Warnings: none but fluff for a change
Author's note 1: Yes, I know that we had Ciani stumbling upon Gerald and Damien kissing not so long ago, but the circumstances are quite different, and so I hope you will forgive me for using it again. The image was just too tempting for me to resist. And no, I don't dislike Ciani, although for me she just represented the classical damsel in distress who had to be rescued by the male heroes… Lol!
Author's note 2: As in all of my stories I presuppose that adepts can still See without being able to Work, and presuming that this ability reaches much deeper than plain human sight Ciani might be able to 'know' Gerald by his unique personal signature despite his altered appearance. As for Gerald and Damien there still is the link which possibly enables the transfer of emotions and thoughts although the fae is not workable any longer.
Author's note 3: The quote 'a woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets' is from the famous movie 'Titanic' (1997).
Disclaimer: I don't own either the Coldfire Trilogy or 'Titanic'. If I did own 'Titanic' I would be insanely rich and tempt Ms Friedman with an offer she couldn't resist. But alas…
'The joy of love is but a moment long, The pain of love endures a whole life long…'
The sweet soprano told the heartrending tale of a love found and lost which had travelled space with their Terran ancestors, and Damien Kilcannon Vryce shifted uncomfortably on his seat as if he were sitting on the metaphorical hot coals. The loremaster Ciani was resting her pretty head on his shoulder, and the air was heavy not just with the smell of too many people crammed in a tight space and a nauseating mixture of several heady perfumes which had already managed to give Damien a headache but also with an air of unveiled anticipation radiating from his old flame that made him fidgety with irritation.
When Vryce had unexpectedly bumped into Ciani in Jaggonath's public library the day before yesterday he had been torn between joy and a fair amount of aversion to the surge of unbidden reminiscences welling up inside him he would have rather banished to the deepest abysses of his powers of recollection for all eternity. The loremaster had been all radiant smiles, tanned skin and short dark hair interspersed with sun-bleached streaks, and Damien had searched in vain for the taint the Hunter must have had inevitably left on her when he had apprenticed his fellow adept. Presumably I can't detect it because the damn son of a bitch left a very special mark on me as well Damien mused with a shudder, but quickly steered away from this dangerous path of thoughts.
Over a steaming mug of hot coffee and a piece of cheesecake Ciani had talked spiritedly about her research on the rakh, her eyes sparkling with sheer elation, but Vryce had confined himself to relate only the most abbreviated of summaries concerning his adventures with the Hunter, keeping his voice deliberately neutral. When he had finished his vacuous report an uneasy silence had settled in, and Damien had started to dread the question looming over their conversation like the mythical sword of Damocles. "The town is buzzing like a bee hive with rumors, Damien. In fact it's hard to avoid the omnipresent drivel concerning the demise of the Lord of the Forest and his oh so valiant killer Andrys Tarrant these days", Ciani had grimaced. "Do you know what really happened that day at the Keep?"
Oh yes, he did know all too well, or at least he had been convinced that he did until he had been sought out by the black-haired youth on Black Ridge Pass a fortnight ago, and he would have given an arm and a leg to eradicate those memories once and for all. His heart still sore and his guilty conscience black as true night Vryce had been loath to talk about the accursed incidents, not to mention relating his appalling betrayal to a woman who had abandoned their dwindling troupe for a few tribes of rakh as soon as vulking Gerald Tarrant had disappeared from the scene. Maybe the old saying 'a woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets' contained more than a small grain of truth, after all…
Bittersweet memories crushing down on him with a vengeance Damien had clenched his trembling hands around his mug, but the comforting warmth of the hot liquid hadn't helped melting the icy despair which had never left him since that fateful day at the Hunter's keep.
"I was there, Ciani", the warrior knight had replied at long last despite his best intentions of not wearing his heart on his sleeves. "I was there, but instead of protecting him with my own life I deserted him like the vilest coward when that deluded brat closed in for the kill. Gerald sent me away, just told me calmly that there was nothing I could do, and I walked out on him and left him at the mercy of a man who was half out of his mind with fear and vindictiveness. Left the very human being who had just sacrificed his next to immortal existence for the salvation of mankind. What kind of man am I, Ciani, to turn my back on a friend just like this? I don't know anymore."
Almost choking on his words Damien's voice had been hoarse with unshed tears, and his grief and self-loathing finally getting the better of him he had buried his head in his hands, desperately trying to hide the treacherous moistness in his eyes.
"Damien, listen to me", Ciani had replied gently when he had been done with his confession, putting one of her warm hands over his frigid fingers, "with the possible exception of Gerald Tarrant you are the bravest man I ever had the honour to meet. Did it ever occur to you that Gerald made you leave, that he used your bond to save your life? I can't claim to have known Gerald very well despite the memories he chose to share with me, but both of us travelled with that brilliant, twisted soul long enough to be absolutely confident that he did nothing without a reason, so stop torturing yourself about things which cannot be undone anymore."
"Somehow I can't help the feeling though that there had been a lot more going on between the two of you than you have told me already" Ciani had continued after a while, and Damien had cringed with embarrassment at the look of curiosity on her face, but to his eternal relief the loremaster had dropped the issue, their talk straying to the safer realm of the loss of the fae and its impact on adepts in general and Ciani in particular, and their impromptu coffee party had ended in a fairly relaxed mood. Ciani had even managed to worm a shaky smile out of him once or twice, doubtlessly a first since Gerald's death at the hands of his last living descendant, and in the end the warrior knight had relented to her pleading and had agreed on meeting with her for dinner and the additional treat of a recital by Alina Seymour, of the most cherished singers of the Eastern lands, on Saturday.
Their evening together had started pleasantly in a cosy little restaurant specialized on dishes from their mother planet, and for a while Damien had been able to push down his nagging remorse and sorrow and had relished in his (not really) lamb chops and a generous portion of delicious home fries, his first true meal since his world had crashed down all around him. On their walk to the concert hall his arm had found its way around Ciani's slender waist seemingly on its own account, and deeply inhaling the balmy late evening air and gazing up at the glittering blanket of stars Damien had wondered whether it would actually possible to pick up the pieces and start all over again.
Unfortunately Ciani had failed to mention that the recital was solely devoted to old love songs from Earth, and instead of inspiring Vryce to cuddles and kisses on this perfect occasion for a loving couple his mood had been rapidly deteriorating over the first half of the concert, the faint flutters of hope giving way to irritation and a jarring feeling of being cornered. To make matters worse his thoughts kept returning to his late companion with grating insistence, drowning the melancholic music and Ciani's presence in the memory of Gerald's last living moments on Erna, the beautiful face not inhumanly flawless any longer but bone-tired and filthy, the clear, grey eyes locked with his own in a last good-bye.
His mind fogged with sorrow Damien tried to get a grip on himself by concentrating on the music, but listening to the singer he instantly wished he had gone deaf instead, and his blood turned to ice water.
'But now he's gone, like a dream that fades into dawn…'
That was the last straw, and Damien simply couldn't take it any longer. Jumping up from his seat and pushing his way through the packed rows of enraptured listeners he earned his fair share of angry stares and hushed whispers, but he couldn't have cared less. He had to get out at once, or he would start to throw a screaming tantrum.
When he came halfway to his senses Vryce found himself in a small courtyard at the rear of the blasted building, leaning against the wall and sobbing like a child who had just waken up from a bad dream, but for him there wouldn't be a blessed awakening from this terrible nightmare just to find Gerald at his side, remonstrating him aloofly for succumbing to his baseless fears. The former Hunter was dead, decapitated by that green-eyed son of a bitch who didn't deserve to carry the name 'Tarrant' although he doubtlessly looked the part, and the strange meeting on Black Ridge Pass had to be nothing but a repulsive trick played on him by one of Karril's siblings. Perhaps Calesta hadn't been the only of the lot whose aspect was true, unbridled sadism after all.
Even lost in his grief the warrior knight should have had some warning, the treacherous crunching of gravel under booted feet or the soft rustle of clothes maybe, but the male voice came out of nowhere and almost scared the pants off Damien for a moment. Then the shadows parted, and the warrior knight forgot how to breathe.
A slender figure approached him gracefully, the neat braid almost touching the stranger's waistline, the dark eyes Damien remembered so well huge and hypnotic in the moonlight, and Vryce's heart crawled up in his throat. If only the youth had told the truth, but he had seen with his own eyes that death had finally caught up with Gerald Tarrant, and to get his hopes up now just to be faced with the bitter truth that Gerald was finally and irrevocably gone and some demon was harping on his feelings for his sinister purposes was a thought too terrible to behold, and in an act of sheer self-preservation Damien hardened his heart. "The Hunter is dead, so don't bother exercising you foul tricks on me, demon", he spat contemptuously.
"You're stating the obvious, Vryce' the stranger retorted, utterly unfazed by his challenge. "Of course the Hunter is dead. He died on Shaitan, as you very well know, just to be resurrected as a mortal man by the Mother of the Iezu. A few hours later Gerald Tarrant would have died once again of heart failure if you hadn't healed him. It was an honourable deed to offer your own life to the fae for a man you had sworn to kill years ago."
Those facts were only known to Gerald, Karril and himself, and Damien's aching heart skipped a few beats. "How do you know, you bastard? Who are you?"
Narrow shoulders rose in a half shrug, and Damien could have sworn that he heard a stifled sight. "I'd rather not waste valuable time by repeating the whole tedious story I've already told you on Black Ridge Pass. You've always been much too stubborn for your own good, Vryce, but if you still refuse to believe my words just close your eyes and See."
All at once warm fingers were on Damien's cheeks, and a door he had presumed shut forever when his companion had died in the bowels of the Hunter's keep opened wide inside his mind, showing him well-known images seen through Gerald's eyes: the fiery inferno on Shaitan, the desperate struggle for each breath when his heart was failing him again, the mad race to the keep to save the accumulated knowledge of centuries and finally the sacrifice, not of his mortal existence but of his identity.
Oh my God! Damien was swaying on his feet when the full impact of those memories and their meaning hit him with the force of a brick, and his vision was rapidly narrowing into an utterly lightless tunnel, his only beacon in the darkness the steadying, slender arms around his waist, anchoring him to the world, and the mesmerizing dark eyes which were watching him with unveiled concern and some unfamiliar emotion Vryce didn't dare to put a name upon yet.
'You brought me heaven right then when your eyes kissed mine…' The singer apparently had gone into an encore of the ancient song, and gazing at the pretty features so close to his own the warrior knight's breath hitched in his throat when he realized the true reason for the grief which had transformed his life into a living hell since Gerald's supposed death. Then warm, soft lips met his, and for a while Damien stopped thinking altogether, just relishing in the lithe body pressing against his own and the sweet sharing of breaths and sighs.
"Damien? Damien, where are…? Oh, what the hell…?" The unwelcome noise was doubtlessly the irate voice of a flabbergasted Ciani, and his tantalizing exploration of the adept's mouth rudely interrupted Vryce groaned, feeling sorely tempted to bang his head against the wall. His mind still reeling with the disturbing revelation that he had apparently developed a crush on Gerald getting caught kissing a 'stranger' in a grubby backyard by an incensed loremaster hadn't been on his agenda for the night.
"Ciani, look, it's not what you think", Damien finally blurted out, squirming with embarrassment, but nonetheless registering the noteworthy fact that Gerald had neither stepped back nor let go of his waist.
"Oh, is it not?" Ciani snorted derisively. "Then I'd really like an explanation why you stormed out of the auditorium like a man possessed, just to kiss and fondle a guy in the backyard."
"I definitely agree with the lady, Vryce, that this would be a very interesting tale to behold." Gerald's eyes were sparkling with amusement, and his shoulders were shaking under Damien's hands with a barely suppressed chuckle that made the warrior knight wish he could wipe the knowing smirk off his companion's face.
Vryce had just opened his mouth to dredge up whatever fairy tale the limited powers of his imagination would supply when Ciani's gaze locked on the former Hunter with a speculative stare which sent a cold shiver down the warrior knight's spine. Then her eyes widened in baffled incomprehension and her jaw dropped. "Gerald ?"
"…Hawthorne, at your service, Lady Ciani", the adept cut in smoothly, bowing with true revivalist flourish while Damien crossed the distance to the shell-shocked loremaster with three long strides just to clamp a hand over her mouth.
"Listen, Ciani", Damien commenced when he was reasonably sure that the power of speech hadn't deserted him completely, "Gerald Tarrant is dead, and if you don't want to endanger the life of my dear friend Mer Hawthorne you should better let bygones be bygones and keep your assumptions to yourself. Do I make myself clear?"
Deep down in his heart Vryce would have been the first one to admit that the vexing situation was anything but clear, but after a while Ciani nodded faintly and the warrior knight dared to remove his hand at long last. The loremaster still looked a bit dazed and rather pale under her tan, but eventually she shrugged off her shock and disappointment, and a big grin brightened her features. "I felt it in my bones that you kept quiet about something, you secretive old philanderer! Bad luck for me, but everything will be forgiven if you mark me down as your bridesmaid", the adept added with a wicked smile that perfectly complemented the mischievous sparkle in her eyes.
"We'll take you up on that, lady", Hawthorne replied sweetly without missing a beat, and for the next minute the two friends were quite busy with patting a spluttering and coughing Damien's back until his eyes stopped watering and his breathing returned to normal.
They walked Ciani back to her house in an amicable silence, each of them lost in reminiscences of days long gone by, but when Gerald's fingers closed around his own and Damien memorized the song which had so unexpectedly played Cupid for them he was damn sure that he could name the unaccustomed emotion which had been shining in the adept's eyes back in the courtyard. Apparently he had finally found his answer whether it would be possible to pick up the pieces and start all over again, if in a way he had never even dared to imagine. Gently Damien squeezed Gerald's hand and smiled.
Songtext 'Plaisir d'Amour':
The joy of love is but a moment long,
The pain of love endures a whole life long.
Your eyes kissed mine; I saw the love in them shine,
You brought me heaven right then when your eyes kissed mine.
My love loves me, and all the wonders I see,
A rainbow shines in my window, my love loves me.
But now he's gone, like a dream that fades into dawn,
But the words stay locked in my heartstrings, "My love loves me."
The joy of love is but a moment long,
The pain of love endures a whole life long.