The Burning:
Deleted Scene 3

The Burning

Paris, 1811

"Beatrix…" The darkness in the nave was not an obstacle. He could see her luminous skin, the banked coals of her auburn hair, and those wonderful brown eyes clearly.

She turned at the sound of his voice. A smile trembled on her lips. "Stephan?"

"There are things that must be said." He sounded so sure of himself, when inside he was shakier than she was.

She let out the breath she held. "What can need to be said after all this time?"

"You thought I didn't love you. But I did." Would that be a kind of vindication for her?

She started at the past tense. Confusion shone through her eyes as she realized that he had loved her once when she did not believe he had, and that his love had died with time. The past tense was a lie, but he could not let her know that. Not now when he could see clearly how the land lay. "The hell of it was," he forced himself to continue, "I wanted to love Asharti equally. But I didn't love her. Not the way I loved you. She knew it. That fact embittered her and turned her onto the path she walks today."

Beatrix frowned. "You are responsible for her path only because you did not kill her. And who were you to say she could not find her way back from madness? Her experience and her own tortured soul made her go mad, not you."

"She was damaged, but love could have healed her. I… couldn't, that's all." His emotion nearly strangled him.

"That's why you never tracked her down and called her to heel."

"That's why I never tracked you down." He lied. He had thought because she left with Asharti that she didn't love him, but telling her that would lay the blame for six hundred lost years at her door. Those years were his burden. A man of courage would have tracked her down and declared his love. "I never came for you because to love you was a betrayal of all I intended. I wanted to save her, and my love for you damned her." He took a ragged breath. He had to make it seem inevitable that they had parted. That was the way she could come to grips with it and move on to embrace her love for Langley. "My love for you was never fair or right." He realized it was true. The consequences of that realization sat heavy on his shoulders.

"What do you mean?" She searched his face.

"You were young. You fell in love with my experience. You would have outgrown me, Beatrix. First loves don't last. Asharti did you a disservice by coaxing you away too soon. If you had time to realize that, you would not have spent the years wondering."

He watched her accept that. Acceptance was made easier by her love for another. The cathedral smelled like stone and dust. Somewhere water tinkled into the baptismal fount. Still, she felt an obligation to him. "We can't come round to love again?" Her voice was small. It was an obligation from which he must free her, or she would miss the brass ring again.

He gathered his courage and put his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him and he stroked her hair. "Let us rather come round to the point we should have reached without Asharti," he said. "Let us be friends. You have your own love now…"

She glanced over her shoulder to Langley, standing, dejected, under the Rose Window in front of Khalenberg and Asharti. She squinched her eyes shut. "He will never love a monster. Especially one who made him a monster, too."

So that was why she offered herself to Stephan. "Nonsense. He's wild for you," Stephan said. "He was ready to brave the den of the devil himself, in this case, me, in order to save you. He volunteered his life, if that was the price for my help. Don't tell me that isn't love."

He could see her confusion. He knew just how hard it was to give up something you had wanted for so long. "John isn't you. He's just…"

"Just the man to whom you gave your Companion. He is the first, isn't he?"

She nodded into his shoulder.

"Surely you know why you made him." Stephan's voice was gentle.

She glanced up and he saw the glow of love in her eyes. He put her head against his chest so he wouldn't have to endure it. "Do you believe in love, Stephan? I mean, that it can really last for us?" Her voice drifted up to him in the darkness.

"Absolutely, kitten. I believe in love." He meant it with all his soul. "Now, go and make yourselves happy. The poor devil is looking quite forlorn." He gave her a gentle push.

She turned to Langley, still uncertain.

"Take the leap of faith, kitten. You'll see." His triumph was that he did not choke on the words.

She smiled. "Thank you, Stephan. You are still the wise one." She reached up and kissed him on the cheek.

And then she turned and walked toward Langley.

Love was not for him. Had anyone ever loved him? Not once they knew who or what he was. Maybe no one had even known him, really. Even Beatrix never understood why he took in Asharti, why he needed to love her. He hadn't lied to Beatrix. He believed in love. Just not for him.

Telling Beatrix the truth and setting her free was the courageous deed. In the next minute, he had sentenced Asharti to banishment, not death, because Beatrix wanted it and because he didn't want to kill her, and so condemned countless souls to torment and endangered the balance between vampire and human. That was his cowardice. His courage condemned him to despair, his cowardice was what required atonement. He had exiled Asharti to North Africa, the one place as it turned out, she could get the power she required to feed her lust to rule. In eight years, Asharti had made countless vampires for her army. She had brought down governments, and challenged the world. She had tortured and killed unthinkable numbers humans. The balance of the world had nearly been upset. She herself was dead nearly two years. Vampires from countless cities had answered the call of the Elders and come to clean up the remnants of her army, but they had scattered like evil seeds to the wind, waiting to take root. It was his task to eradicate them. What could be more fitting?

But first he must find them.