She checked the notes on her phone against the address. This quiet Maine beach house was it. She raised a hand to knock. It had been so easy to find him, and she chuckled. If Nick hadn't learned discretion in over 850 years, he probably never would. Natalie knocked before she could talk herself out of it, then clasped her hands, holding tight as the door swung open.
It was his voice. His features. But under those blond curls, Nick's eyes looked older. Weary. The smile was slow to come, like he was out of practice.
She knew she'd taken that with her.
Then his hand laced through her hair--she'd grown it long again before seeking him out--and their arms were around each other, and they were laughing while crying. It felt even better than when they'd stood in the sun on the steps of her old office, lydovuterine coursing through his system, hope coursing through hers.
That old memory had lain buried under layers of pain, fear, grief, loneliness, disappointment of the year that followed that one, brief, shining moment. Then it was subsumed by the fury that had pulsed through her chest and thoughts and beaten the rhythm of her departure nearly fifty years ago.
She melted into him, holding tight. His scent was...more human, earthy, smelling of fur like the small animals she'd fed on the months she'd sat in a Belgian cave after leaving him. She'd raged, sobbed, rocked, even prayed, desperate for sufficient courage to greet the sunrise at the rock maw.
Instead she'd found, simply, courage.
"I thought I'd never see you again," he breathed.
She chuckled, holding back tears. "I wasn't sure either."
They spoke together.
"I owe you an apology."
"I'm so sorry."
They tried again.
"You look fantastic."
"You look really good."
Now she was crying, and she sniffed and laughed.
He smiled more broadly, closing the door without looking away. "I've missed your laugh."
"I've missed you," she said softly, pulling back and laying a hand on his cheek.
His other hand came up to cradle her face, as he stroked her cheek with the thumb of the hand already in her hair. He'd always loved hair, and she'd craved the moments when he'd touched hers.
She looked from his lips to his eyes. His eyes flitted similarly up and down.
She leaned forward by millimetres. The blue of his eyes. The curve of his lip. The hunger she felt and could see reflected surged in the rhythm her heart no longer beat. When their lips met it was tentative, as if they'd never kissed before, rather than a mere generation past.
He tasted like her memory rare-cooked beef. She felt him twitch upon tasting her. He'd stayed his course. She'd gone another.
She kissed him harder, slipping her tongue closer to his and pressing against him. So many years of chaste kisses on her cheek or forehead, of distance and cautious shoulder-bumps washed through her memory and then away. There were no more limits for them, not like in Toronto, not like...after, when they turned their overlapping guilt and grief and self-loathing against each other.
But here, in this moment, she was suffused with the passion that smelled and felt and tasted of teeth and power and blood and a union that was beyond human knowledge or comprehension.
Soon they were in Nick's bed, clothes strewn in a line behind them, joining through intercourse of body and blood, minds and memories merging in ecstasy.
It was later, when they were curled in bed, legs still laced around each other, fingers tracing lazy patterns on bare skin, that she finally began to speak the thoughts that had brought her back to him.
"The despair you felt in me and....after...I'm sorry. It...it wasn't your fault alone."
Nick propped himself up on an elbow and tucked her hair behind an ear. Although his thumb lingered on her cheek, he looked away, tone as bitter as his words. "You asked me for closeness, for love, and I doomed you to this half-life empty of both."
She bit her lip. She could still feel the guilt and shame in his blood. For years she'd seen it, railed against it, but she'd never felt it until they'd shared blood years ago after she'd awakened. When she was newly brought across, it had only fed her own depression and desperate loneliness, subsuming logic, sense, reason, and fairness. Her fury at herself, at Nick, at them, at not-them, at her own failure to fix anything...herself or him or his "condition," as she'd called it then...it had overwhelmed everything.
She met his gaze. "I blamed myself, you know."
Nick sat up, leaning away. "It was my fault. I'm the one who didn't stop--"
"Shhh." Nat touched his lips with a finger.
The last time they'd had this conversation was the first time she'd thrown anyone across a room. She'd felt like a god...and had stormed off in fury and drained five people. Their lives' dreams and hopes and their terror as they'd slipped away still haunted her days.
But she'd understood. Understood Nick, Richard, maybe even LaCroix a bit. That kind of heady power...for a moment the memory vibrated along her changed nervous system, ever so much more vivid than anything in mortal life. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. She repeated her mantra, the talisman that kept some of her self-respect intact.
"So we had the misfortune to have emotional breaks simultaneously. Before we'd always just...managed to take turns. And, always remember: I asked you--"
"You asked me to be with you, not to kill you!"
Funny how Nick's self-loathing and the way he spat out words were identical after all these decades. Nat couldn't help rolling her eyes or noticing that she'd not called herself, not even in her thoughts, by that nickname--Pun appropriate, she thought--since she'd flown off in a fury.
"I forgave you long ago, Nick." She stroked his arm. "Remember what I told you all those years ago? I knew the risks when I signed on. I knew, Nick. And I'm sorry I pressured you and asked you; you've carried this pain and this guilt, but I begged you. I blackmailed you. I knew you'd do anything I asked. I'd seen it with Richard."
Nick shook his head.
"Yes. I heard what you said, and I pretended it could be true. I knew you wouldn't stop--couldn't stop. I knew I'd be a vampire, a zombie, or dead." She pressed her palm to his cool cheek, let her thumb stroke like his always did. "You tasted it in my blood then and today. I wanted to die, Nick. I'd failed you, and us, and I saw that I couldn't unravel this puzzle." She shrugged. "I took the Gordion Knot solution. I'm just sorry I drafted you to carry it out. That wasn't fair. Can you forgive me?"
This time he leaned in to kiss the corner of her mouth. "I forgive you." He kissed her cheek. "I forgive you." Her other cheek, then the same words. Forehead, words. Nose, words. Lips, words. Neck, kissing, sucking, but not biting...yet. A last whisper in her ear, "I forgive you."
She pulled him to her, feeling light, like she could float away...floating would be different than flying, truly, though the flying was amazing, exhilarating, like pure freedom coursing through her. It was her favourite part of this life. It felt like the hope she'd thought--even before she was brought across--she'd never feel again.
They lay fully down, and he smoothed her hair out of her face and ran his hands down her sides.
She stroked his shoulders and chest, along his sides, then drew her fingernails down his back until he gasped and buried his face in her neck again. When it was her turn, she drank deeply. His regrets still gnawed at him like rats trying to escape a ship; he was still trying to find a way to atone for the past.
She had found more than peace along her travels, in no small part from the time she'd spent with Janette. The other woman's pragmatism and acceptance had brought her to the equanimity she'd needed to return to Nick...and taught her some of the tricks she used to make sure the ecstasy of round two left them both trembling for minutes.
She traced circles in the sparse hair on his chest and said, gently, evenly, "We were on course to be here, Nick. We were like a runaway train. I couldn't possibly have found a 'cure' or even a stop-gap, not in the short time you could be in Toronto. And I wanted the cure for you, for the ego trip, for me, and because I wanted you."
His voice was thick. "I wanted you so much. But not this way. Never this way, Nat."
She laced her fingers through his and rested their joined hands on his chest. "I might never find a way to mortality. For either of us. But we can be together...as often and for as long as we want, through the ages." She chuckled and stretched forward to kiss him lightly. "We can do this," she kissed him more thoroughly, "as often as we want, with no danger, without holding back."
Finally his eyes twinkled again with the leprechaun charm that was her strongest mental image of him. He traced lines on her body, hummed against her neck, and murmured, "So you'll stay?"
"For as long as we enjoy each other. Then we can take a break--"
"Hopefully a shorter one than this."
She smiled, "Probably. And we can do research, search for a cure, be together, and watch what humanity discovers and learns next."
"And we'll do it together."
She straddled him, chuckling against his neck. "Yes," she breathed, then kissed him again.