You guys voted for it, and here it is: a little visit with Brennan and Eunomia. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Have a Little Faith
I stood, my soulblades ready, and watched Brennan questioning the undead we’d chased and then finally caught not too far from Westminster.
“A name. Who do you work for?” Brennan repeated, holding the undead by its throat up against the brick wall nearby. He’d been in his cat form when we’d caught him, which meant he was now standing there in all of his glorious nakedness under the yellowish streetlights. After all of this time, after all of the times I’d seen his body both in our bed and out of it it should not have affected me the way it did.
And yet, I continued to have to force my focus back to the business at hand, watching and waiting, ready to destroy the undead should it make a single move against Brennan.
“We know you’re not one of the mindless ones,” Brennan was saying. “You are leading that group who’s been causing trouble around Westminster. You’re organized. Who’s calling the shots?”
The undead laughed in its weird, raspy, phlegmy voice. And then it spat at Brennan, a disgusting splatter of grayish phlegm landing on his face.
“Okay,” Brennan said, wiping it away with his free arm. “We tried to do this the nice way.” An instant later, the air kind of seemed to shimmer around Brennan, and instead of a man standing there imprisoning the undead. an enormous black cat knocked the undead down and sat solidly on its chest. The cat looked at me with slate-blue eyes that I recognized very well, and I gave him a small smile.
I walked slowly toward the undead and looked down at him. “He did give you a chance,” I said softly. “And he’s much nicer than I am.” I held up my soulblade, and the undead tried, unsuccessfully, to get out from beneath Brennan’s massive cat form.
“Let me up, and I’ll talk,” the undead whined, staring up at me with its sunken eyes, the sickly pallor of its flesh making my skin crawl. The undead never failed to unsettle me, if for no other reason than that they simply should not be. And now that they were here, turning others, growing their ranks through crazed hunger and violence, getting rid of them would be a task that would be nearly impossible to keep up with, especially with only myself and my small band of new Guardians able to destroy them.
I exchanged a glance with Brennan, and he heaved a sigh and stepped off of the undead, then started shifting back to his human form. It was then that the undead launched himself at Brennan, who was vulnerable during the shift, his body changing his mind neither cat nor man.
There was no thought on my part; my response was automatic. I launched toward the undead and sank my soulblade into the back of his neck, feeling black metal meet bone and sinew and watching as the last of its life force dissipated. The undead crumbled to dust in the same moment that Brennan completed the shift. It had all taken fractions of a second.
Brennan looked at me, his jaw set, his blue eyes flashing just a little.
“We needed that one alive, Eunomia,” he said quietly. “He had answers.”
“We will find another. It is not as if there is any shortage of undead here.”
“Yeah, but none that we knew of that were in any kid of organized leadership…” he trailed off, shaking his head and then he walked over to where his clothing lay. He started pulling his pants on, then his shirt, his posture tense.
“This is more my problem than yours. I do not see what you’re so angry about,” I muttered, wiping the black remains of the undead off of my soulblade on some nearby grass then putting it back in the sheath across my chest. He finished getting dressed wordlessly, then he walked toward me and leaned down, his mouth close to my ear.
“Your problems are my problems, Tink,” he said. It was not the same teasing, light tone he usually used with me. There was an edge to it that made me look questioningly at him. He met my eyes for a moment and then started walking toward where we’d parked the car, a few blocks away. We’d spotted our prey and ended up chasing him on foot.
And it had come to nothing.
He was right, I thought, heaving a sigh as I followed him. We rarely got any kind of a lead. The undead in London were organizing, and it was a very bad sign, to put it mildly. It was one thing to deal with random crazed undead beings. It was something else entirely to deal with an organized, disciplined force of them, focused on causing the most damage and carnage in a minimal amount of time. We probably could have gotten answers from that one, but I’d destroyed him.
But, I’d protected the man I loved. I would take that trade, and he could be annoyed with me if he wanted to be. What else would have have expected me to do? I thought irritably as I followed him.
We drove back to our flat and caught up with Artemis, who had spent the day with Brennan’s son, Sean. The four of us went out to dinner together, and then I parted ways with the rest of them; Brennan had things to attend to in terms of getting Sean settled and in to bed, and I had more undead to hunt.
When I got back home, he was still clearly irritated with me. We sat wordlessly, and we made love as we always did, but there was that edge of tension, irritation through it all. I dozed off, somewhere between angry and happily sated, and it was only a while later that I heard Sean begin his night-time crying, his nightmares getting the better of him, and Brennan got up and pulled on his pajama pants and t-shirts with a sigh, patting my hip before leaving the room to take care of his son.
I watched him go, and thought about our argument that day. It wasn’t the first time we’d had it, and we were having the same arguments over and over lately. And I knew it was beginning to wear on both of us. And I started feeling that creeping worry that seemed to have seeped into my psyche. We’d moved quickly, and he had followed me here. Had it been a mistake? I knew I loved him, completely, and I knew he loved me. But sometimes, you can love someone and still not be right together. And our personalities were very different.
The truth of it was, he was driving me crazy. The beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent, soulful man I was now sharing my life with was a good example of why, I think, Athena has chosen to remain celibate for so long.
At the same time, he is the embodiment of everything Aphrodite was supposed to symbolize.
I lay in our rumpled bed in the flat we were staying in in London and listened to the floorboards creaking as he walked back and forth in the next room, talking softly to his son, Sean, after the boy woke, screaming, from yet another nightmare. My body still ached pleasantly from the way he’d loved me before we’d drifted off to sleep. Falling asleep wrapped in Brennan’s warm, strong embrace was one of the absolute pleasures in my life. We had no issues at all in that department. Physically, we were a match made in heaven, his warm body a complement to my naturally cold one, his large body a counterpoint to my diminutive one. HIs passion the other side of my more even-headed outlook.
It was everything else we had to do together that was the problem. When it came to fighting the undead, dealing with the local supernatural community, and trying to solve who was behind the kidnapping of Brennan’s child, along with Molly’s son and Hephaestus’s son, we were always at odds. He was ever the diplomat, the former federal agent, the investigator.
I tended to be more of the “stab with my soulblade first, ask questions later, or not” philosophy. He focused on looking for answers, teasing details from those we chased, trying to get to the bottom of why everything was such a mess. And it was a point of view I definitely appreciated and would have welcomed in any other being.
But him? All I saw when I watched him patiently trying to get answers from an undead or a minor god was the possibility of losing him. Of his life being cut short. And I was starting to realize that this was exactly why my kind, the Guardians, were supposed to be celibate and cloistered. Loving someone the way I love Brennan changes things. It changes simple things, like how you wake up in the morning and how you fall asleep at night, and it changes big things, like having to choose between doing the things you’ve been sworn to do and selfishly trying to protect the one thing you cannot live without, no matter what it costs otherwise.
It is entirely possible that I spend too much time overthinking things. All of this, this having of friends, this being out in the world, this caring about others at all — all of it is new to me. Loving Brennan is the newest thing of all. I was unprepared for how much it would change my life. Unprepared for the way my heart seems to quite literally ache sometimes at how much I love him, or the way just seeing him smile that slightly cocky, lopsided smile can turn my whole day around, even if I am coming home covered with undead guts and other filth.
I heard the steady creaking from the next room stop, which meant that Brennan was settling Sean back into bed. The boy would likely sleep through the rest of the night now. We’d settled into this routine, because Sean’s nightmares were so steady you could practically set a clock by them. We’d rescued him a little over three months ago, and it did not seem to be getting any better. He could tell us little of what had happened to him, other than some incoherent mumbles about scary ladies.
It was one of the few times I was actually glad I no longer had my wings. If I had them, he would have seen the “bad ladies” every time he looked at me. All of the Guardians, myself included, looked very much alike. Luckily, even though I looked like them in almost every way, all he saw when he looked at me was the lady who’d saved him. I would take that.
Brennan walked back into our bedroom, closed the door and started walking back toward our bed, shedding his shirt and pajama pants as he did. I turned over onto my side and leaned my head on my hand, watching with appreciation. Good Hades, he was a beautiful male. He caught me watching and gave me that cocky grin.
“I love it when you look at me like that,” he said as he climbed beneath the covers.
“Well, I rather enjoy it as well,” i said, and he pulled me into his arms. We fit together as if we’d been in one another’s arms for an eternity, settling against one another, limbs tangling, my body pressed to his as he rested his face at the side of my neck and my arms went around his shoulders, his arms holding me tightly around my waist, pulling me closer, always closer.
“You were pissed at me earlier,” he said, his voice muffled, his breath hot against my flesh.
“That is nothing new,” I said lightly, and he laughed.
“You know we’re not going to get any answers unless we do some digging. I mean, that’s how this works, Eunomia. WE can’t just keep stabbing them and expect to get to the bottom of why all this shit is happening. Why the kids were taken, why the undead started appearing now… all of it. We need answers.”
“We need to destroy them,” I said.
“Of course. But we need answers, too.” He pulled back a little. “And I know what you’re doing.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you go all stabby. You just want them gone. You hate them being anywhere near me.”
“Except that you’re forgetting a few things. One, I’m actually really well-trained in the art of killing whoever I need to kill if it comes to that—“
“I know that,” I said irritably.
“Two,” he continued, “this is kind of the whole reason we’re here. Molly needs us here to find answers and yeah, put down the undead, but answers are important.”
“And three,” he said, pulling back so he could meet my eyes. “I need you to believe in me, just a little bit.”
I stared at him, mouth agape. “I do believe in you,” I finally said.
“No,” he said, pulling me close again and settling his face against my neck. “You’re always expecting me to get my ass kicked.”
“It is not your skills I’m concerned about. We’re dealing with—“
“Supernatural beings. Who I’ve been fighting since I was twelve years old. Nice try,” he said, running his hands up and down my back. “I know you’re worried about me. I’m just saying, you know, no man wants his woman to constantly be watching him, waiting for the moment he’s gong to screw up.”
“That is not what I am doing,” I argued. He kissed his way down my neck, my collarbone, my sternum, resting his face between my breasts for a moment before tilting his head and gently nipping the underside of one of them. I bit back a small groan. I knew what he was doing. He knew this conversation would make me tense and he was trying to distract me from getting worried and irritated.
“That’s exactly what you’re doing. Do you have any idea how much it pisses me off?” he asked. And then, as if to soften the effect of his words, he started doing very interesting things involving his mouth and my breast. This time, I couldn’t hide the helpless moan that escaped me, and I knew it was exactly what he wanted. After a moment, he released my nipple with an audible “pop” and I gasped.
“You need to stop” he said, meeting my eyes. He kissed his way over to my other breast and lavished it with the same attention, making my toes curl, my body heat. I fought the pleasant fuzziness forming over my thoughts. This was the way we did things. We did our best arguing in bed. So far, it seemed to be working for us.
“I am not waiting for you to get your ass kicked, you insufferable man,” I said, though the effect may have been ruined by the cry he drew out of me at the end. “I know you are more than capable.”
He kissed, licked, and nibbled his way back up to my neck, along my jawline, then claimed my lips. I dug my nails into his strong shoulders, trying to keep myself centered and focused. Gods, this man. He brought me to the brink of insanity over and over again, made me want to scream in frustration at times, and yet, there was always this between us. He knew me the way no one else ever had. He understood me, honored me. And I wanted to do the same for him.
Damn it all. And I hadn’t been. Not really. Not if he had the sense that I was waiting for him to fail. Not when my faith in him meant so much to him.
I kissed him back, then gently tugged his hair as I pulled away. I met his eyes. “I do not intend to make you feel that way,” I said softly. I ran my fingers through his hair, gently scraping my fingernails along his scalp, which I knew he loved. He closed his eyes languidly, and I ran my fingertips over his scalp a few more times. Moments like this, even in his human form, he was very much the giant cat he took as his favorite form. Touch was important to him, more so than I ever would have realized.
A few more strokes through his hair, and I let my fingertips trail down the sides of his face, through his short beard, then down the sides of his neck. He slowly opened is eyes and watched my face.
“I love you,” I murmured. “It still frightens me sometimes, how much you make me feel. Please understand that I am not expecting you to fail. I am just terrified of that one unlucky moment, that instant that could happen to any of us, in which your opponent gets lucky. Because that is what it would take for you to be bested. A slip, a distraction, and my world could be torn apart. Because the fact remains that while we are fairly sure you are as immortal as the rest of us, there is the tiniest chance that you are not. That chance haunts me,” I finished in a whisper. He continued watching me. “I have spent eternity without feeling the things you make me feel. There is no way I could go back to the way things were, if you were ever taken from me.”
Brennan pulled me close again, capturing my lips with his, and I let myself fall into the tangle of sensations that accosted me with every touch, every kiss, every time his eyes met mine.
He rolled me onto my back and settled his muscular body on top of mine, his gaze intense as he kept it locked onto mine.
“Eunomia, have a little faith, all right? They’d have to move heaven, Earth, and everything in between to ever get me away from you,” he promised in a low voice. He nudged my thighs apart, and then there was no more need for words.
When I woke the next morning, it was to find Brennan’s side of the bed empty and the blankets tucked closely around my body. I rolled over onto my stomach, burying my face in his pillow. He woke well before sunrise most days, often to touch base with his friends back home in Detroit, then start his day. Sean was an early riser, so most days, I woke up to the sounds of laughter and running footsteps through our flat. This morning, it was silent. I was confused for a moment, but then I remembered that Artemis was taking Sean to Greece this week to show him some of the old temples. I smiled to myself, then burrowed deeper beneath the covers. A whole week without Sean. I liked the child, maybe even spoiled him a little, mostly because he reminded me so much of his father. But I had no maternal feelings at all, and I doubted I ever would. I had to admit that an entire week of having Brennan to myself, just the two of us in the flat sounded like paradise.
I should probably get up, I thought to myself. And then I closed my eyes and pulled the blankets up over my head and let myself doze for a while longer.
I was awakened a while later by the feel of the mattress shifting, the familiar feel of Brennan’s arms pulling me up against him as he delved beneath the blankets with me.
“You’re back early,” I said sleepily.
“I made it clear to the packs that I wasn’t in the mood to spend all day listening to them bitching,” he said, pressing a series of warm kisses across my upper back, over the scars that remained from the day Asclepius had had to remove what was left of my wings. They’d become too damaged, and I’d become too weakened. Removing them and giving me an infusion of Mollis’s blood had given me a chance to recover. Brennan kissed the scars often, as if he hoped it would somehow comfort me after the devastating loss.
And the crazy thing was, it kind of did.
He kissed his way up my spine, the back of my neck, and then I tuned my head so he could kiss my lips. He kissed me, then pulled back just enough so I could turn around and hold him. He’d shed his clothing, and I was delighted to rest this way, skin to skin with him, completely, utterly, and blissfully alone.
“I’m glad you finished your meetings quickly,” I said, nuzzling his jawline. “Did you talk to Nain this morning?”
“I ended up talking to Ada. Nain was out dealing with some undead mess or something.”
“How is she?”
He didn’t answer for a moment, and I pulled back so I could see his face.
“What is it?” I asked.
He shook his head. “She had a little bit of a health scare the other day, I guess.”
“What kind of health scare?”
“She thought she was having a heart attack. So Nain and Stone took her to the hospital, and it turns out that it was indigestion, but when she was there, I guess they told her that her blood pressure was way too high and her sugar was too high and they put her on a bunch of meds. Which you know Ada hates.”
“Yes. I’m glad she is all right, though.”
“Me too.” He held me close, rubbing my back. “It was just a kind of sudden reminder that Ada and Stone aren’t like the rest of us,” he said quietly.
Not immortal, or very close to it, was what he meant. And while the witch and the strongman had already lived much longer than many humans, and aged much more slowly, the fact was that neither of them were exactly young anymore. I knew that Ada was the primary mother figure in Brennan’s life since his own mother had died when he was a boy.
“You miss them,” I said softly, and he shrugged. He’d followed me here. Mollis had sent me here to London, as the center of the undead uprising, to get things under control and find answers, and I’d gone without a second thought, because I have lived everywhere and I am honored to go where my Queen and friend needs me to be. But he’d followed me, leaving behind not just the city he’d always called home, but also the friends and family he’d loved for almost his entire life. True, he had his son and his grandmother, Artemis here. And he had me. But Nain was father figure, best friend, and like a brother to Brennan, even after their strained relationship of the past several years. Stone and Ada were like another set of parents. And all of the shifters that Brennan had led and considered an extended family had given him a community he’d felt at home in. He hadn’t even considered staying behind, and I knew that if I asked him now, he would insist he was where he wanted to be.
But he missed his home and his family. That much, I could understand. Detroit had become home to me as well, and I found that I missed the gritty yet oddly beautiful streets of my adopted hometown. Not to mention those we’d left behind.
A plan started to form, just barely, before Brennan murmured, “I like finding you naked in bed. Very convenient, Tink,” and distracted me completely.
A while later, Brennan left for some meeting he had scheduled with the local supernatural affairs people, which he’d been working with more and more since we’d arrived in London. I went out hunting as usual. I was missing my New Guardians. They were scattered around in pairs, cleaning up their assigned cities. Europe had been hit most badly y the arrival of the undead, but parts of North America and Asia were starting to see the effects as well. It was a mess, and there were not nearly enough of us to contain it. I held out hope that one day, the number of Guardians would reach its original, thirteen. At this point, we were trying to quell the undead and escort souls to the Nether for Mollis to judge with half that amount.
So I hunted, and I thought and planned and daydreamed. When I returned to our flat that night, covered, as usual, in the remains of those I’d hunted, it was to find Brennan asleep on the sofa in the living room, his laptop open on the cushion beside him, several files and other folders spread out on the coffee table. He’d given up his role as director of the Detroit branch of the federal supernatural affairs division, but h’d found himself, slowly but surely over the past weeks, settling into a position of leadership in the international supernatural affairs bureau, which was headquartered in London. They’d already been practically courting him, wanting him to take up a leadership position. For his part, Brennan preferred to consult and help as needed, but I could see that he thrived on being needed.
Just as it was between the two of us. He needed to be needed. And it worked well, because he is, quite possibly, the one thing I have ever actually required to be happy and whole.
I approached him and he opened his eyes.
“Hey,” he said in a hoarse, sleepy voice.
“Hey, yourself. You should go to bed,” I said, leaning down and kissing him. I was about to pull back, but he reached up and tangled his fingers in my hair, held me close and captured my lips again. I smiled against his mouth.
“I will go to bed,” he said, letting me go. “Are you coming?”
“Right after I clean up,” I promised. I showered, dried off, and made my way into our room. I could already hear Brennan’s faint snores from the bed, and I smiled. I climbed in beside him and he reached for me in his sleep. I stayed in his arms for a while, until he was solidly, heavily asleep beside me, and then I got up and crept silently around our room. I pulled a duffel bag from the closet and packed a few changes of clothing for him and for myself, then carried the bag out into the living room. I pulled on a t-shirt and pajama pants and booted up my laptop, then logged into FaceTime. I had arranged to talk to Ada tonight, and sure enough, she was online.
I logged in and the older witch and I spoke for a little while. When I told her my plan, she let out such a loud whoop that both Nain and Stone came running from other parts of the loft.
“Brennan and E are coming home for a couple of days!” she told them excitedly. Stone grinned, his white mustache pulling up at both sides, and he let out a happy guffaw. “It’s about goddamn time!” he said gruffly, then bent to kiss Ada’s cheek and sauntered away.
Even Nain looked happy. At least, inasmuch as Nain ever seems expressive at all. But I could tell he was pleased.
I finished talking to Ada, glad that they would all know to expect us. Two days and nights back home. The world would not fall apart if I took two days off from hunting the undead in London. If I felt overly guilty, I could hunt some in Detroit. But he needed this, and it was my turn to try to give him something he needed after all of the little arguments we’d been having of late.
When I woke in the morning, the bed was empty beside me yet again, and I frowned. He’d had no appointments today, I’d made sure of it so we could leave fairly early to spend as much time as possible in Detroit. I glanced at the alarm clock on my bedside table in irritation.
Maybe he’d stepped out to grab something to eat. I got up and dressed, and then I picked up my phone. No messages. I dialed him and it went immediately to voicemail.
I frowned. That was very unlike him. I was caught between being worried and annoyed. Mostly, I leaned toward being worried because that seems to be my natural tendency when it comes to Brennan. But I was irritated as well. The one day I had something planned, and he’d decided to choose now to deviate from his usual routine.
I sighed and dialed again, and got voicemail. I hung up and called Ada to tell her we were running late. After another half hour, I left to go out and look for him.
I walked through the area of the city immediately around our flat. He hadn’t taken the car or his motorcycle, which meant he hadn’t gone far. The longer I walked, the bigger the knot forming in my gut felt. What if something had happened to him? What if he’d run into one of the many, many beings who wanted a shot at any of Mollis’s allies? What if—
I shook my head. This was exactly what he’d been talking about other day. I immediately leapt to the conclusion that he needed to be saved, when logically, I knew very well that anyone who intended to give Brennan any trouble would be in for a world of hurt. I took a deep breath and forced myself to slow down. I decided to head back to our apartment. Things seemed fairly calm out in the city today, and I hoped that would hold during the next couple of days. Maybe we’d finally gotten rid of enough undead to make a difference.
I doubted it, but one could hope.
I was a couple of blocks away from our flat when my phone rang. My heart leapt when I saw Brennan’s number. I answered before it had a chance to ring a second time.
“Eunomia, where are you?” he asked when I answered.
“One could ask you the same thing,” I said wryly.
“I’m at home. Looking for you,” he told me.
“And I am out roaming the streets looking for you.”
Brennan let out a short laugh. “You were worried about me, huh?”
“Not at all.”
“Uh huh,” he said, doubt in his voice. “Well, I’m home now. And I have a surprise for you.”
“Is this like that time I arrived home to find you waiting with a bag of goodies from that one particular shop that makes me blush every time we walk past it?”
“Not this time,” he said, still laughing.
“Damn,” I said wistfully.
“But I think you’ll like this, too. And we can play with that other stuff anytime,” he added.
I laughed. “Very well. I’m almost there now.”
It only took me a few minutes to get home and take the stairs up to our flat. I could have rematerialized, but I did not like to do that in our own neighborhood, where one of our neighbors could look out a window and notice something amiss if I suddenly disappeared. They had enough to worry about with the undead in the city.
When I walked into our apartment, it was to find Brennan sitting there with Hephaestus. Both men stood up, and Hephaestus came to me and pulled me into a bone-crushing hug.
“How are you, my wee nightmare?” Hephaestus asked as he hugged me, and I laughed.
“Fine, you big lout,” I said, laughing and hugging him back. “What in the Nether are you doing here?”
“Aren’t you happy to see me?” he asked, grinning.
“Of course! I’m just surprised. I know you’re busy with your wife and son and all of the work you do for Mollis.”
He nodded. “Well. Every once in a while, I find the time to do a little something else. And Brennan contacted me a while back with an idea, and it sounded like a good one. It just took some time to figure out.”
I looked at Brennan questioningly and he just smiled at me, that small, secretive smile that never failed to make my heart pound a little harder.
“What is it?”
“Shall we take this elsewhere, then?” Hephaestus asked Brennan, and Brennan nodded. Hephaestus took my hand, and I took Brennan’s. I noticed that Hephaestus carried a large black bag but before I could give it much thought, we were falling apart, and then coming together again, rematerializing elsewhere.
The next time I opened my eyes, we were standing on the roof of an old manor-type house in the countryside. I glanced at Hephaestus.
“It’s abandoned,” he said, as if that answered anything at all. He set the bag down and started unzipping it. “You’re gonna have to take the jacket off, E,” he said, not bothering to look up.
I glanced at Brennan and all he did was give me that smile again and hold his hand out, waiting to take my jacket from me. I unzipped it, shrugged it off, and handed it over. Hephaestus looked up and grinned.
“I recognize that one. I was with Molly when she found it.”
I glanced down at my t-shirt, a vintage 1980s Def Leppard concert shirt. “Again, I don’t like this band at all, but I love the shirt.” Mollis had started doing this, sending me concert shirts from bands I probably didn’t know anything about as a way to help me adapt to living in this world. She’d kept it up, partially as a joke between us and partially as a way to stay connected even when I was away.
Hephaestus lifted what looked like some kind of black metal contraption out of the bag.
“Lift your arms,” he said, and I obeyed, watching him with confusion. “Strap that around her chest,” he told Brennan. Brennan came over to me and buckled a black leather strap under my breasts, and another above. I looked up at him, and he met my eyes and winked.
“You’re sure this will work,” he asked Hephaestus, keeping his eyes locked on mine.
“Positive. Tested them myself. If it worked for me, it’ll definitely work for her. Have a little faith,” Hephaestus huffed.
“Do all immortal men feel the need to say that?” I asked irritably, remembering Brennan saying the same thing to me after the recent incident with the undead and my immediate need to “rescue” him.
“Gods, faith. We can’t help ourselves,” Hephaestus said, and Brennan laughed, nodding in agreement.
“Annoying,” I said, though I couldn’t help myself from smiling. “And what are we doing, exactly? What are these for?” I asked, plucking at the leather straps Brennan had fastened.
“This,” Hephaestus said, pulling something out of the bag with a flourish. I squinted at them, and he laughed. “Hold on a minute. You’ll get the idea.”
He went behind me and attached it to whatever was on the back side of the straps, and my heart started pounding. If this was what I was beginning to think it was…
“Yeah, I think she’s getting the idea,” Brennan said, grinning. Hephaestus finished what he was doing and stepped in front of me, beside Brennan.
“Okay. Do whatever you’d normally do to open your wings,” he said, and I almost started crying right then and there. Instead, I pulled myself together and flexed my shoulder blades, using the same motion I had used my entire existence when the time had come to spread my wings. The moment I did it, whatever he’d put on my back opened as well. I gasped, then looked to one side, then the other. They were roughly the same size and shape as my old wings, bat-like, but they seemed to be made of some kind of very thin, very light metal. They shimmered, just a little bit, in the overcast light.
“All you have to do is act like you’re flying, and they’ll work. I designed them to pick up on your muscle movements and kind of act as an extension of that. So, if you start moving like you’re gonna fly, then—“
His voice drifted away as I rose into the air, high, the metallic wings beating strongly. I maneuvered, twisted, soared. I mostly tried to make sure I didn’t get near any other houses or roads, not wanting to be seen, but all that really mattered was that I was where I’d longed to be for so long, flying among the clouds, Earth’s beauty sprawled below like some kind of crazy quilt. I twisted and turned, looped around. I beat the wings and stayed in place, just hovering and looking around, the only sound the regular, rhythmic beating of my wings.
I felt tears falling down my cheeks. I was completely overcome by being there, by the scene in front of me, by the knowledge that Brennan, and Hephaestus as well, had cared enough to give me this moment. I let out a crazed-sounding whoop of joy and flew some more, basking in the weak sunlight and the cool sky.
When I finally came in for a landing on the roof a while later, Brennan and Hephaestus were sitting side by side, grinning. They stood up, and I pulled Brennan by the front of his shirt and kissed him hard, hungrily, trying to let him know exactly what it had meant for me, what it had done for me, to be in the sky again. He kissed me back just as passionately, until Hephaestus cleared his throat and we broke apart, both of us flushed and breathless.
I hugged Hephaestus, and he laughed. “Thank you!” I told him.
“Now, listen,” he said, holding his hands up when I let him go. “They’re not a replacement. You can’t use them out fighting or patrolling. They run on a battery and it won’t last much longer than you were out there. Okay? So you can’t expect to use them the way you ordinarily would have used your wings before.” I nodded. “But Brennan came to me and he said that he wanted us to figure out a way to get you back up in the sky. He said you missed it and you needed it. And I think he was probably right. So it’s not a replacement,” he repeated. “But every once in a while, you can get back up there and get yourself right again. Right?” he asked.
I nodded. “Right. It’s more than I ever imagined. I’d thought the sky was lost to me, completely. There are no words…” I shook my head, and then grabbed both immortal men and pulled them into my arms. They each laughed, and Brennan pressed a kiss to the side of my neck. They helped me out of the wings, and they were just about finished when I looked at Brennan, remembering that I had a surprise of my own.
“Hephaestus, did you see a bag in our living room?” I asked him, and he winked.
“Yep. I’ll take care of it. Go ahead and do your thing, my little nightmare,” he said. I kissed his cheek, and Hephaestus blushed.
“What’s going on?” Brennan asked. I smiled at him and pulled my jacket back on. Then I took his hands, and in the next moment, we were standing in the loft in Detroit, and all of our family and friends were talking at once, coming and pulling us into their arms.
We spent the day sitting and talking and eating with Nain, Ada, Stone, Hephaestus and his wife Meghan, and Shanti and Zero, as well as all of the children that seemed to have sprung up all at once. Mollis was stuck in the Nether, dealing with another attempt by some of the souls to break out. Nain promised she expected to be back by the following morning, and, after a while, he left to join her in the Nether.
That night, Brennan and I curled up together on the bed in Brennan’s room at the loft, and he held me, kissing me as if he could live an eternity and never, ever get enough.
“This was an amazing surprise, Eunomia,” he said when he finally broke our kiss. “How did you know I needed this?”
I smiled. “How did you know how badly I needed the skies?”
He pulled me close again. “This is amazing. You know, though, that no matter how much I love the people here, home for me is wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s London, or Detroit, or the-middle-of-nowhere, Iowa, or the Nether itself. If you’re there, I’m home.”
I ran my fingertips through his hair. “I know. And you should know that every moment with you makes me feel like I can fly,” I paused. “And that I believe in you. There are very few beings I have absolute faith in, but you are one of them, my love.”
He smiled, and then he kissed me, and I remembered how much I believed in one more thing: us.