My Soul To Take
a Forever Knight fanfiction
by Dianne T. DeSha
(aka Dianne LaMercenaire), Cat.Goddess@pobox.com
O.K., it's done. The little piece of FK fanfic that got completely out of control! (Two little scenes turned into ten pieces, all told . . . the really scary part is that I got the sequel under way before I finished this, so you'd better like it!)
This is the introduction/disclaimer/this-is-my-first-fanfic-post-so-I'm-nervous-and-you-can't-shut-me-up section. (It's separate so that I can get all this junk off my chest, yet you can easily delete it. :-) )
Well, let's see . . . no sex (no, wait! wait! come back! :-). ) Uhmmm . . . a few instances of strong language (all in context: feel free to substitute appropriate euphemisms if necessary). The bad guys do fairly nasty things (off-stage) to each other and to the good guys, as bad guys are wont to do. I guess that about covers it . . . . (Oh yes, and I have a real nasty habit of over-using ellipses . . . so deal! ;-)
On the subject of "witches:" Witches, as the term was used during the Inquisition (i.e. women who sold their souls to the devil in order to be able to lay plagues on their neighbor's sheep -- a real bargain, huh?) never existed. The green-faced, warty-nosed witches of fairy tales were a way to demonize (and thus disempower) mature, wise women in a patriarchal world. The term is often used today to refer to practitioners of Wicca, a nature-oriented religion that doesn't believe in "the Devil," let alone claim to have any dealings with same. (Trust me; I am one. :-) ) The "witches" referred to here -- those with a hereditary, genetically-based claim to being not-completely-just-human -- do not, to my knowledge, exist. Then again, neither do vampires. But wouldn't it be fun if they did? :-) [O.K. Public Service Message/Disclaimer off]
I write slow and write down slower. I've been working on this one for some time now and the story pretty well solidified in my head sometime around the beginning of February. If I worried about re-evaluating it in terms of every episode since then, I'd never post it at all. Thus the concept of alternate FK universes. :-) This one branches off, well . . . wherever it has to for you to make it work with whatever little tidbits of canon the writers may or may not have showered us with since then.
And finally, the fact that a tall, redheaded witch from L.A. features prominently in this story -- not to mention that my own two kittens make a cameo appearance -- is just one of those truly amazing, yet completely meaningless, coincidences that make life fun. :-)
Many and most humble thanks to: Dian DeSha (my mom -- yes, I'm a "Jr." :-) ) for help in fixing a major plot hiccup, even though she's never even watched FK [sorry for not filling you in on the premise a bit better with the original request, Mom, but the idea of Nat turning out to be a priest in drag with a penchant for murder certainly was creative :-) ]; to Michelle D. Noel for helping the bad guys be authentic when choosing locations at which to dispose of various people, and helping me update Maeve's resume :-); to Jill Kirby for thoroughly picky editing and for saying "huh?" in all the necessary places; and to Debra Hisle, Tami LaFrank, Diane Echelbarger, and Andria Marcoux, who caught my bloopers and stroked my ego. :-)
My Soul To Take
"Maeve, take a look at this."
Natalie motioned the tall redhead over to the counter she was working over. Her friend stood slowly up from the desk chair, hiding a yawn, and walked over with a cautious look on her face.
"Dare I ask?" she said, peering over Nat's shoulder. Although Maeve never thought of herself as squeamish, spending the evening hanging out with her old friend at work was not turning out to be the most appetizing part of her first day in town.
"It's only a bone. A carpal bone, to be precise. There's a cut here along the side, see? But what's interesting is that under the microscope . . . ."
Maeve suddenly stiffened and spun around to face the lab door. Nat looked up, startled, just in time to see Nick come into view with an odd, wary look on his face.
"Nick!" Natalie smiled, "I was hoping you'd come by tonight; there's someone I'd like you to meet . . . ."
She paused. Nick had barely glanced at her as he entered the room. His eyes were fixed on Maeve and, glancing at her friend, Nat saw that the intense stare was returned.
"Nick, this is Maeve Katze," she ventured. "Maeve, Nick Knight."
They both nodded slightly at each other, never breaking eye contact.
"Detective, Nat has told me a great deal about you."
Nat could feel the tension between them, but was baffled as to its cause.
"Have you two met . . . ?" Her voice trailed off.
At the same time the two seemed to come out of their mutual trance.
"No," Maeve said in a very deliberate, detached tone. "I can't say as I've had the privilege."
Nat looked at her friend, who seemed finally to have recovered herself, and then at Nick. "Is something wrong?"
"No," he said smiling at her, apparently himself once more. "Just stopping by to say 'Hi'."
Maybe she'd just imagined it, Nat thought. "Maeve has just moved here from Los Angeles. She's staying with me while she gets settled." She found herself nervously rattling on. "We met way back in school and have been keeping in touch long-distance for . . . ." she looked questioningly at Maeve.
"For a long time," Maeve finished the sentence with a smile aimed at Nick.
Again, Nat felt the tension between them. The smile Maeve had flashed at Nick looked more like a dare. It may have been a long time since she'd seen her, but something still seemed strained in her friend's manner, and in Nick's as well.
"I'm sorry, Maeve," Nat said, looking at her watch. "You've got to be exhausted. I've got a few things I have to finish here, but you could take the car back to my place and get some sleep. Nick will take me home." She looked at him for confirmation.
"No." Maeve said, a just bit too forcefully. "I'd rather stick around -- if I'm not bothering you?"
"No, of course not. But are you sure? You look exhaust . . . ."
Nick and Maeve chatted while Nat finished up the rush job she was working on. It surprised Nat that Nick would stay as well; not that she minded, of course. Must be a very slow night at the station, though.
They talked of inconsequential things -- Maeve's trip, the weather, the sights Nat had taken her to see. Both Nick and Maeve were very pleasant, very polite. Almost excruciatingly polite, Nat thought. But she dismissed it as a product of the hour. She'd been up all day with Maeve, after all, and it was past midnight -- high time for both of them to get some sleep.
"Well, I'm done here," she announced, closing the folder in her hand. "The rest can wait and I for one am ready to drop."
Maeve reached to hand Nat her coat, but Nick already had it in his hand. As he helped her into it, Maeve stood up a little too quickly and Nat could feel the tension return full force.
As Nat started to follow Nick toward the door, Maeve caught her by the shoulder. "Your collar. It's twisted," she said, pulling it away from her neck.
Nat stood still for a moment as Maeve tugged at the back of her collar, then moved her hands around to the other side.
"I haven't touched her!" Nick's snarl made Nat jump. She wrenched herself out of Maeve's hands.
"What is going on here?" she demanded, turning on Maeve, who had once again locked eyes with Nick in a cold, frightening stare.
"Your dear, overprotective friend," Nick said with angry sarcasm, "Is checking your neck for tooth marks."
It was Nat's turn to stare at them. "You mean . . . ? You know . . .?"
"That's why she wouldn't leave you alone with me," Nick continued in the same tone. "She was afraid you were about to become my next meal."
"But how . . . ?"
The look in Maeve's eyes had turned from anger and challenge to a suspicious, cautious wonder.
"Because I'm a witch," she said absently in Nat's direction. "To me he stands out like a neon sign." Then she broke her stare and turned on Nat. "You knew? You know what he is and you're still willing to be anywhere near him?" she asked in genuine shock.
Nat could see Nick's anger growing. He'd be demonstrating just what he was for all the world to see in another moment if Maeve didn't back off.
"Maeve, it's all right," she said firmly. "He won't hurt you or me."
To her surprise Maeve laughed loudly. "Oh, he can't touch me," She paused, with an unpleasant look in her eye. "Although he's more than welcome to give it a try!"
Nat walked over to the chair and dropped into it. She was still out of her depth in this conversation.
"So why didn't you say something?" she demanded. Maeve looked at her. "If you thought I was in such danger, why not warn me?"
"She couldn't." Nick leaned back against the steel table. "She had no reason to think you had any idea, and she couldn't risk being the one to tell you." A rather unpleasant smile crossed his face. "In fact, she hasn't yet. She won't say the word first for fear of damning herself, so I will. I'm a vampire. Natalie has always known that. And now we can all speak openly."
"Fine!" Nat said, once again forcing their attention back to her. "Then let's go back to my apartment and the two of you can bring me up to speed!"
They had driven over in separate cars. At least, Nat assumed Nick had driven -- she hadn't looked for his car. Maeve had not spoken a word since they left the lab. Nat let them in, fed Sidney, and collapsed on the couch. She watched the others join her, noticing in her sleep-deprived calm that they chose seats as far apart as possible.
"Well," she said, looking at no one in particular. "Is somebody going to tell me what's going on?"
When no one volunteered, she continued. "All right, Nick is a vampire -- I know what that means." Neither of them spoke. "And you're a witch," she said, turning to Maeve. "I knew that too. But I thought that was a religious thing -- Wicca, Neo-Pagans, the Goddess -- not black cats and broomsticks."
As if on cue, Sidney appeared on the scene, jumped into Maeve's lap, curled up, and started purring. Absently stroking him, Maeve finally spoke.
"The word is used to describe a religion of people who honor the Earth, people of the Goddess -- nothing creepy about it. And that is what I believe." Maeve paused. "But there is also another kind of 'witch,' one closer to the Medieval meaning, I suppose. One of the old, old blood -- a witch born -- and that is also what I am." She looked up at Nick, and with exaggerated courtesy he motioned for her to continue.
"This is a story that goes back thousands upon thousands of years, to the Firsts. Then there were vampires and witches, each vulnerable in some way to regular humans, but even more to each other. A vampire, if discovered, could be destroyed -- dragged from his lair by an angry mob at high noon, his mouth stuffed with garlic and a stake through his heart." Nick failed to hide a grimace; Maeve failed to completely suppress a smile.
"But they had the advantage of secrecy. While a witch knew them immediately for what they were, many people did not even believe they existed. Moreover, the witches were more vulnerable to the vagaries of superstition and paranoia. Living among the rest of the population, and yet different. With more subtle powers that were more easily misunderstood, they all too easily became scapegoats in times of hardship and disaster. Knowing this, it became all too common for vampires to disguise their kills by placing blame for the deaths at a witch's feet.
"So witches were tortured and killed for deaths they had no part in, and vampires were exposed and destroyed by mobs led by the witches who could track them to their lairs. And soon it appeared neither would survive long.
"And so a truce was arranged -- a Pact between the First of the witches and the First of the vampires. And this these Two swore, for themselves and their descendants: That neither would bring harm to the other. The penalty decreed for violating the Pact was complete and utter enslavement. Instantly the offender becomes subject to the will of the offended -- mind, body, and soul. No excuses, no innocent intentions, no second chances.
"To live or die, helpless at the whim of another -- it's a pretty strong deterrent. And the stories of those who have slipped only make you imagine worse horrors: a vampire forced to stand in the town square and watch the sun rise, a witch who suffocates when ordered to stop breathing, either one forced to torture or kill the innocent people they hold dear . . . and then to live on with the memory of what they have done." Maeve paused and swallowed hard. "It's not a thing to be taken lightly."
"It's also not that simple," Nick broke in.
"Oh, and what ever is?" Maeve shot back. "But please, if you don't like the way I tell the tale, be my guest," she offered with a sweeping gesture.
Nick smiled insincerely and accepted her offer. " 'Harm' has always been rather broadly defined: If she injures me in any way, even accidentally, even indirectly," Maeve opened her mouth to speak, but Nick hurried on. "If she reveals my secret to anyone, or is in any way the cause of someone discovering what I am . . . ."
"And vice versa, of course," Maeve added pointedly.
"Of course," Nick conceded. "But that's hardly an equal risk nowadays. No one burns witches anymore."
"And no one believes in vampires, so what's your great risk? I could shout warnings up and down the streets and only get myself locked away for my trouble."
"Just try it!" Nick snarled at her.
"You first," Maeve smiled over-sweetly.
Nat groaned and they both broke off with the grace to look slightly embarrassed. Maeve recovered first.
"Besides, I wouldn't count too heavily on witches being openly embraced if I were you. Have you taken a look south of the border recently? The Burning Times may yet come again."
Nat shook her head; she still wasn't sure she understood any of this. "So how does this work?" she asked, looking at both of her unusual guests in turn. "How is something like that enforced?"
Nick and Maeve looked at each other, but neither spoke for a long minute.
"Nick?" she asked again.
He slowly shook his head, "No one knows, Nat." They looked at Maeve, who grudgingly admitted the same.
"Then how do you even know it's true?" Nat demanded.
Maeve spoke quietly, "Because I've seen it."
It was Nick's turn to nod in confirmation. "It's true," he agreed with a frightening certainty.
A long silence fell while Nat tried to absorb the implication of all she'd learned and the others wrapped themselves in old and painful memories.
Having convinced Nick to head home for the day, Nat was sure he would appear before his shift started. She lay in bed waiting for the "sleep" button on her alarm to wear off and thinking. She knew she still didn't fully understand this "Pact." And what about Maeve? "A witch born" -- what did that mean? She knew what parts of the vampire legends were true and which were false -- Nick may have done some weird things, but she'd never seen him turn into a bat -- but witches?
When her alarm revived itself she turned it off and got up. A glance in the spare bedroom confirmed Maeve was still asleep. Nat felt slightly guilty for starting her on such a bizarre schedule. She'd never recover from jet lag this way. She continued to try to work it out in her head. Maeve had obviously aged since Nat knew her, she'd even dug out old pictures to prove that to herself. Not as fast though, maybe? Maeve had always looked younger than her age.
As she continued to the kitchen and reached for the coffee a crazy thought came into her head -- just because she'd picked Maeve up at the airport didn't mean . . . after all, she could have done the same for Nick . . . .
Nat was so caught up in the question that she didn't hear the object of her speculation enter the kitchen behind her.
"Good morning, Sidney!" Nat jumped and spun around like she'd been stung. Maeve stooped to pet the creature winding around her ankles. "At least someone's happy to see me this morning," she teased, looking up at the startled expression on Nat's face.
"Can you fly?" Nat felt like an absolute fool the minute she said it. Since when did she just blurt out whatever was on her mind like that?
But Maeve just laughed, "Well there's certainly something to be said for the direct approach! No," Maeve said still laughing as Nat blushed, "I wish! Commuting in L.A. can be an incredible pain."
As Nat busied herself with making coffee, refusing to meet her eyes, Maeve got more serious. "It's all right. Really. I should have told you all this stuff years ago." Nat looked up. "Well, the witch part, anyway. It just doesn't have all that much to do with my life today."
She accepted the cup Nat handed her and they sat down. "I mean, it was all explained to me as a child. It seemed like such a powerful, important, scary secret then, but now . . . ?"
She took a deep breath, "Special 'gifts' tend to run in families of witches, but none of them really showed up in me. I do have a certain way with animals, but I can't read minds or tell the future." She smiled, "Music is supposed to be one of them, but I'm afraid I somehow got primed with more love of it than actual skill at producing it."
She slowly spun her cup around and around on the table for a moment. "And healing, well I've never really tried, I suppose . . ." her voice drifted off.
"So you see," she continued with more determination, "Nothing like them." Nat saw that a thought had struck her as she spoke those last words, one she was trying to brush away.
"O.K. 'Witching,' I suppose," Maeve admitted reluctantly. Nat waited for elaboration. "If I concentrate a certain way I can 'convince' someone of something they might not otherwise believe."
Nat nodded; she'd seen that done.
"But not unless they want to believe it," Maeve protested. "Unless they're open to it, anyway," she amended. "It's not the same. I can't really change someone's mind or make them do anything, but if they're thinking about it anyway . . . ," she paused. "Well, I can give them a bit of a push."
"Must come in handy."
"Not really; there's a lot of guilt attached to using it when not absolutely necessary. Messing with someone's will like that. Tradition holds that if you live your life properly you'll never have to use it at all.
"Then again," Maeve admitted ruefully, "I've never been very good at that. Frankly it just doesn't seem like a big deal anymore. Or it didn't until last night." She shook her head. "Geez, Nat, you had me so scared. I didn't know what I was going to do! I couldn't follow you around like a shadow forever, and even if I did there wasn't much I could do to stop him if he did attack."
"You don't have to worry," Nat assured her. "He won't hurt me."
Maeve looked unconvinced, but didn't argue the point. "So tell me, how did this all start?"
Nat got up for a refill and saw Maeve's cup untouched, "Drink your coffee first."
"Nat, you know coffee makes me sick."
Nat stared at her for a moment, then closed her eyes and shook her head slowly. She did know that. The last twenty-four hours had thrown her off more than she'd realized. As she got up to check the refrigerator she began to tell Maeve about the night she and Nick had met.
Never settle for anything less than the best, Jewel thought as he cruised through nighttime Toronto, enjoying the feel of the wind in his hair.
And the best was so easy to get, really. People up here just weren't as careful. He had watched the young couple drive up in the lovely Corvette, dressed for a night at the opera in outfits that could have fed his old neighborhood for a month. He watched her date drop the valet claim check in his pocket. A momentary brush, a quick "Pardon me," and it was all his for the night. It would be hours before they missed the claim check, longer still before they realized it had not simply been misplaced.
The Vette was too flashy a car to keep for longer than the evening, but why not treat yourself every now and then? I'll find something more sensible tomorrow, he thought, slipping the key on his empty ring. Tonight, I own the road.
As he pulled up to Club Mentiras, his own valet took the Vette from him without surprise. Jewel relished that little bit of deference, the understanding that whatever Jewel showed up in was his car. His musing was interrupted by Weisman's silent appearance at his side.
"Glazier has been putting in overtime, again," Weisman murmured conversationally.
Jewel sighed. And the boy had seemed to be working out so well, too. "His interests?"
"Our sources, our distribution. He plans to offer you a proposal to streamline the operation."
Jewel shook his head. He had been like that himself not long ago -- eager, ambitious. It had gotten him where he was today. Oh yes, he knew the type too well.
"You know how distasteful I find excessive enterprise in my employees."
Weisman nodded and moved to leave, when Jewel stopped him with a hand lightly on his arm. "Here, dispose of the car as well," he added tossing Weisman the keys magnanimously.
He entered his office and removed his coat and gloves. It was a shame, really, to give it up so soon, but he would be here all evening evaluating and reconfirming his business connections. In this game he could not afford to doubt his associates' loyalties.
This is ridiculous, Maeve thought as she drove home after another night of trading old stories with Nat. She'd been in Toronto almost three months now. She had a good job at U. of Toronto -- a day job -- her own place, her own life. So someone remind her again why she was still keeping such bizarre hours?
She sighed. Oh, give yourself a break! After all, you had to leave everything and everyone you knew back in L.A. You just haven't had a chance to make new friends yet -- for a lot of reasons. So it's only natural that you still take time to hang out with Nat and . . . .
She wouldn't say his name, not even in her head. A pretty pointless precaution really, she chided herself as she pulled into the garage, when you spend so much time hanging around him.
Face it. You still don't trust him. You don't even trust Nat's judgment in this. She unlocked the front door and headed up the stairwell.
And you're fascinated by him, she forced herself to admit. To see the forbidden up close and personal. It wasn't as though he exactly ran from the sight of her either. The little thrill of danger, the temptation to push the limits. And he did have a certain charm . . . .
No kidding, she mocked her own thoughts. A charming vampire. Now there's a news flash.
Dumping that train of thought unceremoniously, Maeve unlocked the apartment door and pushed it open cautiously, her eyes alert for moving shapes in the pitch darkness beyond. Seeing none, she stepped in and quickly closed the door behind her. With a sigh of gratitude for having been spared yet another chase down the hallway, she flipped on a light and dropped her coat and bag on the couch.
"Hey guys, I'm home!" she called, heading for the kitchen. She was answered from the bedroom and soon found herself hobbled by two small furry bodies purring loudly and winding themselves around her ankles.
She had just set down their dinner and was searching the refrigerator for the makings of her own when the doorbell rang. Throwing a surprised glance at the clock -- 3:38 a.m. -- she headed for the door.
After a quick glance through the peephole, she closed her eyes and let out a weary sigh. She had known this was coming, but she was in no shape to handle it now. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door.
"Sara, it's nearly 4 a.m. Is something wrong?"
"May I enter?" came the cool response.
"Of course," Maeve answered, rubbing her eyes. "You are always welcome in my home, as you well know."
"Some things change." Her guest, a woman with dark hair, perhaps ten years older and a full foot shorter than her host, stepped in and remained standing in the middle of the living room as Maeve shut the door behind her.
"Never that," Maeve said, an edge of hurt showing in her voice. "Never us." But Sara remained silent.
"For heaven's sake, sit down. Take off your coat. Do you want something to . . . ."
"I can't stay," the older woman interrupted, although she accepted a seat on the edge of the couch. "Why are you doing this?"
The blunt question hung in the air between them for a moment. After too long a pause Maeve started to protest ignorance, but was cut off by a glare from Sara. She switched tactics. " 'Harm none and do as you will,' " she recited with just a touch of defiance.
"Don't you quote the Rede to me, Maeve. I taught it to you in the first place."
"So what's the problem? I'm being careful."
"There is no careful when it comes to dealing with such creatures. I know I taught you better than that. This is not a game!"
"I am well aware of that. I'm a grown woman now and I can take responsibility for my own life."
"You risk more than your own life with this madness."
"No! I am here alone. No one here knows my family or my friends -- I have taken great care of that. You know why I left and why I have to keep apart." Maeve hurried on before the sympathy in Sara's eyes reopened barely healed wounds. "When better than now to try something new? They can't touch me and I won't give them anyone they can touch. So where is the harm in what I'm doing?"
The older woman sighed, "The harm comes if you are caught. For those you might betray, but for yourself as well! 'If you should ever chance to encounter one, do not even learn its name', Maeve. There is a reason for that rule!"
"To foster ignorance and hate?" Maeve regretted the words before they were out of her mouth. She knew better. But she was tired and Sara was bringing out the worst in her. The more she resented being treated like an errant child the more she started to act like a rebellious teenager.
Sara sat in furious silence, her eyes fixed stonily on the opposite wall. Maeve's eyelids felt so heavy, she wasn't sure if she were about to cry or fall asleep where she sat. Possibly both.
"I'm sorry," Maeve admitted. Sara relaxed some, but still didn't look at her. "I know you're worried and of course I know why. But this is who I am and what I'm doing right now." Sara closed her eyes and silently shook her head in despair. "I will be as careful as I possibly can."
Maeve stood up to keep herself awake. The bottle of sun tea she had put in the window that morning was nearly black. She considered pouring it out, but then figured it would take something that strong to get her out the door and to work in another . . . four hours?!? She groaned inwardly. She'd have to stop pulling these all-nighters.
"You haven't even met the kittens!" she tried awkwardly to change the subject. "The one hiding behind the chair leg is Matisse and the one lurking on the bookcase behind you is Lestat."
Sara turned her attention from the soft longhair on the floor to the coal black figure with the bright eyes sitting behind her. As she stroked them she turned an accusing look at Maeve, "That's not funny."
"It isn't meant to be funny," Maeve snapped back. "I like the name."
"There are those who don't take these things so casually." Lestat had worked his way down onto her lap and insisted upon her full attention to the base of his ears. Sara smiled at his boldness and complied.
"I don't take my current situation casually," Maeve poured herself a glass of the tea. Disgusting warm and she had no ice, but she needed the caffeine. Too bad she'd never been able to stomach coffee or cola; she had a feeling she'd probably better learn soon.
"But that's the problem, Maeve." Sara was looking tired herself, Maeve thought. Why were they doing this now? "You are being casual with this one." Maeve started to protest, but Sara stopped her, "A friend of an old and dear friend, I know. But the most dangerous thing familiarity can breed is a lack of fear. You can't tell me you spend your every minute on guard against the danger he represents. The chance that you let something slip about his true nature -- that you bump into him coming around a corner, for heaven sake! It's insanity to live with such risks! It's like carrying poison around in an eggshell! Some day you will slip and everyone will suffer."
"He carries the same risk," Maeve pointed out.
"Oh, and if he jumped off a bridge . . . ," Sara caught herself at a glare from Maeve. "O.K. My turn to apologize. But the principle holds: Just because he is willing to risk it doesn't give you reason to."
"He wishes to change what he is. He does everything he can to distance himself from what he is."
"Yes, I know." Maeve looked up in surprise. "The one who wishes to return to mortality. But can he really? He still is what he is and such aspirations can only lure both of you into a false sense of security. His insistence on living as a mortal only gives more opportunity for you to betray his secret in some way." Maeve sat down again on the couch next to her.
"You are counting on him to release you, should it ever come to that." Maeve looked away. "For him to reject that power over you as another sign of his despised nature. But you don't trust that -- you'd be a fool to and I know you are not. Such power is seductive and very hard to relinquish. And ones of his kind are not known for the ability to resist temptation."
Maeve looked up and returned Sara's wicked smile. An ancient gibe, that one, but one with a great deal of truth to it.
"Sara . . . ," Maeve started.
"Let me help you out," Sara broke in with a resigned smile. " 'Sara, I'm not going to change my mind. I'm going to keep on living like I haven't the sense the Goddess gave a turnip and I'm going to be as stubborn as a deaf mule with a lame leg because that's the way you taught me.' Right?"
By the time she finished Maeve was laughing so hard she couldn't catch her breath.
"Yes," she finally gasped. "And so eloquently put!" As she subsided into helpless laughter again, Sara joined her.
When they both had calmed down a bit, Sara stood up. "We both need some sleep," she announced. Maeve, fighting down another round of the giggles, managed to nod in agreement as she rose from her seat. Sara threw her arms around the younger woman and held her tight, "Maeve, I love you. You know that, right? If you ever need help, I'll be there for you."
Maeve returned the embrace, then moved back so she could look Sara in the eye. "I know, and that means more than you could know. I promise I'll be careful."
Sara nodded, "You'd better. If you do slip up, stick with the vampire -- he won't give you nearly the grief I will when I find out!"
"Jewel's been at it again."
Nick looked up as Schanke dropped the folder on the desk in front of him. "Found the body of one of his 'associates' locked in the trunk of a car that'd been rolled into the lake." He paused. "Death by drowning, it looks like."
Nick flinched. An unnecessarily unpleasant death; the kind that is meant to serve as a warning. "Proof?" he asked hopefully.
"Fat chance." Schanke dropped into his chair. "The car was reported stolen from a valet parking lot last night. They're checking for prints, but . . . ."
His voice trailed off. They both knew better. There hadn't been prints in any of the other three murders they were sure belonged at the feet of this newly-arrived, self-styled drug lord. Everything pointed to Jewel, and nothing could be proven. It was just a bit too much to hope that he had gotten careless all of a sudden.
"Take a look at this." Maeve offered the catalog to Natalie with a grin.
When she saw the cover, she returned the smile cautiously. "Cohen said she wanted 'tasteful, yet original'," Nat cautioned.
Maeve feigned a hurt look, "Nat, you know me better than that! If you were just looking for Frederick's of Hollywood or worse you wouldn't have come to me."
"I shouldn't have come to you at all, if she finds out . . . ."
" 'Insert vague, yet dire consequences here'," Maeve laughed. "I know, I know. I have been known to keep a secret or two in my time, you know."
Nat nodded, "Yeah, I know." She felt uncomfortable being the tie between Maeve and Nick. They both insisted they could take care of themselves, but she felt vaguely guilty at putting them in danger.
Uh, oh, Maeve thought. Here we go again. Having refused to let herself worry constantly about the situation with Nick, she wasn't going to let Nat do it either.
"So, come on," she said with a wicked grin. "Let's find the Captain something for her anniversary."
They were so engrossed in the selections that neither of them noticed Nick until he was in the door. Quickly whipping the catalog into a drawer, Nat stood up a little too quickly.
Concerned at not having registered his approach, Maeve turned on Nick with an annoyed look, "Aren't you supposed to be out 'Protecting and Serving' or something?"
"Even I get time off, Maeve," Nick corrected her. "My shift doesn't start for another half hour, and," he turned to her for verification. "Nat wanted me to look at something?"
Nat led Nick over to the microscope, where she had arranged the results of her most recent work. "See," she said, pointing to the one on the left, "This is one of the first samples I took from you. This," she indicated the other slide, "Is the one I took last night. See the difference?"
Maeve leaned against the edge of the counter watching the two of them together. An uneasy truce had been established between them at Nat's insistence. Neither Maeve nor Nick was entirely thrilled with the situation, but they kept their distance and remained civil and it seemed to work . . . .
"Nick!" Schanke burst in, making Maeve jump. "There you are, buddy. You know, you spend more time in the morgue than any cop I've ever known," he grinned at Nat.
She smiled back, then turned her attention to Nick. "If you keep looking, I think you'll see what I mean."
Looking at the two slides next to each other, he could make out a slight difference. The structural makeup had altered, he thought, his hopes rising. Not very much, perhaps, but there was a definite change
"Now, this is a sample from me. For comparison," Nat explained under her breath, replacing the older slide.
Well don't mind me! Schanke thought, glancing over at Maeve. For some reason, she always gave him the creeps. He hadn't figured out what it was yet, but as a cop he'd learned to trust his gut reactions. When she smiled sweetly at him he frowned and turned his attention back to the others.
"We've got him!"
"Who?" Nick said without looking up. His heart sank. The differences here were so pronounced as to make the progress he had just seen look like nothing at all
"Jewel!" Schanke was getting frustrated at his partner's lack of enthusiasm. "We found the keys to the Corvette wedged in the lining of the trunk. They must have tossed Lenny Glazier the keys before they locked him in. Geez," he shook his head in disbelief. "There are some sick people in this world!"
And we see them all, Nick thought absently. Lucky us. "Prints?" he asked with little hope. Nat was obviously excited by the proof that he was changing, was becoming more human on such a fundamental, biological level. But Nick couldn't share her enthusiasm. There was obviously still so far to go!
"No," Schanke admitted. Nick returned to the microscope as his partner reached in his pocket. "But look at the tag on them. The guy who owns the car swears it's not his."
Nick stared at the two samples, his and Nat's. Such minute, microscopic differences were all that separated them, all that kept them apart. A tiny difference that meant the whole world to him. Without looking up, he held his hand out absently in his partner's general direction. Schanke dangled the key for a moment before reluctantly dropping it into Nick's outstretched hand.
"Hey!" Schanke shouted in surprise as Maeve intercepted the transfer with a quick swipe and turned her back to them as she studied the evidence.
"What a lovely crucifix," she admired pointedly as she turned it over. Nick's head snapped up at her words; the situation finally had both his and Natalie's undivided attention.
"John Julian Blake, 12/20/73," Maeve read aloud. "For his confirmation?" she wondered as Schanke angrily snatched it back.
"I was showing it to Nick, " Schanke snapped. "How does a civilian get off poking her nose into police business all the time anyway?"
Maeve smiled and looked at Schanke with a disconcerting intensity. "I can be very charming when I choose," she purred. As Schanke's eyes slowly started to lose focus and his expression to relax, Nick cleared his throat, loudly, and Maeve broke the stare. Meeting Nick's glare she rolled her eyes and continued, "Although obviously I've never tried it on you!"
"And I won't," she added with an aggrieved expression. The words were little more than mouthed in Nick's direction, intended for his ears alone.
Schanke shook his head slightly to clear it, then remembered the key in his hand. "Here, Nick, take a look . . . ."
This time it was Natalie who took possession of the crucifix. She cut Schanke off as he started to object. "I need to run some tests," she insisted vaguely.
"What tests? They already checked . . . ."
"Let her look, Schanke," Nick interrupted, steering Schanke towards the door. "Let's go get him."
"O.K., O.K. Now he's interested," Schanke muttered. He called over his shoulder, "Natalie, call the Division and tell them you've got the evidence, O.K.?"
"Got it," she called down the hall after him. Nat waited until Schanke was out of earshot before turning to Maeve, "Thanks."
"Hey, no problem. Given his background, I didn't think he'd react all that well to crosses."
Nat looked surprised, "Do others?"
"Depends. As far as I can tell it's whether . . . ."
The ring of the phone under Nat's hand cut her off.
Nat picked it up and answered automatically, "Coroner."
"Yeah, I've got the key here." Maeve listened absently to the one-sided conversation.
"No, I can do it, I've got some reports to run over anyway, I'll bring it by in, say, twenty minutes?"
Cohen apparently agreed, but before she could hang up, Natalie pulled out the catalog they'd been looking at earlier. "Oh, and Captain?" she added with a mischievous grin at Maeve. "I think I've found something very interesting for you."
"Well keep it to yourself," Cohen replied, wondering again if asking Nat's advice had been a good idea after all. "You can fill me in when you get here."
As the connection was broken, Jewel switched off the tap and looked up at Wiseman. "It looks like you have a chance to redeem yourself," he said coldly.
"Consider it done," Wiseman replied. He knew how lucky he was to get that chance.
It was quite easy; she obviously was not expecting anything as she opened the door and tossed her bag across to the passenger side. Too easy, almost, Wiseman thought as he reached up from the floor of the back seat and covered her mouth with the handkerchief. He managed to keep out of reach, holding her back against her seat until she stopped fighting. Then he calmly got out, pushed her limp form over onto her bag, retrieved the keys from the floor and drove off.
Blake had been cursing non-stop ever since they had arrested him, although an angry look from Nick had reduced the volume, the steady stream of invective continued.
Schanke sighed, "Nick, remind me to have a couple of uniforms make the arrest next time."
Still worried about the crucifix, he called ahead about it and found himself trying to make himself clear over the din emanating from the back seat. "No, I don't need to talk to Cohen, I just want her to know . . . ." He rolled his eyes at Nick, "Now he's putting me through to Cohen, great!"
Another well-aimed look from Nick finally silenced Blake long enough to hear Captain Cohen's controlled voice over the radio, "Schanke, is Knight with you?" "Yeah, we've got Blake and we're bringing him in. Look Natalie has the evidence, she wanted to run some test . . ."
"I know," Cohen cut him off sharply.
Schanke breathed a sigh of relief, "I just didn't want to lose track of it now, you know." "Bring Blake in and leave him at booking. I need to see both of you in my office right away."
Schanke looked over at Nick in surprise. "What did we do now?" he mouthed at his partner. Nick just shrugged and shook his head.
He turned back to the mike, "Yeah, ten-four. Eighty-one Kilo out."
When they entered the squad room, the level of conversation dropped dramatically. The people nearest to them either stared grimly or avoided eye-contact.
"What?" Schanke finally demanded of the room at large as Captain Cohen stepped out into view.
"In my office," she ordered in a flat tone that belied the drained look on her face.
Nick and Schanke followed her, closing the door behind them.
Schanke started, "Look, if it's about . . . ."
Before Schanke could dig himself into any unnecessary holes, Nick interrupted him, "What's wrong?"
Captain Cohen sat down, motioning for the detectives to do the same. When he didn't respond, she made it an order, "Sit down, Nick."
As he did so, Cohen stared at her hands on the desktop, then took a deep breath; there was no easy way to do this. "There's been an 'accident' on the Don Valley Parkway. Natalie was driving home when apparently she lost control of the car and hit an embankment." They had both started at the name, by the time she finished the sentence Nick had gone paler than anyone she'd ever seen. She had to fight to maintain her iron control. Damn it! She'd known Nat for a long time. Long enough to know that, in her last moments, Nat had experienced one of her worst nightmares.
Before her pause could give them false hope, she continued. "The car caught fire. By the time rescue crews got there, there was no chance."
"Oh, no," Schanke groaned, "Not Nat?"
"No!" They both turned to look at Nick, whose strangled denial had hardly sounded human.
"Nick, I know you two were . . . ." Cohen started.
"They're sure it's Nat?" Schanke interrupted, hoping against hope.
"They won't be able to do a final I.D. until they locate her records," Schanke winced and dropped his head into his hands, "But her staff said she left alone -- with the evidence on Blake -- about fifteen minutes earlier." She didn't finish the thought aloud -- there was no reason save their own desperation to believe it wasn't her.
They heard the door open and before they had even seen him stand up Nick was gone.
Cohen met Schanke's eyes for a moment, then he hurried off to find Nick.
No! There'd been some mistake. She'd let someone else borrow the car. Someone had stolen it . . . . Nick realized how ludicrous his thoughts were and he didn't care. This couldn't be happening!
He found himself behind the building, without realizing how he'd gotten there. He had to see it. To prove it wasn't her. Or to believe that it was . . . .
He threw himself into the wind.
He strode into the Coroner's Building, ignoring the stunned and grieving faces he passed. He headed automatically for the morgue, but Grace blocked him at the door.
"Don't go in, Nick." She had obviously been crying, but was not about to back down. "You don't want to see that."
Nick grabbed her by the shoulders, relaxing his grip when he heard her gasp in pain. He stared hard into her eyes, "I have to see her."
Grace stepped aside and Nick entered alone. His resolution wavered when he saw the body bag lying on the steel table. If that really was . . . . He cut the thought off, but not before memories of all the time they had spent together in this room rushed through his mind. They had met in this room, the two of them, alone. And now to part, in a grotesque reversal of that first night . . . .
With speed a human eye could not follow, Nick was at the table, unzipping the bag.
As he got his first glimpse of what was inside his hands jerked back of their own accord. He doubled over like he had been stabbed through the stomach and barely made it to the sink behind him before he started bringing up the blood he'd drunk earlier. Even after there was nothing left to come up, it took his stomach a long time to stop heaving.
When his insides finally stopped spasming, he felt as if he'd brought all his feeling, all his pain, up as well. As he rinsed the blood down the drain, he felt cold and detached. Cohen had been right -- the body could only be identified by dental records at this point. There was nothing that could be done. Nat was dead.
Janette looked up as Nick entered the Raven. She had sensed for the last half-hour that something was wrong -- she had half-considered going out to find him -- but when she saw his face, she gasped in shock. He was paler than she'd seen him in decades, maybe centuries, and his eyes -- so cold and dead.
She took him by the arm and steered him straight into the back room. "Nichola! What has happened?"
"Natalie is dead. She was killed in a car accident this evening."
"Oh Nichola! I am sorry!" She was somewhat surprised to find it true. She and Dr. Lambert had differed over many things, most particularly Nichola, but she had developed a certain respect for the woman. But Nichola . . . . He had said it as though it were simply the latest news, but she knew how close he had let himself get to the good doctor, and to the hope of a "cure" she represented. His eyes were like glass . . . . Looking into them she could not see any part of the Nichola she loved.
Janette heard the door open behind her and LaCroix walked in.
"My dear, Nicholas! I heard about Dr. Lambert's untimely demise and I came right over to offer my condolences."
The overly-solicitous tone was almost too much for Nick to bear, even in his numbed state. LaCroix's insincere attempts at sympathy were the last thing he needed. LaCroix probably couldn't be happier, in fact . . . .
The thought brought Nick out of his chair and into his master's face, fangs bared and eyes glowing hate. "If you had anything to do with this!"
"Nicholas!" The normally imperturbable vampire looked genuinely shocked. "How could you suggest such a thing? What possible reason could I have for wanting Dr. Lambert dead? I would not do such a thing to you!"
Nick backed down, for once believing LaCroix's protestations of innocence. Not that he lent any great credence to his words. LaCroix would do anything he thought was to his advantage without any concern for Nick's feelings. But it made no sense. If LaCroix had done this, he would have to have known Nick would discover his treachery. And that Nick could never forgive it. Anyway, a car accident was hardly LaCroix's style.
Nick dropped the train of thought as he felt his professional detachment slipping. He slumped into the chair again, absently noticing Janette's hand coming to rest supportively on his shoulder.
"Nicholas," LaCroix continued his show of deep concern. "You must realize that this is precisely the reason I have tried to dissuade you from this foolish attempt at mortality." Great, Nick thought. Leave it to LaCroix to find an elegant way to say 'I told you so.'
"Why subject yourself to such pain by entangling yourself in the lives of those who must die?" he continued. "Such martyrdom does not become you." Nick sat staring vacantly at the opposite wall. He didn't even start when the voice was suddenly hissing in his ear, "You can do nothing for them and they bring you nothing but pain. Return to your own kind, Nicholas. To those who will never leave you."
Nick looked over at LaCroix for a long moment then away, still silent. Janette's face showed her growing concern. Where was his fight, his rash defense of his actions? This was not like him. Or had the last straw finally fallen into place?
"Nichola," she pleaded. "Is this really what you want? To die like a mortal in some pointless twist of fate?"
"To have a soul . . . ."
Janette couldn't decide whether she was more relieved by the response or frustrated by its tediously predictable content. "Why keep agonizing over this soul you lost so many centuries ago? What need do you have of it now?" Her voice dropped to a sad whisper in his ear, "It is gone. Accept that, Nichola, and let it be!"
They were so alike and yet so different, Nick mused. Was it a difference in age, in origin, or just in themselves? Janette had never understood what she termed his 'obsession' with redeeming himself. She considered her own soul lost and herself none the worse for it. She had always been content in her new life. In a way he envied that quiet acceptance. Perhaps she was right, what did it really matter? It was time for him to find his own share of that peace.
"You're right," Nick finally agreed. "I have lost my soul." He was out the door and gone almost too quickly for even the other vampires to see.
Janette moved to follow him, but LaCroix put a hand on her shoulder. "He will be back," he reassured her with a patronizing smile. "After all, he has nowhere else to go."
The man was dressed in layers of mismatched clothing that had seen better days, and he was muttering something over and over in obvious distress.
"Sir," the officer said kindly but firmly. "Who is gone?"
"Helen, my wife. We were supposed to meet at the fountain, but she never came!"
"Where do you live, sir?"
"In the park. We lost our apartment in June; we live by the fountain. She was supposed to meet me there, but she never came."
Some things never seemed to change, Maeve thought idly as she walked past the front desk. And then some things come from nowhere and change everything.
She had still been at the morgue when they brought her in. They were going to go have dinner as soon as Nat got back from the division. She hadn't even really noticed the ambulance arriving with another body-shaped bag. Not until Grace had broken down . . . .
She had left. She couldn't stay there -- not with that form on the table. She had wandered over to the division on foot, in shock, not knowing where else to go, a tiny, childlike corner of her mind thinking that she and Nick could somehow fix it.
She had missed seeing Nick and that was probably for the best. Schanke said he had "just taken off" when he heard the news, little knowing how accurate he probably was. Maeve had remained for a while, thinking somehow to help -- whether them or herself she wasn't sure. But there was nothing here that could change what had happened. Nothing even that could make her somehow accept it.
She sensed him as he came up the front steps, and as he came into view he was looking straight at her.
She planned to simply let him pass -- what was there to say? -- but she found herself startled into speech by the haunted expression on his face.
"Tonight," was the cryptic response. "It must end tonight."
He had barely paused his step long enough to say that much and then was past her and gone.
The rage was still there, but buried under a frightening calm. Did vampires go into shock? No, he looked more like someone with a careful plan to be carried out. Heaven help the guy who'd done this when Nick caught him!
She started to follow him, but thought better of it. There was nothing she could do for him, nor he for her. She'd have to call a taxi to get back to her car. As she dug in her purse for change she found her extra key ring. Nat's keys, she thought. Nat had made copies for her when she'd first arrived.
She stepped to the pay phone, wiping the tears out of her eyes. She knew where she had to go.
"The way I heard it, you've 'lost' this so-called evidence, no?"
Trained professional that he was, Schanke's self-control just about hit the breaking point as he looked at John Julian Blake, a.k.a. "Jewel," smirking at him across the interrogation room table.
With the very last of his self-restraint, he strode out into the hall and closed the door, leaning back against the wall for support.
Oh, he did it all right, Schanke thought, fighting the urge to go back in and strangle Jewel with his bare hands. He'd had Natalie killed and now he was taunting them with it.
Trying to derail that thought, he wondered where Nick was. He'd originally tried to follow his partner, but by the time Schanke reached the street, Nick was nowhere to be seen. He couldn't have gone far -- the Caddy was still parked out front -- but Schanke was getting worried.
Nick was obviously in so much pain -- hell, they all were. But Schanke had long suspected that there was more between Natalie and his partner than either had let on.
"Where are you, buddy?" he whispered to himself.
As if in answer, he spotted Nick rounding the corner.
"Nick!" Schanke was surprised at the amount of relief he felt. "Where have you been? When you didn't take the car I figured . . . ."
His partner's face looked very old. "Is he in there?"
Schanke nodded, "But I don't think there's any point in you going in." To his increased sense of relief Nick nodded in agreement.
"We don't have anything on him, do we?" he asked, although he obviously already knew the answer. For all the pain that still showed on his face he seemed surprisingly calm, Schanke thought. He must still be in shock.
The Captain had joined them in time to hear the last question. With a concerned eye on Nick, she answered, "No. And without the key chain, which wasn't recovered," Nick's eyes closed for a moment but she continued on, "We have no basis to hold him."
"You're going to cut him loose?" Schanke exploded. "After he all but admitted doing it you're going to let him walk?"
Cohen started to respond, but Nick spoke first, "We won't learn anything from him here. If he walks we can follow him."
Cohen sighed; this situation was going to have to be handled carefully. "Fine. I'll assign Knox and Morris to tail him."
"Captain!" Schanke cut off his protest at a look from Nick.
"Captain, let me do it," Nick requested calmly.
"Out of the question, Knight. You're too closely involved. In fact I'm putting you under direct orders to stay away from Blake." As Nick started to protest, she stopped him with a gesture, "No, Nick, we need this one clean." She looked at him, at the deadness in his eyes, "Go home, Nick. Take some time." When he made no response she turned to Schanke, "See he gets home, o.k.?"
Schanke nodded and she left. Putting a hand on his partner's shoulder, he squeezed gently, "Come on, Nick, let's go."
"Tonight." Nick spoke so quietly Schanke could barely hear him. "It has to be over tonight."
Uh, oh, Schanke thought. This wasn't good. "Look, partner, I know how you feel. We'll nail him, I promise. It'll take time, but he's got to mess up sometime, and when he does we'll be right there waiting for him."
Nick didn't respond to Schanke's words, but he did respond to the pressure of his friend's hand on his shoulder. As they walked out to the car Schanke found himself talking continuously to counter Nick's silence. "Hey, do you want to come over for dinner?" He unlocked the door and got in, raising his voice to be heard as he reached across to open the passenger side. "You could even stay over, you know? Myra's making her famous . . . ." He stopped as he saw no one on the far side of the car. He got out and looked around, but Nick was nowhere in sight.
"Nick?" Geez, not again, he thought. He was really going to have to have a talk with the guy about the meaning of the term 'partners'. "Nick!"
Weisman had gone to her apartment. He needed a quick place to crash (he smiled at the unintended pun) and he had the keys. No one was going to be bothering a dead woman's apartment right away -- there were people to notify, grieving to do, bodies to identify . . . or not.
Besides, she had mentioned having had 'something very interesting' to show the police captain. When he found nothing incriminating on her, he figured this was as good a place as any to find out what he needed to know.
He flipped on the news. Jewel had been in and out of the police station already. The guy was slick, you had to give him that.
Wiseman picked up the phone and dialed from memory.
Sabotaging the tail had been easy; a good sized piece of broken glass and a move too swift to be seen and Nick had left the officers by the curb radioing in a blown tire. Now Nick followed the man, stalking him, using every hunter's instinct he had sharpened over the centuries. It was hardly necessary; Blake drove straight to his club.
When he entered his office, Nick was waiting in the shadows. At the sound of the phone, Nick cut off his movement and retreated back into the darkness.
Nick found it amazing that Blake could not feel his stare. He felt as though his eyes were burning two holes through the back of the dealer's head, but Blake took the call calmly, oblivious to his visitor or that visitor's fury.
"Jewel." Nick's ears easily picked up the caller's voice.
"Weisman? What are you up to?" Blake asked casually.
"I don't feel that I've been given a sufficient interest in the business."
"You have as much as I give you. That's enough," Blake snapped.
"I have more than enough evidence here to convince you I'm serious; perhaps we should have a little talk?"
Get in line, Nick thought viciously. You can have what's left.
As Blake hung up, Nick realized that he hadn't listened to the end of the call. Never mind, he had his own ways to get what he wanted. Stepping into the light, he took a certain satisfaction in the surprise and sheer terror his exposed fangs and glowing eyes inspired in the man he faced.
Damn! Why was Nick always pulling this kind of stuff?
Schanke was sitting in the car trying to decide what to do. He should tell the Captain. Nick had undoubtedly gone after Blake and who knew what he might do in his current frame of mind?
But Cohen had given him a direct order. If he reported this there'd be hell to pay. He didn't want to turn in a partner, even one who didn't act like he knew what the word meant.
If only Knight had bothered to say where he was off to! Short of trying to raise Knox and Morris on an open frequency, Schanke had no way to know where Blake had gone. How could Nick?
Nick knew the case had to be clean; he wouldn't make it a private vendetta. Schanke wanted desperately to believe that, but could he trust it? What was his partner capable of?
Not outright murder, Schanke decided. He knew Nick too well.
He fervently hoped he was right.
Without need of conscious thought Jewel pulled out his gun, but before he had it fully in his hand the creature was beside him and the gun clattered as it hit the far wall.
"Why?" the cop-who-was-something-far-worse hissed in his face. "Why kill her?"
Jewel stared into those glowing eyes; he could hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. "Who?"
In a motion so swift he missed it entirely, he found himself on the floor, flung half-way across the room. As he sat up, trying to clear his dazed head, he was there again, staring at him with eyes that could lay open his soul.
"Natalie Lambert, the Coroner," he hissed. "Why?"
As though he were watching from a distance, Jewel heard himself reply, "She had the key."
"You could have just stolen it. Why?"
"We had the phone tapped. She told the Captain she knew something. Why take a chance?"
Nick felt the anger that had almost overcome him give way to despair. He had come here for an answer, a reason for his loss, and there was none. As he looked into the dealer's eyes he saw no anger, no hatred, and no remorse. Natalie's death had not been planned, merely expedient. The question had not been why, but why not?
Why not, indeed? Who would suffer if he tore this killer's throat out right here? He had confessed his guilt, yet he was still walking free. Free to kill others whose continued lives he might not find convenient.
He could not let Natalie's death go unavenged, he thought as he leaned closer. The man's mortal pulse beat louder and louder in his ears. Perhaps it would even bring him some measure of peace, following the old code: blood for blood, a life for a life....
"No," Nick pulled back as his fangs grazed the man's neck. The last words had echoed in his head in LaCroix's voice. No! He would not return to taking pleasure from killing. And he would not throw away what soul he might have left by taking even this life from pure expediency.
Drawing back, he once again fixed Blake with his stare, "Who killed her?" Blake himself had been in their custody when . . . . "You gave the order; who carried it out?"
"Where can I find him?"
"He said to meet him at the dead woman's apartment."
It had been too long. He'd tried to reach Nick on the car phone, but he wouldn't pick up. He'd even tried the loft -- no luck, of course, but he'd left him one hell of a message.
He was just about to go back in and report his partner AWOL when the phone in his hand rang, startling him so badly he almost dropped it.
"Nick? Where the hell are you? I can't believe you pulled this again! I was just about . . . ."
Nick broke into the (admittedly deserved) tirade, "Schank, Blake's turning himself in." Nothing but shocked silence greeted this statement. How to make it sound legitimate? "He's terrified that he's going to Hell for the things he's done and he wants to confess everything." Or so Nick had convinced him. "I'm taking him back to the station now."
"Nick . . . ," Schanke's voice sounded as worried as he'd ever heard it. "You didn't . . . ."
"No, Schank, I didn't do anything to him." Or nothing that you'd understand, Nick thought as he heard his partner's audible sigh of relief. "I just convinced him to bare his soul to us rather than to a priest."
"Then it's over." For tonight anyway, Schanke thought. Now maybe he could get Nick home without further incident. "You did it, partner."
"Not quite," Nick's voice still sounded strained. "He's given me the name and location of the hitman. He's expecting Blake to show for a meeting in another half hour." There was a pause. "Can you take some units and go get him? I don't think I can . . . ."
"Sure," Schanke said when he heard the location. "I've got him, Nick."
As she let the front door of the complex fall shut behind her, Maeve heard tires skid on the pavement outside.
"Learn to drive!" she muttered, then criticized herself for the knee-jerk response. Pure L.A. bias she knew, but sometimes it did seem that if you didn't learn to drive in L.A., you didn't learn to drive at all.
She continued up the stairs. As she reached her key towards the lock she heard what sounded like ten guys clomping up the stairwell. At 5 a.m.? Some neighbors you've got, Nat!
Nat . . . . Maeve choked as reality hit her right in the gut, leaving her unable to respond at all when the door was pulled out of her hand and a gun was stuck in her face.
Nick drove slowly home, watching the sky grow paler and paler. How many times had he seen it and not noticed how beautiful it could be?
He'd dropped Blake off at the station, ready and eager to spill his guts. Schanke would get Wiseman. And everything would finally fall into place.
"Freeze! Police! Drop your weapon and back away!"
Maeve had never thought she'd be so happy to hear Schanke's voice. As Weisman cocked the hammer and reached for her, Maeve let her knees give way beneath her. Deprived of a convenient shield, Weisman paused for a moment, considered the guns trained on him from both ends of the hallway, and decided to try and make the best of a bad situation.
Gently releasing the hammer, he raised his hands in surrender, the gun dangling from one finger. The officers pushed him back through the door as he was quickly disarmed and cuffed. After determining that Maeve was all right, Schanke stepped past her into the apartment and turned on Wiseman.
"Where are the keys?"
"Keys?" Weisman asked innocently.
"Give it up, Weisman. Blake is down at the station with my partner right now confessing everything. Playing stupid isn't going to help you and it's only gonna piss me off."
Weisman sighed. After all, the 'evidence' had been his little ace in the hole all along; it looked like it was time to play it. "In the van, the brown one parked in front."
"These for the van?" Schanke demanded, picking up a set of keys lying on the hall table. At Wiseman's nod he tossed them to an officer, "We're looking for a car key on a crucifix key ring." Then he reached for the phone.
"Yeah, Nick, we've got the bastard. He's in custody. With the key chain and Blake's testimony . . . we've got him. Neither of them will be going anywhere for a very long time."
Nick nodded to himself. It was over, then. And only just in time . . . he could see the sky brightening, minute by minute. It wouldn't be long now . . .
"Nick, are you there?" Schanke's voice was worried, "Hey, buddy, answer me."
"Yeah, I'm here Schank." No time for good-byes; Schanke deserved better, but maybe it was for the best. What could he say? "I'm going home." In more than one sense, he thought. That's what it felt like; there was no fear, only a drained calm. And a longing for an end to the pain.
"O.K. I'm gonna take this creep in and maybe I'll stop by later? We can talk."
Schanke still sounded worried. Nick wished he could reassure him, but he couldn't. "Sure." He felt a stab of guilt; he'd vanished out of people's lives countless times before, but it never really got any easier. Only this time, the guilt wouldn't last very long.
"Thanks. Thanks for everything, O.K.?"
"Yeah, sure." Schanke was getting a bad feeling about this. "Nick, are you going to be all right?" But the dial tone was already buzzing in his ear. He started to redial Nick's number when he heard the shout.
"Detective Schanke! You'd better get down here now." Schanke followed the uniform down to the street at a jog. "Apparently he had a hostage . . . ."
Schanke stopped listening when he saw her sitting there on the ground behind the open van.
"Natalie! You're alive!" Maeve, helping to rub wrists and ankles that had only just been unbound, made way for him as Schanke descended on Nat with a bear hug. "What happened? Are you all right?" he asked in a worried voice.
Nat smiled, "Yeah, I'm O.K. Just stiff and sore."
"But how?" Schanke persisted, the detective in him taking over. "They brought in your body!"
Nat winced, "I know. Weisman described every detail -- he grabbed some poor homeless woman from the park, broke her neck, staged the crash, the fire . . . ." She broke off, unable to continue the thought.
When she resumed after a moment, she had assumed a distinctly professional tone. "He knew it would take time before they could identify the remains, if they ever could."
Maeve reached around Nat's shoulder and hugged her tightly from behind, unable to express her relief in words.
As Nat placed her hands over Maeve's and returned the embrace, Schanke suddenly realized who else should be there.
"Geez, we've gotta call Nick, this has just been eating him up!" In response to her worried look, Schanke elaborated. "He's been obsessed with nailing this guy -- and doing it tonight, no less. And now that we have he's acting . . . I don't know . . . ." He frowned, "Let me give him a call." A few moments later Nat limped over to the car, leaning heavily on Maeve's shoulder. Schanke shook his head and snapped off the portable phone in frustration, "He's not answering. He said he was going home, but he doesn't pick up there either, and I can't raise him on the radio."
"You take Weisman on in and we'll stop by his place," Maeve volunteered.
"Yeah," Schanke agreed. "But man am I gonna miss seeing his face when he sees you!" He beamed at Nat as she and Maeve started towards one of the squad cars.
"Are you really all right?" Maeve repeated once they were out of earshot.
"I'm fine. Really!" Nat insisted with a tired smile. "I'm a doctor, remember? I just need some sleep, and a meal, and a shower . . . and Ni . . . ."
Schanke pulled up alongside them. "Give me a call when you see Nick, O.K.?"
Nat assured him they would and he drove off. Nat started to move forward, but paused when Maeve didn't budge. She was standing stock still and staring ahead at the sky. Looking at her face Nat suddenly realized how tired she looked. She must have been up all night, Nat thought with a touch of guilt.
"It's almost dawn . . . ." Maeve's voice trailed off. She was still standing there staring with a confused look on her face, as though trying to gather pieces of a puzzle kept eluding her.
"So he'll be at the loft," Nat gently finished for her.
"No!" The word was little more than whispered, but with such intensity that Nat turned on Maeve in surprise as she continued, "No. Oh, no!"
"He was obviously devastated by losing you, but he just shut down . . . when he came back to the division he was so calm...like he had everything planned out . . . he insisted only that it be all over by morning . . . ."
Nat looked at Maeve and went ghost-white as the implications sunk in. "No!" The mouthed word denied the thought.
"Nat, he's going to stay up and watch the sun rise."
Nat's eyes closed and her body stiffened. For a second, Maeve thought she was going to faint, but her eyes opened and fixed on the brightening sky. "We've got to find him."
They stumbled toward Maeve's car as fast as Nat could manage.
"I'll drive; you navigate," Maeve directed, her free hand reaching for her keys.
The phone had finally stopped ringing, Nick noticed distantly. He had parked the Caddy behind his place and was sitting on the hood watching the sky grow brighter and brighter. On some distant level he marveled that he should feel no fear, that after almost eight centuries of desperately avoiding the dawn the instinct for survival wasn't stronger. But it was time. He finally knew what Erica had meant about living too long. Nat was gone, and with her his hopes for a cure. He'd been thwarted in his quest time and time again over the centuries and had persevered, but this was different. Without her he no longer wanted to try.
The sun was already above the horizon, but the building across the alleyway would continue to shield him for another minute. Then it would be done. He would not go back to LaCroix, to his old ways, and there was nothing waiting for him in a new life should he ever manage that. No, he'd had enough. Too much . . . .
He thought of Nat and the pain finally hit him, so hard he nearly doubled over. He'd kept the worst of it at bay -- tracking the killer (her killer), facing LaCroix -- but now . . . .
His memory traced every moment they'd had together in perfect detail in his mind. How long had he loved her? When had it started? He didn't know -- he only knew when it had all ended. The tears marked his face and fell to stain his shirt. He barely felt the sunlight as it fell on the car behind him -- less than an inch from him now and moving steadily closer.
All the dreams he had never even allowed himself to think about -- a life with Nat, a family even. In the blink of an eye it was all gone. And now it was time for him to join them, to join her. His eyes were dazzled by the sunlight -- so bright! -- as he stood up into the glare and felt it hot, searing against his skin.
"Left at the signal."
Nat's voice was carefully controlled. Maeve thanked heaven for having grown up dodging L.A. traffic; she was using every trick she could think of, but the trip still seemed to be taking forever. Nat had said nothing except to give directions, and Maeve was keeping all her attention on the road as she skidded a left turn through after the signal had already changed. What if he wasn't at the loft? She fervently hoped the thought hadn't occurred to Nat. If he wasn't there, there was no way they could find him. They'd be lucky to have the charred clothes reported.... She stole a second to glance over at Nat; her face wore an unreadable expression that nonetheless almost broke Maeve's heart. Please, Lady in Heaven, let it not be too late! A distant corner of her mind found the situation hysterical -- now you're praying for a vampire? She shook her head, dismissing the thought. For Nick . . . and for Nat...and for one more win for the good guys . . . .
She realized where she was and turned into the alleyway of her own accord. She could see the back of the Caddy. He's here, she took a breath, then felt it catch in her throat as rest of the scene came into view. Nick was standing in the sun, eyes closed, arms outstretched, face turned up as though receiving a vision -- his skin steaming, smoking, burning . . . .
She skidded the car to a stop and threw open the door. She heard Nat scream Nick's name as Maeve broke into a run, building up as much speed as she could. She saw a flame flicker along his arm just as she ran into him with all the force she could manage -- and the world went dark.
"Nick!" The scream tore from her throat as she stumbled out of the car. No! Not this close! She saw the flames start up his arm and she could feel it burning. Her sore ankle turned under her and as she stumbled she saw Maeve running towards him. She looked up in time to see the collision as Maeve turned one shoulder and hit him at full speed. Nick was thrown face-down into the shadow of the building opposite. Maeve fell to the side, rolling over and over like a rag doll. She came to rest on her back, one arm twisted awkwardly under her, and lay there very still.
Nat managed to get her feet under her long enough to collapse at Nick's side. The smell was terrible. Scorched blood, her mind identified it automatically; she'd smelled it in the lab once when she'd left a sample too close to a lamp. She rolled him over on his back, deeper into the shadow of the building, afraid of what she'd find. His face was burned, charred . . . . "Nick?"
He came to, suddenly, with an agonized snarl, fangs extended, eyes glowing red. Lunging forward he came to a sudden stop as his eyes focused on her face. "Nat?"
She smiled at him, ignoring the tears running down her cheeks.
He looked confused for a moment. "I'm dead?"
She couldn't help it. She started to laugh. The look on his face was so confused, but he was alive and however bad the burns she knew he could recover.
"No!" She couldn't stop laughing. A small corner of her mind diagnosed a serious case of impending hysteria. "You're alive. I'm alive." Ignoring the unnatural color still tingeing his eyes, she threw her arms around him and whispered in his ear "I love you."
After a moment, Nat realized how much she must be hurting him -- and tempting him as well, for he was desperately in need of blood. She started to pull away, but he wrapped his blistered arms around her so tightly she could hardly breathe. "I thought I'd lost you . . . my soul . . . I love you, I love you so much . . . ."
She was starting to get lightheaded from lack of oxygen, when she spotted the still form lying a few yards away. "Maeve!" she choked.
As Nick released her she scrambled over to her friend's side. Nat's medical training kicked in automatically against the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She was breathing . . . although very slowly, too slowly for someone who'd just tackled a vampire like that. Her eyes were open but unseeing, unresponsive. Concussion? Brain damage? . . . Her mind automatically started checking off possibilities, but she could find no outward sign of trauma.
"What happened?" Nick's voice in her ear made her jump.
"She ran . . . tackled you . . . got you out of the sun," Nat kept feeling for injury and finding nothing. "She's non- responsive, but I can't find anything wrong. She must have hit her head . . . ," the hysteria was creeping back into her voice. No, not Maeve. Not like this!
"The Pact," Nick said suddenly. Nat stopped her examination to stare at him. "If she's the one that pushed me out of the way, then her soul was forfeit from the second she touched me."
"But she saved your life!"
" 'No intentions, no exceptions.' " He turned his attention to the still form, "Maeve, close your eyes." Nat started as the eyelids fell shut.
Nick swallowed hard. Such power could be as addictive as blood. Even if he hadn't owed her for his life, he wanted no part of such a thing.
With a great effort he pushed aside his overwhelming awareness of the two mortals in front of him, their heartbeats thundering in his ears, the sound of fresh blood pulsing through their veins . . . .
"Maeve, look at me." As she obeyed, her clear green eyes locking with the red-gold of the vampire's, he raised his hand and rested the tips of his fingers on her forehead. " 'I release thee,' " he recited, looking deep into her eyes. " 'Mind, body, and soul, I release thee.' "
Maeve's reaction was immediate. Digging reflexively at the ground with her elbows and heels she managed to put several feet between them as she sat up. The look in her eyes was something between terror and horror and she gasped like a drowning swimmer suddenly given air. Nat moved forward to hold her as she started shaking uncontrollably, but Nick carefully maintained his distance.
After a moment, when she had quieted some, Maeve swallowed hard. "Get him inside already," she gasped.
Maeve sat on the couch with a glass of wine (just wine, Nick had assured her quickly when she had eyed his offering suspiciously) and tried to take a deep breath. She still felt like she was shaking, although she knew it wasn't apparent from the outside. Her worst nightmares, her friends' most dire predictions -- lying there, aware of everything yet unable to move, barely able to formulate her own thoughts. Her body responding to his commands as though she were not even in it. But she had been in it.
She shuddered again. See if she ever volunteered for an experience like that again!
Nick caught the movement and a look of concern came over his face, "Maeve, are you sure you're all right?" His skin was already healing. Forty-five minutes later he still looked like he had the sunburn from hell, but Nat had let him empty as many bottles as he wanted -- four as of the last time she'd looked -- and even on cow's blood he would be fully healed soon.
Nat will be pissed tomorrow at what that's done to her experiments, Maeve thought wryly. But right now she was obviously too grateful to have him alive to care.
Seeing Nick lean forward towards her, she remembered his question. "Nick, I'm fine, really! Just tired."
As he sank back into his chair she mentally breathed a sigh of relief. Well at least he's really out of my mind, she thought, or he'd know that for a lie. She really didn't want him to know the panic that came over her the instant he moved near. It's stress . . . trauma . . . , she reassured herself. It will wear off . . . .
"Maeve," his voice broke into her thoughts. (Just his voice, she told her suddenly-racing pulse. That's normal.) "I don't know how to thank you." He paused, searching for words. "I know what you risked for me."
She knew all too well. Sara was right, this was madness. If she had hit him, and he had still died, her soul would be forfeit to the first vampire on the scene who cared to claim the debt. The very thought almost made her ill . . . .
All the smart replies that rushed automatically to her mind died before reaching her voice. "You're welcome," she said simply.
"If you hadn't thought so fast . . . ." Nat trailed off as Nick's hand closed comfortingly over hers. Maeve watched with a certain amazement. They really were in love, she thought. As bizarre and insane as that was -- she hadn't thought a vampire capable of it, frankly -- it was quite obviously true. She sighed; that certainly wasn't going to make their lives easier anytime soon.
"If I had thought at all," she growled, rubbing her aching shoulder, "I would have hit him with the damn car."
Yup, this is it. (Whew!) As mentioned at the start, a sequel is already underway (the flashback sequence that's ending up in part two was, in fact, the first thing I wrote . . . go figure.)
So, is it worth a sequel? Why did Maeve have to leave L.A.? Will she and Schanke ever get along? Is there some deeper meaning behind the witch/vampire Pact? What's Janette wearing in the flashback? <g>
Answers to these and many other riveting questions to come . . . . (yikes, I need a life :-) )
And as an extra bonus offer for anybody who's stuck with it this far, email me and I'll send you the Story That Started It All -- a short (one page, I swear!) Ricean vamp/witch encounter I wrote six years ago. Sheesh . . . it's scary how long stuff ferments in my brain! :-)
And, as always,
Praise, flames, bloopers &/or chocolates to Cat.Goddess@pobox.com.