Circa May 1997

Hello again! For those of you keeping track, this story
follows "Innocent Blood" in my timeline. I would like to
give a very big thank you to my overworked beta readers;
Blusette de Nuit, Carla Martinek, Michele Alexander, and
Vickie Sykes. You guys are the greatest!

Comments may be directed to:

Permission to archive is hereby granted.

Disclaimer: The characters of Nick and Co. are not mine.
They were created by J. Parriott and B. Cohen and are owned
by Sony/TriStar. No copyright infringement was intended.
The character of Laurene is mine.

The Price
by Nancy Taylor
c 1997

Part 1 of 7

Lucien LaCroix considered the cards he held in his
hand. Looking to his left he eyed the lovely blonde
mortal who was watching him intently and waiting for
him to make his next move. Completely ignoring the
opponent to his right, a handsome but far too serious young
man, LaCroix returned his gaze to his female opponent with
interest. He knew she was the greater challenge to his
supremacy in this game. He gave the young one his most
intense stare.

"Do you have any eights?" LaCroix's soft-as-silk
voice purred.

"Go fish!" Laurene chortled in return. She was
beating the pants off Uncle Lucien and her daddy. The
youngster delighted in every new book of cards that she
laid in front of herself on the table.

Shaking his head slightly, LaCroix reached for a card
in the pool, the merest shadow of a smile gracing his lips.
Never in nearly two thousand years had he ever imagined
playing a game of "Go Fish" and actually enjoying himself.

"My turn!" Laurene piped. Examining her cards once
more, she turned to Nick with a sly grin on her cherubic
features. "Got any kings?" she asked.

Nick grumbled good-naturedly as he handed over his
three kings, his face holding a secret smile as his
daughter triumphantly spread another book of cards on the

Just then Natalie walked into the living room with a
tray of refreshments.

"Anybody ready for a snack?" Natalie's eyes were lit
with mirth at the sight of the ancient master vampire and
his not-so-ancient but still venerable son hunched over the
low coffee table. Carrying a tray laden with a plate of
cookies, two mugs of hot chocolate and two mugs of the
"House Special", Natalie greeted her family with a smile.

Placing his cards face down on the table, Nick
unfolded his long legs to stand and stretch, grateful for
an excuse to take a break. Helping himself to a mug, he
joined his elder sitting on the couch. LaCroix had taken a
mug and settled back in comfortable repose.

Carefully balancing her half-full mug of hot
chocolate, Laurene crawled into her Uncle Lucien's lap and
curled up. LaCroix wrapped one black-sleeved arm around
her and gave her a gentle squeeze, observing as he did so
the halo of golden curls and the angelic innocence of this,
his granddaughter. As a vampire, and an ancient one at
that, LaCroix marveled at the ability of this mortal child
to bring light and love into his cold heart as no one,
excepting Fleur, had ever done before. In acquiescence to
mortal custom, LaCroix allowed Laurene to call him "Uncle
Lucien." He, and her parents, had decided that because
LaCroix's apparent visible age was not much greater than
Nick's, to have Laurene call him "Grandfather" might call
attention to the uniqueness of their familial relations.
An uniqueness that none of them wanted questioned.

"I hear that you're quite the hero around school
these days," LaCroix commented lightly to Laurene,
referring to her recent kidnapping during a hostage
situation involving a busload of school children.

Taking a cautious sip of her hot chocolate, Laurene
looked up, excitement lighting her features. "Yeah ... I
got a medal and everything!" Her exuberance nearly caused
Laurene to spill the hot liquid in LaCroix's lap. With a
vampire's lightning reflexes, LaCroix snatched the mug from
his granddaughter's grasp just in time. "Sorry, Uncle
Lucien...." Laurene's countenance fell and she slipped
into a pout.

"Don't worry, mon ange <my angel>, everything is
fine." Stroking his hand through Laurene's blonde curls,
LaCroix attempted to reassure her. "So, are you going to
tell me more about your great adventure?" he inquired.

"Well...." Laurene mused, her smile gradually
returning as she remembered the excitement of that night,
"things were pretty scary until Daddy showed up. He made
the bad man let everybody go, everybody 'cept me and
Maggie. Daddy wanted the bad man to let us go too, but he
wouldn't do it.... He shot Daddy!" The pouting look
returned to Laurene's face as she frowned at the memory.

"Yes, Nicholas," LaCroix turned a questioning gaze
upon his son, "why was it that you didn't just hypnotize
the man and have done with it?"

Natalie had settled into the comfortable lounge chair
and was observing the conversation with interest. Sitting
up a bit straighter in response to LaCroix's question, she
eyed Nick speculatively. "Yes, Nick ... why didn't you
just hypnotize him?" Natalie wondered why that question
had never occurred to her before. Nerves, and the stress
of the moment, she decided.

Nick looked vaguely distressed as he thought back to
that night. Finally, he looked up and replied
thoughtfully, "He was a resister. I ... remembered him
from before...." Nick's voice trailed off and he sat,

"Before what?" Natalie's curiosity peaked at Nick's

"Before ..." Nick's voice was soft and low, "before I
joined the police force here. I hadn't been in Toronto
very long." Nick paused again, the memory of that night
was a troubling one. "I was out for a stroll, acquainting
myself with my new neighborhood, when I heard a robbery in
progress. I turned the corner to witness a street gang
holding up a convenience store. One of the men, Bussard as
it turns out, had a gun pointed at the store clerk. I
tried to hypnotize him then, but couldn't." Nick stopped
his story, still somewhat upset by the memories of that

Watching her father closely, Laurene finally spoke
up. "What's the matter, Daddy?" She crawled out of
LaCroix's lap to climb into Nick's. Putting her arms
around his neck, Laurene gave him a big hug.

Hugging his daughter back, Nick gave her an
encouraging smile and continued on with his story. "There
was shooting ... several of the onlookers were injured....
I managed to disable or hypnotize the rest of the gang
members, but Bussard resisted. I tried several times to
hypnotize him, but he shook it off every time. I think he
realized I was trying something and it angered him. I
remember him hitting the clerk on the back of the head with
the butt of his gun, grabbing the money and tossing
something toward me as he ran out.... I remember a loud
noise ... pain ... then nothing ... until I woke up in
Natalie's morgue...."

"Oh Nick!" Natalie was beside herself with this
revelation. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"I didn't remember where I'd seen him until later....
When I finally recalled, I couldn't see worrying you with
it," Nick attempted to assuage Natalie's fears. "He served
his time for that robbery ... got out early for good
behavior in fact ... and went right back to a life of
crime...." Nick sighed and Laurene tightened her hug.
Nick wrapped his arms around Laurene's slender body and
gave her a big bear hug, nuzzling his face in her hair.

Nick and Natalie had never been anything less than
honest with their child. Laurene knew her father was a
vampire, and what that meant, although many of the details
had been glossed over to protect her. She had heard the
story of how her mother and father had "met," but Laurene,
like her mother, was surprised to hear the connection
between that event and her kidnapping.

"Well, that explains it then," LaCroix commented with
a note of sarcasm. Turning again to Laurene he commented,
"I have heard that you were quite brave during the
incident. Wasn't I told you even offered your own blood to
your father when he needed to feed?"

"Oh yes!" Laurene enthused. "Daddy hadn't fed in
over a day and he'd lost lots of blood when the bad man
shot him. He was very weak. He didn't want to feed from
me, but I kinda made him do it." Laurene turned her
smirking grin on Nick.

"She slit her own wrist and shoved it my face," Nick
answered LaCroix's questioning look. "I didn't have the
strength to resist so persistent an offer." Nick turned
his 'but-you'd-better-not-ever-do-that-again' look on
Laurene and pinned her with his gaze.

Laurene stared back defiantly for a few seconds
before turning once more to LaCroix. "Yeah ... Daddy got
so strong from drinking my blood that him and Mummy think
there might be a cure for him in my blood...."

"Indeed?" LaCroix's silky voice held a sinister
undercurrent. He turned his gaze first to Nicholas and
then to Natalie, who squirmed slightly under his scrutiny.

Sensing how cold the room had gone in the last few
minutes, Nick scooped Laurene up in his arms as he stood up
from the couch. "I think it's late enough for you,
Pumpkin," he said. "Let's get you ready for bed."

"But I'm not tired!" Laurene protested. "I don't
want to go to bed!"

"Uncle Lucien will be up to tell you good-night
later, Sweetie. Right now it's time for jammies and
brushing teeth." With a false smile plastered upon his
face for Laurene's benefit, Nick carried her upstairs to
her room.

While they were gone, Natalie and LaCroix continued
to glare at each other in a very uneasy silence. Natalie
had accepted LaCroix into their family life, but she had
never fully trusted him. Right now alarm bells were going
off inside her head like klaxons.

LaCroix finally broke the silence. "We had an
agreement, Nicholas and I, that he would accept being a
vampire and cease searching for a cure. In exchange, I was
to leave his family alone." He left the implied threat
hanging in the air between himself and Natalie.

Natalie struggled with the anger and fear LaCroix's
comment generated in her heart. How dare he threaten her
safety or Laurene's ... especially Laurene's! Natalie
didn't particularly care what LaCroix might do to her, but
Lord help him if he laid a hand on her only child.

Before Natalie could say something she might later
regret, Nick came back down the stairs. "Laurene wants you
to tuck her in and read her a bedtime story." Locking his
eyes on Natalie's, Nick motioned slightly with his head for
Natalie to leave the room ... quickly. Rising, Natalie
gave LaCroix one last defiant look before heading up the
stairs to tend to Laurene.

Once Natalie was gone, Nick turned to LaCroix.
Before he could get a word out, LaCroix broke the tension.
"I thought we had an arrangement, Nicholas.... What is
this nonsense about you looking for a cure again?" His
steely gaze held barely controlled rage.

"We're not ... really ... looking for a cure,
LaCroix. It's just that when I was forced to drink
Laurene's blood, I wasn't able to take too much, yet it
satisfied me as though I had drained a full-grown mortal."
He paused to see what, if any, effect this news had on his
master. LaCroix looked thoughtful, his rage temporarily
squelched by curiosity. "Natalie just wanted to run some
tests to see why that may have been so." Nick wanted
desperately for LaCroix to accept this explanation. The
master vampire was not so easily fooled, however.

"Perhaps ... perhaps not...." LaCroix purred. Nick
could tell LaCroix wasn't completely convinced. "I shall
be keeping a closer eye on you for a time, Nicholas. If
you are not telling me the truth, I WILL collect on our
bargain." With that, LaCroix rose to tell Laurene
good-night and take his leave of the family for the

The Price
Part 2 of 7

Natalie bent over the microscope, comparing the
samples on two slides. Looking up as Grace entered the
room, Natalie rubbed her bloodshot eyes.

"What are you still doing here, girl?" Grace's
lilting voice insinuated itself into Natalie's weary brain.
After working a full shift, Natalie had called home to tell
Nick she wanted to stay a while longer and do some testing
on Laurene's blood samples. The work was detailed and
exhausting, and Natalie wasn't making much progress.

Picking up the slides and carefully storing them in a
small box for transport, Natalie looked up at her technical
assistant, exhaustion showing clearly on her face. "Oh,
just trying to keep caught up, Grace. You know how it goes
some days."

"Yep, I sure do, but you need to get outta here,
girl. Go home and get some rest!" Grace chided Natalie.

"I'm on my way," Natalie responded, grabbing her
purse and jacket as she raced for the door. But Natalie
wasn't headed home, she was headed instead over to visit
her friend with the tunneling electron microscope. Maybe
then she could get a clue....

Natalie hated having to go visit Jonathan now, so
soon after her 'conversation' with LaCroix, but
opportunities to use the T.E.M. were scarce, and this was
the only chance she would have for quite some time. She
was greeted at the door by a security guard. Natalie held
up her coroner's ID for the man's inspection.

"Oh, Doctor Lambert," the guard smiled at Natalie,
"Doctor Thompson is expecting you. He's waiting in Lab

"Thank you, I know the way," Natalie smiled and
nodded as she pressed past the guard on her way to the

Curled up in her daddy's lap on the couch, Laurene
giggled as Nick read "Moby Dick" to her. Laurene loved it
when her daddy read to her. He was a master of many
voices and tended to speak with his hands in grand dramatic
gestures at the most exciting parts of the story. He
barely needed to read the book at all, having it emblazoned
in his eidetic memory from the many times he had read the
book for his own pleasure.

Making one of these grand sweeping gestures as he
read, Nick nearly knocked Laurene off his lap. Giggling
uncontrollably at her daddy's histrionics, Laurene rolled
off Nick's lap and onto the floor. Nick joined her there
for one of their now infamous tickle fights. Pinning
Laurene to the carpet, Nick attacked the most sensitive
area of her ribs, causing Laurene to scream loudly. She
was having every bit as much fun as Nick, but to an
outsider it might have sounded as though Laurene were in
deadly peril.

Nick finally relented and let Laurene sit up.
Panting heavily, she sat up slowly, then with lightning
fast reflexes usually attributed only to vampires, quickly
attacked Nick's ticklish spot before all but flying up the
the stairs to slam the door to her bedroom. Safe. Laurene
giggled again.

Landing in the shadows near the Coroner's Building,
LaCroix spotted Natalie leaving and entering her car. As
she pulled out from the parking lot into the late evening
traffic, he once again took to the air, following her.

LaCroix watched as Natalie parked her car near the
research center and entered the building. Quietly, he
followed her in. Hypnotizing the security guard was a
simple procedure. No one would know he was here.

Listening from a darkened corner in an adjacent room,
LaCroix eavesdropped on the conversation between Natalie
and Dr. Thompson. It was obvious to LaCroix that Natalie
had come to use the electron microscope on Laurene and
Nick's blood samples. It occurred to him that she might
simply be studying the vampire 'gene', and not really
attempting a cure for Nick at all. But LaCroix was
suspicious of any of Natalie's attempts to define the cause
of vampirism. He lingered until Natalie left then, once
again, took to the air to follow her.

Nick slouched and leaned back against the sofa.
Laurene had made a very dramatic exit and Nick had decided
to leave her alone for the time being. Gradually, he
realized how hungry he was and, getting up off the floor,
Nick made his way into the kitchen. Rummaging in the
cupboards he pulled out a mug and withdrew the bottle of
blood from the back of the refrigerator shelf. Nick's
first instinct was to take a long draught directly from the
bottle but, remembering Natalie's lectures on setting a
good example, he restrained himself and poured the mug full
instead. Holding the bottle in one hand and the mug in the
other, Nick walked back into the living room and turned on
the TV news.

Natalie decided to make one more quick stop at the
Coroner's Building before heading for home. Entering the
morgue, she walked over to her desk and opened the locked
bottom drawer where she kept the notebook on her cure
attempts. Opening the journal, she dated the page and made
some notations. When she was through, she placed the book
back in the drawer and made sure it was locked up tight.

Gathering the printouts Jonathan had given her and
stuffing them into a manila folder, Natalie hurried for her
car. She would be able to study the T.E.M. results once
she got home. Right now, she needed to hurry so that Nick
could leave for work....

The shadow detached itself from the dark recesses of
the corridor and slipped down the empty hallways to the
morgue. Locked drawers were no obstacle to a determined
vampire. LaCroix opened the notebook and perused Natalie's

The notations and sketches were vague and couched in
modern medical terms that LaCroix could not fully
interpret. He flipped back through the pages, noting
entries as early as 1992. Between the last dated entry
before the most recent one, and tonight's notations, there
was a gap of over seven years. LaCroix had suspected the
existence of this book for many years. Back when Nicholas
made no bones about searching for a cure, looking for the
evidence had held little interest for his master. Since
Nicholas' bout with mortality and his becoming a vampire
again, LaCroix had made a pact with Nicholas that he would
give up his search for a cure in exchange for LaCroix
leaving the family in peace.

Over the years, LaCroix had kept close tabs on the
family, becoming an almost welcome part of their inner
circle. Laurene had found a way to warm his cold heart,
and he cherished her for it. The journal he now held in
his hands bore out the evidence of his own eyes. Nicholas
had not been searching for a cure in over seven years. But
now ... now LaCroix would need to find out what these
cryptic notes meant. They might be no more than Natalie's
research into the workings of vampire genetics.
Considering Laurene's growing repertoire of vampiric
traits, that research wasn't so surprising.

LaCroix carried the notebook out of the autopsy room,
into the general office area of the morgue. Making use of
the copy machine, he xeroxed the latest entry in the
journal, then returned the book to its locked desk drawer.
Leaving the Coroner's Building, LaCroix took to the air
once more, headed for a medical expert of his acquaintance
to obtain a clearer picture of exactly what it was that
Natalie was investigating.

LaCroix looked over Alexander's shoulder with growing
impatience, making the younger vampire fidget with unease.

"Well?" he inquired. "What does it all mean?"

Alexander looked up from his studies of the journal
pages. "I can't be entirely sure," he hedged. Looking at
the perturbed face of the ancient vampire, Alexander
hurried to explain the best he could. "It looks as though
the author of these pages is studying genetics...."

"That much is obvious even to me," LaCroix replied
dryly. "Tell me something I do not already know."

Alexander hesitated. This elder of their kind made
the young one quite nervous. He would be more than happy
to see LaCroix leave ... soon. Glancing back down at the
papers, he continued. "It would appear that this person is
attempting to reverse a genetic defect or mutation. More
than that, I can't really tell." Alexander finally looked
up into LaCroix's face, hoping this bit of news was what
the master vampire was after.

"That is all I need to know." LaCroix quickly
slipped out of the room, leaving behind the papers and a
very much relieved Alexander.

Flying at top speed toward the Knights' residence,
LaCroix noted Natalie's car below as he neared his goal.
He would have to work quickly ... and quietly ... to put
his plan in motion. Landing lightly on the balcony outside
Laurene's room, LaCroix entered the house, intent on his

Laurene turned in the dark room ... she had heard a
noise. It was very faint, like the whispering of willow
leaves as a zephyr passes through them, but she could hear
it ... the soft 'whoosh' of air as though someone had moved
through the room. Centering herself, as she had learned to
do in her martial arts class, Laurene concentrated her
hearing, working to pinpoint the location of the sound. It
stopped. No ... there it was again, but in a slightly
different location. Laurene turned ... poised, totally
silent. She held her breath as she hunted for the faint
noise. Crossing the room on tiptoe, Laurene approached her
large walk-in closet. The door was ajar. Slowly widening
the opening, Laurene hesitantly peered inside. Standing in
front of her was LaCroix.

"Uncle Luci...." Laurene started to exclaim, but
LaCroix clamped a hand over her mouth to silence her.

"Shhh, Laurene, we mustn't disturb your father."
LaCroix let his hand drop and watched Laurene's trusting
face smile back at him. "We're going for a little trip,"
he continued. "Has your father ever taken you flying?"
Laurene quietly shook her head. "Then you're in for a
treat," LaCroix told her. He scooped Laurene up in his
arms and walked to the door of the balcony that overlooked
the Knights' back yard.

"I have to tell Daddy I'm leaving," Laurene whispered
to her Uncle Lucien.

"Don't worry, mon ange, we're going to surprise
Mummy and Daddy. It will be okay, don't worry." And with
that LaCroix launched himself and his granddaughter into
the night sky.

The Price
Part 3 of 7

Picking up the remote, Nick turned off the TV.
Natalie had said she would be home late, but if she didn't
show up soon, Nick would be forced to call in a babysitter
so that he could leave for work. Gathering his mug and the
empty bottle, Nick returned them to the kitchen sink. The
sound of a key in the front door lock caught his attention.

"I'm home!" Natalie called out to the empty living

Nick stuck his head out of the kitchen and smiled at
her. "It's about time! I was afraid I was going to have
to call the Schankes' and see if Jenny could babysit."

"Sorry," Natalie apologized. "I guess I just got
carried away with the research." Looking around the quiet
house, Natalie turned to Nick. "Where's Laurene?"

"Ah ... up in her room," Nick was grinning ear to
ear. "We had a tickle fight...."

"Yeah ... who won?" Natalie was well aware of the
goofiness perpetrated by her husband and daughter. The
winner of such a contest was often undecided.

"Not sure...." Nick chuckled. "I think it was up for
grabs. Anyway, she ran up to her room and hasn't come down

"Have you checked on her?" Suddenly, Natalie felt
the thrill of an ominous premonition sweep through her.

"No ... why?" Nick's cheerful countenance fell as he
regarded the sudden fear in Natalie's features. "Nat ...
is there something you aren't telling me?" Nick grasped
Natalie by her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake.

"No ... I don't know...." Natalie shook Nick off and
tossed her coat and purse across the coffee table. Turning
toward the stairs, she continued, "It was just something
LaCroix said about that agreement of yours. I just don't
trust him!" Reaching the top of the staircase, she turned,
"Are you coming?" In a flash, Nick was at her side.

Together, Nick and Natalie walked down the hallway to
Laurene's room. Arriving at her door, Natalie knocked and
called out, "Laurene.... Laurene, Honey, are you okay?"
Receiving no response, she tried the door. It was locked.

Grabbing the knob in his strong right hand, Nick gave
it a savage turn, breaking the lock. Pushing the door
open, he charged into the room. Behind him, Natalie
entered and turned on the light. The couple looked around
their daughter's empty room, their eyes locking on the
fluttering curtains of the balcony door.

The cool air breezed past her, blowing hair into her
face. Laurene looked up at LaCroix as they flew through
the night sky. "Where are we going?" she inquired of her

"Not much farther," LaCroix answered her curtly.
They were passing over the countryside, headed west toward
a small cabin LaCroix had recently purchased on the eastern
shore of Lake Huron.

After traveling the considerable distance from
Toronto, LaCroix touched down on the shores of the lake.
Finally released from the confines of her grandfather's
arms, Laurene ran around the cabin, stretching her legs and
releasing some much pent up energy. LaCroix allowed her
this modicum of freedom. Soon enough, she would be a
prisoner in the cabin, just like himself.

LaCroix recently had the cabin stocked and prepared
for their visit. The windows were well curtained in heavy
black fabric, the refrigerator and cupboards stocked with
food for Laurene and bottles of blood for himself. There
were books and games on the shelves in the living room and
a computer set up on a desk in the corner. LaCroix was
prepared for a long stay.

Despite the fact he wanted revenge on his son and
Natalie for once again searching for the elusive cure,
LaCroix could not bring it upon himself to harm his
precious granddaughter. Of course, Nicholas would not know
that, thinking LaCroix capable of any evil. If need be,
LaCroix would disappear with Laurene until she was old
enough to be brought across.

What an extraordinary and exceptional vampire this
young one would make when she grew up, LaCroix mused. A
companion for the ages. How beautiful she would become in
only a few more, short, mortal years. LaCroix pondered his
revenge. What was the one thing that would hurt Nicholas
more than killing his daughter outright...? Bringing her

"Call the precinct and book me off," Nick commanded
as he raced to the balcony and took to the air. Natalie
stood at the balcony door, watching her husband fly off
into the night in search of their daughter. Cold fear
clutched her heart. Natalie knew for a fact that LaCroix
was behind Laurene's disappearance.

Turning reluctantly away from the door, she proceeded
down the hall to their own bedroom in order to place a call
to the precinct and the Coroner's Office. There was no way
that Natalie could concentrate on work with her daughter

Nick navigated the neighborhood in ever expanding
circles. Casting his thoughts out, he searched for any
tendril of Laurene's mind. There was nothing. The night
blanketed the world in darkness and silence. No sign of
their daughter was to be seen or sensed. Having no idea
where LaCroix may have taken Laurene, Nick decided to first
check the Raven.

The music was loud, the air choked with smoke.
Mortals and vampires alike writhed on the crowded floor in
time to the swaying beat. Nick elbowed his way through the
crowd, shoving aside those reluctant to move. The vampires
in the crowd sensed the anger emanating from this elder of
their kind ... an anger like a wave, washing aside all who
dared step into its path.

Reaching the bar, Nick pounded a fist on its smooth
surface, demanding attention. "Miklos!!"

The bartender of the Raven turned, confronting the
enraged son of LaCroix. "I have not seen him since
yesterday evening," Miklos replied before Nick could even

"Do you have any idea where he might have gone?"
Nick leaned across the bar to grab the collar of Miklos'
shirt. "He's got my daughter, Miklos.... Where is he?!"

"I do not know. He does not confide in me," the
bartender answered, jerking himself free of Nick's choke
hold on his collar.

Nick slammed the palm of his hand down hard on the
bar and, turning abruptly, ran right into Urs. The petit
blonde vampire looked up at Nick in surprise. Backing up a
bit, she motioned to Miklos for two drinks. Once Urs had
stepped out of the way, Nick began his progress back
through the crowded club.

"Wait." Urs' soft voice stopped Nick in his tracks.
Turning to her, he saw Urs leaning against the bar holding
two wine glasses. She was offering one to him.

"I might have some information you would find
useful," she commented as Nick approached her and took the
proffered glass. "Come ... let's find a quiet table." Urs
turned, grasping Nick by the hand, and led him to a
secluded corner where they could talk.

Settling into the booth, Urs sipped at her drink, a
mixture of wine and blood, and waited for Nick to slide in
opposite her.

"What do you know?" Nick demanded of the slight girl.
He had never really paid much attention to Urs before. A
shy fledgling of barely one hundred years, she had held no
interest for him.

"I overheard LaCroix talking to a supplier," Urs
began. At her words, Nick leaned forward, elbows on the
table, and grasped Urs' wrists, pulling her toward him
across the table until they were nose to nose.

"Tell me," he growled, golden tinges touching the
edges of his clear blue eyes.

"You're hurting me!" Urs struggled to get free.

"Tell me!" Nick insisted.

Urs quit struggling and went limp. Tears clustered
at the corners of her eyes as she continued. "He said
something about a cabin and needing supplies for both
himself and a mortal."

"Where? Did he say where?" Nick shook the girl,
unmindful of his cruelty in the urgency to find his

"A lake.... A cabin near a lake.... Huron? ... But
that's much too far to fly...." Urs sobbed.

Not for LaCroix, Nick thought. He released his hold
on Urs and was out of the Raven without even so much as a
thank you.

Taking to the night sky once more, Nick knew he would
be hard pressed to reach Lake Huron before dawn....

The Price
Part 4 of 7

Laurene slowly turned in circles as she walked
through the cabin, trying to take in everything at once.
Her eyes were wide with wonder, surveying the well-stocked
and comfortable rustic home. Finally turning to LaCroix,
she asked, "Why did you bring me here, Uncle Lucien? Mummy
and Daddy are going to be worried."

"Ah, don't fret, mon ange. Your mummy and daddy know
I have you here. We agreed that you deserved a little
vacation out in the country." LaCroix felt no pangs of
conscience at lying to his granddaughter. As they talked,
LaCroix busied himself locking the doors and making sure
the windows were sufficiently light-proof. Satisfied, he
turned back to Laurene. "Do you need something to eat
before you go to bed?" he asked.

"I am kinda hungry," Laurene replied, heading for the
kitchenette and rummaging through the cupboards. Picking
up a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter she turned
back to LaCroix. "I can make myself a sandwich," she

Sitting down at the dining table to eat the sandwich
she had made, Laurene rubbed her eyes with her fist. It
had been a very long evening for her and she was exhausted.
Leaving half the sandwich untouched, she got up and headed
toward her bedroom.

"G'night, Uncle Lucien!" Laurene called over her
shoulder as she entered her room.

"Good night, mon petit," LaCroix replied, watching
her go.

Staying up a while longer, LaCroix took a sip from
his glass and turned on the radio to listen to some quiet
classical music. Finally, as dawn neared, he too decided
it was time to rest.

Flying at top speed through the night sky, Nick
realized that he might not be able to find the cabin before
daybreak. Lake Huron was one of the larger of the Great
Lakes with many, many miles of shoreline to search.

Currently, Nick was flying over a wooded area. It
occurred to him that if he was going to confront LaCroix he
would need to be at his physical peak. Nick had not fed
for several hours and was far from a source of bottled
blood. Dropping down, he landed softly in a small
clearing. It had been many years since Nick had hunted for
food, but the skills he had learned at LaCroix's side were
not easily forgotten. This night he would not hunt humans,
but the denizens of the forest, instead.

Scanning the woods with his infrared vision, Nick
moved silently through the trees. Pausing, he stretched
his hearing and sense of smell to their limits. There ...
to the left ... a quiet rustle of leaves. Expecting to
encounter a predator such as a wolf or wild cat, Nick
stalked quietly toward the sound. Peering through the
bushes, he was delighted to find, instead, a sleeping doe.

Walking toward the slumbering animal with the
quietness of a supreme predator, Nick circled and came in
behind the deer. Gauging his moves with precision, he
moved in on his prey. Attacking quickly, Nick wrapped his
arm around the doe's neck and sank his fangs into the
artery. The animal bleated in surprise, struggling
futilely in Nick's strong grasp. He continued feeding
until he heard the doe's heart slow, then finally stop.
Dropping the carcass into the shrubbery, Nick stood and
wiped his mouth with his sleeve, the golden glow slowly
fading from his eyes.

Dawn was no more than another two hours away. Nick
had traveled most of the distance to the lake already.
Perhaps there was a chance that he would find his
destination in time. Launching himself back into the night
sky, Nick fled west toward Lake Huron and whatever awaited
him there.

It was proving to be a very long night for Natalie.
Her daughter was missing, in all probability kidnapped by
LaCroix, and Nick had left her in order to search.

Natalie didn't like being alone, she didn't like
feeling helpless, she didn't like being left out of the
action. She needed to talk. Picking up the phone, she
dialed the precinct.

Tracy Vetter was busy filling out an arrest report
when her phone rang. Picking up the receiver, she
answered, "Vetter."

"Tracy? It's Nat." Hearing the sound of a friendly
voice caused Natalie to release a small sob as her strong
emotional wall began to crumble.

"Nat? Something wrong?" Tracy was concerned with
the tone of Natalie's voice. She hadn't heard her friend
this upset since the school bus hijacking incident.

"Trace, can you come over? Please? I really need to
talk...." Natalie sniffled, but refused to break down on
the phone.

"Sure. I'll be right there. You hang on, okay?"
Barely waiting to hear Natalie's confirmation, Tracy hung
up the phone and snatched her coat as she headed quickly
for the door. Fortunately for her, Captain Reese was in a
meeting and wasn't there to question Tracy's sudden

The moonlight reflected off the surface of the lake.
Nick's instincts told him to head north up the shoreline.
He would have to hurry or be forced to seek shelter soon.
Flying at breakneck speed, the ground speeding away beneath
him, Nick searched for a sign of the cabin.

Up ahead a lone building stood out along the shore,
snuggled back slightly among the trees. Lights still
glowed in the windows, despite the fact that human
inhabitants would have long ago been asleep. Suspecting
that this was his goal, Nick reached out along the link he
had with his master. The vibrations were strong and he
felt Laurene's presence as well.

His rage growing stronger by the second, Nick felt
his fangs drop into place and his eyes glow red as he
crashed through the glass of the front window to confront
his maker.

Once more checking the draperies before retiring,
LaCroix turned toward his bedroom. Stopping on his way, he
opened Laurene's bedroom door to check on her. She was
snoring lightly, a contented smile gracing her delicate
features. What a shame that such innocence must be used as
a pawn in this ongoing war, LaCroix mused, pulling the door
shut behind him.

LaCroix felt it mere moments before the shattering of
glass caused him to cease his reverie. Spinning around
with lightning speed, he faced the origin of the noise.
Standing in the middle of the room facing him was his very
enraged son.

The Price
Part 5 of 7

Natalie decided to put on a pot of coffee before
Tracy arrived, not that it would do anything to improve her
nerves. She was relieved and grateful that Nick's partner
could get away to come and be with her. Natalie hadn't
known who else to confide in. Neither Don Schanke nor
Captain Reese knew that Nick was a vampire. She hadn't
wanted to involve either of them in the kidnapping and risk
the uncomfortable questions that might arise. Nick had
confided in Tracy several years ago, assuming that she
already knew about Vachon, therefore, for her own
protection, she might as well know about Nick also. It had
proven to save her life many times over. Now, that
knowledge would allow Natalie to unburden herself of her
fears. She was grateful.

The doorbell rang about a quarter past three in the
morning. Natalie greeted her friend at the door with a
steaming mug of hot black coffee.

"Just what I needed!" Tracy exclaimed, entering the
Knights' home and giving Natalie a critical eye. She set
the mug on the entry hall table and removed her coat,
hanging it on the rack. Reclaiming her coffee, she
followed Natalie into the living room to settle on the

Pulling her feet up under her in comfortable and
familiar repose, Tracy turned her attention on Natalie.
"So, what's up?" Tracy always sounded so cheerful, even
when she tried to be serious. "You sounded upset on the

Natalie couldn't help but smile slightly. Even after
years of maturing, Tracy's perkiness remained as infectious
as always. Just having her around raised Natalie's
spirits. She lifted her coffee mug to her lips, taking a
cautious sip of the hot liquid before replying.

"Laurene's gone," Natalie began, the brave front she
had put on for Tracy beginning to slip. "Nick and I
believe that LaCroix has taken her." Natalie began
trembling as she spoke, forcing her to set her mug of
coffee on the table.

"For heaven's sake, why?" Tracy asked, her confusion
quite genuine. "I thought he liked her? I thought," she
paused, setting down her mug of coffee, "I thought you guys
were all getting along again?" Each statement was a
question as Tracy searched through her own mind looking for
possible answers. Reaching across the couch, she clasped
Natalie's trembling hands.

"We were ..." Natalie answered her, grasping Tracy's
hands like a lifeline, "until LaCroix got the idea that we
were searching for another cure for vampirism." Tears
began forming in the corners of Natalie's eyes as she
fought to maintain control of her emotions.

Tracy gathered her distraught friend in her arms,
trying her best to comfort Natalie. "It's going to be all
right, Nat, you'll see. Nick will get Laurene back."

"I hope so," Natalie whispered from her position on
Tracy's shoulder. Pushing away from Tracy, Natalie sat
back and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.

"So ... are you...?" Tracy's curiosity was getting
the better of her. "Looking for a cure, that is?" She knew
that Nick wanted his mortality back, but the last several
years he had seemed quite content with his lot of being a

"Yes." It was a simple statement, loaded with
potential. Natalie felt her composure returning as she
began to discuss a more abstract subject. "It's a long
shot," she continued, reaching for a Kleenex to blow her
nose, "based on the fact that Nick drew such strength from
Laurene when he drank her blood. Also, Laurene seems to
have some abilities that are enhanced above the human

It was obvious to Tracy that speaking about Laurene
was troubling to Natalie right now, but she found the news
of Laurene's special abilities fascinating. "Yeah, like
what?" she asked.

"Well, she seems to have a mental bond with Nick....
She can almost read his mind." Natalie secretly hoped that
particular ability might help Nick to find their daughter.
"She also seems to have very sensitive vision," Natalie
mused. "I've noticed how, when she's outside on a bright
day, she complains of eye pain. We've had to make her wear
sunglasses even on cloudy days." Natalie got a faraway
look in her eyes, remembering happier times. The thoughts
brought on a fresh wave of tears.

Tracy handed Natalie another Kleenex and shook her
head in wonder. "Really? I didn't know that. That's very
interesting. Have you noticed anything else?" Tracy hoped
that by getting Natalie to talk, she could help keep her
friend's mind off the more immediate problem.

Natalie thought for a moment, dabbing at her eyes
with the Kleenex Tracy had given her. "Well, her martial
arts sensei says she is extremely well-coordinated and
strong for her size and age. He had to put her in with the
preteen class so that she wouldn't accidentally hurt the
other kids her own age." Natalie smiled at the memory.
She was recalling Laurene's test to earn her karate blue
belt. The sight of her little girl flooring the sensei
during the sparring element of the test had been quite a
sight to behold. Even the sensei had been impressed.

Coming back to the present, Natalie continued. "I
took some blood samples two days ago, from both Laurene and
Nick. It looks as though there might be some vampire
genetic coding in Laurene's DNA. We were hoping that there
might be something there that I could use to create a
permanent cure for Nick." A wistful looked crossed
Natalie's face at the thought.

"That would really be terrific," Tracy exclaimed.
"Do you have any idea yet if it's going to work?" She sat
up a little straighter and leaned toward Natalie with

Natalie reached across the coffee table for her
purse, which she had carelessly tossed on the table earlier
that evening. Digging into its contents, she pulled out
the printout of the results of the electron microscope's
scan of the blood samples. She laid them out on the table
and pointed to one of the pictures, saying, "The answer is

"What have you done with her?!" Nick confronted his
master, channeling all his fears for Laurene into his rage.

With an outward calm at complete odds to Nick's
anger, LaCroix answered his son, "She is quite safe,
Nicholas. You know I would not harm her."

"I know no such thing!" Growling, Nick began to
advance upon LaCroix.

Opening her bedroom door and peering out, Laurene
rubbed at the sleep in her eyes. The noise caused by
Nick's precipitous entrance had awakened her. Taking in
the tableau before her, Laurene stepped out into the main
room. "Daddy?" she asked, surprised to see her enraged

Nick stopped his forward advance and turned toward
the sound of his daughter's voice, taking in the fact that
she was unharmed. At almost the same instant, LaCroix,
reaching out, grabbed hold of Laurene around the waist and
held her closely to him. With his daughter being used as a
shield, Nick could no longer consider directly attacking

Startled by the sudden turn of events, Laurene cried
out, "Uncle Lucien!?" Struggling in his strong grasp, she
demanded, "Let me go!" In all of her short life, LaCroix
had been nothing but kind and gentle to her. Laurene knew
he was a vampire, like her daddy, but Nick and Natalie had
never told their daughter of LaCroix's dark past or of the
tumultuous relationship between Nick and his creator. This
was a side of her precious grandfather that Laurene had
never seen, and it frightened her.

"What price, Nicholas?" LaCroix inquired, completely
ignoring the struggling youngster in his arms. "What price
are you willing to pay for your mortality?"

Laurene continued to struggle, kicking at LaCroix's
shins. Her karate training was no match for a vampire
nearly two millennia old. "Let me go!" she demanded.
"Daddy!! Make him let me go!"

"Let her go, LaCroix!" Nick demanded, advancing once
more upon the ancient vampire.

"She is mine, Nicholas, in payment for your folly."
LaCroix shook his head and regarded his son. "We had an
agreement ... you promised to give up your search for a
cure and I promised to leave your family in peace."

Stopping her struggle, Laurene looked up into
LaCroix's face, searching for the truth. She looked into
her daddy's face as well, the realization beginning to dawn
in her young mind. Laurene put two and two together and
came up with.... "It's my fault ... my fault, Daddy." She
hung her head and sniffled. "I was the one that told Uncle
Lucien there was a cure for you in my blood."

"You're not to blame, Pumpkin, don't you ever believe
that," Nick tried to reassure her.

"Ah, but she is correct, Nicholas. It was her
innocent statement that clued me in to your treachery. I
confirmed my suspicions first, of course. Your Natalie is
searching again, and it would appear that she is quite
close to a solution to your dilemma." LaCroix watched as
his son's face drained to an even paler shade of gray.

"What would you have me do, LaCroix? I can't allow
you to harm Laurene." Knowing that as long as LaCroix held
Laurene, he would be unable to physically attack his
master, Nick opted instead to negotiate. "I will tell
Natalie to stop looking. If she has developed the cure, I
won't use it. Please, LaCroix, you MUST give us back

LaCroix enjoyed watching his son beg. Considering
his options, LaCroix locked gazes with Nicholas and
proposed, "I will give her back to you if one condition is
met.... Over seven hundred years ago, you took from me the
only woman I have ever truly loved ... your sister, Fleur."
Watching his son's face closely, he continued, "You will
now repay two debts, Nicholas.... When Laurene turns
twenty-five, you will allow me to bring her across. That
way, she may be my eternal companion.... The companion that
you have proven so unwilling to be."

"NO!!! I will not allow it!" Nick was beside himself
with the audacity of the demand. No matter the
consequences, this was the one thing he could not allow.

"Yes, I agree," a quiet voice whispered from the
confines of LaCroix's arms. Feeling responsible for this
whole affair, Laurene had decided to take matters into her
own small hands.

"It is settled, then." LaCroix allowed a faint smile
of satisfaction to cross his features. Releasing Laurene
to her father, LaCroix turned to retire to his bedroom.

"It is NOT settled!" Lunging at LaCroix, Nick pinned
him to the wall. "She's only six years old, LaCroix! She
is not old enough to make that decision. That is what she
has parents for. You cannot hold her to her word."

"But that is where you are wrong, Nicholas."
Twisting in Nick's grasp, LaCroix managed to free himself
and stand nose to nose with his recalcitrant son. "When
you live as long as I have, you make your own rules. I say
this is done, and so it is." Turning his back on Nick in
dismissal, LaCroix entered his bedroom and closed the door.

Laurene ran over to engulf Nick in a hug, trying to
soothe her upset father. "It's okay, Daddy," she sniffed,
patting Nick on the back as though he were the child in
need of comfort.

Nick dropped to his knees in order to be closer to
Laurene, wrapping his arms around her and rocking her back
and forth. He wept with the knowledge that LaCroix had
won. Burying his face in Laurene's curls, Nick allowed his
tears to dampen his daughter's shoulder.

The Price
Part 6 of 7

Retiring with Laurene to her bedroom, Nick intended
to watch over her as she slept. Laying down next to her,
with his arms wrapped protectively around her small form,
exhaustion claimed him and Nick slept for the remainder of
the day. When he awoke after sunset, LaCroix was gone.

The hunger gripped him. Nick sought relief by
rummaging through the small refrigerator. He pulled a
bottle of LaCroix's vintage from the shelf. Removing the
cork and upending the bottle, Nick downed the entire
contents. He reached for a second bottle, repeating the
process. Finally, the ravaging hunger quieted. Taking a
third bottle from the refrigerator and a wine glass from
the cupboard, Nick sat at the dining table, at last able to
savor his meal.

Laurene came skipping into the room, smiling as
though the previous night had not even happened. "Hi,
Daddy!" she greeted Nick.

"Hi, Pumpkin." Nick smiled back at her. "Hungry?"
he asked.

"Famished!" she crowed, always pleased to show off
her ever-expanding vocabulary. Walking into the
kitchenette, Laurene grabbed a bowl, the Cheerios and the
milk. Sitting beside her daddy at the table, she proceeded
to fix herself breakfast.

Laurene looked around the otherwise empty room and
asked, "Where's Uncle Lucien?"

"Gone." Nick's clipped reply would have clued any
sane adult into dropping the subject altogether. Laurene's
boundless curiosity and love for her grandfather, however,
transcended any such warning.

"Why?" she asked, innocence personified.

"We'll discuss it when we get home," Nick snapped.
Instantly, he was sorry for his harsh tone. Laurene's
smile had faded and she quietly concentrated on her cereal.

Reaching over to pat Laurene on the shoulder, Nick
smiled at his daughter. "I'm sorry, Pumpkin.... I'm still
getting over being mad at your Uncle Lucien for taking you
away from mummy and daddy."

Laurene looked up, her smile back on her lips.
"That's okay, Daddy," she replied. "I missed you. I'm
glad you came for me." Laurene pushed her chair back and
stood up, walking around the table to wrap her arms around
Nick's neck and kiss him on the cheek.

Turning in order to kiss her back, Nick patted
Laurene on the rump and pointed her toward the bedroom.
"Go get your jacket, Honey," Nick instructed. "It's time
we leave for home."

"That's IT?" Tracy asked, incredulous. "That little
thingy there?" Picking up her mug of coffee and sipping at
the cooling liquid, Tracy made a face.

"That little 'thingy' as you put it, is an RNA strand
that doesn't belong." Natalie shuffled the photos around
and laid out two side by side. "I hesitate to really call
it a 'gene'.... It acts almost like a virus, but it isn't
that either. It's what makes Nick a vampire." She pointed
to another of the objects on the second photo. "See?
Laurene has it too, but it seems to be partially suppressed
by her normal human genes."

"And you can make a cure out of that?" Tracy
pondered the possibilities for a minute. "Would it work on
other vampires too?" Her thoughts had turned to a certain
doe-eyed Spanish vampire of her acquaintance.

"I'm not certain ... about either," Natalie replied.
"Every time I isolate this factor from Nick's blood in
order to culture it, 'poof,' it's gone ... just like that,"
Natalie snapped her fingers. Shuffling through the papers
she pointed to a column of numbers. "Every time I try and
isolate the factor from Laurene's blood...."

"Poof?" Tracy supplied, looking first at the
bewildering array of numbers spread out before her, then at

"No, not quite," Natalie said, turning to her friend.
"When I try to culture the factor from Laurene's blood, it
just won't grow. Eventually the sample simply dies."

Sighing, Natalie gathered her considerable amount of
data and, stacking it neatly, returned it to the folder.

"So are you saying you can't make a cure from
Laurene's blood?" Tracy pressed.

"Not with the medical technology that exists today,"
Natalie replied. "Maybe, in the future, gene splicing and
genetic engineering MIGHT reach the point where a cure
could be found, but I doubt that it will happen in MY

Natalie settled back on the couch picking up her mug
and taking a sip of the lukewarm coffee. The technical
discussion of applied genetics had effectively taken her
mind off her troubles for a few minutes. Now Natalie found
exhaustion creeping up on the tail of despair.

Setting her coffee mug on the table, Tracy stretched
and yawned expressively. "I'm sorry, Nat," she apologized.
"It's been a really long day."

"No need to feel bad," Natalie answered her. "I
pulled you off your job and you've babysat me half the
night." Standing, Natalie picked up the mugs and headed
into the kitchen. Tracy followed her, stretching her legs
as she walked.

"It's nearly dawn," Natalie continued. "We've got an
extra bedroom.... You're more than welcome to spend the
day here."

"Thanks." Tracy was very appreciative of the offer.
"I'm really too tired to drive back into town right now."

Putting the mugs in the sink, Natalie turned and,
placing a hand on Tracy's shoulder, guided her toward the
staircase and the bedrooms on the second floor.

Entering the guest bedroom, Natalie poked through a
bureau drawer, pulling out an extra nightgown, before she
turned down the covers on the bed. "Feel free to use the
shower if you like," she offered. "There are clean towels
on the racks. Make yourself at home."

"This is perfect, Nat," Tracy smiled at her hostess.
"Thanks again."

"No problem," Natalie smiled. "It's the least I can
do. I need to thank YOU for being here for me. I don't
have many people I can confide in about Nick, you know."
Turning to exit the room, Natalie finished, "I'm going to
try and get some sleep. Let me know if you need anything."

"I'm fine," Tracy assured her. "Get some sleep. You
really need it." Pausing, Tracy walked over to Natalie,
gathering her in her arms once more. "It's going to be all
right," she assured her friend. "They'll both come home

"I hope so," Natalie replied, turning to make her way
to bed.

The Price
Part 7 of 7

Rising early the following evening, Natalie was
amazed that she had managed to fall asleep at all. She had
lain awake crying for what seemed like hours. There had
been no word from Nick. Natalie was not only without her
precious daughter, she was currently missing a husband as
well. Fear tugged at her mind as Natalie realized Laurene
had been missing for over twenty-four hours.

Natalie pulled on her comfortable sweats and
slippers, then looked at herself in the mirror. Bloodshot,
puffy eyes looked back at her. Running a brush through her
matted curls, Natalie tried telling herself that she didn't
look as though she'd stayed up all night. "Liar," she
whispered to her reflection.

The smell of coffee drew her down to the kitchen.
Tracy greeted her with a concerned smile and a large mug of
freshly brewed coffee.

"My caffeine angel," Natalie greeted her friend,
accepting the mug gratefully.

"Thought you might need this more than I do," Tracy
smiled. Noticing the solemn look on Natalie's face, Tracy
tried once more to reassure Natalie. "It's going to be all
right, Nat. Really...."

"It's been twenty-four hours, Trace, and no word from
Nick." Natalie sat down heavily at the kitchen table.
Tears once more threatened to roll down her cheeks when she
heard a commotion at the front door.

Rushing into the living room, Natalie threw open the
door. Nearly bowling Natalie over with her excitement at
being home, was a very enthusiastic Laurene.

Laurene launched herself into her mother arms,
shouting, "Mummy! ... Hi, Mummy! I love you. It's really
good to be home!" Her excited patter washed over Natalie
like a healing wave.

Hugging her daughter close to herself, Natalie let
her previously unshed tears stream down her face with
relief. She smiled her welcome to Nick, who was still
standing out on the porch. Natalie continued to hug
Laurene tightly until her daughter demanded to be put down.

Stepping out to see who was at the door, Tracy
retreated to the kitchen, giving the newly reunited family
some privacy.

Nick crossed the threshold into the entry hall and
closed the door behind him, wrapping his arms around his
wife and daughter. The relief that both parents felt was
palpable in the air.

"It's so good to have you both home!" Natalie
exclaimed, her face still wet with tears. "I was so
worried." She nuzzled Laurene before putting her down.

"You have no idea how good it is to BE home," Nick
answered her, his voice choked with emotions of his own.

Natalie looked Nick over carefully, noting the
exhaustion that showed clearly on his face. She ushered
Nick over to the couch where he could finally rest and
asked, "Where was she?"

Slumping into a corner of the couch, Nick gathered
Natalie into his arms. "LaCroix had her at a cabin on Lake
Huron." There was a haunted look in his eyes that worried

Tracy judged it was time to make her presence known.
She stuck her head out of the kitchen doorway, clearing her
throat to get their attention.

"Hey, Trace!" Nick turned and greeted her with a
weary smile. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh, just keeping Nat company until you and Laurene
got home," Tracy answered with modesty.

"Don't listen to her!" Natalie interrupted. "She's
been a godsend to me. If Tracy hadn't been able to come
over, I'm sure I would have gone crazy with worry!"

"Ah, it was nothing," Tracy blushed. "Just looking
out for my friend and my partner." Walking to the coat
rack near the door, Tracy gathered her belongings. "You
three must have a lot to discuss, and you really don't need
me here." Smiling at her friends, Tracy prepared to leave.

"Thanks so much for coming over," said Natalie, the
gratefulness for Tracy's company very apparent in her
voice. "I don't know what I would have done without you."

"That's what friends are for, right Nick?" Tracy

"Good night, Tracy," Nick smiled back at her.
"Thanks for taking care of Nat. I really appreciate that
you came over to stay with her."

"Either of you would do the same for me," Tracy
answered honestly. "See you tomorrow, Nick. You can fill
me in then.... I'm really glad Laurene is safe." Giving
Laurene a hug before she left, Tracy pulled the door closed
behind her, leaving the Knights to their discussion.

Snuggling comfortably onto the couch, Natalie pulled
Laurene into her lap and held her close. "So ... what
happened?" she started.

Laurene immediately piped up, beginning the story.
"Daddy and I had just had a tickle fight and I ran up to my
room." Laurene started giggling at the memory. "I closed
the door and heard a sound. I listened until I knew where
it was coming from, and found Uncle Lucien in my closet.
He wanted to take me somewhere and said it was okay with
you guys." Pausing, Laurene looked up into her mother's
worried eyes.

"Did he say why he wanted to take you away?" Natalie

"Not at first," Laurene replied. "When we got to the
cabin he said it was like a vacation."

"And you weren't scared?" Natalie certainly was....

"Nuh-uh," Laurene shook her head. "Uncle Lucien
wouldn't hurt me."

"That's up for interpretation," Nick grumbled.

Noting the tone of Nick's voice, Natalie turned to
her daughter. "Laurene, why don't you go on into the den
and watch a movie? Daddy and I really need to talk."
Lifting Laurene from her lap, Natalie set her on the floor
and shooed her off to the adjoining room. Turning to Nick,
she said flatly, "Talk to me."

"I found the cabin very near dawn. Laurene was
sleeping when I first confronted LaCroix." Taking a deep
breath he continued. "Our 'discussion' woke Laurene and
when she came out, LaCroix grabbed her. There was nothing
I could do that wouldn't get Laurene injured."

"Why? Why did LaCroix take her?" It was the
question uppermost in Natalie's mind.

"He had been following you," Nick continued. "He
knows you've been working on another cure. LaCroix insists
that by looking for a cure, we broke the agreement we had
with him. Laurene was to be his payment for our 'folly.'"

"How could he do that? How could he THINK that?"
Natalie was beside herself with anger, she was literally
shaking with tension.

Scooting across the couch and gathering Natalie into
his arms, Nick kissed her tenderly. They rested in each
other's arms for a few minutes, until Natalie stopped

Nick looked Natalie directly in the eyes and
continued, "LaCroix says you FOUND the cure." Natalie
opened her mouth to say something, but Nicked rushed on.
"I told him that even if you had, I wouldn't use it if only
he would release Laurene."

"But, Nick...." Natalie tried to interrupt.

"LaCroix had this truly insane idea," Nick continued,
his voice rising in volume and pitch with his passion. "He
decided he would turn Laurene over to us for now, but that
when she turns twenty-five, he will bring her across to be
his eternal companion."

Seeing a break in Nick's soliloquy, Natalie jumped
in. "Nick, there is no cure...." Natalie said softly.

Nick's mind was obviously somewhere else as he
continued, "I told him 'no,' of course. I couldn't allow
such a travesty to be perpetrated on Laurene...." Sucking
in another breath, Nick barreled on, "But Laurene was
concerned over our fighting. She was worried that one or
both of us would be hurt.... She agreed to LaCroix's
terms, Nat ... she agreed! And LaCroix accepted her
statement as binding!" Suddenly, Natalie's words sank into
his tired mind as Nick drew another deep breath.
"...There's no cure?"

Natalie shook her head with grief. "No, Nick. It
turns out that to obtain a cure from Laurene's blood would
require genetic technology that doesn't currently exist."

"Then this was all for nothing?" Nick was

Natalie nodded, her head hanging and tears forming in
the corners of her eyes.

Gathering Natalie once again into his arms, Nick
tried to reassure her and convince himself, "We still have
a long time. It doesn't have to happen, Natalie. We'll
keep Laurene safe and keep her from LaCroix, don't worry."

Burying her face in Nick's shoulder, Natalie allowed
all her anger, fear and grief to finally come to the
surface. She wept. Nick held her close and rocked Natalie
as he had rocked with Laurene earlier, comforting and
protecting her with his strong presence. LaCroix may have
had his say, but his word was no longer law with Nick.
Whatever it took, Nick would find a way to change LaCroix's
mind ... or kill him if he couldn't....

LaCroix unlocked the door to the CERK radio booth,
pondering this evening's message. He allowed a small smile
to quirk his features as he imagined Laurene grown up.
What a vampire she will make! he thought once more.

Powering up the station and turning on the
microphone, LaCroix began. "Good evening, gentle
listeners. For tonight's subject we will discuss
loneliness and companionship for the ages...."


Nancy <>
* * Knightie w/ N&NPack tendencies/FK-XS
* * Harbourlight/ Lobster Yacht Lot
* * Original Adoptive Bat Mom ^^v^^