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Smokeless Fire

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On wings of smokeless fire, the angel drifts from the cool vaults of the ceiling, watching.

Below her, Sarah Manning does not see. 

She's lost in other thoughts: guns and wishes and twins and her brother and girls with her face, two of them dead, three living. Of the living three is the angel. That's not the one she's thinking of. 

Sarah isn't tall. On the short side of average but commanding nonetheless, her hair is thick and dark as her eyes are warm and dark, and there are wishes on her wrists and an angel's knife in her pocket. 

The angel's knife in her pocket. 

Sarah Manning approaches her car. The angel Helena, for no reason other than she wants to speak to her - and maybe get her knife back - drops from the rafters with a draft of heat. Her wings did it. Their span is magnificent, fourteen feet of glittering flame-feathers. Demure, she folds them behind her, clasped as close as she can clasp them. 

Sarah jumps. Too late she registers who - or what, rather - it is, and drops her hand from her mouth. 

"I am not here to hurt you," the angel says. Her hands fold and unfold and then turn palm-out toward Sarah, as if to ward her off. As if, the last two times they met, they didn't make each other bleed. Well - Sarah made her bleed, at least. She stabbed her. She would again, she thinks. "I just - want to talk." 

Sarah glimpses black marks on Helena's fingers before she balls them up, gripping her sleeves. Beneath the parka is armor and chainmail, both visibly aged. If she thinks she's blending in with humanity, someone - someone else. A non-Sarah individual - is going to have to break it to her. "Let's have lunch," the angel offers. Her eyes flit. 

A beat. Sarah could almost laugh. "Lunch," she echoes, disbelieving. If Felix could see this. He'd probably paint it, and what a scene that would make - an angel, and Sarah, in a parking garage under Toronto. 

Offering to go to lunch. 

 ***

The angel can't really hide her wings. She can hold onto a glamour for a minute, chewing her sleeve, eyeing the restaurant with the wide-eyed naivete of the divine experiencing the mundane for the first time, but as soon as the waitress seats them in the back, her wings flare into being like torches. If she notices, she doesn't seem to mind. She eyes Sarah over a spoonful of quavering Jell-O. 

Jell-O. 

To look at her, you'd never guess that she tried to kill Sarah a week before. She's cute - terrible and raggedly endearing, grinning from her halo of bleached-dry hair. "What are you?" 

The question could have come from either of them, but Helena said it. 

As if the question hasn't taunted her since before she was small, before she knew S or Felix or anyone, Sarah says - snaps, really - "I'm nobody." 

"Not who," Helena says, quiet. "What." Her fingers - they're covered in some kind of black ink - ghost over her belly. She isn't limping anymore. The injury Sarah gave her, the vicious stab, must have healed. "You are not like the others. This I feel." 

"Guess not." 

"But you are not," she shakes her head, "not from my world, either." 

Sarah grabs that. "Your world. Tell me about that." 

"War," Helena says grimly. She slurps at her Jell-O. "Not like here. Not at all." 

"Yeah?" Sarah knows Helena has to be smarter than she seems; she's made it this far without being arrested or killed, so she has to be hiding a fair amount of cunning behind those unblinking brown eyes. Intentionally giving her nothing, disguising it as something. Enough to make Sarah chase her tail. She doesn't appreciate it. "And what's your part in that war?" 

"I am soldier." 

"What kind of soldier?" 

Helena's wings shiver. Sparks skid across the table. "You. What kind are you?

"I'm not a soldier. I'm not anybody." 

Helena fixes her with a stare that Sarah almost wilts under. It's penetrating. She - Helena - slouches. Her wings make lazy fans behind her. "This is not the truth, I think." Slurp. "I should kill you." 

Sarah looks at her, remembering being trapped under the hot weight of her wings, knife on her lips, teeth in her face. "Do it, then." She has a knife this time. She won't be anywhere near as defenseless. If the angel wants to see her run, she won't get the satisfaction. "I'll stab you again." 

Helena just snickers. 

Sarah's jaw clenches. It may be true that the only reason she could stab her before was that Helena was in shock. She certainly doesn't have that advantage now, but Helena doesn't need to know that. She knows less about Sarah than she's putting on. 

"Do not worry. I do not plan to kill you. I did not lie. I am not here to hurt you." She burps. "Excuse me." She touches her chest. Again, Sarah sees her fingers. They're tattooed, somehow, with some kind of markings, and she can't make out exactly what they are. 

Helena hides them again. 

Sarah's had enough. "Yeah, think I'm gonna go, now," she says, and gets abruptly to her feet. 

Helena frowns. 

Her foot pistons back and then shoots out, catches Sarah in the navel, knocks her back, pins her spine against the seat. And she's strong, bull-strong, in a way that defies her little frame. "Don't go," she pleads. Again, she gives Sarah that look: searching, piercing, dancing. "Tell me your name." 

Sarah's knife bites into the side of Helena's shin guard. Doesn't pierce, just waits, like a Schutzhund dog with its jaws over a sleeve. "Move your foot, or I'll stab you again." 

The angel doesn't take her seriously. 

Sarah probably wouldn't take herself seriously, either, but still. Helena moves her leg, chuckling. 

There's a handprint on the table. Black, but not from ink - it's char. Burned. Helena's hand did it. Must have. 

Unnerving. 

"We will see each other again," says Helena. She stands. The glow her wings emit is enough to light the corner of the cafe, wash it soft orange. For a moment it's like curling up in front of the fireplace, warm and crackling, and then Helena is out the rear door and there's only the bass echo of wingbeats. Heavy.