Notes & Disclaimers

I actually started this story way back when FK was still on the air, early in third season. What set it to percolating in my mind were the flashbacks in A More Permanent Hell. I always wondered what brought Lucius to that particular place in his life. It was going to be set in second season, but when the last eps of third season aired it became necessary to shift gears and place the story in third season, between Francesca and Ashes to Ashes. So, I set it aside for a bit while I decided where I wanted to take it. I finally started on it once more and seemed to be chugging right along. Then, my wonderful editor ran into a big dose of RL and it was stalled yet again. So, finally, after all this time -- here it is. And it's not a xover!

Thanks first and foremost to Margie for taking on the task of editing this monstrosity. Couldn't have done it without her. Thanks to Shirl, Tammy and April for comments and continuity help, and to Lisa McDavid for patiently answering my questions on Roman naming practices. I'm also grateful to Mel, Soul, Charlyne, Dee and Tina for reading it from the beginning through all its incarnations and giving me much needed feedback. And finally, thanks to Glo Phillips for doing one final tweak on the entire thing.

Historical Notes:

I read several books researching this story. But the one that I found invaluable was "The Druids", by Peter Berresford Ellis.

LaCroix's Nightcrawler monologue in part five is an excerpt from a poem by Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (AD 39-65)

The story of Julius Sabinus and Eponina is a true one. And fortuitously for me, it happened in the right year and geographical area. The event that Brigh sings about in part two about Brennos and Capitoline Hill is also an actual incident.

The FK folk belong to TPTB. Gwen, Brigh, and all the rest belong to me.

by Ithildin

c. 1998

Part One

He heard the noise of the press conference well before seeing it; curious, Lucien LaCroix turned from the usual route he took on his evening stroll through the streets of Toronto. Standing off to one side, he surveyed the gathering with amusement. Ah yes, he thought, this was the 'Take Back the Night' rally he had read about in the paper. Take back the night indeed -- if these mortals only knew what *real* dangers lay in wait for them in the night, they would all be safely locked in their homes. The woman speaking must be the Anglican priest who had organized this event, rector of some inner-city parish as he recalled. What was her name? Gwenyth Frizell, he remembered. Well, he thought, let's listen to what this lady priest had to say about the night.

"These killings must stop," the Reverend Gwenyth Frizell was saying. "The police have done their best and are trying to bring the killer to justice. But ultimately it's up to us, the community, to put a stop to this. We need to care about all our neighbors, not just those in society's mainstream, but the poor, the homeless, the sick. If we don't stand up to the evil in our community how can we expect ever to be safe even in our warm comfortable homes?"

LaCroix listened intently, a cold smile on his lips. How very fervent the young priest was... how naive. His attention was interrupted by the familiar mental tug of his son. How appropriate, he thought ironically. "Don't even think of it, LaCroix," Nicholas said.

"And hello to you too, Nicholas; I'm well, and you?"

Nick ignored his Master's sarcasm as he continued, "I recognize that look, LaCroix -- stay away from Gwen Frizell."

"Really, Nicholas, you do forget yourself, " LaCroix said with thinly veiled menace, "but I will overlook your less than respectful attitude as merely a symptom of the stress you invite upon yourself in pursuit of your *quest*," he finished in distaste. "Gwen, is it? Are you personally acquainted with the good Reverend?"

"This is my case; Reverend Frizell has been invaluable in the questioning of street people. They trust her and will talk to the police if she's there. If that's what you mean by acquainted, then yes, I am," he replied with some heat.

"Really? I thought perhaps the failure of your Dr. Lambert to find a scientific method for a cure had led you to seek more... metaphysical means," he said, amusement evident in his voice.

Their barbed exchange was interrupted by the end of the rally and the crowd as it streamed by. Reverend Frizell, seeing Nick at the edge of the crowd, slowly worked her way to him.

"You can leave now, LaCroix," Nick suggested. "Don't you have a radio show to put on or something?" he added pointedly, watching Gwen shaking hands and speaking to well-wishers as she made her way to where Nick stood.

"Oh no, Nicholas, I wouldn't dream of leaving now. You know how much I enjoy meeting your friends, after all," he said, relishing his son's consternation.

Nick knew it was pointless; he had handled it all wrong from the very beginning. All he could hope for now was to get Gwen away from here as soon as he could. Why did LaCroix always have to make his life so difficult?

"Nicholas, I'm so glad you came!" Gwen greeted him. "How do you think it went? Do you think I got through to anyone?" she asked worriedly.

"You were fine, and yes, I think you made quite an impression," he told her reassuringly.

During the exchange LaCroix stood off to one side. Somehow this priest reminded him of someone. Her mannerisms seemed so familiar somehow. He found it…disquieting.

"Nicholas, where are your manners? Aren't you going to introduce me to your lovely friend?" he interrupted smoothly.

At the sound of LaCroix's voice Gwen looked past Nick, seeing his companion for the first time. Their eyes met, hers widening in shocked recognition. Nick was caught totally off guard as he watched her grab her head as if in pain, making a strangled sound as she collapsed in front of him. He caught her slight form before she hit the ground, cradling her in his arms. Her normally pale complexion was now a sickly gray.

"Can we have some room here!" Nick shouted at those who had gathered around. Remembering LaCroix, he looked over his shoulder, but the other man was nowhere to be found.

"Please, Detective, allow me?"

Nick looked over to see Father Wilton, Gwen's assistant, kneeling next to her. He nodded, and the priest took Gwen's wrist, checking her pulse.

"She'll be fine, Detective," he said reassuringly. "Nothing a square meal and some sleep won't cure. I've been expecting something like this, actually. I keep telling her she needs to take better care of herself, but does she listen?"

He nodded in agreement. Nick knew Father Wilton was probably right, but something told him it was more than that. She had been fine until she saw LaCroix, and he intended to get to the bottom of it. Putting Gwen's head in his lap, Nick smoothed her hair away from her face. She stirred, slowly opening dark blue eyes in confusion, seeing Nick's face above her. When she tried to rise, he held her down. "Take it easy now, you fainted. Give yourself a second to get your bearings, okay?"

She nodded and took a few deep breaths. "I fainted?"

"Yes, you did, Reverend," answered Father Wilton, "dead away. Luckily Detective Knight caught you before you hit the ground. Now maybe you'll listen to me the next time I tell you to take better care of yourself," he finished fussily.

She sighed at the lecture, knowing she hadn't heard the last of this. Nick grinned; the good Father was like an old broody hen. He knew it drove Gwen crazy sometimes, but he was glad the overworked young priest had someone like Father Wilton hovering over her. Nick helped her up, supporting her as she stood. "Better?" he asked.

She attempted a weak smile. "Yes, just wonderful. Thanks, Nicholas, and you too, Father. I think I need to get a nice cup of tea and some sleep. Then I'll be as good as new." She sounded as if she was trying to convince herself.

"Father Wilton, will you make sure she gets back to the rectory safely?" Nick asked.

"Of course, of course, Detective," he replied, "have no fear on that point. I shall take good care of her."

"But…." Gwen began.

"No buts, no argument this time, Gwen," Nick ordered. "If I have to I'll take you home myself."

Gwen gave in. She didn't want to inconvenience him more than she had -- and besides which, she knew he was right. "That won't be necessary, I'll come along like a good little girl," she said ruefully.

"Good!" Nick said. "Carry on, Father Wilton. I'll call you tomorrow, Gwen -- take care of yourself." He gave her shoulders a squeeze in parting.

"I will. Father Wilton will see to that, I'm sure."

Nick watched the two priests walk away towards the parking lot, glad that Gwen had given in to going with Father Wilton. He wanted to have a little talk with LaCroix....

He headed the Caddie towards the Raven, determined to get to the bottom of tonight's incident.

"81 Kilo," the radio squawked.

What now, he wondered, as he picked up the radio. "81 Kilo, copy."

"81 Kilo, body discovered at Wharf Three, report to scene, ME en route."

"Copy that dispatch, 81 kilo out," he replied, turning the car around towards the docks.

He had no way of knowing for sure, but he knew in his gut that this would be victim number four in the dock murders. His meeting with LaCroix would have to wait till tomorrow night.

LaCroix sped through the night sky enraged beyond reason, attempting without success to force back into the darkest reaches of his mind the memories his brief encounter with the priest had brought to the fore. Memories he had kept buried deep for close to two millennia, only to have them reawakened by the eyes of an insignificant mortal woman. Then there was her reaction to him, as if she too had some hidden knowledge. No! He refused to countenance the possibility. She was long dead, as dead as his mortal life. He was allowing the recent incident with Francesca -- if it really had been her -- to addle his normally logical state of mind.

He felt the blood lust rise and gave it free rein. No sanitized, prepackaged feeding this time -- tonight he would kill, drown out the memories with the thrill of the hunt. Then he heard the cries, the pleading of a woman's voice, the blows and angry voice of a man. LaCroix landed in the alley behind the unsuspecting mortals, a prostitute and her pimp, just as the man threw the woman into the wall. Her head thunked against the bricks, and she crumpled to the ground.

"That'll teach you and the others," the pimp said with obvious enjoyment.

He turned to exit the alley, only to find himself face to face with a creature from a nightmare. The vampire allowed the pimp to run past him towards the entrance to the alley, leaping in front of him only yards from what the man surely thought was his escape. He was too terrified to scream as LaCroix grabbed him, spun him around, and pulled his head back, sinking his fangs into his neck with a roar. In short order LaCroix had drained him and snapped his neck. In only a few more minutes he had disposed of the body, which with luck would not be found for months, if not years.

He flew back to the Raven and used the back entrance to his apartment -- he was in no mood for the noise and crowd of the club tonight. Entering the room he went to the cabinet and took out a bottle and glass, quickly opening the bottle and filling the glass. Draining it in one swallow, he then repeated the ritual twice more. Feeling no more sated than he had before his kill this evening, LaCroix hurled the now empty glass against the wall, watching it shatter in a thousand glittering pieces. He sank into a chair, suddenly too weary to deny the memories clamoring in his mind, unable to stop remembering the eyes of Gwenyth Frizell. Those odd blue eyes. But not just the color -- the depth, the age -- eyes far too old for someone so young. He remembered the first time he had seen eyes like that....

Oaths - Part Two

Transalpine Gaul: Spring, 78 AD

The two men rode slowly down the road towards the settlement on the lake shore, followed at a discreet distance by several soldiers and aides. The mountains around them were still covered with the winter's snow, rising into the sky like the arms of the gods. Lucius looked over the settlement with a calculating eye, laying out military strategies in his mind even as the man riding next to him babbled trivialities. Things looked calm enough now, but he knew better -- tensions were once again rising in this ever-fractious edge of Roman-held territory, and he had been sent to take preemptive action if necessary.

"Have you been in Gaul before, General?" asked Flavius Aelius, governor of this particular corner of the Roman Empire.

"Once before, Governor. Nine years ago during the Gaulish uprising," he replied.

"Ah, you're *that* Terentius," Flavius said, nodding his head in recognition. "You were instrumental in crushing the rebellion. If I remember correctly it brought you to the attention of the new Emperor, and you were promoted to general."

"That is correct, Governor," Lucius said coolly.

"And now you're back. Would you tell me why specifically, General? I know there has been some tension with the native population over the Eponina situation. However, it's been relatively stable here for almost ten years. I'm not sure I understand why the Emperor Vespasian is so concerned at this particular juncture?"

Lucius mentally marveled at the Governor's naiveté. So the reports were true on this one: gullible and perhaps, so some said, even sympathizing with the local population. He would definitely bear watching. Indeed, the Eponina *situation* was why he was here. It was time it was settled -- that woman had caused more than enough trouble as it was. "I'm here to finish the matter, Governor. Eponina and her husband Julius Sabinus have made fools of the Empire. It is the Emperor's express wish that it end," he said firmly.

"As you say, General, as the Emperor wishes."

The two men road in silence. Lucius deep in thought, pondering the reasons he had been sent here. He knew he had quite a ruthless reputation, and it was a well-deserved one. He was taking the events that had brought him here personally, as it was the uprising of nine years ago that had started this present problem. Julius Sabinus had been one of the leaders of the rebellion. After the rebels had been crushed -- in no small part due to himself -- Sabinus had faked his suicide to escape. It was not until several years later that the Romans realized that he was not dead, but hiding out, with his wife Eponina succoring him in his lair all that time. So far efforts to discover his hiding place had failed miserably. Now Eponina was in Rome attempting to win her husband's pardon from the Emperor, while at the same time Vespasian had sent Lucius to root out the rebel Gaul. The desired result was to bring Julius Sabinus in chains to Rome as an example to all who would dare defy the might of the Empire. He would not escape this time -- of that, Lucius was determined.

As the two men neared the edge of the village, Lucius could hear the noise and bustle ahead. This settlement was on the outermost edge of Roman-held territory in Transalpine Gaul, and far from the more populated areas of Roman-controlled Cisalpine Gaul. Few Roman colonists had ventured this far; the only Romans currently here were those he and Flavius had left behind in the Roman fort -- really a town in itself, when one considered the soldiers, governor's staff, bureaucrats, support staff, and slaves that lived there -- on the hill adjacent to the village. The Roman party rode through the village gates, with those inhabitants nearby looking curiously at them as they passed, speaking to their neighbors in low voices. No doubt wondering what the arrival of a new Roman general meant.

They were nearing the center of village now, and the long hall where the chieftain of this area and his nobles were expecting them. The general stopped his horse, and Flavius noticing, stopped next to him. He followed Lucius' intense gaze to a young woman talking animatedly to her male companion a short distance from them. The expression on the general's face was all too obvious.

"General, that one is not to be trifled with," Flavius said worriedly. "She is the daughter of Cathbad the Chieftain, and as these Gauls do things, his heir."

"And does she have a name, this chieftain's daughter?" asked Lucius as he continued to watch the woman. Small and slender, her gold hair was in three tresses: two intricately woven on the top of her head and the third hanging free down the middle of her back, falling past her knees. She was clad simply in a dove-gray shift, covered with a lavender hooded tunic, and a silver belt about her small waist. She was very fair, her cheeks colored the palest rose. As her voice floated back to him he noted with pleasure that it had an almost musical lilt.

"Her name is Brigh. I hear she is also what they call a bandruaid," replied Flavius, badly mangling the word. "One of their religious sect, so I'm informed."

"**Bandree**," corrected Lucius absently. He felt a stab of anger at the man Brigh was speaking with as she threw her head back, laughing delightedly at something he had said. She spoke again to her companion briefly, before turning to leave. Drawing nearer to the two men, she suddenly seemed aware of his regard and looked straight at him, her gaze meeting his directly. He was entranced by the eyes meeting his, deep blue, framed by long dark lashes. They were like looking into the depths of the ocean, mysterious and compelling. She nodded at him ever so slightly, then turning, she entered the hall.

"You speak the language, General?" questioned Flavius, breaking the spell.

Lucius started slightly at the voice. "My mother was a Gaul, Governor. She taught me a bit of her language when I was a child."

He nodded. "I see. Well, General, as I was saying, Brigh is not the sort of woman to be *forced*, especially with tensions running high," he said, shifting uncomfortably in his saddle. "You'll find some of the local women not unwilling to keep our company," he finished hopefully.

Lucius laughed. "Governor, I've never had to force a woman into my bed, and I won't be starting with the lovely daughter of Cathbad." He saw Flavius' shoulders sag in relief. "However, I always get what I want, and mark my words, I shall have her." With that he spurred his horse forward towards the hall and the waiting nobles.

The meeting had gone well, as least as well as could be expected, thought Lucius. The Gauls in this area felt the grip of Rome much less than their other countrymen, as they were in so remote an area. But they also knew that that could change swiftly should the Empire feel threatened at its northern border. So they trod an uneasy path between obeying their unwanted Roman masters and keeping as much of their cultural identity intact as possible. A dangerous path to be sure, but one that so far both parties had been able to live with.

General Terentius and Governor Aelius were escorted into the dining hall for the ceremonial welcome feast. Appetizing odors from the hearths greeted them as they entered, the hall resplendent in brightly colored wall hangings. The Romans were seated at the center of a large semi-circular table on either side of Cathbad. The chieftain welcomed his guests formally to his table in flawless Latin and then in his own language, signaling to the servers to begin the feast. Lucius looked around the room hoping to catch site of Brigh, but she was nowhere to be found. He spent the meal engaging in diplomatic small talk with the Gaulish noble seated next to him.

There was a pause in the activity as a small group entered the hall; as they drew closer, Lucius realized it was Brigh with two companions. She had changed into pearl-white robes, the long sleeves almost touching the ground. Around her waist was an interlinked belt of gold leaves from which hung a small gold knife. Her hair was now all atop her head, held in place with gold pins, and around her neck was a torque of intertwined swans. In her hands she carried a large gold cup, which she handed to one of the two women flanking her. From the second woman she took a glass flagon, from which she poured into the cup a large measure of mead. Taking the cup again she spoke the ritual blessing of welcome and hospitality over it.

With great dignity, Brigh brought the cup to where the Romans and her father were sitting, and after taking a sip from the cup, she handed it to Governor Aelius to drink. He took the cup from Brigh gingerly and drank briefly, handing it back with barely concealed relief. She then brought the cup to Lucius, her eyes meeting his as she again drank. She spoke the words of welcome as she handed him the cup, her gaze never leaving his. He drank a large draught before handing the cup back to her. As he did so her fingers brushed his slightly, sending a thrill through his body. He thanked her in her own language, and was rewarded with a slight start of surprise in those deep eyes. She continued with the ceremony down the line of nobles, finishing with her father.

The ceremony over, a signal was given for the entertainment to begin and music filled the hall as the musicians entered. As the seated guests began to rise and mingle, Flavius made his way over to Lucius, who was standing off to one side observing the gathering.

"Not a bad evening altogether, General," said Flavius. "Although I still find the boldness of the women discomfiting. No respect for the natural order of things," he finished disapprovingly.

"Is that why your wife stays in Rome then, Governor?" he inquired. "To protect her from such unnatural behavior?"

"My wife enjoys all the perquisites that Rome, and my position as an Imperial governor provide. She would never consent to living here in the wilds," Flavius said, not realizing how ridiculous he sounded to the general.

Lucius laughed inwardly at the utter irony of the governor's last statement. The silly little man thought the native women unnaturally bold, and yet saw no contradiction that his wife refused to come with him and chose to remain in Rome. Where no doubt she had her pick of lovers, with her husband conveniently absent. His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden silence in the hall.

Flavius leaned towards him and whispered, "It's the tale-telling portion of the evening -- make yourself comfortable, because these Gauls love nothing more than reciting history," he said, resigned.

Lucius nodded and worked his way toward the front of the hall, so as to have an unobstructed view of the bard. He was not really surprised to find Brigh sitting on a stool in the center of the room holding a harp. She began to chant her tale, her voice capturing him as if in some sort of spell. The rest of the room disappeared as his whole being centered upon her. She sang of love, of betrayal, of the gods and goddesses; familiar from his childhood. As she finished her last piece she looked straight at him, a defiant look on her face, and he wondered what she intended. She began a new tale, one he knew very well, and he marveled at her nerve to tell such a tale here to him.

Her song was about Brennos, a great leader of the Cisalpine Gauls. Almost five hundred years before, in a great battle, he had defeated the Roman army, sacking Rome and capturing all but Capitoline Hill. Instead of taking the hill, the Gauls accepted tribute and withdrew, allowing the Romans to rebuild their city and hence their empire. The end of the song lamented the fact that their ancestors had let such a thing come to pass when they could have prevented their civilization from being swallowed by their once-defeated enemy.

Brigh finished, the room utterly silent. She looked again at Lucius with a glint in her eye, as if daring him to take action against her for her temerity. He merely nodded at her, giving her this one small victory. This conquest would take careful consideration. He wanted her, and this evening's performance had only intensified his desire for her. Yes, he decided, he would allow her minor rebellion to go unpunished this time. It might even prove useful leverage should it ever be needed. What he had told the governor was true: he had never had to force a woman to his bed -- but a little blackmail was never amiss if necessary. He anticipated the coming battle with relish; it had been a long time since the thought of a seduction had given him such a thrill. And he had no doubt whatsoever of the outcome....

LaCroix finished off the bottle on the table next to him. Rising, he went to the small inlaid wood trunk against the far wall. Opening it, he removed the top shelf, revealing a bottom with various boxes and cubbyholes built into its frame. Opening one in the far left corner, he removed a velvet-wrapped object. Undoing the wrapping exposed a twisted gold bracelet of Celtic design, with two wolf heads at either end set with sapphire eyes. If anyone had been there to see his face they would have seen a look no longer angry, but unutterably sad, and very, very old.

Oaths - Part Three

Nick pulled the Caddie up to the police line, quickly walking over to the scene of the latest murder, where he saw Natalie was already working. She looked up as he walked up beside her, looking past him quizzically.

"No Tracy?" she asked.

"She called in sick," he replied. "What do we have?" he asked, getting straight to business.

"Preliminary? Like the others, torn to bits to be technical about it," she answered dryly. "But this one isn't quite as torn up as the other victims; the killer may have been interrupted. I'll know more later, but maybe we just got a break."

"Thanks, Nat." Nick squeezed her shoulder. "I'll check with you later."

He walked over to the nearest officer. "Williams," he acknowledged, before moving to the matter at hand. "Who found the body?"

"It was called in, Detective. I was the first on the scene," Officer Williams replied a little weakly. "It was pretty bad."

"Yeah, I know, Williams, it was," he answered sympathetically. Nick listened as the officer read the rest of his report. Nothing really new; he only hoped Natalie was able to come up with something. If they didn't get a break soon there would be a murder number five, he was sure of it. He realized it was getting near dawn, time to get home. He wondered how Gwen was doing, and hoped she was sleeping -- maybe he could convince her to take a short vacation. Not likely, he told himself. He would check on her tomorrow and he would have that meeting with LaCroix. He headed back to the Caddie and for home before the coming dawn.

The object of Nick's concern was home, but nowhere near sleep. Gwen had submitted to Father Wilton's fussing with good grace, even letting him fix her a scrambled egg and toast. Which she had made herself eat. Finally convincing him to leave with the promise she would rest, she had gone to bed; but sleep eluded her. The face of the man with Nicholas kept imposing itself in her mind's eye. Gwen knew the face from her dreams, the dreams she had had since childhood. Dreams her parents put down to too much reading and not enough fresh air. She had learned early on not to share them with anyone, keeping them to herself. Especially when, as a teenager, the dreams had taken on a more erotic nature. It had been several years since she had dreamt about him, so long in fact she had managed to push the memory away into a secret corner of her mind. Until tonight, when the man from her dreams faced her in the flesh. All the memories had come rushing back in one huge wave, all muddled and distorted. She kept trying to grasp the edges of her memories for a better look, but they slipped away like mist.

Tired of tossing and turning, she got up and went into the living room. Going to the buffet, she poured herself a small measure of brandy. She took it to the couch and sat down, sipping her drink and staring at the dying embers of the fire. Placing the now empty glass on the table next to her, she wrapped the mohair blanket she kept on the back of the couch around her. Curling up, she watched the tiny flames dancing in the shadows. Slowly she felt her eyes grow heavy, and gave into the urge to sleep. Gwen slept... and began to dream……

Gwen knew it was the dream, except this time it felt different -- more real somehow. It was her and yet... it wasn't. She was the woman in her dream and it frightened her. But she wasn't able to pull away; she was drawn deeper into another reality and Gwen was gone....

Brigh walked up the hill to the Roman fort. It was a glorious spring day and she delighted in the sounds and smells surrounding her. The centurion at the gate, recognizing her, waved her through. She smiled at him in passing; she had treated him for a fever in the winter, as she had several of the men. The Roman surgeon was thoroughly incompetent and her reputation as a healer had quickly spread amongst them. She made a point now of visiting the fort once a week if possible to see if any of them required her services. Brigh quickly found the object of this week's visit at the stables tending his superior's horse. No mere stable hand was good enough to care for the general's horse; a centurion was permanently assigned to care for the prized animal.

"Marcus, are you well?"

"Lady Brigh," he straightened, bowing. "Much better, truly." He smiled lopsidedly.

"Let me take a look."

Marcus sat on a hay bale so she could look at his wound. She pulled his tunic off his shoulder and gently removed the dressing. "Yes, it's much better," she said, smiling. "In fact, I think I'll leave the dressing off now."

"The infection is gone?"

"All gone. Now make sure you rub this salve on it every morning and evening until it's gone. That will insure it heals cleanly," she said as she applied some of the herbal mixture onto his shoulder.

"What is going on here?" a stern voice rapped out. "Explain this, centurion."

Brigh turned quickly to see General Terentius framed in the stable door, the sun pouring in behind him. Her heart did a little skip at the sight of him, much to her annoyance. Marcus, in his haste to stand, knocked over her case, spilling its contents all across the stable floor.

Brigh never gave Marcus a chance to answer. She rounded on Lucius, furious at him for his tone, for ruining her supplies and, most of all, for disconcerting her. "Look what you've done!" she exclaimed angrily. "What do you think is going on? I'm treating one of your men for an infected wound, something your incompetent surgeon is incapable of! This man almost died before one of his comrades asked me to come." She stopped abruptly, realizing her temper had gotten the better of her. "Here is your salve, Marcus," she said in a calmer voice, handing the jar to the frightened young man.

She took several deep breaths to calm herself, trying to ignore the Roman general watching her with an amused expression on his face. She felt herself growing angry all over again. Why did she care what he thought? Why did she allow him to invade her thoughts so? Since first seeing him she had thought of little else. He was a Roman, she kept reminding herself, not to be trusted. But, the little voice in her head said, you desire him.

"You may go, centurion," Lucius said in a level voice, "and make sure you follow the Healer's instructions."

Relief washed over Marcus' face at the reprieve. "Yes, sir. I will, sir. Thank you, my lady," he said as he rushed out the door.

Lucius shut the stable door behind the departing centurion and leaned against it, watching her. Suddenly nervous, she dropped to her knees and began to collect her spilt medicinal supplies, trying to ignore the man gazing at her so intently. The silence stretched. Brigh's stomach knotted tensely, unsure of what he intended. Suddenly he was on his knees next to her, picking up jars and packets.

"You speak Latin very well."

"I speak Greek as well," she replied in that language.

"Then I must watch what I say around you, mustn't I?"

Their hands, both reaching for the same jar, met. Brigh's heart dropped at the touch, and as his hand tightened around hers she felt her breath catch. She looked up at him, instantly becoming ensnared in his ice-blue eyes. She knew she should pull away, that this situation was getting out of hand. But she seemed to have lost all will to do so. His other hand moved behind her head, drawing her closer to him. He slowly leaned towards her, as her arms, seemingly of their own volition, encircled his neck. Ever so gently he kissed her forehead, her cheek, and finally her lips, his other arm encircling her waist in a strong grip. Lucius began to kiss her more forcefully, and she responded in kind. Brigh felt desire overcoming her common sense as his hands began to explore her body. He laid her back onto the hay, kissing her throat, moving down to the hollow between her breasts. He ran his hands up her body to her face, where they stopped, cupping her face. Opening her eyes, full of uncertainty, she looked at him.

"This is not the place to make love to you, Brigh. As much as I desire you, I want to be sure we aren't interrupted," he said softly.

She gathered her wits about her, nodding. "Later," was the only word she managed, breathless.

He helped her straighten her clothes and pulled the straw from her hair, placing feathery kisses over her face and throat as he did so. They walked to the door where suddenly he crushed her to him, kissing her one more time. "Till later," he whispered. He opened the door and was gone.

Oaths - Part Four

Several days had passed since Brigh's encounter with Lucius in the stable. She went about her tasks by rote, unable to concentrate. She didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed at the outcome of their encounter. She knew she would have let him make love to her that afternoon in the stable had he continued; she also knew any sort of relationship with the stern Roman general was pure folly. It was utterly doomed from the start, she thought angrily. So why even begin? That was logic, but her heart wanted no part of that. From the moment she first saw him watching her from his horse by the great hall, Brigh knew this was fated. They would love and hate, be separated by death, but would meet again. That was the way of things, the way of the Great Wheel.

Her thoughts were pulled back to this world by the shouts of playing children. She realized she had walked all the way around the village without even realizing it. She watched the children playing, running the skin ball back and forth across the field, attempting to get past the other team's border.

"Brigh," shouted one of the children, "come play with us! Our team is short one."

Maybe a little exercise would clear the cobwebs in her brain, she thought. "All right, I shall. If you think the other team can handle it?" she asked challengingly.

Hoots and whistles erupted from the opposing team at the question. One of the girls threw Brigh the ball and the game was on. After about an hour of continuous play Brigh called a halt, breathless and flushed from the rowdy game.

"That's it children, I'm far too old to keep up with you," she laughed, pushing her hair away from her hot face.

"Awww, Brigh, just a little longer?" one of the little girls begged.

"Now, Douicca, no pouting. Besides, look at the sun. It's almost supper time and I'm sure you all have tasks waiting for you at home," she said firmly, shooing the children away. "Now, home, all of you, and no dawdling!"

Despite much muttering and protests, the children obeyed. Brigh watched them head back to their homes, relishing the sudden silence their departure brought. Realizing she was filthy, her clothes covered in dust and sweat, her hair out of its braid, she decided a bath was in order before heading home. Walking over to the trees bordering the field she took down from a branch the overtunic she had discarded early in the game. She decided to bathe in the stream that ran near her house -- it would be chilly but private. She didn't feel like socializing at the village baths tonight; she wanted to think not gossip.

A hand grasped her shoulder from behind and she shrieked in surprise.

"I enjoyed the game," a voice whispered at her ear as she was whirled around by a pair of strong hands. Hands that pulled her tight against a hard lean body.

Before she was able to react, Brigh found herself being kissed thoroughly and expertly. She surrendered to the sensations coursing through her body, returning the kisses with abandon. He smelt of leather and horses, she could almost taste it on him. Hands moved through her hair, catching in the tangles. Reminded of how filthy she was, she pushed herself away with some difficulty.

"Is there a problem?" Lucius asked with dry amusement, looking down at her with gleaming eyes. He hadn't let her go entirely, keeping his arms loosely wrapped around her as she attempted to keep him at arms length, her hands pressed against his chest.

"Yes. Well no, that's not the problem," flustered, she grasped for words. "I'm filthy," she said plaintively.

He laughed. "Well as a matter of fact, so am I. Breaking a new horse works up a sweat. So if we're both filthy then there is but one solution. I suggest a bath," he finished, kissing her lightly on the lips.

"That's where I was going before I was interrupted." She looked pointedly at him, and then at his arms which still held her.

"We'll take my horse, shall we?" Not waiting for her reply, he took her arm and led her down the path to where his horse was tethered.

Lucius mounted the horse quickly and held a hand out to Brigh. She looked up at him, suddenly unsure.

"I think that 'later' is here, don't you?" he asked her softly.

Making her decision, she nodded and grasped his hand. Lucius pulled her up in front of him, putting his arms around her to take the reins. She leaned into his hard chest, resting her head against his shoulder as they rode in silence.

Suddenly something occurred to her. "You know where I live," she stated. "Of course you do, that's your job, knowing things," she answered her own question.

He didn't reply, merely leaning forward to kiss her as they neared her home.

Before she knew it, they were there. Dismounting, he held his arms out for her as she slipped off the horse. He held her off the ground for a few moments in his strong grip, looking up into her eyes with a silent promise of what was to come….

Gwen woke abruptly not knowing where she was. Finally remembering who and where she was, she began to tremble; partly in fear and partly from the aftereffects of the passion she had just experienced in her *dream*. Oh God help me, she prayed silently. Am I going mad? It can't just be a dream, it's like my own memories. I remember Lucius making love to me, I remember how it felt. How can it be? Was I her, am I possessed? Please help me, I feel so lost. My universe is crumbling around me and I am helpless…. She curled into the corner of the couch and began to weep.

Oaths - Part Five

Gwen rang the buzzer to Nick's loft. She had called the station earlier and had been told he would be in later tonight. She hoped that meant he was at home -- she had to speak to him.

"Yes?" came Nick's voice from the speaker.

"Nicholas, it's Gwen. Do you have a minute?"

"Sure, come on up."

Nick opened the elevator door for her. "Come on in, let me take your coat."

"Thanks," she said. Suddenly realizing Nick was still in his robe, she apologized, "I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

"No, I've been up for a while. Going over, again, all the reports from the murders. I'm still waiting for the reports on the last killing. I don't have anything new to tell you, I'm afraid," he told her as he led her towards the couch. "Have a seat."

He took a closer look at Gwen as she sat down. She looked awful. The black silk blouse and skirt she wore only accentuated her too-pale complexion and the dark rings under her eyes. He had seen her tired and stressed out, but nothing like this. She looked as if the bottom of her world had just dropped out. Something was definitely wrong.

"That's not why I'm here, Nicholas," she said in an exhausted voice, nervously twisting the fabric of her skirt.

Nick waited patiently for her to continue. He grew more concerned as her eyes became unfocused, as if she were looking somewhere very far away.

"Gwen," Nick said gently, taking her hand, "why are you here? What's troubling you?"

She looked at him as if she really wasn't sure where she was or who he was.


'I'm sorry, I drifted away there didn't I?" she apologized. Gwen looked up at Nick, eyes haunted. "I need to know who the man with you last night was, at the rally." Nick looked surprised. It was the last thing he had expected to hear from her. "No, you don't, trust me. You have to believe me when I tell you that it's for the best," he said adamantly.

"You don't understand, I have to know who he is!" Her voice rose on a note of panic, "You have to help me, please. I have nowhere else to turn."

He gripped her shoulders, forcing her to look at him, deciding it was time for more persuasive means. "Gwen, listen to me, you must calm down, take a deep breath." He waited a moment. "There." He sensed her heartbeat calming. Good, now for the hard part. "I want you to listen carefully."

She nodded in understanding; she did want to listen to him. She felt safe and calm now, but it was odd she felt that way. Wasn't it? Gwen's mind felt all muzzy, like waking up after a fever, all strangely colored and off-center.

Nick decided to start off simply, just in case this didn't work. If it did he'd remove the memory of LaCroix in his company altogether. "You don't want to know about the man you saw me with."

She began nodding in agreement, then he felt her begin to struggle mentally. Damn, he thought, she's resisting! He attempted to tighten his control over her thoughts. "Gwen, you don't want to know, do you understand?"

Gwen shook her head, trying to fight the strange lethargy that had gripped her. What was he saying? She didn't want to know? That wasn't right, she knew it wasn't. Suddenly angry at being told what to think, she pulled away from Nick's hold on her. "No, it's you who doesn't understand. Don't patronize me, I'm not a child! Do you think I would come to you like this if it wasn't truly important?"

He sighed at this complication -- she just had to be a resistor, didn't she? He had been so close. Nick swore mentally as the phone chose that moment to ring.

"Knight." He nodded, listening. "Okay, I'll be right in." He hung up the phone. "There have been a few new developments. I need to go upstairs and get ready to go in. Please stay till I come down? We still need to talk." He looked at her expectantly, hoping she would agree.

Gwen considered for a moment. He was right, they did need to talk, she had to convince him. "All right, I'll stay."

Nick gave her one of those smiles of his, the kind that made Gwen's knees go a little weak. That smile should be illegal, she thought ruefully.

"Good! I'll be back down in a while. Watch the TV, listen to the stereo if you like," he told her, handing her the remote.

She watched as he bounded up the stairs to his bedroom; a few minutes later she heard the water in the shower begin to run. Deciding to take him up on his offer she looked at the remote, staring at it in consternation. By the time she figured out which button to press, it would be a little late in the day. Maybe it was time for the direct method. Walking over to the stereo, she hit the power switch. Opera poured out of the speakers -- ugh, too depressing. Gwen hit the first preset button, bringing in an all news channel. She sighed and tried the next button, and this time got music. She wasn't quite sure what it was, but she liked it. She went back to the couch and closed her eyes, letting the music take over. The piece ended, and a female announcer came on.

"It's nine p.m. and you're listening to CERK, Toronto's alternative station. Stay tuned for Nightwatch with the Nightcrawler, coming up next, live from The Raven."

Nightcrawler? Now there's a happy sort of name for a DJ, she thought. She decided to leave it on out of curiosity.

"Good evening, my children. Tonight we speak of death. Is it the true end? Or just a different beginning?"

She stiffened in shock at the voice coming out of the speakers. It was him, she could feel the certainty of it in the depths of her soul. She leapt off the couch, walking back to the stereo, staring at it as if the voice might suddenly materialize from it in the flesh.

The voice continued, "It is you who say that the shades of the dead seek not the silent land of Erebus and the pale halls of Pluto; rather, you tell us that the same spirit has a body again elsewhere, and that death, if what you sing is true, is but the midpoint of a long life."

It was as if he were speaking to her, to the thoughts that had driven her to near the breaking point. Gwen's attention was caught as the shower stopped, and she quickly turned off the stereo. Something warned her not to let Nick realize she had discovered the truth.

A few minutes later Nick came back downstairs, his hair still damp. "You been sitting here in silence all this time?"

"Oh, I couldn't find anything that interested me so I turned it off," she replied, trying to keep her voice level, not liking how easy it was for her to lie to him.

The sound of the elevator arriving saved her from having to continue. She always felt that he could somehow see right through her, a talent she found disconcerting to say the least. Especially now.

Nick greeted the woman exiting the elevator, bringing her over to introduce to Gwen. "Nat, I'd like you to meet the Reverend Gwen Frizell. Gwen, this is Dr. Natalie Lambert."

"I'm pleased to finally meet you, Gwen, Nick has told me so much about you," Nat said, smiling.

"Likewise, Natalie, although I'm sure he mostly tells you how annoying I am in regards to his investigation," she replied lightly. "But I'm interrupting. Nicholas, I've taken enough of your time, I really should be going."

"No Gwen, really you aren't and you haven't. We still have matters to discuss."

"We will, later. I'm much better now, really," she answered with as much sincerity as possible. "Thanks for helping me calm down, I apologize for falling apart on you like that. Maybe you're right, I do need a vacation!" She smiled as she gathered up her coat and purse. "Nice meeting you, Natalie."

Nick couldn't help but think something wasn't quite right. Gwen was giving in far too easily, and she was too calm. Yet another mystery to solve. At least he knew she was safe, there was no way for her to discover LaCroix's identity. For that he was grateful.

"Thanks again." Gwen hugged him quickly. "Call me if you make any progress on the case?"

"I will."

She got into the elevator, closing the door behind her and leaning against the wall in relief as it descended. She knew what the next step had to be -- the Raven, and a visit with the Nightcrawler. One way or the other, she would have her questions answered tonight.

Oaths - Part Six

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?"

"Yes, but...."

"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...."

Oaths - Part Seven

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."

Oaths - Part Eight

Nick laid Gwen on her bed, pulling the quilt over her. He believed that physically she would be all right, but mentally was another thing entirely. Leaving her for a moment, he went to the kitchen. He rummaged around in the fridge, finding a container of orange juice in the back. She would need it when he brought her around. Returning to the bedroom, he placed the juice on the bedside table, and sat on the bed next to her. "Gwen," he called, "it's time to wake up. Do you hear me? It's Nick, you're home and safe. There's nothing to fear here, Gwen."

He heaved a sigh of relief has she began to stir, but his relief was short-lived as she became agitated. She began speaking, her tone angry. But what shocked him was that she spoke in Latin. Not the church Latin that Nick had learned as a child, but an older form that he was having trouble keeping up with. He did, however, recognize one phrase, one that only deepened his confusion about what was going on. "You will betray me, Lucius."

As Nick looked on, unable to help, the memories that Gwen had only experienced in dreams began to integrate with her conscious mind. Her encounter with LaCroix triggering a massive psychic upheaval. In a detached corner of her mind she was aware of what was happening; she knew that her mind was close to snapping. Unable to fight any longer, she allowed the torrent of memories sweep her away.

Transalpine Gaul: Autumn, 78 AD

"You will betray me, Lucius!" Brigh shouted angrily. "Me, my people -- your people!"

News had reached her earlier in the day about a Roman raid on a settlement a few days' ride from village. The Romans had believed that the fugitive Sabinus was receiving shelter there. Brigh had stormed to the Roman fort to confront her lover, demanding to know if it had been on his orders. Lucius had informed her in no uncertain terms that he was responsible, he was performing his duty, and would do whatever necessary to bring the renegade Gaul to justice. She had wanted to know if that included bringing her to Roman justice. Both of them furious, they had hurled accusations at each other, trying to hurt.

"My mother's people, not mine! I know my duty and will follow it," he angrily replied. "You knew what I was, I never made a secret of why I was here." His voice turned venomous. "You came willingly enough to my bed. If we are talking about betrayals, perhaps we should examine yours."

At that, she ran for the door. As her hand reached the latch, she was pulled away forcibly. Brigh struggled, but to no avail. She soon found herself immobilized against him.

"You aren't going anywhere! Are you mad? It's late and there is a storm blowing. Damn it, Brigh, stop fighting me or I'll have you locked up till morning!" he threatened

She stopped her futile struggle, knowing that his threat was not an idle one. Suddenly he let her go; caught by surprise, she almost fell. Only his hand on her arm kept her from landing at his feet. He'd enjoy that, she thought to herself angrily, pulling out of his grip.

"Are you prepared to act in a mature fashion?" he asked her sternly. "Or should I tie you to the bed for the night?"

Enraged at his condescending attitude, she swung around, her arm coming up to strike him. Unfortunately, Lucius seemed to expect her action and easily grabbed her wrist before her hand struck. In a blur, Brigh found herself pinned to the bed, her arms restrained above her head.

"That was unwise, my love." His eyes glinted dangerously down at her.

Realizing how untenable her situation was, Brigh went limp and turned her head away. Let him do his worst, she wouldn't fight him. She heard him sigh, then to her surprise her arms were released and he rolled off her to lie next to her. They lay in silence for a time, Brigh confused by his sudden change of mood. Struggling with the tempest of emotion that wrenched at her soul, she sighed, closing her eyes. She had known from the beginning that this was fated. How could she in all honesty hate him for following the path that has been set for him? That had been set for her? Her anger dissipated, and she reached over for his hand, squeezing it tightly in hers. "I don't want it to end like this, Lucius," she said softly even as she told herself that it could end no other way.

"Nor do I." He shifted onto his side to look at her. "I swear to you, Brigh, that I shall never betray you. I'll keep you safe from what must come, you have my oath…."

"Gwen, Gwen...," Nick called insistently. He shook her gently, continuing to call her.

"No, leave me alone," Gwen said weakly, sounding irritated.

"No I won't leave you alone. You have to come back now," he said firmly.

Gwen ineffectually tried to push away the hands grasping her shoulders, but she was too weak. She finally seemed to realize that he wouldn't leave her alone until she did as he asked, and forced her eyes open.

"Nicholas?" she asked, confused.

He gently propped her up against the pillows, and placed a glass to her lips. "Here, drink this."

She complied with his request, drinking the whole glass thirstily, and then the second one he held before her. Silently she watched Nick as he placed the empty glass on the bedside table.

"How do you feel?" he asked, concern evident in his voice.

"How should I feel?" she asked. "Tired," she finally answered.

"What do you remember?"

Her hand went to the two small wounds on her throat. "Everything." She looked at Nick, the question in her eyes evident.

Sighing, he answered the unspoken question. "Yes, I'm a vampire too. LaCroix is my Master, the one who made me." He waited for the disgust to appear on her face. Instead, a look of compassion softened her features.

"And you don't want to be what you are." It was a statement, and a look of surprise crossed her face that she knew this.

"It's called blood knowledge," Nick explained. "There is a link between a vampire and those he feeds upon. It can overwhelm the mortal -- it usually does, and few survive to remember the experience. You have some of LaCroix's memories, that must be one of them."

"How long?"

"Eight hundred years." He took her hand in his, changing the subject back to her. "Gwen, you need to tell me what's going on. LaCroix said the two of you have a past. And a few minutes ago you called out in Latin, you said the name 'Lucius'. That was LaCroix's name before."

"You were the one that just explained blood knowledge to me." She shifted in discomfort, not meeting his eyes.

"I also know it was more than that. How can I help you if you won't tell me what's going on?" Nick took her chin in his hand, forcing her to look at him. "Believe me, you need my help. LaCroix is terribly dangerous to you, you must know that."

They were interrupted by the trill of Nick's cellphone. He left the room to take the call, returning a few minutes later to explain, "I need to go, Gwen, there's been another murder."

She nodded her understanding.

"I will be back," he promised. "I want you to stay here, call in sick. You need to take it easy," he admonished her.

"I will," she said reassuringly. "You need to go," she reminded him.

Nick quickly kissed her on the forehead and was gone.

Oaths - Part Nine

Gwen slept fitfully through the night, her dreams of both the past and the present melding in one confused tangle. The dreams turned to the past evening, reliving that moment when LaCroix's fangs had pierced her throat. She awoke in fright, her hand once again going to the wound. Considering what had happened, it didn't hurt like she thought it should. Just as the initial bite hadn't hurt, there was sensation but not the pain of an injury. A bemused corner of her mind wondered why she was taking it all so well. I must be in shock, she decided. Gwen shivered, recalling LaCroix's hands on her, and then.… No, she said to herself firmly as she pushed the memory away. She had to stop thinking about it.

Getting out of bed, she went to the window, pulling open the drapes. It was almost dawn. What must it be like, she thought, to never again see the sun? To be like Nicholas, like LaCroix? She knew Nicholas thought himself damned, but she couldn't believe that. No doubt in his long life he had committed evil acts, but now, she knew, Nicholas Knight was a caring and compassionate man. Surely he could not be damned simply because he was a vampire. Too bad they never taught her about vampires in seminary. Laughing out loud at this ridiculous thought, she headed for the shower.

Feeling much more human after showering, Gwen dressed in a mandarin-collared green blouse and gray tweed slacks. Sitting on the couch with her tea, she looked out the window, thoughts of LaCroix invading her mind. She felt an overpowering desire to go to him even though she kept telling herself it was probably fatal. And even if it wasn't, Nicholas would kill her for going in the first place. She knew that it wasn't just her, it was the woman she had been so long ago. The woman who had loved Lucius. What a strange feeling, this being one person but remembering being someone else. It was giving her a headache just thinking about it. Gwen had never believed in reincarnation before, but what else could it be? She didn't know what to believe any more. Nicholas had told her that LaCroix had mentioned a past they had shared. Did he hold the answers to her questions? Could he know the reason for the mental torment she was suffering?

She couldn't stand it any longer, she had to go to him. She left the house and headed for the Raven.

She was not really surprised to find the front door unlocked; she felt she was expected. Closing the door behind her, Gwen made her way across the empty club. She knew he was here, she could feel his presence in the back of her mind. Was it part of what had happened here last night?

"I have marked you as mine, my dear Gwenyth." That voice came out of the darkness, near the back of the club, answering her unasked question. "No mortal that survives an encounter with one of my kind emerges unchanged from the experience." The voice drew closer, until suddenly he was beside her. "What you are feeling is only the most infinitesimal part of what a master and his fledgling feel through their link," the voice said, low and seductive.

Gwen's heart began to beat faster as the power of LaCroix's voice drew her in. It began to race as he moved behind her, his hands lightly resting at her throat. She tried to pull away, but her body betrayed her, refusing to move.

"Shhhh, no need to fight what you feel. Indeed, it is quite impossible," he said, supremely confident as he ran his hands down across her breasts, her ribs, coming to rest on her hips. "I'm still not quite sure what you are," he said as he pulled her against him, "but I shall enjoy finding out." His voice was chilling in its certainty.

She made one last supreme effort to break free from LaCroix's mental grip. This time, instead of trying to push back the other memories, she let them come to the fore. "You haven't changed, Lucius," Gwen said in a language she had never known in this life, "still using seduction to get your way," she said mockingly. She felt him stiffen at her words, and then found herself being whirled around to face him.

"So, you finally decided to make your appearance did you?" he asked derisively in the same language. He watched with fascination the struggle taking place, played out on her pale features.

"No." She gripped his arms, herself once again. "I don't understand what's happening. You know, don't you?" she asked, entreating him with her eyes for an explanation.

LaCroix remembered the last time those same eyes had looked at him like that....

Transalpine Gaul: Spring, 79 AD

The winter had been a mild one; spring had come early to this mountain valley. The streams and rivers were swollen with the melting snow and wildflowers had begun to appear in the nearby meadows. Lucius looked out of his office window, down at the troops forming up in the muddy yard below. They were preparing to march out to yet another suspected sighting of the fugitive Sabinus. He felt that this time it might be the real thing, not just another false lead.

Slowly, the great gates of the fort were opened and his men began their march out. He watched them contemplatively as they disappeared from his sight, wondering how long it would take the Gauls in the village below to realize what was happening. Not long, in his estimation, and then only a short span of time till Brigh found out. Lucius sighed, not relishing the coming storm.

The end was nearing for these people and this culture -- the Gauls in the village below would be swept away in Rome's advancing tide. And it would be soon if Lucius were any judge of the political climate in the Empire. He had planned for the eventuality; Brigh would be kept safe from the impending destruction. When it was all over he would take her back to Pompeii with him, and then they would marry, have a family. She would be angry at first, he knew, but she was a sensible woman, she would come around. He would make sure that she was happy in her new life, and she would adjust. He pushed away the memory of his mother, of her sad eyes when she told him tales of her people and of her home. He had been but a child when she died, but he remembered. No, his parents had cared for each other, Lucius would not allow doubt of that to invade his thoughts. Of course his mother had been homesick at times, but she had been content, he was sure of it. And Brigh would be as well, he would see to it, as his father had for his mother.

He decided that it would be best if Brigh heard the news of the raid from him and not from gossip. He called for his aide. "Have my horse made ready, Octavius."

"Yes, sir, right away."

Lucius watched out the window, lost in thought, as he waited. The arrival of a centurion with his horse brought him back to the present. Going outside, he took the horse from the centurion and mounted. Without a backward glance he rode off to find Brigh in the village below. He decided that he would try her home first -- she was usually there this time of day, concocting her salves and healing powders after a busy morning of seeing her patients.

Tethering his horse to a nearby tree, he walked towards the house. It was terribly quiet, as if nature was holding her breath. He entered to find Brigh, not working on her apothecary as expected, but sitting on a stool staring into space. She didn't even notice his entrance until he stood before her. She looked up at him, entreating him with her eyes to tell her it wasn't true. He was too late -- she knew already, and more than that there was a look of defeat in her eyes that he had never before seen. He realized in that instant that Brigh knew that his men would find Sabinus this time, because she knew where Sabinus was, had probably always known. Knowledge was, after all, her vocation.

Bandruaid, he thought angrily. How could he have been so naive, that it had never occurred to him that the woman he had taken to his bed had all along held the knowledge he sought? Because you didn't want to know, he mocked himself. Didn't want to know that the woman you love is conspiring against the Empire. Lucius was torn between love and duty. Duty had always won before. In fact, he had never thought anything could override it, till now.

Brigh just watched him silently, her eyes windows to her soul. She didn't attempt to hide anything from him this time. He could see it all now, the pain, the conflict between her love for him and her duty, her knowledge of the nearing end of her people, her family. He dropped to his knees beside her, pulling her into his arms roughly. She began to kiss him with a desperate passion, holding him with all her strength. They fell to the floor making love like two people who would never again be together....

LaCroix was brought back to the present by the touch of hands on either side of his face. As he moved to pull them away he was transfixed by the sight of Gwen looking at him with an almost painful intensity. Instead of removing the hands, he found himself caressing them. Never breaking her gaze, she reached up, pulling his head towards hers -- pressing her warm lips against his cool ones almost tentatively, deepening the kiss when he didn't pull away from her.

You're a fool, he raged inwardly. You can't recapture a life that has been dead two thousand years! You don't even know who this woman is for sure. And even if it was Brigh, he told himself bitterly, it was the man she knew that she desired. Not the vampire you are now, who has seen two millennia of darkness and death. You should send her away or dispose of her entirely and damn the consequences. Despite his angry inner dialog, he found himself pulling Gwen to him, his hands roaming her body . She ran her hands up his chest to link behind his neck, her lips parting under the increasing intensity of his kiss. He traced the outline of her lips with his tongue, then moved deeper to claim the rest.

He picked her up and carried her to the bedroom, setting her down gently and just looking at her. She looked back at him with eyes that held no hint of fear or compulsion, only acceptance and desire. LaCroix's heart clenched a little -- it had been nearly eight centuries since a mortal woman had looked on him that way. He began to doubt his intentions; he should let her go, now, before it was too late.

She seemed to sense his inner turmoil. "We can't recapture what we were, Lucius," she said in Latin, "but we have this moment, this place in time to be together. Even if it is never again, we have now." She switched back to English. "*I* want this. *I* choose. Not Nicholas, not you, and not who I was," she said with utter conviction.

He nodded and drew her to him….

LaCroix carefully disentangled himself from Gwen's still-sleeping form; she never even stirred as he placed her head on the pillow. He brushed away one drop of blood that seeped from the fresh marks at her throat, bringing it to his lips, savoring the taste of her. As he had fed from her at the height of their lovemaking, he had almost forgotten himself; allowing two thousand years of carefully trained control to slip away in the exquisite illusion of he and Brigh together in Gaul once more.

A voice had brought him back, familiar, but not Brigh's. "Lucius, please don't…." Brought back to the here and now, LaCroix had pushed the vampire back. He owed Brigh -- for that was how he now was thinking of her -- more than that. Despite the fact that he knew he was being foolish and sentimental, he allowed himself the illusion that somehow he could fix the past, however unrealistic the notion was. LaCroix watched her as she slept, and wondered where they went from here.

Oaths - Part Ten

After he had showered and dressed, he sat on the edge of the bed. She would sleep for some time still, he thought, as he considered the decisions to be made once she awoke. As he sat there, he felt the presence of his son at the edge of his perception, and sighed. Nicholas appearing here tonight was not totally unexpected, but he wasn't really in the mood for him and his intrusive questions. Realizing that his son was not to be avoided, LaCroix headed for the sitting room, closing the bedroom door softly behind him.

Ignoring the other man, LaCroix went to the sideboard and poured himself a glass from the bottle sitting there. "I'd offer you something, Nicholas, but I'm afraid I don't have cow," he said dryly, his back still to Nick.

"We need to talk, LaCroix," Nick said, coming to stand behind his Master.

"So you keep saying, Nicholas, and quite persistently, I must say." His annoyance evident, LaCroix turned and looked at his son expectantly. Nick looked at his Master and sighed. Soon, a look all too familiar to LaCroix appeared in his son's eyes -- stubborn determination. He waited for the inevitable demanding questions that were sure to follow.

"What is there between you and Gwen, LaCroix -- and how do you know each other?" he asked. LaCroix merely looked at him coolly and sipped from his glass. "Damnit, I want to know what the hell is going on!" he shouted, clearly exasperated.

"Indeed?" he quirked an amused eyebrow at Nicholas' outburst. He really was so predictable. "And that should make some difference to me?"

Nick slammed his hand down on the sideboard. "Yes it should! I'm putting you on notice, Gwen is under my protection. I won't allow you to destroy her life, seducing her into our darkness! Stay away from her, LaCroix, you've done enough damage already," he warned, his voice still raised.

LaCroix stifled a smile at the last; if Nicholas only knew just how late he was with that particular warning. "Be assured, I have no intention of destroying the lovely Gwenyth." His voice became cold. "But that is all I intend to say on the subject, tonight or any night." He watched the irritation flash across the younger man's face, but was gratified when he seemed willing to drop the matter for now.

"Was there anything else, Nicholas?" he asked, pointedly looking at the clock. "As much as I've enjoyed our little chat, I do have a business to run."

"As a matter of fact, there is," Nick replied, changing the subject. "I need to know if there have been any new vampires in town, or any who have been acting out of character."

"And the reason for this inquiry?"

"It seems that the killer is one of us, and he needs to be stopped before he kills again." He waited expectantly for LaCroix's reaction

"You're sure about this?"

"Very sure, because he is getting sloppy. With each killing it is becoming more and more obvious that it is a vampire.'" Nick looked at him meaningfully. "And with each killing it is becoming more and more difficult for Natalie to hide the truth."

LaCroix set his glass down and looked thoughtfully at Nick. "There may be a few possibilities." Nick looked relieved. "But I will investigate them myself." He held up his hand to forestall his son's protest. "If this is true, it is a matter for the Community to take care of, not the mortal authorities. Or you."

Nick's reply was interrupted by Gwen's entrance into the room. To say he was stunned would have been an understatement; his expression was a study in shock. She was wearing LaCroix's robe, her tousled hair hung down her back, her pallor making it obvious what had transpired. She moved to stand next to LaCroix, his arm moving around her shoulder in a protective gesture that elicited a look of surprise and bafflement on Nick's face.

"The killer is a vampire?" Gwen asked tonelessly. Nick nodded, still too stunned to say anything. "How long have you known?"

"Since last night." Finally, he found the words, "Gwen, what are you doing here? I told you not to come back." Nick shot LaCroix an accusing glare. "Did he force you here?"

"No, he didn't. I came here quite on my own." She forestalled the next question. "No, I don't want to talk about why. At least… not yet." Her expression pleaded for Nick's understanding. Changing the subject back to the murders, she asked, "I do want to know what you intend to do about the killer, both of you." She looked at Nick and then up at LaCroix.

Nick, a smug expression on his face, said, "I was just asking LaCroix the same thing myself. What do you intend to do about it?" he asked, looking at his Master.

Gwen looked expectantly at LaCroix, who silently cursed Nicholas for placing him in an untenable position. She would not understand, of that he was sure. He pulled her around to face him. "You must understand, my dear, we are a community with its own laws and rules. Whoever this is, we will take care of it. One way or the other." LaCroix hoped this would be sufficient, but he knew it wasn't meant to be.

"He'll be stopped?" She glanced from one vampire to the other.

"It is a possibility, but it may not happen. It depends on the circumstances," he answered, knowing that Nicholas was not going to help him explain this. "If the Community decides that this reckless behavior was merely an aberration, he may just be made to move on." He had no intention of trying to explain Enforcers to her.

"Are you telling me that he could get away with this? Move on to some other city to start murdering all over again?" Gwen was incredulous. "And you'll do nothing, will you, Lucius?"

LaCroix noted the puzzled frown at 'Lucius' on Nick's face and then the flare of triumph at Gwen's outrage. It won't be that easy, Nicholas, he said silently.

"What is it you say, LaCroix? Mortals die, does it really matter how or when?" He took Gwen's arm, moving her towards him. "You have to realize, Gwen, that to vampires like LaCroix, and the killer, human life means nothing. You are merely a fleeting diversion and meal." LaCroix glared at Nick, knowing that he was trying to put a wedge between himself and Gwen. He could only wait and see what effect his son's words would have on her. It didn't take long for both men to realize that she was not going to be manipulated.

She pulled out of Nick's grasp. "Don't patronize me, Nicholas, it was rather obvious to me where mortals stood in the vampire world view." Her voice became steely. "And don't try and manipulate me. I don't intend to be used as a pawn in your struggle with LaCroix. I won't have any part of it." Her tone softened again. "Despite appearances, I'm not quite as naive as you think. I can take care of myself."

Nick frowned; it was not the reaction he had expected. LaCroix, on the other hand, smiled. He wasn't sure what Gwen's reaction would have been, but that last had been pure Brigh -- he had felt the edge of her sharp tongue on more than one occasion. He could see that Nicholas was quite taken aback by it however. Good, the boy needed to see that he could not always get his own way.

She turned back to LaCroix, determined. "This has nothing to do with LaCroix being a vampire -- it has to do with a debt owed." As she spoke the last, she swayed unsteadily.

LaCroix caught her has she collapsed, carrying her back to the bedroom, Nick following close behind. He laid her back on the bed, pushing her shoulders down as she struggled to get up. "Lie down," he said sternly.

Gwen looked ready to argue, but one look at LaCroix's set features made her reconsider. She stopped struggling against him with ill-concealed irritation. He allowed himself a small smile at the expression; it was quite familiar, even though the face it appeared on was quite different. He lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed it, smiling when she moved her hand to caress his cheek.

Nick silently watched the by-play between the two, more and more perplexed. What he was seeing was indicative of a familiarity between two long-time lovers, not two people who had known each other barely three days. The mystery was driving him insane -- he had to find out what was going on.

"You need to rest, my dear," LaCroix said firmly.

"No, I need to know what you intend to do," Gwen said adamantly. "You have to decide -- will you honor your debt, or not?" She looked at him intently.

LaCroix sighed. She had always been stubborn, some things never changed. "I won't betray my community, my people, Gwenyth. That you must understand," he said in an uncompromising voice .

Her expression hardened. "And why not? You betrayed your people, betrayed me, did you not?" she asked, her voice bitter. "I would think you would be well used to betrayal by now, Lucius, or have you developed a conscience in the last two millennia?"

Gwen's accusation dazed him -- it was obvious she remembered that last summer. The summer that LaCroix had not allowed himself to remember for many ages -- till now. The last summer he and Brigh had been together….

Oaths - Part Eleven

Transalpine Gaul: Summer, 79 AD

Lucius looked down at the report in his hands. So it had come, he thought resignedly. Julius Sabinus, who had finally been captured in the spring, had been executed in Rome along with his wife, Eponina, by the order of the Emperor Vespasian. After the news of their imprisonment, tensions had run high in the surrounding communities. The area was like a tinderbox, waiting for a spark to set it blazing. This news would be the spark, and his orders were to take preemptive action against the settlement below. The time he had known would come was now here, and the plans he had made were about to be put in motion.

There was a knock on the office door just before it opened. Lucius looked up to see the men he had requested along with one of his aides, Octavius.

"What have you to report, Octavius?" he asked the man.

"General, our scouts report heightened activity around the town. Many of the men seem to have left on *errands*, which is quite unlikely considering the current situation." He waited expectantly for his superior's reaction to his report.

Lucius nodded agreement to his aide's assessment of the situation. "Very unlikely. Obviously insurrection is fomenting amongst the Gauls. Not that it's unexpected, this outcome has long been planned for." The men nodded their understanding. "We will attack at dawn, but before that happens, I have an assignment for you, an important assignment," he said forcefully.

The assembled men waited patiently for the details. It was an honor to be chosen by the general personally -- they would not fail. Lucius looked on the assembled centurions; he had picked these men personally to handle this extremely sensitive matter. Only Rome's finest could be entrusted with this.

"Just before dawn you will go to the healer Brigh's dwelling at the edge of town. Once there, you will take her and bring her back to the fort. You will lock her in my quarters, under guard, till I return." Lucius waited for the men to digest his orders; he knew they would obey and ask no questions. "You will not harm her in any way, do you understand?" he asked, his voice hard. They nodded understanding. "No matter what provocation she might offer. I expect you to do whatever is necessary to bring her back here. Any questions?"

"No, sir!" the men rapped out smartly. They were, truth be told, glad of the orders. Most of them had been, or knew someone who had been, treated by the lovely and kind local healer. They had no doubts about the coming attack, believing in their Emperor's wisdom, but they were pleased that their general had arranged to spare his woman.

"Remember, no harm. If she is hurt in any way...." Lucius let his voice trail off meaningfully. "I see you do understand," he noted with satisfaction. "Very good. Dismissed!"

He watched them file out. Assured that all was taken care of, he went back to planning the coming morning's attack.

The battle had been fierce, bloody, and swift. As expected, the Gauls had been preparing an attack against their Roman overlords. They had fought bravely, but were quickly overwhelmed by both numbers and better weaponry. Their attack was the last gasp against a slow stranglehold of Roman might.

Lucius returned to the fort from the battlefield, meeting with his officers to hear their reports.

"Sir, the town has been subdued. Per your orders the women and children have been left untouched." The young officer's tone indicated his unhappiness with that particular order. He felt, as did many of the others, that an example should be made of the rebellious Gauls. However their general appeared to have other ideas.

Lucius decided to ignore the tone for now; he had other, more pressing matters to see to. "Anything else?" The men shook their heads. "Good, then you have your orders. Dismissed."

All the men filed out except for one. Lucius looked up at him expectantly.

"Sir, the Lady Brigh is under guard in your quarters. She didn't resist when we came for her -- in fact, she seemed almost resigned, as if she expected us." The man was obviously confused about the woman's reaction. It was not what he or his comrades had expected. He waited expectantly for the general's response. "Sir?" he queried when none seemed forthcoming.

Lucius started slightly, coming back to the present as if from a million miles away. "Good. Well done."

"Will there be anything else, General?"

Lucius shook his head. The officer left silently, closing the door behind him. Sitting at his desk a few more moments, he gathered himself for the coming confrontation. Unable to avoid it any longer, he headed for his quarters. The guard opened the door for him and Lucius entered, quickly spotting Brigh standing by the window, her arms wrapped tight around herself. She made no sign as he moved towards her, only stiffening slightly as he placed a hand on her shoulder.

"It's over, Brigh," he said, breaking the silence.

"Yes it is," she replied, her tone hollow and lifeless. "So this is how you keep your oath to me, Lucius?"

"I have kept it -- you have not been harmed, nor will you."

She turned to face him. "Not harmed? You slaughter my people, my family," her voice choked, "and you say no harm has come to me? You destroyed my entire world, Lucius, you and your empire." Bitterness filled her voice.

"This end was inevitable, you know that. You've always known that," he said, trying to get through to her, at least a little. He realized it would take time -- she was in shock. Her complexion was almost gray, her lips tinged blue. All she needed was rest and time, he assured himself. She would see they could be happy, have a life together away from here. He reached for her, but she moved away from him.

"Inevitable, Lucius?" She sighed. Her voice took on an odd, almost dreamlike tone. "Yes, this end was inevitable. How could it be otherwise?"

For a moment it seemed as if she were speaking to someone else. He felt an unexplainable fear course through him. Dread, of what he knew not, filled his heart as he watched the woman he loved more than he had ever thought was possible, slowly slipping away from him. Without warning she gasped in pain, doubling over, her hand reaching for the table to support herself. Before he could reach her, she had fallen to the ground, pulling the table down on top of her. The sound of breaking pottery filled the room as the wine decanter and goblets crashed to the ground. Lucius reached Brigh's side in moments, taking her in his arms. Her skin was clammy, her breath coming in short labored gasps as she struggled to sit up. In horror he realized what was happening. He reached for the half broken goblet lying next to her, picking it up. Sniffing the residue he knew already what he would smell -- poison.

His face contracted in denial and grief, knowing in his heart it was already too late. Lifting her, he carried her to the bed, laying her down gently. "Why?" he whispered, his voice raw with emotion.

Another spasm of pain gripped Brigh, and she grasped his hand as it ripped through her body. "I told you once that I would never leave here, did I not? Don't you understand, my love? I'm just part of a larger whole -- when you destroyed my people, you destroyed me." Every syllable was forced out between labored gasps for air. "Did you truly think I could go on, leave here with you and continue my life in a place that is responsible for the destruction of everything I hold dear?" She cried out this time as yet another wave of pain hit.

Lucius cradled her in his arms, as tears fell unnoticed down his face. "So you choose death, choose to leave me alone, choose to deny us a life together?" His voice cracked. "You find death a better option than a life with me whom you profess to love?"

"The choice was made long ago." Her eyes became glazed and unfocused. "But we will meet again, I promise you." A look of confusion passed over her face. "I don't understand," she said, again as if to someone unseen. "I see us, meeting again in this world. But it's you, as you are now. But the darkness; you are cloaked in darkness." She looked up at him. "How can this be?" Her eyes closed. "It's so dark, Lucius, so dark...." Her voice fell silent, her breathing now almost imperceptible.

He knew the end was near. He had no idea how she had held out this long -- sheer will was the only possibility. She gasped a little as her body spasmed, the poison close to finishing its work. He murmured soothingly, stroking her hair from her face. As his tears fell on her cheek, Brigh opened her eyes once more.

"Lucius," he could barely hear her weak whisper, "I love you still, I will always love you, in this world and the otherworld. Our spirits are bound together, you must know that before the end." She tried to raise her hand to his face, but was unable to; he lowered his head to meet it. With what was left of her dying body's strength, she brushed his tear stained cheek with her hand. "Kiss me, my love, once more."

He lowered his lips to hers, kissing her gently at first but intensifying the kiss desperately as he felt her spirit slipping away from him -- as if he could somehow hold her here with his love. Brigh made a little sigh into his lips, her heart fluttering, then stopping, her spirit breaking away finally from her pain-racked body.

"Nooo!" he cried out in anguish, as he crushed Brigh to him in a despairing embrace. And so he remained till just before dawn, overcome by grief and despair, holding her lifeless body in his arms.

LaCroix turned away from Nick and Gwen, lost in memories and a distant grief. He walked to the table, pouring and then quickly drinking a glass of wine-laced blood. Nick moved towards his Master, sensing his pain, and tentatively reached out with his hand, but pulled back. He looked over to where Gwen lay, her face now wet with tears. He had rarely felt so helpless. The emotion in the room was suffocating, and yet he had no clue as to what was going on. His gaze met Gwen's, asking the questions he could not seem to ask aloud. Her eyes moved past him to LaCroix, who still had his back turned to them. Nick saw sadness in her eyes -- sadness...and love, he realized with surprise.

Gwen swung her legs over the edge of the bed, pausing for a moment as a wave of dizziness hit her. Determined, she shrugged off Nick's hand as he tried to keep her on the bed. Standing unsteadily, she walked over to where LaCroix still stood silent. Standing behind him, she reached up to place her hand against his back. She leaned her head against him for a moment in a weariness both mental and physical before collapsing into the chair that stood next to the table. Her shoulders sagging, she rested her head in her hands, her long hair falling around her face like a curtain.

Her voice muffled, she began to speak. Startled, Nick realized that she was speaking to him. "When I was a little girl, I used to dream of a place far away and a long time ago. Of a beautiful woman and a handsome man. It seemed so real, like I was seeing their lives through my dreams. In the beginning, I would tell my parents about my dreams. But they had no patience for such foolishness and decided I spent far too much time reading nonsense. So I learned to keep my dreams a secret. When I got older, the dreams became more *intimate* in all senses of the word." Gwen raised her head, her eyes unfocused, looking through Nick. "Then I went to seminary and I guess the studying, the pressures, left no time for dreams. They became something like a childhood memory, like the invisible friend that you grow out of. Imagine my surprise to meet face to face the man from my dreams one night on a Toronto street."

Gwen smiled a little at the look of shock on Nick's face. "So you see why I was so obsessed with finding him." She continued, "The dreams became overwhelming after seeing him -- they began to intrude on my waking life. I thought I was losing my mind. Then, I found him," she said, looking at LaCroix, "and realized I wasn't going crazy. Though maybe that would have been easier to deal with than the reality." She sighed, falling silent once more.

During her explanation, LaCroix had moved to sit on the arm of her chair. He watched Nick's expression change from surprise to disbelief and then to astonishment. "I admit, Nicholas, I doubted it at first myself. But the blood does not lie. She is Brigh," he stated with utter conviction. "The woman I loved and then lost to darkness two thousand years ago." He ran his hand absently over Gwen's hair. "I don't claim to understand it. I'm not a mystic. But I can no longer deny the truth of the situation."

Nick, still trying to take it all in, finally spoke. "So now what?" he asked, looking first at Gwen and then back to LaCroix.

"Now you leave, Nicholas. You still have a murderer to catch, after all," Gwen reminded him firmly, her eyes hard.

"Let me take you home first."

"No!" LaCroix said, his voice harsh. "She stays, Nicholas." He stood, glowering at Nick.

Nick, angry, began to protest. "She doesn't belong here, LaCroix!"

Gwen forestalled the imminent conflict, getting up to stand between the two angry vampires. "Stop it! Both of you!" Her eyes flashed in annoyance. "I will not be treated like... like property!" She took a deep breath, lowering her voice. "Nicholas, I appreciate your concern. But I will stay." She raised her hand to stop his protest. "I'm sorry, but I must ask you to respect my decision. I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that Lucien and I have a great deal to discuss."

"I don't like it, Gwen. But I can't make you come with me either." Nick relented. "All right, I'll do as you ask."

She hugged him quickly. "I'll be fine!" she reassured him. "Could you do me a favor though?" Nick nodded. "Watch me tomorrow on the TV when I do that interview on the morning news show?"

"I'd forgotten about that. Of course I'll watch," Nick assured her. "I'll come by your place tomorrow night to give you a progress report." He was obviously not happy about leaving her with his Master. "Are you sure, Gwen -- about staying?" He looked at LaCroix with ill-concealed displeasure.

"She is quite sure, Nicholas." LaCroix took Gwen's hand, drawing her towards him and away from his son's meddling.

Gwen squeezed LaCroix's hand soothingly. "It's all right, Lucien, he understands what must be. Don't you, Nicholas?" she asked, needing his understanding.

Looking at her, he realized that he did. He didn't like it, but he understood. "Yes," he said simply. With one last look at the two, Nick turned and left the room.

Oaths - Part Twelve

"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. Some second sense screamed a warning. 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."

Oaths - Part Thirteen

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 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 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 to see you tomorrow," 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, laying 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.

Oaths - Part Fourteen

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.

Oaths - Part Fifteen

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.


To the Darkwood