The stars winked playfully down at the solitary man on the rooftop of the Raven. They did not know what reason he had to be there, nor did they care. It seemed to the man that they mocked him with their cheerful reverie, and he scowled at them. Indeed, the man wore a scowl on his face for all the world that night. He wanted to yell and scream at the injustice of it all-- the misery and hatred of the mortal world-- but the anguish he felt at that moment was so great that it left him bereft of all vocal ability. He was so angry, in fact, that he did not notice the figure standing behind him.
"Going to jump, Detectve Knight?" a soft, feminine voice asked, startling Nick Knight out of his internal tirade. As if carrying out her prediction, he nearly lost his balance as he whirled to face her. Once he regained his composure, he made one downward glance at the street below him and stepped away from the edge of the roof.
"No, I wasn't going to jump," Nick said, his voice laced heavily with bitter sarcasm.
"Good," the woman replied. "It wouldn't have done much good anyway, would it?" She flashed him a tentative smile.
Nick scowled back at her. "Urs, isn't it?" The blonde vampiress nodded. "Why did you follow me? I have no desire for company this night."
"Is that why you left the club in such a hurry?" Urs asked, undaunted, proceeding shyly.
"Were you spying on me?" Nick countered. He briefly imagined LaCroix telling the young vampire to lurk in the shadows behind him and bring back reports of his misery to the master who would gloat.
"No... I... I just saw you come into the Raven tonight. You looked upset, and when you left so suddenly, I wondered why. So I..." her eyes downcast, and this modesty reminded Nick of his manners. "... I followed you up here. I'm sorry." She turned to leave.
"Wait, Urs!" Nick called ot her. "I'm the one who should be sorry. My mood may be foul tonight, but I have no right to be angry with you. Please forgive me."
Ursula turned back to him, smiling once again in her shy way. "No need," she told him. "But I am very curious. Why did you go to the club if you didn't really want to be there?"
The question was so innocent, and yet for Nick it brought to mind a myriad of memories. He'd come to the Raven out of habit. When Janette still owned it, she'd allowed him to come to her when he was troubled. She listened to his cares and woes, his triumphs and his failures, and never once judged or condemned him. Going to her had become a force of nature for Nick and even with her gone he was helpless to stop it. But when he'd entered the Raven tonight--heart full of anger over the night's case--it hit him that the only person there who would listen would be LaCroix. And Nick knew what his response would be-- he'd gloat and goad Nick into feeling worse than he already did.
"I was upset over a case," he told Urs with a sigh. "I thought I would feel better but I don't." He sat down in a corner of the building and stared up at her. "So I came here to be alone."
Urs sat down beside him. Laying a hand on his knee, she asked him, "Would you like to talk about it?"
Nick hesitated. Why would Urs want to hear about his night at work? Why would she care?
Urs continued. "Look... I know you used to talk to Janette about stuff. Everyone knows that you were close to her, and now she's gone. It seems like you need someone else to confide in, that's all."
"You... you knew Janette?" Nick asked. He hadn't realized Urs had been in the Toronto Community that long.
Urs shrugged. "I came here right before she left, actually. She was really nice, what I knew of her. But there are rumors about you two. There are always rumors."
"Oh," Nick said. "Yeah, we were close." He sighed again. "Did you really mean it when you asked it I wanted to talk about it?" he asked.
"Yeah, I did, and if you're worried.. I won't tell a soul." She made an X over her chest. "Cross my heart."
It couldn't hurt, Nick admitted to himself. And she *did* seem to be truly interested. Whatever the reason, Nick found himself telling Urs about the perp he and Tracy arrested that night. He'd been young, not even 20 years old. They'd arrested him because he killed a 5 year old girl in a hit and run. It turned out, the punk was also a local drug dealer and had been pushing to kids nearly as young as the one whose life he had taken.
"The worst thing about tonight," Nick told her, "was looking into his eyes. I had hoped to see some kind of remorse, regret over what he'd done, but it just wasn't there. And when I entered the Raven tonight, I recognized the look in that kid's eyes to be the same cold, heartless evil that I see in our kind." His voice shook with emotion. "Why do they treat themselves like that? Why do they treat themselves the way we treat them?"
"They treat themselves worse than we could ever treat them, Nick," Urs told him.
Urs shrugged. "Mortals serve a purpose for us; we depend on them for life. But they take their own lives and the lives of their fellow man without thought or reason... without caring or feeling anything." She paused, gazing at the troubled vampire before her. And this is what you try to be like, she thought sadly.
Nick found Urs in the Raven a few nights after their initial talk. He'd been thinking a lot about that night. Mostly, he wondered about the connection he felt he now had with her. It'd been one night, one conversation. Why had it let him feeling as if he'd found a new best friend?
Urs was at the bar, perched delicately upon a stool and sipping from a glass of bloodwine. Nick eased in beside her, placing his hand besides hers on the bar. "Hi, Urs," he said in an excited near-whisper.
She turned to face him, a weak smile forming on her face. "Oh.. hi, Nick." She seemed sad.
"What's wrong?" Nick asked her, his voice etched with sudden concern.
"A friend of mine died today," Urs told him, then she fell silent.
After watching her drink her bloodwine for several minutes, Nick took
her hand in his own.
"Why don't we go somewhere and talk?" he asked. Urs nodded and follwed him out of the Raven.
They were on the roof in seconds.
"Tell me about your friend," he asked once they were certain they were alone. "Did you know her long?"
"She was mortal," Urs began in a small voice. "We met the first week I was in Toronto. She... she had..." Urs's voice trailed off, tears of blood forming in her eyes. "This is stupid," she said. "Marcie was mortal; they die all the time. Why should I be crying?" Nick could hear the hurt and confusion in her voice.
"Because she was your friend," he whipered, taking her hand and squeezing it tightly.
"She had this boyfriend," said Urs, continuing as if she had never stopped. "She worshipped him, but I thought he was abusive. About two months ago, he started beating her... badly. I begged her to leave him. We'd get an apartment together and share the rent, I told her. Why didn't she listen?"
"Urs, did Marcie's boyfriend kill her?" asked Nick.
Urs shook her head. "She killed herself this afternoon. I got this in the mail." She handed him a folded up piece of paper. It was a suicide note, telling Urs that "Roger" left her no way out but to kill herself.
It clicked in Nick's head then... Urs's Marcie was the girl they'd brought into the morgue right after his shift had started. She'd ODed on prescription drugs... many of them taken at once and washed down with alcohol. "I'm sorry, Urs," he told her.
Urs did not answer, but turned away from him, eyes staring off into the distance. "Did you ever think about it?" she asked, her voice a whisper. "Suicide, I mean."
"Yes," Nick said frankly. He couldn't count how many times in eight centuries that he'd toyed with the idea of ending it all.
"So have I, but I was too scared to go through with it. What kept you from doing it?"
"I..." Nick thought hard on how to say it. "I was raised Catholic. Suicide is a sin for which you can never receive absolution."
"You were afraid of going to Hell."
"Yeah, I guess. Silly, isn't it? I mean, if I do die, I doubt I'll be going elsewhere."
"Why did you want to do it; why did you want to die?" asked Urs.
"I didn't like what I'd become--a vicious killer. I didn't want to be evil," he told her.
"You're not evil, Nick," Urs said quietly. "Roger was evil, not you." She paused thoughtfully. "I always wanted to die, and end to the misery I was living. It just keeps on going," she whipsered.
Nick took a step closer to her. Both were surprised when his arms wrapped around her. They stood there, both of them staring out into the night sky. Silence and thoughtfulness enveloped them.
"You know, Vachon, " Tracy said as they stood together at the bar of the Raven, "I was just getting used to the new-and-improved Nick Knight."
"New Nick?" Vachon asked, his eyebrow raising in curiosity. Nearby, Urs heard Nick's name being mentioned and tuned in to hear the rest of the conversation.
"Yeah. For the last month, Nick's been really great. He's been cheerful at work, helps me with the paper work, and smiled a lot. Even Nat said she'd never seen him like that before, as she's known him a lot longer than I have."
"But...?" Vachon asked. "I gather there's a "but" in there somewhere."
"There is," Tracy said with a sigh. "Last week, Nick took the whole weekend off. Said he was sick. When he came back, he was gloomier and grouchier than I've ever seen him."
Uhoh, Urs thought. She wondered what was up with Nick. Whatever it was, he hadn't come to her with the problem, as he had done for the last month, ever since the first night she followed him up to the roof. The roof! Of course, he'd be there. She slipped out of the club and headed for the rooftop.
As she expected, Nick was there--glowering in a corner.
"Nick?" she asked cautiously. "Care for company?"
"Not really," he said.
"It's nothing you can help with, Urs. Nobody can help me." His voice was devoid of emotion.
"How do you know until you tell someone, Nick?" She came closer to him, placing a hand on his sleeve. "Please..." she begged him, her heart aching to see him so hurt.
"Why do you care?" he asked her. "Do you wish to laugh at me as LaCroix did?"
Urs was hurt. He'd told LaCroix but not her. That's not what hurt, though. What hurt was that after a month of friendship, Nick would turn her away. "No, I didn't come to laugh at you. You know that, Nick. I came because you're my friend and I care about you." She touched his face with her hand. "Please let me help, if I can."
Nick hesitated, waffling between self-pity and the desire to ease the concern in her eyes. Swallowing his bruised pride, he told her about Nat's latest attempt to cure him of vampirism... and how it had failed yet again. "I do everything she says," Nick told her. "I take all the vitamins she gives me. I suffer through all the shots and experiments. I even drink those aweful protein shakes," here he made a sour face, "but it never seems to help. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother."
Urs was stunned at the admission. She knew Nick was trying to become mortal, and like everyone else in the Community, she thought it was a hopeless cause. She knew, however, that Nick truly believed he could regain his mortality.
At her silence, Nick sighed. "See? I told you that you couldn't help me."
"I wish I could, Nick, I really do, but I just don't understand why you want to be mortal. I mean, I was mortal once. I hated it." Urs smiled sadly at him.
"But you also hate being a vampire," Nick reminded her.
"Well, that's not quite true," Urs told him. "I hated the fact that Vachon made me live forever when I wanted to die... but there are things about a vampire that I actually like."
"Such as?" Nick asked her.
"Flying for one thing," said Urs. "And being strong enough, for the first time in my life, to stop any guy from hitting on me. The money isn't bad, either."
"Money?" queried Nick.
Urs shrugged. "I've never told anyone this.. not even Vachon, but I've managed to save some money of my own in these past few decades. It's not much, but the interest is amazing."
"It gets better," Nick told her, thinking of his own private accounts. Were anyone to see them, they'd wonder how a cop got all that cash.
"See?" Urs said with a smile. "There *are* things you'd miss if you became mortal. Admit it."
Nick couldn't deny it. He *would* miss some things... flying, being able to sneak up on people, whammying them... he sighed. "You've got me there, Urs, but there are things I could do as a mortal that can never experience as a vampire."
"That being what? Die?"
Nick ignored her. Instead, he told her about his dream to spend his life with one woman and raise a family with her. He spoke dreamily of having a normal life and ot having to uproot himself every so many years to avoid the questioning glances of his friends and neighbors. "Is it so much to ask to be normal?" he asked her.
"No, it's not," Urs told him, but suddenly she felt sad. While Nick was telling her about his hopes and dreams, his features had been alive with hope. However, Urs realized, if his dream came true, she'd lose him forever. Nick was the first guy she'd ever met who didn't want anything from her except friendship. She'd come to value him for that. "I hope you succeed, Nick," she lied, falling silent.
Nick smiled. "Thanks, Urs." He was now studying her closely, and Urs wondered if he could tell that she lied. "May I paint you sometime?" he asked suddenly.
"What?" she asked.
Nick reached out, tracing her face with his fingers. "I paint," he explained. "It's been years since I've had a model to sit for me. I'd love for it be you."
Stunned by the request, Urs nodded in agreement.
"Thanks," Nick beamed. Leaning close to her, he kissed her cheek gently. "You're a real pal." He paused, taking her hand in his own. "I just wanted to tell you... you've been a good friend, Urs. I value that; I value your friendship." He squeezed her hand tighter and the two of them fell silent. Nick's silence was that of contentment, but Urs wore an expression of unease. Then she looked up at him, and he smiled. Despite her worries, she found herself smiling back at him.