Forever Knight

If Wishes Were Horses ...

##########

Preface

We were stumped as to what to give Uncle for his Conversion Day present. In the past, we have drugged him (Bits And Pieces), switched him with Nick (The Switch), sent him into his past (Regression, Kessel House), made him human (Taste Of Mortality), frustrated him (LaCroix vs Murphy), nearly killed him (Things That Go Bump), and trapped him in a blizzard (Baby It's Cold Outside).

We considered dressing him up in a Santa suit, but that's been done too many times by too many other writers already.

So, we thought we'd go straight to the source, and we asked LaCroix what he wanted for his Conversion Day. We couldn't give him his first selection Nick said something about when hell freezes over! (We couldn't print his exact words after all this is a family site.) We did grant his second choice, though. The following story is in answer to his request. Unfortunately, if you told you what his request was, there would be no need for the story.

##########

He stood on the rooftop watching the people walking on the sidewalk below. Actually, there weren't that many people walking around, considering that it was nearly 3 AM. Even so, not one of the few people that happened to be out at this time of night had any clue about what was about to happen.

That's when he spotted her. No one had come by in the past fifteen minutes, and from the looks of the nearly deserted streets, it was unlikely that any one would be coming by in the next fifteen minutes either. Perfect!

Soundlessly, he swooped down behind her and followed her for a few steps. He made an almost inaudible noise, and as expected, the woman turned to check it out. Of course, there was no one there. He would not be seen until he wanted to be seen. The maneuver did have the desired effect, though. Although he could not see her face clearly, he could practically smell her anxiety. She quickened her stride. He kept pace. He made another sound, again barely noticeable, but he made sure that she heard that one, too. Again, there was no one in sight when she looked around. At this point fear began to take over and she broke into a run. And he kept pace. With each of her steps, the fear mounted until now it was almost a panic. He could hardly contain himself. Fear and panic only made the prize that much sweeter and more heady. Quickly, he closed the distance between the two of them.

At precisely the right moment, when her fear was at its peak, he grabbed her and dragged her into a tiny access street between two of the buildings. This was the finale. His eyes turned a glowing yellow-green. He could almost taste her blood as his fangs descended. He gently pulled her head to the side.

"LUCIEN! Qui est vous le faire? (Lucien! What are you doing?)"

Suddenly, he jerked away from her neck. He spun her around, and a look of surprise and horror filled his face. He knew this woman! ( But it could not possibly be her! Not here! NOT NOW! ) He took two steps back, and faster than the eye could follow, he took to the air.

( "LUCIEN! Qui est vous le faire? (Lucien! What are you doing?)" ) Her words echoed in his brain as he flew away from the area at vampire speed.

##########

"What have we got here?" Sgt. Vera Williams, the desk officer at the 96th precinct, asked the two officers.

"Her name is Claire Watson. She's a possible assault victim." One of the uniformed officers replied. "We found her screaming her head off in the alleyway at the rear of the Eaton. She claims someone tried to mug her. We've already notified downtown and they're sending a rape and assault team."

"I know it was stupid of me to be out at that time of night all by myself, but the night was so beautiful, and I couldn't help doing a bit of sightseeing." Claire explained. "I'm from Millersport Ohio, and I'm here in Canada for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. I've never been to Toronto before, so when I got the chance to come into the city to do some shopping at Eaton Centre with my friends Sherry and Pat, I jumped at it. Sherry and Pat left to go back to Kitchener where we are staying right after the Centre closed, but I decided to stay a little longer and do some pub hopping with some other friends I met at the mall. I was heading back to the bus terminal to return to Kitchener when it happened. That's when this ... this ... pervert pulled me into the alley and then ... " She started shaking, almost uncontrollably, and tears streamed down her face.

"Why don't you put her in Interrogation Room 3? I think she'll be a lot more comfortable there than here in the bullpen." Vera suggested to the officers.

Suddenly, Claire spotted someone. "Nicholah. Mon frere! Aidez-moi! S'il vous Plait! Aidez-moi! (Nicholas. My brother! Help me! Please! Help Me!)" She called out.

Detective Nick Knight was at the front desk in an instant. "What did you say?" He asked the woman.

"I was saying that this horrible man pulled me into the alleyway and ... "

"No. After that. In French."

"French? You must be mistaken, officer. I don't know any French. "

"Are you sure you don't speak French? You said my name and asked me to help you. In French. And very fluently at that."

"No. I didn't. Why would I call out to you when I don't even know your name and in a language that I don't know? I took a semester of basic Spanish in high school, but I've never studied any French."

"But you ... "

"Detective Knight." Vera interrupted. "I don't think she needs a third degree just now. This woman's pretty stressed out as it is. We're going to put her in room 3 until the assault team gets here."

"I'm sorry. I must have misunderstood you. Would it be all right if I waited with you until the team comes?" He asked Claire.

"Yes, thank you. I think I'd like that." For some unknown reason, she felt she could trust the detective.

"I just have to get a few things from my desk. Follow me."

He opened the drawer of his desk and took out a legal pad and a pen. Suddenly, Claire let out an almost inaudible scream and her face turned milk white. "Th that's him." She said, barely above a whisper, pointing to a framed photo on Nick's desk. "That's the man."

"He's the one who attacked you?" Nick asked, picking up the autographed picture of the Nightcrawler. "Are you sure?"

"Positive. I'll never forget that face as long as I live."

Quickly, Nick ushered Claire into Interrogation Room 3. "There's no mistake. This is the man who assaulted you." He asked, holding up the photo once more.

"Absolutely. His face is burned into my brain. Only he ... he was ... different then. He had these funny looking glowing yellow eyes and ... he had these long teeth ... almost like fangs. It was almost as if he was a vampire or something." She began shaking once more.

( Definitely LaCroix. Only this doesn't sound like him at all. ) "Exactly what did he do to you?" He covertly examined her neck. No bite marks. ( Thankfully. )

"As I told the police, I was walking past Eaton Centre when I thought I heard someone behind me. Of course, when I looked around, there was no one there. I started walking faster. When I heard the noises again, I broke into a run, hoping I could find a police car or an open store, or a public phone, or anywhere I could call for help. That's when he grabbed me from behind and dragged me between these two buildings ... and then he ... he ... " She began to sob.

"Did he hurt you in any way?"

"No. He started to ... I I mean I could feel his breath on my neck. It gave me chills It was like he was going to hurt me ... or maybe rape me or something even worse. Then, all of a sudden, he whirled me around and that's when I saw his face. I screamed, and he took off. It was like he was there one second and then disappeared into thin air the next. I just sat down against the wall and screamed as loud as I could until the police came."

"And you are positive your attacker was the man in the picture?"

Claire nodded. "Yes. He's the man. I got a good look at him in the light from the loading dock."

Nick looked deeply into her eyes and mentally took possession of her consciousness. He focused his hearing on her heartbeat. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Much too rapid and much too high. He willed it to slow to a more normal beat. Tha thump ... Tha thump ... Tha thump ...

"Miss Watson." He spoke slowly and softly, almost hypnotically, timing his words to her heartbeat. "Could it have happened this way? You are a stranger in a strange city. It is very late at night. You are alone. You are being stalked. You are very frightened. A man grabs you and drags you into the alleyway. He begins a forced foreplay. You scream. He runs away. Am I correct so far?"

Not taking her eyes from his, Claire nodded.

"The alleyway is dim, and you are terrified out of your wits." He continued, still concentrating on the tha thump of her heart. "Your mind begins playing tricks on you. You only observe his face for a fraction of a second when he turns you around. You see what you think are glowing eyes. That could have been a trick of one of the lights from the loading docks, perhaps playing off his contact lenses. Since your subconscious suggests 'vampire', you involuntarily add fangs as well. Of course, we both know there are no such creatures as vampires, don't we?"

Claire nodded woodenly.

"When you saw the photo of the Nightcrawler ... and I will admit he can look pretty scary at first glance ... Your mind inadvertently superimposed his face on the face of your attacker. That is a very likely possibility, isn't it?"

Claire paused for a second. "Yes I guess it could have happened that way. When I saw his picture, I was certain it was this Nightcrawler guy who ... Now I'm not so sure he was the one who attacked me. I mean he fits the general description of the man, but like you said, it was dark and I was afraid. I only did see my attacker's face for a fraction of a second after all. All I know for sure is that I was attacked, and like you said, I was scared out of my wits."

Slowly, Nick released his hold on her mind.

"I just hope that no one else heard me accuse him of attacking me. I'd hate to see an innocent man acused and arrested for something he didn't do." Claire said apologetically.

( If only you knew. Lucien LaCroix is hardly innocent. And I'll bet a month's pay he really was the one who did it. Now the question is why didn't he follow through, and why didn't he wipe your memory? )

Vera Williams came to the door with a cup of coffee. "This is for Miss Watson. Maybe it will help. The team from downtown should be here in about 15 minutes."

"Vera." Nick said. "Do me a favor. Stay with her until they arrive. I've got something I've got to do." He took a last look at Claire as he left the room. ( Good god, she looks so much like Fleur. )

##########

"Where is he?" Nick asked as he entered the Raven.

"Which 'he' are you asking about?" Janette DuCharme, the nightclub's owner asked her vampire brother. "We have any number of ... 'he's' ... in the place tonight. Vachon is on the stage, his friend Screed " She made a face and mock shivered. " is over there. Larry Merlin arrived a few minutes ago. Aristotle is sitting in that booth in the corner. Your friend Felix is sitting over there, nursing a bloodwine cooler. And there are three new men at the end of the bar. All of them qualify as 'he' " She looked at Screed again and smiled smugly. " ... or at least most of them do."

"Don't play games with me, Janette. You know very well who I'm looking for."

"If, by chance, the 'he' you are referring to is LaCroix 'he' is upstairs. Hopefully sleeping it off. He came in about two hours ago and ordered a bottle of the extra strong special blend. The one that is mixed with rum 151. He didn't even bother with a glass. I probably should have suspected something was wrong right then. He never drinks straight from the bottle. He just started chugging it until it was gone. Then he ordered another. And another. Before he was done, he had downed five bottles in a row. At that point, I had Brutus and six of the other bouncers take him upstairs and pour him in bed. It took all seven of them to get him up the stairs. But not before all of them suffered quite a few indignities both verbal and physical, I might add. I've never seen him this inebriated."

"Did he say anything about why?"

"The only things he said were 'give me another bottle' ... and then he cussed me out in half a dozen languages, some of which haven't been spoken in centuries, and threatened to stake me to the nearest anthill in broad daylight when I cut him off. Do you know anything about what could have set him off like this?"

Nick motioned to an empty table in the corner of the room.

"Earlier tonight a woman came into the precinct claiming to have been attacked by LaCroix. Only, according to her, he didn't do anything ... how do I put it ... 'vampire-ish' to her. Then, for no apparent reason, he just suddenly took off. That's not like him at all. I came here to get LaCroix's side of this story. Another strange thing, she spoke to me in fluent French, and then denied it, and claimed that she didn't even know the language. What is even more inexplicable, she is the spitting image of Fleur."

"You realize that what you are saying sounds preposterous. It could not have been your sister. Fleur is dead. She has been dead for well over seven hundred years."

Nick nodded. "I know. But if I think this woman looks like Fleur, maybe LaCroix might have thought it actually was her. That might have triggered his drinking binge. The only way to know for sure is to ask him."

" Sont vous sur voulez vous faire ce, mon frere? (Are you sure you want to do that, my brother?)"

" Oui. Souhaitez moi chance. (Yes. Wish me luck)."

"Bon Chance, Nicholah. (Good luck, Nicholas.)"

##########

Lucien LaCroix lay sprawled out on top of the covers of the king sized bed in his apartment on the second floor of the Raven. He was still fully clothed. And snoring loudly.

"LaCroix." Nick whispered softly. No response.

"LaCroix." He said louder. Still no response.

"LACROIX!"

" Discedo. Licentia mi solo. (Go away. Leave me alone.)" LaCroix mumbled groggily in Latin.

"I will not leave you alone." Nick replied. "I have to talk to you. It's important."

"J'ai dit laisse-moi seul. Revenez demain soir. (I said leave me alone. Come back tomorrow night.)" This time it was French.

"I know what you said. But we need to talk. Now. Not tomorrow."

"Oh very well. Since you will not leave me to my misery, I suppose we will have to talk." LaCroix sat up wobbly. "But must you shout so loud?" He held his head unsteadily.

"LaCroix. You're drunk."

"I am not as drunk as you think I am. And not as drunk as I want to be."

"I take that back. You're not just drunk, you're sloshed. Tanked. Smashed. Stoned. Crocked. Plastered. And potted to boot."

"Very observant, Detective Knight. Is that what you came here to tell to me?" His words were slurred and he dripped sarcasm. "Now, as I said before. Go away and come back tom tomor another time. Better yet, don't come back at all." He plopped back on the bed with a muffled thud.

Nick rolled up his sleeve and offered his arm to his master. "Here. Will this help?"

Like a newborn at his mother's breast, LaCroix latched onto Nick's wrist. Nick allowed him to drink as much as he dared. Finally, he withdrew his arm. "Is that better?"

"Yes. Much better." He said, wiping his mouth on Nick's sleeve. "But I do wish you would drink something beside that that awful bovine swill. It leaves such a bitter aftertaste. And there is no kick to it at all. Now what do you want to see me about?"

"Her name is Claire Watson."

"Whose name is Claire Watson?"

"The woman you attacked in the alley behind Eaton Centre earlier tonight. The woman who looks like Fleur. That's why you tried to drink yourself into oblivion isn't it?"

"I have no idea what you are talking about." His words did not convey the innocence he was trying to project.

"According to her, you didn't actually do anything other than scare her out of her wits, and then you simply vanished into thin air. She reported the attack to the police. To make things even worse, she positively identified you from the photo on my desk. So there's no doubt in my mind that you were the one who attacked her. And added to the problem, she was positive she saw fangs and glowing eyes. Fortunately for everyone concerned, there was no one around but me when she identified you, and I was able to alter her memories of the incident before anyone else found out. Very sloppy LaCroix, even if I do say so myself. I know you know better than that. Especially after the way you keep reminding me to clean up after myself."

"Where is she now?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"This ... This Claire Watson. She is Fleur. She looks like Fleur. She sounds like Fleur. She speaks French like Fleur. She even smells like Fleur. She IS Fleur. And I intend to find her."

"LaCroix. She's NOT Fleur. Fleur de Brabant is dead! She died almost 800 years ago. LET HER GO!"

"I cannot do that. I did it once and I have lived to regret it ever since. I will not spend the next 800 years regretting it as well. If you do not tell me where she is, I shall find out myself. You said she was at the precinct earlier. Someone must have an address for her. I will get it if I have to drain everyone there."

"You are NOT going to do anything to Claire Watson."

"Or ... "

"Or you will answer to me!" Nick's eyes flecked a glowing greenish-yellow

"Nicholas! You have nothing to say about what I do or do not do to Fleur ... Claire. IF she truly is Fleur reincarnate, may I remind you that in this incarnation, she is NOT your sister. She is NOT your responsibility. She is perfectly capable of making her own decisions."

"And may I remind you that in this incarnation, she is NOT your inamorata. In fact, she is terrified of you and probably hates your guts"

"That is because she does not know the real me."

( And if she knew the real you that I have come to know over the centuries, she'd be even more frightened than she already is. )

##########

Kitchener

Lucien LaCroix stood at the front desk of the Holiday Inn. It was not difficult to get the hotel's name and address for Claire Watson from the persons at the 96th precinct. A little mind control, and the officer manning the intake desk sang like the proverbial canary.

For some reason, his palms were sweaty. Lucien LaCroix never sweated. Even as a mortal, he never sweated.

"Claire Watson's room number." He asked the room clerk.

"I'm sorry, Sir. We cannot give that information to ... "

( Tha Thump ... Tha Thump ... Tha Thump ) "You will give me her room number."

"Miss Watson is in room 312. Shall I notify her that " He said to empty air.

Seconds later, LaCroix stood before room 312. This time, not only were his palms sweaty, but there were miniscule drops of pink tinged liquid on his forehead. He wiped them off with a handkerchief and stuffed it his trouser pocket. ( This is impossible. There is no reason for me to be reacting like this. I have encountered thousands of females before. Never have I felt like this. You'd think I was a prepubescent schoolboy on my first date. ) Hesitantly, (LaCroix never did anything hesitantly until now, that is.) he knocked at the door.

The door opened.

##########

Brabant 1229

Lucien LaCroix stared at the exquisite creature coming toward him. In his eyes, she was beauty personified.

She recoiled slightly when she saw the burn marks on his face. Nicholas and Janette also had similar burns on their faces from their encounter with the morning sun as they raced for the castle, but LaCroix's injuries were by far the worst.

"What horrible adversity has befallen on all of you? This poor gentleman must be suffering intensely." Fleur de Brabant touched his injured cheek.

LaCroix pulled away. Not from fear or pain, but because her hand caused intense shocks of exquisite pleasure to curse through his body. Sensations he had not felt in over a thousand years. It was all he could do to keep his impenetrable facade in place.

"We will explain all tonight. But for now we must rest." Nicholas de Brabant motioned for LaCroix and Janette to follow him to their quarters for the day.

Weak from exhaustion and his injuries as well as from the lack of an adequate feeding recently, Lucien stumbled forward. Fleur was at his side in a second. He took her hands in his and for a moment, the world stopped as he stared into her face. "Forgive me I I I Need to rest." He stuttered.

"Yes. You must rest." She led him toward the stairs.

##########

Present

"You must be the Nightcrawler." Claire Watson smiled softly. " S'il vous plait entrer, monsieur. (Please come in, sir.)"

LaCroix took an involuntary step back. ( Good gods, she looks like Fleur. ) "I am Lucien LaCroix, and I I " He stuttered. ( Why is she having this effect on me? ) He paused for a second. "What did you say?"

"I said you must be the Nightcrawler."

"After that?"

"I didn't say anything."

"Yes you did. You spoke French."

"You're the second person who told me that. Detective Knight from the Toronto police also said I spoke French to him. I can assure you. I do not know any French. I remember a smattering of high school Spanish, yes but I never learned any French."

"No matter." ( She doesn't realize she is Fleur. ) "I am here because because " ( Why am I still stuttering? )

"Detective Knight must have told you that I mistakenly identified you as my attacker. I understand your predicament, and I want you to know that I'm so sorry. Like he said, I was just confused at the time. Please accept my apology. Come in, won't you?"

"There is nothing to apologize for." He said as he followed her into the room. "I realize that I can occasionally have a very disconcerting effect on people at times. Apparently that even extends to my photograph." ( Thank the gods Nicholas was able to manipulate her memories. I must be seriously slipping not to have done it myself. )

"I understand. But you didn't have to come all the way here to make it up to me."

"But I did. I can't have you " ( Especially you. ) " getting the wrong impression of me." He took her hand in his. The same electric shocks that went through his body whenever Fleur touched him nearly 800 years earlier surged through his body once again. ( Now I KNOW she is Fleur. )

##########

Toronto

"I don't believe he actually did it!" Nick complained to Natalie.

"You don't believe who did what?" Dr. Natalie Lambert asked as she searched through the files on her desk for the report on Maria Zeratovnik that Detective Knight came to get. It wouldn't have been necessary for Nick to go to the Coroner's office, since the pretty Toronto Coroner normally made the rounds of all the precincts every evening, dropping off the autopsy reports and other paperwork to the investigating officers. But then, Nick Knight used every excuse he could find, and quite a few made-up excuses as well, to see the attractive doctor. Although they vehemently denied their relationship was anything more than 'just friends', it was the worst kept secret in Toronto perhaps in all of Canada possibly even North America ... that they were much more than that.

"LaCroix. He actually went to see her."

"You know, Nick. One of these days, you're going to start speaking in coherent sentences and I'm going to faint dead away. Why don't you start at the beginning and finish at the end for a change." She handed him the file on Maria Zeratovnik. "According to my findings, it was death by natural causes. She died in her sleep. No signs of suffocation, or strangulation, or foul play of any kind. She was eighty nine after all."

"I'm glad to hear that. Her husband is too sweet and nice a guy to be suspected of a crime."

"I agree. There's too much evil in the world. It's nice every once in a while to come across a death that is the way it was intended to be." She crossed her arms and stared at Nick. "Now let's start all over. You don't believe LaCroix went to see who and why."

Nick explained to her about Claire Watson's attack and that he had gone to see LaCroix about it. "He all but admitted that he had done it, and demanded to know where she was staying. I told him that she wasn't Fleur. That he was reading too much into a physical resemblance and that he was to leave her alone."

"And he bought it?"

"Not for a moment."

"And you're positive she isn't Fleur reincarnated? I mean you thought for a while that she could be Fleur. And LaCroix obviously believes she is Fleur. What if she really is Fleur?"

Nicholas sighed heavily. "You know as well as I do that such a thing is impossible. Reincarnation is just a myth."

"Just like vampires are a myth." Natalie said with a slight touch of sarcasm.

"Touche." Nick raised his eyebrows and held up his hands in mock surrender.

"Okay. But if she is Fleur, this might be the best thing that ever happened to the old demon. Maybe it'll give him a second chance at love. And maybe just maybe the old scoundrel might leave us alone."

"And if she isn't Fleur?"

"Then we'll just have to come up with a Plan B." She said slapping him gently on the shoulder. "Now that you're here, I have made up another batch of that scrump-diddily-umptious protein shake that you love so much. I've even changed the recipe a bit. I've added a dose of ketchup to this one. That might make it taste better. You do like ketchup after all." She took a container out of the refrigerator and ignoring Nick's disgusting sounds and repulsive faces handed it to him.

"You don't really expect me to drink all of this, do you?"

Natalie only smiled wickedly and nodded smugly. "Bottoms up! Cheers! Down the hatch!"

##########

Stratford

Claire Watson paid for her souvenir posters and put them into her bag. Barb and Jennie would be ecstatic to get them when she got back to Millersport. She turned and nearly ran into the tall blond man behind her. "Excuse me, Sir." She said. "I didn't see you standing there Mr. LaCroix! What are you doing here?"

"I came to see the play. Just as you did."

"But how did you get tickets on such short notice? I only told you which play we'd be seeing when you came to my hotel two days ago. I had to order our tickets eight months in advance just to get seats in the nosebleed section, and I hear every performance has been sold out for well over a month."

LaCroix smiled softly. "I am a member of the Playwrights Sponsor Circle of the Festival. As such, I have permanent season reserved seats. I can see any show I please without worrying about advanced booking." He motioned to the theater. "We still have an hour before they open the doors. Perhaps you would enjoy a backstage tour of the theater, including a meeting with the cast?"

"But the guard said those areas were off limits to the general public." She protested.

"To the general public. Yes. To me. No." He held his arm to her. "Shall we, ma petit Fleur?"

"Oui."

( Again she speaks French. )

She took his arm. Then shook her head slightly. "What's that mean? Ma petit fleur? It's French, isn't it?"

"Yes it is. It means my little flower." ( And you are my Fleur. ) "I have an idea." He quickly changed the subject as he guided Claire to one of the more private entrances to the theater. "Why don't you sit with me in my seats? They're front row center, you know. I'm sure you'll enjoy the play much more from that vantage point than from the end of the upper reaches of the far left balcony."

"How do you know where our seats are?"

LaCroix only smiled. "I have my ways." ( The woman in charge of ticket information is definitely not a resister. )

##########

Claire exited the Members Only lounge. "This evening has been like a fairy tale come true. First, the backstage tour. Meeting all the actors and stars. Then, seeing the play up close and personal. I can't believe it is all happening."

"Claire!" A voice called out to her as two young women caught up with the pair. "So this is your mysterious benefactor? You didn't tell us that he was such a hunk!"

"And does he have any brothers?" The other woman asked.

"Lucien, these two nosy people are my friends, Sherry and Pat. And no, he doesn't have any brothers. Eat your hearts out."

LaCroix took both the woman's hands one at a time and slowly brought them to his lips. "Enchante, Mesdames." He said seductively.

Sherry stared at the back of her hand. "I may not wash that for a week." She said, blushing deeply.

"Me neither." Pat said starry eyed.

"Are you going back to the hotel with us?" Sherry asked

"If it is agreeable with Ms. Watson. I shall return her to the hotel." LaCroix replied. "There are a few more things I wish to show her while we are in Stratford."

"That's okay with us." Pat said.

"Just don't get yourself mugged this time." Sherry added with just a touch of sarcasm.

"Not a chance." Claire returned. "I've got my white knight to protect me." She grasped LaCroix's waist.

LaCroix put his arm around her protectively. "I'll make certain that nothing happens to this fair maiden." He assured her two friends.

"Okay." Sherry said.

"But you know we will want to hear all the delectable details when you get back." Pat said as she and Sherry headed to the parking lot.

"Especially the more juicier ones." Sherry added just before Pat grabbed her by the ear and pulled her in the direction of the car.

"You mean there's more to see here?" Claire asked.

"Indeed there is. No evening in Stratford would be complete without a stroll along Avon Lake. I'll even promise to be on my best behavior."

"Now I know Im in a fairy tale. And you are more than a white knight. You are my Prince Charming."

No one noticed the man standing in the deep shadows.

##########

Lucien LaCroix guided Claire to a park bench.

"I can't believe how beautiful everything is. Just look at that sky. You can see every star. It's almost like it was painted on velvet." Claire sighed.

"Yes. It is beautiful. I never tire of looking at the night sky. Stratford is not what you would call a big city. After hours, there's hardly any ground light to block out the heavens." He gently put his arm around her shoulder. "Is astronomy one of your hobbies?"

"As a matter of fact, it is. You see, Millersport isn't that big of a town either. When I was a little girl, my father used to take me up to the roof in the summertime and we'd lay there and watch the stars for hours on end. He'd point out all the constellations and the planets. For my tenth birthday, he bought me a telescope so I could study the heavens more fully. I've been hooked ever since."

##########

Brabant

Lucien LaCroix approached Fleur slowly as she sat on the bench in the castle garden reading a book by the light coming from the oil lamp perched on the base of the statue behind her. He sat beside her. "A good book is hard to put down." He half whispered to her.

"It's about the heavens." She said as she closed the book. "It's one of my passions."

He took the book from her and closed it. "And one of mine as well."

She put her hand to his now healed cheek, and once more extreme shocks of pleasure rushed through his body.

"I see that your wounds have healed quickly." She said softly.

"My pain evaporated at the moment of your touch." He said, barely able to contain himself.

"You flatter me."

He picked a white rose from a nearby bush and handed it to her. She winced momentarily as one of the thorns pricked her finger. Gently, slowly, LaCroix brought the finger to his lips. Her blood was the sweetest he had ever tasted. He stared into her eyes. Into her heart. Deep inside him, love true love strained to break through his vampire's cold dead heart. For a long moment of eternity, the universe revolved around the woman standing before him.

Nicholas and Janette stood in the doorway. As Nicholas started toward his master, Janette held him back.

"Leave them be." She cautioned.

"This relationship cannot be." He scowled. "It can only end badly."

LaCroix spotted Nicholas.

"We've been asked to invite you to dinner." Nicholas said with a pasted on smile. He held out his arm and Janette took it. LaCroix and Fleur followed, arm in arm.

##########

Present

"The heavens are a very old hobby of mine as well." LaCroix replied. He leaned closer to Claire. "See that constellation there?" Do you know what it is called?"

"Uh huh. That's Canis Major. That bright star there is Sirius, the Dog Star. It's one of the brightest stars in the universe."

"Some say the constellation symbolizes the dog Laelaps, who was a gift from Zeus to Europa. There is a legend that claims that it is the hound of Procris, Diana's nymph. According to another legend, it represents the dog given by Aurora to Cephalus, so famed for its speed that Zeus elevated it to the sky. It was also considered to represent Orion's hunting dog, who is helping Orion to fight Taurus the Bull. It is referred to in this way by Aratos, Homer and Hesiod in their writings.

Other early mythologies indicated that the constellation represents a two-headed dog with Sirius as the second head. The ancient Greeks refer only to one dog, but by Roman times, Canis Minor appears as Orion's second dog. Sirius was also considered by many of the ancients to be a one star constellation in its own right."

"You make it sound so exciting. Tell me more about the constellations."

"Oh there is so much more to tell. Almost all of the stars and constellations we see in the sky were also visible to the ancients." He smiled softly. "They gave them names and told stories about them to honor their heroes and gods. I still like it that way. Modern astronomers give their stars scientific designations instead of names. So unimaginative. Somehow, Sirius sounds ever so much nicer than HR 2491, which is its scientific name."

She pointed to a box shaped constellation. "I know that's the constellation of Lyra, the harp. There has to be a story behind that one, too."

"Yes there is, but why don't we leave that for another time. It is quite late and I do think you should return to your hotel before morning. There is a limousine waiting for me at the Festival Theater." He took out his cell phone and dialed a number. "The driver will pick us up in a few minutes."

"You mean to tell me you've had a driver waiting all this time?" She glanced at her watch. "It's almost 2 am, and the play let out at 11:30."

"I lease the car by the month. The driver is paid by the rental agency. Trust me, he has one of the easiest jobs available. There are not very many places he is required to transport me."

The man in the shadows sank even deeper as the duo headed for the street.

##########

Toronto

Claire watched as the driver put the gigantic stuffed walrus into the trunk of the limo.

They had spent the evening at the Centerville Islands Amusement park on Toronto Island. At first, Lucien was reluctant to join her on the rides, but after trying a few of the more mundane ones like the carousel and the mini train, he quickly became bolder. After his first time on the bumper cars though, there was no stopping him. He insisted on trying every ride in the park. Claire had to practically drag him off the roller coaster.

"You shouldn't have spent your money to win that walrus at the shooting gallery. As well as for all those other things you bought me." She said, pointing to the dozen or so smaller stuffed animals, dolls and other souvenirs that also lined the trunk.

"Yes I should. You deserve every one of them. And if you want, we'll go back to the arcade and I'll win you that bear you were admiring."

"Lucien. You are spoiling me terribly. Besides. How am I ever going to get all of this stuff back to Ohio? The airline is going to charge me a small fortune in baggage overcharges."

"There is a simple solution to that problem. Don't go back."

"Qu'avez-vous dit? (What did you say?)"

"J'ai dit pourquoi pas sejour ici avec moi. (I said why not stay here with me.)"

"That's what I thought you said." Claire smiled broadly.

( She didn't even ask me to translate for her. Amazing! Maybe Fleur is coming to the surface. )

##########

"I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE HER ALONE!" Nicholas shouted at his master. The two were at a private table at the Raven

"YOU don't tell ME to do ANYTHING!" Lucien LaCroix answered back. "And please keep your voice down. You are attracting attention. I assume the 'her' you are referring to is Claire Watson."

"You know damn well I'm talking about her. The two of you have been acting like two lovestruck adolescents these past few weeks. You took her to the Festival Theater, and then the two of you had a long ... and very cozy ... walk along the riverfront. Unescorted, I might add, since you sent her two companions home right after the play."

"A point of clarification." LaCroix interrupted Nick's tirade. "I did not take her to the Festival Theater. We simply met each other there. Second. Her companions left voluntarily. And third we DO NOT need a chaperone. This IS the twentieth century after all, and we are both over twenty one."

"In your case WELL over twenty one Then you two went to the Medieval Times Restaurant. And another night you were at the ROM. Then there was a tour of Casa Loma. As well as a trip to the CN Tower. You even took her to the amusement park."

"And YOU have been following us." LaCroix replied, a hardness creeping into his voice. "It is no business of yours what we do. And just for your information. Claire enjoyed every minute of these outings. And incidentally, so did I."

"Yes, I have been following you. Someone has to look out for her welfare."

"And that someone is NOT you. I will look after Claire's welfare very nicely, I assure you. I told you at the start. She is NOT your responsibility."

"And I told you from the start. She is NOT FLEUR!" Nick returned. "Now. I will tell you once again. LEAVE HER ALONE!"

"SHE IS FLEUR! At least she is Fleur reincarnate. Fleur is showing herself to me every day and in every way."

"If Claire is possessed by Fleur And that is a ridiculous idea She needs professional help. Not your encouragement. Do her a favor. And yourself as well. LET HER GO!"

"And again I will tell you YOU DO NOT TELL ME TO DO ANYTHING!" He emphasized each word with a harshness to his voice that Nick had only heard once or twice in his 800 years.

"Have you told her what you are?"

In answer to that question, LaCroix hurriedly left the bar area and went into the back area. It was obvious that this conversation was over.

"Well, that little outburst got you nowhere." Janette Du Charme said as she came to the table. "He is right, you know. What he and Claire Watson do or don't do is their business, not yours. Be careful, mon frere. You do not want to antagonize our master any more than you already have."

"But what if he brings her across?"

"Again, that is between him and her. In a way, it might be the best thing if he does. It might free you from the promise he extracted from you when you denied him Fleur the first time."

"You're the second one who mentioned that possibility." He put his head in his hands. "But I don't know How can I subject her to the existence that he's forced on us in exchange for my freedom from that same life of unending horror?"

##########

"How DARE he!" Lucien LaCroix seethed as he paced the roof of the Raven. "I know this time it will be different. Fleur knew what I was then, and it did not matter. If it were not for Nicholas's interference, she would have been mine 800 years ago. It won't matter this time either." He rose into the air and headed east. "You will see, Nicholas. This time I will have her. And it WILL be her choice." He took to the sky.

##########

Brabant

LaCroix and Fleur stood in the garden where they had spent so many happy hours together. Nicholas stood across from them.

"If you bring her across, she'll become a killer. Cold blooded. Ruthless." Nicholas warned his master.

"Would you rather see this beauty succumb to old age, wither and die?" LaCroix answered him, gently caressing her face.

"It is that beauty that you love. And that you will kill at the first taste of her blood. If you truly love her, LaCroix, you will not destroy her." Nicholas's face became hard. "You will not."

Fleur looked at Lucien pleadingly.

"It is such a great irony." He said, gently pulling her to his chest. "That such a cold still heart can feel such pain."

Nicholas gently pulled Fleur from LaCroix's embrace. "You need to rest." He told his sister.

"But Nicholah. I don't want to go." Fleur protested, attempting to return to Lucien's arms. "I want to stay with Lucien. I love him. I know what he is, and it doesn't matter."

Nicholas took her head firmly in his hands and concentrated on the tha thump of her heartbeat. "Don't be afraid." He said hypnotically. "Once we are gone, your life will be as it was before we came. Sleep." He commanded her. He kissed her tenderly on the forehead. "Sleep and forget."

Fleur headed for the stairway to her quarters as though in a trance.

##########

Present

In only a few minutes, he was outside the Holiday Inn in Kitchener.

His hands were as sweaty as they were the first time he stood outside her door. Once again, there were miniscule droplets of pink fluid appearing on his forehead. All the bravado he exhibited on the Raven's roof had fled him how that he was here. The first time he was here, he was not certain how Claire would receive him. Now, he was almost certain she would reject him when she heard what he was about to tell her.

He almost turned and headed back toward the elevator. Almost. ( No. I have to go through with it. If I don't, it will be just like the last time. I will lose her. ) Hesitatingly, he knocked.

She seemed surprised to see him standing there, but only for a second. "Won't you come in?" She asked. "Did we have a date or something tonight? If we did, I'm sorry, I don't remember it."

"No. We didn't have a date. I ... " He noticed the suitcases piled on the bed. "Are you leaving?"

Claire looked a long moment at her feet. "Yes. I am flying back to Ohio tomorrow night. I have to. I've stayed too long as it is. If I don't get back to Millersport soon, I won't have a job to go back to. My boss has been very understanding, but I can't expect him to hold the job open much longer."

"I have told you that is not a problem. I will see to it that you are taken care of."

I know what you told me, but there are other things that have to be taken care of besides my job. Believe me. Nothing would make me happier than to remain here with you. But I can't. Not now."

Lucien LaCroix took a deep breath. ( I can't put it off any longer. It's now or never. ) "Claire. Please sit down. There's something I must tell you." He led her to a chair at the table. "This is not easy, but you have a right to know. The night you were attacked ... I was the one who did it. I attacked you." ( There. I said it. Now all I have to do is wait for the shoe to drop. )

"I know." She said matter of factly.

"You know?"

Claire nodded. "And I also know who you really are and what you really are. You're a vampire."

LaCroix only stared at her for a long moment. It was one of the few times in his two thousand years that he was speechless. "You know? But I thought ... "

"You thought Detective Knight wiped that part of the attack from my memory. He did sort of but his hypnosis didn't last very long. It never does when you have empirical proof. By the way. He's a vampire, too, isn't he?"

"But ... but ... "

"I kind of thought that would stop you in your tracks." She smiled slightly. "I was wondering when you were going to tell me ... or even if ... you were going to tell me."

"How long have you known."

"For sure? About the past five years."

"Five years? How can that be? We have only known each other for a few weeks?"

"Even as a child, I knew I was a very old soul. Then about five years ago, Pat and Sherry and I went to a psychic for a reading. While we were there, the psychic gave me a past life regression. It seems that in one of my past lives, I was a thirteenth century noblewoman named Fleur de Brabant. You were in that life too. And Nick Knight was there as well. He was Fleur's brother and you were her lover. But because of what you were a vampire your love could never be."

Nicholas thought he had wiped the incident from her memory. Just as he thought he had wiped the attack from mine. You left Brabant shortly after that but in spite of Nicholas's hypnotic suggestion, she never forgot you." Claire continued. "Even though she married and had a family, she loved you until the day she died. And even beyond.

I thought my life as Fleur was only a part of my ancient past. At least I did until that night in the alley behind the Eaton Centre. Since then, I've come to realize that Fleur is still very much a part of me, and I am a part of her as well."

"What does that mean for us?" LaCroix asked softly. "While it is true that I loved ... that I love Fleur de Brabant, I am equally certain that I am falling in love with Claire Watson as well."

"I don't know what it means." Claire answered with the same softness. "I know that I have definite feelings for you, but I'm not sure whether they are my feelings or whether they are Fleur's. That's one of the things that I'm going to have to sort out when I get back to Millersport."

##########

Toronto

"You told her you were a vampire? LaCroix! Have you lost all your marbles! I thought you had more sense than that! Really!" Nicholas admonished his master. " Now I suppose I'll have to wipe her memory again. I swear. She's got you so addled that you are forgetting all the things that you have drummed into MY brain all these centuries!"

"NICHOLAS! I have NOT lost all my marbles, as they say. I DID NOT tell her that I was a vampire. SHE told me. And she also knows that she is the reincarnation of Fleur. AND she is comfortable with that. AND Claire loves me as much as Fleur does. Period. End of sentence. Conversation ended." With that, LaCroix turned and left the Raven.

Nick watched his master stormed out the door. He shook his head slowly. "I don't believe this is happening." He half whispered to no one in particular. "I have to stop him. I can't let this happen again."

##########

Brabant

Nicholas turned to LaCroix. "We will leave as soon as possible."

"You have probably done me a favor." LaCroix got right up in Nicholas's face. "But you must realize that I will demand retribution. One day when you have fallen in love, I will take from you what you have just taken from me. Agreed?"

"If I ever truly love ... "

"ARE WE AGREED?"

Nicholas nodded his head slowly. "We are agreed." He replied, defeat strong in his voice.

##########

Present

Claire looked surprised to see Nick Knight standing in the hall as she opened her hotel door. " Nicholas. I I didn't expect to see you standing here. But then again, I suppose that Lucien told you about our meeting yesterday. So I guess I was sort of expecting you to show up."

"Yes. He told me about it. And yes, that's the reason I'm here. I'll be brutally honest with you, Claire. Do me and yourself a big favor. Go back to Millersport Ohio. Find some good man there. Marry him and have a boatload of kids. Forget about Lucien LaCroix. Trust me, he's no good for you."

"Nicholas. I seem to recall we had this same conversation before. About 800 years ago. Only that time I or rather Fleur did as you hypnotized her into doing. And she regretted it for the rest of her life. Things have changed radically since then. This is NOT 1229. I'm NOT seventeen years old. And YOU are not my big brother. And even if you were, you couldn't order me to do anything I don't want to do. In case you haven't noticed, I'm a big girl. I'm all grown up. Whatever Lucien LaCroix and I do or don't do is none of your business! So just BUTT OUT Mister Detective Nicholas B. Knight thank you kindly."

"I'm sorry, Miss Watson. I didn't mean to get you so worked up. I was only trying to protect you from what your life would be like with him. He'll turn you into a killer ... " He hesitated a moment as his eyes became greenish yellow and his fangs descended. " He'll turn you into this." He hissed.

"And that little display is supposed to scare me, I suppose." She said unemotionally.

Just then there was another knock at the door. Immediately Nick reverted back to his usual self.

"That must be the driver." Claire said as she went to open it. Instead of the driver, Lucien LaCroix was standing there.

"I had to return." He said as he came into the room. He stopped short when he saw Nick standing in front of him.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?" They both said to the other in almost perfect unison.

"I thought I told you to leave her alone." They continued, again in unison.

"And I told you that I wasn't going to let you do to her what you did to me." Nicholas replied, a greenish-yellow ring flecking his eyes once more.

"And I told you that it is none of your business what I did to her. Or with her." LaCroix said, the tips of his fangs beginning to protrude.

"I'll see you staked before I let anything happen to her." Nick lunged for Lucien.

"Not if I drain you first!" LaCroix replied, grabbing Nicholas by the throat.

Suddenly a shrill, ear piercing whistle rent the air. Both vampires looked to the source of the noise ... Claire.

"OKAY!" She said loudly. "THAT FRIES IT! TIME OUT YOU TWO!" She put her hands into the "T" shaped signal.

Both men stared in stunned silence.

" SIT! STAY! NOW!" She pointed to the chairs at the table in the corner of the room and both men obediently and very sheepishly took their assigned places.

"That's much better. Now it's my turn to talk. And you both will listen. Is that clear?"

Both men nodded.

"Good. Now Nick, I have one question for you. Why are you so adamant that Lucien not bring me across? And don't tell me that it's because you think he's an ogre and a monster. Tell me the truth."

"It's precisely because he is an ogre and a monster. I regret the living hell that I have had to endure for the past 800 years at this person's hands. I don't want to see you or Fleur, if you really are the reincarnation of my sister go through that same living hell."

"So you think being a vampire is a living hell?"

Nick nodded. "It is a curse. Vampires are evil personified. They are condemned to the most horrendous existence possible."

"And you don't know any vampires who are intelligent, gentle and content with their lives?"

Nick thought for a moment and he mentioned their names half aloud. Feliks Twist was the first to come to mind. The gentle, plant loving vampire was definitely satisfied with his life. There were others, too. Almost reluctantly he nodded yes. Larry Merlin, the computer expert, was one, as was Aristotle, the 'travel agent' for the Community. Javier Vachon was easygoing and comfortable with what he was. Even Screed, the carouche, was happy-go-lucky in his own way. Janette was content and even satisfied with her existence. "But none of them were brought across by him."

"You are wrong. I did bring Janette across as you well know. And Don Constantine. And Alyce Hunter. And many others as well. You must admit, they are all content and some are even delighted being vampires."

"True, but "

"No buts!" Claire interrupted. "You just admitted that there are such beings as happy vampires. What makes you think I won't be happy being one as well? Dont bother answering that. I think we all know your views on the subject." She turned to LaCroix. "Now its your turn. Why are you so venomous with Nick?"

"Isn't that obvious? He's a stubborn, ungrateful, headstrong child who thinks that his way is the only way. He is constantly battling me in every way he can."

"That's because you have never once tried to understand what I want."

"What YOU want? What makes you think that everything has to revolve around you? You've never even tried to see things from my point of view."

Again they were interrupted by a shrill whistle. "No fair rehashing old arguments. Now. I want straight answers. Or better yet, why don't I play psychiatrist and tell the two of you why you have been feuding for the past seven hundred and eighty some odd years."

The two vampires looked at each other, but said nothing.

"Lucien. You have been pissed off at Nicholas because you think he took your true love from you. In a sense you were right. He did prevent you from bringing Fleur across "

Lucien started to say something, but Claire put her finger to her lips.

"I'm not through. Instead of chalking it up to fate or whatever and letting the emotional wounds heal so you could move on with your life, you've let it fester. It's now become like a cancerous compulsion to make him suffer for all eternity and in every way possible for that one unfortunate moment in time. Physically as well as mentally and emotionally. Isn't that right?"

"But he made a promise "

"A promise made under extreme stress. A promise you had no right to extract. And a promise that has been fulfilled many times over through the centuries. Amalia. Alyssa. Elizabeth. Alexandra. Sylvane. Alyce Hunter. To name a few."

"He took their lives, not me." Lucien said self-complacently.

"That's beside the point. He loved them and he lost them due to your interference."

"How do you know about them in the first place?"

"I don't know about them but Fleur does."

Nick had the cat-who-ate-the-canary look.

"And Nick. You're not much better. You complain about how terribly Lucien has treated you all these centuries, and how much you want to be free of him. Yet you do nothing to change anything. Every time he starts in on you, instead of standing up to him, you knuckle under. Why is that?"

"I only do what I have to do to protect those mortals who might be involved. I cannot die, but they can. So, I knuckle under as you say to save their lives. And before you ask ... yes, he will kill them and he has killed them to get his way."

"Lucien?"

"It's true, I have on occasion taken the life of a mortal to teach Nicholas a lesson. If he would just accept what he is and stop trying to be what he cannot be, life would be a lot easier for everyone concerned. Including his so called mortal friends."

"And that is the crux of this whole eight hundred year old feud. You are acting like two little boys having a pissing contest! It doesn't matter anymore who is right or who is wrong. It's become little more than a battle of wits between the two of you, hasn't it?" She stared at the two of them. "HASN'T IT?"

Neither one said anything.

"Each of you are only rehashing all the so called terrible things that the other one has done to you in order to show that each of you is totally innocent, and that each of you has been so horribly abused by the other one. Is that an accurate statement?"

Both men stared at each other for a few seconds and then each sheepishly nodded agreement.

"Good." She said, a satisfied smile breaking out. "Now we can start to make some progress."

"But you don't understand." Lucien protested. "Fleur was the love of my life. Because of him, I have lost her forever."

"Et que sont je suis? Kitty Kibble ? (And what am I? Kitty Kibble?)" Claire added.

"No That's not That's not what I meant at all." LaCroix stammered. "I mean I "

"No. That is exactly what you meant. You have held on to the notion that Nicholas cost you your lover for so long it has become truth to you. And it has colored all of your actions and perceptions of Nicholas and everyone he has associated himself with. Now you have a chance to break that pattern."

She turned to Nick.

"And you have to do some attitude adjusting too. You have to realize that not everything about your existence is evil and damned. Think of all the good and wonderful things you have accomplished just in this lifetime alone."

"And think of all the innocent people I have killed over the centuries."

"Nick, you really have some serious self esteem problems, don't you?"

"That's something I have been trying to tell him for centuries. If only he would "

"Let's not go there again. I've heard that excuse at least three times in the last hour and it's beginning to piss me off. I can only imagine what Nicholas has been going through all these centuries."

Nick mentally stuck his tongue out at Lucien.

"Okay. We've gone around in circles long enough. Let me see if I can put it into a simple sentence. LaCroix. You're mad at Nicholas because he prevented you from bringing Fleur across 800 years ago and you've been punishing him for it ever since. Nick. You're mad at LaCroix because he has been punishing you for the last 800 years, ever since you prevented him from bringing Fleur across. Is that correct?"

"It is more complicated than that." Nick interjected.

"Well it is a bit simplistic." LaCroix conceded.

"One word answer. Yes or no."

"I suppose when you put it that way, the answer is yes." LaCroix admitted sheepishly.

Claire looked at Nick. Nick kept his eyes focused on the carpet as he slowly nodded agreement.

"Now we're getting somewhere." She said with a sigh. "Now another question. Nick. Why did you object so strongly to having Fleur brought across? In one sentence that does not use complicated logic."

"In a simple sentence. I guess it was because I didn't want her to have to lead the life I was leading."

"Very good. But you just admitted that not all vampires lead the life you lead. In fact, many of them are content and even happy with their existence. So. Is that still a valid reason for your objections to Lucien bringing me across?"

"When you put it that way, I guess I don't have any objections to LaCroix's bringing you across." He paused for a moment. "In fact, I think I could welcome you as a sister. Not only as Fleur, my true sister, but as Claire, my forever sister."

Just then there was a knock at the door.

"That must be the hotel driver." LaCroix said. "Shall I tell him to go away?"

"No."

"No? But I thought you just indicated that you were willing to be brought across."

"I am. But I still have to go back to Millersport. There still are a great many things that need to be cleared up before I do anything. Do me a favor. Look after Wally. He's too big to take on the plane."

"Who's Wally?"

"The Walrus you won for me at Toronto Islands. Don't you remember?"

Lucien nodded slowly "I'll look after him for you. How long will you be gone? Are you sure you don't want me to go with you?"

"No. I don't want you to come with me. It'll be easier if I do it myself. And I don't know exactly how long I'll be there. Probably no more than a few weeks at most."

He kissed her gently on the cheek. "Very well. But they will be the longest few weeks I have spent in nearly two thousand years."

##########

Three Months Later

LaCroix sat at his usual spot at the end of the bar at the Raven. As he had been since Claire left for Ohio, he was in a somber mood.

"I don't understand." He complained to Janette. "She said she would be gone only a few weeks. Now it has been almost three months since she left. In that time, she has never called or answered any of my calls or letters. It's like she dropped off the face of the earth." He took another sip of his bloodrum, this time from a glass. "I'm sorely tempted to go to Millersport and confront her."

"And what would that accomplish?" Janette asked. "If you go, it could possibly indicate that you don't trust her, and you might frighten her off. Or, maybe she has decided not to return what then? In a fit of anger, would you force her to return? Or maybe even kill her?"

"Janette. You know me too well to think that. I would never hurt Claire in any way."

"But I do know you too well. You have done just that in the past when people do not do what you want or expect them to do. Nicholas is a prime example of that. How many times have you nearly killed him when he did not live up to some of your more preposterous expectations?"

"Leave Nicholas out of this. It is all because of him that this happened in the first place. If he had only let me bring Fleur across "

"LACROIX! Arrete! (LaCroix! Stop it!) I thought you and Nicholas had agreed to end your vendetta."

"We did. But that was before Claire " His face grew hard and angry. "If I find that Nicholas has gone to Millersport and somehow changed her mind, I'll "

"You'll what, LaCroix?"

No one had heard or sensed Nick enter the Raven, or seen him standing just behind his master. "For the record, I haven't gone to Millersport. In fact, I don't even know where Millersport Ohio it is. And even if I did know where it is ...which I don't I wouldn't go there. And even if I did consider going there which I didn't I definitely would not try to influence her in any way. Claire's decision is hers and hers alone to make."

##########

Lucien LaCroix leaned into the microphone as the last of the music faded. In front of him was a bud vase with a single white rose in it.

"And so, my dear children of the night, tonight's topic is lost loves and broken hearts." The Nightcrawler began in his soft almost hypnotic voice. "Have you ever loved someone with your whole heart and soul? I mean truly loved someone with the kind of love that lasts not just for a lifetime, but for centuries? " He tilted the rose toward his face and took a long breath.

"What exactly is love? Throughout the centuries probably beginning with Adam and Eve man has tried to define that elusive subject. The Greeks have seven words to describe love. The Romans five. The French, who self describe themselves as elevating love to an art form, have no less than fifteen separate and distinct words and phrases for it.

Webster's Dictionary defines it as (1) a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties (2) an attraction based on sexual desire. And (3) a warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.

A purely scientific explanation would be the effect on the brain caused by the release of pheromones from the opposite sex that triggers a desire to mate.

Hundreds of thousands of songs and poems have been written on the subject. The list is much too long to even begin to itemize. Suffice it to say that Bob Merrill in the musical 'Carnival' claims that "Love Makes The World Go 'Round", while Tina Turner declared "What's Love Got To Do With It?" Love is in reality somewhere between these two extremes."

He paused and took another whiff of the rose and brought it to his lips for a brief kiss.

"All of these definitions have little effect on the person experiencing love, though. You know the feeling. You see someone. Perhaps not for the first time, but this time it is different. The whole world stops and for a brief eternity, there is only the two of you. If all goes well, this is the person you plan to spend eternity with, and who plans to spend eternity with you."

He paused for a long moment, gently twirling the rose between his fingers.

"But what if love does not happen that way? What if the feelings are one sided, and the object of your affections does not feel the same way toward you? What do you do then, my children? That question, too has been asked since time began. Unfortunately, the Nightcrawler does not have the answer to that mystery either. I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Call me and together we will attempt to answer the unanswerable question. My number is 555 6948. The Nightcrawler is waiting."

He queued the music tape and almost immediately, the phone board lit up like a Christmas tree.

"I know you better than that, Mister Nightcrawler." The first caller, a man, said. "I know you do not believe in such drivel as love and happiness. You are constantly preaching darkness and woe. Whatever possessed you to base a show on that twaddle is beyond " The next sound the caller heard was the sound of the dial tone.

"So much for that poor deluded soul." The Nightcrawler told his audience. "It is virtually impossible for anyone, let alone that mediocre unenlightened low-life to know what I think about love or anything else for that matter. Do not be concerned about the Nightcrawler's intentions, my children. I assure you, the question is purely in the pursuit of information. Nothing more. " He lied.

"Now for our next caller." He punched another button on his console.

"And I wholeheartedly disagree with the previous caller." The next one, a woman said. "I have heard you give positive and even inspiring insights into the human spirit, and I think this is one of them. My feelings are that if love is not requited, it will eventually diminish and wither. This is how it must be. Love is after all, a two way emotion, and it takes both parties equally committed to it for it to survive."

"A very astute observation, my child." Lucien said as the caller hung up.

"There is only one thing missing from your description of love. " A male caller said. "In fact it is the only thing that can accurately describe love in its truest form. It is the Christian description. As it says in Psalm 37 verse 28 For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones ... And Proverbs 8 verse 17 tells us I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me ... And of course the most familiar verse on love ... John 3:16 For God so " With that, the Nightcrawler quickly ended the man's call.

"While I appreciate the caller taking the time to enlighten all of us on the biblical versions of love, this is not about Scripture or God. It is about the emotional effect love has on all of us."

"Sometimes what we think is unrequited love is exactly the opposite." The next caller observed. "Sometimes it takes a long time to show itself. Often it takes long and careful thought and self searching to reach the obvious conclusion. That the person you love loves you as well, and that this is the person you want to spend eternity with."

"And you are an unimaginable optimist if you believe that. Nothing happens that way in real life and I I " There was a long pause. Then suddenly, there was recorded music going out over the airwaves.

Lucien opened a private phone line to the caller. "Claire? Is that really you or am I suddenly becoming delusional?"

"No. You are not becoming delusional. It is me."

"You said that it would only take a few weeks to make a decision. It's been over three months. I have been nearly out of my mind with worry. Why didn't you answer any of my emails or phone calls?"

"I will explain all in due time. What if we meet at that little cafe across from the studio when you are finished with the show?"

"I cannot wait that long. I have waited eight hundred hears already."

"Then you can wait another 45 minutes."

"If that is what you want. But it will be the longest 45 minutes in eternity."

And it was.

##########

Claire was waiting when he entered the cafe. She was seated at a booth in the rear of the restaurant, conveniently out of sight of the other patrons. At first LaCroix did not see her but after a little mental probing, he found her.

"Why here?" He asked as he slid in the seat across from her. "Why not at the studio?"

"Because I thought this would be more intimate and private."

"And the studio isn't private enough?"

"You know what I mean. A decision such as this shouldn't be given in a place covered with switches, high tech equipment, and mechanical lights. It should be revealed with candlelight and soft music."

"Then you don't want to give it here." He gently took her hands in his and leaned close. "What do you say we go to ... Le Azure?" He whispered softly. The words 'Le Azure' sound enchantingly erotic.

"But that's ... that's ... " She stammered.

"Perfect." He stood and gently put his arms around her and led her to the door.

"But how will we get there? I know it wasn't that far to walk here from the studio. I'm pretty certain that your limo isn't anywhere nearby either. And I know how frustrating it is to find a taxi in a city the size of Toronto at this time of night."

"Simple." In the safety of a nearby alley, he put his arms around her waist and under her legs and lifted her to shoulder height. "You are forgetting what I am. I am going to assume you're not acrophobic. You aren't, are you?" He said as he gently took off into the night sky.

##########

Seconds later, LaCroix set down in an unused part of the Le Azure parking lot.

"Good evening Monsieur LaCroix." The Maitre De said as he held the door for Lucien and Claire. "It's good to see you again."

"Yes, Robere. It is a very good evening." LaCroix replied. "A private room sil vous plait? (if you please?)"

" Bien sur (Of course) Monsieur LaCroix." Robere answered, leading them to the rear of the restaurant. "Right this way.

"The Maitre De knows you by name?" Claire whispered.

"Of course he does. I come here often. It's one of my favorite places."

"But why? I thought ... I mean you can't ... "

"Eat food?" LaCroix smiled softly. "No, It's true I can't eat food. I come for the ambiance."

Robere pulled out two chairs and seated the pair. He handed them menus and then stood silently at the corner of the room.

"Would you like something to eat? Order whatever you want. If it's not on the menu, Robere will see that the chefs prepare it to your specifications. Won't you, Robere?"

" Bien sur. Anything you want Mademoiselle."

"It all looks absolutely tantalizing, but I'm afraid I'm quite full. I didn't know when ... or if ... I'd get a meal before morning, so I ate on the plane. Nothing to write home about." She made a slight face. "If you've ever eaten airline cuisine, you know what I'm talking about."

"I can't say that I've ever had that pleasure." LaCroix admitted.

"Count your blessings."

"Robere. Bring us a bottle of your finest champagne. Chateau de Mer 1975, if you have it."

"But of course we do, Monsieur." Robere silently disappeared through the doorway and a few minutes later reappeared with a sterling silver champagne bucket and two crystal flutes. With much low key fanfare, he expertly prepared everything and then sat them beside LaCroix. He waited until LaCroix popped the cork and then he poured the obligatory first glass for him.

LaCroix lifted the flute to his nose and took a sniff. Then he took a small sip and washed it around his mouth and slowly swallowed it. He looked at Robere and nodded his approval.

Robere then filled both glasses. "Will there be anything else, Monsieur?"

LaCroix shook his head no, and Robere bowed from the waist and silently withdrew from the room.

"You really shouldn't have spent this much." Claire said as she took a sip of the champagne. I'm no champagne connoisseur, but I'll bet two month's pay before taxes you won't find this brand on the shelves of the nearest Price Chopper."

"Don't worry about the price. Just enjoy it. Now about your decision. Since you have returned, I am going to assume you've decided to allow me to complete the task that was thwarted 800 years ago." Suddenly, his face clouded. "That is, unless you decided to tell me in person that you have changed your mind."

"Oh No!" Claire said." I haven't changed my mind. I still want to be brought across."

"Then why didn't you answer any of my repeated attempts to contact you? I sent dozens of e-mails and text messages. I tried calling you, but I only got your answering machine. I thought you were avoiding me because you didn't want to go through with it."

"I wasn't avoiding you. Not exactly, anyway. It tore me apart that I couldn't return your messages and calls, but there was so much to do, I didn't want any distractions while I was doing what I had to do. And you definitely would have distracted me. I had to make sure that as far as anyone knew, when I left, Claire Watson just dropped off the face of the earth. And as of now, as far as anyone knows, Claire Watson left to take a job in East Helawi. Of course, she never will return."

"Where's East Helawi?"

"Five kilometers east of 'where the hell are we'."

He smiled broadly as he leaned closer. "Then you still want to be brought across?" He said barely above a whisper. "I'm not dreaming or hallucinating?"

She shook her head softly. "No, my love. You are not dreaming ... or hallucinating. I want to be brought across more than you could possibly know."

"Then why don't we go to my apartment and we can ... "

Claire put her index finger to his lips. "No. Not there."

"But you said you ... "

Again Claire silenced him with her finger. "Patience, mon amour (my love). I want to be brought across. But I want it to be a very special time. For both of us. Do you remember that park bench in Stratford? The one we sat on and watched the stars on our first date? That's where I want to be brought across. What do you say to tomorrow night? That will give me time to do some of the things on my bucket list."

"Your what?"

"My bucket list. Don't tell me you've never seen the movie 'Bucket List'? It's a list of the things you want to do before you 'kick the bucket'."

"I think I understand. But we will have all of eternity to do everything you want to do."

"I know. But there are some things that can only be done during the day. Like watch a sunrise. Or see a rainstorm coming in over Lake Ontario, or watch kids playing on the beach. "

"All right. I've waited this long, I guess I can wait one more day."

"Merci, mon amour."

"By the way, where are you staying?" Lucien said as they exited Le Azure.

"I am at The Meridian King Edward. Reserved the Deluxe Penthouse suite. I know I can't afford it exactly, but I figured no matter what happens, I might as well blow the budget. Besides, it's one of the things on my bucket list. To stay at a five star hotel."

##########

Stratford

Lucien held the door as Claire exited the limo across the street from the little park by Avon Lake. From there, they could hear the crowds cheering and applauding as the actors at the Festival Theater took their final bows.

"Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Lucien asked her.

"For the hundred thousandth time since we left Toronto. I'm sure. Are you still sure you want to do this?"

"Absolutely. I am only asking because this is forever. Once you have been brought across, there's no turning back. Just ask Nicholas."

"I have asked Nicholas. There's the bench." She sat down, and almost as quickly stood up again. "Oh. Oh."

"What's Oh. Oh?"

"I left my purse in the limo."

"What's your purse got to do with anything. You can retrieve it later."

"In a sense it's got everything to do with this. After I've been brought across. I plan to throw it into the lake and watch it sink to the bottom. It has all my personal identification in it. My driver's license, my Social security card, my credit cards, and even my passport. That way, every last trace of Claire Watson will be gone. Only Fleur de Brabant will be left. Besides, it's the last thing on my bucket list."

"Very well. I'll come with you."

"No. I'll be right back. It will only take a minute." She kissed him on the top of his head and started up the slight hill to the street.

The next few minutes played out as if they were straight out of an action movie scene. The kind where everything happens in extreme slow motion. Seconds before Claire reached the street, a car came gunning down Queen Street. He turned left onto Lakeside Drive without even slowing down. Suddenly, there was the sickening high pitched sound of screeching tires as the motorist vainly tried to stop, but he was going too fast. Claire never had a chance to get out of the way. There was a nauseating thud as the auto slammed into her. The driver paused only for a moment and then took off again at a frantic speed.

It only took a fraction of a second for Lucien LaCroix to reach the street, but already a crowd had begun to assemble. He pushed his way through the throng. Claire lay in the street. Her legs lay at an unnatural angle to the rest of her and her left arm was only attached to the rest of her body by a thin strip of flesh. Blood poured from a huge gash on her head.

He knelt down beside her. Involuntarily, his fangs lowered. ( It's not the optimum time, and it's not the way she wanted, but it will save her life. ) Slowly he lowered his head toward hers.

"Take it easy, mister." One man called to him. "I've called 911. They should be here in a few minutes."

As he straightened up, he willed his fangs to retract and his eyes to return to their ice blue color.

"Let me take a look." Another said. I'm a doctor." He knelt on the other side and carefully began to examine Claire. After a few seconds, he straightened up, took off his glasses and wiped his face. "Is there a priest or a minister in the crowd?" He asked, a look of anguish on his face.

"Be honest with me." LaCroix said. "She's not going to make it, is she?"

The doctor shook his head slowly. "There's no easy way to say this. Even without any sophisticated equipment, I can tell that her pulse is much too weak and slow. And judging by the amount of blood she's already lost " He pointed to the rapidly growing pool of blood on the street. " there's most likely massive internal injuries. Even if the ambulance does arrive in time, it's doubtful if she'll even make it to the hospital." He put his hand on LaCroix's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

"Could we have a few minutes alone?" LaCroix asked.

The doctor and some of the crowd that had gathered began ushering the rest of the people away from the site.

LaCrois cradled her head in his hands. Covertly, he listened for her heartbeat. The doctor was right. Even with his enhanced hearing, he could barely detect it. And from the amount of blood spreading onto the street, it was likely that she was nearly drained. A few quick calculations told him what he already knew. Even if he tried to bring her across, which was almost impossible considering the number of people milling around, the chances were overwhelming that he would not succeed.

As if by some miracle, Claire slowly opened her eyes.

"Be still mon amour (my love). Do not try to talk. Hang on just a little while more. Help is on the way." He whispered softly.

"Don't try to snow me. I'm dying." She said slowly. " You know as well as I do that I don't have more than a few minutes at most."

"I can bring you across."

"That won't work ... too late for even that."

"But I can't lose you. I won't let you go. Not now. Not after 800 years."

"You won't lose me we will be together ... Another time Another place Another woman will speak French It will be me."

Lucien wiped the blood tears from his eyes. "No. There must be another way."

" Souvenir. Je vous aime. Je vous aimais toujours. Je vous aimerai toujours. (Remember. I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you.)." Slowly her eyes closed and her head fell limp in his arms. He could no longer hear even the faint beating of her heart.

In the distance, the wailing of the sirens grew louder.

"N-O-O-O-O-O-O-O!"

##########

Three days later

La Croix and Nicholas stood on the banks of the Avon Lake. LaCroix took a plain ceramic jar and a woman's purse out of the leather bag. He opened the jar and poured the ashes inside into the purse. "The purse is Claire's." He explained. "She wanted to throw it into the lake after after she was brought across." He threw the ash filled purse into the lake. "She said that it would be the symbolic final resting place of Claire Watson. Now it is in reality."

"It's a pity that the driver was never caught." Nicholas mused.

"But he was. I found him. With a little encouragement, he admitted that he was roaring drunk at the time. He said that the reason he didn't stop was that he was already on probation and that he was driving without a license. He was afraid he'd go back to jail if he was caught. I guaranteed him that the police wouldn't send him to jail. Not unless they happen to drag the deepest part of Lake Ontario. That's where I deposited his bloodless corpse."

##########

LaCroix sat on the park bench and looked at the star filled sky.

"That is the constellation Lyra." He said pointing to a box shaped constellation. "In Greek mythology, it is associated with the myth of Orpheus, the musician who was killed by Bacchantes. After his death, his lyre was thrown into the river; Zeus sent an eagle to retrieve the lyre, and ordered both of them to be placed in the sky.

It was known to the Romans as Tympanum, the drum, and Canticum, the song. The Persian Hafiz called it the Lyre of Zurah. It has been called the Praesepe Salvatoris, the Manger of the Infant Saviour.

It is also known as King Arthur's Harp and King David's harp.

In Australian Aboriginal Astronomy, Lyra is known by the Boorong people in Victoria as the Malleefowl constellation. Lyra is known as Urcuchillay by the Incas and was worshipped as an animal deity."

He put his arm around the stuffed walrus sitting next to him. "See that small star in the far corner of the constellation?" He pointed to the star. "I have purchased the naming rights to it from the StarNamer Organization. It used to be called HD 1778. Now it is know as the Claire Watson star. According to Dunlap Observatory, there's considerable evidence that it has a planet orbiting it."

Unknown and unseen, a young woman standing behind them smiled and then slowly disappeared.

##########

The End?

Ask Fleur if it really is.