True Innocence-- a Forever Knight Story True Innocence
by Fleurette

(Toronto, Canada, the coroner's office)

Natalie Lambert glared at the golden-haired man before her. "Nick!" she said again, louder this time.

"Huh? What? You said something, Nat?" Nick sounded very distracted.

"I asked you what on earth would cause LaCroix to go on such a rampage. You never answered me." She stated bluntly.

Nick faded away from her again... this time memories of LaCroix's infatuation with Fleur haunted him. No... LaCroix couldn't have...? Even he wouldn't risk bringing the Enforcers to Toronto... would he? "I don't know, honestly, I don't know." Nick shook his head in amazement.

Ten violent deaths in one week. Each an open declaration that the murderer had been a vampire. And what was more, each had been killed in a very unique fashion-- LaCroix's own personal calling card. He hadn't used this style of killing in centuries, Nick knew that. Yet there were too many similarities to be coincidental.

Nick looked up from the reports... "I can't file lies, Nat. I have to know the truth. I still can't believe it's LaCroix, but the evidence is there." he shook his head in disgust. I can't believe this...

Nick left swiftly and was at the Raven within seconds. The club had been closed for three days now, after the first four deaths had occurred. Nick knew, however, that the most prominent members of the Community would be there. He entered silently by LaCroix's private entrance.

He'd been right. The ancient vampire sat at his desk, surrounded by the most powerful vampires in the Community. LaCroix tried to smile as Nick stood above him. "Ah, Nicholas. I knew you would come." he said, but his confident air faded when he saw Nick's stern, angry look.

"What in the name of Hell is going on, LaCroix?" Nick snarled. "What devastation are you trying to achieve?" Nick fairly shook with rage.

LaCroix sat stunned. His usually arrogant eyes lowered. "I never expected this from you Nicholas. These others, yes... but from my own son? Are we so alienated that you cannot tell that it isn't I who's committed these acts?" He fixed Nick with a questioning gaze. The crowd about them anxiously awaited an answer. There were four Enforcers among the ten vampires present in the room. Nick could tell that they waited for him to condemn his Master.

"I know nothing, LaCroix. Except that you *have* masked your presence from me before. Remember all the times you've stalked me, carefully tracing my steps on my quest for a cure. And you have the gall to ask how it is that we are alienated?"

"Nicholas, I-" LaCroix began.

"Spare me the excuses." Nick snapped. "I didn't come here for lies. I demand the truth!"

One of the Enforcers stood to face Nick. "You're far too young to demand so much from your Master, Nicolas de Brabant. However, seeing as you *are* with the local authorities... we won't hinder your investigation. By the way, how *is* that cure coming along?" He asked with a sneer.

Nick reined in his rage. His eyes lowered slightly in deference to the older vampire. "Very slowly, Martin Cross. I do not foresee a cure in this century."

"A shame," Martin replied. "What have your mortals uncovered in LaCroix's unfortunate affair, Nicolas?"

How typical of the Enforcers, Nick thought ruefully. Business before pleasure. "Surely no more than you already know. Natalie and I have gone over everything so many times we've both memorized every detail." He faced LaCroix again. "You would be pleased to know that Natalie didn't believe you were capable of creating such evil... until I told her how this sort of thing used to be your fancy."

LaCroix paled. "Even the Good Doctor Lambert is against me? Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty"? Am I to hang before the verdict is given?" He tried to sound nonchalant, but failed miserably.

As Nick's initial anger faded, he could feel his Master's fear. He leaned closer to LaCroix. "The last time I saw you pull this stunt was after Fleur died. You blamed me for keeping her mortal, and punished the world for her natural death. Please tell me what reason you have this time. I will try to believe you."

"Nicholas, I did not do this thing." The vampires in the room growled their disapproval. No doubt all believed LaCroix to be the culprit.

Nick shook his head. He threw down photographs of the ten victims. "Look at them, LaCroix. Look! Had you not taken a fancy to me during the Crusades, I would have been as they are now. What right have you?"

The pictures revealed horribly maimed men, women, and two children. Nick sighed tiredly. "The last one was a girl of ten years. Angel Smith, from New York. A tourist with her parents on a vacation. Why...?"

"Nicholas... try to listen to me. I did not commit these acts." LaCroix tried to reason with him.

Martin Cross interrupted the two of them again. "We tire of this foolery. LaCroix is too ancient, too wise to condemn on a whim. We're feeling generous. You both have a week's time to prove his innocence beyond all doubt. If there is any doubt, We will dispense swift justice." With that the four Enforcers left.

LaCroix frowned. "They want *you* to help *me*? And of course, you don't even believe that I'm innocent." He fixed Nick with an annoyed look. "I suppose you'll be happy to be rid of me?"

"I'll be happy to know the truth. Out with it." Nick said sharply.

LaCroix groaned. "I have told you the truth."

The next week proved difficult for Nick. He watched LaCroix's every move. The Toronto PD may not have known about LaCroix's past, but Nick did. As much as he despised LaCroix, he did not wish to see his master perish if he truly was innocent. But "if" was a terribly big word...

Nick arrived at LaCroix's apartment directly after work. The two younger vampires who guarded him bowed to Nick as they exited. "Been good while I was gone?" Nick asked coolly.

"Bien sur, mon fils..." Lacroix replied. Nick tossed him a bottle of blood. LaCroix drank, then spit it out. "It's that disgusting cow swill you drink! Nicholas, do you wish me dead?"

Nick didn't answer. Instead he sat down and began to read the latest report. Finally he looked up. "You haven't left the apartment all day?" LaCroix shook his head negatively. "All night?" Nick asked. Another negative indication. "Hmm...? Interesting. Contain you for five days and the killings cease. What do you make of it, Master?" Nick said sarcastically.

"Nicholas... can't you see I'm telling you the truth? I've done nothing." LaCroix protested.

"Then answer me. What *do* you make of it? Give me a reason to believe you." was Nick's reply.

"My only defense is that I've been framed."

"By whom?"

"How should I know? Haven't I amassed enough enemies during my life? Am I to keep track of them all?"

Nick had to acknowledge this possibility. In truth, Natalie had suggested the same thing just that night. But since the killings ended when he'd had LaCroix confined, how could that excuse hold any weight? Unless... Nick stood up. "I have an answer." He said abruptly.

LaCroix's eyebrows shot up in alarm, but he said nothing.

"It's time for your trial."

"The Enforcers?"

"Yes." Nick stated emotionlessly.

(the trial, the Raven after dark)

Martin Cross faced Nick. "What have you come up with?" He demanded.

Nick smiled slowly. "At first, I thought, as we all did, that LaCroix committed these crimes." he waved a hand to silence the comments which quickly arose. "Let me finish before you ask questions. Please... However, it bothered me that I could not tell if my Master was lying. He said himself that I should have known the truth by looking at him." Nick paused and turned to Lacroix. "You've taught me well enough to know that Enforcers do not care about innocence unless there is doubt. Therefore someone here must have known that there was another suspect." LaCroix nodded stiffly. "By my Master's own admission he is innocent." Nick grasped LaCroix's wrist and said coldly, "Test him, gentlemen. If he is guilty, I shall die with him, because I believe his innocence."

Martin smiled and took LaCroix's wrist roughly. He bit into it without tenderness and drank slowly. As Martin's eyes fluttered shut, he saw within the blood all LaCroix's past crimes. His emotions. Faces from his past. Nicolas, Fleur, Janette... a very fuzzy Natalie Lambert. But none of the faces matched the ten victims of the previous week.

"He is innocent." Martin pronounced. All eyes turned to Nick, who sat silently.

"I owe my Master a great apology. Today Detective Vetter and I brought in a copy cat killer. Apparently he read up on exotic unsolved crimes and adopted LaCroix's MO as his own." Nick turned to face LaCroix. He knelt before his Master. "I have betrayed you, Father. My life is at your disposal."

As Nick braced himself for death, Lacroix raised him to his feet and embraced him. "No, my son. You have finally honored me."

With love,