Part 1: Angel
Healm’s wing draped over Lian too obviously to be accidental. They leaned against each other in the hammock that stretched from one wall to the other in Healm’s residence. Unlike Lian’s residence, his home in the barracks had no floor and no ceiling, offering no privacy from either his neighbors above or below. Lian didn’t like it, didn’t like how all their eyes would stare and judge when she and Healm spent time together like this, but today she had needed him too badly to care about that.
Sniffing gently, she pressed her face more firmly against his shoulder. “I don’t understand humans.”
Healm was stiff under her touch, but to her surprise, he willingly took her hand. “I can tell you are having a… difficult time. Do you wish to speak about it?”
“No,” she responded with a muffled snort. “You’ll just tell me to stop visiting Detta, and I don’t need that right now.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I just… wanted a hug.”
Healm stiffened and for a moment, Lian thought that he was going to push her away. Then he awkwardly shifted his wingspan to better hide them from prying eyes and wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a stiff embrace. Hiding a smile against his shoulder, Lian had to blink rapidly to get rid of her tears. She knew how hard-won the gesture was.
“If it’s what you need,” he said simply, then fell suspiciously silent. After surreptitiously wiping her eyes on the sleeve of his robe, Lian looked up at him.
“What are you thinking about?”
He swallowed. “I was just considering… if you really need to talk about what happened, get it out of your system… I won’t tell you to stop seeing the human world as my first answer. Second, maybe, because I truly think you should stop seeing her, but I won’t exploit your vulnerability.”
Lian clung to him a little tighter. “Wow, Healm, I think that’s the nicest thing you ever said to me.”
“You know what I meant,” he growled through gritted teeth. “I don’t know what it says about me that I’m able to pick up your sarcasm. Sooner or later I’ll turn into a human sympathizer like you.”
“Well, I think you’re finally learning to loosen up a little,” she quipped back, then sighed. “I just… I never thought it would turn out like this. I thought I could visit Detta until we got bored, or she died from old age, but now she’s growing up. She hardly has time for me anymore, and when she does, all she talks about is how we don’t have much time together left. Being an adult is a lot more difficult than being a child.”
“Such as?” Healm asked. His voice was flat, and Lian could tell was trying to be polite.
“Did you know humans just start- spontaneously bleeding when it’s time for them to turn into adults?”
“What?!” Healm shoved her away so he could peer at her incredulously. “Are you joking? Please tell me you’re joking and I just can’t pick it up.”
“It’s true. I was there when it happened,” Lian sighed. “I was so scared, but Detta just pushed me away and told me it was… natural. She didn’t even let me stay to try and bandage it.”
Healm’s brow furrowed. “All the more reason why humans are strange and should not infect us with their odd ways.”
“Healm! You promised!” Lian jerked away from him.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “I did not tell you that you should not see that human again. I will now tell you that, but from past experience we both know how this argument will end, so why don’t we just skip to the heart of the problem?”
“Which is?” Lian snapped, her wings standing at attention, ready to take flight at the slightest provocation.
“The fact that you are lonely and you do not wish to admit it.”
“What?” Lian gasped, her wings drooping in shock.
“Think about it,” he urged carefully, leaning close to her. “You do not have much contact with the other Archangels. How many of them would you say you truly knew?”
“I know them-” Lian started hotly, but Healm cut her off.
“You are acquainted with them. Would you say you knew any of them like you know me? How many of them would you call a friend, as you do me?”
Unable to meet his gaze, Lian let her head and wings droop.
“That’s what I thought.” With a sigh, he pulled her closer again, arching his wings to hide their embrace from prying eyes. “Lian… you are one of the best angels I know. You work hard, and you refuse to back down in a fight. You deserve to be an Archangel more than anyone else I know. But… the stress of this position is not for everyone. Since your promotion, I’ve watched you become more withdrawn, relying solely on myself and that human. I remember how you were before, the heart of every team. If this position is too much for you… there’s no shame in asking to be demoted.”
Lian pulled away from him as if his words had stung her. “You think I’m too weak to do this, is that it? That Detta has poisoned my mind somehow and I’m no longer fit for my duty? I can still do my job and love a human!”
Healm’s gaze widened at the word love, but Lian wasn’t finished.
“You just want to get rid of me! If you can’t make me leave you alone, you’ll convince me to drop down a rank so you won’t ever have to deal with me again!”
“No, that’s not it at all!” He seized her by the collar of her robe, finally shocking her into silence. “In fact, this position has been wearing on me, too. The only reason I’m still here is because I didn’t want to leave you, you stupid angel that makes me feel things. If you chose to demote yourself… I’ll follow you.”
Lian’s jaw dropped open, and for a moment, she couldn’t speak. “But- your rank is the most important thing to you!”
“Not anymore,” he murmured with a sideways glance at her.
The bottom dropped out of Lian’s stomach as she thought about it. While she did enjoy the perks being an Archangel afforded her, she’d never really felt comfortable in the position. Bowing her head, she leaned back against Healm’s shoulder.
“I think… you’re right. Maybe I’m not cut out for this life. Maybe…” She shook her head. “But I can’t. If I lose my rank, I won’t be able to visit Detta anymore.”
A soft growl found its way out of Healm’s throat. “You’re still thinking about that human girl over your own happiness?”
“Detta makes me happy,” Lian insisted. “And besides… it’s not like I’m going to have the chance to be with her for much longer. Even if she is still young, she’d made it clear that we can’t be friends after she gets married. So… I’ll wait until then, then I’ll ask for a demotion. That way I’m not tempted to try and go back to her.”
Lian could tell that Healm was struggling, but he finally softened under her leaning shoulder. “Okay. Once your human is married, then we’ll do it together. Agreed?”
“Agreed.” Lian took a deep breath. “I should go. Your neighbors are staring at us.”
“Don’t let them influence your decision,” Healm growled again, tightening his wingspan around the both of them. “It’s getting late. Stay the night.”
For a moment, Lian hesitated, then she nodded. “Okay. I’ll stay.”
The lights in the tower-barracks were already dimming, so Lian and Healm turned over and laid together in the hammock as close as they could get without actually touching. The other angel was taller than her, so Lian felt Healm’s breath grazing the top of her head as she curled up into his chest. He fell asleep easily, an arm draped over her side, but it took a long time for Lian to fall asleep. In his unconscious moments, Healm pulled her closer, and Lian’s heart was filled with conflicting comfort and a sense of wrongness.
Part 2: Human
Detta was sitting in the corner of her room the next time Lian convinced herself to visit, afraid to come but terrified to miss any of the time they had left. There was a book in her hands, but it was closed and she instead gazed into the fire with a blank expression on her face. Her hair was piled up on top of her head, instead of the braids she’d worn as a child or the loose locks she’d favored in later years.
Timidly, Lian knocked on the windowsill, fully prepared for Detta to turn her away. What she wasn’t expecting, however, was to see Detta’s face go deathly white. Lian almost fled, but then Detta leapt up to drag Lian into the room. The young woman embraced her with tears in her eyes.
“You were gone for so long,” she whispered into the white of Lian’s robes. “I thought that when I told you to leave, you thought it meant forever. I thought you were never coming back.”
“Shh, don’t cry,” Lian smiled down into her hair, though she was fighting back tears herself. “I’m here now.”
“But you didn’t come back for so long-!” She buried her face deeper in the crook of Lian’s neck.
“How long was I away?”
“Almost eight months.” Pulling back, Detta rubbed at her eyes. “I shouldn't be crying. Father says it makes my eyes ugly and I have people to meet tonight.”
Eight months? How long was that? Lian strained her thoughts, but it was still hard for her to comprehend the human passage of time. Putting it to the back of her mind, she asked, “What kind of people are you meeting tonight?”
Something almost guilty flashed across Detta’s face as she pulled away from Lian entirely. “Well… a lot of things have happened since you were here last.”
“With your…” Lian looked pointedly at Detta’s stomach, hidden by her dress, and the place below where blood had flowed from some invisible wound.
“No! No, that’s fine, I’m fine. It’s nothing like that.” Detta bit her lower lip. “I just… my finishing tutor decided it was time to introduce me to society, so Father has found me some suitors. I have a new one calling tonight.”
This must be another one of those human things that Lian didn’t know about. Fidgeting a little, she asked, “What’s a… suitor? Do they make clothes? Like suits?”
“No, that’s a tailor,” Detta said with a short laugh that brought back some of the life to her cheeks. “A suitor is a man that comes calling on a woman to woo her. If he likes her enough… he asks her to marry him and she becomes his wife.”
“It’s that easy?” Lian frowned. “Why doesn’t the woman have to ask the man if he wants to be her husband?”
“Because it’s just not done that way!” Detta said with an exasperated sigh. The beginnings of familiar irritation showed on her face, so Lian hastily changed the subject.
“So you’re meeting a new suitor? Does that mean you’ve had others?”
Looking almost guilty, Detta nodded. “Father doesn’t say it, but I know he’s eager to see me married. He’s looked after me by himself for almost thirteen years now, ever since my mother died. It will be a relief for him to know that I’ll be taken care of, in case something were to ever happen to him.”
This time, Lian knew better to ask why Detta couldn’t just take care of herself. Instead, she simply sat down on the bed. “How much time do we have?”
How much longer do you have before you’re married and your ultimatum drives us apart?
Sitting down next to Lian and leaning against her shoulder, Detta sighed. “Perhaps an hour, perhaps less. Not nearly enough time.”
Not nearly enough time before you’re taken from me forever.
“I’ll just have to come back very soon,” Lian said with a fake smile, curling her wings around both of them. “So we can have more time.” So I won’t miss a single moment of the time we have left.
“Yes…” Detta said softly, then pushed herself upright so she could look at her friend. “I realized something when you were gone, and I need to say it before I lose the chance. I love you, Lian.”
Lian froze. Love. It was one of those human things that she hadn’t given much thought to until she’d met Detta. Years ago, as a child, Detta had been free with the word, crying an “I love you!” out the open window every time Lian had left, but she’d stopped when she’d gotten older. And from the way Detta had said it, Lian suspected that this meant more than what she had said years ago, even though they were the same words. But why did that make her… why was she feeling… was that… joy?
“You’re my best friend,” Detta continued, oblivious to the turmoil inside Lian’s head. “You’ve always been there for me when no one else has. How can I not love you? You’re like the sister I never had.”
Love. Love. She’d said it unthinkingly to Healm earlier, but this felt more momentous, somehow. The cold numbness that pervaded Lian’s body prickled and stung until something deep inside her shifted with a sharp click and everything fell into place.
“I… I love you too, Detta,” Lian whispered, marveling at the rightness of the words. “Visiting you here has made me the happiest I’ve been in a long, long time.”
“I’m glad.” With a giggle, Detta pressed her lips to Lian’s cheek in the exact same spot she’d pushed her childish mouth all those years ago.
A kiss. That’s what Healm had told her it was, right? When Detta pulled away, Lian swooped in and gave her her own kiss on the cheek. However, her aim was a little off and instead of hitting her cheek, she pressed her lips sloppily against Detta’s nose.
Giggling, Detta pushed Lian down and pressed her lips against her nose, pulling away with a smacking noise. “How do you like it?!”
A strange euphoria overtook Lian as she reversed their positions, her wingspan spreading open above them. “Don’t do that!”
“Let me up!”
“No!” And then with that, Lian started tickling Detta’s sides, leaving them both in fits of giggles. Their loud and breathless laughter echoed through the room, throwing the once-gloomy atmosphere into a glee that shone like light through a crystal chandelier.
Gazing down at her friend’s face, beautiful in her breathlessness as she laughed with joy, Lian suddenly felt the emotion bubbling up inside of her. It was so full in her heart now that the time that came before this moment seemed a hollow, emotionless shell. Sure, she’d felt snatches of this affection while she was with Healm, or when she was training the angels under her command, but never before had she felt it as strong as it was now.
“I love you, Detta.”
Her face bright with laughter and happiness, Detta reached up and pulled Lian down to hug her, wings and all. “I love you too, Lian. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Lian’s heart pounded and her wings trembled. So this was it. This was what love felt like. She loved Detta, and Detta loved her back. They were in love. This was the affliction that plagued humans every day and forced them to do crazy things, and the emotion that had been forever forbidden to angels.
It felt much better than Lian had ever imagined it to be.
Trembling in Detta’s arms, Lian pushed her love’s hair aside and performed the same motion Detta had done to her all those years ago: pushing her lips together, she pressed them on Detta’s forehead.
Wriggling in Lian’s embrace to get a better angle, Detta pressed her own lips against Lian’s cheek- another kiss, and one even sweeter than the others, if that was possible. Her gut shook like she’d just dropped into a dive from high in the air, but she didn’t want to slow her descent.
Where did lovers go from here?
Just as Lian was about to ask, there came a knock on Detta’s door. “My Lady? Mr. Gilmurn has come to call. Are you fit to receive him?”
“Y-yes!” Detta shouted shakily, pushing Lian aside, who moved reluctantly but without complaint. “I’m just- I’m fixing my stockings! Tell him I will be down shortly!”
“Are your stockings ripped again, My Lady? Shall I replace them for you?”
The door started to creep open, and panic surged through Detta’s expression as she desperately shoved Lian behind the bed, but her wings were too large to effectively hide. If the servant entered the room, she would definitely catch sight of the angel.
“N-no!” Detta practically shrieked, and the door paused. “I mean, I’m fine! I don’t wish to be disturbed. Just tell him that I will be- there! Soon!”
After a long pause, the servant said, “Yes, My Lady,” and the door latched again.
Her shoulders sagging from relief, Detta dropped back down onto the bed. Lian dared to peek out from behind the canopy.
“Is she gone?”
“Yes,” Detta sighed, flopping back down on her bed again. “That’s the new maid Father just hired. I don’t like her. She’s far too nosy.”
“Does she try to come in here often?” Lian asked as she settled down next to Detta again, her wings hanging over the edge of the bed.
“Sometimes. Usually I can manage to distract her, though. I don’t know what she thinks I’m hiding in here.”
Lian’s eyebrows crawled up her forehead. For as much time as she spent with Detta, she forgot that bad humans existed too. “Why don’t you just tell your Father, then? Maybe he would hire a different maid instead if this one makes you uncomfortable.”
But Detta only wrinkled her nose. “He won’t fire her just because I ask. It doesn’t mean that much when I’ll soon be gone, anyway.”
The reminder of Detta’s upcoming marriage quieted them both for a while before Detta sighed and pushed herself off the bed.
“I suppose I had better go down there and meet the illustrious Mr Gilmurn.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry we couldn’t spend more time together, Lian.”
“That’s alright.” Lian flashed her a smile, her wings flexing. “I’ll just have to come back again soon.”
“Please.” After throwing one last look at the door, Detta leaned down and pressed a final kiss to Lian’s cheek before darting from the room.
Lian’s heart soared as she watched the girl she loved run from the room, wondering if she would ever be the same again.