The Guardian - Chapter Fourteen
Summary: The Guardians are pushed to their limits. Jon seeks Dover out for an apology.
Dover’s knife sliced through demonic flesh with eager finality. Black ichor coated her hands, splashed onto her thighs as she straddled the monster that nearly had her only moments before. She grunted with the effort of pulling her blade through the leathery meat and brittle bone that made up the demon beneath her.
The creature gave one last squawk, something like a dying cat screaming in broken Latin. Her chest heaved as battered lungs tried to suck in as much oxygen as she could. A blood-slicked hand moved across her forehead, pulling sweat away from her skin as she took in the battlefield.
Around her, the bodies of dead demons littered the grass, slippery ichor coating almost everything. Dover stared at her fellow Guardian across the chaotic clearing, relieved to see his Charge sheltered at his back, frightened but unharmed.
It was not often that Guardians came up against things they could not handle alone. When the call went out, though, there was no denying it. Since she was already in battle-gear from inducting her latest Charge, Dover merely Slid back into combat.
Things were far from boring as of late.
Demonic corpses began to ‘clean up’ after themselves. The fragrant bodies spontaneously caught light, erupting into flame as though someone had doused them in kerosene before tossing on a match. Dover easily stepped around the corpses, laying the curved blade of her knife against the fire to clean it.
She had clothing stuck to her body as though the demon blood mixed with sweat were a form of glue. Dover sighed with the exhaustion of living the past several days moment to moment. She couldn’t even remember the last time she had a decent night’s sleep. Hell, had she managed a shower in the preceding week?
Once her blade was cleaned, Dover slid it back into the sheath at her thigh. The other Guardian moved closer cautiously, holding his terrified Charge by the hand while they avoided stepping on demonic corpses or being singed by the flames removing the gore of battle from the grass.
“You’re a life-saver, Dove.” The Guardian said with a weary bow at the waist. “If you hadn’t heard the Call, I’d be toast.”
“But I did.” Dover reached out to clasp the young Guardian by the shoulder, a gesture of solidarity. “It’s been a rough couple of weeks for everyone.”
“No kidding,” Arnold said softly. “This is Dylan, she makes the fourth new Charge since last month.”
Dover offered the girl a small, tight smile. “I was just inducting my third when you Called.”
“It’s like the world’s gone mad.”
Dover could only grunt her agreement, trying to piece together her mind through the exhaustion and call of battle in her veins. Over the last several days, Guardians were pushed to the point of madness, all of them being Called for Charges left and right. Raziel mentioned the last time they had so many new Charges occurred during the Inquisition. Even the World Wars hadn’t brought on changes this way. Dover didn’t know whether to be fascinated or terrified, instead languishing in an exhausted mixture of both.
The scent of burning ichor and rotted meat was oppressing, though she’d smelled it so often lately that she was almost immune to the stomach-churning reaction she usually had to it. Realizing this, Dover felt her stomach roil unpleasantly. She was around demons too often lately.
The thought of demons brought her back to the night of Matty’s party, to the stranger who raised a flag of truce for a few minutes over the bar. Thus far, she had no further indication that demons were enamored with her. Why didn’t that feel right?
“It’s alright, Dylan. Shh, don’t panic now. You’re doing so great.” Arnold was talking to the trembling woman behind him. She was in her thirties, with deep auburn hair sticky with sweat and demon blood as green eyes peeked out from the ruddy fringe. Her frame was tall, though on the round side, covered in tattered jeans and a black sweater. For what she had just been through, the girl looked relatively in control of her wits. For that, Dover had to give her credit.
“Let’s get out of here.” The elder Guardian held her hands out, pulling both the angel and his Charge toward the edge of the field they had located in the dying light. Dover wasn’t exactly sure where they were, though the time it took to Slide from her apartment to the field said it was a long way from Atlanta. Dover let her boots sink into the damp earth under her feet. At least there didn’t seem to be a crop that would die off due to the contamination of demonic blood draining into the dirt.
“Hey, Dover?” Arnold pulled his charge behind him, rushing to catch up as she kept her sawed-off held tight against her abdomen. There was so much gone wrong recently that Dover wasn’t taking any chances.
“What’s up, Arnie?” The Guardian asked, motioning them to stand back so she could enter the tree line.
“I’m new at this. Sixteen months, you know.”
“Right.” Dover glanced to the trees above, ensuring nothing was waiting in the branches.
“Were those higher demons?”
Dover paused, turning to stare at the young Guardian over her shoulder. The ambush of squat demons danced in her memory. They reminded her of the satyrs in her favorite Greek myths. Their dumpy bodies tottered on stick-thin legs, spines twisted to give them the appearance of humpbacks. Tangled hair erupted from their scalps in thick patches, while grotesquely twisted faces bore heavy pockmarks and thick hellfire scars.
It wasn’t the first time she had dance with the denizens of Xaphan, though she hoped it would be the last. The terrible creatures known to Guardians as ‘fire-eaters’ had made a handful of appearances over the years, and it was never good news when they did.
Turning to the younger Guardian, Dover tried to plaster a small smile onto her face. “Yeah, Arnie. They were.”
If Arnold’s face could have gone any paler, Dover was sure he might have been transparent.
“Well. Shit.” Arnold replied, his boyish face reflected the sliver of moonlight that shone through the trees.
Dover managed to keep her weary hands from trembling long enough to pat the boy on the shoulder. She didn’t know how he had come to be a Guardian at only twenty-one, but he had a stellar reputation among the Host.
For a moment, he looked content to just all-out panic. Dover could see it cross his face, his eyes illuminated by that broken silver beam shining through the trees. Behind that terror, though, bloomed resolution. Once he let himself freak out, he would get back to work. That, Dover thought, made him all the more fantastic.
Arnold pulled himself together. His hands ceased their trembling. He tucked his frightened Charge into his arm, protecting her, comforting her.
Dover decided in that moment that she adored Arnold.
“All right.” Dover nodded once, positioning her sawed-off again. “Let’s get this girl home.”
It was after midnight when Dover poured herself into bed. Her voicemail had one message. Hanael wanted to update her, tell her he was worried about her. Dover made sure she called back, but the never-ending game of phone-tag seemed to be in full swing.
With her blade and a .9mm under her pillow, Dover was asleep before she managed to close her eyes.
It seemed only seconds had passed when a knock at the front door jolted Dover from a fitful sleep. She groaned, burying her face into the Hanael-scented pillow, trying to hold on to the wispy tendrils of a damn good dream.
She had almost drifted back off, content to ignore whomever had come to call, when a second - more insistent - knock rang from her living room. Dover groaned with frustration, knowing she would never get back to sleep now. She rolled onto her back, one hand curled around the pistol she’d tucked under her pillow. Instinct, it would seem, could not be denied even in sleep.
“Just some sleep, man.” Dover grumbled as she threw her legs over the side of the bed, hauling her weary body from under the thick duvet. “That’s all I want. Supernaturally blessed creature of God or not, I’m still freaking human. Damn.”
Her irritated rant continued as Dover stumbled toward the bedroom door. She stubbed her toe on the door jamb, releasing a string of swears that would have made Hanael raise his brow at her. Dover ignored the pang in her heart that told her she missed the handsome angel, focusing on gripping the wall as yet another knock rang through her apartment.
“You know what?” Dover shouted. “If you knock one more damn time, I’m going to throw something at your head!”
She released the locks securing her home, throwing the door open with pure ire all over her face.
The first thing she saw was a bag of fresh bagels and a cup of coffee.
“I’m sorry.” Jon-no-h said as he held the offering out cautiously, his head bowed in mock supplication. “Please accept these gifts, oh mighty angelic guardian, so that I may be granted entrance into your sublime presence.”
Immediately, Dover smiled. “Embry keeps giving away trade secrets. I may have to hurt him.”
“Oh, don’t do that.” Jon replied with a grin as he raised his head. “He keeps me alive.”
Not caring that the last time they spoke, Jon had been so hateful, Dover stepped back. Of course, she took the coffee and bagels first. With a jerk of her head, she invited her Charge inside, happy to see that he was still wearing his charms. At least she knew he was safe. Ish.
Jon bent at the waist to grab his own coffee, obviously set down to make his offerings when he heard her shouting through the door. Touched by his thoughtfulness, Dover was chuckling when he stepped inside. She closed the door, threw the bolt. Couldn’t be too careful at a time like this.
Jon followed her into the kitchen, where Dover immediately rooted around in the bag of bagels to locate her favorite toasted asiago, covered with onion schmear. Her exhaustion was still there, on the edges of her awareness, but the peace offering was much appreciated.
“There is one in there for me, too.” Jon said lightly. “Unless you want them both.”
Dover squinted her eyes at the Charge, as though considering if she would share her worldly treats. Jon offered her a pouty face, with a pucker of his lips that would tug at most women’s heartstrings. After a moment of agony on her friend’s part, Dover slid the bag toward him.
“Oh, thank you.” Jon said as he dove into the bag. “I knew you still loved me.”
Dover shook her head, lapsing into silence as they ate for several minutes. She hadn’t seen him since she rescued him from the necromancer in the bar, having dealt with his anger at her abandoning the innocent people used to lure the Guardian. She often thought of him telling her she would not be forgiven, reminding her of the many lives lost in her quest to protect her Charges.
It would never be easy, but sometimes it was necessary.
Once half of the bagels were gone and the coffee was sipped, Jon started the conversation with a sigh.
“Dove, I’m sorry.”
The bite of bagel in her mouth kept her from responding for several moments, her eyes on Jon as he toyed with the napkin in his hand. Having not expected him to say that, Dover wasn’t entirely certain how to respond. After all, the last time they spoke, Jon had nothing but anger in his eyes.
“I know that what you do is hard.” He continued when she did not answer. “And getting me out of that place with those…things, was hard enough. I don’t know how you do it, especially when you’ve spent your afterlife doing nothing but saving people. I knew those people and leaving them behind was tough. But it wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said those terrible things.”
The Guardian blinked fiercely, the backs of her eyes brimming with tears. Jon was one of her Charges and she loved him for that. On top of her allegiance to him, she genuinely liked the young man. Their argument over the necromancer incident wore her down, even as the world exploded around her.
Hell, her hands still itched from the spells Embry had to use to repair the damage of using Holy Light, but that was nothing against the knowledge that Jon thought her a monster.
“Jon, there’s nothing to forgive.” Dover’s voice was quiet.
He did not look up. “Yes, there is. You’re right in that I don’t know anything about what you’ve been forced to do. Embry pointed out that you can’t even be a Guardian without saving someone, giving your life for someone else.”
Touched, Dover set her coffee down. She reached over the bar of her kitchen, her hand resting on Jon’s shoulder. It was a surprise to find the young man was shaking. What had it taken for the young man to come here, to apologize when he had no reason to? Dover offered him a smile when he finally looked up. Though she did not think she needed to absolve him, Jon must have needed the forgiveness. Dover swallowed thickly, blinking back the tears that still threatened to fall.
“Of course I forgive you, Jon-no-h.” She smiled when he grinned at the nickname. “You brought bagels. Instant forgiveness.”
Jon, to his credit, chuckled. “Yeah, Em thought you might say that.”
Dover skipped around the counter, placing a chaste kiss to her Charge’s cheek. She appreciated his sentiment, and the idea that he had the nerve to come to her first, without needing her to save his life. She offered another grin, reaching for her coffee.
“Now, come on, let’s finish this up and go visit our mutual friend. I need to ask him about that book.”
Jon looked confused. “What book?”
Dover smirked knowingly. “A very special book.”