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Part Five

Gifts Exchanged

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There was wonder in his voice. "You think I'm impressive?" He smiled ruefully. "About as impressive as a bull in a glassworks, maybe."

Loviath shook her head. She wasn't sure if she knew the right words to convince Surier, but she felt she had to try. "You always seem to know exactly what to do, and what to say. Me, I always blunder about, making things worse, more often than not. I -"

"You are the most amazing woman I have ever met," Surier interrupted. "Only an elf is better than you are at tracking and archery. You have an amazing talent, a rapport with animals like I have never seen with anyone else. You get along with just about everyone...." His voice faded with regret at that last observation. He had a reputation for being a bit ....

"Curmudgeonly?" Loviath asked, teasing.

Surier sighed. "That's a good word when you think about it. There are days when I feel older than Elminster," he admitted. "I think I was born old."

Loviath turned and put her arms around Surier. A part of her wondered, briefly, how this was possible when she didn't have a body, but she found other things to think about. "Surier, anyone can learn the skills I have. You are the smartest, wisest man I know. Half the time I only argue with you because I know you're right. You have a gift for healing, and not just physical wounds, but those caused by harsh words. It amazes me how you know how to do that. You care about people, Surier, really care." Loviath paused. "I'm not sure that I do. I'm not sure that I can."

There was an awkward silence for several moments, while Loviath stepped back and stared at the ground in shame. "Dealing with animals is a whole lot less painful, you know," she murmured.

Surier tensed. "I see," he said blankly. "Is that why you became a Ranger? To get away from me?" His pain wasn't reflected in his voice, but Loviath knew of it all the same.

Her head snapped up in shock. "Surier! How can you think that? I'm a Ranger because that's what I do best. Run away from you? I couldn't ever - " She stopped. She had run away from him once.

Surier shrugged and turned away, as if he didn't much care what she said. "I didn't think I was that incapable of listening to you. Or that you were too much of a coward to say something, Loviath."

Loviath reeled as if she'd been struck. Her throat closed and tears welled in her eyes. The epithet 'coward' felt as if it were a sword, cutting straight to her soul. Was she a coward? In her selfishness, had she done this to Surier, made him so bitter, caused him this much pain? Who else had she hurt, she wondered. Ornthalus? Karien? She hid her face in her hands. 'Oh, Earth Mother,' she thought raggedly, 'what have I done?'

Silently, protectively, Surier's arms closed around her and held her tightly. "Loviath, Little One, you do care about people. You do know how to love." He rested his cheek against her hair. "Oh, Heart of Mine, how can I convince you?"

Loviath began to tingle, from the inside out. Once, long ago, she had happened to be next to a tree during a thunderstorm. When lightning struck the tree, she had felt a similar tingle. Only this promised to be far more than just a lightning strike. Her arms slid around Surier's waist, and she snuggled closer to him. The feeling surged, and she trembled. It felt as though she were expanding, growing, crackling, like a wizard's fireball. She felt powerful in a new, and exciting way.

The transition from the Shadowlands to reality didn't seem as sharp as before. She was standing on a forest path, next to Morgan's prone form, wrapped in Surier's embrace, and then she was standing in a cave, next to Morgan's prone form, still wrapped in Surier's embrace..

Surier released Loviath enough to see her face. "Loviath? " His hoarse question seared along her nerves. "Loviath, are you sure?"

Bemused by unfamiliar and overwhelming feelings, she could only nod.

Surier searched her face, looking for indecision, and then he groaned softly. Their lips met in a fire that made their one previous kiss pale in comparison.

Neither one could later say how they'd arrived in the alcove or who had undressed whom. The emotional fire-storm blazed hotter as cool furs met heated, sensitive skin. There was only feeling.

Loviath felt a sharp, stinging pain, and Surier froze.

"Little One?" he questioned in astonishment.

"Surier," Loviath murmured, half in complaint. She instinctively moved her hips, encouraging him.

He growled, low in his throat and they resumed their erotic dance. The world kaleidoscoped, shattered, reformed, and suddenly exploded, carrying the two of them into a lovers' oblivion.

Much later, Loviath finally stirred. Her body was one luxuriant ache, wrapped securely in Surier's arms. She stretched, revelling in the feeling. She blushed slightly, as she realized that someone had found a blanket to cover them.

Surier's grip tightened around her, and then loosened and fell away, as he awoke and remembered.

Loviath stilled. "Surier?"

"You were a virgin," he accused, his voice cracking slightly.

She wasn't sure what that had to do with things, but, cautiously, she agreed. "Yes."

He shuddered. "But, Ornthalus? I thought...."

Loviath buried her face in Surier's shoulder, her cheeks aflame with embarrassment. "We never,... I mean.... It didn't...." Words failed her. Even in this, she thought, I have disappointed him. Her throat closed with unshed tears. When had she ever before cried so much, she wondered with part of her mind. When have you hurt so much? a small voice prodded her. Or felt so alive?

"I'm sorry, Surier," she said, once she found her voice. "I'm sorry I didn't learn how to please you, but, with Ornthalus, it just didn't feel right. I don't blame you for - "

"God's Teeth, woman!" Surier said fiercely, and pinning her beneath him, kissed her with a savage ferocity.

Loviath melted, everything but Surier's assault on her senses forgotten. Every nerve felt exposed, every touch a delicious agony. She heard a whimper as Surier, as suddenly as he'd started, held himself tense, burying his face in her neck. She shuddered, and held him close. His body shook.

It took her a few seconds to realize that Surier was laughing. She pushed him away. "What's so funny," she demanded coldly.

Surier rolled over, then, one hand wiping away tears, the other tucking Loviath into his shoulder where she couldn't escape. "Little One," he finally managed, "only you would give so precious a gift away and then apologize for it." He sobered. "And to give it to me, of all people...." his voice broke.

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