A Wing and a Prayer, Part 2

The continuation of Vandis’s story from last week!

*

Less than five minutes later, Vandis sat in a chair in Hieronymus’s office with bare knees sticking out of his nightshirt and bare toes propped on the floor, gripping the seat with both hands. His stomach growled more fiercely than it had when he was still growing.

“How have you done this, Vandis?” Hieronymus asked, rather gently, given the circumstances. His black eyes didn’t gleam with their usual humor, or with anything at all. If he wore an expression, it was fear. For a moment Vandis was tempted to worry. What would happen to him now? But this was a gift. She was on his side. She had given this to him, and he had to trust it would be all right in the end.

“I didn’t do it,” he said. “I didn’t do anything. It was Her. Lady Akeere.”

Black eyes met his. Hieronymus dipped his white-bearded chin in a slow, careful nod. “All right.”

“She told me—”

“Stop.” The Head raised a palm. “You don’t need to convince me.”

“You believe me?”

“Of course I do.”

Vandis sat back. It couldn’t be that easy. An unbelievable thing had happened, and Hieronymus believed it.

“I’m old. I’ve met a man like you before. In the old days, we wouldn’t have questioned. Menyoral, we would have said. A rare thing, even then, vanishingly rare. Acacius Xavier was the first one in centuries, and he died when I was very small.” Hieronymus came out from behind the desk and leaned his long body against the front, thin, bent with age. “He was the peace at the eye of the storm. You could feel it. Maybe it was because he was old. No peace in you, Vandis Vail.”

Hieronymus was wrong about that. Maybe there wasn’t much of it, but sometimes. Sometimes things were just so right. And She was there, and everything felt… perfect. He couldn’t have described it.

“We’ve had a lot of peace since it happened,” Hieronymus said. “Not sure that’s a good thing. If it isn’t, I’m to blame. Maybe we need the storm.”

Vandis grimaced. “Can we not talk about that?”

“You don’t think someday you’ll be behind my desk?”

He thought for a moment, hands on his bare knees. “Whether I’m before or behind, I hope I have pants on.”

“Oh,” Hieronymus said, looking down. “Why don’t you?”

“Didn’t get the chance.”

“Go and get some, then. Come right back.”

“I don’t know if I’m getting through the outer office,” Vandis said. He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at the thick oak door. It muffled some of the sound from without, but not all by a long shot, and he could hear voices, shuffling bodies. Full house out there. At Hieronymus’s confused glance, he said, “Lots of people out there.”

“Hairy ears. Can’t hear through ’em,” Hieronymus said. “Well, they’ll have questions. Go on. Don’t swear.”

“Look who you’re talking to.”

“I’m looking.” The Head shrugged. “Like I said, maybe we need the storm. Keep the cursing to a minimum. That’s all I ask. Holy men aren’t supposed to say ‘fuck’ every other word.”

Vandis rose from the chair. “Good thing I’m not one. And I haven’t said ‘fuck’ in ten minutes. I’m starting to get itchy.”

“Vandis.”

He paused with his hand on the latch, looking back over his shoulder.

“You are,” Hieronymus declared. “The minute you got in my face about Pearl, I knew. How old were you? Sixteen?”

“Uh—”

“I knew I’d be talking to you like this someday. There’s something about you that’s… apart. Different. If you weren’t so down-to-earth, we’d have a real problem. But I suspect She keeps you grounded. Even while you fly.” Hieronymus stopped, and Vandis was on the point of lifting the latch when he added suddenly, very quietly, “You’ve seen Her. Haven’t you?”

Vandis dropped his hand. “I have.”

“I did, once. Afar off. A little figure in the distance. It was—I knew it was Her.” Hieronymus shook his head. “Willing to bet She gets pretty close to you.”

“Yes,” he said, nothing more. He didn’t see the need to tell Hieronymus how close. How She touched him so deep in the soul it bled into his flesh and left him thrumming on his bed some nights, sweat-slick, breathless, the secret thing She gave him, too intense to be called pleasure, too sweet to be called pain. Ecstasy. And the unthinkable thing he had cradled in his heart for Her since he was a boy, which he was certain She knew better than he did, and of which they never spoke. He would die for Her. Not only in Her service, though if he thought She required it he’d throw his life down singing. But for Her. Maybe that was why She called him “My own.” Doctrine aside, he’d never really felt he belonged to himself.

That was all right. He’d rather belong to Her.

“Be careful with Her. She’s beyond what we can know.”

“I can’t. From my secret heart to the hairs on my head, there’s no part of me I can hold back from Her. I’m Hers.”

Hieronymus drew breath to speak, but Vandis turned and swiftly lifted the latch. The moment he opened the door, questions slapped him in the face: how’d you do it, what was it like, why aren’t you dressed, what’s your name? It was too much, too many, all this attention, and he reached for Her like he always did when he was afraid. My Lady…

She answered. He drew Her love around him like a cloak and stood as tall as a man five-foot-nothing ever had. What was there to fear? She was with him. “I’m Vandis fucking Vail,” he said. “Get the hell out of my way.”

And they did. He met Santo at the outer door, Santo and Evan both, and his friend held out an armful of rumpled clothes. “Thought you’d want these,” Santo said. “Sorry I dropped your pants. Didn’t get much on ’em though, figure they’re clean enough to get along with.”

“Thanks.” Vandis dropped the rest and put his breeches on, right there. The questioners from the office surged toward the door.

Evan slammed it shut and leaned against it, casual-like. For a long moment there was silence, at least among them. Then Santo said, “You’re the worst flyer I ever saw.”

“You’ll need loads of practice, so you will,” Evan said.

Vandis couldn’t have asked for better friends. “That’s all you’ve got to say?”

“Did you expect we’d be surprised?” The door bowed against Evan’s small weight. “You’ve always been a bit uncanny.”

“Weird,” Santo agreed. “C’mon, let’s go get a beer. You’re buyin’.”

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