Author's Note: Well, damn. I just set a new personal record for 'longest one-shot'. I had absolutely no idea this was going to come out so damn LONG: I just had inspiration strike me, and I started typing, and lo and behold... this monster was born. Way too long, tiny bit of angst near the beginning, absurdly fluffy for a large portion, and basically all-around lovey-dovey. They really need to invent a genre listing for "Fluff".
Warnings: Slash, implied het, smut, the usual. Mildly AU: the fae is still Workable. Extremely shmoopy toward the end, but you know you love it.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Coldfire Trilogy, but if this was canon instead of that short story 'Dominion', I bet a lot of people would be very happy!
A.N.2: Fic title is from the song Keeper of the Flame by Blackmore's Night. A truly beautiful song, and one with a moral that poor Damien really should have learned. The songs included herein are thus: most of the lyrics from Under A Violet Moon by Blackmore's Night, and the entirety of Pride Of The Summer by Runrig - the live version from their album Year Of The Flood. The last song, with only a snippet of lyrics, is Cloak of Feathers by Damh the Bard - an amazing ballad about one of my favorite Welsh myths.
A.N.3: Yeah, this fic turned out kind of fluff-tastic. I suppose it might be a bit much for some - I think the ending turned out even sappier than the various installments of my "When You Marry An Adept..." series. Still, to my mind, when you're in the proper mood there's no such thing as too much fluff.
Ciani was pacing the living room in a state of total distraction, chewing nervously on her bottom lip. Today had not been a good day, not at all: that morning she and Damien had fought yet again, and after that she had been too off-kilter to do anything properly. Her customers had been bewildered by the normally suave loremaster's frazzled state, and eventually she simply closed the shop and went home to await the time when Damien would return from his post at the Cathedral so that they could talk.
She bit her lip harder, remembering the harsh words she had spoken this morning. It had been four months since Damien returned from Black Ridge Pass, four months since the destruction of the Hunter's Keep. Damien had returned to Jaggonath an emotional wreck, but he had done his best to reconcile with an overjoyed Ciani: since their breakup in the rakhlands she had been regretting her decision, wondering if she should have given the devoted Church Knight a second chance. Things had been going so well at first: Damien had welcomed back to his post as teacher at the Great Cathedral, Ciani had reopened her shop, and their life had been back on track. Now, though, their relationship seemed worse off than ever before.
Damien refused to talk about what had occurred on that harrowing quest, yet his eyes were still haunted by the shades of what had happened that day on Mount Shaitan, and that fateful night in the Forest of Jahanna. Ciani had tiptoed around the topic for as long as she could, but eventually she lost patience, and that very morning had confronted him about his detachment from her. The scene hadn't been pretty.
"For the love of the Gods, Damien!" she cried, her green eyes brimming with tears of frustration. "I thought you wanted to start over! All you ever do is sit there and stare off into space with that dead look in your eyes, like you'd rather be anywhere but here. Do you regret coming back? Do you really not care for me anymore?"
"Cee, I literally just went through Hell." Damien said quietly, the emotionless chill in his voice a thousand times more cutting than any infuriated shout. "I need a bit of time to recover."
"It's been four months, Damien!" Ciani said, shaking with frustration as she glared at him furiously. "How much more time do you need? What the hell happened to you that was so terrible, anyway?"
At that, Damien flinched slightly, and his eyes grew even deader. Ciani cringed, guilt spiking through her heart as she remembered, her eyes softening. She leaned forward on the couch and reached out, laying her hand over his, her expression apologetic.
"I'm sorry, Damien. I know you feel bad for what happened to Gerald - and I know some part of you still misses him." She tightened her hold on his unmoving hand, trying to physically replicate the connection they had once shared. A connection she could no longer find in his cold hazel eyes. "I miss him too."
Finally, a hint of feeling: the Knight's eyes narrowed, and he said quietly, "You barely knew him, Cee."
The loremaster shook her head, keeping tight reign on a sudden flash of impatience that reared inside her. "I think you forget, Damien, he Shared his memories with me." she said just as quietly, trying to reason with the distant man. "I think I knew him very well."
Though she had no way of knowing, Damien was remembering a cold and desperate night on the treacherous pathways of Black Ridge Pass. Racing against time, and the twin threats of demon and sunrise, not knowing if each moment would be their last. Shared burdens and shared fear, a bond that not even death could completely sever.
He was remembering a moment of despair, with the threat of destruction real and present, and the sudden compassion in cold silver eyes.
You could transform. Fly, get out of here.
Yes, but you couldn't.
"No." he said, his voice suddenly harsh and cold, choked by raw emotion. "No. You didn't know him at all."
Damien yanked his hand from Ciani's and rose, his expression colder and harder than she had ever seen. "I have to go. The Patriarch wants me there early this morning, I'm speaking at a lecture about the dangers of True Night."
Ciani's patience snapped and she stood up, anger flaring once more. "Damn it, Damien! You can't just keep running away from me like this, how are we supposed to rebuild our relationship when you won't let me into your heart?"
She was answered by the sight of Damien Vryce taking a step backward, looking as though she had just stabbed him: shock, betrayal, rage, and deep, deep hurt all flashing through his expression. For an instant they were both frozen, staring at each other, Ciani in shock and Damien with a tangle of emotions she didn't dare analyze playing over his face - then he was gone, the door slamming behind him, hard enough to shake on its hinges.
Now, after a day of contemplation, she thought she had the answer to why he had reacted so strongly to that question. Obviously, it wasn't just Gerald's death that was bothering him: there had to be something, or someone, else as well. She remembered Karril remarking in passing on the navigator of the ship Damien had taken to the Eastern Continent. The navigator had died there, in the rioting after the Immortal Prince's death. Perhaps the Knight had gotten more attached to her than he let on?
Either way, Ciani had clearly been too insensitive. It was one of the failings common to adepts: she would make it right, though. When Damien got home, she would apologize to him, and she had already cooked a nice dinner - they could spend the night talking over their problems, and after that, well... she had some plans for that too.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the opening of the door. Turning, she beamed in welcome - but her smile faltered slightly when she saw Damien. The Knight's expression was still colder than the north wind as he came in, heading straight for their bedroom. Taking a deep breath, Ciani followed, speaking in her best conciliatory tone.
"Damien, I'm sorry about earlier. I was being terribly inconsiderate. I know that this business with Calesta was very hard on you, and you have a lot of regrets about how things worked out: I think if we talk things over, though, that... what the hell are you doing?"
Ciani's voice had risen from calm reason to an alarmed cry as she entered the bedroom. Damien had pulled a traveling rucksack out of the closet and was methodically packing clothing, a knick-knack or two, and a few other items into it. He looked up, his face utterly expressionless as he said in a flat, dead tone, "I'm packing to leave."
Ciani's heart fluttered, but she managed a weak smile. "Oh. Did the Patriarch give you another assignment in Faraday?" Please, please, let it be only that...
"No." Damien looked back down, taking his old copy of the Prophet's Bible and tucking it reverently into an inner pocket of the pack. "I handed in my resignation this morning."
Ciani felt as though she had been punched in the solar plexus: she reeled back, stunned. "You're - you're leaving, leaving?" she whispered, aghast. "But - why? Where will you go?"
"North." Damien said tightly. "There are - some loose ends that need to be tied up. I don't know quite how to do so, but I think north is a good place to start."
He tied the pack shut and straightened, swinging it over his shoulder and walking past Ciani without so much as a glance. He headed to the kitchen and started wrapping up enough rations to last for a few days: Ciani trailed him, too stunned to even work up a proper tantrum.
"But why?" she asked, her tone pathetically pleading as she stared at her Knight's rigid, indifferent back.
"Because I should never have come back." Damien said, pausing for a moment, head bowed. "I think I knew that, I just wouldn't admit to it. Whether or not I knew, I'm sure he did - but of course, he let me make a fool of myself anyway. Stubborn bastard, just had to prove his point..." Surfacing from whatever strange reverie he had sunk into, Damien resumed packing, still refusing to so much as glance at Ciani. "Whatever you think you know about my feelings right now, Ciani, you're wrong. You could never understand: no one could. No one but him, at least: he always understood."
Damien finished packing and turned, finally, to look at her: Ciani almost wished he hadn't. His gaze was colder than a new winter frost, and she got the disturbing feeling that he was looking right through her, like she wasn't even truly there. "You can keep the rest of my things - I don't think I'll need most of the Church-related books and stuff anymore. Keep them or sell them, I don't care." Striding to the still-open door, he pulled a traveling cloak around his shoulders and strapped on his faithful old sword, still resting beside the cloak-rack as though it had been waiting for this day.
Finally, Ciani found her voice. A tear slipped from her eye as she stepped forward, reaching out helplessly. "Damien, please, can't we - can't we at least talk about this? I don't understand..."
He looked at her, a trace of sympathy in his eyes for the first time in four months. "I know, Ciani. You never will."
He stepped back toward her, and gave the frozen adept a light kiss on the cheek. Her arms fell back to her sides, hands curling uselessly as he moved back out of reach. "Goodbye, Ciani. I'm sorry, because I know this will hurt you, but... you'll get over it. What we had was good, but it was never real love, and hopefully someday you'll find someone to truly love who will love you in return. I can't be that person for you, though. Maybe once, I could have... but never again. I'm sorry."
With that, he turned and left. Ciani stumbled forward a few steps and clung to the doorframe in a daze of shock and pain, watching through tear-blurred eyes as her lover strode away down the garden path. "Damien," she called after him, her voice breaking, wanting to say something - anything - to make him stop and listen.
He didn't even turn.
She watched helplessly as he unfastened the reigns of his horse from the gatepost - he hadn't even stabled his horse. He slid the rucksack into one of the saddlebags, swung himself up into the saddle, and kneed the horse into motion. With a toss of its mane the beast obeyed, picking up to a gentle canter as it headed down the street. Ciani watched until he had rounded the corner and was out of sight before she sank to her knees in the open doorway, tears carving scalding tracks down her white cheeks as she stared unseeing at the tidy little garden in the front yard. A garden that Damien had tended, while Ciani was too busy with running the shop for landscaping. A garden that held several rare blooms, the seeds of which Damien had somehow obtained from what was left of the Forest, their soft petals wafting a heart-wrenchingly sweet scent into the peaceful evening air.
For the first time, Ciani admitted that perhaps, she had been the one who failed to listen all along.
Damien drew a deep breath of the cool evening air, a tiny stir of something lighter than despair making itself known in his heart for the first time in almost three months. When he first returned to Jaggonath he had still had some trace of his old, ingrained optimism left: however, as his life fell back into the old bittersweet patterns and he found himself utterly trapped by the mundane world he would once have given anything to return to, his hope had faded and eventually died altogether.
The poison which had first inflicted that death of hope still festered in his wounded heart, bubbling like noxious gas beneath a veneer of cold indifference. Gerald's death that night in the Hunter's Keep would have broken him utterly, leaving him an empty shell - but the strange meeting with the black-haired man on Black Ridge Pass, and the oh-so-slender reed of hope that had been extended to him, had left Damien lingering in a tortured state of living death. Despite the accusations he made in moments of weakness, Damien was fairly certain that if that raven-haired young noble was Gerald, the adept hadn't put him in this quandary on purpose. That cruelty would have served no purpose, seeing as he wasn't around to watch Damien squirm in agony. So, he must have genuinely meant to give the former priest a bit of hope - throw the starving dog a bone, more like, Damien thought darkly - and hadn't realized that it wouldn't be enough for the disillusioned man. For it wasn't, that much was clear now: Damien had thought that he would be able to move on as long as he had the hope that Gerald was doing so as well, but he found himself unable to forget the adept, too deeply entrapped in a cage made of memory and regret. A cage of his own fashioning.
Time and distance had provided a clarity Damien had never had while under the beguiling influence of the Hunter, and had given the priest plenty of time to come to a decidedly disconcerting revelation: his feelings for the former Neocount of Merentha had moved beyond the realm of ally, or even friend, and into realms decidedly less platonic. The reluctant epiphany had been rammed forcefully down Damien's throat the night he had sex with Ciani and had to bite his tongue to bleeding when he caught himself with Gerald's name on his lips. He couldn't even term it lovemaking anymore - not when it was so achingly clear that he didn't love Ciani, and never could.
No, his heart belonged to a different adept entirely.
He had only stopped himself from packing up and tearing off to find the possible former Hunter at that very moment with the argument that Ciani needed him. After the scene this morning, Damien finally faced the facts: he was doing her far more harm by staying and tying her down than he would by leaving and allowing her to get on with her own life. Oddly enough, the new Patriarch hadn't been all that surprised when Damien handed in his recognition: the man had been part of the Crusade that ended the Hunter's reign, and he remembered the lone Knight who had cried over the Prince of Jahanna's death. When he took the letter of resignation he had simply looked at it for a moment, then met Damien's eyes and stated softly, "Good luck, Damien Vryce. I don't know what you're searching for, but I hope that you find it."
Damien had nearly succumbed to tears then and there, it had been so long since anyone seemed to even remotely understand. He had contented himself with a heartfelt nod of thanks, and dragged himself back to Ciani's place to face the music.
It hadn't gone as well as he had hoped, but she had accepted the news more easily than he had feared. There were no screaming tantrums, for one thing, and she hadn't thrown any dishes. Her sincere hurt, and the tears in her eyes, had added a little more guilt - but compared to the mountain he already carried, that little bit more was a pittance. Silencing his pathetically overworked shreds of a conscience, Damien had saddled up and ridden out with his head high and his spine straight, consoling himself with the knowledge that it really was for her own good.
Now he was riding north, headed for a very specific destination. The Temple of Pleasure lay just north of Jaggonath, outside the city limits but close for the convenience of the worshippers. Damien had a sneaking suspicion that if anyone would know where to find the man who might once have been Gerald Tarrant, it would be Karril.
He tethered his horse outside the Temple and avoided the revelers as much as possible. He was saved from too much trouble when Karril appeared in person almost the second Damien stepped inside the Temple's gaudily decorated halls, wearing the familiar guise of a portly man in garish robes and a broad smile.
"Well well, if it isn't my favorite priest!" With a negligent gesture, Karril materialized a small room around them, cutting off the scenes of debauchery playing out on all sides. "What can I do for you, Reverend?"
"Not anymore." Damien said ruefully. "I quit, again. Permanently this time. I need to find someone, Karril, and I think you're my best bet."
The Iezu's eyes widened, and a spark of mischevious delight kindled in his dark eyes. "Oh, Vryce, don't tell me you've finally faced up to the truth! Here to take up the gauntlet, are we?"
Well, that answered that question. Damien smiled ruefully. "So... it was true, then."
Karril chuckled. "Oh, I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about." he said slyly, grinning.
"Right." To his own amazement, Damien felt himself smile in return - it had been so long since he last smiled that his face hurt slightly, but it was wonderful nonetheless. "I don't suppose you could fill me in on the rules of the game, hmm?"
"I can tell you this, Vryce." Karril said, smirking broadly. "A certain old friend of mine is very anxious to talk to you: it seems he thought you would probably be wanting to return to the Church, but wanted to keep some options open on your behalf. I think you'll find... a breadcrumb or two, shall we say. If you're determined enough, it shouldn't be a problem."
Damien felt his heart leap a little in anticipation. So it hadn't been deliberate cruelty - Gerald had been offering him a choice, letting him know that if his old life no longer fit, he could always pick a different path. "And this old friend's name?"
Karril grinned. "Coillearnach, Vryce. Gerald Coillearnach."
The former Knight blinked, baffled. "What? What the hell kind of a mouthful is that?"
Karril chuckled. "It's Gaelic, Vryce, an old Terran language. It means 'forest'."
A slow smile spread across Damien's face. "Well. I guess it's not so bad after all. And where might I find this Gerald Coillearnach?"
Karril grinned and held up his hands. "I'm not at liberty to say. All I'm allowed to tell you is this: the first understanding can lead to many more."
The Iezu vanished: Damien stood there for a moment, thinking hard. The first understanding - what could that possibly mean? The first understanding of what? There had been a lot of revelations on that quest, after all. The first understanding...
Then, suddenly, he knew. A memory flashed through his mind, of an impossible Working that had stripped away illusion and deceit and let the truth shine through in all its terrible power. A blaze of coldfire, centuries' worth of cultivated restraint shattering like glass, and the pain and self-loathing that followed... The first time he glimpsed the true Hunter. The first time he began to understand the nature of Gerald Tarrant.
Smiling as he hadn't smiled in months, Damien turned and headed for his horse. He had a date in Morgot.
Ciani sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the unoak dresser, her face utterly expressionless. The dresser's surface was almost bare, cleared of the few keepsakes that had adorned it - items belonging to Damien Vryce, now gone from her life along with their owner. All that remained was a rough wooden picture frame, holding a simple portrait, the kind sketched by the street artists that inhabited almost every intersection in Jaggonath. It showed Ciani and Damien standing together, Damien behind her with his arms around her waist smiling down at her, Ciani looking back over her shoulder and beaming up at him.
Lie. It's only a lie.
Ciani rose and walked slowly into the living room, stopping in the doorway and staring at the bookcase. Most of it was taken up with her many books on the fae, journals, old tomes about recent Ernan history - but the top shelf held books about religion, the effects of the human mind on the fae, the history of ages long past, especially the Revival. An empty hole on the shelf gaped amongst the other tightly-packed books: twelve volumes, bound in matching black leather with gilded lettering, had once stood there. The title was burned into Ciani's memory: For King and Country - A Treatise on the Arts and Strategies of War. Where an author's name should have been inscribed, there had been only the words, by the Neocount of Merentha. Now, the barren space on the shelf mocked her, another absence torn open in her carefully constructed life.
The kitchen provided no solace. Ciani was a terrible cook, having spent too many years living off of Senzei's cooking while she was buried in her research, and in recent days it was Damien who was waiting when she got home from the shop with a warm cup of tee and a home-cooked meal. She looked at the open cupboard next to the sink and sighed heavily: she hadn't even known it, but apparently Damien had still kept a store of travel rations hidden away in that cupboard. Yet another space once filled, now a void of emptiness.
She wandered back to the living room and sank onto a couch, staring blankly at the hallway. That was where the biggest void was: the specially designed rack that had held Damien's sword, his pride and joy. That Church-given sword, with its flame-patterned hilt and shining blade, was something that Ciani had always viewed as utterly Damien: that blade was a symbol of all he was, who he was. Now it, too, was gone.
Alone in the night, Ciani wept.
Three days later, Damien arrived in Morgot. It seemed as though the port city nestled inside an old caldera had not changed all that much: a little less traffic, now that the commerce of the Forest was gone, but still thriving nonetheless. He spotted the inn where they had stayed last time as he made his way up the winding pathway, and a reminiscent smile touched his lips at the sight, but he had another destination in mind at the moment. A certain place near the caldera's very brim...
When he finally crested the last incline, he felt his breath catch in his throat. There was the little plateau that he remembered so vividly - but he was not the only one here. A familiar figure was pacing about nearby, clearly lost in concentration on some sort of calculation.
Damien took advantage of that moment to study the man. It was the same young noble who had approached him on Black Ridge Pass, no question of that: now, watching as the young man paced out some kind of complicated pattern on the barren ground as he jotted swift notes in an open book he held, Damien wondered how he could ever have doubted the man's identity. That swift, elegant stride, the inherent grace of his hand as he wrote despite his concentration on the pattern he was pacing out, the single-minded intensity of that concentration... this was the Gerald he knew, no question of that. His form was different, of course - he was a good three inches shorter now, if possible even more slender, with a warmer olive tone to his skin and nearly waist-length jet black hair tied back in a single thick braid. Still, under those superficial differences, Damien knew without a doubt he was still the adept that had crossed the Knight's path three years ago in Briand.
Damien fought down the emotions that surged up inside him, determined to keep his dignity at least marginally intact, but let a broad smile spread across his face.
"Trying to figure out how to pull one of the moons down to use as a nightlight?"
Gerald's head whipped up so fast it was a wonder he didn't snap his neck. Damien found himself pinned in place under the stare of fathomless dark eyes, wide with shock in a way that the inhumanly controlled Gerald Tarrant would never have allowed himself. The adept's smooth voice was hoarse with disbelief.
"Damien?" he breathed, amazement warring with hope and delight across his face. Damien's smile widened further.
"Guilty as charged. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mer Coillearnach." Oddly enough, the name didn't seem nearly as cumbersome or awkward when faced with the man who had chosen it. Then again, that was Gerald: lending his elegance to everything he touched.
The notebook slipped from the adept's hand, falling unnoticed to the leaf-strewn ground. Gerald moved toward him, eyes flickering over the Knight's face, drinking in the sight of him like a starving man faced with a banquet. "You... you know...?"
Damien's smile softened at the long-buried insecurity stirring in Gerald's eyes, and held out his arms.
That was all it took. In a flash Gerald was pressed against him, his slender form shaking with emotion as he wrapped slim arms around the priest, clinging tightly as though he would never let go. Damien held the adept just as tightly, reveling in the feeling of a beating pulse under warm olive skin as he gazed into the shorter man's dark eyes. The irises might be black instead of silver, but there was no denying that the soul behind them was the same, and Damien felt his throat tighten with unshed tears as he said softly, "I should never have let you go."
To his astonishment, he saw tears in Gerald's eyes as well, as the adept breathed, "You had to. I had to give you that chance."
Maybe it should have felt wrong holding this supposed stranger in his arms, but it didn't, and Damien didn't think twice about kissing him. He was rewarded with a soft, almost inaudible moan and slender arms winding about his neck, the adept's sweet lips moving against his eagerly. With that physical connection, though, Damien felt some barrier in the back of his mind shatter: warmth flooded through him, his skin tingling at a sudden wash of fae through his heart and soul. Like a missing puzzle piece slotting back into place, something inside him clicked, and he found himself abruptly inundated in a rush of emotions that were not his own.
The near-silent, almost pleading whisper was not spoken aloud, but Damien heard it as clearly as he heard his own heartbeat. He tightened his hold around the adept's waist and let his own near-overwhelming feelings of love and relief echo through their bond.
After a long moment the adept pulled back, gasping slightly, his black eyes shining with a storm of emotion as he whispered, "Oh, God, you really do feel the same... I prayed for so long, but I couldn't be sure, I couldn't restore the link without physical contact and if you didn't feel this way for me I didn't dare..."
"Gerald." Bemused, Damien reached up and cupped the adept's face tenderly in his hands, stilling the breathless rambling. "Breathe. It's all right. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."
Slowly, the tension bled out of Gerald's frame: he smiled softly, looking almost sheepish. "I'm sorry. I've been... a bit on edge, lately. Karril said that you were looking for me, but the bastard refused to give me any details, and I wasn't sure if you had really decided..."
"I could hardly keep lying to myself forever, could I?" Damien asked gently. "I had a lot of time to think, Gerald, and I finally figured out why I felt like half of my heart had been ripped out when I thought you'd died. Because in a way, it had. I love you, Gerald, I love you so much it still scares me a little - but denying it isn't going to do any good, so I'll just have to use some of that stubborn bravery you were always lecturing me about and live with that."
Gerald's eyes sparkled with tears as he smiled, reaching up to trace Damien's jaw affectionately as he murmured, "I love you too. I was too scared to admit that before as well, but after everything that happened... I can't imagine it working out any other way."
At another time, there would be questions that would need to be asked and answered, mysteries that needed to be solved. The future would have to be discussed, and the past laid to rest: but for the moment, it was enough to just be together, holding each other at long last under the glowing light of Erna's bright moons.
As Ciani sat alone, thinking, her pain slowly began to turn to anger. How could Damien have led her on like this? He had said that he missed her, that he wanted to start over - yet he had walked out on her, without so much as a backward glance. Had he ever meant what he told her when they first got back together? Or had it all been lies from the start?
Most of all, she wanted to know who it was that had stolen his heart. There was no longer any doubt in the loremaster's mind that Damien had fallen for someone else on that quest, someone who still held his heart, whether alive or dead: all that was left to discover was who. She soon realized, though, that she did not hold enough information - the navigator was still the only possibility she could conjure up. Who else might he have met along the way? Who else might have caught his eye on that long and winding journey?
If there was another suspicion lurking in her heart, deep below the shields of anger and denial, she did not acknowledge it.
As she paced alone through the rooms of her small home, the place seeming horribly empty in the absence of Damien's aura of life and energy, a burning rage began to fester in Ciani's heart. Perhaps they hadn't had the fairy-tale 'true love' that everybody seemed to eager to find, but what they had had still been wonderful! Why had Damien felt compelled to throw that all away?
A thought occurred to her then, making her pause mid-stride, her green eyes suddenly brightening. Why didn't she just go after him? Damien had walked out on her, but that didn't mean that she had to let him go that easily.
The next morning, she sent out feelers amongst her various contacts in the city. It took some time, but eventually she got a response: one of the City Guards that she had befriended years ago had spotted Damien on the way out of the city, headed north, in the direction of the Temple of Pleasure. Ciani had saddled up her own horse and ridden north in hot pursuit: once at the Temple, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, she was even able to use a Tracking to determine his path. That was fortunate, because she was fairly certain that Damien had gotten directions from Karril, and she wasn't sure that the Iezu would have given her the same information. She had known Karril for longer, of course, but for some reason after Calesta was destroyed Karril had seemed inordinately fond of Damien. Shrugging off those unsettling thoughts, Ciani focused on the trail - and felt an odd shiver of foreboding run down her spine. It was too early to be certain, of course, but by the general direction of the Knight's path it looked fairly obvious where he had gone.
He was taking the Northeast Highway, which led straight to Morgot.
For some reason, even thinking that name sent a chill down her spine. Why would he go to Morgot, of all places? She chided herself for jumping to conclusions, though: there were many other towns and cities that were most easily accessible via the highway. There was no way to be certain that was his eventual destination, not without a very extensive Working, and that would take time that was better spent simply riding. She would get her answers when she caught up to him and won him back from whatever buxom blonde idiot had tried to steal him away from Ciani.
Then, the aforementioned buxom idiot was going to pay dearly for trying to come between Ciani and her chosen Church Knight.
The next morning over breakfast, Damien finally got around to interrogating Gerald as to what the hell he was doing in Morgot. The adept looked at him in open amusement. "Actually, Damien, your little jibe last night was closer than you knew. I've been working out a new set of star charts, seeing as the most reliable selection was reduced to ash about four months ago."
Damien stared at him. "Okay... and that involves walking around in circles?"
Gerald sighed, shaking his head in indulgent amusement as he returned his primary focus of attention to the pancakes he was eating. The adept obviously had a sweet tooth: there was enough syrup on the pancakes to drown a horse. "I was marking a frame of reference, for the purposes of triangulation."
Damien sighed. "Why did I even ask?"
They were occupying a corner booth in the lobby restaurant one of Morgot's most prestigious hotels - no low-class inns for Gerald, of course. Damien did think that this was taking it just a tad too far, though. The seat cushions of the booths were velvet, for God's sake. Still, he wasn't going to complain - if it made Gerald happy, then that was good enough for him. The adept was the one paying, anyway.
Gerald flashed him a bright smile. "I really don't know, Damien, I would have thought that between the Lady Ciani and myself you'd be cured of that by now." He paused, a faint frown crossing his face. "Incidentally, I'd heard through the grapevine that you and she were together again. Was I misinformed, or did something happen?"
Damien grimaced and looked down at his plate, trying to find a way to explain it that would make it sound less like the total disaster it had been. "Well... let's just say it wasn't really working out."
Gerald's frown deepened. "In what way?"
Damien scowled at an unoffensive piece of bacon. "I... may have... addressed her by your name at a certain... inopportune moment. "
Gerald choked on his coffee. He swiftly pressed a silk napkin against his lips, his dark eyes sparkling and his slim shoulders shaking with laughter, totally unaffected by Damien's glare. "Did you just admit to calling my name when you were engaged in - relations - with the Lady Ciani?" he gasped, when he was capable of speech once more.
Damien huffed. "Yes, alright. You don't need to rub it in."
"I'm deeply flattered." Gerald said lightly, shaking his head, eyes still shining with mirth. "Did she notice?"
"Fortunately not, I doubt I'd have survived if she had." Damien grumbled. "As you can imagine, that was kind of the end of my happy little bubble of denial. After that, it was all downhill: I'd managed to convince myself that I was doing the right thing by staying, but the morning of the day I left... She threw a tantrum because I was too 'emotionally detached'. Apparently, she figured four months was too long of a recovery period for literally surviving Hell and having my closest friend and comrade die. That was when I realized that really, I was only hurting her and myself by staying. I finished work for the day, handed in my resignation at the Cathedral, and was packed and on the road in less than an hour. Karril pointed me here, and... well, you know the rest."
Gerald smiled at him. "Indeed I do." He glanced down at his plate, still smiling softly. "I've been leaving clues with Karril this whole time, you know - every time I head off somewhere else, I let him know. I knew I was probably being hopelessly overoptimistic, but I wasn't going to resign myself to fate too soon. A wise decision, as it turns out."
Damien grinned. "That's... really sweet, you know that? I wouldn't have pegged you for the sentimental type, but apparently I was mistaken."
Gerald smirked and pointed his fork at the former priest. "Don't you forget it, my love, I expect flowers and candy every Valentine's Day. Oh, and God help you if you ever forget our anniversary."
Damien spluttered as he made the mistake of laughing while swallowing coffee. "Excuse me? Our anniversary? Anniversary of what, precisely?"
Gerald looked smug. "Well, I'm certainly willing to wait for a while, but if you think I'm letting you get away again you're sadly mistaken. You will be buying me a nice shiny ring sometime in the hopefully not-so-distant future, love, and I expect it to have lots of diamonds on it."
Damien chuckled and gave the adept a broad grin. "Whatever you say, darling."
Laughing when Gerald grimaced at the endearment, Damien realized that he already felt happier than he had since... Hell, since long before Calesta. Before he'd even set foot east of the Dividers, if he was honest. Surely at some point in his life in Ganji, at least, he had been this happy... right?
Or not. Maybe this really was the happiest he'd ever been.
Gerald seemed to catch the ridiculously sappy thoughts that were bleeding through the bond, because he smiled dazzlingly at Damien. The Knight smiled back, feeling his heart swell with love for the amazing man sitting across from him. Ciani had been special, and he had cared for her quite deeply, but she couldn't hold a candle to Gerald - no matter what face he wore or what last name he used. Gerald would always be one of a kind, and he was certainly the only one for Damien.
When Ciani finally arrived in Morgot, still following Damien's trail, she found the caldera port in quite a state. Apparently it was tradition that every Summer Solstice, they held an all-night concert to welcome in the changing season and keep away the 'summer's night spirits'. The Knight's signature had gotten a bit muddled from the sheer multitude of people, but Ciani knew he was here - it was just a matter of tracking him down.
The trail led to the caldera's rim, where the concert was being held. Though it was only dusk, the opening song was already beginning, the warm strains ringing out over the boisterous crowd.
"Dancing to the feel of the drum, leave this world behind
We'll have a drink and toast to ourselves, under a Violet Moon
Tudor Rose with her hair in curls will make you turn and stare
Try to steal a kiss at the bridge, under a Violet Moon
Raise your hats and your glasses too: we will dance the whole night through
We're going back to a time we knew - under a Violet Moon..."
Ciani edged her way into the crowd, searching with narrowed eyes. The trace in the fae was stronger now, she must be getting closer. Abandoning the center of the crowd, she found herself being led toward a small stand of trees a short way from the stage, a secluded spot with a good view yet surprisingly few people milling about. She avoided a group of younger women who were sighing and giggling over the male singer who had just taken the stage - and finally caught sight of Damien. What she saw, though, made her mouth fall open in disbelief.
"Cheers to the Knights and days of old, the beggars and the thieves
Living in an enchanted wood under a Violet Moon
Fortuneteller what do you see? Future in a card
Share your secrets, tell them to me, under a Violet Moon
Raise your hats and your glasses too: we will dance the whole night through
We're going back to a time we knew - under a Violet Moon..."
Damien was leaning back against the broad trunk of a spreading oak, his arm around his companion's waist, watching the stage with the warmest smile Ciani could ever remember seeing from him. That was truly saying something. The air of radiant joy that he exuded was shocking enough, but what really floored the loremaster was just who his companion was.
It wasn't some blonde floozy, that was for sure. Hells, it wasn't even a woman.
It was a young man, in his early to mid twenties by his looks, with warm olive skin and long hair as black as True Night. His clothes were elegant and clearly expensive, tasteful but with just a hint of flair that would have made him stand out from any crowd. His features were fine-carved and attractive - with his slim build and overall delicacy, one might even say pretty - and his eyes were so dark they seemed to swallow all light. He was truly striking, and more than one person in the crowd was eyeing him covetously - yet he was nestled into Damien's side as though he couldn't possibly belong anywhere else, an almost cat-like air of palpable contentment surrounding him. He looked like the fairytale noble lady, secure and radiant on the arm of her prince, and for a time all Ciani could do was gape, her anger momentarily forgotten as she marveled at the scene before her.
"Raise your hats and your glasses too: we will dance the whole night through
We're going back to a time we knew - under a Violet Moon
Close your eyes and lose yourself in a medieval mood
Taste the treasures and sing the tunes, under a Violet Moon
Tis my delight on a shiny night, the season of the year
To keep the lanterns burning bright under a Violet Moon
Raise your hats and your glasses too: we will dance the whole night through
We're going back to a time we knew - under a Violet Moon!"
Then, abruptly, the memory of how it had once been her standing at Damien's side hit her like a wash of ice water. This was what he had abandoned her for - some rich pretty-boy noble, and a man to boot? No. No, this was not acceptable. This was a worse affront than if he had had some blonde ditz on his arm! At least then it could be written off as typical male stupidity, but this - this was so not going to go unchallenged.
She broke free of the crowd and stormed toward her errant lover. The raven-haired man saw her first, and to her surprise she saw a flash of recognition in his gaze: the young man leaned up to whisper something to Damien, who stiffened and looked up, his hazel eyes narrowing at the sight of the loremaster. Refusing to be deterred by a simple glare, Ciani stopped just a few feet away, arms folded across her chest and simply fuming.
"So. This is why you just up and walked out on me, is it? How long have you been going behind my back, Damien?"
The young noble went rigid instantly, and for just a heartbeat Ciani felt a prickle of warning skate along her spine as the fathomless onyx eyes narrowed. Damien laid a hand on the man's arm, though, his expression hard.
"It's all right, love, I've got this. Cee, can I talk to you over there for a minute?"
Ciani pursed her lips angrily, but she nodded tightly and stalked away, Damien following. When they were out of earshot of the other man she turned, eyes blazing, and glared at Damien.
"What the fuck, Damien?"
"First of all, shut up." the Knight snapped, and Ciani reeled back, shocked. She had never heard that anger in his tone before: he had always been unfailingly gentle when he spoke to her. Even during the fight that had led to his leaving, he'd barely raised his voice. His hazel eyes were cold as he said harshly, "Second, how dare you? I was not having an affair, and you should know me far better than to believe that I would ever betray someone like that - you or anyone else.
"I'm only going to say this once, Cee, so listen up. I'm not going to tell you his name yet, because frankly I don't think you deserve to know - but that man that you were just glaring at is without a doubt the best man I have ever known. Yes, we met on the journey to stop Calesta: I won't say it was love at first sight, because it was anything but. However, after fighting at each other's sides for long enough, we grew to understand each other on a level no one else has ever managed to understand either of us. If you want to know why I 'led you on', Cee, it's because I thought he was dead. I only very recently found out that he wasn't, and even then I didn't leave right away, because I couldn't be sure and I thought that I owed it to you to stay. After we fought, though, I spent most of the day thinking about it - and I realized it would be best for both of us if I just left. I know you're hurting, but if I said I regretted my choice I would be lying through my teeth. I love him. I love him in a way I've never experienced before, and even if I had a thousand years I doubt I'd ever feel this way about anyone else, ever. I know you think I lied to you, that I was hiding some kind of repressed homosexual tendencies: it's not true. I don't love him because he's a man, it's just irrelevant: man or woman, I've never felt like this about anyone else. If you can accept that, really accept it, then I would be very happy if we could still be friends. But if you can't accept that I'm happy with him, Cee, then you'd better go straight back to Jaggonath now, because if you try to hurt him I will not show you any mercy."
For a moment, Ciani could only stand in openmouthed shock, completely floored by that fierce declaration. Slowly, the reality sank in: she had gotten it wrong, so wrong. She had thought that he had left due to a simple infatuation, and that even if it wasn't real, the almost-love she and he shared would be enough to bring him back... and unbeknownst to her, Damien had found his true love. It just wasn't her.
After a moment, Ciani found her voice, speaking in a hushed and rather awestruck whisper. "You... oh, Damien."
Sudden tears welled up in her eyes, and she bowed her head, biting her lip hard. Shame washed over her like a wave, drowning her unreasoning anger in guilt. "Gods, I've been a proper idiot, haven't I? You're right - I absolutely do know you better than that. I just... I wanted things to go back to the way they were supposed to be."
Damien's eyes softened and he reached out, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I know, Cee. I think I wanted that too, at first. Are you going to be okay with this?"
She smiled at him, the expression warm, if a bit watery. "Yes. I -" Drawing a deep breath, Ciani lifted her left hand in a fae-oath. "I swear by the fae itself, I will never intentionally hurt you or the man you love."
Damien smiled then, his hazel eyes suddenly thawing, returning to their old warmth. "Thank you, Cee."
A new song was starting up, the steady drumbeats reverberating through the warm, summer evening air.
"I still hear the snares in the square
Colors ablaze in the evening
The air was still, down the stormy hill
Oh, it's good to be young and daring
Beat the drum, beat the drum
Like a heartbeat, lonely and strong:
Beat the drum..."
Damien drew a deep breath and gestured the black-haired man to join them. As the younger man approached, Damien said gently to Ciani, "Now, this is purely hypothetical, of course. But... you're familiar with how powerful certain sacrifices can be. Just imagine for a moment, that a very power adept found himself in a situation that he could not escape alive - or at least, so it seems. But he has one bargaining chip left: his name. So, theoretically, if he were to give that up, and thereby sacrifice his very identity... there would be a lot of power in that, yes? And so, that adept might be free to start a new life, under a new name, with the only constraint being that he can never claim anything of his old life again, or the sacrifice would be undone."
Ciani felt her blood run cold, and her mouth dropped open. The young noble approached with a smooth confidence that belied his youth, shooting a questioning glance at Damien: the former priest smiled, wrapping his arm around the other man's waist and drawing him close as he said softly, "Ciani, I'd like you to meet Gerald Coillearnach."
For the second time in so many minutes, Ciani found herself stunned into speechlessness.
"Across the bay I still hear the strains
The two-step loud and blaring
We walked hand in hand to the accordion band
Oh, it's good to be young and daring
Beat the drum, beat the drum
Like a heartbeat, lonely and strong:
Beat the drum..."
Slowly, in spite of herself, Ciani smiled as well. She met the young noble's eyes - and saw a familiar light there, the echoes of a soul almost as old as Erna itself, a man who had shaped the course of humanity's path for more than a millennia. She nodded in wordless acknowledgement, admitting with her gaze alone what they both already knew. She was outmatched, had been from the start, and she could keep fighting and be destroyed or admit graceful defeat and survive with her dignity and pride intact. Ciani felt her lips quirk in an amused grin.
"It's a pleasure, Mer Coillearnach. I never stood a chance, did I?"
Gerald's eyes sparkled with humor as he smiled. "Not in the slightest."
"She was the pride of the summer that year
She was my sweetheart, my lady
We stopped for a rest, on the banks of the Ness
Oh, it's good to be young and daring
Beat the drum, beat the drum
Like a heartbeat, lonely and strong:
Beat the drum
Beat the drum, beat the drum
Like a heartbeat, lonely and strong:
Beat the drum!"
The concert ran on late into the night, full of laughter and goodwill as the people in the cities across all of Erna gathered to welcome the summer. Somewhere around midnight, Damien and Gerald slipped away, leaving the others to their revels as they sought the shelter of a moonlit glade some distance from the celebration. There, sheltered by the graceful boughs of a stand of willows, they took a moment just to bask in each other's presence as they gazed up at the distant, gleaming stars.
Gerald leaned back into Damien's arms, smiling softly as he studied the peaceful stars. The Knight matched his smile, the sight stirring memories of all the times he had seen those stars on long cold nights, nights spent racing against time for the salvation of the world. "It's hard to believe that it's only been four months, isn't it? Calesta came so close to winning, yet most people seem to have moved on so easily..."
"Most of them never even knew, love." Gerald sighed, his eyes fluttering shut as he rested his head back against Damien's shoulder. "If they know anything at all of the peril they faced, they learned it afterward, from the stories in the newspapers. None of them will ever really understand the danger they were in."
Damien sighed softly, closing his own eyes, content just to hold the adept's warm, lithe frame in his arms. "I suppose that's our curse as heroes - to know just how close it was, to know just how narrowly we escaped our doom."
Gerald shifted in his arms, his breath grazing warmly against the side of Damien's neck as the adept murmured, "There are worse prices to pay."
The words hung in the air between them, heavy with unspoken meaning. Damien's throat tightened, and he looked down at the man in his arms, meeting those dark eyes steadily.
"I suppose there are."
A tiny smile fluttered over Gerald's mouth, then the adept leaned up and pressed his lips to Damien's in a warm, tempting kiss. Damien responded happily, pulling the adept closer and returning the languid, luxurious exploration. Even though it had been only three days ago that they finally admitted their feelings to each other, with the bond once more active between them and their souls in perfect harmony, it felt as though they had been lovers for an eternity.
Eventually they drew apart, both smiling as their bond hummed with emotion. Gerald laced his fingers gently through Damien's as he murmured, "Do you suppose anyone would notice if we were to return to the hotel?"
Damien grinned, knowing that by someone the adept meant Ciani. "I don't care if they do." he said honestly, pulling the adept back into another kiss, a reassurance and a promise. Feeling Gerald's happy sigh against his lips, Damien's heart soared.
Promises or no, compared to this, Ciani's opinion mattered not at all.
Damien woke sometime during the night, sensing the absence of his lover's warmth beside him. He wasn't concerned, the bond was still humming with their shared contentment, but curiosity dragged him out of the silken sheets and in search of his adept.
He found Gerald out on the balcony, looking like some scene from a Terran romance novel, the balcony doors flung wide to allow the warm wind in the room and the curtains swirling gently in the breeze. Gerald was standing with his arms resting on the railing, his head tilted back and the wind tugging playful fingers through his midnight hair, humming a liltingly ethereal tune that teased at the edges of Damien's memory. The Knight paused for a moment, drinking in the sight of his unusually disheveled lover: his hair was loose over his shoulders, his tunic was only half-fastened and showed the elegant arch of his throat and the upper portion of his lean chest, and the clinging material of his silk trousers left little of his lithe frame to the imagination. He was also barefoot, something Damien noted with an odd surge of amused affection. Something about seeing Gerald so at ease touched him: clearly, the adept no longer had any qualms about letting his guard down around Damien.
Obviously, Gerald actually was aware that Damien was there, because after a moment he started to sing softly, the words hanging sweetly in the warm night air.
"Beyond the mist of myth and legend, in a place not far from here,
Beneath the stones on the hill: I want to see your home,
Give me a Cloak of Feathers so I'll never be alone.
And the mists they part as through we fly - in my cloak of feathers, the owl and I.
Birds fill the trees in this wonderland, and an ancient curse is broken,
By the love of a mortal man.
Lady spin your circle bright: weave your web of dark and light
Earth, Air, Fire and Water, bind us as one.
Lady spin your circle bright: weave your web of dark and light
Earth, Air, Fire and Water, bind us as one."
The former priest moved forward, coming to stand next to his lover as he rested one hand on the adept's shoulder, feeling the warmth of his skin soaking through the thin tunic. "What song is that? It sounds familiar..."
"You've probably heard it before, if not in its original form." Gerald murmured, his eyes closed as he shifted minutely into the caress. "It's called Cloak of Feathers: it's a ballad about an old Terran myth. It tells the story of a woman who betrayed her husband and conspired with her lover to murder him, but was thwarted by a powerful magician and cursed to be trapped in the form of an owl. She remained thus for centuries, until another man gifted with the ability to see through even the strongest veil of magic recognized her for what she was and fell in love with her. His love was such that he was willing to become an owl as well to join her: however, the curse had been woven with the tenant that if she earned another's love then she would have proven herself redeemed. She was restored to human form, and spent the rest of her life with the man who had freed her."
Damien smiled. "Sounds like a pretty romantic story." he said wryly. Gerald's dark eyes fluttered open and he gave the Knight a warm smile.
"It's amazing what love can accomplish." he murmured, smiling slyly.
Damien certainly wasn't going to argue with that.
Wrapping his arms around the brilliant, complex, fascinating adept whose heart he had won without even knowing it, for the first time in his life Damien felt truly content. Whatever the future might hold, he wasn't going to worry about it for now: he finally had what he'd been searching for, all these years. Whatever Fate had in store for them, Damien would deal with it when it came - with Gerald at his side, nothing else mattered.
As long as he had Gerald, Damien was certain he could conquer the world.
A.N.4: Too much fluff? No such thing! I think Gerald's going to have my head, though, both for writing the dark-haired version of him and for making him such a sap. The ending of the Blodeuwedd legend as detailed above isn't exactly 'canon' for that myth, but it is the story that is told in Cloak of Feathers, and the symbolism fits this story perfectly.