Happy birthday to me! This is not a happy chapter. Oops.
Summary: Dover reveals what she has learned to Raziel and Hanael, with vastly different reactions.
By the time Dover pulled up at the Arbor, mourners were already arriving. The death of a Guardian, even a supposed suicide, would be handled with the utmost in respect and love. When a Guardian fell, it typically spoke of evil deeds and darkness.
Dover listened to no one as she climbed the stairs two at a time. It was likely that she still reeked of demon, that her panic and sorrow were written all over her face. If so, it made sense that the other Guardians and angels would give her wide berth.
Though part of her ached to head toward Hanael’s office, she turned at the third level and headed for Raziel. She found the darkly beautiful angel in her office, already dressed in mourning garb as she read from the book in her hands.
Gasping for breath, the Guardian braced herself. Once Raziel knew what she had done, she was likely to be thrown from the Host on her ear. Before that happened, though, Dover would ensure that her dear friend would not be burnt in disgrace.
“You reek of demon.” Raziel’s voice had taken on a weary tone. “What have you done?”
“Elise did not take her own life.” Dover answered. “She is not in Hell.”
The dark eyes of the angel before her sharpened. Dover braced herself, knowing she was likely to reveal how she knew this. What would they do to her when they knew? Would she be able to plead temporary insanity, that her grief had so consumed her? No. Dover knew they would never believe that. She had begged Embry to summon that demon with her mind clear. She knew exactly what she was doing.
“I am inclined to agree, Dover.” Raziel said, at last.
Shocked, Dover watched with her mouth hanging open in shock as Raziel set the book down and reached over her desk. She selected a thin manila folder from the compulsively neat surface of her heavy oak desk, handing it to Dover as she settled her backside against the wood.
“This was the report we received this morning. It’s inconclusive, but if you’re certain…”
“I am.” Dover flipped the file open, steeling her heart for what she might see.
There were no photographs, thank the Creator, but a summary report from the Arbor’s ‘coroner’.
Though the summary claimed manner of death to be indeterminable, Dover immediately found the information Raziel spoke of. A few deep scratches had been found on Elise’s throat, ones that matched her fingernails. It might have been reflex that made her try to pull the cord away, that was possible.
Or…it could indicate someone else had strangled her.
“How sure are you, Dover?” Raziel asked as the Guardian absorbed the information. “How certain can you be that Elise is not in Hell?”
With only a moment of hesitation, Dover met the eyes of the angel that so disliked her. She had chosen Raziel for this reason specifically. She could not be accused of using her personal relationship to her advantage here. Raziel would deal with her as she saw fit.
“I have it on the best authority.” Dover revealed quietly. “She is not in Hell. She was rewarded in Heaven.”
Raziel did not reply immediately. The angel braced her hands on the desk beside her thighs, looking toward the window that faced the Arbor’s extensive grounds. She stood a beat later, crossing her arms under her breasts and moving to the window. Dover held her breath, wondering if she would be forced to explain.
Or would Raziel’s affection for Elise give her leeway this one time?
After several moments of tense silence, Raziel turned to look at Dover over her shoulder.
“I will not ask further, if only to protect the protégé of my friend.” Raziel’s smile reflected deep sorrow. “But we will not burn her, Miss Ellis.”
Relief swept through her so swiftly, Dover’s knees went weak. She stepped back toward the wall, leaning on it for support.
“Elise will be entombed at twilight, in accordance with our custom.” Raziel turned back to the window, staring into the gardens as though the flowers and trees held the answers she required.
“Thank you, Raziel.” Dover put a fist over her heart and dipped onto her knee. She’d never saluted the other angel. It felt as though she owed it to Raziel now.
“You should prepare.”
Sensing the dismissal, Dover rose and stepped quickly out of the office.
Once she was showered, Dover pulled on an old black suit that was more proper for the funeral than her usual combat boots and holsters. She wasn’t as comfortable in the heels she wore with the suit, but they weren’t so tall as to make her worry she might fall flat on her face during the service.
She gathered her hair at her nape with a comb, the delicate pearl earrings Elise gave her years ago were fastened to her lobes.
She stood in the wake room’s doorway for several moments, almost unable to step any closer.
Elise was pale and beautiful, with no hints as to the violence her life had left in death. Long blonde hair fanned about her face in utter perfection, strands of it curling onto her creamy shoulders and the soft blue dress someone had pulled on for her.
Dover had chosen the dress, knowing it was Elise’s favorite.
When, finally, she could step up to the beautiful cherry-wood casket, Dover reached a steady hand out to touch Elise’s. Since the day she’d given her answer to the choice, Elise had been by her side. An enormous hole burrowed into her life with her friend now gone.
“I miss you,” Dover said in the still quiet. She kneeled on the platform, leaning into the casket so she could be close to the body of her friend. “I miss you, so much. I don’t know if I can do this without you.”
Tears coursed unrelentingly down Dover’s cheeks, splashing onto the front of her suit. She did not bother trying to wipe them away, not now. The funeral was in an hour, and more would be shed there as Raziel and Han honored their fallen comrade.
“You were always so good to me, so loving, even when I was acting like an untrained circus monkey.” Dover released a watery chuckle. “You taught me everything I know, helped me fight so many battles. El, I don’t know if I can do this without you.”
She knew Hanael had come in, though she did not acknowledge him. The angel moved to stand behind her, placing one hand on her shoulder in a gesture of comfort. Dover took Elise’s hand once more, lifting it so she could press a gentle kiss to the ridge of her knuckles.
“Be waiting for me on the other side, El.” Dover whispered. “I love you.”
As she stepped away from the casket, Dover linked her hand with Han’s. No matter how she had thrown him out of her apartment, he had come to her when she needed him. With a gentle squeeze of his fingers, Dover asked for his understanding. He forgave her in the form of lifting their linked hands, pressing a kiss to her knuckles.
They walked out together, into the antechamber so she could dry her face before she had to deal with the others. Cherubim must have been in high demand today, with the Arbor being filled to bursting.
When Dover came out of the bathroom, her face clean, Hanael was waiting.
From the set of his shoulders, Dover knew to brace herself.
“How did you know?” Hanael asked the question with quiet reserve.
Though she knew exactly what he was talking about, Dover decided to see what playing dumb might get her.
Anger flashed gold over green in Hanael’s beautiful eyes. He crossed his arms over his chest, as though protecting himself from her. Obviously, Han’s lessons in being human were starting to pay off.
“How did you know, for certain, that Elise was murdered?” Hanael said in that same flat tone. “Raziel only said that you were certain.”
Dover swallowed hard, weaving her own arms under her breasts as a mirror to her would-be lover. She cleared her throat experimentally, wondering how much emotional trauma she would have to endure on this day.
“And this morning, you reeked of filth.” Hanael continued. “You were consorting with demons.”
Knowing she was caught, Dover nodded once. “I Summoned a necromancer.”
His soundless rage was worse than if he had started swearing in Celestian. Hanael merely stood, completely still and utterly silent, staring at her so hard Dover worried she would have holes in her head. Dover took a step toward Hanael, shocked when he retreated two steps to keep the distance between them.
Dover knew she was in for it now. Consorting with a lesser demon was offensive. Summoning a full-grown Necro was abominable in the eyes of angelic creatures. Even those practiced in the art of magics didn’t want anything to do with a creature who called up the dead on a whim.
Still, she couldn’t take it back. More than that, Dover was relatively sure she wouldn’t change anything. She knew, without a doubt, that Elise had gone to heaven. For that, the Guardian might have gone to the devil himself.
“I had to, Han. You were going to burn her in disgrace.”
Hanael, to her utter surprise, raised his voice.
“And that wouldn’t have mattered.” The angel roared, his arms sweeping out wide to demonstrate his ire. “If her body were desecrated, she would still be in heaven. She still deserved Paradise and no one would have taken that. You put yourself in danger for nothing!”
“It is not nothing to me, Hanael.” Dover shot back when her shock recovered enough for her to form words. “Elise gave everything to be a Guardian and you would have written her off as a suicide. What does that say about you? Are we all that disposable?”
“No,” Hanael immediately defended. His ire seemed to deflate, just a little. “Of course, you are not expendable, Dover.”
“Aren’t we?” Dover replied hotly. “Aren’t we just your little soldiers to march off into battle? We’re losing charges, and Guardians. Have you even bothered to notice that?”
Hanael’s eyes flashed with anger yet again. This time, however, Dover did not even attempt at backing down.
“I am trying to protect you.”
“Protect all of us, Hanael!” The Guardian replied flatly. “I’m no more important than Elise or Matty or any of the others. We’re all Guardians. I don’t get a free pass to be protected or screeched at because you want to kiss me every now and again.”
“Is that all?” To her surprise, Hanael moved across the room with preternatural speed. Suddenly, he was so close that Dover could smell the spice of his cologne clinging to his skin. Those deep green eyes held her gaze, unrelenting and emotional.
Dover was rendered speechless.
“You think my feelings for you are so shallow? Yes, I hold you above the others, I cannot help that.” Hanael’s voice was whisper-soft, though filled with the turmoil their argument embroiled him in.
“I am in love with you,” Hanael declared hotly. “And for that reason, yes, I hold you to a higher standard. My regard for your safety does put you above the others.”
Dover swallowed hard, scarcely able to breathe.
“But that does not mean that I do not feel our losses as keenly as you.” Hanael’s posture softened as he reached out to capture Dover by the nape of her neck. “I am merely paralyzed by the fear that someone, something, may harm you, Dover Ellis.”
For several seconds, Dover wasn’t able to respond. She could see it in his eyes, the fierceness in that gaze that told her he was being honest. There was fear there, and emotion. So much seemed to be going through Hanael’s mind that Dover felt badly for the angel. They were so ill-equipped to deal with emotions.
Because she could hear him telling her he loved her over and over in her head, Dover hopped up onto her toes to throw her arms around Hanael’s neck. His hand fell from her nape, joining the other as they wound around her back. Their mouths crashed together in desperate passion, clinging to one another as though they were talismans against the evil of the world.
Dover’s head spun as Hanael held her in those impossibly strong arms. They were pressed together, trying to get closer and closer still, even through the layers of their clothing.
It wasn’t until Raziel knocked on the door that Dover let him go. A quiet glance said so much between them, even as they readied for the funeral of their friend. Later, when all was still, they could talk about themselves.
For now, they had to honor the dead.