Even the roses smell like lilacs up there. It's one of the reasons we would never have worked out. He does. Of course he does. He saw what his family was up to when he was only a child, and still believed things would turn out alright in the end. It appalled him so much he never again considered their path again. Never thought his views would change and mature…
He's childish like that. It's one of the reasons I find it so relaxing to spend time with him. Everything's so simply black and white, the way they are in the movies.
I complicate things. I'm a murky white, a light black. He hesitates to use the word 'grey'. I've killed people: dark. I did it to save my own skin: light.
Now he wants to save my soul. A disproportionate reaction to growing fond of someone, in my opinion. You don't see me trying to lure him to Hell with sulphur and false promises. Yet here we are, with rose petals strewing the ground at three-thirty in the morning. At the entrance to a portrait gallery, no less.
I still went in. It would have been rude to stand him up. And whatever I am, I am certainly not rude. It's crass.
Plus, you know, super detective angelly powers. I don't want him pissed at me, not when we've been getting on so well for, oh, at least a month.
The main room of the portrait gallery had mahogany panelling, only marginally less beautiful than the paintings hanging before it. Broad, polished marble flooring served to magnify my footsteps. I felt like a giant in that room, the only thing moving amongst the dead. I looked closer at the paintings in the dim half-light of dawn. It was all women in stiff ruffs and skirts that resembled meringues.
"If this is your way of telling me I'd look better in a dress, it's gonna fail." I raked a lazy hand through my hair. "A skirt just isn't practical."
Brice appeared in front of me, a figure silhouetted between the two tall pillars leading further into the gallery. I could see a gleam in the darkness that must have been his smile, and then he spoke.
"Much as I'd like to see your legs when they're not in jeans…I brought you here to show you something." His posture shifted. He was nervous, or folding his arms. He tended to move in a decisive way when he'd finished making a point, which was why I took great delight in making him squirm without thought under my hands.
"Brought?" I objected to the word as I made my way towards the angel, who was attempting to lean nonchalantly against the column. "I followed a trail, but only because I knew it was you. Brought implies…" I circled him, once. "Kidnapping. Coercion." I exhaled at his neck, and it pleased me to see goosebumps there and him unconsciously moving.
"Mel, you're not being fair." Whining words, but he was right. I wasn't being fair to him at all. He still had this chip on his shoulder about saving me, and no doubt he'd use some kind of crappy metaphor to do with the art in this place to try and enchant me to go to Heaven with him. What was so wrong with making out, I wanted to know? We could do that just fine, him pushing my jacket off my shoulders and gently stroking my sides, me leaving property-marks over his neck…his hand shot out to take me by the wrist.
"No distractions," he said firmly, and I pouted. I could see his resolve crumbling, and moved in for the kill. We could make out on the floor of the gallery til the security guards came, and we'd beam away, and he would never remember what it was he had 'brought' me here for. But as my fingers caressed his arm, he snapped out of the reverie I was holding him in.
"Mel," he said sternly, and took me by the wrist again, marching into the room with the women and their ridiculous dresses. I won't lie. It felt kind of nice for him to be in charge for once. I've always had a soft spot for being held, restrained. Especially if it comes from someone I know I can trust. And Brice is an angel. He would never do anything to hurt me. I'm not even sure he physically can. He dragged me gently in front of a painting of a woman with long blonde hair and a bored expression in her hazel eyes.
"Do you know who that is?"
"Lucrezia Borgia," I replied, having eyes and being able to read the caption by the portrait. "Italian woman, right? Poisoned people?"
"My ancestor." He didn't sound proud. I glanced over my shoulder at him, raising my eyebrows. How on earth did 'Borgia' translate into 'de Winter'? His face was hard, betraying no emotion, and he let go of my wrist as a muscle moved in his jaw.
He seemed to be waiting for me to say something, but I didn't know what. What I'd told him was the limit to my knowledge. I hadn't been sent on assignment to Italy in that time period. I was mainly focused on the modern world. I worked better when I could understand the conventions of the place I was in.
"So? Well done? Wasn't she kind of awesome?"
"Not really." He took a breath. "You know she was married three times? Had at least eight kids."
"Huh." I squinted at the picture as a beam of moonlight untangled itself from the clouds and hit the oil painting. "She doesn't look so bad."
"Mel." He was pissed. Huh. New one. I shifted a bit in front of him, moving my hand to catch his, but it seemed out of my reach. I was getting slightly nervous now. Brice had shied away from my advances twice tonight. Was he breaking the spell he had told me I had over him? I shivered, not from cold, and looked more intently at the painting. Was there a clue there for me? Was Brice trying to tell me something?
He spoke again. "She was married three times. Political, every time. Her first was annulled, her second husband was murdered. She wasn't in love with any of them. She still obeyed her family, though. Like a good little girl."
"Not really getting you." But I was panicking somewhat. He'd said 'good little girl' with such contempt, distaste…what was he planning? Did he not want to be 'good' anymore? Was he just spitting on her because she'd been working for her family?
He leaned in to me, and I quickly snuggled up to his warm body. My relief did not last long.
"See, you're Lucrezia, Mel."
My breath caught in my throat. It felt just as unpleasant as it had when it had last happened, when I had died for the first time. This was a second death to me, an angel rejecting me. For someone to give up on me, and leave me to my fate—and I found tears on my face as he stepped away.
"You're not a rebel." His voice was low, disappointed, golden. "You accepted your place in Hell. You're not doing anything that will advance you. You're working for people who don't care about you. You know Lucrezia had affairs? She could never really be open with them, though. She was alone. She was lonely. However cool she might seem, she's not to be emulated."
"Thanks for that mansplaination," I hit back, anger and hurt bubbling up inside of me. "Gee, I would never have guessed that a crazy bitch with poison rings shouldn't be my role model."
"Then who is?"
"Well—that's just missing the point," I shot back. "Brice, come on. I'm not going to be her."
"Then who are you going to be? You're gonna stay under Hell's thumb? Be a foot soldier, or rise through the ranks? Whatever, you're still going to do what they tell you to do." He bit his lip, frowning. "I just want you to choose your own destiny. I want you to rebel, and come to Heaven with me."
I stared at him for one long moment, pride rearing its head inside me. "And you know what I want? Not to be told what to do."
He flushed, and if he was wearing a halo it dipped. "Fine. I'll tell you what I want. I want…not just to kiss you, I want to love you. I want to know you're safe so I'm not worrying about you every day. I want you to stop killing. I want to get to know you, not your hard Hellish shell. Is that…is that too much?"
I was silent for a time, feeling the lilac scent around me dissipate as the full moon fell from the sky.
"I'll make up what I want in a little while," I promised. "But for now—just til we have to leave—I think I'll rebel, just a bit, when I'm with you."