"Do you really think I am a monster?"

Nick sadly shook his head as he tore his anguished eyes from Natalie's frighteningly still body.

"No," he said as he looked at his sire. "No. I think you are my friend."

Wasting no more words, he handed LaCroix the ancient weapon and knelt by Natalie, taking her still-warm hand into his. He had a brief second to realize the irony-that the being who had created the monster he had become and fought so hard to redeem himself from would now be the instrument of his redemption-or destruction, depending on the point of view.

"Damn you, Nicholas!"

He heard Lacroix curse, heard the sound of the blade rushing towards his neck, waited for the blessed relief from 800 years of tortured existence when…

"No!"

The blade stopped so close to Nick's neck he could hear the metal hum as it stopped moving. He listened, unmoving, but heard nothing else. Out of the corner of his eye he saw LaCroix. In eight centuries, Nick had never seen Lucien LaCroix shaking. His sire was shaking now.

"Nicholas," he began warily.

"I heard it too," he said.

They both remained still. What they heard would not have even registered on human ears, but it had been loud and clear in both of their minds.

Then he saw it. A movement, if something so slight could be called a movement. And then, there it was. A heartbeat. Just one, and Nick knew that in a few minutes there would be another.

Lacroix lowered the sword he had nearly used to end the life of his favorite prodigal son. Nick still had not moved, so carefully was he watching Nat for signs of regaining consciousness.

"Well," the elder vampire said, "it seems we might once again be a trio after all."

"But how…"

The question remained unfinished, because Nick knew the answer. The blood in his mouth was not only hers. When he had kissed her, in his passion he had not retracted his fangs quickly enough. He had drawn his own blood, and he had been so drunk on Natalie's scent-an exotic mix of fear, self-doubt, arousal, and love-that he had not even tasted his own blood. And then, when she had offered herself to him, begging him to drink from her…

"Nick?"

Nat's voice was weak. Her transformation was not complete; she would need to be fed, and then she would need sleep. She would sleep, quite literally the sleep of the dead.

"Oh, God, Nat. What have I done to you?'

Natalie stirred a little more, then tried to sit up. Partially from relief, partially from grief and guilt, Nick helped her sit up then wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly to his chest.

"Nick? Nick, what's happening to me? What happened?"

He winced at the fear in her voice.

"It would seem that I have become a grand-sire, if you would pardon the expression."

They both looked up at LaCroix, then Natalie looked back at Nick.

"Nick? Nick, what does he mean? Why is he here?" she asked, forgetting for a moment to be afraid of the ancient vampire now standing above them.

"You accidentally ingested some of my blood while we were…well…"

"Ah," she said. Nick was sure that she would have blushed had there been enough blood left in her body for that to happen. Which reminded Nick…

"LaCroix, she couldn't have gotten more than a few drops. How…"

"Oh, Nicholas, Nicholas. You have spent so much time running from your nature, you truly have no idea what you are."

When Nick looked at him blankly, Lacroix rolled his eyes.

"You are 8 centuries old, Nicholas. Though your existence on bovine blood has weakened you somewhat, you are still very very old and very powerful. It wouldn't have taken much blood to start her transformation once you drained her that low. And," he gestured towards them, "speaking of which, are you going to feed this young lady, or shall I do the honors?"

"You will not touch her!" Nick growled, and before the sentence was finished he had Lacroix against the wall, his hands around his sire's throat. Instead of struggling, Lacroix laughed.

"Yes, yes. Your protective instinct is good. You will make an excellent master vampire, as I have always known you would."

Nick growled again, but he was cut short by Natalie's cry of pain. As quickly as he'd had Lacroix by the throat, he was back by Natalie's side. Lacroix watched from a discreet distance as his son came into his own.

Natalie had tried to stand, but was far too weak for that. She had cried out to Nick when she started going down, and he had caught her, easing her back down.

"Nick," she pleaded.

"Nat, Nat,' he said softly. "Natalie, there is no going back."

"Nick, I need you." she said, clutching to him desperately.

"Nicholas," Lacroix's voice invaded his head. "You need to finish it. Either kill her or feed her, but you need to decide. Even I was not so cruel as to make your transition so painful."

Nick glared at his sire, then his attention was wrested away as Natalie screamed in pain, doubling over and clutching her stomach in spite of his grip in her.

"Nick, do something," she pleaded.

He picked her up as she passed out and carried her upstairs to his bed. Then he ran back downstairs and grabbed some wine bottles from his fridge and hurried back towards the stairs.

"What will you do?" said Lacroix aloud as the elder walked to the foot of the stairs. "You're not going to feed her that?"

"No," Nick spat. "No. This is for me. I need to make sure I'm completely sated so I won't want to bite her while I'm feeding her."

"Then," Lacroix said, raising his wrist and scoring it with his thumbnail, "you might want something a little stronger."

Nick looked at the wrist held out to him and blanched, overcome with memories of his first feeding. Even then, 800 years ago, the blood had been strong. It would be even more so now.

"It won't hurt her?" Nick asked, gesturing with a glance upstairs.

"No. It will make you stronger, though, and you're going to need it, especially if you're going to turn her. That IS what you intend to do, isn't it, Nicholas?"

Nick looked down at the floor. "Yes," he said quietly. "I have no choice now. I was going to let you kill me before when I thought I had accidentally killed her. I can't kill her purposefully."

Lacroix stepped forward and tipped Nick's chin up with the thumb and forefinger of the nonbleeding hand in a surprisingly tender gesture.

"Ah, Nicholas. There is still some of your innocence left. Perhaps that is why I've always held a soft spot for you."

He held up his bleeding wrist.

"You should hurry," he prompted.

Nick looked up at him, his eyes ablaze as he let the vampire in him out. The wine bottles dropped, and one of them shattered, but Nick took no notice as he sank his fangs into Lacroix's wrist. The power started pulsing through him almost immediately, and he sank to his knees as he formed the seal with his mouth, not wasting a drop of the blood. He felt Lacroix's other hand resting on the back of his head, perhaps to prevent him from pulling away too soon, perhaps to pull him away if he took too much. No matter. He was doing this for Natalie, needed to be strong for Natalie. He couldn't afford to lose control while he was with her. Not her, not his Natalie.

His Natalie. He'd never let himself think of her as his Natalie. She was a friend, she was looking for a cure for him, she was brilliant and funny and sweet and…and everything that he'd denied himself for so long.

"Enough, Nicholas…"

The words were just a faint buzz in his ears…

"I said ENOUGH!"

He came back to reality as the wrist he'd been feeding from was pulled away, his head violently yanked back. Quickly he was in control again, and he stood facing Lacroix, who sealed his wrist and gave Nick a wry smile.

"Better?" he asked.

"Much." said Nick, not bothering to mask the vampire.

"Good. I will be back in a few hours to check on my children. Go to her."

Lacroix disappeared, and Nick bounded up the stairs.

She was still unconscious, but she moaned a little as he approached. He stood at the foot of his bed, completely captivated by her beauty.

His Nat. He let himself think it again as he stood watching her; delicate skin just barely standing out from the pale dress she had on. And then there was her hair, that thick auburn hair that always fell about her face in soft curls no matter what she did to pull it back. She was beautiful, so beautiful…

"Nick?"

He broke of thought and was by her side.

"I'm here, Nat," he said softly as he sat on the bed and leaned over her. "I'm right here. I told you I wouldn't leave you."

"Mmm…"

"Nat, you need to feed."

She opened her eyes for the first time and looked at him.

"I'm turning."

It wasn't a question.

"Yes. I can't stop it. Nat, I'm sorry, I lost control, I took too much. Nat I'm so sorry…"

"You big idiot," she said, smiling weakly. "Do you listen to anything I say? I trust you. I love you. I want to be with you. I don't care how."

"But Nat…"

"So how do I do this?" she asked, interrupting him before he could continue down his self-loathing path.

He looked at her sorrowfully for a moment, then pushed his sleeve up and scored his own wrist. She moaned as the red started bubbling up…she could smell it already, and Nick knew that if she had been stronger she'd have already been latched onto his wrist.

"My dress is going to be ruined…" she said with a half-laugh.

He smiled. Good ol' Nat.

"I'll buy you a new one," he said quietly. He stretched himself out beside her, cradling her with his left arm as he held his right wrist up to her mouth.

"It'll feel natural in just a moment," he said

She actually kissed his wrist first, and his body tensed; it was going to be hard for him to keep control. But she latched on, and he hissed in pleasure as he felt her pull with every swallow. She brought a hand up and clamped it down hard over his wrist. He hissed again as she locked down harder; more and more blood flowed into her, and he knew that he'd let her drain him if it meant saving her life.

But that would mean leaving someone else to teach her. Lacroix, probably. That sobering thought caused him to gather his resolve to keep control. He buried his face in her hair at one point, but her scent…no, that wasn't helping.

He started to pull his wrist away, but she clamped down.

"Nat, you've taken enough. You need to sleep now."

It was like a repeat of the scene with Lacroix earlier, when Lacroix had needed to pull him back to reality.

"Nat, that's enough!" he said, yanking his wrist away.

"Nat!" he said as she started to come after him again. That snapped her back to real life, and she sank back on the bed.

"I'm sorry," she said, as she sat and watched him seal his wounds.

"It's OK," he said when he finally returned her gaze. "Your first night you're very hungry. You will be the second night too, but I'll make sure we have plenty of blood here."

He got up and flew over the railing, returning in a moment with the one wine bottle that hadn't broken. He'd have to clean the rest of the mess later. For now, he grabbed two glasses and ran back up the stairs to Nat.,

He poured them both a glass, then sat down and handed her one.

"This will top you off,' he said, resting a hand alongside her face and relishing the feel of it disappearing into her hair. "Then we'll talk for a while, then I dare say you're going to want to sleep."

She nodded and took the glass, draining it before he could stop her.

"Careful or you'll get sick," he said.

"I'm too hungry for that."

"That's exactly why you'll get sick." he answered.

He drained his own glass, then set it down on his nightstand. Then he reached out and unbuttoned her jacket and slipped it off of her shoulders.

"Not a drop on it," he said. "You're a careful eater."

"Well, I am learning from the best," she said.

He stood and went to his dresser. "I'm sure I have a tshirt you can sleep in," he started. "You can sleep here, and I'll sleep on the sofa."

"Nick,"

"Yes?"

"Nick, turn around and look at me."

He did as she asked, and…God she was beautiful. Standing there in her strapless dress without the jacket on, her hair spilling out over those gorgeous shoulders…

"Nick, when I told you I loved you earlier, I meant it." She walked towards him and grabbed his shoulders.

"Now, I know you didn't mean for this to happen, but it did. And I don't care."

She stopped and made sure she had eye contact before she continued.

"I don't care. As long as I'm with you. And don't tell me I don't understand the gravity of the situation. Give me more credit."

She turned and walked back to the bed, slipping it off and letting it fall to the floor before crawling back into the bed.

"Now, you can get me that Tshirt if you want to, but either way I want you over here with me."