Chapter 28


“Can you walk?” Marianne asked, holding Samael while he tried to stand and take a few steps.

“I’m not really sure… I don’t even know how I got here.”

“Your chest,” Vicky pointed with a worried look on her face and Samael looked down to see his torn shirt and a large patch of dried blood. His hand went quickly to that spot, carefully feeling his chest, but his skin was as smooth and immaculate as ever.

“…It’s just the clothes. I’m not hurt,” Samael answered with a cautious relief that turned to confusion. “…At least not anymore.”

“We must take you home, but you can’t go down the street looking like that, people will notice. Can you use the transportation?” Marianne asked, holding him still, fearing he would collapse. Samael shook his head, looking more fragile than ever.

“I don’t even know if I can stay up any longer.”

Marianne mentally reviewed her options and the sight of a jacket in front of her face took her out of her reverie.

“Put this on for now,” Demian offered his jacket. “I could transport you if you don’t mind.”

Marianne glanced at Samael, waiting for his answer, but he seemed too weak to even respond. She helped him put on the jacket and nodded at Demian, so he also held the other side of the angel.

“…You should go home too,” he told Vicky before disappearing with a burst of black smoke.

“Why do I feel like he keeps avoiding me?” Vicky complained with a stomp while Addalynn was still behind her, back to her usual composed self. The sound of her ringtone alerted her, and when she opened the message, she just stood there with her frozen gesture watching the attached video. “What the…?”

Addalynn turned around and discovered Vicky was beside her with her eyes fixed on the screen, agape. There was her brother, going inside a room, led by Addalynn. She lifted her confused gaze to the girl, disturbed and speechless, and even worse, Addalynn still couldn’t force herself to give any explanation.

They appeared at the front of the house. The small porch was closed enough to protect them from prying eyes, and they also needed an excuse in case Marianne’s mother had arrived.

“Remember, you were doing homework together when Samuel suddenly felt ill, possibly food poisoning,” she said before opening the door. They entered, holding Samael from each side, and headed for the stairs. Dreyson was sitting at the dining table, looking bored. “…You’re still here?”

“No one told me the meeting was over,” he said, fiddling with a pencil, and then his gaze landed on the other two boys beside her, filled with curiosity.

“…Yeah, well, I’m sorry, but the reunion is postponed for another day,” Marianne said, letting go of Samael and standing in front of him so Dreyson wouldn’t see his condition.

With just one look, she indicated Demian to take Samael to the attic, so he did, but not before throwing a bitter look at Dreyson.

“…It’s not a good moment. You should better go,” she snapped once Demian and Samael were up. Dreyson stayed on his seat, looking at her with that piercing gaze that fretted her so much until he finally stood up.

“I guess I’ll see those pictures other day.” He walked slovenly towards the door, and she cautiously stepped away to let him through. “See you tomorrow.”

“Take care, Dreyson.” She waited until he was out of the house to close the door and run upstairs towards the attic. Samael was already in bed, still wearing Demian’s jacket and almost furled in a fetal position. Demian stood apart, caught in his own thoughts. Marianne went straight to the bed, kneeling on the floor and taking Samael’s hand to let him know she was there. “Hey, are you okay? You need something?”

Samael hardly opened his eyes and squeezed her hand in response.

“…Am I really back?”

“Yes, you are,” she smiled reassuringly, and he also drew a faint smile on his face.

“I had a dream… At least I think it was,” he said weakly. “I was in this empty place, much like before taking a physical form, and then I heard your voice calling me… only you weren’t talking directly to me but asking for me. Then you vanished. I started to hear other distant voices calling my name, looking for me, getting closer… but for some reason I didn’t want to be found… Not by them. Does it make any sense?”

Marianne made a short pause, thinking about Latvi’s visit the other day and the ‘ritual’ that she carried out. She decided to keep quiet about it for the moment and smiled again.

“…Maybe. But it doesn’t matter now that you’re here. Back with us.”

Demian cleared his throat, uncomfortable to be there, and headed to the door.

“I think I should go now.”

“Wait!” Marianne ran towards him. “Could you just stay for a few minutes and watch for him? I’ll just go to the kitchen for some water and be back.”

She stormed out of the attic, almost jumping out every step, while he stood aside, restless and tense, glancing at Samael who kept resting in bed. He finally couldn’t resist anymore and approached him while he opened his eyes, sensing his presence.

“What do you remember?” he asked, and Samael blinked for several seconds at a loss. “…You were seriously injured when you were absorbed by a hole that later brought you back unharmed. Like me. There must be some connection, something you recall.”

“I should, right?” Samael said, scowling thoughtfully. “…But as much as I try, I can’t remember anything. Just this… strange feeling. Like some kind of warmth, staying with me the whole time. Didn’t you feel it as well?”

Demian remained quiet, his face a mask; it took several seconds until he fidgeted in his place and responded.

“…No. I didn’t feel anything.” He looked away while Samael was now immersed in his thoughts, trying to dig deep into his memories.

“But that’s it. I don’t recall anything else beyond that.”

“Not even before being absorbed by that vortex?”

“The last thing I remember was seeing two of the guys from the video and the smoke demon and I followed them… But it’s all blank after that.” Demian nodded in disappointment, unable to establish some connection between the two events besides the fact that Addalynn could somehow forebode it. “Although… I also have imprinted in my mind a pair of amber eyes staring at me.”

Demian immediately turned to him with wide eyes.

“…You saw it?” he asked almost pushing the words out, his pulse increasing everytime he heard about the the amber-eyed demon. “…Was it before or after being sucked through the hole?”

“I don’t know. Everything’s so fuzzy in my mind right now. My head is like a murky pond. I can barely catch small glimpses of my memories. I need to clear it out.”

“Is he the real one?” They both turned to the door and saw Loui peering with curiosity. “…Or is he the zany impostor?”

“I’m the only one… that I know of,” Samael replied, not fully understanding what he meant, and Loui decided to enter.

“You look like one of those pale lizards about to become transparent. A half-dead one,” the boy said, only missing a stick in his hand to poke at him. Samael laughed, even though the effort made him doubled up with pain.

“Maybe I even feel like one,” the angel replied with humor.

Marianne rushed in, carrying a glass of water, and went straight to the bed to help Samael drink it.

“What are you doing here? You should be in your room, you’re punished.”

“Because of your lack of support!” Loui snapped with a pout.

“Because of your carelessness, you mean,” Marianne retorted, dismissing him.

“…Time for me to go.” Demian decided he had nothing to do there. Marianne left the empty glass in an old desk and stood on her feet.

“Wait! Loui, stay with Samuel a few minutes. I’ll walk him to the door.”

Demian unconsciously slowed his steps until she reached him, and they both went down the stairs in silence until getting to the door.

“…Thank you so much for bringing us home. I don’t know how we would have done it without you.”

“I did what I had to. You don’t have to thank me.”

“Don’t start with that false modesty,” Marianne replied with a snort. Demian smiled sideways and she did it too. She then opened the door and found Vicky on the other side, looking upset at her brother. “Vicky?”

“What are you doing here? I told you to go home.”

Vicky raised her hand, holding a cellphone, and placed it in front of him without a word. Demian watched the screen and his expression sombered as he realized what video it was.

“…Why don’t you explain this to me?” Vicky finally managed to say and Demian quickly looked from her to Marianne, who could also see the video, and her disturbed expression said everything. “…Is this why you left?”

He couldn’t answer. All he could see was the disappointment in Vicky’s eyes as she waited for an explanation, and as for Marianne… he couldn’t even bring himself to look at her. There was nothing he could say, the only thing that mattered was what their eyes told them, so he eventually did the same he’d been doing all along: avoid the situation. He just disappeared in a smoke curtain while Vicky huffed and stomped in frustration.

“Why is nobody telling me anything?!” she huffed, forgetting Marianne’s presence in front of her.

“…Where did you get that video?”

“Someone sent it to Addalynn, and I was there when she opened it,” Vicky said. “And no one says a thing! I can’t believe it!”

Marianne didn’t know what to say to her, she wasn’t even sure how to react. She had been tormenting herself all day with the notion of that video and now that she had seen it, she felt oddly numb.

“Want to come in?”

“No. No. I have to go home. If he doesn’t dare to face me and answer my questions, I’ll try to get some answers from Addalynn at least,” Vicky decided, walking away while Marianne shut the door with a lost expression, and then went back to the attic.

“Go back to your room. Samuel needs to rest,” she said as soon as she entered the attic, despite Loui’s protests, closing the door once she kicked him out. Then she sighed with her back to the door until she noticed Samael watching her from the bed, trying to figure out what was going through her head. “…Are you trying to read my mind?”

“I’m sorry. I needed to give it a try,” Samael said resignedly. “I feel like my powers are completely drained. I can’t do anything. I can’t remember. I feel useless.”

“Take off the jacket,” she said, approaching the bed, and Samael did as she asked. Marianne looked at the dried blood on his chest, the torn hole in his shirt and yet his smooth and unharmed skin underneath. “Does it even hurt?”

“Right now, I don’t feel anything. It’s like not only my body is numbed but also my skills. I fear it might be a permanent condition.”

“Don’t even think about it. You just need to rest,” she said, pulling some clothes from a drawer and leaving them on top of the dresser. “Put this on. If my mother comes here and sees you like that, she’ll be horrified. This shirt will have to disappear.” Samael nodded, trying to sit up and do what she asked him to. Marianne was already heading for the door but stopped halfway through and turned back to him. “…Do you remember anything? Who did that to you?”

“Demian asked the same,” the angel said, shaking his head, “…but as I told him, right now my mind is a mess. I can’t think straight. I only have these thoughts that come and go, never quite reaching them out.”

“I see. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll remember. The important thing here is that you’re back,” Marianne said with a smile while Samael sat upright to take the clothes she had left for him, and although she was already closing the door, she hesitated for a few seconds, and then ran back to him to give him a hug that took him by surprise. It barely lasted a second before she rushed back to the door again. “Get some rest!”

The door closed, and Samael remained sitting on the bed with a puzzled expression. He stood up with difficulty and pulled off the remaining strips of his torn shirt while watching the pajama Marianne had picked for him, blue with yellow diamonds. He kept his eyes fixed on it with a blank mind, as if hypnotized by the diamond shapes, and all of a sudden, he began to see flashes of amber eyes staring at him, followed by a hand going through his chest. He staggered back and closed his eyes, holding his chest, breathlessly. He opened them again to make sure he was still in his room and looked down to his chest, like expecting to see a hole in there, but his skin was as smooth as ever. However, he had been hurt, right? How else could his shirt be smeared with blood and ripped apart? He desperately needed to remember, because he had the feeling that the lives of others would depend on it.

The cell screen lighted up again, vibrating on one side of the dresser next to the unkempt bed where Frank was lying, with his eyes fixed on the ceiling, throwing a ball that bounced back to him. He had finally decided not to go to school and came back to his house, looking for various ways to waste his time while ignoring the phone.

His constant solution to problems was evasion, but now there was also the fact that his pride overpowered his reason. Taking refuge in his room where nobody could disturb him seemed like the most logic thing to do.

The doorbell suddenly buzzed through the house, making him jolt and lose control of the ball.

“Whoever it is, go away! There’s no one home!” he shouted, despite knowing his voice wouldn’t reach the door. The buzz stopped for a minute until it started again with a constant tap, like someone pressing the button several times, which eventually led Frank to finally jump out of the bed, dodging cables across the room. “…I’m coming, dammit! Stop hitting the buzz before it breaks!” He walked reluctantly to the front door, with the bell still buzzing insistently in the background, until he opened so abrutly that the wind whooshed in as if he’d been closed in a vacuum. “What?!” On the other side of the door, Lucianne looked at him, taken aback. She pulled away and he sighed, closing his eyes, and rubbing them regretfully while cursing under his breath.

“…You’re not answering the phone,” Lucianne said after the initial shock.

“How come you’re here? Did your ‘cop-nanny’ bring you? You’re not supposed to see me out of school.”

“I sneaked away. Besides, they’re too busy with their new case,” she answered to be done with explanations and move on to her reason for being there. “I’ve been calling you. All weekend.”

“…I know,” he said, feeling really exhausted after wearing out his resources.

“What’s the matter with you? I’ve been worried!”

“…I know,” he repeated and Lucianne frowned at his apparent apathy, but then her eyes widened.

“…You’re avoiding me.” Frank didn’t answer but didn’t make eye contact with her either. “…Why? I thought we were friends.”

“Yeah, well, maybe that’s the problem.”

“I don’t understand…Would you rather not being friends with me?”

“It’s not that! I just…!” Frank said with frustration, looking for the words. “…I would rather stay out of the ‘friendzone’. If only you would stop sending me mixed signals… I feel like for any progress I make, I end up making two steps backwards.”

Lucianne was silent for several seconds, trying to process his words.

“…Is it because of what happened at the ice cream shop?”

Frank rubbed his face with a grunt, so hard he seemed about to tear his face out.

“Are you sure you want to talk about it? Because I thought you would rather keep acting like I didn’t try to kiss you and you didn’t push me away to avoid it.” Lucianne’s face lit up at the mention and now she was the one who looked away.

“I-I’m sorry, I just… don’t want to rush things out.”

“You still like Demian then,” he harshly interrupted.

Lucianne was incredulous at his unexpected question.

“…Excuse me?”

Her cell began to ring, and she took her hands into her pockets, trying to pull it out while Frank waited with folded arms, flooded by a new wave of indignation. When she finally managed to get her cell and opened the message she had received, she stared at the screen in awe, her expression changing from confusion to befuddlement in a matter of seconds.

“…What?” Frank finally asked, abandoning his outraged position, unable to contain his curiosity.

“This can’t be true,” Lucianne said, staring at the screen, so he stuck his nose to see whatever she was watching. It was the video of Demian going into Addalynn’s room.

Frank raised an eyebrow and then turned to Lucianne, studying her reaccion.

“…So? How you feel about that?”

“What? Why would you ask such a question?” Lucianne replied with a scowl. Frank shrugged, and she rolled her eyes. “My god, Frank, I don’t know how many times I’ve said this already. We’re just friends, I don’t think of him otherwise.”

“They say you never forget your first love,” he muttered, looking away with reluctance after blurting out those words.

“We were just kids! I wouldn’t call that love!” she angrily replied. “I’d be just as surprised if there was someone else in the video! Well, maybe not if it was Mitchell. But still…”

“If you don’t like him that way, why do you keep rejecting me then?” he inquired, unable to take that idea out of his head.

“It’s… It’s not that I’m rejecting you, I just… don’t want to make the same mistake again,” she said, hesitant to talk about it. “…When I was ripped out of the gift… had I not been locked up, I don’t want to think what I should’ve been capable of. Just the thought of it makes me sick. So, I just want to take it slow, don’t you get it?”

Frank’s expression softened, and he seemed willing to reluctantly accept that perhaps he’d hastened his judgment.

“Well, okay… Maybe I can do something to fix this problem.”

“Fix?” Lucianne asked, still holding her device with the video playing. “…Did you have something to do with this video?”

“No! How could you think that?”

“This video is clearly taken from the hotel security. Someone had to get it and then send it to the whole school, and I know very well that you can do that sort of stuff with a few clicks.”

“Do you really think I’m capable of it?” Frank replied indignantly, though he almost instantly put his hand upfront to prevent her from speaking. “Don’t answer.”

“If it wasn’t you, then who? And how are you supposed to fix it?”

“I first need to talk to your ex.”

Lucianne put her phone away and glowered at him, to which he just raised his hands in surrender.

“I swear it’s the last time. I didn’t mean it.”

Lucianne shook her head and refocused on the message while Frank mentally planned his next move… but first, he would have to go take his GPS track.

Demian was back in that austere room where he’d been staying, lying with his headphones on, and the same book he’d been trying to read lately, but still unable to focus. Being aware that everyone talks about you is one thing, knowing the reason why, is another; but seeing the faces of the people you care about finding out about it… that was too much for him. He couldn’t go back to school. Everyone must have received the video by now. The look on his sister’s face, Marianne…

A knock on the door took him out of his reverie. He pulled the headphones and looked up quickly when it opened ajar.

“Just wanted to know if you’d like pizza for dinner,” Noah said, poking his face through the opening. Despite being practically a freeloader living in his house, he was still surprised at how attentive he could be.

“…Yeah, sure. No problem.”

“Good. I’ll order hawaiian if you don’t mind. My kids don’t like pineapple, so I have to compromise when I’m with them.”

“Pineapple it’s okay for me.”

“Great! And by the way, you have a visitor,” Noah added, opening the door a little. Frank was by his side, hand in his pockets with a casual pose.

“What’s up?”

He entered the room without asking and leaned against the old dresser next to the bed, while Demian watched him suspiciously.

“…May I know what you’re doing here?”

“I can’t go visit a friend to ask for today’s homework?”

Demian raised an eyebrow since they didn’t even share a class, but Noah just decided to retire, softly closing the door.

“I’ll leave you guys to talk.”

Once the door was closed, Frank straightened up and started to check his pockets while Demian almost expected him to pull out a stun gun and shoot at him.

“…Can you tell me now, what’s going on? How did you even know where to find me?”

“Don’t you know, dude? I’m a wizard,” Frank replied, pulling an USB from his pocket. “You have a laptop here? There’s a video you must watch.”

“…I know what video you’re talking about, and I have no interest in watching it again. If you came here just to make fun of me, you can leave now,” Demian snapped, disgruntled.

“Calm down, lord of darkness. Just get the damned laptop and you’ll understand soon,” Frank snapped, holding the USB and shaking it up.

Demian snorted and just leaned to get his sports bag under the bed. He took out his laptop and set it on the bed.

“I warn you, I’m not in the mood for your pranks.”

“Stop whining and just put the USB. Believe me, you want to see this.” Demian took the flash memory reluctantly and waited for the desktop to appear so he could insert it into one of its ports. “Oh, I see you’re wearing the same jacket. Great, that makes it easier.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Demian asked, twisting his eyebrows, increasingly puzzled.

“Just open the file.”

Demian hated to be bossed around, but he really wanted to get to the bottom of it, so he just clenched his jaw and opened the only file available in the device. The screen went black for a moment before the video started playing. At first it didn’t make any sense; the image stirred a lot, in constant motion, like someone holding a camera over the shoulder, until he saw the back of someone walking through an unknown street that still felt oddly familiar to him.

“How long until we get there?”

Demian’s eyes widened after hearing that voice and raised his neck in recognition.

“What the hell…?”

“It’s in the next block.”

Frank turned around and seconds later pointed at a sign with flashing lights that read ‘Yo mama’. Demian immediately looked at Frank next to him, who seemed to be expecting his reaction.

“What the hell does this mean? How’s that…?”

Frank reached out to him wordlessly and took something from his jacket, despite him flinching away.

“Micro-cam,” Frank said, holding a tiny chip between his fingers, so small that Demian had to focus his sight to see it.

“But when did you…?” He began to ask, but the memory of him bumping into Frank right outside the hotel no longer seemed a coincidence to him. Especially when he gave him a pat on the shoulder before following him. “…Why?”

“Let’s just say I got an idea stuck in my mind and wouldn’t be happy until I got you on tape doing something I could later use against you,” Frank admitted shamelessly, ignoring the bitter look Demian shot at him. The video was already in the moment when they were inside the bar, drinking with Mitchell who wouldn’t stop talking. “Play it forward. That’s not what I wanted you to see.”

Demian didn’t let go of his indignation while pushing the forward button until he saw the moment Addalynn appeared and led him into the hotel; the image was static for a few seconds at the door of the front room until the girl reappeared to help him in. Once inside there was a rough movement of the camera and then it was focused on the bed, and he could see himself in front of it.

“…I don’t need to see more,” he said, pausing the video uncomfortably, but Frank pushed him aside, sitting in his place in front of the laptop.

“Move over, let the adults take the reigns.”

Frank pressed some keys and the video sped up. In it, Demian simply took out his shoes with a quick movement and dropped on the bed, his head on the pillow, remaining motionless as if he’d been knocked out. In the background he could see Addalynn going side to side, minding her own business; taking off her coat and checking her cell phone, trying to make a call, then typing something on it and finally sitting in a chair, facing the bed with a weary expression, as if deciding what to do with the unconscious body that had taken over her bed. The video kept speeding up and Addalynn spent enough time in the chair, looking more and more sleepy until she finally seemed to give up and got into the bed, with her back to him, promptly falling asleep. The timer showed the minutes and hours passing by without any other change until morning, when Demian was the first one to wake up. Just like he recalled.

“Well, there you go,” Frank finally said, with a single clap and standing up again while Demian stood there, upset.

He sat for a moment and tried to process what he had seen, torn between feeling relief for having proof that nothing happened, or anger for Frank spying on him.

“…Why are you showing me this? I thought you wanted to find an excuse to use against me, and the rumor was already doing it quite well for you.”

“Stop right there. Let’s be clear, I didn’t start the rumor and didn’t know about the existence of the other video,” Frank clarified with his hand upfront, and the index finger outstretched. “I already did the right thing, now the rest is up to you.”

“Up to me?”

“It’s your decision what to do with the video,” Frank shrugged.

Demian kept silent with a thoughtful pose while watching at the screen, right when the door was knocked and saw Addalynn automatically getting up to open. He heard voices out of the picture, but clear enough to recognize the other. Demian felt a knot in his stomach when he saw himself entering the screen, picking up his jacket before returning to the bathroom. The camera made another swift movement and saw Marianne dismissing herself with an urgent tone that made him realize she had seen him.

SHE had seen him. And clearly, she had reached to the same conclussion as everyone else after the first video.

“That face tells me you’ve come to a decision,” Frank said, leaning against the front wall with folded arms, waiting. “It’s none of my business, but I just want to mention that even though the video that’s out there suggesting something happened with the ice queen and this could shut those rumors, you could also end up the butt of a joke. You know the guys… and therefore, I can’t promise I won’t joint them at every chance I have, because that’s who I am, and I can’t help it.”

“I don’t care, I just want the rumor to stop. Addalynn doesn’t deserve it.”

“Well, as you wish,” Frank replied, shoving himself away from the wall and shaking his hands. “I can make a few arrangements, access to some accounts and by tomorrow everyone in school will have received the video.” Demian squinted, suspecting there was a catch, but Frank immediately ruled it out with a snort and eye rolling. “Calm down, virgin demon! I won’t be asking anything in return if that’s what you think! And don’t give me that look, I clearly said I would take the first chance to tease you with that! On warning no guile!” He then pulled out his USB, put it in his pocket and left the room upon Demian’s vexed look. “Enjoy your last hours as the school stallion.”

Demian let him go without saying anything and looked at the video —now stored in his hard drive— again. It would be a lie to say that he didn’t feel like a load was taken off his shoulders, but he still didn’t understand why Addalynn wasn’t able to say anything. He kept rewinding over and over to the part where Marianne rushed away.

In a few hours that video would reach the whole school the same way the first one spread, but there was just a handful of people whose opinion matter to him. And only one he had no idea how to deal with yet.

Flashes of light, empty space, the feeling of weightlessness. Streams of memories went through Samael’s mind, blended with the recollection he had from his access to other people’s minds. The amber-eyed guy at the party, the one Loui had seen near the port, the gray-hooded guy from Marianne, and once again the amber-eyed figure sitting on three unconscious bodies, with a finger to his lips in a secretive pose and smiling.

«You have to stop him.»

The voice came from a figure in front of him, silhouetted by a bright light that didn’t let him discern any featured beyond the long fair hair, so shiny it almost seemed like a light source itself.

«…I hope one day you can forgive me.»

Samael snapped opened his eyes and looked around, breathing rapidly. Once he made sure he was back home, his breathing stabilized and dropped his head back on the pillow. He still couldn’t remember what had happened, but those glimpses were enough to make him think.

Marianne and Loui were already at the table when he went down to the kitchen, waiting for their breakfast. She smiled and motioned him to join them while Enid set a plate full of donuts.

“Good morning, are you feeling any better? I can make something lighter if you still feel ill,” Enid greeted him, showing the plate of donuts.

“…Oh, no. I’m okay now,” he replied, trying not to look so out of place like his first days at home, despite feeling that way. He would need time to get used to it again. The sense of familiarity. Once he sat down with the plate of donuts in front of him, his stomach rumbled.

“Eat what you want, dear, I can make some more,” Enid said with a smile before turning her back again.

Samael took the maple jar and Marianne suddenly put her hand on his shoulder, causing him a start that almost made him pour the maple all over his plate.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m just… a little overwhelmed.”

“Take it easy. You’re back and no one will take you away from us again, okay?” she whispered, gently shaking his arm. He nodded with a smile and turned back to his breakfast, looking engrossed again. There was something in those flashbacks he thought important, but what? The memory eluded him.

Marianne’s cell phone vibrated, announcing an incoming message. She was quick to pull it out, but when she stared at the screen, her eyes shadowed and immediately kept it back without saying anything.

“What is it?” Samael asked, noticing her change of mood. She just shook her head and attempted to smile, though she didn’t touch her breakfast again.

“Are you sure you’re ready to go back?” Marianne asked, stopping at the school’s entrance to give Samael the chance to change his mind. “If you think it’s better to take the day off to recover and try to remember something…”

“I’ll be fine,” Samael assured, though an unexplained agitation was starting to stem inside him, which only increased when they entered the building and went past several students arriving just like them. He didn’t understand why; it was like suddenly developing phobia to the crowds. He looked from side to side, as if anyone would attack them, and even started to feel a little dizzy. He didn’t want to worry Marianne though, he needed to be there in order to stimulate his memory.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You’re paler than usual.”

“It’s nothing, really,” he said, trying to smile despite feeling feverish. He suddenly turned toward the stairs before she noticed something was not quite right. “See you after school.”

Marianne saw him going up in a hurry, and almost had to refrain herself from going after him. She tried to dismiss her concern, chalking it up to the need of taking care of him now that he was back, and continued to her own classroom. She noticed that everyone seemed unusually quiet in contrast with the previous day and then she heard the screech of shoes approaching at full speed; before she could even turn around, she had someone hanging from her arm so tightly it almost got dislocated.

“Hey! Did you get a message this morning? I think everybody received it.”

“…Yes. I just saw there was a video attached to it and I deleted it,” Marianne replied with a snort while Lilith hung from her arm.

“Why?” she asked, genuinely confused.

“Because I don’t think we should see it. It would be like taking part of it. We’re their friends, it wouldn’t be right.”

“Yes, but… how would you know what’s about if you don’t see it?”

Marianne stopped and turned to her with scrutinizing eyes.

“…Did you watch it?”

“…Yes! I saw it! I’m curious, okay?!” Lilith accepted. “But it’s not what you think! If you let me explain or even better, show you, you’ll understand.”

Marianne frowned, undecided. Maybe it wasn’t the same video, but something entirely different. Minutes later, they had stopped in the first lonely corridor they could find, and Lilith held her cell phone in front of her, who stood still with an indescribable expression.

“See? Do you know what that means?” Lilith said, unable to keep quiet any longer. “The rumors were all false!”

Marianne remained silent during the entire video —not longer than 5 minutes with the speed up effect—, and after it was finished, she just shifted in her place while Lilith kept her phone up.

“So? You’re not gonna say anything?”

Marianne didn’t know what to say; her mind was just blank, and when she was finally about to speak, she chose to avoid the subject.

“…Let’s go before the class begins.”

Most of their classmates were silent when they entered, but not exactly because of the teacher. The only one that seemed pleased with herself was Kristania, most likely because of the new video. Even when Addalynn arrived, there wasn’t the same number of whispers as the day before, they just watched her on their way to her seat, focusing again on the teacher, who was filling the blackboard with equations. Marianne was also lost in her thoughts, so much she startled when the door was knocked, and the teacher came out to see who it was. Less than a minute later he was back in with two police officers, and she recognized one of them.

“We won’t take a lot of your time,” officer Perry said, glancing around the classroom with a faint glimmer of recognition after watching the girls in the back, but keeping professional. “We’re visiting schools all over the city, this is just a routine procesure. We just want you to look at some pictures and tell us if you recognize anyone.” As he said this, his companion had already begun to distribute a couple of photos to the front row with indications to pass them backwards. “We just want to ask some questions to these persons, that’s all.”

The photos were passed from hand to hand, front to back, everyone looking at them without showing any kind of reaction and giving it to the next row. Marianne received the pictures from Angie’s hands, and as soon as she took a look at them, her face changed. They were copies of a couple of pictures she’d seen before in Dreyson’s house. She turned to him and saw his eyes were fixed on the pictures with a somber look.

She looked around, expecting to see some kind of reaction from the rest of their classmates, but they all seemed unamused by the pictures, like they hadn’t recognized him, let alone his mother. Then she remembered that no one else had seen the pictures from “before”. He now looked very different and had lost a lot of weight… but at least Vicky and Addalynn had seen them, and although the latter remained expressionless, she had surely recognized him. Vicky was frowning and twisting her mouth, as if debating internally whether or not to talk.

“So? Anyone?” officer Perry urged them, but in the end neither Vicky nor Marianne said a thing, they just returned the pictures as the other cop collected them. Marianne glanced at Dreyson, who gave back the pictures and stared at the officer with a daring look on his face, but he didn’t even notice. Perry seemed disappointed but not surprised; apparently, they had already visited several schools without results.

She wondered why not simply track their names, but then it dawned on her that they must be using fake ones. And all because of something his father might have done… She felt sorry for him.

“Well, uh… is it okay if we meet in my house today?” Vicky said after classes when everybody was on their way out. She didn’t dare to look at Dreyson as though he would realize she had recognized him, but even though her acting made it obvious, he didn’t seem to care.

“If that means we’re going for your family tree then yes, count me in,” Marianne said, trying to lighten the mood. Vicky smiled and waited for Dreyson’s answer, but he just kept his things without paying any attention. Marianne cleared her throat and glared at him so he would respond until he finally did, but not exactly as expected, just a simple shrug.

“Okay. At five would be fine,” Vicky said, stepping back to the door. “My brother promised me he would go back home after school, so I want to make sure he’ll do it.” She showed a nervous smile and then fled. She was so transparent; she couldn’t hide her reaction to the pictures.

Marianne took her bag to her shoulder and stood up, but she barely stepped forward and turned to Dreyson. He looked distracted, but in the short time she knew him, it was clear to her that his silence meant he was analyzing the situation to decide his next move.

“Are you okay?” she asked. Dreyson raised his gaze and smirked.

“Why? You think I’m worried about the photos?” he said with a shrug. “Well, I’m not. But I like to know that despite everything you care about me.”

“And there goes my concern,” Marianne replied, rolling her eyes, and turning for the door, while he did nothing but follow her with an expressionless gaze.

“You have no idea idea how happy we are that you’re back, Samuel!” Lilith said when they all met after school. She then looked askance at Angie, who remained undaunted beside her. “…Even Angie, though she’s unable to show it right now.”

Angie rolled her eyes as Samael studied her.

“…So, her gift didn’t appear, and you still don’t know who took it,” Samael said, already he was filled in with all the news.

“We hoped you could help us track it,” Marianne suggested, and he closed his eyes as if willing to make an attempt, but once again felt invaded by the malaise he had been feeling since he set a foot in the school.

“I’m sorry. I’m still not quite myself,” he apologized. “My power’s not at his full capacity yet.”

“Samuel!” Vicky approached running and hung onto him in an effusive hug. “I can now properly express my excitement that you’re okay! You looked in such a bad shape yesterday that I feared I could hurt you if I touched you.”

“Thank you. I’m also happy to be back,” Samael said with a smile. Demian came walking through the same door and stopped hesitant to see everyone gathered there, his eyes running briefly into Marianne before collecting himself.

“Hey! Don’t be so shy. Come here, we don’t bite,” Mitchell said with his usual confident attitude.

Demian glanced around to see if the rest of the students were watching him. They looked askance at him, but not so much as the previous day; more like their fun had been spoiled too soon. So, he walked towards them, trying not to look so defensive, but when Mitchell patted him, his shoulders automatically stiffened.

“Relax, dude. We don’t have to act like the last few days didn’t happen, but you have nothing to be ashamed of either,” Mitchell said lightly, making Demian more uncomfortable at the mere mention.

“Don’t worry, brother. It’s all right. Everything’s water under the bridge now.”

“We never believed it anyway so let it go,” Lilith added, and though well-intentioned, it was just the last nail on his cross.

“Maybe you should just stop talking about it,” Marianne said, and Demian finally dared to look at her. “It’s not very nice having to put up with that kind of rumors and also have to listen to your own friends talking about it.”

The others agreed and nodded embarrassedly, looking away as if they could undo their comments that way. Demian kept his gaze on Marianne, surprised by her words and she smiled a little. That seemed enough for him to relax and smile in response.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Mitchell whispered, pulling him on the side as if about to tell him a secret. “Even though I guess the whole thing was affecting you, so I’m glad it’s all cleared out, but… if it had been me, I would have enjoyed a little fame, but hey, that’s just me!”

Demian just gave him a reproaching look. Addalyn was peeking from outside and many eyes strayed to her, who remained unfazed and simply folded her arms impatiently. Vicky waved everyone goodbye and got up, pulling her brother out.

“See you this afternoon, okay?!” she said, walking away. Marianne nodded while Demian glanced sideways at her until they disappeared from their sight.

The flow of students heading for the exit was increasing, and the sense of vertigo that had been crawling inside Samael reached its peak. Unable to keep resisting, he collapsed.

“If you were feeling weak, you shouldn’t have gone to school,” Marianne chided him while he drank water back home.

“I didn’t feel like that when we left the house,” Samael said, giving her back the glass and resting his head on the pillow. “It was during the day. I don’t know why.”

“Whatever. You’re staying here, and I don’t want you to get out of bed unless it’s absolutely necessary. You may ask for anything you want, and we’ll bring it to you.”

Samael smiled with eyes closed and a serene expression that made Marianne frowned.

“…What? Did I say something funny?”

“I was just thinking how things change. I’m supposed to be the one protecting you and I’m lying here in bed, unsure if I’ll get my abilities back while you take care of me.”

“…Well, true that. It’s a little bit funny,” Marianne agreed, curling her lips upward as Samael kept his head on the pillow, resting his eyes with that same placid expression, so she decided to walk quietly to the door.

“…Marianne,” Samael said, and she stopped with her hand on the knob. “…Thanks for everything. I don’t know how, but I believe you brought me back somehow. Even if I can’t remember, if I don’t have my skills back, or if I can’t control them anymore… none of it matters as long as I know that you’re okay.”

Marianne was moved by his words, but didn’t want to get unnecessarily sentimental, so she just smiled back and took a deep breath.

“Forget about your powers and your duty for a moment; if we’re gonna reverse the roles, I will protect and take care of you if I have to, get it?”

Samael looked at her with his expressive eyes like a crystal lake; his chest filled with a warm feeling of familiarity, of belonging. Marianne finally went out, and as she walked to her room, she heard her brother’s complaints on the other side.

“Mom! You can’t do this! I’m not an animal to chain me up!”

“I’m not chaining you up. You’re totally free to come and go as you please around the house. It’s only if you get out that you’ll get in trouble. The system worked very well yesterday, why fix what’s not broken?” their mother replied, and Marianne assumed she had put the electronic bracelet on him, which meant she was having another date… with Angie’s father.

There was no time to think about it. She had to leave within hours for their teamwork in Demian’s house. After spending almost all morning in a strange mood, she now felt calm, as if a thorn had been pulled out of her.

She was preparing everything she would need for the team meeting minutes before leaving, when she heard knocking on the front door.

“Loui! Open the door!” The knocking was still heard after a few seconds. “Loui!” She put everything aside and went to the kid’s bedroom, but when she pushed the door, she saw him with his headphones on and playing a gameboy. She had no choice but to go open the door herself and frowned when she saw who was waiting on the other side.

“Uhmm… I think you misunderstood. Today’s meeting is at Vicky’s house, not here,” Marianne said, narrowing her eyes at Dreyson.

“I know. I’m not here for that. I’m not going.”

Her brow tightened even more.

“You’re not? Why are you here then?”

“I wanted to say a proper goodbye,” he answered, and Marianne tilted her head to the side, confused. “I might not be returning to school tomorrow.”

“Huh? Is it because… of the photos?” she asked and Dreyson smiled, already knowing she would ask that.

“I told you I’m not worried about the pictures. There are other reasons… but you don’t want to know.”

Marianne kept watching him intently, curiosity pushing its way through, even though something inside her told her to repress it.

“…Is your father forcing you to leave?” she finally dared to ask and Dreyson’s eyes showed a glint that seemed to reveal something hidden behind them.

“…My father can’t make me do anything,” he replied with a smile that gave her goosebumps and refrained from asking something else. She held on to the door, and the only thing that prevented her from pushing it close was her desire to play it cool.

“Well… I’m sorry you have to go, but I still have to deal with teamwork, so if you’ll excuse me…” she said, slowly pushing the door to close it, but Dreyson set a foot on the doorway and took a step forward.

“Don’t you wonder why am I telling you this? Why I came all the way down here just to say that I was leaving?”

“…I don’t know, but if you say something like it’s because you want to go out with me at least once, I swear I’ll shut the door in your face,” Marianne snapped, trying to look unflinching. Dreyson’s smile stretched even more which only increased her unease.

“That’s what I like about you,” Dreyson said, taking another step across the threshold of the door while Marianne recoiled. “You’re not afraid to stand up to anyone, but at the same time you can be selflessly attentive. I’m sorry if I can’t say the same about myself.”

“…Well, right now I don’t feel so ‘attentive and selfless’, so, if you’re going to leave, you’d better do it now before the little esteem I have for you wears out,” Marianne warned him, trying not to show her nervousness at his advance. Dreyson stopped as if her words had worked, and she refrained from heaving a sigh of relief.

“…I see,” he said with an expression that seemed to have reached enlightment while Marianne’s blood ran cold. He was acting weirder than usual, and she could no longer hide her concern. “Now I see.”

He reached out to grab her wrist, but Marianne had her senses already alert, so she quickly reacted by slapping his hand away, though he was quicker to hold the other.

“What are you doing? Let go of me!” she protested, struggling to get loose.

“I’m not gonna hurt you. I just want to understand it better.”

His grip was strong, but panic was not an option; she needed to keep a cool head to use her power if absolutely necessary.

“Let her go.”

Samael was standing a few steps from the bottom of the stairs, barefoot and holding the handrail, glaring at him. He was not fully recovered from his near-death experience but seemed willing to do anything to protect Marianne.

Dreyson looked up at him, more annoyed by his interruption than concerned.

“…I won’t repeat it,” Samael added in an intimidating tone he rarely used, and after several seconds of silence and tension, Dreyson finally loosened his grip and Marianne took the chance to pull away and stand next to the stairs, rubbing her wrist and staring at Dreyson, more upset than anything.

“…I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said, stepping back. He gave a final glance from Marianne to Samael and seemed about to say something else, but ultimately turned around and left, leaving the door open.

“Are you okay?”

“I was this close to use my power,” Marianne said with a huff.

“…I don’t like him, and I don’t trust him,” Samael added, watching warily to the door.

“He’s going through some issues of his own. I’d rather think that recent events have brought him to a meltdown.”

“What did he want?” Samael asked, and she shook her head with a sigh.

“No idea, but I don’t want to think about it anymore. I have yet to meet Vicky and Addalynn for our teamwork and I would rather focus on it.”

“Are you going out even after what just happened? I don’t think it’s wise.”

“You think he’ll follow me or something? I doubt it,” Marianne said very confident, but Samael wasn’t willing to let her go so easily.

“You’re not going alone. I’ll go with you.” He walked down the remaining steps and took a coat from the hanger before Marianne could protest.

“Really? You’re going out like that?” she said, raising an eyebrow and looking down at him. Samael followed her gaze and saw his bare feet touching the floor.

“…I’ll go get some shoes and then we’re off,” he decided, speeding up the stairs as if Marianne could take the chance to make a getaway.

She shook her head and decided to go up and pick her stuff, realizing that Loui was cautiously peeking from the top. Marianne tilted her head quizzically but instead of saying anything, the kid just backed away and ran to his room. It was odd to her, but just shrugged and continued up.

When they arrived at the house, they leaned on the gates to look inside.

“Call me when you’re done, even if I have to walk all the way here.”

“You make it seem like it’s something humans don’t do already, having to walk to go from one place to another,” Marianne said with a short laugh.

“Well, you know what I mean. If I could transport us with my power, it would be faster.”

“Stop tormenting yourself thinking you’ve lost your powers permanently; you’re always worried about that. And even if you do, well, that just makes you as human as any other, but that doesn’t make you any less of an angel. You’re still our guide and leader.”

Samael tried to smile but couldn’t help feeling concerned; the only trace he could feel from his powers was his connection with Marianne, but it would be useless if she was to stay there, with Demian around, since his presence masked hers.

“…Is that a police car?” Marianne asked, noticing a car parked right next to the entrance; its lights were off, but she couldn’t help feeling uneasy about it. Before Samael could say anything, she pushed the intercom button insistently, and after they heard the buzz of the gate, she practically squeezed through the bars like she was made of rubber.

She stopped at the door, panting, and then glanced at the car before knocking urgently on the door until it opened. Her hand stopped before hitting Demian, who looked surprised at her.

“…Hi,” was all he could say, looking from her to Samael.

Marianne hesitated before looking over her shoulder, back to the car, giving Demian the chance to also see it.

“Why’s the police here?”

Demian raised an eyebrow, as surprised as her, and turned to the house.

“…To be honest, I have no idea. I was at my father’s office, checking some papers, and didn’t notice the time. Come in. I’m going to find out what’s going on.”

Before they could go any further, one of the bottom doors opened and Vicky walked out followed by officer Perry, who carried a folder under his arm.

“Oh, good! You’ve arrived!” Vicky said, running towards her. “That means Dreyson’s the only left.”

“He won’t come,” Marianne said, glancing at the young officer. “…He stopped by my house to tell me that.”

“For real?” Vicky seemed disappointed at the news while Demian couldn’t help a squint.

“What is this?” Marianne whispered, moving closer to her so officer Perry wouldn’t listen. “Why did you call the police?”

“He’s not in official duty if that’s what you mean. I just thought… maybe he could come and ask Dreyson some questions here, outside school. I didn’t tell him he’s the one they’re looking for, or where they live, I just told him… he might know something.” Marianne shook her head. Sending the police to question him was too much. “Well then, I’ll have to explain him that he won’t be coming… Just wait here and we’ll get to work in a few minutes, okay?”

Vicky went back to officer Perry while Marianne meditated about it.

“May I know why the police wants to question that guy?” Demian asked, feeling he’d missed something.

“It’s not because of what happened earlier, is it?” Samael interjected and Demian looked from one to the other, increasingly confused.

“…Why don’t you go home? I’ll be here for a while,” Marianne said to avoid the conversation, and even though Samael looked unconvinced, he nodded.

“Let me know when you finish.” He gave a brief look at Demian and a subtle nod to let him know that she was now under his protection. He seemed to understand and just nodded in agreement.

“I’ll tell you when we finish our teamwork, okay?” she finally said once Samael left.

“…Okay. I’ll be in the back yard. There’s a basket, there so I’ll play a little. I haven’t left my dad’s office all afternoon.”

“I’ll go see you… I mean, to talk to you about this whole Dreyson thing.”

Demian smiled to show that he understood what she meant, and as he went out of the house, Marianne felt her cheeks getting hotter, so she quickly patted her face and shook her head, fearing her pressure might be increasing.

“It’s done, I’ll go tell Addalynn we’re ready to start and we’ll take the office now that my brother left,” Vicky said to her while going up the stairs. Officer Perry walked past Marianne, bowing his head in greeting.

“Excuse me,” he said politely, heading for the door.

“…Wait! Can I ask you something?”

The young officer looked outside and then to her, wondering what she was up to.

“Regarding the pictures you showed us today…” she began, trying to think the best way to express her question without looking too suspicious. “…Does it have something to do with the case you’ve been working on?”

“What do you know about it?” the officer asked, squinting suspiciously. “…Did Lucianne tell you something?”

“No, well, it’s just…” She wouldn’t go anywhere if she kept beating around the bush. At least she could be honest about one thing without throwing Dreyson under the bus. “Sorry, I… I saw the files on the table when I went to see Lucianne the other day. Since then, I’ve been haunted by the images I saw. I keep thinking about what kind of person would do something like that.”

“I see,” Perry said, pondering on what he could say or not in that case. “…You shouldn’t have seen them, but we can’t do anything about it now. I undersand that you feel that way, the pictures of the crime scene are explicit.”

“Are you sure that man did it? I mean, do you have any proof of it?”

“What man are you talking about?” he asked, returning to his suspicious stance.

“The picture among the files in the case. A mug shot I think?” she said, trying not to sound like she knew too much, but officer Perry’s response was totally unexpected.

“…I think you got it wrong. The man in the mug shot is not the suspect, he’s the victim.”

Marianne fell silent. All that time she had thought Dreyson’s father was the suspect of a murder when he actually was…

‘My father can’t make me do anything’. He had tried to tell her himself. But if his father was the victim and he and his mother had fled, then…

A ringone interrupted her thoughts and Perry pulled out his cellphone.

“…Give me a second,” he said, stepping away to answer privately though Marianne didn’t seem to mind, she was already distracted by this new revelation.

“Hey, are you coming?” Vicky was already waiting beside the stairs with Addalynn. Marianne wanted to ask more questions to officer Perry, but he just finished his call and went hastily to the car.

“Sorry, I must return to the headquarters. Something came up last minute.” Before she could say antyhing he was already driving through the gates.

She couldn’t do anything else, her information source had left the building, leaving her with the feeling that she’d been carrying a grenade with half ring out the whole time. The only thing to do now was to follow Vicky and Addalynn to the office, where everything was clean and tidy like some kind of mausoleum, preserving the neatness and organization of her late father. They settled in an empty table at one end of the room and started to work, even though Marianne couldn’t focus after her new findings.

“You want a break?” Vicky suggested noticing her distraction, but Marianne shook her head and took one of the books to feign some interest. There was a long sheet of paper over the table where Vicky had been carefully tracing the lines that would shape her family tree. “Okay, then… can I ask you to finish the layout? My drawing skills ar null and I still have to fetch our albums.”

Marianne took over to finish the layout of the tree, trying to stay focused while Vicky left the room. Addalynn had already put aside a book on genetics assigned to her, and her attention was now on her cell phone, typing something quickly with her thin fingers.

“…Can I ask you a question?” Marianne suddenly said after watching her for a moment. Addalynn raised her gaze from the screen and gave her a quizzical look. “…Why didn’t you say anything?”

Addalynn looked back at her device, furrowing her brow.

“…I just couldn’t,” was all she said with a shrug.

“What’s that supposed to mean? You couldn’t? Has anyone threatened you to keep quiet or something? Why would anyone…?”

“I don’t know! I have no idea why! I just couldn’t talk about it even though I tried! Why do you always have to question everyone as if you had the right to know everything?!” she said, losing her temper, and Marianne twisted her mouth. She didn’t consider herself especially curious, at least not more than the average, but when it came to something she deemed senseless, she couldn’t help it. And Addalynn being unable to speak about something didn’t make any sense. Maybe if she just didn’t want to talk about it, but something physically keeping her from doing so? She was by no means an expert in angel’s biology despite living with one, so she wasn’t sure about it.

“I’m back? Did I miss anything?”

Vicky entered, carrying several books as thick as encyclopedias, and settled them with a resounding coup on the table. Marianne sighed, assuming they had to go through all of them to complete the tree, but instead of protesting they got down to work.

“Dad told us once that Grandma Anika worked for a secret organization that cracked war codes when she was young,” Vicky said, taking a black and white picture of a woman dressed in formal suit and her hair up according to the time. “…It was supposed to be confidential, but she didn’t want to keep secrets from her family. One week after telling them she suffered a stroke that killed her.”

Marianne only gave her a puzzled look at how lightly she talked abou it.

“I never met her,” Vicky added when she noticed her expression. “It’s like reading about any of your ancestors in history books. You’re interested in them, but there isn’t an emotional connection.”

Marianne had to agree. She hadn’t met any of her grandparents, and even though her mother sometimes talked about her parents, a couple of bohemian artists involved in the city’s artistic community, she never felt close to them. Her father, on the other hand, never spoke of his own…

“My grandparents Vance and Norah worked together in a newspaper back in their hometown,” Vicky continued, now taking another picture, this time in color, with a couple posing next to a car. “But there was a shootout in the central office and neither one of them survived.”

“…Wow. I don’t know what to say.”

“No need to. Like I said, I didn’t get to know them, so it really doesn’t affect me,” Vicky said with a smile, turning the pages full of photos, ignoring the fact that she had avoided making any comment about her own parents when they chose their pictures to include in the tree. “Ah, here’s the missing one! Grandpa Dayton. According to dad, he always started something and never finished it. He got excited over an idea, did all the planning, but once he got another idea stuck in his head, he completely abandoned the other and immersed himself in the new one. An aneurism ended his life months after the death of his wife. Anyway, he left hundreds and hundreds of unfinished projects and dad decided to make them real and that’s how some of his first companies started up until they eventually merged into one.

“…What’s the name you said?” Marianne asked, her mind making short circuit.

“Grandfather Dayton. He also died long before my parents even knew each other, but dad remembered him often because he was his inspiration.”

Dayton. Dayton. The name danced in the back of Marianne’s mind, certain that she had heard it before. Vicky was already talking again while including the picture in the draft, but she was no longer paying attention, she was going through her memories, searching for a link to that name, until she got it from her own father’s mouth: Dayton Corporation. The place where he was hired for his new job.

She immediately felt a bitter taste filling her mouth and didn’t speak again for the time that took them to complete the tree. When it was finally time to go, instead of following the path to the gate, she surrounded the house and walked with rushed steps to the back, her arms stiff at her sides.

Demian was sitting in a lawn chair, staring at the darkened sky while playing with a ball, making it spin in his fingers.

“…I thought you wouldn’t come. Didn’t thought teamwork would take so long,” Demian said, standing up with a smile as he sensed her approaching, but it faded away after seeing her expression.

“Dayton Corporation?!” she shouted, stopping in front of him with her neck almost buried between her shoulders. “Did you honestly think I would never find out?!” Demian didn’t speak, just stood there, uncomfortable. “Tell me you didn’t create it just to employ my father, please!”

“I didn’t… It was already planned,” he finally said, realizing it was pointless to keep hiding it. “…All I did was greenlighting the project.”

Marianne remembered Vicky’s anecdote about her grandfather’s unfinished projects and for some reason it made her angrier.

“Why my father? Do you still think you owe us something because of what happened?”

“It’s not that I think…”

“We don’t need your charity!” she continued non-stop, starting to exasperate him. “And even less if it means creating a position, let alone the whole company, just to offer my father a job out of pure indulgence! I asked you not to make things easy for him and that’s exactly what you did!”

“Have you ever thought that maybe I did it for you?!” he snapped impulsively, only to realize it after seeing her perplexed face, her eyes shining with confusion. He knew right then that there was no turning back.

“…For me? Why… Why would you do that?” she asked, as if it made no sense to her, but judging by Demian’s troubled and incredulous expression at her inability to see the obvious, it slowly dawned on her what she’d been refusing to accept for so long. But all she did was holding her breath and falling silent.

In that lapse, Demian could see the doubt in her eyes and a thousand thoughts going through her mind; those eyes that were like emeralds shining in the darkness. And he couldn’t resist anymore. He dropped the ball and walked up to her, driven by a moment of clarity that he could no longer ignore.

He took her arms and tilted his face without a trace of doubt, slowly comig down until their lips touched; electricity flowed between them like a static shock, a spark that left a tingling feeling on their lips even after they pulled apart.

Marianne’s face was a mask of confusion and bewilderment, her eyes so wide that they seemed about to pop out of her sockets. She gave one step back, her legs shaking like jelly, and then another step. Demian saw her intention and tried to say something.

“Wait, I…”

But it was too late, she turned around and fled like she was running away from him. Demian refrained from following her, lowering his stretched hand with a sense of failure, convinced that in his attempt to be finally honest with himself and act according to his feelings he’d only scared her off

Samael was still convinced he didn’t dream. However, that didn’t mean he couldn’t go through his own memories whenever he fell asleep. It was almost like witnessing it live. He walked down a hallway with the intention of meeting the others at a party, when he saw the two guys heading to the bottom and then the smoke demon, gliding through the air like a spectral hound following an invisible trail. It didn’t take him much thought to go after it, keeping his distance. He followed the shadow for several corridors until it stopped at one of the Hotel exits, hesitating, and finally going through it like a disembodied force that shook the door off its hinges. He approached the door and put his ear on it to try to overhear. There was a gutural hiss on the other side and a second voice that sounded agitated. There was someone else out there with the demon.

“Go away!” the second voice went up, and Samael decided to push open the door with his shoulder. And then he stopped. The two teens he had seen before were standing to the sides, like guards, while several feet ahead, next to the wall of the alley, the demon smoke hovered over someone.

The squeak of the door made them turned to him, and Samael had to stop to adjust his sight under the alley’s dimly lit lamppost. The recognition came with such a shock that it crossed the threshold of sleep and woke him up, breathing heavily and glancing around with a sense of urgency to make sure he was still home.

“…Marianne,” he whispered in alarm. He needed to find her as soon as possible now that he’d finally remembered what happened the day he disappeared. After all, the person he’d seen in front of the smoke demon was Dreyson.

The front door opened, briefly illuminating the bare walls with the streetlight just to darken again when it closed. Dreyson crossed the narrow corridor next to the living room with slow steps, but with an air of gravity to them. He started going upstairs, clutching the railing with a tight grip, until he stopped when he saw a woman at the top of the stairs, almost completely covered from head to toe, wearing dark glasses that concealed her eyes. Without saying anything, she just opened her arms, and like a balm, he immediately seemed to relax and allowed himself to be embrace by those adoring arms, sliding to the ground where she sat on the top step, letting him rest his head on her lap.

“Shhhhhh.” The woman rocked him like a baby, running her hand over his head and through his hair, while the other one took off her glasses.

Dark spots like bruises circled her eyes, but instead of remaining static, they would slowly spread under the skin, like an oil stain spilled into the sea.