Content warnings for this chapter include brief fantasy violence, including gun violence and blood, as well as implied sexual content.
Bernadette Evans was a lovely bride, everyone agreed.
She was quiet and demure, kind to everyone she talked to, and a perfect model of what a Lady should act like. She was well-bred, too, and educated, uncommon for a woman of her generation. Overall, she was perfect, and perfect for her husband, the newly knighted Sir Francis Gilmurn. He spent all day telling anyone he could of how much he loved his fiancee, soon to be wife.
Of course, there was that one incident that everyone was talking about, although nobody acknowledged it in the public eye. Apparently, Sir Francis’s brother, a second rate second son named Jerrald Gilmurn, had gotten into a fight with another man in the Gilmurn library while Bernadette had been a witness. The other man had shot and killed Jerrald, but he’d escaped before the authorities could capture him. Bernadette could only give a vague description when they found her crying her eyes out over the body of her late future brother-in-law. But that was to be expected, from a young woman as kind as her. It was such a shame that she had to experience something so dreadful so close to her wedding day, but the authorities had assured everyone involved that it was only a matter of time before they tracked down the perpetrator of the heinous crime.
The morning of her wedding, Bernadette went into the streets with the matriarch of the Gilmurn family to collect small gifts from the townsfolk and give out coins in return, as was the tradition. Most gave her flowers they had picked, sometimes daisies and dandelions, and sometimes a gift as rare as a rose. Others gave her fruit, or small pastries, or bread they had baked themselves, and to each person who shyly approached her, she returned their gift with a coin purse. The money given away that day was a small amount compared to the sizable Gilmurn fortune, but to the poorer people of the city, it was enough to help a struggling family eat for several months.
“Miss Bernadette?” A little girl tugged on the black trim of Bernadette’s wedding gown, holding up a slightly wilted flower crown that she had made herself. “Will you accept this?”
Squatting down carefully so as not to drag the trim of her beautiful black gown through the dirt, Bernadette inclined her head to the little girl. With glowing eyes, she dropped the crown on the top of Bernadette’s perfectly sculpted curls and then clapped her hands in delight.
“You look so pretty, Miss Bernadette! I hope I can be as pretty as you when I grow up!”
With a smile, Bernadette patted the top of the little girl’s head and held out a little purse full of coins to her. “I’m sure you will be. Now be a good girl and bring that back to your Momma and Daddy, will you?”
“Yes, Miss Bernadette!” The little girl chirped and turned to go, but Bernadette caught her at the last second.
“One more moment.” Bernadette drew out another coin from a purse and pressed it directly into the little girl’s palm, whose eyes went as wide as saucers. “Keep this one for yourself. If you bring it to the store, the man behind the counter might give you some candy.”
“Yes, Miss Bernadette! Thank you so much!” Clutching the coin in her sweaty little hand, the little girl ran off and disappeared down the street.
Bernadette stared after her for a minute before moving on to the next crowd of people, accepting their gifts and gifting them coin pouches in return. Soon her arms were too full for her to carry it all, so the matriarch ordered for a carriage to follow them as they went along their way to hold it. They slowly made their way down to the church where the ceremony was to take place, collecting gifts along the way until it was almost time for her to report to the church and for her father to walk her down the aisle.
The matriarch gave her the last few coin purses and told her to meet them inside the gates of the church when she had finished giving them out. The crowd had thinned substantially by now, and she only occasionally got stopped by a, “Miss Bernadette, will you accept this?”
As she was handing an old man a coin purse in exchange for a hand-carved wooden pin, she heard someone say over her shoulder, “Detta, will you accept this?”
Bernadette froze. There was only one person who had ever called her by that name besides her Father. Trembling, she turned around and searched for the source of the voice, hoping to see a familiar smile. The sight that greeted her, however, was a young man in worn clothes smiling at her from in the midst of the crowd, holding out a shiny red apple.
To say that she wasn’t disappointed would have been a lie. But Bernadette put on her brightest smile as she looked at the young man. “Not very many people call me by that name. Where did you hear it?”
“A friend,” he said, holding the apple out for her inspection. “Will you accept my gift?”
After a brief hesitation, Bernadette took the apple from the young man’s hand. “Thank you. It is a lovely gift.”
“Try it,” he prompted, stepping closer, a little too close for societal norms, but Bernadette found that she couldn’t back away.
Now that she could see the young man’s face more clearly, she could tell that there was pain in his eyes and sorrow in the set of his face, though he kept smiling. Before she could talk herself out of it, Bernadette lifted the apple to her mouth and took a single large bite.
Flavor exploded across her tongue, more powerful than any apple she’d ever eaten before. It was so juicy that a rivulet escaped the corner of her mouth as she chewed and dripped down her chin. Moving even closer, the young man reached up and used his thumb to wipe away the liquid, then left his hand there as he looked into her eyes.
Bernadette swallowed, nerves causing her whole body to tremble, but still she did not pull away from him. “What is your name?” She finally asked, her breath catching in her throat. “I just- I feel like I know you from somewhere before.”
The young man’s sad smile only grew sadder. “You may call me Lucian,” he said softly, “but I doubt you have ever seen me before.”
“Still, you remind me of someone,” Bernadette said slowly, searching his face and his deep, deep eyes. “Someone… I lost contact with recently. Someone…”
After she trailed off, Lucian prompted, “Do you miss that person?”
“More than anything.”
They fell silent, staring into each other’s eyes, until Lucian broke the silence again. “Are you happy?”
“With your marriage?” He clarified. “Are you happy with your husband? Do you love him?”
A carefully rehearsed Yes, of course, was about to fall from Bernadette’s lips before she realized that she didn’t have to hide anything from this strange boy. A tiny frown pulling down the corners of her mouth, she said, “No… no, I don’t love him, and I’m not happy. But what else can I do?”
“Run away?” Bernadette couldn’t deny that the thought hadn’t crossed her mind before, but she instantly shook her head. “I can’t. I have made too many promises.”
“I see.” Dropping his hand from her face, Lucian took a step back from her. “Then I wish you all the best in your marriage, and hope that you can grow to love your husband.”
He turned as if to leave, but something from deep inside Bernadette pushed her to call out to him. “Wait!” When he turned back, she swallowed, then asked quietly, “Do you… have someone that you love?”
His eyes grew even darker, as if he was looking at something that was far away. “I used to. Now… I don’t know anymore. What about you?”
“I used to, too,” Bernadette admitted. “But I was selfish, and a coward. I wasn’t brave enough to love them the way they deserved, so I lost them.”
“If you had the chance to change things, would you love them the way you truly wanted to?”
“In a heartbeat.”
“You must still love them very much.”
“I do,” Bernadette said quietly, her eyes searching his. The last words Lian had spoken before she had disappeared slipped into her mind: Just promise me that you’ll do something with your life that you can say you’ll never regret. “But… forgive me if I’m being too forward in saying this, but… I believe that I could love you as well.”
Surprise jolted the sadness out of Lucian’s eyes, and he smiled at her again. “I believe that I could love you as well. Perhaps even as much as your love still loves you.”
“Then- what are we to do?” Bernadette asked. “I’m to be married within the hour!”
The young man extended his hand this time as he gave the offer. “Run away. With me.”
His hand lay in the air, palm staring up at the sky, and Bernadette looked down at it with her heart fluttering in her breast. And then she reached forward and placed her hand in his.
It was warm and reminded her of sunshine. WIthout giving her any warning, Lucian used her hand to reel her in for a kiss, pressing her lips to his with a passion that scorched her down to her soul. As they broke apart, she heard the crowd of onlookers gasp, but Lucian just gripped her hand tighter and started to run away from the church, pulling her along after him. With her free hand, Detta hiked up the skirts of her wedding gown and ran after him. The apple dropped to the ground and rolled for a few paces before it lay forgotten, the exposed white flesh staring up at the sky.
It was well past dark when they made it to an Inn on the outskirts of a nearby city. They’d caught a carriage to take them out of sight of the people who would already be searching for Detta. The Innkeeper recognized Lucian as they raced through the door of his establishment. He raised his eyebrows, but did not comment on Detta’s presence as they fled up to the room that Lucian had told her was his for the time being.
Detta dropped down on the bed as Lucian double bolted the door behind them, gasping for breath. She hadn’t been allowed to do any sports when she was younger, but she still had been an active child, so she knew that she wasn’t out of shape. No, it was just this stupid - beautiful, but stupid - dress that weighed more than she did. Not to mention that her feet hurt worse than they’d ever hurt before in her life.
“Are we safe here?” She asked when she had caught her breath.
“As much as we can be,” he answered, turning back to her. It was only when Detta looked at his form, tall in the dim light of the room, illuminated by the small candle he had just lit, that there was only one bed.
She could see it in his face when he realized as well, and he instantly backed away from her. “I can always sleep on the floor if you’re more comfortable like that.”
Cocking her head to the side, Detta thought about it for a few moments before she suddenly smiled coyly at him.
“It’s alright. Tonight was supposed to be my wedding night, after all.”
His eyes widened, and he nodded nervously. “Are you- comfortable? Do you need anything? Water, change of clothes…” He trailed off, watching her expression.
“This dress is a little uncomfortable,” she admitted. “I’d rather not sleep in it, but I doubt that you have any women’s clothes with you, and I certainly didn’t have time to pack.”
“You could use one of my longer nightshirts, if you’d like,” Lucian offered, a blush tinging his cheeks. He had a few bags stacked in the corner of the room, and he rummaged around in the top one before handing Detta a long shift. “Will this work?”
“Perfectly, thank you.” Standing up, she put her back to him and flicked her hair over her shoulder so it cascaded down the front of her chest. “Do you think you could…?”
“Oh! Um, I can try.”
Detta had to stifle a nervous gasp when his fingers brushed against her back. It took him several minutes, but eventually he was able to pick apart the knots and started unlacing the back of her dress. It loosened around the top, forcing her to hug the material to her chest or risk it falling to the floor.
When all the laces were undone, Detta felt Lucian move away from her and go to the opposite side of the room. A quick glance over her shoulder told her that he was looking away to give her some privacy, so she quickly shucked the remainder of her wedding gown and pulled the light shift over her head, shivering in the chill air of the room. After gathering up the pieces of her wedding gown and folding them neatly, she turned back to look at Lucian.
At the sight of him, she had to slap a hand over her mouth to keep from gasping aloud.
His back was to her and he’d taken his shirt off, although his pants were still belted high around his waist. It wasn’t the sight of him shirtless that made Detta gasp, however; it was the two nearly identical scars on his back, like crescent moons that mirrored each other. They were the red of new scar tissue, and rough like something had been carved out of his flesh. Silently, Detta padded across the room and laid a hand on his back, tracing the scars.
He stiffened under her touch, but the tension in his shoulders soon drained away again as he glanced at her over his shoulder, his expression unreadable. Unable to help herself, Detta leaned close to him and pressed her lips to the skin of his back, directly in between the two scars where they connected with his shoulder blades, and he drew in a deep shaky breath a response.
There it was again, that name! Knowing that she would only find the answers in his eyes, she followed the path of his shoulders until she was in front of him, her hands resting on his bare chest. He looked down on her, something in his gaze breaking but something becoming whole.
“My first love was a woman,” she announced suddenly, watching for surprise in his eyes. “Does that bother you?”
But there was no surprise, only quiet acceptance. “Does it bother you that I am not a woman?”
Detta bit her lip as she thought. “I think,” she said slowly, “that I am in love with the soul of a person, not the form that contains it. What about you? The love you lost?”
Lucian smiled sadly. “I would be any form she needed so she could love me. But as a man, this society would not look down on us.”
Detta’s grip on his arm tightened into a vice. “You feel so familiar. You know things you shouldn’t. And the scars on your back…”
Lucian crowded her against the wall. He was only a few inches taller than her, but that height felt like an insurmountable barrier.
“Are you asking who I am?” He murmured. “Or who I was?”
Her eyes filling with tears, Detta threw her arms about his neck. “I knew it! From the moment you called out to me, I knew it was you! I knew you’d find your way back to me, Li-”
“Hush!” Lucian covered her mouth with a hand. “Don’t speak that name. She no longer exists.”
“Then you really are-”
“-all human now,” he finished with a smile. “I never have to leave you again.”
Warmth like she’d never felt before filled Detta, and then she surged up on her toes to kiss him. For a moment, he didn't move, then he kissed her back, their arms winding together until it was impossible to tell who was who.
When Detta woke the next morning, she didn’t recognize her surroundings. It was darker than she remembered her room to be, and the bed was smaller. Not to mention, there was something large and warm at her back. Twisting around, she saw a bare chest behind her and felt her heart beat fast when she remembered where she was and who she was with. Smiling harder, she burrowed back into Lucian’s embrace. She intended to drowse for as long as possible, but her squirming must have woken him because he shifted.
“...Detta? Are you awake?”
“Yes, sorry,” she said with a twinge of guilt. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“I don’t mind.” He pulled her more snugly against his chest.
She sighed with happiness. “I can’t believe I’m really here with you.”
“Do you wish you hadn’t come with me?”
“No, not at all!” Detta bolted upright in bed, tugging her borrowed shift up around her collarbone. “I simply can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d gone through with the marriage. If I’d chained the rest of my life to someone I don’t love.”
“That implies that you would chain it to someone you do love.”
Timidly, Detta asked, “Haven’t I already?”
After a long moment, Lucian sat up and looked at her, his bare chest on display. “Do you love me?”
“Didn’t I just say…” Detta gasped out, flustered by his direct question. But in the face of his quiet stare, she took a deep breath to quiet her thoughts before starting again. “I know I’ve given you so many reasons to doubt me. But Li- Lucian, you matter more to me than anyone else in the world. And that is the truth.”
She trailed off, then shook her head. “You once told me to do something in my life that I wouldn’t regret, but I regret every day that I couldn’t be brave enough to tell you how I truly felt. Why should someone else get to tell me how I can love? How can a law or a preacher or a parent forbid feelings that happen inside my own heart?” She placed a hand on his cheek. “But I understand now. And I’m sorry it took me so long to listen inside instead of outside.”
He stared at her for so long in silence that Detta shifted, the collar of her borrowed nightshirt falling down her shoulder.
“Please say something,” she whispered.
Lucian moved from the bed, pushing the covers aside so he could stand up and look down on her. Under the weight of his stare, Detta felt like she could buckle and collapse.
And then he kneeled in front of her.
“I… I am not familiar with this world,” he said solemnly, his eyes dark. “In fact, I have close to nothing, not even a ring to give to you. But I do have myself, and you have yourself, and if you will have me to love, I will love and cherish you until the end of all days.”
Tears sprung to Detta’s eyes and she threw herself off the bed and into his arms, sobbing happily. “Yes, yes! I will, I swear it! Every day until I die!”
“And those beyond it,” he whispered into her ear, clutching her to his chest.
Laughing, Detta wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Yes, those too!”
After a long embrace, they broke apart, and when Lucian stood up, he retrieved the flower crown Detta had worn during their escape. He pulled away a single daisy and twisted the stem into a circle, fashioning it into a ring that he slipped onto Detta’s finger. He kissed it as he was sliding it onto her hand, and then she kissed him. Her hair was wild and her shoulder was bare from the shirt’s enlarged neckhole, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. They stood together in the center of the room, him shirtless, her in only his shirt, swaying to a music only they could hear and trading kisses as sweet as drops of summer sunshine.
A voice interrupted their dance.
“I should have known you’d be with her.”
Detta didn’t recognize the voice, but Lucian obviously did. He spun them both around and put himself in the path in between Detta and the man who had spoken, a man who was standing in the middle of a room with no windows and a door that was double-bolted and had remained so since the previous night.
“Healm,” he growled. “What are you doing here?”
“Who is that, Lucian?” Detta whispered, wrapping her arms around his middle for strength. “How do you know him?”
“Lucian? Hah!” The man Lucian had called Healm barked out a cold laugh. “Is that what you’re doing, playing at being human? You don’t fool anyone, Lian.”
Without looking back at Detta, Lucian took a step towards the man in the center of the room. "Leave us alone, Healm. Neither one of us are your concern anymore. Go home.”
“Of course you’re my concern!” Healm exploded, pointing an angry finger at Lucian. “You are my friend- my only friend, my best friend! Or at least you were, before you drove me to this!”
Wings exploded from his back, dwarfing the entire room. At first glance they looked white, but closer inspection revealed a patchwork of white and dull gray feathers.
Lucian drew in a quiet gasp. “Healm… What have you done?”
“Nothing you didn’t do yourself!” The angel snapped, and Detta finally recognized his voice in some dim memory of the first time she had ever met Lian: he was her supervisor, the one who had come to take her angel away from her.
“Healm, I…” Lucian started, but the angel cut him off.
“I was waiting for you to come back! I was there, waiting to tell you that I understood- because I felt it too! You infected me with those sick human emotions, and I fell in love with you, harder than you ever loved that stupid human! I was willing to be demoted with you- I wanted to be demoted with you! And then we would have been able to be together forever, not just for a single measly human lifespan! How could you pick her over me? How could you, Lian?!”
“I’m sorry, Healm. I never wanted to hurt you. I left so I wouldn’t hurt you,” Lucian gasped, and Detta was surprised to hear tears in his voice. “I never guessed you would… but it’s over now. I can’t go back.”
“You don’t get to refuse,” Healm grunted, glaring at him. “You’re coming back with me if I have to drag you all the way back to the celestial realm!”
“I told you, I can’t go back,” Lucian cried. “Please understand, Healm. I… I killed someone. I had no choice, I had to! I made the decision to fall further than you’ve done. I can’t go back with you because they won’t let me in anymore.”
Healm’s eyes went wide. “What… what are you saying? You haven’t fallen. You can’t have fallen! What am I going to do without you?”
“You need to move on, Healm. We can’t be together anymore.”
“Move on? Like you moved on from your human pet after she rejected you? Night after night you left me, and night after night I was waiting for you to come home, your face soaked in tears! Who was it who caused those tears? Her!” He gestured wildly to Detta, who shrank back even further against the wall, watching the whole interaction with an open mouth. “And who was it that dried those tears, Lian? Who was it who held you as you sobbed yourself to sleep every night? It was me! I’m the one who was always there for you! I’m the one who stayed by your side whenever you needed me! Why was she the one that you chose?”
“Because I love her,” Lucian said quietly, finally shocking Healm into silence. “Love isn’t logical. You should know that now.”
“You can’t be serious,” Healm growled. “How can you still love her when she hurt you?”
Casting a single sorrowful glance over his shoulder at Detta, Lucian said, “Because it wasn’t her fault, nor was it mine. The stars just didn’t align for us- but now we’ve made them align. We’ve carved our own destiny.”
“I don’t believe you. You’re just making excuses! That’s the reason why you can’t leave her- because you're weak, Lian! Everything that’s happened: it’s all her fault! How can you not see that!?”
Moving more securely in between Detta and the angel in the middle of their room, Lucian said warningly, “Healm, you are not welcome here. Leave before you defile yourself any further.”
“I don’t even care about that anymore!” Pushing Lucian to the side, Healm stalked toward Detta. “Everything that happened, every bad thing that has ruined my life, is your fault. You took everything from me, so now, I’m going to take everything from you.”
Before she knew what was happening, Detta found herself staring down the end of a pistol. It was engraved with strange symbols, and with a start she recognized them as the same symbols from the pistol Lian had used to kill her former fiance’s brother.
Lucian tackled the angel to the side before the gun could go off, but the angel’s larger size and wings gave him the advantage. He buffeted the air and created a whirlwind inside the room. Within seconds, Lucian was thrown up against Detta where she cowered against the wall, although he still had his arms spread wide as if he could create a barrier that would always protect her.
“Please think this through, Healm,” he begged, but there was no reasoning with the angel as he placed the butt of the pistol directly on Lucian’s forehead.
“Move!” He snarled, but Lucian only stared him down more resolutely.
“No! If you want to get Detta, you’ll have to go through me!”
“Foolish.” Healm’s expression turned to one of contempt. “That will be easy enough. You know as well as I do that this gun can only kill humans, not angels.”
Frantically, Lucian cried out, “Healm, wait-!”
But it was too late. Healm pulled the trigger.
A fountain of blood erupted from the back of Lucian’s skull, but before it could splash over Detta it froze in mid air, dissolving into a golden halo that soon overtook his entire body. The golden glow intensified until it was almost too bright to look at, then it vanished as abruptly as it had appeared, leaving behind a familiar body shrouded by an insubstantial mist. Unlike the last time Detta had seen her, the single remaining wing that protruded from her back was black and skeletal.
“Well, well, well,” another new voice purred, drawing the attention of the three. Across the room, a strange figure with a lithe, agile body and leathery black wings leaned against a wall. Its smile seemed amused, but Detta could see the pity in its eyes. “I didn’t expect to collect you so soon after our deal.”
“Deal?” Healm dropped his smoking pistol and stumbled backwards. “Who is that, Lian? What is it talking about?”
“I’m honestly offended that you don't recognize me, Archangel,” the figure drawled. “But I suppose I can forgive you, considering that you’ve never fought one of my kind before. That honor belongs to the Seraphim.”
Healm went pale. “You mean- you’re a Libbicocco? But why is a demon here?”
At the word demon, Detta flattened herself even further against the wall and tried to not draw the figure’s notice. Angels she could deal with; a demon was a stretch too much.
“By now, I would have thought that that would be obvious.” With a sigh, the demon stalked forward until it came level with the angel’s broken body, then squatted down next to her head. “Hey, little angel. I didn’t expect your contract to expire so soon. Were you trying to get yourself killed?”
“You… turned yourself into a human?” Healm gasped as it finally hit him. “But that’s not possible!”
“Not easy,” the demon corrected. “And definitely against the rules. But you won’t tell, will you?”
“I can’t believe it!” Shaking his head desperately, Healm backed away from the demon. As he moved, Detta noticed that his wings were starting to shed feathers, and his eyes were crazed as if some great pain was starting to encroach upon his body. “I… I… this is wrong! I can’t take it anymore!”
“Don’t worry. You won’t have to,” the demon crooned. It straightened up to its full height and began to stalk toward the angel.
“Wh-what does that mean?”
“It means,” the demon said sweetly, “that you are the cause of this whole debacle, because you failed to report your subordinate’s behavior. And as punishment, I will have to Collect your soul after your superiors see fit to throw you my way, and wipe every memory from your pathetic existence.”
Healm dropped into a crouch, his teeth bared. “I won’t let you touch me!”
“Oh, honey! You have absolutely no idea how outclassed you are.” It smirked, full fangs on display. “It would almost be adorable if you didn’t piss me off so much.”
Without letting the angel respond, the demon surged forward and seized Healm’s face in one clawed hand. The air crackled as a fissure opened, and then the demon lifted Healm’s large frame off the floor with that one hand and hurled him bodily through the hole between worlds. With a desperate cry, both Healm and the hole disappeared, leaving nothing but a swirl of black feathers in his wake.
“And stay there,” the demon muttered darkly.
Now that Healm was gone, Detta finally screwed up the courage to lay a hand on the angel’s back. It was warm and solid under her palm, like Lucian’s back had been, and the scar where her wing was missing matched exactly the one she had traced the night before. At first, the angel stiffened under Detta’s touch, then she turned so Detta could see her face.
“I’m so glad you’re safe, Lian- or… Lucian?”
The angel flicked an uneasy glance at the demon. “I… I made a deal to come here. Lian doesn’t exist anymore.”
With that, Detta’s tears started to flow again. She didn’t think she’d fully understand the magnitude of what Lucian had sacrificed just to see her again. She threw herself into the shocked angel’s arms with a sob.
“This is all m-my fault!”
“It’s not your fault,” Lucian soothed, though Detta noticed that her hand shook as she patted her hair.
“N-no, it is! If only I’d been brave enough when I had the chance, if only I hadn’t been stupid and scared-”
“-it still wouldn’t have worked out.” Lucian looked at the demon squatting next to them, and it nodded in amusement. “I see that now. Humans and angels- we just can’t coexist. That’s why I had to become human in the first place.”
“But I love you!” Detta sobbed desperately, her arms clutching around Lucian’s neck.
Pressing her face against Detta’s cheek, Lucian whispered, “And I love you, too.”
“Then everything will b-be alright, won’t it? We’ll be able to stay together?”
“If only the world worked like that,” the demon mused. “I was able to… transition your little friend here into a human, but only until their human shell died. Which it just did. That means that they have to come with me now.”
“No!” Detta threw herself in between Lucian and the demon. “You can’t have her! I won’t let you take her!”
“Oh?” The demon raised an arched eyebrow. “Are you offering yourself in their place, then?”
“Not how the deal works,” Lucian quickly interjected. “The shell you gave me died. You’re supposed to take me.”
“Technically, but this is more complicated than it was before.” The demon shook its head. “An angel killed your shell, not a human. You were lucky that the shot destroyed the soul originally assigned to the body, and not yours. But now I’m missing a soul, which means I’ll be one short when they realize that both you and your idiot mentor have fallen.”
“He’s not an idiot-”
“Are you really defending him?”
A muscle twitched in Lucian’s jaw, but he didn’t rebuke the demon’s words. After a moment, it sighed and held up two fingers.
“Alright. So here’s my situation: I have an extra soul on this side, and a missing soul on the other side. I need to take one of you with me. I don’t care who it is as long as you make your decision quickly.”
After a brief hesitation, Detta raised her hand, but Lucian grabbed her. “No! I won’t let you!”
“But my life isn’t worth living if I can’t share it with you!”
A choked sob made its way up through Lucian’s throat. “Detta…”
The demon coughed. “As much as I love this heartfelt goodbye, we have to leave soon, so make up your minds before I pick for you.”
Turning to the demon, Lucian asked, “Can we have a moment? In private?” He added when the demon looked like it was settling in to watch them.
After a brief hesitation, the demon sighed. “Fine. Just call my name and I’ll Collect you. I’ll know which one to take.” And with that, the demon sank back down through the floor, leaving Lucian and Detta alone once more.
“I-” they both started at once, then stuttered to a halt.
“I don’t have much time left, so listen to me,” Lucian said finally, tucking a piece of hair behind Detta’s ear. “I have a plan, but I need time for it to work. That means you can’t die, you understand me? You need to live your life. Make the choices you want to make, and don’t let yourself have any regrets.”
“How can I?” Detta sniffed, gripping the tops of Lucian’s shoulders like she would never let go. “I already know that my biggest regret was not loving you when I had the chance!”
“Then just be grateful for the time we got together, and live with those memories as happily as you can,” Lucian whispered.
“You must.” Lucian pulled Detta into her chest. “Live long, Detta. I know that you can do it. I’ll be waiting on the other side, ready to find you again.”
Pulling back, Detta grabbed Lucian’s jaw with both hands, her face streaked with tears. “Then can you at least kiss me one last time?”
His expression softening, Lucian leaned forward and pressed his mouth to Detta’s, burning away the last traces of her tears. After only a few short moments, Lucian whispered a single word against her lips.
And then he disappeared, leaving behind nothing but the last black feather that had been stuck to his skeletal wing, and the sound of Detta’s broken sobs.