For a moment she thought he would kiss her, and was hoping he would, but he backed away and her shoulders slumped in disappointment.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I keep forgetting you don’t know me as well as I know you.”
“So what happens now?” Kate said.
“Carry on as normal. Do whatever you would be doing if I wasn’t here.”
“I’d probably be working,” she stated.
“On a Sunday?”
She gave a guilty, apologetic smile and shrugged. He sighed.
“Actually, there is something I’d like to do,” she said.
“Could we go to the church? To All Souls?”
* * *
He wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but he couldn’t deny her when she pleaded at him with those big, soft, brown eyes. He grabbed the car keys, ignoring Kate’s protests and proving her most decidedly wrong when she complained that it wasn’t possible for angels to drive cars.
When they got to the churchyard he watched her get out of the car, hands pushed deep into her coat pockets, her face pale. She stood at the lych-gate again, looking at the church with new eyes, then back at him for reassurance. He came alongside her and pushed open the gate, inviting her to follow him.
“Where do you want to start?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Are there people here I knew?”
He scanned the cemetery.
“Somewhere. They’ll be in the oldest graves. Hard to tell who’s who as the names have worn off.”
“I used to make up stories about them, you know? What they did, what they looked like. Gave them lives again.”
“I know,” he said. “And you were right about most of them.”
He laughed when she looked shocked. He continued along the path and then pointed across the churchyard.
“Thomas hung himself from the yew tree, but I don’t know where he’s buried. I never thought to find out,” he said.
Kate kicked a pebble across the grass and followed it until she stood under the tree looking up through its bare branches, trying to imagine a man hanging there. She shivered.
Someone’s walked over my grave, she thought. Literally.
Several people were arriving for the evening service and the sound of organ music drifted towards them each time the door was opened.
“At least I know why I played that game now,” she said.
Her attempt at cheerfulness was sucked away by the Winter wind.
“Do you want to see where you…” Ash couldn’t quite bring himself to say it.
She nodded and he led her back down the path and across the road to a wide circle of grass surrounded by modern houses and tarmacked roads. There was nothing unusual about it, no lingering echo of the horror that had been perpetrated there, but there wouldn’t be, would there, after more than five hundred years? There was no evidence that poor Catherine Whittle had ever existed at all.
Ash stood on the very spot of her execution, his head bowed, his hands folded in front of him as if in prayer. She stood beside him and closed her eyes to see if she could sense anything. No shiver ran up her spine, no voice from the past called to her. Looking back at the church, she tried to picture the mob and the man who had been her father. If there were ghosts here, she couldn’t conjure them up and she heaved a sigh and began trudging back towards the car.
“Come on, I’ve seen enough.”
She wished they hadn’t come at all now, it had made her feel miserable. Ash was glad to be leaving too.
As she stood by the car waiting for Ash to unlock the door, she saw him turn towards the church music.
“Do you want to go in?” she asked.
He nodded, the lopsided grin on his face. She was the one to give in this time and they walked up the path and entered the building, standing out of the way at the back. Kate hoped Reverend Pilling wouldn’t see her, and a quick glance down the aisle showed the broken flagstone had been replaced and the Christmas decorations were now in place. It was as though nothing had ever happened.
She glanced sideways at the profile of the angel beside her, singing without need of the hymn book and gave him a quick nudge, reminding him to keep his voice down before heads started to turn. No one would ever know what he was, unless he told them, or they stared too long into those hypnotic jade eyes, or he walked to the front of the congregation and extended those glorious, blue-black wings. She wondered what Reverend Pilling would make of that.
She closed her eyes and could feel him standing by her side. How long had she wanted someone to be there? Why did this feel so right? She was falling in love with Ash. It was exciting and deliciously scary all at the same time. But how could she be so sure of her feelings towards him in such a short space of time? It didn’t make any sense, unless you accepted that this was just the next stage in a relationship they’d begun five centuries ago. Catherine Whittle had loved him from the first moment she had seen him, but that had been a childish love. He had loved Catherine too. He had fallen from Heaven because of his love for her. And what about the rest of the journal? Had she fallen so hard and so completely every time they’d met, in all the lives she didn’t yet know about? Had they ever acted on that love or had they always resisted the pull of their physical attraction? She had better put those kinds of thoughts out of her mind.
She was just imagining what it would have felt like if he had kissed her earlier when he turned to look at her and smiled. Her stomach back-flipped, she felt her cheeks colour and turned her attention back to the sermon.
“Are you OK?” Ash whispered, leaning closer to her than he needed to.
“Yes, I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
She fixed her eyes on Reverend Pilling, standing in the pulpit, praying Ash hadn’t read her mind. She didn’t see the mischievous half smile on his face.
She’d forgotten for a moment why he was here. Even if she could figure out a way to do it, how on earth was she supposed to send him home to Heaven, when all she wanted to do was spend the rest of her life staring into his eyes?
They slipped out after the service, before the vicar got a chance to see them and Ash insisted on driving them home.
“Just in case the roads are icy again,” he joked.
* * *
They spent the rest of the day talking about Catherine and Thomas and how Ash had made the box. At the end of the day, Kate felt awkward broaching the subject of where Ash was going to sleep. She was tired and now it occurred to her that he must have carried her to bed and stayed in the house after she’d passed out.
“You can have my parents’ room again tonight,” she said, assuming that’s what he had done the night before.
“I don’t sleep,” he replied, matter-of-factly.
“What do you do all night then?”
He pulled the purple iPod from his inside jacket pocket.
“Listen to music, watch T.V, read.”
“Oh, OK. I’ll say goodnight then.”
He nodded to her, making a show of getting comfortable on the settee and putting the earphones in. She left him to it and went up to bed. Twenty minutes later, he was standing guard outside her bedroom door. If she needed him he would be there in an instant, as he had always been. He chose a song from the list on the small screen and pressed play.
Several hours passed before she stirred. He’d known this would come. She had told him she’d dreamt of being Catherine and he’d watched her two days before as she slept on the settee, crying out as she relived the burning. He had risked covering her with a blanket and stroked her hair, then kicked himself for doing something so stupid. Of course she was going to notice, but it didn’t matter now. She knew who and what he was and for the first time ever, why he was with her.
It had never been like this before. Yes, he had told her what he was in other lives, but she had never known the whole story. It was part of his penance that he could never tell her, couldn’t help her to work out her part in his redemption. She had to do this on her own or there was no point, it would mean nothing and even if she didn’t die, if she lived out a full life until she was old and grey, he would only have to wait for her next incarnation and begin the whole thing again.
This change in the pattern worried him. What if he’d already broken the rules? He went over everything in his head, from her finding the diary to her going to bed a few hours before and he was certain he’d done nothing wrong. He hadn’t led her to the diary, he hadn’t translated it from the Angelic Script for her to read, plain as day (though he was sure his brother would have to face up to the responsibility for that one.) He hadn’t named her Kathryn, or reincarnated her in the very village she’d lived in five hundred years before, where it had all begun. He wondered if his brother had been right about God’s plan. If this wasn’t His doing, then whose was it – and which side were they on?
He sighed. That was something else he’d have to explain to her and soon. It was only a matter of time before the book and dagger made their presence felt and then all Hell could break loose. Literally.
He slipped into her room. Even in total darkness he could see perfectly. The wrought iron bed in which she lay stood against a wall decorated with a bold black and white floral print wallpaper. The mirror above it reflected the tiny points of light from the black glass Gothic style chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Wardrobes lined the other wall and on either side of the bed were a wooden desk and a small chest of drawers, where Kate’s alarm clock sat. There lay the silver casket containing Catherine’s ashes. The only other ornamentation in the room was a pair of framed photos of Kate with her parents, and two fluffy white rugs covering the wooden floor.
She moaned and twisted beneath the covers and he looked down in sympathy at her. In previous lives she had known nothing about her other incarnations. Reading about them in the diary now meant that old memories would be stirred up and brought to the surface. He could see the dream images forming in her mind, but they were already familiar to him. He had lived them, had caused them, was haunted by them. Here was his Catherine, just as he remembered her. He couldn’t help but smile at the thought of her bright, innocent eyes.
He lay next to Kate on the bed and wrapped his arms around her. This was as close as he dare get. If she could work out what she had to do to send him home it would hurt to let him go. How much more would she hurt if they became lovers? His love for her had caused her nothing but pain and he wouldn’t make things any worse than they already were.
He closed his eyes, slipping completely into the image and acting out his part in Catherine’s life again.
“I will never leave you Catherine,” he whispered, his lips brushing against Kate’s cheek.
“I know,” she replied, from the dream, relaxing in his arms.
The angel allowed his aura to surround her once more, whispering reassurances, letting the events of the past assimilate themselves fully into Kate’s subconscious. He’d no intention of allowing her to read any more of the diary, but he suspected other memories of her past lives might surface naturally, now that they were together. They would need to be absorbed and accepted as part of her present. If they rushed this it could go very horribly wrong. He knew that from bitter experience. He had witnessed the result of multiple lifetimes forced upon the mind once before. It had caused the complete breakdown and utter madness of the individual and resulted in them committing suicide. He would not be responsible for that again.
He looked up towards the window. There was a presence nearby. It needed his attention, but it would have to wait.
Kate cried out once, in terror at the flames, but Ashrafel held her and talked her through it, right up to the point of her death as Catherine Whittle. She slept then, oblivious to the angel that wept silently beside her.
Before dawn, he crept across the room to the silver casket, lifted the lid and touched his fingertips to the dirty linen bag that lay within, then he slipped out, closing the door behind him, and went out into the twilight to meet with the presence that was becoming ever more impatient.
The sky was clear and the heavens were filled with brilliant stars that winked out one by one as the sun began to rise. His feet crunched through the icy crust on the snow as he headed towards the dark figure waiting at the bottom of the garden. He drew alongside the tall man and followed his gaze upward.
“Missing home?” Ash said.
The other angel smiled up at the stars.
“It is beautiful isn’t it? But no.”
He turned towards Ash, his face serious now.
“I came to tell you the dagger and book are nearby. I have felt them.”
“I expected as much.”
“We can shield you from him for a little while, but it won’t be long before he finds you.”
The tall man grinned, his lapis blue eyes twinkling with mischievous mirth.
“Let’s just say there are a few of us here.”
“You know you shouldn’t interfere, brother. You’ve already changed the status quo.”
“Ha, rules are made to be broken, little bro. It’s no fun otherwise.” The angel patted Ash on the back. “Now, go make the most of what little time you have.”
He winked and was gone before Ash had time to thank him.