LaCroix lounged on the roof of Natalie Lambert's apartment, listening. With his eyes closed, his hands folded behind his head, he presented a picture of idle ease. Those who knew him—like the one inside—would have tread softly, aware that his concentration was focused intently. Snow drifted lazily on him, refusing to melt as it rested on his black silk shirt.

They were having another one of their insipid "video nights". LaCroix failed to see how his son, who had acted at Shakespeare's Globe, who had sat at his feet listening raptly to Plato's Republic and Homer's Iliad, who had given him his first volume of Emily Dickenson's poetry, could spend at least a night each week watching some of the worst garbage spewed out by the crass, greedy, and utterly banal American entertainment industry.

LaCroix quickly squashed this train of thought. Such intolerance, he had admitted (if only to himself), was in part responsible for their current separation. His son's near patricide had proven to be the rudest awakening he'd suffered since Vesuvius—and just as humbling.

His first few months of recovery had been spent in a seething rage, planning a horrific revenge. However, that level of rage is taxing to maintain, especially in the face of such physical exhaustion. It had given way to sadness and—he loathed to admit it—guilt. Nicholas's rage had provided LaCroix with a mirror—and he didn't like what he'd seen.

For when his Nicholas had plunged the burning stake into his chest, he'd felt no hatred from him, only rage, desperation, and a terrible fear. It had been patricide or suicide. And the choice had been a near thing.

So, rather than exacting immediate revenge, LaCroix had decided to spend some time and reformulate his strategy. That included extensive reconnaissance. If he wished to win this battle, he had to understand his son and his new ally, Dr. Natalie Lambert.

So, each week, the three of them gathered for video night. Usually it was at Nicholas's loft, which LaCroix preferred. Natalie's building was full of the noises of living—chattering, heartbeats, televisions, appliances. It was amusing the way Nicholas immersed himself in a work environment guaranteed to cause sensory overload on so many levels, and chose to live in a home much more typical of their kind. The loft was quiet. Away from humans. Away from their grating voices and noisome smells and bright lights.

LaCroix heaved a long-suffering sigh at Fay Wray's piercing shriek. They were watching King Kong, yet again.

Nicholas spoke, "Have you ever read the Hunchback of Notre Dame?" LaCroix listened intently. These post-video conversations yielded him surprising insight.

"Once, in freshman lit in college. I didn't really like it…it was too sad."

"True enough. But it's the same story as King Kong, really. I mean, the hunchback has this tiny little world that he lives in—his cathedral, just like King Kong's island. But he falls in love with the drop-dead gorgeous gypsy. She's as out of reach for him as Fay is for a giant monkey. Both are condemned as animals, as sub-human, and are killed."

LaCroix remembered that story vividly. He wondered if Nicholas was thinking of Quasimodo's foster father, the corrupt priest. He hoped not.

"Pretty heavy stuff for a Saturday night, Nick." Her voice was teasing.

"Yeah, I guess." LaCroix could hear his grin. "But when you watch a movie for the dozenth time, the mind starts to wander…hey, quit it!" The pair laughed. The coroner must have thrown popcorn at him.

"It was my turn to pick! We watched your weird art films last week."

"They're not weird. They're insightful and thought provoking and…"

"Yeah yeah. Whatever. I ought to make you watch Bambi sometime."

"I never really got into cartoons…they don't look right. Or sound right."

"Of course not. They're cartoons."

"I know that. I guess for humans, it's easy to get lost in the story. But for us…it just doesn't look real. Cartoon water doesn't look or sound anything like real water. It's like…listening to just one instrument playing when you're used to hearing a symphony. I mean, you recognize it as Beethoven's 5th, but…" words failed him.

They were silent for a few moments. LaCroix sighed. Even the rare humans who were raised among vampires since childhood knew less about them than this woman. LaCroix used to get angry at Nicholas for these lapses, but now that he was beginning to understand, he just felt saddened. Nicholas was endangering himself and the Community with this woman because he simply had no one else to talk to. Since his return, LaCroix often wondered how many of their current troubles, how much of Nicholas's dissatisfaction and unhappiness, could have been avoided if he had simply listened to Nicholas more.

Nicholas finally continued. "We constantly receive detailed information from all five of our senses. Cartoons only appeal to two, and very imperfectly at that."

Nicholas's little doctor said thoughtfully, "So cartoons are even less realistic for you guys than for us. They can't begin to represent the depth of sensory information that you're used to."

"Right." Nicholas sounded pleased with her understanding. "Film is different. It can capture a lot of that visual information. It's not as good as our eyes, of course. Same with sound recordings. Many of those nuances are recorded. Even if human hearing can't appreciate them, we can. So while lots of us enjoy movies and music recordings, I haven't met a vampire who watches cartoons."

LaCroix could feel the woman's acute interest. She was fascinated by all things vampire, but Nicholas rarely indulged her. It was pleasant to hear him discuss at least a few aspects of vampirism without anguish or revulsion.

The coroner yawned—loud and unladylike.

Nicholas took the hint and stood. "I'll see you at work on Monday, Nat. Sleep well." LaCroix ground his teeth. He could picture them so clearly, Nicholas pressing a tender kiss to her forehead, smiling down at her, his face fond and wistful at the same time. The mortal could give him none of the passion, the ecstasy that his sister or his Master could, yet he left her company after one of these evenings full of contentment and pleasant thoughts.

LaCroix blended into the shadows, strengthening his shields. Nicholas climbed into his ridiculous car and drove towards his loft. When Nicholas was out of sight, he rose to his feet and dusted the still unmelted snow from his body, then lifted into the sky.

He followed Nicholas, his vampire vision allowing him to easily track his son, even from several thousand feet in the air. He'd rolled down the top of his convertible, enjoying the bite of winter's first snow.

LaCroix wondered why Nicholas let the doctor direct so many of his activities. They watched movies, either at home or in the theater. They went out to dinner. They played board games. Nicholas had taken her to a few plays, usually at a local community theater. Never the symphony or the opera, though the boy sometimes went on his own.

Sometimes, the sheer inanity of their activities nearly drove LaCroix mad. But at least when they were playing games or watching movies, they weren't looking for a 'cure'.

And sometimes, Nicholas played for her. Not nearly as often as he wished—the doctor's tastes in music were too uncultured for her to truly appreciate the classics. But when Nicholas played, her talking stilled—and LaCroix could pretend that he played for him.

What did Nicholas see in her? She was pretty but not beautiful, smart but not brilliant. She was rather shrewish compared to coy Janette and Nicholas's delicate Alyssa.

It had taken months for LaCroix to "get a clue" as the current vernacular went. She listened to him. Though she could be sharp with him, and very critical, she also accepted his quirks, his immaturities.

So Nicholas poured himself out to her, like he'd been able to do with no one for centuries. He told her about Christmas with his family, about his first horse, about learning to paint. He played his first composition on the piano for her. LaCroix had heard it—once.

He grimaced and decided he should stop watching Oprah. He was certain he'd never been this introspective before. It made him uncomfortably aware of how much his own father had shaped his parenting of Nicholas.

LaCroix grimaced slightly. He'd loathed the man.

------Flashback------

Lucius strained against Aurus. The massive retired gladiator nearly pinned him. Lucius gathered himself and, adjusting his leverage, managed to flip Aurus onto his back, pinning his shoulders. The scarred man strained and struggled, then finally yielded. Lucius grinned at his victory. His mother had bought the gladiator to serve as her son's sparring partner. The man was well versed in many types of fighting—hence the fact that he'd survived the stadium long enough to be retired. At 15, Lucius was old enough to realize that his mother had purchased Aurus for other reasons, but she conducted herself with appropriate decorum and discretion.

Lucius stood, smoothing his gleeful expression to one of calm triumph, he hoped. Turning, he waited for his father's approval. This was the first time he'd bested Aurus in a wrestling match.

The senator sipped his wine. "It is truly fortunate for Rome that you aren't headed to Gaul." With that cold remark, he'd turned and walked away.

-----End Flashback-----

He'd learned to curb his enthusiasm, to always appear calm and indifferent. He'd learned to achieve perfection, or at least its appearance, in everything before sharing it with anyone else.

-----Flashback-----

Nicholas looked shyly at his father and sister as the last notes faded away. He'd labored over this first composition for months.

LaCroix sipped his bloodwine. "I hope you weren't planning on adding that to program of our musicale tomorrow night, mon fils."

---End Flashback---

Nicholas had learned to take his zest, his wonderful passion, his childlike fancies to someone else. Janette, following her father's example, had not been receptive. Nicholas had become guarded around them, his pendulum swinging between quiet and withdrawn to wildly decadent, yet shallow.

But, when he was away from his family, an entirely different Nicholas would emerge from his protective shell. LaCroix had always been amazed how he would suddenly blossom in the company of mortals or one of his few friends in the Community. Nicholas would talk and laugh. He would debate endlessly on the merits of different artists, farming methods, martial strategies, and baseball teams. Then, when LaCroix made himself known, all that excitement would evaporate, leaving sullenness and resentment.

LaCroix considered paying his son a visit at home. It gave him a sort of hollow satisfaction when the contentment he'd soaked up after a pleasant evening with the coroner gave way to anger and fear. But he'd never get what he wanted that way. If he continued to inspire such dread in his son, he'd never be welcomed back into the boy's life.

The ancient decided to head home instead. He poured himself a glass of bloodwine and pulled The Hunchback from the shelf. It had been a long time since he'd read it.

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This is a prequel to my LaCroix/Nick story, "Ashes to Ashes". It's definitely M rated (lots of smut). Click the link listed as my 'homepage', which will take you to my profile on