Pre-dawn twilight hung heavy in the star-splattered sky above him. His back was wet from where he lay in the grass, but he did not mind. Archer sucked in a greedy lungful of air, pleased at the dampness and the chill that came with it. He had watched the universe rotate beyond the ozone all night, waiting for a shift in the constellations – waiting for a new directive or a comforting reminder from the Ancient One.
There was nothing hiding in the stars.
Soon he would have to rise and begin the treacherous day, as he had for almost exactly twenty-nine years. Time on Earth passed inconsistently, and seemingly at his whim - a trick he had been fascinated with since he had set foot on the terra; at times the moments rushed by him in a flurry of near-indecipherable detail, but other times every second ached with a pulsating demand for attention. He knew the source of the strangeness, but he chose not to address it. Some things were better left un-thought.
Some thoughts could call things close, bring them dangerously within touching distance. There were some things that Archer could not take, not while his feet were planted on the ground and the hollowness still settled along his spine.
He sat up and rolled his shoulders back, stretching them, oscillating his head as he did so to relieve any kinks that had developed overnight. Caring for a weak body was the most tedious part of his Earthen Life. So fragile human vessels were; he longed for the glorious days of invulnerability and winged flight – but such longings were distracting and he shuffled them into the corners of his thoughts, hoping to forget them. There was a still silence that stretched on for miles in every direction, but it could not be trusted. Years of trial and error had taught him that.
He changed his clothes out in the open field, never once sparing a thought to the indecency of being seen. He pulled a long chain over his head and settled it around his neck, tucking the small ivory charm beneath his shirt. The old clothes were shoved into a knapsack and deposited in the first dumpster he came across. It was best to leave small traces of himself in places he did not linger – sometimes the trackers would get caught up on the useless bag of clothes, wondering if he was close by. He never was. Archer believed himself akin to a ghost, at least in the minds of his enemies; there one instant, gone by the time they blinked. It was his way, and he enjoyed it. They all had their methods of getting by.
Tires screeched behind him as he walked down an alley and he cocked his head a few degrees toward the sound. Time slowed until it felt like molasses all around him; dense and sluggish. In his peripheral vision he could make out the silhouette of a BMW. He side-stepped and the bumper of the vehicle brushed against his jeans. The sound of automatic weapons fire was a secondary revelation but he ducked instinctively, taking cover behind a stack of palettes. Empty cartridges rang in stuttering echoes and splinters of wood exploded all around with the impact of the bullets that peppered everything. His dual Glocks already locked into his palms, he lifted himself from his crouch and moved to lean around the pallets and return fire when a familiar voice broke through the maelstrom.
The BMW had stopped not but a few yards away, and the passenger door had been swung open.
Inside there was a flurry of blonde hair and glowing maroon eyes. Delicate lips framed the words he heard on delay.
“Get in the fucking car, Archer! Hurry up!”
He scrambled to obey her command but his limbs were gummy and weak; he wobbled as he rose and dove into the seat. He felt something tear into his shoulder but it didn’t slow him down. He slammed the door despite the small fire of pain raging all the way down his arm to his stiffening elbow, and they took off.
“Try not to bleed on the upholstery,” she snapped as she yanked the steering wheel sharply to the left and the tires screamed against the pavement. He didn’t dare check the speedometer, and he dared even less to argue with her. In an effort to keep from making a mess, he removed his shirt and pressed it firmly to the hole in his flesh, hoping to abate the bleeding. The wound was less than an inch in from the ball of his shoulder, and a quick glance in the make-up mirror told him the bullet hadn’t embedded itself in, but it had damaged a nerve.
He flexed his hand, stretching his fingers wide and crumpling them into a fist; over and over, he did this, while the itchy patch-work feeling settled over his injury. He needed his hands - to improperly heal would cause permanent damage and he could not afford any serious damage to his already less-durable-than-expected body.
To Gwen, he said, “I thought you went East, following some nomad demons.”
The country side flew passed them beyond the safety of the vehicle. Overhead the clouds darkened and coalesced; it seemed they were in for another storm. He briefly wondered where she was taking him, but it was not important enough to badger her with an assault of questions. They had time – he knew the landscape and the road she’d put them on was a long one with an exceptionally small number of towns it could lead to. That was, of course, assuming she had intentions of taking them to a town. Gwen was not like the others; she survived on her wits and her ability to perceive things from different angles. She was not limited by certain methods of thinking, she was open to all possibilities at all times.
She said, “I did. When I found them, I came back. I didn’t have any other leads and I wanted to collect myself. Why are you still here?”
He glanced at her in his peripheral vision and shrugged, gritting his teeth against the sudden flood of anguish in his shoulder. The pain only reminded him he needed to continue working his muscles for proper healing, and he devoted his attention to rolling his shoulders in smooth circles. He said, “I like it here.”
“You aren’t supposed to like it anywhere,” she warned, but there was no judgment in her tone. She understood. She liked it there, too.
Again, he shrugged, but this time, when he glanced over he was met with her firm gaze. Static crackled between them, like it always did. He’d hoped she would come back; he’d hoped to see her face again, to know the comfort of her presence. He’d hoped for it long enough that he’d forgotten to actively hope any longer. It had been years since they parted, but being near her felt as easy and normal as it ever had. “There are a lot of things we aren’t supposed to like.”
She turned her eyes back to the road and smiled.