Aiden was doing his best not to pace back and forth; no matter how distraught he was, pacing just wasn’t appropriate at a funeral. Much less at his almost-son-in-law’s funeral. He was having a hard time standing still, though.
He couldn’t believe that Abby had left like that, run off with two demons. He didn’t care that they were related to Raph. Nothing good had come of their relationship, so he didn’t see why she would be so quick to trust his judgement again. If they were so trustworthy, why did they have to leave like thieves in the night, bolting off to who-knows-where?
He shifted from foot to foot, eyes half-lidded against the crackling, snapping brightness of the pyre that was quickly consuming Eli’s lifeless body. They had hurriedly constructed the pyre in the sprawling backyard, shielding the blaze from human eyes with the help of Michael and the collective power of the other angels. It wouldn’t do for some well-meaning neighbour to call the fire department, and no one wanted to have to explain to the police why they were burning a young man’s corpse.
Keeping the authorities out of Gabe’s incident had required more underhanded bribery. And begging. And mild threatening. He had done it all with absolute grim determination, however, because someone had to keep it together. Someone had to keep everyone else, everything else, from falling apart at the seams.
It had been Aiden who had called in favours and reinforcements. He’d called down friends who wouldn’t ask questions to guard the girl who had been quickly spiralling out of control thanks to a cracked seal on her powers, the likes of which none of them had ever seen. Aiden, who had watched some of those friends get seriously injured by the girl he had just let escape, wild, untamed, and unchecked, into the world with two creatures of Hades.
He wasn’t sure who to be angry with; Abby, for letting him down, or himself, for letting Abby down. He should have done something more, talked her out of it, gone after her immediately, but…
His eyes drifted to the column of flame and smoke that turned Elijah’s body to crumbling ash. This. He had to be here for this, to remember the life and the senseless tragedy of a young man’s death. Elijah had died a hero. He should not have died at all, and as he watched the fire and heard his daughter beside him sobbing brokenly in her mother’s arms, Aiden clenched his hands into hard, white-knuckled fists.
Eli’s sacrifice wouldn’t be meaningless. He would find Abby and protect her, train her to control her power and use it, and somewhere along the way he would find that pale bastard and atomize him. And if he couldn’t manage Serena’s elegant destruction? Well, then he’d take his time, beat Mammon with his bare fists if he had to, until all that was left was a smear of dried blood on the ground somewhere. Him, and his dogs, too.
The hand landing softly on his shoulder started Aiden out of his thoughts, and he looked over to see Gabriel Sr. giving him a grimly determined look, almost as if he knew what Aiden had been thinking. The archangel’s eyes were red-rimmed, glistening in the light of the burning body. Gabriel gave him a nod and let his arm drop to his side, turning his attention back to Michael as he continued the funeral service.
He was doing an excellent job of it, too, his flowing, heartfelt speech delivered flawlessly in the most formal dialect of the angelic language. Aiden had been trying his best to block it out; it hurt less than listening to the archangel speak of death and life and the existence of someone he’d only met briefly. But, to his ultimate relief, Michael’s speech was winding down, drawing to a steady conclusion about Elijah now being in a better place.
Aiden wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that sentiment at the moment, but he let it go after a moment of unease. Though, somewhere at the very back of his mind, a dark, oily spark of anger and hurt flared. Surely, he soothed himself, taking a deep breath through his nose, surely this, too, was part of a greater plan.
But…he looked over at his daughter, her broken, huddled form clinging desperately to Farrah to remain standing. What purpose could that much hurt have? Was that feeling of emptiness gnawing away at them all supposed to help them on their mission? What good could possibly come of this, Aiden asked silently.
Michael lapsed into silence and quietly melded into the shadows, standing beside Izrafel and watching the fire consume what little remained of Eli.
Aiden couldn’t make out Izrafel’s face from where he stood across the pyre and beneath a sprawling cherry tree, its branches naked and twisting heavenwards in the frozen December air. He could see the way the black man’s shoulders shook beneath his suit jacket, though whether from sorrow or cold or pure rage, Aiden didn’t know. He suspected it was some combination of the three, and wished, not for the first time, that he could think of something to say to him that wouldn’t sound completely hollow and pointless.
He was having absolutely no luck on that front, so he turned back to Gabriel, who still stood next to him, one arm wrapped around Serena as she sniffled quietly into a delicate silk handkerchief.
“We have to go after her.” Aiden said quietly but firmly. This wasn’t negotiable. Nothing good could come of Abby running wild--he was certain of that.
Gabriel squeezed his wife’s shoulder comfortingly and looked at Aiden. “I know. It’s just…Gabe is still--“
“I know.” Aiden hesitated for a moment before continuing. “We need to find her as soon as possible, though. For all our sakes, but especially Gabe’s.” He spoke softly and chose his words carefully, but Serena still shot him a look at the sound of her son’s name. “Serena, I--“
Serena shook her head, cutting him off. “No,” she breathed in shakily, steadying herself. “No, you’re right. She shouldn’t be wandering out there all alone. That poor girl…she didn’t deserve any of this. None of them deserved this.” Her eyes filled with tears again, glimmering bright in the firelight. “You two go,” she said quickly, trying to speak before her emotions flooded over again. “I’ll stay and watch over Gabe’s body. I’ll keep our boy safe.” She promised, looking at her husband with determination shining through her sadness.
Gabriel pulled her in for a soft kiss. “Thank you, love.” He said as he reluctantly let go of her.
“You bring her back safe. Bring her home.” Serena said, forcing a watery smile.
“We will.” Aiden said, hoping desperately that his words were true.
The pyre had burnt down to glowing coals and tiny licks of flame, and what had been Eli was now ash. Fern had cried herself out and could only manage dry, heaving sobs that escaped her when she thought she was finally finished crying.
Her heart was broken. Eli was gone, Gabe was gone, Abby was…Abby was a monster. Fern stared into the flames and felt the anger welling up inside. This was Abby’s fault, all of it. She’d get her for it--she would avenge Eli. She’d--
“I’m sorry, Fern.”
The deep voice beside her made Fern jump a little. She’d thought she was alone. Everyone else was inside the house now, to let her be alone with her thoughts.
Izrafel stared at the fire, dark eyes reflecting the orange light. “I know you loved him. He loved you too.” His lips curved up in a small smile. “He always talked about you whenever I saw him.”
Fern shut her eyes tightly and drew in a slow breath. “Thanks,” she said carefully. “I miss him.” Her voice broke a little, right at the end, and she sniffed noisily.
“I do too.” Izrafel said, glancing at her. “But missing him won’t stop the thing that did this to my son.”
Fern wanted to be surprised, but she wasn’t. Part of her felt a bit relieved that Izrafel felt the same way she did. “We need to destroy her--she’s too dangerous. If she hadn’t been here, none of this would have happened!”
“I agree.” Michael stood at her other side, as if he’d appeared out of nowhere. “That is why we are going to neutralize the threat. A creature that powerful and untamed must be dealt with.” He looked at Fern, holding her gaze. “Will you help us?”
Fern didn’t ask any questions; she only had one answer. She couldn’t help the snarling, feral grin that marred her pretty features. “Yes.”