Cam had been staring at Daniel for hours. The sun had long since disappeared over the horizon, leaving only the light from the fire that Gabbe had built in the little hut they shared, and the dim glow of three pairs of white wings. They’d thought themselves lucky to be so easily welcomed into the village, and to make such a good trade for the perfectly private home, just far enough away from the village centre, but then they had met Lucinda in the marketplace and realised quickly they had mistaken luck for fate.
Daniel was folded into himself. His wings curved inwards, defensively, over his shoulders; his arms wrapped around his knees with his hands clinging to his clothes at his sides, as if he was physically holding himself back. He was, Cam knew. It was always like this when Luce was nearby; Daniel was drawn to her like a moth to a flame and it was torture to be without her.
In direct contrast to Daniel, Gabbe busied herself preparing a meal behind the two boys sitting by the fire. She had a pot, a knife, and a spoon, as well as varied ingredients, all laid out on the table in front of her, plus a written recipe she’d gotten from someone or other. She almost looked normal—aside from the wings.
Cam had long since given up asking why she bothered cooking at all; it wasn’t like they needed to eat. “Because, Cambriel,”—she used his full name when she was annoyed with him—“We’re supposed to be blending in. Real people eat food. Besides, I’m cooking this for Luce.” That had shut him up. He knew she would do anything for Luce. She knew he would too. It was the real reason they’d stayed at all.
It had been only weeks since their arrival and Daniel was visibly falling apart. He hadn’t looked away from the fire since he’d sat down, and Cam had barely looked away from him. Finally, Cam had to break the silence.
“I want to tell Luce.”
For a second, Cam had to wonder if Daniel had even heard him. Then Daniel turned his darkening eyes on Cam and the room seemed to dim with his anger as his wings expanded.
“She’ll die,” he said, stating the obvious, staring at Cam in disbelief. He didn’t even bother saying no.
“We don’t know that,” Cam argued rationally. “Think about it. She has died when you’ve told her, but no one else has ever tried.”
Daniel didn’t break eye contact, but his fists at his sides grew tighter. He exclaimed, “Why would anyone else be different?”
“Maybe He didn’t foresee that anyone but you would care enough about her to try? The curse may be more specific than we realised.”
“It’s not worth the risk,” Daniel said finally, turning back to the fire. His wings settled back over him. Cam had been prepared for this argument, but that didn’t make what he had to say next any easier.
“She will die anyway. She’s out of time.” He kept his voice soft, as if at a lower volume it would hurt less. Daniel really was ignoring him now, staring at the fire as though it had become more interesting, somehow, in the two minutes since he’d last saw it.
“Daniel, look at yourself. You’re falling apart. How much time did you spend together today? How many hours has it been since you last saw her?” These were rhetorical questions, of course; Cam knew exactly how much time was passing. “If you’re this far gone, then she is too. She’s already seventeen. She’ll be dead by the end of the week and you know it.”
Daniel still said nothing.
“Gabbe, back me up,” Cam finally turned to their sister who, to her credit, hadn’t stopped preparing vegetables even while this argument happened in front of her. Gabbe paused, shifting her weight to her other foot and putting the knife down.
“He’s right, Daniel,” she sighed. “Luce looks for you every day now. The pattern is…familiar.” Cam nodded his thanks. “But,” she stressed, turning to him, “Daniel also has a point, Cam. I don’t think it will matter who tells her. I think what matters is only whether or not she knows.”
Cam looked down. He wasn’t going to admit it to either of his siblings but, secretly, he didn’t think it would work either. But he’d be damned if he let a lack of belief quell his hope.
“Okay, fine,” Daniel said. There were tears trekking down his face, but he didn’t seem to notice. “Tell her, if you must. But…do it soon. Before it’s too late.”
The next day, it was just dull and cloudy enough that the usually quieter area behind a cluster of huts near the centre of the village was completely abandoned. It was easy enough for Cam to lure Luce there; they were friends after all. She trusted him.
“What is it, Cam?” she asked, her smile faltering a little when he sat her down on a low wall. They weren’t strictly alone; even without sensing Daniel’s presence, Cam knew there was no way he would miss this, whether it worked or not. And Gabbe was, by nature, incapable of letting any of them face this alone.
“Luce,” he began carefully. “Do you remember me?”
Luce was politely confused as he took her hands in his. “I’m not sure what you mean, Cam,” she replied.
He breathed slowly and calmly and concentrated on her deep dark eyes. “I’m a fallen angel,” he said carefully.
“I know,” she answered clearly, almost immediately. And then she frowned, “I…don’t know how I know, but I do.”
“You’ve been cursed, Lucinda,” he continued, unconsciously tightening his grip on her hands. “Do you remember?”
“Don’t think about him,” Cam interrupted quickly. “Look at me, concentrate on me, just me.” He let go of one hand and touched her face. “You die, Luce, over and over again.”
She was simply gazing at him, silent and steady. He felt recklessly confident; this was surely the furthest she’d ever progressed.
“We can’t save you.” His voice trembled. “But if you can remember, maybe…”
She lifted her free hand to her face and put it over his. “Cambriel,” she said. He hadn’t told her his full name in this life.
What exactly she remembered, he couldn’t tell; there was no regret or anger or even any hint of betrayal on her face. But there was something else. He could see it in her eyes, something building, breaking. It was too late.
He tore his eyes away from her face to shout for Daniel, but he was already by their side, taking Luce into his arms, where she fit as if she had been made only for the purpose of being held by him. Cam let her go and stumbled six steps backwards until Gabbe’s hand at his back stopped him.
With all their angelic power, they could only stand together and watch helplessly as the great pillar of flame engulfed the girl they all loved.
It would be another long seventeen years.