The following is a continuing Nick & Nat Christmas Story written over four consecutive Christmases:
Winter Wonderland - 1996
Countdown - 1997
Three Rare Moons - 1998
Inhuman Pride - 1999

Winter Wonderland
by Susan B.
circa December 1996

"Are you packed yet?" giggled Nat as she popped out of the elevator
and into Nick's loft.

Nick met her at the elevator. "I will be," he replied sluggishly.
"I still don't know how you talked me into this though."

Nat poked him in the arm. "Come on, Nick, it'll be fun. Besides,
it's Christmas Eve, and you said I could have anything I want for

"Skiing, Nat? Really?" Nick shook his head.

"Well I've never done it before either, but it looks like fun. And
they do have those trails lit up *all* night."

"Lucky break," muttered Nick, "no one will see us."

Nat kissed him quickly on the cheek. "Well, at least *you* don't
have to worry about falling. Besides, you said I could have
anything I want for Christmas. This is what I want."

"I expected you to ask for jewellery, or perfume, or something.
Hell, I'd have gotten you a new car if you wanted it, Nat."

Nat's smile turned to a frown. "I don't want a new car, Nick. I
want you. I want us to do something together, something different,
something ...normal."

Nick put his arms lovingly around Nat and gave her a hug. "I'm
sorry, Nat. I didn't mean to upset you." He kissed her cheek. "Of
course I want to go, and I'm looking forward to it."

Nat nuzzled his ear and smiled. "Yeah, right..," she mumbled.

Laughing, Nick gave her another squeeze before letting go. "Well,
it's 10:00 now, give me half an hour and I'll be ready." Nick ran
upstairs to shower and get some things for the trip, and Nat went
over to wait on the couch.

* * * * * *

It was almost midnight when Nick and Nat ran into trouble on the
highway. They collided with a sudden, violent snow storm. The snow
was blinding their vision, and the roads were quickly becoming
impassable. Nick increased the speed of the wipers, but it wasn't
helping much. "I don't think we're going to make it to the lodge."

"It does look pretty bad," agreed Nat. "Maybe we better stop at the
next place we see and wait for the ploughs."

"It could be a long wait. It is Christmas Eve," replied Nick, "and
I really don't know where the next place will be. Everything's
closed." Nick was now having trouble keeping the car on the road,
as the back end started sliding around haphazardly.

Nat opened her window and stuck her head outside. It was hard to
see anything through the wall of snow. "There's a big house up
ahead, let's stop there and see if anyone's home that can put us up
for a few hours."

Nick squinted his eyes as he stared out the windshield. He saw an
outline of the house and turned off where he presumed the driveway
would be. The driveway appeared as though it had not been ploughed
all winter, and he could only force the car in about twenty feet.
He and Nat piled out of the car and stomped through the deep snow
towards the house.

When they neared the front entrance, Nat noticed a "for sale" sign
in the front yard. "It looks deserted, Nick," she said.

"I think you're right. I don't think they would mind if we camped
out here for a bit."

When they got up on the porch, Nat shook the snow from her jacket.
Nick knocked on the door a few times, but getting no response he
tried the handle. To their surprise, it wasn't even locked. Nick
entered first and found a light switch by the door. He flicked it
on and a table lamp in the corner of the living room lit up,
casting a warm glow throughout the room.

Nat followed Nick into the house and closed the door behind her.
"Their furniture's still here. Maybe you better go upstairs and see
if someone *is* home." As an afterthought she added, "you better
take your badge out first - just in case - so you don't scare

"Good idea," said Nick as he marched towards the stairs. He found
another light switch on the upstairs landing. Nick turned on that
switch and then checked the rooms one by one, two bedrooms and a
bathroom. There was no one home.

In the meantime, Nat took off her coat and boots and started
surveying the main floor. There were only two rooms here, a huge
living room and an adjacent kitchen almost as large. The
furnishings were sparse - a plaid sofa, two royal blue armchairs,
and a wooden end table. In the kitchen was a pine table and four
matching chairs, along with the typical cupboards and appliances.

Nat heard Nick's feet clomping down the stairs. From the stairway
he yelled, "no one home!"

"I don't think anyone's been here for awhile," replied Nat. "What
I can't figure out though, is why this place is so clean."

Nick approached her in the kitchen, "what do you mean?"

"I mean, everything is too clean. The furniture is old, but it
looks brand new. Everything smells fresh, new, somehow. It's almost
as though no one has ever lived here - yet there isn't any dust

Nick shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps they haven't been away as
long as you think."

"Perhaps," replied Nat unconvinced.

Nick headed for the front door. "I'll go get our things."

While he was gone, Nat decided to do a little snooping through the
kitchen cupboards. She found coffee, sugar, and a can of milk.
Luckily there were also a couple of mugs in the cupboard, and
spoons in the drawer. Nat opened the fridge, but it was empty.
Opening another cupboard, Nat found a kettle, filled it, and put it
on the stove.

Nick arrived with their bags a few minutes later. He set them down
just inside the front door. They seemed to increase in weight as he
brought them into the house. Nick then removed his own boots and

Carrying a mug of hot coffee, Nat soon joined him in the living
room and they sat together on the couch. She glanced at her watch.
"It's Christmas, Nick. We must have gotten in here a little after

"No television to watch," grinned Nick, as he put his arm around

"No skiing either," whined Nat.

Nick started playing with Nat's hair and she snuggled closer to
him. He felt good, and he leaned into her face and kissed her
softly on the lips. She returned his kiss eagerly, and Nick kissed
her again more intensely.

Nat gently broke away from him. "You're playing a dangerous game,
Nick. We are stranded virtually out in the middle of nowhere."

"I'm okay," Nick assured her. "In fact, it's strange, but I don't
even feel the vampire. It feels as though it's just you ...and me."

Nat wasn't totally convinced about that, but she was willing to go
wherever Nick felt safe leading her. She cuddled back into him and
let him kiss her again.

Nick kissed Nat's neck teasingly. He undid the top buttons of her
blouse and caressed the soft skin of her throat and shoulder. Nat
shivered in delight under his touch, his touch ...what was it?
There was something different about his touch. It was warm.

"Nick?" Nat's eyes opened wide.

Nick slid his lips up along her neck and found her ear. "What," he

She looked into his eyes, still a deep blue. "You're warm!"


"You're skin's warm." Nat put her head to his chest and heard
his heart beating. She was taken aback, "don't you feel that? Your
heart's beating."

"It can't be so," smiled Nick. "I don't feel any different, I just
don't feel the vampire."

"You don't feel it because it's not there!" shouted Nat, her ear
still glued to Nick's chest.

Nick lifted her chin. "That can't be, Nat."

"Well, look at you. We've never been able to get this far before
without you changing. I'm telling you, it's gone."

Nick jumped up from the couch. He tried to fly, but he couldn't.
Nat scrutinized him in confusion. Then Nick went to the front door
and stepped out. As he did so, he felt the vampire within him
again, and took to the sky. A few moments later he came back, but
the vampire did not enter the house with him. "This is really
strange, Nat."

"I'll say," replied Nat as she walked towards him.

Nick gathered her up in his arms and said softly, "there is
something special about this house. I don't know what it is, but
the vampire won't enter it."

"That can't be, can it?" asked Nat. "What is it? A miracle? It's
just too strange, Nick."

Nick stared at her. "Is it any stranger than the existence of

Nat had to agree that it wasn't.

Still holding her, Nick gently tugged Nat towards the stairs. He
stepped up two steps, turned around, and held his hand out for her.

"Where are you taking me?" Nat asked with a knowing smile as she
took his hand.

"Somewhere I've been wanting to take you for years," replied Nick

Nat grinned and let Nick lead her upstairs and into one of the
bedrooms. When they neared the bed, he stopped and swung around to
face her. Nick caressed Nat's cheek and eyelids with his lips as he
finished unbuttoning her blouse."I love you," he whispered, "and
I'm going to make love to you." Nat's breathing quickened and her
body went limp under his touch. Nick slipped his hands around Nat's
back and undid her bra.

Nat ran her fingers through Nick's hair and impatiently pulled his
face towards her, her lips eagerly sought out his. Nick kissed her
fully and deeply. Nat trembled as he slipped his hand over her
breast and gently caressed her bare skin. As Nick lowered Nat down
into the bed with him, she moaned in anticipation. Nick smiled and
whispered, "it is a miracle. It is not going to be questioned, and
it is not going to be wasted."

Natalie awoke late in the afternoon. She lay in bed a long time,
revelling in the sensation of wrapping herself against Nick's body.
Nick soon felt warm wet kisses as Natalie started nuzzling the back
of his neck. She kissed a path to his ear. "Merry Christmas, Nick."
Nick rolled over and pulled her close to him. He nuzzled her ear
and whispered back to her, "Merry Christmas."

It was well after dark when Nick and Nat finally got out of bed. As
she was getting dressed, Nat wondered why neither of them felt
hunger or thirst until now. She smiled inwardly as she chalked it
up to their being otherwise engaged. Nat headed for the bedroom
door and called back to Nick, "I'm going to make some coffee."

"I'll be down in a minute," yawned Nick as he sat up and stretched.

Nat already had the coffee poured by the time Nick got downstairs.
She wasn't sure if he would drink it, but everything else about him
seemed human. She had kept the blinds down in the bedroom as a
precaution against the sun, worried something might happen while
they slept.
* * * * * *

It was half past eleven that night when they heard it. The loud
sound of a car horn followed by the horrifying squeal of metal
against metal. Nick ran to the window and looked out, but could see
nothing. He headed for the front door. "I better go check it out."

"Don't go," begged Nat. "You know what will happen when you walk
out that door."

Nick pulled on his coat and stepped into his boots, "I have to go,
Nat, someone could be hurt."

Natalie followed him to the door and pulled on her own boots. "Then
I'm going with you."

Nick didn't argue with her. He didn't want to leave the house
either, and Nat would be a comfort to him. Nick helped her into her
coat. Nat studied his face as they walked out the door. She saw the
change in his expression immediately, from bliss and contentment,
to sorrow and anguish. The vampire was back home. Nat took Nick's
hand and held it tightly as they trudged through the snow to the
end of the driveway.

They squeezed past Nat's car at the end of the driveway, and walked
out to the roadway. After getting around the bend in the road Nick
stopped. "I still can't see anything, Nat, except that the road's
been ploughed." He hesitated for a moment before pointing up, "do
you mind?" Nick noticed Nat's eyes spontaneously begin to fill with
tears, and decided it better that they walk.

Nick and Nat walked down the road for a full ten minutes without
seeing anything. Nat noticed Nick's agitation at being unable to
speed up the process. She stopped walking and Nick turned about.
Nat squeezed his hand, "go ahead, Nick. Someone could be hurt. I'll
wait here."

Nick kissed her cheek, "I'll be right back." As he flew into the
night sky, a few tears started rolling down Nat's cheek. She wiped
them quickly, determined not to reveal them to Nick.

A few moments later, Natalie heard a swoosh behind her. She spun
around to see Nick standing there. He shrugged his shoulders.
"There's nothing there, Nat. Nothing. It must have been the

"That's probably all it was." Nat smiled and tapped Nick's chest.
"Let's go back inside." As they started their journey back to the
house, the wind suddenly picked up and it started snowing heavily
again. It was difficult to see anything through the clouds of
swirling snow.

By the time they reached the driveway, the snowfall was so blinding
that Nick and Nat almost bumped into Nat's car before they even saw
it. Nat lost her footing and Nick caught her. "I can't see a thing
out here!" she squealed. They continued their trek up the driveway.

As abruptly as it began, the wind died and the snow stopped
falling. Nick and Nat both stared at the barren space front of
them. The house was gone. There was nothing there.

"My God, Nick. Where is it?!" screamed Nat.

Nick ran forward to the place where the house should have been, but
all that remained was empty space. He ran in circles around the
area. "NO!!!!" he screamed aloud. Nick fell to his knees in the
snow, and Nat quickly reached him and clung to his back. She held
him tightly. Nick pummelled the snow with his fists in grief. He
soon felt something underneath the snow, it was Nat's overnight
case. Nick dug further through the snow and found his own bag.

They sat solemnly in the snow for a long time, until the cold
forced them to seek refuge in the car.

Nick sat behind the steering wheel and started the engine, but he
didn't want to drive. He didn't want to do anything. Nick needed to
feed. He reached around to the back seat and pulled his bag into
the front. He opened it to pull out a bottle, and found a card
inside. Nick pulled out the card and looked at Nat, "did you put
this in here?"

Nat looked over inquisitively. "No. What is it?"

"It's a card," replied Nick, a little confused. "A Christmas card."

Nat leaned over curiously. "What does it say?"

Nick carefully opened the card and read the words. He stared at
them for a long minute and smiled. Nick then chuckled as he pulled
Nat over and hugged her warmly. He released her from his arms and
laughed as he handed the card over to her. "It's a message, Nat. A
message for the future, I believe."

Nat took the card from his hand. "A message for the future from

Nick grinned. "A message from our host, I think. Someone who gave
us our Christmas together."

Nat opened the card. Her heart glowed as she read the neatly
scripted words, "where there is love, there is hope." Nat felt
tears slipping from her eyes. They were not tears of sorrow, but
tears of joy. She reached over and hugged Nick, "this is the best
Christmas present I could have ever hoped for."

Nick kissed her softly on the lips and whispered, "me too."

The End

This is my Nick & Nat Christmas story for this year. It's a year
after "Winter Wonderland" for N&N as well <g>, so there are some
references to what happened "last Christmas" in this one.

by Susan B.
December, 1997
based on characters from Forever Knight, etc.
Nick crept stealthily down the corridor to Nat's office at the
morgue. He stopped at the doorway and covertly peeked in. She was
sitting behind her desk, a pile of folders in front of her and a
pen in her hand; but she was leaning so far back in the chair that
all she could possibly be focusing on was the ceiling. Nick smiled
faintly as he watched her unconsciously slip the end of the pen
into her mouth and start rattling it between her teeth. He knew
what she was thinking about; he had been having the same thoughts
since the end of September, when the first leaves started to fall.
And here it was, five o'clock in the morning on Christmas Eve. Nick
stepped brazenly into the office. "Getting nervous?" he asked.

Nat fumbled in her chair, almost choking on her pen in the process.
With a fast hand, she made a speedy recovery of the pen and slapped
it on top of her paperwork. "You startled me!" she scolded him.

"Doesn't look like you're getting much done," Nick announced as he
approached her, a giant grin plastered on his face. He slowly
leaned over the desk towards her. "What on earth has you so
distracted?" he taunted.

Nat stood up and stretched over to meet him with a quick kiss on
the lips. "As if you didn't know," she replied in a whisper. She
stepped around the desk to stand with him. "And yes," she admitted.
"I am nervous. Scared really. Scared that what we had last year
won't happen again."

They had never discussed that possibility. They had never really
talked about last Christmas at all. It was like a dream. A pleasure
to remember when they were apart; but when they were in the same
room together and unable to touch each other, it became a
nightmare. Three weeks ago things had started to change. Natalie
would hum a few bars of Jingle Bells, Nick would mumble about
taking some time off over the 'holidays'. They skirted around the
issue for four days. Nick was the first to break, that fourth night
at the loft. He was sitting in the chair while Nat was stretched
out on the couch. They caught each other in a mutual longing stare
when, bold as brass, Natalie started to sing.

Halfway through her rather sultry rendition of 'It Came Upon A
Midnight Clear', Nick relented, "Alright! Enough!" he had
exclaimed. "Do I want to see if the house is there again this year?
Of course I do. I bought the land it was on. That lot and every one
around it. Last January. Four hundred and fifty acres of prime
cottage country real estate."

He didn't just want to see it again, he prayed that he would see it
again ? the house they had taken refuge in last Christmas Eve
during a blinding snowstorm. The mysterious house that had allowed
Nick his mortality as long as he remained within its rigid stone
walls. The house that let them finally be together, make love to
each other ? at least until it disappeared into thin air at
midnight on Christmas Day. He and Nat had left the house shortly
before midnight to investigate what sounded like a car crash. When
they returned, all they found was their overnight bags half buried
in a blanket of untrodden snow.


Nick blinked his eyes as he returned to the present. "Sorry, Nat.
What were you saying?"

Natalie shrugged, wondering how many sentences she had had to
repeat over the last few years due to his zombie trances. 'Bad
choice of words,' she reprimanded herself. "I said I was scared
that it might not happen again."

Nick pecked her cheek lightly. "But we can't think like that, can

"No," she replied, smiling a little, "we can't." Nat quickly
retrieved her long winter coat from the countertop and slipped into
it. "I'll be by your place around seven tonight," she told him, as
they made their way out of the building.

* * * * *

Nat had been tossing and turning in her bed for four hours after
she arrived home. Anxiety over whether the 'pleasure palace' was
even going to be there was soon replaced with anxiety over what
kind of condition the lack of sleep would leave her in. A few
minutes after moaning, "God, I'm never going to get to sleep," she
had finally succumbed.

She woke at five?thirty that afternoon, climbed out of bed, and
showered and dressed. Too nervous to eat, Nat packed up her
toiletry and clothes. "No flannels this trip," she muttered as she
yanked two brand new delicate silk teddies from her bottom drawer
and stuffed them into the overnight bag with the rest of her
things. She zipped up her bag and headed briskly towards the door,
then stopped. "How could I forget the card!" she exclaimed,
dropping the bag and running back into the bedroom. Nat jerked open
the top drawer of the dresser and started to rifle through it, then
the next drawer, and then the next. She hurried over to the night
table and checked that drawer too, but it wasn't there either. The
Christmas card that their mysterious benefactor had left for them
last year, was missing.

* * * * *

Nick was waiting for her at the elevator door when she arrived at
the loft around six?thirty. "What's wrong?" he asked, noticing the
worry on her face.

"I can't find the card, Nick," she said dismally. "The Christmas
card from last year. The message. Our message, 'Where there is love
there is hope.' God, Nick, how could I lose that?" A few unbidden
tears slipped from her eyes and Nick moved quickly to hold her.

"Don't cry," he whispered. "Tonight's the night for miracles.
You'll find the card, Nat. That's always the way, isn't it? When
you need something, you can't find it. And then one day when you're
looking for milk or peanut butter or something, lo and behold,
there will be the card."

She couldn't help but smile. "Milk or peanut butter, Nick? I don't
think I would have put the card in either the fridge or a kitchen

"Ach, you know what I mean, Nat. It'll turn up." He gathered up his
bag from the floor.

"Is that a lack of confidence I hear?" Nat asked when she heard the
muffled sounds of bottles clanking together.

Nick winked at her. "Replenishment for our return trip," he
explained. No amount of torture would have been enough to drag any
other explanation out of him.

* * * * *

There was no snow when they left Toronto. There was no snow during
the hour and a half long drive north. And here they were, parked in
the very same spot where they had pulled off the road last year,
and still there was no snow. Not in the air, and not on the ground.

"It's not snowing, Nick," Natalie commented bleakly.

"It's not even nine yet," he consoled her. "We didn't arrive here
until midnight last year. We just have to wait."

The waiting felt like an eternity to both of them. It started to
snow lightly when the hour neared eleven, but nothing like the
blizzard they had experienced last year. They held hands in eager
anticipation as the last twenty minutes dragged by. Nick could feel
Nat's trembling when midnight struck. But the hour came and passed
without incident. No house appeared, and Nat's shivers of
excitement gave way to shudders of dread.

"This can't be happening," she moaned. "It just can't be."

But it was. They sat in the car staring at the dark vacant lot for
almost two more hours.

"Maybe we should drive around a little," Nick suggested. "Disappear
for a bit and come back."

"There's an idea," Natalie agreed, trying desperately to sound
hopeful, but not quite being able to.

They drove around for an hour and then returned to the spot, but
still there was no house. Natalie started to cry, and Nick hugged
her. "Oh, Nick," she sobbed, over and over again. Fighting off his
own anguish, he simply held her in his arms and comforted her with
soothing caresses, feather kisses, and loving words. His desire to
ease her pain, to make love to her, was overwhelming; but this was
all he could do. He held her for nearly an hour, until they had to
leave in order to make it back to the city before sunrise. The ride
home seemed very, very long; and was very, very quiet.

It was almost dawn on Christmas morning when they arrived at Nick's
apartment building. Totally disheartened, they stepped out of the
elevator and into the loft. "Wait a second," Nick blurted out,
"something's happening here."

Nat just stared blankly at him, her face stained with the tears of
disappointment. The silent stress of the last two hours was
unbearable. She felt like she had aged two years.

"The bags," Nick continued, "they feel heavy, like they did last
year when I stepped into that house."

"Please don't tease me, Nick," Nat lamented with a heavy heart.
"This is your loft. There's no magic here. Maybe... maybe last year
was all we're ever going to have."

"I'm telling you," Nick proclaimed. "I feel exactly how I felt last
year when I stepped into that strange house. The vampire is

Nat shook her head sadly. "You're imagining things."

Nick suddenly released both bags, allowing them to fall haphazardly
to the floor. He grabbed Nat's hand and held it to his chest. "Am
I imagining this?" he asked in a firm voice.

He wasn't imagining it. She could feel the warmth emanating from
his skin, and the pounding of his heart beneath his shirt. Nat
gasped and looked at him quizzically. "Nick?"

"We've been given another Christmas miracle, Nat," he whispered as
he embraced her. "Another miracle not to be questioned, and not to
be wasted." He followed his words with a passionate kiss, almost
lifting her off the ground in his fervour. "Let's go upstairs," he
said. He held her hand snugly in his and started leading her
towards the stairwell. But as they passed the sofa, Nick eyed
something unfamiliar sitting on the coffee table. He stopped
abruptly, released Nat's hand, and spun around.

"What's wrong?" Natalie begged, as Nick marched towards the couch.

"Someone's been in here," he replied. Nat followed him to the
coffee table and they both glanced down in surprise. A colourful
Christmas card leaned against the side of a small round clock. The
clock was about three inches in diameter, with a white background
on the face, and four little white peg legs. The slender hour and
minute hands were black, as were the numbers.

"The clock's spinning backwards," Nick said.

"That's our card!" Nat exclaimed.

Nick snatched up the card and flipped it open. "Another line's been
added to the message." He read it aloud, "Reflect on this... when
there is love there is hope."

"But what does it mean?" Nat asked curiously. "We've been
reflecting on hope for the past year."

Nick looked at the clock again. "I think it's a clue," he replied.
The clock is running backwards. Somehow, we've been transported
back in time, back to how I was last Christmas. Maybe even back
to... before. Before. When I was..." He couldn't finish the
sentence. He never could.

Nat squeezed his hand tightly. "Only you've gone back in time," she
said. "Everything around us is the same, I'm the same. Our
benefactor has given you a piece of your past, and given us another
message not to give up hope for the future."

"And the clock is not only a clue to that, but a countdown to
midnight," Nick surmised, suddenly unable to look at it. He dropped
the card to the table and turned to Natalie. He touched her cheek
and kissed her softly on the lips. "Let's go upstairs," he
whispered. "I don't want to think about midnight, Nat. I just want
to make love to you. Until I can't anymore."

"And I you," she whispered back.

Holding hands, they continued their trek to the stairs. This time,
Nat unexpectedly let go of Nick's hand. "Wait a minute!" she
wailed, "I need to get something out of my bag." She hurried over
to the elevator where the bags were and dug out one of her silk
teddies. Holding it discreetly behind her back, she returned to

"What's that?" he asked, teasingly reaching around as though to
grab it.

"A mood enhancer," Nat replied, a sly grin on her face.

Nick chuckled and took her free hand in his. "Absolutely not
necessary," he commented as they started up the steps, "trust me."

Nick was standing in his black pyjama bottoms when Nat emerged from
the ensuite. Her hair was loose, flowing in a soft mass over her
bare shoulders. She was wearing the royal blue teddy with a
delicate shoestring lacing threaded through the bodice, lacing that
ended in a casual bow at the top. Nick advanced on her in stunned
silence. He kissed her lightly on the lips, then the cheek, and
then nuzzled her ear with his lips. "You're beautiful," he
whispered softly, "and I love you."

"And I love you," she whispered back, the warmth of his lips on her
skin already taking her breath away.

Nick smiled and took both of her hands in his. Tugging her gently
along, he backed up slowly, stopping abruptly when he reached the
side of the bed. He drew her tightly against himself and kissed her
passionately. Nat could feel the pounding of his heart against her
breast; it was racing and thumping just as vigorously as her own.
Nick slowly loosened his hold on her, creating a conducive gap
between their bodies. He teasingly caressed her with the tips of
his fingers and she returned each gentle touch in kind. When he
started to plant tender kisses on her trembling skin, Natalie
started to slide her fingers through his hair. She applied gentle
pressure to the back of his head, forcing his lips and tongue ever
deeper into her skin. By the time his hands had started working at
the bow of her teddy, even her legs were quivering. And just when
she thought she would collapse right there in his arms, he finally
pulled her down into the bed.

* * * * *

Apart from two short meal breaks, Nick and Nat spent the entire day
and evening in bed; making love, napping, and just enjoying the
physical closeness they both craved, but couldn't normally risk.
Their last passionate kiss ended at ten minutes before midnight.
Nat donned Nick's robe, and Nick slipped back into his pyjamas. He
reached over to the nightstand and turned around the alarm clock so
they wouldn't have to look at it. And then they just held each

"Making love with you was everything to me," Nat said soothingly as
she toyed with his hair. "And I know this end is much harder for
you because you weren't just making love, you were mortal." But
even with that knowledge, she was still the first one to start
crying. She didn't want to, but the tears poured out in a hot
stream just the same. Nick's soon followed. Not as hot, nor as
steady, but filled with more pain than he had ever thought
possible. "I don't think I can go through this again, Nat," he
whimpered, as he felt the heart numbing onset of change. He clung
to her in a potent grip of love and agony. And then his tears
turned to blood.

Caught in the mire of frustration and need, it didn't take long for
the vampire's bloodlust to surface. "I have to leave you now," Nick
whispered softly, his eyes awash in gold. He kissed her hair softly
and left her alone in his bed.

The bed suddenly seemed so cold. Nat rolled over and buried her
face in his pillow; a pillow still damp with his mortal tears,
still laden with his mortal scent. She cried heavily, until the
only scent that remained was that of her own tears.

Nick was on the couch watching television when she finally came
downstairs. She went over and sat beside him. The clock had
disappeared from the table, but the card was still there.

"The clock?" Natalie asked.

"It was gone when I came down," Nick replied glumly.

Nat picked the card up from the table and opened it. She muttered
the message, "Reflect on this..."

Nick suddenly snapped the card out of her hand and stared at it.
His gloomy frown instantly turned into an enormous grin, and then
he started to laugh.

"What's so funny?" Nat demanded, somewhat annoyed at his untimely
burst of glee.

"Reflect on this," Nick replied. "Now I understand what it means!"

Natalie was totally confused. "What on earth are you talking
about?" she demanded to know.

Nick sprang up from the couch. "Come with me and I'll show you." He
marched her over to his desk, pulled a wristwatch out of the top
drawer and then dragged her into the bathroom. "The clock didn't
represent a countdown to midnight or a voyage into the past, Nat.
But it was the most important part of the message." They stood in
front of the mirror as Nick held his watch up to it. "See!" he
exclaimed. "Look at the second hand. In the mirror, it looks like
its running backwards."

Nat studied the reflection in the mirror, and then looked at him
dubiously. "So?"

He laughed again. "The clock was running backwards, Nat. In the
mirror it would appear to be running forward. *That* was the
reflection we were supposed to see."

Nick's elation was contagious. Nat broke into a wide grin, "Do you

"That's exactly what I mean," Nick interrupted. "*I* didn't go back
into the past, Nat. *We* went into the future."

--The End--

Three Rare Moons
by Susan B.
based on characters from Forever Knight, etc.
This is the third of my sequential Nick & Nat Christmas stories. It
follows "Winter Wonderland" (Dec/96) and "Countdown" (Dec/97). I
think I've included enough background for this to stand on its own.

Lacroix thoughtfully drank the last sip of warm crimson liquid
from his finest crystal piece before gently setting the goblet on
the bar. He didn't have to read a clock or peer outside a window to
know that the dawn of yet another Christmas Eve would break within
the hour. After the strange occurrences of the previous two
Christmases, he had planned for this one in advance. Two years ago,
he had lost all sense of his son on Christmas day. It wasn't of
much concern at the time because their connection was normally
rather tenuous. But when the same thing happened the following
year, it was painfully abrupt. He went to the loft immediately, but
Nicholas was nowhere to be found. Lacroix didn't know what the
cause was; but he had no doubt, no doubt at all, that it had
something to do with the forever meddling Dr. Lambert. Lacroix
briefly looked up towards the ceiling, and then flew with haste
from the Raven.

At the precise moment that Lacroix took to the sky, Nick
arrived home at the loft. His thoughts were focused on Natalie, as
they had been for weeks. The fact that he hadn't seen her for the
past three days only added fuel to his Christmas fantasies. She had
told him she had an incredibly nasty cold and didn't want him over,
vowing to stay in bed until Christmas Eve if that's what it took to
be well for Christmas day.

Nick slipped off his jacket, nudged off his shoes, and headed
for the refrigerator. After downing two glasses of cold cow blood,
he went upstairs to his bedroom. He sat down on the edge of the bed
and pulled a Christmas card out of the top drawer of the night
table. A snow storm two years ago this night had stranded him and
Nat in an unusual house ?? a house that allowed him his mortality
for one day before it disappeared forever. Heartbroken, they had
returned to the car for the trip home and he found this mysterious
Christmas card in his overnight bag. The phrase inside read, 'Where
there is love there is hope'. Last Christmas Eve, Nat, who had
taken possession of the card, searched her apartment for it only to
discover it had vanished. Although they recreated their trek north,
the magic house never reappeared. When they returned to the loft
just before dawn on Christmas morning though, Nick was granted
another reprieve. Someone, or more precisely something, had left
both a backwards running clock and their card on his coffee table.
The words, 'Reflect on this' had been added to the beginning of the
message. Nick was soon able to decipher the meaning of the clues ??
that mortality would eventually be his.

He had hope now, hope that this Christmas would once again
give him the opportunity to make love to the woman he loved. A few
hours of heaven before returning to his own private hell ?? a hell
that had only intensified with knowing the intimacy he had lost.
Over the centuries he had forgotten what human intimacy was like.
He had forgotten how blindingly intense the ecstasy of mortal
sexual pleasure was without all the cerebral baggage inherent in
sharing blood. After making love to Natalie for the first time, he
vowed he would never forget it again. Nick carefully tucked the
treasured card beneath his pillow and laid down to sleep.

* * * * * *

Natalie had been nursing her cold for three full days and
still felt horrible. She had given up on either a midnight
rendezvous with a mystical house in the woods or a mysterious time
shift in Nick's loft. She feared she would be spending this
Christmas alone in her own bed, with the worst cold she could ever
remember having. "Perhaps three miracles are just one to many to
hope for," she mumbled dismally. But even the weakness she was
suffering couldn't slow her rising pulse rate when she remembered
making love with an exclusively human Nick. In stark contrast to
the selfish bloodlust of a vampire, he was a generous and gentle
human lover. The sound of his voice alone had left her trembling in
its wake too many times to count. His feather caresses, warm
seductive lips, and poetic whispers of love in the night had held
her frozen in a euphoria unlike anything she had ever before

Nat's pleasant reverie was abruptly broken by yet another
violent sneeze. Pulling her pink terry robe more snugly around her
chest, she groaned her way up to a sitting position. She reached
over to the night table and plucked a tissue from the box. Sydney
happened to choose that particular moment to jump up on the bed and
startle her. "Hey, Sydney!" Nat exclaimed as she reached out to
scratch the cat's fluffy grey ears. His only response was a
thunderous purr. As suddenly as he appeared, he jumped off the bed
and tore out the door into the living room. Natalie heard his
frightened meow a fraction of a second before she heard the

"Nick... is that you?" she asked in a voice caught somewhere
between hope and fear.

"Close," Lacroix replied menacingly as he stepped inside her
bedroom door.

Nat tugged the blankets up around her. "What are you doing
here?" she gasped.

Lacroix raised an eyebrow and grinned. "I'm conducting an
investigation," he replied. "Or perhaps an experiment is a more
fitting term." He stealthily approached the bed and added, "Maybe
both." Lacroix sat down on the edge of the bed near Natalie's feet
and started speaking to her in a slow, steady rhythm.

"That won't work on me!" she boldly declared. But the last
thing she remembered was Lacroix replying, "Of course not."

Safely back at the Raven with a sleeping Natalie tucked away
in a small, concrete block room in the basement, Lacroix sat at the
bar and reflected on what he had gleaned from his most alluring
guest. The discovery that Nicholas had experienced two mortal
interludes initially shocked him, but the need to know why and who
was responsible were of even greater concern. Natalie's memories
hadn't been of any help in that regard. It was her avid, if
misguided, belief that "God" was responsible. What really stunned
Lacroix was that Natalie believed Nicholas thought the same thing!
Most of her memories of his brief periods of mortality involved
their exchanging honeyed words of undying devotion interspersed
with euphoric bouts of touching, moaning and sweating. "So crude,
so mortal, so... nauseating." Lacroix rose to make way to his bed,
uncertain whether to be more digusted by the vulnerability of his
son's heart, or by his son's physical submissiveness to the mortal
woman who held it captive.

* * * * * *

It was almost seven o'clock and well past dark when Nick
finally woke from his sleep. After showering and dressing in black
denims and a blue shirt, he retrieved the card from underneath his
pillow and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He went downstairs and
dialled Nat's number but there was no answer. He then tried her
cell phone, only to be greeted by a recording that the customer was
unavailable. Believing she must be feeling better and on her way
over to the loft, Nick first replenished himself and then settled
down to watch television and wait for her. Half an hour later, he
tried both numbers again without success. Subsequent telephone
calls to Sarah, Grace, and even Myra all brought him the same
rhetorical response, "I thought she was spending Christmas with
you?" 'So did I,' Nick would say to himself each time. He tried the
morgue too, but his only reward was a recording with a number to
call in case of emergency.

It was at that point that Nick started wondering whether he
had said or done something to make her angry. He sifted through all
of their recent conversations, but couldn't find anything at all
that would have made her angry with him. It was hard to tell
sometimes though, simply because a certain level of aloofness
between them was requisite to her continued survival. Nick soon
banished the idea that she was mad at him. Their Christmases
together were just as important to her as they were to him, and she
was far too forgiving to let anger come between them for very long.

Solacing himself with the belief that he would find Natalie
sound asleep in her bed, Nick finally donned his coat and boots and
headed over to her apartment.

While Nick was on his way to Natalie's apartment, Lacroix rose
from his own deep sleep and visited her in the dimly lit basement
of the Raven. He ducked under the stairwell and unlocked the heavy
steel door to the musty little room where he had left her. She was
sitting on the small dilapidated cot when he entered the room. He
had expected her expression to reflect more anger than fear, and he
wasn't disappointed.

Natalie glared at him. "What are you trying to prove by doing
this?" she snapped. "Nick *will* find me. He's probably on his way
here right now."

"Nicholas would not come unless he was sure you were here, Dr.
Lambert," Lacroix replied. "He has too much pride to admit to me
the loss of such a meaningful part of his... charade of a life."

"Charade of a life?" Natalie countered. "That's an interesting
phrase, coming as it does from someone who is dead."

'She's doing what she does best,' Lacroix mused, 'annoying
me'. "A valid point," he chuckled. "I have no wish to harm you,
doctor, but unusual events have been known to occur during this
particularly irritating time of year and I'm determined to find out
why." He grinned tauntingly at her. "I'm simply removing you from
the equation for the duration."

When Lacroix moved to take a step towards Natalie, a strange
man suddenly appeared between them. He was a foot shorter than
Lacroix and dressed in a tattered white robe. He appeared very old
and sported matted grey hair that hung well past his shoulders. The
skin of his face was wrinkled, and although his features were
ordinary, his large blue eyes blazed with the fury of a formidable
power. "Who are you?" Lacroix demanded, intimidated by the
realization that his inner senses did not warn him of this man's
imminent arrival.

The stranger smiled. "Someone you will surely never know," he

As Lacroix looked into the man's eyes, his growing uneasiness
transformed into outright fear. He tried to mutate into a vampiric
state, but his efforts were to no avail. "Leave!" he finally
demanded, in a tone meant to sound like anger, but sounding very
much like fear.

"Who *are* you talking to?" Natalie blurted out, both amused
and afraid of the sight of Lacroix speaking to thin air.

Her statement shook Lacroix. "You don't see him?"

"What? A ghost?" Natalie mocked uneasily.

Lacroix scowled at her for only an instant before focusing his
attention back on the intruder.

"She can't see me," the apparition advised him airily. His
voice took on a more sombre tone as he continued, "You're
interfering in the work of something more powerful than yourself,
Lacroix, and I've come to put an end to your interference."

Lacroix opened his mouth to speak, but the stranger raised his
arm in a halting motion and spoke harshly, "Nicholas does not
belong to you," he said, "and that is all you will remember. Sleep

Natalie watched Lacroix slump forward and drop to the floor
with an exceptionally satisfying thud.

* * * * * *

Nick arrived at Nat's building only to find her car in the
parking lot and her apartment empty. The state of her bedroom
worried him ?? it wasn't like Nat to leave her room in a mess and
her bed unmade. He quickly returned to the front door and checked
the hall closet. Finding her coat and boots there, he was relieved
by the presumption that she was visiting someone in the building.
Fighting back a foolish impulse to go down to the lobby and push
every button on the entry board, Nick made himself comfortable on
her couch. By the time ten o'clock rolled around, his sense of
unease had progressed right through worry and into the heart of
anxiety. He finally left her apartment and traversed every hallway
in the building, but unearthed neither her distinctive heartbeat,
nor her unique scent. Praying that the mysterious force who twice
before came into their lives was the only thing responsible for her
disappearance, he left the building and drove the Caddy back to the

Nick couldn't think of another single place to check for Nat.
She was supposed to be sick in bed and she wasn't anywhere. Not at
the morgue, not at Sarah's, and no one had any idea where she might
be. By the time he stepped out of the lift, he had relegated
himself to spending Christmas trying to determine what he had done
wrong. Nick was heading towards the kitchen when he noticed the
sound of his shower running and made a speedy detour upstairs. Just
as he entered his bedroom, the sound of water stopped.

"Nat!" he shouted at the closed ensuite door.

"I'll be out in a sec!" she shouted back.

Nick paced the carpet waiting for her. Moments later, she
emerged wrapped in a bright yellow bath towel. "Nice colour," she
said with a sly grin.

"When and how did you get here?" Nick asked. "Your car's still
at your place."

Nat simultaneously adjusted her towel and shrugged her
shoulders. "I just don't know, Nick," she replied. She pointed to
a simple wooden chair in the corner of the room. "I woke up sitting
over there, but all I can remember is you telling me we were going
to the loft. At least I thought it was you. It was more than
strange that I was in my pyjamas and robe, but this cold has been
playing a real number on my head lately."

"It wasn't me, Nat," Nick said. "I've been out looking for you
all evening." He reached into his pocket with more than a little
trepidation. The disappearance of the card last year was a signal,
and with that thought in mind he hoped his pocket would be empty.
No such luck. "It's still here, Nat," he remarked as he withdrew
the card. But when he opened it, he noticed two new lines had been
added. They read the card together, "Reflect on this / Where there
is love there is hope / Faith lights the way ?? / three rare moons
will mark the day."

Nick could barely contain his excitement. He literally ran
over to a small table next to the sidechair and started rifling
through a pile of magazines and papers in search of a calendar. "I
know there's one here somewhere," he mumbled under his breath.

Nat's emotions ran quite the opposite of Nick's. "What's a
*rare* moon, Nick?" she pleaded. "Not a full moon, not a phase. A
blue moon? Three of them? Whatever it is, it sounds like an awfully
long time."

Calendar in hand, Nick returned to her and embraced her. "It
can't be too long a time, Nat," he said reassuringly. "We've
already been to the future, and we were together there."

They sat down on the bed together and Nat started leafing
through the pages of the calender. "This one doesn't show the
phases of the moon," she said. "Rare moon, blue moon, half moon,
full moon, new moon, new day, new month, new year, new life...".
She flipped over December, 1999, and stared at the back cover. It
depicted a condensed calendar for the following year. "Now there's
something so rare," she said, "even you haven't seen it in your

"What's that?" Nick asked.

Natalie was pointing out the year '2000' to him when it
finally clicked. "Three rare moons!" she exclaimed. "Three rare
circles! That's when you're going to become mortal! Mortal

"And faith will light the way," Nick added enthusiastically.
"Though we still have to figure that one out."

"And whether or not we'll be able to be together tonight," Nat
said. She gazed at Nick and asked, "What if we can't?"

Nick responded with a soft kiss on her lips. "It doesn't
matter," he said. "One more year and we'll never be apart. You are
still my dompna."

Natalie blushed. "But our relationship isn't exactly chaste
anymore, Nick," she reminded him.

"Nonetheless, my soul is in your hands," he replied with a
heart melting smile. He leaned over and nuzzled her ear
seductively. "I love you on all levels," he whispered, "levels
platonic and levels erotic."

Natalie was quick to put her hand to his chest. "No talking
dirty unless you mean it," she quipped, "especially when I'm
dressed... or rather undressed like this."

"I do mean it," Nick whispered in her ear, realizing he had
just been given another twenty?four hour gift of mortality. As he
embraced her, he felt something suddenly jab into his chest.
"What's this?" he asked, reaching into his shirt pocket. He pulled
out a tiny white box and grinned at Nat, "How did you sneak this in

"Where would I hide anything?" Nat asked incredulously,
gesturing with her eyes at the towel she wore.

Nick chuckled. "Another clue?"

"You won't know until you open it."

Nick carefully removed the lid. The inside of the box was
lined with a white cotton bed that held a necklace. He picked it up
by the long gold chain and dangled it in the air. The pendant was
a simple gold heart nearly an inch across at its widest point. A
raised silver cross adorned both sides of the heart. He studied it
for a moment before dropping it into Natalie's waiting hand.

She admired the jewellery for a few seconds before deftly
slipping it over Nick's head before he had a chance to resist.
"Faith lights the way," she said. "You've danced around it for
centuries, Nick. I think we're being told that it's time for you to

Nick smiled and kissed her. The pendant fell to his chest and
he snapped back slightly when it touched his skin.

Natalie caressed his cheek. "Does it hurt?"

"It burns a bit," Nick replied as he moved his lips towards hers,
"but it's a pain I can live with."

-- The End --

My apologies for the lengthy delay in getting this story done. It’s the final one of a Nick&Nat Xmas series that started with “Winter Wonderland” as a Challenge back in ‘96, followed by “Countdown” for Xmas ‘97, and ‘Three Rare Moons’ for Xmas ‘98. You should have at least read the last story, which gives enough background to understand this one.

Inhuman Pride
by: Susan B.
Based on characters from Forever Knight, etc.
Nick was frantically rifling through the pockets of his leather jacket as he stepped out of the lift and into his dimly lit living room. Then he searched the pockets of his bluejeans for the umpteenth time, all to no avail. “It’s gone,” he lamented as he strode across the room to the sofa. Plopping himself down, Natalie’s words rang through his mind as clearly as they had just over a year ago, when she had first spoken them, ‘I think we’re being told that it’s time for you to commit’, she had said. “Some commitment,” Nick moaned, “I lost it.” He envisioned her slipping the necklace over his head the previous Christmas and reciting the words that had been added to their Christmas card by unseen hands, ‘Faith lights the way’.

The simple gold heart with its raised silver cross had burned him where it touched his skin, but he had avowed it was a pain he could live with. But as time unfolded, he had often found himself temporarily removing this symbol of freedom and redemption and tucking it away into a dark pocket. The ritual wasn’t because of the minor physical pain the cross caused him, but because the symbol weakened him... weakened the vampire. Because it curbed his ability to do his job the way he had always done it. Only now, with the New Year scant hours away and the pendant missing, did Nick finally find the courage to ask himself if the end always justified the means... if the end ever justified the means. Was he truly redeeming himself by using the powers of darkness to do good deeds, or was he simply committing the most heinous form of blasphemy against God? Nick had always thought that it was the former, but right now his heart was telling him that nothing could be further from the truth. A gentle knocking at his stairwell door tugged him from his growing confusion, and he methodically stood up and went to answer the call.

“Why didn’t you ride up?” Nick asked as he invited Natalie in.

“I tried,” she said, nodding towards the modest freight elevator. “I think it’s broken.”

Nick momentarily glanced over at the lift as he helped her out of her brown winter coat. “It was working a few minutes ago,” he said.

Even through her thick woolen sweater, Natalie shivered. “It probably seized up from the cold in this place. I bet I can see my breath.” She teasingly blew into the air.

“I’m certain it’s not that cold,” Nick insisted, “but I will turn up the heat.”

“And maybe a fire?” Nat asked hopefully as she watched Nick step over to the wall and adjust the thermostat. He turned to face her and a forlorn expression overcame his face.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice laden with concern.

Nick took a few steps towards her. “I lost the pendant,” he quietly admitted.

“Nick? What do you mean you lost it? The new year starts in less than two hours. Three rare moons will mark the day!”

“I took it off during my shift, Nat. There was a perp. He had just knifed a store clerk. He was going to get away unless I stopped him.” Nick stared down at his shoes and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what happened to it after that,” he explained. “I couldn’t find it in my pocket. I went back later and searched the area, but with all the people that had arrived by then for the fireworks...”

“You weren’t supposed to take it off!” Nat exclaimed, “Ever!” She stormed towards him. “Don’t you understand what the word *commit* means, Nick!?” She stopped suddenly, four feet away from him, and an involuntary shudder ran down her spine. She lowered her voice and cautiously asked, “Have you ever done this before?”

Nick averted his eyes from her questioning stare.

“Nevermind,” Natalie gasped. She spun around and rushed for the door. “You just gave me your answer!”

Nick stared after her. He wanted to scream out her name, but all that passed his lips was a pitiful sounding, “Nat... Nat...”

Unfazed by his sorry attempt, Natalie raced out of the door and down the stairs.

* * * * *
Her face was stained with tears as she got behind the wheel of her car and started the ignition. Just as quickly, she shut it off and lay her forehead against the steering wheel. “How could you, Nick?” she sobbed, “how could you?” She had spent the entire year believing that he had worn the pendant faithfully. She knew wearing the cross negated his vampire powers, as it did all vampires, and she had earnestly believed that he had stopped relying on those powers. Nothing she had seen during the year indicated otherwise. It was all too obvious to her now that he had merely ‘cut back’ -- that he had treated the mysterious gift with the same enthusiastic disregard that he bestowed her protein shakes.

At least she could partially understand his lack of enthusiasm for the shakes. He had always believed that his condition was metaphysical, that it would take something more than mortal science to reverse his immortal curse. At least she had that reasoning to comfort her when she despaired of his reluctance to follow her scientific medical advice. But the pendant was a gift from an intangible force that had the power to move both of them through time... the ability to make Nick mortal! If Nick truly believed Lacroix’s explanation, that some dark invisible force is responsible for making vampires what they were, how could Nick treat a more benevolent transcendental force so callously?

Natalie lifted her head off the steering wheel and shook it as though to clear away her thoughts, and her pain. Nick was now standing beside the car, pounding at the driver’s window and begging her to open it. Natalie restarted the ignition and simply idled the car for several long seconds before finally relenting and rolling down the window. She turned to face him.

“I’m sorry, Natalie,” Nick blurted out. “It was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it. I was stupid. I thought I was doing the right thing. I didn’t really see how wrong I was until tonight.”

The despair in his voice spurred more tears from Nat. “I don’t know why God hasn’t sent a lightning bolt straight down through your head, Nick Knight!” she shouted through her tears. Nat slammed the car into drive and pushed down hard on the accelerator.

Nick stood motionless as he watched her car tear out of the parking lot. He stood there for several more minutes before finally returning to his apartment. “Oh, God, what have I done!” he lamented. Crying had never been easy for him, but tonight proved to be the exception. He noticed Nat’s coat still hanging by the door, and the bloodtears started to roll down his cheeks. How could a year that had begun with such joy, end in such sorrow. The entire year started to flash through his mind, beginning with the night after receiving his gift, the last time he had ever visited the Raven.


Clad in his customary black, Lacroix appeared at the bar seemingly from nowhere, carrying a large leather bound book. He gave a slight nod to Janette who was seated, and then glared at Nick who stood beside her. “What is it this time?” he asked Nick, the vaguest hint of annoyance in his voice. “Have you come for advice yet again?” Lacroix rhythmically tapped his pale fingers against the soft brown leather. “You might try reading yourself once in awhile, Nicholas,” he crooned.

“Actually, I came to speak with Janette,” Nick said. “To say goodbye.”

Lacroix offered a wicked smile. “You’ve finally given up this absurd quest for mortality? You are leaving your mortal friends and moving on? Leaving your... Dr. Lambert?”

“On the contrary,” Nick stated, “I’ve finally come to realize that my visits are an impediment to my ‘absurd quest’ as you so wrongly put it.”

“And this remarkable insight only took you... how many years to realize?” Lacroix asked sarcastically. He thought he should be reacting with practised anger, but inexplicably could find no passion for it. In truth, Nicholas’ steadfast gullibility, the very quality that had rendered Lacroix centuries of amusement, so rarely showed itself these days that Nicholas had become little more than an eternal bore. “Do as you wish,” Lacroix stated with a rarely heard honesty.

Leaving a stunned Janette and Nick at the bar, the imposing vampire turned around and casually headed towards the private room at the back of the Raven. “He came here to say he won’t be coming here anymore,” Lacroix muttered to himself. “Typical Nicholasense.”

“He is sincere,” Janette gasped as Lacroix slipped out of sight. She cast an intent stare at Nick. “Perhaps he has finally tired of you. No condemnation, no argument. Perhaps you have finally found your freedom,” she whispered. “Or perhaps after two thousand years, he has finally come to realize how passe patriarchy is.”

Perplexed, Nick sat down on the empty barstool next to Janette before speaking, “He has always insisted that our souls were eternally and irrevocably entwined.”

“We are no different from any other that he has brought over,” she said. “It is only delusion that makes it so. Another’s soul may be tainted, but never claimed.” Janette glanced towards the path that Lacroix had just taken. “Even he does not have that kind of power.”

Nick chuckled. “As I recall, you once informed me that I no longer had a soul, that I lost it when Lacroix brought me across.”

Janette returned his gaze. “And as I recall, mon cher,” she began, “you claimed to be living among these mortals in an effort to find it. Always the puppy, spinning in circles to find its own tail.” She rose to leave. “While I do not believe that everyone has a soul,” Janette said, “I am certain of this. If you did not have one, you would not spend so much time worrying about it.”

<<End Flashback>>

That was the last time he had seen either of them. He had broken his ties to the vampire world just as he had countless times in the past, and clung tightly to the mortal life he had made for himself. His hope burned more brightly than ever with the knowledge that Lacroix would no longer challenge his desire for mortality. And he had never doubted Natalie’s interpretation of ‘three rare moons’. Never. He and Nat had spent countless hours agonizing over every decision in the present, uncertain whether this would change their future, or that would change their future. In a particularly sombre mood one night, Natalie took his hands in hers and in a moment of private revelation quashed both of their fears when she said, “Remember, Nick. Faith lights the way. We have to stop questioning and just believe in our hearts.” Since that moment, his only question had ever been, ‘Will I awake as a mortal on the first day of 2000 as easily as I awoke as a vampire that fateful night in 1228?’ That was his only question until tonight anyway, when he suddenly realized that every time he removed the symbol of light to strengthen the darkness, he was breaking faith.

The rattling of the window shutters as they intercepted a gust of cold wind startled Nick from his reverie. “No wonder she was cold,” he mumbled as he strode over to shut the open window. Peering outside, Nick noticed that it had started snowing and that the pavement below was already covered in a thin layer of white. He heard the sound of bells ringing out from a distant church, marking the time. It was eleven o’clock, and with every stroke of the bell a new wash of agony tore through his heart. “God, forgive me,” he pleaded to the night sky. Nick waited in silence until the bells finished their song, and then he donned his coat and left.

Natalie pulled into the parking lot of her apartment building a mere ten minutes after she sped out of Nick’s parking lot. “I should be used to this by now,” she muttered. “I should have expected it. God, Nick, why didn’t you tell me?” Whether he didn’t tell her out of guilt or just didn’t think it was important, she wasn’t certain. Her mind scrambled back in time, searching for anything, anything at all that would point to the truth. Did he go out of his way to hide anything? She didn’t think so. Were his little slip-ups so infrequent that it was mere coincidence she didn’t know about them? She certainly hoped so. And did she just forsake him when he needed her the most? Her heart wouldn’t let her ponder that question. “Yes I did,” she declared..

Nat got out of her car and started walking.

* * * * *

Nick parked the caddy on the street and walked up the slight rise of snow covered lawn in front of St. Mark’s church. He sat down on a wrought iron bench that faced the massive grey stone walls, and let his eyes follow the tall steeple up to the copper clad spire and beyond, to the cross that adorned its top. Then he lowered his gaze and stared at the wooden entrance doors, and at the soft light that emanated from the stained glass windows on either side of them. He yearned for comfort here tonight, but all he felt was a suffocating veil of shame.

Nick was suddenly startled by a stranger whose approach he did not sense. It was an old man with long grey hair. He was very thin and somewhat shorter than Nick. He was dressed in a wrinkled beige trench coat and short black boots. A tattered brown woolen scarf was wrapped haphazardly around his neck.

“I’ve seen you here before,” the man remarked as he brushed a patch of newly fallen snow from the bench. “Many times I’ve seen you out here, but you never go inside.” He sat down to the left of Nick.

Nick studied the man’s features. The face was gaunt and wrinkled, the nose pronounced, and the eyes were very large and very blue. “I’ve never noticed you before, Mr....?”

“Smith,” the man replied.

“Mr. Smith,” Nick chuckled, “of course.”

The stranger momentarily glanced down at his own rumpled clothing. “I’m not a very noticeable sort,” he replied with a grin. “Is this your church?” he asked. “Are you one of those Catholic fellows?”

“I was once,” Nick replied sombrely. “A very long time ago.”

The old man jutted a bony finger out towards the Anglican church across the road to the left. “Perhaps you’re one of those now?” he asked. Before Nick had a chance to respond, the man swung his arm over to the right, barely missing Nick’s face. He pointed towards a synagogue down the street. “Or those?”

Nick recalled his several failed attempts at reintegrating himself back into the Church, back into the religion that had been his mortal inheritance. After everything he had seen, everything he had done, the ritual was too redundant. “What does it matter?” he asked glumly.

“Precisely,” the old man answered. “A confession that lacks sincerity is but a ruse.” He looked inquiringly at Nick and asked, “Do you give from your heart, or out of a sense of obligation to your Church?”

For a brief moment, Nick had thought the peculiar man had something important to tell him; but it was clear to him now that Mr. Smith was simply in need of some cash. Nick pulled out a few crumpled bills from his pocket. “Here,” he said as he offered the money. “Being one without a Church, consider it a gift from my heart.”

The old man laughed. “You misunderstand the meaning, son,” he said, refusing Nick’s monetary offer with a wave of his hand. “Best not to confuse faith in the pageantry of mortal religion, with faith in Him.”

“I understand,” Nick said, amused at this stranger’s timely use of the most relevant words, “and thanks for the advice.”

“Then I have only one piece more,” the man whispered, “behind you.” Nick moved his body slightly and turned his head towards the street where the caddy was parked. The man continued, “Believing it right to park illegally because you are on your way to Church is the epitome of arrogance.”

Nick instantly spun around, but the man had vanished. Suddenly, he heard Natalie’s voice behind him.

“I thought I’d find you here,” she said.

“Did you see him?” Nick asked.

“See who?”

“The old man,” Nick replied. “There was an old man here just a second ago.”

Nat surveyed the snow covered ground as she stepped around to the front of the bench. “Well, you’re supposed to be the detective, Knight, but I only see one set of footprints here in the snow.” She shot him a mildly accusing look, “Unless you fl...”
“I didn’t,” Nick quickly interjected, “and I don’t intend to ever again.” He stood up and snugly embraced her. “I can’t find the words to tell you how sorry I am for being so blind, Nat, and I can’t find the words to tell you how relieved I am that you’re here.” He held on to her even more tightly, and whispered into her ear. “I wasn’t certain you would ever let me hold you like this again. I think I could bear the rest, Nat, at least for a while; but I couldn’t bear that.”

“We’ll be okay,” Natalie whispered back to him, “we’ll be okay.” All she wanted to do was hold him. Comfort him. Let him comfort her. She didn’t want to think about the significance of the missing locket, but the wretched thought ripped through her mind anyway -- the thought that Nick might have inadvertently destroyed his most promising chance at mortality yet. She didn’t want to cry either, but she did that too. She clung to him tightly in a courageous effort to muffle her sobs with his body, but the slight heaving of her own body betrayed her.

When Nick detected the first scent of her tears, he relaxed his embrace only enough to lightly kiss her damp cheeks. “Can you ever forgive me?” he pleaded softly.

Natalie looked up into his forlorn eyes. She was silent for a long moment, and then delicately cupped his face in her hands. “Where there is love there is hope,” she whispered. “It was our first message, three long years ago. I haven’t forgotten it, Nick.” She then took his hands in her own and briefly kissed his lips. “Of course I forgive you,” she said. “I’ll always forgive you. No matter how angry I might get with you, I’ll always love you.”

Nick smiled and spoke softly, “Then there is still hope for me,” he said, “for no matter how many dimwitted things I do to earn your wrath, I’ll always love you.”

A warm chuckle escaped Nat’s lips. “I think you’ve just managed to make me laugh and cry at the same time,” she said. She dabbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater.

“You must be freezing,” Nick said, “let’s go home.” He took her hand in his own and escorted her to the caddy. “There is a promise yet to be fulfilled,” he said, hoping that she didn’t notice the uncertainty in his voice. Hoping it with all his heart.

* * * * *

“It’s much warmer in here now,” Natalie commented as they entered the loft. She headed straight for the kitchen, mentally dusting away her nagging doubts along the way. She lifted the pot from the coffeemaker and poured herself a cup of hot coffee. “Tomorrow night we’ll be drinking this together,” she said.

Nick glanced at her as he hung up his jacket, and then he made his way over to the couch. “That person I told you about at the Church, Nat, I think he may have been more than what I believed at the time. He said some unusual things.”

“Such as?”

“He talked about faith. And he used the word ‘mortal’. ‘The pageantry of mortal religion’. That’s what he said.”

Natalie approached him, sipping carefully from her mug at the same time. “And he left no footprints,” she added between sips.

“I think it was a message,” Nick continued. He started emptying his pockets, tossing everything onto the coffee table. As he sat down, he tossed the small wad of bills on the table and it made a sharp clunking sound. The noise captured both his and Nat’s attention. The missing pendant was on the table.

Natalie sat down with him. “I thought you said you lost it.”

“I did.” Nick reached out and picked up the necklace. “I offered the man money and he waved it off. He must have tucked it into the bills somehow. But surely I would have noticed that? Nick gave Nat an incredulous stare. “Now I *know* he had a message for me. I just have to figure out what that message is.”

“Can you remember exactly what he said?”

“I understand the first part,” Nick replied, “about confusing faith in the Church with faith in God.” He shook his head sorrowfully. “I understand it only too well. I was raised to believe that the Church did God’s bidding, and I witnessed only brutality committed in His name... I committed brutality in his name. Such was my church. The Cathars cry out that war is wrong for Christians, and the Pope cries out for the extermination of the heretics.” Nick gazed solemnly at Nat. “This is something I *lived*, Natalie, not something I only read about in the history books.”

“It was a time of fear and ignorance,” Nat reminded him, “and neither are unheard of even today.”

“Ignorance I understand,” Nick acknowledged. “I turned my disillusionment with the Church into disillusionment with God, and then turned away from Him at the most inopportune time.”

“And you think this has something to do with the man’s message?”

“I think he understands that I’ve not yet been able to come to terms with a Church whose past is as savage and bloody as my own. I think he was trying to tell me that it’s alright. That it doesn’t matter which Church I belong to or whether I belong to any at all. That what’s in my own heart is what truly matters.”

“I didn’t doubt that for a moment,” Natalie proclaimed. “I’ve seen you cringe at much more than just the cross.” She laid her hand gently on his arm. “So what part of the message don’t you understand?”

Nick smiled. “He made reference to my car being parked where it shouldn’t have been. He said it was arrogant for me to think it was okay to park there because I was going to Church.”

Natalie’s face instantly paled. “Oh, no!” she exclaimed.

“What is it?”

Natalie stared at him. “Using your vampire powers to catch the bad guys, Nick.”

“But why would he even come to me if ...”

Natalie sighed heavily. “I don’t know,” she said. “Is arrogance enough to keep you from being forgiven and becoming mortal?” Her tone suddenly became more anxious. “Or was he teasing you? He could have been teasing you. Couldn’t he have simply been teasing you, Nick?”

Nick struggled for several long seconds trying to remember the tone of the man’s voice at that point in the conversation, but he couldn’t. He quickly draped the necklace around his neck and leaned back into the couch. He pulled Natalie tightly to him. Nick closed his eyes. “I’m not sure,” he muttered as the church clock struck midnight. Nick and Nat inexplicably fell into a curious sleep, and Nick started to dream.

He found himself sitting in a wheat field, surrounded only by tall golden wheat, blue sky, and silence. A man, clad in a long white robe, was sitting with him. “I know you,” Nick said, “you were at the Church.” He was the same man, but the eyes were different. They were a brighter blue -- luminous somehow.

“Do you really understand, Nicholas de Brabant?” the man bluntly asked. “Do you really understand what faith is?” He gestured towards Nick’s pendant.

“I have faith,” Nick maintained. “I’m sorry I ever took it off. I thought I was doing right.”

“But you know doing right was not always the all of it. You have made much progress, but a stumbling block yet remains... and what of it?”

Nick shook his head doubtfully.

“The truth is in your heart. Speak it.”

Nick gently fingered the cross. It didn’t hurt him here, in this place. “There have been times,” he ruefully confessed, “when I have removed it without just cause. When no life was in jeopardy. When I was simply unwilling to accept my own defeat on a level, mortal, playing field.”

“Pride is the most difficult thing of all to let go of,” the old man said. “It is what allows the vampire to kill without remorse. Absolute faith in his own importance, no matter the cost to others.” He cast a stern stare at Nick. “That same pride stopped you from ending your misery before it began, before you took your first life. It has stopped you countless times since. You have always been too arrogant to face the possibility that you might no longer exist, regardless of how many other lives you have ended.”

“I’m not the same man I was then,” Nick avowed. “I no longer fear extinction, I only fear the damnation of my soul.”

“And if your soul merits damnation? Are you prepared to accept that if it is His will? Your judgement is long past due, Brabant. Will you humble yourself before God and accept it, no matter the outcome?”

“Yes,” Nick bluntly replied, realizing the truth of his predicament. Realizing, finally and totally, that it was not the place of flesh and bone to seek quarter from spirit.

“Your transgressions might have been the end for you, had it not been for Natalie,” the man continued. “But promises were made to you both.” He now smiled warmly at Nick. “Did you know that she prays for your soul? Did you know that she does it everyday?”

“I didn’t know,” Nick muttered, now wishing he had.

The man put his hand to Nick’s forehead as he spoke. “The vampire fears the light with good reason,” he said, “but you needn’t worry about the antithesis of demonic possession. I’ll not be long at the task, and you’ll not be speaking in ancient tongues and spreading sweetness and light about the earth. Not that it couldn’t use some of that, mind you, but a soul cannot be forged in a land that flows with the proverbial milk and honey.”

As the man stroked Nick’s forehead, Nick began to feel drowsy. He could hear the man’s voice softly now within his own mind. He could feel the purity of the light stripping away the tethers of evil. He could feel the joyous passion of his own gentle soul as it rose up, enveloping and consuming the darkness that had confined it for so very long. The voice in his mind continued in rhythmic fashion. “Do you know that He has always been a part of your soul, Brabant? That His light cannot be devoured by darkness? That His whisper cannot be drowned by blood?”

“I have always heard His whisper,” Nick mumbled, “in the mortal conscience I could not shed.”

“The Brabant line ends with you, Nicholas,” the man continued. “Your unborn children were your first sacrifice to your physical immortality. They are as lost to you as the children of your victims are lost, and they will never be replaced. This will be your mortal sorrow. The rest will fade in time.”

A flash of light suddenly exploded in Nick’s mind, and he woke to find Natalie’s head draped across his chest. Stirring from her own unworldly induced sleep, she started mumbling, “Nick? What happened.”

When she made motions to get up, Nick started to stroke her hair. “Stay where you are and rest, Nat,” he said. “We just fell asleep.” He wondered how long it would take her to realize that he was alive, that his heart was thumping madly in his chest. He wasn’t left wondering for very long.

Natalie eased her head from Nick’s chest and looked directly at him. “Nick?”

“Yes, it’s beating,” he said knowingly. “And it will be beating until I die -- or until you break it.”

“Then it will beat until you die,” Natalie promised. She eased herself into a sitting position without jeopardizing her proximity to Nick. “Love, hope, and faith have paid off?”

Nick smiled and slipped his arm around her. “I wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for you, Nat,” he said. “You prayed for me. Everyday.”

Natalie blushed slightly. “How did you know that?”

“A recent discovery,” Nick conceded. He leaned over and kissed her fleetingly on the lips. “I know wouldn’t have made it otherwise.”

“You’ve seen that disappearing man again, haven’t you?”

“In my dream,” Nick told her, “or whatever that was. He destroyed the vampire with a single breath, and let me experience the full intensity of an unbridled soul.” Nick suddenly laughed at himself. “I thought I knew what a soul was,” he said, “but I knew nothing. Ethereal majesty is concealed from earthly mind, both mortal and vampire alike.”

Natalie couldn’t think of a response. Nick had obviously experienced something she couldn’t fully comprehend, but that wasn’t an unusual circumstance when it came to him.

Nick and Nat just held each other for several minutes, Nick savouring the moment of his long awaited deliverance, and Nat contemplating the beginning of a real future together. A future that loneliness would have no part of, for either of them. Her silent reverie was soon interrupted by Nick’s warm lips nuzzling her ear.

“When was the last time I told you that I love you?” he whispered.

Natalie gently caressed his cheek. “I think it was over an hour ago,” she replied, “so by all means, feel free.”

Nick lightly kissed her lips and then smiled. “And when was the last time I made love to you?” he whispered.

“I believe it was over a year ago,” Nat replied, “so by all means...”

-- The End --