Nick came home in a real 'mood'. Maura had the night off and had spent it reading and listening to the radio, addicted by now to the Night Crawler. More accurately, she was fascinated by the dynamic between LaCroix and his clueless callers.

"Can you turn that off?" Nick grumbled as the door banged shut behind him. Bad night. She didn't need to ask, just killed the radio with the remote and laid her book on the end table. And waited. Nick guzzled half a bottle then brought the remainder and a glass into the living room where he fairly flung himself on the sofa next to Maura, ignored the glass, and guzzled some more.

"Ugly shift," she said. It wasn't a question.

At first he just grunted between swallows then added edgily, "You know it."

"You're still working that gang shit, aren't you?"

"Yeah. Only tonight we had some reporter doing a ride-along. Covering the mean streets for the eager public. The 'meeting' that was supposed to happen tonight turned into a drive-by shootout." He killed what was left in the bottle and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, scowling into space.

"Brilliant. Tourists helping things along. Schanke okay?" She already knew the answer, but asked anyway. Nick wouldn't be sitting there if his partner had been hurt.

"Yeah he's fine. But not a happy camper. He's been working these homeboys for a while now, and was hoping to get some lead on the latest drive-by 'mistake' shooting. That little kid, remember?" Maura nodded sympathetically, but said nothing. What was there to say? Nick growled under his breath and pitched the bottle over the coffee table. It landed with a loud thud in the middle of the carpet. Then he dropped his head back against the sofa cushion with an explosive sigh.

Maura leaned closer and ran a hand through his hair. "The doctor is in. Wanna talk about it?" With a gentle tug she tipped him over so he was stretched out full length on his back, head in her lap.

"Not now," he confessed, somewhat less harshly. He reached for one of her hands with both of his. "I think right now I just need this."

Maura reached for the stereo remote and switched the sound system to cd. The changer settled on a disc of Chopin etudes. Nick sighed and shut his eyes.

"You're pretty okay, for a mortal. Seems lately all that most of 'em are good for is killing each other and littering my path with the bodies."

She lifted his head to give him a kiss. "Existential boo-boos fixed in a flash," she promised as she resumed stroking his hair, pausing now and then to trace his eyelids and forehead. In spite of her attentions Nick's mouth remained fixed in a frown. As Maura curled her hand along the side of his face he turned to press into it.

"Some boo-boos are more labor-intensive than others, I guess," she noted apologetically.

He kissed her palm. "You're doing fine. Just one of those nights when Schank and I get reminded that sometimes 'life sucks' is as good as it gets."

Maura didn't debate, or try to advise him further. She knew well enough that the perverse nature of his work was that the job started when it was already too late to 'fight crime'. Homicide's bad guys got busted after they did their bad shit, and the imperfect consolation was to keep them from doing it again. And with most anyone but a serial killer, that point was moot anyway. The apparent futility didn't make the challenge irrelevant, and Nick didn't want to be doing anything else like vice or narco. Avenging innocent deaths (and even the not-so-innocent) was something he was devoted to; even if it had started out as a reach for redemption its purpose had become clearer to him with time and now he'd never give it up. It was just sometimes, like tonight, the inescapably Sisyphean nature of it wore him down. The sorry fact was that even immortality and supernatural powers didn't make the job much easier. All you could do was get through the day and hope to make it up tomorrow.

Maura knew a similar scene was playing out at the Schanke household. On nights like tonight there wasn't much to be done except kiss the existential boo-boos and hope for the best. No magic words, no marvelous insight. No matter how much she learned about detective work she knew she'd never be favored with any sort of enlightenment that would allow her to soothe all the inner bruises away with a few words, or many. The need to do more drove her crazy but like Myra Schanke, and anyone else attached to a cop, she kept it to herself.

"I love you, Nicolas."

A smile approached, weak but gaining. "I stand corrected. That is as good as it gets." He opened his eyes and gazed up at her. "What would I do without you?"

She took his chin and shook it gently. "Same as you did before I descended on your ordered life."

"Says you. And it was anything but 'ordered' tonight."

Maura sensed he was ready to talk now, so she asked, "So what did Schanke have to offer? His snitches turn up anything?" Discussing ongoing case work was, naturally, forbidden by department protocol. Equally naturally, most detectives spilled to their significant others if only to stay sane.

"Not so far. That's what the meeting was supposed to be about, not his snitch but just a meet-up to see if anyone would give up some detail. They all suspect each other of course. Any of the gangs says the others did it."

"What does Schank think?"

"He thinks it's some loose cannon. One of the young ones." By 'young' she knew he meant under 12 years old, too young even for gangsta "discipline". She raised one of the hands holding hers and kissed it back and palm, then held it to her face. "Hard to get my head around Schanke being so street in his fancy suits, you know?"

"Yeah, I look pretty lame standing by while he does the talking." Nick tried to sit up, but Maura pressed a hand to his forehead. "No, don't. I like taking care of you for a change, even if I can't make it all better."

"Don't be so sure," he murmured and shut his eyes again. "This feels a whole lot like 'all better' to me ."

"Liar. But it's the best I can do, so I'll take your word for it. Maybe Janette…" she sometimes wondered if he wouldn't be better off with Janette at those times when the best he could do just wasn't good enough, for real not-good-enough and not just part of his own insecurity.

Nick shook his head. "Janette only acts like she has every answer, Sweet. In fact she only has a few more than you. Some problems just don't get solved the way you'd like."

Now she smiled down at him.

"What?"

"Did you hear yourself? You called it a problem, not a personal failure. I think you're making progress." She pressed a fingertip between his eyes as if awarding a gold star.

"Oh joy. Nice all this has an upside." But he squeezed her hand and gave it a kiss. "Well, much as I'd like to lie here all night and wallow in self pity," he broke free of Maura's restraining grasp.

"Oh, is that what this is?"

Nick slapped his forehead. "I meant to say, I'd love to spend the rest of eternity with you soothing my tortured brow, my love."

Impulsively Maura tackled him around the neck and dropped them both to the floor. "Suck pavement, scumball," she growled, pinning him beneath her. As he stared up at her in utter confusion she elaborated, "Isn't that the kind of thing that reporter would love to hear?"

"Thanks so much for reminding me, I'd almost blocked it out."

She dropped down on him for a mouth-vacuuming kiss. "Aw, all better now?"

When she looked at him again he was grinning. "You are so easy. One sob story and you're all over me like a cheap suit. I like that in a mortal."

"Smooth talker. We both have the day off tomorrow, let's go out and work off some of this bad karma, okay?"

They entered the club together, hand in hand, for the first time in ages.

"You just can't stay away, can you?" cracked Vargo as he stepped back and held the door for them. There was a slow, pulsing number playing on the sound system (the band had the night off for once); Maura steered Nick through the laser-lit fog and onto the dance floor, where he wrapped around her like a boa constrictor.

"Mrrr," he squeezed her against him and buried his face in her shoulder as they moved, "dance therapy."

His recovering mood pleased Maura no end. "Shut up and kiss me," she directed, and he lifted his head suddenly to stare at her, eyebrows raised.

"Getting a little aggressive aren't we?" he teased.

"Let me know when you can't handle it," she pressed her nose to his, lips barely brushing, "and I'll back off." His grip on her tightened.

"I'm a cop, I can handle anything," and he fastened onto her mouth almost as though he expected to drink from it. They continued to dance as they made out like teenagers in heat. Nobody spared them a glance as all the other dancers were similarly occupied.

When the song ended Maura pried her mouth away. "Jeez," Maura gasped, "you could let a person breathe."

"Breathing is overrated," Nick assured her.

The music started up again, bluesy and hot. "Dance, lady?" Nick purred in the "noir" voice that always turned Maura on.

"I have a better idea," she seized Nick's hand and dragged him across the floor to the doorway at the end of the bar that led to the "private chambers". Once inside the corridor he pulled her around and pressed her to the wall.

"You're trying to take advantage of me, aren't you?" he accused, lips pressed against her ear in a husky whisper.

"Can't get a thing past you, detective," and she grabbed his ass to pull him even tighter against her. "If you don't take me somewhere else quick I'm gonna do you right here." During a powerful kiss Nick maneuvered them both through the nearest door and into a lushly furnished room: scarlet velvet draperies, couch, and curtained bed, watered silk walls. He spun her around and slammed the door with back.

"Hi honey, I'm home," Nick growled as he reached behind him to slide the bolt with one hand and yank off his jacket with the other, with no pause in their wild kisses . Nick pushed Maura onto the velvet coverlet, falling down half on top of her. For long minutes he held her still, one hand cradling her head as he teased her with near-kisses he pulled away from at the last second, barely brushing his lips against her, dodging as she tried to latch onto his mouth. She shut her eyes when he began scattering butterfly kisses all over her face, body heat filling the fractions of space he kept between them. Finally tiring of the game he fell to devouring her more insistently, with grazing teeth (no fangs yet) and greedy open-mouthed kisses as he pulled cloth aside to reach every inch of skin he could. Maura could scarcely keep up with him, having to use all her strength to pull his mouth from her shoulders and neck so she could have even one kiss of her own.

"Not fair," she breathed, knowing he'd understand, and he let her roll him onto his back so she could devour him in turn, pulling open his shirt and running her own eager mouth over his chest and shoulders, yanking open his belt and jeans and stroking his belly, more kisses until he groaned in desperation.

"Come here, you," he rumbled and pulled her up so he could burrow under her thin t-shirt, biting and kissing and gripping her as if they'd been apart for months.

"Ow!" Maura exclaimed suddenly. He'd unintentionally bitten too carelessly and now he screeched to a halt, his head half under her shirt, face pressed into her breast after managing to pull her bra open in back.

"Uh-oh," he withdrew and brought his face close to hers. "Oh, Sweet, I'm sorry," and he realized he had blood on his lip from where he'd broken her skin. He kissed her face over and over, slowing himself down.

They undressed each other in slow motion, it felt to Maura. "Lemme kiss the boo-boo," Nick whispered, and he found where he'd cut her and kissed the place softly, touched it with light fingers, "there, all better."

Maura had wanted to give as good as she got but as often happened she was overwhelmed by his attentions, his kisses and caresses and long fingers slipping inside to tease and stroke her until she was moaning against his neck, "more, Nick, more." His smile against her skin felt so good, everything about him felt so good. Maura knew how Nick loved to give her pleasure, he loved it even more than when she did the same for him but this time he rolled onto his back again to let her have her way.

Maura explored Nick's body as if it were for the first time, better than the first time because there was no resistance to overcome, running her hands and face over him as if she were blind. His skin was so soft, smooth, so warm now that he'd learned how to maintain his temperature with the "magic elixir". She breathed in the smell of him, moonlight and silver, something she never could explain to him, so she'd stopped trying. She moved down to scatter lazy kisses on the thin skin where the hair under his navel was downy soft, the hair below like silk, not tough or coarse like a mortal's would be.

"Sweet," he rasped, one hand on her head and one gripping her wrist where her fingers spread on his chest.

"I love you, Nick," she spoke softly but crystal clear before lowering her mouth to continue as if he were new territory. The wonder for Maura was his ability to go on and on when he made love with her, never spent until he decided it was time, but the sounds she drew from him and the warmth of his body in her hands and under her mouth made her determined to drive him beyond his maddening control. Finally he pulled on her hand to bring her up to him again, where she leaned over and pressed her face against his, I love you so, he told her, I love you, and he helped her to lift up and sink down on him as their tongues entwined yet again.

After a very few minutes of her easy movements on him they could stand no more lazy pleasure and began to roll and wrestle with increasing strength. Hot, strong, they held tight and moved as one, dance therapy, but a different dance. Gentleness turned to greed; they consumed each other and suddenly Maura was mad with the desire to taste Nick as he tasted her. Her nibbling kisses turned to more insistent bites as he in turn made a feast of her, now painlessly marking her with razor fangs and licking away each drop released, shutting his eyes to savor every rush her blood gave him. The vampire marks would fade quickly but their traces he'd find with pinpoint accuracy every time he touched her. The other, far more human, rosy smudges he left behind would last for days, visual reminders that would annoy her but make him smile. Their embraces turned to a near-struggle, caresses turned to clutching and grappling as if each wanted to take more than the other could give. Nick pushed Maura over the edge once, twice, and was working on a third. Time disappeared as they submerged themselves in each other. Work worry, nothing of the world could reach him here.

"Feed me, feed me," Maura fought loose from Nick's grip and forced him out of her, ignoring his whining snarl of protest, knowing he'd never hurt her, and fastened herself onto him as if she were the vampire, determined to shatter his infuriating control. His mindless thrashing turned to more rhythmic movements, though the rage of passion in them remained and the sounds he made were like a music she'd never heard before.

Nick had never before felt anything close to the physical insanity that burned through him as Maura fed on him in the only way she could. He'd never encouraged women in that direction except as a lure for their eventual submission, a submission that was always dependent upon keeping faces and throats in near proximity. He was the taker, not the taken, never before had he conceived there was pleasure to be had from another's power over him, until finally Maura's near-brutal insistence drove him beyond thought or strength or control and a full-throated howl tore from his throat as she urged him into a ferocious explosion that took them both by surprise.

Sweet, he always called her sweet but what rushed into her was sweeter and hotter and more full of an indescribable energy than she had ever imagined. 800 years of stolen magic and borrowed lives blended into a spice more exotic than ever existed in nature and its effect had to be at least as intoxicating as her own blood was to him, or maybe it was her unique chemistry that made her so susceptible to his. When the rush faltered Maura tried desperately to make it last, stopping only when she heard Nick cry out in pain. Breathless, and drunk beyond memory, Maura released Nick from her no-longer-greedy mouth and found herself unable to move. She remained where she was, face resting on Nick's now-motionless belly, both of them bloodied and stunned by pleasure. While mortals were breathless after lovemaking, Nick's facsimile of breathing stopped entirely.

"Oh my," he groaned at last, "all better," and Maura knew this time he meant the weary ache he'd brought home with him.

"Good," she whispered and stroked her fingers along the smooth skin of his thigh. After a few minutes she moved up and lay her head next to his on the pillow, saw a familiar loving smile warming his face. His hands began to move on her, idle fingertips touching and stroking here and there, enjoying the texture and warmth of her.

"What did I do," he asked, dazed, "what did I do before you?"

"Not nearly as well, I think." As always, Maura's passion was submerged in wit. "Afterglow" had never been her strong suit.

"No warm fuzzies from you," Nick sighed and gathered her into a hug.

"I guess you'll have to settle for hot spontaneous sex."

He was still smiling into her eyes.

"What?"

"Oh, I was just thinking of what a stuffy vampire I was before you came."

She chuckled wickedly. "Pun intended? Well I guess I just thrashed the stuffy right outta you, huh?"

He leaned over her for another deep kiss. "You got that right, mortal." Their skin separated stubbornly as he moved. "Made a real mess, though." They crawled off the bed and Nick started the shower in the marble bathroom. Both were grateful they'd flung their clothes so far from the bed; they'd never have been able to explain the stains to the general public. The staff at Raven who kept these rooms, however, were the soul of discretion. Bloodstains in a vampire's boudoir were a given.

"Come on," Nick beckoned in his most seductive voice, "I'll wash your back."

Maura caught a look at herself in the mirror, her face and hair streaked with the bloodstained fruits of their lovemaking. "It's not my back I'm worried about."

They stood under the warm water, washing clean between lazy kisses, the fire replaced with calmer emotion. Nick got a good look at her as she stepped out of the shower, and began to laugh.

"What? Is my butt that big?" she demanded. He gave the butt in question an affectionate squeeze as he followed to reach for a towel.

"Your butt is just right. It's your new décor that got my attention."

She swung the bathroom door shut to look in the full-length mirror and gasped to see she was covered with hickeys. Well not covered, exactly, but well-decorated. Instead of pissing her off as usual, this time it made her giggle.

"God, I feel like such a floozy."

Nick arched an eyebrow. "You are such a floozy. Lucky me."

After they'd dressed Nick fished Maura's comb from her purse and worked the tangles from her toweled hair. "Well at least you look respectable now. Maybe you can fool them," he jerked a thumb in the direction of the club proper.

She stood indignantly, hands on hips. "Well excuse me but who was all over me like Dracula on a virgin out there on the dance floor?"

"A virgin, huh. Good thing you're not under oath," Nick deadpanned.

"Hey, you've been had plenty in your time, smartass." Maura whacked Nick on the ass as he opened the door and nearly collided with him as he turned to sweep an elegant bow. "But never as deliciously as tonight, my love."

They tried to re-emerge unobtrusively but Miklos was pulling glasses from the cabinet by the end of the bar. His tolerant smirk announced that he knew exactly what they'd been up to. Nobody went back there for any other reason. Not to mention Nick's baying climax must have reached every vampire ear within a mile.

"If you say a word to Janette I'll kill you," Maura warned Miklos, forgetting who she was talking to.

The smirk intensified. "Someone beat you to it. And believe me, she knows already. No walls are that soundproof."

Nick met his gaze with what he hoped was a properly smug expression. "Beats stacking glassware," he shot back.

Vachon passed by on the way from the cellar with a couple of bottles of wine. "Nice night for a quickie," he quipped. Before Maura could call him a pig… not an infrequent occurrence… he wrinkled his nose in very mortal-smartass fashion, and oinked. She swung at him and missed as he hustled behind the bar.

"Christ, everyone knows what we've been up to," Maura complained.

Nick leaned close and assured her, "Yeah, jealousy is a terrible thing isn't it?" Strangely he wasn't in the mood to visit with Janette, wherever she may have been. "Come on, let's go home. I'm positively drained." He smiled devilishly.

Maura's eyebrows rose as she headed for the door. "Oh, save me. I've created a sleazoid."

Nick scurried up behind and snaked his arms around her waist, matching her step for step to the door. "Lucky you…"

When they'd made it out the door into the pool of streetlight Nick noticed a couple of tiny red dots on Maura's t shirt where blood had come through before the bites healed.

"Uh-oh, missed a spot."

Maura found herself abruptly dragged around the corner into the alley, pushed against the wall as Nick dropped to his knees and pulled up her shirt to hastily lick the smears of blood off her stomach.

"Nick!" she squealed in very un-Maura fashion, looking around frantically to see if anyone was nearby, "can't you just gimme a Kleenex or something?" Then her protests ceased abruptly and her eyes slid shut as he switched to soft kisses punctuated by a velvety tongue. Positively prehensile, that tongue, and he wasn't shy about impressing her with it in private.

"Kleenex? How 'stuffy'," Nick mumbled into her belly button. A whimper escaped her, much against her will, and she tangled her fingers in his hair.

"Yummy," he purred, gave her stomach a last lazy, lip-dragging kiss before standing again. "Careful what you wish for, floozy," he told her with another devilish smile, demurely smoothing her t shirt. "Might come back to bite you." Her stunned expression made Nick laugh out loud.

"Well, well immortality has its advantages… the woman with an answer for everything is speechless. I thought I'd have to live another 800 years for that."

Recovering her equilibrium, Maura's look sharpened. "Think you're pretty slick, huh?"

Nick was still laughing but managed to reply, "When the tables are turned, you are a wonder to behold."

She smoothed her hair and rearranged her shirt with exaggerated dignity. "Yeah, well, good thing it hardly ever happens, huh."

When they'd gotten home Maura half expected Nick to jump her again. Instead, he was his normal self, rather more relaxed and much less morose than when he'd come in from work.

"How's the existential boo-boos doing?" she asked as he went into the kitchen for a drink.

He looked thoughtful for a minute. "All better. Really. Yeah I know what's waiting for me tomorrow at work, but it feels like I've checked the 'life sucks' at the door."

"Or burned it off, maybe," Maura suggested. She was only half joking. Nick joined her on the sofa and draped an arm around her.

"You could be right, you know. You certainly grabbed my attention enough to drive dull care away." He kissed her cheek, the sweet smooch a dramatic contrast to the wild attentions he'd overwhelmed her with earlier. "I hate bringing the work angst home. Even when you can get me to talk it out, it seems to lurk in the corners waiting for us."

Without ever discussing it, Maura and Nick found themselves spending more time at Raven in the next couple of weeks. Whenever Nick dragged home in a funk or arrived to pick her up from work wound tight or crushed under the miserably endless gang case, Maura persuaded him to take her dancing. And dance they did, both on Raven's dance floor and off. It proved easy for Nick to transform his negative energy into consuming passion, and easy too for him to let Maura "lead". Their forays into Raven's back rooms were politely ignored after that first night of teasing by Miklos and Vachon. Janette, of course, made no mention of them except to tell Maura only slightly mischievously that she was glad that Nick had been encouraged to find an outlet for his angst.

"Knight, what have you been up to?" Schanke demanded as Nick bounced in smiling for work one night. "You have this… glow, yeah, that's it, you're glowing like freaking Chernobyl."

Nick shrugged dismissively. "I dunno, Schank, just getting better at stress management I guess." His smile was irrepressible, though, and Schanke lowered his voice conspiratorially.

"I know what's getting managed, partner. A little visit to the Love Shack can work wonders for your attitude... and you guys don't have a kid to tiptoe around."

"Don't let your imagination carry you away," Nick told him a little self-consciously.

"Imagination my butt. Myra gets that same look when the home fires have been burning."

"Maybe you'd better check up on her, Schank, because you look the same as always."

Even Janette noticed a change in her old friend, and told him so, the next time he arrived to pick up Maura after work. "Nicolas, I am so glad to see your mood improving. That difficulty at your job has been making you very tiresome, but there is something… lighter about you lately."

Christ, was it really written all over his face? If Schanke's observation had been easy to brush off, this additional one had Nick wanting to check whether he suddenly had "Marvin Gaye was right" tattooed on his forehead. "If you tell me I'm 'glowing' I'm going to leave right now."

Janette smiled knowingly. "Nothing of the sort. I merely mean that it is comforting to know that you are finding a… release for your everyday tribulations, n'est-ce pas? They always darkened you so." She gave him a lingering kiss and whispered in his ear, "Even if it cannot be me who helps you find it."

It wasn't as if they had consciously decided that hot romance was excellent stress management, but what Nick had said was true. Focusing fully on the two of them, taking some time to lose himself entirely in the physical aspect of their relationship, separated him completely from the clouds that clung to him at his worst times. For Maura's part, she savored their newly energized love life both emotionally and literally. They had to be careful not to get too carried away, because Nick's appetite for Maura's blood was part and parcel of their lovemaking and at least once before he had almost taken too much from her. And once in the grip of her own desire, Maura couldn't be trusted to notice or even care how far she might be drained.

One night as they lay recovering their strength, Maura lazily kissed Nick's bloody traces from his stomach with a murmur of delight. "Is this what my blood does for you? Fills you with light and warmth and, I dunno, just makes you high?"

"That's part of it, but not all. I can read your life, your thoughts and feelings, in your blood. I don't think it works the same way for you."

She crawled back up to Nick's arms and stretched lazily. They had begun to stay overnight at Raven occasionally, and Janette had discreetly arranged for a suite to be specially furnished and reserved for them for that purpose. "Mmm, maybe not. You make me work for my 'insights'."

Nick was trailing his fingers in patterns on her scalp. She loved when he did that, as if he were petting a cat.

"I assure you your insights are well worth exploring," he paused and kissed her neck for emphasis, "and I never imagined I could relish giving up control. It's not something I ever expected I could enjoy."

She laughed. "Come on, Bats, you can't make me believe that blow jobs didn't exist in the 13th century."

His eyes fluttered shut as his face segued into his "give me strength" expression. "Right as always, Dr. Ruth. And you know I got my share. But taking something you want from someone you've threatened or hypnotized or paid for is never the same as having it offered freely. Or, ah, insistently… there's a vast difference."

"Point taken."

Nick turned sideways to lean over her as she lay on her back. "I wish I could persuade you to see at least some things as I do. I know we joke about 'warm fuzzies' but there's a beauty in our connection that you seem to hold yourself distant from. No matter how I try to bring it closer to you, you always back away."

Maura responded with a slight frown as she touched a finger to his lips. "Poor Nick, the immortal romantic stuck with the eternal pragmatist. You know how much I love you, how I can't do without you, how being with you like this and every other way fills spaces in my soul I never knew were missing until I met you. But I can't be hearts and flowers any more than you can gargle holy water. It's just not in me and I'm sorry because I know it means so much to you."

"Not so much that you need to worry about it. Besides, you just stumbled dangerously close to poetry." He nuzzled her face with his nose and mouth before settling down next to her. "Let's get some sleep, too much analysis can kill the romance. Not that it would bother you much."

"Hmm, well too much of this kind of romance might kill me," she warned sleepily.

"I promise you'll die with a smile on your face, " and he added another series of nips along her throat as assurance.

Life was good, though in a general way it had been for a long time. Nick was coping well with his frustrating case. Cases, actually, as nothing in homicide ever happened singly. Quick solves, long slogs, they all went on as usual. But his newly channeled angst was dissipating rather than accumulating. The "dance therapy" he enjoyed with Maura wasn't simply therapeutic; whether or not they repaired to their suite at Raven – and some nights they danced the night away without burning up the bedroom – their recently animated love life added an aspect to their relationship that made their connection deeper and somehow more complete.

"Not that I didn't feel connected before we, you know, did the nasty," Maura told Nick one night when she was feeling a little doubtful about the definition of their hot new "romance". "Just, well, I dunno, it's more so now Or something."

Her struggle for clear expression was lost on Nick, who was repeating slowly, "'Did the nasty'… I'll have to put that one in my romantic thesaurus. Right next to 'got laid', 'hummer', and 'horizontal Mambo'. Shelley and Browning would be shattered to know what imagery they overlooked." The turnabout in their roles hadn't gone unnoticed. Now it was Maura who was concerned about evaluating, making sure Nick didn't take her the wrong way. He dropped his head back against the sofa cushion and smiled sidelong at her in response to her gathering glower. "I understand just fine. We used to keep all the parts separate… you know, the blood, the sex, the 'regular' everyday stuff. Now we're just, ah, fully integrated, how's that? Like regular people."

Maura fell over into Nick's lap. "I suspect 'regular people' don't get high on each other in the literal sense." She poked a finger between the buttons of his shirt to stroke his skin. "Is it just me, or does it seem like I can't keep my hands to myself lately?"

"Yes to both questions. Your hands have become my constant companion, and thank goodness it is just you because I couldn't handle more." Oh yeah right, she thought to herself, the day she could outlast a vampire would be one for the Guinness brothers. Nick leaned down to give her a quick kiss. "I gotta go to work. Don't wait up, it's gonna be a long shift." As he disengaged himself and got his jacket and keys he started to laugh.

"What?" Maura was flopped out straight on the couch, not bothering to move as she spoke.

"In my time I've been considered a monster, a demon, a pitiable mistake, but I never guessed I'd live long enough to become a stud."

"HA!" she drawled and gestured around the loft, "I'm here for the money, honey. Don't let the sexual favors confuse you."

Nick put on a thoughtful expression as he slid the door open. "Right, I forgot about that. We'll have to be discreet or Vice will get suspicious. Later, Sweet."

"Later, stud!"

An hour later as she was composing the week's shopping list Maura felt a rising queasiness. She'd felt something similar off and on for the past few days, but ignored it. Physical illnesses were something she was unaccustomed to; for some reason her rarified biology seemed to make her immune to human illnesses like colds, flu, viruses etc. She'd never looked into it but the fact was she'd never actually been sick, ever. A hangover or two, and yeah she'd thrown up a few times over stress or fear or some external cause. But never a headache, or a stomach ache, or anything like the everyday stuff that regular mortals dealt with routinely. So when she'd first felt the vaguely yechhy sensation in her gut she had no idea what to make of it, so she just paid no mind.

This time she felt so lousy she went upstairs and decided to go to bed. It was 2am, and Nick had told her not to bother waiting up anyway. As Maura was brushing her teeth a wave of nausea overcame her, and she barely made it to the toilet before losing her admittedly light supper. She stood there for a moment, hanging onto the tank for support, and another spasm gripped her and drove her into dry heaves. Lights were blinking behind her tight-shut eyelids. What the fuck?

Cautiously standing upright, Maura washed her face off with cold water and brushed her teeth again. As she stared at her now-pale face in the mirror she was struck by the absurdity of being utterly confused by something others barely took notice of. What the hell should she do about this? Calling a doctor was out of the question, because she'd have to explain why it was so bizarre to feel a little sick to her stomach. A blood test would be disastrous… how to define the narcotic elements in her chemistry?

"Shit," she muttered. In addition to feeling puky she was now suddenly exhausted, as if Nick had feasted too long on her, but without the fun part. What the hell was happening? Well, she figured, there was nothing much to be done about it at 2 in the morning anyway. Hoping she wouldn't get the urge to throw up again, she hit the light and crawled into bed. She forgot to light the candle, but didn't much care. For some reason her head was feeling tight and the light bothered her anyway. Wishing Nick was there to whine to, she pulled the covers over her head and buried herself in the pillow, feeling more and more like shit, though she couldn't really be certain what "feeling like shit" was supposed to feel like.

When Nick got home near 4 o'clock he was surprised to find Maura's dinner dishes in the sink and her unfinished shopping list on the kitchen counter. He wasn't unduly bothered by such things, but knew she was pretty anal about cleaning up after herself. The open design of the loft made sure she was constantly reminded of even one thing left where she didn't feel it belonged. He was, privately at least, grateful because he was pretty manic in the neat-and-tidy department himself. Not thinking much about it, he washed the dishes and attached the shopping list to the front of the fridge with one of Maura's Daffy Duck magnets, laughing quietly to himself as he always did when he noticed them. Maura could be the dark side bitch from hell when provoked, but clung to her favorite cartoon characters like a five-year-old.

Another surprise awaited Nick in the bathroom where he found the facecloth flung carelessly in the sink, and the toilet seat up. Maura always made a big thing about feeling so lucky she had a man who never had to pee, so no "toilet seat wars" as she put it. Oh well, he figured all would be made clear when they got up next day. Still, he was puzzled to have found the room in darkness. He needed no light to maneuver, of course, but the enormous pillar candle by the bed was a fixture in their lives, lit every night and left to burn until they arose. He lit it, and after sliding under the covers he leaned over to take a closer look where Maura lay on her back, face turned toward him. She looked as lost in sleep as always when he came home so late, but something about her didn't "feel" right to him. He laid a hand on her stomach and kissed her cheek. She felt warmer than usual. "What's shakin', Sweet?" he asked quietly. Maura's face contracted in a scowl – that much was comfortingly predictable – and she turned it away.

"C'mon, wake up, something's not right. What's going on?" He moved the hand on her stomach back and forth, and kissed her again. When Maura finally opened her eyes and struggled to focus on Nick, her voice came out not as a grumpy growl but a whine.

"Dunno, I feel… weird. Puked my guts out before."

That was a surprise. "Really? That is weird. Well how do you feel now?"

"Dunno, I guess I'm sick. I've never been sick," she tried to roll away, and suddenly struggled to throw off the covers. "Hot, shit I'm hot."

How hot was anyone's guess… they didn't have a fever thermometer in the house, any more than they had aspirin or stomach remedies. "Oh, shit," Maura scrambled clumsily from bed and raced to the bathroom, and Nick could hear her retching. He rushed in after her as she turned a helpless face to him. "What the fuck is going on?" She washed her face for the third time that night and trudged back to bed, no longer burning up but feeling more than ever like she figured shit should feel. Nick lay next to her, lightly stroking her forehead.

"Don't worry, Bats, I'll probably be fine tomorrow." The groan of discomfort under her words made them less than convincing.

Maura wasn't better the next day. If anything, she felt even worse. A couple more desperate races to the bathroom, and she was doubled up in bed with a stomach ache. The unusual heat she'd thrown off last night was making Nick nervous.

Once the sun had gone down Nick told Maura, "Sweet, I'm gonna go to the drugstore and get a thermometer, okay?" He felt he should get something simple for her stomach too, but since she'd never been sick like this before he was worried how even over-the-counter medicine might affect her. In the drugstore he grabbed a bottle of ginger ale and hoped that might help. His long experience with mortals, not to mention his various incarnations in assorted medical capacities, left him with a wealth of knowledge of standard, unorthodox, and folk remedies for every sort of mortal complaint. Maura, on the other hand, had never paid much attention to such things and could offer no guidance regarding what make her feel better.

"Maura, Sweet, just turn your head for me, okay?" Nick was trying to pry the covers from over her head. His specialty had always been trauma and his diagnostic skills were rusty at best, but he at least wanted to know where her fever was going. Carefully he put the thermometer in her ear when she grudgingly exposed the side of her head. Beep. 100.1. Not too bad. "Stretch out for a minute. I want to check you out."

Maura rolled onto her back and glared up at him. "Since when did you become Dr. Nick?"

"Since half a dozen times in the past couple centuries. As long as you don't need brain surgery I think I can cope with this for now." He folded down the covers and slipped his hand under her t shirt, gently pressing here and there. "Does anything hurt?"

"Not exactly. Just, like, bloated or something. Shit, don't push too hard or I'll puke again."

Nick tucked Maura in again and sat thinking for a moment.

"What?" Maura wanted to know.

"Well there's something going on in there, I could feel it."

"Oh shit, is some weird lizardy thing gonna come flying out, like in Alien?" She was only half kidding.

This prompted a laugh. "Not unless you've been French-kissing one lately, there isn't."

"Well don't think I haven't had my doubts about you sometimes…" Her attempt to lighten things was interrupted by an obvious twinge inside, and she snapped into a ball again. "What'd I do? I promise I won't do it again, really."

Nick poured her some of the ginger ale and helped her sit up. "Here, see if you can't keep some of this down, it might help. I'm gonna call Natalie."

Maura's eyes widened. "You really think we'll need her?" She looked so upset Nick hugged her as he tried not to laugh again.

"No, not that, I just think maybe if I tell her what's happening she'll have some ideas. I haven't done this medical stuff for a while." When he let her go she flopped back down in bed looking relieved.

"This really sucks," Maura whimpered miserably. She tried to smile bravely when Nick kissed her before going down to call Natalie, but couldn't quite bring it off. Pissed off she could do, self righteous and unreasonable, obstinate and passionate she could do, but this suffering nobly shit had to go.

"Yeah, I know. Hang on, Sweet, we'll fix it."

Natalie's initial response was confusion. "What do you mean Maura's 'never been sick'? She's mortal, she had to have had the stomach flu sometime."

"Nat, that's why I called you. The same thing that makes Maura 'special' to vampires seems to keep her immune from mortal sickness. Never had the flu, or a migraine, or tonsillitis. Nothing, ever. So this thing is a little arresting. I mean she's not desperately ill or anything, but I can't even give her a Rolaids because I don't know what it'll do to her."

"Well I guess then we just look at it like an allergy she didn't know she had, something like that. Has she eaten or drunk anything out of the ordinary for her? I don't care if it's as simple as a new salad dressing. Just anything new at all."

Nick thought for a moment. "No, in fact she was supposed to go grocery shopping today. There's nothing here that she hasn't been eating all week."

"Well maybe it's cumulative. Look I know food isn't your strong suit, but can you remember what's been around the house?"

"Nat I may not eat, but I'm not blind. And I cook for her sometimes. All that's in the house are the usual fruits and vegetables, yoghurt and honey, tamari and herbs and all the things that have been here for ages. Her supplies don't vary much, just the execution. She even buys the same kind of coffee beans without variation. In dietary terms she's like me, absolutely a creature of habit."

"Do you think she's eaten anywhere else lately?"

"Not that she's mentioned. And for the past month or so we haven't been apart much except for work."

"Any stress you know of?"

"None she hasn't gotten from me by osmosis. In fact we've been doing a lot better on that front lately." He didn't elaborate. He'd never mentioned to Natalie his and Maura's new "stress-management" program. It wasn't the kind of thing he'd mention to much of anyone.

"Well I can't tell much from here. Why don't you bring Maura by the lab and I'll draw some blood. I have other samples from her, so there's a baseline I can check for anything new or different, since I don't know what I'm looking for I'll just keep an eye out for anything at all."

"I don't think she'll travel well, to be honest. We can never tell when she's going to, uh,"

"Hurl?" Natalie offered helpfully.

"Yeah. She's trying to keep hydrated but even that's a challenge."

"Okay. Since it doesn't sound like she's in dangerous shape I'll be by later tonight, okay? I got a real backlog at the morgue." She heard Nick throttle back a chuckle.

"What? Suddenly dead people are funny?"

"No, it's just when I told Maura I wanted to call you she thought it was for, you know, the usual."

"Swell. The mere mention of my name strikes terror into people's hearts. Just call me the Grim Reaper."

"Okay, Grim. See you later. And thanks."

When he went back upstairs to tell Maura when Natalie was coming he found her bent over the toilet again, face scarlet and bloodshot eyes full of tears.

"This really sucks, Bats," she gasped as he wiped her face with a cool washcloth.

"Come on," he helped her back to bed, "Nat's coming over in a few hours to take a blood sample. She's gonna check it out against your blood at the lab to see if she can find anything."

"I'm all icky and sweaty, gross."

"Your fever must have broken. Do you feel any better?"

She shook her head numbly. "I just dunno."

"Pauvre doucette," Nick smoothed her hair and kissed her forehead. "Close your eyes, and try to relax." He sat up next to her on the bed, one hand on her head, fingers playing in her hair, and spoke quietly of music and starlight, and what they'd do together when she felt better, walks in the park and drives under the full moon on his nights off. She curled up into a tight ball and crept over so she was lying across his lap, finally falling asleep.

Natalie let herself into the loft, and figured correctly that Nick was upstairs with Maura. She experienced one of her increasingly rare twinges upon entering the bedroom and seeing Maura curled up in Nick's lap as he quietly recited random snatches of poetry to her in French.

"Sweet, you have to wake up now. The Grim Reaper is here."

"Very funny, I'm doing you a favor here."

Nick climbed off the bed to stand beside Natalie as she took a look at the slowly waking Maura.

"Make me better," she croaked to the coroner, "or just autopsy me so somebody will know what's going on."

"Let's have a look," and Natalie turned down the covers and felt Maura's abdomen as Nick had done.

"I liked it better when he did it," Maura mumbled and Natalie couldn't help but laugh.

"Yeah well I made the house call, so you gotta put up with me this time. Does that hurt?" she asked when Maura grimaced.

"Not exactly. Like I told Nick, it feels all bloated, crowded like and lots of shifting nasty feelings. I'm nauseous even when I lie still."

"Yeah, something is definitely doing the rhumba in there." She replaced Maura's t shirt and the blankets as Nick hurriedly assured Maura, "No weird lizardy things, I promise." He shrugged sheepishly at Natalie's odd expression. "Sci-fi phobia," he explained.

"Still vomiting?"

"Not for a while. Nothing left to urk up, I guess."

Natalie reached down and pulled a quart bottle of milky liquid from her bag. "Drink this with your water. It's got megadoses of electrolytes to help with the dehydration."

"I've been trying to drink ginger ale," Maura explained as Natalie drew a few tubes of blood from her arm.

"Not bad, but the sugar might not be the best thing right now. Mind if I sit down?"

"Go ahead. There's room for a freaking party in this bed."

"Talk to me Maura. Tell me what's different now than oh, a week or two ago. Maybe even a month."

"Nothing, really. Same schedule, same food, same sleep and eat and work. No booze, no exotic new food. No new food at all, really. Same old same old."

"Something must have brought this on. Try to think what might have caused a shift in your digestion, because this has all the marks of a sudden allergic reaction."

Maura sat up now, tired of lying around like some invalid even if she felt like one. "I am telling you, Natalie, that nothing has gone into my mouth in the past month that hadn't found its way there before." But a flicker in Nick's eyes made her think of something. Nah, she thought to herself, that's just too stupid. "Nothing."

"Okay, you should know. I'll take these back to the lab and have a look. Hey people develop new allergies all the time, maybe your body suddenly decided to object to something it accepted before. I'll give you a call."

After he saw her to the door, Nick returned to the bedroom where Maura was getting changed. "I'm a little shaky for the shower, I guess," she observed.

Nick sat on the bed and thought for a moment before speaking. "You thought the same thing I did, didn't you?"

"What…" Maura knew exactly what he meant. "Jesus, Nick don't be absurd. That's just crazy."

"Well she did say anything."

She shook her head rapidly, refusing to consider it. "Get a grip, will you, I'm not like you. I don't swallow you by the pint." A faint smile pulled at Nick's mouth, and she swung her robe at him. "Stop it. I will not be a butt of some 'my girlfriend is allergic to oral sex' crap." While she was fuming Nick passed her the bottle Natalie had left.

"Bottom's up," he offered. She had to admit she felt better after drinking some of the nasty looking stuff. Nick still wore an oddly humorous expression, as if winding up for a one-liner. Christ, he could be so serious for such a long stretch, but when his inner Oscar Wilde kicked in there was no shutting him off.

"Shut up, you," she warned pre-emptively.

The quintessence of innocence, Nick raised both hands in supplication. "What? I didn't say a thing." He was much relieved to see she was beginning to feel better.

"Yeah, well I don't have to drink your blood to read your mind. I'm going downstairs."

"Keep the wastebasket handy!" Nick called after her. There was no bathroom downstairs.

"Kiss my ass!" she hollered back.

He leaned over the gallery and announced with a smile, "Not until you take a shower."

And in an hour she was feeling so much better, she did get it together to clean up right. After a very few moments, Nick slipped into the shower with her. "Just thought you might need someone to wash your back."

"I think that's watch my back, detective," she scolded, but he shut her up with a kiss and fell back against the wall with her tight in his arms.

"I'm feeling so much better," she assured him.

"Well you never felt better to me," he stroked and touched her gently, insistently, everywhere he could reach, and then some, all the while exploring her mouth with his own, tasting and consuming and seeming to absorb her into himself.

"I love that," she told him when he let her up for air again as the water washed over them like indoor rain.

"What's that," he muttered distractedly as he ran his mouth over her shoulders and neck.

"I can feel you smile when you kiss me, I love that, and when I kiss you it's like I'm tasting your smile."

"Mmm, you've been tasting a whole lot of me lately."

When they were dried off and dressed again, Nick finally put his suspicion into words.

"You know you didn't exactly tell Natalie the truth about what's been 'going into your mouth.'"

Incredibly, Maura felt herself blush. She turned and trotted downstairs to the living room, as if he couldn't tell. Hah. He followed on her heels.

"It's a little late to be shy, don't you think?"

She turned to face him, hands jammed awkwardly in her pockets. "Yeah, well, it's one thing to get carried away with you, it's another to relate the blow-by-blow to a third party."

"So to speak." Seeing Maura's face transform with annoyance, Nick wiped the smile off his own and headed her off. "Come on now, if we even have a hunch why you got so sick it makes sense to tell her. Much as I, we, enjoy your, ah, creativity," now all humor had left him, "if 'feeding' on me this way makes you sick, we'll just stop it. Understand?"

She shrugged. "Maybe it's a matter of degree? Maybe it's like getting a hangover?" She gave up on logic. "Maybe I'll just live with it, okay?"

He was shaking his head. "Funny, I always heard it was the guy who was supposed to carry on like this." Her response was a scowl.

"Natalie said she'd call. Maybe it's something else, and there's no need to discuss it."

Maura's faint hope for discretion was shattered when Natalie called, insisting to Nick that she talk only to Maura. He handed her the phone with a look that said "I told you so."

"Maura, I've found a rather peculiar protein in your blood, one that wasn't there before. I'll cut to the chase here, its DNA is a match for Nick's."

Silence.

"Maura, I have to ask. Even if it were possible for Nick to bring you across I'd see it written all over your blood sample. But what I found begs the question, have you been feeding on him anyway?" She sounded a little creeped out. Well, why not. Even vampire culture had its own set of 'norms', and the thought of a mortal sucking down a pint of vampire blood was just a little deviant.

"Ah, shit. Well Natalie, uh," Maura walked away with the phone as if she were keeping a secret from Nick. "Well not the way you'd suppose, I guess."

Now there was silence on the other end.

"Natalie, you there?"

A gulp. "Yeah. So you're saying… you've been consuming blood and other fluids from Nick. Regularly?" She was trying like hell to keep it clinical. Though Maura believed maybe Natalie was reacting with some echo of jealousy, the fact was it was killing her not to laugh. This was probably the most cosmically hysterical dirty-joke fodder she'd ever be unable share with anyone.

"Well, yeah." She beat Natalie to the questions she hadn't asked yet. Shit, can we get this over with. "Starting about a month ago more or less. I only started feeling queasy recently, and what happened the past day or so is brand new."

"Well maybe I was right and it was cumulative."

"So the short answer is I'm allergic to Nick or something, right?" This disappointed Maura more than she could say, as if she ever would.

"Maybe not specifically. You're a vegetarian, right? Your body is accustomed only to certain types of protein."

"Yeah I suppose so, but it's not as if I've turned cannibal or something. I mean how much of Nick's 'protein' could I be getting?"

The conversation had become bizarrely detached from its intimate origins. "It may not matter. He's not exactly your typical male."

And how, both women thought simultaneously.

"So…" Maura didn't know where to go next.

"So when vegetarians suddenly ingest unfamiliar protein, their bodies react in the short term. But they adjust. Lots of people are 'temporary vegetarians', they just get over it when they change their diets again."

Nick was eyeing Maura from where he sat in the living room. She was perched on the bottom stair, looking puzzled. He made a shrugging gesture, "Huh?" and she waved him off.

"Maybe it's temporary then."

"Could be. I can't believe I'm saying this, but the only way to find out is to keep, ah, ingesting the protein. So to speak."

"How freaking romantic," Maura muttered under her breath, commenting on Nick's behalf. "Well thanks Natalie, I hope we can both forget this conversation ever took place."

"Me too. Ordinarily I'd say let me know how it goes, but I think you can take it from here."

"I'll do my best."

Finally unable to keep it up, Natalie's voice broke in laughter. "I just hope I can keep a straight face when I see Nick again."

Maura switched off the phone and tried not to notice how expectantly Nick was waiting for her to fill him in. She sat down on the sofa next to him.

"Okay, it's like this. I'm a vegetarian and you are not a vegetable."

"That's reassuring."

"So when I give you an oral report, my body reacts to your chemistry as if I were binging on burgers, and when it builds up it makes me wanna hurl."

Nick dropped his face in his hands. "Couldn't you just tell me you had a reaction?"

"I thought I just did. Don't be such a priss, Bats. For someone who was channeling Lenny Bruce awhile ago you sure can get in touch with that inner virgin. Must be leftovers."

He looked at her with exaggerated patience. "Okay. So what's the prognosis?"

"Well," she slid closer and modulated her voice to a purr, "I'm told I'll probably just get over it in time."

A raised eyebrow, a not-so-subdued twinkle of gold in his blue eyes. "Really. Are you sure?"

She shrugged as she crept into his lap. "Well we might have to make some personal sacrifices to advance the cause of science."

"Mmm," he dropped his head back to better enjoy her kisses.

"Think the department can work this into their stress management program?" Maura mused as Nick wrestled her off the sofa and onto her back on the rug. When he lifted his face from hers his eyes glowed a deep gold as he growled,

"Well maybe if you present an oral report…"