Authors: Allyson Lindt
He stepped aside. “Of course.”
She was still on edge, distressed from the dream and waking up possessed—she didn’t know what else to call it—but the pain of snatching control of her body from Metatron was fading. She must have imagined Lucifer brushing her off the last time she was here. His greeting tonight was more like what she was used to. She settled into the chair across from his desk and tucked her legs underneath her.
He stayed on her side of the desk and leaned back against it. “What’s going on?”
“I had this dream.” The memory rushed back, and images lit her skin on fire with lust and pain. Honesty was one thing, but there might be bits of the dream she didn’t need to get explicit about. “It was nice and peaceful and serene, and then Michael ran me through with a sword.”
The twitch in Lucifer’s expression was so slight, she might have imagined it. The way his eyes narrowed, the purse of his lips. “Are you having trouble with the new management at work?”
It was a reasonable question from someone who didn’t know the details of her life over the last few days. So why did she feel as if he should have asked something else?
“Because you’re more observant than you like to admit.”
And she was back. “Not really. I still hate Raphael. But I’m pretty sure that’s not related.”
“No, that sounds pretty status quo.” The corner of his mouth tugged up.
His smile beat back any sneaking reservations she had. “But there’s more. Remember last time I was here I said I’d heard a voice?”
She shook away her suspicion at his measured response. He was waiting for her to explain, that was all. “When I woke up after the dream, I wasn’t in control of my body. It was.”
He crossed his arms. “I see.”
He thought she was crazy. She never should have told him. Was it too late to say
Stupid non-existent voice she was ignoring. “That’s it? I just told you I’m hearing a voice, and it’s making me do things against my will.” She couldn’t help the desperation that crept into her tone.
“I’m still processing. It’s got to be terrifying for you. I’m sorry. Does she call herself anything?” He unfolded himself and rubbed her arm, his tone kind.
The question made her grind her teeth, and she wasn’t sure why. Maybe because up to this point, she hoped the nuisance was some kind of cherub, and those didn’t have names. Did this mean her problem was common after all? That wasn’t reassuring. “Do most voices call themselves specific names?”
“I don’t know about most. It happens.”
“And do a significant percentage of them claim to be a destroyed and dishonored angel? Like, say, Metatron?”
His shoulders stiffened “And she took control of your body.”
“That’s what I said, yes.” Ronnie couldn’t read his body language enough to know what it meant, but she knew it wasn’t the comforting encouragement he exuded when she arrived. Did he think she was crazy? Was he upset? Was it because of the name?
“Or maybe, it’s because he misses me, and he’s sad you’re here instead.”
He shoved away from the desk, raking his fingers through his hair, no longer meeting her gaze. “But you could still think.”
Did he sound disappointed or was the lack of sleep making her paranoid? She wanted to believe it was the latter, but his behavior over the past few days told her he hid as much as he said. “Yes. That’s how I got control back. I’m okay, right?” She didn’t want to whine, but she couldn’t help it.
“Do you still hear her now?”
“Notice how he doesn’t call me
Ronnie had, and that sent ants crawling over her skin. And why wasn’t he answering her question? She wanted reassurance, not redirection. “Yes.”
“Are you ever confused about which thoughts are the voice and which are you?”
.” Ronnie barked out the retort before she could consider how it sounded. She bit the inside of her cheek and ducked her head. “Tell me you know what’s going on, please? That I’m all right.”
He kneeled in front of her. “You’re fine. And you will be…fine.”
She wanted to be comforted. Needed it so bad, but she couldn’t ignore the hitch in his voice. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why are you so certain?”
“Prince of Lies. Also, experience.”
Ronnie needed to believe Lucifer. He was her link to answers. To home. “You promise you’ll tell me if you find out anything?” she practically begged. She didn’t like this helplessness.
He rose then moved to the seat across from her. “Go home, get some sleep. And make sure you let me know if things change.”
She swallowed hard as she realized he avoided her question again.
Metatron was right. “Sure. Okay.”
“You have to be at work in a little bit. You can sleep here on the couch if you want.” He sifted through a stack of paperwork in front of him, not looking at her.
Once upon a time, the offer would have tempted her. Half an hour ago, she probably would have said yes without hesitation. But she couldn’t shake the feeling he was lying to her. She just couldn’t vocalize her intuition enough to call him on it. “I’ll be fine. Thanks for seeing me.”
If Lucifer was going to keep things from her, she’d find someone else to answer her questions.
If Ronnie thought Lucifer was being vague, Gabe made him look like an encyclopedia.
“Someone who shares the answers they have.”
“Good luck with that.”
An image flashed through her mind, distinct and almost-tangible, of leaning into him. A pleasant shiver ran through her at the thought of his warm breath on the back of her neck. Now conscious, she realized it wasn’t her reaction. Physically, she wanted his hands roaming her body. Mentally? There was no connection.
She phased back to Earth, a few blocks from her apartment. It was still late. Or was it early now? The traffic, while thick, progressed at a decent clip. A blanket of velvet blocked the sun, but light peeked around the edges of the skyline.
Shops filled the older buildings—consignment clothing, coffee, art, a bakery she discovered when she first moved in.
Even if Izzy was still out of town, the chapel would be open. His janitor kept an eye on the place while he was gone, so people could congregate without him. Ronnie hoped he was back. He saw something in her when she visited the other day, and she needed to know more. Besides, in the few short months she’d known Izzy, she never found a reason to doubt him. He didn’t stare at her like a curiosity or tell her everything would be fine when it wouldn’t or make promises he didn’t intend to keep.
And his taste in men was wicked good.
She nudged the glass door, and it swung aside and then closed behind her without a sound. Silence swooped in and wrapped her in comfort. It felt wrong to do anything but tiptoe. She climbed the stairs to knock on his door.
She checked her phone. Almost six. Izzy liked insanely early hours. Maybe he was in the church? He was probably still in Fiji, but desperation and the need for a friend nudged her toward the chapel anyway.
She stepped through the doors. Two sections of pews stretched in front of her, one on either side. A pulpit stood at the head of the room. Izzy normally took the bench in front of it; he was more of a conversationalist than a preacher. The benches were worn like the walls outside, but clean and polished. The energy in the air was unique. Soft, sweet, and like satin against her bare arms.
What drew her here? Why was she certain it was where she needed to be? Her eyes adjusted to the room lit only by candles. Someone sat near the center of the aisle on her left, head bowed, a soft glow radiating around him.
She took a step back and then another. She didn’t want to disturb a worshiper, even if he wasn’t a human. As calming as this place was, her answers weren’t here.
“Good. Let’s go for waffles.”
An uncontrollable yawn wrenched her jaw open. She’d rather go back home and sleep for another hour or two before work.
“I second that idea. You snooze all you want.”
Right. Ronnie wasn’t sleeping because she liked being in control of her body. She also had no reason to stay here.
“Don’t leave on my account.” Michael’s distinct voice didn’t shatter the silence so much as roll over the edges of it.
Another snippet of her dream flashed through her thoughts—the agonizing tear of a sword cutting through her flesh. Betrayal throbbed in her head. Her fingers itched for something she didn’t understand and twitched with the desire for vengeance. At the same time, her chest ached with a longing to be wrapped up in his arms. To brush her lips over his. To feel his mouth trail along the back of her neck.
Ronnie shoved the disjointed compulsions aside. Was the dream a memory of the past? Was that why Metatron hated Michael so much? Or were the vivid images planted by Metatron and meant specifically to fuck with Ronnie’s brain? If so, why did every emotion the dream generated feel so real? “I didn’t mean to bother you,” Ronnie said.
He stood and turned without making a sound. “You’re not. There’s plenty of room in here for both of us. Though if you’re looking for the priest, he’s in Fiji.”
She grabbed her left arm with her right hand to keep the conflicting thoughts and feelings from making her shake. Terror, betrayal, and trust warred for her attention. Since she was pretty sure at least two of those weren’t hers, she wouldn’t give them credence. Metatron could take her fucked up emotions and sulk in a corner far away from her. “I know. I was hoping I’d find something here anyway.”
A tickle of a smile pulled the corner of his mouth. “Lucky me. I’m here.”
A phantom pain started in her stomach and spread horizontally between her spine and navel. It took restraint not to look down. There was nothing there. It was just that fucking voice playing with her head. “I tend to wind up here when I need peace.” Why was she explaining this to him without hesitation? “It’s calm—the kind that only comes from a place where the occupants have such a solid grasp on themselves and their lives that their souls are at peace.”
He strode to the aisle and walked toward her. “There are days I wonder if anyone besides me notices that feeling anymore. What drove you to look for peace so early in the morning?”
As he drew closer, a storm of electricity forced itself through her veins. The rush would have knocked her over if it hadn’t held her upright. Her posture shifted without her permission, feet sliding to shoulder width, and as she drew her hand from her arm, twin swords shimmered into existence. It took her longer to come to grips with what happened than for it to actually happen. When she stopped moving, she held two thin, curved blades—one at his neck, the other near her waist.
She leveled her narrowed gaze at Michael. “I’ll tell you what you can do for me.” Her voice tore from her throat, but it wasn’t
speaking. “Today you surrender what you took from me so long ago.”
Rage, not hers, coursed through her skull, making it hard to pluck out her own thoughts. Took from her? Ronnie grasped for a meaning. She knew Metatron wanted him dead, but even in the short amount of time Ronnie had known Michael, she couldn’t fathom him betraying anyone.
He stopped just outside the range of her blades, jaw clenched, voice low. “Metatron.”
He knew she was there. The realization sat cold and heavy in Ronnie’s gut. And how did she escape? If she could do this even when Ronnie was actively trying to keep her locked away… How did she stand a chance against the fourth original?
Before the swords appeared, the yellow-red portion of Ronnie’s aura vanished. Rich, dark ink flowed in to replace it. Angels hadn’t been taught to summon swords for centuries—projectile weapons were more effective and took less power and focus to control.
Every instinct told Michael to draw his blade. To defend himself. If she lunged at him, the few feet between them would vanish in an instant. Even if he weren’t in one of the last truly holy places left in the world, he’d fight the instinct with his dying breath.
The twin blades in her hands, each the length of her forearms with a gentle curve, shone with their own light. She held the right one high, at his neck, and the left closer to waist level. He’d know those blades anywhere. They were Metatron’s.
The design and color didn’t set them apart, but the
—the hand guards—bore her name in dim flashing, red marks. All the grief and regret he repressed for millennia rushed back. What had Lucifer done? “Metatron.”
“You do remember me.” The voice was Ronnie’s but edged and sharpened. “Should I take your life quickly, or draw it out?”
This wasn’t possible. He watched Metatron die. Held her until she was an empty shell. “My life is yours. I’ve always told you that.”
“You’ve lied before.”
Even as she held her ground, the black enveloping her flickered, and a hint of red broke through like the first ray of sun after a night of storms. “Ronnie?” he asked.
“Don’t call her that.” Metatron’s demand rattled the pews. “That’s my name, not hers.”
Izrafel was right. The clashing auras belonged to two different beings. But Michael had never seen two agents—each with so much power—inhabit the same physical form. A fallen took a cherub with no will or direction of its own, or a cherub found a human host.
No one could stay sane with two distinct and strong personalities sharing a head.
Experiences like the one at Izrafel’s didn’t rattle Michael. Sometimes integration happened, other times… A soul had to be ripped out and sent back home.
This was different. This demon—Uriel—added a new layer of complexity. It wasn’t his right to evict her from a life she earned. But guilt from eons ago gnawed at him with the need to rescue Metatron where he failed before. “I’m sorry for what happened back then. You have no idea.”
“I have a little bit of an idea.” Metatron shifted the top sword, nicking his skin with the tip. “How long has it been since you were ethereal? I bet you’ve got enough of a bond with this body that I could make you suffer for a long time. And this little toy of Lucifer’s is powerful. I could annihilate you in the end.”
“You could, I’m sure of it.” This angel he almost surrendered eternity for. Had she been conscious this entire time? The possibility horrified him. “I wanted to stop Gabriel. It doesn’t change anything, but I tried.”
“I—” Her stance wavered, and red flared in her aura to dance with the black. “Stop him from what?”
“From carrying out your execution.” Saying the words, after all this time, sent daggers through him. None of them spoke of it after the fact. Gabriel explained, invisible lines were drawn, but no one mentioned again why Metatron died. “I begged, I pleaded, and he was so furious about what you’d done.”
“You’re lying. I didn’t do anything. But you…” She wobbled.
Give me back my body.
” Ronnie’s yell tore through the chapel, echoing off the walls. Red and yellow flared around her, shattering the black and obliterating it. Her swords dissolved into a pile of black glitter at her feet and then vanished.
The pain wasn’t as intense as the last time Ronnie evicted Metatron, but it still ripped away pieces of her thoughts and strength. She dropped to one knee, gasping for breath. The cool wood of the chapel floor seeped into her palm, and she swayed.
Michael was at her side in an instant, hand on her arm. “Uriel?”
Holy fuck, that hurt.
Tears pricked her eyelids as she blinked away the confusion and looked up at him. “What did she mean to you, and you to her, for so much raw hatred to fill her?”
A simple word, infinite meanings. Ronnie might be moved at two individuals capable of so much love for each other. If it didn’t threaten her sanity.
“Thousands of years ago, I would have given up immortality for her. The only thing left there now is regret.”
In Ronnie’s skull, Metatron screamed for release. For vengeance against…she didn’t know anymore. For an end to the confusion. Ronnie didn’t blame her for the last one. But if Metatron was in Michael’s past, Ronnie would let her stay there. At least until she posed another threat to Ronnie’s future. Right now, getting answers was her priority.
Ronnie prayed he could do that for her. She might not survive another twenty-four hours kept in the dark. “You’ll tell me what’s going on, won’t you? Please?”
He traced a thumb over her cheek. The intimacy caused a collision in her head: shock, familiarity that wasn’t hers, and comfort she needed but couldn’t say why it was better coming from him.
“Whatever I can, I promise.” He glided his palms down her arms to grasp her fingers and then helped her stand. Hand on the small of her back, he guided her to the nearest seat.
This sucked. She pulled one knee up and hugged it to her chest, her foot flat on the pew. She chewed her bottom lip, darting her gaze around to ground herself. She finally looked at him again. “What happened just now?”
“I have a theory, but I’d like to hear your side of things first.”
Why did she think he’d be more helpful than anyone else? She rested her chin on her knee. “If I had any information, maybe it wouldn’t have happened twice in one night.”
He settled onto the bench, facing her but leaving space between them. “Start at the beginning, and we’ll figure it out together.”
His reaction to her being possessed—she couldn’t think of a better word for it—and his almost being decapitated was far calmer than hers. Maybe someday he’d teach her that trick. A bitter laugh slipped out, and she shook her head. “Let’s start with you’re not the first to say that to me, and I’m not any better off now than I was before.”
“Who else have you talked to?”
“Lucifer. Gabe—sorry, Gabriel.”
“Did you tell them everything?”
Why did everyone keep asking her that? Probably because she hadn’t. But it was as if each of them knew there was more under her explanation. Expected a more complex answer than she provided. Her jaw worked up and down, and then she let out a slow breath. There was no threat here. No false pretenses, none of the intensity Gabe radiated. Michael was safe. She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she did. “No.” Well, she told Lucifer everything, but it hadn’t done her any good.
“Because neither one of them is telling me everything.”
“I get that from them a lot.” His dry tone would have made her smile, if the mood was lighter.
Instead, it added to her flailing mental state. “Really? Even Gabriel? Aren’t you heavenly types supposed to stick together? Bros before hos or whatever?” She tilted her head to the side, unable to keep the sarcasm from her voice.
“Angels are capable of just as horrific things as demons are, the same way you’re not inherently evil. You know all about free will and open-to-interpretation from Lucifer.”
Right, Lucifer was the original loophole finder. The catalyst for demons coming into existence. For some reason, Michael’s version of the rhetoric didn’t bother her the way it did when Lucifer spouted it. She got the impression Michael believed it. She might as well lay it all out for him. If he hadn’t already heard, he would eventually, and unlike the others, he witnessed her
firsthand. “I don’t remember anything before about three months ago.”
Not what she expected. He looked as if he anticipated her words. She pushed forward. “It happened when I took on a physical form. At least, according to Lucifer that’s when it happened. I don’t remember anything about myself or my existence, or anything else before that time.”
“Do you remember the other day in my office? I told you there was no protocol for what had happened to you, because agents don’t do things like get sick and pass out?”
Like she could forget that. She was pretty sure that was when her life started to crumble. “I remember, but Lucifer said this happens sometimes.” The words sounded stupid now, regardless of how many times she’d said them in the past. “Gabriel agreed. That on very rare occasions, getting a mortal form doesn’t agree with an angel. I’m being naïve, aren’t I? This doesn’t actually happen.”
she was an idiot. It was too simple. Why did Gabriel lie? Why did Lucifer?
Michael’s expression softened. “You’re not naïve. It happens, but not the way they’ve spun it.”
She lowered her chin until her forehead rested on her knee. Her voice was distant and muffled, even to her own ears. Hope crept in, and despair pushed it aside. “They said all it would take is something to trigger the memories. That I’d get them back.” Her voice cracked. “That it was only temporary.” If they lied, would she be forever stuck without her past?
“And they’re probably right. They’ve been doing this Ubiquity stuff for decades. They know better than I do.” He scooted closer on the pew and trailed his fingers through her hair.
The warmth of his touch, his fingers caressing her scalp, calmed her in a way she didn’t anticipate. Did he mean the touches for her or Metatron?
Despite the soothing contact, his words were bullshit. Ronnie stared up at him and twisted her mouth in disbelief. “You’re a horrible liar.”
“So I’ve heard. Here’s the truth. I don’t work for Ubiquity—or didn’t until a few days ago—because I don’t agree with their methods. It’s red tape with no room for interpretation.”
The raw honesty was the most pleasant thing she’d encountered in the last few days. “I wouldn’t say
He raised his brows. “You mean like Izrafel.”
“What?” Izzy didn’t have… He fell. His lingering aura was because he never used the last of his power. It wasn’t because he had a cherub.
. “How did I miss that?” She already knew the answer. Last time she saw Izzy, she didn’t think keeping a cherub was an option.
“I hope he’s not upset I outed him.” Michael gave a dry laugh. “Who are you talking about?”
“There’s a girl working in Gabriel’s shop, and she’s not exactly out in the open but not hiding either. And this rabbi I met in Israel. It’s not on the books or anything, but I get the impression sometimes management looks the other way.”
“That’s new. Regardless. I didn’t agree with Lucifer and Gabriel then, and I still don’t. I look for individuals who host cherubs, whether it’s angels or humans. I find them one at a time. This whole assembly-line hunt-and-destroy thing concerns me.”
“Maybe he wasn’t really… Is it possible he’s telling the truth about me?”
Random, and a good question, but not what Ronnie wanted to focus on. Michael’s interpretation of dealing with cherubs was so different from the company bullshit and made a lot more sense. “What do you do instead?” Ronnie asked.
“I talk to each of them. Figure out if they’re a threat to themselves or other people, work with them to decide if they want the life merging leads to, and if things go well, I help the cherub integrate with the host.”
That was an option?
with you in any way, shape, or form.”
“That makes two of us,”
Ronnie said. “What does that have to do with me? Do any of them think they’re dead, powerful angels?”
“No. They’re all cherubs. I guarantee it. What’s happening to you I’ve never seen. I can talk you through integration. I don’t know if it will work with two such distinct personalities, but—”
“No!” Ronnie exclaimed out loud, overlapping Metatron.
“Don’t you dare.”
Metatron was vehement.
At least they agreed.
“Okay.” He didn’t flinch. “We’ll figure out something else instead.
Sunlight spilled through the high windows at the back of the building, casting the chapel in a glittery array of colors from the stained glass above their heads. The jeweled light struck his aura and danced with it. Serenity and peace filled her thoughts, along with the memory of a temple in Jerusalem. In her mind, she sat across from Michael after a long night of talking.
“I did. Get out of my memory.”
There was no power in the voice, but sadness joined the foreign emotions rolling through Ronnie.
Michael brushed a strand of hair off her forehead. “Two agents, one body? You’re struggling with each other to find out who wins. My guess is the fight is holding your memories captive.”
Every time he did something so familiar…so intimate, it set off a chain reaction in her skull. She loved the touch and the way it made her think he cared. She didn’t know him though. Was he like this with everyone? She couldn’t see the man she met in the office being touchy-feely. What made Ronnie so special, and why was she comforted by his simple actions? “What do we do about it? You don’t hate me for not wanting to be her, right?”