Chapter 1: Presumed Dead
October 7, 1996 - Mulder's Apartment 3:14 a.m.
Mulder jerked awake, not sure of exactly what had disturbed his sleep. Glancing at the television set, he saw a commercial with very attractive women demonstrating how they achieved such great looking thighs with some gadget they squeezed together between their knees. Mulder allowed his mind to wander into fanciful directions for a moment until he realized that the TV wasn't what had awakened him. He sat up and grabbed the gun from beneath his pillow. Cautiously, he moved about the semi-darkened room, seeking anything that looked out of place. While checking to see that the locks were still secure on his front door, he noticed a manila envelope on the floor in front of it. He'd had a visitor.
Poring over the contents of the envelope at his desk, he found a file folder containing the bio of a Canadian police detective and two, seemingly unrelated newspaper articles. The first article was two weeks old and told of the desecration of a woman's grave in Toronto, Canada. The second news story was a week old and described animal mutilations in Montana. What the two cases had in common, Mulder couldn't even hazard a guess. But, obviously, someone felt the two were connected -- along with the Canadian cop -- and that Spooky Mulder was the perfect choice to bring the matter to light. His curiosity instantly piqued, Mulder turned on his computer and began a new investigation.
Toronto - 5 Months Earlier
She had trusted him. It would be the last mistake she would ever make. Her first was ever allowing herself to get involved with him. She had come tonight to declare her love and offer herself to him. She had done so much for him in the six years they had known each other. Besides helping to protect his secret from the rest of the mortal world, she had dedicated her life to finding a cure for his vampirism. Along the way, she had become his conscious, his nursemaid, his shoulder to cry on, and his reason for existing.
Natalie had pleaded with him to try the cure that had worked for Janette, his sister in darkness. All he had to do was make love to her, to take just a few sips of her blood, and he'd be on his way to regaining his mortality. She'd had such faith in his control, in his desire not to hurt her, that she was able to convince him to try. But Nick knew from the very first taste of her love-laced blood, that settling for only a few sips would not be possible. It had been decades since he had last savored human blood direct from the source. He drained her in a matter of moments and only afterwards did he realize the consequences.
"Oh, Nicholas, you have thought this through, haven't you,?" his master's voice broke through the ball of confusion encircling him. LaCroix had come to collect him, to encourage him to leave his life in Toronto behind and start anew elsewhere. If only he'd arrived a few minutes earlier because, no, Nick had not thought any of it through. He simply allowed his emotions to lead him, and now the love of his life was teetering on the verge of death. Now he was faced with the decision to complete the process and bring her across or let her die.
He tried to think clearly, objectively. All he knew for sure was that he didn't want to condemn her to the same kind of existence that he had fought so long and hard against. She had told him if it came down to it, that she was okay with becoming a vampire. But his selfishness had a way of overriding the wishes of others. He thought of his sister Fleur and of Janette, his love for eight centuries. For each of them, he had completely ignored their choices, granting them instead just the opposite of what they had wanted. This occasion would be no different. He would not bring Natalie across as she had asked, a choice of which LaCroix seemed in favor.
But making that decision and living with it was something Nick could not bare. He never had to actually say the words, but LaCroix sensed the devastation his offspring felt. He also knew how irrational he could be at times. When Nick handed him a wooden staff and told him that he was his closest friend, LaCroix instinctively knew what was expected of him. Nick wanted his best friend to put an end to the heartache and pain once and for all.
LaCroix silently accepted the task. There were no final words of farewell as Nick turned away and knelt down next to Natalie's body and held her limp, lifeless hand in his. Seconds later he heard LaCroix curse his name, then felt the searing pain as the narrow end of the staff pierced cleanly through his body. There was little time to scream as he slumped to the floor, his body partially covering Natalie's.
LaCroix broke off the end of the staff he still held, then turned away and tossed it into the fireplace. He closed his eyes in an attempt to suppress his emotions. He wondered how it was that the most cherished of his children could cause him the most unbearable grief. Perhaps this was his punishment for the evil deeds he had cast upon the good and righteous for the past two millennium.
The fact that he possessed super-human hearing was the only reason he picked up the faint whisper of his name. He braced himself for the confrontation, then casually turned back to the crumbled figure at his feet. Using the tip of his shoe, the tall, imposing vampire pushed on Nick's shoulder to flip him onto his side. His child groaned at the pain the movement caused.
"Apparently, my aim was a trifle off," said LaCroix, looking down his keen nose with steel blue eyes and showing no remorse over his lack of accuracy.
"Please," Nick gasped. "Finish it."
"Don't be a fool, Nicholas. I have no intentions of contributing to your demise. You selfish, ungrateful brat! You only appreciate my gift to you when it suits your needs. Otherwise, you claim you want to be mortal again. If there were such a thing as a cure for immortality, you've just allowed your only hope to slip from your hands."
LaCroix took a few steps around to the other side and stood over the still body of Natalie Lambert, her long, thick auburn curls framing her pallid, round face. He shook his head regretfully as he knelt down to caress the silken skin of her cheek. The warmth was already leaving her body.
"You had the chance to make her one of us, but now it's much too late. She wanted to be brought across. She wanted to spend all of eternity with you, where she would have had all the time in the world to continue her quest in seeking a cure. If you had truly loved her, you would have granted her that request. Or perhaps you would have done the noble thing and simply walked away, leaving her alive and her wholesome goodness intact."
Nick wanted to respond, but besides the pain and weakness impeding his ability to speak, he really didn't know what he could possibly say in his defense. LaCroix stood again, still keeping his gaze on Natalie.
"How many times have we visited this little scenario, Nicholas? How many times in the past have you loved an adoring creature such as this and allowed your beast to take her from you? Too numerous to count, I'm sure. Can you recall the times you've attempted to bring one across only to find that her love for you made her blood all the more delectable and irresistible? You can't help but savor that sweet nectar to the very last drop.... And what makes this one any different? No. I stand corrected. This one was different, was she not? She has shown courage, determination and faithfulness. She's been a great ally to the vampire community on several occasions. I would have been quite proud to have her as part of our little family, after all, Nicholas. How unfortunate that a pure act of selfishness on your part has brought an end to such a beautiful flower."
"LaCroix, please!" Nick managed to find his voice and rasped out a sobbing plea. The ache in his heart surpassed that of the stake protruding through his lower right ribcage. His eyes were red with blood tinged tears that streaked down the side of his face.
The elder vampire strolled back over to his child and gave him a pitying look. "Poor, poor Nicholas. You try so hard to be everything but what you are. Surely, you knew I would not take your life, not unless it was my own idea. And you lack the courage to walk into the sun on your own. Just as well for you, for if there is a heaven, there's no way your damnable soul would be allowed to follow your beloved Natalie through those pearly white gates." Nodding towards the stake jutting out of Nick's abdomen, LaCroix added, "That's starting to look rather uncomfortable."
He bent over and not too gently yanked the stake free. Nick howled loudly at the removal, then collapsed into a stupor. LaCroix flipped the blood-covered wood over into the fireplace where it flared up instantly. He then pulled Nick's shirt tails from his pants and used the ends to plug the gaping holes left behind by the staff. Tearing away a small portion of flesh from his own wrist, LaCroix offered an oozing vein to Nick.
The man wanted to resist, wanted to just perish and waste away to nothing, but the beast inside felt starved and endangered. It refused to be denied an opportunity to feed and heal itself. Nick was no match for the beast and gave into it once again. Because his son had recently fed, LaCroix saw no need to allow him little more than a pint. It would be just enough to help begin the healing process. LaCroix preferred that Nick remain incapacitated for a while. There was much to be accomplished before sunrise and he didn't need his impetuous progeny causing complications.
"Enough!" LaCroix pushed Nick away and stood, licking his wound to heal it. "You'll get more later. But now, there's work to be done. I'll have to clean up the mess you've made." Glancing about the room, he took a moment to think. "I suppose an automotive mishap is in order. By the time they discover the body, we shall be long gone."
He grabbed Natalie's coat and began to dress her in it. Nick laid quietly, curled up on his left side and stared despairingly at Natalie, hoping to see her display some sign of life. There was none. All color had left her cheeks, and Nick had listened intently to pick up the sound of her heartbeat. There was nothing left to be heard. "LaCroix," he called softly to his master as the elder vampire gathered up other items, including the detective's coat and Natalie's purse.
"We can talk later, Nicholas," said LaCroix as he continued on with his mission to collect the most obvious of personal belongings of his son and his female friend. He removed the keys, wallet, badge and watch Nick kept in his jewelry case on the sofa table. As he removed the shoes from his son's feet, Nick attempted again to speak to him.
"Not now, Nicholas," LaCroix responded firmly.
"Please, I want to forget!" Nick blurted out. "I want to forget it all."
"Forget a lesson learned, Nicholas?"
"I... I can't live with myself, LaCroix," Nick sobbed. "With what I've done. If I am to go with you, I need to forget."
LaCroix gave the matter some thought. Hypnotizing another vampire into forgetting wasn't an easy task. And it appeared that Nick was asking to forget more than just the past few minutes. He wanted to wipe out the entire past six years he had known Natalie. Vampires were the perfect resisters, backed with total recall. However, there had been a time when Nick had lost his memory, back when he had been shot in the head while on duty. There still remained tremendous gaps in his memory which LaCroix noted whenever they held conversations about their history together.
"I can only think of one possibility, Nicholas, but--"
"Do it!" Nick cried, not caring what it took.
LaCroix walked over to the chair where Nick had draped his holstered gun over the back. It had been a long time since he had handled such a weapon, preferring to use his bare hands to settle disputes and such. He took the gun back over to where Nick lay, and without hesitation, aimed at his head and pulled the trigger. When nothing happened, he stared at the gun curiously. Nick saw the problem and reached his hand out for the weapon. LaCroix handed it over to him and watched as Nick made some quick movements, then gave it back to his master.
"Safety was on," Nick said simply, then turned his head away to look longingly once again at his beloved Natalie. "Forgive me, Nat," were his final words as shots rang out. A fire sprang to life in his brain, then darkness eventually consumed him.
October 7 - FBI Headquarters - 3:40 p.m.
Scully dragged herself into the office, plopped a file folder on top of Mulder's desk, then eased herself wearily onto the chair opposite his. Her partner was standing beside the fax machine with his back to her, thoroughly engrossed in reading something from an opened file folder he was holding. Once the fax he had been waiting for finished printing, Mulder snatched it up and added it to the other documents he carried. Walking back to his desk, he seemed surprised to see his partner present.
"Oh, hey, Scully," he greeted her casually as he took his seat. "When did you sneak in? Boy, you look beat. Rough day?"
"As a matter of fact, I am beat, Mulder. You wanted a complete and thorough autopsy done, you got it."
"So what did you find out?"
"Heart attack. Pure and simple. No drugs, no unexplained irregularities, no funny business. Just your ordinary coronary. Case closed."
"Great. Then you can help me out with this new one," said Mulder with an impish smile. "Someone slipped an envelope under my door early this morning," he stated as he handed her the two newspaper articles to which he had been dedicating his time. "Tell me what you think."
Scully blew out a tired sigh, wondering just where her partner managed to find all the enthusiasm and energy he garnered for each new case he came across. She took her sweet time in reading the articles, knowing how impatient Mulder was getting just waiting for her to finish. As far as the animal mutilations, she was less than enthused. However, when she began reading about the woman's grave being desecrated, a nervous twinge went through her spine.
"Mulder, this woman's grave... you don't think it was--"
"Donnie Pfaster? No. That was the first thing that came to my mind too, but I checked and he's still safely tucked behind bars."
"No, not that either. The article didn't go into much detail, so I called the newspaper and managed to talk to the writer. She told me that due to the lack of space, her story had been edited down a bit. What was left out was the mention that although the body had not been harmed in any way, it had been moved. She said that it looked as though the body had been shoved over to the side some to make room."
"Make room for what?"
"Scully, whoever dug up that grave, did so with his bare hands. And once he got it open, he apparently laid down with the corpse."
Scully frowned at the thought. "A necrophiliac."
"That's sort of what I was thinking until I started digging into the background of the deceased." Mulder handed Scully a fax from the folder. It was a woman's police-issued bio.
"Dr. Natalie Lambert," she began to read snippets of the information aloud. "Coroner with the Toronto Police Department. Died in an automotive accident."
"The car she was in was hers, but the driver was a male friend." Mulder handed her another bio. "This too was in the envelope I received this morning. Detective Nick Knight also with the Toronto Police. I talked to a Captain Reese who was Det. Knight's boss. Apparently, this file on Knight was stolen from the police records room and his computer files have been mysteriously deleted from their system. No one knows exactly how or when."
Scully studied the black and white photo of Det. Knight with a bit more interest. He was a distinctively handsome man with captivating eyes, a light growth of facial hair on his chin, and blonde, curly hair. According to the bio, he was 5'11", 180 pounds, thirty-eight-years-old and single. She also noticed the mention of a sun allergy and a special provision that excluded him from working day shift. Scully managed to tear her attention away from the virile-looking, dream boat and tune back into what her partner was saying.
"Word around the precinct was that Knight and Dr. Lambert were more than mere friends. At any rate, just hours before the car wreck, each of them had experienced some bad news. Dr. Lambert had lost a friend to suicide, and Knight had lost his partner in a shoot-out at the station."
"Would you happen to be thinking that perhaps they were both suffering from depression and that maybe the accident wasn't necessarily an accident?"
"The thought did cross my mind. I imagine that Det. Knight was doubly depressed because this was the second partner he'd lost in less than a year. His first partner along with their captain was killed in a plane bombing. Capt. Reese said that the detective was obviously upset and had handed in his resignation at that time. But continued bomb threats caused him to stick around and help out. He was credited with discovering a bomb and saving the lives of his entire precinct before it went off.
"Sounds like he was a pretty good cop," said Scully as she glanced back at the detective's bio. "They have him listed here as 'Presumed Dead.' What exactly happened?"
"Going by the evidence left behind, it's assumed that as Knight was driving Dr. Lambert home, he lost control of the car while crossing a bridge. It crashed through the railings and plunged forty feet into the frigid lake below. Knight wasn't wearing his seat belt and was ejected through the windshield of the car. His body was never recovered."
Scully looked at her partner with raised brows. "Let me guess. You think that not only is he still alive, but he's also the one who dug up Dr. Lambert's grave. That's pretty far-fetched, Mulder."
"Well, you spend twelve hours digging into this and tell me what you come up with. It all fits, Scully. I think that Knight drove off that bridge on purpose. Whether or not his girlfriend shared his sentiments, I believe that he decided to end it all. Only somehow he managed to survive, though maybe not completely unscathed. I'm guessing that by the time he made it to shore, he probably didn't even know who he was or what had happened to him. He probably wandered around Toronto for months as a homeless John Doe. Maybe he wandered into the cemetery looking for a quiet place to sleep and came upon the grave site purely by chance."
"So," said Scully picking up on the story, "he recognized the name and dug with his bare hands to see if it was really her."
"Then snuggles up to her for old times sake."
"Well, if that's true, that means he's a very disturbed man and he's in need of professional help. Was there any next of kin?"
Mulder flipped quickly through his paperwork to find the answer. "No. Knight had two people listed as contacts in case of emergency. One was Natalie Lambert and the other was a Janette DuCharme. The phone number given has been disconnected. It belonged to a nightclub called The Raven, which was closed down the same night the accident occurred."
"Little more than a coincidence?"
"That'd be my guess."
"Well, besides sounding like something out of the "Twilight Zone", what could this case possibly have to do with mutilated cows in Montana?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Mulder dished out two more sheets of paper from his file. They were photocopies of the two separate crime scenes. "Take a look at these and tell me what you see."
Scully mused over the two photographs; one of a dead cow with its throat slashed and head twisted backwards, the other of the reopened grave site of the late Dr. Lambert. The decaying body was positioned close to the right side of the coffin with its long, wavy hair purposely spread out over a small pillow. The light- colored, satin lining to its left was stained with dirt from head to toe. Similar stains could be seen across the bodice of her dress.
"I don't know, Mulder," Scully said at length. "The only thing I can easily discern these two scenes having in common besides a corpse, is dirt."
"Exactly," said Mulder, delighted that his partner had noted the obvious. "Soft earth, perfect for leaving footprints. I couldn't really make out the details in these reproductions, so I had those pictures and others that were available e-mailed to me. Come take a look."
With a click of the mouse, the flying saucers screen-saver on Mulder's computer was instantly replaced by two enlarged pictures arranged side by side. When Scully came to look over his shoulder, Mulder pointed out the footprints which had been left behind at the scenes. The rugged-style shoe print which had been left near the carcass of the dead cow appeared to match the ones found inside the coffin.
"I see where you're going with this, Mulder, but it's probably just a coincidence. The footprints around the cow could belong to anyone. And there's still no indication that Det. Knight is still alive, much less digging up graves and butchering cattle."
"Oh, did I mention that Knight was investigated once in connection with a little murder spree and that several wine bottles filled with cow's blood were found in his refrigerator?"
"No, you didn't mention that. Why would he have bottled cow's blood in his refrigerator?"
"Paint thickener for his oils, so he claimed."
"But you don't buy that, do you?" his partner asked knowingly.
"Personally, I believe he just happens to like the taste, which might explain why the three dead cows in Montana were found completely drained of blood."
"Okay, so let me get this straight. We're investigating a suicidal, Canadian, amnesiac, necrophilic, ex-cop who crossed the border into Montana to slash and break the necks of cows so he can sip their blood from wine bottles while dabbling in oils? Is that about it?"
"Yeah, and don't forget that this case was slipped to me under the door, so it's probably a safe bet that Det. Knight is of great interest to someone in our government. We probably need to get to him before they do. So, are you game?"
Scully picked up the bio of Det. Nick Knight again and gazed into a pair of eyes that seemed almost hypnotic. Whatever else he was to the secret government which had learned to use Mulder as its pawn, Knight was a troubled human being in desperate need of help. Unable to consider turning her back on him, she nodded and said, "Yeah, I'm game."
Chapter 2: Nicholas de Brabant
Winnipeg 2 - Months Earlier
LaCroix glided silently into the parlor carrying a wine glass in one hand and a bottle of blood in the other. It was well past supper time and Nick still had not fed for the evening. He was once again preoccupied with his favorite pastime. Putting paintbrush to canvass had become his one true pleasure. He was so focused on his current masterpiece that he was completely unaware that he had company. LaCroix stood a few feet away and studied the flow of paint on the canvass. It was an abstract painting, as were most of Nick's fascinations with oil. This one had started out looking somewhat like a sunset with splashes of deep blue and purple. But what had been recently added in brown and red looked very much like a woman with long wavy hair, bleeding profusely from the neck.
"Anyone I would know?" LaCroix asked.
Nick jumped noticeably at the sound of his master's voice, then his head turned slowly, just enough to give him a sideways glance. "How long have you been there?" he asked in a deep, low tone.
"Surely you felt my presence, Nicholas. Or perhaps your attention was elsewhere. Another time, another place?"
Nick turned back to the easel and added another stroke of crimson to the painting. "I keep having these flashes of images. A woman with long curls of brown hair, dressed in white. Sometimes she's smiling, sometimes she's crying, sometimes we kiss, then other times... she's my lunch."
"Speaking of mealtime..." said LaCroix, more to change the subject than anything else. He filled the glass he held with blood and offered it to his protege. "I thought you might like a little refreshment."
Instead of taking the glass of liquid nourishment from LaCroix, Nick simply lowered his head slightly and opened his mouth, indicating that he wanted to be fed. His master arched an eyebrow at the silent request, then slowly lifted the glass to his son's lips. Nick drank messily, causing the red fluid to run out the corner of his mouth and leave him with a blood mustache.
"I realize you've had problems with your memory of late, Nicholas," said LaCroix as he licked an errant drop from his own hand, "but don't tell me you've forgotten how to feed yourself."
Nick licked his lips with his tongue, and grinned devilishly. "You used to like to feed me, old man. You and Janette used to take turns. Remember?"
"I've always been concerned that you maintain a healthy diet, Nicholas."
"Then we should go hunting together, you and I," said Nick as he took the glass from LaCroix and gulped down the remaining contents.
"Hunting?" LaCroix echoed, unable to believe his ears.
"Yes. Remember the good old days when we were free to hunt every night? The women... all those beautiful, delicious women. The art of the seduction, the taste of their fear as they realized too late that they've just made love to the devil."
"You surprise me, Nicholas," LaCroix commented as he refilled Nick's glass, then set the wine bottle down on a nearby table. "I haven't heard you speak this way in quite some time."
"Yes, Nick Knight has been a bit of a wet blanket, hasn't he? I've been trying to break free of him for the longest."
The elder vampire cocked his head in puzzlement. "I beg your pardon? Break free?"
"Free from that pathetic excuse of a vampire and his ridiculous attempts at mortality. Honestly, LaCroix, I don't see how you've put up with him all this time."
LaCroix was still trying to comprehend, trying to find a connection between the words he heard spoken and their speaker. "You keep referring to yourself in the third person," he pointed out.
The younger vampire chuckled lightly. "I'm speaking of Mr. 'I want to be mortal again,' Nick Knight."
"Ah, I see.... And you would be?"
"I'm Nicholas de Brabant, of course. Don't you recognize me, mon pere?"
LaCroix gazed into the mischievous, dark eyes of Nicholas de Brabant and indeed recognized something he had not seen for more than a century... a touch of evil.
"Nicholas," LaCroix smiled proudly for only a moment, then took a moment to consider what was happening. "But what's become of Nick Knight?" he asked. "Is he now history?"
Nicholas took a swallow from his glass and shook his head disdainfully. "Unfortunately, no," he grimaced. "He's still present. He's fighting me as we speak. But it's only a matter of time before I'll have him under my full control. Things will be as they once were. You'd like that, wouldn't you, mon pere? You'd like to have your old Nicholas back, wouldn't you?"
LaCroix was in too much shock to respond, especially when his child reached a hand out to his cheek and caressed it almost sensually. As Nicholas lowered his hand, he gave the glass back to his master, shot him a sly wink and said, "I'll be seeing you."
The master vampire watched with utter fascination as the sinister air his son had exuded seconds ago was quickly replaced with a near childlike innocence, laced with confusion. Nick suddenly grunted and squeezed his eyes shut as a fierce pain lanced through his skull. LaCroix helped to steady him as he reeled on the verge of keeling over. The attack was over in a matter of seconds, leaving Nick trembling and slightly disoriented. "What... what's happening to me, LaCroix?" he asked in a shaky, frightened voice.
LaCroix placed a firm hand on Nick's shoulder to help support him. He had an idea of what was causing the problem, but no clue as to what to do about it. "You're just tired, Nicholas," he finally answered him. "You haven't been feeding enough." He offered him the glass of blood which Nick sniffed at oddly. "Something wrong?" LaCroix asked when he saw the slight frown produced.
"No," Nick responded less than convincingly, then took the smallest sip possible from the glass.
"Drink up, Nicholas," his sire gently ordered. "You need your strength."
Nick started to put the glass to his lips but abruptly changed his mind. "Is this all we can feed on?" he asked.
"It is all we need to feed on. However, if you'd like it fresh from the source, that can be arranged."
"No, that's not what I meant. I mean, is human blood all we can have?"
"It is our main staple. If we had to, we could survive on lesser creatures, but I wouldn't advise it."
"Did I use to drink something other than human blood?"
LaCroix wanted to lie, but knew it would do little good. Obviously, Nick's nose and taste buds remembered even if their owner didn't. "You use to dine on cow's blood," he reminded him.
"To irritate me," LaCroix replied with a deep sigh. "Do you still enjoy irritating me, Nicholas?"
The corners of Nick's mouth turned slightly upwards as he replied, "A little, I guess."
LaCroix smiled and patted Nick's cheek in a fatherly fashion. "Be a good little vampire and finish your dinner."
Nick did as he was told, feeling himself calm and the pain recede with each swallow. "I guess you're right. I feel better already."
The younger vampire quickly drained the glass and accepted another full one. As he began to sip from the second round, Nick turned to face his painting and froze instantly.
"What is it?" LaCroix asked when he saw how Nick was staring at the painting.
"Did I do this?" asked Nick.
"Who is she?"
"I believe you referred to her as... lunch."
"I.... Am I going insane, LaCroix?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Nicholas," his father frowned.
"Am I being ridiculous? I do things that I can't remember doing. I wake up in places and can't recall how I got there. I hear voices inside my head saying things to me I don't want to hear. And the headaches.... If I'm not going insane, then what?"
"I told you, Nicholas that you haven't been feeding properly. It doesn't help that you were hung up on cow's blood for a number of decades. Now with all the chemicals they pump into today's bovine to make them unnaturally larger and more productive, and the deadly diseases they've been known to contract, your previous food source was undoubtedly contaminated. When you had your accident, you simply didn't heal as you should have. I feel that your current symptoms are a product of that contamination. Now that we have you on a steady diet of human blood, your internal system should recover soon. The loss of memory, the voices and such will soon be a thing of the past. Trust me."
The tension in Nick's face slowly dissolved as he nodded his acceptance of what he had just been told. He then turned his attention back to his painting, saturated a cloth with turpentine and began cleaning away the unwanted image of the bleeding woman from his canvass. LaCroix stood and watched his offspring in silent contemplation. Ever since that night three months ago, things had not been right with his Nicholas. A gunshot wound through any other part of a vampire's body would have produced little more than a tickle. Injury to the brain, however was a bit more serious. That time when Nick was shot in the head while on duty, had been with an exploding bullet known as a cop killer, designed to inflict optimum damage. It had taken several hours for his wound to heal and several days for his mind to recover from the shock.
The bullets in Nick's gun weren't as destructive. LaCroix pumped three shots into his son's head before Nick lost consciousness. When he awoke a full twenty-four hours later, he was disoriented and suffering memory loss. Physically, he seemed well on his way to recovery, but over the past several weeks, LaCroix had begun to notice subtle changes in Nick's emotional status. It appeared that he was warring with himself, the evil side of him wanting to gain dominance. This evening had been the first time that Nick's darker side had broken out and made contact. Perhaps it was for the best if the evil inside of Nick won over, allowing him to forget about the nonsense of regaining his mortality, and concentrate on being a vampire. It would be like old times, when Nicholas enjoyed the perks of being a vampire and relished a good hunt with his family. In time, LaCroix thought, it would soon be that way again.
Oct. 9, 1996 - Black Eagle, Montana - 1:40 a.m.
The day had been a long one. Luckily, Scully had gotten a few winks of sleep on the plane and an extra hour on the road as Mulder did the driving from the airport in Billings to their current location. After conferring with the local sheriff and talking with a few of the ranchers in the area, Mulder concluded that the Olsen ranch was likely to be the next target of the cattle stalker. That was the name used by the locals, although everyone had their opinion of what was really after their cows. The theories ranged from bears and mountain lions to Big Foot and beings from another planet. Mulder had also spoken to an elderly Native American who put the blame on an evil spirit he described as the dead who lives by night.
After accepting the hospitality of the Olsens, which included farm fresh, home cooking and a chance to change into some more comfortable and warmer clothing, the two agents proceeded to set up for an all night stake out. Mulder chose the hay-filled loft of the barn which overlooked the large corral that was home to thirty head of cattle. He stationed himself at the window over the barn door, seated with knees bent towards his chest and his back resting against a bale of hay as he peered outside with high-powered, night vision binoculars. His partner was seated next to him in the chilly darkness, bundled up in her heavy, hooded jacket, with her legs covered by a pile of lose hay for added warmth.
"Tell me again, Mulder, why we're hiding out in the loft of a barn in thirty degree weather with night vision binoculars trained on a herd of cows?"
"What's the matter, Scully? I thought you'd jump at the chance to have a roll in the hay with me."
"Dream on. You really think he's going to show up here tonight?"
"The other attacks were three nights apart. This makes the third night since the last attack. Apparently, your average cow only yields a three day supply of blood. And judging by a map of the surrounding area, this ranch is the next in line. If he keeps to the pattern, he'll show."
"But wouldn't he know that in leaving such a recognizable pattern, that someone might be apt to set a trap for him?"
"I don't think he's worried about being caught. Could be he's even looking forward to it."
"You know, I think you may be right about that."
Mulder grunted. "What was that? Did you say I was right about something?"
"Don't let it go to your head. But yes. I think that Mr. Knight is crying out for help in a way. He wants to be caught. He probably wants to be punished as well because he feels guilty about surviving that car wreck that killed Dr. Lambert."
"I'm not so sure that Dr. Lambert died as a result of that accident."
"What makes you say that?"
"I have a new theory, but I don't think you'd like it."
"You mean I won't believe it."
"Well, tell me anyway."
"I think that Detective Nick Knight is a vampire," Mulder announced in a matter-of-fact tone.
Scully chuckled at the statement and shook her head. "Okay. Can't say that you didn't try to warn me. A vampire, Mulder?"
"Yes, if you'd just consider the facts. We know that he has an aversion to sunlight, he kept bottles of blood in his refrigerator, and he didn't die in an accident that would have killed any normal human being."
"And we still don't know that he didn't, Mulder. The body was never recovered."
"My point exactly. The body was never recovered because it's no longer at the bottom of that lake. Who else do you think dug up Lambert's grave? Who else would have had a reason? And if you don't believe he's still alive, then why are you even here?"
"I didn't want to pass up a roll in the hay with you. Still, even if he survived the accident, it doesn't make him a Bela Lugosi."
"Actually, I was thinking more along the line of Louis from 'Interview With the Vampire'."
"Oh, the character Brad Pitt played in the movie."
"There was a movie?"
"With three gorgeous hunks. Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas." Scully sighed longingly at the mere thought of the trio of handsome actors all in the same movie.
"Hope you took your drool bucket with you," Mulder teased.
Embarrassed at being caught reacting like a star-crossed teenager, Scully sought to quickly change the direction of the conversation. "So how does believing that Knight is a vampire figure into the picture?"
"Well it ties into what you were saying about him feeling guilty about the death of Dr. Lambert. What if he killed her? He'd been surviving on cow's blood which would indicate he didn't like using humans as a food source. But what if, for whatever reason, he attacked her. According to the autopsy report she suffered severe lacerations to the throat area along with a broken neck."
"Yes, but there was nothing in the report to indicate foul play."
"The report could have been falsified. Remember, somebody got to Knight's personnel records. Who's to say that someone or even Knight himself couldn't have gone a little further to cover his tracks?"
"So you're saying he's a vampire and that he killed Natalie Lambert by drinking her blood, then arranged the accident to cover it up."
"And could be he's the one who sent us the info in the first place so that we could track him down and see to it that he's punished for his crimes," Mulder added.
"So, if he is a vampire, how do you propose to catch him? Do you have a wooden stake, a wreath of garlic and a big cross in your knapsack?"
"Hey, you peeked. By the way, are you wearing your favorite necklace?"
Mulder put down the binoculars for a moment and rummaged through the carryall bag at his side. He pulled out a seasoning bottle of garlic powder which he proceeded to sprinkle all over Scully's coat before she had ample time to protest.
"I know, I know. Just humor me, okay?"
'You're really serious about this, aren't you? You actually believe he's a vampire?"
Mulder answered her question while applying the garlic powder to himself. "It would explain how and why the cows had broken necks."
Finished with the garlic powder, Mulder resumed his watch as he answered her. "The how: it would take someone with superhuman strength to twist a cow's head with enough force to snap its neck. As for why: I imagine it's to keep the cow from accidentally turning."
"Turning? Turning into what?" Scully asked. When her partner failed to answer right away, she thought for a moment and drew her own conclusion. "Mulder, you couldn't possibly think that the cows would have become some kind of... what, a werecow?"
"Werecow?" Mulder laughed. "I think you're getting your monsters mixed up, Scully. The cows weren't killed by a werewolf, they were killed by a vampire."
"Oh, a vampire cow. Yeah, that makes more sense."
"Hey, I see something."
Mulder zoomed in on a figure dressed in black as it leaped from the top rail over into the corral. The pale face and blond hair stood out like a beacon as the intruder meandered slowly towards the livestock.
"It's him, Scully," said Mulder excitedly. As those words left his lips, Mulder was shocked to see the man stop in his tracks, turn his head and look in his direction. With the night vision binoculars, Mulder could easily make out the iridescence glow of eyes that glared back at him, and lips that were pulled back into a half snarl, half grin to show a flash of sharp, white teeth. "Dammit, he knows we're here."
The vampire nodded at that statement, then waved a ghostly, white hand in a beckoning motion and slowly mouthed the words, "Come and play."
"He wants us to come play." Mulder put down the binoculars and grabbed his bag. He dug into it quickly and brought out an item which he forced into Scully's hand. "Hold on to that," he told her, before hooking the bag on his shoulder and leaping out of the loft window onto the stacked bales of hay ten feet below.
"Mulder!" Scully called after him, but he was already racing off towards the corral. Scully momentarily fingered the six-inch cross he had handed her before his departure, then stuffed it into her coat pocket and prepared to follow.
Upon reaching the corral, Mulder, pulled a small crossbow and wooden arrow from his bag. He knew it probably wasn't enough to kill a vampire, but hopefully it would slow him down some. He readied it for firing, then cautiously opened the gate and went inside.
"Mr. Knight," he spoke in a low voice so as not to startle the sleeping herd of cattle. "I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI. We really need to talk, sir." Mulder carefully weaved in and out among the cows. There was enough moonlight for him to see the animals with light colorations with ease and to make out the shapes of the darker ones. He considered using his flashlight to help him avoid the cow patties his shoes tended to find with each step, but he didn't want to draw unwanted attention to himself by using the bright beam of light. When he heard the sound of something heavy hitting the ground, Mulder dashed off in that direction. By the time he reached the far side of the corral, he found the body of a Jersey cow on the ground with its neck broken.
Mulder swallowed nervously. Any being that could bring down a one-ton animal that quickly, then disappear was not to be trifled with. It wasn't the first time Mulder had misjudged his prey. Hopefully, it wouldn't be his last. A sudden swooshing sound grabbed his attention and he spun around to find himself face to face with his quarry. The eyes held a slight glow to them, somewhat like a cat's in the night, and there was a low growl that gradually turned into a chuckle when he saw what Mulder held in his hands.
"You know what I am?" he asked.
"I've got a pretty good idea."
"And you think you can kill me with that?"
"No. But I think I can give you a bad case of heartburn with it."
Knight nodded towards the dead cow. "Try it and you'll be joining good old Bossie over there two seconds later."
"What happened to just drinking bottled cow's blood?" Mulder asked.
"Fresh is always better. That holds true for garlic as well. Once it's gone through all that processing with artificial preservatives added, it loses its effectiveness, rendering it merely irritating, rather than lethal."
"Yeah, well... I'll remember that for next time."
"What makes you think there will be a next time?"
"Mulder?" Scully called out to him.
In the second it took for Mulder to glance in the direction he'd heard her voice, Knight had vanished from in front of him. A moment later, the sound that reached his ears next was a muffled scream. "Scully?"
He hurriedly worked his way past several cows back to the main gate of the corral and stopped short when he saw his partner entrapped in a deadly embrace. Knight had grabbed her from behind and stood with his arms wrapped securely about her. He pulled her hood back and cupped her chin, tilting her head to one side to expose her neck. There was no indication of struggling on Scully's part. In fact, with her eyes half closed, she seemed strangely content in her present situation. Mulder raised the crossbow and aimed it carefully.
"Let her go, Knight!" he demanded.
The eyes glowed eerily as the response came with a growl, "Make me."
Mulder instantly realized that he needed to rethink his approach. Vampire or not, Knight had proven himself in his police work to be a humanitarian. It wasn't likely he would purposely harm another human being, but if properly provoked he might just lose that fine thread of knowing right from wrong. Mulder dropped the crossbow to the ground and raised his empty hands to show he was not a threat.
"Look, I'm not going to try anything. Just let my partner go, okay?"
Mulder sensed a sudden change in Knight over the use of the word partner and decided to exploit it. "Yeah, she's my partner. You know what it's like to have a partner, don't you? They look out for you and you look out for them. You do everything possible to protect each other. You know what I mean?"
Mulder paused to let his words take effect, watching anxiously as Knight loosened his grip slightly on Scully, the golden glow fading from his eyes as he stared off somewhere into the distance.
Thinking that he was getting through to him, Mulder stepped a bit closer. "Mr. Knight?"
The eyes snapped fully alert as he replied, "Sorry, but Mr. Knight is no longer present."
"Then who is?" asked Mulder.
"Nicholas de Brabant. Say good-bye, Mulder to your pretty, little partner."
With greater speed than the human eye could follow, Mulder was grabbed by the neck, lifted a foot off the ground, then hurled several yards through the air. Crashing into the lowest bar of the corral railing, he put a split in both the wood and the back of his head. The last thing Mulder saw before losing consciousness was his partner ascending towards the star-filled heavens in the arms of a vampire.
Chapter 3: Somewhere in the Mountains
Winnipeg - 6 Months Earlier
A mere two weeks after his first appearance, Nicholas de Brabant was coming forward more often and remaining in control for hours at a time. He was much more lively and adoring of his master than his counterpoint, Nick Knight. LaCroix found his company thoroughly enjoyable as they spent a good deal of their warm, summer evenings taking in plays, ballets and operas and mingling with high society. It was very much indeed like the good old days. Only two things were missing, and that was Janette and a good hunt. Nicholas had asked about contacting Janette, but LaCroix didn't feel that the time was right. Janette had been highly upset with Nick for bringing her back across when she'd had the chance to die as a mortal. Undoubtedly, she'd forgive him in time, but they should probably allow at least a decade for her to cool down. As far as a good hunt was concerned, LaCroix saw no reason to hold off any longer. He allowed Nicholas to choose the location and the victim.
The location chosen was a seedy side of town known for its lower class elements and prostitutes who strutted up and down the block. Nicholas strolled casually along the street, scoping out the ladies of the evening as though he were checking out the menu at an all you can eat buffet. They came in all sizes, colors and ages, and each one did their best to entice him into picking them. So many heartbeats, so much from which to choose. He continued along until coming to a young black female, who -- despite the heavy makeup and sexy clothing -- looked no older than fourteen or fifteen.
"You're kind of young to be out here, aren't you?" Nicholas asked.
"I'm old enough," came the saucy reply.
"And how old would that be?"
He could tell by the sudden spike in rhythm of her heartbeat that she was lying, but it didn't matter. She was quite beautiful, with light brown skin, almond-shaped eyes and thick, shoulder-length curly hair. She was probably fairly new to the business because she didn't have that drugged or haggard look that some of the others displayed. There was a sense of innocence about her. She even smelled cleaner than the other women.
Nicholas reached his hand out to stroke her cheek and received a shy smile in return. His fingers slid to the back of her left ear, then came forward holding a hundred dollar bill which he folded and tucked into one of the cups of her leather bra. The girl's smile broaden.
"So what'd you have in mind?" she asked.
"I was thinking of a late supper."
"Sure. Why not?"
He took her by the hand and walked her down to the end of the block where they turned the corner leading into a darkened alley. About midway down the alley, they stopped alongside a trash dumpster where Nicholas turned the girl and gently pressed her against the wall. He captured her eyes with his as he locked onto her heartbeat and rubbed the back of his fingers against her cheek.
"Listen to me," he spoke in a soft and soothing tone. "No matter what happens, you will remain silent and you will not struggle or fight me in any way. Understood?"
"I won't fight you," came the dazed but desired response.
"Good." He gave her a tiny peck on the lips, then embraced her tightly. "Relax," he told her. "We're going for a little ride. Nothing to be afraid of."
Taking a cautious glance all about him first to make sure there were no witnesses, Nicholas rose quickly off the ground with the girl securely in his grasp. A block away, they came to rest on top of the roof of a deserted factory building.
"LaCroix?" Nicholas called out excitedly. "LaCroix, look what I've got!" When the master vampire stepped forward from out of the shadows, Nicholas proudly showed off his catch. Holding her by one hand, he spun her in a circle as though they were dancing. "Look. What do you think? Beautiful, isn't she?"
"Yes. Quite beautiful," LaCroix replied with a slight nod. "However, she appears a bit young. Little more than a child."
"She says she's nineteen."
"Ah, well, if you can't trust a female to state her true age...."
"So what if she is young?" Nicholas questioned. "What does it matter? We've both tasted the blood of children before. Besides, she's just a whore. I'm doing my civic duty by cleaning the streets of unwanted trash like her. Don't you agree?"
"Yes, of course," LaCroix lied. Perhaps it was the fact that the teenage girl was about the age of his Divia at the time of her mortal death, that gave him second thoughts. Or perhaps it was knowing that the Nicholas he had grown accustomed to would never take the life of someone he felt was an innocent, an unfortunate victim of society. In fact, the only time Nicholas had taken the life of one so young was during the era of the Black Death when the bubonic plague had stricken so many, and a quick merciful death was deemed an act of charity. For those reasons, LaCroix found it hard to watch his son with this young girl; to watch his pale hands and lips roam lustfully over the dark skin of her still developing body and his hips press inward against her rear.
Knowing that he was being watched as well, the elder vampire forced himself not to look away. The last thing he wanted was to appear weak or softhearted in front of his son. He should have been dancing with joy to see his offspring behaving true to his nature. After all, it was what he had hoped and strived for all these years. Instead, the victory felt hollow because he knew that there was a part of Nicholas that was screaming out against such actions and that he was completely unable to control himself. It reminded LaCroix of the time Nicholas had become possessed by the devil, or at least what he perceived to be the devil. He behaved in a manner suitable for a vampire, but his soul -- and Nicholas did have one -- had become polluted. He had begged LaCroix to take him to an exorcist in order to rid himself of the unnatural demon within him. There was a definite parallel between the possessed Nicholas and this one, though this time, it would take far more than a man of God and a few holy words to deal with the problem.
After a moment more of groping and kissing, Nicholas was ready to consummate his new relationship. His eyes glowed golden as his fangs grew long and deadly. He tilted the girl's head to one side to expose her long, graceful neck and prepared to sink in his teeth. A split second before he was able to make contact with her jugular, Nick suddenly forced his mouth away from the girl and cried out, "Stop me, LaCroix! Don't let me do this. Please, stop me!"
Stunned at first by the plea, LaCroix hesitated only a second before taking action. In an instant he snatched the girl from Nicholas' embrace and pushed him forcefully away. Nick squeezed his eyes shut in obvious pain, then took in a few deep breaths, willing himself out of vampire mode and to take control over his own body. When he had calmed down enough, his eyes searched anxiously for the girl and saw that LaCroix stood protectively in front of her, with a firm hand on her wrist.
"Is she all right?" asked Nick.
"She is unharmed."
"You were going to let me.... No, you were going to let him kill her."
"Him?" LaCroix asked, feigning ignorance.
"You know who I'm talking about!" Nick shouted angrily. "I know about Nicholas de Brabant. He revealed himself to me tonight and taunted me all evening. He was going to kill that child, and you were going to just stand by and allow it to happen!"
"It is your nature to kill, Nicholas, and I was prepared to let nature run its course," LaCroix responded casually.
"You knew it was not me. You know I don't condone this sort of thing. Lie and tell me you didn't know."
"Nicholas, I do wish you would pick a personality and stick with it," LaCroix sounded off sardonically. "One instant, you're Nick Knight, all around do-gooder, and an eye blink later, out comes Nicholas de Brabant, the ultimate lady-killer. I admit it was rather intriguing in the beginning, but now it's all starting to wear rather thin."
"You'd like for him to take over fully, wouldn't you?"
"Nicholas, he and you are one in the same."
"No! He's not me, but you want him to be. You're doing everything you can to encourage him. But know this, LaCroix, I am not just going to sit back and let him steal my life from me! I am going to fight him every step of the way. And if you are still my friend... if you still care for me, then you'll help me to win the battle against him."
LaCroix was at a momentary loss for words. It was a highly unusual situation and he was unsure of what actions to take. For now, he thought it best to simply appease the personality he was dealing with at the moment.
"All right, Nicholas," he spoke with sincerity to his voice, "I shall assist you in any manner you deem necessary."
"Do you swear?"
"Believe it or not, I have only your best interests in mind."
"Do... you... swear?" Nick reiterated insistently.
"Nicholas, either you place your trust in me or you don't. It doesn't appear that you have much of a choice."
He was right, of course. Nick had absolutely no one else to turn to for help. "You're right," he grimaced glumly, "my choices indeed are limited. I really don't understand what's happening to me, LaCroix. You probably think it's just the real me finally coming to the surface. But you knew right from day one that I was never truly comfortable with this gift of yours. You kept telling me that I would grow used to all the killing. But you failed to mention how many centuries it would take...." Nick cast his eyes downward and shrugged hopelessly. "Sometimes I wish I could be what you want me to be. I'd like for you to be proud of me for a change instead of...." Feeling embarrassment over the last couple of sentences spoken, he suddenly lost the need to continue the thought.
"I would imagine that if Freud were still alive, he might make something of that statement. A son's desire to seek approval from his parent. That might explain things. Perhaps we should continue this discussion later at home. For now, what do you suggest we do with our lovely young friend here?" LaCroix asked as he brought the still entranced girl to stand in front of him. "That is, if you're sure you're not up for a little snack."
Nick moved to take the girl from him. Placing a finger beneath her chin, he lifted it so they could make eye contact. "Look at me," he spoke to her softly. "What's your name?"
"Where's your family, Wanda?"
"All dead but my grandmama."
"Why aren't you home with her?"
"She's old and she's always trying to tell me what to do and how to live my life."
Nick glanced up at LaCroix, but managed to refrain from making any comparative remarks. "Wanda, you should go back home to your grandmother. You take care of her and let her take care of you. No more prostituting. Stay off the streets at night, go back to school and make something of yourself. Understood?"
Wanda nodded. "Yeah, I'll go back home and go back to school."
"Good girl." Nick looked to LaCroix next and said, "I'd like to see to it that she gets home safely. Would you mind coming with us? I don't think I can trust myself alone with her in case he comes back."
"Actually, Nicholas, I feel that you're fairly safe from his interference for a while. He tends to need a lot of rest after such a busy night. But... just in case, I will gladly accompany you on your mission."
"Thank you, LaCroix."
After finding out her address, Nick put Wanda to sleep so he could transport her home by air. He then made sure that she would have no memory of their meeting as he left her on the doorstep. He paused long enough in the shadows of a tree on the lawn to watch as the girl's not so old grandmother came to the door and welcomed her granddaughter with opened arms. He then rose into the sky to join LaCroix who had been hovering close by and diligently watching over him. They would go home now. There was a lot they needed to discuss. Nick was highly upset with his master for not telling him about Nicholas de Brabant. Tonight his alter ego had allowed him to witness his friendly relationship with the elder vampire. It was quite obvious that LaCroix found his company more agreeable. Here Nick was slowly losing control of his mind, and instead of helping him, the man he thought was his true friend was encouraging the madness. Unfortunately, he needed LaCroix's support because he realized he wouldn't be able to battle his growing alternate personality on his own. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.
Oct. 9 - Somewhere in the Mountains - 2:35 a.m.
There was the nauseating smell of garlic and a stinging itchiness to his skin that greeted Nick as he came to himself in the bathroom of his cabin. He found that his clothing was the source of the garlic smell and perhaps the itchiness as well. Not wasting time to figure out why he was in the condition he was, he hastily tore off his clothes and shoes and jumped into the shower under a spray of cold water. He spent only a few moments washing away the irritant from his hair and skin, then grabbed a towel and patted himself dry.
As he stepped out of the bathroom into the living room of the small cabin, Nick saw that the front door was standing wide open. Wrapping the towel about his waist, he moved towards the door, prepared to close it. Upon reaching it however, his nose detected the strong stench of garlic wafting in from outside. He cautiously stepped onto the porch and glanced about. On the weathered flooring of the porch, he spotted a dark, hooded jacket which reeked of garlic. He started to pick the coat up, but abruptly thought better of it. Instead, he broke off a piece of a low hanging branch and used the stick to lift the coat from the floor.
Reaching carefully into the left pocket of the woman's, thigh-length jacket, Nick pulled out the cellular phone that he found there. He tucked the phone under his arm, then searched the other pocket for some form of identification. His hand touched upon something blazing hot and he jerked out of the pocket quickly. Stinging red welts crisscrossing in an unmistakable pattern formed across his fingers and the palm of his hand. It would appear that someone knew what he was and had armed themselves with garlic powder and a good-sized cross to use against him. Naturally, he wondered what had become of the jacket's owner. There was no odor of human blood on the coat and there was no pleasant aftertaste in his mouth to indicate he had fed on a mortal that night.
Nick closed his eyes and stretched out with his senses. What came back was the sound of a slow and steady human heartbeat emanating from inside the cabin. He tossed the jacket over the porch banister and closed the door as he went back inside, then followed the sound of the heartbeat to his bedroom. He stood in the doorway and studied her from a distance. She laid face down and sideways across the black, silk sheets of his bed with both legs dangling off the side of the mattress. Nick placed the cell phone on the dresser near the door, then slowly approached and kneeled down at the side of the bed closest to where her head lay. Gently pushing back the spray of red hair that hid her face, he was pleasantly surprised by her beauty, although her looks wasn't his main concern. He moved the hair away from her neck and ran his fingers all along her throat searching for bite marks. He discovered a tiny scar at the back of her neck but luckily nothing recently inflicted by a vampire. He sighed in relief, then proceeded to search for some clue as to her identity.
Leery of finding more vampire deterrents, he patted her down first before sticking his hands into her pockets. Underneath her flannel shirt he came across a holstered gun attached to her belt at the small of her back. He removed the gun, unloaded the clip and set each aside, then reached for the square-shaped bulge in her left hip pocket. He wasn't as shocked finding the gun as he was finding out that she was an FBI agent. This was definitely not good. He had kidnapped an FBI agent who apparently knew that he was a vampire.
"Just great, de Brabant," he hissed. "What the hell were you thinking bringing her here?"
He had hoped for some kind of reply but his other personality was probably resting up after such a busy night. Nick considered picking up the petite Agent Scully and flying her to the closest populated area, which so happened to be more than fifty miles away. His isolated mountain retreat was a good ten-hour-long hike from the nearest road, but he had to wonder if he hadn't plucked her from a nearby campsite. Perhaps someone was already out searching for her, though it would be extremely dangerous for any mortal to be roaming around such treacherous terrain at night. He really needed to talk to her first, to find out exactly what all she knew about him and who else knew it too. Before waking her up to question, however, Nick thought it best to put some clothes on. He had no idea what to expect from her once fully alert, but he had a good idea that seeing him nearly naked might give her reason enough to make a try for her gun.
He went over to the closet and pulled a denim shirt and pair of jeans from a hanger. Just as he was about to lose the towel, he looked back at the sleeping form on his bed and thought how uncomfortable she looked in the way she lay haphazardly across the bed. It appeared that she had been dumped rather carelessly. Nick wouldn't leave a framed painting to hang crooked on a wall, so he was just as compelled to correct what he saw now. He removed the holster from her belt, then repositioned her lengthwise on her back in the middle of the bed with a pillow beneath her head and her hands resting across her chest. He noted a lack of warmth in her hands and figured that she could possibly use some warming up. There were no blankets available. He didn't have a use for them himself. That was one of the conveniences of being undead; the cold temperatures didn't affect him.
There was a potbellied stove in the corner of the room and a fireplace in the living room of the cabin, but Nick didn't feel like bothering with either one at the moment. He went back to the closet and pulled out a coat he had thought to bring with him. It was nearly ankle length on him and lined with plush artificial fur. He only wore it to blend in with the mortals who would think him strange if he walked around in freezing temperatures without one. He placed the coat over his guest, making sure she was tucked in around the edges. He'd read that a good deal of body heat escaped through the uncovered head, so he used a neck scarf that LaCroix had recently bought for him, to wrap about her head and the sides of her face. He had her looking like some kind of new-aged mummy, but at least she'd be warmer.
He took the items he had found on her and placed them on the dresser with the cell phone. He was tempted to hit redial on the phone to find out who she had last called, but decided to hold off. He might end up inadvertently waking up someone he should probably let sleep. Finally, he dressed himself, then turned his attention back to Agent Scully. He walked over to the bed and kneeled down next to it. Resting folded arms on the edge of the mattress, he simply stared at her as she slumbered. She looked so tiny, fragile almost. It was hard to imagine her passing the rigorous FBI Academy training. He also noted from her identification that she was a medical doctor. He didn't even know her but he was already impressed that she had achieved so much in her young life.
For some reason there seemed to be a familiar scent about her. She carried a noticeable but fairly faint odor of garlic where a few grains of the powder had touched upon her skin or clothing, but beneath that odor was something very distinctive. Nick leaned closer and sniffed at her. She had washed her hair with strawberry scented shampoo and lotioned her skin with a cocoa butter moisturizer. Beyond the artificial scents, however, there was something else he couldn't quite identify. Moving in even closer to put his nose to her ear, he inhaled deeply, seeking the minute molecules that still clung to the fine hairs located deep inside her ear canal. It took a few seconds for the information his keen senses picked up to be processed. It was formaldehyde; a scent which brought forth a once forgotten memory.
It had been the pungent odor of formaldehyde which he had awaken to over six years ago when an exploding pipe bomb sent him to the city morgue. He came to on a steel coroner's table, his body mending itself of its seemingly fatal injuries. He awoke ravenous, and lucky for the coroner on duty, there was bagged blood in the refrigerator. Nick closed his eyes and rested his forehead in a nest of silky, red hair as the memory of that first meeting with Natalie came back in vivid detail. She had not been frightened of him despite his golden eyes, bared fangs and warning growl. One would think she had come across vampires every other day the way she took his appearance with such nonchalant ease. He told himself that it was merely her clinical nature which allowed her to view him without fear, but he knew the truth right from the start. He looked into her eyes and listened to the racing of her heartbeat and he knew.
Over the past eight hundred years, it wasn't exactly the first time a woman had fallen for him despite knowing what he was. Unfortunately, their infatuation with him usually ended rather abruptly. He felt the attraction towards Natalie during their first meeting and he knew what the outcome of their relationship would be if he allowed it to progress. He should have left Toronto that very night and saved them both a lot of heartache, but beautiful women had always been his weakness. He'd always had a problem saying no and walking away from potential love. So, as with many others before her, Natalie Lambert had paid the ultimate price for falling in love with a vampire.
Nick breathed in the scent of the woman before him again. Now that he remembered, she smelled even more like his Natalie. He reached under the coat and placed his hand over hers, relishing the softness and warmth. He could pretend she was Natalie, at least for a little while. It was nearly a month ago when his memories of her had begun to return. He dreamt about her daily; pleasant dreams of them watching movies together, sharing laughs and warm hugs, and even dining out. He had asked LaCroix about the dreams, wondering if they'd had any base in reality. His master would only advise him to ignore the dreams, otherwise he might find himself splitting his mind three ways instead of just the two. But the dreams persisted until one day when he bolted awake and came to realize that the nightmare which had shaken him to his bones, was much more than just a bad dream. The memory of what he had done that night so many months ago came back to haunt him in a blinding flurry. He'd killed her.
Nick wiped a tear away with his sleeve as he lifted his head and looked down at the sleeping woman on his bed. He really should wake her and see about getting her back to wherever he had taken her from. Others could already be on the way to rescue her, or Nicholas de Brabant could return at any moment and finish whatever he'd had in mind when he took her. His secret was at stake and her life was in danger, and yet Nick couldn't bring himself to act. It seemed as though a hundred years had past since he'd last held a woman in his arms. Under the coat, he laced his fingers with hers, noticing how similar to Natalie's her hand felt. He rose from his knees and climbed onto the bed, stretching himself out alongside her, then carefully eased her into an embrace so that her head rested upon his chest and his left arm encircled her as he still held her hand with his right.
Yes, this felt so much better than the last time he had held her. There was no deterioration of flesh or stench of decay. This time, she was soft, warm and breathing. Nick applied a tender kiss to the top of her head, then laid back against the pillow, closed his eyes and tuned into the soothing beating of her heart.
You are one sick puppy," a familiar voice taunted him from inside his own brain.
"Go to hell," he replied out loud.
"Why don't you take her? I brought her for you."
"You brought her for yourself."
"I'm willing to share."
"You're not to touch her!" Nick warned sternly.
"And who's going to stop me? Daddy's not here to interfere this time. It's just you and me, Nicky boy. Besides, you want her just as much as I do and you know it."
Nick didn't bother to respond. There had to be some truth to the statement, otherwise he wouldn't be lying there with his arms wrapped about a total stranger, dreading the moment he'd be forced to let her go. He didn't want to ravage her body or drink her blood, but he did want to touch her and simply drink in her presence. Silence from the peanut gallery allowed Nick to relax again, but only for a moment. As he began to lightly stroke the auburn hair that fanned across his chest, he eventually noticed something different about the woman in his arms. Her breathing pattern had changed and her heartbeat had quickened its pace. Her body stiffened slightly in fear at the realization of her predicament. Agent Dana Scully had awakened.
Chapter 4: Detective Nick Knight
Winnipeg - 16 Days Earlier
As LaCroix pulled his Lexus into the long, curved driveway of the two-story brick home that he shared with Nick, he had a strange feeling that something wasn't quite right. The house set back three hundred yards away from the quiet dead-end street, on a wooded acre of land which provided as much privacy as could be had in the well populated suburb. He didn't like leaving Nick alone and unguarded for any extended period of time since his behavior had become increasingly unpredictable, but he had business to attend to downtown. It was barely dusk when he left and Nick was still sleeping soundly. He left him a note as to when he would be returning and had expected that his offspring could manage on his own for a few hours. He regretted having to take the car because it was such a slow mode of transportation, but it had been much too light out for him to fly.
It was half past ten when LaCroix returned. As the garage door opened for him to enter, he was dismayed to find that the green Cadillac convertible that was usually parked on the right was now missing. It wasn't Nick's original green Caddy. That one had been left behind in Toronto. Several weeks ago Nick had spotted someone driving a blue, older model Cadillac, and immediately decided that he just had to have it at any cost. Then, for some inexplicable reason he had it painted green. LaCroix could see that Nick's memories of his life in Toronto were subconsciously beginning to return. It would only be a matter of time before they surfaced completely. He only hoped that Nicholas de Brabant would take full control before that happened. Although LaCroix cared deeply for Nick Knight, he had to admit to himself that fun-loving and guilt-free de Brabant was much easier to live with.
As LaCroix emerged from the parked car, his senses were assaulted by the smell of human blood, lots of it. "Oh, Nicholas," he groaned softly. "What have you done now?"
Fearing that he might find a house full of sanguineous corpses, LaCroix warily entered through the garage entrance into the kitchen. Broken glass crunched beneath his shoe as he stepped through the door which had been left standing wide open. His hand automatically went to the light switch on the wall and his fingers came away with a slightly sticky substance. He knew instinctively that it was blood. The wall next to the door had been splashed with it, apparently as a result of a filled wine glass being hurled through the air. There was more of the red stuff to be found on the floor in front of the sink where an opened bottle of their food supply had fallen and its contents allowed to freely flow out.
LaCroix was careful to avoid the mess, not wanting to add to the set of naked, bloody footprints that seemed to wander aimlessly about in all directions. Moving next to the refrigerator where the door had been left ajar, he saw that the dozen bottles of human blood that had been there when he left were now all gone. He closed the refrigerator door and followed the footprints out of the kitchen into the parlor. More blood, this time splashed all over every canvass that Nick had painted.
In the foyer at the bottom of the staircase, a blood-smeared hand print was found on the wall, leading a trail upwards. LaCroix followed. He stopped by his own room and pushed the door open, amazed to see everything as it was when he left. Nick's room was quite a different story though. Furniture had been overturned, the dresser mirror had been smashed, a hole the size of a fist had been made in one wall, and blood stained the once pristine, gray carpet. LaCroix studied the drying, dark stain carefully. It appeared as though Nick had stood in one spot and actually drenched himself in blood, leaving behind a silhouette of his bare feet. On the floor near the closet, lay a black pair of blood-soaked, silk pajamas not far from a well used, damp towel. That was encouraging. At least the child had pulled himself together enough to clean up and not wander out into public looking like a victim from a bad slasher movie. But where had he gone?
LaCroix opened the closet door and discovered that a suitcase was missing along with a few clothes. He had to find him. He started to leave the house to go searching for him, but decided to take a look at one more thing first. In Nick's bathroom he found a clue that gave him some insight into what had happened. Written three times in blood across the large vanity mirror was the name Natalie. Obviously, his son's memory of that night had returned and he was definitely having some problems dealing with it. LaCroix scanned the room for the cordless telephone, picked it up from the floor and hit redial to see what number Nick had last called. When a male voice on the other end of the line announced that he had reached the Toronto Coroner's Office, he instantly hung up. He realized that Nick was probably on his way back to Toronto now, which wasn't a very good idea. It wouldn't do for him to be seen by any of the mortals who knew him and thought him to be already dead.
Also, this thing with the blood had the old vampire more than a bit worried. He could understand the split in personality, the good versus the bad, but practically bathing himself in blood was not something that his Nicholas had ever done before, no matter how guilt-ridden he had become. In his jumbled frame of mind it definitely wouldn't do for him to run into any other vampires while in Toronto. Mental illness in the vampire community wasn't well received, knowing that irrational actions by a deranged vampire could draw unwanted attention to the fact that they secretly existed. If the Enforcers were to find out, they would be apt to take quick steps to relieve Nick of his multiple personalities once and for all.
LaCroix wasn't quite sure what to do. Even after finding his troubled child, something would have to be done to help him emotionally. Obviously, his condition was getting worse instead of improving. Perhaps it would have been better if his aim with the stake that night had been true. No! He shook that thought out of his mind. Putting Nicholas to death was not an option to be considered. First he would find him, then he'd figure out a way to help him.
Nick's Cabin - 3:02 a.m.
Scully came out of her sleep slowly. She'd heard a far away voice but was unable to understand any of the words spoken. She opened her eyes lazily and found that her vision was partially obstructed by her hair having fallen in front of her face. The thought of doing something about it crossed her mind for a second, but she felt too comfortable to move at the moment. She closed her eyes again, ready to drift back off when an unfamiliar male's voice suddenly bellowed out from right above her head.
"You're not to touch her!"
Scully's eyes popped wide open. She awaited an answering reply from whomever the voice had barked his warning, but nothing else was said by anyone after that point. Scully tensed as a hand began to gently stroke her hair. Her mind raced trying to recall any events that might explain her present situation. She remembered being with Mulder in the hayloft, then following him down to the corral after he ran off, declaring that Detective Knight had arrived. Scully had made it to the gate, then someone grabbed her from behind. The voice she'd heard a moment ago now seemed familiar to her. She couldn't recall any of the words that was said to her back at the corral but she was sure this was the same person who had spoken them. And now that person was yelling at himself and petting her head as though she was a lapdog.
As Scully lay against the stranger's firm chest wondering what steps she should take next, the stroking of her hair suddenly stopped. She closed her eyes and feigned being asleep as the stranger slowly shifted his body from beneath her, leaving her resting on her side. He rose from the bed, taking a moment to tuck her arm back under the covering and place a pillow beneath her head. Scully assumed that he was still standing next to the bed until she heard a click as the light switch was turned off. She opened her eyes to total darkness and thought of reaching for her gun, but couldn't feel the weight of it against the small of her back. Undoubtedly, she had been disarmed. Soon came the sound of a striking match, then the room began to grow increasingly brighter as candles were being lit. Again Scully closed her eyes and waited.
After a few moments, a low voice spoke out from a few feet away. "You can stop pretending now," he said. "I know you're awake, Dana."
Scully opened her eyes and rose up on one elbow. She looked over her shoulder and focused on the pale, but handsome man who stood leaning against the closed door and staring back at her with a smug expression on his face. Scully sat up, swinging her legs off the bed and placing her feet on the floor. She glanced about the room casually, taking in all she could in a quick glimpse. The room was well illuminated with half a dozen burning candles situated in various locations. It was lightly furnished with a bed, nightstand, mirrored dresser and a chair near a boarded-up window. She noticed her gun, badge and phone lying on the dresser. Seeing her eyes rest on the gun, Nicholas casually went to grab it for himself. He loaded in the clip, then held the weapon in a threatening manner, though not pointing directly at her.
The room was rather cold, so Scully pulled the oversize coat that had acted as a blanket up around her shoulders. The thin, silk scarf that had been loosely draped over her head slipped off with the motion. "Where's Mulder?" were her first words.
"You mean your boyfriend?"
"My partner. What did you do to him?"
"Why worry about him? Have you no concerns about your own safety?"
"Did you hurt him?" Scully asked, thinking that it was quite possibly the only way that this man would have been allowed to abduct her.
"He'll probably wake up with a bit of a headache," Nicholas responded with a shrug. "That is if he wakes up. I suppose it depends on how thick a skull he has."
Scully considered her partner to be extremely hard-headed. Hopefully, that was enough to insure his good health. "Where are we? Why did you bring me here?"
"This is my little love nest. I bet you can probably figure out the rest."
"If you're trying to shock me, I'm afraid you're wasting your breath." Scully stood and faced him bravely, holding the long, overcoat securely about her. "I know who you are," she added.
"Detective Nick Knight, formerly of the Toronto police department. Supposedly dead."
"Supposedly?" Nicholas snickered.
"You do look a little pale, but I have to admit, for a man thrown through a car window into a frigid lake, you appear to be in pretty good shape. How did you manage to survive?"
"Who said I did?"
"Oh, so you're the walking dead? You should have grabbed my partner in that case. He believes in such things."
"And you don't?"
Before Scully could answer the question, a shrill, chirping sound startled them both. It was her cell phone ringing and she wanted to go and snatch it up, knowing that Mulder would be on the other end. She looked to Nicholas and saw an expression on his face that dared her to even think about it.
"It's probably, Mulder," she told her captor. "He'll be worried. I wouldn't want him to think I'm dead or anything."
Nicholas allowed the phone to ring twice more before deciding to answer it himself. He picked it up, flipped it open and pushed the connect button. Holding the phone to his ear, he heard a panicky voice on the other end calling out to Scully.
"Don't worry," Nicholas spoke coolly into the receiver. "She's not dead yet," he informed the irate caller. Afterwards, he had to hold the phone away from his ear to protect himself from the bellowing voice on the other end. Even standing a few feet away, Scully could hear the vehemence in her partner's voice as he yelled into the phone.
"What have you done to her, you bastard? Where have you taken her?"
"Mulder, I'm all right!" Scully was able to reassure him before Nicholas disconnected the call.
"You were right. He was worried. Now that we've allayed his fears..." With an insignificant gesture, he crushed the phone in his hand and let the pieces crumble to the floor. "No more interruptions," he smiled devilishly at his guest and slowly began to close the space between them.
"It's pretty obvious to everyone that you need professional help," Scully blurted out, trying to gain control of the situation.
"Yes. You surviving the accident while your friend Natalie Lambert -- or was she your lover?"
Nick froze in his tracks at the mention of Natalie's name. Scully watched intently as the man in front of her had a sudden change in demeanor. His gaze shifted quickly from her to some more interesting spot on the floor, and the gun in his hand dangled loosely in his grasp.
"Did you drive off that bridge on purpose that night?" Scully continued to push. "Or was it really an accident?"
"I... I didn't want to live anymore," said Nick in a childlike tone.
"Did Natalie want to live?"
"She wanted to be with me, forever."
"But it didn't work out that way, did it? You two made a suicide pack, didn't you? Only she died that night, and you lived."
"I killed her," Nick sadly confessed. "She trusted me so and I let her down."
"Why did you dig up her grave?"
"I had to see if it was true. I didn't remember at first. And then it all came back. I tasted her blood and I couldn't stop myself. I killed her and I can never be with her because my soul is damned." His eyes filled with pain as he somberly added, "I am forever cursed."
"No," said Scully, daring to take a few steps forward. "No, you're not cursed. You've had some bad experiences and you need someone to help you work your way through them. I can see that you get the help you need. Just let me have the gun."
As quickly as the heartbroken and vulnerable Nick Knight had appeared, he was instantly replaced by his evil twin. The sorrowful, blue eyes which had been ready to rain tears a mere second ago, abruptly turned dark and ominous. Noticing that he was now within arms length, Nicholas quickly reached out his left hand and gently but firmly grabbed Scully by the back of the neck.
"Has anyone told you lately how beautiful you are?"
"We were discussing getting you some help," said Scully, trying hard to remain cool in his grasp.
"Were we? Sorry, but I seem to have a short attention span these days." He stashed the gun he held in his right hand in the back pocket of his jeans, then pulled Scully a bit closer and picked up her left hand. Holding it tenderly as though they were lovers, he looked it over carefully. "No ring," he noted aloud before he brought her hand to his lips and kissed the back of it delicately. Like his hands, his lips were cold against her skin and Scully flinched at their touch. She could tell he noticed but didn't appear to mind the tiny sign of aversion.
"No special someone back home pining away for you, Dana?" Nicholas asked while using the back of her hand to caress his lightly bearded cheek.
"Most of the men I meet turn out to be deranged killers," came the calm reply.
"They usually don't kill cows. Why do you?"
"Remember? I'm deranged."
"Which is why you should let me help you. You were an officer of the law. You know how serious a kidnapping charge can be. If you're willing to cooperate, I can --"
"Shhh," Nicholas stopped her from talking by pressing a finger to her lips. "When's the last time you've been deeply kissed, Dana?"
Surprised by the question, Scully was unprepared to answer, even if she could recall the last time such an event had occurred. She regretted that she couldn't keep her expression neutral. She also regretted the effects he was beginning to have on her. She could tell he was doing his best to seduce her by the way his icy fingers gently massaged the nape of her neck and played with her hair. His other hand still held hers, but he had freed an index finger in order to stroke her chin and lift it upwards. Scully didn't want to look into his eyes, but was powerless to prevent herself from falling into their deep, hypnotic depths.
Nicholas had locked onto her heartbeat. The steady thrum as her blood pumped through her veins was like a symphony to his ears. "You shouldn't go so long without having a man make love to you, to feel his kiss upon your lips, his caress on your skin, his body moving in rhythm to yours."
The words flowed like warm honey and emotionally, Scully lapped it up. When a pair of cool lips pressed gingerly against hers, she was startled enough to pull back on contact. But a velvety voice told her to relax, and she found herself complying without a second thought. Her eyes closed and her lips parted to allow his tongue to plunge inside and have its way. As he kissed her masterfully, deeply, Scully felt an electrifying tingle race through her body. She was vaguely aware of losing the warmth of the coat that had been wrapped about her shoulders. Then a pair of strong arms encircled her, chilled hands roamed over her back and hips, and a muscled chest all but crushed her breasts. In the back of her mind, she was thinking that she shouldn't let this happen. This was a dangerous madman touching her in ways and places no one had done in a long time. For a brief moment she was able to think clearly and attempted to pull away from his grasp.
"You want me. You want this to happen," Nicholas whispered sensually into her ear. Her struggling ceased instantly and she began to ardently return his amorous advances, her moans increasing with her passion. Nicholas spun her around so that her back was flush against his body. Tilting her head to the left and brushing her hair out of the way, he exposed her neck for nibbling. As he kissed and tongued his way from the base of her neck up to her ear, he felt the change coming over him. His fangs began to drop and his eyes turned golden. Her blood was calling to him. He had to have her, had to drink in her goodness. He could hear Nick Knight screaming at him to stop, to spare her life, but it was a voice he was strong enough to ignore. No LaCroix around to snatch this tasty morsel from him and whiny little Nick wasn't powerful enough to stop him. This was going to be so good.
As he kissed her cheek, his hand went to her chin and lifted it, giving him greater access to her creamy, smooth throat. His fingers glided downward and grabbed the collar of her shirt, yanking it hard enough to pop open the top button. His fingers reached inside the soft cotton and splayed open against her chest. Just as he was on the verge of sinking his fangs into her neck, something stung his hand. He snatched it back instantly and glared at the tiny, cross-shaped burn mark on his palm. Then something seared his eyes and as he looked up, he saw a reflection in the mirror. The small, golden cross that Scully wore around her neck glittered brightly as light from the candles bounced off it and reflected back into the vampire's eyes from the mirror. He shielded his eyes and pushed his intended victim away.
Scully teetered unsteadily once he let go of her. It took a few seconds for her to shake off the effects of the hypnotic spell and react to her freedom. She turned and looked back at him curiously, finding him slumping against the wall, eyes shut and holding his head with both hands as though he was in great pain.
"Are you--" Scully started towards him but stopped abruptly when she heard a deep, animal-like growl.
"Get out!" Nick yelled at her, battling that part of himself that wanted to drain her blood. "I don't know how long I can hold him," he spoke in a gruff voice. "Run! Now!" he shouted, following up the verbal warning with another growl.
Scully surmised that Nick was having an attack of some kind, and her first instinct was to try to assist him medically. But with his final warning, it was as if Mulder had shown up, grabbed her hand and said, "Let's get the hell out of here!" That was the voice she listened to. Scully spun about, and without pausing to make a grab for her personal belongings, ran for her life. Luckily, the doors presented no problems. The bedroom door was unlocked and the main door to the cabin was a simple latch.
The agent found herself outside in the cool night air surrounded by total darkness, barely able to make out the edge of the porch. Reaching for the banister, her hand landed on something padded. When she smelled garlic, she realized that she had found her coat. She grabbed it as she stumbled down the three steps of the porch, then ran blindly away from the cabin. She managed to slip into the jacket before tripping over a fallen tree and landing, luckily in a pile of dead leaves. She thought it best to lie still and give her eyes an opportunity to adjust to the dim moonlight and to check on the progress of her pursuer. Candles had been lit in the living room as well and Scully stared intently at the door she had left wide open. A moment later, she saw a dark figure appear in the doorway. He stood still, turning and lifting his head to the left and right as though sniffing the air for something. Scully gasped softly when it appeared that he had somehow pinpointed her location in the darkness and was looking in her exact direction.
"Dana!" Nicholas called out. "Why don't you come back inside? We were about to have some fun. I can make it so good for you." He took an unhurried step off the porch, actually looking forward to a prolonged chase. "I suppose you don't want me to think you're easy. After all, we've just met. I like a woman who plays hard to get. I enjoy a good pursuit." He took another step and stopped. "Might I suggest that if you don't want this over before it's barely begun, then you should seek another hiding place. I'll give you a five-minute head start. How's that?" He sat down on the second step and leaned back, resting his elbows comfortably on the top step and looking up towards the stars.
Scully cautiously rose from the ground and moved gingerly backwards, deeper into the woods. Checking her pockets, she was dismayed not to find her trusty flashlight. She must have lost it at the time of her abduction, and no telling what had become of her gloves. She had to step carefully while waving her arms out in front of her to keep from bumping into trees or low hanging branches. She had five minutes to come up with a line of defense, to find something to use as a weapon and position herself well enough to create an ambush or counter attack. Thinking about how he could have pinpointed her location earlier, she had to wonder if he hadn't detected the aroma her coat was giving off. Granted, he'd have to have a mighty keen sense of smell, but it wasn't too implausible.
"Thanks a lot, Mulder," she mumbled to herself thinking that now she should probably ditch the coat to put Knight off her trail. She stopped to pull off the coat, hissed and shivered from a blast of cold air, then decided on an alternative. She turned the jacket inside out and put it back on again. At least that would keep the scent from traveling and it would also keep her from freezing her ass off. Trudging onward, Scully thought about what had happened back at the cabin. She couldn't believe that she had actually allowed a total stranger -- a cow-killing stranger at that -- to kiss and fondle her as though they were lovers. What's more, she couldn't believe how much she had thoroughly enjoyed the feel and taste of him, and had actually craved more. Maybe he had drugged her; given her something to make her lose her inhibitions. Undoubtedly, he had used something to put her to sleep in order to transport her from the ranch to wherever the heck they were now.
Not concentrating as carefully as she should on her movements in the dark, Scully tripped over something again, but only part of her body felt land come up to greet her this time. There was nothing for her hands to grasp, nothing to support her from the chest up. As her arms and hands dangled into space, she realized that she had come to the edge of a cliff. Lying at a downward angle, her left foot was caught within the "V" of a fallen branch, which appeared to be the only thing that kept her from plunging over the side. In trying to locate a perch for her hands so she could push herself away from the edge, she knocked loose a rock which tumbled downward into the abyss for several long seconds before it finally made contact with the rocky bottom far below.
"Oh, great," she breathed in harsh, rapid breaths. She could either fall at least a hundred feet to her death or face an amorous and very handsome psycho whose only threat so far was his desire to make it good for her. Thinking of it in those terms almost made her wonder why she had been running away. He hadn't actually been violent towards her; just the opposite, in fact. Of course, now was not the time to be contemplating intimacy with her abductor, especially when she felt her anchor beginning to slip. Her weight was pulling the branch from its resting place. The more she struggled to force herself backwards, the more her body shifted downwards. She used one hand to claw into the hard earth at her side while the other tried desperately to locate something she could grab on to.
Where was Mulder when she needed him? It was extremely doubtful that he was anywhere within hearing distance, so Scully settled for the only other alternative. She took in a careful breath, then called out warily. "Mr. Knight, I need your help! I'm in danger of falling off a cliff here. Please, will you help me?"
There was no answer to her plea. Perhaps he wasn't close enough to hear. She wasn't even sure that the five minutes were up. Could be that he was still lounging about on the front steps back at the cabin or perhaps he thought she was attempting to lure him into a trap. She tried again a little louder, hoping that her sense of fear and urgency carried through. Still there was no response. Either he wasn't within earshot or he simply wasn't going to help her. Perhaps this had been part of his plan all along. Of course, he knew the area, and he knew what dangers were awaiting her out in the blackness. Knowing that she couldn't depend on a psychopath to save her, and that Mulder wasn't likely to show up within the next two seconds, Scully decided to try to rescue herself. Gingerly, she moved her left leg. The branch that had held her in position, suddenly snapped in two, and she felt herself skid downward.
Chapter 5: Not Dead Yet
The Olsen Ranch - 3:40 a.m.
"You hanging in there, Agent Mulder?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks."
"I'll have you at the doctor's in just a few."
Now that his pickup truck had warmed up, Jerry Olsen was ready to drive his injured passenger into town for treatment. Although Mulder's head was still throbbing and his vision was threatening to double up on him, he shrugged off the pain and discomfort to contemplate his next move. At least he knew that his partner was still alive, though he wasn't too thrilled about the way Knight had said that she wasn't dead yet. He made it seem as though it was merely a matter of time before the situation would change. He had been wrong about the man not purposely hurting others. Perhaps Nick Knight wouldn't hurt anyone, but it was glaringly apparent that Nicholas de Brabant would. If not for an overly affectionate heifer who had licked his face into wakefulness, Mulder might still be passed out among the cow patties where the vampire had left him.
After Knight hung up on him, Mulder had called in the sheriff, hoping to get a search party going immediately. Unfortunately, he couldn't admit to the man all that he had witnessed. When asked for a direction the kidnapper had taken, Mulder was reluctant to point upwards. He had to simply feign ignorance. Sheriff Wilkes figured that the most likely route would have been eastbound towards a cluster of mountains a fair distance away. Although plans were tossed around, the actual search wouldn't begin until daybreak. The sheriff strongly suggested that in the meantime, Mulder should see a doctor and try to get some rest. Not wanting to chance being around a vampire with a bleeding head wound, he decided that he should accept Mr. Olsen's offer of a ride into town to see the doctor.
As he sat in the passenger side of the swiftly moving pickup truck, Mulder pulled out his cell phone and pressed a pre-programmed number. Waiting impatiently through five long rings, he began speaking as soon as the line was picked up.
"Frohike, it's Mulder. I need you to do me a favor."
"Try calling back at a decent time," Frohike yawned, sounding as though he was going to hang up.
"It concerns Scully," Mulder was quick to add.
"What's up? Is she all right?" Frohike asked, fully alert.
"She's been abducted."
"Damn! The same as before?"
"No. It's not the same. I know who's got her, but I need help tracking him down. I need for you to run a check on a man named Nicholas Knight. He was a detective with the Toronto police department up until five months ago when he was presumed dead following a car accident."
"Are you saying that a ghost took her?"
"No, he's no ghost," said Mulder, not bothering to inform his friend of Knight's true nature. "Let's just say that his death was somewhat exaggerated."
"So are you looking to find something in particular?"
"Yeah. Check to see if he has any connections to Montana. If he owns property or if he's done any business anywhere near the city of Black Eagle. Try checking also under the alias, Nicholas de Brabant."
"Gotcha. Anything else?"
"Yeah. Janette DuCharme. She was listed on Knight's police file as a person to contact in case of emergency. The only number listed for her was at a closed up nightclub in Toronto called the Raven. You'll find that Knight's personnel file was deleted from police computers, possibly by Knight himself."
"So who the hell is this guy anyway? Why'd he take Dana?"
"Frohike, you want to find her or you wanna talk about it?"
"All right, I'm on it." After hanging up, Mulder glared out the window into the darkness, anxious for dawn to arrive. "She's not dead yet. She's not dead yet." Those words echoed in his mind and all he could do was hope and pray that nothing would alter their accuracy.
Somewhere in the mountains 3:43 a.m.
Scully was falling, descending head first into blackness, her screams echoing through the mountains. Friends and family, both past and present flashed in her mind in the milliseconds that remained of her existence. In the nanoseconds she allowed for prayer, what must have been the hand of God, grabbed hold of her and slowed her terrifying descent into death.
"It's all right, I've got you!" God spoke to her. As one strong hand held fast to her ankle, an arm swooped around her back and lifted her upright. Scully wrapped her arms thankfully around his neck as he gently shifted her in his embrace and flew her upwards. He was taking her straight to heaven, she thought. Funny, but her landing hadn't hurt at all. Still, she couldn't stop trembling or crying.
"Shhh, it's okay, it's okay. You're safe now. I've got you. You're safe."
It took several moments for Scully to realize that she wasn't on her way to heaven and that the arms that held her tenderly didn't belong to God. They belonged to Nick Knight. She lifted her head from the security of his shoulder and glanced up, barely able to see the milky whiteness of his face only two inches away. How he had managed to locate her in the pitch darkness was a mystery, but how he had saved her from certain death was no less than a miracle. It was a miracle she had no desire to question at the moment. She simply nestled her head into the crook of his neck and allowed him to carry her back to the cabin.
It wasn't long before he was placing her gently on the sofa in the living room. He said something to her that she really didn't hear, then left her alone as he went back outside for awhile. Scully was still too shook up to notice how long he had been gone or even when he had returned. Eventually, she noticed the room was getting slightly warmer. A popping noise drew her attention to a well fed fire recently started in the fireplace. As she turned away from the fire, she was startled by the sudden appearance of a glass of water held by a pallid hand in front of her face. She looked up, apprehensive at first until she saw the timid smile that went along with the offered glass.
She accepted the water and took a few sips to ease the irritated throat she received from nearly screaming her head off. Her host stepped silently away. Scully watched him as he backed himself against a wall and slid down to a stooping position, absently rubbing his left arm as his eyes focused on the dancing flames of the fire.
"Thank you," said Scully.
He looked at her then. "Would you like more?" he asked, referring to the water.
"No, I was thanking you for saving my life. I must have fallen at least thirty feet. How did you catch me?"
Nick smiled nervously. "I'm afraid you must have been hallucinating. I caught you as you were about to go over the edge. You dangled for a few moments. It probably felt as though you were falling."
That couldn't be. She was sure she had fallen a good distance. She had felt the cool night's wind blowing in her face and whipping her hair about. She had experienced the sensation of free fall, of flying even. But then that couldn't be possible either. There's no way he could have dived over the edge after her and flew her to safety. Tethered by a bungi cord, perhaps he could have managed it, but their flight upwards had been a smooth, jerkless ride. Of course, she must have imagined it.
"Well, thanks anyway."
"Why thank me? If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have been in that situation in the first place. Are you all right?"
"My hands are still a little shaky, but other than that...."
"You... you were running away from me, weren't you? Did I hurt you earlier?"
"Don't you remember?"
"No, not really. I have this condition. I have these blackout episodes where I do and say things I wouldn't normally. I imagine that's why you're here. I kidnapped you?"
"Did I ever hurt you?" he asked again, looking terrified of the answer he might receive.
Scully shook her head. "No, you didn't hurt me. I think you may have injured my partner though."
"Back at the Olsens' ranch. Do you remember that?"
Nick concentrated hard, then asked, "Was he tall, slender build, dark hair?"
"Yes, that was Mulder."
"I met him for a moment. I don't remember what I did to him."
"Well, he sounded as though he was still in one whole piece when he called me on my cell phone."
"You've talked to him since you've been here?"
"Briefly, before you destroyed my phone."
"Oh, sorry.... So he knows where you are now?"
Scully decided not to answer that question. If Knight thought that help was on the way, he might try to make a run for it. She took another sip from her glass, then placed it on the floor at her feet.
"Did you, by chance, sustain a head injury in that car accident?"
Nick eyed her in wonderment. "Car accident?"
"You were in an accident about five months ago, remember? With Dr. Natalie Lambert?"
"How do you know about that?"
"Actually, that's why I came to Montana. I'm Dana Scully with the FBI. My partner and I came in search of you. He suspected that you had something to do with the cattle mutilations."
"Why would he think that?"
"He made a connection between the mutilations and the disturbed grave site of Dr. Lambert." Noting the questioning expression on Knight's face, Scully waved her hand in a "don't ask" kind of motion. "It's what he does. Makes connections that no one else could possibly fathom."
"And you came to hunt me down?" Nick asked, becoming a touch nervous.
"We came to help you."
"What makes you think I need help?"
"First you dig up a close friend's grave and lie down with her, then the next week you're out slaughtering cows. You sound like someone in great need of help, Mr. Knight. Right now, you're suspected of trespassing, destruction of property and animal cruelty, but if you give yourself up peacefully, I'm willing to forego adding kidnapping charges."
"So you're after me because I broke the law?"
"Oh," Nick replied softly, his nervousness beginning to wane a bit. "Do you mind if I ask a personal question?"
Scully shrugged lightly. "What would you like to know?"
"What is it with you and the garlic-flavored coat?"
Scully's cheeks flushed with embarrassment, then she shook her head and chuckled lightly. "I have my partner to thank for that. He had this wild notion that uh.... Oh, it's too stupid to even say."
"What?" Nick urged her to continue.
"He thought we might run into a vampire. In fact, he thought that you...." She felt too ridiculous to go on with the statement, so she didn't.
"I think I get the picture," said Nick perceptively. "He found out about my sun allergy."
"There was also a mention of an Internal Affairs investigation which uncovered some bottled cow's blood in your refrigerator."
"Yeah, I had to do a lot of explaining back then. I used the blood to thicken my oil paints. I still do."
"Plus, Mulder thought that whoever or whatever was killing the cows had to have superhuman strength."
Nick noted the dubious expression on his guest's face, and was quite relieved to see it there. "I take it, you don't share his theory?"
"Well, I've watched a rodeo or two on TV, and although I'm not in favor of the sport, I was mildly impressed to see an average size man able to wrestle down a one-ton steer and hog-tie it. So I figure that breaking a cow's neck would be more of a matter of technique rather than brute strength. Besides, if you were a vampire, it seems that the myths about your reflection not showing up in a mirror, and garlic keeping you away doesn't seem to be holding up very well."
Nick smiled amusedly. "Well, I'll admit I'm not a big fan of garlic and that I wouldn't want to wear it, or get too close to anyone who does."
Scully nodded understandably. "Yeah, I guess it's enough to keep vampires and everyone else at a safe distance."
Starting to feel a bit more comfortable in her presence, Nick changed his position from stooping to sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out and his ankles crossed. He rubbed lightly at his left arm as he spoke his next few uncertain words. "I uh... Earlier, in the bedroom... I don't remember everything I did, but I never meant to do anything improper. If I took liberties with you that I shouldn't have, then I'd like to apologize. I haven't been myself lately."
Scully thought back to their earlier meeting, and her heart pounded a bit faster as she recalled how he'd had her melting in his arms. No man had ever gotten her so worked up so quickly, and she hadn't wanted him to stop. She had been perfectly willing to let him do anything he pleased to her.
"Agent Scully? Are you all right? Did I get too far out of line with you?" Nick asked with growing alarm.
Scully snapped out of her moment of reverie and shook her head. "No, Mr. Knight. You were... shall we say, a little frisky, but nothing I couldn't handle."
"Good," Nick sighed with relief.
Scully couldn't help but notice how markedly different Nick Knight was now compared to when they first met. He was so unlike the man who had tried to seduce her, and who had chased her out into the darkness in a weird game of hide and seek. She couldn't help but think multiple personalities. He had apparently been divided into three parts: the sweet, boy next door; the aggressive, Don Juan lover; and the disgusting weirdo who likes to mutilate animals and play with dead things. She'd seen two sides of him so far, but she wasn't interested in seeing the third side.
"Tell me something, Mr. Knight--"
"I'd prefer it if you'd call me Nick. Please."
"Nick, these blackout episodes that you have; do they come without warning, or is there something that triggers them?"
"They just come," he replied ruefully. "I become someone else... someone named Nicholas de Brabant. He pretty much comes and goes as he pleases, but I noticed that he never comes out between sunup and sundown. And physical pain or discomfort seems to keep him away."
When he said that, Scully finally became aware of the way he was cradling his left arm. "What's wrong with your arm?" she asked.
Nick crossed his arms in front of his chest and gazed back at the fire. "It's nothing, really," he murmured softly.
"What did you do to it?"
"Picked up a splinter when I was sitting on the porch steps."
"Would you like for me to remove it for you?"
He looked back at her and grimaced mildly. "Perhaps later."
His eyes conveyed what he was really thinking. He was purposely withstanding the discomfort of a sliver of wood shoved into his flesh, in order to keep his alter ego at bay and thereby protect her from further assault. Scully nodded her understanding of the situation, then continued with their original topic of conversation.
"So it was Nicholas who killed the cows? You don't remember any of it?"
"No. I would come to later with my shoes covered with cow manure and a few blood stains on my clothes and hands. Didn't take much to figure out what he'd been up to."
"Why do you suppose he did it?"
"He wants to draw attention to himself. There's someone -- a family member -- who's probably out looking for us... for me, that is. Nicholas is trying to make it easier to be found."
"And killing cows would make it easy for this person to find you?"
Nick shrugged. "It made it easy for you and your partner to find me."
He had a point there. "Well, would it really be such a bad thing if this family member should find you?" Scully asked. "Perhaps he or she can be of some assistance."
Nick sighed heavily and shook his head with uncertainty. "I'm not so sure of that. You see, he likes Nicholas de Brabant better than he likes me. It would make his century to have Nicholas take over completely. I came here to get away from him and the rest of the world, so I could think.... But I don't know anymore. Maybe it would be best altogether if I just stepped back and let Nicholas take over."
Scully leaned forward, feeling the urge to reach out to him, but the fact that he was several feet away prevented her from acting on the impulse. "You can't possibly mean that," she spoke to him in a sympathetic tone. "I've read your file, Nick. You were a good cop. You risked your life a number of times to save the lives of others. You made a difference. You cared. Now, it appears that you're suffering from a form of mental illness which I am sure is treatable. You owe it to yourself to get your life back on track, but you can't do it alone. You need help; perhaps a few sessions with a good psychiatrist. And if you haven't had one done, I would strongly suggest you get a CT scan of your brain in case you did suffer a head trauma during your accident."
"You think that a head injury could cause something like this?" asked Nick, thinking of the gunshot wounds he had received. Perhaps his natural ability to heal had been compromised due to the experimental drugs and diet Natalie had prescribed for him.
"It's possible that a tumor could have developed," Scully surmised, "causing pressure in a very delicate part of the brain. You seemed to be having some kind of intense headache before when we were in the other room. Do you remember that?"
"I get them all the time. Very brief, but painful. I use to think they were triggered by Nicholas making his exit, but I came to realize that the pain is what chases him away. Though nowadays he's quick to come back when it's over."
"Well, we really won't know for sure what the true nature of the problem is until I can get you to a hospital and get some tests done."
Nick rose from the floor and crossed over to the fireplace. He picked up the poker, pushed back the protective screen, then began to adjust the burning logs whether they needed it or not. He used it as a diversion to keep from responding to the agent's suggestion that he seek medical treatment. There was no way he could agree to that. If he was indeed suffering from a physically induced psychosis, there was only one doctor who could have helped him, but she was no longer among the living.
"The last person who tried to help me with my problems ended up as fish bait at the bottom of a lake," Nick stated matter-of- factly, keeping his back to his guest.
"It's not your fault that you didn't die in the car wreck with her, Nick. In fact, it's a miracle that you survived at all."
Nick grinned sadly at the absurdity of her statement. If only he could tell her the truth. Tell her how he had drained every ounce of blood from Natalie's body, and how LaCroix, his master had taken the body off to dispose of it; to make it seem as though Nick had been driving and that his body had been claimed by the murky undertow of the lake. LaCroix had done an excellent job in cleaning up after his son's mess.
Still poking at the flames, Nick spoke, nearly to himself. "For six years, she was my best friend, my confidant... my reason for living. I took from her and gave nothing in return. I stole six years of potential happiness from her short life, then... I killed her."
Scully stood and moved closer to the fireplace. She still hadn't warmed up completely, and she also didn't like talking to someone's back. She kept a few feet of space between them, though now she was standing to his side. "You didn't steal those years from her," Scully told him, seeing his head turn slightly in her direction. "Sounds to me as though she gave them to you of her own free will. Perhaps she did expect to get something in return, but she gave them to you freely. You can't force people to do what they really don't want to. In the end, you two were both suffering from depression. She had just lost a friend to suicide, and you had lost your second partner in the line of duty. Your actions that night were being ruled through overwrought emotions. Neither of you were responsible for what you said or did."
Nick shook his head as he returned the poker to its proper place, then stepped back against the adjacent wall. "You weren't there," he told her while keeping his eyes on the growing flames. "You couldn't possibly know. If it wasn't for me, she would still be alive. I should have walked away that first night we met. I should have never even gone to Toronto. Everyone would have been much better off if they'd never even met me, including you."
"You remind me a little of my partner," said Scully, gazing thoughtfully at the man before her. "He has this really annoying habit of blaming himself for things he has no control over. If only he had gotten someplace sooner or reacted in a different manner, or maybe if people hadn't met him at all, perhaps certain unfortunate individuals wouldn't have suffered whatever fate life had dealt them, including me.... But what Mulder doesn't seem to realize is how much good he's done and how many lives he's saved, mine as well. Nick, you've helped a lot of people and you've saved a lot of lives. But you can't save everyone. No one can. It isn't humanly possible."
Nick had to chuckle at the irony of that last statement. "You don't know how many times I've heard the same thing from Natalie."
"And I'm guessing you didn't listen to her, did you?"
"I can't help the way I feel."
Scully nodded knowingly. "I understand. Mulder's the same way."
Nick finally lifted his eyes to hers. "Sounds as though you have your hands full with him."
"You can say that."
"But he's your partner and you probably wouldn't trade him for the world, would you?"
Scully smiled lightly. "No one would ever offer that much for him, but you're right. I wouldn't. I've come so close to losing Mulder on several occasions, so I can imagine how devastating that must have been for you when your partners were killed."
Nick lowered his head momentarily in somber remembrance of his two deceased partners. "It's hard to believe that I couldn't even stand Schanke when I first met him. He was the sort that kind of rubs people the wrong way. But he grew on me quickly, and all those little annoying habits he used to drive me crazy with, became what I truly missed the most once he was gone. And Tracy... I really didn't allow her to get too close to me. I thought I could save myself from any more pain should the unthinkable happen."
"I remember that Mulder wasn't very happy about getting me for a partner in the beginning. I think he tried to make me not like him."
Nick smiled. "I bet you're probably the most important person in his life now."
"Well, we have been through a lot. We've grown closer."
"I don't suppose he'll take too kindly to my kidnapping you then."
"Well, as long as I'm not broken or maimed, I imagine he'll be somewhat forgiving."
"Where was it again that I found you?"
"The Olsen's ranch. About twelve miles west of downtown Black Eagle."
"Oh." Nick glanced at the boarded up window, sensing how much time remained before sunrise. He would have enough time to fly her back to the ranch but not to make it back to his cabin. "Unless your partner knows our location and is on his way to retrieve you, I'm afraid you'll have to wait until this evening before I can take you back."
"Why is that?"
"The sun will be rising soon. And I do a very good imitation of a vampire at daybreak."
"So we're not talking a simple sunburn and rash, are we?"
"No. More like bacon burning."
"What do you have?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"With photophobia that severe, there's usually some underlying medical condition. Off hand, I can think of Lupus and Porphyria. Also, Xeroderma Pigmentosum, but that's a pretty intense, deteriorating type of disease, and you appear much too healthy for that."
He'd forgotten that she had a medical background. Saying that he had a sun allergy had always worked in the past, especially when reinforced with a hypnotic suggestion. He had second thoughts about messing with her mind now, considering that he had subjected her to enough emotional stress already. However, if he agreed to having one of the conditions she mentioned, she'd probably question him on his treatment and he didn't want to get into any of that either.
"I've never been diagnosed with any diseases," he told her truthfully. "It's just an skin allergy; something I developed after reaching adulthood."
"How curious," Scully mused. "I know there aren't a lot of options out there for people who are photosensitive."
"Natalie... she came up with something once, but...."
"Unpleasant side effects; severe stomach cramps, paranoia, addiction. A high price to pay for one day in the sun. If you don't mind, I'd rather not talk about it anymore."
"All right. Can we talk about me finding a phone to use?"
"Sorry. I don't have one."
"Well, what about drawing a map so I can find my way to the nearest road."
"I wouldn't advise you trying to find your way out there alone. The land is treacherous in places and there're plenty of wild animals."
"Are you telling me that it's safer to wait until sundown to travel? I fail to see the logic in that."
"I know the area. And I know my way around in the dark. After all, I'm not the one who nearly walked off the side of a mountain."
"You don't have to remind me."
"Sorry. I know it's my fault that you're here. I should have awakened you and taken you back when I first came to my senses. I still don't know why I didn't."
"I think I do," said Scully. She saw the question in his eyes though he didn't bother to verbalize it. "I remind you of her, don't I? Natalie. I know I don't look like her, but something about me made you think of her. That's why you were lying with me on the bed. When I woke, you were embracing her, not me."
He didn't answer her, not in words at any rate. He squeezed his eyes shut, dropped his head, and turned away. Scully started to go towards him and offer some comfort, but paused when she remembered their earlier encounter in the bedroom. She waited a few moments, then when she heard a soft keening sound emitted from the tortured soul in front of her, she took a chance on drawing closer.
"Nick? Nick, it's okay," she cooed softly as her hand went out timidly to his dark blonde curls. At her touch, he wrenched away quickly.
"No, don't!" he said, not as a warning, but more like a plea. "Nat, I can't. Please don't ask me to again. I can't," he mumbled as he moved over towards the boarded up window, keeping his back to her.
Scully followed cautiously but kept a few feet of space between them. "Nick?" she called to him without having any idea of how to calm him down.
"Natalie, you don't understand what you're asking me to do," he said, shaking his head with his eyes close. "You think you do, but you don't. I don't want to hurt you. I could never live with myself if I hurt you."
"Please don't ask me to do it, Nat," he cried. "Please!"
"Okay, Nick. You don't have to do it. We won't go through with it. It's okay. You don't have to do it."
Her words finally got through to him. The tension left his body as he turned to look at her with mournful eyes. Scully wasn't sure if he was grounded in the here and now or if his mind was still several months in the past. She saw a questioning look in his eyes that slowly turned into comprehension. Eventually, he smiled shyly at her and she returned the gesture. She was somewhat apprehensive when he reached a hand out to caress her cheek, but the tender look in his soft, blue eyes made her feel as though she had nothing to fear.
When he leaned in for a kiss, she met him half way. Unlike the passionate, heat-filled kiss of before, this one was considerably more tame, much like two kids testing the waters for the very first time. The results were pretty much the same for Scully. Despite the recent criminal actions and apparent mental dysfunctions of this man, Scully was nonetheless emotionally drawn to him. It didn't even matter if he thought she was someone else. When he gently drew away from her, she trembled slightly, her breathing more pronounced as she awaited a follow-up. When it didn't come as she expected, she lifted her eyes to his and saw that he was staring at her strangely.
"What is it?" Scully asked, fearful that his mind had made another unscheduled detour.
"Did I hurt you?" Nick asked her.
"No. No, I'm fine," Scully replied with a tiny laugh, thinking that he was referring to the kiss.
He shook his head and said, "You're bleeding somewhere. I can smell your blood."
Not exactly the words she expected to hear, but for some reason she thought there might be some truth in them. She examined her hands first and found them to be perfectly fine. Even though it wasn't time for her period, she considered opening her coat and checking for any telltale stains. Before she could even make the attempt, Nick put a finger beneath her chin and lifted it. She felt a bit self-conscious to see that his eyes were focused on her nose, but a few seconds later, she felt something else. A tiny stream of fluid began a downward path from her left nostril towards her top lip. A nosebleed, she thought with little concern. When she reached a hand up to wipe away the blood, Nick grabbed her wrist and held tight to prevent her from interfering with the flow. The sound of a low, animalistic growl caused Scully to recoil in fear, an emotion enhanced by the sight of a pair of feral, gold-tinged eyes glaring back at her. Ready or not, she was about to be introduced to Nick's third personality.
Chapter 6: The Kessle House
Benefis Hospital - Great Falls, Montana - 5:02 a.m.
Mulder was taken to the closest medical facility in the area which happened to be in Great Falls, south of Black Eagle. Luckily, his head injury turned out to be fairly minor, requiring only three stitches and a couple of Tylenols to ease the pain. After getting patched up, the doctor suggested that he lie down and get some rest. That was the last thing on Mulder's mind at the moment, but he was forced to comply because the world at large still tended to spin a little too fast when he stood. It would be another hour or more before the sheriff would begin the search, so Mulder took full advantage of the temporary bed and blanket he had been given. He was on the verge of dozing off when his cell phone rang. Thankful that he had placed it within easy reach in his shirt pocket, he answered anxiously, fearing bad news already.
"It's me," Frohike's voice came over the line. "Any news on Dana yet?"
"Last I heard, she wasn't dead yet. Have you found anything on Knight?"
"Yeah. I found out that he doesn't really exist."
"He was invented. On the surface, everything looks normal enough until you dig a little deeper. For instance, he has a birth record but no medical history. He has diplomas and degrees, but nothing to verify actual attendance or graduation, not even from the Police Academy. The guy's a chameleon."
"Among other things," said Mulder. "Anything on the alias?"
"Quite a bit. Only de Brabant isn't exactly an alias. It's a charitable foundation that's been around for about half a century. But there is a connection between it and Nick Knight. The warehouse in Toronto where Knight called home was owned by The de Brabant Foundation, and the assets in Knight's bank account were automatically transferred into the foundation's account after the report of his death."
"That's great, Frohike," said Mulder, impressed by the news, but needing more. "Now if you could tell me something I can use."
"Getting to it. The de Brabant Foundation once owned a good hunk of mountain property in Montana; most of which was donated back to the Native Americans to whom it originally belonged. A small patch, however, still belongs to the Foundation. Tell me where you are and I can fax you a map of the area. Chances are your boy has a little homestead tucked away up there."
"Frohike, I think I'm falling in love with you," Mulder sighed, thankful to have such a useful friend. "Fax what you have to the sheriff's office in Black Eagle. Oh, did you get anything on the other name?"
"Janette DuCharme? Nope. Once she left Toronto, she completely disappeared. But before she split, she turned over ownership of the Raven to a guy named Lucien LaCroix, a night time radio squawk jock. After a decapitated body was found on the premises, business at the Raven slacked off considerably. He packed up and vacated the same time as your boy went off the bridge. A week later, LaCroix bought himself a house in Winnipeg where it just so happens that fifty thousand dollars of De Brabant Foundation money was transferred into a new account under the name of Nicholas Fletcher. Apparently, he and LaCroix are roomies. That's all I have for now. You want me to keep digging?"
"Yeah, if you don't mind. And can you send me a picture of this LaCroix guy, along with a number I can reach him if you've got it."
"It's on its way. Now you find her, Mulder. You bring our Dana back safe and sound or I'll personally kick your ass from here to Area 51."
"I will find her," said Mulder with grim determination. "Or die trying," he added solemnly before hanging up.
It had to be a trick of the light thought Scully when she saw the odd glow in Nick's eyes. It was downright eerie the way he was staring at her now, almost as though he was ready to devour her whole right on the spot. She swallowed nervously, then tried to pull her wrist from his grasp, but he held on as firmly as a steel trap. His other hand went to the back of her neck in order to hold her head immobile. Scully thought about fighting. She had been thoroughly trained in self defense, and her knee was already within the perfect striking distance. For some reason, however, she resisted the urge to attack. She found herself relaxing in his hold, drawn into those mesmerizing, golden eyes and actually looking forward to his next move.
When his mouth came down solidly upon hers, she eagerly allowed him full access. As his teeth scraped across her tongue, Scully noticed how abnormally long and sharp his canines seemed. Warning bells went off in the back of her mind, but she chose to ignore them. Perhaps it was the fact that it had been too long since a man had been intimate with her, or maybe Nick Knight was endowed with such powerful pheromones that no woman would have been able to resist him. At the moment, it really didn't matter to Scully why she was drowning in his kisses.
As the bleeding from her nose reached her lips, Nick withdrew his tongue from inside her mouth so he could lick the outside. It should have disgusted her once she realized what he was doing, but instead, Scully found it oddly erotic to know that he was tasting her blood. He growled softly, sounding like a purring lion cub. He lapped at the blood that trickled from her nose for a moment longer, then suddenly stopped and drew back. His eyes were still golden but his expression had changed to a grimace. He released her wrist so he could move his index finger to her face. There was still a small amount of blood making its way south. Nick wiped it up with his finger, then put it to his tongue as though he was sampling a small taste of some homemade sauce. After his taste buds had enough time to register the flavor, his frown grew deeper.
"It's tainted," he spoke in a low, husky voice.
His would-be victim looked at him dumbfounded. "Wh-What?"
"Your blood. It tastes spoiled."
Scully was too stunned to consider a response. It was just as well, because Nick didn't bother waiting for one. He all but pushed her to the side in his haste to get to the kitchen area and the small, brown refrigerator in the corner. He yanked opened the door and pulled out a dark green wine bottle which he uncorked with his teeth. Spitting the cork carelessly across the room, he upended the bottle and drank from it greedily, heedless of the overflow of crimson running down his chin.
The fact that he had ingested the blood from her nose and thought it tasted spoiled Scully chalked up to his mental illness. His vampire teeth could easily be falsies that he had snuck into his mouth with a bit of sleight of hand. The eyes that had changed quickly from blue to an iridescent gold could be the results of some kind of special contact lenses that he wore. There was a perfectly logical explanation for everything. However, as she studied the look of pure ecstasy on his face as he drank from the bottle of what appeared to be blood, Scully was beginning to question her faith in logic.
Nick had consumed half the bottle before finally pausing for a breather. His eyes having returned to their normal hue, timidly shifted in Scully's direction. He could tell by her expression that she knew what was in the bottle, but there still appeared to be some doubt as to whether or not she was willing to believe her own eyes.
"You're probably thinking one of two things," said Nick as he looked from her to his bottle and back again. "You're either thinking that your partner was right about me being a vampire, or that I am a hell of a lot more screwed up than you first imagined."
Scully shrugged lightly. "First of all I was thinking that you need to wipe your chin," said Scully, displaying more calm than she actually felt.
A moment of embarrassment flashed across Nick's face as he quickly wiped his shirt sleeve across his chin. Afterwards, he placed the opened bottle back into the refrigerator, then returned his attention to his guest.
"So, now what are you thinking?"
"Well, since I don't believe in vampires, then I'd have to say that you are considerably more unstable than I first perceived."
Nick chuckled lightly. "You don't believe your own eyes, Agent Scully? That's rather a strange attribute for a person in law enforcement, don't you agree?"
"The eyes sometimes have a way of playing tricks on a person. It's referred to as optical illusions."
Denial, Nick thought. He had seen it many times throughout his eight hundred years from people who couldn't handle the fact that creatures such as he existed. Actually, it was for the best. The less she believed and knew about him and his kind, the better off she would be. He walked up to her, noting the wariness in her eyes, looking as though she was ready to defend herself should the need arise. He admired her bravery as he had admired Natalie's bravery. This time, he wouldn't make the same mistake.
"It's been a long night, Agent Scully. You're very tired. You're ready to get some sleep now."
The moment he uttered those words, Scully realized how true they were. She was so exhausted, she could barely keep her eyes open. "Yes, I am feeling sleepy," she murmured.
"Before you sleep, keep in mind that you never noticed anything unusual about me. You never saw me drinking blood; I never chased you out into the woods, and your nosebleed never happened. Also, you and I were never intimate. All we ever did was talk. Understand?"
Scully nodded drowsily. "We talked," she repeated his words.
"Now sleep," Nick softly commanded, then caught her as her body went limp. Scooping her up in his arms, he carried her into the bedroom and laid her down on the bed. He still wondered about the odd taste of her blood. The bottled cow's blood had been ambrosia compared to the unexpected sour tang of Agent Scully's blood. Perhaps he had imagined the bad taste as an unconscious effort not to drain her. The only other excuse he could think of was that her bloodstream was full of some sort of prescription drug which coincidentally made for the perfect vampire deterrent. He was reminded of the plague which had spread through the vampire community brought on by an experimental drug for AIDS. It was possible he had just been exposed to something perfectly harmless to humans but deadly to his kind. Secretly, he wished that was the case. Finally, a simple way to put himself out of his misery.
Knowing he shouldn't be thinking such things, Nick concentrated on making Agent Scully comfortable. He decided to leave her with her coat on, then threw his own coat over her for added warmth. After a few moments of deliberating, he started a fire in the pot-bellied stove in the corner. When he had watched her in the living room in front of the fireplace, she never really look like she had gotten sufficiently warm. He wanted her to be comfortable enough to sleep through the day. After getting the fire going, he took a final admiring glance at her, then blew out the candles in the room and closed the door on his way out.
Nick walked out onto the front porch and gazed up at the early morning sky. The sun would be up soon and for once he had a solid reason not to greet it. Without him, Agent Scully would be stranded with no food and no way to make it back to civilization. He had purposely chosen to build the cabin in this area so many years ago because of its seclusion and poor accessibility. Agent Mulder was probably out searching for his partner now, but there was no way he could know exactly where to look. Even LaCroix didn't know about this little hideaway, though it was only a matter of time before he would show up in the general area once he got wind of the cow killings. As soon as he was in the same city as his offspring, their eternal link would do the rest.
He wasn't ready to face his master yet. There were still so many doubts running through his mind, the main one being whether or not he should continue his existence. He went back inside the cabin and stretched himself out on the sofa. As he awaited sleep, he somberly recalled the events that occurred over a fortnight ago.
Toronto - 15 days earlier
He had gone to her apartment first. Hovering outside the windows and peering into the rooms, he saw only unfamiliar furniture and faces. A husband looked on with love and pride as his wife gave their newborn infant its four o'clock feeding. Nick observed them for several moments, envying their harmonious bliss. Finally, he tore himself away from the window and moved on. Next, he flew to his loft. It looked pretty much the same other than the 'For Sale' signs plastered all over the doors. For some reason, he thought he might find her there. Attaining entrance through the skylight, he found his furnishings covered with sheets to help protect against the dust and cobwebs abound. The memories of that night flooded back again, but gone was all the evidence that would tell the tale. Of course, Natalie was dead. He remembered that much, but perhaps he had remembered wrong. Perhaps LaCroix had saved her somehow. It wouldn't be the first time his master had picked up his apparently dead leftovers and brought them across. He had never wanted that for Natalie, and he had to be sure of what had become of her.
Nick left the loft and stopped off at the nearest pay phone. He was careful to disguise his voice as he spoke to the person he considered to be Natalie's closest mortal friend. He pretended to be an old boyfriend of Nat's from her college days in town briefly and wanting to say hello. Luckily, Grace still worked the night shift at the morgue, but he had caught her off guard with his inquiry about Natalie. Grace solemnly broke the bad news to him, then told him tearfully about the funeral where the entire 96th precinct and everyone in the Coroners Building had turned out to say farewell to both Natalie and her friend, Detective Knight. Grace was in tears by the time she had finished giving all the details. Nick wasn't far behind, but he managed to thank her for her time and say good-bye before losing his self control.
He didn't remember flying to the cemetery, but he must have because suddenly he was there. He also had no true awareness of digging through several feet of earth with his bare hands until his fingernails scraped the top of the sealed tomb. He was overwhelmed by the desire to see with his own eyes what his brain had already told him was true. Anyone could fake a funeral, however. It didn't mean that a body had actually been buried. He should know. He had faked his own a number of times. A few moments more and he had cleared away the soil and breached the heavy lid of the tomb, pushing it off to the side and exposing the coffin within.
He hesitated opening the lid of the coffin. He wasn't sure he'd find a body inside or not, however, he knew he wouldn't be contented no matter what the findings were. He braced himself as best he could, then quickly threw open the lid. "Oh, God!" he cried out as he viewed the contents. The thick, chestnut curls perfectly framed her heart-shaped face as they had in life. The undertaker had done a fairly decent job in preserving her features, although the makeup applied was a bit heavier than Nick had ever seen her use. He reached out a hand to stroke her cheek, drawing back instantly at the unnatural feel of her skin. But it wasn't her fault that she was dead, he thought. He was the reason she was here, all alone in the dark. The least he could do was spend a little time with her. Carefully, he shifted her body over some to allow him enough room to stretch out alongside her. Making a nest of her hair, he shut his eyes and rested his head against hers as he placed his arm about her waist.
"I'm sorry, Nat," he apologized meekly. "I know what I promised you. But things didn't go right. Your blood was so sweet. I couldn't get enough of it. And then, I couldn't bring you across. I couldn't turn you into what I am. I... I couldn't do that to you. So I asked LaCroix to destroy me, but he wouldn't go through with it."
Nick raised his head so he could gaze down at her face as he spoke. "He made me forget you, Nat.... It was my idea. I wanted to forget because I didn't want to live with the pain. But then, it all came back to me. I remembered. I came as soon as I remembered."
He pressed his lips against her cheek, then nuzzled his face in her hair. "I miss you so much, Nat. I wish I could see you again, the way you were, just one more time."
As he cuddled with the cold, stiffened remains of his beloved, a thought came to mind. He recalled the Kessle House, a special place where the dearly departed was able to contact the living. While working on an apparent accidental death case with Tracy, he had come across the house reported to be haunted. It turned out to be a portal for spirits to reenter the world of the living. He wasn't sure however if the house was still around. The last he heard, someone had wanted to demolish it and put up a new apartment complex or something. He could only hope that it had not been torn down yet.
Nick looked at Nat again and said, "If I don't see you there, then I'll come back and spend the day with you, okay?" He kissed her on the lips, then rose up from the grave. Lingering in the sky above for a few moments, he surveyed the damage he'd done to the grave site without actually noticing anything wrong with the whole picture. His only thought before he flew off was that she was wearing a new dress and that it was quite becoming.
A few minutes later, Nick found himself outside the Kessle House. Looking as spooky as it had the first time he'd seen it, he was nonetheless relieved to discover that it was still standing. Perhaps the city decided it was a historical landmark and worthy of conservation, though it was still in dire need of a paint job. He entered through a side door and paused for a few moments to extend his senses throughout the house. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as he discerned the presence of the spirits that used the house as a doorway from one world to another. Nick knew he wasn't welcome. The spirits had made it clear once before. But he was willing to brave their wrath for the chance to see her one last time.
He moved up the stairs and into the room where he had first made contact with his wife Alyssa. He instinctively knew that she would not be making an appearance tonight. She had already resolved her issues with him and moved on. He walked over to the window and glanced out, catching a glimpse of a quick moving, shadowy figure in the courtyard. The spirits of those he had wronged in the past and who now sought revenge against him were slowly closing in. Nick took a deep breath to settle his nerves, then turned his back to the window.
"Natalie?" he called out to the darkness. "Natalie, I'd like to talk to you if you're here." He waited a moment but nothing happened. "All right. You don't have to show yourself if you don't want to. I wanted to.... I wanted to apologize to you for what I did.... For what I did and for what I didn't do. I made you a promise that I didn't keep. I promised you that no matter what, we'd be together forever. I don't expect for you to forgive my actions. I wanted you to know that my love for you will never die, and that wherever you are now, I hope you've found peace."
He wanted to say so much more to her, to explain what all had transpired that night and since then, but suddenly, none of it seemed very important anymore. He had wanted some kind of confirmation of what he could expect in the afterlife, but he realized that when people die, they only have their personal beliefs to guide them into the beyond. Natalie had gone into death thinking that they would be together. His own wife had forgiven him for not keeping the same promise to her. Back then, he was an inexperienced vampire who naively thought he knew how to pass on his gift of immortality. Both Alyssa and Natalie had died because they made the mistake of loving and trusting him.
He glanced out the window again, looking upwards this time and saw the full moon shining through. Soon, the sun would be doing the same thing. "It ends here," he spoke aloud to himself. "I won't let anyone else suffer because of me, because of what I am. Forgive me my weaknesses, my selfishness, my arrogance. Forgive me, Tracy... Schanke... Cohen.... Everyone who's ever had the misfortune of knowing me. I'm sorry."
With those final words uttered, he sunk to the floor in front of the window and stretched out with hands folded atop his chest, and his entire body bathed in moonlight. He closed his eyes and waited impatiently for the sun. As he lay there, the images of the people closest to him came to mind. He envisioned Janette and the hundreds of years he had spent loving her, rejecting her, and towards the end, how he had envied her. By some strange twist of fate, she had achieved what he had been seeking for centuries. Perhaps it hadn't been so strange at all. Perhaps it was merely one of the many secrets of being a vampire of which LaCroix had failed to enlighten them. Perhaps Nick could have regained his immortality at any time, only his master had never wanted him to know it was indeed possible.
Try as he might, Nick was unable to keep thoughts of his master out of his head. LaCroix had always insisted that he only had Nick's best interest in mind. All the taunting, the treachery and even the physical abuse had only been his way of nurturing so that his son would develop the proper skills for an eternity of survival in a mortal world. Perhaps in his own twisted way LaCroix did love and care for him. Nick remembered the look in his sire's eyes when he had requested that LaCroix stake him. It was the closest he'd ever seen the old vampire to tears. Even the death of his daughter Divia had not moved him as much. The master vampire -- for whatever his reasons, be it love or obsession -- was not able to fulfill his son's request. It was apparent then that he did not want to bare such a loss. However, wherever he was now, come sunrise, he would feel their connection sever completely, and LaCroix would--
"What are you doing, Nick?"
The voice had startled him badly. He was alert and on his feet in an instant. A pained smiled crossed his face when he saw the nearly transparent image of the person who had spoken.
"Tracy," he whispered, unable to say anything more.
"Just happened to be in the neighborhood, were you?" she asked in the same perky tone he had grown used to. "You know, it's really not a good idea for you to hang out around here. There are a few creepy types that remember you from wa-a-a-y back when and are still carrying quite a grudge. But don't worry. I'll be watching your back for you."
"Tracy... you were a good partner," Nick spoke, his voice filled with regret. "I'm sorry. I should have told you what I was. You already knew that vampires existed, so there was no real reason why I shouldn't have confided in you."
"Yeah, it would have been nice to know that my partner felt he could trust me. You know, I kept Vachon's secret pretty well. When he died, I really could have used someone to talk to about it. I was even tempted to tell you anyway, but I figured you'd think I was crazy."
"I thought LaCroix made you forget."
"He did. But I guess that hypno thing you guys do don't carry over into the afterworld. I remember everything now."
"I never meant to cause you pain, Tracy. I thought..." He faltered, sighing deeply. "It doesn't matter what I thought. I was wrong. I was wrong about a lot of things. But I want you to know that I always thought you were a good partner and friend, and I wish I had done the right thing by you."
"Well, keep it in mind for your next partner, okay? Oh, by the way, Amanda Cohen sends her best and Schanke wants you to know how much he appreciates you being there for his family and setting up that trust fund for them. He would have come but we only get so many visits and he already used his on Myra and Jenny."
Nick nodded. "Tell him I miss him."
"Will do. And Nick? Lighten up, will you?"
She smiled brightly at him as she began to fade back into the darkness. Nick lowered his head and squeezed his eyes shut to try to hold back the tears. His head jerked back up when he thought of something. "Trace?" he called out, but it was too late. He had wanted to ask her about Natalie. He had to wonder if Natalie had gone to the same place as the others. Hers was the only name Tracy didn't bother to mention. He wondered if she would be able to come to the Kessle House as Tracy had. Then he thought, even if she could come to him, why on earth would she want to?
Nick faced the window again, fidgeting impatiently as he glared out at the slowly creeping daybreak. "Come on," he spoke anxiously. "Let's get this over with."
"What's the big hurry?"
He was nearly too overwhelmed by the sound of her voice to respond, and found it nearly impossible to face her. After taking in a deep breath, he finally found the courage to turn around. Natalie stood before him as an angelic looking, nearly transparent figure. She appeared younger, slimmer and more beautiful than he had remembered.
He mustered a nervous smile and said, "I didn't think you'd come."
"I wasn't so sure I would," came the blunt reply.
The cold tone of her voice caused him to lower his head in guilt and shift his eyes to the floor. "I don't blame you for hating me, after what I did to you. And I don't mean only that night. Throughout the years we've known each other, there have been times when I didn't always give you the respect you deserved. I had the habit of deciding what was best for you based on my own personal viewpoint. I often put my needs and desires first, and completely ignored yours. And there were times when you needed me to be there emotionally for you, and I don't believe I managed that well either. Saying I'm sorry seems embarrassingly inadequate, but I don't know how else to put it."
Natalie arched her brow and shook her in head in mild amusement. "One thing about you, Nick, you were always good at beating yourself up. In this case, you're right on the mark. Saying you're sorry is pretty inadequate. And I won't accept your apology.... That is, not until you accept mine."
He had been so fixated on her remark about not accepting his apology that he nearly missed the rest of her statement. He raised his eyes to hers once it dawned on him what she had said.
"I owe you an apology, Nick. I almost didn't come here because I was ashamed to face you."
"No, Nat. You don't--"
"Let me finish," she cut him off with a firm tone. When she saw that she had startled him into silence, Nat continued with her confession. "When we first met, you warned me what getting involved with you might entail. You tried to scare me off, but I insisted I could handle anything that might arise. You were honest with me from the beginning but I was dishonest with you. I lied about being interested in you only in the scientific sense. I was physically attracted to you from the moment I first laid eyes on you. Which is kind of sick in a way considering you were a fresh corpse in a body bag. But I'd been thinking, wow, what a waste. Why couldn't I have met you when you were alive. Then when you suddenly came to life, I guess I sort of took it as a sign that you had been sent by the powers above.
"When I found out that you wanted to become mortal again, I thought that it would be a good way of getting to know you better and that eventually it might lead to something more. It did in a way. We became close friends, and I suppose I should have been happy with that considering the extraordinary differences in our backgrounds. But I had always felt that there could be more. There were times when I looked into your eyes and I was positive you felt the same way, only you'd had some bad experiences in the past and you were afraid to try again."
"I did love you, Natalie," Nick cut in. "I still do."
Natalie smiled sadly. "I know. Even though you never said the words, I knew it. It was in the way you looked at me, the way you touched me, and all those wonderful hugs and tiny little kisses you'd give me.... I knew. But what I felt for you had taken on a more desperate air. After Schanke and Captain Cohen died in that plane crash, I realized how short my time here on this planet could be. Then when I found out that you had planned to leave town without so much as a good-bye, I think that's when I stopped thinking rationally. I believe that's when I started to become almost like a mortal version of LaCroix."
Nick started to contradict her but Natalie held up a hand to stop him from commenting.
"No, it's true. He believed he knew what was best for you, and I began thinking the same way. A prime example was when you lost your memory and I tried to take advantage of that. I refused to tell you what you really were because I had convinced myself that your being a vampire was not so much a physical condition as it was a mental hang-up you had to overcome. As a result, you went outside and was nearly fried by the sun. It was wrong of me to withhold such vital information, but love makes you do foolish things sometimes. A bout of depression can make you do even worse.
"Our last night together, I was suffering from depression over an old friend committing suicide. Top that off with what happened to Tracy and you've got the makings of one non-thinking, irrational individual. All I could think was that Nick could make it all better for me. He could chase away all these negative feelings I have and make my world whole. I pushed you into doing something you didn't want to. Something that you felt was not only wrong but dangerous as well. So your old girlfriend Janette goes away for a little while and comes back as a mortal, saying that it was the results of making love to a mortal and taking only a small amount of his blood.
"The scientist in me should have questioned and analyzed every possible detail available before jumping to conclusions. Maybe what happened with Janette had to do with the fact that she was a female vampire, or that she was two hundred years older than you. Could have been some kind of vampire puberty thing going on with her body. Could be that the guy whose blood she drank had unusual properties to it. I mean, the possibilities are probably endless. But at the time, I didn't care how it may have actually happened. I only knew that it had and I wanted that for you. I wanted you to be mortal. I'm ashamed to say it, but I wanted you to be mortal, not because it's what you've been dreaming of for centuries, but... because I wanted you, and I knew that was the only way I could have you."
"None of that really matters, Nat," said Nick, seeing her brow crinkle in guilt. "It doesn't change the fact that I killed you."
"But it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't pushed you. I backed you into a corner, Nick, and I didn't give you a way out. It was like ey wearing a pork chop necklace and going up to a starving lion expecting him to eat only the pork chop. How many times did you tell me, 'No,' and warn me of what might happen? I don't blame you for your actions, Nick. I was dealing with a lot of different emotions and I wasn't thinking clearly. What occurred that night with us was my own fault."
"But I made you a promise," he reminded her. "I didn't keep it. You asked to be brought across if things went too far. I had the opportunity to do it. There was still enough life left in you, but I...."
"You didn't want me to become the thing you so desperately despised. I know."
"I brought your brother across when you asked me to because I couldn't bare to see you so upset. I was willing to bring Tracy across whether she wanted it or not in order to assuage my own guilt about the shoot-out. But when it came to making that choice for you, Nat.... I couldn't. It may have been what you thought you wanted but... I loved you too much to condemn you for all eternity to this hellish existence. But I promised to be with you no matter what. I still want to be with you."
"So that's why you're standing in front of the window waiting for the sun to rise?"
"It should be slightly more effective than the last method I tried."
"Did you really expect LaCroix to go through with it?"
"How did you know? Were you still alive?" Nick asked in growing dismay. "You saw?"
"No, no. You tend to know when someone's messing about with your remains. I was at the cemetery earlier when you were.... Come to think of it, what the heck were you doing, Nick? I'd never seen you like that before. As Schanke would put it, you were acting really whacko."
"I know. I was pretty upset when my memories of that night came back. I had amnesia and I had forgotten. LaCroix--"
"I get the picture," Natalie stopped him. "You don't have to say anymore. In other words, all this hit you like a ton of bricks and you really haven't had time to grieve."
"I've had too much time to grieve already. Eight hundred years of seeing the people that I care for the most, wither and die or fall victim to my beast. I regret that it's taken me so long to finally reach this decision. A lot of people would still be alive if I had walked into the sun much sooner."
"Are you sure about that? I seem to recall digging a few bullets out of you that had been meant for others. Schanke would have met his end a lot sooner if you hadn't been there for him a couple of times that I can think of. The same goes for Tracy. You also saved Captain Stonetree's life and his career. And you haven't forgotten that little dating fiasco I had with Roger Jamison. During that bombing scare, how many more people do you think would have died if it hadn't been for you getting involved? You've done a lot of good, Nick. You've saved a lot of lives. You can't save them all. No one can do it all."
"It doesn't matter anymore. None of it matters. It's time to end it."
"Why?" Natalie asked. She saw him cock his head in wonderment at her question. "Why after eight hundred years?" she attempted to clarify her question. "I mean, why haven't you done it before now? What's kept you going all these centuries?"
Nick didn't have a problem coming up with his answer. "Hope," he told her. "The hope that someday I'd find a way to become mortal again."
"Are you saying that you've lost all hope now; despite seeing that it was possible with Janette? Have you forgotten the time you got to walk around in the sun and eat real food? It may have been only temporary, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. I'll tell you where I hid my notes. Maybe you can find someone else to pick up where I left off."
"No!" Nick blurted out. "No, Nat. I won't put another life at risk like that. Besides... I'm tired. I'm so tired of it all."
"Nick, I know you're hurting, and as bad as your existence seems now, killing yourself will not make it better. Where I am, I'm afraid that you're not welcome. The place where you would be welcomed, from what I've heard, you don't want to go."
Nick lowered his head dejectedly and murmured. "Could hell really be any worse?"
"I know that the past couple of years have been tough on you, Nick. You've had LaCroix come back into your life to torment you, and you've watched a lot of friends die, both vampire and mortal alike. You're suffering from depression, and I mean big time. I know what that's like. I should've gotten myself to the nearest therapist for some help, but instead I allowed it to consume me. I don't know if there are any vampire shrinks out there, but it might be a good idea for you to find someone to talk to. If nothing else, at least get away from this city. Go find yourself a nice quiet place to unwind and commune with nature or something. Forget about all the bad times and remember the good ones. We had some good times, didn't we?"
Nick nodded sadly. "We had lots of them, Nat."
Natalie smiled with tears glittering in her pale eyes. "The sun will be up soon. You should leave here before it does."
"Can I see you again, Nat? If I come back here--"
"Don't," she warned with a touch of sternness to her voice. Softening her tone she said, "Let it go, Nick. It's okay to let go."
"I don't think I can," he admitted tearfully, his voice cracking.
"You never know what you can do until you try. Will you please try, Nick? If not for yourself, then do it for me."
Nick nodded slightly. "I can try," he replied halfheartedly.
"Good.... You'd better go now," she said as she began to drift away from him.
He wanted so badly to follow, but knew it was hopeless. "I love you, Nat," he called out to her. "I'll love you forever."
"You see, Nick. You didn't break your promise. We'll be together forever, in each other's hearts.... Now, go find some happiness and never give up the hope." She blew him a kiss, then faded from sight.
Before he could respond to her final words or her gestured kiss, Natalie was gone. Nick remained rooted to the spot for a moment longer, unwilling to face the rest of his existence without her. But he had made the commitment to try and he knew he owed her that much. As he left the Kessle House on his way to the loft, he made a solemn vow that he'd do his best to honor Natalie's wishes.