Explanations Explanations
by Fleurette

Part I

A golden-haired man dressed in black sat in an obscure corner of a dark, run-down bar. He was drinking straight whiskey, and as a result, was on his way to becoming very drunk. He would have been at the Raven that night (he liked it better than this dive), except LaCroix had told him not to come back until he'd come to his senses. That had been two weeks ago, and the man in black had not ventured near the Raven since then. He did not like being told what to do, not by anyone, and especially not by LaCroix. Not that it mattered where he did his hunting. Toronto offered him plenty of delectable meals, if he knew where to look. He did. After all this time in Toronto, it was hard not to know where to look for willing victims.

Growing bored with his dingy surroundings, he left the bar in search of any excitement he could find. This time it turned out to be a strip joint two blocks away.

Seated at a table close to the edge of the runway, the black- clad man watched the raven-haired dancer with eager delight. She was tall, pleasingly thin, and firm breasted. Yes, he thought, holding out a twenty dollar bill to the woman, you're the one I want tonight, sweet-thing. A nice treat to satisfy my sweet tooth. When she leaned over to the bill, he grabbed her by the wrist, almost pulling her off the stage. He looked deeply into her eyes and spoke, his voice resonating hypnotically, "You'd like to meet me at the bar after your routine, wouldn't you?" She nodded dumbly before continuing her dance as if nothing had happened. The man leaned back in his chair, a smile spreading slowly across his face. Maybe if this one pleases me, I'll let her live... He thought darkly.

As the next dancer strutted on stage, he stood and made his way to the bar. Moments later, the dark-haired dancer approached him. "May I buy you a drink?" He asked her.

"Yes, please." She replied, sitting down on the nearest bar stool. The man sat next to her.

Turning to the bartender, he said, "Scotch on the rocks for me and whatever the lady desires."

"My name is Keri." She told him. He smiled at her, all the while thinking how unimportant her name was to him. He only wanted her blood.

(The Precinct, the next night)

"Hi, Nick." Tracy was beaming brightly. "How was your day off?"

"To tell you the truth, Trace, I can't seem to remember very much about it. The entire night is foggy." Nick sat down at his desk.

"Well, that's odd."

"Tell me about it. I'm just hoping whatever it is I can't remember wasn't too exciting." Nick shot her a smile. "How was yours?"

"Oh, you know... the usual." A wistful smile appeared on Tracy's face. Nick nodded, knowing that "the usual" must have involved Vachon. The Spaniard was trying very hard to win Tracy's trust and love. Since Montreal almost four months ago, they'd been out on several dates, but Nick knew that Tracy was still holding Javier at arms length most of the time. Nick seemed ready to comment on "the usual" when Captain Reese pulled open his office door rather forcefully.

"Knight! Vetter! In here now!" He ordered. As Nick jumped to his feet, he could see frustration and anger in his captain's eyes. He shot Tracy a questioning glance. She merely shrugged and followed her partner into the office.

"What's up, Cap?" Nick asked, closing the door behind him as Reese indicated. Reese tossed him a folder, a disgusted look on his face.

He said, "Another girl got killed last night. The same style as the last three we found." He sighed. "I sure wish we could catch the slime that did this."

Nick nodded as he read the report. Then he shook his head sadly. There had been twelve other murders similar to this one in the last three months. So far, none of those case had been solved.

(An apartment across town)

Upon entering the apartment, Nick took one look at the dead girl and froze dead in the doorway. A blinding pain assaulted his temples. Then, in the back of his mind, Nick saw himself in this same apartment. He was having sex with a young woman-- the woman who now lay dead on the floor. Then Nick saw himself biting deeply into the woman's neck. At first, he felt the pleasure she had felt from the sex, but pleasure quickly turned to pain and fear as Keri realized she was being killed. Nick swallowed hard, trying to rid himself of her taste. And he *could* still taste her. The frightening thing was... he was enjoying it and enjoying the rush of power killing her gave him.

The realization that he'd murdered someone and was enjoying it immensely scared Nick. He turned pale, with a tight, drawn expression on his face. Natalie, Tracy, and several of the other officers stared at him. Nat seemed ready to say something when Nick turned on his heel rather abruptly and walked off.

(Nat's office)

Nick appeared behind Natalie as she examined Keri's body. "May I speak to you privately, Nat?" He asked, a formal and nervous tone in his voice. This was the first time he and Natalie had been alone since they's broken up three months earlier. And in light of what he had to tell her, Nick was scared.

"Why sure, Nick. You *do* know that I always have time for you, don't you?" Nat had spent those three months trying to convince Nick that she still cared about him very deeply. She turned to face him and was shocked at the miserable, sickly look on his face. "Nick! Are you ok? You look worse than you did earlier tonight!" She exclaimed.

"No, Nat... I'm not ok. I'm scared. I know who killed this girl."

"Who?" Nat asked. She figured he'd name one of the vampires from the Community.

"I did." Slowly, painfully, Nick told her about the vision he'd had at the apartment, leaving nothing out. "What's worse, Nat, I now think I may have killed those other three girls as well. But I don't remember any of it."

"How is this possible?" Nat looked concerned.

"Lately something strange has been happening to me. I don't really know what it is or how long it's been going on. I leave work every night and head for home, but then I wake up not knowing how or when I got home. Every night, I lose precious hours, and I don't remember what I've done. Tonight I remembered some of it. I saw a hateful, evil man, and that man was me... But then, he wasn't me at the same time. I just can't explain what's happened." Nick swallowed hard, tears coming to his eyes.

"Oh, Nick..." Natalie came to him, opening her arms to him. Nick allowed himself to be gathered up in her arms. He wept like a child, helpless and afraid.

Gradually, Nick quieted and straightened up stiffly. Sensing a change in him, Nat looked up into his eyes. Nick loomed before her, but not as himself. A shadow had fallen across his face. His eyes blazed red, and he wore a malicious expression.

The stranger with Nick's face grabbed Natalie roughly, forcing her up against the wall. He pressed his body against hers, pinning her. Not only was this vampire angry, he was also very aroused. Fear filled Natalie as she wondered whether he would rape her or just plain kill her.

The stranger laughed. "So, it's you, little bitch. I knew we'd meet soon. Tell me, my darling, why do you tremble so? Perhaps you are glad to see me? Perhaps you want me to do you the way I did our friend Keri over there?"

"W-W-What did you do to Keri?" Nat stuttered.

Nick's alter-ego smiled evilly. He pressed harder, crushing her against the wall. Nat cried out in pain. "What does one do with a whore, sweet innocence? Why... I gave her a good fucking... and then I killed her." He laughed at his own cleverness.

Natalie paled. "So, you want to rape me and then kill me, right?" She asked.

"No, doll. I want you to want me to fuck you." He smiled that evil smile again. "Then I'll kill you... unless, of course, you please me. Keri didn't please me. Neither did Tammy, or Buni, or Hope."

"Then why are you here?"

"I'm here," Nick's dark half snarled, "to warn you. Don't tell anyone what you know. If you do--"

"If I do?" Nat interrupted boldly. In response, the vampire pressed his lips against her neck, kissing roughly. Lightly he ran his fangs across her skin, leaving behind a long, bleeding scratch.

"See ya 'round, toots." He quipped, releasing her.

(The Raven)

Natalie pushed her way in to the bar just as LaCroix was about to lock up. Vachon, Urs, and the band were still there.

"We're closed." LaCroix stated the obvious.

"This can't wait." Nat snapped.

The vampires circled her, smelling the blood from her scratch. Natalie had rush out (once her knees stopped shaking) without tending to her wound. It hadn't seemed important to her at the time. Now she wished she had. Urs approached her and reached out, pushing aside the hair which hid the scratch. The blood was dried and the wound was beginning to close. The vampires backed off slowly in disappointment.

"What happened to you?" Urs asked.

"Nick." Nat replied crisply.

"Come again?" Vachon asked incredulously.

"Nick attacked me and I'd like to speak to LaCroix about it... alone." Nat replied. She'd begun to shake again. LaCroix ushered her into his office.

(Nick's loft, around 4 p.m. the next day)

Fleurette wasn't there when Natalie let herself in. "Nick... Nick..." She called out, but there was no answer. Nat worked her way to the bedroom door and opened it quietly. Nick lay in bed... no on the bed... still dressed in his clothes from the night before. "Nick, wake up..." She whispered.

"Mmmm-ummmm..." Nick moaned softly. He rolled over and opened his eyes. "Nat?" He said groggily.

"Wake up, sleepy head." She grinned, feigning cheerfulness. As Nick sat up, still blinking in confusion, Nat hugged him.

It was then that he noticed the band-aid on her neck. "What happened, Nat? Are you ok?"

Natalie nodded. "I'm fine. Sydney scratched me earlier today, that's all," she lied.

"Oh... why are you here?" Nick asked, yawning.

"I spoke to LaCroix last night about your problem. He called me a little while ago and told me to give you this." From her purse, she retrieved a slip of paper and handed it to Nick. "It's Janette's address. She and LaCroix have come up with a way to help you."

"What way?" Nick asked, looking the paper over gingerly.

"Have you ever heard of a hospital in Northern Pennsylvania run by a Dr. Franklin Stein?"

Nick shook his head. "I've heard of Stein, though. They say he's quite odd. He's in charge of a hospital?"

"That's what LaCroix says. LaCroix also said that Stein thinks he can help you, if you're willing." Nat replied.

"What about Fleurette? And work? I just can't leave everything, can I?" Nick asked.

Nat shot him a black look. "Fleurette *is* twenty-one, almost twenty-two now. She *can* take care of herself, Nick. And besides, I'll be there to look out for her."

"Work?" Nick persisted.

"For tonight I can call Reese and I tell him you're sick. LaCroix said to leave the rest to him and Janette. Please, Nick, go."

Nick looked at the address in his hand once more. Then he looked at Nat and sighed. "Ok. I will, if you think it will help."

(Two weeks later, the Raven after closing)

LaCroix, Natalie, Vachon and Fleurette sat in LaCroix's office waiting for their guests to arrive. None spoke.

Presently, there came a knock on the door. LaCroix rose to answer it. Three figures entered the room. One of them, a woman in her early thirties, stepped forward. "You are Lucien LaCroix?" She asked, holding out her hand. LaCroix shook hands with her awkwardly.

"Yes... and you must be Vincientia Price, Dr. Stein partner?" He said, looking her over. The mortal woman was tall, almost six foot. She wore a tight-fitting navy skirt and navy blazer over an ivory shell. Her long black hair was pulled back in a golden designer hair clip. Strands of it were coming loose everywhere, making her appear very desirable.

LaCroix turned to look at the younger woman next to her. This one couldn't be anymore than twenty-five, maybe younger. Her choice of clothing was radically different from the professional- looking Vincientia. Her outfit consisted of form-fitting black denim jeans, a black, sleeveless mock-turtleneck shirt, and a white denim vest. Pinned to the vest just above her heart was an emerald frog embossed with gold. A country girl, from the looks of her... LaCroix mused. Then he looked into her eyes, and instantly forgot about how inexperienced she seemed. Her rich, hazel eyes were deep and soulful. They spoke of knowledge and strength, losses and victories.

LaCroix smiled at the younger woman. "And who might you be, my dear?" He asked.

Vincientia spoke up. "This is our third partner, Miss Debra Stevens."

"A partner? Such a young thing like this cannot truly be in league with Stein." LaCroix remarked.

The third of the group, a youthful vampire with short, dark hair, spoke up quickly. "Don't trust her looks, sir. She's dangerous."

"What does he mean?" LaCroix asked, looking from one woman to the next.

Debra spoke. "My specialty lies in magic. I've studied all magic known to man, from all centuries. I know more about mystics than anyone alive today. And that's being modest. What Sebastian here refers to, however, is my box." She tapped the tiny travel case she held in her left hand. Opening it,she revealed a collection of exquisitely jewelled trinkets. Debra picked out an ivory cross and held it out to the vampires. "Pretty, isn't it? They say this cross was used in 50 B.C. to kill the most powerful vampire of their time." Setting it back in the case, she continued, "Each of these baubles and medallions has been used to hunt and kill the vampire race. I study them, learn their power, and try to find ways to reverse certain effects they cause."

Again LaCroix marvelled at her, as did Vachon. She spoke with an air of pride and dignity that made her seem much older than she really was. Then LaCroix realized where he'd heard of her before. If his memory served him correctly, Miss Stevens was the mortal lover of Jacob Callaway. Callaway was Dr. Stein's son, and an 1100 year old Enforcer. Rumor had it that he'd been sent to investigate her... to see if she would ever be a threat. Somehow, he'd ended up in love with her, and they'd been living together ever since.

Debra smiled when she saw the look of stunned recognition on LaCroix's face. "You've heard of me, I see, Mr. LaCroix. I'm flattered."

"I have heard of you. Now I worry about what is truly wrong with Nicholas." He replied.

She nodded. "We believe that deGuerre's magic still has a hold on Nick. It's my theory that deGuerre used a "Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde" incantation on his cross. It makes the victim change into a completely different person, usually one who thinks of nothing of doing that which the victim abhors the most. I asked Dr. Lambert to bring deGuerre's cross because I wish to test my theory."

Everyone turned to Natalie. "You kept that cross?" Vachon asked in wonder.

"Yes. I didn't know why at the time, but I guess it's a good thing I did." Natalie looked at Debra. "How is Nick?" She asked.

"Very unstable. He almost killed two of our nurses last week. We had to strap him into a restraining table for everyone's safety." Debra replied, taking the cross that Natalie held out to her. She deposited it into the travel case and turning, walked out the door. Vincientia and Sebastian said good-bye and followed her.

Part II

(The Raven)

LaCroix watched Fleurette on the dance floor. She was quite a physical dancer, clinging to her partners, pressing her body against theirs. Most of them complained that she made them nervous. Too aggressive, they said. But LaCroix thought he liked her. It was true that she reminded him of his long lost Fleur, and for that he kept his distance from her, but he did like her. But... like the others in Toronto's Community, LaCroix restrained himself around the girl out of respect for Nick.

LaCroix stiffened. The young fiend she was dancing with was starting to vamp out. Any second and he could kill her. LaCroix strode onto the dance floor. Wrenching the whelp away from Fleurette he snarled, "Leave her to me, cretin." He took the tiny blonde in to his arms and spun her into the middle of the floor. "You really should be more careful how you pick your partners. Some of these punks aren't quite civilized yet."

"Maybe I wanted him to bite me, Mr. LaCroix. Did you ever stop to think of that?" Fleurette replied truculently.

Ah, yes, LaCroix thought. Then it is true that she desires immortality. "And did you stop to think that *he* might not have brought you across? Why should you wish to waste your precious life on that moron?"

"Should I waste it on you, perhaps?" Fleurette could obviously hold her own, even against LaCroix.

LaCroix's eyes shone golden. This one has spark... I like that. "No, cherie, you should not. A life is a terrible thing to waste." So saying, he led her off the dance floor. "You should go home, child," he told her as they approached the bar.

"I'm not a child, Mr. LaCroix. I don't need to be told what to do." Fleurette glared at him. "You sound just like Uncle Nick."

Being called "Nick" was an obvious insult to LaCroix. But it also made him soften his attitude towards the girl. Young woman, he amended. "I am terribly sorry, ma petite. Please, try to think of me as someone you can talk to. I'm sure that loft must be very lonely."

Fleurette sighed. "It is. Natalie Lambert comes around a lot more often now, but it's not the same. I never know what to say to her. I really miss Uncle Nick."

"Have you been lonely all these last three weeks? You should have said something sooner, my child." Seeing her face cloud over, he quickly said, "I know... you *are* no one's child."

Fleurette laughed. "May I come here again, Mr. LaCroix?"

"I wouldn't dream of stopping you." He replied smoothly, kissing her brow in a fatherly manner.

After Fleurette left the Raven, LaCroix signalled to Vachon.

"You knew her when she was still in France, did you not?" He asked when the young Spaniard stood before him.

"Yes." Vachon said stiffly. Having known the "innocent Fleurette" made him feel protective of her. "Why do you ask?" His eyes narrowed.

"I was curious. Has she always been this way, so head-strong and rebellious?"

Vachon shook his head. "She's changed, LaCroix. She used to be so sweet and innocent. I see her out there on the dance floor every night and wonder where the girl I knew disappeared to. I'd love to find her. This new Fleurette scares me half to death sometimes."

"What was she like back then?" LaCroix asked, his eyes shining with emotions he could not hide. After a week of watching Fleurette from a distance, he could not help but see her resemblances to his beloved Fleur.

Vachon sighed and began to tell the ancient vampire what he knew about Fleurette. He told how they used to go flying and talk for hours. He told of the plans she had at one time, and how it seemed that those plans had disappeared. "I don't know what happened to ruin her life, but I wish I could help her find happiness again."

LaCroix thought hard over Vachon's speech. "Has she known love, do you think?" He asked at last.

"There was a boy she was friends with, the son of a neighboring farmer. What was his name... Enrique?" Vachon puzzled, dropping into a Spanish translation of the young man's name.

"Henry?" LaCroix suggested. "Although the French name would be Henri (pronounced Enry, for those who don't know French)."

"Yeah, I think so. But I don't really know if there was anything more than friendship between them. She hasn't mentioned him since she's been here."

LaCroix's expression darkened. Abruptly he turned away from Vachon and then turned back quickly. "Can you find out?"

"Yeah, sure... why?" Vachon Knew Nick had been worried that LaCroix would try to bring Fleurette across. "Why do you care?"

"I merely think that if there *is* a way to make her happy once more, we should try and find it." LaCroix said quickly. He turned away again, leaving Vachon standing alone at the bar.

Part III

(The loft, a couple of days later)

Vachon sat smiling nervously at Fleurette. He wasn't quite sure just how LaCroix expected him to get any information on her love life. Ever since the incident in the parking lot, she very rarely spoke to him. Oh, well, He thought. I might as well try to be her friend again. She seems to need one. To Fleurette he said, "I'm so glad you let me come visit you, Fleurette. I was afraid you wouldn't want to be my friend anymore... after the bad start we had when you first got here."

Fleurette smiled back almost shyly, reminding Vachon of the girl she once was. "It was stupid of me to act that way, Javi. I know that now. I do wish for us to be friends again. I don't have many here."

"Not even at college? Surely a smart, pretty girl like you has lots of friends... especially the guys..." He smiled slyly at her.

Fleurette shook her head. "No, Javi. No guy would ever like me. I'm an outcast here, just like I was at home."

"An outcast? I can hardly believe it. You had friends. I remember meeting one or two of them." Vachon protested.

Fleurette merely shook her head again. "Not friends who truly cared about me."

"What about that nice young man from the farm... what's his name... Enrique?" He asked, probing further.

"Henri did not care what happened to me. He proved *that* to me." A pained look came over Fleurette's face.

So... there *was* something between them, Vachon thought. "How so? What did he do, may I ask?" He said tenderly.

"It doesn't matter... it's over now." Her voice was choked with emotion.

"If it's over, why are you so upset? You loved him, didn't you?"

Fleurette regarded him distrustfully. "What do you know of love?" She accused softly, lowering her eyes to hide the tears that were forcing their way into existence.

"Admittedly nothing," Javier replied, "but I'd like to try and understand some of it." He smiled sheepishly at her. "I *am* lousy at love most of the time... as if you hadn't noticed."

Fleurette giggled. "You still after Uncle Nick's partner? He used to complain about it all the time."

"Yes, I'm still after her." Javier said with a groan. "I actually love her, despite whatever Knight may think."

Fleurette turned away from him, looking out the window at the stars. When she spoke her voice was distant. "He said he loved me, Javi. And we kissed--once. It was my first kiss, and I didn't want it to end. He promised me that we'd marry someday. And then..." She began to cry. Vachon walked up behind her, placing an arm around her shoulder.

"It's all right, Fleurette," he whispered. "Guys are scum. We don't really deserve to have beautiful women love us." This made her giggle. "What happened next? You don't have to tell, if you don't want to, but it may help you get over it. It's obvious to me that you haven't."

"The next time I came to the farm I told I was no longer allowed to accompany him while he did his chores. They said they didn't want to risk me getting hurt by the animals. He never spoke to me after that."

Vachon was stunned. "How long ago was that?" He asked. When she replied that it had been five years ago, when she was sixteen, he exclaimed, "Five years! He hasn't spoken to you in five years?"

She nodded, sobbing.

"Fleurette, honey... I don't mean to sound rude, but he's not worth it. And if that's the reason you want to be brought across... well, it's a dumb reason." At this, Fleurette cried even harder, making him wish he'd never spoken.

"You don't understand... I knew you wouldn't." She whispered.

"But I... I... " He saw the crushed look on her face and sighed. He'd managed to get the information he'd wanted, but in so doing Fleurette was hurt. "I'm sorry Fleurette. I told you I didn't know much about matters of the heart. I didn't mean to hurt you. It's just that I think you deserve better than that."

"You do?" She sounded incredulous.

"Of course you do! Fleurette, you are pretty, and smart, and fun to be with. Any guy at that college should be falling all over himself to ask you out." She started to protest, but he cut her off. "Believe it. Believe in yourself. Life is too precious to throw away over what some idiot did or said."

"I wished I could believe that." She sighed.

Vachon stared at her, shaking his head sadly. Before him stood one very depressed young woman. He wished there was some way he could convince her that becoming a vampire was not the answer to her problems. He also wondered if Jean Claude knew about her troubled heart. I should ask him sometime...if I ever get a chance to see him again, Vachon thought.

(The Raven)

After he left Fleurette, Vachon went to find LaCroix. Not that it was hard to find him. Just follow the sound of the NightCrawler's voice and it would lead you to him.

He found LaCroix standing at the bar. Ordering a drink, he said, "I had a talk with Fleurette tonight."

"And?" LaCroix asked, barely looking at him. He was going over some notes for the NightCrawler show.

Vachon sighed. "I feel really bad about this. She trusted me when she told me what I'm about to tell you. YOu won't tell her, will you?"

LaCroix faced him, eyes blazing. "Never question my intentions, pup!" He snapped. "What did you find out?"

"Enrique spurned her." Vachon began to explain what Fleurette had told him. "I don't think Jean Claude knows anything about this, do you?"

"Probably not. If Fleurette is anything like the rest of her family, she keeps her secrets well hidden." LaCroix replied.

Vachon was quiet for a while and then said, "Do you suppose someone should tell him about it? I mean, what with Knight gone and all?"

LaCroix looked thoughtful for a moment. It may help... He thought. Then he nodded his approval to Vachon.

"Only one problem... how do *I* get a hold of Jean Claude?"

LaCroix laughed as he left Vachon to contemplate that problem.

Part IV

(The Raven)

LaCroix smiled as Fleurette approached him, the timidity in her step reminding him of her namesake. "Ah, my dearest Fleurette... it pleases me to see you again so soon. How are you, my dear?" He led her away from the bar, to a secluded table near the back of the room.

Seated across from her, LaCroix asked, "What brings you here, child? Are you lonely this night?"

"Yes... I am." She paused... allowing LaCroix to read the questions in her eyes.

"You are seeking something, are you not? Something only the wisest among us can know?" He asked, returning her gaze evenly. "Ask, child, and I shall give you all you're answers."

"Tell me about them... my family. Why are we the way we are?"

"Where would you have me start? Nicholas... or Jean Claude, perhaps?" LaCroix smiled softly at the young woman before him.

"I have heard the stories about Uncle Nick. I don't need to know about him. Jean Claude, if you please..."

LaCroix smiled softly. "Do you have any specific questions I should address, my dear?"

"Lots!" Fleurette looked excited. Her questions came forth in a gush. "How did he become a vampire? I've heard people call him Nick's "little basher." Why? Why did live alone, away from his own kind for so long? And then why did he want leave?"

LaCroix sighed, realizing that his night just got longer than he'd expected. "How did Jean Claude de Brabant become a vampire? Well, it all started when Nicholas, Janette and I were making our way across Europe. This was, I believe, shortly after Nicholas had that tragic falling out with his father. He ran into a fellow Crusader, one of the lucky ones who made it back unscathed, although ragged. He caught Nicholas up on all the gossip, telling him some story about a young serving wench who died in child birth. Her name was--"

"Marie. No known last name, but her father owned the tavern she worked in." Fleurette said, interrupting him.

"Yes. That is so. Jean Claude must have told you a little of this story, perhaps?" She nodded. "Well, then... Nicholas asked about the child. You know it was son, so I'll forgo that part of this tale. When he learned that the son was still alive, Nicholas insisted we go to the town where he lived. It wasn't until I saw the boy... young man, I mean... that I realized he was Nicholas's child. The spitting image of my new son. And very energetic, I might add."

"What do you mean?" Fleurette's questioning gaze met LaCroix's commanding one, and he smiled warmly at her.

"When I first saw Jean Claude, he was being chased down an alley by five French soldiers. Apparently he picked a fight with one of their comrades and had the fortune to win. The five soldiers chasing him were seeking revenge for their friend's death. He put up a good fight. Nicholas and watch from a distance as he held his own against the five stronger men. But when he began to tire and was beaten down... well, I, for one, could not let such a talented young man die in such a dishonorable fashion." He smiled a light, yet all-knowing smile. "Jean Claude almost died from the wounds his attackers inflicted him with. Nicholas saved his life."

"The fight? That's how he became the "little basher"?" Fleurette asked.

LaCroix nodded. "That... and his unrelenting spirit and will to survive at any cost. In many ways, Jean Claude would have made a better son for me than your uncle did. Next question-- Why did he live alone for so long? Well, that is a very long story, my dear. It all started about five years after Jean Claude inherited the de Brabant estate.... (fade to flashback story sequence)


(An extravagant chateau outside Paris... a ballroom teaming with the wealth and decadence of French aristocracy.)

LaCroix turned away from his conversation with an arrogant courtier, his eyes falling upon the two men who had just entered. The maitre d'hotel announced them as "les comtes de Brabant, Nicolas et Jean Claude." Nicholas's searching gaze fell up LaCroix and he led his son over to the ancient vampire.

"Bon soir, Nicholas." LaCroix greeted his son formally. "Et tu, Jean Claude, bon anniversaire aussi. (And you, Jean Claude, happy birthday also...)

"Merci, M. LaCroix. C'est une belle nuit." Jean Claude replied.

"Oui, c'est belle..." Nicholas said, his voice distant as his gaze fell upon Janette and the young woman with her. "C'est Angele, n'est-ce pas?" He inquired of LaCroix.

"Oui, c'est Angele... charmant, n'est-ce pas?" LaCroix replied. The gasp from Jean Claude captured both LaCroix's and Nicholas's attention. Turning to Jean Claude, LaCroix laughed. "That's the same look you had on your face when you first saw Janette!!" He exclaimed, dropping out of French in his astonishment.

Jean Claude was staring raptly at Angele, seemingly taken by her stunning beauty. As rightly he should have been , for she was easily the most beautiful woman there. Her long, flowing gown was made of the finest material and her flame-like hair was caught up in the latest fashion, accented with jewels and gold. Angele stood apart from ever woman there, and Jean Claude seemed possessed by her charms.

Pushing through the crowd, he made his way to her side. Janette smiled and seemed about to introduce them when Jean Claude pulled Angele into his arms, kissing her lips hungrily. Janette slipped away from the scene, materializing next to Nicholas with a wry smile on her face. "Charmant... n'est-ce pas, Nicolas? L'amour nouveau... " She sighed wistfully.

Nick responded hotly. "C'est un grand faux-pas. Mon fils bete ne pense pas de la societe." He started towards the two, obviously intending to break them apart.

Janette intercepted him, shaking her head. "Non, Nicolas. Faites rien. " In his ear, she whispered. "Let them love freely... as we do." He nodded, seeing Angele pull away from Jean Claude.

As the music started to play, Jean Claude led Angele onto the dance floor for the first dance. Other couples following their example. Soon, all were dancing, and in the midst of the action, no one saw Angele and Jean Claude sneaking away from the ball.

***End Flashback***

Fleurette's eyes narrowed. "What does Angele have to do with why Jean Claude never left the estate?"

"Jean Claude is much like his father... very stubborn. He and Angele had a bit of a falling out one day... a sad affair, really." Seeing her questioning eyes, LaCroix explained further. "They lived for a time at the estate, until Angele got bored. When the twins died, and Jean Claude decided to stay there to raise their children... for the sake of the family, you know..." Fleurette nodded. "Angele couldn't stand the boredom of it any longer. She begged him to return to Paris with her, but he refused. They fought about it for days, and finally, she left him. She promised him she'd be waiting for him when the boredom finally got to him. But when Jean Claude went looking for her, she'd fallen in love with Marius."

"So... it's my fault he was so lonesome for all this time?"

"Your fault? How do you figure that, ma cherie?" LaCroix inquired.

"You said he did it for the good of the family... and I'm the only one left." Her open concern told LaCroix that she actually did believed she was responsible for her cousin's unhappiness.

He shook his head. "No, child. It's not your fault. After Angele told him that she no longer loved him, Jean Claude secluded himself on purpose. People who are love-struck often do irrational things." I should know... he thought sadly, his eyes dropping to the table.

A brief, uncomfortable silence fell between them, and Fleurette placed her hand over LaCroix's gently. "Tell me about her, Mr. LaCroix... about Fleur. She is the one you love, isn't she?"

LaCroix snapped out of his sentimental episode. Masking his sadness once again, he stood abruptly. "I *am* truly sorry, Fleurette, but it is time for me to do my show. I believe Javier is around here some where... why don't you ask him entertain you if you are bored." Pausing before he left, LaCroix sighed as he looked down at her. So delicate, so much like Fleur... "That story can wait for another night, my dear. Au revoir..."

Then he walked off, leaving a confused, yet slightly amused Fleurette to ponder his stories.

Part V

LaCroix sat in his sound booth brooding over his encounter with Fleurette earlier than evening. He wasn't sure why he'd let the young mortal get to him. She was, after all, mortal and therefore insignificant. And yet, there was something about her... something special about this little French flower that appealed to him. She *was* like Fleur in appearances, to be sure, but not so much in behavior. Fleur, he knew, would never have been as brazen and bold as Fleurette had been since her arrival months ago. Nicholas could control his sister, but not her look alike. As far as LaCroix could see, no one had been born who could control this one-- not even himself. Were I to love her as I loved Fleur, she would have me wrapped around her delicate finger, He mused.

In the middle of his musings, the phone rang. "W-what?" He answered, very uncharacteristically.

"Lovely greeting. Not your usual, but lovely all the same," Natalie Lambert said, her voice hinting at amusement. "Tell me... do you realize that you're broadcasting dead-air? Or is that a new trend you're trying to set?"

"New trend...?" LaCroix echoed, still out of it. Then he realized who was speaking to him, her words crashing in on him in a rush. "I'm broadcasting silence!?" He exclaimed.

"That *is* correct. You've just won our $1000 grand prize, plus a trip for two to bright, sunny San Diego, California! Thank you for playing our game... " Nat was really having fun with LaCroix's odd behavior.

"Dr. Lambert... besides having fun at my expense, is there any other reason you have for calling?" LaCroix asked as he regained his composure. He was now beginning to see that tonight's broadcast was pretty much ruined.

"Not really." Nat quipped. "Good night, and... you're welcome." She hung up.

Into the microphone, LaCroix said, "I should like to thank the concerned caller who so thoughtfully pointed out that the airwaves were silent. Now, let's see, dear friends, if we can salvage this night's commentary."

Forcing both Fleur and Fleurette from his mind, LaCroix picked up his discourse where he'd left off before the commerial break.

(Meanwhile, inside the Raven)

Javier watched as Fleurette flirted with the young man she was dancing with. He wasn't a vampire, but Javier'd seen the punk before. Nothing but trouble. He ran with a tough crowd, as far as mortals go. Their game was drinking, drugs, and sex. The usual combination. No, Fleurette should definitely *not* be hanging around with this creep.

Leaving the bar, Javier approached them. "May I cut in?" He asked politely.

"Beat it!" The punk growled. "Get your own skirt." He pulled Fleurette tighter in his grasp and danced her away from Javier.

Javier fought to control his anger. Then he approached them again. "Let me put it to you another way... I'M DANCING WITH HER NOW!!!" He screamed, his voice menacing. The scruffy man backed away, pushing Fleurette into Javier's arms.

"H-here take her... I didn't want her anyway, man." he said, retreating into the crowd.

Javier watched as he left the Raven before turning his attention to the young woman now in his arms. "You should be more careful about who you talk to in here, Fleurette. Even some of the mortals are vipers."

"Perhaps I shouldn't come here at all?" She asked him, her eyes flashing.

Javier sighed. "Look, I know I have no right to tell you where to go or what to do, but at least be sensible, Fleurette. Half the guys you dance with in here are bad for you. You'll end up raped or killed if you're not careful. I... I worry about you."

"You do?" Fleurette cooed, nudging closer to him.

Javier sighed again, this time out of frustration. He'd told her before that they were only friends. He looked away from her, out into the crowd. Javier stiffened as his eyes fell on the familiar form of Tracy Vetter standing in the doorway. From the expression on her face, Tracy had seen them. Javier's heart sunk as he saw Tracy turn and walk out. Great... try to do agood deed and see what it gets me... He thought bitterly.

Part VI

(Vachon's Church)

Vachon nervously offered the Enforcer a drink. His guest merely shook his head and set right to work. "It has been rumored that you wish to make contact with one of my fellow Enforcers. Why?" He said, his steely eyes penetrating the darkness around them.

"I must get a message to Jean Claude de Brabant. It is urgent." Vachon replied.

"Concerning his father?" The Enforcer asked. "There is no need. We have an informant at the hospital."

"Callaway, yes, I know about him. This doesn't concern Knight. It's about the girl... Fleurette." Vachon wondered what the Enforcers knew about Fleurette.

The Enforcer smiled grimly. "The de Brabant seeking immortality... They are quite a family, the de Brabants. One seeks mortality, one immortality, and the other merely seeks a life. Has the girl been in trouble?"

"Not yet, and nothing that warrants any more watching than she already has."

"Then why should you concern Jean Claude?" The Enforcer asked.

"It's personal... I knew Fleurette before she began to long for vampirism. I'm worried about her welfare. As one of her only two living relatives, I figured Jean Claude should know what's been going on. Perhaps I was wrong." Javier replied.

The Enforcer nodded his approval of Vachon's answer. He handed Vachon a business card which contained a post office box address. "I am called Martin Cross. Since Jean Claude is not through with his training and initiations yet, you will send any correspondence to me. I will that he gets it."

"That's it?" Vachon was astonished. "You're not going to try and stop me from talking to him? Aren't there rules or something..?"

Martin laughed. "There are rules about this sort of thing. Traditionally, one does not contact and Enforcer... We contact you. However, with the de Brabants things are a bit different. And now that Nicholas is with Stein... someone from the family should be keeping tabs on the girl. And so, you will be allowed a brief correspondence with Jean Claude."

Vachon seemed about to say more to the Enforcer, but Martin cut him off and left as quickly as he'd come.

Vachon studied the business card closely. A post office box... it figures these guys would use anonymity to cover their tracks. "Don't call us, we'll call you." He thought wryly.

Sitting down with pen and paper, Vachon began his letter to Jean Claude. Pen flying and full pages falling to the floor beside him, Vachon aired his concerns for the sprite-like Fleurette. Eight pages later, the letter was sealed in an envelope and addressed to one Mr. Martin Cross. Now the only problem was how to get it to the post office, which was open only in the daytime. Having no real need of such things before, Vachon had no clue what to do about it.

He decided to call Tracy. As the phone rang, he worried over her reaction. Since the other night at the Raven, Tracy hadn't been speaking to him. Javier was spared that confrontation, however,as the answering machine picked up.

Sighing deeply, he waited for the beep. Then he began to speak. "Trace, it's me. Can you come to the church today? Please, it's important. Bye!"

As he hung up, Vachon thought, Please, Trace... don't be too mad at me. I can explain everything.

"You called me here just to have me mail a letter for you?" Tracy yelled at him. "Is that all I am to you, Vachon, a messenger?"

"No, you're not a messenger." Javier sighed. "Trace, I also wanted to talk to you about something that's been bothering me. I saw you at the Raven the other night... and I know you saw me dancing with Fleurette. I just wanted you to know that it wasn't anything... I mean... she and I... God, I going about this all wrong!" Vachon grabbed Tracy's hands and held them gently between his own. "Fleurette and I are just friends, Trace."

"Then why do friends dance that close to one another? She looked like she was enjoying herself." Tracy accused.

"Actually, Fleurette was quite mad at me, Trace." Vachon told her about the guy Fleurette had been dancing with.

Grudgingly, Tracy accepted this excuse. Promising to mail the letter, she slipped away before Vachon could say anything more.

Part VII

(Weeks later, somewhere in Paris)

Martin Cross stood quietly as Jean Claude de Brabant read the letter for a fifth time. The Jean Claude looked up, trouble in his eyes. "How could this happen without me knowing about it? I was right there in the house with her the whole time." He asked Martin.

Martin merely smiled. "Remember your own reaction when Angele left you, Jean Claude. You isolated yourself from the rest of the world for nearly sixty years because of a mere woman. And you expect the child you raised to be any different?"

"Angele was not just a woman... she was my world," Jean Claude replied... his mind slipping away into memory.


(The de Brabant Estate)

They were both still asleep, entwined in each other's arms, when an urgent knock came at the door. Jean Claude woke first, smiling at the woman beside him. Stroking her flaming tresses gently, he eased out of bed and walked to the door.

Wrapping his robe around him, he opened the door and stepped in to the hallway. His servant, Pierre, stood there, shifting nervously from side to side. "M. Jean Claude, c'est terrible! M. Jacques est mort!" He exclaimed upon seeing his master.

"Comment? " Jean Claude listened silently as the servant explained how young Master Jacques had been thrown from his horse while hunting. He'd hit his head on some sharp rocks, dying instantly. For a vampire, this death should not have mattered much to Jean Claude. But it did. He'd raised the twins since they were five, and he was rather fond of them. Jacques especially, who reminded him of himself when he was younger. Tears came to his eyes as he ordered Pierre to break the news to Jacques wife, Marie. Then he returned to his room.

Angele was awake when he returned, having been disturbed by the voices in the hallway. "Qu'est-ce que se passe, mon cher?" She asked, noting his tears.

"Jacques est mort," he said, sitting on the bed beside her.

Sensing his grief, Angele put her arm around him and held him silently as he cried.

Later, after the burial, Angele approached him with the subject of returning to Paris. Jean Claude merely shook his head, saying that he must wait for Tomas to return from Paris. With his wife expecting a child any day now, and the widow Marie to care for, leaving would be impossible until then. Angele agreed.

Jean Claude watched her walk away from him, noting the disappointment in her expression. He knew she longed to be back with the family... her mother and his father. He desired it as well, but when the twin's parent's died, someone had to take care of them. Family came first, Jean Claude knew that. He also knew Angele's loyalties lie with her vampire family, not his mortal one. They amused her, nothing more. And he, still young compared to her... strong ties still held him to his mortal relatives.

Soon, Angele... soon we will leave here together. I promise you, He thought, his heart aching to please her.

Not more than a week later, the news came that Tomas has been killed in Paris. Murdered by a drunkard who'd tried to rob him. Again the de Brabant estate was swathed in mourning. In the midst of it all, Tomas's wife went into labor earlier than expected. The babies, fraternal twins, were born healthy enough... but their mother did not survive the delivery.

Jean Claude found Angele in their bedroom... packing. "Ou vas-tu, cherie?" he asked her, his heart telling him that she was leaving.

"Paris... pour rendre une visite a Mamman et oncle Nicolas. Viens avec moi, Jean Claude." She replied, throwing her clothes in to the valise sitting on the bed.

"Je ne peux pas." He hung his head. Ever since Jacques death there had been tension between them. He knew she longed to be back in society, to be noticed for her beauty. he had hoped their would keep her by his side. "Reste avec moi, Angele, s'il vous plait..." he begged her.

Angele whirled around to face him, her eyes flashing in anger. "Non! J'ai reste ici plus enfin!"

They argued, their voices raising higher and higher with each word they uttered. Finally Jean Claude turned away from her, walking to the door. Then he looked back at her. His voice harsh, he said, "Quitte si tu veut, mais ne reviens pas. Je ne t'aime plus. (Leave if you want, but don't come back. I don't love you anymore.)" He slammed the door shut just as Angele grabbed the closest thing to her, a vase, and hurled it at the door.

An hour later, Jean Claude watched from an upstairs window as his lover walked out the door and down the stairs to an awaiting carriage. Fear and loneliness seized him and he rushed outside, calling her name... begging her to forgive him. But it was too late, and the carriage drove off before he could stop it.

***End Flashback***

Jean Claude sighed, knowing Martin was right. "What can I do about Fleurette, Martin?"

Martin laughed. "A de Brabant asking for help? My... what *is* the world coming to?" Jean Claude's miserable look stopped his mocking. Looking thoughtful, Martin said, "You could try to find out why the boy hurt her so... but I'm not sure if this is wise."

"Why not?"

"Well... people don't often like having others meddling in their affairs. And love problems, as *you* well know, are more difficult to solve than any other problem. Especially for a de Brabant." Martin said, not resisting that last barb. It was true that the de Brabant men had their share of misfortunes in the romance department. And it seemed Fleurette fared no better than her vampire relatives.

"Well, I should do something. In a way, Father and I are responsible for all of this. All those years... keeping the estate... the charade... it was never mean to hurt anyone, but it has. Somehow, it must be made right..."

"I'm sure you'll think of something, Johnny... you always do." Martin smiled as he left the room.


(LaCroix's Apartment)

LaCroix sat across form the young woman, watching her eat the take-out Italian he'd ordered her from Tony's. They'd spent the better part of the early evening talking and now a comfortable silence had fallen between them. In examining his relationship with her, LaCroix had to admit that he enjoyed her company very much. Fleurette was fiery and ambitious, not to mention strong- willed and very opinionated. In some ways, she reminded him more of Janette than Fleur... but then there was a look... a soft, gentle look that brought Fleur to mind immediately. Still, Fleurette was, perhaps, more of a match for him than Nick's sister. He'd loved Fleur, and would have doted upon for eternity... but this one... she *could* be the companion he'd always longed for. Perhaps...

"Vachon tells me there's a special reason the vampires here all like spaghetti night at Tony's... why?" Fleurette asked as she twirled strands of pasta around her fork, unaware that she'd broken into his thoughts.

LaCroix smiled... she'd finally asked something that was easy to relate. "Armand's family came from Italy several generations ago, bearing with them the recipe for the world's great spaghetti sauce. His great-grand father had invented a perfected it years before..." LaCroix inhaled deeply, smelling the aroma of the sauce covering Fleurette's dinner plate. "The sauce was... is..." he indicated to her plate. "The most delicious concoction imaginable. Next to blood, of course."

"Of course," Fleurette echoed, returning his smile.

"It so happened that one of our kind in Italy happened to feed upon a man who had eaten this magnificent sauce. And strangely enough, he could *taste* the sauce in the man's blood. He was in ecstacy over it! The word spread and others wanted to try it... to see if the same would be true for them. I have tasted it, as has your uncle Nicholas. A truly amazing thing... to taste that heavenly sauce." LaCroix eyed her plated, almost wishing he could actually eat the angel hair pasta that rested upon it.

"It *is* good!" Fleurette said, giggling slightly at the thought of a community of vampires going crazy over a mortal meal.

The silence between them returned. It is said that the sign a true love comes when one can be with a person without feeling the need to speak. Their devotion to each other is felt in the air between them, LaCroix thought, reeling in the peace he felt. He gazed fondly at the woman before him. Before, when he would see her... he had to force himself not to call her a child, for so she seemed to him. But now? Now, she seemed an adult... almost an equal to him. But so young... he sighed, feeling the stretch of years between them growing wider as the seconds passed. And it wasn't as if he was actually trying to fall in love with Fleurette. He *had* promised, as had the others in Toronto, not to touch her at Nick's request. And yet, it had happened somehow.

Now he listened as Fleurette chatted on about her classes at the university. She liked most of her classes, with a few exceptions. She'd received excellent grades on her mid-terms. It seemed LaCroix's little "history lessons" had apparently been paying off for her. Of course, the way she listened tirelessly *was* enjoying to him as well as educational for her. It was a switch to have someone want to hear what he had to say.

"There's this guy in my medieval lit class who keeps asking me out." Fleurette said, breaking off her monologue suddenly. "He wants to know if I'll go to a frat party with him."

"Frat party?" LaCroix looked amused. "You didn't say yes?"

Fleurette finished her pasta and took the dirty dishes to the sink. Filling the sink with hot water, she looked around for dishwashing liquid. "You have dishes, but you don't have anything to clean them with? What do you do, throw them out when they get dirty and buy more?" She giggled as LaCroix searched under the sink and in all the cupboards for the missing detergent.

He watched her as she set about washing the dishes. "You never answered me, my dear. Why did you not accept his invitation? Surely it would be good for you to get out once in a while with people your own age."

He was staring at her back and saw it stiffen slightly. "I'm not interested in him, M. LaCroix. I'm not interested in people my own age." The last part came in a soft whisper, hinting at possible romantic undertones.

Could she be saying that she's interested in me... or vampires in general? LaCroix wondered, not wanting to read more into her statement. Then he heard her stifled weeping. Crying? Whatever for.... He thought. "Fleurette... what has upset you so?" he asked, genuinely worried. He stood and walked up behind her, touching her arms lightly with his hands.

"How does one know if they are in love?" She asked, innocence dripping from every word. Her doll-like sweetness touched LaCroix heart as nothing else had since Fleur was lost to him. Gripping her thin arms gently, LaCroix turned the tiny woman around to face him. Looking down at her, he saw her delicate face tilted towards him, her eyes expectant... her pouty lips calling to him. He could smell her, not just the scent of the heavenly meal she'd consumed... but *her* scent... a mix of roses and wild flowers. It all called to him, commanding him to do what he was about to do.

Slowly, trance-like, LaCroix bent towards her, his lips gently touching hers. For a brief second, he feared she would push him away. Then she was in his arms, pressing her warm body against his cold one. The kiss was out of LaCroix's control now. He was being carried away by the sprite in his embrace. For what seemed liked forever, their lips danced the oldest dance.

Then, LaCroix felt the bloodlust rise within him. He wanted her... all of her. Body, soul, and blood. But his promise to Nicholas... and the memory of Fleur... pushed him away from her. He stepped swiftly away from her, retreating a few steps back towards the table. When he regained his composure, he said, somewhat more harshly than he'd intended, "You must go now, Fleurette. I have business I must attend to before I open the club tonight."

Fleurette nodded, looking flushed and slightly confused by the hot and cold run of LaCroix's attentions. She started to turn back to the dishes in the sink, but the vampire pushed her out the door without so much as an "excuse me."

Once outside the apartment, Fleurette dropped the innocent look, amusement and pleasure showing in her eyes. Well... maybe being Fleur's twin might not be so bad after all, She thought mischievously.

(The Raven)

Natalie searched the crowded, noisy night club for LaCroix. Spotting at the bar, she approached, pushing past the people (some of whom she recognized to be vampires) who accosted her from all sides.

"What a pleasure to see you again, Dr. Lambert," LaCroix said smoothly. "Care to join me for drink?" He signalled the bartender.

Natalie refused the wine she was offered. "I didn't come here to socialize, LaCroix. I came here to find Fleurette."

This sparked his interest. "Is something amiss?"

"Nick called me tonight from the hospital. He was worried because he couldn't reach Fleurette at the loft." Looking out at the crowded dance floor, Nat spotted Fleurette flirting with the man she was with. "She doesn't waste much time, does she?"

LaCroix turned to see what Natalie meant, jealousy searing through him. "Excuse me a minute, doctor," he said brusquely, striding into the crowd. He shoved the young vampire away from Fleurette and pulled her into his arms.

Natalie watched as LaCroix held Fleurette tensely at first and then gently. He was speaking to her in what appeared to be gently, almost loving tones. She was stunned. Nick had been concerned about LaCroix being around her too much, but he hadn't prepared her for this. When he returned to her side at the bar, he was flustered.

"So... she's been here all night?" Natalie accused.

"I have been providing the young lady with history lessons and tonight we were celebrating her excellent mid-term grades. I ordered take out from Tony's for her." LaCroix spoke, obviously feeling trapped by the scene from moments before.

"I see." Nick had told her about Armand's special spaghetti sauce. "So long as you haven't tried anything with her."

"I haven't harmed the child, doctor. I give you my word."

Natalie seriously doubted his word, but forewent comment. "Nick tells me he's doing better, although he is bored. He says he misses everyone... even you."

"As we also feel the emptiness his departure has created. And I, too, have heard rumor of him. Janette visits him often and tells me that he pines for you, Dr. Lambert. Please tell me you took this opportunity to tell him how you feel about him."

"I told Nick I missed him." Nat said.

"Missed...? Not loved? My dear doctor, are you even aware of how much Nicholas loved you? Enough to give you his mother's wedding ring as an engagement present." LaCroix explained the legend of the de Brabant family ring and how much it meant to Nick that the ring had fit her finger.

Natalie was stunned. "I-I hadn't know about that. He never told me..." Her eyes strayed to Fleurette again, who now sat eyeing them from an obscure table. "You can't lie to me that easily, LaCroix. Nick told me about Fleur... and I can read the vibes between you and Fleurette here tonight. What's going on?"

LaCroix smiled, appreciating her frankness. "I'm surprised Nicholas trusted you with so much information." He paused before dropping the arrogant air Natalie came to expect from him. "I *have* been trying to stay distant from her. But... she reminds me too much of Fleur. I truly loved her, despite what Nicholas may have told you."

"And Fleurette? Are you just toying with her because she reminds you of Fleur?" Nat asked, cutting right to the heart of the issue.

"Why is it so hard for you to believe that I have a heart? I will not hurt her, trust that." LaCroix turned away, stalking back to the sound booth for his show.

Part IX

(Let's get back to Nick, shall we?)

Nick, or what looked like him, growled at the door as it opened. Debra Stevens entered, a wide smile on her face. "Good morning, Sunshine! How are you today?"

"Must you call me that?" The alter-ego snapped.

Debra smiled, opening her ever-present travel case. "Yes." She stated simply. "Now, are you going to behave, or do I have to call Jacob again this time?" Her voice held a threatening note.

Her patient began swearing at her in French.

"Nice try. I speak French. Try again if you want to insult me." She quipped. He switched to Latin. "Nope... too much time reading ancient texts and talking to ancient vampires. Strike two!" He made one last attempt. "You know... it isn't really an insult if the person you're insulting doesn't know what it is. Care to translate?"

"Bitch. Slut. Little whore..." he could have continued, but she cut him off.

"Gee, thanks. I didn't know you cared so much for me." She pulled out deGuerre's cross and approached him with it. "Now," she said, "let's see how my theory holds up."

Janette gazed at Nick as he slept, unable to believe all Debra said he had done to warrant tranquilizing. She also wondered *how* Debra did tranquilize him at all. But then, if the rumors about this mortal were true... she had powers far greater than deGuerre's... and Janette had seen deGuerre's power first hand.

Turning to Debra, she asked, "How long will he be asleep?"

"One of them should be awake anytime now. If it's Nick, you're welcome to him. If it's Sunshine... I wouldn't recommend hanging around." She rubbed the bruises on her neck for emphasis.

"Sunshine?" Janette's expression was a mixture of amusement and bafflement.

"His evil twin needed a name, and since he has such a delightful, sunny disposition... I named him Sunshine." She grinned through her sarcasm. "They both hate it!"

The figure on the bed stirred, struggling to sit up. He howled in pain as the magic restraints held him fast to the bed.

"Easy, Sunshine... you have company." Debra said, leading Janette to where he could see her. The fire in his eyes faded when he saw the raven-haired woman.

As his expression soften, Nick emerged from within the torn vampire. "Janette...?" He looked confusedly at Debra. "How long have I been gone? Janette's here, yet I don't remember it being Saturday. Tuesday was the last thing I remember. Don't tell me *he's* been in control that long?"

Debra nodded. "Although... Lady Janette seems to be a positive influence on you, Nick. I like seeing your pretty blue eyes." She turned to leave, saying, "I'll leave you two to talk in private."

Nick frowned. "Can I... sit up? This thing is uncomfortable."

Debra thought about it for what seemed like forever. "He'll behave, I promise." Janette spoke up.

Debra smiled. "Okay, but just this once. Jacob and I will be outside the door if you need help." Releasing Nick from the restraints that held him down, she slipped out the door.

When she left, Janette moved to sit on the bed beside Nick. "Feel any better, mon cher?" She asked, placing a hand over his.

"Scared. He's never been in control that long before." He looked at her with wide, terrified eyes. "Will I ever have a normal life again?"

"Nicolas... why do you refer to your condition as if it were a separate person? It isn't, or so I assume." Janette asked, worried that Nick was sicker than she thought.

"Debra says he is another person. She also seems to think if we can't control him better, someday he make take over completely and I will be lost forever." He looked so sincerely worried over it that Janette's heart cried out to him. She squeezed his hand gently to reassure him that all would be ok. Nick, however, became self-conscious of her gesture and pulled his hand away from hers. He glanced at the door, where he could see Debra and Callaway talking outside. He shook his head, silently contemplating how it was that everyone else could have a semi-normal relationship with a mortal and he could not. "Did you bring me any letters this time, Janette?" He asked hopefully.

She smiled, handing him the few envelopes she'd brought with her. Nick looked at each one before opening nay of them. One from Fleurette, LaCroix, and Tracy. He stopped at Tracy's letter, looking at Janette in confusion. "Vachon convinced her that she should write to you. I hope you don't mind?" She explained.

"No... I miss Trace, too. It's just... there's nothing from Nat. I had been hoping that she would at least write once in a while." He looked sadly at the letters once more before setting them aside.

"You aren't going to read them, Nicolas?"

"No. I can read them later... or someone will read them to me. Janette... what is wrong with me? I mean, other than what deGuerre did to me. Why can't Natalie and I have a normal relationship. You tell me you're happy with what's his name, and Debra and Callaway seem perfect for each other. Why can't Nat and I have that?" Then he saw the surprised and rather shocked look on her face. "I'm sorry, Janette. I guess I'm just obsessing because she hasn't written. I don't know why she hasn't and it bothers me."

Janette nodded. "LaCroix has tried to get her to send something along with me, but she has never responded. Perhaps, she has been too busy to write to you."

"Or maybe she just doesn't want to. You know, take this time to forget about Nicholas B. Knight once and for all." His voice dripped with sarcasm.

"I don't think it's that way, Nicolas. How could she not love you, after all she has gone through for you? Although... I suspect that all this current nonsense has been hard on her, wouldn't you agree?"

Nick nodded. He had been remembering things that Sunshine had done before coming to this hospital. And now he knew that Sidney had not scratched Natalie. Sunshine had threatened her life. Trying to push the unwanted memories away, Nick redirected the conversation to LaCroix and Fleurette. He opened the letters, reading them aloud to Janette, who happily dished out the gossip flying about the Community.

Nick sighed. "Do you think he actually loves Fleurette?"

Janette raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Would it make a difference to you if he did love her?"

"I don't know... I am torn, if truth be know. She is my ward, and my responsibility. And yet... I feel as though I owe him something. After all he's done for me since deGuerre's attack.... and still..."

"She is Fleur's. And you feel the need to protect her as you protected Fleur. Nicolas, there comes a time in one's life when they no longer need so much protection. You have often wished to be free of LaCroix, so why is it so hard for you to understand that other's may not wish for your over-protectiveness?" Janette leaned over and kissed his cheek softly. "I must go now. Robert waits for me at home. Get well, Nicolas, please get well."

She left, leaving Nick to his thoughts. Shortly afterwards, Callaway entered the room, bearing a letter from Jean Claude. After reading it, Nick felt more confused as to what to do about Fleurette.

Part X

(The Raven)

LaCroix stood beside Vachon, both men watching the tiny blond on the dance floor. She was wearing something even more revealing tonight than she had ever worn before. It was a black silk dress, with a low-cut, open neck line and a hem-line that was way too high on the thigh. Accentuating the ensemble was a tear-drop ruby on a long, golden chain. LaCroix fought to keep his from following that chain down to where the ruby rested snugly between her breasts. Turning to Vachon, he sighed. "Why must she throw herself at them, Vachon?"

"Jealous, old man?" the Spaniard replied, fixing LaCroix with a knowing look. The ancient vampire's attraction to Nick's niece was the hottest bit of gossip around. Everyone was talking about it. "So," he asked casually, "when are you going to bring her across?"

LaCroix glared at Vachon, hating the smirk which played across the Spaniard's lips. "I am *not* jealous. There is nothing between the girl and I except the common bond we share though Nicholas. And besides... it's really no one's business what I do."

The man Fleurette was with was now leading her toward the door. He was a vampire, and his intent was all to obvious to both Vachon and LaCroix. "Aren't you going to stop them?" Vachon asked, pointing to the couple who had just stepped outside.

Torn between killing Vachon or killing Fleurette's latest toy, he chose the latter. Hastily leaving the club, LaCroix appeared before them just as the younger vampire was attempting to seduce his prey. Wrenching Fleurette out of his grasp, LaCroix tore into the younger vampire. Within a few short minutes, the younger vampire lie on the ground, seriously wounded.

Letting his victim fall limply to the pavement, laCroix swept a terrified Fleurette into his arms, flying her into his apartment.

Fleurette flinched as he touched her arm. "I'm sorry," LaCroix said for the tenth time that night. "I didn't mean to scare you. I merely wished to protect you."

"I didn't need protecting, LaCroix!" She snapped back.

"Yes, you did. I read his thoughts, Fleurette. He wasn't going to bring you across. He meant to kill you. You were to be his dinner." LaCroix tried again to take her in his arms. This time she allowed him to. Smoothing her hair gently, he whispered, "you have no idea how much I worry about you, my love..."

"You're love...?" Fleurette pulled away to look at him. "You love me?" Her voice was jubilant. "I-I didn't think you did. I thought you believed me to be a mere child. I wanted so much to make you see that I was not a child..."

LaCroix had been unaware that he'd even spoken aloud. However, now that the words had been said, they could hardly be taken back. "And you wanted me to love you, my dear?"

"More than anything... " Fleurette's response was swallowed up by LaCroix's tender kiss. When the kiss ended, he looked at her.

"I do love you, my dear, but I need to know that my love is not wasted on you. I must know how you feel for me. Is it truly love, or do you merely wish to use me to gain immortality?" he feared this answer.

But instead of laughing at him or crushing his love, Fleurette stood on tip-toe to kiss him. Ecstatic, LaCroix took her in his embrace. As their kiss deepened, he moved with her into the bedroom.

Fleurette awoke back in her bedroom at the loft. She was wrapped in LaCroix's silk robe. "He loves me..." she whispered in the darkness. Then, she began to cry. I couldn't do it... she thought, remembering how gentlemanly he'd been when she had been too afraid to make love to him. Not scared because of what he was, but because she'd never made love to anyone before. He hadn't spurned her, but reassured her that he was willing to wait for her to be ready. His only request was that she no longer flirt with the men in the Raven. Willfully, she agreed.

He'd flown her home that night, leaving her in her bedroom with a warm, tender kiss and his fondest declarations of devotion.

But still, Fleurette cried. How could a man with so much experience and so much sophistication be willing to wait for someone as young as her. I'm a child to him... she thought. He must think I'm incredibly stupid to care for him so.

(LaCroix's Apartment)

LaCroix sat on his bed, unable to sleep. He couldn't stop thinking about Fleurette. It amazed him that someone like her... young, energetic, and beautiful... could possibly love him as she said she did. But now... after what had happened earlier that evening... he knew that he could never bear to be without her. It didn't really matter to him if she had never been with a man before. Actually, that made it all the special-- for her to save herself for him.

She had been so lovely tonight, with her eyes so wide and innocent. But frightened... oh, yes, she had been just a tad frightened. LaCroix sighed. He would wait for her to be ready, even if it meant waiting forever.

Part XI

(A few Nights later, the loft)

"Are you sure you want to do this, Fleurette?" Natalie asked incredulously.

"Yes, for the fifth time!" Fleurette looked up from her packing to face Natalie. "I love him, and I want more than anything to be with him."

Natalie sighed. She'd tried to warn Fleurette against this action, but the young woman was just as stubborn and as harder to convince as her uncle. "Tell me, Fleurette... you haven't been, um... intimate with LaCroix, have you?"

"Have we had sex, you mean? No. I've never actually... ah..." Fleurette blushed.

"Say no more. I understand. Does LaCroix respect that?" What a stupid question. He must... if she trusts him enough to move in with him. Nat thought.

"He says he does, and I believe that. Natalie, Lucien treats me better than any man I've met. He's been gentle and sweet, and when he tells me he loves me, I know he means it." Fleurette grew silent for a moment, a distant look on her face.

Nat was stunned over the girl's convictions. She must really love LaCroix. "I'm sorry if I upset you. It's just that LaCroix hasn't always been the nicest person, especially not to me. I don't want to see you get hurt by him."

Natalie helped Fleurette load her things into the car. They drove to LaCroix's apartment above the Raven.

"He said to come in through the back entrance," Fleurette said as Nat pulled the car up to the curb.

Urs met them inside. She smiled when she saw Natalie. "Good evening, Dr. Lambert. I didn't realize you'd be here too."

"I was just helping Fleurette with her things. Is LaCroix around?" Nat looked about the dark club, seeing no one but Urs, Fleurette and herself.

"He's busy working on the topic of tonight's NightCrawler Show. So I got volunteered to greet the girl." Urs was smiling as she picked up two suitcases and led Nat and Fleurette up to the apartment.

Urs sat curled up on the couch, holding a warm mug of fresh blood. Fleurette sank into the chair next to her, a steaming cup of cocoa in her hands. She sighed. "I can't believe how long it took to unpack all that stuff!"

Urs giggled. "After a while, you learn to travel light. Mortals just don't have the knack for it."

Fleurette smiled back at the vampire, slightly. "What is it like being a vampire?" She asked.

"What is it like? Well... I never really thought about it before. It takes some getting used to... the different lifestyle, I mean. There are a lot of things you have to give up."

"Like what?" Fleurette pressed further.

"Well... religion for one thing. A lot of the older ones, like your uncle, were early Catholic. That's a strict religion to just break away from completely. Knight never talks about it much, but Vachon does sometimes. It was hard on him. Family is another thing. A mortal family gets in the way, and if you stay with them, their lives are in danger."

"The Enforcers, right?" Fleurette asked.

Urs nodded at the girl's insights. "Yes, the Enforcers. Sunlight... you know about that, I'm sure. I think everyone of us remembers what their final glimpse of the sun was like. Mine was the most beautiful sunset you've ever seen-- the sky burning red and orange as the sun slipped below the horizon. Your uncle, I think, is haunted by the memory of the things he gave up for this life. That is why he seeks to leave it." Urs looked thoughtful for a moment. "You become accustomed to the night. Your senses and instincts are heightened to the point of sheer perfection. But it is a dark world we live in, Fleurette. Hardly one fit for someone as innocent and youthful as you. No, it is best left to those of us with callouses on our hearts."

"But you aren't calloused! Not any of you!" Fleurette protested.

Urs looked surprised. "What makes you say that? We are all killers, you know. LaCroix, Vachon, me,... even Nick and Jean Claude are killers."

"Then why do you all care so much for me? And how did Uncle Nick fall in love with Natalie? Or Vachon and Tracy... explain that. If you were all such hardened killers, none of those things would be possible and Natalie, Tracy, and I would be dead. You can't tell me this isn't so."

Urs was definitely impressed with the young woman's logic. She laughed ruefully. "Okay, you've got me there. I can't argue with that." Still laughing, she touched the girl's shoulder. "A lot of people doubt the wisdom in LaCroix's actions where you are concerned. But I think you're a good match for him."

"Thank you, Urs. I hope you're right." Fleurette returned Urs's warm smile.

Part XII

(Two weeks later)

LaCroix smiled at the beauty asleep in his arms. His eyes traced her delicate features, loving the look of her peaceful sleeping countenance. Then he sighed, reaching for the bottle on the nightstand beside the bed. Taking a long drink, Lacroix forced aside the passion which welled up inside him when he held her.

A scene similar to this had played out every day for the past two weeks. LaCroix and Fleurette slept together in the same bed, but never once had they made love. A couple of nights ago, they came very close to it... but Fleurette still wasn't ready of that kind of relationship. She had, however, expressed the desire to stay close to him.

I suppose I should be happy with what I have, He thought. She'll come around eventually.

Slipping from the bed, LaCroix went downstairs to the Raven. Urs sat at the bar, sipping from a steaming mug. Patting the stool next to her, she smiled at LaCroix. "How is she holding up?" She asked.

LaCroix sighed. "Fleurette is fine. She's adjusted well, I think. It is I who am beginning to have my doubts about this relationship."

"You? You're kidding, right?"

"No, I'm not. Urs... someone as young and beautiful should not be with one such as me. She deserves the best... Look, you've spoken with her lot recently... you must know what she thinks about all this. Does she truly love me, Urs?" LaCroix poured himself a drink.

"I believe she does." Urs was amazed that LaCroix was the one having doubts. "Why do you doubt?"

Lacroix merely shook his head as if to say "I don't know." He hesitated to tell her that one of the reasons for his doubt was that being with Fleurette made him feel old. She was, perhaps, too young for him. And still, a part of him was scared to get too closely attached to her. He could still lose her as he lost Fleur, and another heartache was not what he wanted.

No sooner had Urs left than the phone rang. Lacroix answered to find Nick on the other line. "Nicholas? What...? How are you?"

Nick laughed lightly. "Did I surprise you, LaCroix?"

"I had heard you weren't allowed make phone calls... why the change?" LaCroix replied, as he regained his composure. He had been thinking about Nick when the phone rang, and the coincidence was too much.

"Well, Deb says I've made considerable progress in the last couple of weeks and she gave me permission to call. I'm supposed to tell you that I may be able to come home soon."

"Home..." LaCroix felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him. "So soon?"

"Soon!? LaCroix, I feel like I've been gone for years." Nick paused. In the background, LaCroix could hear voices, male and female. "Oh, I see... I think I know why you don't sound too happy about it. Janette told me about what's been going on with you and Fleurette." Nick didn't sound too pleased.

"And you, of course, disapprove?" LaCroix asked.

"Yes. But I know I can't stop either of you, especially not from here. Tell me one thing, LaCroix, have you hurt her?"

LaCroix thought for a moment. By hurt, Nick no doubt meant had he brought her across. "I have no intention of hurting Fleurette, Nicholas. If anything happens to her, it will be by her own choice. I promise you that."

"Just don't hurt her, LaCroix. If you ruin her life, you will lose me forever."

"Haven't I already? You've been saying for years that you didn't want me in your life anymore."

"Let's just say, we're on even ground now..." Another pause in which LaCroix could here the people speaking in the background. Nick chuckled softly at something the woman said. "Deb says I have to go now. Good-bye... LaCroix."

As he hung up the phone, LaCroix could feel the hesitance in Nick. He'd been about to call him "Father," or so it seemed. There was a change in him, LaCroix'd felt it. A change that allowed him to half-way accept what was going on with Fleurette.

Fleurette stood silently listening to LaCroix as he spoke to Nick. When he hung up the phone, she approached him, lightly touching his shoulder. "What did Uncle Nick want?" She asked.

LaCroix whirled around to face her. "He's coming home soon, they think. Now, what are you doing awake?"

"I woke up and you weren't there." Her eyes were wide. "I was worried."

"What would you worry about, my dear?" Lacroix asked, pulling her into his arms.

"That you'll leave me," was her response.

LaCroix. He'd been thinking the exact same thing for weeks now. Never once had he thought she might have the same doubts. "Why would I leave you, when I love you so?"

"Because I can't make love to you yet. You deserve a woman who can fulfill you, not a little girl."

He stroked her hair, his heart breaking. Why didn't I see it before? "It doesn't matter to me, my dear. I would wait for you to be ready, even if the earth froze over while I waited. I truly love you, Fleurette, and you are the woman I need."

"And when I grow old and die, then will you still love me?" her voice accused.

"I would... but I don't think you particularly want to die, do you?" he'd known that they would eventually get around to this conversation and he was not looking for ward to it.

"No, I don't. If I asked, would you bring me across?"

"I would. You know I would." He looked away, unable to believe what he was about to say. "But I don't think the time is right, Fleurette. You should finish college and live a little before you trade one life for another. There is plenty of time for this."

Fleurette pulled away from him, her eyes filling with tears. Silently, she returned to the apartment. Lacroix watched her go, feeling her pain and disappointment. He even felt disappointed in himself as well.


(A week later)

Henri Clerval, a tall, dark-haired man in his early twenties, left his hotel room in search of the woman he loved. M. de Brabant (Jean Claude, of course) had told him that Fleurette liked to hang out at a place called the Raven. But where to find it?

As he walked Toronto's dark streets, he went over what he would say to her once he found her. Fleurette, he thought, I love you,and I always have. Please come back to me. Be my wife. No... That sounded like begging. It wouldn't do to beg her. Fleurette, your legal guardians have arranged for us to marry... if you'll accept. He frowned. No... it sounded like they're forcing us to marry... like I wouldn't want to otherwise. I can't have her thinking that. He decided to wing it.

(The Raven)

LaCroix had taken time off from his show to dance with her, and Fleurette was very happy. They'd been talking more and more about bring her across, and Fleurette now saw the wisdom in continuing her education first. She didn't really like the idea, but it couldn't hurt to wait a little longer.

Now, as a romantic, slow song was being played... a rarity for the Raven these days... she snuggled into LaCroix's embrace. He stroked her soft, blond curls and was about to kiss her when she pulled away from abruptly. Her eyes were fixed on the door and the handsome young man who had just entered the club.

LaCroix's eyes followed hers, narrowing slightly. "You know him, my dear?" He asked.

Fleurette nodded. "I'd like to speak with him, if you don't mind." She said as she walked away from him.

LaCroix watched as she hugged the stranger tightly and led him a table. Jealousy raced through him as he tried to read her lips. But Fleurette had seated herself with her back to him. The stranger, however, was in plain sight and *his* lips were easy to read. I'm so glad I found you, Fleurette. You've know idea how much I've missed you at home. Now Fleurette was speaking. A disappointed look appeared on the young man's face. But I didn't do it on purpose. My father forced me not to see you again. He said it wasn't right for people of my station to get involved with people from yours. Another pause. Yes, I know that's stupid in this day and age, but you know how our village is... it hasn't aged in centuries, I don't think. He attempted a smile, but obviously Fleurette had not returned his friendliness. As she spoke, his face grew ashen. His turned his gaze toward LaCroix, who now stood at the bar. *Him!* You're involved that old man! Fleurette, you must be insane! He's old enough to be your father! He lowered his eyes, and when he raised them, they were shining with tears. B- but... Fleurette, I came here to... tell you how much I love you and want you back in my life. She spoke again. Father? I left home after your estate burned down. I thought you were dead. Boy! was I ever when your cousin, Jean Claude, found me in Paris. He told me that you missed me and wouldn't mind it if I stepped back into your life. Please tell me he wasn't mistaken. The stranger's eyes begged her.

So... LaCroix thought, this must be Henri. Why is he here? He turned his attention back to the young couple at the table.

Fleurette was speaking, and then they both stood. Approaching the bar, Fleurette said to LaCroix. "This is Henri. He's a friend from home, and we haven't seen one another in a very long time. We need to talk, so I'll be back later." She kissed his cheek gently and disappeared through the crowd with Henri.

(The loft)

"This is my Uncle Nick's loft. It's the quietest place I can think of to talk." Fleurette told him.

Henri looked around him at the paintings and antiques Nick had collected. "Wow!" He managed to utter in amazement.

Fleurette smiled slightly at him, but then became serious. "You broke my heart, Henri. How can you expect me to take you back after you ruined my life?"

He took her hand in his. "My life was ruined, too. When Father forbade me to see you again, I thought my life had ended. Fleurette, you should have known I'd always love you. I told you so almost everyday."

"All I knew was that you were locking me out of your life. I didn't know why, and it hurt me." She wrenched her hand from his gentle hold. "Why have you really come here, Henri, other than to ruin my life a second time?"

Slowly, he told her about the deal Jean Claude had made with him and his parents. "He came looking for me... to tell me that when we marry I will receive a high position in a successful law firm in Paris and that we will have the finest house and all the luxuries we could ever want. He says that you inherit your family's fortune when you marry."

"And so you came here for the money?" Fleurette accused.

"I came here for the woman I love. That woman is you."

Fleurette looked away from him, walking to the fireplace and staring at its intricate designed. Why does Uncle Nick even have this? She thought suddenly. "I don't believe you," she said, turning to find that he'd followed her.

Her eyes widened as he put his arms around her, tilting her face to his. "Let me prove it to you, Fleurette... " he whispered as his lips pressed lightly to hers.

Fleurette's thoughts strayed to LaCroix as she abandoned herself in Henri's kiss. Was it possible to love two men at the same time? And if so, how does one choose between them?

Part XIV

(Two nights later)

LaCroix sat on his bed, trying hard to fight back tears. When Fleurette hadn't returned two nights ago, he'd known she was leaving him for Henri. Since then, he hadn't left the apartment. Urs had been up to visit several times-- trying to convince him that things would work out and asking about the NightCrawler. The show was the easy problem to resolve... you just re-air old shows. But she could not convince him that Fleurette would return to him.

Suddenly, LaCroix sensed a human heart beat in the room with him and the scent of roses intermingled with wild flowers filled the air about him. Looking up, he found Fleurette staring at him from the doorway. She was wrapped in a long overcoat, as if she were cold. "Fleurette... " he managed to whisper, unable to believe that she was there. But looking into her eyes, he read the decision she had made. He looked away again.

"Lucien..." She said, her voice drawing his eyes back to her. it was the first time she'd ever called him by his first name. His eyes widened as the overcoat dropped to the ground around her feet. Fleurette stood before him wearing a see-thru, lacey nightgown. Crossing the room to the bed, she drew him into her embrace. "I'm ready for you, Lucien." She said before she kissed away the tears still present on his cheeks.

LaCroix could not believe what he was hearing-- what she was saying. He'd waited so patiently for so long. And now he could hardly believe it... she wanted to make love to him! This is insane! I feel like... like this was my first time.

"Don't you want me, Lucien?" She whispered breathily into his ear as she nibbled gently at his earlobes. Her caresses and gently nips were driving the ancient vampire insane. Then she began to undress him. As his clothing fell to the floor, Fleurette eased her hands lightly over very part of him.

He seized her-- kissing roughly, hungrily. He needed her now... her warm, soft body next to his. Her blood on his lips-- flowing through his veins, warming every part of him. Breaking off the kiss, his fingers tugged at the lacey ties which held the nightie open in the front. It opened, revealing her firm, round breasts. LaCroix slide the nightgown off her shoulders and watched it fall to the ground next to his own clothing. She was naked now, and the sight of her lovely body thrilled him all the more, exciting him to levels he'd never dreamed possible. gathering her into his arms once again, he lowered her onto the bed. "You're sure?" He asked, his voice hissing through his lowered fangs.

She nodded. "You need my blood, too, don't you?" She asked. It was his turn to nod. Smiling, she brushed aside her long hair, revealing her neck. "And you won't kill me?"

"Never, my love." He promised. Still smiling, Fleurette drew him to her neck.

LaCroix held her, weeping silently over the loss he was about to suffer. "I love you, Fleurette, and I always will."

"I know that." She also knew that he had read he thoughts and desires when he'd drank from her. She'd wanted it that way, because she didn't know how to express her true feelings for both him and Henri. "I love you, as well."

"And I, too, know that." He replied, forcing the tears away. "If you ever need me, Fleurette, for anything... please don't hesitate to get in touch with me. I will do you whatever for you whatever you desire of me."

She kissed his lips one last time and slipped from the bed. "I'll come back for my things while you're at the Raven tonight. Henri would come with me, but I think it's best if he didn't."

He nodded, accepting her unemotional tone. He knew she was trying, as he had done so many times before, to set aside her conflicting emotions. He watched as she dressed. Then he asked the one question still burning on his mind. "Where did you go... where were you these last few days?" For some reason, he couldn't read that from her blood.

"I was at Natalie's. I needed to talk to a mortal woman about this. Urs is fine and a good friend... but I didn't really think she would understand." She walked to the door. "Au revoir, mon cher Lucien." Then she was gone.

Part XV

"Well?" Debra Stevens glared at Nick. "Are you just going to stand there or are you going to go in?" She and Jacob Callaway were standing with Nick in front of the Raven. Nick looked indecisive and a little scared.

"Yeah, I'm going in. I'm just nervous, that's all. I mean, what am I supposed to say to them all?" Nick really did look nervous.

Debra smiled at Nick's discomfort. "These are your closest friends, Nick. You shouldn't have to worry about what to say to them. The words should just come to you."

Nick protested this. Deb didn't know them the way he did.

While Debra tried to convince Nick that his friends only cared about his safety and happiness, the crowd gathered in the Raven wondered what could possibly be taking Nick so long.

"Why didn't he come with you, Janette, like planned?" LaCroix asked his daughter.

"I told you, Nicolas only said he needed more time." She scowled at the door. She, like the other vampires present, could sense Nick's presence outside the club. Why he didn't come in and join them was beyond her. "What *is* he waiting for? Why does he just stand there?" She stamped her foot angrily.

LaCroix sighed. "He seems hesitant... a little worried, and very nervous."

At that moment, Nick entered along with Debra and Jacob. he smiled nervously at them. "Um, hi..." he managed to say.

The awkward silence that followed was broken minutes later by Natalie Lambert's late arrival. All eyes turned towards her as she sprinted up to them.

"You're late." LaCroix stated.

"I didn't mean to be. I couldn't get away from work quick enough." She faced Nick, looking him over, eyes shining. "I missed you," Nat's voice choked with emotion as she attempted to hug Nick. He stood there stiffly for a few seconds, then held her tightly when she started to let go. When Nick finally let her go, they both had tears in their eyes.

"How touching," LaCroix said sarcastically. He hadn't fully gotten over losing Fleurette yet, and Nick's reunion with Natalie was not pleasing him.

Nick faced LaCroix. "I heard about Fleurette. I'm sorry, LaCroix. I... I know what it's like to lose someone you feel strongly about. I..." he hesitated, looking to Debra who smiled slightly and nodded for him to continue. "I feel your pain."

"That's nice of you, Nicholas, but I really don't wish to discuss Fleurette *or* my pain with you right now. I am far more interested in hearing about *you*." LaCroix replied, the icy tone in his voice building an instant barrier between himself and the others in the room.

All eyes turned to Debra Stevens, who, with a wry smile, sat down at one of the tables. motioning for the others to sit, she began to speak.

"When Stein first told me about Nick's problems, I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I'd read about such spells, but a "Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde incantation" that works as well as this one did was completely new to me."

"You've encountered others like it before?" LaCroix interrupted.

"Yes, I have, and don't interrupt me again. I don't like being interrupted." She glared at him with the same confident air she'd had the first time they met. Then she continued. "Most of them are only temporary spells. They alter a person's personality and sometimes appearance, but only last for a short time, unless said person continues to use the spell. I say spell, but even that isn't always so. It can be achieved in the form of a potion or drug, and objects, such as amulets. Just about any object can be gifted with the ability to work such magic. *This* particular one presented a problem for me. deGuerre did some neat tricks with it: first there were all the spells he used to generate his power, and the "Dr. Jekyll/Mr. hyde" thing, of course... then there were spells to mask the other spells, so that no one else could find them and tamper with them... and then there was a spell to reject any attempts at overriding the other spells. I had to decode each and every one of them in the right sequence before I could undo deGuerre's dirty work. Then, of course, came the hard part... working with Sunshine." Smiling sarcastically at Nick, she explained "Sunshine" to her audience. "The thing you had to remember was the Nick and Sunshine were two different people. It wasn't just a dark side of Nick's personality, but a completely different person. And he was growing in strength and power, and he had more control over Nick's body than Nick did. And... he was coming more frequently and staying a lot longer than before. When I cracked the code on the cross, I realized that if I couldn't reverse it in time, Nick would never be able to come back. Sunshine would be the dominant personality. In other words, Nick would be dead." She paused again, looking at the reactions before her. Janette had bowed her head, masking her emotions. LaCroix was staring levelly at his son, an expression unfamiliar to Debra on his face. Urs had gasped, but said nothing as Javier quieted her. Debra turned her eyes to Natalie. Nat had turned pale and seemed on the verge of saying something. Her hand strayed to her neck, as if the memory of her encounter with "Sunshine" still haunted her. "You would comment, Dr. Lambert?" Debra asked.

"Are you certain Nick would be lost to us? I mean... couldn't you be wrong? You're so young, you can't--"

"Can't know everything?" Debra finished her sentence. "I most certainly do know everything where this sort of thing is concerned. I *am* considered a master of my arts, a fact you should by now be aware of." Her voice hinted at indignation. "Now... back to Nicholas, shall we? The long and short of it is, I cracked the code and was able to reverse the whole thing."

Nat spoke up again. "What about all the stuff that happened before that? The coma, the nightmares, his sickness, and becoming mortal again? What about that?"

"I was just getting to that. DeGuerre intended for his cross to kill vampires and when Nick attacked him, I am certain he intended to kill Nick. That Nick didn't die was either pure luck or Nick's will to live. However, it seems that the power in the cross was still working on Nick. The nightmares and the sickness were results of the magic trying to attack Nick from within, rather than without. A vampire's immune system is much the same as our own, Natalie. When something is wrong, it fights to regain normality. Unfortunately for Nick, he has spent so much time trying for that cure of his, that *his* system didn't know what phase of normality to revert to. As a result, the vampire in him faded. But not all the way. Yes... he was able to eat human food and go out in the sun, but he was still technically a vampire. After a while, the vampire in him retaliated at being ignored and well.. Nick began to die. When LaCroix stepped in and gave him his blood... it reinforced the vampirism left within him."

"He wasn't mortal!?" Nat was horrified.

Debra shook her head sadly. "I know how long you've been hoping for Nick to find a cure, Natalie. Nick has talked a lot about you. It hurt him, too, when he found out he hadn't really been cured. It was all a part of the spell." She smiled consolingly. "The last attempt at Nick's life was, of course, Sunshine. And had it worked, Nick would most assuredly be dead by now, or else way beyond my ability to help him."

They'd been talking for over an hour, discussing the finer points of Nick's treatments-- some of which Nick never wanted to think about again, and which caused him to shudder everytime they were brought up.

Nat was having some trouble understanding why the vampires around her seemed so blase about Debra. Her attitude around them would have warranted death if it was anyone else. And how she knew so much about vampires puzzled Nat as well. Finally, she blurted out her questions.

Jacob Callaway laughed gently. "I thought you knew about Debra, Miss Lambert. Surely someone in this crew would have told you about the woman whose task it was to cure your boyfriend?"

"They didn't." She turned to Debra. "How do you know so much about them? And why don't they keep more control over you?"

Debra sighed, and looked to Callaway, who said, "I can tell her, dearest. I know you don't like to speak about it much." He kissed her gently before turning to Natalie. "Debra was a student of my father's in college. During her sophomore year she took an trip to New York City. During which, she was attacked by a vampire. He was young, and very sloppy. They shared blood briefly, as a result of his inabilities. Then they were interrupted and he fled. Debra returned home, only to find that she'd developed... how shall we say? Special abilities."

"Sure as?" Nat asked.

Debra took over. "I can sense vampires... their presence, their thoughts. I can communicate my thoughts to them, or mask my thoughts as I please. And..." she glanced at Callaway. "Other things I don't care to mention right now."

"After that, she knew father was a vampire." Callaway stated. "He thought she was coming across, so he told her all about us and about the Enforcers. But she never came across... instead, her abilities kept getting stronger. But... I still think she'll come across someday."

Debra shook her head. "No, I won't come across. I've known that for awhile now."

"Unless someone brings you across, Deb." Nick said with a slight smile.

"True, so true. And someday, I may let him. But for right now, there is too much left to have a normal life for." She stood, turning to Callaway. "I'm tired, darling. Will you take me home?"

"My pleasure, dearest." He turned to Nick. "Good luck... and try to stay out of trouble."

Nick nodded, a smile creeping across his face. As he hugged Debra, she whispered into his ear, "If you decide to try it our way, Nick, let me know how things turn out." She'd been referring to the long discussions they'd had about how it was possible for Debra and Jacob to have a fulfilling sex life. Nick doubted he could ever exhibit that much control.

As they left, Javier asked Nick, "So... how *are* you anyway?"

LaCroix, who'd been reading Nick's thoughts and emotions the whole night, replied, "Miserable and guilt-ridden, can't you tell that by looking at him?"

"You mean, he's back to normal?" Nat asked suddenly, a smile spreading across her face. The vampires all laughed as Nick colored slightly and smiled ruefully at her.

Janette smiled at them both, knowing that Nick still had doubts about Nat's love for him. Rising from her chair, she hugged Nick tightly. "Don't give up, Nicolas... someday, you will find happiness." She whispered in his ear. Then she said to the others, "I must be going now... au revoir." before Nick or any one else could protest, she was gone.

Soon, the others began to take leave. It was getting rather late and each had other things to do. Nick walked Natalie home, speaking with her about his job as a cop. He wasn't too thrilled that his crimes would go unaccounted for, but what could he do about it now? Natalie had received papers from Stein earlier that week, stating that Nick was in perfect, stable mental help. Reese and Commissioner Vetter had looked them over and decided to allow Nick to come back to work.

At her door, Nat attempted to hug Nick again. This time, he pulled away. "I'm sorry, Nat. I need time. I don't feel like I belong in this world anymore. I need time." With that, he left.

With Love,