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A Strange Comfort

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Sleep evaded Nick. He tossed and turned for an hour or so and then finally rolled out of bed. He tried painting, but tossed that in after he almost slashed a thick black line across his current canvas.

Would he... was he becoming like Erica? Losing the spark which tied him to life?

He flopped down at the piano and pushed the lid up. He skimmed the backs of his fingers along the keys. Thunked black, and then white, and then black again. The notes echoed around the loft. Single sounds that refused to cohere into music. No matter how hard he tried.

That last play... he groaned and closed the lid, gently. He'd found words for Natalie and Schanke, for that girl whose name was already leaving his memory. Katherine, perhaps, or was that her character in the play? That awful, meaningless, utterly maudlin play; it should not have been Erica's last gift to the world.

Computer chess — a lot more fun than playing against oneself — occupied him for a while, but after losing badly three times in a row, he gave up. Switching to solitaire, he began flipping cards. And losing, game after game.

How would he know when it was his time? Had Erica been right to ask him if he was still a part of this world? Was he becoming a burden?

Slumping onto the floor, he picked up the baseball and glove that he — who had given them to him? When and where? Was that one of the warning signs, forgetting people and what they meant to him?

Feeling lost, he tossed the ball at the bare concrete wall. Over and over again, throwing the ball with his right hand, and catching it in the glove on his left. The movement mesmerised him, allowed him to forget about everything. No worries about anything or anyone. Nothing but the feel of the leather in his hand, the thud when the ball hit the wall, the smack of it against the glove. Hour after hour.

The sound of the phone finally pulled him out of the trance. He turned and stared dully at the instrument, ignoring the insistent ringing until the answering machine finally picked up. He listened for the message, but the caller hung up. The sound of the dial tone reverberated through the room until the machine clicked off.

He yanked the glove from his hand, threw it and the ball away, and lay back on the floor. Cracks spidered across his ceiling, forking away from each other and then twining back together. Would counting them be like that legend of vampires and grains of rice?

The phone rang again. "Knight, if you're awake, pick up the damn phone." A pause and then, "Come on. You can't possibly sleep all day." A hand over the phone and then Schanke muttered something that Nick ignored because he wasn't supposed to be able to hear it. "Whatever. Just meet me in the alley across from The Golden Palace an hour after sunset. We've finally caught a lead on that Xiang case."

Hunger growled through Nick, reminding him that it was time to start moving. He took a green bottle out of the bar fridge, pulled the cork with his teeth and drank deeply. Warmth streamed through his body with the blood. A spasm of guilt added to the mix as he realised that he had grabbed a bottle of human blood. He hadn't realised... thought it was all cow. Except for that revolting swill that Nat insisted would prevent him from starving without the blood.

He went to toss the bottle into the fireplace but found himself unable to let go of the neck. There were other paths to mortality, to peace — like the one Erica had chosen. Would the Church consider it suicide if he wasn't really alive?

He shook his head and jammed the cork back into the bottle. Glass clinked as he shoved it to the back of the fridge and pulled out another.

This time, when the phone rang, he walked over to the machine, bottle of cow blood dangling from one hand.

"Nick, it's Nat. You didn't seem quite like yourself last night, so..." Her voice trailed off and she sighed. "Look, if you want to talk, I'm here. And drink some of the new formula along with your usual this morning."

The buzz of her hanging up was cut short by another ring. Good thing he really wasn't sleeping.

"Nicolas, ça suffit. One night of sitting around and brooding is enough. You know Erica would not want you to give up if you do still have something to offer this world." Janette's voice softened, took on the tone that always called him to her. "Tonight, mon grand, come to the Raven and we will spend tomorrow remembering her in the way that she deserves. Not that—" she made a disgusted noise "—travesty of a play that some are calling her memorial."

An ache settling somewhere below mid-chest, he walked over to one of the windows, laid his hand against one of the blinds. The heat of the setting sun had warmed the metal. One small click and there would be no Nat to save him, whether he wanted it or not. He just wished he knew—

Another ring and he growled at the phone, feeling his fangs lengthen and his eyes turn gold.

"Hullo, Mr. Nick ... erm ... Knight. This is... umm... I'm Eric and I'm calling from, sorry, on behalf of ProAction Cops and Kids. Just think, Mr. ...umm... Knight, for as little as $10 you can help... uh... support police officers. Shit." The groan was heartfelt and brought a smile to Nick's face. "Sorry. Forget I said that, okay? And, please, don't call my manager. Anyway, it's a good program and the cops help lots of kids. So, we'll be calling you back at another time, and I hope you'll donate some money so they can help even more kids. Thanks, Mr. Knight."

Laughter bubbled up inside Nick. He could do that. He could have his foundation donate money to that program. Look around and find worthy causes so he could help a few more people. Maybe even Eric himself, because he clearly needed something.

Walking up the stairs to his bedroom and the shower, planning to get ready for another night's work, Nick felt strangely comforted in the knowledge that even Eric, whoever he was, thought Nick had a place in this world.