This is a bit late, Nick&Nat Valentine's Day story, which just
about everybody else barged in on. There are references to Bad
Blood, BMV, Black Buddah, Fever, and probably some other eps along
the way.

Daddy Doesn't Live Here Anymore
by Susan B.
based on characters from Forever Knight, etc.

After heading north for over an hour, Mark finally steered the black rental sedan off the secondary highway. He followed a rutted gravel road west for two miles. When he reached a slightly battered red mailbox, he turned left into a narrow, snow dusted driveway lined with tall pines. He turned a bend and spotted a single building in the distance. It matched the description he had been given -- one storey, grey fieldstone, one window in front, dark wooden door. "There's always a dark wooden door," Mark muttered as he continued slowly up the driveway. He pulled in behind a dark blue jeep parked near the building, then deftly heaved his six foot frame out of the car. He stood for a moment to breathe in the cold air, laden with the scent of pine. It was so still and silent here. The only visible sign of life was the grey smoke billowing out from a stone chimney on the roof.

Pulling his thick suede jacket more snugly around him, Mark ambled through the shallow snow and up the steps. He stood at the front door and knocked hard twice. After waiting impatiently for several minutes, the door finally creaked open. A handsome dark haired man with soft hazel eyes met him.

"You're early," Steven mumbled as he pushed the door wide open.

"Not as early as all that," Mark huffed, scrutinizing the green terry bathrobe Steven wore. "It's almost ten. You were to expect me at 10:15." Mark entered and surveyed the dim interior. It was fittingly plain with its wooden plank floors, beamed ceilings, and dull beige walls. To the right was a small open kitchen with the typical appliances, a large plank table and four simple chairs. Beyond the kitchen, a short hallway led to the back rooms. The large main living area sported an overstuffed rose coloured sofa and armchair, laid out invitingly in front of the floor to ceiling stone fireplace.

"I was just about to ask you where she was," Mark quipped as a door in the hallway opened and a tall redhead emerged. Noting her dishevelled clothing, Mark glared at Steven. "You know the rules," he whispered hotly, "especially with an apprentice." While he could never condone his protege's indiscretion, he could certainly understand it. Michelle was indeed a temptress... high cheekbones, full lips, large green eyes. The current tousled look of her long auburn hair only accentuated her natural sensuality. It wasn't often that vampire hunters were graced with such seductive bait in their midst.

Mark hadn't met Michelle before, but did learn from her file that she was third generation. Her grandfather had been bitten and cleansed with the holy water, and was an extraordinarily proficient hunter in his time. While neither of her own parents had shown any talent whatsoever, she was born with the inner sense. Mark knew all about that rush, the one that tingled through one's veins whenever a vampire was near. The downside was if you were close enough to the vampire to experience it and you weren't in a very public place, you were dead. Steven was a hunter by direct blood rather than parentage, yet he lacked any inner sense. He had been bitten only six years ago by a female that Mark had been tracking. She had barely sunk her fangs into Steven's unenlightened neck when Mark's stake made direct contact with her undead heart. For all of their heightened senses, Mark mused, their one track minds allowed for extreme vulnerability at dinner time.

"Have you felt any sign of them in Toronto?" Mark asked when Michelle arrived at Steven's side.

"We have a couple of the more exclusive clubs left to check out," Steven explained.

"There's one in particular I want you to visit," Mark announced. "The Raven."

Michelle and Steven eyed each other. "That's on our list for tonight," Michelle offered. "Mere coincidence?"

"I found the name in Liam's dossier," Mark replied. "He was in Toronto on a case just over a year ago."

"O'Neil, out of Ireland?" Steven asked.

"That's him," Mark confirmed. "He was killed last week in a skirmish and I only retrieved his dossier a couple of days ago. His final message concerning the Toronto case was, 'Original target dispatched. Lost apprentice. Inconclusive whether further problem exists'." Mark looked straight at Michelle. "His apprentice's name was 'Bridget'. Very eager, barely trained. She was only supposed to report on his progress and assist behind the scenes, but took it on herself to plunge into the deep end. Very adept in creating identities, falsifying records, that sort of thing." Mark intensified his stare at Michelle. "She could have proven extraordinarily useful," he said, "but she didn't do as she was told and she died."

Steven was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to heed Mark's warning. "Inconclusive?" he muttered. "That's not like the Liam I knew."

"No, you're right, it's not," Mark commented sombrely. "But we haven't had any cause to come back here until now."

"So, now that all three of us have gathered together on foreign soil, are you going to tell us what you're really looking for?" Steven asked.

Mark smiled for the first time since he arrived. "I'm rather sceptical myself," he said, "but it has to be investigated. We've heard rumours that someone in Toronto has created some kind of a germ that kills vampires." Mark stole a glance at his watch and immediately headed for the door. "I have to get back to Toronto and catch a flight to Chicago," he explained. "Beth's all alone there."

* * * * *

A thundering noise roused Natalie from her sleep late that afternoon. She tossed out her right arm and smacked the snooze button on her alarm clock three times before she realized it was the telephone that was making all the racket. "Damn," Nat mumbled. She stretched her arm out to the phone and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Did I wake you?" Nick teased, already knowing he had from the grogginess in her voice.

Natalie pried open her reluctant eyes. She smoothed back the hair from her face before glancing at the digital clock. "Uh, yeah, as a matter of fact. I wasn't going to get up for another hour. You're up kind of early aren't you?"

"Couldn't sleep," Nick told her. It was the truth, he hadn't had a decent day's sleep for almost a week.

"Ahh," Nat sighed, "and if you don't sleep... I don't sleep?"

"That's not it at all," Nick proclaimed. "I just know you're
back on nights starting tonight and wondered if you wanted to ride
in with me."

"Oh is that all," Nat said, mocking disappointment. "Here I
thought you might want to know what I'm wearing or something." She
involuntarily gazed down at her two piece plaid flannel pyjamas and
idly wondered what his reaction would be.


Nat rolled her eyes as her mind created a mental image of the blank expression gracing Nick's face at that moment. "Pick me up at six?thirty?"

"See you then." Nick hung up the phone, relieved that she
accepted his offer. Ever since *that* Valentine's Day, he liked to
keep her close during this threatening time of February. Part of
his motivation was out of fear of what LaCroix might do. The rest
was simple guilt over never revealing to her how very close she had
come to death that night. But what other choice did he have?
Condemn her to the living hell that he endured, or relinquish her
to the whims of an exceedingly unstable vampire ?? one who could,
and often did, recast himself from lucid to lunatic in the blink of
an eye.

Two and a half hours later, Nick was knocking at Nat's
apartment door. He surprised her with a small bouquet of red roses
when she invited him in.

Natalie beamed. "What are these for?"

Nick leaned over and kissed her cheek. "An apology... for
waking you up."

Natalie breathed in the fragrant perfume of the roses. "You
really should wake me up more often," she suggested. "I haven't
even seen a rose since last summer, let alone inhaled their scent."

"Are you about ready to go?" Nick asked.

"Just let me get these in some water." Nat carefully retrieved the crystal vase Nick had given her for Christmas from the bookshelf. She carried it into the kitchen and filled it with cold water. After arranging the roses, she placed the vase on the counter that separated the dining area from the living room. She
eyed them appreciatively for a moment before returning to Nick.
"Thank you," she said, "they really brighten the place up."

"No. You really brighten the place up," Nick said. 'You really brighten my life up,' he added to himself, captivated by her blush.

Natalie chuckled. "Thank you for that too," she said gaily.
She pushed her hand playfully into his chest. "Now let's be off
before that charm of yours turns me into an unredeemable piece of

"That is an enticing picture," Nick teased, as he helped her
into her coat.

They remained in jovial spirits all the way to the morgue. It pained Nick to part with her there, knowing the rest of his night would be spent delving into a much more gruesome side of humanity. He pulled the caddy over to the curb, got out and walked around to the passenger side. "I'll stop by during my break," he told her as he opened the door.

"I'll see you then," Nat said. She walked up the steps and
turned around to wave goodbye.

Nick called up to her as he opened his door. "Hey, Nat?"


"What were you wearing when I called?" he teased.

Natalie laughed, remembering those plaid pyjamas. "Trust me,
Nick," she shouted down to him, "you really don't want to know."

LaCroix had been sitting idly at a corner table in the club
all evening. It was almost midnight when his attention was suddenly
drawn to a commotion. Alma tore through the front door and was
scrambling towards the bar. She almost slid to a stop in front of
Janette, and the two women exchanged brisk words. LaCroix focused
his senses on the couple and caught their conversation in mid?

"...I didn't recognize the woman, but the man's a hunter,"
Alma said. "I saw him in Paris four years ago. He was with two
others. The three of them got six of us over a period of two weeks
before they were finally satisfied and left."

Janette eyed her friend inquisitively. "I see. And you alone
escaped to tell the tale?"

"No, it wasn't like that at all," Alma conceded. "I didn't
learn that he was one of the hunters until the entire community met
to discuss dispersement."

Still sitting in his corner, LaCroix inwardly cringed at the
thought of hunters in the city. He had already received two
warnings from the enforcers since his arrival in Toronto. The first
concerned the museum guard he had killed and left out for
discovery. The second was an extremely severe chastisement over the
barber, whose indiscretions were directly responsible for the
arrival of a very talented hunter. Unfortunately, the enforcers
were not as naive as Nicholas when it came to shifting blame,
LaCroix mused. At any rate something would have to be done. He was
certain he wasn't ready to leave Toronto just yet; but was
uncertain whether that fact was due to his inability to relinquish
Nicholas, or to relinquish an audience who freely gave him what
Nicholas never would ?? reverence.

While he was lost in thought, Janette strolled over to him. "You heard about our company?" she asked.

"Yes," LaCroix answered. "I suppose we will have to find out
why they're here. Call your young friend, Derek."

Janette smiled. "It appears that will not be necessary," she
remarked as she glanced towards the front door. "He's already

The short nondescript man scanned the room. When he noticed
LaCroix, he immediately walked towards his table. LaCroix
involuntarily smirked at the young vampire's penchant for worn
denim. He gestured for Janette to leave them alone and she
retreated to the bar. Fixing an icy blue stare at Derek, LaCroix
started to grill him, "How long have they been here?"

"I've been following them for the last three hours," Derek
replied. He sat down in a chair across the table from LaCroix. "I
was expecting them," he continued, "I just didn't know when."

"And the why?"

"They heard about the sickness," Derek explained. Derek wasn't surprised at all when his own informant had told him that the news had finally reached the hunters.

LaCroix frowned. "How did they come to hear of that?"

Derek simply shrugged his shoulders and glanced wistfully at
LaCroix's drink. "They have their sources as we do," he suggested.

"That's unfortunate," LaCroix muttered. "Discovering a method to slaughter us wholesale would be quite an incentive to them. As long as the rumour exists, they will not relent."

"What do you want me to arrange?" Derek asked.

LaCroix smiled lightly. "Give them what they want and they'll be on their way," he replied eagerly, a plan already forming in his mind.

Derek glanced towards the door. "We don't have much time," he declared. "I'm going to lose their scent if you keep me here much longer."

LaCroix leaned in towards Derek. "One name," he whispered.
"Make it known that Dr. Natalie Lambert is the one they want."

Derek rose to his feet and winked at LaCroix. "I'll be back to collect in an hour."

LaCroix leaned back in his chair and watched Derek exit the
club. Natalie would be the bone he would toss to the dogs. She was
close enough to have reliable information about the case should
they actually discover anything, yet determined enough not to
surrender anyone in the vampire community. He would rid himself of
her, the hunters, and an inevitable resultant visit by the
enforcers all in one clean swoop. LaCroix chuckled.

* * * * *

Derek had been caught out. After doing what he was directed to do by LaCroix, he returned to the Raven and spent the better part of darkness with the old vampire before being unceremoniously
booted out. The sun would be rising within minutes and he was miles
from home. Remembering that an acquaintance, one Xavier Vachon,
lived in an abandoned church nearby, Derek quickly flew towards it.
Vachon grudgingly invited him in and the conversation promptly
turned to the vampire hunters, and Derek's meeting with an
anonymous client.

Derek laughed. "You wouldn't believe this coincidence, but he told me to give them the same name I gave you when the sickness
came. You know, Knight's friend ?? the one I told you was good with
the 'dead' and the 'undead'.

"Natalie?" Vachon gasped. "But if it wasn't for her, no one
would have even made the connection between the retrovirus and the
sickness. We would have all died without ever knowing why."

"That didn't seem to faze the old bugger who hired me," Derek intoned. "I don't think he's the sentimental type."

Vachon suppressed his growing anger. "And you?"

"She's nothing to me," Derek replied with a smug grin.

"She is something to Knight," Vachon countered, recalling the gratitude he felt at that moment when Nick brought him the serum, the serum that Natalie had provided.

"Knight, shmite," Derek spat childishly. "Who the hell cares?" He reached into the depths of his coat pocket and pulled out a fancy glass bottle. "Besides," he said, "I was given a very fine vintage... a human child."

"No thank you," Vachon growled with disgust, silently
regretting allowing Derek into his home.

"Sorry," Derek apologized without sincerity. "I forgot for a moment that you have... scruples." He gestured towards the far side of the room. "If you don't mind..."

"Spend the day," Vachon replied curtly, "but be gone at
sunset." Before he even finished the sentence, however, Vachon had
already decided that Derek would be gone long before sunset. His
mind swam with stories of vampire hunters and what they did to
mortal sympathizers. If they even suspected Natalie.... No, he
wouldn't let that happen to the mortal woman who saved his life, or
to the man who loved her.

* * * * *

Michelle felt relatively safe lying next to Steven, but only
now, with their hotel room bathed in the light of the rising sun,
did she feel comfortable enough to entertain sleep. She had thought
she felt something earlier when they left the Raven, but seeing as
how Steven picked that particular moment to whisper in her ear, she
couldn't be entirely sure whether her body rush was due to a
vampire being nearby, or simply due to his titillation. Her mind
had firmly settled on the latter ?? at least until they returned to
their car and found the hastily penned note tucked under a wiper
blade. The message was sloppily written in ink on a torn piece of
grey paper. It read, 'Dr. Natalie Lambert, a pathologist, has what
you want.'

After finding the message, Michelle and Steven had immediately checked into the Radisson Hotel. They spent the next two hours cold calling Toronto hospitals looking for a Dr. Lambert, all to no avail. Steven finally hit paydirt when he called the Coroner's office and accessed their voice mail directory. "Fitting occupation for a sympathizer," he had told Michelle after hanging up the phone. Right before her eyes, his features took on a dangerous intensity that Michelle had never seen before. The soft hazel eyes that had seduced her the very first time they met, grew cold and hard. His beautiful full lips tightened into a dangerous, predatory smile. Somehow, the imminent pursuit of the "sympathizer" had electrified him. Michelle found the change exciting at first; but when it persisted throughout their 'lovemaking', for lack of a
better term, she found it frightening.

Exhausted both from events and Steven's frenzied and somewhat painful attentions, Michelle finally drifted off to sleep. She woke late in the afternoon to find Steven setting up the lunch he had ordered through room service.

"Oh, you're up!" Steven said. "Come and eat and then we'll
talk." Michelle dutifully did as he asked, and when they finished
eating, he told her of his plans.

"I don't know if I can do that, Steven," Michelle admitted.
"I'm really not ready for it. This is my first time out."

Steven grinned. "You have to start somewhere," he replied. "I only need help with the transport back here."

"You can't bring her in here!" Michelle exclaimed. "There are too many eyes and ears in a hotel. Why not the cottage?"

"She might not be worth taking to the cottage," Steven
declared. "First we find out if she's legitimate goods. I don't
want to take her all the way out there if she doesn't know
anything. We'll keep her sedated until we're certain she knows
something. Then we'll move her out."

"When are you taking her?"

Steven examined his watch. "It's just past five," he said.
"Too late today to do anything. We'll have to do it just before
dawn. That's the safest time anyway. We'll have cover of darkness,
and any 'friends' she might have will be immobilized for the entire

Michelle caught a strand of her hair between her thumb and
forefinger and started to twirl it. "Where?"

"That's the best part," Steven contended. "I called her office and asked for her, only to find out she's working nights this week, seven?thirty until four in the morning. We'll be waiting for her when she gets home."

"You know where she lives?" Michelle asked.

"Not yet. But I have a telephone book, a work address, and a thick wad of cash if it goes that far. I'll know soon enough."

As with the previous night, Nick arrived at Nat's apartment at precisely six?thirty.

"What do you think of this one?" she asked when she opened the door to him. Nat was dangling a long red dress down the front of her.

Nick grinned. "Very nice," he said, "but do you think we could have the fashion show *inside* the apartment?"

Nat backed up far enough for him to enter. "Not a problem,"
she said. "I have a nice burgundy one as well. I'm sort of torn
between them. It is a Valentine's dance, so the red would be more
appropriate, but I think the burgundy looks better on me. I have
matching shoes for..."

"Wait a minute," Nick interjected, shaking his head. "What
dance is this? When? Am I supposed to be going?"

"I mentioned it a month ago, Nick. You said you would take
me." Her heart sank at the look of confusion on his face. "Oh,
please don't tell me you were in a daze and can't remember," she

Nick shook his head. "Honestly, Nat. I don't remember anything about it."

"Is it going to be a problem?" she asked guardedly.

"I don't think so," Nick replied.

The uncertainty in his voice told Nat that it already was a
problem. This running hot and cold on her lately was driving her
batty. "Well, you better let me know pretty soon," she told him.
"The dance is the night after tomorrow. Valentine's day. You know.
Love, romance and all of that."

"I know what Valentine's Day is, Nat." His reply was a little too sharp and he smiled in compensation. "I'll let you know after my shift."

"Fine," Nat declared. "I'll just put this away and I'll be
ready to go." She carried the dress off to her room and returned a
minute later. Apart from some sporadic light conversation, they
drove to the morgue in relative silence.

Nick leaned over to kiss her cheek. "I'll pick you up after
work," he said. "I'll probably see you before then unless it's a
slow night."

The night turned out to be incredibly slow. Nick and Tracy
spent the first few hours interviewing possible witnesses for a
recent domestic case, and then spent the rest of their shift
catching up on paperwork. Nick called Nat twice during the night
for information he could have easily found on his computer, but he
wanted to hear her voice. She called him once for the very same
reason. Lately, he often seemed much more at ease with her on the
telephone than in person.

Nat was waiting for him when he met her at the morgue an hour before dawn. He helped her into her coat and they went out to the car. Their conversation ran smoothly until Nick pulled the caddy over in front of her apartment building.

"So," Nat said cautiously. "Are we going or not?"

Nick took hold of her hand. "I really don't think it's a good idea, Nat," he said.

"Come on, Nick," she protested. It's only a little banquet
with dancing. A mortal, mortal thing to do. Food, drink, friends,
music, dancing."

"I can't make it, Nat, really."

Natalie gently pulled her hand away from his. "And you won't
tell me why?" she asked. That's what hurt her more than anything,
his failure to provide an explanation. And he just wasn't liar
enough to invent one.

Nick simply gazed out towards the front doors of her building. "Do you want me to walk you up?" he asked.

"No," she replied.

He knew she was angry. But how could he tell her the truth?
That he just didn't trust himself around her anymore. Not under
those kind of conditions anyway. A dance. Slow dancing. Their
bodies clinging together like that. "Nat, I..." he turned his head
to apologize, but she was already out of the car. He slipped the
caddy into gear and continued up the street. He knew he should have
went after her and told her that he couldn't take her, out of fear
that he would 'take her'. Lately it seemed that every ounce of his
strength was expended simply trying to keep his vampiric urges at
bay, especially when they were close.

His battle with the demon had only increased in intensity
since LaCroix moved back to Toronto a few short years ago. It was
so subtle at first that he didn't even recognize what was happening
to him. Nick now wondered if it was just too late. After so many
centuries of having his will pummelled and his sense of self
diluted, these past couple of years had corroded his resolve to
within a hair's breadth of submission. Whether that submission
would be to vampirism or death, he wasn't sure. Somewhere along the
line they had become one and the same, with the second scenario
holding a firm advantage.

The honking of a car behind him tore Nick from his thoughts.
When he stepped on the gas, he heard something falling in the back
seat. "She forgot her bag," he muttered. He pulled over to the
curb, studied the eastern sky, and debated with himself whether to
go back to Nat's and apologize on the pretence of bringing her the
forgotten groceries. If he didn't hurry, he knew he would have to
spend the day at her place. Nick muttered to himself as he made a
U?turn and headed back to Nat's.

The sky had lightened considerably by the time he arrived in
front of her building ten minutes later. Nick pulled up behind a
dilapidated red cargo van that sped away just as he parked. He
hastily emerged from the car and retrieved Nat's bag from the back
seat. After using his own set of keys to get through the lobby, he
made his way upstairs to her apartment. After knocking on the door
for the second time he mumbled, "Where the hell is she?" Sydney was
inside, meowing away furiously. Nick finally used his key to get
in. He was already dialling the precinct on his cell phone as the
scene of a struggle registered in his brain. Her purse was lying on
the floor in front of him, an upside down kitchen chair sat in the
middle of the living room, and the crystal vase of roses that he
had recently given her had toppled from the counter. The roses lay
haphazardly in a puddle of water and shattered crystal.

"Oh, God!" Nick moaned aloud, chastising himself for not
giving more significance to the van that sped away. He stared in
disgust at the sun's rays that were already streaming through the
edges of the window curtains. His disgust wasn't even aimed at the
sun, but at himself, because was a vampire, because he was totally
useless in the light of day. Despondent, Nick staggered over to the
sofa and fell into it. "Oh, Nat," he whispered woefully, "I am so
sorry." Devastated by his predicament, it took a minute for Nick to
realize he could recall at least some of the van's licence plate
number. He sprang up from the couch and ran over to the kitchen
table where Natalie's computer was.

* * * * *

Captain Reese and a forensic team arrived at the apartment
fifteen minutes later. Nick hurriedly let them in and headed
straight back to the computer at the kitchen table to continue
running the partial plate. Forensics went to work right away
dusting for prints, while Reese joined Nick in the kitchen.

Reese glanced at the computer screen. "How much of it did you get?" he asked.

"KDV 6 blank blank," Nick replied, without wavering his eyes
from the screen. Seconds later, he shouted, "A match to a red van!"
Grabbing a pen and paper, he jotted down the name and address while
reciting them aloud, "Thomas Bower, 3452 Narrows Lane!" Nick's
excitement evaporated as the data on the screen vanished and was
replaced with updated information. "Reported stolen," Nick muttered
solemnly. He went back over to the couch and sat down.

"We'll get someone over there," Reese announced. He called the precinct and relayed instructions. Just as he finished the call, Tracy entered the apartment. Reese glanced over at Nick. "I called her on my way here," he explained.

Tracy stepped over to Nick and put a consoling hand on his
shoulder. "Don't worry," she said sympathetically. "We'll find

Nick just looked up at her and nodded.

"I'll make you some tea," Tracy offered. She spun around but
quickly stopped and turned back. "Nick?"

"Yeah?" he replied glumly.

"Natalie mentioned to me the other day that the building
management was having security cameras installed. Maybe we can get

"Video tapes!" Nick blurted out. He sprang up and raced to the door.

Tracy scrambled after him, catching up to him halfway down the corridor. "Do you know where the super lives?" she asked, trying to keep pace with him.

"I don't have time to wait around for him to get out of bed," Nick bellowed as they reached the end of the corridor. Nick pushed open the stairwell door and practically flew down the stairs.

"I'm going back to the apartment!" Tracy yelled after him.

Once on the ground floor, Nick ran to the Management Office
two doors up the hall. The locked door yielded instantly to his
vampiric strength and he entered the cluttered room. A closed
circuit television showing an empty Lobby, and a black VCR sat in
plain view on a shelf at the far wall. Nick had to charge through
a small beam of sunlight to get to it. Ignoring the acute sting of
his seared flesh, he ripped the tape from the VCR and dashed back
upstairs to Nat's apartment. When he arrived, he headed straight
for the television set.

"Our guys called in from the Bowers' residence," Reese

"And?" Nick said as he turned on the television and popped the tape into the VCR.

"Nothing," Reese replied. "The man is totally legit. He works the night shift at a frozen food plant, and the van was missing when he left work to go home. That was around three o'clock this morning."

By the time Reese finished talking, Nick and Tracy were
sitting in front of the television set watching Natalie being
kidnapped right before their eyes. It was Natalie alright, in the
front Lobby, being 'helped' along by a man and woman. She looked
drunk, but Nick knew she wasn't. "She was drugged," Nick uttered
quietly. He could tell the kidnappers' were talking to each other
and he silently cursed the tape for not having any audio. "Why
would they take her?" Nick asked. "Why? Who? Who would do something
like that to her?"

Tracy spoke gently, "I don't know, Nick," was all she could

It crushed Nick's heart to watch it. To watch the woman who
had the fortitude and compassion to nourish the last noble remnants
of his soul, disappearing before his very eyes. The woman who loved
him totally despite what he was. The mortal woman who somehow found
his human heart and brazenly claimed it for herself. Nick slid into
lethargy. Over and over again he watched the clip and never spoke
a word. He was afraid he would explode if he did, reveal the beast
to everyone. If it were night time, he would have. If that couple
were in this room right now, he would rip out both of their throats
without hesitation and without remorse. He knew it for a fact.

Tracy finally reached over and snatched the remote control out of Nick's hand. He glared at her when she shut off the television. Tracy glanced up at Reese who was standing behind the couch. "Do something," she whispered.

Reese laid a comforting hand on Nick's shoulder. "Look, Nick," he said, "we'll find her. She'll be alright." But his voice lacked sincerity. Nick was a cop. They were all cops. Reese knew right down to the most repulsive detail every sickening scenario that was playing through Nick's mind right now, and 'she'll be alright' wasn't one of them. "Why don't you get some rest," he suggested. "Forensics is finished up. We'll get out of here and leave you alone. I'll call as soon as we get anything from the prints."

Tracy covered one of Nick's hands with her own. "I'll stay
here with you, Nick," she offered.

Nick made a weak attempt to summon up a smile for his partner. "No," he said as he clasped her hand. "Go. Find her for me." With that, he stood up and disappeared into Nat's bedroom. In despair and frustration, he slammed the door tightly behind him.

It was almost nine in the morning when a call came through to the precinct that the van had been found abandoned in a parking lot on Queen's Quay. Tracy was energized by the lead. She had spent the hours since she left Nick, poring over computer records of similar cases, checking out Nat's recent cases, and looking for anything at all that might connect with Natalie's kidnapping.

Tracy arrived at the scene a few minutes before forensics did. Seeing the van there, and believing that Nat had been held captive in it, she could no longer hold back her tears. She sat in her car and cried. When forensics arrived, Tracy simply sat in silence and watched them dust the outer doors of the van for prints. As they worked, her sorrow for Nick and her fear for Natalie transformed into a staunch determination to find a happy ending to this case.

A tapping at her side window startled Tracy from her thoughts. It was Captain Reese.

"Did you tell Nick," he asked as the window slid open.

Tracy shook her head mournfully. "I don't know whether I should tell him about this yet."

"We didn't get anything from the apartment," Reese said.
"Maybe we'll get something from the van." He and Tracy
simultaneously glanced at the heinous vehicle, now being loaded
onto a flatbed for transport to the lab.

* * * * *

It was nearly 11:30 that morning when Natalie woke from her
drug?induced sleep. When she tried to move her arms, she realized
her hands were tied to the head of a bed. Horrified, she lifted her
upper body as far as she could and saw that her feet were also
bound. Her heart started to thump in fear and she had to gasp for
each breath. It was dark, but she knew it wasn't her room. Through
the slats of the window blind, she could discern it was broad
daylight outside. She desperately struggled to remain silent, but
her panic chose to release itself in a chilling scream.

Seconds later, the door opened and a tall man rushed in.
"Nick?" she cried, her muddled brain trying to ascertain why Nick
tied her up.

"You're awake," Steven said softly as he neared the bed. "We
can't have you waking everyone up now, can we?"

Nat tried desperately to remain strong and calm, but her heart pounded relentlessly, and her stomach cramped up in terror. "Who are you?" she gasped.

"You don't need to know my name," Steven told her. He opened
the top drawer of the night table next to the bed and pulled out a
small vial of liquid and a sterile syringe. He unpacked the syringe
and carefully filled it.

Natalie's body trembled uncontrollably. "What is that?" she
asked. "Please. Please," she begged, "no drugs."

"Just something to make you sleep." Steven prepared her arm
and gave her the shot. "We sleep during the day," he said, "so you
must too."

Natalie drifted back into unconsciousness.

* * * * *

It was noon when Nick heard a commotion in the hallway. "She's back!" he cried out. He bolted from her room to the front door. His heart sank when he flung open the door only to be greeted by Reese and Tracy, who both looked very glum. As they stepped in, the unthinkable thought ran through Nick's mind, that they had found Natalie's body. "Oh, God, no," he moaned.

"No, Nick, it's nothing like that," Tracy quickly informed
him. "We found the van a few hours ago, abandoned."

Nick winced. "A few *hours* ago? Why didn't you tell me?"

"I'm sorry, Nick," Reese apologized. "Tracy thought we should wait for the results, and I agreed with her. We didn't want to get your hopes up. We weren't even certain if the van was connected to the kidnapping."

"And now?" Nick asked.

Reese momentarily stepped into the hall and motioned someone
forward. "We brought someone from forensics to fill you in," he
said. A short skinny man with a pointed nose wearing thick framed
glasses entered the apartment and closed the door.

"Who the hell are you?" Nick demanded, furious that the
forensic investigation had been relegated to someone he had never
even seen before. He scowled at Reese.

"He has plenty of experience," Reese assured him.

The stranger held his hand out to Nick and introduced himself, "Philip Morris," he said. "Just joined the Toronto team last week."

Nick ignored the proffered hand. There was something about
this character that he didn't like.

"The only prints we found in and around the van belonged to
the owner and his wife," Morris explained. "They volunteered to be
printed for match purposes. If this van was used in the kidnapping,
the kidnappers wore gloves."

Nick sighed in exasperation. "So it might not even be

Morris casually dropped his arm to his side and reached into
his lab coat pocket. He pulled out a gold heart locket on a broken
chain. "We did find this in the van, however," he said. "Detective
Vetter told me she's seen Dr. Lambert wearing it occasionally."

As Morris dropped the locket into Nick's palm, Nick's hand
started to tremble. He formed a solid fist around the locket. "It's
hers," he mumbled.

"I heard you were good, detective," Philip mocked, "but let's not get carried away. There are millions of these things around."

Dumbstruck, Nick stared at the man in disbelief.

Philip was oblivious to Nick's horrified expression. "We know it's hers because her photo's inside. Beautiful woman, by the way." He looked studiously at Nick for a moment and then chuckled. "And you'd never guess what else!" he added gleefully, "the lucky stiff in the other photo looks a tad like you!"

The words had barely escaped Philip's mouth when Nick's closed fist made contact with it. Philip staggered backwards against the door and immediately crumpled to the floor. "What the hell was that all about?!" he yelled, clutching his throbbing jaw.

"It is him, you idiot!" Reese bellowed. He reached down,
grabbed Philip by the shoulder, and yanked the dazed man up to his

"How was I supposed to know?" Philip whined.

Reese opened the door and violently shoved Morris into the
hallway. "Just get out!" he barked. When Reese turned around to
look at Nick, he was greeted by a frightening hostility. "I'm
sorry, Nick," Reese said. "I'll have Denison take over for this
moron right away."

Nick said nothing. He simply turned around and stormed into
Natalie's bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Reese glanced at Tracy. "Must be hell for him being stuck
here, living with that damned allergy to sunlight."

Tracy's mind instantly drifted to Vachon. "Cap," she said,
"I'm going to check out a couple of sources. It's doubtful anyone
will know anything, but..."

Reese nodded his head. "Stay in touch," he reminded her as she left.

Nick stood inside Nat's room with his back up against the
door. He heard Tracy leave, and then Reese leave a minute later. It
was only then that he looked at his clenched fist. He relaxed his
hand slowly and opened it, and stared down at the shiny locket.
"All of the time she's had this," he said, "and never once did I
ask her what was inside." His fingers shook as he struggled to
release the tiny catch. Inside the locket were two pictures. Two
tiny faces, each framed by a heart, Nick Knight and Natalie
Lambert. He envisioned her sitting at her kitchen table thumbing
through their photos, searching for and cutting out those tiny
little faces. He didn't even realize he was crying until a teardrop
fell onto the locket and smeared her face in his blood. Another
spike of agony impaled his soul at the thought of what she must be
enduring at the hands of her captors. Nick staggered over to
her bed and fell face down on it, unable to think, unable to move.
And then he did something he had never done before.

Tracy arrived at Vachon's Church at 1:00. She opened the door and stepped inside. "Vachon, you here? You awake?" she cried out as she descended the few steps to the main floor.

Moments later, Vachon materialized from nowhere. "Here,
Trace!" he answered, pleased to see her. His smile waned as he
approached her. Her face was tight with anxiety. She needed sleep,
and he thought she might have been crying. "What's wrong?" he asked

Tracy held back another volley of tears. "A friend of mine is missing," she said. "Can you help?"

Vachon shook his head doubtfully. "Well, Tracy," he said
slowly, "I know I've been able to help you in the past, maybe even
a little too much at times, but I really don't have answers to
everything." He led her over to the chair and she sat down.
Kneeling down on the floor next to her, Vachon took her hand in
his. "I can listen though, if that's worth anything."

Tracy nodded her head and spoke softly, "She was taken right
out of her apartment, Vachon," Tracy began. "I met her at work. We
weren't extremely close friends, but I think we were moving in that
direction. She was much closer to my partner, his girlfriend
actually. It's been much harder on him. He's devastated..."

Vachon gripped her hand tightly. "What did you say? Who is the missing woman? What's her name?"

Tracy was startled by his heated reaction. "Don't worry,
Vachon!" she exclaimed. "It's no one you would know!"

"Sorry," Vachon apologized, loosening his grip. His calm
composure was instantly restored, and his feelings suitably masked.

"Well, her name is Natalie. Natalie Lambert. She's a coroner
with the Department..." Tracy stopped speaking when she noticed
Vachon's gaze disappear into some unseen world. "I thought you said
you would listen," she snapped, a little miffed at his apparent

"I am listening," Vachon maintained, trusting that his voice
didn't convey the rage building inside him. As Tracy prattled on
about her burgeoning relationship with the Doctor, Vachon tried to
reconstruct Derek's visit. He had assumed that Derek hadn't leaked
Natalie's name yet. He was all too obviously wrong. He should have
went to Nick anyway. And what the hell could he do now? Sunset
wasn't for another four hours.

* * * * *

Tracy was still sleeping on Vachon's sofa when Vachon left the Church at sunset. He had no idea at all where Natalie lived, so he headed for Nick's loft, hoping that Nick would stop there for
replenishment before... before whatever it was he planned on doing. Vachon arrived just as Nick was pulling the caddy into the garage. He waited for a few minutes before heading over to the door and ringing the buzzer. Nick reluctantly allowed him entry, and moments later they were face to face in Nick's living room.

Vachon was shocked by Nick's countenance. He had seen those
unusual blue eyes basking in many emotions ?? anger, delight, fear
for others, and even once with a mischievous gleam when he
pretended he was being hypnotized for Tracy's benefit. Nick didn't
have the typical expressionless eyes of a vampire, but the
expressive eyes of a human. Raw emotional pain was something Vachon
had never seen in a vampire's eyes before. Seeing it here in front
of him, he hoped never to see it again.

Nick took another long drink from the green bottle he held in his hand. "Well?" he asked, still waiting to discover the reason
for Vachon's visit.

"I heard about what happened," Vachon said, "and I'd like to

Nick managed a small smile. "While I appreciate the offer," he said, "I don't know that you can be of any help, Vachon. The ones who took her are mortal and any leads will only come from the
mortal world." Nick turned around and took another swallow of cow

Vachon steadied himself for the onslaught he knew would come
with his next sentence. "That's not entirely true," he offered

A numbing fear gripped Nick's heart at the thought that
vampires could be involved with Nat's disappearance. He spun
around. The bottle crashed to the floor and he grabbed the younger
vampire's shoulders. "Our kind are involved?!" he screamed. "What
do you know!?"

Vachon winced as Nick's fingers dug deep into the flesh of his shoulders. "Not our kind," he said. "Hunters." Nick released his grip on Vachon and Vachon instinctively backed up.

Nick whirled around again, numbed by a new vice of fear
tightening around his heart. Hunters could be far more vicious than
vampires if it suited their needs. "Talk," was all he said, in a
voice filled with a despair that sent a shudder through Vachon

Vachon neared the end of his story, "...and I told him to
spend the day but to be gone by sunset..."

"I'll kill him," Nick declared.

"It's too late for that, Nick," Vachon said. "I already did."

"And the client?" Nick asked. "Derek never mentioned who it was?"

Vachon shrugged. "He never mentioned any names, but I think we both know who it was." Vachon walked over to the stairs and left
Nick alone, feeling even sorrier for him for being burdened with
that outdated albatross. For the very first time, Vachon felt an
ancient longing welling up from within his muddied soul, a longing
to carry out his own master's decree.

* * * * *

"There's no need to be afraid, Ms. Lambert," the man said as
he removed the gag from Natalie's mouth. "I'm not a rapist or a
serial killer or anything like that. I only want information." But
even as he spoke the words, he felt his excitement growing. Steven
suddenly wished that Michelle wasn't in the next room.

"Why me?" Natalie asked.

Her captor shrugged. "Someone suggested that you might have
the knowledge I seek." He sat down at the edge of the bed and
patted Natalie's leg. "There's no point squirming around like
that," he said. "You're not going to loosen your ties, but you may
give yourself sore ankles." Carefully studying her eyes for a
telling reaction, he finally posed his question, "What do you know
about vampires?"

Somehow the question was reassuring to Nat. The world just
wasn't coincidental enough for a sexual predator or serial killer
to be questioning his victims about vampires.

Steven saw the change in her eyes, and heard the barely
perceptible sigh of relief as she exhaled. He was almost certain
that she knew about vampires.

"There is no such thing as vampires," Natalie replied.

Steven reached over and smoothed a wayward strand of Natalie's hair from her cheek. She flinched under his touch. "Is that a fact?" he said, his interest continuing to waver from the cause towards something much more personal. His rhythmic patting of
Natalie's leg suddenly turned into an uncomfortable stroking.

Natalie's body tensed as a weight of tears started to fill her eyes.

Steven spoke gently. "You're very alluring," he whispered.
"I've never had the pleasure of interrogating such beauty before."

Silently praying for Nick to come and rescue her, tears
started to gush from Natalie's eyes.

Steven replaced the gag over Nat's mouth. He stood up by the
edge of the bed and started to unbuckle his belt when the door
suddenly flew open.

"What the hell are you doing!?" Michelle shouted.

Steven covertly leaned over Natalie and whispered, "Later." He then sauntered over to Michelle, put his arm around her shoulder, and mumbled something incoherent to her. Finally, they left the room.

Natalie's body fell limp in relief.

* * * * *

Tracy woke from her short fitful sleep. "Damn, how long have
I been here?" she asked herself as she glanced around the darkened
Church. She felt around the table next to the sofa and found a pack
of matches. Vachon kept several packs scattered about to service
his multitude of candles. She struck a match, dialled the precinct
from her cell phone, and then checked her watch. It was
six?thirty. She got through to the precinct and was transferred
to Reese.

"Captain, it's Tracy. I'm sorry. You don't know how sorry I
am, but I fell asleep..."

Reese interrupted her. "Photos of Nat and the videotape clip
were on the six o'clock news and we've got plenty of calls coming
through," he said. "I'll call Nick once you get in. He'll want to
check out these leads, but I need to divert some of them. He's just
too close to the case."

"On my way, Cap," Tracy said. She tucked her phone away and
quickly left the Church.

The moment Vachon had left the loft, Nick donned his coat and flew to the Raven. It was still early in the evening and the club wasn't open yet. He banged solidly on the door and waited for a response.

"Janette is not here," Miklos said as he opened the door. He
grinned robustly at Nick.

"I'm not looking for her," Nick declared, pushing his way past the burly bartender. "Is LaCroix here?"

Miklos gestured towards the back room. "In the back," he said, allowing Nick plenty of room.

"Nicholas," LaCroix crooned in greeting as Nick entered the
private room. "The bar is not open yet, but I have..."

"Just tell me where she is!" Nick shouted.

LaCroix cocked an eyebrow. "Where *who* is?" he asked, making a mental note to take care of that loud?mouthed Derek.

"You know damn well who. Natalie. I know hunters have her and I know you are to blame."

LaCroix chuckled as he sat down on a small grey sofa. "I'm
sorry you've lost the doctor, Nicholas, but I assure you that I
don't know where she is."

"How could you do it?!" Nick yelled. "She saved us. All of us. And you put her right into the hands of those you fear and despise most of all."

LaCroix grinned. "If what you say were true, I should consider
it repayment of a debt on behalf of her society. Their kind
developed the virus to begin with, after all."

"I should kill you for what you've done," Nick hissed,
stepping towards his master.

"But you will not," LaCroix taunted. "Murder does not sit well with the mortal justice system you so espouse."

"It's not murder if you're already dead," Nick spat.

"True enough," LaCroix grinned, "but to give in to your hatred in a frenzied act of revenge? What then of your high ideals?"

"My high ideals are the only reason you've existed this long," Nick growled. His rage finally invoked the vampire, but the instant his fangs descended, his phone rang. Nick flipped it open and stepped outside the private room.

"Knight," he almost shouted into the phone.

"Nick? It's Reese. We have a slew of leads to check out. Get
over here pronto."

"On my way," Nick replied. He stuffed the phone back into his pocket and stuck his head back inside the room. "If she dies, you die," he bluntly told LaCroix.

LaCroix was unimpressed. "And if she lives?"

"The next time you interfere in my life, or hers, I *will*
kill you," Nick promised. "And the next time it *will be* permanent."

* * * * *

The precinct was humming with activity when Nick arrived. His co?workers were intelligent enough not to entangle him in idle
conversation, and sensitive enough to console him with kind
words and compassionate glances. Nick made his way into the Captain's office and found Reese and Tracy at the desk.

"So what do you have?" Nick asked them.

"We've had over a hundred calls so far," Reese said, "and the stragglers are still coming in." He handed a small stack of papers to Nick. "These are yours, and Tracy has hers. Impossible scenarios and habitual informants have already been weeded out."

Nick gratefully accepted the papers from Reese.

"Over half the precinct is working on this, Nick," Reese said reassuringly. "Mel's group is weeding out the kooks, Harvey and Dan are collating locations. Everyone who's not sorting is either at a phone or out on the street with a stack of papers just like that one."

Nick nodded absently as he skimmed through the leads. His were all in the southwest area of the city. He glanced over at Tracy. "Coming?"

"I have my own pile to check out, Nick," she replied. "We'll
cover the ground in half the time by splitting up." She smiled
encouragingly at him, hoping he wouldn't ask to see her list. Any
lead that included the words murder, torture, or sexual predator,
wasn't to get as far as Nicholas B. Knight.

* * * * *

It was only an hour and a half later that Nick finished his
last interview. Nothing but dead ends. With his flying abilities,
he was able to cover ground in much less than half the time. He
spent the next several hours scouring both seedy motels and elegant
hotels, flying past dark windows and through silent parking
garages, hoping and praying to hear the precious music of Natalie's
heart. His quest was interrupted only by his frequent calls to the
precinct to see if anyone had had any luck. It was almost two in
the morning when Nick's cell phone rang. He quickly descended to
the ground and answered it. "Knight!"

"Nick. Reese here. We have a lead and I think it's a good one. The witness is reliable. A nurse, works nights."

"Go on," Nick said.

"She called a few minutes ago. She was on break at work and
caught a newsflash on the television. She claims to have seen

"So has everyone else I've talked to tonight," Nick commented dismally.

"No, this is a little different," Reese declared. "The nurse
identified them from an incident yesterday. She said it was odd,
because she saw them all get out of a van in a parking lot and then
get into a blue jeep that was parked next to it. She gave us a time
of close to six a.m." Reese paused. "Nick... we never released the
time of Nat's kidnapping, and this fits right in."

"Something at last," Nick said. "Thank God," he added, and he meant it.

"That's not the best part," Reese continued. "She said it was doubly odd, because all they did was drive the jeep next door,
right into the parking garage at the Radisson. I sent Tracy and
some back?up down there. They should be there in a couple of

"On my way," Nick said. He slammed the phone shut and flew up into the sky. The Radisson was the one hotel that he didn't check. It never occurred to him that Nat's captors would be staying right next door to the parking lot where they abandoned the van.

After making contact with almost everyone Vachon knew in an
effort to locate Natalie, he completed one last mission and then
returned to the Raven. He sat on the roof covertly and waited
patiently for the club to close. When the last guest had finally
been turfed out into the street, Vachon entered.

LaCroix was standing by the bar, his back leaning against the counter. He arched his eyebrows in surprise at his uninvited guest. "What do you want?" he asked. "We're closed."

Vachon shrugged. "Simply to carry out my master's orders ??
something that you of all people should appreciate. I'm here to see
that those who treasure life live, and that those who don't, die."

"We all treasure life," LaCroix chuckled.

"My master's edict was not restricted to one's own life," Vachon countered. He approached his quarry as he spoke. "You profess concern for Nick, yet hand over the woman he loves to a most certain and most painful death? She is entitled to our protection, and he is entitled to the same freedom to live his life as the rest of our kind, without your puerile interference."

"She is entitled to nothing," LaCroix scoffed, "and he is
entitled only to what I give him."

"You know as well as I do that the connection is shared by all of us," Vachon accused. Stopping four feet from LaCroix, Vachon's eyes turned a brilliant green. "Yet, you would have him believe he is moreso bound to you simply because you turned him? A false claim of exclusivity. How many other lies over the centuries?"

"What is it to you?" LaCroix hissed.

"He is my friend," Vachon replied truthfully, "and he's
already suffered more than any of us should ever have to." Vachon
bared his fangs and snarled at his adversary.

LaCroix's eyes raged red and his own fangs dropped menacingly. "How dare you challenge me!" he clamoured. "Your eternal life is about to come to an abrupt and agonizing end!"

"You will find me more of a threat than you anticipated!"
Vachon roared back. Surprised by his own eagerness to do battle, he
violently lunged forward to strike the first blow, but was abruptly
knocked to the ground by a whirlwind of black that suddenly
materialized between him and his target.

"But not today!" an ominous voice shouted.

Vachon struggled to draw himself up to a kneeling position. He felt blood trickling around his ear and grimaced in pain when he
touched the left side of his head. His fangs involuntarily receded
and his eyes returned to their normal sullen brown. Confused, he
gazed up at the black clad intruder who was now standing imposingly
in front of LaCroix. The vampire was over six feet tall and very
sturdily built. His hair was black, long and matted, and he sported
a long black trenchcoat.

"You were only to come if I failed!" Vachon exclaimed.

"Where is your companion?" LaCroix spat. "I know your kind
always travel in pairs."

"Only when our quarry is dangerous," the enforcer replied
confidently, "and you are too much of a coward to fall into that
category, LaCroix."

Vachon searched LaCroix's eyes and found the truth spoken by
the enforcer. LaCroix was afraid. There was no longer any hint of
aggression in his countenance. Only fear. The fear of one who knew
there would be no postponement this time, no last minute reprieve
from an eternity of servitude in the pit of hell. A fitting

"You've been warned too many times before, LaCroix," the
enforcer charged. "And we are tired of it." Effortlessly, he
grabbed LaCroix's throat and started to squeeze it. "This
ridiculous obsession of yours to control your progeny's life is no
longer simply an embarrassment to the community," he said, "but a liability. And it must end."

Vachon could hear LaCroix's larynx being crushed by the
enforcer. He listened closely as LaCroix gurgled out the very last
lie he would ever utter, "I... don't.... know what... you're
talking... about."

Still holding LaCroix up by the throat with one hand, the
enforcer raised his free arm. He clutched a sharp wooden stake
unlike anything Vachon had ever seen. Six inches from the finely
honed point, four sharp wooden barbs jutted out. The weapon more
closely resembled a giant multi?barbed fishhook than a wooden
stake. The enforcer momentarily turned his head to glance at
Vachon. He smiled curiously and then spoke, "They're quite the
thing, you know," he said. "They can be pulled out, but the heart
is ripped out in the process."

Vachon cautiously rose to his feet. He found himself drawn to LaCroix's eyes which were now bulging out even moreso than normal. Although he felt a little disappointed that he didn't have the honour of the kill, watching Nick's oppressor squirm in agony and terror was satisfying consolation.

The enforcer carefully positioned the deadly instrument over
LaCroix's chest. "And on a personal level," he stated calmly, "it
really pisses the hell out of me that you would turn over the one
mortal we are all indebted to." In a fluid burst of speed and
power, the enforcer plunged the lethal weapon into LaCroix's cold,
black heart.

Vachon watched LaCroix's body react with one last spasm of
pain before it was released by its captor and allowed to drop to
the floor. The enforcer, a sated grin on his face, then lifted a
book of matches from the countertop. He set the matches ablaze and
dropped the tiny fireball onto LaCroix's waiting chest. A sizzling,
white hot flash flared up and instantly receded, leaving nothing
but ash in its wake. His job complete, the enforcer smiled at
Vachon and then silently vanished.

Nick landed at the back of the hotel and immediately made his way to the front entrance on foot. Tracy and two uniformed officers were already waiting for him just inside the Lobby.

"Stay here and keep an eye out," Nick told them. He retrieved a photo of Natalie from his coat pocket and hurried across the lobby to the front desk.

"Can I help you?" the blonde clerk asked.

Nick showed Natalie's photo to her. "I'm looking for this
woman," he said. "She was last seen with another woman and a man.
They may be staying in this hotel."

The desk clerk grinned. "I'm sorry, sir," she said, "but we're not at liberty to divulge information about any of our guests."

"Maybe this will help." Nick withdrew his badge from his
pocket and flashed it in the woman's face.

She examined the photograph more closely. "I can't really say for certain. I see a lot of people go through here."

Nick tuned in to the steady thumping of her heart, and then
focused his vampiric senses towards her mind. "Think harder," he
directed. "Have you seen this woman?"

The clerk hesitantly blinked her eyes and examined the picture again. "Yes," she replied robotically.

Nick continued his questioning. "Are the people she was with
staying in this hotel?"

"Staying in the hotel... Yes... Andersons... checked in
around this time two days ago."

"Which room?"

The desk clerk blinked again before unlocking her eyes
from Nick's. She lowered her attention to the hotel computer and
punched in a few keys. "503," she finally said.

Nick instantly broke the psychic link. "I'll need an access
card," he explained.

Shaking her head as though to clear it, the clerk replied
dubiously, "Certainly... which room was that?"

"503," Nick said impatiently.

Nick was promptly handed a plain white access card. He spun
around and motioned for Tracy to head towards the elevators. The
wait for an elevator was excruciating for Nick. He would have flown
up the stairwell had his partner and the other officers not been
here. They stepped into the cab and when it neared the 5th floor, Nick focused his vampiric senses. He faintly detected a familiar heartbeat ?? Natalie's. He and Tracy spurted down the hall and took position outside Room 503. They simultaneously drew their guns and Nick slid the access card quickly through the slot. The tiny light flashed green. He turned the knob and flung open the door.

"Don't move! Police!" Tracy yelled at the auburn haired woman who was lounging on the couch.

Michelle's arms flew above her head, "I haven't done
anything!" she exclaimed.

"Cuff her," Nick told Tracy as he raced through the suite to
the bedroom. He burst through the door and was greeted by an
attempted swift kick to the head. Nick knocked the offending limb
aside. Steven lost his balance and fell hard onto his back. Nick's
field of vision was now clear and he saw Natalie tied to the bed.
She was unconscious. He shot a feral glare at Steven who was
lying in a daze on the floor. "If you've touched her, I'll kill
you!" he vowed.

"In here!" Nick shouted to his back?up. The two officers
immediately charged the room. "Arrest him for kidnapping and forcible confinement, pending further charges," Nick ordered. With Steven safely covered, Nick went to Natalie.

His heart broke at the sight of her, helpless like that. He
untied her feet first, and gently massaged her ankles. She began to
stir when he started removing the bindings from her wrists. She
opened her eyes and gazed up lovingly at him. "I knew you'd come,"
she whispered. "I left my locket just before I blacked out."

"I know," Nick said, "I have it." All he wanted to do was get her untied and take her in his arms. When he adjusted his position to release her left wrist, he noticed a sealed ampoule and packaged syringe on the night table. He scanned the label. "Scopolamine," he muttered. In a fit of anger, he threw the vial across the room. It smashed against the wall.

Nick finished untying Nat and pulled her up into his arms.
"Are you alright?" he whispered.

"I am now," Nat said, letting the tears fall freely from her
eyes. Nick held her and rocked her in his arms. "All of these years
of feeling lonely," he said, "and I never really knew what
emptiness was until you disappeared."

Natalie snuggled even more deeply into him, warmed by his
loving words and secured by the strength of his arms. She whispered
muffled words into his chest, "I love you."

Nick gently eased her chin up until their eyes met. "You
already know that I love you," he said, "but there is more than
that. I've loved before. At least I thought I did. But it was never
like this." Nick kissed the tears from her eyes and playfully
licked his lips. He smiled. "Truth serum," he whispered. "I told
you something a long time ago that I know still hurts you. I
believed it true at the time, but you've proven to me how very
wrong I was." He tenderly caressed her cheek as he continued, "I
told you that vampires couldn't be 'in love', yet here I am
smitten. Completely and desperately in love with you. I don't want
to hide it anymore, Nat, and I don't want us to ignore it anymore.
Whatever fate it leads us to, that fate won't change by putting
into words what is already in both of our hearts."

Natalie touched Nick's cheek and planted a soft kiss on his
lips. "I haven't heard such beautiful words from you in a very long
time," she said, "too long."

Nick grinned. He felt an immense relief that his heart had
finally been laid bare to her. "Far too long," he whispered.

Their intimate moment was interrupted by an untimely pounding on the door. "The evidence team is here," Reese said as he stepped inside the room. He glanced at Natalie. "Do you need a doctor?"

A horrified chill swept through Nick. "Oh, God," he moaned, "I didn't even ask..."

Natalie's hands were instantly on his face. "It's okay," she
reassured him. "They didn't do anything like that." She looked over
at Reese. "I'm fine, Captain," she said. "I just want to go home."

"Take her home, Nick," Reese ordered as he checked his watch. "We'll stop by there in a couple of hours for her statement."

Nick helped Nat up off the bed. Having been laying down for so long, she was a little unsteady on her feet. He took off his coat and wrapped it around her, then led her out of the room and out of the hotel.

Tracy was settling Michelle into the back seat of a cruiser
when Nick and Natalie neared it.

"It's not what you think!" Michelle was screaming. "We were
looking for..." She suddenly looked directly at Nick and started to
struggle. "He's a vampire!" she screamed frantically. "That's why
we're here! We're looking for vampires!" Michelle frantically bobbed her head up and down, trying to point to Nat. "And she *does* know about them!"

"Yeah, right," Tracy snapped. "Try explaining that to the
judge." Tracy slammed the car door shut and turned around. Nick and
Nat were right in front of her, but it was a sudden movement some
little distance behind them that caught her eye. Tracy identified
the figure as Vachon.

"What was all that about?" Nick asked.

"Nothing," Tracy replied nervously, "nutcase."

Confused by her distraction, Nick touched Tracy's arm. "I'm
taking Nat home, Trace," he said.

Tracy simply nodded her head and started walking off towards

Nick and Nat continued their trek towards the east side of the hotel. Natalie stopped and glanced around. "Where's your car, Nick?" she asked.

Nick flashed her a peculiar grin. "Around back," he replied.

"The only thing around back is a very big lake," she remarked.

Nick's attention was suddenly diverted as they passed a second cruiser. Steven was in the back seat, and grinning smugly at
Natalie. "I want to kill him," Nick growled softly.

"I know," Natalie whispered. "But you can't, Nick." He turned his face towards her and she stared into his eyes, already glowing with the vampire's primal rage. She slowly lifted her hand to his face and gently stroked his hair. "Don't let him destroy everything you've worked for," she said, "everything we've worked for." She tugged gently on his arm until he no longer resisted. They continued to the corner of the hotel, and took the pathway down the side to the back.

"I told you the only thing back here was a lake," Nat said when they arrived at their destination. "No car?"

"No car," Nick confessed. "Close your eyes."

"Wait a minute. You're going to fly me home?" Nat struggled
free of him and wrapped her arms around her chest in defiance. "No.
No. No," she said.

Nick clutched her back into his arms. "Yes. Yes. Yes," he
insisted, as he lifted her into the night sky. "And I won't let go."

* * * * *

"What are you doing here?" Tracy asked Vachon when she reached him.

"Well, I was in the neighbourhood..."

"She knows about vampires," Tracy blurted out. "I don't know
how she knows, but she knows. And she knows you're a vampire."

Vachon immediately realized that Nick was the one the hunter
sensed. He would have to perform one more good deed tonight. "Well
there's only one thing to do then, isn't there?" he asked

Tracy gasped. "You can't kill her, Vachon! Even though they
both deserve it after what they did to Natalie."

"Wasn't that the friend you mentioned earlier?" Vachon inquired.
"How is she? Is she okay?"

Tracy nodded. "She's fine. A little shaken up." Tracy motioned towards the cruisers down at the curb. "They were the ones who took her and they're going to pay for it behind bars. Hopefully for a very long time. My partner's taking Natalie home now."

"I'm glad she's alright," Vachon remarked.

"So am I," Tracy said. "What about the woman? Can you make her forget?"

Vachon grinned. "I won't know until I try," he replied. "I'll have to visit her accomplice as well. Can you get me near them?"

Tracy thought for a minute. "Not here," she told him. "Once
they've been booked I can get you inside the precinct. That's the
only opportunity you'll have to find them both alone, when they're
in holding cells. Once they're moved to a detention centre, you
won't have a chance."

"All you have to do is get me to a point where I won't have
too much opposition," Vachon contended. "Oh," he added teasingly,
"and you'll also have to hope that none of the guards are

Tracy smiled. "Consider it done. Meet me in front of the
precinct in half an hour."

When Nat finally opened her eyes, she and Nick were standing
just outside the garage at the loft.

"I thought you were taking me home?" Natalie asked.

"There's just one little thing I have to take care of first."


"They were hunters, Nat," Nick said, "and she knows we're here now, which means the rest of them will find out. If I don't
convince these two that there are neither vampires nor sympathizers
in Toronto, more hunters will be sent. I have to do it before they
have a chance to speak to anyone."

"I'm not ready to be left alone, Nick."

Nick embraced her. "Don't worry. I'm not leaving you alone.
You're coming with me. We'll take the car to the precinct. You'll
be perfectly safe the entire time."

Their drive to the precinct was quiet. Feeling secure in the
familiar confines of the caddy, Nat promptly fell asleep. Nick
parked the car and debated with himself whether or not to wake her
up. He decided it better to wake her than to risk any feelings of
abandonment she might suffer at waking up alone. The presence of
another vampire suddenly gleaned his attention, and he was instantly
out of the car.

Vachon greeted him. "Hey, Nick."

"What are you doing here?"

"I saw what happened at the hotel," Vachon replied. He
gestured towards the station. "I've already taken care of them. She
hasn't spoken to anyone, and she doesn't remember you. All they
will remember is that they didn't find anything here. I've already
asked Tracy not to include any of the woman's rantings in the
arrest report. She said there was no need to."

Nick nodded his head appreciatively. "Thanks. I owe you one."

"By the way," Vachon added, "the enforcers paid a visit to the Raven earlier. LaCroix will never be a problem again either."

The news stunned Nick. "Are you serious?"

Vachon smiled. "Daddy doesn't live here anymore," he said. He gave Nick a robust pat on the shoulder. "Consider it a Valentine's Day gift from the community," he explained, "to you and your doctor friend."

Nick's heart flooded over with a renewed sense of hope. "Maybe now I'll have a shot at it," he said aloud.

"A shot at what?" Vachon asked.

Nick smiled and reached for Vachon's hand. He shook it
profusely. "Nevermind," he said, "and thank you."

* * * * *

Natalie didn't stir from her sleep until Nick carried her into her apartment and laid her down on the couch.

"Where are we?" she mumbled groggily as she sat up.

"Home, Nat," he said, followed by a kiss to her cheek. "Do you want anything? A sandwich? Tea?"

"Both would be nice."

Nick retreated to the kitchen for a few minutes and returned
with hot tea and a chicken sandwich. "Here. Eat this. Reese
will be here soon to get your statement, and then you can go
to bed." Nick sat quietly while she ate.

Natalie had just swallowed her last bite of the sandwich when Reese arrived. Tracy was with him, along with a uniformed officer who set up the tape recorder.

Tracy approached Nat. "What did they want with you anyway?"
she asked.

"I have no idea," Nat replied, "apart from the woman's raving on about vampires when you were getting her into the cruiser. They were a couple of loons if you ask me."

"Well who better to interrogate about the undead than someone who works with the dead," Tracy remarked. It made sense to her, anyway. She just hoped it would make sense to Nat and that Nat
would forget the entire incident at the cruiser.

Reese took a seat across from Natalie. "Are you okay, Natalie?" he asked. "Ready to go ahead?"

Natalie nodded her head, and the tape recorder was started.

"Just start at the beginning, and tell us everything you can
remember," Reese told her. "Stop whenever you need to stop."

"They ambushed me in the apartment," Natalie began. "My
necklace broke in the struggle and I hid it in my hand. They stuck
a needle in me and everything became distorted. I remember being
put into into a van and slipping the locket down the side of the
seat. That's when I passed out. When I woke up..."

Nat continued reciting her ordeal. Her voice started to waver when she neared the point in her story where she thought Steven was about to rape her. She was on the verge of tears when she glanced over at Nick. "Nick?"

He was instantly sitting beside her and tightly holding her
hand. She got through the scene, and continued on to the point
where she woke up to find Nick untying her.

The officer gathered up his recording equipment and left.
Tracy and Reese walked to the door and turned around to say their

"Take as much time as you need, Nat," Reese said. "You too,
Knight. She's been through a harrowing ordeal. She'll need you."

"I know that," Nick said. "We'll be back in a few days."

Reese followed Tracy out the door.

Nick returned to sit beside Natalie. "If that hunter went any further than he did, Nat, I would have killed him. I don't even think your gentle touch would have been able to stop me."

"I think I would have let you," Nat replied frankly. "It would tear me apart inside to get from any man the only thing that you can't give me. And getting it that way would destroy me."

Nick closed his eyes, damning his lifeless corpse yet again.
"I wish I could give that to you, Nat," he confessed. "To make love the way mortals do. To love you the way you should be loved."

"I know," she murmured consolingly, "but you are the one
inside my heart, and the only one I will ever envision in my bed."

Nick suddenly felt her soft fingers caressing his cheek, but
the topic of conversation had already aroused the vampire. He
deftly wrapped his hand over hers and lowered it to his chest ??
his unspoken signal to her that it was time to change the subject.

"Have you given any more thought to the dance tonight?" she

The vampire was dispatched to oblivion by Nick's bout of
laughter. "I think if I can get past this, I can get past the
dance," he said.

Nat visually inspected the stubble on his chin. "You will
shave, won't you?" she teased.

"I promise." He paused for a minute. "There's something else
you should know, Nat."

"What's that?"

"LaCroix. He's dead."

Nat remained speechless for a few seconds. "How?" she finally asked.

"Enforcers. He was the one who set you up, Nat. That, and I
imagine the other mistakes he's made in the past, pushed him past
the point of their tolerance."

"How do you feel, Nick? Are you going to be okay with this?"

"I haven't felt freedom like this since the last time," he
replied, "when I thought I had killed him." Nick clasped Nat's
hands in his own. "We were making real progress then, Nat, before
LaCroix returned, before he called to me, professing that it was
time for me to wake up to what I was." Nick frowned. "The full measure of his success only dawned on me recently."

"And now?"

"I think the chances of my achieving mortality have multiplied a hundredfold."

Natalie beamed with joy for him. For both of them. "Then it is good news!"

"Very good," Nick said, winking at her. "Definitely a reason
for dancing."

Natalie rose to her feet. "Absolutely," she agreed as she made her way towards the bedroom. "I'm going to get cleaned up and get into bed. There are a couple of bottles in the crisper compartment if you're hungry."

"Famished," Nick admitted as he headed for the refrigerator.
He stopped mid?stride and raced after Natalie. But he was too late,
Nat was already inside the bedroom door.

"My God, Nick!" she exclaimed. "What happened in here! What
were you doing on my bed! Where did all that blood come from!"

"I'm sorry, Nat," he replied, somewhat embarrassed. "I never
intended for you to see that. I did something for the very first
time, and when I realized that miserable truth..." Nick stopped
speaking and just stared at her.

"We are supposed to be having an open and honest relationship now, Nick," she said sternly, fearing she was about to learn something about vampirism that she really didn't want to know.

Nick continued, "When I realized that sorry truth, I wept a
torrent of bloody tears... for a very long time."

Natalie massaged his arm encouragingly and prodded him with
her soft voice, "What miserable truth?"

"It was the first time I ever prayed to God for someone other than myself." Nick studied her eyes for any sign of aversion to his ignoble revelation, but found nothing there but love and
compassion. He smiled. "I prayed for you, Nat," he said, "and I am
sorry about the mess."

Natalie leaned over and kissed him tenderly on the lips. "No
wonder you're hungry," she whispered.

"I will clean it up," Nick promised.

"Darn right you will," she replied. Nat abruptly turned around and headed for the bathroom. "I'm going to take a long hot shower," she said. She disappeared behind the door and popped her head out moments later. Nick was standing motionless at the foot of the bed, just as she suspected. "Oh, and Nick!" she cried out whimsically.

He turned around. "Yeah?"

"It's not going to make itself no matter how long you stare at it." Nat pointed towards the far side of the room. "Sheets and pillowcases are in the linen closet."

-- The End --

Daddy Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Sequel)
by Susan B.
March 7/99
based on characters from Forever Knight, etc.

Natalie spent a long time luxuriating in the shower, letting
the scented lather and hot water cleanse away the last twenty?four
hours. After towel drying her hair and slipping into a short
champagne tinted silk chemise, she opened the ensuite door. A cloud
of hot steam washed into the warmly lit bedroom. She walked through
the haze towards her bed. It was immaculately made up and a
salvaged red rose lay invitingly on her pillow. Natalie smiled and
picked it up. "The eternal romantic," she murmured as she fingered
the soft red petals. After setting the rose back in its place, she
headed for the bedroom door and opened it a crack to peer into the
living room. Nick was sound asleep on the couch with his hands
neatly folded over his chest. "I thought as much," she whispered,
stepping back to her bed to retrieve a knitted afghan. She carried
it into the living room and covered Nick, despite knowing he didn't
really need it. Nat then knelt down on the floor next to him and
spent a few minutes simply admiring his peaceful countenance, the
one that only sleep could give him. She kissed him lightly on the
forehead before returning to her own bed.

Nat woke in the middle of the afternoon and slipped into a
pair of worn black jeans and a bright yellow tee?shirt. Making a
little more noise than necessary, she put together a late lunch,
ate it, and watched a video before Nick even stirred. "Ahh...
you're finally up!" she said.

"Barely," Nick mumbled as he sat up. "What time is it?"

"Five?thirty," Nat replied. "I think I'll get ready now. By
the time I'm finished it'll be sunset and we can swing by your
place." She disappeared into her bedroom.

Nick took the opportunity to raid the fridge for
replenishment, the last remaining bottle of cow blood was only half
full. He grabbed it and a glass and went back to the couch to watch
the news while he waited for Nat. She emerged some thirty minutes
later wearing a calf length long sleeved burgundy party dress with
matching shoes.

"So, what do you think?" she asked him. "This one or the red
gown you saw earlier?"

Nick quickly rose and walked over to her. "You would look
beautiful in anything," he told her as he reached into his shirt
pocket and extracted her locket. "But you are missing something. I
fixed the chain, but you'll have to replace one of the photos."
Nick hesitated for a moment to garner a more serious expression.
"Nat. I'm sorry I never asked you what was inside. I'm even sorrier
that I never even wondered what was inside."

"Don't worry about it," she reassured him as she gratefully
accepted the locket. She gently pried it open and noted her
picture, now coated in a thin film of dried blood. "What happened?"

"It's a blood tear," Nick confessed. "And I'm sorry for
messing that up too."

Natalie felt a few tears of her own threatening to spill over.
She closed the locket and tenderly touched Nick's face. "You didn't
mess anything up," she said, "and I can't think of anything more
precious to keep." She handed the necklace to Nick. "Would you do
the honours?" She turned around and swept her hair up off her neck.

"That's very nice perfume," Nick remarked of the pleasant
spicy scent she wore. He completed his task and gently spun her
around to face him. He smiled broadly. "Will you stay with me for
a few days?" he asked hopefully. "I don't want you to be here

Natalie winked at him. "Staying with you could be far more

"I won't hurt you," Nick promised. "You can have my room." He
grinned coyly and added, "I'll even make the bed for you."

Natalie laughed. "And my cat?"

"He can come too," Nick told her, "if that's what it takes."

* * * * *

Later that evening, back in Chicago, Mark was patiently
waiting in a boarding lounge at O'Hare for Beth, his apprentice.
The tall green?eyed brunette soon joined him.

"How bad do you think things are there?" she asked as she
slipped off her brown leather gloves.

With a stoic expression, Mark focused his calm grey eyes on
Beth. "Bad," he replied. "Until now, Steven has always proven
himself. Things were moving smoothly. He had the lead two days ago
and the goods yesterday, but he missed his morning check?in today
and I still haven't heard from him."

Beth unzipped her rust coloured jacket and sat down next to
him. "Do you think either of them made it?" she cautiously inquired.

Mark shrugged his shoulders. "Doubtful," he muttered. He
remained quiet for a moment and then glanced at his watch. "Where
have you been anyway?" he asked with a twinge of irritation.
"You were supposed to be here thirty minutes ago."

Beth smiled warmly, hoping this little affront to his penchant
for punctuality wouldn't blemish his report on her progress.
Although Mark was a thorough and patient teacher, he did have a
very big bug up his butt about time. "Sorry," she apologized. "It
took a little longer than I thought to clean up the paper trail."

"Not that it would have mattered much, I expect," Mark
contended. He leaned back and idly ran his hand through his thick
saffron coloured hair, smoothing it. "We've been working this city
for a month and haven't found a thing."

"Maybe they're all in Toronto," Beth teased.

But Mark's expression immediately turned sour. "That's what
I'm afraid of," he said grimly. He stared off into the distance and
added in a barely audible tone, "So much for the killer germ."

The practised vampire hunter and his young apprentice sat in
silence until their flight to Toronto was called.

* * * * *

Sydney had settled into the loft unexpectedly well. Being used
to living in a comparatively small one level apartment, he relished
exploring both stairways. The entire time that Nick was upstairs
readying for the Valentine's dance, Sydney was racing up and down
the treads like a frisky kitten. He scooted away to find a suitable
dark corner when Nick finally emerged from his room and descended
the steps.

"How do you do that?" Nat bluntly asked him when he joined
her in front of the fireplace.

"How do I do what?"

Natalie cast an appreciative gaze over his attire, a soft
charcoal suit. "Always manage to look so damn good," she declared.
"You make everything new that you wear look better than anything
before it."

Nick flashed her an embarrassed grin. "I'm sorry," he teased,
"should I go back upstairs and change? Some ragged old jeans and a
greasy tee?shirt perhaps?"

"As if you had either," Natalie quipped, pecking him on the
cheek. "Besides, it wouldn't make any difference. You'd still look
gorgeous and I'd still force you to take me dancing."

Nick repaid her compliment with a lingering kiss on the lips.
"You're the most beautiful half of this party," he cooed. "I'll be
so busy keeping other men away from you, we may not make it to the
dance floor."

Natalie blushed. "I suppose we should call an end to the
mutual admiration society meeting and get a move on," she said.

The dance had already started by the time they arrived.
The main ballroom was decorated appropriately with red and
white helium filled balloons that hung in great strands from the
domed ivory ceiling all the way down to the gleaming hardwood
floor. Nick and Nat made their way over to an unoccupied table,
and Nick pulled out a chair for her.

Nat sat down and admired the table setting. It was nicely
laid out with a white linen tablecloth, a red topper, and a
small posy of miniature red and white roses in a tiny white vase.
"At least we didn't miss dinner," she remarked, eyeing the pristine
china and the empty crystal goblets. "I'm starved."

"Good," Nick said as he sat down across from her. He leaned
forward and added impishly, "Then you can eat mine too."

"And I'll probably be able to," Nat admitted.

The music stopped a moment later to provide an opportunity for
mingling before dinner. Nick and Nat made a round of the room as a
couple before separating to exchange words with their individual
acquaintances and co?workers. They met back at the table just as
the wine was being served.

"Mmmm, it's sweet," Nat commented after taking a sip of the
red wine.

Nick lifted his own glass and cautiously took a taste, then
teasingly raised an eyebrow. "Is it?"

"Well, you didn't spit it out, did you!" she playfully
rebutted. Over the next hour they were served a dinner of salad,
roast chicken with tiny potatoes and asparagus, and chocolate
mousse. Nick entertained himself by covertly feeding Natalie his
food rather than resorting to his usual tactics of mashing and
moving things around his plate. By the time she had finished all of
her own and half of Nick's meal, the music started again. Nick
smiled, stood, and escorted her to the dance floor.

They spent their first slow dance together in silence. It had
been so long since Nick had danced with anyone that he was having
difficulty simply concentrating on leading. Nat was too preoccupied
basking in the love and security she found in his arms to engage in
conversation. Nick finally found his tongue during the second
dance. "I just can't tell you how good this feels, Nat," he
whispered as he contentedly led her around to the romantic music.
They were so close to each other, he could actually feel her heart
pounding against his own chest.

Natalie snuggled even more deeply into him. "I think you're
doing a fine job of expressing yourself," she whispered, "and
you're fulfilling one of my long time fantasies."

Nick simpered. "One of them?" he asked mischievously.

But Natalie wasn't abashed by his prodding. "I'm saving the
rest of them to celebrate your mortality," she brazenly announced.
She sealed her proclamation with a soft sensual kiss on his lips.

Immediately after their kiss, Nick whispered desperately into
her ear, "I love you," he said, "and there's nothing I want more
than to spend the rest of the night holding you, but I'm already
losing it."

Natalie felt the sharp tip of a fang graze her ear lobe and
reluctantly eased herself from his arms. "That's okay," she consoled
him, "we'll go home now."

Once in the Caddy and on the way back to the loft, Natalie
turned to Nick. "Do you mind if we stop off at the morgue on
the way?" she asked.

"Do I have to remind you that you're off work for a few days?"

"This has nothing to do with work, well, regular work anyway.
It has something to do with the work I'm doing for you. It's a two
step injection procedure I want to try. I was going to explain it
all to you the other day, but with everything that's happened..."

"You do remember what happened the last time you tried drugs,"
Nick reminded her. "I had two demons inside my head instead of just
the one."

"Believe me, I've learned my lesson," Nat professed. "You've
already been exposed to both the elements I want to use, so it will
be much safer."

"Oh?" Nick said, "what elements would they be?"

"You remember what I told you before, about why garlic makes
you sick? That once ingested, its sulphur compounds react with the
chemicals in your body to produce an antienzyme that destroys the
digestive enzymes in your blood."

Nick nodded his head.

Nat continued, "What I've more recently learned is that these
antienzymes will also attack the extra nucleotides on your DNA if
given the opportunity. It's why you're repulsed by garlic, Nick.
The vampire element protects itself from destruction by keeping you
away from the thing that can destroy it."

"But I've taken garlic pills before and the sickness only
lasts for a few minutes," Nick said. "It's not a cure," he added
with a hint of cynicism.

"Under normal circumstances, no, it isn't," Nat conceded.
"That's because the nucleotides are strong enough to fend off the

Nick winced. "It sounds like you're leading up to a very long
and very unpleasant garlic treatment, Nat."

Natalie laughed. "I think I've found a better way," she said.
"Thanks to that omnipotent microscope an anonymous citizen donated
to the Coroner's department to assist in their battle against
crime, I've discovered that if I weaken the nucleotides first, they
*do* become susceptible to the antienzymes."

Nick's interest was piqued. "How did you weaken the

"Curare," Natalie replied. "It acts like a narcotic because it
breaks down the nucleotides. Enough of it renders you unconscious
while your body heals itself." She folded her hands together in her
lap. "The antienzymes were able to attack the weakened nucleotides,
but they couldn't completely destroy them. Tiny nodes remained, but
there was no regeneration."

Nick's mind backtracked to the garlic. "And only if I ingest
a substantial amount of garlic in the process?" He didn't even like
thinking about this one.

"It's not really all that much garlic," Nat advised him.
"Besides, you would already be unconscious. I'm planning on
liquifying and injecting it. It's possible that the vampire element
will be so busy trying to regenerate itself after the shot of curare,
that you won't have any reaction at all. Or you may have a very
violent reaction, but will be safely immobilized by the curare."

"And where does the 'partial' part of curing me come in?" Nick

"That's where the risk lies," Nat replied. "In the tiny nodes
that remain. What I'm afraid of is where exactly you might fall
between vampire and mortal when we're done." Nick looked a bit
confused and Natalie offered him further explanation. "For
example," she said, "maybe you won't be able to fly but you will
retain your strength. Maybe you'll lose all of your strength or
your extraordinary vision. Maybe you will desire blood, but be
unable to digest it." Natalie studied his face for a reaction.
"There's just no way to know," she said, "but I can offer you an
'out' if the results prove unacceptable."

"What kind of an out?" Nick asked.

"When I added a drop of your unaffected blood to the treated
sample, the entire sample regenerated. If I take an extra pint
beforehand, and things don't work out, I can transfuse it back into
you and..."

"...And I'll regenerate," Nick said, completing her sentence.
From what he had heard, the strategy sounded promising. It was
something, anyway. He quickly got out of the car and after opening
Nat's door, they went to her office to collect her things.

* * * * *

Shortly after settling back in at the loft, Nick laid down on
the couch to try the treatment. Natalie drew the first pint of
blood from him and then brought him a bottle of cow blood. "Drink
some of this and rest for a bit," she said. "I want to get another
pint just to be safe." Once she had Nick's untreated blood safely
stored in the fridge, she gave him the injection of curare. "Let me
know when you start to feel anything," she told him.

"I'm already a little woozy," Nick replied.

Natalie smiled and leaned in to kiss him lightly. "That's
good," she whispered. She meekly stroked his forehead until he fell
asleep and then injected him with the liquified garlic. She drew
blood samples every ten minutes and prepared slides that she could
study further when she returned to the lab. An hour into the
process, Nick began to stir.

"How do you feel?" Nat asked him when he fully woke.

"I'm sorry, Nat," Nick replied sluggishly. I don't feel any
different than I did before we started. A bit hungry, but that's

"I just don't understand it," Nat lamented, shaking her head
glumly. "It should have worked. You should have felt some kind of
change. Something. Anything."

"I didn't feel a thing, literally," Nick confirmed. Heeding
the discouragement in her face, he fully sat up and reached out to
her, tugging her down on the couch with him. "Don't give up," he
said reassuringly. "We can try again. Increase the dosage."

"No. This would have been more than enough to do the job if it
was going to work. I'm missing something. I must be missing
something." Her eyes were full of sorrow as she gazed at Nick. "I'm
sorry for getting your hopes up again, Nick. I really thought we
had a shot with this."

"There's nothing for you to be sorry for, Nat," he whispered
as he embraced her. "And having my hopes up even for a little while
is worth far more to me than you could possibly imagine." He heard
her muffled sobbing into his chest. "And I'm not disappointed," he
added. "Not in the least."

Thanks to a much delayed flight and a sudden blast of freezing
rain in Toronto that turned the streets to ice and slowed their
taxi ride downtown to a crawl, Mark and Beth didn't arrive at the
Hilton until two in the morning. Mark registered for both of them
and handed Beth her room key. "You're in 607 and I'm in 609," he
said. Come by in half an hour."

Beth leered at him flirtatiously.

"To discuss our plan of approach," Mark countered harshly.

'Make that two bugs up his ass,' Beth thought to herself as
they drifted off towards the elevators. Sometimes she just couldn't
figure this guy out. She knew he was both attracted to women and
attractive to women, but somehow the connections were never made.
And it wasn't simply a matter of the teacher/apprentice edict
either. She had seen it time and time again with Mark since they
had been in Chicago together. There was always a telling sparkle in
his eye whenever an attractive woman approached him, only to be
shrouded over in a veil of detachment before the conversation got
past the word 'hello'. Beth vaguely confronted him once about his
lack of a social life and was met with the curt remark that he
didn't mix business with pleasure. The difficulty was, he was
always 'on business'.

The couple got off the elevator at the sixth floor and walked
down the corridor to their respective rooms. "I'll see you in
thirty minutes," Mark told Beth before disappearing into his room.
He flicked on the twenty?four hour news channel and quickly
unpacked his small black suitcase before heading for the shower.
Fifteen minutes later he was washed, dried, and sitting at the
modest round table in a blue terrycloth hotel robe; trying
desperately to quell a peculiar sense of uneasiness that had
plagued him ever since their plane landed.

Beth tapped lightly on the door separating their rooms before
entering and approaching him. "You're already making plans?" she
asked, noting the pad on the table and the pen in Mark's hand.

"A list," Mark said. "Places to go, people to see..."
Something on the news suddenly distracted Mark and he went to turn
up the volume on the television.

Beth glanced at the set and gaped at the mug shots of both
Michelle and Steven. "My God!" she exclaimed as the news announcer

"...still no positive identity on the couple using the alias
of Anderson who were arrested early yesterday morning for the
kidnapping of an identified woman. Detectives Tracy Vetter and
Nicholas Knight, the arresting officers, refused any further
comment on the case..."

* * * * *

Natalie woke at noon from a restless sleep, haunted by visions
of Nick switching between mortal and vampire personas. One minute
he would be laughing and joking with mutual friends in the
sunshine, and the next he would be in a dark alley ripping out
those same friends' throats. Even her best friend, Grace, wasn't
immune to his savagery. The visions were so jarring that they
stayed with Nat for several minutes after she woke. Finally, the
images began to fade and she fell to calm.

She rolled over onto her stomach and hugged Nick's pillow,
enjoying the feeling of being in his bed, caressing his sheets,
wallowing in his scent. After several minutes, she reluctantly
chased away her pleasurable thoughts of him and pursued those
surrounding the partial cure. Something in Nick's body was able to
counteract what couldn't be counteracted in the lab. "No!" she
exclaimed. "Some *thing* in Nick's body was able to counteract it."
The vampire. The metaphysical part of his condition that her
rational mind had flatly refused to embrace throughout all these
long years of working with him. The unseen entity that retreated
when he suffered a head injury, facilitating his mortality for a
short time. "Too short of a time," Nat muttered sadly, recalling
how content and loving Nick had been when he was unaware of the
wretched truth. That short glimpse of Nick's true self, bereft of
outside influence, only made her love him all the more.

She had seen so much proof of the duality of vampirism, and
continued to refuse to accept the reality. Nick's experience with
Marion should have been her first clue. Whatever the thing was that
Marion took from Nick, he not only remained a vampire physically;
but was able to take it back without any blood exchange. Running
opposite to Nick's experience was that of Janette. Janette became
mortal physically, but the 'killer' entity had lingered for a time.
Ellen's case was even more conclusive. Two of Ellen's personalities
were human, but the third was a distinctly separate personality. A
vampire. An invisible force that made physical adjustments to her
human body to suit its own nefarious needs.

Natalie finally accepted that she would have to deal with both
of these aspects of vampirism if Nick was ever to permanently
regain his mortality. No cure, not even this one, would ever work
unless both problems were tackled simultaneously. In order for the
tangible to succeed, the intangible *had* to be dealt with. And
next to destroying it, weakening it was the only other option. If
the entity remained too weak to commence the physical change, the
partial cure *would* work. A new hope suddenly dawned on Nat that
maybe, just maybe, if the entity was weak *and* afraid, it would
flee altogether. She hurriedly got out of bed, showered and
dressed, and then went downstairs to wake Nick.

* * * * *

Mark woke from his agitated sleep early in the afternoon. He
had been plagued the entire night by savage vampire visitations.
The scenario itself wasn't unusual for him of course, but these
dreams were quite unique. Because in these particular dreams, *he*
was the vampire. And rather than waking in the cold sweat of fear
after each kill, he woke engulfed in the pleasure of it. Mark
quickly got out of bed and went into the bathroom to splash cold
water on his face.

The newscast had been a real shock for him. He couldn't
believe how careless Steven was. He would have to visit both Steven
and Michelle to find out exactly what happened. The trepidation he
had been feeling since his arrival in Toronto eased up a thread as
he pondered the possibility that his cohorts' disappearance had
nothing at all to do with vampires. "Perhaps it was simply the
plain dumb luck of the police department," he muttered.

His hopes of that scenario were dashed after his visit with
Steven that afternoon. After renting a car, he and Beth headed out
to Metro West to visit Michelle and Steven respectively. Mark's
visit was made on the pretence that he was Steven's lawyer, in
order that they could have a privileged conversation. He knew
almost immediately that Steven had been whammied. Steven's speech had
been natural and flowing until Mark asked if he found any evidence of
vampires in Toronto. At that point, Steven's tone would inevitably
become flat and monotonous. "There are no vampires here," he would
say. "We haven't seen any vampires. No. No vampires." Mark asked
him three times over the course of their conversation and Steven
would inevitably reply with exactly the same phrase, word for word,
in the same tedious voice.

Mark learned when he met up with Beth outside the detention
centre that her experience with Michelle went exactly the same way.
He listened patiently to her story and then paused in thought for
a minute. "I think you better go home," he finally told her.
"What's going on here could be much bigger and more complex than
anything I've dealt with."

"But I can help!" Beth protested.

Mark sighed heavily. "Not this time," he said. "Two of us
poking around could endanger the entire operation. Someone here
probably has access to the police department and definitely has
access to the coroner's office." Mark stared at her. "Just imagine
how valuable that kind of access would be to a vampire population."

"What do you plan on doing?" Beth asked curiously.

"First I'll be talking to the officers that arrested them and
then I'll be investigating one Dr. Natalie Lambert," Mark replied.
"I'll see where things lead from there."

* * * * *

The sun had barely set when Nick and Nat left in the caddy and
headed for the church. "The priest was more than happy to give us
some private space for the evening," Nick informed her as he made
a sharp left turn onto King Street.

Natalie chuckled. "And I suppose it wouldn't have anything to
do with that rather generous endowment you had couriered over there

"Sometimes you're just too sceptical, Nat," he replied. "I'm
sure he would have been accommodating even without that." Nick
veered over and parked the car parallel to the front of the
imposing beige brick church. Numerous small steeples adorned the
various entrances down the sides of the two hundred year old
structure. At the front entrance, an immense clock tower jutted
skyward. Its lengthy spire was finished in copper, now coated in a
powdery bluish green patina, and was topped off by a large cross.
Massive stained glass windows decorated the walls on either side
of the front entrance, and their intricate multi?hued beauty was
currently illuminated by a soft golden light emanating from within.

Nat gazed out the passenger side window. "It's beautiful
at night with the lights on," she uttered quietly. She
turned her head to glance at Nick who was also staring at the
church. "Are you sure you want to go through with this?" she asked.

For several seconds, Nick continued to stare thoughtfully at
what he hoped would afford him a way out of hell. "I've never been
so certain of anything in my life," he finally declared. They
emerged from the car and made their way through the entrance alcove
to the heavy wooden doors of the church. Nick started to feel weak
the moment he stepped inside, although it wasn't nearly as bad as
the last time he had been here.

Carrying her medical bag in one hand, Natalie wrapped her free
arm snugly around Nick's waist and walked him to a starkly
furnished private room in the back. She locked the door behind
them, and they both took off their coats.

Nick staggered over to an old grey couch and clumsily sat
down. "I'm already feeling weak, Nat," he said.

Natalie took her black bag over to the sofa and knelt down on
the floor next to him. "That's what we want," she said, "now lay

Nick complied, and then abruptly grabbed her hand and squeezed
it. "What if it only works while I'm in here?" he asked curtly.

"Don't worry," Nat reassured him. "If we're able to rid you of
the vampiric entity, history proves that it won't be able to return
unless *you* let it." She earned a grin from Nick when she grimaced
at him and added sternly, "And you're not going to let it... are
you!" Nat readied the syringe of curare and was about to inject
Nick when she suddenly blurted out, "Oh! Wait! I forgot something!"
She sprang up and retrieved something from her coat pocket. It was
a simple hand crafted pewter crucifix on a long silver chain. "I
want you to wear this, Nick," she said, dangling the inch high
cross in front of him.

"It looks very old."

"It is very old. And don't even ask how much I paid for it."
Nat smiled and slipped the chain over his head. She cautiously
positioned the cross on his chest, on top of his shirt. "Does it

"It is a little warm."

Nat reached over to remove it, but Nick seized her arm. "No,"
he said. "Leave it."

She smiled at him again and quickly returned to her task. Once
he slipped into unconsciousness, she injected the garlic. With
nothing left to do for the next ten minutes, Nat allowed her
emotions some free rein. She draped her arm over Nick and gently
laid her head down on his chest, pondering the silent hidden war
that was now taking place in his body and praying for success. "Now
all we have to do is wait," she murmured as she started stroking
his hair. She only intended to rest there for a few minutes before
beginning the periodic blood sampling, but the rhythmic stroking of
his hair combined with her lack of sleep lulled her into slumber.

Thirty minutes later, Nick woke with a start. He bolted
upright, spilling a drowsy Natalie off his chest in the process.
"It's gone!" he shouted.

"That can't be," Nat mumbled groggily, shaking her head. "It
couldn't have happened that fast, and I would have heard your heart

"You didn't hear it because you were sleeping," Nick briskly
informed her. "I can *feel* my heart beating." He grasped Nat's
hand and held her shaking palm tightly to his chest. "You don't
feel this?"

"My God, Nick! It's true!" she exclaimed, revelling in the
throbbing vibration of his heart beneath her hand. "And not only
that," she hastily added, "but I can feel the warmth of your skin."

Nick wrapped his mortal arms around her in a solid hug. "You
could never imagine what this is like, Natalie," he whispered, "to
know that the only life pulsing through my veins... is my own."
And then he cried.

Mark dropped Beth off at Pearson airport three hours before
her nine o'clock departure on British Airways. He gave her
stringent instructions to keep what they had discovered
confidential, fearing that some of the more radical of their kind
would descend on Toronto and at best impede or at worst annihilate
his investigation before he unearthed the full extent of the
problem. Withholding information from his superiors was not an
uncommon practice, particularly for him; it was their preference
that the more complicated cases be fleshed out under an umbrella of
discretion. The only information she was to relay was that the germ
turned out to be only a rumour, and that he had not yet finished
his investigation.

After leaving the airport, Mark headed north towards the
cottage where he originally met Steven and Michelle. It would have
to be a quick turnaround, he mused, in order not to miss his
appointment with Detective Tracy Vetter at the 96th Precinct at
eleven o'clock that night.

Apart from a few articles of clothing, there was nothing
incriminating against either Steven or Michelle in the cottage.
Mark was confident that the police department would never connect
Steven to the cottage. He wasn't as certain about Michelle though,
she being green and therefore more vulnerable to being pressured
into talking. But there were enough false trails leading from the
property's owner back to their employers in England that the only
inconvenience would be in writing the place off as a safe?house. Mark
started up a fire in the fireplace and then slipped on a pair of
latex gloves. He cleaned up the dirty dishes, then stripped the
beds and laundered the sheets. Wiping down anything either Steven
or Michelle might have touched was his most time?consuming task. With
that done, he gathered up their loose clothes and tossed them into
the now blazing fire. It was twenty minutes before ten when he
finally left the cottage and headed back to Toronto.

Mark arrived in the 96th precinct's public waiting area
just in time to keep his appointment with Detective Vetter.
He had only been sitting for a couple of minutes before the tall
bleached blonde strutted over and introduced herself.

"Mr. Morrison," Tracy said airily as she offered her hand.

Mark stood up and shook hands with her. "It's good of you to
see me this late."

"I work nights," Tracy chuckled. "What is it I can do for

"Steven Anderson."

Tracy immediately frowned. "That case is still under wraps,"
she said. "Your office told me you were working on a story about
the Rideout case."

"I'm sorry," Mark replied sheepishly. "That was last week." He
shuffled his feet as though embarrassed. "There must have been some

Tracy wasn't buying his act. She loathed reporters who stooped
to such tactics to try to obtain information. "Nothing has changed
since our press release," she firmly advised him. "I'm sorry, but
there's nothing I can tell you that your paper doesn't already

"What about the other detective who participated in the
arrest? What was his name?" Mark scratched his head, feigning
forgetfulness. "Knight. Yes. Detective Knight."

"He's off for a few days," Tracy said, "and you won't get any
further with him that you're getting with me." Fuming, she leaned
her face menacingly towards him. "In fact," she said, "you won't be
treated so politely, either. Goodbye." Tracy pivoted about and
marched off.

Mark studied her retreat with a satisfied grin on his face. If
there was a vampire connection to this precinct, he was certain it
wasn't through her. She just wasn't the type. "One down and one to
go," he muttered on his way out.

* * * * *

Nick and Nat spent a few hours in the Church before returning
to the loft at eleven?thirty. Natalie thought that Nick might have
spent the entire night there meditating on both his newfound
mortality and his belief that God had finally forgiven him by
putting an end to his torment. Nick still carried a heavy burden of
guilt over the things he had done in his past. He had told her that
he must and would carry it until the day he died, that he would be
remiss not to. But the burden was much more bearable to him now,
with the knowledge that at the end of his mortal lifetime, God
would lift it from him forever.

From his position on the couch, Nick studied Natalie as she
fed Sydney and then prepared a pot of tea. She glanced at him
occasionally and smiled brightly. He couldn't remember ever seeing
her so happy. Her smile was so natural, it always had been. So
genuine. So beautiful. She was so beautiful. With a sudden jolt,
Nick realized that all he wanted to do right now was to see the
rest of her. He was grinning broadly when Nat carried out two cups
of tea and joined him on the couch.

"Your first cup of real tea," she said. "Enjoy."

Nick took a cautious sip before setting his cup back down on
the table. "It's good," he muttered. He abruptly stood up and faced
her, reached for her hands, and gently tugged her to her feet. He
kissed her lips softly and she returned his kiss.

"Your tea will get cold," Nat whispered, somewhat

"Let it," Nick suggested, as he initiated a more lingering
kiss. Their kiss deepened in intensity and when their tongues met,
he became inflamed with passion. His heart was so engulfed in
desire for her, both spiritual and physical. He had always wanted
her with an innocent love, and now with a blazing passion too.
The need to make love to her, and to be loved by her, turned into
a surging, relentless hunger. His breathing grew urgent and heavy,
and his heart thumped hard and fast. He hadn't felt so alive in
eight centuries. Nick ended the fevered kiss and breathlessly
whispered, "I love you."

"I love you too," Nat murmured back to him, her body tingling
with such desire for him that she thought she might explode. She
massaged his slightly flushed cheek with a feather touch.

Nick shuddered as her velvet fingers floated over his skin. It
was pure euphoria for him to be enslaved by this dazzling passion
of his own and not by the savage passion of a demon. He placed his
trembling hand over Nat's and guided her palm to his mouth. After
tenderly kissing her palm, he clasped her hand in his. "Let's go
upstairs," he uttered softly, his lips barely touching hers.

"We should wait just to be sure," Nat muttered absently. But
her words were immediately laid to waste when her own lips
desperately lunged for his. She crushed her body into his, and was
met with equal force.

When their fervent kiss ended, Nick starting kissing her left
earlobe, taking equal pleasure in the taste of her skin as he did
of her lips. He revelled in the earthy taste of her, and in the
spicy fragrance of her perfume. Even his nostrils, now unencumbered
by the vampire's compulsion to smell only blood, had awakened to
the intensity and uniqueness of her scents. "No more waiting," Nick
murmured, "we've both been lonely long enough."

Melting into his captivating embrace, Natalie returned another
of his warm intermittent kisses. "You're seducing me with your
voice," she whimpered.

"With more than that I hope," Nick replied coyly. He again
briefly kissed her lips, and then delicately explored them with the
warm tips of his fingers. "Let's go upstairs," he pleaded, "let me
make love to you."

"Yes," Natalie finally whispered.

* * * * *

It was mid?morning when Nick started to wake. On realizing Nat
wasn't in bed with him, for a moment he feared the previous night
had only been another taunting dream. But his skin was warm and his
heart was beating. It was no dream. Nick reached over to the night
table for the shutter remote and opened the shutters, allowing the
sunlight to stream into his room for the first time since he had
lived here. Natalie picked that moment to walk into the bedroom,
and he marvelled at how wonderful she looked bathed in sunlight.

"I was wondering where you were," Nick said as he sat up.
"What time is it?"

Natalie stepped over to the bed and admired the healthy tone
of his chest. "It's nine," she said. She plunked herself down on the
bed next to him and started to toy with the pewter crucifix. "I think
it's safe to take this off now."

Nick tugged her closer to him. "Being human again, being
able to love you like this is a gift from God, Nat," he solemnly
told her. "It's never coming off."

Natalie thanked him with a fleeting kiss. "Do you want to help
make breakfast?" she asked in a whisper.

Nick grinned. "Breakfast?"

"Breakfast. You know. Toast, cereal, orange juice, coffee."
She chuckled lightly and added, "Especially coffee."

"Well I might have the coffee around here someplace, but as
for the rest of it..."

"We have everything we need. I just got back from the grocery
store a minute ago..."

Nick cut her off with an urgent kiss. "Come back to bed," he
pleaded. "We can have breakfast later."

It didn't take Mark long to make the connection between the
Police Department and the Coroner's office. A visit to the Toronto
main branch library and a search of local newspapers told him the
connection was Vetter's partner, Detective Knight. Detective
Knight, shining star of the MTPD night shift. Not only did his
multitude of speedy and often unusual arrests indicate either
exceptional good luck or extraordinary abilities, but the most
bizarre homicide cases in the city over the past few years always
led back to him. And the coroner on those cases was, more often
than not, one Dr. Natalie Lambert. Mark was ecstatic. He had found
his connection and now the only thing left to find was the uncommon
detective. There would be no risk at all in determining whether or
not Knight was a vampire. His open involvement in the mortal world
made him totally accessible.

Mark rescanned the news items more closely this time, looking
for any information that might be useful in finding out where
Knight lived. Being a cop, it would impossible to find out through
his workplace, which was Mark's usual route. He was considering
tracking Knight through Dr. Lambert when he suddenly came across a
promising, though slightly baffling lead. Knight had been shot a
few months ago and hospitalized. Mark's hopes that he found his
vampire were quashed, but only momentarily. He continued reading
the article to discover that the detective had made a 'miraculous'
recovery after being shot in the head. Mark noted the date and
name of the hospital and with a sated grin on his face, returned
the microfilm to the library desk and left.

Within the hour, he arrived at the hospital and gained access
to their computer records by masquerading as a technician. "101
Gateway," Mark muttered under his breath when he found Knight's
hospital records. He chuckled at the last entry. "Prematurely
released from hospital to the care of Dr. Natalie Lambert."

* * * * *

Nick and Nat spent the entire day enjoying the sun, food, and
most especially each other. By the time late afternoon rolled
around, they were discussing plans for the future.

"Well," Nick said, "now that we've decided on a few treed
acres near a small town, all that's left to decide is where and
what we want to do there."

Natalie nodded. "You know," she said, "this might give me an
opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for a long time.
Research." She paused in thought for a moment. "That is, if the
'small town' is large enough to have research facilities."

"We could locate near a larger town," Nick said. He grinned
and added, "Or I could just give you what you need to buy your own

Natalie considered his suggestion. "That's not such a bad
idea. Besides, with today's technology and courier services,
there's no real necessity to be that close to a city. I could
probably work from home for the most part." The more she thought
about it, the more enthusiastic she became. "Perhaps I could set up
privileges with a local hospital in exchange for helping out at a
clinic or something." She glanced at Nick. "What about you? Small
town cop? Forest ranger? Firefighter?"

"I'm not sure," Nick admitted. "But whatever I end up doing,
I will get there on my own merit." He flashed a sunny grin at Nat.
"I think I may eventually like to work with kids," he confessed.
"Make a real difference in their lives when they're still young
enough to benefit from it."

"A teacher?"

"Something like that, maybe. Something that will help people.
I want to contribute. I want to spend the rest of my life
contributing." He offered Nat a serious expression. "And it's not
out of my guilt," he assured her. "I want to do it because I want
to do it, not to assuage a guilt that could not, should not, and
never will be forgotten."

Natalie found his hand and squeezed it firmly. "I always knew
it was more than your guilt propelling you," she said softly. "Your
compassion is just one of the reasons that I love you."

Nick smiled and kissed the tip of her nose. "The only thing I
want right now is to get out of this city," he said. "To never know
who might be a vampire, or where they live, or what club they
fritter away eternity in. I want to be surrounded by nature, Nat.
By life. To live the way God intended, not like another ant in an
overpopulated and overgrown anthill."

"I'm ready whenever you are, Nick," Nat declared, her own
eagerness for change growing along with his.

"That's good," Nick said. "We should go as quickly as
possible, at least within the next few days."

"Few days?"

Nick glanced around the loft. "And I'm not taking anything
with me but you," he added. "This is all in the past, and it all
gets left behind."

"Even your car?"

"The car too," he replied without hesitation. "There is one
connection with the past I want to break tonight though. I will
have to say goodbye to Janette." He felt Nat's hand tense up.
"What's wrong?"

"I'm afraid that she'll misunderstand your intentions, that
she'll think you went there to gloat," Nat admitted. "That is what
she thought the last time and now, after Robert and everything."
Natalie paused for a moment. "Oh, Nick!" she cried out in a voice
laced with fear, "I don't know what she'll do!"

"She forgave me for bringing her back across, Nat," Nick
reassured her. "I believe she considers us even now, for having had
LaCroix bring me across in the first place. For not telling me what
becoming a vampire would cost me. For leaving me after promising an
endless parade of nights that I assumed would be spent with her.
Even for centuries of mocking me, I suppose." He patted Nat's hand
reassuringly. "I just want to say goodbye," he said. "Janette has
no one else left. She lost Robert. LaCroix is gone."

"I know," Nat maintained, "but I can't help being nervous
about it."

"Come with me," Nick suggested. "You know she doesn't harbour
any ill will towards you. That won't change when she realizes I'm
mortal." He noticed Natalie's hesitation and taunted her, "It will
be your last chance to ride in the Caddy," he added.

Natalie laughed. "I'll go," she finally agreed, "but I'll wait
in the car. You two should be alone when you talk."

Nick and Nat pulled out of the garage at seven?thirty that
night and headed downtown towards the Raven. Neither of them
noticed the black sedan that followed.

* * * * *

True to her word, Natalie remained in the car when Nick went
inside to bid farewell to Janette. She felt a bit sorry for him,
knowing what Janette had meant to him in the past despite the
cruelties she inflicted on him. Nat often pondered Nick's
predicament in LaCroix's odd familial delusion. She couldn't
imagine the emotional pain he must have suffered spending all those
centuries outside the world he craved, and inside a world rife
with humiliation and manipulation, the only mitigating factor
being the degree to which it was perpetuated. Natalie leaned
back into the seat and closed her eyes. She flushed away all
thoughts of Nick's past, and fantasized about the things their
future might hold.

Mark parked his car half a block north of the Raven just in
time to see the blond detective enter the club. He got out of his
own car and walked south. When he arrived at the club entrance,
Mark discovered that the old green convertible was parked too far
away to determine whether anyone was inside, so he went directly
into the Raven. His skin tingled as an unusually intense current of
awareness raced through his veins. 'There must be a lot of them in
here,' he thought. Normally, he would have to be face to face with
a vampire to experience that affect, but there was no one within a
ten foot radius. Mark immediately spotted Knight in animated
conversation with a slim dark haired woman at the bar. Her back was
to Mark, so he couldn't make out her face. Mark strolled over to an
empty table and sat down, unaware that there was a vampire sitting
at the table directly behind him who held an even greater interest
in detective Knight than he did.

"I think he's become mortal," Serena swore under her breath
as she gaped at Nick. She was unable to detect his heartbeat at
this distance, but she had no sense of their connection at all. She
watched him the entire time he was there, and followed him with
her eyes when he left the bar. "Now it makes sense to me," she
muttered absently.

Mark was in absolute shock when the slim brunette turned
around to see Nick off. She was beautiful. She was elegant. She was
a vampire. She was Janette. The one who had bitten him ten years
earlier and left him for dead. The one who decided his fate. The
reason his blood was teeming with electricity at this very moment.
Panicked beyond reason, Mark scrambled madly for the doors. He had
to get out. Now. He raced out into the street, only to bump smack
into detective Knight.

"Are you okay?" Nick asked the shaken man.

"I'm... I'm fine," Mark declared, his current shock
momentarily overcome by his realization that Knight was mortal. Not
only were Knight's hands warm, but he had traces of scratches on
his neck like those made by a cat, or perhaps someone's
fingernails. And the proximity rush that Mark experienced inside
the club had disappeared the moment he tumbled out the door. If
Knight was a vampire, he would still be feeling it.

Nick removed his hand from Mark's shoulder. "Maybe you should
go a little easy on the drinks, eh buddy?"

"Sure. Sure thing," Mark grumbled. He practically ran down the
street towards his car and almost dived into it. He had to get away
from here. He had to think.

"I was watching in the mirror," Nat told Nick as he
climbed into the caddy. "What was that all about?"

"Someone had a little too much to drink," Nick said. "Looked
a little frightened too actually," he added, wondering if the man
had bumped into Alma. Both Alma's name and Nick's recent visit to
that church, immediately brought back memories of Schanke and
Schanke's 'confession'.

"What are you grinning at?" Nat asked.

"I was just remembering Skank," Nick replied, "and that
confession he made to me when he thought I was a priest." Nick's
smile was quickly doused by a wave of sadness. "I miss him."

"I know," Natalie said, "I miss him too." She snuggled in
close to Nick as he put the car in gear. The two of them consoled
each other with cheerful memories of Schanke all the way back to
the loft.

"I think Skank would be proud of me," Nick remarked as they
got out of the car. "Finally finding a woman who would have me. He
did tease me a lot about that you know."

"Yes, I remember," Nat giggled. "Say, how about a movie
tonight? Like the old days?"

"Sounds good. I wouldn't mind trying a cup of that hot
chocolate you were always raving about either."

Natalie winked at him. "Won't be a problem," she said. "How
about 'King Kong'?"

Nick laughed. "Yeah, but don't expect me to cry over it just
because I'm mortal."

Two hours later, Serena arrived outside Nick's loft. She
focused her vampiric senses and picked up two distinct heartbeats
followed by two distinct voices.

The first voice she heard was that of a woman giggling, and an
entirely insincere, "Stop tickling me there."

"I know you like it, Natalie," she heard Nick whisper back.
That was the woman's name, Natalie.

"Actually, I love it, but sometimes less is more. Especially
when it's less tickling and more..."

The voice was suddenly muffled and then,

"...yes, more of that, Kiss me like that again."

Serena's rage intensified as she stood and listened to nothing
more than several minutes of accelerating throbbing heartbeats. Her
master *was* mortal. He had achieved the very thing that he stole
from her. Life. Furious, Serena tore up into the cold black sky.

* * * * *

"I hope it's going to be mild out today," Nat remarked as she
and Nick stood by the bedroom window waiting for the sunrise. Nick had
slept right through it the previous morning. They both had. Last
night, he set the alarm clock for five in order not to miss it
again. He stood behind Nat and held her close. She could feel his
body heave in contentment when the first timid rays of daylight
appeared on the horizon. She could hear his muffled sobs and feel
his hot tears on the back of her neck, but it was an experience
that she would not distract him from. She cried her own tears of
joy for him, but apart from that, she remained still and quiet
until the sun was a brilliant yellow ball of fire.

Nick gently spun Natalie around and held her. "Thank you," he
said, "for giving this back to me."

"I'm certain that God had more to do with it than I did,"
Natalie replied, "but you're very welcome for my...." Her sentence
was interrupted by an involuntary yawn. "I think we better go back
to bed and finish sleeping."

* * * * *

Mark wasn't prepared to sleep until after the sun rose. His
mind was a mass of confusion ever since he had seen her. He should
have been thinking about killing the devil woman, but all he wanted
to do was get close to her and have her finish what she started ten
years ago. The dark secret part of his soul, the one that had
scorned all other women since he met his Janette, was burning with
the same hellish desire for her now that had tempted him to
vampirism in the first place. She was supposed to bring him across.
She promised him eternity, fed on him, and then left him for dead.
Like a bolt of lightning the truth of his incessant craving,
of his overwhelming need to hunt vampires, came crashing into
his brain. His blood was not boiling for their blood. It never
was. It was boiling for her.

His life was going to change tonight. One way or the other.
He placed a call to England and informed his superiors that the
Toronto problem had turned out to be quite minor and had been
extinguished. He then explained that Steven and Michelle's
incarceration was totally legit, that Steven screwed up and a
civilian witness was the one who tipped off the police. Finally, he
told them that he himself was going on indefinite leave. His
employers were baffled at first and a little leery, but Mark was
one of their best. Their fears were allayed when he told them
that he met someone, a woman, and that he wanted to make a go of
it. "It's about time," was the reply. "Come back whenever you're
ready. There will always be a place for you here."

* * * * *

The day did turn out to be mild, and Nick and Nat decided to
walk over to Natalie's to pick up her car. Afterwards, they drove
to the morgue so she could clean out her papers, particularly
anything relating to Nick. They had a leisurely lunch with Grace,
who made Natalie promise to call once she settled in her new home,
wherever that might be.

The rest of Nat's friends and co?workers were surprised by
her sudden resignation, but not shocked. She did seem to have a
penchant for ending up in trouble and they assumed this latest
kidnapping was simply the last straw.

After Natalie said goodbye to all of her friends, she and Nick
returned to the loft. Nick had already called Reese the previous
night and explained that he wouldn't be coming back to work, but
that he would be coming to the precinct the next evening to tender
his official resignation and to say goodbye to Tracy. Reese didn't
seem surprised by his decision. Reese knew that he had recently
lost Schanke, and that Natalie had just been through another one of
too many harrowing ordeals. "Yeah, Knight, I'd get the hell out of
town too," were his exact words.

Nick spent the afternoon sorting his vast collection of
memorabilia, dividing it into various piles for the museum, the art
gallery, charity, and the fireplace. Joan of Arc's cross was
earmarked for the Catholic church. He chuckled at the thought of
the controversy that little item would brew up. Even his
photograph albums were targeted for destruction, an act that
unexpectedly caused him more comfort than distress. Nick knew in
his heart that the mortals in those photos would understand and
that they would be happy for him. It was time to move on, and this
time he wouldn't drag his past along with him. The only things he
kept were the things he had amassed since he arrived in Toronto. It
wasn't much, but his future began when he arrived in Toronto, and
he felt honest about keeping them.

"Dinner's ready!" Natalie eventually shouted up the stairs.

Nick came down the stairs with yet another box of stuff. "What
new and incredible taste sensation do you have for me tonight?" he

Natalie motioned towards the table, now cluttered with little
take?out boxes. "Chinese," she announced with enthusiasm.

Summoning up all of his courage, and struggling to maintain
some kind of decorum in the midst of his raging blood, Mark walked
confidently through the doors of the Raven. He immediately spotted
Janette at the bar, dressed in an elegant emerald green gown. Her
glorious dark hair was piled neatly on top of her head, exposing
the pale beauty of her exquisite neck. He headed straight for her.


She gracefully swivelled around on her barstool. A brief look
of shock registered in her face, and then she did something totally
unexpected. "Ma cher!" she cried out as she stood up and embraced
Mark. "But I thought you were dead!"

"Not yet," Mark replied with a wry grin.

"I've missed you so much," Janette swore. "Not a day goes by
that I don't think of my handsome Mark." She eyed his physique and
his rugged face appreciatively. "And he is even more handsome now
than last we met," she purred. Janette started running her fingers
through his soft thick hair. "I am so sorry, darling," she
lamented. "I believed I took too much. A filthy habit of mine."

Mark felt electricity when Janette kissed him. His entire body
turned to fire and he returned her kiss vehemently. "I've missed
you too," he gasped when their lips finally parted. "All these
years I've been searching for you and I didn't even realize it."

"Come, mon amour," Janette urged as she tugged Mark along to
the back room. "We have lots of catching up to do, you and I."

* * * * *

A short time after dinner, Nick and Nat headed over to the
precinct. Tracy was getting out of her own car when they pulled into
the parking lot. Tracy ran over to them as Nick was climbing out of
Nat's car. "I can't believe you're leaving just like that, Nick!"
she exclaimed. "Reese told me last night."

"It's time," Nick said. "We've both been here long enough and
we're both ready for a change. We want to get away from the city."

"You're quitting *and* moving?" Tracy asked, entranced by
Nick's use of the word 'we' and all that it entailed. She hadn't been
wrong about them after all.

Nick nodded his head, "We want to see less artificial light
and more starlight. Haven't chosen a place yet, but it will be far
north of here."

"I really can't blame you," Tracy contended. She had heard
enough about the high ratio of burnout in this line of work not to
be too surprised, and both Nick and Nat had seen enough gore to
last them several lifetimes. "I know we didn't work together very
long, but you've taught me a lot and I'll always be grateful for
that." Tracy leaned forward and pecked Nick's cheek. "Thanks for
everything," she said, "and don't forget to invite me up to a
barbecue this summer."

Nick grinned. "I won't forget," he promised as he started
walking towards the building.

"I'm just going to say goodbye to Nat," Tracy called after
him. "I'll probably see you inside and get a chance to say goodbye

Tracy chatted with Nat for a few minutes and wished her the
best. Then she also disappeared into the precinct while Nat waited
in the car.

Fifteen minutes had passed by the time Nick said his goodbyes
to his fellow officers. His friends told him they were disappointed
they couldn't throw a party for him, but his leaving was too last
minute to arrange anything. Nick made a special trip into Reese's
office where Reese and Tracy were waiting to say their final
goodbyes. Nick left his resignation, gun, and badge with Reese, and
then he strolled out to his desk. He checked his desk drawers only
to find nothing worth keeping. After taking a last look around, he
slipped out the front door. He wasn't ten feet into the parking lot
when a sudden whoosh behind him startled him.

"Where is your big green car?" the familiar sultry voice
asked him.

Nick spun around and gasped, "Serena?"

"It is me," she said. "The car?"

"In the shop. My partner gave me a lift in," Nick lied. It
took all of his concentration not to dart his eyes towards Nat's
car. Serena's venomous expression alone told him that Nat would be
in danger if Serena knew she was there. He only hoped that Natalie
was safely oblivious to what was going on and would stay put.

"Then we go another way," Serena blurted out. A quick burst of
vampire speed and she knocked Nick unconscious. She scooped him up
off the ground and flew away with him.

Minutes later, she was poking at his shoulder. "Get up!" she

Nick's head hurt. His face hurt. He shook the grogginess away
and glared at Serena. "What do you want with me?" he asked,
realizing that his feet and hands were bound. He was in a small
room in a basement somewhere. The walls were concrete block and
there were no windows. The only furniture was the chair he was tied
to and a dilapidated armchair and table on the other side of the

"I saw you at the Raven last night," Serena replied, "I saw
you and I didn't feel you. My suspicions were confirmed when I
later stood outside your loft and heard you and your lover. You are

"A recent convert," Nick spat. "Release me. You know I never
intended to do you any harm. You know I misunderstood what you
wanted. Why are you doing this?" He believed he knew the answer
already, he had been a vampire for nearly eight hundred years after
all. It was retribution she sought. She was going to kill him.

"You know what I want, Nicholas. I want my mortality back!"
Serena bellowed.

"I can help you if you let me go."

Serena chuckled malevolently. "You will help me right where
you are," she said. "I do not intend to use whatever method you
used to become mortal. The one I have in mind is much more...
satisfying." She glided over to the table across the room and
picked up a book. Flipping through the pages, she returned to Nick.
"This is a very old book of cures," she said. "It took me some time
to learn the language, but I did find the answer."

Nick caught a glimpse of the cover and recognized it
immediately. It was the Abarat that he himself had spent decades
searching for.

"There is a cure for vampirism," Serena continued. "It
didn't make sense to me until last night." She stopped turning the
pages at the one she sought. "But it was a chicken and egg dilemma,
you see. I was quite furious, naturally, but now the way is clear."

"What way is clear?" Nick asked.

"I'll read it to you," Serena said. She began to read,
"Bloodlust affliction. Free those souls who suffer eternity caught
between life and death. Destroy the receptacles of evil, for the
evil fights for itself with a fear that weakens their resolve. There
is but one other way ?? the afflicted may, at sunrise, return the
curse to their mortal master."

* * * * *

"I wonder what's taking him so long," Nat muttered to herself
as she waited in the parking lot for Nick. She finally got out of
the car and went into the precinct to find him.

"Hi Nat!" Tracy exclaimed as Nat walked towards Nick's old
desk. "I didn't think I'd be seeing you again this soon!"

Natalie glanced around. "Where's Nick?"

"He left about fifteen minutes ago," Tracy replied. "I saw him
go out the door."

Natalie started feeling uneasy. "Thanks," she said. "He must
be out in the parking lot talking to someone. I must have missed
him." She turned around and went back outside, but there was no one
in the parking lot. Her stomach started to tighten with worry. She
knew that even as a mortal, Nick would have no trouble defending
himself; but over the years she had also learned that Nick's foes
more often came from the vampire community. And in that community,
he was now defenceless.

"Nick!" she cried out. "Nick!" Her heart started to thump
heavily in her chest, and her throat started to dry up. Nat raced
around the entire building searching for him. No Nick. In a state
of near panic, she ran back to her car and sped off to the Raven.

Nat ran directly over to the bar when she arrived at the
notorious club. "Where's Janette?" she asked the tall dark haired

"In the back," Miklos replied gruffly. He saw Nat start for
the back room and called out after her, "You can't go back there!"

Natalie spun around. "Please get her for me!" she begged.
"This is an emergency!"

Miklos studied her for a moment and then nodded. "I'll see if
she can see you."

"Thanks," Natalie mumbled. She followed right behind Miklos to
the back room, and waited as he knocked lightly on the door.

"Busy," Miklos grumbled after waiting for a minute.

"I have to see her now," Natalie declared. She reached out and
pounded hard on the door.

Moments later, Janette opened the door, an irritated
expression on her face. "I told you I was... Natalie, I didn't
expect to see you again." Janette peered back into the room for a
moment and then came out and closed the door softly behind her. She
nodded at Miklos, who immediately returned to the bar.

"I can't find Nick," Nat blurted out. "We were at the precinct
and he disappeared."

"Well, he isn't here," Janette said. "I don't expect to ever
see him again."

Natalie could feel the blood rushing from her face and her
knees weaken. She visibly paled. "What?! What does that mean?!
What's happened to him?!"

Janette laid a hand on her shoulder. "Calm down, dear," she
said soothingly. "I simply meant he came to say his goodbyes to me.
He told me you two were starting a new life together somewhere else."

Natalie relaxed a bit. "Will you help me find him?"

"Nicola doesn't want anything to do with our world anymore,
Natalie, and I promised to never interfere in his new life."

"Please," Natalie begged. "No mortal would have been able to
take Nick this way. Please."

"I suppose I do owe him one more for ridding me of a master,"
Janette said. "Freedom is so... exhilarating." She paused for a
moment and then sighed. "Very well. I'll help you." Janette briefly
glanced over her shoulder at the closed door. "Although your timing
could have been better."

"Thank you! Thank you!" Natalie exclaimed.

Janette's tone suddenly became more serious. "But this *will*
be the very last time," she declared. "Go back to Nicola's and

Janette had left Mark asleep in her private room at the Raven
and spent the next several hours searching for Nick. Rather, she
spent the next several hours searching for vampires and then
determining that they didn't have Nick. It was less than an hour
before dawn when she finally found him. She honed in on a female
vampire and a mortal heartbeat in the basement of an abandoned
cement plant on the waterfront. Janette flew closer and landed
outside the factory. She listened intently until she heard Nick's
voice. But in the back of her mind another voice suddenly cried
out. It was Mark. He was waking and he was hungry. Janette
immediately flew to Nick's loft.

When Janette arrived at the loft alone, Natalie let out a
wail. Janette immediately pacified her, "I found him," she said,
"he's alive. But you must continue yourself. I must get back to the
Raven. Now. And dawn is almost here." She told Nat exactly where
Nick was. "I wish you luck," she said. And then she vanished.

Natalie raced downstairs and got into her car.

* * * * *

"We must go upstairs to catch the sunrise," Serena said as she
started to remove Nick's ties. He started to struggle against
her. "Don't waste your time, Nicholas," she hissed. "Co?operate, or
your warm sweet Natalie back at the loft dies." Nick submitted, and
once unbound, he followed her up a concrete stairwell to the main
floor. They were now in a huge vacant area with banks of windows
along two of the walls. They walked over towards an eastern window.
"You just stand there at the edge of the glass," Serena ordered
him. "We've less than ten minutes to go." The words had barely
escaped her mouth when they both heard someone pushing through the
outside door.

"Natalie!" Nick screamed when he saw her. "Get out!"

Natalie gaped at Serena who was racing towards her, and then
at Nick who was standing by the window, "Nick?"

"GET OUT!" he screamed again, but Serena already had her hand
clutched tightly around Natalie's wrist.

"No. Come and watch," Serena said. "Come and see what he did
to me. What I am going to do to him."

"What are you going to do to him?" Natalie gasped.

"I am going to regain my mortality, and he will become a
vampire... again."

"No!" Natalie exclaimed. "You don't need to do this. I can
help. Nick and I. You can become mortal without doing this.
Please!" she begged.

Serena tossed Natalie over to Nick and they immediately clung
to each other. "I'll give you a few minutes to talk," she said.

Nick wiped the tears from Nat's face. "I love you, Nat," he
said, "but I can't go back to being what I was. I couldn't suffer
us being apart again either."

"We can use the cure again, Nick," she sobbed.

Nick shook his head dismally. "I've had two chances already to
go into the light," he said. "And the last time, I chose to defer
judgement of my soul." He looked at Nat imploringly. "The next
time, it will be judged," he said. "If I choose again to return as
a vampire, my soul *will* be damned forever. I have no doubt of
that at all, Nat. No doubt at all."

"Oh, Nick. You can't," Natalie cried. "You can't leave me like
this. Not now. We just started a life together."

Nick kissed her softly. "I want you to live your life, Nat,"
he said. "I'll be waiting for you when it's your time."

Serena suddenly interrupted their conversation by ripping Nat
away from Nick. "The cure will not work unless you return as a
vampire!" she roared. "If you don't return, Natalie dies." Serena
emphasized her warning by running a sharp fingernail down Nat's
cheek and tasting her blood.

Nat struggled unsuccessfully to free herself from Serena's
firm grip. "I don't want to live without you, Nick!" she screamed.
"Don't come back. I won't see you suffer and I won't see your soul
damned. I couldn't live with the knowledge that we could never be
together, not even in the afterlife. She can kill both of us and
we'll go through the door together!"

Serena hesitated in thought for an awkward moment, and then
looked directly at Nick. "If you don't come back," she said, "you
won't only be signing her death warrant, but your child's as well.
Will you not damn your soul for the life of your child?"

"No!" Nat screamed. "It can't be true! Oh, Nick! Don't listen
to her!"

Serena put her free hand on Nat's abdomen and started to rub
it. "It's true," she said, "I tasted it in her blood." Still
holding Natalie by the arm, she stared at Nick. "Take that off,"
she ordered, gesturing to the crucifix dangling outside his shirt.
Nick complied and gently placed the cross on the cement floor.
"It's time," Serena said. She released Nat and stepped over to

Natalie immediately collapsed to her knees, weeping profusely.

Serena stood next to Nick and glanced at Natalie. In an effort
to stave off the mounting sympathy she felt for the mortal woman,
she resorted to a taunt. "I will be the last woman to kiss these
*warm* lips," she said. Serena kissed Nick's clenched lips, but her
cruel action only made her feel worse.

"I'll hunt you down and kill you when I return," Nick spat,
but even as he spoke the words of cold revenge, hot mortal tears
streamed down his cheeks.

"You'll never find me," Serena whispered back. "The sun will
be high before you awaken. I will be mortal and lost in a sea of
billions." She bared her fangs and prepared to strike.

Natalie screamed out in bitter agony as she watched Serena
plunge her teeth into Nick. A split second later, Serena withdrew her
fangs and staggered backwards. Nick fell to the ground, splayed out
on his back.

All of Nick's emotions coursed through Serena. His love for
Nat, his eternal anguish, the guilt he bears even as a mortal,
including that of bringing her across. He did truly believe that
she wanted immortality. Even Nick's cure was apparent to her, both
the physical remedy and his ethereal faith in God. "It's too late,"
Serena lamented, "it's no good." Blood tears dripped from her eyes
as she retreated from the rising sun, and the room.

"You took too much!" Natalie shrieked. "You killed him!" She
bolted over to Nick and threw herself on his prone body. Natalie
was racked in sorrow, her body shuddering with each heaving sob.
And then she heard it. A faint heartbeat. Getting stronger.
Stronger. Natalie desperately started shaking Nick. "Nick!" she
shouted. "Nick! You're alive! Wake up! Wake up!"

He started to stir beneath her and slowly opened his eyes.
"Nat? What happened? Where is she?"

"She's gone," Nat whispered as she stroked his hair. "She
didn't do it, Nick. I don't know why, but she stopped." Natalie
leaned over and kissed him softly on the lips.

Nick felt her warm tears dripping onto his face. He put his
arms around her and held her tightly to his chest. "Be the only
woman to kiss these warm lips," he whispered. Nat let loose another
volley of tears. They held each other for a long time, until they
both stopped crying, and for some time after.

Natalie eventually helped Nick up to his feet and then bent
down to retrieve his crucifix. She carefully put it around his neck
and tucked it down inside his shirt. "Come on," she said, "let's go
* * * * *

Two days later, Nick and Nat were packed up and ready to leave
Toronto for good. Apart from Sydney, and some plants and
breakables, the bulk of their belongings were already in a moving
van on the way to their new home. They decided to wait until dark
to leave. Nick drove part way up the 400 to a modest rise, and then
pulled over. They both got out of the car to take a final look at
the lights of Toronto and the lives they were leaving behind

"Do you have any fears of life becoming a little dull after
this?" Nat asked.

Nick smiled. "None at all," he declared. "I've had quite
enough of culture. I want to experience life."

"Well there is plenty of that out in the woods," Nat
acknowledged with a grin.

"There's a whole world out there to see, Nat."

Natalie laughed lightly. "I think you've seen it all already."

"Not in daylight," Nick said. "The rocky mountains, the Grand
Canyon, glaciers, the redwood forest... hell, I've only ever seen
Niagara Falls under artificial light. No, Nat, I haven't seen the
world at all the way it was meant to be seen. Everything will be for
the first time." He stepped over behind her and wrapped his arms
snugly around her. "After being dead for eight hundred years," he
whispered, "raising a family and growing old with you will be the
most exciting thing that I've ever experienced."

Natalie leaned her head back into his chest. "After not quite
so many years working with the dead, it will be exciting for me
too," she quipped.

Nick kissed the top of her head and then gently started
massaging her belly, spellbound by the reality that after eight hundred
years, he had finally contributed to the creation of life, rather than
to its destruction.

-- The End --

Susan B.