LaCroix felt the sharp pain of the glass cutting into his throat. Divia pushed it a little deeper, smiling as he winced with pain. That cold, cruel smile hurt him far worse than the glass ever could.
"Does it hurt, Father?" she asked
him, her voice dripping with cruel sarcasm. Out of pain, he didn't answer
and so she pushed the glass even further into his neck.
LaCroix felt the life slipping away from him as the edge of the glass cut deeper into him. His vision began to blur, and as it did his long life passed before his eyes. He saw once again his life as general in the Roman army and the career he had made of crushing Rome's enemies. He saw Selene and Divia as they once were--the family he always wanted but could never have. Then he saw Divia again as the creature who saved him from death when Vesuvius erupted, and yet again as the monster he could not bear to look upon just before he beheaded her. More scenes came, each one familiar to him. Janette-- his precious Raven-- was now at his side. Then came Nicholas. Nicholas... the most painful memories of all were of him. There was but one shining star in the darkness of his past, and her name was Fleur. Fleur, his sweet and gentle flower! How brief her image passed through his mind, leaving behind only the most heart wrenching pain. LaCroix felt a sob rise and choke in his slit throat. He couldn't prevent it because he was too weak from the abuse his master had given him. The memories were too painful for him to bear, and in his weakness, LaCroix despaired, resigning himself to the death he believed inevitable.
Divia smiled, crowing triumphantly, when she heard the strangled sound come from her father/son as he lay crumpled upon the floor of the Raven. Feeling that her work was done and her revenge complete, she set aside the glass. As she stood, she watched him, admiring her handiwork. She could feel him dying, and she was pleased.
She stumbled suddenly, from a blow to her back. Turning her head slightly, she could see the figure behind her as he thrust the stake deeper into her chest. Her eyes went round in a mixture of shock and pain. Her glance fell upon LaCroix. "Father..." she choked out as she fell to the floor beside him.
Nick knelt beside his master. He reached out, his hand hovering centimeters before LaCroix's face, but he could not bring himself to touch him. Like Divia, Nick could feel LaCroix's life slowly slipping away. LaCroix, on the other hand, had ceased to feel anything as consciousness slowly slipped from him. His last sight was of someone standing behind Divia, both of them blurry. He tried to make out who it was, but the vision faded into darkness.
Nick unbuttoned and pushed up his sleeve. Biting into his wrist, he held it to LaCroix's lips. "Drink, damn you!" he nearly shouted as LaCroix lay unresponsive in his arms. "Drink!"
"Lucien..." The voice seemed to be coming from everywhere. At first, LaCroix thought that it had come from his mind-- from some long repressed memory-- but now it came from outside his mind.
"Lucien..." When it called again, he slowly opened his eyes, blinking in a light that was brighter than any sunlight he had ever seen. As he did, LaCroix became overwhelmed by sensations he had never felt before. The air surrounding him seemed charged and alive. He could almost see the energy that vibrated in it. It caressed his skin, softer than the softest satin or the finest silk.
"Lucien..." came the voice again. LaCroix turned in the direction that sounded closer.
Before him stood a figure robed in sunlight, a young woman with blonde hair and the bluest eyes he had ever imagined.
"Fleur..." he whispered aloud, his voice breathless with recognition. "Fleur... how came you here?" he asked hesitantly.
"I came because you needed me," she told him, stepping closer to him. She knelt beside him and took him in her arms.
LaCroix allowed himself to be cradled like a child. Her presence near him eased his pain and replaced it with immense joy and peace. "My Fleur," he sighed happily. "The years have been so lonely without you."
"But I have always been here, Lucien. Did you not know?"
Her reply startled and vexed him, and he sat up, pushing away from her abruptly. "What are you saying?" he asked, his eyes narrowing slightly. "How is that possible?"
Understanding shone bright in her eyes, and she smiled warmly at him. "With God, all things are possible, Lucien."
"God..." LaCroix echoed. He thought back upon the Roman gods of his youth and how they had been shown to be false. This god that had replaced them-- this Christian God-- perplexed him. How could he be real, if the gods before him had not? LaCroix had spent nearly two millennia denying this God, but here was Fleur saying God existed. "Your God sent you to me?" he queried, trying to regain his composure. When she nodded, he pressed her with another question. "For what reason?"
"To give you another chance," was her reply.
"Life. Lucien, can you not see that you are dying?" she pointed to where, in the real world, Nick was trying desperately to get LaCroix to drink his blood.
"I have no wish to be indebted to him," LaCroix stated, "therefore, it would be better if I were dead."
Fleur frowned at his sudden coldness. "Why must you act this way, Lucien? Why will you not allow yourself to believe... to have faith?"
"Faith? Faith in what, pray tell? A god who has yet to prove himself to me?" LaCroix asked of her, sounding now more like his old self.
"Hasn't he? Shouldn't my presence
here be proof enough of God's existence? Oh, Lucien, please believe!" she
begged. "You have no idea how horrible it was for me-- watching you go
through the centuries alone, feeling your pain! Please believe, then we
can be together again... as we were meant to be!"
"As we were... meant to be?" LaCroix echoed uncertainly. He looked at her now with a hesitant hope. "What do you mean, Fleur... 'as we were meant to be'?"
"Just what I say. Lucien, my love, Nicolas was wrong about us," said Fleur. "He should never have torn us apart."
"He was wrong?"
"Of course he was. Hasn't your heart been telling you that all these long years? Oh, Lucien, I have so longed to be with you... to have the future we could have had. It would have been a joyous life," she told him.
"What would it have been like, my dear?" LaCroix asked, his voice softening. A part of him desperately wanted to believe her.
"Look into my eyes, and you will see how it was to have been..."
*** How it could have been ***
Four children, three boys and a young girl, ran playing on a hilltop overlooking the sea. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore could be heard in the background. They paused, hearing their mother's voice calling out to them, then they raced down the slope in a disorganized fashion. At the bottom of the hill, they met their mother and two more children-- a baby boy and a girl of about two.
"You called us, Mother," the oldest said after greeting her with a reverent kiss.
"I did," the mother replied. "Your father returned from Paris today. He has asked that I bring you all to him."
When the others raced ahead, excited to see their father again, the oldest boy lagged behind to walk beside his mother. Lifting his little sister into his arms, he asked, "Did things go well for him in Paris? Did he speak to Uncle Nicolas?"
The boy's mother sighed. "He did, André, but they did not reconcile. I am afraid they never will."
The boy fell silent as they walked
back to their home.
It was a fine home, a small country manor
overlooking the Mediterranean. There was a large courtyard, stables and
a beautiful garden. The family lacked nothing and led a happy existence.
"Maybe he'll forgive Father someday," André suggested as they entered the house and made their way to the main hall where his father and the other children awaited them.
The mother gave her son a weak smile. Pushing open the door, she entered the main hall, followed by André. The little girl squirmed out of her brother's arms and ran to her father. "Papa!" she cried out in joy.
LaCroix scooped his daughter up in his arms, hugging her fiercely.
*** End of what could have happened ***
LaCroix turned to Fleur uncertainly as the vision faded from her eyes. "How is it possible?" he asked. This time, however, his question lacked the harshness of cruel disbelief. It was hopeful and full of awe.
"God..." Fleur told him. "and love... our love."
"Our love...brought me back?"
Fleur nodded gently. "It was meant to be, Lucien, but Nicolas prevented it. He was wrong."
"I don't quite understand, my dear. How could this have happened?"
"I loved you so much, Lucien, and I wanted us to be together, but I was afraid of the life you led. I prayed to God that my love would bring out the goodness in you. I then went to you, and gave myself to you. When you took my blood..." she fell silent when she saw the tears in his eyes.
"Like Janette and her Robert..." LaCroix said softly.
Fleur reached out to catch one of the tears on her finger tip. "True love," she said, holding the tear out to him. His eyes widened when he saw that it was of salt and not blood.
"Can it be?" he whispered softly to her.
"Yes, Lucien. Search your heart and
you'll know it to be so." She drew him back into her arms, and their lips
met in a gentle kiss. "You must go back now," she said when the kiss ended.
They both turned to where Nick was kneeling beside LaCroix's lifeless body.
"Why won't you drink?" Nick whined at his master's body. "Why?" He was crying. He ripped open his wrist yet again and held it to the mouth that would not stay open long enough to drink. "Please, LaCroix! You can't leave me!" he cried.
"Nick?" came a voice from behind him. Nick turned to see Natalie entering the Raven. She rushed to his side when she saw the scene before her. "Nick! What are you doing?"
"I have to save him, Nat!" Nick said in anguish as she pulled his wrist away from LaCroix. "Stop it, Nat! I have to do something to save him!"
Nat quickly assessed the situation. "Nick, I think he's dead," she told him, trying to be gentle.
"He can't be!" Nick wailed. "*I* survived! How could he be dead if I survived? Nat, do something!"
"What do you want me to do, Nick? Check his pulse?"
"Yes, if it will help!" Nick's wrist
had healed again and again he tore it open to give to LaCroix. "Please,
drink..." he said in a pleading tone.
Nat sighed. "Nick, he's dead, I tell you," she said as she took up LaCroix's wrist to humor him. "You should just--" She fell silent and her eyes went round with disbelief.
"I should just what, Nat?" Nick asked, turning his attention to her. "Nat, what is it?" he asked when her saw her expression.
"A pulse... he has a pulse," she said in a stunned voice. She pressed Nick's fingers to the wrist. "Do you feel it, Nick?"
"A pulse!" Nick exclaimed. "He's alive! He's..." The exclamation died on Nick's lips. "He's mortal," was the deadpan comment that followed.
Nat didn't answer. She was too busy watching the blood flow from Nick's wrist-- a wrist that was *not* healing as should have been. "Nick, I think you need a bandaid," she said, calling his attention to the wrist.
As Nat bandaged his wrist, Nick tried to make sense of what had happened. "Nat... how?" he asked.
"I don't know, Nick. I don't know."
They both looked at LaCroix. He was breathing visibly now, but was still not conscious. They looked at each other.
"We're both mortal," Nick whispered, as
if saying it aloud would reverse the unknown process that had granted him
mortality. "Nat!" he exclaimed suddenly, engulfing her in a hug.
"Are you ready to go back now?" Fleur asked him.
"Must I?" LaCroix asked in return.
"He needs you," she replied.
"I need you," he countered.
"It won't be forever, Lucien. Besides,
I will always be here for you." She smiled at him and kissed his cheek.
As Nick and Nat continued to hug, LaCroix slowly opened his eyes. Through the mist, he could see them in their embrace. Hovering near them was the outline of a young woman cloaked in sunlight, and as he looked at her, she gave a small wave.
"Fleur..." he said in a hoarse whisper.
"Je t'aime, mon amour..."