Black Spring Page 34

Stay calm, stay focused. Don’t borrow trouble, I thought. If a mob of angry Agents was on their way, there wasn’t much I could do about it, at least until they got here.

“I don’t want her burned up here,” I said. “I know it’s selfish. But let’s do it in the downstairs apartment.”

“Daharan’s a dragon. He won’t care,” Beezle said.

“Honestly, I don’t care if he cares,” I said. “I just don’t want to look at my fireplace every night from now until forever and remember that someone I liked and respected met her final end there. Daharan isn’t going to be here for the rest of his life. I am.”

“Let us take care of this now,” Nathaniel said. “Then we can focus on the protection spell.”

Nathaniel started toward the back stairs and I followed, indicating Jude, Samiel and Beezle should stay behind. When we reached the back door Nathaniel turned to me.

“I do not think this is a task for you,” he said.

“Believe me, I’m not volunteering to scoop up body parts,” I said. “Something Samiel said made me wonder if Chloe’s soul might be hanging around, and I want to check.”

He nodded. “I did not consider that. You are correct. It would not do if her ghost were lurking about your home. At any rate, it will not be necessary to physically clean the room. I believe I will be able to do it without touching anything. I will use nightfire to destroy the body so the burning will be quick. I will be able to collect the ashes for Samiel.”

“Then why don’t you want me there?” I said as we went down to the basement.

“Do you really need to see her again?” Nathaniel said. “Does not the argument you made to Samiel apply to you as well? Do you need to wallow in the pain in order to feel it fully?”

“No,” I said, suddenly angry and not knowing why. “But you don’t need to treat me like I’m some helpless little girl. I’ve faced plenty on my own without you to protect me.”

He turned to me suddenly. Because I stood a couple of steps higher than him, our faces were at the same level for a change instead of his looming above me as normal. He was angry, too, and I could tell he’d been holding it in for a while.

“But you will not let me protect you,” he said, his voice low and furious. “You must always push me to one side, determined to face the monster on your own, to prove that you do not need a shield. You will not let me do as I should do, as a man is supposed to do. You will not let me show that I love you.”

“It’s got nothing to do with love,” I said. “I’m not going to let someone else take punishment that should be mine. Why should you suffer when it’s my responsibility?”

“It is about love,” Nathaniel said, the anger draining away from him suddenly. “It is about your love for Gabriel, and his for you. He stood in front of you when Azazel was there with his sword, and you have never forgiven yourself for that. You have never accepted that he died in your place.”

All the emotions that had been stirred up by the events of the day were tangled inside me—love, grief, anger, fear, guilt. I didn’t know what to do with all of this emotion. I didn’t have anywhere to put it, and I was afraid. I was afraid that if I loved Nathaniel, or if I let him protect me as he wanted, the worst would happen again.

“Do you want me to be left like that again?” I said. “Will you feel that you’ve done your duty if I’m left standing over your body as I was with him?”

“Will you feel that you have done your duty if I’m left that way instead?” he said. “Do you think I could live with the loss if I thought I could save you?”

“No,” I said, my voice small.

He put his arms around me. I resisted for a moment, then relaxed. There was comfort here, and I needed to learn to accept it.

“You are not being weak if you allow me to share the burden with you,” he said.

“I know,” I said. And I did know, in my head. But my heart was another matter entirely.

It was stupid of me to fight over every little thing. Didn’t I have enough conflict in my life without picking a fight with my friends and allies? But I was afraid of weakness, afraid of exactly what Nathaniel had said. Death had been the first companion of my life, and Death never seemed to leave me.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

He didn’t respond, and I pulled away from his shoulder to look at his expression.

His face was frozen, a mask of pain, and blood was seeping from his mouth and nose.

“Nathaniel!” I screamed as his body started to crumple. I grabbed him as he went limp in my arms, but his weight was too much for me when I was already off balance from pregnancy. He tumbled away to the first-floor landing.

“Jude!” I shouted. “Jude, help me!”

I heard Jude and Samiel running. A moment later Jude shouldered past me, picking up Nathaniel’s limp form and carrying him back up the stairs past me.

Samiel and Beezle stood at the top of the stairs watching as Jude carried Nathaniel into our bedroom. I huffed up the steps after him.

“The shapeshifter has to be nearby,” Beezle said. “You’ve got to protect the house before he comes after you.”

“Nathaniel,” I said, trying to follow Jude, but Samiel grabbed my arm.

Beezle’s right. You’re the only one who’s strong enough to protect us.

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