Without Light or Guide (5 page)

BOOK: Without Light or Guide
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Miquel's hands massaged his shoulders. “Easy.”

Juanita said, “I'm not questioning your loyalty, Diago.”

Of course she wasn't. Juanita had always spoken up for him, even when the others wouldn't.

“I know, I know. I'm sorry.” He sighed again and wished he could start this day over. “It's just that all day, I've listened to Garcia second-­guess my every motive.”

“Ah. Now I see,” Juanita murmured. “I understand your frustration, but you have to remember: the others recall you in your firstborn life. When you were Asaph, you swore an oath, and then you betrayed your king.”

And not a single one of them acknowledged that Solomon and Asaph had begun as friends.
During our youth, we had loved one another like brothers.
They had rarely argued until the daimons managed to drive them apart. Pride and a desire for revenge had turned their final days to ashes.
But that was the past, and the past was as dead as Solomon and Asaph.

“Is it asking too much to be judged on my actions in this life? Asaph died an ugly death. Diago lives and hopes for better. I can't earn their trust if they've already decided I'm guilty.” He held Juanita's gaze. “Do you see? I'm just asking for a chance.”

She touched his scarred cheek. “I can only speak for Guillermo and me: we trust you. Miquel trusts you, and you seem to have won Suero's faith. Small steps will lead to great strides. Just be patient.”

The children came back downstairs, their laughter pealing through the house.

Juanita glanced at the clinic door, then back to Diago. “I'm going to ask you again: did you have more episodes of chromesthesia?”

“A ­couple. I had two severe attacks in the city and a third mild one on the way home.”

“That's three.”

“Two and a half.”

Miquel's hold on him eased. “None of the attacks debilitated him. He moved through them.”

“I'd feel better if you rested tomorrow,” Juanita said.

“I'm going with Guillermo to Holy Cross.”

“I'll talk to Guillermo.” She put the light away. “If you like.”

“Don't. We're hunting a daimon. The others won't see the signs I can see. Not even Guillermo.”

“And you think by defeating a daimon, Los Nefilim will believe in you.”

He couldn't tell if she thought him noble or pathetic. Not that it mattered to him one way or another. “I took an oath.”

She considered him carefully for a moment. “The others might only see your daimonic nature, but I see the angelic in your eyes.” Then she turned to Miquel. “Make sure he rests.”

ater that evening, Diago woke on the couch in the guesthouse a little after sunset.
Guesthouse. No. It's
house now,
he thought as he indulged in a languid stretch.

Through the parlor window, the sky retained hints of purple. The stars were gauzy points of light through the clouds. He remembered changing clothes and sitting down to sketch the map of the Ferrer apartment. Rafael had settled on the floor, pad and pencils arrayed around his latest drawing. Having finished the map, Diago had closed his eyes, meaning only to rest for a moment.

Judging from the light, he'd slept for a ­couple of hours. Someone, most likely Miquel, had taken off his shoes and covered him with an afghan. Diago sat up and noticed a sheet of paper on the table. Rafael had drawn a picture of their house. In front of the home, a child with dark green eyes stood between crude representations of Diago and Miquel.

No. Not entirely crude.
The drawings had a primitive appeal. The shapes of the faces and stances were good likenesses. They were all smiling and holding hands. A white kitten with one blue eye and one green eye sat at Rafael's feet. Overhead, a bright yellow sun with angel's wings beamed down on them.

At the bottom of the picture, Rafael had printed “My Family” in block letters. Diago held up the paper to the light and detected the pencil marks beneath the colors. Miquel had printed the letters and Rafael had traced over them.

Warmth filled Diago's chest.
Miquel is so unsure of himself, but he's a better father than I am. He knows how to give.

From the kitchen came the smell of roasting vegetables and the sound of a knife rhythmically hitting the wooden cutting board. Miquel was cooking dinner.

Rafael's voice wafted into the small living room. “Do you want me to wake Papa?”

“Not yet.” Miquel said. “Doña Juanita said to let him rest.”

“I checked him a few minutes ago and he was still breathing.”

Miquel laughed. “That's always a good sign.”

“It's not funny. Sometimes Papa breathes so soft I can't tell if he's alive. But if I touch his cheek, he wrinkles his nose and turns over and that's how I know he's not dead.”

“That sounds very scientific.”

“Sister Benita said I was silly when I did things like that. She said I was supposed to trust God. She said if I really loved God, then I would trust Him. But that doesn't feel right. Can you love someone but not trust them, Miquel?”

Miquel was silent for a moment. “Yes. I think you can love someone but not trust him, or her.”

Diago wondered if Miquel was thinking of Candela. He looked down at Rafael's drawing of the winged sun. The child wasn't far from the truth. The angel's presence lingered over their every waking moment in the form of Rafael. Yet Miquel had not once complained about having the boy in their lives. Diago held the picture against his chest. Through the paper, he felt the outline of his wedding band beneath his shirt. He touched the chain of his necklace and fished the ring to his finger.

“I don't understand,” said Rafael.

“Well . . .”—­the knife slowed—­“ . . . think of it like this: love is a gift that's given. Trust is a coin that's earned.” The chopping sounds stopped altogether. “Do you know how to peel garlic?”

“Yes!” The chair scraped the floor. “Then can I check on Papa again?”

“Only if you promise not to wake him.”

“I promise.”

They hummed a tune together as they worked.

Unbidden, the memory of Alvaro resurfaced.
Diago, my son, help me . . . help. . .

Diago closed his eyes and tried to muster any recollection of his father—­a touch, a scent, a word—­but nothing came immediately to his mind. He conjured the image of Alvaro's soul wrapped in Moloch's magic, and contemplated the shape of Alvaro's face. From the farthest reaches of his first memories, Diago recalled a man with similar features. He had carried Diago into his aunt's home and left him there with a promise that he would return.

But he never did. He never came back. And Diago had shut the pain of that first betrayal deep within his soul, never to be examined
. . .
until today.

But why? How could he have deserted me if he truly loved me?
Diago tried to imagine leaving Rafael with strangers. Although the child had been in Diago's life for only a few weeks, he couldn't bear to abandon him so heartlessly.

What reason did Alvaro have?
During Diago's brief meeting with his father, Alvaro claimed he left because Diago had forgotten how to love, but was that true? If Diago lacked the ability to love, he wouldn't have cared if Alvaro abandoned him.
But I did. I loved Alvaro. His betrayal was so traumatic I buried it.

Diago opened his eyes. Alvaro's statements didn't fit.
He claimed he'd remained by my side as long as he could, but how old was I when he left me with my aunt? Four? Five?
If a father couldn't bear to watch his son go through another life in sorrow, did he simply abandon him before he knew whether or not the child could change?

Was Alvaro so selfish and callous?

On the other hand, he
helped Diago deceive Moloch, had given his life so they could flee.
Why would he help me save Rafael if he didn't care?

Diago pressed his wedding band to his lips. None of it made sense. The two aspects of his father—­the cold Nefil who abandoned his son, and the repentant one who saved his grandson—­didn't mesh. An integral piece was missing from the puzzle, leaving Alvaro and his motives tantalizingly out of focus.

Miquel crossed the kitchen and took from the cupboard two glasses and a bottle of homemade wine. He glanced into the front room where Diago sat. “Look who is up.”

Rafael's chair scraped again.

“Don't”—­Miquel pointed his finger in Rafael's direction just as a thud shook the floor—­ “jump.” He sighed in resignation.

Diago happily released the enigma of Alvaro. The problem created by his father made his head hurt.

Rafael ran from the kitchen and into the living room. The papery garlic husks were still stuck to his fingertips. He threw his arms around Diago's neck and kissed his cheek. “Did you have a nice nap?”

“I certainly did.” Diago let the ring drop to his chest. “Did you make this for me?”

Suddenly shy, Rafael climbed onto the couch beside Diago and concentrated on picking the husks from his fingers. “Do you like it?”

“I do. You are a very, very good artist.”

Rafael blushed and pointed to the words. “Miquel helped me.”

“I couldn't see that at all.”

“You don't lie very well, Papa. It's easy to see.” Rafael held it up to the light and traced the letters with his finger. “See? Miquel wrote in pencil, then I colored the words in.”

“I'm still proud of you.”

Rafael noticed the wedding band on Diago's necklace. He lifted the ring and turned it around. “That's like Miquel's ring, except his is gold.”

Diago gave himself a mental kick. He should have tucked it back into his shirt before Rafael saw it. “Yes, it is.”

“Don Guillermo and Doña Juanita have matching rings, too, but they always wear theirs. Ysa says their rings tell everybody else they're married. Is that why your ring is like Miquel's?”

Diago dodged his son's question. “It's a symbol of love.” He wasn't sure if he was ready to explain to Rafael his relationship with Miquel. Thus far, the child had accepted his new home and the fact that Diago and Miquel slept together without question. The guesthouse only had two bedrooms, so Rafael most likely figured their arrangements were from necessity. Besides, he probably had no comparable experience. Diago and Miquel were careful not to display any overt affection toward one another around him. They'd agreed to tell him together when he was older and better able to understand.

And in the meantime, pray he
understand. Perhaps Rafael's lack of education was a blessing in disguise. The Church maintained its stranglehold on the schools and the curriculum, indoctrinating their poisonous philosophies into the children's minds. Unlike schools in other towns, the youngsters of Santuari learned the true mysteries of the universe from the old Nefil, Bernardo—­
Bernardo, that is. Rafael's only encounter with the Church appeared to be in the form of the rather daunting specter of Sister Benita. Diago hoped she hadn't inflicted too much damage on his son's worldview, but until he was sure, it was best he and Miquel were circumspect with their affection.

Rafael asked, “But if you love Miquel, why don't wear your ring?”

“It's . . . complicated.” Diago unclasped the hook and slipped the ring from the chain.

Rafael touched the silver band. “Miquel wears his ring.”

From the kitchen, Miquel sang out, “Yes, he does!”

Rafael looked up at Diago and frowned. The child was genuinely trying to understand. The situation perplexed him, but he was determined to work through it with the same tenacity he used on all his problems. “Is Miquel your wife?”

Miquel's laughter rang out in the kitchen.

“No, he is not my wife.” Diago shot a glare at the door.
A little help in here would be nice.
But Diago held no hope of getting any. He looked into his son's questioning eyes and knew he couldn't lie. “Miquel and I are . . .”
What? Married? Lovers?
He groped and finally seized the word he desired. “We're partners. We made a sacred promise to each other, because we love one another.”

“Like brothers?”

“Like a partner. Someone I want to spend my life with.”

Rafael considered this explanation for a moment. “Then why don't you wear your ring?”

“Because he thinks our love is dark,” Miquel said from the kitchen doorway. He spoke gently enough, but Diago detected the familiar bitterness edging into his words.

How many times had Miquel asked him not to hide the symbol of their love?
You murder me, Diago. Every time you deny our love, you murder a piece of my heart.

Ashamed, Diago looked down at his ring. Miquel disappeared back into the kitchen. The sounds of plates rattling onto the table seemed to carry more force than usual.

I've upset him. Again.

“Love isn't dark, Papa.” Rafael touched the ring in Diago's palm. “Love kills the dark. That's what Mamá always said. Love drives the dark away.”

“I don't believe love is dark.” Not anymore. Not after his years with Miquel. But still . . . “I'm afraid not everyone will understand.”

“They don't understand because you don't wear your ring. If you wore your ring, they would understand.”

Diago had no answer for that, and he now wondered if it was
who didn't understand, and Rafael got it just fine. He simply sat there with his son next to him, gazing at the wedding band he wore beneath his shirt like it was a dirty secret. Yet Los Nefilim knew. They all knew. Some didn't approve, but they didn't dare say anything to Diago or Miquel's face. What were they going to do? Kick him out? The thought of it was ludicrous. Once a Nefil swore allegiance, he never left the ser­vice of his king.

BOOK: Without Light or Guide
4.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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