Nick turned on the couch and pulled a pillow over his head, trying to shut out the incessant buzzing of his door bell. It was the middle of the afternoon, a time he shouldn't be disturbed by mortals, especially not on his night off. Yet, despite his efforts, the noise continued, making it impossible to return to sleep. Sitting up, Nick glared at the door, as if daring the person downstairs to intrude.
Switching on the video screen, he recognized his partner. While he had trusted Schanke with his door code, he hadn't been as forthcoming with Tracy yet. In fact, Tracy had never come to his home since she was partnered with him. Noting the grim expression on her face, Nick realized that she wouldn't go away. What did he do now to provoke her visit during the day? Nick released a sigh and buzzed her in. He quickly gathered the empty bottles from the table and discarded them into the disposal bin.
As soon as he opened the elevator door, Tracy stormed into the loft. "Finally! You weren't answering your phone, Nick. I've been trying to reach you for hours."
"It's our night off. What's the matter?" Nick demanded. Her elevated heartbeat told him that she was terribly upset, but from the way she evaded his gaze he concluded that he wasn't the cause for her state of agitation.
"It's Natalie," Tracy said, her voice hesitant. "I don't know how to tell you this ..."
Nick's eyes widened as he grabbed Tracy's shoulders. "What happened?"
"She's been in an accident. She was taken right into surgery at Toronto General, but it's not looking good, Nick. They couldn't stop the internal bleeding. The physicians placed her into a coma to stabilize her, but she's still losing blood."
Nick froze. For a moment he merely stared at Tracy. Her words caused him as much pain as a stake through the heart would.
"The physician suggested that we notify her family, but since her brother is dead and her sister-in-law moved away, the Captain tried to call you."
Nick glanced towards the covered window. The sun was still in the sky. He couldn't go out, but he couldn't wait for sunset either. "I cannot drive. Can you take me to her?" he asked, sounding slightly hoarse.
"Of course," Tracy agreed.
"I'm getting dressed. I'll be right back."
Tracy watched as he vanished into a room upstairs. Although she had been trained for situations like this, she hated notifications. It was even worse when friends were involved.
"We can go," Nick's voice caused her to jump.
"Are you serious? It's 25 degrees out there," Tracy pointed out as she regarded his long coat, gloves and baseball cap.
"I don't have a choice. You know that," Nick said gloomily and preceded her to the elevator.
* * *
Fortunately, Tracy had parked in the shadows so that Nick didn't have to make a dash to the passenger seat. Once he was seated, he pushed the cap deep over his face and pulled up his collar, exposing as little skin as possible.
Yet, as she pulled out he felt the heat of the sun uncomfortably on his skin. "How did it happen?" he asked in order to distract himself from the instinctive desire to get out of the car and seek shelter.
"The details aren't clear yet. Apparently she stopped on the Don Valley Parkway to help someone whose car had broken down. A truck driver didn't see the cars and crashed into them full force. The driver and the other guy died on impact."
Nick swallowed and shifted uneasily in his seat, preventing a stray beam of sunlight to get in touch with his cheek. "Could you use the siren?" he demanded when Tracy stopped at a red light.
"We aren't on duty," she reminded him.
"Just do it," he hissed. "This is an emergency!"
Tracy gave him a sideways glance, noting that his cheek had turned an ugly red. Turning on the siren, she sped up to pass the car in front and raced on to Toronto General.
* * *
"I'm afraid there isn't much more that we can do," the physician told them upon their arrival.
Nick stopped half way into the room. The air was scented heavily with Natalie's blood. He briefly closed his eyes to keep them from changing. "Can you leave me alone with her, Tracy?" Nick requested as he stepped closer to the frail body on the bed.
"Sure," Tracy said quietly. She briefly touched his arm in a gesture of consolation and left.
Nick reached out to brush his hand along Natalie's cheek, but stopped in mid-air, afraid to cause any more damage by a simple touch. He had lost many friends over the centuries, some to old age, and others by his own hand. He hadn't expected to lose Natalie any time soon. He had always assumed he would move on in a couple of years and leave her to continue her life, untainted by his darkness.
"She's quite a mess, isn't she?" a velvet voice spoke from behind him.
Nick whirled around to face his master. "What are you doing here?"
"A father knows when his child is in pain," Lacroix reminded him and stepped forward to take a closer look at Natalie. "A pity to see her wither in this state. Are you prepared to lose her, Nicholas?"
Nick shook his head.
"Are you intending to do something about it?"
Nick shook his head again. "It's not what she wants."
"So you have discussed this possibility?" Lacroix raised one eyebrow.
"We had this discussion after the asteroid scare. She said I was right not to bring her across."
"Hmm," Lacroix shrugged and reached out to tear a band aid from Natalie's arm, initiating a fresh flow of blood from an oozing wound. He swiped an amount on his index finger and led it to his mouth when Nick caught his arm, angrily.
"Stop it! She's already suffered enough. She doesn't need you to finish her off!"
Lacroix merely used his second hand to gather a new amount of blood and licked it off. "I believe she changed her mind," he stated calmly.
"What?" Nick couldn't believe that Natalie would be willing to join him after all he had told her about life as a vampire.
In reply, Lacroix merely wiggled the blood-coated finger from the hand that Nick was still holding at him. After a glance at his father's face, Nick licked the finger clean. He wasn't prepared for the deep affection he tasted in Natalie's blood. He also tasted her unconditional trust in him as well as her fear that he might leave her behind one day. Her desire to be with him was undeniable.
"I can't," Nick whispered and took a step back. "There's nothing I can do for her."
"You can give her a choice, Nicholas. Do you value her so little as to deny her that?"
Nick eyed his master suspiciously. He remembered all too well their agreement that allowed Lacroix to take from him the woman he loved. He couldn't believe Lacroix would release him from this bargain by encouraging him to bring Natalie across. What did he gain by that? "Why the sudden interest in her? I know you would be perfectly happy when she dies."
"How can I be happy when my child is in pain? Believe me, Nicholas; I'd rather accept a grandchild than enduring your mourning a lost love for the next century."
"What if I take too much?" Perhaps that was why Lacroix gave his consent? "I don't know if I can do this. I couldn't live knowing I'd killed her". The memory of Alyssa was still painfully present.
"You will do it right this time."
Nick wished he felt as convinced. "How can you be so sure?"
"As I said, I do not wish to spend the next century listening to your guilt if you let this one die."
Nick understood. Lacroix would intervene if he took too much. The thought was oddly comforting and gave him confidence. He leaned over Natalie and inhaled her fragrance.
"There is --- one condition," Lacroix stated.
Nick whirled around. He should have known that Lacroix's apparent altruism was only a facade for his own agenda.
"I will not have a carouche as a grandchild. She will be properly fed and trained," Lacroix continued calmly.
Nick nodded without thinking. He would not make the same mistake with Natalie as he had done with her brother. Turning back to the bed, he kissed her neck softly. "Forgive me," he whispered before pricking her skin gently with his teeth. Nick moaned as the first flush of her blood touched his tongue. He swallowed hungrily and started to suck greedily, revelling in the emotions that were ingrained in her blood. When he felt a restraining hand on his shoulder, he shook it off, not wanting to cut short his feast as long as there was more to take.
"Enough!" a sharp voice whispered harshly into his ear, bringing him back to his senses.
Appalled, he stared at the lifeless body in front of him. "I've taken too much," he gasped in shock. After a moment of torturous apprehension a single heartbeat assured him that he had stopped in time. Relieved, he opened his cuff and bit deeply into his wrist. Holding it against Natalie's lips, he waited anxiously. "She's not responding," he observed when nothing happened. "Come back, Natalie!" he urged. Turning stricken eyes to Lacroix, he exclaimed, "What's wrong?"
"You have to want her to come back to you, Nicholas. You must assume the role of her master and call upon the connection you now have with her."
Nick cringed. He didn't want this to be the relationship between them. He would never be a master to her as Lacroix had been to him. He wanted her as an equal.
Yet, he focused on the weak link he had established by drinking her blood. Feeling along the vibration, he called out to her, using all of his seductive power to pull her away from the light. He was rewarded with a weak movement of her lips against his wrist. After the first swallow, Natalie sucked at his arm with increasing ferocity. Nick let her feed until he started to feel light-headed. Breathing heavily, he pulled his wrist away.
Lacroix regarded him with a benevolent smile. "Well done, mon fils."
Nick returned the smile and brushed a stray lock from Natalie's face. She had fallen into the deep sleep that would grant her transformation. "I'm taking her to the loft. I might need your help with the hospital staff and Captain Reese. They must remember that Nat's injuries weren't as severe as they seemed."
"What about your partner?"
"She's a resistor."
"And why should this be a problem?" Lacroix cocked his eyebrow.
"She already knows about vampires. She may be helpful to cover for Nat. I'll talk to her later."
"As you wish."
Nick opened the window to reveal a dark sky. Then he gathered Natalie in his arms and flew out into the night.
* * *
After placing Natalie gently on his bed, Nick returned downstairs. He called Tracy and asked her to come over, stating that he needed to talk. Then he sat down on the piano bench and contemplated the events of this night.
If it hadn't been for Lacroix's intervention, he would have lost Natalie tonight. Apart from the fact that he would have let her die in the first place, he would have drained her if his father hadn't stopped him, and he would have lost her to the light if he hadn't followed Lacroix's instructions. He didn't recall that these problems occurred when he brought Richard, Serena, Elizabeth or Gerald Archer across. Why was it so different with Nat?
He looked up as he sensed Lacroix's presence in the loft. The ancient landed in the kitchen, bringing a case of bottles with him, which he placed on the table.
"So broody, Nicholas? I had expected you to be in higher spirits after being united with the love of your life for eternity."
Nick ignored the inflexion Lacroix used that made the words 'love of your life' sound like a disease. "Why was it so difficult to bring her across?" he asked instead. "I almost lost her. I never went through such efforts to bring someone back."
Lacroix moved to his side and placed a hand on his shoulder. "It always requires more skill to bring someone across whom we love. I don't know why that is. Perhaps our subconscious is inclined to let them die unless we consciously make the effort to claim them. The reward is quite worth the effort though. You will find your bond to be particularly strong."
Nick looked up at his master. "Have you ever ---" He stopped in midsentence. The increased thrumming he sensed along their link provided the answer he had sought. No bond was as strong as that between himself and Lacroix. Embarrassed at the implication, he looked down on the keys. He felt a brief squeeze on his shoulder before he noticed that Lacroix had moved back into the kitchen.
"I've taken care of the hospital staff and your Captain. This case should be sufficient for the next hours. I've instructed my supplier to arrange a constant delivery to your loft," Lacroix stated in a neutral voice.
"Thank you." Nick struggled for more words, but Lacroix had already left through the skylight. While he stared dumbfounded at the spot Lacroix had formerly occupied, his thoughts were interrupted by the door bell.
* * *
When Nick opened the lift door, Tracy regarded him worriedly. He looked worn out. She had left the hospital for a change of clothes after Nick had requested to be alone with Natalie. When he had called her, he had hung up before she had a chance to ask about Natalie. So, she was uncertain if she was still stable or worse.
"I'm sorry about Nat," she said, hoping this was the appropriate statement.
Nick blinked several times as if his mind had been elsewhere before assuring her, "Natalie will be fine."
Tracy creased her brow. Her partner was clearly in denial.
"Nick, I know the doctor said to leave it in God's hands, but from what I've heard, she lost a lot of blood and her lung was pierced by a rib. It might merely be a matter of time." She watched as Nick pulled a bottle of wine from a case on the kitchen table and poured himself a glass. Now was definitely the wrong moment to get drunk. "I think you should return to the hospital."
"You don't understand, Tracy. Natalie will not die. Ever."
Tracy eyed the bottle on the table closer and recognized the label which she had seen on similar bottles in Vachon's dwelling. Her eyes shot questioningly toward Nick who leaned with his back against the kitchen counter. Had he contacted Vachon to turn Natalie into a vampire? But Nick didn't know about vampires. Tracy's eyes widened as Nick took a generous sip from his glass.
"Nick?" Tracy found Nick's blue eyes focused on her, his expression a mixture of guilt and apprehension. "Is that blood in your glass?" If she had mistaken the bottle, Tracy was aware that her partner must think her to be completely nuts.
Instead, Nick nodded slowly and took another sip. "I'm sorry I misled you."
Tracy stared at him. "You're a vampire?" She thought of all the clues that had been right in front of her. His pale skin, his alleged sun allergy, his lack of food consumption, the list could go on. Turning away from him, she smacked her forehead. "Geez, what kind of cop am I? All the clues were there and I didn't see the entire picture."
"You're a good cop, Tracy." Nick's voice sounded close behind her and she hadn't noticed him moving. "You trusted your partner, which is essential for any good cop."
Tracy turned back around and studied him closer. Even now that she knew his secret, he looked normal to her. She didn't sense the evil that was a part of Vachon. Perhaps Nick was younger than Vachon. "You seem different than the others."
"I am different. At least, I try to be. By the way, how many vampires do you know, Tracy?" he asked teasingly.
Tracy frowned. "You know Vachon. Why didn't you tell me since I already knew that vampires exist?"
Nick looked down into his glass. "I'm not used to share my personal life. And I didn't want you to be more afraid of your partner than of the perps on the street."
"Why should I be afraid of you? I'm not afraid of Vachon."
"Maybe you should. We're predators, Tracy. We live on the very sustenance that's running through your veins."
"You've saved my life on a number of occasions. You wouldn't have done that if you'd regard me as a midnight snack. Why are you telling me all this now?"
"Because of Natalie. I brought her across and it might be helpful if you would stick to the story that her injuries weren't as life-threatening as they first seemed. Otherwise we will be forced to move on and I don't want to tear Nat away from her familiar surroundings just yet. Not before she had a chance for closure."
Nicholas watched with a frown as the body he had drained was carried away with the river current. He felt two fingertips at his chin, lifting his face until he met the affectionate gaze of his master.
"Do not fret, Nicholas. We are no longer bound by mortal laws. We are free to do as we please and to go wherever we choose. Is there any particular place you would like to visit?"
Nicholas smiled, his recent victim already forgotten. "I want to go home and see my family."
Lacroix's features darkened. "Impossible!"
Nicholas looked hurt. "Why? You just said we can do anything we want. This is what I want."
"It's not wise, Nicholas. They will note that you're different. How will you explain your pallor and the fact that you can only move about at night?"
"My mother and sister haven't seen me since I left for the crusades. They will understand that I've changed. I've been through hell and the determination to see them again was what kept me alive. They're my family."
"Not anymore. We are your family now. Janette and I," Lacroix growled.
"Please, Lacroix, I need to make sure that they're alright. Then I can move on," Nicholas pleaded. He reached for Lacroix's hand and kissed the ring reverently.
After a long moment of silence, Lacroix closed his eyes briefly and bowed his head imperceptive in consent. "I will probably regret this decision."
Tracy processed what Nick had said. "You turned Natalie into a vampire?"
Nick nodded slowly. "It's probably the most selfish thing I've ever done, but I wasn't prepared to lose her just yet. She knows what I am and she has considered coming across if I moved on."
"What about the hospital staff? Surely they have medical records."
"It's been taken care of," Nick said. He felt a faint stirring and looked at the bedroom door, then back down at Tracy. "You have to leave now. Natalie's waking up."
"She's here?" Tracy asked wide-eyed.
"Yes, I'll call you as soon as I can." Nick shoved Tracy into the elevator.
As soon as the lift descended, he grabbed several bottles and flew upstairs.
* * *
Natalie lay on the bed, her pale face a stark contrast to the dark sheets. After placing the bottles on the nightstand, Nick perched on the bed and filled a mug. He could feel the bond between them and smiled. She was his now. As soon as the thought had formed in his mind, he called himself to reason. He doubted that Natalie would approve of this expression, but he couldn't help the way he felt.
Natalie's eyelids fluttered, a moment later her eyes shot open and she sat up, looking wildly around.
"It's okay, Nat, drink this." Nick shoved the mug into Natalie's hands and watched as she lifted it to her mouth and drank hastily. As soon as it was empty he refilled it.
After the third bottle, Natalie slowed down. She took in her surroundings before focusing a questioningly glance at Nick. "What happened? Why am I in your bed, wearing a hospital shirt?"
"You had an accident, Nat. What do you remember?"
Natalie furrowed her brows. "I was driving home from work. I noticed a car on the shoulder of the DVP. I stopped behind it to see if the driver needed assistance." Natalie stopped, trying to remember what happened next. "It's a bit fuzzy then. I remember the headlights of a truck coming straight at me. Then there was a light and I heard you calling me."
"You were fatally injured in that accident," Nick said softly. "I brought you across."
Natalie stared at him. "You mean --- I --- I'm a ---"
Nick nodded solemnly. "I wasn't sure if that was what you wanted, but after tasting your blood I learned that you've been considering it."
"I'm a vampire?" Natalie gasped, astonished. "Are you sure? I don't feel any different."
"That's because you're currently sated. Trust me, you are a vampire. You've just consumed three bottles of blood. And then there's this." Nick leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers. His tongue found its way into her mouth, stimulating a specific area at her gum.
"Ouch!" Natalie gasped. She had just been enjoying the unexpected kiss when she felt a sharp pain. Instead of the expected worried expression, she found Nick grinning at her broadly. She raised her hand to her mouth and probed carefully. Her eyes widened as she touched two very sharp extended canines. "Oh my God!"
"I had much about the same reaction when Janette did that to me," Nick said, still grinning. "Be careful with those. They're meant to cut through skin."
As soon as he had said this, Natalie yelped again and stared at the blood that welled from her index finger.
Nick took her hand and gently licked the blood off. "Told you so," he said with a smile.
Natalie examined her finger only to find it healed. "That's amazing." Then she noticed a blood-soaked bandage on her arm and felt several similar dressings around her chest and legs.
Nick had followed her eyes and removed the bandage from her arm. "You won't need that anymore."
"I must have looked horrible, huh?"
Nick nodded. "I was so devastated that I might lose you." He leaned in for another kiss, but Natalie stopped him. She was still stunned by the realization that she was a vampire. Everything was happening so fast. She needed time to sort things out.
"Wait, I reek of hospital. Let me head home for a shower and a change of clothes."
"You can't go anywhere before you've adapted and gained sufficient control. Besides, your apartment isn't safe during the day."
"But I've got nothing to wear! And what about Sydney? The last time I gave him food was before my shift."
"Okay, how about you take your shower here while I head over and fetch a bag of clothes and take care of Sydney?" Nick consented.
When Natalie nodded, Nick leaned forward and kissed her brow. "Okay. I won't be long. Don't leave the loft. If you feel hungry, there's more blood on the kitchen table."
After Nick had left, Natalie eyed the empty bottles of blood that were lined up on the nightstand with growing unease. It was true; she had been considering coming across in case Nick moved on, but since he had already turned her down once, she had doubted he would agree if she asked him again. This was utterly unexpected. She had always assumed they would discuss first what was going to happen so that she would be able to make preparations like bidding farewell to the sun. Would she be able to continue her job? Natalie sank back into the pillows, feeling completely overwhelmed.
* * *
On his way back to the loft Nick sensed a sudden pain coming from Natalie. He hastened his speed and landed moments later beside her in the living room area. "What's wrong?" he asked and gave her a glance over. She was freshly showered and dressed in his red robe.
Natalie looked at her hand which she had cradled under her arm. "Nothing, I guess," she said with a frown. Nick looked towards the table and noticed the open box that contained Joan's Cross.
"You touched it?" he asked in disbelief. "Have you learned nothing from what I told you?"
Taken aback at his sharp tone, Natalie said subdued, "I wanted to see if I have the same reaction. I mean, I've seen how it affects you, but I've always suspected it was psychosomatic."
Nick looked at her askance. "And? Did you have the same reaction?"
Natalie shook her head. "It was worse. I couldn't even hold it. My hand burst instantly into flames."
Nick nodded and closed the box before placing his hands on Natalie's shoulders. "You're young and vulnerable, Nat. It does take time to build a certain tolerance. Be patient and do exactly as I say."
Natalie nodded. "Did you bring me something to wear?"
Nick handed her the duffel bag.
"Thanks, I'm going to get dressed."
"The robe suits you," Nick said with a smile as she ascended the stairs.
* * *
"How's Sydney doing?" Natalie asked when she returned downstairs.
"Uh, actually I couldn't find him," Nick admitted.
"But, Nick! He must be starving! He's probably hiding in a closet. I'm going to look for him." Natalie was half way toward the elevator when Nick intercepted her.
"Nat, you can't go anywhere in your present state. I would have noticed if there was a living being in your apartment," he reminded her. "Maybe a neighbour or one of your colleagues took care of him."
"I need to check for myself," Natalie insisted and brushed past him.
In a flash, Nick positioned himself in front of the elevator. "I said no," His threatening tone caused Natalie to stare at him. Quite astonished at his own reaction, he relented, "I'll ask Tracy to check out his whereabouts tomorrow, okay?"
Natalie nodded mutely and retreated towards the couch, regarding him questioningly.
Exhaling, Nick followed her and settled into an armchair. "Natalie, you're a freshly turned vampire. I don't want you to end up like your brother. You can't go out among mortals before you've learned to control yourself."
"I think I am in control," Natalie argued.
"Really? And how do you want to know that?"
"I don't feel hungry."
"I suggest that you check yourself in the mirror."
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Your eyes are glowing because you're upset. You can't let that happen among mortals."
"Oh." Natalie covered her mouth with her hand. "I didn't notice. How do I change them back?"
"Take a deep breath and calm down," Nick instructed. "As for your hunger..." He used his thumb nail to slice his forearm. Instantly Natalie launched herself at the source of blood and sucked greedily until the fountain ceased and the wound closed itself. "Never underestimate it."
Natalie looked up at him, slowly realizing that she had moved in a flash from the couch toward him without a conscious thought. "Did I --- did I just drink your blood? That's gross!"
To her astonishment Nick didn't seem the least bit appalled by her behaviour. "Not for the last time, I hope," he said huskily and gazed at her with unconcealed longing. He brushed his hand over her cheek and leaned down to initiate a tender kiss that soon grew in passion.
Natalie was astounded at the boldness with which Nick proceeded. The few times Nick had kissed her before were always accompanied by immense restraint on his part. Now he kissed her with a fierceness that left her senses reeling. His lips plundered her face before moving to her neck. Natalie groaned and felt her fangs dropping. Nick pushed the sweater from her shoulder and paused a moment. Natalie's heart beat twice in succession as she caught a glimpse of his golden eyes and extended fangs. Instinctively, she tried to push him away. "Don't."
"It's okay. I can't hurt you," he reminded her in a hoarse voice. "Bite me!"
"What?" Natalie didn't think she had heard him correctly around his fangs.
Nick was already nibbling on her shoulder. "Just do it!" He demanded, urging her head towards his neck. Natalie squirmed in his embrace as he continued to suckle on her neck and shoulder, igniting a yearning in her, she couldn't quite place. Her eyes focused on his neck. Something drew her inevitably to his vein. As she intended to place a soft kiss on this spot, Nick pressed her head against his neck, causing her fangs to pierce his skin. Natalie swallowed and was surprised at the passion she tasted in his blood. She heard a low growl before she felt a sharp pain at her shoulder. The passion she tasted increased and then the pictures started. She saw Nick in period clothing, eyes ablaze and fangs extended, as he sunk his teeth into an endless parade of victims. What she saw surpassed her wildest imaginings. Recoiling in horror, she stopped drinking and passed out.
Nick revelled in the taste of Natalie's blood. He had waited impatiently until Natalie bit into his vein before completing the circle. He growled when Natalie broke the connection so soon. He took one more sip that was laced with fear before he lapped gently over the bite marks, watching as they closed. Only then did he notice that Natalie hung limp in his arms.
Immediately he scolded himself for subjecting Natalie to too much on her first night as a vampire. He should have cut her some slack until she had adapted. Despite the fact that he and Janette had made love immediately after he had been brought across. He gathered Natalie in his arms and carried her into the bedroom. After placing her on the bed, he stretched out beside her and wrapped his arms around her.
* * *
Natalie woke with a scream.
"Nat?" Nick bent over her and noticed the blood sweat on her brow. Much to his concern, she froze when she saw him. "It's okay, you were having a nightmare," he soothed her. "I'm here for you." He leaned down to lick the blood off her brow, when she pushed him away.
"Get away from me!" Natalie exclaimed and jumped from the bed.
"Natalie what's wrong?" Nick asked, clueless.
"What was that last night? When you bit me?"
Nick looked down at the sheets. "Uh, we were making love," he provided cautiously.
"Love? That's what you call that? That was the most horrible experience I ever had!"
Nick was taken aback. He had never received any complaints in that department. Quite the contrary. "I'm sorry," he said, subdued, and left the bedroom to give her some privacy.
* * *
"My, my, is that any way to be treated by your beloved?"
Nick stopped on the gallery when he saw Lacroix reclining comfortably in the armchair. He cut back his usual harsh 'What are you doing here', since he was actually glad for his presence. Natalie's reaction was a mystery to him and he felt at a loss about how to proceed without estranging her further. He filled two glasses and carried them to the seating area. After placing one in front of Lacroix, he plopped down on the couch and took a deep swallow. "I don't know what went wrong," he sighed. "She's freaking out."
"How quaint. Have you not discovered a cause for her irrational sentiment?"
"I felt it best to leave her alone for a while."
Lacroix lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "You have shared blood, have you not?"
Nick nodded, not sure where he was leading.
"Shouldn't her problem be obvious to you then? Or were you so enamoured of satisfying your craving that you failed to probe into the disposition of your child?"
Nick gazed embarrassed at the floor, realizing that he had indeed failed in his responsibility as her master. Then he recalled the emotion he had tasted before Natalie broke the connection. "She was frightened of something, but I don't know why."
"Really, Nicholas," Lacroix scolded and stood, gazing at the closed bedroom door. "With your permission?"
Nick inclined his head in consent and watched as Lacroix lifted himself effortlessly on the gallery and entered the bedroom.
* * *
Wrapped in a towel, Natalie stepped out of the bathroom and stopped in her tracks. She had sensed that someone was in the room, but she had assumed that Nick had returned. Now she stared wide-eyed at the man perched on the bed.
"Good evening, Natalie," he breathed, regarding her with a penetrating gaze.
"Lacroix," she swallowed, clutching the towel tighter. "Would you mind waiting outside while I get dressed?"
"I've seen women dressed in less, so do not bother with modesty, my dear." He padded the mattress beside him. "Why don't you sit down so that you and I can have a little chat?"
After overcoming her initial shock at his rude reply, Natalie asked suspiciously, "Why should I talk to you of all people? We aren't exactly on friendly terms."
"That situation has changed, I believe. You are a part of my family now and I do protect what is mine. From others as well as from themselves."
"I'm not yours and neither is Nick," Natalie corrected him, earning a raised eyebrow at her objection.
"Let's not quarrel about definitions, shall we? In time you will learn to appreciate the benefits of being associated with me. Nicholas tells me that you emerged rather unsatisfied from your encounter?"
Natalie knew she would have blushed to the roots if she had been mortal. She couldn't believe that Nick had actually discussed this with Lacroix. "I'm certainly not discussing this with you," she said resolutely.
Lacroix gave her a condescending smile. "I'm afraid I'm the only one available who will lend a friendly ear. Unless you wish to discuss the matter with Nicholas, of course."
"No," Natalie objected immediately.
"Or would you like me to summon Janette?"
Natalie shook her head. "I don't want you to summon anyone on my behalf."
"Well, then what appears to be the problem?"
Natalie swallowed and sat down on the bed, a good distance away from Lacroix. She contemplated a moment on how to begin. He would mock her anyway no matter what she said. "Last night Nick wanted me to bite him and he bit me in return. He said we made love. But it didn't feel that way. It was horrible."
"Has Nicholas not explained the concept of sharing blood?"
Natalie shook her head.
Rolling his eyes, he continued, "Sharing blood with each other is the ultimate expression of intimacy. You become one with each other and know everything – within certain boundaries."
Natalie had listened in fascination. It sounded more compelling than her experience had been. "And that's all?" she wanted to know.
"We are certainly capable of extending the experience in a mortal fashion. Nicholas, however, is quite impulsive by nature. He prefers to skip the foreplay of mortal coupling in times of dire need."
"But the bite is necessary?"
"The bite is inevitable, which is why Nicholas has not taken this step while you were mortal."
Lacroix studied her probingly. "Is there another problem?"
Natalie cast her eyes down. "When Nick bit me, I saw horrible things. He killed lots of people."
Surprise was evident on Lacroix's face. "You knew what Nicholas is. Certainly you didn't entertain the idea that he survived on cow's blood throughout the centuries?"
"Of course not, but actually seeing it shocked and scared me."
"Have you not a collection of motion pictures at home, depicting the most sanguine scenarios that screenwriters of the horror genre could imagine?"
'How did he know that?' wondered Natalie. "They're movies. It certainly makes a difference knowing what I saw was real."
"Does it make a difference in the way you feel about Nicholas?"
Natalie hesitated. "No, I guess not. But I need time to digest this."
Lacroix looked pleased. "Very well. Time is what you have plenty now." He stood and walked to the door. "I will leave you to get dressed. Come to the Raven if you wish to talk."
Before Natalie could express a word of gratitude, he had slipped out of the room. Astonished she stared at the closed door. This was not the conversation she had expected ever to have with the ancient. Instead of giving mock replies, he had handled her concerns seriously and provided her with insight she wished Nick had given her earlier.
* * *
"You have a frightened child who refuses to share blood with you in the near future," Lacroix stated as he returned downstairs. "What are you intending to do about it?"
Nick brushed his hand through his hair and shook his head. "I don't understand." He spoke in a low voice so that Natalie wouldn't overhear what he was saying. "Janette and I made love immediately after you brought me across. I don't recall that I was surprised when she bit me."
"And why do think that is, Nicholas?" Lacroix inquired.
"I don't know." Nick said flatly, avoiding Lacroix's intense gaze.
"When I brought you across, I passed along a good deal of essential knowledge with my blood. Apparently you've neglected to provide a similar service for your child, apart from the circumstance that she was unconscious when you brought her across."
Now Nick stared at Lacroix. He hadn't been aware of that. He had always taken the knowledge he had gained for granted.
"My gift to you. I wanted you properly educated," Lacroix shrugged. "And I wanted to spare Janette the necessity of enlightening you prior to satisfying her hunger for you. Such a talk, however, might have been appropriate in Dr. Lambert's case. You may also impose a certain degree of censorship regarding the images you let her see in your blood. She appears to be rather squeamish about certain details from your past."
"I never meant for her to see that." Nick frowned, quite aware that he had allowed his passion to control the encounter. He looked helplessly at his father. "What should I do?"
"Are you asking me for advice?" Lacroix asked, the satisfaction in his voice conveying that he was enjoying this immensely.
"I'm counting on your experience with children."
"After all your criticism of my educational style."
"I realize that you must have done something right, or I wouldn't be here now," Nick admitted.
Lacroix looked genuinely pleased. "Very well. I suggest that you focus on helping her to come to terms with her new life before resuming your attempts of a more intimate relationship."
"But I've waited ---"
"At present, you cannot be both, her master and her lover. An unfortunate dilemma, isn't it? Give her time, Nicholas."
Nick nodded; silently wondering if that was the reason why Janette hadn't brought him across herself. He was roused from his thoughts when Natalie appeared on the gallery at the same time as Lacroix rose to leave through the skylight. Nick smiled at Natalie's fascinated expression at the ancient's departure.
"When are you going to teach me that?" she asked.
"Not before you've gained some semblance of control," Nick curbed her enthusiasm.
Natalie pouted. "Fine, then teach me control." Anything than to revisit the images from his past.
Nick poured her a glass while she walked down the stairs. "It takes time and practice. Drinking your fill is a good start." He handed her the glass which Natalie emptied hungrily. He noted with relief that she had overcome her earlier terror in his presence.
"Dare I ask where this came from," she wondered after the first refill, regarding the contents critically.
"It's freely donated," Nick assured her. "I wouldn't want you to consume anything else."
"I could try a protein shake."
"No, you could not," Nick objected.
"Com'on, I'm sure, the ingredients are still in your drawer."
"You wouldn't be able to hold it down, Nat. Let alone get any satiating effect from it."
"Was it that bad? How about cow's blood?"
"No," Nick shook his head.
"Why not? You were fine drinking it," Nat argued.
"I'm much older. Besides, I wasn't fine."
Natalie observed as Nick filled his own glass from the same bottle he had poured hers. "You switched back to human. Why? Do you not want me to continue searching for a cure? Especially now?"
Nick's face darkened slightly as the realization struck that Natalie was considering searching for a way back. Had he mistaken the signals in her blood? Did she not want to become a vampire? He couldn't deny feeling hurt at the rejection of his gift. He had hoped that they could finally be together. "I'm responsible for you. I need my strength in order to keep you out of trouble," he explained.
"I'm not a child, Nick. I don't need supervision around the clock."
"In vampire terms, you are a child, Nat. My child. And I don't want to take any chances this time."
"This time? How many attempts did you make?" Natalie asked worriedly.
"Too many," he replied sullenly. "And only one was successful, although that was rather accidental."
"Serena?" Natalie guessed.
"What happened to the others?" Natalie ventured to ask although she wasn't sure she really wanted to hear the answer.
"I wasn't able to keep them. Either I lost them or I killed them myself."
Natalie stared at him. The images she had seen in his blood replayed in her mind and she started to tremble.
Nick reached for her hand. "This is not going to happen to you," he assured her. "If you listen to me."
Natalie withdrew her hand. "I don't think I want to be kept," she informed him. "I'm not your pet. This reminds me, I need to find Sydney before he starves." She grabbed her coat and turned toward the stairwell door. Before she reached it, she found her way blocked by Nick.
"I already told you that you cannot go to your apartment."
"Why not? I had my breakfast. I'm not hungry."
"You've yet to face a mortal heartbeat, Nat. You don't know how this will affect you. Besides, your neighbours may have heard about your accident. You cannot allow yourself to be seen perfectly unharmed."
"Then teach me how to hypnotize them."
Natalie exhaled. "Is that how this is going to be from now on? You refuse to teach me anything useful so that I won't gain any independence?"
"I will teach you as much as I see fit. Hypnotizing another person requires close contact and focus on the heartbeat. You wouldn't be able to stay in control."
"So what? Do you intend to shut me up here for the next century? Forget it, I'm out of here!" Natalie made a dash to the elevator and triumphantly closed the door behind her before Nick had moved.
Nick rolled his eyes as the elevator started its slow descend. He reached for the phone and dialled a number.
"Yes, Nicholas? Is there a problem?" his master's voice purred into his ear.
"We're coming over. Can you make sure there're no mortals in the club?"
"Oh Nicholas, you are spoiling my sales."
"There won't be any sales if Natalie starts attacking your patrons."
"Very well, Nicholas, if you insist," Lacroix conceded and ended the call.
Nick made a dash through the stairwell and reached the ground floor seconds before the elevator came to a halt.
Natalie pushed the door open and gasped as she perceived Nick, leaning with his arms crossed before his chest against the wall. Despite his calm stance, she could sense his radiating anger.
"I said no." Without further ado, Nick grabbed her and was airborne before she had recovered from her shock. A few minutes later, he landed in the alley beside the Raven and pushed Natalie ahead of him into the club.
The dance floor was bare, but several regulars occupied the tables along the walls. Lacroix stood alone at the bar, his back turned toward them. No music was playing, yet Natalie heard the steady beat of what sounded in her ears like a drum. She felt herself drawn to the sound. As she stepped forward she noticed that it was coming from Lacroix.
"I believe this belongs to you," Lacroix stated while he turned around.
Natalie's eyes widened with joy as she recognized the purring fir ball in Lacroix's arms. "Sydney!"
"Natalie, don't!" she heard Nick's warning as she took the cat from Lacroix. All of a sudden her fangs dropped and her eyes focused in a red haze on the mesmerizing pulse on Sydney's neck. Before she realized what she was doing, she bit down.
Instead of fur, her lips touched smooth skin and after several hungry swallows she noticed that she was sucking on Nick's wrist, while Sydney escaped into the shadowy corners of the club. She stopped drinking and covered her smeared mouth with her hand, feeling completely embarrassed.
"What were you thinking? I asked you to clear the club of mortals," Nick hollered angrily, earning a raised eyebrow in reply. "She almost killed him."
"Precisely," Lacroix confirmed stoically. He reached for a bottle from behind the bar and poured a glass which he handed to Natalie. "You appear to have a child that lacks control. I was merely enhancing her motivation to obey your lessons, Nicholas."
"It was unnecessary to risk Sydney's life. I've told her over and over again what will happen if she faces a mortal heartbeat hungrily."
"She's a scientist, Nicholas. She requires proof before she believes anything you say. I provided her with the necessary evidence. I doubt she will question your judgement again."
Nick had to admit that Lacroix had a point, even if he didn't approve of the method.
"I can't believe I wanted to bite Sydney," Natalie stammered and held out her glass for a refill. "What is he doing here?"
"Janette was adamant that the Raven remained open for strays. Although I doubt that her definition included cats." Lacroix handed Natalie the bottle. "Why don't you take a seat at the bar, while Nicholas and I have some business to discuss?"
Natalie seated herself on a bar stool and watched as Nick retreated with Lacroix to the end of the bar. It surprised her to see them interact on such a concordant level. She strained her ears in an effort to catch a part of their conversation, but while she could hear the words, the language was foreign to her, which caused her to frown.
* * *
"Well, Nicholas?" Lacroix asked after Nick had joined him at the end of the bar.
"She's not listening to me." Nick switched to his native medieval French tongue when he noticed Natalie's attention.
"A rebellious child, how peculiar." Amusement was evident on Lacroix's face.
"I don't know what to do," Nick admitted.
"What do you feel inclined to do?"
Nick evaded his gaze. It had required all his self-control not to send Natalie flying against the wall when she had tried to leave the loft without his consent.
"You have two options in this matter, Nicholas. You can either let her proceed and let her learn from her mistakes ---"
"I don't want her to kill anyone," Nick interjected immediately.
"In that case you will have no choice but to discipline her for disobedience."
"I can't do that!" Nick was absolutely horrified by the thought.
"You will find that you can if it comes to protecting your child. Although it will hurt you as much as it does your child." There was a hint of regret in Lacroix's voice that Nick had heard rarely before. He knew Lacroix was speaking from experience. He placed a comforting hand on Lacroix's shoulder in acknowledgement of the sentiment.
His attention was diverted when Natalie slid from her stool. Bending down, she picked up Sydney who had been sniffing around her legs. Nick smiled as he observed how she cuddled the cat without a hint of gold in her eyes.
"Your child made progress," Lacroix commented.
"Can I take him with me?" Natalie asked as she walked over to Nick.
"If you're sure you won't harm him," Nick conceded.
"I know now that I have to be careful. Can you pack me the cat food," she addressed Lacroix.
"This club does not cater to cats," the elder vampire informed her.
Natalie stared at him. "You mean, when you picked up Sydney, you didn't bring any of his food?"
"Your cat is a predator like you, Doctor. It will always find a way to feed when it's hungry. There're plenty of rodents in the Raven's cellar."
"There're definitely no rodents in my loft," Nick stated, not liking the idea of a hungry cat prowling around his antiques. "Perhaps you should leave him here for the time being."
"I have a stack of cans at home. All we need to do is pick them up."
"It's almost dawn. I'll pick them up tomorrow evening, okay?" Nick promised. "Sydney should be fine here for the day."
Feeling too tired to quarrel, Natalie nodded, determined to get the cat food herself if Nick refused.
* * *
"You and Lacroix seem to get along very well at the moment," Natalie observed after Nick had taken her back to the loft.
Nick smiled. For the first time in his existence Lacroix treated him like an equal. "Being responsible for you has led me to understand a few things. I don't approve of many things he did, but I can understand why he did it." He grabbed the remote and pointed it at the blinds. "And I'm grateful that he encouraged me to bring you across. I don't know what I would have done without you, Nat."
"He encouraged you?" Natalie was astonished. Why would Lacroix be interested in her longevity all of a sudden? They had always been opponents when it came to Nick. She watched as Nick filled two glasses with blood. After handing one to her, he emptied the other in a fluid motion. Then it dawned on her. Of course, that's what Lacroix was after. With her conversion, Nick had given up on his quest. He had returned to human blood and Natalie suspected that he was enjoying it. She had been the perfect pawn to sacrifice.
"He said, he wanted to spare himself the misery I might have felt if something had happened to you," Nick shrugged, oblivious to Natalie's musings.
Biting back a tear, Natalie walked over to the window and watched as the loft was shut off from the approaching dawn. She had often seen Nick wriggle his fingers in front of the partly closed blinds until they began to smoke. Curious to experience this herself as well as to distract herself from her disturbing discovery, she opened the blinds a bit. She cried out in pain as her hand burst instantly into flames. The next instance she was rudely pushed to the ground by Nick.
"What do you think you're doing?" he hollered.
"I wanted to see if my fingers smoke like yours," Natalie told him, feeling incredibly stupid.
"You could have imploded within seconds. You're way too young to tolerate any sunlight."
Oblivious to the brightening sky, Nicholas spurred his horse as he recognized the familiar hills of his homeland. He yearned to see his mother and sister again after years on the crusade. Initially Lacroix had been against the visit, but had relented when Nicholas kept insisting that he needed to see them one more time before he vanished from their lives. He didn't want them to worry about his fate.
Lacroix came alongside him and reached into his reins, pulling his horse to a halt. "We need to find shelter for the day. Sunrise is close."
"But we're almost there. The castle is not far off," Nicholas protested. He didn't want to delay the reunion with his family any further.
"You will be a pile of ash before you reach the gates," Lacroix warned. "We will not proceed any further tonight. Is there a suitable place nearby where we can spend the day?"
"There's nothing between here and the castle. We will be fine there."
Lacroix scowled and jumped from his horse. "Come here."
Nicholas dismounted as well and watched as Lacroix uncovered his wrist.
"Feed," he commanded. "My blood will increase your tolerance."
Nicholas slid his fangs into the wrist and began to feed. After several minutes Lacroix pulled his arm away and staggered to his horse, dismissing Janette's concerned gaze with a wave of his hand. In order to fortify Nicholas against the approaching dawn, he had weakened himself considerably. "This is madness," he muttered while he motioned for Nicholas to lead the way. "I knew I would regret this. And so will you!"
"Sorry," Natalie apologized, bringing Nick back to the present.
Nick examined her scorched arm. Then he walked to the fridge to retrieve another bottle. "Here, take this upstairs with you. Your arm will be healed by tomorrow."
* * *
Natalie woke in the evening. Her arm was unscathed as Nick had assured. She reached for the bottle on the nightstand and finished it off. After getting dressed, she heard voices from downstairs. Curious, she opened the door a crack. She was a bit surprised to see Nick and Lacroix seated at the kitchen table, a chessboard set up between them.
She felt a little bit annoyed because Nick had promised to pick up Sydney's food first thing tonight. Instead he was fully focused on this game. She wondered if Lacroix would always be present in the future. How could they ever move their relationship forward when Nick's attention was constantly commandeered by Lacroix. Would she ever have Nick all to herself?
She retreated back into the bedroom and opened the window. Nick still hadn't taught her to fly. If she jumped, she was sure to break several bones. But she was a vampire. Anything would heal, just like her arm had done. Determined, she jumped out of the window.
The impact was more painful than she had expected. The air blew from her lungs and she blacked out.
* * *
Nick jumped from his seat as he sensed immense pain. "Natalie!" He rushed upstairs and noticed the open window. He saw Natalie on the ground, her legs bent in an awkward angle. Much to his alarm, he heard running footsteps and an approaching heartbeat. He flew down to the scene, prepared to hypnotize whoever had the misfortune to witness Natalie's fall.
He released a breath of relief when Tracy literally bumped into him.
"Nick, what's going on? What happened to Natalie?" Tracy had just parked her car when she heard the impact of a body on the concrete. She ran to investigate when she collided with Nick who had appeared out of nowhere. Now she stared wide-eyed at Natalie. The coroner lay awkwardly on the ground, staring at her with a hungry expression and blazing red eyes.
"I haven't had the chance yet to figure that out myself," Nick replied. "You need to stay away, Tracy. She'll need blood. Was there a reason you came by?"
"I wanted to see how things were going."
"Let me take her upstairs. Then we can talk," Nick said. He picked Natalie up in his arms and Tracy watched in awe as he lifted into the air. She still had a hard time believing that Nick was a vampire.
* * *
Nick placed Natalie on the couch and turned to Lacroix. "Can you take care of her while I talk to Tracy?" he requested. After receiving a nod, Nick opted for the elevator to join Tracy downstairs.
Lacroix retrieved a bottle from the fridge and placed it with a glass on the table.
Natalie groaned. Carefully she felt for her legs and winced as she discovered a fractured femur. She opened her eyes and saw Lacroix looming above her.
"Does it hurt?" he asked in a semblance of compassion.
"Very," Natalie managed and eyed the bottle on the table.
"Good," Lacroix breathed and pushed the bottle out of her reach.
Startled, Natalie regarded him questioningly.
"May I ask what you were trying to accomplish with your stunt?" Lacroix inquired.
"I wanted to get Sydney's food from my apartment. Nick had promised to fetch it first thing tonight. Instead he's engrossed in a game of chess with you." The pain in her bones was getting to her. She was not in the mood to rethink her words before they slipped out.
"Your cat food is on the counter." Lacroix gestured towards the kitchen. "Nicholas asked me to watch over you while he was out to fetch it."
Natalie was significantly baffled; however, she didn't like to be patronized like this. "I'm not a child! I don't need to be constantly watched over," she protested sourly.
"I beg to differ. Grown-ups leave by the door. Children sneak out through windows."
"Why didn't you fly?"
Natalie glared at him. "Because your dear Nicholas hasn't deemed it necessary to teach me yet," she said icily.
Lacroix raised his eyebrows in amusement. "Is that so?"
Natalie's anger was rising at the man in front of her. "This is entirely your fault, isn't it? Nick is treating me like you treated him. He often told me how you denied him knowledge that he needed to become independent."
Lacroix bent closer to her, his face unreadable although Natalie could clearly sense smouldering anger from him. Instinctively she shrunk back. "I do not commit faults. You, however, made a huge mistake tonight. Enforcers do not take kindly to this kind of indiscretion. Should you ever expose yourself in front of a mortal again, you will answer to me!"
"Why, what's it to you, if they kill me?"
"I would hate to lose you, my dear. After all, your entrance into this family has accomplished that for which I have been striving for over a century. Besides, they wouldn't restrict their penalty to killing you. Nicholas would be killed as well because he failed in his responsibility to acquaint you with the Code."
"Oh," Natalie pursed her lips. Her suspicion was confirmed. "It's always about Nick, isn't it?"
Lacroix straightened. "I've already told you that I do protect what is mine."
"You've got what you wanted. He's back on human blood. Can't you just leave him alone now? I don't think he needs you constantly around."
"I don't think you're an expert of Nicholas' needs."
"And you are?" Natalie challenged.
"A father knows the needs of his children."
"And you think this doesn't work both ways?"
Natalie sighed in exasperation. "How long will it take for my bones to heal?" she changed the subject.
Lacroix held out the bottle to her. "With this, about two hours."
"About 20 minutes if you drank from Nicholas instead."
Natalie frowned. "I'd rather not drink his blood. I still have nightmares from what I saw the last time."
Lacroix shrugged. "So you're willing to endure your pain longer than necessary."
"I could try Advil," Natalie suggested.
Lacroix picked up the glass from the table. "Medication won't help you, Doctor." He bit into his wrist and gathered the free-flowing blood in the goblet, which he then handed to Natalie. "This, however, will."
Natalie had watched his motions with golden eyes. Now she stared fascinated at the goblet, its contents calling to her. Hesitating at first, she took a cautious sip. Once the rich taste had settled on her tongue, she emptied the goblet hungrily, amazed at the blaze of power that surged through her veins. The pain in her bones was already abating. Leaning back on the couch, she closed her eyes and waited for her miraculous recovery.
* * *
Tracy didn't have to wait long before Nick returned through the front door.
"You shouldn't have come, Tracy," he admonished. "Natalie isn't ready yet to face mortals."
"But Vachon told me he saw you and Nat at the Raven last night. So I assumed it was safe to visit."
Nick closed his eyes briefly. "There were no mortals in the club, Tracy."
Tracy's eyes widened. "You mean they were all v---?" She covered her mouth with her hand. "Does the owner know about this?"
When Nick remained silent, she concluded, "He's one of you, too? Jeez, was I the only mortal who walked into that club?"
Nick shook his head and smiled at her excitement. "No, the club is frequented by mortals and vampires alike. Last night was just a private event."
Tracy nodded. "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."
* * *
Natalie stretched her muscles like a lazy cat. The pain was entirely gone and she could move her legs again.
"I believe you don't require any further assistance, Natalie," Lacroix observed and walked towards the elevator.
"Thank you, --- Lucien," Natalie called after him, causing him to turn around and glare at her. "You keep calling me by my first name," she shrugged. Two could play this game. "Or is grandfather more appropriate?"
The glare intensified. "May I remind you that as easy as my blood has mended your bones I can break them again?"
"Can't you take a word of thanks just for what it is?" Natalie asked, annoyed by his threat.
Lacroix frowned. "I do not hear it often in this family."
Natalie's eyebrows went up in surprise. "Is it because you're not in the habit of bestowing favours or because you always demand something in return?"
"When Nicholas asks a favour of me, it is usually a pressing matter that leaves no time for gratitude ... in his opinion."
"Yet you do as he asks," Natalie concluded. "Would you leave town if he asked you to?"
"He would not want me to leave. You seem unaware that Nicholas has chosen to remain at my side for most of his existence. You will not succeed in convincing him otherwise."
Natalie didn't understand. From what Nick had told her, she was certain that Nick would gladly put as much distance between himself and Lacroix as possible, despite their current truce.
They both turned to the elevator as the heavy door slid aside and Nick stepped into the loft.
"Nicholas." Lacroix placed his hand briefly on Nick's shoulder. After receiving an acknowledging nod from his son, he lifted through the skylight.
Nick walked to the seating area and assessed Natalie's state of injuries. When he noticed that she was completely healed, he picked up the empty glass from the table and raised it to his nose, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
"Is Tracy okay?" Natalie asked.
Nick snapped his attention to her. "Do you have any idea what you risked tonight?"
Natalie held up her hands defensively. "I've already got the riot act from Lacroix. I wouldn't have fallen if you had taught me to fly. Lacroix seemed surprised that you haven't."
Nick shook his head. "He wasn't surprised that I haven't taught you to fly. He was surprised that you didn't fly." When Natalie creased her brow, he continued. "Do you know why you fell down? Your mind is still attached to mortal laws of physics. You fell down because you were convinced you would. Flying does not need to be taught. You just do it."
"Do you remember how you moved in a flash last night when you drank from my wrist?"
Natalie cast her eyes down in embarrassment.
"You didn't think about it, you acted on instinct because you wanted to be at this spot."
Natalie stared at him. "That's it?"
Nick grinned. "Come here!" He pointed to the gallery. "See if you can make it up there."
Natalie focused on the gallery, imagining herself to be there, and much to her surprise, her feet left the ground. An instant later, however, she crashed against the railing and fell. With a gasp she landed in Nick's arms.
"We can fly, but we cannot move through solid objects," he scolded. "You have to take that into account when you calculate your flight plan."
"Flight plan," Natalie grumbled. "You could have given me a warning."
"I wanted you to experience what happens when you do things uncontrolled. You know now how it works. Try to hover above the floor."
Natalie gave him a doubtful look as he set her down. Yet when she imagined herself elevating, her feet left the ground. "Wow, that's so cool!" She was astonished by her new abilities. "Why did you wait to teach me?"
"As I said, it doesn't need to be taught. You just do it. When I noticed that you were oblivious to the fact, I was glad that you couldn't attack someone accidentally." When Natalie regarded him questioningly, he elaborated, "When I was brought across, Lacroix didn't teach me any restraint. He taught me to take what I desire. He didn't care if I killed. I had to eat anyway. Mortals die; it didn't matter how or when." Nick cast his eyes down in shame. "I guess you caught glimpses of that period in my blood."
Natalie swallowed, the memories making her uncomfortable. Yet, she stepped up to him and placed a comforting hand on his arm. "I appreciate that you don't treat me the same way Lacroix treated you. I can only imagine what you have been through. So, why are you telling me now?"
"I don't want you to fall out of the window again. It hurt."
Natalie rubbed her arms. "I will gladly avoid future falls."
"I could feel your pain, Nat. I wasn't aware that it could be that strong." He stared thoughtfully into the goblet.
~A father knows when his child is in pain ~
He could only guess what Lacroix had been through every time he was shot, stabbed, scorched, starved... The list seemed endless. No wonder the ancient was so irritable about his current profession. Nick carried the goblet to the sink. Before rinsing it out, he slid his finger into the glass, gathered the remaining fluid on his finger and brought it to his mouth. The offering was too small to contain any lingering emotions, but the familiar taste was oddly comforting.
"Where are you? Why have you left me like this?" Nicholas stumbled through the tunnels of a foreign castle feeling confused and alone.
"I haven't left you, Nicholas," he heard a mesmerizing voice, but he couldn't see anyone.
"I'm looking, but I can't see you."
"Then stop using your eyes. Listen, Nicholas. Let it come to you."
Nicholas closed his eyes and concentrated. An exhilarating sensation enveloped him. "Oh, yes, I felt it," he exclaimed enthusiastically.
"Then follow it! Follow the vibration. It is the force that joins us and makes us what we are. Just listen!"
Nicholas felt along the new bond and made his way towards its source. Relieved he found Lacroix waiting for him, regarding him with a proud expression. "I thought you had left me," Nicholas lamented.
"Rest assured, Nicholas. I shall never leave you," Lacroix promised. He freed his wrist from its leather cuff and offered it to his son. "Bois, mon fils, and let my blood sooth your doubts."
Nicholas bit into the wrist and revelled in the power that was spreading through his system as well as the comforting feeling of being cherished and protected.
"You would have figured it out soon anyway with Lacroix's blood in your system," Nick stated, turning around. "Let's head to the Raven and pick up Sydney, shall we?"
As much as Natalie liked the idea, she dreaded another confrontation with Lacroix.
She looked up startled, seeing that Nick was waiting for her at the skylight. She rose into the air to follow him and landed unsteadily on the roof.
"Landing does take some practice. Make sure there are no mortals around to see you," Nick lectured. He held out his arm to her in a gentlemanly fashion. "Hold on."
Natalie clung to him, not sure if she was flying on her own or if Nick was dragging her along.
Before descending, Nick wrapped his arms around her making sure she landed safely on her feet. Grabbing her hand tight, he entered the club. "Keep your eyes to the ground if you think they're changing."
Natalie heard the sound of several beating hearts. There were definitely mortals in the club. Afraid that she might harm them, she tried to shut the sound out. When they reached the bar, she released a deep breath and gratefully accepted the glass of blood the barkeeper placed in front of her.
"Well done," Nick whispered into her ear. "Excuse me."
Natalie's smile froze as she found Lacroix's gaze lingering on her from across the bar. She frowned as Nick joined him, not even flinching as the elder placed his hand possessively on his shoulder. When Nick had told her that Lacroix had basically persuaded him to bring her across, Natalie hadn't found any sense in that at first. Then she had realized that it made perfect sense. It was a brilliant move. Lacroix had not only removed her as a possible danger in finding a cure, he had also assured that Nick returned to the fold by bringing her across. Yet, despite her conversion she and Nick hadn't made any progress in their relationship. With her reluctance to drink his blood, intimacy was as out of the question as it had been before she became a vampire. The only one who had gained in the process was Lacroix. Nick was back on human blood, enjoying himself and apparently seeking Lacroix's company. Her frown deepened as Lacroix raised his glass in her direction.
She thought of Nick's kiss and the passion she had felt before the images from his past had started. Would he still seek out Lacroix's company if she managed to overcome her reluctance and move their relationship forward? She knew she loved Nick for the man he was now. It shouldn't matter what he had done in the past, however horrifying that had been. Instead of recoiling, she should have supported Nick in his struggle to regain his humanity. But she had pushed him away into Lacroix's arms. It was time to resume her battle over Nick. Determined she raised her glass to meet Lacroix's challenge.