The usual Disclaimers: characters do not belong to me, no profit being made by the publishing of this work.

Stay the Day (epilogue to: 1966)

Natalie walked into the conference room, absently rubbing her neck. It was irritated, minor rope burns in spots. She was emotinally and physically wiped out after the same questions being asked over and over in her more than two hour long debriefing. Empty donut boxes and half-full coffee cups were scattered around the long meeting tables. Anyone left from the night shift still waiting to be interviewed by Internal Affaires was sitting, watching the local News break-in at the end of the CBC Morning News.

Nick was perched at the back of the room, just inside the doorway, one hip resting on the corner of a table. Unconsciously imitating a habit of his, Natalie approached behind him, resting her chin on his shoulder. She tried to assume a casual air.

Nick had heard her approaching, heard her heartbeat, still fluttery now and then. Resisting the urge to turn and pull her into his arms (too much of an audience here,) he leaned slightly back, pushing against her. Making contact from shoulder to hip. He felt her warmth, the softness of her, pressing against his back. He let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding...

"... I am pleased to report that both the Captain and the Officer who were shot both are in stable condition and expected to make full recoveries..." Commissioner Vetter was saying to the handful of microphones pushed into his face.

Nick heard Natalie breathe a "Thank you, God." He seconded the thought, though he wasn't sure God cared much for his gratitude... He felt, heard, Natalie's heartbeat slow slightly, resume a more steady, normal pattern.

Commissioner Vetter was continuing to spell out the broader details of what had gone on during the hostage situation. The live trucks were lined up right out on the front steps of the precinct for the update. Between the bank robbery earlier in the day, and the captured robber's brother-the gunman- in the station overnight, the reporters were having a full plate of 'local' coverage, and suddenly all of Canada and even much the US was focused on the drama that had unfolded in Toronto for this brief time.

Natalie raised her hand to Nick's arm, "I thought you might need a chauffeur." He turned his head with a grin that faded quickly when he saw the exhaustion on Natalie's features. Leave it to Nat to put his needs before her own, even when she was about ready to drop.

"That would be great, Nat." He glanced at the front of the room where bright fall sunlight peeked through the slats in the lowered venetian blinds. "I, uh... hadn't actually thought that far ahead yet. "

"Well, Schanke just went in for his IA debriefing, I don't imagine he'll be going home anytime in the near future, if *mine* was any indication... and I didn't shoot the guy." She said, trailing off... "I knew you'd need... um... to go in the caddy" ... He smiled. "So," she resumed, "If you can have one of the guys bring it into the SallyPort, I'll call a cab to meet me at your place."

"Don't." Nick covered her hand with his own. Her brow furrowed in confusion. "Don't call a cab." He clarified. "Stay the day?"

Their faces were inches apart. Natalie looked at his face, his eyes, sad and wounded, but his face incredibly boyish, as he waited for her answer. She chewed her lower lip, and his eyes were drawn to the familiar bad habit—one a vampire found incredibly arousing- quickly he looked back at her eyes. He saw the shadows cross her eyes... He did NOT want her alone today. "I don't think I really want to be alone just now. It might help, to, you know.. talk." He added, hopefully, pushing the truth a little, shaping it to his own needs.

"OK." She whispered quietly. She briefly thought of want and consequences, of why this wasn't the best idea; But she did not have the strength right now to resist. She was on a thin, fine edge...

"Good." He said, squeezing her hand.

They used the pretense of escaping the media feeding frenzy out front to get an officer to bring the Cadillac into the big garage bays attached to the station where they brought prisoners into the building. Nick settled himself in his ironically familiar, not-quite-spacious-enough trunk, and Natalie drove them to the loft.

When he heard his own garage door coming down, he quickly popped the trunk and climbed out. Natalie was leaning against the driver's side door, looking small and incredibly vulnerable. She handed him his keys.

Alone for the first time since he had heard the alert every police officer hates, "GUN! GUN!", he pulled her into his arms, reminding himself not to crush her in his grip. She melted against him. He felt the storm building, then shuddering, and he could feel her gather her strength as she steadied her breathing. She pulled her head back from his shoulder where it rested.

"Thanks." She said, the tremble in her voice betraying her. "I don't think I could've gone home to an empty apartment for the day." Her eyes were bright, but the tears didn't fall. She seemed as if she wanted to say something else, but stopped.

"C'mon." Nick said, reluctantly stepping back. He kept a protective, possessive hand on the small of her back as he led her to the lift. She took off her tweed blazer as they were riding up, holding it away from her like a dirty diaper or dead mouse... He rose an eyebrow.

"I never knew... fear... You can smell it. I guess I knew that animals can, but... " she stopped for a minute. "I'm afraid all I can smell is his fear, his sweat and compulsion. And... my own fear. " The lift stopped and Nick opened the door, his hand back on her, small movements up and down her lower back.

"Why don't you take a shower and warm up... I'll go grab something for you to put on."

He understood, she thought. Then, of course he did. He could probably smell it, as acute as his senses were. Sour and sharp. Desperate. "That sounds great."

While Natalie showered, Nick started the fireplace. He took a quick shower himself in the guest bathroom, and changed into jeans and a sweater. His own clothes smelled of fear and desperation—his own, for Natalie- and he was glad he had been wearing his usual black, because he knew he had sweat during the night.

He listened for her heartbeat. He heard it flutter, and steady... he heard a whispered sob, and started up the stairs, then heard her draw in a deep breath and stabilise her breathing again. He realised he'd been standing, just looking up the steps toward the balcony for a few minutes, listening to her heartbeat, and the water...

Shaking himself out of it, he pulled raisin bread out of the freezer, and put a kettle on the stove. While the water was warming, he pulled a green bottle out of the refrigerator, and swallowed half of it in one gulp. Slowing down, but not by much, he finished it, hiding the evidence with the bottles to be cleaned and refilled, and pulled out a second. He needed to feed well before she came back downstairs.

He needed control.

He had almost lost it when he saw *her,* the rope around *her neck*, the sawed-off shotgun digging into *her back.* Right in front of God, his Captain, and the world he had felt his teeth beginning to drop. Then she looked over and saw him... their eyes met. He saw her fear, but also saw her courage. In that one look, he knew she would do whatever needed to be done. Whatever it took. Barely restraining a hiss, he used every fiber of his concentration to regain control.

Something low in his belly, something he hadn't known for hundreds of years seemed to be awakening, clawing at him, like the Hunger—but not. He was not sure when or how she had become so important to him. But last night, he realized his life, be it mortal or immortal, was worthless if she wasn't in it.

He needed control.

He finished off the second bottle when he heard the shower end. He listened and heard a barely audible fluttery sigh. The storm had not passed, it was merely contained for the time being.

Natalie had lingered under the hot water. She could not get the smell out of her brain. She knew that she was clean. Nick's honey-wheat shampoo had cleaned her hair. She followed it with a healthy dollop of the Cherry-Almond scented hand cream she always carried in her purse, knowing that it suited just fine as a conditioner for her long, thick curls. She wanted to cry. She wanted to release all the pent up emotions under the hot, beating water... but it wouldn't come.

Nick had left her his black silk pajamas, a long, luxuriously thick black terry robe, and wool socks. She smiled. He really was a catch. Pity about the whole vampire/mortal thing. Most of the time, he was the most incredibly thoughtful male of the species (human, that is) that she had ever come across. At other times he could be just as obtuse as the rest, but she supposed, in her scientific mind, that must just be the testosterone.

The pajama top came almost to her knees. No matter how many times she rolled the waistband, the pants just were too long, so she settled for the socks, and the wonderful robe. She padded down the stairs, to hear the toaster pop up. Nick started to speak, 'Grab a seat by the fire, I thought toast..." He broke off when he looked up and saw her, looking like a little girl with face scrubbed free of makeup, her eyes huge and a little lost, her wet hair hanging down her back, in his ridiculously big robe... He realised he had been saying something... uh... he cleared his throat, "Toast and cocoa?"

"That's perfect. Thank you." Her voice was small too, but a smile lifted the corners of her lips, even if it didn't quite reach her eyes. She sat on the couch. He brought over a plate and a mug of cocoa. She fleetingly wondered when he had actually bought groceries. If she were less exhausted, she might have wondered when he had bought *her favorite* groceries. She curled her legs under her on the big black leather couch. The fire felt heavenly. Bless him for his old fashioned tastes. She hadn't realized she was hungry, wouldn't have thought she could keep anything down, but the toast disappeared in about thirty seconds flat.

She settled against the back of the couch with the mug of cocoa. Good, gourmet—albeit instant—cocoa. Bliss. She closed her eyes in appreciation.

Under the pretense of putting his feet up on the coffee table in front of them, Nick sidled closer. Without guile, he extended his arm across her shoulders, absently toying with her hair. "Better?" He asked.

Natalie gave in and relaxed against him, coming closer still. She shuddered as her mind began replaying the night. When her captor had made Nick kneel in front of them...

"Don't," Nick said, so quietly she could believe she imagined it. He brushed his lips against her temple. "You're safe. It's over." He knew she wasn't ready to talk yet. That would come still. But she was exhausted beyond reason. He hoped she could get just a little bit of rest...

"I just... I can't close my eyes." her voice was hoarse and so weary.

"I know." he paused for a moment. His hand stroking her hair gently. "Did I ever tell you about my first pony?" Natalie glanced away from the fire, and the hopeful look in her eyes was almost his undoing. He almost claimed her mouth right then. But she did not need that, nor the 'complications' that would accompany it. She needed comfort and safety.

So he began to tell her of the shaggy, ancient black and white pony his father had given him for his fifth birthday... she never felt him take the mug from her hands... In mere minutes, the sound of his voice telling of the willful and humorous old mare who had taken the human child under her care, had lulled her into sleep. He shifted, bringing her with him, so she was stretched out more, so she wasn't sitting on her legs any more.

He found he could not tear his gaze away from her as she slept. He too was tired, but still buzzing with the hyper-awareness that coursed through him in the hours that he danced the dangerous dance with the gunman. He rested his cheek on the top of her head, breathing in the clean scents of his own shampoo, and the cherry and almonds he always associated with her. And her own scent, which somewhere between freshly done laundry and sunlight, mixed with the sweet, musky lure that he would be able to identify for the rest of his days... He too, finally drifted... normally during the day his sleep was heavy and deep...

But uncertain as to how much later, yet knowing the sun was still high, he woke in an instant, alert, at first, not sure why. The warm, precious weight in his arms reminded him why they were on the couch. He reaized it was her accellerated heartbeat and breathing that had drawn him out of his own sleep. Gently he stroked her hair, trying to calm her without startling her awake. She was mumbling, "No... please... the sun, you don't... " In her restlessness she turned her head away from his soothing hand. Exposing her beautiful neck...

That's when he saw the bruises and rope burns. They weren't bad, he tried to rationalise, in a detatched, clinical assessment. She'd be able to cover them up easily... but he saw again the harsh nylon rope, cutting into her, the knuckles on her hands white as she tried to pull the rope away from her neck as the gunman pulled her back toward him... Nick felt the Vampire starting to rise... He pushed it back. It was done.

She was safe now...

Though obviously reliving it too. "Nick!" She startled awake, gasping, hands reaching for her throat...

"shhh... shhhh... I'm here, you're safe Nat... It's over." His hand stroked her back, the way you would touch a skittish horse.

And then the tears came, finally. She looked over at him, and could not stop them from brimming over. "Nick... "

He pulled her onto his lap. She grabbed the front of his sweater as if she was hanging on for dear life. "I'm sorry... I can't"

"Nat... shhh... it's ok. Let it go. You have to... it's normal..." His hand traveled over her hair, down her back in soothing rhythm. "You ready to talk about it?"

Her nod was barely perceptible. She didn't look at him. "I just was so scared." He waited. Not pushing. Just stroking. Resting his chin on the top of her head.

"Then when I saw you were there... " she broke, swallowed hard... "You almost... in front of all of them... "

"Yeah. I did." He wasn't the type for 'talk therapy,' but he thought if he gave a little, it might encourage Natalie to let it out. He had 800 years to become inured to the kind of violence that touched her tonight, the kind that had touched her just months ago when Richard was shot... It was different, from the violence that came across her tables every day at work. This was *personal.*

"When I saw it was you, Nat... I lost it for a minute. I cannot remember the last time I was so scared."

"You were?" her voice was very quiet.

"I was." He brushed a kiss on the top of her head. "I know we can't... be... " he broke off... "but you are very important to me Natalie Lambert. And it scared me almost to mortal to see you at the end of that gun. "

He felt her smile at his turn of phrase. Obviously the dead (or un-dead) couldn't be scared to death. "I thought... I thought I was going to be able to be brave... " Her grip on his sweater had loosened only a bit. "Then I saw that you were in there, with us." Nick felt a shudder pass through her. "When he shot the Captain... "

A long moment passed. Nick sensed her trying to gain control of her turbulent thoughts and emotions. "I didn't want to die. But even more, I didn't want anyone I lo..." she barely caught the slip, "anyone I knew to die."

They would dance around this, Nick knew. But he'd seen it. When the gunman had opened the blinds and Natalie had seen the sun coming up—THAT was when she had panicked. Not for herself. For him. He was humbled and awed.

"I'm not going anywhere, any time soon Nat. It takes more than bullets to keep me down." He felt her smile again.

"Yeah, but that was going to be an awfully tough one to *explain*, wasn't it?" He felt the storm calming. The fact that neither of them dared admit what both of them *knew* just made it harder to talk about what had happened—their fear for each OTHER more than for themselves. But it was there.

"I've made a mess of your sweater," Natalie sniffled, letting go her grip. She started to sit up, and Nick saw her rub her hands and flex her fingers. He captured them in his own.

"Sore?" he asked, gently massaging first one, then the other.

Her brow wrinkled. "Yeah." What he was doing to her hands felt wonderful. It made her hands feel better, but was sending other signals *entirely* to other parts of her. "I don't remember hurting them... "

"He had that rope on you for three hours and thirty six minutes." Nick concentrated on her hands, not meeting her gaze.

"Oh." Was all she could say. He was doing something miraculous to her knuckles, then gently pulling the tension down, out of her fingers. First her left hand, then her right... Warmth replaced the pain and cramping. It was also quite possibly one of the most erotic experiences she'd ever had. She forgot to breathe. He lifted a palm to his lips and kissed it... before she could remember to breathe again, he told her, "Turn around."

She did as he said, compelled... sitting crosslegged with her back to him. And his cool fingers gently began to work on her neck.

"Oh... Godddd..." She practically purred underneath his hands. She had not even realized her neck hurt, or how much tension she was holding there until he began. She let her head drop forward. He swept her long curls over one shoulder. His thumbs worked the base of her skull, just into her hairline. She couldn't decide if she was going to melt, or explode from the pleasure. He pulled the robe back and down, letting his hands slip under the silk pajamas to work her shoulders. His hands had warmed, to be only slightly cooler than her own skin. The tension coiled deep in her womb in direct proportion to the tension being released in her neck and shoulders. MAN could those fingers work magic... her thoughts drifted to where else she would like those hands... she felt warmth rise up to suffuse her face. She hoped the blush did not show on her neck—she prayed he would interpret it as just circulation from the massage. The warmth was spreading, slowly, thickly as her breathing slowed. Nick could feel her letting go. He slowed his hands, encouraging her to relax toward sleep.

As he looked at the column of her spine, the curve of her neck and shoulder... as he felt her warm, soft skin beneath his hands, he wondered why the Beast seemed to be quiet. He wanted her—no doubt about that, but this time he was not having any difficulty keeping the man in control of the vampire. He wondered, with the tiniest spark of hope... if that meant it might be possible... someday...

He sensed that Nat was going to fall completely asleep, and he let his lips brush the top of her shoulder, the nape of her neck, the dangerous pulse point of her throat... there was a twinge, but that was all. This feeling, of... peace... was remarkable. She was safe. And she'd worried more for him than herself.

Once again, he rearranged their positions on the couch, settling her so she would be comfortable.

And this time they both slept. And there were no nightmares.