A/N: This is it! My final chapter! I really hope you guys like, and thank you so much for all your encouragement so far! It's a bit long, but I don't think you'll complain… right? ;)
"Die, mortal!" Lara hit the ground with barely a second to spare as a green flash of fire slammed into the wall behind her, rebounded, and set fire to a scrap of litter on the floor in front of her before dissipating.
"You know, this is getting old," she told him philosophically, regaining her footing and continuing to traverse the perimeter of the temple. "Haven't we done this bit before?"
A trickle of sweat mingled with blood ran into her eye, and she blinked it away, wincing at the pain. She'd been ducking and dodging for the past ten minutes, and was getting a strong sense of déjà vu – not least because she was losing blood at a frightening rate, and her balance was decidedly off. Pushing her discomfort away, she swiped a strand of errant hair out of her vision. When she looked back at the spot where Karel had been hovering, he was gone.
Shit. Lara spun, searching out her foe, but he was nowhere to be found. How…?
The tiniest sound permeated her brain. Acting on impulse, Lara executed a perfect backflip and rolled out of the way as a whoosh over her head informed her of the enemy's position. It was only as she was struggling to her feet that she registered that Karel had come soaring at her, only to hit the ground, hard.
Was it some kind of trick? The half-Nephilim was staggering to his feet, and Lara felt her heart leap as she stared at him. Where before he'd been pale, now he was as pallid as death. All traces of green fire had been extinguished, and he was actually swaying on his feet. He looked positively…
Despite herself, hope was steadily rekindling in her soul, and she quickly snapped a crossbow bolt into place with shaking hands. Before Karel had a chance to regain his equilibrium, she fired it off.
He dodged, and the arrow embedded itself deep in his upper arm. "You little bitch," he hissed, turning white with pain.
Something told Lara he wasn't half the monstrosity he had been. Feeling fortitude flood back into her limbs, she reloaded with a sense of purpose and took aim for his heart.
Despite the fact that some kind of power drain had obviously occurred, he was still quick on his feet, and her next three shots missed completely. Growling frustration, she threw down the weapon and drew the twin Uzis at her thighs.
"Die, mortal," she shot his words back at him, and raised the weapons.
A warm hand on her arm stayed her shot. "Save some for me."
Lara nearly collapsed with relief at the sound of Kurtis' voice, but forced herself to keep an eye on her prey – or the pillar behind which he'd vanished. "It's your kill," she acquiesced reluctantly. "Just let me kneecap him first."
In spite of the situation, she could feel the amusement radiating from him. "Glad you agree. I'd hate to have to knock you out after you've done so well…"
As one, they moved toward the pillar, and circled round it, Lara moving right, Kurtis left.
The space behind the pillar was empty. Lara had a brief, shocked second to realise this before a dead weight landed on her. She fell hard, Karel using her body to break his fall, and in a bloom of rage and pain, she realised he'd scaled halfway up to the ceiling to ambush her.
She struggled to extricate herself from the tangle of their arms and legs, but he scrambled up first, kicking her in the face as he bolted for the temple door. Ignoring the insistent throb of pain, Lara pushed herself to her knees and took her shot. Before it even left the barrel of the Uzi, she knew she had struck true.
Karel fell, squirming with agony on the dusty floor. His right kneecap was completely shattered, and Lara finally allowed herself a twinge of satisfaction at her perfect aim.
She followed Kurtis, who approached Karel with his Chirugai held ready in one hand. With a commanding snap, the curved blades sprang from the metal framework, gleaming in the sunlight. The eclipse had ended, and the birds were beginning to sing once more.
"Joachim Karel," Kurtis said softly, staring down at the being that had killed his family, his friends, and, momentarily, his lover. Karel's hands were clutching at his injured leg, his eyes glazed with pain and hatred. As he returned the glare, two emotions warred within Kurtis: abhorrence, and pity.
The pity was banished within an instant, as he remembered the blank stare of his brother, Lyle; flashed back to the instant Karel had taken Lara's form; replayed her broken voice as she told him to leave her to die. Without further hesitation, he deployed the Chirugai, which left his hand in a blaze of orange light and made a beeline for the injured being's neck.
Neither he nor Lara looked away until Karel's ashen throat was torn into bloody pulp.
An exhausted silence descended upon the interior of the temple. Chips of stonework fell to the floor, evidence of the battle that had been fought there. Lara leaned her back against one of the pillars, taking some of the weight off her aching legs. A short distance away, Kurtis remained on his feet, staring down at Karel's body, expressionless.
Lara watched him, scanning his body for injury properly for the first time since he'd come to her aid. He held a hand to his lower back, as if it was troubling him, and his skin was peppered with cuts and bruises, but he seemed otherwise fine. It was his silence that troubled her most.
"Kurtis," she said finally, the word emerging thickly from her dehydrated throat.
For a second, he did not respond, but then he turned to face her, his eyes sweeping over her as hers had over him moments before. He took in the multiple bruises, her black eye, the head wound that still bled freely. "You're okay." He sounded as if he couldn't believe it.
"I'm tougher than I look." Wincing, she approached him, lay her head on his shoulder. His arms folded around her, and she sighed gratefully, murmuring, "What happened?"
He gave her a brief run-down, and Lara could feel his body tensing up again as he spoke of being paralysed. Silently, she thanked every god she could think of for the fact that he'd been in the Angel's body when the injury had occurred. When he finished, she looked up into the eyes she had feared she would never see again. Something passed between them, and she knew Kurtis was thinking back to the passageway where she had told his Angel form she loved him.
Carefully, so as not to unbalance their injured frames, she pulled his head down towards her, brushing his lips with her own. Despite their wounds, Kurtis pulled her nearer, deepening their kiss. Lara was unable to stop the smile that spread over her face, and Kurtis pulled back, raising an eyebrow in a question.
"I love you," she whispered for the second time that day, and her smile grew as he embraced her fiercely, echoing her sentiment as a light rain began to fall outside.
"To the baby," Jean-Yves announced, holding up his glass.
"The baby!" Agreement rang out and several glasses clinked as Bryce, Kurtis and Jean downed champagne, whilst Lara and Marianne demurely sipped water. The older woman's face carried the telltale glow of pregnancy, although she was not beginning to show yet. With a smile at Marianne, Lara patted her on the shoulder and excused herself, venturing out onto the front porch.
A week after the conclusion of the Cappadocia episode, Lara was more than ready to get out of Turkey. They'd spent the majority of the time here with Jean, healing from the injuries they'd taken, but despite the good food and better company, Lara was sick of the sight of the place. It was time to move on. She and Bryce were due at the airport to fly back to the UK in three days, but there were a few problems with that scenario…
A familiar pair of arms slid around her waist, and Lara leaned back against Kurtis, closing her eyes. They stood that way without speaking, while Lara tried to sort through the conflict in her brain. Finally, he interrupted her thoughts. "I'm leaving in the morning."
Lara nodded slowly: she'd expected as much. Her restlessness was almost a mirror of his. "Where will you go?" she asked quietly, shrugging out of his grip to see him better.
He shrugged, his eyes on the skyline. "Out of Turkey. Isn't that what matters?"
Lara marvelled at the way that, after they'd been through so much together, they could still be just as distant now as they were when they'd first met. "I suppose so," she replied, as neutrally as she could.
An impulsive thought sprang into her mind, and she had to bite her tongue to keep from voicing it. Come back with me. She closed her eyes, quashing the internal debate that had been raging through her since their return.
She was dead against settling down, getting married, having children. She didn't even think she could stand to have someone move in with her, and who knew if that would change? She didn't want to lose Kurtis, but it was unfair to place her limitations on him. It was this more than anything that made her hold her tongue.
"How about you?" he asked. "Are you still going back to England?"
He watched her as she nodded, almost imperceptibly. "I think so." She shifted uncomfortably. Kurtis resisted the urge to shake his head at how things had all of a sudden gotten so awkward between them. He couldn't tell what she was thinking; whether she would be glad to get back to her old life, or whether she was dreading it. He took a breath to say the words, Come with me, to wherever it is I'm going, but she spoke first. "It'll be good to see Winston, at least."
Kurtis knew in that moment that he couldn't do it. Lara was a woman who valued her independence, who violently opposed any kind of oppression – who was he to stand in the way?
His mind was in turmoil. I'm going to lose her, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.
She looked up at him, her expression frank. "I'm going to miss you." He could only nod, unable to reach out to pull her near, fearing that any physical contact between them now would only turn him into an emotional wreck. His mind skipped back to the night before, to the way they had made love and fallen asleep, fatigued yet content, in the stillness afterwards. If he had known it would be the last time… He pushed away the thought. It was pointless to dwell on things that could not be changed.
Lara watched Kurtis retreat into his own thoughts. His face was closed to her as it had not been for weeks, and she could feel him withdrawing from her almost as a physical pull. She understood… sympathised, even. But there was no way she could bridge the gap between them. Kurtis had made his decision, and it was the right one. They would only destroy each other, otherwise.
"I'm going to bed. Have a safe trip, okay?" She hated the formality to her tone, the stiffness in her words, but she couldn't be around this man a second longer.
She took three steps before his hand on her arm stopped her. Without a word, he pulled her into his arms, and they held each other tightly, taking warmth and comfort from each other for moment after long moment.
Too soon, they separated. For long seconds, they stared into one another's faces, until Lara could no longer stand it. Swiftly, she pressed her lips to his, breaking off before he could respond, and fled.
Kurtis stared blankly at the clock on the bedside table, waiting for the digital numbers to click from 04:59 to 05:00. He had spent the night in the room Jean had allocated him on their first stay, tormented by thoughts of Lara just down the hall. His emotions had flipped from one extreme to another: one minute he lay wishing Lara would come to him, the next he sat up, trying to persuade himself to go to her – or dissuade himself. One instant he sat in dark self-loathing for his inability to reach out, and the next he bitterly cursed Lara for being so distant. He could not have gotten more than three hours of sleep throughout the entire night, and those hours had been spent in restless dreaming.
The numbers clicked over, and Kurtis forced himself out of bed and began to dress. It took him less than ten minutes to be ready to walk out of the door, and he left his room, shutting the door behind him and walking down the hall with a backward glance at Lara's room. Putting her out of his mind as best he could, he descended the stairs and crossed to the front door, stepping out into the sunrise and taking a deep breath of fresh air.
A voice addressed him as he stepped off the porch. "You're really going, then?"
He halted, but could not bring himself to turn around, knowing that if he did, his resolve would be broken. "Yeah."
Lara's voice held a trace of bitter amusement when she replied; clearly, she had spent her night in much the same way that he had. "I don't know why I'm surprised."
Was she blaming him? Incredulity flooding through him, he turned to face her. "What do you want me to do, Lara?" he asked shortly, staring up at her irritated expression.
She shook her head, anger and confusion in her eyes. "I don't know," she returned sharply. "But there are a few things I do know for sure."
Kurtis trod firmly upon the hope that threatened to rise in his heart as he waited for her to continue.
"I know that I can't settle down, ask you to move in, become a domesticated happy family like Jean and Marianne," she told him, still with some force to her voice. What little optimism that had bloomed in Kurtis' soul faded, and he continued his course towards the rental car, shaking his head in disgust at her determination to rip his heart to shreds.
Her next words brought him to a standstill, softly-spoken though they were. "But I also know that I can't just let you go like this."
As she took the porch steps down into the front garden, Kurtis took a seat on the bonnet of the car, watching her approach. She had no idea how he would respond to her words, and her stomach twisted with the anticipation.
Finally, he nodded. "I know." Relieved at the lack of animosity in him, Lara sat beside him. A few minutes passed before she spoke.
"The Café Metro, October seventh, at noon." A slight smile curved her lips as she slid her hand over his. He took it and squeezed it as she continued, "You free?"
He smiled. "I am now."
She rested her head on his shoulder, sighing. "What time is your flight?"
"Early enough that I need to get going within the next five minutes." Reluctantly, Kurtis slid off the bonnet of the car, and Lara followed. Once standing, she wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tightly, inhaling his familiar scent one final time.
"You know, if you go out and find someone else, I'm going to kick your arse," she murmured into his shoulder, only half-joking.
He chuckled. "Took the words right out of my mouth." When he drew away from their embrace, his face was serious. "Take care of yourself. I'd hate to have to go on another murderous quest to avenge you."
"You, too." When Kurtis tilted her face up to his, Lara succumbed to his kiss willingly, knowing this would be the last time in a month that she would see him. Unable to stop herself, she pulled him closer, her tongue teasing his. She would have given anything at that moment to break down, to beg him to stay, but she knew that she would ultimately regret it. Maybe the break would help her gain some clarity on the matter.
Breathing hard, they separated, and their gazes locked. For one crazy moment, Lara thought he was going to say what she could not, but then he shook his head ruefully. "I have to go," he breathed against her lips, his words belied by his actions as he kissed her again. By the time he released her, Lara was trembling. From his expression, she guessed Kurtis was not too calm, either.
"Go," she whispered, before she could change her mind. Kurtis nodded, and offered no resistance as she backed away. Without looking at her, he slung his backpack past the driver's seat to the passenger side, and slid behind the wheel. It wasn't until he'd slammed the door shut that he looked back at her.
Aching inside, Lara forced a smile and raised her hand in a last goodbye. Kurtis returned the gesture, and pulled the car out of the driveway. Facing the open road, he slowed the vehicle to a stop for a second, as if steeling himself for what he was about to do. After a moment that seemed at once too long and not long enough, the rusted old rental-car rolled forward, picking up speed, until it was only a speck in the distance.
Lara watched until it vanished out of sight on the horizon before turning and walking back towards Jean's house. It wasn't until she felt the slight breeze evaporate the moisture on her cheeks that she realised how deeply the loss had cut.
Finished! All done! Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed this, and I'd love to know what you thought of the ending. :hugs all reviewers:
The sequel to this story is in progress – it's called The Light of Truth.
Finally, I'm sorry to my wonderful friend Abby for misleading her as to the nature of the ending. :hands over chocolate as penance: