Chapter 5 Part 5

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A soulburn and a hunter sought salvation—or at least absolution—in each other that night, again and again. There is only one way to find either one, and it's not that way, but they at least found satisfaction and exhaustion. At last they slept, and their dreams were untroubled by visions of judgement.

Guyton took his time waking up. Andrea's warmth next to him was a comfort, as was the arm draped over him. He had always taken what he wanted from women, but last night he had been consumed with the need to give. It was an odd feeling, but a good one. He hoped to feel it again, in just a few minutes...

The morning light was strange, as if his bedroom had sprouted another window across from his bed. He looked up, and twitched before pushing himself up to sit. Next to him, Andrea slept heedless.

"I don't guess this is a dream, is it?" he asked. Two feet from the foot of the bed, his room faded and became a familiar office.

"Nope," said Birch, sitting at the desk. Behind him, Astin stood and glared at Andrea. "When you break the rules, you sure do go all out."

"Kind of like barging your entire office into someone's bedroom? There used to be this thing called privacy, back when I was alive."

"You think you're funny?" Astin demanded. "Because—"

"Not now." Birch cut him off. Astin shut it, only with obvious effort. "We can talk freely. Your friend won't wake up. For all intents and purposes, time's been frozen while we have our talk. We have all the time we need.

"I don't know what the H—what's going on with the higher-ups, but they've commanded us to intervene in far, far less severe situations. But this time? Nothing. They might be testing us, to see if we'll overreach. They might be testing you, to see just how far you take this—but I can't imagine you could go much farther than sleeping with a soulburn."

"Or maybe they want Della Verne bad enough that they're willing to let a few rules get flexed," Guyton suggested. "Andrea's an essential part of the plan. And when it comes down to it, she's broken more rules than I have. I haven't refused to take out other soulburns, and I haven't helped take out other hunters."

"We have her file," said Birch, waving a manila folder. "Haven't you figured it out yet? She's burning you. You think her handlers wouldn't have dragged her back to Hell the minute she stepped out of line?"

Guyton fought the lurch he felt in his guts. "Funny thing, that," he drawled. "She said her handler told her 'time to go home,' then it disappeared and she hasn't heard from it since."

"And you believed that?" Astin gave Guyton an incredulous look.

"Look. All I know is, I wouldn't be getting anywhere near Della Verne without her help. You can argue with the methods all you want, but you can't argue with the results."

"Which haven't resulted, yet," said Birch.

"Yeah, but tomorrow's D-day. I doubt I could say that without her."

"Oh, come on, Guyton," Astin sniped. "You did the legwork. You found the entrance. You were the one who got the invite. And we were the ones who made sure you could do it."

"Yeah, but there was one thing you couldn't do, and that was to provide a convincing trophy wife. Double or nothing—did any of the previous attempts on Della Verne involve a trophy wife?"

"Don't change the subject," said Birch. "Since the higher-ups aren't giving us any directives, you can go ahead with your plan. But if you eliminate Della Verne, eliminate her, too." He pointed at Andrea.

"That's a shitty way to say thanks," Guyton pointed out. "Damn. You guys are as bad as I was."

Astin blew a raspberry. "You haven't figured it out?"

Guyton let them stew for a few seconds before responding. "That you guys are divertees, too?" he shrugged. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. So what did you guys do?"

"Chicago, 1968," said Astin. "I got the riots started. Gave the force an excuse to move. That was my Big One, anyway. Lots of other stuff, too."

"Most of the same stuff you did," Birch added, "maybe not so enthusiastically. Like I said, getting your diversion revoked ain't the only thing that can happen. You could end up like us."

Yeah, you could get stuck in desk-patrol Limbo, Guyton thought. "I'm willing to take my chances. I think I can get Della Verne, anyway." He bit back the comment, if the higher-ups have any sense, they'll trade Della Verne for a soulburn who doesn't want to do the job.

"We'll be watching," said Birch. The office receded, fading away, and the rest of his bedroom returned.

Alone again, Guyton turned to Andrea, letting her arm slip around him as he did the same for her. As with all the chewing-out he took in life from desk patrol, he let it slide through his mind and out the other side. Only one thing stuck: You could end up like us. Being stuck on desk patrol with those two would be a special kind of Hell. So instead of thinking about what might lie ahead, he kissed the one beside him here and now.

"Morning already?" Andrea murmured.

"Hey, it's Saturday," said Guyton. "We have time. You want some breakfast?"

"Aren't you supposed to ask me if I want my eggs scrambled or fertilized?"

"I think we took care of both last night."

"Maybe," said Andrea. "Or maybe we need to make sure."

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