only hope, or else despair
then devised the torment? Love.
— From T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding," part IV
When I think of her, it is not as I saw her that first time—in a grubby flannel shirt, torn jeans and work boots. No, I imagine her as from before, the way Nick described her: slim and tall in a well-cut tuxedo like one of Hemingway's strong, stylish women. I will never forget walking into the observation room at the precinct, seeing Nick standing there, watching her. When she turned her piercing blue gaze toward him—the one-way mirror making no difference at all—I realized what she was.
"You know her." It was not a question.
The barely perceptible nod. "Once."
"Who is she?" Even as Nick opened his mouth to answer, she calmly stared in his direction once again. Steady and measuring. And suddenly I knew, as Nick must have, that she had weighed his soul and found him wanting.
I stood seething on the front steps of the precinct, gulping in lungfulls of the cool spring night. Part of me hoped Nick would follow, to make sure I was okay; the other part didn't even want to be in the same city with him. As I said at the time, the truth was that I didn't know what I wanted.
I had told him there was a lot of work to do back at the morgue. But I couldn't go back there yet—to face all those bodies, all those bite marks. I probably should have been anxious to cover up those suspicious puncture wounds, but as I slowly walked to my car, kicking tiny pebbles at pools of oily-rainbow water, I struggled not to cry. At that moment, I didn't give a damn about the vampire community. Let them bear responsibility for their choices for once in their eternal lives.
And that included Nick as well.
On getting into the car, I reached to put the keys into the ignition, but my arm suddenly sagged and dropped limply to the seat beside me. "Come on, Lambert," I muttered. "Get it together." A few deep breaths later, I was turning the car out of the precinct parking lot, still with no fixed destination in mind—not the morgue, and not back home, either. When I had closed and locked my apartment door several hours earlier, I had meant to seal off the mess left by Spark and Nick.
Eventually I neared, but did not enter, the downtown shopping district. Even still, I could see that the once slickly designed front windows of the specialty stores and upscale chains now looked like a war zone, destroyed by the rioting and panic. The designer shops Janette probably frequented likely had no merchandise left.
Janette. Far away, in a muted corner of my mind, I imagined how I looked to her and the other vampires at the Raven, watching Nick's little mortal plaything make herself look ridiculous. The desperation must have been so obvious to them, and so foreign. Well, so what? I didn't care what they thought. And as for Janette—score one for her for witnessing yet another weakness in me.
Rationally, perhaps, I wasn't being fair; she had tried to be kind in her own way, to protect me from myself for Nick's sake, if not my own. But she, like Nick, had been so sure of what I didn't want, and I was in no mood to be just. "Damn them all!" Sitting at a red light, I pounded my fists on the steering wheel in frustration.
"A mistake. She was a mistake." I barely caught Nick's response, and what I heard, I certainly didn't understand. All I knew was that I hadn't seen him so shaken, turmoil present in the intense stillness of his body, since Erica's suicide. But this riot of emotions had in it hope and anguish, desire and—of course—the ever-present guilt.
"Don't you ever touch me again," she told him, so calmly, in the squad room when he grabbed her arm and swung her around to face him. She didn't shout—she had no need—perfectly certain as she was that Nick had no right to do so.
As certain as Nick, as it turned out.
When the light finally changed, I headed for the waterfront. Once there, the rage and frustration began to ebb from my body as I stared at the glossy black waves softly slapping the shoreline. Only exhaustion remained, but I couldn't go home. Could I ever go home again?
And I wasn't just thinking of my apartment, my bedroom so violently trashed: the built-in bookshelves broken, the closet doors shattered by the impact of two entangled vampires. I hadn't even begun to concoct the explanation I could give to Mr. Parnell, the building manager, when I called him in to arrange for repairs. I pictured his lined face, worried and disbelieving. "Oh, you know, just the usual. Two vampires fighting over me in my bedroom... that's all." Now it was hysterical laughter, instead of sobs, that I forced back down.
"Oh, Nick," I whispered, as the tears began to slip down my cheeks. "Oh, Nick." And I wrapped my arms around myself, rocking back and forth in the small space of the driver's seat, aching for all the things that could never be the same.
* * *
By the time I had met Spark at the Raven, the shock and mortification of Nick's rejection had worn off some. Of course the alcohol had helped. I was determined to have what I wanted and anxious to forget that Nick had turned me down flat. Had hardly even paused to consider it. "This is wrong," he had said, putting me away from him. "An eternity of darkness is not living—you know that."
"But how can I, unless I experience it for myself? Am I just supposed to take your word for it?"
I had been desperate, and said the exact wrong thing.
"You mean you don't?" He had turned hurt blue eyes toward mine.
I had wanted to shout at him, "It's my choice, too!" but instead I left him standing there, in that green-tiled room full of bodies.
I sometimes wonder whether, if Nick had spent the day, if he had stayed with me until we both had to go to work, I might have understood sooner. Maybe somehow during that time, he might have conveyed that his choice was made out of love for me—not ever in those words, of course. But even something so implied would have been enough. And I could have told him that it wasn't that I didn't take his centuries of pain and guilt and separation from God seriously—it was only that I was scared, and that through him I saw a way out of that fear. That I realized I wasn't ready to die; I wasn't sure I had it all right about God myself.
And maybe I could have told him then that he was right not to bring me across, as I ended up doing in the precinct, but with such a different attitude. Spark’s kiss of death, tasting of cigarettes and cold and of a metallic flavor that could only have been blood, awakened me nearly too late. I led him home, pretending to be enthralled, feeling as I had with Roger Jamison—that I was once again in the grip of a monster who would take from me whatever he chose. Those feelings tried to crawl up my throat in hysterical screams as I unlocked my apartment door. I could have told Nick that—not knowing what else to do—I had grabbed the heavy candlestick off the hall console and smashed Spark on the head, as I would have done to a mortal man.
And while I cried and talked, Nick might have held me and stroked my hair, and kissed my forehead.
I might have understood then, because he would have understood.
But I didn't, until Serena.
"Do you think he loved her?" I asked Schanke, after Nick stormed out of the station.
"Oh, and they say women are sensitive," he snorted. "C'mon, it was like a neon sign emblazoned across his forehead. Of course he loved her. Probably still does."
I didn't like that answer. At home that night, all I could think about was Serena—whoever she was—slamming into Nick's life out of the past, shattering his emotions.
A few days after Calvin Trilling's disappearance from the lock-up, Nick called and asked me to come over. When I pulled open the elevator door, he was standing transfixed, staring at the dimmed sunlight slanting through the windows and pooling at his feet. I had seen something like this before.
Hoping to distract him from his brooding, I deliberately crossed in front of him to the couch, my shadow intersecting both his gaze and the light. I dropped onto the leather-covered cushions and waited. He slowly moved behind me to the chair, where a green bottle and wine glass sat on the table beside it. I ignored the red dregs in the glass—I wasn’t too angry to care about how the cow’s blood might impact our project, but now wasn’t the time to address it. Nick picked up the bottle, rolling it by the neck between his fingers: back and forth, back and forth. Neither of us spoke, and I grew impatient. This was my day off; I had errands to run and dinner plans with a med school friend. Looking at my watch, I said, "Nick, I—." His glance cut me off and I sighed.
"She's gone," he said.
"Serena?" I asked, although I didn't need to.
He nodded. There was again a long quiet, then he set the bottle back on the table and folded his hands, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.
"Serena was," Nick began, "one of the most extraordinary women I've ever met."
Clearly, came the wry thought, but I didn't voice it.
"We were introduced in Paris—the ’20s—after she bought me a drink." He stopped for a moment, remembering. Then he smiled, an appreciative smile that bothered me for reasons I didn't want to consider. "She was wearing a tuxedo, because—she said—if she dressed like a woman, men would treat her like one. She liked being independent, liberated from others' expectations."
"What happened?" I asked, when he stopped.
He gave a short bark of bitter laughter. "It seemed so simple. A whirlwind romance based on a few nights of drinks and conversation about art, music—about freedom. I was drawn to her determination, her desire to know and experience the world. I was still with Lacroix and Janette, but I was about to break from them and go—to Constantine. Serena said she understood me, that she knew who I was, but what I heard was what I wanted to hear." I looked at him squarely but still did not speak.
"Who I was," Nick repeated. "I thought she knew everything—about the man, the vampire. She asked me for immortality. 'No guilt,' she said. 'My choice.' So I ... brought her across." He paused. "What she wanted..." he faltered, then went on. "What she wanted, Nat, was a baby."
We sat there quietly then, he with his far-away memories, and me with my chin in my hand. I thought about my request of only two months ago and of Nick's rebuff. For me, it had been a test—of him, of our relationship—such as it was, of his conscience versus his desires. That is, if he had any desire for me. I recalled how he looked as I approached, ready to entwine myself about him, my hands on his face, his eyes shut tightly as he held me away. I suddenly knew that there were things he didn't want, couldn't bear to see. Like my brother Richard and his sudden madness. Sara's eyes wide, first with horror, then with the whammy. Me, with blood dripping from my mouth. And Serena... her wish for one thing, and he, misunderstanding, giving her another. I imagined Nick waking her, telling her of his "gift," and then their mutual shock and horror. I heard her pleading: "Take it back. Take it back!"
I thought I had known exactly what I was asking for. Serena had been sure, too.
"Nick." I held out my hand for his. I turned his hand over and traced the lines and ridges with the fingers. The lifeline that would go on forever. No scars. No calluses. And there never would be.
I looked up to find him watching me. He bore my gaze as I took in again every familiar detail of his face—the thick, perfectly shaped eyebrows, his straight nose, his mouth, pressed white and shut against the pain. And finally, I let my eyes meet his own, which pleaded with me to understand. This was as much as he could give. Would it be enough?
Fleetingly, I remembered my stomach twisting with shame and humiliation at his refusal, that he had been with Serena in a way he would never be with me.
The consequences were just too immense, even in the face of my own demise, for him to risk it. And I found then that compassion could temper the bright edge of my anger without dulling it.
James Parriot and Barney Cohen created the fantasy television program Forever Knight, on which this fanfiction is based. The Sony Corporation owns it. No infringement is intended.
This story refers primarily to events in the episodes "A More Permanent Hell" and "Baby, Baby," with allusions to "Last Act," "Father’s Day," "I Will Repay," and "Only the Lonely."
I must give many thanks to Amy: for her enthusiasm for the story when it was first written, for beta reading it, for being a tremendous source of canonical Forever Knight, and for pushing my perceptions and interpretations of the canon into new territory by so generously sharing her own. Any errors in "Fire or Fire" are my own.
Feedback is welcomed. Please email comments to this website's proprietor, and she will promptly forward them on to me.
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Posted September 1, 2003