Nick sat at his desk, trying desperately to bring his mind back to heel and focus it on the case, not his past. He blinked twice, then realized that Schanke was sitting on the corner of his desk, Natalie was staring at him waiting for an answer, and the Captain's door was now open. That meant his temporary reprieve from Natalie's probing, not that she could get too pointed in mixed company, was over. He'd figure out what she or Schanke had been saying later, once he'd spoken to the Captain.
"Excuse me," he said, trying to remember his manners as one more shield against his partner's laissez-faire habits. He stepped into the Captain's office and shut the door behind him.
"Captain, I know you have decided that Schanke and I—"
"Hold it right there, Knight, and don't even try to persuade me otherwise," Stonetree informed him bluntly, looking up from his report. "I get that you have strong trauma responses to fire. I remember the blaze you got caught up in. But this arsonist is killing people before he sets his fires, and that makes him our problem, not anyone else's. You and your partner have the lightest case load right now — by the way, good job on that — so it's yours.
"Now, if you have decided your trauma over fires is so much you can't do it, I can put you on administrative leave, mandatory counseling, and all that hoo-hah… which will kill your career." Stonetree's gaze was both stern and paternal in the moment he said it, but Nick could feel the underlying concern for him.
It still touched Nick, even if he had decided that Stonetree was very much a friend to keep and treasure for as long as his unlife allowed him to. He made himself dip his head to the side, let out a deep breath, and then smile.
"Schanke and I will do our best, Captain."
"I know you will."
"Constable, I posit to you that the man was dead before the fire broke out," Nicholas said with emphasis. "Would that not warrant more investigation than a cursory notice of where the lantern was and how the char marks spread?"
The hard-faced constable met Nicholas's eyes without a single sign of remorse, hesitation, or care for the dead man. In fact, Nicholas was almost certain he saw suspicion, perhaps even malice, in the gaze.
"Fires happen, Citizen. Move along."
"Earth to Nick, again, for the third time tonight!" Natalie was saying as Nick came away from the memories.
"I'm sorry, Natalie. Remembering an instance that parallels the case." He gave her a fond smile, then sipped the vile concoction she had offered this time.
At least he made it to the sink to spit it out.
"You're not even trying," she complained, before switching tracks. "About the case. Schanke said you locked up pretty hard, when you got to the scene, and the firefighters said it was clear to go in."
"Hmm. I did. It won't happen again, though." Nick didn't volunteer the facts of his remembrance or why the locale of the fire and the murder victims had struck him so hard.
"Cause of deaths are still pending, but I can tell you that the younger of the pair was poisoned, doesn't show any signs of suffering from my exam," she offered.
"Small mercies, even in the method of death, are to be accepted, I suppose," he said. "Keep me posted, Nat." He squeezed her shoulder in passing, set the glass in reach for her to finish off if she thought it was so healthy, and moved on. He had a hunch.
Nicholas was waiting, even as the prey moved in for the kill against the young man that cowered, begging for his life, that no one need ever know the nature of the relations between them. When the confrontation was upon the pair, Nicholas sprang, his fangs and eyes betraying his inhuman nature. The cowering man was flung hard against a wall, knocking him unconscious to try and spare him the sight that would soon erupt, as the constable of the previous murder shouted in fear.
"I? Or you, who had a promotion awaiting you, so long as your lovers did not survive to tell that you are a pederast and sodomite?" Nicholas snarled. "Convenient that you could clear each scene as no more than an accidental fire!"
The constable lunged with the blunt club, but Nicholas sidestepped, and swept the man up and out of the building into the night's thick darkness.
He would have to move on, and there would be one more missing man come the morning, but if he had to be a monster, so be it that he use his gifts to hunt the human ones.
"Nick, I never know how you manage to hit the right leads, but man it feels good to put that scuzzball behind bars!" Schanke praised his partner as the uniforms put the suspect into a patrol car.
Nick shook his head. "The profile on the last vic and the one from the other arson we suspected had a common point of reference, Schanke. You would have seen it when you finished running their priors."
Schanke gave a half-nod. "Yeah, I can see how it would have taken me to the gay nightclubs. Both victims had been arrested for soliciting and lewd behavior. But to find out that this guy was preying on them like that? Sick. And he was up for office even!"
Nick gave a hard look back at the departing patrol car. "Some people prefer to make their skeletons more literal when they embark on public life, Schanke. Just a grim facet of human nature."
"Whoa, easy, Nick. You're starting to sound like that cuckoo radio host you like to listen to." He headed for the caddy then, pausing once for Nick to fall in step.
"Maybe I've learned a little too much in this line of work. Or maybe that 'cuckoo' sometimes makes too much sense in what he tells the masses." Nick settled into the driver's seat, and chalked this one up as a good deed.
He hadn't even had to fly the perp away to drop in a convenient river this time.