In the quiet of early morning, the lighting soft and the world still sleeping, I stared down at a feathering of tiny baby lashes and felt my heart squeeze. I remember what it was like when my own children were this small; their tiny fingers, smooth skin and that intoxicating new baby smell. My brand new niece Luna is barely 16 days old and she’s already carved an indelible mark on my heart.
Feathers fluttered in the silence and a moment later, I got the sweeping impression of broad, dark wings before Dante appeared beside me. His face was softer than I’d seen it in years, lips curved in an imitation of my own gentle smile. One black wing draped around my shoulders, the oil-slick sheen on his feathers brilliantly apparent in the half light.
“She’s beautiful.” He kept his voice low, even though Luna couldn’t possibly hear him.
I chanced a quick glance up the hallway. Luna’s parents – my brother and his wife – were in their room, my mum in the shower, leaving those quiet moments for the three of us alone. I smiled up at Dante. “Yes, she is.”
We stood that way for a long minute, Dante’s body warm next to mine and his companionship a familiar comfort. For a creature so often in restless motion, it fascinated me to see him so still as his indigo eyes drank in the tiny, sleeping baby in the crib.
“I’m surprised you’re here,” I murmured, curiosity overcoming my appreciation of our secret moment.
“Did you think I wouldn’t find you, even a state away?” One black eyebrow flicked upward. “I can find you wherever you go.”
“Scary,” I teased, poking him in the ribs.
A half hearted grunt. “Only to those who invoke my considerable wrath.”
“Hah,” I snorted – for though I’ve seen evidence that Dante was or is a warrior of some kind, he’d never shown that side around me. “I invoke your considerable wrath all the time and I’m still standing.” Another short silence. Deciding to push his good mood, I added, “Or are you still sore over those guardian angel comments?”
“Guardian angel,” he scoffed, obligingly spreading his wings so that they filled my brother’s lounge with shadows and the rustle of feathers. “I am not, and have never been, an angel.”
I tugged at the tip of one feathered pinion. “You could spare us both a lot of questions if you just come out with your secrets.”
“It’s less fun that way.” He shrugged, curving his wings back around myself and Luna’s crib. Leaning forward, Dante brushed a semi-transparent finger down the curve of one soft baby cheek. “Hear that, little one? I’m no angel.”
Impossibly, Luna stirred at his phantom touch, her blue eyes momentarily wide open. A sleepy yawn and a stretch were followed by a deep frown, as though she’d seen right through Dante’s secrets and disapproved.
“Do you have children?” I asked on a whim.
“Only the ones I choose to adopt – like yours,” he answered, surprising me with his honesty. “It’s not so simple for a rav -”
“Raven?” I finished, eyeing the soft downy quality of his black hair, touched with the same oil-slick sheen as his wings. A raven. It fit, and I knew instinctively that whatever his reason for reticence, I was right.
Dante chuckled, still focussed on Luna. “This is what happens when I’m distracted, isn’t it? You pounce like a dragon.”
“I am a dragon.”
“Touché.” Fanning his left wing, Dante plucked out a loose feather and ran a finger from quill to tip, murmuring softly under his breath. A soft shimmer of violet rippled across the vane, gone so fast it could have been a trick of the gloom. With another of his gentle smiles, Dante slid the feather beneath Luna’s jumpsuit to lie flush against her skin. “There you are, little goddess.”
“What is it?” I asked.
Dante snapped his fingers, the whipcrack sound only audible to me, and the feather disappeared. “A blessing.”
“A blessing, or a promise. A protection,” he clarified, then shrugged. “It’s what little gift I can offer your new niece. If she’s part of you, she’s part of me.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
The shuffling of slippers in the hall preceded my sleepy-eyed brother Cameron into the room. He made his way to the kettle and flicked it on, flashing me a yawning smile. “Tea?”
“Yeah, thanks.” I glanced between Dante and my brother, then back to Luna. “She’s sound asleep.”
“She’s beautiful,” Dante added. “So perfect.”
My brother frowned, the faintest crease between his brows, and for a moment I wondered if he’d finally heard Dante’s voice after all these years. He was the only one who’d ever reacted, albeit subtly, when Dante spoke or moved – as though something flitted at the edge of his understanding but never quite broke through. When the moment dragged out, I repeated Dante’s words.
“Yeah,” Cam agreed with a grin, “She is.”
As the rest of the house stirred and the sun rose, Dante hovered quietly over the bassinet, part of the chaos of life without actually partaking in it. He kept his wings tight so that nobody accidentally walked through him – even in the most oblivious bystander, it always produced an uncomfortable chill – and simply absorbed the ambience of the environment.
For the first time, it struck me that whatever and whoever he was and regardless of the reasons that I alone could see, hear or touch him, Dante was definitely a protector. A piece of good, albeit a cheeky and sometimes bad tempered one. A blessing.
As though sensing my thoughts, his head snapped up and indigo eyes met mine. He winked, and before I had a chance to so much as twitch a lip in response, Dante pressed a phantom kiss to baby Luna’s cheek and disappeared in a puff of dark feathers. One of them drifted down into the top corner of the crib and my niece’s little head craned back as though to catch a glimpse before the feather, like the man who shed it, winked out.