Disclaimers: the characters and situations depicted in this story are inspired by 'Forever Knight' which is a neglected property of Sony/ Columbia/ Tri-Star. No profit is being generated, and I promise to put them back when I'm done...
Permission is granted to archive this story at fkfanfic.com, the ftp site, darknn... and it will be on my web archive at www.crosswinds.net/~kannegun
Special thanks to Stephane Plante for alpha- reading, beta-reading and consultation to make this a better story. Merci beaucoup!
Rating: PG-13. There are a few innuendos of honeymoon activities but nothing explicit (you can use your imaginations though!)
This story follows two of my previous stories: 'Eternity' and 'Now and Forever'. Both are on my webpage. It is not necessary to have read them, but some things might make more sense if you have.
And now.... As we left 'Now and Forever'...
"You got married?" Tracy questioned, the surprise evident in her voice. The engagement ring was a given. The wedding ring, though, was another thing altogether.
"Yes we did," Natalie said softly. "And we've not told our supervisors yet, so you are to keep quiet. Understood?"
Tracy nodded, taking her eyes off the rings momentarily to meet Natalie's gaze. Was it her imagination? Was Natalie paler than usual? Had something happened during her vacation *besides* a vacation?
"Sure, Natalie, I can keep it confidential," Tracy replied, standing as the morgue attendants rolled in a shrouded gurney. "You know that you won't be able to keep this secret for long." She warned, giving her a knowing look as they both watched Grace bustle into the room.
"I.. I know," Natalie said softly. She could see that Grace was fairly bursting to find out what she'd been talking to Tracy about. The wheels were spinning.
"I'll let you get back to work. Let me know when you're ready to, umm, talk," her eyes twinkled as she watched Natalie's nod.
Taking the folder from the attendants, Natalie checked the ID tag on the toe against the forms and signed a paper, handing it to the attendant. "I'll take it from here, guys. Thanks."
Grace slid over the tray and began to set out the instruments. So far she was keeping quiet. She had her own suspicions what would make Natalie so cheerful and wished she'd arrived just a few minutes earlier.
It would have been very interesting to hear just what she'd been discussing with Tracy. The young woman who just happened to be partners with a certain blond detective from the 96th precinct. The fact that the usually temperamental detective was also in a *very* good frame of mind tended to confirm her thoughts. It might be more fun to see how long Natalie could avoid talking about it.
They had shared everything over the eight years that Natalie had been a coroner. Grace had seen many of Natalie's relationships falter over those years and had always been there to help Natalie put her life back together. None had the lasting power that this one did. None had *ever* put such a smile on her face.
Snapping on her gloves, Natalie flicked on the tape recorder and began the autopsy. The scent of death had tickled her senses as soon as the body was wheeled in. It was not a pleasant scent.
The sooner she was done, the sooner she could put the body away and sneak out for a snack. So far, she'd been able to finish each case completely before her eyes changed to amber and her fangs tingled. A quick trip to the cooler had replenished her before it became noticeable. This case was fresher, and the blood scent stronger, as well as other scents. It amazed her how the enhanced senses told her just where to look, where the bullets were hiding. Instinctively she knew precisely where to probe.
"Goodness, you don't waste any time," Grace exclaimed, peering into the open cavity as the clink of the bullets hitting the metal basin echoed the lab. The only sounds had been Natalie's terse dictation. "I don't know when I've seen you with this much energy. Off hand, I'd say that vacation did you some good."
"Isn't that what a vacation is for?" Natalie asked with a hint of sarcasm. She knew exactly what Grace was trying to find out. Until she conferred with Nick, she didn't want to say anything more. It would only be fair to let him know that the teasing was coming. If it was merely coworkers joking, she wouldn't worry. With any revelation she now made about her private life came the risk of disclosing too much.
Considering how long it had been department speculation that the relationship between the coroner and the detective went well beyond being professional colleagues, Natalie was sure that a huge fuss would be made. Not to mention the fact that the inter-department pool was so large that they'd opened a bank account. Nick's previous partner had slipped that fact shortly before his death over a year ago.
"You've had vacations before and never were this cheerful." Grace observed, carefully making note of her friend's avoidance of eye contact or direct answers. "You never did tell me where you went, hmmm?"
"I have samples ready for histology," Natalie announced, pointing to the row of slides and specimen jars that she had ready.
"OK, fine. I'll take care of these, and *then* you can tell me all about it," Grace said teasingly.
"About what?" Natalie asked with a sigh, not looking up as she took a last look around the open body.
"Your vacation, of course."
"What about it?" she inquired with an 'oh-so-innocent' smile. As if she did not know *exactly* what Grace was trying to determine.
"Oh, just the basics. Where, with whom? What you did.... Or didn't do," her voice trailed off as she picked up the tray and left the room. Just the thought of what Grace wanted to discuss was bringing very fresh memories to mind. Memories of events that Grace would not understand, and could not know about.
"Maybe," Natalie mumbled as her hand hesitated over the long curved needle that she used to close the y-incision. She could feel the increasing pressure in her upper lip as her fangs tingled. Hearing no one approach, she ran over to the cooler and pulled a bag out of the back. Her eyes were completely amber now, her fangs had dropped. With her back to the door, she quickly drained the plastic bag.
Closing her eyes and leaning on the cold steel door, she felt her system absorbing the blood, soothing her desires. Reining in the vampire again, she went back to the table and finished closing the incision. Now was not the time to discuss her relationship with Nick, at least not with Grace. That particular discussion would require careful thought and preparation. She did not think she'd be able to hold herself back under the scrutiny and innuendo any longer.
She covered the body and peeled off the gloves, crossing the room to her desk. Dialing a number, she propped the phone against her shoulder and turned on the computer. "Detective Knight, please," she said as soon as the phone connected.
"So what is this I hear about you humming?" she asked without preamble. Nick's laughter was music to her ears as she put Nick on speaker-phone so that she could keep working. She knew that she'd hear any visitors coming toward her lab long before they'd reach the door.
"Guilty as charged, I'm afraid," he acknowledged. "What's up?"
"You going to be ready for lunch soon?" she asked, punching her password into the computer, tapping her pencil against the desk in frustration at the time she wasted daily having to log in repeatedly. It was supposed to be a security measure that the system would shut down if she was away from her desk for more than a half hour, but Natalie found it to be an annoyance. Scanning the list of emails that filled her box, she mentally calculated how many days it would take to get through them all. After her month off work, there had to be several hundred messages, not all of which were work related. From the subject lines, she could tell that her co-workers already suspected quite a bit. There was very little of a purely professional nature from the morgue's night staff, at least not among those sent in the past day.
"I could be," he said slowly. She could hear the background noise of the precinct, even to the distinctive sound of Tracy's laugh. "You trying to escape before Grace begins her interrogation?"
"You read me like a book."
"I try," Nick replied, his voice husky with unconcealed desire. "I'll come up with an excuse to come over shortly. Got anything business related that I could use?"
"Your partner didn't even try to make up an excuse. She just came over. You could do the same." Natalie pointed out.
"What was she doing over there?" Nick's voice dropped lower, now all business.
"Snooping, I presume. She made a point, and I agree with it. We *won't* be able to keep this a secret. She saw my rings, and just watch... she'll be looking for yours."
"Duly warned. Thank you." He replied. "I'll be over shortly, okay?"
"Sounds good." Sensing Grace's imminent return she picked up the receiver and murmured "I love you."
Hanging up the phone, Nick looked around the room. Tracy had been circulating around the bullpen ever since she'd returned from her 'errand' which he now knew was a trip to the morgue. Every so often she'd glance at him before engaging in another conversation.
Standing quietly, he walked up behind her silently tapping her on the shoulder. Predictably, she jumped a mile. Turning quickly, she swatted him on the arm, "Don't sneak up on me!"
"What is so interesting, Detective? Anything that I should know about, partner?" he asked with a very innocent looking smile.
She turned from her conversation with another detective, and they both studied him intently. Even Nick could see the eyes wandering to his left hand, which was tucked in his pocket as he leaned on a desk. "I don't know. Partner, you tell me."
"Tell you what?" he asked, taking her arm and leading her toward an empty office... a room that did not have an observation area or an audience.
"Well, that was rude. I was talking to Dave."
"Sure you were," Nick replied sarcastically. "About me. Right?"
"Well," she hesitated. Her gaze was drawn again to his hands. The glitter of a gold ring caught her eye. She had never known Nick to wear jewelry, and the newness of this ring matched Natalie's.
"I know where you went, and what you discussed," he said softly, holding the hand out. "I don't want to be accused of deceiving you, so here it is. I trust that you'll respect our desire for privacy and not point this out to everyone in the precinct."
"They'll figure it out soon enough, Nick." She studied his hand admiring the simplicity of the gold wedding band. "You know there is a pretty sizable pool going?"
"I figured," he sighed. Pools were started all the time, usually to predict births... somehow this did not surprise him. "And how long has it been going?"
"At least five years. I was a rookie when I got in on it." She giggled at Nick's look of shock. "Oh come on, everyone could see how you felt about Natalie. We were just waiting for *you* to figure it out and do something."
"Well, I did do something about it, but let me talk to Natalie before you go around announcing it."
"OK, but that won't get you off the hook you know."
"Off the hook for what?" he looked at her, truly puzzled. What more could they all want, once it was announced that he'd married Natalie?
"You may have eloped or something, but you'll still have to have a party here to celebrate."
"Have to have?" he questioned.
"Come on Nick, it'll be fun. Hey, either you plan it the way you and Natalie want it, or we'll surprise you."
"That sounds like a threat," Nick observed quietly. His voice was that of the vampire- still, emotionless.
"No, it's a promise," she returned. His tone puzzled her. She had always known that Nick was a very private person, but didn't he understand that it was not solely his decision. Why would he deprive Natalie of a wedding celebration with her friends? With a finger against her mouth in a gesture of silence, she nodded and left the room.
Parking the Caddy in a dark parking lot along Toronto's lakefront, Nick leaned back and reached into the back seat to grab a insulated lunch bag. Opening the bag, he pulled out two thermal bottles. Handing one to Natalie, he opened the other and took a deep draught.
"Doing okay?" he broke the silence as they watched the water lap against the rocky beach.
"Fine," she nodded. "I've done two cases so far. Everything's fine."
He studied her expression intently before saying cautiously, "I knew you'd handle routine cases, Nat, but you've not been to a scene yet. Doing a post in the relative privacy of your lab is not the same thing as a recent homicide."
"I know. You've warned me. Lucien's warned me." She sighed with frustration. "Unless we move on, I have to try. I'm not going to just sit around and do nothing."
"I wouldn't want you to," he whispered, draping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her closer on the vinyl seat. "But you know that I will help in any way that I can." He snuggled her against his shoulder and gently kissed her forehead. "Now, before we go back, what's up with Tracy?"
"She saw my ring," Natalie shrugged. "I'm surprised she hasn't seen yours."
"She has," Nick said grimly.
"And?" she prompted.
"And what?" he asked, mystified.
"We are not going to be able to keep a lid on her enthusiasm long. I'll be surprised if Grace doesn't figure it out by the end of the shift. Truthfully, I don't think it's right to keep this secret. We're married, and I for one, am not embarrassed about it."
"So what are you saying? You want to announce it?"
"I think if we give the green light to Tracy and Grace, we won't have to announce *anything*. Both departments will know within hours. For all I know, the bankbook will be turned over to the winner of the pool by tomorrow."
"You know about that?" he asked, incredulous that Natalie knew and had not said anything to him.
"Of course," she laughed. "Schanke told me about it. One night when he was trying to set up a vacation, he tried to weasel information out of me. Said he wanted to place the winning wager so he could take Myra to the Caribbean."
"It's *that* much money?" Nick asked with amazement.
"With interest," she shrugged. It did not bother her and never had, but she knew what a private person Nick was. "To be truly professional, we should officially notify the department. Change our next of kin and insurance."
"Nat, I've listed you as next of kin for several years already."
"And I've had you as emergency contact since Richard died," she acknowledged. That their relationship was now formalized would surprise no one that she could think of for that very reason. Besides coming together to many department social functions over the past several years, neither had had any other relationships. In many ways they had been a couple for years. Just not in the ways that either had wanted. "But I do need to file a change of address."
"Yes, you do... I'm not about to let you out of my sight, my love," he whispered, drawing her tighter into his embrace. Their lips met with a kiss of affection, of growing passion and need.
All too soon, the crackle of the radio sounded its call. "81-Kilo, 81-Kilo, please respond"
With a sigh, Nick picked up the radio's microphone and thumbed it on, "81-kilo,"he replied briskly.
"Gunshots fired, one victim down. Report to alley south of Riverdale Park, off Gerrard."
"81-kilo responding. Dispatch, is the ME needed?"
"That's affirmative. You are instructed to bring her with you." The radio crackled off quickly, but Natalie could hear the faint echo of laughter. Evidently they entire department knew they'd be together.
"On my way." Nick switched off the microphone and stuck the light on the dashboard. Nodding to the bottle, he motioned to Natalie, "Drink up and then finish mine." Starting the engine, he turned on the siren and sped away.
Draining the bottles obediently, she tucked them both into the bag, which she slid under the seat. Unhooking the gold chain around her neck, she suspended the jeweled ring and fastened it around her neck.
"What are you doing?" he asked curiously. Was she that embarrassed by his ring?
"Nick, this ring is priceless. I am *not* going to mess it up with powder from gloves, or blood, or body fluids of any kind."
"Oh." He replied, flustered that he'd not thought of that. "Would you rather have something simpler?"
"No. I love this ring. I love you. Simple is our wedding band and *that* I won't take off, ever." She reached over and took his hand, kissing it lightly to punctuate her thought.
The usual profusion of spotlights and flashing emergency lights surrounded the corner of the park, giving it the illusion of daylight. Parking amidst the marked police cars, Nick turned to Natalie and grabbed her hand. Squeezing it briefly, he whispered, "I love you," before getting out of the car. Flashing his badge at the officer guarding the perimeter, he walked toward the crowd at the center.
She watched him make his way toward the cluster of officers before getting out of the car. Taking a deep breath, she clipped on her ID and followed, walking briskly toward the tarped area that protected the body laying on the ground. The blood scent was stronger with every step she took. Nodding to the attendants who stood ready with the gurney, she silently approached the body, trying to not betray the changes that had taken place over the past month. Steadying her hand only through force of will, she stepped behind the tarp.
Slipping smoothly into 'professional mode', she began her practiced routine for homicide scenes. Ignoring both the rhythmic sounds of the many hearts beating around her, and the tantalizing scent of the blood that puddled the ground around the body took great concentration. So much that Nick's approach went unnoticed until he tapped her on the shoulder.
"Nat?" his voice was soft, as he could feel her struggle.
"What?" she jumped at his voice, standing to face him, her eyes beginning to glow.
"Relax," he soothed, seeing her shut her eyes tightly. "You ready to report?"
"Oh, uh, sure," she stammered, glancing between Nick and Tracy. Her hesitation did not go unnoticed by the young detective, nor did her mannerisms toward Nick. There was more going on here, Tracy knew. "Umm, okay. Male, 40s, multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, probably a 9mm."
"Not self-inflicted?" Tracy prompted. While it seemed obvious, they needed, at minimum, a verbal coroner's declaration that it was a homicide to open a case. That was usually part of Natalie's initial report, but she seemed out of sorts tonight. It was as if something at the scene was bothering her.
"No, it doesn't look like that," Natalie replied, annoyed that Tracy would need to ask. "You have a case. I'll get the paperwork to you by the end of the shift." She turned away from them and yanked the plastic tarp back around the body, gesturing to the attendants to begin their work.
"You okay, Nat? You seem distracted."
"I'm fine," she said emphatically. "Now, if you don't mind, I have work to do. Nick, I'll go with the van." She abruptly walked away and followed the attendants back to the van.
Natalie had finished her examination and was starting to compile the official report. It had been a long night and she truly hoped that Nick would be alone when he came to pick her up. She'd managed to deflect most of Grace's more probing questions. Knowing how open they'd always been with one another she hated keeping secrets.
"Nat?" Nick tapped her on the shoulder lightly.
"Wh-what?" she startled. "Jeez Nick, don't DO that!!"
"Exactly which century were *you* in?" he teased. That had become her standard greeting when he drifted into memories.
"Ha ha, very funny," she replied sarcastically. "I don't have your paperwork done yet."
"That's okay. Tracy's working on the witness statements and physical evidence. I said I'd start on the forensics."
"She didn't think that suspicious? I'm surprised she let you come here alone."
"Well, I didn't invite her," Nick shrugged. "I set up a 5:30 appointment downtown. Would you like to come?"
"An appointment? I thought personnel didn't come in until 8, at least that's when the Medical Division comes in. What strings did *you* pull?"
"No strings, I promise," he grinned, knowing how she did not like him using either his wealth, or vampiric powers to get his way. "I think her name is Teri. She's the benefits specialist that comes in at 5 for the night shift for the Police Department. I just spoke to her about adding my wife to my insurance policy. Changing my beneficiary. Like you mentioned earlier."
"Like we need insurance, Nick," Natalie eyed him curiously. She didn't think Nick truly paid attention to such mundane matters as life insurance.
"No, but that is the very *mortal* thing that is done when one gets married."
"Oh, I get it," she smiled mischievously. "See how long it takes for some secretary downtown to start talking."
"Precisely." He took her arm and pulled her against him. "Not to mention the fact that I've waited all night for this." Drawing her tighter into his embrace, they kissed with an intensity and passion that foretold future activities.
The sun had barely crested above the horizon when the phone's insistent ringing jarred them both from a sound sleep.
"Let the machine get it," Natalie mumbled, snuggling against Nick's chest. His arm was wrapped around her waist holding her close. They listened as the machine clicked on and the outgoing message played.
"Nick? Nick? Either you pick up the phone or I'm coming over," Tracy's insistent voice sounded loudly. At their continued silence, the machine clicked off.
"We don't have to let her in, you know," Nick said softly, drawing the sheets higher and closing his eyes. He could feel Natalie relax, her arms slack against him and her breathing slow to barely perceptible. He'd slipped closer to sleep when the phone rang again. Natalie jumped, shocked at the sound.
"Nick... I'm warning you. I can be very, very annoying. This is just the beginning." Tracy's voice came over the phone machine loudly. "Take your pick... a phone call or a personal visit. Remember that I do have a key, or did you forget that detail?"
Natalie sighed and nodded to Nick as he picked up the receiver. "What?" he said harshly.
"I hope I didn't interrupt anything," she responded sarcastically. Her voice was loud enough that Natalie could hear every word easily. Someone in the downstairs living room would have been able to hear it, as aggravated as Tracy sounded.
"Only sleep," Nick said impatiently. He hoped his voice adequately expressed his annoyance. If he was going to be sleep deprived, he wanted it to be because Natalie was playful. In the short time since their marriage, she'd shown an adventurous side that he'd never imagined. Just the thought was enough to make him want to get off the phone as quickly as possible. "What is it?"
"So you made a trip to personnel this morning?"
"Yes, we did. Who told you?"
"My father, that's who. He wanted to know why my partner didn't invite him to the wedding. He was even more shocked to know that *I* wasn't invited to the wedding."
"Tracy, it's not like you didn't already know that we were married. Nat told me about your conversation."
"Well, you could have told me that it wasn't a secret any more." Her annoyance was more for the fact that she was not the one to 'leak' such good news.
"Tracy, its not a secret," he parroted, grinning broadly. This was going exactly as planned. "Tell the world. You know I don't like attention, so I'm not going to do it."
"Who won the pool?" Natalie asked sleepily.
"Natalie wants to know who won the pool."
"I don't know, but I'll find out," she replied eagerly. "Last I knew the desk sergeant at the 27th was the treasurer of the fund."
"Jeez, Tracy... that can't be something the department is going to condone." He said with dismay.
"Well even my dad knew about it, so don't worry. Remember... you two aren't off the hook. Either you come up with a suitable celebration for all of us, or Grace and I will plan it."
"Really Tracy, we aren't big on parties. We don't want a fuss made."
"Forget it, buster. I'm ready for a party. Besides, Natalie promised Grace." Nick looked at Natalie suspiciously. She still looked very relaxed but he knew that she was not asleep.
"I did." Natalie admitted, her eyes still closed, and her voice low. "That was a long time ago. I joked with her once that when and if I got married, she'd get to dance at the reception. All I said recently was that she'd be the first to know."
"All right, all right. We'll talk about it. Later." He clicked off the phone and sighed heavily. "So much for low key."
"Nick, this can't come as a surprise. I think we do have a choice. Either we plan a reception our way, or it will be done for us. We may have deprived our friends here of witnessing our vows, but we shouldn't stop them from celebrating."
"So you want a formal thing?" he asked with obvious dismay. "You know how hard that's going to be. There are a lot of customs that go with wedding receptions that neither of us can really do. I hate to tell you this, but cake *will* make you ill."
"Yes I want a formal thing. I'll even wear my wedding dress and you can wear your tux. If we dance, they won't notice that we don't eat."
"What about the wedding cake?" he prompted.
"We'll have to suffer through that tiny bite that we have to feed each other," she sighed and rolled on to her back. "I don't know, I'll have to think about that. Maybe I should practice or maybe we can have a special concoction just for the two of us." She sat up, as if to start working.
"Later Nat. Later." He whispered, pulling her back to his side, his caresses becoming bolder. His intent becoming obvious as his lips trailed across her body to meet her eager mouth.
"We have plenty of time," she murmured, sliding her arms around him, eagerly meeting his advances.
Tracy hung up the phone, and stared out the window at the rising sun. Something about this entire adventure still bothered her. Based on her own observations and some of Natalie's cryptic comments, she had been convinced that Nick was a vampire but the revelation that they were married cast doubt on that conclusion. Could a vampire really marry a mortal?
She had seen Vachon hypnotize Nick, or at least that's what it looked like. Was it another elaborate charade? Vachon never had given her an absolute answer, but deflected any of her questions, never really saying whether or not he knew Nick. She had seen matchbooks and napkins from the Raven both in the caddy and on Nick's desk which led her to believe that he'd been there. More than once. That they both seemed to go to the Raven made her think that the two men *did* know one another, but did not want her to know it.
Early in her partnership with Nick, she'd found a piece of paper stuck in the bottom drawer of her desk. Scrawled in Schanke's firm hand were penciled notes about a 'John Doe 199'. At the time the notes made no sense to her but having met Vachon and learning his secret, she saw the clues in the notes that equaled 'vampire' to her. Who was Schanke *really* investigating? Something told her to keep quiet about what she'd found, so she'd not shown it to Nick. Instead, she'd brought the paper home, and hidden it among her own files. She couldn't remember why she'd done that but Vachon had always warned her of the need to keep his secret. It made sense that any reference to the darker side of the world shouldn't be readily available.
She now knew enough things that she could honestly say with no hesitation, that Nick had been the target of Schanke's work. Even someone who did not, at least to her knowledge, know about the existence of vampires in the modern world, had seen the same things as she. At least, she didn't think that Schanke had real evidence. Not that she'd ever be able to find out. In her mind, that gave credence to her observations. Too many things did not add up.
Just how old was her partner? And how wealthy? The wedding bands that she'd seen both of them wearing were simple gold bands. The engagement ring on the other hand, was no simple diamond solitaire. On quick glance, she could not tell the quality of the stones, but knowing how particular her partner was about his clothing, she was certain that he would not have given his bride a poor quality stone for the mere sake of its being big. A two carat diamond flanked by one carat sapphires was not a cheap ring. No, that ring was worth a fortune.
While Nick had been in the department several years before her and would take home a larger paycheck, she knew where a detective's salary peaked. If one was using the traditional guideline of two month's salary for an engagement ring, no detective could have bought that ring. So where had the money come from?
Pulling the unlabeled manila folder out of her private files, she opened it and re-read Schanke's notes, adding a few of her own to it. Maybe it was time for her own investigation. She was not sure what had caused Schanke to initiate such a search, but she had her own reasons. They were purely personal and centered around a certain Spanish guitar-playing slacker.
What now puzzled her more than anything was this marriage. Was it possible for a vampire to be intimate with a mortal? If Natalie could marry Nick, where could her relationship with Vachon go?
Or was Natalie no longer mortal?
The question came to her as she stared at her notes. She doubted that anyone would simply answer the question. No, this would require a plan. She would have to figure it out on her own.
Grace was waiting in the lab when Natalie arrived that evening. It came as no surprise that the word had spread. Rapidly. Standing next to the steel table, she had her arms folded across her chest and wore a determined expression. There was no way that Natalie was going to get out of talking this time.
"So..." she began, an accusing tone piercing the air.
Hanging up her jacket, Natalie turned with her left hand extended. "Yes?" she prompted, all too aware that her friend's gaze had shifted to the ring that sparkled in the fluorescent light.
"Just friends?" Grace questioned, the biting sarcasm clear. She knew that this marriage was inevitable, but could not help but feel a sense of betrayal that her friend had chosen to exchange wedding vows secretly. To make matters worse, had gone through an entire shift without saying anything.
"Well, shouldn't a husband be a friend first?" Natalie said softly. She was aware of Grace's disappointment. That had been the only thing about the ceremony in New Orleans that she regretted.
"I suppose," Grace agreed, her focus remaining on the diamond and sapphire ring that adorned her friend's hand. How had she missed seeing *that*?
"So who won the pool?"
Grace looked up sharply. The hurt disappointed look had been replaced by a gleaming smile. Somehow it did not surprise her that the word had gotten back to Natalie about that. "Pool?"
Natalie sat down at the desk and pulled a folder out of her briefcase. "Schanke told me about it," she shrugged.
"He would," Grace sighed. "Well, he wasn't even close. Neither was I." She pulled a chair closer and sat down. This conversation was not going to end this quickly. "Since I was one of the original investors, I've decided that it will be announced at the celebration of your marriage. You *did* say I'd be the first you invited."
"So I did," she nodded, remembering their conversation that last shift before Natalie made the decision to embrace immortality.
"That leads me to my next question," she began, plopping her planner on the desk. "Evidently I was not invited to the nuptials." She gave Natalie an accusing glare.
"Yeah, well, it was, umm, not exactly a planned event." She confessed sheepishly. "We didn't have time to invite friends. It just, sort of, happened. We had a few witnesses, that's all"
"Natalie!" she exclaimed with delight. "You mean to tell me that Miss Organized-Planned-to-the-minute ME *eloped*?"
Giving her an embarrassed shrug, she nodded. "I guess you could say that."
"So what did you do? Run off to Vegas?"
"No, New Orleans."
"Oh, Natalie, that sounds so fun," she exclaimed, sliding her chair closer to Natalie's desk, studying her friend's expression with great interest. "I love New Orleans. There are some great clubs in the French Quarter. Did you get to any?"
"Not exactly. We, uh, weren't there very long." Natalie explained, trying to figure out how to describe her wedding.
"Yeah, um, we had to get back to work," she explained.
"Oh... the plot thickens," Grace smirked, leaning closer. "So this is a very recent event?"
"Sunday," she nodded, turning away from Grace's probing look. Somehow, for a mortal, Grace was entirely too skilled at getting information out of her.
"More, tell me more," she pleaded.
"Ummm, it was a candlelit ceremony in a garden," Natalie replied. She hesitated to say more, but thought that a little detail would deflect major questions.
"Pictures?" she prompted. She didn't think it probable, but you never knew.
"No. Remember that we didn't plan it. It was a rather sudden decision. We
were having a romantic weekend, and Nick said let's get married now, and I said yes.
So we did. Right there. Right then."
Smiling uncontrollably, Grace popped open the planner. "Okay, now that I've heard about the wedding... at least the basics. Just so you know, this conversation is *not* over. We do, however have more important things to discuss. I have to know. When is the party?"
"It will be three weeks from Saturday," Natalie replied, her mood lighter. This was something that she'd willingly discuss. The wedding and the circumstances behind it was something she was still shy about. How could she explain the intense emotional bond that had been forged by the exchange of blood with LaCroix and Janette? Not to mention the very public bonding with Nick that tied them for all eternity. "We've reserved a ballroom at the Four Seasons and booked a caterer. All that's left to organize is musicians and a photographer. We're meeting with some candidates before shift tomorrow but we have a great wedding coordinator. I even have the invitations."
"Natalie, what about a dress?" Grace asked, amazed that they could put together a wedding reception in less than a month.
"I have a new dress that Nick bought me in New Orleans. You'll love it."
"Hmm... I would bet that it did not have a train, nor a veil." Her eyes narrowed. Somehow, she knew that Natalie would avoid wearing a white wedding dress if given the choice. It was just not her style.
"No. It isn't white either." Natalie turned and clicked on the computer. "Not that I really *should* wear white. At least not any more according to my grandmother's rules."
"Ah, so, now we get to the interesting part. Tell me. How *was* the blond wonder cop?" she leaned back in her chair and watched Natalie smile secretively. "Worth the wait?"
"Absolutely," she breathed, her eyes taking on a glazed, dreamy appearance. Her reverie was quickly broken by Grace's laugh. "What?"
"Oh, girl, if you could have just seen yourself," she chastised. She had never seen Natalie so flustered. Yes, she had it *bad*! "Details, details. I have been waiting years for this!"
"Not tonight, Grace," she said firmly. "We have a wedding reception to put together. That is, if the criminal element will let us, invitations to address."
"How did you get invitations already?" Grace asked, incredulously watching the box emerge from her briefcase.
"Nick's father has connections," she shrugged.
"Father? I thought he had no family?"
Knowing that the relationship would come out when he appeared at the reception, LaCroix had agreed upon the story that Nick had felt plausible. "Adoptive father actually."
"Why has it taken this long for us to hear about this?" Grace asked. Her irritation that Natalie would not readily share any of the more intimate details of her vacation was lessened by the surprise knowledge of Nick's family ties This was news that was more intriguing than the usual 'girl talk'.
"Well, he and Nick were sort of estranged for years. You know, the adolescent battles that escalated beyond repair." She looked as Grace nodded. It was a story they were all too familiar with. Unfortunately many of the clientele that ended up on their fit that scenario. "Well, the fences were mended. Lucien wants to be part of our lives, and well, Nick is talking again. Lucien is even paying for the wedding party."
"Well that's great. So do you get along? What about his mother?" Grace began to pepper the questions, eager to hear more.
"Yes we get along," Natalie replied, leaving it as simple as possible. Handing Grace a pad of paper, she said briskly, "those are the home addresses that I don't have. I want to get these posted this morning if possible. Could you see how many you have and check the department directory, please?"
Grace sighed. It was obvious that Natalie was not going to share anything more. At least not tonight. She was patient. They would talk more on another night. Besides, it gave her the idea for another pool. This time, she was sure to have the inside scoop. "Sure, consider it done. I don't think they left any pending cases for you. Dr. Emil from the University wanted your opinion on something. It should be in your in-box."
Nick signed in at the desk, surprised by the serious atmosphere of the precinct. He'd really been expecting *some* fuss to be made. Maybe Tracy had not been as chatty as he'd expected. With a nod to the desk sergeant who seemed pre-occupied with one of his manuals, he strolled into the bullpen and hung up his jacket. Tracy was at her desk, busily pounding on the computer.
"Forensic evidence on that shooting last night is in the top folder." She said briskly, not looking up.
"Good evening to you too, Tracy," he looked around the room. Everyone seemed to be hard at work. With a shrug, he sat down, and opened the folder. The usual police forms droned on, saying very little. Frustrated, he flipped to the second page. Printed in bold red letters was a single phrase, "TURN AROUND." Puzzled, he looked up, and saw Tracy's wink. As instructed, he turned his chair around. In the brief moment that he'd been reading the report, a sign had been strung across the back wall. Emblazoned on it was 'CONGRATULATIONS NICK AND NATALIE'.
Before he could say anything, Captain Reese leaned out of his office. His usual worried expression was now one of joy. "Knight. Office. Now." He called out in his typical voice of command.
Obediently, Nick rose and followed the captain into the office. A copy of the personnel form that he'd filled out that morning sat in the middle of the desk blotter. "So were you planning on telling anyone?" he asked without preamble.
"Eventually," Nick replied.
"Hmm. Neither of you thought that any of us would be interested in this development?" the stern voice contrasted with the happy expression he wore. It was very hard to chastise the man for doing something they all knew was right.
"We are planning a reception for our friends," Nick said hastily.
"And the vows?"
"We had a private ceremony on Sunday in New Orleans," Nick confessed with a smile. It was hard for him to *not* smile these days. "It just seemed right."
"Well, all I can say is, it's about time." Shaking his head, the captain, motioned for Nick to follow him down the hall, "it's not like this is a complete surprise. I've been expecting you two to tie the knot eventually." As they approached the break room, Nick could hear the excited, rapid beating of many hearts. So it was beginning already. Pausing outside the room, Reese turned to Nick, "After a reasonable time here to celebrate with your co-workers, you can take the rest of the night off since you do have a party to plan and all."
"Uh, thanks, but, Natalie is on duty so, umm," he replied, hesitating slightly as he felt her approaching.
"You sure about that?" Reese questioned, seeing Natalie coming down the hall.
"Captain? What's up? I don't have anything to report yet," she called out, without preface as she saw the captain standing with Nick, apparently in conference. The sudden summons to the 96th precinct came at a good time. With her paperwork caught up, she was left to Grace's merciless questioning. A little girl-talk went a long way and she was reluctant to discuss any of the more intimate details of her marriage.
"The summons was not exactly for 'Doctor Lambert', Natalie. It was for 'Mrs. Knight,' or didn't your clerk tell you that?" Reese teased, a broad grin lighting up his face.
"Uh, no, she, umm, didn't say that," Natalie stammered, as Nick's arm wrapped around her waist.
"Well, Mr. and Mrs. Knight, you have some unfinished business with the officers of the 96th precinct," he stated, opening the door and gesturing for them to enter the room.
As soon as the door opened, a loud cheer arose, peaking as the guests of honor walked into the room, followed by Captain Reese. A large sign hung on top of the bulletin board congratulating them. A table pushed against the wall held a variety of soft drinks, and snacks. The cheers rapidly turned into a chant of "Kiss the bride! Kiss the bride!"
Smiling broadly at Tracy, mouthing 'this is not over'. Nick turned and pulled Natalie into his embrace. Tilting her chin up, their lips met in what was intended to be a chaste public peck, but Natalie was determined that it would be more. If they were going to be goaded into a performance, she'd make sure it was a good one. Sliding a hand up his neck to tangle his hair, she held him close, running her tongue across his closed lips until he allowed her entrance. It did not take much persuasion for Nick to dart his tongue into her mouth, caressing the moist cavity with a fierce passion that he'd never shown in the precinct. A soft moan escaped from Natalie as Nick's tongue teased her teeth. Her fangs tingled and she could feel her eyes begin to change.
Breaking away, she gazed at Nick's clear blue eyes. His hands remained around her tightly, their vision only on each other. It was as if no one else existed.
"Ahem... remember us?" Tracy scolded. For a moment, she'd thought they were going to get a free show. That had not been a typical 'kiss the bride' moment and it had shocked the audience into unusual silence. None of them had ever seen the quick tempered detective display that much passion. He'd certainly never been so public!
"Yeah, umm... well, you did tell me to kiss the bride, right?" he joked.
"Uh huh," she acknowledged, handing him a long knife. "Now, I know you'll do this at your reception, but you get to cut the cake here too."
Giving Natalie a warning look, Nick took the knife. "Got a scalpel for Natalie?" he joked before clasping his hand over hers. Together they sliced into the large sheetcake. Well, she'd wanted a public celebration he thought to himself. He could only hope that the solid food would not choke her.
After making the first slice, Natalie grabbed a stack of plates with her other hand, and set them in front of Nick. Together, they filled the plates which she then passed out to the waiting officers. It was only after everyone had been fed that she took a plate for herself. A very small piece, mostly frosting adorned the plate. Taking a small bite, she placed it on her tongue cautiously. She had not attempted 'real' food since her conversion, and was not sure of her reaction, but knew that to refuse chocolate cake would be suspicious. At least Tracy would be sure to notice and Natalie was beginning to worry about the detective's growing investigative interests.
The sugary mixture sat on her tongue, no longer melting, and no longer holding the sweet, inviting taste it once had. It was like sand, gritty and tasteless. She managed to swallow without choking, but felt it sitting like a lump in the bottom of her stomach. She could only hope it would stay down. Was this what Nick had endured in her attempts to make him eat mortal food these past few years?
Nick watched Natalie's reaction to the cake intently. The precinct was accustomed to him not eating and would think nothing of his refusal to take more than a bite. Would anyone notice that she did not now demolish the dessert as she would have previously? He had no doubt that she would stop at one bite. He could feel the growing nausea and could only hope that he could get them out of there quickly. He feared that Natalie would bring up the cake, along with any blood she'd ingested that morning.
"So..." Tracy began, seeing Natalie set her fork down. It surprised her that she'd taken such a small piece, and scarcely ate any of it. "Tell us all about the wedding. Where? When?"
"You really aren't interested in that, are you?" Nick asked, wrapping an arm around Natalie's waist. He was all too aware of the interest that the other detectives had in his now-public relationship with Natalie. Like she had said, he was not ashamed either to declare publicly that they were a couple, but hoped the novelty would soon wear off.
"Yes, details, man. We want details!" the clamor from other officers made Nick sigh reluctantly before nodding to Natalie.
"We were married Sunday evening, in New Orleans," Natalie began, hearing some murmurs of surprise. She was not sure if it was the timing or the location that drew the greater surprise. The assumption had been, she supposed, that they'd gone to Las Vegas or Reno a month ago when first going on vacation.
"So you took the honeymoon before the wedding, eh?" one of the vice detectives teased. He'd been one to flirt mercilessly with Natalie for years.
"I suppose you could say that," Nick replied, feeling Natalie's embarrassment at the innuendo. If she could have blushed, she'd be crimson. That was one thing that he did miss. She used to turn the most delicious shade of bright red...
"You are having a reception, aren't you?"
"Of course. The invitations are right here," Natalie declared, pulling the box out of her briefcase which Tracy took eagerly and began to pass out.
"Now, if you don't mind, my bride and I have a party to plan," Nick said, taking Natalie by the arm and leading her out of the room.
She was alarmed by the speed that he guided her out to the parking lot, but was even more surprised when he loosened his collar and drew her closer. "Nat, that frosting is going to make you ill. Drink." His voice was a command, and she did not question it. Brushing his lips across her mouth, he guided her to his neck. Her fangs had dropped and she lightly scraped his skin, licking the drizzles of blood that appeared. It merely intensified her hunger, and she sank her fangs into his neck drinking of his nectar.
Pulling back, she gazed at him with shining eyes. "How did you know?" she asked softly.
"I could feel it. I'm sure LaCroix did as well, and will be waiting to chastise you." Nick replied, turning to unlock the car.
The image stuck in Tracy's mind as she stared out the window. The parking area was dimly lit from street lamps. Was it her mind playing tricks?
She had seen Nick pull Natalie against him, leaning on the caddy. She had kissed him on the lips briefly before focusing on his neck. His expression was one of ecstasy, of supreme pleasure, to the point that Tracy felt herself a voyeur.
What was obviously a moment of private passion puzzled Tracy. Their kiss in the precinct had been more traditional, but the encounter in the parking lot had seemed to give Nick more pleasure. Was the neck an erogenous zone that she did not know about? Or was it one that only appealed to a certain segment of population?
Nick felt his presence first, but Natalie detected him as soon as they stepped into the lift. "I told you," he grinned as she gave him a wry smile. It did not need to be said that LaCroix was there, nor the reason. Natalie still felt the food sitting like a lump in her stomach.
LaCroix rose from the chair as soon as the door opened. His children had returned to their home. He had done his best to not interfere with his newest offspring's desire to have a degree of normalcy. After a month of constant supervision, he'd allowed her to move from under *his* roof to her lover's home. Since their return from New Orleans earlier that week, he'd not made contact. It was time for Nicholas to be her mentor. For a time, at least. There were still lessons that he'd give to Natalie. Someday. When she was ready. Perhaps by then, Nicholas would be ready for those lessons he'd skipped so many years ago. He knew that by allowing his son to guide and assist Natalie, he was ensuring Nicholas's return to him as well. And seeing Janette once more had made it even more satisfying. Once again, he was the patriarch. It was a good feeling.
"So," he began, seeing Nick's nod to him. Natalie was more direct, coming up to him to kiss his cheek. He handed her the filled goblet immediately. He'd sensed her hunger. He'd also felt the sharp and growing nausea that could mean only one thing. She'd eaten mortal food. Solid food.
"Thank you, Lucien," she smiled, ignoring Nick's questioning look.
"What is this that I felt from you tonight, my child?" he scolded. "Did you attempt to ingest something?"
Natalie was silent but looked away. Frowning, he approached her, standing directly in front of her with his hands on her shoulders, willing her to look at him. "Did I not warn you?"
"You said I was to consume only the blood of humans," she parroted. "No animal blood was to pass my lips. It still hasn't."
"Hmm, yes. I should have remembered to be more literal with you, my dear. I did say that. Let me be more precise then. You are not to consume the blood of animals in any form. Further, no other substance, nutritive or not, is to pass your lips unless mixed with human blood. You cannot tolerate it." He turned to Nick, eyes glowing with annoyance that was bordering on anger. They had been lucky. He did not know what sort of audience had been there, but he figured larger than either of them could easily have hypnotized. "You took an unnecessary risk, Natalie."
"I kept it down," she protested. "It was simply a forkful of frosting. Tracy would have said something if I didn't take anything."
"You've kept it down so far, but that is only because Nicholas fed you immediately. What would have happened if you'd lost it in front of your mortal colleagues, along with your true lunch? They would have thought you ill. Very ill. Vomiting blood is considered ominous, remember, Doctor? They would have insisted upon medical attention." His voice was becoming deeper, more serious, and his eyes glowed with the amber that signaled the release of the vampire power within him. It was enough to give anyone a chill, but Natalie felt too ill to notice. "You won't digest it... and you won't feel better until you get rid of it," he said sternly.
As if on command, she felt the sudden pain and nausea intensify. She barely made it to the bathroom in time to bring up the bite of cake, along with a good portion of blood. Leaning over the sink, she shuddered, heaving with waves of nausea until nothing more was left. Wiping the blood sweat from her face, she sat down on the cold tile floor. Her blouse was ruined by the rivulets of sweat that ran down her back.
"Nat?" Nick helped her up, and guided her to the couch, sitting her next to Lucien.
Wordlessly, the elder vampire bit down on his wrist and drew the blood to the surface before thrusting it under Natalie's nose. Grabbing it with a ferocity she'd not felt since the night of her conversion, she sucked the wound for several minutes. The last time she'd taken her master's blood was at her wedding, to seal her marriage and strengthen their bond. Now it was to heal. To strengthen her physically.
"Better?" he murmured, pulling his wrist away and buttoning the cuff of his shirt. She nodded and leaned back against the cushions of the couch. "You should know by now that I do not make up arbitrary rules. This is for your own good. If you cannot hide yourself better, perhaps we should consider moving on."
"No," she exclaimed, eyes open wide. "No, I'm not ready. I promise, I won't do that again!" She looked at Nick for help.
"I don't think that will be necessary, LaCroix." Nick had been pacing the room as Natalie fed, and now returned to her side, crouching on the floor in front of her.
"I'll be watching both of you. Your control and emotions are still quite fragile. Disclosure is a much bigger risk. I don't want to have to interrupt a broadcast again because I feel your distress, Natalie. I can only protect you to a certain point. It is also your responsibility to use good judgment regarding your actions." He stood, his gaze going between them both. "You'd best figure something out for this party next week. I do believe a cake cutting ceremony will be expected by your mortal colleagues."
With a stern nod to Nick, he rose through the open skylight. Nick moved slightly to sit next to Natalie, his arm around her shoulders to keep her close. "What will we do?" she whispered. "I didn't think that just a little taste would hurt so much. You've eaten more."
"I'm a lot older than you. You are more advanced than most month old vampires but you are still young," he replied. That seemed to be the answer to everything and he knew it frustrated her. "So what did it taste like?"
"Sand. Gritty and tasteless," she replied mournfully. Good chocolate had been her comfort food. How would she suddenly develop a dislike for chocolate?
"Exactly. Unless mixed in blood, food has no taste for us. It has no nourishment, either. Yes, I could take small quantities and keep it down for a time. It always came back though."
She looked at him sharply. He'd consumed a wide variety of foods at her urging over the years and had never told her that. She'd always believed that he'd tolerated it. "Even the protein shakes?"
"Not usually. They were tasteless at best, but they'd stay down. The raw meat was okay usually, I think because of the blood, but only in very, very small quantities. We do not have the enzymes necessary to digest solid foods." He stood and went out to the kitchen, bringing a small bowl and spoon, as well as a bottle of bloodwine. Setting them on the table, he reached into his pocket, he pulled out a napkin that was wrapped around a small piece of the cake.
"Nick!" she exclaimed. She'd not seen what he'd done with his piece. When had it made it's way into his jacket pocket?
"OK, let's figure something out," he declared. He was sure that there was a way that they could have the illusion work to the satisfaction of their mortal colleagues. "I'll sample it."
Taking a spoonful of the frosting she poured a quantity of blood into the bowl and stirred in the frosting. The white sugary mixture took on a deep pink hue and a more liquid consistency. She dipped a finger into the bowl and held it out. He took her hand and licked the frosting mixture. His expression was cautious for a moment before nodding. "Try it this way," he instructed.
She hesitated for a moment before taking a small spoonful. After her last experience with cake, she was not eager to repeat that. To her surprise, it was palatable, although not something she'd consider a 'comfort' food.
"OK?" he asked, watching her neutral expression closely.
"Yeah, I think so. So, how do we get blood into the cake?"
"I'll have someone prepare a special top layer, just for us. It will be plasma mixed with frosting. No cake." He leaned over and gave her a light kiss. He could feel her exhaustion, despite leaving work early. He knew all too well what that first experience with solid food could do. He'd been not much more experienced than Natalie when he'd tried to consume roasted boar. His reaction had been even more immediate and violent than hers. At that time, LaCroix had not been terribly understanding or patient with his protégé. Had the ancient master mellowed over the centuries? He was, so far, more patient than Nick had ever seen him. He still had flashes of anger, but nothing like what he'd remembered.
Since her partner had signed out early, Tracy decided that a long lunch was in order. She had some investigating to do. First stop, the abandoned church that her friend, Vachon, called home. In some ways, a vampire living in a church seemed odd, but Vachon never had been one to follow the 'rules'. At least that is what he told her.
She heard the music coming from his guitar as soon as she got close to the stairs. As usual, it was unlit, although she could see the faint glow above, which she presumed was from candles. Clicking off her flashlight, she climbed the stairs as silently as possible. She doubted her ability to sneak up on him, but it would be fun to try.
Before she could push aside the cloth curtain, she heard his amused chuckle, "Nice try, Trace, but your heart's beating a mile a minute."
Frowning, Tracy strode into the room, seeing him leaning against the opposite wall, grinning broadly. "No fair," she declared.
"I said it was a nice try," he protested. "I can't help it that you have a very loud heart beat." Giving her a leering glance, he strummed a few chords before saying casually, "You know, I could do something about that."
"As in..?" she prompted, not sure that he'd really meant what she thought he meant. He had never made that offer before. She was not sure if he was serious about it, or teasing.
"I think you know what I mean, Tracy." He put down the guitar and went over to give her a hug. He was not sure where she wanted their relationship to go, but it was inching ever-so-slightly toward being physical. That would lead to one thing ultimately. They were not at the point of no return yet. But neither had she shown any sign of backing away whenever he displayed the vampire. Eventually, his opinions of eternal life and those of her partner would clash. He just hoped that he was able to convince Nick to let Tracy make her own decisions. "So, what brings you to my humble abode? I thought you didn't like bugs and dirt."
"I wanted to talk," she began, following him to the stack of crates that he used as chairs.
"About?" he prompted, knowing precisely what she was leading up to.
"You are very good at not answering my questions, you know that?" she hesitated. "You go to the Raven a lot, right?"
"Yes, and my band plays there on Thursdays," he nodded.
"So you would know other people who hang out there, right?"
"I might," he shrugged, picking up the guitar to strum a few chords.
"Like my partner, Nick. He goes there, right? You know him?"
"You've pointed him out to me, so yes, I know what he looks like. I did meet him once. Not that *he'd* remember," he gave Tracy a knowing glance. "Yes, I have seen him at the Raven on occasion. Before you ask, no I don't know why, or how often, much less who he was with," he acknowledged. That he'd known him as long as he'd known Tracy was a topic that was not up for discussion. At least not the manner in which they'd really met. Vachon still remembered the power and intimidation that the 800 year old vampire had unleashed. That was when he was drinking cow. Knowing that Nick now consumed LaCroix's special blends, he didn't want to see what he was capable of if angered. Nick had said that he did not want harm to come to Tracy because of her knowledge. He knew as well as any vampire that the more vampires a mortal knew, the more likely the Enforcers would find out. Ultimately that was the worst 'harm' that he could imagine. Far be it from him to anger someone 300 years his senior.
"You know his girlfriend?" she continued, hopefully.
"No, I don't think I've seen him there with anyone." Vachon said smoothly. He hoped his answers were not as practiced as they seemed to him.
"You know, Natalie... the coroner. You've heard me talk about her," Tracy prodded. He seemed intent on playing his guitar, and not paying attention to her.
"If you say so," he said evasively.
"I know you have, Mr. Perfect Memory for 480 years," she shot back sarcastically, giving him an exasperated look. "Well, are you doing anything a week from Saturday?" she continued. She could tell that he was not being honest with her. His answers were just too quick. Why he was being so evasive she did not understand, but for now, she'd go along with his minimalist answers.
"No, I don't think so, why?"
"They got married over the weekend and they're having a reception," she paused, staring at him intently until their eyes met. "I'd like you to go with me."
"Uh, yeah, sure," he stammered, trying to hide his surprise that Tracy would want him to escort her to a wedding. That wedding in particular. He knew that Natalie was no longer living at the Raven and figured that she was living with Knight, but marriage? Now he really needed to see them both. Had they actually done a formal bonding? That was the rumor that was floating around the Raven. Or was this simply another one of Aristotle's efforts to make the illusion real to their mortal colleagues?
"You'll need to find a suit, this is formal," she warned. She'd detected the reaction, even as subtle as it was. Was he surprise simply that she'd asked him to escort her to a wedding reception, or did he really know Nick? If he *did* know them, and he was surprised at the marriage, why was that? None of their mortal friends were shocked in the least, so it must be something about the act of marriage that Vachon was questioning, and not the relationship that Nick and Natalie had.
"I'll see what I can dig up," he smirked. So the game was afoot. He'd already warned Knight once. Maybe it *was* time to see just how good a detective Tracy Vetter was!
The night was clear, the air was crisp. Signing out of the precinct at 5 am, Nick could not help smiling with uncontrolled happiness. Who would have thought, when he first came to Toronto nearly a decade ago, that his life would turn around like this? In less than 18 hours, he and his new wife would celebrate their marriage with their mortal colleagues and friends. While it would not be as erotically pleasurable as the exchange that had bound them for all eternity in the eyes of the vampire community, this event would be as memorable.
Nick picked Natalie up at the coroners office and they stopped by the loft to pick up their overnight bags as well as the garment bags with their formal attire for the reception. They had decided that it would be easiest to book a suite at the hotel for the day so that last minute details could be done in person.
Neither said much. He could sense her excitement. She was not as nervous as she'd been in New Orleans. The month that had passed had calmed her in ways that the month under LaCroix's tutelage had not. With the link they now shared, he could sense her mood with incredible clarity. More than he'd ever felt Janette, even when they'd lived together for 97 years.
Settled into their hotel suite, the last minute details confirmed, Natalie sunk into the pillows with a tired sigh.
"Sure you want to do this?" Nick murmured as she snuggled under the covers.
"After all the work we've done? You bet I do, buster. I am ready to party!" her voice, while tinged with fatigue, was emphatic.
"What about the rest? The wedding traditions? We can party without the extra things. They don't have the same meaning for me, you know."
"Yes, I know," she acknowledged. "I know it isn't the same for you. I haven't been a vampire as long as you remember? Just as the ceremony in New Orleans was something we did together that bound us within the community, the traditions we do tonight will bind us in the eyes of our mortal colleagues. They have meaning for me. I never fantasized about a white gown and a cathedral, but I have always dreamt of a long slow waltz in the arms of the man I love. Plus it will give us an album of wedding photographs." She turned slightly, dropping a brief kiss on his cheek. "Truthfully, I don't know why I'm nervous at all."
"Because you're in the spotlight, and as I recall, you aren't fond of that except in your professional mode. Because our friends are here," he said simply. "Other that Janette and LaCroix, you didn't know anyone in New Orleans."
"That's true," she agreed, pondering his words. It *did* make sense to her. "I did get to know both of them better that I ever dreamt possible." She ran her hand along his bare chest, gazing up at him through amber eyes. "Best of all, I got to know *you* in ways that no mortal would comprehend."
Nick smiled, his fangs bared, "I love you Natalie de Brabant Knight." Turning his chin slightly, he exposed his neck to her, the invitation unspoken. She needed no further encouragement. Kissing him with intensity, her tongue caressing the vein on his neck, she allowed her fangs to lightly graze his skin. Feeling the light nips, but not the firmness of her fangs within him, he groaned. "Nat, I want to share all that I am. Please, take me..."
"I will, my love... in time," she said seductively, running her hands lightly down his body. She had more in mind than a simple exchange of blood. She wanted him to know the depth of her love. To feel her passion.
She did not want to seem anxious, but Tracy couldn't help it. She *was* anxious. This marriage had far-reaching implications for her. Could she have a relationship with Vachon, like Natalie had formed with Nick? Did she even want to have one?
Tonight she would push the envelope. Well, at least *one* envelope. She would see just how far Vachon would go, with a little persuasion. The confrontation in her mind with her partner was yet to come. She wasn't ready. The time would come, and soon, that she confronted him with her knowledge and suspicions, but not tonight.
The invitation had said 'formal attire', so Tracy wore her favorite black cocktail dress. The one that she could not get away with wearing at departmental functions because her father thought it too risqué. Well, a wedding was the perfect occasion for this dress! She'd bought it a year ago, when she'd gone on a cruise to celebrate getting her shield. It was a black crushed velvet sheath with a v- front neckline, and thin spaghetti straps criss-crossing her back plunging to just slightly above her waist. The mid thigh length was designed to accentuate her long legs. She didn't work out daily so that no one would notice!
Except for a single gold chain, her neck was bare. Intentionally. Tonight she would see just how far she could push a certain Spanish vampire. She'd never discuss vampire sexuality with him, but that it involved blood seemed to be fairly obvious. Just as she'd worn short or slim fitting dresses to appeal to the male of the human species, she left her neck bare to appeal to the male vampire. She could only hope that he understood what formal meant, and could scrounge something appropriate.
Promptness had ever been her curse with dating. She'd never mastered the art of making dates wait just the right amount of time, to be tortured by her father. She was dressed and made up at least a half hour before she expected Vachon to come pick her up. While waiting, she pulled out the folder on 'John Doe 199'. Reviewing the notes, she thought back on the exchange she'd witnessed in the parking lot, and added a cryptic comment, <neck- ?erogenous zone?>.
"Yes, it is," a low baritone voice spoke directly into her ear.
Shrieking, she dropped her pencil and whirled around to see Javier Vachon standing next to her chair, laughing with delight. He always took great pleasure in sneaking up on her. "Why do you do that?" she asked with unconcealed annoyance.
"Because I can," he said, flashing her an especially evil grin before reaching over to run a hand down her side, resting it on her hip. "You clean up pretty well."
"I could say the same for you. If you'd let me see the whole package."
"As you wish," he dropped his hand and stepped backwards, turning around slowly.
"Nice," Tracy admired. She had never seen him in anything but denim, nor had she seen anything remotely resembling a closet at the church. Where had he found a tuxedo? Especially one that fit him like a glove?
"I have my ways, " he said, waggling his eyebrows, as if reading her thoughts. "I do play weddings on occasion, you know."
She flushed, embarrassed that he'd figured her out so easily. "okay, okay. I had my doubts how you'd interpret the word formal. Who knew that you were hiding a tux?"
"So I take it that I pass inspection?"
"Yes," she replied impatiently. "Can we go now?"
"We'll need to take your car," he said, holding out his hand for the keys.
"Let me guess, you came by bike," she sighed.
"No, not exactly," he shook his head. "I flew."
"Hmm, of course. How silly of me. You don't even *own* a car." She rolled her eyes that she'd even bothered to ask. Lord knows, she was not going to go to a wedding reception in this dress on a motorcycle anyway. "Well, I don't think I want to use *that* method of transportation, but I will let you drive my car. These shoes are *not* made for driving."
"Hmm," he glanced down, admiring what the 3 inch heels did for her long legs. "I can see that. Nice. Very nice."
"Get your mind out of the gutter," she warned, dropping the keys in his hand. It seemed that the dress was having the desired effect on him. This could prove to be a very interesting evening after all!
"So what were you working on?" Vachon asked cautiously as they drove toward the downtown hotel. He'd seen part of the file. Not much, but it was enough to cause worry. Just what or *who* was she investigating? As if he did not have a really good idea!
"When?" she turned to look at him, puzzled.
"When I got to your place. You know, the neck as an erogenous zone?" Smiling seductively, he allowed the vampire to surface. Flashing her a fanged smile, he said with a deep voice, "It is, you know. Want me to demonstrate?"
"Uh no, no thanks," she stammered, feeling her face flame. Somehow, he had an uncanny knack for making her lose her cool. "Anyway, that was just an old file. Something I found in a drawer. Nothing important."
Vachon didn't respond, but had seen enough of the file to know that 'John Doe 199' was none other than her partner. The fact that it was in two handwritings meant that someone *else* had done a very similar investigation. It was a dangerous path she was entering. He could do nothing to stop her without revealing her partner's secret. The partner who was an 800 year old vampire, and did not want her to know that he was a vampire.
This reception was going to be very interesting after all!
A steady stream of formally attired people were making their way across the lobby and up the escalator. Seemed that this party was bigger than Tracy had imagined. Joining in the crowd, she began to introduce Vachon to the other police officers while keeping a careful eye out for her father. Somehow she was not sure that she was ready for that confrontation just yet and she most certainly did not want it to be in public. She knew that a Spanish guitar-playing slacker was not the kind of man that Richard Vetter would want his daughter to date.
Maintaining a friendly banter, Vachon relaxed in Tracy's company. He recognized a few other vampires, but chose to ignore them. No sense pointing them out to her, or trying to explain why they were included on the guest list!
The ballroom was like a page out of history. A fantasy land or a medieval castle. Lit entirely by candles, it had a warm sparkling glow. Each table had a pair of tall tapers protected by a hurricane glass flanked by four bowls of rose colored water that had several candles floating in each. A single long-stem rose in a glass vase was at each place. Separated from the other tables, a small table for two sat at the front on the room, next to the dance floor. Tall tiered candelabras flanked it as well as a forest of greenery behind the table. The only artificial light came from the music stands of the band, that was now playing a light jazz tune
They were greeted at the doorway by a waiter in formal dress who escorted them to their table. To Tracy's amazement, there were engraved place cards. How had Natalie managed to put *this* together in only a month? She'd been to formal society weddings that were less elaborate. Not to mention less of a fire hazard with all the candles!
Tracy found herself seated at a table with three other detectives and their spouses. Two were also from the 96th, and one was from the 27th precinct, but she knew him from her days as a uniformed cop on the 'crime scene unit'. Overall, a better table grouping than she'd ever had at a wedding before! Something else to thank Natalie for!
Looking around the room, she saw that most of the room was populated by police department personnel or members of the Coroner's office staff. It was to the point that she wondered if *anyone* was actually on duty!
Command officers, including her father, were all on the other side of the dance floor. She'd only looked long enough to see that, yes, he was here. He was not with her mother. Not that she'd expected him to come with Mum. A young blonde woman was seated to his right, but Tracy could not tell if she was there with her father or with someone else... not that she was about to go over to find out. Perhaps if she let her father have his own personal life, he'd let her do the same.
"What's your pleasure?" Vachon asked after Tracy had introduced him to the others at their table. He'd already noticed where most of the other vampires were being seated. The bar at that side of the room was staffed by a pair of bartenders from the Raven. So, Nick *was* providing for their needs... interesting.
"Vodka tonic with lime," she requested, doing a quick double take before whispering, "what about you?"
"Oh, I'll be fine. Just don't try to share my wine, okay?" he patted his jacket pocket, to indicate a hidden flask.
"Okay, good." she said, scarcely paying attention to where he went as she continued talking to the other cops.
Seated at tables on the far side of the room were some old, familiar faces, all sipping their red wine and cautiously watching Vachon's approach.
"Didn't know you were that friendly with Nicholas," mused a tall blonde woman who was leaning against the bar. He knew her as 'Alma' but didn't know if that was really her name. He had not seen her at the Raven for a few years, but had seen her at other Toronto clubs- those not owned by vampires, and therefore not considered off-limits for the kind of hunting that Alma excelled at.
"We only met a few years ago. I am actually here as his partner's date."
"Ah, yes, the current incarnation.... Homicide cop, isn't it? How ironic, wouldn't you say?" Her voice was smooth, her mannerisms seductive. He now remembered watching her special form of hunting while playing at numerous clubs around Toronto. Her prey had usually been culled from the men who frequented the club, looking for danger. She was always happy to oblige.
"I suppose," he returned, politely. "I recall you as being more of a friend to Janette."
"True," she acknowledged with a little laugh, "but Nicholas is still a friend. I had been invited to the ceremony, but couldn't get there in time."
"Ceremony?" he snapped to attention.
"Ah, yes," she assured him.
"I thought they eloped," Vachon commented motioning to catch the bartender's eye.
"That is what they want everyone to believe," Alma replied, taking a long draught from her glass and pausing long enough for Vachon to request the drinks for he and Tracy. "They chose to undergo the ritual bonding ceremony."
"The what?" he asked, taking the beverages and moving away from the bar.
"You've never heard of the eternal marriage?" she asked, curious that any vampire of Vachon's age would not know community traditions.
"No, can't say that I have. I've never known a vampire that got married."
"Hmm, most vampires don't," she agreed. "A vampire marriage is an eternal bond. A couple pledges faithfulness to each other before witnesses that include the Elders."
"What difference does that make?" he asked. "How is that different from someone just going to Aristotle and getting some papers made up?"
"It is sealed in blood. The promises are eternal and monogamous. Even if one perishes, the other is still bonded to their spouse." She sighed, remembering the mystical energy she'd felt the one time that she'd seen the ceremony. It had been over a century ago, but she remembered as if it were yesterday.
"So they really...?" his question went unasked as Alma smiled, with a finger to her lips.
"They did," she confirmed. "You will be able to tell when you see them together. It is simply amazing, the power they reflect. I've never seen anything like it." With a knowing smile, she walked back toward a table, again gesturing for silence. Not that she needed to worry. This was not anything that he had *any* intention of discussing.
Taking his drinks from the bartender, Vachon went back to his table where Tracy was already laughing at jokes told by the other guys. It was a strange dynamic, as the other three women were as lost in the humor as he was.
"So who was that?" Tracy asked as Vachon handed her the glass, while keeping a tight grip on his own stemmed goblet.
"That woman by the bar that I saw you talking to."
"No, curious," she said emphatically. "I didn't think that you would know anyone here."
"She didn't introduce herself," he said casually. Well, it *was* true, she hadn't... not that he really *needed* an introduction. "She said she was an old friend of Nick."
"Uh huh, okay," Tracy responded, her voice clouded with doubt. She knew that Vachon referred to other vampires as <old friends>. At least she assumed that the <old friends> that he'd introduced to her were vampires. They had the same pale complexions, and always were drinking red wine. Was it just coincidence that he used that particular term now?
Tracy had introduced Vachon to the other detectives and had initiated a lively conversation. This time *not* centered around work, so that everyone was involved and enjoying themselves. She was beginning to wonder when the bridal couple would arrive, when she noticed something unexpected. A tall, imposing figure dressed entirely in black walked across the room and spoke to the band leader. She could not help staring, admiring the silk tuxedo clad man and then she recognized him.
"Hey, hey... Vachon," she hissed. "Isn't that, umm, you know, the owner of the Raven? The, umm, Nightcrawler?"
Following her gaze, Vachon froze. Judging from his attire, La Croix was here 'officially' which must mean that Nick was going to admit *something* regarding their relationship. "Uh, yeah, it is," he confirmed. He did not need to fake the confusion.
"Why is he here?" Tracy demanded.
"You're asking me? He's *your* partner," he said swiftly. "I suppose we'll find out soon." he mused, thinking to himself that this reception was getting more interesting all the time.
The tempo of the music changed and Tracy saw Nick and Natalie standing at the doorway. Nick was resplendent in a black silk tux that had obviously been custom tailored. To Tracy's surprise, Natalie was not wearing a traditional white wedding gown. Natalie did not seem as bound by tradition but she'd always pictured Nick as being old-fashioned enough to insist upon his bride wearing white, with a long train. The dress that she wore was elegant, formal and fit the mood of the room. The shimmering midnight blue silk gown very nearly glowed in the candlelight. She'd never seen anything like it. Together they made a striking couple and obviously very much in love. Their expressions and simple gestures told more than Tracy had ever seen in the professional setting.
The low, steady thrum of many voices accompanied by the chorus of heartbeats greeted Natalie as soon as the elevator door opened. Wondering how Nick could appear so calm, she reached over to take his hand.
"You'll do fine, Nat," he murmured squeezing her hand in his. She'd guzzled three bottles of uncut blood since arising shortly after dusk. This would truly be her first time in the spotlight since her conversion. She had every right to be nervous despite all of his reassurances.
"You sure about that?"
"I am," he confirmed, taking her arm and tucking in the crook of his elbow, and guiding her toward the ballroom.
As soon as they appeared in the doorway, the bandleader announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Knight."
Cheers and applause rang throughout the ballroom as Nick led Natalie to the dance floor. Pausing for a moment to acknowledge their friends, he swept her into his arms and together they circled the floor in a waltz. Every movement was smooth, elegant, and their eyes were focused only on each other. The love was visible for all to see.
Seated at the table in the midst of the mortal police officers, Vachon saw something more. They were each other. An indelible stamp that told the world of their devotion to one another. Alma had been right. They exuded a power that was hard to explain.
As if on cue, waiters bearing large heavily laden trays emerged as soon as Nick escorted Natalie to their seats, a cozy table for two set apart from the other guests. While the waiters passed out the first course, a string quartet began to play, providing the perfect background music for the meal.
"This is amazing," Tracy breathed, seeing the salad of fresh greens garnished by shrimp and lobster. Her mind began a mental calculation. Fresh roses, purchased off season. Lobster for 150 guests. <How much did all of this cost?>
A second waiter was passing out flutes of champagne, with the admonishment to wait for the toast. She was so taken with the surroundings that she did not notice that Vachon's goblet was filled from a different bottle than hers. But he noticed. The waiter that served their table was also a Raven employee who acknowledged Vachon with a silent nod.
LaCroix stepped forward to the microphone, holding a half full champagne flute in his hand. A hush fell over the room with his presence, before he'd said a word. "Greetings, ladies and gentlemen," he intoned, his voice expressing deep emotion. "I welcome you to this celebration of the marriage of Natalie Ann Lambert and Nicholas de Brabant Knight." Applause broke out and some guest stood and cheered. LaCroix waited with uncommon patience for silence to reign again.
He was not accustomed to fighting to be heard, and had no intention of doing so now. "It may come as a surprise to many of you, but I have known Nicholas longer than anyone here. I challenged him to develop into the man you see today. I have seen him search for a woman with whom to share his life and his devotion once he'd found her. His love for Natalie is unequaled. To see them together is to see two halves of the same coin. To keep them apart would be a losing battle. As Natalie's parents are no longer on this earth the express their joy in their union, I share with you my good will toward this couple and ask that you do the same." Raising his glass, he said simply, "To Nicholas and Natalie!"
Musical tones filled the room as many goblets were touched together and voices called out "to Nick and Natalie!" As Tracy drank deeply from her goblet, she looked accusingly at Vachon. Setting the goblet on the table she turned, annoyance having turned to anger.
"OK Vachon, explain *that*!" she demanded.
"What?" he asked, the very picture of innocence.
"The nightcrawler as a 'parent' to Nick?" she kept her voice low, but the emotion came through clearly. "You can't have missed *that* now, can you?"
He shrugged, trying his best to remain low key, "What about it?"
"Why do I get the feeling that there is more going on here?" she asked insistently.
"I don't know, Tracy. Maybe you need to ask your partner." Taking a drink from his goblet he challenged her with his cool expression.
"Yeah, maybe I do," she agreed, turning her gaze toward the head table.
"Doing okay?" Nick asked quietly as the level of conversation returned to its previous level. LaCroix had placed a black bottle bearing a silver label on their table after completing the toast. They had both detected the gasps of surprise at LaCroix's words. Tonight would be the calm before the storm. Tomorrow the questioning would begin. If no one else, Tracy and Grace were sure to be unrelenting.
"I'm fine," she assured him, swirling the champagne flute to allow the amber liquid to slosh against the sides. Unbeknownst to most present, her glass contained plasma with just a small amount of the sparkling wine. They'd prepared several bottles of the special blend which only a few waiters carried. She glanced around the room carefully. Even in the dim glow of the candles, she could see clear as day. She especially saw Tracy's intense look. "You do realize that your partner is casting an eagle eye in our direction, as I speak."
"I figured. Well, acknowledging LaCroix as family *does* give me a good excuse for going to the Raven and it isn't the excuse that she thinks."
"Be careful." Natalie warned. "Your partner may just be a better detective than you think."
"I can handle her," Nick said confidently. He was not exactly surprised to see who Tracy's date was. At least this way, he could easily find our what she said... and whether he truly needed to be concerned.
The main course was served with dizzying speed, in such a way that no one noticed that the bridal table was skipped... as were several tables in the periphery.
Vachon and Tracy's plates were served almost simultaneously, but even she noticed a difference. His vegetable portions were much smaller, and simpler. More dramatically though, the slice of prime rib that dominated his plate was so rare that the juices appeared almost bloody. Normally one to avoid cow blood, he knew that this had been done deliberately. This was meat he could appear to consume, without becoming ill.
"Jeez man, that thing is still mooing," the detective to Tracy's right exclaimed. If he noticed other differences in the meal, he didn't comment. "The waiters are still going around, I'm sure you can get a piece that's better cooked."
"No, it's okay," Vachon said emphatically. "This is how I like it." He was feeling more at ease with this reception. It was obvious that preparations had been made with great care. Even his champagne was a special blend, something he'd not even known possible.
Tracy rolled her eyes and whispered, "behave yourself." She had noticed that her meat was medium rare.. just as *she* liked it... but also had seen that all of his courses had been slightly different. Not enough that one would notice unless they were looking. It made her wonder, though, what was going on, and who had arranged it?
With the meal cleared away, the string quartet was replaced by a band, immediately starting to play lively dance music. With the band's first song, Nick took Natalie's hand and led her out to the dance floor. They were soon joined by other couples.
The party had begun, and never let it be said that cops do not know how to have a good party!
The ice broken, Nick and Natalie began to make a circuit of the room, greeting guests and accepting the congratulations of the many friends who'd waited a very long time for this event.
It was as the couple approached that Vachon truly felt what that Alma had described. Together they exuded a powerful aura, a distinct vibration unlike anything he'd ever felt. He'd never seen the vampire bonding ritual, or met anyone who had done it. Was this what he now felt? The eternal bond that Nick and Natalie shared? Making an eternal commitment was not something that he had ever imagined himself doing. It did not surprise him that Nick had. If there was anything that he'd learned in the short time he'd been in Toronto, it was that Nick was an unusual vampire.
"Nick," Tracy fairly bounded out of her seat as they came near. "This is such an incredible party..." her voice was as perky and enthusiastic as usual but her expression reflected a much different sentiment.
"Thanks, but Nat did most of the work," he grinned, stepping closer and nodding toward Vachon.
"Uh huh, well, I must say that it has surprised me. In many ways." She gave him a meaningful look and said in a lower tone, "We need to talk."
"Later Trace, we'll talk later," he promised.
"We will. We will indeed," she said emphatically as they walked to the next table.
As Nick led the way back to their own table for something to drink, Natalie spoke low, "You're in trouble Nick. She is *not* going to let go of this."
"If she knows what's good for her, she will," he replied grimly.
"Nick, she's a detective. She will figure it out if it kills her."
"Well, it just might." His voice was grim. Some things were not up for discussion. This was one of them. If Tracy learned more about vampires, it would not be from him!
As Natalie did not have a bouquet to toss, so they chosen to forego a tossing of the garter as well. Since Natalie's dress was rather form-fitting, it was a deliberate decision. Not that Nick would have minded making the attempt to reach far up her legs!
One tradition that could not be skipped was the multi-tiered wedding cake. Her first attempt at eating cake made this had been the source of much anxiety for Natalie. Nick was unconcerned and had told her on more than one occasion that it was taken care of. The top layer had been specially prepared for them so that all she need do was follow his lead and he would make sure that she did not actually consume the cake regardless...
At the bandleader's cue, Nick took Natalie's arm and led her to the long table where the cake was set up amidst stacks of plates. The cake itself was a work of art. Like the guest tables, it was adorned with long-stem red roses and surrounded by floating candles.
Posing for the photographer, Nick took Natalie's hand and together they cut into the uppermost tier, and placed a small slice on a plate. They had agreed *not* to smash cake into each other's faces as so many couples did. Natalie felt it barbaric and definitely *not* funny. She had threatened him with major bodily harm if he got so much as a crumb in her hair.
Taking her fork, Natalie fed a forkful of the cake to Nick. She could feel his mental caress, as well as that of LaCroix. Setting the plate back on the table, Nick placed the morsel of frosting in Natalie's mouth. Before she had a chance to swallow, or react, he pulled her against him and drew her into a passionate kiss. His tongue pressed forcefully against her lips until she gave him entry. Their tongues meeting, touching briefly to exchange the edible morsel so he swept the piece of cake out, swallowing it himself.
The guest applauded wildly at the unexpected display as Natalie pulled away slightly, fanning herself. He smiled sheepishly, "you okay?"
"Uh, yeah. Just wasn't expecting that to work so well," she replied. This had been Nick's idea. Even though she seemed to tolerate the mixture, he wanted to be safe and had suggested this maneuver. Each time they'd attempted to practice the exchange, things had gotten a bit *too* heated, and they'd end up late for work. Again.
She looked up to see a profusion of cameras. It seemed that more than just the professional that they'd hired were taking photographs. She could only imagine how many copies of their kiss would be passed around.
"Ahem... may we have everyone's attention?" Natalie looked up and saw Grace standing by the dance floor with a large manila envelope in her hand. The night shift desk sergeant from the 27th precinct stood at the microphone next to her.
"As, umm, most of you know, we cops know a good thing when we see it. Nick, here, might be a little slow, but he finally figured out that he and Natalie belonged together. So, hey, buddy, we all wish you the best!" A cheer rose from the assembled cops as Nick and Natalie walked over to the edge of the dance floor. "And I am here to announce the winner of the pool. Which, by the way, was the longest running bet in the history of the Metro Toronto PD."
Silence fell over the room as he pulled out a piece of paper and read "OK, the wedding was actually a month ago, right?" he looked up and watched Nick's nod. "So that makes the closest prediction by Joe Stonetree. He might have been off by a month, but was the closest. Most of us pegged this to have happened a long time ago and had already entered repeat wagers." Laughter circulated the room as he gave Nick a stern look. "Hope you aren't planning to make us wait as long for the first little Knight!"
Grace nudged him away from the microphone and held up the envelope, leaning over the microphone. "It's all here, the longest running pool in the history of *either* department. Complete with interest." Laughter circulated the room as the captain of the 27th came forward to claim his prize, along with a kiss from Natalie.
"I'll have you know that this was my third wager," he joked. Waving to the command officer's table, he held up the envelope. "Just so all my bosses know, I am donating this to charity. I *do* know the regs!" Laughter circulated the room as Joe shook Nick's hand and murmured his congratulations.
The party was starting to wind down when a long shadow fell over Tracy's table. Vachon had just returned from a set with the band and was entertaining the other officers with stories generated from years of playing in bars.
"Tracy?" the stern voice got her attention quickly. Tracy looked up to see her father standing stiffly next to the table.
"Yes?" she responded, sliding her chair backward and standing. With her heels on, she met her father eye to eye. She knew his intimidation tactics and was not about to give into him.
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your guest?" he frowned. He'd watched her all evening, wearing a dress that was too revealing for his tastes. He was only too aware that she had avoided the area where command officers were seated. He'd been completely surprised to see her walk in with someone he'd never met. This man was most certainly not a police officer! When he'd gotten on stage, that was the last straw. Not only was her companion not a cop... he was a *musician*! His daughter was *not* going to get involved with a musician, at least not if he had anything to say about it!
"Oh, umm, sure. Dad, this is Javier Vachon." She rested a hand on Vachon's shoulder. "Javier, this is my father."
Vachon stood, and extended his hand, "pleasure to meet you, Sir."
"Hmm, yes," he gestured for Vachon to sit, and led Tracy a few steps away from the table. "Who is he?"
"A friend," Tracy said simply.
"I was not aware that you were seeing anyone," he scolded.
"May I remind you that I am an adult? Not to mention the fact that I've not commented about your date? You leave me alone, I'll leave you alone," Tracy kept her voice low, only too aware that she was in public. "Besides Javier is a *friend*. I am not *seeing* him."
"Could have fooled me," he clucked disapprovingly. "That dress says otherwise."
"Dad," she groaned. She should have known better to think that her father would ever let her lead a life without interference.
"Tracy, if this man is a part of your life, I'd like to meet him. Brunch at the Country Club next Sunday?"
Tracy sighed. The confrontation was inevitable. Much as she'd like to avoid it, perhaps it would be better to simply get this over with. "I'm on duty next weekend, so that won't work. How about coffee before I go on duty Sunday evening?"
It was the senior Vetter's turn to sigh. "Button, don't you think it is time to put in for a day position? You've done your year on nights."
"Dad, I'm very happy with my current position," Tracy protested. He had been trying to get her out of homicide for at least the past six months. When her first assignment as a detective had been posted, he'd begun the protest. Homicide was too dangerous a job for his little girl, and he wanted everyone to know it.
"I could help," he offered.
"Remember Corporate Crime?" she said firmly. She had been bullied into taking the transfer that he'd arranged once before. It had lasted less than a week, and she was back in homicide. "No. I am not transferring anywhere. Not now. Not until I say so."
"All right, I got the message." He held up his hands in surrender. He'd trained her well, too well. He turned, to go back to his table.
"Dad? Coffee on Sunday?" she asked again.
"Yes. That sounds good," he nodded. "I still wish that you'd let me make some inquiries."
"No," she said firmly. Sitting down, she grabbed her drink and drained it in one long swallow. She reached out for another, but her hand was stopped by Vachon.
"That one's mine. I don't think you'd like it," he whispered with a knowing grin. Leaning back in his seat, he watched Tracy's father make his way across the room, talking to other guests along the way. "Well, that was interesting."
She looked up with a sheepish smile, "So, umm, is that okay? Meeting my father?"
"As long as I know the rules," he nodded, draining his own glass and setting it on the table.
"Yeah, dress code, cover story," he shrugged. While he did not have as much experience as Nick interacting with the mortal world, he could certainly schmooze one nervous father. "But I do agree with him on one thing."
"What would that be?" she asked, not certain how much he'd listened in. Surely he was not that concerned whether she put in for a departmental transfer.
"That your dress is not something that you'd wear for a friend." He raised an eyebrow and grinned as she flushed bright red. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you."
"Are you ready to escape?" Nick asked, running his hand up her arm in a smooth, stroking motion. She'd just returned to their table after yet another set on the dance floor. Very few of the dance sets found her at the table. She'd been a sought after date among the police department detective division for a long time. While none protested that she and Nick were right together, they all wanted the opportunity to dance with her. This time it was with Joe Reese.
"Absolutely," she breathed, staring into his deep blue eyes. She had other ideas what they could be doing.
"Not so fast, my children," LaCroix said smoothly. He'd detected their restlessness and knew they'd be leaving as quickly as they could. Every time he thought it appropriate to seek her out, she was on the dance floor with yet another police officer. "I've not had my turn on the dance floor with the bride yet."
"Nick?" she prompted, holding his hand tightly while glancing between the two men. She was all too aware that she'd spent more time socializing with all of the other guests than with her husband. He'd not seemed upset, as he also had been dancing with a fair number of the spouses and female officers.
"Yes, Nat. Go ahead... and then we'll dance our way out." He watched as his sire gathered Natalie into his arms and swept her across the dance floor. They made an elegant pair and their bond as sire to child was all too clear to his eye. His own bond to LaCroix had steadily increased since Natalie's conversion. To his surprise, he no longer resented the senior vampire's presence in his life or his mind. Watching the pair glide in tune to the music, he found himself admiring them. Much as he thought himself a good dancer, he had to admit, LaCroix knew how to dance and dance well. What was more, he could sense the pleasure that Natalie felt in her new life.
Waltzing their way across the room, Natalie felt the power of her bond with her sire magnified. What had, at first, been an intrusion in her mind was now a welcome presence. His support was now a vital part of her life. She knew when he was angry, but also when he was calm, at peace.
"Lucien, did you mean it?" she asked softly.
"Mean what?" he responded, leading her away from most of the other dancers.
"The toast... that Nick and I are two halves of the same coin," she began. She still had trouble saying some things to him, preferring to have him take her blood.
"Yes, Natalie. I may have fought your relationship for a time, but now you are both my progeny. You are a part of me, and I am a part of you. That is the way it is, and shall always be." He was silent momentarily before continuing, "but this is the last wedding that I shall participate in." His expression was solemn, but his mood was light, the amusement barely concealed.
She laughed at his stern look. There were times that he could act so very stern, and yet be cracking a joke. "I understand perfectly," she murmured, fighting to keep from breaking down giggling. "Trust me, neither will I."
The song nearly over, Nick appeared at LaCroix's elbow. "Can I break in yet?"
"I suppose," LaCroix intoned, stepping back with obvious reluctance. He glanced between the two of them. "You will be leaving shortly?"
"Yes, we will," Nick acknowledged, giving Natalie an intense look of desire. It did not take much imagination to know what Nick really wanted at that moment in time.
"You are planning to tell your colleagues that I am your father?"
"As we planned, yes," Nick agreed. "Adoptive father. You paid for the wedding out of a trust that you'd set up years ago that I could not access until I married." He repeated the story that they'd developed, verbatim. With this many command officers attending, someone was bound to become curious how a detective could pay for an elaborate wedding. It had been LaCroix's suggestion to come up with a plausible cover.
LaCroix nodded and stepped backwards to the edge of the dance floor, watching as the couple glided away. Arm in arm, they danced their way to the doorway and with a backward wave, left the room.
Surveying the ballroom, LaCroix leaned on the bar, sipping a goblet of blood wine. He had noted that Nick's young partner was in the company of one of them. Perhaps he needed to have a few words with the young Spaniard. Make sure he was abiding by the code. Their eyes met, and shortly Vachon was coming toward the bar.
"So... going public, eh?" Vachon commented, setting the glasses on the bar and motioning for refills. He knew better than to refuse a summons, and that penetrating glance from the ancient could only be termed as a command meeting.
"Partially. To answer your question, I am to be termed Nicholas's adoptive father. You may feign ignorance if you desire, but I doubt young Ms. Vetter will believe you." He sipped his own beverage and stood closer. "I trust that you remember the Code." He paused, noting Vachon's startled look. "Be very, very careful. She takes her job quite seriously. I would not want to make any unnecessary phone calls because she saw something she should not have." Lowering his voice, he warned, "I have intervened with Enforcers on behalf of Nicholas. I do not have such a vested interest in either you, or Ms. Vetter."
"Duly warned," Vachon replied. Taking the full glasses from the bartender, he returned to his table. Tracy had watched him intently the entire time that he'd gone to fetch their refills.
"So what was that about?" she asked promptly.
"Talking to the Nightcrawler? I thought you didn't know him."
"His name is LaCroix. Lucien LaCroix," Vachon corrected her. "I work for him. That is not the same as *knowing* him."
"Uh huh," she said doubtfully. "What were you talking about?"
"Nothing much," he shrugged. "I just said I hoped Nick was happy." Tracy did not respond. Somehow she knew that there was more to the discussion than mere pleasantries. She did not like being kept in the dark and the more her questions were answered vaguely, the more determined she was.
She *would* find out the truth!
Sweeping Natalie into his arms, Nick carried her into the bedroom of their suite. It had been a very, very good thing that they'd been alone in the elevator, as neither one could keep their fangs retracted.
Wordlessly, he unzipped her dress and pushed it off her shoulders, kissing the exposed skin tenderly. Her hands were busy divesting him of his tuxedo jacket. Frantically, she plucked at the studs on his silk shirt.
"Nick!" she growled impatiently. "Hold still. I can't get this off!"
"It's okay, Nat," he soothed, standing back slightly and unfastening his shirt, letting the studs fly off, scattering around the room. The shirt soon followed his jacket and cummerbund, making a trail to the bed. He slid the dress from her hips and admired Natalie's shapely body, clad only in a wispy silk garter belt and panties.
"Your turn, Nick," she commented, seeing his reaction to her. Grinning, he quickly shed his trousers and pulled her against him.
"My turn for what?" he whispered.
"Use your imagination," she instructed, her eyes glowing amber.
Sipping the bloodwine from his corner of the ballroom, LaCroix closed his eyes to savor the sensations he now felt. His children were making love. This was not the first time that he'd been privy to their passion but was the first time that he was consciously aware of Nicholas dropping the barriers in their link. Usually he would 'listen' through Natalie, with a few added vibrations from Nicholas only when he was at the height of ecstasy.
Since the bonding, he felt both of them with incredible clarity. This was, indeed, a time to cherish. He had no illusions that the peace would last. At some point, Natalie would chafe under his supervision. Nicholas would find some other excuse to fight him. They would leave him alone.
Having consumed enough champagne and vodka to sedate an elephant, Tracy was now tipsier than she'd been since her university days. Being a witness to her mother's alcoholism, she'd not been one to indulge very often. Finding courage in a bottle was a completely foreign behavior for her, but now was the right time. What she wanted that night would take that kind of courage.
Giggling, she leaned on Vachon's arm, whispering, "Wanna come back to my place?"
"Sure, Tracy," he laughed. "I don't think you find it otherwise." The alcohol was strong on her breath. He'd stopped counting after the fifth vodka and tonic, knowing that it was more than enough to affect her. She was definitely feeling no pain... at least not now. On the other hand, she was sure to regret this in the morning!
Keeping an arm snaked around her waist, Vachon guided Tracy to the car. She hummed along with the radio for the entire drive home. That was something that he could not help but laugh at.
Traffic was light at this late hour, and he was at her apartment very quickly while she still seemed oblivious to her surroundings. Closing the door behind them, he guided Tracy to the couch. After lighting a few candles, he sat next to her. Whenever possible, he preferred the soft, flickering glow of a candle to the harsh light of an electric lamp.
"Javier?" she leaned against him, resting her hands against his chest.
"Yes, I'm here," he replied, kissing her temple lightly. Holding her so close intensified his desires. It was only with great concentration that he reined in the vampire.
"If Natalie can be with Nick, why can't I be with you?" she asked plaintively, her eyes blurred from the alcohol as she tried to gaze at him.
"I, umm, don't see what Knight has to do with me," Vachon declared, trying to decide how he'd get out of *this* discussion. It was so much easier to reason when she was sober. He was beginning to consider hypnosis. Generally it was easier when someone was intoxicated, but he hated the thought of resorting to mind control. If it worked would he ever be able to look her in the eye again? Not to mention the risk that he'd take too many memories and she would not remember the party.
"Oh, come on, Javier," she protested, pulling away to look directly into his large brown eyes. "I know damn well that Nick is a vampire."
"Tracy, you're drunk," he said firmly.
"Yep, I am," she hiccupped. "You... you didn't answer the question."
"What question?" he asked, the very picture of innocence. This was precisely what he'd hoped to avoid.
"You're stalling," she declared, sliding a hand across his chest. Those studs were just *too* small for her to unfasten in her inebriated state, so she settled for simple caressing him. Maybe he'd get the idea this way.
"Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not," he replied, agreeably, thinking that just maybe he could confuse her enough to leave it alone.
"You are," she announced, slipping a hand up to undo his tie. "Why can't I be with you?" she repeated.
"Do you want to be with me?" he asked huskily, sighing with pleasure at her touch.
"Yes, Javier, I do," she breathed.
He was silent for a moment, gathering her against his chest. Running a hand down her arm, relishing her soft sigh of contentment, he spoke softly. "I want to be with you, in all ways."
She slid a hand more intently across his chest, sneaking fingers between the studs to caress his bare skin. "Then lets take this somewhere more comfortable."
"Not tonight," he murmured, his voice firm, barely hid his disappointment.
"Why not?" she protested.
"Because you're drunk, Tracy. I don't want to do something that you'll regret tomorrow." His voice was firm, but with a hint of sadness. He wanted this as much as she did. For most of his long life, he would not have hesitated to take an inebriated woman. In fact, he would deliberately get the woman drunk before taking them to his room, or to the nearest stable. The fact that only one woman had survived a night with him did not matter. At least it never had before. This was different. Tracy was not someone he would use and leave.
"You aren't the first," she twined her other hand in his hair, kissing him lightly. "I won't regret it."
"Correction, querida," he whispered, pulling her hand away from his chest and bringing it to his mouth. Kissing each finger, he spoke deliberately. "I am your first. Your first vampire."
"What difference does that make?"
"All the difference in the world. For me to be with you, to make love to you, I have to have blood." He paused to catch her attention, "your blood."
"I sort of figured that was part of it," she confessed. "That's okay. I don't mind."
"Tell me that when you are sober, and no one will keep me away from you." He stood, gazing down at her with unconcealed desire. If he did not leave now, things would start progressing beyond the point where he'd be able to control himself.
"So you won't?"
"No. Not now," he said, his voice husky with desire. For the first time since becoming a vampire, he put his own pleasures aside. If he was going to have a relationship with Tracy, it would not be a one night stand. "There are implications that you don't understand. This is a bigger decision than you realize."
"Then tell me," she pleaded.
"When you're sober," he promised. "I'll be here when you get off shift."
"Tomorrow?" she whispered, trying not to show her disappointment.
"Monday would be better. I think that you won't be very much in a talking mood tomorrow," he responded, kissing her forehead lightly. "You are most certainly not feeling any pain tonight, but tomorrow you *will*."
The letter was waiting at the bar when LaCroix walked in shortly before dawn. Ink on parchment, sealed in wax. A style unchanged for the past millennia.
He took the summons up to his private apartment before breaking the seal. His employees knew better than to touch his mail, especially mail that was written in hand lettered with a very old style calligraphy. Such correspondence was generally from the Elders or the Enforcers, and was intended for the senior vampire of the Toronto community.
The note was not signed, as these notes generally were not, and was written in Latin, loosely translated read <The Spaniard is in trouble. If you have not dealt with his pet within 7 days, we will>.
LaCroix held the parchment over a candle until the flames destroyed the message. He did not doubt the authenticity of the message. Just as he'd predicted, there would be no patience, nor delays addressing Vachon's dalliance. Indeed, it was more of a surprise that Nicholas had made it six years!
Knowing that her partner would not report until sunset, Tracy had decided that this would be an opportune time to do a little investigating. Something that had been said at the reception stuck in her mind. She'd spent the previous day and night pondering it, while recovering from her hangover. It was amazing how much one could think when flat on the couch, with a towel over one's head. Events, discussions replayed in her mind, and the toast that LaCroix had given repeated over and over.
Nick's middle name.
She'd never questioned what the 'B' stood for. Neither had anyone else, to her knowledge. It was not in his departmental personnel file. She knew. She'd looked. She seldom used her father's access codes for personal business, but knew that no one would question a commissioner for any file search. Neither was it in his driver's license records. That struck her as odd. The Ministry of Transportation was known for using full, exact names more often than not.
For some reason, the name 'Brabant' sounded familiar but until she pulled up the computer search, she could not place it. Staring at the screen in disbelief, Tracy printed the references and carefully filed them in an unlabeled folder to take home. This was not something she wanted to be seen reading.
Was it even remotely possible that her partner was connected to one of the largest charity foundations in Canada?
The shrill tone of the phone startled Natalie from a sound sleep. Shaking off the heavy, drowsy feeling, she reached over to feel the empty pillow next to her. Opening her senses, she heard Nick downstairs. His voice was low, beyond her hearing. That was odd. He normally did not worry about taking phone calls while she slept. If the sun was high in the sky, she was nearly impossible to wake.
Rising quietly, she pulled on her robe and went down to see what was so important that Nick had gotten up early.
"Well, look into it. Thanks for alerting me." Nick said and clicked off the phone. He glanced up to see Natalie sitting at the table opposite him. "Sorry, Nat, I didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't. I heard the phone ring." She reached over to grab the bottle that he'd set on the table. "What's up?"
He frowned, leaning back in the chair. "Someone was pulling records on me."
"How do you know this?" she questioned. There was a lot to the underground vampire information network that she didn't know specifically. She knew it existed, that was all. Someday it would serve to give her a new identity, but she hoped that would not be for a long time yet.
"Larry Merlin flags files so we know if we are being investigated," he explained.
"On you personally?" she questioned.
"Not exactly," he confessed. "The first search was simply 'Brabant', but it originated here in Toronto. He called because there was a second search, this time a genealogy archive. That one originated from a public terminal so it'll be hard to trace. Could be coincidence, but I think I know where to start."
"You don't think that Tracy picked up on my supposed middle name?"
"I'm sure that she did," Natalie replied. "I still say that she'd cause less problems if she simply was told the truth."
"You're willing to take responsibility for her then?" he asked sharply.
"You know I can't," Natalie protested. "But I do trust her, and I thought you did too. Anyway, I knew the truth for six years and nothing happened."
"You were a tool, Nat," he said flatly. He stood, staring away from her. He'd never been so bluntly honest with her, but this was something that she needed to know, to understand. "By your position in the coroner's office and the fact that you'd covered for us, you were safe. At least for a time."
"And Tracy?" Natalie asked softly. LaCroix had basically told her the same thing. She knew only too well that a decision would have been forced on her soon, but she had taken that step on her own volition. Even if it was merely days before Enforcers had caught up with her.
"Doesn't have that advantage. If I *tell* her, then I have to take care of her before the Enforcers find out. With my recent history, I doubt they'll be very patient with me."
"If she figures it out?" she probed. She feared that it was inevitable. Tracy *would* soon put two and two together, if she hadn't already.
Nick hesitated. "If she asks me directly and I admit anything, that is no different from simply confessing."
"If she doesn't ask?" Natalie was not sure that Tracy would actually 'ask'. It was more likely that she would investigate this like she did her official cases. She would not actually say anything until she had overwhelming evidence. And by that time, it would be too late to change anyone's mind.
"Don't ask, don't tell."
"What if she asks Vachon?"
"He wouldn't dare say anything. He isn't that stupid. He is just lucky that the Enforcers haven't figured out that she knows about him," Nick shook his head. He knew what a thin line there was between acceptable and unacceptable contact. He'd crossed it on more than one occasion. "Now that he's been seen in public with her, they will be watching. Vachon doesn't have an ancient for his master. That means he doesn't have the same standing in the community as I do. They won't be as patient."
"Have you ever considered what *she* wants?" Natalie prompted. She knew full well that most vampires, at least not the ones she'd met, rarely considered what the 'mortal' desired. Since her conversion was so recent, she found herself more acutely aware of what the mortal's viewpoint would be.
"I won't do it, Nat." Nick's voice was emphatic.
"All right, Nick," she said soothingly. "I'm not asking you to bring her across." She knew how he'd struggled with her own decision to be converted. It did not surprise her that he would resist action that would force, or hasten Tracy's decision. A decision that Natalie felt was inevitable.
He looked at her through narrowed eyes. "Leave it alone, Natalie. I'm serious."
"Yes, I know."
"If you reveal anything, then *you* are responsible," he warned. If anyone could empathize with Tracy, it was Natalie. That was something that Nick feared. Natalie was far too young as a vampire to get involved.
"Nick, I realize that."
"Be sure of it. You are too young to attempt a conversion."
"I know. You're not telling me anything that I don't know. I would kill her," Natalie admitted. "I've really only fed from you and Lucien. The only living human that I've bitten, I killed. Rapidly. Everything else has been bottled."
"Exactly," he nodded. "There is a fine art to bringing someone across. Even after 800 years, I've not mastered it completely. Even if she asks you a direct question..."
"Yes, I understand." She took his hands and held them tightly in hers. "What I don't understand is why we can't simply allow her to make her own decisions."
"I can't condemn her soul," Nick declared.
"Nick, you wouldn't be," she soothed, holding him tightly. When he calmed, she pulled away slightly, resting her hands against his chest. "Especially if you simply stay out of it."
"Stay out of it?"
"Did you not threaten Vachon with bodily harm if he said anything about you, or did anything to Tracy?"
"Well, yes, I did," he confessed, meeting her gaze with eyes filled with love. She had a knack for saying things that made everything so much more clear.
"Including bringing her across? Even if that is something they *both* want?" she prompted.
"How can she know what she wants, Natalie? How can she make that decision?"
"How could any of us, Nick?" Natalie wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him close as she spoke gently. "Perhaps the best thing to do is to give Vachon the green light. Since he is ultimately responsible, let him *be* responsible."
"Let him condemn Tracy's soul to eternal darkness? Simply sit back and ignore what is happening before my very eyes?"
"You know, Nick, not all vampires have such a dim view of your existence." Her voice reflected the exasperation that she felt whenever they discussed vampirism. Natalie's decision to be converted had been a relatively informed, knowledgeable one. Nick's had not. He had not known the price that he'd pay for the 'thousand lifetimes' that LaCroix promised.
Holding up her hand, as if to halt his protest, she spoke firmly, "If I heard you correctly, Tracy is in danger of being forced into a decision. Yes?"
"Yes," he nodded.
"Then let her *make* the decision," she pleaded. The solution, to her, seemed so simple. Their involvement made it more complex than it need be. "Vachon won't act if he thinks you'll freak. Doesn't that place her in greater danger?"
"I suppose, he hesitated.
"So-o-o-o," she began, taking a deep breath, as if to gather her courage. "You'll stay out of it?" she waited for him to nod reluctantly. "You'll support whatever decision that she and Vachon make?"
"Yes, all right, all right. I'll talk to him," he huffed a sigh, pulling her against him in a tender embrace. He knew only too well what it was like to have external forces keeping him from loving a woman. If, indeed, the Spanish vampire loved Tracy as he'd loved Natalie, he did not want to be the one to keep them apart.
Whistles and catcalls greeted Nick as he entered the precinct. To everyone's surprise, he simply laughed it off. "So, did everyone have fun Saturday?" he called out, striding into the bullpen.
Tracy was already at her desk, files strewn over the surface of her desk with an uncharacteristic chaotic appearance. "Oh, hi, Nick," she looked up to greet him, shuffling some of the papers into a folder before he could see what she was doing.
"What's up?" he asked, taking in the mess. Whatever she was doing, she was in a hurry. He'd not seen such disarray on that desk since Schanke had occupied it.
"Oh, umm, I'm just, umm, clearing up some old files," she stammered.
"Hmm, okay," he responded, knowing full well that old files would not generate that degree of paper... and would certainly not cause an increase in her heart rate and blood pressure. Her nervous behavior confirmed his suspicion.
Tracy was investigating *him*.
"Anything I can do to help?" he offered, getting a very brief view of the printouts that she was hastily flipping over. He'd seen enough.
The logo of the de Brabant Foundation was his own design, and stood out starkly black on the white paper. That was no 'old case file' she was working on.
Leaning back in her chair, Tracy did not have to feign surprise at his offer. Generally her partner would do *anything* to avoid the more routine aspects of their job. "Nick, I thought you were allergic to paper."
"No, I wouldn't say that," he grinned. "Sunlight, yes, but I am perfectly capable of putting pen to paper."
"Uh, thanks," she hesitated. "But, umm, these aren't your cases. I can handle it myself."
"Sure?" he questioned, sitting and grabbing the contents of his 'in' box.
"Besides, I'm sure there are enough of your own unfinished reports sitting there to keep you busy for at least a week," she teased.
Nick gave her a mock salute, very dramatically picking up a pen
Neither said much for the next several hours, each lost in their own thoughts and memories. So much so, that the ringing of Nick's cell phone make them both jump.
"Knight," he said loudly, smothering laughter at Tracy's startled expression.
"What's so funny?" Natalie's voice came across the phone clearly, puzzlement in her voice.
"You'd have to be here," Nick replied sheepishly. "You could say that we were not expecting the phone to ring."
"Ah," she mused.
"What's up?" he asked, watching Tracy open yet another folder, jotting a few notes on her pad. He was still waiting the confrontation.
"Not a whole lot," she replied. "I think my eyes are numb from staring at computer screens. But I am proud to say that I finally got through all of the email from my vacation, and have caught up on case reports. You able to take a break?"
"Whenever," he said agreeably. "We're just doing paperwork."
"You?" she laughed. "I thought that was too mundane an activity for you."
"Nat," he protested. "Now you sound like Tracy."
At mention of her name, Tracy looked up and motioned to Nick.
"What?" he asked, holding a hand over the receiver.
"Tell Natalie I need to talk to her."
Nick nodded, and spoke into the phone, "Get that?"
"Umm hmm," she agreed. "I'll come over around two. I'll talk to her, and then we can go to lunch. Okay?"
"Sounds good." He clicked off the phone, and picked up yet another folder. The paperwork was a necessary evil but that did not mean that he had to enjoy doing it.
"Nick?" Tracy looked up, hesitating. "Are you at a good breaking point?"
"Sure, what can I do for you?"
"I just want to talk. How about some coffee?"
He nodded and followed her back to the break room. She filled two mugs and sat at the corner table. He took a cautious sip and sat at the table, waiting until they were alone before speaking.
"What's on your mind, Tracy?" he asked gently.
"Umm, this has been bothering me since Saturday," she began. Encouraged by his silent nod, she continued. "Why did you make everyone believe that you had no family?"
"It's a long story," he sighed.
"I have time," she said flatly. "Look, I know all about overbearing fathers, and I think you do too. At least now I know why you're so understanding about my own family problems."
"That is putting it mildly," Nick nodded. "Yes, my relationship with my father has been far from smooth for a long time. We have only recently reconciled and Nat has a lot to do with that."
"So the 'Nightcrawler' is really your father?"
"My adoptive father, actually," Nick confessed. "I don't remember my natural parents. They died a long time ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said quickly.
"It's okay. Like I said, LaCroix is the only parent I've ever known." He sat back, watching her reaction.
"So that is why you always listen to his show?"
"I guess," he shrugged, leaning back in the chair with his arms folded. Her heart was still beating too fast, which told him that she was not done with her questions.
"He seems awfully well-read to be a bar-owner, or radio host," she observed. So far everything that Nick had said could be easily explained. Of course, if Nick was, as she thought, a vampire, he would be well practiced at concealing his true identity.
"Yes, he reads a lot," Nick agreed. His brief, non-committal answers were frustrating Tracy and he knew it. It was not in his nature to offer personal information, even when asked.
"Did he go to university?"
"In Europe," he shrugged. "If you're that curious about his background, why don't you ask *him*?"
"Nick, I'm just trying to get a better sense of who you are, who your family is. We are partners, remember?"
"Yes, I know and I think your coffee is getting cold." He stood and took her mug to refill. To his great relief, several of the secretaries had entered the room. That put an end to Tracy's questioning, just as she was getting started.
Frowning at the new occupants of the room, Tracy took the mug and watched Nick head back out to his desk. She had only gotten part-way down her list of questions... like where the Brabant came from, and the wealth that he kept secret. Was he getting careless or did he not think that she'd notice the very expensive engagement ring or the elaborate wedding celebration? There had to be a connection.
Natalie's arrival at the precinct increased the decibel level markedly. It seemed that everyone she met had to stop and tell her how much fun they'd had. Finally making her way into the bullpen, she went straight to Nick's desk.
Standing, Nick loosely wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "OK guys, feel free to gossip all you like. Natalie and I are going to lunch."
Tracy stood quickly, grabbing Natalie's hand. "Nick, wait a minute. Remember, I need to talk to Natalie."
"Okay, Tracy," Natalie agreed.
"Alone," she declared.
Natalie raised an eyebrow, glancing at Nick before disentangling herself. His expression confirmed what she'd felt through their bond. She followed Tracy to the locker room silently.
They sat on opposite end of the bench in the quiet, empty room. Natalie could sense Tracy's fear, the rapid beat of her heart.
"What's on your mind?" Natalie asked without preamble.
"What's on my mind... yeah, what's on my mind?" Tracy mused.
"Tracy, there are other things that I could be doing," Natalie said sharply. "You want to get to the point?"
Fidgeting with her hands, Tracy took a deep breath, "Okay, Natalie, bare with me. I, umm, have a *friend*. You met him at the reception."
"The guitar player, right?"
"You don't need to play dumb, Natalie." Tracy said with obvious annoyance.
"Fine," she declared. "What about your friend?"
"Well, umm," she stammered. "We both want to, umm, advance our relationship." Her face flushed red as she finally admitted it aloud to her friend. She wanted to make love with Vachon, no matter that he was a vampire. She'd never been embarrassed to discuss sex with girlfriends before so her reaction was puzzling.
"I'm not your mother, Tracy. You don't need my permission if you want to spend the night with a boyfriend." Natalie replied matter-of-factly. "If you need birth control, I'd really rather you see your gynecologist. I'll do some medical favors for friends, but that is not one of them."
"No, that isn't it," she said quickly. Standing, she made a quick circuit of the room before continuing her questions. "I need advice."
"Well, I am a married woman, but I scarcely think that makes me an expert." Natalie said dryly. It had been a long time since anyone had thought of her as any sort of 'expert' when it came to matters of the heart.
"In a way you are... you're the only one I know that can tell me," she hesitated, meeting Natalie's steady gaze.
"Tell you what?" she sighed, wishing that Tracy would get to the point.
"What it's like to make love to a vampire," Tracy said softly.
Natalie did not have to feign her shock. "What?"
"Don't make me repeat myself," Tracy pleaded.
"Well, that *is* a new one," Natalie shook her head. "Vampires? What makes you think I'd know anything about vampires? Assuming that there is such a thing as vampires."
"Oh, come on, Natalie," Tracy groaned. "You can trust me."
"I do trust you, Tracy, but I can't help you."
"Can't or won't?" she asked sharply. "I *know* Nick is a vampire. I know that you two are together. Just tell me, is it possible to survive making love with a vampire without becoming one?" the words tumbled out quickly before she lost the courage to say them aloud.
"I'm not sure what makes you think that vampires exist, much less that Nick is one," Natalie sighed, trying to determine how she'd get out of this conversation. But, if what you say is true, and I am not saying that it is, you are assuming that I am also a vampire? Is that what you are really asking me?" she asked sharply, inhaling the scent of fear that Tracy was exuding. It was making it even more difficult for Natalie to hold herself back.
"Well... in a way, yes. What I really want to know is what my options are." Tracy responded, leaning forward, head in hands as she clutched the simple cross that she'd worn. It had been hidden under her shirt, as she debated whether to test her friend in that manner.
Natalie paused silently, debating internally how to proceed. Nick's words were clear in her mind <if you admit it, that is no different from revealing yourself intentionally> "Jeez, you don't ask much, do you?"
She stood, and paced across the room.
"It's okay, Natalie. You can tell me. You can trust me. I won't say anything." Tracy watched her friend and patiently waited. If Natalie were to reveal anything, it would be by accident, and Tracy knew it. She had been told the barest minimum of vampire law, specifically that mortals were not supposed to know anything. She was not expected a straight answer, but hoped for more clues. Eventually she would know for sure.
Leaning on the radiator, facing away from where Tracy sat patiently, Natalie finally spoke in a low, carefully measured voice. "In any relationship, communication is of the utmost importance. Me and Nick... you and your friend. Whether or not he really is a vampire. Whether or not Nick is one. And I am not saying that he is, mind you. Truthfully, I'm not sure what makes you think I know anything about vampires. The bottom line is that Nick and I worked through our differences. If your friend can't answer your questions, then perhaps you are not ready for intimacy."
Pushing away from the lockers, Natalie walked toward the door, stopping in her path when Tracy began to speak softly, "Thank you, Natalie. I know that you have to be careful what you say."
With a brief backwards nod, Natalie left the locker room and made a beeline to Nick's desk. Kissing him on the temple, she murmured, "let's go."
He followed her out to the car without a word, pausing only to sign himself out. He was curious what *exactly* Tracy had wanted. Not that he did not have a really good idea. Natalie's emotions had been such a roller coaster that he'd been unable to follow where her thoughts were going.
As soon as Natalie sat down in the car and closed the door, he turned to her, "Okay, Nat. What did she want?"
"Girl talk," Natalie sighed.
"Girl talk?" he repeated.
"Yeah, girl talk," she confirmed. "It's what women often do prior to embarking upon an intimate relationship."
He looked at her sharply, "did *you*?"
"Sort of," she said sheepishly. "Janette and I had some rather interesting discussions." She smiled at Nick's look of discomfort. The fact that she and Janette had become friends very quickly was something that made Nick very, very nervous.
Giving her a concerned look, he started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot, turning the car down Queen Street.
"OK Nick, where are we going?"
"I thought about our discussions regarding Tracy," he said thoughtfully. "What did you tell her?"
"Only that if she plans to have an intimate relationship, she needs to address her concerns to Vachon, not me, and certainly not you," Natalie responded. "You should know that her first question was what it was like making love to a vampire."
Nick made a choking sound, looking at her sideways, "She asked *that*?"
"After which, she informed me that you were a vampire," she replied, enjoying that stunned silence. "That can't come as a surprise, Nick."
"No," he admitted. He'd suspected that was the purpose of the little tête-à-tête in the locker room. "So how did you answer her?"
"By asking her what made her think I knew anything about vampires," Natalie replied, sighing, "She *is* persistent."
"She's a detective. She's been trained to be persistent," he said dryly, pulling the car into the alley next to the Raven. Their destination did not come as a shock to Natalie.
Taking Natalie's arm, Nick led her into the club. They were only halfway across the room when LaCroix's penetrating stare stopped them both in their tracks. Evidently their master was not happy about something. That they both were involved in some way was obvious.
Nick had learned, the hard way, not to argue this sort of summons. Nodding toward the office, he followed LaCroix to the back of the club with Natalie in tow.
"We have a problem, Nicholas," LaCroix said without preamble.
"Oh?" Nick prompted, taking a chair opposite the large mahogany desk. The last time that he and Natalie had been in the office she had agreed to become LaCroix's newest progeny. He could only hope that it was not an omen of what was to come.
"Your partner is probing into areas where she should not," he said firmly.
"Such as?" Nick asked. It did not surprise him that Tracy had been linked to the investigation that Aristotle had first noticed. Exactly what information she had discovered would help him to counter her questions more easily.
"The annual report of your Foundation."
"That is public record, LaCroix," Nick said with obvious relief. If that was all that Tracy was doing, he was lucky.
"Is your photograph also a matter of public record?" LaCroix shot back. He was determined that Nicholas would take the issue seriously and deal with it.
"My photograph? As connected with the Foundation?" Nick asked quickly.
"Yes. She requested a photograph of Nicholas de Brabant, chairman of the de Brabant Foundation." It was hard to hide the smile of satisfaction at Nick's look of dismay.
"So she is trying to connect me to the Foundation?"
"So it would seem," he nodded. "A foundation that you have owned for as long as such charitable trusts have existed. Oh, I realize that the chairman's name has changed every thirty years or so but it has always been some derivative of your true name. Perhaps she considers it family money. Or perhaps she could be *made* to see it as such." He paused momentarily, to allow the seriousness of the matter to sink in. "Regardless, the Elders feel this is an unacceptable connection."
Nick sighed. He'd tried to be very cautious allowing himself to be photographed at charitable events, and rarely went in person to the Montreal headquarters. Even the location of the Foundation's main offices were a deliberate attempt to keep it obscure. He'd deliberately avoided larger financial centers such as New York or London for that very reason.
"I'm not even sure that such photographs exist, LaCroix." Nick said thoughtfully. Most of his contact was via email using a filter that obscured where the origin point was. Prior to email, he'd used phone or letters. When he'd gone to functions sponsored by the foundation it was using the incarnation that he was using at that time, and not his true name. Using the name had been a calculated risk, but one that he'd wanted to take. He *wanted* a wedding announcement that really had his name on it. Perhaps it was foolish, but after 800 years, it was important to him that his wife bears his name publicly.
"That is not the only issue here," he said sternly. It did not surprise him that Nicholas would attempt to diminish the matter. The phone call from Aristotle added to the note he'd received from the Elders made it even more imperative that they act now.
"What else?" Nick sighed.
"Her relationship with the Spaniard has been noticed," he said flatly.
"And?" Natalie prompted. She'd remained silent when they were merely discussing the Foundation. Now it hit too close to home. She'd been in Tracy's shoes not so very long ago. Someone needed to take the young woman's side. From LaCroix's expression she was certain that Tracy being with Vachon was seen in a different light than her own relationship with Nick. Surely there was something that neither man was saying.
"To put it plainly, it is unacceptable. My directive is to give the Spaniard until Friday to take care of her."
"What do you want of me?" Nick asked, holding tightly to Natalie's hand. He could feel that she was aching to say something, to protest. He knew only too well that if LaCroix would not make such a decision, that he'd been told to act. Her protests would mean nothing. If the Elders decreed something, it was absolute.
"Stay out of it. Allow Vachon to do with her as he wishes. If he does not act, then you will bring her to me."
"And what will you do?" Natalie asked with trepidation.
"Curious, my child?" he asked, a sardonic smile crossing his face as a plan came to mind.
"Yes," she said simply. "Tracy is a friend. I only want to know what your intentions are."
"Hmmm, perhaps this should serve as a tutorial," he mused.
"What?" she exclaimed. From the look on his face, and the vibrations that she felt, there was only one conclusion possible. He was going to have *her* bring Tracy across. "No. No way!"
"You would rather she die at the hands of the Enforcers?" he asked with deceptive mildness. Her reaction was just what he wanted. She would not want to risk her friend's life and would not fight him.
"No," she replied, seeing how neatly he'd painted her into a corner.
"Then it is settled," he said smugly. "If Vachon does not convert her before we meet again, then you *shall* Natalie. Lest you fear your own abilities, I assure you, you will succeed."
Natalie stared at him, speechless. She knew that eventually she would learn what it took to share eternity with a mortal. She just didn't think it would be so soon and not with a friend. She could only hope that Vachon would act before their deadline.
"Oh, Natalie..." he said with mock casualness. "Do not mention this discussion with anyone except Vachon. You may not discuss this with Ms. Vetter. Even in the guise of 'girl talk'."
She nodded, too stunned to reply. It was as if he knew everything that she'd said that night. The mere thought of tasting Tracy's blood filled her with fear. She was not nearly as confident in her own ability to stop in time.
As soon as they emerged from the office, a waitress caught Nick's arm with a plea "hold on a minute, Nick." Nick looked at her puzzled until he saw Vachon hurrying across the club.
"Knight! Got a minute?" he called out.
Nick nodded toward the back booth. A waitress had a tray of drinks ready as he and Natalie slid into the bench seat with Vachon on the other side. "OK, Vachon, what do you want?" he asked without preamble.
"It's about Tracy," he began, holding the stem of his glass tightly.
"What about Tracy?" Nick asked, fighting to keep calm. He knew what he had to do. He might not like it, but he would do as his sire had requested.
"We've talked before... and I've taken you seriously," Vachon continued. He could see the churning emotions in their faces. While the connections and protection would be nice, he did not envy either of them having a powerful ancient as master. He'd not had an easy transition but in many ways it was simpler to not have a master at all.
"Get to the point," Nick said bluntly.
"I want to be with her," he said quickly.
"Be with her?" Nick questioned.
Vachon looked toward Natalie and winked, "You know, be *with* her."
"As in, get to *know* her in the, umm, Biblical sense?" Natalie asked gently. She glanced at Nick as the younger man nodded silently. She could tell that he was not comfortable having this discussion with them both, but also knew that Nick was more likely to do as he'd agreed if she stayed there. "I already told Tracy that you don't need our permission."
"In this case, I think I do," Vachon said, his eyes meeting Nick's with obvious meaning.
"As long as whatever happens is with Tracy's consent, do as you wish," Nick said carefully, draining his glass in one swallow.
Vachon leaned back in his seat, studying Nick through narrowed eyes. "Hmm, what brought about this change of tune?"
"I seem to recall being threatened within an inch of my life if any *harm* were to come to Tracy as a result of her knowledge," Vachon said deliberately.
"That hasn't changed, Vachon," Nick said dryly. "I still expect that you will not *harm* her. If you both choose to pursue a more intimate relationship, that is not my business."
"If I bring her across?" he prompted. "You won't define that as harming her?"
"As long as you take responsibility for her, then it is not my business."
"Sure about that?"
"Yes, I'm sure," Nick replied emphatically.
"Well, well, well. Nick Knight staying out of something? That I'll believe when I see it." Vachon mused, shaking his head. He wished he'd had a video monitor in LaCroix's office a few minutes ago. He would have loved to hear what the ancient Roman had said that would convince Nick to allow him to do as he pleased with Tracy.
"Believe it," Nick said flatly. And that was as far as he'd go with the conversation.
Nick's cell phone and Natalie's pager both trilled to life as they left the club. Their eyes met and Natalie sighed. "So much for a quiet night." They both knew what it meant to be summoned simultaneously.
"Knight," Nick spoke firmly into the phone as Natalie pulled her cell phone out of her purse. "Got it," he responded, flicking off the phone. "Don't bother," he said, indicating her phone.
"What is it?"
"Body found in a hotel room," he shrugged.
"Hmm, that's all you have?" she asked as they got into the car.
"That's all." He confirmed, setting the police beacon on the dash.
"Guess I don't need to fortify myself then." She fastened the seat belt as Nick started the engine and turned on the siren.
"Nat, it never hurts to be prepared. There's a flask under your seat."
Natalie reached down and felt the silver toned container and drank the contents quickly. She could feel the surge of energy that came from consuming human blood.
Parking in front of the hotel, Nick flashed his badge at the valet and hustled Natalie inside. They'd have to work quickly to finish before sunrise. Inside the room, they split, Nick going to meet Tracy where she stood in the midst of a group of uniformed officers. Natalie saw the morgue attendants on the far side of the bed, as if on guard. She nodded to them, and approached, letting her senses absorb the scene fully.
Her examination was methodical, but swift. She was only too aware of the growing fatigue that came with the approaching dawn. Calling out a few instructions to her attendants as she knelt over the body, she suddenly felt a sharp burning sensation on her shoulder. Leaning back quickly, she looked up to see Tracy standing over her. A gold cross dangled from her neck.
"What's wrong?" Tracy asked, seeing a look of pain cross Natalie's face.
"Nothing. I'm fine," Natalie assured her, standing and motioning to the attendants that she was finished.
"So, what do we have here?" Tracy prompted, her eyes narrowed, as she realized exactly why her friends had winced in pain. Her necklace sparkled in the artificial light. Her gold cross had slipped out from under her shirt.
"Female, mid 20s. Bruising on the wrists to suggest she was bound," Natalie rattled off the details.
"Anything more?" Nick asked, approaching from behind Tracy.
"Faint odor on her face. I'm not sure what," Natalie said, glancing between the two detectives. "But yes, you have a case."
"Hmm, okay," Nick nodded, "You going back with the van?"
"Yes," she agreed, seeing the attendants wheeling the shrouded gurney toward the door. "You'll be by around 5?"
"You'll be done?" he asked doubtfully. That would give her barely two hours which was hardly enough time for the full post-mortem examination, let alone the paperwork that went with a homicide.
"I'll do what I can," Natalie snapped shut her medical bag and took a step toward the door. "I'll do paperwork at home."
"If you want to finish up, I can drive you home," Tracy offered. She knew very well why 5 am was the time Nick left to pick up Natalie. Sunrise was around 6 am. A sunrise that was deadly to Nick, and in all probability to Natalie as well. "I know you came together."
"Thanks Tracy, but I'd rather not stay late. I'll get the bulk of the work done. At least enough to give you a direction."
With a wave to both detectives, she followed the attendants out to the van, acutely aware of Tracy watching her leave. It was as if the younger woman knew the truth. Had Tracy noticed her reaction to the cross?
It was only after Natalie had come back to work that she'd realized the degree of concentration and self-control that was needed to successfully conceal her nature. It was no wonder that LaCroix had been so slow to introduce any skills beyond simple control techniques.
Meeting back at the precinct, Tracy pulled a blank file off the rack and thumbed through the forms as Nick signed them in. She handed several pages to him saying, "You do the scene report and I'll finish the witness statements and follow up with forensics."
He nodded, hanging up his coat and standing next to their desks. Since arriving at the scene, Tracy had been watching his every move with uncommon intensity. He'd not missed the eagle eye she kept on Natalie either. If she did not ask soon, she'd burst. Perhaps it was time for him to make the first move. "What's bothering you, Tracy?" he asked gently.
"Nothing," she replied quickly.
"Sure about that?" he eyed her quizzically, pulling a small notebook from his jacket pocket before sitting down.
"Yes," she nodded as she took a seat at her desk and pulled out a pen. Staring at the blank forms for a few minutes she could not help but think of other matters. She had spent much of afternoon at the university's library. She'd hoped the genealogic archives would have the information that would provide clues to Nick's background.
Using her official status as a detective with the Metro Toronto police, she'd gained access to government files not available to civilians. She'd hoped to see Nick's birth records using public records, on a public computer terminal that would not be so easy to trace with no luck. All she'd found was a sealed adoption file in Chicago. Even using her police ID had yielded nothing more specific. No amount of cajoling had budged that Monday morning bureaucratic receptionist who would not even confirm the existence of the file. It had long been her presumption that 'Nick Knight' was a cover. For what she was not sure, but the fact that his adoption files were listed in the computer accessible records did not reassure her. For all she knew they might not actually exist in the courthouse that they were *supposed* to be.
While not knowing it for sure, Tracy had gone on the assumption that 'Brabant' was his family name. And that was not a name she found anywhere but as the chairman of the 'Brabant Foundation'... and a small province in Belgium. She was convinced there was a connection. Was Nick really the son of European aristocracy? He sure had the mannerisms for it. The chairman of the Foundation was indeed named Nicholas, but nowhere in the annual reports did it list an address or show a photograph. In sum, she had a lot of suspicions and a few clues but not enough that she could confirm anything.
"Nick?" she finally could not stand it any longer. She had to start asking him directly or it would drive her crazy. Now if she could just determine *what* to ask first, because it was unlikely that he would slip and leak information.
"Hmm?" he looked up. He could see that she'd not even begun to fill in the forms that she'd strewn over the desk. That was very uncharacteristic for his very organized partner.
"What is LaCroix to you?"
"I told you that already," he said patiently, looking back at his papers. "He is my adoptive father."
"How old were you when he adopted you?" she continued using her familiar tone of interrogation. She'd been at the job long enough to know that you kept asking and talking and maybe you'd get a different answer.
"Infant," he shrugged. Even in vampire terms, that was the truth. Newly converted vampires were referred to as 'infants' by many. "I don't know off hand."
"What happened to your real parents?"
"LaCroix is my *real* parent," Nick replied with growing annoyance. He might have agreed to let Vachon do as he wanted, but he did not have to be polite about this continued interrogation. "I thought we went through all of this before lunch. I don't know why you are so interested."
"You don't have to get defensive about it, Nick," she soothed. "I'm curious. That's all. You've met my father. I just want to know more about yours."
"No, you don't," he said flatly. "Trust me, you don't. If you know what's good for you, you'll stay far, far away from him."
"Now that sounds like you don't like your father," she observed.
"I never said that. Just believe me when I say that I know him better than you and I know what he is capable of." He warned, tapping his pen against the desk blotter.
"Now that sounds like a threat," she mused. "What, is he involved in something besides the radio and club?"
"No, not that I know of, and I would not suggest that you let your curiosity run wild." He sighed, taking the top page and starting to fill in the details of the case.
"But I'm a naturally curious person," she protested. "That's why I'm a detective."
"Curiosity killed the cat, Tracy. Some things are best left alone. My background is one of them. If I passed the department's background check, that should be enough for you." His voice was low, but his expression had changed. He was warning her of something. That she was sure of.
It was well after dawn before Tracy left the precinct. Her attempts to talk to Nick had done little to ease her mind. The more he evaded her questions, the more convinced she was. Oh it wasn't anything he said, or didn't say. His mannerisms said it all.
She did not know why she had such a burning desire to know the truth about her partner. Obviously he'd made it several years in the department without blowing his cover. For all she knew, he'd made it many years in many departments without being discovered.
From the first time she saw Vachon's nature, she knew it was dangerous knowledge. It would be naïve to think that there were not other vampires, and that they would not have their own rules. Secrecy seemed first among them. That evening that she'd spent in the sewer while Vachon spoke to his friend Screed she'd seen and heard their argument. Her fate had been very much the debate since they could not hypnotize away her knowledge.
Leave it alone.
That was the message Nick was giving her. That was Vachon's advice at well. So why didn't she?
"You still here, Vetter?"
Tracy looked up to see the detective across the aisle staring at her. Dave Rowlett worked homicide on day shift. A tall, lanky man with close cropped gray hair, he was a thirty year veteran of the force. Little went on at the 96th precinct that Dave did not know about.
"You see me, don't you, Dave?" she replied sarcastically. Dave was known for his dry sense of humor but had little patience with rookies. Despite her time in uniform, she was still a rookie in his eyes. The fact that he chose to speak to her meant he wanted information. Most likely regarding her partner. She stood and slammed the file closed. "Not for long though."
"Didn't look like you got very far on that case from last night," he observed with a non-committal nod.
"Far enough without the path report," she replied, pulling her coat off the rack.
"Which ME has the case?"
"Lambert," Tracy replied.
"Don't you mean, 'Knight'?" he commented, leaning against his desk with a file loosely in his hands. "Feel like a fifth wheel at cases with the two of them?"
Tracy paused in her rapid fire movement of loading her briefcase with the unfinished file and her private investigation papers. "You know, I never thought of it that way. I guess I'm used to being around them."
"Yeah, they've acted like a married couple for years," Dave observed. "Can't help but wonder what finally pushed them to make it official."
"Well Dave, it was as much a surprise to me as anyone else here."
"Hmm," he looked at her skeptically. "Sure about that? I mean, you're around them more than anyone in the department. If anyone would know, you would."
"Know what?" she asked, her eyes narrowed with suspicion. Dave was fishing... that much was sure.
"Well, umm," he hesitated. "Not that any of us didn't expect them to hook up eventually, but, well, this whole marriage thing came up rather quickly, and Knight is sort of old-fashioned."
"You think she's pregnant?" Tracy asked with a smile. Now she knew why he was so eager to talk to her.
"It did cross my mind," he confessed. "She is looking sort of pale, and Grace says she hasn't been eating much."
"I don't think she is, but if I hear anything, I'll let you know."
He leaned closer, saying in a low voice, "Mark Peters has the book going. If she isn't now, she will be soon. I saw some of those wedding pictures. Man, that dress was hot!"
"She certainly could not hide a pregnancy wearing it," Tracy observed.
"My point exactly," Dave agreed. "No one says she is *showing* but those that think she is pregnant don't think Knight would let it get very far before they got married."
"True, I could go along with that," Tracy mused. "And what do you think?"
"I don't think she is now, but I think it is inevitable. No red-blooded man would resist her for long. Especially when she wears things like that wedding dress. Makes me wonder what's *really* under those scrubs!"
"What is your interpretation of the marriage? If not a hurry-up because of a pregnancy, why would they elope?"
"She finally agreed and he didn't give her a chance to change her mind," Dave said firmly.
"Wait a minute, *she* agreed?" Tracy did not have to fake the surprise. She'd never thought of Natalie being the unwilling one in that relationship. She'd always assumed that it was Nick being slow to figure out what he wanted. "You think she was reluctant?"
"She's been sought by half the department for years," he replied. "If I'd been single, I'd have asked her out myself. Knight is the only guy she ever gave a second look."
"Then why do you think she was hesitant to get married to him? You think he proposed more than once?"
"Yeah, well, people talk. I see her at shift change cases, when you are off duty and I used to hear her talking to Schanke."
"That doesn't tell me why, though."
"Personally, I don't think it had anything to do with him directly, but I think Knight has something or someone in his past that she didn't want to be a part of. He's always been so closed about his family or his past. I always thought there was something there... not enough to show up on the standard background check but some information that she knew, and no one else did. They must have figured out some way to deal with it."
Tracy's eyes lit up at his words. That was exactly what she believed as well. Only she had a pretty good idea what it was that Natalie was hesitant to embrace!
"You heard that his father was at the reception?" Tracy asked deliberately. It *was* public knowledge know, she rationalized.
"Father?" Dave's attention was piqued at her comment. "I didn't think he had any family."
"Oh yeah," she said with a knowing smile. "Nick does indeed have family. At least he has an adoptive father. The owner of the Raven, Lucien LaCroix. Otherwise known as the Nightcrawler."
"The Nightcrawler? That creepy late night radio host?"
"Yep, you got it," Tracy said with a smug smile. It was rare that she could out-scoop the precinct news-hound, and the fact that it concerned her partner caused only a momentary twinge of guilt. "Believe me, that would be enough to keep *me* away!"
Dave sat down, and stared at her, speechless. A speculative smile crossed his face. "Now *that* is news worth coming in early to hear! I'm amazed that I hadn't heard that already. Guess I should talk to you more often."
"Always happy to assist a fellow officer," Tracy gave a mock salute and slid her arms into her jacket. Grabbing her briefcase, she left the precinct. She had work to do...
Tracy could hear the faint strains of guitar music coming from her apartment as she reached the top of the stairs. That could mean only one thing. She had company.
He hadn't forgotten.
Unlocking the door quickly, she pushed it open and hung her keys on the wall hook. The curtains were shut tight against the morning sun that otherwise would stream through the window and light her room.
"About time," the deep voice came from the far corner of the darkened room.
"What?" Tracy protested, flicking on a light. He might be able to see in the dark but it was terribly annoying to carry on a conversation with someone that she couldn't see.
"I was beginning to think you weren't coming home this morning," he said impatiently.
"Since when do you keep a stopwatch on me?" she said sarcastically. She already knew the reason for his visit, but wasn't sure if he still felt the same way. "What brings you over?"
"I said I'd come over," he shrugged. His casual tone belied the seriousness of his mood. "I came over."
"And?" she prompted, setting her briefcase on the floor by the desk.
"I believe that we were having a *very* interesting discussion the other night," he replied, setting the guitar on the floor and holding out a hand to her.
"Ah, so you want to continue that topic?" she grinned, taking his hand and settling against the cushions of the couch, their legs twined together as she leaned against him.
"The discussion part, yes," he began, sliding away from her a tiny bit. It was enough though for her to get the message. "But that's all, Tracy."
Tracy sighed. "Will we *ever* get beyond the talking stage?"
"I hope so, but only after you know what it is that you ask of me," he replied gently, wrapping his arms around her waist as he pulled her back against his chest. "I've been with women, *taken* women without them knowing the consequences. Without their consent." His voice was unusually harsh as he stared into the distance, not meeting Tracy's steady gaze as he spoke. In the short time that she'd known him, she'd never heard that tone. He had never expressed any regret over *anything* that he'd done. "I won't do that to you."
"So what are you saying?" she sputtered. As soon as she thought she was making progress, something else would happen. One of them would pull back. What she felt toward the Spanish vampire was hard to define. Was it love? Could she... would she commit to him for eternity?
"Just that we should take this slowly," he explained. He understood Tracy's frustrations. He longed for the physical union that she was pushing for, but was not sure that she wanted the emotional bond that would come from the mingling of their blood.
"Why?" she demanded. Being close to him was a torment. Never before had she needed to be the aggressor in any sexual liaison.
"A one-night stand with a vampire is not exactly a *one-night* stand," he said flatly.
"What does that mean?"
"Well, I told you that I'd have to take your blood," he began, waiting for her nod of acknowledgement. "You need to be absolutely sure that you want that. Once we begin, there is no turning back."
"I told you, I'm not going to regret it in the morning if you bite me. Why are you afraid?"
He stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment before responding. "Your life is in your blood. Every drop tells a story, your life story. Your hopes, your dreams, everything that you feel and think."
"Yes, I know. You told me that when I was working on that case last month."
"Do you *really* want me to know everything about you?" he asked gently.
"Vachon, what better way is there for you to know that I'm not lying when I say that I want to be with you? I trust you with my life." She hesitated for a moment, holding his arms around her waist. "I could ask Natalie to draw a tube if you don't trust yourself to take it from me."
"Maybe that would work," he mused, tightening his hold on her, before she got so enamored with the idea that she got up to call. "It would not be as much fun though."
"But it would be safer though wouldn't it?" she pondered. "Then you'd know what I feel."
"It's not just what I'll feel. You'll feel a connection to me. Almost like a psychic link. I don't want you to think of it this way, but some vampires use it to control their victims."
"Victims?" she demanded. "I'm not a victim. Not of you. Not of any man."
"I know, I know... but I told you that it isn't simply a one-night stand. I thought you should know why that is," he whispered, kissing her temple gently. "It's hard for me to explain without slipping into the usual terms."
"OK, I get it and I do appreciate the warnings," she sighed, nestling into his embrace. "I can't help but think you still aren't telling me the entire story. There's more. I can tell. What else should I know?"
"When the person is in love with you, it is like the finest wine. Words alone can't describe the sensation..." his voice trailed off and he clasped her hand tightly.
"And?" she prompted.
"And it's hard to stop," he admitted. "There is a risk that I'd take too much."
"So what you're telling me is that you've killed every woman that you've ever had sex with?"
"Almost," he whispered. He'd not thought about it, had never regretted his past. Truthfully, the past never concerned him. He was not like Knight who had a conscience big enough for a dozen or more vampires. Live for the moment had been his credo for over 450 years.
"OK, since becoming a vampire? Has any women made love with you and lived to tell about it?"
"Well then, you *have* controlled yourself," she declared.
"She's a vampire. I brought her across." Vachon said quickly.
"You don't want to bring me across?" Tracy's voice was low as she tried to keep the fear and disappointment from him. She was not entirely sure that was what she wanted, but she did want to make her own decision in the matter.
"I didn't say that," he replied gently. "I want you to know what it is that you are asking for when you say that you want me to make love to you."
"So it isn't that you need *some* blood? You really need all of it?"
He glanced away with obvious embarrassment. "No, not really. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't take more than would be healthy for you."
Studying his expression intently, Tracy smiled with understanding. "You get so caught up in everything, that you don't quite know what you're doing. Is that it?"
"Yeah," he nodded, relieved that he did not have to go into more detail. He was almost tempted to send her to Natalie... no matter what Nick had said. Some things should be discussed woman to woman! "I've never worried about it, you know. It never mattered to me."
"And now it does." It was a statement, not a question. They were both silent for a long moment, each pondering where they would go next. "What if I want you to bring me across? Make me a vampire?"
"Think about it, Tracy. Make absolutely sure you really want this," he warned. "No children. You'll have to disappear from your friends and family.
"Immediately?" she asked with dismay.
"Hmmm, maybe not," he said thoughtfully. He knew that Natalie had returned to her job without a problem, but she did not have a family from which to conceal her nature. She also had a husband who had lived among mortals for many years. He was not sure how well he'd be able to help her learn that kind of control so young. He'd been well over a century into eternal life before he'd spent time among mortals who were not destined to be his prey. "If you have really good control, you might eke out another five years before people notice that you don't age."
"Then we move on," he shrugged. "You'll get used to moving a lot."
"We?" she asked quickly. Was he suggesting that their relationship would endure for many years?
"Just because my maker walked into the sun right after she brought me across doesn't mean that is usual," he replied indignantly.
"What is normal then?"
"Varies. Some masters stay with their converts for a few decades. Some for a few centuries. Some forever."
"Master?" she squeaked. This was the first that she'd heard him use that phrase. That was not a term that she'd heard him use before, and was definitely not the connotation she saw him in.
"Yeah," he confirmed. "The vampire who brings you across is your master. Your eternal protector, guide, teacher. I did okay without one but there were times that I wished I had someone to show me the ropes. Your master will teach you what you need to know to survive and then in turn, you owe them eternal allegiance. Sort of like a father figure..."
"Oh," she murmured. That was *not* how she saw Vachon.
"If that bothers you, I can ask someone else to bring you across," he said quickly. The tone in her voice was very clear. She might desire him as a man, but not as a teacher. He'd had little experience teaching anyone, let alone training a fledgling vampire. When he'd converted Urs, it was a different time and place. She needed very little instruction to survive in the 19th century. Modern times were different. It might actually be better if he could talk Nick into it. Nick had a lot more experience dealing with mainstream society.
"Who?" she shot back quickly.
"Think about it," he leaned against the cushions, caressing her arm lightly. "Your eternal *master* or your eternal *lover*. I could be either... or both."
"Javier. Who would you ask?" she asked impatiently.
"Someone older than me. More connections in the community."
"Who?" she asked again.
"Tracy, I can't tell you," he sighed. "Its risky enough that I've told you what I have already."
"Do I have to give you an answer now?" she asked softly.
"No, of course not," he smiled. His relief that she was not pushing him for immediate action was obvious. "I will need to stay the day though."
"I figured that much already," she stood and took his hand. "Come on, the shades in the bedroom are dark enough and I've been up all night."
Some things he would not argue with, and sharing Tracy's bed was not something he'd refuse!
Nick slept fitfully, finally giving up around mid afternoon and going downstairs. Filling a mug with a bottle of the Raven's private blend, he sat at the piano and began to play. As was his habit, he poured his emotion into his music. The notes flowed as his hands flew across the keys.
He worried that within a few days his professional partnership would change dramatically. Tracy would more than likely be less than pleased and he was not exactly skilled explaining himself to women. He'd ruined more than one relationship by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Natalie was the only woman that understood his motives, his hopes and dreams. They'd had their ups and downs over the years. Their marriage had only enhanced their understanding of each other.
As the sun began to set and the shutters clattered their way upward revealing faint pink streaks in the scattered clouds, Nick could hear Natalie's movement on the upper level. He'd just begun to play a light jazzy tune to greet her when he heard the knock on the skylight. Looking up, he saw Javier Vachon leaning on the glass. Evidently their conversation of the other night was not over. He gave the younger man a wave as he aimed the remote to unlock the window.
"What's up?" he asked strolling over to the refrigerator to get another bottle.
"Where's Natalie?" Vachon responded quickly. He was infinitely more at ease talking just to Nick so he needed to know how long they'd have.
"In the shower. Do you need her for something?" he asked, handing Vachon a filled mug and walking back over to the couch. In the short time that they'd been back from New Orleans, Natalie had acquired a 'new' position... community physician. The requests were generally fairly simple. A splinter removal, re-setting a bone that had healed wrong or simply to sign a death certificate when someone wanted to 'disappear' and did not have the funds to have Aristotle fix it. Natalie's fees were generally on a barter system. LaCroix had warned her to not provide professional services gratis, so she would exchange a service for a service. A downtown Toronto homeless shelter had been completely built using vampire labor and they were about to start on a second facility.
"No," he answered quickly. "I wanted to talk to you, ummm, alone."
"Okay," Nick nodded. "I take it that you've spoken to Tracy."
"Umm hmmm," he commented, talking the seat opposite Nick.
"And?" he prompted.
"I told her the risks of getting physical with me," Vachon explained.
"Scare her away?"
"She doesn't scare easily, Knight." Vachon shook his head. He truly admired Tracy's tenacity. A lesser woman would have told him to forget it.
"Didn't figure she would," Nick sighed in resignation. "So you're going to bring her across?"
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," he began. Seeing Nick's encouraging nod, he stared at his mug while continuing. "We talked about it. I guess I should have been smarter with what I said, or how I said it."
"Let me guess... she doesn't want you as her master."
"I don't think she liked that term. Period. She certainly doesn't see me as a father figure."
"You know it doesn't have to be like that," Nick observed.
"No?" he scoffed. "Then why did you let LaCroix convert Natalie? You could have done it yourself."
"This is getting a little personal, Vachon," Nick protested.
"Well, how is it different, Nick?" Vachon persisted. He knew that it was bordering on territory that he didn't want to tread. "You wanted your mortal friend to be with you forever. So do I."
"I wanted Natalie to be my wife," Nick explained softly, as he realized that the intent of the question was not to pry, but to get advice from someone older and more experienced. That was a luxury that he didn't have. Ever since Janette had left town, LaCroix was the only vampire in Toronto older than he, and his advice came with a price.
"What? You can't marry your converts?"
Nick shook his head. "I wanted more than a paper and a judge. I wanted to be with her eternally, in all ways. And, no, you can't do a ritual bonding with your own converts." He eyed the younger man, refilling their mugs. "You ever see the ceremony?"
"No, and to be honest, I've learned more about the community in the past year than I ever did from my master. I'd never even heard of it until your reception. Alma explained it to me."
"Considering that your master walked into the sun the next day, that isn't hard to believe," Nick laughed.
"My point, if you'll let me make it, is that I don't want to regret later what I do today."
"You think you'll want to marry Tracy?" Nick asked with surprise. "Really marry her? Did Alma explain exactly what you promise to your mate when you have a community wedding?"
"No, she didn't. You want to fill me in?"
"You promise eternal faithfulness to each other. You will have no other relationships, may be with no one but your respective masters or the sibling that consents to the union." Nick explained carefully.
"What happens if you screw up?" he asked. It was not in the nature of a vampire to be monogamous. The very nature of the vampire was to wander, partaking of life and love around the world.
"You are banished from the community forever. You may not partake of the resources of the community in any way. If you went to a community club, you would be denied service."
"That's worse than death," Vachon remarked. He might have done foolish things in his life, but nothing that he'd ever been censured for.
"It is," Nick agreed. "So I ask you again, do you want to marry Tracy?"
"I don't know," he replied, draining his mug and meeting Nick's steady gaze. "Not right now, but I don't want to predict the future. Someday, I might."
"Fair enough," Nick nodded. Few, if any, vampires would make that commitment without careful consideration.
"I have other concerns about trying to bring Tracy across," Vachon continued. "I don't think I've ever wanted anyone more. That worries me. I've never had control problems, but I've known other guys that have. Not to mention the fact that I may not be the best one to train her. I don't even try to live with mortals and she is not ready to disappear."
"Hmm, that all makes sense. It doesn't explain why you came to me."
"Oh really? Think about it."
Nick stared at him, as the intent became clear. Rising sharply, he strode across the room. Leaning on the windowsill, he stared at the night sky. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, he spoke deliberately, "What did you tell her?"
"Relax, Knight. She hasn't made a decision yet. And I didn't say your name. All I said was that I'd ask someone older than me. She may think you're a vampire, but she doesn't know how old you are."
Knowing the deadline that loomed over them, Nick did not retort an absolute refusal as was his first inclination. "LaCroix talk to you recently?"
"Not since your party, no. Why?"
"Just asking," Nick responded quickly. If his sire had not warned Vachon, then perhaps it was not as 'tight' a deadline as he'd feared.
"Nice try, but I don't believe you," Vachon spoke deliberately. "You would not have brought him up for no reason."
"He is, ummm, concerned about Tracy's knowledge."
"Oh? Just how concerned is he?" Vachon demanded. Attracting the attention of an ancient was not a good thing. "She can be trusted."
"Yes, I trust her. You trust her," Nick agreed. "That does not mean that *he* trusts her. What's more, that doesn't mean that the Elders trust her."
"What difference does that make?"
"Depends who else knows that she knows," Nick replied. "The one thing that I can tell you is that the more she investigates me, the more danger she is in. If she somehow knows of my connection to the community, I don't want to predict what will happen to her."
"I don't know how I can stop her investigation without her figuring out why I know about it. You know what they say... a little knowledge can be dangerous," Vachon mused.
"It is," Natalie said dryly, leaning on the back of the couch. She'd heard the bulk of the discussion and waited until a more opportune time to join them.
Vachon glanced between the couple. "What is it that you two aren't telling me?"
Natalie ignored Nick's warning look as she filled her mug and sat next to him, keeping an eye on Vachon. "The decision is not entirely Tracy's to make."
"What?" Vachon sputtered. This was news that came as a shock.
"She has as much of a decision as I did," she stated simply, referring to the fact that Enforcers had witnessed her conversion. While the decision , technically, had been her own, there had been a time limit. A fact she learned after the fact.
"When are they coming?" he asked with trepidation.
"I don't know," Nick replied. "LaCroix said he was going to talk to you."
"He hasn't," Vachon breathed, looking between Nick and Natalie. Maybe they were mistaken in their assumptions. "What did he tell you?"
"That if you have not brought Tracy across by Friday, he wants us to bring her to him." Natalie spoke slowly and deliberately. She did not want to even think about that possibility.
"What? You can't be serious! Nick? He isn't planning to do it, is he?" Vachon demanded. While having some connections would be good, he did *not* want such close contact with the ancient Roman as he'd have if his lover was one of his converts.
"I doubt it," Nick replied, not wanting to reveal his master's plan. He still hoped to convince him otherwise, but feared it would mean that LaCroix would be far less patient with Tracy's desires. "But whether or not any of us agree, Tracy has attracted attention that is not healthy."
Vachon leaned forward, sighing heavily. "So what do I tell her?"
"The truth," Natalie blurted out, drawing a swift glare from Nick. "I'm only saying that she needs to really know what her choices are... specifically that remaining as she is, a mortal, is not one of the options. He's forbidden me from talking to her, Vachon. Maybe you could warn her."
"What *are* her choices?" Vachon asked slowly, staring at Nick. "Be honest here."
"You can bring her across in the next two days," he said slowly, taking a deep breath before continuing. "Otherwise she will be converted by someone at LaCroix's choosing... or she'll die at the hands of the Enforcers."
"Will you do it, Nick?" Vachon requested, the raw emotion plain to see. "He's your master. You can talk to him. Volunteer, let him see how you'd be a good master for Tracy. You know how to blend into mortal society and you know more about the vampire community than anyone I can think of."
"I don't know," he replied simply. "What you say does make some sense, but I've never been very successful bringing people across and training them properly. Hell, my only surviving convert hates me, and would rather never see me. And that doesn't include the fact that I haven't killed in a century, and vowed to never again take a life for pleasure or sustenance."
"I can accept that," he agreed. "Please, think about it."
"I'll think about it," Nick agreed. It was not, in his mind, the best solution, but what truly were the alternatives? Could he, in good conscience refuse to allow another man the happiness that he, himself, had found in the love of a woman?
Her mind was filled with thoughts of 'what if' and the possible scenario that might arise in the next few days. Natalie was thankful that the only case that awaited her was a home death. It was a relatively simple matter. One that would challenge intellectually but not stress her already over-burdened vampire senses. The case from last night would come next.
"You're quiet tonight," Grace commented as she gathered the instruments from the autopsy and prepared them for sterilization.
"Hmmm, yeah," Natalie murmured. Carrying the tray of tissue samples, she prepared a slide and slid it under the microscope. She was working on autopilot, scarcely aware of her assistant's attempts to draw her into a conversation.
"What's up?" Grace probed, watching Natalie work with a single-minded determinedness. Something was different about her friend. It was as if she was on edge, more guarded than before her marriage. They never gossiped any more. The 2 am coffee and chocolate breaks had disappeared. Indeed, if Natalie took a break at all, it was with Nick. She'd seen other girlfriends immerse themselves into a new relationship, but this was not the same. Natalie's relationship with Nick had grown over the years, but was not new. No, the secretiveness and single-minded devotion was something more than just the commitment to a new spouse.
"Oh, umm, just checking something," Natalie replied absently.
Grace sighed with growing frustration, dropping one of the larger instruments on the steel table with a loud clang. "Doctor Lambert, would you please TALK to me?" she exclaimed.
Natalie stopped her methodical motions and spun her stool around to look at Grace with genuine bewilderment. "Grace?" she asked, taking in her friend's annoyed expression. "Natural causes is my guess. This is for the family's comfort and knowledge. What are you so worked up about?"
"Not the case, Natalie. Not this case, anyway."
"Then what is it?" she gestured to the instruments now scattered on the table that Grace was hastily re-bagging.
"You seem so distracted lately. You don't eat. You don't take coffee breaks. At least not with anyone but Nick. We don't talk about anything but cases. I miss you, Natalie. What have I done to you?"
"I didn't realize..." Natalie said sheepishly. It was true that in her determination to keep control, she'd kept her contact to anyone to a minimum. She was so afraid of harming Grace that she did not allow herself the simple contact of a conversation, however brief. "It's nothing that you've done or not done. I'm just tired, that's all," she smiled hesitantly. She was only beginning to realize the stress that Nick had been under. The mid-shift contact with him gave her the strength to maintain the fine balance. More times than not, they would consummate their love as only vampires could.
"Do I need to talk to Nick about you needing to *sleep*?" Grace asked mischievously. This was precisely what had been lacking- the playful comradery of two friends working and sharing their lives.
"No, that's okay, Grace," Natalie replied, her voice lighter than she truly felt. If her friend wanted to attribute her behavior to increased activity in the bedroom, that was fine. It was not altogether an incorrect assumption!
"If you're sure..." she picked up the bagged instruments and walked to the door. "I do miss our coffee and chocolate feasts, Nat."
"I know, I do too," Natalie whispered as the door swung shut. Burying her head in her arms, she struggled to keep herself together. She could feel Nick's approach and not a moment too soon.
"Nat?" Nick came into the room to see her averting her eyes, posture tense. He could feel her turmoil. She was just beginning to realize the conflicts that come from the double life she now led. The secrets that she must withhold from friends were now personal. The necessity of keeping back information from friends who'd previously shared all. It was a strain that any newly converted vampire felt when they did not immediately move on. Nick had felt it when he'd first seen his mother and sister on that disastrous visit to Brabant.
"Hey, Nick. I only have the prelims for you. I'm still waiting on some lab reports and I had another case," she spoke in her professional monotone, gesturing to the files on her desk.
"Got anything useful?" he picked up the manila folder that was on top of the stack of files. He would take her lead and let her work through whatever caused her pain.
"Huh? Oh, umm, no.." she stammered.
"Nat? What's wrong?" he asked gently. Perhaps what she needed was a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear.
"Nothing, it's nothing," she said quickly, turning her stool back around to stare at the lab instruments. Anything but his gentle blue eyes. He could make her confess to anything right now.
"Sure about that?" his voice was soft, the tone he took when her words and emotions did not mesh. Something was bothering her and it would not go away until she admitted it. He stood behind her, spinning the stool around so that she faced him.
"Oh, Nick... I didn't think it would be so hard, " she whispered, her voice choked with emotion as she stood with arms outstretched. She needed him.
He gathered her into his arms, soothing her wordlessly. He knew only too well what she felt. The turmoil that she projected was intense. It was not the sort of pain that would draw LaCroix to her side, although he would be feeling it as well. It was not something that her master would be able to help her work through. His solution would be to simply move on. He had little patience with any vampire having difficulty with mortals.
His gentle caresses were intended to calm, to comfort, but instead served to inflame the passion and desire that they both felt. With her arms looped around his neck, Natalie gazed up at Nick. Her cheeks were still stained with the blood of her tears, but her eyes glowed amber with a need only he could fill.
No words were spoken as their lips met. Heedless of the cold clinical surroundings, their kisses deepened, tongues meeting with a familiar dance. With a low growl, Nick allowed his fangs to descend and teased hers.
Natalie molded her body against his, tilting her chin to give him a better angle. They were usually more discrete but she wanted him. Needed him. Right then and right there. Nick wanted it too. Smiling, he unbuttoned his collar.
His kisses trailed lower as he pushed her while lab coast off her shoulder. Clutching her firmly against him, he drove his fangs into her neck and drank deeply. Uttering an inarticulate pleasured growl, Natalie slid her fangs into his neck.
They were still linked, joined intimately, absorbed in the shared sensation when the door slid open quietly. Tracy had heard a low growling sound as she approached the door to Natalie's lab.
She could not help gasping at the sight that she confronted. A thin trickle of blood trailing down her back, with Nick's mouth clamped on her neck, Natalie was firmly in his embrace. It was an intimate picture, almost as if she'd caught them in bed. Their expressions, unaware of her presence confirmed her every suspicion...
They were both vampires.
Startled back to the present, Natalie stiffened and pulled away. Her vision still amber, she turned and saw Tracy staring, open-mouthed. It was obvious that she'd seen them.
Nick straightened his collar over the healing punctures and pulled the lab coat up to Natalie's neck. His eyes cleared as the women stared at each other. Natalie's eyes still glowed amber as their eyes met.
"Tracy, sit down," he said calmly, crossing the lab and locked the door. He gently took Tracy's hand and led her to the desk chair, and leaned against the desk next to her.
"You... you lied to me, " she stammered, struggling to hold back the anger. Despite the fury she felt, she could not help watching in fascination as Natalie's eyes cleared and her fangs receded.
"I may not have told you everything, but I never lied to you," Nick said firmly.
"Natalie?" Tracy sputtered "You... you said.."
"I never answered your questions," Natalie replied. Her voice was tinged with regret. "I know more than anyone what you're going through."
"You do?" she scoffed. "No one made light of your questions or tried to discourage you seeking the truth."
"That may be true," Natalie agreed. The vampire now in check, she came closer, sitting in a rolling chair next to the computer. Close enough for quiet communication, but not so close as to tingle her senses. "But I do know what it's like to love a vampire."
Tracy leaned back in her chair, chastened by the admission. That was true. No matter how Natalie had discovered, or known the truth about vampires, they did share a bond that few women would understand. It still bothered her that they had both misled her. Would they have ever said anything had she not caught them? "Since you claim to know so much, tell me why you wouldn't help me."
"It's too dangerous," Nick said flatly. "Vachon was responsible for your knowledge of him, but if you learned anything from me, or I helped you then you became my responsibility." He paused, his expression deadly serious. "You must know what that means. I'm sure Vachon has explained the Code to you." He waited for her simple nod of agreement. "I could not kill you, or drag you into my darkness."
"But you... you did Natalie," she stammered. As much as she'd wanted to hear his admission, it was still awkward.
"No, he didn't," Natalie interrupted. Placing a hand on his arm, she pleaded, "No, Nick. Enough. How can you expect her to make a choice when she doesn't know what the choice is..."
"Go ahead, Nat," he agreed reluctantly, standing and walking to the autopsy table. He knew that technically she was treading in an area where LaCroix had forbidden. Since, in all likelihood, Tracy's decision would be made that night, he would allow Natalie to have the conversation both had been avoiding. With his back turned, he focused on the incongruity of the situation. This was where he'd started this chapter in his life... and this was where he'd begin the next chapter as well. He had no illusions. His life would never be the same. Regardless of his own choices, he would be directly impacted by the decisions made in the next day.
Natalie rolled her chair closer, and turned to face Tracy, "Okay, you have my undivided attention. Ask whatever you want to ask."
Tracy breathed a nervous sigh, "okay, how about something easy? Are you a vampire?"
Natalie laughed, "I think you know that. You *did* see me, didn't you?"
"Well, yeah.. but I still wanted to hear you say it," Tracy shrugged.
"Then if it makes you feel better, yes. Yes, I am a vampire."
"How long have you known about vampires?" she watched as Nick edged his way away from them. It was plain that he was not totally at ease with Natalie's honesty.
"About six years. As you might guess, Nick was not successful hypnotizing the knowledge away." She gestured around the room. "We met here in fact."
"Really?" Tracy prompted, obviously puzzled what would bring a vampire to the morgue.
"Yep... he came back to life on my table. First time I've had a live one!" she laughed. It certainly made for a unique 'how we met' story. That is, if she would share it with anyone other than vampires!
"How did Nick end up in the morgue? I thought vampires couldn't be killed except by stakes or fire."
"Ah, but that doesn't mean they don't *look* or feel dead. A normal vampire heartbeat is about once ever ten minutes. That's enough for someone to be declared dead. To answer your question, Nick tried to stop a robbery and got a pipe bomb in the face as thanks."
Tracy absorbed the information, every so often glancing over to Nick. His non-verbal gestures confirmed the information that Natalie shared. "So how long have you been a vampire?"
"Two months," Natalie replied, her voice professional, sounding as she'd reported thousands of cases over the years.
"That's why you took a month off," Tracy said with certainty. It all made sense now, "You took time off so that Nick could teach you."
"Not exactly," Natalie glanced at Nick. He had moved to a far corner of the lab and had remained silent.
"Yes, to learn to control my abilities," she acknowledged. "But not from Nick."
"Isn't Nick your, umm, master?" Tracy asked, confused.
"No, Tracy, he isn't," Natalie said firmly. "By my own choice. I won't get into all the reasons right now, but I don't regret the decision."
"Who did it then?" Tracy asked quickly. She was stunned at the statement. She'd assumed that Nick had brought Natalie over. It seemed so obvious that they loved each other. Would he not want to share his life with her, or was the difficulty that Vachon described true? Was it not possible for a man to bring across a woman that he loved?
"Later Tracy. That's a discussion for another day. How about we talk about you," Natalie began.
"What about me?"
"You know that the knowledge of vampires is forbidden?" she waited for Tracy's nod of agreement before continuing. "While at the time, I thought my decision to be converted was my own, I later learned that there was a time limit. Very soon I would have been forced."
"Come across, or be killed." She said flatly. It was time to be bluntly honest.
"So, what are you saying?" Tracy asked.
"You are rapidly approaching *your* time limit." Natalie replied in a firm, matter-of-fact voice.
"I don't get it, why now?"
"Nick?" she prompted. He knew and understood the politics so much better than she did. "I think you can explain that better than I."
"Because you began poking around. Looking for information after being warned to stop. As long as you'd kept quiet, and just knew about Vachon, the Elders might not have noticed."
"If you'd just told me, I would not have...."
"I told you to stay out of it," he retorted angrily, striding across the room to stand over her. The surge of power served as intimidation and Tracy shrunk back, away from him. She'd never felt the aura of darkness around Nick before now, and it frightened her.
Natalie stepped between them. She could feel the depth of Nick's anger and knew that it was aimed inward. As usual, he was blaming himself. "That isn't going to help her, Nick. You're forgetting your discussion with Vachon."
Tracy perked up at the mention of her friend's name. "What?"
"They noticed my relationship with Nick. They would have noticed you and Vachon eventually," Natalie explained. "He wants to be with you. You want to be with him. Seems pretty simple to me."
"I... I know," Tracy breathed. "Javier wasn't sure he could do it. He, uh, said, that he'd ask someone older to help."
"He did," Nick said grimly.
Tracy looked between her friends with dawning realization. Not only was Nick a vampire, but he was an *old* vampire. "You? How old are you?"
"Older than he is," Nick remarked simply. Revealing his past never came easy.
"802 years to be exact," Natalie replied, knowing how Nick would not tell anything if he could avoid it. "He was brought across in the year 1228, returning from the crusades, a tired, disillusioned knight who was seduced by a beautiful woman and promises of eternal life. He never knew the price he'd pay until it was too late."
"Your name isn't *really* Knight? Is it?"
"Well, it is for this incarnation," Nick said with a shrug. "But my true name, my family name, as you guessed, is Nicholas de Brabant. And yes, that is my foundation."
Tracy was speechless. It *was* true... all of it!
"Tracy, you have a decision to make. Now that you know the truth, we have an appointment to keep." Nick's voice was firm as he nodded to Natalie to take her hand.
"Where are we going?" she asked, as they led her out of the office.
"The Raven." Nick's voice sent a chill down her back.
The ride to the Raven was quiet. While not speaking to each other, Natalie called to book off ill and Nick radioing dispatch that he and Tracy would be doing interviews. They would therefore not be available by radio. Nick and Natalie both knew that LaCroix would demand action immediately. None of them would be going back on duty that night!
For a Wednesday night, the club was busy. A swaying mass of humanity with hearts beating in sync with the band's pounding rhythm filled the dance floor and lined the bar. Vachon was on stage, seemingly absorbed in the music. As Natalie led Tracy to the rear of the club, he was instantly alert. Seeing her at the club accompanied by both Nick and Natalie was ominous.
"Go back to the office," Nick directed as they pushed past the milling crowd by the door. "I'll find LaCroix." He scanned the club's main room and saw his master at the end on the bar. It was the traditional position of power, one that Janette had perfected when she ran the club. That barstool afforded a view of the entire bar area as well as the darkened seating area in the back. He crossed the room deliberately, his eyes meeting when Nick was halfway across the room.
"Nicholas?" LaCroix intercepted him with a curious glance. "I do believe that this is Wednesday. You are two days early. Is there something that I should know?"
"You should know that Tracy saw us. She knows. Everything," Nick replied grimly.
LaCroix nodded, picking up the filled goblet that was ever-present by his stool. "Indeed? Well, then. You are correct in bringing her here. We shall adjourn to the office and I will see what we need do about Ms. Vetter."
Natalie had continued on her way to the office, ignoring the curious stares that she received from some of the regular patrons. The presence of a mortal in the back rooms of the club always attracted attention, but when it was noticed that LaCroix was following them, they were given wide berth.
Closing the heavy wooden door behind them, Natalie motioned to Tracy to sit in one of the upholstered wingback chairs by the large desk. Too nervous to sit herself, she began to pace restlessly.
"Suffering a bit of performance anxiety, my child?" LaCroix inquired politely as he strode confidently into the office, taking his place behind the desk.
"Yes... uh, no... I don't know," Natalie stammered. She knew why she was here, what she was supposed to do. She knew that she couldn't do it. She'd never refused anything that Lucien had asked of her, and feared his reaction. While he'd been very patient with her, she knew what he was capable of, especially if pushed. Nick's memories were filled with events. Another time, another place, but all the same. Her sire had a violent temper, and she was about to provoke him.
"Rest assured, my daughter. You have nothing to fret about," he said smoothly, turning to meet Tracy's stunned stare. Natalie had very carefully avoided saying *who* had converted her. The realization that it was indeed Nick's 'adopted father' was a startling revelation.
"Yes, Ms. Vetter, I am responsible for Natalie's conversion. I assure you, it was at her specific request. She was not coerced." He confirmed Tracy's unspoken question. "I will be witness to your conversion as well, but my responsibility will be merely to supervise your training." He stood, leaning forward on the desk. The posture was one of intimidation as he rose over her. "Now then, Ms. Vetter. You and I shall have a brief conversation."
"About?" Tracy asked, trying to remain calm, not reacting to his tactics.
"Nicholas tells me that you take your profession very seriously."
"Yes, that would be fair to say," Tracy agreed. She'd never been as intimidated by Nick, nor by Vachon. LaCroix, on the other hand, oozed power and virility from every pore. She did not know whether to fear him, or be aroused by the sensuality. Beneath that very polite exterior was someone that Tracy was not sure she wanted to challenge.
"Then you admit to investigating Nicholas? Probing places that you should not have?"
"Yes, I was investigating Nick. Even after he tried to warn me to stop," she admitted.
"Hmm, yes. Disobedience *and* willful behavior. You *will* have your work cut out for you, Natalie," he said smugly.
"No!" Natalie exclaimed sharply. "It's too soon for me. I can't, I won't do it!"
"Really?" LaCroix stood and strode across the room, stopping Natalie's movement with one hand. "Tell me this. Why not?" he said coldly.
"It's too soon for me. I don't have the experience, the control to stop in time. I would kill her. I know it," her voice was low, pleading. The courage that she'd felt when initially refusing him was rapidly fading under the intensity of his steady gaze. "Even if I succeed in bringing her across, I would not be able to control or teach her to your satisfaction."
"So you refuse to learn this skill? Am I correct?" Their eyes met, rapidly changing to amber as his anger surfaced. Something in him snapped when his newest offspring had the audacity to refuse his direction. It had never been his way to hold back his temper. Even as a mortal general, Lucien LaCroix was a firm disciplinarian. No one under his command had the right to say 'no'. Heedless of the risk of damaging the fragile peace between him and his son, he lashed out. The controlled exterior barely contained the power and fury of two millennia. If need be, he could force his will upon her, but first he would determine just why she thought she could disobey him. With his hand firmly planted on her shoulder, he tilted her chin up so that their eyes met directly. "You *did* pledge eternal loyalty, did you not?"
"I did," she acknowledged. Staying motionless, she refused to bend under his harsh gaze. Her shoulder hurt where his fingers dug deeper, drawing blood. His discipline had the tendency to become physical. Nick had told her many stories about their sire's reaction to disagreements. This was the first time that she'd experienced his anger. She knew that he would not kill her but he could and would hurt her. She watched closely for his eyes to turn from their cold blue to the amber that reflected his vampirism... the worst was the blazing red when he was angry. That she'd only seen in Nick's memories, never directly.
"I suppose," she murmured.
"I didn't hear you," he said with a cold stillness that drew shivers from Tracy. "Do I need to find a witness, Natalie? You promised to obey my command. Without question or argument."
"Find your witness, LaCroix," Natalie shot back, her eyes glowing amber. She could feel the tingling of her fangs as the anger rose in her. "I *never* said that I would not question you, or argue something that I don't think is right."
"Nicholas?" LaCroix prompted, not moving.
"Yes?" Nick answered quickly. He'd remained next to Tracy during the conversation, gently touching her shoulder as the dispute progressed. This was more than most candidates for conversion ever saw and it confirmed for him that Tracy would not leave the club that night as a mortal woman.
"What precisely did Natalie promise in exchange for eternal life?"
"Eternal loyalty," Nick said confidently. This disagreement was bound to happen eventually. The promised that he'd taken so many years before were more all-encompassing than the simple one that Natalie had pledged. That was something that LaCroix was just now realizing. None of the vampires that LaCroix had made since converting Nick were family. None received the intense tutelage that he gave 'family'. It was entirely possible that even with a public conversion, LaCroix had not asked for the promises that he intended. "You never asked for her obedience."
Still holding Natalie firmly, a trickle of blood oozing from the places that his fingernails had dug into her skin, he spoke cold, deliberate. "An oversight, then. On the other hand, I *do* remember your pledge of filial allegiance, Nicholas. She may be able to feign ignorance, but *you* know what that means. The concept of obedience was bred into you with your first steps."
The scent of Natalie's blood hit his senses with the suddenness of a windstorm, and he saw where his hand had punctured her skin. He felt her fear, her pain. As a young vampire, Natalie had not yet learned to shield her thoughts from him. TO his chagrin, he sensed her emotional withdrawal from him and realized what he'd done. Reflexively he'd treated her as he'd treated Nick so many years ago. Something that he'd vowed *not* to do with his newest daughter. Angry at himself as much as at the situation, he dropped his hand from Natalie's shoulders. Striding across the room, merely inches from Nick's face, his voice icy, he asked simply, "No?"
Nick faced LaCroix directly. Show no weakness. That was the credo that had helped him survive numerous confrontations with his sire.
"Yes, Sir. Loyalty and obedience to one's lord and master were synonymous when I was a youth and when you brought me across. What is it that you ask of me?" While he detested the obedient son role, and had spent years avoiding the necessity to submit to his sire for any reason, to do so now would jeopardize both his wife and his partner.
"A more reasonable attitude than I'd expected, Nicholas," he said dryly, his eyes fading to clear blue. Taking his seat again, he turned to Tracy, "Now then, Ms. Vetter, when your knowledge was merely of the young Spaniard we were willing to overlook it. We were not *happy*, mind you, but it was not deemed serious enough to warrant action, at least not at present. Rest assured, that Vachon would have been punished eventually. But when it became apparent that you'd connected Nicholas to the community, we could no longer overlook you. Ms. Vetter, you are a threat to us that can no longer be ignored. Your knowledge of the community is considered dangerous and we must take action."
Tracy moved, as if to protest, but was quickly silenced by LaCroix's hand gesture and icy stare. It would be very difficult to argue that or anything else at this point.
"Now that we all know the purpose for tonight's meeting, you have a choice to make," he said with a calm nod. "You may leave the room now. As you are. Or you may stay."
"Wh-what happens if I leave?" Tracy asked with trepidation, glancing over to Nick.
"The Enforcers will be called," LaCroix replied simply.
"Enforcers?" she questioned.
"Nicholas, would you please explain to Ms. Vetter what the Enforcers are?"
Nick stood closer, taking one of Tracy's hands and crouching next to her. "They are our version of Internal Affairs," he explained. Using the familiar police terminology would put it into terms that she'd understand. "They enforce the Code, our law. They may summarily execute offenders or bring them in for questioning." He gave a brief, bitter laugh before continuing, "and if you think that Metro's IA interrogations are rough, you've not seen anything."
"Bottom line, Nick?" she asked, her voice tremulous. Her confidence, honed over years as a cop, was shaken by events that she could not control.
"They will kill you, and then they will hunt down and kill Vachon." Nick's voice was gentle, tinged with the regret that he could not prevent the events that he foretold.
"That's not fair, Nick," she protested. "We haven't done anything, or told anyone."
"Doesn't matter," he explained. "Our law is clear, and the punishment is death. Absolute secrecy is required of all vampires. There is no Court of Appeals."
"What about Natalie? She knew," Tracy asked. She felt as if she was pleading for her life and she didn't know the reason. What was worse, she was not sure that she was receiving fair treatment.
"Natalie made *her* choice," LaCroix said smugly. "Her choice was to stay."
"That's when you made her a vampire?"
"You *are* a quick study, Ms. Vetter," he affirmed. "That is the other option."
"Can I think about it? Get back to you?" she pleaded. She had never been one to put off decisions, or actions but maybe procrastination was not such a bad thing after all.
"Ms. Vetter, you are trying my patience. I have already outlined the options," LaCroix declared. "You may have a brief time to reflect upon your decision. I shall take my leave for you to think about it. You may not leave the room."
"Can I talk to Natalie? Alone?"
"Certainly," he agreed, gesturing to Nick to follow him out of the office.
As soon as the door was closed, Tracy was on her feet. Sinking to the floor next to Natalie, she gave a nervous smile. Pulling aside the collar of the torn and blood stained blouse, the skin was clean, unblemished.
"Natalie?" she questioned. "He hurt you, didn't he?"
"It's healed," Natalie shrugged, pulling the collar back into place and meeting Tracy's curious gaze. "He won't kill me." Her voice was more casual than her expression, and she paused for a moment before explaining. "He knows that. I know that. It doesn't mean that he won't make a point using whatever means he feels necessary."
"He beats you?" Tracy was horrified. For as much as she thought her parents were controlling, they were never abusive.
"The damage isn't permanent... it only lasts a little while," Natalie smiled nervously. Taking a deep breath, she continued in a low voice. "Look, he was a soldier... a very, very long time ago. Ancient Rome to be precise. That is how he defines being a supportive mentor. Discipline and control. Learn it and learn it well. Becoming a vampire takes discipline. You make an error in judgment and either you're dead... permanently dead, or someone else is. You don't survive if you're careless. To answer your question, no, he has not punished me this way before. He has Nick. Call it tough love, I guess."
"He is really your, ummm..."
"Yes, he is my master," Natalie replied gently, finishing the sentence that Tracy could not say. "It was my choice."
"Why?" she was incredulous. She'd assumed that Nick had converted her, just as she'd assumed that Vachon would bring her across.
"The one who brings you across is a mentor, a teacher," Natalie explained.
"Yes, that's what Vachon told me," she nodded. "That doesn't tell me why Nick didn't do it."
"Actually it was a joint decision. I brought up the possibility, and we both discussed it in depth before we went to LaCroix," she replied.
"Why?" Tracy persisted. "Why would Nick not want to convert you himself?"
"I didn't realize it at the time but a big reason was that he wanted to marry me," Natalie said softly, twisting the rings around her fingers.
"Whoa, back up here," she said, confused. "I don't see the connection. What does that have to do with him bringing you across? Are there some weird rules about vampires getting married?"
"Marriage among vampires can mean several things," Natalie said thoughtfully. "It can be a civil union. A judge and a marriage license, a party among friends with the white gown and all the trappings."
"Or?" Tracy prompted. That didn't sound like the little snippets of information that Natalie had shared about her wedding.
"A true vampire marriage is an eternal bonding. Monogamous and eternal. Two becoming one," her expression became dreamy as she remembered the garden ceremony where she and Nick had joined for all eternity.
"Nat?" Tracy nudged her. Was it a vampire thing to become caught in memories? She'd seen Nick zone into some alternate reality more times than she cared to count. Now Natalie was doing the same thing.
"Oh, umm, yeah," she smiled, flustered at being caught dreaming. "It's a beautiful ceremony where you pledge faithfulness to each other and are sealed with the blood of your master to bind you together. It's a bit more intimate than simply kissing the bride."
"Let me guess. You and Nick chose the latter," Tracy laughed. It was obvious in her expression.
"Yes, we did," Natalie grinned.
"That's why you were so mysterious about your actual wedding?" it was less of a question than a statement. Things were starting to make sense at long last.
"You got it," Natalie agreed. "What I told you was all true."
"But, like a lot of things lately, it was not the whole truth."
"No, it wasn't," she shrugged. "There's a limit to how much I could tell you. Before. Now I have no limits. Go ahead, ask me anything. I want you to be comfortable with your decision."
"Okay, so Nick didn't bring you across because he wanted to marry you," she began.
"Right," Natalie agreed, leaning back in her chair to watch Tracy's expression. She could almost see the wheels moving as Tracy pondered all that she'd learned that night, and over the past few days.
"May I assume then, that you can't marry your own convert?"
"No," Natalie shook her head. "Part of the ceremony is obtaining consent from your master. The bond that you forge with your mate is less intense, less complete than your master but not by much." She studied Tracy closer. "You think that you might want to marry Vachon? Is that the hesitation?"
"I.. I don't know," she confessed.
"I'll warn you. It is eternal, and I do mean eternal. Don't jump into it just because Nick and I did."
"Natalie, I'd hate to think that a few centuries from now, I'd regret the decisions that I make tonight," Tracy whispered. "I don't want to predict the future. I have feelings for Javier. I don't know if it's love. I don't know if I'd want to marry him, even with a judge, much less forever. If I let him bring me across, I'm limiting my options, and I'm not sure that's a good thing."
"I don't blame you there," Natalie agreed. "It's just something for you to think about."
"So the only reason that you didn't ask Nick was so that you could get married?" she asked. Something didn't make sense. Had Nick explained the whole marriage thing, and Natalie agreed *before* she was brought across?
Natalie sighed. "I didn't even know about the vampire marriage until after I'd been converted. That might have been the reason that Nick agreed to it, but I had different reasons for asking LaCroix in the first place."
"Which were?" Tracy probed. "If I am making a choice tonight, I want to know what I'm choosing."
"Well, there are things that I needed to learn. Things that all vampires need to know." She hesitated, watching Tracy's expression. She hated to make Nick seem less than able as a master, but she had the right to know Nick's philosophies. "Those same things that Nick had vowed to never do again. If I'd insisted that Nick bring me across, and had not thought about other teachers, I'd be forcing him to break his vow."
"Things?" Tracy questioned.
"Think about it, Trace," Natalie prompted. "You know Nick well enough that you should know what he would object to doing." Seeing the blank look, she sighed, "like to feed from a living source. Directly."
"Oh, you mean to kill."
"Yes, to kill," Natalie confirmed. "Nick has not taken a life for sustenance or pleasure in over a century. He may have killed in anger or self defense, but not for recreation. Not very many vampires can say that."
"Can you?" Tracy asked softly.
"I've taken a life... in anger more than anything. It was one of Lucien's lessons. So define it as you like...it happened so quickly, I got no pleasure in the act, although I could tell the difference in the blood. I understand now why vampires crave blood from the living. The intense emotion have a fire, a rush that it unmatched in bottled, preserved blood," she confessed, pleased that Tracy did not react with immediate condemnation.
"So you let LaCroix?" Tracy shuddered. "He is one scary guy."
"Oh he's not so bad, Trace," Natalie responded. "He's taught me a lot, and I understand Nick so much better now."
"Not so bad? Jeez, Nat, I've never been so intimidated in my life."
"Lucien has had a long time to perfect that persona. I'm not totally convinced that he wasn't a scary mortal... he was a general in the Roman army, remember? You don't command a Roman legion if you're timid."
"I suppose..." Tracy mused. "But now it's an act?"
"Not completely. He is the senior vampire in the Toronto community. His word is law and he is deadly serious about any decision that he's made. On the other hand, he is a very interesting man, if you aren't arguing with him."
Tracy shuddered at the thought. Standing and pacing a short distance, she turned, as if resigned to her fate. "OK, so what happens if I do stay? Who is going to do it? Javier was having doubts when we talked before. Is LaCroix going to let me have a say in the matter?"
"I don't know. He wants me to do it," she confessed.
"Oh, so that is what the fight was about?" Tracy asked. She had assumed as much, but these days she was afraid to assume anything.
"Yes, and it was the first time that I've ever said no to him. I think it surprised him"
"Why won't you?" Tracy asked, leaning against the wall, watching Natalie's expression. "You understand me better than anyone else. I wouldn't mind having you as a mentor."
"You mean, as your master," she corrected. "I'm not sure that I could do it without killing you." She looked steadily at Tracy, her voice calm. "Do you know what happens? How someone is brought across?"
"No, not really. I figured that blood is involved," Tracy gave a slight nervous giggle. She almost felt like she had when spending that week in the morgue with Natalie.
Keeping her eyes on Tracy and her voice in a low monotone, Natalie explained, "Yes, blood is involved. If I am to bring you across, I would take your blood. Drain you to near death. At the point that your heart slows, I would feed you my blood. My vampire blood."
"Does it hurt?" Tracy asked with trepidation.
"I don't know," Natalie answered quickly.
"You don't *know*? Don't you remember?"
Natalie stood and turned away from Tracy's steady gaze, "Of course I remember that night, that event. For that matter, Vachon could tell you about it."
"He was there?" Tracy asked, confused. She thought of this as something done in total secrecy and privacy.
Natalie laughed, turning back to face Tracy. "They *all* watched. Including an Enforcer, I'm told." Leaning on the edge of the desk, she continued, "I thought it was my decision completely, but as it turns out, I would have found myself in this very office, making the same decision as you within a few days." Her expression was pensive as her thoughts went to that eventful week. Giving her blood samples to LaCroix to tell him, and then Nick of her desires. It had been several days later that she'd met with the Enforcer who'd been following her. That was enough to convince her that she *never* wanted to run into them again!
Tracy stood and came over to sit next to her friend, her legs dangling from the desk top. "Natalie? It's okay. You don't have to tell the rest."
"No, Tracy, I don't want you to be afraid. I can't tell you whether or not you'll think it is painful because Nick had me so aroused that I barely felt Lucien's bite, and then..."
"Well, it's hard to describe the sensations. When you are joined, you'll feel so much, know so much. It's as if you experience their life in a few moments. You don't feel anything more until you're at the doorway to make your choice."
"Make my choice? What, you were in some afterlife?" Tracy looked at her skeptically. "Now, I'd believe that coming from Nick, but from you?"
"Yes, I didn't believe Nick's descriptions either, but you are given a chance to walk into the light and die as a mortal, or to come back..."
"You know what I'll do," Tracy declared.
"Yes, I know," she nodded. "Does that answer your question? It's so hard to put into words."
Tracy laid a hand on Natalie's arm, "it's okay, I can tell that you enjoyed it."
"It gets better," she began, smiling mysteriously.
"What?" Tracy prompted.
"When you take your lover's blood and he takes yours..."
"Is that what I saw in the lab?" she asked, thinking of the expressions that she'd seen then, and in the parking lot. Expressions of pleasure that made her feel like a voyeur
"Yes, it was," Natalie confirmed.
"I know it sounds stupid, so I hate to ask this," she began nervously. "Umm, is that sort of sexual?"
"Yes," Natalie nodded. Keeping her best clinical approach, she explained, "Sharing your life blood, your essence is the ultimate in sexual acts for a vampire couple."
"Then you don't, ummm?" she felt like she was 13 years old, and talking to an older sister. Locker room gossip was something that she'd avoided, even when in college.
"Engage in physical relations?" Natalie smiled. "We most certainly do. Regularly. The blood is part of it, but not exclusive. Sharing blood is an essential part of intimacy for vampires."
"Vachon said that he would need to take my blood to, umm, perform," Tracy offered. She was grateful that Natalie was so calm, matter-of-fact with her explanations. It was so different from the time that her very embarrassed mother gave her the 'birds and bees' talk.
"It's more than that. You'll need it to, shall we say, crescendo," she winked.
"What's it like?" Tracy asked softly. "Drinking blood?"
"When you take anyone's blood, you know their life, their hopes, their dreams. When it is someone you love, and they love you... well, you feel wrapped in their love. Cherished. They know your every thought, every desire. You won't have to guess what he likes, and he will know how to satisfy you. Beyond that, you feel as if you are one being... It enhances the physical aspect of sex beyond what you can comprehend."
"Well, that explains what I saw," Tracy said with dawning understanding.
"I know you were embarrassed that you'd walked in on us." Natalie said apologetically. "We should have been more discrete. I have to tell you that even if you'd not walked in on us, we were supposed to bring you here on Friday."
"Well, I don't regret this. I'm just glad that we can finally be honest with one another," she declared confidently. Her decision was made and she had no regrets.
The door opened with a loud creak, and LaCroix strode into the room confidently, followed closely by Nick and Vachon.
"So, Ms. Vetter, have you made a decision?" he asked smoothly.
"Yes, I have," Tracy declared. "I'm staying."
"You are prepared to join us? Tonight?" he asked sharply.
"Yes, I am," she confirmed, her eyes meeting with Vachon as he stood in the shadows. Being summoned to the office was never a good thing, but in a way he'd been relieved when the master vampire had commanded him to join them. It told him that he and Tracy were not being punished for their actions. If he was involved, even if simply a witness, then Tracy was being invited into 'membership' to their very exclusive club.
"Very good," LaCroix nodded, a slow deliberate smile crossing his face. "I have decided that such a willful creature as yourself requires closer supervision than you would provide Vachon."
"I figured as much," Vachon said dryly. In all honesty, he was satisfied to watch. As long as he was still a part of Tracy's life, he'd accept and enjoy his role as lover without the responsibilities of being master. The only drawback was going to be the constant contact with LaCroix, and other senior vampires.
"Do I get a choice?" Tracy asked quickly. She tried her best to sound humble and meek... it was not easy.
"Perhaps," he said cautiously. "Whom would you prefer to be your master?"
"Nick. I'd like Nick to bring me across," she declared, drawing a startled look of protest from her partner. As the discussions had progressed, that was the one conclusion that she'd reached. Nick was old enough to be an effective teacher, he had connections in the community... and he knew how to live with mortals. The perfect combination she thought.
"Hmm, an intriguing thought. Yes, indeed," LaCroix mused. He took a seat at the desk and opened the cabinet that was behind. He pulled out a set of crystal goblets and then two glass bottles. He uncorked the first bottle and filled four of the goblets. With a gesture to the others in the room, each claimed a goblet while he poured the last glass from the second bottle. Holding it out for Tracy to see, he handed her the wine.
"Nicholas, are you willing to mentor Ms. Vetter?"
"If I decline?" he asked, draining the goblet and setting it back on the desk. LaCroix quickly refilled it, while pausing to ponder the possibilities.
"Hmm, Natalie has already expressed her reluctance. I have no such vested interest in Ms. Vetter's continued well being, as I believe both of you do."
"What does that mean?" Nick asked with an exasperated groan.
"As you are well aware, I already have one fledgling. She has much promise, but still has much to learn and requires significant time and attention. Why would I want another one?"
"Hmm, I've never seen you reluctant to bring someone across who was willing. Free consent, freely given. Isn't that what you've always said?" Nick observed.
"I have my reasons," LaCroix said firmly.
"Which are?" Natalie prompted.
"Ah, my dear daughter, you are barely beyond your infancy yourself and you are attempting something very difficult. Living among mortals is not an easy thing when you are not fully educated yourself."
"But you would have me bring Tracy across? When you say that I'm not trained myself?" she puzzled.
"Yes, you still need my support and assistance, as well as that of Nicholas, but I would ask you one thing. Have you never heard the phrase 'watch one, do one, teach one'?"
Natalie almost laughed at his use of the very common motto of residency. "Yes, I've heard that. Somehow I don't see this as being the same as how I learned in residency."
"Perhaps, perhaps not. On the other hand, if I need to directly teach and supervise you both, it would require my undivided attention and yours. I am not sure that it would be fair to either of you. Taking two fledglings at once is generally not a good idea."
"I thought your intent was to supervise Tracy's training regardless," Nick asked. He was not sure that he liked where this conversation was going.
"It is," LaCroix nodded. "Supervise is quite different from taking the day to day responsibility. To properly complete Natalie's training, and undertake Ms. Vetter's education completely is a challenge that I am not sure that I wish to undertake."
"What are you saying?" Natalie questioned sharply.
"Nicholas is Ms. Vetter's chosen mentor. Why should I interfere with her decision?" he replied simply. "Otherwise, I do believe that it is up to her would-be lover. After all, her knowledge is ultimately his responsibility. He may not be as skilled or knowledgeable as you, Nicholas. He has not, in the past demonstrated a terribly responsible attitude, either toward himself or his previous convert. His teaching methods, or lack thereof, might have been acceptable a century ago," LaCroix paused, making sure that he had everyone's undivided attention. "I don't think it will work today, and certainly not with a very strong willed woman such as Ms. Vetter. But, as I have already stated, Ms. Vetter will join us this evening. One of the three of you will be her master."
"What if they want to get married?" Natalie asked tremulously. "Eternally married?"
"One cannot marry their child," LaCroix stated. Turning to face Nick, he asked, "So, Nicholas, what will it be? Will you do as she asks? Or not?"
"I don't exactly have a good track record with conversions," Nick said hesitantly. He was wavering in his resolve, but his reluctance went beyond his more recent convictions about vampire life.
"Hmm, that is very true," LaCroix agreed, his vice barely hiding the condescending tone that he normally took when discussing his son's past shortcomings. "Let us review some of your past, rather dubious choices. First, we had the bride who was too delicious to stop in time. Then we had the diseased woman whose desire for revenge was beyond your ability to control or tolerate. Next we had the doctor... ah well, his discretion or lack thereof was his undoing. I will give you partial credit for effort in that case as we were both involved in his training. Some things are just not meant to be, I suppose." He paused, as if in deep thought. "Let me see... yes, then we had the woman who thought she'd asked you for a baby... didn't get the metaphor, did you? I do believe that she has not yet forgiven you."
"No, she hasn't. I don't think she ever will," Nick said glumly. This was *not* giving him the confidence that he needed to successfully convert anyone.
"I don't suppose she will. She has too much of your psyche, doesn't she? Finally, lest you think that I don't know about your most recent attempt... I believe his name was...."
"Your point, LaCroix?" Nick interrupted. He knew that Tracy would learn the truth about Natalie's brother eventually, but he did not want it to be that night, and not from his master. That fact that LaCroix knew details of an event that occurred when he was supposedly dead did not surprise Nick. He did not want to know *how* he'd learned about it either. "I already said I wasn't very good at it."
"Indeed. I see two issues here. One being your choice of candidates. Not everyone is suited to live forever. In this case, I have already screened Ms. Vetter. She is worthy. She has the mental fortitude that one needs to adapt to our lifestyle. Second is simply your methodology. Cold bovine for a first meal? Really Nicholas, were you intending to set him up for failure? You should have known better. I won't even tell you what I think of your decision to leave him alone..."
"All right, LaCroix, You aren't telling me anything that I don't already know." He was becoming really annoyed. He and Natalie had discussed all of this in detail before he'd agreed with her decision to have LaCroix bring her across. He really did not need to relive some of the more painful aspects of his past.
"I am reminded you of your past failures, so that you will better appreciate the success that you will have here. Whether you bring her across, or Natalie does, I will be here to support you both. You will succeed, both in her conversion and in the transition." His voice was steady, and his gaze never wavered. It was as if father and son were alone. "I am fully aware that there were lessons that I never gave you. It was never my intent that you be ill-prepared. It is because you were not ready to learn them. By the time you were, you had pulled away from me."
"What about..." Nick began. He knew the expectations of a vampire master included skills that he'd not practiced in years. Some skills he was content to let lie dormant, but if Tracy were to survive as a vampire, he'd need to teach her.
"Yes, there are things that she will *need* to learn that you would prefer not to do personally. That is acceptable. As her master, your role would be to ensure that she learned those skills. You may delegate it to her lover. I believe that he still hunts. Is that correct?" LaCroix said smoothly, ignoring Nick's wincing at his words. "Then there are things that are better suited for her to learn from a woman. Natalie would be able to assist you in those matters, just as Janette helped her."
"All right, yes. Yes I will do it," Nick said slowly.
"I knew you'd see reason," he nodded. Taking a fresh bottle, he walked around the group refilling everyone's goblet before raising his, "To eternity."
As they all raised their glasses, Nick crossed to crouch in front of Tracy's chair. He drained his glass and then took her empty one as well. Holding her hands loosely in his, he asked softly, "I hope you know that my reluctance was not personal. I am flattered that you think that I am capable of doing this. I still need to know, are you sure about this?"
"Yes Nick, I'm sure." She squeezed his hand and let him raise her to stand. "I know that sharing your life with me is not an easy thing, and I promise to listen to you. I can't think of anyone that I'd rather have teach me."
"I don't want to scare you..." he began. He stood, facing her, his hands still holding hers.
"Natalie told me what's involved," she interrupted. "It's okay. Really. But can Javier hold me?"
"Of course," he agreed, and he stepped back to allow Vachon to pull her into his arms. He realized suddenly that Natalie had explained *exactly* how she was brought across. Somehow, that revelation did not bother him as much as it once did.
"I'm ready," Tracy declared. She stood stiffly, her arms resting on Vachon's waist as he supported her loosely. She felt the light pressure of Nick's hands on her shoulder as he tilted and steadied her neck.
Concentrating on the rapid beating of Tracy's heart, the scent of her warm blood, he allowed the change to wash over him. Smoothing the hair from her neck, his eyes met Vachon's for a moment before sinking his fangs into the artery...
"Tracy, I thought we had an agreement. You were supposed to let me meet this foreign musician friend. I hear that he's moved in with you. At least your apartment manager has seen him going into your apartment at odd hours of the night. Since he had a key, she did not stop him. You may call that 'visiting'. I call it shacking up. She assumes that he was there by your consent. That is unacceptable behavior, young woman. You've cancelled brunch three times and coffee twice. Do I need to send someone to the 96th tonight to escort you to my office? Will you actually show up at the precinct or are you going to be hiding in the morgue again? I've heard that you are at the morgue more often than you are at your desk. I don't know what your fascination is with dead people, but I want to talk to you. Your captain tells me that you've put in a request for a permanent night position. That is career suicide and I won't allow it." Richard Vetter's stern voice echoed the apartment from the speaker of the answering machine. "Tracy, pick up the damn phone. NOW!"
Tracy sat on the couch, staring at the phone, motionless. After a week living in the loft with both Nick and Natalie, she was living in a separate apartment in the warehouse adjacent to Nick's... with Vachon.
It was close enough that Nick could get to her, even in daylight, but far enough that she'd have a bit of privacy. At least she had a room of her own. Yes, they were living together, but Nick had insisted that she not be alone. Ever. Natalie had reinforced the need, telling her of the month that she'd spent, living in the Raven with LaCroix across the hallway.
The apartment had been equipped with automatic shutters and they were gradually moving her possessions from her previous apartment. The phone lines had been forwarded, so it was not quite so obvious that she was living elsewhere. When Nick felt it safe for her to be around mortals, she'd put in her 30-days notice and officially sign a lease. After living alone for most of her adult life, it was different to have a constant companion.
Not that she wanted to be alone. The wait had been worth it, and when she and Vachon had consummated their love, it was an incredible, indescribable experience.
"You have to talk to him sometime," Vachon said softly, handing her a full mug. He was beginning to appreciate the benefits of being connected to LaCroix and his offspring. The stock that Nick had sent over was better than he'd ever been able to afford. For someone who had renounced the community for so many years, Nick was a very good teacher...
"I'm not ready for that yet. I'm afraid I'd kill him," she replied, her voice serious, but her expression looked very mischievous. "He is *not* going to be the first mortal that I see. From the sounds of that phone message, a call is not going to cut it. He wants a face to face meeting."
"You've managed to hide from him, from everyone for two weeks. I'm surprised that he's the only one who's suspicious."
"That's because Nick and Natalie have been covering for me. I'm sure Reese is ready to strangle me. To be honest, I'm still not sure how Nick is doing this. He goes to the precinct for an hour and then signs us both out for the rest of the shift. He can't possibly think that we're really working on interviews or forensics every night. Especially when there isn't any paperwork to corroborate what we're working on. It's even stranger that we haven't been assigned any new cases."
"Maybe, maybe not. You did say that Nick was covering for you. You don't know what he's doing exactly," Vachon replied. "You didn't want to come up with an excuse to take a leave of absence like Natalie did."
"I know, I know," she repeated. "I just know that my father would be even more suspicious of an LOA. I'd put in for vacation but both of us can't be on vacation at the same time."
"Tracy, you have to figure out a way to deal with your father. If he's a problem, Nick will help."
"I know," she said softly.
"You know the alternative," Vachon cautioned. "Unless you want to leave town, you need to work toward being around them all the time. Nick knows that and he is doing everything he can to prepare you." He refilled her mug and held his own up. "Drink up. We're supposed to be at the club by nine."
"Can we fly?" she asked eagerly. Of all the skills that she'd learned so far, that was her favorite. The freedom, the sensation of the wind whipping through her hair.........
"Absolutely. I would love to fly with you," he breathed, his eyes sparkling with the possibilities that their eternal lives would bring.
*************what do you think? Do you want more????******************