She entered the dark, noisy club, her senses assaulted by the alien interior. Attempting to take in the scene before her, Gwen thought she would be more comfortable in the Star Wars cantina than here at the Raven. Slowly, she worked her way towards the back of the club, trying to see anything that remotely resembled a radio studio. Now she was here, she wasn't sure how to proceed. Who needs a plan? Something will turn up, she thought. Something did, but it wasn't quite what she expected.
A hand snaked around her throat from behind, fingers resting lightly against her now rapidly beating pulse. A voice next to ear whispered, "I wouldn't advise trying to save souls here, Reverend, it could prove detrimental to your health." The owner of the silkily menacing voice came around to stand in front of her, the tips of his cool fingers slipping across her throat.
Gwen looked up at the tall man standing before her, his icy blue eyes glinting coldly as he gazed down at her . She suddenly had the fleeting sensation of two perspectives, then it was gone. "The only soul I'm concerned with right now is my own," she replied to the veiled threat with as much courage as she could muster, some instinct telling her that the man before her was terribly dangerous. That didn't change anything, though; she had to see this through to the end, whatever that might be.
"Indeed? So you come here?" LaCroix made an expansive gesture around the room. This was too rich -- no need to seek out this woman. She came straight to him, walking right into his arms with no effort on his part whatsoever. The question remained, though: why was she here? He intended to find out; she would not leave here till he did. If, indeed, she ever left at all.
"I came here because you were here."
"And how did you come to find me? Surely Nicholas was not forthcoming on providing my whereabouts?"
"He left me alone downstairs in his loft, I heard you on the radio," she found herself confessing. "He refused to tell me who you were," she added, a note of defiance in her voice.
He grasped her chin, moving so close their bodies touched. "So, Nicholas doesn't know you're here, he doesn't even realize you know who I am." LaCroix's hand moved back down to her throat, his thumb under her chin. "Does he?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper. He slowly extended his power over her mind. Very gently now, he thought, she is probably something of a resistor. Otherwise Nicholas would have taken care of her desire to find him, of that he was sure.
"No," she breathed.
"Then allow me to introduce myself. Lucien LaCroix. However, I believe we should continue this conversation somewhere more private," he said as he moved his hand to her shoulder, "don't you?" Not waiting for an answer, nor expecting one, LaCroix guided Gwen towards his private rooms, feeling her mentally struggle against the hold he had on her. He also sensed in her the realization that fighting him was futile, but still she tried. He had to admit he admired the woman's spirit. In fact, he found it quite intoxicating.
He closed the door behind them, leading Gwen to the couch. He could see the awareness still in her eyes. Still resisting, he thought, relishing the sensation. So much the better, awareness in a vampire’s intended prey only heightened the experience. He realized in that moment that he had indeed decided on a course of action. He had first thought to question her, but now, her scent enticing him, the mental struggle exciting him, now he would take her. Not too much, not yet. Just enough to tease the edge of the blood lust; there would be time for more lengthy explorations later.
There was, for those with the control to accomplish it, a great deal to be said for extending the experience. Besides which, he still wanted to know the full story of why the lady priest was here. LaCroix had always enjoyed the process of destroying the faith of those claiming to be holy. He had yet to find one that truly had faith when faced with the reality of the existence of his kind. It had been some time since he had anticipated an encounter quite so much -- he intended to enjoy it to the utmost.
Turning his attention to the matter at hand, he considered the woman seated next to him. Beneath the exhaustion marking her pale features he saw a very lovely woman. Small boned, almost fragile, her face framed by tendrils of hair that had escaped the knot that held it. And those eyes, those damnable eyes that now haunted his dreams. He reached behind her and, one by one, removed the pins that held her hair, letting the heavy mass tumble free down her back, spilling down to her hips like molten copper. She made a low sound in the back of her throat, almost a whimper at his touch.
He cupped her face in his hands. "It's all right, my dear Gwenyth, there is nothing to fear. I assure you that you will find this totally pleasurable." He ran his thumb across her lips, parting them. Leaning over, he kissed her lightly, deepening the kiss as he felt her respond. Moving his hands down her throat he began to unbutton her blouse, his lips following his fingers. LaCroix pushed the collar away, exposing the long line of her throat -- and the silver Celtic cross that hung there. He narrowed his eyes slightly, tracing the chain with one elegant finger to the clasp, deftly undoing it and tossing it negligently behind him. The silver flashed in reflected light from the candles that lit the room as it arced through the air -- then was extinguished as it fell to the floor, forgotten.
Gwen no longer struggled against his hold; she had held out longer than most, but this end was inevitable. No mortal could hope to withstand a vampire as ancient as he. Running his tongue up from the hollow of her breast to the pulse beating so invitingly at the base of her throat, he kissed the spot hungrily, savoring the moment before sinking his fangs into her pale throat.
Her blood rushed into him, the topmost layer as always the emotion of the moment, in this instance fear mingled with vampirically induced desire. Then came the second layer; it was always subtle, always different. Memories, dreams, knowledge, one never knew what would stand out. The variables were as many as the differences in the mortals they fed upon. LaCroix was not prepared for the memories that now poured into him. In shock, he pulled away from Gwen, who lay pale and unconscious in his arms. "It's not possible," he whispered, and yet he knew what he had just seen in her blood. The vision of her lying in his arms took him back to a summer very long ago....
Transalpine Gaul: Summer, 78 AD
"I dreamt about you last night," Brigh said unexpectedly.
Lucius grinned down at her lasciviously. "Did you now?"
"Not like that!" she protested. "Really, do you think of nothing else, Lucius?" she asked, mock severity in her voice.
He ran his hand up her bare leg, causing her to shiver. "I don't recall you objecting."
She rolled away from him. "I'm never going to be able to finish this conversation if you keep doing that!" she protested, standing up and beginning to pace.
All hurt innocence on his face, he asked, "Doing what?" Brigh attempted to keep a stern expression on her face, failing miserably as a grin tugged at the corner of her lips. He sat up against the tree they had been lying under and held his hand out to her. "Come back and sit in the shade. I promise I'll let you finish this time."
Relenting, she took his hand and sat down next to him. He wrapped his arms around her as she nestled against his chest.
"Better?" he asked
She wriggled closer. "Much."
"Now tell me about your dream."
"It was more than a dream, it was a foretelling." Brigh stopped him before he could interrupt her again. "You promised," she reminded him, then continued, "I saw you in a strange room, you were dressed oddly and all in black. You were so pale." Her voice became quieter. "There was a woman in your arms -- she was very still, as if she were dead. You had the oddest expression on your face. You seemed so alone. I tried to reach for you but you didn't hear me. Then I woke up."
"And this troubles you," he stated. "It shouldn't. If it is the future than there's nothing for either of us to do about it, is there? If not, then you will have worried over nothing." Lucius said, hoping she would see the sense in his words. He was a logical man, a man of action. He had always been uncomfortable with the supernatural, leaving that to the priests. He was a soldier and preferred to deal with the tangible.
"Perhaps you’re right," she said hesitantly, wanting to believe him.
"It's a beautiful summer's day and I'm with the most desirable woman in Gaul." He was rewarded with a playful slap on the hand. Grinning, he continued, "Let’s enjoy the here and now shall we? I can think of several ways to spend the afternoon." Leaning over, he kissed her passionately.
She twisted around to face him, returning his kiss with an answering passion. Then abruptly she pulled away, leaping to her feet. "I almost forgot!"
Bemused, he watched her run over to the food baskets they had brought for the picnic. Brigh rummaged around in one till she found two small packages. Returning to where Lucius was sitting, she dropped gracefully onto the grass in front of him. She handed him one of the packets. "This is for you," she said, smiling.
Opening it, Lucius found the wolf head bracelet of Brigh's he had often admired. "But this is yours," he protested.
"Now it's yours. You have always liked it, haven't you?"
"Then it's settled, I want you to have it." She took the bracelet from him. "It wraps around my arm nearly three times. It will probably only go once around yours." Taking his arm, she opened the soft gold band wider, placing it around his lower arm. "There, it suits you, don't you think?"
"It's exquisite -- like the giver." He leaned forward, gently kissing her. "I will keep it always," he promised.
She smiled happily. "Now the second package is for your daughter."
Lucius cocked his eyebrow quizzically at her.
"You told me you wanted something nice to send to Divia. I knew you were busy and probably hadn't gotten around to it, so I took it upon myself to get this for you to give to her." She frowned in worry as he made no reply. "If you'd rather not, I understand. I just thought she would like it…." she trailed off uncertainly.
Lucius drew her into his arms, embracing her as if she might disappear at any moment. "I'm overwhelmed, my love, that you would be so generous towards my daughter."
"Why does it surprise you so?" She was genuinely confused. "You love Divia, I love you. It's quite simple," she said, kissing him on the cheek. "I'll never understand the Roman mindset. The kind of culture that would make you surprised at the fact I could care for another woman's daughter." Brigh wrinkled her nose as if smelling something unpleasant.
He laughed at her expression as he opened the packet. "It's beautiful, Brigh, truly," he said, examining the cloak pin that she had gotten -- a silver circle of birds and flowers delicately wrought in the Celtic style. "Divia will adore it. I'll send it to her in the next shipment."
"I wish I could meet your daughter," Brigh said wistfully. "Any child of yours must be special, my love."
Lucius realized in that moment he could never let this woman go. He had never believed in love till he met Brigh. Somehow he had to convince her to leave her life here. He knew her people were doomed -- Rome would overwhelm them in due course, if not this year then the next. It was inevitable, and he would be an instrument in that doom. He was determined to protect her from that, even if it meant protecting Brigh from herself.
He took her hand. "We could have our own child." He waited for her reaction .
She smiled sadly, reaching over to touch his face. "I would like that, a son to remind me of you when you've left me and returned to your empire."
He took the hand she held against his cheek and kissed the palm. He saw the tears as they began to slowly fall down her cheeks. "You will come with me, I'll not leave you here." He kissed the tears from her face.
She closed her eyes and sighed. "I'll never leave this valley, my love." The tone of finality in her voice chilled him to the bone.
Pulling her against him in a crushing embrace, he decided not to press the matter. There was still time to convince her. If not, he would do what was best and hope that she would forgive him. Eventually she would see the necessity of his actions.
He heard her voice whispering in his ear, "Lucius, if the day I saw in my dream comes to pass, if you are alone -- remember this moment. Remember how much we loved each other in this instant in time. When darkness falls, know that I loved you more than my own life." She fell silent and they simply held each other as the summer day waned into twilight....
LaCroix looked down at the woman in his arms. Not Brigh, but her nonetheless. He could no longer deny the reality of the situation. The blood knowledge had made that impossible, that and Brigh's dream told to him on a summer’s day almost two thousand years ago. He was at a loss on how to proceed, not a feeling he was overly familiar with, to be sure. Was it possible to rectify the mistakes of a past life? Did he even want to, or was his anger at Brigh for destroying any chance of their having one life together too much to overcome? Feelings that he had kept locked away for most of his two millennia threatened to overwhelm him. He needed time to consider, and consider carefully. He would be the one to choose the ending this time.
He carefully gathered Gwen in his arms. As he did so, he thought he heard a faint voice in the distance. "Remember the love we shared...."
Nick watched the elevator descend, a worried look on his face. He couldn't get rid of the nagging sense that something was very wrong.
"Mind if I ask what all that was about?" Nat inquired.
"I'm not really sure, Nat, trouble, I think."
Nick briefly told Nat about Gwen's obsession with finding LaCroix. "So at least she seems to have relented a bit. But I can't help but think it's too easy."
"Nick, she's an adult. You can't protect someone who doesn't want to be protected."
"It's more than that -- this is so unlike her. I've gotten to know her pretty well over the last few months. Gwen is a practical, level-headed, professional woman. In fact she reminds me of you in a lot of ways." Nick smiled. "Especially her stubborn nature."
She punched him lightly on the arm. "Stubborn? Me?"
He became serious once more. "And now Gwen has started acting so oddly, it's like she is having some sort of breakdown."
"You know, stress can do that to people. Who knows what someone's breaking point is?" She looked tiredly at him. "One day your life just gets away from you, and you can't get it back the way it was."
Nick simply nodded. Nat was right, and there was nothing he could do. But he still had to try; he'd never been good at letting things be.
She pulled a file from her briefcase. "And now the reason I'm here," she said, handing the file to Nick. "The report on the latest victim," she paused meaningfully, "the unofficial report."
He looked up in surprise. He quickly read the report, a frown of concern on his face. "A vampire?"
"I'm hoping you can tell me. I think so. In the other cases, the remains have been too torn apart. This time, though, the neck wound was still intact. It's not puncture marks, it's like the throat was torn out. The lack of blood in the body can't really be accounted for from the wounds, even as numerous as they are." She waited as he finished the report. "Do vampires kill like this, Nick?"
"I've heard of it, but only in vampires who have lost control totally. They don't last long, the enforcers get them. But to kill like this and cover your tracks indicates that whoever it is has control. At least for now." Nick was growing more and more concerned as the implications of it set in. "But if the control is slipping, then he would be a danger to the community."
"Damn, I was hoping I was wrong. What are you going to do?" Nat asked, worry evident in her voice.
"I need to see LaCroix, check on any new vampires in Toronto. Or ones that have started acting oddly."
"You can tell?" Nat asked, in a grim attempt at humor.
Nick brushed the top of her head with his lips, squeezing her shoulder. "Thanks, Nat, and yes, I'll be careful." In a whoosh of air, he was gone.
Nick worked his way through the crowded club to the bar. "Where's LaCroix?"
The bartender nodded towards the back, indicating LaCroix's private apartment. "But he doesn't want to be disturbed."
"I'll remember that," Nick said as he headed quickly to the apartment door. He entered without knocking, and stopped in stunned amazement at the scene before him. LaCroix appeared totally unaware of his presence in the room, so intent was he on the woman lying in his arms.
"LaCroix, what have you done?" Nick demanded, barely controlled fury in his voice. "I told you to leave her alone!"
LaCroix finally seemed aware of his son's presence, as he looked up at Nick. "Don't involve yourself in this, Nicholas. It is not your concern," he said warningly.
"It is my concern, she is my friend, my responsibility." Nick knelt next to Gwen. "Is that why you did this? Did you decide to use her against me as well?"
"This has nothing to do with you. Not everything does, you know." LaCroix's voice dripped sarcasm. He laid Gwen on the couch and stood to face Nicholas. "Br....Gwenyth and I have a past history which I am not going to share with you." A look of pain flashed across his features. "I want you to leave. Now." His expression dared Nick to defy him.
"I'm not leaving without Gwen. I'm taking her with me." He was determined that his Master would not keep her here.
LaCroix looked at Nick in silence as the minutes stretched. Finally, he nodded. "Yes, that would be for the best."
Nick sighed in relief, scooping her unconscious body into his arms.
"For now, Nicholas, only for now. Gwenyth and I have unfinished business to complete." His tone was uncompromising.
"We'll discuss this later, LaCroix," Nick said as he left.
"Indeed we shall, Nicholas. Indeed we shall."
On to Part Five