'd been by his wings.

Duo didn't really know if he should have outgrown his ritual tears, but he sometimes wondered if they were another aberration.  Helen was the only person
he'd ever seen cry, and as many sad children as he'd met in the orphanage, surely another one would have cried at least once if it were a normal thing.  He
took it to be something private and dirty, like relieving one's self.  Only he couldn't seem to break this, no matter how many years passed.  

Every rejection made his throat tighten, made his eyes burn until he had to hide until he could trust himself not to let the tears fall.  It was just one more thing
to be ashamed of, something he couldn't help, no more than he could help the color of his wings, just one more reason to hate himself for being what he was.  
And it was one more reason to wish they'd stop interviewing him.  

It was as if they enjoyed torturing him, like the boy he'd warned months back for poking an injured bird in the garden, as if they couldn't resist prodding him to
see him twist in pain.

His hands tightened where he'd folded them in his lap, and he stared at the white-edged pink tint on his knuckles.  They hurt, but he couldn't loosen the hold.  

Why would they send him away for an interview?  

Surely someone as prestigious as an archangel would rather come to the orphanage than have him set foot in his own home.  It made him suspicious and sick
to his stomach.  

An archangel.  

They were in charge of everything in Eden; they literally ruled the world.  He'd done nothing to attract the attention of such a person.  And Duo knew for a fact
the only time archangels intervened was when they were sentencing derelicts to Earth.  

There was no cause for that.  No matter what color his wings were, he'd never done anything that would make him be punished that way.  And besides, he was
underage.  It wasn't possible.

The car slowed, but Duo didn't so much as glance up to see where they were.  He was trying frantically to loosen his hands and slow his heart.  

It was just an interview, just another interview.  

He'd been through this time and time again.  So what if it were an archangel?  It was still just another interview.  

No matter how many people came to look in horrid fascination at him, he'd done nothing wrong.  He wasn't being taken away to be sentenced.  

Some rich angel was going out of his way for a bit of entertainment at his expense.  It was just another showing of the pariah.  

It was only an interview!

His shoulders began to shake just as he saw a shadow approach the window to his right.  He wrenched his hands apart seconds before the door was opened.

A tall man held the door for him, watching as Duo shifted so he could get out of the car.  His hands had curled into fists, and he pressed them close to his
sides to hide the tremors.  Standing made him feel heady and nauseated, his stomach twisting into unpleasant knots.  

The man closed the car door behind him and moved as if he meant to take Duo's arm and escort him into the tall house that loomed over them.  Duo's eyes
dropped and he watched as the man's hand froze inches from him, hesitated, and then pulled back.  

As if he were infected and a simple touch, even through cloth, would be enough to pass the disease on.  

That display settled Duo's nerves better than any reassurances could have.  It really was just another interview.  

If they were condemning him as a Lucifer, they wouldn't have been afraid to touch him.  They'd have drug him inside and thrown him into a cell until the
sentencing was complete.  He knew; he'd studied the laws.  

He might have been a pariah, but he wasn't stupid.  He was just a little unreasonable at times.  

Duo sighed, a deep breath doing wonders on his queasy stomach.  The man had passed him to hold the door to the mansion open for him, pale blue eyes
staring at him with far more restraint than Duo was used to.  If he hadn't spent years seeing it, he might have missed the uneasy interest in the man's
otherwise polite gaze.  

A part of him wanted to smile suddenly, to pat the man on the arm and tell him to wait, he'd get to see the wings shortly.  He could just imagine how the man
would jump and rub his arm, backing away in something akin to terror.  

The thought made Duo's lips twitch, and he actually did smile a little.  

It would be all right now.  He'd go in, answer the questions, show his wings, and then leave.  And who knew, maybe this time he wouldn't cry at all.  He doubted
a fifteen-year streak would break that quickly, but the hope let him straighten his shoulders and put on the proper mask.  

By the time he entered the front doors, he had the same well-behaved demeanor he'd perfected as a little boy.  It worked for every single child he'd taught it
to, and it would let him honestly tell Helen he'd tried his best after he was rejected because of the color of his wings.

The house was huge, with a wide, open space just inside the doors, and curved staircases leading to the second floor across from the entrance.  Duo followed
the man towards these and up the right set of stairs.  

He didn't really look at the pretty vases and statues they passed, each on a unique pedestal, or the lovely framed pictures of beautiful pale-haired angels that
lined the walls, or the bright polished silver handles on the doors they passed.  His eyes were on the soft-looking carpet that covered the center of the
gleaming mahogany floor.

It was disrespectful to meet an elder with raised eyes.  That would be taken as belligerence, or worse, a lack of caring.  As an orphan hoping to be adopted,
he was expected to be sweet and submissive.  Time had taught him that mask very well, and he wore it with ease.  

It was half-true, after all.  He didn't think of himself as sweet, but he was entirely submissive.  He'd never once argued with the people rejecting him, and
obedience had kept him from being reprimanded in the orphanage.  No matter what people said of him because of his wings, he was a well-behaved teenager.

The man opened a door for him, and Duo entered it quietly.  From the corner of his eye, he watched the man bow and then take his leave.  

A silent moment passed, no more or less than Duo was used to during an interview, and then he was invited to have a seat.  

He looked up, taking in the wide desk that was rather cluttered with papers and booklets, pens and folders, with just enough free space for pale clad arms to
rest on and a pretty mug to sit on a little place mat.  And he met eyes with the man who'd spoken, a very beautiful man with pale wavy blonde hair, bright pale
blue eyes, and a welcoming smile.  

Duo's mind gave a silent snort at that smile even as he plastered a timid but hopeful look on his face.  

He was careful not to walk too quickly or too slowly as he took the seat across from the desk.  

It was then that he glanced to the side to look at the other man in the room.  This one was not as happily pretty as the blonde, but his straight pale green hair
was lovely, his face not round and young but slender instead and almost artistic.  

This angel didn't smile.  

Duo immediately decided he could have liked the man under different circumstances, for having the honesty not to pretend this was anything other than an
exhibit.  But he didn't linger.  

With a solemn expression, Duo folded his hands in his lap and looked at the blonde man watching him from across that surprisingly cluttered desk.

"Welcome," said the blonde.  His voice was light and careless, and his pale eyes glittered when he smiled.  "I am Archangel Michael, and this is Archangel
Raphael, my advisor."  

The pale green-haired man was still looking at Duo, expressionless, and he gave a sharp, serious nod when the boy glanced at him again.  Duo blinked, taken
back by the man's behavior.  

This was different.  The blonde - Archangel Michael, his mind supplied, reminding him to be respectful - was acting just like any other fake interviewer.  But
Raphael was looking at him as if he didn't have anything to hide and wanted Duo to know that he was not happy to see him.  Oh, he didn't look angry or
disgusted, just not happy.  Duo didn't know what to make of that.  

He tore his eyes away and did his best to get back into the ruse.  

"Duo," he said softly.  

Of course they knew his name, but they always pretended they didn't.  He'd never quite figured out why.

"Yes, yes," Michael smiled, waving a pale hand at the boy.  "I've read all about you.  But then, I'm sure you realize every angel on Eden knows about you."

Duo's mouth fell open before he could stop it, and he winced, closing it quickly.  That was the last thing he'd expected to hear from someone interviewing him.  

Of course he knew.  

He'd read his own name in the history books, how could he not know?  He was the only angel in the history of Eden to have been born without white wings.  

But interviewers always pretended he was just another kid up until the final question. For Archangel Michael to state it outright like that...he didn't know what to
make of that.  

The blonde was watching him, waiting for some sort of response.  All Duo could manage was a little nod.  "Yes."

"Well, then," said Michael, "onto the main point of discussion."  

He took a drink from his mug and leaned forward with another of those seemingly careless smiles.  

"It seems my wife is unable to bear children.  Rather than break from her, I've decided to take a ward.  I've been meaning to do it for years, but something
always comes up and I completely forget my responsibilities.  I'm sure you know an archangel is required to produce at least one child during his lifetime, what
with our low birthrate.  I rather like my wife, so I'd rather not abandon her over something she cannot help.  That leaves adoption.  Which brings me to you."  

The violet-eyed boy stared at him, and Michael's smile widened.  

"Tell me about yourself."


The man's smile was making his hands itch, and Duo rubbed them as inconspicuously as possible.  

What was he supposed to say?  

It was a direct and open question; no one ever asked him an open question.  They asked what his interests were, how he felt about little things that didn't
matter, what his favorite color was, or his favorite food or game, and then they asked to see his wings.  

The only important thing about him was the color of his wings, and Michael had already admitted that he knew that.  


"There is no wrong answer," said Raphael.  

His voice was deeper than Michael's, but softer and almost accented.  He gave another of those sharp nods when Duo turned wide eyes up to him.

Duo frowned and shook his head.  This time he wouldn't be able to say he tried his best, because he had no idea what the best answer would be to such an
open-ended question.  

"I'm fifteen," said Duo, "possibly sixteen since my birthdate is unknown."  

He lifted his gaze, all pretense of hopefulness dropping from his face.  

"I live in an orphanage and have my entire life.  I've been taking care of the children for the last six years, and helping the staff since the budget was cut three
years ago.  I've been interviewed one hundred and fifty-three times since I was five, before then I didn't think to count.  I was first placed for adoption at three.  
They waited till I was able to show my wings on my own, for obvious reasons.  I've had no official schooling, and have no talents to speak of.  And I've never

That last statement did it.  The blonde man had watched him with a sad expression, but the last bit made him jerk back with a visibly shocked look on his face.  
Duo returned it with dead calm.

"Never flown?" Raphael repeated.  He moved away from the wall to stare down at Duo.  "Why not?  Are your wings not functional?  There was no report of you
having any ailment or abnormality aside from the coloring."

The man was glaring now, and for some reason it made Duo want to smile.  If he hadn't known better, he'd have sworn the man was concerned and almost

Duo answered him with a careless voice, almost mimicking Michael's earlier tone.  "I've never flown because there was no place to fly.  Orphanages don't have
the proper attendants for that, so it's left for the adopting parents to teach the children.  I was never adopted."

Michael still looked shocked, but he leaned forward again, confusion in his furrowed brow.  "But surely you experimented on your own.  You mean to say you
never snuck out to try?"

That suggestion might have made him angry if he hadn't realized the archangel was ill informed.  The man obviously didn't know much about orphanages or
the laws regarding them.  

Duo shook his head.  "Any illicit, unsupervised flight would get the orphanage shut down.  Then where would I go?  I wouldn't risk that."

A vague shadow passed over Michael's face, and he sent a sharp look to Raphael.  The man nodded in response.  

That was one law which would be eliminated within days.  To think a child might grow past puberty without ever having flown was a sharp dereliction.  
Obviously with the huge call for adopted children, they'd never thought of a case where a child might remain in custody for so long.  But that was another
matter, in the meantime they'd have to take steps to prevent it from happening in the future.  

Duo was watching him, and he turned back to the boy with a blatant frown.  

"Now I'm afraid I don't understand at all," Michael admitted.  "If you've never been schooled, how did you take the entrance exams?"

"For the academy?"  

Duo's eyes widened and he felt a warm flush creep to his cheeks.  Surely she hadn't...  

"I didn't," he said, "not really.  I was just curious to see what sort of questions they had so I asked for a transcript.  But I never-"

"I have the results right here," said Michael.  He shifted a few folders off the stack to his right and tapped one pointedly.  "You took the same test the other
students took."

"But I never turned it in," said Duo.  

He could feel a wash of nervous embarrassment creep over his face and shook his head so quickly his braid caught on the back of the chair.  It made him
blush darker.  

"I was just curious," he said quickly.  "I didn't mean any harm.  I just wanted to see what it was like, I didn't think anyone would-"

"What I want to know," Michael interrupted, "is how you took the test without having any schooling.  Those questions require extensive study to answer."

"I...I've been reading for years."  

His wary gaze shifted to Raphael when the man returned to his position against the wall, and he felt his face warm even more.  His cheeks might as well have
been on fire.  

With a deep breath, Duo closed his eyes.  "It's only a crime to take the test if you attempt to submit it illicitly.  I never submitted it, I swear I didn't.  I wouldn't lie
about my lack of education."

"He thinks he's in trouble."  Raphael smirked suddenly, his eyes sparking when the boy gave him a confused look.  "Michael, why don't you tell him."

"Well," Michael frowned, "there's nothing illicit about this test.  Yours was signed by the witness who requested the form, and submitted by the same.  And as
she once served in administration at the academy, she's fully accepted to act as witness for a private testing with or without recording to back her up.  I
assumed this was the plan."  

The formerly blushing boy was now growing rather pale.  Michael's frown deepened.  "You mean to tell me she gave you the test under the impression that it
would not be submitted?"


Duo swallowed sharply, his mind flying.  The last thing he wanted was to get Helen in trouble.  

"I asked for it," he admitted, "but I only wanted to see what it was like.  I didn't really ask her if she planned to turn it in, I just thought that since I'm - that since I
haven't been properly educated that it wouldn't be applicable."

"Well," said Raphael, "you thought wrong."  

Wide violet eyes snapped to him, and Raphael sniffed, still smirking.  "Michael, get on with it."

"It's a lot to take in," Michael sighed, frowning a bit at his friend.  

Raphael raised an eyebrow and a pretty scowl passed over the blonde's face.  He turned back to Duo and tapped the folder with obvious distraction.  

"The fact is," said Michael, "you did very well on the exam, excellent, really.  That should be no surprise to you.  What is noteworthy is that you also scored the
highest of this year's entering class."  

Duo's gaze was still wary, but he didn't look very surprised.  Michael's eyebrow twitched.  

"You've caused quite an uproar, you know.  The closest student was fifteen points beneath you."

There wasn't really anything to say to that, so Duo waited silently.  

He was sure he'd caused an uproar, of course he had.  And he was just as sure that had he not taken the test in the office at the orphanage, with its cameras,
that his test would have been dismissed as a fraud.  Now he knew why Helen has insisted he take it there, even after he'd told her it was just for fun.  

Quite frankly, he'd been bored.  Teenagers were eligible for the academy at sixteen, and though there was no chance of his going, the test had been
something to look forward to.  Studying for it had kept him busy for nearly two years.  And while he hadn't seen any real point in the effort, he'd enjoyed
pleasing Helen, and having something to do.  He'd never once considered what might happen if the test were actually submitted.

The violet-eyed boy was watching him with a wary, but solemn expression.  Michael waited a few minutes before frowning and tilting his head.  

"It's quite an accomplishment," he said softly.

Duo blinked when he realized the man expected some sort of response from him.  "Thank you?"

A soft sound made him look to his right, and Duo's eyes widened.  Raphael looked like he was enjoying the way Michael twitched at his words.

"He's certainly not conceited," Raphael commented, earning himself a mock glare from his superior.

"I noticed," Michael drawled.  "Well, then.  That's really the main thing I wanted to discuss with you."  

The boy met him with that same, steady gaze he'd used earlier.  

"Do you actually want to be a checker?" asked Michael

"I never considered it," Duo admitted.  "But I doubt test scores would make much difference when I can't fly.  I'd probably fail the practical course."

"True," said Michael, "you'd have to get some sort of private instruction in order to catch up with the others, and even then you'd still be years behind.  I'm
sure you'd graduate regardless, but you'd never leave Eden without excellent flight skills.  A strong partner would settle the difference, of course.  Getting one
would be the real challenge, though your scores could help there.  I wouldn't rule it out."

Duo could feel his heart jerking at the idea, struggling to jump up into his throat.  He squashed it as ruthlessly as he could.  It was bad enough without getting
his hopes up even higher.  

He couldn't get himself adopted, there was no way he'd get into the academy, and even if he did - no one would agree to be partnered with him.  Even if he
were an excellent flier with the highest score in the entering class, that didn't change what he was.  

Chances were good that he'd never make it through the academy, whether he had a chance to enter or not.  The students would rebel if they had to work
alongside him.  

That wasn't even considering whether or not he wanted to go to earth and be a checker.  It was an honor to go, but to be in the very place others were
banished to?  To go there by choice?  

He honestly hadn't thought about the academy at all, just the test.  The only time he'd given any thought to the earth was when he read about those angels
who fled to there, or the ones who were banished to the planet.  Other than that, it was just earth - the closest habitable planet to Eden.

He'd been terrified at the thought of being banished to the place, so there was no reason to wish he could go there by choice.  That line of reasoning did
better to calm his hopes than crushing them did.  

He only wanted to go to the academy because he knew he'd never get to.  What would he want with a place full of people his age who'd openly hate him?  He
got more than enough of that right where he was.  

Besides, he didn't like the idea of judging others and marking a tally of their sins.  If he went, he'd want to be a positive checker, and he was sure his
background would eliminate that option.

Michael frowned a bit, his gaze moving over the silent boy seated across from him.  Duo certainly didn't look overly excited, or even eager.  The boy looked
sober, and much older than he had earlier with that dark blush swamping his pale face.  A glance at Raphael showed that his friend had drawn the same

He had to remind himself that this wasn't just any teenager, it was a boy who'd spent his entire life in seclusion.  What did that sort of thing do to a person?  

By nature, angels were uncomfortable in solitude.  They always traveled in pairs, anything benefiting or harming one directly affecting the other.  It kept a
balance on Eden as a whole, holding family lineage as the highest mark of respect and honor, and partners as the closest thing to family until mates were

The checkers followed this by necessity, with a positive countering the negative checker.  But even children were paired if parents had only one.  That was just
the way things were done.

Though Duo didn't hear the movement, he glanced up when he felt someone near him.  Raphael was standing at his side, something about the man's
expression making his stomach lurch.  

Duo looked across the table and quickly wiped all expression off his face.  He knew what was coming next.

"Come outside now," said Raphael.  

Across the desk, Michael beamed at him and stood quickly.  "Yes, we might as well see now before we go any further with this."

Why outside?  

The question rang in Duo's mind, but he didn't voice it.  It didn't really matter where he was when he showed them his wings.  And doing it outside would really
be best.  He'd be closer to the car, so he could leave immediately afterward.  

Michael led the way, Raphael trailing back so Duo walked ahead of him.

They went down the same staircase Duo had come up earlier, and this time he looked at the pictures.  There was no point pretending now, so he didn't bother
to lower his gaze.  

As it turned out, he only had to glance at a few to catch the general pattern.  The men looked eerily similar to Michael with only the shades of their hair
differing, and the few women dotting the hall were blonde, almost the exact shade of Michael's hair.  His first thought was that two families had kept matings
inside the pact.  

And that was probably just how it had happened.  Prestigious families always mated with people of an equal class setting.  The only time they went outside
their ranks was when their first mates were unable to produce children.

Duo had expected them to go out the front door, but he was relieved when Michael led them into a back hall.  While he was eager to get this over with, he
definitely didn't want to do it in front of the large mansion.  He could just imagine people stopping to gape at him.  

The thought made his stomach twist violently, and he nearly stumbled at the wave of nausea that swept over him.  If he was sick here, he'd die from the
humiliation.  He clenched his teeth and tried to take long breaths to steady his head, but he could feel his eyes burning.  

Why couldn't they have just let him do it in the office?  Why draw it out?  

All of that talk about the test scores and the academy, making him think that they were different.  He didn't know who to blame more, them for changing the
routine, or himself for falling for it.  

Something touched his shoulder and he did stumble, nearly walking right into Michael.  He hadn't noticed the man had stopped and turned toward him.  His
entire attention had latched onto the pale hand on his shoulder.

"Are you ill?" Raphael asked, frowning down at Duo.  

The boy's face as pale, almost grayish, and he could hear his frantic breathing.  He sounded like he was suffering some sort of panic attack.  

Duo shook his head roughly, not looking any higher than the hand still holding his shoulder.  Raphael hadn't let go.  

He wanted to tell him not to touch him, to glare at him for acting as if he cared, for behaving unlike anyone Duo had ever met in an interview even though he
was doing the same thing everyone else had done.  

But he didn't glare.  He winced, dizzy from having shook his head like that.

Michael's eyes widened when Duo wavered a bit, and he crouched down so he could see the boy's lowered face.  "What's wrong?  If you aren't feeling well,
this can wait."

"No."  Duo straightened, ignoring the resulting discomfort.  There was no way he'd postpone this.  

He lifted reproachful eyes to Michael and blinked at the concern on the man's face.  Now they were both tormenting him with those unexpected expressions.

"Nonsense," Michael frowned.  He straightened as well and folded his arms over his chest.  "The last thing we need is for you to strain yourself on your first
try.  We have a few days before classes start, more than enough time to do a test flight."

Pained confusion swamped Duo's face and he opened his mouth - only to have Michael pass him by with a somehow pleased scowl.  He had an insane urge to
ask the man how he could look happy when he was frowning like that.

Stopping next to Raphael, Michael sighed.  "Have Muriel send for someone to check him over.  I want a complete physical, particularly on his wings.  Let's just
hope the report was accurate or I'll be up to my ears in paperwork for the rest of the week.  I might have known there'd be complications, there always are."

"And you thrive on them," Raphael smirked.  "Go ahead and make your call.  I'm sure you're dying to call her with the news."

"Dying isn't the right word for it," sighed Michael, "more like relieved to the point of exhaustion.  The poor woman has been out of her mind with guilt.  As if I'd
turn her out over something so easily remedied.  You'd think she didn't know me at all.  Why, I have never been fickle."

A rejoinder immediately came to mind for that outright lie, but Raphael held it back, his lips twitching into a very small smirk.  "Right," he drawled.

Michael shot him a suspicious look before brushing by, his hand lifted in parting.  "I'll leave it to you," he called.

Dazed violet eyes followed the blonde's progress, and Raphael folded his arms over his chest, waiting for the boy to look at him.  A few minutes passed before
he realized that wasn't going to happen any time soon.  He sighed.

"I don't believe you're sick," Raphael commented.  Those eyes snapped to him, widening a bit in what looked like apprehension.  "You should know that you've
disappointed him a great deal, postponing this like that.  I thought you'd have been as eager to test out your wings as he was to see you do it."

Duo stared, giving his head a numb shake.  "Test out...?"

"That is what made you so nervous, isn't it?"  Raphael sighed and turned so he could drop a hand on the boy's back, guiding him back the way they'd come.  
"You should realize now you'll have to wait until after the physical.  If I know Mira, she'll have you doing exercises for at least a week before letting you bear
your own weight.  Once she gets her hands on you, you can give up any hope of flying before classes start.  That means you'll miss out on the practical
courses until second term."

He shot a sharp look of disapproval at the boy, his brows lowering.  "Something to learn from this.  If you don't face your problems, they tend to increase."

The archangel was lecturing him.  Duo's eyes widened and he jerked to a halt, not caring one bit that he'd just gone against all of the rules of proper conduct.  

"What are you talking about?" asked Duo.  "What was he talking about?!  And - and where are you taking me...?"

He'd just realized that Raphael had turned somewhere in the last minute or two.  The hallway they were heading down was new to him, not the way they'd been
walking through earlier, or the way he'd come in.  And he had a frightened notion that this wasn't a back entrance to the manor.  The alternatives were
worrisome to say the least.

"I'm taking you to see Muriel," said Raphael.  He raised an eyebrow, wondering where the boy had been for the last ten minutes or so.  "I don't have the time to
stay with you till you settle, so she'll be seeing to the details.  You didn't really expect to just be left to find your own way around the place, did you?  Muriel
handles most of the household business, which includes guest relations."

The word sunk in like an icy blade, freezing Duo on the spot.  "Guest?  I have to stay here?  Why?  If it's because I didn't-"


Raphael tilted his head, pale eyes gleaming down at Duo as a slow smile curved his lips.  "They didn't tell you," he drawled, "did they.  You thought this was
some sort of meeting."

"An interview," Duo whispered, his heart jumping into his throat.  "It's not...?"

"No," said Raphael. "It's not.  Did you really think Michael would have brought you here if he hadn't already made up his mind?"

Duo swallowed, something fluttering around behind his ears as if that nervousness had headed north for reasons unknown.  "I thought it was strange," he said

"More than strange," Raphael sniffed, "highly unlikely.  He's been looking for a suitable candidate for years now.  As much time as he's spent on this, he's
never invited anyone to his home.  The fact is, your test scores decided it.  That might sound cold, but it's the simple truth.  I told the administration at the
orphanage the same, before you were brought here.  I assumed they had told you."

"She never said a word..."  

Those smiles, the glittering eyes, that everpresent hopefulness - all of it flashed into Duo's mind as he remembered his parting with Helen.  She'd known?  
She'd known all along and had let him be tossed around, not knowing up from down?  He didn't know if he felt betrayed or elated...or simply stunned.  

Numb, he felt numb.

"What you're saying," Duo whispered, "is that I've already been adopted?"

"Of course."  Raphael gave a sharp nod, frowning a bit for those haunted violet eyes.  "It's unusual for someone to be so old and still available for adoption, so
the laws have never required agreement from the child - just the adopting party.  If you're angry about it being done without your agreement, you'll have to live
with that anger.  Legally, you are Michael's ward.  Nothing will change that.  I recommend that you see it for what it is, a chance to have your own life outside of
the orphanage."

"But he chose me before he met me...knowing what I am..."  

Duo's eyes narrowed and he scowled up at Raphael, no longer caring if it was impertinent or not.  "So he wanted a pariah from the start."

Raphael stared for a long moment, then snorted at the boy.  "Don't be stupid.  He didn't find out who you were until he contacted the orphanage, and by then
he'd already filled out the papers for the official adoption.  I told you, your scores decided it.  He found out who you were afterward.  It didn't matter as long as
the scores were accurate, which they are."

"What does it matter what I scored on a test?  That's all he used to find a kid to adopt?"  Duo's mouth opened to comment on how shallow that was, but he
caught himself before the words got out.  

The adoption was final.  Did he really want to alienate the people who now as good as owned him?

"You don't know the circumstances," said Raphael, not the least bit bothered by Duo's tone.  "He needed an heir, as soon as possible.  It didn't matter what
the sex was, or the age, or the intelligence for that matter - so long as he got himself an heir.  Most of the pressure came from Lowe himself.  What better way
for Michael to obey, while inadvertently snubbing the head of Population Control, than to adopt the boy who beat his son out of the top spot on the entrance
exams?  The moment you did that, you sealed your own fate."

"So...he adopted me to get back at some guy, because I scored better than his kid did...?"

Duo's face was a picture of disbelief, with a hint of laughter creeping in around the edges.  Raphael smirked at him.


"That's so..."

Raphael nodded with an amused smile, and prodded Duo to continue walking down the hall.  "It's Michael.  He's always been that way.  But don't think he won't
do right by you as his heir.  He takes family loyalty very seriously, as he does his position.  He's never been good with children, though, so he may come off as
being...out of his element.  Aside from that, he means well, and you can be sure you'll find a place in his home quickly enough.

"The only responsibility you have is to hold to what you've shown you can do - your intelligence.  He expects you to excel in the academy, just like your scores
imply that you will.  To that ends, you'll get any help you require, starting with a flight instructor.  Let's hope you're a quick learner."

Duo gulped at the dark way that last bit was stated, his face growing pale.  "W-what if I'm not...?"

A sly smirk answered that, though Raphael's gaze remained ominous.  "Then you can look forward to more bruises than Michael had on his first test flight.  It
comes down to fly or fall, and he can tell you that falling is not at all pleasant."

The archangel left him shortly after that last warning, and Duo found himself in the hands of one very active, if shockingly old woman.  It turned out Muriel was
a bossy, gossiping old bat.  Duo found himself liking her more every minute that passed.  

Her simple looks and straightforward manner helped to put him at complete ease, but it was her sense of humor that made her endearing.  He knew without
question that she was the sort who would care about him the same way Helen had - unwaveringly.

She'd barely set eyes on him before chasing Raphael from the room, a sight that had left Duo hiding a shocked grin behind his hand.  For a somewhat cold
and powerful archangel, the man had been incredibly quick to give way to the woman's orders.  It made him wonder if she hadn't been around when Raphael
was a child, she had that sort of knowing control about her.

The first bit of business, as she put it, was setting him up with a place to live.  To Duo, that meant a bed or mat, and somewhere to clean up in the mornings.  
He couldn't have been any further from the truth.

He was measured, poked and prodded by a blushing young girl, who obviously had no idea who he was, as Muriel made plans for his clothing.  Whatever he'd
left at the orphanage would stay there, or so she stated.  Duo had an idea she disapproved of his simple clothing, if her sneer was any indication.  

Though Duo didn't care much about clothing, he was relieved to learn that there was in fact a dress code at the academy.  That meant he wouldn't have to
worry about standing out if the exuberant old biddy decked him in something too extravagant.  From the way she set out to decorate his room to match his
eyes, he worried what sort of clothing she'd settle on.  It was bad enough being who he was - he didn't want to imagine how people would stare if he were
dressed in shades of blue-violet and lavender...

After the wardrobe was planned, and the decorations for his room were picked out - purple, despite Duo's faint attempt to protest in favor of simple white or
gray - Muriel set him down on his bed and brought in the physician.  

One look at the woman and Duo was remembering how Raphael had warned him about an angel named Mira 'getting her hands' on him.  He stared at the
woman, who was simply the tallest angel he'd ever seen in his entire life.  She was also the most striking, with her dark blood-red hair and odd blue-gray eyes
that were framed with lashes so long he could swear they stuck out further than her nose did.  Her build was too strong to be 'pretty,' but he thought she might
be what people meant when they described females as being handsome.

The woman fairly stalked into the room, her pale eyes narrow and commanding, and halted right in front of Duo.  With her hands on her hips, she sniffed down
at the wide-eyed boy.  "Sixteen years?  You don't look a day over fourteen."

Duo gaped for a second, then closed his mouth with a bristling frown.

"And having fainting spells at the thought of flying," Mira continued haughtily.  "Utterly ridiculous."

That was too much for Duo to take silently.  He scowled up at the woman.  "I didn't faint, I just-"

"Felt nervous," the woman finished, her tone sickly sweet.  "Yes, dear Raphael told me as much.  A panic attack - just a nice way to describe a fainting spell.  
He's never been much for honesty when it comes to ailments, though, so what can you expect?  A woman gets dizzy and it's a fainting spell, a boy nearly
vomits on his shoes and he's just a little nervous.  I've heard it all before."

Eyes wide at the woman's insulting tone, Duo gaped up at her.  Was she married to an archangel?  How could she talk about Raphael that way and expect to
get away with it?

"His euphemisms aside, I'm to give you a complete physical."  She raised her head so she could stare down her stately nose at Duo.  "Let's see these wings
that are supposedly sixteen years in the growth but without a single flight."

"Oh, really," Muriel snorted.  "Don't take it out on the boy, Mira."

She sent a knowing smirk to Duo, shaking her head at the boy's dumbfounded look.  "She's been up in knots over Raphael since he first married.  Had her
sights set on him back when he was learning to fly and did loops around her.  She never could take being bested by a man, that's the honest truth of it."

Duo blinked warily, casting a sidelong look at the simmering woman who was still towering over him.  "Raphael's married?"

"Of course he is," said Muriel.  "He's an archangel, isn't he?  They only get the four years as checkers before they have to come back and start up the family,
you know.  Him and Michael both had their wives picked out before they left.  'Course, it was easy for Michael, what with all those sisters Raphael had.  The
biggest family, this side of Eden, his is.  It's a shame that didn't carry down to the children."

Mira glowered, shooting a nasty look at Muriel.  "Enough gossip, you old crone.  He doesn't need to get an earful from you."

She sent a sharp look at Duo, frowning down with more than a little distaste.  "You've been brought into the second most powerful family in Eden, so don't let
this wastrel fill your head with small talk."

Considering she'd started it by insulting that same family, Duo couldn't help raising an eyebrow at her superior tone.  But she stared at him for so long that he
gave in to a quick, seemingly timid nod.  "Right."

"Anyway," Mira sighed, her scowl easing out into a simple frown, "let's see your wings.  I was told not to comment on the color, so I take it you're the one
everyone's been talking about.  Why he thought to warn me, when you should be used to shocked reactions, I'll never know.  It's one of those things men just
don't get - you don't lie to the kids when the truth is simpler."

Muriel scowled and slipped over to put a hand on Duo's shoulder, her disapproval blazing from her eyes.  "You don't have a wit of sympathy in there, do you,

"Why should I?" Mira sniffed. "He's been adopted by an archangel - who in their right mind would feel sorry for him?"

Duo shifted uncomfortably as she frowned down at him, and he was almost relieved to show his wings.  The sight of them unfurling, long black feathers
gleaming in the pale room, was enough to shut both women up, and to distract them from whether or not he should be treated as a pathetic child in need of a

Muriel sidled away, her eyes wide and so sad that Duo winced from them.  But Mira was unaffected, something in her steady gaze telling him that she really
was a qualified physician, for all her bad personality traits.  She had the eyes of a scientist noting the facts without emotion.  And she did what no one had
done for as long as Duo could remember.  She touched his wings without so much as a tremble in her hands.

What followed was a rude awakening of joints that hadn't been stretched...ever.  He'd unfurled his wings once a week for years, just to have done it, but he'd
never had any reason to stretch them to their full extent.  He was startled to learn that they weren't just a different color, they were shorter than his height
suggested they should have been.  It was nearly a foot, according to Mira, but with his light body mass she didn't think it would matter.  

The feathers themselves seemed thicker than normal, another startling discovery for Duo.  She hypothesized that they might be more resistant to water than
normal wings - a benefit.  All he heard was that there was more than the appearance that separated him from other angels.

Aside from the basics, the joints were in sore disuse, and the muscles were undoubtedly just as bad.  Her disbelief waned the moment he'd stretched his wings
out over the bed.  She believed him now, when he said again that he'd never so much as tried to fly with them.  It was, she stated coldly, visible in the muscles
themselves.  They'd never been used.

"The people who raised you should be hung," Mira scowled.  

She was holding one of his wings at the joint, pressing on it as Duo straightened it as much as he could.  The difference in lengths wasn't just the shorter
wingspan, his joints weren't stretching as far as they should have been.  

"It's a good thing you were too nervous to do a test flight," she admitted.  "In this shape, you'd have likely broken one of these the first time you set them out
on the way down.  Disgusting dereliction.  No guardians should get away with this."

"But I can exercise them," said Duo, "can't I?  And build the muscles?"

She snorted, rolling her eyes as she pressed on the joint hard enough for Duo to let out a tight grunt of pain.  "Of course you can, but it's going to feel like that
every single time.  Let's hope you've got endurance.  And whatever you do, don't let those men take you on a test flight until I give you the okay.  He might be
good at covering up bruises, but there isn't anything he can do for broken bones."

Duo wasn't sure what she meant, but he had an idea she was griping about Raphael again.  He did his best to pretend he hadn't noticed, merely nodding at
the advice.  "Right."

"Well, then."  Mira dropped the wing, her eyes glinting a bit when Duo caught it and lowered it with only a tiny tremor passing those dark feathers.  "You stretch
it out as much as you can as often as you get a chance to.  I'll be back daily to work on it with you, but in the meantime you can loosen those joints on your
own.  Remember...if the motion hurts, it's a good thing."

A wince passed over Duo's face at that smug statement, but he accepted it with a resigned nod.  The woman abruptly grinned at him, and he froze, shocked at
the almost evil twist to her lips.

"Now for the rest," Mira smirked.

Duo's head snapped to the side and he caught his breath.  Muriel had just bolted from the room.  All color drained from his face as he turned slowly to look at
the woman looming over him.

"The rest...?" Duo asked shakily.

"Of course," Mira returned, her gleaming eyes proof of how much she enjoyed that pasty look on his face.  "I'm to give you a complete physical.  Complete
encompasses a lot more than your wings, you know."

She couldn't be serious.  She just couldn't be.

Duo shivered, his eyes darting around the room as if he thought he could hide from her.  A sickeningly sweet laugh made the hair on the back of his neck rise
and he wilted where he sat.

"Go ahead and undress," Mira smiled. "No need to be uncomfortable, I'm a qualified physician.  And this won't hurt...much."

If he could have hidden under the bed without worrying about the woman's long arms snaking in after him, he'd have zipped down there in a second.  Instead,
he ducked his flaming face and prayed this wouldn't last long - and that he'd never, ever, have to go through it again.