Summary: Dover tries to process the death of her friend, but she is already suspicious about Elise's 'suicide'.
She wasn’t sure how long it took for help to arrive.
No matter how long she waited, Dover had not moved from the doorway leading to the bedroom. The cord Elise had used to end her second life swung slightly with the breeze from the air conditioning vent. As Dover rocked the body of her friend, she watched the shadow that cord created with aid of the light from the living room.
Now, of course, the unnatural tidiness of Elise’s household made complete sense. The last thing her old friend would want would be for angels or Guardians – certainly Dover herself – to clean up after her.
Resting her cheek against the cool forehead of her friend, Dover finally closed her eyes. Help couldn’t actually do anything now. It was clear that Elise had been gone for at least several hours. Still, Dover could not let go. Why had she done it? Couldn’t she have called, if she needed someone to talk to about Jimmy? It was considered a grievous sin, a Guardian taking their own life. They, after all, were given a second life at God’s will.
When Raziel arrived, Dover could not look up. The dark angel stepped silently into the house, moving to crouch beside Dover where she held Elise to her chest. For a long moment, all the two angels could do was stare at the body.
Dover raised her eyes to find Raziel had tears in hers. For some reason, the idea that Raziel would mourn for Elise seemed absurd. Dover had often joked with Embry that the senior angel must have been ill the day God was handing out empathy and kindness.
Now, however, there was grief so stark in those cool russet eyes that Dover had to physically resist the urge to reach out and comfort her.
“You have my deepest condolences,” Raziel said when she found her voice, the words thick with repressed emotion. “I know she was dear to you, Dover.”
Unable to speak, Dover nodded. She could not voice how much she appreciated the true sorrow in Raziel’s words.
“I will care for her.” The angel continued, her tone low and soothing. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Dover remained still for only a moment. There was one thing she needed, no matter how she enjoyed her independence. Elise was dead at her own hand, leaving Dover behind. She needed someone to comfort her now. Could she allow him to see her this way, though? Broken and internally bleeding, Dover didn’t know if she was even physically able to take comfort.
Slowly, the Guardian shook her head. “No. I’ll stay until she’s…until they take her.”
Raziel’s dark gaze was filled with sympathy and understanding. Dover didn’t know why, but she took comfort in the angel that had so tormented her. Raziel was the master of handling any sort of crisis. A suicide was a crisis, indeed.
It took an hour for the others to arrive. They covered Elise’s cold body with a blue shroud, since white could only be used when a Guardian had not died in disgrace. Protest lodged in Dover’s throat. She wanted to argue with the others that Elise had not died in disgrace. The cord hanging from the doorjamb said otherwise.
At well past midnight, Dover managed to get home. She drove, though she didn’t remember having driven. She undressed mechanically, not bothering to check the enchantments on her apartment or that her weapons were stowed away properly. All the Guardian could do was slide into her bed, burying her face into the pillow.
She could hear Elise’s throaty laughter when she closed her eyes. The feel of her friend’s warm hug lingered, though the woman herself had now gone. Dover pressed her face harder into the pillow, biting back the urge to cry, to rage, to let loose the emotions she was trying so desperately to hold back.
Why? Why? Surely there was something Dover could have done to prevent this…why hadn’t Elise let her help?
“I know you were a police officer, but this won’t be easy. Everything you’ve known is gone. You have to live a whole new life.”
Eager to prove herself to the veteran Guardian, Dover nodded once, her eyes alight with conviction.
“I’m ready. I can do this.”
Elise’s soft blue eyes took on a hardened edge.
“Ok. You asked for it.”
Dover broke down. The quiet, muffled sobs wracked her body, drawing out the pain of this moment. Elise. Elise.
She cried until her body was aching with it and then, when she was spent, Dover fell into a fitful sleep.
Grief consumed her heart before she managed to fully wake. She reached out, clutching at the familiar form lying beside her on the bed. Tears slipped from her eyes anew, as she managed to pry the lids open. Warm arms slid around her as she wept herself awake, blinking blurry eyes to focus on the male beside her.
Hanael’s face was ravaged by grief, by the tinge of guilt she could see shining from his gaze. He shushed her gently, laying his head on the pillow beside hers. Dover allowed the angel to gather her to his chest, her limp body borrowing the strength she needed from him.
Neither of them spoke. Dover, relieved that she had not been forced to call out for him, allowed herself to be weak. Even in sleep, the questions had haunted her. Why? Why had Elise not called to her? Why had she tried to shoulder the burden of a lost Charge alone? Why, God, why had Dover assumed her friend did not need her help?
Dover wept into Hanael’s chest, absorbing strength from him in the way he held her close. His hands smoothed over her back in an up and down pattern, as though she were a child in need of rest. Her grief could not be assuaged, nor could the guilt. She ought to have seen, she should have known…how could she have allowed Elise to be alone enough to do this?
When she had cried herself out, Dover fell quiet in Hanael’s arms. She could feel the dampness on her pillow that told her during her grief, his had erupted as well. Angels were close-knit, familial creatures. Losing one was torture. Having lost two in a matter of weeks would leave the corps irrevocably damaged.
As calm returned to her battered heart, Dover wriggled back on the bed until she could look into the face of the angel beside her.
Hanael rewarded her with a small smile. He leaned forward, pressing a feather-light kiss to the tip of her nose. With a shuddering sigh, Dover wriggled away until she could sit up. Han moved to copy the motion, twisting his neck to the left and right in an effort to remove a knot.
“Are you hungry?”
Dover shook her head at the question. She didn’t think she would ever eat again.
“When will they clean out her place?” The Guardian asked quietly. “I want to be there.”
Pain crossed Hanael’s face. “You do not need to. The Cherubim will handle it.”
Swallowing over the lump in her throat, Dover shook her head again. “No. I need to be there. I need to know why, Han.”
The angel looked away, running a hand through his dark hair. His face remained a clouded mystery, their grief so thorough she could not read the emotions reflected there clearly.
“There was no note, Dover. They didn’t find anything.”
“I need to be there, Han. Don’t try to stop me.”
With that, Dover swung her legs out of the bed and headed for the bathroom. The rustle of her sheets told her he had also stood. Ire rose in her heart, trying to beat back the grief that threatened to swarm her under.
She turned back to the angel standing beside her bed, catching him in the midst of pulling her sheets up to the pillows. Hanael always made her bed, which she found utterly endearing most of the time. Ignoring the familiarity of the gesture on a day when nothing felt normal, Dover crossed her arms under her breasts and exhaled explosively.
“Will she be buried in the mausoleum?”
Hanael’s back stiffened for a long moment before he stood to his full height. He turned to her slowly, shock written clearly on his face. Dover’s heart hammered relentlessly against her breast as she found she already knew the answer.
“No, Dover.” Han’s voice had taken a keen edge. “Elise took her own life. She cannot be entombed with the Exalted.”
Her heart squeezed ever more painfully. Hands shaking, Dover shook her head.
“She deserves honor, Han.” Dover argued, her voice tight. “All those years as a Guardian are not undone by a moment of weakness.”
“It’s still considered a mortal sin, Dover.”
“So are a lot of things Guardians do!” She fired back. “Elise is the best of us, she deserves to be buried with honor!”
Hanael shook his head, pulling himself up to his full height. Dover tilted her head back, maintaining eye contact even as he towered over her much smaller frame. Indignation flooded her heart, filling the space left by the death of her friend. She could not bear to watch Elise burned in dishonor. The thought of witnessing it made her want to be sick.
“I’m sorry, Dover.” Hanael’s voice had hardened. “She will be burned on the pyre at twilight, in accordance with a disgraced death. I cannot change that.”
Swallowing his words, Dover looked away. She exhaled slowly, allowing the pain of betrayal to wriggle in amid the howling loss echoing in her soul. Her eyes avoided meeting his as she lifted a hand, indicating to the bedroom door.
“You need to go. Now.”
“I said get out, Hanael.” Dover shot back, turning to meet his gaze.
Anger and pain swirled in his familiar eyes, but Dover would not be deterred. She kept her hand up, pointing to the door as Hanael absorbed that she was, indeed, throwing him out of her apartment.
He said nothing more, abandoning his making of her bed. In lieu of heading for the door, the angel stepped back toward the eastern-facing window of her bedroom and vanished into the Slide.
Raziel called Dover to tell her they would be boxing up Elise’s things, two days after her death. Her friend’s body was housed at the Arbor, examined for any indications of foul play. Dover requested Raziel share anything the angelic investigators might find. Raziel, to Dover’s astonishment, agreed without prompting.
Stepping back into the home of her friend broke her heart further. Dover could still smell the stale fragrance of fried chicken on the air. The light seemed so dim in this place where Elise made her life. A thousand memories flitted into her mind, a muddle of happiness and sorrow that she’d lived for over a decade.
In two lives, Dover had met no one she loved as she had Elise Porter.
Cherubim entered the house behind her, stepping cautiously around the grieving Guardian. Dover wandered out of the kitchen, allowing the angels to gather up dishes and food without hindrance. Anything Dover would want would be in the office or bedroom, so she ignored the book-filled living room and headed for the hall.
First, Dover grabbed framed photographs. Snapshots of Elise and her Charges, of Dover with her friend were to be cherished. She unwound a Blessed rosary from a doorknob and stuffed it into her pocket. That old leather duster Elise had worn even in high summer, Dover slid it from the hanger in the hall closet onto her body, inhaling the scent of her friend’s perfume.
Tears stung the backs of her eyes. Would the grief ever leave her? Would she ever understand?
As she entered the bedroom, Dover found the one item she had really come in search of. The tiny gold cross Elise wore every day lay around the tail of her favorite kangaroo clock, as though it were waiting. Dover held the delicate necklace in front of her face for a moment, fighting the urge to cry for the third day straight.
Setting the frames on the bed, Dover slid the necklace over her throat, fastening it at her nape. She felt as though a part of Elise had clung to the tiny bit of gold, and a measure of comfort settled on her shoulders.
Dover sat on the edge of the bed, hands flat on the clean, blue duvet. The Cherubim were moving through the rest of the apartment, quietly and efficiently packing up an entire life. They would be finished in mere minutes. It would be as though Elise had never lived here.
For several long moments, Dover let her heart grieve. She remembered Elise’s laugh, the warmth of her hugs, that sage advice she always had in droves. There were so many things she would miss about her friend. And she would always wonder…why? Why had Elise left her?
Exhaling slowly, Dover took one more glance around. There was nothing else she wanted here. Only the jacket, the photographs, the necklace. They were things that Embry would keep when she went home, pieces of Elise that would live on even when Dover had gone.
As she made to stand, the mattress shifted. Dover startled when a heavy thud resounded at her feet, peering over the edge of the bed to find a heavy leather journal had fallen from under the mattress.
Trembling fingers reached for the journal, the open spine lying flat in her hand.
The pages were filled with symbols, written in Elise’s precise script. Dover could not make any sense of the symbols. All she could decipher from the worn leather was that they were arranged in columns and rows, resembling some kind of ledger written in code.
Heart pounding in her chest, Dover slid the journal into the inner pocket of Elise’s duster as the Cherubs peered into the room. Their soft smiles asked permission to enter. Dover nodded, standing to quickly leave the room.
Elise had gone to great lengths to hide whatever information she recorded in that soft leather journal. Dover intended to find out what that was.