Authors: L. A. Weatherly
Tags: #Speculative Fiction
“I can’t see you very well with that light on me,” said Alex coldly. “But I’d estimate that was about a foot over your head. Want me to lower my aim and try again?”
The voice was hard. “Believe me, you’re just making things worse—” The soldier broke off with a cry; the light jerked in his grasp. Willow’s angel had appeared in her most tangible form, diving straight at his face. The night plunged into darkness as the soldier dropped the flashlight; its beam bounced on the ground.
!” called Willow’s human voice from ahead.
Alex backed away a step, still aiming his rifle as Willow’s angel darted about the man, striving for his pistol. The guy kept trying to get a fix on her but couldn’t; her gleaming wings were batting at him, forcing him back.
If he shoots her – if he hurts her in any way—
Willow appeared, panting, at Alex’s side; she grabbed his hand. “
She’ll catch up later!”
He hated it but knew it was their only chance. They took off again, tearing through the black night hand in hand, the moon swallowed up by the trees. Willow’s feet were drumming out a rhythmic beat; she stumbled briefly on a root, and Alex steadied her, neither of them stopping.
“It’s not much farther,” gasped out Willow. She motioned ahead. “Just up this way a little more; there’s a road. I think maybe we’ll be able to—”
Behind them came a rapid burst of gunfire.
Willow broke off; with an anguished cry, she staggered and sank to her knees. Alex crouched hastily beside her; she was moaning, clutching her head with both hands.
“You’re okay…you’re going to be okay,” he said, rubbing her wrists and hoping fervently it was true. Willow’s angel could shift between the ethereal level and a more physical form – this was the first time the latter had been shot. He had no idea what it might do to the human Willow.
Already, running footsteps were heading their way again, the light jouncing through the trees. Alex grabbed Willow’s pistol, then got her to her feet. She sagged against him; he could see her paleness even in the gloom. Before he could lift her into his arms, the soldier burst from the trees.
Whether by design or not, this time he held his light at an angle, so that Alex could see him now. He frowned as he took in Willow, drooping in the circle of Alex’s arm.
“What’s the deal with her?” he demanded.
“The deal is you made a big mistake when you hurt her,” said Alex in a low voice. “Drop your weapon, or I swear to god I’ll kill you.”
The guy scowled and took a step forward; it all happened in seconds. Willow’s angel appeared right behind him – her eyes were stunned and fixed on Willow, clearly thinking only of merging. As she passed, the soldier cursed and swung to face her, aiming his pistol.
He would not hurt Willow again. Without thinking, Alex raised Willow’s pistol; the guy whirled back towards him. Both weapons went off at the same time: one muffled, one echoing through the night.
It felt like a car had slammed into him. Someone cried out; he realized it had been him. Oh Christ, his arm. The pain tore at him; the world dimmed at its edges. Gritting his teeth, Alex somehow managed to stay conscious and upright, still holding Willow.
The soldier lay in a crumpled heap nearby. Alex stared blankly at him…and gradually became aware of warmth and moisture. Looking down, he saw the dark blood streaming from a hole in his bicep and understood distantly that he had to stop it. He half fell to his knees, managing to rest Willow on the ground, and then pulled off his T-shirt, the motion slow and clumsy with one hand. He felt very tired suddenly – the task ahead seemed enormous.
His right arm wouldn’t lift on its own. Holding the edge of his T-shirt with his teeth, Alex got the cloth wrapped around the wound, almost passing out again as it pressed against the bullet’s exit hole – the thing had gone right through him. Slowly, with teeth and his good hand, he secured the makeshift bandage.
He slumped against a tree, breathing hard, the bark pricking at his bare back. They had to get moving. He had to get Willow, and they had to get to the truck…they had to…
The next thing he knew, Willow was leaning over him, shaking him. Her voice sounded high, frightened. “Alex! Alex, please wake up – they’re searching the woods.”
He focused on her with an effort. At first her words made no sense; all he remembered was trying to keep her safe. “Are you okay?” he whispered. Distantly, he could hear shouts.
“I’m fine – it just knocked me out.” She grasped his good arm and pulled; he saw dazedly that she was close to tears. “Come on, sweetheart,
We have to go.”
A dark fallen form lay nearby. Memory sliced through Alex’s weariness. The shots – he’d been hit. Using the tree for leverage, he heaved himself up as Willow supported his good arm.
“Oh god, you’ve lost so much blood…” She fumbled quickly at his bandage, tying it tighter.
Alex gritted his teeth at the renewed pressure; he jerked his head at the soldier. “Is he—?”
“Yes,” she said shortly. The shouts were closer now;Alex could see lights heading towards them through the trees. Willow glanced over her shoulder. “Alex,
The stillness of the human form gouged at him. He gripped Willow’s hand, and they took off jogging through the trees. Every step felt like his arm was being sledgehammered, but the pain helped clear his head.
“Who’s searching?” he panted. “Angels?”
“No, just soldiers; they must have heard the gunfire – Oh, thank god!” They’d come out onto a hill bisected by a two-lane road; the 4 × 4 sat hidden in the shadows on the shoulder.
Willow unlocked it and threw the passenger door open, her face tightening as she turned to him. “Here, get in.”
Yeah, Alex thought with grim humour, this probably wasn’t his night to drive. He climbed in, breathing hard and dropping his head back. Willow sprinted around the truck and got into the driver’s seat.
“Good, we’re on a slope,” she muttered. She put the truck in neutral; obediently, it began rolling forward as she steered it onto the road. They glided through the night, slowly picking up speed; after a few minutes, Willow twisted the key in the ignition and slammed down on the accelerator.
“Hold on,” she said. “Alex, just hold on.”
At first he thought she meant
because she was driving fast; then he felt the wetness on his fingers and realized that blood had soaked through the T-shirt and was coursing down his arm, warming his skin. “I’m fine,” he murmured, closing his eyes. Weirdly enough, it seemed true. He felt warm, drifting.
Sometime later, the truck’s lulling motion turned to a harsh lurching. Alex opened his eyes reluctantly; the headlights showed another dirt road. Willow jerked them to a stop. Turning on the cab light, she lunged into the back of the truck and pulled out the first-aid kit.
She rooted frantically through it. “What do we have, what do we have…?” Alex watched her, still feeling oddly disconnected. There was blood from his arm on her hands.
He smiled. “You should just use what you’re wearing,” he murmured.
Though she didn’t answer, he could tell she knew what he was talking about: the time she’d been shot herself, and he’d taken off his T-shirt to bind her wound.
Relief sagged her shoulders as she pulled out a large square packet. “This says it’s for binding wounds.” She straddled him on the passenger’s seat.
Alex tried to grin. “Hey, this is getting better and better.”
Willow was close to tears. “Shut up, please just shut up! Oh god, it went right through your arm…” She stretched away to fumble in the first-aid kit again and came back with a brown plastic bottle. “Okay, this is going to hurt.”
She eased off his T-shirt bandage and poured liquid over his arm. He gave a yelp as fire sizzled through him. The clarity was immediate, throbbing with pain. “What the hell is
“Hydrogen peroxide,” said Willow. She doused his wound again; Alex clenched his jaw hard. The pain was like someone gouging knives in his raw skin.
“You just poured
on my arm?” he said when he could speak again. Twisting his head, he saw the liquid bubbling and frothing. “Jesus – I thought you loved me.”
“It’s all I could find,” she said shortly as she tore open the white packet. “And it’s better than getting your arm infected.”
He wasn’t sure about that but didn’t argue. Willow wrapped the bandage around his arm; it was some kind of high-tech netting that stopped the bleeding in its tracks. Then she carefully strapped the whole thing in place with surgical gauze.
“I think that’ll hold,” she said at last. “At least it’s stopped the bleeding.”
Alex reached for her hand, squeezing it. “It’s fine. Thank you.”
“The only painkiller I saw was Tylenol,” said Willow after a pause, her voice stilted. “Do you want a couple?”
Alex shook his head, gazing at the delicate angles of her face. “You know, I can never get over how beautiful you are,” he said.
Her eyes were bright with tears again. “Alex, you—” She stopped short. Reaching up, she snapped off the cab’s light, then lay down beside him, circling his waist with her arm.
The sudden dark was a caress. Pain still beating through him, Alex stroked Willow’s hair, feeling it glide softly past his fingers. “I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I had to see for myself.”
“I know,” she said against his chest. “When I woke up, I just knew right away where you’d gone. I didn’t need to be psychic for that.”
Outside the truck, Alex saw pine trees crowding the dirt road: an old logging route, probably. He wondered when the next time might be that someone would come logging here again.
“Anyway, it’s true,” he said, staring out at the prickly, moonlit branches. “They’re not linked any more.”
Willow’s arm tightened around him. “I know,” she repeated. “But, Alex, you can’t just…” She raised herself up to look at him, and Alex’s heart clenched at her expression, clear in the silvery light.
Letting out a trembling breath, she touched his cheek. “I love you more than life, Alex Kylar. Do you hear me? More than life. You do
go off and put yourself into danger like that without even telling me.”
He hadn’t thought it was possible to feel worse than he already did. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “I just—”
“What if I hadn’t been able to sense where you were?” she interrupted fiercely. “We are a
okay? Now, more than ever, we are a—”
Abruptly, she gave a sob, and Alex clutched her to him, awkward and one armed. He could feel her shoulders trembling; her effort to keep control. “When I came to and saw you there, all covered in blood…” she choked out. “Alex, I thought I’d lost you.”
“You haven’t lost me,” he whispered into her hair. He rocked her, ignoring the pain that shot through his arm. “I’m here…I’m right here.”
Finally she wiped her eyes with the heel of her hand. Her voice hoarse, she said, “Promise me that you’ll never go off like that again – that if you’re going to be in danger, you’ll tell me. Promise. I have to know.”
“I promise,” Alex said quietly. He couldn’t believe, now, that he’d actually left Willow alone in the truck. He touched her face, gently stroking away a stray tear. He almost felt like crying himself. “Willow – oh Christ, I’m so sorry.”
She nodded, her shoulders relaxing a little. “Okay,” she said at last, squeezing his hand. “Okay.”
They sat silently holding each other. Finally Willow sighed and shifted back to the driver’s side. “I can hardly even believe what this is going to mean for humanity,” she said at last, almost to herself. “It’s too terrible to…
to fathom it, somehow.”
“Yeah, tell me,” said Alex to the ceiling.
Willow glanced at him, her green eyes sorrowful. Then, with a turn of her wrist, the truck burst into life again. Soon they were back on the highway, speeding through the Rockies with the moonlight gleaming down, the road unfurling ahead like a dark ribbon.
Somewhere in the hills around Golden, the soldier had probably been found by now. With luck, his death would be blamed on the bandits who sometimes broke into Edens to steal supplies. Alex closed his eyes as he saw again the dark, still figure.
The guy’s only crime had been to do his job, and Alex had shot him – he was a “killer” in more ways than one now. He wondered whether the soldier had had a wife. Or kids, maybe, who’d have to grow up without their father now.
Neither Alex nor Willow spoke as the miles passed. Alex’s wound pulsed incessantly under its bandage. He was almost glad for the pain.
EB LAY ON HIS BED
reading, all too aware that what he was really doing was waiting. Though it was after two a.m., he was still half dressed.
Even without Willow’s hurried call back to the base, he’d known that she was nearly home – he hadn’t been able to stop himself from checking on her compulsively these last few days. His own forebodings were bad enough; sensing Willow’s inner turmoil had kept him taut with worry. He had to see her as soon as she was back – make sure she was all right.
Seb grimaced and tossed the book aside.
when would this end? Exactly how long could he stay in love with a girl who thought of him only as a brother?
His gaze fell on a note from Meghan on his bedside table:
I still haven’t seen this harem of yours, you faker! Love, M.
With a small smile, Seb picked up the note and turned it over in his hands. He still wasn’t sure just what he felt for Meghan…but the truth was, the relationship seemed like the only good thing in his life right now.
It had started one night about a month ago, when the group of recruits he hung out with had been talking here in his room. Most of Seb’s life had been spent on the road searching for his half-angel girl; now he’d finally stayed in one place long enough to have friends. Meghan was one of them – and this time, she’d remained behind after the others had left. The sudden silence had made Seb very aware of the way she was lying across his bed, propped on her elbow. The pose that had been casual with the others around now seemed much more intimate.
Seb had stayed at the head of the bed, and they’d talked as if nothing had changed…but when their conversation hit a pause, Meghan cleared her throat. “So – can I ask you something? You don’t have a girlfriend, right?”
Danger flags started waving madly. Seb kept his tone light. “No, I do. I have several.”
Meghan smiled. A dark red eyebrow arched against her milky skin. “Several, huh?”
“Yes, I have a harem, actually – didn’t you know? Seven girls; they stay locked in a room that only I have the key to. I keep them very happy.”
“And do they keep
“They keep me exhausted.”
She laughed then, and Seb found himself admiring the wholehearted way she gave herself to it, throwing her head back. It was what he liked most about Meghan – the reason why, in the months he’d known her, he’d found himself seeking her out more and more: her energy made him feel happy even when he wasn’t.
She grew serious again, tucking a strand of auburn hair behind her ear. “No, I was just wondering, because…well, girls flirt with you and you flirt back, but you never…” She gave an expressive shrug. “So, I was wondering why not.”
Taking in the gentle rose drifting through the turquoise lights of her aura, Seb knew that Meghan was interested in more than friendship with him. If he was honest, he’d known it for a long time. “Because I’m already in love with someone,” he admitted. And realized, startled, that it was the first time he’d ever told the truth about himself to anyone but Willow.
Meghan nodded slowly. “Is it Willow?”
He managed a smile. “It’s obvious, yes?”
“Not very. I had a feeling, that’s all.” She trailed a finger over the bedcover; her mouth twisted self-mockingly. “You know, I guess I should hate her, but…I just can’t.”
This is why I never tell the truth,
Seb thought wryly – Meghan had just plunged the conversation into far deeper waters than he wanted to navigate. He wished he could go back in time a few minutes and keep her talking about how she’d just been accepted for an apprenticeship with a San Francisco dance company before the quakes hit.
He’d been about to say,
Maybe it’s time to call it a night,
but the look on her face stopped him. It held such genuine understanding – more than he’d felt from anyone in what seemed a long time.
When he didn’t continue, she cleared her throat. “So, tell me to mind my own business, but…did anything ever happen between you two?”
Deflecting her with banter felt pointless now. “We kissed once,” he admitted. “Last December.” He scraped a hand over his stubble, remembering. “She cried afterwards and said it had been a mistake.” The memory of the most wonderful moment of his life, followed swiftly by the most terrible, still had the power to hurt him.
Meghan took this in silently, without judgement. “She seems really in love with Alex,” she said finally.
Seb almost laughed. “Yes. She does, doesn’t she?”
Meghan’s rueful smile acknowledged what this must be like for him. There was a pause that felt weighted – then with a rustle, she shifted upwards on the bed until their heads were almost level. He could feel the warmth of her arm through his shirt.
“So, if I promise not to cry…” she said.
Seb knew what she was going to do – could have stopped her, but didn’t. Resting a hand on his chest, Meghan leaned close. Her mouth was warm, giving. Seb responded without being able to help himself, his heartbeat quickening as their lips moved together, the kiss staying soft.
Meghan drew away, her cheeks pink. “Bad idea?” she asked finally.
“Yes, I’d better throw you out now.” Seb meant it, though he spoke jokingly.
She looked down. Her hand found his, and she gently explored his fingers. She swallowed but didn’t speak again.
And then somehow Seb found himself touching her autumn-bright hair, smoothing it away from her face. Their eyes locked and held. He knew he should pull away; instead, very softly, he stroked the corner of her mouth with his thumb. Her eyes were so blue, like pieces of sky – you could fall into them and never find your way out.
Coming to his senses, he dropped his hand. “You were right – this is a bad idea,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
She squeezed his fingers. “Seb, look, I really care about you, and – and unless I’m crazy, it’s not one-sided. I mean, the way you look at me sometimes… You do like me, don’t you?”
“Like” was an inadequate word for whatever it was he’d begun to feel for Meghan these past few months. He just had no idea what the right word might be, when it wasn’t “love”.
“You know I do,” he said roughly. “But, Meggie” – the nickname came out of nowhere; it suited her – “I can’t change how I feel about Willow. I’ve tried.”
“Okay, but – wait, wait, let me get this straight,” she said, sitting up a little. “I like you, and you like me – boy/girl liking, right? Not just friends?”
He had to smile; she looked so earnest. “Yes,” he admitted. Of course he was attracted to Meghan, with her leggy dancer’s body and golden spray of freckles across her nose – her warm, happy energy that always seemed to soothe him, embrace him. He’d have to be devoid of all his senses not to be.
“But you’re in love with someone else,” Meghan went on, “who is
in love with someone else, and who doesn’t seem likely to change her feelings anytime soon – and so you don’t even want to explore this thing with me a little? See what it could be like with us?”
When she put it like that, his reluctance seemed slightly insane. “I just don’t want to hurt you,
” he said again. The endearment came with no planning either – “
” belonged to Willow.
Meghan shrugged; her blue eyes had begun to sparkle. “Hey, not so fast there,
I could hurt
you know. Maybe you’ll fall madly in love with me, and I’ll dump you.”
“Yes, this is true.” Seb was smiling now. There was a pause; he rubbed his stubble. “Wait – have we just agreed to something?”
Meghan gravely pretended to consider. “I
we’ve agreed that you should just kiss me and we’ll take it from there.” Then she grinned and bumped him on the chest with her fist. “Because to tell you the truth, this is kind of agonizing.”
And suddenly Seb had realized that he had no desire at all to resist her any more.
Now, a month later, Seb’s love for Willow remained as strong as ever – he sometimes thought he’d cheerfully barter his soul to get over her. But meanwhile, the relationship with Meghan was making him happier than anything had in a long time. She was beautiful, kind, fun to be with – she seemed to know him better than he knew himself. They’d been keeping a low profile, but he was becoming less and less interested in maintaining it.
Maybe I can fall in love with her,
Seb thought, folding the note from Meghan carefully and putting it back on his bedside table.
Maybe I really can.
As if mocking the idea, a sudden flash of awareness told him that Willow had just returned. All other thoughts left him. Seb snapped on a T-shirt – and when he left his room, found his footsteps leading him to the medical bay. His eyebrows drew together sharply. What was going on? Willow had said she was all right.
He knocked but went in without waiting for an answer. Alex was sitting on the examination table, shirt off; a bullet wound gaped in his toned bicep. Willow stood tensely beside him. Claudia, a recruit who’d been training to be a paramedic – the closest thing to a doctor they had – was there; Alex winced as she examined his wound.
“You were lucky – it looks like a clean, through-and-through shot,” she said. “I don’t think you’ve damaged the bone.”
Seb gave the injury only cursory notice; what had hit him the second he walked in was the mood. Both Willow and Alex were still reeling from something that had nothing to do with however Alex had gotten shot.
The foreboding Seb had felt for days intensified. “What’s happened?” he demanded.
Alex gave a thin smile. “Might have known you’d show up.” As Claudia stepped away to rummage through the supply closet, he rubbed his temples and said in a low voice, “I’ll be announcing it to the others soon. The angels aren’t linked any more.”
At first Seb thought he hadn’t heard right. “
Willow held out her hand. “Here,” she said quietly. She wasn’t offering comfort, she was offering information. Seb took Willow’s hand, trying to ignore the feel of it in his, and closed his eyes.
A rent in the sky – angels pouring in – an ominous sense of separateness. For an added kick in the teeth, he also saw how Alex had gotten shot: felt Willow’s panic, her immense love for him.
Finally Seb let go. He opened his mouth to speak, but there were no words. Willow touched his shoulder, her eyes tormented. “I know,” she said.
Maybe she did; it didn’t help. Seb slumped into a chair, watching distantly as Claudia gave Alex a local anaesthetic and cleaned his injury, trimming away the mangled flesh of his exit wound. As she started stitching him up, all Seb could see was a street scene in Mexico City.
It had been Revolution Day: there’d been a
band, dancing in the street – and an angel cruising overhead. Seb had been watching from the balcony of his hostel when he’d seen the angel choose a street girl to feed from and, without thinking, he’d sent his own angel flying out to protect her.
Only through the sheerest of luck had he managed to destroy the angel and not be killed himself. But he’d done it. The girl had been saved – and Seb left stunned by his own willingness to risk his life.
He’d thought of her often since then: her thin face and brown eyes. Had she survived or been killed in the quakes that brought down Mexico City? He hoped she’d lived.
he hoped so much that she’d lived.
Saving her had been the seed that had changed him. After a lifetime of ambivalence about the angels, it had hit Seb hard:
What they’re doing here is wrong.
The knowledge that the AKs could really defeat them had kept him going for almost a year now, especially as the biggest disappointment of his life had unfolded: the realization that his half-angel girl would never want him.
Seb watched blindly as Claudia finished bandaging Alex’s arm. So now there were millions
angels here, and the only way to kill them was to shoot them one by one? There were ninety-nine AKs. Seb had never spent much time in school, but there was nothing wrong with his basic maths.
. It’s all over.
Claudia handed Alex two small cardboard boxes. “Antibiotics – twice a day, with food. The others are painkillers; I think you’re going to need them.”
Alex barely glanced at the medication. “Yeah, thanks. Can you get on the intercom and announce a meeting in the dining room in ten minutes?”
Claudia blinked. “Now? It’s the middle of the night.”
“Yes, now,” said Alex, massaging his forehead.
“Alex, you need to rest. Whatever you have to say can wait until—”
His voice was quiet but firm. “No. It can’t.”
Claudia opened her mouth, then took in his expression. Her reluctance clear, she left the room. A moment later, her voice came booming out: “
Attention, everyone! Please come to the dining room for a meeting in ten minutes. Repeat, please come to the dining room—
As the announcement continued, Willow hugged Alex’s waist; he put his good arm around her. “Do you want a painkiller?” she asked.