1"This might be the answer to your body-heat issue," Natalie told Nick a few days later when he'd visited her lab. In her hand was a small vial of clear fluid.

"Vodka? Not my style."

"Ha, ha. It's a capsicum distillate, a vegetable extract. It would take too long to explain how I think it'll work. You'll just have to trust me."

He smiled, "I always trust you," as he took the vial from her and regarded it quizzically. "Capsicum. Like capsaicin? The stuff that makes peppers hot."

"Well it's related. Anyway, a shot of this at regular intervals should keep your temperature constant. I'm not exactly sure what the 'dosage' should be, though, so start light, okay?"

He handed the vial back to her. "Well it sounds promising, but what do I do with it?"

"Put a drop or two in your bottle when you drink, it should work with your own metabolism's reaction to the blood and then sustain it."

Nick looked uncertain. "I'm not sure how my system would react to hemoglobin chili." Natalie rolled her eyes.

"Colorless and flavorless, I promise. The worst that could happen is nothing at all. I'll brew up a bunch more once we know how it's gonna work. But this will be fine to get started."

Nick pocketed the tiny bottle with a shrug, trying to control his hopes for success. "Thanks Nat. You know, it's not just for Maura's sake. For once I'd like to shake hands with someone and not have them ask me if I'm ill."

She steered him to the lab door. "Cold hands, warm heart. Let me know how it works. Now get lost, I have work to do."

Maura was getting ready for work when he got home.

"'sup? Been to see Nat?" Maura was very glad indeed that Nick and Natalie had salvaged the friendship that her arrival had disrupted. She liked Natalie, and knew she really only wanted the best for Nick. .

"Yeah, same old same old," Nick told her as he shed his jacket. He was very mindful of the bottle in the pocket, but decided not to tell Maura about it in case it didn't work. Or in case it did. As she was fond of reminding him, he loved surprises as long as he wasn't the recipient.

"You're looking very dark tonight," he observed. Maura descended the stairs carrying her shoes, having chosen mostly black to wear. Black jeans, black t shirt with a deep v-neck and push-up sleeves. Her only concession to color was an assortment of malachite and emerald jewelry. The malachite was hers, the emeralds were gifts from Nick, whose penchant for occasional excess she was struggling to accept as normal. "I've built up quite a little nest egg in 800 years, let me enjoy it okay?" he'd told her when she'd tried to refuse the mediaeval white-gold and emerald ring she now wore regularly. That particular ring he'd had for a few centuries, in any case.

Maura shrugged. "Like it or not, the more I Goth it up the more seriously they take me. Go figure. I'd hoped my powerful air of absolute authority would do it."

"Whatever it takes." Nick flopped on the sofa, filled wine glass in hand. "Vachon picking you up?"

"Yeah. He loves showing off that retro Mustang of his."

"Well I'll collect you after work. I've got too much paperwork to do with Schanke tonight, so by then I'll be ready for something a little looser."

A horn honked outside.

"Ihate when he does that, I feel like such a floozy," Maura complained, eliciting a bark of laughter from Nick.

"If the flooz fits..."

She approached as if to slap him but patted the top of his head instead. "Have a nice dull evening supercop," Maura instructed as she grabbed her own leather jacket and bag. Things had been a little wild at work for him lately, lots of cases though most quickly settled. Criminals getting busy and stupid was better than getting busy and smarter, he'd told her. Gotta find an upside somewhere. A second honk, rife with impatience, drifted up from the street and grimacing with distaste Maura bounded out the door, leaving Nick to consider his now half-empty wine glass. He rose and went to where his jacket hung by the door, fished the vial out of the pocket. "Here goes nothing," he said to nobody and carefully tipped a tiny drop, then another, into his glass before topping it off from the bottle on the coffee table. "Here's mud in yer eye," he mugged to the mirror, and tried not to chug.

Maura was surprised when Nick abruptly took the cash from her and handed it off to Janette, who stood nearby discussing the liquor order with Vachon. It was just after last call, not too busy for a Wednesday night, but the band hadn't finished up yet.

"Dance, lady?" he asked her in his best Noir voice.

"Uh, sure," she cast a look at Janette who smiled and nodded. Whatever, her expression said. The song was one of the dark, sultry ones that usually ended the evening. "Gotta pair 'em off for the night," Derek was fond of saying. Nick had his arm around her waist as they got to the dance floor, then tightened it to pull her against him.

"Guess you are ready for something looser, aren't you?" Something was different about him. When he took one of her hands in his and held it to his face, his eyes never leaving hers, she stopped dead.

"Notice anything different?" he asked innocently, leading strongly to keep her moving with him. Her brow was knit in consternation.

"Bring a thermos to the office, did you? Or have you been snacking?" The possibility clearly disturbed her. He whirled them rapidly and pressed his (warm... warm?) mouth to her ear. "Natalie's magic potion. A little dab'll do ya."

She was getting dizzy and dragged on Nick to slow them down. "What are you raving about?" He still had his (so warm) face pressed into her cheek.

"I told you she was working on something to boost my temperature, right? Well tonight was the maiden voyage, so to speak." He told her what Natalie had told him. She pulled away a little, staring.

"So you're telling me a shot of hot sauce is gonna keep you from going all corpse-like between feedings?"

He put on a hurt expression. "I thought 'corpse-like' was part of my charm..." She made a face. "Oh all right, yeah we're hoping to keep me regulated. Just think, no more being buried in advice and herbal remedies, no more offers of hand-knit sweaters,"

"No more frostbite at 3am," Maura added, prompting Nick to pull a face of his own. But just for a second, because he hugged her tight and buried his face in her neck with a grumbling sound. "So, whaddaya think?"

"Nice. How long does it last?"

"I have no idea. Looks like you're gonna be a guinea pig tonight."

The song ended, and the band was down for the night. "Oh, swell," Maura muttered as they returned to the bar. "I always wanted to be the subject of an uncontrolled experiment."

"Object," Nick corrected.

"I'm outta here, okay?" Maura asked Vachon and Janette. "You guys have it all under control, right?"

Janette offered her driest smile. "We'll struggle through, cherie. You and Nicolas go home and settle in for the day." She said this with the air of an indulgent mother allowing the teenagers to neck in the front room.

Maura reached for Nick's hand on the drive home. Unbelievably he was still warm, but it felt normal, constant, not the up-and-down feverishness that was present after a rich feed. Just... regular. He gave her fingers a squeeze, keeping his eyes on the road but smiling a little.

"But how do you feel?" she wanted to know.

He looked thoughtful for a moment or two as he parked out back of the loft. "I feel just the same as always. No effects at all."

"Well that's a good thing, huh? I mean compared to all the other shit that Natalie has given you that made you sick or crazy or just plain weird."

She didn't see Nick looking askance at her. "Well anytime it gets to be too much for you..."

"Oh stop it, will you?" She took his jacket with her own and hung them up, returning to stand close to him in the kitchen. "Mmm, yeah, you do feel kind of normal, don't you? I mean when you drink up, Shriners, it's furnace time and then it drops like a rock. This is making you, I guess, kind of level."

He poured a glass and tipped a drop into it. "I'll just leave the vial here, to remind me. Nat says if it works out all right she can make a big batch." He turned to face Maura, raising his glass, "Here's to a functioning thermostat," but before he could drink she stood on tiptoe to press her cheek against his.

"Mmm, just right."

"Thanks, Goldilocks."

She laughed wearily as she trudged up the stairs and got changed for bed. She was beat tonight. Slow nights always seemed to take more out of her. For some reason there could be more trouble when there were less people, go figure. She was sound asleep when Nick came up hours later, not having drunk anything for some time. A bedtime feed was more habit than necessity, a concession to Maura so he didn't chill her out too soon. He slid in beside her and reached his arm around her waist, waiting for a response. He knew if he were too cold she'd shrink away without waking. Now, though, she murmured, "mmm, bats," and snuggled closer. Nick smiled to himself. He'd been telling the truth when he told Natalie he wasn't just doing this for Maura. It wasn't complicated or grand, just one less thing he had to explain to the world that now had one more small thing in common with him. He didn't feel more mortal, just less alien. Careful to hold Maura in a fashion she could escape (trapped and warm was still trapped, after all), he fell into his usual slumber. For the first time in years he dreamt of sunshine, and this time it didn't hurt.

Maura woke a few hours after sunrise, in her usual curled-up posture facing away from Nick. No matter where she started out when they went to bed she always ended up the same way. But she was aware of an unfamiliar (warm) pressure against her back, and realized Nick was lying close-by against her. Rather, she hadn't moved away in the night. And warm. He was warm. It took a minute to remember, but she realized Natalie's "magic potion" must still be working. She turned to have a look at Nick, in all other ways his customary self in sleep, loose-limbed in appearance but utterly inert and unmovable. She touched the arm that lay exposed on his stomach. Warm. She had to admit it was a little creepy. He looked dead as could be, gone pale as snow from the many hours since his last feeding. Under her fingers there was none of the subtle thrum of restoring energy evident in a sleeping mortal. But he was warm, no more or less than he had been last night. She touched his face and hair, knowing he wouldn't stir. The same curiously lifeless warmth, like a hot water bottle or a rock left in the sun. Frowning a little, she withdrew. Nick was right, of course, this would leave him with one less set of uncomfortable questions and intrusions to deal with. And it removed her source of discomfort as they slept. At one time they'd considered his sleeping permanently in the living room, but both disliked the separation. So he'd stayed put, dealing with the discomfort as a necessity of being close. This "magic potion" made that easier. But what was she close to? A corpse with central heating. The only time she ever admitted to herself he was not alive was at times like this, when he was "asleep" in a way that mortals never slept. He was, now, well and truly dead. But warm. And it seemed that what was appealing, even inviting, when Nick was awake was undeniably unsettling when he was not.

Stop it, she told herself, how fucking selfish can you be. You know he didn't do this just for you. Still Maura figured it might not have occurred to him to ask Natalie for assistance if she weren't there to make things more noticeable. Careful what you wish for. Still tired, she settled down again by his side, not quite touching. She knew if she were too far away he'd surely notice when he woke up. Suddenly she wished there were some way that mortals could harmonize better with vampire reality, instead of always vice versa. She loved him, in any case, so she knew she'd adapt. Wrapping hesitant fingers around his arm she went back to sleep, and when he woke her with a kiss and an affectionate smile she'd completely forgotten her unease.

Fall was turning to winter and by the end of November Toronto was gearing up for the holidays. Maura had never connected much with Christmas. Not really because of the religious aspect, which had never been overwhelming, but because of the way she lived her life so far there had been little room for festivity. Holiday gatherings were hunting grounds for her companions, nemeses and various protectors.

For Nick, Christmas and New Year's celebrations had always been another occasion for retreat, lame explanations and increased efforts by his mortal friends and colleagues to include him in their socializing. Everyone knew he belonged to no particular religion, but something in the holiday season compelled everyone to redouble their efforts to "rescue" Nick from his self-imposed solitude. And he did feel a little sad, or was it weariness, on the odd Christmas or New Year's eve spent alone or sipping wine-laced blood at midnight with Janette at Raven. When you've seen more than 800 years turn, celebration becomes redundant and a bit empty.

After ten months together, Nick and Maura had settled into a mostly calm existence broken only by occasional work-related drama. Since his first appearance LaCroix had inexplicably and blessedly been absent. Their lives had blended so seamlessly that all questions of definition had evaporated. Friends, siblings, lovers in a sense that transcended sex. The latter was something Nick still shied from while Maura learned not to give its absence too much weight. Their physical connection was absolute, in any case. Those who saw them together assumed a smouldering passion when they were alone, though the nights of intense connection they did share would have beggared their friends' imaginations. One such night as Nick and Maura lay tangled, sated and drugged with pleasure, Schanke had called with some vital information on a case. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything, partner," he'd apologized slyly. "You have no idea," Nick drawled in response, balancing the phone on one arm as he cradled the languorous Maura against him with the other.

This year there was no escaping for either of them. Maura was actually looking forward to some holiday socializing, having been deprived of such things all her life. And she'd come to like Nick's friends and colleagues, both from work and the ones she'd met through Janette and the club. Nick accepted the inevitability of the usual invitations, softening his resistance as Maura's growing interest became evident in spite of her efforts to disguise it. When she suggested that Nick persuade Captain Stonetree to hold the department Christmas party at Raven, Nick's response was stunned surprise.

"Are you out of your mind? Can you imagine Janette's version of a Christmas party? I can just see her decorations... 3-d tableaux of lions devouring early Christians, re-creations of Roman crucifixions," he warned her.

"Oh come on, I think she could tinsel it up a little if the price was right. And I bet the precinct would get into a little Goth -holiday motif. Just check it out with the others first. They're so dying of curiosity about the place to begin with, and everybody has the same old parties, why not something a little, uh, creative."

Nick was shaking his head. "You're a lunatic. Okay, I'll see what they say, but my guess is you'll be burned at the stake." He only agreed to mention it because he was certain everyone would share his reaction. Wrong.

"Hmm," Schanke had mused. "A little dark Christmas, huh? New and mysterious things to do under the mistletoe... I like it. Everybody's sick of the same old egg nog and top-forty band stuff every year anyway."

And Maura was right about Janette as well, who was delighted at the prospect of hosting holiday entertainments for Toronto's finest. She conceded to the mortal season by augmenting the customary white strobes with dozens of yards of twinkling red lights, draped silver angel hair and tinsel on every fixture. There was even mistletoe hung in strategic locations, swagged from green silk ribbons. It would have been considered subdued for any mortal gathering, but sufficiently festive to impress even Nick.

"Why Janette, you've gotten the Christmas spirit."

Janette shuddered. "I was hoping to avoid that. But there's no harm in sparkling up the place a bit for the paying guests." This triggered a "so there" look from Maura to Nick. It always surprised her when he seemed to miss the mark where Janette was concerned. Surely by now he knew she could be counted upon to get into any "spirit" the private customers required, even enjoying it once things were underway. Janette prided herself on her ability to satisfy any customer.

The precinct turned out in force for the party, and Maura correctly observed that they were consumed with curiosity about the club. Janette was wise to leave its typical character evident, dressing it up only enough to amuse the party goers with the contrast.

Maura decided to go full-vamp for the party, and went to Janette for help in designing an appropriate outfit. The dress was an iridescent black/emerald silk velvet, shadowing from one color to the other depending on the flow of the incredibly soft fabric. It was cut on the bias, falling from a tight, off the shoulder bodice to a very full bias-cut skirt. Slashes in the overdress revealed a scarlet silk underdress, and the fitted sleeves of the same material peeked through slits in the green velvet oversleeves that tapered to Maura's wrists. The scarlet inner sleeves ended in black lace mitts that reached the base of her fingernails. Quick "escape" from them was enabled by a lengthwise slit along the inner wrist, held closed by hooks covered by tiny red silk roses. The waist of the gown was wound round with a twisted rope of green, scarlet, and black silk tipped with silver, emerald-set finials ending in silver bells that tinkled musically whenever Maura moved. The final touch was a pair of butter-soft doeskin boots, dyed green to match her dress, with heels high enough to make Maura feel tall for the first time in her life. Janette's shoemaker was instructed that they were to be made for comfort as well as style, so the platform under the ball of the foot was raised enough to keep her foot from being canted at too sharp an angle. Though they were wide and roomy inside, they gave the impression of a small foot. Maura couldn't figure it out; Janette finally chided, "Cherie, they are perfect, don't ask questions." Maura compromised with Janette over her insistence that Maura wear her hair up. Janette always wanted her hair tied up out of the way as if the she found the notion of a covered neck offensive. Instead Maura allowed Janette to fasten it back out of her face with small silver and emerald clips, letting it flow back loose from the crown of her head.

"Oh cherie," Janette purred as Maura took a turn at the final fitting, "if Nicolas doesn't pay proper attention to you, I might just dance with you myself."

At last Maura was able to do justice to the gifts of emerald jewelry she'd rather reluctantly accepted from Nick for her birthday last July. A beautifully bejewelled platinum lavalier lay perfectly arranged in her decolletage, the one-carat briolette sparkling between the tops of her breasts. Matching platinum bracelets, set with large faceted oval emeralds, would encircle her right and left wrists."What about my watch," she'd protested at first, but Janette waved her off impatiently. "Who on earth will care what time it is?"

This time both she and Nick dressed at home and would arrive together. He'd chosen his favorite black leather blazer, blood-red silk shirt, and a black tab tie to wear over black jeans and a silver-chased black leather belt. He looked good enough to eat in one bite, Maura had decided, but why start something they couldn't finish in time to go to the party? She left him downstairs as she went up to change. It never took her long to get ready for anything. She was good to go in ten minutes, but was having trouble with her hair and the clasp on the necklace.

"Nick!" she called downstairs, "can you come up and give me a hand with something?"

When he appeared in the room (he always just "appeared" when they were at home) he levitated there in the doorway, mouth half-open in a wondering smile. "Oh, my." His smile widened. "Some day I'll figure out how you morph from working class to royalty with the addition of a few yards of velvet," he muttered, shaking his head as he found his feet again.

"Afew yards, huh, and don't forget the silk," she whirled to open the various slits and vents in the skirt and sleeves to allow the red to flash through.

"Oh, I'd never." When he stood toe-to-toe with her she saw he only had an inch or two on her because of her shoes. "My how you've grown," he observed. "Now how can I help?"

"My hair," she complained, "Janette gave me these beautiful barrettes but I just can't make it come out right. It seemed so simple when she did it, just twisted back on each side and the rest hanging loose."

Nick examined the barrettes and studied Maura's hair for a moment. "Turn around," when she was facing away from him he tipped her head back, then drew a ribbon of hair back from each temple, twisted it, and fastened it with a barrette, all with the gentlest of fingers. "Okay, look at me." She did, and he arranged the rest of her hair over her shoulders and fluffed her bangs. "There, just right." She was delighted when she looked in the mirror. "Detective, you have missed your calling!"

"Well nice to know I might have something to fall back on in my 'old age'," he laughed. "Are we ready now?"

"One more thing," Maura told him as she picked up the emerald necklace by its delicate chain. "I can't manage the clasp and keep my hair out of the way at the same time." She turned away again and Nick draped the lavaliere in front, fastening the clasp after Maura lifted her hair out of the way. Then he smoothed the chain and finished by making her shiver with a kiss to the nape of her neck. "There you are. I don't even know why the other women would bother to come tonight if they could see you now." She turned with a smirk.

"Smooth talker." Reaching into her closet for the black velvet cloak Janette had given to her as a gift after the awards dinner, she slung it carelessly over her arm. "Let's roll, detective." But he was standing still as stone again, just watching her.

"What?"

"Nothing. I was just thinking this is the first Christmas I've seen in several hundred years that I might really enjoy."

She shifted a little self-consciously. "Shit, don't go all deep and gooey on me, okay? Sentimental vampires make me nervous. They're so unpredictable."

"You don't fool me. You love 'deep and gooey'," he teased, giving her a squeeze as she tried to push past him. He held her still by her belt of silken rope – "This could come in handy" – pulled sprig of mistletoe from his pocket and held it aloft. "Oh, look. A pagan love symbol." His smile disappeared as he kissed her softly. "Merry Christmas, my pagan love."

"I'm not a pagan. I'm a pan-spiritualist."

"You're a bullshit artist, is what you are." He released her but took her hand as they went downstairs. "C'mon, let's party."