Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Nineteen

Throughout the fourteen-hour journey not a Guardian had said more than the perfunctory, keeping everything to logistics before they leaned back and closed their eyes. Since they'd all been together, they had never gone anywhere as a team without Damali and without a sure plan. While flying nonstop from night into day, losing a full day at the International Date Line, with only a delay to refuel, they had remained stone-faced. Even in their sleep she could feel the weight of their broken spirits.

Marlene appraised them quietly as their rented equipment bus lumbered behind their limo. The team, as well as the Covenant squad, seemed totally demoralized. There was no other word for it. Rider hadn't even passed a sarcastic quip to anyone when they went to the Thomas Cook offices to convert their currency. Maybe she should have let him and Jose ship their bikes on cargo planes, as extravagant a request as that might have been. But when would they have the time to ride?

Perhaps they could rent something when they got there for after the concert, but she really didn't want them going off to the Blue Mountains ninety miles west of the city before the gig. There was just too much to do, and too many unknowns, to be traipsing through Sydney Harbor National Park's wildlife.

No. She'd been right, even though she had to admit that her decisions had been hard ones clouded by doubt. This was not going to be like Brazil. This time the guys weren't going to get a chance to relax and enjoy the local flavor. There was no time before the mission to take a Sydney Harbor Explorer Cruise to see the scantily clad women on Sydney's forty-beach embarrassment of riches. After the concert they wouldn't be going to fine restaurants like Guillaume at Bennelong or Claude's and Tetsuya's with new chicks on their arms, a Foster's brew the size of an oil can, and shrimp on the barbie; this wasn't anything close to the Brazilian job.

Something had happened last night. Something serious, that had put a cold sweat on her body and had made Father Pat sit up and look at her across the plane aisle.

All she'd need was for Rider and Jose to get caught up and lost in the raucous nightlife at King's Cross. Energy from 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip dropped anchor and turned loose a shipload of convicts from England's overcrowded jails, was probably still making the air crackle along that stretch of real estate.

Just like she was sure that the famed tourist attraction, the Rocks, under Sydney Harbor Bridge where the first ships came in, and the colonial Macquarie Street area, still held a significant charge - ghosts and disembodied spirits were probably there, at the very least. On a job like this, they didn't need any additional variables. Places had power. Marlene closed her eyes.

She'd picked the Westin Sydney because it was only blocks from a trinity zone of hallowed ground at St. Andrew's Cathedral, the Great Synagogue, and Hyde Park. Open-land parks were good, always retained prayer lines from the native people, and all of that was a short distance to Victoria Street and Darlinghurst Road on the other side of the park where the fellas could let off a little steam.

But she wondered now if they even needed to be near the corridor of burlesque joints, massage parlors, and video dens that ran hot after ten o'clock at night - prime time for vamps. Right now her team needed to be isolated, and not run into a minor vamp battle that could drain resources. She had to make herself relax, knowing that there were some good vibes where they were going to perform.

The Sydney Opera House was built on a natural land formation called Bennelong Point by the Aussies, which jutted out into the bay with Sydney Cove dividing the Rocks from it. The grand theater was near plenty of open ground by the Royal Botanical Gardens and Domain Parkland, with tremendous creative energy filtering along Writer's Walk, and just a bit beyond that was Macquarie Place, once a site of ceremonial and religious importance to Aboriginal people. The song lines remained, just like the giant obelisk did - a point from which all distances from Sydney were once measured. Interesting feng shui. Yet for all its clean, modern beauty and rich history, there was a dark underbelly to be wary of. She just hoped that Damali hadn't fluxed and had been able to pull from the indigenous prayer lines in the area.

However, every big city had a dark side. She tried to force herself to relax, knowing she couldn't put her team in a protective bubble, much as she wanted to. It was a foolish thought. They weren't destined to be blind to the dark side or protected from it, but in her heart she wished that she could, anyway. This indefinable thing that had happened, coupled with the significance of this particular mission, made her know that one, or some, of her beloved guardians might not come home this time. She knew it as sure as she knew her name, and no amount of mental bracing could bring her acceptance, no matter how many years she'd tried to prepare herself for that fact.

They'd just have to use their best judgment until they could get a flight out. She hoped that the guys would be satisfied watching the Australian winter game, rugby. But she knew better than that. They were grown men, warriors, and not about to hide from the night.

Marlene absently gazed at the Georgian and Victorian architecture as they passed neat suburban homes, remembering the endless streams she'd seen upon their United Airlines flight approach. She wondered if the four million residents tucked away in mundane comfort ever knew what lurked amid the branching waterways. Probably not.

She could feel her energy dipping as they neared the hotel. None of them had been the same since Damali had left with Carlos. She peered at Big Mike. His eyes said it all; the team's leader and daughter had abandoned him. Jose was positively bereft. She sighed silently as she glanced at J.L. and Dan. They still seemed stunned. The muscles in Rider's jaw were working. And Shabazz... The man's complexion was practically gray. She could feel his deep soul mourning; although he hadn't said a word, it clouded his entire aura.

She looked out the window during the traffic-impacted five-mile stretch between Kingsford-Smith International Airport, watching the billowing white-tiled sails of the Sydney Opera House come into view, renewed tension winding the muscles in her shoulders tight. Father God, where was her baby girl? This time, there was no plan. Damali hadn't even come back to develop a strategy with them to get everyone on the same page, help come up with new weapons, or anything like that, much less perfect the show.

All they had was this new, very-unlike-Damali song, some fleeting instructions about a rendezvous time and location, and a tape that had mysteriously shown up in the compound one night�which had freaked everybody out, including her. They were almost afraid to listen to it, and the Covenant had almost destroyed it when they tried to douse it with holy water. The message was crazy. Have faith.

Faith... Marlene rolled the word around in her mind. The team was missing its crown jewel, and each member was falling away one-by-one like loose semiprecious stones in a weakened setting, grieving, losing faith, losing hope, the only thing holding them together was the crazy glue of love.

Marlene thought about the Isis, her inner eye seeing each team member like a gemstone set in the handle of it, matched perfectly to Damali's chakra system. She, the mother-seer, was the base chakra guide, an anchor of elder female energy to ground her young charge, guarding her sensuality and important reproductive path. Shabazz was the gut instinct one level up. Rider was her gall, her righteous indignation, covering level three. Jose... Marlene shook her head... God bless him, he was to guard her heart - the midsystem chakra divide between the primal and the divine... and he'd been shattered.

Big Mike was to be Damali's throat chakra voice guide, a man of few words, but those uttered, profound. J.L. and Dan were like the protective handle of the ancient blade, two stones of her third eye fanning out to protect her grip. But Damali was the crown chakra, the diamond at the top, which was to always be connected by the divine filament of energy that never left the Light.

Marlene's chest was so tight with grief that she almost sobbed. Something had happened. The four remaining Covenant brethren were supposed to represent the blood grooves along the Isis that came down to a point, which would leave a crucifix wound in an enemy, a puncture on a beast that would never seal. Their eyes were forward, their jaws set hard, but their faith was wavering. She could feel it like a dull ache in her soul. It was as though the combined teams' human replica of Damali's system, and of the sword that she was to become, had been broken over their Neteru's knee - halved and traded in for what none of them could give her, and only Carlos could.

All she could hope was that the broken blade would be reforged into something new, stronger, and that ultimately some good would come out of the ashes left in the furnace.

He watched her sleep, grateful that her breast rose and fell with life-sustaining air. She was alive. Last night they'd come too close. Never again. Not like that.

She looked so peaceful, serene... like an angel in the dark. Maybe a dark angel? He wasn't sure. But the old men had been merciful.

"Good evening, baby," he murmured as she stirred and smiled at him with her eyes still closed.

"Hey," she whispered. "Where are we?"

"I followed the song lines," he said tenderly, kissing the bridge of her nose. "They opened up the safe house for us."

"Hmmm... good," she said in a sleepy voice. "I'm so glad we're not in the castle."

"So am I," he admitted, then leaned in and kissed her. "You hungry?"

"Yeah," she said, covering his hand on her belly with her own. "Starved."

He chuckled low in his throat. "Yeah, me, too."

It was difficult to pull away from her, but every request she made, he'd honor.

"Whatcha feel like?" he asked cautiously.

"Water," she murmured. "And lots of it," she added, swallowing with difficulty. "Fruit, bread, everything... I'm starved."

He paused thoughtfully. She was human. Conflict bound him. His emotions quickly vacillated between extreme elation and the depths of disappointment. If she was human, she wouldn't live forever. If she was a vampire, then she would, but then that meant he'd done the unthinkable in blind passion. But her human request also meant that he'd never be able to take her to the vanishing point again.

"Okay," he said quietly, and lit a small wall torch so she could see. "I can do that."

With mixed feelings, he unsealed the lair the old men had provided and left her to go find food. Not fully regenerated, he opted for the old-fashioned way, and cautiously peered out of the room, checking for danger before he proceeded. But he didn't have to walk far. On the ground outside the door the old men had left a large bottle of spring water and a platter of fruit. "Thank you," he whispered and collected the items.

Returning with soft footfalls, he brought the nourishment to her side, sitting gingerly on the bed. He watched her devour the food and guzzle down the water. Guilt stabbed him as he thought about how long she'd been without the basic thing she needed to live - human sustenance.

Then all of a sudden, she quickly leaned over the side of the bed and vomited. She panted, sweat beading her brow, and he rubbed her back, confused.

He set the platter down very carefully on the nightstand, and stared at her as she flopped onto her back and slung an arm over her eyes. Her complexion was off; her eyes were dull. He had to get her to Marlene. Something was very wrong. She smelled... sweeter, lighter.

"Oh, God," she moaned. "I feel like shit."

He tried to keep the panic out of his voice. "I have to feed. I'll leave you some clothes, and as soon as I get back, we'll go find Marlene, okay, baby?"

Damali just nodded, and struggled to sit up. "Hand me the water." she said weakly. "I can't go into a concert like this." She looked up at him, huge tears forming in her eyes.

Two big tears rolled down her cheeks and she leaned over and lowered her face into her hands. He walked over to her, sat down, and pulled her to him.

"It's cool. It's gonna be cool. Okay?" He knew it was a lie as soon as he'd touched her and felt her burning up with fever. "You're gonna be all right, baby. I just need to get you to Marlene." He stood up fast, and quickly walked to the sealed lair door.

She sat there with her face covered, shaking her head. It was not going to be all right.

"At worst, you're turning back and..."

Damali dry heaved and then began to cry. Shit, this was bad.

"You're not pregnant," he said firmly, immediately reading her mind. "You couldn't go there last night in a vamp turn, right?"

"I'm real late, Carlos," she said, now looking up at him.

He stood so still he didn't even blink for a moment, then ran his fingers through his hair, again summoning rational calm. "All right... but that's to be expected. Your body has been in flux ever since we got here - "

"What if it didn't happen here? What if, before..."

She let the rest of her sentence just dangle with him hanging at the end of it.

"Aw'ight, aw'ight. Let's not panic and jump to conclusions," he said, ignoring his own advice as Father Patrick's safe house came into his mind. "First of all, that can't happen. You can't get that way from me, unless it's daywalker. So don't start tripping yourself out." He raked his ringers through his hair. "Plus, I bit you so many times, you went in and out of vamp turns... I would have tasted it in your blood if you were pregnant."

"I'm late, and I really don't feel good," she said as her sobs dissipated. She wiped her face with both hands and stared at the wall.

"How late?" It felt like his spinal cord was being pulled out of his back on an Inquisition rack as he waited for her answer.

"Since at least Brazil," she said, taking a little sip of water, and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "I thought it was because of all the battles, all the stress, the changes my body was going through."

"Then that explains it," he said, forcing a chuckle. "We're cool. I mean, you'd been bitten for the first time at the monks' joint, your system whacked out, then you went demon hunting, you know... and plus, we had all that back-and-forth stuff going down in my lair in Beverly Hills when we got back from St. Lucia, then you did the flux to vamp thing in the castle - right - and then, then, what happened was, you, uh... uh... well, I brought you to the desert. It got a little... well, hey, you know. And so, that's why I'm saying, you're cool. This is just some kinda transitional thing, right?"

He knew he wasn't making sense and didn't wait for her answer. Instead he began pacing, trying to convince himself as he walked, lingering by the door for a moment, taking a few steps toward her, then going back to where he needed to be - on the far side of the room. "It was intense out there, baby, I know, but don't panic. You just need to eat regular food, get something on your stomach, ya know?" Shit, this was bad.

She left the table, going to him, and placed her hand on his cheek. "That's when I knew... last night. I felt it. In fact, I saw it. That's when it happened, when you took me to the vanishing point - where every molecule and atom in the body splits and fuses for a second with your lover's. I saw it."

"Naw," he said, shaking his head, in pure denial, kissing her hand fast and then walking to the other side of the room. "We were both throwing down images, hard, D. You were all inside my head, and I was all inside yours. We were blowing each other's minds. It was mad-crazy-awesome, but we have to - "

"Be honest," she said, cutting him off with a gentle tone. "You wanted us both to live forever."

He looked away from her, studying a lit torch. "Aw'ight, I admit it," he said, his voice so quiet that it was as though he was talking to himself. "I came so close to messing up, big time, last night, but I swear to you... I mean, a little bit of that intent might have seeped out while I was in, but I pulled up just in time. I've got that much control, baby. You have to trust me."

"At the vanishing point," she said, her tone not accusatory, just matter-of-fact and gentle. "There was a pinpoint of white light, like a spark, then I was gone, and in two seconds I was back. There is no such thing as control at the vanishing point. Forces of nature are in control, then."

He didn't answer her immediately, remembering the oblivion, the place she'd named where the parallel lines of their separate worlds bent, collided, and the blue-white spark ignited... that place where he wanted to give her everything in him, and did, and wanted her to live on forever with him, through any means necessary.

"Okay," he said, fast, his voice louder than he wanted it to be. "But if you - " He stopped his comment, redirecting it. "Okay. But if - "

He walked to her and held her by both arms. He took a deep breath and looked at her, desperate now to convince himself. "You don't get sick overnight, that's one. Number two, if you were late since Father Pat's on the first time out, then we would have known. Both of us would have sensed that. Number three, the old boys would have picked that up on radar, and if they didn't, I know Marlene would have. So, let's not bug."

Damali shook her head no. "My system isn't quote unquote normal, Carlos," she said, making little gestures with her fingers. "It was there since it was first planted at Father Pat's - the intent. Dormant. Waiting for enough energy and love to give it that spark of life. This isn't a daywalker, honey... this is a guardian. You wanted to live forever, so did I - with you. And a child is a way for people - humans - to do that for generations. I shared my pulse; your humanity never left you, and you still have a soul, albeit trapped in Purgatory, but you have one. We were on hallowed ground last night in the desert, and the intensity, the way our energy fused and bent light, matter, in a natural, sacred place... We both surrendered completely to the other..."

She walked away from him as his hands slid from her arms and terror glittered in his eyes. "You said it in my mind... 'Flesh of my flesh, soul of my soul, with everything I have, woman I love you, don't leave me.'" She sighed when he rubbed his jaw and turned away, leaning on the door. "You broke up into a thousand pieces of light when you - "

"Aw'right, aw'right, I know... I remember."

"And, when you came back, you were sobbing, and - "

"Yeah, yeah, but - "

"And your protect or die instinct kicked in, and the next thing I knew, I was going in and out of consciousness around some fire with old men... I blacked out when you dropped to your knees and asked for sanctuary in the name of God just for me - "

"True dat," he said fast to stop her vivid replay, the recent humiliation too fresh to say out loud. If his boys ever knew that he'd been so caught up to be left standing naked at dawn, vulnerable before weak old men, unable to fight them, begging them in the name of the Almighty... oh, no.

Carlos closed his eyes for a moment to wash the image out of his mind, then looked at her, his voice thick with false bravado. "But, baby, look, for real, we can't panic. We can't jump to conclusions. Where's the war party?" he asked, sweeping his arm around the room. "They would have sent a force up here that could have broken through the Vatican. Feel me?"

"Only if I registered as a permanent vamp turn - ruining their vessel, or if their vessel was prematurely impregnated with a day-walker. They can never feel when a blessed innocent is created�that's why they can never find a Neteru or Guardian in the womb. That's why they have to be strategic, gamble on who the mother will be." She looked at him hard, folded her arms over her chest. "Now, do you feel me?"

Her logic was so sound it was chilling. There were no words. This was not good. It was a floating free-radical of disaster. The baby in the castle had been an omen. The cross cut on its finger to mark it for good, a sure sign. And what he'd unloaded last night was no joke. He raked his fingers through his hair again, nearly wanting to rip out his own brain, or what was left of it. Oh... shit...

He studied her calm, trying to siphon some of it for himself. She stood before him naked, looking down at her belly, caressing it, and through her touch he knew she wasn't wrong.

Again, competing emotions bombarded him. A slow smile found his face from somewhere deep within his male subconscious, making his rational mind ponder if last night he'd gone mad. She was carrying for him. Just like he'd always imagined. Wanted it just as much as he did. Daaaayum... He was gonna be a dad... with Damali? Suddenly he laughed. His legs moved him toward her, and he picked her up and swung her around, kissed her hard, then set her down gently and walked over to the wall and slapped it.

"Hot-damn! I cannot believe this," he said, giddy. "They're gonna freak - but what the fuck, I don't care!" He threw his head back and laughed again and then held her gaze. She was so beautiful, even looking a little green. Once again, she'd given him a gift that was beyond comprehension. "You know how bad my moms and grandma wanted grandkids?" His gaze drifted toward a torch. "Damn, I wish Poppi and Alejandro... my boyz were still here." He looked at her fast. "You think they can see the baby from wherever they are, D?"

He looked at her suddenly stricken expression, and went to her, to hold her. "It'll be all right, baby. We'll make a way. Shit, I own the world."

"As a vampire, Carlos," she said too calmly, slipping from his hold to go sit on the edge of the bed. "They are not going to allow this, you know that, right? Especially when you don't deliver them the seal or the key." She stared at him, watching the jubilation drain from his face. "My team can only protect me for so long... nine months is a long time, and if they go for the baby - "

"Don't even think about that shit," he said, pushing away from the wall to stare at her. "Hell no. I will - "

"Be exterminated by your own council," she said, getting to her feet. Her hand went to her mouth, stopping his words as she whirled around the room. "We don't have the resources to protect a human child from they types of forces that are going to come for us. The primary mission is restoring the key - not having a child!" She stopped speaking, closed her eyes, and then resumed very slowly, her voice even. "Carlos, do you realize what our mission is? This ain't some around the way shit where you can roll up on your boys with our baby in your arms and say, 'Yo, hombre, dis is me.' This ain't some simplistic baby-momma drama. This is major bullshit. You ain't gonna be able to roll by, drop a few ends, take this kid to the ballgame with your squad. Are you insane? We can't handle this."

She began pacing, leaving him numb with reality. "We aren't prepared, haven't thought of the future, have no real resources and assets to give this kid everything he or she needs." She spun on him and looked at him square. "This is what Marlene had been telling me in our little birds and the bees chats when I first came back from Father Pat's. She told my dumb ass what a Neteru conception would be like." She ran her fingers through her locks and closed her eyes.

"I'll take care of it... will take care of you, I promise, baby. We'll get through this, and one night we'll look back at this and laugh. I mean, for real, how bad could it be?"

Damali's eyes held his, and he saw something in them that he'd never seen before. True terror. Total panic. An awareness that for the first time in her life, there was nothing to fight - only something to protect, that she couldn't all by herself. What she had at stake was even more important than her own survival. Even the castle filled with vamps hadn't put an expression on her face like this.

"If we make it, for nine months," she said quietly, "plus the six weeks I need to heal, you can't bite me." She closed her eyes, placed her hand on the center of her chest, and breathed slowly, as though staving off a heart attack. "Oh, my God, Carlos... I don't know how we're going to make it, not being able to - "

"Nine months... but you said it probably went down at Father Pat's, it won't be that long - "

She let out a long sigh that cut off where he was going. "The thought and the conditions were set at Father Pat's," she said, her voice suddenly weary. "But when our minds, bodies, and spirits united as one out there in the desert, that was the moment the spark of life ignited. In that moment, I wasn't vampire, and neither were you all the way. We fused at the atomic level. I can't get even a passion bite in my bloodstream while carrying. My blood is shared now. My body will purge hard because of the extra strain on my system and I could abort."

He could feel himself battling to breathe; he wasn't even hungry any longer... nine months... shit...

His lack of response made her shake her head and speak to him in a crisp tone. "Then, until I stop nursing, you can't give me your virus. After it's born, if you don't want me to one day infect our child, I can't get bitten - and risk a flux. If I do battle, and get nicked, my team will have to keep the kid away from me to be sure I don't flux, and only let me near the baby when the vamp virus is out of my system. All the while we're trying to keep it safe for years, Carlos. That's why they don't make that many female Neterus... there's a risk factor of unborn innocents and babies potentially involved."

Shell-shocked, her words imploded within his awareness slowly.

"That's what Marlene was trying to tell us. Our lifestyles are too dangerous, neither of us is ready for that level of responsibility. Me and you were never supposed to create together - not under these circumstances."

Hot tears sat in her eyes, shimmering and threatening to fall, but this time she wouldn't let them. "We weren't supposed to go there until... if you weren't what you are, weren't in the life you're in... if I wasn't what I am - a woman on a mission with a serious future. Now, you'll have to be around me because there's probably nobody else capable of sensing a vamp attack like you can, but you won't be able to throw down vamp passion. Do you understand what that means? And, it's not just you - it's me... I might be the one to break down and call you... I'm only human, and you're only vamp. We aren't made of steel."

Just her saying that made a quiet shudder run through him.

She looked up at him, shaking her head. Her voice dropped to a whisper, as though she were actually talking to herself. "But, I'll have to dig deep and say no, because there's now something more precious to me than anything in the world, and I won't allow even its father to jeopardize its life because of his mistakes and the way he lives. Comprendo? I'm out of the street game of dusting lower-level vamps, rolling at night on the hunt... doing things with you that... I'm gonna be a mother. You ready to deal with that?"

For all his powers and knowledge of the world, the simple word yes was the last thing he thought of Everything she said was too real. Blew him away. He looked at the naked woman before him who had wrapped her arms around herself as though barring him entry from her. He could also tell that the magnitude of her own words was scaring her to death. But the brief moments it took for all that to form and sort itself out in his mind, his slow answer seemed to hurt her more than any clumsy response he could have given her. He went to open his mouth to speak, but her narrowed gaze stopped anything he was about to say.

"Get me some clothes. Khakis, a T-shirt, sneakers. Get my Isis blades out of that fucking castle." She walked away and gave him her back while he dressed her.

He watched her sheath her blade on her hip and put the small dagger in her back pocket.

"You need to go eat and then take me to my mom."

He nodded. What was there to say?

She gave him a hard, sideline glance over her shoulder. "And don't you dare go after one of those old men."

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