Forever Knight

Baby It's Cold Outside

Natalie Lambert stepped back and scrutinized the tree carefully. She pushed the 'on' button on the multiplug bar and watched as a myriad of tiny lights reflected off the gold and silver garlands and the numerous ornaments. On the top, a silver star flecked with translucent beads twinkled brightly, surrounded by a halo of gold lights. Reaching her right hand over her left shoulder, she patted herself on the back. "Yes!" She agreed with herself. "Even if I do say so myself, I did an outstanding job."

Nick had invited her to spend Christmas day at the loft with him, but he did not know anything about the tree and other decorations. She had arrived shortly after Nick left for work. She knew that Nick wouldn't think to decorate the loft, so she decided to do it herself and surprise him.

Even the weather had cooperated. When she arrived at the loft, there was a light layer of snow on the ground, giving everything a crisp clean look, almost like something out of a Hallmark Christmas Card scene.

Nick Knight had worked every holiday since he joined the Toronto Metro Police Force four years ago, and this Christmas Eve was no different. His standard explanation was that since he had no family, he wanted to release someone who did so they could spend the day with their families. His real reason was because he felt that as an 800 year old vampire, he had no right to celebrate holidays, especially religious holidays, since he had turned his back on God and had been damned for all eternity ... those were his words, not Natalie's.

She was determined that he would celebrate this Christmas Day no matter what. That's why she had brought the tree and decorations ... complete with a wreath for the door and two of the biggest red stockings she could find ... one inscribed "Nick" and one with "Natalie" ... hanging on the mantle. There was even a stable scene. She had reservations about setting up the manger, but decided to do it anyway. Even if he couldn't enjoy it, she could.

Under the tree was a small brightly wrapped box with the name "Nick" on the tag. It was a picture of the two of them taken at the precinct picnic last summer. He had seen the photo at her place and had admired it, so she had a copy made and framed.

She went to the kitchen and set out the bottle of apple cider, a tub of butter, and the cinnamon sticks for mulled cider. Again, he couldn't enjoy this traditional Christmas drink, but Natalie could. Her parents had made mulled cider every Christmas for as long as she could remember, and even though she and her brother Richard got the apple juice version, the cider was still a little bit of home.

For Nick, she put out a bottle of pig blood that she had gotten from a butcher friend of hers who had gotten it from the stockyard for her. According to another of her ... "friends", pig blood was very close to human. It had taken a bit of creative lying to get the blood. She told her butcher friend that a friend of hers had told her that mixing pig blood with the water would make her tree last longer. She neglected to mention that her tree was an artificial one. She hoped Nick would appreciate the gesture. This one day, she could afford to let him backslide a little bit.

She had to admit, the chicken for Christmas dinner came from the KFC. She did make the mashed potatoes (Betty Crocker Instant) and the stuffing (Stove Top) herself. The vegetables were from the Jolly Green Giant, and the pumpkin pie was courtesy of Sara Lee. It was a lot easier that way than trying to make everything from scratch. Especially when you are making dinner for only one.

The phone rang and the answering machine cut in. "This is Nick Knight. I am either asleep or incommunicado. You know the drill." There was a beep and Nick's voice came in next. "Nat ... "

Natalie picked up the phone.

"I know I said I was going to book off early tonight, but we finally got the break we've been looking for in the Lattimer case and we've got to follow up on it now or it will be too late."

In the background, Natalie could hear Nick's partner Don Schanke complaining loudly. "Hurry up will ya, Nick? Santa's not going to wait forever to deliver Jenny's Christmas presents. After all, you were the one who volunteered us to work Christmas Eve. I only went along with it because Cohen promised we could get off before midnight. Now we're gonna be lucky to be outta here before six AM."

"I understand." Natalie said, just a hint of disappointment in her voice. "I know how long and hard the two of you have been working on this case, and it will be a really good Christmas present for everyone concerned if the two of you could wrap it up tonight."

"I'll be home as soon as possible. I promise." Nick replied. "See you soon." As he hung up, he softly planted a kiss on the receiver. "I love you." He whispered.

Natalie pushed the off button. "I love you." She whispered and blew a kiss as she placed the receiver in its cradle.

"My. My. My. What a touching sentiment!" A voice behind her said. "If I had known you would be here, I would have brought something for you, too. A bottle of champagne, perhaps?" He held out a green bottle with a Raven label on it and a large red bow around the neck. Natalie had no doubt what the bottle contained. "As it is, all I have is this for Nicholas. I doubt if you would appreciate it."

Natalie turned around and glared at the figure standing behind her. "What are you doing here, LaCroix?" She asked. She had not heard him come in, but for the two thousand year old vampire, that was more the norm. She also did not know how he had gotten in, since she had securely locked the doors and windows and set the alarms, but again, such inconsequential things as locks and alarms would not present a problem for Lucien LaCroix.

"Why Doctor. I am here to celebrate the holiday with my son, of course." LaCroix replied.

"Nick didn't say anything about you being here."

"That's because he does not know that I would be here. Unlike others, I do not need an invitation to spend time with my son." There was a slight hint of condescending disdain in his voice. "And tonight is no different.

Although after approximately 2000 years, I still fail to see the justification for celebrating the birth of the Son of a Jewish carpenter who was crucified as a common criminal. I know Nicholas has tried to explain it to me several times, but if this ... Carpenter's Son was truly the son of a god as Nicholas says he was, then why was he born a Jew of all things? If he was in fact a god, he most certainly would have been born a member of the Roman nobility. Possibly even a descendant of the great Caesar himself. At the very least, he would have been a high born Roman citizen. He also should have died in a manner much more befitting a god. In battle, perhaps ... At the hands of assassins ... Or as a last resort, suicide. Anything but hanging from a piece of wood in the barren Judean countryside.

And for the record. If your biblical account of his birth is in any way accurate, he was probably born sometime in the spring of the year, not in the middle of winter. It would have been much too cold for the shepherds to be tending their flocks outdoors at that time. Sometime in the third century, the church moved the feast to December so that it would give the Christians something to celebrate during the long winter months. As if the feast of Saturnalia was not reason enough." He sighed heavily. "But then, every religious cult has its peculiarities. I suppose Christianity is no different."

"LaCroix. Why must you demean everything? Why can't you just accept things as they are? Just because you don't believe in Him, that's no reason to demean those of us who do."

"My dear Doctor. You have been spending much too much time with Nicholas. You are beginning to sound exactly like him."

"I'm going to take that as a compliment."

"You would." He said softly.

"I heard that."

He picked up the baby Jesus from the manger.

"I thought religious items were harmful to you. How come you can handle that?" She asked as he examined the piece carefully.

"Although it has religious significance, technically the stable scene is not a religious item. And even if it was, I could still handle it, but with only a minimum of discomfort. You see, while much of the hazard to our kind from religious objects lies in the faith of the believer, it also depends on the faith of the handler to a somewhat lesser extent. I do not believe in your God. Or in any god for that matter. Oh, I did have a few personal household gods that I prayed to when I was mortal, but the only reason I went into the established temples was because it was expected of me, not because I was a believer." He turned the piece over several times. "Excellent craftsmanship by the way. It's handmade, isn't it?"

"It's a family heirloom. My great grandfather carved the set sometime in the 1880's. There's the exact date on the back of the stable." She turned the building around. "Yes. Here it is. 1884. JGB. Those were his initials. Josef Gustav Buchenov. Somehow it wouldn't be Christmas without that creche under the tree."

"It is a lovely tradition." He put the piece back.

"I don't know about you." Natalie said as she headed for the couch. "But since Nick's going to be delayed, I'm going to grab some shuteye." She pulled the afghan from the back of the sofa and curled up. "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out." She looked at the master vampire. "Oh. I forgot. You don't use doors, do you?"

& & & & & &

Nick left the interrogation room, a satisfied smile on his face. He had been right all along. With only a very small "suggestion" from him, Sylvia Lattimer had sung like the proverbial canary.

" … And you are telling us everything." Nick said, capturing the obviously overbleached platinum blonde's gaze. "... Aren't you?"

"Of course I am." Sylvia Lattimer replied. It was an accident ... Just as I … I told … " She was drawn to the detective's eyes. " ... The other officers ... " Suddenly, there was nothing else in the room but Detective Knight's eyes. "I ... I told them ... " They burrowed into her soul. " ... I lied to them ... " She couldn't lie to those eyes. " …We ... We planned it all along. Tony and me. Tony Drake. He's my lover, you know. We knew he was richer than anybody had a right to be. That's why I married him in the first place. For the money. Why else would a thirty … I mean a twenty five year old marry a geezer like that? Why should he have all that dough? He wasn't going to ever use all of it. I mean he was 78 years old and he couldn't do anything. Either in or out of bed. He kept me on a very strict budget, too. Gave me little more than chump change. And I had to account for every nickel. Like he thought I was gonna spend him dry. I would have, too if he'd have given me the chance. I deserved it just for putting up with him. I was just something he could parade around. What they call a trophy wife.

Anyway. When Tony came over that night, we monkeyed around with his wheelchair so that it would come apart with any kind of effort from him. Then it was just a matter of getting him angry enough to come after us. That wasn't that hard. He hated Tony because he could give me what he couldn't ... Love. When he did come after him, the wheel came off just like we planned, and he went down. He hit his head real hard on the tile in the hallway. Then all we had to do was wait until he stopped breathing … with a little help from a pillow, of course.

Tell me something, what was the clue that gave us away?"

"Actually, it was the five million dollar double indemnity policy that you took out with that Dominican Republic insurance company just one month after you were married." Don supplied. "That in itself was suspicious. There were lots of other things that didn't completely add up, but the final piece fell in place when we discovered the two one way plane tickets in your maiden name to the Cayman Islands departing Toronto on Boxing Day. They were bought two weeks before Arnold Lattimer died."

"I should have put them in the dog's name maybe?" Sylvia said as she was led out of the interrogation room.

"Well, that's a good end to that case. Now to head for home." Nick said as he started for the door.

"I don't think so." Amanda Cohen said as she came out of her office. "Nobody's going anywhere."

"Waddya mean nobody's going nowhere?" Schanke grumbled. "We just busted our butts to get this case wrapped up before the sun came up, and now you're telling us we gotta stay here? I don't think so. Nick's barely got enough time to make it to that high tech dungeon of his as it is. Besides, Jenny will be waking up any minute now and I want to be there when she opens her presents. You already got the preliminary paperwork and the rest can wait until after Boxing Day. Unless there's something going on you're not telling us."

"I'M not telling you anything. The Weather Ministry is. According to the latest report, there's a major arctic storm headed for our area. It's dumped at least five inches of the fluffy white stuff on top of about an inch of solid ice in just in the last hour alone. The winds top out at 50 kilos an hour with a chill factor of about -32. And that's not the worst of it. The bulk of the storm is expected to hit any minute now. They're predicting another ten to fifteen inches before the storm moves off. There is already a level three snow emergency in effect as of an hour ago and until further notice. No one is supposed to be outside from Kitchener to Kingston, Inner Harbour to Georgian Bay."

"But a level three means only police, fire, and other emergency vehicles are allowed to be on the road. We're the police. That means ... " Schanke protested.

"... That means you're staying right here." Cohen interrupted. "Unless you're out there on official duty, as far as the department is concerned, you're civilians and you are under the same rules as everybody else. Don't worry. I've made arrangements to put all of you up here until the storm passes. I suggest you call your spouses, significant others, or anyone else that might be expecting you and give them the news."

" ... But Myra, I'm stuck here. I can't leave even if I wanted to." Schanke paced the aisle next to his desk. "The bulk of the storm is due any minute and there's nothing I can do about it. What was that again? ...You're wearing what? ... With what? … And white knee socks, too? ..." Schanke sat down and crossed his legs. "Myra, not in front of Cohen, Knight and everyone in the precinct ... Myra, I'm gonna have to hang up and call you from a stall in the men's washroom. It's closer to the showers, and if this conversation is going to go the way I think it's going, I think I'm gonna need a cold one when it's over."

& & & & & &

Natalie opened one eye. It must still be night, since the loft was as dark as when she went to sleep. She snuck a quick glance at the sun motif clock that hung above the stove in the kitchen. ( SEVEN THIRTY FIVE! The sunrise was twenty minutes ago! But why is the loft still so dark? ) Then she saw why. The steel shades over the windows were closed. But she had left them open. That could only mean one thing. Someone ... And she didn't need three guesses to figure out who ... Was here with her ... And it wasn't Nick.

"Good morning Dr. Lambert." Lucien LaCroix came into her field of vision. "I trust you slept well, although I think you would have slept much more comfortably in Nicholas's bed. I know I always do."

"What are you still doing here? I thought you said you were going to leave last night."

"No, Doctor. You ... were the one who said that I was leaving. I have no intention of going anywhere. Especially now that the sun is up."

The phone ringing effectively squelched the rather sarcastic response Natalie was about to give.

"Nat." Nick's voice came over the answering machine speaker. Natalie picked up the receiver.

"I know I said I'd be home well before sunrise, but there are complications."

"Let me guess. You didn't catch Sylvia Lattimer."

"Oh, we got her all right, and she gave a full confession. The problem is it's snowing pretty heavy out there, and there's a full scale blizzard due to arrive any minute now. According to the latest weather report, it's going to just about paralyze the city. The Ministry of Transportation has declared a level three snow emergency, and Cohen has ordered everyone to stay at the precinct until it passes. So I guess that means I won't be home until sometime after sunset. I'm so sorry. I know you were looking forward to spending Christmas Day with me. I know I was eager to spend it with you. I'll make it up to you, I promise."

Natalie debated whether to mention that LaCroix was there, but decided against it. If she knew Nick well enough, and she was certain that she did, he had more than enough to worry about without angsting about her situation. In all probability, he would even risk exposure from the weather, the daylight, and from prying mortal eyes to get to the loft before LaCroix "did" anything to her. As Natalie saw it, if the ancient vampire was going to harm her, he had plenty of opportunities to do so while she was sleeping.

"Take your time. I'll be here when you get here." Again, she blew a kiss into the receiver as she placed it on the cradle.

"So, what are you going to do now that Nicholas will not be here until tonight?" LaCroix asked.

"How did you know that Nick wouldn't be here?"

"You forget that we have exceptional hearing. I heard both sides of the conversation."

"Oh ... It's also called eavesdropping, you know."

LaCroix only nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders.

"I also know that because of what you are, you can't go out in the daytime. That means you're stuck here. Since I don't have any problem with sunlight, I'm going home. Sidney needs to be fed, and you don't want to know what he can do if he doesn't get his daily ration of Happy Kitty Premium Supper."

( Why does everyone make such a big stink about a little snow? ) Natalie thought as she rode the lift to the ground level. ( Most of the other times that the pencilnecked geeks over at the Transportation Ministry have issued a level three storm warning, nothing has ever came of it. Sometimes I think they issue a level three every time more than twenty seven snowflakes fall. )

She pulled open the door and looked out into the parking lot. Nick wasn't exaggerating. From the doorway, she could barely make out her car parked about fifteen feet away. The buildings across the street did not exist. Pulling her collar tight about her face, she started for the car, fighting the blinding snow and the near gale force winds all the way. The snow hitting her face felt like a thousand tiny chips of glass, and it was well over the tops of her boots, almost to her knees. When she reached the car, she did a quick check. The windshield had about four inches of snow on it, and under that was a half an inch of solid ice. It would take at least an hour of scraping just to get enough cleared to be able to see to drive. The snow had drifted over the tires and almost to the door handle. She attempted to put the key in the lock, but it was frozen solid. She sighed heavily. Her breath was almost a solid in the bone chilling cold. She pulled out her cell phone and with numbed fingers tapped in the number for the auto club.

"I'm sorry." The harried voice on the other end of the call said. It was difficult to hear over the static. "There's no way we can make any service runs except for police authorized emergencies. Like everyone else in the area, we have to wait until the storm lets up before we can start answering other than urgent calls. And then it will depend on how fast the street crews can get the snow cleared. Since you are not in a dangerous situation, and are in a place where you can easily get out of the cold, unfortunately you would not be on our priority list. We have such a huge backlog, it's possible that it could even be sometime tomorrow before we could get to your car. Again, I'm so sorry."

There was no way she was going to get out of here anytime soon. She turned and headed back to the loft. She had taken only a few steps when her feet skidded out from under her and she landed on the snow and ice covered ground with a loud thud. Although she didn't seem to be hurt ... except for her pride ... she was covered with the wet snow, both on the outside and inside of her coat.

"Well, I guess I've got no choice." She grumbled as she rode up in the lift. "As much as I dislike it ... and I don't like it one bit ... it looks like I'll be spending Christmas with ... Lucien LaCroix. Merry Christmas. Ho! ... Ho! ... Fricking ... Ho!"

As she opened the lift door, Natalie could see LaCroix at the stove with a small saucepan in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, stirring whatever was in the pan.

"Well, Doctor. I take this to mean that you're going to be sharing my ... imprisonment." He poured the contents of the saucepan into a mug and added a cinnamon stick. He held it to Natalie. "After your little expedition to the outside, I figured you would be needing this." He handed the mug to Natalie, and then took her slush covered coat from her and put it on the back of a chair in the kitchen.

Natalie took the mug and sniffed it suspiciously. "What is it?"

"Mulled cider, if my culinary skills have not deserted me. Warmed apple cider, a spoonful of butter, a cinnamon stick. ... And nothing more. I assure you, I have no need to put anything "funny" in your drink, if that's what you're thinking. Even in my ... beverages, unless it's a vintage Cabernet Sauvignon or a classic Chateau DeMer, it only spoils the taste of the blood."

Natalie took a sip and felt the hot liquid warm her insides. She had to admit, it was just the way she remembered it. "My compliments to the chef." She nodded in LaCroix's direction.

"Merci beaucoup, Mademoiselle." LaCroix made an exaggerated bow.

( Was that a smile on his face? ) It was so brief, she almost missed it, but yes, Lucien LaCroix actually did smile.

"Tres bien, Monsieur." Natalie curtsied. "I wish I could reciprocate, but, knowing what Nick keeps on hand, I doubt if you would appreciate that. I do have some pig blood, though. I understand that's pretty close to human."

"Ah, yes. That ... swill ... Nicholas insists on drinking. You are correct. I would not drink it if it were all that there was ... well, maybe then. While I am grateful for the offer, to a ... connoisseur ... pig blood is still ... swill." He took the Raven bottle from the counter. "I do have this, though. I had planned to share it with Nicholas but, considering his dietary peculiarities, he probably wouldn't drink any of it anyway." He opened the bottle and took a goblet from the rack above the counter. "It would be such a shame to let it go to waste." He poured the cup about half full and held it toward Natalie. "Let me see. What would be appropriate? Ah yes. Joyeux Noel." He nodded to her and took a sip.

"And a Giorno Felice del Saturno to you." Natalie held up her cup. At LaCroix's fleeting surprised look, she explained. "Don't look so surprised, LaCroix. I have a friend who was born in Italy who happens to be a Wiccan. She celebrates the Saturnalia, and she taught me to say Happy Saturnalia in Italian. I thought it would be a suitable greeting to give you."

"But how do you know that I celebrated Saturnalia, and especially to give the greeting in Italian and not in French.?"

"Nick isn't the only detective around here. He mentioned one time that you were the one who taught Nero to play the fiddle when Rome burned. That would be sometime in the first century. It's almost a given that since you were with the Emperor, you would have had to be a very high born noble. You probably lived in Rome itself. Since Christianity was still in its infancy ... and outlawed at that time ... most Romans would have been practicing Pagans. Ergo, the feast would have to be Saturnalia."

"If that were the case, why not give the greeting in Latin?"

"I only remember a few words of Latin from my high school days, and I doubt if any of them would fit the occasion. So I chose Italian instead."

"Very good, Doctor! Just to set things straight. The burning of Rome took place in 64 AD by your calendar. I had just become a General in the Elite Eighth Legion and had been invited by the Emperor to celebrate the occasion with him. Nero played the lyre. The rebec, the ancestor of the modern day ... " He cleared his throat loudly. " ... fiddle ... wasn't even developed until the middle of the 11th century. And I did not teach him to play. He was already a fairly accomplished musician. My home was in Pompeii, not Rome, although I spent a good deal of time there attending to military matters."

"Still. It is a fitting greeting, isn't it?"

Again there was that microscopic smile. "Most fitting, Doctor. And please, call me Lucien if you will." He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "May I call you Natalie?"

"I think that would be nice, LaCr ... ah ... Lucien." Natalie blushed deeply. ( Who is this man and what have they done with the real Lucien LaCroix ... and how much of a bribe would they take to keep him wherever he is? )

She picked up the phone and called Marge Baskins, her neighbor to see if she would take care of Sidney as she had on other occasions when Natalie could not make it home for one reason or another. Marge agreed. She had a key to Natalie's apartment ... just in case. From the amount of static on the line, Natalie was fairly certain that this would probably be the last call in or out until after the storm passed.

& & & & & &

Nick Knight stared glumly through the barred window of the holding cell he shared with his partner Don Schanke, and Detectives Bailey and Woods. Of course, there wasn't much to see from the window, only a swirling wall of grayish-white, occasionally broken by the vague outline of an emergency vehicle trying desperately to respond to a call. This was definitely NOT his idea of how to celebrate Christmas Day, and from the grumblings and facial expressions of his "cellmates", it was not their preferred way either. He had tried to call Natalie to see how she was doing, but phones, even cell phones, were unreliable at best when the weather was this bad.

In addition, the ice and snow had knocked out the transformer station less than a mile from the precinct, and had brought down electric and telephone lines all over the city. Nearly all of Toronto was without electricity. Although the precinct had an emergency backup system, it only provided a minimum of power. While power and lights in the holding area and other vital areas of the precinct were functioning, most of the rest of the building was without energy. As a negative side effect, there was also no heat. On the plus side, at least as far as Nick was concerned, the heavy cloud cover shielded most of the sun's rays so its harmful effects were barely negligible.

"Merry Christmas! Bah! Humbug!" Chuck Bailey groused as he blew on his hands to try and warm them. "I know we are supposed to have snow on Christmas, but this is ridiculous. While I'm sitting here freezing my tush off, Regina, my one year old, is just now opening her presents for her first real Christmas, and her daddy isn't even there to see it. I just hope Julie is videotaping all of this for me."

"Yeah." Dale Woods added. "My twins were really looking forward to today, too. We were supposed to go to Eaton Place and then tour the downtown to see the displays. It's been a tradition in our family since before they were born. Now, thanks to our dear darling Captain, that's not going to happen this year."

"I HEARD THAT!" Amanda Cohen called from the adjoining cell. "Shivering in the lockup with all you bozos isn't very high up on my list of things to do this Christmas Day either. And don't forget, my husband and kids are home without me, too. So stuff a sock in the complaints, and let's all try to get along. The storm can't last forever, and then we'll all be back with our loved ones."

"I hope that includes me." Sylvia Lattimer called from the locked cell at the end of the hallway.

"In your dreams." Schanke answered her.

& & & & & &

Natalie jumped as the lights flickered briefly.

"No need to concern yourself, Natalie." For some reason, it sounded natural to call her by her given name. "I happen to know that Nicholas has a state of the art backup system that will take over if the power goes out. In fact, that flickering was probably the generator kicking in. Unfortunately, since we do not require as much warmth as you mortals do, the heating system will most likely be running on minimum for the foreseeable future. There will only be enough heat to keep things from freezing."

"So what do we do now?"

"I ... do not have to do anything. As I said, I do not feel the cold as you do. I would suggest, though that you go to Nicholas's room and try to find some warm clothing to put on. Particularly since the clothes you are wearing are still wet from your little adventure to the outside."

Natalie opened the closet door in Nick's bedroom. LaCroix was right. Even though it had been less than an hour since the heat went out, the loft already had begun to cool significantly, and her wet clothes made it seem even colder.

Somehow, she felt like a voyeur. She had been briefly in Nick's bedroom several times before, but Nick had always been there. She looked through the assortment of clothes hanging in front of her in the closet. There was the usual variety of dress, casual, and utility garments hanging there. Somehow, she had imagined that Nick would have a closet full of exotic and unusual attire. But then, this was Nick we were talking about. Mr. Nicholas-Ultra-Conservative-Traditional-B-Knight. The poster boy for practical fashion himself. She selected a lightweight but bulky wool sweater, and a pair of jeans. ( That should handle the chill. ) From his dresser, she took an undershirt, socks and a pair of boxers. Again, they would be warmer than the underwear she was wearing. ( In addition, it will be pure bliss to get out of these ... SOB-ing ... pantyhose. )

( If I am going to go to all this trouble ... ) She thought as she went into Nick's private bathroom off the master bedroom. ( Why not go the whole nine yards? ) She turned on the water at the over sized tub, and was pleasantly surprised to find it was still hot. ( At least the water heater is still working. ) While it filled, she went back to Nick's room and took off her clothes. She saw Nick's black velour robe lying on the back of a chair and on impulse, put it on. She pulled the collar to her nose and took a deep breath. It fairly exuded the unique scent that was Nick's. Then she went back to the bathroom. By this time, the tub was nearly full. She found some bath gel ... English Leather ... Nick's favorite ... and poured some in. Gingerly, she climbed in, pulled the sliding shower door shut, and settled into the sudsy fragrant water. It was just what she needed. The water enveloped her in a warm aromatic cocoon.

Suddenly, she was aware that she was not alone. She slid open the opaque door, and sure enough, Lucien LaCroix stood by the opening.

"LACROIX!" She yelled. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE? GET OUT!" She quickly pulled the door shut. Although she knew that he had only gotten a momentary glance, she was blushing deeply.

( Very nice. I wonder if Nicholas has ever seen that much of her. ) "I did not realize you were already in the tub. I heard the water running and surmised that you were going to take a bath. I only wanted to make certain that you had all the supplies that you would need." He took down Nick's robe from the hook on the door. He put it to his nose and took a deep breath. ( Yes ... Nicholas. ) "I see that you have all that you require." He replaced the robe. "Is there anything else you would like?" He opened the shower door a crack. "Perhaps you would enjoy having your back scrubbed?" He was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. And his grin was just about as sincere.

"I SAID GET OUT OF HERE!!" Furious, she threw a sopping wet washcloth at him. It hit with a loud splat directly in the middle of his chest and slid soddenly down his body to the floor. "GO! ... NOW!!" She yelled as she pulled the door closed.

"I will go in a few moments. But first, let me get out of these wet clothes before I drip all over the floor."

This time it was Natalie who opened the shower door a crack and watched as Lucien unbuttoned the wet shirt. She was surprised at his finely molded chest with just a touch of light brown hair scattered on it. She had seen Nick shirtless on several occasions ... purely for medical purposes, mind you ... ( We are ... just friends ... after all ... ) And she knew that he had a lean sculpted body, but she had never thought of LaCroix in that context. But then, she had never thought of Lucien LaCroix in any context before. Except as an evil, cold hearted villain. ( Not bad ... Not bad at all. )

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her watching him and heard her heartbeat increase significantly. ( She apparently likes what she sees. ) He smiled slightly and slowed his removal of the garment almost to the pace of a strip tease. ( Might as well give her a really good show. ) When he finished with the shirt, he slowly, sensually, began removing his trousers, which were also wet.

In her mind, Natalie could almost hear 'Bumps and Grinds'.

At first, Natalie thought he was not wearing any underwear, but then he turned slightly, and she caught sight of a little black thong. A very ... little ... black thong. It barely covered what it needed to cover. Either he was VERY well endowed, or it was the tiniest thong that had ever been made. ( Or maybe both. ) The situation was not lost as she watched the master vampire disrobe. She had to admit that being naked, even if she was in a tub full of water, while she watched LaCroix's blatant performance, was more than just a little erotic.

Then, in almost one motion, he suddenly picked up his clothes and left the bathroom.

Natalie closed the shower door and snuggled once again into the tub, but somehow, the warm sudsy water did not have the same effect on her that it had a few minutes earlier.

& & & & & &

"I don't know about anyone else." Vera Williams, the Desk Sergeant said. "But I'm getting hungry. Anyone want to come up to the break room with me and get some grub?"

Almost to a person, everyone started for the hallway.

"There's no reason for everybody to go." Captain Cohen said. "One or two of you can go and bring back something for everyone."

"I'll go with you." Don Schanke volunteered.

"You would." Several people answered. "Vera, just be sure there's enough left to feed the rest of us after Donut Don gets through."

"Let's see what's in the fridge." Vera said as she and Don entered the break room. She opened the door and shone the flashlight on the contents. She smiled broadly. "We got it made in the shade. There's a veritable feast in here." She started opening the bags. "We got vegetable soup." She held up a container and placed it on the table. "Fried Chicken with corn and mashed potatoes and gravy." She added another container to the table. "Two bowls of chili." More food. "A meatball sub." Another item went on the table. She picked up another container and cracked the lid. She turned away and wrinkled her nose in disgust. " ... And something that the Forensics Lab will have to analyze and identify." She put it back in the refrigerator. " … Later."

She opened the freezer door. "And we have an out-and-out plethora of frozen delights in here, too."

"There's only one small problem with all of these things." Don said. "They all need to be heated, and without power, the microwave ... " He held up his hands and shrugged.

"Good point."

"Of course, we could always get a blowtorch from the maintenance room. Or maybe even a flamethrower from the weapons arsenal."

"Schanke!"

"Well if that's a problem, what about breaking up some of the office furniture and starting a bonfire? That would even keep us warm as well." He managed to duck just as an apple sailed by his head.

"Let's see what else we can scrounge."

A half hour later, the duo returned to the holding area pushing a cart with several pieces of fruit, five assorted yogurt cups, three cups of jello, two pieces of pie, a cupcake, and three lunchmeat sandwiches on it. "Unfortunately, this is all we could get. There's a lot of stuff up there, but it all needs to be heated. The vending machines have sodas and plenty of snack foods in them, but without power, there's no way to get at it."

"You should have a lot of stuff in your desk, Schank." Woods said. "If I remember right, your top drawer is loaded with all kinds of cookies and chocolate bars."

"Was." Don Schanke replied. "Don't you remember? Cohen made me throw all that stuff out last week. She said that was the reason there were bugs in the bullpen."

Tom Riley held up a small sack. "I never thought I'd be glad that I'm hyperglycemic. I always keep a supply of granola bars handy just in case my blood sugar drops suddenly. I'll be glad to share. I got more in my locker, too."

"If you guys want something out of the vending machines, I can help you." A voice from one of the locked cells called. "Reduce the charge from attempted grand theft auto to attempted petit theft, and give me a couple of paper clips, and I'll have those vending machines open faster than you can say plea bargain."

"You were trying to steal that car when we caught you." Woods said. "Why should we help you?"

"No, I wasn't trying to steal the car. I was just trying to get to the presents inside of it. Since I just got out of prison, I don't have a job or any money right now, and my kids needed a Christmas, too. I know it was wrong, but I wasn't thinking straight at the time. I saw that Beemer loaded with all kinds of expensive gifts and remembered that my kids had nothing, and I guess I went a little crazy. Now my kids won't have a Christmas ... or a dad ... for a lot of Christmases to come."

"What if we tell the judge how much you helped us during this emergency and recommend leniency or maybe even probation". Cohen countered. "If you open those vending machines, we'll all go to bat for you. As soon as I can, I'll call the Salvation Army and arrange for a proper Christmas celebration for your kids, too. How's that sound?"

"I think I might be able to help on the job front, as well." Nick added. Somehow, the man's plight touched him. "I happen to know a few key people over at the De Brabant Foundation I can contact." ( Of curse, since I'm the head of the De Brabant Foundation, I know just which key people to contact. ) "They're always looking for good workers. I can put in a good word for you. These people know enough people in the courts and on the parole board that it's probable you'll get the lightest sentence possible."

"You'd do that for me?"

Both Nick and Cohen nodded.

"Deal."

The 96th precinct's Christmas lunch consisted of the contents of the cart, granola bars, and a generous supply of potato chips, pretzels, corn chips, candy bars and assorted sodas.

About halfway through the meal, the officers were interrupted by a loud metallic thud on the concrete floor. They looked in the direction of the noise, and there stood Felony, the precinct's K9 dog, holding his food dish in his mouth. When no one seemed to take any notice, the German Shepherd dropped it again with an even louder clang. Finally, Seymour "Mutt" Tenowski ... ("Felony may not bite, but if you call me Seymour, I definitely will.") ... his handler, looked at his charge. "Oh. No. Don't tell me I forgot to feed you, boy."

Felony's answer was to drop the bowl a third time.

Mutt got up and headed for the stairs. "I'll have that fixed in just a few minutes." A little while later he came back with a can of Alpo. He popped the top and spooned it into Felony's dish. Felony began gulping it down with loud slurps.

"You know." Detective Bailey said. "I think that looks better than what I'm eating."

"Want some?" Mutt asked, holding the can to Bailey.

"G-r-r-r-r."

& & & & & &

Natalie came downstairs. "You did that deliberately, didn't you?"

"Did what?" LaCroix asked. Natalie was surprised that the master vampire could look so innocent and be so guilty. "I haven't the first clue what you are talking about."

"In the bathroom. And you know very well what I am talking about."

"Oh, that." Again he did not answer her directly, merely shrugged his shoulders. He was at the stove again, and the air was filled with the most delicious smells.

This time he was dressed in one of Nicholas's sweat suits. While it was obviously a size too small, it still looked elegant on the ancient vampire. Of course, Lucien LaCroix would look elegant in a grain sack with a clothesline tied around his waist. He just had that type of build and physical carriage.

"What ... Where ... Your clothes?" Natalie stammered. The thought of LaCroix wearing a grain sack was just too much to contemplate.

"In the dryer." Lucien replied. "And your clothes are in there as well. While you do look considerably better in Nicholas's clothes than he ever did in them, I do think you would feel more comfortable wearing your own garments. I know I will be much more at ease in mine."

Natalie tried to avoid it, but she felt a deep red tinge rapidly covering her face. "And what are you making now? More cider?"

"Actually, it's Christmas dinner. I found the makings in the refrigerator. Since it is probable that, except for that cup of mulled cider you had earlier, you have not eaten since early last evening, I thought I'd prepare the meal for you. It really wasn't that difficult. Since everything was already cooked, all I had to do was put the dishes in the oven until they were hot."

( Maybe I could talk whoever has the real LaCroix into tying him to an anthill. At high noon. In the badlands. After they've staked him. And smeared his body with honey. I for one don't want that Lucien LaCroix to ever come back. I could get very used to this one. )

"Please." LaCroix said, pulling out the chair for her. "Do not be worried. As with the drink, there is nothing in the food that shouldn't be there. To spite what Nicholas may have told you, I do not harbor any ill feelings toward you personally. Only toward what you are trying to do to my son." ( If the truth be known, I rather admire you. )

"And what exactly am I trying to do to ... your son?"

"You are attempting to find a way for him to reject the ultimate gift that I bestowed on him 800 years ago. You are trying to return him to mortality. To find a ... so called cure. As I have told Nicholas on numerous occasions, it is NOT a disease. It is a state of being." ( And a superior one at that. ) "There ... Is ... No ... Cure. This foolish quest of his is only a waste of his time. And yours as well. Not to mention the emotional and mental pain and stress it is causing him ... and everyone else. Myself included. He would be much better off if only he would give up this pathetic and delusional quest of his and return to his true nature ... "

"LaCroix!" Natalie practically shouted. "Do you think for just one day we could talk about something else? This is supposed to be a season of peace and goodwill, after all. So how about a little peace and goodwill around here? Nicholas knows your position on

this subject, and I do as well. And you know ours. There is an old saying. 'A man convinced against his will ... Is of the same opinion still'. We could argue this subject from now to doomsday and it wouldn't change a thing for any of us. Why don't we call a truce and just try to enjoy this time."

Another microscopic smile. ( She is indeed a worthy opponent. Intelligent. Beautiful. Self-sufficient. And fearless as well. There are those in the Community who would not even attempt to talk to me the say she just did. She would make an excellent addition to my family. ) "Very well, Doct ... Natalie. In deference to the season, I will refrain from mentioning the subject again." He picked up a glass of deep red liquid and held it to her. "Please. Enjoy your dinner."

& & & & & &

There was a slight humming sound and the overhead lights in the holding area flickered briefly and then stayed on.

"Electricity!" The cheer went up.

"I don't think I could have survived before they invented electric lights." Don Schanke said. "For a while there, I thought I might go blind from all that straining to see."

"I know what you mean." Woods said. "In the light from the emergency lamps, even Bailey was starting to look handsome."

As a reply, Bailey smacked him soundly across the back of the head. "That's the pot calling the kettle, you know. It's a sure bet you'll never make the finals of the Mr. Canada contest."

There was silence as a scream came from one of the cells. Everyone ran to the cell and there was Patti Klein bending over and holding her huge belly. A steady stream of hot liquid was running down her legs. "I think my water just broke." She said sheepishly. "But this can't be happening today. My obstetrician says I'm not due for another three weeks. I was supposed to start my maternity leave today, not have the baby."

Twenty three year old Officer Patti Klein normally rode cruiser patrol, but she had been reassigned to Dispatch Duty during the last few months of her pregnancy. She and Larry Klein, her husband of two years, were expecting their first child the end of January.

"This is your first baby, isn't it?" Vera Williams asked.

Patti nodded, grimacing as a contraction engulfed her.

"Tell that to the baby. First babies are notorious for not coming on time. This one has decided that now would be a good time to be born."

Patti grimaced again.

"How far apart are the contractions?" Amanda Cohen asked.

"Well." Patti answered. "I've been sort of having pains off and on since just before the storm started, but it's been getting worse the past hour. I thought at first that they were what my OB doctor called Gratsom Hickey pains."

"They're called Braxton Hicks. False labor." Cohen corrected. "But obviously this is the real thing."

"Whatever they are, here comes another one!" Patti said through clenched teeth.

"Eight minutes eleven seconds." Jody Fraser, one of the other police dispatchers said. "Want me to go up to the Communications Room and see if I can get an ambulance here?"

"You can try." Cohen replied. "But something tells me that given the weather conditions, the baby will get here before the ambulance does." She looked around the area. "Does anyone remember the emergency obstetrics training that they took?"

"Come on, Cap. That was back in our Academy days. For most of us, that was years ago." Nearly everyone agreed.

"Hey, Knight." Dell Lewandosky called. "Didn't you deliver that kid when we were called out on that freeway pileup a couple of years ago?"

"Not exactly. I only helped the emergency techs. They're the ones who delivered the baby." Nick replied. ( While I have delivered babies before, the last one was well over a hundred and sixty years ago. And it was on a wagon train in the middle of the Nebraska Plains. )

"Close enough for government work." Cohen said. "Since you're the next best thing to an obstetrician we have here Knight, you get the job."

"Since the contractions are almost nine minutes apart, there's plenty of time for me to go and make a pit stop." Nick said. Although he had not needed to ... 'use the washroom' ... since he was brought across, he did need to feed well if he was going to be around the blood that would be present during a delivery. "I'll only be a minute or two. Wouldn't do for me to wet myself all over the baby, would it?"

He had a flask in his jacket pocket, but he had used most of that during the time in the lockup. He did have a thermos in his locker for times like this when he needed a little ... 'extra fortification'. He went to the locker room. While he could retrieve the thermos from his locker without anyone getting suspicious, there were enough people in the room that it would have been impossible to drink from it without having to answer some questions he could not easily answer.

( There's always the supply room. ) It was locked, and there was a pair of handcuffs fastened to the doorknob. That was the universally understood unwritten unofficial sign that the room was ... 'occupado'. Nick could hear moans and sighs coming from inside the room. It wasn't hard to guess who was in there and what they were doing. It was the worst kept secret in the precinct that Detective Tom Perlore and his partner Detective Lois Middleton were a 'hot item'. He knocked loudly. "Don't let Cohen catch you in there." He secretly wished that he and Natalie were the ones going at it in the room. "We're only friends ... We're only friends ... " He kept repeating the mantra as he walked away.

He went to the washroom, but now that there was enough light to see clearly, there was a long line waiting to use the facilities. That was out.

( Where to now? ) He thought. ( The bullpen? ) While the room was not crowded, there were a few officers there taking advantage of the restored electricity to retrieve supplies and work at their desks. ( Not good. )

He looked around. ( Cohen's office! Of course! It's perfect! ) She was down in the holding area with Patti and the others, and with the door closed and the shades pulled, he would be shielded from prying eyes and inquiring minds.

& & & & & &

Natalie pushed away from the table. "Again I must compliment the chef." She nodded to LaCroix.

"You did all the work." He replied. "I merely reheated it. And from the look of complete satisfaction on your face, I would assume that it was worth all of the effort that you put into making it."

She debated whether to tell him that the majority of the meal had been bought, or had come from a can or a box. She decided against it. ( Let him believe that I slaved over a hot stove all day yesterday if that's what he wants to believe. Who am I to burst his little bubble? ) She picked up her dishes and started for the sink.

"What are you going to do?" LaCroix asked.

"I'm going to wash the dishes."

"Allow me do that." He took the plates from her.

( He's going to WHAT? First he made the hot cider. Then the meal. And now he's going to clean up as well. Either I'm hearing things, or I've lost my marbles. Another possibility is that I'm still asleep and this is some kind of a weird dream. )

"Do not look so surprised, Natalie. You are not hearing things or going crazy, and you are awake." He explained as though reading her thoughts. "And I have not gone dotty all of a sudden either. I did not bring a gift for you, so I am doing all of this to try and make up for that." He paused slightly. " ... And for the incident in the bathroom." He said barely above a whisper. If Natalie had not spent so much time around Nick, she never would have caught it. "I can assure you. Tomorrow, I will be the same mean old curmudgeon you know and love to hate."

"I still don't see why you're doing all of this."

In an instant, he was beside her. She could feel his eyes concentrating on the pulse in her neck. The tips of his fangs peeked from under his upper lip and his eyes were flecked ever so slightly yellow. "Would you rather I was mean and evil and nasty? Believe me when I say I can be that in less than a heartbeat. Of course, if that were the case, before I was through, you would not have a heart to beat." His whisper was more like a hiss.

"I don't get it. One minute you are being so nice, and the next you are attempting to scare me half to death. Why?"

"So that you do not forget exactly who I am … And exactly what I am." The yellow flecks disappeared, replaced by a calloused, icy gaze. " ... And exactly what I am capable of." There was still a trace of a hiss in his voice.

"You don't have to worry about that. I know exactly who ... and what ... you are. And I know exactly what you are capable of. Believe me. I can never forget." ( Don't show fear ... Don't show fear. )

There was that microscopic smile again, but this time it had a hard edge to it. "Very well, Doctor. Now. Shall we enjoy the remainder of the evening?"

& & & & & &

"How did you get done so fast?" Officer Mike Lesser asked as Nick came back downstairs. "When I went up there, the line to use the johns was around the corner and halfway to the front door."

"I saw that, and since I knew that time was of the essence, I went outside." Nick answered.

"Did you write your name in the snow while you were at it, partner?" Don had a sly look on his face.

"SCHANKE!"

Don only shrugged. "Doesn't everybody?" For that remark, he got glares from everyone there. And a few wadded up candy wrappers and potato chip bags to the head.

Nick went to Patti. While he was gone, they had put blankets over the bars in one of the cells to give Patti some measure of privacy. Cohen and some of the other women had removed her clothes and had gotten towels, loose clothing, and other things to be used later, from the women's locker room

"How far apart are they now?"

"Less than three minutes and shrinking with each contraction." Jody Fraser replied, checking her watch.

"Okay then. Let's see what we can do to bring this baby into the world."

"I don't know if I can do this." Patti cried as the next contraction hit. "I'm not ready. It hurts too much, and I'm too tired to go any farther."

Nick homed in on her heartbeat. "We can't stop now. This baby is coming whether you're ready or not. You can do it." He said in time with the beat. "Just concentrate on this little life waiting to be born and forget all about the pain and the fatigue."

"Forget ... pain ... fatigue ... " Patti mumbled. "Concentrate … life to be born … "

An hour and a half later, with a loud wail, Rachael Nichole Klein announced her entrance into the world.

"Time of birth ... December 25. 4:16 PM." Jody announced to everyone.

"You know you don't have to do that. To name her after me." Nick said as he handed the infant to her mother after Cohen and some of the other female officers had cleaned her and wrapped her in a large towel.

"I know." Patti said. "But if it weren't for you, she might have had a much more difficult time being born. I felt that I had to do something to thank you."

"What about Larry? What's he going to say when he finds out you named the baby after me?"

"He'll probably say good job. But if he does object, nothing's set in stone until we have an official birth certificate. We can always change it before then. Of course, if he should object, there are a number of things I can do to change his mind. Like he'll be sleeping in the guest room. For the rest of his natural life. If he's lucky, that is." She said with a huge grin.

& & & & & &

Natalie saw the lights flicker once again and heard the hum as the heater started. "I guess that means the worst of the storm is over." She said.

"Or it may just mean that the repair crews have managed to restore electric power to this part of the city." Lucien LaCroix went to the window and raised the steel shutters a bit. "While it is still snowing, it is not nearly as heavy as it has been all day. In addition, the sun has almost set."

"How can you tell? I can't see any difference from an hour ago."

"It is not something that a mort ... that you ... can see. It is something that vamp ... that my kind ... instinctively know."

"I guess that means you will be leaving soon?" Natalie asked. In her deepest inner self, she had to admit that spending the day with the master vampire was not nearly as bad as she had first thought. In fact, Lucien LaCroix had been a pleasant, and at times, actually delightful companion. "You don't have to leave. I'm sure Nick would like to spend some time with you."

"I do not think that would be appropriate." He said. "Nicholas will be here soon, and after all, three is a crowd." (Although I would like to stay. This past day has been a true pleasure. I can see why Nicholas is so enamored of the good doctor. )

"Why don't I stay here until it is time for Nicholas to return?" He asked. "At least that way, you won't be stuck here alone."

"I think I'd like that."

& & & & & &

The precinct door opened and two men dressed in fatigues came in. "I'm Sergeant Mitchell Sasfey and this is Corporal Vince Baugus." One of them said. "We're with Echo Company, 87th Royal Marines Transport Brigade." He handed his ID card to Captain Cohen. "We got a call from one of your dispatchers that there's a ... " He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper. " ... Patti and a Rachael Klein that need to be transported to Toronto General Hospital. The dispatcher said it was urgent."

"As they always say, 'Tell it to the Marines'." Jody Fraser studied the ceiling intently.

"Wrong Marine Corps." Sasfey said smiling. "But we get the job done too."

Patti came forward holding the baby in her arms. "I'm Patti Klein and this is Rachael Klein." She said. "She's my daughter and she's only two hours old. But how do you intend to get us to the hospital? I understand that the roads are still very bad."

"Yes, Ma'm. They still are. But that's no problem for us." Corporal Baugus pointed to the window. Outside in the lot was a military halftrack personnel transport. "That puppy will go through anything."

A short time later, Patti and Rachael Klein were on their way to Toronto General.

Three hours later, the streets were clear enough that the officers of the 96th precinct could begin making their way to their homes. Nick could have left as soon as the sun had set two hours earlier, but that was not an option unless he was prepared to answer some extremely difficult questions. Which he wasn't. So he simply waited with the rest of the precinct.

& & & & & &

Natalie clicked the remote to rewind. Somehow, LaCroix had managed to entirely miss the moral of the colorized Reginald Owen - Gene Lockhart version of 'A Christmas Carol'. He spent the entire film picking apart the minor inconsistencies between the film's depiction of Victorian London and the actual time. Now Natalie understood where Nick had gotten that particular habit from.

"But you missed the point of the story completely." She said as she put the tape back in its box.

"Oh. I beg to differ, my dear. I understand the story quite clearly. Ebenezer Scrooge reformed in order to be remembered well after he died." LaCroix replied. "I however, am immortal." He motioned toward the scorch marks on the lift door. "I cannot die by ordinary means. Therefore, it is of no consequence what people think of me. I shall outlive all of them.

In addition, I have a signed first draft of Dickens's manuscript. It was a Saturnalia present from Nicholas in 1853. He tried to teach me the same lesson almost a hundred fifty years ago. And with the same result, I might add."

The phone rang.

"It looks like the storm is finally over." Nick said. "I'll be home in about twenty minutes. Like I said this morning, I'm sorry I couldn't be there with you. After all, December 25 is just a date on the calendar. We can have Christmas whenever the two of us are together, whatever the date. I will make it up to you I promise."

"You don't have to ... " Natalie started to say.

" ... But I want to." Nick finished. "See you in twenty minutes."

"I guess that's my cue to leave." LaCroix said. "This is, after all, your time with Nicholas." He took her hand and kissed it gently. "Au revoir ma plus cheri." (Goodbye, my dearest.) A fraction of a second later, there was no one in the loft but Natalie. Somehow, it felt very empty.

& & & & & &

Don Schanke trudged up the steps to his house. Because of the storm, he had missed nearly all of Christmas with his family. He heaved a large sigh as he put his key in the lock. Almost at the same time, the door opened. His eyes bulged out as he beheld his wife standing before him. Myra was just inside the door. Safely out of the line of sight of any of the neighbors that might be looking. " I ... I ... Aye Yi Yi ... You're still dressed like ... that?" He stammered. "What about Jenny? She's only ten years old after all. Do you think it was right that she should see you dressed like that?"

"Don't get so tied up in a knot, Donny." Myra said. "I put on regular clothes before Jenny woke up this morning. But when she asked if she could spend the night at Grandma Bernson's, it seemed like the perfect solution. Since it was okay with my mother ... you know how they love having her over there ... I said yes. Dad picked her up about an hour ago. I changed back right after you called and said you were on your way home. I didn't want you to be disappointed. You're not disappointed, are you?"

"Disappointed?" Don hungrily inspected his wife from her head to her toes. "You said Jenny's not here? Just the two of us? All night long?" The lustful grin spread past his ears. "Oh-Man-Oh-Man. To spite everything that has happened so far, this looks like this is going to be the best Christmas ever. I don't know what else you got me, but I know I'm going to enjoy unwrapping this present ... " He pulled her into his arms. " ... A lot!" He picked her up and held her tightly. "Come to papa!" He headed for the stairs, kissing her passionately.

& & & & & &

Nick slid the lift door open. Natalie was seated on the couch, engrossed in watching something on the TV. He walked over to her, being careful to make a few noises along the way. He didn't want to frighten her, after all.

Natalie turned toward him just as he came up behind her. She had been standing at the window and saw him pull into the loft garage. As soon as she heard the lift kick in, she quickly went to the couch and turned on the television set. She didn't even know what was on, and didn't really care. ( Can't appear to be too anxious. ) Her smile lit up as she saw a dozen roses and the box of Godiva chocolates in his hands.

"This is to make up for missing Christmas." He said as he handed her the gifts. Then he bent down and gave her a definitely-not-platonic kiss.

Natalie blushed deeply and she knew that Nick could hear her heartbeat accelerate with the kiss, and the sight of the gifts. "They're beautiful. But where did you find candy and flowers? And especially on Christmas day? I thought everything was closed, if not for the holiday, then for the storm."

"It is. I got them from a ... friend."

"A friend? Or a ..."Friend"?"

"Does it matter?" He said sheepishly. "Actually, it does matter. I got them yesterday on my way to work." He became aware of the loft and what Natalie had done with it. "You didn't have to go to all this trouble." He said as he sat down beside her.

"I knew you wouldn't do anything for the season, and somebody had to. So I did."

"And what about LaCroix? What did he do?"

"LaCroix?"

"He was here all day with you, wasn't he?"

"Yes, but ... How did you know that?"

"Have you forgotten? He's my master. There's a special bond between us. Through it, he can know where am at all times, and although he doesn't know it yet, I finally figured out how to keep track of him as well." His face became hard. "If he so much as touched a hair on your head ... " Angry yellow flecks rimmed his eyes.

"Nick! Don't get so hyper spastic. There were no problems. He was a perfect gentleman. Nothing happened." ( That is if you discount the bathroom scene. And even that wasn't ... exactly ... a problem. ) "He left a few minutes ago."

"A perfect gentleman? Are you sure we're talking about the same Lucien LaCroix?"

"At first I thought the same thing, too. But yes, even though it seems like an oxymoron ... using the words 'perfect gentleman' and 'Lucien LaCroix' in the same sentence … he was polite, civil, charming and even respectful."

"If he was that charming and polite, why didn't you ask him to stay? He would have been an appreciated, even welcomed, addition."

"I did ask him. He said he didn't want to interfere in our time together."

"Why don't you call him and ask him to come back? The number is on speed dial. It's L1." He handed the phone to Natalie. "This is a time for family, after all. And much as I try to deny it, he is family."

Natalie handed the phone back to him. "I have a better idea. Why don't you ask him? I think he'll appreciate it even more coming from you."

He kissed her on the cheek. "What did I ever do to deserve someone like you?" He said as he dialed the number.

"You woke up on my autopsy table. That's what. A better question is what did I do to deserve you?"

"You exist."

"Hello. LaCroix ... This is Nicholas ... I was wondering if you would like to join Natalie and I for Christmas ... Or Saturnalia ... Or whatever you want to celebrate ... You would? ... That's great. ... We'll see you in about half an hour."

& & & & & &

The end.

Merry Christmas

Happy Hanukah

Happy Saturnalia

Kwanzaa Joy

Happy whatever you celebrate.