For All Eternity -- A Knight to Remember
by Nancy Taylor

It started on January 31st. Her doorbell rang. Natalie
Lambert stretched and picked Sydney off her lap and set him down
on the couch. she wondered. She'd had a long night
at the morgue and had settled down to watch a movie. She was
tired and feeling a little bit grumpy. Taking a swipe at her unruly hair before
answering the door, Natalie shuffled across her living room grumbling as she went.

When she opened the door she was confronted by a delivery
man with a package that needed to be signed for. Natalie's
grumpiness gave way to curiosity, and she puzzled over what could
be in the package as she signed her name on the manifest.
Whatever in the world could this be? And who would be sending her
a gift this time of year? It certainly wasn't her birthday, and
Christmas was already long past. She took the package over to her
kitchen table and got out a knife to slice through the heavy
packing tape. Once open, she was forced to dig through an
enormous amount of packing material to get at the contents. When
she finally removed the item, she stood marveling. In her hands
she held a large Waterford vase; full-lead crystal and cut so the
facets caught every beam of light in her kitchen. It was
obviously not an inexpensive piece. She dug around in the
packing, but found no card, nor any indication of who had sent the

She heaved a mental shrug and, still in awe of the
beautiful object, went to find the best window in which to display
it. It was quite a large piece and Natalie wondered where she'd
ever find a bouquet large enough to fill it.
she thought. The sunlight sparkled in the facets as Natalie wondered who had given her such a delightful gift. She remembered the lovely Christmas
she had spent with Nick, but even he wouldn't send her such an
expensive gift just out of the blue for no reason and no occasion.
Her curiosity was definitely piqued.


The next night was another in a series of difficult nights
at work as well. Nat wondered. It seemed there would be no end to the
suicides she was autopsying here lately. She just couldn't find
it within herself to understand why holidays caused so much
depression. True, she usually didn't have anyone to spend them
with; Nick was sweet and attentive, but where can a relationship
with a vampire go anyway? But she never felt alone, not with
friends like Grace around to see that she didn't suffer too much.
Grace had been her usual ebullient self, bouncing around the
morgue with obvious delight, putting up red and white streamers
and lace-doilied hearts.

"What has gotten into you, Grace?" Nat finally asked,
turning to her bubbly technical assistant.

"Oh, guess it's just the old Valentine spirit kicking in.
Ever figure out who gave you that vase?" Grace had an impish
smile on her large friendly face.

"No, still no clue," answered Nat as she set about
beginning another of the seemingly endless autopsies.

"I'll bet I know who it was, girlfriend. I'll bet it was
from a certain handsome detective that frequents this place more
than he needs to." She chuckled to herself at the look on Nat's

"I don't know, Grace. It was a pretty spendy gift for a
man on a detective's salary." But Natalie was thinking to herself
that Nick didn't have to live solely on his salary, and that he
*could* have afforded the vase. Still, there was no indication
from either the gift *or* Nick that he was the giver. She
couldn't imagine anyone else, however....


Natalie had no more than gotten home from work the next
morning and gotten her coat off when the doorbell rang. Again she
was confronted with a delivery man, this time from an upscale
florist shop. He presented her with a long, ornate box. Closing
the door and turning toward her kitchen again, she opened the box.
Inside was a single, perfect, long-stemmed white rose. She picked
the flower out of the box and stared at it in amazement. She
thought she knew now who had sent her the vase and it sent shivers
down her spine. She thought back to Valentine's Day of the year
before and the large bouquet of white roses that had arrived at
the morgue with a note to meet him at Azure. *Him*. He thought
she didn't remember what had happened that night. And for her own
health and well-being, she had decided not to let him think any
differently. LaCroix. The name sent shivers down her spine. Her
first response was to throw the rose in the trash and not think
about it anymore, but something compelled her to put the single
rose in the large crystal vase instead.


On the second of February the florist delivered two perfect
long-stemmed *red* roses to her door; on the third, three perfect
white roses; on the fourth, four perfect red roses. The pattern
continued on a daily basis, giving Natalie something very pleasant
to look forward to after a rough day at work. Her crystal vase
was rapidly filling up. She smiled at the beautiful red and white
blossoms, but her heart still did flip-flops wondering if this was
LaCroix again and what he was up to this time. Then, with the
thirteen white roses that arrived on the thirteenth, was a note,
obviously written by the florist, for it was in no handwriting
that Natalie recognized, asking her to keep her calendar free on
the fourteenth.

Natalie's hand was poised over her phone. She was
undecided as to whether or not she should call Nick and tell him
what was up. She really did not like the thought of another
Valentine's Day with LaCroix, but she didn't want to pull Nick
into this either. *He* didn't know she remembered last
Valentine's Day either, and she didn't want to put him through the
guilt trip she knew he would go through if he knew that she knew
what he knew about that night. She smiled. she thought to herself.

The fourteenth dawned with a red-hued splendor. It looked
as though it would be a most beautiful Valentine's Day. Natalie
had taken the night off from work and spent the day washing her
hair and relaxing in her fuzzy pink bathrobe and slippers,
wondering what would happen that night. She finally decided that
she ought to get a little sleep before evening and shuffled off to


That evening, barely a few minutes past sunset, the
doorbell rang as it had each day this month. Natalie got up to
receive her roses, which she was expecting by now. Even with the
fact that she'd had to throw a few of the older ones out, her
beautiful crystal vase was nearly full to the bursting point
already. Sure enough, fourteen of the most perfect red roses she
had ever seen greeted her as she opened the florist's box. She
had no more than managed to put the last of the roses in the vase,
when the doorbell rang again. Natalie was a little concerned this
time. She was still in her robe and slippers and certainly not
ready for a guest. Especially not the guest she half expected to
see standing there.

The person who greeted her at the door was not LaCroix,
however. Much to her relief, she noted that this was *another*
delivery man. she wondered. She'd
been wondering a lot lately. Whatever this was all about, the
person behind it certainly had an elaborate sense of creativity
when it came to romance.

This time she took the package to her bedroom, thinking
that perhaps she ought to get dressed before her doorbell rang
again. Placing the box on her bed, she went to the closet to look
for a dress that was casual, but a little dressy. she thought as she
smiled to herself. But she couldn't stand that box just sitting
there on her bed. Her curiosity overcame her need to get dressed
right away and she opened the large, heavy package.

Inside, on top of the inner wrappings was a notecard. She
opened it to reveal a handwriting that she did finally recognize.
On the card was the message, "Sir Nicholas de Brabant requests the
honour of his Lady's presence downstairs at her earliest
convenience. Please do me the honour of wearing the enclosed
gift." Natalie turned back the tissue paper and lifted out the
dress. It was the most gorgeous thing she thought she had ever
laid eyes upon. The deep burgundy red velvet of the floor-length
gown was trimmed in gold brocade and cut and fashioned much in the
style of 13th Century noblewomen. Natalie couldn't believe her
eyes. The navy blue suit dress she had pulled from the closet lay
forgotten on the bed as she quickly slipped into the luscious
gown. She smiled as she looked in the mirror. It made her feel
like a princess. There was even a pair of matching red velvet
slippers. And everything fit as though it had been custom
tailored just for her. Slipping on her coat, she hurried outside
to meet her "prince".

There on the curb stood Nick, dressed very authentically
in the garb of a 13th Century knight. Beside him stood a
beautiful dapple-gray horse. His grin at seeing her decked out in
her finery nearly split his face in two. He offered her his hand,
and after mounting his steed, pulled her up behind him.

"And just where do you think you are taking me, Sir
Nicholas?" Natalie said with a twinkle in her voice as she held
to Nick's waist for dear life as they cantered down the streets of

"Just you wait and see," was the only answer she got.


Finally, Nick reined his horse in at the base of the CN
Tower. After dismounting, he helped Natalie down and led her to
the elevator. They rode in silence all the way to the top.

"I thought you might enjoy dinner in the '360' tonight,"
Nick said with a smile. "I hear they have a wonderful chef and
the view can't be matched."

As long as she'd lived in Toronto, Natalie had never
managed to find the time to visit the rotating restaurant before.
"The view is fabulous!" she exclaimed, admiring the vista of
Toronto at night from far atop the landmark spire. Then she
looked around the restaurant itself, noting that they appeared to
be alone.

"I bought it out for the evening, in your honor," Nick
explained. Soft music from a live band played in a corner of the

The maitre d' showed the couple to their seats. Nick
ordered a bottle of a fine red wine while Natalie looked over the
menu. After placing her order, she excused herself to powder her
nose. She assumed, correctly, that the ride over to the
restaurant had done nothing good for her hair. While she was
gone, Nick poured her glass of wine and, pulling a silver flask
from a pocket, filled his wine glass as well.

"This place is fantastic!" Nat commented as she returned to
her seat a few minutes later. "The view is so breathtaking."

"I won't argue with that," Nick commented, never taking
his eyes off Natalie. She blushed at his intent look and picked
up her wine glass to take a sip.

"There's something in my glass!" she exclaimed in
surprise. Getting a spoon, she fished the offending object out of
the wine glass. She looked at the object nestled in the spoon,
then up at Nick and back down at the spoon. Nick rose from his
seat and, kneeling in front of Natalie, removed the ring from the
spoon she was holding. He offered the ring for her inspection.
Natalie turned the delicate band in her hands. The 18 karat
yellow-gold ring was topped by a flawless one carat diamond
solitaire. Inside the band was engraved in flowing script,
"Natalie and Nicholas, Forever".

"Natalie Lambert, will you do me the honor of being my
wife?" Nick's words broke through Natalie's reverie.

Natalie just stared for a few seconds. All the thoughts
of why she shouldn't even begin to consider marrying a vampire
passed through her thoughts; she'd never have a decent day in the
sun again, she'd be in even greater danger from the rest of the
vampire Community than she already was, she wouldn't be able to
make love to Nick, or to have children. And all the while these
thoughts were fleeting through her mind, her voice uttered a soft
and sincere, "Yes."

The rest of the evening flew by in a fog for Natalie. She
vaguely remembered her dinner, and some dancing. When it was
nearly dawn, Nick took her down to a waiting black limousine. The
beautiful horse that Nick had brought her here on had mysteriously
and conveniently disappeared. Considering the bitter cold of the
February predawn night in Toronto, Natalie was glad of it.

When they arrived back at Natalie's apartment, she invited
Nick in.

"It's far too close to dawn for you to get back home
safely now. How would you feel about spending the day here? I
could fix the couch up for you," she offered.

Nick weighed the odds of getting home in time with the
temptation to stay the day with Natalie. After the night they had
just been through, the temptation won out over reason.

Natalie found an extra pillow and some sheets and a
blanket and began to fix up the couch while Nick made use of her
shower. Natalie had to stifle a giggle seeing Nick coming out of
the bathroom, hair all wet and tousled, and wearing her fuzzy pink
bathrobe. He had that air of complete innocence about him that
always amazed and delighted her.

"It's all I could find...." he shrugged. Natalie wasn't
sure, but she thought she noticed a slight flush to his pale

While he had been showering, Natalie had changed into the
warm light blue sweats that she used as pajamas during the winter
months. She smiled up at him and they both sat down on the couch.

"I had the most marvelous evening." Nat stared into those
bottomless blue eyes, nearly losing herself in their depths. She
looked down to the jewel that now adorned her finger. "Are we
really going to do this, or will I wake up and find this was all
an elaborate, wonderful dream?"

"It's no dream, Natalie. I love you more than life itself
and I have faith that you will find the cure for me ... for us....
But you're tired now, and so am I. I think perhaps you ought to
go to your own bed now." He leaned over and gave her chaste kiss
on the forehead. Reluctantly, Natalie had to agree that she *was*
very tired, and with regret she made her way off to bed alone.

When Natalie had retired to her bedroom, Nick pulled out
the silver flask again and finished the contents in one long
draught. He tried to settle down to sleep, but he found himself
listening to her heartbeat and her breathing in the other room.
She called to him, even in her sleep. He wasn't sure just how
long he could resist the siren call of her heart.


About mid-day, Natalie awoke to the feel of another body
beside her in bed. Nick was sleeping, his arm draped around her
waist protectively. He had on his briefs and nothing else. She
lay there, savoring his closeness and the coolness of his body
next to hers, and wondered when it was that he had decided to join
her in her bed.

Her increased heart rate and the slight movements she'd
made since waking, disturbed Nick enough to wake him up. He
stirred slightly, shifting his body beside her. Without a word,
he slipped his hand up inside her shirt and lovingly caressed her
breast. He cupped its soft fullness in the palm of his hand and
began rolling her nipple between his thumb and forefinger until
it was a tight little nub. Natalie moaned with delight at the
sensations that swept through her body at his touch. Nearly
purring with the pleasures of the sensations coursing through her
body, Natalie reached down to the hem of her sweatshirt and pulled
it off over her head. Nick admired the creamy whiteness of her
skin and the soft mounds of her breasts. He continued to stroke
and caress her while he leaned over to begin nibbling behind her
ear and down her neck to her shoulders and then her breasts. He
began to suckle lightly on one breast, gently teasing her nipple
with his teeth. Natalie moaned with pleasure. The sensations
sweeping through her body now were ones she had feared she had
forgotten; ones she hadn't held out much hope of ever feeling
again. Nick rolled her over and pressed his lips to hers. His
rising passion was evident in the probing of his tongue in her
mouth. It was evident in other ways as well, as Natalie noticed a
distinct pressure against her thigh. She began rubbing the area
with gentle movements of her leg. Nick let out a deep moan and
rolled onto his back, breathing heavily, his eyes shut tight.
Finally he could stand it no more and gently stopped her

"Stop.... We have to stop...." Nick was nearly
breathless and his voice had turned deep and rough. He opened his
eyes to look at her and Natalie saw the gold that had replaced the
blue. She saw the tips of his fangs as he labored to breath
through his mouth. He quickly shut his eyes tightly and turned
his back to her. Moments later he turned to look at her again
with clear blue eyes. He had hoped and prayed that he had had
sufficient blood the night before, but he had been unprepared to
spend the day with Natalie.

With great regret in his voice, Nick apologized profusely
and went to spend the rest of the day alone on the couch. Natalie
found she had great difficulty getting back to sleep; her body
remembered the warm tingly sensations of Nick's touch and she
longed to have him beside her again. When she finally did fall
asleep, she awoke with the evening to find that Nick had fled with
the waning of the light.

It had been three days ... three days since he had fled
her apartment after their aborted attempt to make love. Three
days since he had proposed marriage and she had accepted. Three
days with nothing but flowers and small gifts to sustain her.
Three days of being alone.... He was gone, avoiding her, and she
felt hurt. She also felt some anger, but the fact of the matter
was that she loved him and needed to see him again. She wondered
how long she would have to wait....


He had fled her apartment that evening three nights ago.
He knew it was wrong to leave without talking to her, but he had
been so afraid for her life that day and so mortified by his own
behavior. He hadn't had more than a small flask full of blood
that fateful evening.... He hadn't had any business finding
himself in her bed that morning. But he couldn't help himself.
Damn! Why did everything he tried to do have to go so terribly
wrong? He had proposed. She had accepted. That Valentine's Day
evening had been glorious up to the point where he seemed to have
lost his reason and found himself in bed with her. He was
frightened. Frightened of losing her ... frightened of losing
himself.... But now, after all that had happened ... now, would
she even want him back? They needed to talk, but would Nat be
willing to hear what he had to say?


Her doorbell rang just as Natalie was cleaning up her
supper dishes. She put the last plate in the sink to soak, dried
her hands and went to answer the door. He stood there holding a
bouquet of wildflowers as a peace offering. Words seemed to fail
both of them for a moment. Finally, giving herself a little
shake, Natalie found her voice.

"Nick...." She faltered for a breath, then, "please, come
in." She gestured into her living room. Nick took a hesitant
step inside, handing her the flowers. Words continued to fail him
and Nick found himself gathering Natalie in a tight embrace,
burying his face in the volumes of her chestnut curls, taking in
her wonderful scent. Oh, how he had missed her!

"Natalie...." he began, then paused. "Nat, we have to
talk.... His voice trailed off. Holding him close to her, Natalie
smiled. She had hoped for a chance to talk, to clear the air, to
learn about this man that she had come to love more than her own
life. She led him over to the couch and pulled him down beside

"So, where should we start?" Natalie looked deeply into
those earnest blue eyes and saw such pain and sadness there that
she couldn't begin to comprehend.

"I think with an apology would be a good place." Nick
tentatively took hold of Natalie's hand, engulfing it in his own.
"I shouldn't have run out on you that night, Nat. I should have
stayed. I just ... I just ... I was so afraid. So afraid of what
I might do to you if I stayed. Nat, I needed to feed. I was a
danger to you and I couldn't stand the thought of ever hurting
you. Ever." His grip on her hand tightened and he seemed
momentarily lost for words. His head was bowed, he couldn't look
her in the eyes. Natalie took her free hand and tipped his chin
up so that she could look at him.

"I understand, Nick. I understand a whole lot more than
you want to give me credit for sometimes. All you had that night
was one small flask of blood. It was inconsiderate of me to
forget that fact."

"Nat, it wasn't your fault. None of this is your fault.
I should have thought it through. I shouldn't have stayed. I
should have known that I wouldn't be able to resist the
temptation...." His head dropped again. This was hard for him.
He wanted nothing more at that moment than to jump and run for the
door ... but that wasn't why he was here. He was here to face
those fears and come to grips with them. He was here because he
was in love.

Natalie sensed that fear and gathered him into her arms as
though he were a frightened child. It was this gentleness
cloaking the strength that had so attracted her to him to begin
with. So much power at his command, yet he chose to live as a
mortal, and love as a mortal. How easy at times it was to forget
that he wasn't mortal....

"Nick, marriage is a partnership. If you and I are really
going through with this, you're going to have to let me take some
of the blame sometimes you know." She smiled gently at him. "You
don't take the blame when Schank screws up, do you? ... Do you?"
She gave him a gentle nudge in the midsection. He shook his head.
"Well, see.... You have to take me down off that pedestal, Nick.
You need to be honest with me. Treat me like your *equal*, not
your superior. Okay?" She had to nudge him again to get any
reaction. "Okay?"

"Nat, there's so much you don't know...." Nick let out a
sigh. Just how hard was this going to be anyway?

"Sooooo ... tell me. Tell me everything." Nat smiled
encouragingly. he thought. Then, drawing a deep breath he put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her into a light embrace, and started at the
very beginning....


They talked throughout the night; Nick alternately
confessing his many evils and lapsing into uncomfortable silences.
Natalie did her best to be supportive. Yes, some of these
revelations came as a shock. She knew that because Nick was a
vampire that he had to have killed, but the stark reality and
brutality of it was more than she had imagined. As hard as it
had been for him, Nick had held nothing back, and when he was
through Natalie held him as he cried on her shoulder. She wept
with him. For all the evil he had been and done, she couldn't see
him that way now. He was a different person altogether, and she
loved him. God, how she loved him! It almost didn't seem
possible, but she loved him all the more for the knowing than she
had in her ignorance.

It had been hard for Nick to accept that Natalie still
loved him, that she hadn't shunned him for what he had been ...
for what he was. He was absolutely incredulous at her attitude,
but was incredibly grateful for her understanding. Somehow, with
her acceptance, he found that he didn't hate himself as much
anymore. He resolved to himself from that moment on, that he
would do whatever it took to become mortal, to have Natalie with
him the rest of his days.

"Natalie," he pushed back from her a bit in order to look
upon her wonderfully accepting countenance, "there's just one
thing.... I really think we should delay the wedding until I come
back across, until I'm mortal."

Natalie sighed. She had figured that was coming. "And
what if you don't? What if I can't bring you back across? Nick,
I want to be your wife. I don't care what you are; I need to be
with you."

"I have faith, Nat. I have faith in you ... in us. We
can do it, together. I know that we can. Then we can be together
the way God meant us to be. Don't you see? As long as I'm a
vampire, I risk killing you every time we even try to make love.
How would we ever even consummate our marriage?" He was so
serious, so sincere, so full of the light of hope and faith.
Natalie felt herself filled with the same hope and faith ... and

"I can wait," she said at last, with a sigh that belied
her words. "I want nothing more than to be with you, you know,
but I love you enough to wait. We're engaged, and that ought to
be enough for now. I love you, you love me. Right?" She looked
into his eyes and saw a smile there; hope, love, faith, they were
all right there in his eyes.

Nick gathered her into his arms then and rained a trail of
kisses from her shoulder, up her neck, to alight on her lips in a
passionate kiss of promise.


Nick was true to his resolve. When he left Natalie's
apartment just before dawn that day, he hurried back to the loft.
Searching the cupboards for the blender, he brought it down to the
counter and set it alongside a can of powdered protein mix.
Grimacing at the thought, he measured the powder and water into
the blender and turned it on. Reaching into a pocket he pulled
out a silver pill box, a Valentine's gift from Natalie last year,
opened it and removed one the of Vitamin A pills he frequently
"forgot" to take. Pouring the protein drink into a glass, he
downed it with the pill in one long draught. He shuddered at the
taste, but the vision of Natalie's loving face in his mind was
enough to get him through. He rinsed the glass and left it in the
sink then turned and headed upstairs to bed.

He was hungry ... and he was hot.

Nick had barely made it through work that night.
Stumbling into the loft he headed straight for the refrigerator.
Opening the door, he stood basking in its coolness. He grabbed
the nearest green bottle and, pulling the cork with his teeth and
spitting it halfway across the room, downed the entire contents
without taking a breath. He leaned heavily back against the
appliance, still enjoying the cold emanating from it and reluctant
to close the door. Taking another bottle, he grudgingly left the
coolness of the refrigerator to sit heavily down on the couch.
His remote closed the blinds, lit the fireplace and turned on the
TV. He opened the second bottle with a little more care, but
still drank directly from it, foregoing the use of a glass.

he thought.
He hadn't felt like
this in the entire 767 years of his existence as a vampire. He
could barely remember *ever* feeling like this, even as a mortal.
His stomach was churning. He felt the frightening sensation as
his stomach began to contract. He jumped and ran, with vampiric
speed, to the downstairs bathroom, barely making it in time to
vomit up the entire contents of his stomach in the porcelain
basin. He sat back on his haunches. He felt weak and dizzy.
This was not good, not good at all....

* * * * *

Natalie was worried. Nick had not shown up for work that
night, nor had he bothered to call in. Schanke was running around
checking with everyone he knew that might know Nick's whereabouts.
Cohen was on his case to get it together with his partner and
fast. There was a new murder to investigate and Nick seemed to
have vanished. Natalie finally decided to go to the loft and see
if Nick were there and just not answering the phone for some
reason. She assured Schanke that she would call if she found him.
Armed with that reassurance, Schanke went out to the crime scene

Natalie buzzed when she reached Nick's loft, but when he
didn't answer, she entered the alarm code herself and let herself
in. What she saw made her freeze momentarily in her tracks. Nick
was laying on the couch, curled into the fetal position and
shaking like a leaf. The doctor in Natalie kicked in and she was
at his side in a flash. She put her palm against his forehead and
was surprised by the warmth there. A fine sheen of blood sweat
coated his face. She tried shaking him gently.

"Nick? Nick, can you hear me? Nick, are you all right?"
Natalie was becoming more desperate in her shaking as she got no
response from Nick. She smelled the scent of stale blood and saw
some vomit stains on his shirt. Whatever was wrong was deathly
serious. How could this be? Vampires don't get sick. They
*can't* get sick!

It was obvious to Natalie that Nick would need blood; lots
of it, and fast. She wasn't sure how he would react if he woke up
now and she certainly wasn't in the mood to be lunch right at the
moment. She remembered Nick having some blood packs in the
freezer and went to the refrigerator to remove several. She
needed to thaw them quickly, but the microwave was not a good
option if the blood was to retain any nutritive value to Nick.
She hunted in the cupboards until she found a large Pyrex bowl.
She half-filled it with water and put it in the microwave to heat.
She then put the frozen blood packs in the hot water and went back
to check on Nick. He had rolled onto his back and was moaning and
babbling incoherently. His words made no sense to her, just the
ravings of a fever-induced delirium. She sat there holding his
hand for several minutes.

When she couldn't stand it any longer she got up to check
on the blood packs. The water had turned cool and the packs were
thawed, but not warm yet. Natalie dried them off and stuffed them
up her blouse, hoping to warm them to body temperature. Nick was
calling for her now, but he still wasn't conscious. He was
beginning to thrash around and Natalie had to hold him still so
that he wouldn't hurt himself. She rummaged around in her bag
looking for a needle and tubing so that she could start
transfusing the blood into him as soon as possible. If he
couldn't take it through his stomach and keep it down, perhaps
straight into a vein would do the trick.

It wasn't easy holding Nick's arm still enough to insert
the needle, but she finally managed. She withdrew a blood pack
from inside her blouse and hooked it up to the IV line. She held
it up, squeezing gently to start the flow. Nick's body responded
almost immediately to the presence of the blood and Natalie found
that he was absorbing the blood much faster than she would have
expected. She was kept busy changing the empty packs for full
ones. Nick had apparently been on the verge of starvation. By
the fourth blood pack, Nick had settled down, and a few minutes
later he opened his eyes.

"Nat?" His voice was weak and hoarse.

"I'm here Nick. Everything's going to be okay. Can you
tell me what the matter is? You're burning up."


"Yes, Nick, it's me. It's Nat. Can you talk to me?
You're sick. How can you be so sick?"

Nick closed his eyes and Natalie was afraid she was going
to lose him again. He heaved a sigh and opened his eyes to look
at her.

"I'm hungry. Help me, Nat...." He sounded so pathetic
that Natalie felt the tears beginning to form in her eyes. She
placed a fifth blood pack on the IV line and noted that although
Nick's body was still absorbing the blood at an enormous rate, it
had slowed down a bit. She realized she was going to need to thaw
more packs and probably get more from the morgue somehow.

She got up to put more of the blood packs in the warm
water to thaw and came back over to Nick. Out of curiosity, she
rummaged around in her bag until she produced a Thermotemp Strip
and popped it in Nick's mouth under his tongue. When she pulled
it out again she was more than surprised to see it read 97.5
degrees. she thought to herself. This was a tad low for
a mortal, but practically burning up for a vampire! She pulled
out her stethoscope and pressed it to Nick's chest. At first she
heard nothing, but with patience she soon heard the tha-thump of
his heart. What surprised her no end was that about thirty
seconds later, tha-thump, there it was again! For a man whose
heart rate wasn't supposed to be more than one in ten minutes,
Nick's pulse was practically racing. Something stirred inside of
Natalie and she began to get really excited.

"Nick ... how long has it been since the last time you
drank blood and were able to hold it down?" Natalie checked on
the blood pack, realizing that she would have to get up and change
it again soon.

"I don't know.... A week, maybe ten days," Nick replied

"What?!" Natalie practically screamed at him. "It's been
that long since you could hold down blood and you didn't tell

"No, no, Nat, it's not like that at all. I haven't been
able to hold blood down since, oh, last night? I've been drinking
your protein shakes instead."

"...P-protein shakes? You've been drinking those without
me forcing them down you?" Natalie was amazed.

"Well, yeah. Remember after Valentine's Day? We decided
then that we wouldn't get married until we found a way to bring me
back across." Nick looked at Natalie with love and longing in his
eyes, despite his weakened condition. Natalie could tell he was
very serious about this. "I've been taking the Vitamin A pills
every day too, and the garlic." Nick made an awful face at that
statement, wincing inwardly at the memory.

"You've really been trying...." Natalie's voice trailed
off as her mind drifted over the possibilities. Nick moaned
softly and Natalie noticed that the blood pack was empty again.
She disconnected it and got up to fetch a fresh warm one.

As she turned to the kitchen, she felt a slight
disturbance in the air and heard a gentle 'whooshing' noise.
Looking up, she saw LaCroix standing not six feet away. She
shivered. This was not what either she or Nick needed right now.

"What are you doing here?" she confronted him with as much
courage as she could muster.

"You think I wouldn't notice when Nicholas is suffering?
I came to see if I could be of any service." LaCroix's smile
looked more like a leer to Natalie. This man did not in any way
have Nick's best interests at heart. He probably had come merely
to watch Nick suffer.

"I've got things perfectly under control here, thank you,"
she replied. "I would appreciate it if you would kindly leave and
allow us to get back to our business."

"And that would be....?"

"Making Nick well again," she stated flatly.

"Not until I've said my greetings to my son." LaCroix
walked over to the couch and looked down on Nick, who had drifted
off to sleep again. "Well, well, Nicholas, what *have* you gotten
yourself into this time?" He noted the tubing and empty blood
bags and looked back up at Natalie. "You *will* take excellent
care of him *doctor*, or I shall surely return to take out my
revenge on *you*." And with that LaCroix was gone as quickly and
as quietly as he had arrived.

Natalie shook her head slightly. The quiet arrival and
quick departure of LaCroix had upset her more than she wanted to
admit. That man gave her gooseflesh, but she would never admit
it. She went back to the kitchen and picked up the blood packs.
Taking them back over to the couch, she hooked another up to the
IV line. Nick was resting comfortably, and Natalie finally
remembered her promise to call Schanke.

"He's got a bad case of the flu, Schank," she explained.
The groan on the other end of the line as Schanke realized he was
working this homicide alone made Natalie smile. It wasn't that
she liked to make Schanke miserable, it was just that this made
Nick seem so ... human.

Within twenty-four hours Nick was sitting up on the couch
and looking much more his old self. Natalie was delighted with
his speedy recovery, thanking whatever powers that be that
vampires healed so quickly and so well. She had been mightily
worried about Nick there for a while.

She pulled the Thermotemp Strip from Nick's mouth and
looked at the readout. "Hmm ... just as I suspected. You don't
even register on these things anymore. I guess you're back to
normal." Natalie sighed a little sigh. "It just seemed like we
were so close."

"Maybe we were," Nick said getting more animated as he
thought about it. "My temperature and heart rate were up, maybe I
was beginning to come back across. Do you think?"

"I don't know Nick," Natalie tried to be circumspect. "I
wouldn't want to get your hopes up, but it looks like we might be
on the right track. Maybe the reason you came down with those
flu-like symptoms had to do with the vampire's system being
weakened. We were *this* close...." Natalie sighed again. "But
I wouldn't want to see you that sick again, Nick. You really had
me scared."

"You and me both." Nick smiled at her. "But it would all
be worth it to be able to be with you." Nick pulled Natalie to
him and laced his fingers in her hair. Leaning gently toward her,
he placed a warm and delicate kiss on Natalie's forehead.

Not content with such a chaste kiss after such a
monumental scare, Natalie connected firmly with Nick's mouth and
kissed him for all she was worth. "We're in this together, Nick,
and together we *will* find the cure."

Nick wrapped both arms around Natalie and held her ever so
close, listening to her heartbeat, smelling her vanilla and
cinnamon scent, filling himself with her essence. One day he
*would* be mortal again, and all he held in his arms at this
moment would be his....

* * * * *

"But Natalie," Nick whined, "the protein shakes were
working just fine. If I go back to drinking the blood, won't it
slow my coming back across? Nat, I *need* to be with you." Nick
and Natalie were standing in the kitchen area of Nick's loft,
'discussing' Nick's very real need for blood and his equally real
need to avoid drinking it.

"Yes, Nick, I suppose it will slow down the process ..."
she sighed and then looked him straight in the eyes, "but you want
to stay healthy don't you? It won't do either one of us a lick of
good if you come back across then die of some common illness that
you weren't exposed to in the 13th century!" Natalie put on her
most doctor-like countenance, hoping to frighten him into
compliance. Nick pouted a bit, , Nat
thought, but he did finally agree to follow his doctor's orders.

"We'll start you out with one glass of blood a day and as
many protein drinks as you feel you need to get by. I promise
that we'll cut the blood intake down, but we'll do it slowly, say
to a half glass the second week and half of that the third until
it isn't worth the bother anymore. Once you're weaned off the
blood, I'm sure the cure won't be far behind. Just have patience,
okay? You've waited over seven hundred years, you can wait a few
more weeks." Natalie reached out to clasp Nick's hands
reassuringly in hers.

Nick wasn't so sure about his ability to wait. The idea
that Nat's thoughts on a cure might actually work, that he might
actually be able to come back across and marry this wonderful,
beautiful woman, made him excited and anxious to get on with it.
But she was apparently right about the fact that getting off the
blood was his only hope of coming back across, so she was
undoubtedly right about this as well. Nick had put all his faith
in this woman he loved, and he prayed each night that she was

"Okay, Nat, I can do this. I can do it for you." Nick
gave Natalie's hands a slight squeeze.

"No Nick, you have to do this for *you*, or it isn't going
to work. Do it because it's what *you* want. I have faith in you
Nick. You can do this and we *will* be together." Natalie smiled
up at Nick encouragingly. He gathered her up in his arms then,
and his kiss was his promise to her.

* * * * *

The weaning process went more quickly than Nick had
originally thought it might. By the end of March he was back to
straight protein shakes again and his vitamins and garlic pills.
Everything seemed to be going down a bit easier as well, and to
his delight, Nick found that it took more effort than usual to use
his vampiric powers. Maybe this just might work after all.

Nick downed his shake, donned his coat and headed to the
precinct. He and Schank were working a difficult homicide case
and Nick had the feeling that at long last they were finally
closing in on the perp.

Nick walked quietly through the back alley, stalking his
prey. The man he hunted had been murdering indiscriminately and
wantonly for some time now, but he had finally made his fatal
mistake. He had left a body with a unique and identifiable cause
of death.

Nick and Schanke had been on the case for weeks now. This
one was a clever bastard. Only Nick knew they were hunting a
vampire. He had to take this one out before Schanke had a chance.
He couldn't allow any harm to come to his partner. This was his
collar, and his alone. He was going to be forced by the
circumstances to make this one an "unsolved" case on the books.
This perp was going to have to just "disappear."

A footstep sounded behind him and Nick spun around
quickly. He found himself faced by the man he was hunting. His
weeks of sticking to his protein shakes for Natalie's sake had
taken their toll on his speed and reaction time. He barely saw
the stake in the vampire's hands before he felt the agonizing pain
of the thing lancing through his chest like fire and ice, and then

LaCroix, ever conscious of his son, felt Nicholas' pain as
the stake was driven into his chest. The jolt, the backlash, of
that pain made LaCroix stop in his tracks. With a bare
hesitation, he was out of the Raven and launched into the night

* * * * *

An anonymous call came in to the morgue for Dr. Natalie
Lambert that night, "Come to the loft, NOW!" Natalie recognized
LaCroix's voice, despite the strangled tenor of it.
Something was wrong with Nick, and it must be serious for LaCroix
to be calling *her*! She jumped in her car and drove like a
madwoman over to the loft. Without even waiting, she entered the
alarm code and let herself in. For the second time in as many
months, she was stopped dead in her tracks by the scene before

LaCroix was sitting on the couch, Nick's head and
shoulders cradled in his lap. LaCroix's hands looked as though
they had been burned. There was no movement or sound from Nick.

"What's happened? What's going on here?" Natalie hurried
over to the tableau on the couch. " ...You're hurt ... Nick?
What's happened to Nick?" Natalie was noting the torn shirt and
the blood on Nick's chest when her eyes finally settled on the
jagged wound and followed to the stake on the floor by the couch.
She let out a little gasp. It was all she had the strength for at
that moment. "What happened?" she asked again, only slightly more
calmly this time.

"Isn't it obvious, doctor? Nicholas has had a serious
run-in with a stake. To judge by the burns I received when
pulling it out, I would venture to guess that it had been dipped
in holy water or blessed first."

"Is he ... is he ... dead?" Natalie's voice quivered and
she wasn't even sure she wanted to know the answer.

"Not quite yet," LaCroix sighed. "The rogue vampire who
did this to him as been dispatched to hell, at least." With an
uncharacteristic gentleness, LaCroix stroked Nick's hair, running
his fingers through the unruly curls.

"It was another vampire??" Natalie could hardly believe
her ears. Just at that moment, Nick stirred slightly and let out
a piteous cry. LaCroix was quick to bite his own wrist and offer
the blood to Nick.

"I've been trying to feed him, without much success,"
LaCroix muttered, softly, almost to himself. Nick took two or
three swallows from LaCroix's wrist before coughing feebly and
pushing the wrist away.

"Can't ... can't drink...." Nick's voice was ragged and
weak. Natalie knew that he needed the blood to heal and was
seriously considering transfusing him again. Unfortunately, Nick
had not replenished his supply of blood packs, and Natalie, not
expecting another serious need again so soon, had let it go as

LaCroix noted her looks and quietly shook his head. "Not
this time, doctor ... not this time. Perhaps it is time that both
you and I leave Nicholas to his fate."

Natalie began a frantic pacing, picking things up and
slamming them down again as her anger grew. "I can't believe
this! *You*, of all people, willing to let Nick go?! *You*, the
most manipulative son-of-a...." she sputtered. "...You wouldn't
let Nick go! You've never done anything for Nick's good.... Only
for your own!"

LaCroix let her rant, knowing that it was merely her fear
for Nick's life that was doing the talking.

"Nat?" Nick's voice broke through Natalie's rampage and
she was at his side in an instant.

"Nick? It's Nat ... Nick, talk to me," she pleaded, her
eyes filling to the brim with tears.

"Pray for me? Say a prayer for my soul ... please,
Nat...." Nick coughed and bloody sputum dribbled from the corner
of his mouth as he clutched at his chest.

Natalie took his hand in hers; it felt so cold ... colder
than usual. Her tears could not be held back as she knelt in
front of the couch to be nearer to him. "Oh God, spare him...."
Natalie's voice was choked with tears and almost too quiet for a
mortal ear to hear.

"Not for my life ... for my soul ... Please pray for
me...." Nick was losing consciousness again, but it was obvious
that he was fighting it.

LaCroix looked up at Natalie then and she could see that
there were tears nestled in the corners of his eyes too. He knew
he was losing his son, the man-child he loved almost more than he
loved himself, this fledgling of his that had caused him so much
grief and had given him so much joy over the centuries. "Help me,
doctor. Help me pray for him." LaCroix's voice was so quiet that
Natalie wasn't sure she had even heard him correctly.

Tentatively, she took both of LaCroix's hands in hers,
bowed her head and closed her eyes. As she began reciting the
Lord's Prayer, LaCroix jerked his hands from hers and looked at
her intently. His hands were smoking slightly. Natalie stopped
the prayer and looked at him questioningly. LaCroix went back to
cradling Nick in his arms.

"Continue doctor," he stated flatly.

Natalie bowed her head once again and began the prayer
over. LaCroix looked briefly at her downturned face, and closed
his eyes as well, emptying himself of everything but the words she
spoke. She proceeded to recite the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my
Shepherd, I shall not want...." and continued with her own private
words to wish Nick's soul godspeed on its journey. Her tears were
falling freely now and her voice was getting thicker with them by
the minute. When she finally got to the "Amen", LaCroix echoed
her, "Amen. So be it."

Natalie opened her eyes again to look at Nick. She felt
so frustrated that there wasn't more she could do. She thought
that if a stake was removed quickly enough, the vampire should
recover. So why was Nick getting weaker by the minute? Could it
be that this was his time and Nick was ready to go? Natalie
didn't want to believe that. She wanted to believe in their
future together. Just last week they had been discussing the
wedding plans, despite the fact that they had decided not to get
married until Natalie found the cure for Nick's vampirism. How
could all that be gone so quickly?

At that moment, Nick chose to open his eyes again. At
first they looked dull, nearly lifeless, but then his face lit up,
absolutely radiant, and he smiled.

"Nick, what is it? Nick?!" Natalie shook him gently to
get his attention.

"The light ... I see it, Natalie ... Angels ... angels
coming for me...." and he closed his eyes. LaCroix bit into his
wrist once more and pressed the bloody wound to Nick's mouth.
Nick sputtered and choked, gagging on the blood trickling down his
throat. He fought LaCroix with what minimal strength he had left,
then he let out one deep shuddering breath and was still. Natalie
finally let go of all the pain she had bottled up since entering
the loft mere minutes ago. Her wracking sobs shook her whole body
as she covered her face with her hands, down on her knees in front
of Nick, crying for what they had lost.

LaCroix felt the thread of his connection with his son
snap, and with that moment felt an extreme emptiness in his heart
that he had hoped to never have to feel. He threw back his head
and, fully vamped, let out a roar of anguish.

As the worst of Natalie's tears began to recede, she again
looked at Nick through tear-swollen eyes. What she saw was a man
finally at peace with himself. Nick had a small smile on his face
and he appeared to be no more than sleeping peacefully. Natalie
reached out to gently stroke his face with the back of her hand.
It felt warm.... Natalie looked closer and saw a slight
flush to Nick's pale cheeks. When she saw his chest gently rising
and falling, she was quite sure that she was seeing things.

LaCroix had closed his eyes after the first of the shock
had worn off. He had refused to cry for this son of his, and he
would not do so now. Even so, he cradled Nick's head in his lap,
unwilling in the end to let go. He felt Natalie as she gently
rested her hand on top of his.

"Lucien," Natalie used LaCroix's given name to shock him
out of his stupor. "Lucien, look ... he's alive," she breathed,
her voice sounding breathy and soft. Putting her head to Nick's
chest, she heard a thready, but regular heartbeat. The heartbeat
of a mortal man. She looked up in amazement to encounter
LaCroix's icy blue eyes staring at her.

"He's not dead, LaCroix ... he's *mortal*." Natalie
almost could not believe it herself. Realization slowly dawned on
Natalie as she recovered from her initial shock that if Nick truly
was mortal now, he wasn't out of the woods yet. She jumped up to
grab the phone and dialed 911. As they waited for the ambulance
to arrive LaCroix and Natalie both wrestled with the meaning of
this miracle in their own hearts.

LaCroix's first thought, after the tremendous relief that
Nicholas was not *truly* gone, was to bring him back across
posthaste. But something stayed his hand. He had already
accepted that his son was lost to him. Perhaps it was time to let
Nick live out his fantasy of mortality. There was always time to
bring him back across again at a later date....

The ambulance roared away from 101 Gateway, carrying its
precious cargo to Toronto General Hospital. Natalie was gathering
her things to go there and be with Nick when he came out of
surgery. LaCroix had begged off for the time being as it was
nearly dawn. He promised Natalie that he would check up on
Nicholas the following evening.

Natalie didn't trust herself to drive to the hospital, she
was much too tired and overcome with rollercoaster emotions, so
she called a cab. She arrived at the hospital fifteen minutes
later and checked at the nurses' station about Nick's status. He
was currently in surgery, so Natalie settled down in the lounge to
wait it out. When the surgeon arrived to give her the news, she
was asleep. The doctor gently shook her awake.

"Dr. Lambert?" he smiled down at her. "I'm Dr. Simonson.
I was told you are Nicholas Knight's next-of-kin?"

"His financee, yes," she answered. "How is he? Is he all
right?" She sat up, feeling more alert than she had in days.

"He has three broken ribs, a punctured and collapsed left
lung, and some damage to the heart muscle. We've done what we can
to repair the damage. He's a very lucky man to be alive at all,"
Dr. Simonson's voice held a small amount of awe.

"He's always had an iron constitution," Natalie smiled
slightly thinking to herself, . "Can I see
him now?" she asked.

"He's still in recovery. Be there for awhile yet, I
suspect. When he's recovered enough we'll be moving him into
Intensive Care. I guess you can go see him now; just don't stay
long, he needs his rest."

Natalie hurried off to the recovery room. What she saw
there made her heart skip a beat. Nick was resting comfortably,
but the myriad of needles and tubes sticking into him made him
look like a puppet on a string. A puppet without his
puppetmaster. Nick looked so vulnerable that Natalie had to fight
back her tears again. She was well aware of the fact that Nick
might be able to hear her and she didn't want the first thing he
heard to be her crying. She walked over to the bed and gently
lifted his hand and held it in hers.

"I'm here, Nick. I'll stay with you; you don't need to be
afraid. Just be strong for me. Hold on a little longer and we'll
both come out of this okay, I promise." She pulled up a chair
next to his bed and sat there, holding his hand, until the nurses
finally shooed her out.

* * * * *

A week had passed and Nick was making excellent progress.
He was finally moved to a private room and at least some of the
tubes and needles were gone. Natalie noticed the rosy glow to his
cheeks as she popped her head through the door and offered a
cheery, "Hi, Nick!"

"Hi, yourself. I was wondering if you were coming today,"
Nick smiled up at her.

"Are you kidding? Think wild horses could keep me away?
No ... I was just arguing with the nurses as to whether or not I'd
finally get to feed you something today. They insist you're not
quite ready for solid food yet, but they allowed that this chicken
broth might be okay. Wanna try?" She offered up the steaming
bowl of broth as she pulled the table across the bed. Nick looked
a little dubious. He hadn't been out of ICU all that long and up
until now and been fed solely by IV lines. Remembering the *last*
time he'd tried real food made him more than a little anxious
about trying it now. His chest still hurt like h**l and he didn't
want to cause an unwarranted coughing spell. It was bad enough
that the nurses came in on a regular basis and made him cough
to clear his lungs whether he liked it or not (and he definitely

"Oh, don't give me that 'look'," Natalie smirked at him.
"The last time you tried food you were a ... well, you know...."
She looked over her shoulder to see if there was anyone within
earshot. "You're mortal now, so try it!" She scooped up a
spoonful and brought it to his mouth. He sipped at it cautiously.

"Hey, that's not so bad!" Nick's face lit up with a

"Want more?" Natalie asked, handing him the spoon. As
Nick readily tucked in to his lunch, Natalie nattered on about her
day and how things were going at the precinct; about how much
everyone wished him well and wanted to see him back again soon.
The noon sun shown brightly through the windows, crossing Nick's
bed. Natalie marveled at how good, no, *great*, Nick looked in
the sun. She had brought him a huge bouquet of yellow
coneflowers, because they reminded her so much of sunflowers, and
Nick loved everything associated with the sun. He positively
glowed as he lay there, propped up by the bed, eating his soup.

Nick was a good little patient, with some prompting from
Natalie, and was able to leave the hospital in record time. The
doctors marveled at his recuperative powers while Natalie secretly
thanked the vampire in Nick that had healed at least the worst of
his wounds before he ever came back across.

The day was sunny and warm and Natalie had driven the
Caddy with the top down to the hospital to pick Nick up. When she
arrived at the pickup area, she saw Nick in a wheelchair being
pushed toward her by his favorite nurse. The sun was glinting off
his very blond hair. Why hadn't she noticed before just how blond
he really was? She smiled to herself. There would be so many
wonderful things to discover about this man now that he was freed
from his dark prison. She looked forward to that discovery with
relish. She grinned.

When they arrived back at the loft, Nick looked around in
wonder. "Looks like you've moved in on me," he smiled at

"Of course. You're still not that strong, and Dr.
Simonson said you'll need a lot of rest. I assured him that I
would be your in-home health care to make sure you follow his
orders to the tee." Natalie gave him a mock-stern look that
caused Nick to throw up his hands in a gesture of resignation.

"All right, all right. I can tell when I've been beaten.
So, what's up now, doc?"

"Well, first of all, above all else you still need rest.
Get upstairs and change and get into bed."

"But I just got out of bed! Give a guy a little break?"
he looked at her with what she always thought of as his 'wounded
puppy' look. It had worked every time before and it was working
now. Natalie knew she was going to have to build up a defense
against that one or find herself shamelessly manipulated by the
man who now stood in front of her. Nick laced his arms around her
waist and pulled her close. She tipped her head up to look at him
and found his warm lips pressing hers in the most passionate kiss
he had ever given her. Reluctantly, she gently pushed him away.

"I don't think you're ... we're ... quite ready for that
yet," Natalie replied. "Maybe you'd just better go on upstairs
and lay down for a bit."

"Not without you." That shameless 'wounded puppy' look
had been replaced by a fire in his eyes that was nothing less than
lustful. "I'm not going upstairs without you, Nat...." He poked
her gently in the ribs to emphasize each word, "And ... you ...
can't ... make ... me." His eyes glittered with mischief and
Natalie knew she had lost this round too. She was really going to
have to work on that, she thought. She wrapped her arm around his
waist, and together they walked up the stairs to Nick's bedroom.

Natalie made Nick change into his pajamas (and she
marveled again at just how *good* he looked in black silk....)
while she kept herself modestly dressed.

"I'll just lay beside you until you fall asleep," she
stated. "I really have a lot of work to do...."

"Later," Nick sighed into her ear, "later."

* * * * *

Natalie marveled at just how much Nick could pack away
during meals. She hadn't found a thing yet that he didn't like
and didn't eat in copious enough amounts to feed an entire hockey

"Look, Nick.... I'm really happy you like my cooking; and
I'm really pleased that you seem to be enjoying new foods; but
really, Nick! All things in moderation, or else you'll be as big
as a house!" Natalie laughed as Nick stuffed himself full yet

"I've got a high metabolism," he said, looking up between

"Yeah, for how long? You're developing into quite the
couch potato, you know." Natalie couldn't help but laugh as he
continued to shovel down his lunch. "Don't you think you ought to
slow down a little at least? You're not immortal anymore, you

Something about that statement made Nick choke on the bite
he was trying to swallow. Nat was up almost immediately and
pounding on his back. "See what I mean? Take it easy!"

Nick just sputtered and nodded. His table manners and
eating habits changed dramatically after that.

* * * * *

LaCroix had pretty much stayed away. He had visited Nick
several times during evening visiting hours at the hospital, but
since Nick came home, LaCroix had made himself very scarce.
Natalie wasn't at all displeased by this, but she knew that even
though he didn't speak it, Nick was missing the company of his
former master, so she took it upon herself to invite LaCroix over
for the evening.

When he arrived, he was sporting a green bottle with the
Raven's label and a bow around its neck. Natalie was suspicious
and wary of this offering until she realized that it was a high
quality red wine from the Raven's private cellars. This she
accepted graciously. Smiling at LaCroix, she gestured toward the
couch. Nick had just arisen and was coming to meet the master
vampire. He reached out and took LaCroix's hands warmly in his

"LaCroix," Nick smiled and guided LaCroix over to the
couch. "I'm happy you came." LaCroix was hesitant, as the last
time he had spent time on that couch it was anything but pleasant.
Still, he allowed himself to be led by this man whom, in many
ways, he still considered his son. Nick sat beside him and turned
to him with a smile.

"You know that Nat and I are going to be married soon?"
LaCroix gave a little snort. He was feeling a bit
nonplused and wondered why he had even bothered to come. But he
knew ... yes, he knew why he was here. He gave Nick that full
head-to-toe look and sighed. He missed this boy, more than even
he cared to admit.

"We want you to be a part of the wedding ceremony. *I*
want you to be a part of it. Would you stand with me as my best
man?" Nick looked hopeful but unsure of his ex-master's reaction
to the request.

"Shouldn't you be asking Detective Schanke to stand with
you? He'd be the better choice, you know." LaCroix did his best
to look disinterested. "I can't stand with you in a church by any
means anyway," he stated.

"Oh, well, Nat and I plan on having the wedding here, in
the loft. There's plenty of room. We can have a Justice of the
Peace perform the ceremony.... I want you there, LaCroix ...
please? This is the most important day of my life."

"More important than the day I brought you across?"
LaCroix laid the sarcasm on thick enough to spread with a knife.

Nick refused to rise to the bait. "Yes, LaCroix. But
because of that, I lived long enough to meet Nat and fall in love.
I lived long enough to find a cure. I want ... I *need* ... you
to be a part of this." Nick was pleading his case as best he
could, but LaCroix's stoic mask did not allow him to read the
emotions behind the guise. He sat back in silence and waited once
more for LaCroix's reply.

Finally, LaCroix nodded once and rose to leave. He found
the nearness of a mortal Nicholas, his heartbeat and the sweet
smell of his blood, was more than he could endure. He would do as
Nicholas asked because, in the end, he stilled loved him; but he
could no longer tolerate being close for any length of time
without risking forgetting himself and bringing Nicholas across
again. Time. Time would bring his Nicholas back to him. He only
needed his patience, and he had plenty of that, cultivated over
the years of waiting for Nicholas to come around to his way of
thinking. He nodded to Natalie in passing and exited the loft by
way of the elevator.

The loft was quite crowded. White crepe paper streamers
were strung across the room. Flowers filled every spare nook and
cranny. The furniture had all been moved into one small grouping
at the far end of the loft leaving a large open area in the
middle. A large table occupied the window area next to the
fireplace, a large white tiered cake stood as the proud
centerpiece while the rest of the large table was filled with an
assortment of buffet items.

Nick circulated among his guests, an unusual assortment of
his and Natalie's friends from work and vampires from Nick's
colorful past. The vampires tended to stand apart and Nick was
determined to see that they mingled, on their best behavior, of
course. Nick looked stunning himself in his black tuxedo with
tails, but it was obvious to the more observant occupants of the
room that Nick anticipated a great beauty soon to be in their
midst. LaCroix walked over to him, finally, and said in his best
sotto voce, "Will you *please* calm down? You're setting
everyone's teeth on edge," and he tilted his head in the direction
of a knot of vampires.

At that point, the judge who was to perform the ceremony
walked over to Nick and whispered in his ear. Nick gathered up
LaCroix and Grace, who had kindly consented to be Natalie's maid
of honor, and went to stand in front of a floral-festooned
archway. The pianist that Nick had hired for the occasion began
to play the wedding march and everyone in the room quieted and
turned toward the stairwell. Natalie appeared at the top of the
stairs accompanied by Don Schanke, who had eagerly accepted the
duty of giving away the bride.

Natalie was absolutely stunning in her regal white gown,
studded with seed pearls and crystals. She sparkled like a
princess, and it wasn't just the gown.... The look on Nick's face
was priceless. The love that shown there was not to be matched by
anyone else in the room, except, perhaps, by Natalie herself. She
flowed down the stairs and came to stand beside Nick as Schanke
presented her to him.

The judge began, "Dearly beloved...." Nick and Natalie
floated through the ceremony as though in a dream. Neither one
would remember much of the specifics afterward as they were far
too much lost in each other at this moment. They both came out of
their mutual fog with the judge's words, "I now present to you,
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Knight." The room erupted in applause, but
Nick and Natalie were too far gone into that "just wed" kiss to

Nick set the last of the large, heavy suitcases down by
the elevator door. "You about ready?" he called up the stairs to

She appeared at the top of the stairs, still fussing with
her hair, dressed in jeans and a casual blouse, ready for a long
day of travel. "Yeah ... I'm coming," she muttered with bobby
pins sticking out of her mouth. She finally managed to corral the
last of the stray wisps of hair that had been falling in her face
as she reached the bottom of the stairs.

"It's a good thing, too ... the cab's here." Nick picked
up the two heaviest suitcases and Natalie grabbed the three
smaller ones, tucking one under her arm.

"Bali, here we come!" Natalie smiled at Nick with
anticipation as she headed for the elevator and fun in the sun on
a tropical island paradise.

* * * * *

The plane landed at the Naurah Rai Airport near Kuta on
Bali and the happy couple caught a cab for the five kilometer ride
to their destination of the Kartika Plaza Beach Hotel. Nick would
have nothing less than a five-star resort hotel for his lovely
bride. They checked in and went to settle into their private
traditional Balinese-style bungalow. Standing on the verandah,
they admired the view of the lowering sun over the sea and the
sparkling beach sand.

"Let's take a walk," Nick suggested. The sun and the sand
looked so inviting to him.

"I'll second that motion," Natalie replied. "Didn't I see
some shops over there near the beach? I need a new swimsuit,
wanna help me pick one out?"

"Sure, why not? I guess I could use one myself," Nick
chuckled. "I didn't get out much for midnight swims in Toronto."

Natalie slapped him playfully on the arm then grabbed his
hand and led him off the verandah and toward the shops. They
perused several of the beachside establishments. Natalie was
eyeing some colorful, but modest, one-piece suits while Nick was
examining some of the skimpier of the bikinis.

"How about this one?" Nick held up a brightly colored,
flowered bikini for Natalie's inspection.

"There's not enough material in that whole suit to cover a
three-year-old, much less a thirty-three-year-old," Natalie
laughed and motioned for Nick to hang the offending scrap of
material back on the rack.

"No, no, Nat. This is perfect! This is *Bali* for God's
sake! Live a little!" Nick looked at Natalie who was staring
daggers back at him. Suddenly she reached over to the next isle
pulling a skimpy electric blue Speedo from the rack.

"If I can see *you* in *this*, you can see *me* in
*that*!" she declared. Nick looked at her with dismay. This was
the one man, who even though he was now in Bali, was still
buttoned up tight to the collar.

He sighed. "It's a deal," he said with a resigned voice.
What he wouldn't do to see his Natalie in the bright orange and
yellow flowered suit. True, there wasn't much of the material to
admire, but that simply meant that there would be that much more
of Natalie to enjoy. He smiled to himself. he thought, it
was well worth the compromise.

They wandered the beach, hand-in-hand, with their
purchases swinging jauntily from their hands in colorful tote
bags, and watched the sun go down. Just as the sun was touching
the water, Nick pulled Natalie into his strong embrace and kissed
her until the sun had set well below the horizon.

* * * * *

The couple was exhausted after their long trip, jet-lag,
shopping and all, and decided to order a light dinner of tropical
fruits from room service. The waiter arrived with a most
appealing assortment of local delicacies.

"What's this?" Natalie asked, picking up a small, hairy
red fruit. She looked at it dubiously. "Can you eat this?"

"I believe that's what the locals call 'rambutan'," Nick
replied. "It's good. Well, at least I've *heard* they're good."
He smiled up at her. "Let's try one." He cut into the red fruit
revealing pristine white flesh and a small brown seed. He skinned
and pitted it and offered half to Natalie.

"Hey, this really *is* good!" Natalie exclaimed. "What's
that one?" she asked pointing at some fist-sized golden chunks of
fruit that had already been peeled and arranged on the plate.
"It's very, ah, pungent ... whatever it is." She made a slight

"Durian," answered Nick. "Don't knock it 'til you try
it." He smiled and offered her a bite from his fork.

"How do you know so much about the local food?" Natalie
looked at him skeptically. Here was a man who hadn't eaten in
over 700 years. What made him so knowledgeable about fruit

"Hey, I got around you know." Nick smiled at her. "I
might not have been able to eat, but I had to pretend to. It's
amazing what you can learn if you get around enough."

"But Bali? Somehow I can't picture vampires in Bali....
Too much sun."

"Not at night!" Nick chuckled. Natalie reached across the
table and punched him in the arm.

"Cut that out!" she laughed.

After dinner the couple retired to bed. Natalie finished
brushing her teeth and went to crawl beneath the cool sheets. A
few minutes later when Nick arrived at the bed, Natalie was
snoring softly. Nick crawled beneath the sheets beside her and,
smiling at her sweet innocence, kissed her on the temple and
rolled over to fall quickly asleep himself.

The next morning, Nick was up at dawn. He donned his new
Speedo, pulling a pair of Bermuda shorts over the top and slipped
into a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt. Natalie was still
sleeping, so he tiptoed around her to get the phone and called
room service. When breakfast arrived the aroma of the freshly
brewed Balinese coffee brought Natalie to wakefulness at last.

"Hmmmmm.... Whatcha got there?" she mumbled, running her
fingers through her unruly curls and rubbing the sleep from her

"Oh just a little 'nasi goreng' and fruit ... and coffee,
of course. How can you stand that stuff? Brrrr...." Nick
shuddered at the thought of the coffee. It was the one thing he
hadn't managed to develop a taste for yet.

"What the heck is 'nasi gor--whatever'?" Natalie asked as
she padded over to the table and poured herself a cup of Java.

"Basically? ... Fried rice...."

"For *breakfast*???" Natalie looked incredulous.

"It's pretty typical for breakfast around here. Besides,
we've got a busy day ahead and a good breakfast will hold you that
much longer." Nick placed the plate in front of Natalie.

"Looks good." Nat poked at her plate before putting a
biteful in her mouth. "Mmmm-hmmm...." she replied and then
concentrated on enjoying her meal.

When she was finished eating, Natalie got dressed as well,
putting her new bikini on first. "Do I really have to wear this?
I don't have the figure for a bikini.... Especially one this
small." She grimaced at her reflection in the mirror.

Nick came up behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist
and nibbled at her ear. "I think you look terrific! Besides,
*I'm* the one that's going to be doing the looking, not you!" He
grinned. "I'm holding to my side of the bargain, and I'm already
dressed." He gave her another squeeze and handed her a sarong
that matched her swimsuit. Natalie took it and wrapped it
gratefully around her body, covering the skimpy suit.

"Okay. I'm ready then, I guess." Natalie smiled up at
Nick. "So, where're we going?"

"I managed to secure us a private stretch of beach for the
day. Come on, the rental car is right out front." He grabbed a
knapsack full of various paraphernalia and led the way out to the

* * * * *

Natalie stood on the glistening white sand, admiring the
sapphire blue waters of the ocean with the waves gently lapping at
the shore. "This is all ours? Nobody else's?" She was quite
incredulous looking up and down the stretch of deserted beach.

"Yep. What good's a fortune if you can't use it to good
advantage once in a while?" Nick grinned. "Just think of it as
our very own 'Blue Lagoon'." As he was speaking, he was removing
his outer clothing. He soon stood in front of Natalie wearing
nothing but the electric blue Speedo she had bought for him. "My
turn...." He smiled at her as he unwrapped her from the
concealing sarong. "There, that's better." His admiring grin
made Natalie blush brightly.

Lacing their arms around each other's waists, they began a
lazy walk up the beach. Suddenly, Natalie got a mischievous gleam
in her eyes and, pinching Nick playfully on the butt, she went
running and laughing on down the strand of beach. Nick, looking a
bit nonplused for an instant, took off after her after a moment's
hesitation. "You'll pay for that, Natalie Knight!" he called at
her retreating back. Her laughter drifted back to him on the
salty breeze.

Nick closed the gap quickly, with little difficulty, and
in one flying leap closed the final distance by tackling Natalie
down into the surf. Natalie was giggling uncontrollably. Nick
silenced her with his kiss. They lay there on the beach, with the
waves washing over them, locked in a lover's embrace. As Nick
continued to kiss every exposed inch of Natalie's body, his left
hand went up to the strap of her bikini top. He gently pulled it
down, revealing the creamy mound of one breast. He immediately
began giving the exposed breast his full attention, showering it
with gentle kisses as he slipped the other strap down. In a fit
of impatience, he gave the bikini top a sharp jerk, snapping the
clasp in the back and leaving the shred of material in the sand.

Natalie moaned and squirmed under Nick. The last of her
embarrassed reluctance disappeared under Nick's expert
ministrations. He certainly had learned a move or two in the last
800 years she mused to herself. Her thumbs hooked into the sides
of the Speedo and she began to pull the garment down past Nick's
rapidly growing erection as she continued kissing every inch of
him that she could reach.

When Nick felt himself being relieved of the restricting
Speedo, he did the same courtesy for Natalie, and the two of them
lay naked in the surf. Natalie was so busy exploring the gorgeous
body of this man she called her husband that she was taken by
surprise by a sharp pain between her legs. She let out a little
involuntary yelp. Nick immediately stopped his penetration and
looked at Natalie sharply.

"You okay?" he asked.

Natalie's answer was to pull him down into a tight embrace
and kiss him soundly. She then grabbed his buttocks with both
hands and urged him to fully penetrate her. They lay there on the
beach, locked in conjugal bliss. Natalie thought that nothing had
ever felt as good as the feeling of Nick filling her so completely.
She let out little moans and sighs as he gently thrust into her,
increasing the intensity as he reached his climax. The waters of
the Bali Sea washed over them as they lay, temporarily spent, on
the sand.

As the torpor of their lovemaking wore off, Natalie sat up
and retrieved her bikini bottoms and put them on. The top was
broken and she was unable to fasten it. That mischievous gleam
returning to her eyes, she stood up, looking admiringly at her
lover still laying in the surf, then she grabbed the Speedo and
went running off down the beach again.

Nick wasn't about to let her get away with that twice and
took after her immediately, running naked down the bright sand.
He caught up to Natalie and, grabbing her, he lifted her to
shoulder height and swung her in wild circles. All the while,
Natalie was screaming for mercy and laughing until she thought she
would burst. When Nick finally put her down she was so dizzy that
she sank to the sand. That gave Nick the chance he needed to grab
the Speedo back and slip into it. He then sat down next to
Natalie. "Here, let me see if I can fix that," he said, taking
the loose dangling ends of the bikini top into his hands. Through
some masterful manipulation, he was able to keep the ends clasped
together and Natalie was finally dressed again. She was beginning
to feel that the skimpy suit really did cover quite a bit after
all. She wasn't sure she'd ever get used to running topless down
a beach.

Nick went back down the beach for the knapsack and pulled
out a couple of bananas and oranges. "Hungry?" he asked.

"Famished!" Natalie replied, not realizing just how much
energy she had expended until the food was placed in front of her.
Nick poured some coconut juice from a thermos and offered it to
her. She drank with gusto, her thirst intensified by the hot Bali

After a light lunch and a quiet stroll along the beach to
let the lunch settle, Nick pulled some snorkeling equipment from
the knapsack and offered a mask and fins to Natalie. "Ready to
try a little swim? I hear the fish and reefs are really beautiful
right off this beach. We shouldn't have to swim out far."

Natalie was delighted and quickly donned the equipment and
waded out into the surf. Nick followed close behind. Swimming
out to the reef just a hundred yards off shore, the couple
marveled at the tapestry of colors laid out before them in the
form of the brightly colored tropical fish. Natalie was sure she
had never seen anything quite so beautiful.

Nick, who had spotted an eel, tapped Natalie on the arm to
get her attention. Startled, Natalie made a sharp turn and the
weakened clasp on the bikini top broke. Almost before Natalie
realized what had happened, the tiny scrap of cloth floated to the
ocean floor about thirty feet down. Nick turned in time to see
the swimsuit top floating lazily toward the ocean floor. His
attention was no longer on the eel or the fish; he only had eyes
for his lovely bride. Swimming back to Natalie he shed the
snorkeling equipment in order to be able to fully explore her
shapely form. He gathered her in his arms as they tread water
over the coral reef. He gently caressed her as his mouth met hers
in a passionate kiss. Natalie could feel his hands at her waist
as he gently removed her bikini bottom, letting it fall to the
ocean floor with the rest of her suit. For once, Natalie didn't
mind a bit. As his kiss deepened, she became aware that Nick's
suit had joined hers on the bottom of the ocean. Nick's passion
was rising quickly and so was hers. Together, they swam back to

When they reached about chest depth in the water, Nick
stood up and gathered Natalie into his arms, carrying her the rest
of the way to the beach. He strode up the sand to where they had
left their beach blanket after lunch and laid Natalie down. As
his hands and mouth hungrily explored her breasts and neck, he
gently entered her again, this time going much more slowly and
carefully in deference to his bride. As their lovemaking
continued, wave upon wave of the most exquisite pleasure pulsed
through Natalie's body as she climaxed in union with Nick.

They lay on the blanket, exhausted by their play. Natalie
stroked her hand down the length of Nick's arm. "You're looking a
little pink.... Did you remember to put on your sunblock this
morning?" Natalie was suddenly becoming a bit concerned for her
overly fair-skinned husband.

"Oops...." was all Nick could think to say.

"Well, we'd better get you out of the sun. I think you've
had more than your share today." She gathered their clothes and
handed Nick his. After dressing, he packed up the knapsack and
they walked arm in arm up the beach to where they had left the
rental car.

* * * * *

It was early evening by the time they returned to their
bungalow. Nick ordered dinner from room service and the couple
ate out on their verandah. With dinner over, they stood by the
railing looking out over the sand and sea, watching the sun set in
blazing oranges and reds.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Nick asked, staring out over the

"Tell you what?" Natalie wanted to know.

"About you ... about you're being ... a ..."

"A virgin?" Natalie turned to look at Nick, but he was
trying to avoid her eyes. "I'm sorry. I should have said
something. I *meant* to tell you.... It's just ... well ... at
the time I was, ah, distracted."

"I hurt you." Nick turned to look at Natalie then and she
could see the pain in his eyes.

"No, you didn't."

"*Yes*, I *did*," Nick insisted.

"Well ... maybe just a little," Natalie conceded. "But it
wasn't much, and I didn't mind. It was worth it, really." She
took Nick's face in her two hands and held him gently, looking
deeply into his fathomless blue eyes, trying to convey with her
words and expressions how very important he was to her. He
gathered her into his arms then; enfolding her, keeping her safe.

"It's just that I thought.... Well, I just ... I don't
know, Nat, I just didn't know."

"I didn't expect you too, silly," Nat mumbled into his
chest. "It just isn't one of those things a woman wants to talk
about too much after she passes thirty." She smiled up at him.
Nick looked back at her with warmth and love, but questions filled
his eyes, so Natalie tried to explain.

"When I was in med school, there was just too much to
study, too much to do just to keep up with papers, exams and lab
work. When I was an intern I was too darn tired to even think of
dating, much less the baggage that comes with it. By my
residency, I was studying forensic pathology. That didn't make me
the most popular of prospects. Then, of course, I end up with the
night shift in a morgue. Not the most conducive to getting

"But you did date?"

"Occasionally ... rarely. When I did it just never seemed
to go very far before either he or I would end it for whatever
reason." Natalie held Nick a little tighter. "Then you came and
woke up in my morgue one night, and my life changed forever. From
that very night I knew that I would never want anyone else. The
problem came in convincing *you*." She poked him in the ribs and
elicited a chuckle from him. "There now, better?"

"Better." He smiled at her.

"Then let's get to bed. I'm pooped!" And Natalie raced
him for the bathroom.

The next morning, Natalie awoke to sounds of quiet
moaning. She rolled over in bed and saw Nick in the bathroom
leaning heavily against the sink. He was dressed only in his silk
pajama bottoms and every inch of him that she could see looked as
red as a boiled lobster. She got quickly out of bed and ran to
his side.

"Nick, are you okay?" She reached out, but Nick recoiled
from her.

"Don't touch!" He backed away from her, fear and pain both
showing in his eyes. Nick had never experienced anything quite
like this sunburn in all his endless years. Not even the mild
burn he had received during his day in the sun on the Lydovuderine
came close to matching this.

"Let me check you out Nick, please. This looks serious."
Natalie was very concerned. Nick's eyes were bright and
unfocused. He staggered and nearly fell as he continued to back
away from her. Natalie was at his side in a instant. She wrapped
her right arm around his waist, slung his left arm across her
shoulders and practically dragged him back to the bed. When she
got him there she gently eased off the pajama bottoms to find
exactly what she had expected to see ... every inch of Nick was
bright red. *Every* inch.... It was obvious to her that he would
need immediate care. She was especially concerned about the
severity of the burn to his genitals, on a purely professional
level, of course. She grimaced at the thought of the pain he was
going to suffer when he came out of his stupor enough to be
conscious of it. She gently covered him to the waist with the
thin cotton sheet in deference to some modesty, but she could tell
that even that was painful for him.

Ever the doctor, Natalie dug out her blood pressure cuff,
knowing that it was going to hurt like h**l. Nick appeared to be
lost in his own thoughts though and he didn't put up any
resistance to her ministrations. His blood pressure was way too
low. That, coupled with the dizziness and lack of perspiration
told Natalie just how severe this sunburn was. Nick was beginning
to go into shock. He was also badly dehydrated.

Natalie grabbed the bedside phone and called the in-house
doctor. She explained the problem and asked him to bring some IV
equipment and sterile saline so that they could begin to rehydrate
Nick. When the doctor arrived, his quick assessment agreed with
Natalie's initial perceptions. As he began the IV line, Natalie
went to the bathroom to make some cool compresses from the towels
there. Before the doctor left, she asked him to fill out a
prescription for a soothing steroid creme that would help the
burns. Fortunately, there were only a few minor blisters ... Nick
wasn't going to die of this, he might only wish he had. She gave
him some pain medication and a sleep aid, and spent her day
watching over him. That night she crawled carefully into bed
beside Nick, but was very careful to keep to her side of the bed.
Nick seemed oblivious to her as he slept fitfully throughout the

After three days of bed rest, compresses, and pain
medications, Nick finally felt well enough to get up and walk
around the room. The redness in his skin was beginning to fade
slightly, but he was still too sensitive to want to wear any
clothing. He got up only to make use of the bathroom and to soak
in a nice cool tub of water laced with baking soda. Natalie
tended to his every need, fussing over him like an old hen. Right
now she was doctor, nurse and mother; 'wife' had taken a back seat
for the moment.

It was nearly a week before Nick would consent to get
dressed, and then only in loose, unrestricting clothing. He
refused to leave the bungalow until after nightfall, all too
easily slipping back into his old habits. Natalie was
disappointed, but she couldn't blame him. This had been very hard
on Nick and it was not the most auspicious introduction to 'fun in
the sun'.

Fortunately for Natalie, there was plenty of night life in
nearby Kuta and the newlyweds took good advantage of it. They
tried the different restaurants ... Nick was still in the early
stages of delighting in new gastronomic experiences; took in the
cultural shows, and danced. Natalie loved to dance, and to her
delight she found that Nick was quite accomplished. What did
surprise her though was that he was nearly as good at the more
modern steps as he was in the traditional, classical dances. What
she saw emerging from her solemn, angsting husband was a man full
of the joy of life, a man full of laughter who wasn't afraid to
make a fool of himself up on the stage with the Balinese dancers.
Natalie clapped and hooted along with the rest of the audience at
his antics.

Despite all that had happened, their two-week honeymoon
vacation ended all too quickly. Natalie packed her sarong, along
with lots of trinkets and souvenirs to give as little gifts when
they got home. She looked up at Nick as she packed the last of
her things.

"I can't believe it's time to leave, can you?" She
watched as Nick tucked the last of his things into a suitcase.

"We had fun, didn't we?" His disarming grin made Natalie
smile. He was such a mess! Ever since the sunburn had begun to
heal, Nick had been peeling like crazy. There were times that
Natalie thought he resembled a snake trying to shed its skin.
With any luck there might at least be a bit of a tan left for him
when he was through....

"Yeah, we had fun," Natalie chuckled. One last time, for
old times' sake, she pinched him playfully on the rear and went
running for cover out on the verandah. Nick cornered her there
and kissed her soundly.

"Now quit messing around and get your things or we're
going to miss our plane," Nick scolded.

Upon their return to Toronto and to their respective jobs,
Nick found that he was forced to put up with an inordinate amount
of ribbing, especially over the sunburn peel that just didn't seem
to end. Schanke was the worst. His innuendoes had Nick blushing
beneath his new-found tan.

Natalie was rested and ready to get back to the big bad
world of forensic pathology. At the morgue, Grace pushed her for
all the juicy details of the honeymoon. Good sport that she was,
Natalie let her friend in on selected parts of their trip. Grace
"woo-hooed" the thought of seeing Nick in the electric blue
Speedo, and was mildly disappointed to hear that the swimsuit
didn't make it home with them.

Work and life continued at their usual pace for the next
couple of months. Natalie was feeling a bit more run down and
tired than usual, but she poo-pooed Nick's attempts to baby her
and went in to work anyway.

"Girlfriend, you look like death warmed over," Grace
greeted her one evening.

"Thanks, you look great too." Natalie hung up her jacket
and sat heavily down in her desk chair. "How many customers do we
have tonight?" she asked.

"Three so far, nothing too out of the ordinary." Grace
looked at Natalie with some concern. "You sure you're feeling
well enough to be here?"

"I'm fine, Grace, fine. Just give me a minute, okay?"
Natalie smiled up at the worried look on her friend's face. After
a few minutes, she got up and put on her lab smock. "Bring me in
the first one ... I'm ready." Grace wheeled in the first cart and
helped Natalie lift the body onto the autopsy table. Natalie
unzipped the bag and began her initial examination. And then the
phone rang.

Grace grabbed the receiver and after a pause to listen she
replied, "Uh huh, she's right here." She handed the phone to
Natalie, but the look on her face was subdued. Natalie put the
phone to her ear and listened for a couple minutes. The look on
her face as she listened got bleaker and bleaker.

"I'll be right there," she said finally and hung up the
phone. She shed her smock and grabbed her coat. "I gotta go,
Grace. It's Nick." And she was out the door before Grace could
ask her what the problem was. Grace was left standing in the
empty morgue in stunned silence.

Natalie raced over to Toronto General Hospital. As she
slammed through the emergency room doors, she was met by Captain
"What's happened to Nick? Where is he?" Natalie was
frantic. Amanda Cohen gently took her by the arms and tried her
best to calm Natalie down, but Natalie refused to be pacified.

"He was in an automobile accident, Natalie. Apparently he
was in a high-speed chase with a perp...."

Natalie interrupted her, she had heard all she needed to
hear from the captain. "Where is he? Is he okay?" She was upset
and fighting the restraining hands of the Capt. Cohen.

"The doctors are with him right now, Natalie. We'll know
soon. You just have to calm down." Amanda tried to get Natalie
to sit, but she was too full of nervous energy and began pacing
restlessly up and down the between the seats in the crowded
waiting room.

Shortly thereafter, a doctor arrived in the waiting area.
"Is there a Natalie Knight present?" he asked.

Natalie nearly tackled him in her haste to cross the room.
"Where's Nick? Is he going to be all right?"

The doctor looked at her fear-filled face with compassion.
"We've done all that we can for him, but his injuries were very
severe. He is resting now, but I'm afraid I can't hold out much
hope for him surviving the night."

Natalie stifled the scream that threatened to erupt from
her throat. "Can I see him?" she asked.

"Yes, certainly." The doctor led her out of the waiting
area and down the hall to a private room. Nick lay so quietly on
the bed, Natalie could barely detect his breathing. He was
bruised and broken, looking pathetically young and fragile.

Natalie took his hand in hers as she sat next to the bed.
"You can't leave me now, Nick, you just *can't*!" she cried.
Being a doctor had its downsides sometimes too, she reflected.
She was all too well aware of the readings on the monitors, and
Nick's life signs didn't look at all good. She was worried, more
than worried. There was a terror in the pit of her stomach. She
couldn't lose Nick now ... their lives together had barely begun.
Then a desperate thought occurred to her and she reached for the
bedside phone.

Mere minutes later, LaCroix arrived in the hospital room
and stood by her side.

"So, you need me now, do you?" His voice was laced with
sarcasm, but also with concern over Nick. "And what is it you
would ask of me in the hour of your need?"

"Bring him back across. Make him a vampire again,"
Natalie pleaded. "Please, LaCroix, you *must*!"

"There is little I *must* do, I can assure you of that, my
dear," LaCroix replied.

"He's dying! He won't live through the night. You have
to bring him back across. Please!" Natalie pleaded, choking on
her tears. LaCroix smiled privately to himself. Yes, this was
just the opportunity he had looked for, lo those many months ago
when Nicholas crossed back over to humanity. He would not let
this opportunity pass him by.

LaCroix gently moved Natalie aside, and bent over
Nicholas, savoring the smell of his mortal blood. Then in one
swift movement he was at Nicholas' throat, draining him. He then
bit his wrist and let his own blood dribble into Nicholas' mouth.
"Come back to me, Nicholas. It is not yet your time to die."

Nick didn't respond. As he continued to lay as quiet as
death upon the hospital bed, Natalie panicked. "What's wrong?
Shouldn't he wake up?"

"He's been here before, Natalie. He must choose. Perhaps
this time he will choose death over vampirism." LaCroix looked at
her with a measure of compassion. He had come to have a grudging
respect for this strong young woman that his Nicholas loved so

Natalie leaned over the bed and spoke to Nick, "You've got
to come back, Nick, please. I can help you back across again, but
you've got to come back to me now. Please, Nick," she pleaded.
"Come back." Her tears fell softly upon his face.

Somewhere, in that land between the living and the dead,
Nick heard Natalie's pleas. Here he was, given the choice he had
longed for; the chance to walk into the light and be redeemed as a
mortal. In the other direction lay vampirism ... and Natalie. A
decision must be made, and soon, but Nick struggled with that
decision all the same.

Natalie sensed the struggle, knew what each decision could
mean for Nick. She deemed it was time to play her trump card at
that point. She leaned close to his ear and whispered softly,
"Nick, I'm pregnant. You're going to be a father."

In that place between light and dark, Nick finally came to
his decision. He had to return to Natalie, no matter the
consequences. He opened his eyes and saw his Natalie bending over
him. He reached for her ... and she was abruptly pulled away to
be replaced by the face of his master.

"No! You mustn't be too near," LaCroix hissed at her.
"He will experience the first hunger soon and if you do not intend
to be his victim, I suggest you find some blood for him soon.
Human blood."

Natalie looked sharply up at LaCroix. In her desperation
to save Nick at any cost, she hadn't really thought through the
consequences of what she had asked him to do. However, being a
doctor gave her some advantages in the hospital. She slipped out
of the room to go in search of a supply of blood.

Nick had been badly injured in the automobile accident.
Injured to the point of mortal death. He found his hunger for
blood, human blood, to be nearly overpowering. It hadn't felt
like this the first time, in 1228. This time he was not healthy
and strong. This time he was weak with need. LaCroix realized
this and offered Nick his wrist again. Eyes blazing a hungry red,
fangs extended, Nick roughly grabbed the proffered wrist and drank
greedily. But it wasn't enough. LaCroix pulled his arm from
Nick's grasp before he could be seriously drained himself. It
wasn't enough to satisfy the hunger that continued to grow within
his protege.

Natalie returned to the hospital room about fifteen
minutes later carrying three blood packs. She paused in the
doorway, seeing Nick's eyes glowing from across the room. LaCroix
jumped up and met her quickly, pushing her back outside the room.

"Is this going to be enough?" Natalie was concerned that
perhaps she hadn't been able to procure enough blood to satisfy

"It will do for now." LaCroix took the blood from her,
then turned back to look her directly in the eyes. "Do not come
in until I tell you it is safe. Do you understand?"

"Nick needs me," Natalie protested. "He wouldn't hurt
me," she insisted.

"He doesn't recognize you now. You are nothing but prey
to him. Give him a chance to feed and heal. He will come to his
senses soon." LaCroix gave her a gentle shove out the door and
then closed it in her face.

At that moment, Nick's attending physician came by with
the intention of checking up on him. Natalie stopped him at the

"There's been no change in his condition, Dr. Mallory.
He's resting now. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't disturb
him." Natalie put on her best professional air. Not for the
first time, she wished she had a vampire's ability to "whammy"
people into agreeing with her. Dr. Mallory gave her a dubious
look, but agreed to come back in an hour to check on Nick then.
Natalie breathed a sigh of relief and sat down in a chair outside
the door.

About a half hour later, the door opened a crack and
LaCroix appeared. "You may come in now, Natalie. He's still
weak, but he's come to his senses. I believe you will be safe for
the moment."

Natalie jumped out of the chair and hurried inside the
room. As she reached the bedside, Nick reached out for her hand.
She was momentarily shocked at the coolness of his touch. In the
three short months that Nick had been mortal, Natalie had grown
used to his warmth. Now, she knew, she would have to learn all
over again how to cope with a vampire. Nick looked up at her and
smiled. At least his smile hasn't changed, she thought.

"Natalie.... Did I hear you right? We're going to have a
baby?" Nick's face glowed with anticipation.

"Yes, Nick, oh yes ... we're having a baby." She smiled
warmly down at him, stroking her free hand through his hair and
leaning in close to his face. She kissed him then, regardless of
the possible danger.

"We must get him out of here soon," LaCroix interrupted
them from across the room. "It is not safe to leave him in this
environment much longer."

"How are we going to do that?" Natalie turned and looked
at LaCroix with genuine puzzlement. "Just a few hours ago he came
in here and he was dying. He can't just get up and walk out now."

"I will be forced to make some 'attitude adjustments' with
the staff, I'm afraid," LaCroix replied dryly.

"You're going to hypnotize them into forgetting Nick was
here?" Natalie was incredulous.

"Not into forgetting he was here, merely into thinking
that his injuries were minor, not life threatening."

"Well, that's going to be a good trick." Natalie's voice
contained more than a hint of LaCroix's own sarcasm. "There are
records, you know, both written and in the computer."

"I will take care of it," LaCroix stated, then he left the
room. Natalie turned back to see a bemused smile on Nick's face.

"What?" she asked, smiling back.

"Oh, just enjoying you and LaCroix. He's a bit
intimidated by you, you know."

Natalie looked genuinely surprised by that statement.
"You've got to be kidding! He's the one that intimidates me!"

"But you stand up to him. Not many mortals are willing to
do that. And you're a resister, he can't bend you to his will.
That makes you a regular thorn in his side," Nick chuckled.
"Keeps him on his toes."

"Gets me dead if I'm not careful," Natalie replied.

"Oh no. No, no, no ... he's promised me that." Nick
looked deeply into Natalie's large, wide eyes. "It's part of our
... arrangement. He won't hurt you."

"Arrangement? What arrangement?" Natalie was more than a
little concerned that Nick would make any kind of deal with

"Ah, Nat ... you're not going to like it," Nick sighed.
Just then LaCroix reentered the room.

"Quickly, Nicholas, get dressed. You've been released and
we must hurry before the dawn." LaCroix handed Nick his clothes.
As Nick began pulling them on, Natalie grabbed LaCroix by the arm.

"What do you mean, he's been released?" she demanded.

"I've taken care of ... everything," LaCroix replied.
"Now we must hurry." The trio quickly walked out of the hospital
and over to the parking lot where Natalie had left her car. They
all piled in and Natalie drove swiftly back to the loft, just
barely beating the dawning of a new day.

Nick and Natalie sat at the kitchen table; she was nursing
a cup of instant coffee while Nick nursed a glass of LaCroix's
"House Special". LaCroix had retired to the couch and was
sleeping soundly.

Turning her attention away from the sleeping master
vampire, Natalie turned to Nick and spoke quietly. "Tell me about
this 'arrangement' you have with LaCroix."

"I told you, Nat, you're not going to like it." Nick was
hedging. No doubt about it, he preferred not to be discussing
this subject with his wife. Natalie, however, was persistent.

"I don't really care if I'm going to like it or not," she
claimed, "I just need to know what's up with you two." Nick
stared deeply into his glass, looking guilty and avoiding
Natalie's eyes. "I'm not going to bite, you know." She smiled at
Nick, trying to put him at ease. Whatever this was, it had him
upset. That fact alone was enough to make her not like it.

Nick finally looked up. "LaCroix agreed to leave you
alone, to let us live as a married couple without his
interference, if...." He paused, uncertain about continuing.

"If what?" Natalie urged softly. She took Nick's hand in
hers and stroked the back of it, trying to reassure him of her

"If I go back to accepting the vampire in me and ... and
to drinking human blood." Nick's voice had dropped so low that
Natalie barely heard his last words.

"Oh Nick ... no! Please say you didn't agree to that,"
she cried. Nick looked so miserable at that point that Natalie
realized that that was precisely what he and LaCroix had agreed
upon. She felt a cold hard lump form in the pit of her stomach.
All their years of hard work were over. Nick had agreed to give
up his search for his mortality.

"It doesn't have to be like this forever," Nick spoke
rapidly, trying to get it all out before he lost his nerve. "Just
long enough to satisfy *him*," he cocked his head in the direction
of the couch, "and we can go back to looking for the cure. Nat, I
need to do this ... for you as well as for him."

"For ME??" she practically screeched. "How can this be
for *me*?"

"Nat, you've got to understand," Nick was desperate now to
see the light of understanding in her eyes, "if I drink human
blood again, we can be together, really *together*. When I was
drinking the cow, I was weaker, I couldn't resist you when we got
too close. If I feed regularly on human blood I'll have more
control, don't you see?"

"No, I really don't see." Natalie was getting angry.

"Nat, please ... I don't plan on killing. LaCroix has
promised me a supply of donated blood. If I can't get donated,
I'll at least drink bottled. I haven't given up on my promise not
to kill." Nick searched Natalie's eyes for some kind of
acceptance. "It will make me stronger. Strong enough to resist
the urge to drink from you when we make love. It's the only way
for us to be truly together and for you to be safe ... you
and...." He placed a hand on her abdomen. Natalie covered his
hand with hers and smiled. "I still can't believe it," he said,
staring at their two hands. "I'm going to be a father."

"Yes...." Natalie sighed and smiled. "Okay. This isn't
going to be easy to get used to, but I understand your reasoning.
I'm not saying that I completely agree with you, you understand,
but I'm going to respect your decision.... For now."

Nick looked incredibly relieved by her statement. He
stood up and came around the table. Helping Natalie up, he swept
her up in his arms and carried her up the stairs to their bedroom.
Once in the privacy of their own space, he drew her into a
passionate embrace. He was determined to show her just how
pleasant life with a reformed vampire could be.

But Natalie had other plans. "Look, buster," she laughed,
playfully pushing him away from her, "you just got out of the
hospital, again, and you need to get some rest. Let's save this
for next evening."

Nick was actually feeling better than he had in quite a
long time and was in no real mood for Natalie's precautions. He
kissed her again, more insistently than before. Natalie shoved
him back again, not quite so gently this time. "Look Nick, maybe
you don't need to rest, but *I* *do*. It's been quite a night,
for me at least ... and I'm not feeling so good." She sat down on
the bed, holding her stomach, partly doubled over.

Suddenly all the solicitous husband, Nick was at her side
helping her undress and get into the bed. "I'm sorry Nat. I
guess I wasn't thinking. We've got to take special care of you
now." He looked so sweet as he fussed over her that Natalie
decided to forgive him this time. She smiled to herself as she
contemplated this dichotomous man of hers; so strong, so gentle;
so fearsome, so vulnerable; so worldly, so childlike.... He was
going to make a terrific father, she reflected.

* * * * *

It had been the longest seven months of his entire
existence, Nick contemplated, but it looked as though the wait
might finally be over. Natalie's water had broken four hours ago,
but she had refused to go to the hospital until the sun had set.
The contractions were coming less than four minutes apart now and
Nick was more than anxious to get going. During the time since
Natalie's labor had started, Nick had fed well and fully and made
sure everything was packed and in order, ready for the trip to the

Natalie waddled out of the downstairs bathroom and grabbed
her heavy coat. It had been snowing lightly since yesterday and
she wondered at the propriety of having a baby in January. That
decision, however, was completely out of her hands. The baby was
coming, and it was coming now. Nick picked up the overnight bag
and linked an arm with Natalie's to help steady her as they walked
to the elevator. A contraction hit just as they were entering the
lift and Natalie gasped and doubled over slightly at the strength
of it. Without a moment's hesitation, Nick swept her up in his
strong arms and carried her the rest of the way to the car.

"You didn't have to do that, you know." Natalie was
stifling a giggle when another contraction hit and dragged a low
moan from her.

"Yes, I did," Nick insisted. "We've got to get you to the
hospital ... now." He drove cautiously on the snow-slicked
streets, but Natalie could sense his rising frustration at every
red light.

They finally reached the hospital's maternity entrance. A
nurse was waiting for them with a wheelchair for Natalie. She
gratefully eased herself into it and allowed the nurse to take her
to the birthing center while Nick signed the necessary papers.

By the time Nick arrived in the room, Natalie was already
in her hospital gown and settled in the bed. The nurse finished
her preliminary examination.

"You didn't get here any too soon, sweetheart. You're
seven centimeters dilated already. At this rate it isn't going to
be long." The nurse looked from Natalie to a very anxious Nick.
"Is this your first?" she asked.

"Oh yeah...." Natalie exhaled deeply after a particularly
nasty contraction.

"Is everything all right? Is Natalie okay?" Nick looked
from his laboring wife to the nurse.

"Everything is just fine, Mr. Knight; going right on
schedule," she smiled reassuringly. Fathers, she thought, they
always feared the worst. This was usually the first time they had
every seen their wives in this kind of pain and they really
weren't equipped to deal with it.

"I'm okay, Nick, really," Natalie reassured him. Men, she
thought, were never really ready to deal with the reality of
labor. Good thing this job was left to the women. Even a strong
man like Nick would be reduced to tears if he were in her place,
she contemplated.

Five hours, and many ice chips later, Natalie was finally
near to giving birth. Cecilia, her nurse, looked up from the
posterior end of the bed. "Almost there, sweetie. You're nine
and a half centimeters. Just hang in there, we're almost done."

The contractions were coming one on top of another now,
not giving Natalie a chance to breathe between them. Nick was a
nervous wreck, but he was managing to cope. He tried to wipe
Natalie's perspiring forehead with a cool cloth and got his hand
batted away for his efforts.

"Don't you touch me, Nicholas Knight. This is all your
fault," she gasped as the next contraction hit upon the heels of
the last. She looked up and saw the 'wounded puppy' look in his
eyes. He really had been trying to help and she wouldn't have
wanted him not to be here. His presence had been a great comfort
to her, even when he seemed lost for what he needed to do.

She took his hand then, and gasped out between
contractions, "I'm sorry, Nick.... I love you.... I'm really
glad you're here." She tried to smile, but the best she could
manage was to grit her teeth and grimace.

"It's time, sweetie," Cecilia cooed. "You just hold on
for a few more minutes while I go and get Dr. Kline. No pushing
while I'm gone...." and she quickly exited the room.

"No! Don't go!" Natalie called at Cecilia's retreating
back. "Oh God, I've got to push!" she moaned to Nick.

"You can do it, Nat. You can wait." Nick held her hand
and beamed at her with pride. "I'm right here. I won't leave

It was only five minutes, but it seemed like five hours to
Natalie, before Dr. Kline arrived. He was an older man, with
thinning white hair, old-fashioned spectacles and a gentle manner.
Natalie had been referred to him by one of her co-workers and had
never since doubted her choice.

"So, it looks like we're ready to have ourselves a baby
here, eh?" He lifted the sheets to examine Natalie for himself.

"Can I start pushing now, Dr. Kline? Please??" Natalie

"Anytime you're ready, dear. It's your show. I'm just
here to catch 'em when they come out." His charming smile set
Natalie at ease.

The pushing felt so good.... Nick was concerned over the
effort she was expending and the redness of her face, but she
assured him that everything was fine. This was how it was
supposed to be. The contractions and Natalie's pushes intensified
and she screamed. Nick had his arms protectively around her in an
instant. He wanted nothing more than to take this pain from her,
but he knew that wasn't possible. He really did feel quite
responsible for this and it was an agony for him.

After a particularly hard push, accompanied by another
scream, Dr. Kline looked up from the end of the bed. "Give me
another one just like that Natalie ... good ... good.... Now
stop. Don't push until I tell you to. The baby's head is out."
He paused a moment as he turned the baby's shoulders gently.
"Nick, would you like to come catch the baby and cut the cord?"

Nervous, but excited, Nick moved to the foot of bed. Dr.
Kline showed him what he needed to do, then looked up at Natalie.
"It's all yours, my dear. Give us one more big push."

Natalie took a deep breath and pushed with all her might.
Suddenly, Nick looked up at her and he was beaming from ear to
ear. "It's a girl, Nat! It's a girl!" He was so excited.

Natalie chuckled. Yep, she thought, it's going to be
like having two kids around the house. How will I ever manage?
She smiled a contented smile and lay back on her pillows,

* * * * *

Forty-eight hours later they were home with Laurene.
Natalie was taking a nap after being up half the night nursing,
and Nick sat in the rocking chair holding his precious bundle.

This, he thought, this is true immortality. And he smiled.