Blood Hunt

Blood Hunt

A Forever Knight story

Notes: third season, fairly graphic violence, N/N, T/V. I've rated this PG-13, but it may be a little strong for more sensitive readers.

By Janice Cox

"Damn it!" The small brown haired woman rubbed futilely at her numb fingers. This morning the radio has promised a brief respite from the oncoming fall chill, and so she'd left her gloves at home. Now it was almost dark, and the wind snatched greedily at the remaining warmth in her exposed fingers and ears. Carefully setting down the bag of supplies, Angie bent down and retrieved the keys.

A moment later the big door swung inward and she sighed with relief as the warm air brushed at her face. The heater was on, as were the lights in the back. The lights over the bar were off, and the strong smell of gin filled the air. Underneath the gin there was another odor, not immediately recognizable.

"Mister LaCroix? Joe?"

The only reply was the dripping of a faucet over at the bar and the gentle hiss of the central heater. Carefully locking the door behind her, Angie crossed the darkened room, pausing to set down the bag near the door marked Employees Only.

"Joe?"

Nothing.

She sighed dramatically. "I swear, if you've been hitting the sauce, the boss is going to kill you. Give me a hand with this stuff, will you? I picked up more nuts, but I really don't know why we bother. Half the time the stuff just goes stale. Never seen a place where the customers ignore the free lunch before..."

Angie set the nuts down with a disgusted bang.

"Hey, no kidding, you'd better get it together. The boss'll be in soon, and that is one dude you don't want to piss off.

"Joe?"

Sounds of water dripping at the bar, but no reply. Angie fumbled for the light switches which would light the bar itself.

"C'mon, this isn't funny. This place is creepy enough without you--" Her diatribe cut off in mind stream, Angie tried to scream but all that squeezed from her throat was a whispery "hhaaa" as her feet took unwilling steps away from whatever--whoever--was on the bar.

"Oh my God..."

###

"Oh my God."

"Why don't you step outside, Tracy? See if anyone saw something."

Tracy Vetter shook her head resolutely. "No, I'm fine, really. It just...I haven't seen anything this bad before. I'll be fine."

Nick Knight took in his new partner's pale, green-tinged complexion and mentally rolled his eyes. "Sure you will. I just thought you needed some fresh air."

"Nick? I think you should see this."

Knight gave Tracy one last look, then turned toward the body on the bar. Natalie was kneeling at one end, her feet and knees narrowly avoiding the pooling blood.

"Have you ever seen anything like this? I've seen weird, but this is..."

She paused as Tracy approached.

"What's up?" The young detective looked determinedly professional.

"Well, I was about to tell Nick that this woman wasn't tied down with ropes." She lifted a red, sticky coil from one pale ankle with a wooden examination stick. "Never seen someone tied down with their own intestines, before. Thrifty fellow, this one."

"Ooohph. Nick, I think I'll...go talk to the crowd outside." Tracy turned and walked unsteadily toward the front doors, now propped open.

"That wasn't very nice."

"She'll get used to it. We all do."

"Indeed. Nicolas, might I have a word with you?" LaCroix, whom the patrolmen had politely introduced to Nick as the bar's owner, was standing behind them.

Nick nodded briefly. "Nat?"

"Don't worry about me. I'll be here for a while yet." The coroner turned back toward the figure on the bar. "This looks like the beginning of a very long night."

###

"You know, of course, that this little matter must be cleared up as soon as possible."

The two men had walked away from the crowd of police, forensics expects and photographers that surround every violent death like flies over rotting meat. They paused at the rear wall, where LaCroix leaned casually against the black stone.

Nick nodded. "The captain has put several of us on it already. Any time there's a case like this, the media starts in right away, and that kind of attention always makes things worse."

"That isn't the attention that I'm concerned with. What does concern me, Nicolas, is that this woman was found here, in this manner, and with that particular message." He gestured abruptly toward the bar.

"`Pain is fleeting. Blood is eternal.' Yes, that does look bad. Is there any chance that..."

"That one of our own would do something so foolish? Come, come, Nicolas, none of us are that foolhardy. They would not dare," he added softly. For a moment LaCroix's true face appeared, and then the murderous predator was replaced by a look of arrogant disinterest.

"I'll admit it seems unlikely, but..."

"But, of course, anything is possible. Yes, I will make inquiries. But you won't find your killer here, Nicolas." The older man turned away, then paused.

"And Nicolas? If you intend to play by mortal rules of justice, see that you find him first."

Wonderful. With LaCroix seeking vengeance for the inconvenience of having to redecorate, a very nasty case was about to get nastier. Nick shook his head wearily, and headed back toward the crime scene. Just being in The Raven was painful now that Janette had moved on, and that dull ache was accompanied by pity for the young woman displayed like a side of beef on its long, wooden bar.

The call had come in about four hours ago from a nearly hysterical head waitress named Angie Delgado. She had been hired by LaCroix to take care of the tedious details of running a downtown nightclub, and was now at St. Thomas', sleeping the sleep of the heavily medicated. Miss Delgado had not been too useful, having come in after the killer had made his presentation and left, but she had stated that the door was locked, and that there had been no sign of break-in. And since LaCroix did not follow Janette's habit of sleeping in the attached private quarters, there was no one to hear as the killer eviscerated and then tied the young woman to the oaken bar. He had then taken his time with her, pausing only to paint the cryptic message on the bar's mirror with the victim's own blood. The look on her face was...disquieting.

She had lived much longer than she could possibly have wished to.

Tracy was back when he returned to the bar, patiently lifting prints from the bar's smooth, waxed surface. She was overseen by Jack Thompson, one of the department's forensics experts. At Nick's inquiring look he nodded, pursing his lips in surprise. Tracy was doing okay.

Natalie approached him, taking off her stained latex gloves.

"Nick, we're going to take her downtown. I don't think we're going to get much more here."

Nick nodded. "Have you been able to establish the cause of death?"

"Well, gee, I don't know. Maybe it was the shock and blood loss from the skin he took, or maybe from he cut her from stem to stern and removed most of her internal organs. Could've been the impromptu cardioectomy. Or maybe it was pulling her finger and toenails that was the straw that broke--" she stopped abruptly, putting one trembling hand over her eyes. "I'm sorry, Nick. I guess this one's getting to me, a little."

He put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I know. No matter how often we see it, violent death is never easy to deal with. Especially when..."

"When they've been tortured." she finished wearily. "I can't give you anything definite, but I'd put death at about five hours ago, due to traumatic blood loss and shock. Give me a couple of hours and I can be a little more precise."

"All right." He squeezed her shoulder briefly before releasing it. "I'll call you later, huh?"

"Hold it!" The sharp voice that brought their heads around belonged to a tall, dark haired woman, who gestured peremptorily to the attendants who had been rolling out the victim's body. She bent and quickly unzipped the body bag, seemed satisfied with what she saw.

"Can I help you?" Natalie moved first, stepping angrily between the body and the stranger. "This is a police investigation. I'm afraid you'll have to wait outside."

The woman gave Nat a calm, measuring look. She was dressed casually, in jeans and an oversized windbreaker, but wore authority like a mantle.

"I need to speak to whoever's in charge here."

"That would be me." Nick flashed his shield. "Detective Knight, homicide. And you are...?"

"Keller. RCMP violent crimes."

"I wasn't aware that the department had called you in, Agent Keller."

"They didn't." She gave him another long, measuring stare, then turned toward the bar. "Nice work. Have you identified the victim yet?"

"Not yet. Her purse is missing, and getting a good set of prints is going to be...tricky."

"Generally is, when the killer cuts off the pads of all their fingers. Who discovered the body?"

"We have her. And you haven't explained what you're doing here, Agent Keller." Knight put one hand on her arm and held it firmly. "We've got the situation under control, I can assure you. Perhaps you'd like to explain how you heard about this so fast."

Keller irritably turned to face him. "This case belongs to us. I've been tracking this guy across half of Canada, and believe me I know his signature. And I'll thank you, detective, to take your hand off me." She coolly reached over and placed her right hand over his where it still rested on her arm.

Contact.

Nick jumped slightly and pulled his hand away as a shiver of something cold ran through him. Keller didn't react immediately, instead staring blankly at nothing before slowly bringing her eyes up to meet his. Her eyes narrowed speculatively, even as her left hand slowly massaged her right.

"Nick? Are you okay?" Nat's concerned voice brought him back to reality.

"It's nothing. I was, just explaining jurisdiction to Agent Keller."

"Yes." Keller took a step backward. "I'll see that you have the appropriate paperwork by morning. In the mean time," she broke eye contact with difficulty, "I'll need to see whatever your people have picked up here, and a copy of the coroner's report ASAP." Her eyes returned inexorably to Nick's face. "Our man's not done here yet. We've got another day or two of fun and games before he moves on." She shook her head and turned to face the bar. "I expect I'll be here for a while. Can I reach you at the precinct, detective?"

"I'm off at six, but I'll be in tomorrow night."

"Then I'll see you then."

###

"What was that all about?"

"I think she knows, Nat."

"Who the killer is? What makes you say that?"

Nick looked briefly over at Tracy, who was perched on the end of his car, deep in thought over her notepad. He lowered his voice.

"I think she knows what I am."

###

"Captain, I need to talk to you." As Reese looked up, Nick walked in and closed the door behind him. "It's about the murder at The Raven. I know that the RCMP is claiming jurisdiction, but I really think that the case needs a local angle..."

Reese sighed. "Come in, Detective Knight. Have a seat." He gestured magnanimously toward the chair Nick was leaning over. "I know which case you're talking about. We ID'd the lady after you went off shift." He slid a file across the desk. "Lady was one Danielle Correlli, 24, single, and a nanny, if you can believe that. Didn't think they still had nannies, for God's sake. We ID'd her through a missing persons report."

"How long had she been missing?" Knight looked up curiously.

"Her employer reported it when she didn't appear for work yesterday morning." The captain frowned.

"But she hadn't been missing even 24 hours yet. Why did Missing Persons...oh."

"You got that right. Miss Correlli just happens to have been the nanny for Jessie and Ryan Gershwin."

"Children of one Frank Gershwin, mayor of Toronto," Nick finished.

"That's two for you. So now we've got the mayor's office jumping up and down, not to mention the usual noise from our friends in the media. Lord, don't they just love the messy ones. Everyone's looking to us, and what do we get, but a visit from the RCMP."

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I think it would be a good idea if one of us was assigned to the investigation. To provide a local angle, coordinate precinct activities, that sort of thing." Nick leaned forward, meeting his captain's eyes. He disliked influencing mortals unnecessarily, but this was certainly necessary. A moment to concentrate, and...

"And that makes three. It would appear that our esteemed colleagues over at RCMP agree with you. I just spoke to Agent Keller, and we got everything set up. She's going to brief each shift, starting with the night shift. Briefing's in fifteen minutes, so don't waste any more time talking to me.

"And Knight? I understand you met Keller last night. Any comments?"

"Not really, Captain. She seems professional enough. Any reason?"

Reese grinned. "I guess you made quite an impression on the lady. She asked for you by name."

###

"Can I help you?" Natalie Lambert wasn't quite able to keep the irritation out of her voice as she greeted the RCMP officer she and Nick had met last night. Nick seemed to think the woman was some sort of psychic, but has been less than forthcoming in telling Nat just what he thought the woman knew.

As if that was anything new.

Too many years of keeping secrets had made Nick tightlipped enough that sometimes the urge to just shake the answers out of him was nearly irresistible. As usual, Nick was cryptic and Nat was on her own. Reaching up, she switched off the recorder which took her verbal autopsy notes.

"Yes. I need to see the autopsy report on the Correlli woman." The taller woman looked blandly at Nat, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened last night. Wordlessly, Natalie handed over the report.

Keller nodded, then began scanning the pages immediately. After a couple of minutes, Natalie sighed loudly.

"Agent Keller, do you need me for anything? My patients are getting antsy."

That seemed to get her attention.

"By all means. I'll need to see the body, of course."

"Of course. Third one from the end. There's a box of latex gloves to your right."

"Mmm." Keller nodded absently, already back to the careful details of Danielle Correlli's death. Natalie shrugged mentally. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Personality had never been a requirement for service with the RCMP...

When Natalie next looked up, she was surprised to see that nearly an hour had passed without interruption. Even the departure of Agent Keller hadn't shook her concentration. That thought lead naturally to the body of Danielle Correlli, lying still in bay three. Natalie headed over on autopilot, already mentally laying out her final report. She rounded the corner file cabinet that had bitten her shins on numerous occasions without a blink and stepped directly up to the body.

"I'm cold...so cold."

The whisper was thin, pitiful, and soft as a (voice from the grave?) child's.

"Ahh!" Even as she gasped and stumbled a panicky step backward, Natalie cursed herself for reacting like an intern. Bodies don't talk. Or whisper.

Nick's did, her traitorous mind reminded her.

Belatedly she realized that the sound hadn't come from the body's head, but from the side. Standing still as stone, her face pale and waxy, was Agent Keller, her hand tightly grasping Ms. Correlli's left hand.

"Agent Keller?" Natalie took a hesitant step forward. Oh, this is weirder than snake shoes

"Agent Keller?" she repeated. "Are you all right?"

The dark haired woman blinked rapidly, her breath coming in several short sips before settling into a normal sinus rhythm. Her free hand went absently to her hair, smoothing a rebellious stand into place.

Abruptly she looked up at Nat. Absolutely calm.

"Did you say something, Dr. Lambert?"

"Yes" Natalie said warily. "Are you okay? You looked a little rocky there for a minute." There's an understatement, Natalie added mentally. "Did you say something about...being cold?"

"I said it looked like she was kept cold," Keller said smoothly. "Your report doesn't mention it, but I found small amounts of tissue damage in the extremities, and signs of drying in the mucous membranes and lips."

"All of which are consistent with exposure. It's cold outside, Ms. Keller. I didn't find any evidence to suggest that there was anything usual in sustaining cold exposure symptoms in winter in Toronto. There's nothing here," Natalie tapped the table lightly for emphasis, "to indicate otherwise. And that's what goes in my report."

"Of course, Doctor. I didn't mean to question your findings." She handed Natalie back the case file. "If you'll forward your findings on to our office, I'm sure that will be sufficient for our records. I'll leave you a number where I can be reached, if you come up with anything else." Keller handed her a business card with a cellular phone number scribbled on the back, then turned to leave.

"Oh, and Doctor?" Keller paused, then looked over her shoulder. A mischievous grin flicked briefly across her face, then was gone. "She was kept in the cold."

The double doors swept shut behind her while Natalie was still trying to formulate her reply.

###

"...Keeps them prisoner for several hours before beginning his work. He picks them up within two hours of dusk, then gets down to business at roughly dawn. Time of death is from two to six hours later. He's getting better at prolonging his pleasure, so we're looking at an TOD of about eighteen hours from pick up on the next one. We don't know what he's doing to them during the night, but the depleted levels of epinephrine found in the bodies suggests that the torture and death was just the end of a really bad day.

"Any description?" Nick asked inquiringly.

"Pretty standard. While male, thirties or forties, medium build." Keller nodded at their responding groans. "We've got witnesses that rented him a room in three cases, and each one of `em has a different take on the guy. We know he's about 6 foot tall and 180- 185 pounds, but he's worn a wig and/or contact lenses when setting up his rentals, so we've got nothing there. He doesn't leave bodily fluids behind, so we've got no blood type."

"So what do we have?" Tracy asked impatiently. "If the RCMP has been working on this case for three months, you must have put together something."

"Yes," Keller replied, coolly meeting Tracy's eyes. "We know his victims are white, generally middle-class, very respectable. They tend to dress conservatively, and in one case the gentleman was a priest. We know he picks them up shortly after dark, and that he keeps them prisoner for several hours, which means he's got a place nearby which is private and soundproof. We know he'll choose one more victim here in Toronto before he tries to move on.

"We also know that he's broken his routine. His last victim was left in a local nightclub, where all of his previous kills were left in an unused space: an unrented apartment, an empty warehouse, places like that. Something made him change his pattern, and I'm going to find out what.

"In the mean time," she concluded, dropping off the edge of the desk she'd been sitting on, "we're asking all patrols to keep an eye on things in the area around the club, and near the churches and libraries. You've got copies of the police artist's sketch. What I need from you is your eyes. This guy's not superman. He's rented an apartment, he's got to eat, he's got to clean up his messes. Keep me informed, and I'll be out of your hair as soon as possible.

"Any questions?" she looked blandly at Tracy. "Was that clear enough, detective?"

"That's it? You're just going to wait for him to kill again?" Tracy asked incredulously.

Keller walked lazily across the room toward Tracy and Nick.

"Why, yes, detective. Heck, if we caught `em before they killed anybody, why, there wouldn't even be a homicide department, and then where would we be?" Keller's voice had dropped to a dangerous drawl, and Nick could see the other officers watching avidly. Even cops like to see a little blood drawn sometimes...

Nick dropped one hand on Tracy's shoulder as she opened he mouth to reply.

"Why don't we head down to the car? You did say that you wanted us to check on the local churches, right? Late mass will be getting out soon." As he spoke Nick looked around at the other officers, who began to file out of the squad room.

"I just think that we could be doing more," Tracy continued stubbornly. "What about a decoy? You said yourself that we know his type. We could get some of our undercover people..." she trailed off as Keller shook her head.

"We tried that twice. He hasn't taken the bait."

"He must be psychic," Nick said lightly. As he said it he watched the RCMP woman carefully, but her only response was an irritated glance shot in his direction before she began to collect her notes.

"Or just smart. Most cops have got a look...too tough, not, I don't know, victimish enough."

"Tried it yourself, did you?" Nick grinned. To his surprise, she returned it ruefully.

"Sure. Spent all night cruising the churches and late-night libraries. Got sore feet and five illicit proposals. He's just too smart for that," she repeated.

"Still, it seems like our best shot," Tracy persisted. "If we use someone local, someone who looks like a housewife or a student more than a cop..." she trailed off. "Why are you guys looking at me like that?"

###

"My feet hurt."

Tracy's voice came through the wire clearly.

"Guys? You still there?"

Nick reached forward and pressed the `send' button.

"We're here, Tracy. Why don't you just stay there. You could read your book, look distracted."

Tracy sighed. "Yeah, that sounds good. I think we're coming up zero, here, guys."

Keller leaned back in the Caddie's passenger seat and rolled her head over toward Nick. She began to open her mouth, but Knight beat her to it.

"It's the sign of a noble mind not to say, `I told you so'."

"That's something I've never been accused of having." She stretched, then looked at her watch. "It's almost midnight. If he was going to hit tonight, he would have by now."

"You're right. Why don't we give it a few more minutes, then I'll drop you back off at the station. You can get a fresh start in the morning."

She grimaced, whether in response to the idea or to the cold coffee she was sipping, he couldn't be sure. "No, I've still got work to do tonight."

They sat in silence for several minutes, watching Tracy pretend to study at a bus stop. Keller finished her coffee with a look of disgust and began to idly twist a strand of rosary beads through her fingers. Lost in thought, she didn't see Nick's look of surprise and wariness as the beads began to wend between her fingers.

"You're Catholic?" Nick said, forcing his voice to a calm he didn't feel. After last night's eerie experience, he'd been sure that Keller was sensitive, that she'd picked up on at least a part of what he was. And now this no-nonsense officer was casually playing with her rosary, after first ensuring that they'd be alone together...

"Eh? Oh, no," she shook her head decisively. "A pair just like these was found at the scene of the last murder. I need to know how this guy thinks, what his motivations are. We find out why he does it, we'll know when and who before he hits again.

"So why do you do it, Nick?"

"Do what? Go around killing coeds?" He nodded out to where Tracy was sitting, straining to keep his voice light.

She grinned politely, but the smile never reached her eyes.

"Why are you a cop? You've got a condition which severely limits your hours. You don't make friends much within the department or without. You prefer to work alone. And you certainly don't need the money. What makes you tick, Nick?"

"You've certainly done your homework. Checking up on me?"

She shook her head dismissively. "Just like to know who I'm working with."

Now why don't I believe that? Nick shrugged casually.

"And here I don't even know your first name." He half-turned in his seat so that he was facing her directly. "Don't you trust me, Agent Keller?" He pushed out mentally, seeking the mind behind those questioning eyes.

Hard blackness, unyielding. Behind it, something shifted, stirred. The predator awakening.

"Nick? Hey, guys?" The next thing Nick knew, Tracy's voice filled the interior of his car, and Keller was looking at him curiously.

"You going to answer that, or should I?"

"I've got it. Yes, Tracy?"

"I'm about ready to call it for tonight. What do you think, partner?"

"Sounds good. I'll pull around the corner to the north. Meet us there in five minutes."

"You got it. See you in a minute."

What happened? Nick knew from long experience that many sensitives were resistors to one extent or another, but never in eight hundred years had he felt anything quite like that. Her mind was like an obsidian blade: sharp, cold, and utterly black. Blank? No, her shielding was good, but it was more than that.

She was a Hunter.

SLAM!

The loud noise jolted him from his reverie. Many years as a cop brought his right hand to his shoulder holster before he had consciously identified the sound as the slamming of his passenger side door. Keller was standing outside, leaning in through the open window.

"Think I'm going to hang around, see what I can pick up. Why don't you take Tracy and hit the all-night book store? I'll give you a call if I come up with anything."

Nick recovered quickly. "Sure. I've got a few things to check out myself. You going to make it back all right?"

"I'll try not to get mugged. And Nick? It's Sam."

"Sam?" he looked at her blankly.

"Samantha. You know, my name?"

"Right. I caught that." Nick grinned, and released a long, slow breath.

"What a detective. See you tomorrow night, Knight."

###

The killer watched as the blond woman jumped into the Cadillac, which then pulled smoothly back onto the street and toward police headquarters. Young and sweet, that one. She would cry and plead, of course. They always did. Learning to appreciate the transitory pain, to see beyond it to the dark realm waiting, took time. He would spend many hours patiently instructing her, and in the end she would see. She would see not with her weak mortal eyes, but with eyes opened through pain to see the Dark Lord who waited just beyond... Thinking of how it would be caused a chill of anticipation to run through him. She would learn her lesson well.

But not just yet.

The Man, now... Shadows enveloped that one, shadows like he'd seen only time before. The Man's mission was surely like his own. He would understand why Azoth had made the offering of entente the night before. Perhaps he would even warn The Man about the one who watched Azoth but did not learn.

Perhaps.

###

"So this police officer may be a threat to us. How untrusting of you, Nicolas. Perhaps there is hope for you yet. So tell me, what do you intend to do about it?"

LaCroix leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table in his private recording studio, his fingers neatly steepling themselves between them. His eyebrows raised in a parody of innocence, LaCroix waited patiently for his progeny's excuses.

"I don't know. She checked out my record, and it looks like Merlin's work held up. And she's here to catch a killer, not look for vampires. She was much calmer tonight. I'm hoping that she'll just let it go, pass it off as nerves" Even as he said the words, Nick knew he was being unrealistically optimistic. "I just thought you should know," he finished lamely, "in case she shows up here again."

"Why Nicolas, you've managed to put your finger directly on it. She does indeed 'catch killers' as you so aptly put it, and our hands are so very bloody. What makes you think that she will ignore the evidence of her senses? Even if she is not certain of what she has seen, do you truly think that she will simply 'let it go'? If she is half of what you suspect, you know she will not." LaCroix smiled narrowly as Nick looked away.

"Perhaps I should rephrase my first question to you. What do you want me to do about it?"

"Nothing." Nick turned quickly back to face his old master. "I'll handle it."

"As you have before, no doubt. The Enforcers don't appear to share your high opinion of your abilities in this matter. Or have you forgotten, Doctor?"

"No. I haven't forgotten." Nick clenched one fist in remembered guilt. More than two hundred years ago another mortal had found evidence of their existence, and the Enforcers had efficiently put down that evidence. And the mortal who possessed it. More recently they had reappeared in his life, and he had narrowly prevented another such senseless death. "Are they here? So soon?"

"I have not seen them. But of course, one rarely does. Even if they are not, Nicolas, they undoubtedly will be soon. And if they are forced to take care of your responsibility" he emphasized clearly, "they will doubtless not be amused. I may have been able to intercede for you once, but I doubt I would have such luck again.

"For your own sake, I suggest you clean this up quickly. If they have seen this morning's papers, they almost certainly will be here soon. Now, if you will excuse me, my public awaits," LaCroix rose gracefully, and gestured with one gloved hand toward the door of the studio.

Nick nodded soberly.

"I'll take care of it."

###

"Blood Stalker Strikes Again!"

The headline screamed up of the page loudly enough to give Agent Samantha Keller, RCMP Violent Crimes, a headache. Frowning, she rubbed her temples slowly, eyes tightly closed. The all-night diner's lights were offensively bright, and buzzed like an angry nest of hornets. Still, it was a momentary break from the frustration that had been building since she'd first been assigned this case. The usual hunches which filled in the blanks left by standard police investigative techniques where almost completely absent from this case. This killer spoke to her only in half-heard mutterings and mocking laughter which lead her only to where he had already been.

Except of course in her dreams. Dreams which left her trembling and drenched in sweat, remembering nothing but the swish of a descending knife. It had become simpler, of late, not to sleep at all. Eyes still closed, she took a last sip of the coffee, silently thanking God (or whoever was listening) for the miracle of caffeine.

"That gonna do it for you, hon?" The smell of Juicy Fruit gum and the whisper of a ticket hitting the table announced the presence of the waitress before the woman had even opened her mouth. Sam opened her eyes reluctantly. The ticket had come to rest neatly in the middle of the condensation her water glass had left, and all that was visible of her server was her ample backside.

"No, thank you. It was lovely, really." She looked down at her plate of congealing scrambled eggs and half-cooked hash browns. Yum. At least the coffee was decent. Dropping a five on the table, Samantha headed toward the waiting dark.

It was nearly two o'clock by the time she reached The Raven. Yellow police tape still criss-crossed the heavy wooden door, with more of it littering the sidewalk to either side. The doorknob didn't respond to a polite tug, nor did the door respond to the not-so-polite pounding she gave it.

"How rude."

It wouldn't be that difficult to call the station and get someone to contact the owner. Who would doubtless be less than pleased to open the door for her at 3 a.m. Why bother him? She'd catch up with him sooner or later. Right now the scene of the last crime beckoned. By tomorrow the final forensics inspection would be over, the nightclub cleaned up. It would be as if the torture and murder of Danielle Correlli had never happened.

"Not this time." Glancing casually down both sides of the street (it would be extremely embarrassing to be offered a ride downtown by Toronto's Finest), Keller slipped a flat black case from the rear pocket of her jeans, knelt in front of the front door and set to work. "Bingo." The door opened inward slightly into the coal black interior. "One minute, ten seconds." She slid her set of lockpicks pack into her pocket, then carefully stepped inside. The light switch to the left of the door brought dim light to portions of the dance floor and walk ways. Stuffing her gloves in one pocket of her oversized jacket, Keller pulled out a small tape recorder and clicked it on.

"Method of entry was a small skylight on the northwest corner of the building. Skylight is not visible from the street, suggesting that he had been inside the building at least one time previously.

"It would have been dark inside when he arrived, with only the skylight itself for illumination. Victim's prints on one table suggest that he set her down in order to clear off the bar area. No evidence of binding with artificial materials has been found. She sat there and waited for him to come back..."

Keller's monologue continued as she approached the scene of the murder itself. Lost in her report, and in the whispers that filled her head with each step, she didn't see the door which opened slowly out into the bar. A figure in black stepped silently out into the darkness...

"No excessive blood spray was found. Tissue and fecal matter were not spread throughout the room as has become customary, and, in the absence of religious items, no sacrilegious displays have been found. Alter such a holy place? These will understand this offering, this gift on the altar of wood and blood," Keller continued, oblivious to the way her voice deepened, roughened.

"Holy place? Where the hell did that come from?" Clicking off her recorder in disgust, she irritably began to stuff it back into her pocket. This place was getting to her. It happened, sometimes. Like in that...

"Some people take their amusements very seriously," a spectral voice intoned.

###

"Thanks, Nick. I'll see you tomorrow night."

Tracy Vetter waved at her partner as he pulled his non-regulation Cadillac away from the curb and back into traffic. Ow. The tenseness of the evening had left her with stiff muscles and frazzled nerves, all of which complained loudly now that the excitement was over. She rubbed absently at on one shoulder as she continued towards her apartment.

"Excitement? That's a laugh. Just another fabulous night on the job with Tracy Vetter, girl detective," she muttered, heading up the lobby doors on autopilot. Nick hadn't said anything, of course, but she knew that he was coming around to the Keller woman's side on the whole stakeout idea. That woman...

"Hmmph," she added to herself, digging for her apartment keys. "Walking in like she owns the place. I may have to take that crap from the other shields, but no way is some, some, outside help going to tell me how to do my job. Ah! Here we go." Catching the keys, where they had been hiding at the bottom of her purse, she unlocked the lobby door. The lock had stiffened with the recent freeze, and she had to shove slightly to get the stubborn door open.

Movement.

Out of the corner of her eye, as she shoved against the door, Tracy caught a glimpse of something. Someone? Sticking one foot on the door to hold it open, she turned and leaned back out into the cold.

"Hello? Is anyone there?"

Nothing. At three in the morning not too much was stirring in her upper- middle class area. Not even the barking of a dog stirred the still night air. She sighed and shook her head.

"That's it. No more midnight horror films for you, kiddo." Yawning, Tracy pulled the door shut behind herself and headed toward the waiting elevators.

Outside, something separated itself from the shadows and moved with chilling ease up the fire escape at the side of the building.

"Hi, honey, I'm home!" Tracy sang out cheerfully.

"Oh. I forgot. I'm not married." Definitely too much TV. Tracy shrugged off her coat and dropped it over the coat rack by the door. Hitting the light switch by the door brought the lights on, with the lights followed immediately by warm air as she turned on the heater. She headed immediately for the bedroom, where she quickly stripped out of the layers of her "shy little victim" clothes. Looking suspiciously at her blouse, which she hadn't warn since college, Tracy took an experimental sniff.

"Ugh. Time for the laundry basket, you. And you, too, Trace," she said firmly to her reflection. The bedroom mirror offered no reply.

"I'll take that as a yes."

Ten minutes later Tracy was in heaven.

"Ohhh. I really should do this more often," she sighed, sinking deeper into the hot bubble bath until only her head and shoulders remained above water. Taking an oversized wash cloth, she began methodically rubbing her tired skin clean of dirt and stress. A bubble bath was so relaxing...she really had to make time for this more often. Why, she could almost go to sleep right here. Almost...

"Wha? Huh? I'm up, I'm up." Tracy brushed something cool and damp away from here face and sat up with a start. "What did I....oh, rats."

The police siren that had awakened her was fading slowly as it passed her apartment building. The bath water had cooled to being just slightly too cold to delay any longer, and she clambered out quickly. The heater had apparently shut itself off, because the bathroom was now very chilly to her wet body. Toweling off quickly, Tracy put on the pajamas she'd thought to lay out beforehand and headed sleepily towards her bedroom.

Opening the bathroom door brought her wide awake as a blast of frigid air slapped at her face. The lights were out in the living room. Did I do that? Can't remember. She started to walk into the room, then froze.

Wait. Let your eyes do the moving. Don't be a target. With relief, Tracy felt her academy training coming back to her. Movement. Look for movement. Flattening herself against the door frame, she scanned the room cautiously. Light from the street lamps outside caught the slow movement of her living room curtains as they fluttered in the cool air. The window behind them was ajar.

"Vachon?" Pulling something like this would probably be his idea of a joke. He's probably hiding behind the couch with a corny black cape on. Probably lives for times like this.

Right. Vachon might be many things, but he wasn't the type to pull a cruel stunt like this. Now can that, Vetter, and think. Where's your gun? Purse. Bedroom.

The stillness of the room did nothing to relieve her nerves. Putting her back to the wall, Tracy edged down the hall toward her bedroom. The lights weren't on there, either. The purse was where she'd left it, on the middle of her bed. Did she leave it unzipped? It was now. Talk a deep breath. Walk across the room. Move!

"Traaaacy." This sibilant whisper stopped her in her tracks. Where was it coming from? Never mind. Get your weapon. She had reached the bed and grabbed her purse when the voice came at her again.

"Traaaacy. So soft, so pure. You wanted me to come to you, Tracy. Now here I am. Aren't you glaaad?" The voice seemed to come at her from all directions, mocking her. How did he know her name?

Oh God.

Two important realizations hit Tracy at the same moment that her closet door slammed open.

This wasn't a burglar.

And her gun was no longer in her purse.

###

"You really shouldn't sneak up on a police officer," Samantha managed in a voice which was almost entirely calm. Quietly she reholstered her pistol and took a deep breath before meeting the stranger's eyes.

She knew who he was, of course. The mysterious owner of The Raven, who also happened to be late-night radio's Night Crawler. He managed to look calm, damn him, as if people drew deadly weapons on him every day. Hell, with his reputation, maybe they did. It didn't explain how he'd managed to get the drop on her. Nobody did that.

He was looking at her with a mixture of amusement and irritation.

"I trust that you have an explanation for this late night intrusion, Detective...?"

"Agent Keller, RCMP." She flashed him her badge.

He shrugged as if the distinction was unimportant.

"That still doesn't answer my question. It was my understanding that you people were finished here. At least, your Commissioner assured me that this was so." Of course he was baiting her, but there was something else there. Tension? Interesting.

"This part of our investigation will be closed when I say it's closed, not before. If you have any problems with that, here's the number of the RCMP headquarters in Montreal." She handed him a business card with a hand which shook not at all, and which he took with elaborate politeness. Underneath their ritual an undercurrent of tension had developed which could be cut with a knife.

"I'm sorry if I disturbed you, Mr. LaCroix. It was my understanding that you didn't use the living quarters here. Were you expecting company here tonight?" His wintry smile as she slipped into Interrogation Mode didn't do anything to improve Keller's disposition.

"Not at all. But, murder investigation or not, I still must work." He gestured with one black-gloved hand toward a dark corner, where she now remembered that a recording studio lay. "Now, is there some way that I can help you?"

###

Nick Knight sighed in frustration.

Since The Raven was temporarily closed, he'd been forced to rely on other methods of getting information on the vampire community. Perhaps because they are all forced to keep silent among the majority of the population, vampires are notorious gossips when with their own kind. Comings and goings are always noted, commented upon, and occasionally acted upon, even in a city the size of Toronto. If a renegade had come to town, someone would have heard by now.

No one had heard a thing.

Of course, the body found at The Raven was public knowledge, and fodder for many a long night's discussion. Common wisdom suggested that, if the killer was one of them, that he or she was clearly insane. No one would have the effrontery to commit something so public. Especially not in LaCroix's territory. If he didn't correct the problem, common opinion continued, the Enforcers certainly would. And if it wasn't a vampire, then it was of no concern to them. Either way, no real problem.

All of this meant that Nick had wasted the last few hours of darkness the night had to offer. Screed had generously offered to scour the city (for a price, of course), but with the general description that they had, Screed'd have half of the men in the city brought to Nick within a single night's time. Each for the set bounty, of course. Vachon had been carefully uninterested when Nick mentioned that Tracy was involved in the investigation, and had nothing of value to offer. Disgusted, he returned to his car and signed himself off duty. Maybe a good day's sleep would make things clearer.

Headed back toward his apartment, Nick reflected on his other pressing problem. LaCroix, damn him, had been right. If Samantha Keller knew what he was, she could prove to be very dangerous to the entire community. More than once during her briefing earlier this evening, he'd caught the flat, greedy look of a professional hunter in her eyes. A hunter who hunted for the joy of it, not the necessity. She was clearly tenacious, and unlikely to be squeamish in doing whatever needed to be done to get her man. Even if that meant accepting the reality of vampires.

Still, tonight she'd been much calmer, even friendly in a detached, professional way. Maybe he'd imagined the connection, the sharp feeling of being invaded, seen for what he truly was. Perhaps she would, as he'd suggested to LaCroix, simply pack up and go home when this case was done.

And "perhaps" pigs would fly.

The police scanner suddenly came to life, muffled by the classical music pouring from the caddie's speakers. Out of force of habit, Nick turned down the music and brought the scanner's volume up.

Disturbance reported at 1025 N Blackwood, corner of 17th and Wilbur. Possible domestic disturbance, units are advised to proceed with caution.

Ten-twenty five Blackwood?

"Tracy." Flicking on the car's police lights and siren, Nick pulled the Cadillac into a sharp u-turn. "Eighty-One Kilo responding."

###

The interview had gone downhill from there.

Samantha Keller walked down the alley behind The Raven, hands clenched in frustration. It was a new feeling. Normally her instincts whispered things to her about her subject that a straight dialogue wouldn't reveal. Things like motivations, hidden personality quirks. Guilt. Now those instincts had cut out twice.

"Great. First with killer, now this guy. Why couldn't I have been a teacher, like mama wanted? I doubt many of them spend a lot of time hanging out in such glamorous places." She kicked disgustedly at the dirty snow. "I'm missing something big. I know I am. Something huge." She rubbed absently at her forehead above her left eye, which had started to throb. First Knight, who wasn't human, somehow, and now LaCroix. He had been very careful to keep her from touching him "accidentally", but the feelings that she had managed to get from him were even weirder than what she'd picked up from Knight. They'd fenced around each other for most of an hour before calling it a draw, and she'd left with little more than she'd gone in with. Damn the man! He was so smug, so...infuriatingly self-confident. If it wasn't for the initial tension she'd picked up from him, she wouldn't have even tried to pursue her line of questioning.

Not that it had done much good anyway. She leaned back against the back wall of the Raven and closed her eyes, trying to wish away this damn headache. Instead something clicked inside.

Soft, deep laughter. Pleasure and satisfaction at a job well done, at the rewards which would come. Boots dropping into the snow. The sound of heavy boxes being shifted. The slide of metal on metal, the smell of fetid air. A man's form in darkness, lights from above. He stopped. Started to turn. In another moment, his face would be visible in the flickering light. He continued to turn. There was the edge of a smile...

PAIN! Bright, agonizing pain that shattered her left eye and sent lancing pain deep into her head. Samantha staggered forward with the force of it. Control, control... Deep breaths. Where is he?

A living room. Warm, dimly lit. A blond woman on the floor, blood pooling beneath her. The crash of splintering wood. A demon with the form of a man.

"Tracy."

###

Tracy lay among the shards of glass from her bedroom mirror, watching numbly as the beast approached her. From far away she could hear the sounds of someone breathing unsteadily, making mewling sounds of pain with each intake of air. The sounds were unimportant.

What was important was the man beast in front of her, above her, looming like a dark angel. He smiled a terrible smile, full of wisdom and compassion as he stretched out a hand toward her. In his hand was a gleaming knife, its tip covered in blood.

"Now, now, my dearest child. There is no need to struggle. All will become clear to you. My instruction is a hard one, but in the end you will see His face, and understand all. Come. Let us begin." He knelt before her, resting his blade against her collar bone. His free hand gently stroked her hair, then caught it brutally at the base of her neck. Slowly he began to trace the fine line of her collarbone, leaving a deep trail of blood behind.

The pain was sharp, bright. It screamed loudly in her head, blocking out the madman's hypnotic words. With a convulsive shudder, Tracy through off the lethargic stupor that had been encompassing her.

He was trying to hypnotize me! Tracy thought in amazement. She glanced carefully up at his face, but the killer seemed unaware of his loss of control, instead humming softly as he completed the line he had begun. The pain was bad, but not being able to resist had been far worse. One of her hands seemed to have been pinned behind her when she fell, but she stretched out her other, hoping to find a weapon, any weapon.

"Much better. Let's get more comfortable, shall we?" He lifted her effortlessly into the air, and deposited her roughly onto the bed. Tracy landed with a thump, her head lolling limply to one side, her eyes closed.

"Not so soon, my dear. I have so much to show you." The man who called himself Azoth set a small, delicate blade down beside the bed, along with a large lidded jar. Tenderly he brushed the hair from her face, then bent over her as if to tenderly kiss her goodnight.

"NO!" Tracy's eyes flew open as her hand slashed upward. Her hand, with it's long, sharp hard of mirrored glass, impacted solidly with the killer's face, the tip of the blade sliding into his left eye with sickening ease. He jerked back out of her grasp, his one eye widening with almost comical surprise while one hand reached up toward the horror of his face.

He knelt above her on the bed, and Tracy managed to get one knee firmly into his groin as she twisted out from under him and off of the bed. She had a moment to reflect that he was human enough for that to affect him before the ran for the bedroom door.

Go for the phone? Call for help? No time. Get outside. Get-- The world spun alarmingly around Tracy, and she stumbled to the livingroom floor with a thump. Behind he, she could hear footsteps staggering down the hall. She struggled for her feet, then gave up and began to crawl hopelessly toward the front door.

What did he do to me? Can't move, can't breathe. Wha... The world began to tilt, and black flowers appeared to block her vision as the world grew grayer and grayer. Through the roaring in her ears she could hear the killer behind her.

"You dare to hurt me? I will make you beg for death. You suffering will be le--"

A loud sound in front of her blocked out his words, and suddenly Nick was there, looking so...strange. He was standing where her front door had been, and the light from the street lamps had caught his eyes, making them shine brightly in the dark. Like cat's eyes, or like... The answer suddenly seemed unimportant as her head became too heavy to hold up any longer. ...like...

"Vachon?"

Tracy's whisper seemed loud to Nick's heightened senses. Her breathing was shallow, the bloodsmell powerful in the room. A trail of her blood lead back into the back of the apartment, back to a tall figure with gore streaming down one side of his face. Shoving the splintered door away, Nick launched himself at the man.

And missed.

The surprise was worse than the momentary pain of impact. How...? The man was mortal, he had no doubt of that. But no human could have moved that fast. He spin around to see the man kneeling behind Tracy, holding her limp body in his arms.

"Perhaps I have overstepped myself, good sir. Is she your pet? Fair of hair and skin, young and comely," he continued, tenderly stroking her pale skin. "We are much alike, you and I. Both preying on these weak bags of flesh. But while you feed your own beast, I feed our Dark Lord." He looked down at Tracy, then shrugged his disappointment. Through the open window, they could both hear the scream of approaching sirens.

"Alas, she is no longer of any use to me. A pity. She and I had not yet begun to play." Standing quickly, he let Tracy's limp body fall to the floor as he began to back slowly toward the open door. Nick took a step toward him.

"Ah, ah! While I would greatly enjoy a dance, I think you, sir, have more pressing concerns. Or don't you hear what you are not hearing?" The man took another step toward the door, smiling slightly.

Hear? The only sounds that Nick could pick up were the sounds of the patrol cars pulling up in front of the building, the patrolmen's voice's raised in excitement. Under that was the slow beat of the killer's heart, his unhurried breath. There were voices coming from the neighboring apartments, but nothing which should concern them. So, what...?

Heartbeats. In this room there should be two mortal beats.

There was only one.

###

One and two and three and four and five. Breathe! Breathe! One and two and three and four and five. Breathe! Breathe!

The City of Toronto Police Department required that all of it's officers be proficient in first aid procedures, something that Janette had found more than mildly amusing.

"Really, Nicola. Protect these mortals if you must, but why go to such efforts to save those already dying. What are you saving them for? Another three years? Another twenty? In no time at all they will be dust no matter what you do." One elegant hand had flicked lightly at the book he had been attempting to study. "You will do nothing more than stain your clothing over mortals who probably deserve exactly what they get."

"No, I can't believe that. All human life is precious, Janette. Why can't you understand that?" It was an old argument between them, off and on for the last hundred years or more. Janette had just shook her head sadly at poor, deluded Nicola, and drained her wine glass. After a moment the conversation turned to neutral subjects and the subject was dropped. Nick's study, however, was not.

Thank God.

One and two and three and four and five. Breathe! Breathe!

Nick continued CPR on Tracy's still form as the rescue personnel arrived. Within seconds the men were set up, and quickly relieved him. Nick stood up and backed away and stood watching uncertainly.

"Is she...?" he began hesitantly. One of the men looked up and shook his head.

"Don't know yet. We're taking her to St. Thomas'. The doctors will be able to give you more." He then turned back to his partner as a piece of their equipment began to emit a high-pitched tone.

"Ready? Clear!"

As Tracy's small body arched lifelessly into the air, Nick knew he had to do something. Anything. Schanke's dead was still fresh in his mind, the pain of the senseless murder, the crazed killer. It wouldn't happen again. In seconds Nick was out the door, barely keeping his feet to the floor as he hurried toward the stairwell. The killer had been injured, and couldn't have gotten far. Bleeding as heavily as he was, there was a good chance that Nick would be able to pick up the still-fresh bloodsmell.

A smear on the fire door of the stairs has a fresh smear of blood. Nick launched himself down the cement stairs, not bothering with the mundanity of steps. The stairs ended in the underground parking area. At the stairway exit Nick stopped to listen and smell.

A quick, wheezing intake of breath. The smell of mortal sweat. And blood.

Heedless of appearances, Nick moved with vampire speed toward the scent of fresh blood. The man might have been lucky before, but now Nick was ready for him. He was meat.

A tall figure leaned awkwardly against the wall of the night watchman's office, the smell of blood very strong. With a blur of speed Nick reached him, spun him around into the air.

"May I have this dance?" Nick grinned through vampire teeth. The man's head snapped back, revealing a stranger's face, the throat slit from ear to ear. Hot with fury, Nick tossed the body aside and turned toward a sound behind him.

Facing him was a smiling ghoul. Gore streaked down from one empty eye socket, splattering the white shirt and black trench coat beneath. The remaining eye gleamed madly above a rictus grin of pain and hate.

Simply killing this madman would not be enough. First he must be made to know a part of the pain he had inflicted upon others. Nick drew the man's eyes toward his own, and launched himself brutally into the man's mind.

A cold, black iciness enveloped his soul. A force so powerful that to call it merely evil would be to minimize the horror it brought with it flooded into him. A thick, slow chuckle echoed through his head, a voice that sounded vaguely familiar. As something reached for him out of the darkness, Nick pulled himself free.

The man was still in his grasp, smiling slightly.

"What manner of man..." Nick couldn't find the words. Never had he felt this kind of horror. Not in nearly eight hundred years. The man's smile widened as if in sympathy. And he brought a chunk of wood from Tracy's door down into Nick's chest. The power of the blow knocked Nick back into the wall of the small office, pinning him there like a bug. The man's smile never faltered.

"I was wrong about you. You are weak, just like those pathetic mortals. So many things will kill you. You flee from your Dark Lord, and it makes you weak. We will not meet again, coward." With that pronouncement he turned and fled up the driveway and into the breaking dawn.

Nick pulled weakly at the makeshift stake. It had gone completely through his chest and into the wall behind him, the wood biting deeply into his flesh. Blood coated the exposed length of wood, making it hard to grasp. A wracking cough shook him, splattering clots of blood in a wide half circle in front him. He pulled again at the stake, weaker this time. The garage had become painfully bright, with shining prisms reflecting off the hoods of the nearby cars. Blood welled up in his throat, and he tried to cough again. Nothing emerged but a strangled gasp, and the colored prisms started to spin as the first light of dawn began to fill the garage...

###

LaCroix watched the first tinges of pink creep across the night skyline, lost in thought. Idly, he dipped one long finger in the blood he held and traced in around the rim of the fine Waterford crystal which held it. The clear tone blended nicely with the final strains of A Little Night Music, playing from hidden speakers behind him. As the silence grew the first fingers of the angry sun crept above the horizon and he reluctantly pressed the button which would close his windows against the coming day. He should be preparing for his rest, but something tugged at the ancient vampire. Something strong enough to keep him from his sleep even here, in his most secure of places.

It most assuredly wasn't the mortal woman that Nicolas was so concerned with. She had been interesting, even fascinating in her own limited fashion, but she was nothing that Nicolas could not deal on his own. Her cool, cynical composure would keep him from becoming emotionally attached, that much was certain: Nicolas had always preferred his ladies frail and delicate, almost angelic in word and deed. For a time LaCroix had entertained the thought that perhaps this was changing, but Nicolas had made it clear that his interest in the Lambert woman was purely one of self-interest. At the time LaCroix had been curiously disappointed in Nicolas' pragmatism in this manner; Natalie was an extraordinary woman, and would have made a beautiful, resourceful vampire. No matter. Nicolas would not be ruled by foolish mortal emotions in this.

Still, something about the Keller woman kept drawing him back to their meeting an hour before. Tall, with deep green eyes and dark hair cut short in the current fashion, she possessed a magnetism he did not often see among mortals. Perhaps it was her Hunter's mind, which apparently questioned everything and took nothing at face value. More likely it was the small gift that she possessed for seeing beyond the physical plane. While no match for any vampire, she did possess certain mental gifts which no doubt made her a formidable enemy.

To mortals.

LaCroix shook his head, and refilled his wine glass one last time. It really was getting late. If this kept up, soon he would be emulating Nicolas and his foolish attempts at mortal behavior, staying up half the day to work on one idiotic mortal activity or another. LaCroix drained the glass quickly, savoring the warm, salty nectar as it slid down his throat. Why Nicolas would wish to give this up, this delicious combination of power, knowledge and sensuality was beyond his understanding.

Nicolas.

That was what kept him from his rest.

"Nicolas. What have you gotten yourself into, hmm?"

###

"Nick?" Samantha tapped the blond man on the shoulder. Startled, the man turned his head around with a jerk, dropping the small plastic bag he'd been holding. He was much thinner, with a sickly-looking mustache dying on his face and an ME ID on his shirt.

"Huh?" Something must have shown on her face, because he drew back in alarm. "N-n-n-no. My name's Ralph. Can I, um, help you?"

"I'm looking for Detective Knight. About so high, blond? Wearing a long black coat?" Sam let out a short, exasperated breath as the man looked at her blankly.

"Ambulance guys said somebody was here before we arrived. Sounds like it might have been Knight." One of the patrolmen spoke up, looking at her uncertainly. "And you are...?"

"Keller. RCMP. Did they say where he went?"

"Guy took off like a shot. Ambulance driver thinks he went left."

Sam nodded impatiently, not sure where this need to hurry, to act, was coming from. "How about Vetter? Any word?" she asked, already moving toward the door.

"Doesn't look good. Doc said he'd call the station as soon as they had anything." The patrolman said, his voice a mixture of concern and anger. One of their own had gone down. Even with only a year on the force, he shared every cop's unspoken request: Please, let me be the one to catch this bastard. Let me take him down. Let me take him out.

As he finished Sam hit the hallway. The stairs were straight ahead, a small bloodstain near the door handle, and she shoved the door open, careful to not hit the blood with her gloved hand. Don't mess up the evidence. We've never gotten a print on this guy. We're so close now. Don't screw it up. But hurry, hurry.

At the bottom of the stairs she paused long enough to draw her gun, then carefully opened the last fire door. The quiet told her that the uniforms hadn't been down here yet--they must have beaten her here by seconds. Good. Too many voices, too many men with minds jacked up over the "officer down" call would distract her. Looking in both directions, she carefully edged out, her back flat against the wall of the stairwell. From outside she could here the police radios and voices raised in excitement or curiosity. From inside, only the soft hum of electric lights overhead.

Wait. There was something else. Something...dripping. Using the parked cars for cover, she moved cautiously in the direction of the faint sounds. Bad guy still here? Don't think so. Doesn't feel right. But something's wrong. Watch yourself, darlin'.

The underground parking garage seemed a lot larger than it should have been. Every sound was magnified, distorted. Common sense declared that she should go upstairs, get warm bodies to help in the search. But another, deeper, sense whispered otherwise, and that was the voice that Samantha had always followed. After what seemed to be an eternity, she approached the far wall of the garage. Two bodies were there, one sprawled on the cement floor in a puddle of blood, the other leaning awkwardly against the wall nearby. No bad guy in sight. Lowering her weapon slightly, Sam hurried forward.

Wait.

Slowing as she approached, Samantha tried to see what was wrong. The standing figure was in shadow, but she could see from the posture that whoever it was either unconscious or dead. Whoever had done this had clearly left. So what...?

Smoke. The body's smoking.

What she had first taken to be steam rising off a warm body in the early morning air was in fact white smoke, curling up in lazy circles from the body leaning against the wall. Now that she was closer, Sam could also see that the body was pinned to the wall, it's head slumped forward onto a blood-soaked chest. Her gun up, she moved slowly forward.

Incredibly, as she stopped in front of the body it twitched slightly, and a thick, low moan rose from the flailed chest.

"Easy, buddy. The ambulance is on it's way. Just take it easy." With that she reached forward with her free hand and lifted the chin. Who was the poor bas-

"Hell-fahr." The sound of a long-ago childhood in New Orleans escaped as she stepped awkwardly backward, gun trembling in front of her. "Nick? Is that you?"

Nick Knight responded painfully to the presence in front of him. Someone was there, standing in the fire of sunlight that surrounded him, smothered him. Please, let them understand, let them--

"help...help me" the blood-soaked apparition in front of her whispered weakly. Nick's voice, his presence, coming from this...thing.

This vampire.

"Well, doesn't that just explain a lot." Reluctantly, Samantha lowered her weapon. Her first startling impression of Nick flooded back from the night they first met. The feeling of an ancient spirit, a powerful amorality kept at bay by the strength of will alone. She had checked him out, already knowing that he wasn't the killer she sought. But he clearly was a killer. Could she help him? Should she?

He had come here after Tracy's attacker. He was a cop.

He's a vampire, for God's sake!

She watched as he pulled weakly at the improvised stake that held him to the wall. Smoke slowly drifted from his exposed skin. Exhausted, he slumped forward, his face a mask of agony.

"Oh, what the hell. Not like I expected to die in bed, or anything. C'mon, Nick. Nick? Can you hear me?" She shook his shoulder gently, mindful of the deep wounds just below. Slowly, he lifted his head, blinked at her unseeingly.

"Nick, I'm gonna help you now, okay? Probably gonna hurt like hell, but then it'll get better. Okay?" She looked at him doubtfully. He seemed to have lapsed back into unconsciousness. Putting one of his arms over her shoulder, Samantha leaned forward and put on leg on the wall next to him. Shoving hard, she pulled him and the stake free of the wall, the force of it staggering both of them backward. Careful to avoid impaling him any deeper, she dragged Nick's apparently unconscious body deeper into the garage, away from the dawn's first light.

"Great. Now what? I'm assuming that a hospital is out of the question," she added to his still form. She sat on her haunches next to him, biting her lip. It was only luck that had kept the patrolmen out of the garage so far. Sooner or later they'd come down, and even old Uncle Remy, that master of the tall tale, wouldn't be able to get them out of that.

"Okay. You sit tight, Nick. I'll be right back."

###

Natalie Lambert paced back and forth in her small office, her lab coat flapping about her knees. "What do you mean, you can't find him? His partner's just been attacked. Of course I tried him at home! Yes, I'll try again." Untangling herself from the phone's long cord, Natalie slammed down the receiver with a frustrated bang!. Captain Reese had passed on the news of Tracy's attack, knowing that she and Nick were friends. The attack had been a terrible shock, but not nearly as bad as when he had not-quite-casually asked her if she'd heard from Nick in the past hour. It was now fully daylight, and while Nick's car had been found at the scene of Tracy's attack, he himself was nowhere to be found. When he didn't answer the phone at home, Natalie began frantically calling every place that he might have gone to "hole up" against the oncoming day.

Nothing. No Nick, no message, no badly burned body with police identification. "Damn it! Why does he always do this?" Natalie slammed one fist against her leg, her face crumpling in fear and frustration. Why does he always do this to me? Natalie told herself that Nick would show up like he always did, no worse for wear, a perplexed smile on his face when he saw her worried expression. After all, he'd been taking care of himself for nearly eight hundred years without her. He was probably just fine.

"Damn it," she said quietly, her arms hugging her shoulders tightly. "Nick, where are you?" She allowed herself one moment of self-indulgent pain and worry, then got back to work. Where would Nick have gone, if he was caught out?

"His car. Of course," she said, smiling slightly in relief. "Martin? Can you cover for me?" The day ME, a portly, graying gentleman with a penchant for terrible cigars, stuck his head into her office.

"Certainly, my dear." He topped an imaginary hat in her direction, the stopped as he saw the expression on her face. "Anything amiss?"

Natalie forced her face into a casual smile.

"No, just remembered something that I needed to get done. You're sure you don't mind?"

"Not at all. Just don't forget you owe me one when Julia comes by." Julia was his granddaughter, legendary in the department for her ability to sell Girl Guide cookies.

"I'll buy a case. Thanks, Martin." Already shucking off her lab coat, Natalie grabbed her keys and headed for the door.

###

"Nick? Can you hear me?"

Samantha waved her hand over Nick's open eyes, but received no response. Nick remained unmoving (and apparently unbreathing), as he had since she'd manhandled him out of her car and into her hotel room an hour ago. Presumably his house or apartment would be better suited for him, but Nick had been in no condition to offer directions, and her knowledge of downtown Toronto was spotty at best.

"I have a vampire in my hotel room. A vampire," she repeated. "I've seen some very strange things in my time, Nick, but I don't mind telling you that this beats all. I wish to hell you'd wake up and tell me what to do."

For it was obvious that something was very wrong. He'd stopped smoking (burning, her mind firmly corrected) as soon as she had him out of the direct sunlight, but the terrible wound in his chest continued to bleed. She'd been hopeful when the wound around the main point of entry had begun to close as soon as she removed the stake, but it never closed completely, and other, smaller wounds continued to bleed. Samantha wasn't sure, but she thought these areas might be where splinters were still embedded so deeply that she couldn't see them. In addition, his face had taken a gray, emaciated look that she didn't like. His fangs were still very noticeable, as were his strange eyes. Nick clearly needed help.

For wont of anything else to do, she checked the makeshift bandages she'd made from the bed's sheets and assorted hotel towels. The bleeding had slowed but the wounds hadn't closed any further. Soon she'd need more towels. Good thing that the hotel put plastic slipcovers on their mattresses. Reaching up to thoughtfully scratch her nose, Samantha saw that they were covered with blood. Wrinkling her nose, she pushed up off the bed and headed toward the bathroom.

The bright red fluid turned pink as it swirled down the drain. Reaching for a clean towel, Samantha caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror over the sink. She looked more than a little like a staking victim herself, her blouse and jacket coated with rust-colored stains which were slowly drying.

"Guess this jacket's a wash. Wonder if I can put it on my expense rep--" she stopped in midsentence.

Oh, you dummy. Bloodstains. Blood.

Nick was a vampire. Even if all of the legends weren't true, one almost certainly was: he drank blood. Those long fangs couldn't be for anything else. And, judging from the sheets and from what she was currently wearing, he'd lost a lot of it. Great. I doubt sincerely that the blood bank does take-out.

She forced herself to finish cleaning up as best she could to give herself time to think. Even if she could make a hospital understand what he needed, Nick would end up in a scientific side show somewhere. No way. No how. Not me and not you either.

That left meat markets, few of which were likely to be open at this hour. Still, that might be her best bet. There was a phone book by the bed. Drying her face, Samantha returned to the main room. Pulling out the phone book, she glanced idly at Nick as she thumbed through it. He looked worse, if that was possible, and when she touched him his skin was ice-cold. A small voice whispered at the back of her mind. There wasn't time to find a butcher shop.

"Damn." She hesitated a moment longer, then reached to pull a switchblade out of her right boot. A long, sharp blade popped out when she pushed the recessed button, and she lay it's sharp edge along the inside of her left hand, pulling back quickly to leave a long, deep cut across the palm before she could change her mind. She hissed involuntarily as the initial sting became pain, put held the hand steady as blood began to well up in the cupped palm. Was it her imagination, or did Nick stir ever so slightly? Setting the switchblade on the dresser where she could reach it easily, Samantha lowered her hand slowly toward Nick's mouth. Please, God, let me be doing the right thing. And not getting myself killed, that'd be good too.

The moment the first drops of blood hit his lips Nick blinked, and raised a weak hand to hers as it met his lips. She was surprised to feel no pain, just a curious draining sensation as though more than just a few cups of blood were being taken from her. After what seemed to be just a few seconds, Nick's eyes blinked again, and some sort of comprehension filled his face. Weakly he pushed at her hand while he turned his head away from her.

"No. You don't understand..." His voice was weak, but clear.

"I understand, all right. C'mon, Nick, It's all right."

"No." His voice seemed weaker. "You don't understand. I could kill you." He appeared to be about to add something, then stopped.

"Nick?" At his lack of response, she continued uncertainly. "Let me help you. Come on. Talk to me." Her hand was still bleeding freely, and she absently wrapped it in her handkerchief. "There must be something I can do. C'mon, Nick, don't give up on me now."

He whispered something softly. She leaned over him, her ear near his blood-stained lips. "Who?"

"Nat." he managed weakly.

###

Nick's Cadillac was where the captain had said it was, parked at a crazy angle outside of Tracy's apartment building. Parking control had ordered it towed, and Nat had to chase off the tow-truck driver, who gave her a look that suggested that maybe -she- needed hospitalization. Nat waited impatiently until he'd driven off, then lightly tapped the Caddie's trunk lid.

"Nick?" She felt like an idiot talking to a car, but it would be worth it if he would only answer. "Nick? Are you in there?" There was no reply, and the lid had a hollow sound when she hit it that suggested that it was empty. Discouraged, she turned and sat on the trunk lid, trying to think of where to look next. The idea that maybe Tracy's attacker had managed to capture (or kill) Nick kept coming back to her, no matter how hard she tried to banish it. Keeping moving seemed to be the only thing that did the trick. Moving around to the front of the car, Natalie reached in and felt around under the seat. Sure enough, the extra set of keys that Nick had were still there. She'd just take the Caddie back to Nick's place, where he could pick it up when he came home.

If he comes home her mind whispered. What if he doesn't, Natalie? What will you do then? Natalie was saved from having to answer by the sudden beeping of her pager. The number wasn't one she recognized.

###

"Come on, come on. Ring, darn it." Sam paced the narrow confines of her hotel room, willing the telephone to ring. It had taken her several minutes to track down Natalie Lambert, or at least her pager number. Nick had been able to add nothing more to his cryptic comment about "Nat" or "a nat", and she was rapidly running out of choices.

Natalie Lambert had talked with Knight extensively on the night of the murder at The Raven, and from their body language Sam made the assumption that they were more than just co-workers. The woman was also a physician, and could very well go by the nickname of Nat. It was slim, but it was all she had.

And now that she'd placed the call, Samantha was afraid to leave, afraid to tie up the phone lines looking for a meat market which opened early. Nick moved from time to time, but never seemed to again reach consciousness. His pain and confusion made her head ache as well, adding to the migraine she'd felt building since she'd last slept some two days ago. She'd gulped cup after cup of the hotel's complementary coffee, but at this point it was up in the air as to whether or not the caffeine helped or hurt matters. She looked back at the phone in disgust.

"Ring. Come on, Doctor. Talk to me."

When the phone actually did ring, she nearly jumped out of her skin.

"Hello? Doctor Lambert, my name is Samantha Keller, with the RCMP. You may remember me, I'm working the Correlli killing? Yes, that's right. I'm sorry to contact you off duty, but...yes, I understand that you're busy, this won't take a moment." After all of these years, those lessons in phone courtesy still stick. My, momma must be proud. Get on with it. "Doctor Lambert, I'm calling about one of the detectives in Homicide, Detective Knight. I understand you know him fairly well. Are you familiar with his..." What? Unusual dental records? Nocturnal habits? Propensity for long black capes and silly accents? "...blood condition? You are? Great. Could I ask you to come see me? Yes, it's regarding Nick. He ran into a little trouble over at Vetter's apartment, and...

"Good. I'm staying at the Toronto Hilton, room 505. Thank you, Doctor."

Samantha set the phone down and let out a sigh of relief. Lambert seemed to be aware of what was going on. In fact, from the tension in her voice, Sam thought that Nick and the good lady coroner were more than just friends. In any case, she was on her way over.

Killers who mesmerize their victims before carrying them through skylights unassisted, bar owners who are curiously magnetic in a murderous sort of way, and now vampire detectives. All in all it had been a long, strange couple of days. Exhausted, she sat down in the chair nearest the door and closed her eyes.

Doctor Lambert had been reassuringly brisk and efficient. Armed with pints of blood and enough surgical equipment to impress Hawkeye Pierce, she had quickly gotten Nick out of danger. Samantha had watched in detached fascination as Lambert deftly pulled long splinters out of his chest, which immediately began to heal over. Amazing what half a dozen pints of blood could do for a person. Vampire.

Samantha closed her eyes for just a moment, and when she opened them again Dr. Lambert was doing something rude to her hand.

"Ow!"

"Sorry. Hold still, just another minute...okay, that's it." Natalie tied off the stick in Samantha's left hand, then began wrapping it in layers of gauze. "Mind telling me how this happened?" Her voice had the same tone doctor's voices always did when you'd done something stupid. Sam pulled her hand free as soon as the bandages were tied and flexed it experimentally. At her wince, Natalie shook her head.

"It's going to be sore for quite a while. You were lucky, though, and missed the tendons. Once it's healed over do some stretching exercises and it should be fine."

"Thanks. Is he going to be okay?" She pointed with her chin to the bed, where Nick appeared to be sleeping peacefully.

"A good day's sleep and he'll be fine. You know, I'd really like to know how you got involved in all of this. You seem to be taking all of this in stride, but I can't believe that this hasn't...widened your perspectives a little bit. Want to talk about it?"

Samantha shook her head wearily.

"Some other time. Can you stay with him, make sure he's going to be all right? I need to check on a few things, and I can't do it from here."

"Sure, but I think what you need is some sleep. And food. When was the last time you had either, Agent Keller?" Nat's voice was firm, but gentle. It had worked on Nick more than once, and seemed to be having the same affect on his strange savior. Samantha yawned mightily.

"Food sounds good." She looked down at her ruined clothes with distaste. "And maybe a shower. Okay. I'll go grab a quick shower, then we can order up some breakfast. In the mean time, leave the door locked, don't answer it, and don't answer the phone." At Nat's raised eyebrows, she added, "I don't think our bad guy will come after him right now, but it pays to be cautious. Do you know how to shoot a gun?" At Nat's reluctant nod, she said, "Good. I'll leave mine out here with you. Anyone tries to come in, don't get fancy, go for the body shot," she concluded with a stifled yawn.

"Okay, okay, go already." Nat waved her toward the bathroom, and Samantha willingly obeyed.

###

The setting of the sun awoke Nick from a deep, dreamless sleep. To a vampire, the vanishing of the sun is like a call to action, or to freedom, and awakening from the day's slumber comes with the sharp immediacy of diving into a mountain stream. He opened his eyes and sat up.

The slight twinge in his chest brought the memories of the night before flooding back, causing him to rub his chest in uneasy recollection. It had been many years since he had been so helpless, so very near death. A soft sigh from nearby brought him back from his painful memories. He was in a hotel room, with Nat asleep beside him on the wide bed. An unwilling smile crept to his lips, but the thought of teasing his good friend died when he saw her face.

Even in sleep, Natalie's face looked drawn with fear and worry. Dark shadows had formed under her eyes, and she slept on top of the covers in clothes that were spattered with his blood. She had probably stayed awake the entire day, watching over him as he slept, after working her normal shift the previous night. Gently, he reached out and brushed a lock of brown hair from her eyes. At this, her eyes opened wide in surprise.

"Nick?" Her hushed voice was filled with surprise and a deep relief which she couldn't hide as she struggled to sit up and patted futilely at her hair.

Nick had time to feel a pang of guilt for her needless concern before her face cleared and she raised a sardonic eyebrow.

"Boy, I wish my beauty sleep worked as well as yours does. How are you feeling?" Her voice, still hushed in a `people are sleeping' manner, made him belatedly aware that there was someone else in the room. The darkened room was no problem for his vampire eyes, now that he knew to look.

"I've had a lot of practice," he replied absently. "Is that Keller?"

Natalie started to nod in reply, and saw that Nick was already rising, his head turned toward the sleeping officer. "Yeah. She brought you here after your little run-in with Tracy's attacker."

Nick's face darkened, and he paused to turn and look in Natalie's direction.

"How is she?" Meaning Tracy, of course.

"She's still up in ICU, but it looks like she's going to make it."

Natalie had risen from the bed as well, and was struggling to get her sleep- rumpled clothing in order. "Look, why don't we go into the bathroom for a minute. The light's better in there, and I'd like to take another look at your chest. Your wounds, I mean. You look a lot better, but I'm still not sure that I got all of the splinters out." She headed toward the bathroom without a backward glance.

When Nick arrived a moment later, Natalie was energetically splashing water on her face. Finished, she reached out blindly for the towel, which had fallen to the floor. Instead, her hand brushed against Nick. Her eyes flew open in surprise at the instant of contact with his bare arm, and she blinked rapidly at the water which dribbled into her eyes.

"God, you scared me! Do me a favor and make some noise when you walk into a room, would you?" Wordlessly she accepted the towel he proffered, and patted quickly at her face. "I'm sure that we can take these bandages off now. I'll go get my scissors, and--"

"Nat," Nick said gently. "Hang on a second." He reached out and lightly took her hand as she started to walk around him. "Last night must have been really tough for you." Natalie started to wave him off, but he continued. "I might not always say it, but I really appreciate what you do for me. You're always there when I need you, and I can't ever repay you for that. You're really something special, Natalie." With his free hand he reached out and lightly touched her cheek. "You know that, don't you?" They had drawn closer together as he spoke, and now looked uncertainly at each other from inches apart.

"Nick, you know that I--" Natalie broke off as she saw an image appear over Nick's shoulder in the bathroom mirror.

"Sorry. Am I interrupting something?" Samantha looked as rumpled at Natalie had, but her green eyes sparkled with amusement. "I really hate to break this up, but somebody let me oversleep," she shot an annoyed look at Natalie, "and we've got a bad guy to catch. Mind if I use the shower?" She nodded at Nick nonchalantly, and slipped by them to turn the shower on. Nick and Natalie looked at each other wordlessly, then surrendered the bathroom to their peculiar associate.

###

Azoth had displeased his Dark Lord.

That was the only explanation for the terrible turn of events the night before. Until then Azoth had been strong in his faith, sure that nothing could stop him from offering sacrifices to his god. Even the police woman who had dogged his steps for the last month had been no more than an inconvenience. She was canny and quick, but he had gifts far beyond anything she could hope to experience. And when he had stumbled upon the nightclub, he thought it was his Lord's will; here were many who would understand, who would help him in his unholy mission.

But it was not meant to be.

They had not understood. Worse, they had sent one of their own--puny, weak, but still one of them--to punish him for his transgressions. He had been forced to kill the pitiful creature quickly, with none of the ceremony required by his Lord. Even the man's pet had resisted him, turning her mind away from him long enough to inflict wounds which throbbed and pulsed with his every heartbeat even now. His face was swollen, the area around his left eye socket inflamed and red.

Another sacrifice was necessary. It would be more difficult to approach his victim now, with his face marred, but the difficulty would be part of his penance for failing with the blond woman. He would find another, and make the proper appeasements before leaving this cursed city. Perhaps more than one, to show that he was not fleeing like a dog with it's tail between it's legs. An entire family, perhaps...

Humming happily to himself, he began to plan.

###

Nick Knight was not a happy man.

His conversation with Natalie while Keller was in the shower had confirmed his fears: Samantha knew everything. While Samantha had assured them both that she had no intention of revealing his secret, (saying that people thought she was crazy enough as it is, and that '...there ain't no such animal as a Canadian X-Files, so who the heck would I tell, anyway?'), Nick wasn't quite so sure. She'd been hiding something, that much he was certain of. It hadn't helped matters that she asked remarkably few questions (far fewer than Nat had, years ago) and then said that she had an "errand" to run before they got to work.

In addition, his rookie partner had been badly injured, and might not even survive. The doctors said that they were hopeful, but seeing Tracy in the ICU unit, her face pale and drawn, had not convinced him. It was always had for him to accept that those he cared about would eventually age and die, but in cases like this it was even harder. Tracy was young and energetic, just getting started in her life. Now she was just another victim, with friends and family waiting nearby to see if she would live or die.

Vachon had been at the hospital, to Nick's surprise. Whether or not there was a relationship blooming between them Nick still didn't know, and from the look on Vachon's face, neither did he. Still, the younger vampire had agreed to stay at the hospital for the evening, in case the killer made another attempt at Tracy. Two uniformed police officers would also stand guard, but after the night before, Nick doubted that they would be very effective if the killer did indeed decide to pay Tracy a call. Pulling out of the hospital parking lot, Nick told himself that Tracy would be safe here. He didn't entirely believe it, but he knew that he would need every bit of his attention tonight if he was to find her attacker before the man killed again.

Samantha was waiting for him outside of The Raven, as she'd promised. The club had reopened that night, and from the look of things business was booming. Ducking through the crowd, he joined her as she turned and walked toward the alley adjoining the club.

"Get your errands taken care of?" he asked lightly.

"Yep. You wouldn't believe the story I had to tell the cleaners." She was still dressed as she had been earlier in the evening, well-worn blue jeans and a plain white shirt under her bulky down jacket.

When she didn't elaborate further, he added, "I checked on Tracy. Doctors say she's probably going to be okay. Metro put two patrolmen down there just in case."

"Mmm." Samantha pulled off her gloves, and traced the gray stone rear wall of the club. "He's not going after her. Too many people, too many lights," she replied absently.

"Is that an RCMP projection, or... something else? Something, personal?" At Samantha's sharp, guarded glance he continued. "I've seen people with gifts like yours before. Want to tell me about it?"

She snorted in disgust. "Gift? I'd have argued that with you when I was thirteen. I nearly ended up in a damn funny farm. I...someone's coming."

Nick was already turning as LaCroix appeared in the mouth of the alley, his long form clothed in black and dramatically backlit by the street lamps.

"You make such wonderful entrances," Samantha marveled. "Afraid we're going to scare away the clientele?" Her voice was light, but her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Or is there something out here we're not supposed to see?"

LaCroix smiled thinly. "Still haven't solved your...problem, Nicolas? How unfortunate. Tick tock, tick tock." He shook his head in mock sorrow. Nick risked a glance at Samantha, but she had wandered away, one hand still tracing the stone wall. Nick hurried after her with LaCroix trailing slowly behind.

Samantha's face had a remote quality to it that Nick was beginning to recognize. She walked slowly along the wall, intent on something that he could not see. After a moment she paused and knelt to lightly touch the half- melted snow beneath their feet.

"It was cold, and barely sun-up. People were coming and going, but no one saw him come down the fire escape. He must have been covered in blood, but no one saw him. He's always so careful not to be seen. Somehow he's planning these ahead of time and we just haven't found the pattern. He knew to come here, and he knew how to get away. He knew..." she faded off uncertainly.

"An accomplice?" Nick added softly. "Someone to pick him up afterward?"

She shook her head. "No. He's alone. He's always alone." She shivered, and her face narrowed, her mouth tightening into a snarl. "He--I come and go as I choose. The pathways are cool, comforting. Very dark and dank. So very much like...

"Home?" Keller's returned to it's own pitch, and she blinked in surprise. She was standing in front of a large wooden crate which was stained and warped with age. Behind her she could faintly here the two men who had followed her down the alleyway. Fragments of memory--someone's memory- -came back to her: the sound of heavy boxes (wooden boxes) being shifted. The slide of metal on metal, the smell of fetid air.

"Here." She shoved experimentally at the crate, which refused to budge. Gritting her teeth, she set her feet and shoved again. Nothing. "Gentlemen, would one-" she stopped as a pair of black-gloved hands shoved the crates back easily. LaCroix was next to her, looking at her with an expression on his face that she couldn't read. Looking down, she saw that where the crate had covered the cement there was a heavy, metallic manhole cover.

"Bingo," she breathed softly.

Nick shook his head. "We checked the sewer system. There wasn't any sign that he went that way." He looked over she shoulder skeptically.

"The main sewer system, sure. But take a look at this." She knelt and rubbed lightly at the grime covering the manhole's lettering.

"`Property of Toronto City Department of Transportation'," Nick read. "It must have been part of the subway system they were talking about putting in a few years ago. But how did he know about it?"

"Don't know," Samantha replied. Replacing her heavy gloves, she then slid her fingers into the holes in the lid and with a small grunt of effort slid the heavy cover out of the way. Rubbing her nose with the back of one hand, she offered them a slow smile which never quite reached her eyes.

"Let's ask him."

###

The manhole had lead down into a service walkway which had clearly not been serviced in a long while. The cheap cement which had been used in it's construction had begun to seep with moisture from the `temporary' drainage system, and bits of the walls and ceiling had crumbled to the floor where it crunched under their feet. Aside from the light from Samantha's flashlight it was pitch black, and every metallic surface was covered with a thin layer of slime. LaCroix wiped one glove clean with distaste after inadvertently brushing against an exposed support beam.

"Charming. You are quite sure your killer came this way? This is certainly not the most practical method of travel he could have chosen. Or perhaps this just suits your sense of the dramatic?"

Samantha grinned. Her shot at 'dramatic entrances' must have hit close to the mark. "He came through here. There were fresh scratch marks on the manhole cover and," she bent down, "this looks like a bead from the Correlli woman's necklace." Pulling out an evidence bag she deposited the small faux pearl in it then absently tucked it away again.

"LaCroix, you don't have to do this. This is our responsibility now." Nick kept his voice neutral with effort. He knew from long experience that to show a strong desire for his master to act in a certain way was to invite the opposite.

LaCroix was not fooled.

"Nonsense. I have an interest in this matter, as you well know, Nicolas. And, as a good police officer, you shall be obliged to arrest this man. After which, of course, he will doubtless plead insanity and provide the police with the most amazing of stories to prove this. Stories which would be best left untold," he concluded meaningfully, flicking his glance to Keller. She responded by raising one eyebrow expressionlessly.

"I expect that our suspect is going to resist arrest. Strenuously. Are you going to have a problem with that, Nick?" she said calmly.

"No," Nick replied. Truthfully, he felt the same way. The killer knew far too much, and was dangerously insane. More importantly, the man had hurt Nick and someone close to him, and the vampire within him clamored for revenge.

But it wasn't just the killer that LaCroix was referring to. Whether she knew it or not, Samantha was in deadly danger. LaCroix meant to see that the Code was obeyed, and had no compunctions about killing to do so.

###

Azoth was mighty once again.

His god had accepted his sacrifice of the woman and her husband, and now he felt the power flow through him once again. The man had proven especially satisfying after Azoth had allowed the man watch as Azoth dealt with the man's wife. Rage was good, but despair and grief, when combined with pain in the proper proportion, was the sweetest elixir Azoth had ever known. The female child he had dealt with almost as an afterthought, her young mind shattered by the sights she had seen. Still, even that had it's uses...

Standing back to survey his work, Azoth breathed in the heady scent of blood and pain that he had created in his lord's name. His own pain was gone, the missing eye no more than an inconvenience soon remedied. Bending down, he removed one eye from the woman's staring face. Curiously, she reminded him of someone. Someone from long ago.

Mother?

A woman's face looming over him, twisted with hate.

"Look what you've done! You're a nasty, filthy little boy! I ought to cut your eyes out!"

"I'm sorry, mommy. Please don't, please don't...

No. Azoth was strong. Had always been strong. This was some weak, puling thing. Not Azoth. He examined the eye carefully, but saw only his own reflection on it's dull surface. After a moment's consideration, he placed it in his own empty socket. The pain was bad, but faded almost immediately. As it did so, his dark lord whispered a warning in reward.

someone's coming

Lifting his head, he sniffed the air and listened.

the woman was coming. and two others. they meant to stop him. chase him from their territory.

So soon. He did not wish the men harm, even the one whose pet he had toyed with. The man had survived, which told Azoth that he too served their dark lord. Perhaps they were his master's warning that he had stayed too long in this city. A thank you was in order, then, and a small whimpering from the corner told him how it might be done.

###

It was cold in the tunnels, but only Samantha suffered from the chill. Rubbing her gloved hands together, she fought to keep her concentration on the matter at hand. They had been walking in these dark corridors for over an hour, wandering almost aimlessly through the maze of incomplete service walkways. More than once they had been forced to turn back when the tunnel abruptly dead-ended in a blank wall or crumbled masonry. Try as she might, the feel of the killer's mind eluded her.

Instead, her mind kept returning to the two men who followed almost silently behind her. Knight was a blend of anger and concern, a darkness overlaid by adopted compassion. He would back her play against the monster they chased, but his own fears blurred his reactions. Whether or not his would make a difference in how their pursuit ended she didn't know.

LaCroix was a different story. On the surface he was tightly controlled, a master of himself and others. Beneath it, however, she caught occasional flashes of pleasure in the hunt, and of...curiosity?...for herself. Not quite admiration, (unless perhaps it was the admiration for a well-trained bloodhound), but for the moment she had caught his interest. Whether it would be enough to keep him from trying to kill her when this was over was unclear.

Mentally she shook herself. The killer would almost certainly strike tonight, and then he would be gone again. Musings about handsome, dangerous vampires would have to wait.

someone's coming

She stopped in her tracks, forcing the men to do the same in the narrow corridor. "Did you hear something?"

"Nothing," LaCroix replied, his voice a study in boredom. "And I can assure you that I would hear someone approaching long before you would, Agent Keller. One of the side effects of our...condition. The only mortal heartbeat that I can hear," he leaned forward to whisper in her ear, "is yours."

"Wait," Nick said softly. LaCroix looked irritably over at his long-ago fledgling. Nicolas had no sense of humor.

But Nike wasn't looking at them. Instead, he sniffed delicately at the damp air.

"What?"

"Blood. Up ahead. Not far, I think." He turned slightly away from Samantha as he drew his gun until the vampire was hidden within him once more. LaCroix sniffed, then nodded.

"And fresh, too. It would appear that we are too late."

They had traced the smell of blood down the corridor and up a slime- covered ladder into what had apparently been intended as an office during the subway construction. Faded maps and schematics still lined the walls, but now they were covered in blood. More blood dripped from the ceiling, and from the large metal table which dominated the room. On it lay the remains of a white male, age indeterminate. Sprawled in a metal chair next to him was a white female, both horribly disfigured. Smoke and the smell of burnt flesh lingered in the room, emanating from a pile of half-burned skin and tissue resting in the center of a pentagram drawn in blood.

Pulling her gaze from the gruesome remains, Samantha scanned the room, already knowing that their prey was gone. Again and again as she tried to analyze the room for clues, her eyes were drawn back to the sad, horrible shapes that the killer had left behind. Even her vampire companions seemed momentarily taken aback at the brutality of the murders. In silence they walked around the small room, taking in the filthy cot, the collection of newspaper clippings which he had taped to one wall. Another ladder was attached to the far wall, and lead up to a hatchway in the ceiling.

Nick reached for his radio, and Samantha put a hand on his arm.

"Let's wait a minute, okay?" Without saying any more she turned and walked resolutely toward the makeshift bed the killer had left behind. Taking a deep breath, she sat down and removed her gloves, kneading the blanket's rough material.

"Talk to me." Closing her eyes, she shut out the horror of the room, the danger of the men she was with. Only her prey mattered. He had been here, slept here. Planned here. He had thought about...

The way the blood shone in the moonlight, the sweet music of their cries. In exchange for his freedom in this bright, shining place, his lord demanded sacrifice.

That was pointless. Psychotics always imagined that they were special, that their atrocities had a purpose. Try again.

He had not always been powerful. Images of a sacrifice, of a boon requested. A presence answering, darkness, DARKNESS! A black evil like nothing she had ever felt, swarming over her/his soul, engulfing her. From far away she heard voices calling her name, but the darkness was here, now. It was reaching for her...

No. For him. Resolutely, she pushed deeper. Abruptly, a voice spoke clearly in her head.

i've left you a present

The words were followed in her head by a low, malignant laugh, and then she was back on the bed, with Nick shaking her shoulders.

"Samantha. Can you hear me?"

"There's something here. Someone." Forming the words with her mouth, pulling back out had never been so hard. Something whispered to her darkest thoughts, dragging her back down.

"Nonsense. There is no one else here." LaCroix's voice brought her back to reality with a jerk. He was standing above her, tension in his face. Apparently even LaCroix hadn't seen everything, yet.

"I'm okay, Nick. He knew we were coming. He left something for us, some kind of message, I think. It wasn't very clear..." Suddenly, her eyes happened on a small doll, half covered with blood and cast aside. "They had a daughter. She's still here. Somewhere." She looked around the small room in frustration. Where?

"I don't see where...wait." Nick got up and walked across the room, carefully avoiding the pools of blood that had formed. He stopped where a chair had been pushed against the wall, moved it aside. Behind it, partially obscured by the blood, was a narrow closet door. LaCroix and Samantha gathered behind him as he slowly opened the door.

Inside was a small blond girl of about seven, her blue eyes staring in death at nothing. She had been stuffed casually inside the closet like a long- forgotten Raggedy Ann doll, her limbs in unnatural positions. Nick made a small sound of pity in his throat, and gently reached out to close the child's eyes. At his touch she shuddered, her mouth working convulsively. He pulled back with a jerk and stumbled to his feet.

She blinked slowly, then smiled a terrible, gore-filled smile, tilting her head to one side in a grotesque parody of manners.

"I'm so sorry that I couldn't be here to welcome you to my home in person, but I'm sure that you can understand why I must be away." The voice, deep and mocking, that came from her mouth was that of the man who had nearly killed Nick the night before. "Perhaps we will meet again under more pleasant circumstances. In the mean time, might I extend to you gentlemen a peace offering? This vessel is, I'm quite sure, still warm, and deliciously innocent." He/she laughed unpleasantly. "But, I forget, you've brought your own." The child's smile widened, and she dropped one eyelid in a slow wink. "Bon appetit."

With that the girl's eyes rolled up into her head, and she slumped bonelessly outward. Her head landed with a dull thump on the cement floor, the sound echoing loudly in the silent room.

###

For several moments there was no sound from within the small room save for the breath and heartbeat of its' one mortal occupant. Finally, LaCroix pulled off one glove and knelt beside the child's body.

"She's been dead for some time." His pale fingers brushed lightly over her paler skin, feeling little warm and no life there. Dead, the child had regained all of the innocence that she had lost mere moments ago, her face now a mask of sweet sadness.

"I've never seen anything like it," Nick said, his voice hushed. "LaCroix, you've seen--"

"Nothing like this. I've heard stories, of course." He started to elaborate, then uncharacteristically paused as Samantha stepped forward to stand beside them.

"I have." He voice was soft, and her face as she looked down at the dead child was both remote and vulnerable. "Back in New Orleans. My partner and I were investigating a series of murders that had some kind of voodoo involvement. We didn't take it seriously. You know. Who believes in magic?" She smiled faintly. "Or vampires? Anyway, he went to talk to a witness, never came back. He was young, younger than me. My responsibility." She trailed off uncertainly, then risked at look at each of them to see if they understood. They did.

"I was a good tracker even then. Knew it, too. Didn't take me more than a few hours to find him. What was left of him. They'd...they'd cut him up pretty bad. He was just a kid, you know? I thought I was handling it pretty good right up until he opened his eyes. Told me that I'd let him die. Then he pulled one of the knives they'd used right out of his own body, and came after me. The look in his eyes, it was a lot like this little girl's." She laughed shortly.

"Later the Bureau couldn't understand why I'd put thirteen rounds into my partner's corpse. They put me on medical leave, and gave the case to someone else. Case wasn't ever solved. After a while I got tired of the way folks looked at me in the halls, and came up here." She smiled more fully this time, and turned to better face Nick.

"That's why you and yours don't shake me much, I expect. There's a lot of things in this world you can't pin down and dissect like a bug. Lot of strange, peculiar things." She stepped back so that she could see both men clearly. "Not that you two aren't at the top of the list."

LaCroix made an ironic half bow, and Nick managed a half smile.

"Now, are you two gonna fall on me, or are we gonna go catch that son of a bitch?"

###

"Wait." LaCroix held up one hand and gestured his companions to silence. In the ensuing quiet he listened again for sounds which only his superior vampire senses could hear. Beyond the slow, steady beat of the Keller woman's heart and the soft scuffle of rats around them, something else tickled at his attention.

They had been traveling through these accursed tunnels for what seemed like hours. The sharp turns and narrow, damp walkways reminded him uncomfortably of the Paris sewers that he and his companions had been forced to hide in during the burning of Paris in 1870. At least they had not starved, unlike so many of the mortals above them...

"What is it?" Nicolas' voice was the barest of whispers.

"Just ahead. Can you not feel it, Nicolas? Have your senses become so dulled? Listen."

Nick closed his eyes and stretched tentatively outward. At the edges of his awareness, something flickered. Something (black, malignant) familiar. He had been searching for a mortal, but what Nick sensed was something else entirely. More like the feel of another vampire. Powerful, dark. A malevolence that now turned briefly to him before continuing on.

"He knows we're here." Samantha's soft voice brought Nick back to his companions. LaCroix was nodding his agreement. Wordlessly they increased their pace.

Two sharp turns and the tunnel came to an abrupt end. A crumbling cement wall blocked their way, with a fragile ladder leading upward into the darkness. Nick pulled on the ladder to test its' strength, then moved upward, quickly disappearing into the dark above. LaCroix and Samantha followed closely behind, each locked in their own thoughts.

###

WHOOOONK!

The hot blast of air from the passing bus felt good on Samantha's face, even as the honk from the irate driver sent her pulse racing. The ladder had led them up to a manhole in the center of Fourteenth Street, which was busy even at this late hour. Traffic sped by on either side of them, with their prey nowhere in sight. Both men scanned the surrounding area, their eyes narrowing to see what was beyond mortal sight. Warm living bodies stood out against the cold background like torches, but the man they sought was no where to be found.

LaCroix turned and grabbed Keller by the shoulders.

"Where is he? Where has he gone now, Samantha?" His eyes blazed with a fierce eagerness which Nick had not seen in many years. After so many years, LaCroix had apparently found a challenge worthy of his talents.

LaCroix belatedly remembered his own strength as Samantha flinched and pulled back. He released the mortal quickly, and she rubbed at her shoulders where he had gripped her.

"I don't know. He's, he's hiding from me somehow."

"We don't have much time," Nick cautioned. Behind them, the skin was tinged with the first light of false dawn.

"What do you want from me? It just isn't that easy." Samantha looked from side to side, searching for something, anything. "It's not like turnin' on a radio, or flippin' on the TV. I can't just say, `Oh, yeah, he's that way. Gonna take a bus to Edmonton, check out the...mall'." She blinked in surprise.

"The bus station? He's taking a bus out of town?" Nick said, surprised. Behind him, LaCroix smiled thinly.

"It would appear that our signal has come in," LaCroix added dryly.

"Yeah, maybe so. Still, something's not right. He's got something up his sleeve, something...hidden." She shook her head. "If he knows we're coming, we could be walking into a trap." Another bus went by, and they were forced to wait until the noise died down before continuing.

"Nonetheless, it would appear to be our best shot."

"Maybe so, but how are we going to get there in time? I get the feeling that he's not going to wait all that long."

Nick grinned, and looked casually in both directions.

"We don't need roads."

"What are you talking about? We'll never get a `copteeeeeer!" Samantha's jaw dropped in stunned surprise as Nick casually lifted the both of them into the air and into the waning night.

###

"There. The big guy with the dark jacket."

"Got him. LaCroix, you-" Nick bit off his instructions. LaCroix was no where in sight. "Okay, I'll go around to the other side. See if you can't get security to start clearing the area." He then stepped back outside and disappeared.

"Wonderful."

Samantha looked around the bus terminal in disgust. Despite the late hour better than a dozen people milled around, waiting for their bus to arrive. In addition, there were ticket sellers, drivers, janitors, and other staff to worry about. Nick had snuck off to take out her man, leaving her to cover his backside, and that of a handful of half-asleep civilians.

"I am really going to have a long talk with that boy. S'cuse me, sir, can I talk to you for a minute?" The portly security guard ambled obediently in her direction and she quickly began to explain the situation.

###

The situation was looking up. Nick dropped lightly to the ground on the terminal's tarmac, out of sight of the passenger loading area. Their suspect had been heading out toward the bus waiting here, and grabbing him away from the other waiting passengers would keep innocent people from getting involved. (Or seeing something they shouldn't) he mentally added.

Nick stepped around the corner of the terminal, then was forced to step back as a crowd disgorged from the idling bus and headed immediately toward the warm, brightly lit terminal. Sticking his head around the edge of the building, Nick saw the heavily-bundled crowd part like water as they passed a tall, powerfully built man in a dark blue coat who stood like a rock in their river. The man waited patiently for them to pass, then deliberately looked in Nick's direction.

With a cool, mocking smile, the man opened his coat, revealing a small, clearly terrified young boy. The boy looked to be about seven, and his blond hair and blue eyes suggested a relationship to the girl they'd found earlier.

"Bastard," Nick whispered softly. Nodding as if he'd heard Nick, the man grabbed the boy by the arm, turned and walked back inside.

###

LaCroix sighed with disappointment. Nicolas had had the correct idea in waiting until the man had separated himself from the other mortals before attempting to catch him. It would have been child's play to then take the man from Nicolas and eliminate the problem. One of them, he amended. Once this unusual creature had been taken care of, there would still be the matter of the police officer. She was, he was quite sure, well aware of the danger that she is in. That she pursued her prey regardless suggested that she had some sort of plan with which to try to save herself. It was almost a pity that The Code required her death; it had been many years since he had been so entertained by a mere mortal.

###

Azoth jerked the sacrifice back into the shelter of the swarm of little humans. The sacrifice whined softly in protest, but the injunction against speech which Azoth had imposed held. In any case, the boy's fear (which flowed from him in delicious waves) would have kept him too terrified to speak should that injunction waver. The weak beast and the other, much stronger one waited for them outside. The woman, though he could not feel her now, was undoubtedly nearby. He scanned the terminal, never loosening his grip on his next sacrifice. Azoth had half hoped to leave without confronting these pale hunters, but his Lord had seen fit to make it otherwise. His leaving of this place now would be drenched in blood, a glorious tribute to his Dark Lord.

###

Samantha swore softly under her breath as the killer stepped back into the terminal, holding a small boy in front of himself like a shield. Passengers from the incoming bus now swarmed around the terminal, heading for the public phones or restrooms, or moving to stare out the front windows as they waited for their rides. Very few simply left the building, and it would be next to impossible to get them all out without alerting their prey. Well, if you can't move the mountain... Grabbing a disreputable-looking scarf that was sticking out of a nearby garbage can, she pulled in down over her hair and slumped her shoulders. Carrying an empty shopping bag, Samantha shuffled slowly toward the killer, her right hand clutching the pistol inside her coat pocket.

###

Gun out, Nick carefully approached the rear entrance to the bus terminal. Through the glass he could see better than two dozen people milling about, apparently looking for the now non-existent staff. In the middle of this confusion was their target, his back partially to Nick as the man looked slowly around the brightly-lit terminal. It would be pathetically easy for the man to take an additional hostage, or even hold the entire terminal if he had a gun. Nick knew that he could take an ordinary mortal under circumstances like these. But this was no ordinary mortal, and to allow this many people to see the vampire... For a brief moment Nick wished that he'd followed procedure and called for backup, then grinned in spite of himself. The idea of explaining LaCroix, and Samantha's rather unique methods of tracking, were enough to make his head ache. They would just have to make do. Speaking of which, where was Keller?

###

As Nicolas stepped quietly into the building, LaCroix gritted his teeth in annoyance. His perch on top of the terminal's roof was ideal for observing outside events, but somewhat lacking once the entertainment moved indoors. Knowing that Nicolas would certainly be needing his assistance, LaCroix dropped lightly over the side of the building.

###

Samantha continued shuffling toward the killer, her face lowered beneath the ratty scarf to avoid any chance of his recognizing her. Flicking her eyes up briefly, she caught a glimpse of Nick as he slipped in through the back doors. Running one finger over the safety of her gun to make sure that it was off, she brushed past heavily burdened passengers and closed with her target.

###

There she was. Nick straightened up from the water cooler and looked into the reflective surface of the terminal's big rear window. Beneath a ragged scarf and shuffling walk, Samantha was approaching the killer from his blind side. His back still to the two of them, Nick sidled closer.

###

The weaker beast glowed with power, a power both familiar and at adds with Azoth's own. Azoth doubted that the man would provoke a rematch among all of these little mortals. Pity.

He'd have to do it himself.

The youngling sacrifice was becoming tiring. All that whimpering, the small heart beating a frantic, trapped rhythm. A pity there wasn't time for more elaborate ceremony, but one can always make up for a lack quality with sufficient quantity. With a casual twist of his wrist, Azoth jerked the boy to him, then slashed the throat with one expert sweep of the blade he held in his left hand. Blood sprayed outward in a lovely fountain, quite red against the buzzing fluorescents overhead. Azoth cast the boy aside, sending the child crashing into an old hag waiting at the ticket window. He didn't pause to enjoy the sight of his opening gambit, reaching instead for his second. A bag lady, one of the wretches of this earth, was conveniently near and he reached for her, intending to throw her at the approaching man. Azoth had a brief moment to realize that the hand holding the tattered shopping bag was smooth and clean before his hand made--

###

CONTACT!!

Samantha's head reeled under the force of the black cloud which suddenly enveloped her. Images collided off of each other and off of her own rage and disgust at the animal in front of her. A dark, malignant Thing turned it's head and fixed it's interest on her.

###

NO!

Azoth recoiled, slashing out blindly with his knife in an attempt to shut out the unwelcome images the witch had shown him. Still her hand cling to his, her green eyes too knowing. In revulsion he flung the woman from him, and the images mercifully ceased as something else snatched at him and sent him flying.

###

Nick knew even as he launched himself at the killer that he was too late. Fresh bloodsmell filled the air, along with the first screams of terrified passengers. Moving faster than any human had a right to, he nonetheless reached the man only after the man had cast Samantha aside like a broken doll. Red fury filled him, and with a snarl he lifted the mortal in front of him and flicked him with one hand across the length of the terminal. More screams were added to the cacophony, but he paid them no heed as he turned to walk toward the twisted, bleeding body of the killer.

The other killer.

###

Azoth pulled himself free of broken shards of bolted-down chairs and black and white television, struggling to his feet in disbelief. Pain filled his body, his powerful, immortal body. His right arm seemed useless, and his good eye blinked rapidly as hot, sticky blood trickled into it. For one horrible moment he even thought that the weak, puling sounds he heard were his own.

No, thank the Dark Lord. With his good arm Azoth lifted the old woman from the wreckage he had made and drew her in front of him. She squawked and struggled until he had her properly in place, then grew stiff and silent as she saw the man approaching them.

###

Nick walked slowly across the terminal, his footsteps echoing loudly in the sudden quiet. Some of the mortal passengers had regained enough sense to flee, but most had gone shocky-quiet, waiting to see which of them would be next.

Good. That would keep them out of his way.

The mortal animal in front of him snatched up a mortal shield, but Nick knew that it didn't matter. The man was injured, slow.

His.

"Let the woman go." Nick's voice was flat, and brooked no contradiction. His quarry smiled in response, but Nick could see that the smile was forced, and could hear the heart quicken beneath the man's flesh. Nick smiled in return, showing the only weapons that he would need.

"Not just yet." Despite his injuries, Azoth's voice was strong. "The lady and I haven't finished our dance." He leered, and reached forward to plant a bloody kiss on the woman's cheek. She flinched, and began to whisper fervently under her breath. "I think you have." Nick began to walk forward again. "There's nowhere for you to run. No where to hide." He stopped a few feet away, and fixed the mortal killer with the full force of his power.

"Let...the woman...go."

The shudder ran through the man's body, and for a moment the blade at the woman's throat wavered. His face twitched convulsively, then forced itself into a sneer.

"That the best you've got, boy? I was centuries old when your master was born. Why not just give it up? Give up your pathetic posturings. Can't you feel her fear? We could bathe in it. Together." His last word came out as a whisper, and he pressed the blade firmly against the old woman's throat. A thin trickle of blood welled up and spilled down her throat and onto her high lace collar.

The bloodsmell and scent of fear heavy in the air brought old memories flooding back. Memories of the early days, before he tried to change (deny?) what he was. They had been powerful, then. Feared. Resolutely he pushed the memories away, but the feeling remained. Azoth smiled.

Nick turned his attention the man's mortal shield. In the old days, she would have been/was--

Was a terrified human being, tears of fear spilling down wrinkled, dark brown cheeks. Her clothing was simple but elegant, now stained with both Azoth's blood and her own. Far to one side an older black man begged softly for them not to hurt her, his voice a blend of love and agony. Now that he listened, Nick could make out what she was whispering as well. It was the Lord's Prayer.

As he took an involuntary step forward, her eyes widened in fear. Fear of him.

"No." His whisper was a denial. A denial of what he had been. What this monster was. He pushed the vampire back inside. He could control it, use it only when he chose to. He could. The killer's smile slowly faded, then brightened again as his eyes caught something behind Nick.

"Ah, the lovely Agent Keller. Come back for another dance, my dear?" His eyes narrowed slightly, and something flickered briefly across his face, was gone. Nick risked a quick glance behind him.

Samantha Keller stood awkwardly behind him, one hip canted upward as she tried to keep her weight off that leg, which was slicked with blood. A second gash in her scalp had spilled blood down her face, leaving her eyes shining brightly through a mask of blood. A faint smile played over her lips.

"Sam?" Nick's stunned whisper brought no response. She had eyes only for her prey. From behind him, he heard a carefully casual question.

"Cat got your tongue? Or perhaps it was the plate glass." She shook her head in response, and small fragments of glass rained downward. Behind her, blood and glass marked her trail back to the large plate glass window through which he'd thrown her. Her smile never wavered.

"I see you." Her voice was soft, mocking. "I see." She lifted one hand toward her forehead in emphasis, but her eyes never left his. "You wanted so much to be different, to be special, didn't you Mickey?"

"THAT'S NOT MY NAME! I am Azoth. I am a Great Beast, not some puny mortal. You try my patience, woman." There was defiance in his voice, but his lips trembled until he clamped them tightly shut.

"No." Her voice was soft and steady through her smile. "You're nothin' but a little boy, Mickey. And you've been very bad, haven't you? That's what your momma always told you, isn't it? That's why you needed to be punished so much. Your momma saw what you are, Mickey. That's why she used the clothespin. The scissors. The oil. She saw."

Azoth rubbed reflexively at the thick scar on one wrist before he realized that he was doing it. "No. That was some weak mortal, woman. Not me. I am strong. I have always been strong."

"Even later, when momma was put away for doing the Bad Thing, you were weak. You were bad. Hurtin' the animals made you feel better for a while, but it always came back, didn't it Mickey? The weakness. Later on, the women saw it. That's why you couldn't get it up. They were laughing at you inside, weren't they?"

Behind her, Nick could see LaCroix speak to the security guard, after which the mortal began quietly leading people out of the building. LaCroix then turned and began walking slowly toward them. The killer seemed almost hypnotized by Samantha's words, and Nick began to sidle slowly towards him. Samantha's soft voice droned on.

"You thought He would give you power, didn't you, Mickey? Make you strong, so no one would ever laugh at you again. You gave yourself to him, sold your soul for a chance to be something other than a weak, pathetic excuse for a human being." Her voice had been gradually losing the soft southern drawl it had in times of crisis, and had begun to thicken. Now, still whispering, she mocked him in a parody of Azoth's own deep rumble.

"Does it feel better now, Mickey? Does killing the weak and defenseless make you feel powerful? The smell of their blood is intoxicating, isn't it? Their fear like the sweetest of flowers. You can do to them everything that your momma did to you, that you wanted to do to her. Make them pay. Make them all pay.

"But it doesn't do a bit of good, does it Mickey?" Her voice had regained it's gentle, feminine quality, but the accent was that of a Quebecois woman a good many years older than herself. "You're still just the same sad, pathetic little boy you always were. I tried to tell you that you were no good, but you just wouldn't listen. I can see it. They all can. Underneath all that bravado, you're just a scared little---"

"NOOOO!" Azoth/Mickey tossed the old woman aside and launched himself at her. He would shut her up. Stop her vile lies. He wasn't weak. He wasn't. He would rend her into pieces and lick her blood from--

Out of nowhere hands snatched at him and stopped his flight, slamming him to the ground with enough force to knock the wind from his body. momma? He pushed the stray though away, then shoved outward. The man gave way before his great strength, and Azoth forced himself to his knees before weakness suddenly betrayed him and he sagged forward.

momma please, i'm sorry. i'll try to be better, momma please

A hand dug into his hair and pulled his head sharply back. He opened his eyes.

###

Nick stood above the killer, pulling the skin taught against the man's throat. The jugular vein weak weakly against the skin, taunting him. The man could never go to trial. He deserved to die. It would be only fitting that he die as a victim. Nick dipped his head down toward the waiting pulse.

"Nicolas." LaCroix's voice was soft, but insistent. Nick looked up in irritation. "Not this one, Nicolas." LaCroix had stopped just behind Keller, and was holding up one hand in warning. "You do not want this creature's blood flowing through your veins, Nicolas."

Nick looked back down into the man's eyes, one of which stared unseeing over his right shoulder. The bloodsmell was powerful, but underneath it, there was something else. Something tainted. Sickness ran through this mortal, a sickness which no medicine could heal. To drink from it might be to take that sickness into himself. The man's one good eye blinked, then fixed in Nicolas' own.

"please..." The word bubbled up through blood-stained lips. Was it a plea for mercy? Or for forgiveness?

"Go to hell." Nick grasped the man's chin and twisted brutally up and to the side. There was a sickening crunch. Nick released his hold and wiped his hands distastefully on his coat as the body slumped bonelessly outward to land with a meaty thump on the blood-spattered tile.

Hhhhaaaaa Air slipped softly and finally from his parted lips as Mickey stared blindly outward into nothingness.

"Very good, Nicolas. Now, why don't we--" LaCroix stopped abruptly and his eyes widened in disbelief as oily black smoke began to trickle from the dead man's eyes. In front of him, Samantha, whose head and shoulders had slumped forward with the death of Mickey suddenly jerked upright, her eyes widening in horror.

"No..."

###

Something black and shapeless launched itself from the body of Michael Ramsey and toward Samantha. Nick reached out in a blur of vampire speed, but his hand caught nothing but icy smoke. It reached Samantha a second later and she collapsed with a scream of fear and pain.

Blackness surrounded her. It caressed her, prodded her, filled every part of her being. It was as sweet as the first whiff of rotted fruit and as seductive as the first temptation. Part of her understood it, called to it. But another part, the stronger part, rebelled. The darkness wanted to rule her. It wanted to remake her into a pale copy of itself as it had Mickey.

No. As she took a deep breath to cry out for help, the darkness slid into her, choking her. Gagging, she fell to her knees in the darkness, frantically trying to expel the darkness from her lungs. It was no use. The darkness swarmed over her eyes, and she knew she was lost.

Through the encroaching blackness she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was ice cold, but steady and calm. The darkness stirred around her in warning.

"Fight," the hand's owner whispered in her ear. "See it for what it truly is, not what it wishes you to see." Amidst the horror around her, the voice was fierce and proud. That voice would never surrender. She forced her eyes open and stared into the darkness around her. "Not with your eyes, woman," the voice chided her.

Open herself up to this? This horror?

"No. I'm...I'm afraid." The ultimate confession. It was fear that now choked her, numbed her very soul.

"Then use it. Conquer your fear, my dear, or it will conquer you." The voice and the hand then vanished, leaving her alone in the darkness. The darkness jeered at her, mocked her fear and pain. But there was something else. Something...fearful? Tentatively, she let down the barriers which kept her sane in the physical world, and reached outward.

The beast was as evil as she had seen, but now that evil was tainted by something else. Something familiar... Cautiously, she pushed further.

"You're afraid," she whispered incredulously. "The great beast Azoth is afraid. Afraid because...because without me, without a mortal host, you'll die. And that terrifies you, doesn't it?" Hot denial flooded over her, but she knew the truth. "You want me? Come and get me."

The darkness surged forward.

###

Nick watched numbly as Samantha writhed in pain on the cold tile floor. LaCroix bent over her briefly, then looked up and shook his head, whether in annoyance or concern Nick couldn't be sure. Outside, the remaining passengers shivered and waited for the police. Far away, a siren screamed toward them. They wouldn't have to wait long. In front of him, Samantha took a deep breath, then slammed one fist against the floor.

"No one...owns...me." She slammed her fist down again. "No one." Her body stiffened as if an electrical current had surged through it, then slumped limply to the floor. Above them, the electrical lights suddenly blew out and the remains of the front window shattered explosively outward. A black cloud drifted up from Keller's body, coalescing briefly before beginning to drift apart on the winter drafts which flooded the nearly empty terminal.

NOOOOooooooo...

Nick and LaCroix pressed hands to their foreheads as the mental cry reverberated through them, fading quickly to a whimper, and then to silence. Between and below them, Samantha shuddered, then lifted her head.

"Well, that was fun." Ignoring her injured leg, she began to pull herself to her feet, then swayed alarmingly. LaCroix deftly reached out and caught one elbow. She nodded her thanks vaguely. "Let's not do that again, shall we?" He voice was faint, but hers and hers alone. After a moment Nick found his voice as well.

"Sounds like a good idea to me. Now why don't we get you to a hospital?"

She shook her head.

"Hate hospitals. People dyin', cryin. Makes my head hurt. `Sides, I think you've got other pressin' concerns." She nodded with her head at the rear windows of the terminal, through which could be seen the first faint light of dawn.

###

In the end, they had all left together, LaCroix sniffing at being forced to use the sewer systems yet again. None of them had much to say. At last they reached familiar territory. The Raven was just above. Sanctuary. Janette or some previous, unknown owner had seen that certain modifications were made to the original system, and they were able to pass directly from the sewer into a carefully-hidden passage which lead into the club's cellar. They ascended the final steps to the main floor in silence.

"I'm going to call Natalie." At Samantha's protest, he added, "You need a doctor. Besides, Nat's probably going crazy with curiosity by now. She's got to know that we were there, and," he paused as LaCroix looked up sharply. What could--

"Yes." A voice like a dull blade cut the darkness. The house lights flickered on, revealing three men in heavy winter coats standing on the dance stage. "Many people were witness to your activities." The voice belonged to a tall, thin man whose face and bearing proclaimed him an Enforcer.

"We caught the killer," Nick began hopelessly. "A mortal. There won't be any more publicity." He nodded back toward the bar, where the killer's last public message had been left.

"Yes," the man continued. "We have no problems with that solution, although you could have been a little more...discreet? What concerns us, Nicolas, is your other loose end. Not very tidy, leaving a one such as this alive."

"She's no threat to us."

The Enforcer snorted in reply. "A police officer--a Hunter--knows about us. You know what The Code requires."

"It's not--"

###

"Hang on a minute." Samantha slipped painfully off of her bar stool and walked up to Nick, on hand clamped over a white towel pressed against her side. "This is the part where you tell me that I know too much, right? Much too dangerous to live, that sort of thing?" She looked calmly across the room toward the waiting Enforcers.

"More or less. You're quite right, you do know too much, Agent Keller. You must die to protect our secret, or," he glanced first at Nick, then lingered longer over LaCroix, "you must be brought across. It's really quite simple."

"Brought across? Oh, be made a vampire. Well, I've got to tell you, William, I've got a little problem with that. See, I haven't finished working on my tan yet." She tried to smile cheekily, but all that she could managed was a wan, pale smile. "And for the other, well, let's just say I've got a deep moral objection to dyin', huh?"

The three Enforcers made no reply, but dropped easily from the stage to the floor and began walking toward her. She continued gamely.

"Why don't we talk about option number three?"

"There is no other option."

"Well, I kinda think there is. See, after I ran into Nick here, and he ran into a stake, well, I started thinking. Started thinking that maybe I needed a backup plan. So I made copies of all of my notes, as well as little bits of some very interesting blood and tissue samples which I happened to have, and sent them off to a friend of mine. Now, this friend of mind doesn't know what's in the package. But, should he hear about me being killed in the line of duty, or maybe," she gestured in mock surprise, "just turning up missing? He's gonna send that package on to the RCMP forensics folks." Her voice and her face hardened. "I expect you might have time to get a few folks out of here before the guys in the white lab coats arrive. Still, they'll have enough to blow your secret sky high." She sighed, and rubbed her eyes tiredly.

"What makes you think we can't get your 'friend's' location out of you?" The Enforcer who had spoken earlier was suddenly right in front of her. "We've had centuries of experience." He reached out, and traced her cheek with a cold, taloned hand. Her eyes came up to meet his, unafraid.

"Give it your best shot, sport."

###

"It won't be worth your trouble," LaCroix interceded. "The lady is a resistor, you know."

"Hmmph. Of course. And I suppose you believe her story about a little box a evidence, LaCroix?" He looked over at LaCroix, ignoring the younger vampire completely.

"It's possible. Even probable. The question is, can you afford not to?" LaCroix leaned casually against the bar, a portrait of indifference. Nick, however, could see the tension his old master was attempting to hide. There was a moment of silence as the Enforcer William exchanged looks with his companions. Finally, they reached a decision. He leaned forward, and caressed Samantha's cheek again.

"You know my name. Well, know this as well. We will be watching you. And someday," he brushed one finger across her lips, "someday, we will return. In the mean time," he stepped back, and adjusted his greatcoat, "pleasant dreams." There was a gust of cold air, and the three of them were alone in the room once more.

Samantha shuddered, and swayed on her feet. This time it was Nick who caught her, and guided her gently to a seat. "Thanks, Nick. You know, I don't normally do this sort of thing. Fainting, I mean. `S kind of embarrassing..." She sighed, and closed her eyes.

###

Natalie had indeed been relieved to hear from him. Once she had expressed her irritation in his "vanishing act" she also agreed to come to the Raven, where she pronounced Samantha in need of ten stitches, which she provided, and a good night's sleep, which she would also provide back at her apartment. LaCroix had courteously offered to let Nick stay the day, and Nick gratefully accepted.

"Well, I must say that it will be a relief to have this tedious business over with," LaCroix said as he poured them both a final glass for the day. "Reporters and police officers poking and prying, chasing off the trade." He took a sip, and turned to stare absently at the darkened stage.

"Mmm. The RCMP has officially closed the case. Deranged librarian Michael Ramsey kills twenty before being taken down by a cooperative effort between the RCMP and local police. Samantha will probably get a promotion out of it."

"For whatever it will mean to her. Agent Keller does not hunt for glory any more than we do. An extraordinary woman, Nicolas."

"You sound as if you admire her, LaCroix." Nick grinned, and looked out of the corner of his eye at his old...friend?

"Please do not attempt to include me in your fascination with mortals, Nicolas. I assure you, my interest in this mortal goes only as far as the respect of one hunter for another. Now," he set his glass down on the bar, "I am going to bed. If you must indulge this repulsive fascination, might I suggest the television soap operas? I'm quite sure that they will provide you with all of the love and angst that you require." With that he swept out toward Janette's old rooms, where he intended to spend the remains of the day.

Nick grinned. It wasn't often that he was able to jab his old mentor so effectively. Perhaps he had hit closer to the mark than he'd realized? Nick shook his head and set his own glass down firmly. The idea was simply too strange. Definitely time to get some sleep. Nick shut off the overhead lights as he headed for the private room and it's inviting couch.

As the room's door shut, a chill draft passed over the bar, a legacy of a window not properly sealed. After that, silence, save for the slow dripping of a faucet somewhere in the darkness.

The End

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