"Darius, I've seen your death."
Maia felt her voice break as she stared into her mentor's clear gray eyes over the chessboard. Her whole body shook as she recalled her visions. . .the chairs in the chapel overturned. . . Duncan MacLeod screaming in anguish as he discovered the headless body. "You must leave here," she whispered.
He looked around the room filled with dusty tomes, chalices, memoirs of centuries past. "Maia, I cannot do that," he murmured, leaning back in his chair. "The church is my home now. I will not abandon it. If it is my destiny to face death, I must do so."
She stood up, yanking a hand through her long, black hair. "No!" she gasped. She closed her eyes to hide the sudden tears. She'd known this man for over a thousand years, long before he'd dedicated himself to God. . . when all he'd needed was a good sword in his hand, her counsel, and her warmth in his bed. He'd taught her to kill and love in the same breath, with the same passion. And she'd never forgotten those teachings. "Please," she began. "I came to warn you. I can't let you die."
He stood as well, coming around the table. His monk's robes hung on him with quiet dignity, much like his armor had and he radiated the same power. He reached for her hand, holding it in both of his. "You said those words to me the night before Grayson and I began our march across Europe. Always my oracle. . . my most trusted one."
"But you ignored me," she reminded. And she remembered what he'd done to distract her. . . oh, how she remembered. "That was the last time you ever touched me in passion. . . the last time I ever saw Darius the soldier. You led your army to the gates of Paris the next morning without even waking me. And it was then that you killed the Old One. . .and I lost you."
Darius winced, as if he, too, remembered that night. Ever touch. Every kiss. His handsome face was a mirror for his soul. "Immortals must die sooner or later. The Old One died to bring me to the light, to God's grace. We all die for a reason, do we not?"
"But why you?" she demanded, and 4878 years of life could not prevent the tears from trailing down the cheeks that would forever bear the smoothness of sixteen. "My General, my lover, my teacher, my friend. Why must you die before me?"
He flinched and cupped her face in one hand. "Because, my darling, I'm prepared to meet my maker. I've lived a long time. Perhaps not as long as you, but its enough. I'm ready to answer His call when He chooses to take me."
Maia trembled at his touch. "I'm not ready to let you go," she told him, grasping the folds of his robes. "I can't."
Pain flashed like lightning in his eyes. "Maia, please." He brushed his knuckles against her jaw. "You must." He wiped at her tears with his thumb. "Crying? For me? You are stronger than that."
She shook her head. "I don't cry for you, Darius. I cry for the loss of my heart." She pulled away from the fingers that could give agony and ecstasy so equally, so easily. "Would that I were the houri I was born as or the soulless killer I was for half my Immortal life. You may go to your God with clear conscience but I will be left behind. . . mourning love for a man I couldn't have more than once in nearly 5000 years of life. I tried to forget you. I tried to recall the ones before you. . .Ramses, Alexander. . .and tried to replace you afterwards with countless bodies. William Wallace. . . that heathen Byron. . . a teenage youth that Grayson nearly killed. But it didn't work. I cannot live without you."
He looked stricken, like she'd slapped him. "Maia, don't say such things. Please, I care as much as I can."
"No," she disagreed, shaking her head. "You love this room, this church. The safety you've created. Oh, MacLeod may visit, but its not like the real world, where I am every day, wishing you could be with me at the opera or at my side in a fight. Everything I've done since you left me that morning so long ago has been a mockery. . .even confessions of love from a seventeen year old mortal could not wipe you from my blood. And now. . ." she laughed bitterly, anger as damp as sadness. "And now you are content to go to your death as you have lived. Still locked behind the walls of your precious igléase."
She felt the sting and the crack as her head jerked back before she realized he'd struck her. She rubbed the tender spot on her jaw and her anger faded as quickly as it had come. "At last, an unholy caress, my love," she whispered. "Now I can go." And with one last drink from his gaze, she turned to leave.
"Maia. . ."
He said her name low and desperate. "Maia, don't go." His hand came down on her shoulder.
She shuddered, stilled her step. "Father, dare you bid me stay?" She said his title as a reminder. "I am a sinner who would lead you into temptation if I were to tarry here. Much like you did a thousand years ago."
"J'se. I know." Hoarse, quiet. "Tarry here, cherie. Be with me," he requested. "Do not leave me tonight."
"Are you certain?" She didn't turn. "What of your vows?"
"I know my vows and there is one I made long before I became a man of God. It was when I was a man of you, Maia." He pulled her back against his chest. "I vowed to love you, cherish you, fight for you and die for you. I haven't forgotten." His breath was warm on the nape of her neck. "Its the purest torture. . . the only regret I've ever had in all my time as a priest. . . a man. . . an Immortal. That I could not keep that vow to you."
She turned slowly to face him, pushing aside the straps of her gown. Purple silk fell at her feet in a puddle and she stood before him in the simplest white lace. "Darius, my Darius integer vitae sclerisque purus ," she whispered in their tongue. The pure in life and free from sin. "Tecum vivere amem, tecum obeam libens." With you I should love to live, with you be ready to die. His vow then, hers now. "I love you." And she stretched up on her toes to claim his mouth.
He responded like a man who had gone a millenia without water. Crushing her to him, he drank up the taste of her mouth. . . their tongues met and mated in an intimate dance. She wrapped her arms around him, anchoring her fingers in his close-cropped brown hair. He ripped the lace camisole from her body, hands roaming. . . touching for the first and last time in centuries, the places that made her moan and him gasp in awe. She worked the cords on his robes and soon they were gone, too. His shirt followed and she pressed soft, heated kisses across the battle-scarred expanse of his chest. Not an inch was ignored in their frantic explorations. He lifted her up, carrying her to the small bed, and laid her down like he would a chalice of the sacrement--with utter reverence. Her body became a temple and he worshipped her with his tongue and his slendar fingers until she writhed under him. . .pleading in Sanskrit, Urdu, Latin and a language older than any spoken by man for him to take her.
He lowered himself onto her, folding her into his arms, and dropped a single kiss on her bare golden shoulder. "I love you always."
Then, he was plunging into her, hot, hard. . . a thousand years of chastity melted into a series of savage moments. . . his mouth on hers. . . his hands clenching into her hips, urging her on. She met every demand, crying out his name, wrapping her legs around his waist as he hit the deepest center of her desire once, twice, a dozen times before they hurtled together into the vortex of their love, lust, passion, and need.
And so it went until dawn. Each time more passionate than the previous. Each word of love more meaningful than any other ever uttered. Until he slept. And she was left to gather up her clothes. . . caress the beloved cheek one last time. . . wipe away her own tears.
"We are but dust and shadow, Darius," she whispered as she moved from the monk's cell. "Good-bye, sweet one. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
She knew what was to come. Knew all she could do was wait. Mourn. And try to go on.
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