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Humans seemed to have an unexplainable aversion towards horns.

Gabriolis couldn't fathom why; it wasn't like they had to go through the agony of sprouting a pair.

They also seemed perfectly fine when it was just one horn – specifically, on a unicorn. Then they gasped in admiration and sighed dreamily and did everything they possibly could to get their filthy little paws on one; but when it was a goat, they couldn't care less.

He cuts another sellotape piece and pretends he doesn't notice when the man who walked towards him sharply crosses the street to the other side, and focuses on getting the fickle piece to stick the poster in place.

It's not that Gabriolis actively hates humans, but they sure never gave him any reason to like them.

He specifically told the movers to keep the door shut between unpacking the truck and carrying the boxes, but they chose to ignore him. It only took an instant, a silly distraction – and his beloved companion ran off to explore a completely unfamiliar neighbourhood.  

And an integrated one, at that.

If humans frowned about a pair of horns, they were completely overwhelmed when they encountered a pair of heads.

Two hours later, and instead of eating breakfast and slowly unpacking his boxes while getting acquainted with his new place, Gabriolis was posting 'Lost Dog' posters all across the neighbourhood, getting turned away from pet-shops in-between.

It wasn't that difficult in Six Gates, his previous neighbourhood, where he never stood out among all the different monsters. He could've probably even had called a few with a keener sense of smell than his own, asking for their help.

The buzzing of his cell startles him; he drops the stack of papers in his hand, and they scatter around, falling onto the damp pavement in lazy uneven patterns.

"Yes?" He snaps into the cell, holding it between his ear and his shoulder as he bends down to quickly salvage whichever of the papers he can.

"Hey!" A cheerful voice of a stranger greets back, "How're you?"

"Who is this?" he asks curtly, temper fraying as he sees the water stains and spreads upon the paper, smearing the ink and smudging his phone number.

"Mondo," the young man says, "You?"

"I have no time for foolishness," Gabriolis says with a clipped tone, picking and shaking one paper before adding it to the stack. "Whatever it is you're selling, I'm not interested. Good day."

He hangs up.

Only to have the phone immediately ringing again.

His temper flares. So does some part of his hairs, that start having smoke slowly curl up into the frigid air in thin wisps.

"Yes?"

"It's Mondo again," the man says, this time sounding slightly less cheerful but still disgustingly too chummy, "I'm calling about the lost dog?"

A whine sounds in the background, followed by a laugh. "Yeah, buddy!" Mondo's voice sounds muffled, "It's your dad over the phone! Say hey!"

A second whine joins the first.

"Orthros?" Gabriolis' relief is stunted by his inherent pessimistic nature, pushed back by disbelief; surely it can't be that someone already found his dog, much less managed to capture him – Orthros was extremely wary of strangers. The best case scenario Gabriolis had was that someone would spot him running down one of the streets, and Gabriolis would fly over – only apparently –

"Um, maybe? I don’t know what kind of breed he is. Ah, He's black, and has red eyes, purple collars… oh, and two heads?" Mondo adds it, almost as an afterthought. "But there's no name tags or anything…"

"I'd be right over,” he straightens up, eyes fixed on the poster before him, Orthros’ cheerful faces staring back at him without a care in the world, tongues lolling out. “What's your address?"


Gabriolis doesn't enjoy flying on street level – with his wingspan, the buildings leave him with hardly any place to maneuver himself properly, while also interrupting any helpful wind from coming along to ease up his movements. Not to mention the comments and the stares, which he doesn't appreciate – but he can't read the signs if he flies too high above, so he manages the cumbersome task and gets to the said place, not two blocks from his own apartment. He has cram himself through the door – too narrow for anyone with shoulders meant to carry a pair of wings and obviously human-made – and walk up two flights of stairs like a crab, his wings dragging down on the dusty floor.

He hears Orthros whining from behind the door, followed by laughter; he raises his hand to knock, but his fist collides not with the door, but with a warm soft surface instead.

"Ow!"

Gabriolis shifts uneasily in place; the person that opened the door has both of his hands pressed into the middle of his forehead, whining.

"I apologise," Gabriolis says without thinking of it, "I didn't mean to hit you."

He's so intent on the person Orthros blindsides him completely, shoving his way through to throw himself onto Gabriolis, paws placed over his shoulders, both heads alternating between whining and licking him. He lowers his own head to bury it in the crook between Orthros’ necks, wrapping his arms around him. Despite the considerable physical weight on his shoulders, he feels lighter already, knowing Orthros is safe, feeling the life flowing through him under his hands.

“That’s fine,” the person replies after a few moments, turning away before Gabriolis can get a good look at his face. “I’m just going to clean that up, so make yourself at home.”

Then, seemingly with no sense of self-preservation, he turns and walks to what Gabriolis can only assume is the bathroom.

Gabriolis takes a few moments to fidget awkwardly at the doorstep, out of his depth; he greatly dislikes going into other people’s territories, especially homes. And the place is as homey as it could be – cluttered with picture frames on the walls and any horizontal surface, smiling faces beaming from every direction. Orthros slides down to the floor to trot over to the couch, jumping and sprawling all over it. Gabriolis doesn’t have it in him to scold him for it, even when he’s not sure their host would approve having dog fur shed all over his comfortable-looking couch. He steps carefully inside, tucking his wings close as to not knock anything over; the room is brightly lit from a large window spilling sunlight all over the living room, shooing the darkness to lurk in the corners behind the cheap plastic cabinets. One of the doors doesn’t close all the way, hanging lopsided on its hinges.  

There’s a laptop open on the coffee table, with a half-empty coffee mug next to it, decorated with a chipping print of three letters – BFF. Gabriolis is not familiar with the organization; his eyes stray back to the crooked door, the asymmetry it presents feeling like a personal offense he doesn’t wish to tolerate.

Without thinking much of it, he crouches next to the cabinet door, moving it to inspect the problem; it turns out to be nothing more than few loose screws. He straightens the door and uses his fingernail to tighten the screws into place. In the background, he hears a creaking tap turning, taking the sound of the running water with it.

“Sorry for leaving you like that,” the person – Mondo, Gabriolis finally recalls his name – says, making Gabriolis look up, only to startle. He has a flattering bronze skin tone, favoured by the sun, a stark opposite to Gabriolis’ own naturally ashen complexion; much of it is exposed due to the fact Mondo wears only a white pair of shorts and a torn blue tank-top, feet bare. His dark hair is a messy mane of black, sticking out in every direction, but the hair covering his bandaged forehead is a pastel shade of red, again countering Gabriolis’ own neat crimson curls.

“Oh,” Mondo says, noticing that the door is no longer crooked, “Wow, thanks! I’ve been meaning to fix it for ages, now–“

There is something gravely wrong, and Gabriolis can’t help but ask, cutting him off.

“Where are your wings?”

“What?”

“Your wings,” Gabriolis enunciates with care, standing up. “I know an angel when I see one. Why– no, how are you hiding them? Is it magic?”

The picture is deeply unsettling; angels losing their wings hit too close to home for Gabriolis to ignore it. The skin connecting between his scalp and horns stings, and he has to clutch his hands into fists to avoid rubbing at it.

“Ah,” Mondo makes a small noise, face flushing red as his hair, “I’m… I don’t have any wings.”

A weight of lead settles in Gabriolis’ stomach, and he curses himself for his curiosity, biting his tongue. “I’m sorry,” he says thickly, looking away.

“No, no! Nothing like that!” Mondo waves his arms, drawing Gabriolis’ attention back to him. “I’m human!”

“Human?” Gabriolis narrows his eyes. “That’s impossible.”

Mondo makes a strange sound that Gabriolis takes for a very awkward laughter, bringing his hand to rub at the back of his neck. “Born and raised,” he replies, shrugging, before stepping forwards and offering his hand to shake. “I’m Mondo. Pleased to meet you.”

Gabriolis looks down at Mondo, still disbelieving; no human he ever saw had such an ethereal aura around them, glowing with kindness and pureness.

Maybe Mondo was adopted.

“Likewise,” he says, taking the hand into his, mindful of his claws. The shake is light and friendly, with Mondo’s skin being pleasantly cool. As a demon inclined to fire, Gabriolis’ own temperature always ran much higher than most monster-kind, but Mondo didn’t seem to mind. Even Gabriolis’ own sister couldn’t stand touching him for too long before stepping back, keeping a short distance between them with a fake smile and pained eyes. He loved her dearly, and knew that if she could, she’d never let him go – but he much rather that she did, over her burning the skin of her arms after hugging him for too long. For him, it was one time too many; Spectra was too kind, but her kindness sometimes was an unintentional cruelty all of its own.

He looks down at the small hand clutched in his, lacking any scalded skin-tissue or irritated flesh, letting time tick by them.

Definitely adopted, then, he decides. With some kind of protective spell involved.

“I’m Gabriolis,” he introduces himself when he finally lets the hand slip away from his grasp, leaving his palm tingling. He presses it against his thigh.

“Thank you for taking Orthros in.”

“Orthros, huh?” Mondo grins. The two plasters stuck crossed on his forehead, a miserable attempt to cover the fresh cut, look like an issued challenge for a sharpshooter to spill his brains out. Gabriolis can’t help but subtly stretch his wings, just slightly, positioning himself between Mondo and the window.

“That’s a fancy name!” He approaches the coach, Gabriolis shadowing his steps, to have Orthros roll over and expose his belly, eyes gleaming in delight.

“Fancier than Dopplefanger, isn’t it?” Mondo laughs, crouching to scratch the dog’s stomach. “It suits you! A fancy name for a fancy dog!”

His shorts ride dangerously high, and Gabriolis looks away, suddenly uncomfortable. Orthros tail thuds against the couch in a steady beat, and Gabriolis’ eyes are drawn back to the two. Mondo has Orthros completely mesmerized under his hands, trusting and happy – even as Gabriolis is witnessing it, he finds it hard to believe; it took months before the bond between Orthros and himself was strong enough for Orthros to lower his guard around him enough as to lie down in such a carefree manner, much less pet his stomach.

“You look tired,” Mondo says over his shoulder, still bent over, and Gabriolis makes sure to keep his eyes on his face rather than let them slip to check out the space between his skin and his very loose top. “I was just fixing us some breakfast. You like pancakes?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Gabriolis replies, perplexed by the sudden offer. “I’ve never had pancakes.”

“Never?!” Mondo gasps, turning towards Gabriolis fully, making Orthros let out an irritated short bark. “That’s basically a crime!” he says, before Orthros grumbles and raises up, nudging one of his noses under Mondo’s armpit while the other hand took to licking his face, almost knocking him over.

“Hardly,” Gabriolis scoffs.

Mondo laughs. It’s a pleasant sound, Gabriolis thinks. It’s kind and flowing. A tension in his shoulders eases.

‘A siren, then?’ He muses, looking around; there’s no water fountains anywhere, and he never knew one who went without.
A different creature, then.

Mondo finally topples over the couch, but manages to escape Orthros’ persistent attention and calm his manner with a few good scratches behind his ears and under his chins.

“It wouldn’t take long.” Mondo smiles at him; parts of his hair are covered in slobber. “Do you like blueberries?”

Gabriolis does like blueberries.

Very much so.


 

They dine around the coffee table. Mondo asks for permission before feeding Orthros any of the pancakes, and Gabriolis approves, even if it’d take something deadlier than maple syrup to poison a hellhound.

Mondo asks him about himself; he seems utterly at ease with having an unfamiliar demon at his table, breaking bread next to him and his bloodthirsty companion.

Not that Orthros was actually bloodthirsty; those were just baseless rumors people clang to instead of bothering to ask. Being unfriendly wasn’t a crime, after all, but humans tended to treat it as such, in an outstanding double-standard Gabriolis loathed.

Chewing a small piece, he watches Mondo as he speaks about his friends, the grin never once leaving his bright face; there’s a quality in Mondo Gabriolis can’t quantify, a thread of allurement so finely crafted into his being he can’t pluck it out to inspect it more closely.

Gabriolis lets it ensnare him, as it is positively harmless; he tells Mondo of his sister, and appreciates it when he doesn’t make tactless comments about how odd it is that Gabriolis has an angel for a sister; he tells him of his new job at the library, and of the old library back at Six Gates, a majestic ancient place laden with the comforting magic of knowledge that had to close due to lack of funding.

“That’s so unfair,” Mondo replies, pouring empathy in crushing waves of graciousness, threatening to choke Gabriolis on his bite. He places a hand on Gabriolis’ knee, his brown eyes too big and sincere. “I’m sorry.”

“The pancake is very good,” Gabriolis barely manages, his entire frame taut like a bowstring.

“Really?” Mondo immediately perks, melancholy forgotten, chuckling. “Thanks!”

‘An incubus, maybe?’ Gabriolis wonders, but finds he doesn’t care much, anymore.

 

 

Gabriolis’ aversion to water is second only to his strict nature; he insists washing the dishes himself, but Mondo’s just stubborn enough so they’d finally settle he’d towel the plates dry. It’s strangely domestic, Gabriolis thinks, blinking down at a suds-covered pan. It was very easy to clean. Too easy, almost.

Mondo laughs; Gabriolis got distracted enough that he spoke aloud without meaning too, a habit of a person too used to live by himself by now.

“Too easy for you, tough guy?” he teases, nudging a shoulder at Gabriolis, barely brushing the middle of his upper arm. “Come back tomorrow, then, if you’re up for the challenge. I’d step-up my game – no butter, this time!”

 

Gabriolis does, and Mondo makes him delicious lasagna, sneaking bites of it under the table where their knees brush and Orthros takes to nap as the evening goes on and on.

(The glass bakeware gives him hell in the sink. Mondo hadn't greased it up at all.)


 

 

In the end, Gabriolis doesn’t unpack all of his boxes.

It turns out to be a good choice – four months after, Orthros and Gabriolis move out again. This time, Mondo keeps an eye on Orthros as Gabriolis carries the boxes through the window into their new place, wide enough for Gabriolis to fit through.

“That’s the last one,” he reports, placing the box on the ground; Mondo uses the opportunity to kiss him on the cheek, the touch of his lips feeling like springtime ghosted over his skin to brush life and joy against it.

Nymph,’ he thinks, bowing down to steal a kiss more. He’s been wrong for the past seventy-six previous guesses – Mondo insisting he is but a normal, common human being – but this time, he’s sure.

Definitely a nymph.’