Authors: G.P. Ching
"It was too much too soon, wasn’t it? You think differently of me? I mean, let’s be honest and get it all out on the table. I was basically raised by white trash." She pointed at her chest. "I’m not exactly a fairy princess."
Henry raised his eyebrows at her. "I do think differently of you."
Mara’s face fell.
Leaning toward her, his hands pressed into the velvet. "I think you are a rare diamond of a soul, as indestructible as you are beautiful, as transparent as you are a mystery, and inherently precious even if there are many who don’t realize your value."
She thought her heart might leap out of her chest. What she did next took more courage than anything she’d done before. More than the night before when her actions could be mistaken for passion independent of affection. Crawling across the velvet, she caressed the tops of his hands and met his offered lips.
Gideon stopped watching Katrina’s dorm once Mallory returned smelling strongly of alcohol but without the arsenic-sweet scent of Watcher. Katrina was as safe as she could be for now. There were ways around the spell on her room. Mallory could be possessed or another human might be influenced into killing Katrina. But the opportunistic nature of Watchers meant they’d be unlikely to strike in a way that called attention to what they were. Dragging a screaming girl from her bed in a crowded dorm in the middle of the night was definitely not their style.
He materialized into the hallway near the parlor. If she noticed he was home, Abigail didn’t show it. Her forehead rested on her crossed arms as she watched the fire absently through the space between her forearms.
"What are you thinking about?" Gideon asked.
Abigail straightened and rubbed her eyes. "Lucifer has Dane in hell. He’s going to burn him alive if I don’t help him."
"You know, he’ll do it anyway. No one makes it out of hell." Gideon scowled and took a step toward her.
"I know. I didn’t tell Malini though. She’s already in over her head on this one without the guilt of her friend’s slow death weighing her down. And we all know Jacob is useless if Malini isn’t happy."
Crossing his arms, Gideon fluffed his wings defensively. "You don’t give them enough credit. After what we’ve faced this year, you need to trust that God has given us the tools to succeed."
She glanced at him over her shoulder, her hands resting on her hips. "What if this time God isn’t in control? What if this is the beginning of the end?"
"You mean, the end of times?" Gideon shook his head.
"The great tribulation. The beginning of Satan’s rule on Earth. What if this time is the one time he’s supposed to get lucky?"
A fiery light washed across the floor, pouring off of Gideon in waves.
Abigail squinted to maintain eye contact. "The promise God made us seems impossible. Maybe it is. Maybe this was a battle He knew from the start we couldn’t win."
"You think this was all a ploy to get us to serve God’s purpose? That He had no intention of fulfilling his promise to us?" The muscles in Gideon's jaw flexed.
She shook her head. "I don’t know. I just don’t know."
"I don’t believe it, Abigail. It’s not true."
She turned back toward the fireplace, the light from the logs dim in comparison to Gideon.
"Abigail, instead of speculating about our promise, maybe you should ask yourself why the father of all lies gave you twelve days to do something you could do in a heartbeat. Why so much time?" He stepped closer to her.
Her head tilted to the right. "I don’t know. Maybe he thought Dane’s suffering would bring us to our knees."
"I think there is a reason Lucifer needs twelve days. We both know he intends to kill the boy no matter what. Challenging you and Malini is a distraction, a way to set you off your guard. He has something else up his sleeve. I can feel it." He stepped in as close as he dared, the itch of a heat rash breaking out across his chest.
"It’s a good thing we have a Healer to sort this out for us," she said sarcastically, "because from where I stand, it looks like the devil has painted us into a corner and I, for one, don’t see any way out." She turned around and shouldered past him, blistering where her skin touched his.
Gideon sprung forward, his wings extending, knocking the lamp on the end table to the floor. His hands grabbed her shoulders long enough to force her to face him. Sparks and the smell of burning flesh filled the room.
She dropped her illusion.
Releasing her, he stared into the slit pupils of her yellow eyes, sunk into a face of black serpent skin. Her leathery wings extended defensively.
"I think the real problem is you do see a way out," Gideon said. "Only, it is not our way out, it is your way out. You can’t make a deal with the devil and expect to come out unscathed, Abigail."
Leaping backward onto the kitchen table, she pointed a talon in his direction. "Gideon, you of all should know better." She crawled off the other side of the table and bolted halfway down the hall. "Stay away from me. Stay far away from me."
Her illusion snapped back into place as she rounded the banister and ascended the staircase. Platinum-blonde hair cascaded down her back, hiding the place where her wings tucked away. Her dark scales smoothed and her yellow eyes became icy blue. She patted the edges of her burnt shoulders. The burns would take all night to heal and be impossible to cover up with any illusion. They’d learned the hard way early on.
Frowning at his burnt palms, Gideon returned to the parlor to clean up the lamp.
* * * * *
When the glass was cleared away and the parlor was spotless, and every surface of the main floor was dusted, Gideon still couldn’t forgive himself for attacking Abigail. That’s what he’d done, attacked her. He’d known his touch would burn just as he knew his words would burn in an entirely different way.
This wasn’t what he’d had in mind when he'd come here. The day he’d delivered her message of redemption, he saw something in her eyes, a glimpse into a soul at the brink of transcendence. She wasn’t truly fallen, but she wasn’t like him either. She was as close to human as any angel he’d ever known. That was what he fell in love with, the battle within, the freedom, the humanity in the divine. He always envied humans.
At first he’d returned to watch her, but when she’d discovered him in her garden, the visits became mutual. Long walks turned into entire days spent together. Abigail couldn’t hear enough about heaven, and Gideon couldn’t stop asking about Earth. The day God told him he could stay was the happiest point in his existence. He’d fallen in love with Abigail, the way she saw the world and the heavens for what they were, accepted her role in the universe without blaming anyone but herself, and planted her garden every year the human way, with faith that the seeds would sprout and grow, even though she could have used magic.
Loving someone meant believing in them and helping them to do the right thing. Tonight was an epic fail in that department.
From the candy dish on the coffee table, Gideon lifted the red stone necklace. Malini had given it to him after their battle against Lucifer at the school, when she came into her own as a Healer. He never used it. But now he needed guidance and although Abigail wasn’t confident in the Healer’s abilities, Gideon believed that the part of Malini that resided in the In Between was infinitely wise. He made himself comfortable in the armchair and raised the stone to the light.
The walls faded to red and then disappeared. The floor dropped out. Gideon was falling, falling, falling. He flapped his wings but there was no air to catch under his feathers. He landed softly in solid black nothingness. After only a moment, a room shingled itself around him. Squares of stainless steel, white, and red formed a mosaic that filled every corner of the darkness. The black and white checkerboard pattern of the floor spread toward a gleaming white counter edged in stainless steel. Red padded stools formed in front of the counter. A jukebox against the wall kicked on and
Johnny B. Goode
drifted across what Gideon now recognized as a '50s diner.
"Don’t look so surprised. This came from your mind, Gideon," a heavyset black woman said from behind the counter.
Gideon looked down at himself then twisted to see better in the mirrored wall to the left of the counter. He was dressed in khaki pants and a button-down shirt. His hair was slicked back and his wings were...gone.
"Why do you think my subconscious picked a '50s diner?" Gideon mumbled to the woman. After all, he’d been to heaven. It seemed odd.
"‘Cuz Gideon, you have idealized being human. Look at me." She motioned toward her ample bosom. "You gave me this look. A black woman owning a diner in 1950s America. Believe me, this is an idealized version of human history." She loosed a heady laugh.
Gideon squinted at the woman’s face. "Malini?"
"Not exactly. The stone is enchanted to be an echo of the Healer’s power. I wouldn’t exist without the Healer, but she’s not here entirely."
The woman lifted a frosted glass from behind the counter, scooped vanilla ice cream into the bottom, then filled in the space with what looked like root beer. She inserted a straw and slid the float down the counter to Gideon.
"I think you’ll like that," she said.
He took a sip and was rewarded with an ambrosia of flavors he’d never experienced before. It was so good he had to close his eyes.
"Now, I believe you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have some questions." She leaned a brown elbow on the counter. I have some limitations though. I can only tell you the future as it stands today. But let me caution you, angel, knowing the future is a dangerous thing. It’s always changing, shifting with every thought and decision we make.”
Gideon stirred his drink. "I want to know if Abigail is thinking about joining Lucifer. I want to know if she’s given up on us."
The black woman shook her head. "Neither of those were questions about the future, Gideon. Do I need to explain the rules again?" She rolled her brown eyes.
"I apologize. Will Abigail make a deal with the devil?"
The woman pulled a piece of white bread from under the counter and slid it in the slot of a stainless steel toaster near the mirrored wall. She pushed down the lever and drummed her fingers on the counter. Accompanied by a loud ding, the toast popped out of the toaster and landed on the counter. The bread was browned accept for a symbol in white at the center.
The woman ran her fingers over the grain. "Yes, she will."
The answer was a punch in the gut. "Will I be able to stop her?" Gideon whispered.
Another slice of bread lowered into the toaster. The woman caught it this time when it flew from the slot. "No."
Gideon buried his face in his hands and was surprised when they came away wet. "What is this?" He held his wet fingers out to the woman. "There's something wrong with me. My chest feels hollow and my throat aches. Am I coming apart?"
"You’re crying," the woman said softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. "It’s a human thing and here, in this reality, you are human."
"I’ve seen people cry. I’ve just never done it myself."
The woman nodded and patted his shoulder. "Being human isn't easy."
Gideon wiped under his eyes. "I have one more question."
"Will Abigail give up on us? On me?"
The bread slid into the toaster and sprung out almost as quickly as it went in. "No. No." The woman shook her curly black hair. "Abigail, will never give up on you."
Gideon met her kind eyes. "Thank you."
The bell above the door rang and a girl walked in. Whatever clothes she’d had on transformed into a cardigan and a pink poodle skirt.
"You have got to be kidding me!" she said, looking down at herself and stomping her foot. "Whose idea was this?"
"Mara?" Gideon asked.
The girl looked up and a smile bloomed across her face. "Gideon? Mara ran to him and tossed her arms around his neck, pressing her lips into his cheek. "What are you doing here?"
"I used the red stone to visit—" He turned back toward the counter with the intention of introducing the black woman, but she was gone. "She was just here. I was talking to her about Abigail."
"It’s like that around here. You never know what to expect." Mara climbed onto the stool next to him, then realized he had an ice cream float and jumped down to make herself one.
"We all thought you were dead," Gideon said.
"I guess I am. Well, Henry says I’m undead. I don't know for sure. I’m the only one who’s ever been here body and soul."
"Undead?" Gideon didn’t like the sound of that. "So, what does that mean for us. The Soulkeepers need you."
"I can never go back. The way Henry talks, I’m some sort of a lost soul and as soon as the powers that be notice I’m missing, he and I are going to get our comeuppance." She scooped vanilla ice cream into a glass. "Of course, Henry is Death so what can they really do to him?" She pointed the ice cream scoop at Gideon and squinted her eyes. "I have a feeling I’m going to take the brunt of it."
"So, you are supposed to be dead but Death spared you by bringing you here."
"Yep." She poured in the root beer. "We’re kind of an item. I mean he’s never actually asked me to be his girlfriend but I think with the living together and the tonsil hockey, it’s a sure thing."
Gideon’s mouth fell open. He closed it again and cleared his throat. "Where’s Henry now?"
She sighed. "He’s working. We’ve been inseparable and he needed to give it his full attention for a while. I decided to explore and ended up here. Strange choice by the way. I suppose if I wasn’t the one wearing the poodle skirt it would be cool."
"I wonder how long you’ll be able to stay here?" Gideon asked because he couldn’t think what else to say.
"Who knows? How’s Dr. Silva?"
"I’m worried about her. She hasn’t been herself lately."
"You mean she’s been kind and cooperative."
"Very funny." Gideon frowned.
"Seriously, Gideon. When has Abigail ever been herself? She’s a Watcher trying to be human or better. Her whole existence is an attempt to