A State of Grace
An alternative 'last episode' of FOREVER KNIGHT
by Jean Graham

He'd nearly killed her.

If she hadn't screamed, hadn't found the resister's strength to somehow push him

With an oath, Nick flung the unopened bottle of cow's blood at the sealed window
shutters. It shattered, and its gruesome contents oozed down the painted metal to drip onto
the floor.

How in God's name had he let things get so far out of control?


If she'd only let him talk to her, let him try to explain...

But she wasn't answering her phones.

And he couldn't even explain it to himself, yet.

It was still two hours until sunset.

He paced.

I'm sorry, Nat. God, I'm sorry...

He'd lost her. This time, he'd frightened her so badly that she would want nothing
more to do with him. And how could he blame her?

"Hold me, Nick. Please, just hold me," she'd pleaded. And from so innocent a

He'd taken her into his arms, standing here on this same spot, and allowed her to cry
while he cradled her. On the heels of his own crisis with Lacroix's crazed maker, he'd learned
that Nat had been forced to deal with the suicide of a close friend. They had both gazed into
Hell these past few days; it seemed only natural that they console each other now. How many
times in the past had they simply held one another this way, with no reservations, no fears?

He had no idea what had happened. Except that it shouldn't have happened.

Perhaps Divia's poison had affected him more than he knew. Or perhaps Lacroix had
been right all along, and the beast had simply risen to claim what it would naturally regard as
its own.

His beast.

The embrace had quickly escalated into something more. Something it should never
have been permitted to become. But this morning the need for her had been so strong. The
need for her touch, her closeness, her kiss. He knew she felt the same, had read it in the
desperate, unmistakable sensuality with which she'd returned the kiss.

And then...

The vampire had loomed before he'd had any prayer of repressing it. His oath, his
century of practiced self-control, all gone in an instant of unguarded passion.

With shame, he remembered tasting the incredibly sweet essence of her blood, and
savoring in it the memories that flooded him with everything that was and had ever been
Natalie. All of her. And throughout the intoxicating flow of her blood had shone the one
thing he had wanted most to savor -- her love for him.

"No... Please, don't!"

Her cry had demolished the moment of ecstasy, and suddenly she'd begun resisting,
struggling to twist away from him. He tried to hold her.


She had screamed his name, and summoned the strength to shove him, hard enough to
startle him into withdrawing. And in the moment that it took for him to come back to himself,
to force the beast into submission and to realize what he'd done... in that moment she had
wrenched away and fled down the loft's outer stairs.

Out into the day.

Eight desolate hours later, Nick clung to the mantel and begged the memory of her for
something he knew he might never attain.

"Forgive me, Nat. Please..."

How *could* you? I *trusted* you!

Natalie wanted to scream the words at him, but it was all she could do for the moment
simply to repress the urge to run from the lab, to avoid this confrontation altogether.

"I'm sorry," he said, with so much hurt in his eyes that her resolve nearly melted then
and there. "I don't know why..." He hesitated, swallowed. "It shouldn't have happened. Nat,

She jumped when he tried to move closer. She couldn't help it. He stopped where he
was, lowering his hands to his sides. "I'm sorry," he repeated softly. His voice broke on the
second word.

Nat kept her hands behind her, grasped the cold edge of the lab sink and tried to draw
courage from it. Shuddering, she resisted reaching inside the high collar of her pullover to
touch the swollen marks that remained there. This... 'relationship' was madness, had been
madness from the beginning, and how could she not have seen where it would lead? If ever
there had been a truly fatal attraction... And just when had she become suicidal?

When had she fallen so far under his spell that the thought of dying -- dying! -- had actually
begun to appeal to her?

When had she become like Laura?

It would stop. It had to stop. Here. Now. She had to tell him, had to find the words.
"It's finished, Nick." Her voice trembled, and she hated herself for her own cowardice.
This was Nick. Nick, for God's sake, who had known her for six years, had cherished her,
comforted her, made her laugh at times (and cry at others). Nick, who had once claimed to
love her and had trusted her with the darkest of his secrets. Nick, who had changed so much
in recent months that she scarcely knew him anymore. Nick, who this morning had come
very close to killing her.

"I think we've known that for the past year, both of us," she forged on, loathing every
word of it, but certain that it must be said. "We've just been lying to ourselves that it wasn't
so. Well, I can't do that anymore." She fought back threatening tears and hurried on before
he could interrupt. "I want my life back, Nick. I can't go on like this. We can't. It's..." The
tears tightened in her throat until her voice was barely audible. She couldn't put into words
what this 'mistake,' this betrayal of her trust in him had done to her. The terror she felt right
now defied description. "Maybe it's just time for you to go, to move on. You've been thinking
about it for the last year, I know you have."

He didn't deny it. But neither, despite what had happened this morning, was he
apparently ready to relinquish the dream they had shared. Nat knew exactly what he'd say
before the words formed. "But... the cure..." he stammered, and the desperation in his voice
made her want to fall into his arms and say that she hadn't meant it. Nothing ever dies
harder than hope, she thought bitterly. As well she knew...

She steeled herself to say it, and to look into his eyes when she did. "You'll have to
find it without me, Nick. I should never have started something I had no chance of finishing."
Because I was foolish enough to fall in love with you. "I was in way over my head on this, I
know that now. And it has to stop."

"Nat--" He reached out for her again, but she spun away from the proffered embrace,
retreating to her report-littered desk.

"Don't," she said. "Please, don't..."

"I thought..." Oh, God, he sounded so hurt, like a child left suddenly, horribly alone in
the world. Well, he was anything but that, she reminded herself sternly. "I know I've ruined
it now, and you have every right to hate me for that," he went on in a small voice that was
nearly a whisper. "But I thought, at least for a time, that we had something... special, you and

"Almost had." She turned back to face him, and the tears began escaping in spite of
her determination to contain them. "I can't live like this anymore!"

She knew she was echoing Nick's own words from another time, and hoped against
hope that somehow, that would help him to understand why she must do this. "I don't want
to die, Nick." It came out as a sob; she could do nothing to stop that now. "And I don't want
to be brought across. But I don't have any other options with you, do I?"

She could see tears forming in his eyes now. "If I were mortal..." he began.

"You're not." That was harsher than she'd intended, but her anger had begun to get the
better of her. "And let's admit it, Nick. I don't think you want to be."

That had hurt. She regretted the words immediately, though too late to take them
back. He stared, saying nothing, and Natalie watched the last ember of a centuries-old hope
die in his eyes, hating herself all the more. It wasn't true. He had wanted to be human, more
than anything. She'd been so sure of that, once. If only...

She brushed a hand across her own eyes, angrily wiping away the betraying tears.
Nick took another tentative step toward her, and when she stiffened in response, he stopped
and simply stood there, looking helpless, mouth open to form a final entreaty that never came.

In another moment, he'd disappeared from the lab faster than any mortal could have
done, the faint swinging movement of the morgue door the only evidence that he'd ever been
there at all.

Nat sank onto the paper-strewn desk and finally released the wracking sobs she'd been
holding back for so long.

The sign on the Raven's front door read starkly, "Closed Until Further Notice."

Nick used his key, entered the club's silent, cavernous depths, and had to repress the
ghosts that assailed him on the way across the deserted dance floor. Urs. Vachon. So many

"Come to say good-bye, Nicholas?"

Lacroix stood behind the bar, a bottle of his best human vintage open on the counter.
Two glasses waited beside it.

Nick didn't answer the question. He slid onto one of the high stools, watched
wordlessly as Lacroix filled both glasses from the labeled bottle. He hesitated for a moment
when one of the glasses was placed, with characteristic presumption, in his hand. Then he
closed his eyes, vanquishing the guilt that rose in him with a crushing blow of vampiric fury.
What did his feeble oaths matter now? Who was there to care? Snarling, he drained the drink
in one swift motion.

The silence lengthened between them for nearly a full minute before he finally spoke.
"When will you leave?" he asked.

Grey-blue eyes glittered from over the rim of the blood-filled glass. "I have a few
affairs to put in order." Lacroix gestured at the Raven's surrounding walls. "Five days should
be sufficient, I think."

Nick accepted a second drink and emptied this one more slowly, studying the goblet's
contents as though he might find all the answers to his problems somewhere in those dark red

Watching him, Lacroix finally inquired directly, "I don't suppose you'd care to join

Nick brooded, toying with the empty glass. "Maybe," he said.

Truth to tell, he loathed the very thought of rejoining Lacroix and, by default, the
vampire community. He'd sworn off that particular allegiance more than a century ago; to go
back now betrayed every concept of personal integrity he had ever known. Yet, so did
drinking human blood. And there was no denying that his sham of a mortal life here in
Toronto had run its course. Moving on was the expected, the reasonable thing to do, whether
he created a new life on his own or in Lacroix's age-old, familiar company.

But, unpleasant truth again: he really desired neither option. For too long, he'd been
certain that his quest for mortality would finish here.

Perhaps it still could.

The blood coursed through him, its strength feeding his anger, his self-loathing, his
conflict. He looked up at Lacroix with glowing eyes and confessed, "I don't want to go."

"No, of course you don't," the ancient vampire agreed with what sounded like genuine
sympathy. "You never do. But it is time, Nicholas. It is time."

"For you. Not for me."

Something in Lacroix's eyes said he didn't like the sound of that. "Haven't you
tortured yourself with this unattainable ambition long enough?"

Yes, he supposed he had.

Incredibly, a wave of genuine concern washed across the link he shared with his
maker. Lacroix grasped his shoulder with a strong hand that spoke more of concern now than
of control, as it would once have done. "Let it go, Nicholas."

And he found that he could, now.

Nick poured himself a third glass, tossed it back, then banished the gold from his eyes
before he turned to leave.

"I'll let you know," he said, and flew from the Raven's one-time shelter into Toronto's
waning night.

Nick lingered outside the church's south transept, gazing up at the imposing, buttressed walls
and at the stained glass windows, glowing softly with light from within. This was the same
church he and Schanke had staked out four years ago, when several of its female parishioners
had been savagely murdered. Then, with Nat's help, Nick had garnered the courage to go
inside, though he'd soon been forced to hide from the burning terror of all those crosses by
seeking shelter in the confessional.

And then, Schanke...

The memory evoked both a smile and a tear. His partner's breathless, earnest voice
coming through the confessional screen...

"I know I haven't been a good Christian, Father; I'm prob'ly a lousy Christian by your
standards... I went to this club that my partner hangs out at a lot... Well, this partner of mine.
I've gotta admit I've been giving him a tough time, but he's a real piece of work, you know?
He always makes me wait outside this place, never lets me go in. So the other night, I went in
there lookin' for him, and you would not believe this place, Father!"

Schanke had been as mortal as they come, and it had been that very aspect that had, in
time, endeared him to his non-mortal partner and made him a good and trustworthy friend.
A friend Nick might even have entrusted with his secret one day, if things had worked out

And then there was Natalie.

The thought of her brought pain deeper than anything he'd ever known. The ache in
his heart had begun on that first night, when he'd awakened on her autopsy table. And over
the years, it had grown to such an intensity that he sometimes thought he would die of the
desire -- the need -- for her. Throughout his very long life, how many things had Nicholas de
Brabant craved that he could never have? Love. Happiness. Mortality. Sunlight.

And Natalie Lambert.

He couldn't envision a new life, anywhere, without her. In fact, he couldn't envision
another new life at all. Without Natalie's encouragement, without her strength and the
promise of finding a cure one day, what purpose did his ongoing, endless existence serve?

What purpose had it ever served?

Nothing but to become the instrument of untimely death for thousands. He had never
been anything more than Lacroix's slave, Janette's paramour, the vampire community's
laughingstock, and to the mortal world, a monster. What hubris, to think that Natalie, his
beautiful, mortal Natalie, could ever love such a thing.


That admonition, formed on Lacroix's lips so many times over the centuries and now
uttered by his own, still did nothing to ease the pain that had settled in his heart.
But he knew, now, what he must do.

He strode to the front of the high-walled brick building, climbed the steps, reached for
the brass door-latch -- and froze. He thought again of Natalie, and of St. Joan, of the courage
they had both tried so hard to impart to him. He reached again for the latch.

Blind terror gripped him at the metal's cold touch. With a cry, he snatched his hand
away as though the latch had burned him. Confused, he staggered back, staring up at the
ornate stonework that towered over the door. Two grim-faced angels stared back at him, their
eyes filled with sadness, their outstretched hands solemnly forbidding him entry.

Had God now abandoned him as well?

How Lacroix would have laughed, he thought, at that conceit.

"I do not claim to know what God does," he heard himself tell Natalie not very long
ago. "I stepped out of that light too long ago."

And so he had.

For eternity.

He stumbled away from the church door, turned his back on God and the angels, and
fled again into the night.

Natalie hadn't slept. She reported in the next night knowing that she looked like proverbial
death warmed over. The phrase made her cringe, even as she thought it. More than once in
her long association with Nick, she had nearly become precisely that. Yesterday, she'd come
closer than ever before. And it had horrified her.

No 'customers' waiting on the slabs tonight. Well, that was good. Maybe she could
finally get caught up on some of her paperwork.

An hour into that tedious process, footsteps approached the lab from the outer hall.

Nat looked up, fully expecting to see Nick come through the door.

Instead, the imposing figure that invaded her sterile domain belonged to Captain Joe
Reese. He held a folded sheet of paper in both hands, and he did not look happy.
"Natalie..." he said by way of greeting, and she nodded in response, hoping he
wouldn't look too closely at the dark circles gracing her eyes, or wonder why she had them.
"I, uh..." He unfolded the paper with slow, meticulous hands. "I thought maybe you might be
able to tell me what the heck this is all about."

He handed the sheet across, turning it first so the print would be right side up to her.
Nat took it, scanned it briefly, then dropped it to the desk with a sigh. It was Nick's
resignation: succinct, unrevealing, signed at the bottom in his ever-precise hand.
"I knew he'd been off his game the last few months, but this..." Reese shook his head.
"This is the second time he's resigned on me, y'know. Only this time, he won't tell me why.
Just some cock-'n'-bull story about it being 'time to move on,' whatever that may mean. Beats
the hell outta me."

"Nick's been suffering burnout for a long time," Nat said lamely, knowing it wouldn't
be enough to satisfy Reese.

"Hell, two weeks vacation coulda taken care of burnout," he grumped. "Nah, it's more
than that." Reese retrieved the resignation letter from the desk, refolded it neatly and tucked it
into a pocket. "Look, I know it's none of my business, and you can tell me to take a flying
leap off the nearest bridge if you want to, but... you two break up or something? Is that
what's got Nick so worked up he can't even see straight?"

Natalie looked away, suddenly distinctly uncomfortable under the captain's scrutiny.
Nick wouldn't resign over that," she lied.

"Uh-huh." Reese didn't sound any more convinced than she did. "Well, I gotta tell ya,
Natalie, he doesn't look so good. And neither do you, come to that. You sure the two of you
can't work this out, whatever it is?"

The tears were threatening to come back again. Natalie bit her lip and said quietly,
"I'm sure."

"Well, I've already got Tracy Vetter out on some so-called 'emergency leave,' even
though she won't tell me what the deal is. Said it was 'personal.' And now Knight... Tell you
the truth, I'd hate to lose my best detective over a lover's spat. After all, you're not exactly a
couple of love-sick kids, now are you?"

The papers scattered across Nat's desk blurred together. "No," she said, "we're not.
But I'm afraid there's nothing left to work out. Nick's resigning for his own reasons. What
little there was between us was over a long time ago."

"Mm." Still looking less than pleased, Reese leaned over to place one large, firm hand
over hers. "Doesn't look too busy around here," he noted. "I'm out of my jurisdiction, so it's
just a suggestion, but why don't you book off for the night, go home and get some sleep?"

She tried to smile. "Thanks. Maybe I'll do that."

But long after Reese had gone, she remained at her desk, staring with empty eyes at a
meaningless pile of reports that she could not have read, even if her heart had been in it to try.


She started, glanced up to find Nick standing where Reese had been -- how long ago?

She hadn't heard him come in, but then, Nick had always been good at that.

"I... didn't mean to scare you," he apologized, and looked fleetingly back at the door as
though he might decide to bolt at any moment. "I only stopped by to..." He glanced
nervously at the floor, then back at her, finally getting the words out. "I just wanted to say
good-bye," he said. "And... thanks. For everything." The lines sounded rehearsed, childishly
awkward. He looked down, seeming to relax for a moment, as though foregoing the canned
speech for something more genuine. "Nat... I wanted to say... I wanted you to know that I've
never felt more... human... than I have in the last six years, here, with you." He finally met her
eyes, and haltingly added, "That means more to me than you'll probably ever know."

Did he have to make it sound so... final?

Well, she reasoned, he was moving on, wasn't he? They'd never see each other again.

At one time, she'd have rushed to him without hesitation, would have let him take her
in his arms and hold her while they reconciled whatever problem had most recently divided

No more.

She couldn't trust him to control the vampire as he once had. Worse, she couldn't trust
herself to ever send him away if she allowed him to hold her again.

So she kept the desk between them and her tone as level as extreme fatigue and raging
emotions allowed. "I'm sorry things didn't work out the way we'd hoped," she said.

"Yeah. Me too." Such naked despair in those few brief words. She'd never heard so
much raw pain in his voice before, and it completely unnerved her.

She broke eye contact and deliberately gathered a pile of the strewn reports from the
desktop. "If that's all," she said, knowing that her own voice sounded strained and artificial, "I
have a lot of work to do."

He nodded once, the wounded look never leaving his face, and turned to go.


He stopped and turned back, the faintest glimmer of hope shining in those incredibly
blue eyes. Natalie shivered, suddenly terrified. What had she meant to say? 'Please, Nick,
take me with you'? 'Bring me across and we'll stay together forever and ever'? She drew in a
long, shuddering breath and said the only thing that came readily to mind. "Will you go with

Disappointment touched his eyes, though it was rapidly masked with a forlorn
acceptance. "No," he said raggedly, and moved again toward the door.

This time, she didn't stop him.

"Not by my own hand," he'd once said to Erica when she'd spoken of ending their vampiric
lives. And though he hadn't taken her seriously then, she had, a few years ago, found the
courage to do precisely that. When she'd died, he had begun to doubt his own worth, had
even contemplated following her into final death. In the end, he'd come to believe himself
incapable of self-destruction.

But that had been before he'd tried to kill Natalie. That had been before he'd driven
her away.

Now, there was no longer anyone to care.

His affairs, as Lacroix would have said, were all in order. Nick had tendered his
resignation, said his good-byes, seen to the eventual sale of both the loft and the Caddy, and
arranged with Feliks Twist for the final disposition of the de Brabant Foundation. Amazing
how quickly his eight hundred years of unlife could be neatly tied up with a string. No trace
left behind. Nothing to indicate that Nicholas de Brabant had ever walked, for a time, upon
this earth.

Nothing but the unavenged souls of his victims.

Systematically, Nick went about the loft making preparations. He closed the shutters,
though the night was still young, unplugged the telephone, pulled open the refrigerator and
proceeded to empty the last six bottles of bovine blood down the stainless-steel sink. That
done, he came slowly back across the room to pause near the end table that served as the
resting place for a hand-carved, wooden box. He opened it carefully, steeling himself to look
inside. With a black silk handkerchief drawn from his pocket, he covered his hand and
carefully removed the ancient wooden cross from its reliquary.

Even through the cloth, its heat tried to burn him. Grimacing, Nick carried it to a pine
packing crate placed beneath the loft's farthest window and propped it there against the
bricks. Fear seized him at the sight of it, forced to mind the memory of the woman who had
bequeathed it to him, her voice pleading with him from the flames to hold it up, for it would
give her courage. He had tried. But the evil that he was could touch neither the light nor the
symbol of the Light, and he had fallen to his knees in the dust-laden crypt, cursing his
existence while all the while, outside, the flames had risen to claim her.

He remembered her screams...

Nicholas stood before his ersatz altar and began to draw a trembling hand from
forehead to heart, left shoulder to right. The action seared fire into each point that he touched,
blistering his fingers, but he paid it no heed.

Burned hands folded in supplication, Nicholas de Brabant, late knight-errant of the
Holy See of France, knelt to a God he had forsaken eight centuries before, and began to pray.

"In nomine Patris et filii et spiritus sancti..."

It amazed him somewhat that he could still remember the words. But abandoning the
Latin, he continued the prayer in the medieval French that came more naturally to his tongue.

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned..."

Some would call performing the Sacrament of Penance without a priest heresy. If so --
and it would hardly be his first -- then he would ask forgiveness for that as well.

He had no lack of penitence. As for penance, he had, to begin, fasted two days and
nights, and would fast as many more as time for his confession required of him, though that
might be many.

Nicholas' sins were legion.

Fasting should weaken the body but strengthen the resolve -- enough, he hoped, to
endure his ultimate punishment.

He confessed that the killing had actually begun years before his fall into darkness,
with Gwynneth's death, with the holy wars of the Crusades. He recalled those long-ago days
in the sun only dimly, and so asked absolution for whatever unremembered lives he may have
wrongly ended.

Of each and every life he had taken since the fall, he had the vampire's perfect
memory, complete and agonizingly clear. One by one before this altar, no matter how lengthy
the task, he meant to confess them all.

Something... disturbing... vibrated along his link to Nicholas. Frowning, Lacroix paused in his
packing of the oversized travel trunk, closed his eyes and 'listened.'

Anguish. Guilt. Hunger. Sorrow.

These sensations commonly plagued the mental connections to his wayward son. But
for the two nights since Nicholas' visit to the Raven, all of these had intensified tenfold. And
there had been something more. Something indistinct, yet unsettling in its feeling of urgency.

He had never felt this from Nicholas before, and Lacroix didn't know what to make of it. No
doubt it was something to do with the good Dr. Lambert, and Nicholas' lovesick reluctance to
leave her behind. But then, Nicholas had always been reluctant to leave his mortal loves

At sunset tomorrow, he would visit Nicholas' loft to learn whether they would travel
together or again go their separate ways. The days of forcing his son's compliance were
beyond them: for the time being, he must take a softer hand. For now, however, the packing
required his undivided attention.

It would be sunrise in less than an hour.

Her shift over, Natalie stripped off her gloves and scrubs, washed up, and donned her coat for
the drive home. She didn't know what made her think suddenly of Nick as she slid behind
the steering wheel. It had been a busy two nights since his awkward good-bye; she'd tried
hard since then to concentrate on the job and not think about the chapter of her life that had
recently closed. Why such a strong image of Nick should come to mind now puzzled her
more than a little. Surely he was far from Toronto by now, already beginning a new life
somewhere else.

But even as she thought it, Natalie knew it wasn't so. And somehow, just as clearly,
she knew that something was wrong.

Very wrong.

Sighing, she started the engine and headed in the direction of Nick's loft.

He had one last sin to confess, though it had yet to be committed, and could thus not be truly
repented. He would not be able, though, to confess it afterward. The dichotomy brought a
bitter smile to his lips. No wonder the church had proclaimed it the "unforgivable sin."

Reverently, Nicholas again wrapped St. Joan's cross in the silk cloth, striving to ignore
the searing heat that still emanated from it. Rising for the first time in two days, he made his
way across the kitchen to the stairway door. Two flights of concrete steps led up to roof level,
where he paused before cautiously opening the outer door onto the still-safe darkness of pre-
dawn. The door had a sturdy deadbolt lock that latched on its own. Deliberately, he tripped
the bolt before stepping through and closing the door firmly behind him. When the latch had
clicked solidly into place, he tested his waning strength on the handle, and could not force the

So, if cowardice should overcome him in the end, this escape route would be denied
him. And he was now far too weak with hunger to fly. There should be no way, then, to
escape his judgment.

The monster that had stolen so many lives, the creature that had so very nearly taken
Natalie's, could no longer be permitted to poison God's Earth with its evil.

He chose a place at the gravel roof's eastern edge and there lay the silk bundle down,
unfolding it to once again reveal the cross. For the final time, he knelt, and offered up his
ultimate confession.

He begged forgiveness for the mortal sin of suicide.

Whether God or any saint of Heaven had heard his entreaties, Nicholas had no way to
know. He wasn't even certain why he made them at all, unless perhaps the Soldier of the
Cross that he had once been now compelled him to seek whatever meager absolution his kind
might be allowed.

Perhaps a merciful God would grant the penitent vampire a place in a lesser ring of

He knew he was damned, had been damned from the moment Janette's lure and his
own base lusts had led him to Lacroix's darker, far more sinister seduction -- into the greed
that lusted after immortality. But whether his confession constituted a heretic's mockery or
not, he knew only that he felt shriven for having made it.

Maybe the souls of his many victims could rest easier now.

The last of his prayers concluded, he again made the sign of the cross, wincing at the
pain it evoked. Then he lifted his face to the eastern sky, and unafraid, watched the firecrest
of the sun's rim begin to break over the horizon.

The last thing he remembered, before the fire began to consume him, was an
overwhelming sensation of peace.

Perhaps, he thought, somewhere in Heaven there was absolution for vampires after all.

The scream that seared across their connection sent Lacroix reeling into the Raven's cellar wall.


Abruptly then, all traces of his centuries-old link with his son were severed, cut off as
though they had never existed.

With a roar of feral outrage, Lacroix charged up the stairs, and heedless of the light,
flew out into the brightening day.

Medical bag in one hand, Natalie entered Nick's passcode with nervous fingers. Not wanting
to wait for the elevator, she turned toward the stairs instead, and had only just opened the
access door when she heard a resounding crash from somewhere above, closely followed by
the distinctive sound of vampire flight, then another crash.

"What the hell--?"

She ran up the stairs, aware of sunlight spilling into the stairwell from a splintered
roof-level entryway. The door into the loft hung crookedly on its hinges, broken as well. She
stumbled through it -- in time to see Lacroix, his clothes smoldering with white tendrils of
smoke, disappearing into the upstairs bedroom with a limp figure cradled in his arms.

"My God... Nick..."

She clattered up the loft's metal stairs, rushed into the bedroom, and froze at the sight
of Lacroix, the burns on his face and hands already beginning to fade, standing over his
protege with a bleeding wrist pressed to the younger vampire's mouth. Nick, however,
twisted away from the grisly offering, choking. Dark blood ran from his mouth onto the shiny
satin bedsheets. His own burns, more severe than Lacroix's, showed no sign of healing.

Natalie shook herself out of her temporary state of shock, allowed the doctor to take
over, and hurried to the bed. "What happened?"

Clearly puzzled, Lacroix withdrew his gashed wrist. Holding it with his uninjured
hand, he glowered across the bed at her. "This is your doing," he hissed.

With no idea what he meant, Natalie bent over Nick, instinctively checking for a pulse
by pressing two fingers to the reddened flesh above the carotid. Startled, she snatched the
hand away for a moment, then placed it firmly back again. It should have taken several
minutes for the first sign of vampire life to throb beneath her fingers. Instead...

She glanced up at Lacroix in stunned disbelief. "I don't understand. How...?"

The ancient vampire's eyes traveled over the still figure on the bed. "I have no idea,"
he admitted. "Apparently, our Nicholas wishes to die. How ironic, that he should be granted
that wish in this fashion."

Pulling the stethoscope from her bag, Natalie rapidly began a more thorough
examination. "But he isn't dying," she concluded, unable to keep her smile of relief from
exerting itself. Nick's vital signs were perfectly -- humanly -- normal. Other than a severe
sunburn and signs of mild dehydration, he appeared to be thoroughly healthy.

"My dear doctor," Lacroix's brittle voice said from above her, "all mortals are dying."

She retreated a few steps, pulled the cell phone from her coat pocket and entered a
number. She kept her eyes on Lacroix, wondering if he would try to stop her, but the ancient
vampire did not move.

"Paul?" she said when the call was answered. "Natalie Lambert. I need an emergency
delivery to 101 Gateway Lane, stat. Two liters of Normal saline with forty meq of KCI and an
IV start kit. Send over two jars of Silvadene ointment, while you're at it."

The voice on the other end of the line laughed lightly. "Got yourself a live one, Doc?"

"You don't know the half of it," she answered happily, and rang off.

She looked up again to see Lacroix beside the bed, eyes gold, turning Nick's head aside
with one hand.

"Don't!" Nat warned, and the vampire master's head snapped up to glare at her, yellow
eyes turning to red. A primal growl rose from low in his throat.

"Do you dare threaten me?"

"No," she said, too quickly because she still had the sense to be frightened. "No. But it
won't work again. If you touch him, if you try to bring him back across, he will die. He
wouldn't come back to you this time. I know that, and so do you."

The growl came again, though Lacroix's eyes were blue now. He took a menacing step
in her direction, and she backed involuntarily away until she collided with the dresser.

"You know it's the truth," she challenged, trying to keep the tremor from her voice and
failing. "You've lost him, Lacroix. Once and for all, you've finally lost him. The sooner you
face that, the better -- for all of us."

The grey-blue eyes continued to bore into her, but now the hatred in them had
acquiesced to something else -- something that surprised her. She'd seen that expression too
many times over the years, in the eyes of every grieving parent, spouse, fiance and child who
had ever passed through the morgue to identify the body of a loved one.

Lacroix looked back at Nick for a fleeting moment. Then, as though angry that he'd
permitted the pain of his loss to show, he turned away. Seconds later, he flew from the room.

Exhaling, Nat sank against the dresser. Lacroix would remain somewhere in the loft:
she doubted he could tolerate full daylight after already braving the dawn. She only hoped
that her words had made some small inroad toward lessening the danger he posed, to Nick
and to herself. If the look on his face had been any indication...

Nick moaned, moving restlessly on the bed, and she went to check his vital signs once
more, wishing that Paul would hurry up with that delivery.

"Wake up, Nick," she wished out loud, and took his now-warm hand in her own.
"Please, wake up."

With nothing else to do for the moment, she pushed a large, upholstered chair from the
corner over to the bed, sat down, and began to talk to him.

Trapped, Lacroix paced the loft's lower floor and waited impatiently for sunset. Another

He hadn't fed; the refrigerator did not even contain Nicholas' usual bottles of bovine

It had been all Lacroix could do to resist dining on the youth who'd delivered the
medical supplies. Instead, he had silently accepted the package, taken it upstairs, and
wordlessly handed it over to Natalie Lambert. He hadn't remained to watch her work her
alchemies on the newly-mortal Nicholas, but had returned to the main floor to pace, to brood,
to decide what he must do.

The doctor had been correct about one thing. Damn her. He had indeed lost Nicholas.
The single mis-assumption she had made was that this tragedy had only occurred this
morning. In fact, he admitted to himself with open rancor, he had lost Nicholas more than a
century ago. He'd simply had no reason to mourn, no reason to give up hope of one day
drawing his son back into the fold.

Until now.


Nicholas opened his eyes to the blinding light that streamed toward him from a place
he recognized. He had faced this portal twice before, and twice had turned away from the
surety of its eternal judgment.

He would not make that mistake this time.

Something taped to his arm briefly hindered his effort to rise, but he brushed it aside,
ignoring the stinging sensation at the back of his hand. He stood, and walked toward the


She was there -- the being who had beckoned to him from the doorway all those
centuries ago. Not Lacroix's form this time, but the first one, the woman... As before, he
could not make out her face, but he knew that voice... That voice had once belonged to...

"Mother... You've taken my mother's form?" Crimson tears obscured Nicholas' vision.
"Why? Is she with you? Please, tell me!" He tried to go closer, but the radiant light still
frightened him.

"You are purged of the evil," she said.

He blinked, confused by her words. "Am I?"

The light engulfed her, brightening until he could scarcely make out her form. "Even
the immortal cannot alone achieve atonement, Nicholas. Forgiveness, however... For that, you
had only to ask."

Nick lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the unaccustomed brightness. "And what of
my soul?" he pleaded, terrified of the answer, but unable not to ask.

"It is as any other mortal soul. And when you come to us again, it will be judged

Confounded, he shook his head. "I don't--" he started to say, but the Guide had
stepped back into the portal, and its light was beginning to dim.

"No. Please -- wait!"

He reached out too late to touch her; his hand encountered something cold and smooth
instead. Abruptly, the portal and its brilliant light dissolved, and the light in which he stood
shone through the loft's bedroom window. He saw a face, no longer pale, reflected in the
pane; felt the steady, throbbing rhythm of a human heartbeat in his chest; marveled at the
hand he held pressed to the window, its fingers bathed in the light of a setting sun.

It couldn't be true...

A soft sound behind him made him turn. Natalie sat curled into a chair beside the
bed, the steady pattern of her breathing telling him she was deeply asleep.

He moved closer on quiet feet, gently stroking her cheek with the back of his hand,
awed at the feeling of warm flesh against warm flesh. But he was loathe to wake her just yet.

He was remembering the recent, soothing caresses of her touch and echoes of her voice,
calling to him from the darkness.

"Please wake up... Come back to me... I'm sorry, Nick. I didn't want to hurt you, to
hurt us. I just couldn't see any other way... I love you, Nick. I think I've loved you from the
very beginning..."

A smile played on his lips, waning again when he remembered that someone else had
been here. He remembered strong hands, risking death in the sunlight to lift and carry him to
safety. And he remembered that familiar voice, full of sadness and loss, intoning, "My dear
doctor, all mortals are dying."

He moved quietly away, and for the first time on mortal feet, descended the loft stairs
to his living room, silently approaching the tall, dark-clad figure poised at the mantel. So
strange, to feel no vibration, no connection, no soft whisper of heightened senses linking him
to Lacroix. Were all mortals as blind as this? He'd long since forgotten.

"Good evening, Nicholas." The vampire spoke before he turned. "I trust you are...

The irony with which the last word was pronounced did not escape Nick's notice. He
waited several beats of his human heart before he said softly, "Thank you... for coming to help

"Ah." Lacroix made the single syllable speak volumes. "But it would appear I was too
late for that." He paused, studying the mortal before him as though they had never met. "I
shan't bother to ask how you brought this... transformation... about. I don't think I want to

Tears glistened in Nick's eyes, constricting his voice. "I doubt you would believe me."

Lacroix quirked an eyebrow at that, smiling thinly. "Well, Nicholas, if this 'death' is
what you truly desire, then I wish you the joy of it. It would seem I have no other choice."

Nick looked away, suppressing a smile of his own. To Lacroix, mortality was
tantamount to death. Yet wouldn't the mortal world define a vampire's 'life' in precisely the
same terms?

A lengthy silence passed before Nick finally asked, "Where will you go?"

"Oh, Rome, Milan, Ravena..." Lacroix pressed his hands together with the fingers
spread, an old, familiar gesture. "I haven't been 'home' in some time. I may even look for
Janette. She must be feeling rather cast adrift by now. Perhaps we can... renew old

A momentary pang of guilt assaulted Nick. He'd never considered what the sudden
severance of their fragile link might do to Janette. Then again, with the circumstances that had
forged it to begin with, she may well be pleased at the release.

The hum of the rising window shutters startled him: Lacroix had picked up the remote
and opened the blinds to the last crimson remnants of the day.

"Time to go," his former master said, and handing the remote to Nick, added lightly, "I
don't imagine you'll be needing that any longer." He hesitated, as though measuring his next
words. "It does seem you've been granted all your wishes at once, Nicholas. Your humanity,
your mortal love..." He glanced toward the bedroom. "... and last, but I should hope hardly
least, you are finally, permanently, rid of me. You must be positively ecstatic."

Staring into the ancient vampire's eyes, Nick merely shook his head. He didn't know
why, but his feelings were far from ecstatic. Neither could he have explained why, after so
many centuries of bitter enmity between them, Lacroix's leaving saddened him more than he'd
ever have believed possible.

"Good-bye, Nicholas." With the slightest of hesitations, the vampire extended his hand.
"We shall not meet again."

Nick grasped the cold hand, and on an impulse, pulled it toward him into a brief but
heartfelt embrace. A look of profound startlement crossed Lacroix's face, disappearing just as
quickly when they parted. He nodded then, a final farewell, and in a whisper of vampiric
speed, vanished from the loft for the last time.

Nick stepped to the window, wondering why the attainment of all he had dreamed of
for so many years should be the source of so little joy. His humanity -- his soul -- was his
again, and the woman he loved, if she would still have him, lay sleeping upstairs. For those
things, he rejoiced.

But for one part of his past that he had never known he could mourn, until now,
Nicholas gazed out at Toronto's glittering night, and wept.

== End ==