Dark Vow: Chapter 8
Content warnings for this chapter include kissing without consent and period appropriate homophobia, including internalized homophobia.
Lian avoided other angels as much as she could. With all the new emotions swirling inside her, she was afraid that they would see through her mask to the chaos within. For an angel, feeling human emotions was unforgivable. And wasn't this love beating in her breast, love for a mortal girl?
When she was at home, Lian carefully locked the door behind her so no one would disturb her. But despite the privacy, Lian's head was still confused. She paced the air of her living quarters with harried wingbeats.
She loved Detta, of that there could be no doubt. But what could she do about it? Detta would soon marry, and pledge her love to another. And as an angel, Lian could never truly be with her. But Detta understood that too, and yet still she had said those fateful words back to Lian. That had to mean something. Didn’t it?
Suddenly, Lian's wingbeats stuttered, dropping her to the floor, as she remembered the gilded box. Inside it were objects that could allow her to commit an angel’s forbidden sins. One of those sins, supposedly, was feeling human desires. Did that mean that what she was feeling wasn't love, because she hadn't given in and opened the box yet? Then what was she feeling? It was so strong, it couldn't be anything but love.
Despite her trepidation, Lian found herself turning to where she'd hidden the box all that time ago. The extra hammock was never needed, so she hadn’t thought about the box since she’d first dropped it there. Brushing aside the dust that had taken up residence since she'd last touched it, Lian surveyed the thing. Suddenly, just looking at it made her nearly full to bursting with curiosity. Opening the box wasn't forbidden, so what harm could a single peak do?
Slowly, she slid the back of her Archangel’s badge open and lifted out the key hidden there. It glinted dully in her palm, heavy with more weight than it should have carried. Holding her breath, Lian slid the key into the lock and turned it until she felt a tiny click. Before she could touch it, the lid creaked open, showing off a crimson velvet interior. Three objects lay nestled inside.
The first object she knew well. It was the hilt of a celestial blade, the kind an angel used to focus their power into the weapons, but something was wrong. Instead of the bright gold of the celestial weapons she was used to, the hilt gleamed an obsidian black. With a shiver, Lian realized what it must be: a celestial weapon crafted explicitly to target angelic energies, not demonic. Hastily, she looked to the next object.
It was something that she’d never seen before in the celestial realm, but knew of it from her time with Detta: a pistol. It was a weapon that humans used to kill one another, and it gleamed dully in the dim light of her living quarters. Unlike celestial weapons, which needed to be conjured by angelic energy -- a practice that took years to master -- a pistol required little training to use. It was a terrifying weapon.
Her eyes slid from the gun to the last object, and suddenly Lian’s breath caught in her throat. There, gleaming against the velvet, was a large red apple, its unblemished ruby skin shining like it was lit from within. Angels didn’t need to eat and Lian had never even felt the urge before, but now looking at that apple, she felt her mouth water. She’d seen Detta eat apples before, heard the crunch of savory flesh giving way before sharp teeth. And now, with this apple sitting here in her own personal box of temptation, all Lian wanted was to lift it to her lips and smell the crisp scent before taking a large bite.
Her fingers were already tracing meaningless patterns on the box’s surface before she caught herself. Despite how much she just wanted to try, to see what it felt like to be human, Lian knew that she couldn’t. Her hands shook as she tried to close the box, only to grasp the apple instead. The skin felt waxy beneath her fingertips, begging to be split open.
You are free to choose danger instead of stability. That is the curse of free will. But do not let it tempt you into ruin when you are at a weaker point than you are now.
Lian jerked back with a gasp and slammed the lid of the box closed, Healm’s words still echoing through her head. She couldn’t give in to the temptation. Even if one sin didn’t doom her forever, she couldn’t allow herself to entertain the thought of slipping down that slope, closer the cliff’s edge. She locked the box as quickly as she could and threw it into the corner of her room. She was about to replace the key in the back of her badge when she paused.
Healm had said that he’d destroyed his key, to prevent himself from ever opening the box. Maybe Lian should do the same. Closing her eyes, she threw the key out of her window before she could talk herself out of it. It fell through the concentric circles of the city of angels without a bottom. Maybe it would fall all the way to the battleground, or the city of the demons.
She felt like that should have given her some closure, but instead, her mind kept turning in circles, always coming back to one question:
Why was it wrong for an angel to feel the things she was feeling? Why was it a sin to experience the same emotions as a human?
She needed to see Detta. Everything was simpler with Detta.
And besides, hadn’t she promised her love that she would visit her again soon, before they ran out of time?
She quickly made her way across the city to the central hub that regulated all planer travel. However, when Lian ripped through the universe to Detta’s room, she found that her love wasn't there. That in and of itself didn’t make Lian suspicious; she often came at odd times of the day, and Detta had been increasingly occupied by other things like tutors and studies these past few years. So, Lian decided to do what she had always done in these kinds of situations and settled down on Detta’s bed to wait for her love to return.
As the great clock in the hallway chimed several passing hours, however, Lian began to get suspicious. The sun was starting to go down behind the trees outside of her house, leaving her room cloaked in a layer of dim light. Lian didn’t know how to light the candles herself, so she was forced to remain in the darkness as night fell.
It was only when the sun dipped well below the horizon, shadowing the entire land with a dusky haze, that Lian began to get actually worried. Around her, the whole household was silent, not just Detta’s room, so that meant she wasn’t even in the house. Should she seek out her love? Usually Detta had preferred it when Lian waited for her to return, but now all sorts of anxious emotions were coursing through Lian’s heart and making it difficult for her to sit still.
Finally coming to a conclusion, Lian swept to her feet and propelled herself out of the window, curling her wings around her as she flew to hide herself as best she could.
Lian wasn’t particularly skilled at tracking humans, so she was forced to wander the town for hours, searching every place she could remember from a conversation with Detta. Finally, after the sky was fully dark and she was able to fly around with greater ease, Lian spotted Detta’s father, Mr Evens, by chance. She barely recognized him as the man who had helped her all those years ago. He was coming out of a building marked with a sign that read Theatre. Lian didn’t know what a building like that would be used for, but a great horde of people were pouring out of the exit.
Shortly after Mr Evens exited the building, Detta herself came out onto the street, on the arm of a man Lian had never seen before. Even in the dark, Lian could see Detta’s demure smile every time she directed it at her companion, a quieter and more reserved expression than the ones she allowed herself in Lian’s presence.
Something dark burned in Lian’s heart at the sight. Dropping down so that she could hide herself behind the decorative filigree on the theatre roof, Lian watched the pair.
Detta and the man were trailing behind Detta’s father as he tried unsuccessfully to hail a carriage. Her eyes narrowing, Lian focused both her attention on them to pick up their conversation.
“...had a lovely time with you tonight,” the man murmured, his hand patting Detta’s where it rested on his arm. “And I can only hope that you feel the same way.”
Detta hated sitting still, Lian knew from all the time she had spent around her while she grew up, the only exception being when she could read uninterrupted. If they had been in that building for long, Detta had probably hated it. Still, she just flashed another one of those quiet smiles at the man before looking back down at her feet.
“I very much enjoyed it. It was a lovely evening.”
“I am very glad you agree. If I could, I’d spend every evening like this with you.”
Even from this distance, Lian could see Detta’s cheeks pinken at the compliment, and something twisted in her gut. What was wrong with Detta? Why was she acting like that? Was she lying to the young man? Or had she been lying to Lian?
But that was impossible, Lian tried to reason with herself as something low in her stomach started to flutter. She’d known Detta for years, from a child to the young woman she was now. There was no way Detta could have been lying to her for years. Right?
“That sounds an awful lot like a promise,” Detta said so quietly that Lian almost didn’t catch it, and the man shuffled his feet awkwardly.
“It could be… if you’d be willing.”
Pressing her lips together as if to hide a smile - or a grimace - Detta looked up into the face of her companion. “What are you saying, young sir?”
“I’m saying… I love you, Bernadette. You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met, and if your Father is willing, I’d like to officially start courting you.”
Lian bristled at the words. It took everything in her power not to drop to the ground right then and tell the young man exactly who Detta loved. But then her heart froze when Detta ducked her face shyly into the crook of the man’s arm.
“I would love that.”
Love? No. That was impossible. Detta wouldn’t have said that. Because she loved Lian. Wasn’t that right? Hadn’t she said so? Lian started to shake, and she doubted her wings would have held her if she tried to fly.
But wasn’t this how it was supposed to be? Detta would get married, and Lian would return back to the celestial realm, never seeing her best friend again. And then Detta would grow old and die, and in the blink of an eye her life would be over. The moments they had stolen together were precious, but all the more hopeless because of that. There was simply no way they’d ever be able to be together past a few more short years, maybe even months.
Mr Evens finally succeeded in hailing a carriage, and the three of them began to drive back to their cold stone house. Lian remained on the roof for several minutes longer, not trusting her wings to work correctly, before she followed them at a distance. The night sky was clear with a light breeze, and Lian was grateful that she didn’t have to devote excess energy to flight. Her mind was too full to focus on her wingbeats.
When the carriage stopped in front of the front gate, Lian dropped down on the other side of the wall and hid herself in a bush to watch them disembark. As soon as the carriage started bumping back down the path to the heart of the city, Mr Evens bid both his daughter and her suitor a curt goodnight before stalking inside the house. Detta started to follow him, but before she could escape into the house, her suitor grabbed her arm.
Detta looked back at the young man. “Yes?”
“It is not so often that we are alone together,” he said slowly, a blush forming on his cheeks. “Usually you are chaperoned so tightly. Please, won’t you allow me to take advantage of this rare occurrence to steal a favor of your love from you?”
Uncomprehending, Lian frowned and leaned closer to better watch Detta’s reactions. She couldn’t see Detta’s expressions, but she could tell by the trembling in her hands that she was either very frightened or very excited.
“You are bold tonight,” Detta murmured, turning her face downwards in a gesture of humility Lian had never seen her use before.
“Can you blame me? After all, it is your fault. You are so beautiful it sets my heart aflame.” He seized her hands, holding them captive and preventing them from shaking. “Please, my darling? Just one gesture of affection?”
Detta hesitated for a few seconds longer, then some of the tension drained out of her shoulders as she made a choice. “If one is all you ask for, I can give you that,” she whispered before stretching up on her tiptoes to press her lips to the young man’s clean cheek.
A flash of rage boiled through Lian as she watched Detta kiss that man- a kiss that should have been hers! Isn’t that what they’d done together; didn’t that action belong to them? But the rage soon turned icy when she saw the man grab Detta’s chin just before her lips made contact and direct them to his mouth instead of his cheek.
Shocked, Detta tried to pull away, but his grip held her in place for several more seconds before he dropped his hands from her face and took several steps back, his lips stretching into a stupidly wide grin.
“I shall keep that to remember by until I see you again,” he promised before whirling around and racing back down the road the way they had come.
Her shoulders limp, Detta covered her mouth with her hand as she watched him go. Her whole body shook before she buried her face in her hands. As Lian watched, the shaking slowly ebbed from her body before she took one last deep breath and raised her head, her shoulders straight and back strong.
Lian couldn’t help it; she took an instinctive step towards Detta, but her clumsy feet, used to walking on air more than the ground, stepped on a twig. It shattered under her weight, breaking the eerie silence of the courtyard. Detta spun around at the sound, and her face drained of all color when she caught sight of Lian.
“Lian! You- what are you doing here?”
“I came to see you,” Lian heard herself say with numb lips.
“You- have you been there long?”
Did you see what just happened? That was the question she was really asking, and although Lian couldn’t bring herself to say a word, she knew Detta could tell she had from just her expression.
“That wasn’t- he was just…”
“Why did you do it?” Lian whispered, the words carrying through the stillness of the night despite how quietly she said them.
Wincing, Detta floundered for words. “I… I didn’t… he’s like that, sometimes, not good at taking no for an answer… I didn’t have a choice, not when… not when Father…”
She bit her lip as she trailed off, but Lian only shook her head.
Detta jerked back as if Lian had slapped her. “No? What do you mean, no?”
“That’s not what I asked.” Lian wetted her dry lips with an even dryer tongue. “I thought… I thought…”
I thought that you loved me. I thought it was special. I thought that those lips would only kiss my cheek until you were married. I thought that you loved me.
Detta took a step back. “Lian, are you… angry at me?”
“No!” Lian shouted, because she could never be angry at Detta. “I just- I don’t understand and it hurts. Why does it hurt?” She asked in a whisper.
Fear overtook Detta’s face. “You can’t be- oh, please say you aren’t jealous, say you don’t feel that way for me-”
“I don’t know, I don’t understand!” Lian gasped. She felt like her insides were boiling. Was that what jealousy was? “He shouldn’t get to touch you.”
“He shouldn’t get to touch me?” Detta snapped. “Who are you to decide who gets to touch me? I have enough of that from my Father-”
“You’re mine until you get married!” Lian cried. “You promised! He can’t have you yet!”
Detta’s face went white. “That’s what you thought- Oh God, Lian, I swear I didn’t mean it like that! Mary preserve me. What have I done?”
“What in God’s name is going on out here?”
The unexpected voice caused both of them to jump. Turning toward the house, Lian saw that Detta’s Father had come back into the yard. He glared at the pair of them until he saw Lian, and then he froze.
“You… I recognize you…”
Detta turned to face him and spread her arms wide, as if that could block Lian from his sight. “It- it’s nothing, Father! Please, I’ll be inside in just a moment-”
But Mr Evens was already striding across the yard. “You’re that creature! So you’ve come back? What do you want this time? To make us the laughingstock of the Ton yet again?”
Lian jerked back. “What?”
“You’d be surprised by how many God-fearing people deny the visitation of angels- or of demons in angel form.” He gave a hollow laugh. “You ruined us once, fiend. I won’t let you do it again. Get away from that thing, Bernadette!”
“No, Father, you don’t understand-” Detta tried to beg, but Lian cut her off with a snap of her wing.
“I ruined you? You ruined yourself! I saw how much pain you caused Detta in her childhood! Her loneliness! You caused that, not me!”
Mr Even’s eyes grew wide. “You… you’ve been watching us all this time? Spying on us?”
Detta caught Lian’s sleeve. “Please, just leave! I’ll talk it through with Papa and he’ll understand, I promise! But I need to do it alone.”
Lian started to shake. “No. I’m not leaving you alone with him. I did that too many times. He doesn’t make you happy, Detta! He doesn’t care about making you happy! I do!”
“It- it’s not that simple!”
“Get away from my daughter!” Mr Evens roared, and then there was a click.
Lian looked up the path to see that the man had drawn a pistol and aimed it at her. She fought the urge to laugh, her bubbling thoughts tinged with mania.
“You can’t hurt me with that,” she said, flapping her wings so the still air of the courtyard turned to a gale. “But I can’t let you try. I won’t let Detta be a casualty of your mistake. Because, unlike you, I actually care about your daughter. Unlike you, I love her.”
Detta stiffened behind Lian, but the angel paid her no mind. Her whole body was shaking with an anger like she’d never felt before. She withdrew the hilt of her celestial weapon and summoned the glowing blade. It lit up the dark courtyard like a beacon.
The blade wouldn’t hurt him, much as his gun wouldn’t hurt her, but the rage in her heart felt the need to menace this man until he cowered at her feet. Lifting off the ground, she hovered a few feet in the air and leveled her blade at him.
“You never took care of her! Her whole life, she wanted to make you happy. She smiled doing things she hated, all to appease you. And all you wanted was to pass her off to some other human so you wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore!”
“That’s not true,” he gasped, falling to his knees. “I swear I wanted to provide for her. Everything I’ve done has been for her!”
“Then you haven’t done enough!” Lian touched down right in front of him, then pressed the glowing point of her blade under his chin. “I judge your actions and find them lacking.”
Suddenly Detta was there, her arms around Lian’s middle. She tugged her away from her Father with a desperate cry.
Lian’s head abruptly cleared. What was she doing? She let Detta pull her away from her Father and sheathed her celestial blade. Even if the blade couldn’t physically injure him, hurting a human was one of the sins she must never commit. And she had wanted to hurt him.
Carefully, Lian loosened Detta’s grasp about her middle and turned to the young woman. Her face was fearful, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, and Lian was washed with guilt. Is this what human desires did to an angel? Turned them into a beast with no control?
And then she noticed something. Detta’s lips were pinker than normal, and she realized that they were covered in a glossy tint. At the corner of her mouth, that tint had smudged when her suitor had kissed her. And suddenly, her dwindling rage was sparked into an inferno.
“He left you alone,” she hissed, seizing Detta’s face and drawing it close to her own. “He left you alone so that swine could force his affections on you. He doesn’t care about you.”
“It- it’s not like that! He didn’t intend for it to happen-”
“He’s not good enough for you,” Lian said, unsure who she was talking about now. “I’m the only one who truly cares about you! I’m the only one who loves you for who you are!”
“Lian, please!” Detta grabbed her hands, but couldn’t break her vice grip. “It- it was just a kiss! He didn’t hurt me-”
“Just a kiss?” Lian’s eyes flashed. “His kiss will not be the last imprinted on your lips tonight. He does not deserve that honor.”
And before she could talk herself out of it, Lian pulled Detta forward and pressed their lips together.
She wasn’t sure if there was supposed to be some magical feeling in her stomach, or if she was doing it wrong, but it felt awkward as their noses bumped together. Detta was stiff, almost as shocked as Lian was, and her mouth was wet. And then Lian tilted her head slightly, and something slotted into place. The joining of their lips went from whisper-soft to a heady pressure as heat built in her stomach. Her body had been awoken, and it was ravenous for more. Instinctively, she wrapped her wings around the two of them for privacy.
But Detta wasn’t reacting, was still stiff in her arms, and Lian realized what was wrong. Detta hadn’t asked for this. She was exactly the same as that suitor, taking what she wanted without permission.
With a gasp, she ripped herself away and fled into the air. One hand covering her mouth, she looked down at Detta, who fell to her knees. Trembling, the young woman looked up at Lian with a strange mixture of shock and something else. It made Lian’s wings falter just by seeing it.
“I didn’t mean…” She started, but she trailed off. Because she had meant to kiss Detta. Unable to finish the thought, Lian simply turned away and ripped open a hole in the fabric of reality, fleeing back into the celestial realm.
Lian fled until she had made it safely home, locking her door behind her. That kiss had fed the dull hunger she hadn’t realized she was feeling and stoked it into an all-consuming gale. She made a beeline for the box she had cast aside earlier, desperate to do anything to fill that hunger, only to remember that she had thrown away the key.
A scream of ravenous desire tore through her lips. She ripped at the box, trying in vain to open it. It was impervious to the scratches of her fingernails, which soon became torn and bloody. She bit at the wood, sending sharp splinters into her gums. When that didn’t work either, she finally stood and slammed the box again and again into the wall.
It wasn’t the lock that finally failed; it was the back hinge. The metal buckled and ripped, and Lian got her fingers into the crack and pulled. She ripped the cover completely off the box so she could once again gaze upon the face of her free will.
The apple gleamed against the blood-red velvet, light winking off its ruby surface as if trying to temp Lian into taking a bite. But Lian needed no temptation: rage fueling her actions, she snatched the apple from the box. Her stomach growled loudly as she first held the forbidden fruit up to her nose, inhaling the scent, then pressed her tongue to the skin of the apple.
It was strange to actually use her tongue for more than speaking, and Lian shivered at the waxy, but not altogether unpleasant taste of the apple’s skin. Closing her eyes, she widened her jaw and took a deep bite.
A sensation unlike any other exploded inside Lian’s mouth. The waxiness of the skin blended seamlessly with the fragrance of the apple flesh, draining juices down Lian’s throat and chin. It was warm to the touch, the same temperature as the air in her living quarters, but somehow felt cold in her mouth. Suddenly desperate for more of the taste, Lian chewed quickly, nearly biting her tongue in her inexperience. She had barely swallowed before she took a second bite, then a third.
Juice from the apple ran down her hand in rivulets, and she lapped them up desperately, trying to cram as much of that glorious taste into her mouth. She swallowed the bits of apple only partially chewed so they scraped at the inside of her throat. Despite the chill in her mouth, the first bite that she had swallowed was starting to heat up in her belly until she felt like a fire had been set inside of her. Lian curled over and clutched at her stomach as the heat grew in intensity. The apple fell from her hand and rolled across the floor. The bite mark faced upwards and showed her that while the flesh had been crisply white, it was now quickly oxidizing into a rotten shade of brown.
Agony ripped through Lian as she slammed into the ground, her wings unable to hold her weight. Throat straining, she retched, her body heaving as it tried to expel the sweet poison she had just ingested, but it was too late and the fire was already in her bloodstream. It ripped through her with a scalding heat that promised to leave nothing of herself left after it was finished. Now on her hands and knees, she tried to push herself back up, but the fire took all the strength in her body and turned it into pain instead.
Her mouth falling open, Lian’s body contorted into a silent scream; she tried to vocalize the pain, but was unable to make her throat work. The source of the pain was her gut, but where it collected and intensified the most was her wings, like someone was holding a flame to the feathers. Tears streaming down her face, Lian collapsed onto the floor, unable to do anything but twitch and let the fire run its course. It continued to grow until finally, the pain crested and began to wane.
Finally able to breathe normally for the first time in what felt like hours, Lian gasped, surprised at the harshness of her voice. Shakily, she climbed to her feet and tried to hover over the ground, but her wings hurt too much and she dropped back to her knees. Leaning forward, she allowed her wings to curl around her so she could see them.
Her once-beautiful wings were ragged and tender. When she touched them, feathers came loose in her grasp. An experimental wingbeat only dislodged more feathers and sent them swirling around her living quarters like a storm. Staggering back to her feet, Lian looked about herself at the destruction she had wrought, and more tears flowed down her face. Healm had been right all along. She had gotten too close to Detta, allowed human emotions to poison her angelic being, and now her poor choices had shredded her wings.
But not all of her feathers fell out. Some remained, just as strong as they had always been. The pain continued to dwindle as more of the loose feathers fell away, revealing the tiny nubs of new feathers that were already growing in. Lian’s eyes widened when she realized that the budding feathers were not white, like the feathers she had just shed, but a shade of dark gray.
Her wings would be mottled now. Lian had seen them before, of course, in both the higher ranks and in the lower ranks back when she’d been a simple infantry soldier, but she’d never known what had caused the disfiguration. Patchwork angels were generally regarded with distrust, so she hadn’t spoken with one face to face before. Hopelessness, stronger than any she had ever felt before, crawled up her throat, choking her as she wrapped her arms around herself. Now and forever, she would be an outcast, all because of the one lapse of judgment she had made while enraged.
The emotion that had spurned Lian to bite into the apple suddenly felt pale and wan in the face of the scorching anger that flooded her body. Unable to withstand the force of the emotions surging through her every pore, Lian collapsed onto her hammock, landing painfully on her tender wings.
Detta. She was so beautiful and perfect. How could she do this to Lian? How could she promise her love and then deny it in the next breath, giving it to some unworthy man? How could she? How could she?!
Before she knew what she was doing, Lian pulled herself shakily to her feet and forced her painful wings into motion. Each wingbeat felt like a new handful of feathers was being ripped out, but the pain was less than before and she was able to stay in the air this time. Gritting her teeth, Lian ripped reality open right there in her personal living quarters; it was against the rules, but Lian couldn’t bring herself to care. She was angry, and she had to see Detta now.
Surprisingly, it was still dark outside when Lian stepped through the hole and into the cloudy night sky. That meant that not that much time had passed in the human world, or she’d been writhing in a fire for days.
Moving slowly with her painful wings, Lian flew to Detta’s window but didn't go in. Instead, she just looked through the window at the young woman, kneeling beside her bed with a candle, her lips moving in a prayer that could barely be heard through the glass of the window.
“...and I know You sent me to Sir Gilmurn in my time of need, and I am grateful for that. I will try to love him and be a good wife, but I can’t stop thinking about…” She trailed off, either unable or unwilling to finish her though. “Please forgive me for my thoughts corrupted by sin, Heavenly Father. I should know better than to ever think about another woman that way, let alone one of your Holy Messengers. With Your light and guidance, I will overcome these poisonous thoughts and live my life pure as You intend me to.”
After whispering a quick Amen, Detta blew out the candle and crawled into bed. Lian watched her for a moment longer before she slowly pulled the window open and slipped inside, leaving it to swing in the night breeze behind her.
Having just pulled up her covers, Detta bolted upright in bed, her terrified voice echoing in the room.
“Who’s there? Identify yourself!”
Silently, Lian took a few more steps forward, hearing Detta’s breathing grow even more frantic before she finally said something.
“Lian? Oh, thank the Lord,” Detta gasped, holding a hand over her heart. “I thought you were someone come to murder me! Why did you scare me like that?”
Again, Lian just said nothing, only stared at Detta’s form in the darkness. Outside, the cloud cover was beginning to thin, and pale hands of moonlight reached into the room to illuminate Detta’s face. And when Lian beheld her pale skin, her unbound hair and her open, worried expression, she knew she had been wrong.
“Lian? What’s the matter?”
She hadn’t loved Detta before, because the wan emotions she had felt back then were nothing in comparison to the raging fire of desire that consumed her now.
“If you’re still angry- I hope you’re not still angry. Please, Lian, I never wanted to hurt you.”
Before she knew what she was doing, Lian found herself keeling on Detta’s bed, leaning forward until they were face to face. This close, Lian had to keep her fists balled tightly, fingernails slicing into the flesh of her palms, in order to prevent herself from…
From what? What was the fire in her body telling her to do? Before she could figure it out, Detta laid a warm hand on her cheek, sending shivers through Lian’s body.
“I- I smoothed things over with my Father,” she said breathlessly, her eyes wide as she babbled. “I know you were only standing up for me, so thank you. But Father has always tried to protect me in his own way. He apologized for not realizing that I was lonely all those years, and he promised to take better care of me in the future. Isn’t that lovely…?” She trailed off. “Lian, please say something. You’re scaring me.”
Propping her weight on one arm, Lian grabbed Detta’s palm against her cheek and wound their fingers together. “I love you.”
The words thrummed with rightness in the air, but Detta flinched. “You already told me-”
“I love you,” Lian interrupted, silencing Deta before she could finish. “You told me you loved me. Was that a lie?”
“Of course it wasn’t-!”
“Then what does this mean?!”
Swallowing back tears, Lian pulled Detta’s hand closer and pressed trembling lips to her knuckles. At the sight, Detta’s expression softened.
“I don’t understand,” Lian whispered against Detta’s knuckles. “I don’t know what any of it means. All I know is that I want to do it again.”
At the admission, Detta stiffened. “What do you mean, Lian?”
“I want to…” Lian’s eyes shifted out of focus, trailing down the pale column of Detta’s neck to the divet of her collarbone where the white lace of her nightdress lay against her even whiter skin, then snapped back with remarkable clarity. “I want to kiss you everywhere.”
But Detta couldn’t get any other words out before Lian swooped in and kissed her on the cheek again, eliciting a gasp. The girl shivered, but gave no resistance as Lian pulled back and kissed her on the other cheek, then her forehead.
These kisses could be given freely, as they once had. But another kiss on the mouth, she sensed, would need more enthusiastic consent than the absence of a “no”.
She hovered over Detta’s mouth, waiting for a nod, a word, anything to close the gap between them. But Detta was frozen, panting into the short space between their mouths. Greedily, Lian sucked in the air from their shared breaths and trembled.
But suddenly, they were kissing and it hadn’t been Lian who had surged forward. Detta’s eyes were closed as she fisted the material of Lian’s robe, kissing her with a ferocity she hadn’t shown the man in the courtyard. Her palm pressed down Lian’s shoulders to her wings, smoothing the feathers with gentle insistence. Groaning, Lian closed her eyes and surrendered to the sensation.
They fell sideways in the bed and kicked the bedcovers aside, a tangle of limbs and wings. Detta melted in her arms, letting Lian touch where she pleased as they kissed. The fire in Lian’s body demanded an outlet, but she didn’t know what to do, so she just pressed her hands wherever she could: Detta’s sides, her stomach, her thighs. When Lian cupped her breast through the thin fabric of her nightgown, Detta gasped. Her mouth opened and Lian followed, breathing in air that tasted like the woman she loved.
There was a tentative brush of a tongue against Lian’s bottom lip, and then suddenly her tongue was in Detta’s mouth. The kiss turned wet as they pressed closer. Detta stroked her wings harder, and Lian moaned.
She broke away from Detta’s mouth with a gasp, only to suck a hard kiss to her neck instead, then another on her collarbone. Her entire body felt like it was on fire, but in a good way this time. Maybe, she thought hazily, if this was what it felt like to be a human in love, then she wouldn’t mind her patchwork wings.
The hands at the back of Lian’s neck suddenly turned feral, scratching her as Detta tried to desperately push her away. Lian quickly backed up, although her heart ached to be so far away from her love.
“What is it?” She gasped. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Get away from me!” Detta shrieked in a whisper, shoving Lian back so she sprawled at the foot of her bed.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Mixed desire and fear clouded Lian’s head as she stared dumbly at Detta. “You said you loved me, didn’t you?”
“I do, but- we can’t- it’s not-” Detta said frantically, none of her sentence fragments making any sense. “I don’t love you like that!” She finally exploded, before clapping both hands over her mouth as if she could take the words back, but they were already said.
An icy hand gripped Lian’s heart. “What… what do you mean? Is there more than one way to love someone? If you love someone, you just do! Tell me what you mean!”
“What we were doing- what you wanted,” Detta corrected herself, “That was the way a husband loves his wife. I love you… I love you the way someone loves their sister, like they love their best friend.”
She nodded as she said this, as if trying to convince herself of the rightness of her words, but Lian only grew more confused and angry.
“What do you mean, like a sister? Like a best friend? You aren’t making any sense! We aren’t sisters, so how can you love me like one?!”
“I just- I just do!”
“But you kissed me,” Lian accused her. “Don’t deny it. You kissed me.”
“And I shouldn’t have!” She shook her head desperately. “It was a mistake. But we can fix it. We can go back to the way we were before!”
“A mistake?” Lian asked quietly. “Then tell me the mistake, because it felt right to me!”
“Because there is no other way to love for people like us!” Detta snapped.
“Why, because you love someone else more than me?” Lian snapped right back, drawing herself up to her full height, her wings spreading over her head. “Because you love that man?”
“That man is going to be my husband someday soon! So yes, I will love him!” Detta hissed. “But that has nothing to do with this! I do not - can not - love you that way! It’s against the very laws of nature!”
“But why?” Lian half yelled, half begged, her hands balling into fists. “Is it because I’m an angel and you’re a human?”
“That has nothing to do with it! It’s because you’re a girl!”
The words were so unexpected that all the fire that had been raging inside Lian’s body chilled, leaving her numb. “Because… I’m a girl? Why? What does that have to do with anything?”
“Because it’s forbidden! Unnatural! A sin against nature and God!” Detta wrapped her arms around herself and began to shiver. “Men must love women and women must love men, that’s how things work! For any woman to have feelings for another woman is blasphemy! Sacrilege! She’d go straight to H-Hell…”
Her words trailed off as she started heaving broken, terrified sobs. Frozen solid, Lian could only stare at her pain and terror with answering heartbreak in her breast. So all this time, she’d been play-acting as a girl in order to be Detta’s friend, but in the end, it was that very same identity that she’d created for herself that would keep them apart?
The moonlight shone brighter into the room as a cloud passed away from the sky, illuminating Detta’s scared face. Her cheeks were wet with tears and her lips trembled, but her eyes held not disgust, but longing. She loved Lian; the angel was sure of that. If this was the only thing keeping them apart, then Lian would happily discard it.
Taking a step forward, she said quietly, “I’m not really a girl.”
Detta’s shaking shoulders instantly stilled. “Wha- what?”
“I’m not really a girl,” Lian repeated. “You had a hard time understanding when you were little, but… angels have no gender, not like humans do. Because you wanted me to be your friend, I decided that I could be a girl for you. But if that’s what’s holding us apart, I don’t have to be. I can be a boy for you if you want me to be.”
For a moment, there was quiet hope on Detta’s face, then it closed off behind fear again and she shook her head. “No,” she said softly, wiping away the remnants of her tears. “It would never work. If you’ve been a girl for this long, there’s no way you’d ever be able to pretend to be a boy.”
“It doesn’t have to-!” Lian tried to argue, but Detta cut her off.
“Yes, it is, and there’s nothing any of us can do to change that, no matter what we may feel! We are dealt our lot in life and must make the best of what we have!”
Lian could think of nothing to convince Detta, so she simply said, “I love you.”
Detta flinched away as if Lian had struck her. “I don’t. I can’t. Not like that.”
“But you said-”
“I know what I said!” Detta cried, balling her fists in the material of her quilt. “But it doesn’t matter if I love you, because I can’t have you!”
The room was cold and still, except for the gentle evening breeze that buffeted Detta’s gossamer curtains.
Eventually, Detta bowed her head. “I think… you should go.”
“But-” Lian tried to protest, but Detta swung her head up to glare at the angel.
“I said go! Leave me alone! I never want to see you again!”
Lian swallowed against a dry throat. “Are you… are you sure?”
Words pushed against Lian’s tongue, but she held them back. This was Detta’s choice as much as it was hers, and Detta had chosen. Her shoulders slumped in defeat, dragged down by her heavy patchwork wings. Whispering a final goodbye, she slid out the window, leaving Detta to sob alone in her bedchamber.