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A Matter of Time
last modified September 1, 2002
by Amy R.
PG. This Forever Knight fanfiction presumes familiarity with the episodes "A More Permanent Hell" and "Last Knight." Please see the endnote for disclaimers, credits and all that good stuff.
". . . have to wake up! Come on, Nick, open your eyes."
Reluctant to abandon an unusually pleasant dream, Nick nevertheless rolled toward Natalie's voice, swallowing hard as he struggled to ensure the eyes he opened to his best friend would show harmless human blue. What was she doing here, he wondered as consciousness coalesced, here in his bedroom, while he slept? He had warned her about startling him from sleep at close range, and just because the blood-sucking beast was not lunging at her now was no reason for complacency, for she smelled close enough to . . .
Nick's eyes snapped open. Absolutely sure he still dreamt, he sat up. What he smelled, he disbelieved. What he saw, he doubted.
Natalie had not switched on the lamp in his windowless room, but with the red digits glowing on his clock the only available light, she sat beside him on his bed and looked into his face as if it were as clear to her as hers to him. Her flowing tan suit seemed odd, of a style he could not place. Strangest of all, close-cropped curls replaced the lengthy mane he had watched her stuff under a cap in her lab only the night before. "It doesn't suit you," he said, recognizing the self-distraction of denial.
"What doesn't?" She smiled -- not her usual reaction to such an opinion; he had expected a frown -- but her smile looked enduringly sad under its affectionate amusement. As smoothly as if she had done so countless times before, Natalie pushed the fingers of her right hand into his hair and trailed her left along his jaw before fitting her lips to his.
Startlement shattered into grief, rage and guilt, soon scattered further by a desire previously imprisoned, scorned and unwelcome, beyond the boundary he had never intended her to cross. Returning her kiss, Nick strove to gentle it into apology for the warmth her full lips did not impart, the beat her heart no longer drummed, the sweet, quick breath of life now lost to her as to him. Natalie, a vampire. It hurt. He hurt. Everything hurt. However it had occurred, whoever deserved blame, no circumstance could lessen the blow or deepen the cut.
But her touch was too insistent, impossibly sure. Knowing better, Nick nevertheless allowed himself to imagine this again a dream, free of consequences, and gave himself up to it and to her, until fang scraped fang and he fell back in the appalling reality of it.
"I'm sorry," she said after a long moment, staring at him as if her gaze could consume like her bite. "I didn't intend that. And we don't have time to waste that way. But I just hadn't realized how much I'd missed it."
She was not making any sense, but Nick expected that. He had seen her only hours before, at work, alive and well, and the newly undead were notoriously unstable in every way. Her relative restraint impressed him. He retrieved her hand and lifted it to his lips, carefully forcing his fangs back. He should be able to smell the villain on her still, but the scents surrounding her refused to make sense. As kindly as he could, Nick asked, "Who did this to you?"
Tears immediately filled her eyes. Natalie blinked away blood, her lashes washing grisly gold from the familiar blue. "Oh, Nick," she whispered. "Of course that's why I'm here." She smiled -- again, so inexplicably, agelessly sad under the tart wit her smile always implied -- and withdrew her hand to dash aside a tear before it could slip down her cheek. Standing, she headed for the door and tossed him his bathrobe from the peg on the back. "Why donít you put this on and meet me downstairs? In here, it's much too easy for both of us to imagine this is all just a dream."
Nick complied slowly, choosing a t-shirt and jeans instead of the robe, and almost constructed a hope that it was indeed a dream he could banish with the vile but rousing taste of one of the nutritional "protein shake" blood-substitutes Natalie had invented for him. Then, as he reached the landing at the top of his stairs and looked down into the open sweep of his loft, he saw her staring at his latest canvas. He could feel her. Fully awake, he could feel the splice in the metaphysical rope of his artificial life, the place where his being twisted inextricably with hers. Family. The damned monster who had done this to her was close kin. Who -- it made no sense.
But Natalie was his first priority. In this case, he was paramedic and social services, not detective -- not yet. The perpetrator would come later.
"I remember this one," she said, looking up from the stylized yellow and orange sun. "It took you years to realize it was done. You kept putting it back up on the easel as if you expected to add something, but never did."
"I just started it a few days ago," he corrected gently, humbly awed that while the first-hunger madness seemed to take all her concentration, leaving her confused, she had still somehow managed to control it. "You've never seen this one before, but I have tried similar motifs." No matter what had happened, no matter what she had already done -- and he swore he would blame her for nothing, he who knew that craving whole -- she could not be that far beyond the wild hunger in this little time. "Have you . . . fed?" How shameful the word suddenly seemed, applied to her. Fed. Animal word. Humans ate. But they were neither of them human any more. He descended the stairs and turned toward his refrigerator.
"I'm fine, but if you happen to have one of my amino-acid concoctions made up, I'd love to try it. I've always wondered how those early ones tasted to the vampire palate." She left the studio area and joined him in his kitchen, grinning. "And if they were really as bad as you made them out to be. Here's your chance to prove it!"
"You'll need something stronger than that, Nat. I'm sorry -- I am so sorry -- but later. Here," he uncorked a bottle of steer blood and handed it to her. "I'll call the Raven and ask Janette to send over some human if that's what . . . if you . . ." He did not know how to say it, that Natalie's appetite might now be for the life in the blood of people -- dreaming, loving, hoping, believing, growing -- that was no longer in her.
Natalie set a finger against his lips. "Everyone at the Raven is asleep now. The Raven! It's been so long since I've thought of that place." She frowned, then shook her head decidedly, as if refusing a distracting memory even the chance to suck her in. She dropped her hand. "Trust me?"
"Of course. But I know more about this than you do."
"Ah, but that's where you're wrong." Natalie traded the bottle in her hand for the thermos in his and sat down at his kitchen table. "Right now, for this moment and not too many more, we're exactly even. Today, in my time, I'm as old as you are today in yours. We've both seen eight centuries come and go, most of them in the dark."
Nick watched her turn the thermos lid into a mug and sniff suspiciously at the white protein syrup. "You think . . . . That is, you're from the twenty-eighth century?"
"It's best not to be too specific about that, I'm told." Natalie sipped cautiously. "Telephone her. Your Natalie. It's the only way to prove I'm not her, right? Or that I am? I'm still a scientist, Nick. Let's test our hypotheses. And quickly, please. We don't have that much time."
Fair enough. Nick closed the refrigerator, set the open bottle of cow on the table near Natalie, and headed to the phone on the credenza behind his couch. Placing the phone on speaker, he cocked an eyebrow at her. When she nodded, he punched her number on the speed dial. One ring. Two. Three. Natalie's answering machine kicked in.
"Even when I was human, I rarely woke up gladly, and I'm working night-shift these days, of course. Try it again."
Tolerantly, Nick did. One ring. He raked his memory for treatments for shock and other post-traumatic reactions, and wondered how they applied to vampires. Two rings. This was Natalie's area of expertise, but he had been a UN Red Cross medic in Vietnam not so many decades ago. Surely he knew something relevant. Three rings.
"Nat?!" The voice was perfect. Nick looked from the telephone to the woman in his kitchen. She shrugged, and gestured for him to continue.
"Nick?" Natalie's voice came from the speaker. "What are you doing up in the middle of the day?"
"Um, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Nick. What's wrong?" He heard Sidney mewing in the background as the concern rose in Natalie's voice.
"Nothing," he forced himself to say. "Really. I just, uh, ran out of protein shakes, and wondered if you could give me the recipe again."
"I'll bring some right over." He heard her yawn. "That'll be faster than you trying to make them from scratch. You probably don't even have the ingredients there, and you certainly can't go to the store on a day like today. Not a cloud in the sky."
The woman in his kitchen frowned and made a severe negating motion. Nick had read and seen enough science-fiction to guess the explanation and, regardless of its credibility, he found he agreed. His co-worker and best friend was still human, as she should be, and he would keep her as far from this vampire at his table as possible.
"No, don't come over, Nat. I went to the grocery before sunrise -- really. I promise I have everything. I just don't remember the amounts."
"I thought you had perfect recall." He could hear the alert curiosity that pounced when he inadvertently dropped a new tidbit about vampirism. The woman in his kitchen smiled.
"That's involuntary. Spontaneous. When I want to remember something on purpose, it's just like for anyone else."
"Nick, you have to tell me these things! You never know what might be important to finding your cure!" The Natalie on the phone scolded, then sighed, and then rattled off her current recipe for an ethical, nutritious, economic and utterly revolting blood-substitute beverage. With thanks and apologies, Nick hung up the phone.
"No wonder this tastes so unpleasant," the Natalie in the kitchen remarked. "You should have told me. In fact, do tell me. After I leave, call me back and tell me to switch to spirulina protein -- it's an algae. Double the salt to compensate, and use citrus for sugar. No more pome fruits. Call it a wild inspiration." She finished the last of the thermos's contents. "You'll thank me, I promise."
"If I will thank you," Nick gathered his thoughts, "you must remember me thanking you?"
Her expression grew grave. "I don't expect you to believe all of this, but I need you to believe enough of it. Just enough, Nick, and it will do more good than you can imagine."
"Thanks." Pushing away the empty thermos and full bottle, Natalie crossed her arms on the table and leaned forward. "It's the usual scenario. Well, what will become usual after time-travel is invented. It's all unbelievably dangerous and highly illegal -- and you'll forget this interlude entirely in twenty-four hours, as the timestream naturalizes the changes. Don't bother writing it down; once you forget, you won't believe yourself, anyway. I have only this one tiny window in which to reach you, and I'll vanish as it closes -- back to my own world and time, if I fail, to be prosecuted for my crime."
"And if you succeed?"
"Out of existence entirely."
Nick absorbed that. "I take it you want something changed."
"That law hasn't been written yet."
"Where does the future Nicolas de Brabant stand on this?"
"He . . . you're not involved." The tears returned, as when he had asked who brought her across. "I knew it would be hard seeing you again, but not how hard. I still miss you. And I'm so sorry, Nick. I'm so very, very sorry." She rose and walked to his easel, facing the sun painting and turning her back to him, perhaps so he could not watch her cry.
Nick moved around to the front of his couch and sat, but otherwise held himself apart as her tears grew briefly to sobs and then subsided. He had no doubts that this was Natalie Lambert. Every sense concurred with the unique combination that could only be her, and her as a vampire. That she was Natalie, he knew. That her emotion was real, he also knew. But its inspiration, its motivation? He thought he understood what extremes might push the present, human Natalie across the law. But a vampire, and as old as this one claimed to be . . . no, he knew nothing of her at all, for all he felt he should know everything of her.
Still, he would help her, if he could.
Poise recovered, the vampire Natalie turned to him. "There is no challenge to morality or legality in what I'm asking, not from your end of time. I wouldn't do that to you -- not again, never again. So this is what I came to ask. Just this." Her voice shook with intensity, and her eyes fleetingly flashed amber. "Please, Nick, no matter what, do not bring me across."
Shocked, Nick could only stare as he fought realization of the nature of the link binding them, consequence of a sin he had not committed -- yet -- and even the thought of which he had struggled never to entertain. One truth combated another. He walked up to her as if proximity could lend his conviction force. "I would never do that to you, Nat! I would never make you a vampire."
"I know. But you did. You will. And you must not."
"I promise." He stared into her eyes, through her hope into her doubt, and then dropped to one knee. He must crush that doubt. But how could he not deserve it for his betrayal? "I pledge, with whatever honor I've regained this past century, that I will not damn you to vampirism."
She bent down to lift him up and gather him in. "Thank you. Oh, love, thank you." They held each other close, but, too soon, Natalie pulled away. "We have only a little time left. A few details might help. They're not pretty."
He nodded for her to proceed.
"Remember -- no matter what else happens, don't bring me across! Change anything else you like, or don't, but just ensure you change that. All right? Now, tonight, an old friend of mine will slit her wrists, addressing her suicide note to me. Unrelatedly, a felon will shoot and kill your partner, right in front of you. These, on top of all the things that have gone so horribly wrong in the past year, push us both past the breaking point. I will ask you to bring me over. No, really, I will. I was there, remember? I will cajole, command, persuade, beg, misdirect and guilt you into biting me. I will do everything in my power and use every privilege from every relationship we've tried to get you to turn me into a vampire. Don't do it. Just -- don't. Tonight is the lowest point of my entire life to date. Be stronger. Be better. Get through tonight, and tomorrow's a whole new world."
"Was I there for you, Nat?" It seemed terribly important to him that he had been, that even if he made this horrific mistake, he would have stood by her and sheltered her as much as possible from its consequences. "I know you can never forgive me, but --"
She set a finger against his lips again, apparently a habitual gesture in her time. "I never blamed you for that. Never. You only gave me what I insisted I wanted. And with modern amenities to avoid certain primitive necessities, after a while, I didn't even mind the vampirism . . . much."
He pulled her hand away, troubled. "What sent you back, then? If not loathing for what I made you, what?"
She ducked his eyes and laid her head on his chest, pressing her left ear over his inert heart. He held her, resting his cheek on her cropped hair. Her secrets were her own; he had no right to press. That she wished to escape the vampire's cursed existence, to wipe out what it had compelled her to do over so long, he entirely understood. This could be her salvation. Whatever had possessed him to destroy her in her past, he knew he would not, could not, commit that atrocity in his future. No matter what.
His cheek slipped. "Nat?" He stepped back, fascinated and concerned, as she seemed to fade in his arms, suddenly less substantial than most ghosts he had encountered.
She raised her hands in front of her eyes and stared through her fingers at him. "It's all right. This is supposed to happen. Just don't turn me into a vampire, and everything will be okay. I believe that. I've lived on that belief for so long." She tried to pick up his hand, but hers went right through him, and he began to see the orange and yellow canvas through her. "I don't know how long we have, and I wasn't going to tell you, but if it will help to know -- if it might keep this in your mind -- I came back because of you, Nick. What I did to you. After you brought me across, you despaired. You hated yourself, and then me, and eventually . . . I made you that, because of what I made you do. You understand, don't you? You once staked Lacroix. There was no choice. You understand?"
He did. "I forgive you. And thank you."
"Not necessary, now." She faded faster. "You just say 'no' to me again, just like you did when the asteroid came, and so many will have another, better chance. You'll remember for twenty-four hours. Be strong, exactly as you were during the asteroid scare."
"Asteroid scare?" Nick repeated, barely able to discern her features from the bright painting in front of which she stood. "What asteroid?"
Her eyes suddenly flared wide. Her mouth opened soundlessly. And then she was gone.
Nick stood a contemplative vigil by the painting until sunset, when Schanke phoned to summon him to an apparent suicide at the observatory. Nick insisted his partner wear kevlar that night, hinting that such scrupulosity might impress their captain.
James Parriot and Barney Cohen created the fantasy television program Forever Knight. The Sony Corporation owns it. It sometimes airs on the SciFi Channel. I intend no infringement. Please support all their Forever Knight endeavors!
All characters and situations in this fantasy-fiction piece are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
This story alludes to events in the episodes "Last Knight," "Can't Run, Can't Hide," "Dark Knight" and "A More Permanent Hell." In production order, "Last Knight" is the last episode of third season, and "A More Permanent Hell" the second-to-last episode of second season; by that count, they occur exactly one year and one episode apart. Both, of course, begin with a suicide and include Natalie asking Nick to bite her. In AMPH, with the asteroid scare, he refuses; in LK, with the death of his partner, he complies.
Apples, pears and quinces are all pome fruits.
My thanks go to my test audience members for their precious time and invaluable help. Abby advised keeping the episode references in the endnote. Shelley keenly identified the vague spots. Cynthia streamlined the language. And Elisabeth prevented the new protein drink recipe from tasting worse than the original.
Please do not archive, post or distribute this piece. Please link to it on my own fansite instead. I wrote "A Matter of Time" in June 2002 and posted it to fkfic-l on June 24, 2002.
Thank you for reading! I always appreciate comments and constructive criticism. Please email me or write me on LiveJournal or Dreamwidth.
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