The Healing Process-- a Forever Knight Story The Healing Process
a Forever Knight Story
by Fleurette

Part I

*excerpts from Natalie Lambert's vampire journals*

-- I've decided to keep these journals with the hope that someday my research into the vampire experience can be fully appreciated by the rest of humanity.

-- Nicolas is the most difficult patient I've ever had! Sometimes I feel I shall never make progress with him. He never seems to try at all, even when he says he wants to.

--I never figured on LaCroix having human emotions, yet it seems that he does. How else can I explain his reaction to the possibility of Nick's death? I mean, for a moment there, LaCroix *was* human... a father grieving for an ailing child. Then it vanished.

--It took forever for Nick to recover from his coma. The hunter's attack seriously weakened him. He isn't well, by vampire standards. But I can't figure out what is wrong with him. One minute he is a normal vampire, he drinks blood, flies... quite normal... the next minute he is weak, vomiting, unable to fly. Basically unable to function normally. But then again, what is normal?

**end journal**

Dr. Natalie Lambert looked over her journal one last time. She'd gone over every comment, every attempted cure, all the combinations of drugs and therapies they'd tried over the last few years. Nothing prepared her to deal with this new problem. She re-read the last entry and switched on the radio. Since Nick hadn't said a word in about an hour, she figured the radio would break the uncomfortable silence that settled over them.

LaCroix's smoothly malignant voice oozed across the airwaves, filling the room.

**I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers
of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer'd not,
The living remain'd and suffer'd, the mother suffer'd,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer'd,
And the armies that remain'd suffer'd.

This inspiring reflection comes to us tonight from the finest poet the United States ever sired, Mr. Walt Whitman. I thank him for his deep thoughts and hope, my friends, that you find as much meaning in his words as I have... This is the NightCrawler, wishing you all a peace-filled goodnight.**

The station manager cut in, reminding everyone that the NightCrawler's broadcast was being aired via satellite from Montreal. Therefore, please remember not to call in to the regular station number... if you wish to call in, use this toll free num--

Natalie shut off the radio. Lately all LaCroix's broadcasts had been reflective and wishy-washy... well, wishy-washy for LaCroix anyway. Nick had confessed earlier that he found these Montreal broadcasts much more meaningful than any of LaCroix's previous shows. He'd grinned sheepishly and admitted that he actually kind of missed his Master.

The thought of it made Natalie shudder. LaCroix did not please her. And a "peace-filled" evening for her would probably entail driving a stake through his demon heart.

"Nat! I wanted to call in." Nick protested, breaking into her thoughts. She looked at him in stunned silence.


Nick grinned innocently. "It would be nice to hear his voice... I mean hear him actually direct a conversation to me." Then he paused, thinking for a while. As he contemplated LaCroix's reflection, he began to frown. "You're not too happy with LaCroix right now, are you?" he asked Natalie.

"Should I be? Nick, he left you die in that hospital room. He said he'd he back to take care of you and he hasn't returned once."

"And you expected him to?"

"You almost died saving his life and Janette's and neither of them bothered to find out how you're doing. Yes! I did expect him to. You're supposed to be his creation, his son. I know enough of your kind to know that he should have been here when you woke up. To strengthen you with his blood, to heal you, as it were."

Nick sighed. He'd been ignoring that fact. "I'm alright, Nat. Gaining strength everyday now. I don't need him. Honest." He tried to smile.

"You can't lie to me, Nick. You need your Master's blood. Even Javier said you looked bad." She sounded exasperated.

I believe he used the term "death warmed over" not "bad" when he described me." Nick said quietly. He remembered all too well Javier's reaction when Tracy brought him into the hospital room for the first time. "It can't be helped, Nat. Whatever the hunter did to me has to go away on its own... if it ever will."

"I don't think so. I think you would be fine if LaCroix had stuck around to help you."

Nick bit his lower lip hard, trying to stop the emotions which welled up inside him. Every time he thought about that night in the catacombs, he broke into tears. "I can't argue this with you, Nat. I just can't handle it all right now." He turned and left the coroner's office abruptly. As he returned to his desk, he unsuccessfully fought back the nightmare emotions which had plagued him for the last three months. Seated at his desk, he buried his face in his hands and wept openly.

None in the office were shocked by Nick's behavior. Every night he burst in to tears over one thing or another. Reese had been forced to send him home on several occasions. And everyone cursed deGuerre for putting Nick through this torture. Tracy watched him helplessly and started to walk over to Nick. Javier stopped her. He shook his head.

"Let Nick have some peace, Trace. He doesn't need you to help him right now." Javier's own eyes clouded over. He too had recurring visions of that horrible night. Just not quite as bad as Nick's. He wondered what Nick had dreamed about in his coma. "When's your shift over, Trace?" he asked, hoping to divert her attention from Nick.

"Midnight, why?" She asked cluelessly. Vachon smiled at Tracy's sweet, innocent look. He suddenly found himself wanting to kiss her.

"You wanna go dancing...? I know this great little place." He smiled seductively. Nick overheard them and looked up for a moment. He blinked his eyes blankly for a second, then emerged from his stupor. He smiled at Javier weakly.

Tracy watched Nick as well. "What do you think? Should I, partner?" she asked him. Nick nodded the affirmative.

"It will be fun, Tracy... Javier's a good boy, and I think I know the place he means... a nice place... " Nick's voice faded away, and he was again swallowed up by his pain.

Tracy frowned. "I don't think so, Javier. Maybe another time."

Javier's smile faded. He had been hoping she would say yes. Once at the Raven he'd had the opportunity to dance with her. The experience left him wanting another chance at it. And besides, being with Tracy was fun.

Javier rose from his chair and made his way to the door. He stopped beside Nick's desk and placed his hand on the silent cop's shoulder. "I'm real sorry, man. We *all* grieve for you. You know that." He said, his emphasis on the *all* indicated that the Community shared his pain. Nick smiled weakly. He knew Vachon meant well, but nothing numbed the pain.

(Nick's loft, later that evening)

Nick sat rigidly on his black leather sofa. The nightmare scenes played in his mind, they way they did every night. He'd stopped sleeping. Sleep was always interrupted by the nightmares anyway, so why bother? Images of Janette, LaCroix and deGuerre flashed before his eyes. In the background he heard the ancient seer, Tierra, uttering her powerful prophesy. And his body felt the constant pain of torment and loss.

He was so enraptured by these nightmares that he did not hear the telephone ringing. When Natalie rushed to his side a half hour later, he did not hear or see her either.

"Nick! Nick!" She screamed at him, hoping to revive him. He merely stared vacantly at her- unseeing, unhearing, unfeeling. "Nick! Come here!" She ordered, slapping him soundly across the face. He blinked, his only reaction. Slowly he began to revive. The nightmares vanished. Natalie had seen him like this many times in the last three months. What he needs is a psychiatrist. she thought. But how to get him one without revealing him as a vampire? A tear slide down her cheek. Is this all hopeless?

Nick reached up and wiped her tear away. "Don't cry, Natalie. It's going to be ok." he said softly. He had come into her open arms, clinging to her as a lost child. Gently he lay his head on her shoulder. It felt good to have Natalie hold him. She alone had the power to ease his fears and wipe the painful memories away. But when she left, they returned, and Nick's hurt intensified with each new nightmare.

Natalie cradled him in her arms. "How can you say that? Look at yourself, Nick. You're a wreck. And I am, too, from worrying about you all the time."

"The nightmares were better this time around. Less violent. Last night I couldn't stop shaking, remember?" He held out a hand to show her that it didn't shake.

Natalie laughed shakily. "I see... it is a start, Nick, but not one to build a hope around. Wait until the nightmares vanish forever." She kissed his forehead lightly.

Nick licked his lips slightly, in response to her kiss. The sudden need to return her kiss with passion and hunger overwhelmed him. This closeness was too much for his fragile system. He knew there could be no way for them to be together right now. In his weakened condition, he might kill her were they to make any attempt at intimacy.

He rose and went to the refrigerator. Grabbing the bottle closest to his hand, he drank greedily. It has straight human blood. Vachon had been supplying him for about a month now. They discovered early on that Nick's usual cow's blood made him dreadfully sick. Natalie watched him, aware that he was more vulnerable tonight than she had ever seen him.

Nick set down the empty bottle. He slowly shook off the stupor which threatened to overcome him once more. "I need help, Nat. I can't go on like this."

"I know... but I've tried everything I know to do... short of calling on LaCroix for help." Nat didn't even want to *think* about doing that.

Nick shook his head. "LaCroix will turn up when the time is right. It's not time yet." He returned to the sofa and leaned back, trying to get comfortable. "Commissioner Vetter has recommended that I take an extended leave of absence. He's convinced that I came back to work too soon."

"How do you feel about that?" Natalie asked, joining him on the couch.

"I'm scared, Nat. Work has been the only thing that's kept me from going insane these last few weeks. I don't know what I'm going to do." His voice trembled with fear. Natalie held him again, and as he cried into her hair, she muttered soothing sounds into his ears. He fell asleep that way. He always does, Nat thought. How child-like he is. Why can't he be this gentle all the time?

(Nick's "vacation")

This is my first visit to the Raven since I got out of the hospital. Nick thought sadly. He felt the eyes of every vampire around him. Javier's band stopped playing when he walked in. They just sat there staring at him. "Did I come at a bad time?" He asked nervously.

The bartender grinned suddenly. He recognized LaCroix's favorite son and poured Nick a drink almost immediately. Vachon signaled to the band to continue without him and ushered Nick to a table. But there was still dead silence. "It's a good thing there aren't any mortal's here tonight," Nick said shyly. "This reaction might scare them."

Vachon smiled widely. Then he turned serious. "We've been hearing rumors. Some say you're dying. Others say you're turning human again. How do you feel?"

Nick knew everyone was listening for his answer. "What you really want to know is which rumor is true. I can't answer that. All I do know is that I've been too weak to live normally." For a moment his head swam.

Vachon sighed. "Knight, we're all behind you on this one. I know it's hard to believe, especially with all the ribbing you take about your precious cure... but we all respect you! I saw what you did. No vampire in this Community could witness that and not feel for you. Even the most calloused."

Nick's eyes refocused. His voice sounded far away as he spoke. "I know you're right... I just can't... I... have to get away from here. Memories, bad memories."

He began to fade into a nightmarish flashback. Vachon sensed it and shook Nick roughly. He snapped back to reality and sighed again.

"Where will you go?" Javier voiced the question all wanted to know.

"Home. It's been centuries since I've seen my family home. Jean Claude is there. I received a letter from him tonight. He thinks being home will do wonders for my health." Nick smiled dreamily as thoughts of Fleur and his childhood came to him unbidden.

Vachon nodded. "I certainly hope so. Nick... what *is* wrong with you?"

"I don't know yet. Natalie blames LaCroix for not helping me." Nick laughed. "If you thought she hated him before, you should see her now. Take care of her for me, Javier. Tracy, too."

"You trust me? That's a first." Vachon grinned at Nick. The weakened vampire smiled back heartily, and those present could feel a hint of strength return to him. The two shook hands and Nick vanished quickly. Gradually, life returned to the Raven. Soon it was as if Nick had never been there.

Part II

(The Brabant estate, Nick's childhood home.)

Fleurette studied the golden-haired stranger in silence. He hadn't heard her enter the room. She watched as he stared out the window at the flowers in the garden. The sun shone playfully through the window, lighting and warming the room. Then the stranger pulled the thick velvet curtains closed and turned abruptly. "Do you always sneak up on people?" He asked.

Fleurette smiled softly. "Do you always try to fry yourself this early in the morning?" She asked pertly. She examined his skin closely and then nodded her approval. "So, you're the one who longs to be mortal again? How long did you stand there, in the sunlight like that?"

"Five minutes." Nick said proudly. "It's a start, don't you think?"

Fleurette nodded. She quietly set to her business. The reason she'd come was not to stare at the odd vampire, but to fix the room for him. It'd been centuries since anyone had slept in Nick's boyhood room. She swiftly made up the bed, giving Nick fresh white sheets and brand new goose-feather pillows. The finishing touch was a burgundy colored silk comforter, and a rose for the pillow. She stepped back to look at the effect. The clean, white sheets gave the room a brighter look. Then she frowned. The bed curtains and the heavy velvet drapes which covered the windows gave the room a dark, foreboding look. Now seemed like a good time to finally use those new ones from the hall closet. She left Nick alone with his thoughts, returning moments later with the new curtains.

"Will it bother you if I change the window drapes?" She asked quietly.

"I don't see why it would bother him," came a voice from behind them. Nick and Fleurette both turned to see another golden-haired vampire standing in the door way. The new-comer smiled broadly at Nick. "Father!" He said, coming into the room and embracing Nick. "Fleurette, cherie, I see you have already acquainted yourself with your uncle Nicolas."

Nick turned to look at Fleurette again, this time examining her face and eyes closely. "She looks like... like Fleur. What was that you called her? Fleurette?"

Nick's son nodded. "Her mother was convinced that she looked like Aunt Fleur, or at least that picture of her hanging in the parlor. Hence, the name Fleurette." Seeing how Nick's face clouded over as he gazed at the young woman, Jean Claude frowned. "I'm sorry, Father. I should have warned you that she resembled Fleur. This must be a terrible shock for you."

"Petite fleur..." Nick muttered to himself. "Yes, she is a little flower. Pretty and delicate. No, Jean Claude, she doesn't displease me, this Fleurette of yours." He smiled at her. "Your cousin and I have things to discuss. We'll be in the library... you may join us when you've finished with the rooms, if you'd like."

Fleurette smiled brightly. For some reason, having Nick's approval pleased her greatly. "No," she said shaking her head. "There's far too much work to be done today. The house isn't quite ready for guests. We weren't expecting you until tomorrow, you know."

When they left, Fleurette contemplated her uncle Nicolas's sudden arrival. She knew the family history quite well. Uncle Nick had gone off to the Crusades and then returned with that strange Mr. LaCroix and the elegant Lady Janette. They'd stuck around for a while, but left when Nick argued with his father and vowed never to return. The reason for the argument had remained a mystery, but rumor had it that Nicolas's father had disapproved of his association with LaCroix and Janette. Another rumor speculated that Nicolas had secretly wed Janette, thereby destroying the family's reputation by breaking off his arranged marriage to a neighboring family. Yet another rumor told a steamy tale of forbidden love between the original Fleur and Mr. LaCroix. Still, they were only rumors.

Years later he had returned, however, bringing Jean Claude with him. He'd explained that Jean Claude was his son, illegitimate, but a son nonetheless. He convinced his aged father to make Jean Claude the Brabant heir. What happened after that was hard to really explain. Jean Claude never grew older, and he never died. Fleurette knew it was because he was a vampire. But back in those days, such things weren't talked about. In reality, Nick and Jean Claude had hypnotized the entire town and the Brabant family into thinking nothing of Jean Claude oddities. The House of Brabant became shrouded in great mystery from that point on. Marriages were made in secret and once the newest members of the family entered the house, they never left. Those born into the family were raised to accept the family's great secret. To Fleurette, the twentieth century product of this experiment, vampires were a natural occurrence. Many had visited over the years, especially of late. She found them intriguing.

Fleurette pushed these thoughts aside and set to work on the room. Uncle Nicolas was still the rightful owner of this estate and as such deserved the finest luxuries. After cleaning his room, she set to work on the rest of the house. Sometime around noon, she'd finished making her home presentable for the important guest.

Then it was lunch time. Fleurette changed from her work clothes and set out for the village.

There are some places in this world where time stands still. Technology and change do not touch these places, and their beauty and purity remain visible for all to see. This tiny village was such a place. The town, nestled deep a lush valley, had not changed in centuries. Fleurette liked it's peaceful atmosphere. However, there were times when she felt lonely for the real world. Nicolas's arrival heightened that loneliness. As she stood in the market place, she wondered what it would be like to live in a big, modern city. To shop in a huge department store and have lots of fancy clothes. Not that Jean Claude didn't spoil her. Her closets were full of the finest clothes, all fashions he'd brought back from Paris or New York City. But touching the fabric was not the same as going there herself, and the difference often depressed Fleurette.

When Jean Claude's vampire friends came to visit, she listened to all their stories of the outside world. Their wild tales made her long to go with them. She'd asked one or two of them to bring her across, to make her what they were. They'd all refused. Some just ignored her request. Others made odd remarks about not wishing to anger Nicolas. And others still just laughed at her. So she'd spoken to Jean Claude. A pained look spread across his face and he'd told her never to mention such foolish ideas again.

The warmth of the bright afternoon sun jogged her from her daydreaming and she quickly returned home with the groceries she'd bought.

(The Brabant Library)

Nick and his son were still talking when Fleurette entered the room. Nick had a sad, uneasy look on his face. Jean Claude looked determined. Fleurette smiled at them, hoping it would shake the unhappy mood which seemed to have overcome the house.

"It's lunch time," She said with a soft smile. She took Nick's hand and led him into the dining room. Jean Claude followed them, smiling.

Nick's eyes widened when he saw the fine table setting. Fleurette had prepared enough food for herself, and on the table sat two bottle of blood- obviously for the family vampires. "Is it a tradition to dine as a family here?" Nick asked. He still couldn't believe that they were so formal here. He'd forgotten what having a family was like.

Jean Claude laughed gently. "Fleurette and I always dine together, Father. It brings us closer to one another."

They sat down and Fleurette said a brief blessing for the meal. As she ate, Nick and his son continued their conversation. It seemed that Jean Claude had been offered a position with the Enforcers. Fleurette knew about them, and she also knew that her cousin longed to be among his own kind, instead of here with her. Uncle Nicolas did not seem pleased with Jean Claude's choice.

Now they argued over what to do with the estate.

"We can't just leave it." Nick said sternly.

"We won't be leaving it. There is Fleurette still." They both looked at her. "Fleurette, cherie," said Jean Claude, "It's time you married and brought a family into this house. When I leave, the estate will be yours. You *are* my heir, you know."

Fleurette shook her head. "I don't want to marry. And I *do* wish you would speak *to* me, instead of about me. I *am* in this room, too."

"Not marry, child. Why?" Nick asked.

"Because I wish to be brought across... to be a vampire. I long to go with Jean Claude and see the world. I long to be free, Uncle Nick." As she spoke of her dreams, Fleurette's eyes shone with excitement. Nick, however, paled to the point of being ill. The blood in his wine glass suddenly sickened him and he set it down.

"I'm sorry, Father. I should have warned you about that, too." said Jean Claude quietly.

"How long has she been this way?" Nick asked, his voice stiff with anger.

"About five years now. I haven't been able to dissuade her of it."

Fleurette stood up. "I'm not Fleur." she shouted. She walked over to the fireplace and took down the painting that hung over it. Then she threw it into the flames. Nick watched as the only remaining portrait of his sister melted into the fire. Now Fleurette faced them again. "I know why you don't want me to be a vampire. It's because of her. But I'm not her, Uncle Nick. I'm me, and I'm lonely here. I want adventure and freedom. I want a real life." She sat down and began to cry.

Nick turned to Jean Claude and nodded sadly. Then he knelt before the young woman. "Cherie, your cousin and I have discussed this. I can't promise you anything, but... would you consider coming to Toronto with me? It's not like here, but it's a good place."

She looked up and wiped the tears from her eyes. "Will I become a vampire?" she asked.

"I won't be the one to do it. And I'm afraid you won't find too many there who will... dearest Fleurette, please give mortality a chance. You've been bored here, and that was wrong of us to force this life upon you. Promise me to give it a chance. Toronto will be a better place for you. You'll never have to come back here again." Nick said.

Fleurette could feel the love in his voice. She also knew that the only reason he loved her was because she looked like Fleur. But, Uncle Nicolas had touched her heart. She felt the pain and loneliness easing. She nodded.

Nick smiled. "Good. I've been lonely, too. Now I won't be any longer."

(two weeks later)

We packed up all the things Jean Claude and I wanted to keep. Uncle Nick took his mother's wedding diamond and an old cameo locket. He said they were for a friend of his. That must have been the woman, Natalie, I overheard them talking about last night. Fleurette looked at Nick and Jean Claude. They both stood, watching Brabant Manor go up in flames. From their hilltop advantage, the three travellers could see the towns people trying to put out the flame.

Suddenly, another form appeared beside them. They turned to face a strange vampire. "Martin Cross." Said Nick softly.

"Yes. It's been a while, Nicolas de Brabant." The Enforcer had been among those who had put LaCroix on trial a while back. Martin turned to Jean Claude and nodded.

Jean Claude pulled Fleurette into his arms. "Be good, cherie. If you need me, I will always come for you. And please, enjoy life." He set her down and disappeared into the night with Martin.

Shortly after that, Nick took Fleurette into his arms and they, too, flew off into the night sky. Behind them , the Brabant estate fell into ashes and ruin.

Part III

(Toronto, the police department)

Nick led Fleurette up the stairs leading to the police headquarters. The young woman had been completely amazed by Toronto. Nick mused at her child-like curiosity about the "outside world." He smiled to himself as she gazed wide-eyed at everything around her.

"You can't tell me that you've never seen television." Nick said, laughing.

"I have. Jean Claude had one in his den. Sometimes he let me watch it with him. But real life is so much different than a little world in a box." Fleurette said, still looking wildly around her. "Is this were you work? What do you do?"

"I'm a homicide detective for the Toronto police department." Nick replied. He smiled again as he saw her puzzled expression. "I investigate killings." He simplified.

"Oh! I'm sorry, I-" Fleurette began to stammer, but Nick cut her off.

"Don't apologize. Jean Claude and I were very poor guardians for not seeing to you education better." At least she had no trouble learning enough English to manage here, Nick thought as he remembered how willingly she allowed herself to be hypnotized into speaking fluent English. Apparently, speaking it was one thing, but completely understanding English was quite another.

As he led her into the main office, all eyes turned toward them. Tracy and Natalie, who had been talking at Tracy's desk, looked in stunned silence at the woman on Nick's arm.

"Well, isn't anyone going to say hello?" Nick asked, breaking the silence. Everyone laughed.

"Who's your friend, Knight?" Another officer asked.

Nick hesitated. The words "my sister" clung to the tip of his tongue. He glanced at Fleurette thoughtfully. She did look like Fleur, with that long, blond hair and blue eyes. But Fleurette's hair hung in soft curls down her back- not Fleur's straight hair- and her eyes were a colder, icy blue. Still, with her fair complexion and high cheek bones, she *could* almost be my sister, Nick thought. Then he said, "This is my niece, Fleurette Brayant," making the name change they'd agreed upon earlier. Natalie seemed to start a little but said nothing. Tracy smiled brightly enough, but still managed to say the stupidest thing possible.

"I didn't know Nick *had* family." She said with a puzzled look. Fleurette seemed ready to correct Tracy, but Nick stopped her.

"Fleurette's been living with her cousin in France. I've really never met her before last month. It's kind of hard to discuss people you've never known, Trace." He said.

Just then, Javier Vachon entered the office, making a bee-line for Tracy. In his hand was a beautiful bouquet of wild flowers. When he saw Nick and Fleurette, however, the flowers dropped from his hand in shock. "Fleurette?" He said, stunned. "Wow! You've changed."

Nick looked from one to the other. "You've met?" He asked.

Fleurette answered him. "Javi came to visit once many years ago. Jean Claude always did enjoy having visitors." She smiled at Vachon.

Vachon retrieved the fallen bouquet and plucked one flower from the center. "These are for Tracy, but I wouldn't be a gentleman if I didn't give one to an old friend." He smiled cautiously as she accepted the daisy. Then he turned to Tracy.

"What are the flowers for, Vachon?" She asked, a little annoyed that this stranger got the first one.

"You forgot about our date tonight?" He asked, looking crushed. "Trace, please say you haven't made other plans. I've been looking forward to this all week."

"I'm sorry... it must have slipped my mind in all this confusion. But, my shift just started. Why the flowers now? Tracy looked surprised.

Vachon colored slightly. Nick laughed and said playfully, "Just looking forward to it a *little* too much." Everyone laughed again.

Natalie excused herself abruptly and returned to her office. Nick's eyes followed her. They had to talk, but couldn't do it with Fleurette around. He glanced at Fleurette, who was making eyes at Vachon. She knows what he is, he thought.

"Vachon, could you do me a favor?" Nick asked.

"That all depends on what it is." Vachon replied.

"I need you to take Fleurette home for me." Vachon started to object. "Please, Vachon. I have a lot of things to straighten out tonight before I go home, but Fleurette should rest, and eat or something. I promise I'll be back before your date tonight."

Vachon caved in. As he escorted Fleurette to the door, he called to Tracy. "I *will* be back, Trace." He promised with a slight smile.

(Nat's office)

As the door closed behind him, Nick went to Natalie's side and pulled her into his arms.

"Nick!" She protested, trying to pull away. "I thought I told you never to sneak up on me like that."

"You did." He said, his voice muffled against her hair. Then he let her go. "I've missed you, Nat." He said with a grin.

"Well, it seems your vacation did you some good. You're in much better spirits now." Nat said. She pulled Nick's file from the cabinet. "I only have one complaint." She said as she handed him the file.

"What's that?"

"You never once wrote to me." Nat said with a mock-pout. "Now... what more can you add to this file?"

Slowly, Nick began to tell Natalie about his vacation. He told her how he still had some problems drinking blood, but could not eat real food yet. Her eyes shone with hope and tears as he described what the sunlight felt like on his skin. Finally, he spoke of home. "Jean Claude was right, Nat. Going home does heal one's soul." He said, tears coming to his eyes as he thought of his childhood home in ashes.

"No more nightmares?" Nat asked. Nick shook his head and accepted the congratulatory hug she offered him. "What about Fleurette? How does she fit into all of this?"

Nick sighed. "You *had* to ask. Fleurette... well... she is my niece, sort of. She's one of Fleur's descendants."

Part IV

(Nick's Loft)

Vachon and Fleurette had just arrived at Nick's loft when Vachon got the page. It was from his drummer. He quickly found Nick's phone, and a few minutes later hung up, looking annoyed.

"What is it, Javi?" Fleurette asked him.

"I've got a gig to do. Have you ever been to a night club?" Vachon replied with a wry smile. He knew she hadn't even before she shook her head no. Taking her arm, he smiled and said, "Come on. Nick did tell me to get you something to eat." They returned to the street below and sped off on Javier's motorcycle.

While he drove the bike, Vachon began to think about Fleurette and ponder her behavior since she'd arrived in Toronto. There was something different about her, something that wasn't there the last time they'd met. Whatever it was, it disturbed Javier greatly.

His uneasy feeling had actually begun on the way to Nick's loft. Vachon had made the mistake of asking her how she liked Toronto so far. That was all it took. Fleurette began to speak passionately about freedom and desires. It seemed her concept of freedom was very closely linked to vampirism. In the middle of her discourse, she would occasionally pause and smile up at Vachon, almost seductively, and tell him that she was glad to have found a friend so quickly. Discussing friendship led her to talk about Jean Claude. From the way she spoke about him, Javier knew she did more than idolize him (as she'd done seven years ago). Now it seemed quite clear to him that Fleurette had very strong feelings for her cousin- feelings which weren't altogether healthy.

The clincher for Vachon came when she hopped on the bike behind him. She pressed herself against him, holding him tightly. At first, Javier believed her tight grip to be because she was afraid of the motorcycle- it was her fist time on one. But that idea quickly dissolved when she began to nibble his earlobes and kiss the back of his neck. Vachon tensed at this. The sensation chilled him, to say the least. It seemed to him that he knew now, what bothered him about her. Seven years ago, when she was fourteen, Fleurette had been a bright, cheerful young girl. She was innocent and pure, and the world held such promise for her. Vachon remembered taking her flying, and sitting with her on the hill overlooking the Brabant estate. They would talk for hours, until almost dawn. She'd had such dreams and plans back then. But their conversation tonight told Vachon that those dreams had soured somehow. There was no innocence in her. And when she kissed him just now, he was almost repulsed by her. No, it wasn't that Vachon didn't find her attractive, because he did. But she was young, and compared to the vampires of the Community, she was still a baby. Also, he paled at the thought of this once innocent girl using her body to gain her desires. Oh yes, he guessed her intentions- find a vampire willing to bring her across, at any cost to her pride or dignity.

Vachon's thoughts broke off as he pulled into the parking lot. Helping her off the motorcycle, he glared at her coldly. "Don't ever pull a stunt like that again," he said, his voice stern.

Fleurette blinked. "But I thought--"

"Child, what happened to you to give you such thoughts? You're too young to know what you're doing," Vachon said coldly.

Fleurette's eyes blazed with frustration and anger. "Life happened to me, Javi! Or the lack thereof." Tears flowed from her blue eyes.

Javier sighed. Maybe he'd been too hard on her. After all, with the changes in her life of late, she must be pretty confused. "Come on, Fleurette, don't cry. Let's start your new life off on the right foot- as friends."

His smile stopped her tears and she nodded. "Where are we going?" She asked.

Vachon pointed to a building. "That's the Black Cat Club. That's where my gig's at tonight. But I don't have to be there fore an hour, so I'm taking you there." He said pointing to another building across the street. "Tony's. Toronto's finest Italian restaurant. Tonight the chef has prepare the most heavenly homemade spaghetti sauce. I highly recommend you try it."

As Vachon escorted her across the street, he wondered how long it would be before the rest of the Community discovered Fleurette or her near-death wish. He sighed, knowing that there were some out there who would not care if she *was* under Nick's protection. Like as not, these vampires would sooner kill her than create a fledgling.

Part V

(police department)

Nick, Natalie and Tracy stood in the parking lot talking when Vachon pulled in with Fleurette. He helped her off the bike, then busied himself by strapping his guitar to the back of the bike. As he struggled with the unruly guitar, Fleurette approached the three cops. She smiled at them brightly.

"Did Vachon show you the town?" Nick asked. Fleurette nodded.

"Javi took me to dinner, and then to... to... que veut dire une boite, uncle Nicolas?" She replied, looking confused. So much for using hypnosis to teach a language, Nick thought as Fleurette struggled for the right words.

"A night club, ma petite." Nick told her, gently smiling. His smile faded as Vachon approached. "You took my niece to a night club, Vachon?" He accused.

"It couldn't be helped, Knight. The band got asked to do a gig at the Black Cat Club. I couldn't just abandon her at your place." was Vachon's reply.

"Where did you eat? The Black Cat doesn't serve dinner." Nick said.

"Tony's. It was spaghetti night." Nick nodded in approval. Vachon smiled broadly and turned to Fleurette. "I hoped you enjoyed yourself, my dear."

"Yes, I did." Fleurette smiled back at him. Then she hopped into Nick's passenger seat.

Opening the driver's door, Nick turned to Natalie. "Would you like to come over and watch a movie tonight, Nat?" He frowned when she said no, but figured it was for the best. They *did* have a lot of unpacking to do after all. Saying good-bye to Vachon and Tracy, he and Fleurette drove off.

Natalie watched Nick drive away with a pang of regret. She half wished she could take back her no and go over to his place. She smiled as the thought of the two of them cuddling on the sofa entered her mind. The thought faded quickly, however, when she remembered Fleurette. Slowly she turned toward Tracy and Vachon.

Vachon was speaking-- "Would it bother you if I went home first to change clothes, Trace? I smell like a night club." He grinned at her. "The perils of being an entertainer."

Tracy agreed, but stopped him before he could leave. "Where are we going tonight? Tony's?" She asked.

Vachon looked uncomfortable. "I had planned on Tony's. It's a good place, and tonight is spaghetti night. Armand's spaghetti sauce is famous. But if you want, I can find another place." He looked truly sorry for taking Fleurette out earlier that night. Nat could see that Tracy was agitated by Vachon's spending time with Fleurette. It was obvious that Vachon could see it, as well.

"No. Tony's is fine." Said Tracy. "I'll see you in about an hour, right?" Vachon nodded and ventured a kiss on her cheek. When Tracy didn't flinch, he smiled. Then he was gone.

"I didn't realize you and Vachon were so close." Nat said quietly.

Tracy faced her. "We're not that close, really. He's been asking me out for months now. I guess I just caved in." She replied.

Nat smiled. She could tell there was more to it. "He seems really nice, Trace. I don't know him as well as you and Nick do, but Nick seems to trust him. Have fun tonight."

Tracy returned Nat's smile and the two women parted company. Tracy went home to prepare for her first date with Vachon. Natalie went home as well- to go over Nick's files one more time.

Part VI

(Reese's office, Monday evening)

Nick, Natalie, and Tracy stood around Captain Reese's desk. "You wanted us, Captain?" Nick asked.

"Yes." Reese said, handing him a folder. "The Montreal P.D. have asked me to loan the three of you to them. They have a case that they can't solve... and from the looks of it, it's right up your alley."

As Reese spoke, Nick looked over the reports. He frowned and handed them to Natalie. She sighed as she skimmed them and handed them to Tracy. "Looks like fun," she said sarcastically.

"Fun... " Nick echoed. He really didn't want to go to Montreal. Janette and LaCroix were there.

Tracy shot them a strange look, as if to say "what *are* you talking about?" Nick smiled weakly at her and asked, "When do we leave?"

"As soon as you're packed." Reese replied. He frowned a little. "Are you sure you're up to this, Knight? You haven't even been back a week."

Nick nodded. "I'm fine."

"Good," said Reese. "The last time I gave you a case, you almost died. Let's not repeat it, ok?"

Nick looked at his partner and Natalie, and then back to Captain Reese. "No repeats, I promise."

With that, the three left Reese's office to prepare for the trip.

(Montreal, Captain John Cahill's office)

Captain Cahill welcomed the two women warmly. "I've heard good things about you three. They say there isn't a case you can't crack." He said. Then he looked puzzled. "Detective Knight *is* coming, isn't he?"

As Nat assured him that Nick would be there shortly, he appeared. "Talk about good timing." She said.

"Sorry, Nat. I had to get Fleurette settled in at the hotel before I came." Nick said sheepishly.

"Fleurette's here too?" Tracy asked. Nick nodded sadly.

"She refused to stay behind. Besides, you and Nat are the only people I'd trust her with, so I couldn't leave her." He explained. Then he faced Captain Cahill. "Detective Knight, sir, at your service." The two men shook hands.

"You've read the reports, I assume?" Cahill asked.

Nick nodded. "It seems like the perfect case to come back to work with." He said with a wink at Nat. She laughed lightly, but paled a little. Nick knew Nat still had doubts about his health, mental or otherwise. "I'm fine, Nat. Really. I wouldn't have accepted this case if I wasn't." He said to assure her.

Cahill nodded. "So you *are* the one who was in the coma. I've heard a lot about you."

Nick's smile was forced. "Hasn't everyone. I half expect to be named officer of the year for that incident. Still, I'd rather not discuss it. Nothing about that case, or the coma, have anything to do with my ability to work on *this* case."

Cahill shook his head in amazement. "I've heard some interesting rumors about you, Knight. Some of them are good. That's why I asked for you and your partner. I hope you don't disappoint me."

Nick knew the rumors Cahill spoke of. They's been started by a reporter who'd had it in for Nick. The reporter had started questioning Nick's integrity and honesty. Rumors grew, saying he'd had connections to the mafia, ties to gangs, and links to the black market. That was why he'd been given a partner all those years ago... because they thought he needed watching. Nick nodded. "Most those rumors aren't true, you know." He said as he, sat down with Tracy and Nat to plan their strategy.

(Angel's Haven, later that night)

"Here it is, Angel's Haven." Nick said as he pulled the caddy up in front of the extravagant-looking hotel. The valet took the keys as Nick opened the door for Natalie.

"It's beautiful, Nick." She said, looking around her in awe. Tracy just looked stunned. She remained silent until Vachon met them at the night club entrance.

"What are you doing here!?" Tracy exclaimed.

"Got a gig, Trace. Gotta go where they want me, you know." Vachon grinned broadly. "Come dance with me, Trace." He said, pulling her onto the dance floor. Nick watched them, his eyes narrowing. When Javier pulled Tracy closer to him, Nick frowned.

"What's with them? I go away for a month and Tracy's practically his pet." He asked Natalie.

She shook her head. "I'm not sure. As far as I know, they've only had one date. Javier does seem to care about her, though." She paused, thoughtfully watching Tracy and Javier on the dance floor. The music had turned slower, more seductive, and Javier seemed ready to kiss his lovely dance partner. "You don't think he'll hurt her, do you?" She asked.

"No. I trust Vachon. Besides, I already told him I'd rip his head off if he hurt her in any way. It's bad enough that she knows about him."

"You threatened him?" Nat asked incredulously.

"Only a little. I *do* trust Vachon. He's a good kid." Nick replied. A wicked smile crept across his face. Swiftly, he swept Natalie into his arms and onto the dance floor.

"Nick-" She started to protest, but Nick cut her off by placing his finger to her lips. He shook his head slowly, staring deeply into her eyes.

"Please don't fight me, Nat. Just for tonight, let's have fun."

Part VII

(Angele's suite, Angel's Haven)

"I'm really glad we found you, Uncle Nick. I'd begun to think you weren't coming back for that little friend of yours." Angele said as she poured bloodwine into the three wine glasses on the table. As Janette took her own glass, Angele offered the other to Nick. He took it and sipped cautiously. When it didn't nauseate him, he took a bigger sip before setting the glass down.

"Was Fleurette too much trouble for you, princess?" He asked, using his pet name for Angele.

Janette laughed harshly. "No more trouble than we expected from *your* niece, Nicolas."

"That bad?" Nat interrupted. For the first time ever, she and Janette shared a smile.

"Worse, Natalie." Janette said. She turned a stern look upon Nick. "Are you aware that she greatly desires to be brought across. One can practically smell it on her."

"I know." Nick nodded grimly. "Has LaCroix seen her yet?"

"No, he hasn't. He's been away all evening working on the NightCrawler Show." Angele replied. "You don't want him to meet her, do you?"

Nick shook his head. "I fear that meeting. She's too much like Fleur to ignore. I worry about how LaCroix will react to her."

"React to whom, Nicholas." A voice said from the doorway. LaCroix entered the room. "Who will I react to and why should it worry you?"

Nick sighed. Oh well, he would have found out about her sooner or later. "My niece, Fleurette."

LaCroix looked slightly amused. "The one your little basher raised all by himself?" Nick nodded. "How interesting," LaCroix said with a cold smile.

"If you only knew." Nat interjected sarcastically. For the last week she'd watched as Fleurette wrapped Nick around her finger. She was very spoiled, and obviously caused a lot of trouble for those around her.

For a second, Nick smiled at Natalie's comment. Then he turned serious as he faced LaCroix. "We have things to discuss, LaCroix." He said.

"I know, and if you do not mind, Nicholas, I would like to begin the conversation. Tell me, how *are* you feeling? I have heard some very interesting rumors. You'd be surprised at the things people are saying about you." LaCroix said. He smiled a slightly warm smile, but it still held a hint of his natural cruelty.

Nat faced him sharply. "How's he feeling!? If you wanted to know so badly, why did you run off when he needed you the most? You *promised* him you'd come back to see to his needs, and you never did. Nick almost died because of you, you bastard!" Nat shook with anger as she screamed at him. And LaCroix's cool attitude didn't calm her any. She seemed ready to attack him when Nick caught her up in his arms.

"Shhhh... shhh... Nat, I'm fine, remember? I didn't die and I'm fine," He said. "Besides," He chuckled softly, "I doubt your anger does any more than amuse LaCroix. He *has* faced worse, after all."

"But Nick, he deserves to know what his negligence has caused. All the pain, the hard time you had healing, not being able to eat or feed, the nightmares. Especially the nightmares, Nick. He caused it all and he doesn't even seem to care. You tell me you're fine, and I'd love to believe you, but I can't. Look at you. You're thinner and paler now than you've ever been. How can you be fine?" Tears slid down her cheeks as she spoke. Nick held her closer, cradling her gently in his arms. He whispered soothing words into her ears until the tears stopped and she looked up at him. Then he smiled and kissed her forehead softly.

Janette watched them, seemingly troubled. When Natalie finished crying, she spoke. "What nightmares? What is she talking about, Nicolas?"

LaCroix frowned. "Janette doesn't know about your problems, Nicholas." He said, swiftly cutting off any other reply. "When Javier first told me how you were, she was still nursing her own injuries. I chose not to tell her about you, for fear it would upset her."

"You knew!" Nat screamed at him. "You bastard! You knew about Nick's problems all along and you didn't help him!" She tried to lunge at him, but Nick still held her tightly.

"Nat! I wouldn't upset him if I were you." Nick hissed sharply.

LaCroix raised his hands in mock surrender. "The Good Doctor has a point, Nicholas. And if she will indulge me just a little bit, I will explain why I have not yet returned to Toronto." He said. Nat frowned at his superior tone, but nodded slightly.

"This I gotta here," she muttered to Nick.


Nat sat down on the nearest chair, completely stunned. "I didn't just hear that, did I Nick?" Nick nodded slowly. He, too, could not believe LaCroix's excuse for bad parenting.

Sensing his doubt, LaCroix said, "It is true, Nicholas. Every word I said is the perfect truth."

Nick struggled for words that would not come. He'd gone over every possible reason for LaCroix's absence, but nothing compared to this revelation. LaCroix had just told them that he had not returned because he'd hoped Nick would be able to find his cure. I thought that if I did not assist the Good Doctor in bringing you back to health, you might heal yourself. Then maybe, without your Master's healing blood, you might have found your precious cure, Nicholas, he'd said. That doesn't sound like the LaCroix I know. Nick thought. He'd been shaking his head "no" in disbelief. Finally he spoke.

"Are you feeling all right? Maybe the hunter hurt you worse than you thought." He said, unable to accept what he heard.

"It is true, Nicolas." said Janette. "Our Master decided it was time to let you follow you dream."

"Why? What does *he* get out of it?" Nick asked.

"Would you believe, a son?" Janette walked over and gently placed her hands on Nick's shoulders. "LaCroix would never admit this to anyone, Nicolas, but he is very proud of you." She paused, a tear fell from her cheek. "Nicolas, who do you think he tried to save first,that night in the catacombs?" She asked him.

"You. It was obvious that he gave up on me." Nick said, unsure of where Janette was going with this.

Janette shook her head. "He tried to save you first. He didn't have to. He could have let deGuerre finish you off while he escaped into the night. But he didn't, Nick. When you fell before deGuerre, LaCroix killed him. Because of you. And then he knelt before you and offered you the first drops of blood from his wrists. But you were too far gone to take them. It was only then that he turned to me." Nick looked blankly at her. "Nicolas, don't you see? LaCroix is giving you the freedom to find your cure. It is his way of thanking you for your sacrifice."

Nick stared at Janette in stunned silence. Awe shone in his eyes. "I still don't understand why." He said at last.

LaCroix smiled. "You do not have to understand it, Nicholas, only accept it. Now, tell me how your healing process is coming along."

Natalie took over from there. She told them all about Nick's nightmares and filled them in on his progress thus far. The vampires all seemed concerned about Nick's troubles with blood.

"How does he stay alive if he can't feed... or even eat?" Angele asked. Nat smiled and explained how they'd been gradually introducing soups and broths into Nick's diet.

"He seems to have taken a liking to tomato soup," She said with a grin.

Then she continued her progress report by explaining Nick's "sun therapy." As Natalie outlined Nick's gradual resistance to sunlight, the vampires listened closely.

The more he heard, LaCroix's frown deepened. When Natalie finished her monologue, he spoke. "This all sounds interesting, Nicholas. But do promise me one thing. Do not be hasty in seeking your cure."

"I thought you weren't going to interfere this time." Nick said, he began to think LaCroix'd been lying to him.

"I merely do not wish you to over exert yourself. You are still weak, or at least you seem so. We don't need to weaken any further," was LaCroix's defense. Nick nodded. LaCroix's advice *did* make sense.

The group talked late into the early morning. They discussed that fateful night in the catacombs, then moved on to other things. Nick took great interest in Angele's hotel business, and commented on it's apparent success in so short a time. This, of course, led them to a discussion of art and music-- Javier's band and Marius's upcoming novel among other things.


(Nick's loft, two weeks later)

Nick watched the sunlight dance across the floor. He still could not believe that LaCroix had such a sudden change of heart. More amazing was the fact that LaCroix had been right about his cure-- he was finding it, now that he'd begun to heal. Nick went to the window and looked out. The sky was so blue and so clear that it took his breath away.

"Penny for your thoughts, uncle?" Fleurette said, watching him from the sofa. He didn't answer her. "Uncle Nick?" She said, raising her voice slightly.

"Sorry, cherie. I was just thinking about how long its been since I've led a normal life." He grinned at her,like a child. "I have a feeling it will work this time. This *has* to be the right cure."

Fleurette returned the smile. "I hope so, uncle. How long are you trying for today?" She asked, indicating to the window.

"About forty-five minutes to an hour. Last time I made it up a half hour. I really feel as though I'm making progress."

"So, when are you going to try it outside, instead of through the window?" Fleurette asked. Nick's "progress" had been achieved filtered through a plate glass window.

"Some day, little flower. And then I'll take you wherever you want to go; beaches, picnics, you name it."

"Take *me* where I want, uncle? I would have thought it would be Natalie you would want to go places with." Fleurette said innocently.

The smile melted from Nick's face. He wanted to ask Nat to marry him, but he was afraid to. He turned abruptly and walked to his bedroom. "Close the blinds." He said before slamming the door behind him.

Puzzled, Fleurette picked up the remote and the blinds slid shut. Darkness returned to the loft. Then she tiptoed over to peek in at Nick. He sat on his bed, holding his mother's ring. Nick didn't see Fleurette, but she could see that he was crying.

***Fade to Flashback***

Lady de Brabant sat cleaning her jewelry when her son entered the room with his new lady friend on his arm. She smiled at him warmly. "Still cleaning your trinkets, mamman?" He asked, picking through the gold and silver objects before him.

His mother sighed. "You know I hate it when your father hosts these fancy banquets. It means I have to dress up and wear these useless baubles. I feel so out of place at these events."

Nicolas laughed at her as he looked though the treasures. Her "useless baubles" were actually beautiful pieces of jewelry, some of which he'd brought back with him from the Crusades. The others were things his father had given her years before.

Janette glanced over each item as Nicolas held it up. She seemed to be assessing what might someday be hers, when she became Nicolas's wife. Nothing in the small chest really interested her, however. Watching her, Nicolas saw her eyes stray to the diamond ring upon his mother's finger. He knew she longed to try it on.

"Mother, may I see your ring," he asked. Smiling, she took the ring off and handed it to her son. Nicolas examined it closely. "This ring was made for my great grandmother for her wedding day. My grandfather gave it to grandmother on their wedding day, and my father in turn gave it to mother. Someday, my wife will wear this same ring." So saying, he slipped the ring onto Janette's finger. It fell back into his open palm.

"It doesn't fit, Nicolas." His mother said pointedly. They exchanged glances. Nicolas knew what his mother was hinting at. He also knew that his mother did not fully approve of Janette.

Janette pouted. "It can be made to fit, can't it Nicolas." She said, purring at him.

Nicolas shook his head sadly. As much as he would have liked to see his family's ring on Janette's finger, he knew it could not be altered. "I'm sorry, Janette." He said soothingly. "This ring is a priceless heirloom; it can never be altered."

"More than that, my son." His mother added. "There is the legend, if you believe in such things."

"What legend?" Janette asked, her curiosity peaked.

Lady de Brabant smiled cunningly. "It is said that this ring will only fit the finger of it's rightful owner. It knows to whom it belongs, they say." Taking the ring from Nicolas, she slipped it back onto her own finger- a perfect fit. Smiling slyly at Janette, she left unsaid the obvious implication that Janette was not the right woman for her son to marry.

Janette flushed with anger. "Well, I never wanted that old trinket anyway. Nicolas will find a much nicer one for me to wear." She said with a pout as she stormed from the room.

Nicolas turned to follow her, but his mother stopped him. "She's not right for this family, Nicolas. The ring doesn't lie. Please don't marry her." She said softly.

Nicolas scowled at his mother, hating her at this moment more than he had ever hated another living soul. "I will marry who I please, mother." He hissed. "And it will be Janette, with or without your ring." He left, slamming the door behind him.

But in his mind, her words echoed.

It knows to whom it belongs.

***End flashback***

(The precinct, that night)

Natalie listened as the phone continued to ring. As she began to hang up, Nick's voice sounded on the other end. He sounded confused.

"Well, it's about time you answered your phone. You *are* coming to work tonight, aren't you?" Nat asked.

"Work?" Nick said, still sounding foggy. Then the fog lifted. "Oh, no! I'm late for work. I must've overslept. Is Reese upset with me?"

"No. You'd be surprised at how calm he's being about this." Nat said, obviously amused. "Why didn't Fleurette answer the phone, Nick?"

Nick was quiet for a while. Then he said, "She left me a note. She went out for the night. 'Don't wait up,' it says."

"Well, that explains why she didn't answer the phone. You'd better get over here." She laughed at him.

"I'll be there shortly. Umm, Nat... would you meet me at the Raven after work tonight? I have to talk to you about something important." Said Nick cautiously.

"Sure. See ya soon." Nat hung up.

Back at his loft, Nick set the phone gently in its cradle. He dressed quickly for work. Before he left, however, he picked up the cameo necklace and the diamond ring. Staring at them thoughtfully, he stuck them in his pocket. I'll ask her tonight, he decided.

Part IX

(The Raven)

LaCroix smiled as Nick worked his way across the crowded dance floor. As he seated himself at the bar, LaCroix's eyes narrowed. "There is something different about you tonight, Nicholas. I can feel it." He said.

Nick looked confused. "What do mean?" He asked.

LaCroix shook his head in disbelief over how thick-headed his son could be sometimes. Then he sighed, and signaled for the bartender to bring them a bottle of the "house special." Nick took his glass and sniffed it indifferently, then he set it down, untouched. "I believe," said LaCroix with a slight sneer, "*that* is what is different about you. How long has it been since you fed, Nicholas?"

Reality dawned on Nick. "About a week. Does it show?"

LaCroix laughed bitterly. "You are not quite mortal yet, Nicholas. But I feel the changes in you, as I should, being your Creator. How does it feel to know that you will soon be free of me, and of this lifestyle?"

Nick lowered his eyes, as if in shame. Something in the tone of LaCroix's voice filled him with sadness. Then he looked into his Master's eyes. For one brief moment there was an emotion-- perhaps love, perhaps loss-- in LaCroix's eyes. Then the ancient vampire re-established his mask of indifference and cruelty. "Well?" He demanded.

Nick sighed. "It feels good. I believe I will soon be able to go outdoors during the day. You can't possibly know how excited I am." He said.

"No, I couldn't possibly know that..." LaCroix muttered under his breath. Nick didn't seem to hear him. LaCroix studied his favorite child closely. He *was* still a vampire, that was obvious. But the vampirism in him was fading at a remarkably rapid rate. In the last few days, LaCroix had felt his connection to Nicholas growing weaker. Tonight, he didn't even detect Nick's presence in the club until he'd seen him. I shall miss him, LaCroix thought.

"Tell me, Nicholas, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" He asked suddenly.

"I didn't come here to see you. I'm meeting Natalie. She should be here any minute." was Nick's reply.

LaCroix looked hurt. "You're bringing the Good Doctor *here* on a date? Aren't you afraid someone will hurt her?" His voice was soaked with bitterness.

Nick looked surprised. He hadn't figured LaCroix would act this way. After all, he'd brought Nat to the Raven before. "If you want us to leave, we will. I just thought you would want to be the first to know."

"Know what?"

"I'm going to ask Natalie to marry me tonight." He brought out the ring and handed it to LaCroix.

LaCroix tensed as he touched the ring. He remembered Janette's reaction when Lady de Brabant's wedding ring would not fit her finger. "This is your mother's ring, is it not? The one which would not fit Janette?" Nick nodded.

As he handed the ring back to Nick, LaCroix searched the room. "Your lady is here, Nicholas. Come, I'll show you both to a quiet table." His voice was distant and cold.

Natalie nearly collapsed when Nick brought out the cameo necklace and slipped it around her neck.

"Oh, Nick! It's so... so lovely. Where did you find something so beautiful?" She asked, practically glowing.

"It belonged to my mother. I found it during the Crusades and brought it home to her." Nick didn't tell her that he'd found it in the home of a wealthy nobleman in Jerusalem-- while he was ransacking it.

Natalie smiled, and leaning across the table, kissed his cheek gently. "Thank you," she said softly.

A waitress arrived, bearing a bottle of white wine and two glasses. She set the glasses down on the table, and asked if she should fill them.

"I didn't order any wine." Nick said, looking confused.

The waitress smiled. "The owner, Mr. LaCroix, sent it over for you. Shall I take it back?"

"No," Nick replied, indicating that she could serve them now. When the waitress left, Nick glanced over at the bar. LaCroix made eye contact with him and nodded his head briefly. "I'll be right back," Nick told Natalie. He walked over to LaCroix and leaned against the bar. "What now?" He asked impatiently.

"Oh, dear. Have I upset you, Nicholas?" LaCroix said. "I merely wished to know how she answered your question."

"I haven't asked her yet."

"No? I thought as much. But that necklace certainly is familiar. Haven't I seen it before?" LaCroix asked sarcastically. He knew exactly where and how Nick acquired the cameo.

"Yes." Nick said stiffly. "That *is* the necklace I took from that estate in Jerusalem. You're never going to let me forget it, are you?"

"Did you tell Natalie where you got it from?" LaCroix asked.

"No. I told her it belonged to my mother. Which is the truth, since I gave it to Mother."

"But, Nicholas, you stole it from someone else. You never told your mother that either, did you?" For a moment, LaCroix sounded like Nick's conscious-- the moment faded, however, with the smirk which crept across his face.

Nick sighed. He hated defending his actions, especially ones he couldn't correct. "It was the Middle Ages, for Heaven's sake. A time when people were not as open minded as they are today; people who looked or acted differently were considered sinners and heretics. I was no better than any other young man at the time-- brainwashed by my government into thinking I was acting with God's own permission. Am I now to atone for stupidity?" He turned on his heal and walked away from LaCroix, who continued to smirk at him with an air of superiority.

"What was that all about?" Nat asked when he sat down again.

"I'd rather not discuss it right now," Nick said, still quite annoyed. What gave LaCroix of all people the right to act so self-righteous?

Suddenly the music stopped. Vachon's voice came over the speakers, announcing a request dedication for Nick and Natalie. Nick started when the love song began to play. He hadn't heard it since the night he and Janette were married. Janette. Hearing that song made him remember how much he'd loved her-- and how much he still did love her. A tear rolled down his cheek as he remembered the first time he danced with Janette- to this very song.

When Natalie wiped the tear away with her finger, he pushed the conflicting thoughts from his mind. Janette was in his past now. She had no place in his life anymore. Slowly, as if in a trance, Nick took the ring box from his coat pocket. Placing it on the table, he took Natalie's hands in his own. "Nat, I asked you here tonight because I... I wanted to tell you... to say... I love you."

Natalie was speechless. He'd never actually said those words to her before. "I love you too, Nick." She said quietly.

Nick took a deep breath. "Natalie Lambert," He said, opening the box. "Would you honor me by consenting to be my wife?" Nick pressed the box into her open palm.

Natalie sat in stunned silence. First it was "I love you," and now he was saying, "will you marry me?" These were the seven words she had never expected to hear Nick say. She nodded her head slowly, still unable to speak.

Then, very slowly, Nick took the ring from the box and slipped it gently onto her left-hand ring finger. It was a perfect fit. He, too, was silent. The ring doesn't lie. His mother's voice echoed in this mind.

LaCroix watched the couple from a dark corner. Dr. Lambert's answer had obviously been a yes. Still, Nicholas seemed less enthused than he should have been. It couldn't have been because of the song I dedicated to them, could it? LaCroix thought sarcastically. He knew the sentimental hold that song had on him. Natalie perhaps did not recognize the medieval tune, but Nicholas certainly had.

LaCroix suddenly wondered what he'd hoped to gain from playing with Nick's emotions so cruelly. Surely, it would merely drive them further apart. Maybe that *is* what I want; for him to hate me so much that he'll never cross my path again. Then again... why should hurting Nicholas give me pleasure? LaCroix's eyes narrowed. Conflicting emotions? Over what? Certainly not over losing Nicholas to *her*, that's for sure. I'm losing my family... LaCroix thought, as he turned away from Nick and Natalie to re-read the letter in his hand. It was from Janette. She was feeling much better, and had apparently fallen in love-- with a mortal. As LaCroix read Janette's letter, he did not see Nick and Nat leave the Raven.

Part X

(Nick's loft, a week later)

Vachon sat on Nick's leather sofa, looking frustrated. "Come on, Knight. You can't still be angry about that song. I said I was sorry. I mean... if I'd known it was Janette's song, I wouldn't have played it. I wasn't even around then." Javier protested.

"I'm not angry with you, Javier. It's LaCroix." He paused and turned from the window to look at Vachon. "That night, LaCroix and I had words."

"About what?"

"In case you haven't noticed, I'm practically human again." Vachon nodded.

"Who hasn't noticed? How soon will you be fully cured?" He asked.

"I don't know. But that's not the point, Javier. I just don't get it. LaCroix said he was letting me pursue my cure freely this time-- no hindrances. But now that I'm almost there, he's angry with me. I can't figure out why."

"And what about Natalie? He never did seem to like her." Vachon said.

Nick nodded. "I know that. All that night he kept trying to start something, as if he wanted to spoil the evening for us. I think he would have been happy if Nat had turned me down. And then that song."

"How does it fit in to all this?"

"I danced with Janette to that tune the night we first fell in love. Afterwards, they played it at our joining. It was our song. LaCroix requested it, no doubt, to remind me of my first love... to remind me of what I am throwing away by becoming human again." There was a far-away look in Nick's eyes.

Vachon cleared his throat, bringing Nick back to reality. "It's late, Nick, and as much as I'd love to stay up all day chatting with you, home is calling me. I just wanted to know that you forgave me." He smiled awkwardly. "I feel so used."

Nick returned the smile. "Yes, I do forgive you. And I have something to ask of you as well. We will still be friends once I go back across, won't we, Javier?"

Vachon looked uncomfortable. He hadn't fully realized what Nick's complete withdrawal from the Community meant until now. It meant Nick wasn't one of them-- he was their prey. He nodded slowly and slapped Nick on the back. "Of course we'll still be friends. We'll still have Tracy to keep us together."

"That's another thing." Nick said as Javier went to leave. "Tracy. My threat still stands. I *will* kill you if do anything to her, even if I am a mere mortal."

Javier grinned as he left. He knew Nick would try to keep his word, if he ever had to.

Part XI

(A week later)

Nick sat on the park bench, watching Natalie and Fleurette feed the squirrels. The sun was hot that day, and Nick watched anxiously for signs of burning, but there were none. He was cured. There was nothing left of the vampire within him. Since his confrontation with LaCroix two weeks earlier, the vampirism had faded into oblivion. Now, it was only a memory.

He passed his hand over his eyes. I have to get used to the sun being so hot, he thought. He walked over to the two women and knelt beside them.

"Are you ok? You look flushed." Nat said, looking concerned.

Nick smiled weakly. "I guess I'm just not used to it. I'll adapt."

"Well, in the meantime," said Nat, "it might be best if we called it a day. We don't need you getting heat stroke."

So saying, the three walked back to Nick's caddy. Dropping Natalie off at home, Nick gave her a lingering, passionate kiss good-bye. Then, promising to see her at work, he headed home with Fleurette.

Fleurette checked the clock nervously. Uncle Nick had been asleep an awfully long time. If he didn't get up soon, he would be late for work. She smiled ruefully when she thought of how easy it had been for him as a vampire to get to work. Now, they both had to be more conscious of time. She knocked on his bedroom door. Nothing. She knocked again, louder this time. Still, there was no answer. "Uncle Nick?" She called out, unsure. Still no response.

Fleurette pushed the door open. What she saw froze her dead in her tracks. Nick lay on the bed, as if asleep. But his skin was pallid and he didn't seem to be breathing. Fleurette rushed to his side. Holding her ear inches above Nick's face, she listened for sounds of breathing. Yes! He was breathing, if only slightly. She looked him over carefully. Slight burn marks covered his arms. Fleurette remembered once when she's left one of Jean Claude's windows open while she cleaned his room. The next morning he'd had similar burns from where the sun touched him before he could close the curtains. But how? Uncle Nick is supposed to be human now!

Unsure of what to do, and scared, Fleurette called Javier. He told her to stay with Nick and not to panic. Within minutes, Vachon arrived with LaCroix beside him. When Fleurette saw them, she broke into tears... "I think he's dying," She cried.

LaCroix knelt beside his one-time child. "How long has he been like this?" He asked.

"I... I don't know. He was very tired today, and wanted to sleep before work. He went to bed just after lunch. I didn't suspect anything until he... he..." She started to cry again. Javier held her in his arms. He quietly hushed her.

"Fleurette, is that your name?" LaCroix asked. When she nodded, he continued. "You must calm down. Call the precinct. Tell Captain Reese that your uncle is ill and cannot work tonight." Fleurette rose to obey LaCroix's authoritative voice.

"What about Natalie?" She asked as she picked up the phone.

"The Good Doctor need not be worried about Nicholas. Besides, there is really nothing she can do for him. It is as you said, he is dying." LaCroix said sternly.

Fleurette made the call, then burst into tears once more.

"Cry not, child. I will save your uncle. I am the only one who can." LaCroix said softly as he bared his fangs and bit deeply into Nick's neck.

Part XII

(The precinct, that same night)

Natalie walked up to Tracy. "Where's Nick?" She asked.

"Reese didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what? What's wrong?" Natalie asked.

"Fleurette called in about twenty minutes ago. She said Nick wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be in tonight. I would have thought someone would tell you." Tracy said, looking confused.

Nat's thoughts raced. Nick was ill? He'd looked flushed at the park this afternoon. And he'd sounded weak and tired when she'd called earlier that evening. He said he needed sleep. I should gone over there. Without stopping to tell anyone where she was going, Nat rushed out the door.


Javier Vachon stopped Natalie as she stepped into the elevator. He propelled her out of it, into the street. "Get out of my way, Vachon." She said angrily. "I have to see Nick."

"And I have orders not to let you up there." Vachon said, blocking her way.

"Whose orders? What's going on?" Suddenly another thought occurred to her. The Enforcers. Could it be that they'd found out about Nick's cure and come to eliminate him? "Is Nick in trouble, Vachon... I mean, the Enforcers... they haven't..."

Vachon cut her off. "I'm not at liberty to tell you anything, Natalie. So please don't ask." Seeing her obvious pain and worry, Vachon relaxed his guard a little.

Seizing this opportunity, Natalie aimed a swift kick in the general direction of his manhood and bolted into the elevator. Seconds later, she burst through the door, with Vachon right behind her.

"I tried to stop her." He whined as LaCroix snarled at the interruption.

"Drink!" LaCroix barked at Nick, who had dropped LaCroix's wrist upon seeing Natalie. He looked up at LaCroix and guiltily shook his head. "Nicholas," LaCroix hissed, "you're helping no one by being stubborn. Drink." Mechanically, Nick obeyed. Minutes later, LaCroix wrenched his wrist from Nick's mouth and handed him a bottle. Then he turned to Vachon. "So you couldn't even guard her properly." He accused.

"She doesn't fight fair." Vachon said with a whimper.

"It's no matter now." LaCroix said, turning to Natalie. "I suppose you want to know what's happened."

"I can see what's happened. You've brought Nick back across." Natalie said stiffly. She looked to where Nick sat, greedily gulping the blood LaCroix had given him. Fleurette stood beside him, looking pale and sad.

LaCroix took her by the arm, and led her to the doorway. Once they were in relative privacy, he looked her straight in the eye. "I didn't do it without reason. He was dying, Natalie." Slowly, LaCroix explained what had happened. "The only explanation I can give you," he concluded, "is that it wasn't the right time. Perhaps, this cure was too soon in coming, or maybe it was not meant to be."

Natalie blinked back her tears and glanced over at Nick. Vachon and Fleurette had helped him to his feet and were easing him onto the sofa. "So you get to keep your son, while I loose him forever." She said softly.

"Not forever." LaCroix replied, touching the diamond on her finger.

Natalie laughed bitterly. "How can I marry him now?" She asked.

"How can you desert him, when he is in need of love and understanding?" LaCroix asked as he disappeared into the night.

(two weeks later)

*Another excerpt from Natalie Lambert's vampire journals*

-- I have decided to take LaCroix's advice and wait until Nick is more fully recovered before I re-administer any treatments. The general consensus is that we were on the right track, but started too soon. We really had no way of knowing how deGuerre's magic would effect Nick. The worst part about this whole situation is that I've driven Nick away from me. He was crushed when I gave the ring back to him. He kept saying that it rightfully belonged to me and insisted that I keep it. When I told him that I could not, in all good conscience, keep it, he just turned and walked away. Since then, he's barely spoken to me, unless he absolutely has to. And Vachon tells me he hangs out at the Raven more often now. LaCroix said not to desert Nick in his hour of need, but Nick's already abandoned me.

With Love,