Forever Knight New Directions

This has most definite spoilers for Ashes To Ashes and Last Knight.

**********

"Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy." Tracy Vetter said.

"What?" Nick Knight asked as he slipped into his desk at the 96th precinct.

"Most deranged serial killers of the century." Tracy explained.

"None of the above." Schanke responded. "Betty Ann Mackenzie. Halifax. '74. Bound and gagged the parents while she systematically tortured and then butchered their three little kids. One by one. Forced the parents to watch her do it. Youngest was only eight months old. Then she beat and tortured the parents but didn't kill them. Just left them suffering and bleeding while she took her time and ransacked their house. According to the police reports of the incident, she laughed when they begged for death. She told them the reason she did it was because it was ... fun. Parents committed suicide a few weeks later.

When she was finally caught, they found she had been doing the same thing in just about every major city from Vancouver to Prince Edward. Before it was over, they had pinned at least eleven murders and tortures on her"

"That's sick."

"So are the people who do things like that." Schanke said softly.

"What happened to her?"

"Copped an insanity plea. Some tree hugging bleeding hearts convinced the judge not to throw the book at her. That she could be rehabilitated. She'll spend the rest of her meaningless life ensconced in a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane. She's alive while the poor victims that she tortured are dead."

The phone rang. "Homicide. Knight." Nick said.

"There's a corpse at the Raven." A female voice said. The next second, there was the sound of a dial tone.

**********

She watched from the shadows as the man and the woman left the Raven. She memorized their faces. They must have spent the day there. With him. That meant that they were his friends. They would be the first.

A few minutes later, Lucien LaCroix walked across the empty main room. In a few hours though, the place would be overflowing with mortals and immortals alike. He stopped several times and scanned the area. He knew someone ... or something ... was there, but even with his enhanced senses he could not detect anything out of the ordinary. He went to the backbar, stopping several more times. He opened the refrigerator to put the bottles of blood and beer he had brought from the basement into it. He turned away, his face paler than usual. He swallowed several times as his stomach threatened to expel its contents. There, crammed into the fridge, was the headless body of a man.

On the floor beside the refrigerator was a large cardboard box. He put it on the bar and opened it. Staring back at him, was the head that belonged to the body. On top of it was an ebony cameo necklace with the ivory bas relief carving of a young teenager. He recognized it immediately. It was hers. It was Divia's.

**********

Schanke paced in front of the vampire seated before him. Tracy sat across the interrogation table from him. A tape recorder sat in the middle of the table. Nick stood behind his 'father' and Captain Joe Reese leaned against the far wall.

"... And you have no idea how the corpse got in your fridge." Schanke asked.

"As I said before, I went for a stroll shortly after sunset. I can only assume that's when it was put in there." LaCroix smirked. He was enjoying watching everybody squirm. Because there were other mortals in the room, Nicholas and Don Schanke had to play the scene as though LaCroix was a mortal as well.

"And you have no idea who the deceased is?" Nick asked.

"None whatsoever, Detective Knight."

"You mean to tell me that someone just slipped into your club and stuffed a decapitated corpse into your beer fridge ... just for the hell of it?" Reese asked. He had taken an instant dislike to the man seated at the table the minute he saw him. So far, nothing had happened to change his mind.

"I believe that discovering a motive is . your job." The master vampire said with a sinister smile.

"Then I suggest you call a lawyer. The charge is murder one."

LaCroix laughed softly. "I assume you have incontrovertible evidence."

Reese stared at the master vampire for several long seconds. As much as he hated to admit it, he was right. Everything against him so far was purely circumstantial. And even that was tenuous. "I want him held ... as a material witness." He said as he stalked out of the room.

"He may not be guilty of this." Reese confided to Tracy as two uniformed officers led LaCroix out of the interrogation room. "But he sure as hell is guilty of something."

**********

In the holding area, Officer Murphy shook his head. The new prisoner was in for a rough time of it. Lucien LaCroix looked like the type who could possibly take care of himself pretty well in a fair fight, but he was a celebrity after all. According to the boys upstairs, he was The Nightcrawler. These prisoners did not fight fair. Especially when it came to celebrities. They were members of a motorcycle gang that had been brought in for drunk and disorderly conduct. They had trashed a bar ... literally. It took two squads to subdue them and bring them in. He shook his head as he walked back to his desk. He pitied the man, but there was very little he could do to forestall the inevitable. Only if there was a direct threat to the man's life would he go into the cell. And then only with a SWAT team as backup.

"Hey! Pretty Boy!" 'Grotto' McCabe said as he approached the new prisoner. "What you got for me." He slapped one beefy fist into the other one. "You're gonna give me hours of real fun." He said menacingly. He grinned, showing two rows of tobacco stained teeth. There was a gold cap on one of his front teeth and his greasy beard had not been trimmed in a long time. It matched his hair. Tattoos covered most of the exposed skin of his body.

Lucien LaCroix eyed the large muscular man before him. Slowly he let his eyes yellow. Grotto's eyes widened and he took a step back. A depraved grin curled the vampire's lips, revealing two sharp fangs. "A better question should be, what have . you ... got for me?" He hissed softly. As the color emptied from his face, Grotto backpedaled to the other side of the cell. The rest of the prisoners followed him.

**********

Vachon hurried to the Raven. Tracy had asked him some very disconcerting questions about vampires a few nights before and he wanted to consult with some of the other vampires in the Community before he answered them. He didn't want to do or say anything that would bring down the wrath of the Enforcers ... or of LaCroix. He wasn't sure which he feared more.

As he passed the alley, he heard the sound of someone crying. He went in and saw a young teenage girl crouched on the ground, sobbing pitifully. "Hey. You all right?" He asked as he approached the weeping figure. "Did someone hurt you?"

As he placed his hand on her shoulder, she grabbed his wrist and twisted it painfully. He could hear as well as feel the bones breaking. "Yes." She said, evil dripping from her voice. "Lucius hurt me. My father. My son." She looked at him with eyes that belied her youth. "He betrayed me. Even after ... I ... raised him from the ashes of Pompeii. He will pay for his sins." She grabbed his shirt and cuffed him repeatedly across the face and chest, her long fingernails gouging deep scratches into his flesh. Fighting the terror that flooded into him, Vachon tried to back away, but she was much too powerful. Suddenly, her eyes yellowed and she viciously sank her fangs into his neck.

Seconds later, a shrieking Javier Vachon was alone in the alley.

**********

"Well, guys." Schanke said as he came into the morgue where Dr. Natalie Lambert was performing the autopsy on the victim from the Raven. "We got an ID on our headless John Doe here. Egyptian police made him as Hamid Ka- Ram. He and his brother Hashim are ... or rather were ... get this ... grave robbers, of all things. Seems they were sacking the tomb of this Egyptian priest named Raoh-Hotep in the Valley of the Kings yesterday. The brother lost contact with Hamid while he was opening the sarcophagus in one of the lower crypts. When he went down to investigate, Hamed was gone and the sarcophagus was empty. There was fresh blood all over the place, but no bodies."

"But how did he get from Egypt to the Raven's refrigerator in less than twenty four hours?" Nat asked.

"You tell me and we'll all know." Nick replied.

"Well, I guess that pretty much clears LaCroix." Schanke said. "I'll go and tell Reese to let him go."

**********

The policeman arrived in the holding area with the release warrant for Lucien LaCroix. LaCroix smugly sat on a chair nearest the door. All of the other prisoners were crouched against the wall on the other side of the cell.

"They've been that way all day." Officer Murphy said. "I don't know what he said or what he did to them, but he's got them scared out of their wits. Especially Grotto." He pointed to the leader, who was whimpering incoherently. At that moment he was holding a blanket against the side of his head and slowly stroking it. The area of his dirty jeans around his fly was damp.

Murphy thought for a second. "You know, he'd be a great one to have on riot control." He mused as he opened the cell. As LaCroix stepped out, there was a collective sigh of relief from everyone else in the cell. And from the cells on either side.

**********

Urs came into the abandoned church that was the home of her master, Javier Vachon. It was unusually dark. Only one small candle flickered in the room. "Vachon? Javier? I know you're here." She called timidly.

Suddenly, Vachon was on her. He shoved her into the wall and held her there. "Vachon!" She cried. "What's wrong with you?" He gripped her even tighter. "Quit that. You're hurting me!" It took all her strength to push him away.

"Make them stop. I can't stand it!" He ranted, his eyes wild and his fangs fully descended. "The killing ... the women ... the children ... especially the children." He flung himself against a pillar and then into a chair. "The pain ... The pleasure ... Make it stop!" He begged. "Make it stop!"

"Who did this to you?" Urs said. He was frightening her with his behavior. She held his face firmly in her hands. His scratches and the fang marks in his neck were still bleeding freely.

"She did it!" He gasped. "So small. So evil." He wrenched himself from Urs's grasp and sank to the floor. "Get out. Now. While you can. Get out before you are staked and scorched in the sun."

Frightened beyond words, Urs turned and ran out of the church. She had never seen Vachon like this. In fact, she had never seen anyone like this.

**********

"Homicide. Vetter." Tracy said into the receiver.

"I know who did this." Vachon gasped. "I know why the body was at the Raven." There was a slight pause and then he cried out in agony from his injuries.

Tracy gasped as he heard the screams from the other end of the line. She grabbed her purse and headed for the door.

**********

"The cruelest evil is not some wretched entity manifested in cloven hooves and a leering goat's head." The Nightcrawler whispered seductively into the microphone. "The child, its soft cries ... the sound of all that should be cherished and protected. The father takes the child into his heart in pure love. Unaware." He stared at the cameo brooch in his hands. Her brooch. "The child's innocence and purity knows no bounds, and neither does its cruelty when evil comes upon its soul." The phone line blinked indicating an incoming call. LaCroix pushed the speaker button to put the call on the air.

"Hello, Lucius. It's been a very long time." The caller, a young woman said.

"Shouldn't all good little girls be in bed at this time?" The Nightcrawler replied sarcastically.

"I'm not that kind of girl. But then, you know that. Do you know how it feels to be betrayed by your own child? To be left alone in darkness?" She laughed evilly. "You will ... and soon. When those you love die one by one. Then you will understand what it feels like to be betrayed. And alone." The dial tone sounded. It was a good thing that this was radio so that no one could see the look of pain and trepidation that covered the master vampire's countenance. With a great deal of difficulty, he shook off the feelings.

**********

The frantic ringing of the security buzzer interrupted Nick's concentration on his 'father's' broadcast. He turned the radio off and went to the intercom unit.

"Nick! It's Urs!" The female voice on the ground floor of the loft said, panic in her voice. "I have to talk to you. Now!"

He pushed the button to send the elevator down.

When the elevator returned to the loft, Nick opened it to find Urs's lifeless body, battered and bleeding, lying on the floor. No one else was in the lift. At least no one else was in there now.

**********

Tracy hurried into the abandoned church. Vachon had frightened her with his phone call and she had to find out what was wrong. She spotted the vampire partially hidden behind the chair against the far wall, huddled in the fetal position. He shrank back from her as she touched his shoulder. His eyes were wild and glassy and rivers of blood still freely flowed from his wounds.

"You have to get out of here ... now." He said in almost a trance.

"Who did this to you? Tracy asked. "You said that you knew who the murder was. Talk to me, Vachon. Who did this?" She started to hold him when he suddenly pushed her away from him.

Abruptly, his eyes turned golden and his fangs became fully distended. "Your thoughts are my thoughts." He growled at the terrified detective. A myriad of images swirled through his mind. The tomb of Raoh-Hotep. A scythe. A girl screaming. The same girl from the alley. The heavy stone lid being placed on the coffin. Then it was opened again. A man screaming out as his head was chopped off.

Forcefully, he shoved her away from him. As suddenly as he had become aggressive, he was terrified and apprehensive once again.

Carefully, Tracy embraced him. He held on to her as though for dear life. "It will be all right." She said as she slowly stroked his sweat soaked hair. "It's okay. Your wounds will heal."

"No they won't." He said softly, his voice quivering. "I'm not healing. I'm dying."

**********

Nat pulled the sheet over Urs's corpse. " ... As to what killed her. I don't know." She said to Nick and Schanke.

"Could it be whatever killed Ka-Ram?" Schanke asked.

"That's a definite possibility."

"But why didn't she regenerate. I mean vampires can't be killed, except by staking, sunlight, fire or decapitation. None of that happened to Urs. She just ... died." Nick said. There was a definite undercurrent of fear in his voice.

"I know this may sound ridiculous, but could we be dealing with some new kind of a vampire?"

The conversation between the Nightcrawler and his mysterious caller replayed in Nick's mind. " ... Or a very old one." He said flatly.

**********

The Raven was nearly deserted as Nick strode to his master. Many of the vampires had heard about the corpse and the telephone call to the Nightcrawler, and had decided that the more distance between them and the Raven, the better. "Who is she?" He growled in the master vampire's ear. "The girl, LaCroix. Who is she and what is she to you?" The anger fairly burned from the detective's eyes.

"She ... she is something I have never told you about. Something that is too painful for me to discuss. With anyone."

"Urs is dead, LaCroix. The girl. The one that phoned you. She did it, didn't she? She said that you go back a long way. Did you bring her across?"

"You were listening to the show. I'm flattered." LaCroix laughed sinisterly. "Do you see what my ... little friend is doing? One by one my friends are dying and soon I will be as alone and desolate as I left her."

"She's doing this because you brought her across?"

He let out a small laugh and shook his head slowly. "No. I did not bring her across. She is the one who brought me across. You see, Divia is my daughter. My mortal daughter. She is also my master. She saved me from the fires of Vesuvius. Spared me the fate of thousands. She gave me eternal life."

"If she saved you then, why is she doing this to you now?"

"I thought her dead some twenty years after Pompeii. Along with the guilt for something I dared not share. She was evil incarnate. She told me that her master, Raoh-Hotep said that hers was the purest evil he had ever encountered. He wanted her to be his disciple. To control her evil. She killed him for it. She said she would not be subject to anyone's control. She wanted me to be just like her. To stay beside her throughout eternity wrecking destruction and devastation everywhere we went. Then she told me to make love to her. She was my DAUGHTER! While I have done many things I am not wholly proud of, I could not do as she wanted. I could not commit incest. I had no choice. I could not allow her to continue."

He took a long drink of the dark red liquid in the glass. "What do you say to a man who kills his own daughter? And I did just that. I decapitated her with a scythe. I put her remains in the sarcophagus in the tomb. The same tomb that the grave robbers were looting. The Ankh on the cover acted on her in the same manner as the crucifix acts on us. Apparently the grave robber must have broken the seals on the sarcophagus ... and paid for it with his life."

"You had no choice but to do what you did."

"I had EVERY choice!" He sneered. "I could have done as Divia asked."

"And despised yourself for it."

"No more than I do now. As a General in the Emperor's army I visited unspeakable horrors on my enemies. I have seen terror and evil in unthinkable terms, yet there was an evil in my own child that I could not bear to look upon ... An evil she inherited from me ... Magnified a thousand times by the one who brought her across." He heaved a deep sigh. " ... My beautiful daughter ... " He whispered plaintively.

"How did she survive all these years?"

"Perhaps the evil in the tomb sustained her. I don't know. Does it really matter?"

"Do you think she'll come after you?"

"Eventually. But not for some time yet. There is more killing to be done after all. First, she will destroy everyone who is close to me. I will be her final revenge."

Nick put his hand on the elder vampire's shoulder. "If you need me ... " He whispered.

"Thank you, Nicholas." LaCroix put his hand on top of his son's. For a brief second, Nick thought he saw fear in the old General's eyes ... and there was something else there as well ... Love? ... Then the stoic mask of indifference slammed back into place.

**********

Vachon held the stake to Tracy. "You have to do it. You have to kill me." He gasped. His eyes were heavily flecked with gold and wild with pain and terror. Almost twenty four hours had passed since the attack. The scratches and bite marks on his body had not even begun to heal. Tracy had spent the day with him, watching as he fitfully attempted to sleep. It was useless. Every time he closed his eyes, the terrible visions flooded into his fevered brain and he'd wake up screaming. Somehow, he wasn't sure how, he had managed to keep her at arm's length. With each passing minute though, it was becoming harder and harder to maintain control.

"I can't do it." Tracy said in a tiny voice. Tears welled just beyond her eyes. "Don't ask me to."

"You MUST do it. I'll die anyway. At least this way, I won't suffer ... at least not too much." Slowly, he knelt before her and bared his chest. There was a look of hurt pleading in his eyes. He placed the tip against his ribcage. " Bury it deep, Trace. It has to go right through my heart." He gasped.

"No." She turned away. "I can't."

Suddenly, Vachon screamed her name, and as she turned to face him, he threw himself at her, impaling himself on the stake. His body stiffened and look of excruciating pain showed on his face as the wooden shaft drove itself through his body. Slowly his body relaxed. Gently, she lowered him to the floor and cradled him in her arms.

"Tracy ... " He gasped. He delicately traced her cheek with his hand. Somehow he managed a weak smile. "Wish me luck, Querida ... I'll need it." His face took on a calm and peaceful look as his body went limp.

Tracy carefully closed his unseeing eyes. She buried her face in his blood stained neck and sobbed uncontrollably.

**********

Reese walked through the precinct with Nick and Schanke beside him. "Are you trying to tell me that Lucien LaCroix doesn't even exist?" He asked.

"Not to us he doesn't." Schanke replied. "We checked him out six ways from Sunday. Nothing. He's clean. So is his staff. They've all been accounted for." Because most of them were asleep in the underground rooms at the time.

"So what do we do now?" Reese sighed loudly. "Just shrug our shoulders and put it down to ghosts or maybe aliens? C'mon, guys. The answers have got to be out there somewhere."

"Maybe they're just not within our jurisdiction." Nick said sadly. He could not reveal what he knew to his Captain. It would not be possible to tell the Captain that their chief suspect and all those who worked at the Raven were blood drinking creatures of the night. "By the way, where's Tracy?" He looked at her empty desk.

"She didn't tell you?" Reese said. "Of course not. After all you three are just partners. She called in a few minutes ago. Said something about having to be with a snitch." He turned and walked into his office.

Nick stared at Schanke. Seconds later, they were gone from the precinct.

**********

They stood behind a column in the old church. Nick put his hand on Schanke's chest and motioned for him to be silent.

In the middle of the floor, Tracy knelt beside the body of Javier Vachon. Her eyes were puffy and her face was streaked with tears and dust. "I never got to tell you how I felt about you ... " Her voiced was hoarse and scratchy. " ... Or then again, maybe you knew anyway ... I hope you did."

Anguish swept over Nick's face as he watched the scene playing in front of him.

Tracy sniffed loudly as she fought back the tears. "You changed me. You opened my eyes to things I never knew existed. You treated me like ... like a woman, and not some little girl. And I'll always ... " Her voice cracked as the tears began to flow once more. She wiped her face with the back of her hand, spreading more streaks of teary dust. " ... I'll always love you for that." She took several deep breaths to try to bring herself under control. "I'll take you to Screed. I know you'd want to be with your friend." She laid her head on his chest and wept openly once more.

Unable to watch any more, Schanke motioned for his partner to leave.

"You gotta tell her, Nick." Schanke said as soon as they left the building. "She needs somebody right now. She needs you."

"I ... I can't." Nick said. He looked at his partner and his eyes were flecked with gold and the tips of his fangs were evident. "Maybe it's better this way. Maybe if she thinks that Vachon was the last of the vampires in Toronto, she won't try to go looking for any others. Then the Enforcers and the rest of the Community will probably leave her alone. At least she'll be free to live the life she was meant to live and not be dogged by the evil and the corruption that is associated with us." Thoughts of Natalie crept unbidden into his mind. He heaved a heavy sigh. "Besides, if Divia has her way, whether Tracy knows about me or not may soon become a moot question."

**********

" ... And there wasn't anything I could do for her." Nick said to Natalie. He had gone to the morgue as soon as he was able. Thankfully, Schanke had left him alone to give Nat the news. "I couldn't tell her about me. She doesn't need that kind of emotional baggage. Not at this time. And now she has no one she can talk to."

"And I may be in that same predicament in the very near future." Her eyes filled with sadness. Divia has killed at least two vampires already. Will Nick be next? "I know I can always go to Schanke, but he's a man. Sometimes the only one you can really bare your soul to is another woman. Face it, Nick. You've got a two thousand year old little girl who is killing anyone who is even close to her daddy. And there's no one closer to her daddy than you are."

Nick ran his thumb down her cheek. He had the strange feeling that this might be the last time he'd see her. Maybe the last time he'd see anyone. He hoped she could not hear his heart breaking. He knew he could hear it. "Don't worry, Nat." He pasted on a false smile. "I'll watch my back." He kissed her gently on the forehead as he slipped through the morgue door.

**********

He punched in the access code and stepped into the lift. Something was wrong. Very wrong. He felt a wave of terror every time the creaky elevator lurched. As though something ... or someone was ready to attack him at any minute. It was no better as he opened the door to the loft. In fact, the feeling was even more intense in there. He threw his coat on a chair and quickly walked into the darkened living room area. Suddenly, the fireplace ignited. He looked around. He knew what was wrong. "Divia." He said, barely above a whisper.

She slowly stepped out from behind the artist's easel. He could feel her evil from across the room. From her appearance, she looked like she should be no more that fifteen or sixteen, not the ancient that she was. When she smiled, it made Nick's skin crawl. "He told you about me." She said. Her voice had a certain musical lilt to it that belied her true nature. "Good. Then you know why I'm here."

"You're going to kill me." It wasn't a question.

"Don't take it personally. You are LaCroix's son after all. His favorite." She paused for a second. "Your death will be the final blow. It will be worse for if you try to fight me, but that's up to you." Her eyes glowed a bright yellow green. "Ready?"

The next instant she was in front of him. Just as quickly, she was at his back. He turned to face her, and was greeted by a sharp slap and the raking of her fingernails across his face that left blood running into his eyes from the gashes across his forehead. She easily tossed him to the floor and stood above him. As he slowly got to his knees, she hissed through the longest fangs he had ever seen. He felt ribs snap as her boot drove into his side. The force of the blow sent him stumbling into the burning fireplace. He screamed in pain and staggered around the loft as he tried to remove his flaming jacket. Her eyes turned red as she pulled him to her and brutally sank her fangs into his neck. She threw him to the floor and, with the characteristic whoosh of air, she was gone.

Nick lay on the canvas that he had painted, his head centered on the bright orange and yellow depiction of the sun. His eyes were open, but he saw nothing.

**********

In the deserted Raven, Lucien LaCroix sat sipping from a crystal goblet. He had a fairly good idea what had happened at the loft. He had felt his son's pain through the link between them. Now, that bond was strangely silent. He took a deep breath. He did not even want to think what that meant. All he knew was that he was next.

He felt her before he saw her. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you had grown ... my dear." He said the last words with a sad sarcasm.

"Through the centuries, I've thought a lot about you ... Father." Divia stepped out of the shadows.

Shock registered on LaCroix's face. He knew this was going to happen, but now that Divia was actually here, he was disturbed to find that he was afraid of her.

She slowly paced the room. Her steps were almost stalking. "I never imagined that you'd ever rise to the lofty position of ... innkeeper." She taunted. "Then again, in my brief taste of freedom, I've found that nothing in this world is as I expected ... or dreamed it would be." She smiled a threatening smile.

"Why are you here, Divia? To gloat?" He said in a small voice, so unlike him.

"Why not." She said as she casually leaned against one of the decorative columns. "After all, I've won. You're alone."

A cold fear enveloped him.

"Now maybe you will know what it was like for me." She continued "The centuries I expected to spend with you." Her voice became harder with each word. "Loving you ... Caring for you ... were spent instead in darkness and isolation." In an instant she was beside him. "You can't begin to imagine the hatred I have for you." She spat the words at him. Her loathing was almost a living thing. He stood and tried to back away from her, but she continued to press him. "How could you have done that to me ... Father." In the next instant, she flung him across the dance floor. "I LOVED you!" She sneered.

"You are a sick depraved little girl." La Croix growled as he got to his knees. "I always thought evil was finite until you showed me otherwise. Even I ... have my limits, Divia."

"Then you are as weak as those you prey upon." She threw him into the bar. He gasped in pain as the bar rail snapped several ribs. His head collided with a half empty bottle and blood flowed freely from the cut.

She pulled him roughly around and snapped his head toward her. Her fingers tightened around his throat until he could barely breathe. "Say you're sorry!" She demanded.

"You should ... have stayed ... dead." He wheezed.

"You're in pain." She mocked. "You don't know how long I have wanted to see that."

"Then your wish has come true." He gasped. "Now all that remains is for you to kill me."

She violently pulled her hand from his throat, digging her nails into its soft flesh. She threw him back to the bar. Another wave of pain enveloped him as the previously fractured ribs drove into his lung. He coughed and a trickle of frothy blood ran down his chin.

"And deny you all that pain and loneliness." She scoffed. "No. You must exist forever with the knowledge that you have destroyed everyone who was dear to you. Your friends ... your lover ... your daughter, mother ... and now even ... your son."

A look of pure terror came over his face as her words sank in. No. It couldn't be. He can't be ... "What do you mean?" He asked, half knowing the answer.

"Nicholas. I believe that was his name. One always recognizes family. He ... was ... your favorite ... wasn't he?"

With a growl of frustration, he launched himself at her. He felt the bones splinter as she grabbed his fist and twisted it roughly. "Your son is DEAD!" She gloated. "How does that make you feel, father. Tell Me How That Feels!" Still holding on to his broken hand, she again raked his face with her other nails. She released him and he fell to the floor, gasping in pain.

"I won't let you leave here, Divia." He panted as he slowly, painfully pulled himself to his knees. "There's too much misery and evil in the world already."

"Oh, but there is already room for more." She was sitting on the bar and as he staggered toward her, she backhanded him again, opening even more streaks of blood on his face. He fell to the floor once again. This time, he didn't even try to get up.

Divia pulled him roughly to his feet. "Are you gong to try and stop me, General?" Her eyes were starting to glow. "As they say, You and whose army." She threw him into the mirror on the backbar. It shattered into thousands of sharp pieces. She pressed his throat against the jagged edge.

"Poor father. Does it hurt?" She jerked his head back and pressed it even harder against the shards of glass. He could feel the blood flowing from the wound. "TELL ME YOU'RE SORRY!" She pushed harder. He could feel the ragged surface cutting into his trachea. "TELL ME YOU LOVE ME!" She pushed again. "SAY IT!"

"If you kill me." He groaned hoarsely. "My suffering will be over."

Once more, she threw her father to the floor. "That's not exactly true." She observed smugly. "Come to think of it, eternal damnation would be a fitting sentence for your crimes." She pulled a scythe out of seemingly nowhere. "Do you remember this ... Father." She ran her fingers across the razor sharp edge.

Painfully, he pulled himself once more to his knees. "When we were mortals, I loved you more than the gods. Now, though, how could anyone love something as grotesque as ... YOU!"

With a look of hate and disgust, she raised the sickle above her head. LaCroix waited for the final blow. Suddenly, Divia stopped. A look of pain and panic crossed her face. She looked down. A wooden stake had been driven through her back and the bloody end protruded from her chest. Slowly, she turned and then sank to the floor.

Nicholas stood behind her, wavering noticeably. Blood still seeped from the injuries that Divia had inflicted on him earlier. He helped LaCroix to his feet and held him against the bar for support.

"Father ... " Divia gasped plaintively.

LaCroix started toward her, but Nicholas held him back.

"Don't let me die." She moaned. "Father ... "

"Divia!" LaCroix called as he attempted to go to her once more.

"No!" Nicholas held him tightly.

With a strangled cry, Divia closed her eyes. Her tiny body went limp.

"N - O - O- O ! - ! - !" Lucien LaCroix shouted as his mortal daughter breathed her last. The pain and anguish flowed freely from him. Nicholas put his hand to his father's shoulder, but Lucien LaCroix only stood impassively. He could not however, stop the tears that flowed freely down his cheeks.

**********

The full moon shown brightly on the linen wrapped body laying on the top of the junked car. A fire burned in a trash barrel nearby.

"They say that there is no greater sorrow for a parent than to outlive his child." LaCroix said as he gently readjusted the wrappings on Divia's shroud. He turned to the man standing beside him. "I never thought I'd be saying this, Nicholas, but for once I am glad for your insistent search for humanity. Perhaps your innate goodness was all that was needed to defeat Divia's evil."

"Urs and Vachon were young. They did not know how to deal with the evil." Nicholas took a deep breath. "I'm sorry for your loss, LaCroix."

"Thank you." The elder vampire whispered. "Urs's body?" He asked.

"Natalie is taking care of that."

"Vachon?"

"Tracy buried him next to Screed ... She knows what they were."

"Is that going to present a problem?" LaCroix inquired.

Nicholas moved to the other side of his 'father'. "Vachon said that she is a resister. But then ... I've seen you work around that." Images of Valentine's Day a year ago flashed briefly through his mind.

"What would you like her to remember." LaCroix asked.

"That Vachon was a friend. A vampire whose time had come to move on. Her knowledge of our existence was Vachon's gift to her. I cannot ... I will not take that from her."

"As you wish. I will stay with Divia until her body has been consumed and then I will scatter her ashes to the winds. Perhaps ... I may even say a prayer."

Nicholas put his hand on his father's shoulder. He took a deep breath. "Good night, LaCroix."

LaCroix placed his hand on his son's "Good night, Nicholas." He said sadly.

After he had walked several paces through the junkyard, Nick turned to face the grieving vampire. He watched as LaCroix took a piece of wood from the pile and lit it from the barrel. He held the torch to the gasoline soaked linen until it became an inferno.

**********

Schanke and Nick stood beside the mound of newly turned earth in the lakefront park

"It shouldn't have ended this way." Nick said as he picked up a handful of dirt and let it sift through his fingers. "He was good to Tracy and I believe that he loved her. I know now that she loved him very much. I'm going to miss him. He was also one hell of a good guitar player."

"That's why you've got to tell her about you. She has a right to know. I've been watching her these past months. She's the type who has to have someone to confide in. If she tries to keep all of this inside her, she's going to crack right down the middle."

"No she won't. LaCroix is going to work with her so that she will have nothing but pleasant memories of him. When he's done, she won't remember that he's dead or that she killed him. She'll just believe that his time had come and that he moved on."

"That would be best."

Schanke and Nick both jumped at LaCroix's voice.

"I, too thought I would pay my respects to the Spaniard." He bent down to the grave. Suddenly, he cocked his head to one side. "Nicholas. Do you not feel it?"

"Feel what?"

"Reach out with your senses. It is weak and fragile, but it is there nonetheless."

Nick cast his senses to the area around him. Yes. LaCroix was right. I do feel it. As though it was in the far distance, he picked up the weak vibration of another vampire.

He dropped to his knees and began clawing at the grave.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Schanke asked as LaCroix knelt beside Nick and they began pulling handfuls of dirt out of the gravesite.

"Vachon!" Nick said excitedly. "He's alive. I don't know how it's possible, but he is. I felt him! He's alive!"

Schanke ran to the car and returned a few minutes later with a shovel that Nick kept in the police emergency kit. He too began scooping out the soil from the shallow tomb.

Less than a half hour later, the three pulled Vachon's grime covered body to the grass. LaCroix took a thin silver flask from his coat and slowly poured some of the contents into the seemingly dead vampire's mouth. "For emergencies." He replied to the unasked question.

The Spaniard choked a few times, and then grabbed the vial from LaCroix and greedily emptied it. "More!" He demanded.

LaCroix reached into his jacket and pulled out a small pocket knife. He handed it to Nick. "He is your responsibility, Nicholas. You take it from here." A second later, he was gone.

Schanke watched in fascination as his partner sliced open his wrist and held it to Vachon's mouth.

**********

Tracy pulled the last of the tissues from the box and blew her nose. She threw the tissue into the overflowing wastebasket at the edge of the couch. It merely bounced off and landed among the rest of the crumpled tissues that littered the floor. It had been three days. She had not slept. She had not eaten. She had done nothing but cry the whole time. She had called in sick. It was not a lie. She was sick. Heart sick. Every time she thought there was nothing left, the tears would start again, each time more despondent than before. She clutched the picture to her chest. It was a framed publicity still that Vachon had taken three months ago. He looked back at her from the photo with that sad lost look that always melted her heart. She fingered the words written across it. 'Querida. Todo mi Corazon. Para siempre.' (Loved one. All My Heart. Forever.)

She got up and went to the kitchen. Maybe another cup of coffee would help. Maybe some Irish Coffee this time. She thought as she poured the steaming coffee from the pot. She opened a small bottle of Canadian Club that she had gotten as a Christmas gift from she didn't remember who several years ago, and poured a generous amount into the black liquid. She took a long sip. It scalded as it went down her throat, but in a few minutes, the liquor began to have its effect. She could feel herself calming.

There was a tapping sound from behind her. She stopped and listened. There it is again. Impossible. There was only a window behind her. The apartment was four stories up and there was no fire escape on this side of the building. She shook her head.

The tapping continued. Slowly, she turned. Her eyes became as large as saucers. What she saw was beyond her belief. It can't be. With trembling hands, she lifted the steaming cup to her lips and gulped it in one swallow. As she tilted her head back to catch the last drops of the alcohol laced brew, the blood drained from her face and she kept falling backward. Her head hit the floor with a resounding thump.

Javier Vachon crouched on the windowsill. They had stopped at the church for a change of clothes and a long hot shower, and then came here. He tried to open the window as he usually did when he wanted entrance to Tracy's apartment. She usually left it unlocked for him, but apparently she had locked it after he 'died'. Grimacing in anticipation of the forthcoming pain, he punched his fist through the glass. Seconds later, he and Nick were inside the apartment. Vachon ran to the unconscious woman. He knelt beside her and gently cradled her head in his lap. "I'm sorry, Tracy." He whispered. "I didn't mean to scare you like that."

Slowly she opened her eyes. "Sorry? ... Scare me?" Tracy sputtered as the room continued to spin around her. "I'll show you sorry!" She said in a loud voice tinged with anger. "If you EVER do that to me again, I'll ... I'll ... " She closed her eyes again. "Oh, No!" She sobbed. "Now I'm hallucinating."

"No, Querida. You are not hallucinating." Javier said as he planted butterfly kisses on her forehead. "I'm really here."

"But you died. I was there. I killed you." She gasped.

"The stake missed my heart by a coupla centimeters. That's as good as a mile. Then you pulled it out before you buried me. There's an old wives tale that says that certain kinds of mudpacks can draw out poisons. Maybe it's true. Maybe the dirt at the lakefront contains just the right mix of chemicals. It's possible that the three days I spent in that ground went a long way to heal me and rid me of Divia's venom."

"But how ... how did you get out?"

"I had a little help." He gestured to Nick who was standing by the sink. "He dug me up."

"Oh, Vachon ... You didn't ... You couldn't ..." She got up and slowly walked over to her partner. She put her hand on his shoulder. "I know things are going to seem a little strange to you for a while." She said sympathetically. "But that's normal ... Well, as normal as things can be right now. Don't worry, though. Vachon will be here to help you through this, and I'll help you too. That's what partners are for, after all."

"Help ... me?" Nick asked, puzzled at his partner's words.

"You've got to understand, Nick. What he did to you, he did out of desperation. You see, he had been buried for three days. You were probably the first person he saw after he ... " She paused as if searching for just the right words. "I know he didn't mean to do it. He probably couldn't control himself. It's the Hunger. Don't blame him ... please?"

Suddenly the lightbulb went on. Desperately trying to keep a straight face, Vachon walked over to Nick and whispered something in his ear. Nick also tried to keep from laughing, but he wasn't able to succeed very well either.

"What are you two grinning about?" Tracy said angrily. "This isn't a laughing matter. Thanks to you, Vachon, Nick's life has been changed forever. At least you could have SOME compassion for your new fledgling." She turned and strode into the living room.

Vachon stared at her wide eyed. "You think ... I ... brought Knight across?"

"Well, didn't you?"

Vachon reared his head and laughed lustily. "That's rich! ... Me ... Bring Nicholas de Brabant Knight across! OH! ... NO!"

Nick put his hand on Tracy's shoulder. He was still giggling. "I think you had better sit down for this." His face became solemn. "You are right in what you are thinking. At least you're half right." He said after she had settled on the couch. "It's true. I am a vampire. But I am not exactly a fledgling. And Vachon did not bring me across. I was born Nicholas de Brabant in the year 1196. I was brought across in 1228 ... "

**********

"Javier Diego Philippe Dos Santos y Vachon!" Tracy shouted. Her eyes were filled with a mix of anger and fascination at the story that the two of them had just told her. "I knew you were keeping things from me, but this ... " She clenched her teeth and grunted loudly. In a flash, she turned to Nick. " ... And as for you ... PARTNER ... " She slapped him resoundingly across the face hard enough to leave a red handprint on his pale cheek. "You could have trusted me ... I ought to stake the both of you right where you are!" She turned back to Vachon. "And this time, I WON'T pull it out!"

"We only wanted to protect you." Vachon said as he furtively eyed the kitchen window. He quickly calculated the distance. If he could make it that far, he had a better than even chance of getting out of this situation with at least his pride intact ... if nothing else.

"PROTECT me? From WHAT?" Angry sparks danced in her eyes.

"The Enforcers. The Community." LaCroix "You were in danger because you knew about me." Vachon said softly. "If you had known about Knight as well, that would have placed you at even more risk. Don't be angry with us, Querida ... Please."

"Damn straight I'm angry! And just what almighty high power appointed the two of YOU as my guardian angels! In case either of you failed to notice, I'm a BIG GIRL now. I can take care of myself. My father tried to protect me, and HE couldn't do a very good job of it. What makes you two think YOU can! You both knew that I knew about vampires. That alone put me in danger. What's the difference if I knew about one vampire ... or two ... OR THE WHOLE FRIGGING COMMUNITY? Whatever the Enforcers ... or anyone else was going to do to me, would it have been any worse, no matter how many vampires I knew about? ... Well, WOULD IT?"

Nick intently studied his shoes. "No. Not really. It's just that ... "

" ... That you didn't trust me with your secret. What do you think I am? Some scatterbrained little AIRHEAD that I'd tell everyone that my partner was a vampire? Just because I'm blonde doesn't make me a BLABBERMOUTH. Did you think I'd take out a full page ad in the Sun?" She spread her hands in front of her as though holding a newspaper. " 'Read All About it! Nicholas B. Knight Is An Eight Hundred Year Old Vampire!' REALLY!"

"No. I didn't keep it from you for that reason. It's just that I've hidden my true self for so long that it's almost second nature."

"And no one else knows, do they." It wasn't a question. "I bet a month's pay that Natalie knows. That's why you two have been pussyfooting around your true feelings for each other. Who else, Nick. Who else knows?"

"Schanke." Nick said softly. "He's the only other one."

"You told HIM and you couldn't tell ME?" The anger returned with a vengeance.

"He found out about it by himself. All I did was confirm it."

"Why now, Nick? Why tell me now?"

Nick began pacing nervously. "The events of the past few days have caused me to rethink a lot of things. I realize now that I was wrong to hide it from you. You have a right to know. I ... I can understand your anger. You were right. I was wrong. If you want a transfer to another department, I will understand ... Or maybe I'll just move on. That probably would be the best for everyone concerned." He said softly, guiltily. "That way nobody would be in any danger because of what I am."

"Transfer? Move on? What are you talking about, Nick? WE ... are PARTNERS. Partners don't bail out on each other. Besides, I thought we were friends, too." Slowly, her anger abated. "I know how much courage it took to tell me what you just told me. You put your own life and security on the line. For me. Now the Enforcers could come after you too." She took several deep breaths. "I guess that means you really do trust me." She raised her left hand and placed her right over her heart. "I swear by all that I hold sacred. I will keep your secret until my dying day ... and even after that."

**********

"Yeah, Tracy." Nick said into the phone. He motioned for Schanke to pick up the phone on his desk. "How are things going?"

"Hey, partner." Don said as he dialed into the conference call. "How's the weather down there in California?"

"California?" Tracy repeated.

"Yeah. California. Los Angeles. You know. Sunshine ... Malibu Beach ... Temperatures in the high seventies ... While we poor slaves up here in the land of the hoseheads are freezing our tails off." Schanke chided.

"I happen to know that you are not freezing your tushes off. I checked the weather reports this morning. The temperature in Toronto is 61 degrees. Hardly freezing." Tracy returned.

"But it's supposed to rain tomorrow. And that still ain't the 81 and sunshine like it is in LaLa land, either."

Well ... I'm not exactly ... " Tracy said. " ... In California."

"Then where are you?" Nick asked. "I know that Vachon took you to the airport with the express intent of putting you on a plane for a two week holiday in sunny Southern California."

"That's true, he did take me to the airport. Then he decided he wanted to visit his birthplace. It sounded like a good idea ... so ..."

"So?" Nick repeated.

"So, at this moment, we're in Madrid."

"WE?" Schanke asked. He already knew the answer.

"Yes, Detective Schanke ... We." Javier Vachon took the phone from Tracy. With his sensitive hearing, he had been keeping track of the call.

Tracy giggled in the background. "Javier! ... Stop that ... "

"VACHON!" Nick demanded. What are you doing?"

"Sorry ... " There was the sound of something like static. "You know how these international calls are." Vachon said. More static. This time it sounded remarkably like someone blowing into the receiver. "We can barely hear you. Gotta go now." More false static, but it did not completely mask the sound of laughter. "We have a lot of ... of exploring to do." Just before the connection was broken, there was the sound of a light slap and Tracy's voice saying: "I'll give you two hours to stop that."

Nick put the receiver on its cradle and picked up his coat. He started for the door.

Where do you think you're going, Partner?" Schanke asked.

"Madrid."

"Oh no you're not. For the record, both of them are over 21. In Vachon's case, WELL over 21."

"That's why I'm going."

**********

Madrid

Tracy put the receiver back on its base. She tried to concentrate on the task of separating the pieces of luggage, but Javier Vachon was busy nuzzling her ear. Very distracting, to say the least. "Javier." She finally said in frustration. "If you don't stop that, I'm never going to get these suitcases straightened out."

"You gave me two hours to stop, Querida, and I intend to use every second of that." He said, gently caressing her chin. "What's the big problem. It's very easy to figure out which is which. The gym bag is mine." He pointed to the six bags sitting by the door. "The rest is yours."

"Very funny. Make yourself useful. Bring me that garment bag and put it on the bed."

I know something else I'd like to put on the bed. Vachon thought as he mentally began undressing her. But I don't want to think of what Knight will do to me if I did. He handed her the bag and turned and picked up another of the suitcases. He held it in front of him to mask the physical reaction to his thoughts.

**********

Gentilio Anderras sat the blue case on the table. This was it. The big payoff. He had given Eduardo Masquillar a briefcase full of designer drugs in exchange for a million dollars in American bills. He opened the case. His face fell. Instead of the money, there was a stack of neatly folded ladies lingerie. He held up a tomato red teddy. Size 10. While it brought erotic thoughts to his mind, lust would not pay his suppliers. Cash would.

He picked up his phone and dialed a number. "Bring me Masquillar." He said to the person on the other end.

**********

Tracy hung the last of the dresses in the closet. "Now. Bring me the blue suitcase." She said to her companion.

Vachon hefted it onto the bed. "What do you have in here, Tracy? Bricks?"

"Of course not, silly. That's just my underwear."

"What kind of underwear do you have that's this heavy." You don't think she has a stainless steel chastity belt in there, do you? "Do you want me to leave the room while you put it away?"

"Why? I'm sure you've seen skivvies before." She asked as she snapped the cover. "Besides, there's something in here that I want to show you. I bought it during our layover at Heathrow." Her eyes popped as she stared at her suitcase. "I ... I think you should see this." She stammered.

**********

"I don't know where the money is." Eduardo Masquillar said. Blood covered his face and almost masked the bruises. "The last I saw of it was at the Holiday Inn in Madrid when I registered there. I must have picked up the wrong suitcase. I swear. That's the truth."

"Who else was there?" Anderras said. One of his 'associates' helped him remember with a fist across the cheek.

"A woman and a man were registering there too. Americans, I think."

"Names?" Another 'assist'.

"Vester ... Veller ... something like that."

**********

"See what?" Vachon said as he came to her. "Madre de Dios!" He gasped. "What are you doing with ... that?" He picked up one of the packs and thumbed through it. It was a packet of American one hundred dollar bills. The suitcase was filled with them. He picked up another pack. As near as he could tell the bills were randomly numbered. Untraceable.

"That's what I want to know. That's supposed to be my underwear. Now what do I do? I can't go for two weeks wearing the same things."

"Tracy. Forget your underwear. There must be a million dollars in here. Somehow we must have gotten the wrong suitcase. Somebody out there is looking for this money and they have your unmentionables instead. Whoever it is, they aren't going to be very happy when they discover they have the wrong suitcase."

"Then the first thing we have to do is take this to the police."

No."

"No? It's our duty to turn this money in. That way, whoever lost it can claim it."

"Think for a minute, Trace. Whoever is walking around Madrid looking for a million dollars in a blue suitcase isn't necessarily the type who is going to go to the police and file a claim for it. Also, this is Europe, not North America. Here they go by international law. Here you are presumed guilty until proven innocent."

"But we don't even know whether there was a crime or not."

"That's beside the point. They lock you up and then they find a crime to charge you with. And they don't even have to do that. There are no guaranteed rights like there are in English speaking countries."

"But I'm a police officer."

"In Toronto, yes. As far as the Madrid Police are concerned, you're just another gringo tourista who happens to have a suitcase full of money. Very suspicious, to say the least. That alone is enough for them to take you into custody and throw away the key."

"So what do we do?"

"Whatever we do, we better do it fast." He looked out the window. A black limousine sat across from the hotel entrance. Two men in black suits were heading for the entrance. "Around these parts the only people who ride in black limousines are the local Patron ... and the head of the Mob. In some cases, that's one and the same person. And the undertaker, of course. And I don't think anyone has died ... yet. I suggest a hasty retreat out the back way would be appropriate." He shut the suitcase with the money. Tracy grabbed her purse and they headed for the back stairs.

Seconds later, the two men stepped off the elevator.

**********

"Now where?" Tracy asked as they pulled onto the main highway. Fortunately, they had been able to make it to their rented car without incident. They had driven around Madrid for about an hour to make certain they were not followed, and then headed for the city limits.

"First star to the right and straight on till morning." Vachon said.

"Be serious."

"If we keep driving in this direction, we should come to Romanistas pretty soon. I remember it as a sleepy little town, but the last time I was there was almost two hundred years ago." Vachon said. "I think the first thing we ought to do when we get there is ditch this car."

"I don't think they spotted us, so we should be safe with it."

"Tracy, you're thinking like a cop. You have to start thinking like a criminal if we want to get out of this with our skins intact. All it takes is a few phone calls and they will have the make, model and license number of this car. How many car rental places did you see at the airport, and how many of them do you think are controlled by the Mob? If you said all of them, you're probably right. Turn left at the next road."

**********

Romanistas

As they cleared the bend, Romanistas came into view. From where they were, it appeared that the town had not changed much since Vachon had been there last. Even in the pre dawn darkness, Tracy could make out the picture postcard layout of the village. As they approached town, Vachon pointed to a barely discernable road. "Turn here. If I remember correctly, there's a cave in those hills along the creek. We can spend the day there."

"We can spend the day in the hotel in town just as well. And it will be a lot roomier and cleaner than a cave. You're being paranoid, Vachon."

"Okay, have it your way. I promise I won't say I told you so."

Tracy continued into the town. She pulled up in front of the only motel. It had definitely seen better days. There were eight miniscule peeling whitewash cabins clustered around a larger office structure. The sign in the front was faded and cracked, and only a third of the lightbulbs were present, and only half of them actually worked.

"Tracy." Vachon said. "I have to make a quick stop before it becomes too light. You go ahead and register. Just give me the keys to the car."

"You're not going anywhere without me. I'm not taking the chance that you could be right." She said. "Where do I go now?"

They pulled up to a rather opulent looking house. "This is the home of Don Sebastien Della Martein. He's the elder in these parts. It's sort of the hangout for the local Community."

"It doesn't look like there would be enough vampires in Romanistas to even make a Community."

"There isn't. Don Sebastien is the elder of a whole region. He might be able to help us with our little ... problem. Besides, I need some supplies. We left Madrid in a rather big hurry and all the blood I had with me was in my emergency flask. That was gone four hours ago. Before we go in though, I'd better mark you as my property. That way, you won't be mistaken for a midnight snack."

"Mark me? You mean like a dog or a cat marks their property?"

"Not exactly. I just have to take a little bit of blood. That puts my vibes on you. Of course, Knight is going to kill me when he finds out. Better that than one of them draining you. He'd really kill me for that."

"Nick would never do anything like that. He said he doesn't kill anymore."

"You may have a point there. He'll probably just torture me for a couple of centuries." He smiled slightly. "You'd better take the suitcase with you. Just in case."

Don Sebastien Della Martein sat in the main room of the villa. Several of the Community occupied various chairs and couches. Everyone was dressed formally, but not more so than Don Sebastien. He wore a dark maroon jacket and tuxedo pants. A dark purple paisley ascot covered his throat. He was tall and thin with a sharply chiseled angular face. His hair was thin and black, and he sported an impeccably trimmed goatee. Indigo eyes peered out from beneath his sharp brow. He looked every inch the Castillian Caballero that he was.

Vachon entered the villa, followed closely by Tracy. She felt uncomfortable with the stares some of the residents were giving her. She fingered the two tiny nearly healed marks on her neck. She was glad that Vachon had the foresight to mark her. At least now she was reasonably sure that she wouldn't be the main course.

Don Sebastien looked at the vampire coming toward him with disdain. He remembered this one. The bastard son of Jaime Vachon. Had the stones to be brought across in the New World, of all places. And by a savage at that. By what right does he have the audacity to come to MY region? He held his hand to Vachon. On the ring finger was a heavily ornate onyx ring. The stone had to be three carats minimum. Twelve small blood red rubies surrounded it. It was obvious that he expected Vachon to kiss it.

Vachon looked at the elder. The disgust was evident in the leader's eyes. He knew why the ring was extended to him. Instead of bowing and kissing it, though, Vachon took the outstretched hand in his and shook it heartily. The elder's eyes widened. The nerve of this upstart!

"Greetings, Don Sebastien." Vachon began. "I am just passing through your territory. I stopped to pay my respects and to request some supplies."

A look of relief spread over the elder's face, and for a fraction of a second, he smiled slightly. Just as quickly, the look of disdain was back. He won't be staying. "I am certain we can sell you some supplies." Don Sebastien said haughtily. "See Valesquez over there. He will tend to your needs." With a wave of his hand, he dismissed him as one would dismiss a servant.

**********

Javier started through the door that Tracy held for him. He balanced two crates of bottles in his arms. Don Sebastien had charged him twice what they were worth, but he had little choice. He did not know how long it might be before he could replenish his food supply again. As he reached the outside portico, he stopped. He indicated the street to Tracy. There, across from the villa was the black limo and several police cars. The two men from the hotel were waiting for them, accompanied by several members of the local Constabulary. They were intently examining the rental car.

Vachon quickly shoved Tracy back through the door and into the house. "Is there another way out of here?" He asked Valasquez. The vampire pointed to another door. "The garage."

Tracy opened the door and stepped into the garage. "Vachon." She said, "How are we going to get ... Vachon?" The vampire was nowhere in sight and the crates were sitting on the floor.

Several minutes later, Vachon came back. "Get in. You drive." He pointed to a black Mercedes sitting in the corner.

"And how am I supposed to do that? Hot wire it?"

"With these." He held up a set of keys.

"How did you get those?"

"I ... sort of ..." He blushed as much as a vampire could blush. "Sort of ... "

"You didn't ... steal them ... Vachon. Tell me he gave them to you."

"Not exactly. But don't worry. He won't be angry. At least not too angry. I left him a present." He said as he loaded the bottles in the trunk.

"What kind of a present?"

"Let's just say that our playmates from Madrid won't be bothering us any more."

**********

The sun was just setting when Tracy stepped out of the cave. It would have been uncomfortable for one person, but with two attempting to share the cramped quarters, it was unrealistic, to say the least. To add to the problem, it had rained during the day, and the water had turned the floor into a quagmire.

They had hidden the Mercedes in a thick stand of brush. To anyone on the ground ... or in the air, it was nearly invisible.

Vachon came out and stretched his long legs. "Sleep well, mi Querida?" He asked, planting a kiss on her cheek."

"Querida my ass." Tracy fumed. "You had the good spot. I had a rock in the small of my back ... and you snore louder than your motorcycle with a busted muffler. And I won't even mention the mud."

"We'd better get going. If we hurry, we can be in the Basques by midnight. I know several ... friends ... who will be more than glad to help us." He took a long drink from the bottle that he held.

"That's another thing. You've obviously fed well. I haven't had anything to eat since we were on the plane yesterday morning. And that was airline food. I'm not going anywhere until I get a decent meal."

"In case you haven't noticed, we're fifteen kilometers from the middle of nowhere. There doesn't happen to be a restaurant nearby. Not even a McDonald's. Where do you intend to get this supposed meal from?"

"There was a cantina back there in Romanistas. I could eat there."

"And I'd be staked and you'd be in jail ... or worse ... before you even got to the salad. We can't go back there. At least not until Don Sebastien cools down." Something in the distance caught his eye. "Wait here." He called as he took off at a run.

"It can't be that bad ... Can it?" She called after his retreating form. "Great." She mumbled as she crawled back into the cave. "Now I'm all alone in a strange country. Wanted by the mob, the police, and the Community. I'm hungry ... I'm wet and mud covered ... I'm cold ... And I'm sore and bruised all over. So what does Vachon do? He boogies." She groused as she huddled in the damp cavern.

About an hour later, she was aware of the smell of freshly cooked meat wafting into the tiny cave. She stepped outside. Vachon was squatted beside a fire. He held the skinned and roasted carcass of a small animal that was skewered on a thick branch. Near the flames was a hollowed out gourd with what looked like some kind of a vegetable soup in it. She could make out something that looked like a diced potato or turnip, and possibly a carrot or two, and some greens that were unidentifiable. As she sat beside him, he took a small knife and cut off a sliver of meat. "Here." He said, holding it out to her.

"What is that?"

"Dinner. You said you were hungry, so I made dinner for you."

Tentatively, she took a small bite. "Not bad. What kind of meat is it?"

"Let's just say that everyone says that it tastes like ... chicken." He held the gourd to her. "Try these too. They're edible."

An hour later, they were back on the road. The meal, though not exactly a connoisseur's delight, was filling and nourishing. It would have been a lot better with some salt and pepper ... and maybe some Worcestershire sauce.

Periodically, Vachon would take to the air to make sure that they were not being followed. By anyone. Several times Tracy had to pull into the brush and cut the lights when Javier discovered a car behind them. Each time, Tracy shivered in fear that the car would be the Mob or the Constabulary. Fortunately, he was able to give enough advance warning that she had plenty of time to locate a good hiding place. Once, a police car did pass them, but it just kept on going. So far, nobody seemed to take any notice of them.

There was just a little over three hours until sunrise when they reached the Basque village of San Battista. Lighthearted music could be heard for quite a while before they actually reached the settlement. As they came into the open area that could, by stretching it, be called the town square, they could see a huge bonfire to one side. Many men and women were sitting at tables around a huge fountain. Many were singing to the melodies. Quite a few couples were dancing to the lively tunes. The music came from a Mariachi type band strolling through the square.

Several of the men came to meet them. Vachon embraced them warmly and then introduced Tracy. She too was heartily welcomed. When they realized that she was mortal, one of the women appeared with a tray of cheeses and breads. She led Tracy to one of the tables while another woman brought a bottle of wine and a glass.

Vachon came to her with his arm around the shoulder of a short, chunky man with the largest handlebar mustache that Tracy had ever seen. He was dressed in baggy khaki trousers and a plain white shirt made from a coarse cotton fabric. A nondescript brown felt hat adorned a thick mane of jet black curls. Around his neck he had a huge red bandana. His feet sported knee length black leather boots, and a gold hoop earring dangled from his left ear. He vaguely reminded Tracy of the character from the Mario Brothers computer games.

"This is Enrique." Vachon said, grinning. "He is the elder of the Basques."

"This is certainly a different greeting than the one we got in Romanistas." Tracy said as Enrique enveloped her in a bear hug and kissed her loudly on both cheeks.

Enrique snorted. "Della Martein. He thinks that he should be worshipped just because he was born a nobleman." Vachon provided translation. Enrique spat forcefully on the palm of his right hand and pounded his other fist into it. "El es un pista del mierda."

"Are you going to translate that for me?" Tracy asked when Vachon remained silent.

Vachon shook his head. "I don't think so. Let's just leave it at that."

"If he said what I think he said." Tracy blushed.

"He probably did."

"How do you know these people?" Tracy asked.

"I grew up not far from here. Some people said that I'm part Basque on my mother's side. I don't know about that. I only know that I feel truly at home when I'm with them. A kind of kinship if you want to call it. The Basques are an isolated people. They have lived in these mountains for more centuries than they can count, and they usually do not seek contact with the 'outside world' as they call it. With their own, though, ... well, you can see ... " He swept his hand to the crowd in the square.

"Enough for now, Javier." Enrique said. "Your ... friend ... needs rest. I will have Jacinta take her to her house. She can sleep while we make plans."

**********

Tracy woke shortly before sunset. She had fallen asleep almost as soon as her head hit the thin pillow. She felt around. The bed, though covered with a coarse sheet and a rough wool blanket, was infinitely better than the rock strewn and muddy floor of the cave from the night before. Gingerly, she lifted the blanket. She gasped in surprise and quickly wrapped it around herself again. She was naked!

At that moment, the door to the tiny bedroom opened and Jacinta came in carrying a wicker basket. She set it on the small dresser opposite the bed. "Your clothes, Senorita." The Basque woman said. "I think you like them to clean, so I washing while you sleep."

"How could you do that? I mean in the daytime? ... Wait a minute, you're mortal, aren't you?"

"Si. Many in San Battista are mortals and many are vampire. We have live together for much centuries."

"And where did you learn English?"

"I have go convent school in Bielsa. The nuns, they teach me the English and the French too. I think then I want to become nun, too. Then I think my father and my brothers need me too. So I come back."

"And who are your father and your brothers?"

"You have meet my father. He is Enrique."

"But he's a ... a vampire. Vampire's can't have children!"

Jacinta shrugged her shoulders. "He can. Miguel, Paulo and me are his. Paulo is vampire, but Miguel and me, we are mortal."

Maybe there's hope for Javier and me.

**********

"But how did you ... ?" Vachon asked the Basque leader. They had been discussing the town and its people. Vachon was pleasantly surprised that mortals and vampires were still coexisting so peacefully after all the centuries. Enrique told him that one of the reasons they got along was that they were all more or less related, and that many in the village were his descendents.

"I did not think that I had to explain the workings of a man to you, Javier." Enrique said with a sly grin. "I, too have heard that a vampire could not sire children, but I am proof that it is not true. Over the centuries, I have fathered many children by many wives. Some were mortal, some were halflings, and some became vampires when they reached full growth. The halflings were brought across so that they would not harm any of the others."

"Can you teach me your secret?" Maybe there's hope for Tracy and me.

"I would if I could, but I don't know what it is." He shrugged his shoulders and held his hands out, palms up. "I just do what comes naturally to a man when he is with a woman. Maybe there is something in the water." He grinned widely.

"But what about the Enforcers?"

"They have no interest in such a small Community like ours. As long as we stay here in the mountains and do not endanger any of the other Communities, they leave us alone. We have not seen an Enforcer here since before I was brought across. And that was ... maybe four hundred and fifty years ago."

"Enough of this small talk." Enrique said, standing up as Tracy joined them. " It's time for you to be on your way." They started to the Mercedes. Suddenly, Vachon stopped short. Sitting in the back seat of the car was Don Sebastien Della Martein.

"Well. Well." He said, sarcasm fairly dripping. "I see you've returned to your true place in society." He looked disdainfully at the Basque elder. "Buenos Noches ... Enrique." He held his ring hand to the Basque elder.

"Buenos Noches, Don Della Martein." The Basque vampire said, almost choking on the words. He ignored the hand in front of him. No way am I going to grovel before this agujero del asno pomposo.

"I merely came to retrieve what is mine." He said, patting the auto's door. "You could have asked me to use it, Vachon, but then, I guess that it's just second nature for ...some people ... " He glared at Enrique. " ... To steal what they want."

"Would you have let me borrow it if I had asked you?" Vachon said.

"Of course not." His haughty manner reminded Vachon of LaCroix

"But I left you a present. The two men who were following us. That should have been more than enough of a payment for the use of your car."

"And why would I be interested in snacking on the employees of one of my ... associates?" He grinned smugly. "Don't tell me you didn't know that Gentilio Anderras works for me?" He paused for effect. "I have also taken the liberty of notifying the police of your whereabouts. They should be here shortly. The last I heard, auto theft was against the law. You see, I am also the Alcalde in Romanistas as well as the elder. I didn't mention that, did I?" He smiled wickedly. "I guess I forgot." Another pause. "I have also sent those two that you gave as a ... present back to Madrid. I am certain Don Anderras will want to ... talk with the two of you. I shall be sure to inform him of your whereabouts. Buenos Noches ... Amigos." He motioned to the driver, and the car sped down the road to Romanistas.

Enrique spat after the car and made a gesture that is internationally recognized.

"Now what do we do?" Vachon said. "I know I can beat the auto theft rap, and the Mob can't do anything permanent to me, but Tracy ... "

"Simple, Amigo Mio. We take you and the Senorita over the mountains and into France."

"But the police."

"There are so many trails through these hills, even I do not know them all. We could hide you for a century and the police would not even know where to begin looking for you."

"And the Mob?" Tracy held up the blue suitcase.

"We can deal with them as well. Do not worry your head about it, Senorita Vetter. We have been smuggling people and things across these borders for many centuries. We know what we are doing."

"But what do we do once we get into France." Tracy said. "Our passports ... "

"Are taken care of." Enrique said, handing the two of them the little brown leather books. "If you look closely, you will see that you entered the country at Lac Du Portillion and that your luggage was inspected and was found to be correct."

Tracy opened hers. Sure enough, it had all the necessary seals and stamps. "How ... "

Enrique smiled widely. "A laptop computer is truly a marvelous invention, is it not?" He, too had that lost puppy look in his eyes. Maybe there was some truth to the rumor that Vachon was half Basque. "Let's just say we Basques have developed a certain ... talent with it. Now. Shall we get started? It's at least a two day ... or rather a two night trek through the hills."

**********

Lac Du Portillion

. Enrique grinned widely as the guard at the border outpost raised the gate and motioned the couple to enter the country. He had given the man a gentle 'hint' that the suitcase that Tracy carried, as well as the duffel bag full of bottles that Vachon had slung over his shoulder, contained nothing more than their clothes. Blankly, the officer had complied with the 'suggestion'. The Basque elder waved a hearty goodbye as he and his companions headed back into the mountains.

Their first stop in Lac Du Portillion was at the combination general store, bank, and service station. There, they exchanged several of the dollars for Francs. Vachon 'talked' the proprietor into renting them one of the cars that were parked in the gas station lot.

Their next stop was at the hotel for a hearty meal, a shower and a good night's sleep in a decent bed. It was only marginally better than the motel in Romanistas, but to Tracy it might as well have been a five star inn.

**********

Orleans

They stopped on the Plaza Gambetta just as the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. They would spend the day at the Hotel San Aignan, and continue to Paris in the evening. They had taken their time touring France. While it wasn't exactly the vacation they had planned, Tracy found it was quite relaxing

They even managed a side trip to Lacanau-Ocean near Bordeaux for a day ... or rather a night of swimming in the warm waters. They had also taken the opportunity to do some shopping in Bordeaux, especially since Tracy still only had the clothes on her back plus a few things that Jacinta had given her. She had only bought the bare necessities in Lac Du Portillion. Now she was going to stock up with a genuine shopping spree. Before they left the city, Tracy had purchased eight suitcases and had filled all of them. Vachon had bought a soft sided pilot case that was still half empty.

Since they had crossed into France, they had not seen any sign of either the Community or the Mob. Apparently, Enrique was true to his word.

"Only one thing remains, Tracy." Vachon said as they unpacked in their hotel room. "What do we do with the rest of the money?" He held up the blue suitcase. "We still can't turn it in to the police. Although the French Surite is much more honest than the Spanish Constabulary, they still operate under international law. We can't very well take it out of the country, either. The next customs station we go through will want to actually inspect our luggage. I don't think I can whammy them like Enrique did the inspector at Lac Du Portillion."

"I've been thinking about that. I remember Nick once mentioned something about the De Brabant Foundation having a headquarters in Paris. What if someone was to leave a suitcase full of money in their lobby? They could use it to help a lot of poor and needy people, couldn't they? And then it wouldn't be our problem any more."

"I don't know, Trace. A million dollars. That's going to be awfully hard to give up." Vachon opened the case. He put one of the packs to his face and took a deep breath.

"Would you rather spend the rest of your life in prison? For you, that could be a very, very long time. Or a very short one if they give you a cell with a view of the sunrise."

"Well. When you put it that way ... "

**********

Paris

Mme. Angelique Montmarn looked puzzled as she opened the door. There, just inside the entrance was a blue suitcase. She carefully put it on the visitor's counter and opened it. She let out a half gasp. As the European representative of the De Brabant Foundation, she was used to dealing with millions of dollars on a day to day basis, but she had never seen that much money in cold hard cash. She smiled softly and said a prayer of thanks for the unknown benefactor. There was a community center in Sarajevo that would now be able to keep helping the poor and the refugees for many years to come.

**********

Over The Atlantic

Tracy stared out the window of the Concorde. Here, suspended between the star covered sky and the blackness of the water, they seemed to be floating outside of time.

"Penny for your thoughts, Querida." Vachon said, nuzzling her ear.

"I was just wishing that this trip wouldn't have to come to an end. I know it's not what we had planned to do, but I've really enjoyed myself these past two weeks."

His eyes brightened. "Maybe it doesn't have to end." He said. "When we get to New York, instead of rushing to make the connecting flight to Toronto, we could spend some time there. You know, go sightseeing. Maybe take in a play or two. Something like that."

"And what will we use for money? In case you hadn't noticed, the money we kept from the suitcase is just about gone."

"Not all of it." Vachon held up a packet of bills. "Let's say that the De Brabant Foundation got their million dollars all right. Give or take a few thousand."

"VACHON!"

"Well, we really should have a finders fee, or something like that, shouldn't we?"

"But how did you get it past Customs?"

"I may not have been able to whammy away a whole suitcase full, but this little bit ... " He turned on his innocent lost look. "Can I help it if that Customs agent couldn't see what he was looking at?"

When he looked at her with those sad brown puppy eyes of his, she couldn't stay mad at him. For long. She smiled as she returned to the window and continued looking at the sky. There was this play at the Ambassador ...

**********

Toronto

Natalie stared into the microscope. She wasn't certain that what she saw was good or not. The latest sample of blood that she had taken from Nick showed no decline in the number of vampire anomalies, 'viruses' as she had called them. But, unlike the ones taken before he started drinking human blood again, these were stable. The pre human blood ones were extremely mobile and agitated. It was almost as if the human blood calmed the vampire abnormalities.

Maybe that was the reason that they had made such strides in their personal relationship. While the fifty fifty mix that he had started drinking after he had been shot went a long way, they had found that if he drank large amounts of whole blood before they tried anything, they could go much farther. Several times, in fact they had carried their explorations to orgasm. Sated on the whole blood, he needed to take only a few mouthfuls to satisfy the vampire. The only problem was the time involved to make sure that they were both ready. Sometimes it took almost a week to reach the proper conditions.

Of course, they were no closer to finding the elusive cure. So, it was a trade off. Mortality for intimacy.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Grace poked her head into the lab. "Incoming." She called. "All hands to battle stations. Another mob war. This time over in Castle Frank. They're shipping the overflow here."

Nat shut down the microscope and put the unlabeled slides and equipment in her locked desk drawer.

**********

Nat gasped as she uncovered the bullet ridden corpse. Francisco Tomisco, the toe tag read. Two weeks earlier, Tomisco's faction had blown away the Masalisco brothers for control of the Toronto area Mafia. Now someone else was wasting him and his men. And next week, someone would kill them off. Ever since Divia had attacked and killed Don Thomas Constantine as part of her vendetta against her father, various groups within the Organization had been vying for leadership. Unfortunately, their method of choice was bullets and bombs instead of ballots.

There were some who said that these people should be left to fight it out among themselves and save the Crown the money and effort to bring them to justice. The sad reality was that there were a number of innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So far, ten others had been killed in these shootouts. Ten people who had no known underworld connections.

**********

"I still don't see why David Constantine can't come here and take control." Don Schanke said as he filled out the latest in a long line of reports. "After all, the Constantine name would go a long way to stop these senseless killings."

"That's why Thomas Constantine became a vampire in the first place. He knew that David didn't want the job, so he made an agreement with LaCroix." Nick declared. He signed his name to the report before him and put it in the out basket. "Constantine agreed to have LaCroix bring him across until someone in the Constantine family was willing to take leadership of the 'Company'."

"And now Thomas Constantine is dead, thanks to that little hellspawn, Divia. And his lieutenants are shooting up Toronto trying to take control. Doesn't David realize that?" Schanke asked, picking up another form.

"Yes. He realizes that. I talked to him right after Don Thomas died. He said that he was sorry, but that he wanted to make sure that his children had a chance to grow up in a safe atmosphere." Nick added one more to the growing pile in the basket.

"And what about the kids of those innocent bystanders that were killed? Don't they have the right to grow up in a safe environment, too?" Schanke passed his folder to his partner. "You don't think these things are breeding in the bottom of the pile, do you?" He asked as he pulled another one from the in basket.

"As long as people keep killing other people, there will be forms to fill out. In triplicate. That's government bureaucracy at its best." Nick mused as he signed the latest one.

Schanke held his head and groaned. Natalie Lambert was coming toward them with another stack of reports.

"Hi, Nat." Schanke said as he took the folders from her and put them on the bottom of the ones already on his desk. "Anything we should know about any of these?"

"Not really. " The Coroner replied. "They all died from the same thing. Acute lead poisoning brought on by multiple doses of bullets administered by everything from 38 caliber Saturday Night Specials to .9mm Uzis. Throw in a few AK47s and you have a real potpourri of death."

"You know, Nat." Schanke said. "Maybe you should take a coupla days off. You don't look too hot."

It shows that much? It was true. For the past few weeks, she had felt like death warmed over. Her energy levels were way down and her appetite was almost nonexistent. She only ate because she knew that she had to. The bags under her eyes grew daily. Of course, considering what had been happening, it wasn't all that unusual that she felt the way she did. Lately, it seemed that her whole life was spent leaning over a gurney with a scalpel in her hand.

"You wouldn't look so hot either if you were putting in as much time as Nat has." Nick said in her defense. "I have been trying to get her to take some time off too, but with the mob wars that have been going on, not to mention the fever ... and Divia's escapades, she's been putting in twelve to sixteen hours a day at the morgue."

"Look who's calling the kettle black." Nat retorted. "I happen to know that the two of you have been logging more overtime the past couple of weeks than any six people around here. Combined."

"Well, with Tracy taking an extra week of holiday time ... " Schanke maintained.

"Speaking of the third half of this duo, When is she coming back." Nat asked.

"Tomorrow. And it can't be soon enough for me." Schanke said as he handed another folder to Nick.

"Would today be soon enough?" Tracy Vetter said as she came up to the group.

There were multiple rounds of hugs and kisses exchanged. Finally, Tracy sat down at her desk.

"So." Schanke said as he handed her one of the reports. "How was your trip to Spain. Lolling around on those warm Mediterranean beaches. Pageants in sun drenched plazas. Music filled nights. Living La Vita Loca." He sighed audibly.

Tracy just rolled her eyes . Being chased by the mob. Nearly drained by vampires. Wanted by the police. Sleeping in caves. Eating ... whatever. ' Tastes like chicken ' ... Yecch!

**********

Doctor Laura Haynes swirled the bath water. It was the right temperature, and the tub was nearly full. It would do nicely.

"Life is a gift. As sweet as the freshest peach, as precious as a gilded jewel. I have never been able to understand the logic of willfully surrendering such a treasure." On the radio playing in the background, the mellifluous, almost hypnotic voice of the Nightcrawler filled the small room. "How dark can your existence be when compared to an eternal void. Unless, of course, you have faith that there is something beyond."

She took her journal and made one last entry in it. She closed it and put it in an envelope. Across the front of it she wrote 'Natalie Lambert'. She laid it carefully on the cabinet by the sink.

"What do you see from where you stand? A bright light at the end of the tunnel? Is it a ray of hope? A glimmer of something better? Or will it burn you like the rising sun? Are you hearing the trumpeting of St. Peter's angels, or the screams of Memnoch's tortured souls? You can't answer that, can you? Because you will never know the answer until after the deed is done. And is your faith really that strong?"

She eased herself into the warm water.

"I understand the need to move on." The Nightcrawler continued. "It is something that happens to us all. But if your time has truly come, I also understand that with the beauty of this life, there comes pain and despair. "

She picked up the scalpel.

"No one is immune. But consider what you have in your hands! Don't trade a treasure for an empty box!"

She did not hear the last words as the water became tinged with the red of her life's blood as it poured out of the slits in her wrists.

**********

The policeman pulled the head out of the bloody water so the photographer could get a better picture. Tracy Vetter turned and buried her head in Don Schanke's chest.

"This is not right." She said. "She was so young. It's so senseless."

He slowly shook his head. "Suicide always is."

In the next room, Dr. Natalie Lambert sat staring unseeing into blank space. She held the manila envelope loosely on her lap. Nick gently had his arms around her shoulders, but he was not entirely certain that she even knew he was there, or even where she was at this time.

He kissed her gently on the forehead and came into the bathroom.

"She was a psychiatrist." Tracy said. "I'm guessing no one saw this coming."

"Not even her closest friend." Nick looked at the figure sitting disconsolate in the chair. "Trace. Skank. Can you finish up? I'm going to get Nat out of here."

Don put his hand on his partner's shoulder and nodded sympathetically. "Go ahead." He said softly. "She needs you with her a lot more than we need you here."

He kissed her gently on the cheek. "C'mon Nat. Let's get out of here." He whispered. She dully rose and followed Nick out of the apartment.

**********

" ' Do as I ask. Not as I've done. Don't let yourself become empty.' " Natalie read from the journal. "This is the first time I've had a suicide note addressed to me." Nat pushed open the door to the morgue room and started inside. Nick had argued, unsuccessfully, that she should go home, but Nat countered that work was what she needed, not a lonely apartment. He even offered to stay with her, but it did no good. So, he had driven her here.

"Nat. She took her own life. She obviously had major problems." Nick followed her into the room. Laura Haynes and Natalie had gone through university and medical school together. They even interned at the same hospital. For most of that time, they had been roommates as well. Nick was convinced that someone else should perform the autopsy on her friend, but he could not persuade Natalie of that. He may not have agreed with her decision to do the procedure, but he was not about to let her do it alone.

"You know, Nick." Nat said as she stared at the sheet covered gurney. "I always thought that suicide was a sacrilege. Now I'm not so sure."

Nick wrapped his arms around her. "Don't talk like that." He said angrily.

"Why not? You've considered it yourself. Remember what happened after Erica died."

He remembered. He had to admit, if even only to himself, that Erica's calmly waiting for the morning sun had shaken him to his very core. She was so vibrant. So full of love of life. And if she could do it ... He was dead anyway. By following her example, he would have only made tangible what was already fact. It was only because of Nat that he didn't carry it through. But this was different. This was Nat talking. Nat was alive. So very alive.

"I still say you shouldn't do the work on this case." He said as she took off her lab coat and pulled an operating room gown from her locker. "You're too close."

"Laura didn't reach out to me for help in life. I owe her this much. To see that everything is ... properly done." A tear slipped out from the Professional Doctor mask that Natalie had glued on. "I can handle it." She slipped on the gown and a pair of latex gloves and approached the gurney. "You know what I can't handle? I understand her. Why she did it. And that scares me to death."

**********

"How's Natalie holding up?" Captain Reese asked the two detectives.

"Not very well." Tracy said. "Nick's with her."

"I think a suicide note addressed to her was an awful thing to do." Don added.

"There is no evidence of foul play." Tracy said. "Everyone agrees that Laura Haynes committed suicide. I'm inclined to write it up as such and maybe book off a little early."

"Okay by me." Reese said. "Things are a little slow since Albert Geppelli came up from the States to take over the ... Business. I mean, the nephew of the head of the Eastern Atlantic Organization sure swings a lot of weight. He stopped the senseless slaughter almost overnight, and there hasn't even been so much as a traffic ticket that we can pin on the Mob."

"Why don't you go ahead and knock off now." Don suggested. "I can take care of the paperwork."

"What the ... " Reese said as the sounds of shouting came from the door. Two officers were struggling with an unruly prisoner.

"I won't go!" The prisoner shouted as he fought with the two restraining him. "You can't make me. I won't go back there!"

"What is the problem here, officer." Reese said as he came over.

"Transfer prisoner, Captain. Delbert Dawkins. We're holding him for pickup." The officer said as the other one pushed Dawkins against a column and held him firmly.

"Dawkins." Reese said authoritatively. "You will wait here quietly. If you don't, I will have you cuffed and shackled. Do you understand me?"

Dawkins nodded.

**********

"Strange how something so personal can turn into just another piece of evidence." Nick said as Nat removed the bloody gown. The autopsy was over. Nick had to admire her courage. By sheer force of will she had made it through the procedure with a professionalism that he had rarely seen. Even in her. Several times, though, he had to bolster her sagging spirits with gentle touches and soothing words.

"Not to me it isn't." She picked up the journal. "After we finished our residencies, we used to get together all the time. We'd talk for hours about our jobs. About our work. About our careers. Then one day we came to the realization that we almost never talked about ourselves. About what we did in out off duty hours. And do you know why? Because our personal lives were non existent. After that, we sort of drifted apart. Her leaving me the note and her journal was her way of telling me not to make her mistakes. It was a wake up call for me. She was telling me not to let my life be empty."

"Your life is not empty, Nat. I won't let it be."

"No. It isn't empty. Not now. Six years ago. April fourteenth."

"What was that?"

"That was the day they brought in this victim of a pipe bombing. The day that changed my life forever."

Mine too.

"I can't go on the way we have been. I need more than this. I need stability. I need you to give it to me.

"And how do I do that?"

"It's simple. All you have to do is to love me as much as I love you."

"What about love?" The Nightcrawler's silky voice came over the building's Musak system. "Heaven makes the means to kill our joy with love. It is suffering. It is anguish. It is pain. And yet, we must have it ... at any cost. But are you so enamored that you will overlook your love of life? And you do love it. I have seen you smell the sea and gaze at the stars at night. Are you willing to sacrifice one mistress for another? Look into your heart and tell me that you are willing to make the choice."

"I can't." Nick whispered. "I can't give you more than what I already have." I have already given you my heart and what little soul I have. I want to give you so much more. I want to give you the world with a fence around it. I want to tell you how much I truly love you. I want to tell you that you are my reason for continuing. Although he had opened up considerably in the past few months, there was so much more that he had not told her. Could not tell her. Dared not tell her. So much more that would be dangerous or even deadly to her ... to them ... if she knew. "We've been through this before. If we don't handle this properly, I could kill you."

"Or you could bring me across."

"Never! You know I can't do that. Whether I bring you across or not, it would be a death sentence."

"An empty life like Laura's is a death sentence, too. Either way it's my decision."

**********

Dawkins drove his elbow into the midsection of one of the officers holding him. As though in slow motion, he doubled over and fell backwards from the blow and skidded along the floor. At the same moment, the other officer drew his gun. Dawkins grabbed it before the man had a secure grip on it and wrenched it out of his hand. He locked his arm around the neck of a passing woman and shoved the gun to her temple. He stared defiantly into the faces of those around him, as Reese and the other officers took up defensive positions.

"Hold your fire!" Reese called. "Everybody hold up."

"I'll kill her if you try to make me go back!" Dawkins shouted as he started to back into the inner corridor. "I'LL KILL HER. I SWEAR!" He yelled as he disappeared through the doorway.

"You two." Reese pointed to two officers. "With me."

They followed Dawkins through the maze of corridors and cubicles. At one point, he threw the hostage into the arms of a startled officer and then ducked into the generator room. He locked the outer door and began to open the fuse boxes. One by one, he smashed the switches, plunging the precinct into darkness. Seconds later, the red emergency lights came on, turning the area into a surrealistic scene.

**********

Nick's cell phone rang, breaking the tension. "Knight." He said. He listened for a few seconds. "I'll be right there." He snapped the phone off and put it back in his pocket. "I have to go. There's a ... a situation at the precinct. A man with a gun." Within seconds, he was in the air heading to the precinct.

**********

"KILL ME!" Dawkins raved as he pushed door after door open and pointed the gun into the offices. Terrified civilian men and women huddled in fear as he passed their cubicles. "KILL ME! ... PLEASE! ... I'M NOT GOING BACK." He reached the locker room. It was empty. He stumbled in, still raving. He flattened himself against a bank of lockers. "KILL ME!" He shouted, but there was a definite tone of fear in his voice now. "You aren't going to take me back!" Sweat poured down his face and his eyes were wild and glazed. "I can't go back." He said in almost a sob. "You can't make me. I'll die first." His movements were quick and jerky as he nervously scanned the area.

Tracy and Schanke approached the room, guns drawn and at the ready. Schanke hunched at the doorway, just out of sight of the frantic gunman. He motioned for Tracy to stay behind him.

**********

" ... And get a negotiator in here. STAT. And I want a SWAT team on standby. Just in case. Seal off every entrance, too." Reese told several officers as he walked through the bullpen. As he spoke, the officers left one by one to carry out his orders. As he turned the corner, he nearly ran into Nick.

"Who is he?" Nick said as he joined Reese heading back into the corridor.

"Delbert Dawkins. Transfer. He's holed up in the locker room. I've got a negotiator coming."

"I know him." Nick said. "Schanke and I arrested him two years ago. Aggravated assault. Nearly killed the guy over a bottle of beer."

**********

Don Schanke eased himself into the locker room. He held his arms high above his head. "Dawkins. My name is Detective Schanke."

"Detective Schanke." Dawkins said, leveling the gun at the man's head. "You better tell me you have a big body bag." He slowly moved toward the detective, keeping the gun aimed at Don. "Cause that's the only way you're taking me out of here."

"Dawkins. Listen to me. You really don't want to die, do you? " Don said softly. "And I wouldn't want to see you hurt anyone. You wouldn't want to be responsible for that, now would you?"

Tracy noticed that Dawkins was concentrating on her partner to the exclusion of everything else. If I can just get a clear shot ... Hunching down to present as small a target as possible, she inched her way into the room.

Dawkins suddenly put the gun to his temple. "I'm telling you. I'm not going back."

"Dawkins. Don't do anything foolish. Put the gun down." Don wished that he had Nick's powers of persuasion. They would really come in handy right about now.

Suddenly, Dawkins turned to the door. Nick stood in the hallway. He turned back to Schanke. "N-O-O-O-!" He screamed as he fired two shots. The detective jerked backward and slumped to the floor. Then he noticed Tracy. He fired again. In the same instant, Nick was on him. He emptied the automatic into the vampire before Nick threw him brutally against the wall.

Nick ran to Tracy. Blood covered her shoulder, but she was conscious and alert.

"I'll be all right." She assured him. "Don ... "

He turned his attention to his other partner. Schanke was unconscious and he was barely breathing . His shirt was coated with frothy blood and Nick could hear the air escaping through the hole in his chest. More blood poured from just below his rib cage.

"GET SOME HELP IN HERE !!" Nick screamed. "OFFICERS DOWN !! OFFICERS DOWN !!"

*********

"Pupils fixed and dilated. No response." The EMS technician shouted to the other paramedics as they moved Schanke to a gurney. "BP 80 over 60. Tell the ER I gave him 100 milligrams of lidocane at 2345. And that he's had two units of O negative so far." She shouted to them as they wheeled the gurney to the door. Behind them, a team of medics was strapping a protesting Tracy on another gurney.

"I don't need that." She argued. "My arm is injured. Not my legs. I can walk." Her left shoulder and upper arm were encased in a pressure bandage and tightly bound to her chest. An IV dripped into her right forearm.

The medics took no notice and continued to fasten her in.

"Captain ... ?" She pleaded to Reese.

"Do as they say, Detective. That's an order."

Reluctantly, she let the medics do their job.

Reese turned to Nick. "You sure you're okay?"

Nick was leaning against one of the lockers for support. He looked like he was about to pass out at any second. The bullets in his gut burned, but he could wait for Nat to get them out. In private. He pushed back one of the medics who was attempting to examine him. He wasn't ready to answer the questions that it would invariably bring. "I had no idea ... " He said numbly. "I didn't know ... "

"You can't go blaming yourself." Reese put his arm around the detective and led him to the door.

"Can't I? They had the situation under control. If I hadn't barged in ... "

The EMS technician came over. "Detective Vetter has a serious shoulder wound, but she's stable and as you saw, very responsive. Detective Schanke, though ... " She sighed. " ... took a bullet to the chest. Probably punctured his lung. From the looks of it, it can't be too far from the heart. Another one is in his upper abdomen. Severe internal bleeding. Vital signs are minimal at best. I just don't know ... " She put her hand tenderly on Nick's shoulder.

A technician from the Coroner's office wheeled the body bag containing Delbert Dawkins out of the room.

**********

Nick stood outside the door. In the tiny hospital chapel, every available officer from the 96th precinct and almost half of the 27th prayed for their fallen comrades. Nick had made a hurried side trip to the morgue where Nat had removed the 'evidence' from his stomach. She had come to the hospital with him and was acting as liaison between the operating room and them. His heart nearly broke when he saw Myra and Jenny sitting at the back. Their voices joined in with the prayers, although every now and then Myra's voice would crack and she would unsuccessfully stifle a sob.

Tracy was in the recovery room in fair condition. The bullet had torn a swath through muscle and bone and had nicked the brachial nerve, but the doctors were hopeful that with a little luck and a lot of therapy, she could regain full use of her left arm. Vachon was with her even now, keeping vigil. Schanke was still in surgery. His wounds were critical. His left lung had been punctured, but the bullet has missed his heart entirely. His spleen was ruptured and several sections of his intestines had been ruptured as well. The abdominal bullet was lodged dangerously close to his spine. The doctors held only guarded hope that he would even make it through the operation.

Wincing noticeably, Nick made the sign of the cross, ignoring the searing pain where he touched himself. "Don't let them die." He prayed to the God that he had abandoned eight hundred years ago. "They deserve to live. Pater Noster qui es in caelis ... " The words to the Latin version of the Our Father came flooding back into his mind.

"Why do you insist on petitioning a god that does not exist." LaCroix said to his son. "And even if he does exist, what makes you think he would listen to your pathetic supplications. Do you not realize that you have the power within yourself to insure that your partner lives?"

"What are you doing here, LaCroix?" Nick asked angrily.

"I felt your anguish. I even interrupted my packing to come and comfort you. You were there for me in my time of need. It is only right that I should be here for you in your time of suffering." LaCroix let out a small laugh. "And you are suffering, aren't you? And for what. You are anguishing over two mortals who will be dead anyway in another thirty or forty years. To us, that is nothing more than a blink of an eye."

"They are my friends. My partners. It should have been me. Not them."

"Nicholas. When will you ever learn? They are mortals. What they do is of no concern to us. If they want to get themselves perforated like a colander, it is their business, not ours. I am leaving. You are welcome to come with me. We have overstayed our time here. Can you not see that? Haven't recent events convinced you that you are getting far too close to these mortals? The longer you wait, the harder it will be to break away."

"Not yet. Give me a few weeks to settle my affairs here and to make sure that Schanke and Tracy are going to make it. Maybe then I will go with you."

"Now. Nicholas. I have made reservations. I will be at the loft at ten o'clock tomorrow night. My plane leaves at midnight. The choice is yours. With or without you, I am going to move on." A second later, he was gone.

Nick watched as Nat went into the chapel and said something to Myra. She and Jenny followed the Doctor into the hall. Myra came to Nick and embraced him. "Thank God." She said between joyful sobs. "He's out of surgery. They're watching him closely, but at least he's got a fighting chance." She took his hand. "They said we could see him for a few moments."

"But that is only for family. You go on. I'll wait here."

"You are family, Nick. Don't you know that? More so than if you had been born brothers. WE love you. HE loves you. Now, come on."

**********

The cacophony of the monitors beat a syncopated rhythm as they kept track of the life forces. Even in the dim light of the recovery room, Nick could see that his partner was not faring well. In addition to the wires connecting him to the monitors, there were a myriad of tubes bringing life sustaining blood and other fluids into him and more tubes and drains carrying the body wastes out. A breathing hose through his mouth pumped life giving oxygen into his one good lung. Nick was reminded of one of those futuristic science fiction movies where people are kept alive indefinitely by machines.

Myra and Jenny stood on either side of the bed, while Nick stayed at the foot. Nat waited just outside the door. Myra leaned over her husband and kissed him gently on the cheek. "Come on, Donny." She whispered, brushing a stray hair of his back into place. "You gotta get better. You can do it, darling. We are all here for you. I'm here. Jenny's here. Even Nick and Nat." She laid her head on the one spot on his chest that was not covered by some sort of device or bandage. "You can't leave me. I love you."

"We need you, Daddy." Jenny added, stroking her father's fingers. That was the only part of his hand that didn't have a needle stuck into it.

Nick turned. He couldn't let them see the copious tears flowing down his cheeks. It should have been me. Then he was gone.

**********

"Aren't you tired of this incessant guilt?" The Nightcrawler came over the radio as he drove to the loft. "Hasn't it swayed your back and stooped your shoulders to the point of throwing it off? Why do you insist on taking responsibility for the actions and emotions of those around you, when they ... alone ... are truly responsible. It is so unnecessary. It is so ... mortal. And it must stop."

**********

"The pain that you're causing your mortal friends is no longer acceptable to them." The Nightcrawler taunted into the microphone. "Those that do survive will not allow your relationship with them to continue the way it was. They will demand change. And you will be compromised. For every action that we take, there's a price to be paid. Love may be tasted but never savored. In our darkest moments we may envy mortality, but we should never aspire to it. Guilt is a poison. And staying past our time is death. But it need not be. If we care for a mortal, if we truly love one, then we must go. Isn't that something you taught me? Leaving is the purest form of love." The image of Fleur crept unbidden into Lucien's mind.

**********

Nick had just thrown the cloth over the piano when he heard the lift engaging. LaCroix was right. He had no place here anymore.

Natalie stepped out. She looked at the sheet draped furniture and the stack of suitcases and boxes piled by the door. "You're leaving." She said flatly.

"It's time."

"Why?"

He didn't answer her.

"You're blaming yourself for what happened at the precinct last night, aren't you?"

"I am to blame, Nat. I should have been there. I ... should have been the one in the locker room, not Schanke and Tracy. If I had been there, there might not have been a shooting, and even if there was a shooting ... I ... would have survived. I ... should have taken those bullets, not them. As it is, Schanke is dying and Tracy may lose the use of her arm, if not the arm itself." He turned abruptly and walked away from her.

"And why weren't you there?" She countered. "Because you were at the morgue with me. Helping me through a very difficult time. Keeping me from ... from doing something rash. If you had been at the station, and I ... had ... done what I was thinking about doing, then you would be blaming yourself for that instead." She pulled him to face her. "Nick. You can't be everywhere at the same time. You can't protect everyone."

He looked at her coldly. I have to do this. No matter how much it hurts, I have to do it. He told himself. "That's why I have to leave. Now. Before anyone else gets hurt ... or dies because of me. Face it, Natalie. I've overstayed my welcome. I should have left years ago. In fact, I never should have stayed in the first place. When I walked out of the morgue that night six years ago, I should have just kept on going. Things would have been a lot different if I had."

"How can you say that? What do you think would have happened if you hadn't been here for us? How many times have you saved Schanke's life? Or Tracy's? How many times have you taken a bullet to save someone else? You don't even have to answer that. I know how many. I've dug them out of you. Just like I did yesterday. How many times have you saved my life? What about Sparks?"

"That's exactly what I was talking about. Sparks was a vampire. If you had never been involved with me, you wouldn't have even known about the Community. You wouldn't have been in that position in the first place."

"Roger Jamison wasn't a vampire."

"And the only reason you went out with him was because you were angry with me. Because I forgot your birthday. No. It's better if I just leave." I don't want to, but I have to. "Better for everybody."

"Then take me with you."

He embraced her lightly. If only I could. "I can't. As a mortal, you wouldn't stand a chance."

"Then bring me across."

"NO! I can't do that either. We've talked about this before. I am damned. You'd be damned too. I can't do that to you. I can't condemn you to this hell for all eternity."

"No. WE haven't talked about it." She corrected. "YOU'VE talked about it. It's MY decision. I ... am the one to make it, not you. I'd rather spend eternity in hell with you than spend one more day on earth without you."

He turned again. "You don't mean that."

"I do mean it. I love you, Nicholas de Brabant Knight. I love all of you. Not just the man, but the vampire as well. I will take you any way I can get you. As a mortal or as a vampire. It doesn't make any difference to me."

He hung his head. He walked into the kitchen and began to put some of the things on the counter into a cardboard box. Can't she see what she's doing to me? Just being here with her is tearing me apart.

"I can't talk you put of leaving, can I?"

He slowly shook his head. Please don't do this.

"Then at least make love to me one last time."

He buried his head in his hands. He wanted her. Oh God! How he wanted her. "I can't do that either. You know that. It takes so much preparation before we can even think about being intimate. We have to schedule it so that both of us are ready. I have to gorge myself on whole blood for several days and you have to eat lots of iron and protein rich foods to build up your strength. Even then, we can't be together more than once or twice a month. I haven't fed since early last evening. I know you aren't at your peak, either. It's too dangerous. I could lose control."

The scene of his wedding night with Alyssa filled his thoughts. He had wanted to bring her across. To keep her with him for all eternity. But he had lost control. He had taken too much. She had died. Instead of having her with him forever, she now lay in the cold ground. Forever.

"No. You won't lose control. I have faith in you. You need to have faith in yourself as well." She embraced him and buried her head in his chest. "Please. Love me."

If only you knew how much I do love you. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. Inadvertently, he took a deep breath. Her scent was intoxicating. Cinnamon and Baby's Breath. As if they had a life of their own, his lips began tracing gentle butterfly kisses across her forehead. NO! NO! His mind screamed. YES! YES! His body responded. Before he realized it the kisses had deepened. She molded herself to him. He could feel her passion welling up. It matched his own. Without warning, he had passed the point of no return. With shaking fingers, he began to unbutton her blouse. Gently, lovingly, he lowered her to the floor.

Their lovemaking was more exquisite than at any time before. He put everything he had into it. Every bit of love he could muster. He had to make it enough for a lifetime. Perhaps several lifetimes. From her reactions to him, he knew that Natalie was thinking the same thing. As he approached the climax, he could feel the vampire straining to be released. His eyes turned to brilliant orange and his fangs descended. He heard the siren lure of her blood calling to him. He had to ... One last taste. Please. He silently prayed. Please . Let me take just a little. Almost against his will, his head descended to her throat. Give in to your needs. The vampire cajoled. Then we both will be satisfied. He felt the ecstasy as his fangs pierced her vein. His mind swam as the sweet elixir that was Natalie Lambert flowed into him. He wanted to stay here at the fountain of her love forever.

Suddenly he pulled back. "No!" He cried. "What have I done?" He stared at her. Natalie's eyes were closed and her breath was shallow.

"Yes, Nicholas. What have you done?" LaCroix said from behind him. Nick hadn't even heard his master come in. He had no idea how long he had been there or how much he had seen. "Her fate is now in your hands. You have two choices. You can either bring her across or you can let her die."

"LaCroix. Is it possible for a vampire to have faith?"

"That's a strange question, Nicholas. After all I have seen of this world, how can I possibly say that there even is such a thing as faith, yet alone if we have it."

"And maybe I haven't seen enough to know for sure. She had faith in me."

"And what did that get you. You still took too much. Nicholas. Have done with her. WE must be moving on. Soon."

"You don't understand. I stopped in time. I didn't take too much. While I didn't take too much, I did take it too quickly. She is only unconscious, not dying. She will come around as soon as her body adjusts. I can't possibly leave her now. And I can't bring her across, even if I wanted to. She's pregnant."

LaCroix reared his head back. "Pregnant!" He laughed. "Surely you are joking, Nicholas!"

"It's no joke. It's true. When I tasted her blood, I found the essence of another there. A child. That's why I stopped."

"And you still want to be with her?" He shook his head, still smirking. "Nicholas. I never realized how truly naive you really are."

"What do you mean by that?"

"She professes to love you, yet she has betrayed you. You have uncontroversial proof that she has slept with another man. And she is carrying his child! Yet you still want her? Why?"

"It could be mine."

"You know that is not possible. A vampire can not impregnate a mortal. All the more reason to kill her ... and that bastard offspring she carries." His face became hard and bitter. "If you will not do it, then I will." His eyes yellowed and his fangs dropped. He started toward the unconscious doctor.

Nicholas picked up a carved walking stick he kept by the mantle. He pointed it menacingly at him. "You take one more step and I will stake you. And this time I will make sure you are dead. I will leave your rotting corpse lying in the morning sun." He growled. He had threatened his master on many occasions and had staked him on at least one. This time, though he meant it with every fiber in him. He loved Natalie. He understood that she could stray. He had been unfaithful to her with Janette on numerous occasions. Just as he had needs that she could not fulfill, so, too did she have needs that he could not satisfy. Even if the child wasn't his, he already loved it with just the brief encounter he had with it through her blood. No one, and especially not LaCroix, was going to take that from him.

Lucien LaCroix stared at his 'son'. Through the bond they shared, he knew that this time he meant what he said. If he tried anything against the good doctor, Nicholas would use the stake on him. And this time, he would make sure he was truly dead. It was a chance he was not ready to take. Not at this time. Slowly, he stepped back. "Very well, Nicholas. I will go. But this is your last chance to be with me. I may not be back this way in this century. In fact, I may never be back."

"Then you had better get started." He went to the door and held it open for the General. "I wouldn't want you to miss your plane."

He watched from the window as the cab pulled away. Behind him, Natalie moaned softly. In a flash, he was beside her. He held her tightly. It was good. It was right. Gently, he rained kisses on her head.

She opened her eyes. Nick's smiling face beamed down at her. "You didn't go." She said softly.

"I couldn't. I realized that my life, for better or worse is here. With you. That is, if you'll still have me." She started to say something, but he put his finger to her lips. "I know that I cannot give you the life you deserve. I know that's why you did ... what you did. I understand. Once a month is not enough for someone as vibrant and sensual as you. I don't even want to know who he is. It doesn't matter."

"Nick. What are you babbling about?"

"I know you have been seeing someone else. And it's all right. And as far as the baby is concerned, if you'll let me, I'll love him as though he was my own. I already do. I swear."

"Someone else? Baby? You're not making any sense. What are you talking about?"

He smiled gently. "You don't know, do you. I tasted him in your blood. You're pregnant. About six weeks."

"Pregnant? That's impossible. I mean I know my period is late, but it's because of all the stress I've been under. You are the only man I've been with. And you said yourself that vampires can't father children."

"But you are pregnant just the same."

"Then it has to be yours. By some unbelievable miracle, it's yours."

"Mine? ... You mean I ... You ... We ... " His grin threatened to split his face as he picked her up and whirled around the loft. "We're gonna have a baby!" He shouted again and again between whoops of joy. He put her down. Then he got down on one knee before her. "I love you Natalie Ann Lambert. Marry me. Marry me now."

She looked at the bright happy face staring up at her. How could she possibly say no the man she loved more than life itself. Especially since the proof of their love was growing inside her. "Yes, Nicholas de Brabant Knight. I will marry you." Her last words were almost smothered by his mouth covering hers.

**********

He brushed a stray curl from her hair. I could get used to this. He pulled the black satin sheets over the two of them. Even in his king sized bed, they somehow managed to wind up on the floor. I could get very used to this. He thought as he watched her chest rise and fall in sleep. They had made love again that night. This time, he made sure that he fed to the point of engorgement. And he saw to it that she had a huge nourishing meal. After all, she was eating for two now. He didn't want to take any chances with the love of his life ... or his son. He was sure of it now. The child that Natalie carried was a boy. He smiled broadly. It sounded so good. My son. He saw a mental picture of the boy. Strawberry blond curls. Sapphire blue eyes. Lopsided puppy dog smile. My son.

The phone ringing shattered his reverie. Nick picked it up before the answering machine kicked in. Natalie was awake and beside him in a second.

"Nick." Myra's voice said. "It's Don."

He closed his eyes. His heart thudded despondently against his chest. Please, God. Don't let this be what I think it's going to be. He prayed. He hit the speakerphone button.

"He's regained consciousness. The doctor says he's not out of the woods by a long shot, but ..." She started to cry. Nick couldn't hear the rest of her words for the sobs of joy coming from him and Natalie.

**********

Nick smiled as he and Nat came into the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. His partner looked immeasurably better than he had the night before. Most of the wires and tubes had been removed. Only the heart monitor beeped with regularity. The positive breathing tube had been replaced with a simple nasal oxygen ring and only a clear saline drip was connected to his right arm. Don smiled as he saw the two, and he attempted to rise, but Myra gently restrained him.

"Hey, Skank." Nick chided. "Didn't anybody ever tell you to duck?"

"I guess I forgot." He said hoarsely. His face shone with false innocence.

"That's okay, Pard." Nick grinned, taking the hand that Don proffered into both of his. "I forgive you. This time. But don't ever let it happen again."

A nurse wheeled Tracy into the room. She, too, looked much better than the last time Nick had seen her. Her left arm stuck out in a full chest cast to immobilize the broken bones in her shoulder. An IV drip was also inserted into her right forearm.

"You didn't leave." She said as Nick hugged her gently. "Javier said that LaCroix had moved on and he said that you were going with him. I'm glad you didn't go."

"You were going to move on?" Don asked.

"After last night, I thought there was nothing left for me here in Toronto." He hugged Natalie. "I was wrong. My ... family is here." He surreptitiously patted her abdomen. "My home is here."

"And he's going to be around here for a long time." Natalie said, beaming. She covertly pinched his tush and watched with glee as he tried to hide his surprise. "He just asked me to marry him."

Tracy reached for her friend. "And you better have said yes!" She said as the happy tears flooded her eyes.

"You know I did." She said returning the hug. "And I want you to be my maid of honor."

"Way to go, man. It's about time you came to your senses and realized what everybody else has known from day one." Don grasped Nick's hand as tightly as he could.

"Don. Will you be my best man?" Nick croaked. It was hard to talk with Myra's arms squashing his throat.

"If you'd have asked anyone else, you'd be laying in the bed across from me." With a stake through your heart. Don grinned. "Now I really do have a reason to get better fast."

********** New York

Lucien LaCroix sat in the VIP lounge at Kennedy International Airport. He had intentionally booked an early evening flight out of New York in order to avoid arriving in Paris during the day. He had spent the time since his arrival that morning from Toronto in the airport hotel. He had booked an inside room with a view of the concourse, instead of one with a view of the runway. No chance of sunlight that way.

He felt the thrum of his son along their link. He probably would continue to receive vibes until they approached the European continent. Even after that, there would still be a minimal link.

Nicholas was happy. That much he could tell, although he did not know for certain what had caused this change in his son. He assumed that it had everything to do with the good Doctor Lambert and her impending motherhood. He smiled sinisterly. Enjoy your happiness while you can, Nicholas. It will not last forever. She will grow old. You will not. As for the child, one day he will know the truth about you ... and his mother. Then we shall see if he will want you ... or her ... in his life. When that happens, my ... 'son' ... you will return to me. I can wait. I am a patient man. I have forever after all.

"Air France flight 23 for Paris with connections for Rome, Athens, and Istanbul now boarding at gate 41. Vol 23 d'Air France pour Paris avec des connexions pour Roma, Athenes, et Istanbul embarquant maintenant a la porte 41." The loudspeaker droned.

LaCroix picked up his carry on bag. Istanbul. Lacroix thought. Intrigue. Spies. Smuggling. Conspiracy. Deception. Chicanery. The list went on and on. He smiled broadly. That was definitely his kind of environment. He remembered a little bordello in the old city. The women there were exceptional ... and very delightful, too. I must see if I can book a flight there. It might provide me with a bit of excitement in an otherwise dull century.

Etrian watched as the elder vampire made his way along the causeway to the plane. I wouldn't be so sure of that, Lucius. He thought.

********** The end But which end?