Nick let out a deep sigh as he turned away from the painting he was working on. He'd suddenly lost the inspiration for it. Crossing the room, he moved towards the refrigerator. Then he stopped short. I don't want cow, he told himself, and sighed once again. Do I even know what I want? He wondered. His face lit up hopefully when he remembered that Janette had been there the night before. Maybe... just maybe she left a bottle of her own private supply behind. It would taste so much better than the steer blood he usually drank.
Opening the refrigerator, Nick was met by the disappointing presence of bottled cow and Nat's protein shakes. "Ugh..." he muttered as he took one of the shakes and opened it. Holding it to his mouth, he sipped tentatively. His face wrinkled as if he'd swallowed something rancid and he spit the drink out into the sink.
"Was it all that bad?" a laughing voice asked from the door.
Nick turned. The owner of the voice, a tall, raven-haired woman, sauntered gracefully into the room. She wore a black evening gown and her black tresses were piled high upon her head. Her eyes, the color of emeralds, held him in their gaze until she came to stand before him.
"Nicholas, darling..." she said in a husky voice that held just the tiniest hint of a British accent. She punctuated its seductive allure by kissing him deeply. Nick's arms went around her immediately as he returned her kiss.
She laughed again as they separated. Moving about the room, she inspected his paintings. "You're still quite the artist, I see," she commented before moving on to the piano. The keys trilled when she ran her fingers over them. "And you still play..." she turned to smile at him. "How wonderful!" She paused in her inspection of the loft, turning her gaze to Nick once again. "Nicholas? You've nothing to say to me?" Her look was one of an innocence too good to be true.
"Sierra..." Nick murmured as he swept her up into his embrace. Kissing her passionately, he moved with vampiric speed to the bedroom and lay her down on the bed. His lips covered hers once again...
Nick cradled Sierra as she napped in his arms. A smile played across his lips as he ran his fingers through her jet black hair. Making love to her now was as magical as it had been all those years before....
"Nicolas, mon cher."
Nick turned at the sound of Janette's voice. His smile widened at the sight that greeted him. Hovering close behind Janette was a woman who could have easily been her equal in beauty.
"Nicolas... voici Sierra Vaubonneaux."
At the introduction, Nick turned an even brighter smile upon the woman.
"Un plaisir, bien sur, Mlle Vaubonneaux." His lips touched the back of her hand in perfect gentlemanly fashion. Their eyes met, and for the briefest moment, an understanding passed between them.
As Janette led Sierra away, she glanced back at him, the longing in her eyes matching that of his...
"Je n'a pas pense que vous veniez." She said when he found her in the rose garden.
"Pourquoi pas?" Nick asked.
"Janette... elle est votre amore, n'est-ce pas?
Nick chuckled, his voice husky with desire. As he pulled her into his embrace, he whispered, "Janette ne me possede pas."
"What were you thinking just now, Nicholas?"
"You're awake," he commented, kissing her hair. He buried his face in her black tresses and inhaled deeply. "I've missed this," he said, with the smile of the cat who got the cream. "It's been much too long."
"Did you miss me all that much, Nicholas?" Sierra studied him closely. "You could have come with me."
Nick's smile faded slightly. "No, I could not. Not at the time... and we lost track of each other after that." He paused, heaving a tortured sigh. "I'm sorry I brought it up."
"You always insisted that they didn't own you," Sierra said, raising herself upon her elbow to look him more squarely in the eye.
"Janette did not own me, but LaCroix was different story. He would not have let go of me so easily."
"LaCroix!" Sierra's happy laughter surprised Nick. "He was such a pussycat! He'd have done nothing if you had truly wanted to come with me." Nick's smile faded completely away. LaCroix... a pussycat? A suspicion entered his mind. Could Sierra have had an affair with LaCroix as well? And what if she had? he told himself. That certainly didn't effect our relationship. Still, the briefest jealousy gnawed at him. "Sierra... about LaCroix... did you ever...? Were you and he...?"
"Oh, Nicholas! You aren't jealous, are you?" She laughed at him, moving suddenly so that she pinned him to the bed. Her hair tumbled down in front of her, covering both their bodies in its soft darkness.
"Never," Nick answered, his voice harsh with renewed desire. He reached up, threading his fingered through her hair before pulling her to him for a kiss.
Janette's smile froze when she saw Sierra enter the Raven. What on earth could *she* possibly want here? Janette thought as Sierra wove her way through the crowd to her side.
"Janette, my dearest friend!" Sierra beamed at her. "Nicholas told me you were here. Such a pleasant surprise to find you both in Toronto."
Nicolas... oh, no. Janette gave Sierra the warm smile she usually faked for Schanke. "Yes... it's a pleasure to see you again, Sierra. It's been much too long." It hadn't been long enough. "Not since London."
Sierra's smile vanished quickly. "I see you still bear me ill feelings." She reached out to touch Janette's arm. "I had hoped we could still be friends."
"I find it...*difficult*... to be friends with *your* kind," Janette shot back. She signaled to the bartender to get Sierra a drink. "You've seen Nicolas, then?"
"Yes." Sierra took the wine glass from the bartender and raised it to her lips. "I spent the night with him."
If Janette was shocked by her admission, she didn't show it. "So, you've taken up where you left off with him. Have you come to break his heart again, Sierra?" Janette frowned. "Or... are you here on business?"
"What if I was here for business? It is no concern of yours."
"Nicolas is my concern, Sierra."
"You're not his master," Sierra shot back, her emerald eyes flashing.
"Our master is dead! We're all the other has left!" Janette replied hotly.
Sierra gave Janette a very secretive smile. "Who killed him, I wonder? Was it Nicholas, perhaps? Did he finally get angry enough to break away from his domineering master?" Her voice was mocking-- the voice of someone who knew something she wasn't about to tell.
Janette was scowling openly by now. "Stay away from Nicolas! He doesn't need you!"
"Funny... he seemed to *need* me last night."
"Why are you here, Sierra?"
"I'm here to help Nicholas... to save him," Sierra told her.
"Save him? From what? If anything, he needs saving from you."
"From himself, Janette. He's walking a dangerous path, and it will only lead him to his doom. There are those who wish him dead for what he has been trying to accomplish. I would save him from himself... to save his life." Sierra green eyes shone intensely.
"Spare me your emotional speeches. You don't love him enough for that!" Janette glared at her darkly. "You haven't told him, you?"
"Told him what?" Sierra's innocent look had returned.
"That you're an Enforcer." Janette spat at her. "You haven't! He'll hate you when he finds out."
"Who's going to tell him, Janette? It *wouldn't* be you... you *enjoy* your life too much to beg for death like *that.*" Sierra smiled evilly at her. "And besides, I wasn't sent here to harm Nicholas or you. Of his safety you have naught to worry."
"Then... how do you plan to save him from himself?" asked Janette, although she now had a glimmer of what it might be. She watched for a moment as a mortal woman entered the club. It was Natalie Lambert and she made her way deliberately towards Janette. "Excusez-moi,Sierra," she said as she slipped away to intercept Natalie.
"Natalie... what a pleasant--"
"Where's Nick?" Nat demanded.
"Nicolas?" echoed Janette.
"Yes! Where is he? He didn't come in to work last night or tonight. Stonetree is fit to be tied. Schanke and I have looked everywhere, so I thought he'd be here."
Janette shook her head sadly. "I have not seen Nicolas all week." She paused, drawing a sharp breathe as it occurred to her what Sierra's game was. "I can see you are worried. If I do happen to see Nicolas, I will tell him call you, Natalie." She gave Natalie a slight smile.
"Thank you, Janette," Natalie replied, leaving the Raven as quickly as she could.
When Janette turned back to the bar, however, Sierra was also gone.
"Nicolas?" Janette's voice rang out in the dark loft.
"Up here, Janette!" Nick called out. He came to the railing high above her, dressed in a black silk robe. His hair was wet and a white towel was draped across his shoulders. "I just stepped out of the shower. Come on up!"
"Your friend--Natalie-- came to the Raven tonight," Janette told him when stood before him. Nick wrapped his arms around her and leaned in for a kiss. "She was looking for you," continued Janette as she evaded the lips that sought hers. "Why haven't you been going to work, Nicolas? Have you quit?"
"No," said Nick after a pause. "I've been... busy. I have a guest."
"I know. Sierra was also at the club tonight."
"You don't seem to approve, Janette. I thought Sierra was your friend."
"So did I, Nicolas, but I was wrong." Janette's mind flashed back briefly to London. Sierra had just become an Enforcer and her first job had been to "punish" someone very dear to Janette.
"I'm sorry, Janette. I don't understand why you hate her so."
Of course he didn't. He hadn't been there.
Janette sighed deeply. "Nicolas... do you love me?" she asked.
"Yes... you know I do, Janette." He took the opportunity to slip his arms around her again. When she pulled away once more, he looked at her with open confusion in his eyes. Janette usually loved it when he held her. "Janette, what is wrong? Have I done something?"
"No, Nicolas... it's not you. It's her... Sierra."
"Sierra?" Nick questioned her with his eyes. "Janette, what are you talking about?"
"If you love me, Nicolas, stay away from her! Please!"
"Janette! You aren't making sense. Sierra is my... friend. I'm not going to stay away from her," Nick told her.
Janette laughed bitterly. "Of course you won't. You're having too much fun sleeping with her! You always loved to sneak off with her when you thought LaCroix and I weren't paying attention!"
"What if did! What's it to you if I enjoy Sierra's company? You never said anything before."
"Give me one good reason, Janette!"
"She's an Enforcer, Nicolas!" Janette blurted out.
"What!?" Nick stopped cold, staring at her in disbelief. "No, she's not."
"She is!' Janette insisted.
"Janette... she's not. We've been together... we've shared blood. I... I would know if--"
"She's older than you, Nicolas. She can hide from you whatever she wishes. Don't you see that?" She sighed. "I have always regretted introducing you. I hated seeing her treat your love so badly. She came to you, took what you offered her and used you. She abused your emotions and you never seemed to notice it. But, Nicolas... how many times did you come crying to me because she left without saying good-bye? And what about the last time? You were so upset that you couldn't even come to me. Don't you see that she will hurt you more now?"
Nick walked a few steps away from Janette and into the bedroom. Janette followed him at a distance. He sat down on the bed he and Sierra has shared the night before. "No. You're jealous because she makes me feel things you never could. Please go, Janette. I don't want you here."
Janette realized that she may have overstepped her bounds a bit. She reached out to comfort him. "Nicolas..."she began.
Nick jerked away from her touch. "Go! Don't come back here again!"
Nick wondered where Sierra was. He needed to speak to her-- to find out if what Janette said was true. He hated this doubt, this fear that the talk with Janette had instilled in him. He'd always thought he could trust Sierra. Janette could have been mistaken... about the whole thing. He knew she was wrong about his relationship with Sierra. There had never been any manipulation in their relationship. Never. Oh, sure... the first time, he had been upset to have to leave her. LaCroix had decided it was time to move on, and Nick had to follow where his master led. At least, back then he did. Their paths had crossed other times since then, each time ending with a bittersweet good-bye. They'd written for over one hundred years before they saw each other again--the last time. But it wasn't Sierra that had upset Nick so. It was his own indecision. She wanted him to come away with her-- to break his ties to his family and be free. He hadn't been able to decide... and that had hurt him more than her departure ever could.
Sierra had always been there for him whenever his life seemed to be getting a little dull. She would breathe excitement back into it, making his life worth living again. They'd never asked for more of each other than each was willing to give. No strings attached. His relationship with Janette was not quite that way. She wanted him to remain with her. Even Natalie seemed to want something from him, though he couldn't quite figure out what it was. No... of all the women in his life, Sierra was the only one who had never wanted anything from him. Never. Therefore, Janette had to be wrong now.
Nick started at the sound of the elevator in motion. Not Sierra. She wouldn't have used the elevator. He turned to the door in time to see Natalie step inside.
"Nat," he said in greeting. He could feel her eyeing the half empty bottle in front of him. It wasn't cow. Nick felt a sudden pang of guilt at her presence. "I'm sorry I haven't called, Nat... I--"
"Where have you been, Nick? Everyone has been worried! Stonetree's a wreck!" Nat exploded at him.
"Nat... I.." Nick began. But he didn't feel like explaining Sierra to her. "I've been busy." He said, the reserve in his expression causing her eyes to widen a little.
"Busy with what? Nick, you're a cop. You just can't take off whenever you feel like it."
"I don't see where it's any of your business what I've been doing," he said.
Nat glared, first at him, then at the bottle before him. "Then maybe you don't want my help, either. I *thought* we were making progress, Nick, but I guess I was wrong."
"Nicholas?" Sierra's voice from the doorway caused them both to turn.
Nat's eyes widened as she recognized the woman Janette had been talking to at the Raven. "Let me guess... a friend of yours, right?" Her voice was full of sarcasm.
"Yes, she is. I'd introduce you, but I think you were just leaving." Nick was angry, and he didn't want to take his anger out on Natalie. Better to wait until she was gone and work things out with Sierra's help.
"Of course I was." Nat scowled as she stormed past Sierra and into the elevator.
"Who was that, darling?" Sierra asked, watching the elevator descend with curiosity.
"Natalie Lambert... my... doctor," he told her. "Doctor? Are you ill, love?" Sierra asked, walking over to him. "You seem fine to me."
Nick looked down, for a moment unable to face her. He always felt this way when it came time to tell someone about his quest. "No... I'm not ill. Nat's been... trying to help me find a cure for...my condition."
"Your *condition*? Nicholas, vampires don't get conditions. You know that."
"Vampirism... she's trying to help me become mortal again." There. He'd said it. The frozen look on Sierra's face didn't make him feel any better, though.
"You... don't want to be a vampire any longer?"
"I haven't in a very long time. I can't stand the killing."
Sierra managed to smile now. Reaching out, she touched his arm in a conciliatory manner. "You always were sensitive, Nicholas." She kissed his lips gently. "Have the two of you made much progress with... this cure?"
Nick shook his head.
"I'm sorry, then." She led him to the couch. "Why don't you tell me about it?"
"You want to know? Really?" Nick hadn't thought she would understand.
"Naturally... I want to know everything about your life. There is so much we need to catch up on. It's been nearly two hundred years since we've been together, after all."
Her smile wiped away the fear that had arose in him when he told her about wanting a cure. Hesitantly at first, Nick began to tell her what had happened to him since their last parting of ways.
At home, Natalie threw herself onto her bed, crying. She tried to tell herself that she wasn't *that* attached to Nick. He was just a patient, an experiment. It didn't matter to her if he wanted to throw it all away for some cheap tramp. The only problem was, it did matter. She couldn't deny that Nick had inched his way into her heart. Lately, he was all she thought about. Whenever she met a man who acted interested in her, she compared him to Nick.
The doorbell rang, cutting into her thoughts. Nat sat up, wiping her eyes. She didn't want to answer it. She didn't want company. But it could be Nick.. coming to apologize. The thought, however impossible it was, that Nick might be ready to apologize made her rise from the bed.
The doorbell buzzed again impatiently.
"I'm coming!" Natalie called out as she padded down the hall. She opened the door to find Janette standing there. Oh great... just what I need. His *other* bimbo.
"May I come in, Natalie?" Janette asked, waiting to be invited. "It is important... about Nicolas."
Nat nodded, stepping aside to allow Janette's entry. "W-what about Nick?" She asked, finding her voice at last.
"There is someone new in his life."
"I know," Nat said, her comment causing Janette to raise an eyebrow quizzically. "I went by the loft tonight, hoping to find him. We had an argument, then she showed up and I left. Who is she, Janette?"
"Someone who is very dangerous, Natalie. To Nicolas... and to you."
"To me...?" she asked.
Janette nodded. "I believe her presence here means harm for you. I tried to tell Nicolas, but he is so smitten with her that he will not listen to me."
"Then... they *are* lovers."
"Yes. They have been so upon several occasions. She manipulates him... tries to take him away from the people who love him the most. He does not seem to see it. He thinks only the best of her. She is a danger to him and to those who love him." Janette looked around her. "I don't think you are safe here, Natalie," she said.
"She is... a vampire, too?"
Janette nodded. "And a very powerful one. One who could kill even a vampire of my years. I think she has come for you."
"Because you are trying to take Nicolas away from us... trying to make him human again. You know too much about him and about us. You've put yourself in danger. I want to help you," Janette told her.
"Why would *you* want to help me?" Nat asked. "It seems to me that you would benefit from my death."
Janette sighed. "I care about Nicolas, and I don't want to see him get hurt. If Sierra succeeds in killing you, Nicolas will want to take the blame... because he dragged you into his life in the first place. It would crush him. It is bad enough that she will walk out of his life again anyway. She never stays with him, merely toys with him and leaves his heart broken. Your death added to that will make things much worse for him." She took a deep breath. "Please Natalie... let me protect you... for Nicolas's sake!"
Natalie sighed heavily. "You're not really going to give me a choice, are you?"
Sierra watched Nick as he slept. He'd spent most of the night telling her about the path his life had taken. He'd told her about waking up in the morgue and how Natalie just couldn't be "persuaded" to forget what she'd seen. He'd been hopeful about finding a cure and returning to a mortal existence. When she'd asked him why that was, Nick told her that he really wanted to be a father and to have a love that was not destructive. He told her that he also felt a deep guilt that he could not rid himself of. He hoped that, in becoming mortal, his guilt would go away.
He looked so child-like as he slept. She couldn't help but want him to be happy. She also couldn't help seeing that he had changed. He wasn't the man she'd met over five hundred years ago... the man she'd enjoyed a free and easy affair with for so long. And it wasn't just Natalie Lambert's fault. He'd changed before he'd even met her.
Coming here, Sierra had thought this would be easy to do. She would rid Nicholas of this mortal interference and convince him to come with her. With LaCroix gone, it would be easy to get him to leave Janette. Now, however, she knew it would not be so easy. Nicholas had changed. He desired more out of life than just a series of flings. Even if she did kill Natalie, he would never come with her. He'd continue to search for a way back across.
Unable to sleep in the same bed with him, Sierra rose and made her way downstairs. Sitting on the couch, she began to cry. She realized now that she no longer had a place in Nick's life. She didn't think Janette did either, but Janette, at least, was still in a position to hold on to what she had left. There was nothing left for Sierra to hold on to.
Nick awoke to find his bed empty. He'd grown used to seeing Sierra in his bed again. It was fun to wake up and snuggle close to her. Only... she wasn't there tonight. Rising and throwing his robe on, he walked out onto the stairs. Below him, he could see Sierra on the couch. She was crying, with her suitcase and clothes beside her. She was packing. Nick felt a sharp pain tug at his heart. He'd known she would leave eventually, but he hadn't expected it to be so soon. Their dalliances usually lasted several months.
"Sierra?" he called out as he descended the stairs at a leisurely pace. "You're leaving so soon?"
She looked up when he stood looming above her. Tears streaked her face. "I must," she told him.
"You're crying," Nick stated. "What's the matter? What has upset you so?" He picked up a small pile of her clothes and moved it aside so he could sit beside her on the couch. Reaching out, he wiped away a red tear that slid down her cheek. "Tell me?"
"I must leave, Nicholas."
"You said that already. Why must you leave? Have I done something wrong?"
"No, my love... but it... this... is not right between us. We've changed, you and I. I never saw it until last night. Our lives have gone in two different directions and now... we just aren't right for each other any longer." Sierra picked up the pile Nick had moved and put it into the suitcase.
"Sierra..." Nick began to apologize, though for what he didn't know. She interrupted him with a gentle kiss.
"No... there is nothing you can say. But... I must honest with you. I came to you this weekend with false intentions."
It took a while for her words to sink in. When they did, Nick found himself listening as she told him she'd been sent there to kill Natalie Lambert. Janette had been right-- Sierra *was* an Enforcer. But she'd always said she'd never become one... even if she was given the offer. She'd said she couldn't be happy in such a life. Now here she was saying that she'd been wrong. She enjoyed it. She'd wanted him to leave Toronto and come with her.
"How could you expect me to go with you after you killed Natalie?" Nick asked, his voice harsh with a hatred he couldn't deny.
"I realize that now... I was wrong. Killing her won't make you give up. You'll only fight harder." She caught his eyes with hers and held them. "And it would make you hate me... I couldn't face that. That's why I'm leaving."
"She's safe... from me. Though, I can't guarantee that someone else won't be sent to try. You're risking her life each day you know her." Sierra placed the last of her things in the suitcase and closed it, all without looking at him.
She turned back to look at him before she made it to the elevator. "I will always love you, Nicholas, and someday I hope we can regain what we once had. I'm sorry for hurting you."
Janette and Natalie both saw Nick when he entered the Raven. He went straight to the bar and ordered a drink. The bartender filled his glass, and Nick took the bottle before he could put it back under the counter. Nick emptied three glasses before leaving the bar.
He approached their table hesitantly. "I... owe both of you an apology," he said when he stood before them. Janette waved her hand in an indication that he should sit. Nick pulled up a chair and sat facing them. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"What happened?" Nat asked. Her voice was stiff and cold.
Nick winced, but told them everything. "She left," he concluded, tears spilling from his eyes. "I feel so stupid. How can I expect either of you to forgive me?"
"She broke your heart... again..." Janette said in a sympathetic manner. "I'm so sorry, Nicolas. I know how much she meant to you."
"No..." Nick said. "Sierra means nothing. You and Natalie... you are what's important to me. Sierra would leave eventually... and I would have nothing if I didn't have the two of you."
Nick reached out to take Natalie's hand. Meeting her eye, he said to them, "I thought she and I had something special... maybe love... but she was a dream that was too good to be true."
Natalie squeezed his hand tightly. Janette put an arm around him, also squeezing.
Nick looked up as Janette entered the bedroom. "What are you doing here?" he asked. He still half believed she would still be angry with him.
"I thought you could use some company tonight," she told him. She removed her overcoat to reveal a long, flowing white nightgown. Nick thought she like an angel.
"I'm not really in the mood for that right now, Janette," Nick told her.
"I didn't come here to seduce you. Just let me comfort you, Nicolas..."