Part 1: Angel
Lian brought the glowing arrow back to her cheek, then let it fly. It sailed far beyond the target before disappearing in a shower of golden sparks. With a grimace, she lowered the bow against her thighs.
“It’s hopeless! I’ll never be able to get this!”
She let her posture slump so she could sit cross-legged on nothing.
“The celestial bow is the most difficult celestial weapon to wield,” Healm said, hovering rigidly next to her. “It can take even the most experienced of Archangels decades of training to master, if not centuries. You’re doing remarkably well.”
Their relationship had continued to strain as Lian refused to stop visiting Detta. But despite their rocky friendship, he still looked out for Lian and regularly took her to the archery range to train. Every time, it made her feel a little guiltier, but she could never bring herself to turn him down.
Groaning, Lian allowed the momentum of her wings to still. She glided in a gentle spiral to the bottom of the archery range, back flat to the floor and wings spread. Above her, instead of the blue sky and clouds she’d come to expect from her time in the human world, the air was filled with flashes of golden energy. Suddenly, she yearned for the stars that she’d seen on her first visit to the human world, points of light in a blanket of gentle darkness.
To her surprise, Healm floated down with her. He lay down on the floor as she had done, their heads close, crown to crown; the tips of their wings barely brushed one another.
“What do you see when you look up there?” He asked, almost too quietly for her to hear. The question wasn’t meant for her to answer, but Lian did anyway.
“This world loves absolutes. I used to think it was beautiful… but I don’t know anymore.” She glanced at him. “Stars. Do you know what they are?”
“They’re the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” Lian said dreamily. “Lights so far away and tiny that they’re almost swallowed by the night. But they still shine, millions of them all lit up together. And you can see every single one of them because of the darkness!”
“There are lights in the sky here, too,” Healm said with a frown in his voice.
“There’s one light in the sky,” Lian corrected. “And there’s never any change or variation or contrast- and all the angels are like that too. It makes me feel cold, Healm, and I just desperately want to feel warm.”
For a long moment, Healm didn’t respond, and Lian thought she’d crossed some invisible line. Then, very quietly, he asked, “When do you feel warm?”
She drew in a long, shaky breath. “When I’m fighting. When I’m with Detta. And sometimes… when I’m with you.”
He was so close, but the distance between them should have been insurmountable. Angels didn’t do these kinds of things, Lian thought as she brushed her fingers along the back of his knuckles. At first, Healm tensed, and Lian thought he would pull away. But then he paused, his thumb twitching, and he hooked their index fingers together. She caught her breath. The contact was tiny, but angels didn’t touch one another like that. It was strangely intimate.
After a moment of hesitation, Healm said with difficulty, “I do not believe that human values have any place here… but perhaps I was too hasty in classifying our relationship as the same camaraderie between any two angels.”
This was the closest thing to an apology Lian was ever going to get from him, so she took it, curling their fingers together a little tighter. “Thank you for being my friend, Healm.”
“I did not say we were friends-”
“Still.” She tapped her thumb against the back of his hand. “Thank you.”
After a moment of silence, he said quietly, “You’re welcome, Lian.”
They laid there for a few more moments before Lian broke the contract, pushing herself to her feet and launching into the air with her bow clutched in her hand. “I want to try again!”
Wingbeats behind her told her that he had followed her back up to the top of the range. Taking a deep breath, Lian drew the bow up to her cheek and focused her energy around her fingers, creating a glittering arrow of light. She was about to release it when she felt a touch at her elbow.
“Raise your arm a little higher. It will help your aim.”
She allowed Healm’s hand to place her elbow, then steadied her aim and shot. This time, instead of shooting off into the air, the arrow stuck in the rim of the nearest bull’s eye.
“I did it!”
“A definite improvement,” he allowed. His hand lingered on her arm for a few moments longer before he withdrew it.
His approval shining within her like a beacon, Lian raised the bow again and summoned another arrow. This time, when she released it from the shining bow, it struck home.
Part 2: Human
Detta’s bed gained a canopy when she was twelve, and try as she might, Lian always got her wings tangled in it. Today the canopy was pulled away on one side so Lian could curl up near the edge of the bed, her wings draping onto the floor. Lian lay on her side against the quilt, watching her friend’s hands move animatedly as she talked about the new lessons she would be receiving.
Apparently her Papa had worked hard to find his way back into the high society he had once been a part of, so he had decided to replace Detta’s academic tutor with a finishing tutor. Most girls of Detta's age were sent away to a finishing school, but since her Papa couldn’t afford to send her, the tutor was a good alternative. Privately, Lian was glad her friend was staying close.
Detta’s eyes sparked as they focused on some unseen world between herself and the canopy of her bed, her hands dancing in the air as she lay on her back. Lian refused to blink, watching the life in Detta’s expression as she built a world of her own design. The words washed over her without her really listening to them.
She glanced to the side suddenly as if asking for validation in an idea, and Lian blushed. “Sorry, what was that?”
“I asked if I was boring you. You haven’t been saying much.”
“No, of course not!” Lian pushed her body onto her elbows on the quilt. “I love listening to you talk!”
“But it’s all just boring human stuff. Don’t you have more important things happening in Heaven all the time?”
“Not really,” Lian sighed, flopping back down on the bed. The position of her wings prevented her from rolling onto her back, but she still angled her chin towards the canopy as best she could. “I mean, there’s a war going on, but there’s always a war. I’m mostly training now. Healm is teaching me how to use a bow.”
“He’s…” Lian paused, not entirely sure how to describe her fellow angel. “Well, he’s kind of like my mentor. He was my commander for a while, but we’re the same rank now and he still helps me sometimes. You’ve actually met him before.”
Detta’s eyes widened. “I have?”
“When I was injured and you helped me, he was the one who came to bring me back. Don’t you remember that?”
“I guess…” She frowned. “Honestly, I don’t really remember much of that day. I mean, I know it happened because we’ve talked about it since, but… it was just so long ago.”
“Really?” Lian pushed herself into a sitting position. “But it’s only been a decade! How could you forget?”
“Humans are different from angels, I suppose,” Detta said sadly, crumpling the quilt between her hands. “I hardly remember anything from when I was young.”
“And that’s… normal for humans?”
“I suppose so.”
“Huh.” Lian flopped back down onto the bed, her hand mindlessly tracing the meaningless patterns on the quilt surface. “I guess humans just change a lot more than angels. Nothing in the celestial realm has changed as far back as I can remember.”
“I think the only thing humans do is change.” Detta lay back down. “Does the fact that I change make you uncomfortable?”
“No…” Lian answered, and was surprised to find that it was true. “I like watching you mature. It feels… normal.”
Detta ducked her head, but Lian could still see her smile. “Is that why you look different too?”
Lian froze, her hand stilling on the quilt. “What?”
“You didn’t know?” She asked, her eyes going wide. “I thought you knew it was happening!”
“What was happening?!”
“You’re aging!” She frowned. “At least, you always seem like you’re the same age as me, even though you don’t look any different. I always thought you were a young angel who was growing up, the same as I am. But maybe it’s just… I don’t know, you don’t look any different, but… it feels like you mature the same way I do.”
“I… I don’t know.” A frown on her lips, Lian allowed disquiet to take over her mind.
Detta searched her face for a moment before asking quietly, “Did I say something wrong?”
With an almost violent shake of her head, Lian said, “No! No, you did nothing wrong. Just took me by surprise, that's all.”
She fixed Detta with a smile that felt like a gaudy mask, but it must have appeased the girl because she relaxed. Without prompting, she fell back into the easy explanation of her new tutor and studies, leaving Lian to quietly untangle her own thoughts.