In the following six days, I think I spent more time with Asher than I had in my entire existence beforehand. It was very strange, but I actually found his presence somewhat relaxing, especially since Brendan's name was once again creeping its way up to the top of my list. I still didn't know what I was going to do about him, and about what Gallen wanted me to do, but I knew one thing for sure – if I could save him, I wasn't going to let him die.
It was late, and Brendan was out for a stroll along Bondi beach, unaware that he was being followed. Since the incident with the falling scaffolding, I'd been more careful then usual not to be seen, but it was hard. I hated having to hide myself from him, especially when we had just started to become friends. I loved talking to him, and he had this way of making me forget who and what I really was. With Brendan, I was able to simply be Sarah Whitefield; the girl from England. He made he feel human again, and yet here I was, stalking him from the shadows. It just wasn't fair.
"You've got to be kidding me," I suddenly whispered in fear as I sensed a familiar presence. Fumbling around in my coat pockets, I pulled out and opened my Reaper card. Brendan's time was almost gone, and Gallen had almost reached him. No!
I was clumsily sprinting across the sand before I had even consciously thought about it, calling out to Brendan as I ran. I saw him turn at the sound of my voice, saw his piercing blue eye light up at the sight of me … and then I saw Gallen appear behind him, sword held high.
"Behind you!" I screamed, and as Brendan turned Gallen swung. The young man hit the ground, and a wave of fear crashed into me until I saw that he was still alive. He had dropped before the sword had hit him, yet even as he rolled across the sand, Gallen was preparing for another strike. Dropping my right hand down, I summoned my own sword as I leapt between my mentor and my friend, blocking Gallen's blow with my raised blade.
"Move, Azaelee," Gallen grunted at me, and I shook my head.
"No way in Hell."
"I told you that he must die."
"And I told you not to touch him," I shot back, and I heard Gallen growl before he twisted his sword free, turned the blade and rammed the hilt hard into my gut. I gasped in pain and surprise before my knees gave out from under me. My own sword vanished as I dropped it, and for a moment it felt like I couldn't breathe. It was so reminiscent of the first time that I had met him – me, barely able to breathe, and he, the figure of a saviour standing over me – that I felt like crying in betrayal. He had saved me! He was supposed to look after me! He wasn't supposed to do this; wasn't supposed to completely shatter my trust in him!
"Sarah!" I heard Brendan yell as I cringed, my green eyes closed tight as Gallen raised his sword against me. How could he do this?
The clash of metal on metal, and my eyes snapped open in surprise. I looked up and saw dark auburn hair, and for a moment I could do nothing more than blink in astonishment. It was Asher, and he had save me.
"Lea, get Brendan out of here, now!" he yelled, not taking his eyes away from Gallen who, despite his skills, could not overcome the strength of the Frenchman. With a nod, I crawled across the sand to where Brendan was, and reaching out with my left hand, I wrapped my fingers around his wrist and concentrated on Asher's house. I didn't have a choice; we couldn't escape on foot. Teleportation was my only option.
"Wh- what the hell just happened?" Brendan gasped as we appeared in Asher's expensive-looking lounge room, and he tore his arm away from me. I let him go, having anticipated his reaction.
"Calm down, we'll be safe here," I said in my most reassuring voice. Funnily enough, Brendan didn't seem at all reassured.
"Calm down?" he repeated, and I could easily hear the note of hysteria that was in his voice. "A guy with a sword just tried to kill me!"
"You saw the sword?" I said in disbelief, because normal mortals shouldn't be able to do that.
"Yes, I saw the freaking sword! How the hell could I miss it? I saw yours as well, Sarah. Or is it Lea, or whatever else that other guy called you? What the hell is going on?" Brendan yelled, and I flinched at his words. He was so angry, yet I couldn't blame him. I was angry too; angry with Gallen, and angry with myself for not having been strong enough to defend Brendan.
I took a deep breath. I might as well get this over with. "My real name is Sarah Whitefield, but those other two guys know me as Azaelee. We're Grim Reapers, Brendan," I said, looking straight into his blue eyes, letting my words sink in.
He laughed. "Do you honestly expect me to believe that?" he said, and now I was angry with him. How could he be so dense?
"Look around! We didn't walk here, I teleported you! And all of those freak accidents that you've been in; Death trying to claim you! And look!" I yelled, calling my sword into my right hand in a flurry of anger. "You can see this, can't you? This is why I flinched every time you came near my right hand. It's a hand of Death, Brendan. I'm three hundred and sixty-four years old, and I'm a Grim Reaper!" I yelled, yet I was crying, and in the wake of my outburst neither of us spoke. With a trembling hand, I let go of the hilt of my sword, and the dead weapon vanished from this world. I noticed that Brendan was watching the place where it had disappeared, instead of looking at me, and I marvelled again at just how different he was.
"Are you trying to kill me?" he whispered, and I snapped my head up at his words.
"God, no!" I exclaimed. "Reapers don't kill people; that's a common misconception," I added, choosing to ignore for the moment Gallen's earlier attempt on his life. "Reapers simply free the souls after death. I could never kill anyone, and believe me, I was told to, but I won't," I added, and the fear in Brendan's eyes had given way to curiosity.
"Who told you to?"
"Gallen. The one who tried to kill you earlier. It's true that I'm your Grim Reaper, Brendan, but I don't want you dead, I swear," I said, taking the smallest of steps towards him. When he didn't back away from me, I closed the distance between us and sat down on Asher's antique couch that looked as if it had come straight from an eighteenth century manor. Knowing Asher, it probably had.
Brendan hesitated for a moment, before gingerly sitting down next to me, posed in such a way that he could jump up and run at a moment's notice. I didn't blame him; I'd be skittish too.
"Look," I said, offering him my card. His name was clearly written on it, with just under seven days left until it reached the top. "Before Gallen attacked you, your name was at the top. It has reached the top of my list several times now, yet every time your number reaches one second remaining, and you somehow avoid getting killed, the time gets reset. It's been like this for almost a month; ever since that shooting incident," I said in as non-threatening a voice as I could. Brendan was staring at the card, watching the numbers tick away, and I passed it to him so that he could see that there was no mechanism making it work.
"This is all just … impossible," he said with a shake of his head, handing the card back. I stowed it away inside of my coat pocket, and gave him a sympathetic smile. "Why me? Do other people get their time reset like this?" he asked, and I shook my head with a sigh.
"No. I've never seen anything like it before, and I haven't got an explanation for you either."
"But I do," a voice interrupted, and I spun around on the couch to see Asher standing in the shadows. Brendan gave a gasp at his arrival, but I ignored him as I rushed over to the other Reaper.
"Are you okay?" I asked, giving him the once over. He seemed fine, and when he grinned down at me a wave of relief washed over me.
"I did not think that you cared so much about me, Little Flower," he said with a laugh, and I glared at him.
"Well, obviously you're fine," I grumbled, playfully fisting him in the gut, which only caused him to laugh at me all the more.
"Did you say that you have an explanation?" Brendan asked, and glancing over at him I could tell that he was nervous about facing Asher, yet he stood before the Reaper nonetheless. I had to give him bravery points for that.
"Yes I do. Gallen was most forthcoming once he had stopped trying to attack me. Would you both care to take a seat, and I shall explain?" he offered, and Brendan and I took up our positions on the couch once more. "It would seem that Gallen has kept many things from the pair of us, mainly about the existence of other immortals," he began, and I nodded, having already found out this much myself. "These other immortals are considered the natural enemy of the Reapers, as they exist on the boarders of Life, where as we exist on the boarders of Death."
"Wait, you mean like Angels or something?" I interrupted, caught completely by surprise. When Gallen had said that they were our enemies, and that they would take Brendan away, I had naturally assumed that they must be bad people. But Angels? I hadn't seen that one coming.
Asher took a moment to contemplate his next words. "Gallen called them Guardians, but I suppose it means the same thing. Gallen first found out about them when he was still mortal, and had discovered that he possessed the Immortal Strain; an ancient bloodline that stems from the Guardians. It would seem that, for whatever reasons, the Guardians mixed their blood with humans at one point, creating great healers and prophets; people who would covet and protect life. Being a Druid Priest, Gallen learnt that he carried this ancient gene, and yet when it was activated a Reaper found him first."
"Activated?" I asked, and Asher nodded.
"Upon reaching a moment where death is immanent, this particular gene is activated and saves the person from death. But in response to this, Death himself sort to hinder the Guardians by seeking out these people and trying in vain to kill them. The Immortal Strain, it would seem, is impossible for even Death to destroy, but a person who possesses it can still be killed by a Reaper's sword, or made a Reaper themselves," Asher explained, and I found myself looking at Brendan in a new light.
"So that's what I am," he said, speaking the words that I was thinking.
Asher nodded. "So it would seem."
"But why would Gallen want to kill him?" I asked, and Asher sighed.
"I tried to tell you a long time ago that Gallen was not a very reasonable man, yet you would not listen to me then," he said, and I glared at him. "Gallen had the Immortal Strain, and he was meant to become a Guardian, but a Reaper changed him first. Ever since then, he has held a grudge against the Guardians for not coming for him sooner, and so he seeks to wipe out the bloodline whenever he encounters it. Truly, it is a childish solution," Asher finished with a sigh, and I was left lost for words. I never would have imagined that Gallen could act in such a way, and yet I believed Asher. How could I not?
"So what do we do?" I heard myself say, and Asher cast a quick look at Brendan before replying.
"We keep Brendan away from Gallen, and hope that the Guardians come for him soon," he said, and it sounded simple enough, and yet I knew that it would be anything but.
It was perhaps the longest week of my life, and I've lived a very long time. In order to stay with Brendan and ensure his safety, I had decided to split my Reaper card between Asher and Taylor – the only other local Reaper that I held any trust in – leaving myself with very little to do. Kind of lucky that Asher had pay TV, which in itself was surprising. I had felt really bad about giving Taylor half of my reaps, as I knew how much the young doctor hated the job that fate had chosen for him, but I had been left with very little choice. Just because I had a situation with Brendan that was consuming all of my time didn't mean that Death would stop sending me people's names. From what I understood, Death hated the Immortal Strain as much as Gallen did.
However, being confined to Asher's house for a whole week did have one advantage – it gave me the opportunity to find out more about Brendan, and for me to finally tell him the truth about myself.
After the initial shock of discovering the world of immortals that existed in the shadows, Brendan had adjusted rather well to his situation. Probably better than I would have done, but then again, when I was mortal superstition was a big part of life. Brendan seemed to take everything in his stride with a smile and a joke, and over the course of the week I found myself becoming increasingly closer to him.
"So you never did tell me," he said as we sat together on the couch, flicking aimlessly through Asher's TV channels.
I frowned at him. "Tell you what?"
"Why you told me your true name straight up. I mean, Asher doesn't even know what it is, does he?" he said, and I shrugged.
"I might now," I answered, as Brendan had indeed used my real name whilst in the presence of the other Reaper.
"Sorry," Brendan said, but I waved the apology aside.
"Forget it. It's not really that important anymore," I replied, and it was true. Once all of this was over, I resolved that I would tell Asher what my name was. I didn't want it to stay buried anymore.
"So why did you tell me?" Brendan asked again, and I shrugged.
"I don't know," I answered in all honesty. "I just … couldn't lie to you," I added, struggling to say what it was that I had felt during those first few moments that I had met him. "I haven't been Sarah for so long, that I … I just wanted … I wanted someone to know, and you-" I broke off as I met his piercing blue eyes. He was looking at me with such intensity that my breath caught and I could feel my cheeks flush.
He was leaning closer across the couch, and when he kissed me it was like electricity was running through my skin. I felt myself melt against him, and a moment later I was lying on the couch with my hands twisted through his dark hair. I could feel his fingers on the bare skin of my stomach, dancing their way higher, and I lost myself in the moment.
But then he stopped. I was breathing heavily, but Brendan was so still above me that for a moment I panicked. Had I done something wrong? Yet when I looked at his face, he wasn't looking at me. His face was still inches above mine, and yet his eyes were looking off to the side. That was when I noticed; the TV was off, and all of the lights were out. But more than that, I could feel someone lurking in the shadows of the house, and his presence sent a chill down my spine.
Brendan was off of me an instant later, sitting alert on the couch, and I twisted the fingers of my left hand through his, not wanting to let him go. And then I felt another presence arrive, but this one made me breathe a sigh of relief.
"We have to go," I said to Brendan, wanting to get out of the house before Gallen entered the room. I could sense Asher stalking after him, but I didn't know how close they were to one another, and I couldn't take any chances.
Brendan gave a nod as he stood up, pulling me to my feet, and I was about to take a step when my left arm suddenly felt like it was on fire. I heard myself scream as hot blood started to flow, and in the darkness I could see the glint of Gallen's sword. He'd cut me. Not good. A wound from a dead weapon would heal at the normal mortal rate, and always left lasting damage. I could hardly move my arm, and through the shock I dimly registered the sound of swords clashing and Brendan yelling my name.
"Lea, get out of here!"
"Sarah!" Brendan yelled again, and now I could feel his hands on my shoulders, shaking me out of my shocked stupor. My arm was useless, and the loss of blood was making my head spin. Unless I could stop the bleeding, I wouldn't make it very far. Gallen had done a good job; he'd sliced it open from my shoulder, across my elbow and down to my wrist.
I blinked away the spots that were appearing in my vision and wrapped my right arm around Brendan in an awkward embrace. He wrapped his own arms around my waist, and a moment later we vanished from Asher's house. Yet we didn't get far. I didn't have the strength left to cover any considerable distance, and the best I could do was the empty lot across the street.
I collapsed to my knees, dragging Brendan down with me, feeling the last of my strength fading. I had never been cut with a Reaper's sword before, but I had been told that it was the only weapon that could kill a Reaper. I guess that it was true after all.
"Sarah, stay with me!" I heard Brendan yell, and then I heard the sound of tearing material. Pressure was being applied to my arm, and as I watched I noticed something strange. Wherever Brendan's fingers touched my damaged skin, the blood began to slow, and the skin developed that itchy healing sensation. Brendan must have noticed this too, because he had stopped using the torn pieces of his shirt, and was instead pressing his bare hands against the wounds. Sure enough, wherever he touched the blood slowed and the skin started to heal. I couldn't explain it, and neither could he, but at that moment it didn't seem to matter.
We were both covered in blood and breathing heavily when I felt something strange. My arm was not fully healed yet, and whilst Brendan was focused on doing whatever it was that he was doing to fix it, I was trying to work out who had just arrived. They felt immortal, and yet they didn't feel like Reapers. There were two of them, and they were getting closer.
"Brendan," I hissed, gesturing over my shoulder with a nod of my head. Brendan stopped what he was doing, and suddenly stood up as he moved to stand between myself and the pair that were approaching.
"What do you want?" I heard Brendan snap, and I gingerly turned around on my knees so I could see who he was talking to.
"We have not come here to harm either one of you, Brendan Hieson," one of them said in a voice as smooth as silk. His hair was a honey colour, and his eyes seemed to be a strange shade of blue that was almost violet. They seemed to shine in the darkness, and he was tall; taller than Gallen's five foot three, which was quite impressive.
"We were alerted by the use of your immature powers, and have come to collect you," the other one said in a voice that seemed gravely, and yet didn't grate. He had jet black hair and honey brown eyes that, like his partner, seemed to shine in the dark. He wasn't as tall, yet was still impressive, and seemed more solid than the other.
"I'm not going anywhere," Brendan shot back, still standing before me like a knight protecting his princess.
"Brendan, I think they're Guardians," I said to him, and he looked down at me for a moment, before he turned his attention back towards the two men.
"I know that, but I'm not going anywhere without you," he replied, and I couldn't help it; I smiled in delight at his words.
"I'm afraid that that is not possible," the smooth talking Guardian said, and the other nodded in agreement. "She is a Reaper, and can not come with us."
"And I'm not leaving her here. She's injured, and that psycho Gallen will probably kill her when he finds her," Brendan stated with certainty, and it pained me to admit it, but he was right.
The one with the black hair was approaching, and Brendan took a step closer to me, yet he needn't have bothered. The Guardian possessed no weapon, and did not carry himself in a threatening manner. When he crouched down next to me, completely ignoring Brendan, I wasn't sure what he wanted. But then he reached out and placed a hand on my left arm, over the wounds that Brendan had started to heal. I felt a warm tingle pass through my flesh, warmer even than what Brendan's touch had been, and a moment later my arm was perfect; not a trace of the sword wound could be found.
"Your friend is fine, and capable of looking after herself," I heard the honey haired Guardian say, yet my attention was focused on the black haired one that was still knelt before me.
"Consider this my way of thanking you for protecting Brendan, Miss Sarah Whitefield," he said, and I gaped at him for a moment.
"How do you know my name?" was all that I could think to ask, and it sounded lame even to me. The Guardian smiled, before replying in that rough voice of his.
"You were not always what you now are, and all mortal names are known to Guardians," he said, before standing up and rejoining his companion. I stood up as well, and moved to stand beside Brendan. He reached out and took a hold of my left hand, giving it a squeeze. I could tell that it was more a comfort to him than it was to me, and I couldn't blame him; I was slightly afraid too.
"Come. It is time," the honey haired Guardian said, holding a hand out to Brendan. He tightened his grip on mine, reluctant to let me go.
"Wait," I said. "If you take him now, will I ever see him again?" I asked, knowing that this was what Brendan was afraid of. Not of the unknown that the two Guardians represented, but of never being able to return again. I felt the same, and I needed their answer as much as he did.
"Brendan is one of the chosen who were gifted with the Immortal Strain, and to that end he will become a Guardian, and must be taught the necessary skills. You went through a similar training when you became a Reaper, did you not?" he asked, and I nodded. The first few years of my new life were spent learning the skills and abilities that I now possess. "I am afraid that you will not be able to see him for some time, but once his training is over and he is an initiated Guardian, he will be free to see you once again."
"And how long will that take?" I asked, before I thought of another question. "And why didn't you come for him sooner? Gallen could have killed him!"
The Guardian bowed his honey head for a moment, and it was the black haired one that answered me.
"Those with the Immortal Strain are not always easy to find, as Death likes to make things difficult for us. In truth, we had not definitively located him until he had used his healing arts to help you," he said, and I nodded. It made sense, as any use of power was always easier to track than one who was using no power at all.
"As to your other question," the honey haired Guardian said. "Please allow us a year to train him. In one year, come and meet us, and we shall return him to you."
"Where should I meet you?" I asked, and I could feel Brendan's hand relax slightly in mine. He hadn't said anything, and yet the expression on his face was one of relief.
The black haired Guardian strode towards me once more, and quicker than I could react he placed a hand over my eyes. In that instant I saw a beach shrouded in fog, completely untouched by the modern world. With the image came a location, almost like the information had been planted straight into my brain. I knew where I had to go, and in one year I would be there. Nothing would stop me.
My eyes blinked, I was suddenly back in the empty lot, and I was standing alone. I hadn't even felt Brendan's hand leave mine, and my palm still felt hot from his touch. The rain started then, mixing with my tears as I looked up towards the sky, plastering my golden hair against my face and shoulders like a wet blanket. I stood like that for what seemed like an eternity before my eyes were drawn towards Asher's house. The lights were back on, and as I focused on the old terrace house the only presence that I could feel was that of the French Reaper.
"Azaelee?" Asher asked as I stepped into his foyer, dripping water into his lounge room. For once, he didn't seem to care that I was ruining his expensive carpet.
"Please stop calling me that," I said to him in a voice that was strangely husky. Asher looked at me questioningly before I continued with a slight smile. "Gallen gave me that name, and I no longer want anything to do with him. I want you to use my true name from now on," I said, and Asher's strange yellow-green eyes went wide. "My name is Sarah Whitefield."
Asher gave a slight chuckle, before he picked up my right hand and raised it to his lips. "It is a pleasure to meet you, mademoiselle Whitefield. My name is Gabriel Roux," he replied with a smile, and the next thing I knew I was in his arms, crying onto his shoulder as he held onto me, rubbing my back in soothing circles.
Later that night I sat by the upstairs window of the room that Gabriel had given me, staring up at the stars and think about Brendan. I hadn't even been given a chance to say goodbye, and I wouldn't be seeing him for a whole year. I remembered the feel of his lips on mine – like hot fire – and remembered how tightly he had gripped my hand when the Guardians had come for him. How would he handle the coming year in a strange new world? I wished that I could have given him something to remember me by.
It was like a spark of inspiration had suddenly struck me, and I scrambled around the room, searching for a piece of paper and a pen. Back in the day before cell phones, or even before telegrams, Reapers had kept in contact with one another via letters. I only prayed that the letter of a Reaper could reach the hands of a Guardian.
You and me, always and forever. Just you wait and I'll be there. Love always, Sarah.
Folding the paper in half, and then in half again, I carefully wrote his name on the outside – To Brendan Hieson – before holding it up on the palm of my hand. Blowing gently on it, and picturing the smiling young man in my mind's eye, the paper lifted into the air and changed into a butterfly, before it disappeared out of the window and into the night.
A year later I was waiting on the beach that the black haired Guardian had shown to me, standing in the icy wind as the sand was whipped about in swirling spirals. My golden blonde hair was constantly in my face, and I had a hand raised to hold it back, wishing that I had have thought to tie up the long strands. The sun was due to rise, and the beach seemed to be washed out and grey as the landscape awaited the appearance of the sun. I pulled my long coat tight around my body and shivered.
I had waited a whole year for this day, yet as the minutes ticked away my anxiety grew. What if the Guardians had lied? What if they wouldn't bring him back to me like they had promised? What if his training had taken longer than they had expected? What if he had found someone else and didn't want me anymore? So many 'what if' scenarios, and yet when the sun rose I felt two people appear on the beach, and my mind seemed to go blank.
They strode towards me through the clearing fog – the black haired Guardian and a young man with dark brown hair that was longer than what I remembered, yet who's piercing blue eyes were just the same as the last time that I had seen them. He was smiling, and when he caught sight of me he broke away from the other Guardian and sprinted the remaining distance between us.
"Sarah!" he called, and it was just like the first time that he had ever said my name – that same thrill passed through me, and I found myself running to meet him, anxious to be close to him once more.
"I'm so glad to see you!" I cried as I wrapped my arms around him, breathing in his scent, and twisting my fingers in his shoulder length hair.
"I got your note," he whispered in my ear. "Thank you. It made things easier, knowing that you were waiting for me," he said, before I felt his lips against my neck. I looked up and saw the black haired Guardian nod once at me, before he vanished, leaving us alone on the beach.
"I missed you so much," I said, pulling back slightly so that I could reach his lips with my own. It was like I'd been asleep for the past year, and kissing him was the breath of life, waking me up.
"I want to show you something," Brendan whispered against my lips, before pulling back and slipping my arms away from his shoulders. Reaching out with his right hand, he made to grab mine, and I flinched on instinct.
"What are you-?"
"I do," I replied a little hesitantly, watching as he once more made to pick up my right hand in his. I closed my eyes, not wanting to watch.
"Sarah, open your eyes," Brendan said with amusement, and I opened them just a fraction. A gasp escaped my lips as my green eyes flew open, stunned by what I was seeing. Our right hands were joined, his fingered twined with mine, and it was as if we were any normal mortals. Nothing was happening.
"How?" I asked, breaking into an astonished smile as Brendan laughed.
"Your hand – and mine as well, for that matter – only works on mortals. It has no effect on us," he replied, and I blinked up at him for a moment, surprised by my own stupidity. I'd known that a Reaper's hand didn't work on fellow Reapers, so why should Guardians be any different?
"Well, that's convenient," I replied, and Brendan laughed before he raised our joined hands to his lips, gently kissing the top of my hand, before wrapping me up in a warm embrace that sent a thrill of delight through my entire body.
Sometimes it really is strange how things work out. I was born in the seventeenth century, and yet I'm still alive here in the twenty-first. The person that I had believed above all others, and the person who I had considered a defector had done a role reversal, and in a strange way I now saw Gabriel Roux – formerly known as Asher – as the older brother that I never had. But the strangest thing of all was the fact that I – a Grim Reaper – had fallen so completely in love with a Guardian – my natural opposite. The Immortal Strain had brought us together, and now, whether due to fate or coincidence, we would be able to live and to bear the strain that immortality places upon you together. It was more than I ever could have asked for, and certainly more than what I deserved, and yet, standing with my hand of Death wrapped tightly in Brendan's hand of Life, I couldn't imagine spending eternity any other way.
Author's Note – And so there you have it. Story over, with a nice long chapter to finish it off. Lol, and I hope everyone understands the double meaning I put into the title of this story too. I like to do that with my titles. Anyway, thanks heaps to Anjirika and blueearth77 for reviewing this story, and I hope you like how it all ended!