Fanfic by Winona Whitener, Winona@fileFRENZY.com Remembrance D rode silently through the moors. This area had been windy for as long as he could remember traveling through it. Of course, he'd be the first to admit that his life--filled with high tension and burning adrenaline--tended to make one rather jaded. Everything seemed the same. You meet the victim. You fight. You leave. Then again, if you've traveled, one way or another, over most of the inhabited world, things do kind of blend in. D rode on, noting briefly and with detachment the slight rise of the hill where he had met a young blonde woman. It had been all of thirty years--or more--and yet it seemed like not quite so long ago. There wasn't a whip-wielding girl to greet him now. Only the soft moan of the wind over the soft grasses on the plains met him. D rode on, past the town boundary marker, and over the stone bridge towards Doris' home. "I'm bored!" his symbiot hand whispered cuttingly. "I want some action." D raised an eyebrow slightly. "Action?" "Something!" the hand replied sharply. "We've been going and going for weeks now." The hand was silent for a moment, gleaning information and images of the surroundings. "Say, I remember this place. There's a good bar--!" "No," D said. "You're coming back for her? It's been years," the hand said, quietly. "I know," D replied. "But I promised them." The Lang farm was just as he remembered it. There were pastures on the southern, eastern and western ends, with the garden just to the north of the house. A broad dirt path wound its way through the pastures to the front of the barriers. Everything was exactly as he remembered it when he had ridden out before the dawn so many years ago. In a way, it felt like he had never left. D sniffed the cool air--the same smells, a little fainter in the early spring breeze. It unnerved him that it seemed like time hadn't moved here but remained like a book with a bookmark at a favorite passage that waited to be relived. D shook himself mentally--things were different. They had to be--it always was the same: he moved on, unchanging, and the world lived and loved on without him. This was the closing of the circle--the fulfillment and full of the cycle. Taking a deep breath, D reached down and flipped on the intercom. "Yes?" a scratchy voice said, sleepily. "It's D," he said, half afraid of being turned away. The intercom rustled with activity for a few moments, and muted voices. Then it snapped off. "Boy, you must have left a wonderful impression--sneaking off like that before dawn," the hand said, forcing its voice into a chuckle. D looked around. Suddenly the barrier went down and a light came on in the downstairs area of the house. D rode through quietly. He only meant to be here a few minutes. If that. The downstairs was exactly as he remembered it. There was the sectional sofa forming an L in one corner, the hat stand and the huge fireplace with the somber portraits above it. A small older woman came down, wrapped in a robe. Her hair was white with small tints of blonde, and her eyes luminous and blue. She was nervously fingering a golden necklace with a pendant on it. This was Doris. "I don't know if you remember me--" D began hesitantly, the slight, sweet smell of her perfume tickling his nose. "I do," she said softly, her tiny fingers running over the filigree of the pendant. "Did you really think that I would forget?" "Well," he began again, uncertain. "I promised to see you again when I was back around." He shifted nervously from one foot to the other. The uncompromising stare of this woman was unsettling. She was quiet and older, but he could see--he could feel--the light of her soul. She nodded and gestured for him to sit down on the sofa. D pulled his hat off and put his sword down against the worn cushions. Doris emerged from the kitchen carrying a somewhat battered enamel mug of hot tea. She curled up in a rocker he hadn't really noticed before in front of the fireplace. Doris followed D's gaze. "It wasn't here when you were. Dan bought it for my birthday some time ago." D nodded. The combined hundreds of hours his mother and father had spent teaching him etiquette kicked in automatically. "I hope that you've been well." Doris lowered her lashes slightly. "I suppose that you could say that." She shifted uncomfortably, dropping the locket. "I didn't ever expect to see you again. We didn't even think that you heard us." D nodded again. He remembered hearing them shout from the cliff above the road. They had shouted and shouted and waved wildly until their voices were mere whispers in the wind--shouting for him to visit soon, to come back, to remember them--and their shapes mere dots on the horizon. "I heard you very clearly," he said at last. Doris sipped her tea quietly, a soft smile touching her lips. "We were both hoarse for weeks after that. Dan even caught cold. He recovered quickly, but was hoarse forever." "Where is Dan now?" D asked softly. "Dan left and went elsewhere. He traveled a little bit and eventually became a doctor. He lives in town, nearer to the bulk of his patients. He never stopped talking about you, really. He always quoted you to the young men he counseled. He looked up to you very much...." Doris's voice drifted off, then she quickly added, "No pun intended." D glanced down at himself. Dan had been very much shorter than he was but was filled with the courage and determination of a man. Glancing at the portraits above the fireplace, he wondered what Dan looked like now. "And what about you?" D asked. He didn't notice anything suggesting that her life had gone on after him. No new furniture or carpets. The same dishes as when he was here. No new hats or coats. "I stayed here," she said, her voice a husky whisper. "Did you ever fall in love? Get married?" D asked. "No," Doris said, setting her teacup down on the coffee table. "How could I? I knew no one could compare to you and I wanted you." D heard his breath inaudibly hiss between clenched teeth. He felt the invitation being offered to him. He had felt it before, when he had held her close, the tempting, almost narcotic feel of her warm acceptance--her love for him. As unbelievable as it was, she had loved him for everything he was. She wasn't even scared of his dark vampiric side. Well, not truly terrified. "Anyway," she continued, tucking her feet under her gown, "no one really could blame them, but the villagers were still hesitant around us. They weren't sure if we were still tainted or something. That's why Dan traveled a bit--to find a school that would take him. Once or twice, I came close, but there was always something.... "We never did have any other problems with vampires, though. Once Count Lee was gone, no others came forward." Doris smothered a watery giggle. "I almost, for a long time, hoped that one would." D stared at her. "Then you would come back," she explained with a sigh. "But after a while, I stopped hoping. Then ... then I stopped wanting." Her shoulders hunched forward slightly, as though she were carrying some heavy burden. She fingered the necklace again. "Stopped wanting?" "Yes," she sighed. "I stopped wanting you to return. For a while I was quite angry, that you lied and never meant to return. Then I knew that even if you did return, I had no desire to see you, as old and wrinkled as I had become." She stared straight ahead. "I knew that you'd be the same, but I couldn't be. I didn't want you to see me old, with white hair, and wrinkled like a raisin. I didn't want you to remember me as anything but what I was. Eventually, I decided that you could come or not, but that I would still love you and that, more than anything, I needed you to know that." A clock somewhere in the house struck twelve impersonal electronic chimes that echoed in the quiet house. Doris shifted sleepily. D stood, murmuring, "I suppose that I must be going, since it's so late." Doris nodded and said, "Good night." She flipped the switches for the barrier outside. D picked up his sword and hat. These after visits were usually brief and he would travel on, feeling more assured of keeping his word. He slid out the door with a slightly sheepish air, turned, and said, "I'm sorry for arriving so late." And it was too late, he supposed. Doris smiled at little sadly and said, "It's no problem, but do go and see Dan. You'll find his house by the inn. He's always up late and I worry about him. He'll be so disappointed if you leave before seeing him." D nodded and gallantly took her tiny, frail hand in his huge ones. He bent low at the waist and kissed the back of her hand. She blushed and, for a brief moment, her being sparkled, her mouth smiling brilliantly, her eyes suddenly young and lively. Staring at her, he could see the young woman she once was--full of fire and spirit and life. And he could truly respect the woman she had become. D mounted up and she waved goodbye. He turned and waved at her. She waved again and went back inside, standing at the window facing the lane. He rode through the barrier, hearing the sudden crackle and hum as it went up behind him. Then, he was down around a bend and out of sight. "Well, that wasn't so hard," the hand remarked cautiously. "I don't suppose so," D nodded. "But I would like to see her again before we leave. It was highly impolite to show up so late." The hand sighed heavily, then brightened a little. "Well, we can see where Dan's house is and find the inn. Maybe we can find some company there." "I don't want company," D said, shortly. The hand remained silent. D rarely wanted company of any kind after seeing the life of a victim that had gone on without him. Or was it worse to see that it hadn't? Finding the inn was a little difficult. The town had grown. There were two additional taverns which had rooms for various use above them, a new general store and a small dry goods store, a stable and a couple of fountains and a statue of somebody-or-other in a new park that hadn't been there when he was here before. Finally, he wandered around to the older part of town and found the old inn. Sure enough, there was a brightly lit house two doors down with a large shingle hanging off it. The shingle, clear enough to D in the moonlight, had a picture of some miscellaneous herbs and then a mortar and pestle with "Daniel R. Lang" in modest script above it in dark paint. Voices got louder and the door opened. A mother carried her heavily bundled child out, crooning to it. A tall man stood in the doorway, with short brown hair with a few silver streaks and deeply compassionate brown eyes. He handed the woman a paper package and said, "Now little Keith will be fine if you give him this powder mixed with a generous amount of honey and a little lemon in a mug of hot water." "Like tea?" she said, her eyes wide. "Yes, like tea," he nodded. "Steep it in hot water like tea. And here--" he fished into his pockets for a few coins "--tell Waitry to give you the good honey and fresh lemons." She gasped and nodded. Then she huddled away, carrying her child. Dan nodded and closed the door. D rode up to the house. It was like many others, not much of a front yard or back and terribly close to its neighbors, but cozy and well-kept. Dismounting, he tethered his horse to the fence. This would have to be very short, since it was so late. He knocked on the stout wooden door, noting the heavy carving of a cross in it. The muffled voice behind it said, "Just a moment" and then Dan opened it. D looked down slightly at the man Dan had become. He was much taller, with the eyes of a man who was wise beyond his years and a strong build not quite hidden by a loose white coat and gloves. Dan looked up at him for a moment and then smiled. "Well I'll be! Doris always said you'd come back! Come on in," he said, sheepishly gesturing with his slightly dirty gloves. "Make yourself at home." Then he disappeared into another room. This house glowed with several lamps in each room and a large fireplace in the parlor. D stood for a moment, gauging the room and its defenses and obstacles with automatic expertise. There was only a slightly lazy housecat napping hidden and waiting in the shadows, along with a steaming kettle that seemed to have a permanent home in front of the parlor fire. D stood in front of the fireplace. The house was warm and comforting, smelling pleasantly of tea and herbs and only the slightest bit of rubbing alcohol. And standing in front of the fire was peculiarly comforting and especially warm and soothing, though he couldn't name why. Dan emerged from the hall again, the white coat balled up under his arm. He was casually dressed in a loose blue shirt and some jeans. Sitting down in a comfortably overstuffed chair, he smiled warmly. "Well, Sis always said that you'd come back. Have a seat and get comfortable." D nodded amiably. It was nice to see someone honorable succeed and have respect and happiness. He finally sat down opposite his host, pulling off his hat in deference to the overstuffed back of the chair. Dan stretched in front of the fire. "She always worried about you. Were you all right? Were you hurt or wounded? Had you found someone to love?" Dan blushed here. Then, clearing his throat, he continued. "She didn't speak of you often, but when she did, you could tell she...." Dan blushed harder, and then changed the subject. "So where have you been? I assume that you've been well." "Well enough," D agreed. Thirty years and more of battles with vampires and the ever present bittersweet sting of temptation didn't lead usually to spectacular health. Still, he supposed that he should thank his accursedly mixed blood for his health and continued strength. "I've been to a number of places." Dan grinned. "I'll bet that you've had lots of battles." D nodded. "Several." Dan stood and filled a small snifter with a finger of brandy. "Purely medicinal. Do you want any?" he asked, the decanter with the amber liquid in his hand. "No thanks," D demurred. Hard drink always heightened the Thirst. He watched Dan take a sip as he replaced the decanter. D felt the silence grow heavy. "She asked me to come by and tell you to get some sleep. And that she's worried about you." D watched Dan's hand tremble and, as if in slow motion, the crystal snifter fell. It shattered off of the bar. Dan's hands were suddenly still and he was very pale. "What did you say?" he demanded softly. "She said to come by and tell you to get some sleep," D repeated, silent alarm bells going off in his head. "Why?" Dan staggered to the empty stuffed chair. "Don't you know? Well," he said, reconsidering. "I suppose that you don't. Doris is dead." D jerked back, a choked little breath tightening the muscles in his belly. He felt like he had been punched. "That's impossible. Or did she have a daughter?" D's mind searched for possibilities. Occasionally he had mistaken daughter for mother on his return trips. Dan shook his head, his eyes squeezed shut. His hands gripped the chair like talons. After a pause, D continued cautiously. "Is someone living in the farmhouse? I know that I saw someone there. Someone who invited me in...." Dan suddenly burst out in a horrible keening laugh, shattering the normal peace of the night. "No. No one will live there except for me and no one has been in there in over a year." He quieted, sensing D's confusion. "She's been dead a year now. She died from pneumonia. I live here and no one has been in that house in...." He shrugged. "But I know that someone was there. Someone had to put the barrier down." Dan stood and pulled on a heavier coat. "Let's go to the farmhouse. If someone is there, I'd like to know about it." Mounting their cyber-horses, they rode to the old farmhouse. The full moon shone down on the house. It was dark and lonely looking. The gates weren't in quite as good repair as D remembered. They rode up the slightly overgrown lane and to the barrier. Dan cut off the power and they rode inside. Dan cut back on the power and tethered the horses. Unlocking the door, he led D inside. D's nose wrinkled as the musty smell of dust and mothballs filled the air. Stepping inside, D first saw the huge fireplace--empty and cold and cleaned and obviously unused for a while. Then, he noticed that there were huge sheets over everything--even the portraits over the fireplace. There weren't any dishes in the open cupboards and everything had a thick coat of dust over it that hadn't been disturbed for a long time. Dan whispered sadly, "Convinced?" D nodded, a little in awe and only mildly aware of his symbiot's silent confusion. Dan fingered one of the sheets sadly. "She had lived her all her life. Until she caught pneumonia, she got up at dawn, worked all day and worried about me working too hard. She always believed that you'd come back." Dan's eyes screwed tight for a moment and then he cleared his throat resolutely. "If you like, I'll show you the grave...." D nodded solemnly. Dan led him out of the house, locking it up behind them. Silently both men trudged past the overgrown north garden to a little clearing that was overflowing with riotous flowers and by a tiny creek. In a bright beam of moonlight shone a white stone covered with vines from red morning glories. Dan stopped suddenly at the edge of the clearing. "She said that she wanted to see you one more time, to tell you that she loved you. She told me this about a hundred times a day and then, suddenly she didn't want you to see her. She was going to write you...." Dan's voice trailed off into the silence of the night. D stepped closer, smelling the peculiar scent of Doris in the mix of flowers that bloomed, in daylight, wild around here. The engraved stone was hidden under a clump of vines. Those vines would eventually bury roots deep into the stone, cracking it--destroying it. A little like the feel of guilt burying roots into the heart. D knelt by the stone, and pulled the vines away until they lay like a garland around the base. D examined the stone. Under "Doris Lang" it read: "My Love, I have loved More than many can be, For I have been loved, By thee who set me free" D felt the breath gather in his throat. He had not been in time-- she had died. Dan stood by, his head bowed. Looking at the stone, he brushed a last vine when something sparkling slipped off the stone. Dan's eyes popped open. D's lightning reflexes caught the delicate chain before it vanished in the pile of vines around the base. In the moonlight, her locket fell open, with a delicate picture of her, as she was when he knew her, and a picture of him. A tiny piece of paper was tucked in the hinge. D pulled it out gently and unfolded it. "In remembrance, the promise is fulfilled."