See disclaimers in chapter 1. Commentaries welcome.

Culmination

Chapter 8

The Confrontation

Her knee brushed against the corner of the bed, jostling the mattress. Her balance was thrown off and she staggered against the side. Unable to recover in time, she fell forward expecting to land on the soft comforter. Instead the collision she encountered elicited a scream from her.

Why didn't you tell her?

I tried!

She's left you. She won't be back.

She has to come back!

She's gone forever.

No! I won't let her leave.

You can't stop her.

I have to… I have to tell her that I love her.

She's gone…

No!

"Natalie!"

The word he vocalized as he woke was overcome by a shriek of terror.

Someone pushed away from him. His senses were slow in recovering from sleep. Instinct for survival took command. His eyes glowed red. His fangs appeared in a snarl. He focused on the fear emanating from a short distance away.

The rapidly beating heart.

The blood flowing through the veins.

The BLOOD.

The FEAR.

The ECSTASY.

The shadow moved and he reacted without conscious thought. He flung himself towards the retreating form.

Someone was in here… in her bed! She thrust herself off the bed and raced to the door.

Too late!

Arms were around her. Her escape halted inches from the door. She struggled in vein as the arms tightened even more. When the snarl reached her ears, she knew she was dead.

They've come to kill me.

At that realization, she ceased her struggle.

"No…Please…"

His prey was captured but still struggling. He growled at the resistance and tightened his arms. The body stilled.

"No…Please…"

At the sound of that softly spoken entreaty, his senses cleared.

She was in his arms!

"Nat?"

You almost killed her!

He loosened his grip but didn't release her. Instead he turned her to face him and assure her she was in no danger.

"Nick?" As she turned, she looked up to see the faint outline of his face. Now assured it was indeed he, she wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him. Her head pressed his chest. The emotion she hid now spewing forth in great shuddering sobs. She felt his hands caress her back, his cheek resting against the top of her head.

You're safe now, Nicks here.

Safe…Nick's here…Nick.

She stiffened in his arms, then slowly withdrew her arms from their stranglehold. Pressed her hands to his chest and gently pushed, putting him at arms length. Without thought, she reached up and slapped him soundly across the cheek.

"You bastard!" she spat.

He looked down into her eyes. The darkness no longer a hindrance.

She's really here!

He felt her arms snake up his chest and twine themselves around his neck in a desperate plea for security.

When her head touched his chest, he released a breath he didn't realize he was holding.

The tremors he felt wrenched at his heart. His arms encircled her. His hands soothing her fears.

He pressed his cheek to her still damp hair.

He cherished her.

I would never hurt you.

When she released her hold and stepped back, he was puzzled.

Please, don't pull away.

When she hit him, he was dumbstruck.

"Natalie…I…I"

"What gives you the right to come here and scare ten years off my life?"

"I'm sorry…I was worried about you."

"How Dare You! You made it perfectly clear how you felt the other day and now you're trying to tell me you were WORRIED? Get Out!"

"But Nat..."

She pulled the door open and stalked into her living room, flipping on the wall switch on her way. She reached the front door and turned to verify that he followed.

How could he do something so callous?

He's trying to explain.

I don't care!

Won't you give him a chance?

Right now the only thing I'll give him is a stake!

She watched as he slowly made his way out of the bedroom. The sad look in his eyes tugged at her heart. She turned back to the door and opened it. She felt his presence at her back. His words were barely a whisper in her ear.

"Natalie, please."

She shut her eyes and shook her head. "Just…leave Nick."

She's furious.

Damn right she is.

I never meant to frighten her.

But you did.

He walked after her. The sudden brightness of the living room and her presence by the door, foreboding.

I have to explain.

"Natalie, please."

Let me stay.

Don't cast me from your light.

"Just…leave Nick."

Nick reluctantly walked into the hallway.

Natalie closed the door behind him.

What have you done?

I sent him away.

That much is obvious, why?

He had no right to do what he did. Especially after the other day!

Yeah, he walked away from you. After you bared your soul, he walked away.

She crossed her arms over her chest and hugged herself. An unconscious act that appeared she was trying to hold herself together.

But there he was, in your bedroom, in your bed!

He scared the hell out of me.

It was an accident, apparently he was asleep.

I had no idea it was Nick, and when he grabbed me and I heard that growl, I thought the Enforcers were here to kill me.

Why? They never bothered you before, why would they now? Besides, you're much too valuable an asset to them and the community. The bottom line is that he was here and you sent him away. Without letting him explain.

Why bother? I heard enough; he was worried, as a friend would be. I'm nothing more than that to him.

She made her way back to her bedroom, turning off the light on the way.

Are you so sure?

What do you mean?

You saw him, he hadn't changed his clothes since that day, he hasn't shaved, and there were even dark circles under his eyes. He wasn't just worried, he was worried sick!

She sat down on the bed, replaying the last image of him in her mind.

You're right.

I know.

But that doesn't change anything. I can't go on like this anymore…I have to get on with my life.

She laid back and when her head hit the pillow the scent almost overwhelmed her.

Nick.

Unbidden tears slipped from her eyes. She reached for a pillow and unknowingly mimicked Nick's actions of earlier in the day.

I can't believe you walked away!

What could I do?

You could have told her how you feel.

She didn't want me there.

She was angry!

She was terrified!

That was an accident.

It was my fault. I caused it.

Yes, you did. But that doesn't change the way you feel. You love her.

I know. With all that I am, I love her.

Then go back and tell her.

I can't. She won't see me. Not after this.

You have to try, if only to make her understand why you were there.

To scare her to death?

No! To salvage the rest of your existence. What is your life going to be like without her in it?

I have no life without her.

He left the apartment building and made his way towards his car. It was parked at the far end of the lot, and as he passed by Natalie's car, he stopped. A frost was slowly enveloping the vehicle. The trunk and roof were covered in the shimmering crystals. Only the hood valiantly repelled the encroaching cold. The frost would soon claim that too as the warmth was leached from the heart of the machine.

That's what's going to happen to you if you walk away from her.

I know, but there's nothing I can do about it. I've lost her.

You haven't lost her yet. There's still something that can be done.

What?

Go back to that apartment and tell her how you feel. Make her listen. Hold her down until she hears you out. Then if she still insists you leave, then you go. But not before she hears you out.

I couldn't.

You must! Or you'll end up dying inside.

He cast another look at the car hood. The cold was gaining the upper hand.

All right, I'll try.

NO! Don't try, DO!

He turned away from the car, and with determined steps, made his way back into the building.

"You HAVE to know Nat and come hell or high water, I'm GOING to tell you."

He knocked on the door.

No answer.

"Natalie, I know you're in there, open the door."

"Go away Nick"

Her voice was barely a whisper but he heard it just the same.

Not this time.

He retrieved his keys and let himself in. The apartment was dark but he didn't need any light. He purposely strode into her bedroom. Following the sound of her in drawn breath.

As he passed through the doorway, he saw her rise from the bed. He continued into the room, stood before her and took hold of her shoulders. Pausing just a second to look in her eyes, Nick whispered. "I love you Natalie." And bent his head down and kissed her. His mouth covered hers. His lips caressed hers, massaging them, imparting his feelings.

She turned her head away.

Not this time Nat, you're not pulling away from me.

His right arm left her shoulder to rest his hand against the back of her head. His forearm pressed her body against his.

He grabbed a handful of hair and pulled her head up and back.

"Not this time."

His lips swooped down, pressing against her forehead, he moved to her eyes, planting delicate kisses over each lid. He moved to her cheek then on to hers lips once again. When she tried to pull away, he held her rigid. Firming his hold and applying more pressure with his lips. She couldn't get enough air through her nostrils so she tried to draw breath through her mouth. When she parted her lips Nick took advantage of this and insinuated his tongue between her lips. Soft strokes within the warmth.

Her struggling ceased.

He slowly withdrew from her mouth and eased his hold on her but did not release her completely.

"I love you Natalie, please don't turn me away."

She didn't say a word, but just stood there panting; drawing in much needed oxygen. Her gaze never left the shadow of his face.

"Why are you doing this to me?

"Because I can't live without you. When you left the other day, it nearly tore me apart."

"Me? You're the one who walked away! I poured my heart out to you and you just up and left. You didn't even say a word."

"I didn't trust myself."

"I don't understand. Trust yourself to do what?"

"To tell you how I felt without making an ass out of myself."

With this statement, he hugged her a little tighter and kissed the top of her head. Nick let his hands slide down her arms, when he reached her hands he encompassed each with his own and pulled her to sit with him on the bed.

"For the longest time, I've wanted to tell you how I felt. When you came over the other day, I had decided to do just that." A wide grin crossed his face and a small chuckle escaped him.

Natalie pulled one hand away from Nick, reached behind and turned on her bedside lamp. Now she could read his features. The huge smile she saw drew a puzzled look from her. Upon seeing her brows drawn together, Nick continued. "I had made my decision to tell you, but you beat me to it. When you told me you to just listen, I did. I was frightened that you were going to tell me that you were giving up on me. That you didn't want to see me. Worse yet, I thought you were going to leave. Move on." Nick drew a deep breath and released it slowly. His left hand retrieved her loose one and he started to draw small circles on the backs of both with his thumbs. His eyes never left the task below him.

"I listened, fearing the worse, but when you told me you loved me, I couldn't believe it. You made me so happy. I wanted to take you in my arms then and tell you the same, but you stopped me, you had more to say so I let you continue."

Nick continued his ministrations to her hands as he brought his eyes up to meet hers. "When you finished, I felt that the only way to make you understand and believe that I felt the same way, was to give you a representation of my love. I went upstairs to get this." Nick released her hands and dug into the trouser pocket and pulled out the small leather pouch.

Natalie watched his fingers shake as he opened the small bag and emptied the contents into his hand. He enclosed the item in his fist before she could see what it was. He picked up her left hand and brought it to his lips for a soft reverent kiss. Then returned his gaze to her eyes. "When I came out, you were gone. I ran downstairs and saw you pulling away, I tried to follow but the sun was up, I couldn't reach you. I called out to you but you didn't hear me. It tore me apart. I had to tell you…to explain but you didn't answer your phone. I called your service, the morgue, and here, over and over again but there was no answer. As soon as the sun went down I drove over here. You weren't here either, just Sidney, so I waited. I was so afraid that you were gone for good. I couldn't bear that thought." He closed his eyes at the memory. When he finally opened them he continued. "I want you to know Natalie, that I love you. More than anything else in my entire existence and I never want to be parted from you, for if I were, I couldn't go on. You are the other half of my soul, tell me you'll be the other half of my life." He slipped the hidden item over her ring finger. "Marry me Nat, make me whole."

Natalie listened to his declaration. The emotions churning inside her, threatening to overwhelm her. When she looked down at her hand in his, they did just that. A large tear fell upon their hands. Others streamed down her face. Her hand clutched at his fingers and pulled his hand to her chest. She brought her other hand up to join it's twin then bowed her head and pressed her lips to his fingertips.

"Oh Nick, I've been such a fool. When you went upstairs, I thought you didn't care, I…I didn't know…I…"

She was drawn into his embrace. She felt his love for her in his gentle touch. His arm cradling her back, his hand, even entrapped in hers, caressed her still. She lifted her head and touched her lips to his. "I love you too, Nick." Her left hand lifted and traced the edge of his brow with her fingertips, the soft contour of his lips with her thumb. She watched him close his eyes and lean into her palm. She kissed him again, this time it was she who imparted her feelings in the action of her mouth. Her hand moved to the back of his head, the fingers enshrouded in the waves of gold, pulling him harder to her mouth, but he resisted.

"You still didn't answer my question, Nat. Will you marry me?"

She took a moment to study his face. In his eyes she saw just the slightest hint of worry that she would still reject him. She immediately put an end to his fears with a warm endearing smile. "Yes Nick, I will." She didn't have to encourage his actions any further as his lips met hers. Together they moved, each sharing, tasting and discovering the other.

They were together now.

Each making the other complete.

Finally knowing what it was to be whole.

The future awaited and they met it as one.

FIN