* * *

Chapter 13

* * *

When Caphriel got home, Zirah was waiting for him. An ugly bruise snaked across his forehead, but his eyes were calm.

Caphriel hadn't quite known what to expect. Calm was good enough. Reproach, he thought, was probably too much to hope for.

"Hey," said Caphriel. He didn't know what to say, but Zirah came close and touched the side of his face with an exquisite gentleness, and he smiled.

"Look at you," he said, his voice warm with friendly reproof. "You look like you've been dragged through a bush backwards. Here, let me."

He took Caphriel's coat and hung it up in the wardrobe, talking all the while in a soothing murmur. Caphriel, exhausted, sank into a sofa, letting Zirah divest him tenderly of most of his clothes.

The background hum of Zirah's voice was heart's ease. Caphriel had fallen asleep to it, got pleasantly drunk to it, sobbed himself to pieces to it, more times than he could count. It was as familiar as the sound of his own voice, much closer and more comforting than the anodyne joy of distantly-remembered hosannas, and Caphriel had never been able to stop wanting it.

"And I thought that Device girl was a very nice young lady -- amiable and accurate," Zirah was saying happily. "How well she's turned out. Takes after her ancestress amazingly, wouldn't you say? A very forthright young woman. Of course, I don't suppose she would sell me that book of hers."

Regret shaded his voice. It had been a long eleven years, and great affairs had been afoot, but when you got right down to it, a book was a book.

Caphriel felt his face twist. He thought he might be smiling. It hurt, but everything hurt. That was how he knew he was doing it right.

"You left him alone?" Newt had asked him, puzzled. "What if he wakes up?"

"He'll be there," Caphriel had said, playing the angelic omniscience card, but he hadn't been sure, had he? He'd hoped Zirah would be gone by the time he got back to the flat, hoped Zirah would draw it out, so that Caphriel could hunt him down. He hadn't wanted this to be so easy.

Face it, thought Caphriel. You don't want this to be at all.

It was that admission, that tiny betrayal of his purpose, that got Caphriel on his feet.

He didn't have to think. He'd done all the thinking earlier. He was prepared.

He couldn't help himself then; he laughed. Zirah glanced up at him inquiringly.

"Sit down," said Caphriel, giggling. "I'll get you something for your head."

He shook with giggles as he filled a glass of water at the sink, standing barefoot and shirtless in the cramped, freezing kitchen. He heard snorts of suppressed laughter escape him as he passed a hand over the glass.

He knew his face was twisting again, but now he didn't know if he was smiling or not. He waited until his expression was smooth again, bent over the glass of water and breathing thickly as if he was drowning.

Zirah was obediently seated on the sofa, raising an eyebrow at Caphriel as he approached. Caphriel padded over to him, glass clenched in one fist, and knelt over Zirah, straddling him.

He was quite calm. He had to do this right.

"Caphriel?" said Zirah.

"Yes," said Caphriel. He pressed a hand to the side of Zirah's head, curling his fingers around the curve of his skull, and watching Zirah pretend not to feel the shock of cold. The wrench of love under his ribs seemed to belong to somebody else.

Caphriel bent his head and closed his eyes, brushed his face against Zirah's, felt the tiny, feathery hairs at the hairline brush his eyelids. Zirah's heartbeat thumped through him, steady and familiar.

He kissed Zirah's nose, each of his ears, his forehead, and finally, his mouth, quirked into a half-smile. He drew back and looked at Zirah.

There was no need to learn every feature. He would never forget.

It would be obscene to apologise, but maybe it would be allowed to speak.

"I'll remember you like this," said Caphriel, and it came out sounding like I love you. He did, he did --

He upturned the glass on Zirah's face, and watched as it began to blur.

* * *

He was burning: an unbearable, unnatural agony. He knew what Caphriel had thrown on him, but he didn't understand. He shouldn't be burning. Holy water shouldn't hurt him . . .

Caphriel was gazing at him unblinking, his sunglasses nowhere to be seen. Nothing standing between the merciless knowledge in those eyes and Zirah.

The truth about Zirah, and why he was dying.

The spike of pure hatred pushed the words out through the pain.

"I lied -- "

"I know," said Caphriel, terrible as an angel.

Zirah tried to move his mouth, but it wasn't there. His face was melting: the horror of it was almost worse than the pain. He reached out, flailing, looking for something to hold on to, but the darkness rose up and dragged him into the roaring abyss.

The last thing he saw was Caphriel putting his hand up to his own face, and his pure, unironic surprise when it came away wet with tears sent Zirah to death laughing.

* * *

Zirah ended his life on a note of mercy. He did not say "please".

Caphriel had watched every moment of his death with such a fierce, immovable concentration that his eyes felt stretched when there was nothing to focus on anymore. He stayed kneeling in front of the sofa for -- he didn't know how long. When he got up, his human muscles complained.

He ignored them. He needed water. Soap and water.

Leaving the scorched black mess here forever would probably be . . . unhealthy. And Caphriel was going to lead a healthy life now. No more unhealthy obsessions. No more setting his heart on broken angels. No more filth.

He moved around the flat a little jerkily, every movement as precise as the ticking of a clock. Then he knelt again, not thinking of very much at all, and started cleaning his room of Zirah.

He was going to do his job. He was going to be good at it. And now he'd be doing it in a world that was just a little cleaner than it used to be.

His right. He wouldn't have let anyone else do it.

He finished the work, scrubbed his hands raw, stumbled into his bedroom and climbed into bed and buried himself under the sheets and screamed.

Stars quivered, cars veered and crashed, planets were rocked out of their orbits, babies all over the world spontaneously burst into tears, volcanoes erupted, the shining streets of Heaven cracked. Nobody heard him.

Caphriel cried: huge, racking sobs that scraped out of his throat and left it raw. Oh God, if he could have Zirah back, he'd do anything, let anything pass, fuck the world, fuck his job, it didn't matter, nothing mattered except . . .

The voice was low, but it cut through the storm with piercing clarity, as it always would.

"You dint have to do that," said Adam Young's voice in Caphriel's head.

Caphriel vaguely remembered having pride. He couldn't find any space for it inside himself now. He could barely find space inside himself for himself. The old Caphriel would happily have cursed out the most powerful being on Earth. This one just closed his eyes and thought: an image. A tombstone with one date. They'd only needed one.

"I know," said Adam. "But you dint have to do it, all the same. I -- I could've done it. I could've made it so he'd never been born -- "

"No," snarled Caphriel. "It was mine to do. My right."

"But you -- "

"I love him," said Caphriel. "Loved. Loved him. I wouldn't have let -- nobody else would have cared as much."

Adam was quiet for a while, and Caphriel almost thought he was gone. But then he spoke again.

"I could give him back to you," he said. He sounded very young. "If you want."

Caphriel turned his face to his pillow. His hands fisted on the sheets.

"D'you want him back?" said Adam. The sheets tore.

"Yes," said Caphriel, "yes -- "

"Then -- "

"But you're not going to," said Caphriel. "You're going to get out of my head and go -- do your homework, or whatever it is you're supposed to be doing right now. I'm going to be fine."

"No, you're not," said Adam.

Caphriel looked out over the years before him, every day and week and month stretching empty and clean. They looked very bleak.

Tomorrow he would leave this flat to the mercies of its new owner, and find somewhere new to stay, somewhere Zirah had never been. He'd make the time to burn that fucking walking stick. He didn't feel like he could go near a book ever again, but somebody needed to do something about the bookshop. Maybe he could burn that down too, if he could think of a sufficiently angelic excuse for arson.

The day after that, and the day after that . . . he could handle them. He could live without Zirah. It hurt, but that was how he knew he was doing it right.

"I'm not," said Caphriel slowly. "But I'm going to be. Eventually."

He waited until Adam's presence had faded, perplexed and reluctant, from his mind, before shoving his fist against his mouth.

"Fine," repeated Caphriel. He shuddered with the force of the next sob, letting out a choking sound that might have been a laugh.

Fine, he was going to be fine, but eventually was going to take a very long time and for now . . . for now he could hide under the blankets and forget that he'd burned all his bridges, that he'd put things right, that he'd made the world a better place. For now he could lie to himself, tell himself that it was never going to get better, and that he was always going to hurt like this.

Caphriel drew an arm across his eyes, and prepared to wait out the night.

Tomorrow could be the first day of the rest of his life.

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