Forever Knight Turning Point

Doug Hemsley pulled his car into the parking lot. A silly smile spread across his face as he shut the car door and started walking. Jo. Soon she would be his. His Jo. It sounded so right. They had known each other since high school and had dated since college. They had drifted apart after that, and had met again at a party thrown by a mutual friend. It didn't take long for the sparks to fly once more. Six months after that eventful meeting, he proposed. Of course, she said Yes. He had been floating on air ever since. That was the reason he was here tonight. To be fitted for his tux.

He did not see the person. All he felt was the cloth pressed to his mouth. The sickening sweet odor nauseated him briefly, but it was soon overtaken by the falling sensation as he lost consciousness. ********** "No way, girl!" Grace Balthazar said to her boss. "You two are NOT going to run over to city hall to get the license and find a judge on your lunch hour."

"But Grace ... " Natalie Lambert tried to interrupt her assistant. She had returned from her days off wearing the ring that Nick had given her. It was of an ancient enameled filigree design, with a center diamond of about a carat, surrounded by alternating garnets and sapphires. He had retrieved it from his cache of treasures that he kept in the storage room of the warehouse. He told her it had belonged to his mother. It was her wedding ring. She had given it to him when he came of age. According to him, it was to be given to the woman he truly loved. It fit her perfectly. Grace instantly noticed the ring, and immediately pigeonholed Nat for the details. ALL the details. "After all the time and effort everybody has put in to get the two of you together, the least we deserve is a real honest to goodness wedding." From the look in her assistant's eyes, Natalie knew that anything less would not even be thinkable, let alone acceptable.

"But we ... "

"Now, you just leave everything to your Auntie Grace. My cousin Hattie is in the catering business. I've worked with her on lots of occasions. I guarantee you between the two of us we can put together a wedding that will knock the socks off this city."

"Can you do it in less than a week?"

"A week? Not for something as important as this! How about a month? It's going to take time to put together something this momentous." Already her dark eyes were beginning to sparkle with anticipation. "Let's see, I got to find a florist . My neighbor can handle that, she belongs to the Flower Club. And book a hall ... I wonder if the Eagles Club is available. Then there's the invitations ... My cousin Charlie works in a print shop. He can get them for me at a discount. And a dress ... Can't have a wedding without a dress ... " Grace rambled on, the phone cradled in her shoulder and a clipboard and pen in her hands.

"I'll have to talk it over with Nick, but ... "

"Good. Then it's all set. Saturday, four weeks from now, you and that handsome detective will be man and wife."

**********

Nick Knight handed the report to Captain Reese. Since the shooting in the locker room, he had been manning the dispatch desk, at least until Internal Affairs finished their investigation. Everyone seemed to be of the opinion that those involved had acted in a prudent and reasonable manner. It was also agreed that Nick had only a very minor part in the incident. But until the IA report was fact, and the Inquiry Board handed down their decision, he had no choice. Unlike some of the other shootings the trio had been involved in, Schanke and Tracy had been seriously wounded in this one, and Commissioner Vetter was out to nail someone to the wall for his daughter's injuries. Preferably Detective Nicholas B. Knight. Richard Vetter never did approve of his daughter's hotshot partner.

"What have you got this time?" The Captain asked as he took the papers.

"Missing Person Report. At least that's what it is ... " Nick replied as he handed it to his Captain. " ... so far."

"What makes you say that?" Even though his best detective was not on the case, he still wanted Nick's input .unofficially of course.

"Maybe it's just a hunch, but according to Joanne Cherborn, the woman who called it in, Doug Hemsley, the man who is missing, had no reason to voluntarily disappear. They were supposed to go to The Church Of The Redeemer for a pre marriage seminar earlier today, but he never showed up. She called his house, but there was no answer. None of his friends knew where he was, either. He took the week off from his job starting yesterday to get ready for the wedding. She thinks that something happened to him."

"Give it to Murray Franken." "Cap." Nick sighed. He hated paperwork in the first place, and to be out of the action like this galled him. "How much longer ... "

"I know what you're going through. I realize that it curls your short hairs to have to be riding a desk, but regs are regs and we have to abide by them. If IA doesn't dot every ' I ' and cross every ' T ' in this matter, Vetter will have all of our asses flying from the flagpole right below the Maple Leaf first in the morning. Be patient. From what I hear, it will be only a couple more days."

**********

Don Schanke pulled on the trapeze bar suspended over his bed. He grunted in pain as he levered himself almost to a sitting position. They had installed the bar so he could move around easier. So far, he had no feeling or movement below the waist. According to the neurosurgeon, the abdominal bullet had chip fractured the second lumbar vertebra and the resultant swelling was causing pressure on the spinal cord. The doctors were hopeful that sensation and mobility would return as the swelling diminished, but they couldn't be certain.

"MR.SCHANKE!" The nurse shouted as she came in the room. "You can't do that!" Gently, she eased him back into the bed.

"But I just did it." Don replied. "My partner is getting married in a month and I'm going to be his best man. I've got to be ready." He reached for the bar again.

"You will be. IF you follow doctor's orders. But if you break your stitches . " She gently slapped his hand away. "If I catch you trying to sit up before the doctor says you can, I'll have maintenance take that thing down. Understood?" Sheepishly, Don nodded. "Understood." He said softly. The nurse didn't couldn't see that he had his fingers crossed beneath the sheet.

"Good. Now. It's time for your medicine." She held up a hypodermic syringe and uncovered his right hip.

"Another shot." He groused. "Can't you give me a pill?" He winced and groaned as she pushed the needle into his buttock.

"You felt that?" She exclaimed.

"Of course I felt it. And it hurt like hell. Why do you think I want the pills?"

"But you felt it!" "Yeah!" He grinned ear to ear. "I felt it! I really felt it! Do it again!"

"What?"

"Just do it."

"Mr. Schanke. Did anyone tell you that you are weird?"

"Yeah. My partners tell me that all the time." He pointed to his leg. "C'mon. Jab me again."

"I don't understand. Why you want me to cause you pain?"

"Because I never realized until now just how good pain could feel."

**********

Richard Vetter threw the report of the shooting in the locker room that Detective Fengler had given him down on the desk. "This is not good enough." He said. "My daughter was nearly killed in that shootout and someone is going to take responsibility for it. I blame her partner Knight for the whole thing. If he had been doing his job instead of mollycoddling that Coroner, Tracy never would have been in the locker room in the first place. He's nothing but a glory hogging hotshot. Always has been. People like that have no business putting my daughter in danger. I want him hung out to dry."

"I'll admit I've got no love for Knight either." Fengler replied. "But Internal Affairs has investigated the incident thoroughly. According to everyone they talked to, Detective Knight had only a very minor role in the affair. We can't find where he, or anyone else for that matter, did anything inappropriate. In fact, after the shooting, Detective Knight acted in a manner well above the call of duty."

"That's where you come in. I know because of you're feelings toward Knight, you won't be tempted to gloss over the facts like some other people would. You will see to it that he gets what is coming to him. My daughter's left arm is paralyzed. He's responsible. Find something. Anything we can use against him... I want him fried for this."

"As much as I want to see Knight's balls hanging from my rear view mirror, I can't go against department guidelines. The investigation has been closed."

"And I am reopening it. From here on, you will be acting under my personal authority." He pointed to the door. "That will be all, Detective Fengler. Do whatever you have to do, but get me Knight."

**********

Nick came into the Captain's office. "I wish I had been wrong." He said as he put the latest report on his desk. "A report just came in of a body found in a dumpster at the Hillcrest Mall. Victim matches the description of Doug Hemsley. Just thought I'd let you know before I give it to Franken."

"You take the call?"

"No, but Jenson knew I had taken the Missing Person Report the other day, so he gave it to me to bring in."

"You want this one, don't you?"

"Like you said before, it curls my short hairs to be out of the action."

"I can't officially assign you to it, but ... if you were to take a very long lunch hour . and you just happened to be at Hillcrest Mall at the time ... "

Nick was gone before the Captain finished speaking.

**********

Natalie turned away as the team of technicians brought the partially nude body of Doug Hemsley from the dumpster and zipped him into a black plastic body bag. He was wearing a torn and bloody T-shirt, but nothing else. The Forensics Tech said that the rest of his clothes were in a trash bag that was taped to his wrist. The trash receptacle belonged to the Food Court, so in addition to all the other odors, there was also the smell of spoiled and rotting food. This, combined with the stench of the blood and dead flesh, was overpowering. Add to that, the morning (Or evening) sickness . Even the liberal amount of wintergreen she had smeared under her nose did little good. She was not alone. Quite a few of the officers and bystanders also had left the scene in a hurry, their countenances in varying shades of green.

She looked up, surprised to see that Nick was among the bystanders. He noticed her at the same time. Slowly, he made his way through the crowd to her.

"What have you got here?" He asked as he put his arm around her and noticed that her face had a decidedly grayish cast. "You okay with this?"

"Yeah. It's just the awful smell." She assured him. She handed him the jar of wintergreen. He applied a line across his upper lip. He was thankful that he didn't have to breathe as often as mortals did. He wondered how Nat and the others could stand it. Especially now.

"Better question. What are you doing here? " She asked. "I thought you were supposed to be on dispatch detail until IA was finished with their report."

"I am. I'm on my lunch hour and I thought I'd come over to the mall and look at some ... things. You know. For our wedding."

"And I've got some hot business properties in the Arctic Circle that I'll sell you ...very cheap."

"So, what have we got?"

"Douglas Hemsley. 28. Male. Caucasian. 5'10". Weight about 172. Cause of death, exsanguination. Been dead at least 24 to 36 hours. I'll know more once I get him back to the lab." Nick gave her a 'One Of Us' look

Her return look said 'No'. "Here's the clincher. His genitals were amputated ... While he was still alive. He bled to death from that."

Almost every male in hearing range, including Nick, subconsciously winced and covered their groin area.

Murray Franken came over to the two of them. "I know you aren't on the case." He said to Nick. "But I also know you're interested. Sort of an amicus curei." He handed Nick an evidence bag with a note in it. 'He's with the trash where he belongs.' It was printed in block letters on standard typing paper. "I, for one, am glad for any help I can get on this one." He pointed to a woman leaning against one of the patrol cars. "That's his fiancee, Joanne Cherborn. She's taking it very hard. They were to be married next month."

Nick looked at the woman and quickly turned away. She was no more than 5 feet 4. She had auburn hair and blue green eyes. In his mind, he saw Natalie. "No. It's your case." He said softly. "I'm just an observer."

**********

"Let's go over this one more time, Detective Vetter." Wilson Fengler asked. He turned on the small tape recorder that was on the table between them.

They sat in the waiting room area of the hospital floor. Tracy had undergone another surgery a few days after the shooting and a pin and plates had been placed in her shoulder to hold the bones together, eliminating the need for the heavy awkward cast. Her left arm was now encased only in a sling. If there were no complications, she was due to be released from the hospital the day after tomorrow.

"I've given Internal Affairs the account of the incident already."

"I understand that. Tell it to me. Just one more time."

"All right. I'll start from the top. I was at my desk and so was Detective Schanke when we . "

"And where was Detective Knight?"

"He wasn't there."

"Where was he?"

"He was at the Coroner's building with Doctor Lambert. I told them that before, too."

"How did he get into the locker room?"

"I don't know. I was too busy covering Detective Schanke while he was trying to . "

"Was Knight supposed to be there?"

"Like I said, I don't know."

"What did Knight do while he was standing in the doorway?"

"I said I don't know. I wasn't paying attention to what he was doing. I was ... Wait a minute. That's what this is all about, isn't it? You're not trying to get at the truth. You're trying to find something to hang Nick with, aren't you?"

"What makes you think that?"

"Because every time I try to tell you what happened, all you want to know about is Detective Nicholas Knight and his part in it. Tell me the truth. Is my father behind this?"

The IA agent did not answer, he only stared at the recorder for a long moment. His silence spoke volumes to Tracy.

"He is, isn't he? You don't have to answer that. I know my father. He's had it in for Nick right from the start. He's tried before to pin something on him. It didn't work then and it's not going to work now." The anger boiled just below the surface. Watch it, Vetter. You're walking on thin ice. She cautioned herself. She took a deep breath. "If you'll just listen for a moment, I will tell you all I know about Detective Knight's involvement in the shootings. Number one, he did not even enter the locker room until after the shots had been fired. Number two, he subdued Dawkins at great risk to himself. And number three, he administered emergency first aid to me and to Detective Schanke until help arrived. He probably saved Schanke's life."

"If Detective Knight had not been in the doorway, do you think Dawkins would have fired on you and Detective Schanke?"

"I am not a psychiatrist. But I do believe that Dawkins was definitely unstable and he was not, in my opinion, acting in a rational and reasonable manner. I think that sooner or later. Yes. He would have shot one or both of us. I don't think Detective Knight's presence had anything to do with that."

"As you said, Detective. You are not a psychiatrist. That will be all, Detective Vetter." He turned off the recorder and put it in his pocket.

"If anyone's to blame for the shooting, it's me. I shouldn't have tried to go into the room in the first place. Detective Schanke had things under control. My ."

"I said that will be all." Detective Fengler said angrily.

Not flipping likely. Tracy thought as the Detective left the room. Just wait until I see my daddy dearest. We're going to have this one out once and for all.

**********

"So, what's the latest on our Mr. Hemsley?" Nick asked as he entered the morgue. Natalie had finished the autopsy and was about to push the gurney into the cold room.

"Should you be here? IA is going to take a very dim view of your actions."

"Can't I come here to talk to my fiancee about our wedding plans?"

"Grace is the one you should be talking to. She has taken complete charge of everything."

"I know. She's been calling me practically every hour on the hour with questions. 'What's your favorite flowers?' 'Do you want chocolate or white cake?' 'Would you prefer classical or contemporary music?' It's gotten so that sometimes I feel like answering the phone as 'Grace's Information Bureau'."

"Be glad she isn't bugging you in person. I can't get anything done. She's been interrupting me every five minutes." Nat said as she kissed him lightly on the cheek.

Almost as if on cue, Grace Balthazar came into the autopsy room. "Good. They said you were here, Detective Knight. I've been meaning to ask you . What size trousers do you wear?"

"36 waist. 34 inseam. Why?"

"For the coat and tails, of course."

"I have my own tuxedo. I was planning to . "

"Not good enough. My neighbor's son in law runs a formal wear store. He's cutting me a deal on all the groomsmen's wear." She took a deep breath. "So far, I have the Moose Lodge for the wedding and the reception. The Eagles Club was booked for that Saturday. Judge Merlewicz has agreed to perform the ceremony. My sister Hattie will be handling the food and drinks and decorations. I've almost worked out the details with Habeas Corpus for the music. They're that group of lawyers, you know. I hear they're really good. I still need your guest list. I've got one from Natalie. You have an appointment for eight PM this Thursday at Formals By Fernando, that's Lorrie's son in law's store, for the first fitting. And everything will be ready about a two weeks after that.

"You've done all of this in just four days?" Nick asked. "Maybe you should think about turning pro." He chided. He knew that when Grace Balthazar put her mind to something, nothing in heaven or on earth could stop her . He remembered the cold room. Grace and Don had locked him and Nat in there and refused to let them out until they had kissed and made up. Maybe if we have another fight, they'll do it again. Making up was the best part of a spat.

"And I haven't even hit my stride ." Grace beamed as she walked out of the room, a self satisfied smile on her face. As she was about to close the door, she wiggled her Reubenesque rear end in a 'Can't Touch This' manner. " . Yet!"

"And now." Nick said. "What About Hemsley?"

"He wasn't killed at the scene. Although there was a lot of blood there, it wasn't nearly enough. And he was severely beaten before he was killed. Bruises and cuts on his face, torso and arms. It happened over at least a two day period from the looks of the marks."

"Was he conscious when his . when he was . "

Natalie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She nodded imperceptibly.

"Any clues as to the killer?"

"Nothing. No blood other than his. No stray hairs. No DNA. Nothing. It's as though the ... killing was done in a sterile environment."

"That in itself may be a clue. The murderer might be someone in the health field"

"Do you know how many health services practitioners there are in the greater Toronto area?"

"No, but I have a feeling Franken is going to find out."

**********

It had been a long night, and Nick was looking forward to nothing more than a hot shower and a long day's sleep. He threw his coat on the chair and headed for the kitchen. Since the night he had found out about Natalie's condition, he had gone back to drinking the fifty fifty mix. He reserved the 'good stuff' for the nights when they could be together. While his present diet wasn't as satisfying as whole blood, and definitely not as gratifying as Nat's blood, it was light years away from the straight bovine that he had been drinking for so many years. LaCroix was right. That stuff was swill. He had even switched to pig and deer blood to make the mix more palatable.

As he opened the bottle, he knew he was not alone. There was another vampire present. A shudder went through him. LaCroix is back. No, it wasn't his master. The vibes were wrong. The signature vibrations were familiar, though. He concentrated again. "Irahem." He said as he took a long drink from the dark green bottle. "It's good to see you again. What can I do for you?" Irahem stepped out of the shadows. "Good work, Nicholas. I see you are still in excellent form."

A second later, Etrian separated himself from the darkness and came into the kitchen. A step behind him was the black Enforcer. Nick had not even suspected they were there.

"I have been remiss in my introductions." Irahem said. "My companion here . " He pointed to the other Enforcer. "Is Jempii Tomutu."

Tomutu nodded curtly.

"We have heard some disturbing things about you and Natalie Lambert." The ancient vampire said as he settled himself on Nick's black leather couch. Irahem and Tomutu stood behind him in a sort of parade rest.

"What kind of things?" Nick asked, although he had a fairly good idea what the vampire was talking about

"That you and the lady are planning to wed." Nick nodded, trying to stifle the grin that was threatening to spread across his face. "And that she is pregnant, and you claim that the child is yours."

"But how did you find ... " He had not said anything to anyone about Natalie's pregnancy except to LaCroix. LaCroix had not believed that the baby was his, and, given the situation between the General and the Ancient, he doubted that the elder vampire would have said anything to him.

"That is not for you to concern yourself with. Just suffice it that we do know. Then it is true that you are planning to claim the child as yours?"

"I am claiming nothing. It is a fact. The child is mine. I don't know how, but he is mine." If the Enforcers were here to punish him for the act, he knew it would be useless to resist. And he could not lie about it, either. Somehow, he did not believe that it was their intention to harm him or Natalie at the moment. He just hoped that they would be sympathetic to Natalie when they questioned her.

Etrian stood up and put his hand on Nick's neck and pulled it to the side, exposing the carotid artery.

Nick nodded acquiescence. Although he was frightened, he had no choice. It would be easier if he agreed. If the Ancient wanted, he could easily take his blood by force. As Etrian's fangs slipped into his neck, Nick was aware of an exquisite sense of pleasure washing over him. He had been surprised at the pleasurable, almost erotic feelings he had when Irahem had taken his blood. This encounter made those sensations pale by comparison. After far too scant moments, Etrian withdrew. Nick breathed an inner sigh of relief. They were not going to kill him ... yet.

"We are not here to kill you." Etrian said as though he were reading Nick's mind. Maybe he was. "We only wished to verify what has occurred. It is true that you have fathered the mortal's child. Your blood does not lie. Now we can deal with this event."

"You mean kill him?"

"We would take action only if it ... if he were to become a threat to the Community. However, there are those within the Community itself who would not hesitate to take matters into their own hands."

"I know that." Nick said softly. "And it worries me." In truth, it scared him to his toes. "What do you intend to do about it?" What I'd like to do is take Natalie and the baby and disappear so deep that no one will find us for at least three centuries. But that wasn't possible or practical. "I guess I'll just have to tough it out and hope that I'm able to protect them until ... "

"You will not be alone in this. Your ... son will be unique among our kind, and we will do everything in our power to see that he is given every opportunity."

"What about Natalie . Doctor Lambert?"

"In due time, Nicholas de Brabant Knight. And do not worry. We have no intention to harm the woman." Etrain nodded.

"Thank you, Etrian." Nick said. He was speaking to the air.

**********

"Look, Detective Fengler." Don Schanke spat the word 'Detective' as though it was an epithet. "If you think you're going to pin anything on Nick Knight, you're wrong. He had nothing to do with what happened. If anyone is to blame, it's me. I never should have tried to go into the locker room. I should have waited for the negotiating team to arrive."

"And why didn't you wait? Was it because you knew that Knight was there to cover you?"

"I didn't even know Nick was in the building. The last I heard, he was at the Coroner's. I went in because I knew there was an outside door. I wanted to make sure that Dawkins didn't have any opportunity to use it."

"You and Detective Knight go back a long way, don't you?"

"What has that got to do with any of this?"

"You'd do anything for him, wouldn't you?"

"What kind of a question is that? He's my partner. Of course I'd do anything for him."

"Even lie?"

"I think you'd better leave . Now." He could feel his anger rising. He wanted nothing more than to punch the living crap out of this obnoxious excuse for a policeman. "You don't want the truth. You're on a witch hunt, and you're hunting my partner. Well, you won't succeed. He's innocent of any wrongdoing, and nothing you can say or do is going to change that. If you even try, I will personally take this to the Commission ..." He stopped suddenly. "Just answer me one question, Fengler . "

"I'M the one who is asking the questions!" Fengler replied sharply.

"Is Commissioner Vetter behind this?"

Fengler said nothing, but the look on his face told Schanke that his question had hit home. Fengler picked up his equipment and left the hospital room in a hurry.

Schanke could feel the anger building inside of him. He tried to take a deep breath to help himself calm down, and he was painfully reminded of the reason he was in the hospital in the first place.

**********

Natalie turned the key in the door to her apartment. Although she had been spending a lot of her time at the loft, tonight they had both agreed that they needed some time alone. Not necessarily from each other, but because they had both put in exhausting shifts and they both needed a good day's sleep.

As she opened the door, she could almost sense someone was there. It felt a lot like Nick. Since that fateful night in the loft, she found that she could sense him easily. Oh, no. I really need a good day's rest. "Look, Nick I . "

"Good morning, Doctor Lambert." The man said as he stepped out of the darkness. "I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am not your fiance."

Natalie's heart stopped for a second and she reached into her pocket and pulled out the sprayer of Holy water she carried for times like this. She held it in front of her. "One more step . "

"You will not need that." The man said. "I am called Etrian. I only want to ask you a few questions."

********** Paris

Lucien LaCroix stepped out of the limo at the theater. He adjusted his jacket and brushed off an invisible speck of lint. While he had worn a tuxedo to the black tie event, he would have preferred top hat and tails. They were so much more elegant. Especially for first nights. Unfortunately, these days very few men wore tails. And no one wore top hats any more. Thanks to that American President. So much for modern society.

This was the opening of Faust, one of his favorite operas. He felt that the drama portrayed in the opera closely paralleled the story of his own life. With him playing the part of Mephistopheles, of course.

As he approached the door, he became aware of the presence of other vampires. Enforcers, if their vibes were true. Before he could react, two men grabbed him and he felt the sting of a hypodermic needle in his right shoulder. The next moment he felt as if he was sliding down a long gray green tunnel into a black pit.

********** Toronto

Reese glared at the IA agent as he came into his office. He disliked the IA in general and this particular agent in particular. For some reason, Wilson Fengler seemed to come down the hardest on the 96th.

Although he knew why, it didn't make it any easier to take. Three years ago, Knight and Schanke had reported to his supervisor that Fengler had conducted an unfair investigation on one of the officers from the 96th. It earned Fengler a reprimand and a three month suspension. He had been passed over for promotion on two occasions because of it as well. Fengler had not forgotten that. "I thought IA had completed their investigation." Reese said without prelude.

"There are some other factors that I have to corroborate before this case can be settled."

"What kind of factors."

"Detective Nicholas Knight."

"Knight had nothing to do with what happened. He acted above and beyond the call of duty. All of them did. In fact, I'm in the process of recommending Knight, Schanke and Vetter for commendations."

"According to my information, Detective Knight did not act above and beyond the call of duty. In fact if anything, he was derelict in his duty. That led directly to the incident." Fengler said. There was no emotion in his voice. It was almost as if he was reading the lines from a script.

"What makes you think that?"

"He was not at his desk when he should have been. In essence, he was AWOL. That's for starters. Tell me, Captain Reese. Did you order Knight to go into the locker room?"

"What does that have to do with anything?" Reese demanded.

"He was in the area during a hostage situation. Without orders. That's insubordination. If he hadn't irresponsibly barged into the locker room, Dawkins would not have opened fire. That's endangerment. Right there, I have enough to demand his badge."

"And you, Detective Fengler, are way out of line." Reese felt his blood pressure rise. I've had about enough of this ... this ... He couldn't find words harsh enough to describe the man. He was trying to lynch one of the best cops Toronto had ever seen. That was the last straw. "It just so happened that he was at the Coroner's building WITH my permission. Doctor Lambert was under serious emotional strain. A friend of hers committed suicide only a few hours earlier, and Detective Knight was helping her to deal with it. He had no idea what was going on here, and he came to the precinct as soon as he was informed of the situation. In the second place, he VOLUNTEERED to try to help at the scene, and I allowed it. Also, he did not enter the locker room until AFTER the shooting. There are plenty of witnesses to all three of these statements. Knight was doing what any cop worth his badge would have done. He was trying to protect his partners' lives.

Dawkins was already mentally unbalanced. There are at least a dozen people who will testify to that, too. He could have opened fire at any time. For any reason, or for no reason at all. Sooner or later Dawkins would have done the same thing. It wouldn't have mattered who was in the doorway. Or if no one was in the doorway. It just so happened that it was Knight standing there. I'm not about to let you railroad him just because he was in the right place at the wrong time. I, and just about every man and woman in this precinct will fight you tooth and nail on this. If we have to take it all the way to the Crown Court in Ottawa. Now get out of here before I do something that I will NOT regret."

"Captain. This will be reported to my superiors. He . They will not be pleased with it . Or with you."

"And just who . " Reese started to ask. He remembered several previous attempts to have Knight reprimanded ... or worse. They had come mainly from one person. "Never mind. I think I know who is behind this." He went to the door and held it open. "It was . nice talking to you." He nearly choked on the words.

"I'm not finished."

"Oh, yes you are."

After the IA agent left, Reese picked up the phone and dialed. "Commissioner Sinclair." He said to the man on the other end. "This is Captain Joe Reese of the 96th precinct. I think here is something that you and some of the other Commissioners should be aware of . "

********** New York City

Slowly, the black faded to green and finally to a dull gray. Lucien LaCroix was aware that his eyes were closed. He attempted to open them, but they were firmly cemented shut. With a great deal of effort, he managed to force one eye open. Then the other. The world was severely out of focus. As the rest of his senses began to function once more, he was conscious of the fact that his head throbbed incessantly and his mouth felt as though it was stuffed with cotton. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn that he was hung over. Even though his senses were rather limited, he was able to determine that he was lying on a couch in a rather opulent room.

"Well, Lucius. You are finally awake." A voice came from somewhere across the room. It was familiar, but with all the cobwebs and fur cluttering his brain, he could not put a name with the voice. "I know we had to use a larger dose of curare on you than on the average vampire." The voice continued. "I apologize for that." An arm attached to the voice held a bottle to him.

He took a long drink. Pure human. Good vintage. Recently donated, too. It helped. As his eyes reluctantly began to work together, he could make out the figure that went with the voice and the arm. In agonizing slow motion, it went from a blur . to a man . to a clear picture. Etrian. "Why am I here?" LaCroix said. The cotton in his mouth slowed him down. "And where is here?"

"And a good evening to you too, General. As to where you are, you are in my apartment in New York. To answer your other question ... Why ... Because I have sent for you."

"You could have just asked me to come. You didn't have to send your . goons to kidnap me. And from the opening of Faust of all things. And why bring me back across the Atlantic? Couldn't you have done whatever you are going to do in France as well?" Mentally, he chided himself for showing such a display in front of the Ancient, but his reasoning and thought processes were still a bit off kilter.

"I could have done that. Would you have agreed to return with me if I had approached you in Paris?"

"I don't see ... "

"Exactly. You would not have returned willingly, would you? Also, here you are closer to your final destination." The ancient vampire seemed to enjoy toying with the General.

"Which is ... " LaCroix said, the anger threatening to come to the surface. Etrian was playing with him and he knew it . and Etrian knew that LaCroix knew it.

"Why, Toronto, of course."

"There is nothing for me in Toronto."

"Your son is there."

"He wants nothing to do with me."

"Since when has that ever kept you from him, Lucius?"

"He will come back to me, of this I am certain. Once his pitiful obsession with the good Doctor Lambert comes to an end. I have left him to his own devices on many occasions and he has never been able to make it on his own before. This is merely another of those times. Sooner or later he will need my assistance and that is when I shall return. And not a moment before." He stared smugly at the Ancient. "So you see Etrian, all of this was for nothing."

"I would not call the safety of your grandson ... Nothing."

"The child is NOT my grandson!" LaCroix fumed. "As much as Nicholas would like to delude himself that the child is his, the truth is that Doctor Lambert is pregnant by someone else. By a mortal, not by Nicholas. You know as well as I do, Etrian, that it is impossible for a vampire to impregnate a mortal."

"That is what I thought as well, Lucius. However it happened, Nicholas has impregnated the Doctor. I have tasted both her blood and his, and they both tell the same thing. I am satisfied that the child, indeed, is his."

"You have taken MY SON'S blood?" He had killed others for less.

"Yes." Etrian answered calmly. "Nicholas voluntarily allowed me. As did Doctor Lambert. As you are aware, there are those in the Community who would call this child an abomination and who would eagerly do whatever it takes to see that the threat they believe exists is eliminated. Along with all those involved. This is why you must return. It is up to you to protect them."

LaCroix tried to mask the impact of this statement. As much as he denied it, he had developed a grudging admiration for Natalie Lambert. She had spunk and courage that was rare among mortals. Add to that she was not afraid of him. She had stood toe to toe with him on several occasions when even another vampire would not dare. He had not encountered anyone like that in a very long time. Not since Fleur ... He privately acknowledged that she would make an excellent addition to his family, either as a mortal . or as a vampire. If the child she carried was indeed Nicholas's, he was family. As was Natalie. He could not stand idly by and let anyone harm HIS grandson. Or his mother. Or his father. He had no choice. He had to return to Toronto.

********** Toronto

"What is the meaning of this piece of crap!" Richard Vetter shouted at the IA detective. "I thought I told you to get me something on Knight."

"I can't, because there is nothing to get. Everyone I talked to said the same thing. And all the evidence bears them out as well. Knight is innocent of any wrongdoing. It was one hundred percent the fault of Delbert Dawkins. He was off the deep end from the time that he came into the station. Knight had nothing to do with the shooting. In fact, he was a hero."

"I thought you hated his guts as much as I do. I thought you wanted to see him hang as much as I do."

"I'll admit I'd like nothing else after what he did to me. But I deserved what I got. He doesn't deserve anything but the medal that Reese wants to pin on him. I won't give you his ass on a platter for something he had no part in."

Vetter picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk and handed them to the detective. "I thought you might try to double cross me. This is the report that you will turn in to the Board of Inquiry. This is the ONLY report you will turn in to them. Is that clear?"

Fengler read the paper carefully and threw it back on Vetter's desk. "No. I won't do it. This is nothing but eight pages of outright lies. I won't be a part of it."

"You will do it or so help me, I'll have your badge."

Fengler took the case out of his pocket. "You want my badge?" He threw it on the desk. "Here it is."

**********

Nick waited by the lift. He had asked Natalie to come here before she went into work. At first, he wasn't going to tell her about the visit from Etrian, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized that she had a right to know. He couldn't keep any secrets from her. Keeping secrets was responsible for over half of their problems. His heart gave an extra beat as he heard her heartbeat in the garage. He followed it as she got into the lift, and finally, as she stood on the other side of the door. He opened it and gazed into the face of the woman who meant more to him that anything or anyone in all the centuries he had existed.

"What's wrong?" She asked as she saw the sad look on his face.

"I had a visitor." He said softly. "A vampire."

"LaCroix's back? I thought he said that he would be out of your hair for at least a hundred years."

"No. Not LaCroix. Someone much more powerful. Etrian."

"I know about him. He came to see me yesterday. He wanted to make sure that the baby was yours. What did he want with you?"

He relayed to her what the ancient vampire had told him. " ... So you see, if you stay with me, you are in a great deal of danger. I don't want anything to happen to you ... or the baby ... because of what I am." He took a deep breath. This was going to be the hardest part. He turned and walked into the kitchen. "If you want to call off the marriage, I will understand. I have no right to put you in jeopardy like that." He choked back a sob. I have to give her the option. "If we go our separate ways now, no one will ever know that the child is mine and you and he will be safe. I will see to that."

"You want to deny your own child?" She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Here was the man she loved with all her heart and soul telling her that he didn't want her ... or their child! "I thought you wanted this baby as much as I do"

"I think it would be the best thing for everyone involved." Oh God! I want this baby more than anything. I need you more than life itself. I can't live without you! Please say no! Say I'm wrong! Say you'll stay with me!

Natalie's heart stopped. This can't be happening. I must be having some kind of a terrible nightmare. She wanted to run. She wanted to scream. She wanted to hit something ... someone ... Nick.

Natalie's beeper went off. "So much for our little talk." She said sadly. "No rest for the weary." She picked up Nick's phone.

**********

The glare of the lights and the crowds of police, technicians, and bystanders reminded Nick of some garish perverted carnival scene. He had remained in the Caddy. She had driven her own car to the scene. She didn't know that Nick had followed her. In the state she was in, he wanted to make sure that she got there in one piece. And that she got through this without anything . He wished they had called in someone else. She was already upset from the scene at the loft, and now to subject her to the trauma that Nick knew she would face made his heart nearly break. Reese, Schanke, and Tracy had all told him of their encounters with Fengler, and they all cautioned him to be on his extra special behavior. So, he forced himself to sit here while Nat went through what must be hell.

Murray Franken saw the Coroner. He went to her and gently placed his hands on her shoulders. Although they hadn't made any formal announcement, everyone knew that she and Knight were engaged. Grace Balthazar just happened to let it slip to Peg Martinez in the telephone room, who happened to tell Linda Barwell in Records. From there it had spread like wildfire.

Natalie looked up at Franken. She looked like death not even warmed over. Her color was a pasty gray and she shook noticeably. Although there was no sound, he could tell she was crying. She sniffed loudly and then made a gallant attempt to put on her Doctor face. She almost succeeded. "Paul Cardner. 31. Male Caucasian. Death by exsanguination. His . " She squinted her eyes tight shut and made a face. "The same as Hemsley." She handed him a baggie with a note in it. "This was tied to his wrist." The note said that he was a bastard fag. She began to sob. Nick. She thought. He was blond with blue eyes. If I didn't know better . It could have been you.

**********

Richard Vetter walked into his daughter's hospital room. "Hi, Button!" He said cheerfully. "Ready to go home? I brought the limo. Figured it would be easier to ride in than in the Mercedes. I even had the staff fix your room for you. It'll be just like old times. I've already hired a private nurse. She'll be waiting for us when we get home, so you'll have round the clock care."

"Don't 'Button' me!" Tracy glared at her father. "And what makes you think I'd even consider going with you? If you had bothered to call first, you'd know I'm going to MY home. I DO have my own place, you know. I've had it for quite a few years now. In case it slipped your mind."

He raised his arms in a gesture of surrender. "Whoa, sweetie. There's no need to get upset. I just want to make sure that my little girl has everything she needs to get well, that's all. You shouldn't be alone at a time like this, that's all I meant."

"I am NOT your little girl! And I WON'T be alone, either."

"I'll be with her." Javier Vachon said from the doorway.

"What is HE doing here?" Vetter glowered at the Spaniard. If looks could kill, and if he were vulnerable, the Conquistador would have been dead ten times over.

"HE . has a name. It's Javier Vachon. HE has been here since I came out of the anesthesia the night of the shooting. HE hasn't left my side since then. And HE is going to stay with me while I recuperate."

"Honey pie. You know I wanted to be with you, but with my work, and the investigations into the shooting, and the divorce and all that . I just haven't had the time. You did get the flowers and the candy I sent, didn't you?"

"Yeah, Dad. I got them. And the beautiful card, too. I could tell your secretary signed your name to it. She's almost got it down pat. Tell her to make the loop on her 'H's' a little thinner. I'll bet she even picked out the flowers and the candy, too. Tell her thanks."

"Look, about that . "

Tracy turned her attention to Vachon. "Javier. Would you mind waiting outside for a few minutes? My . Father and I have something to . discuss."

"Sure, Querida." Vachon said kissing her lightly on the cheek. "I'll be just down the hall. If you need me, I'll be here in a heartbeat." Literally.

Richard Vetter continued glaring at him as he left the room.

As soon as he left, Tracy returned her gaze to the elder Vetter. "I had a visitor a few days ago. A Detective Fengler. He asked me some very . curious questions about Nick and his part in the shooting. And this was after the regular IA team had been here. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

"Button, baby." Vetter said. "About that. I can explain."

"Oh. I BET you can. What are you trying to DO to him, Daddy? Nick happens to be one of the BEST detectives that the 96th has. I'll venture to say all of Toronto Metro has. WHY are you on his case like you are?"

"Because he's a hotshot. A loose cannon. He doesn't play by the rules. He's put you in danger more times than I care to think about. I want you safe, not traipsing around with someone like him. Next time he could get you killed."

"HOTSHOT? LOOSE CANNON? PLAY BY THE RULES?" Tracy breathed fire at her father. "I seem to recall that Bruce Spencer fit that description, too. Yet you covered his backside six ways from last Sunday. Of course, he used to date me in high school, didn't he? And what about Ben Clarke? Rumor had it that he was a dirty cop, yet you let him retire with full benefits instead of prosecuting him. Let me see . Oh, yes, I forgot. He was your partner at one time, wasn't he?"

"There were other considerations. They were special cases."

"Oh, I'm sure they were. While we're on the subject of special cases, perhaps I should mention your squeaky clean record. At least the one that's in your official file."

"What do you mean by that?"

"After Fengler left, I asked a friend of mine in Records to do some digging. Strictly off the cuff. It seems that some of the original crime reports she found buried in the archives don't exactly match the entries in your jacket." She held up a manila folder. "Excessive force. James Sharp. He was only sixteen years old. A scared kid. According to this, he was trying to give himself up, not escape." She took a copy of a report out and handed it to him. "And because you got trigger happy ten years ago, Nick took a bullet to the head, and I was nearly incinerated. Can you say loose cannon?" She handed him another report. "Questionable evidence. MacElheny case. Yet it was admitted in court and it was instrumental in his conviction. Three years later, they found the real criminal. Anthony MacElheny spent three years in jail for a crime he didn't do. Are we playing by the rules yet?" Another paper. "Improper warrants. Yet they were served anyway. Although this time the suspect was guilty, he could have just as easily been innocent. Would that be considered hotshot?" She threw a third one at him. "Shall I go on? I have at least a dozen more. Could it be that somehow your . official record has been . modified?"

"What do you want?" His voice was starting to shake and tiny beads of sweat were beginning to appear on the sides of his face.

"What I want is for you to leave Nick Knight alone. Drop this badgering that you're doing to him. IMMEDIATELY. And don't ever attempt to harass him again. Officially or unofficially."

"But Tracy . I can't do that. He's put you in danger. He nearly got you killed this time. And Detective Schanke as well. He has to be made to answer for that."

"I am a COP. Danger is part of my job description. I would be facing danger no matter WHO may partner was. IF I have to be in the line of fire, I'd rather have Nick Knight and Don Schanke covering my butt than any ten people I can think of, YOU included."

"But it doesn't have to be that way. Just because you're on the police force doesn't mean you have to put yourself in the line of fire."

"Oh, yes. That's right. You DID get me transferred to Computer Fraud. Once. We BOTH know how that turned out don't we? No, thank you, Father. I'll take my chances with Nick and Don."

"I was only looking out for you."

"Well STOP looking out for me. I can take care of myself. And if you try ONE MORE THING against EITHER of my partners OR me, I can guarantee you'll never see me again for as long as you live."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll quit the force. I can always get a job with the police in Montreal . or maybe Moose Jaw . Come to think of it, I've always wondered what it would be like to be a RCMP. Or maybe I'll go to the States. Somewhere where you can't interfere with me. Or my job. Ever. Do you read me?"

Richard Vetter hung his head. "Loud and clear." He said, barely above a whisper.

"And to make sure you keep your word, I have another set of these papers. And those are certified copies." She held up the folder once more. "If this . matter isn't cleared up in three days, they go to Commissioner Sinclair and the Board of Inquiry. Do I make myself clear, COMMISSIONER Vetter!"

"Tracy. That's blackmail."

"I prefer to think of it as creative persuasion. Good evening . Father. I believe you were just leaving. Do me a favor. On your way out, tell Javier that I'm ready to go home, will you?"

**********

Natalie looked at the corpse lying in front of her. Come on. She told herself. You can do it. You've done hundreds of autopsies before. This one is no different. She looked at the figure once more. His dark blond hair hung in loose ringlets around his face. He had a semi square jaw, too. She ran her hand down his bare chest. It was ice cold. If she shook him gently, he'd wake up. No. This is NOT Nick Knight. She firmly told herself. This is Paul Cardner. Involuntarily, she let out a small sob. But it could be Nick if they find out about . She held her stomach tightly.

"Have you got the results of the ... " Grace Balthazar came into the room. "But then, how could you have the results yet, you haven't even started the autopsy." She noticed the expression on Natalie's face. "Come on, girl, you want to talk about it?" She said, putting her arm around the Coroner.

"I can't do it." Natalie half sobbed. "Get someone else. I can't." She broke her assistant's grip and ran out of the room.

Grace found her boss sitting in her office, crying. "Look, honey." She said, lifting Nat's tear stained face to her. "You aren't doing anyone any good in the shape you're in. Let me call Nick Knight and have him take you home."

"NO!" Nat snapped. "I'll be all right. I just need to rest for a moment."

"No you don't need a few moments of rest. You need a good night's sleep. You look like hell and you've been crying up a storm almost from the time you came in here. Either you talk to me, or I'm going to get Knight over here and you can talk to him, but you're not going to keep it bottled up inside you. You got that straight?"

"Yes. I got it. It's this case. Really. Paul Cardner looks like Nick." She half lied. That was only part of it. She couldn't tell Grace that Nick wanted to call everything off. That he wanted to deny the life growing inside her. Hell, she couldn't even admit it to herself, let alone anyone else.

"I can understand that. Okay. You stay here. I'll see if someone else can do the autopsy. I'll be back in about a half hour to check on you."

"Thanks, Grace. Do me a favor."

"Anything."

"Don't say anything about this to Nick."

**********

Nick Knight squeezed the pen in his hand. He was attempting to clear out some of the backlog on his desk. Although he was still officially on dispatch duty, Reese suggested this more as therapy than anything else. Several of the other dispatchers had complained that he had nearly snapped the heads off a few of the callers. Reese reminded him that he was there to help people with their troubles, not cause them.

The Captain was right. All he could think of was Nat's face during their encounter earlier. She looked at him as though he had thrust a hot poker through her heart. He felt the same way, but he knew in his cold dead heart that this was the only way that she and the baby would ever be safe. In time, he was sure, she would see it that way, too. Maybe she wouldn't hate him too much. A loud snap brought him out of his thoughts. He looked down. He had been pressing on the barrel so hard that the pen had snapped in two. He uttered an epithet in an obscure French dialect that had not been spoken since the early thirteenth century, and flung the broken pieces across the room. The point end speared the wall scant inches from Officer McMertrey's head.

"That does it!" Captain Reese said as he pulled the other half from the molding of his doorway. "Knight. Go home."

"I'm sorry about the pen." Nick said sheepishly. "I guess I don't know my own strength. It won't happen again." Nick did not look like a man about to wed the woman of his dreams. He looked more like a man who's world was falling apart.

"You're right about that. Come into my office." He had seen that look before. Sometimes all the person needed was to get whatever it was off his chest, and things would start to straighten themselves out. At least he hoped this was the case. While Nick had the nickname of Knightmare, and deservedly so, Reese knew that this man had been through a lot lately. More than enough to send most people over the edge. He wondered how Knight was able to hold himself together as well as he did.

Nick followed the Captain. Reese closed the door and pointed to the chair opposite his. "All night, you've been walking around here with a chip on your shoulder bigger than a telephone pole. Wanna tell me what's bugging you?"

"It's just the IA thing." Nick lied, declining to take the seat "I'm crawling the walls on dispatch duty. That's all. Once that's out of the way and things get back to something like normal, I'll be okay."

"I think there's more than that. How are things between you and Natalie?"

"FINE!" Nick replied way too hastily and way too loudly.

"Sure they are. And I'm the first runner up in the Mr. Universe contest. Why don't you tell me about it? Man to man. Off the record, of course. Sometimes it helps just to put it into words. I listen real good, and every once in a while, I've even been known to give some worthwhile advice. I guarantee you anything you say will not go beyond this room."

"Not much to talk about. We had a little spat, that's all. I just pushed the one person who made life worth living out of my life. And I did it for her own good.

"I certainly hope that's all it is. But, if you ever want to talk, my door is always open. Plus I have a lot more experience than you have in dealing with the fairer sex."

If only you knew. "I'll remember that." But how much experience have you had dealing with a group of vampires that want to rip you and your family to shreds and drain you just because you exist? "I think maybe I will book off after all."

"Candy and flowers go a long way toward patching things up." Reese said as the detective opened the door. "So does a little sincere groveling. Fifteen years of marriage taught me that." "Thanks, Cap. I'll remember that, too." Nick said. Reese thought he caught just a hint of a smile.

**********

Lucien LaCroix stepped off the escalator and headed for the baggage area. Ever since he left New York, he had sensed that Nicholas was troubled. Now that he was back in Toronto, the vibes were even stronger. He had told Etrian that he would watch over Nicholas and Doctor Lambert. That much he had to do. If what the ancient vampire said was true, and Lambert was pregnant with Nicholas's child, he owed it to himself and to his son to keep her safe. There had to be a way to turn this to his advantage. All he had to do was find it.

He picked up his suitcases from the luggage carousel and after clearing customs, went outside. The night was clear and there wasn't very much traffic at the terminal at two o'clock in the morning. Good. He didn't feel like waiting for a taxi. He had another mode of travel. Much more efficient . and infinitely more enjoyable. He went to a deserted area at the outside of the exit ramp. No one was in sight.

For a split second, the Air Traffic Controller thought he saw a tiny unidentified blip on the radar screen. Then it was gone. The computer must have hiccuped. He thought as he rubbed his eyes.

**********

Natalie opened the door to her apartment. Although she had been living here alone for the past ten years, the place somehow seemed lonelier than she had ever remembered it. The 'discussion' she and Nick had earlier that evening definitely added to that feeling. Although it was hardly a discussion. He did the talking. She did the listening. . Danger. For your own good . Better this way . She had heard it all before. But it didn't make it any easier. Who does he think he is, anyway. Making decisions that affect both of us . the three of us . based entirely on HIS perceptions?

A yowling ball of indignant gray fur wound itself around her legs. She picked up Sidney and held the cat close to her face. He reached out a paw and not-so-gently swiped at her chin, accompanied by an angry hiss. The cat was pissed, and Natalie knew why. His food and water bowls were empty. She kissed him on the top of his head, drawing more unpleasant sounds, and put him back on the floor. "Okay, Sid." She said, going to the cabinet and taking out a can of food. "I get the message. Dinner will be served shortly." Sidney immediately jumped on the counter and stationed himself beside can opener. As the appliance whirred, the yowls were gradually replaced by excited squeals and trills. She picked up his bowl. He landed on the floor with a thud that was considerably louder than his ten pounds should have made. "Be patient." She admonished the cat, who was prancing and jumping in anticipation. "You would think you hadn't been fed in a week."

She poured herself a glass of milk. As a doctor, she knew that coffee or alcohol at this stage of pregnancy was bad for her and for the baby. So, it was milk. She also splashed a generous dollop into a saucer for Sid. She set all the things on the coffee table. Sidney jumped up and began devouring his food without fanfare.

"At least I have you." She said, stroking the cat's back. This, combined with the food, sent his internal motor into overdrive. The syncopated juxtaposition of lapping and purring sounds made a strange combination. "What am I going to do?" She asked. The cat looked at her for a few seconds as though contemplating the question, and then continued his eating. "I love him with everything I have to love. And I know he loves me the same way. In the few times he has let down that damned wall of his, he has shown how deep and complete that love is." Sid looked at her and warbled. "Why does he think that he has to do everything all by himself? Why does he think that the only solution to any problem is to push me away. Like that's going to make it go away. Doesn't he realize that it hurts me as much as it's hurting him? And I know he is hurting, too. I mean, if it were just the two of us, I could understand . Well, not understand exactly, but I could at least . I don't know. But now there's another life to consider . The baby . His child . our child. " She hugged herself tightly and began to sob.

Sid hopped to the couch and licked the salty tears from Natalie's face. She buried her face in his soft fur and the tears flowed faster than he could lick them away.

She did not notice the figure hovering just outside the living room window.

So, the child really is his . Lucien LaCroix mused as he disappeared into the night sky.

**********

"Commissioner Sinclair for you." Pauline Massillon, Richard Vetter's secretary came over the intercom

"Tell him I'm not in. Tell him I'm busy. Tell him I'll call him back later." Vetter replied. Seconds later, Harvey Sinclair burst into the office. Behind him, Pauline was protesting loudly.

"I tried to tell him . " She said.

"I wasn't on the phone, Richard. I was standing right at her desk." Sinclair said. Vetter glared at the secretary, who sheepishly closed the door on her way out. "Now then, I received several rather disturbing calls concerning your handling of the investigation into the shooting at the 96th. You weren't even supposed to be in on that one. Care to tell me what you're trying to do?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Harvey."

"I'm talking about this." He opened a folder and started reading. "I have a complaint from Captain Joseph Reese of the 96th. And I also have statements from Detective Donald Schanke and from Detective Tracy Vetter, I believe she's your daughter, that a Detective Wilson Fengler has been trying to vilify the reputation of a Detective Nicholas Knight in connection with that shooting."

Vetter's mind was racing. So far, all Sinclair had was Fengler. Everything else was hearsay and conjecture. There was no way that the head of the Board of Inquiry could directly connect him to the incident. "I know all about that." Vetter finally said. "I called Fengler in to question him about the incident. He eventually admitted that he was out to get Knight for reporting him on a suspicious investigation that Fengler had done." He reached into his desk and took out the badge that Fengler had thrown to him. "I took his badge for it. I am preparing the formal report right now. I think that with his history of inappropriate investigations, we can easily have him dismissed from the force, and possibly brought up on charges of harassment and possibly bias."

"I don't think it's going to be as easy as you think. You see, I also have a statement from Wilson Fengler. According to him, you ordered him to, in his words, quoting you, 'Find something ... Anything we can use against him ... I want him fried for this.' He also said that when he refused to turn in a report that YOU had written showing that Knight was guilty, you told him, and again I'm quoting, 'You will do it or so help me, I'll have your badge.' He said that's when he said 'You want my badge, here it is.' And he said he threw it on your desk and walked out."

"How can you believe that?" Vetter said. He hoped Sinclair wouldn't notice the sweat on his palms. "He's obviously trying to get back at me for firing him. You can see by the other reports and this one, too, that he's nothing but a petty, vicious man who is out for revenge."

"Dammit, Rich. We've been friends for a long time. So far, this is only a very informal query. Just me to you. Do you really want me to take it any farther? I've got enough to take it to the Crown Prosecutor."

Vetter shook his head slowly.

"I didn't think so. Then it's agreed that the report turned in by the original IA team will be the one that the Board of Inquiry will rule on."

"Agreed." He said softly. He had no choice. If they were made public, the statements that Harvey Sinclair had and the folder that Tracy had on him would be more than enough to ruin his career. There would be other opportunities to get Tracy out of Homicide and into a safer field, and if in doing so, he happened to burn Knight's ass, so much the better.

**********

Nick Knight left the Inquiry Board room and breathed a small sigh of relief. The Board had cleared him of any blame in the Dawkins case. It was an ambiguous victory. He still blamed himself. It didn't change the fact that Tracy and Schanke had been shot and that both were facing a long uphill road before getting back to anything that even remotely resembled normal. He felt responsible for that. It should have been him. Already, he was doing what little he could to try and make it up to them.

Anonymously, through the De Brabant Foundation, he had arranged for them to be given the best possible care and therapy. If there was any hope for complete recovery, he would see to it that they got everything they needed. Maybe there was something else he could do.

He had almost expected that Natalie would be at the hearing. When she didn't show, it had broken his heart. In a way though, he was grateful that she didn't come. He wasn't ready to face her after what he had done. He didn't know if he would ever be ready to face her again.

**********

Nick stood in the doorway. He had second and even third thoughts about what he was about to do. He had to do something, after all, he felt responsible for that happened. The least he could do was try to make it right.

Don Schanke saw his partner. "Hey, pard. Don't just stand there, come on in. What brings you here?" He pulled the cover off his left foot. Watch this!" He said with a wide grin. The movement was barely noticeable as his toes wiggled ever so slightly. "Ain't that great!"

Deliberately, Nick moved to the nightstand and took one of the medicine cups. This was right. He could make it all right.

Don watched in awe as his partner took a small penknife from his pocket and slit his wrist. He let a few drops fall into the cup before he suckled the wound closed. He added this to a glass of water and handed it to Don.

"What's this?" Don asked puckering his face into a grimace.

"My blood. Only a few drops. It'll help you heal faster. Now. Drink."

Still maintaining the face, Don closed his eyes and emptied the glass. It didn't taste as bad as he thought. Just a little salty with a slight metallic tang. "Yuck! Are you sure this'll help?"

No one was there.

**********

Reese called him into his office almost as soon as he returned to the precinct. For once, he was grateful for the summons. Everyone was congratulating him and calling him a hero. With his partners on the disabled list, he didn't feel much like a hero. They were the heroes, not him. Reese held out his hand. Reluctantly, Nick shook it. "I knew they'd clear you." Reese said. "And I'm happy to say that officially, as of right now, you are off dispatch duty. Since you are temporarily without partners." Reese emphasized the word 'temporary'. "And since Franken's partner is on extended leave, I'm assigning you to work with him for the time being. I know you've been interested in the case he's working on at the moment, so it won't take you long to get coordinated with him."

"Thanks, Captain but I think I'd rather work alone . "

"I don't think you read me, Detective. That's not a request." Although his face was stern, there was just the barest trace of an upturn at the corners of the Captain's mouth.

**********

Lucien LaCroix stared in disbelief at the scene before him. He had only been gone two weeks, but his apartment on the second floor of the Raven looked as though a tornado had passed through it. All of his furniture had been removed. To where, he had no idea. The mahogany bookshelves and most of the other built ins had been dismantled and many of the parts were laying on the floor. Thankfully, the antique oriental rugs had also been taken up, to be replaced with paint spattered drop cloths.

He remembered that he had told Miklos that he could use the apartment while he had stewardship of the Raven, but he did not mean for the Greek to remodel the place. He started for the main area of the club. The bartender would pay dearly for desecrating his sanctum sanctorum. He stopped at the top stair. No. If Miklos knew he was there, he might tell someone ... such as Vachon. Vachon would certainly tell Nick. That would not do at all.

Although they were small and definitely not lavishly furnished, perhaps a room in the basement would be a far better choice. He was certain that Miklos did not know his vampire signature well enough to pick him out from the signatures of the dozen or so other vampires who normally used those rooms on a regular basis.

He made his way to the fully stocked 'wine cellar' in the sub basement before heading to the room. Thankfully, there was still an adequate supply of his personal vintage on hand. After he had unpacked and stored his belongings in the meager closet, he poured himself a large glass. "So, Nicholas is acting true to form." He said to no one as he took a long drink. He had visited the Doctor's apartment earlier that evening and had heard her talking to her cat. It was obvious that Nicholas had backed away from their relationship in fear of what some of the vampires might do to her and the child. "He has once more pushed the good doctor out of his life." Under normal circumstances, he would have welcomed this turn of events, but he had made a promise to Etrian that he would watch over them and keep them safe. Doesn't he realize that by cutting her out, he has placed her in even more danger from those who would harm her?

He went to the table that served as a desk and took out a sheet of paper. Fortunately, after he had formatted his plan, he had stopped at an all night store and stocked up on writing supplies. I suppose it is up to me to correct his mistakes . again. He had many centuries of expertise in reuniting Nicholas and his paramours after lover's spats such as this.

It had been so much easier when he had to arrange a reconciliation between Janette and Nicholas. All he had to do was send each of them a bottle of the other's blood. Nature took care of the rest. This situation was very different. Natalie Lambert was mortal. That would not work with her.

He could always confront Nicholas. Order him to reconcile with the Doctor. But, after the threats that his son had made at their last meeting, he knew that Nicholas would not do as he was told. In all probability, he would leave his staked remains on the loft roof for the morning sun to dispose of. He knew he would not have much better luck with Doctor Lambert, either. She had no great love for him. She too, would have no qualms about removing him from the scene. Permanently. No. This called for a completely different approach. He could not let either of them suspect that he was even in Toronto, let alone that he was behind their getting together. Although subtlety was not necessarily his forte, he could be as discrete as he had to be.

He read the letter he had written. He could mimic his son's handwriting as good as or better than Nicholas could. It was the same with Janette's. He had done so on quite a few occasions.

Natalie

I love you with all my heart and soul. I have loved you from the moment we met. I realize that pushing you away was only one of the many mistakes that I have made, but it is by far the biggest mistake. If you will let me, I will spend the rest of our lives proving to you just how much I do love you.

You are the only thing that makes life worthwhile. I have been a fool and I know it. Can you ever forgive me? There is nothing that is more valuable to me than you are. We must work this out.

He started to sign it Nicholas, but realized that only he called him by that name anymore. He grimaced as he signed it 'Nick'.

He picked up the boxes of candy and put them and the letter in a messenger envelope. He had already arranged for the flowers to be delivered at the same time.

Now for Nicholas. He took out another sheet of paper.

**********

Murray Franken looked up as Nick Knight stood by his desk. He pointed to the empty desk across from him. "Have a seat, Knight. Reese told me you'd be working with me for a while. I think we both can get a lot out of this arrangement. You can learn a lot from my extensive experience and I get a chance to watch the great Detective Nicholas B. Knight in action."

"Franken. " Nick said as he took the seat. "I know this isn't the best way. We both have partners and neither one of us wants to upset the other's apple cart. So, let's just make the best of it. Okay?" He knew would have rather worked alone, and he suspected that Franken felt the same way.

"I didn't mean to come on as hostile, It's just that, well, it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I mean, I was walking a beat while you were still in diapers. I think we can teach ... and learn ... a lot from each other. Why don't we start over again?" He extended a beefy hand. "Hi, Nick. Have a seat and let's be friends."

Nick took it and shook it heartily. "I'd like that a lot, Murray." Maybe this won't be so bad after all. Murray Franken was a lifer. He was probably weaned with a badge on his bib and he would most likely retire with three men on either side of his flag draped coffin. He even looked like the stereotype old school cop. With his thick shock of white hair and weather-beaten face, Nick could easily see him flatfooting a beat swinging a billyclub.

"So. What have you got on the two killings?" Nick asked. "Any leads?"

"Nothing. Except that they were both killed in the same way, there doesn't seem to be any other connection. Cardner was a corporate lawyer with a prestigious firm. Hemsley worked for the Province as a Computer Operator. They were in different social circles, came from different backgrounds, and from all I can find, had no friends or acquaintances in common. Even their fiancees didn't know each other."

"Fiancees? The were engaged?"

"Yeah. Hemsley was getting married next month and Cardner's wedding was to be in July. The event of the season, if the papers are right."

"Maybe that's the hook. Maybe the killer is going after engaged men."

"Knight, do you know how many couples get engaged in Toronto every day?" Murray said. "Why pick out these two."

"Do they have anything in common? Anything at all?"

Murray shook his head. "I told you before, we checked their backgrounds thoroughly."

"Who's handling the weddings?"

"What? You think I'm a complete dodo? Cardner was getting married at the Scarboro Country Club. Reception to follow. Invitation only. Only the blueblood of Toronto society. Hemsley was to be wed in The Church Of The Redeemer and the reception was to be at the Don Valley Ramada."

"Wait a minute." Nick said excitedly. He picked up the photos of the two men that their girlfriends had given Franken and placed them side by side. "There was one other thing they had in common."

"And that was . ?"

"They both had blond hair and blue eyes. And their girlfriends were both redheads. Maybe we can use that to smoke out the killer."

"What?"

"I'm engaged. I have blond hair and blue eyes. Natalie's hair is auburn. I could be the bait." So far, he hadn't told anyone about the other night. Maybe if he ignored it, it didn't happen. Maybe Etrian never came to his loft. Maybe Natalie never ...

"You ARE joking, aren't you? Reese will never go for that. And I can imagine what the Doc will say when you tell her."

"Why do we have to tell anyone? According to Grace, the pictures were in yesterday's paper, and I have an appointment for another tux fitting tomorrow." This may be the only thing salvageable from the wedding.

"Because thirty years ago, I started out as a traffic cop and I don't want to want to spend my last years on the force directing traffic on the QEW . during rush hour."

"And why would you be directing traffic before you retire?" Joe Reese said from behind Nick. Neither had heard or seen him and Nick had no idea how long he had been standing there.

"No particular reason." Murray said hesitantly. "I was just ... ah ... telling Knight about some of my experiences on the force."

"That's okay. As long as your . experiences . don't get anyone killed." Reese said. He turned to Nick. "I hope you don't mind if you have a few extra groomsmen in your wedding party. Wouldn't want anything to happen to you before you walk that last mile, now, would we?" He winked broadly as he headed back to his office.

**********

Natalie gasped as she looked at her desk. There, covering nearly the whole work area were boxes of candy and vases filled with roses. In the middle was a large envelope with her name, written in the handwriting she knew so well. She picked it up.

"Go ahead, girl." Grace said from behind her. "Open it up. All this came by messenger a little while ago, and everyone is dying to know who it's from. Especially me. Although I have a pretty good idea who sent it."

"Don't go jumping to any conclusions, Grace." Nat said. "You don't know the whole story." I wish I didn't know.

"I know that you and Nick have been on the outs for the past couple of days. You have been going around like you either want to kill him, or hold on to him like there's no tomorrow. I personally vote for the latter."

I'd like nothing better. But after what he told me, that's not likely.

"Two dozen roses and Godiva Chocolates! He's serious." She pointed to the envelope in Nat's hand " Whatever he's done, it looks like he's trying to make amends. If that has reservations to a fine restaurant, I suggest you forgive him. Nothing could be that bad that your love can't overcome it."

If only that were true.

"Besides, I've got too much invested in the two of you to let you go down the drain. Don't you know I love you like a sister? And I even love that knuckleheaded guy of yours, too."

Nat opened the letter and read it.

"Well . "

"Don't push. I've got to think about this." I want to rush over to the precinct and tell him all is forgiven, but I can't. I'm scared. Of what, I don't know.

"Well, don't think too long. If this wedding doesn't go off, I'm out a lot of dough. Most of the deposits I made are non refundable." She smiled. "Seriously, you two were meant to be together, and I'm going to do everything I can to see that it happens."

"Grace. You are truly the original matchmaker. You'd make a Yenta proud. And I love you for it. I promise I'll at least talk to him. Okay?" She started to the autopsy room. "So, who's our first guest tonight?"

**********

Natalie wiped her face and started out of the restroom. This was the second time in as many hours that she had to come here in a dead run. She hoped there weren't any more incidents. This last one was mostly dry heaves.

The small plane crash had left three mangled and bloody bodies on her table. One of them a seven year old boy with blond hair and blue eyes. She clutched her abdomen. It could have been ... Normally, she would have made it through without too much trouble, but with all that had happened, her system just wasn't up to all that blood and gore.

She nearly ran into Grace as she left the restroom.

"Girl." Grace said. "Is there something you want to tell me?" She handed Nat two Maalox tablets, and several of the saltines that the doctor kept in her desk drawer just for times like this along with a glass of cold water. She had been using the antacids and the crackers more and more lately as the morning sickness ran its course. How Grace found them, Natalie did not want to know, but she was glad that she did. She eagerly devoured them and sipped at the water. They did their job, and her stomach slowly began to return to normal.

"Is this the reason you and Knight were in such a hurry to get to the altar?" Natalie stared intently at the floor.

"You don't have to answer that. I just wish you had told me from the start. A baby! I think it's great!" She wrapped her boss in her arms and gently led her back to the office.

"Does he know? Of course he knows. I can see it in the way he looks at you. But he got cold feet, didn't he?"

Nat nodded. That, and the fact that there are some vampires who would cheerfully drain me... and him . and the baby. Just because we exist.

"It looks like he's changed his mind. That's why the roses and chocolates. I'm going to tell you once more. Go and get this straightened out."

"I'm not sure I can. Just do me a big favor. Don't mention this . " She put her hand on her abdomen. "To anyone else. At least not yet."

"I won't, honey. But in a few more weeks, nobody is going to have to tell anything to anybody. If I noticed that you've been putting on weight and having morning sickness, you can bet your bottom dollar others have noticed it too."

**********

She picked up the paper. The picture of the beaming couple was circled in red ink. That bastard! She thought. He's doing it again. He's not worth anyone's love. I'll see to it that Jess doesn't break another woman's heart like he did mine. I don't care what name he uses, he's nothing but scum. He deserves whatever he gets. I've got to save this woman from making the same mistake I made. Too bad she hadn't been there for the first fitting. She could have done it then and saved everyone a lot of pain. Everyone except Jess, that is. She gave a self satisfied smile as she placed the alteration order with the other ones for tomorrow night.

********** "I still say we should have taken the department car." Murray Franken told Nick. "That ore freighter of yours is too much of a target. All it needs is a huge bullseye painted on the side. It's a wonder somebody hasn't used it for target practice already. It practically screams 'hit me'. Why can't you drive a normal car like everybody else?"

"Because I'm not everybody else. I like that car. Has the biggest trunk of any car to date." Nick said as he took his coat off the back of his chair. "I think I'll be heading home. I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow." Although they had been partners for only a week, and Nick knew it was only temporary, he liked the older detective. Franken was right. He had learned a few investigative nuances from him that he never would have thought of.

"Just remember to call me before you head for the tux rental store. I want to be there when you go."

"Why? To make sure I don't get cold feet?" Too late for that.

"To make sure you live long enough to marry the doctor."

If only that were possible.

**********

"I don't see why I can't start my therapy today instead of tomorrow." Don Schanke groused at the nurse. "I'm supposed to be the best man at my partner's wedding, and I can't do that from a hospital bed. The sooner I get my legs working right, the sooner I can get out of here."

"Because tomorrow is what the doctor ordered and tomorrow is when we will start." The nurse said. "By all standards, you shouldn't even be this far along in your recovery."

That's why I've been working out on the trapeze bar when nobody was looking. And I know that Nick's blood played a big part too. "But the stitches came out yesterday and I can feel my legs real good now. If I don't start using them soon, they're gonna shrivel up. You wouldn't want that to happen would you?" He tried his best to imitate his partner's little lost puppy dog look.

"All right. You win. I'll compromise. I'll have one of the orderlies bring in a wheelchair and if you behave yourself, I'll have him take you to the waiting room at the end of the hall."

"Now we're getting somewhere. Can I stay there when Myra and Jenny come for visiting hours?"

"Don't push your luck."

"Who, me?" Don said with as much innocence as he could muster.

**********

Nick opened the bottle and poured the remains of the liquor into it. This was pig blood. Although LaCroix would debate the issue, to use pure human for bloodbooze would be an inexcusable waste. He considered the glass that sat on the counter, but ignored it. For the kind of drinking he was going to do, a glass would only slow him down. He took a long drink and went into the living room. He put the bottle on the end table and held his head in his hands.

Tomorrow would be hard. Pretending that he was the happy groom, when there wasn't even going to be a wedding. He took another drag. The rum burned his throat as it went down, but he didn't care. After a few more bottles he wouldn't feel the pain. He wouldn't be feeling any pain. Then maybe he could even get a decent day's sleep without seeing the look on Nat's face when he told her what Etrian had said. It haunted him every moment, awake or asleep. If he could do it over again, he wouldn't have even said anything . IF .

He never heard the skylight being opened.

"Hi there, Knight." Javier Vachon said. Nick nearly jumped to the ceiling. "I didn't mean to frighten you like that. Maybe I should have used the door." The Spaniard said as he floated down and sat beside Nick on the couch. "You must really be on pins and needles about the upcoming nuptials."

"Don't I wish." He growled.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Whatever you want it to mean." He didn't want to talk about it to anyone. Especially not to Vachon. "What brings you here? I thought you were staying with Tracy while she recovers. Nothing's wrong, is there?"

"Well, no. Not exactly. She's getting better every day. Yesterday she even had a little tingling feeling in her elbow. I think the shot of 100 proof Vachon that I gave her really is helping."

"You gave her your blood?"

Javier nodded. "Better than penicillin for what ails you." He took a small flask out of his coat pocket. He held it to Nick. "You mind?"

When Nick shook no, Javier took a long drink. "I came over to talk to you. I guess I ... well, I usually ... I mean whenever I needed to talk to someone ... Urs was always there, or Screed. But now they're ... gone and you're the only one that I could think of that I can talk to." He started to take another drag, but the small flask was empty. Nick handed him the bottle. Javier put it to his lips and took several swallows. "Man!" He wheezed as he put the bottle on the table. "That's one potent brew. What is it, anyway?"

"Pig blood and Rum 151."

"151! That's almost as powerful as curare. You must really be wanting to really tie one on."

"I am going to try. But you're not here to talk about my problems. I'll do what I can to help you with yours." He took another drink. The rum was starting to do its thing. He felt himself starting to relax. He could feel his inhibitions falling away. Normally, he wouldn't be this open with anyone, but the rose colored haze that the rum was building in him made it seem like the right thing to do.

"Okay. Here goes. It's Tracy. Well, it's sort of me and Tracy . I know you told me to take responsibility for her. At first, I hated you for that. At first, it was a real chore. Now, however ... " He took the bottle and swallowed a large gulp. " Now I want to protect her. I want to be with her. I want to ... Knight, I think I'm falling for her. No, that's not right. I've already fallen for her. Head over tincups. I love her, and it scares me silly. Am I making any sense?"

Nick nodded. "A year ago, I would have torn you apart for what you just told me, but now ... " The room was beginning to take on a warm glow and he felt a kinship with the young vampire. They both were in love with mortals. The only difference was that no one wanted to kill Vachon . or Tracy. "But I can see how you could fall in love with Tracy. As for what you do about it, again, a year ago, I would have given you advice that would have been the direct opposite from what I'm going to give you now." He took a swallow. "Now, all I can tell you is to follow your heart. You ... and Tracy have to decide what course you are going to take. No one can make that decision for you." He took another drag and handed the nearly empty bottle back to Vachon. "Do you love her?"

Vachon nodded.

"Do you want to be with her?"

Again the young vampire nodded, and after taking several swallows, handed the bottle back to Nick.

"Then fight for her with all you have."

"But what if I . What if she . "

"You can't live your life on what if's, Javier. You've got to make a stand. A commitment." He took another drag on the bottle and passed it back.

"You're right. I gotta do what I believe in. Now then, what's wrong between you and Nat? From what you said ... or didn't say ... when I came in, I have the feeling everything isn't happiness and bli ... bliss between you and her." He drank the last of the bottle and held it to Nick. "Got any more of this st-h-uff?"

"Sh-hurr do-o." Nick slurred. His head was buzzing loudly and the world was getting very fuzzy around the edges. "I st-hopped at th-he liquor sth-ore on my wa-ay home." He got up and walked into the kitchen, weaving noticeably. Vachon was right behind him, in not much better condition. After several tries, and with the help of a large funnel, they managed to transfer half a bottle of deer blood and half of a rum bottle into the empty bottle. Nick then poured the rest of the rum into the remaining deer. He handed Vachon one bottle and he took the other. They lurched their way back to the couch.

"Now that you've hel-ped me wit' my sitch ... sitech ... my problems." Vachon said as he tilted his bottle to his lips. "Let me help you with yours. C'mon, Nicky, tell ol' Doc Javier what's wrong." He heavily put his arm around the other's neck and drew him into a bear hug. In response to a withering glare, he released his hold on the older vampire.

"I'm afraid you ... can ... can't help me with mine. No one can." The only way you could help is to find the vampires who want to kill Nat and me . and our baby . and kill them first.

"You know ... it might not be a bad idea if you listened to the advish you gave me. Follow your heart." He took a good drag on the bottle. "You love her ... Right ... "

"Right." Nick too, took a long swallow.

"You want to be with her ... Right ... " Another drink.

"Right." He emphasized the remark with by guzzling several ounces of the mix. "Then take your own advice. Fight for her." Vachon took a long swallow from his bottle. "And don't live your life on what if's."

"I ... I ... You know . you're right. I will fight for her." He tried to stand, and didn't quite make it. He plopped down on the couch with a thud. " ... First thing tomorrow."

"And now, let's drink to those who are no longer with us." Vachon raised his bottle. "To Screed." He clinked with Nick's and they both tipped their bottles.

"To Amanda Cohen." Nick said as he took another swallow.

"To Urs."

"To Janette."

"To ... To whoever." This time Vachon drained his bottle and laid his head on Nick's shoulder. This made the perfect resting place for Nick's head. Seconds later, the loft resounded with the sound of soft snoring.

LaCroix stepped back from the skylight. The Spaniard might have some use after all. If he can get Nicholas to do what is right for the Doctor, no one will ever have to know that I even had a hand in it. Carefully, he lowered himself into the room. He approached the sleeping pair.

"You do love Doctor Lambert with all your heart and soul." He whispered into his son's ear. "You desire nothing more than to spend the rest of your life with her. In your inebriated state, you wrote her a letter in which you poured out your feelings for her. You asked her forgiveness. You even sent her flowers and chocolates. And her favorite perfume, which is ... "

"Provocateur." Nick mumbled sleepily. He smiled as he 'remembered' doing the things that LaCroix was planting in his subconscious.

Excellent. I will see that she gets a bottle of it tonight. "When she calls ... and she will call ... you will go to her and the two of you will kiss and make up." LaCroix smiled. I will have to remember this for future reference. Influence his inner mind, and I influence him.

As silently as he had entered, the master vampire left the loft.

"Just to be sure." He floated to the ground and placed an envelope in his son's post box. The postmarks had been meticulously forged, and no one but an expert would even suspect that it had not been mailed from Paris.

**********

Gently he eased the door open. Dr. Lambert had locked it securely, but LaCroix had learned a long time ago how to bypass such trivial things as that. Soundlessly, he made his way to the bedroom. At the doorway, he watched her for a few moments. Natalie Lambert was asleep, but he could see that it was not a peaceful sleep. She tossed and turned frequently and occasionally muttered something that sounded like his son's name. As he approached the bed, an irate ball of gray fur greeted him. Sidney. Back arched and hackles straight up. Tail bristled and ears flattened. He stood on the edge of the bed between the vampire and his human.

"Ar-wow-wer-ell!" The cat growled at the intruder.

"I mean your mistress no harm." LaCroix said softly.

"Yr-OWL-er-welwlr-r-r!!" Sidney hissed menacingly and bared his fangs.

"Sid." Natalie mumbled. "This is not the time to provoke the Harris's dog. Go back to sleep." She once more buried her head in the pillow and a few seconds later, LaCroix could tell she was asleep once more.

"I do not have time for this testosterone contest." LaCroix whispered to the defensive animal. "I have work to do and not much time to do it in. He let his eyes grow yellow and bared his own fangs. "H-S-S-S-T!!!"

"Myerk." Sid said timidly as he scurried under the bed.

"Good cat. Now to go to work on the Doctor." He leaned to her ear. "You have given the note that Nichol . Nick wrote a great deal of thought. You realize that he is truly sorry and that he wants to make things right between the two of you ... the three of you. When you wake, you will call him and make arrangements to meet and to work things out. You will thank him profusely for the flowers and the candy . and the perfume he sent. You will have no memory of my being here. You will believe that this is all your idea. Now Natalie Lambert, you will spend the rest of the day in a very deep sleep and you will waken completely rested and refreshed this evening." He felt something wet on his left shin and looked down to see Sidney with his backside to his leg and his tail raised. He also noted that his shoes had several deep gouges in them and what looked suspiciously like teeth marks through the toes. They were custom made Italian leather, and they were ruined. It would cost a small fortune to have them replaced. "I have had enough of this." He made a swipe at the cat and Sid merely stepped out of range. He glared at the animal and his eyes showed flecks of gold. "Maggio le vostre pulci ciascuno sono di lunghezza due pollici. (May your fleas each be two inches long.)" He growled. "I shall not forget this. We are not finished . Your time will come!" The vampire hissed.

Sidney disappeared under the bed once more.

On his way out, LaCroix put the perfume on the dining room table where Natalie had put the roses and candy.

**********

Leopold looked at the vampires sitting with him. They were gathered in the Ravenette, a small shop that Miklos had rented and furnished along the Path, Toronto's underground shopping area, while the Raven was being refurbished. He knew from experience that each of them had a grudge to settle with either LaCroix . or his favorite son ... or both. They were perfect for his plan. "And so, we are agreed that De Brabant and his abominable mortal plaything must go." He asked. He pointed to the picture in the society section of the newspaper that accompanied Nick and Natalie's engagement announcement. Two heads nodded in agreement.

"Aren't you worried that the Enforcers will come down on us?" Theopholis asked. Theo's vampire brother Adrian had been killed by LaCroix and Nicholas two years earlier for attempting the same thing Leopold was now proposing.

"Why should we worry about them?" Ernst replied. Ernst had been banished from the Community six years ago by LaCroix for a series of indiscriminate kills. "We are just making sure that the Code is kept. They cannot punish us for that."

"I still don't see how we are going to pull this off. To spite his reputation, De Brabant is clever and resourceful. Also he is 800 years old. That makes him a pretty formidable foe. Then there's LaCroix to consider." Theo said.

"We don't have to worry about The General. I have it on good authority that he has left Toronto. At least for a hundred years. Maybe for good." Leopold replied.

"Then you don't know him very well. At the first sign of trouble, he'll be back here before you can think about it." Ernst admonished. "I have seen him in action."

"If we pull this off right, there won't be time for him to do anything."

"Except to leave our staked and decapitated bodies for the morning sun." Theo said. "Like he did my brother."

"Not if we leave his there first."

"You're serious, aren't you? You really intend to kill LaCroix and de Brabant, as well as the Doctor?"

"Of course. With LaCroix, his wayward son, and that pesky mortal doctor out of the way, the Community can return to the way it was supposed to be. Vampires will not have to worry about anyone stopping them from being what they were always meant to be."

"And what about the Enforcers?"

"There are quite a few of them that chafe under the liberal rule of Etrain. They would be more than happy to return the Community to the position that we once had."

"And that is ... ?" They replied almost in unison.

"Why should we cringe before the puny mortals like some frightened sheep. WE are the superior race. THEY should cower before us."

********** His head felt as though it was firmly secured in a huge vise and someone was turning the handle a centimeter at a time. That, and the fact that the floor kept moving on him was enough to make him think twice about trying to get off the couch.

"Javier?" He mumbled. "Where are you? Vachon?"

No answer. From his position on the couch, he checked the immediate area. Vachon was nowhere in sight.

If he as hung over as I am, How did he manage to get out of here without tearing the place apart? He shook his head and immediately regretted it.

He forced himself to rise to a sitting position and swallowed his stomach back to its original position. Rum 151 and pig. Bad. Bad. Especially when you chug it. I'll never try that again. Holding his head to keep it from falling off, he stumbled to the kitchen. After finally opening the refrigerator, he found a bottle of pure stuff. Eagerly, he drained the contents. Slowly, his head returned to its normal size and his stomach ceased doing flip flops. He looked at the clock hanging on the wall over the sink. It said 6:30. His appointment at Formals By Fernando was at 7:30. He had just enough time for a shower before he had to leave. A cold shower should negate the rest of the effects of the night before. It would also relieve the visible effects of his desire for Natalie.

Ten minutes later, he came downstairs, showing no signs of the havoc that had been wrecked on his system. At least that's one good thing about being a vampire. You recover quickly. As the lift headed toward the garage, the phone rang. After the proscribed four rings, the answering machine kicked in. After 30 seconds of silence, it shut off.

Before he left the garage, he took the day's mail and absently stuck it in his jacket pocket.

**********

Natalie hung up the phone. She did not want to talk to his answering machine. **********

Javier Vachon opened the door. Natalie gasped, a deep red flushing her face. It was obvious that she had interrupted something. Javier was dressed only in a pair of jeans that weren't even buckled. His hair was tangled and wet, possibly from sweat. "I . I'm sorry." She stammered. "I . I can come back some other time." She started toward the elevator.

"No." Javier replied. He became aware of what he was wearing and it dawned on him what the doctor was thinking. He too, blushed as much as he could. "It's all right. It's not what you think. Tracy's sleeping and I thought I'd just take a quick shower before she woke." The stinging hot water had gone a long way to clear the dust and debris that the night before had left in his brain.

"Oh. I just wanted to talk to Tracy about something, but if she's asleep . "

"She's not asleep." Tracy said from the hallway. "Come on in. I was almost awake when you rang the doorbell."

Vachon was at her side in an instant. He put his arm around her and led her to the couch. She looked at Natalie as Vachon arranged an afghan around her "He's such a mother hen. If you want to talk, I'd better send him out to get something from the store, otherwise, he won't leave my side."

"No, that's all right. I really could use both of your help." She sat in the easy chair across from the couch.

Vachon sat next to Tracy and draped his arm carefully around her.

Natalie explained as much as she could of Etrain's visit to her and Nick. She was careful not to confirm that the baby was Nick's. After all, neither of them knew that vampires could impregnate, and it was best if they continued to believe that. She took a deep breath and then relayed Nick's reaction to the situation. " ... He's accepted the baby, but he can't overcome the fear that these vampires might kill us if we remain together."

"You mean he want's to call off the wedding just because somebody might object?" Tracy said. "Doesn't he realize what he's doing to you? And to the baby?" She hugged Nat closely. Could it be Nick's baby? She wanted to tell Natalie about Enrique, but she had made a promise to the Basque.

"I knew he was upset about something when I went to see him yesterday, but I didn't suspect that this was the problem." Vachon added. He did not think that now was the time to tell Natalie that her fiance was roaring drunk. "He wouldn't talk about it, and now I see why."

"It was almost as if he was waiting for me to make the decision." Nat said.

"Why didn't you?" Vachon asked.

"Because this is something that has to be a mutual thing. Something we both have to agree on. We're talking about the rest of our lives, At least the rest of my life, and the life of .of the child."

"I can't tell you what to do, but I can tell you this. Knight loves you with everything he has, and this is tearing him apart. He thinks this is for the best for everyone, and he doesn't know how to make it right."

"I know. And I can't help him there. He has to come to that decision on his own. I know what he's going through. It's tearing me apart, as much as if not more than it is him."

"I'll tell you the same thing I told him. If you love him, fight for him with all you're worth."

"But what if he is serious about this. I could drive him away as well."

"I don't know, Dr. Lambert." Vachon said, rubbing his chin. "Marriage is a scary thing for mortals, and it is even worse for us. In a mortal union, the partners grow old together and die. Eventually they are reunited in death for all eternity. That is the way it is supposed to be. For us, the mortal one ages, but we stay the same. Eventually, he or she dies, or we must move on, and we are left alone again. We have to pick up the pieces, knowing that we will never be reunited with them. Most vampires do not want to make that commitment. But Knight is different. I have seen the way he is around you. He has the love that is necessary to make this work. You just have to give him the chance."

"I ... I hope you're right. Vachon."

"There's only one way to find out. Go to him and get this whole thing straightened out once and for all. Do it now. And please call me Javier."

"Thanks Va .... Javier." She kissed him lightly on the cheek. "I will. And my first name is Natalie."

**********

Murray was waiting for Nick as he parked the Caddy at the mall. "Ready to go and get the final fitting on the tux?" He asked.

Nick nodded. "Who are these guys?" He pointed to the three standing behind Franken.

"These are your new groomsmen. They're going to need tuxes too, so I brought them along. That's Detectives Murphy, Bennett, and Lalonde."

"Murphy." Nick said. "Don't you work in Lockup?"

"That's my younger brother Matt. I'm Mike. Lots of people get us confused. I don't know why. I am a lot older than him. Seventeen minutes to be exact." He said with a wide grin.

"Twins?"

"Not exactly. Our sister Mary-Margaret is the youngest. She was born nine minutes after Matt."

"Oh."

"Well, shall we?" Murray pointed to the mall entrance

"I don't know. Maybe if the killer sees all of us together, he or she might back off. Maybe it would be better if I went in alone."

"You may be right, but we'll be waiting in the main hallway. If anyone so much as sneezes the wrong way, we'll be in there in a split second." Bennett said as they entered the mall and began walking toward the shop. "But first, give me your wallet."

"Why?" Nick took the wallet out of his back pocket.

"So I can put this in it." He held up what looked like a credit card. "Got it from Surveillance. It's a micro miniature tracking device." He put it in and handed the billfold back to Nick.

Nick smiled at Alex Bernier, Grace's neighbor's son in law, as he came over to him.

"Right on time, Mr. Knight." Alex said. "I put your things in dressing room 3, and someone will be there shortly to do the final fittings. I'm happy to do this for you guys. Grace says that you and Natalie Lambert are two of the most in love people she has ever seen."

"Thanks, Alex." He pasted on a smile as he went toward the back of the store. The pretending wasn't easy. He still had hopes that Nat would tell him that he was wrong. That she still wanted to marry him, but every minute that he did not hear from her, a little of that hope died. He did not relish telling everyone that the wedding was off. "I have a question, though. Your name is Alex Bernier. How come the place is called Formals By Fernando?"

"For some reason Bernier's Formals just didn't do it. Neither did Alex's." Alex smiled. "Formals By Fernando sounded so much sexier and sophisticated."

**********

She watched him go into the dressing room. How could he be this cruel? She wondered. Hurting women over and over like this. She fingered the washcloth and the small bottle in her pocket. Thank goodness her brother had left the small inner city clinic nearly furnished when he accepted the offer to take over that practice in Saskatchewan. It made the perfect place for her discussions with Jess. Besides, it was nearly impossible to get certain items that she needed without a prescription nowadays. It was a good thing he had left a few unused prescription pads in his desk. It did not take much practice to duplicate his handwriting. Doctors had notoriously poor penmanship.

She had hoped she could catch him off guard in the parking lot like she had done that other time, or arrange to meet him for coffee after the fitting, like last time. He must be catching on to her, because this time she had seen him with the other four. They must be the ones. She had pulled the van up to the loading dock, and they could leave that way. She really didn't want to do it this way. Alex had been so nice to hire her after her brother left, and she didn't want to upset him, but it couldn't be helped.

Nick looked up as the tailor came into the room. If he could have blushed, he would have. A man had done the first fitting, but this time it was a woman. He hung his jacket on the hook and picked up the formal coat.

"Don't be embarrassed." She said. "I've done this many times before."

Before he could reply, she pressed the cloth in her hand to his face. He recognized the sickly sweet odor. Chloroform. Paydirt! Except for a brief spell of very mild nausea, the gas did not affect him. Still, he played along. After a few seconds, he started to go limp in her arms.

**********

Natalie hung up the phone. According to Captain Reese, Knight, Murray Franken and several of the other officers had gone to the mall to be fitted for their wedding clothes. Apparently Nick had not told anyone that the wedding was off. Maybe he was sincere about talking to her. She felt a little relief at that. Maybe there was hope that they could resolve this and go ahead with the wedding as planned.

She grabbed her coat and headed to the door. She could be at the mall in less than a half hour. She stopped at the door. Seconds later, she put the coat back in the closet. No, this was something they had to talk out in private, not in a public place like Hillcrest Mall. Hillcrest Mall! That rang a loud bell. That is where they found the body of Doug Hemsley. According to the statement from his fiancee, their wedding apparel was from Formals By Fernando. Nick was going there. He .

"Oh my God!" The color drained from her face. She picked up the phone and dialed the precinct again.

**********

Lucien LaCroix pulled the thin pillow tighter around his head. All the previous day and well into the night, there had been nothing but the sounds of hammers, saws, and other power tools coming from the main floor of the nightclub. The irritating noises continued today as well. Periodically it would stop, but every time he had been ready to fall asleep, it would start again. If he didn't get some sleep soon ...

He opened the door and carefully scanned the area. There was no one in the hall. Maybe all this noise has driven the residents to find other quarters. If it continued much longer, he was seriously thinking of doing the same.

He opened the door to the bar a crack and peered in. If he thought his quarters were a disaster, the bar was worse. It had been totally gutted and was in the process of being completely rebuilt. And in a Neo Deco theme! All chrome and bright colors! He stormed back to his room and slammed the door. " First my home ... and now my club. How DARE he! " He seethed. "Etrian be damned. If I get my hands on that skinny Hellenic low life . I'll exsanguinate him for this. And it won't be quick . or painless. I guarantee."

**********

"There's nothing to worry about, Doc." Joe Reese said to Natalie. "Knight and Franken came up with the same theory as you did. That's why I sent Bennett, Lalonde and Murphy with him. The four of them won't let anything happen to your groom to be. I promise."

"It's just that I ... "

"I know. You're on edge. Any bride would be if her man were in the same boat. Tell you what. As soon as they get back, I'll have Nick call you. I promise."

Nat hung up the phone. To spite Reese's assurances to the contrary, she had this overwhelming fear that all was not well.

**********

The van bounced roughly over a pothole in the road. The passenger lying on the floor was thrown into a rope stay on the van floor. It slammed into his side with sickening force. The truck lurched again and he found himself nearly impaled on a tire iron on the opposite side. Nick thanked whatever Powers That Be that vampires were not subjected to the same degree of injury as mortals, or that last one would have surely caused serious internal damage. He was just glad that whatever damage there was would heal quickly.

He had been bound hand and foot with plenty of duct tape and a cloth had been tied tightly over his eyes. Another piece of duct tape firmly sealed his mouth. Then he was dragged by his feet to the van and unceremoniously thrown in. He hated to think what his shirt looked like after being scraped along the cement dock, not to mention his pants. He could have broken his bonds at any time, but it was better to let the scenario complete before he did anything.

He had tried to memorize the route that the woman took, but she had apparently favored side streets. Badly paved, bumpy, pothole infested back streets and alleys. The radio, loudly tuned to a grunge rock station, precluded picking up any identifying street noises, even with his enhanced hearing. He was grateful for the tracker in his wallet.

Finally, the van pulled to a stop. He could hear the driver get out. Several minutes passed before she opened the back door. He felt himself being dragged onto a table of some sort. A metal table. He heard the distinct sound of the duct tape as she wound it around him, securely binding him to the table. Then he was being wheeled somewhere. As the table ... gurney? ... came to a stop, he smelled the odor of disinfectant and medicines. Natalie's theory about the murders was right. If his instincts were correct, he was in a medical facility of some sort.

**********

Murray Franken looked at his watch.

"Murray." Bennett said. "It's only one minute later than the last time you looked." "How long does it take to get a fitting? I didn't need all this folderol when I got married." Murray asked. "I'm going in."

"Relax." Lalonde assured him. "This is something that can't be rushed."

"Yeah." Bennett added. "Not every cop gets married in his dress blues, you know. Knight probably ran into some problems and needs a little extra time."

"And not everyone drives across the border and gets married in torn jeans and a t-shirt either." Lalonde reminded Bennett.

"Look, just because you're single ... " Bennett retorted. Then to Franken. "I got a toonie that says he's okay." He reached into his pocket and took out a two dollar coin.

Franken was already on his way into the store.

********** Murray and Alex Bernier knocked on the door of dressing room 3.

"Knight?" Murray called. "You in there?"

When there was no answer, Alex used his master key to unlock the door. The dressing room was empty.

"You want your toonie now or later?" Bennett asked.

"Let's find Knight first. Then we'll worry about the bet." Murray said.

Bennett took a small remote out of his pocket and punched in a series of commands. The box emitted a high pitched beeping sound.

"What's that?" Alex asked.

"A tracker. Knight has a device in his wallet that emits a signal and this will find it. As we get closer, the beeps will get higher and faster." He slowly turned a full circle and then headed toward the back of the store. As he approached the back door the beeps increased in pitch and frequency until it was almost impossible to differentiate one beep from the other.

"He's probably out here taking a smoke." Bennett said.

"Knight doesn't smoke." Murray reminded him.

Lalonde handed Franken a black leather billfold. Embossed in the corner were the initials NBK. The tracker went crazy. The wallet was scuffed and scratched as though it had been dragged on the ground. Imbedded in the scratches were threads that were the same color as the slacks Nick was wearing.

At the same time, Alex came to them. "The van's missing. So is Julie Hunter. She was supposed to be doing the alterations for Mr. Knight."

"I thing we had better put out an APB on the van ... And on Ms. Hunter." Franken said as he took out his cell phone and punched the speed dial number for the precinct.

**********

Nick was aware that someone was slapping his face. Hard. He grunted and attempted to turn away but the tape held him securely. Again, he could have easily broken loose, but that would not be the best plan. At least not for now.

"Good." A female voice said. "I thought I might have given you too much this time. It wouldn't do for you to be out too long, now would it?" She removed the blindfold. Nick gasped slightly. He had not noticed her before, not that he had that much time to see anything before she 'anesthetized' him. And he wasn't paying that much attention, either. She had blue green eyes and dark auburn hair. In his mind's eye he could see Natalie.

"We've had this conversation before." She was saying. "Why didn't you listen? Don't you know you can't keep hurting people like this?" She backhanded him across the face. "You promised me you wouldn't do it again, and what do you do? You go right out and break another woman's heart."

Nick tried to speak, but the tape over his mouth muffled whatever he was trying to say.

"Don't try to deny it, Jess." She continued. "I know you've done it again. Just like you did to me. Why can't you be happy with your lovers. I saw them standing in the mallway. Were they the ones you left me for?" Anger crept into her voice. She pulled at his shirt and ripped it from him. He didn't know where she got the scalpel, but he gave a muffled scream as she drew it across his chest. "Why didn't you tell me what you were? Why did you let it go as far as you did?" She scraped the knife across his face, taking a layer of skin with it. "Don't you know how much you embarrassed me? How much you hurt me?"

Where are the others? Nick thought as she began whipping his chest and arms with a stethoscope. They should have been by now. The steel button left bloody welts where it tore into his flesh.

**********

Lucien LaCroix stood on the ledge on the top of the clinic roof. He had been randomly following his son since he had returned to Toronto, and he was there when the woman kidnapped him. Through the bond, he felt the pain that she was inflicting on the other vampire. He knew that Nicholas did not need his help to get himself out of this situation, but because the younger vampire insisted on pretending that he was a mortal, he could not use his powers. So, he had to endure the torture that this mortal woman was putting him through. It serves him right. LaCroix thought. Let him get a taste of mortal punishment. Let him realize first hand how powerless mortals really are. Perhaps then he will be more appreciative of the gifts I gave him. I will allow her to have her way with him for a while longer. Then I will deal with her.

**********

Franken snapped off the cell phone. "We got a lead." He said to Lalonde and Bennett. "A patrol unit spotted the van in an alleyway behind the old Mercer Clinic. They're keeping tabs on it now."

"Well, what are we hanging around here for?" Bennett said as he headed for the car. "Let's rock and roll."

**********

The sound of someone knocking on the clinic door stopped the barrage of blows.

"Who could that be? The clinic has been closed for the past three months." She told 'Jess'. "You be quiet and we'll wait for them to leave before we continue with our talk."

Nick tried to mumble something, but was rewarded with a resounding slap across the face.

"I TOLD you to be quiet." She hissed in a loud whisper.

About a minute later, the knocking ceased.

"Good. They have gone. Now, Tell me again. Why did you leave me at the altar? Why couldn't you just tell me right from the start what you were? Why did you have to lie to me and tell me you loved me? WHY?" She hit him, this time with a balled fist. "WHY?" Another hit. 'WHY?"

**********

The mortal woman has gone too far. LaCroix seethed. Almost without thought, his eyes yellowed and his fangs dropped. He started to the street. I will put an end to this now. No one was permitted to hurt his son ... except him! Just as he landed, he saw the policeman standing by the corner of the building and the two detectives talking to the other policeman in the patrol car. DAMN! While it would not be any great trouble to dispatch the mortals, They were police, and from what he knew from his son, the authorities would not stop until they had found out what happened to them and who was responsible. That would definitely bring the incident to the attention of the Enforcers. That he did not want. As quickly and as quietly as he had arrived, the master vampire returned to the roof.

**********

Franken pulled his car beside the patrol car parked at the mouth of the alley.

"No movement from the clinic." Officer Barnes said. "My partner thought he heard someone talking a few minutes ago, but when he went to the front door, there was no answer."

"Let's check out the van. Maybe we'll get lucky there." Bennett said. He opened the vehicle's back door. He motioned for Franken and Lalonde to join him. He pointed to the bloodstains on the floor of the van. "Knight's?" He whispered.

"Could be, but this definitely is his." Murray whispered back as he held up Nick's badge case. "It must have fallen out of his pocket like the wallet did." He turned to the patrol car. "I think it's time to call for backup."

Within minutes, five police cars and three unmarked cars converged on the area. Sirens and lights off, as they were instructed.

Captain Joe Reese got out of one of the cars, and silently placed the various people in their places. "On the count of three." He whispered into the walkie talkie he held in his left hand. His right hand held a .9mm automatic.

**********

LaCroix let out a heavy sigh. All these mortals would make it impossible to take out his frustrations on the wretched female that was battering his son. He only hoped that mortal justice would take care of that problem. If not, he could always take care of her ... later. Reluctantly, he took to the night air.

**********

She had begun the beatings again, but this time tears and sobs accompanied the blows. "You bastard!" She hit him in the ribs, just below the diaphragm. If he had not been tightly bound to the table, he would have doubled over in pain. "You selfish fag!" She pounded his face and he felt his cheekbone crack. Over the screams and curses, his preternatural hearing picked up the faint sounds of heartbeats outside the building.

Seconds later, Reese and his squad broke through the alley door and before Hunter could react, Franken and Lalonde had her by the arms.

"NO!" She screamed. "Jess is the one you should be arresting. He left me at the altar. He said he was gay and he was going to move in with his homosexual lovers. He humiliated me in front of everybody. I loved him. I cried for days."

"Julia Hunter." Franken said. "Did you kill Douglas Hemsley and Paul Cardner?"

"I just wanted Jess to think about what he had done to me. I had to do what I did. I had to make him understand that he couldn't continue to do the same thing to all those other women. I had to be sure, and the only way to do that was to make sure that he would never make love to any one ever again."

"So you murdered them." Bennett asked. "It was the only way I could stop him. That way he couldn't hurt anyone, man or woman any more."

As the two detectives read her her rights, Reese came to Nick. He pulled out a pocket knife and quickly cut through the tape that held him to the table. He looked at the bloody remnants of Nick's shirt and the cuts and bruises. Fortunately, some of the more serious injuries had already begun to heal. "We'll get the emergency squad here in a few minutes." He said as Nick tried to get off the exam table.

"That won't be necessary." Nick said. A medical exam was the last thing he needed. Too many questions he couldn't, or wouldn't want to answer. "She didn't have time to do much damage. It looks a lot worse than it is."

"You sure?"

"Positive." He gritted his teeth to keep from wincing as he walked to the door.

Franken handed him his jacket and Nick put it on with a minimum of effort. "We'll take you back to the mall to get your car and then you can come down to the station to fill out the reports."

**********

"We have to strike quickly." Leopold told his cohorts. "I have been told by one of my informants in the Enforcers that the doctor is pregnant. According to him, de Brabant plans to claim and raise the child as his. We all know that's impossible, but this could cause all sorts of problems in the Community. Particularly if the newer vampires believe that de Brabant really is the father of this child."

"So, when do we act?" Ernst asked.

"Tomorrow night. Meet me at the York Mills underground station right after sunset. It's only a short distance from there to de Brabant's place. I'll bet that the Doctor is with him. If we act quickly, we can take them out before they know what hit them."

"And LaCroix?" Theo asked.

"By the time he gets back to Toronto, it will be too late to do anything. If we stay together, the three of us can easily overpower him. Plus, by the time word gets out that the way is clear to resume our previous lifestyles, there will be many more who will be more than willing to join us."

In a corner, a dark figure listened intently to the conspirators.

**********

The interrogation was conducted by Franken. Beside him was Emil Parrester, the department psychiatrist. Nick and Reese watched from the next room. Because he was a victim and a witness, Nick could not take part in any of the questioning. Conflict of interest.

She readily poured her story out, almost as if she was glad and relieved that there was someone that she could tell it to.

**********

She had known Jesse Barstow for only a little over a year. She said it was love at first sight and she assumed that he felt the same way too. Particularly since he proposed on the anniversary of their first date. Naturally, she said 'Yes'. He had showed no real interest in initiating the sex act, and she assumed that he was just waiting until after the marriage. This made her feel as though she was really something special to him.

She knew that he had scores of male friends. After all, he was a 'man's man'. She didn't know how true that statement was.

**********

It wasn't until the minister asked if anyone had any objections to this marriage that she found out. One of the men in the back of the church stood up. "I object." He had said. "This man cannot marry her. He is already married." A hushed silence quickly came over the church, then the man continued. "To me."

Julie stared in shocked disbelief at her fiance. Jesse only hung his head.

"It's true." He said. "I ... I'm gay."

"GAY! How COULD YOU!" She screamed as she ran out of the church.

The next night he came to her apartment and tried to explain. He said he and Neil, the other man, had privately exchanged vows two years ago. When he met her, he had severed all contact with Neil and the gay community, and tried to go 'straight'. When Neil made his outburst, he realized that Neil and his previous lifestyle was what he really wanted. He said he was sorry that he hurt her, but he just couldn't live the kind of life he would have had to live if he had married her. He kissed her lightly and left. She vowed to make him pay for what he did to her.

**********

" ... And every time I find that he has done this to another woman, I have to stop him." She concluded.

The psychiatrist looked at the two way mirror and sadly shook his head.

**********

"Javier." Tracy said as she came into her living room. "What's wrong?" Javier Vachon did not seem to notice her.

"You've been sitting on that couch staring out the window since the sun went down. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were having a Nick Knight moment."

"Nothing quite that drastic, Querida." Vachon said as he took her hand and gently pulled her beside him. "Although I was thinking about Knight and what Doctor Lambert said the other day." He resumed looking out the window.

"And ... "

"And last night while I was on a break between sets at the Ravenette, I overheard three men talking. I wasn't eavesdropping ... not exactly. It's just that one of them mentioned Nick's birth name, and it caught my attention." He intently examined his fingernails.

"So, what did they say. Don't stop there. Now you've whetted my curiosity." She emphasized her remarks with a light slap on his arm.

"You understand I wasn't trying to listen in, it's just that ... '

"Never mind that. What did they say?"

"I didn't catch it all, but Leopold was one of them, he had the misfortune of challenging LaCroix's authority a coupla years ago. He has never forgotten the humiliation that he got in front of the whole Community. He vowed revenge. I guess this is his way of getting it. The two who were with him, Ernst and Theopholis are no better. "

"VACHON!"

"Okay. He and the others were saying something about eliminating the threat that Knight and Dr. Lambert posed to the Community. They know that Natalie is pregnant. They want to kill the baby, too. And LaCroix if he tries to interfere."

"And you think they are going to carry out their threats."

"Tomorrow night. They said so."

"We had better tell Nick."

"I don't think that's such a good idea. If he's reacting this way just to a rumor of an attack. What do you think he'll do if he knew that it was real."

"So what do we do?"

"WE do nothing. You are going to stay here. I'm going to shadow these three and try to stop them before they have a chance to do anything."

"Javier. Don't try to be a hero. What about the Enforcers. Didn't Nat mention something about one named Etrain who seemed friendly?"

At the name of the Ancient, Vachon paled to a ghastly white "You've got to be joking. ME? SEEK out an Enforcer? That's like asking me to sit in the noonday sun eating garlic and washing it down with holy water. NO WAY. I'm going to have to do this alone. The fewer people that know about this the better."

**********

Nick threw his coat on the back of the chair. It had been a very long night. Although any signs of the beatings he had endured at the hands of Julia Hunter had long since vanished, he still felt the pain. Emotional pain. And not for himself, but for her. He went into the kitchen and poured himself a tall glass of deer. He was still reserving the 'good stuff' in the faint hope that Nat would come back, or that this whole thing was some horrendous nightmare, and he would wakeup in his bed, covered in sweat with Nat wiping his brow and cooing comforting words to him. He knew that the chances that this was a dream were slim, but the fantasy was nice. He pulled the mail from his jacket pocket and settled himself on the couch.

The mail contained the usual assortment of junk. Several slick ads from a department store, a catalog from Tatlor's Gifts, the sticker on the front declaring that this could be the last one. I hope so. Two solicitations for credit cards, and the electric bill. His heart stopped as he saw the letter postmarked Paris. It was in LaCroix's hand. If he has heard about the threats, he will be back in a split minute. What more could go wrong? He thought as he opened it.

Nicholas.

I was going through Janette's things and I found this. I am forwarding it to you.

L.

There was another envelope addressed to him. This time in Janette's delicate script.

Mon Coeur

If you are reading this, then it is probable that I am no longer alive.

I want you to know once again that I love you. As a brother. As a lover. And as a friend. I know that you love me as well. I just hope that your love for me is as strong as mine is for you. It is because of that love that I am writing this to you.

I know that Natalie Lambert has captured your heart in a way that I never could. In a way that no one else ever can, or ever will. I am not jealous of that love. I welcome it.

Do not lose that love, Nicolah. It is a precious and rare thing. Let nothing come between you and her. There is a phrase from the mortal marriage ceremony that goes 'forsaking all others keep her only to you.' Do not run from it. Do not hide from it. If you must defy everyone else to keep her, then that is what you must do. A love like the love the two of you have comes only once.

Not once in a lifetime. Not once in a century or even a millennium. But only once.

Take her love. Mon Coeur. Cherish and protect her as only you can. If you can do that, you will know true happiness. If you are happy, then I will be happy as well.

Pour toujours (Until forever.)

Janette

The phone rang. The machine recorded only a dial tone. Damn telemarketers. Why couldn't that be Nat?

Janette was right. His love for Natalie was forever. Even if there were those who would destroy them. He had to take the chance. He was through hiding. Through running. He picked up his keys and headed for the door.

**********

Nat hung up the phone. He still was not answering. Well, the only way to settle this is in person. She took her coat out of the closet and grabbed her purse.

**********

Nick sat at the red light. It seemed that he had hit every one of them since he left the loft. He glanced at the traffic before him. At this rate, it would be almost another hour before he reached Natalie's apartment. It would take forever for the cars ahead of him to clear the intersection. A ruptured water main had reduced the traffic from three lanes in each direction to only one. Maybe I should have flown. Something in the opposite line caught his eye. A car. The same make and model as Nat's. He shook his head. Now you're seeing things. Nat couldn't be ... Then he caught a good look at the driver. If it wasn't Nat, it was her twin. And she was heading in the direction of the loft.

It was too much of a coincidence. She's probably going shopping. But there weren't any stores in the direction she was heading, and she had just passed a shopping strip. She had to be going to his place. Finally, the line moved and at the next corner, Nick turned the Caddy onto a side street. If he hurried, he could be back at the loft before she got there.

Nat stared at the line of cars ahead of her. She gamely resisted the urge to lean on the horn. She hated it when motorists did that over things that they had no control over. Like red lights and street repairs. She glanced around, mentally calculating how long it would take to get through the bottleneck. Her mouth dropped and she shook her head to clear it. There must be some mistake. But then again, there was no mistaking that car. There couldn't be two teal green '62 Cadillac convertibles in the entire Western Hemisphere, let alone in Toronto.

"If he's here, then I'll miss him at the loft." She said to herself. "Maybe he's headed for my place. I want to be there when he gets there. If I hurry, I can just about make it." As soon as traffic had moved enough, she circled the block and headed for her apartment.

**********

Don Schanke smiled broadly as the technician pushed him to the door. I guess I set some kind of a record. Less than two weeks from critical condition to going home. Now if we could just bottle the stuff in Nick's blood .

Myra watched as the technician pushed the wheelchair onto the van's elevator ramp and then activated the controls to bring it even with the floor of the van. According to the doctor, this was an experimental vehicle that they had given to him to evaluate. It certainly made it a lot easier to get around. Although from the progress he was making, he doubted he would need it much longer.

Too bad Nick's blood boost is only temporary. I've still got a lot of hard work ahead of me. Don thought as the ramp stopped.

Myra and the technician strapped the wheelchair to the floorboard and then adjusted the seatbelt snugly around him. Myra kissed him loudly and scooted into the driver's seat. "I love you, Donny." She said as she started the van.

"I love you too, honey." He replied. "Let's go home."

**********

Nick stared at the blank form on the computer screen. It was supposed to be the Caldeonis report. The case was open and shut. Tim Caldeonis was an abusive husband. Domestics had several reports on him, and Irma, his ex wife had even gotten a restraining order against him. Earlier this evening, he had defied that order and barged into her parent's home. In an alcohol and drug induced rage, he severely beat her and threatened to kill her while her mother and her three children watched in horror. The father had shot him three times at nearly point blank range before he finally fell. There was no question that it was justifiable homicide.

"Earth to Knight." Franken called. "Have you heard a word I said? Never mind. I've seen that look before. You're somewhere else, aren't you?" Wherever his partner was, it was not a happy place.

Nick nodded. He was anywhere but here. He had waited nearly all day for Natalie to show up at the loft. When the sun finally set, he knew that his first impressions had been right. She was only running errands, not coming to see him. Why should she? He had thrown her out of his life. To spite all that Janette had written, he had to face reality. It didn't matter what he wanted anymore. She did not want to be a part of his life. She did not want him as a part of hers. Or the baby's. It was for the best after all. He had told her that ...

Fight for her. Vachon's words echoed in his head. Janette's nearly identical words flashed in his mind. If you must defy everyone else to keep her, then that is what you have to do.

"I can't let her go that easy. I have to make one last try." He said more to himself than anyone else. He grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

**********

Natalie Lambert picked up the retractor and threw it at the wall. It bounced off with a metallic clang. It wasn't the retractor's fault. It was her. She had waited until well after sunrise in the faint hope that Nick might show up at her door, but he never did. In spite of the candy, the flowers and the perfume, it was obvious that he was still waffling. That shouldn't have surprised her. Their whole relationship had been just like this. He had reversed his position so many times that she felt like she was in a revolving door. One step forward. Three steps back.

"No." She said determinedly. " This time there won't be any waffling. No more second chances. This time he's got to take a stand." She took off her lab coat and put on her regular coat. "If Mohammed won't go to the mountain ... " She said as she headed for the parking lot.

**********

Nick pulled to a stop at the entrance to the parking lot at the Coroners building. Normally, he would have parked at the front, right by the fireplug, but after the last time, and the ticket he had received, he decided to do it the correct way for once. In the lot. As he turned to enter, a car came speeding out. There wasn't time to do anything before the sedan plowed into his left front fender. L'os dirige des automobiliste! Ne pouvez pas vous avez lu? Le signe indique l'arret! (Boneheaded motorist! Can't you read? The sign says stop!) He cursed as he marched toward the offending driver.

**********

Natalie swung her car into the street and right into the car. "How can you be that stupid to cut in front of someone like that without looking left or right!" She yelled as she got out of her car and stormed toward the other car. She stopped in her tracks. It isn't . It can't be . Of all the cars in Canada, the front bumper of her car was firmly imbedded in the fender of the Caddy. Nick saw the woman striding toward him. Oh, no! I don't believe it.

"Nat . " "Nick . "

"Look I . " "I had no . " They talked in unison.

"You first." Nat said.

"Nat I . " His resolve withered to nothing. Even though his heart screamed that he was totally in love with this woman, he HAD to deny it. For her sake. And for the baby's. "I came for the Caldeonis file. That's all." He choked on the words.

"I thought maybe you . I mean after the flowers and all that, I thought things had changed. I though maybe you . "

"No. Nothing has changed. I was a drunken imbecile when I did that. We can't ... It has to be this way. It's for the best . " He lied as his heart broke for the thousandth time.

NO! I won't give him up this way. Not without giving it all I've got. "YOU think it's best. YOU want to call it off. What about ME, Nick? Don't ... I ... count for something?" She put her hand on her abdomen. "Doesn't HE count for something?" She stared at him with hard eyes. "If YOU want to call it off. If YOU are having second thoughts about it, then go ahead and call it off. But say THAT'S the reason. DON'T give me that bullcrap that you are doing it to protect the BABY and ME. Because if what you say is true, going our separate ways is NOT going to do a lot of good. Sooner or later, they're going to find out and come for us. WE will have to deal with that. I'LL have to deal with that. WITH or WITHOUT you."

"You don't know what they can do."

"Oh, don't I? There has always been a faction that wouldn't have any qualms about having me for a late night snack ... But there are many more vampires who appreciate and respect me for all the things that I've done for the Community over the past years. I'm sure that there will be those who will accept the baby and me. Particularly when they know that Etrian has accepted us. And he has. He told me so. Just as there will be those who will try to eliminate us. I am willing to bet that they are in a very small minority and that they will leave us alone as long as we leave them alone."

"I don't want to take that chance." Last chance to pull out, Nat.

"I DO want to take that chance. And if you love me as much as I think you do, you'll want to take that chance too. I am not going to let you walk out on me if I can help it. Not without a fight. And it will be a doozey of a fight, I guarantee that. I am a red headed Irishman after all. At least I'm half Irish. On my father's side."

He took her in his arms. Yes. He would fight for her with his last breath. "I lied. I don't care about the Caldeonis file. I was on my way to see you. We have to talk this out. I've been the biggest asinine nincompoop there ever was. I realize now that it was a stupid thing to do to try to push you out of my life. You are right. If we are to have any chance at all to beat this threat, we have to stick together. I love you. I love the baby. Regardless of what happens, I want you and him to be a part of my life and I want to be a part of yours."

She put her finger on his lips. Finally! The lightbulb goes on! "The only way to beat this is together. Whatever comes, we are going to face it TOGETHER, and TOGETHER we will beat it. I know that. Now YOU have to believe that. I was going over to the precinct to tell you that."

Nick fell to his knees. He took her hands in his. "Can you forgive me? Can we start all over? Please?"

Over the sound of the blaring horns from the stopped traffic, one voice called out. "If she won't forgive you, I will. Just get outta the middle of the street!"

Her 'Yes' was barely audible through her tears. He stood and took her in his arms and the kiss contained all the pent up passion that they both had been bottling up for over the past weeks.

"Get a motel room!" Another driver yelled.

"Just get the @#*& outta the street." The first driver repeated. He punctuated his remarks with the appropriate hand gesture.

From the roof of the Coroner's building, a figure smiled and Lucien LaCroix took to the air. He had fulfilled Etrian's task. Although the prospect of Dr. Lambert remaining a mortal was not what he wanted, he could tolerate that. For now. There would be time to bring her into the family in the proper way after she had delivered the baby.

If he packed quickly, he could be on the red eye for New York in a little over an hour, and be back in Paris by tomorrow night. He had kept season box seats at the opera for over a century, and he could still catch one of the last performances of Faust. Perhaps this was for the best. By this time, the ensemble would have the opportunity to work out all of the mistakes, and it should be a flawless performance.

**********

Leopold waited in the deep shadows of the alleyway. From here, he could see the warehouse that was the home of Detective Nicholas de Brabant Knight. He, Theo and Ernst had been waiting for over an hour, but there was no sign of the detective or his mortal pet. In less than a half hour, they would have to give up the ambush plans for tonight and try again tomorrow. It was nearly sunrise.

"Are you sure about this?" Theo said. "Maybe he is at her place. And if he is, he will have to spend the day there. Maybe we should just forget about this and let the Enforcers take care of them."

"Theo!" Leopold barked. "You and your pessimistic attitude are becoming a pain. I am beginning to wonder why I asked you in on this in the first place. If you don't stop whining, I'll use this on you." Leopold held up a sharpened stake

From the advantage point of a pile of containers, a figure watched the three of them. Yes, these are the ones that pose the biggest threat. With their deaths, a clear message would be sent to any others like them. He moved into the alley and approached the trio.

Javier Vachon watched wide eyed as the figure approached the trio. He had been tailing them since they left the club earlier that evening. He was positive that they were going to carry out their threats tonight. Luckily, Knight and Lambert were not at the loft. He never even saw the other one until he made his move. He hadn't noticed Vachon. All the Spaniard knew was that whoever ... or whatever he was ... he couldn't detect any vampire signature, but then again there was no heartbeat either. Either way, this one was trouble with a ' T'. He quickly lifted off into the rapidly brightening sky. He who panics and runs away, lives to run another day. Or something like that . If he hurried, he could be back at Tracy's by the time the sun rose.

**********

Nick smiled sleepily as the gray ball of fur snuggled in between him and Natalie. Sidney laid his face on Nick's chest and the cat's whiskers tickled his bare skin. Grace and Schanke were right. He thought. Making up after a fight is the best part. He made a mental note to have a small fight on a regular basis, but nothing as radical or as prolonged as this one. Maybe only a few minutes from start to finish. He leaned over the drowsing feline and kissed Nat's forehead. Yes. Definitely the best part.

They had booked off after the accident to 'settle their nerves'. The plan was that they would stop at Nat's to collect some clothing and Sidney and then go to the loft. They never managed to get farther than the bedroom.

He looked at the clock, although he didn't need it to tell him that the sun was about to rise. Maybe there would be even more opportunities to kiss and make up before they had to go to work tonight. Lots more opportunities.

**********

Miklos picked up the plastic bag and swung it over the edge of the dumpster. He should have taken the trash out before now, but several of the more intoxicated vampires were reluctant to leave the place. It was a good thing that this alleyway was well below street level. Although it was considerably past sunrise, the sun never reached this particular spot. As he was about to release the garbage, he stopped suddenly. Beside the dumpster, between the container and the wall were three bodies. Vampires. Leopold. Theopholis. Ernst. He had seen them in the bar several times. Always together. While he had no real proof, he had a feeling that they were up to no good. Carefully, he rolled Leopold over. Several wooden throwing stars similar to those used by ninjas protruded from his chest and there was a gaping hole where his heart should have been. Theopholis and Ernst were the same way. A note was pinned to Leopold's chest by one of the stars. It read 'Let this be a warning'. He swallowed hard. This could only be the work of a hunter.

**********

Joe Reese stopped at the desk. "Are you sure that everything is ready?" He asked.

"Captain." Murray Franken replied. "You asked that question just a half hour ago. Everything is as ready as it will ever be."

"Will you relax?" Lalonde replied. "We have everything under control. It's not like we haven't done this before, you know."

"Sheesh!" Mike Murphy added. "We've even coordinated everything with Grace. She'll take care of Dr. Lambert while we've got Knight."

**********

"Come on, honey." Grace pleaded. "It's only for a dinner. Just you and me. That report will still be there when we get back." She furtively glanced at her watch. While she realized that the unexpected autopsy of the hit and run victim had set the plans back, if they left now, they could still make it in plenty of time. "I can't let you go hungry, can I? Especially now that you're eating for two."

Nat looked up and smiled broadly. Grace was the first friend she had made when she started working at the Coroner's office, and she still was her closest friend. Even if she was a mother hen. "Okay. Mr. Yankin's report can wait until later." She took her coat and joined her friend.

**********

Nick pulled the Caddy into traffic. "I still don't see why we have to do patrol tonight. It's supposed to be Rogers and Evans's turn." He had hoped to book off early. His leave for the wedding began at the end of the shift and he hoped to get a jump on things. He had a very special night planned for Nat and he wanted the time to make sure that everything was ready. Patrol meant that they would have to stay until the day shift came on duty.

"You heard the Captain." Murray said. "Rogers has the flu and Evans's jeep is in the shop. If you want to blame somebody, blame me. I sort of volunteered us to take their place."

"Thanks a heap." Nick said dejectedly

They were interrupted by the radio. "81 kilo. See the man. 374 Thompson St."

"81 Kilo. Acknowledged. In transit to scene." Franken had grabbed the mike before Nick. Nick noted absently that his partner had not written down anything, nor had the dispatcher said what type of a crime they were going to investigate. Somehow, that address seemed familiar, but he couldn't place it offhand.

As they pulled to a stop, Nick finally remembered why that address was so familiar. It was Murphy's Pub, a favorite hangout of many of the policemen from the 96th. It was almost a historic landmark. John Murphy, the current owner was a retired policeman. As was his father, and his father before him for six generations. Starting with Seamus Patrick Murphy in 1858. The Pub had also been passed from father to son for almost as long. Presumably, Mike or Matt would take over when John was no longer able to manage the place.

Nick shook his head as they entered the establishment. It did not look like your typical crime scene. Nick recognized several of the patrons as off duty cops from the 96th. They did not appear to be aware of any wrongdoing as they quietly sipped their beers.

"Where's the trouble, John?" Murray asked as they approached the owner. Because his back was to the detective, Nick could not see the wide grin on his partner's face.

"In the back room." John replied as he continued to clean the bar.

As Nick stepped through the door into the private dining room, he was immediately grabbed by two strong men. He fought valiantly, both to free himself and to keep the vampire from emerging.

"Knight." A voice called out. "Cease and desist!" He recognized the voice as Joe Reese.

The two who were holding him hoisted him on their shoulders and carried him into the main bar. At this point, the entire tavern was filled with police. Most of them were from the 96th, but there were several from the 27th as well, including Joe Stonetree.

"What the ... ?" Nick asked.

"It's your bachelor party." John said directing him to series of banquet tables that had been hastily set up while he was in the back.

"But how? ... When? . Why . ?" Nick stammered.

"Hell, I've known Joe Reese since he was a desk sergeant. When he said you were getting married, I volunteered the place for the bash." John said with a wide grin.

"Yeah pard. You didn't think we were going to let you walk that last mile without a proper sendoff, did you?"

Nick stared at the speaker. Don Schanke, hula girl tie and all, sat in a wheelchair at the main table.

"And now for the rite of initiation." Murray called out. He held out a large ice tea glass that Nick assumed did not contain ice tea. "It's called a .38 Special. There's a twenty for anyone who can down it and still remain upright. The last one to do it was John's father in '67." He handed the mug to Nick.

"But I'm on duty." Nick protested.

"No you're not." Joe Reese replied. "As of fifteen minutes ago, you are on extended leave. Until you are sober enough to return to work, or you go on your honeymoon. Whichever comes last. Now drink up! That's an order."

"Chug! Chug! Chug!" The group chanted.

Nick looked at Schanke and shrugged his shoulders. After the pig and 151 of the other day, this was a piece of cake. He put the glass to his lips and drank. The chant slowly dissolved into awed silence as the level in the glass went down. A cheer went up as he set the empty glass on the bar. "That was good. Now how about something a little stronger?" He said facetiously. The drink, while mild compared with some of the bloodbooze he had drank, was still strong enough to make his stomach do flip flops. If he was lucky, he could keep it down for a while.

"Does Nat know?" He asked as Mike and Murray led him to the seat of honor.

"Don't worry about the good Doctor." Bennett said. "She's being well cared for. You just relax and have a good time. He looked down and saw that another .38 Special had been placed in front of him.

**********

Natalie watched in silence as Grace drove past most of the usual places that they went to eat. Grace insisted that they take her car. She said that Nat had chauffeured her around most of the time and that she should start balancing the score. With someone like Grace, you don't argue, so Nat got into her car.

"Where are you taking me? We've passed several nice places to eat already."

"It's a new place." Her assistant said. "One of the people from the precinct told me about it. We're almost there."

Nat's mouth dropped when she saw the place. She had heard about it, and had been more or less curious. But to be taken there for a meal? You didn't go to The Silver Stallion to eat. They had one of the biggest, and by some opinions the best male reviews in the Province.

"GRACE! What has gotten into you?"

"No time for talking." Grace said as she firmly led her boss into the club. There, at a line of tables around the stage, was nearly every female from both the Coroner's office and the 96th precinct.

"What is this?" Nat asked as they took their place at the center stage table. Already seated there were Tracy Vetter and Myra Schanke.

"Why honey, it's your bachelorette party. Now. Be quiet and enjoy the show." From somewhere, a drink appeared in front of Nat just as the house lights dimmed and the curtain went up.

"GRACE!" Nat said in a stage whisper, holding up the drink. "You know I can't ... "

"Don't worry, honey. It's non alcoholic. I had a little talk with the bartender. He'll keep them coming all night. All you have to do is act properly plastered and no one will know."

"Yeah." Tracy whispered from the other side of the table. "We aren't going to do anything that would cause any problems. Just think. You can drink everyone under the table and get away with it."

Nat reached over and hugged Nick's partner. "With friends like you two, I don't know why I even worry."

"Then don't." Tracy said. "Just sit back and enjoy."

The first dancer came on the stage. He was dressed in a policeman's uniform. Nat noted with some interest that he had blond hair and blue eyes.

"I have a special request for a special lady." He said as he came into the audience. He stopped at Nat's table. "This is for you." Slowly, sensitively, he began the strains of Always And Forever. Tears welled up in Nat's eyes. She thought of it as Nick and her song.

"Thank you." She whispered and kissed him very lightly on the forehead.

"You're welcome." He replied, returning the kiss lightly. "I hope he realizes what a truly special lady you are." He returned to the stage to begin his normal routine.

"Did you two arrange that, too?" Nat asked her table companions.

Tracy and Grace were intently inspection the ceiling.

The music changed sharply into a bump and grind tempo. The 'policeman' began to sensually remove his clothes in time to the beat. Not bad. She thought. But his pecs are a little too well developed and his waist definitely could use just a little more meat on it. Now, Nick has a much better ... She brought herself up short. What am I doing? Here I am watching a man who has the rest of the ladies in the club dribbling in their drinks. And I'm comparing him to Nick. And he comes up short! She took a long drink of the concoction in front of her. It looked like a Manhattan. It tasted like a Manhattan, but Grace was right. It didn't have the alcoholic aftertaste of the liquor.

The house lights went up, signaling an intermission. There had been three other dancers after the first one, but Natalie watched them with a clinical air. Nick's body was the only one that turned her on. Everyone else was a distant second best.

From seemingly out of nowhere, the table was filled with boxes and bags in a myriad of elegant wrappings.

"Where did these come from?" Nat asked, bewildered.

"Well, we really didn't have the chance to give you a bridal shower, so we decided to combine it with this." Myra Schanke said. Nat was happy that she had taken decided to join the group. Myra hadn't been out for enjoyment since Don came home from the hospital. She was completely devoted to her husband. Nat only hoped that she and Nick could have that kind of a marriage. Suddenly five beefy and very buff dancers appeared beside the table. Onstage, the deejay was calling for silence from the house full of ladies. "We have a exceptional treat tonight." He said. "One of our patrons is having a very special time. Ms. Natalie Lambert and her friends are celebrating her bachelorette party." Wild applause greeted that statement, but the announcer cut it off with a loud whistle. "That's not all." He continued. "She is having a bridal shower as well. Do you think it's fair that she should open her presents all by herself?"

There was a resounding "NO!" from the audience.

"I thought you'd say that."

At some unseen signal, three of the dancers lifted the table, presents and all and the other two took the chair with Natalie in it. One by one, they escorted the entire ensemble onstage. "So, Without further ado, I give you Ms. Natalie Lambert and her gifts." The announcer gestured to Nat.

Nat looked, embarrassed and sheepish, at the announcer.

"Go ahead, open them." He encouraged.

Natalie blushed heartily as each package revealed an article of intimate clothing. Each item was greeted with whistles and catcalls. There were twenty or so packages, most of them from Frederick's Of Hollywood or Victoria's Secret. Nat estimated that among the lot of them, there couldn't have been more than two yards of fabric. And that was mainly lace and chiffon. Mostly in black and red. She stubbornly resisted the repeated shouts from the audience to model the apparel.

**********

Miklos wiped the invisible stain from the bar top. "You're sure?" He asked Javier Vachon.

"I'm positive. I saw whoever it was who killed them. I don't think it was a vampire. At least I didn't detect any vibes. Of course, I couldn't detect a heartbeat either. But then, if it had been a halfling hunter, there might not have been any heartbeat. Still, no vampire I know of uses throwing stars or cuts the hearts out either. Not even Enforcers." Javier said. He had not been back to the Ravenette since he had witnessed the killings. In fact, he had not even been out of the house.

If it weren't for the fact that Tracy was at a party for Natalie, he wouldn't even be here now. Not that he was afraid for himself. True, he didn't like the idea that there was a possible hunter in the area. He was more afraid for Tracy and Natalie. They were, after all, mortals. Hunters usually had no qualms about taking the mortals who associated with vampires. He was grateful that this particular hunter managed to dispose of the three who were plotting against Nick and Nat. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe not ...

"Still. You have to report it to the Elder." Miklos said.

"That's what I thought I was doing. Since LaCroix is in Europe, you are the next in line."

"Me? No way." The Greek vampire replied. "I'm only three hundred fifty years old. You're older than me."

"You mean I'm the Elder?" Vachon's voice went up at least half an octave. "I can't be an Elder. I can't even take responsibility for myself, let alone a whole Community."

"You're not the Elder either."

"Then who is?"

"Knight."

**********

The officers stared open mouthed at the scene before them. They had responded to a silent alarm from the Silver Stallion. They came in expecting a disturbance. That was what most of the calls from here were. Sometimes the ladies could be as vicious as the men, if not more so. What they saw dumbfounded them.

Three men lay on their stomachs on the stage, dressed only in their Jockeys. On one of them, a heavyset black lady was straddling his torso. Periodically, the man would try to move. That only made the lady bounce up and down a few times. The other two were trussed up tightly, one with bright yellow ribbon, and the other with something that looked suspiciously like a jock strap. They were presided over by two other ladies. The policemen recognized them as Tracy Vetter and Vera Wilson, two of the female officers from the 96th.

"Would someone mind telling me what's going on?' One of the officers, his nametag identified him as Officer Boyd, asked.

"Glad you could make it to out little clambake." The heavyset lady said as she climbed off the man. She took a few steps toward the officer. It was obvious that she was not feeling very much pain. In fact, nearly all of the women were well lubricated. "My name is Grace Balthazar. I am an Assistant Coroner and we were just having a little party for our boss." She pointed a wobbly arm at Natalie. Nat tried to shrink herself into the floor.

"Anyway, Officer ... Boyd." Tracy squinted at his nametag as she took up the narrative. "These three tried to rob the place. As duly sworn Officers of the law, we just could not let that happen."

"So we did what any responsible Police Officer would do." Vera continued the tale. "We subdued them."

"Please!" One of the men on the floor cried out, desperation in his voice. "Please . arrest us. Take us to jail. We confess! We plead guilty! Anything to get us away from these crazy broads!"

**********

Nick climbed into the lift. Although his vampire physiology was sobering him faster than any of his mortal companions, he was still feeling the effects of the night. He reluctantly agreed with himself that .38 Specials were every bit as powerful as the 151. He fingered the twenties in his pocket. Everyone was in awe, or maybe shock, as he managed to down three of them without passing out. Of course, only a few saw him going to the mens room a half hour later and emptying his stomach into the porcelain god.

He had asked John what was in them, but the jovial ex cop only would say that it was a closely guarded secret passed down from father to son. "If I tell you, then I'll have to kill you." He had joked.

He noticed that Nat's car wasn't in the garage, but he thought that Nat had gone to her apartment to feed the cat and get some more clothes. It wasn't until he opened the loft door and Sidney wound himself around his ankles that he realized that Nat had moved most of her stuff into the loft over the weekend.

The icy sheet of fear that enveloped him quickly completed the process of clearing his mind of any effects of the alcohol. "THE VAMPIRES!" He screamed. "They have her!" How could you do this to her? His mind taunted him. Now they'll kill her and then come after you. Isn't this why you denied her in the first place? To keep her safe?

In a panic, he took the lift back down to the ground. Got to find her. He told himself as he lifted into the sky. Suddenly, he screamed as the first rays of the dawn shone over the roof of the warehouse. Cursing himself for not checking that, he returned to the loft. Fortunately, there was only smoking and a few blisters to show for his folly. He was trapped here while his enemies did unspeakable things to the woman he loved. He smashed his hand through a small table by the door. Yowling loudly, Sidney ran for cover under the couch.

Natalie pulled her car into the garage beside the Caddy. "Oh! No!" She said half aloud. "I forgot completely about Nick. He didn't know anything about the party and I didn't think I'd be out this late." The foiled robbery attempt had made them somewhat of heroes, and from that point on, they were bombarded with free drinks. By the time the Silver Stallion closed, no one except Nat was feeling any pain at all. Although she was sober, she managed to act her part very well. Nat, Grace, Tracy and Myra had gone to an all night coffee shop to talk about the party and the upcoming wedding in one of the back booths. They were having such a good time that Nat had forgotten completely about the time. It wasn't until the first rays of dawn lightened the sky that she left for home.

Home. She mused as she rode up the lift. The word sounded good. It sounded right. Nick's home. Her home. Their home.

The door opened and Nick grabbed her into a tight bear hug. "Where have you been? How could you stay out all night? Don't you know there are those who would kill you as soon as look at you?" He bombarded her before the door had even closed.

"Whoa! Let's not go ballistic!" Nat said, struggling to extricate herself from his grip. "I was out with friends. Grace decided that tonight was the time for a bachelorette party. It didn't break up until about an hour ago. I didn't think it would last this long or I would have called you." She took a deep breath, and the unmistakable odor of alcohol assaulted her. "Come to think of it, what have YOU been doing all night? You smell like a brewery." She had half an idea. Myra had mentioned that Don was at another party. It suddenly dawned on her that he must have been at the party for Nick.

"To tell you the truth, I ... " He began laughing. So that's what Bennett meant by she was being taken care of. "They gave me a stag party tonight. Somehow, I have the feeling that the two parties were coordinated so they would be on the same night." He held her close and kissed her on the forehead. He should have known that she would not take any chances. Especially now that they had worked their problems out and the wedding was back on. "Just do me a favor."

"Anything."

"Next time, call." There wasn't time for her to answer as he began smothering her with kisses. At first, they were light and feathery butterfly kisses, but they became increasingly passionate and sensuous. Without breaking his kiss, he grasped her under the legs and lifted them both to the bedroom.

Sidney looked out from the couch at his two pets, shook his head lightly and began to clean his left paw.

**********

Grace helped Nat fasten the train to her head. They were using one of the small meeting rooms at the Moose Lodge as a bride's room. The men had another one for their dressing room. She had done a magnificent job with the dress. It was a white chiffon floor length creation with layers and layers of lace and ruffles that effectively camouflaged Nat's slightly protruding abdomen. The fact that one of her cousins worked at the Bridal Manor was a definite plus. The bridesmaids, Myra, Jill and Vera, were equally resplendent in their pale blue chiffon dresses. Theirs, of course, did not have the ruffles, and they were cocktail length. Tracy, as Maid of honor, had a sea green dress in the same design. The flower girl, Jenny Schanke, had a dress that was a miniature of the bride's. Grace had volunteered to be the mother of the bride, since Nat always accused her of being a mother hen. Joe Reese practically insisted that he give her away. "Honey, you are the most beautiful bride this town has ever seen." Grace said as she put the last hair clip in place.

"And it's all because of you." Nat said. "You've performed a miracle getting this wedding together in only a month ... And keeping me from coming apart at the seams at the same time." She kissed her assistant lightly on the cheek.

"No problem." Grace said, her mahogany complexion taking on a decidedly red tinge. "Now, let's get out there and get you married to that handsome detective."

**********

Nick swallowed as he stood at the improvised altar. Beside him sat Don Schanke in his wheelchair. Much to his consternation, Jenny had decorated it for the occasion with blue and white bows that matched the ribbons on the chairs for the guests of honor. Schanke did not have the heart . or the courage . to remove them.

The organist that had been recruited from Grace's church began the pre wedding recital. One by one, the guests were escorted to their chairs by the ushers / groomsmen, Javier Vachon, Murray Franken and Mike Murphy. When they were all seated, Vachon escorted Grace to the front seat as the mother of the bride.

As the organist began the first strains of the wedding march, the lump worked its way from Nick's stomach to his throat. This is it. In a few minutes, Nat will be my wife.

First came Jenny, and then Murray's nephew Pete, the ringbearer. Myra Schanke was next, escorted by Mike Murphy. She winked broadly at her husband as she took her place on the altar. Next was Jill Penderson, one of the other coroners. Her partner was Murray Franken. Vera Wilson was last, chaperoned by Javier Vachon. After they were all in place, Tracy started down the aisle. A respectable distance behind her, Joe Reese proudly held Natalie on his arm.

Nick swallowed hard as he saw her. She looked something more than an angel. And he was marrying her. Joe stopped at the side of his detective and carefully placed Natalie's hand in his. Then he took his seat beside Grace.

"Dearly Beloved." Judge Merlewicz began. After that, the rest of the ceremony was something of a blur in Nick's mind. He vaguely remembered something about 'love honor and cherish' and answering "I do" to some questions. All he clearly remembered was the Judge saying, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." All that filtered through the blissful haze was that Nat was now and forever his wife.

**********

Myra stood behind Don as they threw birdseed at the departing couple.

Grace was correct. The wedding, and the reception that followed were, indeed, something to 'knock your socks off'. The band, Habeas Corpus, was superb. They played anything from Bach to Backstreet Boys. The food was plentiful and catered to just about everyone's tastes. The drinks flowed freely, and only a privileged few of the guests knew that the pale Greek bartender catered to a very select group.

Although the honeymoon destination was a closely guarded secret, Grace and Tracy knew that Nick and Nat were headed for a week at a secluded cabin on Georgian Bay and that the rest of the time they would be at the loft. Instead of the Caddy or the standard limo to whisk the couple from the hall, Reese had substituted a paddy wagon, suitably decorated with tin cans and old shoes, and, of course, the mandatory 'Just Married' sign.

From the back of the crowd, Etrain, Irahem and Tomutu watched.

This will definitely be an interesting experiment. The Ancient mused.

The End? Oh, the infinite possibilities