Spring, 51 AR
Angels did not usually dream; dreaming implied sleep, and einherjar and waelcyrgie only slept when they were injured enough to need it. Cathoair had not missed dreaming; his dreams had been either nightmares or vague scraps, little more than shadows on waking.
But, after a war machine, a battle shoggoth from before the Rekindling, had awoken and, acting on some artificially-intelligent imperative, was threatening towns south of Freimarc and required all seven of them to put down, Cathoair had been gravely injured enough to need sleep.
And then he dreamed...
... dreamed of an icy plain, facing former friends and creatures out of nightmares, feeling claws tearing into armor, teeth into flesh.
He awoke in the bed that Aithne and Aethelred had brought to his cottage, when he had been comatose after freeing the Imogen last las autumn. It didn't get much use -- well, not for sleep ---- but was kept for guests and injuries. Before he opened his eyes, he knew someone was present. He rolled over, facing out, to see Selene already setting down a vii.
"How long was I asleep?" he asked.
"Only the night," she replied. "Aithne and I have been watching."
"And Cath?" he asked.
Selene didn't smile; the expression never quite looked unthreatening on her cat's face, but Cathoair had known her long enough to read the relaxation in her body language. "In the city, but he asked me to call when you woke up. Mingan assured us this was normal."
Normal, but it was hard to get used to it after decades of not sleeping. The circumstances that required such healing were few and far between. Perhaps the dreams of soul-memory were also a normal part of being an angel.
"Selene, may I ask you something?"
Selene tilted her head. "You may," she said, clearly not tracking the direction of the conversation.
"Do you remember anything before you became a moreau?" He didn't know much of technomancy, but Muire had told him how the unmans were made -- the bones of animals and the souls of angels, bound together by crystal swords and carved runes. It was why Selene's kiss -- the same kiss that made more waelcyrgie and einherjar -- had freed her brothers and sisters from the Technomancer's control, as Selene herself had been freed by Muire and Cahey. "You don't have to answer that," he added, realizing that she might not want to think about her geased servitude.
But she did. "Before I was Selene," she said, "I was a hunter. I didn't think in words, so my memories are not as clear."
Before she was Selene, her body had been a leopard's. "That's not... I mean, your soul. The woman who used your sword before you did."
"I remember nothing of that. Why?"
"It's not important," Cathoair answered.
For a while, it wasn't. But that was becoming a lie. Cathoair had no cause to sleep in the next few weeks, as life returned to its normal routine. Selene went back to Freimarc on patrol, Borje and Erasmus continued their work with the moreaux, and the Grey Wolf was the Grey Wolf, keeping his own accord.
Still, Cathoair could not shake the continuous feelings of strangeness; feeling as if his cottage was exposed without the cover of trees, listening for the sound of iron striking iron, of voices, of anything other than the seaside cottage near Muire's church where he had raised his son and battled the last vestige of the old world that had not been reborn into the new.
It was easier in Aithne's presence. It wasn't just getting reacquainted with her. Or being reacquainted with having a lover; with being with someone for its own sake. True, there were times when she reminded him of Astrid, and he'd wish the two women could have met. But he didn't get the strange feeling that she should be Astrid. He was healing from that wound, for all that Heythe had torn it open again. It hurt, but it was a clean ache.
But he couldn't spend all of his days with Aithne, as pleasant as the thought might be. For one, she had noticed his preoccupation, and asked what was wrong.
"It's not important," he told her.
"The Hel it isn't," she replied. "I've seen you go over the same patch of roof three times in a row when you were repairing the damage from the winter storms. There's something on your mind."
"Ever get the feeling you've done things before?" he asked.
"Not like that. Like..." Cahey thought for a moment. "Like someone rearranged your house while you'd gone out. Nothing's missing, but everything is just slightly out of place." Or like a familiar face was missing from an old haunt. Only a slight, subtle shift, but enough to feel off from what should be.
Aithne thought for a moment. "Maybe when you first found me. That was just shock and having to learn to see with a single eye." She touched her cheek now. The pale skin where her eyepatch had been was slowly blending in with the rest of her face. Cahey suspected that after the height of summer, no one would realize anything had ever happened to the eye. "I'm new to this whole immortal thing, but does it have to do with what you did to the Imogen?"
Cahey frowned, remembering. It had been no small act to kiss a demon. "Not quite."
Freeing the Imogen wasn't it, though it offered a clue as to when he had felt like this before -- when he had kissed Mingan, or Mingan had kissed him, and felt the bit of soul that they had exchanged long before he had been born. But, last time and the time before, the knowledge had faded into less than a memory, more like a story he'd heard from Aethelred than anything that felt like it had happened to him.
Cathoair had hoped he wouldn't have to either catch up to Selene on the road or meet her in Freimarc to locate Mingan. Mingan knew things about angels the rest of them were still learning.
He could ask Muire, of course. He wasn't sure if she'd want reminders of the people she had left, though. Even if it had been a whole other life, one he'd never... not really... been a part of. One that had been coloring their relationship. Had she stayed -- had someone else been able and willing to take up the Serpent's burdens -- they would have had to confront it. Would it cause her pain, she who had taken on the world's burdens, to be reminded of something that had cracked the precious brief moments they had together?
So, of two that remembered the times of angels, if not Muire, that left Mingan. Which posed his own complexity. Cahey had... forgiven was the wrong word. Accepted, maybe. Understood. After they had kissed, he could hardly do anything else -- having a piece of another's soul inside you meant that it was hard to see the other as a monster. To empathize created something light and new from monsters and shadows.
But Cahey he ended up not having to walk far at all: one day, coming back from town, he saw Mingan staring out at the sea, lost in thought.
"Reincarnation," Cahey he said as he walked up to the other man.
"Perhaps a 'hello' might be a more appropriate greeting. What raises the matter?"
"I was someone you and Muire once loved," Cahey said. "Reincarnated. Not quite like the moreaux were."
"Not at all like they were," Mingan answered. "They were forced back into the cycle through their swords. Thou -- and others -- wast born with thy soul as any other man was."
"So Selene won't remember being... whoever she was."
Mingan paused. "Not the least because neither Muire nor I had ever kissed Herfjotur."
Cahey nodded. "I suspected as much. But you... and me." No, not him, and that was why the flashes of memory didn't fit. Mingan was shaking his head at the same time. "You restored something to me that had belonged to him... the person my soul was before me."
"Well before thee," Mingan said. "Strifbjorn died at the battle at the end of the world. Because I did not attend, nor send the Imogen in my place."
Cahey remembered , remembering what Mingan had become became then and the bone-deep fear he'd had of Heythe, and he understood. And, yet, there had been hope for something, some miracle. "It hasn't gone away, you know. Am I going to keep getting these flashes of insight?" Certainly he had from everyone else he, as an einherjar, had kissed. But this was a part of his soul, that should be folded back in, not some half-separate piece that jutted out at an odd angle.
"As thou art the only reincarnation of a lover I've kissed, I couldn't say," Mingan answered. "Is it so terrible?"
"No. But complicated." Cahey studied the older man, feeling the memories of how their relationship had gone from a business transaction, through the darkness of ash and blood, to have achieved a balance. Now, looking back, he could also feel the light of what his soul and Mingan had once had, light and cold separation.
Mingan smiled. "Fifty years since thou hast taken up the sword. Did thou ever think that being an angel would become easy?"
"No, of course not." Saving the world had been easy. It was the after -- all the after -- that was harder, not the least of which was learning to live with his fellow angels. "Will you be coming around more now that I don't hate you?" He was sick of not dealing with things, letting them fester. It had almost gotten Cath and Muire, Aithne and Selene killed. Cahey was going to have to sort out the thing he was coming to know as Strifbjorn from himself, and separate Mingan-now from Mingan-then from Mingan-long-ago more than the preliminary work he'd done so they could be comrades against Heythe.
"It is a big world," Mingain said slowly, "but I travel it quickly. And there is no need to wait to serve dinner on my account, should I drop by." A joke, if a dry one; they didn't need to eat.
Cahey nodded, acknowledging the attempt at banter. "You never know when we'll make an exceptions; angels still eat to celebrate." Which was a guess; he knew about mead-halls, but not if there was any sort of feasting.
"Is there a thing we need to celebrate?" Mingan asked.
"We're still walking."
"A good thing."