The Way Back
by Ellen Ashton-Haiste

(This is a response to the "what did the card say?" challenge from My
Boyfriend is a Vampire. The characters belong to Sony-Tristar, etc. - no
copyright infringement intended.)

Nick's eyes held Natalie's as the noise and activity of the bullpen
behind him faded into the background.

"Why can't you just let this go?" she asked, her voice filled with

Nick searched her face intently.

"Because you're wrong, that's why." He felt her slipping away from
him and he felt helpless and filled with a need to make her understand. She
had to understand that she had become his anchor after centuries of
drifting in a sea of loneliness.

"I'm not using you," he said, more vehemently than he intended. "I
wish I could prove that to you but I don't know how, alright?"

"Well, I guess that's your problem isn't it?" Nat's voice was
harder and colder than he'd ever heard it as she turned and began to walk
away from him. Out of his life. He grabbed her by the shoulder and turned
her back to face him, his soul crying out for her understanding.

"What am I supposed to say?" His voice was filled with desperation.
"What am I supposed to say to you? I don't know what to say. Tell me what
to say!"

Nat looked into his eyes. "I don't know," she said, a faint touch
of sadness softening the cold tones. "Maybe there's nothing left to say."

Nick felt his chest tighten with a sudden pain. He looked into her
eyes and saw the hurt, the despair. Her words of a few days before in the
morgue echoed in his head.

<"Well call me crazy but what you're doing is hurting me!"> Then
later in his loft, when she told him she was giving up on him. <"I just
don't have the strength anymore.">

He allowed himself to feel her pain and it overwhelmed his senses.
Why should she have to endure that agony for him? What could he bring her
but more pain? It was truly a no-win situation, he decided. Go on this way
and she was constantly hurting. Take it to the next level and she could be
dead - or worse.

What right did he have to claim that pain from her? How could be
even ask her to share the darkness and eternal suffering.

Helplessly he watched as she turned and walked away,

* * *

Nick upended the green bottle and let the last dregs of its
contents wash down his throat. He set the bottle down on the counter. It
didn't help. The ache in what was left of his heart and soul did not
disappear with the constant infusions of blood.

He missed Natalie.

The Jerry Tate case was wrapping up and things were quiet at the
station. He had no reason to visit the Coroner's office and hadn't seen
Natalie since that fateful conversation outside the bullpen.

He'd convinced himself that letting her go was the best thing for
her and he believed it was true. But knowing that did nothing to stop the
aching loneliness that he felt, the hopelessness. He'd known - learned from
painful past experience - that getting close to mortals was ever destined
to end up in pain, but this pain was worse than he remembered. Seldom in
eight centuries had he experienced this intense desperation.

He remembered countless casual evenings of camaraderie, of
laughter, of the comfortable feeling of being able to be oneself with
another person. Little touches, the warmth of her smile, the understanding
acceptance he'd seen in her eyes.

Hope dies hard, he thought.

He knew he needed to talk to her, to let her know how strongly he
felt and - most of all - that he still had dreams of a future they could
share. If she could only hold on a little longer, it might become reality.
And even if it didn't - even if this was all there was - he knew he wasn't
willing to give it up without at least an effort to salvage it.

The sun had set and he pulled on his suede jacket and headed for
the elevator and the florist shop on the corner. He knew what the bouquet
would be: wildflowers. Nothing suited Natalie better - the beauty of their
infinite combinations of bright and sunny colours and the untamed,
independent spirit they symbolized.

* * *

Natalie watched the sunset over the Toronto skyline from her
apartment balcony and her thoughts - as ever - drifted to the blond vampire
detective who had overtaken her life five years earlier.

An uninvited tear slipped down her cheek as she remembered how his
eyes looked that day in the precinct.

"God Lambert, you really did it this time," she admonished herself.
"You're such a fool! As if you can just banish someone from your life and
your heart so easily."

In the midst of the hurt and the anger it had seemed easy. Enough
is enough, her beleaguered heart had protested. She recalled the desperate
tone of his voice: <"What am I supposed to say to you? I don't know what to
say. Tell me what to say!"> <"Maybe there's nothing left to say,"> she
had callously replied. she thought.

Instead he had just looked at her, speechless. But she'd seen the
pain in his eyes. It was that look that said: 'you're right. I can give you
nothing but pain.' And he'd walked quietly away, his silence telling her
more about how he felt than she wanted to handle at the time. His silence
said more than a million hollow words of love - it bespoke his unselfish
desire to protect her from what he was and what he was capable of, and she
knew that as certainly as she knew anything in life.

"Fool!" she admonished herself once more as a torrent of tears
followed that first one.

The doorbell interrupted her descent into despair and she wiped the
tears from her face as she went to answer.

The delivery boy held a huge paper-wrapped package and her hand
shook as she signed the manifest.

Tearing it open she saw a bundle of colourful wildflowers and her
heart nearly broke. She scarcely needed to open the card. Only Nick would
send such an extravagant bouquet and, somehow, she knew they symbolized his
image of her and their relationship.

But there was a small envelope attached and she opened it slowly.
The front was an Oriental-looking depiction of pink flowers on a black
background, somehow at odds with the contents of the bouquet but fitting
perfectly with Nick's personality.

The tears that had started earlier became a torrent as she read the
message in his own handwriting:


I am cold - but your smile warms me
I am weary of life - but your strength and courage and indomitable spirit
inspire me to go on
I exist in darkness - but the brightness of your soul lights my way and
lets me live in the essence of sunshine.
Love Nick."

* * *

"They're beautiful," Nat said, walking up behind Nick in his loft.
"And the card...."

He turned to her with that boyish smile that always had the power
to turn her inside out. She sometimes felt she'd do anything - even die -
to see that smile one more time. This was one of the brightest versions
she'd witnessed.

"Well, I had to get you here somehow," he said.

"It worked," she admitted, a small catch in her voice.

Then, in an attempt to break the intensity of feeling pervading the
room, she asked casually. "So what have you been up to this last little

"The usual," he replied equally casually, and she noted the truth
of that in the glass of red liquid beside him, but chose it ignore it.

"Ah, the new improved Jerry Tate Show," she commented, noting the
picture on his widescreen TV. It was Tracy's interview on women in
dangerous, typically male jobs. How ironic, Nat thought, since both of us
are involved in the much-more-dangerous pastime of sharing our lives with

"It take a major crisis to turn some people around," Nick's voice
interrupted her reverie. She knew he wasn't talking about Jerry Tate or
even Tracy.

A deep sigh escaped her as she turned to acknowledge what was
really on both their minds.

"You could have made something up...."

"About?" he asked, rising to his feet. As if he needed to ask what
she was talking about.

"That day in the precinct," she said. "Last time we spoke. You just
stood there speechless. It took me awhile but I figured it out. I saw more
than you think I saw. I saw how much you cared. I just needed you to say
it..." Her hand tightened on the card he'd written and, suddenly
embarrassed, she turned away from his intense gaze. "Oh my God, " she
laughed. "If I start talking about wellness and unwellness love, shoot me."

"You can count on it," he chuckled, hugging her from behind,
feeling unreasonably happy just that she was there, talking to him, being
his Natalie again.

But he was suddenly serious as the impact of what he might have
lost hit him smack in the solar plexus.

Turning her to face him, he stared into her eyes and said: "I don't
think you ever will know how much I care..."
he thought silently.
she thought as her eyes
met his and she felt the feathery touch of his fingers on her cheek and his
breath as he leaned forward to kiss her tenderly on the lips.

The End