Ethan Wright walked into the house, a hand wrapped tightly around the doorknob. For a moment, he considered slamming the door to take out even one of his frustrations, but he knew his father was still asleep. Squeezing his eyes shut, he closed the door with a quiet click instead. He headed back to his room and kicked off his shoes. He sat down on the edge of the bed, dropping his head to his hands.
He had school tomorrow. Monday. The kids in his class were even more aggressive on Mondays than they were any other day of the week. There was always a pop quiz in English on Mondays, and the one thing Ethan was good at was vocabulary. He wasn’t an extraordinary student or a genius by any means, but his high scores on the vocab sections of tests in any subject always pissed off Derek Cox and all of his little minions.
Ethan groaned, falling to his back on the bed. He couldn’t even blame the bullying on the American teen movie stereotype that he was intelligent and they were just dumb jocks. Ethan was only good at English and History, and Derek and his friends didn’t even play any sports. Ethan had been in football and track since the seventh grade. Derek and his friends just played role-playing board games after school.
Ethan draped an arm over his eyes, blocking out the light shining through his window. He figured Dad could just call in for him tomorrow and keep him home from school. Dad, still wrapped in his grief from his wife’s death over a decade ago, did his best for Ethan, and the boy was more than aware of that. Dad didn’t really understand the depression, the bullying, or the suicidal thoughts, so he always just let Ethan stay home if he asked.
It wasn’t much, but it was an effort, and Ethan appreciated it. It was more than some depressed kids got from their parents. He sat up, grabbing his pill bottle from the nightstand. He shook one into his hand and twisted off the cap of his water bottle. Closing his eyes, he downed the pill with a swig of warm water.
Ethan scrubbed his hands over his face and pushed his fingers into his hair. “Shower,” he mumbled with a short nod. Shower first, supper later, worrying about school even later. He’d love to never worry about it again, but that just wasn’t an option. Dad needed him.
So for now, later would have to do.
Miles stood backstage with one of Laura Fox’s bodyguards. Laura was the oldest of his guarded souls. She was twenty-seven years old and an incredibly popular singer in the United States. With fame, of course, came the crazies. Stalkers, crazed fans. It was what had, at some point, made Hector decide she needed Miles’s protection. It was impossible to know when a fan or stalker would break pattern, when a single step left instead of right would lead them to bypass fate and kill Laura instead.
And that was where Miles came in. He couldn’t precisely predict an event before it happened—he wasn’t a psychic, for God’s sake—but he could still step in to stop an event from occurring much quicker than any human could.
Brown eyes still on the crowd, he reached back and pulled his phone from his pocket as it buzzed. He had a text from an unknown number, but the message alone let him know it was Lucifer. Miles unlocked the device and added the Devil’s number to his contacts.
Lucifer: Meet your guardian Angels, kid.
Miles took a small step back as four Fallen Angels appeared before him on the stage. “You shouldn’t be here,” he whispered.
“The humans cannot see us. We are a lot like you, Miles. While you make yourself solid enough to not fall through floors, we can choose to be seen or remain hidden to the humans,” the taller male Fallen said. His dark hair was pulled back in a bun, his eyes the same deep violet as the button-up he had on under his black suit jacket. “Virgil,” he said, sticking out a hand.
Miles shook his hand, eyes quickly flicking back to the crowd gathered for Laura’s concert. No danger yet. None that his little Reaper eyes could see, anyway. “Miles.”
Virgil nodded. “Yes.” He turned to the short woman beside him. She wore a white dress, a denim jacket pulled over her arms. A light pink ascot was tied around her neck, the color almost a perfect match for her eyes. Her hair was a deep, dark red, cut short on the sides and curly in the middle, swooping over the right side of her face. “Felice,” Virgil introduced.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Felice said, shaking Miles’s hand.
“You, too,” Miles said with a nod.
The second woman stuck out a hand. “Vequaniel.” Miles shook her hand. She was taller than Felice, dark blue hair pulled back in a ponytail, amber-golden eyes focused on Miles’s face.
The second man offered a smile and grabbed Miles’s hand. “Haroth.” He was the only Fallen of the four that was black. While Virgil’s skin was darker than the girls’, Miles was pretty sure he just saw the sun outside of Hell more often than the other three did. Haroth’s hair was short, dark, and curly, his eyes a near pastel yellow.
“So…” Miles trailed off, looking back at the crowd again. He scanned the people clapping and cheering before dragging his gaze back to the Fallen. “Now what?”
“Now you tell us where to go,” Virgil said.
“I know this is a lot to take in at first,” Felice said, her voice light. “The Fallen can seem… rather formidable at first, but we are not evil.” Her voice, while soft and quiet, held a raspy quality, like she had just woken up from a nap and hadn’t quite cleared her throat just yet. “We… are here to help you, Miles. We will not hurt those souls. We are here to help you protect them.”
“Lucifer’s filled you in on the whole picture here, right? Like, how I might destroy the world?” Miles asked.
Haroth laughed. “It is no skin off our backs. The world has not been kind to us, Miles. For all I care, burn the whole place down.” The other Fallen nodded their agreement.
Miles shook his head, swallowing as he looked back out at the crowd again. Was it safe to trust four beings that were entirely okay with destroying the world? To trust them with the lives of his most treasured souls? No, most likely not. Did he have a choice? Absolutely not. “I have three souls to protect. Hector wants one of them dead within the next three days, but he won’t tell me which one it’s going to be. I–I guess that’s where you guys come in, right?”
“Right,” Virgil said.
“Karen, my youngest soul, she can still see me. She thinks I’m her imaginary friend. See, she needs that. So you can only watch her closely if you’re willing to let her play with you, if you’re willing to be her imaginary friend, as well. Can you do that without her mother or father seeing you?” Miles asked.
“Yes. It is easier for kids to see us. They are more sensitive to beings outside of this world. It takes less of our strength to make ourselves known to them,” Virgil said.
Miles nodded. “Vequaniel? She, umm, Karen would love to play with your hair, if you’re okay with that.”
One corner of the Fallen’s mouth lifted. “Okay. I will watch over her,” Vequaniel said.
“Thank you,” the Reaper whispered. The blue-haired Fallen simply nodded before vanishing, the soft sound of wings beating left in her wake. “Ethan’s suicidal. School’s hard for him, home’s hard for him. He needs a lot of extra care, a lot of safety precautions.”
“I can do it,” Felice said. “I will text you if something appears to be wrong with the boy.”
“Thank you,” Miles repeated. The Fallen vanished, and the beating of wings filled the air once more. Miles looked between the two men left before him. He gestured to the woman on stage. “That’s my Laura. Crazy fans. Stalkers. She’s received a lot of threatening letters recently. Someone’s broken into her place twice. They’ve replaced her locks, and she has a new security system in place, but the concerts are dangerous. Leaving her house is dangerous.”
“I will watch over her,” Haroth said. He elbowed Virgil in the side. “You stay with the little Reaper. If something is wrong, we can tell you instead of texting him. If you are beside him, you can tell him what is going on.”
“Does that work for you?” Virgil asked. He touched two fingers to his temple. “The Fallen can hear each other, no matter how far apart we are. It will be much quicker than a text message.”
“Okay,” Miles agreed. Haroth turned, leaning against a wooden support beam, pastel yellow eyes on Laura’s figure. “We can stay here until something comes in. I have another half hour or so to kill before any souls need reaping.”
“All right.” Virgil crossed his arms over his chest. “I am truly sorry that Hector has decided to try and rip these souls from you after getting you attached to them. Hector is… a dick, and I do believe that is putting it nicely.”
Miles nodded. “Well, there is that.” He pulled his hat from his head, raking a hand through his hair and tousling it as he scratched his scalp a bit more aggressively than necessary. “I saw Anna today after I talked to her about… about my plan to protect these three souls. He slapped her. He must have. I could see his damn handprint on her cheek. She wouldn’t even talk to me,” he whispered. With a sniffle, he pushed his hat back onto his head. “She’s all I got, and she wouldn’t even speak to me.”
“Anna is a kind soul,” Virgil said softly. “Honestly, she most likely did not want you to feel as though it were your fault. If I had to guess, that is all it was. Her silence or avoidance had nothing to do with you as a person, or Reaper, I am sure. She only wanted to save you from placing blame on yourself when the incident did not, and does not, belong on your shoulders.”
“Maybe. I hope so.”
“Hector hitting her is not your fault, little Reaper. If she was concerned about getting hit or being in any form of danger at his hands, she would not have let you speak with her. She would have sent you on your merry way and been done with it. That is not your fault. She is a big girl, and she can make her own decisions and handle the consequences that come from them,” Virgil said.
“Thank you,” Miles mumbled. He chuckled, shaking his head. “I feel like I’m going insane.”
Virgil laughed and patted him on the shoulder. “We all are, Miles. There is simply no way around that. We are… insane.” The Fallen smiled down at him. “Live it up, little Reaper. The world as we know it is going to end in three days.”
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