Title: On the Nature of Dates
Characters: Anael/Hananiah ♂, Lucifer/Berhanu ♂
Rating: G- (L1 N0 S1 V0 D0)
Warnings: Catty remarks, Luci’s terrible beard, angels teaching sex ed
Notes: I wrote most of this like… in October. Then it stalled out on me, until yesterday. In case anyone ever wondered how these two met…
Hananiah was a pillar of a man, tall enough to use for a gnomon in a crowded plaza. He was just to the handsome side of average, otherwise, with his dark curls and long-lashed, cat-curved eyes. His father had sent him to this place, remarking that the people were falling to the licentious delights of foreigners and their gods, lured away by exotic fantasies that were unavailable in Judah. And this, he supposed, was the purpose he was created to serve — to lead his father’s people back to each other, and away from the lures of other Lords.
Thus did the angel Anael become Hananiah, counsellor of couples and marriageable youths. Which, in that place, at that time, was neither particularly profitable nor quite respectable. But, still, he taught any who would come to hear him speak about respect, happiness, desire, honesty, and exotic foreign practises that could be enjoyed without bringing any foreigners into the bedroom.
The curious could find him in a small cedar grove, just outside the town, where he would sit, in the afternoons, and speak until nightfall. His voice was clear, and he spoke simply and engagingly, always welcoming questions, however foolish they sounded to the one asking them. More people joined him, every day, as those who had come before brought their friends and cousins, and he loved to watch understanding light their faces. Not everyone was interested, not everyone was comfortable, but he never spoke a word about those who left, in the middle, or those who never came.
One afternoon, a particular man appeared in the back of the crowd — an astonishingly handsome man, even with that ridiculous beard — and Hananiah found his eyes lingering on that face. There was something off, something uncanny, in his strange beauty and the tolerant amusement of the man’s expression. One of those foreign gods, perhaps, come to see what interest the Holy Father had taken in the subject.
But, the stranger never spoke. Day after day, he stood silently in the back of the crowd. Hananiah watched him, every day, lingering glances between sentences, and every time he looked, the stranger was looking back, with those strange, bright blue eyes.
"Hey, teacher! Stop staring at your foreign lover!" someone called out, and the young men in the crowd howled and laughed, as the women mostly turned to look at the stranger, calculatingly.
"What makes you think I’m not Judean?" the stranger finally asked, eyes gleaming slyly.
"You talk funny," one of the youths shot back.
"You didn’t know that until I started talking." One finger lashed out, pointing, a red swirl painted along it, curling down onto the back of his hand.
"You dress like a Median merchant," announced a young woman, whose clothes marked her as a priest’s daughter.
The stranger stopped and looked at himself. "Do I? Hah. I suppose I do. But, I come from Byblos. I travelled from Byblos, to hear the words of Hananiah."
"Looks like you’re famous, teacher! Even foreign men come to learn your secrets!" a local date farmer joked.
"Tell me, stranger," the word drew a sharp breath from the crowd, being much less polite than ‘foreigner’, "are you satisfied?"
"Satisfied? I’m easily satisfied." The stranger moved forward through the crowd, trailing a pair of previously-unseen sand cats. "Impressed might take a little more effort."
"And why would I spend that effort on a stranger? I don’t even know your name."
"Isn’t that all the more reason?" the stranger asked, reaching down to unhook the claws of one sand cat from his clothes. "People you know should already be impressed with you. It’s why they take the time to know you, isn’t it?"
"Are you worth knowing?" Hananiah teased. "I’m not impressed, yet."
"No? But, you’ve been watching me for days, as your students pointed out."
A few of them laughed and nudged each other, as they watched the men feign disinterest with each other. One of the cats stretched and rubbed against Hananiah’s leg.
After a surprised glance down, Hananiah changed the subject. "For what do you speak?"
The question would have been meaningless, if he were wrong, but the stranger was quick to answer. "For truth and beauty. And you?"
"Have you not listened to me speak for it, for days now?" Truth and beauty… There was something about that combination, but Hananiah couldn’t place it. Some compelling sense of potential danger, but the man before him didn’t feel particularly powerful. The son of a Lord, maybe. Was that what he remembered? "As for beauty, I think your beard speaks to something else entirely."
"My beard prevents my face from being even more powerfully disturbing." It wasn’t untrue.
"The truth is so rarely attractive. It needs a compelling salesman to heighten its appeal." Hananiah looked even more catlike in the company of the two sand cats rubbing fur onto his robes.
"Do you accuse me of artifice?" A golden swirl danced across the stranger’s blue eyes.
"That beard makes the accusation for me." Hananiah’s serene smile remained undisturbed.
A ripple of sound ran through the crowd — mutters and jeers.
"Yet, you, an unmarried man, are teaching the pleasures of the wed?" The stranger jabbed back.
"If I were wed, would I know so much of the pleasures of foreign lands?" Hananiah shrugged helplessly. "I have sacrificed myself for the betterment of my people."
The stranger cast a disbelieving eye on Hananiah, who responded with a slight quirk of his lips. After a moment, the stranger shook his head, almost without moving.
"Sacrifice? If that’s a sacrifice, you must not have learnt as much as you thought!"
"And who are you, to stand both sides of that fence, slinging shit from the sheep on both sides?" Hananiah snapped, jabbing a finger forth that stopped just shy of the stranger’s nose, which sat about even with Hananiah’s shoulder.
"Who am I? I’m —" the light of truth "—a lover of strange and beautiful things, of paradox and contradiction in perception, but you can call me Berhanu." Flicking his tongue, the stranger licked the tip of Hananiah’s finger. "You should be careful where you put that."
If Hananiah’s body weren’t made of mud, the hair on the back of his neck would have stood on end. Some memory clattered about in the back of his head, unclear and screaming for attention. But, the warning wouldn’t surface. He couldn’t bring it up. "You shouldn’t put your tongue on things, when you don’t know where they’ve been."
"But, now that I’ve put my tongue on it," Berhanu let Hananiah wipe off one damp finger on his cheek, "I know exactly where it’s been. I also know you buy the cheap dates, instead of the sweet, dark ones from the east."
"I am not a small man. Who could afford that many sweet dates?" It was impossible to argue Hananiah’s size, especially once he drew himself up to his full height, but that was offset when he bent down to rub behind a sand cat’s ear.
"Is that a challenge?" Berhanu’s bold blue eyes sparkled with amusement. "I think that was a challenge. Come, Master Hananiah, let us go to the market and see how many sweet dates I can buy and how many you can eat."
Hananiah looked past Berhanu, to his students. "This man is a fool. This is how one goes from being a wealthy merchant to begging on the road to Babylon. But, I accept!" His eyes settled on Berhanu once more. "Let us settle this matter of your pocket and my appetite."
"I may be a fool, but I am an honest and good-looking fool." With a wink, Berhanu set off on the path back to town, the sand cats weaving around his legs.
"Three days hence, in the same place," Hananiah offered his students, before following after Berhanu, with a tart reply. "I have yet to see definitive proof of either of these things!"