Never Talk to Strangers

by Shadowy Star

March 2006

Disclaimer: I don't own the Coldfire trilogy. It belongs to C.S. Friedman. I do own this story. Do not archive or translate or otherwise use it without permission.

A/N: Didn't your mother warn you to never talk to strangers?

„Please," he said, holding his voice even. He would not beg. He would not. Though he wished he could make the importance of his request clear, make her not deny it, Work her into agreement. But there was no way for that now, not ever again. But you do what you have to and live with the consequences.

Slowly, the Matriarch of the Western Autocracy of the Church of Unification turned around to face that unbidden visitor, her reflection in the clear glass of a floor-to-ceiling window in her audience room doing the same.

The Matriarch was small and appeared to be fifty-two, at maximum, the skin of her face still smooth and her golden-blond hair only slightly woven with silver. Her beauty had lost the soft curves of youth but beneath it something else was lurking, hard and unyielding like a steel blade. And more... A great strength in her bluish green eyes that reminded him strangely of Damien. They were warm, just like Damien's, and held the same kindness.

"He's no longer a priest of my Church," she finally said. Her voice as even as his own, as steady. Again, he couldn't Know her reasons. Couldn't Know her. The fae around him flowed steadily, no longer responding to mankind's hopes and wishes. Not even to his.

"You cast him out?" he asked disbelievingly, working hard to keep the blame from his voice, covering it with politeness. He succeeded only due to practice of more than nine hundred years. The last thing he wanted was to make her angry. He recognized a force of nature when he saw one. Well, back before the Change she might have been exactly that – literally.

She looked at him, clearly surprised. "I did not. On the contrary, I offered him his former job. But he insisted. For some reason, he convinced himself to be unworthy of serving the One God."

Vryce, you're an idiot! was his first thought, followed by an intense feeling rising within his heart which he without surprise recognized as guilt. This was completely and entirely his fault. "Please." For once, the word came utterly naturally to his lips. "Tell me where to find him," he went on, completely unaware just how much of that guilt was audible in his voice.

The Matriarch looked at him at that, questioningly, as if considering something, eyes narrowed slightly, fine brows drawn together. "And what if he doesn't want to be found?" she asked, softly. Steel, again, in that voice, and a challenge.

He stepped back as if being hit. She was right, he thought darkly, why on Erna would Damien wish to be found –to be precise found by him– after everything that'd happened, after everything he'd done to him? He felt his face getting pale and hoped desperately the olive hue of his skin would be enough to hide it.

"What makes you think he would want to see you?" the Matriarch said as if she could read his mind like an Iezu.

He recoiled inwardly at her insight. The Matriarch certainly knew people. Lying to her would prove disastrous.

"Tell me, Mer da Silva. Tell me if you can. Why should I let you find him?" she asked again.

That was then he finally said the words he should have said long ago – and to someone else.

He reined in his unhorse when the vast expanse of brownish gray hills gave way to miles of golden coast and turquoise ocean. The air was filled with sharp scents of salt and sea plants and somewhere in the distance sea gulls were circling lazily, winged points of white against the pale blue of summer sky.

Ganji was called on-the-Cliffs for a reason. It looked like glued right to said high cliffs and Gerald wondered if it was possible to rediscover the technology making this possible. Technology that was lost so many centuries ago. Ganij was old, back then one of the first towns built when human population on Erna had grown enough to make towns a necessity. In the mean time, it had grown, thrived and prospered and slowly become a city. The massive walls surrounding it were built to withstand even the worst of earthquakes and so it wasn't surprising at all that they, in fact, did. Some stones looked bright and new but the walls as a whole were still strong and standing. Nothing like in Jaggonath. Even with quake wards, most parts of city walls had to be rebuilt every five years or so.

Yes, Ganji was old. But the strength whispering in every wall and corner was unmistakably great.

It was a reflection and a testament to the strength of the people living within those walls, a strength he had so often seen in Damien, had so often admired. Had finally come to love, as he had come to love the man.

Gerald rode through the South Gate and into the city. The Matriarch had changed her mind for reasons that escaped his comprehension and finally given him Damien's address but it was late afternoon in Ganji and just about everyone seemed to hurry to somewhere, successfully overloading Gerald's no longer fae-enhanced sense of orientation.

He dismounted at what seemed to be an inn and searched his bags for an up to date map of Ganji he'd purchased in the Western Autocracy's capital one week ago. He breathed a sigh of relief when he was finally able to locate the district he was looking for and calculate the distance from his current position to there.

He wasn't aware of the curious looks he was given by the pedestrians and he didn't care either. He didn't see an elderly woman beckoning a young boy to her and whispering something into the boy's ear nor was he aware that half a minute later the same boy mounted a large stallion and galloped off in the same direction Gerald himself was about to head off.

So, unaware, he mounted again and took a well used street leading away from the city center.

The street he was following was quiet, lined with extremely well built, big houses. Bushes of every kind surrounded each house, overflowing with scent and color. From the distance, he could hear soft murmur of ocean waves. A soft breeze whispered in the flowers.

Amazing, he thought. Blooming gardens amid of sharp cliffs. Amazing.

He rode on.

To his left, an even larger building appeared, with another of those big houses –again surrounded with blooming bushes and other flowers– a bit to the right. Behind the house there seemed to be a much larger garden. Some kind of celebration was apparently going on since cheerful voices and guitar music sounded through wide open windows from within the smaller house.

A girl of maybe ten in a green silk dress run from the house and right up to Gerald, leaving the door open. Inside, he could see cheerfully smiling adults and happily laughing children, celebrating something, maybe a birthday.

He dismounted.

"Is this Fourth Ring 47?" he asked her friendly. He hadn't been surprised to find Ganji-on-the-Cliffs was built old style, in concentric rings around its center with the first three rings being reserved to the bureaucracy of the Church and the government.

"Yes!" the girl exclaimed. "Are you here for the party?"


"Uncle Damien's party, of course. There's always a party when he's back! You must be a relative from far away!" she exclaimed cheerfully.

"Why is Uncle Damien having a party?" Gerald asked, keeping the annoyance bordering on anger from his voice. He was not supposed to have a party! He was supposed to be depressed and miss him, Gerald.

"Nia, Dear, what did I say about talking to strangers?" A young woman with dark blond hair and Damien's brown eyes shoved her very pregnant body through the door frame and hurried to catch the girl around her middle. She, too, wore a dress of silk but hers was of an amber yellow, with cream colored lace lining its collar and cuffs.

"But he's here for the party!"

"Are you really? Then what are you doing standing here?" she asked. "By the way, I'm Cerena Vryce, and this is my daughter Elynar."

"Da Silva," Gerald said curtly, then swiftly added a more polite "Nice to meet you".

"And you are related to my cousin how?"

Cousin? Alright, that explained the eyes. "Not related. An old friend," he explained. And more, I hope, he added silently.

"Nice to meet you, too. Come in," Cerena said, smiling. So this is where Elynar's cheerfulness is from, Gerald thought.

He followed mother and daughter to the house and inside.

Their entrance seemed to pass unnoticed. Until, of course, Cerena shoved him into a large room, obviously living area and loudly announced:

"Everyone, this is another of Damien's friends, Mer da Silva!"

The effect was immediate.

Everyone turned to look at him and after a second or two of silence warm voiced greetings filled the room. It made Gerald's heart clench painfully in his chest. He couldn't remember when last he was being greeted like this. He'd always refused to acknowledge he wanted to be greeted like this. Occupied with dealing with the sudden lump in his throat, he missed three intent gazes on him from three persons standing in different places. He missed a silent exchange of nods and looks between all three as he missed an elderly man quietly slipping out of the room.

Then the crowd parted and Damien stepped through, slowly. He wore pants of butter soft dark gray leather and a pale gray silk shirt that contrasted beautifully with his deep golden tan, reddish brown hair and warm hazel brown eyes. Gerald had a few moments to wonder at the other man's lack of surprise but then their eyes met and everything else was driven out of his head.

Those beautiful hazel brown eyes were smiling.

"Welcome to my party," he said. "Mer da Silva." Did Damien's voice always sound that deep and warm, like a velvet caress? Gerald wondered, feeling his heart melting like butter on a summer day.

"Is that a proper way to welcome your friends?" the woman in sky blue to the left –slender, with another set of brown eyes, only hers were a light brown of milk chocolate– asked. She was older than Cerena by at least seven years.

"Oh well," Damien sighed exaggeratedly, turning and taking away his gaze and Gerald almost reached out to stop the movement, to return Damien's attention to himself. Almost.

"Sister lovely," Damien said in the meanwhile, obviously unaware of Gerald's shameless staring, "meet Mer da Silva. Mer da Silva, meet my older sister, Moreen Rennis. The man to her right is her husband, Don." Don was a sturdy man with increasing amount of silver in his golden brown hair. "Over there are their children, Keera and Larise." Both girls had Moreen's brown eyes. Keera had her father's golden brown hair while Larise's hair was a few shades lighter than her mother's strawberry blond. "I see," Damien continued, "you met Cerena already and my lovely niece Elynar. Cerena's a daughter of my only paternal uncle. That's the old man in brown over there."

Gerald nodded politely to the man across the room.

A very tall man with mostly gray hair and blue eyes was introduced to him as Damien's older brother Nick along with his flame haired wife Assandra and seventeen years old son Kris. Another man, brown haired and green eyed, was Damien's younger brother Vadik, recently married to Diana, a small woman with black hair and eyes of a very dark brown. She was also the guitar player from earlier. Damien's younger sister was Janett, a slender woman with blue gray eyes and dark red hair. She, too, was pregnant. Her lover was Bennar, a young man with blue eyes whose black hair was streaked blue and red. After that, Gerald tuned out the long list of younger children.

"How many relatives do you have, a million?" he finally asked, silently despairing at the whirl of names and faces.

"A lot," Damien grinned. "Half a million maybe."

Another woman, a carbon copy of Cerena, sans being pregnant, rushed towards them and threw herself into Damien's arms unceremoniously.

"Damien! Oh, you're back! How long were you gone, four months? It's far too long!"

Damien carefully extricated himself from her embrace.

"And this is Alina, Cerena's twin sister. And if you ever thought Cerena bad … well, Alina is much worse."

"And who is this handsome stranger?" Alina asked, giving Gerald a curious and flirtatious look. "Is he the mysterious friend you've told us thousand and one story about?"

Gerald stared at him, surprised.

Damien had the grace to look embarrassed.

"What's with the sudden heterosexuality, Alina dear? Mandy not putting up?" he retorted swiftly.

"Meanie!" she swatted him on the shoulder. "We're just fine, thank you very much," and with that she turned and hurried away in search of her lover, chuckling.

"Ignore her," Damien said. "She's just like that – mischievousness incarnate."

"I heard that!" Alina shouted from across the room.

Gerald laughed.

Damien smiled.

Oh and how different that smile was from those he'd seen so often on Damien's lips during their journey, Gerald thought. This smile was open, honest and cheerful, not empty and full of hidden sadness. It seemed Damien lived as much a new life as Gerald himself did. Somehow it hurt. Badly.

He couldn't help but notice the subtle changes in the other man. The haunted look had vanished completely from his features, his eyes were shining, on the whole making him look younger than his thirty eight years. Yet there was something behind those beloved hazel brown eyes, something not old but ageless, lurking deep down. It hadn't been there when they'd first met. It added immensely to Damien's beauty. Oh well, talk about having it bad.

"Damien!" Cerena's voice drew their attention to another area of the room. "Your mother needs your help in the kitchen!"

"Come on," Damien said with a tiny but wicked grin. "I want to introduce you to my parents."

Gerald barely managed not to gulp. Somehow the idea of being introduced to Damien's parents was making him ‒ no, not nervous, where did you get that idea? Close to panicking was more like it. Especially if the day were to turn out the way he'd planned.

Walking in Damien's tow, he left the room, crossed a corridor and entered a spacious kitchen which at the moment looked like a hurricane had whirled in and out again.

In the middle of all the pans and plates and cutlery and trays laden with delicious looking food a woman was standing, her hands on her hips.

Damien made his way through the chaos, Gerald following.

"Mum," he said unceremoniously when Gerald caught up with him. "May I introduce Mer da Silva to you?"

Damien's mother was a small slender woman with deep lines of laughter around her hazel brown eyes, otherwise smooth skin and hair that may have been golden blond in her youth but was now more of a pale blond and generously woven with silver. She nodded, looking intently at Gerald.

"Mer da Silva, this is my mother, Genevieve Vryce."

"Very pleased to meet you, mylady," Gerald bowed deeply and planted a light kiss onto the back of her hand.

"Trying to charm me, young man?" Mes Vryce asked, a faint trace of amusement in her voice. Her eyes were still watching him intensively as if measuring, as if searching for something.

"I could never compete with the most charming of all ladies on the whole of Erna."

Damien couldn't help laughing. "Isn't that a bit too much, even for you?"

Gerald arched an eyebrow in response.

Mes Vryce looked at him then at her son then at Gerald again.

And burst into laughter.

Gerald couldn't read the gaze she exchanged with her son –which was saying something, he had the experience of nine hundred years after all– and this was when the striking resemblance finally registered in his mind.

The eyes were a different color and the hair was more silver than it was blond but Genevieve's face still held traces of the same beauty and her eyes still did hold the same steel and kindness as the Matriarch's.

Mes Vryce smiled knowingly. "Took you long enough, Mer da Silva."

Damien shared in his mother's slightly secretive smile.

"You and the Matriarch are related?" Gerald asked finally.

"She's my younger sister," Genevieve Vryce replied.

He turned to Damien to stare at him in surprise. "You never told me you're that far up in the Church's hierarchy!"

"You didn't ask," a prompt answer came, mischievous and cheerful, and Gerald quite unsuccessfully tried to stop his heart from melting all over again.

The door did what usually was described as 'bursting open' and Alina whirled in, immediately hugging her aunt and turning then to Damien.

"Aunt Genny! They need more cooled drinks in there. And Damien, your dad is looking for you!"

"Go, Damien," Genevieve Vryce said. "And tell him the next time he buys that sad excuse of a wine he'll have to drink it all himself. Never tasted something that 'dry' before!"

Damien nodded and turned to leave.

Gerald bowed respectfully. "Good afternoon, Mes Vryce," he said, straightening.

She looked at him and for a moment steel was everything he could see in her eyes. Don't hurt my son again, those eyes seemed to say, and Gerald inclined his head slightly. Message received.

Samuel Vryce met them halfway to the cellar.

"Dad!" Damien smiled. "This is Mer da Silva. Mer da Silva, this is my father, Samuel Vryce."

"Mer Vryce," again Gerald bowed politely.

"Just Sam," Mer Vryce said, smiling warmly. "Enough of Church manners over there!"

Samuel Vryce was a tall man in his mid-sixties, handsome even now, with brown, silver woven hair and eyes of a deep green, face tanned bronze and, like that of his wife, carrying lines of many years of laughter and family life. He didn't look threatening on the whole but there was something that just screamed not to mess with him.

While Damien was conveying his mother's message, Gerald tried to avoid meeting Samuel's eyes. Sadly, he got distracted by Damien's voice again, so when he looked up he was met with inexorable green. Somehow he'd just known he wouldn't enjoy the experience. He was tempted to try and stare the older man down but figured the chances of success were slim. Those were Damien's parents, after all. So he nodded almost imperceptibly. Again, message received.

"What brings you to Ganji, Mer da Silva?" Sam asked politely.

Gerald froze. 'To beg your son to accept me back' wasn't an acceptable answer, was it? "Oh, I just couldn't miss Damien's party when in Ganji," he finally said. If I only knew what it's all about. His birthday is on February, 1...

"That's very nice of you. Where did you say are you from?"

Gerald silently wished Mer Vryce Sr. to all kinds of Hell.

"Sheva," he answered lightly.

"I've never been to the North. Is Sheva close to the Forbidden Forest?" the older man asked interestedly.

By now Gerald wanted to send Sam Vryce to said Hell personally.

Damien said nothing.

"It is," Gerald nodded.

Finally, Damien had obviously decided to come to his rescue. "I don't think the Forest will remain forbidden for long. A mass tourist attraction is more likely." His voice was calm, without forced steadiness simply because it wasn't needed. He's put it all behind him, Gerald thought. Or maybe he just hasn't cared as much as I thought he did? Cold dread swept through him. It wasn't possible, was it? He'd felt Damien's emotions through their link, he knew what the other had felt. But maybe it wasn't the case anymore?

He should go. No, he shouldn't have come in the first place. He'd been a fool the size of the Dividers to come here. What had he been thinking ‒ that Damien would sink to one knee and declare his undying love for him? Fool, he thought furiously.

"‒you think will become of the North now?"

Both Vryces were looking at him expectantly and he suddenly realized he was being asked something. Unfortunately, he'd completely missed the entire conversation.

"I think, the North will manage," he improvised. The older Vryce nodded, agreeing, from which he concluded he'd said something right. Damien just continued to look at him inquisitively and he got the distinct feeling the younger Vryce wasn't fooled in the slightest. "Not good maybe," he added, "and surely not in the near future but manage it will."

"Never thought I'd see the day you'd say something that optimistic!" Damien was grinning, damn him!

"Pessimism doesn't suit someone so young," Sam Vryce said. "Don't you think, Mer da Silva?"

Gerald ignored the impulse to glare and nodded instead.

Damien looked as if he was trying hard to stifle a laugh.

At that point, Alina again rushed in and spared Gerald the embarrassment. "Oh here are you all! Come on, Cerena's going to sing!" Unceremoniously, she grabbed Gerald's and Damien's hands and towed them towards open doors and laughter.

"Go," Sam said, waving a hand. And maybe he was wrong, but for a second Gerald was almost sure he'd seen something akin to approval in the older man's eyes.

Cerena was indeed a brilliant singer, Gerald mused a few songs later, not ashamed in the slightest to be listening raptly. And that was saying something since he'd heard some of best singers on Erna once.

She had a voice like flowing honey, clear and yet deep, a voice that caught you and carried you anywhere the singer wished to take you. It was a strong base for the delicate notes Diana was teasing forth from her guitar and together, the combination was irresistible.

At some point, Alina walked away to join her lover and was now standing with her arms around a woman with a shock of almost white blond hair and eyes the color of skies. Both had their eyes closed as had nearly everyone in the room, caught in a song of tragical love and fate.

Gerald fought against the tide of feelings the song was calling to the surface. Fought hard because he knew they would overwhelm him mercilessly and then... It wouldn't do to burst into tears on Damien's darn party. When he felt he was again in control of himself he turned to Damien, an acid comment about pointlessness and melodrama ready on his lips. But all of it fled at the look on the other man's face. And then he knew, knew deep down that Damien still felt for him what he'd been sensing through their bond so long ago, knew it with absolute and unshakable conviction. Maybe, oh maybe...

For Damien hadn't closed his eyes and the expression in those hazel brown depths almost undid Gerald right there and then. Pain in Damien's eyes, unguarded now, and his heart lurched in his chest. Something never experienced before, an fierce, strange protectiveness and something even stronger, deeper, halted his words, causing him to exhale sharply, and the moment was lost. The very next second, Damien's eyes again showed nothing and Gerald had to look away for a moment, unable to bear that neutral expression.

The song ended with standing ovations for the performers and while a discussion arose about what they should play next, Damien silently slipped outside.

Gerald followed quickly, hoping for a few moments alone with the other man, hoping for a chance to say what he'd come to say, maybe even to ask... Maybe, just maybe...

Damien stood with his back to Gerald, looking at the gardens, he noted. They were on a veranda, deep green vines climbing its wooden supports.

Gerald stepped up to him, maintaining a short distance of two steps.

"What kind of party is that, anyway?" he asked quickly, before Damien could tell him to leave.

"Didn't you listen to little Elynar? There's always a party when I'm back."

His instincts warned him to push forward.

"You have a great family," he remarked instead, softly.

"Thank you." The reply was just as soft. "They are a bit overprotective of me right now. Just ignore them." So Damien had noticed and had not been part of it. And though the Vryces might have perceived him as a danger, they still invited him into their middle. Great family...

"So, the party?" he asked next. "Did you somehow manage to change your date of birth?" The words were barely said when the cruelty of it registered within his mind.

Damien's voice remained even but his eyes hardened for a moment.

"That's a bit out of my league." Then, unexpected, the other man gave him a slight smile. "No, I'm a guide. I plan, organize and lead research parties to any location on Erna. Over the last three years I've been anywhere from here to Rakh Lands, crossed Novatlantis four times, been declared National Hero in the realms of the Undying Prince –along with a certain Gerald Tarrant and don't ask– and killed a lot of faeborn."

In other terms, Gerald thought, had been living a life. And a good one, from how it sounded. Because he was so busy contemplating the meaning of it, Damien's next words caught him unprepared.

"What are you doing here?" His other's expression was guarded again, even more so, as were the man's eyes and Gerald almost frowned. Time to exchange pleasantries was obviously over. Darn!

He put on his old, familiar smirk.

"Well, as I said, I couldn't miss your party. Or weren't you listening?"

Damien didn't seem impressed. "Were you?"

Oh damn all Vryces to the backs of all vulking Hells and beyond! "Of course," he said, aiming for nonchalance.

"You could've fooled me. Then, of course, seeing that you're a stranger, I'll admit I might have read you wrong."

"Of course," Gerald said again, and failed to find a change of subject. When he again met Damien's eyes, first stirrings of anger had darkened the hazel jewels.

"Again, what are you doing here?"

And that stung, didn't it? Backing away from the cold hardness of Damien's eyes, he desperately searched for words he could say, words strong enough to prevent this from happening. What could he say now? I'm sorry? Please let me stay?

The other man stared at him intently, those beautiful hazel eyes tearing his soul wide open.

Gerald inhaled, and gathered all the courage and honesty he was capable of.

"I couldn't bear it," he admitted finally, painfully. "Not to know where you are or if you're in danger, hurt or dying…" he trailed off. The tension in Damien's body did not relax but it didn't increase either.

He raised his head to meet those hazel depths. "I love you, Damien. And before you say something, please hear me out. You might have doubts if I know what love is, much less am capable of it, but you would be wrong. I am human and know what love is, and I also know, without a shadow of doubt that I love you like I've never loved anyone before. Never loved and never will. Do you understand, Damien? Can you see? Can you see how sorry I am? And I am, believe me, I'm sorry for everything I've said and done that hurt you. If you can't believe that I love you, please believe that." He wanted to close the distance, wanted to be in the other man's arms just this once before he would have to leave, to feel the familiar strength, wanted it so desperately it was almost tearing him apart.

And then Damien was there, and the arms he so wished for were around him and he was pressed against that beautiful, strong body, and soft words were whispered into his ears.

"It's alright," Damien said with such tenderness that his heart broke even more. "I believe you. I believe you, all of it. Do you hear me?"

Gerald heard but he wasn't listening. Enveloped in perfect warmth he so badly missed, he was trying to comprehend a miracle. Then, he felt strong arms putting a small distance between them. He went cold. No, please. No.

"Are you alright?" Damien's face was worried. Oh, wait, did he say that last part aloud? Some distant part of him wondered if he knew he was having a fit of hysterics. The biggest part of him was desperately searching for something sensible to say.

"Come," the other man said softly and lead him along the veranda to another entrance thus avoiding the merry crowd. Inside, the corridor was unlit and Damien unceremoniously took his hand and led him into a cozy room with armchairs in front of a lit fireplace and lots of book laden shelves.

"Here, sit down," Damien said and also sat.

Gerald let go of the other's hand and tried to regain his composure. Somehow, it caused Damien to smile and the worry to vanish from the beloved face.

"See. Oxygen equals good. Passing out equals bad."

He just couldn't help it. After all that happened tonight, after all the tension, he burst out laughing. After a second of staring at him in speechless shock, Damien joined in.

After some moments of calming down, Gerald finally found the inner strength to meet his other's eyes.

"You believe me?" he asked, no longer dreading the answer that much but a small, cold fear still gnawed at his heart.

Damien met his eyes straight on. "I've never seen you being that brutally honest about your feelings. Of course I believe you."

He kept his relief to himself. Damien still could ask him to leave and he knew deep down he'd do anything the other man asked.

"Do you believe all of it? I mean that I love you?"

Damien smiled.

"I believe you," he repeated softly.

Oh. And he could see Damien did. The beautiful hazel depths were full of warmth and forgiveness and understanding and something more, something fragile and perfect and beautiful and he smiled. And his beloved, finally smiling, too, reached out and no force on Erna could have stopped Gerald from extending his arms. When their fingertips touched, he felt a sense of homecoming and safety he'd always felt in Damien's presence reassert itself.

"I love you," Damien said, eyes and voice overflowing with it, "oh how I love you," and then, then, Gerald understood the meaning of miracles and felt his eyes sting.

"Didn't your mother warn you to never talk to strangers?" he asked, trying to stop the tears from falling.

"What's your name?" his impossible other asked and gave him a brilliant, breathtaking smile.

"Gerald. Gerald da Silva," he whispered, his voice almost failing him. "At your service."

"I hope so," Damien said, and kissed him.

"I can't give you up," Damien said softly several hours later, tracing every feature of Gerald's face with his fingertips, as if for remembrance. "I can't stop loving you." They were in Damien's large bed, lying entwined under the blankets, gloriously naked and sated and warm.

Gerald froze and opened his eyes, looking up at his lover. The other man's face was strangely sad. Gerald drew back a little. "Damien," he said gently, very gently, framing that beloved face with his hands. "Did you believe I would leave now? That I would leave you?"

The look in those warm hazel eyes was answer enough.

It shook him to the core.

"Oh, Damien," he whispered, sliding his arms around his other, pulling him as close as possible, never intending to let go. "How could I leave the one person that makes me whole, and happy? That is, if you want me to stay?"

Damien's arms tightened around him and were answer enough, and something warm started to fall onto his neck.

He reached out to touch Damien's face, wiping the tears away.

"Damien, are you happy? With me?"

"Yes," a whispered answer came. "Oh, yes."

And for the first time in his nine hundreds years of life, Gerald thanked God wholeheartedly and without reservation.Thank you, God, he thought. Thank you for this man in my arms. Thank you for making me being able to make him happy.

His head resting on Damien's warm shoulder, the man once called Gerald Tarrant slept. And beside him, slept his first and only, true love.