Dr. Natalie Lambert lifted her eyes from the microscope and focused on the test results emerging from the lab’s dedicated printer. She shook her head, brushing hair away from her eyes in a reflexive motion as she glanced over the loose sheets and headed for the coffee maker. Half way there, she stopped in mid-stride as the meaning of the results became clear. Standing in the middle of the lab, she quickly but carefully scanned the top page once again. No, there was no mistake. This time, she had succeeded. She had found the solution. Pulling her mobile from the front pocket of her lab coat, she keyed in a number and waited for a reply.
“Hi, it’s me.” She paused, almost too overcome to speak. “It worked.” Another pause, listening. “Yes, I think you’d better. I’ll be ready to meet with them in—“ She looked up at the clock over the lab door. Was it really that late? “—wait, there’s no time left tonight. Can we make it first thing tomorrow night?” She closed her eyes while she listened. “Yes, that will work.” She nodded to herself as she spoke. “Yes, please call him for me, will you? I need to finish up here … yes … thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow night. Goodnight.”
She replaced the phone in her coat pocket and smiled as tears sprang to her eyes. Her world had just changed, and nothing would ever be quite the same.
After surviving being drained by Nick (thanks to quick, albeit grudging, action by LaCroix), Natalie had realized a few things. First and foremost was that Nick would never, ever, bring her across. He would rather face final death than watch her grow fangs.
Next, Nick was not likely to be cured of his vampirism in time for them to have a lifetime together. She had hit a dead end (no pun intended) in her search for said cure, and she was not getting any younger. Soon she would look more like his mother than his lover.
Janette's “cure” was not likely to work for Nick, either. He obviously lacked one of the essential elements — desire, control, depth of feeling, whatever — to make it work for him, and he had very nearly killed her in their one attempt.
Which brought her to her next realization: as much as she cared for Nick, she was not willing to either die for him or allow her death to precipitate his own.
Ultimately, the potential cost of Natalie’s association with vampires was more than she was willing to pay. Not until Nick’s life flashed before her eyes as he drained her lifeblood, and she heard him decide to let her die, had she fully realized what the cost could be.
Now that she found herself unwilling to pay that price, she also found herself unable to break free. After all, Nick had explained the part of the Code that applied to her. Mortals were not supposed to know about vampires. Resistors, like her, could not be made to forget what they learned, so they must be either killed or brought across. In some cases, the mortal’s knowledge was tolerated if he or she were under the control or protection of a vampire or vampires. In her role as Medical Examiner, she had protected the local “Community” from discovery by hiding evidence of vampire kills. She had also become a sort of “doctor to the undead,” so she assumed she was safe so long as she was useful to them, and was protected by her relationship with Nick. If she distanced herself from Nick, however, she would need to find another solution – a way to remain useful and protected.
Upon her release from hospital following her ordeal, Natalie asked both Nick and LaCroix to meet with her at Nick’s loft. She had an idea, she told them, and she needed the involvement of both of them in order to explore it. LaCroix agreed to the meeting primarily to keep an eye on Nicholas, who had fallen into a deep, self-castigating depression following the draining incident at his loft. LaCroix wanted to ensure that Nicholas came to no further harm at the “good doctor’s” hands. Nick’s guilt would not allow him to deny Natalie anything, short of a request to drink from her again. He was fairly confident that she would not ask that of him in LaCroix’s presence, though.
They had talked all night, the three of them, verbally dancing with and around each other, changing partners and forms as the conversation progressed. Quiet interludes of reflective contemplation were bracketed by alternating periods of inquiry and debate. Arguments began as tempers flared, yet better natures ultimately prevailed, forestalling the physical violence to which two of the three were prone.
They were an unlikely trio, joined together by an equally unlikely circumstance: a mutually beneficial goal.
The idea originated with Natalie. She started by telling Nick that she forgave him for hurting her, and asked his forgiveness for her decision to abandon her search for a “cure” for his vampirism. Nick still blamed himself, and Natalie and LaCroix had to join forces to stop his personal regret-fest.
Then Natalie announced that she was still willing to search for a way for vampires to tolerate sunlight, perhaps by pursuing a safer alternative to the Litovuterine B, which had allowed Nick to spend a day in the sun, his vampire traits chemically suppressed. LaCroix was vehemently opposed to the idea.
“We are creatures of the night,” he snarled. “Our special abilities and appetites are attuned to hiding in the dark and shadows. We are the reason mortals fear the dark, the things that go ‘bump’ in the night. What possible use do we have for the day? We could not be true to our natures as predators in the sunlight.”
Nick and Natalie had to join forces to convince him that, with better safety protocols, it was a worthwhile goal. After all, it would be nice to avoid turning into a puff of smoke if one absolutely had to be out during the day, right? And there were so many aspects of their unlives that could be improved if they could just go out and about during the day. Nick reminded LaCroix of the difficulties he had in having Janette’s liquor license conveyed to him, simply because he was unable to visit the appropriate governmental office during the day. He had been forced to hire a mortal attorney for the purpose, and had not been pleased with the resultant service.
“Think about all of the things we must rely on mortals to do for us, LaCroix. Not only that, but think about how much easier would it be to travel during the day! We wouldn’t need to worry about flight delays, or only taking the night train, or having to rely on our mortal friends to transport us in the trunks of our cars.” Nick smiled at Natalie with the last comment, and she grinned back, in spite of herself. “Besides,” he continued in a more deferential tone, “only the eldest among us would really be able to take advantage of the ability. Fledglings and the very young are compelled to sleep while the sun is up. Only with age do we begin to lose that need. You would have more to gain than almost anyone.” He had LaCroix’s attention now, and he continued in the same vein, “Imagine being able to consult again with heads of state and advising or even teaching the military powers of our age. Business like that was conducted at night, during parties or evening meetings, in days gone by. Now they happen in offices and classrooms in the light of day. You have seen, personally, the dangers of war in this age, both to mortals and to us. Think about it! You could influence a new age, just because you could meet someone during the daytime!”
The more Nick talked, the more LaCroix warmed to Natalie’s idea, and she knew enough about Nick to trust that he would keep a close eye on any nefarious advantage his sire would try to gain from it. LaCroix had been right about one thing, after all: it would be harder to hide in the daylight.
When LaCroix finally acquiesced, Natalie casually mentioned that she would have to quit her job at the Toronto Medical Examiner’s Office if she was going to seriously pursue such research. Nick and LaCroix joined forces to oppose that proposal. A big part of her value to the local “Community” was her ability to hide the evidence of vampire attacks on the local populace. If she left the M.E.’s office, they could not guarantee her continued status and protection.
Eventually they reached a compromise: Natalie would cut back to part-time status at the M.E.’s office, Nick, through the deBrabant Foundation, would set her up with a complete laboratory where she would continue her research, and LaCroix would convince the Enforcers and the rest of the “Community” that this was not only a great idea, but that Natalie should continue to have their support and protection.
Privately, LaCroix realized that if Natalie succeeded (under his protection and tutelage, of course), and if he could gain control over the outcome, the potential power he could wield might even exceed that of the Enforcers. He was prepared to take control of any substance or process that might provide his fellow vampires a way to prevent their disintegration by sunlight. Nick suspected as much, and vowed to himself that LaCroix would fail to gain such control. Natalie fully realized that this prospect was the only reason LaCroix would support her efforts, and vowed to herself that she would figure out some way to thwart his plans.
Privately, Nick hoped that Natalie’s research would lead to a cure, and that he would be able to join her in the sun as a mortal. Natalie suspected as much, and vowed that she would not let that remote possibility stop her from pursuing a mortal love if the opportunity arose. LaCroix vowed to himself that if a cure was indeed found, he would do everything within his power to prevent Nicholas from using it.
Privately, Natalie prayed for a long joyful life, peacefully ended only by extreme old age, surrounded by family and loved ones. Nick vowed to himself that he would protect Natalie for as long as she lived, provided, of course, that she did not cure him first, in which case they would together live happily ever after. LaCroix gave Natalie’s happiness no thought whatsoever, and renewed his vow that Nicholas would only be allowed to be happy if he returned to his vampire nature.
LaCroix departed for the Raven at dawn, energized by the possibilities inherent in Natalie’s proposal. He felt hope for the future and a dawning sense of renewed purpose through his link with Nicholas. LaCroix told himself that he had been too long without a new challenge, and he relished the prospect of working with Nicholas. It had been a long time since they had been united in a common pursuit. He smiled as he took to the air, pleased that his spur-of-the-moment decision to save the doctor’s life had borne such unexpected and delightful results.
Nick tried to entice Natalie to linger at the loft, fixing coffee for her and inviting her to stay the day, but she demurred and soon departed for her own apartment and waiting cat. She still tired easily, and her bed called to her more strongly than Nick’s offer of companionship. She drove home, yawning ever more broadly as she went. Physically, emotionally and intellectually exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Nick was too keyed up to sleep. Too many thoughts and emotions were fighting for dominance in his brain to allow for slumber. Guilt, always present, was counterbalanced by a new hope and relief that Nat had survived, forgiven him, and wanted to continue helping him. He was restless with ideas and the need to express them. Eventually he set up a fresh canvas and began painting. Gradually he lost himself in the creative process, and his mind calmed. By noon, he was asleep on the couch, dreaming about what combination of colors would best serve the remainder of his expressive creation.
When the “Community” agreed with her plan, Natalie’s research began in earnest. She trained a couple of carefully vetted vampires to work with her, knowing full well that they would be watching her closely and reporting back to LaCroix, and she poured herself into the work. As Natalie gradually pulled herself emotionally away from Nick, LaCroix became her liaison with the Community Council which oversaw the research design, protocols and applications.
LaCroix relished his new role in the Community. Through his influence, he re-engineered Nick’s reputation among his kind. He created and encouraged a new narrative about his son. Nick was not seeking a “cure” for vampirism; he wanted a better way to hide his vampire nature from mortals. How clever of Nick to befriend and enthrall the beautiful and capable Dr. Natalie Lambert so as to take advantage of her research abilities. After all, she had helped LaCroix to discover and develop the cure for the fatal fever, had she not? Nick’s job as a homicide detective was not an embarrassment to LaCroix, oh no; in fact, it was a brilliant move by a member of his family to protect the Community from discovery. Since Nick was often seen now in amicable company with his sire, his reputation as a forward-thinking leader could do nothing but grow. LaCroix would see to it. Personally.
Nick was determined to protect Natalie as much as possible from any possible entanglements with vampires, especially himself. He still had not forgiven himself for losing control and draining Natalie, despite her reassurances that she forgave him for doing so. He looked forward to the fruits of her research and did his best to appease LaCroix so as to ensure his continued support. He also took quiet steps to ensure that anything Natalie discovered would be controlled by the deBrabant Foundation, which was bankrolling the project. LaCroix would not be allowed to gain control of any of it. Nick would see to it. Personally.
Natalie split her time effectively between the M.E.’s office and the new deBrabant Foundation research facility. Workaholic that she was, there were few hours left for her to pursue anything other than causes of death and a means for the undead to work the day shift. Still, she kept her eyes and heart open for potential romance. She found it one day when Brad Carter walked into her lab. He was tall, dark, and handsome, and, best of all, had a pulse! He had been hired as a consulting engineer to help her develop custom equipment for the lab’s unconventional needs, and they hit it off instantly. They hid their growing mutual attraction by meeting mostly during the day, when Natalie’s vampire “minders” were not present. She was determined not to waste this opportunity for love and a family, no matter what. Natalie would see to it. Personally.
One lead led to another, and in less than two years, there was a major breakthrough. The ingestion of a modified artificial blood product showed a promising ability to allow vampires greater exposure to sunlight. It was time for “live” trials.
The Community Council approved trials on animals brought across especially for the purpose. The preliminary tests were an unqualified disaster. The animals were all carouche, consuming animal, not human blood. The modified blood product did nothing for them other than make them terribly sick. The next set of animals was brought across with human blood, and it made all of the difference. Modifications had to be made to account for weight and metabolism, but eventually all the test results came in with positive indicators, and Natalie found herself calling LaCroix….
“Hello?” Ahh, yes, the call he had been waiting for. “Good … ah … morning, Natalie. Do you have results on the latest tests?” LaCroix paused, listening to her breathless answer. “Well, in that case, I believe we should call for a meeting of the Council. They will want to hear all the details. How soon will you be ready?” He smiled to himself as he realized how caught up in her work she really was. Did she really think he could gather the Council before dawn? Scarcely an hour remained before daybreak. “I will make the necessary calls, but I don’t think I can gather them all before ten tomorrow night. Assuming I am able to reach them all, will you be ready for them by then?” He paused only briefly before continuing, “Do you wish for me to phone Nicholas, as well?” He had noticed that they had drifted somewhat apart, and was glad for it. They were too volatile together. When she responded in the affirmative, he almost purred, “No problem. I will take care of it. Is that all?” He waited while she considered, then rang off with a “Good day, doctor.”
If she was right, then this was good news. The product worked. He sat silently for a moment, considering all the potential implications of this development. He smiled, his eyes a cold, calculating blue. His world had changed, and nothing would ever be quite the same.
A while later, Nick hung up the phone. He was surprised not to have heard the good news from Natalie, herself, considering how long she had worked to cure his vampirism. Perhaps she felt the news was not good enough, that surviving exposure to the sun was a poor substitute for a complete cure. If that was the case, he needed to reassure her at once. He didn’t bother with the phone but left the loft and flew straight to the lab. As he arrived, he noticed Natalie leaving the building. Before he could get to her, however, a car drove up and she entered the front passenger seat. As Nick watched, Natalie leaned over and kissed the man driving the car, who brushed her hair back and leaned over to meet her lips once again. They drove off together, leaving Nick standing in the shadows, bewildered and alone. His world had changed, and nothing would ever be quite the same.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
“Come on out, the weather’s fine!” called Nick to LaCroix as he stood by the backyard gazebo. LaCroix emerged cautiously, pulling a wide-brim pleated straw fedora firmly onto his head as he stepped into the sunlight. He wanted to avoid the painful sunburn he had suffered last week as the sun exposure product was wearing off. Ironically, the product worked best on the youngest vampires. The dosage increased along with age, and the length of protected exposure lessened.
“Nicholas,” he scolded, “where did you put the sunscreen lotion we bought yesterday?” He took a moment to adjust his polarized, wraparound sunglasses as Nicholas started patting himself down.
“Oh, here it is,” Nick dug deep into his pocket, withdrew a small squeeze bottle, and held it out. “Don’t forget the back of your neck this time.” He grinned as LaCroix’s scowl deepened.
“I must say, I am quite surprised at you today, Nicholas.”
“Why? It’s a beautiful day, absolutely perfect for an outdoor wedding.”
“So, you harbor no ill feelings, no jealousy, no morbid regrets?”
Nick’s face grew somber for a moment. “She gave me back the sunlight. I can’t begrudge her some happiness.” His returning smile was only slightly bittersweet. “Come on, we don’t want to be late.”
Natalie Lambert’s marriage to Brad Carter took place in the yard of his grandparents’ summer place on the shore of the St. Lawrence River on the afternoon of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It was a middling-sized affair, with about fifty guests and a reception under shelters erected for the purpose on the long sloping lawn.
Nick thought with a lump in his throat that Natalie had never looked so beautiful, and he realized with a pang in his undead heart that in the ten years he had known her, she had never looked at him the way she did at Brad. She was where she belonged, and he found that he was genuinely happy for her. When she glanced his way, he gave her his very best smile and cocked his head back to take the sun full on his face as he turned away.
LaCroix took advantage of that moment to ask Natalie for a dance. As they moved around the dance floor, she was surprised to feel relaxed and safe in his arms. “Thank you for coming, and for bringing Nick,” she told him quietly. “You both look wonderful in the sunlight.”
“Thanks to you,” he replied smoothly. “We are so pleased that you have decided to return to the M.E.’s office on a full-time basis. Rest assured that you will continue to have the protection and gratitude of the entire Community, even after Nicholas and I depart.” He saw no need to disclose that the mortar binding that assurance was Nicholas’ promise of continued companionship, with sun exposure an added bonus.
She nodded. “Thank you. Please thank the Council for me. When will you be moving on? And where will you go?”
He smiled enigmatically. “Soon,” he whispered. “It is best for all concerned, don’t you agree?” She nodded again. He was not going to tell her where they were going. Fair enough.
He surprised her one last time by kissing her forehead gently as he passed her back to her new husband. “I will miss you, my dear,” he told her. He nodded to Brad, “You are a lucky man.”
Brad had eyes only for Natalie. “Yes, I know.” Their worlds had changed, and nothing would ever be the same.