Nov. 1997: Thanks to April Ruskin for beta-reading, and to the gals that share this universe with me for all the inspiration. This is another angsty epic in our “Bloodties" universe. This story was where I really fleshed out my vampire addiction theory that figures so prominently in later stories.

LaCroix, Janette, Nick, Methos, Duncan, and Joe, belong to their respective PTB. The rest belong to me amongst others.

Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual situations, and vampire stuff <g>

Revision Notes Sept. 2001: A lot of the early stories have bobbles in what is now the existing canon in our universe. This is the second of such stories that I’ve tried to go back and fix some of the more glaring inaccuracies.

Thanks for reading!

Premonitions of Twilight
by Ithildin
c 1998/2001

Triona read Janette's letter, pleased to find that she seemed to be happy and settled in Greece. Apparently she had bought a taverna on Mikonos and once again, Miklos was tending bar for her. She had also purchased a lovely home, perched in the cliffs overlooking the sea and an incredible beach. She looked at the pictures that were with the letter. It was beautiful.

"I told you she would still be working!" Terese told Lauren smugly.

"Well, I thought with LaCroix gone she would be taking it easy," Lauren protested.

"We just need to drag her away is all," Stephanie told them.

"Yep, we'll make her take a vacation while the General is away," Terese said purposefully.

"Good luck," Sarah said doubtfully.

"Just wait. You'll see!"

Triona listened to the approaching voices, wondering what they were up to.  She continued to read her letter as the four women trooped into her office.  Stephanie cleared her throat impatiently as Triona continued to ignore them as she read.

She didn't look up. "Can I help you with something?"

"What's so interesting?" Lauren asked as she snatched the letter out of Triona's hand, glancing over it.

"Lauren!" Triona protested. "That's personal!"

"Now you wouldn't be keeping secrets from us would you?" Terese looked over Lauren's shoulder.

Stephanie noticed the pictures on the desk, picking them up. "Ooooh! Pretty! Where is this?"

"Can't take them anywhere," Sarah said in exasperation. "I'm sorry, we were supposed to be convincing you to knock off work early. Not," she snatched the letter from Lauren, "invading your privacy." She handed the letter back to Triona.

"Hey!" Terese and Lauren said in unison.

"Thanks, Sarah." Triona glared at the others.

"Oh come on, Triona, TELL!" Lauren pouted. "Who's the letter from and where were those pictures taken at?"

"If you must know, the letter is from Janette and the pictures are from her new place on Mikonos." Her glare softened a bit. "She is going to write to LaCroix when he gets back and try to convince him to let me visit her." She sighed. "I doubt he will though. He's been more possessive than usual lately; or maybe it's overprotective. Haven't really decided which," she said half to herself.

The other women looked at each other. "No!" Sarah said. "We couldn't."

Terese grinned. "Sure we could! He'd never know! He won't be back for two weeks. And the servants are all on holiday."

"Who would know?" Lauren asked.

Stephanie, for once, was the one who looked worried. "I'm not sure, you guys."

Triona finally realized what they were talking about. "No!" she shouted. "Absolutely not!"

"Oh come on! We all need a vacation. You need a vacation. What would be the harm? We would be with Janette. How could he object? Besides, we'll be home before he gets back," Terese argued logically.

Lauren nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! We'll be with Janette!"

Stephanie was becoming more and more taken by the idea. "It could work, Triona. You know he never calls when he is away on whatever family business he goes on.  And it would be so cool to go to Greece!"

Triona listened in stunned disbelief -- they couldn't be serious! "Are you nuts?”

Terese shrugged. "I'm willing to risk a little of LaCroix's displeasure to go to Greece for a week," she said, seemingly unconcerned.

Triona shifted uncomfortably. " 'A little displeasure' is a contradiction in terms where he's concerned."

Lauren began to look a little nervous. "Triona's right. Maybe we should think about it. After all, it is one of the things he makes the most fuss over -- about how it's dangerous for us to wander around alone. If Enforcers caught us out on our own…."

Terese began to see her plan slipping away. "You guys are being party poopers. We," she indicated Stephanie and Sarah, "are willing to take a little risk. We want to go, and it's three against two.”

Stephanie nodded in agreement. "And you know that we can't go unless you agree, because you have our passports in the safe. And only you and LaCroix have the combination."

Sarah sighed. "If you do give us our papers, you may as well come too. You know that if he ever finds out about this you would be in more trouble if you stayed here and never called him."

"This is crazy! If you think that LaCroix will never find out.... " Triona paced, Sarah was right. But she knew in her heart he would find out. It was inevitable. Sighing fatalistically she turned to the others. "Okay, I’ll give you your passports and I'll go with you. But if we get caught, I won't make excuses for me or for any of you! Is that clear?"

Terese grinned triumphantly, Stephanie whooped, Sarah looked happy, and Lauren looked resigned. She felt sick as she opened the safe; she was putting her head in a noose. This was on her head. They could never do this if she wasn't betraying the trust LaCroix had placed in her. For a moment she considered trying to change their minds, but knew it was pointless. They were set on this course. There was no going back now.

The women stepped off the plane into the warm Greek night. They were exhausted after the long trip and couldn't wait to get to Janette's. Triona had called her before they had left, letting her know when they would be in. She had also insisted on leaving a letter explaining, pointing out that if LaCroix returned early, it would go easier if he knew where they were. Plus, there were others that had access to the estate, who would worry if they found the place deserted, Methos for one and Nick for another.

They gratefully sank into the seats of the car Janette had sent for them. Excitement at being in Greece would come tomorrow; tonight, all they wanted was sleep. Triona was so exhausted she fell asleep in the car. After a long climb up a twisting road, they reached their destination. They all piled out, not sure if they should wake Triona or not. They knew this was the first she'd slept in days.

A low female voice said, "Don't wake her. Miklos, carry her to her room please. I'll show the others the way." Janette smiled at the other women. "Welcome to Greece."

It was nearly dawn, and a servant was closing the heavy shutters against the coming sun. Janette showed the women to their rooms: Sarah and Terese in one, Lauren and Stephanie in another. They were light and airy, despite the heavy shutters. In the corner was a table set with bread, fruit, and cheese.

"I'm sure you'll be comfortable here, ladies. Get some rest and I will see you at sunset." With that, the lovely vampire was gone.

"So, this is Greece, " Sarah said as she looked around the room.

"Let's explore!" Stephanie made a beeline for the door.

"Whoa!" Terese grabbed her arm. "Janette said to rest, and I think it might be a good idea to listen to her, myself."

Stephanie pouted. "Why should she mind?"

"The question should be, why shouldn't she mind?" Sarah looked at Stephanie seriously. "We don't really know Janette, and Triona isn't here right now to be a buffer."

"Then let's go find her. She must be in the room next to this one," she said stubbornly.

The other women looked at each other, and shook their heads.

'That isn't a good idea. We don't know what Janette.... I mean, well, she might want to catch up with Triona, or something." Sarah finished lamely.

"She's right," Lauren agreed. "And we really should rest. It's been a long trip and Greece will still be here in a few hours."

Stephanie sulked, she didn't want to sleep, she wanted to explore. “I still want to see if Triona is okay, find out where she is."

Terese, exasperated, decided being blunt was the only way to go. "Read my lips, none of us are sure of the relationship between Janette and Triona. She was with her before she met LaCroix remember. And Janette is a vampire..... Are you getting this, Steph? We may be interrupting." She waited for what she was saying to register with the younger woman. "You know how unhappy vampires are when that happens."

"Oh…." Stephanie considered. "But Triona would have told me!"

"Not necessarily," Lauren told her. "Look, just wait till Triona finds us and then I promise we'll explore all you want!"

"Okay." Stephanie sighed. "See you guys later." She headed to her own bedroom. "You coming, Lauren?"

"Yep. Night you guys. See you tonight!" Lauren followed Stephanie out.

"Good night," Sarah and Terese called out.

Stephanie waited till she was sure that her friend was asleep and quietly left the room. The others were being wusses, she was here to have fun, damn it. Moving quietly down the hall, she headed down the stairs towards the big room she had glimpsed on the way in.

Slowly pushing the door open, she entered what seemed to be the main sitting room and slowly worked her way around, exploring the many shelves and nooks that edged the walls. A glass vase that sat on a side table entranced her. Stephanie held it up to the light that came from the table lamp. It was beautiful. It reminded her of the Phoenician glass pitcher that was in LaCroix's office.

"LaCroix was correct. You aren't very good at following instruction," an unexpected voice said.

She gave a little shriek, and the vase slipped from her hands. Luckily Janette's reflexes were fast and she snatched it out of the air, placing back on the table quicker than she could register.

Stephanie tried to act unconcerned, putting on one of her best innocent looks. They worked on LaCroix -- sometimes -- so why not on Janette? "I couldn't sleep, so I decided to get some air. I'm sorry if I disturbed you."

"Indeed?" Janette looked amused. "And did you even try to sleep, petite?"

The young mortal was all injured innocence. "I did! But I was worried about Triona -- this was at least the truth -- and the change in climate. I tossed and turned for ages!"

"Ages? At least seconds I'm sure." She laughed softly. "A word to the wise, child -- your innocent looks are better served on male members of the population. You will find that I am quite unaffected by them." Janette titled Stephanie's chin to look at her. "Do you understand?" she asked in a voice that was in no mood for games.

"Yes, Janette," she managed to get out. She felt that familiar tingle of danger that she always felt around LaCroix. Vampire shivers, she called it.

She released her chin. "Good, very good." she walked around behind Stephanie. "You should have learned by now how dangerous it can be to wander in a strange place. Especially a strange place inhabited by my kind." She ran a soft, cool finger down the girl's shoulder.

The sundress Stephanie wore left her shoulders bare to the vampire that stood close behind her. So tempting a sight added to the familiarity of her master's touch on this little mortal woman. And Janette missed her family. But she couldn't deal with Nicolas anymore… at least not yet.

She shivered. "I promise I'll be more careful."

"Mmm, careful. Oui, ma petite, I intend to assure that you are that." She stroked Stephanie's neck, feeling the pulse begin to race.

Stephanie felt herself relax, but wasn't quite sure why. She thought she should know though. Janette's hands on her neck and shoulders were so soothing. She felt sleepy, all desire to explore far from her thoughts.

Janette decided to give in to the temptation -- just a taste of home was all she wanted. She had planned on approaching Triona later, knowing she would always share with her. But Stephanie being here, now, was too much for her to resist. She felt the woman relax her whole weight against her. It would be so easy…so sweet.

The vampire breathed deep her blood scent: cherries on a warm summer's day with a hint of chocolate. She pulled Stephanie's head over with one hand, exposing her throat. Slowly, her fangs pierced the tender skin of her throat. The girl only sighed, totally in her spell.

She merely sipped; just enough to take the edge off her homesickness and to make sure Stephanie was more pliable over the next week. Pulling he fangs away, she delicately licked away the small droplets of blood that remained.

Taking Stephanie's arm, Janette led her unresisting up the stairs and back to her bed. She pulled the cover over the now fast asleep young woman and silently left the room.

Triona woke the next evening not sure where was. Damn, she thought, Greece. "I guess it wasn't just a bad dream," she said to herself as she got out of bed.

"I'm hurt, cherie. Aren't you happy to be here with me?" Janette's form separated from the shadow she was standing in on the now open patio door.

"Janette!" She threw her arms around her friend as she moved into the room. "Of course I'm glad to see you."

"Hmm…. So tell me, does your reaction have anything to do with the fact that LaCroix has no idea you are here?" Janette pulled away to look at her young friend sternly. "The truth."

Triona sighed. "No, he has no idea. LaCroix left on business and the others saw your letter, and well, one thing led to another." She looked nervously at Janette, knowing the small women before her could be as fearsome as LaCroix when angered. "Are you angry?"

"You never learn, do you? Always pushing the limits. Playing these games with LaCroix could be deadly you know." Janette touched Triona's face. "No, I'm not angry. I understand all too well."

"I did leave a letter telling him where we were in case he returned early. Which is my fate that he will I'm sure." She looked resigned.

Janette drew her out to the patio to sit in the warm evening air. "Even if he does not, it would be better for you to call him right now and confess."

"I know, but I'm outvoted.” She leaned her head on Janette's shoulder. "It's gotten so complicated. I wish you would come home."

"I wish I could too, but it would be difficult. Besides Nicolas, there is you to consider."

She looked at her questioningly. "Me?"

"I gave you up to LaCroix. Though, had I not, I'm sure he would have taken you anyway. I have no right to interfere in your life with him." Janette sighed. "Do you know how hard it would be for me not to interfere if I were to come back? LaCroix is my master, my father. I would not like him angry with me over that."

"I'm sorry, Janette," she said sadly. "I am happy mostly, it's just so different than anything I could have imagined. It's hard to cope sometimes." Triona looked at her. "Do you know Methos?"

"Methos? Has he turned up again?"

She nodded, dropping her eyes.

Janette immediately picked up on her embarrassment. "Triona, what is it? You haven't…? Is that why you came here?" Her eyes betrayed the fear she felt.

Triona, seeing her expression, quickly explained. "No, Janette, LaCroix knows. I was payment for a life debt he owed Methos. It's okay!"

Relief and anger warred for space on the vampire's face. "He used you as payment? Damn both of them! How dare they!" Janette said, furious. "You should have called me, cherie. If I'd known… LaCroix, master or no, I'd never have allowed it." Her eyes were rapidly turning gold. "I thought better of Methos, but it appears he's no better than the rest of them."

Triona attempted to calm the enraged vampire. "Really, it wasn't like that! I was a willing participant. LaCroix left the decision totally up to me, truly. I admit, part of it was wanting to please him. But the majority was for myself."

"But to even put you in such a position was unworthy of them." Janette was adamant. She began to pace around the room, agitated.

"I should never have mentioned it. I just wanted to know what you thought of him is all. Seeing as…. Never mind, let's not talk about it then," she said, following Janette into the room.

Janette turned, looking at Triona inquiringly. "Seeing as what? There's more, I can see it in your face. Tell me," she ordered imperiously.

"Seeing as…." she turned away from Janette, " I've become very fond of him," she whispered.

Sighing, Triona filled Janette in on the arrangement that Methos and LaCroix had made. She could feel Janette's anger like a forge behind her.

"You aren't going back!" Janette declared angrily.

"Don't be ridiculous. Of course I'm going back. You know it isn't possible for me to stay."

"So you can go back to being treated like a…a…concubine?" Janette sputtered.

"I'm not! Please believe me. I never intended to upset you. I just need someone to talk to. You know I couldn't bear to be away from LaCroix for long, please don't do this to me," she pleaded. "Methos has always treated me with the utmost respect, from the first moment I met him." She took Janette's arm. "You must believe me!"

Janette looked at her, doubt apparent in her eyes. "You're far too forgiving, petite."

"Nicholas wouldn't agree with that sentiment." Triona giggled.

"Nicolas is a fool." Janette sniffed. "Truly, you are happy?" she asked, searching her eyes.

"If you won't believe me, you can prove it to yourself." Triona pulled her hair away from her neck as she turned around and titled her head to one side. She felt Janette come up behind her, fingers briefly caressing her shoulder.

She sighed. "No, that won't be necessary, cherie. Not that I wouldn't enjoy the experience, but I'd prefer you offered yourself under other, more pleasant, circumstances."

Triona turned to face Janette. "You only ever have to ask. I would never deny you," she told her friend softly.

"And it means a great deal to me." She brushed her lips across Triona's. "A great deal." She put her hands on Triona's shoulders. "Enough of that then!" she said brightly. "You are on holiday.  I think it's time you had some fun, hmm?"

She nodded, smiling. "Where are the others?"

"I sent them off to explore. I told them we had some catching up to do." Janette looked at Triona quizzically. "They gave me the oddest looks. They are strange young women."

She laughed. "I believe they are under the impression we were lovers. I'm sure their imaginations are running overtime right now!" Her eyes were dancing in merriment.

"Indeed? And you never disabused them of this notion of theirs?"

"They never asked," Triona proclaimed airily. "Let them imagine."

"Yes, why not?" Janette began tossing clothing out of the closet. "Put these on then and let's find your imaginative friends."

She grabbed the clothes and headed for the shower. "Right away, ma'am. Right away!"

They found the other women lounging on the beach, the water lapping at their toes.

"Ladies," Janette said, startling the lounging group.

"Janette! Triona!" Lauren shouted. "Triona, you woke up!"

All the others added their greetings to Lauren's, happy to finally see their missing friend.

"So it would appear." Triona grinned. "What have you all been up to?"

"We walked down to the village over there." Sarah indicated with a wave of her hand. "And had a wonderful meal, then we walked it off on the way back."

"Was good!" Terese said contentedly.

The others agreed enthusiastically.

"Janette was just about to tell me all she knows about Methos," Triona declared.

"I suppose I was at that." She smiled mysteriously, looking at Triona. "I assume I'm outvoted on this particular subject, no?"

"This time,” Triona said.

The others gathered around Janette, waiting to hear her tale.

Let's see.... I first met him not long after I was brought across. I found him quite irresistible." Janette got a faraway look in her eyes. "You must understand, I was quite…insatiable, in those first days. And LaCroix was very indulgent of my appetites. He had never denied me anything, or anyone, until Methos. So of course, I wanted him more....

Janette watched her Master's guest from under hooded eyes as he and LaCroix sat at the table drinking. She found Methos incredibly fascinating -- there was something about him. Different from other mortals she had met. She could not quite put her finger on it. Whatever it was, she wanted it. It was just a matter of getting around LaCroix.

Her Master had noted her interest from the moment he had introduced Methos to her. She hadn't even had a chance to work her charms on him before he had pulled her aside.

"This one is not for you, ma petite," he said, running his fingers down her cheek. "You will leave him." It was not a request.

She pouted prettily. "Oh please, LaCroix, I promise I'll leave him alive if that's what you wish. But I do want him. Please?"

He chuckled in amusement. "No." He tapped her chin, looking at her sternly. "And I do mean no, Janette."

"Very well." She sighed. "I will leave him."

"No pouting. I expect you to be a charming hostess during his visit." LaCroix waited.

"I will do as you wish -- all of it," she agreed, forcing a smile.

And since then, Janette had played the part he had required of her; the charming hostess to LaCroix's captivating guest.  She moved to refill Methos' goblet with ale, brushing against him as she did so. He looked up at her, that knowing, smug smile on his face. She leaned across him to remove his plate, her breasts rubbing past him as she did so. She smiled to herself, knowing very well the affect she had on men, and more specifically, how she was affecting Methos.

"Janette," LaCroix's voice warned, startling her.

 Miffed, she withdrew, leaving the two men to their talk.

Then Janette had the opportunity she had waited for -- finally Methos was not in LaCroix's company. She moved to stand at his side, placing her hand on his well-muscled arm. "Alone at last. I never thought we would have the opportunity to get to know one another better," she purred.

Methos looked down at LaCroix's 'daughter', his eyes dancing with amusement. "Oh, I think we know each other quite well, Janette."

"We could know one another even better."  She ran her hand up his arm and across his chest, laying it against his heart. "So much better...."

As she tried to pull him to her for a kiss, he grabbed her hands. "You never struck me as foolish, child." At her look of confusion, he elaborated. "I know what Lucien's orders were on this subject. You would be truly foolish to disobey him. You're young -- but I'd think you had been with him long enough to know that."

She bridled at 'young'. "I'm old enough to know what I want!"

"Are you indeed?" he asked, an odd expression on his face. "Believe me, Janette, you are no where near old enough to know that."

She started to object, her planned seduction was not going as planned. This… this… mortal was treating her like a child. But she was interrupted by LaCroix's sudden reappearance. She shivered a little, realizing how angry he was going to be.

"Janette, what is going on?" LaCroix's voice rapped out in the darkness.

Methos took pity on LaCroix's lusty little fledgling. "My fault, Lucien. I'm afraid I quite monopolized Janette's time. Was I keeping her from something?" he asked, his voice oozing sincerity.

"Indeed?" LaCroix sounded doubtful.

"I'm afraid so. In fact, she was just going to get me some more of that excellent ale from supper." He smiled down on Janette, who still did not quite believe her good fortune. "Weren't you?" he asked quietly.

"Y…y…yes, I was," she replied, trying to keep her voice steady. She moved past her Master, towards the house. His hand on her arm stopped her.

"You wouldn't be… misleading me would you, Methos?" His eyes were amused.

"Me? Mislead? Now, Lucien, would I ever?" Methos tsked reprovingly.

"Have and would." LaCroix released her arm, giving her a little push towards the house. "But I shall overlook it," he paused meaningfully, "this time…."

"And that was the first time I ever encountered Methos." Janette looked at the women who sat around her, enrapt by her story. Lauren, however, looked disappointed. "Something wrong, Lauren?"

“That was it? You never, you know, had him?" she asked hopefully.

"Had him? Ah yes, I see." Janette fixed a look on Lauren who shrank back a little. "No, not that visit, or any other for that matter." She pouted prettily.  "Oh I did try, but Methos always had a reason: he was married -- and he was married a great deal. Or he didn't think the timing was right." She looked around. "To tell the truth, I've always suspected that he was uncomfortable with my being a vampire. He's not one to give control to another, no matter the temptation."

"I think he likes control even more than LaCroix, he just isn't as honest about it," Triona murmured, speaking more to herself than to the others.

The other women looked concerned. She was acting odd again, like she wasn't quite here. They had discussed it earlier and wondered if it was because she had been with LaCroix for so long. Were they all going to start changing like she was? Or had they already and hadn't even noticed? That thought actually scared them more when they allowed themselves to think about it. Would they even notice it in themselves? They had arrived together after all, and were probably changing at the same rate. They only noticed it in Triona because she had been there longer. They wondered if she realized? They were afraid to ask though, not wanting to upset her, and for more selfish reasons -- they didn't really want to know. Sometimes ignorance was bliss.

Triona suddenly smiled. "But then, he's a damn man after all. What do you expect?"

They laughed; pleased that whatever mood had gripped their friend seemed to have passed.

"So what shall we do?" asked Sarah.

Several suggestions were tossed out, none that any of them could agree on. They all fell silent when Janette spoke. "I have plans for your time here, starting now."

With that, the women began a whirlwind week on Mikonos. Janette kept them far too busy to even think about home -- or LaCroix. She was very generous with both her time and money, taking them on several shopping sprees over the course of their holiday. They probably single-handedly saved the economy of Greece that year.

Soon though, their week was at an end and it was time to return home.

Janette waited for them in the courtyard before they left. She took her leave of each one of them. "Lauren, continue to be the happy one. Goodness knows that someone in this family needs to be." She smiled at her warmly. "Terese, your irreverence is like a fine spice, to be used sparingly. Too much, and you become unappetizing." She kissed the bewildered woman on the cheek before moving on to Stephanie. "Remember, child, keep a tighter reign on your impetuous nature. At least till you can survive the consequences better," she advised, tapping her chin with one long finger. Moving to Sarah, she said, "My dear, I'm pleased I had a chance to get to know you better this week. I hope that one day, you and I both will have what we want from Nicolas." Finally she reached Triona, embracing her. "Ah, my friend. I wish I could protect you from yourself and from…other things. But since I can not, I can only remind you that I am always here for you, cherie. And should you ever decide to leave for good, I will protect you, no matter the cost."

Triona held Janette even tighter. "Come home soon, even if it's just nearer. I need you -- we need you." She finally forced herself to pull away, knowing she was just delaying the inevitable. "I'll miss you."

"And I you. But it's time, unless you have changed your mind?"

She shook her head. "No. No, I haven’t, Janette. I can't leave him. It's far too late for that now. It probably was too late that night at the Raven. Fate and all that." She smiled reassuringly. "I'll be fine, don't worry!"

Janette sighed; of course she would worry. "Call me when you are settled? And Triona…." She pulled her aside.

She looked at Janette, waiting.

"If you will take my counsel, I think you should tell LaCroix all when he returns home. You know it is the right thing to do."

"I know you're right, and I promise you I will think about it," she promised.

They embraced one last time before Triona joined her friends in the car. Soon, they were on their way home -- leaving Greece, and Janette, far behind.

The car wound its way down the country road to the estate. All of them were quiet, lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly, into the silence, Triona spoke. "When he gets back, I'm telling him."

Terese jerked awake from the half doze she was in. "No!" She glared at Triona. "You can't! Not if we don't agree."

"Like hell! I went along with this trip -- I never agreed to anything but that." She glared back. "I'm telling him. I will not suffer through days of fear and guilt, wondering if he knows, wondering if he’s just toying with us."

"There is no reason he will ever know, not if we keep quiet and don't panic!" Terese looked at the others for support, finding some, but not as much as she hoped.

"He always knows! You're in denial if you think he won't find out about this!"

Everyone started talking at once, arguing back and forth. Sarah whistled for silence. "Hey! We are all too tired to be discussing this now. Let's get back to the house, rest and then talk about it again."

Everyone nodded in agreement, in amongst glares.

"Okay, but I'm not changing my mind. I think Triona is right!" Lauren said truculently.

"Well, look at it this way: it won't matter. I'm sure he'll be home, waiting for us," Triona said grimly.

Lauren swallowed nervously, her eyes darting around the car at the others. Sarah was trying to look calm, Terese shifted uncomfortably and Stephanie looked worried.

Terese grumbled, "Knock it off. You're being depressing and your letting your imagination run away with you."

Further argument was forestalled by the car's arrival at the estate. They all tumbled out, grateful to get out of the cramped interior, stretching as the driver unloaded their bags.

Stephanie shook Lauren's shoulder, pointing at Triona who was leaning against the car. "She looks like she's gonna be sick."

"Yeah, she does. Jetlag probably."

"I don't know…." Stephanie moved over to where Triona stood. "What's wrong?" She wasn't sure she was going to like the answer.

"Can't you feel him, Steph? Lauren?" She looked past them to the house. She absently instructed the other two women, "You need to concentrate, and not think about it at the same time." She slowly walked towards the house, the others forgotten, stopping at the foot of the stairs. "He's furious."

The others had noticed at this point that all was not right. Since no answer was forthcoming from Triona, they asked Lauren and Stephanie what was going on.

"She says LaCroix is home," Lauren told the others. "She says she can feel him."

"She's doing it again! I don't. You don't." Terese indicated the others. "She's spooking is all. She has got to get a grip!"

"I don't think so," Stephanie said in a weak voice. Listening to Triona's instruction, she had reached out with her mind. "She's right, he is here. You'll feel it when we get closer."

Terese swallowed hard. She had to admit it now; he was there ahead of them. She had always resisted strengthening her mental abilities; it was bad enough to always feel his presence in her mind. She never understood why Triona tried so hard to make the bond stronger. Different strokes, she guessed. And Triona had been here the longest, so she supposed her link would be strongest. "Anything other than, 'he is here'?"

Stephanie's expression became pained, as she strained to feel. "You sure you want to know?" Her voice was a mere whisper. Terese nodded, wanting as much information as she could get. "He's pissed -- big time," she told them.

"We can't stand out here forever," Sarah told them.

"We can till sunset," Stephanie attempted to joke.

They all looked at each other, afraid to make the first move towards the house.

"We need to just get it over with," Sarah said.

"We could just leave, give him time to calm down? Phone him maybe?" Lauren looked at the others hopefully.

Triona turned to look at them, apparently she had heard everything in her trance. "It would only make it worse. Sarah is right, we need to deal with this now." She turned back to the house. "I'm going in now. You all can decide what you want to do." She picked up her suitcase and headed up the stairs.

After some hesitation, the others followed. They set their bags down in the foyer and removed their coats. Putting their things away, they joined Triona at the foot of the stairs. The house was silent, like it was waiting for the coming storm.

"What now, Triona?" Lauren asked.

The others looked at her expectantly.

"Why are you asking me?" She looked at them. "This trip was your idea. You tell me what you think we should do."  She looked at Terese.

"Whatever we decide to do, it will be the wrong thing I'm sure," Sarah said dispiritedly.

"May as well lock ourselves in the cellar and save him the trouble." Terese looked gloomy.

"How thoughtful, Terese. But I have other plans for you -- and the others,” LaCroix’s voice said from behind them in a low, menacing tone.

The women jumped, startled, turning to face him.

"I told you he would be here," Triona told the others in a tired voice.

"Indeed, my dear, and this displeases you?" He made no move to come closer. He merely glowered at them.

"No, LaCroix, quite the opposite. I'm relieved in fact, this makes it all so much easier." She schooled her expression to one of indifference. "Janette sends her best by the way. She says to tell you that she is happy, if not content." Triona looked him right in the eye, unwavering.

LaCroix's eyes glinted dangerously. "Is she?"

Sarah quickly interrupted, before Triona managed to get LaCroix even angrier. "General, Janette took very good care of us. We're sorry if we worried you by being gone when you arrived home, but it wasn't intentional. The opportunity arose and we kind of let it get the better of us I'm afraid." She tried to gauge his expression, but she couldn't tell what he was thinking.

"And what about the rest of you? I'm sure you all have excuses, and I'm sure you would like to share them." LaCroix looked at each of them in turn; none were able to hold his gaze for long.

They looked at each other, not sure what to say. Lauren screwed up her courage to speak. "No, no excuses. Triona made us promise that we wouldn't make any, and we all agreed." She looked meaningfully at the others, reminding them of their promise.

"So, you knew you were in the wrong, so much so that you planned your eventual confession ahead of time?" he asked coolly. "Fascinating. Would you care to tell me more?" He moved to stand in front of her, looming over her small form.

"Way to go, Lauren," Terese muttered under her breath.

"You have something to share, Terese?" He didn't even look at her, keeping his eyes on an increasingly nervous Lauren.

She shook her head. "No, sir, nothing."

"I thought not." LaCroix returned his attention to Lauren. "Now, my pet, what other plans did you make? Was leaving the letter your idea?" One long finger tilted her head up to meet his gaze.

She shook her head. "No, it wasn't. But I agreed that it was the right thing to do," she said hopefully.

"Did you?" His voice dropped to an icy whisper. "Tell me, while you were so worried about doing the right thing, did it ever occur to you that leaving was the wrong thing to do? Do you have any conception of how dangerous it is for you to leave here without my protection? You are 'marked' mortals!" Lauren started to tremble. "I see I was mistaken in believing you could be trusted during my absence."

She began to tremble in earnest. "I'm s…s…sorry."

"Leave her alone!" Stephanie told LaCroix. "Lauren was talked into this by the rest of us. She probably would have never gone except she didn't want to be here alone!" She was glaring at LaCroix, her blue eyes sparking in anger.

A collective gasp was heard as the other women listened to the young woman in shock. Triona tried to go to her, to get between her and LaCroix, but Sarah grabbed her before she could move. "Don't!" she hissed. "You're in enough trouble. She's an adult and you can't always protect her -- especially from herself!" She breathed a sigh of relief when Triona stopped, allowing Sarah to keep her at her side.

Faster than a cobra striking, LaCroix grabbed Stephanie by the arm and pulled her to him. "You will not speak to me in such a fashion, do you understand, young lady? If you have even an inkling of the trouble you are in at this moment, you will be silent!" His voice was like a whip, cracking in the silence of the foyer. "If I am looking for a ringleader, Lauren is the least likely choice. You, however, are another matter entirely." His hand tightened its grip on her arm, making her wince.

Stephanie's sense seemed to finally make a reappearance, as fright replaced bad temper in her eyes. She nodded, not daring to speak.

"You will go to your room. Now!"

This time, she made no argument, and beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of her room, leaving the others to deal with the angry vampire.

During LaCroix's encounter with Stephanie, Triona decided she had had enough. If he was going to punish them, then fine. But she wasn't going to stand here playing twenty questions. She had promised Janette a call, and a call she was going to make. She had almost reached the hall that led to her office when LaCroix's ordered her to stop.

"I didn't give you leave to go," he said dangerously.

She turned slowly, deliberately. "I don't recall your saying we had to stay either."  She could see the horrified looks of the others over his shoulder. "I have a call to make, to Janette, as I promised." LaCroix said nothing, so she turned to leave the room, only to be stopped by his hand on her shoulder, squeezing hard.

"It would appear you keep promises to some, my dear." His breath was cool against her face. His nearness after being so long apart was almost too much for her to bear. She shook herself mentally to regain some measure of control. "What is necessary for you to keep your promises to me I wonder?" One hand began to toy with her hair. "I intend to find that out this time, and you know I keep my promises." His fingers pulled sharply at her hair, making Triona hiss in pain. "It occurs to me that the others would have been unable to carry out their escapade without your help in procuring their documents. Am I correct?"

"Aren't you always?" She looked over her shoulder at him, knowing she was hanging by a thread. She thought he was going to break her shoulder for an instant, but just as suddenly, the hand was gone.

"Make your call, then I want you to confine yourself to your suite. I will deal with you in due time. Do you understand?"

"Of course." She was trying hard to control the desire that was threatening to overwhelm her. It frightened her; she didn't understand how it could be like this. It was as if she was craving a drug -- and it scared her. Enough that, for the moment, LaCroix's promise of retribution didn't affect her like it would usually. All she could think of was him drinking from her. She felt so unlike herself, almost detached from the room around her.

She wanted to seek LaCroix's reassurance that it was all right, but she had wrecked any chance of doing that, at least in the near future. She had to regain control before she threw herself at him like a madwoman. His voice brought her back to the present.

"Now!" he commanded her, when she didn't leave right away. LaCroix was growing ever more angry, he would not allow continued disobedience.

She whirled, eyes blazing. She felt an inexplicable rage seize her, but was unable to do anything about it. It was like being a bystander in her own mind. In horror she watched herself raise her hand to strike LaCroix. Of course the blow never connected as he grasped her wrist mid-strike. Within seconds she was on her knees, her arm still in his hard grasp.

He never took his eyes off her as he addressed the remaining women. "All of you will go to your quarters until I am ready to deal with you." His voice was heavy with anger. "If any of you disobey me I will not be responsible for the consequences." He felt their hesitation behind him, their worry for Triona warring with their fear of him.

"General…." Lauren began to plead, greatly daring. She was scared but concern for her sister overcame her fear for herself.

LaCroix snapped his head around to glare at them, his eyes tinged with gold. "You try my patience," he growled. "You will do as I say."

Lauren could never remember seeing LaCroix so angry, she honestly feared for Triona's life this time. It was all so weird, why was Triona acting like she was? Surely LaCroix could see something was wrong? "LaCroix, please, she isn't well, she's been, well, odd, for days.

The others nodded in agreement. "You must see that," Sarah pleaded. "No matter how angry you are at us, at her, you know in your heart that this isn't right!"

Through it all Triona never reacted. Her eyes were closed and her complexion gray. Sarah could barely see her breathing.

LaCroix looked down at the woman at his feet; the emotions he felt from her were a tangled mass he was unable to decipher. He looked back at the women. "Not that it is any concern of yours, especially now, but I have no intention of permanently damaging her. Now, you will leave us, and you will do it now!"

Terese tugged at Lauren and Sarah. "Come on you two, we're just making it worse."

The others allowed her to pull them away, leaving Triona and LaCroix alone in the foyer.

He released her wrist, and it dropped to her side, but she made no reaction. The edges of an idea tickled at LaCroix's mind, it was something he remembered hearing a long time ago. Could this explain her almost suicidal behavior, as if she wanted him to lose control? If what he suspected were true, it would change the whole complexion of his relationship with the women in his keeping. He reached one hand down to her throat, running one finger lightly over the soft skin. Her reaction was almost instantaneous, her body shuddering, a small moan escaping her lips.

"Triona, look at me."

She slowly opened her eyes, glazed and unfocused. She licked her lips, taking short, thready breaths.  He pulled her to her feet, wondering. She seemed to be in a trance, though he had done nothing to precipitate such a state. He touched her throat once more -- again she reacted, this time, almost sobbing.

"Fascinating," he said softly. Now the question was what to do about it? What would happen if he left her like this? Would she degenerate? Or would she remain like she was? The myths, or what he had thought were myths, were sketchy at best. No, he decided, a test of the long term would come later. For now, he wanted her aware. She would not escape consequences that easily, he thought grimly.

Carrying her to her room, LaCroix laid her on the bed and considered as she whimpered when he let go of her. The tangle of emotion he had felt earlier now had coalesced into one driving force -- need. It poured off of her in waves like heat from a fire. He felt himself being drawn in, startling him.  This was unexpected. Apparently this… addiction, affected both master and creation. It would require more research, but later. For now, he would content himself with seeing how quickly she recovered.

There were also the others to consider. None of them were exhibiting the same behavior. He thought back, how long had it been? More than two years since he had first met her in Janette's apartment at the Raven and had drunk from her, claiming her for himself. Much more time for her to change, to become some sort of hybrid creature. He loved a puzzle, and this would prove to be an endlessly fascinating one.

And what of her encounter with Divia? LaCroix had not allowed himself to dwell on what had happened to Triona that night, wanting to put all thoughts of his daughter’s return firmly away. In the aftermath, he’d done what he could to make Triona forget, but that wouldn’t affect any physical changes that might have occurred.

He sat on the bed gathering her to him, so she was leaning against his chest. As he pulled her hair away, exposing her throat, he felt her tremble beneath his hands, and it thrilled him. His fangs descended almost instantly as he impatiently tugged her head to the side with one firm hand. Inhaling her scent, he scraped his fangs along the line of her throat, wanting to revel in her reaction before sinking them into her flesh.

He was not disappointed. At the feel of fangs at her neck, Triona shuddered violently, moaning deep in her throat. LaCroix felt a wash of desire from her, almost orgasmic in its intensity. It was enough -- he plunged his fangs deep in her throat, Triona making a strangled scream, then falling silent. He drank deep of her familiar blood, taking in the new nuances that had manifested since last they had been together. He felt the driving need in her slowly fade away, and sensed her returning to a more normal state. Not wanting her to take days to recover, he withdrew from her. He had other plans for her after all.

She paced the length of her room in agitation, furious at having been locked in like a child. It had been almost twenty-four hours since she had woken up in her bed, not really sure how she had gotten there. Only the fresh bite marks at her throat gave her any clue as to what had happened. She remembered coming home, remembered being angry, then… nothing.

The sound of a key in the lock stopped her in her tracks. It was LaCroix -- she knew that.  Triona pushed back the fear with the anger she felt at her imprisonment. Defiant, she backed against the wall, feeling some small measure of comfort with the stones of the wall against her back.

"I'm glad to see that you are recovered and aware," LaCroix commented as he entered the room.

"How could you leave me locked up, alone, all this time?" she demanded angrily, all thoughts of self-preservation seeming to have vanished. Some small part of her wondered at her foolhardiness, but it soon vanished in her mounting fury.

His eyes snapped dangerously. "Obviously I didn't leave you locked up long enough! Than can be remedied, my dear. Perhaps a few more days will give you ample time to consider the error of your ways and make you suitably contrite."

"No! I won't be treated like a… a criminal! You have no right!" she almost shouted, rage coming unbidden from somewhere deep inside her.

One long stride and he was towering over her. "You forget yourself, my pet," he said, his voice icy. "You are mine to do with as I please." Hard fingers gripped her chin, forcing her to look at him.  "I came here tonight expecting you to seek my forgiveness. Not only do I find you totally unrepentant, I find you insolent and defiant!"

"Because I'm not sorry! I'm not!" Once again, she had the sensation of being a bystander in her own mind. She was horrified at the words she heard tumble from her lips, but seemed unable to stop. "I'm sick and tired of being treated like a prized horse or a simple minded child! I have a right to my own life, damn you! Do you hear me? Do you?" she demanded, each syllable rising in pitch.

She could feel the scorch of his fury through their link, but instead of snapping her out of her own rage, it merely seemed to feed it. She knew she should be terrified, but all she felt was the searing heat of their combined anger

"Prized horse?" His hand snaked out to grasp the back of her neck, pulling her closer. "An apt analogy, my dear Triona, since I obviously failed in breaking you." Lowering his head, he hissed into her ear, "A failure I intend to remedy."

Before she could react to the threat in his last words, he struck, biting into her throat with no preparation. Too shocked by the unexpected assault, she didn't even scream as the pain rippled across her senses like slivers of ice cutting into every nerve ending. In all the time they had been together, he had never fed from as if she were nothing more than prey. The torment that washed over her was as much of the soul as the body.

She collapsed against him, her legs no longer able to bear her weight as he drained away her blood. He pulled his fangs from her flesh, his breath cold against the damp trail her tears had left down her face. She was dimly aware of the feel of his tongue as he licked away the droplets of blood that seeped from the fresh wounds and his whispered words -- or maybe his thoughts -- as she fell into blessed blackness, "Mine, always. Forever…."

Lauren tentatively knocked on Triona's bedroom door. Getting no answer, she quietly opened it, peering into the dark room. She didn't want to be here, but LaCroix had summoned her to his study and ordered her to go and get Triona and bring her to her office. He didn't care what condition she found her in; she was to do as she was told.

She shivered, remembering. His eyes had been frightening in their coldness, his voice as menacing as Lauren had ever heard it. Whatever had happened between LaCroix and Triona, he was still more than displeased with her. So she had made her way to Triona's suite, hating being in-between the two of them. Hating to be the vehicle for further unpleasantness for her friend, even though it was against Lauren's wishes.

She saw that Triona was asleep on her bed, laying crossways, her head buried in her arm.  As she drew closer, she realized that Triona was only partially covered with the throw from the end of the bed. It was as if she had started to cover herself and then fallen asleep before she could finish. She started to pull the cover more thoroughly over her -- she was so pale, and her breath was so faint. As she pulled it over her shoulders, Lauren saw the fresh wounds at Triona's throat -- two sets.

No wonder she isn't stirring, Lauren thought. The wounds were new; it would be hours and hours before she awoke by herself. How could LaCroix expect Lauren to rouse her? Frowning, she remembered how insistent he had been on that point. 'No matter what condition,' she could hear his voice saying. She realized with a sinking feeling, that LaCroix knew exactly how she would find Triona: totally incapacitated by blood loss. Her stomach clenched, realizing just how angry he really was. This was a warning, one that could not have been more effective if he had told Lauren to her face what had happened here.

Knowing that delaying wasn't going to make this easier on either of them, and that in LaCroix's present mood, he was liable to blame Triona for delaying in responding to his summons, she tried to wake her friend.

"Triona," she called softly. "Triona," she called a little louder this time as she gently shook her shoulder. It took several minutes of this before she even stirred. "Triona, please!" Lauren pleaded. "You have to wake up!" She began to despair of waking her in her present state, and the thought of what LaCroix might do to bring her around….

She suddenly had an idea, maybe the bond they shared? If Lauren could do it, maybe she could impart some of her urgency mentally. She stroked Triona's arm softly and thought of what she needed to tell her. She wasn't sure if it was wishful thinking on her part, but she thought she felt a response. She heard a small moan, and shook her a little harder. "Triona!"

"Lauren?" Her voice was so quiet as to be almost inaudible.

"Yes, it's me. Please, Triona, you need to wake up."

"So tired…."

"I know, I know. But you have to, I'm sorry." Lauren tried not to cry. "LaCroix sent me to get you. He won't allow you not to obey." Her voice was tight with barely controlled emotion.

Triona stiffened at mention of LaCroix's name. "What does he want?" she asked in a voice void of feeling, closing her eyes.

"I... I don't know. Just that you are to meet him in your office." She twisted her hands nervously. "He was very insistent."

"He would be," she stated in the same dead voice. She opened her eyes; they were dark and bruised. "I need help. I'm so weak."

Lauren took the hand that Triona held out to her, helping her to her feet and steadying her, feeling her almost fall as she stood.

"Can't," she said, collapsing back onto the bed. "I'm very thirsty."

Lauren got her a glass of water, helping her to steady the glass as she drank. After nearly half an hour she was able to keep Triona on her feet without fainting. Another half-hour had her showered and dressed. She then led her down the two flights of stairs to the main floor and across the long foyer to her office. With a tight hug, she left her at the door.

Triona took a moment to collect herself before taking a deep breath and entering her office. LaCroix was seated behind her desk, looking over computer reports. He ignored her presence as she stood behind a chair, using the back for support. She concentrated on the painting on the wall behind him, not letting herself remember what had happened last night. Or remember the confusion of intense feeling that rushed over her when she did think about it. Fear, desire, hate, love, all wrapped up in one warped web of emotion.

When he finally looked at her, his ice blue eyes raking over her, a wave of heat flooded her middle and a blast of cold fear burned across her nerve endings. Her fingers tightened over the edge of the chair, its heavy wood frame taking her weight as she leaned against it for support. Already, she could feel her chest tightening, her breathing quickening, as his gaze pierced through her meager defenses. It was all she could do to remain standing.

LaCroix leaned back in the chair, just watching her with hard eyes. One long fingered hand toyed absently with the scissors lying on the desk. Finally, just as she thought she would scream into the deafening silence, he spoke.

"I can't say I'm impressed with your sense of urgency. I sent for you over an hour ago," he stated. "Obviously my decision as to your future comes not a moment too soon."

She remained silent. She knew he wasn't interested in why she had taken so long -- he knew very well why. The reasons weren't important, only that she had failed; again. Briefly, she wondered what he meant by 'her future', but knew he would tell her in his own time; and relish her uncertainty at what he meant in the meantime.

"So quiet, my pet," he commented scathingly, making the familiar endearment sound degrading.

"There's nothing to say. Is there?" she asked, fighting to keep her voice steady and uncaring.

His lips tightened in reaction to her attitude. Obviously, he hadn't made enough of an impression the night before. That could be remedied, he thought grimly. He fought hard to put a reign on his temper, her intractability infuriating him. Did the woman purposely attempt to enrage him? Had she truly lost all sense?

"Au contraire. There is a great deal to be said -- by me. And you will listen," his voice became a silky menace, "as if your life depended on it."

"It always does," she ground out.

"Something you seem to have forgotten!" he snapped.

"Believe me, LaCroix, I never forget that!" Her voice rose and a wave of dizziness washed over her.

He slammed his hand down on the desk, making her jump. "Be Silent!" He took a deep breath, calming himself. This was getting out of hand; he could feel himself losing control. He could smell her blood, the heat of her anger amplifying her bloodscent. The aroma of sandalwood and raspberries luring the vampire he was trying so hard to contain.

Triona gripped the chair so hard her knuckles were white. She wanted to scream and rage at him. But some last shred of self-preservation prevented her. She settled for holding her head high and just looking at him.

"Come here," he commanded.

She pushed herself away from the chair, hoping she didn't collapse. She couldn't bear the thought of showing weakness in front of him. Coming to stand in front of the desk, she was grateful for yet another heavy piece of furniture to lean against. Her thoughts skittered over memories of previous encounters, her mouth getting dry, and her heart speeding up, before she pushed the memories firmly away to a little corner of her mind. To remember those would lead to remembering other, more unpleasant memories.

With no preamble, he began to speak. "I am gravely disappointed in you, Triona. I have entrusted you with this estate, my business dealings, my very existence as a vampire." He steepled his fingers in front of his face, his voice stern. "You abused that trust, betrayed it, when you opened the safe and gave the others their papers, even knowing the danger. You knew you were wrong the moment you acted, and yet you did it anyway." He paused, looking at her. "Do you deny it?"

She shook her head. "No. I knew exactly what I was doing, and I did it anyway." She clenched her hands into fists. "Is that what you wanted to hear? Is it?" she asked, shaking.

"No! What I want to hear is some indication of remorse!" he replied, his voice edged with fury. "But I hear none! I sense none! You are completely unrepentant, your attitude bordering on insolent. I will not allow it to stand!" LaCroix's voice bit into her as he continued, "Since you have demonstrated that you are unable to be trusted, that you are incapable of handling the responsibilities that I have given you, I am relieving you of those responsibilities."

She stiffened has the import of what he was saying sunk in. You should have seen this coming! she told herself angrily. The one thing that kept her pride intact, that allowed her some modicum of self-respect, and he was taking it from her. Realizing he was still speaking, she dragged her thoughts back to the room around her.

"You will be relegated to something more suited to your talents -- something merely," he paused, a cruel smile touching his lips, "decorative."

A knock was heard, and Baker entered. "You called, sir?"

"Yes, Baker. Please inform the staff that Miss Triona is no longer in any position of authority. You will, of course, continue to treat her with respect. But she will have no voice in how this household is run." LaCroix kept one eye on Triona as he pronounced her humiliation to the butler. She turned another shade of gray, but made no other reaction. "Is that understood?"

Baker looked from his Master to the young woman who had been his mistress until a few moments ago. He sighed inwardly; he had been fond of her from the moment she had moved here. But Baker was loyal to LaCroix, and would not let his personal feelings interfere with that. His family had served LaCroix for five generations, a life debt owed by LaCroix to Baker's ancestor for saving the life of his vampire master. His family had served ever since, trusted and honor bound one to the other.

"Completely, sir." Baker nodded to LaCroix. "Will there be anything else?"

"No, nothing else. You may go."

Baker bowed slightly, before leaving the two alone once more.

Triona felt as if she were going to faint. She closed her eyes; it was all too much. Her humiliation was total. As he intended, a little voice whispered in her head. Nothing mattered now; she didn't care -- couldn't care -- anymore.

"May I go now?" she asked, not caring about her tone. She just wanted to escape the suffocation of his will, heavy against her spirit.

"No, you may not." He leaned towards her. "One thing yet remains." He leaned back again in the chair, watching her. "Your keys, give them to me," he demanded.

She reached in her pocket, pulling out the large ring of keys. She just looked at them, laying there in her hand, much more than just keys. They represented her life as it had become, the possession of the ancient vampire that watched her. Just like the rooms and things that the keys opened.

"Triona," LaCroix said, a warning at her delay.

Clutching the keys in her hand, she looked at LaCroix, wanting nothing more than to hurl them at him. She knew it was suicidal, but the last few days had seen the last of her instinct for self-preservation, along with the last of her will and pride, flee for parts unknown.

As she battled with herself, LaCroix became impatient with her continued defiance. "Triona!" he said sharply, once more slamming his hand down on the desk.

She snapped at that moment. "Damn you!" she shouted, hurling the keys at him with all her strength.

A strangled sob escaped her, as in an eye blink, LaCroix was beside her, his strong fingers gripping the back of her neck. He could smell blood -- her blood -- in the air. He realized it came from her hands, where her nails had pierced her palms, so tight were the fists she had twisted her hands into.

With a roar, he pulled her up hard against him, his control shattered by fury and lust. He ripped her blouse, tearing it away, baring her throat. With a sharp motion, he pulled her head to the side, drawing his fangs down the line of her throat, leaving a long trail of blood in their wake. He plunged his fangs into her throat as she screamed and clutched at the hands holding her. Her body trembled in reaction as his mind grasped hers, as her blood was pulled from her into his hungry mouth.

LaCroix felt all control leave him, he knew he was going to kill her this time. And so did she. From somewhere, he gathered the strength to pull away, before it was too late. Furious, frustrated, he growled, pushing her away from him. She collapsed on the floor at his feet, silently sobbing.

"Mark me well, Triona," he ground out. "I don't want to see you, do you understand? You are to stay in your room, unless I summon you." He had to get away from her, and soon. "Do you?" he shouted.

"Y… yes," she whispered brokenly.

LaCroix spun around, escaping the office, almost knocking Nicholas down as he did so.

"LaCroix!" Nick exclaimed, stunned at the force of violent emotion that poured from his Master. What was going on?

"NO!" LaCroix bellowed, as Nick tried to detain him with questions. "Out of my way, Nicholas. Now!" He pushed past Nick and was gone; leaving him standing stunned in the hallway.

What was going on? Nick wondered. He had been sitting, watching Sarah sleep, when he had felt the sting of his Master's anger through their bond. So intense was the feeling that he had felt compelled to seek LaCroix out.

He paused in the doorway, hearing a mortal heart beating wildly and gasping breaths mingled with sobs. He moved farther into the room, quickly finding the object of his search. Dropping to his knees next to Triona, he reached for her. She shied away from him, her eyes full of mistrust.

"It's okay, I promise, I'm not going to hurt you. Not this time and not ever again. You have my word. Please let me help you." He took in the torn clothing, the blood on her throat, and added it to what he had felt from LaCroix. "You two not seeing eye to eye again I see," he commented dryly.

She looked at him, and laughed a little. "How perceptive, Detective."

She felt consciousness beginning to slip away, and fought to remain aware. I've lost too much blood. Need to sleep….

"What happened?"

She focused on Nick's voice, fighting back the seductive darkness that beckoned to her. "I lost," she said, her voice barely audible in its exhaustion.

Nick sighed in frustration at the sarcastic note in her voice. "You won't give in will you?" His eyes caught hers; intense and seeking an answer to what made her so incredibly loyal and stubborn.

She knew he didn't just mean about answering his questions. "When you do." She met his gaze squarely, a wealth of emotion in her eyes.

For one brief moment, they connected on some intangible level. Then it was gone, as her traumatized body and mind finally gave in, sagging into Nick's arms as she drifted into unconsciousness.

He scooped her up easily, carrying her back to her bedroom and laying her on the bed. He watched her for a moment, pulling her hair away from her face. He could smell the blood that seeped from the wound at her throat. Fighting the temptation, his fingers hovered over the moist trail that ran down her throat. Finally, curiosity got the better of him. He dipped one finger into the blood and brought it to his lips, licking it off, savoring it.

Not surprisingly, fear was the uppermost emotion. What was surprising was the source of the fear. Narrowing his eyes, he tried to capture the fleeting wisp, but he needed more. He lowered his head to the long scratch across her throat, licking away the seeping blood. This will help it heal, Nick told himself, trying to justify this…violation to himself. He let the images, the feelings, float past. Yes, there it was again: fear. But fear of what? Not LaCroix. That, as hard as Nick found it to believe was not what she feared. What she was afraid of was herself. It was impossible to pin down what exactly it was that made her afraid -- the jumble of thoughts and feelings was far too intense and tangled -- only that she was.

He pulled the covers over her and went in search of one of the other women to see to her. He had all the answers he was going to get for now. The problem was, it left him with even more questions. Nick sighed, and quietly shut the door.

A week passed then two, and a third. The extra work had been divided amongst the other women and Baker. LaCroix's attorney had taken care of farming out his various business interests to accountants and the like.

The women crept around the estate, doing their best to avoid LaCroix, and Triona did her best to avoid them. She had withdrawn totally, always in her room, and not encouraging company. The others tried -- at first -- but they didn't know what to do for her. She seemed so uncomfortable in their presence that they finally left her alone.

And the days passed….

Triona stared vacantly out her window. All she did these days was sit or sleep. It seemed she was always too deathly tired to do anything else. She wondered at what her life had become. Where had it all gone so terribly wrong? How far back did she have to go? Was it moving to Toronto? Or was it later choices? What does it matter? Might have beens can never be.

The last three weeks had been a waking nightmare. Determined it seemed to keep her docile, LaCroix never let her get her strength back. He methodically sipped from her every few days, never letting her body recoup its losses. If keeping her tractable was his goal, he had succeeded admirably. She barely had the will to get out of bed each day, let alone rebel.

Sometimes, he merely drank from her. Running his mouth down her throat or arm; grasping her mind in his. Taking her blood and her soul with each sip. Other times he would take her body as well as her blood, and she welcomed it. Welcomed the sensations, the feel of his body against hers. Welcomed the ability to forget, for even a little while. Her whole world now revolved around these brief appearances in her life. Drowning in the feeling of his fangs against her skin, the touch of his cool flesh.

Triona felt nothing else anymore. All feeling, all emotion, bled from her as surely as her blood had been. The only time she felt alive was when he was with her, no matter how brief the moment, how fleeting the sensation. It was all she had of him, of her family, of her former life. She held on to each opportunity to feel those dear parts of her past life, no matter the cost to her soul.

Gone were the times of simple home life. No more chess games by the fire, no more to hear his intoxicating voice reading to her from a favored book, no more walks to the lake shore under the moon's cool light. She felt a tear run down her face. So much lost, and far too late to regain any of it. It had all disappeared like a mirage, with her trapped in this desert of emptiness, and nothing to sustain her against the ravages of LaCroix's anger.

She was so tired. Why fight it? Closing her eyes, she sought the refuge of sleep.

LaCroix found her still asleep, curled in the large chair that sat by the window. Dusk had fallen, the dark light highlighting the hollow planes of her face, the pallor of her complexion, in its shift from day's end, to night's beginning. One small hand was out-flung; the other curled into the hollow of her throat, clenched tight.

He sat on the edge of the window seat, watching her, deep in thought. This situation had gotten out of control. Neither of them bending, both too proud -- too stubborn. All she had to do, all he had expected her to do was apologize, to ask his pardon, to seek an end to this latest strife.

But she didn't, and every time she resisted his will, he found himself angry all over again. No, not angry, infuriated. Her fury at him more than evident in her blood, and that same fury twining with his -- an unbreakable circle of anger and regret.

He reached to her, taking her small hand in his large one, engulfing it in a delicate grip. He rubbed his thumb, feather light over the inside of her wrist, feeling the pulse of her blood just under pale, warm skin.

She stirred almost imperceptibly, but didn't waken. He sat and held her hand as the light of dusk gave way to full night.

She dreamt, all her thoughts of paths chosen leading to that one moment when her fate had been sealed….

Triona searched through the newspaper, finally finding the article she had wanted. Hearing the door, she headed back to the living room, waving the newspaper as she entered.

"Janette, I found it! Now...." she broke off abruptly, coming to a dead halt as she realized Janette wasn't who had entered the apartment.

A tall, patrician man turned at her enthusiastic entrance, his ice blue eyes running over her from head to toe and back again.

She felt her heart miss a beat at the intense scrutiny, then speed up as his eyes lingered on her, a small smile curving full lips. His very presence seemed to overpower the room, leaving her breathless.

"I… I'm sorry, I thought you were Janette," she said, trying not to sound as nervous as she suddenly felt. "She should be back any minute, if you'd like to wait," she offered, waving a hand towards the sofa.

"And who might you be? I so seldom have a chance to meet Janette's friends."  The velvet voice caressed her senses, even more sensual than it was on the radio.

"I work here,” she told him. “I manage the business that needs to be done during the day, so Janette can concentrate on the club during business hours. I've been working here a few months," she added.

As he moved closer, she fought back a frission of fear, holding her ground. He seemed amused at her attempt to show no fear.

"And do you have a name, child?"

She swallowed her mouth suddenly dry. "Triona."

"Triona," his voice said her name almost like a caress, with the same French inflection that Janette used.

"And you are Lucien LaCroix," she said, greatly daring. At his questioning look, she added, "I recognize you from the picture." She nodded towards the shelf that held the 'family photo'. "And from your voice on the radio," she admitted, eyes dropping, suddenly overwhelmed by shyness.

"Indeed?" LaCroix's hand took hers, lifting it to his lips. "A pleasure to meet you, Triona." His lips brushed the back of her hand, sending a jolt of electricity through her body. "A very great pleasure indeed," he murmured."

Suddenly, she felt like she couldn't breathe. One long finger caught the edge of her chin, tilting it up to meet his gaze. Once their eyes met, she was undone. The newspaper in her hand dropped, forgotten at her feet as his finger ran down the line of her throat, coming to rest against her now hammering pulse.

"Exquisite," he breathed, his fingers caressing the place where her life's blood flowed most vigorously, breathing deep as if trying to catch some elusive scent.

He drew her closer. Startled, she realized that his other hand had come to rest on her hip. A not unpleasant combination of desire mixed with fear coursed through her body. She knew what LaCroix was, knew how deadly he could be. She should protest, pull away, Janette would be here soon -- but she didn't. Instead, as his hand slid around to rest against her back, she closed her eyes. She felt the coolness of his large, firm hand through the thin fabric of her skirt.

The hand pulled her against him. Softness, hardness, warmth, coolness.  She made a little whimper as the hand at her throat moved behind her head, cradling it as his lips brushed down the sensitive skin of her throat. She struggled a little as he drew her to him more firmly, both mentally and physically -- some instinctive flight or fight trigger taking over in the presence of a predator.

"Shhhhhh," his voice whispered, soothing her. "You're quite safe, child. I won't harm you -- quite the opposite is my intention."

His fingers ran through her hair, gently massaging her head. She sighed relaxing into his touch. Though she was still frightened, she believed him for some bizarre reason, believed that he wouldn't kill her.

"Yes, that's it. Relax; let the sensations take you. Don't fight them; don't fight me." His voice washed over her, holding her in its silky embrace. "I will take you to heights that a mortal can only imagine in their darkest dreams. You need only give yourself to me, and I will fulfill your every desire."

The voice seeped into her thoughts, weaving a tapestry of what might be, of what could be. If only she would listen. Instinct battled with desire, she knew he could be her death. But she also knew that what he promised could be hers. Her body screamed for him, her mind railed against the insanity of what was happening.

She felt the brush of his breath against her temple, followed by the touch of cool lips, then at her jaw, her neck, the hollow of her throat. He pulled slightly away from her, taking in the bare expanse of her skin that was revealed by the square neck of her shirt. Her eyes, dark with need, ensnared his in their hungry perusal. Of her own accord, she tilted her head to the side, exposing her throat to him.

"Yesssss," he whispered.

Her hands grasped his broad shoulders as his mouth found her throat once more. She whimpered as she felt the scrape of his fangs against her flesh. His hand in her hair pulled her head more to the side as his lips and fangs sought the perfect spot. Finding it, he circled his tongue over her pulse, making her moan as fire sparked over her body at the touch.

Triona's fingers clutched convulsively as his fangs sank into her throat, screaming a little at a pain that was quickly replaced by overwhelming pleasure. Mind and body assaulted by fragments of thought and feeling. She thought she would lose herself in the maelstrom of intense emotion, lose herself in LaCroix's personality overcoming hers.

Then she felt him there with her, holding her, reassuring her, leading her back to herself. She allowed him to take hold of her essence and make it part of him, to make him a part of her. A bond of blood and spirit, freely given -- a bond never to be broken, except in death.

He continued to drink from her, until he felt her go limp in his arms, felt her heart begin to slow. Pulling his fangs from her, he gently sucked at the wounds they had left. That was how Janette found them, as she stood transfixed in the doorway, not believing what she was seeing.

Triona only ever remembered what happened next in her dreams, always wondering if it was her semi-conscious mind remembering what her aware mind didn't, or if she had drawn the knowledge from LaCroix's blood.

"LaCroix!" Janette exclaimed in disbelief and horror. "What have you done? She was mine!" She slammed the door closed behind her, advancing into the room.

LaCroix looked unconcerned at his daughter's fury as he carried Triona into Janette's bedroom.

"What is yours is, of course, mine, ma petite." He laid his burden on the bed, smoothing her hair away from her face in a graceful gesture. "As you are mine." He looked at Janette, a note of warning in his voice. "You did not claim her, Janette. Surely you must have realized how intriguing I would find her, no?"

"I wanted her to come to me of her own accord, " she protested, glaring at her Master. "And she would have, I know this." Janette crossed her arms tight around herself. "Now I have lost her." She turned her head, not wanting LaCroix to see the pain in her eyes. "You took her from me."

"She is still a part of you, through me, " LaCroix stated logically.

"Not by her choice!"

"She chose freely."

"How can you say that? How could she ever choose freely in your presence?" She looked at him once more, eyes blazing. "She never had a chance, and well you know it!" Shouting, she pushed passed LaCroix to sit on the edge of the bed.

"I will excuse your tone, Janette -- this time. Obviously you are overwrought." He looked at her sternly. "Since you doubt that Triona chose freely, I will make you a proposal."

She looked up in interest; curious as to what her Master had in mind.

"I will not approach her again. I will let her come to me -- and she will, I have no doubt," he said, completely self-assured. "You will do nothing to dissuade her," he warned. "And I will do nothing to encourage her. Her choice, freely given. Agreed?"

"You won't contact her? If she doesn't come to you, you will leave her alone?" His daughter looked suspicious.

"If she does not come to me, she is yours, ma petite."

"Very well. Agreed. Her choice, whatever that might be."

Janette held out her hand, LaCroix took it in a firm handshake.

"Whatever it may be, " he agreed....

Triona stirred again, obviously dreaming. LaCroix wondered what it was she dreamt about? For some reason he found his memories drawn to their beginning. Appropriate, he supposed, when this might be their end. That first taste of her blood, his agreement with Janette, the night she sought him out at CERK.

He smiled, remembering that night. It had taken almost two weeks -- always so stubborn -- but she had sought him out....

"So, gentle listeners, here we are once more. Alone in the night, only the Nightcrawler to keep you in his care."  He turned off the microphone, cueing the next piece of music.

He felt her then. Looking up at the glass that separated his booth from the hall outside, he saw her standing there, the dim colored lights of the studio casting her features in odd shadows.

He wasn't really surprised, he knew she would come. There was of course the possibility, however remote, that she might not. She was, after all, a resistor and had a willful, stubborn nature. But he knew what he had tasted in her blood, what he had felt in her spirit. All those things told him that she was meant for him and he for her

It had been many a year since he had brought across someone to be 'family'. Oh, he had brought across others because it suited his purposes at the time. But not since Nicholas had he chosen someone to be a part of his family. But not quite yet, all would come in good time. It had also been many an age since he had taken a mortal paramour. It could be quite troublesome at times, but it could also be very rewarding to the vampire with enough control and finesse to handle it.

He had felt that indescribable something when he had first laid eyes on her at the Raven. He had observed Triona, unbeknownst to her, for several weeks before that first meeting in Janette's apartment. He had been pleased at her strong sense of self. There was always the chance that her mind would be unable to handle the trauma of that first feeding. Many didn’t, their minds fleeing from the force of emotion that assaulted them -- cracking under the onslaught of the vampire's personality over theirs.  But she had survived, more than that; she had reveled in it, sharing herself with him in a way that he rarely experienced.

He looked at her through the glass, smiling in satisfaction. No, there never really had been any doubt.  He beckoned at her to enter. She paused uncertainly, as if making a last attempt to change her mind. Finally, she entered the booth, coming to stand before him.

He could feel her internal struggle, but remained silent, giving her time to come to terms with why she had come here, having all the patience in the world when it came to getting what he wanted. It was important that she make the first move -- no recriminations later, from her or Janette.

Her quiet voice broke the silence, "I... I tried… not to come here." She didn't quite look at him.

"And yet, here you are," he commented softly.

"Here I am," she agreed, looking lost. "And I have no idea why." She looked at him directly for the first time. "Not really. If I had any sense I'd have left Toronto."

"And you always do the sensible thing, don't you." It wasn't really a question. "Always dependable, always the *good* one." He came around to sit on the edge of the board in front of her. "And yet, you find yourself here tonight, despite all that."

Triona nodded, her hand reaching towards him tentatively, pulling back as she realized what she was doing. He grasped the hand gently in his, pressing his cool lips against it. He felt her tremble in his grasp, heard her heart fluttering like a small, trapped animal. She didn't resist as he drew her closer.

"What do you want of me?" Her eyes were wide, full of indecision.

LaCroix ran his knuckles lightly down her pale cheek. "Only what you wish to give me, child." His voice lulled her, and her heart stopped racing so. "Your heart, you soul, all that you are -- all that you ever will be."

Closing her eyes, she leaned into his touch, drowning in his velvet voice.  She uttered a small sigh, more akin to a sob, as his lips brushed hers, the touch as delicate and cool as a snowflake melting upon the warmth of her lips.

"Tell me why you are here," the voice asked, a whisper that hung in the silence.

He held her there against him. His arm around her firm, yet not enough to make her feel trapped. She could pull away, if she chose to. Instead, she leaned against him, needing the reassurance of his touch.

LaCroix waited for her answer, one hand splayed across the small of her back, his long, delicate fingers lying along the curve of her ribs. The other cupping her jaw, fingers entangled in her hair.

"Why, Triona?" he asked once more, bringing her back from whatever place her thoughts had wandered to.

Her head fell back in his hand, and she looked at him with an intensity that stirred him.

"I came for you," she said in a voice barely audible. "For the promise you made to me." She placed her hand over his, entwining her fingers with his against her face. "For what can be…."

LaCroix sighed, remembering. It had started with such promise, he thought, watching her sleep. What had changed? Every emotion between them seemed so fierce, brutal. It hadn't always been like this, not in the beginning. Yes, they had had battles, wars even, but they flared up and were soon over. This time, it was different.  She had changed, he had changed, and some instinct told him that the changes were linked.

He recalled the incident, on the women's return from Greece, in the foyer. When Triona had tried to attack him in a blind rage. He remembered what he had felt from her, what he had tasted in her blood: mindless need. And remembered how he had felt himself drawn into that vortex of inexorable hunger.

Now, as she slept, he could consider all this quite rationally. But the moment she woke, the cycle started anew. Her rage blasting at him no matter how weak she was.

What to do? Bringing her across was not really an option. With the overpowering emotion that raged between them, he didn't want to risk it. The thought of having to destroy her should she be unable to control the vampire newly awakened in her was one he had no wish to entertain. Should he send her away, to Janette? That option rankled at him. To do so would be to admit to his failure. He hated to fail. There had to be another way.

Truth be told, to send her away would displease him. He had grown attached to the women of his household; they had become a part of him as he had become a part of them. He was not about to give up a relationship he had put almost two years into. If he gave up on Triona, could the others be far behind? No, he would find an answer, there had to be one and he was sure it was bound up in the changes in Triona. To find out just what those changes were would more than likely prove to be unpleasant for her, but more pleasant than the consequences of the path they were now on.

LaCroix scooped her into his arms, carrying her to her bedroom and laying her on the bed. He kept a light touch on her mind to assure she remained asleep. Gently, carefully, he undressed her and slipped the covers over her. One light kiss and he was gone.

Triona slowly awoke, the mid-afternoon sun angling through the windows. I don't remember getting into bed, she thought, perplexed. And hadn't the sun been setting? She shrugged. Somehow she had slept the night and almost another day through. She remembered dreaming: her first encounters with LaCroix, feeling safe and loved, then nothing but dark and dreamless sleep.

After showering and dressing she went to her sitting room, not terribly surprised at finding a covered tray of sandwiches and fruit awaiting her. She nibbled absently as she thought, feeling a desire to speak with LaCroix, maybe resulting from her dreams, she didn't know. All she did know was that she missed him, missed her sisters. There had to be a way to at least try and make things better didn't there?

Deciding to act on the impulse, before she chickened out, she made her way to LaCroix's study. She knew, on reaching the door that he was within.

She rehearsed what she had to say as she opened the door, taking a deep breath.

"LaCroix, we..." she broke off, startled at seeing Methos sitting across from LaCroix by the fire.

Oh god, not now! she thought, her heart falling. I can't handle his being here now -- it's too much. She fought back tears, realizing how bad it had gotten. Methos coming home would have been something that, a month ago, would have filled her with joy. Now... now it was all so different. Now it was a catastrophe, something her tattered nerves and eroded spirit could not handle.

"Triona!" Methos greeted her happily, jumping from his chair to embrace her.

Forcing a smile, she said, "Methos, it's good to see you." She tried to sound happy.

Obviously, she failed. He pulled away, holding her shoulders and looking at her, concerned.

"Are you all right? You don't look well."

"I'm fine, really. Just a little under the weather." She didn't look at him; afraid he wouldn't believe her if he could see her eyes.

She looked past him to where LaCroix was sitting. But he was gone, as silently as a wraith.

Methos looked down at her bowed head, not believing her. Something was very wrong. Of course, she would never tell him, she would never betray LaCroix. He felt a wave of anger at the thought. He pushed it down, reminding himself of the reality of their arrangement.

He settled for pulling her back into his arms. "I've missed you, love," he whispered.

"I've… I've missed you too," she told him softly.

His hands cupped her face, lifting her lips to his, kissing her gently, delicately. She parted her lips to his out of habit -- and nothing else.

She fought down a wave of panic at realizing she felt nothing. What has happened to me? she screamed to herself, feeling a stab of loss.

He ran his hands over her body, deepening his kiss, wanting and needing her. Finally, her lack of reaction registered. He held her slightly from him, confusion and hurt more than evident in his eyes.

"What is it? Are you angry with me? Have I done something?" He stroked her cheek with one finger. "Please tell me, let me help."

She shook her head, feeling like the walls were closing in on her. "There's nothing wrong, really. I'm just not feeling well," she insisted. Please let him believe me! Please....

His eyes narrowed, feeling the same unreasoning anger all over again.  "Don't lie to me, Triona." His hands tightened on her shoulders. "There is something going on here. You look like hell, your body language is screaming 'trouble' and you try and tell me nothing is wrong?"

She felt trapped. Why won't he let it be? "There isn't! Please, l just want to be left alone right now. " She tried, unsuccessfully, to pull away from him.

“Alone? I’m supposed to just ignore what’s right in front of my face and leave you alone? I thought we loved each other, Triona? Or was that all a passing fancy for you?”

Knowing he would never understand -- didn't want to understand -- she just shook her head mutely.

Angry and hurt, he knew one thing that would get a reaction from her. Something that would prove to himself how hopeless this relationship was, and how much LaCroix held her body and soul.

He pulled her collar roughly away from her throat, biting her. The reaction was instantaneous. Triona moaned as her body convulsed in his grip. Her hands clutched at him as her body was wracked by uncontrollable spasms of pleasure.

Methos regretted what he had done almost as soon as he had done it. Vindication turned to self-loathing at his betrayal of something that should have only ever happened with love. Gods, what have I done? How could he have let jealousy and anger overtake him like that?

She pulled herself together, recovering from the reaction that his bite had engendered. This time, he let her go when she pulled away.

Sobbing, she mustered all the strength she had, most of it the result of rage, and slapped him as hard as she could. "Bastard!" she spat out, panting. "How could you?" she asked brokenly, her eyes full of the betrayal she felt.

She fled the room through the French doors, not wanting to see him or anyone else. All she wanted to do was hide somewhere, far away. Unfortunately, she was too weak to get very far before collapsing in a heap on the grass, gasping for air.

Methos caught up with her, trying to apologize. "I'm so sorry, please...." He tried to hold her but she fought back violently, trying to pummel him with her fists.

"Leave me alone!" she screamed hoarsely, still flailing at him, almost hysterical.

He grabbed her hands; afraid she was going to hurt herself. He could hear her labored breathing becoming gasps as she continued to fight him.

"Triona, stop it!" he shouted, trying to get a firm grip on her without hurting her.

He heard the sound of ripping cloth, her blouse tearing in the struggle. Finally, he was able to grasp her shoulders and push her down to the ground. The fight seemed to leave her then, and she just lay there, crying silently.

"It'll be okay, I promise you. No more questions," he assured her before hissing in shock, looking at the bare skin where her blouse had torn. She didn't resist as he pulled the torn garment totally off her; she just lay there limply. There, in the late afternoon light, he could see bite marks all over. Her throat, the side of her breasts, the hollows of her arms, her wrists, all with multiple wounds.

"Dear gods," he muttered. He wanted to ask, but he had promised.

Instead, he lifted her into his arms and carried her back to the house. She didn't protest, just buried her head in his chest.

"Baker, tea to her suite please," Methos instructed as he passed him on his way down the stairs.

"Right away, sir."

Methos finally reached her suite, laying her on the couch and wrapping the throw around her shivering shoulders. Going to the wet bar and soaked a cloth in warm water he brought it back to where she sat. He gently wiped her tear stained face as she tried to regain her composure.

"There." He stroked her hair. "Feeling better?"

A knock and Baker entered with the tea.

"Thank you, Baker."

"Will there be anything else, sir?"

"No, not for now."

Baker nodded and left quietly.

Methos busied himself with getting her a cup, then helped her hold it as she sipped. "Okay?"

"It's fine, thank you."

"Will you be okay if I leave for a bit?" he asked, concerned.

She nodded. "I'll be fine. I'll just sit quietly for awhile."

"Good, I'll be back in two shakes!" he told her brightly, pleased when she smiled a little.

"I'll be here."

Methos kissed her quickly on the forehead and nodded. "Good." He headed to the door. "I'll be back."

The door closed silently behind him.

Methos went in search of Sarah, luckily finding her in her suite.
"Methos!" Sarah exclaimed in surprise.

He didn't waste time on pleasantries. He kissed her lightly on the cheek and got right to his reason for seeking her out.

"Sarah, I need to know what is going on with Triona." He held a hand up to forestall her protests. "I've seen the bite marks, seen how ill she is. I need to know what I'm dealing with." He caught her eyes with his, entreating her. "Please."

"Methos, please, I'd feel like I was telling her secrets," she said, obviously torn.

"Sarah, you know as well as I do that she could die. You must tell me."

She twisted her hands nervously, thinking, trying to decide.


She relented, knowing he was right. All of them had been worried about Triona. Maybe Methos could actually do something about it. She told him all of it, along with what Lauren had told them. She watched him nervously; his face was so set and grim that it frightened her.

"Thank you. I appreciate it," he told her sincerely.

"What are you going to do?"

"Something I should have done the first day," he said, almost to himself.

"What?" She looked confused.

"What is best for Triona. Even though she won't think so, not at first." He noticed her still confused face. "That's all I can say right now." He turned to leave, calling over his shoulder, "I'll do what's for the best, I promise." Then he was gone.

Methos headed for LaCroix's study, deciding that was the first place to begin his search. He knew what he had to do, he had the means to save her, and he had to take it. Not bothering to knock, he pushed open the door.

LaCroix looked up from his desk. "And did you have a touching reunion?" he asked, smirking.

"Damn you to hell, Lucius!" Methos snarled, slamming the desk with a fist.

"I'll take that as a 'no'," he commented dryly.

"I'm taking her away from here. Tonight." His voice was cold and hard.

"Oh? And what makes you think I will allow any such thing?" LaCroix asked, an edge to his voice.

Methos set his hands on the desk and leaned towards the vampire. "You owe me a life, Lucius. I claim hers."

"And you accuse me of treating her like property!" LaCroix exclaimed. "Have you discussed this plan of yours with Triona?"

"Of course not. You know as well as I do that she has no will where you are concerned. This is what's best for her." He straightened. "You're killing her. You know that."

"Death will not be a permanent condition where Triona, or the others are concerned," LaCroix said calmly.

"Does it make it any better that you are killing her spirit? Because you are, as surely as you are killing her body." Methos began to pace the room.

"You know nothing about it! You have no idea of what a blood bond means, nor have you ever wanted to." He stood, glaring at the Immortal. "Did you think I never noticed you avoiding Janette's advances all these centuries? Did you think I didn't know why? You have never accepted my vampire nature, and now, you seek to separate Triona from me so you don't have to deal with hers!" He pointed an accusing finger at Methos.

Methos was not pleased with the direction of the conversation. Lucien's observations were hitting a little too close to home, and he knew it, the bastard.

He rounded on LaCroix. "This has nothing to do with her 'vampire nature' as you so poetically put it, Lucien. Why? Because she doesn't have one and she never will!"

"What do you mean?" he asked suspiciously.

"What do I mean? It's really very simple. She will never be like you, because she is like me, or will be, an Immortal. As are most of the women in this house." He smiled triumphantly as his little bombshell registered with LaCroix. "So, you see, I win. Not only do I insist that you give her to me, as we agreed so many years ago, but you will never be able to drag her into the darkness with you."

LaCroix sat down, trying not to show how stunned he was at this revelation. "One does not necessarily preclude the other," he said slowly, considering his next move carefully.

This put a new twist on things, but could work to his advantage, if what he surmised about the changes held true. And what he thought would happen should Triona be away from him for any length of time. It would solve many problems at once. He watched Methos, looking so smug in his assumed victory. That would be one problem solved, the Immortal would never interfere with how he ran his family again.

"Of course it precludes it!" Methos said, exasperated. "You have no idea what would happen if you tried to bring her across!"

"Do you? No, I thought not. It's all merely supposition on your part; you have no real facts." LaCroix leaned forward in his chair, "You are a bigot," he declared. "You can't stand the thought of Triona as a vampire, you'd rather condemn her to your barbaric life. Always having to be on guard, fighting for her life. That's what you find so preferable to what I can give her?" he asked, intense and angry.

"What can you give her but darkness?" Methos asked bitterly.

"All you see is darkness! I can give her the night, a people, a family. I can give her flight, power, the ability to *feel* the world around her. A bond -- a sharing -- that you can only imagine." LaCroix stood once more, turning to look out the window. "All you offer her is death."

Methos stood behind LaCroix. "That isn't your concern anymore, Lucien," he said quietly. "You are honor bound to fulfill your oath. I ask for her life in exchange for your debt to me. As we agreed."

"Very well, I will fulfill my debt." He turned, looking at him. "But this ends it, are we agreed?"

"Agreed. But no half measures, " Methos warned. "She must know that you are sending her away permanently. It must be a clean break, for her sake."

LaCroix bowed his head slightly. "As you say, a clean break. But alone, I will not cast her out with witnesses. She will feel betrayed as it is. I won't add to that."

"Fine, just do it tonight," he said sharply. "I want this over with."

"As do I, Methos. As do I," he spoke into the darkness as Methos left, slamming the door behind him.

Triona waited nervously in LaCroix's study. She had been summoned, but the room was empty when she arrived. Was this another way to punish her? Making her wait for him and worry?

Hearing the door, she stiffened, gripping the chair arms tightly. She didn't stand, too afraid that she would faint dead away if she tried.

LaCroix walked around her chair, sitting on the edge of his desk. She dropped her eyes under his steady regard. The silence stretched with only the sound of the wind blowing through the trees outside to be heard. As she twisted the fabric of her skirt nervously, he could hear her heart beating a panicked tattoo.

It was time to end it, now, before he changed his mind and Methos' debt be damned.

"We have come to a crossroads, child, you and I." LaCroix's voice drifted into the dimness. She still didn't look at him. He continued, "I have come to a decision regarding the future and what is best for all of us."

She finally looked up, her eyes betraying her unease at where this meeting was going. Triona shook her head, not understanding. "Decision?" she asked, her voice full of trepidation.

"This situation, this impasse, between us needs to end." He steeled himself for the inevitable result of his pronouncement. "There is only one way for that to happen -- you must go. There is no other option."

All color drained from her face as she shook her head in denial. "N...n…no, please...."

"My decision is final, Triona. Do not make this any more unpleasant than it has to be."

She tried to protest, but she couldn't get the words out, her throat tight with panic. No, he couldn't send her away! Some sixth sense told her that she would die if he did. Triona covered her face with her hands, trying to stop the fear that threatened to overwhelm her.

"No, no, no," she whispered to herself. "Please, no. Don't send me away. I can't.... "

She realized LaCroix was speaking again.

"You must admit, you serve no useful purpose here anymore," LaCroix forced himself to say harshly, her desperation and fear throbbing through their link, almost undoing his resolve to see this through.

It has to be done, he told himself sternly. It was the only way to salvage anything of this unpleasantness in the long term.

He watched -- felt -- as she fought to erect a mask of control and uncaring. When she looked up at him, it was firmly in place. He felt anger begin to replace despair, resolve replacing fear. Good, it would make this much easier.

"No, I don't, do I," she agreed, still shaky. “What about Stephanie?” she asked after her cousin. “She’s my blood, I won’t….”

LaCroix interrupted her. “Once you are settled, I will see to Stephanie joining you, should she choose. I gave you my word that she would be as a daughter to me. That has not changed.”

Nodding, she said, "I'm sure you've made arrangements?" She waited for his response, looking past him into the night outside the windows.

"You will leave from this room, tonight. I will make your good-byes to the others." He thought she would collapse at this latest shock.

She just looked at him, stunned. "Do you hate me so much?" she whispered, fury warring with desolation on her face and in her voice.

"This is necessary, so we don't end with hate. End with your death." He wanted so much to touch her, but he could not allow himself that small comfort. "One day, you will understand that this was for the best." That last, said with the velvet, heated voice she loved so much.

There was a stir. Triona opened her eyes and LaCroix was gone. "Lucien...." Gone forever.

"Is it done?" Methos asked.

"Yes," LaCroix practically snarled. "Now finish it!" He pushed past Methos, leaving him standing in the hall.

He sighed, this was what he had wanted, but still he hated it. Not knowing what he would find, he opened the door with no small amount of trepidation.  He caught sight of her leaning against the glass, staring into space.

Crossing the room and standing behind her he gathered her, unresisting, into his arms.

"It's time we were leaving, sweet," he said softly, carefully.

"We?" She shook her head. "I don't understand," she said, the edge of fear in her voice tearing at his heart.

"You don't think I would let you leave alone did you?" He tried to put as much reassurance into his voice as he could.

"I... I don't know really, I guess." She covered her eyes. "I'm sorry, I just don't know...."

"Shhh." He stroked her soothingly with his hands. "You've had a shock, and your health is fragile. You don't have to think. I'll take care of everything until you can. Okay?"

She nodded. She hated feeling -- being -- so weak. But she didn't know what else to do or where to go. There was always Janette of course, but she didn't want to be the cause of any rift between her and LaCroix. And anyway, she had to get somewhere to even contact Janette at all. And most of all, she needed time to think. To put together the pieces of her shattered universe.

Nodding silently, not even asking where they were going, Triona allowed Methos to take her hand and lead her downstairs. The house was as quiet as a tomb. No one appeared as the two made their way to the front door. In a way, she was relieved; to have to face any of them would have been a torment she could not have borne. It was better this way after all.

She didn't allow herself to look back as he held open the car door for her. Triona collapsed gratefully into the leather seat, trembling. He squeezed her hand reassuringly as he got in beside her, not saying anything, seeming to know that silence was what she wanted. Soon, they were on their way, and away from where her heart would always lie.

They had been in Seacouver almost a week. Though Triona seemed to be getting stronger physically, Methos wasn't sure about mentally. He had to pester and cajole her just to go outside for a walk with him. Left to her own devices, all she did was either sit and look out at the harbor, or pace the apartment like a caged animal. He was at a loss; he could only hope that time would help her heal. All he could do in the meantime was be here for her if she needed him.

He watched her sleep, curled against his chest, one hand pressed into the bridge of her nose. Though they shared a bed, he hadn't made any advances on her. After what had happened back in Toronto, he had decided to let her come to him when she was ready. And, damn, he hoped she decided soon. There were only so many cold showers a man could take. But looking at her, sleeping peacefully at his side, he knew it was the right choice.


A few hours later, the two of them were shopping. Methos had insisted that they spend the day out of the apartment. Triona, trying not to be a total wet blanket and wanting to show him she did appreciate the room he had given her, had agreed.

"But you've already bought me oodles of stuff, Adam!" she protested as he held up yet another outfit for her to try on.

"You like it don't you?" he asked.

"Well, yes, but...."

"Then what's the problem? Try it on!" He pushed her back towards the fitting room. "Oh, and here, try this while you're at it." He pulled a very revealing dress off the rack, dumping it in her arms. "And come out here when you get it on, I want to see it."

She just shook her head in defeat, grinning at the overly exuberant Methos. He was trying so hard to make her happy. And she was trying to be happy. It was just so lonely, so empty. There were no familiar presences in her head anymore. Not just LaCroix, but all her sisters. She hadn't realized how much of a bond there had been till it was gone -- ripped away. And not just their mental presence, she missed having them around. No one to talk to or just be with.

With a start, she realized she was just standing in the changing room, not even looking at the dress she had put on. Giving herself a mental shake, she went out to show Methos his choice.

"You like?" she asked unnecessarily, the appreciative gleam in his eyes enough to tell her he did indeed like it. And more than that, he'd like getting her out of it even more.

"We'll take all of them, " he told the clerk.

A few minutes later, buried under packages, the two made their way back to the car. She looked up in concern, sensing him stiffen next to her, seeing his eyes dart around, as if looking for something. He relaxed at hearing a voice call out.

"Adam!" a tall man with long brown hair caught in a ponytail, shouted.

"MacLeod," Methos greeted him warmly.

"So this is who has been keeping you occupied." He grinned, noting the proprietary arm that Methos put around the young woman at his side. "Aren't you going to introduce us?"

"I hadn't decided yet, actually," he said dryly.

"I'm hurt!" He decided to take matters into his own hands. "How do you do? I'm Duncan MacLeod," he said charmingly.

She held out her hand. "Triona. Very nice to meet you Mr. MacLeod."

"Duncan, please. " Instead of shaking the proffered hand, he kissed it, bowing slightly. "Always a pleasure to meet any of Adam's friends. Especially one as lovely as you." He smiled winningly.

She tried not to giggle. "Thank you, Duncan." She looked up to see what Methos' reaction to his friend's shameless flirting was -- mock disgust, belied by twinkling eyes.

"Oh, that is so original, MacLeod." He shook his head in long suffering irritation. "You think a clever guy like yourself could come up with a better line after all these years."

"You're just jealous of my natural charm and wit!"

Methos merely snorted in reply.

"So, are you from around here, Triona?" Duncan asked, insanely curious about this mystery woman.

"No, I've only been in town a few days."

"A few days? And Adam hasn't brought you to 'Joe's' yet? Well, we have to fix that. Why don't you two have dinner with me tonight?"

"Triona?" Methos asked, not wanting to push her, but hoping she would agree. It would be good for her to get out.

She looked up at him, seeing the hopeful-worried look in his eyes. She squeezed his arm and smiled. "I'd like that. After all, I need someplace to wear all this stuff Adam bought me today!"

"Good, I'll see you both tonight then."

Triona paused in the doorway of the club. Methos, looking back, saw her standing there, looking nervous.

He looked at her in question. "What's wrong, love?"

She shook her head. "This is going to sound silly."

"Try me." Methos grinned down at her. "Can't be any sillier than some of your ideas," he teased.

"Yeah, sure, always picking on me, " she grumbled good-naturedly. "It's just... this is so normal. I don't know how to act." She shrugged. "See I told you -- silly."

"No, it's not. You have lived a very abnormal life for far too long." He turned her to face him, putting his hands around her waist. "You'll be fine, I'll be by your side the entire time. You'll have fun, I promise!" He leaned down to whisper conspiratorially in her ear, "Besides, how normal is it to have dinner with various and sundry Immortals and Watchers anyway?"

That last got an outright laugh from her, which pleased Methos no end. Just to get an unforced reaction from her was a little victory.

He took her arm. "Shall we?"

She nodded, and they made there way to a corner table, private and sheltered from the hurly-burly of the club in general. Duncan, already there, rose to meet them.

"Triona, Adam." Duncan pulled a chair out for Triona. She sat, nodding her thanks.

"Actually, Methos will do," he informed Duncan offhandedly, eliciting a start of surprise from the Highlander.

The mystery lady knew his real name? He couldn't wait to get Methos aside to find out the full story. He noticed the small smile that Triona attempted to hide under the guise of reading her menu. So, she realized that Methos was playing with his mind. That would indicate some familiarity with him and his warped sense of humor, not on the short term either. Just how long had he been hiding her away and his secret life? Duncan realized just how little he really knew his friend.

Dinner passed pleasantly, Joe coming over to meet Methos' new lady friend and sitting down to chat. Both men tried to work the conversation to Methos and Triona, trying to glean whatever information they could. Triona, however, proved to be remarkably discreet, never letting the smallest detail drop. Her discretion impressed Joe and Duncan, but frustrated the hell out of them.

Finally, she excused herself. "I'll be right back." She smiled, knowing very well the cross-examination that was going to start the moment she left the table. Before she left, she placed her hands on Methos' chest and kissed him deeply. "I love you," she whispered. Pulling away, she saw the look of warmth and relief that passed over his face. "And I'm going to be fine, I promise."

"I know you will," he whispered back.

Once she had left, the questions began.

"Okay, Methos, give," Duncan demanded. "You show up, with no warning, in the company of a woman who knows who you are, and if that wasn't enough, is a pre-Immortal."

Joe looked surprised at the last. "She is?"

"She is," Duncan told him, before returning his attention back to Methos, who appeared to be ignoring them both and paying an inordinate amount of attention to his beer. "She seems like a lovely young woman -- sensible, intelligent. One has to wonder what she's doing with you?"

Methos ignored his sarcasm. "She's getting over some bad times, and she's been... ill. It made sense to bring her here, where I can keep an eye on her."

"And you aren't going to tell us anything more, are you old man?" Joe asked ruefully.


Further conversation was interrupted by Triona's return. All three men stood politely as she approached the table. Her greeting died on her lips, and her eyes became unfocused. Duncan noticed the reaction first from his vantage point.

"Triona, are you okay?" he asked, concerned.

On hearing Duncan, Methos moved to her side. "Love?"

"I'm fine," she said in a faint voice, her head cocked as if trying to listen to something only she could hear. "Janette?" she whispered. "Janette!" she exclaimed whirling, her eyes searching the room.

Suddenly, the object of her search was there in front of her.

"Janette!" Triona said happily.

"Janette," Methos grumbled in irritation.

"Janette?" Duncan asked, dumfounded.

"Janette," Joe introduced himself. "I'm Joe Dawson, you seem to know everyone else," he said wryly.

One corner of Janette's lip twitched in a small smile. "So it would seem, Mr. Dawson."

Triona touched Janette's arm, not quite believing she was there. "How did you find me?"

"Through a friend, Amanda. You don't know her, petite, but Duncan and… Adam, do."

Triona nodded, still a little overwhelmed at Janette's sudden appearance, not to mention the fact that she knew Methos' friend Duncan. From the look on his face, Methos was pretty surprised as well. It really was a small world.

Janette put an arm around Triona. "You should have come to me, cherie. But no matter, you will come back to Greece with me, where you belong." She shot Methos a thinly veiled look of challenge.

His eyes hardened; no way in hell was he letting Janette take her away. But he could already see that look in Triona's eyes, the one she always had around LaCroix. Damn vampires, he snarled to himself. Janette knew Amanda? Just great. And obviously Duncan did too. How much more complicated could this get?

He put a hand on Triona's arm. "She isn't going anywhere, Janette," he warned, his voice low and dangerous.

Duncan watched the power play between Methos and Janette. Obviously this was a battle both expected to win. And neither seemed to notice that Triona was beginning to look very ill at being the object of the war. He felt very sorry for the young almost mortal woman, being pulled between two such ancient and intense personalities.

"I think you two should continue this in the back," Duncan told the two firmly. "Triona, can I get you a drink? You look like you could use it," he asked, concerned.

Methos and Janette both looked at Triona, realizing at Duncan's question, how pale and ill she looked.

"No, I'll be fine, Duncan. Thank you."

"Duncan is right, we should take this somewhere more private. I'm sorry, Triona," he said remorsefully. I should never have let Janette get to me like that, he told himself angrily.

"My loft? It's close, neutral ground...?" Duncan asked.

"That will be fine," Janette agreed.

"Thanks, Duncan," Methos told his friend.

"Shall we? Ladies…." Duncan ushered the women out ahead of him. "Catch you later, Joe."

"Thanks, Joe." Methos gripped the man's arm. "I'll try and explain some of this tomorrow," he promised.

Joe nodded. "I'll be here," he said as the four made their exit.

"How do you know Janette?" Methos asked in a low voice.

He and Duncan stood in the kitchen as Janette and Triona spoke in soft voices at the other end of the loft.

"I could ask you the same thing."

"You could, but I asked first," Methos riposted in a vain attempt at humor. Duncan just looked at him.  "I'm a very old friend of the family. You?"

"I met Janette through Nick. I'm assuming you know him as well?" he asked. Methos nodded and Duncan continued. "During the American Civil War." He paused, leaning against the counter as he considered. "Is this the trouble you are trying to protect her from?" He nodded his head in Triona's direction. "From vampires?"

"From a particular vampire, " he said half to himself. He brought his attention back to Duncan. "And I won't allow Janette to interfere." His voice was as hard as Duncan had ever heard it.

"And what if she convinces Triona that she should leave with her?" he asked, watching Methos carefully. "You can't keep her here against her will."

"It's not your concern. Just stay out of it, " he ground out, not liking the signs of MacLeod's chivalrous instincts kicking in. He didn't need him deciding that Triona was going to be his new pet project. "You have no idea of the circumstances."

Before Duncan could respond, Methos turned away abruptly, heading towards where Janette and Triona were talking. Sighing resignedly, he followed.

"Ladies." He put an arm around Triona's waist, pulling her close. His eyes locked with Janette, waging a silent war for the soul of the mortal woman that stood between them. "Triona hasn't been well, Janette, and it's been a long day. I'm sure you will understand if we say goodnight."

"And I'm sure you will understand when I tell you that she will be leaving with me." Janette flashed him a look of pure malice. "She has told me all about you and LaCroix and your deal," she spat out. "If you thought for one moment I would leave her here with you then you are delusional!" Her voice was practically a growl.

"You...." Methos began angrily, only to be cut off by Triona.

"No! Please, don't fight!" she pleaded. She pulled away from Methos, taking hold of Janette's arm. "Please, Janette, you don't understand.  LaCroix threw me out; Methos wouldn't let me leave alone. I had no one else, no way to contact you." Her eyes begged her friend to understand. In a voice that was almost a whisper, she finished, "He would never do anything to hurt me, Janette. When my world shattered, when LaCroix banished me, only Methos gave me the strength to go on. Please believe me."

Janette sighed, running a soft finger down Triona's cheek. She could see the pain in her eyes and didn't want to bring her anymore grief. But she deserved the truth. It was the only way she could make an informed decision about her life -- and the ancient Immortal that sought to make her his own.

"I'm sorry, Triona," she said with regret, before turning her attention to Methos. "It was a life that was owed, was it not?" She arched one expressive brow. "I admit I am a little hazy on the details. Nicolas was being quite tiresome at the time and I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have to LaCroix's tale of how his 'Uncle' saved his life and how irritated he was at owing him not one, but two forfeits." Her voice dropped to a purr. "But I'm sure you remember it all quite well, Methos -- don't you?"

"No, he wouldn't...." Triona turned around, looking at Methos for reassurance that what Janette was saying wasn't true. It couldn't be, he would never… But one look at his face, and she knew everything she had heard was true. She shook her head in denial. "How could you?" Angrily, she fought back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her.

"Let me explain, please," he implored. "Let me explain, and then, if it's what you choose, you can leave with Janette if that's what you truly want."

She closed her eyes, trying to stop the spinning. Just when she thought that her world was settling into something 'normal', it was falling apart again.  "Please," she heard Methos whisper once more. She opened her eyes. The look in his eyes pulled at her heart, so… frightened? Of what? Losing her? Did he really care? Was she more than a forfeit or a passing fancy to him?

Silently, Triona nodded. At the very least, she owed him the chance to explain.

Duncan, who had remained silent through the revelations, decided it was time to leave Methos and Triona alone.  "Janette and I will be at Joe's when you're ready." He looked at Janette. "I think we should go now," he told her firmly.

She looked like she was going to object. Triona turned to her. "I'd like to talk to Methos alone. I know where you will be if I need you." She shook her head, forestalling Janette's worried protest. "No, this time I need to choose. Not LaCroix, not Methos," her voice softened, "and not you."

Janette took a deep breath. She forced down her natural urge to cosset and protect her. Triona was not one of her strays, she never had been. She was a grown woman who had earned the right to make her own decisions. And she had to let her go no matter how painful that was.

"Very well, we shall wait for you." She nodded regally, before turning to leave the loft with MacLeod.

The elevator clanged shut, and silence fell over the room. Methos reached for Triona, but she backed away, evading his touch. "No. I said you could explain, nothing else," she said a little more sharply than she had intended, crossing her arms protectively around herself. "I'm… I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that," she told him in a softer voice.

"It's okay, I understand." Holding his hand up he extended it to her. "Come sit with me?" He nodded towards the sofa.

She tentatively took his hand and let him lead her to the sofa, perching on the edge nervously. Methos sat opposite her, leaving plenty of space between the two of them.

Finally, he spoke. "Where to begin." He looked up at the ceiling, considering. "I suppose, at the beginning." Then he smiled at her, that warm, melting smile that made her heart drop.

He proceeded to tell her the story of him rescuing LaCroix in San Francisco almost a century before. Not just about the deal that had resulted in his claiming Triona for that one night that now seemed so long ago, but the life that LaCroix owed Methos -- LaCroix's life. He finally finished his story, his eyes unfocused, remembering.

"That doesn't explain how you could have LaCroix banish me. He never would have if you hadn't made him, would he?" she accused.

He came back to the present abruptly. "Honestly? No," he said simply. "I had to force the issue, and in the end, Lucien was honor bound to comply." His gaze locked on hers, riveting her. "I won't apologize for that. He was killing you and you were letting him. If I'd asked you to come with me, you would have refused, even knowing that you were signing your own death warrant!” Methos told her vehemently. "I know you so well, know that when it comes to LaCroix you have no will. I had to get you away from him no matter the cost!"  He slapped his hand against the sofa, the impact against the leather cracking like a whip. She jumped at the sharp sound.

Not saying anything, she just looked at him with a carefully blanked expression. Methos scrubbed his face in frustration, running a hand through his hair. "I would have done anything to save you. Do you think I could just stand by and watch you die, watch your spirit dry up like autumn leaves?" His voice cracked a little. "I've seen so many die, killed so many. You don’t know what it's like to finally find a haven only to watch it wither and die before your very eyes. I couldn't let it happen again," he finished tiredly.

"Were you ever going to tell me? Or was I to go through the rest of my life thinking that LaCroix didn't care, that he wanted me out of his life forever?" she asked on the edge of tears.

He sighed. "I don't know. Maybe one day." He shrugged. "I just don't know. I guess I thought that my love would be enough for you to be happy."

She shook her head, not knowing how to answer. She knew in her heart Methos was right -- LaCroix had been killing her, inch by inch, and she would have done nothing to save herself. Somehow the two of them had gotten trapped in a viscous cycle of anger and hurt, neither able -- nor willing -- to break it.

That day Methos had returned, she had been at the point of making that step, to break the circle. But she honestly didn't know that she would have been able to. Maybe is had already been too late, and Methos' intervention -- no matter how manipulative -- had been for the best.

She sighed, looking at him. How could she make him understand the blood bond? Something he had never experienced, or wished to. Triona knew that he had done what he had mostly out of concern for her, but also knew a part of it was possessiveness on his part. She just wondered how much of each?

"Methos, I want you to be honest with me. Can you tell me truthfully that a part of you didn't leap at the chance to take me from LaCroix? To keep me all to yourself -- not having to share me anymore?" She looked him straight in the eye, not allowing him to flinch from her question.

He didn't turn from her gaze. "No. I can't tell you that." He reached for her hand, and she allowed him to take it. "When I started this, I never thought I'd care enough for it to bother me. As the days passed, as I got to know you, I realized that with each hour that passed, I hated my deal with LaCroix more and more," he said quietly, moving closer. "I wanted to be the one that you defended, that you turned to first, to be the one that held the place uppermost in your heart. But I could never be, I knew that and tried to make the best of the situation.  I decided that having you my life was enough."

"But when the chance came for you to have it all, you took it?" she asked, quirking an eyebrow. Her voice and her face were neutral. He had no idea what she was thinking -- or feeling.

"Yes." There, he had said it. The truth, finally.

"The truth is its own reward," she murmured against his lips before pushing him back onto the sofa, covering his body with hers. She took his face between her hands, looking down on him. “But Methos, I do love you, you must believe that. You hold an equal place in my heart, truly."

He nodded, wanting desperately to believe her. "I love you too."

“I can't go back. Can I?"

The sadness in her voice tore at his heart. "No," he whispered. "There is no going back. I'm sorry." He realized that at that moment he truly was on some level.

She nodded. "I suppose I knew that. It's just...." Triona closed her eyes in pain. "I miss them. It's so lonely," she whispered.

He pulled her head down to rest on his chest, wrapping her in his arms. "I can't tell you I know what you feel, not really. But I can promise you that I will always be with you."

"You'll never leave me?" she asked softly, stroking her fingers down his shoulder.

"I'll be here as long as you want me." He felt her relax in his embrace as he gently stroked her back, hearing her breathing change into the rhythm of sleep. "We have forever," he whispered, "and one day, you'll know that."


That was how Janette and Duncan found them several hours later: wrapped in each other’s arms, asleep. Duncan's buzz woke Methos, who tensed until he realized who it was. He placed a finger to his lips, not wanting Triona to be disturbed.

"She hasn't rested this peacefully in weeks," he whispered as the two approached.  Gently, he disentangled himself, getting off the sofa. Triona stirred a little but remained asleep as he lowered her head to the cushion. He indicated with a tilt of his head for the others to follow as he crossed to the other side of the loft.

Methos turned to Janette. "She’s staying with me. I'm asking you not to make this more difficult on her than it has to be. Accept her choice. This isn't the time for you to be selfish," he said bluntly.

"How dare you accuse me of selfishness!" Janette hissed. "I want what is best for her -- you merely want her. So tell me, who is the one being selfish?" She tossed her head disdainfully, eyes sparking.

"Janette, for what it's worth," Duncan interrupted, trying to ward off a full-fledged battle. "I believe Methos does have her best interests at heart. I saw how they interacted this afternoon. She was happy, laughing. I think you need to give her a chance to get her bearings. There is plenty of time later if she changes her mind."

Before she could respond, Triona's voice was heard. "He's right." The three turned towards her as she took Janette's hand in hers. "I won't tell you I'm completely happy, but I'm not feeling as lost as I was only a few days ago." She shook her head, trying to find the words. "As much as I love you, Janette, right now all you do is remind me of what I've lost." Seeing the look of sadness in her eyes, Triona hastened to add, "It won't always be that way. But right now, I need to stay here and see this through -- with Methos."

Janette looked at Methos. "If you ever hurt her.…" she let the unspoken threat hang there between them.

He nodded. "I understand. And I will take care of her. I promise you that."

She nodded once sharply, before drawing Triona into a fierce embrace. "Be well, cherie," she whispered.

"And you." Taking a deep breath, she looked at Janette. "If you go… home," she stumbled over the word 'home', "would you tell the others I'm well? Please?"

"Of course I will." Janette stepped away from her. "It's time I was going," she said briskly. "Duncan, it was a pleasure seeing you once again." She raised one elegant hand, which he took, bowing slightly over it.

"The pleasure was all mine," he told her urbanely, kissing her hand.

Janette smiled once before she turned, heading for the door.

"Janette," Methos said, stopping her, "thank you. Not for me, but for Triona."

She didn't turn, just nodded briefly before sweeping into the elevator and out of Triona's life.

As the door clanged shut, she threw herself into Methos' arms, holding on to him like a lifeline.  Now she was truly alone.

The days passed and Methos attempted at least some semblance of a normal life for the two of them. He knew she was trying to be happy, but that she wasn't, not really. It was as if a part of her was gone.

He watched, unbeknownst to her, as she stared into space again, as if listening for something only she might be able to hear. He sighed, despairing. He didn’t know what to do for her, how to heal her hurt. The night Janette had left, she had come back to his bed, making love with a fury and hunger that stunned him. But he couldn't help but feel that every time they made love, she was trying to forget. Hoping that in the heat of passion, she could forget her loneliness if only for a short space of time.

Joe interrupted his pensive thoughts. "I think you do need to worry, Methos." He looked over to where Triona sat, sorting through liquor manifests.

The last few weeks, Triona had been helping Joe with the bookwork associated with running a popular nightclub. She had been grateful for the chance to put herself to some useful purpose, and Joe had thanked his lucky stars to have an experienced club manger fall into his lap. Though, he considered, his club was certainly different than where she used to work.

He looked at Joe, worried. "I do, all the time."

"I know you do, but the last few days…I don't know." He shrugged. "Something isn't right. I can't quite put my finger on it. All I know is that I'm trained to observe, and I observe that something is very wrong."

"I thought maybe it was just me, that I was too close and seeing everything in the worst light."

"No, it's not just you. She's paler, if that's even possible." Joe snorted. "I've caught her hands shaking a few times. She tried to pass it off as not sleeping well, that she was tired."

At that moment, the men's attention was arrested by a crash. Both turned their attention back to Triona to see her on the floor and the table she had been sitting at overbalance and tumble towards her.

Methos raced to her side, Joe following. He pushed the table off of her. "Love, are you okay?" he asked, concerned and scared at seeing her lying there.

"I'm fine. Please just help me up."

He took her hand, shocked at how icy cold it was as he pulled her to her feet. He steadied her as she swayed in his grasp. "What happened?"

"Just me being a klutz," she dissembled, not quite meeting his eyes. "I got up and caught my foot. Made the mistake of grabbing the table for balance, but pulled it over instead." She laughed shakily.

"Triona, look at me."

Ignoring him, she said, "Look at this mess! Papers everywhere." She tired to pull away from him, to pick up the scattered papers.

He shook her arm. "Stop it."

Glaring, she asked, "What on earth is wrong with you?"

"Me?" He shook his head wearily. "Do you honestly expect me to believe you tripped?"

"Yes, I do. I said that's what happened. What more do you want?"

"The truth."

"I don't have to stay here and listen to this, Methos. If you won't believe me then that's your problem," she told him icily, pulling out of his grip. "If you'll excuse me, it's a little stuffy in here all of a sudden." She whirled, practically running to the door, slamming it behind her.

"Oh that was just great, Methos," he mumbled to himself. "Really sensitive."


She walked for hours, trying to drive the frightening feelings from her with exhaustion. She was scared, and didn't know why. Somewhere, at the edge of her memory there was a nagging feeling that she had felt this way before. It ate at her, not remembering, but knowing somewhere there might be a clue.

Triona stared at the ocean, feeling the spray from the waves that crashed against the breakwater cold and tingling on her face. She gripped the steel handrail hard as she felt another spell coming on. They had been increasing in number and severity over the last few days; the one at Joe's the worst so far

She gasped in pain, dropping to her knees. There had never been pain before. It felt like each muscle in her body was cramping. Pressing her forehead against the cold metal of the railing, she whimpered, praying it would stop. Time slowed, its only boundaries the pain and the taste of salt spray mixed with the salt of her blood seeping from the lip she had bitten through.

Finally it ended, leaving her shaking and weak, barely strong enough to stand. She dragged herself to her feet, knowing she had to get home. Looking around, she realized gratefully that she wasn't that far from the harbor-side townhouse that she and Methos shared.

Ever so slowly, she made her way home, fear and exhaustion battling for preeminence. Finally reaching the security door of the complex, she realized she didn't have her purse, so of course, no keys. Praying that Methos was home, she pressed the call button. It was answered with alacrity.

"Methos," she croaked, barley able to speak. The door buzzed, unlocking.

"I'll be right down," she heard him say through a haze. Pushing on the door, she collapsed into the lobby in a heap, another convulsion wracking her body.

That was how Methos found her when he reached the lobby. "What's wrong with me?" he could barely hear her whisper as she reached for him with one trembling hand.

He lifted her easily. "I don't know, but we'll find out. I promise," he told her as she fainted dead away, cradled in his arms.

Methos paced the living room, agitated. "She had two, what I can only call convulsions, once I got her to the apartment. Then she fell asleep. But it doesn't seem like a natural sleep. That was almost twelve hours ago." He scrubbed his face in frustration. "I feel so helpless, MacLeod."

Methos slammed his fist against the wall in frustration. "I've never seen anything like it, and I can't help but wonder if it's something to do with her long exposure to vampires." He turned to Duncan with haunted eyes. "And what if it is? How will that affect her immortality? Could it somehow circumvent it, bringing her true death?"

The other man had no answer for that. This was totally outside of anything he had ever witnessed.

"I'm going to call LaCroix. I don't see any other option."

Duncan gripped his friend's shoulder, knowing what it cost him to have to make the admission. "Maybe he'll have some idea," he offered.

"I hope so. I hope so."


"Lauren, are you sure you have no idea where he is? ----- It's vital that he calls me if he contacts any of you, do you understand?"  ----- Yes, I know you're worried. Please, talk to the others. Call Janette, Nick, whoever might know where he went. ------ Good, let me know." He hung up, frustrated. "He left town last week, no one has any idea where he went. Damn!"

"Methos? What's wrong?" Triona asked, making her way shakily from the bedroom.

Startled at her sudden appearance, he made his way to her side. "Nothing, love, I'm just worried about you. I'm sorry I woke you."
He put his arms around her. "You shouldn't be up," he told her as he kissed her lightly, hiding his dismay at how hot and dry her skin felt.

"You didn't wake me," she assured him, looking up at him with eyes that were fever bright.

"Good. Now, how about you get back into bed and I'll bring you a nice cup of tea?"

Nodding, she let him lead her back to the bedroom, smiling a little as he fussed over her pillows and bed coverings.

"Now, you stay put, and I'll be right back. Would you like Duncan to keep you company?"

"That would be nice," she agreed.

"Right, company and tea it is." He kissed her on the cheek, attempting a smile before he left the room.


"Methos!" he heard Duncan shout. Dropping the cup he held with a clatter, he raced to the bedroom to find his friend trying to hold Triona's thrashing body to the mattress.

Duncan looked up at his arrival. "She was talking to me and suddenly she started convulsing," he said as Methos got on her other side to try and help keep her from hurting herself.

With one last, silent convulsion that seemed to twist her body, she lay limp in the men's hands, unconscious. Duncan took her wrist, feeling for a pulse. "I can barely feel one."

Methos brushed her tangled hair from her forehead. "My god! She's burning up!" he exclaimed, looking at Duncan, horrified.

"We could get a doctor.…" he began.

"No. No doctors. It's too dangerous. For the doctor and for her." At his look of puzzlement, Methos elaborated, "Enforcers. I can't take the chance."

Duncan nodded; the idea of a doctor one he knew wasn't really a possibility. But feeling useless and unable to help, he had felt compelled to ask. The workings of the Vampire Community weren't something he had a great deal of familiarity with. "Is there anything I can do?"

Methos shook his head. "No. You may as well go home. I know you have things to see to." He looked at Duncan. "Thank you for coming, and being here with her," he said, gratitude in his dark green eyes.

"Call me," Duncan told him, squeezing his shoulder.

"I will."

Duncan gently stroked Triona's arm, feeling utterly helpless. Sighing, with one last look at his friend and the comatose woman that he held in his arms, he left them in the light of the waning day.



Methos woke with a jerk, feeling Triona shivering in his arms, hearing her cry out. He winced as his cramped body protested his sudden movement from where he had fallen asleep hunched over her.

As hot as she had been earlier, now she was freezing, her already overworked body wracked with shivers. He drew her closer, pulling the covers around tighter to try and keep her warm. "Shhhh." He made comforting sounds as he stroked her face with gentle hands.

"Methos," she began, laboring through each syllable.

"Don't talk. Save your strength, please."

"There's no time and you know it. Please listen to me."

He nodded, face grim, not denying the truth of what she said.

She tried to squeeze his hand, but there wasn't enough strength left even for that. "Promise me you'll go back for the others, don't let this happen to them too." Her face twisted in a grimace of pain as a convulsion rippled through her. "Maybe it isn't too late for them."

"I promise," he told her, voice cracking.

She nodded weakly. "Thank you."

He could see the light in her eyes slowly fading, like a candlewick sputtering vainly to keep alight. He could barely make out her voice when she spoke again, the merest thread of sound in the silent pall that hung over the room.  "I love you. I wish there had been more time. But I guess there never is -- even for you."

She fell silent, closing her eyes. Her weight in his arms seemed to grow less with each passing moment. She didn't even stir as his tears fell on her cold, pale cheek.

Methos looked at the dagger he held in his hand, at war with himself over what to do. If Triona died as she was now, it might be forever. But he didn’t want to be the instrument of her death at his own hand.

Her eyes flew open, interrupting his troubled thoughts. "Lucien," she whispered as she struggled to rise.

Methos looked up in shock towards the open bedroom door, half expecting to see the tall vampire there. He tried to quiet her struggles. "He's not here. Please don't upset yourself."

"No. He is here. Please, Methos, he is." She was almost crying in her attempt to convince him. "Oh please, Methos, please.…" Ceasing her futile struggle, she collapsed into his arms, panting. She fell once more into an uneasy unconsciousness.

"Damn you, Lucius!" Methos shouted. "If you are here then stop playing your twisted games and help her!"

"Game? You were the one that started this particular game, if I'm not mistaken." LaCroix's cool voice wafted around the room, its origin unclear.

Methos laid her down gently before leaping to his feet, wildly searching for his nemesis, finally seeing him standing by the window.

LaCroix lounged against the wall, seemingly unaffected by an infuriated Methos and the visage of the dying woman lying on the bed. His mind however was a maelstrom of emotion. He had been shocked to see how ill Triona was. He had observed for several days and she had seemed well. Then, today, he had felt their bond fraying strand by strand as she sickened. Had he realized, he would have never let it proceed so far.

He pushed away from the wall, moving closer to where Methos stood by the bed. "You insisted on this path, and well you know it!"

"And you knew this would happen!" Methos accused.

"Knew? You give me far too much credit. I had suspicions, but no firm knowledge. Merely scraps of myths and legends that were ancient when I was young." He smiled grimly. " I knew you would never believe, so I let you take her from me and determined to keep watch should the worst befall."  He arched one expressive brow. "And so it has."

"You bastard," Methos ground out between clenched teeth.

"So you say," he commented, sitting on the edge of the bed, contemplating the woman lying there. Though seemingly unconscious, she murmured and trembled, her breathing shallow. As he ran one long finger down her cheek, he reached for her with his mind as well. The reaction was instantaneous and violent.

Her thoughts slammed into his mental touch, crazed with need. Though weak, she arched against his touch with a force that contorted her wasted body. She opened her eyes, but there was nothing recognizable there. Methos drew back in shock at the almost animal like hunger he saw in her gaze: wild and fierce.

LaCroix felt the same intensity he had back when she had returned from Greece, only amplified a hundred fold. He was being pulled inexorably to her hunger, the vampire surging up, unbidden, as if called by her. With a supreme effort of will, he slammed all of his control into reigning it in.

"Go. Or stay. But I will have her now," he practically snarled, his voice already hoarse with hunger.

Methos backed away, but didn't leave. Something kept him glued to the room, to what was transpiring. He didn't want to see what was to come, but couldn't force himself away either.

Triona reached ineffectually for LaCroix, too weak to raise herself from the bed. Inarticulate moans and pleading could be heard as she threw her head to the side, arching her throat to him, inviting him, begging him, to take her.

He needed no further urging. It had been far, far too long since her blood had fed his hunger, his desire. With a fierce growl, he lowered his head to her throat, grazing his fangs down it's white length. One piercing shriek, which was abruptly cut off, was the only sound she made as he sank his fangs deep into her flesh.

As the vampire fed, Methos turned away, unable to watch further. He had never been comfortable with vampire nature, that LaCroix had been correct in accusing him of. Now he was unable to deny the truth of that, or deny that he had to choose if that distaste was enough for him to leave Triona. Sore at heart, he left the bedroom, leaving LaCroix to his victory.

Not totally sated, but content for now, LaCroix drew away from her. With the tip of one fang he pierced his finger, allowing the blood to well out. Drawing her bottom lip down, he gently opened her mouth, running the bloody fingertip across her inner lip. Just a few drops, not enough to bring her across, but enough to speed her recovery from the painful, almost deadly withdrawal from his blood she had suffered.

Her lips closed on his finger, sucking on it and the addicting blood that seeped from it. At the touch of her lips and warm tongue, he felt a wave of heat. He wanted more now than her blood, but that particular hunger would have to wait until later. He drew his finger from her mouth, tracing the tip around the outline of her lips. He had taken her almost to the brink. That and the beating her body had taken would more than likely leave her unconscious for several days. She would wake in her own bed, at home, on this he was determined -- with or without Methos.

He sat next to her for some time before pulling the covers up under her chin. Kissing her gently on the lips he left to find Methos, finding him standing out on the small patio, seemingly oblivious to the drenching rain that pounded down on him.

"I have made arrangements to take her home before the dawn," he stated. He saw the other man stiffen, as if to object. "Surely you see there is no other path," LaCroix said calmly, forestalling any possible protest. "She almost died. There is no way to separate us, except in death."

"And you are exhilarated by all of it," Methos snarled. "What kind of sick thrill did it give you to have her begging you for release from whatever hell you had put her in?"

LaCroix's eyes were like slivers of ice, narrowing and fixing Methos with a piercing gaze. "I will overlook that. You are obviously overwrought with worry. I have never taken any pleasure in my children's suffering. But nor do I deny that sometimes it is unavoidable and I am unable to do anything but stand aside and wait for them to find their own path back."

Methos shook his head, disgusted. "You will do whatever is necessary to have your own way!"

"I will do whatever is necessary to keep my family intact!" He pointed a finger at Methos. "Now it is your turn to decide what is necessary. Accept her as she is or reject them. Come with us or stay here!" He whirled, stalking back into the apartment, leaving Methos alone in the rain.

He stood at the foot of her bed; his hands shoved deep in his pockets. They had been back almost two days, and twilight was once again falling. Still, she hadn't stirred.

Methos still wasn't sure what he was going to do. He had decided to accompany them back, but he didn't know what he would do once Triona was well. The other women had been ecstatic to have their lost sister back. He could see from their strained and pale faces that the last few months had been an ordeal for them as well. He knew they wanted their family -- their world -- back together as much as Lucien did.

He didn't turn at the sound of the door opening, and then clicking softly shut. "You win. Is that what you've been waiting to hear?"


"All I ever wanted was for her to be happy. And she would have been."

"I don't deny you would have tried, Methos. But she would have never been truly happy. She has been changed. There are levels upon levels to our bond -- a bond freely chosen, however much you want not to believe that."

LaCroix stood next to the bed, taking her hand in his. "I give you my word on that." He looked over to Methos, his expression serious.  "You know my word is my bond, as it always has been."

"And if I choose to stay? You won't object?"

He smiled slightly. "Objecting would only leave me with a house full of sulking women.”

He could see the battle going on in the ancient Immortal's eyes. Trying to choose between his natural inclination to leave when people got to close and his desire to stay in a place where he was loved and needed.

"Aren't you tired of running?"

Methos looked at him sharply. "You know why I live my life like I do."

"Yes, I know. But isn't three thousand years more than enough time?"

"Three-hundred thousand wouldn't be enough if he ever found me. Do you want to risk that? Do you want to risk her?" He looked at the sleeping Triona.

LaCroix walked over to stand in front of him. "I can protect my family." He placed a hand on Methos' shoulder. "All of my family."

He smiled at that. "Family? It's been a long time since we were that."

"Not so long, Methos. Not so long."

He clasped LaCroix's forearm in a strong grip. "Very well, Lucius. I'll let you have your way -- this once." He grinned. "It's going to take some work, but we have time."

"I think you'll find it worth the effort. The rewards can be quite… pleasurable." LaCroix smirked, quirking a brow.

Triona woke to the sounds of laughter.


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