He sat quietly at her tombstone, slow, silent tears cascading gently down his cheeks.
Why, why, why did I let her die? Why couldn’t I run fast enough to save her?
This same thought ran through his head a million times, blending into a monotonous mantra echoing in his mind. Tormenting him like it had been all this past year.
The bell in the tower near the cemetery began ringing, marking midnight. The witching hour—the moment at which her life had departed, her soul escaped the broken shell of a body. One year ago.
He raised his head, eyes closed. Remembering the moment, the blaring horn of the truck, the blinding headlights.
The sound of the impact, of steel tearing flesh crunching bones shattering a life.
And suddenly, she was with him.
For a single instant, he felt her arms about him, warm and safe, her lips at his ear, whispering:
“Don’t cry, don’t cry for me. It was painless. I didn’t suffer, I promise. Don’t mourn for me; you did all that you could.” The voice became fainter. “I am gone, but you still have your life ahead of you. Don’t waste it. Just always remember I am watching over you and I love you…”
The feel of her, with him, vanishes. He sat frozen, unmoving for a moment, before letting out a cry of frustration. Was he to have her for but a moment, before losing her again?
A sight flashes before his eyes. The love of his life as he’d never seen her before. A vision she was, in a splendid flowing white dress, soft long golden hair trailing down and framing her face, her face that was aglow with happiness. Bright blue eyes reflected this happiness tenfold.
And—most astonishing of all—two blindingly white wings behind her. Huge feathery wings the color of ivory, stunningly beautiful.
He reached his hand out towards her. He wanted to join this vision, to be with her, like that…
“No.” She gently pushed his hand away. “It is not your time yet.”
He wanted to cry. Would she deny him this? Would she deny him this Heaven, this wonderful spectacle which taunted his eyes? What he saw, but could not have.
“You will have this one day.” She smiled at him fondly. “But not yet. You must live out your life as it was meant to be lived.”
“But my life ended when yours did,” he whispered desperately. “My life is meaningless…”
“Meaningless?” She looked at him quietly. “Since when did any life have meaning?”
He shook his head, trying to keep his composure. Trying to keep the tears from bursting out in a torrent. “My life had meaning when you were with me. Now you are gone and I am slowly dying inside…”
She stared at him, silent for a moment, perhaps at a loss for words.
“I cannot live without you,” he pleaded. He fell on his knees. “Anything. I would do anything to join you.”
“Anything?” Her eyes searched his, eyes like piercing knives. Not cruel, but oh so sharp.
He nodded, swallowing. Was this possibly his chance?
She sighed and closed her eyes. “There is a way.”
He smiled broadly. Happiness flooded his soul like it hadn’t done since before she died. “There is a way?”
She nodded, pain twisting her features like a mask. A mask he’d never seen her wear before.
“I must warn you now, it is very dangerous and painful. And it involves giving up your life.”
He shook his head, short dirty-blonde locks waving wildly with the movement. “Anything, I said. The danger is worth it. If I turned down this chance I would be a madman. I would go mad and kill myself, which I have been restraining myself from since the moment you died.”
She shook her head sadly. “I must leave you now. Another angel will guide you…”
As she spoke these words, her voice was growing faint. The image dissolved and he found himself, once again, in the empty graveyard, surrounded by silence and dust.
There was a whispering sound. He turned his head and saw a cloaked stranger beckoning to him at the gate.
Even at this distance, he could see the faintest outline of wings protruding from his back, like a light shimmer in the darkness.
He stood up from beside her grave, walking towards the stranger. He absolutely had to succeed, had to go through whatever obstacles, whatever he had to do to be with her again, in that Heaven.
The stranger met him at the gate, a stern countenance with piercing black eyes. “You are the young man? The lover of our Arianne?”
“What is your name, boy?”
“Solaire…” It came out sounding timid and slightly frightened.
Those piercing eyes regarded him gravely for a moment, looking over the pale, thin face, dirty-blonde hair, emerald eyes, before the stranger glanced away. “You may call me Janus.”
Solaire nodded silently. His desire to be reunited with Arianne was pounding through him, his heartbeat. Thump. Thump. Thump.
He was certain Janus could hear it, so loud it was. Like someone beating on a drum, the sound echoing forever.
Janus put out his hand abruptly, startling Solaire. He stared at the hand, unsure of what to do with it. Was he supposed to shake his hand, or…?
Janus let out an impatient sigh. “Hurry up. Take my hand.”
Solaire nodded and took the man’s hand, feeling callused and rough-skinned fingers enveloping his own hand, puny in comparison.
Everything vanished about them. The graveyard, the bell tower, everything. Simply disappeared.
The lonely scene was replaced by something entirely different. The silence was still there, but the atmosphere was, sadly enough, quite similar to the one they’d just departed.
A child’s room. A tiny child was sleeping peacefully in her bed. The room itself was in disgraceful condition. The wallpaper was peeling off the wall, the carpeting ragged and threadbare, the toys mostly broken or old. There was a musty, foul smell in the room, of urine and dust.
The child seemed unaware of all the squalor about her. Though she slept quietly enough, she was shivering in the drafty room. Her breathing was ragged and every breath she took in was a bronchial rattle, indicating an illness of the lungs, and every now and then the quiet was broken by her empty stomach growling away for food. Food that, Solaire knew by the condition of the room, would not be found.
His heart went out to the little child. Poor thing, she was, sleeping and not knowing that her life ought to be so much better than it was…
He turned to Janus. “What am I to do?” Solaire asked the man, his voice lowered to an undertone to avoid waking the child. He thought, probably I am to help her in order to prove I am worthy for Heaven.
Janus withdrew his hand into his cloak, rummaged for a moment, and then drew out a shiny new gun, a .45 revolver. He offered it to Solaire. “Kill her.”
Solaire stared at Janus in a kind of stunned silence.
“…are you being serious?”
Janus gestured the gun at him. “I brought the gun, didn’t I? There are no trick bullets in here, I assure you. If you fire it at her, you will kill her. Which is exactly what you are supposed to do.” He waggled the gun. “Kill her.”
Solaire stared at the gun as if he’d never seen one before. “…I…why do I have to kill her?”
“Because,” Janus began, sounding exasperated, “that is the price you must pay to get into Heaven prematurely. A life.”
Solaire’s previous exultation at being able to join his love in Heaven was now gone, replaced by a heavy, deadened feeling. How was he to join his Arianne if he had to kill an innocent little girl to do so?
Janus held out the gun impatiently, pushing it at Solaire. “Take the damn thing. I’m not going to hold it all day for you.”
Solaire reached out and grasped the gun, his fingers wrapping around the metal handle. When Janus let go, Solaire felt the cold, unfamiliar weight of it in his hand.
A gun. A deadly weapon. Why was he holding one?
“Well, are you going to stand there gaping all day?” Janus sneered at him. “Hurry up. If you don’t kill her you can’t see Arianne again.”
These words snapped him back. That was the purpose. So he could join Arianne again.
Her words drifted back to him. “There is a way. It is very dangerous and painful…”
But he had to. He’d promised her. I have to do this. I have to be with her…
And yet, he was still unsure. Looking down at the little child, he could not think of lifting the gun to her head and…
Sensing his hesitance, Janus sighed. “Don’t think the girl will lose much. She is undernourished and often neglected. Her father would have sold her to the streets long ago if her mother hadn’t protected her. She, of course, knows none of it. All she knows is that she is hungry all the time, her brothers and sisters are hungry. And that she is always weak with sickness and pain. It would be better to end her misery. Can’t you see that?”
Solaire stared at the gun, and then at the little girl.
“And besides…” Janus’s voice took on a softer tone. “…don’t you want to see your Arianne again?”
Solaire was tempted in that direction. He so desperately wanted to see Arianne, wanted to be with her, wanted to hold her in his arms. He didn’t want to lose her again.
Besides, the way this girl lived, it wouldn’t be so much a murder as an act of mercy.
Solaire heard a muffled shouting, and a woman’s crying. He turned his head to the wall, glancing in the direction of the sound curiously. The sound came from another room, presumably on the opposite side of the house.
“It is her parents,” Janus informed him. “They are fighting. The girl is very ill and her many hospital visits cost money. Money that her father wants to drink, and gamble.”
The yelling halted, replaced by the sound of stomping footsteps and then a door slamming. The crying continued, heartrending and sorrowful.
“You hear the mother’s crying,” whispered Janus. “She cries every day for her daughter because the whole family is waiting for her to die. If you kill her now, it will save them a lot of heartbreak and pain. That poor mother will mourn and then forget, because with so many other children she would not have time to remember this little girl.”
Yes, it was simply an act of mercy. He would put this poor girl out of her misery; he would save the whole family a lot of pain, and best of all he could be with his Arianne again…
“Go on,” the whisper continued. “Go on and save her. Make the woman’s crying stop.”
Solaire nodded, his mind set. He had to do this, he had to, he had to help this family, he had to see Arianne, he had to, had to, had to…
He straightened up. His eyes had become slightly glazed over as he strode silently across the room to the child’s bed. Solaire gazed at the little girl for a long moment, regarding her quietly, listening to her rattling breaths, her labored breathing.
“Poor little girl,” he whispered. “I will put you out of your pain, I will save you.”
Lifting the gun, he began leveling it to aim it at her skull. As the gun was falling into place, he could hear something.
The mother’s crying. Only now she was talking in frightened gasps, sobbing and whispering to herself. Words that somehow, miraculously, he could hear, even through walls and distance and the bronchial breaths of her sick daughter:
“I don’t want her to die,” she gasped, crying, “I don’t want to lose her. I don’t want her gone. Oh, God, why, why are you taking her away from me?”
Solaire’s mind froze, processing the words. Even as the gun fell into place, leveled, aiming straight at the child’s head, he could swear he recognized those words…
“God, please don’t take Arianne away from me. I love her. Please.”
His own words. His own prayer, whispered even as he’d watched the blood pooling around her, holding her broken form in his arms, watched the light leave her eyes.
Solaire turned, trembling, his hand shaking at what he had nearly done.
Janus looked at him expectantly. “Well?” he asked. “Are you going to kill her, or not?”
Solaire swallowed. He would hate himself later for this, but he had no other choice. “I can’t,” he whispered, his voice quavering. “I can’t put her mother through that pain. I,” and here his voice broke, “I know what it’s like. To lose the one you love. And you don’t forget.”
“Is that so?” Janus’s expression hardened, as he glared at Solaire. “Is that your choice?”
“Yes.” Solaire was shivering now, hearing the darkness in Janus’s voice. How could he have ever let that voice lead him into nearly killing an innocent child!
The very thought of it was making him cry. Tears streamed down his face at how close he was to taking that innocent life, how close he was to throwing that mother into a hell worse than the one she already lived in.
“Well, then,” Janus smirked now, “you don’t get into Heaven. You’re still dying, but you would one way or another. Goodbye, Solaire. Have fun in Purgatory.”
With that, Janus swiftly moved forward, grabbed the gun out of Solaire’s limp grip, the younger boy barely resisting. The gun aimed right at Solaire’s head, quick and true, and the finger about to pull…
A white flash of metal flew in out of nowhere, knocking the gun from Janus’s hand. He flinched and yanked his hand back into his cloak, hissing.
“What in the name of Heaven?”
Solaire smiled, eyes closed. He had been expecting a gunshot, but this was fine with him as well.
“Arianne,” Janus whispered, “you nearly took my hand off.”
Solaire didn’t open his eyes, because he didn’t need to. He could feel her presence, as if she was radiating an aura of warmth.
However, he had to if he wanted to know what was going on.
Looking up, he saw Arianne standing there, tall and beautiful, the true angel. She was holding a long white sword that matched her wings in brilliance and beauty.
The Avenging Angel.
She was glaring at Janus darkly, looking as a mother wolf would if a danger had threatened her cubs.
Janus simply stood there, composed and calm. He was gazing at Arianne levelly, face impassive and expressionless.
Solaire, looking around the room, caught sight of the little girl, still sleeping quietly in her bed. Apparently none of this had woken her up.
“Janus,” Arianne hissed, clearly trying to keep her temper under control, “you had no right to try and kill him.”
“I know, my lady,” Janus responded, still cool and calm as ever.
Solaire felt a rush of relief. So he would be spared after all?
“Killing him,” Arianne whispered, her voice trembling, “is my duty.”
…why is life unfair, Solaire asked himself.
Arianne turned from Janus to Solaire, her face a mask of pain, fear, uncertainty. The last was strongest in the beautiful countenance Solaire so loved.
“Solaire,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. What could he say?
“I thought you would kill her,” she whispered, “but you didn’t. And I understand why you didn’t, but now…”
“Now you have to kill me, instead of him,” Solaire finished, indicating Janus. Arianne nodded, her mask now tragic and pained.
“You have one last chance,” Arianne whispered. “Will you kill her and join me in Heaven, or will you turn your back on the Gates and spend your life in Purgatory?”
Her piteous words, so pleading, nearly broke Solaire’s resolve, but he remained firm.
“I can’t put her mother through what I went through, losing you,” he murmured. “I can’t do it.”
She nodded, understandingly. “I know.”
Arianne raised her sword, pointing it at Solaire’s heart. She closed her eyes, stepped forward, and rammed the sword through his chest.
Solaire barely felt the blade pushing through his flesh, breaking-tearing-shredding its way through. He didn’t feel any pain.
It was like feeling a syringe enter your arm. Mild discomfort, but quite bearable. Then the syringe was pulled out rather roughly, tearing more flesh on the way out and spattering the floor with scarlet.
And then he felt the strangest sensation. He felt his body falling forward, a useless sack of flesh and blood encasing a skeleton frame.
But he wasn’t falling with it.
He stared forward, at his body lying unconscious on the ground, bleeding away on the wooden floor.
“Arianne,” Janus said, “now I’m going to have to clean that mess up. You need to be more careful.”
She nodded silently. Tears were already running down her cheeks, tears for the love of her life and death, whom she was forced to kill.
Solaire was watching the scene in amazement and more than a little perplexity. Could they see him?
Janus sighed, shaking his head. “Poor soul. At least the girl won’t die, not right now, at least.”
Arianne nodded, her face buried in her hands. Solaire could hear her breathing coming in short gasps; she was crying.
Just like the woman in the other room was crying.
Solaire straightened up suddenly. He had to do something.
Comfort Arianne or the woman?
“Arianne,” he said, speaking aloud. She didn’t respond or move at all.
He turned to look at Janus, who was now picking up the body. Janus retrieved from his cloak a miniature white glass knife, which he waved over the blood spots that had soaked the floor. The blood dissipated and vanished, leaving no sign that someone had bled out his life there.
Janus stood up, carrying Solaire’s body. He didn’t give any sign that he’d heard Solaire.
Could they really not hear him?
Solaire strode over to the bed, looking down at the little girl asleep in her bed. The little girl’s breathing, though labored and difficult, was mostly even, save for the occasional little cough.
He reached out and touched her thin, hollow cheek, wondering if he was nothing to everyone forever.
She tensed under his touch. He drew his hand away cautiously, and watched as she shifted, turning over in her bed, still asleep.
When Solaire looked up, he discovered both Arianne and Janus frozen, staring not at him, but at the little girl.
“Why did she move?” Arianne breathed, in a hushed voice. “Did she sense us?”
“No,” Janus whispered under his breath. “I think there is something else in the room with us.”
They both slowly turned their gazes from the girl to the left of her.
Solaire stood at her right side. Clearly they had no idea where he was.
He decided now was a good time to leave, though it pained him to leave Arianne like this in her moment of grief. Quietly, he slipped out of the room and stood in the hallway, wondering where to go.
A fresh outbreak of crying from the other side of the house decided for him. He set off in the direction of the piteous sobbing, towards the grieving mother, grieving for her daughter whom she thought dying, having no idea how narrowly her daughter had escaped death only a few minutes before.
He hadn’t stopped to look at himself, see if he was a ghost or not, to see what had changed with him. He simply went forward to his goal.
Following the sounds of sorrow, Solaire found the room easily enough. The woman didn’t look up as he quietly pushed the creaky door open, entering the room and closing it softly behind him. He wondered if she could even tell at all that the door had opened.
Looking up, he glanced at the woman and took in the image before him. She was about thirty-two years of age, with long soft black hair flowing around her, untied, falling down her back. Her head was buried in her hands in an obvious but unsuccessful attempt to muffle her sobs, though it did obscure the details of her face. She wore a thin robe that was untied, revealing just slightly the violet nightgown underneath. She was seated on a bed with sheets just as threadbare as those covering her daughter across the house.
Solaire slowly crept forward, wondering if she could see or hear him at all. She didn’t move as he advanced, her only movement being her shoulders shaking as she wept.
He stood right before her, gazing down at her for a long moment, wondering what to do.
“My sweet child,” she whispered suddenly, startling him, “my sweet little Aline, I don’t want to lose you, I don’t. Why is God taking you away from me before my eyes? Why?”
And then he knew what to do.
Solaire sat down beside the woman, who didn’t react at all. Carefully, he placed his arms around her, not as a young man with his lover, but as a father with his crying child. She reacted ever so slightly, flinching a bit, but other than that she didn’t move.
“Shhh,” he murmured, “don’t cry, Adelaide, don’t cry. It’s gonna be all right. Aline won’t die. I won’t let her.”
He didn’t know how he knew her name was Adelaide. The name simply came to him, and he knew.
“I’ll do something, Adelaide,” he said, rubbing her shoulder encouragingly. “I won’t let her die. Rest easy, I’ll do something…”
Though she didn’t stop crying right away, it lessened and her hiccups stopped. Her breathing became a little more even, her gasping sobs gradually replaced by shuddering breaths and then, steady.
She was asleep.
Without stopping to wonder how he’d managed this feat, Solaire carefully removed the robe from her and set it down gently onto a chair nearby. He laid Adelaide down onto the bed and covered her with a blanket, and glanced at her sleeping, peaceful face once before proceeding to leave the room.
Outside, in the hallway, he wondered what to do next. He’d accomplished his task of calming the poor Adelaide down, but how would he keep his promise?
“I have to help her,” he murmured. “Have to…”
His thoughts were interrupted when he heard a soft crying on the other side of the house…again. This time it was much more familiar.
How was she still here? he wondered. Wouldn’t she have left with Janus by now? Though he was happy she was still nearby, he couldn’t help but wonder what kept her there, now that she thought he was gone.
Solaire strode back through the house to the room quickly, reaching the room where Janus, Arianne, and Aline were. Maybe he could help Arianne the way he’d helped Adelaide.
As he shoved the door out of his way, ready to comfort Arianne, he looked up to see both her and Janus glowing brilliantly. Janus was carrying his body under one arm.
They were most obviously about to leave.
“Arianne!” he shouted. He was very much not ready to lose her a second time, and he rushed forward to stop her leaving.
The two angels looked up, surprise written all over their faces. They’d heard him, but it was too late. The pair dissolved into a shower of light and then nothing, and he found himself lunging at empty air.
Under normal circumstances, Solaire would have tripped and fallen as he flew forward, but he easily caught his balance. Too easily. But these were not normal circumstances. He was a ghost, spirit, something that had a mind but no body.
He straightened up and glanced about the room. Aline was still sleeping in her bed, her chest moving up and down slowly with each rattling breath.
Solaire, now sure no one could hear him anymore, began cursing furiously under his breath, trying not to let tears burst out of his eyes. How could he lose Arianne again? How could he do such a thing?
“Why, why, why did I have a chance but lose it?” he whispered. “What did I do wrong? Janus tried to get me to kill Aline, I almost did but stopped, and Arianne showed up to kill me herself!”
Which reminded him. He was dead now. No longer part of the living world but still able to wander it, apparently. And after everything that happened, he couldn’t really be bothered to be panicked about it.
He glanced down at himself. Was he much changed by his lack of a body? He was now a ghost, of sorts. Did that mean he could walk through walls?
Solaire looked at the wall beside him. Dare he try it?
Was he just imagining all this and sleeping in the cemetery, hallucinating from an overload of grief by Arianne’s death?
No. That couldn’t be. His imagination was not that creative.
So what had happened?
Solaire reached a hand up and touched the wall hesitantly. He pressed his palm against it, fingers splayed out.
Nothing happened. That is, nothing that had never had before. His hand rested on the solid wall, clearly unable to go through it in any way. Apparently the laws of the physical world still applied to him, even though he wasn’t really part of it.
Then what am I?
Solaire sighed disconsolately. He left the room of the sleeping Aline, glancing back once at her to see her still breathing in and out deeply.
But for how long?
As he stood outside the room, wondering what to do next, a tiny light floated in his direction, from the hallway where Adelaide slept. He paid little attention to it at first, thinking it to be some sort of firefly or other insect.
It did catch his attention when the pinprick of light grew and transformed into a glowing person.
“What the—” Solaire just barely managed to keep a curse word from coming in amazement, staring at this new spectacle. He wondered, was this a message from Arianne? Maybe all wasn’t lost, maybe she’d heard his voice and sent this child after him!
The light dimmed slowly, revealing a teenage boy, not much older than Aline, with soft black hair that spilled about his face, framing it neatly. Long silk violet robes adorned his body and a huge pair of white wings swung out from behind him. He looked up at Solaire, who was staring at him in a vague fascination. He looked slightly familiar…
The boy gazed back at him a long moment, regarding him solemnly with light brown eyes.
For a time the pair simply stood opposite one another, gaping back and forth. A staring contest.
Finally, the boy broke the long silence. “I am Deus,” he said.
Solaire blinked. “Ah, hello, Deus,” he said uncertainly, not expecting such straightforwardness coming from this young child. “My name is Solaire. Nice to meet you,” he added, not quite sure how to act with this strange angel child who had suddenly appeared before him.
“Solaire,” Deus repeated, a smile curving his lips slightly. “Child of the sun.”
“Yes,” Solaire answered, startled that the child knew what his name meant. “Are you…from Arianne?” he asked hesitantly.
Deus shook his head. “Our Holy One barely knows you are here, and she cannot come back here.”
The young man closed his eyes for a moment, controlling the urge to burst into tears. “Then why are you here?” he asked, in a remarkably steady voice.
“I am here,” Deus replied, “for an entirely different purpose.” He nodded his head at Aline's door. “Do you know my relation to that child?”
Solaire shook his head. He’d gotten some inkling of shared blood between Deus and Aline, but he was unsure of what it was. “Brother?” he suggested. Maybe the poor Adelaide had lost another child before Aline?
“No,” said Deus. “I am her uncle.”
It took Solaire a moment to process this fully. “…her uncle?” he repeated mechanically.
That would mean that… “You’re Adelaide’s brother?” he asked, slightly astonished. The age difference between this child and the woman sleeping across the house…she had to be nearly twice his age!
Deus nodded. “I was her older brother.” He smiled slightly, sadly. “But I died when I was fourteen years old. She was thirteen.”
“Oh…” Solaire said. “I’m sorry.”
Deus shook his head. “It is fine now,” he said, “though I think my sister grieves for me still, more so with this child’s slow death.”
Solaire tried to wonder why Adelaide’s daughter dying would make Deus’s death, years before, worse.
“She is dying of the same illness I died of,” Deus added.
“Oh!” Now Solaire understood. “Oh, I’m so sorry for her.” Now Solaire wanted more than ever to do something to help her.
At least it would take his mind off of losing Arianne…
“Yes,” Deus continued. “I have come here because…” Deus trailed off, seeming uncertain.
Solaire looked up at him. “Yes?” he said gently.
Deus looked hesitant to go on. “You want to help my niece, yes?”
“Of course,” Solaire said, barely wondering how Deus knew this. “I want to help her…” He wondered if Deus knew Solaire had nearly killed Adelaide’s child.
“I know you almost killed her,” Deus interrupted. “The test was that you were supposed to decline immediately, begging another way for entrance into Heaven. If you’d killed Aline, you would’ve gone right away to Hell, for only a cruel individual, a monster would kill to get into Heaven.”
Solaire’s face drained of color. He’d nearly been a monster…
“However,” Deus continued, obviously noticing Solaire’s face but ignoring it, “you did neither. You almost killed her but stopped yourself at the last moment, so you neither warrant Hell nor do you merit Heaven. Instead you are granted Purgatory, unseen by devils and angels alike, and mostly invisible to the living world. You are like a shadow of the world, destined to wander the world without being a part of it. In most cases you would forget everything, all your memories faded away by time, and you would simply become a drifting spirit, disconnected from the world and yet watching it idly, separate from all the other spirits and roaming the world alone, cut off from any communication with another being.”
Solaire’s heart sank to his stomach. This wasn’t the fate he wanted. All he wanted was to be with Arianne. And now he was condemned to eternity alone?
“This is almost as bad as hell,” he murmured. “At least there you can communicate with your tormentor…”
“I’m not done yet,” Deus interrupted, holding up a finger.
Solaire cut off, surprised by the imperial gesture and a little peeved to be commanded this way by someone who looked fourteen, no matter if they were an angel and much older.
“You are different,” said Deus, and paused, staring at him for a moment. “I don’t know how many breaks you’ve been given…first a chance by our Holy One to join her, and then escaping Hell after nearly murdering my niece. But I guess it’s in your nature to act out of the ordinary, therefore escaping the ordinary punishments and trials most other spirits undergo.”
A small smile spread across Solaire’s face. He’d always been considered out of the ordinary…one of the reasons why Arianne had come to love him so dearly. And now it was saving him again.
“Before our Holy One and our Keeper left,” it took Solaire a moment to realize he was talking about Arianne and Janus, “what were you doing?”
Solaire reflected back. “Ah…comforting Adelaide?” It was strange to say this to Deus, knowing he was the woman’s older brother.
“What was it exactly you said that comforted her?” Deus was straightforward in his question. More so than one expected from a teenaged boy.
“I said,” and Solaire thought to himself, “I said I’d make sure Aline wouldn’t die…” His words got quieter as he realized what he’d done. Made a false promise to Adelaide.
If he couldn’t prevent his own death at the hands of his lover, how would he prevent a child’s death at the hands of disease?
Solaire looked up, startled, at Deus, who was staring back with a look of determination.
“You can prevent her death,” Deus repeated, “through me.”
“…through you,” Solaire said mechanically. He felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of tar into the whirring gears of his mind, messing up the machinery and forcing thought process to grind to a chaotic halt.
“Yes,” Deus confirmed, not seeming to notice Solaire’s sudden blank expression. “I am this family’s guardian angel. However, I can help them only so much, because I can interfere with their lives just to a certain extent.”
“Ah.” Solaire was trying to understand what this had to do with him. He wasn’t very successful so far, and looked up questioningly at Deus, hoping the angel would notice and explain.
Deus was looking at Solaire steadily, and suddenly his hesitation returned with a vengeance. He looked, strangely enough, almost scared to continue and elaborate on his words.
“So…how am I supposed to save them through you?” asked Solaire, seeking comprehension.
Deus gave him an uneasy look. “Since you made that promise,” he said slowly, “I, as this family’s guardian, have come to answer this promise.” He paused, clearly unsure as to whether he should continue.
Solaire waited patiently, curious.
“…since you have made your promise…” Deus now looked as if he was struggling to spit each word out. The pause was so long Solaire started to wonder if Deus was going to say Solaire had to kill himself, although how his spirit would die he was entirely oblivious.
“I am obliged to grant you a wish,” Deus finally said in a rush, forcing the words out. “You can wish for whatever you want, and you can wish for my family’s safety.”
“Oh!” Solaire smiled. “That’s wonderful!”
“Yes,” Deus confirmed quickly. “It is.”
Solaire’s smile dimmed slightly; his delight at this revelation became mystification. “But then, why did you seem so scared? Do I have to kill myself or something for this wish?”
“No…” Deus looked positively terrified.
“Then what? You’re so freaked out…is it the wish? What would I do besides help your family?”
“You might—” Deus cut off. He’d been about to say something important.
“I might what?” Solaire knew he sounded mean but couldn’t help it. He was deathly curious as to what Deus was about to say.
Deus seemed to be thinking to himself, If you don’t know, should I tell you?
What was Deus getting so worked up over? A wish, Solaire thought. “What would I do with a wish, besides—” He cut his sentence short. A look of intense fear came into Deus’s eyes.
“…I could wish to go to Heaven,” said Solaire, sounding wonderstruck. Here was a new way. “I could wish to be with Arianne…”
Deus groaned and buried his face in his hands. “Please,” he whispered. “Don’t let my family suffer.”
Solaire sighed. Everything had to be so difficult. “If I wished that,” he said calmly, “would you grant it?”
Deus nodded, his face still covered. “Yes.” His voice was muffled and sad, as if he already knew that Solaire’s mind was set.
Solaire seemed to consider it for a moment. Arianne or Deus’s family? Yet the choice was not so hard to make…
“Can I wish for two more wishes?” Solaire’s voice was even, giving away no emotion.
Deus shook his head, confirming what Solaire already knew.
“I really love Arianne,” he answered, “I really want to be with her.”
Deus sighed, and something seemed to leave him. He slumped forward a bit.
Solaire looked up at the ceiling for a moment, as if it would give him some answer. “My choice is made. I already made it before, so now I simply confirm it.”
Deus’s young shoulders began to shake. Tears flowed from under his hands. “No…”
Solaire grinned again, and this time he laughed. “You expect me to choose myself over them?” he said. Deus looked up in disbelief.
“What?” Deus said sharply. The tears halted abruptly. “What do you mean?”
Solaire’s mischievous face faded, and he sighed.
“How did I end up here? I already made my choice, when I refused to kill Aline before. I told Arianne. I can’t let Adelaide suffer like I did. She accepted it. I accepted it. And besides,” Solaire smiled weakly, “I don’t think Arianne would like to see me up in Heaven if she knew I sacrificed your family to be there, even if she does love me. And she just kind of killed me, I think we’d need some time apart to recover from that.” He laughed again, now halfheartedly. “Any couple would suffer some if one of them had to kill the other.”
Deus flinched at this; he knew that it’d been painful for Solaire to watch Arianne kill him. He also knew what he was asking him to sacrifice. But the chance for his family to survive and even be happy was making his heart leap for joy. He tried to keep the emotion from his face, but it was clear as day his reaction at Solaire’s decision. His face seemed to light up.
Solaire watched the transformation on Deus’s face and grinned. He passed a hand over his eyes, sighing. “So what now? How do I go about the wish?”
Deus straightened up, hastily smearing the fresh tears from his face. “You simply state what your wish is. ‘I wish…’ And you say what your wish is.”
Solaire nodded. He straightened up as well, looked at himself. “…should I prepare myself in any way? A prayer, or something?”
Deus shook his head no.
Solaire nodded again, covered his face in his hands. He glanced up at Deus again, who looked excited. “Right…I think I might hate myself for this a little, but seeing your family happier will be worth it.” He took in a deep breath, and when he spoke again, his voice was calm, controlled.
“Angel Deus. I wish for you to do anything and everything in your power to make your family’s life better. I wish for you to help cure Aline’s illness, I wish for you to take away this family’s poverty. I wish for everyone in the family to be happy and healthy as soon as possible and for the rest of their lives.”
Solaire felt hollow and empty by the end of his little speech, but Deus smiled a smile so wide it looked as if his face would crack, he was so happy. It made Solaire cheer up a little, seeing the joy on this angelic child’s face. It would make him happier still to see that smile on his sister’s face, his niece’s face. Solaire let out the breath he’d been holding in and tried to beam back at Deus.
Deus ran over to Solaire and enveloped him in a surprisingly powerful hug. Solaire was startled; he didn’t know he could be hugged as a spirit, or even feel it. Yet he didn’t question it and hugged the young boy back.
“Thank you,” Deus murmured, “thank you so much…and I’m sorry. About Arianne, and everything. I’m sorry you lost it.”
Solaire sighed. “I know…I lost it, but at least it will give me something to play guardian to them along with you and watch them grow.” And at least you can see me right now, he thought. At least I’m not totally alone like I thought I’d be.
Suddenly, a sharp pain struck through Solaire. His body became stiff as a rod, as spasms of pain began throbbing through his body, centered in his back. He let out a cry.
“What—” Deus didn’t have time to finish because Solaire shoved him away blindly, not knowing what was going on. Deus only stepped away to watch, at first baffled but understanding what was happening.
Solaire doubled over, pain wracking his torso. It felt like his innards were being twisted around and a fire smoldered horribly inside of him. A knot tied inside his stomach and waves of pain shuddered through him. He choked out another cry, trying to keep in a yell. Tears began streaming down his face from the intense pain, like nothing he’d ever experienced before.
Something burst out of his back, or two somethings. They were white and gleaming, growing longer, two strong ivory things growing from his back, blood streaming from the source. The white ivory things, bones, began splitting, branching out, forming intricate structures, spreading out in a strange shape. Sinews began growing and covering them, starting from the base, along with nerves, tendons, everything developing rapidly to connect the complex systems together. Veins, flesh covered the bones, and then skin covered the flesh, and then finally, feathers.