In the Blood

In the Blood

A Forever Knight fan fiction story

Author's note: If this story seems familiar, it's because it's loosely based on a round robin story from a few years back entitled "In Cyberspace No One Can Hear You Bleed." Thanks to Susan Garrett for starting that round robin and for suggesting some of the situations which I've blatantly borrowed for Chapter One.

Chapter One

"Nick? Anybody home?" Natalie Lambert pushed the metal door open and stuck her head inside. Though it was well after dark, the heavy metal shades over Nick's skylight windows were still closed, and she squinted in the darkness, waiting uneasily for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. "Yo! Knight!" The only light was from what looked like a small television on the corner of a writing desk she'd never seen before.

"Hi, Nat." Just like that, he was in front of her. Natalie jumped back, knowing even as she did it that it was only Nick, using his uncanny speed to make one of his dramatic appearances.

"Darn it, Nick! You scared the heck out of me!" She swatted at him lightly.

"Expecting someone else?" He smiled, and the tension knotted in her chest loosened.

"Noooo, but I really wish you'd give a girl a little warning. Things like this are going to make me old before my time." Nick gestured and she walked into his apartment, tossing her purse and coat onto the couch more from memory than from actually being able to see anything.

"I doubt that." He gave her a warm look that sent tingles all the way down to her toes. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?" Belatedly he flicked on a table lamp, and the room was suddenly visible. Natalie gave a low whistle.

"Wow. When you take a few days off you really let things go, don't you?" Furniture had been pushed haphazardly around to make room for the new desk, and several empty boxes, along with an enormous amount of packing material, were scattered around the room. Nick grinned and disappeared into the kitchen, to come back a moment later with a can of soda and a glass.

"It's my latest project. I've been told that I need to join the twentieth century." Handing her the glass and can, he brushed plastic "peanuts" aside and settled comfortably next to her on the couch.

"Well, I'd say you haven't been doing too bad so far." She smiled and gestured around his apartment. "No gas lamps, and I seem to recall a certain Cadillac outside."

"Ah, but that's the old technology. The trend of the future is digital. Computers, to be precise."

"But you know how to use those," Nat protested. "You can't type worth a damn, but I think that's a disease endemic to cops, not vampires." She poured the soda into the glass and took a sip. "I can't imagine wanting to use one after hours. To say nothing of when I was on vacation." She poked him in the ribs. "Most people try to have fun when they take time off, Knight."

"I am," he protested with a grin. "Actually, it's a lot more fun than I'd imagined. Want to take a look?"

"You have one here? Ah, so that's what the screen is for. I didn't think you were the type to spend your free time glued to the tube." She followed him over to the new writing desk, allowing herself the enjoyment of watching Nick from behind. Poor boy just didn't know how darned good looking he was.

"Television? Nah. Too violent." Nick pulled a chair from the kitchen while Natalie made herself comfortable at the office chair at the desk. Brightly colored fish "swam" back and forth across the screen, but otherwise it looked all to much like the monster at work that regularly ate her files. Nick pulled his chair up next to hers and sat down. He touched the mouse and the fish disappeared, to be replaced by some sort of filing program. "This is my e-mail program. I can communicate with people anywhere in the world at the press of a button." He clicked on a mailbox image and a metallic buzzing started. "That's the modem. You have to dial in using the phone lines."

"I seem to remember hearing something about that," Nat replied dryly. "So that's why I haven't been able to get through to you! I've been trying to reach you by phone for hours, you know."

"Sorry about that. Someone from the phone company will be by tomorrow to put in a second phone line." A beat, and he turned to face her. "Why were you calling? Something wrong?"

"Do I have to have a reason to give my favorite detective a call when he's on vacation? Okay, okay, I do have a case I want to run by you, but I was also just getting kind of worried. It's not like you to be on the phone that long, and I was beginning to think that something had knocked the phone off the hook."

Nick shook his head. "Nope. I've been trying to get used to all of this new jargon, though, and that does take time. But Jack was right. This is going to be a vital tool for us in the coming years."

"Us? Ah, the vampire community. Somehow I would have thought most of them too…hidebound for something like this."

"We can't afford to be. If we don't keep up, we stand out. If we stand out, we die," he finished simply. "That's why he set me up with one of these. I helped him out a few months back with a little quiet investigation. This," Nick waved at the computer, "is how he's paying me back."

"A vampire computer hacker, huh?" At Nick's look she rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on, Nick! I mean, it's not hard to figure out. And it's not like you have all that many mortal friends, anyway."

"I know. We just try to keep a low profile, that's all. Revealing the existence of another vampire is a very serious crime among us."

"Well, I won't tell a soul." Natalie crossed her heart. "So what else does this thing do? Besides deliver the mail?"

"Well, there are some interesting research possibilities, but what I've been playing with today is something called Internet Relay Chat, or IRC."

"Which must be what this little thingie is for." Reaching forward, Natalie clicked on the small smiley face with the letters "IRC" in red below it on the computer screen. The blue skies picture on the screen disappeared, to be replaced by a large white box with text scrolling rapidly up it.

"Nat!" Nick pulled the mouse away, looking vaguely alarmed. "That's set up for some…private chat."

"'Private' chat? Mmm. Sounds like 'vampire' chat to me. So, what does an immortal blood sucker have to talk about at four in the morning?"

Nick sighed, apparently giving up. "Pretty much the same things anyone talks about. This particular room is hosted by my friend, however. People from the Community hang out here. It's a place where we can 'let down our hair,' so to speak. Mortals aren't supposed to have this address."

Natalie leaned over and wrinkled her nose at him. "Well, you know, I think you'll just have to trust me on this. Some folks would say I'm pretty reliable."

"And you are." He kissed her on the cheek. "Sorry. Too much time in the Community and I start to get paranoid."

"Yeah, I can I can understand that. Hey, there's your name!" She pointed to the screen.

Jack Hey Nick! w/b. You get your e-mail running yet?
2FerTues re, nick
MamaBear hey sweetie we missed ya!
Dark076 So Remmie where's a good/safe place to stay in Bakersfield? I can't believe I'm going there…

Nick pulled the keyboard to him and painstakingly typed in something. A second later it appeared on the screen and quickly scrolled upward.

KNick Yes, thanks. Have I missed anything?
2FerTues omg, say it ain't so! BAKERSFIELD???
Jack Just the usual parade of idiots. vbg
MamaBear Watch it, Mr J, or Mama's gonna come over there and spank you. ;-)=
CajunR Bakersfield, huh? Chere, why don't you just go sunbathing and get it over with?

"It's happening so fast!" Natalie laughed. "This is like being at a dinner party with half a dozen conversations going on around you."

"I know what you mean. I spent the first hour or so just watching the screen move, trying to follow the conversation threads. This can be very addicting."

"Well, at least it's a harmless addiction. Hey, what's that?" Another screen had popped up.

*Jack* Can we talk for a sec? Type into the little box below, not the main screen
*KNick* I think we can handle that.
*Jack* We? Who's there?
*KNick* Just Natalie.

"Ow!"

*KNick* Let me rephrase. The wonderful, beauteous Natalie has graced me with her presence.
*Jack* Good save. Hi, Natalie. You had me worried for a minute there, Nick.
*KNick* Why?

"Not very trusting, is he?"

"Jack's maybe a little more cautious than most. But he's a good friend. He even knows about you, Nat."

"So I gathered. You're not putting my number up on any vampire bathroom walls, are you, Nick?"

"No, of course not. But Jack acts as a sort of clearinghouse for Community information. He won't pass on your name, but there are others who might be interested in a cure, if we can find one."

"Something I definitely wouldn't mind sharing. Oh, he's back."

*Jack* We've had an unwanted visitor lately. Didn't get a chance to tell you about him earlier. Looks like we may have a cyber Hunter on our hands.
*KNick* What evidence do you have?
*Jack* I was hoping you'd ask. Nothing concrete, but three of Ontario's elders have been taken out in the past month, and we've gotten some nasty flames I haven't been able to trace yet.
*KNick* Flames? Haven't heard of any fires around here.
*Jack* ::shakes head:: Hostile posts. Nasty, angry stuff. Mostly on some of the bulletin boards we use, but yesterday we had someone show up in a "gothic"
*Jack* room where some of the fledglings hang out and give everyone a scare. Whoever it is, he knows about us, and he's not happy.
*KNick* I'd like to see those. Maybe there's a clue in how they're written. Can I come by later?
*Jack* How about I e-mail them to you? I can have them ready in just a few minutes. There's something else you need to know about the dead ones—I'll include that, too.
*KNick* Fine. I'll be looking for them.
*Jack* Cool. Now--oh hell. Looks like the BB just crashed. Again. I've got to run. Watch your back.
/Jack QUIT IRC

*KNick* Jack?

"I think we lost him." Natalie leaned back in her chair and stretched. "Looks like the bad guys aren't exactly behind the times, either." Bad guys? Hunters were humans who hunted down vampires. Most of whom probably deserved everything they got, she thought with a mental grimace. But Hunters, according to Nick, weren't much interested in shades of gray. A Hunter would stake Nick as happily as he would a slavering monster. The idea made her stomach twist into knots.

"No, I guess not." Nick turned off the computer, frowning. He tapped his fingers on the table for several seconds, then blinked and turned to face her. "But that can wait. You said something about a case?"

Well, that conversation was certainly over. Nick was getting better about sharing that part of his life with her, but Natalie knew that there was a lot he still didn't—or couldn't—share. "Yeah. I hate to bother you on vacation, but I thought you should know about this." She got up and crossed to the couch, where she pulled a heavy manila envelope from her purse.

"It's not a homicide, so normally neither one of us would get involved. But the rape kit turned up something interesting, and it got kicked my way." Natalie handed him a Polaroid snapshot. "This is Candida Mitchell. She was attacked two nights ago outside a dance club downtown." Natalie had seen the photo before, but it still haunted her. The woman had been badly beaten, and her face and exposed shoulders were covered with swollen purple welts and deep scratches. A white bandage stood out against the darkened flesh, covering the right side of her neck and shoulder. Natalie saw Nick's gaze automatically go there, but what had caught her own attention was the look in Candida's eyes. They were dead, hopeless eyes. Eyes that said that, though she might have survived, something inside her had died.

"Vampire?" Nick's good humor was gone. She was sorry for it, but one look at the photo and Natalie plowed ahead anyway.

"No, doesn't look like it. I managed to get a copy of the medical records." She pulled out eight by ten glossies of the wound and handed them across. "Most of the tearing was definitely done by a human mouth, but there's no evidence of abnormally pronounced canines. This is tearing and crushing damage, not impaling." It was a credit to Nick's humanity that he flinched from the sight of the terrible wounds.

"Will she recover?" he asked quietly.

"Physically, she'll live. Probably will even have some limited mobility in that arm. Mentally, I don't know. She doesn't remember what happened. Doesn't remember much of anything, as a matter of fact." Natalie sighed. "Whatever happened shocked the hell out of her, Nick."

"Rape can do that." Nick's face was remote. He was somewhere else, Natalie knew, reliving some past moment of painful experience.

"Yeah. But she wasn't raped. Her clothing was ripped all to hell and she was nearly catatonic, so the ER ran a rape exam as a matter of course. They didn't come up with any signs of sexual trauma. No semen, no tissue tearing in places you would have expected. What they did come up with was this." She pulled out the final report and handed it to Nick. He looked at it, then looked back up at her expectantly.

"It's a report on the tissue samples they found under her nails. They took one look at this and sent it down to me."

"One of ours did this? No, of course, they wouldn't know about—"

"Nope," Natalie overrode him. "They sent it down because yours truly just happens to be—tada!" she flashed her plastic ID card, "City Coroner." She sobered quickly. "They gave it to me because the guy that did this is dead. Had been for three or four days when he attacked her, as a matter of fact."

End of Chapter One