Toronto 1990, about a month after Nick woke up on Natalie's table
Natalie sat in her car at a deserted intersection in downtown Toronto. "C'mon, don't do this to me," she pleaded to her car and tried the starter again – in vain. The motor had died while she waited at a red light and now it refused to restart. She was already too far from the morgue to walk back the distance and call for assistance and not yet close enough to cover the remaining distance to her apartment on foot. In fact, the area she was stranded in was not well suited for walking around in search of a phone booth at four in the morning.
Her only option was to wait until the streets became busier again after sunrise and hope to catch a cab or hail a police car. Or she could try to fix the problem herself. With a sigh she got out of the car and opened the trunk to retrieve a flash light. Then she walked to the front and opened the hood. Flashing the light over the contents, she pulled slightly at several visible cables, but found nothing loose.
"Do you require assistance?" a soft voice inquired from behind her while she was bent over the car.
Natalie tensed. She hadn't heard anyone approaching. Grabbing the flashlight tighter, prepared to use it as a weapon of defense, she turned slowly around.
The man standing close behind her flinched as he found the light beam directed at him, but Natalie relaxed as recognition hit. "Nick!" she exclaimed in relief. "You're heaven-sent."
"Hardly," he replied sullenly.
Natalie took in his appearance. He wore dark jeans and the partly open black leather jacket revealed a black shirt underneath. Although she had seen him only four times since he had sat up on her table, she had already determined that black seemed to be the dominant colour of his wardrobe. "Anyway, I'm glad you're here. Do you live in this area?" she asked. Until now they had always met in the lab. While Nick had managed at all times to sneak in when nobody else was in the room, she had no idea where he came from or what he was doing with the remainder of his time. He had allowed her to take samples from his blood, his skin and his saliva, but he hadn't been very forthcoming with personal information. She didn't even know his full name.
"No, I just happened to be in the area when I saw you getting out of the car. This isn't exactly a safe neighborhood for a lady to walk around at night, Doctor."
Natalie shot him a glare. "I'm very aware of that. It wasn't my idea to stop here."
"The motor?" he asked with a nod towards the hood.
"Yeah, it just died and won't restart. I don't know what's wrong."
Hands buried in his trouser pockets, Nick leaned over the hood. "Perhaps a damaged sparking plug," he suggested.
"Perhaps. Unless you carry a replacement with you, I guess I'll have to leave the car and have it towed in the morning. Where are you parked? Could you give me a ride home?"
"Uh, I don't have my car nearby."
"How did you get here then?"
"There's a taxi stand a block down the road," Nick informed her evasively. "I could accompany you thither."
"Okay. But I shouldn't leave the car in the middle of the road. Could you help me push it to that parking spot over there?" Natalie indicated the framed area.
"Sure. Get in. You take the wheel, I'll push."
Natalie closed the hood and got behind the wheel. A few minutes later the car was securely parked. Natalie grabbed her purse and locked the car, watching slightly amused as Nick wiped his hands with a handkerchief. "Sorry about that. I'm aware a car wash is long overdue."
While they walked to the taxi stand, the silence stretched between them. "I've analysed your saliva," Natalie eventually informed him. "Did you know that it contains antibiotics?"
"No. And I would prefer not to discuss my condition in public, Doctor."
"In public? This is a deserted backstreet and all residents are asleep!"
"Still, sounds are carried in the night and may be picked up by others of my kind. I've already stressed the importance of secrecy when you proposed to help me, Doctor."
Natalie felt duly admonished and remained silent through the remainder of the walk although she had so many questions. When they reached the taxi stand, Nick opened the door of a car for her. She was surprised when he slid in next to her and even more astonished when he announced her address to the driver.
"I don't recall telling you where I live," she remarked after the cab had left the curb.
Nick leaned comfortably back in the seat. "I've made some inquiries about you."
"Did you now?" Natalie was slightly annoyed. "I feel totally disadvantaged because I know nothing about you!"
"You know what you need to know in order to find a cure."
"But what about the rest? You're more than just the chemical composition of body fluids. I want to get to know you!"
Nick looked at her appalled. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Why? Because you dislike me?"
"Because it's too dangerous, Doctor," he said softly. "I do not wish to see you harmed because of your association with me."
"It would be my choice," Natalie insisted. "At least you could stop calling me doctor."
As they neared her apartment building, she rummaged around in her purse to fetch her keys. "Oh damn," she mumbled after a while of searching in vain.
"I'm afraid my keys are in the pocket of my coat which I left in the car. Silly me!"
Nick cast an exasperated glance at her and a concerned glance towards the Eastern sky. "101 Gateway Lane," he told the driver.
Natalie studied him, surprised. "We're not heading back to my car and retrieve the keys?"
"No, there's not enough time before sunrise and I do not wish to combust in the middle of Queen Street."
"Oh," Natalie nodded in understanding. Twenty minutes later the cab stopped in front of a brick warehouse building. Natalie remained seated after Nick had paid the driver generously. "I'm taking the cab back to my car, get my keys and head home," she announced after Nick had opened her door. "Thanks for the ride."
"I thought I already advised you against visiting that neighbourhood alone," Nick remarked.
"I'm not alone; there's the cabbie."
"Still, I would feel more at ease if you stayed here. You can use my phone to arrange for the car to be towed and I can drive you tonight to the repair shop to pick it up."
Natalie regarded him curiously. "You know, Nick, I did manage to wander on my own along the streets of Toronto at night before you showed up in my lab. But I will accept your offer. Not because I worry about my safety, but because I think spending time at your place is a great opportunity to get to know you better." She got out of the car and followed him to a door. While he punched in an access code, Natalie's eyes lingered on the name plate next to the bell – N. Knight. "Nick Knight? Is that your real name?" she wanted to know while she followed him through a short hall to an elevator.
"No. Rather a profession," he replied.
After Nick had opened the door for her she stepped into a freight elevator that started a slow rattling ascent. Natalie recalled that he had given her a rough age of 800 years. That would indeed place him in the prime era of knighthood. "Well, for your information, Mr. Knight, I'm not a damsel in distress. I can take care of myself quite well," she emphasized.
"That I have noticed, Dr. Lambert," he replied. It was the first time she saw the shadow of a smile on his face.
The lift came to an abrupt halt and Nick pulled the door aside, allowing her to step ahead of him into a semi-dark room. Nick's first action was to fetch a remote from a table and point it at the windows. Immediately shutters came down and cast the room in utter darkness. A moment later Nick lit several lamps that were scattered around the place, enabling Natalie to take a look around. She found herself in a huge loft. To her left was a kitchen area. Ahead was a grand piano. Farther into the room she made out a seating area consisting of black leather furniture and a large screen television. To her right she discovered a motorcycle and a table with painting equipment as well as an easel. There were two stairways leading to a balcony which provided access to the upper rooms.
Natalie chose to take a seat at the kitchen table and looked at Nick expectantly. "So, what do you serve for dinner?"
The look on his face was priceless – a mixture between horror and embarrassment. "I –– I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting mortal company this morning. I'm afraid, I don't have anything to offer you."
"You're kidding. Are you telling me that I'm the first mortal to visit your place?"
"I stopped associating with mortals a while ago. And I hadn't planned to associate with you."
"Geez, why did you insist then that I come up?"
"I feel kind of responsible for you."
"Why? Because I'm trying to find a cure for you?"
"Because you work overtime because of me. The least I can do is making sure you arrive home safely."
Natalie studied him thoughtfully. "Wait a minute. It wasn't coincidence that you showed up when you did? You've been following me? And not just tonight. That's how you knew my address?"
When Nick nodded slowly, Natalie wasn't sure whether to be flattered or annoyed at being stalked. "But how did you follow me without a car?"
"I have other means of transportation." He handed her a telephone. "Maybe you want to order some food from a delivery service?"
Recognizing the tactic to change the topic, Natalie placed the phone onto the table and turned back to him. "What other means of transportation?"
"The aerial kind," he replied after some hesitation.
Natalie stared at him. "Are you telling me that you actually turn into a bat?" she asked in disbelief.
Nick burst out laughing and shook his head. "No, I just fly."
Natalie was so fascinated by his display of laughter that she didn't register immediately what he was telling her. "You can actually laugh!" she observed.
"I just told you that I can fly and you get all enthusiastic about the fact that I can laugh?" he asked, amused.
"It suits you. You should do it more often," Natalie encouraged him.
"I rarely have any reason to laugh," he responded gloomily.
"That doesn't surprise me when you always keep to yourself. You should go out among people and have people come here." Eventually his words registered. "Did you just say you can fly? Show me, or I won't believe it!"
There was a whiff of air and Natalie stared at the empty spot where Nick had stood a second ago. "Is this evidence enough for you, Doctor?" Nick's voice came from the balcony across the room.
Natalie's heartbeat increased. So far, during their meetings they hadn't discussed if he had any special abilities beyond immortality. Nor had she seen his fangs and eyes change except on that first night when he had sat up on her table. This sudden display of his abilities had her truly rattled. Taking a deep breath she tried to calm her nerves. "That was too fast. I actually didn't see you fly."
Nick raised an eyebrow. Then he lifted over the railing and landed smoothly in front of her.
Natalie stared. "Fascinating!"
Nick picked up the phone from the table and handed it to her again. "Delivery service?"
"I guess I need something stronger than food now," she declared.
"I may actually have a bottle of whiskey stored somewhere," Nick stated and opened several cupboards. Eventually he came up with a bottle of Single Malt and poured a glass for Natalie.
"Are you going to join me?" she asked as he fetched a second glass.
"If you don't mind." But instead of pouring from the whiskey bottle, Nick opened the refrigerator and retrieved a green bottle. He removed the cork and poured a thick red substance into his glass.
"It comes in bottles?" Knowing what he was, Natalie had expected a storage of blood bags somewhere.
"It comes from the stockyard. I prefer to have it stored in bottles."
That got Natalie's attention. "From the stockyard? Then it's not human?"
"It's cow. I stopped drinking human blood on a regular basis several decades ago."
"Uh-huh." She refrained from chinking her glass against his and merely raised hers briefly before taking a huge swallow. "Cheers."
After emptying half of her glass, her stomach reminded her that she was hungry. "Do you have a phone book? I don't know the number by heart."
After she had called a Chinese delivery service, she looked up the number of a car repair shop and arranged for her car being towed and fixed. If it was a minor problem, she could pick it up in the evening.
She felt slightly awkward eating her meal alone, but Nick had refused to try even a noodle. Instead he had gone upstairs and returned when she was finished.
"You can have the bedroom. I've changed the sheets," he informed her.
"What about you?" Natalie inquired.
"I'm not sleeping."
"Ever?" She had yet to determine what myth was and what reality was from the vampire movies she had seen. At least he didn't seem to sleep in a coffin.
"I'm not sleeping while you're here," he clarified.
Natalie furrowed her brows. "Because you don't trust me? I promise I won't stake you, Nick."
"I do trust you, Natalie. But I don't trust myself."
Natalie smiled at him. "You said my name."
"And you're far too trusting for your own good. You have no idea what I might do when I wake up hungry."
"I think I do. You woke up hungry on my table, remember? But you didn't attack me. Instead you went for the fridge. You need to have more confidence in yourself, Nick." She left him slightly dumbfounded and headed up the stairs into the room he had indicated as his bedroom.
The room was sparsely furnished. There was a single bed covered with black sheets, a huge cupboard filling one side of the wall and a dresser on the opposite wall. The only item on the nightstand was a digital alarm clock. The room seemed oddly bereft of any personal items. Natalie wondered if this was always the case or if Nick had hidden anything while he had been changing the sheets. She resisted the urge to take a peek into the drawers of the nightstand, knowing that this would be a breach in trust. She just hoped that Nick would open up to her of his own accord as time went by.
She stripped to her underwear and crawled underneath the sheets. After a while she heard soft piano music coming from downstairs. She assumed that Nick was playing himself. It was beautiful and lulled her to sleep.
* * * *
It was afternoon when Natalie woke up. As she came downstairs, she found Nick in front of his easel working on a half finished painting. "You're a man of many talents," she remarked. "The piano play was beautiful."
"I had plenty of time to improve on my skills over the centuries."
"That must be fascinating to dedicate a whole lifetime to learning something. I never got beyond that basic watercolour course. I've always wanted to do an advanced course, but during med school there was never any time and now with my odd hours of work I don't get anything squeezed in either. Do you know how lucky you are to have so much time on your hands?"
"It has its moments, but those are nothing compared to the downside of it all." Nick set the palette aside and wiped his hands on a towel. "It's still too early to go out, do you want to order something to eat?"
"No, I will just warm up the left-overs from this morning in the microwave."
As Natalie went to the fridge in order to retrieve the box of Chinese food, she noticed that the number of green bottles had decreased from six to two since she had stored her food there. Her mind automatically made the calculations. Four litres per day were the equivalent to the amount of blood from a human body. Tensing slightly she refused to dwell on the implications.
"Natalie?" Nick's voice roused her from her contemplations. "Is something wrong?"
Shaking the uneasiness off, she shook her head and proceeded with the preparation of her meal. "I was just wondering that it might be helpful if you could take notes of your blood intake. Then we can see if any regimen I come up with has an impact on your hunger."
"Do you already have an idea for a regimen?" Nick asked hopefully.
"Not yet. I'm still trying to gather baseline data on what is normal for you."
As she had finished eating and put away the dishes, Nick used the remote to raise the blinds, revealing a dark sky. "The repair shop called at noon. Your car is fixed," he informed her.
"Great!" Natalie's eyes drifted to the motorcycle. "When you said you could drive me to the shop, you didn't mean the motorcycle, did you?"
Nick chuckled. "No, I have a car in the garage." He retrieved his jacket and opened the lift door for her.
Natalie gaped as she saw a teal-coloured Cadillac from the 1960s parked in the garage. "That is your car? Do they sell these anymore?"
Nick smiled. "I got it when it was brand-new. Although I've changed identities a couple of times since then, I couldn't get myself to part with the car."
Natalie looked pleased as she stored away another piece of personal information Nick had voluntarily imparted. She finally had the feeling that they were making progress on the relationship level.
When they reached the repair shop, Natalie remained seated. "Thanks for your help and for allowing me into your life."
"You're welcome," Nick returned softly. "It is rather unexpected that someone remains in my presence despite knowing what I am."
After getting out of the Caddy, Natalie turned back to him. "You know Nick, I really would love to watch a movie on that large TV screen of yours some day."
"I think that can be arranged," Nick smiled.