There was no hesitation. As soon as he realized what he needed to do, it was done.
He couldn’t let them take Marguerite.
If they needed a soul, they could have his.
He opened his arms, facing the devil, blocking him from Marguerite and offering himself in her place. The devil eyed him a moment, then flippantly waved his hands. The demons released Marguerite, and the most intense relief filled his soul.
The soul that was now theirs.
As soon as their grip left Marguerite, the demons were upon Siébel. He twisted frantically in their grip, terrified by their ferocity. He managed somehow to hold on to the bouquet. He reached out for Marguerite, desperate to touch her one last time. She stood frozen and accepted his touch. Mercifully, the demons paused in their thrashing for this moment, allowing him one last look upon the face he cherished so much.
He pressed the flowers into her hands, and then he was wrenched away. Marguerite’s face was gone.
He wasn’t sure he cared what came next.
As long as she was saved.
Marguerite collapsed on the floor, clutching Siébel’s bouquet and sobbing. The choir of angels that had a moment ago sent a rush of relief and joy through her as it signaled her redemption now seemed like a mocking cry, a hymn celebrating a saved life when someone else’s had been so cruelly snatched away.
She barely registered the old man sinking to his knees beside her, nor when the maniacal devil let loose a final, piercing laugh and dragged him away. She didn’t care that he was gone, or that she was alone in the dark, cold room. All she could think about was Siébel’s face, his final, devastating look as the demons encapsulated him in their arms, whisking him away.
She crushed the flowers in her arms. The fragrance, usually such a comfort, now seemed saccharine and cruel. How many times had she lovingly laid these bouquets around her home, enjoying the smell that reminded her of the person who left them for her? The kind and gentle soul, always there for her, but never pressuring her, never expecting anything more than what she was able to give.
People might think she didn’t know, but she knew. She knew how he felt, and it broke her heart. He had been her friend for so long, such a devoted and loving companion. She’d lost count of how many heart-to-hearts they’d had, how many times they’d dried each other’s tears. But she couldn’t love him the way he loved her. She wasn’t ready. Besides, who could possibly love the way he loved? She’d never met anyone else so selfless and kind. She didn’t deserve that kind of love anyway.
And yet in spite of this, he had never turned his back on her, even when the rest of the world did. No matter how many times she failed him, he remained by her side.
What kind of incredible devotion did he possess to be willing to trade his own soul for hers?
Just when she thought she couldn’t sob any harder, a new wave of tears rushed forth.
She wasn’t sure exactly how long she’d been kneeling with the flowers before she felt a sudden presence beside her, and a gentle hand on her shoulder. She looked up quickly, an impossible hope springing to her heart.
It wasn’t who she’d hoped it was, but the shock of who it actually was staved off another breakdown. It looked like a human, but it radiated a soft light like no person she’d ever seen before.
“Who…who are you?” she asked the ethereal figure.
“I’m an angel,” the newcomer replied simply. No preamble, just the facts.
“What are you doing here?” Marguerite asked. She slowly began to sit up straighter. “Are you here for me? Am I…”
“No,” the angel said quickly; “you’re not dead. You were saved.”
Marguerite felt the tears coming back and turned her face back to the floor. “I know.”
“Such a great sacrifice indeed,” the angel said. “We don’t often see such selflessness here on Earth.”
“He deserves so much better,” Marguerite whispered.
“That he does,” the angel agreed. “Which is why we have a proposal for you.”
Marguerite looked back at the angel. “What do you mean?”
The angel waved a hand towards the heavens. “I have been dwelling among the clouds for many centuries, and never before have I seen such an act of selflessness than I have seen today. To put one’s own soul in the hands of the devil in order to save that fate from someone else—well, let’s just say I’ve never seen that happen before.”
Marguerite nodded, unable to speak anymore. All she could think about was Siébel’s face.
“So we discussed it among ourselves,” the angel went on, “and we decided that your friend deserves a second chance.”
Marguerite looked up again, this time so quickly she fell backwards, just managing to catch the floor with her hands before she toppled completely. The impossible hope reared its head again. “A second chance?”
“We don’t do this very often,” the angel said. “In fact, I can only recall one time in my tenure that it has occurred. But as I said before, we’re rarely so moved by the actions of humans, and we want to give Siébel another chance. Your life has been spared for a reason; you have a long life ahead of you now. Not without struggle, but nor without happiness. Siébel deserves the same.”
“He does,” Marguerite said fiercely. “What will you do?”
“It’s not what we will do,” the angel said. “It’s what you are going to do.”
Marguerite tilted her head, confused.
The angel waved a hand again, as if indicating a wide space. “You, Marguerite, will descend into the Underworld. You will find Siébel and take him home.”
Marguerite gasped. “Me? You mean—I can bring him back?” Her mind whirled. “I didn’t know that was possible! To bring someone back from death? Does that mean—could I bring my brother, too?”
A shake of the angel’s head cast the hope aside, and Marguerite blinked back still more tears. “Your brother is dead,” the angel said with a sad, sympathetic smile. “We don’t have the power to return him to Earth. But Siébel’s soul still lives. There is still time to save him.”
Still time. Marguerite leaped to her feet so suddenly she almost fell over again; the angel rose with her, and caught her, steadying her with gentle hands.
“But how am I going to do that?” Marguerite asked. “I don’t have the power—I might not even have the strength.” After the events of the past day—the past months—she felt almost as if she could never walk again. She was so tired.
“We will help you,” the angel said. “Though we can’t accompany you, we will give you assistance.” The angel picked up the flowers, which had fallen to the floor in Marguerite’s excitement. “Take one of these with you,” the angel said. “For strength. You’ll need it when you face the Furies.”
“The Furies?” Marguerite said. That sounded terrifying.
“The Furies guard the gates on the Underworld,” the angel said. “You must get past them in order to find Siébel.”
“How am I going to do that?”
“The Furies may be furious,” the angel said, “but they’ve always had one weakness. The most unassuming of things—music.”
“Music?” Marguerite said. “How is that supposed to help me?”
“You like to sing, don’t you?” the angel asked.
Marguerite stared for a moment. “So if I sing, they’ll leave me alone?”
“If you sing the right song, they will,” the angel said.
“Okay, so, what’s the right song?”
“It depends on their mood. You’ll know when you get there.”
“And if I don’t know?”
“You might be able to outrun them,” the angel said encouragingly.
Marguerite bit her lips. She was terrified at the concept of going to Hell and trying to tame Furies, but if it meant saving Siébel, she would do it. And if she ended up dying on the way, well, which was worse? A life on Earth where everyone who loved her was dead, or a life in Hell (she assumed that’s where she would go) where she might be able to find Siébel anyway?
“Okay,” she said, taking a sprig of the flowers from Siébel’s bouquet. “I’ll do it.”
The angel smiled. “You have a strong and brave heart.”
Not nearly as strong and brave as his, Marguerite thought.
“Before you go forth, one thing you must know,” the angel said. “If you reach the Underworld safely, and get past the Furies, Siébel will be waiting for you, and your path back to Earth will be clear. But there is one condition to this: when you take his hand and lead the way home, you must not look back at him, or tell him why you don’t look at him.”
“Okay.” Marguerite wasn’t sure why the angel was saying that with such gravity. Not looking at someone seemed like the least of her worries. If she got past the Furies, she’d be grateful if she could see anything at all.
The angel waved a hand again, and a bright light began to shine from the window—the same one where the demons had dragged Siébel. Marguerite took a breath to steady herself and clutched the flowers in her hands.
“Are you sure you’re willing to make this trip?” the angel asked.
“Yes,” Marguerite said. Anything for Siébel.
“Then walk through that window, and make your way down. Once you get through the gate, the path to your friend will be clear. Remember: calm the Furies with a song, and do not look at Siébel, or tell him why you don’t look.”
Again, Marguerite felt like the first condition was much scarier than the other two, but she didn’t think that much about it as she stepped into the window of light.
She involuntarily shut her eyes against the brightness, which seemed to be accompanied by a silent cacophony. As she took the step she suddenly remembered that she was technically walking out a window, and she half-expected to find herself plummeting downward. But her feet met solid ground. Obviously some miracle or magic was at play. She’d assumed that when the demons dragged Siébel away, they’d actually taken him out the window to fly off to wherever it was they would go on their way to Hell. She realized that they’d probably taken the same kind of portal she was stepping through now.
She paused just inside what she guessed was some kind of threshold. When the brightness finally began to dim, she slowly opened her eyes to see a staircase in front of her. It was dark and narrow, plunging downward, farther down than she could see.
“I guess they don’t call it the Underworld for nothing,” she said.
She kept clutching the flowers, and took the first step tentatively, almost afraid that the stairs would collapse under her feet. But they seemed solid and still, so she took another step, then another, until she was making her way slowly but steadily down. The further down she went, the darker it became, until she could barely see the next step in front of her.
The cacophony had died away with the brightness, but she still sensed an eerie, noiseless humming emanating from the walls. Or were they walls? Was it just darkness? She tried not to think about that. For some reason, the idea of walking down a staircase in the middle of open air seemed more terrifying than a staircase protected by walls, no matter what the destination was.
The climb down seemed to take forever, and she was still exhausted from her previous ordeal. How was she going to make it all the way there and then back? She shook her head, determined not to fail. She was going to save Siébel. He deserved another chance. She breathed in the fragrance of the flowers and kept walking.
As she went farther down, the eerie humming was replaced by an actual noise. Though as it grew louder she began to wish the noiseless cacophony would return, because what she could now hear was even more unsettling: a kind of howling, like the wind in a storm, accompanied by shouting and some maniacal laughter.
Oh God, protect me…
As if she deserved protecting after everything she’d done.
There must have been walls on the staircase after all, because she could sense the air becoming more open up ahead. It wasn’t very much brighter, but when she reached the bottom of the stairs, it was just bright enough to see that the ground was rough and rocky, and stretched farther than she could see both forward and on either side. Anything that may be ahead of her was blocked several yards ahead by what she guessed must be the gate the angel had mentioned. It was tall, forbidding, and solemnly shut, though a faint light peeked through the middle, which seemed to be what was lighting this area, however faintly.
The thing she wished she couldn’t see were what she assumed to be the Furies.
She wasn’t really sure what she’d expected the Furies to be, but a bunch of people in raggedy clothing dancing maniacally around seemed pretty close.
She pressed the flowers into her chin and neck, breathing in the fragrance, hoping it might somehow give her strength, as the angel had said.
She thought of Siébel, and marched on.
As soon as her feet left the final step and hit the ground, all of the Furies stopped their dance and whirled around to look at her. In eerily synchronized movements, they started towards her, bodies swaying and trembling like thin branches in a storm.
“Who are you?” They spoke in unison as well, a mixture of tones and pitches somehow melding together to sound like a single voice. “How dare you enter our land, you, who are not a god, and have no place to be here?”
As they neared threateningly, Marguerite fought the urge to turn and run back up the stairs. I need to find Siébel! Before she formed words to try and explain, she remembered what the angel had said: their weakness was music, and she should sing a song. Was it any use trying to speak to them at all? She decided to just dive in and sing.
She stepped forward and opened her mouth. To be honest, the last thing she felt capable of doing right now was generating a coherent song, or anything melodic at all, but she reminded herself why she was here, and sang the first thing that came into her head.
Ah, la flamme qui me dévore,
Est cent fois plus cruelle encore;
L'enfer n'a point de tourments
Pareils à ceux que je ressens.
Qui me presse,
Calmera votre fureur,
Oui, mes larmes,
Fléchiront votre rigueur.
At first it didn’t seem to be working; the Furies continued to advance on her. But she stood her ground, and sang a little louder; and the Furies began to slow. They retreated from her and began to dance again; this time, their movements flowed like currents in a river, and their voices rose melodically to meet hers. And as they withdrew, she noticed the group parting in the middle, granting her a clear path to the gates.
She almost faltered in her song, but managed to keep singing as she made a dash for the gates. At first the doors didn’t move, and she began to panic. They were so huge and looked so heavy, and she didn’t see a handle or anything she could grasp to try and open them. But the instant she stepped in front of it, they swung forward, revealing a path leading further into the darkness. But this time, she could see a light ahead.
She ran towards it, only stopping her song when the gates swung shut behind her.
She didn’t know how she had the energy to run, but somehow she did. Thankfully, this path wasn’t nearly as long as the trip down the stairs had been. She had to stop her pace abruptly when she reached a dip in the ground. She looked down to see the ground sweeping low before her, opening into some kind of valley. It looked bare and bleak, covered in decaying foliage and scored with jagged crevices. But though there didn’t seem to be any kind of sun in the sky—or whatever the dim expanse above Marguerite’s head was—the ground below seemed to be reflecting what little light there was, and making it brighter, at least bright enough that she’d seen it through the gate. It was also bright enough that she could see someone on the ground not far below.
She remembered what the angel had said—he will be waiting for you.
She walked down the hill carefully; it wasn’t steep enough she had to climb it, but she had to be careful how she walked lest she trip and fall the rest of the way down.
She made it to where the ground became flat again, and hurried towards the person she saw lying on their side, their back to Marguerite, curled slightly on the dusty ground. She hoped it was Siébel so hard her heart was hurting again; and she thanked everything that was holy when she drew near, and saw that it was him.
She could hardly believe it. She’d seen him dragged away by a swarm of demons, and now here he was, in front of her again.
It looked like he was asleep. It seemed cruel and sad that he’d been left in this wide valley all alone. He deserved so much better than this.
She knelt beside him, shifting the flowers to one hand and using the free one to shake his shoulder gently. He stirred under her touch, and rolled onto his back. The instant before she saw his face, though, Marguerite remembered what the angel had said, and quickly turned away.
“Marguerite?” She couldn’t believe she was hearing his voice again. “Is that you? What are you doing here?” She heard him sit up quickly, and felt his hands grasping her arms. “You shouldn’t be here! I told him I would go in your place! Is he so cruel that he would steal your soul after already taking mine?”
“No!” Marguerite said. “The devil didn’t take me. Siébel, I’m safe.”
“You’re not safe if you’re here! You need to go home, however you came.”
“I will go home.” She wished desperately that she could look at him, see his face, and reassure him with hers. She was beginning to understand why the angel had been so emphatic about this point now. “And so will you. An angel came to me after you were taken away, and gave me the power to find you and bring you back.”
“An angel? Marguerite, that doesn’t make any sense.” His voice was sad. “You must have died, and you’re confused and imagined it. What you’re saying is impossible.”
Marguerite tried not to huff with frustration. “Siébel, we both just met the actual devil and saw a chorus of angels announcing salvation.” Mine, not yours. It should have been yours. “Is it that much harder to believe that I met an angel in person?”
“That’s true,” Siébel admitted. She heard him rising further, and turning, trying to look into her face. “Are you okay? Why do you keep looking away?”
“I—” I can’t tell him. Wow, this was harder than she thought. “I’m just—eager to get back. Come on, we need to go, before the window closes.” She didn’t know if that was actually true, but maybe getting him in a hurry would make him forget about her not looking at him.
“You’re really here to save me?” he asked quietly.
“Of course! As soon as they told me I could come for you, I did. You saved me, and now it’s my turn. Come on, we have to hurry.”
She stood up again, grabbing his hand, feeling it from where it was holding her arm. Clasping him tightly, she turned back towards the hill and started up. She realized after a moment, feeling a stem pressed into her palm, that the hand holding Siébel’s was the same one that held the flowers.
“Where are we going?” Siébel asked. “Are we going back to the river?”
“River?” Oh god, she hoped there wasn’t an unexpected river on the way back. “Up this hill there’s a path that leads through the gates, and then there’s a staircase. That’s how I got here.”
“They took me down a river,” Siébel said. “It was terrifying.” His voice dipped at the last part, as if he was trying to silence himself last-minute so she wouldn’t hear. She could feel a tremor in his hand. Oh, how she longed to turn around and hug him right there. But she focused on moving forward.
They crested the hill and she hurried for the gate, dragging Siébel with her. His step seemed as shaky and fatigued as hers, and she wondered what exactly he’d been through on his journey to the Underworld. She didn’t really want to think about that, though.
“This might seem a little odd,” Marguerite said, “but when we get through the gates, I have to sing. It’s the only thing that pacifies the Furies.”
Siébel didn’t ask what the Furies were, so Marguerite guessed he must already know. She hoped he’d only seen them in passing, nothing more.
“And you can’t interrupt the song,” she added quickly. Again, she wasn’t entirely sure if that were true, but it bought her another few minutes of him not asking why she wouldn’t look at him.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Siébel asked as they trudged on. “You seem really tired. Shouldn’t you rest a moment? It must have taken you a long time to get here.”
“Yes, but no,” Marguerite said. “Well, to be truthful, I’m not entirely sure how long it took. But we don’t have time to rest. Are you able to make it?” she added. She was really worried; she hadn’t been able to look at him for long, but he’d seemed as dejected as she felt.
“Yes, I can make it,” he said.
“Good.” Marguerite hoped that the journey was swift and painless and they made it back to Earth before either of them collapsed.
They reached the gate, which opened for her again, and Marguerite took a deep breath, preparing to sing. Her exhaustion was weighing even heavier now, and for a moment she wasn’t sure if she had the strength to walk and sing at the same time. But she felt Siébel’s hand grasp hers a little more tightly and heard his breath hitch, as if the sight of the gates and the Furies scared him.
I can do this!
She started her song again, and just as before, the Furies let her pass, continuing their lithe dance and seeming almost…happy.
It must be a dismal job, staying down here, she thought. She wondered if the Furies had been people at some point, or had always been these beings.
She decided not to think too hard about that.
She stopped singing when they reached the steps. She paused her walking for just a moment, hoping to catch her breath—but regretted it when Siébel paused too and started to speak.
“What was that song?” he asked. “What did you mean?”
Marguerite hadn’t taken time to think about how Siébel would react to that song.
She started forward again, but his grip held her in place. “I don’t know,” she said finally, hoping an answer, however vague, would get him to move. “It was the first thing that came into my head.” She managed to drag him up a few steps. “We really need to go.”
He seemed reluctant to keep going, as though his thoughts were weighing him down. “Marguerite, I—”
She tried tugging him further, but he’d come to a complete stop. She felt the flowers quiver between their fingers.
“I need to know,” he said.
“Know what?” she asked. “Siébel, can it wait? I don’t know how long they will keep the window open.” There hadn’t been a time limit as far as she knew, but the closer she got, the more worried she was that some new obstacle would be thrown in their way. Besides, the sooner they got home, the sooner she could look at Siébel.
“I need to know why you came back for me,” Siébel said.
“I had to!” she exclaimed. “Why would I not come for you, if they gave me the choice?”
“I traded my soul for yours—I didn’t think you would have to come and find me.”
“You made such a great sacrifice.” She felt her voice breaking, like every part of her seemed to be. “The least I can do is repay it by bringing you back.”
“Is that the only reason?” He didn’t sound accusatory, but she couldn’t decipher the emotions in his voice. “You feel like you have to?”
“Of course I have to—”
“But what if I don’t want to come back?”
She had to force herself not to whip around and stare at him in shock. “What do you mean? You want to stay here?”
“No one wants to be here,” Siébel said. “But it’s the choice that I made. And it’s one I made willingly and one I would make a thousand times more if it means saving you.”
“But you don’t have to. You can come with me. You have another chance.”
“But is it just because you feel guilty? Because you feel like it should have been you? Because if that is how you feel, that’s not something I want either of us to have to live with.”
“What do you mean?”
“I made my peace when I made my choice,” Siébel said. “And that’s all I want for you: Peace. You’re the one who got a second chance, Marguerite, the one you deserve.”
“You deserve a second chance, too.” She couldn’t believe what he was saying. “Come on, we have to get back up there before the window closes.” She tried to tug him again, but he was surprisingly strong.
No, not surprisingly. He’s always been strong. Always.
“Marguerite, will you look at me?”
Oh, why did he have to ask me that?
“We need to go,” she said desperately.
“I don’t want to go back,” he said.
“Siébel! What do you mean?”
“There’s nothing for me up there. The only thing I have left is that I’ve saved you. But if you’ve come down here to get me just because you feel sorry for me—that’s not what I want. I want you to go back, and live, and be happy, and not feel guilted into bringing me back into your life. I’d rather stay down here than be a burden for you on Earth.”
“That’s not why I’m here!” Marguerite said. “I’m here because I want you back with me.”
“Then why won’t you look at me?” he asked. “Is it because all you see when you look at me is the guilt you feel over what I did?”
“No, that’s not it at all.” She felt like her heart was going to shatter. “Siébel, we just have to hurry, okay? Once we get back to Earth, I promise I’ll explain everything.”
“No.” She felt him tugging away from her, and it took everything she had not to spin around and watch him to make sure he didn’t fall. “Leave me here. Move on. Go and be happy. I made my choice to save you so you can live the life you deserve. Find someone who you can love as much as be loved by them, and just…remember me, okay?”
His fingers disappeared from her grasp; she clutched them frantically, but to no avail. She barely registered the feeling of the flowers dropping away. She heard Siébel’s feet shuffling on the ground as he turned, and the steady thump as he walked back down the stairs.
How could she not look? How was she just supposed to stand there and let him walk away?
Marguerite turned around, keeping her eyes fixed on the ground just behind Siébel’s feet, trying to see where he was without actually looking at him. She reached forward, grasping at the air, trying to sense how far away he was. This was impossible. She had to look, or she might lose him forever. Maybe if she grabbed him and turned back quickly enough, their eyes wouldn’t meet, and it wouldn’t count as looking…
She dashed after him, trying not to trip down the stairs in her haste, lifting her gaze just enough to see where Siébel was and grab his shoulder. He stopped at her touch and turned around; she looked away as quickly as she could, barely managing to miss his hopeful gaze.
“Marguerite.” His voice broke her heart.
She couldn’t stand it anymore; if the only way to convince him she really cared was to look at him, she had to risk it. What harm could it possibly do? Surely nothing as terrible as this feeling, or him refusing to follow her because he thought she was here out of guilt.
She turned to look at him, and she saw his face. It was surreal; the last time she’d seen him, it was a mask of pain and sadness as he was dragged away from her. Even though she’d been holding onto him this entire time, it didn’t feel as real as it did now, when she looked into his eyes again, and just saw him.
It couldn’t possibly be the wrong thing to do, could it? How could letting him see her face be wrong when that seemed to be the only thing that convinced him—as soon as his eyes met hers, his face shone. He must have been able to see the desperation on her face, because he finally seemed to believe her.
Siébel grabbed both of her hands with his, and he looked like he was about to say something—but then he suddenly looked dazed, and shook his head.
“Marguerite,” he said again, his voice shaking.
And then his face folded and he collapsed. It was all she could do to catch him before he tumbled down the stairs.
“No!” Marguerite clutched him frantically, shaking him by the shoulders, willing him to open his eyes. “No, no, no!” But he didn’t respond; his only motion came from her shaking. When she stilled, he was completely limp, and she could see he wasn’t even breathing.
“No!” She didn’t know if she had any other words left inside her. She pulled him to her, hugging him desperately and sinking miserably to her knees on the step. How could this be happening? After all this, all that walking, facing the Furies, the torture of not being able to look at him, when they were so close to reaching the Earth and both being whole and well again?
She’d thought a few hours ago that she didn’t have any tears left, but that proved to be wrong. She sobbed as she held Siébel, tears flowing mercilessly and uselessly onto the back of his jacket.
“It’s not fair,” she whimpered. “You deserve another chance. If anyone deserves another chance, it’s you.” The bravest, most selfless soul she’d ever met. She’d had two chances to save him, and yet she failed. She could hardly believe herself. She’d let him take her place, just stood there and watched as he was dragged away when it should have been her. And now, she’d been given the chance to save him in return, as long as she didn’t look at him, but she did. How had she let this happen? Why hadn’t she just tried harder to make him turn around and follow her? Was she really so weak that it was worth risking his life so she could end her own torment by looking at him?
She couldn’t believe he thought she was only trying to save him because she felt guilty. Well, now she felt guilty. Had she been so cold to him their entire lives that he couldn’t even imagine she cared enough to come after him?
“Oh, God,” she whispered, “if you can, just—trade my life for his. Let me make the sacrifice he made for me. Please. He deserves to live. Me, I can deal with my fate. I can face the torment I deserve. But Siébel deserves so much more.”
She pulled Siébel closer. She never wanted to do anything more for the rest of her miserable existence except sit here and hold him.
She wasn’t sure how much time passed before the same gentle presence and light from before appeared at her side. She didn’t even want to look at the angel this time though.
“What do you want?” she asked bitterly. The angel had given her this chance, only for it to be taken away at the slightest transgression. What kind of benevolent entity would do that? She’d had enough crises of faith for one day. For life. She didn’t need to deal with this.
“What do you want?” the angel replied.
“You know what I want.”
“Tell me,” the angel said.
“I want Siébel back.”
She clutched him still closer, pressing her head against his.
“I just want him to be okay again,” she whispered. “Please. I’ll do anything.”
“Would you trade your life for his?”
“Yes,” she said immediately.
The angel rose and stood above her. “You don’t have to,” the gentle voice said. “We’ve heard your cries, and we will grant you your wish.”
Marguerite gasped; the angel waved a hand, and vanished. Suddenly Marguerite felt Siébel jerk in her grasp. She held him back from her, checking his face, and watched as he blinked heavily and shook his head.
“Siébel!” she cried.
He barely had time to react before she was hugging him again, clutching him and relishing the feeling of his breathing.
“Marguerite…” He sounded confused.
She held him back again, then clasped his face with her hands and stared into his eyes.
“You’re looking at me,” he said.
“I’m sorry I didn’t before,” she said. “I couldn’t tell you why. I didn’t even understand myself. But I was told if I looked at you, or said why I couldn’t look, something bad would happen. I didn’t want to risk losing you when we were so close to being home.”
Siébel grabbed her hands with his, and lowered them so they were against his heart instead of his face. “I understand,” he said. She could tell he didn’t, really, and to be fair she still didn’t, but the most important thing was that he was back, and they could see each other again.
“I need to tell you something,” Marguerite said.
“You can tell me anything,” he said.
She swallowed thickly. “I can’t love you the way you love me. At least not yet. Not after everything that’s happened. I just—I need some time to heal. But Siébel, you mean so much to me, and I never want to lose you.”
“I can wait,” he said earnestly. “I’ll wait, as long as you need—and when you’re ready, I’ll be there. I’ll always be here.”
Marguerite shook her head. “I don’t want you to wait. You deserve to have someone love you the way you love—and you deserve someone better than me, anyway.”
He let go of her hands, and this time he was the one holding her face.
“Don’t say that, Marguerite. You’re the best person I know. You are so good, so kind, and the bravest person I’ve ever met.”
“Siébel, I killed my baby. And my brother is dead because of me.”
“That’s not your fault!” He looked angry, but not at her. “None of that is your fault. That man, that devil, he took advantage of you, he manipulated you—none of that was you. I know the real you. I wish you could see what a good person you are, Marguerite. You deserve so much better than you think you do.”
“So do you.”
“I think we deserve each other,” he said. “I really do. And that’s important enough for me—look, I’ve waited this long. There’s nothing I want more than to be a part of your life, and it doesn’t really matter how. Whatever you need. And well, maybe one day, maybe you’ll be ready, and who knows, maybe we’ll get married—but in the meantime, you can heal. We can.”
“I do love you,” Marguerite said. “You’ve always been such a special person to me, and I want you in my life more than anything. I’m not here because I feel guilty. I am grateful for what you did for me. I don’t think I will ever be able to express the extent of that gratitude. But I’m not here to try and reverse that, to try and lessen what you did to make me feel better. I’m here because I can’t imagine spending any more time on Earth without you there.”
His hands slid down to her shoulders, and he looked away, and she could tell he was blinking away tears. She grabbed him and hugged him and held him close.
“Please come back with me,” she said. “I need you. I don’t want to go back there without you, Siébel.”
He hugged her back, so tightly.
“I’ll come,” he said. “And I’ll wait for you. And I’ll help you. We’ll get through this together.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “We will.”
They held each other a little bit longer. For a moment, that was all they needed.
Then Marguerite rose, and she took Siébel’s hand. “Are you ready?”
Siébel picked up the flowers from where they’d fallen and stood, pressing them into their clasped hands. “I’m ready.”
They made their way up the stairs, towards the light.