I'd been standing in silence behind the bar, the bloodwine I'd poured long forgotten at my elbow. Urs came up behind me and wrapped her arms around my waist, nuzzling her face between my shoulder blades. I sighed and covered her hands with my own then closed my eyes and focused on the love and warmth she was sending my way.
"You're awfully distant tonight, LaCroix. What's wrong?" she asked.
I didn't know how to answer her so I held my silence but accepted her concern by stroking her arms in acknowledgement of it. She was still sending a huge wave of love and concern to me. I don't know why she loves me as fiercely as she does. She is not my childe, she is not even from my bloodline. I turned in her embrace and looked down into her haunted blue eyes.
"Just thinking, Urs."
I stiffened and she knew she had her answer. "Yes. About Nicholas. Hadn't you better get changed, we open in less than an hour?" I asked, abruptly pulling from her embrace. She let me retreat to my office without protest, turning with a strangely determined look on her face to setting up the bar for the night's business. Looking back now, I realize that I should have paid far more attention to that look than I did at the time.
It was nearly midnight and the Raven was in full swing as Vachon sat down at the bar and waved to Miklos. The dark haired bartender brought over a glass of bloodwine and left the bottle. Urs had called him earlier and asked him to come down to the Raven tonight, said she needed his help with something. Wonder what she's got going now, he mused. Urs was the happiest she had been since that night he'd brought her across in 1880. Even liked being a dancing girl at the Raven, which surprised Vachon greatly. She had been a showgirl as a human and was being raped by a man who'd seen her show when Vachon burst into the room, killing the man and bringing Urs across. Why did she like dancing here at the Raven so much?
Vachon looked up from his drink to see Tracy sitting on a stool next to him. She was obviously working tonight, judging from her clothes. Wonder where her partner is, he thought, glancing around the bar but not seeing Nick Knight.
"Hey, Trace. What brings you here tonight?"
"Urs. She called and asked me to come down tonight to help her with something." Tracy called to Miklos to bring her a soda.
"Urs called you?" Vachon asked, more than a little confused.
"Yeah. I asked her why she was calling me and she said it was a big problem, that she'd need all the help she could get." Tracy popped the can top and took a few swallows of soda. Vachon watched the movement of her throat as she swallowed in rapt silence, then startled guiltily when a voice intruded.
"Am I interrupting something?"
"Natalie!" Tracy exclaimed, turning around to face the coroner. "What are you doing here?"
"I was about to ask you the same question." Natalie replied easing onto a stool next to Tracy and waving to Miklos. He raised an eyebrow at the trio but brought another can of soda without comment.
"Um, I got a call from a friend of Vachon's that they needed some help, so I thought I'd stop by and…" Tracy's voice trailed off when she realized that Natalie was staring at her as if she had suddenly grown a second nose. "What?"
Natalie stared hard at Tracy and Vachon for a moment. " I came because I got a call from Urs asking me to come by and help her with something. What is going on here?" Natalie asked suspiciously thinking they'd been set up. And I know who'd do it too, she thought. LaCroix! Was he out after Nick right now? "I think I'll be leaving. Looks like Urs has more than enough help." Natalie stood to leave and ran right into Urs.
"Please don't go, Dr Lambert. This is a big problem. I need everyone's help." Urs turned and gestured toward a private booth near the rear of the club. "Bring your drinks and let's talk over here. LaCroix's not here right now, the broadcast equipment is in for repair and he has to do his show from the station for a week or so."
After a brief moment of awkwardness over the seating arrangement, Vachon had slid in next to Urs, leaving the two mortal women the other seat. Natalie was ready to get to the bottom of this strange business.
"Okay, Urs, what gives? What problem is so big that you need help from all three of us to handle it?" Natalie demanded.
Urs offered only a single word of explanation. "LaCroix."
Natalie looked angry, Tracy confused, and Vachon stared searchingly into Urs' deep blue eyes.
"What about LaCroix? Did he hurt you?" Vachon asked, desperately hoping that he had jumped to the wrong conclusion. He didn't hold much for his chances at challenging the ancient and he didn't really want to leave Toronto and Tracy just yet.
"Vachon!" Urs slapped his shoulder, eyes taking on a glint of gold as indignation hung in the air. "Why would you think such a thing? Of course, he hasn't hurt me." Vachon sighed in relief. "Geez," Urs continued, "everybody always thinks the worst when I mention LaCroix."
"Well, he is kind of intimidating," Tracy offered with a relieved smile herself, elbowing Natalie when the coroner snorted her opinion of LaCroix.
"So what kind of problem does LaCroix have and why are you trying to deal with it?" Vachon asked quickly, trying to derail Urs' reaction to Natalie's snort.
"He's depressed. I need your help to think of some way to cheer him up." Urs looked at the other three who stared back in disbelieving silence. "What?" she demanded when the silence grew uncomfortable.
Natalie rose to leave. "Urs, LaCroix can stay depressed for all I care, so long as he does it away from me and Nicholas."
Urs' eyes gleamed full golden in anger. "Sure no problem. Stupid to call the doctor who provides medical care for the undead when one is in need of some care." Urs sneered sarcastically. "Know any undead shrinks? No? Then run back to your precious Nicholas, he's the only thing you care about anyway."
"Urs! Don't!" Vachon pulled her arm trying to stave off what had the makings of a cat fight. "Tracy and I will help you."
"Sure, be glad to" Tracy chimed in.
Urs sat back with a final glare at Natalie, then looked away in dismissal.
Natalie shook her head and fled to her car. Of all the stupid…like I care if he's depressed. He's caused nothing but trouble for Nick and I. Natalie ranted to the air as she drove toward the coroner's building. What could LaCroix have to be depressed about? He had been worming his way back into Nick's life, Nick was starting to drink bottled human blood again, he should be happy! She parked her car and went back into the lab to finish the report on the Kowalski murder. After a few moments she flipped on the radio with a sigh, knowing that her curiosity was going to get her killed some day. The lab filled with the sound of LaCroix's voice as he broadcast his monologue, but something in its tone nagged at Natalie's mind. She stopped fighting it and turned her attention to that soft voice. The monologue was disjointed at best. None of the tones of seduction or passion that were normally present. I'll be damned, he does sound depressed.
Vachon was kneading the base of Urs' neck, trying to calm her down. He'd rarely seen her worked up enough to show her vampire to anyone. Tracy sipped her soda for a few moments then with a quick glance at Vachon asked Urs to continue.
Urs took a ragged breath and a gulp of her bloodwine before she spoke.
"I'm sorry. Tell Natalie I'm sorry. I'm just really worried about him. He's not himself, hasn't been for almost a month now. I thought the mood would pass but it hasn't. It's just getting worse." Blood tears ran unheeded down Urs' face as she spoke.
"Why don't you tell us how it started? When did you first notice a change and what was it?" Tracy asked, setting her soda aside. Vachon smiled to himself. Detective Vetter to the rescue!
Urs nodded, took a moment to drain and refill her glass to collect her thoughts then began to speak.
"It started just over a month ago, right after Nicholas got shot." Urs glanced guiltily at Tracy for bringing up that awful night.
"It's okay, Urs. Go on." Tracy reassured her.
"After Nicholas spent those few days here and got his memory back, LaCroix became really quiet. I'd keep finding him staring into nothing, not listening when I was talking to him. I thought at the time he was just feeling his link to Nicholas. Then, when Nicholas came in and told LaCroix that he and Natalie were engaged, and they had that awful fight, I knew that Nick had blocked him out again, or LaCroix would have known, been prepared for it." Urs glanced at Vachon then back to Tracy. "Why would Nick announce that in the middle of the bar without telling him first?" The others had no answer.
"For a week or so, LaCroix was just full of righteous anger. No one could approach him or talk to him, and business was fairly slow. Even the mortals picked up on his anger and avoided him. The monologues were absolutely vicious."
Tracy nodded. "I know. Nick listens to them in the car and I heard a few of them."
Urs looked at her searchingly. "Does Nick still listen to them?"
"Um, yeah, every night we're at work anyway. I figure he listens at home too. Why?" Tracy answered.
Urs put her head down onto her crossed hands on the tabletop. "Maybe Nick does still care about him. Maybe I should call Nick." Suddenly she grimaced. "No better not. He'll just argue with him. That's not what he needs."
"So after the vicious monologues then what happened?" Vachon prompted.
"After he let all that anger out toward Nick, he just started brooding. It's gotten worse and worse. He pours some bloodwine but never drinks it. He stares into space all the time, his shows have gotten, well, lackluster. Then last week he didn't get the bar stock order done. Liquor or blood! That's just not like him. When Miklos brought it up LaCroix just waved his hand and told him to handle it. He didn't pay the bills for the bar this month. Even after the utility company called he didn't pay it. I had to search his desk for the bill and write the check, then hound him for a day to sign it."
Vachon and Tracy traded worried glances. Both knew that the safety and well-being of the vampire community depended on LaCroix remaining firmly in control, and by Urs' account he was very far from that.
"Have any of our kind noticed?" Vachon asked.
"Yes, they're starting too. Some of the youngest who did something and got away with it are starting to feel fairly bold. Taking bigger risks." Urs turned tear filled eyes at Vachon. "What if they kill here? The Raven will have to close, the whole community scatter. I like it here. I don't want that to happen."
"Any other behavior out of ordinary?" Tracy asked quietly.
"Yes. He's ignoring feeding, like I mentioned. He isn't sleeping during the day at all or at least very little. He always seems to be up. And he's started…" Urs trailed off as the tears threatened to overwhelm her.
"He's started what?" Tracy prompted, letting her concern show in her voice.
"He's started giving things away. I heard on a TV show that people who withdraw and start giving away personal items may be thinking about suicide." Urs' collapsed into Vachon's arms as her tears began in earnest. "I'm so scared he'll go into the sun! We've got to stop him! We've got to stop him."
Vachon rubbed Urs' back and held her, looking at Tracy and seeing the concern in her eyes. Tracy nodded, confirming that this was indeed an indicator of suicide. Vachon was confused and anxious. LaCroix hadn't seemed the type to go for suicide, although it did happen to elders after a while.
"Urs. What sort of things does LaCroix like to do?" Tracy asked intensely. "Maybe if we can draw him out and back into some of the things he likes, we can help stabilize him until he can talk about it to someone."
Urs sat up wiping her face with a napkin. " Well, he likes art, opera, dancing, not this kind of dancing" she said gesturing toward the Raven's dance floor. "Ball room type dancing. He likes good plays and the symphony."
Tracy stood up, her mind hard at work on the problem. "I'll call you later. I've got some ideas." She kissed Vachon, squeezed Urs shoulder and headed out. Vachon pulled Urs close to him again.
"Don't worry. We'll stop him. We'll find a way to help him."
Tracy drove her car to the coroner's office while trying to think of some ways to help LaCroix. The situation was truly bad; if a vampire followed the same pattern as a human, then LaCroix was very close to committing suicide. Damn it, Nick, can't you put aside your pride for two seconds to help him! And damn Natalie too! Sure, I know that LaCroix hasn't exactly been father of the century, but then whose father is? Tracy parked her car and strode into the lab.
"Tracy. Come to read me the riot act?" Natalie asked, pulling off her gloves and motioning the detective to her desk and a seat.
"If I thought for one moment it would help I would." Tracy retorted, sitting in the offered chair. "Urs wanted me to tell you she was sorry. She's extremely concerned about LaCroix and from what I heard she has every right to be."
Natalie nodded, accepting the young vampire's proxy apology. "I turned on his monologue. I must say he doesn't sound much like himself."
Tracy nodded. "It's worse than that. Urs says that he isn't feeding, isn't sleeping, isn't disciplining the young vampires; he isn't ordering stock for the Raven nor even paying its utility bills. And he's started giving away personal items."
Natalie looked up from the report she was jotting notes on with a start. Despite her personal feelings for LaCroix, the doctor in her keyed in on the red flags in the symptom list. "That sounds like someone contemplating suicide."
Tracy nodded. "That's what Urs is afraid of. The whole community will disintegrate if that happens. The only other elder in the city is Nick and he's not likely to want to stick around and run the show. So how can we help LaCroix?"
Natalie sat back and thought for a moment. How do we help LaCroix? I never thought I'd be contemplating that! But Nick would be upset if LaCroix committed suicide. Who are you kidding, Lambert, he'd be so consumed with guilt that he'd probably follow him!
"Well, he shouldn't be left alone. Someone should stay with him, try to get him involved in things, keep him doing things for himself. Don't do things for him, that just gives him the idea that he isn't really needed. And be prepared for a backlash of anger when he realizes what you're up to. And that may still not be enough."
Tracy stood to go. "Well, I'm damned well going to try. All three of us are. I'm calling my father to see if he can get tickets to the Lion King and I'm inviting LaCroix to go with me."
Natalie stared at Tracy in shock. "You're going to ask LaCroix to go with you?" she asked dumbly.
"Yes. Look, my father acts a lot like LaCroix. It's taken me a while to realize that when my dad is sneering in anger and pushing me away, it's only because he thinks that I'm gonna push him away anyways, and it might hurt less if he does it first. I think that's what LaCroix and Nick do. Try to hurt each other first." Tracy stopped with her hand on the door knob. "Tell Nick what's going on when you see him this morning." Then she was gone.
Natalie watched the door close in shocked silence. Is that what's going on here? she thought as she turned back to the report. All this time, have they just been trying to prevent getting hurt by hurting the other instead? She shook her head and turned the Nightcrawler's show back on to listen to LaCroix while she worked. Even the chosen music was morbid tonight. Mozart's Requiem. Natalie looked at her watch, Nick wouldn't be back from the prisoner extradition until nearly dawn, still five hours away. He was traveling with Captain Reese, no chance he could break off and fly to get home sooner. Still, she mused, she wanted him to know right away. Maybe he could listen to the show, get some clues from that. She picked up her phone and dialed his cell.
"Nick, it's Nat. Listen we have a personal problem we really need to deal with. I won't go into all the details right now, but I've heard enough to tell me that it's very serious."
"Nat, what is it? What's happened? Did LaCroix—"
"No, Nick, LaCroix didn't do anything to me" she said quickly, cutting him off. Is that what I sounded like to Urs? No wonder she got so mad. "It's about LaCroix though. Urs is really worried about him. He's exhibiting all the signs of clinical depression. Try to tune in his show and listen, see if you get any clues. I'll fill in the rest of the details this morning at the loft."
"Are your sure? Depressed?"
"Listen for yourself, Nick. See you at home." Natalie hung up, sighed and picked up the next file, with the mournful notes of Requiem still haunting the air of the lab.