Nick watched through the hotel window, staring down at the rocky private beach as the tide came in. Monaco was beautiful this time of year, and the Mediterranean sea shined like the Hope Diamond. The sky was bright, with the full moon peeking from behind a veil of clouds, and the stars were winking in the early summer night.
He could almost forget he was a prisoner here.
LaCroix had refused to leave him alone since that night, nearly a month ago, when he had asked his oldest friend—and only enemy—to finish what was started eight hundred years ago. Nick had vainly hoped that LaCroix would let him go, finally, even as Nick knew in his heart of hearts—and amid a maelstrom of grief—that the elder vampire never would.
Sometimes, Nick hated being right. And he had awoken in this very room the following evening with the skull-cracking mother of all migraines to prove it. It had felt like a fifth of Tequila and an ass-kicking.
Full of rage and despair, Nick had torn up half the room, smashing or upending anything not nailed down. The palatial suite he had been given—with its bright lights, gold accents and cheerful glass—had seemed to mock him. The world had continued to spin, and life—human life—had gone on without him.
All except one.
He had sunk to the bed after his violent fit of pique, too deeply entrenched in sorrow to even weep. Instead, he slept, waking only briefly to refuse the bottles of human blood presented to him. After a few days of Nick turning away from this bounty and growing ever more inured, LaCroix had finally boxed his ears and threatened to force-feed him.
The beatings will continue until morale improves, Nick thought sourly. He was reasonably certain that quote was on a bumper sticker, somewhere.
LaCroix was constantly present, hovering like a deranged mother hen. The halcyon years in Toronto—of LaCroix nearby but only occasionally interfering—now seemed like cold indifference in comparison. LaCroix patently refused to leave him to his own devices now.
After centuries of running, Nick had surrendered. LaCroix would never let him go. Ever. Nick had spent most of his ostensibly eternal life pummeling at the walls of his barless prison, to no avail. The only thing he could do now was to accept his captivity, with the inevitability that one accepts death. Death of hopes, death of a brighter future, the death of everything he once held dear.
He was giving up. If he couldn't find a way to be human again, and LaCroix wouldn't release him from this endless torment, then there was nothing left to do. It was not a life he was living anymore, not even a shadow of a life—more like an idea of life on Earth as written by an extraterrestrial. It was a grotesque parody of human existence.
And LaCroix would never let him go.
So, he sat by the window. Waiting for a sea-change, for the tide to turn and, with it, his fortunes. The moon brightened the waves on this night, and he cracked open the window to listen as the waves met the shore.
The sea was an old and familiar friend. From the time he was small, living in his family's castle—poised on a cliff overlooking the sea—she had been his one true companion. He'd wondered what it might be like to dive into the water and see that hidden world below that no one knew.
He'd become part of a hidden world once he was older, sick with rage at the things he'd seen on the battlefield. Sometimes, he wondered how different things might have been if he'd never peered into the darkness, to see the siren beckoning him. She who had dragged him under and let him drown in her embrace.
But it wasn't Janette's fault. Not really. It was his own choice, and he'd never bothered to ask what the catch was when he was promised eternal life, power and knowledge by LaCroix. An eternity to learn what was occluded from human sight.
Nick snorted at his own train of thought. Promise of eternal power with an attractive woman beside you? What could possibly go wrong with that?
Perhaps that was why he and Natalie had clicked. Maybe her curiosity had been a faint echo, a memory … but it was too late to know for certain now. He could only ever wonder what might have been. If he had warned her that it was merely walking right into the Torment of Tantalus, she wouldn't have believed him. So young, so curious... so trusting.
And now so very dead.
There was a rap on the door. He sighed. “Come in.” It wasn't as if locks were genuinely useful in keeping anyone away who really wanted to get to him. Hell, they didn't even need his permission, whoever it was.
“Nicolas?” It was the soft French timbre that he'd never expected to hear again. “I would like to talk.”
“LaCroix told me you brought me back across. That is why I gave you the painting back.”
He snorted. That damned DaVinci had been a point of contention between them for centuries, passed about like a child between two divorced parents. The last time he'd given it back to her as an extension of an olive branch and, just a few months ago, she'd dropped it in his Toronto loft out of spite.
“And you believed him?”
“I didn't know the whole story, and you'd think I'd know better than to trust his words by now.” She gave a sarcastic laugh. “He twists the truth till it sounds like a lie. You didn't bring me back over, did you?”
“No.” He hadn't looked at her when she had come in, and still refused to glance in her direction.
“Then please, Nicolas, tell me what happened. I will never be able to rest without knowing the truth.”
“Are you certain about that?” he countered. “Sometimes, we're lied to so that we can endure. Maybe you're not meant to know the truth; you weren't conscious for it, after all.”
Janette snarled and strode forward, her high heels clicking a staccato rhythm in the polished wood floor, stopped, turned and then continued more hesitantly—side-stepping the hole in the floor from when he had ripped a piece up and had tried to stake himself with it.
Now he chose to look at her. Just a few weeks ago, he would have been shocked by what he saw—but nothing surprised him anymore. Janette was a certifiable mess—a simple dress which completely hid her eternally-shapely form was draped over her body like a burqa, and it appeared that she hadn't bothered to comb her hair or make up her face.
By Janette's usual standards, she was definitely letting herself go.
He should have felt sympathy toward her, he knew—but he felt nothing. But he did feel enough to be bothered by not feeling anything towards this woman. His emotions had always been so strong under the surface, bubbling and frothing like an undersea volcano.
But now? It was as if that emotional volcano had succumbed to the thousands of pounds of pressure from above and sealed itself off. There was no warmth, no passion, not even any rage or sorrow.
He just felt … empty.
She had asked for the truth, hadn't she? Well, she was going to get it. His voice was in a tone that most would use to discuss the weather as he said, “I carried you out of the house and sat with you on the lawn. I called an ambulance and listened to your heart to monitor you. I heard a second beat—soft and quick, like a butterfly's wings. Eventually it stopped and, after you lost more blood, you opened your eyes.”
Janette appeared thunderstruck. “...what?”
“You were pregnant, you lost the baby, and you reverted back to a vampire. Look, Ma, no third party.”
Janette swayed on her feet, but caught herself by latching a hand onto the back of the chaise lounge. “You knew this... and you didn't tell me?”
“What else was there to say? Do you feel better knowing now? Or would you rather still blame me?”
She swung a tiny fist at him, hitting him squarely in the chest. He swayed with the impact, but otherwise didn't react. “LaCroix told me how you've been acting, but I didn't believe him. I thought 'that could never be my Nicolas.'” She bit back a sob. “But it's true. You really don't care anymore, do you?”
Janette laughed bitterly. “Then it looks like LaCroix's hopes have been answered. You truly are his son now. Bâtard.”
His hand shot out. Her body slammed against the only previously-unbroken item left in the suite—the glass coffee table. The force was enough to shatter the glass as gravity brought her to the floor.
Janette's eyes widened as she righted herself, propping herself up on her elbows amid the shards. He was guilty of many things, but he'd never struck her before! She stared up at him in dull horror as he squatted and gazed back down at her, his eyes impassive, empty.
He wasn't her Nicolas anymore, and he wasn't LaCroix's longed-for son. He wasn't anyone anymore.
But no, there was still something there. Faint, but there. “I'm so cold. Help me, Janette. I need to feel something other than the cold.”
She did the only thing she could think to do; she reached for him, pulling him to her. He followed passively, with the automatic movement of muscle-memory. Then, as she ripped open his shirt, he lunged. His mouth smashed against hers in desperation, as buttons clattered to the floor and glass crunched beneath them.
Fabric rent like tissue, with hands roughly charting a course along bare flesh. Janette was not without anger—He wanted to feel something? Fine then—and shoved him down into the shards of glass, just so they'd cut along his back. A hiss issued through his gritted teeth, and she straddled him, growling her demand.
His fingers clenched against her back as she rode him hard, the intimate pain of their rough coupling acting as a salve for her own wounds. She needed to hurt him as much as he needed to feel. Because the world hurt, and she wanted to hurt it back, but only Nick was willing to take the punishment.
She needed to hurt him for infecting her with his longing for humanity, and he wanted to hurt. In this moment, pain was the only pleasure. She bit him in several places, drawing out the pain with sharp and grinding snaps of her jaws, as she continued to thrust her hips.
She clawed at him, nails lancing into skin and leaving rivulets of blood in their wake. She growled at him, she swore oaths against him, anything and everything to make him suffer.
Because, at least, that was something to feel.
Eventually, though, her destructive rage was spent. She was spent. The mental valves that had been threatening to explode were no longer stretched to their limit. So she rolled off of him, allowing the glass to dig into her, but too tired to move anymore.
Nick's voice was quiet. “I'm sorry.”
“For everything.” He gave a weak laugh. “I am the master of all screw-ups, aren't I? I can't seem to do anything right.”
Janette smiled gently. Her Nicolas, her passionate, loving and self-loathing Nicolas was back. “You did one thing right.”
“You asked me for help.” She sat up slowly, wincing at the aches of her body. It was a comfort to know that all her pains would heal soon enough. “And I gave it. And you helped me too.”
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I did?”
She nodded. “I got the answers I needed...” She paused, wondering how much to reveal of herself, and deciding on not at all. “...and you are now back on track, n'est-pas?”
Nick sighed. “Maybe. But we hurt each other too much, use each other too much. We need to find our own paths.”
Janette nodded. “Compris. But...should you need anything...”
“Likewise, Janette. Now go on. Get out of here.” He smiled, softening the blow of his words.
Janette blinked. “And LaCroix?”
“I'll burn that bridge when I get there.”
* * *
Halfway across the world, a woman lies in a hospital bed. Comatose from blood loss for the last month, and her prognosis isn't good because it had been sometime before she'd been found. Modern medicine can't help her. She receives no visitors, and the plethora of monitors remain unchanged. Though something of her identity is known—she was a forensic pathologist, a police captain said—no one here in the hospital knows her personally, and there's no next of kin.
Natalie opens her eyes.