The blood poured over his face and down his throat, burning through his system as he shook with ecstasy. He reveled in it. Savored it. Lived it. It was everywhere. On his clothes, on his hands, on the floor, in fountains of blood spurting down from the ceiling. The formerly immaculate white room had been doused in the life-giving red liquid.

/What? This isn't right... This isn't real.../

He smiled through his red hazed vision and overwhelming bloodlust, baring his fangs for the world to see, not that anyone was watching. Letting out a guttural growl, he sensuously licked the sticky red substance from his fingers. Slowly, one at a time, he dabbed them lightly on his tongue and he sighed with pleasure as each taste lit fire to his senses.

"You like it. Don't you?" The voice penetrated the room, sounding in his ears like a clap of thunder. He turned to the source, but was merely greeted by empty air. Perhaps he had imagined it... Growling unappreciatively, he went back to his feast, but the voice still whisked through his head, disembodied though it was.

A light chuckle filtered through the air. "Ah, you do like it." Startled by the second intrusion, he turned again. This time he was greeted by him. LaCroix. His late master, mentor, and tormentor. It was strange how one individual could serve as all three.

/What on earth is going on?/

"What do you want?" he said, annoyance evident in his voice, his tone laden with the deep bass of the vampire.

LaCroix smiled and approached him. "This is not about what I want, this is about what you want," LaCroix said slowly, his voice smooth and soothing without a hint of menace. He placed a finger on his son's cheek. He wiped away some of the tasty red substance and immediately drew his hand back to his mouth. Upon tasting the blood on his index finger with a slow touch to his tongue, his eyebrow raised in surprise. "Ah, Nicholas, I am impressed. This is human. I'm glad that you have switched back to your old diet," he said, a pleased tone emanating from his voice.

Nick shook his head. His fearsome vampire visage was replaced by a look of pure torment. "No... No I can't be drinking human. This isn't real!" he said as he started to panic, the guilt he suddenly felt for his recent pleasures beginning to mount.

/This is wrong! I swear it's wrong!/

LaCroix shook his head. "Poor, misguided fool," he said with mock pity in his voice. "It's as real as you make it. Admit it. You enjoyed it," he prodded, circling around Nick in a predatory manner.

Nick continued to shake his head in denial. "No, I swear I didn't... I didn't mean it," he said frantically. He started to try and clean some of the blood off, wiping it futiley on his blood-soaked black silk shirt and black jeans. But it was everywhere. It seemed as though it was forever stuck on his face and hands, engraved on his soul as a permanent symbol of his inability to control his baser needs. He couldn't escape it, although he desperately wanted to.

Turning in blind panic to dash for the exit, he tripped on something lying on the floor. Gasping in surprise, he fell down towards the wet floor, almost as if in slow motion. With a hardy smack, Nick's cheek hit the floor and his eyes met with a pale dead face set with glassy, unseeing eyes. He screamed in terror as he saw what it was that he had tripped over. It was a dead body, pale and strangely undirtied by the surrounding bloodbath.


Nick struggled to get up, but only succeeded in getting completely tangled within the limp body's limbs. Screaming in horror, he struggled even more. So intent was he on escaping his current plight, he almost didn't notice LaCroix approaching him again. "Nicholas, hasn't anyone ever told you not to play with your food?"

Horrified, Nick finally managed to untangle himself and get away. Shakily he stared at the silent form on the floor from a moderate distance, afraid to get closer. It was then that his whole world fell apart, shattering into a million tiny fragments like a Christmas ornament that had fallen from the top the tree. The body on the floor was Nat's. His dear, sweet, innocent Natalie. A sob caught in his throat and he felt blood tears begin to fall from his eyes and slip down his cheek. They fell from his face into the river of blood on the floor, patting as they hit the wet surface. With his sorrowful eyes still locked on Natalie, he barely paid them notice.

With a choked sigh, Nick collapsed on the floor next to her, his eyes never leaving Nat's crumpled body. LaCroix paid him and his grief no mind as he casually went over to Nat, turning her head ever so slightly with his index and middle fingers so that the fang marks on her neck were visible. He looked over at Nick with an even greater expression of surprise than before. "My, my, Nicholas. You have even started to hunt again. Very good!"

Nick, his tears stopping in his sudden anger, let his eyes turn a violent red in fury. "No! I don't kill for pleasure! It wasn't me, I swear!" he growled at his master as he stood up to face him.

LaCroix looked at him with an amused expression, and a strange little half grin half sneer spread across his face. "Admit it, you killed your very own Natalie. The vampire was just too strong for you, wasn't it?" LaCroix questioned him, his voice intimidating but calm.

Nick started to shake, his eyes darting back and forth between his master and Natalie. What had he done? "No..." this time it was only a hoarse whisper. "No..." he shook his head in denial, looking down at the floor in shame. When he looked up again, his master was gone, leaving him alone to his anguish.

He knelt beside Natalie and absently brushed a stray lock of her curly brown hair from her face. "No..." he whispered, "You can't be dead, Nat... You just can't..." He began to cry again as he lightly shook her. Maybe she would wake up...

"God, please no!" he cried out louder this time, his voice filled with the pain and guilt of centuries of killing and death. "NO!..."

/No! This is ALL wrong!/

Nick started awake, full of the vampire and breathing heavily. He snarled in shock with fangs fully extended when he saw two pale arms wrapped around him, restraining him. He jerked away from them, trying to escape their grasp, but the arms surrounding him didn't release him immediately. Yelping in blind panic, he could only remember being entangled in Nat's dead limbs minutes before.

Nick struggled to get up, finally escaping his captor's grip. The hunger was beginning to burn brightly within him, denying his every wish to control his beast. He had to get out. He had to get away. Pushing himself off the bed, he stood quickly, intent on escaping immediately.

It was then that he heard the heartbeat, thumping loud like a waterfall of thunder in his ears. Mesmerized, he turned to look at the source of the sing-song siren, the one to whom the arms that had so recently held him captive belonged. It was Natalie. Alive and sleeping soundly. He reached out with his hand to touch her, but stopped himself as a wave of hunger surged through his body.

He sobbed in desperation and drew back, his golden eyes gazing longingly at Nat's neck. He could almost hear the blood surging beneath her skin. It would soothe the hunger... But he willfully drove the thought from his mind. Nick's body was telling him to take care of his hunger, but his mind was screaming at him to get away. His whole body shook with pain as the hunger in the pit of his being grew.

Grunting, he forced his body further back towards the wall, never tearing his eyes from Nat's lovely neck. "No..." he whispered, the desperation seeping through his voice like water through filter paper.

He finally forced himself to leave the bedroom. Racing towards the refrigerator and opening its door with a powerful yank on the handle, Nick noticed with dismay that there was no blood in it. He tore through the entire fridge, shuffling items roughly this way and that. Still nothing. He closed the door with a slam and turned away to face the expanse of the apartment. His olfactory sense confirmed that the only sources of blood in the entire apartment were Nat and her beloved cat. Sobbing in frustration and pain, he weakly sank to the cold tile floor, shaking like a leaf all the while.

Nick shakily pulled his knees in towards his chest. He wrapped his arms around his legs, griping the blue fabric of his faded sweatpants with a fierceness that made his knuckles turn white. Closing his eyes, he softly counted to ten. Having regained enough control for the time being to ease the pain a bit, he drew in a deep cleansing breath.

When he looked toward the window, he saw a soft light filtering through the cracks in the curtains. That ruled out venturing out himself to find a food source, not that he would have made it very far in his weakened condition.

Nick knew that his hunger could not be helped until Nat was awake, but he didn't trust himself to go rouse her, nor even speak for that matter. He could tell that his eyes were still their vampiric amber, and he could feel his fangs jutting out over his lip. If he couldn't even keep the vampire at bay while he was sitting on the cold floor, as far away from Nat's beating heart as he could get, he doubted that he would be able to get near her safely. The episode from a few moments ago had proven that.

He drew in another shaky breath, letting out a small pained sigh as he let his chin rest on his knees. Perhaps if he thought of something else, that would help him ease his discomfort until his hunger could be abated. Taking his own advice, he finally allowed himself to assess his surroundings.

Concerned that he had been so frenzied that he hadn't noticed earlier, Nick noted, strangely, that he was in Nat's apartment. Why was he there? He didn't remember coming here...

Then, like a flash of brilliant light, he started to remember the events of the past few days... Like a movie playing before his eyes, he saw himself staking LaCroix and escaping through the pounding rain to Nat's apartment. The rest was a blur of motion as his mind began processing the events faster and faster. He gasped as he was bombarded with images. He saw himself almost dying at the hands of the presumed dead LaCroix, only to be saved by Schanke, of all people. He saw himself telling Nat that he loved her... He remembered it all...


"Natalie, I am completely and totally head-over-heels in love with you" Nick said, his eyes sparkling. When he saw her surprise, he added in a soft voice, "Just thought you'd like to know."

Nat looked at him in amazement. He was absolutely serious. Nick had never been very open about his feelings. She felt a warm fuzzy feeling slowly envelope her and she smiled. "You don't know how long I've waited to hear that, Nick..."

"Yes I do. I'm sorry I didn't say it sooner," Nick told her seriously.

She gazed at him with her eyes glistening. Her elated look was slowly replaced with a mischievous one. "Well I can help you make up for it if you want..."

He grinned. "Absolutely."

"Kiss me again!" she ordered sternly.

"Ok," Nick said softly, slowly taking her into a close embrace and doing exactly as she bid. Although he started with a light kiss to her lips, it didn't stay that way for long as he finally gave into over half a decade's worth of denied feelings.

His hands ravished her voluptuous body as he kissed her, roaming from high to low elevation. He felt like he was going to burst with passion as color spots appeared before his eyes. When Nat let out a moan of pleasure, he noticed that he too was aroused, the tightness of his pants becoming almost painful.

Nat seemed to notice this as he continued his ministrations, and she fumbled blindly with his belt buckle. Ignoring his diminishing control, he let out a sigh of relief as Nat finally succeeded and his pants fell to the floor. Absently, he noticed that Nat's shirt had also found its way to the floor as well, and it currently lay their in a disregarded heap underneath his jeans. He didn't have time to dwell on it, however, because Nat began to guide them across the room. As a pair, they slowly backed towards the couch, stepping in time to some unheard rhythm.

They crashed over the arm of the sofa, oblivious to the passing of time. Nick felt wonderful, he hadn't let himself go like this in a long time. Natalie arched backward, mumbling various words expressing her pleasure, the most prominent being, "Oh... Nick..."

Nick groaned in pleasure as he felt Nat's hands run through his shock of blond hair and downward. Ultimately pleased with himself that he could get Nat so excited, he grinned when Nat let out a moan of complete ecstasy. He apparently hadn't lost his touch... But just as quickly as their lust session had begun, it was ended when Natalie reached down to encourage his still growing arousal.

He felt her hand slowly start to massage him, and all at once, Nick completely lost his tenuous control and he growled loudly as his fangs extended. "Nat, stop..." he said as he panted, "I can't... too... too soon..."

Breathing hard, he squeezed his eyes shut and silently prayed for some semblance of control. He gently pushed her away from him and retreated behind the couch, sitting down heavily on the soft carpet. His whole body was screaming at him to take her.

Nick sat there shaking, his hunger growing with every thought of Nat's warm blood sliding down his throat. He growled in frustration. He didn't want her like that, damnit, he wanted her like an ordinary mortal man... And he couldn't have her.

Just when he thought he was about to burst, he saw a blood pack thrust in front of him and into his field of view. He looked up through amber tinted vision to see Nat staring down at him silently, complete understanding in her eyes. Ashamed, he quickly looked away, denying the protest his body was giving him for not taking the much needed nourishment.

"Nick, it's alright... Take it, I understand," Nat said. She meant it too; the look in her eyes confirmed it.

He nodded weakly and took the pack, careful not to look her in the eyes. Raising himself hastily to his feet, he retreated quickly into the bedroom and closed the door. He didn't want her to see him reduced to this, reduced to this monster. When he glanced at the door and noted that she had not followed, he bit into the pack and drank deeply.

He closed his eyes and sighed in pleasure as the thick red liquid flowed onto his tongue and down his throat. It was human blood, not cow. He was too hungry to care, and he continued to drink heavily, allowing it to bombard him with images of the previous owner's life. She had been a 29- year-old woman who had donated blood at her church. How ironic that it was now being consumed by him, a creature shunned by the church and by God. He finished quickly and licked his lips. The blood had eased the growing pain in his stomach, and even more so, it had calmed the beast.

Nick sighed and lay down on the bed. He stared at the ceiling, letting his anguish over what had just happened fester. This was all LaCroix's fault. Looking down at his half-naked body, he noted his bony thin limbs and torso. He had still not fully recovered from his recent imprisonment and he grunted in disgust as he looked away. The hunger was much more easily aroused as a result of his unhealthy thinness, and he had just paid for it big time.

Nick let out a choked sob. He wondered what it would be like to live for just one day without worrying that he would lose control... True, he had had a day in the sun due to the litovuterine B Nat had tried to cure him with, but that hardly counted seeing as how he had merely replaced his vampiric needs with paranoia and an addiction that had very nearly gotten him killed...

A knock at the door tore him harshly from his thoughts. "Nick?" Nat's voice hesitantly called out from behind the door. "Nick? Can I come in?"

After allowing a long silence to ensue, Nick finally responded. "Yes," Nick said softly, not even sure that he had made any noise at all. Apparently he had though, because Natalie was almost instantly by his side.

She sat down on the bed beside him and looked at him lovingly. Upon seeing his distraught look, she immediately launched into a reassurance speech. "Nick, it's ok," she said as she absently brushed a stray lock of hair away from his forehead. "I really do understand. I know your control isn't very good right now..."

Nat didn't have time to finish as Nick growled in response. "My control isn't anything. I don't have any to begin with!" he said, his frustration growing. He looked fiercely at her with golden eyes. "Look at me! I can't even control the vampire now and we're not even doing anything!" he said as he lightly shook her, as if he thought he could get her to see his point of view by rattling it into her. "I'm just a monster," he stated softly, his voice full of self- loathing and guilt.

Nat took him into a tight embrace as a mother would a distressed child. He curled up in her arms and she could feel several tremors race through his body until he finally started to relax. "Nick, it's alright... Shhh," she attempted to soothe him with her voice as she rocked him back and forth. "You'll get your control back, you just need to give yourself time. Doesn't that saying go 'good things come to those who wait'?" she added, trying to lighten the mood a bit.

Nick didn't see it as humor though. He rested his head on her shoulder as he simply stated, "I've waited for eight- hundred years, Nat. Don't you think that's long enough?"

She couldn't think of anything to say to that, so she merely held him quietly, absently stroking his head. She had known that they would have to deal with his emotional trauma sooner or later.

He sighed, his breath wavering as he felt another sob coming. "How can you love me, Nat?" he questioned her softly, almost not expecting answer.

Natalie looked at him in amazement, his voice had sounded so desperate and alone. It made her want to cry. "Nick, I love you because you're you. I love your compassion, I love your strength, your personality... I just. love. you. All of you. The vampire, the man, the whole package. I don't know what else I can say to make you believe it..." she left it at that and continued to hold and comfort him.

Nick had listened to her speech with wide eyed astonishment. After several moments of silence, he said the only thing he could think of to say. "I believe you, Nat."


Nick sighed as he remembered how wonderful and understanding Nat had been. They had just sat there holding each other for the rest of the day until they had fallen asleep. He laughed bitterly through his growing discomfort. Nat had neglected to tell him that the blood pack that she had given him to ease his 'sexual frustrations' had been the last one in her possession...

He sat there quietly, listening to the various noises emanating from within the apartment. The quiet 'tick tick' of the clock. The shallow breathing of Natalie's cat, Sidney. Anything to take his mind away from the sound of Nat's steady heartbeat.

Letting the cold of the floor seep into his core, he clutched his knees tighter to his chest. If only she would wake up! He let out a small whimper, the pain in the pit of his stomach growing. Knowing he would not be able to hold out much longer, he disregarded his earlier decision to remain quiet and tested out his voice. "Nat!" he called, but it only came out as a hoarse whisper. She would never be able to hear him!

He tried again, this time his voice coming out a bit stronger than it had before, but still very quiet. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back against the door of the refrigerator. Although he continued to call her, he doubted that there was much chance at all that she would hear him. If she had slept through his panic attack earlier, she wouldn't wake because of his soft cries.

After several minutes with no response, he let out a pained sob and curled up on the floor in the fetal position. He would have to ride this one out. He had gone a whole year with barely any food, why was he finding it so hard to keep his hunger at bay now?

He sighed, calling out one last, "Nat!" for good measure before he completely gave up. Clutching his body into the tightest ball he could manage, he focused on calming his hunger as best he could.

Nat awoke with a start. She glanced around, not knowing what had disturbed her from her slumber... Sidney was at the foot of the bed sleeping soundly... so what was wrong?

Nick! Nat had fallen asleep with Nick in her arms, but now... She sat up instantly, suddenly realizing that Nick was not there. She almost began to panic when she heard a very faint, very hoarse voice emanating from the other room. "Nat!..." it called, with a certain pained edge to it. The voice, no doubt, belonged to Nick, but it sounded nothing like him.

She leaped out of her bed and ran into the other room only to find Nick shaking in a ball by the refrigerator. /Oh no! I knew I forgot something last night!/ Apparently it had been to collect Nick's much needed sustenance from the cooler in the trunk of her car.

When Nick had needed a transfusion after his confrontation with LaCroix, she had gone to the Raven to get as much blood as she could, knowing that she couldn't get any more from work. Janette had been more than happy to oblige, she had sensed earlier that Nick had returned. Natalie knelt beside Nick and placed a hand on his shoulder, immediately feeling guilty for her negligence.

He didn't respond, it was almost as if he had withdrawn within himself, in a self-induced coma. Remaining in the fetal position, he continued to shake. She let out a small sob, "Hang on, Nick. I'll go get you some food..."

She got up and grabbed her coat out of the closet, putting it on as she approached the door to cover herself up. Upon opening the door, she found Schanke standing there, his hand poised to knock on the door. "Schanke! I'm so glad that you're here!" she exclaimed in relief.

"Hi Nat! I just came by to see how you're..." he didn't have time to finish as Natalie slapped her car keys into his hand.

"Go to my car and get all the blood out of the trunk! Hurry!" Schanke merely stared dumbly, looking at her like she had lost her mind. "Go!" she snapped, although not intending to be mean. He simply nodded and turned to leave, his mouth slightly agape.

Her eyes remained on him only for an instant before she immediately returned to Nick. He was right where she had left him. "Nick?" she said softly as she rubbed his back. He finally started to respond, and she smiled hopefully as he slowly turned his head to look at her.

"Nat?" he squinted, gazing up at her through golden eyes. "I'm hungry..." he whispered, his voice full of desperation.

It tore at her heart to hear him in such pain, knowing that she was partially to blame for it. She cursed herself again for neglecting to fully stock her fridge when she had had the chance. "I know, Schank's getting you some blood right now. Hang in there," she said softly as she helped him into a sitting position, ignoring his growl as she did so.

"Nat, get away from me!" he cried in protest. She merely gripped him tighter, starting to see this as a chance to help him overcome his fears of hurting her.

"Nick, I believe that you won't hurt me, now we need to make you believe it!" she cried, passionately. Her mind instantly began to formulate a plan...

"But, Nat!" he said in a pained whisper. He was stopped before he could protest any further when Nat placed a firm hand over his mouth, ignoring the prominent tips of his razor-sharp fangs rubbing dangerously against her palm.

Nat heard him yelp in surprise, but there was no stopping now. She grabbed him tightly around the front with her free hand and held him next to her with an iron grip. Although he struggled within her grasp, she was able to hold him easily because he was so incredibly weak. She held him there, silent, not responding to his muffled pleas to let him go.

/What on earth am I doing!? I'm putting a LOT of trust in.../ she drowned the scared voice of her inner conscience with other thoughts. /If this doesn't prove to Nick that he won't hurt me, I don't know what will./ She took a deep breath. /Here it goes!/

She turned his head firmly but gently and placed it right on her chest. While keeping one hand firmly around his torso, she moved the hand that was over his mouth slightly to compensate for the new angle his head was at, successfully pinning him to her. With his ear directly over her heart, his eyes widened in fear and he jerked away, trying to escape. She felt his hands snake up and grab her arms, but she didn't budge. "Nat! Please let me go!" she heard him say in a panicked, strained voice, muffled by her hand. But she didn't let him go, if anything, she gripped him tighter. His breathing became ragged as she continued to keep him forcefully pinned to her chest, and she grew worried that maybe this hadn't been such a wonderful idea.

After one final attempt to free himself, she felt him begin to relax within her grip. She heard him calm his breathing and then he let out a hefty sigh, like a whisper that formed no words. But aside from that, he made not a single sound. It remained silent for a few minutes, and they simply sat there quietly. Nick was no longer making any attempt to escape, nor was he saying anything. She couldn't tell if that was a good or a bad thing...

Nat couldn't see if his eyes were open or not without letting him go. She wasn't exactly sure whether she wanted to do that yet or not. This could all be ruse, with her letting him go the precise goal in mind. No. She would wait to release him. He needed to get some sense knocked into his thick skull and she was certain that this would give him a pretty hard knock.

It was then that she felt him jerk within her grasp. She glanced at the door, and there, standing in the doorframe staring at her in shock, was Schanke. "Nat! What the Hell are you doing?" he exclaimed. She was sitting there with Nick held tightly in her grasp, and it looked like poor Nick was about to have a heart attack.

"I'm providing a motivational lesson for the world's most stubborn vampire. Hand me a bottle of blood, please," she said, not loosening her grip in the slightest.

Schanke looked from her to Nick and back to her. She sounded like she knew what she was doing... But he wasn't sure if she could see how distressed Nick looked. His muscles were taught, even shaking slightly with stress as he stared at Schanke with terrified amber eyes.

It was slightly disturbing to see his seemingly indestructible partner so frightened... but he figured Nat knew more about Nick's limits than he did. He placed the crate of blood bottles on the floor next to the door and took a bottle out gently.

When it clinked against the sides of the other bottles as he took it out, he noticed that Nick nearly jumped out of his skin. His partner growled in a low, vibrating, animalistic tone, and he could swear he saw Nat look down with a nervous expression before she quickly covered it up with a rather serious looking frown.

Schanke slowly brought the bottle over, noticing the tension in Nick was growing exponentially as he got closer. Nat looked up at him, and with her voice wavering only slightly, "Open it! Hurry!" she said, firmly.

Nat looked down and felt Nick jerk within her grasp. She had taken this too far. She had merely wanted to show Nick that he had more control than he thought he had, not traumatize him! She noted with some distress the growing tension in Nick's muscles and the red sheen of blood sweat forming on his alabaster skin. He jerked within her grasp and she held onto him as fiercely as she could. She had no doubt that Nick would hurt her if she let go now. Cursing silently to herself, she watched Schanke open the bottle.

"Now, put it on the floor where I can reach it, ok?" she said, not letting her own nervousness show in her own voice. Schanke placed the bottle next to her and looked at her expectantly. She took a deep breath, she would have to do this fast or Nick might go for something slightly more tasty than bottled human blood.

With lighting fast reflexes, she released her hand from his mouth and grabbed the bottle sitting next to her. Before Nick even had a chance to react, she had the bottle over his mouth, upended. She sighed in relief as Nick drank greedily from the bottle and motioned towards Schanke to get another from the crate with a nod of her head.

He drank and drank and drank as the blood was poured down his throat. Feeling it strengthen him, Nick clasped Nat's arm fiercely in his hand and forcefully removed it from its position encircling his upper abdominal region. He turned to face Nat with a cold, amber-eyed stare. Snarling briefly, he exposed his fangs to show his anger, but his attempt to scare her was unsuccessful.

She paid his angered visage no mind as she attempted to apologize for what she had done. "Nick, I'm sorry... I thought it would help..." Nat said, her voice wavering slightly when she saw him give her a pained look.

"Nat..." he said, his voice barely above a whisper, "Don't ever do that to me again." His tone was low, threatening, dangerous. Even Schanke, who had been watching this whole exchange with a record calmness, appeared to be slightly shaken with his partner's sudden change.

Nat backed up against the refrigerator as Nick gave her another flash of fang and a look full of menace as he turned to leave. She breathed a short sigh of relief when he passed her, but he paid no attention to her as he walked quickly out of the room.

When Nick reached the bed, he collapsed onto it with a sob. How could Nat have done that to him? Didn't she know how hard it was for him to maintain his control? She'd nearly driven him insane holding him next to her heart like that... He'd almost gotten lost in the steady rhythm, God, he'd almost bitten her. She'd successfully kept him away from her neck, but she'd neglected to remember that her hand and wrist were completely exposed. It had taken every last ounce of his now shattered willpower to resist.

Taking in a deep breath, he attempted to calm himself, but he still shook as he climbed underneath the covers and buried himself snugly within them. He clutched them to his chest tightly, but he still seemed to be slipping away into some imaginary void, unable to control his descent.

Nick just couldn't seem to let go of the fact that he'd almost killed her. He squeezed his eyes shut and buried his head under a pillow, trying to drown out the sound of his own self-accusing conscience. He'd almost killed her...

"Nick?" He cringed when he heard the sound of Nat's voice, burying himself as far under the covers as he could go. He'd been so absorbed with his own self-loathing that he hadn't heard her come in.

"Go away, Nat," he whispered. He was still angry at her. Although he knew there was no way he could possibly stay that way for long, he was still angry now. It disgusted him that she had been so careless with her life, the one thing that he treasured most in his long existence. It disgusted him even more that he had been the one to almost take it from her forever.

She ignored his request, pushing stubbornly onward. "Nick, I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I... I didn't mean for that to get out of hand like that," she said softly, noting that he made no move to come out from underneath the covers.

"Yeah, well it did," he said, the low, gruff tones of the vampire entering his voice ominously. "I almost killed you..." Guilt was dripping off every word.

"But, don't you see? You didn't, Nick! That was the whole reason why I did that, to show you that you wouldn't kill me!" Nat said with a firm determination.

Nick flipped the covers back so that he could look at her. "Well what about the next time? And the time after that?" He stopped, but when she said nothing, he continued. "There will always be a next time and chances are you won't be so lucky."

Nat sighed, slightly exasperated. She should've known he was going to start talking like that... "Nick, there won't be a next time," she said, her voice rising slightly. "Don't you see? That was an almost worst case scenario, you were completely starved! In fact, if I recall, you recently came to me with a hole in your chest from a stake and you didn't kill me then. What will it take for you to believe that you won't kill me?" she questioned him harshly, looking him straight in the eye the whole time. She put her hands on her hips. "Well?" she demanded, "What will it take? Because, damnit, I'll do it if it'll make you see!"

He sat up, crossing his legs Indian-style, and looked at her intently for several minutes before he responded. "Perhaps a very stubborn coroner who doesn't know when to quit?" he offered in defeat as he gave her a hesitant grin.

She smiled back.

Nick and Nat walked hand in hand out of the bedroom, both their faces plastered with ridiculous grins. They nodded to Schanke as they came into the living room, but their attention to him was soon destroyed completely when Nick leaned over to hug Nat as he whispered a soft, "Thanks," into her ear.

Schanke watched the scene with fascination, but when the couple continued to ignore him he felt he should make his presence known. "Ahem?" he cleared his throat hesitantly, hoping they would hear him.

They didn't. In fact their seemingly platonic hug had started to turn into a kiss. And not just your standard peck on the cheek stuff either. He briefly dwelled on the fact that he had finally won the office betting pool, no one else had put money on the 'Knightmare' getting hot and heavy with the head M.E... Too bad his partner was presumed dead so he couldn't collect.

Schanke harrumphed to himself and cleared his throat again. This time a little louder. He still didn't get any response, so he tried the more direct method. "Excuse me! But I believe that you might want to wait until the third member of your party is gone before you start playing naughty!"

He smiled, that got 'em cold. Nick almost blushed as he stopped kissing Nat and looked guiltily at the floor like a boy who had just been caught raiding the cookie jar. Nat directed her eyes towards the floor as well.

Schanke heard Nick clear his throat start and to say something, but he stopped. An uncomfortable silence followed, and Schanke felt obligated to say something. "Um, would either of you possibly mind explaining what the heck just happened?!" he exclaimed, exasperated. After all, he did want to know.

Nick looked at him mischievously. "Why Schanke, you of all people should know the mechanics behind..."

Schanke cut him off before Nick could finish, "Not that! I meant before!"

Nat punched Nick lightly in the stomach, laughing. "He knew what you meant, Schanke. What happened was that we left the blood out in the car by accident and successfully starved Nick," she paused, looking guiltily at Nick until Nick gave her a reassuring look and prompted her to continue, "and then we fed him and voila, he's all fixed."

Nick looked at Nat with a twinkle in his eye. He'd never seen such a serious situation reduced to such simplicity.

Schanke looked at the both of them. "Well, yeah, I gathered that, but..." he paused, still looking rather confused.

Nat walked over to him and forcefully sat him down on the couch with a push from her hands. Once he was settled, she continued, "Nick was having some control issues that I think I just fixed. The hug was just a thank you," she said, smiling.

Schanke was completely flustered. "Control issues? I don't think I'll ever understand you two..."

"Nope, you won't," Nick said with a laugh, taking his turn to jump into the conversation. Both he and Nat settled themselves in nearby chairs. "I think it's time for the 'vampire talk', if I do say so my self," Nick said, continuing.

"The 'vampire talk'?" Schanke looked at Nick quizzically. What on earth was a 'vampire talk'? He began to feel rather unsure as to where Nick was headed with this conversation.

Nick nodded, his ice blue eyes revealing a smile that his mouth failed to imitate. "Yeah, I'm sure you must have questions. This must all be pretty new to you..." he prodded.

"Oh." Oh. "Well... obviously stakes work..." Schanke said, beginning hesitantly on what he thought to be safe ground.

"And sunlight, garlic, crosses, holy water, fire, decapitation, and all that other good stuff," Nick said with a smile that seemed rather odd when one attached it to what he had just said. His smile served his purpose though, and it encouraged Schanke to continue.

"Wow. Wait... garlic? Oh man, Nick, I'm sorry! All those years I made fun of you... all that souvlaki must've made you sick..." Schanke said, remembering more than one time he had purposefully breathed garlic all over the poor guy...

"It's quite alright Schank, you didn't know..." Nick said, a look of disgust entering his face as he remembered precisely how sick all that garlic exposure had made him...

Schanke looked at the floor with a guilty expression, but when an uncomfortable silence followed for too long, he felt the need to speak up again. "Um, and you're immortal? Just how old are you?"

"Yes, I'm immortal. And I'm 800 years old. Next?" Nick smiled. He'd never been this open with any of his mortal friends except Nat. It really felt wonderful.

"Ohmy... Jeez. I guess when I accused you of being old-fashioned that was the understatement of the year!" Both Schanke and Nick smiled while Nat watched intently with a smile on her face.

"Well anyway, I'm sure that I'll find out the rest in due time. I'd rather not use this as a grill session," he smiled and then continued. "Why don't you tell me how you plan on getting back on the police force? If I can help you with that, I'd be happy to..." he stopped when Nick started to frown.

"What? What did I say?" That was enough to break Nick away from his unhappy expression.

"Oh, Schanke, I'm sorry. I just hadn't really figured out what to do yet. Any suggestions? I don't think they'll go for amnesia..."

Nat looked at the two men as they furrowed their brows in deep thought. "You could just tell the truth, it's not like they'll be able to find your kidnapper..." she said, hoping it didn't sound as dumb as she thought it did.

Nick looked over at her. "Nat, I can't do that... It's not like I can just walk into the precinct one day and say, 'Sorry, I've been held captive by a madman for the past year and I just now escaped. Just thought you'd like to know...'"

Nat looked down at the floor in dismay. "Well, why not? It wouldn't be that hard, would it?"

"No, but no one would believe it..." his voice suddenly stopped and his eyebrows raised as if he had achieved some personal enlightenment. "Nat! That's it!"

Nat looked confused. "What? What did I say?"

Nick just sat silently, his eyes looking up, almost rolling back into his head while he wore a look of deep concentration on his face. He was obviously thinking hard about something.

Schanke looked at Nick, puzzled by his sudden silence. "Nick! C'mon buddy, wanna clue us in here?"

Nick blinked, coming out of his zone out session with a smile. "Hang on guys, I'll be right back!" he said as he got up. He briefly disappeared into the bedroom and returned clad in faded blue jeans and a white shirt.

Nick had his hand on the door and was about to leave before Nat finally reacted. "Nick! Where are you going?" She looked quickly at the curtains and noticed thankfully that the sun had set. At least he wouldn't fry himself.

He raced over to her, gave her a light peck on the cheek. "Relax, Nat. I'll be back soon, you two go on ahead to work. I know that you've already taken a couple days off on my account."

And with that... he left, leaving a stunned Schanke and Natalie staring at the wide open door in shock.

The heavy pounding beat of the music vibrated in Nick's chest as he approached the bar where Janette sat regally in a designer black dress with her hair swept up in a cascading wave of velvet brown curls. He had originally been apprehensive about returning to the place where he had lost his freedom a year before at the hands of LaCroix, but the feeling was quickly stifled when he saw his beautiful Janette there instead of his master. The flashy smile he received when she caught sight of him was priceless.

"Ah, Nichola! You have returned! I must admit I was worried..." she said as she greeted him with a light kiss.

Nick smiled in response. "I missed you..." Janette responded by pulling him out on the dance floor.

"Dance with me, Nichola. Let us share some time together," she said sensuously as she placed her head on his shoulder. She began to step in time with him as they slow danced to the pounding bass of 'The Hunger'. Neither noticed when the entire dance floor parted to give them room.

Janette noticed painfully as Nat had, that underneath his somewhat shabby clothing Nick was desperately thin. "Nichola, you have not been eating properly..."

He looked at her harshly, gripping her hips ever so much more tightly. "You can blame that on LaCroix, not my quest for mortality," Nick said, cutting himself off before he let his anger take control.

She blinked and nodded in understanding. She had felt both Nick and LaCroix for the past year through the blood link that she shared with them. Janette knew what LaCroix had done, and in her opinion, he had gone too far. Although she had never approved of Nick's dietary habits, she did not think it right to punish him for it other than the occasional snide remark or mockery of his ways.

Nick looked at Janette as several emotions played across her face. He could vaguely tell what she was feeling, but nothing more. Their link had grown weak because he had not shared blood with her since before... "Janette, about LaCroix..."

Janette placed her index finger softly over his lips in an gesture meant to silence him. "I know that he is dead, Mon Cher, I felt it," she said quietly in her soft French accent. She saw the apprehension in his eyes and quickly added, "I do not blame you for it, if that is the consolation you are seeking."

Nick nodded and they continued to dance in perfect step. The crowd had pulled off the dance floor and sat around the edges of it at tables watching intently as the Raven's owner danced with her mysterious partner. "Hey, isn't that de Brabant?" an older vampire patron queried. He received no comment, the entire club was focused on the graceful couple.

"Janette, they're all staring at us..." Nick said, glancing around nervously.

Janette let out a soft laugh. "Of course they are, Nichola. Have you forgotten the charm you exude? And it is rare that I dance with a complete stranger, especially one in such shabby attire..."

He smiled in response, ignoring her teasing remark. "Janette, I'm not a stranger..."

"No, but they don't know that," she said as she smiled, exposing her pearly white teeth. "You have forgotten it has been a year since you last frequented my establishment," she said, pausing briefly. She then looked at him hopefully and continued, "Nichola... it has been so long since we... Are you sure that you do not wish to go into the back room where we could have more privacy?"

Nick shook his head. "I can't Janette, I'm with someone else..." He stopped and winced when he saw her slightly annoyed look.

"Ah yes, Natalie. How are things with her?" she inquired, her voice taking on a slightly more icy tone.

"How did you know?" he looked at her in astonishment as she gave him a mysterious smile.

"I am a woman, Nichola. Do not think that I am blind..." she purred, drawing him into a tight embrace. "As long as you are happy I suppose I can wait until you are through with her..." she said in a pouty voice as she again laid her head softly on his shoulder.

Nick winced again at her bluntness. It was true though. Nat was mortal. If he didn't get cured, he would lose her soon enough to the simple passing of time. Shuddering at the thought, he kissed Janette softly on the top of her head. "Janette, I came here to ask a favor of you..."

She lifted her head and looked at him in surprise. "But Mon Cher, you are not working, you need no information, and you obviously did not come to reestablish our blood ties. What favor could I possibly do for you?" she asked, curious as to why it had taken him this long to get to the point of his visit.

"Well, work, um, that's kind of why I came to you. I need you to help me get my job back," he said, averting his eyes slightly.

Janette gazed at him with utter confusion. "And how exactly do you expect me to do that?" Nick merely smiled. The curiosity was burning within her now, to the point where she could barely contain it. "Well? Do tell..."

He whispered his plan into her ear and her eyes widened as he described it to her. "Nichola, that is insane! I will not help you do that!"

Nick glanced warily at their growing audience and gently took her hand, leading her to off the dance floor and into one of the back rooms. The thumping of the music diminished to a dim pounding in the background as he closed the door. "Janette, of all people, I thought you would be the most eager to help me out... You get to tie me up and everything!"

Janette smiled mischievously as she thought of the trust he was putting in her. "Is there anyway that I could be 'discovered' as an accomplice in this bout of trickery?" she asked, not wanting to dive in without checking the water first.

He smiled his most dashing and debonair smile. "Not if you do it exactly the way I tell you, no improvising."

She pouted. "Fine then, let me go find some twine!" she said as she turned towards the door. She was stopped, however, when she was grabbed gently by Nick.

"Woah, Janette! I'm sure you're eager and all to make me miserable, but we have to make some more preparations first! We need to make a few phone calls and you need to..." he stopped when he saw that she was getting a bored look on her face.

"Fine, fine! You make your phone calls. I must go fix up my automobile and find some twine... Some really splintery twine! The more blood it draws, the more accurate it will look... And I believe that I need to put on some more... oh how do you say it... ah yes, 'grungy' clothing. I cannot very well be a kidnapper in a $2000 Armani dress... Perhaps I have some of those dreadful jeans you insist on wearing..." she said as she waved her hands in the air for emphasis and she wandered haphazardly out of the room.

Nick shook his head. What had he gotten himself into?

Natalie sighed as she sat at her desk. Where on earth had Nick gone? She glanced at the cadaver waiting silently on her autopsy table, but she made no move to get up. She couldn't work like this! This was driving her insane.

"Nat? Are you going to start the autopsy soon? I can put our company back in the freezer if you're not..." Grace said as she walked into the room only to find Nat staring off into deep space.

Nat absently looked towards Grace. "What?" she said, her mind still not fully back in the land of the living.

Grace sat down on a chair beside Nat's desk. "Girl, you've got it bad!" she exclaimed after giving her a cursory once over.

Nat was fully awake now. "Got what? I don't have anything..." she said, looking down at herself to make sure her socks matched and that there was no food stuck in her teeth.

"Oh, come on!" Grace said as she gave Natalie a light punch in the arm. "You know what I mean, quit trying to deny it!" Nat stared at her in shock as she opened her mouth to rebut, but Grace just continued onward, not giving her time to even begin an excuse. "Let me guess... You gave a guy your phone number and you're wondering why he hasn't called you back..." Judging by the look on Nat's face, that was wrong... "He went out with you and forgot to leave his number?" Nope. Strike two. "Well what then? C'mon, the rumor mill needs some gossip, girl!"

Nat looked at Grace and laughed. "Well, Grace... you'll just have to live without it. I'm not spilling," she said as she slapped her hands on her thighs lightly and stood up. "Let's start this..." Nat was interrupted by the ring of the telephone.

/Finally, he calls!/ Nat said silently to herself as she picked it up and answered with a sickly sweet, "Nat's Bed and Breakfast..."

There was silence on the other end for a brief moment and Nat began to worry that perhaps it wasn't Nick on the other end of the line. She was relieved of that horror when she heard a "Hi Nat!" as Nick's cheerful voice finally came through over the phone. Grace looked up sharply at the sound of his voice through the receiver and silently mouthed 'who is it'? Natalie gestured harshly at her to shush, so Grace just went and sat dejectedly at the other corner of the office.

"Hi! Where have you been?" Nat asked, her curiosity clearly evident. She cringed when she saw Grace perk up upon hearing her casual greeting.

There was noise on the other end of the line, it sounded... almost like... Janette. "Nichola... do you think this would work?" Nat heard Nick grunt in pain, which was immediately followed by a somewhat disappointed "Yes, I suppose that will do..." from Janette.

"What are you doing?" she queried again, not addressing him by name in order to prevent Grace from knowing the identity of the caller... /Now that would be catastrophic./

"Sorry Nat, Janette's just trying out some ROPE," he accentuated the word with another grunt of pain. "Listen, Nat, can you be at the precinct in two hours? I believe I have finally figured out how to get 'stuck' back into my LIFE," another grunt of pain and then in the background, "Janette, at least wait until I'm off the phone!"

Nat snickered, from her side of the phone, the whole thing sounded really quite amusing. At least she knew he wasn't doing anything she'd make him regret later... She broke her thoughts from that subject as Nick started talking to her again. "Anyway, I need you there. I'm going to need initial medical attention, and I was hoping you could just sort of 'be there' when I arrive..."

Nat stopped him in the middle of his speech. "Medical attention??" she cried, suddenly worried. "What the Hell are you planning?! Wait... Let me guess, you're going to do something stupid and self-sacrificial..."

"Nat..." Nick tried to interject, realizing she was about to go into one of those 'criticize Nick' tangents.

Natalie didn't pay attention as she continued to talk on. "I mean hey, this is you we're talking about. When have you ever done something after you consider how others are going to feel about it?"

"Nat" Nick added a bit more emphasis this time, but she was completely absorbed in her diatribe.

"Nope... It's just gung-ho, independent, don't-worry-about- me-I'm-fine-even-though-I-look-terrible..."

"NAT!" That got her attention.

"Sorry, I'm through," she said almost instantly, like a broken record that had just gotten knocked back on track.

"Just trust me on this one Nat..." he stated confidently. "It won't be anything fatal, but I'll need to make it convincing. If someone sees that I don't have a heartbeat, it might not work as well as I hope..." he said, pausing as if he expected Nat to interrupt him. She didn't disappoint him.

Nat sighed. "Alright, alright. I'll be there. But don't expect me to save you if Janette kills you before you get there..."

Nick laughed at Nat's unreasonable concern for him. He honestly hadn't thought she'd be that upset about his plan. After all, when it came to physical injuries, he was practically indestructible. Well... usually. "Thanks, Nat, you're the best! Call Schank and warn him of my arrival, ok?"

She smiled and nodded, forcing her worries out of her mind. "Ok, see you then," she said, holding the receiver to ear until she heard the soft click of Nick hanging up on the other end.

She hung up the phone, wondering exactly what Nick was planning... Nick hadn't been all that forthcoming, except to tell her that he was planning on being injured. Nat didn't have time to dwell on that, however, because Grace leaped up from her chair with a wide grin on her face as soon as Nat had hung up the phone. "Ok, Nat. Spill it! Who is he! And what's this about medical attention? C'mon, I'm dying here!"

Nat merely smiled mysteriously. "Come on, Grace. Let's finish this up. I've got to be somewhere in a little bit," she said. She nearly laughed when Grace let out a small squeal of delight when she revealed that simple fact, but as Grace continued to question her, she realized just how long these next two hours had the potential to be...

Amanda Cohen sat quietly at her desk, filling out form after form, when she finally threw her pen down in frustration. To Hell with the paper work, she'd do it later. She absolutely hated desk work. It was so monotonous it almost made her want to cry. Sweeping back her shoulder length black hair with her hands, she took a deep breath in a weak attempt to relax her tortured muscles. Some of the knots in her neck and back were relieved, but most remained to torment her. /Maybe I should take tomorrow off.../ Trying to distract herself, she glanced out the windows of her office and observed several officers chatting in the bullpen. Her gaze, however, shifted towards the desk in the corner where Don Schanke was sitting.

He was talking to someone on the phone. And he was looking very, very happy about it. She watched him more closely as he smiled and laughed into the phone after making some corny attempt at humor and she couldn't help but wonder who was on the other end of the line. She smiled, her own discomfort momentarily forgotten when she saw him laugh again. This was good! Schanke had still done his work well since Detective Knight had disappeared a little over a year ago, but he had never really been happy after that. She couldn't help but feel for him, she knew what it was like to lose a partner.

It was sad too. Knight had been the Department's very best. He had the highest arrest record in the entire city of Toronto, which was as of yet unchallenged, and his awards and commendations had littered his entire file. She sighed, remembering the loner's strange partnership with Don Schanke. The two had clicked. They had worked well together, and there was not a doubt in her mind that they had been her best pair ever.

She was torn from her thoughts when the shrill ring of the phone ripped through the air and broke her concentration, causing her to jump in surprise. She picked the receiver up with shaky hands, practically dropping it in the process. There was a woman on the other end. "Captain Amanda Cohen?"

Cohen was curious now... She cleared her throat to compose herself. "Yes, who is this?" she queried.

"That is irrelevant. I merely wished to tell you that I've grown bored of your officer. He was good company for awhile, but I can no longer keep him. I will drop him off later tonight," the softly accented French voice said matter-of- factly.

"What? Drop who off? What are you talking about?" Cohen sighed, cracking this up to be just another prank call. She was going to have to have a talk with the receptionist who had patched this through to her office.

"Why don't you tell her who you are?" the strange woman's voice said in a demanding tone. Judging from the volume of her voice, she had not been speaking to Cohen, but rather someone next to her on the other end of the line. Cohen rolled her eyes. Prank call. Had to be. She was about to hang up when she heard a vicious slap and a thump as something hit the ground. Her heart froze in her chest when she heard what was going on on the other end of the line...

A small, weak voice cried out in pain and finally said, "Detective... Nick... Knight... Metro PD." Cohen strained to hear the hopeless whisper, and she cringed when she heard another thump and a cry of pain. But she recognized the voice, even after this long without hearing it. That was definitely Knight.

The woman spoke her last words, "I will drop him off tonight. If there are officers waiting to take me into custody, I will kill him before you can blink an eye. I will only condone you watching for his arrival. Goodnight."

And with that, the strange exchange ended with a click as the line was disconnected. Cohen stared at the phone, barely believing what she had just heard. Finally gaining some semblance of control over her composure, she leaped to her feet and raced out the door. "I want the call that just came in to my office traced NOW! Sommers! Get the Commissioner on the phone now! Westover! Get an ambulance on standby! Move people, move!" she yelled as she raced about waving her arms, gesturing where she wanted people to go.

Cohen didn't even notice the grin that had spread across Schanke's face as she raced about.

Nick stared up at Janette from the ground as she hung up the payphone. Glancing around and noting that the alley was still completely deserted, she merely smiled seductively as she said, "That was rather fun. We should kidnap you more often, Mon Cher! You don't think we overdid it, do you?"

He looked at her smiling as he got up off the ground. Looking down distractedly, he attempted to brush off the dirt that had collected on his jeans. Once he was satisfied that there was nothing else he could do to salvage his soiled clothing, he looked up at her with a grin. "No that was perfect. I think she bought it hook, line and sinker."

"Hook, line and what?" The look of confusion on her face was priceless.

He chuckled as he observed her trying to ascertain the meaning of what he had just said using her vast reserves of vocabulary and language. She just wasn't big on cliched expressions... "It's nothing Janette, just a mortal expression," he replied. She seemed satisfied with that, but still looked mildly perplexed. He laughed again. This was definitely going to be interesting. "But that was the easy part!"

Janette looked at him expectantly, waiting for permission to continue with his plan. "Ok, ok. Do your worst," he said, his voice displaying some of his apprehension.

As she approached him, her look of amusement was exchanged with one of seriousness. "You are sure about this?" she said as she pulled him further back into the deserted alley until they were cloaked in such complete darkness that even her acute night vision had trouble compensating. The darkness was good though, it would do them no good if someone saw them...

He looked at her sincerely. "Yeah, I'm sure. I'll heal. Just get on with it, we've only got a few minutes before they trace that call back to here," he said as he stood up board straight with his eyes squeezed shut, bracing himself for her onslaught. He kept telling himself he would heal, he would heal. His nervousness grew however as she circled him, sizing him up with a narrow-eyed look. He swallowed hard. He had never simply allowed himself to be beaten to a pulp... this was going to hurt.

But it was worth it.

Natalie entered the precinct to find it in complete chaos. "Dr. Lambert! Have you heard?!" a thin, redheaded officer of whom she recognized the face but could not remember his name asked her as he raced by.

She tried to act clueless. "Heard what? What's going on?" she inquired, though she already knew precisely what was going on. Nick's plan, whatever it was, was obviously in motion.

"Detective Knight! The Captain thinks she got a genuine call confirming that he is alive, and is being dropped off here sometime tonight by his kidnapper..." the hurried officer exclaimed, his voice slowly fading off as he raced away around a corner.

Natalie smiled. Leave it to Nick to come up with the most dramatic entrance. At least she now knew why he would need medical attention. Well, if Nick wanted an act, she would give him one. "Yes! I KNEW he was alive!" she leaped for joy, despite the tension in the room. Drawing several smiles of understanding from the surrounding officers, she then sank into a nearby chair and whispered to herself "in the best sense of the word, of course."

She glanced over and noticed that Schanke was coming towards her. Once he had reached her, he grabbed her arm and pulled her into a nearby empty conference room. "Hi Nat, have you heard anything new or are you still as in the dark as I am?" he asked. He hadn't known Nick was going to go all out like this.

Nat laughed. "I think I'm more in the dark than you are! At least you've been keyed in to what's going on here. Why don't you fill me in?"

Schanke looked around and then laid his glance black upon her. "Well, apparently some French woman called up claiming to be Nick's kidnapper and told Cohen that she was going to drop him off tonight. That's all I've heard so far..."

"Janette, who'd have thought?" she said. Surprisingly, she no longer had any jealousy towards the woman at all. It was strange how now, when she actually had Nick instead of merely wanting him, she was less jealous of what he could possibly be doing with his former lover. Perhaps his three words of committment had relieved her mind of insecurity even more than she had originally thought.

"Janette? What's she got to do with this?" Schanke queried, wondering why Nat had suddenly taken on a dreamy look.

"That's his 'captor', he must've gotten her to act out the part of the sinister villain," Nat said absently, focusing more on the hubbub of the police department through the window of the conference room than she was on the conversation at hand.

"You mean he got that babe from the Raven to help him? And you condone this??" Schanke was immensely surprised. He had thought Nat to be smarter than that. Anyone knew that if you stick a guy with an absolutely gorgeous woman, bad things were bound to happen.

"Schanke, relax. Janette is his sister," she said defensively. "They don't have a relationship any more other than friendship." Nat was amazed at how sure of herself she was. There had been no doubt in her mind when she had just said that. /Must be that assured commitment thing again./ She smiled at the thought, but Schanke was still dwelling on what she had just said.

"Anymore?? He had a relationship with his sister?" Schanke's voice was little more than an astonished gasp. He had suspected that vampire families were a bit different than his conception of a standard family when he had researched it before, after Nick had saved him and hypnotized him into forgetting that he had flown... But he hadn't suspected anything like this...

"Schanke, let's talk about this later, alright? This is not the best place to discuss this..." she said with a harsh look, glancing around at the various people scuttling about. Luckily the conference room was soundproof, or very nearly so. No one in the surrounding area would have heard them talking.

Schanke immediately made a motion with his index finger and thumb across his lips. "Sorry, Nat. My lips are sealed," he said. He would just have to sit Nick down later and finish that 'vampire talk'. For now though, he would just have to wait.

Nick groaned from the back seat of Janette's black Mercedes as Janette stopped in a parking lot to check on him. He hurt, everywhere. And the twine harshly bound his wrist and ankles, drawing blood where it rubbed gratingly against his skin. He felt weak, and slightly hungry, but he would be alright until later. Until then he supposed he would just have to go on feeling like he had been hit by a truck, or more specifically, Janette.

"Oh, Nichola. You look terrible... I really am sorry..." Janette stated with a look of pity when she took a glance at him through the rearview mirror. He was crumpled in the back seat with a gag over his mouth, and he looked rather uncomfortable...

He merely looked at her with daggers. "Jus dwive..." he said, straining to talk through the vocal hindrance provided by the gag. She nodded and steered her vehicle out of the parking lot they were in. Although she tried not to make any sudden directional changes, it was obvious that Nick was still mighty uncomfortable with the movement of the car. She winced when she saw a speed bump coming up as she exited the lot.

Nick tried not to groan as the car went over the bump... His mouth felt cottony and dry, the gag was much more uncomfortable than he had originally planned on it being. He attempted to shift his position in the back seat, but his body protested severely and he couldn't help but let out a pained gasp.

Janette chose not to say anything, but she cringed when she heard him cry out. She was beginning to regret her earlier delight at having the kidnapper part in this ridiculous stunt. "We'll be there in just a minute, Nichola. If I don't have a chance to say so when we get there, good luck." She smiled sympathetically into the rearview mirror as added reassurance, but the black mask she was wearing disguised it.

Nick merely grunted and closed his eyes. He hurt too much to think about this right now. In fact, he suspected that she had broken at least two of his ribs, judging from the searing pain that ripped through his torso whenever he tried to breathe. Hopefully, he would heal soon after he was fed.

He sighed, focusing intently on just why he was doing this. He was doing this to be with Nat. That's why he was doing this. He couldn't think of a more worthy reason.

Nick was broken from his thoughts when he felt Janette suddenly brake. He was thrown harshly about as she turned quickly in her seat. It gave him little comfort when he saw her cringe. "Ooooh," she said softly when she saw how much the jarring had hurt him, but she quickly continued, "We are here, Nichola! Au revoir!" She pushed the back door open and shoved him harshly out onto the pavement where he fell with a resounding thud. He could only wince as he heard Janette hurriedly close the door and speed off into the night.

Letting out a pained sob, he realized how immensely bad off he was. He seemed to be getting into these painful situations lately... But he had no time to dwell on it.

Suddenly there were people swarming around him, shaking him, touching him, yelling, screaming... Gasping, he cried out as they overwhelmed him. There were people everywhere, a chorus of heartbeats that drowned out the yelling voices. He glanced around frantically as his gag was taken off and his limbs were unbound. Groping blindly at the crowd, he called out, "Naaaat!" his voice cutting off in a wheeze. The flashing of multiple cameras nearly blinded him as he searched the moving sea of people.

It was then that he saw her. Nat. She was right beside him, soothing him as she took his pulse and blood pressure, or at least pretended to. Nick saw her take charge, yelling into the crowd, "EVERYONE MOVE BACK, HE NEEDS SOME SPACE, PEOPLE!" The people surrounding him instantly responded until there was only Nat and a paramedic within his direct view field. As an oxygen mask was placed over his mouth and he was placed gently on a stretcher, he sighed in relief, knowing that he was in good hands.

He groaned as he was placed into the ambulance, but his pain was washed away when he saw Nat sitting there next to him, smiling. Vaguely, he could hear her saying, "You certainly picked a dramatic entrance..." as he let himself drift off into oblivion.

Amanda Cohen stood in the waiting room with Don Schanke and several other officers, one of which was talking on a cell phone. She paced back and forth, back and forth. This was absolutely unheard of! After a year, unsolved cases rarely ever just got up and solved themselves. She thought it odd, but was infinitely grateful that Knight had been returned alive.

She sighed. She'd have given a million dollars to find out the whole story about what just happened here tonight, but she doubted that she would ever hear it. Glancing over at the officer talking on the phone, she grimaced slightly. Despite their efforts, she doubted that they would ever catch Nick's kidnapper. The mere fact that the woman had thought she had been safe enough to give her victim back said that much...

After a few minutes, the officer slapped the lid back onto the phone. "Sorry Captain, the plates on the car were covered with mud and the driver was wearing a ski mask. The phone call you received was made at a payphone and forensics just checked, no fingerprints there or anything. We have nothing to go on except the black Mercedes," he said apologetically.

Cohen sighed. "Damn! Whoever it was that took Knight knew police procedure pretty well... At least Knight is ok..."

Almost as if on cue, Dr. Natalie Lambert wandered into the waiting room. "He's awake now if you want to talk to him, Captain. I gave him a light sedative, so he's a little woozy, but he'll be able to come home tonight. A few days of rest should have him back on his feet, there was no permanent damage that I could see," she said informatively. The part about the sedative had been true, she had given him a small dose of curare. That would take the edge off his hunger and his pain until she was able to slip him some food. But for the rest she had lied completely. If he had been mortal, the beating he had taken would've put him out of commission for weeks.

Cohen merely nodded and took off towards Knight's room with the officers. She cautiously approached his cubicle bed and was greeted with a wide smile. "Hi Cap!" Nick said, the weariness and pain evident in his voice.

She smiled and gave him a quick once over. He was pale, bruised, and painfully thin... But when she put that in light of what he had been through, he looked none the worse for wear... "Glad to have you back, Detective Knight," she said, somewhat affectionately while still maintaining a professional demeanor.

Nick smiled. She had called him, Detective! Apparently that meant that he was indeed, successfully reinserted back into his life. He silently congratulated himself. Now all he needed to do was survive the officers' inquiries, and he would be home free. He winced as a twinge of pain ripped through his chest.

She looked at him, watching him. He had looked quite content with himself there for awhile, but now he was looking increasingly uncomfortable. "Detective, are you up to answering questions, or should we wait?"

Nick yawned, genuinely tired, but he immediately submitted himself to questioning. "Sure, I'm ok for questions..." He would get this over with now so that he could go home.

She nodded to the two officers behind her. "Then I'll let Haywood and Lucas take over from here, ok?" When he nodded and smiled weakly, she turned and left with a quick goodbye.

Nick answered as truthfully to the officer's questions as he could, but found that for a lot of them, feigning ignorance seemed to be the best tactic. Yes, he had been in captivity for the past year. No, he didn't know where he had been held captive, or who his captor was... He had given them a brief description of his kidnapper, as far from Janette's appearance as he could manage, but that was the only definite information he gave them aside from the brief account of events that had taken place on the night that he was taken. That too, was made up on the spot, and he purposely kept his alleged activities as far away from the Raven as possible.

He was growing increasingly tired, and his body was starting to ache pretty badly. Although he tried desperately to ignore it, he could tell that the officers questioning him noticed that he was fading on them quickly. He didn't know how much longer the questioning lasted after that, but he sighed in relief when he saw Nat come in finally to take him home.

Nick sighed heavily as Nat helped him sink into the bed. Although he had wanted to return to the loft, she had talked him out of it, insisting that he come back to her apartment with her. She had reasoned that the loft was bound to be a mess after a year of neglect, so he had agreed to return to it and start fixing it up tomorrow, after he had healed. "Thanks Nat, I couldn't have done that without you," he said softly, his voice slurred with sleepiness.

Natalie looked at him softly, bent over and lightly kissed him on the lips. "Next time you might want to try something a tad less... self-destructive, if you know what I mean. Oh, and by the way, the Captain demands that you take at least two weeks off before you come back. Upon returning, you're supposed to be ready for more questioning, so I suggest you prepare a good story based on whatever you said during your first interrogation."

"I think I can handle that," Nick said with a grin, the sleepy tone ebbing out of his voice as he woke up from the lingering effects of the curare that Nat had given him. Even since his trip home from the hospital, he had begun to feel better. His chest no longer hurt when he breathed, and the hunger was gone, thanks to Nat.

"And you also need to submit yourself to a physical examination by your doctor. That would be me," Nat added, a haughty tone entering her voice when she saw his smile turn to a frown.

"Well I think that'll be alright if you're gentle..." he said quickly. Diving under the covers, he hid himself from her wrath.

"Just for that, Mr. Knight, I think I'll start working on those protein shake recipes a little earlier than I had planned..." she said, slapping the covers lightly. "You'd better be careful too, Cohen also authorized me to recommend whether I thought you needed psychological counseling to deal with your trauma..." Nat thought she heard him mumble an expletive from underneath the sheets, but she couldn't be sure. She merely smiled and without a response, she turned to leave the room.

She stopped, however, when she heard Nick moving under the sheets. He wasn't just shifting his position, it sounded like he was wrestling with something... "Nick?" she called out, curious as to what he was up to.

No response except for a muffled grumble of frustration. She approached the bed cautiously, observing the lump/Nick move about underneath the covers, struggling with something.

"Nick? What on earth are you doing?" she questioned with a slight laugh of amusement in her tone.

"imph takng iff mgh clths sof imph kn sedufgh yer"

Nat looked at the lump with consternation. What on earth had he just said? Hesitantly, she gripped the edge of the sheet with her thumb and index finger and pulled it back.

An unclothed Nick let out a horrific roar. Fangs, eyes, and all he leaped up and grabbed her. She shrieked in absolute terror as he pulled her under the covers. Then, it was all quiet again except for the sound of her excited breathing.

Nat lay there splayed underneath the covers in pitch blackness, shaking with the adrenaline rush his sudden action had caused. "Nick?" she questioned into the blackness as she felt his arm snake around her waist.

From behind her somewhere she heard him laugh and answer her, "I said, I'm taking off my clothes so I can seduce you. Now be quiet and let me seduce you!"

"Nick, I..." Nat was going to mention that maybe they had better wait until he was fully healed...


"Ok," she whispered softly as she felt him begin to kiss the back of her neck and work his way slowly around to her front. If he wanted to exert himself like this, who was she to object?