When Beth finally came to, she was curled up in her own bed. Cynder was leaning over her running his fingers through her hair. She blinked a few times before looking up at him. “Cynder? What happened?”
“You’re not going to be bothered by Bill Fulton ever again,” he said in a rather grave tone. “You’re safe now, I promise.”
Beth sat up slowly and glanced around the room, but everything appeared normal. She let out a soft breath and looked up into her guardian’s eyes and asked again, “What happened?”
Cynder stared at her unblinkingly for a few seconds before responding. “We made him confess to what he did, and it’s best you don’t know the details of that. He’s been put away. I believe I heard your grandparents saying something about possibly leaving this town.”
Beth drew in a breath and pressed her face into her hands. “We can leave here? I won’t have to… all of this is going to change?”
“Yes, it will.” Cynder sat on the edge of the bed next to her and laid his palm on her cheek, quirking his lips a little. “You can have a fresh start on life and hopefully actually have a chance to find happiness for once.”
Beth leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Cynder’s neck, hugging him tightly. He curled his arms around her and held her close, resting his chin on her head with a slight sigh. “Thank you,” Beth whispered.
“It wasn’t really my doing,” he murmured. “My brother was the one who made Bill confess, I was only there peripherally.”
Beth sighed and closed her eyes, resting her head in the crook of his shoulder. Cynder stroked her hair for a time, just letting her enjoy the moment of quiet. After a time Beth asked, “What happened to Hannah? Didn’t she… come in and stab him?”
Cynder gripped her a little tighter and said stiffly, “She did.”
“Where is she now?” Beth leaned back to look up at him. “Did she get in trouble for that? Did she get arrested or anything?”
“No, not quite. Something else happened.”
Cynder paused for a moment before saying, “Why do you care? I thought you didn’t want to be anywhere near that girl?”
Beth stared at him and then turned her face away. “She tried to help me. She wanted to be my friend when no one else was and I threw it back in her face. That wasn’t fair.”
“You had me, though,” Cynder said.
“I’d still like to go and see her so I can thank her.”
Cynder let out a deep breath and said, “I’m afraid that will be quite impossible. Hannah Fulton is dead.”
Beth looked up at him slowly, her eyes growing wide. “What? How did she die? What happened?”
“I would assume that the guilt of attempting to kill her father consumed her. She was found on the pavement just outside your school and it appears she jumped from the roof.”
Beth pressed a hand over her mouth, sucking in a deep breath. “Oh, god…”
Cynder drew her closer to him and murmured, “You needn’t worry yourself about it. You’ll be leaving this place anyway. You’ll be leaving behind all that happened here.”
“But she’s… she’s really dead?” Tears began to prick at the back of her eyes and Beth scrubbed at them furiously. “That can’t be…”
Cynder sighed and murmured, “I’m sorry, Bethany. There’s nothing to be done about it now.”
Beth buried her face in her hands, shaking a little as she tried to control her breathing. Cynder hugged her close, his wings unfurling from his back and curling around them both. After a time, Beth let out a shaky breath and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I want to leave,” she whispered. “I want to get away from here so I can forget about everything that happened.”
“You will,” Cynder said, smoothing his hand through her hair. “But you shouldn’t forget it entirely, and I doubt you’ll ever be able to. You’ll be carrying this with you for the rest of your life, I’m afraid, but it doesn’t have to destroy you if you don’t let it.”
Beth peered up at him and let out a shaky breath. “You’ll be there with me, won’t you?”
Cynder hesitated and looked away from her, glancing toward the window. “For a time, but I think I should leave soon. I’ve caused you enough trouble by now.”
“What? No, you can’t leave. You’re all I have!” Beth clung to him a little tighter. “You’re the only one who made me want to keep living…”
“And that’s exactly the problem,” Cynder whispered. “Well… not for you, but for me.”
Beth stared at him and frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I’m not supposed to… care.” He grimaced a little and turned his face away from her. “About humans. But I do. I care about you deeply, Bethany. And that’s… not supposed to happen.”
“I don’t understand,” Beth said, shaking her head.
“No, I don’t suppose you would.” He sighed and pressed a hand to his face. “Just trust me, it would be best that I don’t stay with you for much longer. For your own safety.”
He drew in a breath and looked at her. “I’m breaking our contract. I will no longer be your guardian, and I shall not take your soul. You’re getting the better end of this, so you shouldn’t be upset.”
“But I don’t want you to leave,” she said quietly. “You’re the only one who’s ever cared… besides Hannah. And she’s gone now.”
Cynder pressed his hands to either side of her face and gazed into her eyes. “Yes, I know. But I’ll only hurt you if I stay, and I don’t wish that to happen. You’ve been hurt enough.”
“But you haven’t hurt me before,” Beth said, lightly taking hold of his wrists.
“But I could, and I will if we keep that contract intact. It’s best for both of us if I leave.”
“Please don’t. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
“Shh…” Cynder stroked his thumb under her eye and leaned forward to kiss her forehead. “It’s going to be alright, Beth. I promise you won’t need me. You’ll find someone else who will take care of you.”
“How do you know that?” Beth whispered.
“I don’t for sure,” he said with a little sigh. “But you are strong, whether you feel like it or not. You’ve made it this far with such hardship.” He sighed and rested his chin on her head. “You’ll be okay.”
Beth gazed up at him and whispered, “Will I ever see you again?”
“If you’re lucky you won’t,” he said.
“I’m a fallen angel, Bethany,” he said a tad aggressively. “I’m no better than a demon. I made you promise me your soul, after all.” He loosened his grip on her and stared absently up at the ceiling. “You’re better off without me.”
Beth stared at him for a long moment before whispering, “Okay. If you have to go…”
Cynder hugged her a little closer and whispered, “I’m doing this to protect you, not to hurt you. I only want you to stay safe, and the best way for that to happen is if I’m gone.”
“You didn’t do anything, though,” she said.
“But I could, and that’s what I’m trying to prevent. So let me go.” He kissed the top of her head. “You’ll be alright without me.”
Beth let out a little sigh and whispered, “I hope you’re right.”
The Shepherds found a new town to live in far enough away that no one would know them. Beth started going to a new school and no one knew anything about her past and for the first time she could remember, no one made her an outcast. It took her some time to open up to others, but eventually she started making friends.
Cynder watched her for a time from a distance, just to make sure that she was getting on in life well. Once he was satisfied, he let her be and never looked back. He hadn’t seen Cecil since that day which he was quite alright with. If he was lucky, they might have forgotten all about him and they wouldn’t send any other angels out to destroy him.
He sat alone gazing out across humanity, letting out a quiet sigh. What had happened, what had come over him that he should actually take interest in a human and want to keep her safe? If Jophiel ever heard about that – well, he didn’t want to think about what would happen. It was best for him to just stay away and distance himself from everything.
He turned away, deciding he should just stay away from humanity for the time being. He unfurled his wings then blinked when he saw something. He reached out and plucked a feather from one of them and stared at it. The feather was pure white and almost seemed to glow.
“Well, isn’t that interesting?”
Cecil stared at his wings, which were once a radiant white shining with the glory of heaven. Now they had dulled and it was just as Hannah had said: the color of ash.
The cold October wind blew through him, rustling the feathers of his wings. He shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. The wind shouldn’t have bothered him. He barely ever noticed the weather, but now it was unbearable. Dark rain clouds were gathering in the distance and somewhere he could hear a roll of thunder.
Large black birds flew overhead, carrying a feeling of dread with them. Cecil let out a deep breath as he watched them and squeezed his eyes shut tight. “I never should have made a bet with a demon. Shouldn’t have trusted him. Brother, why…”