Blame -- a Valentine Story
by Fleurette

Part I

LaCroix followed Natalie inside, vaguely aware that his son had been watching them. Now he felt that Nicholas had left. He wondered if Nicholas had known it was he who had held Natalie in his arms tonight. He could feel his son's anger. It was a blind rage that had begun to melt away into a dull ache. There was still no sign of his having recognized LaCroix. Obviously, Nicholas had been too upset at seeing his beloved Natalie with another that he hadnĀ“t taken the time to see who it had been.

Natalie took his hand, drawing his mind back to her and away from Nicholas. "You seem distracted, Lucien," she commented, leaning closer to kiss him briefly. She pulled away and turned towards the kitchen. "Can I get you anything?" she asked.

LaCroix shook his head. "I doubt, ma cherie, that your kitchen holds anything which could satisfy me. I am quite all right with you by my side." So saying, he pulled her closer to him and glided to the couch, where he sat with her on his lap.

Natalie snuggled into his embrace, feeling both secure and shy in his arms. She was unsure of what to do now that she was alone with him. They had never been *this* intimate before, although a few times they had come close to it. Tentatively, she leaned forward and kissed his lips. LaCroix returned her soft, butterfly kiss with his own more confident one. His arms tightened around her, drawing her closer and crushing her body against his own. He wanted her badly, more than he could remember wanting anyone else. She had gotten over her surprise at his aggression and had begun to return his kisses in kind. Their bodies responded to each other with longing.

As Natalie ran her hand along his chest, LaCroix felt himself change. Despite what had been said in the woods that night, he was afraid to reveal his true vampiric nature to her. Yes, she had said she could accept him for what he was, but that didn't stop him from fearing that she couldn't. When his fangs grazed against her teeth, he felt her sudden fear. Immediately, he let go of her.

"Don't stop," she said, her voice breathless.

"I must," LaCroix told her. He didn't want to. He ached to hold her in his arms, to fall asleep cradling her warm body. This frustration was thick in his voice when he said, "You're not ready for this, Natalie. You're not ready for me." He started to stand, but she grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him back to her.

"Yes, I am," she told him, emphasizing it with a quick kiss. "I need you so much, Lucien. Can't you see that?"

"I feel your need, my dear, but I also feel your fear. You cannot hide it from me." He gathered her into his arms and began stroking her hair gently. "You must have no fear of me when we make love for the first time."

"This isn't our first time, Lucien. We've done this before."

"*Natasha* and I have done this before, my dearest Natalie," he reminded her gently. "Though you hold her memories and experiences in your heart, there is more to you than her. Because of that, you may know what is to come, but you still fear it."

Natalie could not hide from the truth of his words. They hurt her, because they said that a part of her still did not trust him.

LaCroix looked into her eyes and saw the sorrow that his words had caused. "You know not how sorry I am, my dear," he said in a low, comforting voice. "I do not truly wish to say good night and leave you here alone. But I cannot jeopardize our future by overlooking your fear."

He rose from the couch and, kissing her on the forehead, turned towards the door.

"Lucien... stay!" Natalie stopped him with the urgency in her voice. "Stay with me, please. We don't have to do anything, but please, just hold me while I sleep. I want to feel you near me."

Nicholas was back. LaCroix could feel him watching them from nearby. He could also feel the hate which surrounded his son. For a brief second, he was divided as to what he should do. Should he stay with Natalie, whom he loved and desired, or should he try to smooth things over with Nicholas, whom he also loved?

"I'm sorry, my dear," he said, coming to a decision at last. "I'm afraid I do not trust myself tonight. Tomorrow night, perhaps, when our minds are more clear." He kissed her once again at the door and took his leave of her.