I have a feeling the atmosphere won't improve much, and... well... I just don't feel like being around anyone anymore...
Another bite of food. The awkward silence the conversation had created remained, and no one seemed willing to bring up another subject. Nathan continued to eat. He knew he'd regret it if he didn't at least finish his lunch, but the longer he lingered, the worse he felt. Micah was mad. At him. And rightfully so, he thought to himself. If it weren't for Nathan, weren't for his test, Alton would be fine right now.
At last finishing his sandwich, Nathan walked over to Gabriel -- who had returned to the kitchen to set down the tray -- and handed him his empty plate. "I think I'm going to head back to the apartment," he told him quietly, staring at his shoulder to avoid meeting his gaze. "I'm not feeling well."
Gabriel frowned and touched his shoulder with concern, his brows knotting when the writer shrugged him off. "Are you sure? I was just about to suggest we play some cards or some other game..."
"No, thanks." Nathan didn't want to explain, but he still turned towards the others. "Thanks for inviting me, but I need to get home. I have some writing I want to do."
Alton looked at him curiously, but didn't call him out on the lie. Micah made no response at all. Enya, however, began to rise from her seat. "Guess I'll get my keys."
"You don't have to," Nathan said quickly, holding up his hands to stop her. "It's not bad out today, and I could use the walk."
Enya stopped, but watched him for a moment, seemingly waiting for him to change his mind, then sighed and returned to her seat. "Are you sure?" she still asked, signing with her question.
It pained Nathan to do so, but he nodded. "Yes." It was all he could manage. He couldn't say what riding with just her in the car reminded him of. He couldn't ask her what if they came to an intersection and forgot to check the light. He wouldn't. "Thanks anyway," he was eventually able to say before turning towards the door. "I... guess I'll see you all later." He didn't linger any longer to wait for their farewells, letting himself out.
It was a long walk back to the apartment. Nathan had been correct when he'd said it wasn't bad out, but the chill of winter was already beginning to creep in, and the wind picked up about halfway through his journey, making it even less pleasant. He'd had a lot of time to think during his stroll, a lot of time for his guilt to sink in.
Lumiel's wings. Nathan couldn't get the image of their battered and torn condition out of his mind, a picture made even worse by the memory of all the blood he had seen pouring from to open wounds weeks before. That, more than the temperature, made him shiver. He could have gotten him killed. Actually killed. All because the Sins were turning his own game against him, with Nathan caught in the middle as an unwilling pawn. His decisions in either game, whether he liked it or not, carried more weight now, and he wasn't the only one at risk anymore. And there was nothing he could do about it.
Nathan stopped walking, just outside the steps of his apartment building. "No," he muttered out loud, the realization that struck making his heart suddenly swell with hope. "There is something I can do." He could quit the game. He was the player, after all, and he had the choice. He didn't have to play. It was so obvious a solution, so necessary...
But the hope abruptly vanished as he stepped inside the complex, another memory resurfacing: if the game ends, he dies. Nathan remembered Gabriel's warning to him, the reason why the game had to go on. And not so long ago, Alton had made Micah swear not to kill him, for that very reason: with Nathan's death would come the end of the game, saving Lumiel from the Sins' plot to destroy him. The angels knew it was a possible solution too, and only one of them seemed willing to even entertain the idea of implementing it. Alton and Gabriel... they wanted him to succeed. Or at least continue playing.
The writer growled with frustration, running his fingers through his ginger hair. "Why? Damn it, why me? What's the purpose of testing me?" Especially when it could kill the one testing him. If anyone had a vested interest in ending the game, it should have been Alton. Yet he seemed just as adamant as Gabriel that he go on. At least his guardian angel had an excuse...
Nathan growled again and started up the stairs. He had to stop thinking about it. The dilemma wasn't going to just go away, but dwelling on it made it even worse. And he didn't like how he was starting to agree with the only certain solution. After all, what did he have to lose?
He had just reached the flight of stairs before his landing when he nearly tripped over something on the steps. Or rather, someone. Nathan stopped, looking at the child who was curled up in front of him, apparently fast asleep. She couldn't have been more than ten years old, with her black pigtails draped around her round face. The dress she wore, though long-sleeved, seemed to be too light for the weather, and even in the slightly warmer stairwell, she still shivered in her sleep. Nathan couldn't help but wonder what she was doing there.
She's so young; what's she doing out here? And all alone? Is she the daughter of one of my neighbors? Is she lost? Should I wake her and ask, or just wait and see if anyone comes along? What should I do?