Lacroix bolted upright in bed. His eyes were blazing red and his fangs extended, ready to attack whatever had caused the searing pain in his veins that had woken him. However, his senses immediately told him that he was alone in his apartment above the Raven. Irritated, he checked the clock. It was two hours past sunrise, meaning he had been asleep for barely an hour. He wiped his brow, noting the sheen of blood that had gathered there. The intense pain he had sensed had not been his own.
Nicholas. Lacroix froze as he noticed the absolute silence, the absence of any vibration in the link that had become his second nature over the past 800 years. Even when Nicholas slept or when he was on the other side of the globe, Lacroix could always discern a background noise that assured him of Nicholas' continued existence. Lacroix swallowed hard, refusing to believe what the lack of vibration implied.
With a trembling hand he reached out for the decanter on the nightstand and poured himself a goblet of blood. He emptied it in hasty swallows, a vain attempt to calm his frayed nerves. A second and a third glass followed suit before the glass cracked between his fingers. When he cast out his senses again, he came up with nothing. In order to rule out any flaw on his part, he checked on his connection to Janette. His daughter – he still preferred to regard her as such – was asleep somewhere in Europe, apparently oblivious to any disaster that may have befallen on her brother.
* * * *
The sun was still above the horizon when Lacroix left the Raven. Either using the PATH or keeping in the shadows of buildings, he carefully made his way to Nicholas' loft. After stepping from the elevator he made a dash to the remote on the kitchen table and pressed the buttons to lower the blinds. A quick search of the loft revealed that nothing was amiss. No pile of ashes and no indication of a fight. Whatever happened to Nicholas had not occurred at the loft. The only peculiarity he noticed was the absence of Nicholas' motor bike that used to occupy the space next to the elevator.
Again he ventured out into the daylight and made his way across town to where he expected to receive an answer and exert his revenge. He stopped a moment to study the Victorian-style three-storey house. The late afternoon glow made entering through the balcony door impossible. Instead he opted for a more mortal way and entered the building through the front door after he had broken the lock. The apartment door was quickly dealt with in the same fashion. Moments later, Lacroix stood in the conveniently darkened hall. Following the sound of a human heart, he found his quarry in the bedroom, sleeping soundly.
On the nightstand he discovered a framed photograph of Nicholas and Dr. Lambert, both smiling into the camera. With a frown he reached out and turned the frame face-down.
Then he perched on the bedside and moved his hand towards Dr. Lambert's throat, pressing gently. He got an immediate reaction. Natalie's eyes shot open while her hands tried to remove Lacroix's iron grip. However, the more she struggled, the tighter the fingers pressed against her throat, slowly cutting off the airflow. "What---?" she managed to rasp.
Lacroix leaned down towards her and hissed, "I will ask only once and I expect a precise answer. What happened to Nicholas?"
Dr. Lambert's fearful expression turned into an angry one. "How ---" When her reply was cut short by a bout of coughs, Lacroix loosened his fingers. "How should I know?" she hissed in return. "I haven't seen him since he walked out on me four nights ago!"
Lacroix raised his eyebrows at the accusatory tone in Dr. Lambert's reply. "Now why would he do such a thing?"
"Why don't you ask him yourself? I'm sure the answer will make you happy."
Lacroix froze. "I'm afraid, I can't," he said hoarsely. "I trust you have all the answers I require." Without warning he grabbed her arm and bit viciously into her wrist.
Ignoring her scream of pain, Lacroix sorted through the information he uncovered in her blood. After a few mouthfuls, he let go of her arm, slightly stunned. "You came up with another concoction and Nicholas refused to take it?" he asked in disbelief.
Natalie glared at him. "Our best shot had been the lidovuterine-B. It suppressed the vampire element in his blood, but only for a while. And there were side effects. For the last month I worked a lot of overtime in order to find a compound that would counteract the side effects. I finally found promising results with naloxone, an antagonist usually given to counteract opioid overdoses. I believe when taken both drugs together, the lidovuterine would work without the euphoric side effects. Yet, when I presented it to Nick, he refused, saying, he didn't want to substitute one dependence for another again."
Lacroix's frown deepened upon recognizing his own words. He stepped away from the bed, turning his back on Dr. Lambert. This was too good to be true. Why did he have to lose him now that he finally seemed to be giving up this ridiculous search for a cure?
"Wait a minute. Why are you asking me what happened to Nick?" Natalie asked concerned. "What's wrong, Lacroix?"
Lacroix closed his eyes against the pain that was threatening to overwhelm him. "I cannot sense him. Our connection has been severed."
"You mean ---"
Turning back to her, Lacroix hissed, "It means he ceased to exist."
"No," Natalie breathed, shaking her head. "There has to be something we can do."
"We can't do anything, Doctor. What I will do is, find out who is responsible, take my revenge and wrap up any loose ends Nicholas may have left behind. I should probably start with you."
Natalie recoiled from the cruel expression on Lacroix's face.
"However, killing you now would be too gentle a verdict for the misery you have inflicted on my son with your vain attempts at suppressing his nature. For a while, you may as well endure the torture each day will bring when your heart aches with sorrow."
He didn't wait for a response, fearing his own sorrow could overwhelm him. From the blood he had taken, he knew the feelings Dr. Lambert harboured towards his son were more akin to his own. They went far beyond the doctor-patient relationship Nicholas had tried to convince him of.
* * * *
The night shift had already started when Lacroix strode into the bullpen at the precinct. From the usual business routine he gathered that Nicholas' coworkers were yet oblivious to his fate. Nicholas' partner, Detective Vetter, eyed him curiously, recognition evident on her face. He would deal with her later. Unerringly he headed to the Captain's office. He knocked for politeness sake, but didn't wait for a reply before entering.
Captain Reese looked up from the papers that were scattered on his desk. "Did I say come in?"
Lacroix settled into the seat in front of the desk. "Let's not waste time with formalities, shall we? What can you tell me about Detective Knight's last whereabouts?"
Reese stared at the man in front of him who had the audacity to simply walk into his office. "Mr. Lacroix, isn't it? The unsolved case of the decapitated corpse at the Raven. What do you want from Detective Knight?"
"That's none of your concern."
"Well, Detective Knight's whereabouts aren't your business," Reese returned.
Lacroix bent slightly forward in his seat. "Au contraire, Captain. Everything concerning Detective Knight is my business."
Lacroix hesitated. "We have a very special relationship. Suffice it to say that I know more about Nicholas than anyone else in this building. In that context, I find it peculiar that none of your people have noticed that he is missing. So, when have you last heard from him?"
Reese's eyes bulged as he processed the information. After a moment of consideration, he rose and walked to the door. "Vetter! Come in for a second." He returned behind his desk and waited until Tracy had stepped into the office and closed the door. "When did you last hear from Nick, Tracy?"
"This morning. He called before dawn and said he was confident about wrapping the case up after another day. They were going to make their move tonight. I'm actually waiting for his call to make the arrest."
"He won't call," Lacroix supplied. "What is this case he was involved in?" he queried, adding a slight mental push to overcome any police regulation issues.
Reese sighed. "Nick accepted an undercover assignment two days ago. He infiltrated a rocker gang who are under suspicion of raiding money trucks. Frank Costan, the leader is a nephew of the district attorney, which is why we have to make the case stick and catch him in the act."
"When Nick called this morning he said that Costan wanted to share his upcoming plan and summoned everyone to a warehouse on Sheppard Avenue at noon," Tracy continued.
"But surely you are aware of his condition that prevents him from working dayshift? Am I to understand that you sent him out there during the day when he is vulnerable without any protection?" Lacroix simmered.
"He said he would be able to handle it," Reese shrugged.
"Of course he would."
Reese rose from his seat. "Okay, Tracy, get four uniforms as backup and check out the warehouse Nick mentioned."
Lacroix rose as well. "I shall meet you there."
"No, you won't. I can't have a civilian involved in this."
Lacroix gave him a chilly smile. "Rest assured, Captain. I am much more than a mere civilian." Turning on his heels, he walked out of the office and left the bullpen. Once in the shadows of the precinct, he rose into the air and settled on the roof of the opposite building in order to observe Tracy Vetter's next move.
As soon as she had driven from the parking lot, accompanied by two squad cars, he followed.
* * * *
"Secure the premises," Tracy told the officers after they had gathered in front of a run-down warehouse.
While the officers scattered about, Tracy walked towards the door, a flashlight in one hand and her gun in the other. She paused briefly at the door, before opening it carefully. A few moments after she had disappeared inside, Lacroix heard her gasp. "Oh, my God!"
He followed her and found her crouched over the body of a man that was lying next to the door, holding a gun in his hand. "Is something amiss, Detective?"
Only when Tracy looked up did he get a glimpse of fang marks on the man's neck.
"This was our prime suspect," Tracy exclaimed, deliberately turning the man's head so that the fang marks were facing to the ground. She pulled out her cell phone and punched a few buttons. "Vetter here. I need a forensics team. One body. Looks like he shot himself. No trace of Nick."
Lacroix used the time Tracy was talking on the phone to examine the body. Before being shot, he was definitely drained by a vampire. Nicholas?
"Detective?" one of the uniformed officers called. "We've found Knight's Caddy and several blotches of what looks like ashes. Seems Costan burned evidence before he did himself in."
Lacroix was out the door in an instant. "Where?"
He eyed the narrow lines of ashes, knowing for certain they had once been a trail of blood before it was exposed to sunlight. The trail led a distance away from the warehouse and ended in a larger pool in front of Nicholas' Cadillac. He lost track of time while he stared at the pile that was diminishing with the rising wind.
"Lacroix?" he heard Dr. Lambert's voice calling his name. Turning around he saw her walking towards him, her arm bandaged where he had bitten her. "Is that your doing in the warehouse?"
"Unfortunately not. He was already dead when I arrived."
"You mean Nick did that?" Natalie blanched.
"A soldier's last lucky blow in battle if you will. I wouldn't find it too unusual, considering that he was injured."
"Injured? How do you ---"
Lacroix pointed at the ashes. "What do think these were, Doctor?"
Natalie stared at the bigger blotch of ashes next to the caddy. "But shouldn't there be more?"
"This happened at least twelve hours ago. The majority may have long been scattered by the wind."
"He could have made it into the trunk," Natalie suggested.
"If he were in the trunk I would sense him, Doctor." To prove his point, Lacroix opened the trunk, revealing its empty interior. Bending down, he gathered a handful of ash from the ground. "This is all that remained." Holding out his hand, he watched transfixed as the fine layer dispersed with the next gust of wind. Then he walked deeper into the shadows and took to the air.
* * * *
Lacroix entered the loft through the skylight. With the one person apparently responsible for Nicholas' death already dispatched, he had no one to exert his revenge on. The only person left to blame was himself for having failed to protect his child. How could he have been so foolish to grant Nicholas his wish for an independent life? If he had stayed with him day and night he could have prevented a disaster like this. There had been a time when Nicholas had welcomed his presence around the clock.
Lacroix closed his eyes as the full impact of his loss hit him. Despite the continued rejection he had always been certain that Nicholas would return to him one day. Like a lifeline, Lacroix had clung to the vision of having him back not only by his side, but also in his bed. Now this line had been severed. Never again would he be able to feel the unrestrained passion, to taste the exquisite blood and revel in the conflicting mix of darkness and light that made his Nicholas so unique. His sole purpose of living had ceased to exist.
Lacroix felt the weight of all his 2000 years. Suddenly he was tired and weary of it all. Instinct told him that the sun had risen. In a desperate attempt to end the pain that was threatening to consume him, he grabbed the remote from the table and pressed the button that opened the blinds.
A moment later he stood in the garish morning sun. He felt his skin melting and knew he had started to smoke. He closed his eyes against the new pain, waiting for it to override the pain in his heart. Instead he was rudely pushed into the shadows.
"What the hell are you doing?" Nicholas hollered as he pulled him out of the deadly rays and closed the blinds.
Lacroix was uncertain if the sun was causing hallucinations. When a wrist was pushed into his field of vision, he bit down. With the first taste of blood he recognized his favourite flavor, a sensation he had thought to never taste again. With a growl he let go of the wrist and sank his fangs into Nicholas' neck.
Although he had already taken enough to heal his burns, he continued to drink.
"Lacroix, stop!" Nicholas rasped.
When Lacroix didn't budge, Nicholas grabbed one of his arms and bit into the wrist. With the constant sucking, Lacroix felt the link re-establishing between them. Uttering a contented sigh, he ceased to drink. He felt whole again.
A short time later, Nicholas released his arm as well. "You thought I was dead?" he inquired.
Lacroix said up and scrutinized his child. Dressed in black leather pants and leather jacket, apparently owing to his undercover assignment, Nicholas looked ravishing as usual. Their bond vibrated with raw intensity after their recent sharing of blood. Nothing seemed to be amiss at the moment. He resisted the urge to send Nicholas flying against the wall in retribution for the emotional trauma he had caused him. Instead he demanded, "I felt intense pain from you yesterday morning and then nothing. What happened?"
"Something went wrong."
"That much is obvious."
"I had to meet a suspect during the day."
"You had to?" Lacroix interrupted. When would Nicholas ever learn not to let himself be commanded around by mere mortals?
"I was undercover investigating raids on money trucks. We needed to catch the gang in the act to make it stick with the DA. Costan, the leader told me to come to a warehouse on Sheppard at noon where he wanted to share his plans for the next raid. The entire operation would have been in vain if I hadn't been able to attend. Nat had come up with a new drug combination. I hadn't planned on taking it after the failure last year, but when I had to be out during the day, I reconsidered. So I went into her lab and injected myself with the drug. It worked. The vampire was gone, and there seemed to be no side effects compared to last time. I was able to be out in the sun. But when I came to the warehouse, I discovered too late that it was a trap. Costan had somehow figured out that I was a cop. He shot me. With the blood loss, I felt the effects of the lidovuterine wearing off. However, the drug didn't just suppress the psychotropic side effects, it also clouded any conscience I had left. I acted on instinct and attacked. I had drained him before I was aware what was happening." Nicholas paused, a conflicting mixture of guilt and delight expressed on his face. "Because it was still daylight, I couldn't dispose of the body, so I made it look as if he had shot himself. Then I dashed to the caddy and spent the remainder of the day in the trunk. After sunset, I stayed deep in the woods of Rouge Park. I didn't trust myself to risk running into Nat or Tracy. I'm afraid I left quite a mess behind. I have no idea if the body has been found yet."
"It has been found," Lacroix provided. "By your partner. However, she seemed determined to hide the bite marks. I don't think she made the connection yet. Of course the same couldn't be said of Dr. Lambert. She realized that the killer had to be you."
Nicholas stared at him in shock. "How do you know all this?"
"Because I reported you missing to your Captain. I needed to find out what they knew about your last whereabouts."
"How could you be so certain that I was dead?"
Lacroix frowned. "I couldn't sense you anymore. And the ashes in the parking lot were quite convincing."
"I couldn't sense you either," Nicholas said thoughtfully. "I found it quite disconcerting. I don't recall that it was like that the last time I took the lidovuterine."
"It wasn't. I can assure you that." Disconcerting didn't even begin to describe the situation.
Nicholas hesitated as he reached for Lacroix's arm. "Lacroix, why were you trying to kill yourself?"
Lacroix's frown deepened. "I promised you my eternal protection and I failed."
"You aren't going to admit it, are you?" A slight smile was playing around Nicholas' lips.
"That you were heart-broken."
Lacroix raised an eyebrow. "You assume a great many things."
"I've taken your blood, remember?"
Of course he remembered that moment of bliss.
Nicholas brushed his hand up and down Lacroix's arm. "I don't want that for you, Lacroix. I'm sorry if my search caused you so much pain."
"But you aren't going to abandon it," Lacroix concluded, frustration evident in his voice.
Nicholas shook his head. "I still want to become mortal again. But I've realized that it's not going to happen with any concoctions or drugs. I can promise you that I will not submit myself to any medical experiments in the future."
Lacroix supposed he should be content with that for now. Since there was no way back, he shouldn't have anything to worry.
"It's getting late. You're welcome to stay the day," Nicholas offered.
"How generous," Lacroix scoffed. "I believe I've already received my share of scorches for today. I wasn't planning on going anywhere."
"Good." Nicholas gave him a mesmerizing smile and headed upstairs.
* * * *
Lacroix stirred in his sleep. He found himself in Nicholas' bedroom, arms wrapped around his precious child. He had followed Nicholas upstairs, unable to let him out of his sight just yet. Focusing on what had woken him, he noticed that the elevator was on its way up.
Without disturbing Nicholas, he disentangled himself from him. He donned Nicholas' discarded red robe and stepped onto the gallery, closing the bedroom door quietly behind him.
A moment later, Dr. Lambert stepped from the elevator. "Oh, here you are?" she commented after discovering him on the gallery.
Lacroix raised his eyebrows and lifted over the railing to join her in the living-room area. "Where else would I be?"
"I left a message for you at the Raven."
The eyebrows rose even higher. "You did? And what was so important that you wished to share, Doctor?"
"When I came to the lab last night, I found a discarded syringe and the vial with the lidovuterine combination was missing. Nick must have taken it. That might explain why you couldn't sense him."
"Indeed. Although I don't recall a lack of sensation after the last time he took it."
"It might have been the dose. The vial contained a higher concentration, and I'm not sure how it interacted with the naloxone. I didn't have the opportunity to conduct a dose escalation study."
"You still haven't seen anything of him?"
"Well, I just wanted to let you know that it doesn't mean he's dead when you can't sense him. It might very well be a side effect of the drug." She stepped back into the lift, adding, "And I filed the body as suicide."
"I do appreciate your information, Doctor," Lacroix breathed before the door closed.
"You do know that was unnecessary," Nicholas commented as he appeared on the gallery, wearing a black kimono.
"Are you already prepared to deal with the consequences of your deed, Nicholas? So far, you're reported missing where your coworkers and Dr. Lambert are concerned. You could simply leave it at that and move on."
"I don't think that's a good idea. I'm a cop who's gone missing. They won't stop searching until they find something." Nicholas retrieved a bottle from the refrigerator and filled two glasses.
Lacroix cringed after the first sip. "Oh please. Is that all you have to offer?"
"I'm out of anything else."
"But you will restock." It was more a statement than a question. When Nicholas remained silent, Lacroix added, "You promised no more experiments. Have you already reconsidered?"
Nicholas shook his head. "No I'll stick to that." He raised his glass, regarding the red fluid. "But this isn't an experiment. I already know that I can exist on it."
"Yes, you exist. But you don't thrive. Hasn't your recent killing taught you the difference?"
Momentarily Nicholas' eyes flashed golden. "Oh yes. Which is why I have to fight it."
Lacroix frowned, wondering if anything had changed at all. At least Nicholas didn't reject his presence. He supposed he should be grateful for that. "Very well, so you intend to simply walk back into the precinct? I do hope you come up with a proper explanation for --- everything."
* * * *
Several hours after midnight, Lacroix stood behind the bar at the Raven. He had kept a tight track on the bond he shared with Nicholas all night. Right now it was thrumming with increasing intensity, a tell-tale sign that Nicholas was on his way here. The ghost of a smile manifested briefly on Lacroix's lips as Nicholas walked into the club. Lacroix poured a glass from the house special, setting it on the bar the moment Nicholas arrived. Much to his surprise Nicholas didn't hesitate to empty the glass in hasty swallows.
"I trust explaining your disappearance went well?" Lacroix inquired.
"That was not the problem," Nicholas stated.
„The Captain gave me a hard time demanding why I hadn't mentioned that you were my boyfriend when we arrested you last month. What on earth have you told him, Lacroix?"
"Just oh? You could have warned me."
"It must have slipped my mind," Lacroix said innocently. "Your Captain required a reason why he should tell me anything about your location. I merely mentioned that we have a relationship."
"Great, just great," Nicholas groaned. "To hypnotize him didn't occur to you?"
Lacroix raised an eyebrow. "Actually no."
"And was it really necessary to bite Nat?"
"I needed to know if she had anything to do with your apparent demise. I believe I was rather mild considering that she engineered the concoction after all. You know quite well that I would kill anybody who has a hand in harming you."
"Yes, I know," Nicholas sighed and drained the refilled glass. "Nat was rather surprised to see you so desperate."
"I don't think my state of mind should have any relevance for a mere mortal," Lacroix seethed.
"But it has to me. I've seen you desperate before and what it did to you. And I've realized what you felt because of Fleur 800 years ago, was only a fraction of what you felt yesterday."
"If you have a point, Nicholas, I wish you would make it," Lacroix said rather impatiently. He was not accustomed to have the emotions within his heart dragged into the open.
"I'm trying to tell you that I'm willing to go along with what the Captain believes our relationship is. As long as you refrain from harming anyone close to me."
Lacroix was stunned. Was Nicholas really proposing what he hadn't dared to hope for? He supposed he would find out this morning what the definition of boyfriend entailed. He poured out drinks and raised his glass. "Eternity?"
Nicholas chinked his glass against Lacroix's. "And to the passions of our hearts."
* * * *
"They say if you love something, let it go. I've never been able to accept the wisdom of that advice, believing rather in hunting down what doesn't return. But what if you lose something? Go yourself. For when it does come back, it will reclaim you and make you realize that it didn't want you to be gone after all."
Smiling, Lacroix switched off the microphone in order to take a private call.
"Good evening, Janette. It appears you were correct in your assumption. It did take a display of vulnerability to stir Nicholas' heart. I've never doubted your wisdom, ma chère. After all, you're my daughter."