"Nick, tell me again why. Why are we helping him at all?"
Nick urged her forward with a hand on her back and an exasperated sigh. "You'll see. Just...come on." He shifted his hand to her elbow, tugging while he lengthened his stride.
Police lights flashed ahead of her and she could see at least three news vans. "Nick." She scurried beside him, cursing her work pumps. "Nick! Is this the CN Tower suicide call?" She stopped dead, digging her heels into the rain-softened ground.
"Nat, come on."
Every muscle was tense, on alert, and she could feel her pulse in her neck. "Are you going to tell me, " she lifted her chin, "that this 'suicide' is actually LaCroix's work?"
Nick met her eyes, then his gaze flicked away. "It wasn't a suicide."
Natalie clenched her teeth, then opened her mouth.
"That is why we have to hurry. Nat, please." His expression turned to starving cocker spaniel.
She exhaled and her shoulders drooped as fully as her resolve. "Fine. If it's that important. But, Nick, we're talking about this later."
They were already halfway across the plaza. "Right. Of course. Later."
She sighed as they broke into a jog. Another empty promise.
Nick lifted the police tape above her head, and they peered around a corner to where a half circle of police, some smoking, some drinking coffee, stood near where the body presumably lay. Lights flashed beyond the other side of the police tape as newspaper and television reporters swarmed.
"After I announced the building cleared, I had them call in another coroner." Nick glanced over his shoulder then forced the Tower door lock and ushered her inside. The flashing lights disappeared and Nick poked his head through the door. "I'll be right back."
She could hear him announce loudly that he was going to do one last check of the Tower before he sauntered through the main door. He grabbed her arm and pulled her into the elevator. Moments later they were on the restaurant level. Outside the window, all of Toronto was lit up nearly--according to a plaque on the wall--550 meters below them. It really was a beautiful city, Natalie reflected for an instant. A news helicopter hovered nearby.
"Come on, Nat," Nick prodded.
As they rounded the corner toward the kitchen, Natalie burst out laughing.
There, spreadeagled against the wall as though he were trying to hug the whole CN Tower support, was LaCroix. Still dressed in unrelieved black, still paler than a fish's belly, hair still spiked, stood the ancient vampire, eyes squeezed closed and murmuring, "Get me down. Down down down down..."
Natalie gulped air, exhaled slowly, then burst out laughing again.
Nick sighed. "Nat, I need your help. There's--"
She didn't hear the rest of his sentence because LaCroix squeaked, "I'm going to fall!" ...and she nearly fell herself. Instead, she leaned against the wall and took short breaths until she was only chuckling.
"Oh, how the mighty have fallen," she finally managed before bursting out laughing again.
"Come on, Nat, this is serious."
Just then LaCroix whispered, "Help me help me helpme..." in addition to his loop of "going to fall."
Natalie clutched Nick's sleeve. "Oh, Nick, this just makes me wish I could have been there when you ate off Don Vinetti's plate! It's hilarious when Schanke tells it--"
"Which he does as often as possible." Nick rolled his eyes.
"--but it must have been as priceless as this!"
"Are you done yet?" he asked, managing quite the feat by looking impatient, annoyed, and embarrassed all at the same time.
Natalie bit her lips together, chuckled again, covered her mouth with a hand, and nodded.
"We only have a short time before I have to let the uniforms in to process the rest of the scene, so here's the short version. He," Nick pointed to a body beyond LaCroix, "pushed the other guy off the roof."
Natalie frowned, the sight of the dead man sobering her. She removed her hand from her mouth and asked, "How did they even get up there? Does LaCroix bring them for kicks or something?"
"No!" Nick glared at her as if LaCroix was beyond such behavior. "The two dead guys were already here. The one on the pavement downstairs works here in maintenance."
Natalie nodded, and, keeping her eyes averted from LaCroix, pointed and asked, "How did he get involved? And who's this dead guy?"
"Apparently this dead guy is the other dead guy--the street pizza guy's--supplier. LaCroix said--"
"He said something coherent?" she giggled.
Nick glowered. "Yes. Only barely," he conceded. "I knew...something was wrong and came this way."
Natalie noticed that he avoided the word "flew" they both knew was more accurate, but she decided to let it go for now.
"I saw the first guy fall," Nick continued, "then I saw LaCroix arrive. He grabbed this guy and had drained him before I could stop him. Said the guy smelled interesting, almost compelling. Then I smelled it on LaCroix's breath."
Natalie nodded. "It was something you'd smelled it before."
"Yeah. Turns out the guy was 'tweaking,' but on a 'Special Mix' of what seems to be Ecstasy, Special K, and God only knows what else. I think in addition to delivering and collecting payment, he must have been muling as well; the amount LaCroix took in has him off his head."
Natalie glanced at the whimpering vampire again and muffled a laugh. She took another deep breath. "All right, so, what do we do?"
"I need to get rid of this body. Then they'll assume the guy on the ground is a suicide. But someone's got to keep an eye--"
"On FraidyCroix here. Got it."
Nick whisked up the body, and Nat stared after him, wondering when and how it had become all right--even normal--to help cover up murders. She pushed aside how the thought gnawed at her belly and checked the scene. There were no visible signs of blood or struggle, save a couple of knocked-over bottles of cleaning solution, which she righted, being careful not to leave fingerprints.
When she turned, LaCroix was still clinging to the wall. She sighed then patted his shoulder. "There, there."
Nick had been gone an uncomfortably long ten minutes when there was a click and she saw a knob on a side door turn.
She couldn't quite suppress a gasp and she leapt back, pressing against the wall. Her heart raced and LaCroix, between her and the opening door, sniffed in her direction.
Nick dropped in from the ceiling panel just then.
Natalie grabbed his sleeve and pointed. "I think there's someone in that closet," she whispered.
Placing a finger to lips, he drew his gun and headed for the door. Natalie stood back. Nick flung the door open with one hand, aiming his gun with the other. The man inside stumbled and fell amongst mops and brooms.
"Help me!" the man cried. He saw LaCroix and scooted farther back. "Keep him away from me! He killed my...my friend!"
"Your friend?" Nick asked, gesturing with his gun for the man to step into the hallway.
The man looked from Nick to Natalie and back.
LaCroix made a whistling sound, then said, "Boom."
"Okay! He's my supplier. Larry supplies my drugs. Just keep that guy away from me!"
"Where is Larry now?" Nick asked.
The man looked around frantically. "He...he was right here. That...thing bit Larry and killed him! I'm telling you! Keep him away from me!"
"Tell me your name," Nick demanded.
"There's no one here but us, Darrell," Nick said steadily.
"Larry was here! He pushed Pete--"
Natalie thought Darrell was going to push right through the wall as he scrambled backwards.
"Pete works here! He saw us and I told Larry we had to get him. We ran for Pete and Larry got to him first and grabbed him. The hatch was open and he fell when he pulled away!" Darrell shuddered then pointed at LaCroix again. "Then that...that... I'm telling you he bit Larry and killed him, too!"
Nick holstered his gun and leaned in close, making eye contact. "Larry wasn't here tonight."
"Wasn't here," Darrell said dully.
"Pete caught you, and you thought you had to silence him. He fell to his death."
"You feel so bad, you want to tell the police about your drug operation."
"Tell police." Darrell nodded vacantly then shook his head. "Oh, my God! Pete! We were fighting and I pushed him. He tripped, fell, and...it's all my fault. I've been dealing drugs..."
"Yeah, we know," Nick said, cuffing the man. "You're going to stay right here, and the uniforms will be up for you in a minute." He radioed to the police on the ground that he'd found a suspect.
Darrell just nodded, still looking confused.
Nick grabbed LaCroix by the arm and tried to lead him toward the elevator, but LaCroix sat abruptly and wrapped himself around Nick's leg, still muttering about falling. Darrell whimpered and Nick pointed to LaCroix. "And this man was never here."
Natalie raised her eyebrows at him and he nodded, then said, "Let's get him out of here."
Natalie looked around. "Is there any way other than the main elevator?"
"I don't think so. I certainly can't fly him away like this. Just call when it's here and I'll bring...him." Nick pointed to LaCroix.
Natalie slipped around the corner and watched the numbers as the elevators moved. The doors to one opened just as the other elevator approached. "Nick," she stage-whispered. "Get here fast. People coming!"
Nick came around the corner, dragging LaCroix, who was clinging to his neck. "Yes. We're going down. Get in here and we're going down."
Natalie held a hand over the door, gesturing for Nick to hurry as he bundled them into the elevator. The doors closed just as she heard the others open. She exhaled to calm her heart rate. It was unwise to be this anxious when she was in an enclosed space with two vampires.
Her stomach plunged with the elevator, then her heart froze as the elevator stopped.
A woman stepped in and pressed the ground floor button, "Oh, thank heavens. I thought with the police all hovering I might not be able to get an elevator."
Natalie gaped, unable to form words as the woman continued, her lilting voice all "oo" sounds over the vowels.
"I've just got off work and I really need to get home and get my feet up. It was my last day before my leave and I'm knackered." She smiled at Natalie, nodded to Nick. She rubbed her protruding belly. "This one has me worn out, I'm afraid. Took me extra long to finish the last things that needed doing before I'm gone, so I was all over the offices. I swear they're going to fall apart without me." She frowned and pointed as LaCroix tucked his head into Nick's neck and resumed his litany of "Down." "Is he all right?" she pointed.
Natalie grimaced. "He will be." She leaned in and whispered, "He's having a bad trip."
"Ooh, is it from the drugs network here?"
"Excuse me?" Natalie said.
"Oh, everyone who works here knows about it, but if we say anything, we're afraid--" She coughed and shook her head. "Sorry. Baby-brain has me babbling."
Natalie smiled nervously and glanced at Nick, who remained unhelpfully silent while LaCroix chanted, "Going to fall." The woman carried on a running commentary while Natalie tapped her hand on her thigh, wondering what normal people did on an evening after work. Just two minutes to the bottom, she reminded herself. One and a half. One.
Then there was a jerk and everything went dark.
"Mmmm," LaCroix sighed. "Everything's quiet."
"What happened?" the woman squeaked.
Natalie gripped the rail. This was potentially very bad. Two vampires, a coroner, and a pregnant woman. It sounded like the start of a very bad joke.
Dim lights clicked on.
"Those are the emergency lights," Nick said. "There must be a power outage."
"It's very small in here. Must go through the walls," LaCroix muttered.
"No!" Nick and Natalie said together.
"You can't go through the walls. It's a very long fall, and there's water at the bottom," Nick said calmly, kneeling to look directly into LaCroix's eyes. "You'd fall and then you'd drown. It's safer here."
Natalie patted the ancient man's shoulder again, muttering, "There, there," as she listened to the automated message on the emergency phone. Power was out. Authorities had been alerted. Help would come as soon as possible. Wait calmly. Yeah. Calmly.
"Well," the woman said brightly, "I guess we're stuck here for a while. I'm Janice. Janice Morrison. Moved here from the north of England with my husband ten years ago. As you can see, I'm expecting. This'll be our third." She smiled.
"Congratulations," Nick said, barely glancing at her.
"When are you due?" Natalie asked.
"Next week. But, I suppose I had best mention...I've been having contractions...and my first two came fast." Janice cringed and shifted her weight, then hummed. "So...ah...yeah." She smiled apologetically.
Oh, good, Natalie thought. Two vampires, a woman, a coroner, and a baby. This just gets better and better."
"Do you have any children?" Janice asked.
"No." Nick and Natalie answered simultaneously.
"I do," LaCroix said and pointed. "Him."
"This is your father?"
Nick grimaced slightly but nodded. "In a manner of speaking, I guess."
"Family's difficult, isn't it?" Janice said.
"Yeah," Nick answered.
Natalie just nodded.
"Parents will do anything for their children," LaCroix said, his voice somewhat sing-song.
"If they want something," Nick retorted.
Natalie just pursed her lips. This past year, she'd spoken to Sara only when she'd called first, and although Amy sent thank you notes for gifts, Natalie realized the last time she'd actually seen her niece was at Richie's funeral. She hadn't heard from Cynthia's parents except a thank you note after the funeral for her help. She'd been able to spend precious little time with Nick in months. The melancholy weighed heavy in her chest. "It's lonely, though, without family," she murmured.
"That it is," Janice agreed. "My family's all back in England, and I've only got my husband's sister nearby and she's, well, she's quite a piece of work, isn't she?"
"Sometimes difficult family is worse than no family at all," Nick said, glaring at LaCroix pointedly.
Natalie reached for Janice's wrist, taking her pulse just to have something to do. There were no good places this conversation could go.
"I had a daughter once when Vesuvius exploded. And a raven-haired daughter. Loyal Janette. She appreciates me and what I've done for her."
"That's because it's what she wanted," Nick hissed.
"So many of my children have appreciated what I offered," LaCroix continued. "Rasputin, Jack 'the Ripper', Don Constantine..."
"Wow," Janice said. "Most people don't get delusions like this off those drugs!"
Natalie forced a smile.
"I never asked for this!" Nick exploded.
"Oh, but you did. I could see it, the darkness under that shining armor." LaCroix giggled. "Knight in shining armor. Nicholas Knight. You're really not very clever, are you?"
LaCroix being giddy and insulting was no better that him being disdainful and insulting, Natalie decided. "All right. Stop it. Anyone who can't say something nice is not going to be saying anything at all. Do I make myself understood?" She leaned toward Nick and lowered her voice. "He is not your first or only parent, Nick. And even if he were, the claim of 'family' does not mean you owe anything to people who hurt you."
LaCroix rolled his eyes but remained silent as he studied his fingers in front of his eyes.
"What is that stench?" LaCroix groused, holding his nose.
Natalie ignored them, her focus on the other woman. "Janice, you're doing fine. Your water just broke, that should mean you're closer. Keep looking at me and count with me." Natalie glanced at her watch. "Another count to thirty and you'll have a rest." Janice gasped out the numbers with her, then leaned back against the wall.
Between contractions, Natalie whirled on the vampires. "What. The. Hell. Is wrong with you?"
"All that...yuck...came out of her and it smells bad," LaCroix whined. "I can't swim! What if the room fills up?" He mimed swimming, then glugged below his fake surface.
"You've got to be kidding me." She turned on Nick. "This is your fault for making up that ridiculous story about there being water outside."
"I had to do something to keep him from breaking...trying to break through the walls!"
"Fine. I know his excuse. But that doesn't explain your behavior. What is wrong with you? Why aren't you doing something besides sitting by druggy vamp there?"
Nick cringed. "I just... It's just that... I mean, I've never been so close..."
"Wait," Nat looked from Nick to LaCroix and back. "Are you telling me that in...all this time...you've neither of you ever seen a baby born?"
They stared, wide-eyed like frightened children confronted with a large snake.
"Nick, you were a doctor!" she hissed.
"A battlefield doctor a hun-- lots of years ago!" he hissed back. "And birth is for women!"
Natalie whirled on him. "Excuse me?"
Nick grimaced. "It's only been in the past..." He cleared his throat. "...decades that doctors instead of midwives and female relatives attended laboring women." His eyes took on an intensity that begged Natalie to get the historical context.
"Fine." She rolled her eyes. "I'll just handle it since I'm a woman, then."
Nick suddenly frowned. "You always say you're not good with the living, Nat, do you even know what you're doing?"
"You're really going to--" Natalie set her jaw and counted to five before ordering, "If you're not going to be any help, then just...stay over there out of the way...and be ready to do anything I ask."
Nick just nodded.
She leaned in and added softly, "And if you hear that baby's heartbeat drop, you'd better let me know!" She thought LaCroix caught her eye for a moment, then he blinked, tilted his head, and blinked again. He had been awfully quiet for a while now, which was certainly for the best.
"Men," Natalie muttered.
"Tell me about it," Janice groaned. "Here we go again."
Natalie counted with her as Janice hummed rhythmically until the contraction ended. "This seems fast. We've only been in here about an hour."
Janice nodded, "I was less than three hours beginning to end with the last one. They warned me I'd probably go fast." She chuckled. "Mike--that's me husband--will deny it, but he'll be so glad to have missed this. He nearly passed out when our second was born. Did do with the first!"
Natalie smiled and it actually felt genuine. "Men," she repeated.
"Too often useless, they are," Janice agreed.
"Hey," Nick said, "I got through on the emergency phone and found out the power outage takes up half of Toronto. They know we're here and are trying to get us down."
"Uh-huh," Natalie acknowledged, returning her gaze to Janice as the woman started to hum. "You're doing fine. Just fine."
The emergency phone clattered back into its place. "They think they've got power connected to the CN Tower. They should be able to get to us within twenty minutes," Nick announced.
"Fat lot of good that does me," Janice gasped.
Natalie swiped at her forehead with a shoulder and peered closely in the low light. "Janice! I think the baby's crowning, you should feel pressure and burning--"
"Tell me about it!" Janice growled until it turned into a scream.
"It's here!" Natalie gripped a tiny arm tightly to avoid dropping the slippery bundle and laid it in the jacket Nick had spread on the floor. She wondered how Nick and LaCroix were managing the blood scent, just hoping the other fluid smells were still enough to turn their stomachs. Janice turned over and sat down and Natalie handed the bundle to her.
"Oh my God, you're here! You're our little Oliver, you are!" she cooed at the boy. She smoothed her hands over his head and kissed his forehead, laughing. She shifted to nurse the infant, cuddling him close.
Natalie blinked back tears and focused on making sure the placenta was delivered safely. Childbirth and motherhood were something she realized all too often she might never experience.
Nick placed a hand on her shoulder. "That is...amazing. Seeing someone become a parent. Become a parent again." He kissed the top of her head.
Natalie leaned back into him. Such tenderness was all too rare lately. "Do you remember your parents?" she asked.
"Some. My mother was kind and doting. My father was off at war much of the time I was young."
"But they loved you?" She hated that her voice sounded almost plaintive.
"My parents loved Richie and me too." The warmth of the memories could not melt the knot in her chest.
"Did they die a...long time ago?" Nick asked.
"Not as long as yours." She forced a smile.
"I'm his father," LaCroix announced. "And I'm not dead. Never have been."
"You like to claim that, but when was the last time you nurtured rather than controlled him?" Nat spoke in a heady rush of what she later could not decide to name courage or rashness.
LaCroix's voice grew hard. "You know nothing about it."
"You are not a father," Nat countered. "You're a manipulator."
Nick chimed in, "You're have only your interests, your goals at heart. You have no respect for me or my life."
That sing-song voice again. "Could, if you'd just--"
"Be exactly what you want? Not a chance," Nick said.
"Shhh," Janice said. "Fight later. You'll have plenty of time. Ollie's going to have a lovely greeting, so, just hush."
Just then, the lights came up and the elevator began to move.
The ambulance pulled away, lights on but sirens silent. There was no rush now. Janice and Ollie were safe and healthy. Nick was finishing processing the scene, and LaCroix had presumably gone back to his belfry.
"Lucky little mortal."
The cool air tickled her ear as the voice purred into it and Natalie jumped several feet sideways. He hadn't left. She tried to avoid sounding as breathless as she felt, "Lucky how?"
LaCroix just smirked. "It didn't get eaten just as it joined your herd." His voice returned to the purr on the last word.
Natalie held his gaze. "You wouldn't have."
A long fifteen seconds later, LaCroix shrugged. "No. I would not have," he admitted.
A tingle of victory rippled through her belly. She took a step back toward him, locking eyes again. "And it's not because you wouldn't want to upset Nick or me, or because you're afraid of the Enforcers."
"Is that so?"
"It is. You like the thrill." Natalie could hear the disdain in her own voice. "You like a challenge, a worthy opponent."
"Ah, you are more astute than our Nicholas. I suspected as much on Valentine's Day."
Natalie's stomach flipped over. "I...I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, my dear Natalie. I...may still call you Natalie?" He smiled, the tips of his teeth showing.
She nodded, transfixed as she had been at Azure. She knew he could hear her heart pounding even more loudly than she could hear it in her ears. She should have told Nick; he'd have stayed closer. More lies, she realized.
"You thought I didn't know of your...our little deception?" His white on white eyebrows rose.
She looked away. "I wasn't sure. I knew...it could have gone either way
"Nick, of course, doesn't know. His emotions get in the way of his observation sometimes. A scientist like yourself must understand that danger."
He leaned in again. "I would prefer if he....remained unaware of our little...secret."
Natalie found herself nodding again, then she blinked rapidly as LaCroix whooshed away. Her head felt...cobwebby, but not like it had been rifled through this time. She'd expected worse.
When she arrived at the station after settling away Pete, the street pizza guy, Nick was leaning against a desk, holding court, explaining how they'd solved this latest Case of the Weird from the confines of an elevator.
"--and it turns out the head janitor is related to Vinetti, and they had a side business going on offering an 'extra thrill' at the top of the tower."
Cohen crossed her arms. "And how did you find this out, Detective Knight?"
Nick shrugged. "I walked into interrogation, asked him one question, and he confessed fully. Volunteered to sign a confession, record a confession, anything."
"It's a good thing this turned out well, Knight." Cohen pointed her finger. "Next time you wait for your partner before you clear a scene."
"Wait...he got a magical confession and he's not in trouble?" Schanke frowned. "How come he gets all the super-cop powers?"
"If you only knew, Schank." Nick gave them all his most charming smile.
Natalie wondered, not for the first time, how many lies that smile had smoothed away. How many lies had he told to her through that smile?
Cohen ordered everyone back to work, and Nick turned the smile on her. His face offered the apology he never uttered. It would have to do. She'd known the risks when she signed on, and Nick was, after all, a man. And she had lies of her own in what she wasn't saying. She forced a smile in return and her cheeks ached.
She turned to go and a cool hand touched her forearm.
"Nat." His voice was low, serious.
She turned, not quite meeting his eyes, waiting for whatever excuse for going home and not talking he would offer.
"For today. Thank you. It was...a miracle, and you...you were amazing."
The smile came unfettered this time and she lay a hand over his. "You weren't bad yourself."
"So, can I get into this mutual admiration society or is it exclusive?" Schanke broke the spell. He looked between them expectantly.
Nat glanced at Nick, who'd assumed his extra-innocent expression. At his half-smile, Nat grinned, then smirked at Schanke, whose shoulders drooped.
"Fine, then can we at least go out and get souvlaki? You two have to be even more starving than me. I was stuck on dispatch, but you two...all that adrenaline? Come on, we'll have a late-late-late-late-late dinner. I've still got a few hours before I go home to kiss Jenny off to school. No arguments."
Nat jerked her head to stare at him.
Nick just slung an arm over Nat's shoulders. "Lead the way, Schanke. I'll eat at home, but I'm sure Nat's famished. We'll just go along to celebrate your Edmonton trip next week with the captain. Here's to three quiet, non-garlic-scented days to come."
Schanke rolled his eyes. "Hardy-har-har. I don't consider three days cross-country with Cohen and back a 'trip'." He nudged them. "Food's going to get cold, and we're not getting any younger."
Nat grinned, leaned a bit into Nick. An evening...well, morning out...after a successful shift, the Three Musketeers together? Yeah, she could do with that.