"That's why it's so important that the whole community get involved." Gwen leaned towards the camera. "This isn't just about homeless people being murdered. This is about what makes us human, what binds us together as a community. We have to care, about everyone -- yes, even the homeless, the derelict. If we don't, then who will care about us when evil stalks the night?"
"Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Reverend Frizell, we appreciate it." The show's hostess smiled and turned to the camera. "You have been listening to the Reverend Gwenyth Frizell on the dock murders. We'll be right back after this break."
He turned off the TV set, considering. At first he had found her efforts to bring him to justice amusing. But the amusement was changing to anger. The meddlesome mortal was bringing far too much attention to these killings, and he was not ready to move on just yet. He would need to act with extreme prejudice, as they said, against this increasingly troublesome priest. He made his plans, looking forward to sunset -- and the kill….
"How was I?" Gwen asked Father Wilton as they left the TV studio.
"You were inspired, inspired!" he enthused.
Despite her present stressed state of mind, Gwen found herself laughing at Father Wilton's unfailing enthusiasm. "Well, I wouldn't go as far as inspired. I'd settle for 'attention getting' actually."
"Oh you were that, believe me."
"I hope you're right." She rubbed her aching temples. "I think I'm going to go home and try and get some sleep. I'm so weary."
"That's the best idea you've had in weeks, Reverend. I'm glad to see you being sensible."
"For once?" Gwen finished his unspoken thought, smiling.
"Well as a matter of fact, yes," he admitted ruefully. "You can be quite…difficult."
"So I've been told, Father, so I've been told." And in more than one life, she thought.
Gwen stood in front of the mirror as she removed her clerical collar. She looked at it and sighed. She had never doubted her vocation, not once. Not till now. Did she have a right to this anymore, or was she forever tainted by darkness? The reincarnation aspect had not shaken her faith, she had just incorporated it into her already existing framework. But what about vampires? What about a woman of God who freely gave herself to one? There were no excuses -- what she had chosen to do yesterday was her decision, and hers alone. No coercion, no force, nothing to hide behind.
No, this was self-pitying nonsense. Stop it, she told herself firmly. Is your faith so weak that you think God would abandon you? Do you really believe Nicholas, that they are damned because of what they are? And by association, so are you?
She placed the collar gently in its box on her dresser. No, there had to be a reason for the existence of vampires. Gwen refused to believe that they had no purpose in the grand scheme of things. Nothing and no one existed without purpose. She wondered what Lucien would think of her theory, then laughed -- she could almost hear his reaction to that particular thought.
She may not know what the purpose was, but she had to have faith that one existed. Was that Gwen or Brigh, she wondered? Both, she realized suddenly. Maybe they weren't so different after all.
Pondering that realization, she started getting ready for bed. Even though she had slept most of the night, she was still exhausted. A combination of blood loss and anxiety. Gwen smiled a little. She had told Nicholas that she and Lucien needed to talk, and they still did. But after Nick had left, LaCroix had gotten her dinner from somewhere and had insisted she eat. Gwen had needed no second urging; she had been famished. While she ate, he had disappeared somewhere -- business to attend to, he had told her. She had appreciated the consideration, needing the time alone to think. By the time he had returned, she had dozed off, curled into an armchair. She had wakened as he carried her to the bedroom....
"I'm sorry," she murmured sleepily. "I meant to stay awake."
"Nonsense, you need to sleep," LaCroix told her firmly.
"But we have so much we need to talk about," she protested.
He hushed her as he laid her on his bed. "There will be time. Now sleep." He kissed her, stopping the objection that was forming on her lips. He looked deep into her eyes. "Sleep."
She felt her eyes growing heavy, and a distant corner of her mind realized he was influencing her, making her sleep. But she was too exhausted to fight him. As she drifted off she thought she heard his voice as if from a great distance.
"Soon we will have nothing but time, my love. Eternity."....
Gwen shook herself out of her reverie, realizing she was standing in the middle of her bedroom, holding her nightgown in her hand. She quickly finished getting ready, buried herself in the covers, and true to her word tried to sleep.
Sleep proved elusive, however. She looked at the clock -- again -- and grimaced in disgust. It was three p.m., fifteen minutes later than the last time she had looked. Okay, calm, breathe... in… out.… She concentrated on breathing, letting her mind roam free, trying not to think. Not to think of LaCroix or Brigh -- or what had happened yesterday. Finally, she felt herself relax, and began drifting off to sleep. Curled up tightly in the quilt, her sleep was deep
and dreamless for once.
She woke abruptly, sitting up in the now dark room and realizing she must have slept for several hours. She felt uneasy though, as if some unknown danger had wakened her. Maybe she had just dreamt it? No, whatever it was, it wasn't a dream.
She edged out of bed, pulling her robe on as she paused to listen. All she heard was silence, and that was the problem, it was *too* quiet. She shivered as the feeling of menace strengthened. Who was here? Not Lucien, she would *know* him somehow, she was sure. Someone else, and not human. Gwen wasn't sure how she knew that, but she was certain she was right. Another vampire then? She said a silent prayer for courage, trying to contain the fear she felt welling up inside of her. She knew that if it was a vampire intent on doing her harm she was totally defenseless and the cross she wore would offer little protection. Her mind raced trying to think of any possible defenses she might have available. Too bad she wasn't in the habit of keeping sharpened sticks in the house, she thought grimly. Then it came to her -- the closet!
Gwen edged around the room, keeping her back against the wall. At least, she reasoned, he couldn't attack from behind and her cross might at least prove a little effective. She knew it was probably futile, but she had to at least try. She refused to die without even making an attempt to save herself. Pulling the closet door open, she reached into the far corner. Yes -- there it was! Gwen grasped the walking stick that a parishioner had given her as a souvenir from his trip to Austria. She had never used it, but being a pack rat, she had never gotten rid of it either. It wasn't exactly a stake, but it was wood and it did have a slightly pointed end. Besides which -- it was all she had.
Taking a deep breath, she eased towards the bedroom door, praying silently the entire time. As she stepped out into the living room there was an almost imperceptible shift in the air. Behind you! her mind screamed. It all happened so fast after that that she wasn't really sure what had occurred. The walking stick was pulled out of her hand from behind as she was flung back into the bedroom by a strong hand. Gwen hit the floor, momentarily stunned by the force of the impact. She sat up to see two figures outlined in the faint light coming in the windows from the street lights. One was LaCroix, she now realized as another flash of *knowing* sparked across her mind. The other, she had no idea. Whoever it was, he was trying to back away from LaCroix, who held the walking stick raised to strike. He raised his hands in a vain attempt to ward off the ancient vampire, but to no avail.
She watched in horrified fascination. In one smooth thrust, LaCroix impaled the other man through the heart. The intruder made a slight choking sound as he dropped slowly to the floor, his hands wrapped tight around the slender piece of wood that had pierced him.
Gwen realized that no more than a minute or two had passed, but it had seemed like hours. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to calm her racing heart and to give thanks for her deliverance from almost certain death. There was, she realized, a certain irony in the means of her rescue. God indeed did work in mysterious ways, and for that she was most thankful. She felt a hand on her shoulder. Opening her eyes she saw LaCroix's ice-blue ones looking back at her as he knelt in front of her -- the room now lit by the overhead light.
"Are you all right?" he asked, concerned. "I'm afraid I pushed you rather harder than I meant to."
"I'm fine, really," she assured him. "Or at least I will be once I gather my wits." Gwen realized she was trembling. "Thank you, Lucien, I'm sorry I doubted you, questioned your honor. You do repay your debts." Hesitatingly, she brushed her lips across his. "Forgive me?"
He looked at the woman who had upturned his life, bringing with her both pain and pleasure. In her eyes was both his past and, he was quite determined, his future. "Have I not always?" LaCroix took her hands in his. "It's all over now. All of it." He stood, pulling her up with him. "I think you will find that no murders will be committed after tonight."
She looked past LaCroix at the body lying there. "So that was the murderer?" He nodded. "Now we'll never know why." Sighing, she leaned against him.
"Does it really matter?"
"I don't know. It should, shouldn't it?" Gwen looked up at him questioningly.
"There aren't always reasons, Gwenyth. Sometimes things just are." He cupped her face in his hands, his thumbs caressing her cheeks. "Don't always try to find answers, my dear. There are times when you just need to accept what is. No matter how difficult that can be."
She knew he wasn't just talking about the murderer. He was talking about them, and the situation they had found themselves in.
She put her hands over his. "I will try, Lucien. I will."
LaCroix was taking care of the *details* of dealing with the dead vampire in her bedroom. He had called Nick, who had arrived almost instantly. Having been told by both men, in no uncertain terms, to stay out of the bedroom, she busied herself in the kitchen. She was, for once, in no mood to argue; she was far too tired. On auto pilot, she went through the motions of making tea. She stood and stared blankly at the teapot, waiting for the tea to steep.
"Gwen?" Nick queried softly.
She gave a little screech, jumping at the voice. "Don't sneak up on me like that!" she scolded.
"Sorry," he replied contritely. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"No, I know you didn't." She rubbed her eyes tiredly. "I guess I'm just a little jumpy."
"You have every reason to be."
"Where's Lucien?" Gwen asked.
"He’s taking care of the body." Nick noticed her wince. "It had to be done, Gwen, you know that."
"I know, I know. But it doesn't really help. A man was killed in my home. No matter his crimes, I regret it."
"Not a man -- a vampire. A creature of darkness. Like me." He saw the denial in her eyes. "Like LaCroix. Gwen, listen to me, this is important." He took her shoulders in a strong grip, as if he could impart how vital this was to her by touch. "You must leave, and soon, or LaCroix will make you what we are. I don't want that to happen to you. It can't happen, you are in the light, don't you see? Don't let him destroy you again…please," he pleaded.
"Don't!" She wrenched herself out of his grasp. "I don't believe that! You are *not* a soulless creature, Nicholas, nor is Lucien." She gripped the edge of the counter, her knuckles white. In a calmer voice she continued. "You can't truly believe you have no soul. You believed you had one when you were mortal, so tell me -- where do you think it went when you became a vampire? Some spectral holding area for souls no longer needed by their owners?" She looked over at him, waiting for his response.
"I honestly don't know anymore. For a long time I believed I had no soul. But then people came into my life that made me doubt that." He paused, remembering.
"Natalie," she said simply.
He smiled. "Yes, Natalie. Though I've made it so difficult for her over these last years. I don't know why she puts up with me," he said, half to himself.
Gwen smiled, putting a gentle hand on Nick's. "Oh I could think of a few reasons." Men could be so dense sometimes, she thought in amusement. She returned to the subject at hand. "I know you're worried about me, and I do appreciate it -- mostly," she said wryly. "But you can't make up my mind for me. I need to think, something I haven't been able to do since the night I saw Lucien with you at the rally. I'm so confused; it's like…you know, I don't even know what it's like. I can't explain it to you because I can't explain it to myself." She laughed, a brittle edge to the sound. "It was hard enough being me, how do I be two people? Or am I really two people? Or just one who suddenly remembered a whole prior life? Dear God, it makes my head spin."
Nick looked at her, wishing he could help. He was surprised she hadn't fallen apart totally under the stress. He had no idea how she was handling it so well. Pulling her into his arms, he hugged her reassuringly. "It'll be okay, Gwen, it will. Promise me that you'll let me help, you can call me anytime. I will be here for you -- no matter what you decide."
She nodded against his chest, not saying anything for fear she would burst into tears. Already she could feel her eyes growing damp. She felt so... overwhelmed, and she had no idea what would happen next. She didn't want to think about the future right now. She just let Nick hold her.
That was how LaCroix found them when he returned. He paused in the doorway of the kitchen, watching his son comforting his…what was she to him? Lover? Beloved from his past? And who was she? Brigh or Gwenyth, or both? Did it matter which one? he asked himself. He knew one thing -- he would not, could not, let her go. Not again, not this time. Unbidden, the vision of Brigh lying dead in his arms flooded his mind, and he pushed it away, not wanting to relive it again.
Nick looked over at his Master just as Gwen became aware of his return. She wiped her wet eyes with the back of her hands, smiling tremulously at LaCroix. She gave Nick a quick hug before stepping away from him and taking the hand that the ancient vampire extended to her. Pulling her gently to stand in front of him, he bent down to kiss her. She gave herself over to the kiss, even though she knew it was partly LaCroix's way of posting a 'no trespassing' sign on her. It felt so good, so familiar, so *real*. Even though it's utter fantasy, her little voice said. She pushed the voice down angrily, losing herself in the feel of his lips on hers and his arms around her.
LaCroix broke the kiss, holding her against him. He looked at Nick smugly. "I think I can take care of things from here, Nicholas." His voice, supremely confident, rankled at Nick.
"I'm sure you can, but I'm sure that Gwen won't mind if I stick around," he replied stubbornly. He would not allow LaCroix to influence Gwen in her present vulnerable state. If Nick didn't stand guard, LaCroix would bring her across before the dawn, he was sure.
"Nicholas.…" LaCroix began warningly.
Gwen groaned in exasperation. Did they ever stop? "Oh no! Not again, not now!" Both men looked at her in surprise. Hands on hips, she glared at them. "Do you two *ever* agree on anything?"
"Not usually, my dear, he is far too stubborn." LaCroix looked at Nick's glowering expression with a slight smile on his lips. "Besides, if Nicholas agreed with me, it would make my life so boring."
"Heaven forbid your life be boring, Lucien." Gwen looked at him in annoyance. "I appreciate that you both want to stay with me, but…." she paused to look at each of them pointedly. "I really just want to be alone right now. Please, go."
Nick sighed, and nodded at her in understanding. He looked at LaCroix, still not sure if he would honor Gwen's request.
"I assure you, Nicholas, Gwenyth will come to no harm in my company this night." LaCroix looked at Nick, his expression serious. "You have my word."
Nick knew he was telling the truth. "Okay, Gwen, for you. I'll come by tomorrow though to check on you," he told her as he left.
The door closed; now they were alone once more.
Gwen looked up at LaCroix beseechingly. "Please, Lucien?"
LaCroix considered for a moment, running one long finger down her face. He looked deep into her eyes, seeing the turmoil in them, the pain. "Very well, my love, I'll leave you to think. Tonight. But tomorrow night.… " he trailed off. "I will come to you tomorrow night." His velvet voice, laden with promise, whispered across her senses.
"Yes, tomorrow night." She shivered at the intense, almost hungry, look that LaCroix gave her as he leaned down to kiss her once more. Then he was gone, and she was alone.
Gwen did think that night, all night. She had dressed and headed for her church; it was quiet and peaceful there at this time of the night. The Presence lamp shone comfortingly as she made her way down the aisle to the altar. After making her reverence, she knelt in prayer. And there she stayed till the first light of dawn peeked through the stained glass window above her head. Her face wet from tears, Gwen stood unsteadily, her path clear for the first time in what seemed like years. She knew what she had to do.
She spent the remainder of the day tying up loose ends. Father Wilton had been saddened by her decision, but he understood. Then she had gone home to pack, waiting for the hours of daylight to pass into dark -- and her meeting with Lucien. She dreaded it, yet at the same time wanted it to be over with. Now that she had decided on a course of action, she only wanted it to end. Gwen knew he would never understand. Her first thought had been to go while it was still light, to leave a letter trying to explain. But she couldn't bring herself to do it -- it was a coward’s way out, and she had never been a coward. He deserved more from her than that. So did she.
Finished, she sat by the window and waited, watching the moon rise through the trees. She didn't have long to wait. Gwen felt the air *shift* and his gaze upon her. She took a deep breath and stood to face him, her heart clenching at the sight of the harsh expression on his face. She started to speak, but the words died on her lips, her carefully rehearsed speech suddenly forgotten at the sight of him.
"The meaning of all this?" LaCroix indicated the boxes and suitcases in the middle of the room.
"I'm leaving," she stated bluntly. She didn't know what else to say. "I'm sorry, but I have to go."
"Indeed." That one word was all he said, but it sent a bolt of fear through her.
Gwen searched his face for some clue to what he was thinking, but it was an unreadable mask. She began speaking in a rush. "I'm taking a sabbatical, I'm leaving, I don't know where I'm going. I just know I have to leave here."
He grabbed her arm, pulling her to him roughly. "And what makes you think I'm going to let you?" He grasped her chin in his hand, forcing her eyes to meet his. "Do you really think I'm going to let you leave me again?" His body was drawn taut with barely controlled rage.
"You see? 'Again'! I'm not who you want me to be, Lucien, I can't be. I will never be totally Brigh, it's not possible." Gwen's voice broke. "We can't ever be what we were. It's not me you want, you want her. You have to see that I'm right. You have to let me go, let *us* go -- I beg you."
"And if I refuse?" LaCroix almost growled, tightening his grip on her arm. At her indrawn breath of pain, he seemed to regain some measure of control. He loosened his grip slightly. "So you decide yet again? *You* chose the last time, you destroyed any chance of our having a life together. Because you thought death preferable to a life with me. Do you have any idea what it did to me when I had to watch you die in my arms?" He shook her, shouting, when she didn't respond, "Do you?"
"I'm sorry! She.... I saw it as my only option, I could not betray my people. Can't you understand that?" She pounded at LaCroix's chest with her fist -- Brigh's fury overcoming Gwen's attempt to remain calm. "You had destroyed everything that was dear to me. How could you expect me to simply forget that and go to live in your empire? Did you think me without honor? Or was honor something reserved only for men in your world?" She was practically screaming at him now.
He flung her from him, enraged. "No! Do you want to know what your choice caused? Do you know what the consequences were? If you had only trusted me, something could have been salvaged, but instead -- it was totally destroyed...."
Transalpine Gaul: Summer 79 AD
Lucius brought Brigh's body back to her home and laid her body out on the bed they had shared on so many nights, covering her gently with her favorite cloak. She looked so peaceful, he could almost believe she was sleeping. That she would open her beautiful eyes and smile at him like she used to. The smile that made him forget his duty and the world around him. Gods, she couldn't be gone. But he only had to hold her cold hand in his to know she was indeed gone from him forever. He wished he could believe what Brigh believed, that they would meet again in another life. But he couldn't, no matter how much he wanted to.
Lucius laid Brigh's favorite possessions around her still, cold body, kissing her lips one last time. "Farewell, my love."
He poured lamp oil over her and the surrounding furnishings. After he had covered every surface of the dwelling with oil, Lucius looked on her one last time before leaving. He poured the remaining oil over the door frame and went to the torch he had prepared. He quickly lit it, walking back to the oil soaked dwelling. Consigning her spirit to whatever god or goddess might exist, he thrust the burning torch into the thatch. As the heat from the flames grew to be too much, he backed away to where his horse was tethered and watched as the ashes of his dreams were carried away by the wind. As the flames roared, his heart hardened. Never again would he allow himself to be so vulnerable. Never again would he question his duty. By the time the flames had died, so had his heart.
That was where his aide found him, as dawn broke. The weak rays of the morning sun were blue in the smoke that rose from the smoldering remains of Brigh's house.
"General, we are awaiting your orders on the disposition of the prisoners and the women and children." Octavius flinched at the cold, dead look in his general's eyes as Lucius turned to face him.
"Kill the prisoners, all of them," he rapped out. "They will be too dangerous as slaves, it's better not to take the chance. As for the women and children: make them ready to be transported to the slave markets." His voice was like ice.
"Anything else, sir?" The general's mood was making Octavius nervous. It was as if he were possessed by some dark spirit. The death of the lady had remade the general into something fey, and it unsettled him.
"Yes, there is." Lucius gave one last look at the smoldering ruin. He turned his back -- on all of it. "Let the centurions have the women, a... reward... for a job well done. It will be good for morale."
The unmerciful gaze, the dead tone made Octavius flinch. He was a solider and had seen more than his share of death, but when a man became like this... in his experience it meant but one thing; Death was hovering and would soon take its prey. Octavius saw Death hovering over the general.
"When they have had their fill, raze the town. I want it to be an example to all of what happens to those who defy the Empire." Lucius leapt onto his horse. "See to it!" he commanded as he rode away without a backward glance.
Gwen had collapsed onto the floor, silently weeping as LaCroix, his voice seething, told her what had transpired after Brigh's death.
"Stop! Please stop." She was at her limit, she couldn't take any more. "I can't…maybe one day I can deal with all this -- this past. But not now. Please not now," she whispered. Looking up at him she flinched a little at the implacable expression he wore. "I'm leaving, Lucien. More than ever I know this is what I have to do."
LaCroix was past caring what she wanted. This time he would have what *he* wanted; he would not be denied again. Staring down at her, he inexorably reached for her mind.
"Come to me," he commanded. He could have physically forced her to him, but he wanted to break her. To make her realize she was totally in his power, helpless. As helpless as he had been the day he watched her die from poison.
Gwen fought; she knew what he was trying to do. The look she gave him was one of pure contempt for his methods -- always resorting to force when he couldn't get what he wanted any other way. "No!" she ground out.
"You will do as I bid, Gwenyth, from this night on. You are mine, now and always." His voice wove its seductive power through her still resisting mind.
She heard it whisper in the deepest corners of her soul. 'Come to me, you cannot resist. Feel my thoughts, my will over yours." She whimpered as she felt her resistance crumble. All that was left to her was prayer, and she prayed until her will was no longer hers. Until LaCroix's hold on her mind and soul became complete. She looked up at him, at the hand he held out to her. "Cloaked in darkness," she remembered from some distant place. Gwen stood slowly, closing her eyes.
Once more the voice spoke. "Come to me, Gwenyth, give yourself to me." Silk on steel.
She opened her eyes, and walked towards him. Each step brought her closer to her fate at his hands. She took the hand he had held out to her, strong and cold in her small one. She shivered; soon her flesh would be as cold. Would her heart? The past and present collided around her, the memories of two lives shattering like crystal. Then it was still, and the only reality left to her was him. Gwen looked up at LaCroix, no longer able to fight the will of the ancient vampire. His eyes were gold and filled with a craving that terrified her. He would consume her, remake her into what he wanted. What would be left would be but a pale image of what she had been -- what they had been.
"See how much easier it is when you don't struggle so?" he whispered.
Gwen began to unbutton her blouse, unable to stop her hands from doing what he desired. When she had finished, he pushed it off her shoulders and down her arms, leaving her neck bared to him. Gripping her shoulders, he pulled her to him. He lowered his head; his lips on her were like the brush of cool silk as they moved lightly over her face and down her throat, coming to rest on the pulse that beat frantically at its base. His arms encircled her, one hand moving to tilt her head and move away the heavy mantle of her hair. His tongue licked and tasted the spot on her throat, replaced a moment later with the scrape of his fangs. She moaned at the touch, now totally lost.
"Mine," LaCroix growled as his fangs pierced her soft throat.
Gwen's hands gripped his arms convulsively as he drained her life away. He drank her blood, her very being. Her heart began to slow; her hands, now too weak to grasp him, dropped to her sides. She sighed once, softly, and then was silent.
He gloried in her blood -- this was as it should be. What was meant to be. Her essence, everything she was and had been poured through him like a rushing mountain stream, crisp and sharp. "Remember, Lucius, I will always love you, in this world and the next." Brigh's voice filled his thoughts. The memory of a summer’s day surged into his mind. The light, the laughter, the love -- the love.
LaCroix tried to resist the voice, the memories, but was unable to. He pulled away from Gwen, anguished. He could not do this. He still wanted to bring her across, but not like this, not in revenge. The sudden vision of her eyes filled with contempt, gazing at him through all eternity, haunted him. He realized in that moment that the rage he had felt all these years was gone. They had both committed their share of hurt; truly love was the mirror image of hate. It was long past time it ended -- it would end now. He held her, realizing he had stopped just in time. Any more and he would have had no choice.
He placed her limp body on the sofa. He knew Nicholas would be here soon and would take care of her. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the bracelet he had kept for so long. He placed it on Gwen's small wrist; she would understand, he was sure. He would not allow himself to hope she might return to him one day of her own volition. That would be utter folly on his part. The past was dead, let it lie, he told himself sternly. Brigh was dead, Gwenyth had been right, she couldn't be her. Now that it was too late, LaCroix realized he could have loved her for who she was now. But it was far too late. One last regret for what could never be -- and LaCroix was gone
Gwen opened her eyes with difficulty, they were so heavy. In fact, her whole body felt heavy. Where was she? She tilted her head to the side, trying to focus her eyes on what appeared to be someone in a chair by the bed she was lying in.
"Whe.. where am I?" she had trouble getting the words out, her throat was so dry.
The form in the chair jumped up, and was instantly at her side. "You're safe and in my loft."
"Nicholas?" she asked, coughing.
Raising her head, Nick held a glass of water to her lips which she eagerly drank. Breathless, she sank back onto the bed gratefully. I'm so weak, she thought, perplexed. Had she been sick?
"You're going to be fine, Gwen," Nick reassured her. "Just relax."
"Why am I here?" She was so confused; bright shards of images skittered wildly across her memory. But she could not quite see any of them no matter how hard she tried.
"You don't remember?" he asked, concerned. Though maybe it was just as well, he thought grimly, remembering finding her lying so near death after receiving a call from LaCroix to go to her.
Realizing that he could not take her to a hospital, Nick had called Nat and had her meet him here at the loft. Nat had given Gwen a transfusion to replace the blood she had lost, hoping for the best. It had been enough. Nick had found himself grateful for LaCroix's control. The two had spent the next forty-eight hours taking turns nursing her. Nat was downstairs right now sleeping on Nick's sofa.
"I'm sorry, I can't remember." She was becoming more agitated the harder she tried to remember. She knew it was important. "Tell me what happened, please," she begged, needing to know.
" It'll come back, but you must rest now." Nick tried to calm her. "We'll talk later, I promise."
Gwen turned her head away, knowing Nick would tell her nothing. A glint of gold on the bedside table caught her attention. A memory slipped past her mind’s eye -- it was her bracelet. No, not hers, was it? She reached for it, but was too weak.
Nick gave it to her; at least it had distracted her, though he had no idea why. "You were wearing it when I found you." He grew concerned as her eyes locked on the bracelet in her hand. "It's lovely. Gwen?" he queried when she made no response.
She stared at the band of gold in her hands. As brilliant as the day she had given it to Lucius that summer long ago. I can't believe he kept it all this time, she thought absently. Then it all rushed back, in a flood of memories: the last five days, the dreams, his fangs at her throat, she was dying and then, and then....
Gwen wept as she remembered -- they had lost each other again. She grieved for all that would never be; grieved for the life together they had never had, for the life they would never have. It had all been destroyed in the darkness.
Nick held her as she cried, until finally, exhausted, she slept.
Gwen stayed at Nick's for a few more days, until she was strong enough to travel. She was quiet and rarely smiled. It was as if a part of her had died that night -- and maybe it had. He knew she was not unchanged from her encounters with his Master. A link would be there, a bond that now could only bring pain. He had tried to find LaCroix, but he had disappeared.
Nick realized he would not return till Gwen had left town. He watched her stare into the flames as she sat in front of the fireplace, wondering what she saw there. What must it be like to have the memories of two people?
"Are you all ready for the flight tomorrow?" he asked softly, not wanting to startle her.
Gwen had decided to go to Scotland, where her aunt and uncle owned a cottage in the Outer Hebrides. She would stay there until she could face the world once more. It was what she needed: solitude, fresh air, no complications, and most importantly, no vampires.
She toyed absently with the wolf head bracelet. She hadn't taken it off since she had remembered. "As ready as I'll ever be. Besides, it's time, don't you think?" Nick just squeezed her hand.
Gwen slept through the next day; she found herself doing that a lot lately. The sunlight hurt her eyes, and she wondered if it always would now. How many more changes would she discover as the days passed? She closed her suitcase for the last time. Her cab would be here soon.
"Are you sure you won't let me take you to the airport?" Nick asked.
She smiled. "I hate good-byes, Nicholas. It's better this way."
He nodded in understanding as he carried her suitcase downstairs to the elevator. "You will keep in touch, won't you?"
"Of course I will." She hugged him tightly. "I'm not that easy to get rid of, you know."
"If you ever need anything...."
"I know, I'm to call you." Gwen put her hand against Nick's cheek. "Thank you, Nicholas, for everything." She thought for a moment, considering, and looked at him intently. "Promise me that when he comes back you won't be angry? Please let me finish," she said as he started to object.
He nodded. This was the first time she had mentioned LaCroix since that night. He would hear her out.
"In the end he did what was right. And he forgave me. Two thousand years is a long time to grieve, Nicholas; you have no idea how much I hurt him when I died." Gwen's eyes were sad once more. "And I've forgiven him, for then and for now. For everything." She gripped Nick's arm. "Don't let what happened between us come between you and your father, please. I could never forgive myself if that happened. He needs you, and though you deny it, you need him. I *know* this and I know he is going to need you more than ever in the coming weeks."
Nick looked at the grave young woman before him. She had come to mean a great deal to him in the last few months. He wished he had the ability to forgive as easily as she did. She possessed a wisdom that had nothing to do with years. It was a rare gift that made her the compassionate and forgiving woman she was. After all that had happened, how could he refuse this last request?
"For you, Gwen. How can I refuse to at least try when you've forgiven him?"
"Thank you, it means a great deal to me to know that Lucien won't be alone."
Soon the cab arrived to take her to the airport. She hugged Nick hard before getting in. Rolling down the window, she waved as the cab pulled away. A shiver ran across her, and she looked around, though knowing she would see nothing. Leaning back in the seat, she closed her eyes. "Good-bye, my love," she whispered.
From atop an adjoining building LaCroix watched as the cab pulled away, taking Gwen away from Toronto and from him. He allowed his mind to touch hers one last time, allowing himself this one last moment of weakness. Hearing her whispered words in his mind, he replied. "Farewell, beloved, farewell." The wind carried his whispered words away.
Thanks for reading! You can find the sequel, 'What Fate Decrees' here.