When Nick thought about it later, he knew he should have anticipated LaCroix’s defiance, should have expected the crack as the stake was snapped in half. The clatter as it was tossed into the fireplace and the pop as the aged wood of the pike caught fire.
What he never could have expected and still doesn’t believe to this day was the second, quieter, “Damn you,” and the rush of air as his maker flew from the loft, leaving him alone with Natalie’s body and no clue where to go from there.
Nick hasn’t seen him since.
Nearly twenty years later, it’s impossible to tell who is avoiding who. Nick still has a standing deal with Aristotle that he warn Nick if LaCroix so much as thinks of setting foot in the same country as him, but there hasn’t been a single call. He moves on every five years like clockwork, steers clear of any jobs that might put him in the spotlight, and does everything he can to keep under the radar. And he avoids any and all cities with so much as a tiny collective of other vampires, anyone who could report his location back to LaCroix.
It’s difficult, as ever-evolving technology makes the world smaller and smaller every day, but he makes it work.
Which is why it’s such a shock when he turns a corner one night and nearly runs into her as she steps out of a grocery.
To be fair, she seems just as shocked to see him, and he takes the opportunity to really look at her for the first time in two decades. Her hair is shorter than it’s ever been in all of the centuries he’s known her, gently curling to frame her face. It looks great, if he’s being honest, but it’s such a change that it throws him for a second.
That second is all she needs to collect herself. She pulls herself tall and straight, stares him right in the eye. “Nicholas,” she says. Her familiar accent is a balm he didn’t even know he needed all of this time.
They both know their reunion is not one that should take place where it could be overheard. She tells him that her place isn’t far, only a few blocks from the store itself, and he falls into step beside her. It’s only as they walk in silence that he notices the bags in her hands.
“You bought groceries.” It comes out sounding more like a question than Nick intended, but he can see actual vegetables nestled in the bags. Vegetables that would only go to waste in the home of a vampire. He reaches out with his senses, searching for the link between them that he hadn’t noticed was missing the last time he saw her. It’s there again, though slightly different from all of their previous time together, no longer that of a sister. It’s still a relief.
She must know what he’s doing, because her expression hardens in a way that tells him she still hasn’t forgiven him. “Yes, Patrick is coming to visit this weekend. I need to have something at home for him to eat.”
It takes him a moment to recognize the name. “You mean the boy who was with you in Toronto? You’re still in touch?”
It’s the wrong thing to say. Her eyes glow beneath her glare, regardless of the normal humans around them. Her tone is like ice when she says, “Of course. I raised him.”
She doesn’t say a word to him for the rest of the walk, and she doesn’t invite him inside her surprisingly moderate brownstone when they arrive. She does, however, let him walk her to her door. When she puts a bag down to pull her keys from the purse on her shoulder, he stops her by gently taking her hand and pressing his lips to her knuckles. “It is good to see you again, Janette.”
She closes her eyes and sighs. He braces himself for what might come next, but when she opens them again, the steel from before has faded away. “You too, Nicholas.”
He spends the day trying to figure out how he has been in this city for nearly four years and hasn’t run into her before now. He’s been so hyper-vigilant about avoiding LaCroix, he didn’t even think about keeping an eye out for Janette. To be honest, he’d barely thought of finding out where she’d ended up, certain she wouldn’t want him to know.
But now that he knows she’s here and where he can find her, it takes everything Nick has not to go back the following night.
He gives her the weekend, because it’s the least he can do. It’s not like she sought him out, either.
Getting reacquainted is a rocky process. It’s impossible to forget the lifetimes they’ve already spent together, but there’s a tension between them now that wasn’t there even when she was trying her hardest to make him give up his quest to become mortal.
Neither of them brings that up, now.
But weeks pass. There are times when she knocks on his door while he’s working from home, and nights when he suggests a moonlit flight while the rest of the world sleeps. And despite the rift between then, he can still appreciate the way her eyes light up as they fly above an unknowing city, the wind whipping past their faces.
He missed that smile.
Janette’s the one who brings it up. They’re at her place this time, sitting in front of a fire and reminiscing over the 1820s. She still mixes her blood with a little bit of wine, and they each have a glass in their hands.
“I heard about Natalie,” she says out of nowhere when there’s a lull in their conversation. She’s looking down at her glass, swirling her drink and watching it run along the sides. “Shortly after I’d left Toronto for good. I was surprised that her death had been reported all the way in Saguenay.”
Nick had too, at the time. But then, Natalie had always been well-loved, and the reported manner of her death had been curious too. Healthy young woman found dead in her bed. No signs of foul play, once Nick had “suggested” to Grace that no signs be found.
“Why didn’t you just… have her disappear?”
“Nat deserved better than that,” he says, taking a fortifying sip of his drink. “She deserved to be properly mourned. I stayed long enough to attend the funeral, and then I turned in my badge the next day. Was gone by the end of the week.”
“I am sorry, Nicholas. I know how much she meant to you.”
He takes another sip, then wraps his arm around her waist. She snuggles in closer and rests her head on his shoulder, quiet until dawn threatens to break.
She doesn’t knock this time, just barges into his home, slamming the door behind her. Her eyes are glowing fiercely when she shoves him halfway across the room. “This is your fault,” she growls, and it’s the first time he’s seen her fangs since they reunited. “If you had listened to me, let me die when I was ready to, this wouldn’t be happening.”
It’s the first time either of them has brought it up directly, and Nick feels his heart clench. “What? What’s wrong?”
“It’s Patrick. He asked me to bring him across.”
She’s always been the composed one, even in her anger and hurt, so when she grabs for the nearest glass to throw against the wall, he’s too stunned to intercept it. The sound of shattering glass seems to drain the fight out of her, though, as her knees give out in the middle of the floor. Nick comes back to himself in time to catch her and guide her gently to the floor.
“He knows?” Nick asks.
“For years. Ever since that night.” She’s not fighting against his hold, so he curls around her protectively, remembering her blood pooling on the floor as fire consumed the home around them. “He’d seen me shot, wanted to know why I hadn’t died like his father. So I told him. And he… Damn it, Nicholas, he’s just a child!”
Nick pulls her closer, so that she’s sitting in the V of his legs, her head tucked under his chin. “He was a child then. Not anymore. Now, he’s a young man that you helped raise, and an informed one. I’m guessing he knows what he’s asking. That’s… better than either of us got.”
She pulls back, and he swears she’s looking for something in his eyes. He doesn’t break her gaze as he smiles slightly. “I’ll help, if you want. If you don’t think you can…”
She interrupts him with a kiss, slow and longing, and he knows she found what she’d been looking for.
When Nick wakes up the next night, he finds Janette watching him. She’s put on his shirt from yesterday.
“Why did you bring me back across?” she asks. She’s playing hardball, asking that exact question before he’s even been able to blink himself full awake. She knows he has no filters so early.
“I couldn’t lose you.”
She nods and lies back down, her head resting over where his heartbeat should be. They’re both quiet for a moment before she adds, “You should consider calling LaCroix.”
And she’s right. He should.