"Lovely one, would you care to join me for an evening on the town? Paris at night is too magnificent to waste indoors," Martin asked her, taking her hand in his, holding it gently.
Natalie hesitated before accepting. It seemed too soon to start another relationship, but Martin had been too nice to her to refuse.
So, she didn't. Instead, she allowed
herself to be led out of his bachelor's penthouse and into the warm Paris
night. What followed was a night of elegance far beyond anything she'd
ever known before.
"I find it hard to believe that Lucien LaCroix has not given you the grand tour of his city," Martin commented as he drove her home later (or earlier, rather) that morning.
"I..." Nat stammered. She didn't want to think about Nick, but he *was* the reason she'd seen practically nothing of Paris. Because they were too busy looking for him... and because she'd hoped to enjoy it with him someday. Natalie looked at the man beside her. He was a handsome man. And he was also kind and gentle. He seemed to know what he wanted out of life... so unlike Nick.
Martin gazed at her with his intensely dark eyes. "Yes?" He queries gently.
"I... I didn't feel like it before," she told him. "Because of Nick..."
"Speak no more of de Brabant," Martin told her as they turned into LaCroix's circular driveway. "I can see it hurts you deeply."
He stopped the car and got out. Even as Natalie began to open her door, he was there opening it for her. Taking her hand, he helped her from the car. Natalie began to stammer thanks... thanking him for a wonderful evening, for helping her forget... Martin stopped her.
"You make it sound as if we will not see one another again, my dear," he told her. "I, for one, do not wish this to be our last outing together."
Before Natalie realized what was happening (or maybe she did, and did not wish to stop it.), Martin took her in his arms and kissed her. It was like him, that kiss. Not more than a light brush across her lips, but strong and full of emotion. It left her trembling as he walked her to the door.
"Martin... I-" she began.
"Yes, lovely one?"
"I enjoyed this evening and your company... very much, but there are some things I still need to work out... I-"
"Say no more, Natalie, my dear. I know, all too well, that a broken heart needs time to mend. Until such a time as your heart grieves no more for de Brabant, I will remain only a friend. If your need me... ever... for anything... you know where to look. If you cannot find me, Jean Claude always knows where I am." He kissed her again, this time a quick peck on the cheek and went swiftly, soundlessly back to his car.
From the doorway, Natalie watched the black sports car drive away. She was vaguely aware that she was trembling again.
Then Nat turned back toward the door.
Opening it, she stepped inside. Nick would still be there; she knew that
without having to be told. And this time, she did not want to run away
from the things that had to be said. Nat knew it was time for her to move
Natalie found Nick and LaCroix in the salon, drinking out of wine glasses and talking. The talk ceased when she walked into the room. Nick immediately looked both apologetic and nervous.
"LaCroix," Nat faced her master. "I must speak to Nick... alone... Please."
This must have been something LaCroix had been expecting, because there was no surprise in his expression.
"Of course, my dear," he told her, rising from his chair. He glanced back at Nick, a slight smile on his face. "I'll be around... should either of you have need of me."
When he left, Nat turned to face Nick. He rose from his chair, crossing the room to her side. "Nat, I'm so sor-"
"Don't bother with an apology, Nick. I think things have gone beyond *that,* don't you?" Nick nodded, agreeing with her. "All I really want from you is an explanation... a better one than the one you gave me last night." She told him.
Sighing, Nick looked away, at the now cold fire place. "I'm not sure where to start, Nat. LaCroix and I have been discussing it all night. Even Jean Claude tried to help me figure out what happened to me in New York... why I forgot you. I really don't have an answer for you."
"Then start before that, Nick." Nat said. "Why did you leave Toronto without us? Why did you leave *me*?"
"I... I..." Nick hung his head in shame. "I never wanted you to be a vampire, Nat. You know that. I spent that entire night at work thinking about how we could never have children or grow old together."
"That's all?" She asked when he paused to empty his wine glass.
"No. Had I done it, I'm sure none of this would have happened. But you were LaCroix's creation. Nat, I wanted him to kill me so we could die together. But instead, he made you one of us. I left to sort things out.. I *needed* to sort things out." Nick had begun to cry.
"What things, Nick? If it was just me being a vampire, we could have worked through that together, I would think. What else is there?" "DeGuerre. Ever since deGuerre's attack sent me to that hospital... ever sink Sunshine, I've felt... oh, I don't know... out of control... like I have no say in what happens to me. And Nat... I felt like there was a wall between us." He told her.
"A wall? Nick, if there was a barrier between us, you put it there. I loved you."
"That's why you never wrote to me while I was... away? Why you never told me you loved me when I called you? I thought you' given up on me, Nat." his crying stopped suddenly. "I left because I needed time alone... to think about what happened... to see if I could truly love you as a vampire. I didn't think it was possible."
"And now, Nick? You came back here and told me that you loved me... then you told me that you loved Janette, too. How can you think I wouldn't be hurt by that?" She asked him.
"Nat, I *do* love you. But..." he sighed. Saying this was going to be hard. "I loved you better as a mortal. I'm sorry, Nat." He swallowed hard. "Janette helped me to pick up the pieces of my shattered heart. I *am* happy with her now. I only hope someday you can forgive me and we can be friends again."
"I suppose in time we will. But you have hurt me very deeply, Nick." She told him. There was pain in her voice and tears gathering in her eyes, waiting to be shed.
"I know, Nat... I know." Nick reached out to touch the single tear that did escape her eyes. He could only say he was sorry so many times before it became meaningless to them both. "Good-bye, Natalie," he told her.
And that was it... Good-bye. He left
the salon and then the mansion. For Natalie, it was a release. No more
tests to perform, or protein shakes, or Nick's constant guilt to deal with.
But it meant that there was also no more Nick in her life...
The nights passed swiftly for Natalie after Nick finally returned to New York and Janette. LaCroix had finally begun her training in earnest... teaching her all the ways of the night... the subtleties which had so eluded Nick.
Martin visited as often as he could. he tended to steer clear of LaCroix, as the two vampires did not get a long. But still, he came whenever he could spare a few hours. Then they would talk. The talking eased her pain, and though it, Nat began to feel things for Martin.
LaCroix warned her against him, calling her into his den one evening as she prepared to meet Martin for a night on the town.
"You wanted to see me?" She asked timidly.
The ancient vampire turned to her with a stern expression. "It has come to my attention that you have been keeping company with a certain Enforcer... one who dwells in this city."
Nat's heart sank. Martin and Jean Claude had both warned her of LaCroix's dislike for Martin... and Enforcers, for that matter. "Yes... Martin Cross. I know you don't like him, LaCroix, but I do."
LaCroix smiled, a smile that could have been read as cold or cruel. But Natalie was learning to read *less* his expressions and hear his words more clearly. With LaCroix, expressions were often deceiving. "No... I don't *like* him. In fact, I have good reason to hate the man." She started to protest, but LaCroix cut her off with another stern look. "But... he has been a comfort to you, my child, and for that, I can forgive a few of his short-comings."
"Thank you, LaCroix."
"Don't *thank* me. I don't like him, nor do I trust him. He's too secretive, even for an Enforcer. You shouldn't be getting involved with Enforcers, Natalie. *You* of all people should recognize the threat they pose."
"I'm not *involved* with Martin. He's a friend, LaCroix, nothing more. We talk about things. He's helped me to adjust to this life." Nat insisted. In a way, she hoped to deny it to herself as well as to LaCroix... to prove to herself that she was not falling in love again. She kept telling herself that it was still too soon to begin a new relationship.
Again LaCroix smiled. Natalie's easily spoken denial did not convince him. After nearly 2000 years, he thought he knew what love inklings looked like. "As you wish, my dear. But do be careful around him. Enforcers are most untrustworthy."
He waved her off and she hurried to meet Martin.
Natalie sat beside Martin in the crowded theatre, her eyes riveted to the stage where Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" was unfolding. Although, truth to tell, she was only half aware of the actors. Her mind was busy going over what LaCroix had implied... that she was in love with Martin.
At the play's intermission, Martin suggested they go for a walk to stretch their legs a bit.
"What's the matter, Natalie?" He asked as they made their way down the near-empty street.
"What makes you think anything is wrong?" was her guarded reply.
"My dear Natalie, in the past few months, I have come to know your moods quite well. I only wish you would tell me what is troubling you. You would feel better for it," said Martin, obviously trying to comfort her, despite not knowing the cause of her silence.
Natalie shook her head. "I can't, Martin. It is something I must work out on my own. I'm sorry." She bowed her head to shield her eyes from his concerned gaze. He would know it was he himself who was troubling her if he looked into her eyes.
Feeling her sadness, Martin drew her into his arms. Holding her gently, he stroked her hair. "I'll take you home, if you'd like?" He suggested.
Natalie nodded although she really
did not wish to leave his embrace.
When he dropped her off, Martin stopped her before she could slip away into the mansion. "Natalie... whatever is bothering you... if you want to talk about it... don't hesitate to call on me. I will always be here for you." he kissed her forehead gently, then disappeared into the night...
I will always be here for you... Natalie heard Martin's parting words over and over in her mind. It had been nearly two months since that night, and she hadn't heard from either Mart *or* Jean Claude since. Had Natalie been thinking clearly, logic would have told her that the two Enforcers were probably busy doing whatever it was Enforcers did. They must have had some responsibilities or duties to perform. But Natalie was not thinking clearly. She was thinking with the mind of a woman torn between two men.
I will always be here for you... Well, that was fine. hadn't Nick said almost the same thing once? He *had*. He'd said no matter what happened, he would never leave her.
Never... Always... Forever... These vampire men sure had their lines down pat, didn't they? Promise eternity and then run off on a girl.
Nat sat down at the table in LaCroix's
library, pen and paper in front of her. She wasn't sure exactly what she
was going to write, but sometimes it made her feel better to put her emotions
on paper. Setting pen to paper, she began to write, the words flowing through
her from some hidden wellspring:
All at once my dream came true.
The dream I share with every girl,
of a handsome knight, brave and true.
He came to me in the dark of night.
No shining armor had he, nor
could he rescue me upon a steed of white.
I was to be his lady fair, and he,
my gentle knight, promising forever
that mine he'd always be.
But forever is a long time, even to a vampire. Natalie thought sadly. "No. Forever is way too long..." she concluded aloud.
"For what?" came a voice from behind her.
Startled, Natalie whirled around in the direction of the voice. It hadn't occurred to her that even as a vampire someone could still sneak up on her.
From the doorway, Martin grinned at her. "LaCroix let me in. I hope you don't mind?"
"No...I ..." She flipped the page over, hiding her words from his view. "I was just thinking." She told him.
"About what, may I ask? For what is forever too long?" Martin asked her, stepping inside the library for the first time.
Natalie met his eyes. "To hold onto a love that cannot last."
"Any love," said Nat.
"Including mine?" He asked, throwing her for a loop.
"Yours?" She asked, as if she hadn't been thinking of lumping him into the same category as Nick all along.
"Yes, mine. Does that really surprise you, Natalie? I think I've loved you from the first moment I saw you... that night you were crying in the park. I've been fighting it... telling myself you needed time to get over de Brabant. But Natalie... I can't fight it any longer. I love you." Martin's words seemed to come in a rush at the end, as if they couldn't wait to be said.
Nat wanted to believe what he was saying. She wanted to run into his arms and let him hold her. But... "Where were you? I looked everywhere I knew to look," she said, her voice revealing her pain.
Martin sighed. "I had... business to take care of for my superiors. I am not permitted to speak of it."
"You couldn't even tell me you were leaving?"
"No, Natalie... I could not. I returned home that night and found Jean Claude preparing to come looking for me. We had to leave immediately." He paused, studying her closely. "You thought I'd left you?"
Nat nodded. "I should have realized...
but Nick... " Her voice trailed off, unwilling to tell him that Nick had
anything to do with it.
But Martin understood anyway. "De Brabant hurt you enough to make you think we were all like him? I'm sorry, Natalie. I can see you still need time."
They sat down together on the love seat. Martin took her hand in his. "I had hoped you'd be ready to start over... to give love a chance to grow." He told her.
"I want to try, Martin." She whispered softly. "But, I'm afraid of going too fast... of letting things get out of control."
"We can go as fast or as slow as you like, Natalie. I will not push you into anything. That is... if it is I who you wish to start over with?" He told her, making the last statement a question rather than a statement.
"I think it is... " Nat told him
just before she kissed him softly on the lips.