"Give me a hand and grab his legs, will ya? We can't just leave a dead body lying on the center line. A vehicle could come along and run him over, for Christ's sake," Thoros said as he lifted the limp top half of the thirty-something-year-old male body from the asphalt.
Baddon cocked his head to the side, his lips turning up at one corner in a mischievous smirk. The chuckle escaped before he could stop it, but he placed a closed hand over his mouth and coolly played it off as a cough when Thoros glared at him questioningly.
"What?" Thoros demanded, and blinked as tiny specs of light filled his vision, the all too familiar dizzy feeling taking over again. Out of breath and feeling like he was about to vomit and pass out, he let the man go lax in his arms until his help finished with the puns and decided to actually help him.
Baddon's fire-red eyebrows shot up and his cerulean blue eyes danced with laughter. "I was only trying to figure out if it's the dead body or the vehicle you are more concerned about."
Thoros frowned. "Very funny; are you going to help me or not? This one's heavier than the last one and I feel completely drained."
Grin still in place, Baddon walked the five steps to Thoros and effortlessly slung the dead weight of the man over his left shoulder. "If you'd stop killing them, you wouldn't need any help disposing of the bodies." Baddon winked as Thoros growled in frustration.
"You know I don't remember what happened. They all could have died from natural causes and it just happens to be me that stumbles across the corpses," he suggested, and then nodded as if agreeing with the impossible theory, but averted his guilty eyes from his friend.
Baddon's expression turned concerned as his big palm came up to rest on Thoros' shoulder, squeezing the muscle just enough to make the guy look him in the eye. "Look, I don't know what's going on with you, but we'll fix the problem together, like always. I'll see you at home. I'll put this one in the basement with the other two until we figure out what to do with them. Are you going to have trouble fleeting? You look a little peaked," he said, and then forced the concern from his features, replacing it with a phony smile. "You can ride on my other shoulder if you need to."
Thoros wiped at the freshly beaded cold sweat that broke across his brow and almost took Baddon up on the offer, but shook his head in refusal instead. "Thanks, but I think I need the night air to clear my head. I'll be fine." I hope. "Get that body home before a human cop sees you and throws you in a cell. An eternity spent in an eight by eight cement box seems worse somehow than the Hell we were just released from."
Baddon chuckled. "You actually think I would let a human handcuff me?"
"Didn't look like you had a problem with being shackled the other night. What was her name…Candy?"
The giant blushed a bright crimson and smiled shyly. "I thought the rest of you were going to be out later. Her name is Chelsea and she's a Pisces." He smiled then, showing off a perfect set of pearly-whites.
"Yeah, well, can you play cops and robbers somewhere other than the grand staircase next time? I'll never get that image out of my head now. And I've seen some nasty shit in my day."
Baddon cleared his throat and sniffed. "What about you, Prince of Lust? Why have you not tasted any of what Sin City has to offer? You know, you could always--"
"Don't go there." Thoros looked away, suddenly uncomfortable with his company and the direction the conversation had taken.
Baddon just stood there looking at him, expecting something more to come out of his mouth, maybe.
"I know that look, Baddon, and I've already told you, I'm not asking--"
"You need help! We have no idea what we're doing." He motioned with his hand to Thoros, and then the dead guy on his shoulder. "And now this? Who knows what will happen next? She--"
Cutting Baddon's thought short, Thoros' eyes shot up to glare at his best friend and one of the nine forgiven demons that had been saved from Lucifer's clutches by one very ballsy angel only three months prior. Only one of the nine had been granted a complete soul and allowed through Heaven's gate. He was happy for Abigail, and wouldn't have wished a different fate for his longtime friend, but where did that leave them? Walking the Earth for an eternity as immortals was hardly a punishment compared to Hell, but he'd never envisioned killing innocent people, especially with no memory of doing it, to be a good thing. He'd been put in Hell for his lustful ways, not for violence, like the friend standing in front of him, holding evidence that he himself was capable of more than he had ever imagined: murder. His green eyes held Baddon's gaze with contempt and warning.
"Leave her out of this," he growled. "She cannot fix me. No matter the lengths the male angel went through to save us, I—we--are still damned and cursed, Baddon. Don't you dare believe otherwise!"
"Why do you keep punishing yourself? You've done your time and you've saved her. You can't turn your back on fate. The two of you are meant to be--"
"I am meant to be miserable and alone, as are you!" Thoros thundered, and then immediately calmed down and began to pace away from Baddon, before he said or did something he would regret later. "I'm sorry. Just drop it--please. Your suggestion is not an option. I'd just as soon face the seven sydes of Hell than…" Thoros chewed on his cheek for a moment, and then sighed. "…than ask her for help after what I've put her through."
Taking in a deep breath, Baddon sighed in defeat. "I'll see you at home then. Maybe the others can help us figure out why humans are dropping like flies in your path."
Thoros nodded and watched with a sickened stomach as Baddon turned toward the lights of Las Vegas, and then vanished into the night with his third victim.
"Thanks," I said with another bright smile, but kept moving so I wouldn't be expected to stop and talk. I didn't have time to chat. There was a very important and long overdue mission waiting for my undivided attention.
I looked up and locked eyes with Troy across the crowded Line of Defense room, and immediately felt a rush of excitement race through every bone in my body. The smile pulling at my lips this time was genuine, but still felt extremely foreign to me. I was having a difficult time remembering what happiness felt like; so much had been risked, gained and then taken from me in the last few months, that I felt raw and mentally bruised.
But today--today I was happy. Finally, I felt like everything was falling into place again. I elbowed and pushed my way through the crowd and didn't stop when I reached my friend. Troy's massive arms caught me in a hug, and then twirled me around before setting me gently back on the floor.
"Yer wan o' us noo." he said with a glowing smile, and wiped at the treacherous beads that slipped from my tear ducts. "Aw, Jossel, dinnae you cry, noo. The Line o' Defense is proud tae ha'e ye, and we all ken Heaven is a safer place wi' you on oor side."
Swallowing the huge lump in my throat, I shook my head and wiped at more salty drops of emotion. "They're happy tears, Troy. You know I've been so eager to help you look for Malcolm, but the Council wouldn't allow it until I graduated the academy. The LOD Academy is no joke, but I made it, and I'm ready to go out with the next crew!" I beamed at him.
Troy glanced nervously over my right shoulder, his smile vanishing instantly. I was confused until I turned my head to find Isaiah a step away from interrupting our conversation.
"Congratulations, Miss Josselyn. Your instructors have informed me that you ranked top of your class, expert even. The highest mark one can achieve. I'm impressed."
I eyed him warily for a moment. He'd been a major influence in the decision to not let me help look for Malcolm until after I'd completed three months of intense training and graduated from Heaven's Line of Defense Academy. I hadn't forgotten, and by the smug look on his face he knew I still held a grudge.
"Thank you, Head Guardian. I'm prepared to join Troy and his crew in the search for Malcolm now. I can only imagine how confused and scared he must feel out there alone. It's been far too long--"
"You will not be with the next crew that goes out to search for Malcolm," he said, and then held his hand up to silence my protest. I was livid, and it took every bit of patience I had left in me not to scream at the Archangel. He continued, and I had no choice but to let him. "You will accompany Troop C on a different mission first. It is of higher importance and has been marked our number one priority above anything else. Do you understand, Josselyn?"
No. I didn't understand. What could be more important than looking for a lost and soulless angel? Why must his importance be set lower than some other crisis? He was my number one priority and I had to find him!
Isaiah shook his head at my thoughts. "You have a duty, Josselyn. You've sworn to stand with others of your kind in battle and conflict, protecting those that are less fortunate and in need. I witnessed you repeat those words myself only a half hour ago. Your expert skills are needed elsewhere. Malcolm will be fine. He is immortal after all," he said, his hard stare challenging me to disagree with him.
I fought back the immature huff that so desperately wanted to escape my tightly pressed lips and nodded to the Archangel. "Where am I needed?"
Isaiah smiled cunningly. "There's a problem with one of our... special cases, for lack of a better phrase to call them. I think we certainly need to come up with a more proper term, as it appears we will be keeping a close eye on the forgiven demons for quite some time to come—perhaps indefinitely."
Special cases? Forgiven demons? I took a step back and stumbled into the rock-hard chest of Troy. He caught and steadied me as I tried to wrap my mind around what Isaiah expected of me.
"Easy there, lass. Are ye a'right?"
I blinked up at him, but words failed me. With the absence of Malcolm weighing heavily on my thoughts, I had forced everything else to the deep, far corners of my mind. I couldn't allow myself to worry about anything except finding my friend then. Now, every hidden thought came flooding back to the surface and all I could see when I closed my eyes was Thoros.
I gasped, my eyes filling with tears again; this time they weren't happy ones. "No," I whispered on a sob as I clutched at the heavenly material of Troy's LOD uniform, and then I buried my face in his shirt and cried.
I heard Isaiah clear his throat behind me, but I wasn't ready to face him or the ridiculous mission he had prepared for me to complete.
I couldn't do it. I wasn't strong enough to face the demon that had betrayed me. Not only had he not held up his end of the bargain and helped me, but he'd practically handed me and my soul over to Lucifer to gain a higher status in Hell.
I'd heard him through the door of Lucifer's chamber the day Rhyan saved us all. Thoros wanted nothing more from me than my pure soul to hand over to Lucifer, and then my body to use for pleasure, before tossing me from his bed to pass around to his friends as a minion whore.
I couldn't bring myself to look at him that day. I didn't want to see the self-satisfied smile of the cat that had caught the mouse. I had been fooled. I had been captured. And my heart had suffered greatly. I should have known better than to trust the Prince of Lust.
Luckily, Rhyan had been clever enough to beat the Devil at his own game. I still wasn't sure of his reasoning behind helping the demons go free. They'd all gone to Hell for a reason, and most of them were royalty; they were at Lucifer's right hand, his ultimate followers, for Pete's sake! Why would they betray him to live out eternity on Earth? That's right, they wouldn't. Thoros and his friends may have tricked Rhyan and the Archangels, but they hadn't fooled me.
I looked back to Isaiah without wiping the moisture from my eyes. "It's a trick. Can't you see? Whatever destruction they are doing on Earth, it's for Lucifer. You have given him more freedom by allowing his royalty the best of both worlds. The demons haven't changed; they still work for him, you idiot!"
Isaiah pressed his lips together and his brow lifted as if he were actually considering my theory, or maybe he was considering the best way to pull my Heaven pass. My eyes darted quickly around the crowded room, and then nervously fell back on the expressionless face of the archangel. I had caught the attention of every angel in the room with my outburst and now they were all silent and staring at me. Great. I hadn't really meant to call an archangel an idiot, but it was done now and there was no way to take it back.
"I apologize for my insubordination," I bowed my head in shame and continued in a much lower and obedient tone of voice. "I just feel that you all have been fooled, that you are blind to what Lucifer is doing right under your noses."
"We knew this could possibly turn out bad--setting the demons free from Hell--but I believe there is still hope. However, I do not think we have been tricked by the... special cases. I expect Lucifer is behind it all, as he is always found lurking behind any mischief and mayhem, but I've strongly considered the special cases are just as blind to what is happening to Thoros as we are."
The mention of his name aloud was like a straight punch to the gut. I inhaled sharply and my hands quickly found my knees at the impact of it. Why did it have to be him? There were eight others down there that could have screwed this up. Of course it would be him, and of course they would need me to fix it. I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. At first I thought Troy was offering comfort, but as my fingers grazed his in acceptance I realized it wasn't the massive hand of my friend.
I shot upright and backed away from Isaiah, panic-ridden.
"Please, child," Isaiah began, but I shook my head. He continued anyway. Stubborn angel! "I know you're frightened. I've been where you are--"
Crossing my arms over my chest, I lifted an eyebrow in question. "You've been seduced and humiliated, and then expected to just forgive and help the individual that desecrated you?"
I watched his Adam's apple move up and down as he swallowed hard. After a second he raised his chin and opened his mouth. "Yes."
My arms fell to my sides as I stared at him in disbelief. I didn't see Isaiah as a normal person. He was an archangel, not a man with feelings and emotions, to me. But, standing there and really seeing him for the first time since I'd known him, I realized he wasn't really all that different from me.
Holding out a trembling hand, he took a nervous step toward me. I looked down at his reaching fingers with widening eyes. What was he doing? I didn't want to see any of his memories. I couldn't see Isaiah vulnerable and broken. He was a head guardian. Their lives had always been flawless. He did not have problems. I refused to believe it and, taking another guarded step backward, refused to touch him.
I squared my shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "No."
A soft gasp escaped my throat as Isaiah rushed to me and, placing his palms at my temples, forced me into his mind.
My bare feet rushed through soft green blades of grass, but I wasn't running from anything; I was chasing after someone. Black curls bounced halfway down the back of the laughing girl twenty feet in front of me and, feeling a sly smile tug at the corners of my lips, I picked up my pace so I could catch up to her.
The bright, warm rays of the sun cast a long shadow to the right of me as the wind blew through my hair. I focused on the girl's shadow as we raced over a hill, and then down into a valley with a clear lake at the bottom. I took only a moment to admire the beautiful scene laid out before me. It was a magnificent painting, and the brush had to have been in God's hand; it was perfect.
I knew I'd never personally been here, but I felt as though I had several times before. It couldn't have been Heaven; Heaven didn't require a sun for light and temperature, like Earth did. Was I on Earth? I pondered, and then my thoughts came to a screeching halt as I noticed the young woman I'd been chasing had stopped before the water and was now stripped of everything except her beautiful black mane of hair.
I wanted to turn and run back the way I'd come, at least hide my eyes from her immodesty, but I couldn't figure out how to stop or look away; I wasn't in control of my body. Just before I reached her and the glistening water, she turned to look back at me. Lameria smiled, and my inner voice gasped in horror as she dove into the sparkling water.
No! Stop! I have to get out of here! She kidnapped me and took me to Lucifer! I can't go swimming with her! I shrieked to the host, but he only stopped and began to undress by the water's edge.
The host looked down at two large male feet when he bent to remove his trousers. I was just about to panic again until our gaze moved from his toes to the reflection in the water: Isaiah.Oh crap! This is his memory. I could only guess what would happen after he jumped into the lake with the very naked Princess of Greed, so I fought with everything I had and shoved my way out of his mind.
©Kristie Haigwood 2013