"Anatomy of a Kiss"
Thanks to Portia for her comments, and to Kelly, Dulcey, and Chris. :)
But I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose...
--Sarah McLachlan, Fear
I've been turning it over in my mind. I'm a trained investigator, after all--and a man with centuries of experience in these matters, to boot. I should have been able to see this coming. But I didn't. How did I miss it? Why didn't I stop it until it was too late?
She went home about an hour ago. I wanted to go with her, but we're supposed to be finishing up the paperwork on the case. I say "we", but I get to do most of the honours, since I made the arrest. It's going to be interesting trying to explain how I managed to toss Roger Jamison (AKA Terrence Banister AKA Frank Usher AKA about a dozen other guys) as far as I did. As for how I just *happened* to be in the area of Humber Nurseries--on foot--I ended up telling people my car broke down and I was looking for a phone, which means, on top of everything else, that I now have to ride in Schanke's car, who claims he's lost what little trust he ever had in my "sea-green rust-bucket". He's waiting for me to finish up so we can leave. He keeps flipping paperclips at me every time it looks like I'm not toiling away. Which, I suppose, is fairly often. But I can't get this off my mind.
As a mortal, I believed in love at first sight even before I knew there was a term for it; I think I always managed to cling to that belief, just a little. Maybe... maybe I'm just a shallow person. When it comes down to it, there are very few reprehensible traits I can't lay claim to--what's one more added to the list? Ever since I can remember, I've had a tendency to fall in love from the outside in. I learned as a child that beauty and purity are supposed to go hand in hand, and, despite the fact that experience taught me otherwise, I wanted to believe. Janette called it naïveté; Lacroix believed it was merely a stubborn refusal to let go of the last vestiges of my mortality. Whatever it was, my obsession with Sylvaine, and its catastrophic result, enabled me to see things more clearly than I had in centuries. Which isn't to say I ceased to be shallow--or, if you prefer, to be a connoisseur of female beauty. I had my lapses in judgement, both before and since. But there was never anything quite like this.
Natalie was pretty, I'm not trying to say she wasn't, or isn't. But she wasn't what I considered to be my ideal woman. I always thought of myself as a chivalrous man, simply because of the pleasure I took in freely capitulating to women who could wield their femininity like a weapon. Natalie, however, chose to quietly set that weapon aside, and instead attacked me with her intellect. I found her persistence and her cold, hard logic annoying and--I admit it--unladylike. She would be overly literal, taking me at the letter of my word, and she would then infuriate me by suddenly disregarding my advice and challenging my assertions at every turn. How do you know you can't survive without drinking blood? Have you tried? If the sun will burn you, why doesn't the moonlight do any damage? Why would wood hurt you but not metal? Each time we met, I swore it would be the last.
I wasn't sure at first if she was extraordinarily brave, incredibly dedicated, recklessly self-destructive, or simply insane. I reasoned that she would have to be the latter to continue the association, especially after I made it as plain as I possibly could that it would probably end in her death. But, gradually, I found myself looking forward to our meetings, even as I dreaded them. I hated her scrutiny, but I enjoyed her company; Natalie brought a passion and wit to any discussion that I admired, whether she was discussing quality of life or the quality of the movie she'd seen last weekend. Raw emotion made her radiant, something I never would have realized if I'd dismissed her at a glance--or taken her life, as I no doubt would have done if we'd met earlier. I could quite easily have done it; she made it easy for me by meeting me in private, by according me her implicit trust. I could tell she found me attractive. I'm not bragging when I say that most women do. It's not something I'm exactly proud of. They're drawn to this monster, this predator inside me. Ever since science discovered pheromones, I've been wondering if there isn't some sort of special vampire pheromone that produces this effect.
She loved people, loved humanity, the same way I did--only her vision of humanity included me as well. I was both grateful and ashamed. And, slowly, I grew to know her and even to appreciate her. Still, it wasn't what I would have called a romantic attachment. Even after we became what might be called friends, Natalie didn't strike me as my type of woman at all; she wasn't always graceful, and she did her best not to seem delicate. She was straightforward; I liked women who were coy, and modest. She rarely wore makeup, couldn't be bothered to do more to her hair than pin it back, and often had chapped skin on her hands; the women I had always preferred were those who put time and energy into cultivating their beauty, their softness. Natalie considered excessive time spent on her appearance to be time wasted if she was going to work; after all, as she so often remarked, her patients rarely noticed. She didn't seem to mind if I saw her looking a bit scrubby, because she considered me enough of a friend that she was able to let down her guard. Rather than feminine solicitude and soft caresses, she dealt out wisecracks and jocular punches to the shoulder. The kind I've seen her give her brother, when he used to tease her. That was her kind of affection. She was fiercely independent, and resented any attempt I made to take care of her or shield her--even from myself.
But even though she refused to play the delicate flower, she did have a way of convincing me to do things I never would have dreamed of agreeing to otherwise; not just the garlic pills and the sunbed, but everyday activities I'd been denying myself. Outdoor concerts, plays, picnics, parties, and holiday events--all those very mortal things I usually managed to get out of. She didn't cajole, plead, cry, or sulk. She simply refused to believe me when I said no. I could be at my most charming, and she'd just smile up at me. "What time are you picking me up?" she'd ask. Never mind that I'd just given her thirty different reasons why I would rather be eaten alive by wild dogs than go to Don and Myra Schanke's house for New Year's. And, in the end, I would go. I wouldn't admit it then, but there was something to be said for having a mortal friend I couldn't persuade to see things my way.
The first one was the Christmas party at the station; that was the year I started working here. She came along with me--although I suspect it wasn't so much to lend moral support, as to ensure I wouldn't try to duck out early. Which, I confess, I would have done. Eating, drinking, bad music and worse conversation--not my idea of how to spend a fun evening. Not to mention all those warm, trusting, slightly intoxicated bodies...
Some ambitious soul had tacked mistletoe in every corner of the room, and it wasn't long before my co-workers were spreading holiday cheer (and lipstick) with alacrity. It was my habit to stand a bit apart from the crowd, and that made me an easy target, but my quick reflexes saved me more than once. Still, the ease and good humour with which they went about it was enviable, in a way. I watched in amusement as Natalie left her mark on a fair sampling of the population. I'd never really thought of her as the type who went around kissing people, but there she was, in the thick of it. I wondered how much she'd had to drink, and if I might be able to sneak under her radar and get away for a bit of down-time. She and Grace got Schanke on both cheeks at once--the self-styled "chick magnet" didn't even see it coming. It was the first time I got to see Myra in action, employing the time-honoured remedy for lipstick removal. She took a tissue from her purse, wet it with her tongue, then briskly scrubbed Natalie's stamp of approval from her husband's face, teasing him all the while.
Somehow or other, Nat and I met in the middle of the room and ended up having a conversation that necessitated a bit of privacy. She was pestering me to eat something, to be more precise. She practically dragged me off to the nearest corner and began reminding me how important it was that I co-operate with her if this was going to work, and how I had a lot more time to waste than she had... there was only one thing I could think of that might possibly make her stop talking. So I kissed her. It wasn't much of a kiss, really, but it kept her quiet long enough for me to change the subject. And she didn't try to feed me once the rest of the night.
I never thought much about it until recently, but that was our first kiss. It wasn't exactly a big deal to either of us; she was a bit infatuated with me, but it seemed relatively harmless. Natalie wasn't the type to let that sort of thing get out of control. It wasn't as though she sat up late every day thinking about me--occasionally she'd even date, although most of the men her friends introduced her to weren't particularly taken by her chosen profession. Those who were found themselves put off by her morbid sense of humour. I know that must have hurt her, but she'd always laugh it off with some well-timed witticism and turn with renewed dedication to her work, her research. Once in a while, I would catch her looking a bit wistfully at me, and I'd find an excuse to get out of whatever outing she had planned for us that weekend. I knew how to handle myself in these situations. After all, I'd been getting myself into them for centuries.
All of which is a very roundabout way of saying there was no one particular moment when my feelings for Natalie changed from friendship into something more. But they must have, or I wouldn't have spent the past few days trying to convince myself that it was brotherly protectiveness I was feeling. It may have been a long time, but I know what it feels like to be an older brother, and that's not how I feel about Natalie at all.
I'd like to say I just had a gut feeling about Jamison--that somehow, instinctively, I knew he was the killer--but I didn't. I wasn't thinking clearly at all, about the case or anything else. All I knew was that this jerk, whoever he was, was definitely not good enough for Natalie. It really got under my skin that she seemed so happy with him, when she deserved so much more. And then I realized that I'd never really liked any of the men she went out with. Even though I'd never met most of them. I wasn't sure what to do with that information at first. I didn't want to follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion: that I was jealous.
I've never really been a jealous person by nature; over the centuries, Janette had her affairs, I had mine, and there were never any bad feelings between us for it. On one memorable occasion, for absolutely no reason I could fathom, she took one of my paramours on a rather costly shopping trip, skillfully guiding the poor bewildered young woman in selecting the types of undergarments Janette knew I'd enjoy seeing her in. Oh, there were some... occasional faint stirrings after the first time she left me, but it was more envy than jealousy--envy of whoever could have her when I couldn't--and I never acted on it. Probably because deep down I knew we would always be tied to one another in some manner. I knew that she would always be there.
But I had absolutely no claim to Natalie's affections, and suddenly that really bothered me. Watching movies on the couch while she dozed against my shoulder; sneaking up behind her and feeling her wriggle in my embrace; the light in her eyes when I walked into the room; all those teasing liberties I took, knowing they embarrassed her; all those times she'd allowed me to be her comfort, her strength. Those were gifts, and now she was going to bestow those gifts on another. And why shouldn't she? I asked myself. What business is it of yours?
Then, when I saw him kissing her... that was it. I didn't want him touching her--I didn't want any other man touching her. I saw the scene flash through my mind: I would step between the two of them, breaking the happy little tableau, throw him out into the hall, pull her inside, and slam the door. I would to take her in my arms--not the way I normally did, not the gentle embrace of a friend, but urgently, recklessly. And then, I would... I wanted to... I wanted...
I wanted Natalie. Not just her help, her compassion, her understanding, and not just her friendship... all of her.
I didn't act on my feelings, of course, then or later on. How could I? What could I possibly have to offer her? An eternity of darkness? A lifetime spent searching for a cure that might not be within our reach? Just as I had done with the men she'd dated, I weighed my own faults and good qualities and found myself coming up short. She deserved better than someone who would always be afraid of hurting her--and with good reason. She deserved more than I could give her. So I determined to be noble. I told her how happy I was for her, which just seemed to irritate her--probably because she could tell I wasn't being sincere.
But in the back of my head, I kept replaying that kiss at Christmas. That kiss that wasn't much of a kiss, probably because she hadn't been expecting it--even I hadn't really been expecting it. It was nothing like the passionate exchange she had with Roger. Her face was upturned; I just dipped my head a little bit, and then a little more, and then we were so close that backing away would have made it into more of an issue than it needed to be, so I kissed her. It was over in a second, but the warmth of her lingered pleasantly on my lips. I could taste a little bit of what she'd been drinking, although she hadn't had nearly as much as I'd suspected. Not enough to facilitate an easy departure--but that was all right, because suddenly I felt I had the strength to endure the evening.
She kept her eyes closed for a moment afterwards, then looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back.
"Merry Christmas, Nat."
"Merry Christmas, Nick."
She was a little flushed, a little careless, and very, very warm. She was beautiful to me in that moment, and then a rare flash of insight rendered her just as beautiful in my memory, in all the other moments we had shared. I wondered how I had ever missed seeing it before. I remember being incredibly aware of how delicate, how fragile her entire existence was, and how much danger I placed her in simply by being so close, by allowing myself to feel these stirrings of affection for her. And yet she wasn't afraid of me. She knew what I was, what I had done, and she chose to be my friend in spite of it all--even because of it. Because I needed her in my life. Because I'd forgotten how to be human. And I never once thanked her for all the time and effort she put into my cure. All I did was complain that the tea made me sick and the shakes didn't taste good. I wanted to thank her, to show her that I cared.
I'm having a difficult time wording this report properly. It was hard enough, having to maintain some semblance of detachment while we took her statement earlier; Stonetree and Schanke did most of the talking, while I sat next to Nat, holding her hand, wanting to kiss the fading bruise just over her eye. Hearing how easily he'd ensnared her--knowing how I could have stopped it if I'd just shown her a bit of attention on the night of her birthday--that was painful. I hadn't realized how little it had taken for him to get his foot in the door.
I almost kissed her afterwards, once they'd left, but I didn't. Couldn't. I kissed her forehead instead, held her tightly. Almost as tightly as I had the night he nearly took her from me. She smelled wonderful, spicy and sweet. Suddenly, I wondered whether she remembered that first Christmas, that first kiss. If she thought of it fondly, or at all. I love you, I wanted to tell her, realizing the essential truth of the words even as they came to me. I've loved you since that moment at the party when I kissed you and you smiled at me. I love you for all the times you yelled at me and for all the times you let me hold you in my arms. I never understood what a gift that was until I thought of it being ripped away from me.
I wanted to say all these things, but I didn't. I was her safe place--the one man who was there for her, in all the ways she needed me, without asking anything of her in return. She needed my friendship and devotion far more than any complicated romantic attachment; I couldn't take that away from her, no matter how badly I wanted to tell her how I really felt. And that was a revelation for me: love, real love, is selfless.
I could buy her a palace, if I wanted to; I could take a bullet for her; I could spend the rest of her days obeying her least command. I could even make her immortal. Gifts of time, of strength, of material value--I could give all of that to Natalie, without it really meaning anything, because it would come at no cost to myself. But this... this cost me. Knowing this and knowing I couldn't tell her--that hurt me far more than a bullet possibly could.
Schanke is tapping his watch. I've told him to go without me, but he won't, so I'd better stop drifting and finish these forms. If I can get done with enough time to spare, maybe I can make it over to Natalie's, in case she needs me to spend the day.
I've cut this up from all directions--done as thorough a dissection of it as Nat herself would have--and in the end, I'm right back where I started. I can't stop this. I don't want to stop it. I feel like I've been awakened from a centuries-long sleep by this amazing person, and no sooner have I found her, than it's almost time to say goodbye. But maybe I won't have to.
Maybe I won't have to.
But I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose here in this lonely place
Tangled up in your embrace
There's nothing I'd like better than to fall...