I have to post the typical faction warning that I've grown accustomed to with this series: 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. This particular story was written for the scifibigbang community on Livejournal. And, yes, another story is in the making! So, look for that to come soon!

A Son's Trust

He wished he could kill Billy all over again. After he closed the door to his bedroom, he stormed over to his favorite chair, grabbed Sun Tzu's Art of War from the nearby coffee table, and flipped through it blindly as he sat down. His eyes rested on a page he finally stopped on, but he didn't see the words. Lacroix could only think about recent events: Billy was dead but not before he could plant a seed of doubt into his son's mind. For a short amount of time, Nicholas had believed…known he had asked Billy to come to Toronto.

He supposed the development shouldn't upset him—he had taken care of it. He had given a viable explanation as to what Nicholas had seen in Billy's blood. Nicholas was no closer to the truth than he had been before.

Unfortunately—perhaps gratefully, he hadn't truly decided yet—his child and he were still at the beginning of their newfound accord. Undoubtedly, old habits would die hard and one of his son's frequent habits was to be suspicious of him. He just had to make sure he never gave Nicholas any reason to truly doubt him ever again.

Lacroix gritted his teeth in annoyance as he thought about his mistake. At the time, having Nicholas sip from Billy had seemed like a really good idea. His son's precious pet had been there, trying as hard as ever to take his son away from him, and he wanted her to see Nicholas in his truest form. He wanted her to see his influence over Nicholas. He wanted to topple the righteous pedestal she had mistakenly put his son on. When the opportunity presented itself, he couldn't resist.

And, actually, he had weighed the consequences of his actions. He knew the longer Nicholas drank from the hunter, the more he would know. He had planned to let Nicholas take only a sip. They had agreed on that, anyway. Since Nicholas wanted to know if Billy was responsible for the deaths of so many vampires in Toronto, he knew that's what his son would see within that short period of time. He just didn't count on the emotions that he had felt as he witnessed his son bite a mortal after so long. Old ecstasies of watching Nicholas drain his victims overwhelmed his mind's eye and he suddenly couldn't wait to see his child do so again. He had let his desires get the best of him, like his son so often did, and he knew he could never allow that to happen again…ever. How fortuitous that Nicholas had pulled away himself.

Lacroix took a deep, cleansing breath to get control of himself and chuckled. He had won the war, after all. He decided Billy purposely showed Nicholas those things in his blood. He had been trying to shock Nicholas long enough to plunge the wood into his chest, or at the very least, turn Nicholas against him. It didn't work—his son still trusted him. That's all that mattered. Lacroix chuckled again and smiled openly as he heard a brief knock and Nicholas walked into the room.

=)=)=)

Nick opened the door to Lacroix's bedroom and stepped cautiously inside. As he had lain in his bed within his master's home, he had felt such strong emotions coming from his sire. He wondered if Lacroix knew he was broadcasting…probably not since he couldn't quite comprehend exactly what was on his master's mind. He could take a guess, though.

He cleared his throat and asked tentatively, "May I come in?"

Lacroix continued to smile and replied, "It's a little late to ask that question now. Sit."

Nick shut the door, walked to the chair on the other side of the coffee table, and sat down. He kept his gaze on Lacroix and knew he had to get to his reason for being there out quickly or the ancient would become annoyed. He cleared his throat, even though he didn't really need to, and stated, "I think we should talk more about what happened this morning."

Lacroix replied, "I think I would rather play a game of chess before settling down for the day."

The old vampire immediately went across the room, grabbed the chess set Nicholas had given him slightly over a hundred years ago, and began to set up the game on the coffee table between their two chairs.

"We can do both," answered Nick, softly, trying not to upset him too much.

Lacroix sighed as he noticed Nicholas' uncharacteristic demeanor and soft words toward him. His son was obviously upset about something, and that's not how he left him earlier. He had left him slightly apprehensive but excited about the renewal of his lessons.

"What is wrong, mon fils?" asked Lacroix, deciding he might as well get to whatever was now bothering Nicholas as soon as possible.

"I…was going to ask you the same thing." At his master's raised brow, Nick continued to explain, "I felt you earlier. I couldn't tell what was wrong exactly, but I know something is bothering you."

Lacroix mentally chastised himself for letting his emotions travel like that—yet another mistake he had made this day—but at least Nicholas did not know what he was thinking. His control hadn't slipped that much. Only Nicholas had the ability to shake his hold on his emotions, and while this was a reason he loved the boy, he knew he couldn't show this fact. It wasn't that he was afraid the crusader wouldn't love him back—he knew that deep down Nicholas did. There were simply far deeper concerns and threats. He shook his head and told himself he would think about those later as their relationship continued to mend. He didn't have to worry about those old familiar feelings and realizations right this second.

The only problem with that, as usual, was Nicholas. The younger vampire was aware his master didn't like forays into emotional territory, and yet, here he was, wanting to do just that, anyway. The boy certainly had a knack for making things difficult for him. He was beginning to wonder if Nicholas did it on purpose. "Nothing is bothering me," he answered, decisively, swinging his hand over the chess board and continued, "I believe it is your turn to go first."

Nick moved a pawn and replied, "I felt it, Lacroix. You can't deny something is bothering you."

Lacroix turned a stoic look upon his child after he moved a pawn of his own and explained with an air of reluctance, "I was merely thinking of the night's events and how they might affect you. Nothing is truly bothering me aside from a father's usual concerns."

He watched as Nicholas nodded at this and seemed to be a little relieved.

"What are your concerns?" asked Nick as he moved another piece. He was glad that Lacroix had decided to answer him instead of ignoring his question like he sometimes did. "I might be able to alleviate them."

Lacroix moved another game piece and stared at him hard.

Nick fidgeted under his master's scrutiny and added softly, "We have reached an accord, and I have come back to you…as much as I can. I thought these developments might allow you and me to..."

Lacroix stopped him by raising his hand. He knew he had to tell his son something to get him to drop this line of discussion. It was most uncomfortable. After a moment's consideration, he explained, "I was concerned that you might regret what had happened this morning. It is highly probable that you will regret taking blood from that mort…hunter. And, even more importantly, I was concerned that because of this, you might blame me."

Nick finally understood why he felt such emotions from his sire. "I won't lie, Lacroix," he answered. "Part of me does regret what happened."

He watched as Lacroix averted his eyes and nodded. It looked like he was about to rise.

"Let me finish!" Nick continued, quickly, and paused until Lacroix's movements stilled. "A part of me regrets it, but another part doesn't. You were right when you explained that I needed to know for certain if Billy was guilty. I now know that he was."

"And, yet, you wish there could have been another way," stated Lacroix, already knowing what his son was thinking and feeling.

"Of course, I do!" exclaimed Nick. "But that doesn't mean I blame you. I asked you to help me. You are doing that. I can't blame you for doing what I have asked. And, besides, Lacroix, I don't necessarily regret that I tasted him or that he's dead. He was an evil man. Instead, I regret that he made me doubt you for a split second."

He smiled as Lacroix's head shot up and met his gaze.

"I also regret that he has made you worry about me and my reaction." He paused as he thought of the one thing that caused him more pain than anything else. He turned his gaze away from Lacroix and said, "The only regret I have that you won't condone is that Natalie saw me as I was and I couldn't explain to her why I had to…do what I did."

He turned pained eyes to Lacroix and whispered, "I have lost her, and I don't think there is anything I can say or do that's going to change that."

=)=)=)

Natalie had been in a state of shock as she drove home from Nick's loft. She felt numb as she entered her apartment building and hadn't notice if she had passed anyone in the halls or ridden in the elevator with anyone. Instead, everything was a total blank until she opened her apartment door. Now that she was home, she felt everything.

Natalie slammed the door shut, dropped to her knees, and cried out, "This can't be happening!" Eventually, she pulled herself up and stumbled to the couch. "It can't be," she whispered. She had long ago realized—even though she chose not to recognize it aloud—that Nick had become her entire world: Her job enabled her to help him in his quest to redeem his soul by helping people, and her knowledge in science allowed her to attempt the impossible to try to bring one of the supposed undead to life again. Not to mention, he was her best friend…and who was she kidding? They never gave it a name; they never truly acknowledged it, but they were in a relationship. It wasn't merely platonic as they led others to believe. It was so much more than that despite the fact that nothing but a few brief kisses had ever been exchanged. She was losing him—perhaps, she already had, and it frightened her.

She glanced around her living room, trying to convince herself that she was having some kind of horrible nightmare. Eventually, she looked at the table before her and noticed the pictures lying there. "There to mock me," she mumbled to herself as she remembered what they were.

She picked up a picture to study Nick's smiling face at last year's Christmas party. He hadn't wanted to go, but she had convinced him that he would have a great time and she had been right. Elaine had snapped this picture and many more as they laughed and danced the night away. Natalie had asked for the copies of her and Nick, explaining she wanted to give Nick a photo album of their time together for the following Christmas, and Elaine was only too happy to oblige.

Now, as Natalie stared at the picture, she could only feel pain. The picture no longer brought the feelings of joy that it usually evoked. She dropped the picture and pushed the others on the table onto the floor, as well.

Afterward, she raised her face with her eyes closed to the ceiling and yelled silently, "WHY?" She opened her eyes and stayed in that position for a few seconds as if she were waiting for an answer. Then she slowly lowered her head and asked herself softly, "What am I going to do?" She bent over to pick the picture of her and Nick back up. "What are we going to do?"

=)=)=)

Lacroix stared at Nicholas as he lamented over the loss of his relationship with the coroner. He had always known she would bring his son pain, but he was not happy to see it finally happening. Nicholas had turned away from him, but he could smell his blood, which was a sure indication that he was crying. He sighed and said forcefully, "It was inevitable." He watched as Nicholas slowly wiped his face with his hands and turned to look at him. He knew suddenly that his son wanted guidance—he was so good with words and his son wanted him to say something that would stop the pain that now traveled across their link.

He stood and raked his eyes across the far wall as he gathered his thoughts. He knew he had to say the right thing or the daytime would be torturous for Nicholas, as well as himself. "Mortality," he began. He paused at the word to look at his son.

Nicholas met his gaze and waited patiently.

He began again, "It's all about inevitable pain, Nicholas. Look at mortals' lives across the centuries. Their lives are centered on pain and loss. When they are born, they begin to lose their innocence. As they grow older, their lives become a repetitive cycle of losing more of that innocence. They lose their loved ones. They lose their intellect. They lose their youthfulness and vitality. They lose everything they spent years accumulating." He chuckled before continuing, "If there is only one truth about mortality, it is this: Eventually, mortals lose everything. NOTHING stays the same with them. They change themselves, they change the people and things around them, and then they die.

Vampires, on the other hand, do not have to live with the burden of loss. Yes, many of us have felt loss, but the loss was freely chosen. We do not have to burden ourselves with accumulating wealth that we might one day lose. We do not have to watch our loved ones die needlessly. We can develop friendships and bonds that last for eternity. There is no reason to lose anything that we have with each other. When we do experience loss, it is because we have entangled our lives with those of humans."

He noticed Nicholas had risen during his monologue, so he walked to him. When they stood a foot apart, he continued, "I tried to shelter you from this pain, mon fils. I tried to warn you that becoming a part of their world would only lead to heartache and turmoil. I knew one day it would come to this, and more will continue to come if you continue to involve yourself with these…people."

Nick looked down and whispered, "But we get so much from them. They give us companionship, art, music, fresh ways of looking at the world…friendship…love."

Lacroix raised his finger under Nicholas' chin to get him to look at him. "I never claimed that their existence was unnecessary to us. They feed us physically and mentally. We can appreciate them, but that doesn't mean we should befriend them. The wolf appreciates the lamb, but he doesn't take casual strolls with him in the moonlight. The wolf understands his place in the world, as well as the lamb's. Because of this, there is no sense of loss or guilt when the wolf takes a lamb. He understands that it is nature taking its course. That is the truth of their existence, as well as ours. Besides, you can get friendship…and love…from us." He also added silently, "From me."

Nick turned from him and whispered, "I understand what you're saying, but I don't want to let her go. I don't want to end this life just yet."

Lacroix placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezed, and informed him, "Then, you will continue to bear this pain and loss. It is your choice."

=)=)=)

Nick lay in bed for hours after his talk with Lacroix. He tossed and turned with indecision. He knew his father wanted him to forget about the mortal relationships he had forged here and move on with him. They could start fresh, and he admitted that they would probably be a lot happier…but only if he could forget what he lost here in Toronto.

He closed his eyes as he thought about Natalie. He had known she was there when he bit Billy. Why had he done it? He knew it would terrify and disappoint her, but he did it, anyway. He did it in spite of himself, as well. He never thought he would be able to go back to such actions, but he did.

"It was too much," he answered himself. "I have been regressing for a long time now, and it finally caught up with me."

He sat up in bed and swung his legs over to the side. "Excuses," he chastised himself. The truth was he wanted to know if Billy was guilty before Lacroix killed him. He knew Billy would die that day regardless of what decision he made, and he also knew it would be easier for him to bear if Billy was guilty of needlessly killing their kind. It was the only way to find out quickly with his father before him, waiting to do the deed.

Besides, even if he hadn't bitten Billy, it wouldn't have solved his current dilemma. It would have only delayed it. He was going to lose Natalie, whether it was now or in the future, and the realization that there wasn't anything he could do about it hurt deeply.

Trying to forget the pain, even though he knew it would only be for a short time, he stood up and went over to the closet to see what kind of clothes he had stored in Lacroix's apartment so he could get ready for work. The first item he came to was a gray, almost black, button-up silk shirt. "This isn't mine," he thought to himself as he caressed the fabric and looked at the collar to see if it was his size. It was. He went to the next shirt and made the same size observation. It wasn't until he reached the back of the closet that he recognized his own belongings that he had stashed there while he had sometimes spent the day with Janette. He picked out a simple black button-up dress shirt, black slacks, and a dark blue vest. The vest was a little worn now, but it would have to do.

As he walked out of the closet, he noticed Lacroix leaning against the doorframe of his room. "Out of all the clothes in that closet, you picked that?" he questioned.

Nick looked down at the ensemble and explained, "It's not that bad. Besides, I don't have much to choose from here. I suppose I could have borrowed some of yours since they're in my closet, but I didn't..."

He was shocked when he heard Lacroix chuckle openly. "Nicholas, you know we do not wear the same size. I would hardly fit into anything in that closet." He walked over to his son, grabbed the clothes he had out of his hands, tossed them onto the bed, and walked into the closet. "This is your bedroom, so obviously these are yours."

Nick raised an eyebrow and said, "I think I would remember buying these things and putting them here."

Lacroix shrugged and replied magnanimously, "I took the liberty of stocking this closet since you have started to spend more time here than usual. I didn't want you to run out of anything to wear."

Nick raised his hand back inside the closet and picked up the dark gray shirt he had admired earlier. "Do you expect me to stay often enough to actually warrant these many clothes?" he asked Lacroix as well as himself.

To sidestep the question, he merely replied, "It's a 'just-in-case accommodation.' Mere convenience."

=)=)=)

Nick walked into the precinct feeling more than a little out of place. When he had told Lacroix he was going to work, he had expected his father to warn him of his involvement with mortals again, but he merely nodded and told him to have a good night.

"As if that's possible," he thought to himself.

He went over to his desk and looked at Tracy who was typing furiously at her keyboard.

"I didn't know you liked paperwork so much," stated Nick as he sat down.

Tracy stopped typing, looked at her partner, and said, "You know as well as I do, Nicholas B. Knight, that I don't like it any more than you, even though I seem to be the one stuck doing it all the time...I'm actually on the verge of a new lead for our case!"

"What kind of lead?" asked Nick, cautiously.

"Well, we already know Cody and Billy were friends and that they met in Montreal before coming here, right? This morning I started wondering why Billy came to Toronto, so I decided to look further into his past. In Montreal, he had established quite a name for himself, and not a very good one, but he had managed to maintain employment at the same job for slightly over two years…"

"Tracy," Nick interrupted.

She ceased her words, knowing she was excited and speaking too quickly. "Yeah?" she asked, waiting for her partner to playfully tell her to calm down.

"Do we have to discuss this right now?"

Her jaw dropped. She hadn't been expecting that reaction at all. "What do you mean?" she asked. "What else should we be talking about?"

Nick shook his head, ignored her question, and whispered, "This case is going to remain unsolved, and I just don't want to spend my evening talking about Billy Myers." In fact, he had been thinking about him entirely too much recently.

Tracy leveled Nick with an intense glare that made it obvious she was assuming the worst. "And, she's right," thought Nick, as he dropped his eyes to stare at the few papers lying on his desk. When he heard Tracy sigh, he looked up and heard her whisper, "Okay, but we are going to talk about this later when we get somewhere a little more private."

Nick nodded and started to pull paperwork out of his inbox that should have been filled out weeks ago.

=)=)=)

Natalie stared at the beige box she had placed on her desk and for the millionth time wondered if it would make any difference at all. There wasn't even a guarantee that she would have the chance to find out. After this morning, she knew it was possible she would never see Nick again, and despite what had happened, she found the thought terrifying.

The sound of the phone ringing brought her out of her thoughts. "Hello?" she answered, not in the mood to use one of her more humorous greetings.

"He's here," she heard Wilma, the cop at the service desk in the precinct, say.

"Thank you," she said softly and hung up. She had called Wilma earlier that night to ask if she would call her when Nick arrived. She knew she couldn't spend her whole shift wondering if he had skipped town. Now that the question was answered, she wondered what she was going to do with the information.

She looked at the box again and knew she had to follow through. She couldn't live with a life wondering "what if." She picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number. As soon as she heard his voice, she didn't bother to greet him. She simply stated, "I need to see you immediately." She hung up and hoped he would come.

=)=)=)

Nick stared at the phone in disbelief as he heard Nat hang up. He was so certain she wouldn't want to see or hear from him again that he had resigned himself to not calling her or darkening the hallways of the coroner's office for a while. And, yet, here she was calling him, telling him to come. He didn't know whether he should be worried or relieved, but he did know he shouldn't get his hopes up too much. He wasn't naive enough to believe that she would simply forgive and forget and that their relationship could pick up where they left it before last night occurred. No, that was asking too much.

"Umm, Nick?" he heard a voice interrupting his thoughts.

He focused his eyes on Tracy and muttered, "Yeah?"

Tracy motioned her head towards the receiver in his hand and said, "You can hang up the phone now. Is everything okay?"

Nick hung up the phone and buried his face in his hands briefly. "I don't know," he said when he looked back up at her. "That was Nat. She asked for me to come see her."

"Do you need me to come?" asked Tracy, getting ready to grab her coat.

Nick contemplated the offer. Obviously, Nat was going to talk about what happened, and it was something he needed to discuss with Tracy, but did he want his junior partner to find out this way? Besides, he knew he would be taking the coward's way out if he brought her. Nat wouldn't be as open as she would be if Tracy weren't there.

Shaking his head, he answered, "No, I need to do this by myself."

"Something happened, didn't it?" asked Tracy, standing up and squeezing Nick's arm in support.

Nick covered her hand with his right one and squeezed back softly. "Yes, and I'll tell you everything as soon as I can."

Tracy nodded and whispered, "Go."

Nick stood and walked slowly out of the precinct.

As Tracy watched, she couldn't help but wonder what had happened and noticed that if Nick walked any slower, he wouldn't get there until Christmas.

=)=)=)

Nick walked down the corridors of the coroner building as quietly as possible. He knew Nat hated it when he snuck up on her intentionally, but he wanted to gather some kind of insight as to what he was going to encounter before he actually made his presence known to her. He stepped just inside Nat's examining room and saw her sitting motionlessly at her desk, staring at a large box. She didn't appear to be angry or overly distraught…just…there.

He swallowed a knot he felt developing in his throat and breathed deeply. The action and noise involved brought Natalie's attention to him.

"Nick," she gasped and stood as soon as she saw him peeking around the corner.

Nick walked completely into the room and stared down at his shoes. "I didn't think you would call. I had plans to stay away," he said softly.

"I know," she responded just as softly. "And, honestly, for a short time, I wanted it that way. When I left the loft this morning, for a brief second, I thought I didn't want to ever see you again…"

Nick looked at her with grief-stricken eyes and Natalie had to look away. "I don't blame you for feeling that way. I can't…give you any reason that you'll accept to explain why I did what I did."

Natalie met his gaze again and decided one of them had to be strong. She stood up and stated forcefully, "And, I'm not asking you to right now."

Nick flinched because he was sure this was the moment he had dreaded. She was going to tell him to get out of her office, out of her life, and to never come back. He closed his eyes and steeled himself to hear the words.

"Whatever you're thinking, that's not what's going to happen here," she said, firmly.

He opened his eyes and had to admire his brave little soldier. He knew she was hurting and that the possible end of their friendship was weighing heavily on them both, and yet, she was facing the storm instead of hiding from it. Whether it tore them even farther apart or not, she was going to face it straight on.

And, he could do nothing less for her. He took another deep, calming breath and asked in what he hoped was his normal voice, "What is going to happen here?"

Nat pointed at the box on her desk and explained, "I want to give you something."

Shocked, Nick asked bewilderedly, "Give me something?"

"Yes" was the simple reply.

"But why? After everything that has happened, after everything that you know I have done and am capable of, why would you want to give me anything except contempt and hatred?" His face hardened at the thought and asked, "Is that what this is? Is there something in that box that is going to make me realize the hell and torment I am putting you through?"

Nat answered honestly, "I don't know, Nick. It's possible, but mainly, it's something I want you to have, to keep with you always."

Nick walked to her and noticed that she didn't flinch or back away.

Instead, she gave him a ghost of a smile and handed him the box. "Open it," she whispered.

Nick balanced the box with one hand and lifted the lid with the other. He pushed the inner paper aside and found himself looking at a large book with a brown leather cover with no words inscribed on it. He glanced at Nat, who had a few tears dripping down her face. He set the box down on her desk and removed the book carefully. He quickly realized it was a photo album.

He flipped open the cover and smiled as his eyes came in contact with the first picture they had knowingly taken together. There were other pictures taken before this time, but this was the first one that they actually posed and smiled for. It had been taken the night he had attended the policeman's picnic. Schanke and Nat had called him before sundown to make sure he was coming, and if they hadn't, he wouldn't have shown up. He was barely a part of their world at that time. He remembered the night as if it were yesterday: kids ran around the park, screaming and playing together; adults were laughing and eating together; and he had kissed Nat briefly while they sat on the tabletop together just enjoying one another's company. Shortly after, Myra Schanke had come running from behind and asked to take their picture. They hadn't hesitated. They agreed quickly and smiled for the camera.

As he stared at the picture, his eyes inevitably traveled to the left and saw that there was a letter attached to the backside of the front cover. He read it slowly:

Nick,

I planned on giving this to you at Christmas, and I'm sure the pages would have been filled with even more wonderful moments of us together, but I realized you needed this now.

So much has happened since we first met. I won't lie and say it hasn't been difficult. We knew from the beginning that our relationship would be unconventional and that we would have ups-and-downs, but truthfully, did you ever realize how many ups we would have? These pages are filled with moments together that have outweighed the downs. On these pages, you will see the life of Nicholas de Brabant Knight, a Toronto detective who struggles in life to do the right thing because of his past. He isn't two separate entities, one that is honorable and one that is wicked. He is a living, breathing man who is capable of doing great deeds and making mistakes just like any other man. Without a doubt, he is a man with morals, he is my best friend, and I love him.

I know we can't ignore the downs and that there are many we still need to talk about to face together, especially after recent events, but I have faith that we will work through them, just as we always have. Before you make a decision about this life or any other that you may have in the future, Nick, just look through these pages and remember all that you have gained over these last few years.

Love,

Nat

As Nick finished reading the letter, he stumbled back and grasped for a place to sit down. He sat on a nearby stool next to the counter and continued to stare at the album in his now trembling hands.

"Nick?"

He didn't look up. He flipped to the next page and tears filled his eyes as he saw an impromptu picture of him, Nat, and Schanke together. Nat was sitting on the corner of his desk smiling up at him, while Schanke and he were flipping through a magazine, laughing, as they tried to figure out—if he remembered correctly—what kind of present would make Myra forgive Schanke for accidentally bleaching her favorite comforter set while trying to get a coffee stain out of it.

"Nick?" he heard again. This time he felt Nat's hands circling his arm. He looked up finally and knew he had to be a horrible sight. Blood tears were pouring from his eyes, just as salt tears were pouring from hers. He set the book down on the counter and quickly pulled Nat to him. He hugged her as tightly as she could stand and buried his face into her neck and shoulder. As he felt Nat's arms wrap around him, a sob escaped him.

"It's all right, Nick," she cooed, softly, despite her own tears and the fact that a vampire's lips were inadvertently brushing against her neck. "We'll find a way to get through this. I refuse to let you go without a fight."

As Nick buried his face into Nat's shoulder and neck, he shook with all the emotions Nat's gift had released in him. He held on to her for what felt like hours but in reality was only a mere minute.

After he pulled back and let go of her, he immediately walked over to the sink and used a wet paper towel to wipe his face. He handed a dry one to Nat. He breathed deeply to pull himself together and almost achieved this until he looked over at Natalie.

She was looking at him with more tears filling her hopeful eyes. "Tell me you're not moving on because of what happened. Tell me you're staying in Toronto and that we can work this out."

Nick turned back around to face the counter and replied, "I'm not leaving Toronto, yet."

Nat couldn't release the breath she had been holding. "Yet?"

"You know I will have to leave, eventually," he explained. "But as of right now, I'm staying."

Finally, Natalie let the air escape and said, "Good. I was thinking that I should come over tonight. We need to, you know, discuss what happened."

"I don't know if that's such a great idea, Nat," he replied, still facing the counter.

"Of course, it is. We need to discuss what happened so we can move forward. I'll admit I don't understand why you did what you did, but I'm willing to listen to try to understand."

Nick turned around and picked up the photo album before he said anything. He flipped through more pages before he met Nat's eyes. "Lacroix thinks I should limit my time with humans. He said to be human or to be around them is to lose. As I sit here, looking at this album, I can see in many ways that he's right."

"What are you talking about?" she asked fearfully.

He flipped through more pages and ran his fingers across one. "Schanke," he whispered. "I've lost him."

"So have we all."

Nick nodded. He flipped another page and ran his fingers across another. "Cohen." Another page was flipped. "You."

"What about me? You haven't lost me!"

Nick closed the book and said, "But I will."

He watched as Nat shook her head in denial. He explained softly, "Nat, whether it is by something I have done, by your choice, or by nature, I will lose you just as I have lost all the other mortal friends I had acquired throughout my lives. To be human is to lose. To be human is to die."

"That's Lacroix talking."

"Does that make it any less true?" he countered.

"Nick, if this is some kind of speech to convince yourself to stop searching for your mortality, then that is your decision," she replied. "You knew from the very beginning that you would eventually die if you ever became human again."

"That's not what this is about."

"Then, what is it about?"

"I'm a vampire, Nat. I'm not human. I will probably live for a very long time and I will remember every second of everything I have lost for years to come."

"As we all will do."

Nick shook his head. "When you die, and if there really is a God…"

"You know that there is."

"…there will be no sadness. You will not remember those you have left behind. You will be happy and free of pain." He paused. "While on this Earth, yes, you will remember those you have lost, but you won't be here forever. I will be."

Nat paused as she considered Nick's words. "What are you saying?"

"This gift will always be treasured. It will remind me of everyone I have been friends with in this life. But with that remembrance, I know pain will also come. You won't always be with me—you won't be around in the future. This gift will serve as a reminder of the good times we've had together, but it will also remind me of what I have lost."

Nat put her hand on his arm again and said, "You can't make yourself un-know us, Nick, even if you believe it will spare you pain. You will remember us with or without the album, but if you don't want it…" She reached out to take it.

Nick snatched it away. "No, I want it. I just need to decide for myself if continuing this is worth it."

"Continuing what?"

"My mortal lives, the façade I do no matter where I go," he answered. "Should I continue to meet new people and allow them to know me and become a part of my life? Should I subject myself to their eventual departure or them to mine?" He thought back to something Lacroix had said to him on a rooftop over a year ago. "As a vampire, sometimes I forget that all I have to do is blink and you'll all be gone."

Natalie walked in front of Nick and decided instead of being argumentative and confrontational, she would try another tactic. She wrapped her arms around his waist, rested her head on his shoulder and chest, and said, "You've said it yourself in the past: friends make life worth living, Nick. Don't let the possibility…"

"Inevitability," he interrupted.

"Whatever. Don't let the fear of losing anyone turn you away from all the joy friendships can bring you. We all live and lose. It's a part of life whether you're human or not."

Nick, still contemplating Nat's and Lacroix's words on the issue, could only say, "I'll try, Nat. I'll try. For now, I do still have you."

=)=)=)

Nick walked back into the precinct carrying the album that had spawned so many thoughts and feelings within himself. Earlier, all he worried about was Natalie leaving him because of what he had done. Now, he wondered if it was a good thing that she wasn't and if he should socialize with humans at all. He finally understood with complete clarity what Lacroix had been saying that very morning. How ironic that his sire would speak of this subject before Nick fully comprehended the importance of it! Lacroix believed being involved with humans brought more pain than he would have had otherwise. Now he knew without a shadow of a doubt that was true. The questions now were whether it was worth it and would he continue to subject himself to this pain again and again throughout what would undoubtedly be his long life.

He sat down at his desk and set the album before him.

"What's that?" asked Tracy, looking at him curiously. She had noticed that while he wasn't happy when he left, he was definitely gloomier now.

"A photo album," he answered with a shrug.

Tracy immediately grabbed the album from his desk. "I love looking at pictures." She flipped to the first page and saw the picture of him and Nat. "Aww," she teased in response. She noticed the letter on the opposite side but kept flipping. She didn't want Nick to think she was too nosy. Besides, she knew he would tell her what was going on eventually. As she continued to flip through the album, she asked herself, "How can this make him sad?" and decided to try to lift his spirits.

Nick smiled as he watched and listened to Tracy make several oohs and ahs over the pictures on each page. When she was finished, she handed it back over and said, "That is just too cute. I don't know where she got those photos of you and me, but I definitely want a copy of some. That was really nice of Nat, wasn't it?"

Nick nodded slowly and said, "Yes, it was."

Just as Tracy was about to bite the bullet and ask him what was wrong, Captain Reese came out of his office and headed straight to them. "There's been another murder. Hilton on Peter Street. The boys-in-blue think it might be related to the warehouse killings. Get there fast and keep it under wraps. We don't want the press to think Myers is attacking tourists now."

"We're on it, Captain," Tracy said as she grabbed her coat and followed Nick out the door.

=)=)=)

"Myers can't be responsible for this," said Nick as he pulled his car away from the precinct, turned on his police emergency lights, and headed for Peter Street.

Tracy buckled her seatbelt and pulled out her gun to make sure it was loaded and ready just in case she needed it. "What makes you so sure?" she asked. "I know he's a vampire hunter, Nick, but he's already killed one human. Who's to say he won't kill more?"

"Billy can't kill anyone, because Billy is dead," he said, forcefully. Their eyes met briefly before Nick moved his eyes back to the road.

"What? And, you know this because…" Tracy motioned with her hands to show that they were empty and she had no evidence of anything.

"I watched him die, Tracy. My father killed him this morning after he tried to shove a stake through my chest."

Tracy gasped. "Oh, my God, Nick! Why didn't you didn't tell me right away?"

Nick turned abruptly onto Peter Street and straightened the Caddy before replying, "The danger was over, so there was no point in calling this morning, and as for this evening, I was waiting until we were alone."

Tracy nodded and replied, "Okay, so we already know Billy will not be responsible for whatever we're about to see if it happened after his death. Now we just have to figure out why they think that he is."

Nick nodded and they arrived shortly at the Hilton. Both detectives jumped from the car and Nick yelled, "Go over there and talk to the EMTs. See what they know before they leave."

Tracy ran to the paramedics as Nick went inside the building. He looked at the front lobby desk and flashed his badge. The receptionist pointed down the hallway, and he immediately went in that direction. At the end of the hall, he recognized Officer McClymer. "Where's the crime scene?" he asked as soon as he reached the officer.

"On the fifth floor, Nick," he answered. "It's pretty bad."

Nick nodded, and as he went into the elevator, he prepared himself for whatever it was that he was about to see. When an officer says it's bad, it's bad. When the elevator came to a halt and the doors opened, he saw uniformed officers from other precincts and hotel security everywhere. "Okay," Nick said, flashing his badge again, "where's the body, and who found her?"

An officer he didn't know yelled, "In Room 503. A maid found him, and she's inside the lounge waiting to talk to a Detective Knight who's already working the case."

Nick shook his head at the reminder that they believed Billy Myers was responsible for this. He walked into Room 503 and walked up to a detective who was standing right inside the door. "I'm Detective Knight," he said, showing him his badge. "I was told there might be another victim to the case I'm working on."

"Yes, right this way," the man answered while extending his hand for Nick to shake. "I'm Detective Shan."

They walked through the living quarters of the suite and turned down a short hallway. "We only got the essentials from the maid who found the body. Someone called down to the front office and requested new sheets for the bed. When she arrived to the room, no one answered, so she let herself in and discovered this."

The detective opened the door and immediately understood why they thought the cases were related. The body was contorted into an unnatural position with the head facing in the opposite direction of its body.

Nick bent over the body to take a closer look at the neck. No teeth marks were evident from this side.

He immediately straightened to ask, "Who's the M.E.?"

"I am," he heard from the door. Natalie walked in and said, "I got here as quickly as I could." She snapped on a pair of latex gloves and immediately went to doing an outer examination of the body. "Can we get pictures of this, please?" she called as she realized there was no way she could leave the body in this position and get it to the morgue.

A camera man came in and started taking pictures at various angles. Natalie would point out several things for him to take closer shots of every so often while Nick looked around the room.

Nothing seemed out of place. There was bottled water on the dresser drawer beside the bed without its cap, and it was still upright. His keys and wallet were laid out, seemingly untouched. He grabbed a pair of gloves from his own jacket pocket and put them on before grabbing the wallet. "James Banfield," Nick read. He scanned the address and asked, "Does this room belong to the victim?"

Detective Shan walked closer to Nick with several papers in his hand. "Yes, he checked in a little over two hours ago, paid cash, and immediately came up to the room."

"No other occupants?"

"None that were listed."

"Hmm," Nick said, looking through the wallet more thoroughly. "I find it curious that a man who lives on Austin Terrace would need a hotel room downtown with no obvious reason."

"Obvious reason," Detective Shan repeated. "You mean an escort or something?" He snapped his fingers and waved at a deputy. When the deputy came over, he said, "Find the manager and tell him we need to look at the security cameras immediately. We need to see if we can find a working girl who was on the premises at the time of the murder, as soon as Dr. Lambert provides us with one."

After the deputy walked off, he walked beside Nick and shook his head. "I can already tell you an escort didn't do that, though." He pointed at the body Natalie was now moving around to get a better idea of what had happened.

"I know," replied Nick, "but it's a place to start. Excuse me." He went over to Nat and whispered, "Please tell me you haven't found any bite marks."

"Should I have?" she asked as she turned her attention to the neck and other exposed portions of skin.

"Everyone seems to think this is related to the warehouse killings."

Nat looked up and said, "You know as well as I do that is impossible."

"I know, but I have to make sure. Billy did have accomplices. I'm pretty sure Lacroix and I took care of them all, but one might have gotten away or hadn't been there."

Nat shook her head and said, "There are no bite marks, but I can tell you that whoever did this had a lot of strength. Contusions and tearing of the muscles are evident. The spine at the base of the neck has been snapped. This guy took quite a beating, and he doesn't look like someone who would take this kind of treatment sitting down."

Nick nodded and asked softly, "Could this kind of damage only be contributed to a vampire?"

Nat shook her head. "No, a strong adult male could cause this, but like I said, it's hard to believe the victim would allow himself to be beaten so horrendously. I see no signs of struggle: No hair or skin under his fingernails, no bruising around the knuckles to show that he was fighting before he died. A weapon could have been used to create some of these contusions and maybe he was unconscious when the worst was being done. I'll know more when I get him back to the lab."

"Is there any way we can definitively and officially rule out Billy Myers as a possible suspect at this time, given the evidence you see here?"

"T.O.D. was approximately two to three hours ago, so Billy was already dead, but I can't very well say that, can I? No. The overkill is what links the two cases, I assume. It seems unlikely that murders such as these would happen by separate murderers within a short time of each other."

"Well, that's exactly what's going on, Nat!"

"I know, Nick. The only thing I can point at right now is the lack of puncture wounds on this body."

Nick nodded. "That will have to be enough reason to tell the press it is officially unrelated at this time." He squeezed Nat's shoulder and said, "Thanks, Nat." He walked back outside the bedroom and into the living room to see if anything else caught his eye as he pulled out his cell phone.

He dialed Tracy's number. When she picked up, she said exasperatedly, "Please tell me you have something to tell the press. They're literally breathing down my neck and the deputies are having problems keeping them behind the tape."

"Yes," he answered. "Tell them that this murder is unrelated to the Warehouse Killings and that we are doing all we can to bring the killers of both cases to justice." He hung up the phone without waiting on a reply. He turned to Detective Shan who had followed him out of the bedroom and said, "I would like to speak to the maid, now."

Detective Shan looked at Nick and said, "Look, Detective Knight, I heard what you just said on the phone. If you believe the cases are unrelated, I can handle it from this point forward. We don't need any help."

"I just want to be sure before I go," said Nick, reasonably. He wasn't going to give this case up until he was sure vampires were not involved. Hopefully, Nat could let him know for sure one way or the other soon.

=)=)=)

Nick walked into the loft and headed straight for his couch. He deposited the album he carried onto the coffee table before he collapsed face first onto the couch cushions. He had spent the better part of the night interviewing the maid with Detective Shan and convincing him to work together until they heard the results of Banfield's autopsy. After Natalie reported that a weapon had been used on the victim, he graciously backed away from the case and told Detective Shan that it was his.

"Just as well," he muttered to himself as he turned his face toward the coffee table. He had more than enough to think about right now besides another murder. Usually he hated having only one case to work on, but right now, he was glad. He realized he really didn't even have one, since he knew Billy wouldn't be coming back.

As he started to close his eyes to get some much needed rest, Nick felt an extremely sharp pain shoot through his head. He snapped his eyes open and rubbed his temples. "What the…"

He felt the sudden compulsion to get up to go to the window. He did so and looked out over Toronto. He recalled a time when he had felt something similar but not quite as painful: Lacroix had returned to the city after his supposed death and he had been reaching out to him. He searched within himself to see if that was happening now. As soon as he touched the link he shared with his master, his head throbbed with pain.

Nick quickly became alarmed. Was this Lacroix's pain? Was he calling out for him because he was in trouble? Maybe the fiasco with the hunters wasn't over! Maybe they hadn't taken care of all of them!

Immediately, Nick lifted the window and flew out into the lightening sky. "Where are you?" asked Nick, using the link he shared with his master. He was only greeted by the thrumming of his head. The closer he got to the Raven, the more the sensation seemed to strengthen. When he reached the club, he hesitated about going inside. "He's not in there," he said to himself. Despite the pain rising, he felt the need to go left, so that's what he did. He flew around trying to pinpoint where he should go until finally the beacon he had been following seemed to stop at a cemetery.

"Lacroix!" Nick called as he reached the ground. "Are you here?"

Almost instantly he heard someone clapping. He whirled around to see Lacroix leaning against a mausoleum and clapping loudly with a smile covering his face.

"What's the meaning of this?" Nick demanded, once discovering Lacroix was okay.

Lacroix stepped forward and replied, "I knew you could follow my call under normal circumstances. I had tested you on this before, after all, but I wanted to see if you could do so under duress. You were in pain, and you also had the notion that I was in pain—I am touched that is what made you decide to follow your senses. Well done, Nicholas, well done."

Despite his master's praise, Nick was not happy. He glared at his sire and spat, "I have had an exhausting night at work. I wanted nothing more than to sit down and relax for a while, and you thought it would be a nice time to test my homing skills?"

Lacroix stood in front of Nicholas and explained, "When does life ever choose a time when you are energetic and refreshed to test you? True knowledge of your capabilities can only be discovered when you are tired and ill-prepared."

Nick sighed and asked, "Is this what I have to look forward to for the next couple of weeks, you surprising me with pop quizzes throughout the night? Because if it is, I must tell you…"

"It will be nothing of the sort," interrupted Lacroix. "I merely wanted to make a formal announcement that my tutelage has begun again if there are no complaints from the pupil."

Nick raised an eyebrow. "Did it ever cease?"

Lacroix chuckled. "Come, come, Nicholas. You know you loved learning about your abilities and testing your endurance as much as I enjoyed teaching you. You're looking forward to it."

Nick looked up at the sky and said, "Not all of it and not if these lessons force me to spend the daytime hours in a cemetery mausoleum."

Lacroix laughed and replied, "We have enough time to get back to the Raven." He leaped into the air before Nick could reply that he had enough time to return to the loft.

As Nick rose into the air, he debated where he should go. Lacroix clearly expected him to follow him. With a shrug of his shoulders, he decided he would indulge Lacroix for now to see just what the old vampire had in mind.

=)=)=)

Nick entered Lacroix's apartment over the Raven through the skylight and was shocked to discover the living room illuminated by only candlelight. Oddly, Nick felt himself relaxing, and he knew why, though he rarely admitted it: the soft glow of the room reminded him of the soft light his eyes had first encountered after being brought across almost eight hundred years ago. Even though doubts about his existence as a vampire had come quickly in the beginning, at the moment of his reawakening into this world, seeing Janette and Lacroix smiling at him in the warm ambience of the candlelit room made him feel loved and protected from the harsh realities of the cruel mortal world. Maybe bringing him comfort was Lacroix's intention. He probably knew Nick often kept the loft in that soothing state of light and dark because it had a calming effect upon him.

He had never explained that to Natalie when she had once asked him why he liked his loft so dark and used candles instead of electricity most of the time. She wouldn't understand. Honestly, he didn't entirely understand it himself. He spent so many years running from himself and Lacroix. To have always found comfort in something that reminded him of an event he thought he abhorred had puzzled him for years. He long ago decided to simply accept it.

"Lacroix?" he called out, ridding himself of his current thoughts and refocusing on the present.

The room was quiet, but he knew the ancient was close. He walked over to the couch and sat down, noticing a bottle of blood and two wine glasses on the coffee table in front of him. Lacroix must have set this up earlier in the night. He looked around the room again and decided to help himself. Nick smiled mischievously as he poured the bottle's contents into a glass and yelled, "I'm going to feed without you if you don't hurry and come out."

Suddenly, Nick jumped out of his seat and nearly dropped the wineglass and bottle when he heard a silky voice say, "Now, we can't have that, can we?"

"Lacroix?" questioned Nick as he turned around and saw his master step from around a corner in the room. Immediately, Nick took in his appearance.

He was dressed in a black robe. The material flowed freely about the ancient as he moved towards him, and the only part of the clothing that had any defining shape whatsoever was the collar. It ran from the base of his neck and fanned out over his upper chest and back. A golden design around the bottom of the collar, which he couldn't quite make out from this distance, made the outfit regal yet mysterious. Nick had the oddest feeling that Lacroix was wearing it for a specific reason. He hadn't seen his master wear anything like this since…

He took a sharp breath as he realized it was the garment—or at least one like it—that the elder had worn when they had met face-to-face for the first time. Lacroix had worn it the night he brought him across.

Nick swallowed roughly and asked, "What's going on?"

Lacroix was oddly silent again. He merely watched Nick as he circled about him. It was a little unsettling to the younger vampire.

Finally, Lacroix spoke, "Do you remember?"

"Do I remember what?"

"That night, almost eight hundred years ago," he replied. "A man who was questioning his faith, the actions of his companions, the very purpose of life…"

Nick remained quiet.

Lacroix tilted his head to the side and said softly, "You didn't always remember that night with such disdain."

Nick blinked and countered, "I don't remember it with disdain…not always, not today, anyway."

Lacroix flashed a brief smile but it disappeared before Nick could fully comprehend that it had been there.

Suddenly, Nick heard a whoosh and Lacroix was gone. He, then, heard his master's voice behind him. "Put this on, Nicholas."

Nick turned around and saw his master holding something white in his hands. He took it from Lacroix and let it unfold as he held it up. After a lengthy pause, he sent a questioning look to his master.

"What's happening?" Nick questioned again.

"What do you think, Nicholas?"

Nick stared at the white chemise in his hands, so much like the one he had worn when he had been brought across. He looked back up into Lacroix's intense gaze and whispered, "You want to reclaim me. You want to reenact that night."

"I don't know if 'reenact' is apt. Perhaps, we can state that I would like to start over. Do you trust me this time, Nicholas, to get it right…for us to get it right? Will you truly come back to me, accept my eternal protection…be my son?"

Nick dropped his gaze as he thought about his master's request. It was frightening and exhilarating all at the same time. He knew what Lacroix was asking. He was asking to drink from him, more so than they had done recently. He wanted to drink from him to the point of death. It was a rebirth, of sorts. Masters usually did this when they were adopting fledglings that were not their own to create a bond. That wasn't the case here. Lacroix was still his master and they already had a bond, but he knew this act would be symbolic to them. It would, indeed, represent a fresh start. But it was still frightening, even though he knew it would make him weak physically for only a short time. Besides, there were other consequences to consider, as well: he knew the act would strengthen their blood bond, something that Nick had tried to weaken and sever for quite some time. Maybe that's what he was anxious about. Could he suddenly go in the opposite direction? Could he suddenly strengthen what he had so desired to weaken? Then again, was it really so sudden?

"Nicholas?" Now, it was Lacroix's turn to question.

Nick held up the chemise one more time and answered, "I'll be right back." He flew down the hall and stepped into his bedroom.

=) =) =)

Nick put on the chemise and stared at himself in the mirror. Everything felt so surreal. He could not believe he was going through with this, and he knew his master had to be feeling his nervousness. He wondered if Lacroix was concerned that he would bolt and run or that he would change his mind.

Nick closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Relax," he told himself mentally.

"So beautiful," Nick heard. He opened his eyes and turned his head to see Lacroix leaning against his doorframe. "You look as beautiful as the night I brought you across. Only your hair is much shorter."

"We could always wait until I grow it back out," replied Nick, almost hoping naively that Lacroix would want to do just that.

Lacroix simply chuckled and said, "Not a chance. I have waited so long for this moment, mon fils. I don't think I could wait another day to reclaim you."

Shivers ran down Nick's spine as he felt his master's desires and excitement course through their bond. He turned to face Lacroix completely and asked, "What is your plan, Lacroix? What will happen after we do this? I have already returned to you. What do you expect to gain that you haven't already?"

Lacroix came to stand in front of Nicholas. He rested his hands on both his shoulders and answered, "We will resume your lessons and we will…start over. That's all I want."

"What will that entail?"

Lacroix sighed. "Will you ever cease to be so suspicious of me, my son?"

Nick simply stood there and stared at the other.

Again, Lacroix sighed. "It will entail mutual respect, you accepting my eternal protection, camaraderie, all the things a son expects from a father, and all the things a father expects from a son."

It was an answer, but it left much to be said and clarified. Nick knew Lacroix didn't want to discuss it all right now. Lacroix wanted to "reclaim" him tonight and very soon. Would he allow this to happen? Would he trust his father not to disappoint and betray him this time?

"I want to trust you," whispered Nick.

Before Nick could add more, Lacroix whispered, "Then, do, mon cher."

Now, it was Nick's turn to sigh and he almost gave his answer until he thought of something else that needed addressing before he made his decision. "If I do this, will you try to force me to leave this life? Our bond, and therefore your influence, will be much stronger. Will you try to stop me from seeing Natalie and my co-workers?"

"You may keep your mortal friends and job as long as we are here, if that is what you wish."

Nick continued to stare at him. "As long as we are here" gave him no comfort.

Lacroix grinned and continued, "No, I will not force you to leave. We will stay as long as you like, as long as it does not endanger us or the community."

Nick nodded and closed his eyes before finally saying, "I give you my consent."

Upon uttering those words, Nick felt tears rush to his eyes. Surprisingly, saying those words was such a relief. He hadn't known until that very moment that he had wanted to say them for so very long, possibly since the beginning of his departure from his family.

Lacroix immediately pulled Nicholas to him and held him tightly. He kissed his son's brow as he felt the young one slip his arms around him. "You will not regret this, mon fils," he promised. "We will make it work this time."

Nick stepped back, smiled nervously, and looked back at his bed. "Where should we do this?"

Lacroix held out his hand, and with only a slight hesitation, Nick slipped his hand into his.

Lacroix led Nick out of the room and into the master bedroom. Candlelight also illuminated this room with an eerie but comforting glow. "We might as well be comfortable," he explained, as he turned Nick around and pushed him onto his large four-poster bed.

Nick scooted back to the middle as Lacroix joined him. He turned Nick so that his back was facing the pillows and he settled in front of him. Then, ever so slightly, he pulled Nicholas forward and the younger vampire's knees straddled the elder's. They stared at one another for several seconds before Nick averted his gaze.

Lacroix put a finger under Nick's chin and made him meet his eyes once again. "Before we do this, I want to talk to you. I do not want there to be any misunderstanding."

Nick nodded.

"I want you to understand, Nicholas, that I want to be your father and teacher. That's all I have ever wanted. Eight hundred years ago, I chose you to be my companion. I chose you to be my son. You are everything I have ever wanted…you are everything I wanted in a son even when I was mortal."

Nick's eyes grew wide at this declaration. Lacroix had never been this honest…or emotional.

Lacroix continued, "No one has ever come close to rivaling you. I could not find a better son, and believe me, I tried long before I found you…and there still hasn't been one. There never will be." Lacroix paused before adding, "I can only hope that one day you will see that my zealousness to keep you at my side over the years was not done to oppress you. I…" He trailed off. He said more than he meant to and he was shocked at himself.

Nick waited for a few seconds for Lacroix to finish his words. He knew what was about to be said, and he wasn't surprised when those words did not come. They met each other's gaze, and this time when Lacroix looked away, Nick smiled. "I know, Lacroix." He took a deep breath and continued, "I…understand. I know we understand each other more now than we did eight hundred years ago, and because of that, I think we can make it work this time."

Both fell silent and stared at each other intently. Almost a minute had passed before Lacroix decided he had waited long enough. He rose on his knees, grabbed Nicholas by the upper arm, and pushed him back lightly.

Nick lay on the soft mattress willingly and was surprised when Lacroix followed.

The ancient covered his body for a brief moment, hovering in the air, but quickly settled to his left side. Lacroix ran his fingers down the right side of Nick's neck, stopped at the base, and rested his hand there.

Nick looked at Lacroix's face and noticed the intense stare the elder was giving his throat. Nick couldn't help it—he smiled and chuckled a little.

Lacroix tore his gaze from the neck before him, even though the movement Nick's laughter caused in his neck was almost mesmerizing. He met his son's eyes with his own and whispered, "It's time."

Slowly, Nick closed his eyes and breathed in deeply to calm himself. Lacroix rose and laid his upper torso over Nick's. Softly, so much more carefully than the first time he had done this when Nick was human, he slipped his fangs into his neck.

Immediately, Nick gasped and marveled at the feeling of Lacroix drinking from him so deeply. A master's bite was always like no other to a fledgling. He felt like he was floating, and he didn't want it to end.

After a minute or so, Nick felt the need to return the bite, but he knew it wasn't time. Regardless, it was getting harder and harder to restrain himself and he knew why: his body was starting to feel threatened even though his mind knew Lacroix would not hurt him. "Bite him or you will die" his beast yelled against his mind's cage. Nick's gaze turned red and he turned his head to bite into Lacroix, but Lacroix suddenly grabbed his chin and cheek with one hand and forcefully kept him down.

=) =) =)

Lacroix was in rapture. It had been so long since he had taken this much from his Nicholas, his favorite, his only son. As much as he wanted to feel his son complete the circle and return the bite—he knew that's what his son wanted, as well—he knew it wasn't time. In fact, he knew soon he would have to restrain Nicholas. The vampire would take over once his body lost more blood than it wanted to. Reason would leave his child and make him believe his life was being threatened. He didn't relish the thought of putting Nicholas through that pain, but it would only be for a short time, and then Nicholas would return the bite and they would be linked again, more strongly than before. Nicholas would truly be his once again.

As he continued to drink, he felt through the blood that Nicholas was beginning to panic. Nicholas turned his head to bite, and Lacroix quickly brought his hand up to keep Nicholas' head firmly pressed against the pillow. That's when Nicholas fought in earnest to get free. Lacroix had to settle his entire body firmly upon Nicholas to keep him as immobile as possible. With his fangs still planted firmly into his son's neck, Lacroix could only murmur tunes of comfort. Despite his efforts to calm him, the struggle continued until Lacroix finally took enough blood to render Nicholas too weak to move.

Quickly, Lacroix released Nicholas' neck and closed his eyes as he reveled in the feel of his son's blood coursing through his veins. He turned, grabbed a box of blood bottles off the floor, and set it on the nightstand. After making sure it was easily accessible, he sliced his wrist with a fang and held it over his son's mouth. "Nicholas," he said once.

Nicholas didn't respond until a single drop landed on his tongue. Afterward, Nicholas used all the strength he had left to grab the wrist and slip his fangs deep into the offering. Blood squirt into his mouth and it gave him miniscule relief. He needed more than this wrist was supplying and quickly.

Feeling frustrated and ravenous, Nicholas startled Lacroix by roughly flinging his wrist away from his mouth. Before Lacroix could even question his son's actions, Nicholas sprang up, wrapped his arms around him, and buried his fangs deep into his neck. Immediately, Lacroix smiled as he wrapped his arms around his son's body and ran a hand through his hair. He pressed Nicholas to him and whispered praises and encouragements to continue drinking.

Lacroix was in more rapture now than he was while draining Nicholas. He always enjoyed the feel of his son's fangs in his body, and he hoped it was something he would feel more often now that Nicholas had truly returned to him. In order for this moment to last a while longer, he knew he would have to replenish his body while Nicholas fed furiously. He reached over and grabbed a bottle from the nightstand as he turned himself over and scooted back so he had his back propped against the headboard. Nicholas willingly followed and growled in warning. Lacroix chuckled and whispered, "I'm not pulling away. You may drink your fill." He pulled Nicholas tightly against him and started draining the blood bottles.

=)=)=)

"Nick?"

Silence greeted her.

Natalie knew Nick's shift had already ended. She walked into the loft and noticed the photo album on the coffee table. "Nick?" she called again. The photo album was there, so he should be, too.

She went upstairs and peeked into the bedroom and then the bathroom. No one was home. Natalie felt a little hurt. She told him she was stopping by so they could talk. Sure, he questioned whether it was a good idea, but he didn't say no. Surely, he knew she was coming.

She went back downstairs and finally noticed that a window was open. Nick often opened the shutters, but it was rare for him to open windows. She stuck her head out and looked out towards the Toronto skyline. She couldn't help but wonder if Nick felt her coming and made a hasty exit out the window.

She walked back to the couch and settled down. Regardless, she would wait on him. She grabbed the photo album and flipped through it absentmindedly until she fell asleep.

=)=)=)

Nick awoke to the feeling of warmth and comfort. He kept his eyes closed and snuggled into his warm cocoon until he felt fingers run through his hair. Quickly, he snapped back and opened his eyes to stare directly into his father's.

"Nicholas," greeted Lacroix.

Nick looked at their surroundings and gathered that he had slept in his father's arms all day. Feeling slightly embarrassed, he ducked his head and said, "Sorry, I guess I was really tired this morning."

Lacroix chuckled a little and said, "I suppose it's been a while since you were a newborn, and it's not like you or I made many fledglings after I had you. It's normal for fledglings to sleep a lot, especially after being brought across."

Nick nodded absentmindedly until Lacroix's words registered. "I'm not a newborn."

Lacroix smiled. "Yes, but what we did last night will affect you as such for a short while. It has such a draining effect, you know."

Nick couldn't help but roll his eyes at Lacroix's bad joke.

Continuing to hold Nick, Lacroix added, "I think it would be wise if you didn't go into work tonight. You should rest and get your strength back."

Old habits of issuing a snide remark and insisting on going to work were on the tip of his tongue, but fortunately Nick caught himself. He recognized that Lacroix wasn't ordering him. He was suggesting. There was a difference, so he considered his father's words for a brief moment. Nick found himself nodding as he realized how tired he felt despite sleeping soundly most of the day. Slowly, he leaned against Lacroix's chest again and whispered decisively, "Sounds like a good plan to me."

For several minutes, Lacroix simply held Nick, but eventually, he scooted out from under him and went to the closet to change his clothes. As he turned around, he noticed Nick propping his head up on his elbow and staring at him with weary eyes. "Where are you going?" he questioned.

"I have to open the club," he answered. "Then, I have a show to put on."

"Must you?"

"The former, yes. I'll see about playing a tape for the show. Why? Do you have something planned?"

Nick lay back down before yawning, closing his eyes, and replying, "No, but I thought we'd figure out something to do." Then, he was asleep.

Lacroix smiled and knew Nicholas would spend most of the night sleeping. Regardless, it warmed his cold heart that his son wanted to spend time with him. He stared at him a moment longer before he decided he'd call the precinct himself and book Nicholas off. He undoubtedly wouldn't wake up again for a while.

=)=)=)

Natalie rushed into the morgue feeling annoyed and worried all at the same time. She was late. She spent the whole day at the loft and had woken up too late to get ready and be to work on time. And, even more frustrating, Nick never came home. She knew she was not going to have a good shift.

As she entered the lab, she gasped as she saw a figure. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "You startled me."

Dr. Stevens seemed just as startled to see her. "What are you doing here, Dr. Lambert?"

Natalie immediately glanced at the calendar to her left and assured herself of the date. "Uh, I work tonight. What are you doing here?"

"Well, when Detective Knight's father called in to the precinct and said he was sick, we assumed you were with him and forgot to call in."

"Nick's father said he was sick?" she questioned. At first, she was worried, but then she became angry. Obviously, Lacroix was lying. Nick didn't get sick—well, usually—and what was Lacroix doing calling in for Nick? No one knew Lacroix was his father! Didn't Nick tell everyone he didn't have any close relatives? This couldn't be good on so many different levels.

"Dr. Lambert? Are you okay?"

Natalie shook herself. "Uh, yeah, I'm okay. I guess he forgot to mention that I would be running late."

Dr. Stephens nodded. "I suppose. Listen, I'm already here, so if you want to head back to Detective Knight, we'd all understand. It's no problem, really."

Everyone thought she and Nick were in a relationship and trying to keep it a secret. Now, the suspicion was becoming handy. She knew without a doubt in her mind that she had to find Nick quickly. Something had to be wrong. "If you're sure," she responded, already backing up towards the door.

"I'm sure." he replied, taking note of her slow departure.

"Okay. Have a good night."

She quickly turned around without waiting for a reply and headed straight for her car.

She had avoided the Raven like the plague, especially recently, but now she was determined to not only go there but go toe-to-toe with Lacroix. He had no business interfering in Nick's life. For all she knew, Nick was being held captive and he was doing his best to ruin his life in Toronto. She couldn't allow that. Nick wasn't ready to move on, and she wasn't ready to let him go!

=)=)=)

Natalie clutched Joan of Arc's crucifix she had hidden in her trenchcoat. She had stopped by the loft to grab it earlier. She would not take any chances on Lacroix getting the upper hand in this confrontation. She was going to see Nick and take him home, come hail or high water, she told herself!

When she was finally allowed entrance into the Raven by the club's bouncer, she immediately searched the crowd. She didn't see Nick…or Lacroix, for that matter. She went to the bar and waved at a bartender. When he approached, she said forcefully, "I need to see Lacroix."

The bartender raised his brows in surprise.

Natalie swallowed nervously but remained determined. "I don't have all night."

"He's busy and wishes not to be disturbed."

Natalie clutched the crucifix again and said, "Tell him Dr. Lambert is here to see him and that I will call every cop in Toronto to come and arrest him for kidnapping Nick if he doesn't see me!"

The bartender blinked hard and stepped back from the bar. "I'll tell him." He disappeared into the back.

A few minutes later, the bartender returned and said, "Go through the door and up the stairs." As she started to walk, he said, "Knock before entering."

Natalie nodded as she made her way through the crowd to the door and up the stairs. God only knew what waited for her.

=)=)=)

Lacroix walked into his bedroom and saw Nicholas still resting contentedly. He knew his child's peaceful slumber wouldn't last long if he heard Dr. Lambert's voice, especially if she was distressed. If what she told the bartender was any indication, she would be.

He was tempted to snap her neck as soon as she walked into the apartment, but he knew Nicholas would never forgive him if he found out. As annoying as she was, he had no reason to harm the doctor anymore. He had won. Nicholas was back in his rightful place by his side, and she would just have to accept that.

He heard the knock at the door which led to the barroom and immediately went to answer it after closing his bedroom door silently.

"Dr. Lambert," Lacroix greeted as he pulled the door wide-open.

"Where is he?" Natalie asked immediately, stepping inside without invitation.

"My, your manners are so desirable, doctor. Wherever did you learn them?"

Natalie turned around to face Lacroix as she heard the door shut. "I want to know where Nick is. He didn't go home last night, and he's not at work. You called him out sick. Excuse me for being a worried and a little rude."

Lacroix lifted his head slightly and peered down at her. "Your apprehension is unneeded and unwarranted, I assure you."

"Then, take me to him," she countered. "If what you say is true, then you'll let me see him."

"He's sleeping."

"I don't care."

"Obviously," stated Lacroix, with a disapproving look, before turning his back to her and then grinning.

"Lacroix," Natalie urged.

The grin Lacroix had disappeared before he turned his head back toward her and added solemnly, "If you insist."

He walked down the hall without giving her an invitation. He knew the good doctor would follow. He smiled in anticipation. This was not the first time Natalie had caught a glimpse of the true relationship between father and son. He also knew it probably wouldn't be the last. The doctor was so headstrong and stubborn that she wouldn't give up until a very bitter end. So be it.

He opened his bedroom door and stepped aside. He waved his right hand to the door to gesture for her to go inside.

She did and gasped at the scene before her. Candles still covered the room, but most of them, except for a small few, had been put out. The strong smell in the room, however, told her that they all had been lit at some point during the day. What held her concentration more thoroughly, though, was the figure on the bed. There stretched Nick in a long white chemise. It was so white and thin that it was almost see-through. He was beautiful.

"There were wars fought for a lesser prize in my day," stated Lacroix as he came to stand beside her, knowing by her expression what the doctor had to be thinking.

Natalie didn't even want to think about the hedonistic days and nights Lacroix had probably lived through when he was a mortal. His comment was proof enough that he had similar thoughts as she did about the man before them. She didn't even want to chance having a discussion about it.

"As you can see, he is unfettered," Lacroix continued. "He is not injured or bound. He can leave whenever he so desires."

Natalie walked to the bed and asked, "What's wrong, then? Why did you call the precinct and say he was sick?"

Lacroix walked to the other side of the bed and sat beside Nick's hip. "He's exhausted, doctor. Surely you can tell by looking at him. I thought it would be best if he had some rest before spending long, tempting hours with mortals in his condition."

"In his condition," Natalie repeated accusingly.

A chuckle was his reply.

Natalie frowned at the vampire and reached her hand out to touch Nick. Lacroix grabbed her hand and said, "He's exhausted from...let's just say 'the games that vampires play.' I assure you he is unharmed. If you insist on staying until he awakes, you are free to do so. I will warn you, though: sometimes his stomach wakes up before his head." Lacroix's meaning was clear.

Nat raised her chin defiantly. "Nick would never harm me. I've spent enough time with him at his place to know that."

"Very well," Lacroix replied. He leaned over and kissed Nick on his forehead. In response, Nick unconsciously turned his head toward elder, almost as if he were seeking more contact.

The gesture from Lacroix sickened Natalie. From what she knew of the old vampire, he was using affection as a means to rile her, and it was working.

Lacroix smiled at her, and as he walked away, he added, "When Nicholas awakes, he will undoubtedly ask for my whereabouts. Please tell him to call me and I will come."

Undeniably, Dr. Lambert was going to find her place in Nicholas' world again the hard way.

=)=)=)

Nick awoke to the sound of a heartbeat. He instantly remembered he was at the Raven, so the heartbeat alarmed him. Why would a mortal be in his bedroom unless Lacroix were tempting him? He frowned and opened his eyes.

To his right, he saw a sight that immediately pleased and unsettled him. Natalie. She was sleeping beside him.

"What is she doing here?" he wondered silently. Surely Lacroix was not trying to tempt him with Natalie. He had to know he would never harm her. Of course, he did, so why was she here? How did she know where to find him? How did she get in? Why didn't she wake him? He was missing something.

He shook his head to try to shake some of the cobwebs out. He was still exhausted and clearly not thinking straight. He looked over at the clock mounted on the wall across the room to see how long it would be before he had to get ready for work and gasped.

At the sound of the gasp, Natalie opened her eyes and immediately sat up. "Nick? What's wrong?" she asked worriedly.

Nick jumped slightly at the sound of Nat's voice. He had almost forgotten she was in the room in that short period of time. He turned to her and replied groggily, "You're okay. Good. That means I can get ready for work. I'm late."

He stumbled out of bed and made his way slowly, but as quickly as he could, to the closet.

"It's okay, Nick," she reassured him. "Everyone knows you're not coming in tonight."

Nick immediately slowed his actions and turned to face her. He then leaned against the doorframe of the closet door. "What? How?"

"Lacroix," she said, simply.

"What did he do?"

"Oh, nothing…besides call the precinct, claim to be your father, and call you out sick."

Nick breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, at least he saved me some trouble."

"Not really," countered Natalie, having noticed Nick's state of exhaustion and apathy. She knew this subject would wake him up a little. At Nick's raised eyebrow, she explained, "Your personnel file states you have no close relatives, and now Lacroix has called in and claimed to be your father! And, I honestly don't know what he said or to whom. Could you imagine if the captain found out 'your father' was a suspect you had investigated for murder? You could lose your job, Nick!"

Nick started dragging himself back to the bed beside her and replied unconcernedly, "Lacroix would never give away too much information that could potentially harm me in some unmanageable way, Nat." He smiled and added softly, "I doubt he left his name and number."

"If you say so, but just so you know, I think his simply claiming you have a father in the Toronto area is bad enough. There are going to be questions."

"And, I'll address them when they arise," Nick answered, tiredly. "At least I'll be prepared for them."

Natalie nodded. For several seconds, she watched Nick as he settled back down on the bed and rested against the headboard. She moved on the bed to face him and asked, "So, what happened last night?"

Nick shrugged. "Nothing much."

"It had to be something. You forgot that I was coming over. Do you know how worried I was? I stayed at the loft all day and even went into work late. They already called a replacement in to catch my shift by the time I got there."

Nick frowned and met her gaze guiltily. That woke him up more than anything. "I'm sorry, Nat. I honestly forgot that you wanted to visit. So much has been going on recently that it slipped my mind."

"Obviously," she replied. "Lacroix told me you were exhausted from the games that vampires play. Whatever that means."

Nick shrugged again, looked down at the bedspread, and ran his fingers over it. Anything not to look at her. "We were just…fooling around. We can tire ourselves, just like mortals."

"How did you manage to tire yourself out? I've never seen you so exhausted. Lacroix and I even had a heated discussion in here earlier and you didn't even stir once until Lacroix kissed you."

Nick snapped his head toward her.

"A kiss on the forehead," she added, assuming he was questioning the kiss.

"What were you discussing that got so heated?" he asked, more interested in that.

"Oh. It wasn't all that bad. We basically bickered about your being here and my being here. He didn't threaten me or anything, if that's what has you worried."

Nick let the air he had been holding escape. "Good," he replied.

Nat smiled and then said, "Okay, it's your turn. I shared. Now, you have to. What were Lacroix and you doing last night and during the daylight hours?"

Nick opened his mouth to answer her but didn't know quite how to word it or if he even wanted to tell her. Their relationship was already strained. How much more could it take? He shook his head and was going to attempt an evasive answer when a voice intervened.

"We were strengthening our bond," Lacroix stated from the doorway.

=)=)=)

Nicholas snuggled into Lacroix's embrace and was glad the night's trials and questions were over. Watching Lacroix kill the drunkard after bringing him across had been a truly frightening experience, but Lacroix had reassured him he would not come to the same fate. That was a comfort since Lacroix had never broken a promise to him before. Of course, they hadn't known each other for very long, but he clung to the promise. It was the only way he could move forward and not agitate his master further.

He felt Lacroix tighten his arms around him, so he did the same.

"What are you thinking, Nicolas?" asked Lacroix.

Nicholas pulled back to look into the elder's eyes. With a slight upturn of his lips, he responded, "I'm thinking of the night's events and hoping you really think of me as a son. I don't want to be cast aside after being brought into this world."

Lacroix ran his fingers across Nicholas' chin and smiled. "You need not hope." At Nicholas' questioning look, he explained, "You can read the truth and my intentions in my blood." He stretched his neck out and pulled the boy to his neck. "Drink and feel contented."

Nicholas was hesitant. He had bitten Lacroix before, but it was always in the wrist. Lacroix was offering him his neck, which was more intimate and sensual. That action alone made him believe in Lacroix's declarations of fondness.

Once he had bitten and pulled away from his master a little while later, he knew the bond he had with his master had grown exponentially. Lacroix said it would every time they shared blood during the first few weeks of transition into vampirism. Nick smiled as he felt Lacroix's genuine feelings for him. He dared not put a name to it, as Lacroix surely would not, but it was enough to calm him.

Nick snuggled to Lacroix's side and fell into a restful slumber.

=)=)=)

"Strengthening your bond?" question Natalie; "What does that mean?"

Nick looked down at the comforter again and shook his head slightly. He really didn't want to talk to Nat about this, especially now, in front of Lacroix.

"Well?" Nat snapped.

Nick lifted his head to look at Lacroix: the ancient looked calm, like nothing of significance was currently happening. Of course, to him, nothing was occurring. He frowned, closed his eyes, and felt the familiar pang of resentment toward his master. "How dare he put me in this situation right now!" he thought.

When Nick reopened his eyes, he saw a flash of concern cross Lacroix's features. He knew the ancient could feel his anger. "Good," he thought. "Let him stew."

Lacroix cleared his throat to grab Nat's attention. The two watched each other as Lacroix walked across the room to sit on the bed next to Nick. "I realize now I shouldn't have said anything," he admitted softly.

"No, you should have," she countered, jumping off the bed so she wouldn't have to be near Lacroix. "I just want to hear what's going on from Nick." She turned her eyes to Nick and finally met his.

"Okay," whispered Nick, nodding his head several times, "okay, I'll tell you: I've gone back to Lacroix, Nat. We shared blood last night, so deeply and so intensely that it was like a rebirth into vampirism."

Nat stared at Nick feeling completely surprised. He couldn't have possibly said what she thought he did. She already knew he went back to Lacroix, but to say he allowed himself to be "reborn into vampirism"? That was entirely another matter. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

Nick watched her struggle and knew she was going to have a hard time with this information. They had been working for a cure for many years. For him to have gone back to his vampiric ways was a betrayal, he knew that.

She couldn't stand anymore. She went to a nearby chair and sat down. "And, this has made you weak?" she questioned, softly. "Lacroix said you couldn't go to work in your condition."

"Condition? I'm not in any kind of new condition, not really," he replied.

Nat nodded. "So, what is it?" she questioned. "Does Lacroix not want you near mortals so soon after your…rebirth? Is he afraid we'll have some kind of negative influence on you." The more she thought about it, the more the idea seemed probable. Lacroix didn't want Nick to slip back into his old life. He wanted Nick to stay here and immerse himself in the world of the vampire. She couldn't allow that. "I think you should go to work and get out of here," she added.

"I don't think that's a good idea, Nat," replied Nick.

"Why not?"

"Because…I need to make sure I can handle this. I'm tired, I feel drained, and I want nothing more than to sleep. I think time off is the best thing to do right now."

"Well, can we at least go to the loft and talk about things alone, Nick?" she questioned, feeling the tears well up in her eyes.

Nick looked to Lacroix and then back at Natalie. "I don't think that's wise right now. Just…give me a few days, Nat. Let me adjust."

"I don't want you to adjust to this," she whispered but both vampires could hear her words.

Nick hung his head low. He knew she had been having a hard time with this from the get-go. She didn't like Lacroix, and he knew he was completely responsible for her negativity toward him, and truthfully, she had reason. Nick just wished she'd be willing to forgive Lacroix and give him a chance. If he could do it, why couldn't she? He opened his mouth to say exactly that when Nat ran to the bed on the opposite side of Lacroix.

Nick watched as Nat looked cautiously at Lacroix and then leaned in close to Nick's ear.

"Don't do this."

"It's already done," he whispered back.

With those words, Nat immediately got off the bed and she declared adamantly, "It's never too late, Nick. Never."

To Be Continued…