.........Nick tried to move one more time. A fresh wave of agony lanced through him. He froze, then, very carefully allowed his body to relax. The stake was anchoring him firmly to the ground. Only an incredible stroke of luck had caused it to graze his heart rather than pierce it. He snarled in frustration. He'd been mentally "calling" to LaCroix for the past hour or more. But it didn't appear that the other vampire was in the area.
Nick admitted to himself that he'd been a fool. He'd been so convinced that his powers would get him out of the clutches of the "vampire hunters" who'd been following him for the past few nights. Even now he couldn't think what he'd done to alert them. But he'd been far too blasé about the whole thing. This is what you get for underestimating humans, he told himself sourly. They'd panicked after they'd staked him. The lights of a passing patrol car had startled them and they'd fled. Once the got their nerve again they might decide to come back and check their handiwork. And even if they didn't... Nick looked up at the sky. It was definitely getting lighter. Dawn would finish him off just as certainly as another stake.
There was a sound of footsteps at the entrance of the alleyway. For a moment, Nick was sure that it was the hunters. Then he heard boyish voices.
"Come on, we gotta get back before they notice we're missing."
"So? What's the big deal? This'll take maybe five minutes, tops. We just go down the alleyway to my Uncle Auturo's bakery, grab something to eat, then be on our way."
"But it's dark down that alley. There could be anything down there. Rats or ANYTHING."
"What are you? Chicken?"
"I'm not going down there. I'm going back home!"
Ray was complaining.
Not that there was anything unusual about that, Fraser thought. And then apologised mentally to his friend for his uncharitable musing.
Detective Schanke was looking decidedly unimpressed. Fraser couldn't tell how much of that was due to Ray and how much to Schanke's absent partner.
"Look," Schanke said in exasperation, "I know that you want to get back to the States. Nick'll be here soon. Like I told you, he's got this allergy to the sun...."
"Yeah, I know." Ray did not sound appeased." Like he's some sort of vampire or something. Look this is probably a great town, you know? But it's not where I particularly want to be. The Riv needs servicing, Ma's baby-sitting a wolf, and the hotel you got for us stinks. So I just hope your partner hurries up. Then the two of you can take the great squealer here and Fraser and I can be on our way."
Their prisoner, due to testify in a Toronto court in a couple of days, muttered a complaint at Ray's derisive description.
Ray sighed, "God, I hate this. I'm just glad we don't have to wait to take him back."
The prisoner glared at Vecchio. "Hey, it ain't exactly been the highlight of my life either, guy."
Ray glared back at him. Then began complaining again about practically everything...
"Now Ray." Fraser felt he had to remonstrate with some of the things Ray had said. "You really can't blame the weather on Detective Knight...who will be here as soon as he is able, I'm sure. And I'm certain that he could have nothing to do with the state of our hotel room."
He should have known better. That just started Ray off again.
"And that another thing. How come the combined financial resources of the American and Canadian governments could only stretch to one lousy twin room. I mean, we're only going to be using it for one night. So we could at least have had a couple of decent rooms......"
And so he went on. Detective Schanke was wearing a vaguely horrified expression. It was, Fraser thought, going to be a long night.
And probably an even longer journey back to Chicago. It was no use mentioning to Ray that they probably wouldn't have got back to Chicago any sooner even if Detective Knight had been waiting for them when they arrived.
Fraser stifled a sigh.
Nick Knight heard the voice before he entered the room. An irritating, whiny voice. The kind that set his teeth on edge. Worse than Schanke did. He opened the door.
The first thing he saw was the Mountie......
....whose eyes shone with a light as certain and as implacable as sunrise. A paladin, a child filled with wonder, a warrior who had only ever walked in the sunlight, a man possessed by the light of Truth.
Nick closed his own eyes against that uncompromising light. The eyes were the windows of the soul, they said. If so, this soul must surely be beloved of Heaven. Not an easy person to live with, this Light Bearer, blazing with Truth.
Had his own eyes once blazed like that? Had he once been so obviously a champion of the Light? For a moment it seemed as if he could remember each and every thing that had brought him to this Hell-on-Earth existence. Every death, every petty cruelty, every theft. Each and every stain on his soul.
And for the space of a human heartbeat Nick's tarnished, bloodied and cursed soul cried out with inconsolable loss.
"Nick, buddy, you okay?"
Nick opened his eyes at the concern in Schanke's voice.
"I'm fine, Schanke. I've just got a headache," he lied, as he walked further into the room.
He stopped. Schanke had moved, and Nick could now see the man who had been standing behind him. If the eyes were truly the windows of the soul, what did that make this man? No paladin, this. No bright shining warrior for the truth. Eyes like stream-washed pebbles. Full of pain, and fear, and anger. And life, and laughter, and love. A man. With a man's hopes and failings and determination. Nick couldn't remember ever looking into eyes quite so...human.
And without really being aware of what was happening to him, Nick Knight, vampire, dreamer, fallen hero, tormented soul, fell into those eyes.
And was lost.
"I take it this is the 'late' Detective Knight?"
The whiny voice.
Oh, damn, Nick thought with disgust, I'm never going to be able to stand that voice. Not if it takes me a couple of centuries.
And froze. Not if... Where the hell did that thought come from?
He looked at the man before him, made all the right kind of noises, even ended up shaking the Mountie's hand.( Benton Fraser absently noted the chill of the flesh, the pale skin, the lack of scent, save for... blood. Animal blood. Bovine, he decided. And filed all the details away for future reference.) But his eyes kept dragging themselves back to the American detective. Ray Vecchio. Italian, then. Flash clothes and beautifully manicured nails. Too thin, long nosed, balding, sarcastic, and all too obviously wishing himself elsewhere.
Nick met the man's eyes again and pushed just a little. Ray frowned.
Schanke was busy handing forms to his partner to sign. Nick did so without even looking at them. He could have been signing his soul away for all that he knew.
Except that he had already done so.
Detective Knight formally accepted the prisoner from Detective Vecchio.
"Wait here for me," he instructed the American, as he took the prisoner to the cells.
He saw the detective frown again. But Vecchio stayed where he was.
When he returned, it was to find Ray Vecchio, face like thunder, holding a phone to his ear. His "But, Sir..." held tones of resentment and defeat. He slammed the phone down, causing both Nick and Fraser to wince
"We've got to wait until after the trial and then take this clown back to the States," Ray explained to Fraser in disgust.
Fraser had already worked that out.
"I an sure that we can find any number of things to occupy ourselves with for a few days," he offered in a mild tone.
"Yes," chimed in Nick "Schanke and I could show you around. In fact, I was thinking of taking a couple of days off before the trial."
He caught Vecchio's gaze and held it. "There's this great place called the 'Raven'. It's owned by a friend of mine. Why don't we stop off there before you go back to your hotel?"
Ray closed his eyes briefly. Then he opened them again. He was finding it very difficult to avoid Knight's compelling gaze.
"Yeah, sure, why not?" he found himself saying.
Part of him was aware that Fraser was looking at him with a mild concern. But he really couldn't concentrate on Fraser at the moment. Not when Nick Knight was regarding him with such intensity.
Don Schanke was also staring at his partner. Nick WANTED to take these guys to the 'Raven'? After all, Nick had warned him more than once to stay away from the place. And the way Nick was looking at the skinny American cop was..... disturbing.
Schanke thought of his wife waiting at home for him. Then he looked at his partner. Nick's face had lit up at Vecchio's agreement. Schanke made up his mind.
"Count me in, buddy," he said. "I've just got to call Myra to let her know I'll be late. You carry on and I'll catch you up in the car-park."
It was a pretty feeble thing to say. Myra would expect him when she saw him. His wasn't exactly a nine-to-five job. But Nick just grinned and said "Sure, Schank." and led the other two men out of the room. Schanke noticed that he manoeuvred himself between the Mountie and Vecchio, his hand falling on the latter's shoulder. He noticed, too, how the Mountie stiffened as he realised what Nick had done. Something was wrong here. Don Schanke was not the most sensitive of beings, but he couldn't help feeling uneasy.
He waited until the three men had left the room and then picked up the phone. Quickly, he dialled Natalie Lambert's number.
The 'Raven' was crowded. Janette wasn't exactly overjoyed to see them. And she was rather worried. Nick wasn't behaving in his typical manner. He seemed almost besotted with one of the humans he had brought along. Not the one that attracted Janette, not the beautiful, dark-haired, polite Mountie. Unbelievably, he appeared to have fallen for the 'charms' of the skinny, loudly-dressed American.
Natalie walked into the 'Raven' with a great deal of trepidation. She couldn't quite work out why she had been so disturbed by Schanke's call. Maybe it was simply because Schanke had called her.
She saw Janette drifting by. The other woman stopped and raised an eyebrow in mild surprise at Natalie's presence. Natalie looked around for Nick. Just then, she heard him laugh. A delighted, charming laugh. An open laugh. Not at all like Nick.
And there he was. His arm slung around the shoulders of a taller, thinner man. Natalie met Schanke's eye. He was looking rather uncomfortable and a little peeved. Natalie moved closer.
"Nat!" Nick had spotted her. "Nat, Come and meet Ray. Ray Vecchio meet Dr. Natalie Lambert. Ray's staying here for a few days. Oh, and this is Constable Benton Fraser. He's a Mountie."
Constable Benton Fraser did not look happy. His face was blank, but there was a certain tension to him that spoke volumes. He turned to her and greeted her politely. Vecchio gave her a brief "Hi" and then went back to staring at Nick. Natalie turned to Schanke, a question in her gaze.
Fraser had watched as the woman had walked into the 'Raven'. She was obviously uncomfortable here. He noticed the glance she shared with Detective Knight's partner and wondered at the unease the two seemed to share.
Just then, there was a commotion at the door. A man and a girl came stumbling in laughing hysterically. They were obviously either drunk or high. Two of the dark and dangerous men at the bar moved menacingly towards them. Then, suddenly, they backed away swiftly. Janette herself approached them but also backed up as they got nearer. Fraser felt Schanke and the Dr. Lambert tense beside him. But Detective Knight and Ray seemed oblivious. The weaving, hysterical couple came nearer. The man knocked into Vecchio, sending him flying. Knight snarled (that was definitely a snarl, Fraser decided in mild disbelief), and grabbed the man. Fraser noted the air of stale garlic and chilli that hung around the man. He also noted how Knight's legs seemed to suddenly give way. He swung around colliding into the girl. A glint of light seemed to shine off the crucifix the girl was wearing. Detective Knight hissed (he hissed, Fraser thought to himself.) and practically jumped away from her.
Detective Schanke had taken hold of the man, who had begun to curse. He was relieved of his burden by a large, sweaty hunk who manhandled both undesirables out of the building. Fraser helped Ray up of the floor. As he rose he was aware of a strange glow in Detective Knight's eyes. The glow faded almost immediately. A lesser man would have believed that he had imagined it. Benton Fraser knew what he had seen. He mildly suggested to Ray that it was about time they got back to the hotel. He made sure he was standing between Ray and Knight as he did so. Ray pouted slightly, but he was obviously tired, not to mention shook-up by the events of the last few minutes, so he didn't take long to agree.
Back at the hotel Ray fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Not so Fraser. He sat up in bed thinking. Mentally he made a list:
Detective Knight is pale.
His skin is cool.
He has an aversion to the sun.
(vampires are creatures that are found in books and folklore)
He smelled of blood.
(well really, there were any number of reasons why the detective might have been, say, at a stockyard somewhere).
He reacted badly to the smell of garlic on that man's breath.
(so would anyone, his breath had been dreadful. And vampires are just stories, like ghosts)
He backed away from the crucifix.
(but I've seen a ghost, haven't I?)
(and stories of vampires are found in so many books, in so many cultures)
He hissed. Actually hissed.
(ah, yes, that much was certainly true)
And his eyes glowed.
(is it such a step to take, to believe in vampires, when you already believe in ghosts?)
Ray appeared to be fascinated by him.
(entranced? Ray didn't take to people that quickly...)
(he took to me)
(...not cynical, suspicious Ray)
(but that was different, wasn't it?)
(why was it different?)
(because...well, just because)
(I thought I was discussing vampires?)
(oh? I'm not?)
(I seem to be wandering, here)
(I'm not going to listen to me any more tonight. It's time to sleep)
Fraser slid under the covers of the bed. It wasn't warm in the room but it was airless. He looked at the closed window. Ray had said earlier, with a martyred sigh, that he didn't mind if Fraser opened the window.
Fraser didn't think that would be a good idea.
Nick sat holding the glass of blood. He cradled it in his hands. Normally he got the distasteful process over as soon as possible, often drinking the cold, sluggish stuff straight from the bottle.
But not tonight. Tonight he had to convince himself that this was the life he had chosen for himself. The guardian, not the hunter. The protector not the predator.
Why did I take him to the 'Raven'? he mused. It was as if I needed to display him to the others of my kind; as if I was saying 'He is mine.'
This isn't me. I am not like LaCroix. I am not possessive. Besides, I don't even know this man, why do I feel so strongly about him? Why do I want to carry him off and never let him go?
I want him.
I want him forever. Whining voice, dreadful clothes sense and all the rest.
I wanted him from the moment I saw him.
I want to hold him, keep him close, tell the world he's MINE.
Is this love?
It's nothing like I feel for Nat. There's nothing of tenderness in this.
This is dark, violent, needful. This is a desire so dark and dangerous it frightens me.
Is this what LaCroix feels for me? This wanting, this needing to possess?
This dark, frightening desire?
If it is then I begin to understand him more than I did.
The Mountie looked at me so strangely. Did I give myself away? He notices so much. Ah, I can't bring myself to care what the Mountie thinks.
Ray's with him now. Sharing a room.
I could go over there now.
Dear God, he thought in pure despair. Dear God, am I going mad?
Nick wandered the neon-lit streets, hands in pockets, head bowed. The Vampire in him was vaguely aware that he was attracting attention. The cop in him was mildly concerned that he was drifting along the roughest part of town with his body-language screaming 'victim'. The Human in him, still there despite LaCriox's and Time's best efforts, was certain that he was spiralling into madness and really didn't give a damn.
Someone was walking by his side. LaCroix. Nick wasn't surprised to see his 'father'. Nor was he at all surprised when he felt the humans who'd been following him in the expectation of easy prey melt back into the shadows. Nobody survived long in this part of town without being able to tell that the likes of LaCroix was a bigger predator than they could ever be. Nick's body language might have fooled them, but LaCroix was fooling no-one. His very being stated 'I am Hunter'.
Nick was almost glad to see his maker. Maybe LaCroix would be able to explain what was wrong with him.
"You are troubled, Nicholas. Come, tell me all about it."
Nick found himself responding to that dark, caressing voice. Maybe tomorrow night he would wake up hating LaCroix once more. But tonight an eight hundred year old vampire wanted to cry on the shoulder of someone older, stronger, and maybe wiser. Someone who might be able to take away some of the confusion, ease some of the pain. If only for a few hours.
Fraser followed Ray unhappily. The trial had been postponed. Nobody actually seemed desperate to have either he or Ray return to Chicago. He had tried phoning the consulate and was told to consider this an unexpected holiday. He'd phoned the police station, too. "Tell Vecchio to relax a little," he was told. He even phoned Mrs. Vecchio. Dief was fine, she assured him. Dief was having a wonderful time, he was such a good wolf. And such an appreciative guest. Fraser had the sinking feeling that he was fighting a losing battle.
They had settled into a routine. Detective Knight had managed to get a few days (nights) off. Every night he would take Ray to a different place. Fraser went with them. And Detective Schanke, who hadn't managed to get any time off, and was still doing his day shifts. He looked like he was going to collapse at any time. And often, Dr Lambert would join them. Once, even the proprietor of that strange bar came with them. THAT had caused Detective Knight to behave with definite petulance for a while. Then he'd grinned and ignored her as Janette had linked her arm with Fraser's as they had walked through a park. She looked at Fraser as if he was good enough to eat. Fraser had been seriously alarmed. Then she had froze. Following her gaze, Fraser had spotted a pale man with a quite ridiculous hairstyle. The man had looked at Janette, then at Fraser. Then his eyes had shifted to Knight and Ray.....and was suddenly gone! The man had gone and Fraser hadn't even seen him move. Janette had disentangled her arm from his and bid them all good night. Fraser had considered offering to escort her home. But for once he decided that discretion was the better part of valour. He didn't think that Janette would have any trouble getting back to the 'Raven'. No trouble at all.
Of course, going about all night meant that Ray and Fraser slept for much of the day. Fraser felt sorry for Schanke, having to go to work. Dr. Lambert, too, was looking rather frayed. Not that Fraser would have dreamed of mentioning the fact. Both she and Schanke watched Detective Knight. But her observation was much more intense.
She loves him, Fraser noted with mild surprise.
And then: she knows what he is. She knows what he is and it doesn't frighten her. She knows what he is and it bothers her.
But this bothers her more, the way he's behaving. This isn't normal behaviour for him. THIS frightens her. She thinks she's going to lose him.
No, that wasn't quite it. She thinks he's going to lose himself.
I smelled bovine blood on him, not human.
He drinks cow's blood, not human.
He's a policeman, a good one according to Detective Schanke.
I think that he is trying to be human. But something is stopping him.
Just like Dief, Nick Knight had a wildness inside him. And Dief had fallen for Ray Vecchio.
But Dief wasn't a vampire.
And Dief didn't get that ugly possessive look in his eyes.
Beside him, Fraser heard Schanke sigh. He suppressed the urge to do likewise. If Nick Knight gave in to his wild side, if he decided to make Ray completely his own, then there was not a lot he could do about it.
Benton Fraser had never felt so helpless.
Nick sat on the park bench, for once savouring the night. It seemed to calm all the uncertain feelings that were running rampant through his head.
LaCroix sat gracefully beside him, and Nick found himself leaning into the older vampire's embrace.
"You said you'd found out what's happening to me?"
He felt rather than heard LaCroix sigh.
"Oh, Nicholas, Nicholas. The impatience of youth. I might have found out the reason for your attraction to that rather....erm...loud American. Nothing is certain. But the symptoms do fit."
"Just tell me. Stop playing your little 'I-know-something-you-don't' game."
"I'm hurt, Nicholas, really hurt. I go around calling in favours in return for information for you. I do all this for you and you just act pissy towards me."
"'Pissy'? That's a new word for you."
"I like it. Someone recently described me in that way. But, personally, I think it rather suits you. Along with 'petulant' and 'impatient' and...now, what is the word I'm looking for? Ah, yes, 'ungrateful'. I went to a lot of trouble for you, my dear boy."
"I'm sorry. I..."
"Please, spare me the false expressions of gratitude for all that I've done for you, Nicholas. You know, I don't think I'd like you half so much if you weren't petulant and ungrateful. But I'll probably feel differently tomorrow, so don't push your luck any further than you already do."
Nick stifled a sigh. He needed to know what LaCroix had found out.
"LaCroix, please." he begged.
"All right, since you beg so prettily, Nicholas. From what I've been able to find out, it could be a sort of blood-bond. If, at some time in the past, you drank some of Detective Vecchio's blood and he drank some of yours, then a link was created between you. That's what an absolutely ancient individual I had to suck up to, so to speak, to get this information said."
"But I've never met Ray before!" Nick protested.
LaCroix shrugged elegantly.
"He said it was the only thing that fitted the symptoms you're displaying. The irrational need to possess and protect, the urge to display your possession to others of your kind. And the urge to make this man one of us. You do want to bring him across, don't you, Nicholas? That is why you're feeling so guilty about this, isn't it? Oh, pardon me, more guilty than usual."
"Yes, I do. I keep fighting it. I know it would be a huge mistake. I would never want to put anybody else through this after my experience with..." He paused.
"With dear Dr. Lambert's brother?" LaCroix jibed.
"Yes. It would destroy Ray. Completely destroy him."
"You are right, of course, my boy. He'd be even worse as one of us as he is as a mortal. That voice!"
"Don't worry. I only went near enough to see and listen to him. Ugh! Janette thinks you have no taste, Nicholas. She's rather taken with the Mountie."
LaCroix smirked at his idiotic child.
"Of course she would! But she won't! Janette has been warned against such foolishness. Constable Fraser would make too good a vampire. We never bring ones like him across. Remember your lessons, my boy. The worst, the most infamous of our kind were the most rigid, righteous of mortals before they were brought across. That one would make a truly terrifying vampire, Nicholas.
"But we digress. The only explanation for your feelings towards Detective Vecchio is that somehow you were blood-bonded to him. My...erm, friend, said that a certain degree of amnesia tended to occur with this blood-bonding for both parties. It didn't normally matter, he said, because it used to be done deliberately to bind a mortal and vampire together, and they usually knew each other extremely well. A sort of a marriage, it seems. It sounds all too disgusting if you ask me, and the practice was discontinued a very long time ago. Seemingly, this bond allowed the vampire to feed from the mortal over a long period of time before the urge to bring them across grew too strong. But if you linked with this mortal by accident and then were parted from him, I suppose the pressure would have been building up and building up. Then you met him again and...poof! The bond swamps you. And him, I suppose. He did seem absolutely besotted with you. And you weren't using very much influence, were you, Nicholas?"
"No, not much at all," the younger vampire admitted, "but how can I be sure this is what happened?"
"Does it really matter? Yes, I suppose it does to you. I's dotted and T's crossed, eh? I could try to access your hidden memories, always assuming they exist, of course."
"But? I sense there's a 'but' here, LaCroix."
"I would have to share blood with you."
"Nicholas, Nicholas, don't be so suspicious. Think about it. I'm older than you, I'm stronger. I brought you across and you're already blood-linked with me. If I really wanted your complete submission, my son, don't you think I would have had it by now? This is for you, Nicholas. Despite everything, all I've ever really wanted was for you to be happy."
"Pardon me if I don't believe you."
"Whatever you wish. But I do want to help you. This is tearing you apart. It could destroy you. I don't want that. Let me help."
"Do I really have any choice?" Nick asked bitterly.
LaCroix reached for his wayward son, pulling him even closer.
"No, I rather think that you don't."
................Nick tensed as the footsteps got closer. Was this it, then? Had the vampire-hunters returned to finish him off?
There was the sound of someone being extremely sick, accompanied by the acrid scent of vomit. The voice has been high and scared. Male, but definitely young. Not one of the hunters, then. He watched, a captive audience, as a pair of skinny legs drew near.
It came out weaker than Nick anticipated, but it seemed that he had been heard.
"Oh, Christ! Oh, Jeez, mister, you're alive."
"Barely. You must help me." Nick fought to make his voice stronger. He managed to raise an arm.
"Hey, mister, just keep still. Look, I'll go get some help..."
"No! Don't go!"
Nick managed to raise the arm a little higher. The boy fell to his knees, clasping Nick's hand.
"Please, mister, just keep still. I'll go to my Uncle's bakery, get him to phone for an ambulance. Just hold on in there..."
Nick grabbed the boy's arm weakly. No, not a boy, he realised. A young man. Barely out of boyhood, it was true, but the eyes that stared down at him in fear and concern were too old, too knowing to belong to a child, at least in this day and age.
Nick made contact with those incredibly expressive eyes, trying to hold the young man's gaze, enthral him into obeying Nick's commands.
"No ambulances," he gasped, "just pull out the stake."
"No! You'll die!"
Nick knew he had to strengthen the mental hold he had on this mortal.
"What's your name?"
"Ray, Ray Vecchio. Look, I've got to go get some help. Please. You'll die!"
"Not if you do what I say. Pull out the stake, Ray. There are people, bad people, who'll probably be coming back to finish what they started here. They could return at any moment. You must save me. Pull out the stake, Ray! PULL OUT THE STAKE."
The young mortal's eyes suddenly went glassy. He let go of Nick's hand and began to tug at the stake. Nick smothered a groan as fresh waves of agony lanced through his torn flesh.
It seemed to take an eternity, but finally the stake was free, spraying Nick's blood over the mortal's face and clothing. The young man spluttered slightly, then rubbed his face with one hand, the other still grasping the stake. Otherwise he made no move. He was, Nick realised, still under vampiric influence.
With the stake gone, Nick tried to get up, but he could barely move. He had lost so much blood. And sunrise was too close for comfort. If he didn't feed enough to get away from here then he would burn at the first touch of the sun's rays.
Ray. The young man was waiting quietly. Nick closed his eyes as he felt the Hunger rise. It wasn't fair. How could he repay the mortal's help by bringing him death? But the Hunger was too strong. If he had been less injured he might have fought it. But Nick could feel the Beast taking, over demanding healing mortal blood. He reached out and drew the mortal forward, sinking frantic fangs into the young man's neck, drinking the hot, rich, blood...