After the Ashes
by Mel Moser
circa December 1996

Natalie was pacing again.

After leaving the morgue at the end of her shift with Nick, she had come
home and tried to keep herself busy. The events of the night were playing
over and over in her mind and she couldn't stop thinking about them,
thinking about him, worrying about. At the same time, sadness filled her.
Though she hadn't known him that well, she grieved for Vachon, and
shared the pain that Nick, as his friend, and more importantly Tracy, who
most likely loved him, was going through.

Nat thought to herself, thinking about the mad
rampage the evil Divia was on to destroy everyone around her father,
LaCroix. She continued pacing.

"Don't worry." He had told her, caressing her face, "I'll watch my back."
His eyes had been full of caring, of concern, of sadness for both her
and his lost friends.

Nat had come home and tried to occupy her mind with trivial things. Make
a quick bite to eat, take out the trash, get the laundry ready, clean up the
living room. But, it didn't work. Dressed in her nightgown and robe, she
still found herself pacing back and forth across the living room, pausing
only to look at the phone each time she passed it.

God, she was really beginning to hate this. It was worse than being a
cop's wife. At least cops didn't typically have to face 2000 year old
vampires bent on revenge.

She stopped to look out the window, hoping she might see Nick coming,
coming to tell her that's he's okay.

Nick had finally arrived home. Weak after the physically and emotionally
draining night, he drank down one bottle of blood and was halfway though
another when he noticed his answering machine blinking. He had a good
idea who it was. Everyone else was gone. There were only two people
who would call and leave him a message. The first one, he had just
checked on, had just finished a small private memorial service for Vachon
down by the water and was safely on her way home. And the other..

How hard it had been to remain calm and strong for her as he try to
reassure her that he'd be careful.

Nat didn't often leave him messages. She usually just called him on his
cell phone. He played the message. "Nick? Are you there? If you are,
please pick up. " He could hear the concern in her voice, the tension. He
listened to the message as he walked across the room. " Nick?
Ok, you're probably not there. Please, just please call me when you get in
and let me know you're okay. "

Natalie. All his other friends were gone. Schanke, Cohen, Janette. And
now Vachon and Urs were dead Mortal friends, immortal friends. Death
came to them all. He had outlived them again.

He didn't bother with the phone. Not bothering to put on his coat, he
stepped outside and took off into the night.

There was a knock at the door. Lost in thought and worry, Nat didn't hear
it until the second knock. She hurried to the door. Outside, she could
hear the jingle of keys and the door being unlocked, just as she reached
for the doorknob.

It was Nick. He looked exhausted and despondent. He took one look at
her and gathered her up against him in his arms, holding her tight. Nat
wrapped her arms around him in relief, buried her face in his neck, and let
her warmth seep into his cool body. He nuzzled her hair, his cheek
against hers and let his senses drink in her smell, her heartbeat, her
softness and her warmth.

He moved into the room with her and shut the door. He was holding her
tight, all right maybe a little too much. "Nick?" she gasped at him "I can't
breathe." His arms loosened a little.

:"Sorry." His voice was filled with his emotion, tinged with desperation and
pain. "Nat?" he asked simply.

"Hmm?" she said, trying to look up with him.

"Just bear with me tonight." He asked. "I need you. Please, just trust
me?" he requested looking down at her.

She didn't know what he was talking about, but she knew she trusted him.
She nodded.

The next instant, she found herself scooped up into his arms. It took her
breath away again. Nick carried her over to the couch. He sat down
gently on one side of it, still holding her in his arms, cradling her against
him, her back up against the arm of the couch. And he held her like that
in silence for a long time savoring her closeness, the familiar beat of her
heart, her light breath upon his neck, her warm arms and hands on his
chest and shoulders, her body pressed against his.

His body was cool where her body touched his. She would have thought it
might have repulsed her, but somehow, it didn't bother her. This was Nick,
he was okay and holding her tight. That was what mattered. She
remained silent, embracing him, lending him her support and love.

At last he spoke. "They're all gone, Nat." His voice trembled with
emotion, so much that his words were barely a whisper. His hand reached
up her back to run his fingers through her hair.

Thinking he might have meant LaCroix, a glimmer of hope sparked within
her. "LaCroix?" she asked.

"No, " he replied. "He's okay, though a little worse for the wear. " Nick
swallowed and continued to absently stroke her hair. "But the rest.
Starting with Schanke and Cohen. Janette's off somewhere, and now Urs
and Vachon are gone." She looked up at him, the grey light of the coming
new day lighting his face. Nat saw the tears brimming in his eyes. Clear
tears, not blood tears. The tears of a vampire for those he cared about.

"I know, Nick. I'm sorry. So very sorry." She knew about loss. One tear
broke loose and trickled down his cheek. Overwhelmed, Nat reached up
and wiped it away. She felt the tears building in her own eyes, sharing his
grief and sadness. Another tear started and this time, she found herself
instinctively moving up to kiss it away. And the next one, and the one
after that. Amazingly, she barely noticed the tangy taste of the blood as
she continued to show him how much she cared, how she wanted to
shared his grief and pain. She kissed his eyes, his cheeks, his forehead.
Soothing him, caressing him, her fingers tangling in his hair to draw him

Nick felt her kisses and was touched, was comforted by her act of love.
Each kiss was a mark, a token of her love and comfort she was so freely
giving him.

And he found his hands reaching up to touch her, to stroke her cheeks,
feeling the dampness there from her tears. Returning the favor, he kissed
her back, tasting the saltiness of her tears. The taste of her was warm
against his lips, her warmth snugly kept in his arms and against him, her
love was in her eyes as she looked into his.

And for now, it was all he needed.

Pulling her against him, her head cradled in the curve of his neck, Natalie
fell asleep in his arms, her steady heartbeat echoing softly in his ears.