by Shadowy Star

August 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 the story without permission.

A/N: Safekeeping is a difficult task.

Gerald's last name in his new life is 'da Silva' in all my stories which means 'of the forest'. This is the only exception so far. I'm sure you'll like the reason.

When the man once called Gerald Tarrant had left his house on this so far uneventful day he didn't expect something exceptional to happen. After all, he was an average citizen of Jaggonath, living an average if quiet life and, as they say, minding his own business. He surely didn't expect being shot at. He also didn't expect someone else taking the shot for him. Yet, exactly that was about to happen.

He meandered aimlessly through the market, pausing sometimes to take a closer look at displays of various goods that ranged from finest silks to smoked fish.

It was then that his once sharp reflexes finally screamed danger but by then it was far too late. He was turning around – and knew, distantly, at the same time the inevitability of his very near death.

Suddenly, he felt strong arms around his waist, and found himself crushed against a broad chest. Then, who ever it was spun them both around, a body larger than his own effectively shielding him. A shot cut through the curtain of the noises, and the arms around him loosened slightly, and both of them were falling towards the gray concrete of the marketplace.

For a few seconds he just lay there, staring up at the sky in shock and confusion, his savior heavy on top of him. When reality crashed down on him, he instinctively tried to fight the weight keeping him down. To his utter surprise, he managed to push the other man off him.

Gerald turned quickly, rising to his knees, reaching out. When he finally managed to turn his sudden rescuer onto his back he looked at the man's face.

And the world around him screeched to a halt. Undeniably, completely and with the force of a 10 magnitude quake.


Of course, it was Damien. Damien, face pale from blood loss yet those beautiful hazel brown jewels clear and unclouded, looking up at him.

"Damien, no!" he screamed in shock. He could see the wound in the right side of Damien's chest, could see the arterial blood –bright red, flowing fast–, could see the faltering pulse – so slow and irregular– on the side of the other man's neck.

"Damien, why?!" He leaned in closer, searching the other's expressive eyes for an answer, gripping his other's strong hand in his smaller one, gently placing the fingers of the other to Damien's carotid.

A small, pained smile appeared on the pale face, not nearly enough to soften the sharp lines of cheek and jaw.

Slowly, oh so slowly, Damien raised his bloodied hand all the way to Gerald's cheek and brushed his fingers across the soft skin, marking him with his blood.

"I …love… you," he muttered, with seemingly effort. Then, the hand fell away and those wonderful eyes slid shut.

Gerald froze.

"No!" he screamed, voice hoarse with despair that gripped his heart suddenly and with merciless intensity he would never have thought possible. Oh, God… He still could feel a pulse beneath his fingertips but it grew weaker with each single heartbeat. "Damien! No, no, listen to me," he pleaded, pressing his hands to the wound, trying to stave off rapidly approaching death. Hot blood spilled over his hands, staining them a deep red. "Listen to my voice, stay with me, do you hear me, please, please … don't you die, Damien, don't die... stay here, do you hear me, listen to me, just stay…" He didn't care about the choice of words because all that mattered to him was to reach Damien somehow. "Don't you dare to die! Stay with me, don't leave me, please… For God's sake, someone help him!" he shouted that last at the top of his lungs, looking frantically around at the gathering crowd. Somewhere in the distance, the loud wailing of the ambulance's siren was approaching fast.

Of the ride to the hospital he remembered little – a flurry of activity, hands taking Damien from him, the angry voice of the senior paramedic who refused him as he asked to come with the ambulance, the argument which he seemed to have won because the next thing he remembered clearly was the stern face of a middle-aged, dark-haired nurse in the faded green scrubs of surgery staff whose name he'd missed.

"What's the patient's name?" she asked, her clipboard already holding an empty sheet of paper.

"Damien Kilcannon Vryce," Gerald answered.

She wrote it down. "And what's yours?"

"Gerald Vryce," he said without hesitation. Anything, he would do anything to be allowed to stay.

"Oh, is he a brother of yours?"

At that, he finally hesitated, only for a brief moment, decision made. "No," he said, solemnly regarding the nurse's face. "No, we're married."

That earned him a surprised look but thankfully no further questions. She asked Damien's date of birth and if he had any serious illnesses and what his blood type was – which Gerald thankfully knew from a long conversation about differences between fae-born and fae-free Healing that seemed ages ago. Then she asked if he knew his own – which he also did and her face fell a bit in disappointment. He'd known they wouldn't match. But she regained her composure quickly and some small part of Gerald's brain appreciated her professionalism.

She then shoved him unceremoniously into the waiting room and told him where to find visitors' toilets. She was already turning to leave as a medic came running, motioning her to follow with a quick wave of a glowed hand and she hurried away without a word of explanation. Some emergency, Gerald mused absently and then an agonizing thought occurred to him. What if Damien was the emergency? For the first time in his nine hundred years of life Gerald seriously considered praying.

The seemingly endless hours of waiting were etched into the surface of his memory with the acid of guilt, despair and fear. He had paced up and down the small room for a while until a woman who was also waiting quietly told him either to sit down or to leave. So he'd sat and clung to the armrests until his knuckles had turned white and he couldn't feel his fingers anymore.

He recalled every moment spent in Damien's presence, every single time they'd talked, touched, fought, argued, walked side by side, smiled at each other –those were so very rare– and then this one perfect moment in time when they'd laughed together in relief, having escaped Mount Shaitan. How went that old Terran song again … 'those were the days'? Yes, or something along the lines...

He realized his thoughts were going in circles some infinite eternity later but found himself unable to return them to some semblance of order. And so pictures of Damien sitting across a fire, riding, fighting, looking at him with anger or concern, saving his life countless times chased themselves in his mind. The other man's eyes – warm jewels of hazel brown with tiny flecks of green, his beautiful smile – sometimes tender, sometimes sharp as his blade and full of teeth, his beautiful soul – a soul Damien had willingly let be tainted to save Gerald's own dark one. He remembered their connection, remembered the solemn look in his other's eyes as he'd swallowed Gerald's black blood, and the bond bursting into completion. There had been fear, yes –after all that was why they'd done it in the first place– but never of him, Gerald. Never that. Oh, Damien was always so brave, walking into danger without sparing his own safety a single thought. A true Knight...

He was abruptly jerked out of his thoughts when the door gave a protesting 'creak' at being opened.

The same nurse –only looking dog-tired– entered and as their eyes met, Gerald jumped to his feet, his clenched fingers uncurling painfully, stomach rapidly filling with cold dread.

"Your husband is out of surgery," she began and smiled a tiny exhausted smile but it was enough for him to draw a small breath of relief. "He lives," she continued, "barely so but he does."

The relief vanished as quickly as it came.

"Will he live?" Gerald asked in a tight, small voice, something in his chest tightening almost beyond bearable.

Her face radiated doubt and that knot grew, making breathing difficult.

"The next eight hours will tell. His will is strong but he lost a lot of blood and we weren't able to replace it all. The bullet opened an artery –a minor one, yes– but still... We were able to remove the projectile from his lung but his state is still considered critical. I'm sorry I don't have better news."

On automatic mode, Gerald thanked her and followed to Damien's room.

Behind the windows, night had fallen hours ago, enveloping the world in darkness.

He sat on a narrow, uncomfortable hospital chair beside a narrow, uncomfortable hospital bed, holding Damien's left hand and watching his other's chest rise and fall slightly with every single breath. That came more easily and the pulse he felt in the wrist he was holding was much steadier by now. Damien lay on his back, with lots of IVs attached to the crook of his right elbow and a bandage around his chest. Chances he'd awake grew lesser with every hour passed.

Gerald tightened his grip on those strong fingers, then started to massage them carefully in silent apology.

"Wake up," he whispered, raising that limp hand to his lips and placing a soft kiss upon callused fingertips and broad palm. "I want you to wake up. I want you to open your eyes and look at me, I want you to be stubborn and infuriating again. I want to tell you how much I love you, I want you to know how much I love you…"

The other man's breath remained slow, the pulse didn't speed up as it would before waking. With utmost gentleness, he placed Damien's hand back onto the bed, not letting go, clenching his eyes shut to keep the tears from escaping.

To no avail. Some dam within him had broken that moment he realized who his rescuer had been and had eroded under the pressure of his feelings during those nightmarish following hours. And now, there was nothing he could do to stop it. At least, some vain part of him whispered, no one would know.

He let his head fall onto the bed close to Damien's midsection and finally allowed the tears to fall. He cried for Damien and for himself, for the chance that seemed to slip through their fingers with increasing speed, for time lost, for wrong decisions made on a pass, for understanding that came too late, for inevitability of loss that loomed closer and closer, and because Damien would die never knowing that he loved him.

Wiping the tears away with the back of his hand, Gerald leaned in and placed a hesitant kiss upon Damien's soft lips, for the first and maybe the last time.

"Wake up, and there will be more of this. I know it's bribery but…"

When again nothing happened, despair gripped him tighter, its sharp black claws merciless, and fresh tears flowed. What would he do if that beautiful, warm, bright, perfect light left him? His life before Damien had been cold and dark and bitter – what would it become now, how could he go on, having tasted the very light? And Damien... he deserved to live! He deserved to live and love and be happy, deserved it far more than Gerald did – how was it fair that he had to die? That bullet was for me, he thought angrily. It should have been me. Me! Not him! He wouldn't deny that he wanted to live but given a chance to switch places with his other he would do so in a heartbeat. Hot drops of wetness fell from his eyes onto Damien's hand still in his. He closed his other hand around it, too, as if Damien's life depended on it.

"Stay with me," he pleaded again. "Please, stay. Oh Damien, Love, please don't leave me. Don't take away your light, don't leave, just don't leave me. Wake up, Love." He didn't care how pathetic and weak he sounded, what did it matter anyway when Damien wasn't going to wake up? He didn't care what anyone would think, didn't care about pride or appearances. Nothing mattered but the barely-there life in the hand he held.

Never letting go of that warm hand, he fell asleep.

When he woke the Core's first rays were shyly peeking through the closed –white and gray checked, somehow distinctly hospital– curtains and there was a crick in his neck and long, strong fingers in his hair, playing gently with the long locks.

In split second, he was wide awake. Drawing back hastily, he almost tumbled from the narrow chair, barely succeeding in keeping his balance.

His clumsiness earned him a tiny smile and he was left staring straight into those beautiful eyes.

"Damien..." he whispered, relief strong enough to leave him breathless flooding his whole being.

"Hey," the other man said hoarsely, licking his dry lips.

Gerald leaned over, snatching a glass of water from the small nearby table, and held it to Damien's lips, his hand visibly shaking though he managed to control it somewhat.

The other man drank carefully, brows drawn together in concentration on the task.

Then, those hazel brown eyes met his again, and followed the dried tracks of salt on his cheeks.

"What's wrong?" Damien asked, a look of concern entering his eyes at Gerald's facial expression."Why did you cry?"

"What's wrong?!" Gerald repeated, suddenly furious. "Right now I have to resist the urge to wring your stubborn neck! And what the vulk were you doing in Jaggonath anyway?" The little fact he was channeling his beloved escaped his notice completely. And he didn't care because Damien was still looking up at him with those warm, oh so warm eyes.

"Making sure you don't get into trouble – which you seem to attract with a regularity that defies any probability theory," Damien answered, obviously aiming for levity. "And I'll be alright in a few weeks."

"You could have died! Damn you, you almost did die!" Gerald exclaimed. "Don't you know you have to live?" he asked as anger run out of him, his voice softened. He slid his arms around the taller man's waist, careful not to touch the injured side, and leaned forward. "I love you," he whispered into Damien's ear.

The other man gasped, a look of absolute wonder to his face. And then he was reaching out, and a hand closed carefully on Gerald's upper arm, rough fingertips resting gently against his skin.

"I meant it, you know," he said. "I love you, too."

"Shhh. I know," Gerald smiled, but Damien drew him closer and then those full lips, still pale from blood loss, were touching his.

Time ceased to exist as their lips rested against their counterparts, a gentle pressure that demanded nothing and offered everything. In this endless moment, not two bodies had met but two souls, flowing into each other, connecting, merging.

The other man deepened the kiss just a bit but it was enough for intense longing to twist through Gerald's body and he leaned in, a painful moan escaping his lips only to be swallowed by his other's greedy mouth. He felt Damien leaning up and that was when a groan of real physical pain caused Gerald to freeze. He straightened, giving the injured man a look full of worry. Which increased as he took in the fine beads of sweat on Damien's brow – a clear sign of exhaustion.

"Damien, no," he said gently, retreating, stroking the other man's stubbled cheek. "There'll be another time for this. You still need rest, you know. We don't want your wound to reopen."

Disappointment was clear on his other's face, and the intention to voice a protest.

The nurse on duty chose this moment to enter.

The look of surprise that entered her face at their slightly compromising positions –Gerald half on top of Damien, blanket discarded–was priceless and Gerald had to fight a chuckle. When he met his beloved's eyes they were sparkling with suppressed laughter and not helping at all.

"Oh, your husband's awake! I go tell the doctor," the nurse said, blushing deep red to the very roots of her strawberry blond hair, and rushed out of the room.

"Wait. Did she just say 'husband'?" Damien asked, artfully arching an eyebrow. "When did that happen? Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't this usually involve two? And I can't remember being asked!" His grin was pure mischievousness and challenge.

"They tried to keep you away from me," Gerald explained sincerely. Then, summoning up his usual smirk, he added. "Under these circumstances I had no other choice than to reveal our secret marriage. Somehow," he smirked again, "given your past reactions, I don't think you'd mind."

"No," Damien smiled, and pulled him closer again. "No, I don't."

Gerald placed another quick kiss onto his other's lips. "I need to go," he said regretfully. "Otherwise I risk to be thrown out – married to you or not. I just don't think the doctor would find our behavior appropriate – for a hospital room."

The other man laughed heartily, somehow ignoring the increasing pain he clearly was in, now that analgesics were wearing off. "Since when do you care about appropriate behavior if it suits your purposes not to?"

Of course, Gerald had no intention to comment on this.

They did marry two weeks later, the very next day Damien was released from the hospital. The ceremony was quiet, and as they left the small church each was wearing a pair of rings according to both Terran and Ernan traditions.

"What now?" asked Damien. His healing was progressing well but long physical exertion or emotional agitation still left him feeling a little breathless. "Where are we going from here?"

Gerald stopped then and placed a quick kiss onto his lips. "Wherever we want. Though I'd suggest home."

Damien looked down at their joined hands. Flesh to flesh, soul to soul, linked rings, linked lives…



Extra Notes:

(1) The song mentioned is, of course, 'Those Were The Days' by Mary Hopkin. Originally Russian but sounds really good in English, too.

(2) Yes, I know, some loose ends here and I began to write a sequel to this where there would be answers as to who wanted Gerald dead and why but my muse left me. And I didn't want to put in a lengthy explanation because it would have lessened the emotional level I attempted to maintain. Maybe some time...

(3) I dislike fanfics that describe Damien as a dumb swordsman. He's a Healer and a sorcerer – you need intelligence for that. So maybe he's not a genius like Gerald but I suppose he would know what probability theory is.