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Passions of the Heart

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Passions of the Heart
By PJ
May 2021

 

"Here we are," Schanke said and climbed out of the Caddy.

Nick followed in step, a smile playing around his lips as he noticed the auburn hair amidst the hussle of the crime scene. Despite the mostly gruesome murder that had been committed, her sight always managed to raise his spirits. "Hi Nat, what have we got?" he asked as they arrived at her side.

"This one looks very interesting," Natalie Lambert began. "He's been killed with a sword."

"A sword?" Schanke repeated, taking a closer look at the fair-haired young man on the ground. "You mean like in one of those Samurai movies?"

"No, a rapier, like in one of those musketeer movies," Nat corrected him and cast a curious glance at Nick who seemed miles away.

"There's no blood. He must have been dumped here," Nick said suddenly, pulling out of his mode.

"That's what we assume," Natalie agreed. "I would estimate the time of death between midnight and 1 a.m. I can tell you more about the murder weapon once I've taken a closer look at the wound." She gave directions for bagging the body and headed to the morgue.

* * * *

"Knight?" Nick answered his phone near the end of his shift.

"It's me," Nat replied. "Can you come over after your shift, alone?"

"What's wrong?" Nick asked concerned.

"I need your opinion," she simply said and hung up.

Nick reached for his coat, signed out and headed to the morgue. He found Natalie in the lab, staring down at the body on the table. "Well?" he asked.

"There's awfully little blood left in the body," she said.

"Isn't that normal after a vital organ has been hit?"

"I would expect major blood loss, but this one is almost empty, like he has been drained," Nat explained. When Nick remained silent, she looked up to see him staring off into space. "Nick?" she asked.

He pulled out of his reverie and bent down towards the body, sniffing around the wound. Straightening, he shook his head.

"Well?" Nat asked, intrigued.

"Nothing but antiseptics."

"Would a vampire use a sword and drain the body through the wound?"

"I –– I've seen it before," Nick mumbled. "There's just one sword wound instead of two bite marks that might rouse suspicion."

"Very clever," Nat said, amazed.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Paris 1625

"Very clever," Lacroix remarked and kicked the body on the ground lightly with his boot to reveal a sword slash on the man's neck. "But so very superfluous. Why use a sword to draw blood when you have two perfectly built teeth for that very purpose? Or is it rather that you wish to impress the ladies by your fencing skills?"

"Not the ladies, Lacroix." Nicholas drew his sword and held it against Lacroix's neck.

"Me?" Lacroix chuckled. "I am already intimately familiar with all your skills."

"Perhaps what you need is a reminder."

"Why? I have perfect recall."

"Then why have you been spending so much time with him?" Nicholas gestured at the corpse. "Are you intending to replace me?"

"Jealous, Nicholas? I believe it is you who is in need of a reminder."

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

"Nick?" Natalie interrupted his memories. "If you have seen this before, do you know anyone who could be responsible?"

"No!" The word came out harsher than he intended. Shaking his head, he turned on his heel. "I have to go. Sun's coming up," he mumbled and left the morgue.

He made it home with minutes to spare. After closing the blinds, he removed his jacket and gun holster. Then he pulled a bottle from the fridge, picked up a glass from the board and settled into an armchair. Filling the glass to the brim, he took a deliberate swig and let the fluid linger in his mouth in a vain attempt to experience some of the effects that accompanied human and vampire blood.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Paris 1625

Lacroix reached for the blade and slowly removed it from his neck, cutting the tip of his index finger in the process. Immediately Nicholas' eyes flashed golden. Lacroix released a chuckle at his reaction and licked the upwelling blood off his finger. "You still look hungry, mon fils, despite your recent meal. If you insist on a duel, I suggest we retire to a less public place."

They flew to the townhouse where Lacroix was currently residing. The elder strode into the hall and tossed his mantle haphazardly onto a chair. Then he took his time to unbutton his shirt and removed it as well under Nicholas' scrutinizing gaze. He picked a rapier from the wall and took a position in the middle of the hall. "Well?"

Nicholas removed his overcoat and shirt as well. Bare-chested he took a position opposite Lacroix. They fenced for about twenty minutes, moving back and forth through the hall without anyone gaining an advantage. Eventually Nicholas managed to draw a long gash across Lacroix's chest. Instantly, he tossed his weapon aside and flew at the elder, causing both of them to tumble to the floor. Nicholas' mouth immediately sought the wound, greedily drawing out blood before it closed. When the fountain ceased all too soon, he moved up and pressed his mouth against Lacroix's soft lips. For a moment their tongues continued the duel they had previously fought with swords. Passions rose before both tore with their fangs into each other's neck.

Nicholas gulped down the rich essence of his sire and tasted his all-encompassing love.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Nick stared unseeing into his refilled glass, its taste intolerably bland. A single tear dropped from his eye and marred his cheek. There was something scary about the absoluteness of Lacroix's love. He had craved it and revelled in it with wild abandon. Until he began to question his nature. Instead of unwavering love Nick had feared to taste disappointment and hatred instead. He couldn't stand that. So, he had started to run.

Squeezing his eyes shut to quell any longing of what would never be, he drained his glass and headed upstairs to his lonely bed.

* * * *

"We've got another one. Same MO," Schanke informed Nick before he had even removed his coat.

"Where?"

"Foresters Lane. That's in North York outside our jurisdiction, but they want us to take over because they think it's connected to the one on St. Thomas Street."

* * * *

"Definitely the same weapon," Natalie confirmed as she examined the neck wound.

"Great, a serial," Schanke groaned. "Cohen will be ecstatic and won't let us rest until we solved this."

"Any ID?" Nick asked.

Natalie held up an evidence bag with a wallet inside. "George Belfry. He lives a block down the street."

"Let's head back to the precinct and do a background check. See if the victims are connected somehow," Nick suggested.

"I doubt we'll find any connection. The victim on St. Thomas Street was from out of town and stayed at the Windsor Arms Hotel. It's odd that both victims were apparently killed elsewhere and dropped near their places of residence," Schanke observed.

"It can't be random. The MO is too precise," Nick stated and turned to Nat. "I'll talk to you later."

* * * *

Captain Cohen was already awaiting them with crossed arms when they returned to the precinct. "Gentlemen, I have bad news. This was already the third victim. I just received a phone call from the Captain in Etobicoke. They had a similar case two nights ago. The body was dropped at Parker Avenue. It's currently transferred to the central morgue so that Dr. Lambert can examine it. I don't have to tell you that I want this stopped ASAP."

They spent the next four hours comparing background data of the three victims. "Maybe it is random," Schanke sighed when they hadn't found anything useful.

Nick shook his head. "Keep digging. I'll go and see if Nat has finished the autopsies."

* * * *

"Slashed and drained," Natalie confirmed. "Definitely a serial. And you have no idea who kills this way? You said you've seen it before."

Nick shook his head. "That was over 350 years ago and I can rule out the vampire who was responsible then."

"Because he's dead?" Natalie asked curiously, always eager to learn details from Nick's past.

"Because he doesn't kill anymore."

Natalie looked at him sharply as the implication hit. "I see. I take it you're quite skilful with a sword?"

Nick smiled at her enthusiasm. "I had lots of practice."

"Has anyone seen you kill this way? A copycat maybe?"

"Lacroix saw it, but he wouldn't go about it this way."

"Are you sure? Wouldn't it just be his twisted sense of torturing you?"

Nick shook his head. "Not this way," he said with conviction.

"Well, then maybe he knows who could be behind this?" Natalie suggested.

Nick fidgeted with his fingers since her first mention of Lacroix. "I'd prefer not to talk to him about it. Schanke and I spent the entire night trying to find a connection between the victims, but there's nothing."

"They're all blond," Natalie pointed out. "And the time of death is always around midnight."

* * * *

Nick cringed as he read the headline of the newspaper after he got up. The serial killings had made the front page and the article pointed out that the police were utterly clueless. Frustrated, he pulled a bottle from the fridge, used his teeth to remove the cork and gulped down half the contents.

"Really, Nicholas. Where are your manners?" a velvet voice caused him to cough on the blood.

After regaining control, he glared at the intruder. "What do you want, Lacroix?"

The elder stood at the table, leaning over the newspaper. "Quite an interesting read, don't you think? Are the police really as clueless as the article says?"

"Why do you care?" Nick snapped. "Do you have anything to do with this?"

Lacroix chuckled. "I believe it's obvious who has something to do with this."

"I know it was one of us, but it wasn't me if that's what you're implying. The killings seem random; we haven't found any connection between the victims yet." Frustration was evident in his voice.

Lacroix regarded him rather surprised. "You really are clueless, are you not?"

"If you know something, share it," Nick demanded angrily.

Lacroix looked at him with a smug expression. "It's not the victims that are connected, it's the locations. Parker, Thomas, Forrester – does that not sound familiar to you?"

Nick's eyes widened. Those were all aliases he had used in the past. "You're a genius," he blurted unintentionally, grabbed his coat and rushed out of the loft.

He flew directly to the morgue. "Nat, I know where he might strike next," he stated while stepping into the lab and came to an abrupt stop as he discovered Schanke. He had been so preoccupied that he hadn't paid attention if Natalie was alone.

"Where?" Schanke demanded. "And how do you know?"

"Just a hunch," he mumbled while casting a significant glance at Natalie. "Does Toronto have a Hammond Street?"

Natalie pulled a road map from her desk and scanned the street index. "No, not Hammond Street, but Hammond Place." She pointed out the location with her index finger. "Here, north of Bloor Street."

"And you said all victims were killed shortly after midnight?" Nick queried.

"Yeah, sometime between 12:15 and 12:45 a.m. according to reports from residents who had passed the area."

"I wouldn't be surprised if the precise TOD was 12:28," he stated and earned a sharp look from Nat.

"And what makes you think you could guess the time of death down to the minute?" Schanke demanded.

"It all adds up now," Nick said, ignoring Schanke.

"You know who it is?" Natalie asked.

Nick shook his head.

"So you say we get backup and wait for the guy to drop the next body there?" Schanke suggested.

"Backup would be too conspicuous. I'd rather do this on my own," Nick objected.

Schanke eyed him suspiciously. "On your own? This wouldn't have anything to do with this being a major case with public attention? No way are you going there without your partner for backup!"

"Schanke, look at me," Nick intoned. If he had to deal with a vampire, he couldn't allow mortal witnesses.

"No, I will not look at you, Nick!" Schanke refused, much to Nick's alarm. "I don't know, what you do exactly, but this is what you tell any suspect before they start to confess."

"Schanke!" Nick was stunned.

"Forget it, Nick. You can either accompany me to Hammond Place or I will call for backup."

Nick sighed. "Fine. We'll take your car. Mine is too conspicuous. And I'll have to make a stop at the loft first."

* * * *

"Okay, spill it, Nick. What is it that you aren't telling me?" Schanke demanded when they were in the car heading to the loft.

"It's personal."

"What's personal?"

"The killings. I should have seen it sooner. Someone is challenging me."

"Whew, now why would you think that?"

"The street names where the bodies were found. They were all –– ah –– streets where I have lived before. Dating back in chronological order. The next would be Hammond."

Schanke whistled. "And the time of death?"

"12:28? It's the time I was born," Nick stated.

"Scary! The guy must know you really well or did awesome research. And you have no clue who it could be?"

Nick shook his head. "None. Someone with a grudge I suppose because the victims all had a remote resemblance to me."

"Nick! What on earth could you have done to trigger a response like that?"

Nick remained silent.

"It's probably someone who knew you before you moved to Toronto. From Chicago perhaps?"

"I don't know," Nick replied.

"But then this guy seems to know a lot about you, even the time you were born. Someone from your youth? Did you ever snatch someone's girl? This whole sword thing points at a love affair if you ask me."

Nick was still scanning centuries in search of anyone who would fit this profile when they reached the loft. Schanke accompanied Nick upstairs and plopped into an armchair. Nick went into a shadowy corner of the loft and opened an old chest. After some rummaging, he pulled out a rapier.

"You've got to be kidding me!" Schanke exclaimed. "We came here to get that? A stage prop?"

"It's not a stage prop," Nick assured him and made some swings through the air. "Let's go."

"Do you even know how to fence?"

"Yes."

"I say, we should simply arrest the guy when he turns up," Schanke stated and preceded Nick into the lift.

* * * *

They were parked at the curb near the middle of Hammond Place. It was about a quarter past midnight when Nick sensed a presence. "Someone's here," he stated.

"Where? I don't see anyone." Schanke strained his eyes.

"Whatever happens, stay put and don't interfere!" Nick ordered and was out of the car before Schanke could object.

Schanke groaned, adjusted his gun and got out of the car to keep a better eye on his crazy partner.

"I know you're here! Show yourself!" Nick called into the darkness.

Schanke's hands tensed around his gun when he clearly heard steps on the concrete. His mouth dropped open as a slender woman, dressed entirely in white and carrying a rapier as did Nick, stepped into the light cone that illuminated the middle of the alley.

"So, you're Nicholas," she stated, appraising Nick from head to foot.

"I'm sorry, have we met?" Nick wondered. He sensed that she was old, older than Janette. There was something familiar about her, but he didn't think he had met her before.

She let out a mirthful laugh. "Lucien made sure we never did. If we had, I would have killed you ages ago, I can assure you of that. I'm Elena."

Nick tensed. Not many called Lacroix by his first name. He himself did it only when they had been on very close terms and Janette used it only when she wanted something from him. "Enlighten me, what have I done to deserve your rage?" Nick asked, utterly clueless. He didn't recall that Lacroix had ever mentioned anyone by the name of Elena.

"Your very existence is the barrier to my happiness!" she hissed. "Lucien and I were lovers long before you were born. When our paths crossed again, he rejected me. He said he was no longer interested in my body because he had found a beloved who was everything to him."

Nick felt the blood rising to his face. Lacroix had never voiced it aloud, but he remembered that delicious sensation of tasting his feelings for him in his blood.

"I was furious that he reduced our love to mere intercourse. I was sure there was more," Elena raged on. "I also looked for a replacement. Eventually I found a mortal with promising talents. When you weren't around, I introduced him to Lucien. I thought if Lucien acted jealous, that proved he still had feelings for me and that we could resume where we had left off. Instead, Lucien spent considerable time with Armand and instructed him how to please me."

Nick recognized Lacroix's effort as a clever move to get rid of an unwanted figure in a game of chess. "What went wrong? Why aren't you happily united with your Armand?" he wondered.

Her eyes blazed in rage. "Because you killed him when you came back!"

"Oh," Nick gasped in surprise. The young man whom he had seen repeatedly in Lacroix's company and whom he had killed in true swashbuckling fashion to impress Lacroix. Now he vaguely remembered having caught glimpses of Elena when he had drained Armand. "I'm sorry about that for what it's worth," he apologized with an implied bow.

"Sorry is not good enough, I'm afraid. I will bereave Lucien of his beloved so that he will suffer as I did."

Nick chuckled. "You're misinformed. We've split up decades ago. My death will hardly have the desired effect on him."

"You're bluffing. I too heard the rumours and thought this was my chance. But he assured me that nothing has changed."

Nick was stunned. Could it be true? Could Lacroix's feelings have persevered despite Nick's open rejection and his many attempts at reversing his condition? He doubted it. Certainly not after Nick had nearly killed him two years ago. No, if Lacroix truly loved him, he would have prevented this confrontation as he had obviously done in the past. Instead he had even pointed Nick in the right direction. Perhaps this was his revenge for the attempt on his life as he expected Elena to prevail due to her advanced age. Nick intended to disappoint him. "Whatever. Your senseless killings will stop tonight. Either leave town or ––" Nick brought his rapier into position.

Schanke strained his ears and tried to understand what was being said. But he caught only fragments of the exchange. Apparently Nick and this Elena chick had been rivals for a mutual love interest in the past, which didn't make any sense at all. Nor did Elena's claim that she had been involved with the guy before Nick was born. Schanke couldn't see her clearly, but she didn't seem much older than Nick. Obviously she was a nut case. Why his partner didn't simply arrest her was beyond his comprehension.

His eyes bulged as they actually started to fence, their swords clashing and their bodies dancing around each other, going back and forth in attack and defence. At least Nick seemed to know what he was doing. Schanke had to give him that. His movements were fluent and efficient. Yet, this was not some musketeer movie, this was Toronto in the 1990s. With the intention to put an end to this duel, Schanke raised his arm in order to fire his gun as a warning and catch the fighters' attention.

Before he could fire the shot, a hand pulled his arm down. "You will not interfere, Detective," a familiar voice breathed into his ear.

With a gasp, Schanke whirled around. He had been so captivated by the fight that he hadn't noticed this man's approach. "Why? What do you have to do with this?" Schanke had immediately recognized the voice of the Nightcrawler.

"Let's say, I have a personal interest in the outcome."

"Nick could get killed," Schanke voiced his concern.

"He won't. Nicholas is a master in the art of fencing," Lacroix replied confidently. "I've never seen anyone more skilled."

Schanke stored the information that this Nightcrawler to whom Nick listened so fervently, obviously knew Nick personally, and returned his full attention to the fight.

Nick parried a particularly fierce stroke and immediately took advantage of a lapse in Elena's defence. His rapier flashed in the street light as it cut through the air and severed Elena's head from her body.

Schanke gasped in shock. His partner had actually killed the woman! Did this count as self-defence? Surely, it would have been avoidable if they had simply arrested her. Schanke really didn't want to think about the paper-work that awaited them now. Was there even a form for duels?

Hesitantly he made his way towards Nick who still stood over Elena's body. Abruptly he turned and walked up to Lacroix, ignoring Schanke.

"Satisfied?" he hissed.

"I expected no less from you, Nicholas," the elder replied.

"She loved you!" Nick exclaimed in an accusing tone.

"So she claimed," Lacroix shrugged.

"What about you? Did you return her feelings?"

"If you wish to know, come and see me at my townhouse." Nodding at the rapier that Nick still held in his hand. "Bring your sword, if you wish." Without waiting for a reply, Lacroix turned on his heel and walked into the shadows.

"Where's he going?" Schanke asked. "Shouldn't we bring him in as a witness or something?"

"No, there's no need to get him involved."

"But why was he here? And don't tell me he strolled by accidentally."

Nick sighed. "Actually, it was him who noticed the street names."

"You know each other very well then," Schanke observed.

"Not really," Nick denied.

"C'mon, Nick! He knows where you've lived before and he knows that you can fence like hell. He said you were the best he's ever seen."

Nick looked up in surprise, his mood brightening. "He said that?" After all, when Lacroix said 'ever', that covered a very long time.

"He was convinced you wouldn't get killed. And obviously he was right. But man-oh-man, was it necessary to behead her?"

"Her neck was the only region she left uncovered for that brief moment. I took advantage of that."

Schanke eyed his partner closely. For someone who had just taken a life, especially in such a brutal fashion, Nick seemed oddly chipper. He's probably still running high on adrenaline. "Are you going to be okay with that? I don't recall that you've ever killed someone before."

He received an odd look from Nick in return that sent a shiver down his spine. "She was a killer. I did what I had to do. But I'm sorry that three men had to die because she was mad at me. I wish she had come directly for me."

"So who was she?"

Nick went back to the body and picked a wallet from her pocket. "Elena Stavros," he read the name on her ID and cringed inwardly. Stavros was the Greek word for cross. She really must have been obsessed with Lacroix that she even assumed a variation of his name. "I've never met her, but obviously she blamed me for ruining her love life."

"See, I knew this was all about a love affair!" Schanke exclaimed. "I just don't understand," he scratched his head. "I mean, obviously you cannot have been rivals –– unless one of you is ––" He stopped as Nick silenced him with a single look, but his mind continued the thought. Elena had clearly spoken of a man. Then he remembered the visit of the Nightcrawler, his personal interest in the outcome of the fight, and the intensity with which Nick used to listen to his broadcasts. Was he the man they were fighting about? He couldn't picture Nick and him as an item. He had seen Nick kissing Janette. There was no doubt where his preferences lay. On the other hand, he kept Natalie at a distance, both claiming that they were just friends. He would have to be more observant in the future. "I guess we should call this in," he said eventually.

* * * *

Nick had spent the last hour sitting on his couch, staring at the rapier across his lap. The case had been closed, he had been interviewed about the killer's death, and after Schanke had given his statement, the incident was ruled as self-defence. However, he had been ordered to take three nights off in order to process what happened. Laughing inwardly at the irony, he had declined the offer of a counsellor. He would prefer to keep working and distract himself from thinking about Lacroix's invitation. What if Lacroix's feeling were indeed unchanged as Elena had said? Would passion and overwhelming desire override his common sense and draw him back into Lacroix's arms? Was it better to ignore the invitation and continue to live with the conviction that he had lost Lacroix's love forever when he had begun to seek a cure?

His thoughts were interrupted by the grinding sound of the elevator as it was set in motion. A few minutes later Natalie stepped into the loft.

"Hey, I just got an interesting report from Schanke about you having a fencing duel with the suspect. I really like to hear your side."

Nick groaned. "She was a vampire. Since the case had already drawn a lot of attention, I had to present a killer to close it properly. Obviously presenting a body with a stake in the chest would only raise more attention from the media. Beheading her was the only way to make sure she stayed dead without rousing suspicion to her nature."

"But who was she really? Schanke said she picked the locations for the bodies to be found after street names that were related to you?"

"I told Schanke they were streets where I lived before, but in truth they were names I had used in the past."

"Fascinating! But what was her grudge against you?" Natalie was curious.

"I –– I killed the mortal she intended to bring across as her lover," he confessed.

"In a fencing duel?"

"Yes. I thought he was a rival to someone I loved. I wasn't thinking very clearly back then," Nick admitted sheepishly.

Natalie studied him as he started to fidget with his fingers on the rapier in his lap, a tell-tale sign that he was withholding essential information. "And this person over whom you fought the duel is still around?"

"Uh-huh."

"In Toronto?"

"Uh-huh."

"And you're still in love with this person?"

Nick jumped slightly as he accidentally cut his fingertip on the blade. "It's complicated," he muttered and raised the bleeding finger to his mouth.

"Nick, I've told you this before. If you have feelings, act on them," Natalie encouraged him. She reached for his hand and found the cut healed. "Fascinating."

"You don't know what you're suggesting, Nat!" he withdrew his hand from her scrutiny.

"Then enlighten me."

"It would preclude any attempt at a cure," he explained.

"I don't understand."

"Because ingesting another vampire's blood would reset anything a cure might accomplish."

"Why would you ingest another vampire's blood?"

Nick stood and began to pace. "It's what we do when we make love. Biting each other is a very essential part of the process," he said in a rough voice. "That's why making love to mortals always ends fatally for the mortal."

"Uh-huh." She let that sink in while he continued pacing. "But if you drink the blood from another vampire, would that sate you enough to abstain from human blood?"

Nick stopped abruptly and stared at her. "I've gone without feeding after ––"

"Then maybe it's not such a bad idea at all, don't you think?"

Nick regarded her rather doubtfully. "I don't know. I'm not sure I can commit myself to such a relationship again. I've suppressed those feelings for so very long. I'm not even sure if they're returned."

"Were they returned when you were in a relationship?"

"Yes. Very much so." Nat noticed the note of longing in his voice.

"Then I don't know why you're worrying. You're still gorgeous, even after all those centuries." She grinned and nudged him playfully on the arm as she rose and walked past him to grab her coat. "She'd be a fool to give up on you."

Nick looked utterly embarrassed.

Natalie was already half-way to the elevator when she turned back to him. "Oh, Schanke said Lacroix came by and made some creepy remarks? Any idea why he was there?"

Nick shrugged. "He probably wanted to make sure that the matter was resolved discretely."

Nodding, Natalie stepped into the elevator. "Think about what I've said?"

"I will. Promise me you won't be mad at me when I go through with it."

"Why would I? I just want to see you happy, Nick. Just be careful." The elevator door closed before he came up with a reply.

* * * *

On the following evening Nick dressed in black slacks and a white poet's shirt that revealed a good portion of his chest. He grabbed his rapier and left through the skylight before he lost his nerve. After tossing and turning in bed all morning, he had decided to go through with this, fully aware that otherwise he wouldn't find any rest at all.

The worst that could happen was that Lacroix rejected him, something he had been certain of all those years. So nothing would change. Should Lacroix's feelings indeed be unchanged despite everything Nick had done, this would mean Nick could continue his life as he chose because Lacroix would take him any way he could get him. That knowledge would definitely be a change in their relationship.

As Nick arrived at Lacroix's townhouse, he forewent the door and sought entry through an open window in the parlour, purposely invading his sire's privacy as the other had done innumerable times before.

He landed two steps behind Lacroix who whirled around with a surprised expression on his face. "Nicholas, I was not sure if you would come," he stated and closed the book he held in his hand.

"I'm here," Nick affirmed.

"I see that you brought your sword. Do you wish to proceed immediately to the duel or would you prefer a conversation over a drink first?"

"I want to know who Elena was," Nick demanded.

"Very well." Lacroix waved his hand at the leather couch, an invitation to take a seat. He placed his book on a desk and retrieved two goblets and a crystal decanter filled with a red fluid.

Nick declined the offered drink and watched as Lacroix poured a glass for himself after joining him on the couch. He could smell the aroma of what would most likely be an excellent vintage.

"I first met Elena in Athens, near the end of the 5th century. She was working as a spy against Rome's occupation of Greece. Her mode of action was to seduce men of rank and pass on the knowledge she gained from their blood when she drained them. That didn't work with me of course. I convinced her to work for me instead."

"How?"

"By granting her certain favours without satisfying her completely."

He knew that game only too well. Lacroix was an expert at it. He would go on for hours arousing him, yet leaving him wanting for more before arousing him anew. Eventually the satisfaction would be incomparable to anything he had experienced before. But to never grant that satisfaction at all? Nick gasped at the cruelty. "You made her dependent on you, and then you used her."

"As she had intended to use me," Lacroix shrugged.

"You never loved her?"

"I certainly enjoyed her attentions. She was rather skilled. There was some sort of common ground between us because she was as ruthless as I when it came to getting what we wanted. But that was all. It's hardly my fault that she fell in love with me."

"That's debatable," Nick mumbled. At the same time he felt oddly euphoric that Lacroix had satisfied him in ways that no other lover ever had. Would he receive that same satisfaction now or would Lacroix leave him wanting? He could only be sure if he got a taste of his blood. He stood and picked up his sword. "I want to know for certain."

"You don't believe me?" Lacroix said, amused. "Very well, if that is what you wish." He walked to a corner and retrieved a sword similar to Nick's. He placed it on the table and began to open the buttons of his shirt. After slipping it from his shoulders he draped it neatly over a chair and picked up his sword.

Nick stared at the immortal body he knew intimately. He remembered each area of skin and what the reaction would be if touched by hand or lips or tongue.

"Well?" Lacroix raised his eyebrow, pulling Nick out of his reverie.

Quickly Nick pulled his shirt over his head.

"I believe the hallway might be best suited," Lacroix suggested and preceded his son.

They took their positions opposite each other, raised their swords in salute and began to fence. Nick was aiming for Lacroix's shoulder, a location from where he could easily move to his neck, but so far the elder had parried all his attempts at piercing his skin. As he was making another move, Lacroix anticipated it again, but this time Lacroix moved his own sword in a quick motion upwards, piercing Nick's shoulder instead.

Surprised, Nick dropped his sword. This was not the outcome he had planned or expected.

"You cannot always win, Nicholas," Lacroix pointed out and smiling, approached to take his prize.

Nick stood stiffly and closed his eyes. He felt hands on his back, steadying him, while soft lips closed over the wound at his shoulder blade and pulled out his blood. Nick moaned inadvertently at the erotic sensation.

When the flow of blood ceased, Lacroix pulled away. Nick stood in stiff anticipation, still clueless of Lacroix's feelings.

Lacroix regarded him with smoldering eyes. "Oh Nicholas, why do you torture yourself with this incessant longing instead of taking what you desire?"

"Maybe what I desire is no longer there," Nick said softly.

"Is that what you think?"

"It's why I left."

"Your denial is based on an assumption?"

"You never said it. The only indication of how you felt about me was in your blood. I couldn't bear the thought of tasting a change in those feelings."

"If I had assured you that they remained unchanged, would you have believed me?"

Nick slowly shook his head.

"That's what I thought. If you wish to know for certain, there is only one way for you to find out. It's what you came here for, is it not?"

Nick hesitated, fearing the consequences of that moment of truth. Yet, he had to know. Closing the distance between them, Nick pulled Lacroix close and slid his fangs cautiously into the other's neck. With the first taste, he knew his fears were unfounded. He shivered at the amount of desire directed at him along with Lacroix's unwavering love. Nick moaned against Lacroix's neck, he tore at the wound, wanting to drown himself in the other's blood. A moment later Lacroix's fangs entered his shoulder. With the circle complete, Nick increased the suction and felt a surge in intensity as well on his shoulder. Without letting go off each other, they sank to the floor and continued to share themselves in passionate devotion.

* * * *

When Nick woke, he found Lacroix's eyes resting on him. A smile played around Nick's lips as he processed what he had learned from Lacroix's blood. "You berate me for not acting on what I desire when you endure the same level of incessant longing yourself?"

Lacroix smirked. "Given your reactions towards me over the last hundred years whenever I tried to force something, I did not believe forcing this particular issue would have advanced my case."

"You're right," Nick conceded. He propped up his head on Lacroix's bare chest and grinned at him. "Now that I'm certain of your unconditional feelings towards me, I'm officially letting you know that I have no intention of changing my habits. I will continue to work for the police, socialize with my mortal friends, and I won't change my diet."

"Nicholas, don't push it," Lacroix warned.

Nick's grin broadened. "I'm not pushing anything. I'm merely stating the facts. If you can accept them, I'll happily spend time with you."

"I don't take kindly to coercion, Nicholas."

"So you say. But it doesn't matter, because whatever I do, and I've done worse, obviously doesn't change how you feel. You can either accept my conditions and be a part of my life or continue longing."

"Careful, Nicholas. The same can be said of you."

"Not quite," Nick turned serious. "I would immediately stop this relationship if you interfere with anything I hold dear. I know that you won't risk that, now that you have me here."

"I do not know if I like this arrangement," Lacroix frowned.

Nick moved towards his lips. "You have eternity to get used to it," he breathed roughly and descended on the sensuous mouth.

FIN