This is the third installment in a series that started with "A Father's Truth" and continued in "A Son's Denial." This story picks up where the latter leaves off, so if you haven't read the first two, I suggest checking them out. In my own humble opinion, "A Son's Denial" is a bit better than the first, so stick with it, LOL. We'll see how this one does in comparison.

Also, here's the standard faction warning: I'm a Cousin of the Knight, which means I love the relationship between Nick and Lacroix. More specifically, I love the father/son aspects of their relationship. The thing you need to know is that I do not purposely have them in sexual situations; however, if you are one to read it in such a way, that's fine with me. I have to state it for the Cousins who do not want to drift into UF territory, though I know the majority of us don't mind that. So, in any words, this story is for all Cousins to enjoy! (Something that might play a small role in the story is that I'm also a Nick&Natpacker.)

Like last time, this story has a healthy dose of Natalie and Tracy, and I hope you enjoy it.

A Family's Bond

He opened his eyes in pain as he stared at the late-day sunlight filtering through his blinds. He had a splitting headache—he had it before he went to sleep, and he had hoped when he awoke it would be gone. No such luck. The sunlight that was now shining on him wasn't helping matters, nor was the incessant knocking at his door.

Billy Myers forced himself to sit up and held his head as the room spun quickly. "I'm coming," he yelled to whoever was creating the ungodly noise as he tried to prepare himself for his latest feat. He stood and used his left hand to rest on furniture as he made his way across his one-room apartment.

He swung the door open and without looking up, he hissed, "What do you want?"

"You're a popular man," a familiar voice replied.

Billy looked up and said, "I told you to never come here again. I'm not even supposed to be in the city." He stepped back to let his visitor inside. Before he closed the door, he looked into the hall to make sure no one was watching.

"That's precisely what I came to talk to you about."

"What's that?" he asked, his head still spinning as he made his way back to his bed to sit down.

"Your presence," his visitor answered.

"What about it?"

"Do you know the police are looking for you, as well as one of the bosses on the streets?"

Despite the pain it caused, Billy shot his head up to stare unbelievingly at the bringer of this news. "Why?" he questioned.

"You tell me," replied the man. "You told me a few days ago that you did a big job that paid big. You bought a lot of merchandise from me. Now, normally, I don't care where my clients get their money as long as I'm paid, but I want to know why everyone is looking for...you." His face plainly showed his disbelief.

"I told you there was a lot more to me than you thought. People appreciate my special skills."

"That's not what I heard," he replied.

"What do you mean?"

"The police only want you for questioning, but the other…you have a price on your head."

Billy leaned back as if he was propping himself up and slipped his hand under the pillow where he kept his revolver. "And, you're here because you want to collect," he guessed.

The man shrugged. "Let's just say it's also a job that pays big, and unless you can give me a reason to not collect, I'm afraid I don't have a choice."

"I can give you a reason," stated Billy, confidently. His mind was now clear with only one thought on his mind: survival.

"And, what's that?" the man asked.

"This," answered Billy, pulling the revolver out from under his pillow and shooting his visitor multiple times.

Knowing his apartment was no longer safe, Billy grabbed a few essentials and left. Undoubtedly, one of his nosy neighbors had heard the shots and called the police. He had to be long gone before they arrived. He should have known better than to try to take up a permanent residence. He wouldn't make that mistake again.

=) =) =)

Nick and Tracy worked their way into the tiny apartment with great difficulty. Police and forensics were everywhere, and almost no one could walk anywhere without bumping into someone.

"Excuse me," said Tracy as she stepped on one of the photographers' feet, trying to keep up with Nick as he walked quickly through the cluster of people. Obviously being what he was made it easier for him to migrate through the mass.

"Quite all right," the photographer answered and continued taking pictures of things several police officers were pointing at.

Nick made his way to Natalie, who was crouched over a body, preparing to cover it with a sheet.

"What have we got?" asked Nick, as Natalie looked up at him and stood.

"Multiple gunshot wounds to the chest. TOD is…" She paused to look at her watch. "…within the last twenty-four hours."

"Can we see the body?" questioned Tracy, still trying to avoid the people around her as she walked up and stood behind Nick.

"Sure." Natalie ceased her motions with the sheet and with a waving hand gestured to the blood-splattered victim. Natalie had stated multiple gun-shot wounds, but to the untrained eye, it looked like one huge hole.

Tracy immediately sucked in her breath, grabbed Nick's elbow, and asked softly, "Are you okay with this?"

Natalie gave the partners an odd stare as Nick replied distractedly, "I'm fine." He bent down to take a better look at the body.

"Are you sure?" Tracy asked again, standing over him, unconsciously paying more attention to Nick than the body. "I'm sure the smell in this tiny room has to be overwhelming. Not to mention—look at him!—he's covered in blood."

"Have you seen me have many problems at crime scenes?" he asked, as proof to his state of being. Now that he was through looking at the body, he started paying attention to what his partner was actually saying. He quickly realized Tracy was going to have to get used to the idea of working with a vampire. Nick smirked briefly in amusement as he stood.

"Okay," she replied, shaking her head. With her cheeks blushing bright red, she whispered so only Nick could hear, "Sorry, I'm still getting used to…what we discussed. I just…I want to know what it's like for you, what bothers you, and what I can do to help."

Nick smiled at Tracy again. "I'm fine, and we'll talk about this later."

"Okay," she said with a smile and walked as quickly as she could around the throngs of people. She needed to get back into the hall before she stuck her foot in her mouth again. She would talk to the neighbor who had phoned the police.

=) =) =)

As Tracy walked out into the apartment building's hallway, Natalie covered the victim and asked Nick, "What was with Tracy?"

"You know Tracy," he said vaguely with a shrug, as he started examining the apartment a little closer.

"Yeah, I do, which is precisely why I asked. That was a little backward; usually, it's you asking her if she's okay, not the other way around."

Nick shrugged again.

Nat walked to Nick's left side and studied his profile. "She knows," she whispered, almost questioningly. After a few more seconds of Nick's silence, she stated loudly, "SHE KNOWS!"

Nick widened his eyes at Natalie's reaction. He grabbed her wrist and said, "I think you're being a little loud, Nat, but yes, she knows."

Nat continued to stare at Nick as if he'd lost his mind. She shook her hand loose and leaned against the wall beside the table Nick was examining. "I have to be losing my mind," she stated with a small chuckle that sounded a little too forced. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think you told me yesterday that you killed a man and was going back to Lacroix. If I didn't know any better, I would swear you just told me Tracy knew your secret…a secret—I might add—that you were loathe to share with anyone. No, I'm dreaming."

"It's not like I had much of a choice," he replied softly, glancing nervously at Nat. "I had to tell her something that she'd believe or our partnership would be over, and I would have had to explain the problem to the captain. Besides, it was inevitable that she would find out. She already knows about vampires."

Natalie shook her head and said, "Okay," as she pulled her gloves off. "I'm just surprised at all the changes that are suddenly happening in your life."

Nick looked Natalie squarely in the eye and said, "Trust me, I am, too."

=) =) =)

Lacroix sipped from his glass as he surveyed the room. The Raven was packed tonight, and despite his usual amusement in watching human beings dance with the very predators that could take their life away in the blink of an eye, tonight he found it boring, tedious at best. He had much more important things on his mind.

Who would have thought when Nicholas had decided to let go of his mortal bonds and relax into his own vampiric nature, Lacroix would be the one to pick up the anxiety? No, it wasn't quite anxiety—it was frustration.

Lacroix had sent word throughout the community and streets that he was looking for Billy Myers. No vampire or human had stepped forward with any information, and of course, it was more than a little annoying. Billy may have been useful to him in the past, but the miscreant wasn't anywhere near capable of making a clean break from his life in Toronto. Someone out there knew where he was, and Lacroix knew he had to find that person or Billy before Nicholas did. His life depended on it.

Long ago he had admitted to himself that Nicholas was one of his deepest pleasures in life. The boy had the power to make his heart burst with joy or break in sorrow. No other, besides perhaps to a smaller degree Divia in her mortal years, could elicit such emotions from him. That's why he held on to Nicholas with such tenacity. Nicholas made eternity seem bearable.

And, who would have thought the Great General Lucien Lacroix would ever think of such things? When did he ever believe life was not worth living? Never. Oh, he very much believed life was a gift, the most precious of any ever given, but that didn't mean there were not ways to make it more enjoyable. Nicholas was his answer. He never tired of watching his son; it didn't matter what the boy was doing: He could be playing his piano, painting a new work of art, or arguing with him about the sanctity of human life…It didn't matter. All of it was worth watching because of the passion, the life, his son put into everything he did. Nicholas was everything he was not. He was the other side of the coin. He made him complete.

And, those words would never see the light of day or the darkness of night. Instead, he would simply bring his child back into the fold completely and show Nicholas everyday why he belonged at his father's side. Together, they were so strong, and finally, after so long, Nicholas was beginning to see it, as well.

"Is everything okay?" asked Marcus, interrupting Lacroix's reverie.

Lacroix turned back to the bar and eyed his bartender. "Yes, why do you ask?"

"I thought you might have heard about the latest with Billy."

Lacroix raised his eyebrow but gave no other answer or obvious sign of interest.

Fortunately, Marcus knew the signs and continued, "It turns out Billy hasn't left the city. Word around the club is he was under our very noses on Queen Street. He was spotted leaving an apartment building after a shooting occurred there."

Lacroix shut his eyes briefly, and it took a great will of strength not to reach his hand up and squeeze the bridge of his nose in frustration. "And, was anyone we know dispatched to take a look at the scene?" he asked, instinctively knowing the answer.

Marcus nodded, realizing his answer wouldn't be liked. "Nicholas."

"Of course," Lacroix answered, nonchalantly. "Even in my mortal days, Marcus, the great God Sors never sought to make things easy." He paused in thought for a moment then added whimsically, "But I suppose Mars knew I would have been bored if it had been any other way."

Marcus shrugged, not really knowing how to respond. Lacroix rarely spoke of religion of any kind, regardless of whether it was his old faith or not, so he didn't want to say the wrong thing. He refilled Lacroix's cup and stated, "Our people are still searching for Billy. He won't be easy to find now that he's back on the streets."

Lacroix smiled and said, "Au contraire that is where we do our best hunting."

=) =) =)

Tracy watched as Nick stepped out of the apartment and started making his way over to her. She had just finished her interview with Mr. Thomas, the next door neighbor who had called the police and also happened to be the landlord, and she couldn't wait to tell Nick the news.

"You'll never guess what I just found out," declared Tracy, excitedly, not quite waiting for Nick to finish walking to her. "I just spoke with the landlord, and he said this apartment is rented to a Cody Astroph."

Nick replied, "One of our victims at the warehouse."

"And, that's not the end of it," added Tracy with an enthusiastic nod. "It turns out Cody was here this morning, and unless his body walked out of the morgue, I have to assume…"

Nick cut her off, "…that this apartment belongs to none other than Billy Meyers."

Tracy folded her arms and whined, "You sure know how to squander a big reveal."

Nick held his hand out to her and stated, "This was on a table inside near the victim. I guess he was in such a hurry after the shooting that he forgot it." Tracy retrieved an ID from his grasp.

"William Meyers," she read. She looked back up at her partner and asked, "So, what do you think is going on here? I mean, according to you, he's a hunter, so he kills vampires." Tracy paused to look at the entrance to Billy's apartment. She pointed and added, "The victim looks pretty human to me."

Nick looked back at the apartment door as Natalie and her crew pulled the body from the room on a stretcher. "I don't know," he answered, "but what I do know is that when dealing with hunters or vampires, nothing is quite what it seems at first."

Nicholas rushed into his bedroom as soon as Lacroix and he had arrived at their dwellings. The events that had happened throughout the night kept replaying in his mind. How could he have done it? How could Lacroix have been so cruel to his creation, to simply kill it without a second thought?

"Nicolas?" questioned Janette outside his door. She pushed it opened and stood inside the doorframe, neither coming in nor leaving.

He turned weary eyes to her and whispered in greeting, "Janette."

"What happened?" she asked, finally coming into the room and sitting on the bed beside him. "I asked Lacroix, but he wouldn't tell me. Why did you question him like that, Nicolas? It can bring no good."

Nicholas simply shook his head. He looked up into Janette's eyes and then glanced quickly at the door. "I saw a side of our master tonight that I dare not see again. He is capable of great vice."

"As are we all," countered Janette, steeling her response, though secretly worrying where this line of discussion was going. Lacroix would not tolerate ill-thoughts from Nicolas, especially at such an early age.

"Not many could make a child and then kill it soon after," he cried. Though he refused to let them fall, Janette could see tears pooling in his eyes.

Janette flung her arms around Nicholas and exclaimed, "Mon amor, Lacroix is not going to kill you. He has claimed you as his son, as I am his daughter. You spoke out of turn today, but he will forgive as long as you learn not to repeat such a folly again."

"I'm not talking about me," Nicholas stated, pulling away from Janette, "at least not yet."

"Then to whom are you referring? Lacroix has not brought across anyone in centuries besides you," she countered.

Nicholas glanced at the door and quickly dashed across the room to close it. "Tonight," he answered. "Tonight Lacroix brought someone across."

"Who?" questioned Janette, now feeling sure Nicolas had witnessed something too horrific for his current sensibilities—he had not yet shed away his mortal fears and convictions.

"I don't know," he bellowed as he shook himself and then looked at the door warily, as if realizing he had spoken too loudly. He rushed back to Janette and continued, "He was a mere drunk commoner. He brought him across to show me that he could fly on pure instinct…and then he killed him."

Tears gathered in Nicholas' eyes again as he stated, "I don't know if I can do this, Janette. How can I trust someone who can kill his child so easily? How can I trust that what we are is not evil when he does such vile things?" He wrapped his arms around Janette and buried his face into her shoulder and whispered, "I want to go back."

Suddenly, the door opened, and Janette quickly pushed Nicholas aside and rushed to her feet. She stood between Lacroix and Nicolas who was still on the bed and wiping at his tears. "No, maitre, he doesn't know what he's saying. He's frightened," she pleaded.

"Leave us," ordered Lacroix, firmly.

Janette bit her lip as she looked back at Nicolas. She really liked this one, and she thought Lacroix did, too. She hoped he did not kill him.

As the door closed, Nicholas pushed his back against the headboard and watched as Lacroix walked slowly to him.

Lacroix, on the other hand, was debating how he should handle the situation. He was quite aware of the emotions thrumming through their bond, and he even heard the latter part of the discussion the boy was having with Janette. He paused as he reached the side of the bed and sat down, still staring at the bundle of nerves watching him. "You believe I am a cruel master," he stated slowly. No emotion was shown in these words. It was as if he were speaking of something as inconsequential as the owl being present at night.

Nicholas swallowed roughly and looked down at his person, before returning his gaze to the man before him. "Why did you do it?" he finally questioned, throwing all reservations to the wind. Lacroix was here, and Nicholas knew they were going to have it out, so he might as well ask what he wanted to know. "He did nothing to you, and you were not hungry."

"I was teaching you a lesson," explained Lacroix, offhandedly.

"And, killing someone was the only way to do it?" asked Nicholas, sounding as if he were near hysterics.

"You did not believe Janette when she agreed with me. You needed further proof, and I provided it."

"You murdered that poor man," insisted Nicholas, "and with no good cause."

Lacroix was getting angry; Nicholas was speaking against him again. "He served a purpose," he snapped. "I gave his life more meaning than it had before."

Nicholas stared into Lacroix's eyes and whispered, "And, to what purpose do I serve?"

Lacroix remained quiet as Nicholas continued. "I need to know what your intentions are. Do you plan on killing me as soon as I serve whatever purpose you have given me?"

Tired of Nicholas' insecurities and questions, he stated angrily, "You know what your purpose is. I have told you often enough, and surely, if you were not paying attention, you have read it in my blood."

Nicholas looked away and stated, "I am to be your protégé."

"Yes," agreed Lacroix, calmly.

"What if I fail?"

"You won't."

"But what if I do?" Nicholas met his gaze, and Lacroix knew what he had to do. He glanced at the door to make sure it was firmly shut and then stood again to maneuver his way to the head of the bed. He scooted beside Nicholas, slipped his arms around him, and pulled his head to his shoulder. "How can you fail at being my son? I have watched you, Nicholas, for a very long time, and I have compared you to all the men I have ever known. Out of all those people, throughout all these years, I have chosen you to be my protégé…my son. I will not kill you as if you were some beggar off the streets. You have already shown me with your skills and passions that I was not in err to choose you."

"Right," answered Nicholas, pulling back slightly from the embrace, "just like you are so proud of my abilities to fly."

Lacroix chuckled softly and tightened his embrace as Nicholas laid his head back on his shoulder. "We will work on that," he promised. Then, he added, "Don't worry about the drunkard, Nicolas. He was not my son—you are."

Nicholas pulled his head back again and looked into Lacroix's eyes to see if he was serious and if the distinction of "son" really made a difference. He couldn't read his master often, but his eyes seemed sincere this time. He smiled, at once comforted, and settled back into the embrace. He didn't know if he actually believed Lacroix, but he wanted to, and for right now, that's what mattered.

"So, what are we going to do now?" questioned Tracy, continuing to watch the body being removed from the premises.

"We just have to wait and see," Nick answered.

"What?" she questioned, not sure if she heard him correctly.

Nick shook himself and gave Tracy a brief smile. "Sorry, my mind was elsewhere."

"I hope so," Tracy quipped. "I could just imagine explaining to the captain that our game plan is to simply sit back and wait to see what happens next." She grinned at Nick and tried again, "So, what are we going to do?"

"Billy's back on the street, and he's going to need help. We'll start there."

As Nick walked ahead of her, Tracy whined, "Please don't tell me we're going to have to talk to hookers again!"

=) =) =)

After several hours of driving the streets of Toronto and questioning all the homeless, prostitutes, and other nightwalkers Tracy and he could find, Nick walked into the Raven, where he hoped he could get some real answers. He walked to the bar and raised a single finger at Marcus, who immediately left his station at the end of the bar and came to meet him.

"Nicholas," the vampire greeted. "What will it be?"

Nick narrowed his eyes as he studied the bartender. Evidently, Lacroix had spoken with Marcus. Any other time, the bartender would have handed him a glass of bovine without asking. "Obviously, you already know the change," he stated with a forced-nonchalant shrug.

Marcus nodded once and poured a glass of human bloodwine. "Lacroix's in the back," he stated.

"Actually, I came here to see you." At seeing Marcus' questioning gaze, he continued, "I need to know if you've heard anything about a Billy Myers."

"Indeed, I have—he's the one responsible for the recent decline in members of our community, or at least, that's the rumor." Marcus picked up a cloth and started wiping the bar, not meeting his gaze.

"Have you heard where he might be found?" pressed Nick.

A voice resonated behind him: "I assure you, Nicholas, if we knew where the hunter was located, *you* most certainly would not be able to find him presently. Unless, of course, you are planning to seek revenge for those he has killed."

Nick turned around to face his master. "Actually, I am."

Lacroix furrowed his eyebrows and asked, "Do I need to ask if you will be seeking our kind of justice or mortal justice?"

"Does it matter?"

"Of course, it matters," answered Lacroix, taking a seat at the bar beside Nick and taking a glass from Marcus. "This hunter has killed our kind. We are not going to allow him the chance of getting away."

"He won't," insisted Nick.

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because he is no longer killing just vampires, he killed a mortal, today."

"Ah," stated Lacroix, "so now he kills all, does he?" He motioned with his hand for Nicholas to follow him as he walked towards and into his office.

Nick followed him into the office and shut the door. "He killed a mortal who stopped by the apartment where he was staying today," he explained once inside.

"And, you don't know why."

"No, but I have a feeling Billy felt threatened. I think he knows we're looking for him."

"So, he's running scared," stated Lacroix, with a smile. "He is much more likely to make a mistake, now."

Nick nodded. "And, I'd like to find him before that mistake includes killing more innocent people."

Lacroix stared at his son for a short moment before answering the original question, "We have not located Mr. Myers, yet. The community wants him dead, and I have spread the word that I'm looking for him, but it has not brought forth any fruit, yet, but it will."

"And, you'll let me know as soon as it does?" questioned Nick.

Lacroix walked to his desk, sat, and answered, "Perhaps."

Nick frowned, and after a moment of Lacroix's silence, the frown deepened. "I thought we had reached an accord."

"We have," answered Lacroix.

"Then, why are you being so aloof and not truly answering my questions?"

Lacroix sighed, stood, and came to stand in front of his son. "Despite your desires to shed of your guilt, it is painfully obvious you are not quite ready to do so yet. The community has no desire to allow this Billy Myers to even exist. You want to hand him over to the mortal authorities, and I cannot allow this. It is better for all of us if you remain unaware of what has happened to him when it does occur. You will have no guilt to remove, and the community will be satisfied."

"But I will have guilt knowing I could have done something and didn't."

Lacroix glared at him and stated firmly, "And, it is precisely that type of guilt you and I must try to rid you of first. There is nothing for you to feel guilty about in this situation."

Nick shook his head. "But…"

"No 'buts,'" insisted Lacroix. "Billy is a hunter in the truest sense of the word."

"What do you mean?"

Lacroix raised his hand in a gesture to silence Nicholas. "He was bitten by one of our kind and not quite brought across. He isn't as strong as some of the hunters we have encountered in the past, but he is quite capable. He is truly a part of our—how would you word it?—jurisdiction. He will not suffer the punishment of the crimes he has committed to our community in the mortal world. He has chosen to be a part of our world by hunting us; therefore, he shall be judged by our world. I do not conceive how even you could have a problem with this."

"He will not receive a trial. He will be killed as soon as you find him," answered Nick.

"Do you have any doubt of his guilt?" questioned Lacroix. "Everyone is quite certain Billy Myers is the hunter responsible. Besides, the right to stand trial is very much a mortal right, not ours. We know he is guilty, and besides, his blood will tell. Either we take care of this now or the Enforcers will…and who knows who else they will deem responsible! More innocents could die and pay the price for his actions."

Nick took a deep, but steady, breath.

Lacroix stepped to the side of his son and slipped his arm around his shoulders. "This is part of letting go and becoming the vampire you desire to be. You have to realize that sometimes our way is better than theirs, and this time there isn't a viable argument to the contrary, unless you can prove his innocence."

"He isn't innocent," mumbled Nick.

"Then, there you have it," answered Lacroix, squeezing his shoulder once before walking away.

=) =) =)

Nick walked into his loft and headed straight for the couch. He was halfway there when he realized Natalie was seated in his recliner. Despite this, he continued walking and fell face-first into the cushions with a slight groan.

"Rough night?" questioned Nat.

"Mentally," he answered, turning his head so he could look at her.

"I know what you mean," she said, taking in his appearance, already hoping for a sign that he was regretting his decision to go back to Lacroix. It was the only thing she could think about all day and night. Even at the crime scene, she had to force herself not to talk to Nick about it. At this moment in time, she noticed Nick looked tired, but not overly exhausted. His eyes were shining almost uncannily bright, and his complexion was slightly rosier than usual. She didn't want to think about why. Other than that, he looked like the same Nick Knight she knew and loved. She sighed and said, "You're looking well. Did you already have dinner?"

Nick sat up at her question and looked down at the floor. "I had a glass at the Raven, but I'll need to feed again before I settle down for the day," he answered.

Nat nodded as she stood and walked around the loft, looking at all the works of art Nick had scattered throughout his home. Nick watched this with curiosity and a slight touch of anxiety, because she had seen it all before. He knew why she was really here: she was here to talk him out of his decision. He decided he might as well get it out of her before it turned into an all-day event.

"So," said Nick, not taking his eyes off of Natalie, "what brings you to my humble abode? I wasn't expecting to see you so soon after your last visit."

Nat chuckled softly, but Nick wasn't too sure it was from mirth. She walked away from a new painting that had dried days ago on the easel, made her way back to the couch, and sat next to Nick, so close that their legs were touching. "How could I stay away?" she questioned. At Nick's curious stare, she continued, "At first I told myself I wouldn't come back here for a long time. I wanted to give you time to think about your decision to return to your former lifestyle, and I was so convinced that you would see that you made the wrong choice, eventually." She grabbed Nick's hand as she shifted her body slightly to the left to face him. "But at the crime scene, when I realized Tracy knew the truth about you, and as I looked at you when you walked in here tonight, I knew with certain clarity this epiphany might not come so soon or easily."

Nick squeezed her hand as tightly as she could bear but didn't say anything. He allowed her to continue.

Natalie grimaced and whispered, "Maybe that moment won't come at all, but I realize that if I stay away it might make it that much harder for you to change your mind again. After all, if you were having doubts, I do not believe you would go to Lacroix to discuss it. And, I suppose you do have Tracy, now, but for some reason, I believe she would be in favor of you remaining a vampire. I don't know. I think she has this fascination for vampires ever since meeting Vachon. So, the bottom line is you still need me!" Natalie finished her statement with a smile and batted her eyes at him playfully to lighten the mood.

Nick smiled and agreed, "Always."

After a few seconds, Natalie's smile vanished; she shook her head and whispered, "It's just that somehow the world doesn't seem quite right with Nick Knight wanting to remain a vampire. I feel like I'm in some kind of dream with no chance of waking soon."

Still holding onto Natalie's hand, Nick leaned back onto the couch and closed his eyes for a brief moment as he replied almost to himself, "It does seem odd for Nick Knight, but we're not talking about Nick Knight, here."

Natalie turned startled eyes to her companion. "We're not?"

Nick tried but could not smile at her. Instead, he pressed his lips together in a thin line and shook his head. "We're talking about Nicolas de Brabant—me, not a persona I have created for this lifetime." He paused and then continued, "Nick Knight is an illusion, a grand idea I have established as the epitome of what I would like to be as a mortal. He believes in the good of all people and that they can change. He fights for justice in a world where there seems to be none. He has this unmovable moral code that even he, himself, falls short of from time to time." Nick paused and glanced at Natalie. "He is a mortal cop who, shall we say, lucks up with a little supernatural help from time to time." He chuckles at this. "He's everything that I am not."

Looking at Natalie, Nick already knew what she was going to say and he wasn't disappointed: "But he is you."

Nick sighed and replied, "The last time you were here, I said you didn't know the real me. I still believe that."

"Okay, so how are you and Nick Knight so different besides the obvious?" asked Natalie, feeling a little bewildered as she tried to follow this line of discussion and why he would feel this way about himself.

Nick stood and with his back to her, he asked, "Can we so easily dismiss the obvious?" He turned to face her and said, "Nick Knight is designed to be a man—not a vampire—who tries to uphold mortal law. He believes in it and its ability to be fair." He sighed and explained, "Nicolas de Brabant is a vampire, who may well wish himself to be Nick Knight, but he always has and always will fall short."

Natalie got off the couch, walked in front of Nick, and took both his hands in hers. "You just said a moment ago that Nick Knight has a moral code that even he falls short of. Nick, part of being human is sometimes falling short of our hopes, desires, and expectations. How we handle those failures merely determines what kind of people we are; it doesn't make us monsters."

Nick nodded slightly at her words and then asked, "But what if Nick Knight stands aside and allows Nicolas de Brabant to make the decision of how to handle those situations? What kind of person does that make Nick Knight, then?"

Natalie paused and then shook her head. "I have to tell you, Nick, that this line of questioning is confusing me. You're essentially arguing that you are two different people with the same problems but different solutions, but something had to bring this on. You're talking about something specific even though I don't know what it is. Tell me."

Nick sighed, sat back down on the couch, and murmured, "You always read me like a book. Do you know how often that has infuriated me in the past? Throughout the centuries, I have depended on my ability to keep my true emotions to myself. It's a survival skill, and yet, you can always see through me."

"Just like I see how you're trying to avoid telling me what caused this line of discussion in the first place."

Nick looked into her eyes and answered honestly, "Tonight, I made a choice and said several things Nick Knight would not have. I knew it then as surely as I'm sitting here now, but I did and said it anyway."

Natalie swallowed roughly and asked fearfully, "What did you do?"

"I…I signed a man's death sentence," he answered.

"What do you mean?"

Nick looked away from Natalie, got up, and walked across the room. When she moved to follow him, he raised his hand to stop her. "Don't come any closer to me, Nat. You are part of Nick Knight's life and I can't admit this with you standing so close to me. I need a little distance to get this out."

Natalie paused briefly when she saw his hand rise and heard his words, but afterward, she continued to walk to him. When she reached him, she pulled him close to her side and rested her head on his shoulder. "Okay," she said softly, "so Nick Knight is a ruse, but that doesn't mean Natalie Lambert is. She is right here in front of you, and she is very much Nicholas de Brabant's friend. So, whether you're him or Nick Knight, it doesn't matter. I'm here for you, no matter what."

Nick brought his arms around Natalie and held her tightly. "The community is calling for Billy Myers' death. They believe he is the one responsible for the killings at the Whiteside Warehouse. Lacroix has asked me to stand aside and let the community take care of this one, instead of the mortal justice system. He says Billy is a hunter and that puts him in the community's jurisdiction." He pulled back from Natalie to look into her eyes. "Today, I agreed that he was guilty, and with my silence, I basically consented to letting Lacroix take care of…it."

Nick walked to the couch and sat back down. He covered his face with his hands as he elbows rested on his knees. "I've basically turned against the very thing Nick Knight believes in. He holds on firmly to the belief that the mortal justice system is the best and only way to deal with criminals without making too many mistakes, but today…"

Natalie sat beside Nick and grabbed his hand. She squeezed it and said, "It's not too late, Nick. Just like I was saying earlier, you can change your mind. You can find Billy and bring him in."

Nick scoffed, looked around the room, and replied, "It's just not that simple, Nat."

"Why isn't it?" she questioned, trying to make contact but he wouldn't look at her.

Turning his head completely away from Natalie, he answered softly, "Because part of me knows Lacroix is right. If I bring Billy in, justice will not be served this time."

"How can it not be?" asked Natalie, clearly sounding upset as her tone hardened. "He is guilty of murder, and he will not get away with that."

Nick finally met her gaze and explained, "I gave the same argument to Lacroix, but the truth is he could. Even though you and I know Billy and his friends were responsible for what happened at the Whiteside Warehouse, no one else knows what truly happened there. The only victims they have are the bodies of the hunters, and Nat, Billy didn't kill them. Vampires did."

"But what about today? He killed…" she started to question but was quickly cut off by Nick's reply.

"It was self-defense, Nat." Nick shook his head. "Billy knows the police as well as the community are looking for him. It is unlikely that the victim was going to bring him to the precinct. It's more likely he was going to take Billy to Lacroix. It was either die or kill. If Billy gets a good lawyer, it's probable that he could win. And, what's even worse is that I would know he is not guilty of the charges he would be charged on." He paused and then sighed. "Mortal law won't work this time."

Nat remained quiet as she contemplated Nick's dilemma. She could see why he was so upset. After a few moments of silence, she finally spoke, "I suppose the only thing you can do is make a choice and hope it works out for the best. That's all anyone—vampire or human—can do."

=) =) =)

The sun would rise soon, and even though he could withstand more sunlight than a vampire, he knew he would have to find some place to settle down soon, but the question was where? He had to be cautious when asking mortals for help since the police were looking for him, and he couldn't really turn to the few vampire acquaintances he had since Lacroix was looking for him after the elder specifically told him to leave the city. He knew he was taking a big risk defying the ancient one and remaining in Toronto, but he hadn't wanted to leave without fattening his wallet. Vampires and hunters alike called on him, here. He was useful and had a purpose…and now, it seemed to be coming to an end.

After debating on what to do all day, he decided there was only one place he could go. He never met this individual before, but he had heard many stories in the past. This person not only stood up to Lacroix, but always listened and helped those-in-need regardless of whether they were mortal, hunters, or vampires.

He stared at the large building before him and wondered how he should approach the man inside. Should he ring the doorbell? Should he try to slip inside and surprise him? Should he go to a payphone and try to call him? There were so many ways to go about doing this, and none of them seemed foolproof. But the rising sun wasn't giving him a lot of time to really think about his options, and he wanted to catch him before he settle down for the day.

Sighing heavily, Billy walked across the street and headed for what appeared to be the main entrance. He immediately noticed the camera that was on him and decided there was no point in turning back now. He hit doorbell and heard the buzz. He hoped he was making the right choice.

=) =) =)

Natalie awoke to find herself snuggled tightly against Nick's left side as he also slept. It seemed as though they both fell asleep trying to be there for each other and yet not talking anymore about Billy Myers and the future. During her nap, her head had unfortunately drifted to his shoulder, and to her embarrassment, she saw that she had drooled on him. She wanted to move and find a way to clean it off of Nick before he also woke up, but Nick had his arm draped tightly around her waist. As she tried to figure out what to do, a loud buzz came from the direction of the door, and Natalie nearly jumped out of her skin. "Damn it," she mumbled to herself.

Slowly, Nick started stretching and opened his eyes. He had felt her jump and heard the curse. He smiled, taking note of her proximity and the location of his arm, when he heard the buzzer for the door again. Immediately, he yawned and stood, wondering who it could be at this time when Natalie was already present.

As he walked to the door, Nick's attention was quickly grabbed by a wet and odd-smelling spot rubbing on his shoulder as he moved. He turned to Nat, started walking backward, purposely met her gaze, and then allowed his eyes to drift to his shoulder. After a second, he looked back at her, pulled his shirt away from his skin, and said, "EWWWW!"

As Natalie dropped her head in embarrassment, Nick turned around, practically skipped to the door, and laughed.

At the sound of Nick's laughter, Natalie glanced up, ready to offer an apology, when she noticed Nick had stopped laughing and stared at the door monitor as if he were in shock. "Nick? What is it?" she questioned. She got up and quickly walked to him to also see who was there. She didn't recognize the man, but Nick immediately buzzed him in. "Who's that?" she questioned.

Nick turned his startled expression onto her. He thought about the ID he had found in the apartment and answered, "Billy Myers."

=) =) =)

As the sliding door opened, Nick made sure Natalie was standing behind him. He kept his left arm slightly behind him to make sure she stayed out of harm's way incase Billy made any sudden moves.

Billy remained in the elevator and stared at the vampire before him. He recognized him—he was with Lacroix the night Lacroix had killed his friends and let him go. He didn't know why he didn't make the connection before, but he was surprised at the little tingle of recognition at his neck. What did it mean? He casted his senses out as best he could and didn't receive any vibe from the female present. She was human. He took a deep breath and said, "I know you don't know who I am."

Nick also felt the tingle of recognition. Nick interrupted, "Actually, I do know who you are. We've met before. You're Billy Myers, a hunter who is responsible for a lot of deaths and near-deaths."

Billy visibly cringed as he heard the vampire's words. "Look, I know you have every reason in the world to try to kill me right now, but I have heard stories about you—stories that have convinced me that you are the only individual who can help me."

Nick stared at the man and wondered if he could trust him. Regardless, he would hear him out. Nick stepped back and gestured with his arm for the hunter to enter.

"Thank you," he said in response. Billy stepped into the loft and looked around cautiously. He didn't see any weapons present that the vampire could quickly get to, but he supposed the creature didn't really need one. He had all the weapons he needed already built in. His senses were screaming at him that he was in trouble, but if the stories were true, Nick Knight was the one vampire in the world who would understand his side of the story.

As Billy walked farther into the apartment, Nick followed at a short distance, making sure to keep Natalie behind him. He immediately noticed that the hunter had not come ill-prepared. His right pants leg expanded from his hip slightly and he was willing to bet a stake was concealed there. Refraining himself from vamping out, he breathed deeply before stating, "How do you expect me to help you, and why?"

Billy turned to Nick and gestured towards the kitchen table. "Can we sit down? I have a feeling we're going to be on edge if we remain standing."

Nick motioned with his head for Billy to go into the kitchen, and as the hunter moved, he turned his attention to Natalie. "Go," he whispered.

"You must be out of your mind," whispered Natalie, hotly. "I'm not leaving you alone with a vampire hunter."

"I'll be able to handle him a lot easier if I'm not worried about you," he whispered back, just as fiercely.

"No!" she insisted.

Nick sighed, walked to the table, sat down, and leveled Billy with a glare. Natalie followed and sat down beside Nick attentively.

Billy began. "I know I have no right to come here and ask for your help, but the truth is I have no other choice."

"And, why is that?" Natalie asked, rushing into the conversation. "Because you've gone on a killing spree? Who would want to help you?"

"Natalie," Nick started to interrupt but was cut short.

"I deserve that," answered Billy. "But you have to believe me when I tell you what happened at those warehouses or my apartment wasn't my idea." He looked at the ceiling briefly and settled his gaze on Nick. "After I was bitten a little over two years ago, I realized that I might not have had a lot of skills before, but I had acquired some that might actually be quite rewarding. I started doing jobs for both hunters and vampires alike. In fact, I was encouraged to do so by the vampire who had bitten me."

Nick scoffed and hissed, "Do you take me for a fool? No vampire would have allowed you to live, realizing what you are, much less encourage you to make a living fighting with other vampires and hunters. It would be too much of a risk."

Billy shrugged. "All I can say is it's true. I was bitten in Montreal, and I stayed spent most of my time there, but recently I was asked to come to Toronto. I had a job that required the utmost secrecy, or so I was told."

"What did he want you to do, and who is this vampire?" asked Nick.

Billy shook his head and laughed a little crazily. "You're not going to believe this, but he wanted me to gather a few buddies and hunt vampires. We started off slowly so we wouldn't gather much attention, but eventually, the jobs got bigger and bigger with tougher opposition until the local police finally caught wind of what was going on. As to whom the vampire is…"

Suddenly, there was a sound of wind rushing through the room, and Billy was no longer in his seat. Natalie gasped and Nick stood as Lacroix held Billy by the throat and pressed him against the refrigerator.

"Lacroix," yelled Nick. He rushed to his master's side and grabbed his master's arm, but Lacroix didn't let go.

"You agreed to stay out of this, Nicholas," growled Lacroix.

Nick shook his head and said, "I didn't agree to anything. Besides, he's just about to tell who is responsible for all of this. A vampire hired him to hunt…"

"Nicholas!" reproached Lacroix. "Lies! You know as well as I do no vampire would ask a hunter to do anything except die."

At this, Billy tried to speak, but Lacroix tightened his grip. All that came out were squeaks and gasps for air.

"Just let him talk," ordered Nick. "Then, we can determine whether he is lying or not."

Lacroix shook his head. "We do not have to hear him say another word. Do I need to remind you we do not need words?"

Nick swallowed roughly and almost shook his head in denial, but he quickly closed his eyes as he realized it was inevitable. "Fine," he spat. "Drink his blood and find out the truth, but Lacroix, do not kill him."

Immediately, Lacroix grinned at Billy, but he then turned his gaze to Nicholas. "No," he stated.

"No?" questioned Nick and Natalie simultaneously.

"You do it," insisted Lacroix.

"What?" gasped Nick.

Lacroix kept his grip on Billy's throat but pulled him from the refrigerator to move him closer to Nick. "You heard me. Take his blood. Find out if he's guilty."

Nick shook his head. "Lacroix, no!" He quickly turned away and looked at Natalie who was suddenly standing before him.

"Nick," she whispered, shaking her head slightly.

"Yes," hissed Lacroix. He grabbed Nick's shoulder and turned him back around. "Come, Nicholas, you know you want to know whether or not he is innocent before I kill him. The only way to be one hundred percent sure is for you to bite him. You know this to be true."

Nick opened his mouth to respond, but Natalie stepped in. "Nick, he's manipulating you. Don't…"

Nick looked at her sharply and said, "Nat, not right now." He turned back to Lacroix and said calmly, "No, you can…you can find out for me."

Lacroix looked at Billy's throat and then back at Nick. "And, would you really believe me? Would she?" He glanced at Dr. Lambert and grinned. "I already know what she will think, and I don't want her influencing you to question me and my actions in the future."

"That's not going to happen," Nick argued.

Lacroix chuckled and said, "Then, let's look at this in another light, shall we? You have come back to me. You want to be rid of your guilt. The first step in the right direction is to accept who you are and what we do. I'm not asking you to feed from him, Nicholas. I'm not asking you to take his life. I only want you to take a sip."

Nick stared at Lacroix and then turned his gaze to Billy. It was his decision to revamp himself, and he did want to know if Billy was guilty. He knew Lacroix had no intention of letting Billy live and this would be the only way he could be sure and not feel quite as guilty about it. He sighed in resignation. "What if I can't stop myself once I realize he's guilty?"

"Nick!" cried Natalie, clearly shocked at Nick's words and what was transpiring.

At the same moment, Lacroix asked, "Will it really matter then?"

Nick shook his head and answered, "Then, I can't."

Lacroix looked up at the ceiling in annoyance and then said, "Fine. When you taste his blood, if you don't pull away in a reasonable amount of time, I will stop you."

Nick looked back at Billy and took a step forward.

"Oh, no, you don't!" yelled Natalie, rushing to step in front of Nick. "What are you doing, Nick? What are you thinking?"

Nick rested both of his hands on Natalie's shoulders and stared into her eyes as he answered, "I'm not going to kill him, Nat. I'm just going to find out if he's responsible."

"Let him tell his story!" she screamed.

Lacroix replied, "His blood will tell all Nick needs to know."

"Nick," Natalie pleaded, "if you do this, there's no going back. The hardest time to do something is the first time, and if you do this now, what's going to stop you from doing this with other mortal suspects on the job? You have to think about that, Nick!"

Nick stared at Natalie and said, "This is different. He's a vampire hunter."

"No," insisted Natalie, "he's a mortal. He's human. You don't want to do this."

"Nat, you don't understand." He pulled away from her and stood in front of Billy and Lacroix.

Nick locked his gaze with Lacroix's and whispered, "Father, do you promise to stop me if I start to take too much?"

Lacroix smiled, brushed his fingers against his son's cheek, and said, "I do."

Nick took another deep breath and looked at Billy who was struggling to get out of Lacroix's grasp. As Nick reached for Billy and Lacroix moved his hand out of the way, he heard Natalie yell out for him not to do this. He blocked her and Billy's coughs out and focused his attention on the vein in Billy's neck. He centered on it and felt his fangs fall. With a mental prayer, he reared his head back and then struck the vein.

Immediately, Billy's emotions overwhelmed Nick: Billy was scared that all his actions had finally caught up to him. He couldn't believe he was stupid enough to try to trust a vampire. If he lived through this, he would never make that mistake again.

Suddenly, Nick saw images of Billy staking five different vampires, some in Montreal and finally those at the Whiteside Warehouse. He even saw the killing at the apartment. Nick started to pull away when he caught the image of Lacroix. Lacroix was talking to Billy, and as Nick tried to focus on the words, he caught Billy's present thought and remembered the stake Billy had down his pants leg.

Nick pulled his fangs out of Billy abruptly and yelled out, "He's got a stake!" At the same moment, Billy produced the offending piece of wood and aimed for Nick's heart.

"Not this time," Lacroix yelled and snapped Billy's neck instantly, before Billy even had a chance to get the tip of the wood anywhere close to Nick's heart.

As the body dropped to the floor, Natalie screamed and Nick merely stared at Lacroix, speechless. Why was Lacroix present in Billy's memories? If they had met in the past, how did Billy survive the encounter? And, what had Lacroix been saying to him? And, why did he fill a surge of pain run through his system?

Nick opened his mouth to voice some of his questions, but he noticed Natalie had dropped to her knees and was crying his name! He immediately rushed to her side, gathered her in his arms, and tried to calm her down. No words were spoken, but after a while, Natalie pulled from Nick's embrace. She looked into his eyes briefly before gathering her purse from the living room table and walking to the sliding door. Nick stayed where he was and watched all of this silently. Before she walked out, their gazes met one last time, but Nick still couldn't bring himself to say anything. Natalie couldn't either. She walked out, and Nick hoped it wasn't for the last time.

=) =) =)

Immediately after Nat's departure, Nick and Lacroix had taken care of Billy's body together. Lacroix claimed he wanted to make sure Nick hadn't gotten sloppy after all the time he had spent away from the community, but Nick knew he simply wanted to keep him close to make sure he was okay with the night's events.

"I want you to spend the day with me," said Lacroix as they arrived at the Raven. "The sun has already risen. Only the buildings are keeping the sunlight from us."

Nick nodded, realizing he didn't have much of a choice, anyway. As they walked through the Raven and into the upstairs apartment, they remained silent.

Once they walked into the living room and Nick dropped onto the couch, Lacroix finally ventured to ask, "Well, Nicholas, was he guilty?"

Nick looked down, because he couldn't bear to see Lacroix's amusement which was clearly written on the elder vampire's face. "Yes," he answered truthfully.

"I told you he was lying, mon fils," replied Lacroix softly.

Nick nodded but then added, "Well, he never really denied killing anyone."

After several more seconds of silence, Nick decided he had to know. "There's just one thing that troubles me about all of this."

"And, what's that, my son?" questioned Lacroix.

"You," answered Nick, matter-of-factly.

"Me?" asked Lacroix, clearly surprised.

"Yes," Nick answered, just as bewildered. "Billy's blood showed me the killings, but it also showed me you." Nick immediately noticed that his sire's posture had stiffened significantly, but he continued, "You were standing in front of Billy, saying something. I couldn't tell what, because at the time, I saw that he was planning on staking me." Nick shook his head. "How could you have met Billy before tonight, Lacroix? I thought you would never let a hunter survive any kind of encounter with you."

Lacroix walked away and stood in front of a painting on his living room wall. He appeared to be studying it.

"Lacroix?" called Nick, questioningly.

After a moment's hesitation, Lacroix turned around and replied, "You stumbled onto one of my mistakes."

Nick immediately scooted to the edge of the couch. "Mistakes?" he asked gravely.

Lacroix suddenly looked angry and spat, "Yes! He was the only damned hunter who got away the night you were staked!"

"What?" asked Nick.

"You remember the night you saved that young girl," explained Lacroix. "I was about to kill Billy, but then I realized you were staked." He paused, walked over to Nick, towered before him, and spat, "I trust you will not tell anyone of this, mon fils."

Nick scooted back onto the couch as he contemplated Lacroix's pride and how the hunter's escape had probably driven his master insane. He let out a sigh of relief and then laughed.

Lacroix continued to glare down at his son and snapped, "And, just what do you find so amusing?"

Nick suddenly realized he would be in a lot of trouble if he didn't explain soon. He grabbed Lacroix's arm and pulled him onto the couch. As Lacroix sat beside him, he explained, "Forgive me, but I was thinking for a second there that you were the vampire who brought Billy to Toronto."

"What?"

"I know. I know," Nick said, shaking his head in embarrassment. "Billy was telling me a story of how he was bitten and that a vampire had encouraged him to do 'hunting' jobs. When I saw you in one of his memories, I didn't know what to think."

"So, you assumed the worst," stated Lacroix stiffly.

Nick frowned and immediately burrowed his shoulder into Lacroix's. "Come on, Lacroix. Natalie is undoubtedly very angry with me right now. I couldn't bear it if you were, too. Forgive me?"

Lacroix stared straight ahead in silence for almost a minute, ignoring Nicholas' frown. Finally, he glanced at him through the corner of his eye and said, "I suppose I have to if we want to work on getting you back into shape."

Nick's frown was immediately replaced with one of confusion. "What do you mean?"

Lacroix grinned evilly and replied, "While I have been remiss on teaching you certain lessons, and that is the reason for some of your—how do I say this?—downfalls as a vampire, you have also been very reluctant in using all that I have taught you. So, before we can resume our lessons, I need to make sure you are still capable of all the others."

Nick opened his mouth, clearly in shock, but then he quickly got over it and yelled, "Oh, God, no!"

Lacroix merely chuckled.

=) =) =)

Well, obviously I left this open for another story. Let me know what you think, please, and if you want to see what happens next!