The Guardian - Chapter Twleve
Summary: Dover rushes to the aid of a new Charge.
As though Matty’s Rising anniversary marked the end of summer, autumn bloomed more fully over Atlanta, even as the temperatures remained somewhat balmy. Leaves began to turn and fall, plunging the tree-lined hallways into a cascade of color. Evenings were now crisp, the sky clear. Pumpkin Spice had already begun its takeover, filling the air with scents that reminded her of Thanksgiving around a groaning table and laughter.
The newest addition to her usual routine gave her more pleasure than she wanted to admit. Hanael often stopped by her place in the evening, either waiting for her to return from a Charge, or joining her for dinner. Dover cherished the evenings and, quite often, early mornings with the angel making off with her heart. They talked, and talked, and talked, bodies thrown together on her couch or bed.
By unspoken agreement, they never spoke of the Guardians or her Charges. That subject remained taboo, roped off due to Hanael’s standoffishness. Dover ached to press him about what he knew, the angel attack in her apartment, why demons were so intent on Jon Bennet.
If she told him, though, Dover might have revealed to Hanael the depth of her involvement with demons. Her name written in demon ichor on Luke’s wall had very nearly turned his head off, how would her angel have responded to a Legion Commander having a drink with her?
So, they continued their dance. They shared deep, revealing conversations, while keeping their cards close to the vest.
Hanael often spent the night in her bed, hauling her into his arms as his even breathing lulled her to sleep. They would press together intimately, kissing until they were both breathless, but inevitably, Hanael would pump the brakes. Dover tried to be patient, no matter how desperately she wanted to take that next step.
Hanael made great progress in his understanding of intimacy and the feelings swelling between them. Dover understood if adding sex to that equation would send him off kilter. She could wait. Impatiently, yes, but she could.
Nearly two full weeks after the party, Dover slid into her bed alone. Hanael had been called away after their dinner together since a new Guardian would be Rising soon. She kissed him quickly before he left, catching the dazed little smile on her paramour’s face before the door closed.
She shifted against her Hanael-scented pillow, clutching it close to create a poor facsimilia of her lover’s warm body. He had teased her before he left, saying she would be unlikely to sleep well without him. Dover hated to admit, he was probably right, and considered sneaking over to the Arbor to snuggle into his bed.
Before that thought could fully form, she felt a chilly tingle slide into her heart. It tapped on that space in her chest, a soft, entreating beckoning. Dover opened her eyes, staring at the ceiling above her bed and the shadows made by the moon’s encroaching shine. She frowned as that cold feeling enveloped her heart, pulsating slightly with apprehension.
Dover kicked the blankets off, grabbing for the gear she always stowed at the side of her bed. In seconds she had on her leather armor, ammo slung over her chest, guns in their holsters. Because she could feel no panic, Dover knew she had time and grabbed for her keys instead of reaching for light to slide.
As she headed for the old truck, that tug on her heart leading her through the city, the Guardian steeled herself for battle.
Dover had a new Charge.
The drive to the dormitories surrounding the University was easy to navigate, even on a busy Saturday night. Dover spied several wobbly-legged young adults making their way down the dimly lit streets, breaking curfew as well as alcohol consumption laws.
In the center of her chest, the cool tug from her new Charge pulled cautiously. It was not the heavy, strangling feel of a Charge in immediate mortal danger. Dover could liken this sensation to intuition. Somewhere on this campus, her Charge was wary, worried, and seeking help from a reliable source.
She parked the truck behind a newish dormitory, glancing up at the smattering of lit windows. A group of kids was sitting on the steps leading to the front door, though none of them looked particularly terrified. They were simply sitting, drinking, and laughing.
Dover envied them their youth. She’d lived this life, these memories. Adam had slid into her life her senior year, before he headed off to medical school. They took their time with dating, with the wedding, before starting their lives.
She sometimes wondered if he hated her for leaving him…
Shaking herself, Dover pulled her jacket over her holster of weapons, zipping it up to conceal what she was carrying. The last thing she needed was a terror threat called in because an observant student caught sight of her sawed-off.
After locking her truck, she stepped into the crisp autumn evening. Dover stuffed her hands into her pockets, glancing around the courtyard strewn with multicolored leaves. A few more students were lounging in the common area, some couples so intent on necking that she thought they wouldn’t notice a pack of Hounds running loose.
Her Charge pulled her toward the southern face of the courtyard. As she passed a few meandering students, she heard one of them make a disgusted noise.
“Smells like rotten eggs over there.”
Her dark brows flew into her hairline. Dover increased her pace, moving toward the southern-most building. One of the young men started toward her. Dover stopped his advance with one chilly look.
Dover blew him a kiss, moving down the sidewalk where her Charge was pulling her. Of course, the girl probably didn’t know she was pulling her Guardian Angel toward her, but that wasn’t a problem. No one ever expected her the first time.
Before Dover reached the back of the building, she heard the distinctive snarl of a Hound.
Reaching under the hem of her jacket, Dover pulled the sawed-off shotgun from the holster on her back. She turned the corner at a dead run, skidding to a stop when she came face-to-face with the pair of Hounds stalking her Charge.
The ‘animals’ were huge, standing on all fours, their heads were nearly level with her own. Thick bodies of roped muscle were covered in deep black, but where they ought to have fur, it appeared to be more like smoke beneath the thick organic armor. Brimstone wafted off of them, their huge muzzles revealing rows of serrated teeth. Pointed ears reached up from their head, their eyes hollow black pits. Paws the size of car tires ended in long, hooked claws. Though their chests were broad and strong, the body of these beasts tapered to a thin waist and long, whip-like tail. The end of that tail boasted six poison-dipped spikes. They were the Devil incarnate, the beasts of Hell and they loved nothing more than to snatch Charges from the arms of their Guardians.
That wasn’t happening.
“Here, boy.” Dover called sarcastically before releasing an ear-piercing whistle.
Both Hounds whirled on her. The girl, too, turned to see what was chasing her. Obviously, she had known she was being followed, but the look on her young face said she wasn’t prepared to confront a pair of Hell’s purebreds.
The first shotgun blast rocked one Hound back, sticky black ichor sliding wetly over the freshly mowed grass. The girl screamed, dropping her bag as she jumped away from the Hound’s body. Dover rushed to the side, away from the Hound that still stood as he howled his anger.
“Stay behind me.” Dover ordered. “Don’t run! Stay absolutely still!”
“Who are you?” The girl screamed with fear.
“I’m saving your ass. Just stay still.”
With that warning shouted, Dover loosed one of the throwing knives she kept hidden in her pantleg. The blessed silver tore through a chunk of the Hound’s thick plated armor, black Hell-smoke erupted from between the plates. It did not bleed, but turned its full attention to Dover.
“Come on, big boy,” the Guardian taunted. “Come play with mama.”
The Hound let out a shrieking howl before it charged. Dover shot once with the sawed-off, casting it aside when the second shot sailed passed the Hound’s ear. She reached for her pair of Sig Sauers then, tucking her lithe body into a roll. The Guardian was able to get clear of the massive rows of teeth, though the Hound was close enough that Dover’s pants were warmed by its hot breath.
Her guns lit off, Dover emptying the clips into the side of the beast. She hit it several times, though she had not the luck of her first shotgun blast to the other’s head. She planted her feet, using the bracing of her body’s strongest muscles to absorb the quick kick of her guns.
The Hound cried out sharply when her final shot clipped its vulnerable shoulder plate. Dover slid the guns back into her holsters, pulling at the little bag of Angel Dust she still carried.
A palmful of the dust went into the Hound’s eyes as Dover flicked her wrist with expert precision. The Hound screamed again, the piercing sound making Dover wonder if her eardrums were bleeding. Her favorite knife all but leaped into her hand as Dover spread her feet a little wider, awaiting the Hound’s third strike.
She danced with the huge black beast, circling and striking in a fluid back and forth that left her breathless. Hounds were not easy to kill, even harder to exorcise. They were purely Hell’s will, brought to life by sacrificial magic. Dover hated fighting them, especially since their skills were made to match a Guardian’s.
Rumor held that Hounds were the Guardians of Hell’s special children. The thought gave her nightmares.
Her blade slashed wildly at the heavy armor surrounding the vulnerable flesh beneath. One strike wasn’t enough, not alone. Luckily, Dover’s silver bullets had loosened several plates, so her blade was able to slide under with her quick movements. The creature gave her no time to reload, leaving her dependent on the blade.
When the Hound lunged, she tucked her body into a balletic backflip, landing just shy of crashing into her terrified Charge. The Hound flew at her again, but Dover was faster. She grabbed her Charge with her free hand, dropped them both to the sticky earth. As the Hound reached out to snatch them both, Dover drove the fat blade of her knife into the unprotected flesh of the Hound’s throat.
Blue-black ichor covered both women, even as the Hound flailed. It snapped at the once more, missing their flesh by mere inches. Dover tucked her Charge into her chest, rolling them away from the sticky ichor that was erupting from the throat of the dying Hound.
When, finally, it stilled, both Hounds burst into flame. Dover sheathed her blade, standing to wipe the ichor from her face and jacket. The girl stood as well, just as filthy and equally shaken. She said nothing as Dover collected her sawed-off.
“My name,” the Guardian said, the words worn by time. “Is Dover Ellis. I am your Guardian.”
Her name was Amy Weeks; she was a sophomore in college, studying to be a teacher. Amy stood at just under five feet, with a curvy little body that spoke of her years playing softball. She had smooth dark skin, deep amber eyes, and a mass of curly black hair that looked effortlessly perfect.
Dover took Amy back to her apartment, knowing that the fire and commotion from the dormitories would only draw attention. She let the girl bathe, call her parents, and change into some of Dover’s old clothes. Once the girl was calmer, they got down to the business of explaining angelic fact from fiction.
Amy proved to be clever, intelligent, and witty. It was fair to say that Dover liked her immediately.
“Thank you,” Amy said as Dover brought her a cup of tea. “I didn’t know what was behind me, but I just knew it was bad.”
“You were ahead of the game.” Dover folded her own freshly-showered form into the sofa beside her newest Charge. “Most of the time, I get calls when the Charge has already been attacked. With you, I was able to feel the discomfort; I was better prepped for the fight.”
Amy’s answering smile lit the entire room up.
“I’m glad. I don’t think I would have lasted thirty seconds against those…what’d you call them?”
“Hounds.” Dover supplied with a smile, sipping at her tea. “Hellhounds, to be precise.”
“Right, Hellhounds. And we don’t know why they want me or what it is that makes me so special?”
Dover shook her head with a ‘sorry for your luck’ click of her tongue. “Nope. Sorry.”
The girl pushed a hand into the raven ringlets bouncing against her cheek, looking all of her nineteen years. Dover reached out to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder, wondering how odd it must be to walk home from a party only to come in contact with a demonic force.
For several long moments, Dover simply drank her tea. Amy was lost in thought, running the crucifix around her neck over the chain. Dover recognized the thoughtful habit, having done it with her own so long ago.
At the knock on the door, Dover set the teacup down. She had a Sig in her hand, hidden by her thigh. She pressed her index finger to her lips before vaulting over the back of her sofa so she could creep toward the door.
A peek through the peephole showed a familiar, welcome face.
“Em.” Dover flicked the safety back on the Sig, smiling at Amy over her shoulder. “It’s ok. Embry finally made it.”
Dover unlatched the door and slid it open, setting her Sig on the sideboard. Embry entered without being asked, his face covered by a heavy paper sack.
“Now, I know you didn’t just call me out of my very warm bed to come hold your hand over man trouble.”
Rolling her eyes to the heavens, Dover closed the door behind her friend. Embry walked toward the kitchen by memory, pulling up short when he set the bag down. He caught the young woman on Dover’s couch and smirked his most charming smirk.
“Don’t even think about it, Em.” Dover said as she flipped the lock. She pointed from one to the other. “Keep it classy.”
Amy raised a dark, perfectly sculpted brow at her Guardian.
“I don’t know I would even have a chance, he’s prettier than me.”
Luckily, she was saved from having to deal with any forthcoming double entendre by the sound of her cell phone. Aerosmith’s Angel played on a loop, letting her know it was Hanael on the line. Ignoring the byplay of her Charge and friend, Dover grabbed her phone and accepted the call.
“You were Called.” Hanael said by way of greeting. “Are you alright?”
Dover was torn, fighting that giddy feminine thrill of a man being worried over her and the indignation that because she let him cuddle her, she was suddenly a damsel in distress.
“Yes. I’m a Guardian, Han. I can still handle my--”
He cut her off, making Dover’s teeth snap shut with an audible click. “It has nothing to do with us. Two Charges were killed tonight.”
The shock sent a wave of cold through Dover’s body. She lowered herself onto the arm of her couch, her hand gripping the phone. She could not recall the last time they lost a single Charge. Losing two in one night was unheard of.
“There is more.” Hanael continued, unhindered by her silence. “It’s Matthew.”
Matty’s handsome, serious face flashed behind her eyes. She had hugged him before the party broke up two weeks ago, hadn’t she?
“Is he dead?” Dover asked the question a touch more loudly than she intended. Embry was at her side in a moment, clutching her hand.
“Yes.” Hanael’s voice cracked. That sound, more than a round with a pack of Hounds, sent fear chasing her pulse. “Dover…”
“Embry is here.” Dover explained. She left the impulse to ask him to come over unsaid. He had work to do. “As is my newest Charge. We will be fine.”
Hanael was quiet for a moment, as though processing this. Dover halfway expected him to insist she spend the evening at the Arbor. She could not deny that she wanted him, to feel his arms around her as she mourned the death of a Guardian.
“I am running down the remaining Guardians in my Watch.” The angel said, the words a quiet apology. “Will you come to the Arbor in the morning?”
Dover nodded dumbly, aware that a lump of emotion was now rising in her throat. She ardently wished Amy was somewhere else, so she wouldn’t see her Guardian break down. Dover could already see she would spend the night sobbing.
“Yes.” Her voice cracked. She heard Hanael exhale slowly, as though the sound hurt him. “I’ll be there once Amy is safe at her dorm.”
Tense silence filled the air between them. Dover felt her hand begin to shake as tears punched up from her gut to well behind her eyes. She couldn’t cry on the phone. Hanael would insist on coming over. No matter how she wanted that, her companion had a job. His loyalty was to all Guardians. They would need his quiet strength, his comfort. Raziel would be too busy ranting and laying blame.
“I will see you then.” Hanael whispered. “I’m sorry, Dover.”
The call ended swiftly, with Dover’s heart aching. She looked down at Embry as he crouched before her.
“Em.” Dover whimpered. “Two Charges. Matty.”
Her old friend wrapped her in his arms as the first wave of sobs broke through. He gathered her into his lap, sitting on the armchair with his arms filled with her. She heard Amy murmur softly, but paid her no mind. With Embry nearby, nothing would happen to her Charge.
The others all had new Wards. They would be fine. They had to be.
“Just let it go.” Embry encouraged. “Let it go, honey.”
Dover clutched at Embry’s shirt and wept.