"What has happened to it all?
Crazy, some would say.
Where is the life that I recognize?
-Duran Duran, Ordinary World
I was awakened before dawn by the sound of voices drawing near, specifically Sera's voice. I blinked a few times, feeling a sharp pain in my side. Blearily I reached over, finding something hard and pointed digging into my side. The corner of a book. I came completely awake when I remembered which book it was, pulling it out of my side and shoving it quickly under Lulu's bed, then shoving a few stuffed animals in front of it.
Lulu was still sleeping, so I tried to stay quiet as I got out of bed, still in the robe I had worn during my nighttime excursion, though it was now rumpled and bunched around the middle. Standing, I untied the string that held the robe closed, shaking it out before retying it. I walked toward the voices, passing a mirror and cringing at the fuzzy black cloud that my face peeked out of. I would have liked a chance to bathe, or at least brush my hair, but I was no more than two feet into the hallway, the door barely clicking shut behind me, when Sera appeared at the end of the hall. He was talking to someone, but I didn't see who it was before he turned the corner and whoever he was speaking to went the other way.
I inhaled sharply when I saw him, he looked terrible! His face was even paler than usual, save for the dark bruise that had risen across the line of his jaw. There was blood too, smeared across his cheek, and even more of it across his chest.
"You're hurt!" I said, rushing forward, the state of my hair forgotten.
"Not too badly," he said, though he cringed when I began to pull his tattered shirt apart to get a better look. "You should see Caelum, he almost did not make it back." I wasn't sure if that was supposed to make me feel better, but if it was, it failed miserably.
I gasped at the gash that ran across his chest, a diagonal slash from shoulder to hip. "I've never seen you bleed this much," I murmured, feeling the slickness of his blood on my fingers. I drew him quickly down the hall toward our rooms and into the small sitting room. Our suite had two rooms, the sitting room and a large bedroom. No bathroom; for that I had to trek down two hallways. Apparently when they had first acquired humans, they had had to convert an empty room to a bathroom and I had heard more than once about what trouble it had been. I think that I was supposed to feel grateful, which I was, but perhaps not as much as they would have liked.
"They had silver," he said, moving away from me and walking over to the window. He glanced outside and I knew that he was measuring the time until dawn. Even wounded he would be on the roof at the appointed time, I was sure of it. He turned back to face me, and I was struck by how different he seemed. How mortal. "They knew we were coming. Or they guessed, anyway, after we stopped them from taking you. There were more of them than we expected, all armed to the teeth with silver." He grimaced, but then smiled slightly. "We thought they had us, on the train, but a few well executed moves and the resulting explosion slowed them down enough for us to get out of there, and hopefully killed a few of them, too."
I could only imagine the battle that had been fought tonight, and I had to wonder if it was worth it. Was this Max Harris truly anything special, or would he turn out to be a nobody, like I had?
"Is Raphael going to take care of that?" I gestured at his chest, a worried frown crossing my brow. "It looks terrible." Generally the angels healed quickly, but wounds caused by silver could fester, killing them long after the initial blow had been struck.
"I am going to see him now," he said, moving stiffly toward the door. "I just wanted to stop and let you know that I was all right." I felt immediately guilty that I hadn't truly worried, when his first thought had been to ease my mind. Things used to be so simple between us, but lately I was finding it harder to accept our relationship, and my part in it, for what it was.
"I don't know if I'd call that 'all right,'" I said, shaking my head but smiling softly. "But thank you. Now, go on and see Raphael while I get dressed." He smiled back, opening the door and disappearing into the hall. I realized as soon as he had gone that I had forgotten to ask the one question that had been foremost in my mind - what had become of the human?
I didn't get the chance to find out until later that morning. I had hastily dressed and gone up to the roof, scarcely able to contain my impatience with Greeting the Dawn. Sera looked much better; Raphael had dressed his wound and he was wearing clothes that weren't stained with blood. He still seemed paler than usual, but not enough to worry me.
After the sun had fully risen, I turned to Sera as the rest of the group began to disperse. I was about to ask him about the new human when I was startled by a hand on my shoulder. I jumped slightly and then turned around, not sure who I expected to see when I did. It was Michael, her golden hair shimmering in the early morning light. Somehow I wasn't surprised.
"Sera, is it all right if I borrow Cara? Max is upset and I was hoping she could help explain things to him." She made a face, then continued, "However did you get Cara to believe you? Even after what he saw last night, he stubbornly refuses to listen." Truth be told, I had been in shock at the loss of my family and not really caring what Sera had told me. By the time I had gotten around to grappling with it, I had been living here for months and seen too much to deny the truth of what he told me, despite how unbelievable it was.
"Not at all," Sera was saying, giving me a little nudge forward, toward Michael. I went automatically, it was that or risk falling, but it irritated me that he had not even asked me if I minded. Not that I did, I was wildly curious and secretly thrilled that Michael had asked for my help. Still, he could have asked.
"I don't mind," I said, as if Sera had not spoken, hopping down from the ledge and turning back toward the two of them. "I need to get Lulu's breakfast first though." I didn't wait for a response, knowing how impatient Michael was likely to be. No matter how curious I was, however, I was not going to rush off to do their bidding the way I usually did. I wasn't sure why I balked, maybe I was nervous about meeting Max? I didn't really even need to see to Lulu's breakfast, Caelum would surely bring it as he always did. Well, maybe not, hadn't Sera said he was injured? The thought was worrisome, but I knew that Raphael was a skilled healer, so hopefully Caelum would be fine.
Sure enough, when I got back to the room, Lulu was sitting at the table in her nightgown, eating the fruit and cheese that was a usual breakfast for her, as if nothing strange was happening, which was the case for her, I supposed. I took a few minutes to pull my hair back and change into something lighter, trading in my warm jacket for a light sweater and a pair of jeans. I kissed Lulu on the forehead and murmured something about errands, leaving her to spend the morning as she would. Part of me wanted her to tag along, but another part wanted to explore this on my own, so I wasn't sure how to feel when she simply nodded and let me go.
I wasn't sure where Michael was keeping Max, so I headed for her rooms. It was a good choice: as I neared her room, I could hear the sound of strained, raised voices. I slowed, unable to hear the words that Michael spoke, though the musical sound of her voice was unmistakable. The other voice - Max's, I presumed - on the other hand, rang through the quiet halls.
"I don't care if you're angels or demons or what - I'm not staying here! I have a job, a life, back home, and I won't be packed away like some kind of fragile china just because you say so!" I was listening so intently that I squeaked and jumped nearly a foot when Gabriel spoke behind me.
"That one has been nothing but trouble since we picked him up," he said sourly, his arms crossed over his chest. Like Sera, he looked the worse for wear since last night. "You'd think he would be grateful, yet all he has done so far is yell." He gave me a little smile and took a few steps until he was standing right next to me. "Not like you. You accepted your situation with much more grace."
He probably meant that as a compliment, but I felt suddenly embarrassed by how easily I had given in to whatever the angels had asked of me. It had never even occurred to me to argue with them; they were angels. Still, listening to Max argue with Michael, who had dazzled me simply by smiling warmly and touching my hair, made me wonder if I had made a mistake.
"Come on then, let us see if you have better luck." Gabriel said, reaching out and taking my hand. His hand was cold, the skin soft and smooth, like running my hand over one of Aranea's many columns. Like Sera, he could have been chiseled from the very same stuff that made up the buildings here. Lulu once theorized that Aranea was made up of the bones of their dead and though I hardly credited it, neither would I have been surprised.
I let Gabriel lead me into Michael's sitting room, a red and gold affair that was dazzling and understated at the same time, a feat that only Michael could have accomplished. Well, her and Martha Stewart.
"Oh good, Cara!" Michael exclaimed, throwing her hands up and then pointing at Max. My eyes were already on him, hungrily devouring the sight of another human being. Someone else who wasn't perfectly formed, who didn't look like a painting or sculpture. He was of average height for a man, or so I recalled, though he seemed short in comparison to Michael and Gabriel, who towered over him. His hair was brown, short, a little bit wavy and a bit of it hung across his forehead as if he were in need of a haircut. He turned to look at me and I saw that his eyes were greenish-brown, and full of anger. His brow was furrowed and as he gestured at me, I noted that his clothes were torn and bloodstained, although he didn't appear to be injured.
"And who is this? How many other people do you have stashed around here?" He turned back to Michael, the anger radiating off of him in waves. It was more emotion than I had seen in years and it made me uncomfortable. "I can't believe this!"
"Shall we leave him with Cara?" Gabriel suggested, hardly sparing him a glance, his distaste evident. Max snorted and started to say something, but Michael cut him off with a wave of her hand.
"That is a good idea." She took Gabriel's arm and the two of them moved toward the door, leaving the room before either of us could protest. My stomach clenched as I turned back to Max, who was glaring after them. His whole posture spoke of controlled motion, like a snake about to strike.
"I'm Cara," I said, trying to head off his anger. I'm not sure if it worked but he did seem to relax as he turned back to face me. "Cara Fitzgerald."
"Max Harris." He held his hand out to me and I shook it, reveling in the feeling of warmth that his skin possessed, just like mine and Lu's.
"Are you all right? Physically, I mean." I smiled wryly, knowing that emotionally he was probably in no better shape than I had been in when I had arrived.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure none of this blood is mine." He looked around for a moment and then uncoiled himself into an overstuffed armchair nearby. "So, are you the one who's supposed to tell me what the hell is going on?"
"I guess so," I said, following his lead and sitting down on the small divan to the left of where he sat. "They aren't really very good at explanations, actually. They don't really understand us."
" 'Us' as in humans? So they really are angels? And those other things, those were really vampires? I mean, it's obvious they aren't normal people, but angels and vampires? I don't know, it seems too … well, farfetched." He sounded almost apologetic about it, as if he were worried about hurting my feelings.
"I know it's a lot to take in," I said, nodding at his assessment. It was farfetched, but I had been living it long enough to know that it was also true. "I don't even know where to start, honestly."
"How about at the beginning?" He suggested, looking at me expectantly.
"I don't really know the beginning," I started, pulling one leg up underneath me and leaning forward slightly, "but apparently the angels and the vampires have been around for thousands of years and have been at war just as long. I don't know if something particular started it or if they're just natural enemies, but whatever the reason, they hate each other. Somehow the vampires are responsible for the angels losing their wings, something they can't forgive - or forget." I wondered how Max was doing with all of this information, but he hadn't interrupted so far and seemed to be listening, so I continued. "From what I can tell, there used to be a lot more angels and a lot more vampires, but they've been killing each other for so long that there aren't more than a few hundred left. They're scattered all over the world, too."
"Ok, assuming that's all true, what does it have to do with us?" I could tell that he wasn't necessarily assuming what I had said was true, but he had decided to move on to more immediate concerns. Besides, he couldn't very well ignore that Michael, Sera and the others were obviously not normal people.
"Well, I guess the vampires have a legend that a human will be born whose blood will give them some kind of special powers and allow them to put an end to the angels once and for all." As I was speaking, I realized how ridiculous this sounded and I felt my cheeks flush slightly.
"Let me guess - they think I'm that human?" He rolled his eyes while I stiffened in my seat.
"Actually, they thought I was that human. Seven years ago the vampires attacked me. They killed my entire family right in front of me and God knows what else they would have done if the angels hadn't saved my life." My voice had risen, as had the color in my cheeks. I could feel them getting hotter as I spoke. "You might find this all unbelievable, but believe me - if they hadn't stepped in, you would be dead, or worse, right now." I leaned back, trying to control the sudden burst of anger that had risen in my gut. It had been so long since I had felt so strongly about anything that I was almost dizzy.
"I'm sorry about your family," he said, his voice softening. "I really am. When those things attacked me, I thought I was dead. I've never been so scared. And you're right, I know the angels saved my life, but it doesn't excuse what they did. One life for so many others?" I felt my stomach twist, like I was on a rollercoaster, plummeting downward.
"What do you mean? What others?"
"You don't know? We took refuge on the Amtrak train and when it looked like they were going to overpower us … well, I'm not exactly sure just what happened, but the next thing I knew we were jumping into a field and a train full of passengers was exploding. They - the angels - did something, something meant to slow the vampires and let us escape, and they didn't even think twice about killing all of those people. That doesn't seem very angelic to me." The anger had come back into his voice, duller now but tinged with a sharp bitterness. I kept thinking about what Sera had told me, how he had not even mentioned that the train had been occupied. In my mind I had imagined a freight train.
"I'm sure … I'm sure they thought they were doing what was best… imagine if it was true, the legend. Imagine how many people would be killed if the angels weren't here to keep the vampires at bay." My voice sounded hollow and strained to my own ears and I could tell I wasn't fooling Max either.
"Maybe that's true, but do you really think that the end justifies the means?" He looked at me searchingly, then shook his head. "I don't know, you're here with them, maybe that is what you think." I didn't really know what to say to that, so I didn't say anything. He sighed loudly. "All right, what else? How long have you been here? How long do I have to stay before I can get back to my life?" I wasn't really sure how to answer that question, realizing with some surprise that I had never really thought about leaving. I didn't have anything left to go back to.
"I've been here seven years," I began, but before I could continue Max leapt out of his chair.
"Seven years?" He said, his voice rising with every word. "Seven years? There's no way in hell I'm staying here for seven months, much less seven years!" I shrank back against the divan at the heat in his words, and he calmed immediately, though with a visible effort. "Sorry, I just … it's a lot to take in."
"I know, believe me." I laughed, a high-pitched sound that was nothing like my usual laugh. "It gets easier, though. And I'm sure you don't have to stay here for as long as I have, that was my choice." Was it? I honestly wasn't sure what Sera would say if I told him I wanted to leave. I somehow doubted it would be as easy to leave as simply telling him that I wanted to. "I mean, I'm sure everyone will want to make sure that it's safe before you leave, but after that…" I trailed off, realizing that I was on the verge of rambling. An awkward silence followed, while Max paced the room, finally coming to rest by the large window that overlooked Michael's painstakingly cultivated garden. I wasn't sure how she managed it, but there was always something in bloom, even in the dead of winter.
"I'm sorry," he said again, the anger of a few minutes ago seeming to drain out of him. "I guess I'm just used to being in control of my life, of knowing my place in the world. Now I feel like I don't know anything, even what's real and what isn't. Vampires and angels? What next, werewolves? Ghosts? No, wait, how about zombies, do I need to start wearing a helmet or something to protect my brains?" My laugh was more genuine this time, and the tension was broken.
"Not that I know of, but I'm not ruling anything out." I got up and walked over to stand beside him, looking out at a sea of purple flowers. "Just… try to relax for a few days at least, see where things stand."
"All right, yeah, I can do that." He took a deep breath and then looked down at me, smiling. "Thanks, I was liable to go off and get smote - smitten? - what's the word?"
"Smited?" I laughed, shaking my head. "I actually have no idea, sorry."
"Well, you know what I mean. I have the feeling these guys don't have the patience for tantrums." He was more right than he knew, and I was impressed by how fast he was adjusting to a new way of looking at things. How once he'd decided that he was going to stay for a while, he simply moved on. No doubts, no insecurity about whether or not he was making a mistake.
"They're not so bad," I said, always loyal, like a dog. Cara, an angel's best friend. The thought both surprised and shamed me, and I spent a moment trying to figure out where it had come from.
"They can't be worse than the other guys, right?" There was no conviction in his voice, however, and I had the feeling that he didn't believe it for a minute. After what he'd told me about the train, I could see why he would think that, but I had to believe there was more to it than that.
"You should probably get some rest," I said, wondering where they were planning to keep him.
"Yeah, the girl, Michael … like the archangel Michael? From the Bible?" He looked skeptical. "I'm not exactly religious, but this might just change my mind."
"I don't know if she is or isn't, to be honest. They never talk about God though." I'd wondered the same thing myself, but it was another question I had never asked.
"Huh. Anyway, Michael said I could stay in here. She has a guest bedroom or something."
"Oh, that's good. Well, I guess I should go, then. I'll tell Michael that you're resting, ok?" I had the impression that he was going to need some time alone to adjust to everything I'd just told him, as little as it was. I was coming to realize that in seven years, I hadn't really learned much.
"Ok, thanks. We'll talk more later?"
"Yeah, of course." I left him standing there, staring thoughtfully out of the window, and went to find Michael.
I didn't have to look far, she was just down the hall in Gabriel's room. I wasn't sure what to tell her about Max exactly, mostly because I still wasn't sure how I felt about him or his presence here. I kept thinking about my family. If I wasn't the 'chosen one' and Max was, did that mean they had died for nothing? The thought made me feel sick to my stomach and I thought for the first time about Lulu, who had gone through something similar, even if she didn't remember it. Had my coming here meant that her family had died for nothing?
"Cara! How is Max?" Michael was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the far wall, which was fully mirrored. She didn't turn around, simply looked at me in the glass.
"He's fine, he's going to lie down."
"Oh good! I knew you could talk some sense into him. You are such a levelheaded girl." She returned to what she had been doing before - staring at herself in the mirror. I was sure she had meant her words as a compliment, but I felt embarrassed by them. Levelheaded? That somehow did not seem very flattering.
"He agreed to stay for a week." I added, watching her to see how she would react. She didn't bat an eyelash, simply smiled at herself, a smile that seemed distinctly predatory.
"We shall see." She uncrossed her legs and rose with a fluid grace that I knew I would never be able to emulate. "Gabriel!" She called over her shoulder toward the other room as she walked toward me, then past me. "I am going now!" And with that, she was gone, leaving me standing there.
I stared across the room at the mirror. I looked so ordinary, a small dark smudge in the pristine beauty that surrounded me. I knew they didn't mean to, but the angels had a way of making me feel so insignificant, like a pet or a servant. Sometimes I had used it to my advantage, but for the most part I realized that I really hated it. I wondered what Max would make of it. I had a feeling that someone like him would never feel insignificant. With an irritated sigh, I left without giving Gabriel the chance to appear and make me feel even worse.