Date: Mon, 21 Jul 1997 22:33:27 EDT
From: Kathy Whelton <103045.2473@COMPUSERVE.COM>
Subject: Borrowed Time (01/14)

Nick and Co. belong to J.P. and Co., I am only borrowing them
for a little while.

This story is a sequel to a story called 'No Regrets' which I
posted here just about a year ago. It is available from my fiction
site which you can find at:
It is also available on the fanfic web and ftp sites.

The short version: This story takes place thirty years after the
events of Last Knight. In this little universe, Nick left Natalie
without biting her. He has re-entered her life shortly after the
death of her husband.

Many thanks to Rebecca Tanner, Linda Rose Pierce, Mei Kwong
and Nancy Kaminski for all their assistance with this.

Borrowed Time
part 01/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

Natalie gripped the steering wheel even more tightly as she
turned the corner onto Grenville Street. She couldn't quite figure
out what it was about returning to work that was making her so
uncomfortable, but the feeling was undeniable. She pulled her car
over to the curb while she was still several blocks from the morgue
and forced herself to take some slow deep breaths; she wasn't
about to go strolling into the morgue before she managed to
gather herself.

Ever since she had made the decision to return to work after her
husband's death, she had been eager for this day to arrive. So why
was she suddenly feeling that she wasn't up to this? She glanced
around at the scene outside the window. It was a beautiful, crisp
autumn day; the leaves spattered with a splash of color. Pedestrians
scurried past on their way, as if it mattered where they went.

Natalie rolled down the window and let the cool air spill over her.
Phillip had been a huge part of her life for almost thirty years; it seemed
almost blasphemous to just pick up and go to work this morning, as if
nothing had happened. No, that wasn't fair, to him or to herself. Almost
two months had passed since his death; she had not sold her grief
short. The tears still came, but they were the silent ones, the ones
that snuck up on you in the middle of the night when the house was far
too quiet. It was time to go back to work and she knew it.

This place had been very important in her life as well, for even
longer than Phillip had been. Her work was a large part of who she
was, how she saw herself. If she could manage to walk back in
that building after Nick left, she could do anything. Maybe that
was what she feared the most; that she would see the same looks
on her colleagues faces as she did then, a hastily concealed
combination of curiosity and pity. Her work was no solace to her
then; Nick had been too big a part of it for her job to cause her
anything but more pain. It would be different this time.

Natalie shifted the car into gear and carefully merged back
into the flow of traffic. The news that Fredrick Martin had been
named Chief Medical Examiner for the city was doing nothing
to improve her enthusiasm this morning. It wasn't that she had
expected the post to be offered to her. That kind of offer just didn't
come your way when you were a sixty -three year old woman out
on a bereavement leave. It was amazing enough when they had
solicited her for the job fifteen years ago. The kids had been too
young then, they needed her at home too much for her to have
given it anything but a passing consideration. That kind of job
offer only came your way once in a lifetime, and she knew it. But
Fredrick Martin, she groaned inwardly. It really shouldn't be such a shock,
he was the consummate political insider. He was certainly much
better at delivering speeches at political fund-raisers than he was
at doing autopsies.

Stepping out of the parking garage and into the building
Natalie felt some of her concerns dissipate. She inhaled deeply.
No matter the number of air filters they installed around here, the
building had a distinctive aroma quite unlike any other. To the masses
it was a decidedly unpleasant one, for her it was like coming home.
She felt her pace quicken as she made her way down the hallway.
She was eager to get her feet wet again. In the six months
prior to Phillip's death, she had been voluntarily assigned to
performing medical postmortems. The hours were more regular
and the outcome less likely to suffer if she was distracted in
the performance of her duties. She was looking forward to
getting back to what it was that she did best, forensic pathology.
She had told Tracy Vetter once, a lifetime ago, that this is where the
real police work got done, where the crimes actually got solved. If
anything, she believed it even more fervently today than she did
then. She may not be the Chief Medical Examiner but she was still
the best damn forensic pathologist in the department and she knew

Natalie swung the morgue door inward. It was empty at this
hour, the night's work long since tucked in, the morning festivities
had yet to begin. It was funny that she always gravitated here, to
this room instead of the cubbyhole of an office that she maintained
on the fifth floor. She noted a small floral arrangement displayed on
the desk. Since their "patients" rarely sent flowers she casually
hazarded a peek at the card. <Natalie, You get 'im girl! Love Grace.>
Nat felt her eyes fill. Grace and her family had relocated to Florida
when the Toronto winters proved too much for her arthritis. She
still always seem to be there when Natalie needed her the most.

"They came yesterday."

Natalie spun around to look at the speaker. Nancy Cruz. She
was the latest in a long string of technicians that had taken Grace's
position after she left five years ago. Nancy was a hard and careful
worker, she couldn't quite put her finger on it, but there was
something about her that had always made Natalie feel uneasy.

"I can't believe her. I told her on the phone I would probably
be coming back to work this week, and she goes and does a
thing like this." Natalie brushed the tears from her eyes. "Now
she's gone and started the waterworks up again," Natalie joked.
It was all she could do. This was not a side of her that she was
eager to display to her current coworkers.

"Are you doing okay?" The concern in Nancy's voice seemed
genuine. "I know how hard this must be for you."

"I'm fine." Natalie straightened her shoulders. "I'm glad to be
back, glad to have something to think about besides myself. What
do we have lined up for today?"

"We'll, I'm afraid the first thing on your agenda is a visit to the
new boss," Nancy frowned sympathetically. "He left a message
that you were to see him as soon as you got here this morning."

Natalie's spirits sagged as she heard Nancy's words. The
absolute last thing she needed today was sympathy, especially
coming from a man that she could barely tolerate under the best
of circumstances. It didn't look like she had much choice though.
"I don't suppose you could pretend that you never saw me?"

"Sorry." Nancy returned Natalie's smile. "Somehow I think he'd
see through that one pretty easily."

"I suppose you're right." Natalie resigned herself to her fate.
In fact, maybe she could turn the meeting to her advantage. She
had planned to lobby Martin for some new equipment once she
got settled back in. Some of the stuff they were working with was
hopelessly outdated. Who would deny a grieving widow a new
microscope or two? "Is his office on the seventh floor?"

"Right you are," responded Nancy. "Just follow the smell of the
fresh paint. He's having the whole office suite redone."

"I thought they just redecorated up there last year?"

"They did," replied Nancy. "Apparently his Highness didn't
care for the color scheme."

"Wonderful, just what we need in a Chief Medical Examiner,"
Natalie called as over her shoulder as she exited through the
winging door, "a good color sense."

end part 1
comments welcome

Please see standard disclaimers in part one

Borrowed Time
part 02/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

"Come in, come in." Fredrick Martin rose from his chair and
strode across his office to open the door for Natalie. "I'm glad
you could make it."

Natalie looked at him evenly. "I got your message as soon
as I arrived; I didn't think I had a choice."

Martin hesitated a moment before smiling coolly. "This isn't
the principal's office, Dr. Lambert. I didn't mean my request to
sound like a summons. I merely wished to express my condolences
on the death of your husband. I never had the opportunity to meet
Patrick, but I understand..."


"Excuse me?" he looked at her vaguely. Fredrick Martin was
not a man who was used to being interrupted.

"His name was Phillip," Natalie managed, gritting her teeth.

"Of course, Phillip. How silly of me. I never had the opportunity to
meet Phillip, but I understand that he was a wonderful man." Dr. Martin
furrowed his brows tightly. People expected a sympathetic expression
at a time like this, and he always did his best to accommodate them.

"Well... thank you very much," Natalie returned. His concern
was every bit as phony as the hair on his head. All thoughts
of pressing him for the new equipment fled instantly. She needed
to get out of here, now, before she told this idiot what she really
thought of him. "If that's all, I really would like to get back
downstairs and get started working."

"Actually," Martin hesitated, "that's not all. Please, come sit
down." He gestured to a large wingback chair that sat facing
a rather imposing oak desk.

Natalie reluctantly crossed the room and slid into the chair
She supposed that it was only appropriate to make some
acknowledgment of his promotion. He was, afterall, now her
boss. "I understand congratulations are in order, Dr. Martin."

"Oh, the chief job you mean." Martin dismissed her comment
with a wave of his hand, but his eyes practically glowed with
self-satisfaction. "I'm just glad to be able to do my part."

Natalie sat in silence. She knew that sooner or later he would
get to the point, she could only hope that he would come to it
before all the interesting cases downstairs were spoken for.

"Speaking of everyone doing their part," Martin began. "There
are a few things I'd like to discuss with you regarding your
position here."

"My position here?" Natalie echoed. Now he really had lost her.
"I'm not sure I understand."

Martin settled back into his chair, running his hands across
the fine leather of the arm rests. "I was a little surprised when I
heard that you were planning to come back to work here after
your husband's death."

"Really, I don't know why you would be. This is my profession.
I've worked here for over thirty five years, before I ever met my
husband." Natalie felt somehow compelled to add.

"That's sort of what I was driving at," Martin commented. "I had
thought that perhaps a woman of your mature years..." One look
at Natalie's face told him that he had chosen precisely the wrong
direction in this. Women could be so sensitive as they got older.
"I thought that maybe we should talk about assigning you to
less...demanding duties."

"That won't be necessary." Natalie's answer was abrupt,
perfunctory. "I appreciate your concern, but I assure you that I
am well able to perform all the normal duties required of a
forensic pathologist."

"That's all well and good, Dr. Lambert, but we have to remember
that we have a responsibility to the public here. Vitally important
decisions are made based upon our work, we can't afford to be...

Natalie kept her body language carefully neutral. She wasn't
about to let him see how much his statements were affecting
her. These were the same arguments she had made to her
former superior when Phillip became so ill. He was turning her
own words against her. "I think I can understand your position,
Dr. Martin. If you want me to stick to doing routine, medical posts
for awhile and avoid the criminal cases, I can respect that." Actually,
she couldn't respect that at all, but there seemed little
sense in arguing about it. He had his mind made up before she
ever stepped into the office. In the long run it would probably be
better for her to do what he wanted, then slowly ease her way back
into the more challenging cases. "That's the arrangement I had
made prior to my going out on leave, it seemed to work out well
enough." Natalie took his long silence as assent and rose to

"I'm afraid that won't be possible either, Dr. Lambert. I'm
sorry to say that there were a few...irregularities in some of the
cases you handled just before you went out."

"Irregularities?" Natalie blurted, all pretense of calm gone now.
"In my work?" It was true that she had been very distracted
just before she left, many days that she had dragged herself to
work with virtually no sleep. "Why haven't I heard about this
before now?"

"Now, now, Natalie. We do have some sensitivity here you
know. It hardly seemed appropriate to bring this up too soon
after your husband's death." Martin reached across the desk and
patted her hand. "Besides, they were hardly important errors. Most
of the cases were in multi-system failure. What difference does
it really make what the actual cause of death was?"

Natalie looked at her superior in utter disbelief. "Well, it may
make a difference to some of the 'cases' families. I'd like a chance
to go back over my own work, try and see what went wrong."

Martin quickly withdrew his hand. "That won't be necessary.
It's been taken care of. What we need to discuss now is what
we are going to do with you."

"Do with me?" Natalie snapped. "You sound like I've
suddenly become a liability around here. I'd like to remind you
that my record was spotless for close to thirty-six years, that
should speak for itself."

"Of course it does, Natalie. We appreciate the many years
of fine service that you've given us," he paused, "unfortunately,
that doesn't change the facts. If I were to have you come back to
your regular duties, in light of the information I now have, I
could be held liable as well. I'm sure you see my problem."

"Are you trying to tell me I'm fired Dr. Martin?"

"Of course not." It was beginning to look like this wasn't
going to be as easy as he had first hoped. "But if you do decide
not to...retire, I think we need to talk about a restructuring of
your assignment."

"Restructuring? Do you mind telling me what that might mean
in English?" Natalie inquired. Her patience was long past the
point that you could call thin. Why the hell wouldn't he just get
to the point?

"I was thinking along the lines of you assisting some of the
other pathologists with autopsies, prepping the slides, preparing
reports," he carefully explained.

"Technician's work!" Natalie practically exploded. "I have been
a pathologist for over thirty years and you want me to prep slides
for people?"

Martin drew back visibly. "It's good, honest work. There's
nothing wrong with it. Your official position and salary will remain
the same of course," he paused, "at least for the time being."

"My salary..." Natalie desperately wanted to tell this man
exactly what he could do with her salary, his job "restructuring"
and his insincere condolences, but she managed to restrain herself.
As much as she hated to admit it, the money was not an
insignificant factor. Neither she nor Phillip had earned an
exorbitant amount of money; there were still funeral expenses to
be settled, a mortgage to pay, and a son that had just started
college. More importantly, if she stormed out of here right now,
she might never get a chance to look through her old cases. If
there was a problem with her work, she needed to know that for
herself, before she could make any decisions about her future.

"I understand how upsetting this must be for you," Martin
interjected. "I'm sure you want some time to think it over, maybe
discuss it with your family..."

"No." Natalie jumped to her feet. "I admit this is...disturbing,
but I came here today ready to work and that is what I intend to
do. I'm sure I'll be able to convince you in no time that there
is no cause to limit my duties." Natalie stuck her hand out
across the desk and met him with a handshake that was far firmer
than she should rightfully be able to manage. "I appreciate your
taking the time to see me, Dr. Martin." Natalie turned and
walked briskly through the doorway. "Jerk," she muttered
under her breath as soon as she moved out of range.

"How did it go?" Natalie turned from her locker and stood
facing Nancy Cruz. "With Dr. Martin, I mean."

"Not so good." Natalie rubbed carefully under her eye to remove
the remnants of mascara that remained. You'd think that
in light of the past few months, she would've remembered to
pick up some waterproof mascara. She looked closely at Nancy.
"You knew what he was going to say?"

Nancy nodded in the affirmative. "I'm sorry." She placed a
tentative hand on Natalie's shoulder. "I want you to know that
most of us around here think that it stinks.

Natalie could feel herself recoiling involuntarily at Nancy's
touch. 'Most of us'. Natalie could only assume that the whole
department had heard about this before she did.

"I guess you'll be leaving then, retiring, I mean?" Nancy
questioned carefully.

"No." Natalie pulled out her lab coat and slammed the door to
her locker. "I have no intention of going anywhere. I'm going
to stay right here until they see that I am totally capable of
doing my job...then we'll talk about retirement." Natalie turned on
her heel and marched down the corridor towards the morgue.

end part 2
comments welcome

Please see disclaimer in part one.

Borrowed Time
part 03/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

Natalie braced herself as she stood outside her own front door.
This was the worst of it; coming home to an empty house.
No matter how she prepared herself before she entered, it was
always the same, she would look up suddenly and expect Phillip
to be there as if the last two months never happened.

She dropped her bags on the floor in the hallway. There was no
one left to trip over them any longer; she could indulge herself
all she wanted. Natalie sank into the couch, too tired to move, too
tired to even care. She wished Phillip were here tonight to help
her decide what to do about the situation down at the Coroner's
Office. "I know what he'd say," she muttered to herself. "Quit,
retire. They don't deserve you." No that wasn't fair. He had never
understood her job, or why she felt so strongly about it, but he
had always been supportive. "And now you're talking to yourself
again, Lambert, you better knock that off." Natalie sighed and
rose from the couch. She briefly considered calling one of her kids,
but she knew that they would mean it when they told her to retire.
She just wasn't ready to do that yet; not until she had gotten to
the bottom of these so called "irregularities" anyway.

A soft knock on the door sent her scrambling over her recently
deposited belongings. It was undoubtedly a salesman, the way her
luck was running today. A smile broke over her face as she swung
open the door. "You're about the last person I expected to see. I
thought you had classes every night this week."

"I do," replied Nick, grinning. "I'm playing hooky tonight. That's
what grad students were invented for anyway, to give their poor,
hardworking professors a break every now and then." His hair
was a wild mass of golden curls and she knew better than to check
the curbside for any evidence of a motor vehicle.

"You'll forgive me if I'm not all that sympathetic." His boyish
charm was infectious and she found some of the pain from earlier
in the day dissipating. "Okay, what *really* brings you to Toronto

"I needed to meet with the decorator and make some decisions
about the new apartment, so I thought I check in on my favorite coroner
and see how her first day back at work went." He produced two
white, cardboard containers from underneath his coat. "I bet that in all
the excitement you forgot to eat dinner. Do you still like Thai?"

"Hmm." Natalie inhaled deeply. Not only had she forgotten
dinner, she had skipped breakfast and lunch as well. "Here, let me
take that, it'll just take me a minute to heat it up."

Nick refused to yield the containers. "You--sit," he commanded
with a nod towards the couch. "I promise I can manage to warm
these without blowing anything up."

"Do I know this Fredrick Martin?" Nick questioned in response
to Natalie's rehash of the day's events. "The name doesn't ring a
bell." Nick sat on the couch next to her and swung her legs up onto
his lap. He carefully slid off her shoes and began gently massaging
her feet.

"No," Natalie responded. A sigh escaped her in response to
his gentle kneading. "He came to the medical examiner's
office long after you left. He spent the first part of his career
working in hospitals, administrative stuff for the most part. We
were all a bit surprised when he came on staff."

"Why's that?"

"He didn't seem particularly suited to the work," Natalie smiled.
"In fact, he got dubbed 'fainting Fred' his first week on the job. I
wasn't there," Natalie held a hand up to disclaim her involvement,
"but I heard that he came very close to passing out at his first
crime scene."

Nick made a face. " 'Fainting Fred', that's pretty cruel, especially
for a coroner."

"You know how hard those homicide boys can be." Natalie
gave Nick a nudge in the thigh with her foot. "I think Paul Curtin was
the one who came up with it. You remember Paul?"

"Skinny blond kid, uniform at the 27th?" Nick returned.

"That's him, except that he now weighs three hundred pounds
and has five grandchildren. He's Chief of Detectives now, works out of
headquarters. Paul took an instant dislike to Martin, I'm not
sure why, but the name stuck."

"Do you think he might be doing this to get back at you?"

"No, like I said, I really wasn't involved in the whole incident."
Natalie suddenly brightened. "You don't suppose we could get
LaCroix to kill him, do you?"

"Natalie Lambert!" Nick exclaimed with mock indignation. "I
don't believe you just said that."

Natalie sank back against the cushions of the couch. "I suppose
that wouldn't be such a great idea," she responded, grinning
sheepishly. How tempting it must be to be able to solve all your
problems so easily. She slid her now empty plate onto the coffee
table. "I'm sorry, this is just *so* frustrating. I cannot believe the
gall of that man, telling me there were 'irregularities' in my work,
that I wasn't fit to do my job anymore. Who the hell does he think
he is anyway?"

"Unfortunately, right now he happens to be your boss," Nick
paused, hesitant. "Nat, perhaps you should think about walking
away from this thing right now." Nick took her hand gently. He knew
there was little chance of that happening, he had never known Natalie
Lambert to walk away from a fight in her life, but he did feel she
should at least consider the option. "You really don't need anymore
stress in your life right now."

"Easy for you to say," Natalie responded, only partly in jest. "Do you
know what the cost of sending a kid to college is right now? Not to mention
the mortgage on this house."

"Nat...I don't want you to make this decision based on any
financial consideration." Money had never been an issue between
them before, and Nick hesitated to make it one now. He had
always assumed she understood that whatever she needed, or
wanted was hers. "I'm more than willing to take care of that."

"I know, and thank you." Natalie gripped his hand more tightly.
"What I've decided not to make any decisions.
I'll go back there tomorrow and do some checking, if I can't live
with these new arrangements, well, I'll deal with it then."

Nick retrieved the dirty dishes from the coffee table as he rose
from the couch. "Sounds like a very wise idea to me. It's getting
late, you really should get some sleep if you're heading into
work in the morning."

"No problem," Natalie called after him as he disappeared into
the kitchen. "I'm still very much a night owl at heart."

"Still a night owl are you?" Nick whispered as he glanced
down at Natalie's sleeping form. She had dropped off in the few moments
he had been in the kitchen. "Time for this little owl to head upstairs."
Nick gently slid his arms beneath her and carried her
upstairs with a practiced ease. She stirred slightly as laid her upon
the bed, but he still risked brushing her forehead with his lips.
"Goodnight Natalie, sweet dreams."

end part 3
comments welcome

Borrowed Time
part 04/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

"I think you missed your cue," Natalie announced as she
headed down the stairs the following morning. The first streaks
of sun were already making their way across the living room floor.
Nick sat on the floor, a stack of papers scattered all about him.
She noticed the small silver flask sitting on the floor beside him.
She had often wondered how he had managed to feed when he
traveled, now she knew. It gave her no pleasure to see that he
was still so dependent on the blood.

"I didn't miss anything." Nick grinned broadly as he looked up
at her. A well worn robe had replaced the clothing she slept in and
her hair was thoroughly mussed. "I just invited myself to spend the
day. I hope that isn't a problem," he added hastily.

"I thought your place was just about all set." Nat sat down
beside him on the couch.

"It is," Nick replied. "Everything except the furniture and that
should be here later this week." Nick tenderly picked up her hand.
The passage of time was more evident there than in the rest
of her appearance. The veins stood out prominently on the back
of her hand and the knuckles looked swollen and painful. "I
just wanted to see you this morning, make sure that you
were still all right with this situation at work."

"I am," Natalie responded firmly. "If anything I'm even more
determined to see this through to the end. When I think back on
it, I'm sure Martin was expecting me to crumble, to quit outright.
I'll be damned if I give him that satisfaction."

"If you go in there with that attitude, I'd say he doesn't stand a

"Thanks. Now to maintain it, that's the trick," Natalie sighed. It
was so easy to sit here and be confident, another story entirely
to face her colleagues after being humiliated the day before.
"What is all this anyway?"

"Just some papers I was grading for a class," Nick replied.

"Longhand?" Natalie questioned in disbelief. "You make them
write in longhand?"

"I'd make them write with a quill and parchment if I thought
I could get away with it," Nick smiled. "These kids are totally
dependent on their word processors for everything; spelling,
grammar. You wouldn't believe how poorly they write when left
to their own devices; or how much they thank me for it when the
course is over."

"Oh I believe you, I'm just amazed that you have the patience
to go through all that." Natalie rose to her feet. "Come on." She
grasped Nick by the hand and began pulling him upward.

"Where are we going?" Nick scrambled to his feet.

"To my room. You tucked me in last night, I thought I'd return
the favor. I'm afraid bedroom is the only one you'll find
hospitable today; it has room darkening shades. My one concession
to working nights. I'm afraid the rest of the house is pretty exposed."
Vampires had been the last thing on her mind when she and Phillip
built this house, or maybe they were the first thing, at least subconsciously.
She had lost too many years to the dark, and wasn't about to let it happen
again. The house was filled with palladian windows, impractical for
Toronto, even with thermal glass. Phillip and the builder had thought
she was crazy, and lectured her endlessly about heating costs and
energy shortages, but she merely laughed them off and reveled in
the sunlight. "If you want to grab some clean sheets from the linen
closet," Natalie gestured to a door in the hallway, "I'll strip the bed."

"I don't mean to put you to any trouble."

"It's no trouble, in fact, it's long overdue." Natalie stood
motionless in the bedroom even as the words faded from her lips.
Long overdue. She stood staring at the bed, the bed she had shared
with her husband for so many years. They had made love there. Her
children had been conceived in that bed. She couldn't do this, not
yet. It was too soon. The subtle scent of him still lingered, comforting
her late at night. How could she explain it to Nick; that she hadn't
changed the sheets in almost two months, since
Phillip went into the hospital for the final time? That he wasn't
welcome in her bed?

"Nat, you didn't tell me what size. Are these...?" Nick watched
her still form from the doorway. "Nat?"

"I'm not so sure this is such a good idea," she managed to get it
past the lump in her throat. "I'm sorry. I...I just can't."

"Hey." Nick dropped the sheets where he stood and cautiously
folded his arms around her, uncertain if he would be welcomed
in her thoughts. "It's all right, Nat. I understand."

"Do you?" Natalie brushed away the tears that had formed in her
eyes. Of course he did. How many close to him had he lost over
the centuries? "It's all I have left of him. The memories. I'm just
trying to hold on to them for as long as I can," Natalie paused.
"I just don't want you to take this...personally."

Nick spun her around until they were face-to-face. "What?"
he laughed lightly, but she detected a sense of sadness in it.
"No vampires need apply?" Nick pressed her tightly to him.
"Your brain doesn't work like that, Nat, I know that. "This is
something between you and Phillip, I wouldn't dream of interfering.
You need to grieve completely, in whatever way works best for you.
I'll go find a spot down the cellar or something, don't worry about me."

"The cellar, Nick?" Natalie groaned in dismay. She wouldn't
expect any other guest to sleep down there, it pained her to think
of him doing so.

"It's fine, Nat. I don't need much." Nick rested his cheek against
the top of her head. "The fact that you have welcomed me into
your home means more than you could ever know." Of all the places
he had sought refuge in over the years, a basement in suburban
Toronto was hardly the indignity that she imagined it to be. "I was
going to head back to Boston as soon as it gets dark tonight,
but I can stay if you want."

"No, you go ahead. I was planning to have dinner with Laurel
this evening anyway."

Nick pulled back and looked her in the eye. "Promise you'll
call me tonight when you get home? I want to know how you
make out today."

"I promise." Natalie held her hand up in a mock oath. "Now I
better get going before I get fired for being late." Natalie withdrew
from his embrace and headed towards the bathroom. "And Nick...
thanks for understanding."

"No problem." Nick flashed her one of his glorious smiles. "I'll
talk to you tonight." He deftly skirted the widening patch of
sunlight in the upper stairwell and was gone.

"Damn," Natalie muttered under her breath. She had been
trying all morning to access her old files without success. She
couldn't even figure out what was wrong, the system accepted
her old password with no problem, but when she tried to get into
the case files; nothing. It was almost as if they didn't exist anymore.

"Something I can help you with Natalie?" Nancy Cruz stepped
up behind her, not even bothering to feign disinterest in what
Natalie was doing.

"Maybe you can," Natalie sighed. "I'm certainly not getting
anywhere like this. I've been trying to get into some of my old
case files but the system can't seem to access the information I'm
looking for."

"I'm not surprised," Nancy responded. "It's one of the changes
that Dr. Martin instituted when he took over. Once a case is
closed and the file signed off, no one may access it without a
specific authorization from him."

"But these cases took place before Martin took over here. You
don't mean to tell me that he instituted it retroactively--that just
doesn't make any sense."

Nancy stiffened at Natalie's words. "I think it makes perfect
sense. Once a case is closed, that should be it. There should be
no further need to make any changes in the record."

"Who said anything about making changes?" Nat looked
curiously at Nancy Cruz. "I don't think it is unreasonable for me
to be able to take a look at my old case files. I have no problem
with using a password to access them, I just don't think I should
have to go through Martin everytime I want to check up on

"I suppose you're right," Nancy commented hesitantly. "I'll tel
l you what, I'm meeting with Dr. Martin in a few minutes, I'll let
him know which records you are interested in. I'm sure there
won't be a problem." Nancy began walking towards the door.
"In the meantime Dr. Bowers was looking for someone to get
his next customer ready for autopsy; why don't you take care
of that?"

"Sure," Natalie mumbled, "in a minute." Her eyes barely
diverted from the screen in front of her.

Nancy paused a few minutes before speaking. "Natalie, he is
waiting--unless you have a problem with that."

Natalie stood abruptly, sending the chair flying out from behind
her. "Not at all," she managed through gritted teeth. "I'll get right
on it."

Nancy stopped her a few paces from the door. "I'm sorry, I
didn't mean it to seem like I was giving you orders--I know how
uncomfortable this must be for you."

It seemed to her that Nancy was enjoying this change in their
relationship a little more than she would readily admit. "I know that
you're just trying to do your job and keep things running on
schedule," Natalie replied.

Nancy laid a tentative hand on Natalie's shoulder. I
just hope this doesn't get in the way of us remaining friends."

It took everything that Natalie had not to pull away from the
contact. A friend was the last thing she had ever considered
Nancy Cruz. Natalie stood, grateful to feel the hand slip from
her shoulder. "Let's just get back to work, shall we?"

"I just don't think giving her the files is a very good idea,
that's all I said." Frederick Martin threw the computer printouts
down hard on his desk.

"I don't think it's a good idea either." Nancy Cruz spun around
and faced him. "I just don't see that we have much of a choice. If
we deny her access to the files, she'll only get more suspicious.
She won't find out anything with the way they read now, I've seen
to that."

"Except for the fact that the reports have been altered. That
the causes of death in these cases were not the same as the one
she listed after doing the postmortem." Martin crossed his arms
across his chest.

"She is a sixty-three year old woman who just lost her husband.
Do you really think that she is going to remember what she listed
as the cause of death in a routine hospital autopsy six months ago?"
Nancy snorted. "Natalie Lambert probably can't even remember
what she had for lunch yesterday."

"Don't be so quick to sell her short. She is one hell of a fine
pathologist," he asserted, "and it's five cases, not one. All from
Toronto General, all cases in which she listed the cause of death
as a nonspecific cardiomyopathy. I don't like it at all Nancy, maybe
we need to rethink this whole thing."

"She *was* a fine pathologist. She's a technician now, and not
a very good one at that." Nancy leaned against the desk and
stared intently at Martin. "Don't even think of going soft on me
here Fredrick, we've lost all hope of Heptagen ever winning
approval in the States or here in Canada. The overseas market is
our last hope and we need a good clinical trial result from Toronto
General to make that work. After all I've put into this, don't think for
a second that I'm going to back off just because you're
feeling a little weak in the...knees." She pressed even more closely
to him, as if that would strengthen her point.

"After all that *you've* put into this? I'm the one who has
invested ten years of his life and every cent I could beg, borrow,
or steal into Heptagen. If this deal falls apart now, I've lost everything,
including my professional reputation." He didn't want
to think of all those to whom he owed money and political
favors. They were not people you wanted to disappoint.

"As I recall, you thought it was through two years ago with that
disaster in the States. If it wasn't for me, you would have quit then,"
Nancy returned.

Martin slumped into his chair. "People are dying from this
drug, I'm just not sure how I feel about covering this up anymore."
This thing was spiraling into a bigger and bigger mess. It had
seemed so simple at first, changing a few autopsy reports here
and there seemed pretty minor. It wasn't as if he had anything to
do with causing the deaths and the rewards would be so very
great if Heptagen was approved. The first glitch came when
Nancy Cruz stumbled inadvertantly on what he was doing and
demanded a share. Now they had Natalie Lambert to worry about,
it was only a matter of time before she put the pieces together.

"It's a little late to be worrying about that, isn't it?" She practically
spat the words at him. "And so what if they are dying
from it? They're dying of liver disease anyway. The drug works, it
saves lives. Do you really feel like walking away from a few hundred
million dollars because a few people have a reaction to it?" Nancy
swiveled his chair around so that he faced her once again. "Because
I certainly don't intend to. You screwed up when you told Natalie Lambert
that there were 'irregularities' in her cases--God, why didn't you just put up
a neon sign that something funny was going on?"

Martin felt his face becoming hot. "I had to think of some reason
to demote her, didn't I? I thought she'd quit and be out of our
way. She's always been so damn smug and self-confident, how was
I to know that she'd stay on as a technician?"

"She stayed on precisely because you implied that there was
something wrong with her work, you fool. She's a perfectionist,
of course she's going to want to know what happened"
Nancy grabbed the computer printouts from Martin's desk. "These
better satisfy her, that's all I can say. I'm not about to let Natalie
Lambert, or anyone else for that matter, ruin this deal for me." She
turned to glare at him."You can take that to the bank." Nancy Cruz
turned on her heel and stalked out of the room.

End part 4
comments welcome

Nick and Co. are the property of J.P. and Co., I am only
borrowing them for a short time.

Borrowed Time
part 05/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

"Mother, I'm pregnant with triplets."

Natalie Lambert-Rhys suddenly glanced up from the stack
of computer printouts she was reading. She looked at her daughter
closely. "What did you say?" With great restraint she managed to
keep her voice calm in the hushed restaurant.

"I said," Laurel paused, "that I'm pregnant with triplets." She
returned her mother's withering stare. "It doesn't happen to be
the truth, but at least I've managed to get your attention for the
first time tonight."

"I'm sorry." Natalie let the papers drop from her hand. "I didn't
mean to ignore you. It's the first chance I've had all day to look
this stuff over."

"What are they?"

Natalie hesitated briefly. She had so far avoided giving Laurel
any details about her return to work, and she really wanted to
keep it that way. Laurel had quite the temper and would not take
the news of this little "demotion" at work very well. "Just some
paperwork, old cases," Natalie commented dismissively. "This
really is good," she commented, returning her attention to her
now cool dinner. "Thank you for inviting me."

"You're welcome, Mother. We should do things like this more
often." Laurel glanced around the elegant restaurant. "I hate to
think of you sitting home alone by yourself every night."

"I'm not alone every..." The words were out of her mouth
before Natalie realized the direction in which her daughter was

"You're not alone every night? Is that what you were going to say
Mom?" Laurel paused. "How is Nick? That is his name isn't it?"

"You know very well that that's his name. In answer to your
question; Nick is fine. Next subject."

"No Mother, not 'next subject'. I invited you out to dinner
tonight so that we could talk about this without anyone else
around." Laurel leaned into the table towards Natalie. "Mom, I'm
worried about you."

"Laurel, we have already been through this a dozen times. There
is nothing for you to be concerned about. My friendship with Nick
is my own business; I'm not going to discuss it with you any

"Is it true that he's moving here to Toronto?"

"Where did you hear that?" Natalie questioned. She had been
very careful about the things she had said to Laurel about Nick;
she was quite sure that his plans to relocate closer to her were
not among them.

"Richard told me. It seems that Nick mentioned it the last time
they were at the house together." Laurel looked at her mother
closely. Natalie didn't need to answer, she could see it in her
her eyes. She could always tell when her mother was trying
to hide something from her. The sense that she was keeping
something from her was overwhelming. "So it is true?"

"Yes," Natalie answered slowly. "Nick is moving to Toronto,
but hardly because of me." Natalie dropped her eyes. She hated
lying, especially to her own daughter. She had gotten out of the
habit of it since...well...since Nick left. "He was up here checking
out job prospects when he saw your father's obituary."

"So what is he going to be doing?"

"I...I'm not sure. He hasn't said," Natalie replied hastily.

"You're are spending all this time together and you don't even
know if he has a job? A man you knew casually fifteen years ago,
a man thirty years your junior, I might add, insinuates himself into
your life and I'm not supposed to worry. I really don't like the
sound of this, Mom."

"So you've said," Natalie responded wearily. "All I can do
is assure you that I know what I'm doing and ask you to trust me."
Natalie smiled. "I still think you should have gone to law school
like your brother Richard. You would have made a fine Crown

"But instead I decided to stay home and let my brain go to
mush changing diapers, isn't that what you mean Mom?"

"I didn't say that," Natalie replied neutrally.

"But that's what you meant. David and I happen to think that
it's important for one parent to be home full time."

"You and your brothers seem to have turned out all right,
despite my working," Natalie snapped.

"This is not about you, Mom," Laurel sighed. "This is about
me. The kind of mother that I want to be. I'm not criticizing the
choices that you made when you were bringing us up."

Natalie reached across the table and took her daughter's hand.
"Let's not fight about it tonight, okay honey? I need to head home,
I'm beat and I have a lot to do tomorrow. Friends?"

Laurel stood and embraced her mother. "Friends,"
she answered. "You be careful driving home now."

"I'm always careful, especially at night," Natalie returned. "I'll
call you tomorrow."

Natalie quickly juggled the key in the lock and raced to catch
the phone before the answering machine picked it up. "Hello," she
gasped breathlessly into the receiver.

"I thought I'd missed you," commented Nick.

"I just got in the door this second," Natalie responded, flopping
onto the couch. "Dinner with Laurel, remember?"

"I remember. That makes for an awfully long day for you. How
did work go?"

Natalie eased off her shoes and began rubbing her feet. Every
inch of her ached. "Fair," she replied non-commitedly. "This work
is more physical than what I'm used to. To be honest, Nick, I'm
not sure if I can keep it up."

"You know that what he's doing is illegal, Nat. You should
bring it up in front of the Provincial Board of Medical Examiners,"
Nick hesitated, "he'll lose on the grounds of age discrimination
alone. Have you talked to Richard about it?"

"Richard?" she queried.

"Richard, you know, your son. You just spent a fortune putting
him through law school." Nick paused on the line. "Nat, you have
told your kids about this, haven't you?"

Natalie frowned. "Well, not exactly. Besides, Martin hasn't done
anything official, he's only redesigned my duties temporarily. I just
keep hoping that it'll straighten itself out. I'm just not up for a legal
battle over anything right now, Nick."

"I know you've been through a lot lately; I'm just not sure that
ignoring it is the way to go. Did you get the files you were looking

"I did," Natalie responded. "I pulled the files from the last 20
cases I signed off on before I went out on leave. I haven't had
much chance to go through them, but nothing is jumping out at
me, Nick. Everything seems to be in order." Almost too much in
order. It seemed to Natalie that something had been nagging at
her during these last few cases, something that she had planned
to look into more closely but didn't get the chance to. Whatever
it was, it didn't seem to stand out right now. She rubbed her eyes,
carelessly forgetting about the contact lens. Would she ever get
used to them being there? "I'll take a better look at the files tomorrow;
thank goodness I have the day off. How about you?
How are the plans for the move coming?"

"Right on schedule," Nick replied eagerly. "The shutters went
in today, most of the furniture should arrive on Friday."

"Isn't this going to be a little problematic, Nick? Traveling back
and forth between here and Boston?" She was really surprised
at the speed with which he had proceeded once he had made
the decision to move back to Toronto.

"I made a commitment to teach through the end of the
semester, I only have to manage for a couple of months."

"I'm just not sure I want to know *how* you manage," Natalie
commented drily. She had promised herself that she would not
let herself be drawn into being his keeper again. He was well aware
of what all the extra flying time would do to his blood consumption,
if he chose to disregard her instructions, that was his business, she
wasn't going to nag him about it.

Nick let the comment pass. She was tired and frustrated, it
was obvious from her voice. "I was hoping you would agree to
be my guest on Saturday night for dinner, Nat. Sort of a
homecoming celebration."

"Are you sure you're going to be up for company
that soon?"

Nick grinned. "As long as you're not expecting too
much. The address is One Industrial Drive, its only
about a quarter of a mile from..."

Natalie cut him off. "I know the neighborhood, Nick," she
commented quietly. "I used to spend quite a bit of time there if
you remember." She had spent even more time there after he first
left, it became something of an obsession with her for a while.
"They tore it down you know, almost ten years ago now." And
with it went her last tenuous connection to the past, their past.

The other end of the phone was silent for some time.
Finally he responded. "I know."

"I always assumed that you still owned the property, I don't
know why," she paused. "I was afraid that something may
have happened to you. I drove by there one day and it was gone."
She had sat, staring at the now vacant lot for what must have been hours.

"I'm sorry, Nat." He hadn't dreamed that she might still feel
an attachment to the old loft. "The city was planning to take it
anyway for that highway extension. A big legal battle would
have attracted attention. If I had known..."

"I know, Nick. Don't listen to me; I'm tired and feeling a bit
maudlin tonight. I'm going to head to bed. I'm working Saturday,
but I'll give you a call before I head over."

"Sounds great, Nat. I'll talk to you then. Please take care of

"I will, Nick. Goodnight." Natalie rested the phone back down
on the cradle. Not for the first time, she wondered what it was
she was getting into and why. She had barely survived the last
time he had blown into her life; what made her think she would be
so lucky a second time. How easy it was to forget all the
pain he had caused her when she looked into those eyes. How easy
it was to remember the rest of the time. Natalie exhaled deeply and
pulled herself to her feet. She needed to get some sleep, she had
a lot of thinking to do.

end part 5
comments welcome

Please see standard disclaimers in part one.

Borrowed Time
part 6/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

Natalie finished zipping up the bag and paused for just
a moment in silence before returning the body to the large
refrigerated compartment. If anyone were to see her, they
might think for a moment that she was praying. In a sense, they
wouldn't be wrong. Although she had long since strayed from
any formal religion; the events in her life had shown her that the
confines of a declared religion were somewhat narrow to fit her
view of the world, she still considered herself a spiritual woman.
This moment of silence had become a habit with her. It gave her
some sense of peace to know that she had done well by the people
whose lives she touched, even after they had departed. Somehow
it made all the horrific things she had been witness to in her
profession more bearable.

Her day's work hopefully done, she sank gratefully into the
nearest chair. She had always enjoyed the quiet that working on
a Saturday afforded. It wasn't that there was necessarily less
work to be done; people had an odd habit of dying at all times
of the day and night, there was somehow less hustle and
bustle associated with it. Fewer suits roaming the halls wondering
how to make themselves look more important while doing
the least amount of work possible.

Natalie slid the small stack of computer printouts out of the
lower draw of the desk and began to read through them once
again. She had narrowed the field considerably since she had begun
reviewing her old cases a few days ago. A half a dozen reports
sat on the desk. To her experienced eyes, they were clearly the
cases that Martin had spoken of. Her 'irregularities'. "In a pig's
eye," she mumbled to herself. The reports had clearly been
altered. The phraseology was totally unlike her normal style. Yet
there was her name, still gracing the bottom of each of the

Martin's explanation had been of no help at all. He had been
dismissive, but in an anxious, uncomfortable way when she
approached him about her concerns. Whatever was going on here,
his message seemed clear. He would play no part in helping her
vindicate herself.

Her eyes continually strayed back to one of the reports; Tim
Johnson, aged sixty-four. She remembered him clearly. Perhaps
it was the similarity he held in age and features to Phillip. Everything
in those last few months seemed to remind her in some way of her
terminally ill husband. Johnson had left behind a wife and two
children. A story all too familiar to her these days.

What stuck out most clearly in her mind, however, was the state
of his heart. In her many years as a coroner, she had rarely seen
one quite so enlarged and fibrotic. Although the cause of death
seemed apparent from the outset she had done the same careful
job that she had always performed. The cause of death stared
back at her from the form in her hand: Pneumonia. There it was
in black and white, yet she would stake her career on her recollection
of the autopsy. He had died of heart failure; there
was absolutely no doubt in her mind. There was also no doubt
that that was what she had written four months ago.

Natalie smiled to herself as she stepped off the elevator into
the morgue basement. The twenty-first century had yet to catch up
with this little corner of her world and she hoped that it never did,
at least not in her lifetime. She looked around at the cluttered
storage area. The images of the specimens they took during
postmortems were now scanned and duly entered into the computer
files. The storage of the actual specimens themselves had
always seemed a bit redundant to some; not to mention being
a terrific waste of potentially valuable space. Tonight she was very
happy that the practice had never been changed.

"Anything I can help you with, Dr. Lambert?"

Natalie spun around, her heart in her throat. "Oh, Jimmy,
it's you," Natalie smiled easily. Jimmy had been a security guard
at the morgue for as long as she could remember. They had
become comfortable allies during the seemingly endless night
shifts that they had endured together. "I'm fine, just looking up
a few old cases." She shifted the envelope of slides from one
hand to the other. This was hardly standard procedure and,
in her experience, little seemed to escape his notice. Hopefully,
he would "forget" to make a note of it in his log.

"I heard you were back," he returned. "I'm sorry about your

Natalie reached her hand out to him. He had lost his wife
several years back. They were now allies in grief as well.
"Thank you, Jimmy. I'm doing okay, one day at a time, as
you well know."

"That I do, Dr. Lambert, that I do." He returned the light
pressure she had placed on his arm. "I'm sorry if I startled you, I
thought for a minute that it might be 'his Majesty' down here. He's
about the only one who ever comes down here anymore, at
least on a Saturday night."

" 'His Majesty'," Natalie laughed. "Who on earth are you
talking about, Jimmy?"

"Why Himself of course; Dr. Martin." The slightest lilt in his
voice betrayed James O'Brien's country of origin. "Although
he's far too important to speak to the likes of me. Unless of
course he's telling me to be on my way."

"Be on your way?" Natalie echoed. "Now why would he do that,
Jimmy? And for that matter just why would he be in the habit
of coming down here on a Saturday night?"

Jimmy shifted uneasily. "Forget I ever said anything,
Dr. Lambert. Really, I shouldn't have mentioned it."

"You know something," she pressed. "What is
it that's going on around here?"

Jimmy slowly backed towards the elevator. "The only
thing that I know is that I'm due for retirement in three years. I
wish I could help you, Dr. Lambert. Really I do; you've always
been decent to me." He shook his head slowly. "I just
can't get involved in this."

Natalie thoughtfully stared at the watchman's back as he
shuffled off to complete his rounds.

Natalie shook her head from side to side as she peered into the
microscope. She had been unable to resist just taking a peek at
the slides before she left. If she was wrong and her mind really was
slipping, it was important for her to know that as well. What she
was seeing just didn't make sense, plain and simple. There was
no way this slide correlated with her memories of the earlier
autopsy. She switched slides and looked again; the tissue she
was seeing was perfect. Almost too perfect. The hearts that these
samples had been taken from were entirely healthy. There was
no evidence of even normal aging in them. She did a quick review
of the files. The ages of the patients ranged from fifty-eight to
seventy-two. There was no way in hell that she was looking at
the tissue sample taken from a seventy-two year old heart.

Natalie glanced at the clock. She should have left for Nick's
thirty minutes ago at the outside. He'd understand; he'd have to.
She reached for the phone and quickly dialed in his number, hoping
that he wouldn't have his machine on.

"Hello," Nick answered.

The voice was cautious and Natalie found herself
wondering who else might already have his number
here in Toronto. "It's me," she rushed. "I'm running late.
I should be there in thirty minutes or so."

"You sound tired, Nat. If this isn't a good night..."

"No, it's not that." Natalie glanced around quickly to be sure
she was alone. "I'm still at work. There's something wrong here,
Nick. Something very wrong."

"Anything you'd care to elaborate on?"

"I know this sounds ridiculous, but I think that someone may
be altering autopsy reports--and I'm getting the sinking feeling
that this might be coming from the top."

"You mean Martin?" he questioned.

"I'll tell you the whole story when I see you." Natalie hastily
slid the envelope of slides into her bag. "I have something I want
to show you as well. " Nick had always had the uncanny ability
to put together the pieces of a puzzle. Hopefully he wasn't a skill
he had lost once he stopped being a detective. "I'll see you

"Going somewhere?"

The voice seemed to come out of nowhere and it took a moment
for Natalie to recover. She smiled cautiously at the sight of Nancy
Cruz coming around the corner. "Why do you ask?" There was
no telling how long Nancy had been standing there or what she
might have heard.

"You're all dressed up," Nancy replied, carefully looking over
the blue silk dress that Natalie was wearing. "It's a little soon for
you to be dating, isn't it?"

"Dinner with a friend," Natalie answered coolly. Not that it was
any of her business. "What are you doing here anyway?"

"I'm on call this evening and got called in; something about
a body coming in. They should be here any minute."

"And they called you in for that?" Natalie was genuinely
surprised. "I can take care of it."

"Don't be ridiculous." Nancy's smile was tight. "Your shift is
over and you have plans for the evening."

The morgue attendant swung the stretcher into the room just
as Nancy finished speaking. "Transfer from Toronto General," he
chuckled. "I don't know, doc. He doesn't look too good to me."
It wasn't often that he had an audience that could actually
ppreciate his humor.

Natalie rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Joey. Any info on him?"

Joey looked at the accompanying forms. "Edwin Robbins, aged
fifty-two. No clear cause of death," he grinned up at her. "I guess
that's why they want an autopsy."

Natalie took the paperwork from him and scanned it quickly.
Joey's analysis hadn't been quite exact. One of the doctors at the
hospital had written down CHF--congestive heart failure--as a
possible for the cause of death. The family apparently had wanted
an autopsy, one independent from the hospital's facilities.

"You can just leave him there," Nancy interjected harshly. "You
should be going as well, Natalie. You wouldn't want to be late."

"I told you, I don't mind. It wouldn't be any trouble for me to
do this," Natalie reasoned.

"With you all dressed up? Don't be silly. I'll have him logged
in and be out of here...well, before you know it."

"If you insist." Natalie forced a polite smile. As much as she
would like to get a look at the body, pressing the issue any
further might seem suspicious. And she wanted to get those
slides out of here without any trouble. "Have a good night."

"You too," Nancy replied. She watched with interest as Natalie
made her way down the long hallway towards the garage. As
Natalie rounded the corner, Nancy grabbed the telephone
and quickly dialed a number from memory.

end part 6
comments welcome

Nick and Co. belong to J.P. and Co., I am only borrowing them
for a little while.

Borrowed Time
part 07/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

Nick hung up the phone and hurried back to the kitchen. Perhaps
Natalie was right, having her over for dinner the day after his
move was suddenly seeming a bit too ambitious. He had spent the
entire day unpacking and he still didn't have a clue where half
the things he wanted were. He opened the oven door and slid
the chicken in. He would have to impress her with his newly
developed culinary skills at some later date. What mattered
tonight was that he got a decent meal into her. It pained him to see
her looking so thin. He could confess that he had bought it from
the local gourmet shop without too much embarrassment, she
really wouldn't be expecting him to do anything else. Nick
glanced at the clock; it would take her no more than twenty
minutes to get from the Coroner's Building, he still had a
lot to do to get ready.

Natalie glanced repeatedly at the envelope in the passenger's
seat as she drove through the darkened streets. What she was doing was
probably not technically illegal, but it was certainly not common
practice to bring home tissue samples. She just couldn't risk
being seen at the morgue taking too much of an interest in
these old cases yet again. If Fredrick Martin was at the center of this, she
needed to proceed with extreme caution. All she really had now
were her suspicions; hopefully these slides would bear those
suspicions out.

Natalie looked up and flicked her rearview mirror into the 'night'
position, slightly irritated at the driver behind her. The streets
in this part of town were dark, especially lately with all the power
shortages, but enough was enough. If her sixty-three year old
eyes could manage to make out the road, they should certainly be
capable of it.

Fear didn't occur to her until she felt the first bump. Even then it
was easy to dismiss; kids out on a joy ride, deciding to have their
fun at her expense. It was the second, more sustained contact
between the two bumpers that forced her heart into her mouth.
Natalie positioned her hands more firmly on the wheel and took
a precious moment to glance outside. Rows of factory buildings,
empty now on a Saturday night, stared back at her. Not even a
gas station to seek refuge in.

Natalie slid her right hand off the wheel and made a quick grab
for her car phone just as the other car pulled alongside. She
glanced quickly to her left, hoping to get a least some sense of the
other car. Darkened windows revealed nothing to her, not even
a guess at the number of occupants. Natalie turned the wheel
sharply to the right, hoping to avoid the inevitable contact as the
car veered closer. She saw the guardrail a split second too late
and hit it broadside. The car vibrated dramatically as it skimmed along
the steel support beam. A sudden violent impact ended her
forward momentum and she felt the car lurch sideways, up and
over the railing. Natalie wondered vaguely if this was what it felt
like to die as she was tossed violently from side to side. It would
almost be worth it, she thought for just an instant, to see Philip
again. <No>. She resisted the urge to give into it and struggled
to retain consciousness as she felt the car falling for what
seemed to be forever. She didn't want to leave her kids, not like
this, not without the chance to say goodbye.

The aroma from the oven indicated to Nick that the chicken had
reached a state where even a mortal would decline to taste it. He
flicked the control to the off position and glanced at the clock for
what must have been the thousandth time that hour. If Natalie was
trying to get back at him for all the times he had kept her waiting
and wondering, she was doing an awfully good job of it. Nick
dialed her cell phone number one more time. "The party you are
trying to reach has traveled out of...." He clicked the phone off. It
was truly amazing that they had not come up with better
message after all these years. Nick hastily blew out the
candles and looked upward. Well, he had put the
skylight in for a reason.

Natalie touched her hand to her eyes and recognized that it
was her own blood obscuring her vision. Her fingers cautiously
explored the brutal gash on her forehead. For some reason the
airbags had failed to inflate; she must have struck the steering
wheel on the way down. It wasn't that there was anything
much to see. As far as she could tell, she was hanging upside
down in what amounted to almost total darkness. She slowly
realized that it was her seatbelt that was holding her suspended
and carefully moved to release it.

Natalie felt an intense pain shoot up her right arm as she tried to
use it. "Damn," she muttered to the darkness. She shifted her
weight and strained to hit the seatbelt release with her left hand.
She hesitated, maybe it would be better to wait for someone to
come along. There was no telling what further damage she might
do to herself as she dropped to the ground, she had sustained
quite a nasty head wound as it was from the feel of it. She pushed
herself forward. There was no telling how long she might sit
here, unnoticed. Better to take things into her own hands now, while
she still could. Natalie felt the buckle release and braced herself for
the impact against the roof of the car. Cold, foul smelling water
engulfed her immediately upon landing. She quickly lifted her
head up and out of the water, sputtering forcefully as she did.
Her body began to shake violently, almost uncontrollably in the
frigid water. The blue silk dress that she had picked out so carefully
for her dinner tonight with Nick wrapped tightly around her,
hindering her movements. <Nick> How long before he realized
she was late? Would he even notice the clock, or would he be
too lost in some past event to even pay attention?

Natalie pressed against the door and was almost
surprised when it gave way so easily. She eased her
weight onto her battered knees and began to inch her
way forward in a crude crawling motion, feeling her way
as best she could with her injured right arm. She sprawled
in a heap as felt the ground firming up underneath her, at
least the area of water had been fairly contained and shallow.
The light was a little better here, in the open air, and for the first
time she got an indication of her true predicament. The car had
apparently been forced off the road at the site of some type
of drainage culvert. She looked hopelessly up the long, steep
embankment towards the road. She'd have a hard time climbing
it on her best day, and she was one long way from that. Natalie felt
her hopes soar as she noted a lone figure approach the edge
of the road far above her. She summoned her last bit of strength
and began to wave her good arm frantically over her head, shouting
with as much voice as she could muster. The figure hesitated for
a moment, as if considering his path down the slope, then without
acknowledging her in anyway, he abruptly departed. Natalie heard
a cry of despair escape her lips. He was going for help, that had to
be it, no one could be so cruel as to leave her here, alone in the
darkness. Her vision clouded once again and she felt herself
slowly slipping toward unconsciousness.

Nick accelerated quickly as he hit the night air, enjoying the
brief moment of exhilaration that he always felt whenever he took
to the sky. Hopefully she had merely become engrossed at
something at the morgue and had lost track of the time, it had
certainly happened before. He just hoped that she wasn't having
second thoughts about him reentering her life. Natalie had
sounded strange the other night on the phone, uncomfortable
with the memories of the old loft. Maybe he had been inconsiderate
in his choice of location; the partially deserted, largely industrial area
suited his needs for privacy ideally, but perhaps something across
town would have had fewer painful associations for her.

Nick glided silently along the still familiar route to the Coroner's
Building. The basic landscape of the city had changed surprisingly
little in the years since he had been gone. It was unusual for him
to return to a city in what for him was a relatively short period of
time and he hoped that he had not made a mistake in coming back
so soon. His disappearance thirty years before had been a
particularly messy one; he had left far too many unanswered
questions, both within the police department and in his personal
life. All he knew was that to him, it was worth the risk. He could
not bear to let her life pass without him in it.

The sudden squeal of car tires drew his attention downward. He
really should be paying attention to the road below him, Natalie's
delay might well be nothing more than a flat tire. The streets in this
part of town were generally deserted this time of night. Unlike a
lot of major cities, Toronto had not yet instituted a general curfew
in an effort to stem the tide of violence, but few seemed to venture
out after dark anyway. Nick felt a sad smile pass his lips. For the
first few centuries of his existence mortals barricaded themselves
in their homes as soon as twilight came, terrified of the demons
of the night. Eight hundred years later they had begun to do the
same thing, only now it was each other that they were frightened

A sudden movement from below caught his eye and he turned
and descended towards it. Most likely it was some stray dog, or
maybe a raccoon, but there was something about the motion that
gave him pause. He landed softly on the edge of the road after a
quick glance to assure himself that he was alone. Through
the darkness he could clearly see the outline of a car sitting
overturned in the rancid water below. The quiet, irregular sound
of a human heart came to him as he listened closely. Nick quickly
jumped the tangled guardrail and raced down the gravelly, litter-
strewn slope. Despite it's erratic nature, there was something
frighteningly familiar about the sound.

Nick stopped just short of Natalie's inert body. The powerful
scent of her blood washed over him. The blood he had hungered
for for so many years. He felt his eyes change and his fangs drop
without warning. He had been away from the overpowering scent
of spilled, fresh, human blood for a long time. The tight control that
he had held himself to when he had been a homicide detective
was a thing of the past. Nick pressed himself against the chassis
of the car and struggled to pull himself together. He would not do
this; he would not *be* this. Not now when every second could mean
the difference between life and death for Natalie. He battled the
beast inside him back down. Nick slid to his knees by her side
and gently cradled her in his arms.

"Nat," he called softly, uncertain of whether he actually wanted
a reply. He wiped the congealing blood carefully from her
face, oblivious now to its call. It was impossible to say how
badly she might be injured. There was nothing obvious, other
than the head wound, but she could have easily suffered serious
internal injuries with fall of that magnitude. He knew that taking
her to the hospital himself was risky; if she had suffered any type
of spinal cord injury, he took the chance of paralyzing her
permanently. He also knew that with all the cutbacks in city
services, it would most likely be quite a long wait for an ambulance
to get to this part of town. He quickly stripped off his suitcoat
and wrapped it around her; even he could feel the coolness of her
body. Nick gathered Natalie up in his arms, carefully supporting
her head and neck as best he could. He rose, more tentatively
this time, into the night air, praying to whatever God that might
still listen to him he had made the right choice.

end part 7
comments welcome

See part one for usual disclaimers.

Borrowed Time
part 08/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

"So you're saying that my mother will be all right." Laurel
Rhys stated it with such force that the emergency room doctor
took a step backwards. Now entering his twenty-fourth hour
on call, Dr. Aaron Caughy was in no mood to be badgered by anyone.

He held his hands up as if to hold her away from him. "What I
said was that she doesn't appear to have sustained any serious
injuries in the crash. We've set the wrist fracture; at her age, it'll
take a while to heal. The CAT scan of her head is negative for a
subdural hematoma, although she does have a rather serious
concussion. Once she regains consciousness, we'll be observing
her closely for any signs of swelling in the brain. We'll also be
keeping a close eye on her heart."

"Her heart?" Richard Rhys piped in. "This is the first we've heard
of any heart problem." The strain of the past few months showed
clearly on his face. He had just buried his father. It seemed
unbelievable to him that they were once again having to cope
with doctors and hospitals.

Across the room Nick rose slowly and began making his way
towards the trio. He could hear the conversation perfectly from
the other side of the room, but he felt the need to connect
somehow. Sometimes watching someone as they spoke told you
a lot more than their words did.

"From the bruising on her chest, it would appear that she hit the
steering wheel with some force. It's standard in a case like this
to rule out a cardiac contusion," Dr. Caughy struggled for the words
to explain it more clearly, "a bruise on the heart if you will. There's
no indication that anything is wrong, we'll just be keeping her on
a cardiac monitor and following her EKGs and enzymes for
the next 24-48 hours."

"When do you think....?" Laurel caught sight of Nick's approach
out of the corner of her eye and cut off her own question. She
turned and faced the harried young physician. "Doctor, this
man is not a member of the family," she gestured pointedly at
Nick, "and I do not want him to receive any medical information about
my mother. In fact, I'd like to restrict his access to her as well. I
assume that's possible?"

"It's a little...irregular," he sputtered, "but it can be done." The
doctor turned and faced Nick. "I'm sorry," he said with an apologetic
look towards Nick. There wasn't much more he could think to say
at the moment. Dealing with the families had never been one of
his favorite things to do. This bunch was about to go to the top
of his 'why' list.

Nick had clearly underestimated the antipathy that Nat's
children felt for him. No wonder she was looking so strained.
"It's okay," he said softly to the young doctor. "No problem.
I just wanted to make sure that she was all right. He managed
a wan smile in the direction of Laurel and Richard. "Nice to
see you both again." Nick turned and headed off down the corridor.

"I must say," Dr. Caughy commented, the irritation now clearly
evident in his voice. "That was a rather unusual way to treat the
man who just saved your mother's life."

"Saved her life?" Laurel questioned. "You just got through
telling us that her injuries were not life threatening."

"The injuries themselves would not have killed her, Ms. Rhys.
Your mother's car ended up in the water. It's going to dip into the
forties tonight, maybe even lower. A woman of her years, in shock
from the accident, she would have succumbed to hypothermia
in a very short time if he hadn't found her and brought her into us.
Your mother was a lucky woman tonight, very lucky indeed."

Nick continued to listen to the conversation as he proceeded
down the hallway. Natalie was going to be fine, that was the
important thing. They would have to deal with the situation with
Laurel and Richard later. Now he just needed to find Natalie, to
see her with his own eyes before heading home.

Nick slid quietly into Natalie's room in the holding area, the
soft sound of her heartbeat echoing the beeping sounds from the
cardiac monitor positioned above her head. The wound on her
head was dressed securely now, no evidence of the bloody mess
that it had been remained. Her right wrist was casted from just
below the point of her elbow to the edges of her knuckle;
fortunately she would live to complain about the inconvenience. He
didn't want to think about how close he had come to losing her

Natalie's eyelids fluttered and opened, her gaze wandering
wildly around the room.

"Nat, it's okay." Nick quickly slid into the chair beside the bed
and spoke calmly to her. "You're in the hospital, you've
been in a car accident."

Natalie tried momentarily to sit up, then flopped back onto
the bed. "What happened?"

"Do you remember anything?" Nick asked.

Natalie struggled to make sense of the jumble of images she
recalled. "I remember leaving the morgue...I was headed to your
place." Natalie closed her eyes tightly. Her head felt like it was
about to explode it was throbbing so badly. "That's it."

"Your car went off the embankment at the Bachman overpass,"
Nick filled in the blanks for her. "You're lucky you weren't killed."

"How did I get here?" Natalie continued to search her memory
but came up empty.

"When you didn't show up for dinner, I went looking for you.
I'm the one that found you and brought you in."

"The fast way or the slow way?" Natalie narrowed her eyes.

"The fast way," Nick acknowledged.

"It figures," Natalie managed a thin smile. "You finally take me
flying and I can't remember a damn thing."

"You never mentioned that you wanted to...I...I just assumed."

"Apparently there were a lot of things I never mentioned, at
least until it was too late." Her mind floated hazily. They must
have given her something for pain at some point. Would the
end have been different if she had told him she loved him
before things had gone so far wrong? It was one of the questions
that neither one of them would ever have the answer to.

"Tell you what, Natalie Lambert. You get yourself well again
and I'll take you anywhere you want to go." Nick reached down
and took her left hand in his, rubbing it softly with his thumb.
"You can't imagine how I felt when I saw your car like that; I was
sure I had lost you."

Natalie tried desperately to focus on him, her vision swimming.
He was dressed uncharacteristically in only his shirtsleeves, his
gray, silk shirt well the worse for wear. A large bloodstain traveled
down his left shoulder and onto his chest. The boyish countenance
that she had enjoyed so much since his return was gone; his
face looked most, if not all, of his eight hundred years. Natalie
lifted her hand up and rested her hand against his cheek.
"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." Nick pressed his lips against the palm of her hand. It
wasn't the time to go into what had very nearly happened at
the accident scene. When would there be a good time to mention
that instead of bringing her to the hospital, he had almost torn her
throat out as she lay there helpless? "But I do need to go home
and change. And I do need to get out of here before the visitor
police arrive."

"My kids...?" Natalie asked in response.

"Laurel and Richard are out in the waiting area, I'm not sure if
they called Nicholas at school or not," he answered. "They're
talking to the doctor. They were not too happy to see me."

"Try not to let it bother you, Nick. They mean well."

"I know. They just lost their father and tonight they almost lost
you. I know they're only trying to protect you," Nick smiled. "I know
how they feel. Don't worry, I won't take it personally." Nick stood
and leaned over her, kissing her softly on the cheek. "You get
some rest. I'll be back tomorrow night." Nick left the room as
quietly as he had come.

end part 8
comments welcome

Borrowed Time
part 09/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

The young detective shifted from one foot to the other as he
stood in Natalie's room. Hospitals made him nervous, there was
no way around that; it must have something to do with the way they
smelled. There was always that lingering odor of disinfectant
in the air. He didn't want to even think about what it was that they
might be disinfecting. This case was doing nothing to improve his
anxiety either. He had only gotten his shield a week ago, it hardly
seemed fair to stick him right in the middle of this one. He was
well aware of whom he was interviewing; Dr. Lambert-Rhys was
probably the most respected M.E. in the city. The problem was, her
account of last evening's events weren't quite adding up and he had
been given the unenviable task of going over her statement.

"Can you just go over it for me one more time, Dr. Lambert?
You say the other car veered into you and struck your car on
the left side?"

"Look, Detective..." Natalie was so tired she could scarcely
remember her own name let alone his. Her head still throbbed
unrelentingly from the blow she had received last night and the
dull ache from her fractured wrist was running a close second.

"MacAndrews," he filled it in for her.

"Detective MacAndrews, we have gone over this ten times. The
other car struck me on the left and drove me into that guard rail, the
car flipped and I went over. End of story. How many more times
do I have to tell this?"

"Just until we get it straight, ma'am." Detective MacAndrews
could feel his face getting warmer. He'd give anything to not have
to continue with this. He cleared his throat sharply. "The lab boys
have been all over your car. I'm afraid there's no evidence of it
being struck from the left. There are no vertical scratches, no paint
residue," he paused. "The only damage on the left side of your car
appears to have been sustained when it rolled down the hill."

Natalie closed her eyes. She could vividly remember the shriek
of metal against metal. Maybe she was wrong about the contact
between the two cars. Her eyelids flew open. "What about the
bumper?" she asked hopefully. "I know that I was hit from

"Inconclusive," he replied. "The damage that was present could
have been caused by another car, or from the fall," he paused. "I'm
afraid that there were no skid marks either."

"So?" Natalie snapped. "I didn't happen to think that slamming
on the brakes was a particularly good idea at the time."

Detective MacAndrews started slowly. "Lack of skid marks is
something we see quite often in accidents where...where...someone
has fallen asleep at the wheel. It was late, it was dark. You had just
put a long day on your feet at work."

"And I'm sixty-three years old," Natalie added bitterly.

"I didn't say that," Detective MacAndrews quickly interjected. In
fact he had been trying very hard not to say that the whole time
that he had been there.

"You didn't have to. It's rather obvious that that's where you've
been heading this whole time. I assure you, Detective, that I was
most certainly *not* asleep when my car went off that embankment
and that someone did run me off that road. I think that perhaps
you need to go back over your evidence a bit more closely."
Natalie rested her thumb and forefinger against the bridge of her
nose. When did they start making detectives right out of high
school anyway? That's about how old he looked to her. Detective
MacAndrews continued to stand fidgeting at the foot of her bed
despite her rather obvious dismissal. She looked up. "Is there
something else?"

"I'm afraid there is, ma'am. There is the little matter of the
envelope that we found in the car with you."

"My slides," she shot back. "You found them?"

"We found an envelope marked 'Coroner's Office' in your
car. Whatever was in there was destroyed in the accident. In
light of your condition, we reported finding it to the Chief Medical
Examiner's office," Detective MacAndrews scrolled back on the
the recording device he held in his hand, "a Dr. Martin I believe.
He informs us that you had no authorization to remove those
slides from the coroner's building. Is there any comment
you'd like to make in regards to that, Dr. Lambert?"

"No, none." Her answer was flat. "There must be some
misunderstanding. I'll speak to Dr. Martin." The missing slides
would raise Martin's suspicions at the very least. She may have
just lost whatever chance she might have had to catch him at this
little game he was playing.

"You do that, ma'am." He clicked his recorder off and slid it
into his pocket. "And if you remember anything that might help
us out a bit more, color or make of the car, or anything about the
driver, you give me a call." He actually wished she would call; he
had a lot of respect for her, almost everyone on the force did.
He just didn't believe it was going to happen, she had fallen
asleep at the wheel and was just too proud to admit it. "Who knows,"
he shrugged, "maybe your mystery witness will step forward." He
moved towards the door. "Good night, Doctor."

Nick waited until he was sure that the detective had cleared
the hallway before entering Natalie's room. He was far too young
to have been on the force when Nick was there, but he planned
to make it a habit to avoid the Metro P.D. whenever possible.

The smile froze on Nick's lips as he rounded the corner into
Natalie's room. He couldn't ever remember seeing her looking
quite so vulnerable. She was resting back against the pillow, her
eyes closed. Her usually well-groomed hair was a disheveled mass
around her head, the gray far more pronounced tonight than he
had ever seen it. Her features were drawn into a gaunt mask of pain
and fatigue. A large area of bruising extended beyond the bandage
covering her headwound. "What was that all about?" He forced the
corners of his mouth back into its original grin.

"Hey," she smiled weakly at the sight of him and struggled into
a more upright position. "After you left last night, I started
to remember a few things."

"So I heard," Nick commented as he stood stiffly at the foot
of the bed. "Any ideas on who might be responsible?"

"Well according to him," Natalie gestured with her head towards
the now departed Det. MacAndrews, "I am. Didn't you hear, I fell
asleep at the wheel?"

"Now, Nat, he didn't come right out and say that."

"No, but that was certainly what he was implying." Natalie
sank her weight back into the bed. "But to answer your question,
no, I haven't got a clue. I suppose it was just some drunk, or maybe
kids out for a cheap thrill and things got out of control." Such
incidents were becoming all too commonplace these days.
"It's the principle of the thing. He didn't believe me."

Nick sat down next to her on the bed. "Look, Nat, he's young,
probably green as grass. If you want, I'll go find your car, take a
look at it myself. Maybe I'll find something that they missed."

"It's not just that," Natalie shook her head in disgust.

"What then?" Nick questioned. He could hear her heart
beginning to race, whatever it was, it was really upsetting her.

"It's everything, Laurel, Richard," she gestured around her, "this

"One at a time, Nat. What's up with the kids?"

"They were here today. I thought maybe it was about time that
I let them know about the situation down at the Coroner's Office,"
Natalie dropped her voice down to a whisper, "including my suspicions
about Fredrick Martin. They both started to look at me like I was nuts,
like it might be time to start thinking about putting Mom in to a home."

"I'm sure they were just concerned. You have been through an
awful lot in the last few months, now this accident on top of
everything else."

Natalie's reply ended abruptly as her nurse entered the room.
"I have some medication for you Dr. Lambert." She stood stiffly,
holding the clear plastic cup in Natalie's direction.

"What is it? I didn't ask for anything." Not that she wasn't in dire
need of some pain medication, but she had held off, needing to
keep her head clear for Nick's visit.

The nurse hesitated. "It's something for sleep. Dr. Caughy wrote
for it. We were all hoping you would get a bit more rest than
you did last night," she commented drily.

"No, thank you." Natalie attempted to hand the pill cup back to
her. "I don't think I'll be needing that."

"You can talk to Dr. Caughy if you like, but he did want you to
take something that would help you relax and get some sleep."

"Fine," Natalie replied, her mouth painted in a thin brittle smile.
She popped the tablet into he mouth and washed it down with the
proffered glass of water. "Thank you."

Natalie waited until the nurse left the room before spitting the
tablet back into her hand. She looked at it closely. "Xanax. They
really do want me to relax."

"Nat! I can't believe you just did that."

"Oh hell, I don't need that." She looked up and met his eyes.
"Nick, you've got to get me out of here."

"You are getting out of here, Nat. Tomorrow, next day at the
latest. You just need to be a little patient."

"No, Nick, I mean now, tonight. I can't stay here anymore," she
remarked definitively. It certainly didn't help matters that this
room was a carbon copy of the one Phillip had died in. Why were
all hospital rooms painted eggshell blue anyway?

Nick sank back in the chair. He really hated it when she used
that tone of voice. "It doesn't look so bad," he commented, smiling,
still hoping to humor his way out of this. "The room looks nice
enough, no responsibility to do anything but get better and
watch TV."

"Don't patronize me Nick," she snapped, "anything but that."

He looked at her closely. It was plain to see that she was
exhausted and on the edge. "I'm sorry, Nat. I didn't mean to upset
you. But do you mind telling me what is going on here?"

"You have to ask after you just witnessed that? She was trying
to sedate me, for heaven's sake, Nick. Plus they keep these foolish
things up all the time too." Natalie slammed her good hand against
the siderails on the bed.

"Natalie, you had a head injury. You 're not supposed to be
getting out of bed, at least not by yourself."

"Yeah, well they didn't leave me the call light either. What else
was I suppose to do but climb out when I needed to go to the
bathroom?" She didn't need to tell him that she didn't make it.
The nurses had done a lousy job of helping her to get cleaned
up as well. If she could still smell the stale urine on her, he sure
as hell could. At least after that, they made sure that she had her
call light.

Nick was struggling to suppress a grin. The thought of Natalie
attempting to scale the walls of her confinement was so much the
woman he had always known, refusing to accept any and all limits
that were placed on her. The inherent indignity of being
hospitalized and dependent on others was just more than she
could handle at this point.

"Don't you dare laugh," she threatened, " Nick Knight or Parker or
whatever the heck your name is now. They think I'm just some
crazy old lady that wets the bed. Confused and belligerent, that's
what they told the doctor this morning. No wonder he's trying
to sedate me."

"You need to bear with it another day or so, Nat. Take the pill,
get some sleep. I'll stay if you want me to."

"What's the difference if I go home tonight or tomorrow
morning? Everything is negative, they're only going to be observing
me. Anything that they can do for me here, you can do for me
at home," she paused, reluctant to say the words. "Please, Nick. I
need to get home to my own house, my own bed."

Nick's brows creased as he listened to her. She was undoubtedly
right about her medical condition. She would be no more stable
tomorrow morning than she was right now. Emotionally, she might
be a whole lot better off if she didn't have to spend another
night in a place she detested. Still, there was no way he would get
her out of here without causing a great deal of trouble with the
staff and Natalie's family.

"Fine," she responded angrily. She had waited for his reply
long enough. Natalie inched her way towards the end of the
bed, past the confines of the bedrails. "If you won't help me,
I'll get out of here myself."

Nick sighed and stood up. It was obvious that she wouldn't
make it as far as the door without his help. She didn't need to face
another failure. "Okay, Nat. I'm not so sure this is such a great
idea, but if you are that determined, I'll take you home."

Natalie felt her shoulders sag. Just the effort to get to the end
of the bed had cost her. She couldn't remember ever being in
quite so much pain, at least since the last time she was in labor.
Every inch of her body screamed at her. "Would you mind handing
me my clothes out of the closet?" she asked him in a strained voice.

"I think those clothes you wore last night are a thing of the past,
Nat." Nick slipped off his overcoat and placed it carefully around
her shoulders. "You wait here; I'll see if I can get you out of here
without causing too much of a fuss."

end part 9
comments welcome

Borrowed Time
part 10/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

When the clock slipped past midnight, Nick had begun to
think that he might be in the clear. The sudden sweep of headlights
past the window told him otherwise. So he would need to face
the music tonight after all; it was just as well, Natalie had borne the
brunt of her children's anger, their suspicions, too many times as
it was. He inclined his head towards the stairwell. The slow, even
rhythm of her heart told him that Natalie was still sleeping soundly.
It was a condition that he was not about to have interrupted.

He heard the keys turn in the lock and rose to his feet. "Good
evening, Laurel." Everytime he saw her he was struck by how
much she looked like her mother had looked thirty years ago. The
same mass of curly hair, the same luminous dark blue eyes.
Unfortunately she had inherited her mother's tenacity as well.

"Don't 'good evening' me, Mr. Parker. I want to see my mother
and I want to see her now." Laurel Rhys faced him squarely, her
hands on her hips.

"She's upstairs asleep. You're more than welcome to check on
her, just please don't wake her. She hasn't had much sleep in the
past few days." Nick kept his voice calm, even. He would like
to avoid getting into a confrontation with her tonight if at all

"I want to know just what right you thought you had taking
my mother out of the hospital tonight?" Laurel's face was beet red,
she couldn't remember ever being quite so angry. The gall of
him, standing there telling her what she could and could not do
in her own home.

"I didn't *take* her anywhere," Nick responded. "She was
released by Dr. Caughy, at her own request I might add. I merely
gave her a ride home and offered to stay here in case she needed

"Released from the hospital at ten o'clock at night only
twenty-four hours after a major accident. You expect me to
believe that?"

"The only thing I expect you to believe in is your mother." Nick
was starting to feel his anger rise as well. "That seems to be
something that you're having a little trouble with these days."

Laurel took a step closer to him. "What is that supposed
to mean?"

"It means that she was very upset at the hospital tonight. That's
why I felt it was better to bring her home. She feels like no one
believes her, about this accident or the situation at work.."

"She told you about that?" She looked at him carefully, anxious
to see his reaction.

"She's told me some things. We really haven't had much of
a chance to talk," Nick responded honestly. "She told me about
the reassignment of her duties and that she thinks that it's
somehow related to Fredrick Martin and his falsification of autopsy

"Has she shown you anything concrete, proof, I mean?" Laurel
asked hopefully. She may not care for this new found 'friend' of
her mother's, but she'd deal with the devil himself if it gave her
something, anything that would help her to believe that this whole
thing was not some figment of her mother's imagination.

"No," Nick responded. It was hardly the question that he had
been expecting. "She did say she was bringing something over
to my place last night." That must have been the envelope that
Detective MacAndrews had referred to. He had not been all that
convinced that Natalie's accident was as random as it seemed. It
made him feel all that much better about bringing her home where
he could keep a close eye on her.

Laurel's shoulders sagged. He had nothing more to offer in
the way of evidence than her mother did. "Doesn't this all strike
you as a bit...far-fetched Mr. Parker?" The hostility was gone from
her voice. "I mean what possible reason could Martin have for
doing all this? I just can't believe that he would risk his career just
to get back at my mother."

"I suppose if anyone but Natalie had told me this story, I would
wonder a bit about their level of sanity," Nick replied, grinning.

"But because it was my mother, you somehow think that this
is entirely reasonable?" Laurel's eyes were unsure. "I wish I could
feel the same way, Mr. Parker." She turned and slowly walked
up the stairs to her mother's bedroom.

Laurel cracked the door to the bedroom and peered in. Her
mother tossed fitfully on the bed, muttering in her sleep. Maybe
they were all just expecting a little too much of her. For thirty
years she had been the responsible one, seamlessly juggling
work and family in a way that Laurel had only come to appreciate
since having her own children. Her father had always been there
for them, but it was her mother that made everything work. "Not
this time, Mom," Laurel whispered. Since her father's death her
mother seemed to be determined to self-destruct. She just hoped
that it wasn't too late for her to do something about it.

Laurel quickly descended the stairs and headed directly out the
door. She spared barely a glance at the blond stranger
sitting on the couch.

Nick stood at the doorway for a few moments in silence,
watching her. The change in her heart rate and respirations told
him that she had been awake for a while, but Natalie's eyes were
closed and she remained still in the bed.

"Nat," he whispered softly, walking over to the side of the
bed. "Hey, sleepyhead, it's past noon. Time to rise and shine."

Natalie promptly pulled the covers over her head in response.
"Do me a favor, Nick, go away. I have absolutely no interest in
rising or shining. In fact, I'm never planning to get out of this
bed again." Even if she had wanted to get up, Natalie seriously
doubted her ability to do so. She had somehow managed to fall
asleep on her side, her casted arm extended out behind her
Every muscle in her body was firmly locked in place, refusing to
yield to any efforts that she made to move them.

"Come on, Nat. I brought you some pain medicine, and I'm
running the tub for you." Nick sat carefully down beside her on
the bed and pulled the covers down from her face.

"How perceptive of you to notice that I needed a bath."

"You know I didn't mean it like that," he responded lightly.
"I thought it might loosen you up a bit, you must be feeling pretty stiff."

"You have absolutely no idea what I'm feeling right now."
Natalie shifted herself away from him as best she could. In the
past few months she had watched her whole world fall down
around her. Not only had she lost the most important person in her
world, but now the rest of her life seemed a disaster as well.
With an extreme effort she managed to right herself in the bed
and sit up. All her life she had prided herself on her independence,
it was humiliating to be so powerless. If this accident was a
taste of things to come, perhaps it would've been better if she
had died. She reluctantly accepted the pill that Nick held
out to her. "Thanks," she muttered.

"Your welcome," he said quietly. "You know that I've been
dragged by more than one horse in my day, I think I can at least
remember what it felt like."

"That's not what I was talking about." He would never begin
to know what it felt like to watch your body change, to feel the
things that you cared most about in life slipping through your

"I know, Nat." Nick carefully took her hand in his own. The back
of it was still bruised and swollen from her IV. "But first things
first. How about that tub?"

Natalie withdrew her hand. "I just don't feel like getting
out of this bed right now, Nick. Maybe later."

"Maybe now." Nick pulled the covers down and once again
took hold of her hand. "You got yourself into this, if you recall,"
he commented, trying to keep from smiling. "You're the one that
insisted on leaving the hospital, now you're stuck with me. You
know and I know that you're not going to get any better lying in that bed."

"What part of *no* didn't you understand, Nick? I'll get out
of this bed when I'm damn good and ready and when I do I certainly
won't need your help." What had ever possessed her to have him
take her home? She should have known how incapacitated she
would be today. Natalie pulled the covers back up over her. Her
hand filtered up to the bandage around her head wound, that
would need to be changed as well.

"Fine." Nick stood abruptly and turned to go. "I know this is
hard on you, Nat. I was only trying to help."

"Oh you know do you? You know what it's like to lie here in this
bed and not even be able to make it to the bathroom by yourself?"
she flung the words at him. "You know what it's like to have everyone
around you suddenly think that you're slipping, losing your mind,"
she paused, "going senile?" Her work had been exemplary for
thirty years, how dare Martin think he could waltz in and ruin that.
And how could that rookie imply that she had fallen asleep at the
wheel of her car, and that she would lie to hide it? She didn't even
want to think about her kids and what they felt about the whole thing.

Nick turned and looked at her evenly. "I know what it's like to
have to ask someone for help when it's the last thing in the world
that you want to do." He took a step closer to the bed. "Do you
think that was easy for me, being so dependent on you? Always
needing you to cover for me and the community." He thought back
on the endless blood draws and tissue samples, the protein
shakes that simply refused to stay down. "Feeling like some kind of
science experiment. Letting you see me in ways that I would
never choose to be seen by anyone."

"Nick...I..." He had always been so casually cooperative--at
least about the blood and tissue samples. It had never for a
moment occurred to her how difficult it must have been for him
at times.

"I always told myself that those things didn't matter. That
our friendship was stronger than that, that *we* were stronger than
that," he paused. "Maybe I was wrong." Nick turned once again and
began walking towards the door. "I'll give Laurel a call, she can
come and help you out."

"Wait, Nick. Don't go." Natalie managed a thin smile. "I guess
I am a bit better at giving help than I am at getting it." With great
effort, Natalie managed to swing her legs over the side of the

"Well maybe just a bit," Nick returned, extending his
hand out to her.

Natalie bit into her lip. "This is going to hurt like hell."

"I know, Nat. I could carry you, if you like."

"No," she replied resolutely. "That would kind of defeat the
purpose of getting up. I need to get moving." Every muscle in
her body screamed at her as she eased her feet to the floor.
She dug her nails deeply into Nick's arm as she grasped it for
support. "There," she said tightly, "that wasn't so bad."
Slowly, carefully the pair managed to make their way
into the bathroom.

Natalie gasped as she entered the room. Nick had managed
to dig her bath beads out of the cabinet; the large Jacuzzi tub
was now a swirling mass of bubbles. Every candle in the house
was there and lit, giving a soft glow to the room. She could hear
snatches of classical music wafting up from the stereo in
the living room.

Natalie made a futile attempt with her good hand to untie the
strings of the soiled hospital gown that she still wore. Nick batted
her hand away and briefly tried to untangle the knot before growling
in frustration and snapping the thin piece of cotton in two. The gown
slid from her shoulders and puddled on the floor around her feet.

Nick diverted his eyes upward as if the ceiling tiles had
suddenly become the most interesting thing in the room. He
extended a supportive arm outward, glancing at her briefly to be
sure that she could make it into the tub safely.

Natalie heard the sharp intake of his breath as he looked at her.
The seat belt had dug deeply into her left shoulder, tearing into the
fragile skin. A large bruised area had formed over her chest
from her violent contact with the steering wheel. In fact, her whole
upper body was one series of bruises on top of the other. "Real attractive,
isn't it?" she asked derisively. Natalie dropped her eyes to the floor.
She had no desire to catch a glimpse of herself in the mirror and she
most certainly didn't want to see what was reflected in his eyes. This
was hardly the way she had once imagined he would see her.

"Oh, Nat," he sighed, shaking his head. Nick lightly traced
the abrasion on her shoulder and the bruise on her sternum
with his fingertips, all pretense of modesty gone. "No wonder
you didn't want to get up." He enfolded her gently in his arms,
fearful of causing her any more pain than she must already be in.
He brushed his lips lightly across the top of her head. "Here, let me."
Nick quickly swept her up in his arms and deposited her carefully
in the tub. "Is the temperature all right?" he asked hastily. "I meant
to have you test it. I don't always do so well on temperature."

"The temperature is fine," Natalie answered, sinking herself
further into the water. "This is wonderful Nick, thank you."
Natalie could already feel some of the tightness in her muscles
departing. She had always found refuge in the bath; it had always
been her place to regroup and gather strength against whatever
happened to be troubling her. She was a little surprised when
Nick sat abruptly on the floor of the bathroom and rested his
back against the side of the tub.

"You don't mind, do you?" he asked.

Natalie felt the room spin and realized that the pain medicine
he had given her must be kicking in. "I promise I won't try to drown
myself, if that's what you're worried about."

"I wasn't worried," he replied, smiling at her comment. "I just
thought you might like the company."

"I like the company," Natalie said softly. "I like the company a
lot." She brushed her fingers against the back of his head. "Nick,"
she hesitated, "I'm sorry if I ever made you feel like a lab rat,
that was never my intention."

Nick pivoted around and caught her hand. "I know, Nat. You
didn't. I said it was hard, what I didn't say was how much it meant
to me to be treated with dignity and respect. I've never forgotten that
and I never will." He touched her fingers to his lips. "And I don't think I
ever thanked you enough for all your hard work."

"You didn't." Natalie sat back against the tub and closed her
eyes. They had parted with such bitterness between them, she
had no wish to have those feelings resurrected again. She was
over and done with them. "But I probably didn't give you much of
a chance either.

Nick turned onto his knees and faced her. He had put so
much of what he felt on the shelf for the last thirty years as well. wasn't the time or the place. "Speaking of chances, I think
that if you can lie back a bit, I might be able to get some of that
mess out of your hair."

"Do you really think so, Nick?" She looked at him doubtfully. She
tried unsuccessfully to reach up to her hair. "I thought that I was
probably going to have to cut it."

Nick perched himself carefully on the back of the tub, running
his fingers lightly through her hair. Dried blood matted the hair
closest to her scalp wound and small amounts of debris was
scattered throughout. "I've seen worse. In fact, I've had worse."
Although in all honesty, he couldn't remember when. "But the
next time you decide to go for a dip in a drainage ditch, be
sure to wear a bathing cap."

"It's a deal." Natalie inclined her head slightly as the
warm water rushed over her.

end part 10
comments welcome

Borrowed Time
part 11/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

Natalie glanced with dismay around her livingroom, hoping
that Nick would not catch her. Every sheet, blanket and towel
that she owned seemed to be tacked up over the windows
in every conceivable manner known to man. She didn't even
want to think about what this was doing to her walls. She
supposed that he really hadn't had much of a choice. He
did need to able to get around the house during the day, as
much as the tub had helped, she certainly wasn't going
anywhere for a while.

"Here you go." Nick reentered the room and handed her the
mug of tea, settling on the couch beside her. "You feeling any

"Much," she replied, sipping from the mug. His ability to boil
water had seemed to have improved with time. "Almost human,"
she commented with a smile. She was gratified to see him return
it. It was good to be able to joke about it again.

"Well, that's certainly a start." He looked her over carefully.
"You feel up to talking about business?"

"Business?," Natalie echoed. "What on earth are you talking
about Nick?"

"You know, your job. The morgue. This whole thing with
Fredrick Martin. You never did ask me what I thought about
any of it."

"That's probably because I knew that you were the one
person that would believe me." Natalie's smile faded quickly. "It
doesn't matter now anyway. Any hope I had of proving that Martin
had falsified those autopsy reports died in the car accident. And I
never did manage to figure out why he would've done it to begin

"Well, after we talked the other night, I decided to do a bit
of checking myself on Dr. Martin." He caught the look of surprise
on her face. "Don't look so shocked. I still have some resources in
this town, you know."

"No, actually I didn't know, Nick." And she wasn't quite sure
that she wanted to either.

"I had Larry Merlin do a background check on your friend
Fredrick Martin." He had actually been quite helpful after he
finished castigating Nick for returning to Toronto so soon.
"He found several interesting pieces of information."

"Such as?" Natalie questioned, her interest piqued.

"Such as the fact that he owns controlling interest in a
small pharmaceutical company called Intex, in fact, he has
poured virtually all his assets into this company over the
past several years, trying to keep it afloat."

"So he's made some bad financial decisions, I still don't
get how that relates to what's going on at the morgue."

"Intex's claim to fame is a drug called Heptagen. Have
you ever heard of it?"

Natalie thought back quickly. "It doesn't ring a bell."

"It made some headlines a few years back, it was being touted
as an alternative to liver transplant. Apparently it has a dramatic
ability to expedite regeneration of damaged liver tissue."

Natalie brightened. "I do remember hearing something about it
now. Wasn't there some problem with it?"

"There was," Nick responded, "it was denied FDA approval in
the States because the patients that were on it had an unusually
high incidence of heart failure."

"Interstitial cardiomyopathy," Natalie murmured. "But if the drug
has already failed to win approval, what does he have left to

"Heptagen failed to win approval in the States, and it's
unlikely to here in Canada, although Toronto General is one of the few
hospitals still using it as an investigational drug. But even if the
overseas market can be salvaged, someone stands to make a
great deal of money."

"Fredrick Martin," Natalie filled in the blank. She sat up
straighter on the couch. "He's trying to skew the study data by
making it seem like the patients died of a variety of unrelated
causes. I threatened to ruin everything six months ago when I
took over doing a lot of the medical post mortems from him. He
had to go back and alter my case files in order to continue the

"He was probably afraid that when you came back to work
you might start to put the pieces together."

"I can't believe I didn't notice it before. I remember something
nagging at me, something that didn't seem to quite add up," Natalie
commented, disgusted. "I never would have missed a common
cause of death linking five unrelated cases in the old days."

"Don't be so hard on yourself, Nat. You had an awful lot on your
mind at the time with Phillip so ill. And you didn't miss it; it just
took a little while to put the pieces together." Nick hated to inject
a negative note, but even if they had the resources of the police
department as they once did, this would be a tough one to put
together. "Now we just have to prove it."

"I'm still not sure how he managed to pull this whole thing off,
that would have been a pretty tricky maneuver for him to manage
by himself," Natalie mused. The old days. "Quill and parchment,"
she uttered suddenly.

"Now you've lost me, Nat." Nick looked at her in some
confusion. "What are you talking about?"

"The old days, or rather the new days," Natalie commented
excitedly. "We now dictate our case files directly into the computer
at the time of the autopsy, it eliminates the need for someone
to transcribe the notes. Call me old fashioned, I never liked the
system. I still kept up my old practice of jotting down notes by
hand at the end of every case. If we can find the notes for those

"We can at least show that they don't correlate with the
computer files as they stand." Nick finished it for her. "It's hardly
iron clad, but it's a least something we can take to Metro. Do you
remember where the notes are?"

"Bottom right hand drawer of my desk in my office
at the morgue."

Nick grinned and inclined his head slightly. "Easy enough.
I'll go there tonight." He could tell by the look on Natalie's face
that she wasn't finished. "What are you thinking?"

"I need to go too, Nick."

"What on earth for, Nat? I'll get in and out. No one will see me."

Natalie thought over the events of the past few days carefully.
"Just before I left to come to your place Saturday night, a body
was brought in from Toronto General. The report from
the hospital listed 'heart failure' as the preliminary cause of death."
She looked at Nick evenly. "I want to re-autopsy that body, Nick.
If he did die of heart failure and Martin listed the cause of death
as something else, we'll have caught him red-handed."

"Absolutely not," he stated firmly. "You are in no condition to
go anywhere, and you know it. Even if you were, you have no
authorization to reexamine that body; you'll get hung out to dry."

"Sometimes it's worth taking a risk to do the right thing, Nick."
Natalie was growing more animated by the minute. "If he's been
doing what we think he has, he has totally dishonored something
that I hold very dear, not to mention the deaths that he might have
caused indirectly by allowing the study to continue. Those
notes might be enough for them to start an investigation,
but they will never convict him on those alone and you know it."

"But at least we will have stopped him from doing it again, Nat."
Nick gently took her hand. " Take it from me, sometimes you
have to compromise in order to protect yourself."

Natalie pulled her hand from him. This wasn't the Nick she knew.
The Nick that always tried to do the right thing. "Is that what you've
been doing for the last thirty years, Nick, compromising yourself
and what you believe in?"

Nick stiffened at her comment and looked away from her. "That
wasn't fair, Nat. I've only done what I had to do."

Natalie pressed him. "But you did go back to him--to them--
LaCroix and Janette? You went back to drinking human blood?"
she hesitated to ask, "to the kill?"

"Never," he shot back. "Never that."

"But you did go back to drinking human blood."
She stated flatly.

"At first I did." Nick rose from the couch and began pacing
the room, still unable to meet her eyes. Didn't she realize how
much it had cost him to walk away that night? "I fell off the wagon
like a cheap drunk. " Nick lowered his voice, "human blood
was the only thing that even began to take away the pain
of losing you." Nick closed his eyes against the memory.
" I know you can't understand this..."

Natalie reached her good hand out to him. "Maybe I
understand more than you think I do." Her own behavior
had been less than...rational when he first left. "What
made you turn it around?"

Nick grasped her hand and resumed his seat
beside her. "You're not going to believe this, but it was

"LaCroix?" she asked carefully. "I'd thought he'd
have been overjoyed with you returning to the fold."

"He was," Nick answered. "At first. Then one day he
came to me and told me to get out, that he was tired
of my moping." Nick smiled wryly. "I guess I must have
been pretty bad."

"I would say so, for LaCroix to ask you to leave,"
Natalie shook her head in disbelief. "So...what happened?"

"I decided that it was either time to take that walk
in the sun...or get on with my life."

Natalie gave his hand a squeeze. "I approve of
your decision. Is this where Janette comes into the

"Actually," he hesitated, "there was someone else. She was
very vibrant, very alive. Everything that I wasn't. She helped me
put things into perspective," he paused, uncertain of how she
would react. "She was very good for me, Nat.

"It shows. You look good, Nick. More at peace with yourself
than I ever remember seeing you." How optimistic they had both
been for a cure when they first started. In the end, it had nearly
killed them both. "So where is she now?"

"I'm not sure," he shrugged. "We parted amiably enough.
She had a lot of things that she still wanted to see and do.
She's still young, only about a hundred and fifty," he tossed
it off easily.

Natalie rolled her eyes. "Well, that explains it." Her face broke
into a warm smile. "I'm happy for you, Nick. Really, I am." She
rested her hand against his cheek. "When I've thought of you
over the years, I hoped that you weren't alone, that you had
managed to find a little happiness." She leaned into him.
"You do deserve it, whether you want to believe it or not."

"I thought you said I was compromising myself?"
He looked at her closely.

"Sorry," she winced. "That was kind of a low blow.
Besides, look who's talking about being compromised."

"What do you mean?"

"Come on, Nick. Surely you've noticed that there is more than
a passing similarity to what Fredrick Martin's doing and some
of the things that I did thirty years ago?"

"It's not the same at all," he stated firmly.

"Sure it is. Let's not kid ourselves, Nick. Fredrick Martin is
altering autopsy reports for his own gain and so did I," she sighed.
"Maybe that's the reason I feel so strongly about this, maybe I
feel like I have something to make up for as well."

"Martin's reasons for doing this are purely financial . Your
reasons were a lot more compelling. You had no choice, Nat."

"Sure I did. There's always a choice. Don't worry." She waved
off his concerned look. "I'm okay with this. I just don't think that
I could do it again." That was almost the worst of it after he left;
coming to terms with some of the things she had done to keep his
secret. She had sworn to herself then that it would never happen

"I promise that I won't ask you to. And I promise I'll do
everything that I can to help you get Martin."

end part 11
comments welcome

Please see standard disclaimers in part one.

Borrowed Time
part 12/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

A sharp rap drew their attention towards the door. Natalie
shifted on the couch and tried to rise. The last hour had been
bliss, her movements reminded her of just how sore she really was.

"I'll get it, Nat." Nick rose from his seat next to her on the sofa.

"It's probably Laurel," Natalie called to him, her voice full of
warning. "Please be careful, Nick, it's awfully bright out there."

"I'll be careful," he smiled back at her. "What are you cautioning
me against, the sun or Laurel? She's already been and gone. I guess
I'll have to take my chances against the sun." He was beginning
to wonder if one were less lethal to him than the other, at least in
this life.

A set of familiar eyes widened as Nick cautiously swung
the door open, a look of disbelief on her face. "Detective Knight?"
she asked in a puzzled voice.

Nick slammed the door shut far more quickly than he had
opened it. "It's Grace Balthazar!" He turned back to face Natalie.
"I thought you said she lived in Florida. What is she doing here?"

"She does live in Florida and I don't know what she's doing
here." Natalie struggled to the edge of the couch. "Nick, you have
to open the door. You can't just leave her standing out there, she's
already seen you."

Nick slowly pulled the door back once again. "Excuse me, Grace,
that was rude." Nick took a step back from the increasing light
as he widened the opening. "Please, come in."

Grace stepped cautiously through the open passageway. "It is
you," she whispered. She had thought for a moment that perhaps
the glare or the airplane food had been to blame. She looked him
over carefully; he hadn't changed a bit, not in the thirty odd years
since she had seen him last. No--she corrected herself--if anything
he looked younger. She remembered that awful, worn look he had
in the months prior to his disappearance. None of that was evident

"Grace!" Natalie's call interrupted her train of thought. "What
are you doing here?" Natalie forced herself to her feet and towards
her old friend.

"Natalie, honey, look at you." Grace wrapped her arms around
Natalie and gave her a light squeeze. She brushed her fingers
lightly against Natalie's bruised face and across her casted
arm. "Are you okay?"

"I'm going to be fine," Natalie replied. The two women sat down,
their arms still wrapped around one another. "You didn't answer
my question, Grace. What are you doing here?"

Grace looked carefully at Natalie's disheveled state. Outwardly,
she was a sight, but the same familiar look was in Natalie's dark
blue eyes as was always there. "Laurel called me late last night,
nearly hysterical with some wild tale of you being in a car accident
and babbling about you having some crazy conspiracy theory about
work." Grace shot a glance across the room to Nick who stood
propped against the doorway of the room. "She also mentioned
that you had fallen under the spell of some young, blond stranger."
Grace turned again to Natalie. "She's very worried about you; I
promised her I'd come up and see what was going on."

Natalie felt the warmth rise in her cheeks. "I appreciate Laurel's
concern, but just why everyone seems to think I have lost my
mind is beyond me." Natalie could feel her resentments boiling
to the surface. "First of all, I was not in an 'accident'. I was quite
purposefully driven off the road." Natalie looked at her old friend.
"Now why do I think that Laurel failed to mention that?"

Grace dropped her eyes to the floor. Laurel had indeed given
her a rather different version of the story. The 'official ' report
apparently stated that Natalie had fallen asleep at the wheel and
that's what Laurel had relayed to her.

Natalie caught the look in Grace's eye. "I thought so. I'm also
perfectly able to back up my ideas on this so-called conspiracy
theory against Fredrick Martin."

"Fredrick Martin?" Grace questioned. "You mean all this
trouble at work is with old 'Fainting Fred'?" She shuddered
at the very thought of him. She had missed her job dearly
when she had retired to Florida, he was one person she
had not missed working
with at all.

Natalie grinned. "So I see there's no love lost between the
two of you either."

"It's not a matter of liking or disliking the man personally,"
Grace returned. Although, in fact, she disliked him very much.
"It was his professionalism, or rather his lack of it that I objected to."
She shook her head. "He just didn't care and it showed in his
work. He had no respect for anyone, not the technicians he
worked with, nor the people that he worked on. If I ever have
to see him again, it'll be too soon.

"Well, if I can prove this maybe you can see him behind bars."
Natalie quickly outlined her case against Martin as it now stood,
as well as her hope to get enough evidence together tonight
to convict him.

Grace followed Natalie's words closely. "So you're planning to
go back to the morgue tonight and do all this?" Grace shook her
head. "Maybe you are crazy, girl. I don't see how you're going to
get away with it, especially with you all banged up like you are."

"It may be the only chance I'll ever get, Grace." Natalie placed
her hand on Grace's. "It's a holiday weekend, the body should
still be there until the funeral home picks it up tomorrow morning.
Nick and I..." Natalie's voice faded. Nick.

Grace turned and looked at him again, although she found herself
not really wanting to. He stood in the same spot, virtually unmoving
and totally silent since she had come in. They were doing some
mean things with plastic surgery these days, laser stuff, but her
eyes simply refused to believe that she was looking at someone
who must be at least sixty-five by her reckoning.

Natalie rose to her feet. "Nick, can I see you in the kitchen?" He
followed her, still silent, into the other room.

Natalie turned and faced him. "What are you going to do?"

"What choice do I have, Nat? She knows that something's
wrong, you can see it all over her face. I have to make
her forget that she's seen me."

"And if that doesn't work?" Natalie looked at him closely.

"We'll cross that bridge when and if we come to it." Nick
turned and moved once again towards the living room. "The
quicker we do this, Nat, the easier it will be."

"Please...don't." Natalie reached out and grabbed his arm. She
could see the surprise on his face, his struggle to understand
what it was she was asking. "At least hear me out, Nick. Grace
has been a friend to me, a true friend for more than thirty-five
years. She was there for me when you left. She was there through
the difficult times with the kids. Even since her move to Florida,
when Phillip was so ill, she was always flying up here to be with
me. I don't want to see you do this to her. I want to tell her the truth."

"Nat, think about what you're asking. You're asking me to take
a very big risk here; you have no idea how she'll react." Nick rested
his hands lightly on her shoulders. "Trust me, it's better this way,
for all of us."

"And what about what you're asking of me, Nick. You breeze
back in here and all of a sudden I have to push everyone else
back out of my life again. It's bad enough that I have to lie to the
kids and give them some cockamamie story about knowing you
that even a five year old wouldn't believe. Now you want me
to lie to Grace as well." She shook off his hands. "I'm not sure it's
worth it to me, Nick. I'm not sure you're worth it. Who's going
to help me pick up the pieces when you decide it's time to move
on again?"

"I'm not going to leave you, Nat," he looked at her evenly.
"Unless you want me to."

"That's not what I want, Nick." Her voice was softer now. "I'm
just not sure I can exclude everyone and everything but you
from my life again. You know Grace; she's one of the most
trustworthy souls you'll ever meet. She knows you. It'll be fine,
you'll see."

"I wish I could believe that." Doubt was clawing at him, but
he could see the resolve in her eyes. "All right, Nat. We'll do it
your way, at least for now." His hand held her still for just a
moment longer. "Just don't be too upset if this doesn't go the
way you hope it will."

"So, are you two going to let me in on your big secret?"
Grace stood as they reentered the room.

"Big secret?" Nick and Natalie looked at one another, replying
almost in unison. Natalie gave her an easy smile. "What makes
you think we have a big secret?"

"I can't think of what else would make you go into the kitchen
and fight, especially when you have company."

"Grace, sit down." Natalie positioned herself in an armchair.
"There is something we need to talk about." Natalie felt a tremor
of fear go through her. Now that she was here, she was beginning
to wonder if this was such a good idea after all. She knew her
friend had some deeply held religious convictions; she tended
to doubt that vampires had any place in Grace's scheme of life.
Nick eased himself onto the arm of her chair. "Grace, you may
have noticed something a bit...unusual about Nick; that he looks
pretty much the way he did when we knew him as Detective
Knight thirty years ago."

"Yes, I have noticed, now that you mention it." Grace gave
Natalie a puzzled look. "And what do you mean 'when we knew
him as Detective Knight'? How else would I know him?"

Natalie took a deep breath. "Grace, the reason Nick looks the
same now as he did then is that he's...immortal." Natalie was glad
she couldn't see Nick's face; she was just sure that he was
rolling his eyes.

"Immortal? What on earth are you talking about?" Grace
furrowed her brow. "You mean like in that old TV series,
what was it...The Highlander?'

"No, not quite like the Highlander." She had never had trouble
saying the word in the past, why the hell was it bothering her so
much to say it now. Was this how Nick felt every time he exposed
himself to a mortal, terrified of the revulsion he was positive he
would see? "Grace, Nick is a vampire."

Grace chuckled loudly and shook her head. "I'll give it to you
both, you really had me going there for a minute. You must
have gone to a lot of trouble to set this up." She looked carefully at
Natalie, waiting for her to laugh. "Is Laurel in on this too? Just
wait til I get my hands on that girl, getting me all the way up
here for this."

"It's not a joke, Grace," Nick stated calmly. "I am a vampire. I
was against telling you, but Natalie felt it was for the best.
She felt uncomfortable keeping it from you any longer."

The smile slid off of Grace's face. She looked around at the
odd assortment of window coverings, taking them in for the first
time. They really weren't joking. That left only one other possible,
rational explanation; they were both seriously delusional and
Laurel had underestimated the seriousness of the situation.
"Natalie, honey, you really can't believe all this."

"Look at him, Grace," Natalie gestured towards Nick, "how
can you deny that? Think back, Grace--he only worked nights.
Don't you remember the skin condition? And the food allergies?
He never ate with us, not so much as a piece of cake at a
birthday party." Natalie struggled to remember all the little things
that never quite added up. "Don't you remember all the wild
tales that Schanke used to tell about him, how Nick always
seemed to be in two places at once?"

The color was draining from Grace's ebony face. "I always
thought that Schanke was exaggerating," she remarked
in a thin voice.

"What about the time he was shot in the head and
pronounced dead in the ER, do you remember that?"
prompted Natalie.

"But he didn't die," finished Grace.

"Because he can't be killed that way," Natalie said it gently,
carefully. She knew what it was like to have your reality blown
out from under you. "Grace, it is true."

Grace stood abruptly. "I just cannot accept this, I'm sorry,
I can't. I'm going to need to leave."

"Grace, wait." Natalie turned and looked at Nick.
"Nick, please."

Nick sighed. Grace's mind may be denying the facts now, but
eventually she'd put the pieces together and realize that they
were telling her the truth. Better for her to face it here, with them,
than somewhere on the outside where she might inadvertently
endanger herself or others with her knowledge. Nick cautiously
slid his hand out into an errant ray of sun and held it there. The
skin almost immediately began to blacken and smoke, the air filled
quickly with the smell of incinerating flesh.

"Nick, stop it." Natalie quickly pulled his hand out of the light.
"I hate it when you do that." She blew on it quickly, as if that
would lessen the damage. "That was not exactly what I had in

"It would seem that it was effective," Nick replied.

Natalie turned her eyes back towards Grace. "So it is true."
Grace sank back down into the couch. She glanced over at the
two, their hands entwined with one another's. Outwardly they
seemed to be the people she had always known and respected. It
amazed her that they could have held so tightly to their secret in
the years that she worked closely with them.

"Nick, why don't you get Grace a drink? That bottle of scotch
should still be over the sink."

"You know I never touch the stuff," Grace managed stiffly.

"I'll make it a double," Nick replied, rapidly heading
into the kitchen.

"I don't get this, I don't get any of this," Grace mumbled, shaking
her head. "He was a cop...and.." She couldn't bring herself to
say the word. "And where do you come into this? I still remember the
night that Joe Stonetree introduced him around."

Nick returned and handed Grace the glass. "That wasn't
exactly the first time that we met. I knew Natalie for a while
before I started with Metro."

Natalie smiled and squeezed his hand. "Nick was a
dissatisfied customer. He was brought in after being killed
in an explosion, trying to help someone," she carefully
emphasized the words. "He was very dead when he came to
me, he just didn't stay that way." Natalie glanced at her watch.
They still had some preparations to make if they wanted to get
down to the morgue shortly after dark. "Grace, I'm sure you
have a million questions, but right now, I have a favor to ask you."

Grace took another sip of her drink. "A favor? Now? I'm
afraid I'm about done in here, Natalie."

Natalie crossed the room and sat down beside Grace on the
couch. "I know this has been a big shock, but if we're going to
catch Martin, we need to do it tonight. I'm afraid I'm going to be
pretty useless at the physical stuff." Natalie lifted up her casted
arm. "Nick can do the gross autopsy work, but I need you to do
the histological stuff."

"I am still not convinced that this is the right thing to do,"
Nick interjected from across the room. "You have the make and
model of your car imprinted on your chest, for goodness
sake, Nat. The only place that you should be going is back to bed."

"Don't start that with me again, Nick." Natalie rose to her
feet. "I am going to the morgue tonight, with or without either
one of you." Natalie swept her glare between the two of them, but
her tone softened. "Although I do admit that it would be a great
deal easier if you two would come and help."

"All right, all right." Nick closed the gap between them and
rested his hands lightly on her arms. "You win. I'm in."

Natalie flashed him a grin before turning to Grace. "Grace?"

"I have no idea why I'm doing this, but I'll come along too."

"Great," Natalie responded. "Grace, would you mind?"
Natalie indicated her cast. "I think I'm going to need a bit
of help getting dressed."

Grace took another mouthful from her drink. "You get started,
honey, I'll be right up." Grace watched as Natalie painfully ascended
the stairway. She turned and looked carefully at Nick. No matter
who or what he might be, she had waited thirty years to say this,
goodness knows she wouldn't be around in another thirty if he
suddenly decided to slip away again. "You almost killed her when
you left, you know."

"I would've killed her if I'd stayed," he replied softly.

"I'm serious." Grace could feel the warmth of the scotch
settling on her. "Between Laura Haines' suicide, then Tracy getting
killed and you disappearing on top of it all, she just about lost
her mind. I was really afraid we were going to lose her." Grace
glanced at his hand and felt a chill as she realized that the flesh
that had been charred a few, short, moments ago was now
completely healed.

"I was being serious too," Nick hesitated, uncertain of how
to proceed. "Our relationship had reached a point...*we* had
reached a point where I would either kill her, or turn her into
what I am." Nick glanced up at the now vacant stairwell. "I couldn't
do that to her, she deserved so much more. She deserved to have
a man love her openly and honestly, as I could not. She deserved to
have children. I think I made the best decision that I could at the

"If you think that, then what are you doing back here?" Grace
paused. "Let me guess, now that she's a dried up old lady like
me, the temptation's not there any more?"

Nick smiled casually. "You can think that if you like." He
shifted his eyes up the stairs again. "That's probably what she
thinks too. You couldn't be further from the truth; the experiences
that she's had, the life that she's lived make her even more
compelling to me now than she was then."

"So you're saying that you're still in love with her."

Nick turned quickly and faced her. "What makes
you say that?"

Grace chuckled, "Come now, Detective, you weren't
particularly good at hiding it thirty years ago and you haven't
gotten any better with time. You still look at her the same way
now as you did then."

Nick's face fell. "Please don't tell her. She's still very much in
love with her husband," he paused, "she probably always will
be. For right now, I just want to be her friend."

Grace struggled to her feet. She was beginning to see what so
many people found attractive about scotch. "Don't worry, Nick.
Your secret's safe with me, in fact, both your secrets are." She
touched him lightly on the arm before heading up the stairs.

end part 12
comments welcome

Borrowed Time
part 13/14
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

Nick stepped through the swinging doors and stopped dead
in his tracks. He carefully studied the large, clinically lit room
that surrounded him. It had barely changed since he had been here
last, thirty years ago now. The equipment was a little more streamlined,
the furnishings rearranged a bit, but this was the same room where
so long ago they had acted out so much of their lives.

"The Province doesn't spend a whole lot of its money redecorating
morgues." Natalie gripped his arm tightly. "I'm afraid we don't have
time for this right now, Nick. Dinner break won't last forever, and I
don't fancy getting caught."

Natalie's words propelled him forward. "All right, boss, where
do we get started?"

"Right here." Natalie sat down at the computer terminal and
quickly accessed their current roster of clients. "He's still here.
Edwin Robbins, aged fifty-two, brought over from Toronto General
on Saturday evening."

"Has the post been done?" Grace peered curiously over Natalie's
shoulder. Life had gotten far too dull in that retirement community
anyway, she thought to herself. She had missed this far more than
she had realized.

"It has." Natalie continued to scan the available information. "By
Dr. Fredrick J. Martin. That's interesting, I know for a fact that he
wasn't on call all weekend."

"Are you going to keep us all waiting or what? What does it
say?" Grace leaned eagerly into Natalie's chair.

"Relax, Grace," Natalie smiled, "I want to be sure that we get
everything. The official cause of death was listed by Martin
as a pulmonary embolus, a blood clot to the lungs. That should
be easy enough to check." She continued to read the report
carefully. That's a change from what the attending physician
listed as a preliminary cause when he pronounced him dead
at the hospital. It would also produce similar enough symptoms
to a drug induced cardiomyopathy that it wouldn't arouse anyone's
suspicions. Keep your fingers crossed boys and girls, we could
be finally getting lucky here."

"Is there any mention of the Heptagen?" Nick asked. It seemed
that they were making some awfully quick assumptions. He
just didn't want to see Natalie devastated if this whole thing turned
out to be a false alarm.

"That's what I'm looking for now." Natalie tapped the screen
impatiently as the information scrolled by. "He was on a slew of
cardiac drugs at the end. No, I don't see it here."

The disappointment was evident on Grace's face. "Does
that mean we're wrong?"

"Not necessarily. They may have only listed the drugs he was
on at the time of his death. It doesn't rule out the fact that he may
have been on it at some point prior to that." Natalie remarked.
"Says here that he's in bay twelve. Are you ready?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," Grace replied. She wondered idly what
the penalty for this might be if they were caught, and if Natalie
could possibly be wrong.

"How about you?" Natalie whispered to Nick. He had been
awfully quiet since they had arrived at the morgue. "Are you okay?"
She looked at him carefully. "I hate to ask Grace to do this, with
her arthritis being so bad, but if you don't think you can handle it."

"I'll manage," Nick murmured, "there shouldn't be much blood
anyway." The little detour from the hospital last night had caught
him unprepared; it had been a long time since he had fed, he
could feel the beginnings of hunger gnawing at him.

"We can always fall back on the morgue supply," suggested
Natalie, keeping her voice low as well.

Nick flicked his eyes towards Grace. "I don't want..."

"I know." Natalie rubbed her hand up and down his arm. Grace's
acceptance of the situation, of him, was tenuous at best. Watching
him gulp down a unit of O-neg would do nothing to help their
cause. "Let's get to it."

Grace had retrieved the body from the large storage refrigerator,
carefully checking him for the proper identification.
"This is him, Edwin Robbins. How do you want to do this?"

Natalie considered the options. "I don't think we should record
this into the system; there's no telling whose hands it might
fall into." Natalie hoped that this little foray from standard
procedure wouldn't be too hard for Grace to handle. She had
always maintained the highest of standards in her work at the
morgue. "I think we should just open him up and see what we see.
If it looks like everything was done properly, we call it a night, if
not, well, we'll see."

Nick stripped off his suitcoat and rolled up his sleeves quickly
snapping on a pair of latex gloves. He hesitated for a moment
before picking up the heavy surgical scissors and cutting into
the large, oversewn Y shaped incision that transected the body.
As often as he had seen Natalie do this in the past, he was
unprepared for the intensity of his reaction. There was something
about cutting into the cold, pale flesh that he found totally disconcerting.
He placed the scissors down after cutting the incision
and manually opened the chest cavity.

"The internal organs should be bagged and inside the
abdominal cavity," Natalie commented from her position
at the far end of the table.

"They are," he replied, handing the bags off to her,
one by one.

Struggling with her one, good hand Natalie looked over the
organs closely. "They've never even been touched; there's no
evidence of samples being taken from any of these." She turned
and called to Grace. "What do the records say?"

Grace quickly scrolled through the file. "Tissue samples taken
from the heart and lungs and placed on file."

"Got him! Even if I'm wrong about everything else, we can still
get him on falsification of documentation." Natalie continued
to inspect the organs. "But I'm betting we're right on target here.
This heart is dramatically enlarged, and the lungs are heavy, full
of fluid would be my guess. All findings consistent with a
sudden onset cardiomyopathy."

"So we're done here then?" Grace queried.

"Not quite," responded Natalie. "I want to get a look at this
cardiac tissue under the microscope. Call me a perfectionist; I want
to be absolutely sure before we call the authorities." Natalie
fumbled awkwardly with her casted arm. "Grace, do you mind?"

With expert precision Grace made a thin slice into the heart
muscle and mounted it carefully under the microscope.

Natalie peered into the eyepiece. "There, look." She gestured
enthusiastically to Nick. "Don't you see it? There is focal
myocytolysis of the myocardium with interstitial and focal
perivascular infiltration of lymphocytes. Everything that I've been

Nick looked up from the microscope, a bemused expression
on his face.

"What, you don't agree?" she asked heatedly. "It's exactly
the same as in the earlier cases. Everything points to a drug
induced cardiomyopathy."

"Nat, all I see are a bunch of squiggly lines," he kissed her
lightly on the temple, "and just how smart you really are. Now, let's get
this wrapped up and call the authorities. It's been too long a night
for you already, and they're going to have a lot of questions."

Natalie's mind was reeling. "I think we should call Metro and let
them know what's going on. They can take control of the scene
immediately. I'll have to inform the Provincial Board as well. I'm
sure they'll want to bring in an objective team of investigators
to look into this." She looked up into his blue eyes. "You can't be
a part of this, you need to go."

"I know." He hated to leave her. It was going to be a very long
night and she already looked like hell. "Don't worry, I was
careful not to touch anything without gloves on. I'll get out
of here. Just let me give you a hand straightening up first."

"Grace and I can do this. Would you mind running up to my
office and getting those notes I mentioned? They still might
be helpful in putting a case together."

"No problem, " he responded. "Do you have the key?"

"Of course not," she smiled. "Why do you think I'm asking
you to go? I trust you haven't lost your touch?"

"Ahh, no." He returned her grin. "I don't think it'll be a problem.
Fifth floor, bottom draw," he reiterated. "I'll be right back."

"Natalie," Grace's voice called from the refrigerator. "I think you
better come take a look at this." She waited until Natalie joined
her before continuing. "Isn't that...?"

"Fredrick Martin," Natalie answered. He lay on one of the
stretchers, the sheet slid carelessly to the side. A rather
significant portion of his skull was missing, but his identity was

"That's right, you've been...away. You missed our big excitement
this morning," Nancy Cruz's voice echoed in the hollow confines
of the large refrigerator. "Poor Dr. Martin killed himself, right
upstairs in his office."

Natalie regarded her warily. Nancy's sudden, timely appearances
were starting to seem a little too frequent to be merely coincidence.
"Now just why would he do something like that?"

Nancy lounged against the doorway to the fridge, effectively
blocking their exit. "Oh, I don't know. He was under an awful lot
of pressure to make this drug deal go through. Quite a bit of
political muscle went into securing this job for him, just to assure
that their would be no further problems. Those people were
waiting to be paid." She carefully withdrew her hand from her
jacket and revealed the gun that she held in it. "Or it could be
that he felt you were getting too close to the truth." Nancy looked
intensely at Natalie. "Were you getting too close, Dr. Lambert?"

Natalie heard Grace gasp behind her as she stared at the barrel
of the gun that was pointed directly at the two of them. "Should I
assume that your use of the past tense is intentional?" Natalie
responded. She had realized that others must be involved for
Martin to have pulled this off. Nancy Cruz would have been a
logical choice, she certainly had the access and apparently
the motivation as well.

"Oh, you mean this?" Nancy regarded the gun in her hand.
"I really wasn't planning anything quite so crude. But, then again,
who would have thought that you would have survived the
car 'accident?'"

"That was you?" Natalie asked incredulously. She had never
been too fond of Nancy, but she found it hard to believe that the
woman that she had worked closely with for almost three
years could be capable of something like this.

"I'm afraid so," replied Nancy, a thin icy smile on her lips. "I
couldn't let you bring those samples to the police; not when
we were so close to success. I think this will be better in the
long run though, more fitting. You and your ever loyal assistant,
Grace, dead of hypothermia in your own refrigerator. How touching."

"You're not going to get away with this," Natalie reasoned.
Her eyes flashed to the open room beyond Nancy's form. If she
could just keep things cool, keep Nancy talking; Nick would be
back any minute with the notes from her office upstairs. "There's
too much traffic through here, someone is going to find us
before very long."

"Oh, but I am getting away with it," she answered smugly.
"Bodies are being diverted to other morgues in respect to
the passing of our fearless leader," she said sarcastically.
"I graciously offered to hold down the fort tonight. It might be
quite some time before you're found." Nancy glanced at the
watch on her wrist, as if she needed to emphasize the point.
"Unfortunately, I have a plane to catch. You see, Intex and al
l the rights to Heptagen were bought by a Japanese firm. The
deal went through this morning."

"Before or after Martin killed himself?" Natalie questioned.

"Before," Nancy answered, the bitterness evident in her voice.
"Martin was a fool. He was more interested in the prestige of being
Chief Medical Examiner than he was in the money. Once it became
obvious that he would be exposed, he killed himself. It wasn't
enough for him to lie on a deserted beach somewhere, he wanted
the glory as well." Nancy smiled. "Fortunately, I have no such
problem. Now if the two of you don't mind stepping back
against that wall."

Nick had walked slowly through autopsy room. Just inside the
refrigerator door, he could catch the occasional glimpse of a
young woman as she stood with a gun pointed at Natalie and
Grace. From the snatches of conversation he could hear, he
realized that she must somehow be involved in all of this. What
he couldn't count on was her not firing that gun, but leaving
them to a slow death by hypothermia.

"Metro Homicide," he was amazed at how easily the long
forgotten words sprang to his lips, "drop the gun and turn around
with your hands up."

Nancy spun. It was impossible. There was no way the police
could have entered the building without her being aware of it. She
turned and fired towards the voice without a thought for the

Nick felt more surprise than pain as the slug passed through him.
The glass of the instrument cabinet shattered as the bullet struck,
sending a spray of glass throughout the room. In a movement too
quick for the mortal eye to follow, Nick was on her. He threw
Nancy's body into the wall of the freezer with far more force than
he intended, her gun cascading uselessly from her hand. Nick felt
the beast rise within him; his anger at Natalie's assailant and his
hunger rapidly overtaking him. He could hear the rapid pounding
of her heart in her chest as her blood called to him.

"Nick!" Natalie was behind him in what seemed to be an
instant. "Don't," she paused. "She's not worth it."

The sound of Natalie's voice brought him back from the edge of
his darkness. He felt his grip lessen on the terrified young woman.
He looked closely into her eyes. "You never saw me," he intoned.

"Never saw... "she mumbled in response.

Nick eased Nancy to the floor. He turned and faced Natalie, his
eyes still heavily laced with gold. "I think you better see to Grace,"
he glanced across the room. "She doesn't look very well."

Natalie made her way to Grace's side. She was slumped against
the wall, her face ashen. "He really is..." was the best she could
seem to manage.

"Yeah, he really is," Natalie responded gently. She'd never
forgive herself if all proved to be too much for Grace to handle.
In the background she could hear the wail of a siren as it came
closer to the Coroner's Building. She looked over at Nick for

"I called it in before I came into the room," he answered her
unspoken question. He smiled, his eyes delightfully blue. "An
anonymous tip."

"You need to go," said Natalie, her tone serious. "You can't let
them see you here." Natalie looked at the still befuddled looking
Nancy Cruz. "Will she...?"

"I think it'll be okay," he responded. Nick reached down and
picked up the gun with the sleeve of his coat and handed it to
Natalie. "Are you sure you can handle this? I hate to just leave you
here." He gently ran his hand across her casted wrist. "You should
really still be in the hospital

With the medication long gone from her system, the pain in
her head and wrist were verging on unbearable once again.
It was all she could do to keep her knees from buckling on her.
"I'll manage," she answered tightly. "I have to." Natalie glanced
back at Grace. "I think she'll go along with anything I say. I'm not
sure she's in much shape to do anything else. This has been
quite a night for her too."

Nick could hear the main entrance to the building being entered
forcibly and a rush of footfalls towards the morgue. "That's it
then. I'll see you soon." He kissed Natalie lightly on the
forehead and was gone.

end part 13
comments welcome

Once again I would like to thank Rebecca Tanner, Linda Rose
Pierce, Mei Kwong and Nancy Kaminski for their help with this
story. I appreciate all your efforts.

Borrowed Time
part 14/ epilogue
by Kathy Whelton
c 1997

Nick poured the remainder of the bottle of champagne into
his own glass and held it out in salute. "To the city's new Chief
Medical Examiner."

"*Acting* Chief Medical Examiner," Natalie corrected from the
other end of the table. "There's a big difference. Believe me, they
are going to be looking for someone much better suited to this than
I am as quickly as possible." Once she had cleaned up the mess
left by her predecessor, she added silently to herself. No one had
been eager to take on this political hot potato, which is how they
had come to approach her. Not to mention what a popular figure
she had become in the press once everything had become public.

Natalie, in turn, lifted her glass towards Grace Balthazar. "And
to my Administrative Assistant." Without Grace's support Natalie
doubted whether she would have been brave enough to take
on the job. The task that lay ahead of her seemed enormous at

Natalie returned her glass to the table and faced the meal
in front of her. It did look delicious. When Nick had proposed
a celebratory dinner for her and the kids at his place, she had
more than a moment of concern. She also knew he had his
own reasons for wanting to do it. He felt a real need to lay to
rest the concerns that her family had about him. Natalie glanced
around the large, open room. At least their concerns about his
financial stability would be eased by this visit. No longer constrained
by the need to appear to be living on a cop's salary, Nick had been a
bit more...ostentatious when he had done over his living space.
The room was dotted with some rather impressive tapestries and
artwork. One entire end of the chamber was dominated by an immense
fireplace; his ornate mantle scarcely fitting around the opening in the
hearth. She wondered how closely he had patterned all this on the
greatrooms of his mortal days.

Nick pushed the food around on his own plate before
glancing down the table at Natalie. He smiled as he watched her
so obviously enjoying the meal that he had prepared. The little
adventure that night at the morgue had landed her back in the
hospital for a couple of days; this time with no one willing to
facilitate an escape. In the weeks since that night, she had only
grown stronger and more sure of herself and tonight, lit by the
candles on the dinner table, she looked absolutely stunning. He
already found himself looking forward to the time when they
would be alone.

Nick rose from the table and began refilling everyone's glass.
He felt Grace stiffen as he reached past her to pour the wine into
her glass. He was surprised that she had even agreed to come
tonight. As much as she might try to conceal it, it was quite obvious
to him that he made her extremely uncomfortable. She had been
cooperative, not only about concealing his presence at the
morgue, but she had helped smooth his path with Natalie's children
as well. She had made it plain that he would not live to see eight
hundred and thirty-two if he hurt Natalie again as he had before, but
her discomfort ran deeper than that and he knew it. The taking of
even a single, human life was abhorrent to her. Once she had the
time to put together what he was and the things that he had done,
she had found it difficult to accept him as a friend. For that, he could
hardly blame her. He suspected that she had accepted Natalie's job
offer more because of him than in spite of him. He just hoped that
he would not be the wedge that would drive she and Natalie apart.
Natalie needed all the friends she could get right now.

"This place is incredible." Laurel Rhys came up behind her
mother as Natalie stood looking at the fireplace. It was amazing to
her that he had still held on to so many of his possessions from
the past, let alone that he managed to move them around with him
wherever he went. "I guess maybe I was wrong about Nick. At
least it would seem that he isn't interested in you for your money"

"Yes, it is," Natalie murmured, running her hand over the
ornate wood of the mantle. How close she had come to losing
everything that night in front of this mantle. It was impossible
to think of her life now without Phillip or the children in it.

"Mother," Laurel said firmly. "I'm trying to apologize to you.
You could at least pay attention."

"Sorry." Natalie turned and smiled at her daughter. The light
from the fire danced in the auburn highlights in Laurel's hair.
If only she knew the drama that was replaying in her mother's mind.
"I was listening. I was just...remembering something."

"I said I was sorry." Laurel looked into her mother's eyes. "It
would seem that I was wrong about a lot of things, not just Nick.
I doubted you and I'm sorry for that."

Natalie knew that they were words that did not come easily
to her daughter. "I guess your old mother hasn't lost it quite yet?"

"I'm never going to hear the end of this, am I?" Laurel slid
her arm around her mother's waist. "I promise that I will never, ever
doubt you again."

"Never, ever," Natalie responded. "That's quite a long time. You
better hope that I don't hold you to that." She gave her daughter
a squeeze. "I know that you were only worried about me, and I
appreciate it. Next time though, could you give me just a little
more credit?"

"It's a deal," Laurel responded, hugging her mother closely.

"I think that worked out pretty well." Nick closed the door
on the last of the guests and settled down on the couch next to
Natalie. "I think that maybe Laurel is starting to like me."

"Oh you do, do you?" Natalie smiled up at him. "I have news
for you, Nick, that was an act. But I do think that she is beginning
to come around. You certainly have Richard won over and Nicholas
is usually pretty easy. He'll be on semester break from McGill next
week, if you let him practice his French on you, he'll be your
biggest fan."

Nick smiled easily. "I'll try and remember." He looked into the
fire. Sitting here with her, it was so easy to let the years slip away,
to pretend that the last three decades had never happened.

"You know, you've been awfully quiet since this whole thing
broke, anything you'd like to share with me?"

"It shows, does it?" Nick slid his arm around her shoulder and
pulled her closer.

"To me it does. Come on, Nick. I know how much running
into Grace upset you. I don't want you to have to live like a hermit
just to be near me."

"It's not just that." Nick took a deep breath. "I guess I was
hoping that when this thing with Martin was over, you might
retire after all." Nick shifted so that he could face her. "The world's
a big place, Nat. There're so many things I want to show you,
so many places I want you to see."

"While we still have time you mean?" As easily as Nick had
seemed to dismiss the changes that the future had brought,
she could never quite forget that they were living on borrowed time.

"I didn't say that," he responded.

"No you didn't," she stated firmly. "I did. "We'll still have time
to travel, Nick. I promise. It's important to me to get the Coroner's
Office back on its feet; to get back some of the trust the public lost
when this thing hit the papers." It had been very tempting to just walk
away once she had been vindicated. She had even gone so far as to
write up her resignation. In the end, she knew that she had to finish
the job she had started. "You can understand that, can't you?
And besides, I'll have you know that I'm not the simple Provincial girl
that you once knew," she smiled brightly. "I've been to Paris."

"You have?" Nick responded eagerly. So much of his life and
death were wrapped up in that city. He sorely regretted not sharing
it with her when they had the chance. "When was that?"

"Phillip took me for our fifth wedding anniversary. Just the two
of us, we left Laurel and Richard at home, Nicholas wasn't even
born yet." Natalie's face tightened as she talked. "I looked for you,"
she said soberly. "I don't know what came over me. It had been
almost eight years and suddenly I had to find you."

"Nat, it's all right. You don't have to..."

"But I want to, Nick. It's important for me to say this." She laid
her hand gently on his chest. "We went for a week. It was
supposed to be the honeymoon we never had." Natalie rolled
her eyes towards the ceiling. "Phillip must have thought I'd gone
insane. Night after night I left him sitting in our suite at the
Georges V while I prowled the nightclubs of Paris looking for
something, anything that might lead me to you."

"What happened?" Nick asked quietly.

"I never found anything, of course." Natalie smiled at the
memory. "I don't why I ever thought I would. There I was, in Paris,
with a husband who loved me, and whom I loved. Two kids
at home who desperately needed their mother and I was roaming
around a strange city asking questions that were going to get me
killed." She looked across the room, it was much easier than facing
him. "I gave you up that morning, Nick.. I sat and watched the sun
rise and let go of whatever hold you still had on my heart. After that
I went back to the hotel and made love to my husband
without worrying about calling out your name." Natalie shook her
head. "Poor Phillip--he never asked what came over me--but he
never took me to Paris again either."

Nick struggled to keep his face neutral. He had been under no
delusions about how she had felt about Phillip. It was obvious
that she had loved him very much. What he had hoped was that
there was still some small spark held for him, as he had held for
her. "Why do I get the feeling you're telling me this for a reason,

"I'm not blind, Nick. I think I know what's going on. "Natalie
dropped her eyes to the floor. "I guess I was being selfish in not
telling you this before you went to all the trouble of moving up
here--but I just don't feel about you the same way I used to.
I hope you can understand that."

"So how does this make you selfish?"

"Because I wanted you to move here," she answered
honestly. "I'm in rather desperate need of a friend, a good
friend, and I was hoping that you would fit the bill." Natalie
felt hot tears stinging her eyes. "I lost far more than even I
imagined when Phillip died. Not only was he my partner, my lover,
he was my best friend too. The only other person I ever even
came close to that with was you. I was kind of hoping we might
be able to get that back. I just don't want to get your hopes up
that there could ever be more than that between us."

"Why do I get the definite feeling here that I'm being dumped?"
he said it lightly, trying to push the pain that he felt away.

"You're not being dumped," she copied his lighthearted tone.
"I value your friendship more than you can ever imagine," she
continued more seriously. "I just hope that's going to be enough."

Nick thought back to the time when they really were the 'just
friends' that they had always claimed to be. Before their relationship
had some how managed to become more than that. Those were
some of the happiest times that he could recall in his long life.
"Friends." He stuck his right hand out and shook hers solemnly.

Natalie nestled into the couch. "So what do you want to do
with the rest of the night? I could pop in a disc."

Nick slid his arm around her shoulders. "Why don't we talk? You
never have said much about Phillip, you know."

"Phillip?" She waved her hand dismissively. "You don't want
to talk about him." She could feel her heart pounding in her throat
at the sound of his name. Already she felt the sting as acquaintances
tactfully changed the topic whenever she mentioned his name. How
many friends that they had shared as a couple had already drifted
away? Besides, why would Nick ,of all people, want to hear this?

"Of course I do," he answered gently. He brushed an errant
lock of hair from her forehead. He'd do anything if he could help
ease the pain that he knew she still held, locked inside her. "I know
I haven't been the best role model in the world, but it really helps
to talk about the ones you've loved that are gone. It keeps them
close in your heart."

Natalie felt her eyes mist over. "If you're sure," she paused to
collect her thoughts. "I met Phillip when I decided to take a class
in creative writing at the University..."

The End

Constructive criticism and virtual chocolate gratefully accepted
at Hopefully, this story will be
up on my FK fiction page next week.