Archangel's Prophecy (Page 35)
At times, Elena thought Illium was over that long-ago heartbreak, and then there were days like today, when he’d say something and she’d be reminded all over again of how much he’d loved that unknown young woman. It would’ve been different had she died after spending her life with him. He’d still have mourned her, but he’d have also had a lifetime of memories to balance the sorrow.
Raphael had said something interesting once when they’d spoken about Illium’s past. “He mourns a dream. He was so young, and in his mind, their love was perfection. Life is rarely perfect, however.” But Illium only had the dream, the bittersweet poignancy of a first love lost in a way that had scored a permanent mark on his psyche.
“I’ll come with you.” She grabbed her jacket from where she’d hung it on the back of her chair. “There isn’t much I can do on Harrison’s case at the moment.”
“You don’t have to babysit me, Ellie.”
“In that case, you can babysit me.” Shrugging into the jacket, she met his eyes. “I’ve got a few ghosts whispering to me today, too.” Only Raphael knew the whole of her blood-soaked history, but Illium knew enough to know that she was haunted as he was haunted. “I don’t want to go home without Raphael.”
He helped her find the right strap to snap her jacket closed over the wing slits. “Let’s go paint the town red.”
First, however, she drank two glasses of Nisia’s energy supplement then stopped by to see the healer. Nisia cleared her to continue flying—with conditions. “If you experience the heavy tiredness you’ve described, you land.” No give in her voice. “Even if you’re over water. Your wings will keep you afloat after a controlled landing, but a crash into the water from a high enough height could tear you to pieces. Much like when the flying machines hit the water at speed. It may as well be concrete.”
Elena winced. “Understood.” Neither a panicked fall into suddenly unforgiving water nor a horrifying tumble into New York City traffic held any appeal.
Having waited on the balcony for her, his profile a clean line against the night sky, Illium looked over when she came out to join him. “Prognosis?”
“No new damage, but I’m going to stay at lower altitudes.” It’d make for a quicker landing if her wing began to crumple.
Frowning, Illium shook his head. “You’ll have a longer window and fewer obstacles in your path if you go high. I’m fast enough to catch you—you won’t crash.”
Raphael was the only person Elena trusted that much, but she couldn’t bruise Illium’s heart any further. Not tonight. And he was fast, the fastest angel in the city. Not only that, he was strong.
Pulse a drumbeat in her throat, she spread out her wings. “Since I have irrefutable proof that you can catch a helicopter and turn it upside down in mid-air, I suppose I’m willing to trust you with my scrawny body.”
Illium’s responding grin made the risk worth it.
Turning his back to the city, he fell back off the balcony with a “Yee-haw!”
“You’ve been watching Westerns again!” Elena called out as she glided more sedately off the edge.
The cold dug in its teeth and shook, but it was painfully beautiful to fly through the glittering color and lights of the city. Illium seemed to feel the same way, because he was in no rush to angle his wings toward the club district and Erotique, the club he frequented most often. At one point, Elena’d been sure he had something going with Dulce, one of the hostesses there, but Dulce wore a wedding ring these days and managed her own smaller club.
Illium continued to spend more time at Erotique than he probably should, especially with Aodhan gone. Elena didn’t think that environment—sophisticated and full of vampires jaded and often no longer capable of simple happiness—was the greatest for him, but she couldn’t exactly ground him. She’d done plenty of self-destructive things herself before she met Raphael. Mostly involving hunts with major hazard payouts.
Illium turned in a direction that would take them to the Catskills if they kept on going.
Sweeping closer to him, she said, “You just want to fly?”
Hair rippling in the quiet but cutting wind, he twisted down in a complicated fall before flying back up to her side. She laughed at his showing off. That was Illium. An angel of violent power who had a heart that might almost be mortal. And, these days, she could appreciate his tricks again. Not a single angel in the city had been ready to witness his acrobatics in the immediate aftermath of the day he’d crashed out of the sky.
Elena would never forget her screaming fear.
To his credit, Illium had flown with absolute discretion for months, letting the memory dull and fade.
When he returned to her side today, his face was flushed, the gold of his eyes rich. “Sky’s too beautiful to shut ourselves away in a club.”
“Just don’t forget I’m not as fast as you. Also, I’m currently lame.”
Illium lifted one cupped hand close to his shoulder, the other moving back and forth . . . and she realized he was playing a tiny violin in response to her morose tone.
“Crossbow, Bluebell.” Narrowed eyes. “Remember the crossbow.”
He dived, his wicked laughter floating up on the night air. Lips twitching, Elena continued to glide, letting the air currents sweep her along with cold but gentle hands. Illium, meanwhile, flew circles around her—but he never went far, always close enough to halt her descent should she tumble.
She landed a number of times to rest her wings, once in an isolated park whispering and dark. A luminescent insect appeared then disappeared from sight before she could truly see it, an earthbound star. The ghostly owl sitting on a tree branch watched her with eyes even more luminous.
A sigh deep in her mind, an old, old presence restless in Sleep.
The hairs rose on her arms.
Then Illium shot them both up into the sky again, and together, they flew far beyond the diamond-bright skyline of the city and over the sleeping homes of ordinary people who lived in a world of vampires and angels, blood and immortality.
Another rest stop for Elena.
Another throb of pain from the cut on her forearm.
Another watchful owl, this one landing on Illium’s shoulder without his knowledge. Ashwini had told her not to be afraid of the owls, so Elena ignored the goose bumps and said, Hello, with her mind. A good night to fly.
A vein began to throb at her temple.
The answer came a long time later, after they were in the air again, the glow of the sinkhole visible from the distance.
It has been an eon since I flew.
Gritting her teeth against the devastating weight of age in that voice, Elena said, Do you plan to wake? The throbbing vein kept on pulsing.
A sense of stirring, two owls flying in languid patterns in front of her. I am tired, child of mortals. My Sleep is not yet done.
A bead of sweat running down her temple from the pain, Elena fought to hold onto the conversation, find out more about what was happening to her. Then why are you talking to me? Why are you partially awake?
I saw you once long ago, the old voice said. I felt the approach of the markers even in my Sleep, and I thought to see you again before the becoming.
Elena’s pulse spiked. The Legion had spoken about becoming, too. Who are you? Where did you see me?
But the owls were gone, the Sleeper once more at rest. Nausea churned in her stomach from the pain at her left temple, and she thought she’d have to land—but a long drink of Nisia’s concoction and the pain began to fuzz at the edges.