Natalie twirled around before the mirror, admiring the way the black dress hugged her body. She hadn't worn it since that night LaCroix had taken "Natasha" dancing. It only seemed fitting that she would wear it tonight.
Dabbing perfume on her neck, she stepped into a living room full of flowers. The flowers were from Nick. He'd been giving her flowers ever since he brought her back from Montreal. Tons of flowers! He used to send them every day-- both to her home *and* the office. It got so you couldn't tell the morgue from a flower shop! Then he tapered down to sending them just to her house, and finally, they only came once a week instead of every day.
Natalie remembered when all she ever wanted was for Nick to send her flowers. Now, however, it annoyed her. He was smothering her with romantic overtures that she just didn't want. And *that* annoyed her, too.
Nothing had been the same since Montreal. While Nick was too busy romancing her to death to notice, Natalie struggled to pacify the warring halves of her heart. At first, she had been both confused and revolted by her desire for LaCroix. Slowly, however, she found herself drawn to him. She listened to the NightCrawler regularly, taping it whenever possibly. She found that the sound of his voice was soothing. At night, she would fantasize that he would come to her and carry her away. And, Of course, there were the memories of the times spent with him as Natasha. Even a simple thing like reading her favorite book brought back sweet memories.
At the same time, Nat found that her patience had worn thin where Nick was concerned. As if the smothering attempts at romance weren't enough, he constantly spoke rudely of LaCroix and Janette. Nat knew what he was doing... he was trying to convince her that they had been the cause of her disappearance. It was infuriating.
Oh, she still cared for Nick very
much, Nat admitted with a sigh, but could no longer say she was madly in
love with him. When he'd called earlier and asked her to meet him at the
Raven, she decided it was time to let him go...
"LaCroix, I need to speak with you," Nick said, cornering LaCroix by the bar.
"And why is that, Nicholas? So you can once again accuse me of kidnapping Dr. Lambert?" was LaCroix's retort. Like Natalie, he had become sick of hearing Nicholas's rantings. It was good that Janette was not here as well, for she, no doubt, would also bear the lash of Nicholas's tongue.
Nick sighed, sounding slightly frustrated. "No," he snapped.
LaCroix gasped in mock-shock. "But... what, then, would bring you here... to speak to *me*?"
Taking a deep breath, Nick launched into what appeared to be a prepared speech. "I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past few months-- since Nat's disappearance-- and I have come to the conclusion that I just can't live without her any longer. If something were to happen to her, I'd be lost. That's why I've decided to ask Nat to marry me."
LaCroix studied his irksome son. "You don't appear *mortal* to me, Nicholas, and I do believe it was you who said you could not have a relationship with a mortal unless *you* became one first." As LaCroix expected, Nick silenced, paling slightly.
"I know what I said... but I also know that I can't live without Nat. Besides... Janette and Robert--"
"Don't tell me *you* are willing to seek your cure the way Janette found it?" LaCroix mocked. "Aren't you afraid you'll be unable to control yourself?"
"Yes, LaCroix! I *am* scared, but this time, I am willing to take the chance."
LaCroix began to turn away now. "Very well, Nicholas," he said, "do what you feel you must. Just don't come to me for help when you fail."
LaCroix's attention was caught by the sight of a ghost breezing into the Raven. Natasha! His heart cried out as Natalie approached the two vampires. She was wearing the dress she'd worn the night they first made love. She looked stunning.
"I hope I'm not late," she said as she came to stand before them. She smiled shyly... at LaCroix. If Nick noticed, he didn't show it. He was too busy frowning over something.
"Of course not, my dear," purred LaCroix. "Nicholas was just informing me of his plans for the evening. I certainly hope you both enjoy yourselves." With that, he excused himself, saying that his show could not wait a moment longer.
Instead of going to the sound booth, LaCroix returned to his office where he took a photograph from a desk drawer. It was the missing picture of Natasha and himself-- the only evidence remaining of their brief love affair.
A tear fell from his eyes as he gazed longingly at the woman in the photograph. Now... most assuredly... she was lost to him forever...
Later that night, after dinner and dancing, Natalie and Nick sat together on his leather couch.
"I don't understand why you wanted to cut our date short tonight, Nat," said Nick, talking mostly to himself since Natalie seemed more interested in the NightCrawler. Nick noticed and offered to turn it off.
Nat shook her head. "I don't mind it being on. I like listening to his show, actually."
"You do?" Nick was stunned.
Absently, Nat nodded again. I have to tell him now, or it will never be over, she told herself. When Nick took her hand gently in his own, she pulled away, confusing him.
"Is something wrong, Nat?" he asked, genuinely concerned.
"No," she said. Oh, Nick... why must you be so sweet? she thought, wondering how she could do this without breaking his heart.
"Oh," said Nick, unaware of the turmoil
Nick fell silent, fingering something in his pocket. Natalie returned her full attention to the NightCrawler. LaCroix was asking his listeners if they had ever fallen in love with the wrong person.
"Nat..." said Nick, not noticing
that she wasn't really listening. "I have something to tell you." He then
proceeded to pour his heart out to her, proclaiming his love and his faith
that together he could have a normal, mortal life.
What is he talking about? Nat thought when Nick asked her, "Will you, Nat?" There was a scared, uncertainty to his voice that hadn't been there before.
"Huh?" Nat uttered, looking at him, confused.
"Will you marry me?" Nick asked again, pressing a diamond ring into her palm.
Nat stared it for what seemed like forever, the words he'd said finally sinking in. No! Natasha screamed in the back of her mind. She wanted to run.. wanted to throw the ring back at him and flee from the conflicting emotions she was feeling. But she couldn't do that.. not to Nick. They'd been through so much... she owed him more than that.
Swallowing down the tears that threatened to fall, Nat took Nick's hand, placing the ring in his palm gently. When Nick looked at her with open confusion in his eyes, she said, "I'm so sorry, Nick, but I can't say 'yes' right now."
Nick looked like he'd just been punched in the stomach. "Why not? Nat, you know I love you. If it's because I'm still a vampire.. I know we can work it out. I'm willing to--"
"No, Nick, it's not that." His evident pain and disappointment forced the tears from her eyes even though she tried to suppress them. "I just... " Nat choked back the sob that rose in her throat. "Ever since Montreal... since I lost my memory, I've been trying to... make sense of my life. I need time, Nick. Time to myself. Time to think about my life here and what I really want."
"Time away from me," was Nick's deadpan comment. "Do you still love me, Nat?" he asked suddenly, his eyes full of last hope.
"I care for you very much, Nick," was Nat's reply.
"That's not good enough," said Nick. There were tears in his eyes.
"It's the best I can give you right
now. Please, Nick, try to understand." She reached out to wipe away the
tears that rolled down his cheeks, but Nick jerked away from her touch.
"I think I should go now," said Nat. At the elevator, she turned back one
last time. Nick was staring back at her, pain etched on his face. "Good-bye,
Nick. I'm sorry."