It was a long tiring journey that the foursome made that night. They'd traveled for as long as they dared but considering the open wastelands as well as Ivan's weakening condition, the time soon came that they dared not travel any farther; rest was needed and the night was drawing on; the air was cold. Soon, they'd found a cluster of boulders and cliffs which provided some moderate protection from the elements. Once they'd arrived, Hicks set about with building a fire while Lucy and Priestess set up the tents and got Ivan settled in for the night. Once they were all settled in, Priestess sent the two youngsters off to bed. Lucy protested but at her father's bidding, she finally relented and Hicks and her retired to the nearby tent.
"Thank you." Ivan whispered horasely. Priestess looked at him; he smiled gratefully. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him smile...the expression though small and weak, lit up his blue eyes ever so slightly and for a moment, overwhelming emotion rose in her throat and unshed tears prickled her eyes. "We need to make sure that wound is clean..." she quickly turned her face away, not wanting Ivan to catch her tears. Rummaging around in her saddle bag, she procured a small glass bottle of peroxide, a roll of gauze and tube of ointment from her first aid kit. The peroxide and ointment were a particularly concentrated strain designed for complete cleansing of particularly lethal wounds, mainly sustained from vampires. Even though Ivan's wound was none other than a simple stab wound, Priestess wouldn't take any chances; she woud clean and dress the wound thoroughly. Returning with the dressings, she set about to tending his injury. Carefully, she cut away the torn peices of cloth from his shoulder. Ivan watched her intently; her fingers moved deftly as she skillfully cleansed the wound. Her eyes were focused...almost painfully on her task and it wasn't long before Ivan sensed something was wrong. He watched her face but she carefully avoided meeting his gaze, keeping her eyes trained on dressing his wounds. Once the wound had been cleaned thoroughly, Priestess prepared a needle and thread to stitch the deep gash closed. Taking the thread, she attempted to thread the needle; her hands began to tremble and her brows knitted together as she focused hard. Ivan caught the intensity of her eyes as she focused, he caught the trembling of her hands as the tremors increased; something was terribly wrong and reaching out his hand he gently grasped hers. "What is it?"
For moments longer, she still could not meet his gaze. Her jaw clenched as she fought hard to subdue her surging emotions; she had no desire to show him her weakness. As a warrior for God, she was meant to be strong, focused...not vulnerable and timid. But somehow in light of everything they'd faced over the years in the war and since then, something inside her broke. she'd been parted from him for nearly fifteen years and in spite of the horrors they'd survived all throughout the war, this time had been worse; nearly losing him at the end, it had killed her and when she'd seen his tired figure through the haze of smoke, she'd nearly broke down into uncontrollable weeping; the relief that had swept her was inconceivable. And now, somehow it all came crashing down on her like a ton of bricks...she knew looking at him now and she'd lose it.
She felt the tears pressing at the corners of her eyes.
He inhaled sharply as she felt his hand cupping her cheek, tilting her face to meet his. "You...how do you know my name...?"
"I heard you and Marcus talking once...many years ago. You'd spoken of abandoning the priesthood; you said you weren't strong enough and it shamed to you to be such a weakness. You felt you were bringing them dishonor. But Marcus knew...as well as I...that there was never a priestess stronger and more gifted...he'd called you by name and convinced you to stay. He'd also saved your life...because abandoning the priesthood then...would've meant death."
Priestess was stunned. Though they'd always been close, she never knew that Ivan knew her so intimately. It seemed even now that he could see into her very soul...
She shook her head dumbly, turning away from him. "I'm fine. Really I'm just tired and I'm just very...relieved that God has watched over us." She rose from beside him then and replaced the gauze and peroxide into her saddle bag.
"What I said before...because of Shannon it-"
"No. I completely understand."
Priest raised his eyes to hers. She interrupted him and turned a plastered on look of understanding but he could tell it was a mere mask to hide her true emotions. Suddenly, he felt a wall go up between them and the density was nearly suffocating.
"Shannon was your wife...it is only natural that you would want to remain true to her memory...I am the one who should be asking your forgiveness...what I said before I...I was completely out of line. And it goes against the guidelines of our vows."
Every word she spoke was like another sharp dagger piercing his heart. Suddenly, his urge to keep her close...and from pushing him away, was so strong, he clenched his fists at his sides and stood to his feet. "No...Isolde you misunderstand m-"
"No really, I completely understand; it's alright there is no need for you to explain your reasons...I respect them whatever they may be." Though her outward resolved remained firm, she felt herself crumbling inside. Though Ivan had rejected her twice before, each time it seemed to hurt a little more...and each time a larger piece of her died with it. Her eyes prickled with tears and she turned away. "I must get some rest...as should you, Priest." and without another word, she disappeared into the tent ajoining his.
Priest was left alone by the smoldering fire...alone with his thoughts that now murderously tortured him. It wasn't until that moment before the explosion...when his eyes last glimpsed Isolde as she drove her vehicle into the destructive path, that he realized everything she meant to him. She meant just that... everything. There was a part of him that still clung to Shannon's memory...but then when he saw Isolde coming towards him through the smoke and ash, unhurt...he knew then that that last little part of him had died and that his whole heart was now free to be completely devoted to her. But he knew she was right; everything they felt for one another was in direct contradiction to their vows...how could they reconcile it, being bound to this vow for most of their lives? He resolved that somehow...someday he would find a way to show Isolde all of what he felt and he wouldn't allow her to push him away then. No. She meant more than life to him now and he couldn't let that go...he'd nearly lost everything and despite his physical and spiritual strength, a part of him knew he could not withstand another loss so great.
The next morning, sun blinded Priestess eyes as it pierced through the tent flap. she could tell it was still early for the dew was still fresh upon the few springs of grass that dotted the ground. Turning over, her eyes caught sight of Priest's sleeping form. She wondered why he'd chosen to sleep in her tent instead of retiring to his own. Just then, he turned over on his back and his eyes fluttered open. "After years of training together, fighting together, eating together and..." He paused turning his face towards her. "I've grown so accustomed to this, even after nearly 15 years of isolation; not seeing you or the others...there is a part of me that still and will always remember."
She nods and smiles. "It is perhaps wiser to keep close to one another; strength in numbers was our first lesson in training." He smiled back and still that expression so seldom seen upon his countenance, caused her insides to twist with aching delight.
"What is it?" his voice was barely above a whisper.
"It's just been...so many years since I've seen you smile...I seldom saw it in the days of us all together in training but even now...I remember it well; the few times I did see...I held those memories close to my heart. They gave me hope somehow that what we were fighting for was worth it; despite everything we've sacrificed."
"There was never rhyme or reason for me to feel happiness or even contentment any longer...since joining the Clergy and losing my family there were so many other aspects of myself that just...faded with time. It wasn't until I came to know you that that all changed for me. With your friendship, came something that I could suddenly live for. I felt I had some meaning and purpose; something that I was at last able to fight for...fight to keep safe and protected..." He trailed off as his blue eyes found her deep brown orbs, brimming with tears. "Isolde...I wish there was some way I could show you what you have meant to me; you've given so much...you've always stood by my side even when I went against my vows to the Church and Clergy...you went against direct orders; you risked everything ..."
"You are my brother, Ivan...in peace and war; no matter what comes I will always stand by your side...in life and death."
He watched her for a long moment. Something told him she was distancing herself from him and she wasn't being fully honest with the thoughts of her heart. He couldn't blame her... how many times had he rejected her confessions of love? Despite his honest reasons, it pained him now to see that it had only caused a subtle distrust between them. She no longer held herself completely open to him. She was honest but guarded and withdrawn.
"We should wake the others; we have a long journey yet."
He nodded his silent agreement and once Hicks and Lucy were awake, the group packed up the camp and once again started the long tedious journey towards the outlying villages of Sector 12.