Tale's End
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
circa July 1997

This story is a sequel to my Christmas (yes, Christmas ) story, A Winter's Tale. It picks up directly where A Winter's Tale
left off.

The Forever Knight characters are the property of Sony-Tristar et al and no
copyright infringement is intended. Mark Downie is my character.

The fire had died down to burning embers and the loft was becoming
cool, but Nick hesitated to disturb the woman sleeping in his arms, her
head resting trustingly on his shoulder.

He had pulled down an afghan from the back of the couch and covered
her as she slept. His arm encircled her tenderly and every so often he ran
his fingers through the long thick strands of her chestnut curls, savouring
their silky feel. He'd always loved her hair, so thick and yet so soft and
always carrying the sweet scent of her.

An overwhelming passion swept over Nick as he sat, silent, in the
cool darkness. On the mantle, a candle burned to its last strand of wick
and flickered out; like each of the last ten years had flickered out,
silently, leaving ever more darkness in his solitary life. And now he
suspected that Natalie had felt the same loneliness and desolation as each
marker of time whispered into the past. Sadness welled up within him at the
wasted years, the lost moments never to be recovered.

How had he ever allowed this to happen, he wondered. How had she?

And why, he marvelled as he watched her sleep, was this
relationship so different from so many others he had experienced in his
long existence.

He suspected the answer to that lay in some mysterious spiritual
realm and the inexplicable reality that their souls were bound by more than
just this 20th century incarnation. Somehow he had known her, recognized
her spirit and her warmth as soon as his eyes flew open on the table in her
morgue so many years ago.

She had certainly shown the greatest lack of surprise or fear of
any mortal he'd ever encountered at the sight of his bestial side. And that
she had eventually embraced and loved him completely, with full knowledge
of everything that he was and could be, was still a source of wonderment.

It was that recognition, an almost instant bond, that had touched
and warmed and revitalized the remnants of his old and worn-out soul and
restored the fading tatters of his humanity with the antidotes of faith and
hope and love.

Such gifts were not to be taken lightly and he felt he had repaid
them poorly, leaving her alone here, even though she had done her share of
pushing. He should have understood that she was testing him, to find out if
he could be pushed away. A test he'd failed miserably.

But not completely, he reminded himself. For the first time in
eight centuries he had never left this life behind completely, and now he
was back.

And he hoped with every fibre of his being that he had not come
back too late.

* * *

Natalie felt the chill of the cold loft and opened her eyes to the
dead fire in the grate and the darkness of midnight. There was a strange
sense of desolation that her sleep fuzzed mind could recognize but not

She rose unsteadily and made her way to the kitchen sink, pouring a
glass of water. Turning back to the loft, she felt its emptiness with a
stab of pain that radiated from the centre of her chest to tingling stabs
in her fingertips.

"Nick!" the name escaped her lips with a kind of moan. Had he
really been here? Or had it been a dream?

A surge of emotion welled up from somewhere deep inside her,
flooding her senses and forcing her to grasp the counter for support. Her
body began to shake.

"Hey, Nat, get a grip," she admonished herself.

Exerting Herculean control over her wayward body, she made for the
stairs to the bedroom. Halfway up she turned and looked back over the loft,
searching desperately for some sign that any of it had been real. And
suddenly the room began to float before her and she felt her legs give way.

She thought she called out his name as she tumbled into greyness.

* * *

Nick felt Natalie stir in his arms as she slept and heard her moan
softly. Then he heard his name from her lips.

It was so mournful, so desolate that he felt it cut through him
like a stake and he caught his breath sharply. He reached out and grabbed a
goblet of the thick, ruby liquid and downed it, thankful he'd had a case
delivered. Without it, his control would undoubtedly have slipped before
now. He was struggling hard to keep the emotions in control and the beast
at bay.

Suddenly she woke with a start, lurching forward out of his embrace
and crying out his name.

"Nat, it's okay. I'm here." He reached for her and pulled her
gently back into his arms.

Her startled eyes met his from her upturned face and he knew she
hadn't completely skaken the dream.

"Nat," he said again, burying his hand in her hair. "You were
dreaming. I'm here. You're here. Everything's okay."

He saw the tears in her eyes and felt her body tremble and pulled
her close as if trying to meld her body to his. And as her arms wound
around his neck and he felt her wet cheek against his face, he understood
that it was not him, nor the bloodwine, that was keeping the vampire at

It was her. Her complete and unquestioning trust reached into the
depths of his being and effortlessly pulled forth the essence of his soul -
the honour that he had kept safeguarded for so long.

It was a part of him that he had kept hidden even from himself and
definitely from the world, from Lacroix, from all the other denizens of his
dark reality. Yet, Natalie found it, plumbed those depths and pulled it to
the surface, at the same time ensuring that he would neither ever leave her
nor ever hurt her.

Lost in this revelation, he felt her whisper into his ear: "Nick,
you're holding me too tightly. I can't breathe."

Letting his breath out slowly he loosened his grip and let his head
fall onto her shoulder. And, for the first time since he re-entered this
world, this life, he let the tears come.

* * *

Nat held him tenderly and gently stroked the soft blond curls. His
tears, so rarely seen through all the years she had known him, reawakened
the chronic aching pain in her solar plexus. It had disappeared for the
first time in longer than she could remember when he walked through her
door that evening and its sudden return made her feel like she'd been
kicked in the stomach.

This was why she hadn't invited him back into her life. It was so
much harder to see his pain than to endure her own. A deep sigh escaped her
and he pulled back, looking up sharply.

"I'm sorry Nat," he said, pulling his emotions into check and
taking another long draught from his goblet. "I shouldn't have let that

He rose and walked to the fireplace, stoking up the cinders and
feeding the fire with kindling and a fresh log.

"Hey, I'm not one to talk," Natalie replied, rubbing a hand across
her face where her own dried tears pulled her skin tight. Nick returned to
the couch and sat close to her, capturing her hand in his again.

"I know I haven't made this easy for you, blubbering at the drop
of a hat," she said, pausing for a moment and looking at him sadly. "You
really shouldn't have to deal with all this."

She looked away.

"Nat, don't," he said hoarsely, a strange catch in his voice as he
tried to pull her back towards him. "Please. Don't."

"Don't what?" She still didn't look at him.

"Don't push me away again."

She stole a brief sideways glance at him. His face was so serious
and filled with a mixture of pain and concern.

"Nick, I just don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I can
watch you hurt for me."

"I should have been here for you all along," he replied softly.

She looked at him then, meeting his gaze with eyes filled and
overflowing with the love in her heart.

"Oh, but you have been Nick! Do you think I don't know how much
you've been here for me?"

He said nothing.

"I might not have admitted it to myself, at least not most of the
time - but my mother didn't raise a fool, Nick.

"For starters, I do know how much the drugs cost that I've been
taking, and reasoning like 'it's still experimental so the research dollars
will fund it,' starts to get lame after awhile.

"And such a coincidence that whenever I was in the hospital it was
always so crowded that a private room was all that was available, even
though my coverage is for semi-private. Oh yeah, and how they never
remembered to bill me for things like a television or phone. And the
flowers people kept leaving behind, that made their way to my room 'so they
wouldn't go to waste.' Strange how they were always my favourite kinds.

"And that's just the first things that come to mind. It seems like
all I ever had to do was mention that I wanted something and, somehow, it
happened, whether it was tickets to the theatre - lo and behold someone had
mysteriously entered my name in a contest, which I always won - or a new
laptop computer - the department suddenly had over-ordered and were selling
some off cheap!

"Each incident could be explained away on its own, but add them up
over a decade...." her voice grew soft and trailed off. "I was never sure
how it happened but I finally clued into the fact that all I had to do was
wish out loud, so I tried to stop wishing, out loud at least."

"And there was one thing you never wished for," Nick said so
quietly that she almost didn't hear him.

Natalie squeezed the hand that still held hers.

"I told you why. In my heart, it was all I ever wanted."

"Which is exactly why you'll have a hell of a time getting rid of
me now, Natalie Lambert," he tried, only half successfully, to inject a
light note into his voice.

* * *

Both fell silent, lost for a time in their own thoughts and
drifting contentedly on the waves of emotion that were surfacing as they
relished each other's company again. After a few minutes, Nat raised her
eyes again to Nick's.

"So why come back now, Nick?" she asked. "I still never spoke the
wish out loud. How did you know to come?"

"Janette," he replied simply.

Natalie's eyes opened wide with surprise. "Janette?"

"Yeah. She told me you needed me and why you hadn't asked me to
come. She was right, as it turns out. Our bond is pretty strong and I think
she was getting tired of feeling so much despair in it."

He smiled, but it was a sad smile and Natalie felt the truth of his
words. "She also told me you probably still cared."

He looked at her, his eyes begging for reassurance.

"You didn't know?" Natalie asked, slightly incredulous.

Nick hesitated a moment.

"I knew you cared, Nat, and that you would always care. But I
didn't know you would ever want to see me again. The walls you built up
around yourself were pretty strong, impossible to break through, at least
at the time. And, I know how much I hurt you. God, Nat, I damn near killed

It was the first reference either had made to the night that
started them down this long road. Natalie chose to let it drop without a
response. What more was there to say about that night anyway?

"I never quite thought of Janette as an ally," she said instead.

"She could feel my pain. She knew how much I needed you. And, it
seems that, after eight centuries, there are still things I can learn about
the female sex."

Nick fell silent for several minutes. He studied Natalie's hand as
it lay in his, running his thumb along its smooth surface. Her skin was so
soft, so silky...

Natalie watched him curiously, feeling there was more he wanted to
say. Finally he spoke.

"Janette also knew you needed help, needed me. She knew I could
help you in a way no one else could." He looked up and met her eyes. "I can
help you, Nat. I can give you back a life...one that sickness, at least,
can't take away."

"What are you talking about Nick?" Natalie's voice was scarcely a
whisper. It was a question she hardly needed to ask.

"I think you know," he replied, just as softly.

The wave of anger hit her like a gale force wind, surging through
her, taking her completely by surprise as it invaded every cell of her

She jerked her hand from his, which immediately clenched as he
steeled himself to withstand a fury he felt was about to be unleashed.

"Oh my, Nick, how times do change," she said, her voice icy and
dripping with contempt. "And to just what do I owe this honour? Now you
want to bring me across? Something you refused to do on countless
occasions, all in the name of my well being...all to save me from the
eternal hell you claim to live in. How did I finally reach this pinnacle of
worthiness? Or should I say fall to it?" Her voice was rising and she was
powerless to control it.

"And whatever happened to your precious quest for mortality? Have
you just given up on that? What was it - just a whim, something to
alleviate the boredom after 800 years of ravaging mortals for their blood,
their lives, their essence?"

Nick flinched visibly under the force of her anger. For just a
moment, fury swept over him, too, but it quickly abated. He truly
understood her anger, better than she did. It came from her pain and he
knew it was pain he had inflicted.

He wondered whether he had done her a favour by returning to her
life, or whether he was, in fact, being more selfish than he'd ever been.

Natalie's words continued to assault him.

"Oh God, what a fool I was to ever believe you really cared. I was
just another pawn in your game, wasn't I?" she practically shouted. "I
should have been left to die that night. I really believed you acted in
what you thought was my best interests, but you never really cared, did
you, Nick? I'm just another trophy to add to your collection and, dead or
undead, it's of no concern either way..."

her thoughts stopped the torrent of words abruptly.
The anger had caught her by surprise and left her powerless to control it.
But there was the the bottom line - the fear that Nick really didn't care,
had never cared and sooner or later she would just become one of his
memories, part of his past, someone he might occasionally think about while
he lapsed into one of his frequent daydreams.

The realization was as startling as the anger had been and as she
came to terms with it, another took its place. She looked at Nick. He sat
silent and still as a statue, one hand still clenched in a tight fist, his
eyes closed against the appearance of the familiar gold, face totally
without expression. But a single tear escaped from behind the closed lids
and slid down the side of his nose.

Natalie thought.

The silence in the room was deafening. It thundered in Natalie's
ears as her anger was replaced by a rising fear.

Nick was pummelled by more emotions than he was prepared to deal
with - sorrow, guilt, pain, fury, desire, hunger, despair, desperation,
hope and hopelessness. His mind tried to formulate answers but his thoughts
swirled in a whirlpool of confusion and even if words would come, he was
certain his voice would not.

Natalie thought desperately.

They lay between them, a smouldering mass ready to ignite again at
the first careless word tossed into it. She was sure he was going to leave,
just stand up and walk back out the door and she couldn't blame him,
couldn't call him back. But she had to try. She had to.

"Nick...." she began, softly, hesitantly.

He simply held his right forefinger in front of his mouth, a
gesture for her to stay quiet. But still he didn't speak. Her fear was
quickly reaching panic proportions.

"Nick, please...." she tried again. The finger gestured again for

He opened his eyes, reached for the green bottle and slowly and
deliberately poured a glassful and drank it down. He repeated the procedure
and let out a long breath.

"Don't say anything, Nat," he said in a voice that sounded
strangled by emotion. She had never heard his voice like that. In a
desperate need to reach out to him, to comfort him, she took both his hands
in hers. He didn't pull them away but neither did he grasp hers in return.

"Your questions are valid," he said, slowly. "Your anger is
understandable. I'm the one who needs to apologize. I don't know if you
can, but I want so much for you to understand."

He paused, searching again for the right words. Sucking in a deep
breath, he continued.

"Let me start with the easy part....You asked about my quest for
mortality. Nat, that's something that began so many years before I met you
that even I have lost count. And, it will continue until I am no longer on
this Earth. Of everything I tried and everyone who tried to help me, you
brought me the most hope, the most faith, the closest to achieving that

"To this day," a ghost of a smile flitted briefly across his
features. "To this day the most prominent appliance in my kitchen is the
blender, and the recipe for protein shakes has a place of honour on my
fridge. I try to drink one at least three times a week. And, I'm able to
tolerate sunrise and sunset light fairly well now, especially on cloudy

Natalie smiled briefly and squeezed his hands. She was rewarded
with a slight return pressure.

"You want to know why I'm offering you something I've refused you
so often. You actually believe it comes from too little caring ... Nat, my
greatest flaw has always been caring for you too much, much more than was
ever safe for either of us."

Natalie felt the tears streaming down her cheeks now and blinked
rapidly to clear her blurring vision.

"I'm not telling you that I want you to do this. I'm just making an
offer, because it is so difficult to see you suffer and would be next to
unbearable to watch you die." He closed his eyes and a slight temour ran
through his body.

"But it's your choice," he said, opening his eyes to hers again. "I
will never force you into my existence."

"I do know that, Nick," Natalie said, softly. But as she opened her
mouth to continue, Nick stopped her with a gentle finger to her lips.

"There's something else I have to say, Nat - one thing you must
understand. And you have to know that this is not meant to pressure you or
convince you of anything. It's just a true statement of my feelings - the
truest I can give you."

His clear blue eyes met hers steadily. He turned his hands to take
hers firmly and hold them tightly.

"There have been few people in 800 years who were able to bring
light into my darkness." His voice was filled with conviction and honesty.
"You, Nat, have been the best, and the brightest. Since you came into my
life, there has never been complete darkness. It didn't matter whether I
was with you, or hundreds of miles away. Your presence on this Earth gave
me strength and hope and faith and light. When you cease to exist on this
plane, that light will be gone, and I know I can never again live in that
total darkness."

He took another deep breath and tightened his grip on her hands.

"So when that time comes, I will walk into the sunlight - armed
with all the faith and hope you've given me - and I know I'll find you in
that light."

As she drew in a shuddering breath through her sobs, Nick let go of
one hand and reached his arm around her to pull her closer, kissing her
tenderly on the forehead.

"I made you a promise once, Nat," he said softly. "And it's one I
intend to keep, whatever the cost, and as long as it's what you still want.
We will be together, forever."

Natalie descended the stairs slowly, pulling a silver robe around
her and tying the belt around her waist. The loft was silent, still lit by
candlelight and firelight. The heavy metal shutters, unused for so many
years, were again closed tightly against the brightness of the winter
sunlight glistening off the snow-covered city.

Nick was stretched full length on the couch. Nat crossed the room
and gently pulled the afghan over his sleeping form. She was well aware he
had no need of that physical comfort but it made her feel better and she
knew that when he wakened he would recognize and be touched by the gesture.

She slid into the deep armchair opposite the sofa, tucking her bare
feet underneath her, and rested her head against the cushiony back. At
Nick's suggestion, she had gone upstairs to shower and rest. The shower had
refreshed her but the sleep eluded her.

Sighing deeply, she tried to relax her body and her mind, to bring
the myriad thoughts swirling inside her head into some sort of focus and to
come to terms with the series of fantastic events that started when the
lift opened the previous evening and Nick swept dramatically back into her

It still seemed like a dream, more so she had to admit, because it
was a dream she'd had many times, particularly in recent years as she spent
more and more time alone, the years since she had reclaimed the knowledge
that her heart belonged to an eight-century old vampire, born Nicholas de
Brabant sometime in the late 12th century.

The early years here had been easier, filled with people and a
constant whirl of activity which she now saw as a desperate attempt to
escape her past, to forget, to deny, to exorcise any lingering traces of
vampire mythology and the man who made it real for her.

She'd been surprisingly successful - until the fateful night that
the facade broke down and her carefully constructed new world crumbled
around her.

She remembered it clearly. It all had to do with a charming, darkly
handsome, young doctor by name of Mark Downie.....

* * *

Five years earlier:

"The stars are certainly bright tonight; must be the drop in
temperature," Natalie commented, pulling her wool coat more closely around

"Hardly brighter than the stars in your eyes," Mark replied,
hugging her closer to him as they sauntered up Front Street towards the
Hummingbird Centre. "And as for the cold, you've got my love to keep you

"You're an incurable romantic, you know," Natalie laughed, punching
him gently.

"I know."

Natalie snuggled against her companion, feeling comfortably full
and relaxed after the Italian dinner and bottle of Cabernet Savignon they
had shared. She was looking forward to this play, a new one by an
up-and-coming Toronto playwright. It was a classic love story, set against
the backdrop of the Holocaust, protagonists from two different worlds,
opposite sides of the conflict, who had the misfortune to fall in love at a
time when the most likely outcome would be tragic.

"It's a story that's been done countless times, and often becomes
cliched," she'd told Mark over dinner. "But when it's done well, it can be
classic. I think it's because it appeals to our belief in the triumph of
the human spirit and our need to believe that - at least sometimes - love
can conquer all."

"That would be the view of a romantic, would it not?" Mark queried
with a knowing smile.

"I suppose," she admitted. "Of course when love doesn't triumph,
that's when the romance devolves into tragedy."

For a moment, a shadow crossed her face and deep inside her a vague
feeling of sadness began to surface. She fought it down but as they watched
the story unfold on the stage, Natalie discovered that feeling had stayed
much too close to the surface.

She refused to acknowledge its source but when the protagonist
declared in anguish "You'll be better off without me. My love can only be
fatal for you!" she heard it echo in her heart. And as they left the
theatre, she was still wiping the streaming tears from her face.

"It really got to you, that story," Mark observed as the creaking
lift carried them from the parking garage to Natalie's loft.

She chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. "Yeah, I guess I'm just a
sucker for love stories."

But once inside, Natalie was restless and unable to focus on the
conversation Mark tried valiantly to keep up, or on the other activities he
obviously had on his mind.

"Where are you, girl?" he asked finally, drawing her attention from
the flames leaping in the grate.

"Right here," she smiled.

"Then who are you with? Because I'm certain it's not with me." His
voice was gentle, not angry, and Natalie blushed but said nothing.

"Wouldn't be a gentleman by the name of Nick Knight, now would it?"
he asked.

Natalie jumped, startled. "Where did you hear that?" she demanded,
certain she had never mentioned that name to him.

"Oh, I had a bit of a heart to heart with Grace last week -
remember the night you were held up with that last-minute post? - and she
mentioned the guy. Said he was a homicide detective you had some sort of
relationship with and then one day he just up and disappeared. She said you
never talk about him but she's not sure you ever got over him."

"Grace often says more than her prayers," Natalie said dryly. She
wasn't sure if she was more furious with her friend for bringing up the
past or with herself for the onslaught of feelings that hearing that name
had evoked.

"Did you live here with him?" Mark asked in a quiet voice.

"No. He lived here." She paused. "He owns the building."

Mark whistled softly through his teeth. "Quite something on a
detective's salary!"

"Family money," Natalie responded.

"So now you live here. You're still in contact with him then, after

"No!" Natalie's reply was a bit too quick and vehement. "I haven't
spoken to him in five years. And," more softly, "I don't expect to. Ever

"Why didn't it work?"

"We were too different. From different worlds." An infinite sadness
crept into her voice.

Mark nodded slowly, suddenly understanding her mood.

"But it doesn't change the feelings, does it?" he asked. "You love
him." It was a statement with no hint of a question mark.

Natalie blushed again but remained miserably silent.

Mark nodded in affirmation. "I've always felt there was a part of
you that I've never known, something that was missing. I guess I know now
what that is."

After Mark left, Natalie paced the loft, confused and angry. Her
initial reaction had been relief, that the truth had finally been told.
Anger followed. Anger that her world had been shattered and she still had
nowhere to go, no one to turn to, no Nick in her life.

In her fury she had grabbed the garlic braid that hung by the
kitchen sink - her symbol of freedom from the restrictive nighttime world
she had shared with Nick - and she'd thrown it with all her strength
against the brick wall. That gesture itself was so reminiscent of the
loft's former resident that the anger had dissolved into tears of
frustration, desperation and hopelessness.

Sinking to her knees with the force of her sobs, Natalie longed for
the door to open and Nick to walk through it. She was struck by a sudden
memory of the bond that had formed between them after that fateful night
that he had nearly drained her life away. Would that bond still exist?

Focusing all her mental energy on Nick, Natalie tried to reach out
through space and time, to touch his mind. And as she did, she felt a
backwash of peacefulness and love flow through her. Her tears quieted and
she crawled onto the couch and fell instantly asleep.

* * *

Nick opened his eyes and wondered for a moment where he was. He
noticed the blanket lying across him and smiled. Turning his head slightly,
he saw Natalie in the chair across from him. Or rather, it was Natalie's
body in the chair. Her mind was obviously somewhere else; Nick suspected
sometime else. He was familiar with that look, one people often saw on his
own face as he warped back to another time and place.

He watched her for awhile and saw a slight shudder shake her
slender frame and finally two tears slipped from her eyes and chased down
her cheeks.

"Nat," he said softly and was rewarded with a smile full of warmth
as she pulled herself back to the present. "So tell me - where were you?"

"Here," she replied softly. "A long time ago. The one time I did
try to reach out to you."

He raised his eyebrows in genuine surprise and shifted to an
upright position on the couch. "Tell me about it."

In detail, Natalie related the events of that evening, her last
romantic evening with Mark or any other man, the evening that ended with a
desperate attempt to reach out to the man she truly loved.

"I never really knew whether I had succeeded or if it was just
wishful thinking," she concluded.

Nick's face was a study in sadness. "You did succeed," he said
softly. "I remember it well. I felt you so clearly. I was marking papers
and the force of the feeling knocked the pen out of my hand. I felt that
you needed me and I very nearly took to the sky right then and there."

Natalie cocked her head to one side in a mute question.

"It was so close to sunrise that I knew I'd never make it," Nick
answered the unspoken question. "So I decided to wait till the next
evening. I was certain I'd get confirmation that you wanted to see me." He
glanced at the jewellery box, still on the table, which held the heart and
rose pin, her sign to him to come. "When it didn't happen, I thought
perhaps I had been mistaken and I didn't want to barge in and complicate
your life.

"I'm so sorry, Nat. I should have trusted my instincts."

"Not your fault," she assured him. "I knew how to call you. I could
have worn the pin. But in the light of day, it was all too easy to believe
it had been my imagination and all too easy to convince myself that I had
no right to call you back, that you'd gone on with your life and there was
no room for me in your new existence, that you'd probably decided you were
better off without mortal baggage in any case."

Nick shook his head. "You couldn't possibly believe all that."

"Sure I could. I knew I hadn't treated you very well before you
left. I knew I'd been unfair, that I'd hurt you badly."

He gave her a wry smile. "All this from the person who lectured me
endlessly about the futility of guilt and the folly of shouldering
responsibility for all the ills of the world."

Natalie had to laugh at the irony. But Nick's voice was sad as he
said, "and look what it has cost in wasted time, lost years, moments that
are gone forever....." His voice trailed off.

Natalie regarded him silently, watching the reflection of the
candle flames in his eyes and the way shadows from the fire played across
his face. There had always been such strength in that face, she thought,
but strength tempered by an innate gentleness. It was that very softness
that allowed the self-doubt to creep in, that caused the pain and the guilt
to consume him from time to time.

"So Nick," she said softly, "just how long do you think it will
take us to make up for all the lost time?"

His eyes swung back to her face and he cocked his head sideways.
"What do you mean?"

"Well, I think with the knowledge I already have, plus the
technology today that wasn't even thought of ten years ago, that we'll
eventually be able to pick the time that I bring us both back into the
mortal world...." Her voice was clear and held a hint of a smile. But it
softened again as she continued. "Then we can still have our time in the
sun and - with any luck - eternity in the light."

He stared at her, speechless, scarcely able to believe what he was
sure she was saying.

"Nick," she called gently. "Are you still with me or have you zoned
out somewhere?"

"I'm not sure I understand," he whispered.

"Which part was I not clear about?" she asked, smiling broadly now.

Nick swallowed hard. Emotion threatened to overwhelm him as he
understood this clear and unprecedented declaration of unconditional love
and trust.

His voice was choked as he said, "I'm trying to figure out what I
ever did to deserve you."

"How about me?" Natalie was still smiling. "How about what I deserve?"

Nick's voice was stronger now. "You deserve a hell of a lot better
hand than the one life dealt you when they wheeled me into your morgue!"

She sighed and shook her head. "You mean the best gift anyone ever
gave me?" She shrugged. "It's fortunate that I'm going to have plenty of
time to convince you that you are worthy of being loved and cherished."

For the second time in ten minutes, Nick's voice deserted him and
emotion threatened to overwhelm him. Mutely, he held out his arms to her.
Natalie slipped from her chair and into his lap and his encircling embrace.

He held her tightly and spoke softly, his cool breath caressing her
neck and her face.

"And I am going to spend every minute of that time," he kissed her
tenderly on the temple, "...doing everything in my power," planting a soft
kiss on her right cheek, ".....to make sure that you," his lips brushed her
left cheek, ".....never, ever regret this decision."

As his mouth moved towards hers, she managed to murmur. "Not a
chance! But do give it your best shot...." Any further conversation was
halted as Nick captured her lips, kissing them hungrily, with a passion too
long denied.

And as hers responded with equal hunger and passion, Nick was
suffused with a warmth and a peace and the feeling that he had finally,
after a very long time, come home.

The End