Copyright © 2015 Danielle Powers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: [*1514665298 *]
ISBN-13: [*978-1514665299 *]
Dedicated to Adam, without whom I would be a lonely blogger. Thank you for always being my light in the dark, and for providing me with sweet and sour chicken when I am hungry. I could not possibly ask for more.
“Once upon a time, we walked over a sleepy back country bridge and stood overlooking the steady water gently brushing against the bank. I looked into your eyes and smiled. For the first time in our lives, we were okay.” – Anonymous
The thing about Karma
I’ve always been the firmest believer in karma. That’s not necessarily to say that I believe that every single move we make determines our fate, but instead that I believe what you put into the world is what you get out of it in return. If you live your life spewing hatred and anger and resentment, that’s exactly what you’re going to get put back at you.
At least I always secretly hoped that it was that way because let’s face it, I’m gay, and there were a LOT of hateful people growing up in the Midwest. It brought me a lot of pleasure to think that every single bit of misery that was being thrown at me was somehow going to come back and smack them in the face. You know, something along the lines of ‘may your milk be forever sour’ or ‘may you always be two cents short of exact change’. The little things that don’t really hurt anyone.
It didn’t actually occur to me then that maybe I was projecting bad karma back onto myself by wishing even the slightest bit of discomfort on others. Like maybe I was perpetuating a terrible, unending cycle of negative karma. Two wrongs don’t make a right, after all. I can say that much with absolute certainty. I can also say for sure that two rights don’t make a left, which is far less helpful and not at all relevant but I’m also part of the ADD generation and this is how my brain works. It’s a little jumpy, a little spazzy, and a lot of fun at parties. Also there are extenuating circumstances, which I’ll get into more in depth later. ADD is enough of an explanation anyway. It bites.
Really though, getting back to karma. I got a lot of negative energy thrown my way. I threw back… marginally… less. Enough less that I don’t actually feel bad about it. I would never wish harm upon anyone or anything. I’ve always been a protector, not a bully.
I still can’t help but think though, as I lay here dying, that maybe I shouldn’t have thrown the spoiled milk karma out into the world. Clearly that was the straw that broke the karma-camel’s back.
It also might have something to do with the guy in the car who hit the guy on the bike while driving entirely too fast the wrong way down a one way street, but whatever. Who am I to judge, right? I mean, yes, I am the guy on the bike, and yes, I was going the correct direction and also I was on a bike but that all seems kind of irrelevant now. The dude in the tank top who was driving looks like he’s about to vomit. I don’t know if that’s because I’m bleeding everywhere or because he feels bad for hitting me -- Which I hope he does. I mean, more bad karma, sure, but I don’t think it really matters anymore at this point. He hit me with a car. I’m 99% sure that I’m actively bleeding out right now and he’s only staring at me and looking sort of green.-- I definitely want him to feel miserable for at least a little while.
It’s a crappy way to go, for sure. Some people go out in a blaze of glory. They die protecting the people that they love, or they die in a hail of bullets with cool stuff like explosions going off around them. I died on a Tuesday afternoon in the same city where I was born, in the alley beside of Angelo’s pizza right beside of a rotten tomato and a broken bottle of Bud Ice.
I woke up almost six months later in an eerily similar alley in Phoenix, Arizona with a splitting headache and a pair of wings. And that’s where things got really interesting.
That’s what you get
(for waking up in Phoenix)
I’m fairly certain, on the list of shit I never actually expected to happen, waking up with wings wasn’t even something I considered adding. I mean I’ve worn those stupid little fairy wings you can buy at Walmart before. Or at least I tried to, but the little bands were CLEARLY not teenage boy friendly and it may have taken one really angry looking sales associate and a rather attractive single dad to help me get them back off, but that’s entirely beside the point. (I had bruises around my biceps for days. Good times. Good times.) Anyway. Wings. Never expected to have them.
Also, I feel like I should clarify this; they are definitely wings. I can feel them brushing against my back when I move my shoulders. I can hear them rustling. I know in my very bones that there are wings there. Kind of like you don’t have to be looking at your foot to know it’s attached to your leg.
The thing is… I can feel them fine. I just can’t see them. I also can’t knock things over with them, no matter how hard I try. Which really was very disappointing because I had really been hoping to do some invisible damage to at least one of the trash cans lining the alley but no, of course not, I’m never that lucky. Yes, I’m aware that I started this story with my death and now I’m standing in an alleyway in Phoenix. Yes I still think that being able to do invisible damage to some trash cans would be wicked lucky.
I also woke up with what I’m going to refer to as an absolute burning need to be somewhere very specific at that exact moment. It wasn’t even just a passing thought in my head like “Oh, hey, I should go bowling.” No. This was more along the lines of “If I don’t find this exact place right now I am going to go insane.” It was a little off putting, honestly. I’ve never been the type of person who was too terribly into deadlines and this felt like a huge one. Which really? Not fair. I’m pretty sure I’m a winged zombie at this point and now I’ve got the unshakeable desire to go do – something.
Which was also weird because this wasn’t even a thing I could pinpoint. I didn’t have a picture of it in my head or a conscious thought like “I want to go to the grocery store”. It was literally “I need to be wherever it is that I need to be and I need to be there now.”
And suddenly, I was.
Or, at least, I assumed I was. The nagging need was gone. I was standing beside a hospital bed, which was thankfully not in the alley. My arms and legs had that shaky ‘my adrenaline rush is wearing off and I’m about to crash’ feeling, the pounding in my head had intensified to the point where all I could hear was the steady thumpthump of a heartbeat pounding in my ears. I glanced over at the bed expecting some life changing realization like you see in the movies.
I was sorely disappointed.
The woman in the bed wasn’t someone that I had ever seen before. She didn’t even look vaguely familiar, like maybe I had met her in passing. She was just a complete stranger. Which made the entire situation even more bizarre. I had literally just zapped into her hospital room. Poofed into her hospital room? I don’t know the terminology.
All I knew was that I definitely wasn’t here a moment ago but now I am and this woman hadn’t even made an effort to look up at me. She just continued to stare down at the bundle in her arms like it was the greatest thing in the entire world. Which wasn’t entirely inaccurate really. The baby was adorable, as far as newborns go, with its face all scrunched up and pink. The woman must have been talking, to either herself or the baby, as her lips were moving. I still couldn’t hear anything over the pounding thumpthump in my ears.
“Can you hear it?” A voice asked suddenly and as much as I would love to lie to you and tell you that I didn’t jump or shriek, that would be a complete and total lie. I did jump. I did shriek. I am secure enough in my masculinity to admit that it sounded eerily similar to a six year old girl. The woman with the baby continued on feeding her child, oblivious to my outburst.
“Can you hear it?” The voice asked again, loud and booming and (rather disturbingly) inside my head.
“ Honestly man, at this point, I can’t really hear anything. You’ll have to be more specific.” I replied, eyes glancing frantically around the room. Voices in my head, wings, and I’m about 150% sure that I died. This was definitely just the weirdest day ever. Just.. ever.
Knowing the things that I know now versus the things that I knew then, I like to think that the sarcastic tone of voice and implied eyeroll that came with the voice’s reply were out of fondness. I’m also probably lying to myself, but more on that in a bit. “The heartbeat. You can hear it?”
And oh.. Yeah. That. “It’s the only thing other than you that I can hear at this point.” And that’s precisely the moment that a sickening realization hit me, “Oh god, am I a vampire? I don’t want to be a vampire. I don’t want to eat this woman or her tiny little baby. I don’t want to eat anyone, really, but I definitely definitely don’t want to eat them.”
The asshole in my head? He laughed. “Are you feeling the urge to maim and kill?”
That, of course, gave me pause. “No more than usual”, I replied. Which was pretty true, to be honest. So that was good news, I supposed. I probably wasn’t a zombie, then. No craving for cranial lobes. Also thankfully not a vampire because the thought of blood still squicked me out just as much as it always had, despite still literally ONLY being able to hear a heartbeat which was far less annoying than it should’ve been but whatever. I could roll with it. “And the wings?”
The voice seemed pleased when it answered, like I had gotten the answer right to a question that I hadn’t even been asked. “They’re not wings. Not yet, at least. Wings must be earned. What you have is a type of phantom limb. A memory of what they might feel like should you have them.”
And now I apparently have memories of appendages that I’ve never had because sure, why not. “The heartbeat is hers, I assume?” I asked, turning my attention once more back to the woman on the bed. She continued whispering, or singing, or perhaps reciting pi to its 1000th place for all I knew. Whatever it was that she was doing, she kept at it, completely oblivious to my presence.
“The heartbeat is his.” I glanced over at the baby, taking note for the first time of the tiny blue hat atop of its head. “He is your charge. You’ll protect him and keep him and guide his path. You’ll be his guard.”
And oh. That was heavier than I was expecting. “Well shit. I’m an angel.”
“You are a Guardian. The terminology isn’t important. Your job is to watch over him and protect him from the things that he needs protection from.”
“He’s so tiny though. How many things could there be that he needs protecting from? There can’t be that many things that want to harm a baby.”
The voice is laughing now because apparently I’m a naïve idiot. (Spoiler alert, I am definitely a naïve idiot. This will never change.) “Accidents happen, illnesses happen, bad choices, bad parenting, and bad people happen every single day. It’s your job to make the choices easier, to learn which accidents are life lessons and which are life-ending. You’ll provide comfort on his worst days and protection on the days even worse than that. It’s more than protecting him from anything that might want to harm him. It’s bigger than that, more vast. There have been instances, though very rare, of guardians so overcome with grief at the moment of their charge’s inevitable death, that they have traded their lives instead. There have been some who never recovered from the loss at all.”
I’m fully aware now that I must’ve looked like a complete idiot with the abject look of stupefied horror plastered across my face. To be honest though, the reaction was fitting.
“I don’t mean to scare you. Both of those were extreme cases and very, very uncommon. I just wanted you to be aware that it’s not like working as a security guard at a factory. It’s not a job. His protection will, quite literally, become the reason that you exist.”
“What about the children that don’t make it to adulthood? What about the ones who die young? You expect me to believe that they’re what? Expendable? The products of incapable guardian angels who just weren’t paying enough attention? If that’s the case then why are you trusting something so important to someone not cut out for the job?” I’d like to say that I was calm, cool and collected when I asked. In all actuality though, I wasn’t; not at all. I’ve never necessarily thought of myself as incapable but I’m not going to lie, there was definitely more than a tiny bit of projecting happening. Leaving me responsible for the life of a tiny, defenseless infant seems like an absolutely terrible idea if I’m being perfectly honest.
“Every creature, human or otherwise has an end. Even you, even me. There will always come a day that you can’t protect him, because nothing can live forever. Your only job is to make sure that this child, this one person, makes it to that point.”
“So I’m not really helping at all then, is what you’re saying. I’m just here to postpone the inevitable. That’s really depressing. Thanks for that.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic about it, Connor.” It should bother me more that the voice in my head knows my name but honestly, dead, wings, zapping, guardian angel, voice in my head, almost deafening heartbeat.. I’m done with being shocked for the day. Possibly the decade. “Every person is destined for greatness, whether it’s their own or to contribute to the greatness of someone else around them. Everyone matters. To say that his life isn’t worth guarding because he’ll die eventually anyway is ignorant. After all, you died too and yet, here you are. Still breathing the air around you, still walking on your own two legs with your own voice and your own personality.”
Honestly, it’s a fair point. “I’m assuming that my time was up, then? That whatever I was meant to achieve I achieved?”
The voice chuckled in response, “Perhaps. Or perhaps you’re doing now what you were meant to do all along. Who am I to decide?”
“Or perhaps you’re feeding me bullshit in order to make me agree to this whole thing in the first place. Because you do need me to agree, don’t you? Isn’t that the point of all of this?” It’s easy to act nonchalant. Like I don’t actually care what happens to this baby who will, hopefully, grow to be someone amazing. It’s an act though. Because now that I’m aware of him, I can already feel him wrapped around my soul, tied in to all of the little nooks and crannies just like that’s where he’s always belonged.
“Of course you can say no, today or any other day. I’m not here to force you into servitude, Connor. You possess the qualities of a guardian. You showed those qualities during your life and so now the opportunity is being presented to you during death to continue to do so. It’s entirely your choice what you do what that opportunity.”
Across the room from my perch by the window, the mother stirs in her bed, transferring her now sleeping son into his bassinette and turning off the overhead light. The room is washed in the pale glow of midnight. I can still see every feature on the baby’s face, just as clear as if it were midday. It’s all very disconcerting, really. “What’s his name?”
“His name is Morgan. He’s four hours old, and he is going to be so very important one day.”
“So you already know what he’s destined for?” My voice was still a whisper; a force of habit, I suppose. It wasn’t like anyone could hear me anymore.
“Everyone is important, regardless of what they grow up to become.” The voice spoke softly as well, matching my tone, “But this one? This one will be a pleasant surprise for everyone, I think. But what do I know?”
I still don’t remember taking those first few steps across the room. I don’t remember making a conscious effort to move. I don’t remember much of anything from those few moments, to be honest. I do know that suddenly I was beside of a bassinette with the tiniest baby inside that I had ever seen and my heart felt like it had swollen to bursting.
“Hi little guy. I’m Connor. I’m going to take care of you.” Sleepy eyes opened to look at me for just a moment and I knew, without question, that he had seen me. I gave him a smile back, brushed a hand across his ridiculously smooth cheek and crossed back across the room to my seat by the window. And so it began.
a guardian’s work is
Looking after a small child is one thing. Looking after a small child that cannot see or hear you is something totally different. I found this out the hard way in year three of what I like to affectionately refer to as “those times Morgan tried to give me a heart attack”.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself though. The first two years of Morgan’s life went a lot like this: Eat, sleep, eat, scream, eat, sleep, play, play, play, walk, talk, eat. There were, of course, a few small scares at first, once with a mild stomach virus and a second time with a clumsy cousin who literally dropped the baby off of the couch and onto his head (he bounced harmlessly off of a throw pillow. You’re welcome.) Then there was a chest infection that was decidedly less mild and a lot more frightening. I really wasn’t sure who was more terrified, myself or Morgan’s mother, Anne.
(Spoiler alert; there is absolutely zero that a guardian angel can do for you if you have an illness. We can offer comfort. For the most part, with very few exceptions, we don’t have a healing touch. We cannot cure cancer. We can’t zap away a cold or stop a raging fever. Believe me, I’ve tried.)
My favorite person in the world spent a grand total of two days in a children’s hospital ward, which I hope to never have to visit again. Not that it wasn’t a pretty decent place, at least for a hospital, but I learned pretty quickly on that where there are sick children, there are angels. So many angels. It could be downright creepy, really, even for me. Some of them never moved, they just stood there like statues beside of a sick child’s bed.
Some wept. Some paced. Some offered comfort to each other as well as to their charge. It was all exceptionally depressing. I spent the entire two days perched on a window ledge glaring at the doctors and nurses. It would’ve been much more effective if they could’ve seen me, of course, but it made me feel better, so I ran with it.
I don’t think it was until that moment, that I really figured it out. Every single one of them was exactly like me. Every single child, every single guardian, every single relationship was exactly like the one I shared with Morgan. There were a lot of those relationships that would be ending in the very rooms that the angels refused to leave. There were a lot of those children who wouldn’t be going home.
I’ve never felt smaller or more insignificant than I did over the course of those two days. For all of the powers that I had, for every stupid parlor trick that I could do, there was nothing I could do to protect him from this. It’s a feeling that I hoped at that point to never have to feel again.
Thankfully, Morgan’s infection responded well to the antibiotics he was prescribed and he went home breathing perfectly fine all on his own. He spent the next two weeks babbling slightly incoherently in the way that babies do about “the hoppital” and the stickers he got upon being discharged. It was adorable, but that’s neither here nor there.
The point that I was trying to make was this; Morgan Thomas led a rather uneventful life. I didn’t actually have to do much in the way of guarding, really. He was, quite possibly, the easiest charge in the world. I really thought I had it made.
Then he turned 17.
And he discovered girls. And he discovered boys. And he discovered he didn’t really care which he discovered more. Which, awesome, I’m good with that. I’m a gay guardian angel. I don’t think anyone up there cares or I wouldn’t be here.
But Morgan discovered a girl named Chloe most of all. Sweet as molasses, blonde hair, blue eyes, fake as a set of press on nails.
Now, I realize that I sound very bitter as I write this part out. That’s because I most definitely am, 100%. I’m man enough to admit to it whole heartedly. I hated this girl with a passion. There was absolutely nothing about her that I trusted; not even a little bit.
So, naturally, when she asked Morgan to meet her one night a few weeks into their budding relationship, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
Now, let’s discuss this objectively because I’m still coming to terms with it. When I died I was 17 years old. I also identified as gay, which matters a lot less at this point because if there is one thing that dying has taught me, it’s that I can feel attraction to who I want, everyone else be damned. I’m an angel who happens to like dudes. Come at me, religious zealots.
Anyway, moving on. Over the years I’ve met many people who feel the same way about it that I do. I don’t want to say that our opinion is more valid that anyone else’s but at the same time.. We don’t age. We are very hard to kill. We are literally charged with the protection of every single human being on the planet. We don’t have time to be jaded or angry or bitter, at least my circle of friends doesn’t. Everything is still shiny and new and wonderful, even though I’ve already been doing this for 17 years.
I’ve seen transgender women on the cover of magazines. I’ve seen gay marriage legalized in all 50 states. I’ve seen a president talk about love and acceptance. I’ve seen members of a boyband that are plagued with rumors about their sexuality shout “Happy Pride!” to fifty thousand people and not care a bit about what people might think of it. The world is making amazing strides toward equality and I could not be happier. At the same time, even with all of the messages of love and peace and happiness that are being spread, you still find people who have nothing but hatred in their hearts.
Long story short, when someone that the most important person in my world trusts (but that I despise) lures them out into the woods in the middle of the night, I get suspicious. Which, to be fair, is kind of in my job description. So I ran the treetops above them as they walked, completely silent. I was like a ninja. I mean, no one could’ve actually heard me anyway, but still. Ninja angel, reporting for duty.
I would like to make one point very clear. Since he’s grown past the age of five, following along behind him constantly is neither something that I’ve done – or even remotely wanted – to do. I’ve always tried to give him his space. No one wants to be spied on during their first kiss and consent is definitely a big thing for me. He’s a teenager. There are things that I really just don’t need to see and normally I am all about giving him his space.
If I’m being perfectly honest, which I like to think I am, I don’t actually need to be anywhere near him to do my job. His heartbeat is still a steady thump in the back of my mind (thankfully it’s something I’ve learned to turn the volume down on. It can be turned off completely as well, though I’ve never met anyone who’s actually done it. There’s no point. The bond with our charges is one of the most useful powers we have. Turning it off would be like removing one of our senses, or cutting off a limb.
The bottom line is, at the end of the day, I can feel his emotions as clearly as if they were my own. If he’s afraid, I can be halfway across the world in a fraction of a second. So, technically I didn’t need to be anywhere near him that night. I could’ve just popped off and visited some friends, maybe gotten in a few hands of poker with Aubrey, the guardian of the ten year old who lived next door. I didn’t, though, because something, somewhere, for some reason, told me not to; that whatever was going to happen would be huge.
I hate it when gut feelings turn out to be right.
It was nearly midnight when we reached the clearing and I gave a small sigh of relief upon finding it empty. I’m not saying that I expected a cult of mass murderers to be waiting at the end of the journey, but I had definitely expected a cult of mass murderers to be waiting for us at the end of the journey. Instead we were greeted by no one, which was less immediately disturbing . I was a paranoid person in life though, and will continue to be a paranoid person for the duration of my afterlife, as well, I assume. Which really works out in my line of business, so I’m not really complaining.
I was reaching out with my mind, searching for distant murmurs of conversations, or heartbeats that I didn’t recognize; anything that might confirm the feeling in my bones that this was a bad situation. I wasn’t really paying attention to the conversation below me, which was a pretty ridiculous mistake, one that I had definitely been around long enough to not make, but I could still hear the steady thump of Morgan’s heartbeat in my ears, soft and familiar. It hadn’t increased in speed, he hadn’t given any indication that anything had happened to spook him.
Then I heard the gunshot and my entire world stopped turning.
Bless his heart and soul and everything else because the poor naïve little idiot.. I don’t think he ever even saw the gun.
Chloe must’ve fired and run, because she was already gone in just the few seconds that it took me to process what had happened and to hit the ground beside of where my charge was lying. His eyes were glazed and unfocused and his hands clutched feebly at the wound in his side. I’ve never hated the fact that he couldn’t see me more than I did in that exact moment.
I hadn’t actually seen very much in the way of mortal injuries, apart from my own. There were a few extenuating cases where I’d had a friend, another guardian, who’d lost their charge in much this same way. I’d seen the aftermath, of course.
That being said, these definitely looked like they should fall into the “life threatening injuries – avoid at all costs” category. He tried to say something at one point, I think, unfocused eyes still peering over my shoulder into the darkness. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up a bit. I couldn’t sense anything back there. Nothing with a heartbeat or thoughts, at least, but I didn’t turn around to check. There were more important things to tend to.
Like the fact that Morgan
Morgan was bleeding to death on a forest floor and I was having more than a little trouble trying to figure out what exactly would be the best course of action. Zap him straight to the hospital? By far the most effective method but also the one most likely to be questioned later. Doctors and police tend to be super curious about people who show up alone at the hospital, bleeding to death, with zero memory of how they got there.
I could’ve called an ambulance, but we were twenty miles from the nearest town and there was absolutely no guarantee that anyone would make it to him before the whole situation got even graver than it had before.
Morgan whimpered a bit, his gaze still fixed over my shoulder, into the darkness behind me. I took a bit of comfort in the fact that he still didn’t seem to be looking at me. Seeing me now would be a terrible sign. Only those on death’s door are ever aware of our presence. We’re meant to be a comfort in their final hours; someone to be with them so that even the loneliest of people never has to truly die alone. The fact that he couldn’t see me, at least not yet, was more than mildly comforting. I laid my hand across his, still clutching weakly at the wound on his side. I could feel a small tingle, almost like electricity dancing across my fingertips. My brow furrowed. That was new.
The heartbeat in my ears stuttered and I snapped my attention back to the matter at hand. There weren’t any other options, really. He would bleed out without attention. There might be questions later and I was sure that somewhere this was probably going into a book titled “Times Connor Screwed Up” but whatever. I grabbed onto his arm, closed my eyes against the familiar tug of momentum in my chest and opened them again in the middle of a hospital in the middle of downtown Phoenix.
I was worried, at first, that I hadn’t gotten him close enough to the doors. It wasn’t exactly like I could run in for help, after all, wouldn’t have been able to, even if anyone could’ve seen me. Teleportation was simple for someone like me. We think about it and we move. Teleportation while carrying someone else? That was infinitely harder. I’d only actually done it twice before, both trips significantly shorter than this one.
I stumbled to a standing position and swayed more than a little once I had gotten my feet back under me. I would drag him to the doors if I had to. It would raise even more questions because of the security cameras and the whole dragged along by absolutely nothing aspect but there was literally nothing that I cared about less in that moment. Thankfully it didn’t actually come down to that. Just as I was trying to muster the strength to take the first step, I heard someone shouting for a stretcher and I sagged back down in a mixture of relief and exhaustion.
Not that any of this actually meant that I got to relax though. Not even in the slightest sense of the word. I followed the nurses and his gurney through the door to the emergency room and over into one of the trauma bays. It took all of five minutes for the surgeons to decide he would need immediate surgery to fix a ruptured spleen and to repair any other damage they might find. I had never been so terrified of the world exploratory in my entire life (and my life thereafter).
The surgery lasted a grand total of four and a half hours. His mother showed up an hour and a half in, after one of the nurses inexplicably found her phone number written on a post it note and attached hastily to her keyboard. Not my best work, I’ll admit, but it was just hectic enough that no one seemed to question it.
Forty-five minutes into the surgery his heart stopped entirely and mine stopped with it.
I didn’t move, didn’t breathe, didn’t blink as the room descended into organized chaos. Doctors were calling for medications and then there was the dreaded buzz zap of the defibrillator.
The silence in my ears was deafening. I always knew, of course, that his heartbeat was a constant. I didn’t realize how much, however, until it was gone. It took ninety-six seconds for them to get his heart restarted. I’d love to say that the sound that I let out was anything else but a victory screech, but it wasn’t.
As it sometimes does, the excitement drew a bit of a crowd. The last time I pulled my eyes away from the operating table there were six other angels piled in the corners of the room. They all watched on in silence. I recognized a few of the faces but couldn’t stay focused on them for long. The last thing I wanted to see was the pity in their eyes.
For four and a half hours I sat perched on a cabinet, sending out every positive thought, every prayer, every bargain that I could think of. I don’t know if any of them worked. Maybe it was just sheer stubbornness (either his or mine) that kept him alive.
It didn’t really matter though, because whatever it was, it kept him alive. And that heartbeat was back at full volume, blaring in my ears the exact same way that it had been seventeen years ago when I had first woken up. Someone clapped a hand on my shoulder. I vaguely recognized the blue eyes of another guardian, Cassandra. She gave me a small smile. I tried to return it but it felt more like a grimace, even to me.
“He’ll be fine now. They’ve done good work.”
I nodded in reply. I still didn’t trust my own voice.
“This wasn’t your fault, Connor. You did exactly what you were supposed to do. You can’t stop every bad thing that ever happens to him. You got him here and he got the help he needed. He’s alive right now because of you. This is a success, not a failure.”
My laugh was hollow, “This doesn’t feel like a success. This feels like I almost let him die because I couldn’t make a decision. I should’ve done something. Should have kept him out of those woods.”
“What could you have done? That’s the thing, Connor. Free Will. That’s always the catch. He has it, you have it, the girl that shot him has it. We all have the freedom to make our own choices. Unfortunately they don’t always end well. But this one? This choice ended okay. Your boy is alive, he’ll wake up sore and probably very, very confused, but he’ll wake up.” She gave me a smile that could’ve warmed the arctic and really, who could argue with that?
I watched silently as they wheeled him from the operating room to recovery. Nurses still buzzed back and forth, changing out IVs and checking his vital signs but for the most part, we were alone for the better part of an hour. If I reached out what little of my powers that I hadn’t drained, I could just feel his mother, and her immense relief, radiating from the waiting room. I was sure they would let her back to see him soon and I was glad. He shouldn’t be alone and I was already running on the brink of exhaustion.
We don’t, as a general rule, need sleep. That is, of course, provided that we don’t do stupid things like teleport ourselves and someone else forty miles in one gigantic swoop. Technically we don’t even need sleep then. We need rest and we need time to recover. Being unconscious isn’t usually a part of that deal. But Morgan was safe, as safe as he would ever be, at least. And I was definitely more depleted than I was willing to admit. Once they settled him in a more permanent room, there would definitely be a nap headed my way.
He shifted a bit and I moved from my perch on the windowsill to get a better look at his face. He still looked unbearably pale, but much better than he had lying in the forest. He moved again, just a small twitch of his head, and I smoothed back his hair. When I spoke my voice was hushed, “Shh. Don’t try to wake up yet. Rest. Your mother will be here soon.” I wasn’t sure what comfort it would offer, if any, but it was better than not trying at all.
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In his seventeen years of life, there weren't exactly a lot of things that Connor Drake was good at. He didn't excel in school and was never quite good enough to be the star of any sports teams. That was before the accident. And before the dying. And then suddenly there was Phoenix and wings and a newborn boy that he'd never met before, but that he knew, without a doubt, that he would protect with his life. He even promised the baby, Morgan, as much as he took up the role as his Guardian. Seventeen years later he might just get to keep that promise.