AND SO I WALK INTO THE FIRE

Standard disclaimers apply. Nick, Nat, and the rest of the
gang don't belong to me, I'm just taking them for a brief
spin. Any similarities to other stories or real life
happenings are entirely coincidental/unintentional.
Permission to archive on fkfanfic.com and the ftp site, all
others please ask so that I can keep track of it.

This fanfic is the third in my series that started with
When Darkness Falls and continued with The Light Must
Follow. Although it is not necessary to have read the first
two stories in this series to understand this one, you might
find the story more enjoyable if you have. They are both
available at the ftp site, or you can download them from my
site at http://filebox.vt.edu/users/diharris/Homepage.htm.
For those of you who just want a quick run down on the
previous two: Nick disappeared without an explanation,
leaving Nat devastated. A year later, he returns after
being held captive by LaCroix. Nick and Nat start to rebuild
their relationship. Nick manages to reinsert himself into
his life as a homicide detective, with a little help, that
is...

Anyway, this story is a NNPacker story, although Nat takes a
slight backseat to Schanke this one. I think FoDs will be
pleased :) Oh yes, and I took a few liberties with
Toronto's geography, please just ignore it if you see a
landmark that doesn't exist :)

Thanks so much to my beta reader, Lois Frankel! You helped
me out A LOT with this one. Thanks also, for all the
feedback I've received on the last two stories. I was so
overwhelmed with it all that I couldn't respond to all of
it, so I think a large group thank you is in order :) All
comments, questions, flames, and whatnot may be sent to me,
at aria5@vt.edu. Flames, however, will be promptly
discarded :)

AND SO I WALK INTO THE FIRE

"Nick..."

It was like a whisper of breath on his neck. He rather
violently shrugged off the hand that was brushing the back
of his neck. It was dark, and warm, and he wanted it to
stay that way.

He heard a light laugh filter through the air as a pair of
hands began to shake him roughly. "Nick, you need to get
up!" The feminine voice sounded rather urgent.

Groaning in protest, Nick pulled the black satin sheets
over his head as he rolled over and snuggled deeply into
the warm blankets. He was content. It was not very often
that he felt that way, and he felt the need to relish it
while it lasted.

"Nick, you're asking for it... If you're late to the
precinct, Cohen will have a fit! You've only been back for
a week!"

He growled angrily. Why couldn't whoever was trying to wake
him up go away and come back later? It was then that he
started to process what had just been said. The precinct?
Oh yeah, that's right. He worked. Worked... WORK!!! He
sat up faster than a slingshot.

"AGH!!! I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!" Throwing off the
sheets from his body, Nick nearly flew out of bed. He
dashed about like a madman trying to get ready. Hopping
around on his feet while trying to simultaneously pull on a
pair of pants and a shirt, he noticed that someone was
laughing at him...

Stopping with his blue silk shirt caught around his left arm
and his leather belt dangling precariously from a belt loop
in his disheveled pair of black pants, he looked up and
finally saw her. Natalie. His heart quickened at the sight
of her beautiful smile. "Nick, you're not late yet, calm
down!" she chuckled as she stood there with an amused look
on her face.

"Nat!" Nick took a step towards her and went careening
towards the floor, landing with a resounding thud. Well
this was just great. He was sure that if he had been
capable of blushing, his cheeks would be a bright shade of
crimson now...

"Ow," he mumbled quietly, embarrassed to no end by his fall.

"Oh, Nick! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you, I
thought you knew I was here..." Natalie said with a laugh
as she saw him struggling to pull himself off the floor.
His tangled clothing had him stuck on the floor like a bird
in a net. "Here, Nick. Let me help you with that," she
offered as she approached him, brushing her loose brown hair
back in preparation to tackle the job of freeing him from
his prison of clothing.

Nick sighed... Of all the humiliating things to do... He
lay there quietly while Natalie untangled him and helped him
up off the floor. Why was Natalie at the loft? For a brief
moment amidst the chaos, he couldn't remember, but then it
came to him in a flash. She had moved in yesterday...

His heart did a little flutter in his chest, quite a
contrast from its normal stillness. It had been so long
since he had had a companion, at least romantically. And
Nat, well she was the one with whom he was certain he wanted
to spend the rest of his life. Faintly, the back of his
mind was screaming at him, /You idiot! You're a vampire...
you can't live with a _mortal_!/ but he ignored it. /You'll
end up killing her, you fool! Bail out, NOW! Bail! BAIL!/
He ignored that too.

Luckily, over the past three weeks, Natalie had been giving
him blood to drink every time he turned around. His hunger
was as sated as it ever would be, and he had gained back most
of the weight he had lost during his year in captivity.

He smiled at her faintly. "Sorry Nat, I forgot you were
here," he said with a guilty look, not quite knowing how he
had allowed himself to forget such a momentous thing.

She grinned. "Well when I woke up in your arms, I almost
forgot where I was, so I'd say we're even, ok?" She patted
him on the back lightly, trying to get him out of his funk
before it started. There was no way she was going to let
him feel guilty about that... He already had enough guilt
for a lifetime.

Nick looked at her and nodded. After living a solitary life
for so long, he knew this was going to take some getting
used to.

"Let's go downstairs and get something to eat, all right?"
Nat prodded, hoping to prevent him from getting lost in his
thoughts again.

"Sure, let me just finished getting dressed first, ok?" Nick
asked softly. And with that, he blurred for a second as he
moved faster than Nat's eyes could perceive. There. He was
dressed. "Ok, I'm ready." It was then that he realized
what he had just done. He'd made casual use of his vampiric
speed right in front of Nat. A pang of guilt rushed through
his system. He was trying so hard to act human! And now
he'd just gone against every one of his principles that the
vampire should only be used when absolutely necessary.

Nat stared at him with an open mouth, but she said nothing
as she watched the emotions play across his face. He was
trying so hard... She grabbed his arm and led him down the
stairs.

Sitting him down rather forcefully at the table, she went
about making herself breakfast. Suddenly, behind her, she
felt his arms snake around her waist as she worked at the
stove. "Nat, I'm sorry..." His voice was filled with
regret, and she knew that he meant what he said.

"It's ok, Nick. Honest. I know you're trying, you can't
expect to just be human right away. You lost a lot of
ground while you were... away," she said cautiously, but
she grinned when she felt Nick begin to kiss her shoulder
lightly through her terrycloth robe. Obviously, he didn't
find that subject as painful as he had, not even three weeks
before...

Nick sighed deeply, inhaling her soft scent. He could
hear her heart throbbing in her chest, and his whole body
ached with the thought of taking her... His fangs itched
to descend, but he clenched his jaw shut and prevented them
from doing so. No! Muscles trembling with the stress of
his self restraint, he continued to pleasure her with
eight-hundred-years of experience on his side.

She leaned back into him with a sigh as he slowly lowered
her robe from her shoulders and continued to kiss her.
Moving his lips over her soft skin, he relished the warm
feel of her body next to his. Although he tried desperately
to ignore the blood rushing quickly underneath her warm
skin, the vampire finally won a round in his private battle
for control. Seeing the world turn an amber hue, he
squeezed his eyes shut in denial. He would not stop because
of this. He would not stop. He would do this for her...

Growling softly, he kept his lips shut tightly as he moved
his mouth over her neck. His fangs were battling to
descend, so much that he could feel his mouth bleeding a bit
with the pressure they were exerting on his clenched jaw and
tightly closed lips. Not really kissing her, he glided his
lips across her smooth skin and onto the other shoulder...

"Ouch!"

He stopped cold, her cry of pain freezing him in place. It
was then that he noticed that his lips were practically on
top of two neat little puncture marks, still raw and only
recently scabbed over. The ones that he had made. Last
night. When they had...

Natalie grew a little nervous when she noticed that Nick was
simply standing behind her, not moving. Then it occurred to
her what he was seeing... "Nick, it's all right. You just
surprised me..."

"No, it's not all right! I hurt you..." Nick admitted
softly, the guilt dripping from his voice as she spun around
to face him. He closed his eyes in shame, silently willing
the gold color away. But the vampire would not be appeased.
He took several deep breaths when his fangs finally broke
through his tight check on them and descended. He squeezed
his eyes and mouth shut with all his might. He didn't want
her to see...

"Nick, open your eyes," Nat prodded him softly.

"No," he said rather gruffly, his lips closed tightly around
his razor-sharp fangs. He struggled desperately to keep
himself in control. Her loud heartbeat continued to drown
out all other sounds, and all he could think about were
those two neat little puncture marks that marred her neck.
God help him, they actually turned him on... /Why, damnit!/
He wanted to scream in frustration, but he kept his mouth
shut as the guilt overran his system. A few minutes ago he
had felt completely sated, and now he felt like he hadn't
eaten in days... Plus, he knew that if he was to open his
eyes he'd see the fang marks on her delicate neck again,
taunting him.

"Nick, open your goddamn eyes! Don't you see that I don't
care what color they are?" Nat said, more than slightly
annoyed at his stubbornness. Didn't he see that she
accepted him the way he was? She had thought they'd broken
some ground they past few weeks, but they were obviously
backsliding now...

"Well I do!" He opened his eyes and Nat was greeted with a
glowing amber color. "Nat, I can't do this! I thought I
could, but I can't..." he said softly. What on earth had
he gotten himself into? He saw the two red marks on her
neck and he cringed. Even though she denied it, he _had_
hurt her.

Nat's face flushed red with anger. "Don't you think for a
second that I'm going to let you back out now! Do you know
how _long_ I've waited for this?! I waited over three
years for you to tell me we could be more than friends...
And then I waited for a whole year, not knowing if you were
alive or dead! And I am _NOT_ going to let you make me wait
longer. I don't care if it sounds selfish, it's how I feel
and you're stuck with me!" she shouted at him.

Nick felt like he had been slapped in the face. A strangled
little sob escaped his lips as he sat down heavily at the
table and put his face in his hands. _Finally_ his fangs
receded and his eyes returned to their normal ice blue.
"See? I can't even do _this_ right..." he said in her
general direction as he took a shuddering breath. "I'm
sorry, Nat."

Nat said nothing as she pulled a chair up next to him and
sat down lightly. Clasping his hands in hers, she looked
straight into the depths of his eyes. "Nick, I know that
this is hard for you, but you can't keep doing this. We
had this whole discussion before, after the last time. How
many times must we go over this? Yes you hurt me last
night, I admit. But let's go over the facts here. A - You
need to bite in order to ... finish, B - The pleasure of
whole experience far outweighed the pain, and C - you didn't
kill me like you thought you would, on _both_ occasions..."
Nat took a deep breath as she watched the emotions play
across his face.

He looked at his hands in hers with a longing gaze. "Yeah,
well that doesn't mean I have to be proud of it," he paused
and looked up at her face. He felt his chest constrict when
he saw the thin little tear tracks on her cheeks, but he
did not allow himself to dwell on the pain he had caused her
yet again. "I need to finish getting ready for work, ok?"
he said flatly as he removed her hands from his in a gesture
of closure. Getting up, he went to the fridge and took a
quick swig from the familiar green bottle of bovine blood.

"Nick, wait..." Nat said, but he ignored her and went over
to collect his coat...

After he put his black duster on, Nick turned and gave her a
resigned look. "Just give me some time, Nat. I _need_
time..." he whispered, pleading with her to understand...
He walked over to the lift and took one last, pained glance
in her direction, pausing with his hand on the wall beside
the lift. And then he was gone.

Nat sighed. Damn that man! Didn't he know that he had her
heart on a string? Apparently not... Clenching her fists
until her knuckles turned white, she let out a small sob.
They would get through this. She was sure of it.

*****

AND SO I WALK INTO THE FIRE

The precinct was alive. People ran this way and that,
computers beeped here and there, conversation flitted about
the room over the general hubbub.

"Walters! Get me that report, NOW!"

"Hey Sommers, did you see that new girl in traffic? Is she
single?"

"Is anyone planning on a donut run anytime soon?"

Schanke leaned back in his chair and breathed in a long and
cleansing breath as he listened to the many simultaneous
conversations around him. He was at work, his partner was
back, and he didn't owe any overtime for getting to work
late. Life, was good.

"Hey, Detective Knight! Long time no see!" a cheerful voice
ripped into his musings.

Schanke looked over to see his partner entering the precinct
with a grim look on his face and his classic black duster
over his tall frame. He laughed slightly at Nick's failed
attempt to respond to the greeting in a polite and cheerful
manner. Yup. Things were back to normal... Well...
Mostly.

Now Schanke was in on a little secret. He knew that Nick
was a vampire. He supposed it scared him a little, but so
far he'd had no problems with it. In fact, he was happy
about finally knowing his partner for who he was, rather
than for the facade he put up for everyone else.

So, it was a little quirk in the general return to
normality. Schanke shrugged. It was a good sacrifice...
He'd been devastated when he'd thought Nick was dead. He'd
denied it to the last second, searching frantically for
clues he'd missed. It had been terrible for him, but it
had been even worse for Natalie. Although Schanke didn't
know the whole story behind Nick's disappearance, he did
know it had something to do with that LaCroix guy... And
that was enough for him. The guy was _scary_. It was hard
to believe that Nick had managed to deal with him for eight
centuries.

Nick approached him and sat down without saying hello.
Schanke observed silently, that all was not right in the
world of Nick Knight. His blond hair was slightly unkempt,
and there were lines of stress etched into his face. It
was if he had aged years since yesterday when Schanke had
seen him last.

"Nick? What's the matter? Hehe, did Nat keep you up all
night or something?" Schanke inquired, a teasing edge in his
voice. Maybe that would lighten Nick's bad mood. But then,
maybe it wouldn't. Nick had never had a great sense of
humor, or at least not that he'd let show.

Nick just glared, but his eyes reflected a certain sadness
that was almost tangible. It was obvious that he was
struggling with something, but Schanke couldn't think for
the life of him what it could be. Nick should be the
happiest person alive right now! Natalie had finally moved
into the loft with him. Wasn't that a happy occasion? It
had taken Nick _years_ just to get that far, despite
Schanke's numerous attempts at getting them hooked before
that...

"Okeeee, never mind then," Schanke said, slightly concerned.
He knew this mood. It was the 'I'm guilty, I'm not worthy,
just let me go crawl into a hole and die because I'll never
live long enough to atone for all the wrongs I've committed'
mood. Schanke had seen it in Nick a lot before he had been
taken away by LaCroix, but he had only now begun to
recognize it for what it was.

"Nick, seriously, what's the problem? Maybe I can help
you..." he prodded. Nick had always helped him with his
problems, so perhaps if he could find out what was bugging
his partner, he'd be able to help him sort it out, whatever
it was. Heck, that's what friends were for, right?

Nick glanced at him with a pained look and opened his mouth
to speak, but he was interrupted when a tall black man in a
navy blue suit walked up to him. It was the IA guy who
had questioned Nick earlier in the week when he had first
returned to duty. Schanke grasped for a name, but he
couldn't come up with one that matched the man's face. It
was Inspector Williams, or Whitman, or Westings, or
something like that... Or maybe not...

"Detective Knight? I've gone over your account of what
happened on the night of your kidnapping, and I was
wondering if we could possibly go over some inconsistencies
between your story and what we have on record..." the man
said in a serious tone, his eyes looking down on Nick with
a slight menace in them. Why was it that all IA guys
seemed like they were out to get everyone who crossed their
path? Were they paid extra to look mean or something?

Nick glanced to the left and right. Apparently satisfied
that he had no audience except for Schanke, he stared coldly
into the Inspector's eyes. "There are no
inconsistencies..." Nick's voice lowered slightly as he
projected his will on the Inspector.

Schanke watched curiously as the Inspector seemed to go as
blank as most of his paperwork was at the moment. Jeez...
All Nick was doing was staring at the guy, and poof, he was
completely zombified... This was just weird.

"No... inconsistencies..." the man repeated as if possessed
by some unseen force, his voice flat and monotone. Schanke
let out a surprised gasp, but the Inspector just stared
straight into Nick's eyes as if there were nothing else in
the world.

"What I said matches your records, you will file the case as
an unsolved and never question me about it again..." Nick
continued to impress his hypnotic suggestion on the man.

"Never question you again..." The man's voice trailed off
as if he were pondering something. He then shook his head
and resumed talking as if Nick had done nothing, "Well,
Detective Knight. Your story checks out with our own, I'm
afraid we'll have to file it under the unsolveds..." he said
with a funny look on his face, as if he didn't know why he
was saying what he was saying.

Nick nodded, looking down at the floor with a glum look on
his face. "I figured as much..." he said, acting quite
successfully like he was disappointed at the news the
Inspector had just brought him. The Inspector merely shook
his head and wandered off.

Schanke looked at Nick with his mouth agape. "Did you just
...?!" He couldn't bring himself to finish his sentence.

Nick simply nodded, almost imperceptibly. Schanke wasn't
surprised. "I figured as much," Schanke mumbled under his
breath. Only someone like Nick would mess with IA...

"I can't _believe_ you did that to an IA guy of all
people! Do you have _any_ idea how much trouble you'd be in
if they figured out what you did?" Schanke ranted in a loud,
stressed whisper, disbelief seeping from his voice. His
partner had just _hypnotized_ an IA guy. An _IA_ guy.

"They won't figure it out..." Nick said vaguely, but he said
nothing more.

Schanke just looked at Nick warily. Had Nick ever done that
to him? Come to think of it... Yes. He had. That one
time when Nick had jumped between him and an injured perp,
Schanke couldn't remember what precisely it was that Nick
had made him forget, but he did remember that he forgot
something... He mentally strained himself, trying to
remember what exactly he had forgotten, but he couldn't.
And it bugged him immensely.

If Nick had already done it once, what was to stop him from
hypnotizing him again? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It
was rather disconcerting, but he shrugged it off. Nick
would never do that now that he knew about vampires, would
he? Nah... But still, it nagged at the back of his mind.

"So anyway," Schanke continued, trying to ignore the
uncomfortable silence that had followed Nick's last remark.
"What were you going to say before we were interrupted?" he
queried.

Nick looked momentarily confused until he remembered what
they had been talking about before the Inspector had come
over to question him. "It's nothing, Schanke. Just
something I have to work out for myself. All right?" he
said, a tired tone entering his voice that Schanke hadn't
noticed before.

Schanke sighed, resignedly. He knew he wouldn't get
anything more out of his partner now, no matter how much he
tried to bug him. Having tried it numerous times before and
failed, he didn't even attempt one bit of protest. "Ok,
Nick. If you decide you need to talk, I'm here ya know...
Anyway, shall we finish the paperwork?"

Nick gave him a small grin accompanied by a look that simply
said, "Paperwork? Who, me?" If there was one thing Nick
was notorious for, it was that he didn't do paperwork... He
was probably the only person on earth who took longer than
Schanke to get stuff turned in.

Schanke chuckled and handed him a stack of papers as he
shook his head in a amusement. What a wonderful start to
another night in the saga of Nick and Schanke...

"Schanke! Knight! We've got a bad one down at the
lakefront. I want you on it, pronto!" Cohen's voice shot
through the door of her office into the relaxed atmosphere
and ripped it to pieces. It was funny how a voice of
authority could do that...

Schanke smiled at Nick and clapped him on the back in a
friendly gesture. "You lucky dog, saved by the bell!" he
said as he got up and grabbed his coat. Nick merely looked
at him as if he was crazy. Yup. Back to normal.

"Knight! I want to see you in my office before you go," the
Captain said with a serious tone, her head poking out of the
doorway to her office just long enough to utter the order
before it disappeared back into the mysterious depths.
Schanke merely nodded at Nick and went out to the car,
leaving Nick behind.

Nick quickly joined Cohen in her office after he had
gathered his things and closed the door softly behind him.
She was sitting at her desk with her hands clasped and lying
gently on her wooden desk. She did _not_ look happy...
"What's up, Cap?" he said, attempting to sound nonchalant,
but miserably failing as his anxiety seeped through his
tone. What was this about? He hadn't done anything to upset
her yet... Had he?

He watched Cohen take a deep breath and mentally braced
himself for punishment over whatever it was that he had
done wrong. "Nick, I realize you've only been back a week,
but we're completely run ragged this week. I'm sorry to put
you out on a serious case so fast, I had planned on easing
you back into the swing of things," she said regretfully.

Nick let out the breath he had been holding in relief. Now
_this_, he could handle. "Sure, no problem Cap, I'm ready,"
he said quite confidently.

Cohen raised an eyebrow at him. He sounded like he was
ready to take on the world in hand-to-hand combat, but she
couldn't help but wonder if he was putting on a facade.
"You're sure?" she said, disbelief emanating from her voice.
She'd seen people bounce back from trauma before, but
_nothing_ like this...

"Absolutely," Nick said with a firm nod of his head. He was
ready. Although, he didn't want to admit it, the vampire in
him was lusting for a good hunt and a good mystery. Perhaps
if he had an outlet, he wouldn't be so shaky in the control
department with Nat...

"All right then. But _TELL_ me if you're having trouble,"
Cohen demanded firmly. She didn't want her prize detective
getting his feet wet too soon, only to slip and fall when he
lost traction...

Nick nodded enthusiastically. Sure sure. He'd tell her...
And with that, he left her office to join Schanke, who was
waiting in the passenger seat of his Caddy. Surprisingly
enough, he had found that his beloved green car was still
quite operational even after a year of neglect.

*****

Nick muttered softly under his breath as he pulled the Caddy
into a muddy grass lot. It was quite messy out, the
torrents of rain only recently yielding to a slow drizzle of
fine mist. He would have to wash his car after this,
_especially_ the hubcaps and lower areas. How annoying...

Schanke stepped out of the car first, making a slightly
disgusted face when his feet squished into the deep mud.
"Thanks Nick, you coulda parked on the road you know..." he
said, pointing to the narrow access road they had just come
off of as he lifted a foot, only to have it come almost
completely out of his shoe when it stayed stuck in the mud.

Nick gave Schanke a wry grin. "Sorry Schanke, I couldn't
find a parking space that the Caddy would fit in..." he said
as he easily stepped out of the car with the ease of a
predator, his movements fluid and lithe.

Schanke merely glared. That damn boat of a car was more
trouble than it was worth. But... Nick loved the thing
more than his own life. He looked down at his own shoes,
still stuck in the mud with some annoyance. Finally, after
some careful maneuvering, he was free and they were off.

They approached the building, carefully avoiding the
numerous puddles of mud and whatnot. Surrounded by a large
grass lot, the dilapidated establishment looked out on the
black water alone. The next closest buildings were several
long blocks to the left and to the right.

Nick looked at the deserted establishment with melancholy.
It was sagging on its walls, like a weeping old man. Nick
wouldn't have been surprised if the roof caved in right then
and there; the decaying wooden shingles were rotted through.

Nick shuddered as a forensics worker passed them with
several bags of evidence. Despite its decrepit appearance,
this small one story building contained a certain... evil
feel to it. Odd.

He shrugged off the feeling as Schanke pulled the door open
for him, which although resisting at first, opened quite
easily with a plaintive wail of its hinges. Nick had his
right foot over the threshold, when he suddenly stopped as
if there was an invisible wall in front of him. There was
someone nearby... Someone was watching him... He felt cold
all over, like death's icy fingers were creeping up his
back and around his neck.

Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply. He could detect no
one but the chorus of heartbeats emanating from Schanke and
the forensics crews. His mind must be playing tricks on
him. Tricks, that was all.

"Nick, helloooooo? Are you going to go in or shall I return
to the Caddy and get us some sleeping bags?" Schanke's
annoyed voice penetrated the fog of his thoughts and Nick
snapped back to the task at hand.

"Yeah, sure, Schanke. Sorry..." Nick shook his head and
proceeded into the building. Expecting a small foyer of
some sort, Nick was surprised when they were greeted with a
wide open room, approximately ten meters square. The wooden
floorboards groaned in protest when Nick put his weight on
them.

There, in the center of the room surrounded by a whole crew
of forensics people, including Natalie, was a circle of pale
entangled bodies lying in a large pool of coagulating
blood. A very large pool. He stared at it for a moment
like a ravenous wolf closing in on its prey, and then all at
once Nick felt the vampire flare up uncontrollably as the
scent of freshly spilled blood wafted through his nostrils,
overwhelming his acute olfactory sense. His hand
automatically flew up to his mouth to conceal his fangs as
he squeezed his eyes shut. He took a deep breath. And
another. And another.

Nick simply couldn't get it out of his head, and his muscles
quivered with the effort required to keep his feet firmly
planted on the floor. Too soon... He'd forgotten how much
control his rather grisly job had required. He'd come back
too soon...

He nearly jumped a mile when he felt a warm, mortal hand on
his shoulder. "Nick?" It was Schanke. "Nick, are you all
right?" Schanke said, concernedly.

Nick nodded, desperately trying to ignore his cravings.
"Just give... give me a minute..." he said weakly, knowing
he wasn't being all that convincing. Thankfully, Schanke's
hand withdrew, although Nick was certain his partner was
still watching him curiously. God, he had to get control of
himself before people started to notice. There was just so
much blood!

He groaned, clenching his jaws shut even tighter. He would
not lose control. He would _not_ allow it. For some reason
though, his body simply wasn't listening to his mind, and he
could barely suppress a growl.

"Nick?" Through the haziness clouding his mind, he heard
Nat's voice calling to him. Nat. He felt himself nearly
collapse; he couldn't deal with her right now... Letting
out a small muffled whimper, he shook her hand away from
his shoulder where it had just come to rest.

He began to tremble as he repeated to himself in his mind,
over and over, that he would _not_ lose control. Not here.
Not now... A warm hand jerked his own contrasting cold hand
from his face.

Nick gasped in surprise when he felt a cold metal object
placed firmly in his fingers. "Drink that, Nick," Nat's
commanding voice penetrated his confusion.

He dared a quick peek through amber hazed vision before
squeezing his eyes shut again. There was a small metal
flask in his hand. Blood. He upended the bottle as soon as
he realized its contents. The cool elixir flowed over his
tongue and set fire to his throat. He sighed as the
immediate effects began to relax him. And despite the
slightly offensive bovine flavor, he felt the vampire recede
and his muscles loosen.

Thank you, Nat. Or, at least, that's what he should have
said. He opened his eyes to find that she had gone back to
the circle of bodies as if she hadn't even come over in the
first place. Damn. Why did he have to continuously mess
things up? Damn, damn, triple damn!

"Nick? What on earth just... happened?" Schanke inquired
curiously, a suspicious tone in his voice.

Nick merely grunted, not taking his eyes off Nat as he
subconsciously pocketed the small flask. She was so
beautiful... Even as she stood there in a rumpled brown
skirt and pinkish blouse, he couldn't help but notice it...
He felt a light prod in the ribs. "Nick..." Schanke's
voice was a little bit more forceful this time.

He tore his eyes away from his beloved Nat. "Sorry,
Schanke. Let's get started, all right?"

Schanke merely sputtered in astonishment at Nick's crafty
avoidance of his question as Nick went over to Natalie. He
shook his head and followed. Nick was one slippery guy...

Nick cringed as Nat began reeling off the specifics of the
case. "TOD, approximately two hours ago. Deep cuts to the
wrists, I don't think I need to tell you how these people
died... However, I'm not quite convinced it's a group
suicide like it looks like," Nat looked up at Nick and then
quickly back at the body that she was pointing to. "See the
symbols carved on their cheeks?"

Nick had to force himself to take his eyes away from Nat.
Her eyes reflected such pain, although he'd caught only a
glimpse of it before she had averted her eyes. She had
tried to hide it through an air of professionalism, but he
saw it. And it was his fault. It tore at his heart. He
hated to think about the pain he had caused her...

Shaking his head lightly, he stared intently at the small
series of squiggles on the dead man's cheeks, ignoring the
hunger slowly growing in the pit of his stomach. He'd just
fed! Subconsciously licking his lips, he looked at the
other bodies. They all had the same gruesome marks.
"Yes..." Nick said hesitantly, beginning to realize where
this was headed.

"I think they were made after death, there's no blood in
these wounds. That would mean the person would have had to
have bled out sufficiently beforehand, because these cuts
are very recent, and very deep..." Nat said authoritatively.
She knew her stuff, and she didn't hesitate to show it.

Nick looked at the bodies again as Schanke inhaled quickly
behind him. "That would mean there was either someone here
helping them, or that someone actually murdered them..."
Schanke's voice carried over Nick's shoulder, butting its
way into the conversation. Nat nodded in response.

"Are you sure?" Nick asked, slightly hopeful that maybe Nat
wasn't as certain as she sounded. It would've taken a
monster to do this to twelve people... A monster like
him...

Natalie nodded again. "I'll have to do the autopsies before
I can say officially, but I'm almost positive," she said
grimly.

Nick nodded mutely and turned to Schanke. He wanted so
badly to talk with Nat, but now was simply not the time.
"Do we know if there were any witnesses?" he asked
curiously. Maybe they could get a lead that way.

"Nope, nada. As you may have noticed, this building is
deserted and the phone call reporting the dead bodies was
anonymous, I checked while you were in with the Captain,"
Schanke said with a grim look on his face. This one was
going to be tricky.

"Any IDs on the bodies?" Nick said incredulously. There
had to be _something_ to go on... At this point he'd take
a fingerprint and a treasure map, for heaven's sake. He
_hated_ unsolveds. They bothered him not only because the
killer went free, but also because it was basically a failed
hunt.

"Nothing. You'll have to wait until I can do the dental
work-ups and fingerprints. Even then, it's iffy. You may
have to end up waiting for a missing persons report," Nat
said softly, not wanting to see Nick's reaction to that
news.

Nick sighed heavily. His first big case since he'd rejoined
the force was starting off wonderfully. Yeah right...
"Well, I suppose we'll stop by the morgue later tonight.
C'mon Schank, let's go see what we can..."

He stopped in mid-sentence. The feeling was there again.
He felt someone watching him, peering at him through the
darkness. His skin crawled. Evil.

Taking a dry swallow, Nick's eyes slid to the small paned
window on the wall. He used his acute night vision to peer
into the blackness beyond, but he saw nothing. Nothing.
But _something_ was out there.

"Nick, what is it _now_?" Schanke said impatiently, a slight
whine in his tone. Nick was starting to go weird on him
almost hourly now... What _was_ his problem?

Nick shook his head, ignoring Schanke's annoyed stare and
Nat's worried one. "Just a second," he said, as he fled out
the door and into the night.

He reached out with his vampiric senses, and scanned the
area. It was running. Whatever it was was running away.
He had to catch it. Ah, the hunt was on. Let's see who
would dare stalk him now... Feeling his eyes turn a golden
hue, he snarled briefly and was about to take off into the
blackness of the night when Nat interrupted him.

"Don't you dare, Nicholas B. Knight," a feminine voice
called sternly from behind him.

He stopped cold, his heavy breathing the only sound
emanating from him. God, he didn't want to turn around and
see her staring reproachfully at him like he knew she was.

"Nick, we're never going to get anywhere if you continually
do this..." her voice said disapprovingly. "What's going
on?" Nat said, her tone becoming slightly more worried.

"It's nothing, Nat. I'm... I'm sorry..." he said softly,
his voice weak. He couldn't turn around. Not yet...
Blinking furiously trying to get his eyes to turn back, he
heard her sigh behind him.

"Fine, Nick. When you want to talk, let me know..." she
said, defeated and hurt. Nick wanted nothing more than to
embrace her and comfort her and make it all right, but he
found himself for some reason unable.

He heard her retreat, her pumps squishing in the mud as she
went back to the sidewalk that led up to the door. "Nat,
Nat wait..." he pleaded, turning around despite his
frightening visage. Luckily there were no forensics crews
outside at the moment, or he would've had _a lot_ of
explaining to do...

She didn't stop. Didn't turn around. Didn't even
acknowledge that she'd heard him. Damn it all! He stomped
his foot in the squishy mud, his anger at himself completely
ruining all possibilities of regaining his control.

"Jeez Nick, tooth check buddy..." Schanke's voice
interrupted his tantrum. How did he get there all of the
sudden? Nick shook his head, attempting to clear his head.
"Did Nat get you that riled up?"

Nick squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath, finally
managing to force down his bestial counterpart. "Let's just
go, all right?"

Picking up on Nick's need to get out of there, Schanke
clasped his arm around Nick's shoulders and guided him to
the Caddy. Nick sighed in frustration as he took one last
look at the old house, the presence he felt earlier
momentarily forgotten. This case was just not going to be
fun...

*****

"So, let's review... We've got twelve dead bodies in a
circle. Their death _appears_ to be a group suicide, but
there is evidence to suggest that there was another person
involved who is actually still among the land of the
living... We have no witnesses, no IDs on the bodies,
and no clue as to what we have here. That about sum it up?"
Schanke said casually, his hands clasped in front of him at
his desk. He looked at Nick with a penetrating gaze.

Nick growled in frustration and nodded. With a sigh, he
put his face in his hands and clawed them down his face,
bringing them to a stop at his jaw. He rocked his head back
and forth a bit, straining to think of some explanation.
_Any_ explanation would do at this point. None but the most
inapplicable came to mind and it frustrated him to no end.
"A gang?" he questioned, but he knew it was wrong even as he
said it.

Schanke shook his head. "They would've advertised who'd
done it. Gangs don't do stuff like that unless it's to show
who's got the power in the neighborhood. Plus, if it was a
gang, my contacts would've mentioned something big going
down."

"Wait... Let me see a picture of those squiggles on their
cheeks..." Nick said, exhaling in a huff as he leaned
forward and reached across the desk to grab the manila
folder sitting unopened underneath Schanke's hands. He
opened it and stared at them. And stared. And stared.

He flipped through each of the twelve pictures, examining
each one closely. They weren't random at all. There was a
pattern. "Schank, look at these and tell me if you see a
pattern..." he said, hoping he was correct.

Schanke pulled the pictures back towards him and looked.
Nick was right. Why hadn't they noticed it before? /Well,
gee Donny, probably cuz you didn't look at them until now,/
he thought to himself sarcastically.

"Yeah, I see it too..." Schanke said in a low voice, his
eyes wide. "And the bodies were in a circle..."

Nick's eyes met his. There was a moment of silence as they
both came to the same conclusion. The circle was probably
the most recurring shape in religion... "A cult?" Nick
questioned.

Schanke nodded in quick response. "That's what I just
thought of too..." he confirmed, looking at his watch.
"Natalie probably has the autopsy done on at least one of
the bodies. Shall we go take a look see?"

Nick cringed at the thought. Nat. "Uh, Schanke, why don't
you just go on ahead, all right? I'll stay here and see if
anything else comes up..." he said, fumbling for an excuse
to not go. He couldn't face her. Not now. Maybe when he
got home from work, but not now...

"No way, partner. You're coming along whether you like it
or not," Schanke said, determined not to let Nick and Nat's
relationship fall apart before it even got out of the
starting gate...

"But, Schank, one of us should really stay here and do the
paperwork..."

"Nope, no way. Nah ah. Nice try. Come on, get your coat,"
Schanke pushed himself up with his hands and forcefully
stood Nick up by yanking up hard on his shoulders. "Now
give me the keys to the Caddy..." he commanded Nick like a
parent reproachfully ordering a child to pick up his toys.

Nick numbly complied as he was ferried quickly out the door
by Schank. He'd have to see Nat now. He'd wanted to wait
until they both got home and had some time to unwind. He
sighed. Home. He'd never thought he'd be sharing his
dwelling with Nat. Despite his numerous misgivings, he
felt a sudden surge of pleasure. Nat was living with _him_.
/She's not gonna be with you much longer if you don't
straighten things out, you fool!/

He was so lost in his thoughts that before Nick knew what
was happening, he was sitting in the passenger seat of the
Caddy, staring out the window as the city of Toronto passed
by. Wait. When had he let Schank drive _HIS_ Caddy?! He'd
been tricked...

"Schanke, that was low..." Nick grumbled. Schanke merely
laughed. Nick narrowed his eyes at his scheming partner and
remained silent for the rest of the ride.

The sign indicating that they were at the Coroner's
Building came all too quickly. Nick sighed in defeat as
Schanke parked his car rather illegally. Damn his Caddy for
being so reliable. He had hoped it would break down for
once...

Schanke put the car in park and hopped out with a bounce
in his step. He'd won one round at least... He grinned
stupidly when he saw the look of disdain on Nick's face.

They walked in and went to Nat's office. As they approached
the open door of the room, they could both see her intently
writing up some reports on her desk. Schanke noted
thankfully, that there was no body on the table nor on a
nearby gurney, and he confidently entered first with a very
hesitant Nick straggling behind. Nat looked up when she
heard them enter, giving them a brief look of sadness before
she hid it away behind a mask of professionalism.

Schanke looked between her and Nick. They were staring at
each other. Nat's look was cold, while Nick's was... hurt?
Nervous? Sad? Guilty? Schanke couldn't tell. Maybe it
was a combo of all four, but it was obvious to him that bad
vibes were flowing between the two like a flashflood. Maybe
he hadn't been wise in bringing Nick along after all.

He watched as Nat took a deep breath. "I finished the first
of the twelve bodies about a half-hour ago. I was right.
The cuts in the cheeks were made after death. However, the
angle of the gashes in the wrists was consistent with
suicide..." Nat said, her voice trailing off. She looked
hard at Nick before turning her head towards Schanke with a
forced smile.

"Well if that's true... the cult theory would work... I
think..." Schanke suggested. Nick was just standing there,
a stunned look in his eyes like a fish out of water. What
had happened between the two that could possibly get him
so... not his usual charismatic self? It usually took a
Hell of a lot to shake Nick out of his unbreakable mask of
stone...

Natalie nodded. "It's a possibility," she said simply, not
handing out any more information unasked for. She brushed
her curly hair aside casually and Schanke did a double take
when he caught a glimpse of... two neat little red marks at
the base of her neck that looked suspiciously like...

"Nat, are those _bite_ marks?" he blurted out before he
could stop himself. The ball was dropped. Nat looked at
him sharply, startled by his sudden outburst.

"Yes, they are, Schank..." Nat replied honestly, her voice
betraying how strained her answer was. Schanke noticed out
of the corner of his eye that Nick seemed to be shrinking
backwards towards the door with a look of horror on his
face.

Schanke gulped as his mind processed the startling
information. Bite marks. Two little punctures. Fangs.
Woah... Had Nick bitten Nat? Was that the problem? Wait,
_bitten_ her? He cringed in disgust. Granted, he thought
he had accepted Nick's vampiric side, but this... this was
just a little gross. And scary.

The sudden realization that he was basically Nick's
equivalent of a super value meal at McDonald's hit him like
a brick. His hands flew to his neck subconsciously. No
wait. Stop. Stop. /Don't jump to conclusions, Donny.../
"From what?" Schanke asked hesitantly, dreading the answer
and noticing a pained gasp from his partner.

All at once, Nick fled the room and the door slammed shut
with a resounding thud. Schanke sat down heavily, watching
Nat cringe as Nick disappeared with utmost speed. She took
two deep breaths. "From Nick," she replied with utmost
seriousness.

The words were like a cold splash of water on his face.
Schanke's eyes widened in fear, but he forced himself to
remain calm. Calm. Must stay calm...

"Schanke, it's not what you think... He didn't attack me
or anything..." Nat said quickly, rushing through the words
as they fell from her mouth.

"Well then what the heck did he do? Just come up to you and
say, 'please, Nat, lemme take a chomp on your neck'?!"
Schanke squeaked, not caring how incredibly tactless he was
being. It didn't occur to him at the time that the
situation he had just described would've been really funny
if it weren't so serious a situation.

Nat gave him a look of utter disgust, as though he had just
revealed that he was actually the lovechild of some alien
named Mona... "No, Schanke! It wasn't like that at all..."
she paused as she tried to think of a way to explain the
importance of blood exchange for vampires. "To vampires,
taking blood is a very sensuous, very erotic experience.
When a vampire drinks from you, they know all that you are
and all that you've been. I can't even begin to describe it
and do it justice... But it's addictive to them like a
drug, which is why it's so hard for Nick to control himself
around fresh sources of blood like you, me, and that
crime scene earlier tonight," Nat raced through her
explanation before she lost her nerve.

Schanke tried really hard to digest all this. Really hard.
But it still didn't make sense... "So, Nick lost control
with you or something?" he asked. If Nick had lost control
with Nat, what was to stop him from biting him? Or anyone
for that matter? Calm. Remain CALM.

Nat smiled, seeing that Schanke really was making a valiant
effort to have an open mind about this... "No, Schanke..."
Time to drop the bomb... "Vampires need to take blood
during the sexual act..."

"Oh." Oh. He still wasn't sure he was comfortable with
this... He closed his eyes and took a deep, cleansing
breath. Nat didn't seem to have a problem with it, but
still... "So... what's the problem between you two then?"

Nat laughed aloud, bitterly. "Nick is having some
issues... I know he feels guilty for hurting me every time
we make love, but there's something else going on and I
can't figure out what it is... He won't talk to me."

Schanke was starting to understand the whole picture... But
he was still uncomfortable with the concept... Biting
during sex... Ergh. How icky... But jeez, if he didn't
like it, it must be terrible for Nick. The mere fact that
he was trying to get himself cured proved that.

He saw Nat's curious look at him making faces of disgust...
"I'm sorry, Nat. This is just going to take a little bit of
time for me to adjust to... I thought I was ok with it, but
this is all just a bit unsettling..."

She nodded in understanding. "I really do understand,
Schanke... But please, Nick is a good man. Don't judge him
just by the vampire, there's much more to him than that..."
she cautioned him.

That was the crux of it right there... How well did he
really know his partner?

*****

Nick flew blindly, recklessly, not caring where he ended up
or who saw him as he sped through the night. Blood tears
streamed down his cheeks in a downpour of pain. Damn damn
damn damn DAMN. He'd hurt Nat and now he'd lost every
semblance of a normal friendship with his only mortal friend
in the world aside from her.

He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to ignore the memory of
the past night without much success. He hadn't stayed to
hear Nat's answer to Schanke's soul shattering question, but
knowing her, she had probably told him the truth. Why did
Nat have to be so damn honest? Didn't she know that would
ruin everything? Although he was a little hurt by it, he
supposed Schanke was better off knowing the true company he
was in. Schanke would probably think he was a monster now.
Well? He was, wasn't he? His mind flashed back to Alyssa,
to Sylvaine, and all of the other innocents he'd killed.
The answer to his question was obvious. Letting out a
scream of anguish, he flew as high as he could until he felt
lightheaded. The cold was numbing. Exactly what he wanted.

Reaching out with his hands, he peered at the stars above
him. They seemed so much closer now... They were the only
source of natural light he'd known for eight hundred years,
with the exception of the moon. His only escape from the
darkness. And yet, he'd never bothered to really notice
them. Sure, he'd looked up at the sky millions of times,
but he'd never really _looked_.

They were shimmering in the distance, like millions of
little fireflies that had gotten lost in the black depths of
space. Nick sighed and continued to gaze at them through
red tears as he floated at a higher than safe altitude.

It was funny. He'd been around before the Earth had
revolved around the sun, or at least before scientists had
proven that it did. He'd even been around before the Earth
was round. Logically speaking, he should be one of the
wisest people alive, with the knowledge of centuries to
guide his decisions. So why was this so damn hard? Why
couldn't he just once do the right thing? Everything he did
hurt someone...

He drifted for awhile among the clouds. Flying was probably
the only aspect of being a vampire that he relished. It
gave him a certain freedom he'd never known as a mortal, a
way to escape his problems at least temporarily. But it
wasn't helping at all right now. His problems... He felt
like he was drowning with no way to break to the surface.
What was he going to do now? How was he ever going to fix
everything? He had thought he'd won when he'd made it back
to Nat and overcome LaCroix once and for all. But if he
had, then why was it getting harder? It was supposed to get
easier, damnit!

Completely absorbed in his own thoughts, Nick landed before
he even realized what he was doing. In a moment of fright,
he quickly checked for nearby heartbeats, and sighed in
relief when he heard none. He shook his head in disbelief
over his own foolishness. If a resistor had seen him...
Stupid stupid stupid!

It was then that he realized where exactly it was that he
was. The abandoned old house where the group 'suicide' had
taken place. What? What had brought him here? He hadn't
even been paying attention and somehow he'd been drawn here.
He shuddered uncontrollably. Something was attracting him
here, even subconsciously, and it scared him. Reaching out
with his senses, he felt nothing but the cold night breeze
blowing over his skin on a gentle breath.

He took a deep breath and reached out with his senses again.
Still nothing. No heartbeats, no strange presence as
before. No nothing. On impulse, he entered the quiet
house, which was no longer teaming with forensics crews.
There on the floor was the coagulating pool of blood that
had so excited him before. Now, it merely disgusted him.
It was rotten with age, and unappealing to even his
desperate hunger for living, throbbing blood. The appeal of
the blood was in the soul it contained. So long after
death, even remnant images were hard to pick out and it
ruined the whole experience. Yet...

/Taste it, Nick./ He grimaced, repulsed. Taste it? Yuck!
Just the smell was making him queasy. /Taste it, Nick./ He
spun around on his heels, looking around frantically. Who
was talking to him? He shrugged it off, but still wondered
what on Earth was trying to compel him to taste the sticky,
red liquid. It scared him to think that it was his own
subconscious. Could he have been without human blood for so
long that even the repulsive stuff on the floor was
attracting him in some way?

He stared at the viscous fluid. It looked so tempting and
delicious, despite the fact that his sensitive nose was
telling him otherwise. Strangely, he couldn't stop himself
from placing a finger into the red mess and lifting it back
to his mouth. He retched when it met his tongue. The
spoiled liquid was worse than cow! And yet he couldn't stop
himself from tasting it again...

/We will be one with Abbadon./ A flash of pain speared
through his temples and he bent over as his body failed to
support himself. /Our blood is one./ He cried out as the
images began to assault him. There were eleven other people
around him in a circle. A gleaming, crooked knife slit his
wrist and his own red vampire blood dripped slowly from the
wound because he had no heartbeat to pump it out quickly.

He saw a tall, sandy haired man standing in the middle with
his arms raised towards the heavens. The evil emanating
from the man was strong, so strong that it nearly knocked
Nick to the ground. And the knife slit his wrist. The rain
was pounding on the rooftop. /Our blood is one. Our blood
is one./ The voices got louder and louder until he could
stand it no more. He clutched his temples with his hands,
his eyes squeezed shut as they echoed through his head like
rolls of thunder. /Abbadon, our savior. Abbadon!/ They
cried aloud. They were praying for a God he'd never seen or
heard mentioned... The walls spun around him and threatened
to cave in. The world was spinning around him and he was
still. Suddenly, he knew. He knew that he had to kill
himself. The knife slit his wrist. Spinning. Spinning.
Blurred. And then it all stopped.

He fell to the ground and screamed. Nick opened his eyes
with a start, his eyes an blazing an evil scarlet from the
scene that had been replayed in his mind. Lifting his head
up with a look of pain, a soft cry emanated from his lips.
What had just happened? He had never gotten such
sensations, even from fresh blood. He instinctively let out
a guttural growl before he was able to fully suppress his
vampiric nature once again. Angry with himself for letting
that get so out of hand, he stood up and took a couple deep
breaths, hoping to calm himself.

Evil. His head snapped around like a whip as he glanced
towards the window. It was here. And it had seen him.
God, it had _seen_ him. The feeling of the presence sent
chills down his spine as he raced out the door, only to find
it gone. Looking out into the night, he could see only
blackness. Stupid stupid stupid! Whoever or whatever it
was had seen him, he was sure of it.

He stomped a foot into the muck and grimaced when he could
not immediately escape the suction of the mud. Glancing at
his watch, he noticed that it was an hour until sunrise and
he could hear the telltale melodies of the waking songbirds.
Not that he needed that indicator, he could _feel_ it, a
deep need in the pit of his chest to reach cover and go to
sleep. How long had he been in there?

Trying to remember just when it was that he had landed in
front of the abandoned building, he realized that he had no
concept of the time he'd been there. None. He could've
been absorbed in the imagery for seconds or hours. He
leaned towards the latter, since he hadn't felt the coming
of sunrise like he did now, an urgent tug at the back of his
mind to seek shelter soon or perish.

His breathing became ragged as he started to panic and his
problems compounded into one big palpable mess of confusion.
Now, Nat was mad at him, Schanke probably thought of him as
a complete monster, and someone had seen him as a vampire,
which put himself and everyone he was close to in jeopardy.
Especially if whatever had seen him was as evil as he had
sensed.

Sunrise. Damn! The sky was lightening a bit, bright wisps
of color slowly replacing the blackness, but it was still
quite dark. He took off, even as red tears started to blind
his vision. He had to get out of the sun... Had to warn
Nat... Had to warn the community... Sun. Get out of the
sun. With weariness, hunger, and fear tugging at his
burdened conscience, he could think of only one place to go.

*****

"Nichola! My goodness! Here, drink this," Janette's soft
French accent woke him from his dazed confusion. He'd
somehow managed to make it to the Raven before collapsing
completely from exhaustion. A glass was placed in his hand
and he drank immediately as he was shoved onto a circular
stool.

The human blood burned as it seeped down his throat and he
threw his head back in sheer ecstasy. Somewhere in the back
of his mind, his conscience was telling him to stop.
Stop... It was human. Human! But it tasted so good! His
fangs involuntarily descended as he chugged the rest of the
glass and went for the bottle like an addict on a binge.

He growled basely as he ripped the cork from the unlabeled
bottle with a jerk of his elongated canines. Getting a
euphoric high just from sniffing the bottle, he licked the
rim of the mouth of the bottle. He took in its coldness and
rubbed it against his cheek longingly, purposefully delaying
the ecstasy he had felt to before to make it all the more
sweet. Taking a quick sip first, he stared at the bottle
with lust burning in his chest. God, he wanted to drink the
whole thing then and there. /No, it's wrong! It's human!/
He upended the bottle. /No!/ As the first hint of blood
hit his lips, he threw the bottle to the floor where it
shattered into a mass of bloody goo and glass shards.

"Damnit, Janette!" he cried, his eyes an unchecked ghoulish
amber as he looked at the mess on the floor in disgust.
What was _wrong_ with him?! The hunger induced pain in the
pit of his stomach was slowly receding, but he felt as if
his control was more shaky than it had ever been. Taking a
wobbly breath, he glanced around and noted, thankfully,
that there was no one else there. The Raven had been closed
for the night.

Janette smiled lusciously at him from her position next to
him on a second circular stool, her seductive lips red and
full. "I am sorry Nichola," she began insincerely. "I
simply couldn't resist. You should have drunk it, you know,
it was obvious that you enjoyed it," she said, her voice
seductive and soft. Sitting down next to him, gently so as
not to do something awful to her attractively tight, crushed
velvet maroon dress, she took his hand in hers.

Nick looked down and immediately withdrew, his eyes blazing.
"You _know_ how I feel about drinking human blood..." he
said, not quite meeting her eyes. He knew she would be
looking at him with a mocking glare, and he couldn't take
that... "Damnit, you _know_!" he said softer this time,
almost a cry of defeat. It felt as if all the world had
joined forces against him.

Her lips formed a pouty 'o' as she began to caress his
shoulder with her smooth and graceful fingertips. "But
Nichola, you were so hungry and so tired, I thought..."

He looked at her angrily as he forcefully removed her hand
from his shoulder. "Well then don't think. I don't need
you in place of LaCroix..." He snapped, his tone more
caustic than he had originally intended and he regretted
saying it, almost before it came off his lips. In response,
her eyes grew icy and he could tell she was barely
containing her raw fury.

"Janette, I'm sorry..." he said sincerely, meeting her eyes
with his own in an attempt to prove his words. Her gaze
grew softer, but it was obvious that his remark had affected
her. "I didn't mean that, you know I didn't."

"I know that you did not," she commented, her tone slightly
hurt. Nick didn't know how to respond, so they just sat as
amicably as the situation permitted until Janette finally
broke the silence.

"So..." she said, her voice cutting and just slightly
dejected. "Why are you here? I thought things worked out
with our little scam... Are you not a detective man again?"
she asked with a curiosity in her tone that was rare for
her.

"Yes, that all worked fine," he said, dismissing it quickly
with a swipe of his hand and then continuing. "Someone saw
me, Janette..." he said, fear entering his voice.

"Saw you?" Her voice rose in pitch to indicate a question
was being asked, her tone dripping with insincere innocence.
Janette was playing dumb, but he knew she knew perfectly
well what he meant.

"As a vampire. I just wanted to warn you to keep your eyes
open. If I can't handle this, I may be moving suddenly..."
his voice trailed off as he began to think of the numerous
consequences of being seen, one of which would be having to
leave Nat and Schanke behind, something he wasn't prepared
to do. This was not good.

Janette shook her head. "But what about Natalie?" she
asked, genuinely curious and very unperturbed by the news.
Leaving unexpectedly was all part of life as a vampire, so
it was nothing new.

Nick gave her a harsh look, his eyes condemning pools of
sapphire blue. "Nothing you need to be concerned about..."
he snapped, cruelly. He knew that he was being unfair, but
he couldn't help it. He was tired, worried out of his mind,
and hungry: a bad combination.

Janette put her index finger to his lips. "Oh, Nichola,
please tell me that you haven't made a mess of things
again?" she asked, although not appearing genuinely
interested.

At this point, he didn't care whether she wanted to hear him
or not. He _needed_ to talk to _someone_. His look was
grim, his lips forming a flat line that breached the pasty
whiteness of his alabaster skin. Boy, had he made a mess of
things... "Janette..." he said, his voice cracking slightly
with emotion. God, he couldn't do this anymore. He
couldn't keep acting like it was all ok, because it most
certainly wasn't. He wasn't some invincible stoic!

Janette took him in her arms, silencing him with a fierce
embrace. She didn't need to hear the story. It was
obvious that Nick needed a shoulder to lean on, although she
wondered what Nick could've done that was so bad that
Natalie would not be the provider of the shoulder... He
shuddered in her arms and she could tell he was crying,
albeit he was attempting to hide it.

She ran a hand through his flaxen ruffles of hair in a
soothing gesture and she regretted her earlier cruelty. He
had come to her for help and she had denied him it in favor
of subtle teasing and mockery. She swallowed, and thought,
pained, of how the last year had been so hard on him...
"Nichola... It will be all right. Natalie is a very
forgiving individual..." she said softly, trying to reassure
him as she held him. Nick did not reply.

Janette wondered briefly why exactly she was defending her
competitor for Nichola's attention, but quelled her thoughts
when she remembered how much Nichola had grown attached to
the headstrong mortal woman... In fact, in what little time
she'd spent with Natalie, the woman had made a good
impression on her. She supposed she would always have
Nichola one way or another... and that was good enough for
her. Unless of course he won his quest for mortality, but
that was another matter entirely.

Janette gently stood up with Nick still trembling in her
arms and slowly guided him into her private apartment. She
sat down on her bed and held him, rocking him back and
forth attempting to comfort him as a mother would a crying
baby. He was so like a child... So vulnerable and
innocent. It was strange that his eight hundred years of
sin hadn't taken away that quality that had so attracted her
to him originally.

When he finally fell asleep, she gently unlaced and took off
his muddy shoes, leaving him to sleep in peace. She yawned,
realizing that she would need sleep as well. But first
there was something she needed to do. Walking back out her
small living room, she put her hands on the phone. Where
would she be? She tried the first number that came to mind
with no luck. After looking in the phonebook for a second
number and failing, she had one last idea. She dialed the
number to Nick's loft and was surprised to have the phone
answered on the first ring.

"Nick, is that you? Where are you, it's broad daylight
out!" the frantic feminine voice of Natalie Lambert poured
through the phone line and Janette had to hold the phone
away from her ear until Natalie was finished.

"No, Natalie. I'm sorry, this is Janette," she said into
the receiver, politely interrupting what was going to be
a very long tirade.

There was silence on the other end and then a cautious,
"What do you want?" Janette sighed. And she thought _she_
had been a bit jealous.

"I just wanted to let you know that Nichola is fine, he's
here at my apartment at the Raven," she said, hoping to
dispel Nat's worries.

"Oh," came Nat's response. She sounded very, _very_
jealous. So much for dispelling worries...

Janette was slightly angry that this mortal had so little
trust of her, but quickly reasoned that it was only Nat's
worry that was making it seem so incredibly apparent. She
successfully ignored the many instances which had indeed
proven herself very untrustworthy with regard to Nichola in
favor of continuing the conversation. "I just wished to let
you know. I'm sure that he would not object if you came and
talked to him later. You could come now if you feel like
trying to wake him up..." Actually, he probably would
object, but Natalie did not need to know that.

Silence.

Janette yawned, wondering why Natalie was behaving this way.
Perhaps she had misinterpreted the situation. "I assumed
you had had a fight or something? Was I wrong in thinking
this?" she questioned, desperately fighting the exhaustion
growing in her. Staying awake while the sun was up was so
hard...

"Well... not exactly. You said I can come now?" Nat's
hopeful voice came over the phone. Janette smiled. She'd
been right to call then...

"As I said, if you wish to try and wake him up, go right
ahead... I, however, need to sleep. I will leave a key
for you under the mat outside the door, all right?"
Janette yawned again as she received an affirmative. She
quickly concluded the conversation and walked rather
sleepily back into the Raven with a spare key. The brief
pain of stepping out into the sun to place the key under
the mat was worth it though. Because now, she could sleep.

*****

He walked slowly into the precinct. They were all staring
at him. Staring hard. Cold. Movement was hard under all
the criticizing eyes, but he managed to get to his desk and
sit down. "Why are you here, Nick? Shouldn't you be moving
on?"

Nick turned to face the speaker, Schanke, only to be met
with a crucifix not two inches in front of his eyes. He
involuntarily snarled as he looked away and covered his
eyes. Trembling with fear he sat there with the knowledge
that the religious object had not been removed from his
presence. He could still feel it like an unseen force on
his brow.

"You're a monster, Nick... We all know about your secret.
You should just move on and get the Hell away from us."
Schanke's words bit into him more than the holy cross did,
but he couldn't look. He couldn't bring himself to look.

He felt the offending object push closer towards his exposed
face and he fell to the floor. Grimacing in pain as the
crucifix touched his skin, he rolled into a protective fetal
position. Everyone in the precinct was clapping, cheering
Schanke on with healthy words of encouragement.

The cross withdrew and Nick dared to uncurl himself. "Why
don't you just move on? We don't want you here..."

Gasping, he looked up at Schanke with a stricken look on his
face. "Schanke, why are you doing this?" he asked, praying
silently that Schanke wouldn't attack him with the cross
again.

"Because you're a monster! You're a killer! Just move on
and get away! We don't want you here!" Schanke was yelling
now, his face turning a slight shade of crimson. Everyone
else in the precinct was staring at him, nodding their heads
in agreement.

"No! I'm not like that anymore... I've changed..." his
voice came out in a broken sob, but Schanke started to
advance upon him despite his insistent claims. Nick got up
off the floor and started to back up in a fierce scramble to
avoid the oncoming crucifix.

"No you haven't. You're just the same. Get away. Leave,"
Schanke said in a low tone, the threat in his voice not lost
on Nick in the slightest. Nick stumbled backwards until he
slammed up against the wall.

"Yes, I agree with you, Schanke. Leave Toronto, Nick," a
feminine voice suddenly sounded from somewhere behind his
crazed partner.

Nick gasped. It was Nat. She was standing right behind
Schanke now. How did she get there? He shook his head,
but she was still there, staring at him with a piercing
gaze. "Leave, Nick," she repeated, her voice firm and
unsettlingly cold.

"No! I've changed!" he screamed in denial. Not Nat... He
could deal with Schanke, but not Nat... Anyone but Nat!

"Nick..."

"I swear to God, I'm not a monster!" They weren't
listening! They were all pointing their fingers at him and
advancing upon him, repeating their entreaties for him to
leave.

"Nick..."

Schanke was raising the crucifix as if he was going to use
it a weapon. Nick snarled and released the vampire, but was
smacked in the face by the painful holy object. He crumpled
to the floor, more unwilling to fight back than unable.

"NICK!"

He shot awake, bloodsweat pouring down his face as he
screamed aloud in fright. There were warm hands on him. He
growled and shrugged them off in terror as he scrambled out
of bed, his vision in a red, angry haze of vampire. "I'M
NOT A MONSTER!" he yelled, his voice marred by the deep
tones of his vampiric side.

"Nick, it's all right. You were having a nightmare..." a
soothing voice assured him through the haze of madness.

He blinked, finally registering his surroundings. He was in
Janette's bedroom, and Nat was looking at him worriedly from
her position next to the bed. "Nat..." he said in a sob as
he stood there shaking. He felt like he was going to burst
into a million pieces of shattered soul. He'd had some
whopper nightmares... but... Taking a deep breath, he tried
to still his violently trembling hands and quiet the raging
vampire.

Apparently taking his acknowledgement of her presence as
encouragement, Natalie walked over to him and embraced him
tightly. This time, her warm hands did not frighten him,
and he readily accepted her embrace. Even as she stood
there though, he could feel his hunger growing at the sound
of her strong heartbeat.

He unconsciously licked his lips before he was finally able
to subdue the vampire. Luckily, Nat did not seem to be
paying attention to his lacking control. Either that, or
she was being very discrete in her acknowledgement of it.

Sighing with a heavy breath, he finally felt the terror of
the horrible nightmare receding into the depths of his
psyche. It bothered him. A lot. First because it revealed
how insecure he was about Schanke knowing 'the secret', and
second because it was very plausible. Sort of. At least
the part about Schanke getting all freaked out about his
partner being a vampire...

"Nick?" It was Nat who finally broke the silence. "I'm
sorry about Schanke... I felt it would be better if he knew
everything rather than being stuck in the dark like I was
for so long. I didn't stop to think about how upset it
would make you until it was too late..." she said sincerely.

Nick looked at Nat in shock, disengaging their embrace to
obtain eye contact. He had blatantly screwed up earlier by
leaving, he'd lost control at a crime scene to the point
that _Nat_ had had to cover for him, he hadn't come back to
the loft and didn't tell Nat where he was, consequently
making her very worried, probably, and he'd... he'd bitten
her hence creating a very uncomfortable situation with her
and Schanke... And _she_ was apologizing? Good lord...

"Nat, stop. I'm the one who should be apologizing..." he
was stopped in mid-sentence when she placed a finger on his
lips to silence him.

"No, Nick. Let's just stop now and start on a clean slate,
ok? When you didn't come home in the morning, I got to
thinking. I realized, belatedly, that diving right in after
a year of practical starvation is taxing you beyond your
limits, and that you're bound to slip up in the control
department. Making love is obviously not easy for you to
do, and on top of that you've started work again, you've
gone back to bovine blood, and you're trying to deny the
vampire whenever it pops up, which is compounding the
problem even further..." Nat took a deep breath, recovering
from her bout of discourse.

Nick pulled her close and laid his head on top of hers.
What on Earth had he done to deserve such a wonderful,
understanding woman? "Well even, so," he paused with a
grimace as he remembered the two, neat little puncture
wounds on his beloved's neck, "I'm sorry." Closing his
eyes, he took a deep breath.

Nat said nothing in response to that, and they merely stood
there enjoying each other's company for a short while until
Nat once again broke the lengthening silence. "Nick? What
exactly is it that has been bothering you lately? You've
been unsettled ever since yesterday morning during
breakfast, and even a little bit before that..." she
questioned, genuinely concerned. Her tone was not the
least bit accusing, and it was obvious that she was
sticking to her decision to wipe the slates, as they say.

Nick swallowed hard. What exactly, precisely, specifically,
was bothering him anyway? The answer was so simple, and yet
how could he put it into words without making it sound
ridiculous? "I... I..." Nat was looking at him
expectantly. He had to think of something that didn't sound
lame...

Oh well. He finally made the decision to just dive right in
and hope for the best. "At breakfast, when I was kissing
you..."

"Which I very much enjoyed by the way..." Nat interrupted,
attempting to encourage him and make him feel more
comfortable.

He gave her a weak smile and then continued, "I... I was
trying really hard not to bite you, but when I saw the bite
marks I made earlier I... I... well I _liked_ it!"

Nat looked at him with a raised eyebrow. God, she thought
he was being silly... He would have blushed in
embarrassment if he could have. She took a deep breath and
spoke. "Nick, I don't mean to be a nitpicker, but isn't
that natural for a vampire?"

"But see? That's just it. I don't want to enjoy you like
a vampire... I... It's... Oh Hell..." He stomped his
foot lightly on the lusciously carpeted floor when the words
failed to form on his lips. There was so much that he
wanted to say, and yet... he just couldn't say it.

"Nick, I know it's hard for you. I really do, but you _are_
a vampire. Granted, we're trying to cure you, but you're
not mortal yet, so why don't you just try and live with what
you have? You've loved me better than any mortal man I know
ever could, both emotionally and physically. That's not
something you should be ashamed of..." she said, her eyes
imploring him to understand what she was saying. "It's not
like I'm asking you to kill again, or act all vamped like
last night, just work with what you have, Nick," she added
with a slight curve of her lips that hinted at a smile.

"I... I know... I just need some time. I'm trying to get
used to this, I really am..." he protested softly, his voice
betraying the defeat he felt. Giving in to the vampire was
like saying all his past sins were okay, that the years he'd
spent struggling against it were all pointless. At least,
that's what it felt like to him, even if Nat didn't see it
that way.

"I know, Nick. You can have all the time you want, but
please, _please_ tell me when something is bothering you
rather than keeping it bottled up inside. It'll only hurt
you in the long run if you don't express yourself..." she
implored him.

Nick nodded slightly in response. It was all so
overwhelming. He was so used to keeping all his emotions
tucked away for only his viewing and sampling. He wasn't
used to having someone to share stuff with. True, he had
always had Janette and LaCroix, but they just weren't the
same. Janette usually mocked him if it had something to do
with his feelings about mortals or about not liking being a
vampire in general, and LaCroix... well, LaCroix was, no,
_had been_, he corrected himself, LaCroix.

But now, now there were other things to deal with... "So
what did Schanke do after I left? He probably thinks I'm
a monster..." /I am a monster, what else is there to
think?/ he added in his head.

Nat shook her head. "I think he's okay with it, although
I can't say for sure. He did seem a bit disturbed at first,
but he looked better by the end of our discussion," she said
firmly, almost as if she were trying to convince herself as
well as him.

So... Things were undetermined in the Schanke department.
Nick swallowed, his tongue thick in his mouth, as his mind
flashed back to the terrible events of the nightmare.
Hopefully he would be able to fix everything before Schanke
got out of hand. It was _way_ too late to hypnotize Schanke
into forgetting what he had seen, so whatever happened,
whatever course of action Nick chose, would be permanent,
with permanent consequences.

And all that left was... It. Whatever had seen him. It
sent shivers down his spine just thinking about it, and yet
when he thought about it, the presence felt _so_ familiar.
He shuddered in Nat's arms despite his attempts to control
his sudden fear.

"Nick? Nick what is it?" Nat said, her voice slightly
worried. Nick wasn't affected by coldness, and it wasn't
even cold in here. So why was he shivering?

Nick looked at Nat, his eyes troubled. "Nat... I... We
might have a problem..." He took a deep breath and prepared
to relay the events of last night.

*****

"Well partner, I must say you look a bit better today!"
Schanke's cheerful voice was very surprising to Nick,
although he could detect a hint of nervousness that hadn't
been there before. Nick could see that he was being very
carefully watched, but there were still no open threats or
anything, which he supposed was a good thing.

He eyed Schanke warily as he sat down at his desk in the
bustling precinct. Nick knew he couldn't say anything here,
what with such a large audience that could listen in... And
he knew they were listening in and watching him. There was
already a pool going on when he would make his first arrest
and reassume the role of supercop extraordinaire. There was
also a pool on whether he and Nat would get married and
there was also one on when, but that was still going from
before. Oddly enough, the pool had never been closed after
his alleged death.

When Nick said nothing, Schanke took it as anger and plunged
onward in conversation. "Nick, I'm sorry about last night,
I didn't mean to... pry," the balding detective stated
cautiously. Apparently, he thought that Nick was mad at
him.

"Don't worry about it. I trust you got the answers you
sought?" Nick questioned cautiously, carefully avoiding
direct reference to anything that had been said in the morgue
the night before.

Schanke nodded, almost imperceptibly. He had gotten more
than what he sought, that much was clear to Nick right away.
And what was that he saw in his eyes. Fear? Maybe a
little. At the back of his mind, he thanked God that
Schanke wasn't raving mad like so many people would be...
Or at least like the people that he had been careless enough
to reveal himself to in the past...

They sat there, simply looking at each other for a brief few
minutes, not saying a word. Nick grew more nervous as time
went on, but was not going to break the silence if Schanke
wasn't... At least not there in the precinct.

"Knight! Schanke!" The captain's voice shot through the
silence like a cannon, and Nick almost cringed at the harsh
invasion. Both he and Schanke looked up at Cohen's
approaching form with some apprehension. Neither of them
had exactly been doing work the past few minutes, perhaps
she had noticed.

She hadn't. "We've got an ID on one of your bodies. One
Melanie Thomas. The husband tried to file a missing
person's report," Cohen said flatly as she brushed a stray
lock of jet black hair to the side. She had never been one
to let her emotions show, and now was no exception.

"Sure Cap, we'll get on it right away," Nick said, the
first to recover from her sudden intrusion. He nodded to
her when she gave him a sheet of paper with all the
particulars on it. And then she was gone.

Nick looked down at the sheet somewhat sadly. Melanie
Thomas. Married, age 25. So young... And she had a
family. It was terrible when someone died, but for Nick,
it felt even worse when he thought about the loved ones
left behind. He simply knew too much about losing people
close to him to ignore the tragedy of it all like many
hardened cops nowadays did.

"Nick? Wakey wakey! C'mon, let's get a move on!" Schanke's
voice shook Nick from his thoughts.

"Right, sure," Nick said absently. So many deaths... He
dwelled on the past for a few minutes more, until he
realized that he was sitting in the Caddy and about ready
to drive. Driving while musing wasn't always the best
course of action; he knew that from experience.

He forced his eyes onto the road and then his mind to the
problem at hand. Melanie Thomas. Out of the corner of his
eye he saw Schanke looking at him. What was he thinking?
Nick wasn't sure he wanted to know, suspecting that it was
most likely bad.

Schanke looked at Nick, attempting to make it not glaringly
obvious that he was doing so. His partner looked so... so
human. It was hard to imagine that he was so incredibly far
from it. How many people had Nick killed? A hundred? A
thousand? A million? It was very hard to tell. Nick had
said he was... what, eight hundred years old? Even if he
only spent 100 years killing, that was still quite a few
people.

Schanke shivered at the thought. He knew Nick repented his
actions, but he had seen Nick on many a murderous rampage
before... He just hadn't associated it with a blood sucking
creature of the night... All those times he had gotten
there first, caught a perp when it was seemingly impossible,
that had all been the vampire. Carefully controlled by
Nick. Just what precisely would happen if Nick were to lose
control? Just for an instant? He'd already seen some close
calls.

He'd also seen the results of a vampire kill, although he
hadn't known it at the time. Schanke could recall at least
half a dozen instances in which there had been the same bite
marks on murder victims that there had been on Natalie. But
Nick? Could Nick ever do that? Nat had said that Nick
hadn't killed anyone for food in over a hundred years.
Interesting distinction. That probably meant he had killed
_someone_.

Thoughts of Nick with his vampiric visage raced through
Schanke's head a mile a minute. He managed to scare himself
into a cold sweat, and he was certain that Nick could hear
his panicked breathing and... and his heartbeat. He'd almost
forgotten his partner's extrasensitive hearing. If it
weren't for the blood sucking thing, it was almost like he
had Superman for a partner.

"Schanke, are you alright? We're here..." Nick's voice
interrupted his thoughts.

"Here?" Schanke asked, his voice a squeak of surprise.

"Yeah, you know, Melanie Thomas?" Nick said patiently, it
was pretty obvious what Schanke had been thinking about,
since his hands were unconsciously clasped protectively
around his neck. When Schanke saw Nick looking at him,
however, he quickly lowered his hands.

"Sorry, let's go," Schanke said, distractedly.

They were in a small suburban area surrounded by quaint
little houses, all neatly shuttered and painted in
identical block lots. Schanke smiled as he got out of
the car. It was like his neighborhood almost.

Nick pointed to a small red brick house, with flower
beds lining front. It was rather pretty, from what Schanke
could see in the limited light. They walked up the to the
entryway and Nick knocked firmly on the door while Schanke
looked around more, admiring the pretty lawn. Melanie
must've been a gardener. Or maybe the husband. You never
knew these days...

A tall, dark haired man with red rimmed eyes answered the
door. "Yes?" he said hesitantly to Nick and Schanke.

Schanke was the first one to respond. "Mr. Thomas?" he
questioned, although he was certain that this was the guy.
He looked like he had been crying a lot. Poor man...

"Yes..." the man said hesitantly.

"I'm Detective Schanke, and this is Detective Knight.
We're here about your wife?" Schanke said as he flashed
his badge towards the man.

The man nodded quickly. "Yes, yes, right," he exclaimed
hurriedly. "I wasn't expecting plainclothes officers.
Would you like to come in?"

Nick nodded as both he and Schanke were led into the house.
They were both seated in a small foyer before either could
utter a word.

"What would you like from me?" the man asked, aware that
their visit was not simply a condolence visit.

"Mr. Thomas," Schanke said as he settled in his seat,
"What can you tell us about what Melanie was doing on the
night she died?"

"Anthony Barre," the man uttered with a low voice, his eyes
growing narrow. Nick had seen that look before. It was
pure, unadulterated hate.

"Excuse me? Who is Anthony Barre?" Nick asked, perplexed
at the simple utterance. What could possibly generate such
animosity?

"That's the bastard killed my baby. That is what you
wanted to know, right?" Mr. Thomas looked at them with a
stone cold glare, his cheeks flushing red as he did so.

"What reason do you have to suspect this man of killing
your wife?" Schanke asked, calmly.

"The bloody pagan seduced her. She was at a meeting the
night she disappeared. Damnit, I warned her not to go!"
Mr. Thomas looked down at his hands. They were shaking.
"She wouldn't listen to me..." he whispered, sitting
dangerously quiet as a tear slid unchecked down his cheek.

Although he wanted to console the man, Nick tried to ignore
it. They had a job to do. "Bloody pagan?" he asked, "Was
she in a cult?" If their hypothesis was correct, their job
would be just a bit easier.

The man was able to nod before he started wildly sobbing.
"I'm sorry about your loss sir, but do you know anything
more specific?" Nick asked, trying to get more information
from the man and hating himself at the same time for having
to be so callous.

Mr. Thomas didn't answer, and merely continued to sob.
Schanke attempted to quiet the man with reassurances, but it
did no good. The pair of detectives got up and hastily left
the house, leaving the weeping man to his privacy. It was
so terrible when a family member was left behind to
grieve...

Schanke wiped his brow in relief as they closed the door
behind him. "Well, at least we have a name to go on now...
Watch it be just our luck that there are over a dozen
Anthony Barre's listed in Toronto..." Schanke said good-
humoredly, trying to lighten up the atmosphere a bit after
that saddening encounter with the dead woman's husband.

Nick nodded distractedly as they got into the Caddy and took
off back for the precinct. They had some research to do,
and luckily he could avoid Schanke's uncomfortable staring
now that they had an objective...

*****

The minute that they walked through the door, Cohen flagged
them down. "I hope you've made some progress because the
press just got a hold of this one and now the mayor's all
over me for some results.

"I hate to say it, Cap, but we've got nothing but a name,
Anthony Barre, and we haven't had a chance to check him out
yet," Schanke replied with a grim look. This case was going
slowly. Two days and they only had one lead, and a small
one at that.

Cohen gave a slightly miffed nod. "Keep working. I want
this solved," she commented tersely, her eyes betraying her
annoyance. With that, she walked back into her office,
barely suppressing a sigh.

Nick looked at Schanke with wide eyes. Cohen was already
cracking down on them hard and it had only been _two_ days.
Hell, not even that long. "I'll check Barre in the
computer, all right?" he asked. With a nod from Schanke,
Nick sat down hurriedly and typed in the query. The guy had
no record, he was clean. Not even an unpaid parking ticket.
At least there was only one... Thank goodness for small
miracles.

It was then that he noticed Cohen rushing from her office
and back towards them. "Gentlemen, you might have a
problem. Sommers and Westover just got called out three
hours ago on this one. This file just got delivered to
me," she said curtly as she handed the folder to Schanke
with a grim look on her face.

Schanke read the file quickly; Nick could see his eyes
darting from left to right. When Nick maneuvered himself
behind Schanke to read over his shoulder, his partner let
out a low whistle. "Nick, it looks like our lead... is
dead," he said in amazement.

"What!?" Nick snatched the file from Schanke and read it
for himself. Anthony Barre had been pronounced dead at the
scene due to cuts in the wrists, similar to those of the
group suicide. There was no identifying symbol on the cheek
however. Nick felt his blood run cold when he saw the
photos of the guy lying in a puddle of his own blood. The
autopsy had not been done yet, but there was little else
that would probably be revealed. Nick skimmed down to the
bottom of the page, and found that the file was indeed
authentic. Right there at the bottom was Nat's signature.

Nick felt his whole world crashing down on top of him. He
had been confident that if they found Anthony Barre, his
problems would be solved. He would arrest Barre, and he
would also be able to determine how much damage control was
necessary towards protecting his secret. Now they were back
at square one. And he didn't know if Barre was the one who
had seen him, or if Barre's unknown killer had been the one
to witness his more otherworldly qualities. God, what a
mess.

He placed the folder back into Cohen's hands with a look of
pure anger. "Is this absolute positive identification?
Where was he found?" he questioned his commanding officer.
He wanted answers. And he wanted them now.

Cohen nodded an affirmative. "Yes, it's a positive
identification. Mr. Barre was carrying his license with
him. He was found in an alley in the warehouse district,
very near your neck of the woods in fact..."

Nick shook with rage. Someone had killed Barre right near
his own home? This was getting awfully close to home,
pardon the pun, and he was beginning to suspect that this
was all some intricate plan to trap him. Whatever had seen
him that night seemed to be taking action, and it definitely
wasn't Barre. "I want to see the alley where he was found,"
he said, his voice low with tightly controlled anger. He
would solve this if it killed him.

Schanke was the first to protest. "But Nick, forensics
already scoured the area... Just what do you hope to find?"
he questioned, a suspicious tone entering his voice.

"Whatever the damn forensics teams missed!" Nick snapped
coldly. He could feel the beast rising in his chest,
waiting for the hunt to begin... Noticing that Schanke was
looking at him strangely, he closed his eyes and took a deep
breath. He had to stay calm, or all was lost.

"Well, I'll leave you gentlemen to decide on a course of
action. Keep me posted, all right?" Cohen questioned,
although it was more of a command than it was a query. With
that, she disappeared back into her office.

As soon as she had left, Schanke went off on his partner.
"Nick? What the Hell is the matter with you?!" Schanke
exclaimed wildly. "Jeez, we'll go, you don't need to get
all bent out of shape like that..." he said, shaking his
head at his silently seething partner.

Nick let out a slow sigh, trying desperately to relax
himself. He had a terrible urge to just ditch Schanke and
go on a one man crusade to find the murderer. But he knew
that would be foolish, in this instance. "I'm sorry Schank,
this one is just getting to me a bit..."

Schanke snorted at the understatement. "Yeah, I'll bet,"
he mumbled under his breath as he grabbed his coat and his
keys.

*****

The alley was dark, it's gaping jaws of blackness straining
to encompass even further out of its realm. The distant
squeaking of various rodent type pests were like screeching
in Nick's ears as they echoed off the sides of the decrepit
warehouse buildings, but he ignored it with his usual
selective hearing. "Is this the right alley, Schanke?"

Schanke, standing beside him silently, nodded slowly in
affirmative as he looked around. This didn't look right at
all. He checked the address and noted that it was indeed
correct.

"Well then where's all the crime scene tape? You'd think
there'd a least be _someone_ here..." Nick complained,
annoyed that some vandal might have already destroyed any
evidence that could have been gotten from this little trip.
He looked around with his enhanced night vision, and saw
that there was still chalk markings where the body had been
in addition to a large red stain on the pavement.

Nick pointed to the chalk with an outstretched hand, "Well
there's where the body was. The chalk is still there...
but I don't see anything else to indicate that this is a
crime scene..." he said absently as he continued to look
around.

Schanke strained to peer into the darkness. "Jeez, Nick,
I can't see that at all! How can you...? Oh... yeah,
right. I forgot," Schanke commented as soon as he
remembered the company he was in. Ugh. Vampires. There
were just too many of them...

Nick glanced around some more, looking for any clues. Any
at all. Something... He looked up towards the end of the
alley. Something wasn't right... The hair on the back of
his neck stood up as he felt it. The same presence as
before. It was approaching them slowly and again Nick was
struck with its familiarity.

"Schanke..." he didn't even have a chance to finish
uttering a warning before he heard a metallic twang and he
rushed in front of his partner to protect him. He gasped
as he felt something strike him in the chest with a painful
prick. He stumbled, feeling sleepy and incredibly ill all
at the same time. "Schaaank, runnn," he managed to say with
a slow exhale, like a walkman running out of batteries. He
could see his partner just standing there, staring at him
dumbly. No... Staring past him. The thing was still
approaching.

The ground was coming towards him with an alarming
suddenness, and he vaguely saw what looked to be LaCroix as
he hit the ground with a painful slap. Wait... LaCroix?
He was standing over him, watching him with an evil grin.
Nick felt his thought processes slowing down as he blinked
with a terrible slowness. "LuuuuCwaaaaa?" he asked, and
then he blacked out, never having received an answer.

*****

Schanke stared in horror as his partner dashed in front of
him and then proceeded to stumble to the ground. He'd been
hit with something... "Nick!" he called out as he bent
over his partner.

"Schaaaank, runnn" his partner cried slowly... He'd been
drugged! There was a tiny red dart sticking out of Nick's
chest, and Schanke wondered briefly what could've possibly
brought down a vampire so quickly. He moved to pull the
dart out, but stopped when he saw what was approaching him.

It was a tall, blond man with very short hair. He was right
in front of them now, and Schanke was immediately struck
with the thought that running would be pointless. Not to
mention the fact that there was no way he would leave Nick
behind helpless like this...

"LuuuuCwaaaaa?" was the last thing his partner uttered
before going completely silent. Schanke looked at their
strange companion, who was just staring for the moment. He
could see the resemblance... But Nick was so out of it he
probably would've thought Madonna was Gandhi, so the mistake
was understandable.

Schanke looked at the man, daringly, his eyes darting down
to Nick and back. Hopefully that drug wasn't lethal...
"Who are you? What do you want?" he demanded as he raised
his gun from his holster. His sort of captor grinned
wickedly.

"Neither is of your concern at this point in time," the man
said, his voice low and foreboding. It sent shivers down
Schanke's spine. The mysterious man then pointed to a white
van that had magically appeared at the mouth of the alley.
"Put your friend in the back," he ordered Schanke.

Schanke stayed put, his gun still raised. He dared a look
down at Nick. His partner was completely out, and a fine
red sheen had developed over his alabaster skin as he
shivered. Whatever drug he'd been given, it was obviously a
pretty nasty one.

Suddenly, faster than he could see, the man whisked the gun
right out of Schanke's hands and into his own. Schanke
could only stare in amazement as his captor pointed to him
with the gun. He prayed silently that the wacko wouldn't
shoot... "If you do not move him, I will just kill him
here..." the man said, gesturing menacingly with the raised
gun.

Schanke swallowed hard. This guy was dead serious... He
bent down and grabbed Nick under the shoulders. After
dragging him all the way to the van, he hoisted Nick up and
put him in the back. Hopping in behind his fallen partner,
he prayed ferociously that he was doing the right thing...

*****

It was cold, and he felt absolutely terrible. He woke up
only soon enough to vomit up his last meal onto the cold,
hard floor. His veins were burning, and he shook violently.

"Nick? Are you awake?" Schanke's hesitant voice barely
cut through his nausea.

/Yes, but I wish to God I wasn't.../ Nick looked up into
the darkness with crimson eyes. He shivered uncontrollably
and his fangs clicked as they hit his lower incisors.
Coughing, he realized his lungs were burning too, but the
stench of the dart lying next to him was what gave it away.
Garlic. He'd been shot up with garlic.

He vomited again, his stomach contracting wildly, and more
of his most recent meal emptied onto the floor. Warm hands
grabbed him from behind. "Nick, don't worry. I'll figure
some way out of this..." he heard Schanke say worriedly.

"Sch... Schank..." Nick managed to sob as he continued to
shake and shiver. Schanke's steadying hands were all that
was keeping him from falling over. It was funny, he could
hear Schanke's steadily throbbing heart against his back,
but he had absolutely no desire to take any blood. The
garlic shooting through his system was probably responsible
for that too. God, he felt awful.

"God, Nick. I'll figure something out..."

Nick merely stared straight ahead, little driblets of blood
slowly making their way down his chin from the corners of
his mouth. He'd never been this sick before in his life, at
least not as a vampire. But then again, he'd never had
garlic poisoning.

The floor below him jerked violently, and it was then that
Nick realized that they were moving... "Where... where are
we?" He looked around blindly, not able to discern where it
was that they were being held. Even scarier, he couldn't
tell if it was his vision going, or if it was just
exceedingly dark.

Schanke sighed behind him, exasperated. "I don't know!
We've been riding in this stupid van for almost an hour!"

Nick felt another wave of nausea and he heaved in Schanke's
grasp, but luckily nothing came up. Groaning in misery, he
nearly choked on his own spittle as he leaned forward. He
was so cold... "God, Nick. What's wrong with you? Tell me
what to do!"

Nick snaked his own arms around Schanke's, holding onto
them tightly as if his life depended on it. "Gar...lic"
was all he could manage to say, but Schanke appeared to get
the message. Unable to focus, Nick simply stared off into
space through amber tinted vision. He was vaguely aware
that Schanke was wrapping him in his coat...

Schanke stared down at his very ill partner with worry
after he had made him as comfortable as possible. Although
it was not lethal at the moment, Schanke had no idea what
the effects of prolonged garlic poisoning would do to a
full fledged vampire... or a half fledged one at that, if
there was such a thing. He simply didn't know, and not
knowing was making him worry more than the actual situation
at hand.

Although he had already done so, he nervously fingered the
latch on the door of the van. It was still locked as it had
been before. Damn. What the heck was he supposed to do?
He had a very sick friend who couldn't even stand up, let
alone defend himself and a superhuman enigmatic captor who
had yet to reveal his intentions...

Schanke's heart lurched in his chest when he felt the van
finally come to a stop. Judging from the sound, they were
on a gravel road, probably reasonably far from civilization.
He heard the door slam.

God, think, Schanke, think! What was he going to do?
Footsteps. Wait. A superhuman captor... The latch was
opening and Schanke reflexively grabbed the dart that Nick
had been shot with. With a mighty heave, he threw it at
the door.

The timing was perfect, it hit the strange man in the chest
just as he opened the door. He snarled wildly, fangs
exposed. Schanke had been right, it was a vampire...
"That! Was a very foolish thing to do..." the man said as
he ripped the used dart from his chest. The residue on the
needle hadn't been enough to incapacitate him, but rather
only mildly irritate him.

"Who are you? Why do you want Nick?" Schanke demanded,
putting himself protectively between Nick and the enraged
vampire as Nick had done for him with the garlic dart...
/What are you doing, Donny? You're going to get yourself
killed!/ He ignored his conscience and held his ground as
the vampire stared coldly at him.

"I am Infaustus. I want revenge for the death of my
father!" the vampire said angrily. The death of his father?
What was this, some kind of whacked out Hamlet?

"Um, Nick here hasn't contributed to the death of anyone
recently that I know of... Could you be more specific?"
Schanke asked Infaustus. /You suicidal MORON... You think
he's going to answer that?/

The vampire just smiled and grabbed Schanke harshly by the
arm, throwing him onto the ground with unnatural force.
Damn. Schanke realized he'd gotten in way over his head.
He simply wasn't strong enough to fend off a wacko vampire.
Shaking his head, he watched in horror as the vampire
picked up a helpless Nick, who lay limp in the enemy's
strong arms.

"Please, please don't hurt him! There must be some way we
can work this out!" Schanke pleaded as Infaustus carried
his vulnerable partner into a nearby wood cabin. It felt
weird to be completely ignored... It was if Infaustus
thought of him as a mere fly, annoying yet easily slapped.
However, it struck Schanke that that was exactly what a
mortal was to a vampire...

Schanke raced after the vampire, wondering why Infaustus
was taking so long. Didn't people who wanted revenge
generally wish to carry it out quickly? None of this was
making sense...

Once inside the small unwindowed one room cabin, Infaustus
placed Nick on a long wooden table and laid him out
lengthwise. It looked oddly like a funeral pyre...
Infaustus turned to face Schanke, who was painfully noticing
that Nick wasn't making any move to defend himself
whatsoever. He was just lying there shaking.

"There is no way to work this out, foolish mortal. I've
waited for this moment for far too long to have you
negotiate your way out of it. It is _my_ right of
vengeance!"

Schanke just looked at him dumbly. Right of vengeance?
This was all sounding just a bit too strange, but then it
occurred to him how long this vampire may have been trailing
them, waiting and planning to strike... "Was this entire
cult case a ruse?"

The vampire smiled, reveling in his own supposed cunning.
"Yes, I knew that it would draw him out... Anthony was a
pawn... His disciples were easily manipulated into thinking
that they must die for their God, Abbadon..."

Schanke swallowed hard. This vampire had killed over a
dozen people, just to get to Nick... It made sense though.
A vampire could easily convince a person to kill himself or
herself with a little hypnotic push... But... The pieces
still didn't quite fit... If this were true, why was he
waiting to kill him and Nick? Why bother driving fifty
miles or so outside the city?

Infaustus laughed at Schanke's look of horror. "I shall
enjoy hunting you..." he said as he turned back to Nick. He
harshly slapped at Nick's face. "Fight back, you fool! I
want a challenge!" he roared.

Nick looked up at him weakly, but was obviously unable to
move much if at all. He merely turned his head to the side
and vomited all over Infaustus's black pants and shirt.

Infaustus wiped at his shirt disgustedly with his hands.
"You little..." he screamed, unable to complete his sentence
he was so enraged.

Schanke began to realize what was going on... It was a hunt
that this vampire wanted. Not just a kill! He'd put Nick
on a wild goose chase with the cult just to draw him in for
the kill. And now that he had him, he wanted to delay even
further by getting Nick to fight... And Schanke vaguely
realized that he was next, brought along as a finale in this
vicious little scheme of fulfilling the vampire's urge to
hunt.

He was startled out of his reverie by Infaustus's harsh
attempts to rouse Nick. "Come on, you pathetic little whelp!
Get up!" Infaustus yelled as he backhanded Nick with a
lighting fast slap of his hand. His nails drew bloody
scratches across Nick's face and Schanke could hear Nick
moaning pitifully.

Schanke looked wildly around for something, anything! But
there was nothing. Nothing that he could use at all. The
sparsely furnished cabin contained that one table that Nick
was on, as well as a chair and a few other necessities,
but nothing that Schanke could possibly use as a weapon...
It was hopeless. If he were to try and physically intervene
as is, he would be tossed aside, just as before.

"Why... are you doing this... to me?" Nick managed to moan
despite the onslaught, the words weeping off his lips as if
they themselves were painful. He looked up at Infaustus
with pleading eyes as he continued to tremble, his teeth
still clicking as they chattered. Anything to make him
stop...

Infaustus looked at Nick with rage. "You don't remember do
you? He never told you!" he exclaimed, the anger and
jealousy dripping from his words.

FLASHBACK - PARIS 1226 AD

The blood trickled slowly down from his busted lip as he
stared up at LaCroix from the cold stone floor. Janette was
standing in the corner quietly, her brown hair a flaming
halo around her head, and although her eyes filled with a
quiet rage, she was not making any move to participate. Her
dress was hanging in rags, torn from her previous struggle
and barely covering her sinuous curves. Her left eye was
slightly puffy where he had hit her as well... But that was
no reason for LaCroix to get all upset!

"LaCroix! Please stop, I won't do it again..." he pleaded
as he picked his broken body up off the floor. LaCroix
looked at him with a cold glare, and Infaustus could feel
his own heartbeat speed up to an almost detectable rate in
response. "Please, Master, I was wrong. I won't do it
again!"

LaCroix growled deep in his throat, his eyes red with fury
as he slapped his sniveling vampire child back to the floor
with a resounding crack. "What you have done is
inexcusable! You will NEVER bother Janette again with your
overeager sex drive!"

Infaustus shuddered involuntarily, never having seen
LaCroix so angry in his four hundred years of vampiric
life...

"I'm sorry! Please, please forgive me!" he said, sobbing.

LaCroix stared at him with utter amazement. "You virtually
raped her," he boomed, pointing to Janette, "when the very
reason why I brought her across was that so she would be
able to protect herself from men like _you_, and you expect
me to forgive you!"

Infaustus laid himself on the floor in a submissive
position, trying desperately to avoid LaCroix's wrath.
"I'm sorry! I swear on my life, I'm sorry! Please, don't
hurt me! I won't do it again, I swear, I swear!" he
pleaded as he looked down to the floor with tears in his
eyes.

"You're right, you won't do it again," LaCroix threatened
menacingly. "Get out of my sight, I never want to see you
again!" He snarled and pointed to the heavy wooden door
with his index finger.

"But, LaCroix! You can't... Please, no!" he insisted, his
tone begging forgiveness, but it was obvious to him that
LaCroix was not planning on yielding to his pleas.

The room grew deathly quiet for an instant, almost as if
time had stopped, but when Infaustus looked up into
Janette's seething eyes, he knew it was over. The hate
flowing though the precarious link between them was
suffocating. LaCroix would never ignore such a broadcast,
and whatever Janette wanted, Janette got.

Sure enough, LaCroix stared at him with malice and
threatened him again. "I let you do as you wished, I
protected you, I cared for you and this is how you repay
that, by taking advantage of your younger sister! I will
not be so foolish as to make the same mistakes with my next
child! Now get out!" He flashed his fangs with a wide
grimace, his snarl rumbling deeply in his broad chest.

Infaustus looked at his vampire father with red blood
tears in his eyes. "But I'm sorry..." he whispered on a
breath of regret, completely ignoring the pain of his
wounds. A tear slipped down his cheek unhindered. He only
wanted to be accepted and loved...

"Get. Out," LaCroix said once more, his tone oozing low
with quiet fury.

Infaustus could tell he wasn't going to get another
warning. It was actually surprising that he was still alive
now. He fled out the door, tears streaming down his face.
Somehow he would gain LaCroix's acceptance... Somehow...

THE PRESENT

Infaustus came back to the present seething. For a few
seconds he just stood there shaking with uncontrollable rage
until he finally lost himself to his anger, erupting out of
the haunting silence like a crazed animal. His eyes a
disconcerting scarlet, he whipped around and smashed the
chair by the table to the floor, where it broke into dozens
of splintered pieces. "Do you have _any_ idea how that made
me feel?!" he screamed as he turned back to his captive.

"Rejected by my own father! I tried so hard to gain back
his acceptance, but once he brought _you_ across he wouldn't
even talk to me, even when you were off on some damn
idealistic quest to get away from him." Infaustus was
ranting now, his hands making wild gestures as he paced back
and forth haphazardly.

Schanke could see that he was dangerously close to the edge,
but Infaustus continued. "And then, on top of all that, I
had to watch you and Janette... _consummate_! Why was I
punished and not _you_?! He always liked _YOU_ when he
should've liked _ME_! Why didn't he like ME?" Infaustus's
voice had reached a terribly high pitch as he finished his
sentence.

Nick watched Infaustus with worried fright. LaCroix had had
another vampire child, whom neither Janette nor LaCroix had
told him about, who had been disowned by LaCroix for abusing
Janette. He had nothing to do with any of it. Hell, this
had happened before he even knew vampires existed. And now
it was going to kill him, and then Schanke.

"You ruined my life and then you killed LaCroix before I
could get back in his good graces. He always liked you,
even when you were being a recalcitrant little brat. He let
you be blatantly disobedient and he condemned me for ONE
lousy broken rule. It's NOT FAIR! I want you dead slowly
and painfully, you little bastard!" That was when he
snapped, plunging off the fine edge he'd been walking on and
into the abyss below. He spun around and prepared to make a
final strike, his teeth and eyes gleaming in the darkness of
the dimly lit cabin.

Nick started to sit up, able to move only because he was
fueled by his will to stay alive. Infaustus, however,
forcefully pushed him back down onto the table and leaned
over, his fangs getting dangerously close to Nick's neck.
Nick was able to squirm a little bit in his grasp, but came
short of actually escaping from Infaustus's iron grip.

Schanke watched the scene in utter horror, his mind racing.
He had to do something. Something... WAIT!!! "You're
wrong! I killed LaCroix!" he screamed out, praying that it
would get the crazed vampire's attention.

It did. Quicker than Schanke could see, Infaustus turned,
his eyes filled with surprise... "What?!" he said, his
voice low and full of disbelief, lower lip quivering as if
he was about to explode.

"I killed LaCroix..." Schanke repeated, this time quieter,
his voice slightly regretful. He actually did kind of
regret it, he wouldn't be human otherwise.

"No! That's impossib..." Infaustus was interrupted by a
loud, sick sounding thud followed by a wheeze as the breath
was knocked out of his lungs. Infaustus looked down at his
chest in horror at the spike of wood sticking through it.
He flailed and grasped at the stake, his lips forming a tiny
'o' of surprise as he let out a suppressed scream.

For several agonizing moments, Schanke thought Infaustus was
going to pull the offending piece of splintered wood out,
but his fears were unfounded. After taking a wobbly step
forward as if he were teetering on a balance beam, the
insane vampire stumbled to the ground with a resounding thud
and went still.

Nick, who stood shakily behind the fallen vampire, looked at
Schanke for a brief moment with pain filled eyes of crimson.
In his hands were the remaining splinters of chair that had
come off when he had thrust the stake home, blood dripping
off his fingers and palms where they had chafed his skin.
Clutching his bleeding hands towards his abdomen
protectively, he gasped in pain, the garlic roller-
coastering through his system wreaking havoc.

"Nick! You did it..." Schanke's excited voice trailed off
as he watched his partner. After remaining on Schanke for a
moment, Nick's eyes rolled back into his head and he fell to
the floor in a heap next to Infaustus. "Nick!" Schanke
screamed as he ran over to his fallen partner, pushing
Infaustus's body to the side in the rush to get there.

Nick looked up at him, his fangs displayed in an inhuman
grimace of pain. "Nick, come on. Don't quit on me now!"
Schanke yelled as he cradled Nick in his arms, shaking his
partner with ferocity. Damnit, he couldn't lose him now!

Without thinking, he thrust his wrist in front of Nick's
slackened jaws. "Nick, take some of my blood, it'll help
you heal!" Schanke exclaimed in a sudden flash of insight.
Why hadn't he thought of this in the van on the way over?
Blood, for vampires, was the ultimate panacea.

Nick shook his head weakly, despite the obvious longing in
his eyes. "No... can't..." The words were quiet, barely
recognizable. It tore at Schanke's heart. Damnit all, but
Nick was trying to sacrifice himself for him...

Schanke kept his wrist firmly in place despite Nick's
stubborn refusal. "Come _ON_ Nick!" he cried out,
frustrated. "You'll die!" It was true, he could see Nick
visibly fading. All the abuse his body had taken without
any relief was finally cashing in... His scarlet eyes had a
glassy look about them, only further sickening the white
pallor of his skin. It was obvious that Nick could barely
hold his head up, but he simply wasn't making any move to
feed.

It was then that Schanke did something he hadn't done in
a very long time. A tiny, salty tear streamed down his
cheek, unhindered. "Come on, Nick. Don't check out on me!"

A gift from the heavens, he felt Nick weakly grasp his arm
and then a small prick of pain as Nick's fangs bit into his
flesh. Although at first there was nothing, he began to
feel a weak sucking sensation as Nick slowly started to take
his blood into his mouth. Schanke looked down and grimaced
at the slight pain, somewhat disturbed by the whole idea of
it all, but he quickly quelled his feelings. It was worth
it.

*****

Nick ached everywhere, in places that he didn't even know
were capable of hurting. Groaning slightly, he cracked an
eyelid open and was immediately greeted by searing pain.
With a sharp intake of breath, he closed his eye and tried
once more to open it. Finally successful, all he saw was
blackness. Warily, he opened the other eye, but the
blackness remained. Why couldn't he see?

Sitting up groggily, he shrugged off the familiar coat that
had been laid on top of him. His head was spinning faster
than a merry-go-round, and he took several deep breaths to
quell it. He really felt quite sick.

Clutching his temples as a wave of nausea raced through his
system, he muffled a scream. When it finally passed, he
began to look around more thoroughly. Where was he? It was
very dark, and his eyes were for some reason refusing to
adjust, he couldn't see a thing. What if he was blind? He
tried not to think about that.

He started to panic a bit, especially when he finally
remembered the events of last night. Schanke... Where was
Schanke? Nick remembered that he had taken some of his
blood, but his memories stopped at the point where he had
bitten into Schanke's flesh and begun to drink.

"Schanke?" he called into the darkness as loud as he could
muster. The effort only brought a cough. God, where was
Schanke? Millions of horrible scenarios began flowing
through his head, the most prominent one being that of him
killing his best friend... He just couldn't remember what
had happened!

He stood up with some effort, his hands shaking and his head
screaming with a whopper of a headache. "Schanke?" he
called again, groping blindly in the darkness. Placing his
hand on the wall, he was greeted with immediate lancing pain
that started at the tips of his fingers and shot up his
arms. He cried out, unable to suppress it as he reflexively
pulled his hand away from the wall. Both of his hands were
still riddled with splinters, the sudden throbbing in them
only now bringing that memory to the surface.

Although sick with pain, he managed to scale his way along
the wall. It was small cabin, if at least that's where he
still was, because he hit the corner very quickly.
"Schanke!" Nick called again, his voice pitiful like the
bleat of a lost lamb. He was greeted only with a cruel
silence, and he couldn't help but let out a small sob of
grief. If he had killed Schanke he would never be able to
forgive himself. Never. Schanke had trusted him
implicitly not to take too much...

A latch clicked somewhere in front of him and he stilled
immediately. Something was coming. He reached out with his
enhanced senses and was able to detect the hint of a human
heartbeat despite the ringing in his ears. A doorknob
turned. He wished he could see! "Schanke?" he called out
weakly into the darkness. Please let it be Schanke...

There was a blast of agony as the room was suddenly filled
with the intense, hellish light of day. Nick hissed, his
eyes suddenly turning an ungodly shade of reddish amber in a
combination of fright and pain. As the searing light
touched his skin, he instinctively huddled himself into the
smallest ball he could manage, trying to protect the
vulnerable skin on his face and other exposed areas.

The door shut almost immediately, luckily before any serious
damage could be done. "Nick! Ohmygod, Nick! I didn't know
you were right in front of the door!" Schanke shouted as
Nick began to sob and shake. Relieved and at the same time
terrified, Nick found himself unable to stop himself from
trembling. Letting out a strangled sob, he peered out over
his arms and into the room beyond. It was dark again.

Nick remained in the corner trembling. At least now he knew
why he couldn't see before... There was no light to see
with. He heard movement next to him and was unable to stop
himself from ducking back behind the protective shielding of
his own arms, his survival instinct overriding the knowledge
that he was in the company of friend and not foe. He felt
Schanke's warm hand on his shoulder. "Nick, I'm really
sorry! I thought you were in the corner where I left you...
Are you all right?" Schanke asked guiltily.

Nick finally allowed himself to uncurl and he looked up at
Schanke, or at least up at where he had heard his voice come
from. "I'm..." he said feebly, "sick..." His voice
sounded very distant and lost, even to his own ears. It
would be a wonder if Schanke could even understand him.

Schanke's hand immediately withdrew and Nick sat there
confused for a second until he figured out what Schanke was
doing. Light flooded the cabin. Thankfully, it was not the
painful sunlight that had so surprised him earlier, but
rather that of a dim overhead lamp. "Jeez, Nick. You look
terrible!"

"Thanks..." Nick said rather dryly. At least he wasn't as
bad off as before, when Infaustus was still alive and
kicking.

Schanke chuckled softly as he walked back over to Nick.
Nick looked up at him and noticed that Schanke didn't even
appear to be fazed by the fact that his eyes were an angry
amber and his fangs were down. It was a good thing, since
Nick wasn't sure he had the energy to suppress the vampiric
visage as it was... "Nick? Do you think you can hold out
until this evening? I just checked the van; it still works.
We can leave as soon as the sun sets..."

Nick nodded weakly, suddenly very tired. Garlic did enough
terrible things to him when he was just smelling it... When
it was running rampant through his bloodstream, it was ten
times worse by far. Thankfully, Schanke's blood had
dissipated the poisons in his system enough to get him out
of the woods.

The strange thing was that he didn't feel the least bit
hungry. In fact, just the thought of eating made him feel
queasy. Before he could stop himself, his stomach heaved
wildly and he clenched his mouth shut, his fangs making
little cuts in his lips he was exerting so much pressure.

Schanke sat down next to him and rubbed his shoulder.
"Here, sit like this," he commanded. He sat with his legs
bent at about a 90° angle, his head between his knees and
his arms gripping the undersides of his knees to show Nick
what he meant.

Nick hesitantly did as he was told. "Now take a bunch of
deep breaths."

For an instant, Nick merely stared at the floor, what
little he could view of it from between his legs. Why on
Earth was Schanke telling him to do all this? Riddled with
doubt, Nick inhaled as fully as he could muster. He felt
Schanke begin to rub his back soothingly and to Nick's utter
surprise, his nausea all but vanished. He still wasn't
about to test it by eating anything, but it was gone...

He looked up at Schanke, his eyes asking his question for
him. Schanke looked at him sheepishly, "It always works
with Jenny. I thought I'd try it on you."

So. It was one of those nifty parenting things he'd never
learned. Nick stared at Schanke, amazed. "Why?" he, asked
simply, unable to voice his feelings.

"Why what?" Schanke asked, slightly confused by Nick's
vague question.

"Why are you helping me?" Nick asked softly, his vocal
chords refusing to cooperate with his urgings to work
properly. "I thought you hated me..." he said, disbelief
evident in his hoarse tone.

Schanke raised an eyebrow in surprise. It was true that he
hadn't been acting all that wonderfully about Nick's ...
dental problems lately, but even then there was no way that
he could _hate_ Nick... "Nick, I was just having a bit of
trouble for awhile. I've gone through life believing that
Santa Claus wasn't real, the tooth fairy was just another
way to make a quarter, and that vampires were only a part
of Bram Stoker's whacked imagination," he paused to look at
Nick, who was listening to him intently.

"I've had my reality flipped upside down, and I thought I
was ok with it, but that was before I saw you making active
use of your vampiric side... I... How can I explain this?"
Schanke said, frustrated that he was having trouble with
this.

Nick looked down at the floor, slightly ashamed. "I'm
sorry. I didn't mean for you to be so uncomfortable around
me..."

Schanke lightly hit Nick in the arm, careful not to hurt
him in his fragile state. "Quit feeling guilty for a second
and let me finish, jeez!" Nick couldn't help but smile at
that. Same old Schanke...

Schanke took a deep breath and continued. "Let's just say,
that I realized that you're still the same guy. The one
who never bought me dinner, and skipped out on me all the
time at work..."

Nick looked down at the floor again, the ache in his body
slowly being replaced by one in his heart. Schanke looked
at him seriously. "The one who saved my life _countless_
times. The one who's always been there when I've needed
support, be it with Myra or some other personal matter.
The one who's been my best friend for the latter part of my
police career..."

Nick looked up at Schanke in amazement. He'd never even
begun to think that Schanke thought of him as his best
friend... Nick had never really been anyone's best friend
before, with the exception of Nat, and it felt kind of
nice...

"Look, Nick. I may not be exactly comfortable with this for
awhile, but that has nothing to do with you as a person.
Just give me some time to adjust, and I'll be all right. I
mean, when I saw Infaustus, I realized that vampires are
exactly like people. Some are good and some are bad. I'm
just glad I've gotten stuck with one of the good ones on my
side..."

Nick felt like he was going to cry. "Thanks, Schanke. I
really needed to hear that..." he said, his voice choked up
with emotion.

"Hey! What are partners for?" Schanke asked him with a
smile so wide it was threatening to wrap all the way around
his head.

Nick smiled back. They were for a lot more than he had
originally assumed, that much was clear.

"Hey Nick?"

"Yeah?"

"I've been meaning to ask this for a long time, but what is
up with Janette!? She's your sister and you have no qualms
about having a relationship with her... I mean, the other
dude had no qualms either... but he was crazy anyway! You
have no excuse..."

Nick sighed as Schanke's babbling voice got lost somewhere
in the back of his mind. This was going to be a very long
day.

*****

Nat paced back and forth anxiously. The sun had set over
an hour ago, and Nick was still not home. Her original
assumption that he had gotten stuck somewhere on the job
with Schanke, since he had also not returned last night, had
completely evaporated. Something was wrong. Very wrong.
Nick would've called. The last time he hadn't called had
been a prelude to a year of pain. Well, that and when he
had gone to the Raven the night before last night.

She glanced at her watch for the second time in about five
minutes. He had warned her about a possible hunter... What
if he was lying staked somewhere in a deserted building,
unable to call for help? What if he was... what if he was
dead? No... She firmly tossed that theory aside in her
mind. She would not allow herself to believe he was dead.

Suddenly, she heard the lift engage, and its metallic hum
echoed through the loft like quiet thunder. Nat practically
leaped off her feet and flew for the door. Nick, please be
Nick. Please please please...

She was greeted with a very haggard looking Nick, being
guided carefully by Schanke. "Nick! Schanke! What
happened?" she cried worriedly, although she couldn't help
but feel relieved that Nick was still among the land of the
living. Barely. Nick looked like he was about to
collapse, and she could see the lines of pain etched in his
normally relaxed face.

Nick looked up weakly, his eyes rimmed with exhaustion, and
he opened his mouth to speak, but Schanke beat him to it.
"Sorry, Nat. We had an interesting run in with some garlic,
a crazed vampire, and, well, 'nuff said," Schanke said with
a slightly humorous tone, as he guided Nick to a chair at
the table.

Nat was slightly distressed when she saw how much Nick was
using Schanke for support, and she instantly went up and
grabbed her medical bag from the closet in the bedroom. She
had put it there when she had moved in, knowing how often
Nick came home with an extra piece of lead in him. At least
now it was going to come in handy.

When she came back down the stairs, she saw Schanke giving
Nick a bottle of blood out of the refrigerator without a
thought of single look of disgust, and she smiled instantly.
Schanke was apparently coming around.

"Thank you," Nick said very hoarsely, and then he proceeded
to guzzle the whole bottle down without compunction.

"Sure thing," Schanke said as he watched Nick down the whole
thing in mere seconds, slightly amazed that such a thick
liquid could be drunk that fast... He offered Nick a second
bottle when he saw the look of hunger on his partner's face.
Apparently the nausea that had staved off his hunger before
was gone. Nick drank that second bottle more slowly, his
eyes closed as the exhaustion threatened to take him.

Natalie took the moment of silence that followed to break
into the conversation. "Tell me specifically what happened,
ok?" she asked Schanke, since Nick didn't really appear up
for conversation. In fact, it looked like he was sleeping,
despite the fact that he was sitting in a hard, narrow
chair. Even his hands were still clasped around the second,
half empty bottle.

After Schanke had told her exactly what had happened, the
first thing she decided to treat were Nick's hands, which
were very swollen and red. She unclasped one of Nick's
hands from the bottle and turned it over, gasping when she
saw the dozens of variously sized wooden splinters... Even
her unshakable doctor's objectivity failed her as a tear
sprung to her eye at the sight. "Hey, Nat? I'd love to
stay and watch you make Nick wish he hadn't let you move in
with him, but I really need to get home. Myra will be
worried sick..."

Nat laughed, heartily. Trust Schanke to lighten the mood of
an otherwise uncomfortable moment. "Sure, Schank. I'll see
you tomorrow, all right?"

Schanke nodded with a grin and left rather quickly.
Grabbing a pair of tweezers, Nat turned back to the task at
hand. "Nick?" he didn't respond, he was out cold. So. He
had fallen asleep. She smiled briefly, but turned serious
again as she pulled a splinter out with the tweezers. That
promptly woke him up. "OW! Nat, jeez!" he cried hoarsely,
holding his affected hand to his chest possessively.

"Sorry Nick, but the splinters have to come out or your
hands will never heal!" Nat exclaimed, somewhat amused that
big bad vampire Nick was acting like this over a few
splinters... ok, well a lot of splinters. And a heap load
of garlic... He looked at her balefully and grudgingly gave
her his hand to do with as she wished. It pained her to
hear his muffled groans and strangled sobs as she pulled
each splinter out, but it was necessary.

Once she had finished, she approached the more hard to treat
problem. "Nick, how do you feel? I can't really help you
with the garlic, you'll have to ride that out..." she said
worriedly. His face was pale and slick with bloodsweat, a
very prominent indicator of his poor state of health.

"I'll be ok in awhile, I guess... I still ache
everywhere..." he said quietly, wincing when he set his
hands on the cold, black table.

It was odd to see him so ill, especially when he usually
healed so quickly, and Nat nodded sympathetically. He
probably would've been miserable with just a common cold,
since he was such a stranger to illness. And this was far
worse. "I could rustle up some curare... That'd put you
out through the worst of it," she suggested, but she knew he
wouldn't want to do that.

He didn't, and he shook his head rather quickly at the
suggestion. Nat frowned slightly when he sighed and placed
his head in his hands on the table, visibly fading. He
looked absolutely awful.

After some gentle prodding, Nat helped him over to the
couch, wisely not even attempting the stairs. As he allowed
himself to sink into the comfortable black leather, he
smiled in thanks.

She kissed him lightly on the cheek and was about to leave
him to sleep the garlic off, when he spoke. "Nat?" he
called, his voice weak with exhaustion. He was really
fighting sleep hard and it looked like he was losing
pathetically.

"Yes?" she asked, curious as to what was keeping him from
his much needed slumber.

"Are we ok?" he asked, genuinely concerned.

"Yeah, Nick," she commented with a smile, "We're ok." He
nodded his head with a grin and allowed himself to drift
off. Nat smiled, suddenly feeling relaxed as a carefree
feeling washed over her. Yes. They were definitely ok.

*****

Nick cringed as he walked into the precinct. Nat had said
she'd warned the Captain when he'd first come back to work
that he might need to take a few days off now and then to
readjust at first, but if he knew Cohen, she would not be
happy about him taking two nights off after disappearing the
night before. All eyes were on him. Something must be up.
He looked to his and Schanke's desks. Schanke wasn't in
yet. Damn.

He'd barely walked three feet in the door when the Captain
nearly mowed over him, her eyes cold with accusation.
"Uh... Sorry, Cap. I uh... I forgot to book off the other
night," he explained before she could even open her mouth.
"Old habits die hard?" he offered weakly, knowing the excuse
was almost as pathetic as the ever common 'my dog ate my
homework'.

To his surprise, Cohen actually smiled. He painfully
noticed that the whole entire precinct was quiet. How would
Cohen punish the errant detective? Nick was sure that was
going to be a new pool, very soon. The grin on his
Captain's face was making him exceedingly uncomfortable, and
he felt like shrinking into the floor.

Finally, after what seemed like years, she spoke. "Good to
have you back, Knight. Don't let it happen again," she said
as she clapped him on the shoulder. What? It felt like the
twilight zone...

He dumbly nodded and went to sit at his desk. "Oh, and
Knight?" the Captain asked. He looked up at her, dreading
that she was finally going to realize she'd let him off
scot-free and figure out some way to punish him horribly
for disappearing the first week on the job... "Good job
on the case," she said, complimenting him.

Huh? "Huh?" he asked with confusion, not sure what she was
referring to. He had never solved his case, and he would
never be able to, since the murderer was a vampire that was
currently ashes in a small brook somewhere outside
Toronto...

Cohen looked at him, slightly surprised. "Didn't you know?
The autopsy report on Barre came in. It was suicide. The
uniforms searched his house last night after you disappeared
and they found a busload of stuff indicating his involvement
in a cult. They even found the knife that was used in the
ceremony with his prints all over it. You and Schanke found
your killer. Congratulations," she said, and then she was
gone into her office.

Schanke must've known that the case had been solved! He'd
gone to work the night before, while Nick had still been
recovering. Why that evil, no good... He must've refrained
from telling him that just to make him sweat a little... Oh
well. He supposed he could let it slide, seeing as how
Schanke had just saved his life.

"Hi, Nick!" Schanke chose that precise moment to walk
through the front doors and wave. As the balding detective
walked up to him, he gave Nick a once over and smiled.
"Feeling better?"

Nick smiled in response. This night was starting to look
very good on a scale of one to ten. Definitely at least a
nine.

THE END