Home > Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(19)

Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(19)
Author: Nalini Singh

“You feel foolish that it has taken you until now to apprehend this.”

“Someone couldn’t have clued me in?” Not that she would’ve known what to do—she didn’t now—but at least she would’ve tried. “It’s been months!”

Keir’s frown was a silent rebuke. “No one expected you to take up these responsibilities for years, if not decades, yet. You are a young consort; it is understood that you have much to learn . . . but the trauma of the past days has altered that timeline.” Shadows heavy on the fine bones of his face, his tone holding a haunting sadness.

“I don’t know how to do this.” It was a confession torn out of her soul. “Not long ago, I told Aodhan to take risks, but God, Keir, I think I’m at my limit. I’m not sure my heart is big enough to encompass thousands.” Some of whom would inevitably die in battle. The pain of the loss wouldn’t be a distant, manageable one if she knew their names, their dreams, their hopes. Each death would be a kick directly to her battered heart. “I’ve lost too many people already.”

“Courage, Elena.” Brushing his fingertips over her cheek, he led her back to the infirmary. “Of that I know you have an imprudent amount.”

It took all of her courage to visit the one person in the infirmary she’d avoided till the last possible moment. “Izzy.” The young blond angel, his curls having been shaved off to reveal his fractured skull, had a sweet crush on her. Even so badly hurt that she couldn’t believe he was awake and aware, his brutalized face glowed when she took a seat by his bedside.

It was impossible to do anything but smile back, he was so adorable in his devotion.

“I thought you forgot me.” Shy words, his cheeks going pink as she flirted with him in an effort to take his mind off the excruciating pain of his injuries.

“Our bodies are capable of healing the most horrific wounds,” Keir had said, “but the cost is pain. No drug to numb pain will work on angelic bodies, though we’ve tried to find such for centuries upon centuries. I, too, can only soften the hurt, not eliminate it, and while the babes and the ones over three or four hundred can be placed under for a long duration, the younger adults wake constantly and thus are too often conscious.”

Fifteen minutes later, she was careful not to accidentally cause Izak any further hurt when she pressed a kiss to the single unbroken patch of his face. “Rest, heal. I’ll come by again soon.” Maybe she was scared at what was being asked of her, but if Izak could smile through his agony, she’d damn well find the guts to be what he needed her to be.

“When you create your guard,” he said abruptly as she turned to leave, “will you at least consider me?” Eyes huge with entreaty. “I know I’m young and I don’t mind having the least—”

“Wait.” She tilted her head to the side. “You know I don’t have bodyguards.” It had taken more than one drag-down fight with Raphael to carve that rule into stone, and Elena had no intention of altering that fact.

“No, not guards. A Guard.”

This time, Elena heard the capital G.

“Like Raphael’s Seven,” Izak continued, aching hope in his expression. “You’re a consort. Elijah’s consort has a Guard.”

Elena didn’t know what she would do with a Guard, but saying no to this fragile, broken, hopeful boy was out of the question. “Consider yourself the first member.”

His smile lit up the whole room.

• • •

It was well after nightfall when she left the infirmary and went up several floors to find Raphael ensconced in a strategy session with his Seven, those not physically in the city having called in on visual feeds. She could’ve gone in, taken a seat, and listened, but she needed to clear her head after the intense emotional strain of the past day.

Digging out her cell phone, she messaged her best friend. The munchkin asleep?

Snoring like a champ. Want to come over for coffee?

I won’t interrupt you and your love bunny?

My love bunny has abandoned me for his workshop. He’s making some super-special nifty weapon for another woman. Good thing I love you or I’d have to kill you.

A smile breaking through the sadness and anger inside her, she sent a message to Raphael’s phone instead of interrupting his thoughts, then flew to Sara’s. The last time she’d been by, the roof had been a construction site, but today, her best friend waved at her from the now flat surface, two steaming mugs and a baby monitor sitting on the battered wooden coffee table in front of an equally battered sofa.

“Nice,” Elena said, taking in the currently empty planters set in the corners, the wall around the roof high enough that Zoe could play here without any risk she’d fall.

“You’ll have to help me pick out some plants in the summer.” Sara held up a mug of coffee and, when Elena took it with a sigh, patted the sofa next to her. “No proper furniture yet, so your wings will be a bit squished.”

“It’s actually so soft, it’s not bad.” Sinking in, Elena propped up her boots on the coffee table, taking care not to jiggle the monitor. “How’s Darrell?”

“Messed up.” Sara brought up her legs to sit cross-legged, her hands cupped around her mug, her skin a rich, smooth brown against the white ceramic. “But I think he’ll be okay. You and Ransom got to him in time.”

They sat in comfortable silence for several minutes, their eyes on the stars above, the sky holding the sharp clarity of the coldest of nights, their breath frosting the air. When they did talk, they meandered from topic to topic, their friendship old enough that they could skip from their worry about the predicted archangelic hostilities to a discussion on Sara’s side-swept bangs to bursting out laughing when they both muttered, “Men,” at the same time.

Then Sara, having curled up against the arm of the sofa, poked at Elena’s thigh with a sock-clad foot. “Stop it.”

Startled by the burst of inexplicable anger, Elena stared. “What?”

“Stop thinking about what’ll happen when I’m gone.” It was an arrow to the heart. “You ever think about the fact that maybe I’ll have to watch you die?”

“I’m becoming immor—”

Her friend snorted. “Since when has the immortal world been a happy-happy-let’s-hold-hands-and-sing-‘Kumbaya’ kind of a place, huh? Weren’t we just discussing a war, genius?”

Mouth dropping open, Elena blinked and realized Sara was right. Her life was no less dangerous now than it had been during her time as a hunter. In fact, it could be argued she swam in far deadlier waters as Raphael’s consort. “Well, damn.”

“Exactly. So don’t let me see that look in your eyes again.” Sara clicked her mug to Elena’s. “You know what I’ve learned from my baby girl? To enjoy the now. It’ll be gone soon enough, and no one knows what the next hour, much less tomorrow, will bring.”

Elena decided she should engrave those words on her brain, saying as much to Raphael two hours later as they lay skin to skin in their Enclave bedroom. He’d come to her with a grim look in his eyes and battle plans on his mind, his touch so tender, tears had wet her cheeks. “That was a pretty wonderful now,” she whispered afterward.

“Yes.” A deep masculine murmur.

Her head on his chest, she soaked in his warmth, knowing they were lucky to have these hours together, possible only because of his trust in his Seven. Word had come from Jason that the other members of the Cadre were currently confirmed as being in their territories, which gave New York some breathing room.

“I visited the injured,” she said, knowing the respite was a temporary one—like Raphael, she didn’t believe in coincidences, especially a coincidence that brought death to angels and vampires alike. “I managed to speak to everyone who was conscious.”

“I know.” His hand fisted in her hair. “You acted as a consort should, despite the cost. I’m proud of you, hbeebti.”

Chest tight at the simple acknowledgment, she ran her foot over his shin. “I also seem to have acquired the start of a Guard.”

“Oh? Who have you chosen?”

“Izzy,” she said, and told him how it had happened.

Raphael laughed. “I will, of course, have to throw the boy into training with the toughest men in my employ as soon as he has recovered. He may regret volunteering.”

“I don’t actually expect him to do for me what the Seven do for you.”

“Would you dent his pride?”

Elena sighed, having the sinking feeling she’d inadvertently ended up with a real Guard. “How was I supposed to say no to someone that adorable?” She lifted her head to scowl at her lover. “It’d have been like kicking a puppy then stomping on his heart.”

Raphael folded one arm behind his head, his biceps flexing. “He’s not as much a babe as you believe.”

“No?” Leaning in, she grazed her teeth over the firm muscle.

His fingers curved over her bare breast in return, neither one of them in any hurry. “Izak’s been in training with Galen since he was younger than Sam.”

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