With her hands on her knees and her heels hooked against the eave of the roof, Tina watched the yard below where two men fought with each other by the light of the moon.
The swords clashed and sparks flew.
“Don’t they look like they are dancing?” she said to Muriel, who sat beside her on the gently sloping roof.
“Yeah.” Haniel unglued his eyes from his phone’s display and glanced downward at Uriel and Nathanael before he returned his focus to whatever game he was playing.
“You could have played your games downstairs.” Tina poked him.
“But then I couldn’t keep you two company,” Haniel said without even a glance in her direction.
“And we would be lost without your presence.” Tina poked him again.
“That’s right.” Haniel pressed his thumb against the keys in quick sequence. “And who would get you down from the roof?”
This time Haniel did look up.
“Oh, yeah, you know how to use that. I forgot.” He bent over his phone and swore. “I lost.” He raised his head and gave Tina a glare. “It’s your fault.”
“How could it be my fault that you can’t multitask?” Tina grinned at Haniel before she gazed down at the ground where Uriel’s and Nathanael’s movements were so quick that all she could see were the blurs of their silhouettes and the flashing collisions of their swords.
She accelerated her heartbeat and the time around her slowed down. She could now clearly see Uriel surge forward and swing his katana. Nathanael’s sickle sword blocked the blow; he sidestepped and brandished his sword at Uriel. The reflection of the moon caught on the blade of Uriel’s sword as he avoided Nathanael’s attack before he thrust the katana left, where it should have cut into Nathanael’s side, but instead slid along Nathanael’s blade.
Khopesh, Haniel had said was the name of the sickle sword that all the Numuns used. Tina leaned her chin on her hand. Haniel also said that it was Prva’s favourite weapon -- not that she personally wielded one -- and that was why the Numuns used them as their official weapon.
Her eyes zoomed on Uriel who froze in the middle of his counterattack. He tilted his head like he was listening.
What was it? She slowed down her heartbeat and when time sped up, she could hear the distant sound of an aeroplane.
They-- Haniel and Uriel -- were expecting a package from Prva. Some materials for additional shields, which were needed for when Prva joined them, and some files for Uriel found by Prva’s Aradmas in Angelica’s lab during their clean-up, or so Tina had heard when she had eavesdropped on Muriel and Haniel’s conversation.
The plane flew over their house; Tina could see the tiny outline of it high above them.
Muriel stood up. His body started to change until he became a large beast similar to Damon’s. He moved higher on the roof, away from them, spread his wings and with a flap shot upward.
Holding tightly to Haniel for stability against the wind created by Muriel’s wings, Tina watched his ascent. He was going to intercept the package to protect its contents from a rough landing.
After Muriel became a small dot in the air, Tina stood up. “Shall we?” she said to Haniel before she transported herself down to the ground. She rushed after Uriel and Nathanael, who were already at the corner of the house.
Tina grabbed Haniel’s wrist as he passed her. “Where are they going?”
“To the truck.” Haniel pulled her with him.
“Because Muriel is going to bring the stuff there.”
“Oh.” Tina gave a smile to Haniel, who looked like he was getting a new toy -- which he probably was. “You are bored here, aren’t you?”
“You are too.”
“Not really.” How could she be, burdened with Damon, his demands and his need for attention? She touched her lips. Not that she had seen him after their make-out session. But that was because she had started to use the phone to transmit his requests to Tristian. And for now he didn’t say anything about it to her, didn’t appear in her head to nag her about it, but she had no doubt that he would, sooner or later.
They arrived in front of the Freightliner truck at the same time Muriel landed at the side of the house, carrying a large crate in his arms.
The silken fabric of the parachute tied to the steel crate trailed behind him as he, still in beast form, carried the crate inside the truck. He put it on ground beside the big, wooden box in which they stored their customized Honda Civic.
Uriel opened it using the dial at the side of the crate, and Tina, interested in its contents, elbowed her way to the crate where Nathanael had already taken out a neatly wrapped package with an envelope attached to it.
“Gillian's, huh?” Haniel leaned toward Nathanael.
“Who else?” Nathanael said.
“You love birds are so romantic,” Haniel said. “Using every opportunity to send each other presents.”
Nathanael raised a brow. “Do you have any objections?”
“I wouldn't dare.” Haniel gave a warm smile to Nathanael. “You must miss her.”
Nathanael nodded before he went to the exit.
“He could call her,” Tina said when Nathanael was already at the stairs that led outside.
“The estate is sealed, remember?” Haniel towered over the crate. “The telephone can’t get through it. Actually, no signal can.”
“But then, how did you learn about the drop-off and about Angelica's lab?”
“Through the little ones.” Muriel went to the counter on Haniel’s side of the space, his body losing its beastly features. He sat on the chair.
“The little ones?”
“The last three Numuns.”
“Yes, the children.” Muriel nodded. “They can establish a mental link with the Numuns.”
“Something like yours?” Tina asked.
With his back to Tina Haniel started to browse through the crate, ignoring them completely.
“Yes. Angelica tried to replicate Muriel’s mental abilities, but failed,” Uriel explained. “They can only contact the Numuns in a simple two-way exchange; they can’t connect them like Muriel can connect us.”
“I see.” Tina hadn’t known that. But there were a lot of things that she didn’t know. “Can the Numuns merge into one person like you, too?”
“They should be able to,” Uriel said. “But they haven’t manage to do it, yet.”
Tina squatted down beside Haniel and stared at the rows of metal plates, the neatly tied wires, the pile of folders, the external hard drives -- she pointed at those. “What’s on them?”
“Video clips and data from the lab’s control room.” Uriel stepped behind her. “Could you give them to me?”
“Yes, sure.” She pulled out all eight narrow boxes and gave them to Uriel, who carried them to his side of the truck and put them under the counter. “And the folders.”
“Of course.” Tina grabbed the folders, and they were so heavy she stumbled on her way to Uriel, while Haniel begun to kick and pull the steel box to his side of the truck.
Uriel turned to Tina and opened the cabinet. “Put them here.”
Tina stuffed the folders onto the empty shelf at the bottom of the cabinet, noticing a black, pear-shaped bottle in a transparent cylinder with golden symbols on it. It was beautiful. She pointed at it. “What’s that?”
“It’s the potion.” Uriel took it out. “I should get rid of it.”
He twirled the bottle between his fingers. “Because you don’t need it anymore.”
“This is the potion? The one that would remove Damon’s blood from my system?” Tina snatched it from Uriel and scrutinised it. “Of course I need this. Why would you even think otherwise?”
Uriel crossed his arms and raised his brows.
Tina put the bottle on the counter. “Because I said that I love Damon,” she answered her own question.
“You’ve made your choice.”
“Yes. I did. But it’s not what you think it is.” Tina wrapped her hand around Uriel’s. “We need to talk.”
She glanced at Haniel and Muriel, who despite seeming busy gave her the feeling that they were eavesdropping. “But not here.”
She led him outside to the side of the house, behind the corner where there were no windows.
“I...” She frowned and her hands fell to her sides as she shuffled her feet, not really sure how to start. She had a speech ready, but she couldn’t remember a word of it. What did she want to say to him? She peeked at him. They had been tiptoeing around each other since she spoke those words: ‘I love him.’ It wasn’t that he was avoiding her, or she him, they just made sure not to end up alone together. Until now, when she had dragged him here. “I... I miss you.”
“But you have been acting differently since Damon joined us.” She bit her lip. That wasn’t what she wanted to say, not with this resentful tone in her voice. She knew that she was being whiny and even self-centred around the Dumes, and she hadn’t been like that before, especially not around her father, but they gave her the feeling that she was part of them and they would love her no matter what. But not Uriel lately. And she missed it, the warmth and the safety that Uriel offered her. She loved him, Haniel and Muriel so much. They gave her the freedom to express the sadness, the anger... she didn’t have to pretend that she was okay or be a good girl all the time. “It’s my fault, I know. But I’m selfish, and I want things to be the same as before.”
She waited for Uriel to say something, but he just stared at her, his eyes searching her face for who knew what. “Say something, please.”
“You have Damon now; you don’t need me, us, anymore.”
“But I will always need you.” Tina touched the edge of his sleeve. If he were Muriel or Haniel, she would already have had her arms wrapped around him and holding onto him tightly. But he had those feelings for her, and he might take it the wrong way.
Uriel ran his fingers through his black jaw-length hair.
She took a deep breath. Even if she had remembered that beating-around-the-bush speech, it probably wouldn’t have helped her. Not with Uriel. “I love you and I think I always will, but like a brother.” Actually it was more than that. In this short time he had become her family, her rock, and there wasn’t a person that she trusted more than she trusted him. “You are very important to me.” Too important for her to be willing to part with him.
“But not important enough to become my Beliya?”
“If that is what you want...” And she was ready to do it. There wasn’t much difference between becoming Haniel’s or Uriel’s Beliya.
“But you love him?”
Truthful, she had to be truthful, not just to Uriel, but also to herself. “I know you think it’s just a mark, but it’s not.” She fumbled with the hem of her cotton shirt, afraid to look at him. “The mark just makes me --” She blushed at the memory. “-- lose my mind a little.”
“Yes, I heard.”
She could hear the disapproval in his voice. “Oh.” She examined the tips of her sneakers.
“But it’s not?”
“Uh, what?” She raised her head.
“You said, ‘I know you think it’s just a mark, but it’s not.’”
“No, it’s not. I.... I was fascinated by him even before the mark.” She frowned. “I never liked it, but... he has something that draws me to him, and I’m stupid and weird, because even then I couldn’t help myself and I became infatuated with him.” She automatically took hold of his hands. “I’m sorry. But even without the mark I don’t believe I will... that I can stop loving him. I want to, but...”
“Then you should stay with him.” Uriel squeezed her fingers.
“What? No.” How could he even suggest it?
“You love him.” Uriel pulled his fingers out of her hold.
“But... but... I love you, too.” She grabbed the tail of his shirt, afraid that he might turn his back on her and leave.
“Not the way you love him, you said that yourself.” He rested his hands on her shoulders.
“I’m not going to lose you. I can’t. You are my family now.”
“Who said anything about losing me?”
“But... If I’m with him, I can’t be with you.”
“We might not see each other daily, but I will visit.”
Visit? So it was like that, being with Damon meant losing Uriel. “No.”
“And Muriel and Haniel could stay with you.”
And split the three of them apart? “No!” Her eyes widened. “They are your brothers. Why are you even saying that? I know how important they are to you and how important you are to them, and this is not...” She sighed and rubbed her face. “I’m not going to be the one to split you up.” She looked at him. “But I’m also not ready to be parted from you.” She gave him a sad smile. “I’m selfish, I know, but I can’t help myself. You make me feel good and safe and it has been so long since I felt like that... and I’m not ready to lose you. I can’t.”
“You are much stronger than you think you are.”
She crumpled the fabric of his green shirt in her fists. “But I don’t want to be. And I don’t want to lose anymore people than I already have.” She had lost her mother, her grandmother, her dad -- no, she had never really had a dad; he was just a friendly face that watched over her from a distance.
“You are overreacting.” Uriel wrapped his arm around her shoulders and patted her like an upset child in need of comfort.
“I’m not.” She buried her face into his chest. “I know that if I stay with Damon, I’ll lose you. I’m not ready for that.” She doubted that she would ever be. “So I’ll stay with you. I choose you.” Because the joy of his affection and the warmth of his love were safer than the sizzling sweetness of Damon’s passion, and because... because loving Damon...it scared her. The intensity of her feelings for him scared her. “I will drink that potion that you made as soon as Damon gets his beast under control. I promise.”
With his fingers under her chin he forced her to tilt up her head. “You don’t have to promise me anything.”
“I will do it.”
“I don’t doubt your words.” His green eyes shone down on her with something akin to understanding, like he knew something that she didn’t. “But you have to do what’s right for you. What do you want, Tina?”
“To stay with you, Muriel and Haniel.”
“What about Damon?”
“What about him?”
“You love him.”
“But I don’t want to.”
“Love is scary.”
“I know.” He caressed her jaw.
“I’m sorry.” She put her hands over his and leaned into his touch.
“For not being in love with you.”
About him being in love with her? She nodded.
He sighed and withdrew his hand, then moved a step backwards. “You can’t choose who you fall in love with.”
“No, you can’t, but you can choose who you want to be with.” And she had made her choice.
The safe choice.The reasonable choice.