Nick chased after the suspect, followed by Schanke and a team of back-up officers. It was supposed to be a routine arrest. The DNA results had finally come back positive and Cohen had obtained a warrant. There was no way Pete Thornton could escape jail for the murder of his wife.
It was just ill timing that Thornton stepped out of his house the moment the Caddy and two squad cars parked further down the street. He recognized the squad cars and gave chase before Nick had an opportunity to send Schanke and the officers around the back to cut off Thornton's escape.
Now their suspect was running down the street. Nick was several meters ahead of his fellow officers, but not far enough to take to the air unnoticed. He hoped Thornton would turn a corner giving Nick the cover he needed. Instead Thornton stopped, crouched behind a car and fired.
"Get down!" Nick yelled to his colleagues, aware that there was nothing they could use as cover. It was only a matter of time before anyone was hit. He himself remained standing and aimed his gun. When Thornton came up from behind the car to release another shot, Nick fired.
The instant cessation of a beating heart told Nick that he had hit the target.
"I think you nailed him," Schanke observed after several moments of silence. "Great shot! How were you able to see that far in the dark?" When Nick neither moved nor said anything, Schanke moved towards him. "Nick? Are you okay?" He gently pried Nick's gun from his grasp and turned to the uniforms. "Parker and Daniels, check out the perp."
A short time later the officers confirmed the death of their suspect. "Call the M.E.," Schanke ordered before turning back to his partner who was still standing motionless in the middle of the street. "Nick, are you okay?"
"I don't know, Schanke," he finally replied. "I just killed a man."
Schanke suppressed a shiver at the words which were uttered completely devoid of any emotion. He had seen the faces of many killers and right now, his partner looked like one. Then it hit him. "Was that your first?"
"What?" Nick's face snapped towards him, a hint of disbelief on his features.
"You never had to take someone down before," Schanke concluded.
"Oh, that's right. This is the first time I shot someone in the line of duty," Nick stated with emphasis on the verb.
"Well, we all can attest that it was self-defense. If you hadn't shot, he would have killed us. IA won't give you any trouble with this one. The paperwork sucks though."
"Schanke, do me a favour? Can you wrap up here? I need to get home."
"Sure, no problem. Don't take this harder than necessary, Nick. The guy was a killer. He deserved it."
"Who am I to judge?" Nick mumbled as he walked back to his Caddy.
* * * *
About twenty minutes later, Natalie pulled up to the scene.
"Hey Schank, where's your partner?" she greeted the detective who intercepted her on the way to the body.
"Haven't you heard?" Schanke nodded towards the body.
"Only that an officer was involved in the shooting."
"Nick is the one who shot him, Nat. And he's not taking it well."
Natalie nodded. "I'll talk to him after I'm done here."
* * * *
It was an hour after sunrise when Natalie rode up in the lift, mentally preparing herself to face a guilt-ridden vampire. Taking a deep breath to fortify herself, she pulled open the lift door. The loft lay in gloomy twilight. A haunting tune came out of the television and she recognized the 1931 version of Bela Lugosi's Dracula. In the shadows on the couch she made out Nick, cradling a bottle in his hands.
Letting out the breath she had been holding, she walked into the kitchen, placed her bag on the table and removed her coat. After fixing a cup of coffee, she settled into an armchair, shifting her attention between the movie and Nick, whose eyes remained glued to the screen without even acknowledging her.
"You shouldn't have come," he remarked wearily after the last of the end credits had rolled across the screen.
Natalie lit the lamp on the end table and reached for the remote to turn off the TV and VCR. "And why not?" she queried. "I heard you saved the day."
"You mean I killed tonight," he corrected her and pushed the empty bottle onto the table.
Natalie furrowed her brows and studied the labelled bottle closer. Consuming what she suspected to be human blood was not what she had expected him doing after shooting someone.
Sitting up, Nick brushed his hand through his hair. "Something's wrong, Nat."
"Nick, you shot someone in the line of duty tonight. What you feel right now is a normal human reaction. Every officer in that situation goes through that."
Nick shook his head. "You don't understand."
"No, I don't. So explain it to me," Natalie insisted patiently.
"What I felt tonight is anything but human." Nick walked over to the fridge and retrieved another bottle. Leaning with his back against the refrigerator door, he continued. "You know how I usually make my arrests. I hunt. Although I can't finish, the knowledge that the suspect goes behind bars is enough. Tonight, I took it a step further. I completed the hunt and killed. And then I felt bereaved. There was no blood to taste, no gorging on the life force, no ecstasy --- just emptiness." Nick lifted the bottle and drank deeply. "I felt the urge to taste what I had been denied." He brushed his fingers caressingly over the bottle. "Janette understood. Sensing my mood, she provided me with something from Lacroix's special reserve."
Natalie paled slightly, not sure she wanted any more details on the ingredients of Lacroix's special reserve. "Did it help?"
"Oh, yes! I feel whole again." Nick stared at the bottle. "And that frightens me."
At Natalie's questioning look he explained, "When I killed that man tonight, I didn't feel any remorse afterwards. If I don't feel guilt, what stops me from doing it again?"
Natalie pinched the bridge of her nose while she processed Nick's train of thought. "How about common sense? I mean, why would you want to shoot someone again?"
"Because I'm a killer. I thrive on the thrill of the kill."
"But you just told me that you felt bereaved of the --- kick."
"It's disgusting, I know," Nick frowned.
Natalie studied him a moment. "Okay, let me get this straight. You shot the man without feeling any remorse. And now you feel guilty about not feeling guilty?"
"Something like that," Nick agreed after letting Natalie's conclusion sink in.
"Maybe that's all it takes to keep you from repeating it," she suggested.
Nick stared at the half full bottle in his hand. "What about this?"
"What about it?" Natalie returned the question.
"I needed it. It's so very different from cow."
"But you can get that anytime from the Raven without having to kill," Natalie reminded him.
"However, it's not what you really want, is it?"
Nick replied with a haunted look.
"You don't want to give Lacroix the satisfaction of seeing you succumbing," Natalie continued, quite aware of Nick's startled look. "So, after finishing that off, you're going to switch back to your usual, won't you?" She held her breath while waiting if Nick would take the bait.
After shifting his gaze between the bottle and Natalie several times, Nick finally relented. "I'll try."
Natalie smiled. "Good. That's all I ask for." She grabbed her coat and bag. "I'll see you tomorrow at work, Nick. Call me if you need to talk."
When the lift door closed behind her, Nick still hadn't moved.
* * * *
During her next shift, Natalie turned after hearing the lab door open and close. Surprised she noticed that Nick had walked in, apparently making a noise on purpose instead of simply appearing behind her.
"Hey, you're working tonight?" she greeted him.
"I just stopped by the precinct to file my report and talk to IA," Nick explained.
"IA cleared me, so now I have three days off in order to deal with what happened." Nick hesitantly took a step closer to her. "Nat, I wanted to thank you for dropping by last night and for not seeing the killer in me."
"It's what friends are for, Nick," she smiled at him and brushed her hand along his sleeve. After a moment of increasingly awkward silence, she asked, "So what are you going to do with three days off?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. You're off as well tomorrow aren't you? Want to come over and watch the Academy Awards?"
"On that large flat screen of yours?" Natalie grinned. "I thought you'd never ask."