It was Christmas Eve, and Nick Knight, Toronto's most famous celebrity cop, hovered in the shadows of the crowded precinct. Upon his face, the golden-featured man wore a deep and brooding frown. Around him, his co-workers were merrily celebrating the holiday.
His frown deepened as his partner approached with a cup of eggnog. She offered it to him. "No thanks, Trace," he told her, pushing the cup away.
"Still waiting for someone to call in with a double-murder or something?" Tracy asked him. "They're not going to, you know. It's Christmas Eve, Nick! Even bad guys celebrate Christmas."
It *was* Christmas, and upon this night, most of all, Tracy's bubbly manner annoyed him. The worst part of it was this-- she was oblivious to the fact that it annoyed him! Schanke would have known something was bothering him. He would have asked if his partner was okay... if he wanted to go out together and find some "Christmas cheer"... Schanke would have... Schanke! Internally, Nick sighed. He wondered how Myra and Jenny were dealing with this holiday without him.
"In that case," he said to her at last, "maybe I'll go home. I'm not really in the mood for Christmas anyway."
Sometime after Nick left the precinct and returned to his loft, Natalie Lambert arrived at the Christmas party. She scanned the room in search of him, but he was nowhere to be found.
"Tracy, where's Nick?" she asked the young detective, who sat perched like a bird upon her desk, sipping her third cup of eggnog.
"He left about an hour ago, Nat. he was really down tonight--worse than usual." Tracy seemed to ponder her partner's behavior more seriously now. "Is he okay, do you suppose? I mean, Christmas *is* one of those times when people get depressed enough to..." She left unsaid the part about "ending it all," but the damage was done. Both she and the coroner remembered all too well Nick's devastated reaction to discovering an apparent suicide in an alley near his loft early that week.
"I'd better go to him," Nat told her, grabbing her coat and rushing from the room.
"Nick! Nick!" Natalie called out as the elevator door slid open and she stepped into the loft. There was a tone of urgency in her voice. "Nick!" This time, exuberance filled her voice as she saw him rise from a horizontal position on the leather couch to look at.
"Hi, Nat," Nick replied in a sad voice. "What's up? Why aren't you at the party?"
"Why aren't *you*?" she countered. "You promised to meet me there, remember?"
"Oh, yeah. I forgot," was his reply. He smiled weakly at her.
"Nick, what's the matter? You seem so blue. You should have stayed at the party. It might have cheered you up a little."
He shook his head slowly. "No. It wouldn't have cheered me, Nat. I left because the party was what was making me sad."
"How's that? It looked cheery enough to me."
"It's just..." Here Nick trailed away, his face screwed up in determination as he tried to say what he needed to say. "Christmas has changed since I was mortal. Then... it was about God, about Christ. Now... now it's about a fat man in a gaudy red suit who brings presents to the greedy. LaCroix... he says there is no God, and it's times like these that make me believe it. I look around and all I can see are greedy people rushing about to give material goods to other greedy people. Sometimes I wonder if that is how I would be if I ever did become mortal again."
"Oh, Nick!" Natalie exclaimed. She sat beside him on the couch and put her arm around him in sympathy. "I had no idea you felt this way."
"You couldn't have. I've told anyone about it before.... I..." his voice choked up.
To change the subject just a little, Natalie asked, "Tell me about Christmas when you were mortal, Nick, please?"
"You really want to know?"
"Yeah, I do."
Nick closed his eyes and remain quiet for several minutes--so long, in fact, that Natalie thought he would not speak. Then, his voice came from some far away place inside himself. It was low and wistful as he remembered. "It actually began in the first part of the month of December, with Advent. We would examine our souls and lives and deny ourselves the pleasures we normally enjoyed throughout the year."
"Like Lent?" Nat asked him.
"Sort of.," he replied as he continued speaking. "We'd also begin to decorate our homes with all kinds of greenery, wreaths and a Yule log. We began the Christmas celebration with a midnight Mass. Sometimes, I can still hear the priest speaking in the back of my mind, and see his fancy robes. We were Catholic," he added.
"Uh-huh, I know," Nat replied.
"Do you? Sometimes I forget what I've already told you about myself. Anyway, after that, we'd go home and the real celebrations would begin. All of my family would be there: aunts, uncles, cousins so distantly related that they almost weren't. We'd feast and dance for days on end. Everyone would be dressed in their finest clothing, colorful and bright like those Christmas lights in your window, Nat. There would be games..." A vision of his sister chasing him, her eyes covered for Blindman's Bluff, came unbidden into his mind. Nick sighed heavily. "And we all gather together to sing carols and songs about the Christ child and his miracle." He surprised her, as his next words were verses sang the ancient French of youth... a song she could not recognize, although the tune was slightly familiar. "We prayed a lot, too," he told her, coming out of his reverie. "Like I said before, it *isn't* what is used to be. Hardly anyone prays at Christmas time anymore, unless it's that their paychecks will get them what they want." his voice was etched with sarcasm.
Nat was silent as she absorbed what Nick had been telling her. "It sounds to me like you need to see a more traditional Christmas, Nick. I was going to go to the candlelight service at my church tonight after the Christmas party got out. I wouldn't mind it if you came with me."
"Me? In a church!?" Nick exclaimed. "Um, Nat... I'm a vampire, remember?"
"True... but you're also a vampire who's been in a Church before. And besides, if Vachon can *live* in a church, you can certainly spend a couple of hours in one."
Nick's eyes crinkled in hesitation. "Oh... okay. I guess it can't hurt to try."
Natalie led a still hesitant Nick into the church. When she began to walk further up the aisle towards a middle pew, he stopped her by grabbing her arm.
"Let's sit here in the back, Nat... just in case," he begged her.
"Do you think you'll get sick?" Nat asked. She remembered the joking Nick had faced after the guys at the precinct learned that he had passed out while on a stake out inside a church. This wasn't the same church. "Maybe you won't, since this isn't a Catholic church?" she suggested without much conviction. A church, she thought, was a church--no matter the denomination or creed--and God was present equally in each. If Nick was going to get sick or whatever had happened to him, it wouldn't matter which one he was in.
"I don't know, but I feel fine now," he told her as they sat down in the pew closest to the doors. Nick was eyeing the people as they entered the building, flinching almost visibly at the crosses hung around their necks.
"Nick!" Nat reprimanded, jogging him in the ribs with her elbow.
"Sorry!" he nearly hissed back.
Just then, a shadow fell over them both. "Detective Knight!" Nick heard a woman exclaim. Looking up, he came face o face with Myra Schanke for the first time since her husband's death. Standing beside her was Schanke's beloved daughter, Jenny.
"Myra!" Nick exclaimed, rising from the pew. They embraced, hugging awkwardly. "And Jenny!" Nick smoothed the girl's hair gently. "It's good to see you. I... I was thinking about you today."
"And I you," Myra told him.
"You were?" Nick was surprised. He'd thought that Schanke's widow would have forgotten about him.
"Of course. Last year, Don..." she paused, choking on the words. "Don told me that he wanted to invite you to Christmas dinner. He said you were always so alone. No one should be alone at Christmas."
"No..." Nick replied, stunned that Schanke would think of in the midst of his own holiday happiness. "H-how are you and Jenny holding up this year?"
"We're both doing fine, Nick." Myra Schanke touched his arm gently. "You know... It's good to see you here, Nick. Don always said you weren't the type who goes to church, but I'm glad he's wrong this time. I hope I see you here more often."
Again, Nick was stunned. He turned to Natalie expectantly.
"It *would* be nice, Nick," she told him.
"M-maybe," he told them both.
"Good... good..." Myra's voice faded away as the first hymns of the service began to play. Taking her daughter's hand, she began to walk away. "I hope you enjoy the service," she said as she did.
"Me, too," Nick replied, beginning to feel more at ease in the holy building.
"And if I don't see you again, Nick--God bless you." With that, the Schankes walked up the aisle and disappeared into the sea of people crowding into the church. Nick watched them go, and as he did, you almost heard the voice of Donald Schanke, his much-missed partner echoing his wife... "God bless you, partner. God bless you." Nick fell into silent reflection as the service began.
When Natalie noticed his silence, she became concerned. "Nick, are you okay?" she asked him, an expression of worry on her face.
"I'm fine, Nat. This really isn't all that bad. In fact," he grinned at her, "I think I kind of like it." He took her hand and squeezed it gently. "This is much better than that party at the precinct. Merry Christmas, Nat."
"Merry Christmas, Nick."