“Captain, we have a problem,” said Nick exasperatedly as he followed Captain Reese into his office and shut the door firmly. Nick knew he could change Reese’s mind: it was just a matter of getting him to listen to reason.
Reese looked at his detective, who continued to stand at the door, as he settled down into his desk chair. If there was one person who was responsible for his headaches and the ulcers he had in his stomach, it was the man before him. Yes, he was his star detective, but that didn’t mean the man wasn’t a major pain in the behind. Reese already knew what this talk was going to be about, and he couldn’t help or hide the slight grimace that appeared on his face as he prepared himself to order Knight to go if he had to.
“I really thought you wouldn’t mind this assignment. Half the guys out there would give their right arm to go,” he argued; “I really see no reason why you should be so set against this.”
“My condition,” stated Nick matter-of-factly, confident that this would get him out of it.
“What?” This wasn’t the excuse Reese had expected at all. He thought Knight would claim that he needed to stay in Toronto to help Vetter tie up loose ends with the Jackson case. Regardless, he knew the truth: Knight simply didn’t want to go. He never did in the past and he probably never would. How else could Knight have missed out on every opportunity in his career to go to at least one seminar?
Nick sighed and slipped into the chair directly in front of his captain. “Come on, you know what I’m talking about: my skin condition. It’s a real problem,” he explained.
Reese pinched the bridge of his nose as he leaned forward against his desk. The headache was starting already. He took a deep breath and answered, “The commissioner already has a flight scheduled. It takes off Friday night at 11:00, and it will only take about two to three hours to get there, so your skin condition won’t be an issue.” Reese paused as he pulled his hand away from his face and met Knight’s gaze. “And, as for the classes, they take place inside the building and you will be staying on-site, so there will be no reason for you to walk outside during the daytime. They are already aware of your condition and they have assured the commissioner that it wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Come on, Captain, I’m not the right person for this, and I’m sure they’re simply making accommodations and changing what they had planned to fit my handicap,” stated Nick, stubbornly. “I don’t want to be the reason for any missed opportunities and activities…Besides, the program would be more beneficial for Detectives Stan or Flinn—they enjoy doing these types of things.”
“So, now we get to the root of the problem,” stated Reese, knowingly, leaning back in his chair. “Look, Nick, this is actually an advanced course for America’s top investigators. All FBI and Secret Service agents receive training at FLETC—even agents from Quantico have to go to FLETC eventually. Knowing that, I would hardly call this a class for rookies, and the commissioner thinks it’s worth attending since they are allowing Canadian investigators to participate.”
“It’s not that I think the course is for rookies or a waste of time…” He really didn’t. The truth was he didn’t want to go and he thought it would be more beneficial for a mortal investigator to go. After all, he had tools to persuade suspects and witnesses to talk that the rest of the police force didn’t and would probably never obtain. He was the one person who needed this training the least in his opinion.
“Good, then it’s settled—you’re going.” Reese held out the pamphlet for the detective to take. “Think of it as a vacation: warm weather, nice beaches…going back home to the States and being able to explore an area you’ve probably never been before.” He looked down at his paperwork and started filling it out. He wouldn’t look at Nick again—it was his usual way of saying the discussion was over.
“Yeah, sure,” mumbled Nick as he walked out of the office with the pamphlet, knowing any further objections would be pointless.
“The Advanced Interviewing for Law Enforcement Investigators Training Program is designed to enhance the skills of law enforcement criminal investigators as they conduct interviews of victims, witnesses, and suspects. During your initial law enforcement training, you were taught the basic steps of a law enforcement interview. While these steps are important to learn, understand, and apply, this initial training laid only the basic foundation needed for the beginning criminal investigator. The AILEITP will provide you with an arsenal of methods and skills to use during the course of various interview and interrogation situations you will face on a daily basis. The AILEITP instruction will teach you how to obtain information effectively through various interview and interrogation methods, techniques, and theory…”
Nick paused in his reading to look at Nat. “I always thought I was a pretty good interrogator, even without my abilities.”
Nat closed the drawer to her filing cabinet and turned to face and examine Nick closely. He definitely seemed unhappy about this assignment: his eyes had lost their usual ethereal shine, most of his skin was slightly paler than usual, and the area immediately below his eyes was dark, almost like he hadn’t slept in days…not to mention, he was constantly looking down at the floor. She wondered what was eating at him specifically. Regardless, she knew she could fix his reluctance: “I’m sure the captain agrees with you. It’s just a course to give you some tips and possibly some new techniques. I don’t think the commissioner would want us to go if it was going to be a waste of our time.”
“Us?” repeated Nick. His expression perked up slightly—his eyes widened a little in obvious interest and the small upturn of his lips was unmistakable.
Nat laughed a little and replied, “I thought you would catch on to that: I’m going, too.”
Now Nick looked confused, which was indicated by the furrow of his brow.
“Why are you going?” he asked. He couldn’t fathom a reason why they would send a coroner to interrogation training.
Nat walked to her desk, grabbed something, and waved a pamphlet of her own. “FLETC is offering courses in forensics, as well,” she answered.
Nick grabbed the pamphlet and read aloud, “Advanced Forensics Techniques in Crime Scene Investigations: Levels I and II.”
Nat nodded and took the pamphlet back. “It wouldn’t hurt for me to go over this stuff, especially with fellow pathologists, scientists, and forensic personnel who work with law enforcement. I think it will be a great opportunity for both of us. Besides, when was the last time we got away from Toronto and did something together?”
“Away from Toronto? Never,” he replied, subtly more optimistic. He didn’t exactly grin, but the frown was definitely missing. This trip was actually starting to sound a little better to Nick.
Nat knew from Nick’s expression that she had at least convinced him the trip wouldn’t be quite as bad as he imagined.
“Exactly,” she said, continuing to sell the advantages of taking the trip just incase there were any lingering doubts. “Our classes start on Monday, so we have the whole weekend to ourselves, not to mention every weeknight for the entire week.” She smiled suddenly and added, “And, I’ve never seen the Atlantic Ocean in person before. I’ve heard it’s not quite the same as looking at Lake Ontario. I’m looking forward to going to one of their beaches. So, what do you say, Nick? Are you going or are you going to let me go all alone?”
Nick huffed somewhat playfully. “I don’t think I have a choice in the matter, but you’re right—it would be a nice break for the two of us to get away. Let’s just hope the nightlife there isn’t too slow.”
Nick looked at Nat and knew she didn’t like it: they were standing in line on the runway outside the Toronto City Centre Airport watching law enforcement personnel from other precincts board a small DHC-8 aircraft.
“I thought they didn’t fly those anymore,” she said looking at Nick with widened, almost apprehensive eyes. Now she wished she hadn’t talked Nick into going and that he had talked her out of it. She should have expected this when she realized they were taking off at this airport instead of the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga.
A fellow passenger, who Nick had seen briefly somewhere but couldn’t quite place, walked beside them and stated, “Actually, I heard Transport Canada has three left.”
“No, you’re thinking of the DHC-6 Twin Otter,” stated another gentleman who walked up behind them and extended his hand for each to shake. “Hi, I’m Jim Hubbert. I’ll be your pilot tonight. And, I can assure you, it’s a good plane…quite safe.”
Nick draped his right arm around Nat’s shoulders and rubbed her arm comfortingly. “You see, Nat,” he whispered, “there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Yeah,” she agreed even though she still felt nervous. Forcing herself to be calm and in control, she turned to the pilot and asked without hesitation or emotion evident, “How many destinations do you have?”
“Just one. I was hired privately to make this flight. We’re going to the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport. We will probably stop for fuel on the way, though.”
Nat took a deep breath. At least they wouldn’t be making a lot of stops. “Courage,” she told herself silently. She could do this.
Nick smiled at Nat as he pulled her closer to him and they continued to walk in line. He was determined to allay her fears, so he whispered softly, “It won’t be too bad. Just take a nap, and we’ll be there before you know it…possibly before you wake.”
The rain pelted the plane, and Nick looked over sympathetically at the bundles of nerves beside him. He never knew Natalie was scared of flying, but here she was with a death grip on his hand. He had spent the better part of their flight trying to convince her to go to sleep—he had even tried to hypnotize her—but it didn’t work. She claimed she wasn’t afraid of flying; rather, she was afraid of flying in small planes. He had to admire her courage and control, though: She got on this plane despite her fears, and to everyone else, she looked almost indifferent to their location and the weather. That took a lot of strength, he knew, but he also didn't know why she bothered--they were in the front of the plane whereas most of the other passengers tried to get as close to the back as they could. No one but him would see, but he knew her restraint was likely a habit which developed from years of working alongside law enforcement in what some thought should be a man's profession.
“It’s okay,” whispered Nick as the rainfall seemed to strengthen again and he felt her stiffen slightly. “It won’t be too much longer.”
In response, Natalie smiled and nodded slightly. “Don’t they usually fly around the rain?” she asked and huddled closer to Nick. Despite being embarrassed by her nervousness, she sought comfort in Nick’s presence. He made her feel safe, and she knew he would never judge or make fun of her.
Nick, who noticed her shift in his direction, lifted the armrest and put his arm around her to pull her closer. “Only if it’s a thunderstorm,” he answered; “Rain doesn’t pose much of a threat.”
“Are you sure?” she asked in a small, childlike voice that made her cringe afterward.
“Yes,” he answered confidently. He rested his head on top of hers and continued, “Go to sleep, Nat. We have about an hour left. I promise I won’t let you go.” He tightened his hold on her and closed his eyes.
“I’ll try,” she whispered and closed her eyes, as well.
Nick and Nat were both startled awake by a loud boom and a sharp jerk of the plane. As soon as they opened their eyes, the plane seemed to dip and rotate, flinging them and the rest of the passengers around in their seats while their belongings toppled out of some of the compartments onto them or the aisle. Instantly, screams and sounds of the airplane filled the night air. Instinctively, Nick unbuckled himself--he couldn't help Natalie or anyone else if they were all restrained to their seats. He quickly grabbed Nat's seat buckle and released her. At the same moment, the plain jerked again powerfully and this time sent Nick, Nat, and belongings flying into and around the aisle.
“OH, MY GOD! NICK!” cried Natalie as she crashed into a seat and tried to grab on to it so she wouldn’t be tossed around anymore. The plane was in chaos, and the only thing her brain could really register was the sounds of cries or prayers from the people behind her.
“NAT!” answered Nick as he crawled several feet to reach her from where he had been flung. He grabbed on to her from behind and looked around as they sat on the floor. It was too dark outside to see where they were, but he quickly noticed there were far too many people for him to help. He knew he had to focus only on Natalie. He turned all of his attention onto her and yelled over the chaos, “NAT! LISTEN TO ME! HOLD ON TO ME TIGHTLY! I DON’T KNOW HOW CLOSE WE ARE TO THE GROUND BUT I’M GOING TO FLY U—“
Suddenly, there was an earth-shattering boom, and Nat screamed as debris and large objects flew around her. “NAT!” she heard Nick scream. Almost immediately, she felt Nick wrap his arms and legs around her tightly, pushing her into a ball rapidly.
All Nat could do was scream as they moved. She knew they were being tossed around badly, but she couldn’t see a thing even if she tried. Nick had one arm wrapped around her head and was pressing it into his chest while his other arm was wrapped around her waist to keep her close to him. He even crossed his legs over hers as they continued to ball-up as best they could.
She heard Nick grunt and yell periodically as he used his body to protect her—she couldn’t help the tears that fell from her eyes.
And, as suddenly as the chaos started, it stopped. That’s when Nat opened her eyes, forcefully moved her head against Nick’s arm to see, and noticed they were no longer in the plane and Nick had them floating very close to the ground before he suddenly dropped them onto it.
“Humph,” exhaled Nat as Nick fell on top of her. She couldn’t believe it: she was alive!
“NICK!” she cried. “YOU DID IT!” She pushed back on Nick so she could sit up and yelled, “WE’RE ALIVE!”
She turned to look at him and a sharp cry immediately followed her actions. Blood was everywhere. “OH, MY GOD! NICK!” Deep gashes littered Nick’s body with pieces of wood from trees and other debris sticking out of him. She quickly started pulling the larger pieces from his body and cried as she tried to calm herself down enough to see the smaller ones.
Nick only groaned.
“Come on, Nick,” she said. “You have to help me. I don’t know if I’ll get all the wood out if you don’t talk to me and tell me where they are.” She continued to push on him to try to rouse him and became almost hysterical when he stopped moving altogether for several seconds.
“NICK!” she yelled. “Don’t do this to me!”
In desperation, she was just about to look for something to slash her wrist with when Nick suddenly took a deep breath through his nose and opened his golden eyes slightly.
“Nat?” he whispered hoarsely.
“Yeah, Nick, that’s it,” she replied, brushing his hair back from his forehead and leaning over him, so close that their faces were almost touching. “Come back to me.”
Nick turned his head slightly and moaned in pain. It took a few seconds before he could focus his eyesight on Natalie. “Nat,” he said, “you’re hurt.” He didn’t know where since he couldn’t see anything but her face from his position, but he knew the fresh scent of human blood anywhere. He forced himself to ignore the pleasant aroma even though he knew that’s what brought him back to consciousness in the first place. He had to control himself. There was no other choice.
Nat, unaware of Nick’s struggle, looked down and saw the minor cuts and ugly bruises covering her as well. “It’s nowhere near as bad as it would have been. You caught the worst end of the deal,” she reassured him. “Come on, let’s finish cleaning you up.” She pulled Nick into a sitting position and apologized when he let out a whimper of pain.
For what felt like hours, which was probably closer to one, Natalie pulled debris from Nick’s body and tore bits of cloth from his and her already ragged pants and shirts to serve as bandages for some of his smaller but deeper wounds and a few scrapes of her own. She could only use her hands to hold pressure onto the wounds on his back since they had nothing large enough to wrap around him. Unfortunately, it seemed as though none of the deeper wounds were healing, but they did stop bleeding over time.
“Nick?” called Nat eventually as she looked at their surroundings while holding Nick’s back tightly to her chest so he could rest comfortably. They seemed to be on some type of large embankment and the trees and undergrowth were the only things preventing them from sliding.
“Yeah,” he replied weakly.
“Where do you think we are?”
“Somewhere in the South Appalachians,” he answered. “I have no idea what state.”
Nat nodded and looked up at the sky. “We’re going to have to find you shelter. The sun will be coming up soon.”
Nick nodded slowly and mumbled, “We have several hours. Just give me a few more minutes. Then, I’ll get up.”
“Okay,” she whispered and tightened her hold on his body. She kissed the top of his head and thanked God Nick was with her on the flight. She knew if it wasn’t for him, she’d be dead right now.
A sudden thought occurred to her: “Nick, where’s the plane? Where is everyone else?”
“The plane tore apart when we hit the ground and what was left kept sliding down the mountain. I lifted us into the air as best I could and put us down safely after the debris and remains of the plane rushed past us,” he answered, purposely ignoring a direct answer as to what had happened to the people. He felt horrible about the other passengers, but he couldn’t think about that right now. He had Nat to worry about.
“Well, I’m glad you were here,” she replied as she kissed the top of his head again and thought about all the lives lost but knew she couldn’t fall apart, not yet.
“Yeah, me, too.” He never would have forgiven himself if he had convinced the captain to give this assignment to someone else. He couldn’t imagine Nat being ripped away from him so soon. The possibility made him tremble.
Nat sat there silently while Nick rested, and she felt him shake ever so slightly. He was already worn out, she realized, but she knew they had to move. She would give him the few minutes he had asked for, but he’d have to get up soon. There was no way she was going to allow him to die after he selflessly saved her life. Shelter was the only thing on her mind right now.
All too soon, Nick took a deep breath, sat up, and pulled away from Natalie’s embrace. He knew if he lay much longer, Natalie would worry, moreso than she already was. But that wasn’t his only concern: He also knew she would coddle him if he didn’t show her signs that he was okay physically. He wasn’t anywhere near one hundred percent, but he couldn’t have Natalie being more concerned about him than herself, which was surely what she would do.
“Oh, thank God,” thought Nat, glad that Nick was finally moving. The longer he had lain there, the more anxious she had felt. She was used to Nick being lively despite whatever mood or pain he found himself in. When she saw his muscles flex in an effort to stand, she immediately got up, leaned on a tree for support, and offered him her hand. He grabbed it and she used all of her might to help pull him up. It wasn’t an easy task because of his weight and the slope of the mountain.
As Nick got to his feet, he released his hold on Natalie, grabbed a thin tree beside him, closed his eyes, and hissed in pain.
“Are you all right?” asked Nat, quickly. Any concern that had left at his movements was now back again.
“I’m all right,” he answered with a strained voice, upset that he hadn’t been able to hide his pain. “I just have to get my bearings and allow my legs a little time to get used to having most of my weight on them again.”
Natalie immediately picked her brain to try to find a way to help Nick. Of course…“Can’t you float or fly? That might be easier on you,” she suggested, deciding she wouldn’t give him a hard time for using his abilities and would in fact encourage him to do so for right now. After all, his abilities had saved their lives. Their quest for his mortality and human-likeness would have to wait until they were safe and back in Toronto.
Nick shook his head in reply. He didn’t want to worry her, but he had to tell her the truth in this case. There was no way to hide it. “That’ll take too much out of me, Nat. With my injuries and without a blood supply handy, I don’t need to use my abilities if I can help it—I probably wouldn’t be able to, anyway…not right now. I need to heal a little more before I try.”
“Okay, so no flying out of here,” she stated, almost to herself and feeling even more concerned now. She looked around and continued, “And, it doesn’t look like we can walk too far from here either. We’ll fall.”
“We have to climb,” he replied firmly.
“Climb?” she repeated, surprised at his suggestion.
Nick nodded and pointed up the inclined surface. “I think I see some sort of ledge from here. If we can get onto a flat surface, things will be a lot easier. We’ll be able to find you some food and water.”
“I’m fine,” she replied confidently, not quite believing he was talking about finding her food and water when the sun would be up soon. “I’m more concerned about finding you shelter.”
Nick sighed. “Either way, we have to get on level ground,” he reasoned. Truth be told, he was concerned about sunrise, too, but he knew if he let it show, Nat would waste all her energy on him. Instead, he would focus her attentions elsewhere: on how to get out of here.
“No!” yelled Natalie as she folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the tree beside Nick. “Stubborn, pig-headed vampire!” she thought to herself vehemently. Several minutes ago, Nick had been calmly discussing how they were going to climb the mountain, but now, she was determined not to budge an inch until he knew she meant business!
“Nat, we have to do it this way! What if you slipped? I’d be able to catch you!” argued Nick, as he ran his fingers through his hair exasperatedly, showing his frustration at her stubbornness. “Obstinate woman,” he spat mentally. He had only told her he wanted her to climb up the mountainside in front of him. Why was that so unthinkable and awful when it was so obviously the right and only course of action?
“And, who is going to prevent you from falling?” she quarreled. “You’re in worse shape than I am!”
As feared because he wasn’t at his best, Natalie showed more concern about his wellbeing than her own. Nick couldn’t allow this to go on. He huffed and replied, “I’m not incapacitated, just weak, and the fall wouldn’t kill me, anyway!”
“You don’t know that!” she retorted sharply, knowing he never thought about the consequences to himself. “A piece of wood could pierce you right through your heart as you fell! We’re lucky that didn’t happen during the crash! And, don’t try to tell me you aren’t hurt! I know you are, and you might not be able to recover if you hurt yourself even more!”
He was undeterred by her logic. “And, *you* would certainly die if you fell!” he countered. “There wouldn’t be any ‘maybes’ about it!” He composed himself by breathing deeply for a few seconds and then continued calmly, “We can’t argue about this all night, Nat. Eventually, the sun is going to rise and if we’re still here, well…”
“Don’t even say it!” she snapped as she pulled a handful of dirt and grass from the ground and flung it at Nick’s chest. “You better not fall or I will never forgive you!” Nat shook her head and said to herself silently, “Oh, real mature, Lambert.”
Despite their predicament, Nick smiled briefly as Nat got ahead of him and started working her way up the mountainside.
He followed a few feet behind her.
Nat was exhausted, so she knew Nick had to be feeling the effects of the climb, as well. She looked ahead and saw the deep indentation in the mountain that Nick had seen earlier, which was maybe twenty feet away now. It looked like a road, and she prayed that was the case.
“How are you feeling, Nick?” she asked as she came to a stop to rest her muscles. They were burning with the strain of pulling herself up continuously.
“I’m okay,” she heard him say strenuously. She attempted to turn her head so she could look below her, but Nick’s sharp voice stopped her.
“Don’t look down or back at me! That’s the kind of thing that might make you lose your grip!” he snapped.
“Gosh! I’m sorry!” she replied, feeling and sounding a little irritated.
Nick sighed as he stopped and rested against the ground right under her feet. He knew he was taking his frustrations out on her now. “I’m sorry, Nat. It’s just that I’m hungry and a little tired. I have no right to take any of this out on you,” he said honestly.
“It’s okay,” she assured him. “I understand…We only have a little more to go.”
“I know. Let’s go.”
They pulled themselves up and continued climbing. A short time later, Nat found herself digging her elbows into a dirt gravel road and pulling herself onto it. Once she was on flat ground, she turned around, grabbed one of Nick’s arms, and helped pull him onto the rocky surface, as well.
They both immediately collapsed when he reached the top, grateful that the immediate danger was finally over. “Please tell me that is the last time we will have to climb,” whispered Nat, tiredly.
“With any luck,” Nick replied as he rested his cheek on numerous small pebbles littering the road.
As much as he wanted to, he knew they couldn’t just lie there. He pulled himself up to crawl to the edge of the road so he could look over the cliff. He stared and cringed as he saw the path parts of the airplane had taken as it slid down the mountain. He then looked over at Nat. “She could have died tonight, just like everyone else...just like Schanke had,” he told himself silently.
As Nat watched Nick peer over the edge of the road and look back at her, she saw the emotions which settled upon his face. His skin grew paler—she was shocked that was possible—his eyes seemed to drop, and his frown deepened. She knew he was about to blame himself for everything that happened and she couldn’t allow that. “None of this is your fault,” she stated abruptly as soon as Nick opened his mouth to seemingly speak.
Nick immediately closed his mouth and crawled over to her. He wrapped his arms around her to pull her close. “I know,” he responded, “but I can’t help but wonder if there was something more I could have done. Multiple people lost their lives tonight, Nat. And, besides, I know you were only going to FLETC because I was going. You would never have been caught up in this if it weren’t for me.”
Nat immediately pulled back and stared at Nick angrily. “Leave it to Nick to find a way to piss me off when I wanted to comfort him,” she thought. Aloud, she said, “Not everything is about you or your fault, Nick! I was going to go on this trip whether you were or not! I didn’t have any idea you were going until you came into the lab to tell me! And, as for the casualties, what else could you have done? Tell me!”
His mind kept showing him flashes of the people’s faces that had been on the plane. So many to add to his already long list of death. “I don’t know,” he whispered.
“Not a damn thing!” she shouted, and almost immediately she took a deep breath to calm herself. Yelling at Nick never made him listen. “You couldn’t have prevented it,” she said softly. “No one knew this would happen.”
Nick hugged Nat to him again and wondered despite Nat’s words if his continuous bad luck plagued and ultimately killed the people on the flight. But, he knew he couldn’t speak his thoughts aloud. Nat wouldn’t like it. He squeezed her tightly for a second before he pulled away. “We have to get moving,” he said. He looked down the road in both directions.
“Which way?” asked Natalie as she also looked in both directions, glad for the sudden change of topic.
Nick shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Either direction has to lead somewhere.” He stood slowly and then held his hand out for Nat to take. When she did, he pulled her up and didn’t let her go. Instead, he turned to the right and pulled her along with him.
“Nick, don’t you think we should find you some shelter?” she asked, noticing he walked with a slight limp. She wanted him to rest.
“We have time…” Nick started to say, but he suddenly hunched over and grabbed his stomach in pain. He had expected this to happen long ago. Evidently, now that the adrenaline from the crash and his urgency to get Nat on safer ground wore off, the vampire decided it was time to make his own needs known.
“NICK!” cried Natalie as she wrapped her arm around his back and bent down to look at his face. The look of pain was clear. “You need blood,” she stated and started removing one of the pieces of cloth she had used on a wound on her own arm.
Nick saw her actions and immediately stopped her by grabbing her hand. “No, Nat, I’m not going to drink from you,” he murmured, breathing deeply to try to ride out the pain. “I don’t know what my reaction might be.”
“But you need blood! I’m not going to stand here and watch you die!” she stated vehemently.
Nick forced himself to stand up straight and made sure to make eye contact. “I’m not going to die,” he spoke assertively, “and I will get blood but not from you. We’ll continue walking and when we get to a spot where I can safely enter the woods, I’ll…hunt.”
Nat stared at Nick, feeling more than a little frightened. She didn’t want anything to happen to him. She owed him her life and she loved him. She couldn’t lose him. “And what if we have to stop to find some sort of shelter before you can feed?”
Nick stared above him and said, “We might not have to stop. I think I’ll be all right if I’m careful. The trees and growth on this mountain are quite thick and will probably provide enough shelter from the sun.”
“Probably,” she repeated the word worriedly.
Nick forced himself to smile and insisted, “I’ll be okay, Nat. Trust me.” He didn’t want her to worry about him, but he was touched that she cared so much, nonetheless.
When she nodded, Nick grabbed a hold of her arm and wrapped it around his. “We’re off to see the wizard?” he asked with feigned hope as they began to walk.
Nat laughed a little in spite of herself. “Sure,” she answered, “we’ll just follow the gray-gravel road. And, just when did you watch The Wizard of Oz? I was under the impression you had never seen it before and it was on my list of movies for us to watch.”
Nick continued to smile, which was now easier since he was pleased that he got her mind on something else as they walked. “Tracy referred to it one night, and I figured I better watch it since it’s so popular and evidently the social norm to have read or seen it,” he answered. “It would have been a dead giveaway that I wasn’t born in this century.”
“Oh, yes! It would have been,” agreed Nat, playfully, also grateful that they were able to forget about their predicament, even if just for a little while. She looked around and then asked, “Do you think there are lions, tigers, and bears here?”
Nick knew it was meant to be a joke, but her question drove the playfulness out him and reminded him that they weren’t out of the woods yet, literally or figuratively. He knew he wasn’t the only predator in these woods and that their condition could lead some right to them. “Not lions and tigers, but there are definitely bears, among other things,” he answered, looking around them and casting his senses out to ascertain if anything threatening was close by.
“Of course,” she mumbled and pushed herself closer to him as she scanned the woods continuously, also no longer in the mood to play. That’s all they needed: Nick fighting a bear in his condition.
Nick knew Nat was worried again and he wished he hadn’t been so honest, but as he thought about it, he realized it might be a good thing if their blood and her fear brought something to them. Despite his earlier confidence and protests to the contrary, he did need blood terribly and the effort he was exerting to hide it from Natalie was also taking its toll.
They walked for almost an hour in near-silence, with Natalie asking him if he was okay every so often, until Nick sensed that the sun was starting to rise. Combined with his injuries and a lack of blood, the sunrise was bringing on an intense case of fatigue and sleepiness. He looked around and saw that they had come to a spot where the land was a little wider. The area wasn’t completely flat, but it had a gradual climb to the right of them that he could walk on.
“Nat, this is a good spot,” he said, softly, as he stopped moving and dropped her arm.
Natalie turned and noticed now that she was facing him straight onward that he had dark circles under his eyes and still looked ghostly white--not his natural shade--under the dirt and blood that covered him. She cursed herself for not paying more attention to him as they walked. “Are you okay?” she asked again, hating that she didn’t know quite how to help him under these circumstances.
“Yeah,” he answered. “This is a good place to stop. I can handle the terrain here while I look for…a blood source.”
Nat nodded, stepped off the road, and headed for the nearby cluster of trees. “Okay, so what do I do?” she asked.
Nick grabbed her shoulders to stop her from walking ahead of him. “You stay here,” he told her as he pivoted around her. He didn’t want Natalie to see him hunt.
She glared at him. “Nick, you are not going into these woods by yourself. Look at you! You can barely keep your eyes open, and if you think I’m going to let you take off alone while you’re looking for wild—“
“Do we have to fight during this whole ordeal?” asked Nick loudly and abruptly.
“I’m not trying to fight with you. I’m just really scared, Nick. I don’t want anything else to happen,” she insisted.
Nick’s expression softened at her words, and he rubbed his thumb over his other hand nervously. “Okay,” he assented, “but you have to be quiet and when I tell you to stay put, you stay put. Deal?”
Nick led Nat by the hand as they walked slowly into the woods. The slight incline of the mountain wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t long until they got to a slope which would take them downward swiftly if he continued to move east. He paused and looked to his right and noticed another soft upward incline. “Let’s go this way,” he whispered and pulled her in that direction.
“Do you hear anything?” Natalie asked softly. This was taking far longer than she thought it would. She knew they were only out there for maybe ten minutes, but she thought they should have come across something suitable by now.
“Only birds, but I want to get something a little more substantial.” Silently, he wondered if he would be able to hold out to find anything better. A bunch of little birds were better than nothing at all.
As they went up the mountain for about a minute more, Nick suddenly stiffened.
“What is it?” asked Natalie, wondering if his hunger was getting to him again. If push came to shove, she would forcefeed him her blood if she had to. His chivalric tendencies, be damned.
“Shhh,” replied Nick. “I think I’ve found something.” He squinted his eyes as if he were trying to clear his vision; then, he sniffed the air. “I think it’s a fox.”
Nat looked in the direction that Nick was looking but didn’t see anything.
Releasing her hand, Nick took several steps forward and suddenly jolted to a stop. He heard Nat following him. He turned around and whispered, “Stay here.”
“Nick,” she said, warningly.
“You promised, remember. Besides, I don’t want you scaring it away. I can move quietly and get to it faster if I don’t have to worry about you.”
Nat frowned, and Nick closed his eyes briefly realizing she might think she was a hindrance because of his words, but he didn’t have time to reassure her right now.
Nick turned around and once again started to walk quietly. Suddenly, Nick took off running. He was so fast Nat could barely see him. Within seconds, the early morning air was filled with a shrill cry of an animal fighting for its life and losing.
Nat covered her ears with her hands and squeezed her eyes shut. She knew what was happening—Nick was draining its blood. Eventually, the cry ceased and Natalie knew it was over, so she ran in the direction Nick went. All too soon, she reached Nick, who was sitting on the ground, as he flung the fox to his side.
Nick looked up as Nat approached and knew he had to be a gruesome sight. He had already been dirty and bloody from the crash, but now he had fresh blood on his lips and dripping off his chin. Also, his fangs were still extended and his eyes were yellow with hints of red spread throughout them. He couldn’t stop this reaction despite his efforts to do so—he needed more blood and the call for it was nearly overwhelming. He closed his eyes.
Trying to focus himself on finding a new meal that was not Natalie, he whispered, “I thought I told you to stay put.” Her approach had caused him to turn his senses onto her, and it was difficult to now turn away from her to find a mere animal for more sustenance. Natalie was too close too soon after hunting and not finding complete fulfillment.
“You’re finished,” she replied, kneeling beside him and running her fingers across his cheek lightly. “Are you okay now?” She hoped the fox’s blood would start the healing process throughout Nick’s body.
Nick looked at her, and he couldn’t help but notice that he startled her. He turned his face away and said, “I need more. Sorry.”
When Nick had reopened his eyes, their color had made her flinch. She had expected them to be blue. Almost immediately, she felt guilty about her response as she watched Nick turn away with a look of pain on his face as he spoke. “Why are you apologizing?” she asked.
Still facing away from her, he shrugged and got up. “That this isn’t over,” he replied after several seconds. “That I need more blood…that I scared you.” Nick walked away and berated himself. He should have known better than to give in to her—she should have never been allowed to hunt with him. Now she saw him for what he truly was: an uncontrollable beast that preys on the weak. Even harmless mountain creatures weren’t safe from him.
Nat also stood up—she was determined that Nick didn’t beat himself up over this. She knew all too well what he had to be thinking. She reached up, placed her hand on his cheek again, and forced him to look at her. Once their eyes met, she rubbed her thumb comfortingly across his upper cheekbone to show him she wasn’t afraid. “Nick,” she began softly…
Nick suddenly placed his hand over her mouth and shushed her. Nat widened her eyes as Nick turned his head to their left and stared. After several seconds, he removed his hand, he whispered, “Another fox is near.” He paused and looked into her eyes. “Please stay here and turn around. This isn’t going to be pretty.”
Without waiting for a reply, Nick seemingly disappeared again but now he was barely distinguishable as he ran, moreso than before. She was happy he was able to use his abilities again. That meant he was okay or at least getting better. Only a few seconds passed until the air was filled with screams again. She didn’t turn away like she did last time despite Nick’s request. Instead, she sought Nick with her eyes and saw him leaning against a tree with a fox at his mouth only twenty feet away from her. The fox was squirming, fighting for its life, and the screams were awful in its severity, but it wasn’t long before the animal ceased to move and gave its final breath.
Nick tossed the fox aside again and looked at Nat who was standing in front of him again. “You don’t listen, do you?” he asked so softly she barely heard him. He knew she saw him actually make the kill this time. She had only seen the aftermath earlier. Why can’t she ever do what she was told?
Nick pushed away from the tree and walked beside Nat. Without touching or looking at her, he said, “I think that’s enough for now. Let’s go back to the road to find a place to rest. I need to sleep for a little while. The pull of morning is too great given the circumstances.”
Nat nodded and grabbed Nick’s hand.
Now, it was Nick’s turn to flinch. He hadn’t expected her to want to touch him after she witnessed the vampire in all of its gruesomeness.
“Okay,” she whispered, knowing this was the best way to get Nick to accept what happened and what she saw. She leaned against him as they walked—she hoped it would be enough to calm him and soothe his fears…and her own.
Nick saw the road in the near distance and decided he had walked far enough. He sat down near a tree and leaned against it. As he closed his eyes, he felt Nat settle down close beside him. He moved away a little only to have Nat move back against him.
He shook his head and turned to look at her. She was looking right back at him.
“I know you don’t like that I saw you feed on those foxes,” she said resolutely, “but Nick, I know it was a necessity. Don’t think for one second I didn’t know how hungry you were and that you were trying to hide it. You don’t have to hide anything from me.” She knew she had to convince him or he would never face her again after this was all over.
Nick looked down at his hands before leaning his head back against the tree to look up at the leaves that thankfully blocked the sun’s rays. “I never wanted you to see me like that,” he replied, refusing to look at her as he talked about it; “I never wanted you to know that I was capable of doing something like that now.”
Natalie leaned her head on Nick’s shoulder and burrowed into his side. She didn’t care if she got bloody from his recent kills. All that mattered right now was Nick and what he thought. “Nick, everyone is capable of killing, even humans. You have done nothing wrong. Please don’t beat yourself up over this. We’re under extreme circumstances—you wouldn’t have done this otherwise.”
Nick stiffened at Natalie’s actions and words. “If only she knew,” he thought and then decided he would tell her. She needed to know what he was capable of, especially since he still needed more blood even though the hunger wasn’t as immediate as it was before. She needed to know so she could protect herself.
“That’s the thing,” he whispered. “I have done this under normal circumstances. Sure, I haven’t recently because I live in Toronto and there isn’t a place to hunt there…” He paused to breathe deeply. He never thought he would be telling Natalie this. “But I hunt like this, Nat, if I’m in a place where I can. It makes the…urges easier to handle.” After he was through speaking, he held his breath. He was sure she was going to push him away, head for the road, and walk without him. If that happened, he would follow close enough to make sure she remained safe. When they got back to Toronto, he would leave. She was the only reason why he stuck around, anyway.
Natalie didn’t remove her head from his shoulder, so Nick wouldn’t see her expression. She knew if she did, it was possible he would flee and not come near her again. She had to be the voice of reason despite any doubts or insecurities right now: “I don’t see why you’re beating yourself up over this. You were hungry, so you killed an animal to eat something. Humans do this all the time. I might have you do it later in the day for me. Will you feel guilty then, too? If so, I won’t ask you, and I’ll do it myself.”
She wouldn’t address how Nick had done the deed. Hopefully, Nick wouldn’t take them down that road.
Nick exhaled and turned slightly to look at her. He shook his head as he smiled softly and then kissed the top of her head. “You, Natalie Lambert, never cease to amaze me,” he whispered.
Finally, she lifted her head and turned to face him. She was glad she pulled him out of his funk, even if it was undoubtedly for only a short while. “I’m glad. It will keep you interested in staying,” she responded. She quickly turned her head when she realized how he might interpret those words. She might have just given him another reason to leave Toronto. “Stupid, Lambert, stupid,” she chastised herself silently.
When she turned to face Nick again to explain, she saw him leaning towards her. Their lips met in a chaste kiss. It was soft and comforting, and it ended all too quickly.
Nick smiled as he pulled away from Natalie’s lips, and when he got a good look at her again, he couldn’t help the sudden laughter that erupted from him.
“What are you laughing at?” asked Natalie, unsurely, but with a hint of a smile. She was glad he was in a better mood.
Still chuckling, Nick wiped at her mouth and lips with his hands. “I forgot that I was so grimy. You have dirt and blood on your face now,” he replied. His wiping wasn’t helping too much.
Nat purposefully rolled her eyes. “Should I expect anything less when kissing a vampire?” she whispered, choosing to ignore what she felt on her face.
“I guess not” was the jovial reply.
Nat looked up at the leaves above them and saw they would continue to block the sun’s rays in their location for a little while. Looking back at Nick, she said, “You said you were tired. Let’s sleep for a little while. Then, we’ll be able to start moving again.”
Nick nodded as he leaned more comfortably on the tree and within moments he was fast asleep.
Natalie ran her fingers through Nick’s hair. Thanks to her efforts, his head had found a place on her lap as she contemplated everything that had happened in such a short period of time. She couldn’t help but wonder if people in the area were aware of their flight. Surely, someone somewhere knew the plane went down or that they were missing. Despite these thoughts and many others, she wasn’t as worried as she was before, at least not about Nick’s wellbeing. He was getting better. While he remained sleeping earlier, she had pushed him away from the tree so she could examine his wounds. They were all healing, thanks to the fox blood undoubtedly. After that, she had pulled his head into her lap so he could rest comfortably.
He had been asleep for several hours now, and even though she said they would sleep for only a little while, she decided to allow him to do so for however long he needed. She was going to be the one to protect him now that he was vulnerable, like he did for her on the plane. “I owe him that and so much more,” she told herself.
Nat’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Nick yawning as he lifted his head. He met Natalie’s gaze and then looked back to the spot where he was resting. “How did I get here?” he asked.
Nat smiled as she replied, “I took a look at your wounds earlier and thought your head might be more comfortable on my lap than propped on a tree.”
“Thank you,” he said groggily. He glanced at the sky and said, “It’s time to get moving again.”
Nat grabbed Nick’s hand and kept him down as he started to get up. “We don’t have to. We can rest here until nightfall.”
Nick shook his head. “It’s more likely that we’ll run across someone during the day. I don’t want to miss anyone because we were sleeping and they couldn’t see us. Come on.”
Nick stood and offered Nat his hand. She took it and he pulled her to her feet. Hand in hand, they made their way back to road and continued to walk to wherever it led.
Natalie never knew the trees could provide an almost constant canopy of leaves on mountains. Truthfully, she never thought about it before. The sun trickled through the leaves only in certain spots and it wasn’t enough to give Nick any real problems. For this, she was eternally grateful. As she looked around the forest as they walked, she realized there was no place for Nick to hide. If the trees hadn’t provided enough protection, he would have died. There was no way she could have built anything for him, and she knew it would have been impossible to find a cave. What were the odds in that? Nat looked over at her companion and felt a chill run up her spine. She couldn’t even contemplate Nick burning in the sun in front of her. It would have been unbearable.
Nick looked at Nat and smiled as he thought about how infuriating this woman could be sometimes. As he watched her, he could tell she was worrying about him. Every so often, she would look over at him and he’d turn his head quickly, so he could pretend he hadn’t noticed. On these occasions, she would study his face for several moments and then run her eyes down his body. Despite his wearing a shirt, it didn’t stop her from seeing his wounds. They were clearly visible in the many rips and tears in his clothes. For once, he wished he could have kept his condition from her, but she wouldn’t allow that. She hadn’t since the very first night they met. From that point onward, Nat had made it her business to know everything about him—at least physically—and worry about him.
He wished there was something he could do or say to put her mind at ease or at least improve her mood. Staying optimistic seemed to be the real challenge in this predicament. He supposed the best way to do this was to be able to reassure her and make sure nothing happened that would cause her more angst.
Nick turned his attention to the sky and their surroundings. He knew he had to make sure he didn’t come into any direct contact with the sun. That was the main objective right now. So far, they were doing pretty well in those regards, and he knew that had been a major concern for her.
As Nick continued to walk and choose where they should walk on the road, he noticed the sounds of the forest were changing. He slowed their pace and listened. He allowed the sound to intensify to his senses, and he grinned when he recognized the main source of the new sounds.
Natalie had noticed several minutes ago that Nick’s mood seemed to be better. He seemed to be walking more casually now and taking note of their surroundings. It almost seemed like he was taking a leisurely stroll through the park and admiring what nature had to offer. She didn’t know if this change was from his sleeping, the blood, or a little both, but she was thankful. And, she wasn’t going to question him on it. It would be just her luck that he was thinking about something in the long ago past that happened in a similar environment and her questioning would bring him back to the present and his melancholy.
So, they walked in silence. It already seemed like they had been walking for almost two hours, she mused when Natalie realized something. “What is that?” she asked, stopping suddenly.
Nick grinned, glad she was finally noticing. He had wanted her to discover this for herself so she would be as happy and excited as she was now. “It sounds like a mountain stream,” he answered happily. “That means we can wash some of this filth off and that we might be closer to the bottom.”
“Can you tell how far away it is?” she asked exuberantly. She never thought she would be so happy to hear running water in her life.
“Not too far. I’m sure this road will meet up with it soon.”
With that, Nat sprung ahead, and Nick laughed. “Don’t get too far ahead,” he called out at her as she walked around a curve and he could no longer see her. Abruptly, a scream filled the serenity around him. Nick ran and stopped when he saw why she had screamed his name. She found the river which was down a slope from the road to their left.
Nick jogged to her and said, “Wanna get wet?”
At Nat’s nod, he swept her up into his arms, causing her to squeal, and Nick flew them the short distance down the mountain. He set her down, and Nat rushed to the stream, washed her hands in it, and cupped her hands to catch some of the water so she could drink it.
Nick leaned against a nearby tree and watched her for a short time before he decided to join her. As he walked the short distance to the water’s edge, he noticed some wild blackberries growing on nearby bushes. He quickly gathered them and then kneeled beside Natalie.
“Breakfast is served,” he said, happy he had found a way to feed her. He knew she had to be hungry.
“Oh, Nick!” she exclaimed. “Thank you! Where did you find them?” She started eating the berries hurriedly.
Nick pointed behind him and said, “On those bushes over there. There are plenty, so eat as many as you want.”
Without cleaning herself more thoroughly, Natalie made her way to the bushes. Nick watched for a second before he decided to clean himself up a little. He took off what was left of his shirt, as well as all the makeshift bandages. He washed his hands and then cupped water into them so he could wash his face.
Soon, Nick had waded out into the water and actually found a somewhat deep spot made by a small waterfall. He waded to the middle of it and used his shirt to start scrubbing the dried blood and dirt off his skin. He did this for several minutes until he noticed Natalie at the edge of the stream watching him.
She smiled when he finally noticed her. “Is it cold?”
“You’re asking a vampire,” he reminded her. “It’s tolerable to me, but yes, I think it’s a little cold.”
Natalie took off her shoes and stuck her foot in it. “Brrrr, it is cold,” she exclaimed; “But I’ll get used to it.” She looked back up and commanded, “Turn around, Nick.”
Knowing immediately what she was about to do, Nick turned around and closed his eyes. He didn’t open them even when he heard her splash through the water on her way toward him. It wasn’t until he felt her hand on his shoulder that he opened them and turned to look at her.
“You’re still wearing your pants,” she commented.
“And, you’re not,” he said, purposely wiggling his eyebrows at her. Then, he answered seriously, “I figured they’d dry while we walk, so I didn’t bother taking them off.” Truthfully, he figured Nat would join him in only her shirt and underwear as she was doing now, and he didn’t want there to be any chance of enticing the vampire too much, so he left his pants on. There would always be at least one layer of clothing between them this way: her shirt, his pants.
Nat narrowed her eyes at him and said, “You’re not hiding anything, are you?” It would be just like him to have another injury in that area and not tell her to save them both some embarrassment.
Nick’s eyes widened. Her accusation was clear. “Of course not!” he exclaimed.
Natalie continued to stare at him until she finally shrugged, believing him, and made her way to the small waterfall.
Nick gave her his shirt so she could use it to clean herself, as well. He was glad she let the topic drop—he didn’t want to have to drop his pants just to prove his innocence to the frustrating doctor.
Nick and Nat were back on the road a short time later. Nick was now completely shirtless and bandage-free. There was no point in putting on more bandages since he was finally healing. And, as for wearing the shirt again, it had seen better days. Nick figured it was pointless since most of his skin could be seen through the holes in it anyway. He had almost left it at the stream, but Nat had insisted on bringing it. “You never know,” she had said.
They walked down the road, once again hand-in-hand.
“How much longer do you think we have until we run across someone or some type of civilization?” she asked. She was tired of walking and she was tired of this whole ordeal. In fact, she was just plain tired…and hungry. She hadn’t gotten as much food or sleep as Nick since this whole thing started.
“I have no idea,” he replied. He knew she wanted to get back home as soon as possible. He couldn’t blame her. He did, too.
Nick was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of Natalie’s stomach growling. Nick immediately stopped and asked, “The berries weren’t enough?”
Nat, not wanting to be a burden, replied, “I’m fine for now.” She started walking again, but Nick continued to hold her hand to stop her.
“Nat, I could stand to get more blood. Maybe I could find something for me, and you could have the rest of it,” he suggested. He knew she was trying to be brave and not slow them down, but she was more important than the hour in which they would arrive back into civilization.
“What would you find around here that I would want to eat?” she asked. She didn’t know if she would be able to handle fox meat.
“Are you going to be choosy?” At Nat’s glare, Nick smiled and continued, “How about venison?”
Thoughts of Bambi floated through her mind, but she pushed them aside. “I suppose that’s the best you can do here.”
Nick brought her hand to his lips to kiss it. “If I asked you to stay here, would you?” he asked. He really didn’t want to display the vampire to Natalie again.
Knowing his reason for the question, she wanted to refuse, but she quickly realized she didn’t want to see it either. In Toronto, she could forget he was a vampire, but in these woods after a plane crash, it was more obvious than ever and getting harder and harder to ignore. “I’ll stay,” she answered.
Nick smiled and replied, “Good. I’m stronger now, so you don’t have to worry so much.” He started to head toward the trees and looked back to say, “If you need me, just yell. I won’t go too far. I think I hear deer close by.”
At Nat’s nod, he rushed into the woods and vanished. To pass the time, Natalie sat on a large boulder on the side of the road and tried to think about what she would do once they were back in civilization. “Get back to Toronto” was first and foremost on her mind. She seriously debated whether she would go by plane.
The rustle of the trees and bushes drew Natalie from her reverie. She didn’t know how long she had sat there thinking, but the sound frightened her and brought her current predicament back to her mind.
She was just about to yell for Nick when she suddenly saw him appear from the woods. He grinned at her, and she noticed he was carrying bloody meat in his hands. He didn’t walk all the way to her. Instead he stayed near the trees, washed himself and the meat in the stream, and then dropped the venison onto a nearby tree stump.
He then started gathering some wood. Apparently, he was going to start cooking it for her right away.
As Nat made her way over to him, she noticed the meat was already cut into several small pieces. “I see you already started to prepare it for cooking,” she whispered almost to herself but knowing he could hear her. She didn’t want to think about how he had cut it. She refused to look at it, especially with her skills as a pathologist. She would know if he had done it with his teeth or his bare hands if she looked closely. Either way was bad enough.
Nick knew what she was referring to and nodded. “I didn’t think you would like to see that part of the process, so I did it where I killed the deer.”
Natalie nodded and sat on a nearby tree that had probably fallen down during a bad storm. She was grateful that he had such foresight.
Soon, Nick had a fire going. It didn’t surprise her that he could do this without a match. He probably had years of practice, even from when he was mortal. She watched as Nick grabbed a long stick, quickly ran it through the flames, and then shoved it through the meat. Another display of his abilities…
“Do you want to do this?” he asked as he held the venison over the flames.
“No, you can do it,” she replied as she got up and made her way back to the stream. Ever since they had found the stream, the road stayed pretty close to it so far. “I want to get some water.”
“Hurry back,” he yelled in reply. “It will be finished soon.”
By the time, Natalie got back to Nick, he was pulling the meat from the flames. He turned and held the food out to her triumphantly. “It’s ready,” he told her. His smile and gait told her he was clearly pleased with himself. He was practically jumping with glee.
“Why are you in such a good mood?” she asked as she took the stick which held the venison and then nibbled on the food.
Nick grinned and answered, “I’m feeling a lot better. I think the quantity of blood I got from the deer was sufficient enough to speed along my recovery. I think when the sun goes down, I’ll be able to fly us out of here to get help.”
Nat looked hopeful. She licked her lips slowly as she raked her eyes across his body where his wounds should be. They were completely gone. There wasn’t even a trace of a scar—all she could see was pale, smooth skin. She looked up at Nick and wrapped her arms around him tightly. “I never thought I’d be so happy to anticipate you using your abilities,” she admitted as she rested her head against his shoulder.
Television cameras and a large group of people were gathered in front of the police station as the patrol car Nick and Nat were in pulled up to the police station. Undoubtedly, news had gotten out that there had been two survivors in the plane crash and the news reporters were staking out the hospital and police station in hopes of getting an interview.
“Can you pull around to the back?” asked Nick as he leaned forward to talk to the officer driving.
“Yeah, but they’re going to be back there, too. Damn reporters,” he answered as he drove where Nick had asked.
Nick took Nat’s hand and whispered, “Are you sure you don’t need to go to the hospital? They can take our statements there.”
“Nick, I’m fine—I only got a few scrapes. Besides, they would want to check you out, too, and I have no jurisdiction here. They wouldn’t take my word on anything concerning you.”
Nick nodded reluctantly as the car came to a stop. “Are you ready to face the mob?” he questioned as he looked out the window and buttoned up the jacket the officer had given him.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she replied as she whipped the door open and ran through the crowd. Nick kept her close to his side and made sure to keep people out of her reach as they worked their way to the station’s door.
Once they made their way in, Nat sighed and leaned against Nick. “You would think they’d realize we don’t want to deal with them right now,” she complained.
Nick chuckled and said sarcastically, “The people have a right to know and know right…”
Before Nick could finish his statement, he came face to face with Captain Reese. He stopped immediately and noticed Tracy was beside him.
“I have never been so glad to see someone in my entire life,” Reese said. He stepped forward and gave Nick a hug. As the men patted each other on the back while they embraced, Tracy hugged Nat and a few tears rolled down her cheeks.
“What are you doing here?” exclaimed Natalie. Seeing the Captain and Tracy was definitely unexpected.
“We came to search for you; thankfully, our services weren't needed,” she said when she pulled away from Natalie to give Nick a hug.
“What?” asked Nick and Nat in surprise, simultaneously.
She explained, “When we got the call that your plane went down, the captain wanted to fly out here immediately. We have a whole group of volunteers to help with the search.” She pointed behind her, and Nick looked to see Detectives Flinn and Stan, as well as other familiar faces.
“You guys came all the way here despite knowing we were probably dead?” asked Nick. He was shocked. Surely, there was more to it than that.
“I wasn’t going to believe it until we saw actual proof,” answered Reese. “I just had a feeling you two had made it. Really, I was guilty as hell I made you go on this trip.”
Nick shook his head quickly. “No, I have to thank you for that.”
Before Reese could question why on Earth he would thank him, he saw Nick look at Natalie with a tender expression. Of course.
“Well,” Reese continued as he stuck his hands in his pant’s pockets, “I bet you two want to get home as quickly as possible. As soon as you give your statements, I’ll book us all a flight back to Toronto.”
Nick and Nat looked at each other with a smile. “What about the training? We haven’t missed it, yet,” asked Nick. Each had a feeling earlier that they were going to be excused from that obligation.
Reese shook his head and said, “Forget about it. You two have just been through a hell of a lot. I think you two deserve actual vacation time after this whole ordeal. Detectives Stan and Flinn can take your place. I believe they were your suggestion as to whom should go anyway, right, Knight?...Or do you want to go now?”
“Uh, no,” answered Natalie quickly. “I just want to go home and forget this ever happened.”
The wind blew through their hair as Nick and Nat checked out all the sights Toronto had to offer. They were on a week’s paid vacation so they could recoup and get a handle on everything that had happened. Because they had the time and they didn’t want to spend so much time thinking about the crash, Nat suggested they go sightseeing. After all, they lived in a wonderful area and they rarely took the time to enjoy it.
Nick felt Nat’s tight grip around his waist, and he smiled as she laid her head on his shoulder. He had been surprised when she called him this afternoon wanting to do this. He never thought he’d hear Nat ask him. He supposed that was one good thing that resulted from the crash: He now knew Nat was a lot more accepting and understanding than he thought she was. He didn't know if she had always been this way or if her first flight in his arms had changed her mind about this one ability. But at this one moment in time, he didn't really care.
Nat pointed in the distance and said, “You can see my apartment from here.” The view was amazing, breathtaking.
Nick smiled and answered, “You can see just about everything from up here.”
The whole city of Toronto was at their feet. Nat had never gone up into the CN Tower despite living here most of her life, and now here she was, sitting outside it on top of its Skypod. Nick was glad he could share this--he never thought it would be possible, but now that he knew it was, he was a little sad it had taken them this long. Regardless, he was glad he was given the opportunity to show her the city and life in a way no one else ever could.