SADNESS, IN A MINOR KEY

Standard disclaimers apply. Nick, and Natalie, for what
little she appears, aren't mine, I've just taken them for a
brief spin. Any similarities to real-life events or other
stories are entirely coincidental/unintentional. Permission
is granted to archive at fkfanfic.com and the ftp site; all
others please ask so I that can keep track of it. For those
of you who are interested, my other stories are all
available at
http://filebox.vt.edu/users/diharris/Homepage.htm.

This story is a real first for me. It's probably the
closest to a factionless story I'll ever write, even if it
is Nick-centric. Also, while I have avoided flashbacks like
the plague in the past, that's basically all this story is
:) I decided to write this to explain my favorite lines in
the whole of Forever Knight:

"How 'bout that?"
"It's a beautiful piece. Do you remember who wrote it?"
"No, I don't. But it's by Beethoven, right?"
"Very good!"
"It's funny, as I was playing just now I remember a friend
jotting down notes as I was playing... with a quill. He was
hard of hearing. It's weird..."

Why was that the first thing he remembered in Night in
Question? There had to be some importance to it all, and
this is my attempt to explain it.

I would like to note that while I tried to make this story
as historically accurate as possible, history concerning
Beethoven is full of inconsistencies. I've included real
events in several places, but as they were not dated, I had
to do some major guesswork as to what happened when, as well
as deal with the fact that there are about fifteen or so
different stories about how the song Fur Elise came to be.
Please keep that in mind.

Historical Notes:
1. The incident in which Beethoven was called a
"scoundrelly phiz" was real. He actually sent a man running
out of a tavern because he spat at his feet.
2. Giulietta Guicciardi was a real person who really turned
down Beethoven's proposal.
3. Beethoven was really suicidal. The only reason he gave
for not killing himself was that he had more music to
compose.

There are many other true-to-life things strewn around the
story, but those are the most obvious ones.

Thanks A BILLION times over to all of my beta readers.
Lois, Heather-Anne, Desiree, Portia, you did a wonderful
job! Without your help, this story would not only be a
shell of what it is now, it would be a typo-ridden,
grammatical mess! Well... ok, I wouldn't be that severe...
but I think several red pens died in agony for this story.
Pay homage to them, for they gave their lives with bravery
;)

Any and all comments can be sent to Diane Harris at
aria5@vt.edu. I thrive on positive and/or constructive
feedback. One could even say that I'm a feedback glutton.
So bring it on!

SADNESS, IN A MINOR KEY

The soft strains of a familiar bagatelle swept through the
loft as Natalie exited from the lift. Fur Elise. Probably
one of the most well-known pieces of music to ever grace
the Earth, written by a phenomenal composer, and yet so over
-played it had become the classical equivalent to Happy
Birthday. But now, as Nick played it, Natalie couldn't help
but hear a difference. How much more sad and tormented it
seemed, even when his graceful fingers progressed to the
lesser known second part that, to Natalie, had always
sounded like a happy dance through the country.

"Natalie..." Nick whispered softly, almost regretfully, not
bothering to open his eyes as she approached him. He simply
continued playing, his body swaying minutely as he sat
hunched and tensed over the keys, pouring as much emotion
into the piece through the narrow columns of his fingers as
he possibly could.

"Nick, it sounds beautiful," she replied, her voice soft and
filled with awe as she brought her hands to rest on his
strong, broad shoulders.

His eyes still did not open. He seemed not to be paying
attention to her, as if he didn't care or didn't notice that
she was standing right behind him. His entire being was
being placed into the music. "No one plays it right
anymore..." he stated sadly, his body quivering slightly
under the feather-light touch of her fingertips.
Trembling...

Finally, he reached the end. The music stopped. The
seconds ticked by and Natalie waited patiently, but Nick
stayed wrapped up in his own little world. Still and
silent, he sat there poised over the keys, long enough to
make Natalie feel the slight beginnings of discomfort.

"I, uh," she began, clearing her throat with a hesitant
cough in an effort to stop the dismal mood of the loft from
crushing her. "I wanted to see how you were doing. Did
your talk with LaCroix help?" she asked, intending to be
understanding and sympathetic, but even as she mentioned
_his_ name, she couldn't help but shiver with loathing.
Even worse, it made her angry that Nick had sought _him_
instead of _her_ to help him recover.

Nick finally opened his sad blue eyes and looked at her
bleakly. "Yes, I remember everything now," he stated
bluntly, his tone cold and strangely detached. His
shoulders shook with strain, and his chest gave a mighty
heave before he grew eerily silent again, as if he were
attempting to overcome some unseen force. Perhaps it was
the guilt that was weighing him down now, perhaps the
sadness of all his past lives. She doubted he would divulge
his torment to her. He never did.

But she had come for answers to another question, one that
had about the same probability of getting answered as Nick
confessing what had happened with LaCroix to make him so
glum. Regardless, her curiosity was piqued. She had to
try... "Nick, can I ask you a question?" she began
hesitantly.

He looked back at her, eyes awash with infinite pain, but
face as cold as stone. "Do I have to answer?" he asked her
gruffly. She was taken aback by his bluntness, although
somewhat comforted by the fact that it wasn't aimed
at her, suspecting that it was just an effort to mask
his own pain. It must've been so hard for him to regain so
many bad memories at once...

"No... not if you don't want to. It's just..." she paused,
unsure as to whether this was a good idea or not. He almost
never told her of his past; what would make this time any
different?

He sat there silently, his eyes daring her to intrude on his
own wallowing guilt as though he expected his stare to be an
impenetrable wall.

His glare, however, was enough to bolster her own stubborn
side, and she plunged onward. "I want to know why the first
thing you remembered was that song," she commanded, her
voice much more firm than she felt. It was selfish of her,
she knew, but a part of her needed to know why he had
remembered that first, and not her...

"What song?" he asked.

He was playing dumb with her, she was certain, and all at
once she felt her cheeks flushing red with anger. How dare
he... "Fur Elise..." she stated coolly, trying to contain
herself.

Nick looked at her sharply, as if she'd just struck a
sensitive nerve. He sat there silently, staring with a
forlorn look at the piano which he had been playing so
beautifully only moments before. For a brief moment,
Natalie thought she'd lost the battle of wills and that he
simply wasn't going to tell her.

He got up, much to her surprise, and with a heavy sigh he
moved to his large, black-leather easy-chair. "No one plays
it right anymore..." he repeated softly, and then to
Natalie's surprise, he began to tell his tale.

VIENNA 1809

The candlelight in the corner where he sat was sparse, at
best, softly flickering over his pale face in a manner that
made him appear to be a heavenly being of Godly countenance.

But God scorned creatures such as he.

Nick grimaced harshly at the thought, so intent on brooding
that he wasn't really paying attention to the din that
surrounded him.

Until now.

There was a group of men a few tables away, smiling smiles
that extended beyond mere curves of their lips into subtly
cheerful wrinkles around their eyes. Rosy cheeks and warm
skin flashed as toothy grins were traded back and forth,
their boisterous laughter virtually shaking the room in
which they sat, vibrating against his own still heart in a
subtle mockery of his own desperate loneliness. They didn't
know a killer was sitting among them.

There were others in the large, dim room, indeed, but there
were none sitting so close. The rest were but a cheerful
ambience. These men... These men were the life of the
small tavern. They alone had set the mood.

A sad hint of a smile marred Nick's lips as he watched them
conversing lightheartedly. Now that... that was one thing
he sorely missed from his mortal days. He had lacked a true
and trustworthy comrade since the day Janette had walked
into his life.

It hurt to watch them.

He looked away as a small frown invaded his face, turning
his eyes down towards his clasped hands. The mild pain
emanating from his stomach was growing increasingly hard to
ignore with each passing moment.

The laughing men didn't know.

They didn't know that he would have to hunt tonight to quiet
his terrible desires. The hunger that dwelled in his
abdomen was sure to erupt into an unstoppable bestial fury
if he were to let it go for another night--he'd already
abstained for a week. But now... he was regretting the
decision to wait until he arrived in Vienna. It made the
urgency of his plight all the worse since he hadn't fed
while traveling.

"Sir? Sir, are you unwell? Can I get you anything?"

A young woman stood there quietly, her white apron spread
fully across her pale, worn dress. Small and hesitant, a
smile crossed her thin lips as he reluctantly brought his
eyes to look upon her.

Nick groaned softly, desperately trying to drown out the
sound of her wildly beating heart, the laughter of his
jovial neighbors suddenly fading into the background.
Threatening to split his head in two, the rampant pounding
of the girl's heart refused to cease its torturous, hypnotic
song. His nostrils flared delicately as he caught wind of
her. The tangy scent of the blood in her veins smelled
glorious to his acute olfactory sense, and he closed his
eyes in an attempt to deny the golden amber he knew was
surely there.

"Sir?" the woman questioned softly, her feminine voice rich
with concern as she placed a warm hand on his sleeve.

He took a deep breath and furiously willed the vampire away,
finally able to bring his stunning blue eyes to look at her
squarely. But the instant his eyes met with hers, he found
himself grabbing the hand which she had so gently placed on
his arm, and he flung it away. Take her, take her, take
her! She's so warm and hot and innocent... You could have
her blood running through your veins. Burning you... Take
her, damn you!

"No!" he whispered hoarsely, his breath coming in heaving
gasps as he fought to overcome his inner demon. The thin
column of her neck pulsed wickedly as she gasped at his
outburst and swallowed, backing up a step.

Away from him...

Immediately, he regretted his actions. With as pleasant a
smile as he could muster, he nodded his head. "I apologize
and thank you, but I shall not have anything tonight," he
said warmly, despite the utter coldness he felt.

He would certainly have something tonight. Just not what
she could offer to serve him--not reasonably, anyway.

The maid looked shaken, but she nodded and went on to
another, more inviting table. "Wait..." he wanted to
whisper, but no sound came from his lips, only a silent gasp
of air. He sighed and placed his head heavily in his hands.

Had he become so uncivilized that he couldn't even talk to
_one_ of them? Forget the table of laughing comrades, he
couldn't even converse with but one frightened barmaid.
The loneliness that was threatening to overwhelm him gripped
his heart and shook it terribly within his chest. He felt
jarred, out of place.

_You_ don't belong anywhere but with me!

Nick squeezed his eyes shut, trying to deny the words he had
so recently fled from. He knew LaCroix would catch up with
him eventually, find him despite his efforts to remain
inconspicuous, but could he not enjoy his brief freedom
while it lasted?

No, it seemed that now his torment was only greater, even in
his tormentor's absence.

He sighed.

So lonely...

"I swear! What a scoundrelly phiz!" an angry, flustered
voice suddenly cried out above the soft murmur of voices
that littered the room.

Nick's head snapped up in the direction of the disturbance,
like a bird of prey scoping out a possible meal.

A dark man sat there alone at a table in the opposite
corner, his hair a wild wave of fury atop his head,
complimenting the smug grin that was now on his face. Nick
looked at him, appalled. It appeared as if the man had not
met with a comb or any means of grooming in an eternity
barely shorter than the one Nick knew himself... A savage
air fitted him like a glove to a hand, and Nick found it
quite disconcerting to see a mortal so affected with a mood
that would better suit himself...

The man who had cried out, a well-dressed red-head, shoved
off from the wild-man's table with a disgusted look, and to
Nick's surprise, the wild-man spat on the floor at the other
man's feet. "You are a savage, Herr Beethoven! You disgust
me!" the man cried and rushed out the door with such haste
it was as if some unseen force propelled him forward. The
wild-man just smiled and went back to his drink.

Nick's eyes widened as his thought processes screeched to a
halt. Herr Beethoven? No... He shook his head. It
couldn't be. Impossible. The genius composer would not be,
_could not_ be such a savage, crazy man...

No. It was crazy. Inconceivable. He had heard wrong.

He got up quickly, the swiftness of a deadly predator
keeping his feet soft and silent against the heavy wooden
floor. No one in the tavern noticed his departure into the
frigid night. Not that they would have cared--strangers to
the city of Vienna were regular occurrences.

Growling softly, he stared into the night, keenly observing
the few people who were out in the darkness, his hot breath
clawing outward from his mouth in a misty cloud of moisture.
The hunger burned brightly within him.

He had to feed.

Now.

Launching forward on his feet, bringing up a spray of dusty
snow, he began to prowl the darkened streets in search of
prey. There was a symphony of heartbeats surrounding him,
almost to the point of overwhelming him. But... which one
would he snuff out? Which one would have the misfortune?

It was agony to choose.

He was not God. He had no right, and yet there he was,
stalking in the night like he owned the very streets he
walked.

"Stop! Thief!" a gnarled woman's frightened voice cried
from across the street, her long fingers pointing wildly
down the street at a fleeing individual. Nick couldn't help
but smile regretfully. At least... At least the vampire's
unfortunate victim would deserve it tonight, although it did
little to soothe him as he focused on the fleeing man.

The man's heart was beating wildly in Nick's ears now,
strong and persistent as he was pursued, beating even faster
when the man realized he was being stalked... Skillfully,
through turn after turn in the snowy streets, Nick corralled
his victim to a side-street and into a dark corner.

Nick honed in on the sound of the man's heart pounding
viciously in his chest as his veins pumped with sheer
terror. The sound was like a sweet song of finely tuned
tympanis in his ears. Delicious. Ah... to be finally
assuaged.

Shaking terribly, the man backed against the cold brick
wall. The beast within quivering for a long-denied release,
Nick snarled savagely and advanced upon him. "What in God's
name are you?" the man cried as his back hit the wall with a
thump. His broad chest heaved in fear, his eyes wide like a
man who had just set eyes on some ungodly specter, a stunned
rabbit cowering before the hunter.

Nick felt a brief pang in his heart at the fear, and out of
shame, did not answer as he gripped the man harshly and spun
him around so that he was granted better access to the neck.
The joy of the hunt that had consumed him had strangely left
him now that he was so close to fulfillment. Now it was
only the guilt.

But he was so hungry...

He hissed softly and clamped his jaw down on the man's
pulsing neck, Nick's elongated fangs piercing the soft
flesh. The second his pearly teeth broke the skin, hot
blood immediately spurted into his mouth.

It burned his throat. Ecstasy! He groaned in pleasure.
Even better, the sweet ambrosia was imbued with fear.
Delicious, heart-wrenching, mind-numbing fear. He growled
savagely and buried his fangs deeper into his victim's neck,
viciously ripping his jaw back and forth like a lion
attacking its prey.

The guilt was gone. It was all about the kill now.

Why would you ever want to give this up to become one of
_them_?

"DEMON! Get your claws off of him!"

A terrible pain ripped through his side, and Nick let his
prey go in surprise. The man he had taken blood from fell
to the ground and scrambled away woozily. Whimpering in
pain, Nick gripped the jagged knife that had been embedded
in his side, but was unable to pull it out as he looked
wildly about for his attacker. Three burly men had come out
of nowhere. "Devil! Kill it!"

Stupid. How did you let them corner you?

They came upon him brutally, beating him into the cold snow.
Too weak, from hunger and from surprise, to fight, he had no
time to react. What little sustenance he'd gotten from his
intended victim tonight was simply not enough to bolster his
strength. They hadn't even given him a chance...

_You_ don't belong anywhere but with me!

He blinked. His face was numb as he lay there in the dirty
slush, and he stared weakly at the shoe of his attacker
through blurred vision. It shifted about in front of him
almost imperceptibly as his attacker moved his weight to the
other foot. Vaguely, he could feel his blood spilling out
into the snow, but there was nothing he could do. He was
splayed on the ground like a broken rag doll, and trying to
move his arm from underneath his heavy body to staunch the
flow resulted in nothing but pain.

It was useless. He gave up and resigned himself to his ugly
fate.

"Is it dead?" one of them asked with a whisper, the
aggressiveness gone from his voice as if he had suddenly
realized what he'd done.

The second of the three spat in disgust. "No. Just leave
it for the sun. Let's go..."

He heard their footsteps retreating loudly, crunching in the
soft snow as the trio disappeared into the waning night.

Help me... God, the sun... He didn't mind dying, he
accepted it, he deserved it, but... the pain of the sun...
His fear of it brought him into a panicked frenzy. Agony
ripped through his body as he thrashed weakly about with a
stream of pitiful whimpers emanating from his throat. He
was cold, and frozen, and bloody.

And he was doomed.

He shivered. Cold... He wasn't used to facing the effects
of extreme temperatures...

It seemed as though he stared straight ahead for hours,
bloody tears streaming down his frost-bitten cheeks until
they froze in place. But, just when he was sure that the
sun would grace the horizon and kiss him good morning, a
soft, warm hand turned him over with a light grunt, patting
his cheeks in an obvious attempt to make Nick lucid.

As he looked up through amber-colored vision, Nick couldn't
help but groan in pain. His frozen hands reflexively
clutched around the knife in his gut now that they were free
from underneath his deadweight body. What on Earth? He
squinted, trying to focus his misbehaving eyes, trying to
figure out what was going on.

Coughing, with blood coming up his throat and out of his
mouth in a trickle of spittle, Nick choked slightly as the
wild-man from the bar sat him up, his face showing some
concern.

The pain was simply too much for Nick to bear, and as the
blackness enveloped him, he heard the soft mumble come from
above him, a voice that was thick with disuse, like an out-
of-tune piano... From the wild-man.

"Vampire..."

*****

It was quiet. And dark. And warm. And cozy.

He smiled, not wanting to move an inch. What a wonderful
inn, such service, they must've gotten him after...

OHMY!

Nick sat up like a slingshot that had just been released,
only to be greeted with immediate, lancing pain in his side
and a dull ache pretty much everywhere else. "AUGH!" he
cried out brokenly as he clutched at his abdomen and slowly
lay back down to appease his protesting innards.

Trying to blink the pain away, Nick lay still as bloody
tears streamed down his face. He stared at the ceiling,
making not a sound as his eyes uncontrollably filled and
overflowed. Luckily, despite it all, he felt no hunger--it
had already been assuaged. But how?

And by whom?

Where was he?

What was he doing here?

The questions were overwhelming him now, and it was killing
him to know that if he got up it would hurt him just as
badly as the agonizing torture of not knowing. Gently
fingering the wound in his side with the skill of an
individual who'd been injured countless times before, he
found that at least it hadn't opened again, but the probing
he was giving the tender area still made him wince. One
thing was for sure: if he'd been mortal, he'd probably be
dead. The knife had been serrated, and the man who'd
stabbed him with it had obviously given it a twist for good
measure.

Nick sighed. Well maybe he could...

This time he sat up as slowly as he could manage, and he
found the pain to be a definite nuisance, but certainly
bearable. He glanced around, finally taking in his
surroundings.

The room he was in was quite large, and very ornate. The
bed where he lay was grand, and yet, despite its size, the
wood-tiled floor sprawled outwards from it for what seemed
like eternity until it finally hit the white trimming around
the edges of the room. Dark, cascading burgundy drapes were
drawn across the bay windows, a dim outline of light the
only evidence that it was indeed daytime. That, and the
usual buzzing feeling in the back of his mind.

Hesitantly, he shifted and dropped his right foot slowly to
the cold floor, noticing for the first time that he was in
a clean set of clothes, untorn and unbloodied. Why... Why
would anyone have wanted to save him, least of all the
savage wild-man that had seen fit to spit at another man's
feet? No benevolent man would do such a horrendous, vulgar
act. So why? Nick racked his brain for answers, but came
up with none, only winding up exceedingly frustrated for his
efforts.

Even more hesitantly than he had slipped his feet to the
floor, he stood up. It hurt. A lot. But it was bearable.
The wound was still closed, and the spare rag bandage that
covered it underneath his shirt remained unstained despite
his earlier probing.

He took a step, surprised at the ache in his muscles, and
then took another. And soon, he was at the door of the
large bedroom, looking back at where he'd lain for only God
knew how long in the care of a strange man he'd never met
before. It was slightly disturbing, but the thought served
to press him onward.

Pulling the door open cautiously, he was relieved to find
the hallway both uninhabited, and safely traversable. While
there were a few patches of sunlight here and there, they
were easily avoidable.

As he stepped out of the hallway, the strains of soft piano
music filled the air. The tune sounded forced, and
definitely not played at all skillfully, but Nick was not
one to judge. He knew nothing of the piano, despite the
fact that he desperately wanted to learn. Ever since he'd
seen the prodigy composer Wolfgang Mozart play blindfolded
for a crowd, he'd wanted it.

But time had simply not permitted. Fleeing from LaCroix had
him constantly skipping towns and cities very shortly after
he took up residence. He didn't have time to transport a
piano with him, let alone find a new teacher in every new
region that he visited.

"No, Therese..." said a thick, male voice, the same that he
had heard the night before, or at least what he hoped was
the night before, followed by a rap that could've only been
something hitting against the top of the piano.

The playing stopped for a moment and started again; the same
hesitant, soft sound that had permeated the halls before
began again. "Therese, no! Your rhythm is off," said the
voice again, although slightly more annoyed this time.
Another rap at the piano.

Nick heard a frustrated sigh as he drew closer to a small
staircase, and he quickly identified that the sound was
filtering up from there. Again the playing stopped and
restarted. But it didn't take long before... "Therese, NO!
Did you not practice anything that I gave you?" the voice
cried, this time very incensed.

"Ludwig, I'm sorry!" cried a feminine voice whose owner was
obviously close to tears.

"Therese, how do you expect me to teach you to play if you
will not practice?" the male voice scolded harshly.

"I'm..." A sob followed, and then the flutter of footsteps
as tiny feet fled the room.

"Therese..." a sad whisper replied.

But it was too late. Nick could see, as he descended slowly
into a large room where a beautiful Viennese piano sat, that
the room that had once been inhabited by two was now
inhabited by one. The wild-man was sitting on the bench,
his head in his hands, and for some reason Nick found
himself wanting to go and comfort the man. An impenetrable
wall of sunlight, however, prevented him from advancing any
further into the room.

An angry growl fell from the wild-man's lips as he ran his
hands through his unruly brown hair. "Sir?" Nick called
hesitantly, wincing as his muscles again protested movement,
but the man did not look up. "Sir?!" Nick called, slightly
louder this time, but the man still did not look up.
Something was wrong...

But strangely, as if he had sensed a presence in the room,
the man stopped, his head lying silently in his hands for a
few long moments before he brought his eyes upwards to look
at Nick. "Ah, it's you..." he said softly as he wiped his
eyes, a gesture of fatigue that Nick recognized instantly.
"How do you fare?" he inquired curiously.

Nick nodded slightly, despite the growing ache in his side
and pretty much everywhere else. "Well, thank you..." he
replied as he stood there, several inches behind the wall of
natural light. Tracing the line that separated him from the
wild-man with his eyes, he stared back at his 'captor'. He
still had no idea what was going on. Was this friend or
foe? Unease sat heavily on his shoulders.

Suddenly, the wild-man hopped up, snapping his fingers as a
thought came to him, one that he obviously felt was very
important. "I'm sorry..." he murmured as he raced to the
draperies and pulled them shut.

Nick stood there, stunned, as the room was bathed in blessed
darkness. How could this man know so much about him? How
did he know about vampires? He obviously did...

The man approached him with a smile. "I am Ludwig von
Beethoven. Welcome to my home..."

Although his feet stayed firmly planted to the floor, Nick
felt like he'd been knocked back a step. He'd thought he'd
heard wrong before, and then when the woman had called him
Ludwig, he'd purposely ignored that, too, but here... here
there was no question that he'd heard correctly. No
question at all.

"Ni... Nicholas de Brabant," he responded automatically as
his eyes flew to the small piano again. That wasn't just a
piano. That was _Beethoven's_ piano... The piano that
Beethoven had probably sat at to tinker out the notes of the
Eroica, the Moonlight Sonata... Nick's heart quickened at
the prospect.

Beethoven squinted at him as if he were listening to Nick
very hard, although Nick couldn't see why. He wasn't
speaking very softly... "Why..." Nick began, but Beethoven
put his hand up to shush him.

"You are a vampire, are you not?" he asked bluntly, his
voice gruff, and Nick still couldn't figure out why it
sounded so... Well... It was as if the man hardly ever
spoke at all, like a door that creaks terribly when it's
been left to rust on its hinges.

"How did you..."

"I have heard the stories... it wasn't that hard to figure
out once I caught a glimpse of you in the alley..."

Nick's eyes widened at the thought. "You saved me," he
stated softly, still unable to figure out why this man, this
famous composer, would ever want to save a hideous creature
like himself...

Beethoven was staring at him, unblinking, his eyes never
leaving Nick's lips. He found it rather disturbing to be so
intently stared at, very strange indeed. It made Nick
shudder, involuntarily.

"Is it true? What they say?" Beethoven asked softly, his
voice the awestruck sound of a young boy first exposed to
the beauties of the world outside his own small home.

"I'm not sure what you mean..." Nick hedged, beginning to
worry about where this dangerous conversation was headed.

Beethoven sighed a frustrated sigh and shuffled his feet in
a sign of impatience. He wanted something,that much was
clear... "My father told me once, when I was a young boy,
that there were terrible creatures that stalked the night."
Nick cringed as the composer began to explain, self-disgust
overwhelming him. He was the embodiment of that terrible
creature...

Beethoven, however, did not notice Nick's discomfort with
the subject, and he plunged onward. "He told me that they
lived off of human beings as if they were cattle, but in
exchange for that heinous sin, they were granted
immortality, incredible healing capacity, and hence became
addicted to their ungodly acts. At the time, I considered
it a reason to stay indoors at night, but now..." His voice
trailed off as he reached the end of his explanation, his
eyebrow raised in silent inquiry.

Nick offered no reaction whatsoever as he felt his stomach
dropping into his feet, hoping that he could dodge the
subject entirely. Far too many mortals had been mistakenly
enchanted with the idea of living forever without having the
foresight to look at the other side of it. The side that
was death and guilt and inhumanity. It was obvious to him
that, sadly, Beethoven had become a victim of that
misconception.

"I want you to make me like you..." Beethoven whispered
seriously, his voice cracking with emotion.

Nick felt the rage erupt from him before he could stop it,
and he snarled viciously at his host. "You want to be like
me? A monster? You don't know what you ask..." he hissed
and backed away, suddenly wishing desperately that he wasn't
wounded, and that it wasn't daylight. As things stood now,
this man could probably take him in a fight...

"I do know what I ask..." Beethoven replied with surety,
his eyes ablaze with a passion that had been absent before.

"You are in the light of God, a light which I stepped out of
centuries ago..." Nick argued back, trying to knock some
sense into the man. He snarled again, showing off his sharp
canines in an attempt to ward Beethoven away from his
misguided concept of the vampire. Let Beethoven see the
beast that he said he wanted to become.

But Beethoven merely laughed, a cynical-sounding grunt
almost. "I am in the light of God? God?" he questioned,
visibly seething. "Well tell me, Nicholas de Brabant, if I
were in the light of God, why would He have taken away my
most prized possession? Why would He have made one of the
world's greatest composers as deaf as the muddy earth we
walk on?" Beethoven asked viciously, defeat and pain
dripping from his tone.

Nick found that he could not answer, instantly feeling a
sympathy for the man who was standing before him, despite
his condescending words. Words that explained everything.
The strange sound to Beethoven's voice, the intent way in
which he listened. The world's greatest composer since
Mozart couldn't hear...

"Tell me!" Beethoven demanded, shaking Nick roughly to the
point that Nick couldn't help but gasp in pain. "Tell me
where my supposed God is now!" he cried viciously, but when
he noticed Nick's agonized expression, he removed his hands.

"I'm sorry," Beethoven whispered, beginning a sincere
apology. "I didn't mean to hurt you... but... I want to be
able to hear again. You, ironic as it may sound, are my
only prayer, and if sacrificing my time in the sunlight
means that I get my most precious gift back, I would gladly
make the trade..."

Nick fought valiantly to catch his breath, but his side was
protesting just as valiantly. "I need to sit," he gasped
with a heaving breath as the dizziness overcame him, but it
was obvious that Beethoven couldn't hear him. Without
waiting to be offered one, he fumbled to a seat. Politeness
had pretty much been discarded as soon as his legs had
threatened to give out.

Finally, he was able to regroup himself. Despite the
abominable request the composer had just made, there was...
well, Nick had to admit that there was sense in his
arguments.

Beethoven sat in a chair opposite to him, distressed. He
began to run his hands through his wild, mangy hair again,
incensed and yet seemingly unwilling to let himself pace it
out of his system.

Nick watched the man with interest. Here was an individual
filled with as much pain as he, and yet, it was of a
different kind. While Nick had erringly walked out of the
light, Beethoven seemed to have been thrown viciously from
it, offered no choice whatsoever in the matter. And for
some reason... Nick felt himself drawn to this man more
strongly than he had been to any other mortal, even Alyssa.
Her sweet, innocent smile, which had so enamored him before,
was nothing when compared to this angry man's soul. A soul
to which he could relate.

A soul that was in pain...

"I will consider your request," Nick finally admitted after
the longest of silences, speaking loudly so Beethoven could
hear him. So help him if he was making a mistake... A
voice in the back of his mind was screaming in protest, 'NO,
NO, IT IS A MISTAKE... BACK OUT!' but he purposefully
ignored it.

Beethoven looked up with a smile. "Thank you," he replied
sincerely, sitting forward in his chair.

"But only on one condition," Nick added. Here... well, here
was a chance he was likely never to receive again. And he
would take it.

Beethoven nodded, prodding him to name his price.

"You will teach me to play the piano," Nick said, more of a
command than a request, his voice suddenly filling with the
snobbish air of an aristocrat. Strangely, Nick had always
found it easy to fall back into that role.

Beethoven, however, paid his arrogant tone no mind, and his
lips spread into a wide grin. "Yes, Herr de Brabant. I
would be happy to," he said, visibly pleased with the trade
and giddy at the prospect of possibly being granted his
request.

"Please, that's too formal for my tastes," Nick said, trying
to ignore the lump forming in his throat, "Call me Nick."

Beethoven raised his eyebrow. "That is an unusual request.
Nick, eh?" he questioned, the shortened name sitting
strangely on his tongue as he uttered it.

"Only one person calls me Nicholas anymore..." Nick
clarified, hesitating. "And I," he paused again, trying to
find the words, "well, I just don't like him much." It was
the honest truth, if a bit over-simplified.

Beethoven nodded. "And you must call me Ludwig."

They merely sat in companionable silence as the seconds on
the nearby grandfather clock ticked away. Nick took the
time to observe the large room he occupied. The decorations
that were set about certainly indicated that Beethoven was
an affluent man, or at least pretty well off. It made
sense--he was currently one of the most popular composers in
the great musical city of Vienna... and all of Europe, for
that matter.

As he glanced about, Nick's eyes fell on the piano. It was
a beautiful mahogany, four thin legs tapering down from a
sleek, thin body. Obviously meant to be used by a very fine
pianist, its crafting was purposeful and very well-done.
Although Nick didn't play the instrument, he did know a
well-crafted one when he saw it.

And as he looked there at the fine instrument, he felt
saddened that he hadn't yet had a chance to learn.
Considering himself to be a connoisseur of music, even going
so far as to dabble in a few instruments here and there, he
had yet to try the avant-garde and ever popular pianoforte.

"Why do you frown?" Beethoven asked quietly, his voice
tearing through the silence.

Nick was startled from his thoughts at the intrusion. He
hadn't even realized he was frowning... "I am not happy..."
he answered simply.

"A good reason, I suppose..." Beethoven hazarded, although
disappointed that he hadn't received more of an answer.
"Would you like to try it?" he asked softly, his dark,
penetrating eyes darting to the piano that Nick had been
admiring moments before.

Nick felt something in his chest lift at the thought.
"Already? I thought we would work out times for me to have
lessons..." His voice trailed off, suddenly realizing that
he hadn't a clue what he'd gotten himself into, not even the
smallest inkling.

"Do you have a place to stay?" Beethoven asked.

"What?" Nick was surprised by the question, and Beethoven's
seemingly random subject changes.

"I didn't think so. You will stay here and study with me.
Now sit at the piano," he commanded, and Nick, for an
instant, was shocked. How dare a mortal talk to him in such
a manner! And then he was relieved that he had been offered
shelter. And grateful. It was indeed a strange progression
of emotions.

Finally, Nick obeyed and sat himself on the small bench in
front of the keys. "Now, this is how we will proceed,"
Beethoven began, sitting at the piano next to Nick. "You
will successfully perform a task that I instruct you to do,
and when you do, I will ask you a question that you must
answer truthfully."

Nick, who was staring at the keys of the small piano in awe,
quickly turned his head towards Beethoven. "But... that
doesn't seem fair. What do I get out of it?" he found
himself asking without thinking. You ungrateful little...
How could you ask that, he demanded silently of himself.

Offense, however, was not taken. Beethoven merely smiled.
"You will see," he replied cryptically.

Nick was more confused than ever now, but he chose not to
reply, opting rather to wait for instructions. But the
instruction that Beethoven gave, well, that was not quite
what he was expecting. "Play," Beethoven commanded.

"What?!" Nick exclaimed. "I don't know how! That's why I'm
here!" he yelled as his temper flared, and he suddenly found
himself regretting the deal he had made, but Beethoven paid
his outburst no mind.

"Put your hands on the keys; your left pinky should be on
lower C, your right thumb on middle C," he responded
patiently.

"Well..." Nick looked down at the keyboard in confusion, his
eyes darting from the lower bass notes to the high ones on
the right, praying that somehow one of the keys would simply
shout 'I'm middle C!!!' or something. "Where's that?" he
finally asked, giving in to the fact that while he knew how
to read music, he couldn't even begin to fathom the keyboard
that sat so innocently in front of him... Beethoven merely
grabbed his hands and placed them on the keyboard, making
sure Nick's fingers were properly curved and in the correct
position.

"Now. Play," Beethoven repeated.

Nick's eyes widened, as if someone had requested the world
of him. And at the very same time, he felt a growing
respect for his new teacher, although he didn't know why.
"Play what?" he questioned, slightly fearful of what the
answer would be.

"Your heart..." Beethoven whispered in response.

Nick swallowed and looked down at the keys. How could he
play his heart? It was just a dead thing sitting still and
silent in his chest. But Beethoven prodded him onward.
"Play..." he repeated.

Nick pressed his left thumb down and was greeted with a
light, firm tone. His middle and pinky fingers went down
next, and he was greeted with a nice-sounding chord--a C
chord. Plinking a few more notes out onto the keys, he
began to get the feel for the sound and its subtle
overtones, what combinations of keys produced which
harmonies, and where everything was situated.

And soon he was playing. Really playing. He didn't know
where it came from or how, but suddenly it was as if his
soul were pouring out onto the keyboard through his
fingertips. Hands flying across the keys, he barely paid
attention as Beethoven got up from the bench. The sad,
tormented music flowed through the air. While it was light
and airy at first, it soon became dark and brooding,
modeling particularly the moods he had been feeling lately.

Time passed, but he did not notice it passing. His music
flowed, but he did not notice it flowing. He felt like he
was having an intimate tête-à-tête with his soul. It felt
strange, and new, and good, and he wanted it to never end.
But, to his dismay, it was over as quickly as it had
started. The real world had intruded once again, and he
found himself sitting there with his fingers poised over the
keys, unmoving.

It was then that he realized what he had just accomplished.
"How did I... I mean... I can't... I've never..." Nick
stuttered inarticulately, amazed with himself.

"Nick, the musically inclined do not need instruction, they
need encouragement. You do not have to know the mechanics
and the fingering to play an unwritten piece, as long as you
have the coordination... Now, if I had presented you with a
page of music, you'd probably still be sitting there
wondering what to do. The sheet music, for you, would be an
impediment..." Beethoven explained patiently.

Nick found it too hard to believe, and was protesting almost
as soon as his new mentor was finished. "But I..." This
was not an orthodox teaching strategy... Wasn't he supposed
to learn scales or something first?

"You will learn how to play in the technical sense of the
word later; right now you are just exploring," Beethoven
interrupted him, answering Nick's question as if it had been
voiced aloud. "Now play more."

And for some reason, Nick found himself blindly obeying, as
if his fingers had lives of their own. Again, they were
racing across the keys in a flurry of arpeggios and other
spectacular finger acrobatics.

"Nick, you play beautifully..." Beethoven whispered, his
head placed on the lid of the piano. His hair flared out
around his head like a lion's mane, and his face was bright
and awed as he lifted his head to look at Nick.

Nick looked back at Beethoven, noticing for the first time
that he had moved from his position beside Nick to his
current hovering stance over the lid of the piano. "What
are you doing?" Nick asked as he allowed his fingers to stop
their flight over the keys, trying to figure out why
Beethoven was standing above the piano so strangely.

"Tell me how long you have walked this Earth," Beethoven
replied, avoiding the question Nick had posed for him.

The question stabbed him in the chest like a knife. He'd
forgotten the conditions of this learning experience when
he'd gotten lost in his music. "I... Six hundred years,
roughly," he commented softly, and he regretted making
Beethoven strain so to hear him, but it pained him to say
it.

Six hundred years of sin and torment. Six hundred years
without a God to lead him home...

Beethoven's eyes widened, but he did not appear to be
surprised. He merely drew in a deep breath and began, "I
was feeling your music. Sometimes I find it easier to feel
than to listen now... My hearing comes and goes without
warning. Right now I have been somewhat better, but the
habit, once I grew into it, has not stopped. Here, stand
here." Beethoven motioned to the space he occupied with a
wide sweep of his broad hands, stepping aside as he did so.

Doing as he had asked, Nick watched as Beethoven sat at his
beautiful piano and began to play. Although the tune
started very similar to Nick's foray, it soon became angry.
Nick could feel the harsh vibrations of the strings through
the lid of the piano, coursing upward through the aged wood
and rattling his eardrums viciously.

Fury. Fury was pouring out of Beethoven now, and the piano
shook as he pounded at the keys. Nick was slightly
unsettled, but he remained, listening, feeling, learning.
The twangs that were ringing through the rich mahogany were
almost painful now, painful as Beethoven wrung every emotion
out of the strings he could, utilizing such a wide range of
dynamics that Nick was, at first, horrified.

No one played like this. A piano piece was supposed to be
light, melodic, and pure, but this was none of those things.
The little Viennese piano could barely take the strain of
such emotional shifts, and he was very surprised that the
legs of the piano hadn't already snapped. Yet the more Nick
listened and felt, the more he grew to appreciate what he
was hearing. It was far more powerful than anything Mozart
or Haydn, or any other composer he was familiar with, had
ever produced. He was sure that he was hearing what was to
be the wave of the future. He was positive.

And then it stopped. Nick gasped as the beautiful sound
left a void in its wake.

Beethoven looked up and took a deep, cleansing breath. "Why
do you hate what you are?" he asked, brushing his wild hair
away from his face. Little streams of sweat were cascading
down over his forehead and cheeks, and he patted them away
with a cloth from his pocket.

"Because God loathes what I am..." Nick answered
automatically. But somehow, that didn't really seem to fit
anymore. Beethoven waited patiently while he pondered the
question further and finally came up with, "Because I hate
what I must do to live."

Nick looked down at the floor in shame. "I... I need to go
out tonight. My wound is not fully healed and I need..." he
stumbled over the words, unable to admit what he required,
suddenly afraid that Beethoven's hospitality would run out
the second the composer finally realized whom and what he
was dealing with.

Beethoven smiled calmly in response. "The butcher can give
you what you need. I have already acquired enough for a
little while," he said as he stood.

Feeling the weight of a ton of guilt lifting from his
shoulders was like a breath of fresh air, and Nick inhaled
deeply with a smile. No one would die at his hands tonight.
The butcher had always been off limits to him in the past,
simply because such businesses did not usually operate after
dark and because LaCroix had heavily frowned upon it. But
now, it seemed, it was an option. "Ludwig, I shall not
forget your kindness..."

Beethoven dodged the issue at hand again, as he was so apt
at doing. "Nick..." he began with a whisper, "I don't
profess to know what God hates and does not hate, nor do I
claim to know the reasons for his obvious dislike of my own
person, but I doubt He is as petty as you claim, to deny
you, a man of such obvious, if not misguided, piety..."

"I..." Nick began, but he simply did not know how to
continue. "Tell me of Therese," he requested bluntly,
finding himself suddenly remembering the young woman who had
fled the room earlier.

Beethoven looked slightly shocked at the change of subject,
and Nick couldn't help but feel a little smug. Ha! See how
_you_ like it! The pain that entered Beethoven's eyes then,
however, quickly silenced those feelings, and stabs of
regret ripped at Nick's heart.

"Therese... is none of your concern," Beethoven stated
gruffly, but it was obvious to Nick what the real problem
was. Beethoven was in love with her.

Nick, however, had no time to ponder it. Beethoven pivoted
quickly on his feet and left the room with a heavy sigh, and
an infinitely more heavy heart.

THE PRESENT

Natalie sat entranced, sitting Indian-style on the floor in
front of Nick like she was a child being read a bedtime
story. "You learned to play the piano... from _Beethoven_?"
she asked incredulously, her words falling from her lips as
if someone had punched her in the stomach. She knew Nick
had known some famous people in his day, but still, this was
almost too difficult to believe. Beethoven?

Nick let out a little chuckle, but it was not a happy sound.
Natalie felt her heart wrench in her chest. "Nat, he was
the only true mortal friend I'd ever had... He taught me so
much, and I gave him nothing in return," he stated with a
disgusted snort, but Natalie felt it wise not to console
him.

Not only would it not work, as Nick tended to wallow no
matter how much she tried to lift his spirits, he might feel
inclined to stop his tale, and she did so want him to
continue...

"He was invited to a party at Therese von Brunsvik's house a
few weeks later. He insisted that I come with him..."

VIENNA 1809

"Herr Beethoven!" a cheerful voice called, bringing Nick out
of his reverie. "You must tell me who this new friend of
yours is..."

Beethoven had been hovering around Nick the entire night,
using him to deflect pretty much any social interaction he
could manage, and the more the party wore on, the more it
was obvious that Beethoven was growing increasingly
uncomfortable. Sadly, amongst the din, it was almost
impossible for Beethoven to hear anything, let alone the
polite request for an introduction that had just been posed.
Nick was beginning to understand why Beethoven was
considered somewhat of a social recluse and an all-around
misanthrope.

In hopes of sparing Beethoven an unwanted scene, Nick bowed
with a polite flourish, trying to ignore how uncomfortable
he was himself with all these mortals milling about. "I am
Sir Nicholas de Brabant. Pleased to make your
acquaintance," he stated regally, entirely used to the
situation, even if it was uncomfortable.

The man shook his hand with a smile and Nick flinched,
trying desperately to ignore the moving sea of heartbeats
flowing around him, a morass of talking, laughing mortals.
"I am Mathias Wagner," the man responded, and Nick couldn't
help but notice the strange look he gave the silent
Beethoven.

After several pleasantries, the man departed, leaving
Beethoven and Nick on their own in the crowd again.
"Ludwig, if you don't like coming to parties, why did you
come, and why take me?" he spoke loudly, hoping that
Beethoven would be able to hear him over the crowd.

Beethoven looked at him, and a sad smile spread across his
face, his eyes weary and pained. "Because... _She_ invited
me..." he stated thickly, letting his eyes wander across the
large, splendorous room to a woman standing regally amongst
a few others. Her brown hair was swept up in a fancy array
of curls, her white lacy dress hanging down from her body in
a beautiful display of angelic grace. While she was
certainly not the most beautiful woman Nick had laid eyes
upon, she was certainly not one to simply pass over either.

"Ask her to dance," Nick commanded, giving Beethoven a light
shove forward, but Beethoven had other ideas.

He protested vehemently, so loudly that a few people who
were around turned to look at them with odd expressions on
their faces, until they saw who it was. "No!" he cried
forcefully, shoving back against Nick. "She would not deign
to dance with a social outcast..."

"Ludwig, you are only a social outcast because you make it
so. If you would just talk..." Nick began, but Beethoven
interrupted him harshly.

"I canNOT! People would know from the instant I spoke that
my hearing was not of good faculty. It would be a joke!
Who would listen to a deaf composer's work?" Beethoven
exclaimed, his voice wavering ever so slightly. He looked
about ready to break into tears.

"Ludwig, if you do not request that the good lady Therese
dance with you, I will depart and leave you to do your
brooding alone," Nick stated with finality, and gave
Beethoven another shove.

His friend looked back and forth between Nick and Therese
with consternation. He obviously did not want to be left to
fend for himself in such a social atmosphere, but he also
did not appear to like the other option either. But whether
it was his stubbornness over his poor hearing or something
else, Nick simply couldn't tell. "Fine," the truculent
composer grumbled, and slowly made his way over to the
object of his affection.

Nick watched silently as Beethoven bowed slightly to the
woman, and was happy to see that she smiled in return.
Beethoven had not said as much, but it was obvious to Nick
that he loved her, and Nick felt his own heart lift as she
followed him onto the dance floor. It was as if he thought
he could experience things through Beethoven which he could
not normally even think about without terrible guilt ripping
through his soul.

It was... uplifting, to say the least.

They danced for quite awhile. Nick watched in pleasure as
she and Beethoven seemed to be having a very friendly
conversation. She would look down occasionally with a sweet
little smile, and he would smile a wonderful, airy grin
back. And in those moments that Beethoven was courting his
young lady love, Nick felt the strain of being in such a
large crowd drain away into nothing.

"The wild and cruel Ludwig von Beethoven, and the fair
Therese von Brunsvik. It is an interesting match..."
someone commented beside him, obviously noticing the objects
of Nick's unblinking stare.

With a slight glare, Nick looked to his side at the man who
had uttered the simple statement. How dare the man
interrupt! "Ludwig is not cruel," he defended, a dangerous
tone entering his voice.

The small blond man held up his hands in surrender. "I
meant no offense," the man said hastily, "but it is of well-
known fact that while there is only one Beethoven, and his
works are grand, he has not a nice bone in his body..."

Nick, surprised to find that it almost felt as if the slight
had been directed at himself, had to restrain himself from
grabbing the man and shaking some sense into him, but the
man rushed off before he could reply. He shook his head.
The man didn't understand! No one did...

The rage burned in him deeply, and he found himself growling
low in his throat before he was able to stop himself.
Luckily, the noise of the surrounding crowd masked his loss
of control, and he was able to come to grips with himself
before others noticed that they had a beast in their midst.

"Nick, thank you..." Beethoven said as he came upon him,
shaking Nick out of his dangerous mood.

Nick returned Beethoven's gratitude with a weak smile,
though he truly felt sick to his stomach. People disgusted
him when they were so quick to judge, though he realized it
probably made him a hypocrite to think such thoughts.

"Friend, we must retire. I have much to teach you
tonight..." Beethoven continued, and Nick could only nod
mutely, letting Beethoven drag him out to the street to
their carriage. Anything to get away from all these
pathetic mortals... It almost made him angry that, as of
late, he'd been consumed with thoughts of joining them once
again, longing for it so much at times that it pained him.

Almost, but not quite. There was no way he could let go of
a centuries-long dream because of what one ignorant man had
said.

"Nick, what troubles you?" Beethoven asked quietly once
they were in the carriage, visibly worried.

"It is nothing of concern, I am merely uncomfortable around
so many people..." Nick answered, praying that Beethoven
wouldn't see his half-truth. Luckily, Beethoven seemed to
accept his explanation, and they rode in companionable
silence back to the waiting piano.

"Do you know how to read music?" Beethoven asked curiously
as they sat down at the piano. The question had never come
up before because he hadn't allowed Nick to play anything
that was already written.

"Yes..." Nick answered hesitantly, wondering if perhaps
Beethoven was finally going to let him play something other
that his so-called heart. Although he did enjoy composing
his own works, he also wanted to know how to play formally,
perhaps even something that Beethoven himself had written.

"Good," Beethoven replied matter-of-factly as he produced a
sheet of carefully written music. It was one of
Beethoven's, that much was obvious right away. It was
actually the only possibility, since it was handwritten in
that familiar, almost illegible script that belonged solely
to Beethoven. "Play."

Once again, for the second formal lesson in a row, Nick was
shocked. He couldn't play that. There was simply no way...
"Ludwig, that's too hard, I cannot simply sit down and play
that..."

Beethoven laughed heartily at Nick's balking. "Nick, you
have astounding ability. You've played for an hour with no
music at all; this is merely changing your medium. I have
great faith in your ability to play this piece. It's not
nearly as hard as it appears," he tried to assure Nick. It
didn't work.

"Before, you said it was an impediment..." Nick pointed out
the contradiction, but Beethoven only smiled. Damn that
man! He was almost impossible to argue with...

"Not now. You are ready..." he replied with a twinkle in
his eye. At Nick's look of nervousness, he laughed again
and grabbed Nick's hands, putting them into position,
checking to make sure his fingers were curved correctly.
"Now, start on the G-sharp and the C-sharp. Go ahead..." he
prodded as he had done before.

Nick couldn't help but cringe when he made an attempt, only
to produce a terrible sound. But Beethoven was staring at
him expectantly so he began again, slowly working out the
keys. It was hard. Very hard. While he knew quite well
how to read music, he had never read two clefs at once
before, and he'd certainly never tried to keep track of both
of his hands, ten fingers in all, while he was doing so.
Just moving his eyes back and forth from the page of music
back to his hands was bound to make him dizzy. And then, he
didn't even want to go into the issues of adding pedal and
dynamics... Nevertheless, his respect for piano virtuosos
increased exponentially, and at the same time he realized
why Beethoven had not presented him with sheet music
earlier.

"Nick, you're making it too hard. Try not to concentrate on
how difficult what you're doing is, and focus more on what
you're trying to do," Beethoven said soothingly.

Nick could only growl in frustration, clenching his teeth in
a desperate attempt to keep his fangs from descending. "You
just said what I was doing _wasn't_ difficult!" he seethed.
His vicious temper was getting the best of him, and try as
he might, he was having difficulty containing it...

Beethoven just smiled a secretive little smile. "It won't
be, soon..." he replied cryptically, and that was almost
enough to set Nick off before he was able to take control of
his anger..

Taking a deep breath, Nick slowly continued. "Accidental!
Don't forget the natural!" he heard Beethoven say softly.
"Watch it, don't speed up!" Nick, his earlier fury
re-igniting, tore his eyes from the page and looked at
Beethoven with a glare of death, hoping for a brief instant
that his stare would smite his teacher down where he stood.

But Beethoven only smiled as he began to count softly. Nick
growled. Was there nothing that affected this man? "One,
two, three, four, come on, Nick, keep the beat. One, two,
three, four," Beethoven said, accentuating his counting with
firm claps. And so help him, Nick felt his fingers speeding
up to meet Beethoven's set rhythm. Even his eyes gradually
stopped flipping back and forth constantly when Nick found
he could look at the page of music and his hands would
pretty much keep track of themselves.

The strains of the mournful Moonlight Sonata began softly,
hesitantly, but soon Nick was pouring it out onto the
keyboard. It was a song he'd heard before, he was familiar
with it, and in a way, he already knew it. He was sure that
Beethoven had picked this piece on purpose for just that
reason, so that he could have his memory working with him
instead of just his sight-reading ability.

"Ludwig, I cannot marry you. I simply cannot..."

Inhaling sharply, Nick broke his eyes briefly from the sheet
of music and looked to see if Beethoven had heard that, but
Beethoven was still furiously rapping out the beats for Nick
to follow, completely unaware.

A quill hit the paper and began to flow: I have once again
known some blissful moments, and for the first time I've had
the sense that marriage can make someone happy...

Nick shook his head, his music pausing for a moment in a
split second of confusion. Where was this coming from? It
was like the images he received from blood, except... It
was music. Music... He didn't understand, but Beethoven's
furiously clapping hands drove his fingers onwards.

"Giulietta! Please!"

"No... No, I cannot..."

"Giulietta..."

His fingers stopped on the ending chord, a sad finish to a
sad song... Nick finally understood the emotions that the
song had always generated for him. It was Beethoven's
farewell to a former love. A dedication to what could never
be. But could music contain the same soul as someone's
blood? He hadn't thought it possible until now...

"Good, Nick. Very good. You're a natural at this,"
Beethoven said with a wide smile, but the pleased look on
his face faded when Nick looked up at him with blood tears
in his eyes.

"Who was Giullieta?" Nick asked with a sigh and a heavy
heart.

Beethoven's head snapped up in response. "How do you know
her name?" he snarled accusingly, but his eyes softened when
he saw Nick's bewildered expression.

"I... From the music... I just heard all of these thoughts
while I was playing, and I..." Nick responded, trying to
make sense of all the imagery he had been bombarded with
while he had been playing. So like the blood, and yet...

"She is a woman I know," Beethoven responded bitterly,
looking at the ground as he shook his head. "The song was
for her, but... she is nothing to me now..."

Nick desperately wanted to press for details, but the way in
which Beethoven spoke told him that the subject was not open
for discussion. "That is why you hesitate with Therese..."
Nick conjectured, but Beethoven would not answer. He merely
snatched up his staff paper and fled the room, his quick
footsteps echoing in the large room like quiet thunder.

But it was obvious. Although he denied affection for her
with his words, Nick could see it hidden in the depths of
his pained eyes. Beethoven had loved her, once...

THE PRESENT

"So Beethoven wasn't ready to pursue Therese because of that
other woman?" Natalie questioned softly, bringing Nick out
of his flashback.

"No," he sighed dismally, "but he was using it as an excuse,
I think. It was more his hearing problems that stopped
him... You must understand that back then they didn't have
sign language, at least not widely used, or anything like we
do today. What his unfeeling doctors dismissed as a malady
made him a cripple in his mind. After all, what was a
composer who couldn't hear?"

Natalie nodded. He had a good point.

"He fell into terrible depression at times, and he was very
bitter about it. Before I met him, when he had first
discovered that his hearing was failing, he even
contemplated suicide..."

"What stopped him?" Natalie asked, curious.

"He didn't want to die before he'd produced all the music he
felt he'd been meant to compose..." Nick stated simply.

"That was his only reason?"

Nick nodded. "His only reason, at least, until Therese came
along."

VIENNA 1810

"Nick! Wake up. I require your presence!"

Nick's eyes fluttered open, only to be startled out of his
wits. Beethoven's enthused face was only a mere six inches
above his own, his wild hair flaming about his head like a
halo. A surprised snarl escaped his lips before he reigned
in his beast. "What time is it? The sun's still up..." he
grumbled, closing his eyes again. There was absolutely no
way he was going to get up now... He'd been dreaming a
rather pleasant dream, a rare occurrence, and he wanted to
relish it. Perhaps he could get back to it if he fell back
asleep fast enough.

He received a heavy, down pillow in the face for his
trouble. Choking in surprise, he gasped and sat up like a
released lever. "Nick, come! I have a lesson to teach you,
and I cannot very well do it while you sleep..." Beethoven
scolded lightly as Nick flailed about, trying to regain his
equilibrium.

"Ludwig," Nick said with a hiss, so glazed with sleep that
he didn't have the focus to contain his beast, "It is the
middle of the day. What could possibly require my presence
so urgently?" With a wide, jaw-cracking yawn, he stretched
his lithe body like a cat waking up from a nap and
reluctantly swung his feet down to the cold, wooden floor.
This had better be damn important.

"It is imperative for you as a student to observe others
learn as well..." Beethoven replied as he left the room,
giving Nick his needed privacy to change, but little
opportunity to protest.

Ah, so that was it. Beethoven was going to have him sit in
on a lesson. That didn't seem to be worth getting out of
bed in mid-afternoon for, but Nick reluctantly got dressed
anyway. He would do what Beethoven asked if it meant that
he learned more. For that much, he was willing to do pretty
much anything.

A stab of hunger impaled him, but he forced it down. That
would have to wait until later. Stumbling down the hall and
down the stairs, he was greeted, to his utter surprise, by
Therese. "Herr Brabant!" she exclaimed, putting her hands
to her face in a gesture of surprise. Apparently she had
been expecting him as little he had been expecting her.

"Fräulein Von Brunsvik," he replied with a curt nod, trying
not to display how startled he was by her presence. He did
not like being startled...

"Herr Brabant, I did not expect you to be up and about at
this hour. Ludwig has told me that you live for the
night..." Therese explained, obviously both prying for
information and trying to start a conversation at the same
time.

"Usually, that is the case..." Nick replied tersely,
suddenly very uncomfortable under her prying, mortal eyes.
The light beat of her heart did nothing to calm his
insatiable bloodlust, and he was still filled with the need
to sleep. He wanted to go back to the blessed safe haven of
his down comforter.

"Ah, Therese!" Nick nearly sighed in relief as Beethoven
entered the room, but he caught himself just in time. "Nick
will be observing your lesson today. Do not pay him any
mind," Beethoven assured her and guided her to the small
piano bench.

"Now, did you practice this time?" he asked, his tone that
of a parent talking down to a child. Therese nodded and
smiled innocently, paying no mind to Beethoven's tone.
Beethoven smiled back.

"All right, then, why don't you begin at the start of the
second movement..." Beethoven suggested, and Nick sat back
in his chair to watch.

As the minutes passed, Beethoven's clipped tones faded away
into the background, and he began to pay more attention to
their interaction. It was truly fascinating to watch. She
would smile a teensy smile at the man, so light that it
barely upturned her pale, thin lips, and he would respond
with a wide goofy grin, completely uncharacteristic of his
usually dour features. And, as her small hands would grace
the keys ever so much more delicately than Nick ever could
have managed, Beethoven would place a large hand on her
shoulder, counting loudly to keep her at the right pace for
the piece.

It was endearing to watch, and Nick sat back with a weary
smile, no longer paying any attention whatsoever to what was
being said. He was staring at the perfect example of
companionship, something he had sorely lacked for most of
his existence, and he realized with a pained sigh that it
was one of the many things that had abandoned him after his
conversion, one of the things that he truly missed and
longed for.

Being a vampire, to him, meant being alone. He could no
longer safely interact with the mortals which he was
usually forced to feed upon, no matter how fond he was of
any particular one. Beethoven, it seemed, was an odd
exception in that respect, and he felt that his friend was
somehow safe from his beast, although why, he hadn't a clue.

A sad frown marred Nick's face as he stared at the couple,
realizing that he envied Beethoven more than ever now.
While Beethoven was an exile, he was one by his own hand,
and, when properly drawn out of his protective shell he
could be quite sociable, though most people didn't know it,
nor did they care.

Nick had sadly noticed, however, that lately Beethoven had
been withdrawing more and more from society, becoming more
and more of an outcast as he became more obsessed with the
fact that he could barely hear. He continually worried that
people would discover that he was almost completely deaf--he
was very self-conscious about the matter. But despite all
of that, Therese was drawing out a side of Beethoven that he
did not often reveal, a side which Nick had only seen in his
own presence.

Nick, though, had no one. No one at all except the
companionship offered by this angry soul standing before
him, tentatively courting a young woman named Therese. And
perhaps, just perhaps, Nick would be able to experience the
things that vampirism robbed from him through that strange
companionship. Two lonely men brought together by the very
things that set them apart from the rest of the world. It
was almost poetic...

"Nick?"

Nick blinked, shaken from his thoughts when Beethoven
speared through them with his words. He glanced around,
disoriented, and was surprised to note that Therese was no
longer there. Looking up at Beethoven with questioning
eyes, he shifted in his seat.

"Therese left... you said goodbye. I thought you had
noticed," Beethoven said with a hearty chuckle, answering
Nick's unspoken question. "Where were you just now?" he
asked curiously.

Nick shook his head. "I was just thinking about things, a
dangerous thing when you have as many memories as I..." he
replied wistfully, a heavy sigh freeing itself from his
chest.

Beethoven nodded thoughtfully. "I believe I can understand
that," he commented, sitting down on the chair situated
across from Nick's. "So," he began, "what do you think?"

Raising an eyebrow, Nick frowned. "About what?" he asked,
confused. Where was this going? Hopefully Beethoven wasn't
going to drill him about the lesson since he hadn't seen
anything beyond the first five minutes of it. At that
thought, Nick was suddenly regretting not paying any
attention.

"About _her_!" he emphasized with a wide, sweeping gesture of
his hands. The expression on his face betrayed how smitten
he was with Therese, but he was able to get a hold of himself
quickly, and his visage grew more serious. "I think I'm
going to ask."

Nick felt a lump form in his throat, his stomach feeling the
beginnings of queasiness. Beethoven was going to propose to
Therese? But...

What about me?

While he had just moments before been contemplating a sort
of surrogate companionship, now he just felt jealous.
Jealous and afraid that what had before meant two
friendships, one real, and one imaginary at this point,
would be reduced to dust. Nothing. Gone. And he would be
completely alone again.

What about me?

Although caught in an emotional see-saw, he quelled the
thought and forced a smile to his lips. "I think you
should pursue it!" he exclaimed, with a tone several times
more happy than he felt.

Beethoven nodded with a warm smile, but the grin faded when
he saw the forced look of Nick's expression. "Nick..." he
began, his face suddenly turning very serious. "What's
wrong?" he asked, concerned.

"It's nothing," Nick replied, denying all existence of any
problem, but he felt his stomach dropping sickly in his
torso. Once Beethoven sensed that there was something
wrong, he often would not let things lie, rather preferring
to get to the root of the problem and expose it naked to the
world.

"You are worried that this will place a barrier between
us..." Beethoven said, sensing the problem in a moment of
inspiration, and basically catching Nick completely off
guard.

Floundering in his seat slightly at the surprise, Nick let
out a small gasp that was somewhere between a gurgle and a
yelp. "What? How did you know?" he exclaimed, astonished.

But Beethoven just smiled one of his cryptic smiles and
reached across to pat Nick on the shoulder. "Nick, I assure
you that this will not be detrimental to our friendship.
Besides, I haven't even asked her yet. I..." Beethoven
paused and looked down into his lap. "I've never been much
good at proposals. Remember when you asked about Giulietta?
She refused me," Beethoven stated glumly, and Nick couldn't
help but feel sorry for the man.

Nick looked back at Beethoven sympathetically. "Why?"

"Because we were not of the same class. She didn't want to
marry down..." Beethoven replied wanly. "I really thought
that I would be happy with her, I really thought..." His
voice trailed off in a muffled choking grunt, and Beethoven
turned his face downwards.

Nick watched silently as the man's shoulders trembled, and
he knew that Beethoven was crying, despite the fact that he
was desperately trying to hide it. He found himself at a
loss for what to do. How was he to comfort the man? It was
an answer which he simply didn't know.

"I know how you feel," Nick stated softly, and Beethoven
looked up in amazement, salty tears still trailing down his
cheeks in lazy tracks over his dark skin.

"You do?" Beethoven asked, hope in his voice, as if the
fact that he wasn't alone was enough to bring him out of the
depression tugging at him.

"Yes," Nick stated, his voice strangely monotone and
detached as he recalled the terrible events. "Alyssa was
her name. I hoped to live with her for eternity. But I
killed her instead," he said in clipped tones, not daring to
look Beethoven in the eye. Guilt was threatening to drown
him; he couldn't, he _wouldn't_, look up to find once kind
and passionate eyes judging and cold. He just couldn't do
it. He didn't have the strength.

Until he felt a hand on his knee. "Nick, you obviously
repent..." Beethoven said softly, trying to reassure him.
Although there wasn't complete understanding in his tone,
there was certainly compassion.

"Here I am supposed to be comforting you, and you've turned
the tables on me..." Nick commented woefully, forcefully
shaking himself out of the doldrums into which he had sunk.

Beethoven sighed, shaking his head. "I just... I don't
know if I'm ready to take rejection again," he said softly.

"Ludwig, you won't know if it's rejection until you try it.
If there's one thing I've learned, it's don't put things
off," Nick stated wisely, despite how ironic it seemed that
the very reason he was still in that chair was because he
was putting off the decision to make Beethoven a vampire.

Beethoven nodded reluctantly, coming to a decision. "You're
right. I will go as soon as the hour is reasonable," he
commented, glancing sidelong at the grandfather clock
ticking lazily in the corner. It was nightfall, far too
late to go now.

"Good," Nick stated, certain now, that it was, indeed, good.
Beethoven had a large enough soul to share--he could see
that now.

THE PRESENT

"So what happened?" Natalie asked eagerly, shifting in her
seat in anticipation.

"He went to her house, proposed his undying love for her,
and she refused him," Nick stated glumly, the weight of his
years suddenly seeming to crush his tall posture into a
slump.

"Ohmygod, that must've been terrible for him," Natalie
whispered hoarsely, a sob strangling softly in her throat.
The whole story just made her want to cry, and at the same
time, she was still hungry for more. Hungry for knowledge
of the famous composer who had lived and died over a century
before she was born.

"It was. The first few weeks were hellish. After awhile,
he withdrew completely from society, and even with me there
he refused to socialize with others, but it was terrible
when..." Nick paused, his eyes getting a spaced-out look as
if he were already back in time, reliving the past.

"When what, Nick?" She got up off her knees and roughly
shook him back to the present. There was absolutely no way
she was going to let Nick get this far and then deny her an
ending to the tale. "When what?"

He blinked and returned to the present. "When his hearing
went completely..." he whispered forlornly.

VIENNA 1810

Nick was awakened from a deep slumber by a terrible crash
and the sound of shattering glass. "Noooooo!" The howl was
furious, wild, animalistic, but Nick knew at once who it had
come from.

Beethoven...

As fast as he could, he literally flew to Beethoven's
bedroom. His mentor was sitting on his bed, shaking
terribly. "Please, nononono," he was mumbling over and over
again, a terrible mantra, his knees clutched to his chest as
though he would fall apart if he were to let go.

"Ludwig?" Nick asked loudly, aware that lately Beethoven's
hearing had been very poor. Beethoven did not look up.
"Ludwig!?" he shouted, but Beethoven still did not look up.

Nick sat on the bed next to Beethoven, but if the composer
had noticed his friend sit beside him, he gave no indication
of it. "No..." Beethoven mumbled, his voice cracking and
breaking, and Nick looked down, horrified to see that there
was a knife clutched pitifully in Beethoven's shaking, bone-
white hands.

Suddenly panicked, Nick pried the knife out of Beethoven's
grip, but not without a desperate fight. "No! No, I won't
let you!" Nick cried softly as yanked at the sharp,
offending object. Beethoven looked up with a sob and
finally gave it over willingly.

"Nick, please, friend. Have you made your decision?" he
asked shakily, his voice wavering slightly as he wiped his
eyes on his sleeve.

Nick shook his head fitfully. Not now! Why did Beethoven
have to ask this of him now? "No. No, I cannot. Not yet.
I'm not ready..." he whispered, closing his eyes to the
emotional pain as he realized that the inevitable had
finally arrived. Beethoven merely looked at him blankly.
He hadn't heard. And suddenly... Nick understood.

"Nick, I cannot hear at all now. I am not simply deaf, I am
blind! I cannot live without my hearing. Please, please,
if you care at all about me, please do it now..." Beethoven
pleaded, pulling desperately at Nick's sleeves.

"No!" Nick replied passionately, shrugging off Beethoven's
frantic hands from his shoulders as he stood up. No. He
had been hesitant before, but now he simply couldn't.
Beethoven's humanity was not something Nick wanted to be
responsible for taking away, even if Beethoven was
miserable. He simply couldn't do it... He would not be
weighed down with the guilt of that as well as his other
grievous sins.

Beethoven stood up behind him and looked at him furiously.
"Nick, you promised me..." he whispered, his voice wavering
with emotion. Nick could see his friend's lip quivering as
Beethoven began to comprehend the size of his betrayal.
"Please, I do not want the sun, I do not want it!" he cried
pitifully, and then he was silent for several moments, his
eyes glistening with unshed tears. "You promised..." he
whispered as he sat down on the bed in defeat.

Nick couldn't help but protest, trying to save what little
honor as a friend he had left. "I said that I would
consider it!"

Beethoven only glared. He couldn't hear, so arguing with
him would be pointless without some other means of
communication. Although Beethoven had gotten better at
reading lips, he was still not nearly good enough to
maintain a conversation as though he could hear. "If you
will not help me with this, then the least you can do before
you leave is help me finish my piece..." Beethoven growled
meanly, pulling Nick along with him harshly down to the
piano.

"Ludwig, I don't understand..." he complained with a
whimper as Beethoven forced him roughly down on the bench.
Nick was too shaken to protest, although he could've easily
overcome Beethoven's force had he put his mind to it.

"Finish this piece!" Beethoven cried as he placed staff
paper in front of him. The only thing on the entire paper
was a key signature.

Nick looked back and forth between the furious Beethoven and
the empty paper, confused. He didn't understand! Why was
Beethoven making him play at a time like this? "Play what
you think I feel! See if you understand as much as you
think you do..."

Nick wondered how he could possibly understand how Beethoven
felt. He'd never been robbed of one of his major
faculties... He hadn't been sick or crippled by injury
since he had been mortal, all too long ago... How would it
feel to long for something you knew would never come back?
It felt like... like his longing for mortality. He
supposed, when looking at it like that, that he had more in
common with Beethoven than he had first assumed.

And Nick began to play. It started sadly at first, sad and
lonely and longing for something he could not have. And he
thought about the beauty of mortality, the wonderful things
he couldn't even begin to fathom anymore, because he'd been
so long without them. The more he thought about not having
his humanity, the more dismal the song became, the more
tense, and explosive. Mortality, it seemed, was out of
reach. The notes contained every bit of tension that he
held within himself, longing to explode into a flurry of
something more spectacular, but he allowed the piece to
brood a while longer with pent-up emotion. And just when
the piece seemed to be calm again, his fingers exploded into
a huge crescendo and a wicked descent back into the
original, lonely, longing theme until he finally brought it
to a close with a powerful set of octave A's.

There. That was what he thought about his loss of
mortality. Beethoven's loss of hearing... That was how it
felt. He was sure of it.

Beethoven was frantically writing notes beside him, and
surprisingly, he did not ask Nick to repeat any part. He
had been able to write the whole thing down based on where
he saw Nick's fingers hit the keys. And he hadn't heard it
once. It was sad.

Nick sat in silence while Beethoven put the finishing
touches on the composition, and then, in his messy, cramped
handwriting, Beethoven wrote the title.

Fur Therese.

"Yes," Beethoven said coldly, "I believe you do know how I
feel. Strange that, even with that understanding, you will
not help me."

Nick opened his mouth in astonishment, but wisely said
nothing as Beethoven switched to regular manuscript paper
and began to write a long flowing letter to his sweet
beloved.

"I want you to take this to Therese. I lack good closure
with her and I wish to smooth the waters," he whispered
bitterly, handing Nick the finished letter. "Please, do not
come back for a while. I am upset and am not good company,"
Beethoven said evenly, his voice only breaking at the end.
The betrayal he felt was palpable.

Nick nodded softly in acquiescence, and he could tell that
Beethoven was very angry with him. His eyes stinging with
unshed tears, he went back to his room to dress, unable to
let himself respond to the fury with which Beethoven had
dismissed him. He would have to apologize.

Soon, he was blindly fighting through the wildly falling
snow to deliver Beethoven's farewell message to Therese, and
he couldn't help but wonder why Beethoven had kept the staff
paper that contained the song he had dedicated to her. Was
it or was it not for Therese, as the title suggested? And
although Nick found it terribly odd that Beethoven had kept
it, he found himself growing into a panic over another
matter.

What was he to do? Beethoven was terribly angry that Nick
had decided not to commit him to immortality. In the whole
year that Nick had known him, Beethoven had not asked for
anything in return for his kindness and hospitality but
Nick's consideration over the matter of him becoming a
vampire. That was all. Never any money requested, nothing.
His friendship and tutelage had all been freely given.

But, needless to say, the cold had cleared his mind. He
decided that, yes, he would do as Beethoven asked, no matter
how much it would pain him to do so. Because however much it
pained him, not bringing Beethoven across would probably
pain Beethoven infinitely more than the weight of all the
guilt in the world would hurt himself. If only to make one
person happier from his wretched 'gift' of immortality, the
result would make his own guilt over the matter worth it.

"Nicholas..."

Nick stopped cold in his tracks as the harsh wind whipped
around him and stung his face, the snow making him squint
against the darkness that was sitting upon him like a cloak.
"LaCroix..." he whispered as he felt his stomach sinking.
LaCroix had finally hunted him down...

In the howling, frost-bitten wind, LaCroix's cloak seemingly
flew up around his features like a lion's mane. "It seems
that I have finally found you, _again_..." he said casually,
but his voice contained a lower, darker element that Nick
found very threatening.

"LaCroix," Nick began reasonably, even as he found his feet
backing up in the cold, wet snow, completely out of his own
control.

"Enough, Nicholas!" LaCroix responded, not accepting any
explanation. "I have had _enough_ of you running off...
Come with me," he commanded softly, and yet with such
underlying force there was no room for questioning.

But Nick found himself talking back anyway. "No!" he cried
vehemently, and launched backwards on his feet, trying to
gain some distance between them. But LaCroix's hands shot
out and grabbed the lapels of his coat and he snapped
forward like he was on a spring cord, his neck painfully
flinging his head forward with the unexpected change of
direction.

He growled, exposing his sharp canines to his sire as he
clawed at LaCroix's firmly clenched hands, but it had no
effect other than wasting his energy. LaCroix merely held
him fast, wordlessly denying him escape. "Come with me,"
LaCroix repeated calmly, his voice low and angry. He was
obviously incensed, but he was not permitting himself to act
on it other than to prevent Nick's departure.

And while Nick dizzily thought about posting additional
protest, he realized, dismally, that not only would it be of
no use, it would lead LaCroix right back to Beethoven,
something that Nick absolutely did _not_ want to do. Not if
he could help it. While he may have been willing to bring
the man across, he was completely unwilling to have LaCroix
be witness to it, or to perhaps even do the deed himself.
Beethoven would _not_ be committed to the same torment that
he had been. The whole idea was unthinkable.

"All right!" Nick snapped nastily, but LaCroix still held
him fast, as if he were debating the veracity of Nick's
apparent acquiescence. "Let go! I'll come!" LaCroix's
eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. "LET GO, DAMN IT!" Nick
yelled, pulling at LaCroix's hands. He kicked out with his
foot, only to be dumped unceremoniously on his rear, into
the cold mess of slushy snow.

"Must our meetings always be this way, Nicholas?" LaCroix
asked him in a mockingly sympathetic tone as he brushed his
hands off in disgust.

Nick chose not to answer, despite the anger burning deep in
his chest. Must protect Beethoven... He kept that thought
as close to the surface of his fury as he could manage, and
with that to help him, he managed to retain the various
biting comments that were so viciously trying to escape his
mouth.

He got up off the ground and stared at his sire with a
murderous glare, but LaCroix only smiled and turned to
leave. Nick glowered, scraping the wet snow off of his
cloak, and as promised, forced himself to follow his master
into the dark, snowy night.

THE PRESENT

"Ohmygod, Nick..." Natalie whispered, pain in her voice and
in her heart. "I..."

Nick stared ahead blankly. "I never got the chance to
return... Ludwig probably hated me... I tried to come back
and grant him his wish, but... I couldn't. God, Ludwig
probably died hating me..." he said darkly, a flutter of
sadness shifting across his face before he tucked it away.

Natalie sighed as she saw Nick battling with his inner
turmoil. She was unable to think of any words to comfort
him. There was nothing she could say that would ease his
pain. "I..."

But Nick wouldn't hear her. "Just go, Nat. Please, just
go..."

Natalie nodded mutely and got up from her seat, feeling
guilty for even bringing up the question. She'd gotten her
answer, but at what cost?

As she stepped into the lift, she closed her eyes in
sadness, finally understanding why the song sounded so
mournful when Nick played it the way it was meant to be
played. It was an ode to his lost mortality; it had nothing
to do with Therese, or Elise, as the name had been
mistakenly translated. And as she slid the door shut, a
tear slipped hastily down her cheek.

Nick was playing again.

THE END

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