In response to the attack on them in her safe-house, Gwen downed her glass of wine in a few eager gulps. She had a lit cigarette pinched between two fingers and every twenty or thirty seconds she would bring it up to her lips, take a long, hard drag, and lower her hand back down to the counter top behind her. Tendrils of smoke curled out from between her mauve lips, catching on the air current and floating away. He watched in quiet turmoil, unable to find a reason to look away. They had something between them that was almost alive, almost tangible. He sipped at the wine in his glass, hunting down the elusive method of opening a dialog about things he had no words for.
She was visibly shaken; he wondered whether it was because of the attack or their strangely coordinated execution. He could not recall many instances that had been able to send a tremble through her hand. He refilled her glass while she lost herself in the darkening sky and the constellations that formed far above their heads. Time passed, comfortably - if in utter silence - as she drank the wine and mulled over whatever burdens haunted her cerise irises.
Archer moved to the couch, letting himself sink into the pool of his own thoughts while the fire growled across from him. He hadn’t been expecting to find himself in a quaint cabin nestled into the side of a mountain. He had been expecting another night in the rain.
She said, “Do you think the stories are true?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Does it change anything if they aren’t?”
She paused, chewing over his words. What a mystery the inter-workings of her mind were to him; the gears and cogs and wheels turned in patterns he struggled to follow. Some time ago she’d forgotten the wine entirely and what remained of her second glass glimmered faintly, casting crimson beams of light upon the counter. The chandelier hanging above them buzzed with the glow of a small cluster of stars hanging from the ceiling.
She asked, “Do you want to risk staying the night here?”
“I can stay or go. Consider the choice yours.”
She frowned and even without being able to see her face, he knew the downward curve of her mouth. It was this cabin that she liked; not the terrain or the climate or the people. It was the cabin and the cabin alone. She had done what so few were brave enough to do – build a home for herself. To give herself stationary coordinates, a place of rest and sometimes retreat. Her silence was bloated with sadness.
Outside, thunder rumbled loudly in the eternal sky. Archer said, even though he knew – they both knew – that it was an enormous risk, “You know, maybe we should just stay.”
Whether or not she warred with herself to accept the offer he would never know. Instead, she came to sit on the couch beside him. She propped her feet up casually on the oak coffee table, taking great pleasure in the softness of the cushions and the alignment of her limbs. Her previously forgotten glass of wine once again in her hand, she raised her burgundy eyes to him and said, “So what have you been getting into since we last saw each other?”
He smiled and told her of the trivial things; the way the sun played in the grass, and how he’d been learning to decipher the stars. She did not complain about his stories. She let them wash over her and she nestled further into the fabric of the couch, the strain in her posture leaking away as he spoke. Others had no interest in his tales – they slipped in between his sentences and hijacked the conversation, twisting it back to the gore of battle and the impending triumph of light over darkness.
Others had different ideas of what the world had become: a playground, a simulated strategy game, a throw-away dimension – anything they could easily wipe off their hands. Archer chose not to ignore the blood on his hands, on the hands of them all, angel and demon alike.
The Ancient One had stopped giving his warriors their Blessed Hours. There was no other conclusion than that all angelics had fallen as far as man. They were not His glory or his pride any longer. They were no longer untainted.
And they would none earn back their wings.
When he was done and his glass was as empty as hers, she sighed and rolled her head back to stare up at the chandelier. There was a lot between them going unsaid, and the pressure behind it all was starting to build. Every glance was haunted with a hundred other thoughts, every sigh burdened with lifetimes of distance and pain. She was colder than she used to be and the longer the night went on, the harder it was for him to ignore it.
Beyond the windows, the torrential rain pummeled the earth. It was just another complication for the morning.
They spent the rest of the evening in equal parts silence and jovial chatter. He did not ask about the scar along the ridge of her collar bone, and she did not ask about the stilted discomfort that snuck into his eyes every once in a while.
With the early morning light leaking in from between the lace curtains and the low rumble of her snoring slowly rousing him, Archer woke up on the couch with Gwen tucked cozily into the bend of his arm. Automatically, his muscles stiffened; she was too close, when had she gotten so close? His brain had been reduced to his fight – or – flight instincts and he wanted to flee, to leap across the room and let her wake up alone.
But she stirred and stretched her arms out over her head as she sat up, groaning with the ache of morning. Without seeming to notice their proximity, she left the couch and made her way into the kitchen. Within a few moments, he could smell coffee wafting out into the living room. There was a lot to be done, but he did not bother her; he understood what she was about to give up and a part of him felt for her. It was no small thing to accomplish a successful residence in the world they inhabited, and she’d done so for a number of years. Neither was it a small thing to part with such a place.
They drank coffee in the easy comfort of a somber quiet on the deck, watching the mist disperse as the sun crested the horizon. Dew hung heavy on the grass and the leaves of nearby oak and pine trees; the soil was dark and the scent of it caught on the wind. The coffee was black and bitter on his tongue.
They had to use an unspeakable amount of kindling to get the fire started. With every layer and subsequent re-scouring of the house for supplies, Gwen became more sullen. Before they made much progress, Archer conceived of a small idea to help ease her loss. While she dug around in the attic for kindling, he tore her claw-footed tub from the floor in the bathroom and brought it outside; quickly, he filled a number of buckets with water and saved a few of her toiletries from the soon-to-be-carnage. Absorbed in the event looming ahead and dragging on, seemingly just to prolong her suffering, she paid no mind to the transplanted tub. It was high noon by the time they really got it burning, and they were both covered in soot, their fingers punctured with hundreds of little splinters.
Leaning against the BMW, dirty and sweaty and already feeling drained, they watched the flames stretch skyward. The smoke was black and thick and smelled like rotting wood and injustice. He let her have the silence of destruction, and she witnessed her home burn without a single sound except the roar of the flames and the occasional fiery collapse of the structure.
When she could see the tub through the smoke, he said, “Why don’t you get cleaned up and we'll hit the road? I’ll drive, if you’d like.”