Aiden looked at the angel, who had stopped an arm’s length away. “What are you doing here? Am I still dreaming? This is a dream, right?”
He wasn’t surprised when the angel smiled, but didn’t answer.
The angel was wearing the same type of infantry uniform as Aiden, a curl of black hair peeking out from beneath his watch cap. Aiden could see the barrel of one of the last rifles in the world over the angel’s shoulder, but he didn’t have his sword.
He didn’t look well, Aiden thought.
“Are you here to kill me?” he asked. Then he frowned, confused. “Wait—didn’t you already do that?” He slapped his hand over his heart, expecting to feel ripped cloth and cold, but the rough wool felt normal under his palm. “You burned me. You were burning me alive.”
The angel looked shocked, then sad. He shook his head.
He says he’s sorry. He didn’t know it would hurt you, but it was the only way to save your life.
It was his Cass-eudaemon voice, whispering in his ear. Aiden was pretty sure he still didn’t have his amulet, but it made sense that in a dream he’d hear her anyway, so he just went with it. “Wasn’t he about to chop my head off?”
The angel nodded.
He says that yes. That was his mission.
Aeshma cannot be allowed to enter here. Little Cass sounded like she was repeating the angel verbatim.
Aiden remembered the fingers, pushing through the wound in his chest. He gasped and slapped his hand over his heart again, but it still felt perfectly fine. “Who’s Aeshma?”
Wrath. Rage. The ill-fated. The malignant. The bloody mace who will bring destruction and war.
And 200 million dead, Aiden thought. “That, uh, that sounds bad.”
The angel smiled wearily.
“So…why didn’t you kill me?” Aiden asked, genuinely confused. “Not that I don’t appreciate it,” he added quickly. “I mean, thanks for not killing me. But, why didn’t you?”
Aiden expected his little Cass voice to answer, but instead the Angel took a step closer and cupped the side of Aiden’s face, the way he had in the clearing. His touch was still wonderfully warm. Then the angel leaned in and kissed him.
It was like being filled with light. Like summer pouring into him and warming him to the marrow of his bones. Aiden could feel it and see it, even with his eyes closed: the two of them shining as the angel’s light enveloped them both.
Aiden didn’t know if the desire he could feel was the angel’s or his own, but it was a soft, quiet thing; part of the heat and light but not the focus, not the most important. That was the love, flooding through their connection all the way to his soul. The angel loved Aiden with all his being. He always had and he always would. He had been with Aiden from the moment of his first breath and that was why he had been sent to end his life, when the only alternative was for Aeshma to come. Aiden was his.
And in the end he hadn’t been able to kill him. Not even to save the world.
Aiden couldn’t even comprehend the depth of that kind of devotion. It was like staring over the edge of an abyss and looking down and down and down and knowing there was no end to it ever. No one had loved Aiden that much, not even his parents. He didn’t think any human even could love someone else that much. It was enormous, fathomless, overwhelming. Aiden felt like he was drowning in it, like if he didn’t step back he’d be swept away, disappear completely into the divine. It felt…glorious. As wonderful as it was overpowering. But he still couldn’t help pulling back.
He wasn’t surprised that they were now standing in a lush, summer-green meadow instead of in a hellish trench in the middle of a war. The angel had done that for him. Aiden was back in normal clothes too he noted, his favorite green tee-shirt and black jeans. The angel was in a blue tee-shirt that went very well with his eyes, and jeans, which should have looked incongruous but didn’t. Their feet were bare in the grass. The attention to detail was astonishing.
The angel let go of Aiden immediately, but he looked like he didn’t understand.
Aiden touched his lips. They were still tingling. “Why?” He was reeling and could barely get the single word out, but the angel still seemed to know what he meant.
He’s your guardian, the little Cass voice said. She made it sound like something obvious. Her voice was jarring as any hell, after the effortless understanding during their kiss. He chose you before you were born.
“Why?” Aiden repeated dumbly. “Why me?”
The angel blinked at him, like he had no idea how to answer the question.
Because it’s you, the eudaemon said. Why else does anyone choose anyone?
“No,” Aiden insisted, frustrated. “I mean, why me? Why do you love me so much that you were willing to risk the whole world? I mean…I’m just an academic. I wear glasses. I can’t even do magic! It’s…Gods, it’s amazing, but…What makes me so special?”
I already told you. I chose you. I love you.
Aiden was surprised by his own bark of wild laughter. “I know. I know. Gods, I could…” He took a breath. “Thank you. It’s—I’ve never felt anything like that. It was…” He shook his head. “Incredible. Beautiful. But… I’m just a human. I can’t…it’s too much,” he finished helplessly. “I’m sorry.”
Wimp, his eudaemon said. Aiden ignored her.
“I’m sorry,” Aiden said again. “I just need…” Actually, he had no idea what he needed, other than for none of the truly awful shit he’d just lived through to have happened. “I need time,” he finished, realizing it. “I just…” He swallowed. “I need some time, that’s all. It’s just so big.”
The angel nodded. His smile was warm and understanding and maybe a little resigned. Of course. You’ll wake up soon, little Cass said for him. Please be careful. He reached out slowly, giving Aiden plenty of time to draw back. Aiden didn’t want to draw back. He closed his eyes and steeled himself for the rush of emotion. The angel touched his cheek, and Aiden shivered at the warmth and the depth of the affection that went with it.
He tried not to be disappointed when the angel dropped his hand, since he was just giving Aiden the space he wanted.
“I’ll be careful,” Aiden said seriously. “Thank you. For everything.”
The angel smiled at him, crooked and very human, and then disappeared.