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Contradiction in Terms

Jan Wiles - 1999

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Chapert links: one / two / three / four / five / six / seven / eight / nine

I first started this story two years ago. With five chapters posted, RL brought me to a screeching halt, and I didn't do any more writing until late last year. Now the whole story is finished, and the first five parts are reposted with permission (thanks, Lisa!).

This story is the third of a set, with the first being "Surgeon General's Warning" and the second being "Cats Do Have Their Uses". It's best to read those first. They're available on the fiction site, or I can e-mail them to anyone who'd like them.

If you've just gotta read this now, the quick and dirty synopsis is: Lacroix turns Sidney into a vampire, just as a prank. Then Sidney, in his turn, makes Natalie a vampire. Nat & Nick discover the silver lining in this particular dark cloud.

Many thanks to my first beta readers, Tracy Sue, Rebecca, Melanie, and Kate. <HUGS>

Even more thanks to Teresa, who encouraged me to write again, and beta read the last four chapters for me. Not to mention the occasional, badly needed kick in the butt...<weg>

Permission to archive at the DarkNN is granted.

 

This story takes place in the third season, right after 'Fever', except that Screed survived.

Standard disclaimers, et al.

Comments, chocolates, and gently thrown objects to janwiles@juno.com

Contradiction in Terms (1/9)

Natalie Lambert, Toronto's favorite coroner, sat contentedly in front of her bedroom mirror, arranging her hair. In the mirror, she could see Nick Knight, her long-time best friend (and brand-new lover) sprawled across her bed. He looked as blissfully happy as Sidney used to when he received a new catnip toy. She smiled back at him as the cat in question leaped onto the bed to collect a headrub. This relaxed picture lasted only until Natalie began to put on her lab coat.

Nick began to look a little alarmed. "Nat," he asked worriedly, "what are you doing?"

"Going to work," Natalie replied absently. "Just like you're supposed to. Remember?"

"NO!" Nick shouted, and leaped up to block her exit. "You can't go to work just now! Maybe not ever, but certainly not now!"

Natalie's jaw dropped at the force of his command. Recovering, she bristled, eyes sparking angrily. "Why the hell not? And just who do you think you are, trying to tell me what to do? Just because I'm a vampire now doesn't mean you own me!"

The vampire-turned-homicide-detective backed off a little, and visibly forced himself to be calm. "I'm sorry, Nat, I didn't mean it that way. But, please, think about it. You're a brand-new vampire, you have no training in controlling the bloodlust, and you're about to try working near *lots of blood*. Now tell me that's NOT a recipe for trouble!"

That brought Natalie up short. With a pang of grief she remembered another new vampire--her own brother. "Nick, if you're thinking of what happened to Richard, it won't be like that. Unlike him, I know and understand what's happened to me. I know I have to be careful!" She would have to forgo many things because of her new condition, like sunlight and (ouch) chocolate. Relinquishing her career would be like giving up a part of her very self. It was not something she even liked *thinking* about.

Nick guided her gently to the bedside and sat down with her. "It's more than just that. Right now, when you're hungry, when you smell blood or hear a heartbeat, your eyes will change and your fangs extend. And you *will* be drawn to whatever's handy to sate your hunger. It's a reflex, Nat! What you already know will help a lot, but it's hardly enough all by itself. No amount of information will substitute for practice." He sighed, then straightened and looked into her eyes. "I think you'd better call in sick so we can get started on your training. I'm afraid you'll need more than a day or two."

Natalie thought rapidly. "Well, I never had mononucleosis in college, so claiming it now would give me at least a few weeks," she said hopefully.

Nick was already nodding. "Good idea!" He frowned, then asked, "But don't you need your own doctor's say-so on that?"

"Yes, you do," Natalie responded. A faint grimace of disapproval crossed her face, then she suggested, "Maybe convincing my doctor that I'm ill could be my first lesson on using that 'whammy' thing of yours?" Natalie could not help but feel a little uncomfortable. She hadn't liked it when it was tried on her, and now she was considering hypnotizing her own doctor!

"Sounds all right," Nick considered, then his eyes lit up. "But I think another lesson should come first." He rose from the bed, drawing Natalie with him. They detoured to the kitchen to pour themselves and Sidney some breakfast. "We'll have to see about setting up a regular supply of blood for you." Nick mused as they drank. Natalie nodded vigorously. After they finished, Nick then led her onto the balcony and slid the door shut behind them.

"Flying 101, the hows and wherefores!"

Natalie eyed the ground, which suddenly felt much farther away. She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. "Well, Douglas Adams wrote that flying is easy--all you have to do is throw yourself at the ground and miss!" She managed a small smile as Nick burst out laughing. "So, it's not that easy, huh?"

"Not *quite*," Nick managed. "Who's Douglas Adams, anyway?"

"He's the guy who wrote the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' books," Natalie grinned. She was starting to feel a little better about this.

Nick hugged her, then sobered a bit. "OK, then, let's get started. Where is your doctor's office?"

****

Natalie hung up the phone with a feeling of satisfaction. It had been hard sounding weak and exhausted for Grace's benefit, when she was actually exhilarated by her first flying lesson. Flight was the greatest freedom she could ever remember experiencing in her life. Once she'd gotten the hang of it, she had felt safe and secure as well, something the mortal Natalie had never felt

on a plane.

She smiled reassuringly at Nick. "I'm all set with work, now. We'll have the time we need. So, what's next?"

Nick had spoken with Captain Reese on his own behalf, and received permission to look after Natalie for a few days. Now he looked very serious. "First of all, you need to work on controlling your hunger rather than just giving in to it when you feel it. While you'll also have to be concerned about suppressing the changes in your eyes and fangs, keeping the hunger restrained has to come first."

Natalie had been thinking hard about this. "I've got some ideas along those lines. Since the hunger itself is a reflex, I think we'd get the best results if I practice quelling the hunger, over and over, until holding it back is just as automatic."

Nick hesitated, obviously not comfortable with the idea of 'experimenting' with Natalie. "That does sound good, though it's not like traditional training. What did you have in mind?"

"Well, first, some rather boring exercises," Natalie sat up straight, and spoke in a lecturing tone. "I'll start them when I begin to feel hungry. At first, I'll just get myself a glass of blood to stir the hunger, then resist the urge to pick up the glass and drink. Once I know how it feels to hold back, I'll up the ante a bit, and begin a cycle of rousing, then quelling the hunger. As I feel more in control, I'll let myself get hungrier and repeat the exercise. And so on, until I can be ravenous and still stay on top of things." She chuckled a little. "Sort of like learning to ride a swing. I keep the swing motion limited at first, then make it swing higher and faster."

Nick seemed both surprised and tentatively hopeful. "That's not like any training method I've ever heard of, but it sounds very promising. I'm not sure that will help you with being around mortals, though."

Natalie laughed. "No, but once I have the basics down, then you and I go out among mortals, and repeat the rouse-and-quell exercise again." Nick looked alarmed, but she soothed him with a gentle hand. "Just like earlier, we start small and work up. We'll go for walks, keeping me at some distance from people at first, until I get a feel for how much temptation I can safely take. Then, I go through the same damn boring routine, getting closer to them with each successful completion of the exercise."

"What if you begin to lose control?" Nick knew the punishment meted out to careless fledglings. He had *no* desire to see Natalie facing stake-wielding Enforcers.

"I'm sure you'll be keeping an eagle eye on me. You can restrain me long enough for us to back off," Natalie responded confidently. "Then, since we had obviously tried to advance me too fast, we drop back to an easier level and work at it some more." She grinned at him, and was rewarded with his heart-stoppingly sweet smile.

Nick's mood swung from pessimism to optimism. He agreed delightedly, "Nat, that sounds like it'll work, and a lot faster than any other way I've heard of! I think you should take a day or two to finish with the change and build your strength up, and then we can get started." His expression became more sultry. "In the meantime, would you like me to bring you supper in bed?"

Natalie slid her hand up his thigh, and purred, "Now that you mention it, I *am* rather hungry..."

End Chapter 1

Contradiction in Terms (2/9)

Natalie woke slowly, aware only of near-total contentment. She was lying on her side, with Nick snuggled up to her back and his arm around her waist. Sidney was cuddled up to her front, exuding a sleepy satisfaction mixed with a little hunger. She suddenly realized that despite her new vampiric state, she was happier than she remembered ever being since Nick came into her life. Now whatever obstacles that had to be overcome could be dealt with *together*.

The scientist in Natalie could never be submerged for long, and she began to wonder if she should really wait to begin her training program. Nick had not explained why he thought she should wait and 'build up her strength'. Maybe *not* strengthening the vampire within her would make it easier for her to cross back?

Just then Nick murmured incoherently into her hair, and hugged her a little closer. "Good morning," Natalie responded cheerfully, and turned over to face him. Behind her, she felt Sidney awaken fully and jump off the bed.

Nick pried his eyes open, and immediately smiled at the sight of Natalie. "Good morning, love," he carefully enunciated, and leaned in to kiss her.

Natalie gave him a quick peck on the lips, and pulled back quickly. "Wow, drinking blood sure gives you a huge case of morning breath! Me too, I guess." Nick looked so wounded that she hugged him in silent apology.

"C'mon, let's go take care of that little problem, and take a shower. I'll wash your back," Natalie offered, and hopped out of bed.

Nick grumbled wordlessly, then sat up slowly, resigned. "Only if I get to wash yours," he countered.

Natalie said cheerfully, "Deal." To silence the now loudly meowing Sidney, she followed him to the kitchen and fed him. She then hastened to the bathroom sink and started brushing her teeth. As Nick entered, she moved to allow him to pass her. Instead, he embraced her from behind and eyed her mirror image suggestively. Natalie hastily finished with her teeth and asked him, "Uh, you're planning on washing more than my back, aren't you?"

Nick nuzzled her hair, then moved down to softly caress her ear and upper neck. "Absolutely," he whispered, delicately pricking her throat with his fangs. "That is, if you don't mind..."

What once would have made Natalie pull away with fear now sent delicious quivers through her--and made her own fangs ache with desire. "I'll get the water started," she managed, and wiggled provocatively against him before moving to the tub. It took no time at all for Nick to brush his teeth and join her.

****

As they were dressing in a leisurely fashion, Natalie's earlier ruminations came back to her. "Nick, I was wondering if perhaps we should start the self-control exercises today. Maybe if I start now, the vampire won't have such a grip on me?" He was silent for so long that she finally turned to study his worried face.

"I understand why you're in a hurry to start, but..." Nick's voice was edged with apprehension. "Nat, in my experience, starving a fledgling while they're still physically adjusting ends disastrously."

Natalie's eyes widened at his serious tone. "Disastrously, how?"

Nick drew in a deep breath, then finally spoke. "Most of them go insane and have to be...stopped."

"You mean - killed?" she whispered. He answered with a nod, looking away. "And if that happened to me, it'd be your job to..."

'No wonder he can't talk about it,' Natalie thought. 'He'd have to stake me himself. Just like Richard...' She steeled herself, then asked, "What about the ones who *don't* go mad?"

Nick collected himself, then responded in a near-normal voice, "Those fledglings tend to have *permanent* control problems. They usually have to become hermits, to prevent the sort of disasters that bring the Enforcers calling."

Natalie went to Nick and slipped her arms around him. His answering hug was fierce. "Okay," she said finally, "we wait until I'm finished with the change...hang on a minute." Her thoughts raced. "Maybe I'm missing a bet here. If I'm still adapting, then any blood samples I took from myself right now would show it, right?"

Nick was relieved to change the subject. "Of course. Why?"

Natalie's face lit up. "Because if I have blood samples that show me changing from mortal to vampire, they might also give me an idea as to how to reverse the process."

Nick seemed to like that idea. "Sounds logical to me. It would have been nice to have a sample from just after you were brought across, but we were a little too upset to think of it." He grinned wryly at her, and was rewarded with her answering smile.

Natalie's manner became brisk as she slipped into her 'doctor' mode. "Okay, then, let's get the stuff out of my bag." She located her kit, then retrieved a test tube, syringe, and needle. "You'll have to keep this sample and the future ones in the morgue's cryostorage until I can check them." She laughed a bit. "I have a hard enough time getting a sample from you, drawing blood from myself should be *interesting*!"

Nick hesitantly offered, "I've been a doctor in some of my previous 'lives'; maybe I could do it?" He seemed eager to do anything that might divert Natalie from her impatience to begin the control training.

"Ooookay," Natalie slowly agreed. She was more than a little reluctant to become a pincushion at the hands of an amateur. She moved to sit beside the dining room table, rolled up her right sleeve, and rested her elbow and lower arm on its surface. Nick followed her, carefully assembling the syringe and needle. He then efficiently wrapped the tourniquet about her biceps, positioned her arm, and moved to insert the needle. Natalie drew back. "Shouldn't you clean the area to prevent infection?"

Nick laughed. "Nat, you're forgetting what we are. With a single exception, we don't *get* infections!" Natalie's stern expression did not soften, so Nick sighed and reached for the alcohol swabs. "Okay, okay, you win." He scrubbed the area thoroughly, then inserted the needle. His technique was accurate, but *very slooooow*. "Once you're fully adapted, this shouldn't hurt at all, but I guess it does now, huh?"

Natalie gritted her teeth and said nothing. 'It'll be over soon,' she told herself. 'At least it doesn't look like he'll have to do it twice,' she thought consolingly, as they watched the blood flow sluggishly into the syringe. "I think that's enough," Natalie spoke as Nick reached the same conclusion.

He simultaneously released the tourniquet and removed the needle, which he carefully set aside. Blood welled copiously from the wound as Natalie opened her mouth to object to his procedure. She never got to the first word, as Nick cradled her elbow and arm gently, and began to suckle and lick the tiny wound.

The sudden and intense pleasure made Natalie forget to breathe. All other sensory input vanished as she focused on the delightful sensations Nick evoked in her. It stopped all too soon, and she opened her eyes to see him smiling at her with a certain smug satisfaction. She inhaled sharply, then remarked, "You have an excellent bedside manner, Doctor."

"A high compliment, Doctor," Nick said sweetly. "Thank you."

Natalie began to answer, then felt a gentle pressure against her calf. Startled, she looked down to find Sidney leaning against her, mentally projecting the same contentment she felt. "Nick, I think Sidney experienced that along with me!"

End Chapter 2

Notes & disclaimers in chapter 1.

//..// indicates communication of emotions, not words.

Contradiction in Terms (3/9)

Nick and Natalie stared at Sidney in astonishment. Nick was the first to recover enough to speak. "The mental link between the two of you is very strong," he commented in a voice edged with jealousy.

Natalie tried not to smile at that. For her part, she was torn between delight at this shared intimacy and apprehension at the loss of privacy. She ignored her slight uneasiness and said, "Nick, if this communication is that strong both ways then we have to use it to train him, too. I don't think he's going to want to remain in this apartment forever."

"You've got that right." Nick laughed ruefully. "I'd been worried about that myself, because he can get out of here any time he wants. He's strong enough now to break a window."

An idea came to Natalie. "Nick, before we try training him in self-control, he has to understand *why*. I think I need to teach him the concept of *consequences*..."

****

They were all comfortably settled on the couch, with Sidney curled up on Natalie's lap. The vampire cat seemed to understand that something significant was about to happen, as he displayed no urge to be elsewhere.

"You've come up with so many good ideas already, Nat." Nick stated affectionately. "I'm curious to see how you're going to handle this one."

Natalie stroked the front of Sidney's throat, getting his attention. Her eyes were locked on Sidney's as she spoke. "He doesn't understand that many words, and I'm not sure he'll grasp the concepts. I'll start out showing images and projecting emotions."

Nick answered her, but she didn't hear him as she built a series of pictures in her mind: Sidney out among people; those people occasionally touching him; a child pulling his tail; Sidney vampirically attacking the child. Then, the results: people gathering together to attack the cat, and Sidney being burned to death.

Sidney hissed defiantly, returning a crude image of himself in flight, not to be found.

Patiently, Natalie reinforced the sequence with one final image. Herself weeping at losing Sidney--and //..grief..//.

The emotion made the difference. Sidney meowed loudly and arched, stroking Natalie's face with his head in an attempt to comfort her. Once they'd both calmed, he curled in her lap again.

//..query?..//

A bewildered wondering flooded Natalie. Startled, she met the cat's eyes.

//..query?..//

Sidney was emoting an inquiry. He wanted to understand.

 

Natalie concentrated. She pictured Sidney among others, displaying yellow eyes and extended fangs //..fear..//. Then she pictured a normal Sidney among others //..serenity..//. Natalie then envisioned herself among people, overtaken by the hunger //..fear..//, then as her normal calm self //..serenity..//. She then repeated the sequence for Nick.

Natalie sensed Sidney purring quietly for a moment. Then the wondering feeling filled her again.

//..query?..//

She understood. He was asking "Why?"

Natalie sighed with relief. He was grasping it! She focused on two image sequences. First, people discovering Sidney as a vampire and killing him. Then, Sidney escaping only to be staked by the Enforcers. She let her own fear of the power of these special vampires carry over.

Sidney flattened his ears and growled. This was a new idea for him; vampires watching for bad behavior, and meting out punishment! After a few moments, he calmed and cuddled up to Natalie. The image of a normal cat filled her mind, moving among people, giving the tail-pulling child a light warning scratch.

Natalie let out a joyous "YES!!" and scooped Sidney up. She danced around the room with the cat cuddled on her shoulder, purring happily. "Nick, he understands! He knows not to let it show!"

"Great! Nat, I'm so glad!" He moved beside them, embracing both woman and cat. Sidney took being squashed in good grace, then meowed and squirmed to be let down. "I've been so afraid he wouldn't understand, and we'd have to..." He couldn't finish. She nodded, blinking back tears. "Do you think he'll understand your training ideas?"

"I don't know," Natalie admitted. "But he seems to know to look at what I'm doing and why."

She trailed off as Sidney met her eyes. She saw a new picture of him outside, then the wondering feeling came over her again, with a rush of hunger.

Natalie's brow furrowed as she mulled it over, then said, "I think he's asking what to do if he's out in public and gets hungry."

"At least Toronto has no lack of rats and pigeons for him to catch. Even though he's used to bottled human blood, he should enjoy having live prey. Just make sure he gets rid of them quietly," Nick replied, relieved that the question had a simple answer.

Natalie nodded, then sent a series of images: Sidney catching a rat, then burying his kill, or putting it in a sewer hole or out in the lake. Or, if needed, bringing it to her for disposal.

Sidney purred loudly, exuding contentment.

She was amazed by how much he understood.

They returned to the couch, feeling far more relaxed. Nick put his arm around her and brought up a new topic. "We need to tackle something else, Nat. We need to get you a regular source of blood. Since the blood Lacroix stashed in your refrigerator is human--and that's what you drank for your first meal--you'll need human blood. It's too soon to shift you to cow."

Natalie agreed. "Once I'm back to work, I can get some from the medical examiner's office, but for now I do need another source. Even after I get back, I'll need help. There's a lot of contaminated blood available, but after the 'fever' scare, I'm a little leery about it. It's only a matter of time before that happens again, you know."

Nick held her a little closer. "I know what you mean." He continued, "I think Vachon might be able to set up a reliable supply for you." His face grew grim. "And he could let the others know not to tell Lacroix about you just yet."

Natalie was disturbed by the coldness in his face. She pointed out, carefully, "Nick, you can't keep it from him forever. He will find out eventually. Besides, how do you know the others will do what you want? From what I've gathered, you're not the world's most popular vampire."

He gave a sharp, bitter laugh that she hated the sound of. "They might not think much of me, but I am far older and stronger than most of them. They respect that, at least. If we can keep this under wraps until you're strong and in control, it'll be harder for Lacroix to play his little games on you." Natalie inwardly shivered at his feral expression. Sensing her reaction, Nick softened and hugged her tenderly. "Sorry, love, but the thought of any harm to you just drives me berserk!"

Natalie returned his embrace, then pulled back to look at him. "I know, Nick, but I have to handle it myself at *some* point. I can't..." she swallowed hard. "I can't hide behind you forever."

Nick was clearly hurt, but she thought he understood. "I know, Nat, I know. That's why I want to train you so quickly. I know how Lacroix thinks--the more out of control you are, the easier you are to manipulate. I've had more of that than I can stand. I won't let it happen to you, too."

Natalie smiled and kissed him lovingly. "You won't get any argument from me on that. Let's go see Vachon." She rose and reached for her jacket.

"Not just yet, I think," interjected a new voice.

End Chapter 3

Notes & disclaimers in chapter 1.

//..// indicates communication of emotions, not words.

Contradiction in Terms (4/9)

Natalie and Nick spun to face the intruder. She was tall, dark, and very beautiful. She was also clearly an Enforcer. Natalie felt intimidated and nearly overwhelmed by her sheer presence. She wondered why none of them had sensed her nearby.

"Although I've been listening to this little conversation of yours, I have more questions for you--and I *will* get answers." She waved them towards the couch, and gracefully took a chair for herself.

She began, "I received some very intriguing reports of an aerial chase, in which one vampire, carrying a stake-wielding *mortal*, pursued another. I know the two of you were involved, and I want an explanation."

Natalie and Nick exchanged a nervous look, then Natalie took a deep breath and began. "Most of this is my story, so I'll start. A couple of nights ago, I came home from work to find a note on my door. It was from Lucien Lacroix, and it informed me that he had left me a 'surprise' Christmas present. I knew his intentions were unlikely to be good, so I came in and started searching the place. When I reached the kitchen, I found his second note, telling me that my present was a vampire of my own." Sidney chose that moment to leap into Natalie's lap and cuddle close.

The Enforcer interrupted, "Do you still have those notes?"

Natalie blinked in surprise, then answered, "Yes, they're in that stack of papers on the counter." She pointed to where she normally kept her current bills and other important items.

"Good. Continue," was the curt command.

Natalie stroked Sidney, trying to comfort both of them. "I could clearly see that Sidney was a vampire," Natalie continued. "The note said that an initial blood supply was in the refrigerator, so I was quick to feed him. Once I'd done that, I had time to think about what had happened, and I...I just went crazy. I wanted to kill Lacroix for what he'd done. I knew he was at Nick's, so I went over there to confront him." She hesitated, not sure what to say next.

Nick picked up the narrative. "When Nat came in, I stopped her and asked her what was going on. She told me about Sidney, and I realized that Lacroix had played the same trick on her as he had on me, back around the turn of the century."

"Explain," the Enforcer demanded.

"Well, I had a dog that I cared about very much. He was a good companion, until Lacroix made him a vampire. He went rogue and wantonly killed people. I...I had to stake him."

She was silent for a moment, thinking. "You acted correctly." Her intense gaze fell on Sidney.

Natalie could feel Sidney shivering against her. She had to speak, to save her cherished cat. "Sidney isn't like that, I promise you. Our mind-bond is strong, and he understands that he must not show the vampire openly or attack people."

"Really? I am impressed." She turned to Nick. "I presume your shared anger," she gestured at Natalie, "was what prompted your murderous pursuit of Lacroix."

 

Nick nodded, mutely.

She shot a question at Natalie, "Tell me how you came to be one of us."

Despite the tension, Natalie could not help but smile a little. "Sidney bit me in my sleep, and brought me across. I still don't understand why, but he's very happy about it."

The Enforcer's eyes widened. "I'm surprised that it could happen at all. I don't see how he could drain you enough to bring you across." Her expression hardened. "Be that as it may, you are both vampires, and you must learn enough self-control so you will not betray us."

Natalie swallowed hard, then explained, "I've come up with some ideas that should help me gain control of the blood craving quickly. I'm trying to make quelling of the hunger into a reflex, by practicing it over and over. As I get better at it, I'll work with hunger that's more and more severe."

The Enforcer thought a moment. "That's not a *bad* idea. It may well work. However, you must be monitored. Obviously, you cannot do the usual thing and have your master monitor you." She cast an amused glance at Sidney, then fixed her gaze upon Nick. "I will hold *you* responsible for training her."

Natalie gritted her teeth and said nothing.

Nick nodded, and said formally, "I accept the responsibility."

The Enforcer seemed satisfied with that. "Very well, then. One other thing--once I make my report, most of my colleagues will want the cat destroyed at once. If I am to convince them to allow this experiment, I must have concrete proof that the danger level is acceptable."

Natalie spread her hands helplessly. "How? I can't think of anything to give you!"

"It is not difficult," she responded. "I must taste his blood, that's all."

Natalie reflexively hugged Sidney tightly, thinking hard. This could simply be an easy way to get the cat close enough to kill easily, but the Enforcer was probably right. Rogue vampire animals would run a high risk of exposing the Community to the mortal world.

Once again, she looked into Sidney's eyes, and began forming images. First, she showed the Enforcer biting into Sidney's neck and drinking a little blood //..understanding/acceptance..//. Then she showed Sidney running away from the woman //..anger/rejection/danger..//.

Sidney appeared to think about this for a moment, then almost seemed to shrug. He jumped off Natalie's lap, paced regally over to the Enforcer, and leaped lightly onto her lap. He then gazed serenely into her eyes and waited.

"*Most* impressive," she remarked, then gently positioned Sidney's neck correctly and bit in. Natalie tensed, looking for any sign of betrayal, but after a few moments the Enforcer pulled back and wiped away the traces of blood. She contemplated Sidney for a moment, then a broad grin lit up her face.

 

"Cat, I like your style!" she remarked, delighted. Sidney purred loudly and rubbed his head against her chin. "I will return to visit from time to time," she said to Natalie, "if you don't mind."

Natalie of course realized that saying "No" to an Enforcer was tantamount to suicide, and hastened to agree. "I, ah, see no problem with that."

"Good!" the woman exclaimed. "I have an idea for you, though. I see in his blood how you have been communicating, and I think there is a better way. There's a subset of English known as Basic, or Simplified, English. It's based on the idea that the essentials of what need to be said in English can be said with a specific subset of about 100 English words. It was used during World War II, so that host native populations could communicate with their U.S. military guests. Now, while the entire language may be too much for Sidney, I'll bet he can learn enough of that 100 to be a lot clearer in what he wants to say."

"That sounds like it has a lot of potential," Natalie agreed eagerly. "I presume I can look it up at the library or something like that."

Nick headed her off gently. "Nat, I'd be glad to get the information for you. You and Sidney can't be doing your control training constantly, after all, and this will keep you from getting bored."

Natalie glared at him for a moment, resenting being told what to do, then let it go and relaxed. "OK, I'll start on it as soon as I have the information I need."

The Enforcer set Sidney on the floor, then rose and shuffled through the stack of paper on the counter, extracting Lacroix's notes. She smiled in satisfaction. "You'll be seeing me from time to time, then. Good luck on your training. Oh, by the way, my name is Kerris." With that, she was gone.

Natalie and Nick stared at each other for a moment, then Natalie exhaled in relief. "Well, I'm glad that's over! She did get rather more human at the end, though, didn't she..." That was as far as she got before Nick enveloped her in a near-crushing hug. Only then did Natalie realize how hard she was shaking.

After a bit, Nick spoke, his voice muffled in her hair. "I think we'll go to Vachon's a little later, don't you?"

"Absolutely," Natalie answered shakily. "I am in dire need of lots of cuddle time right now." They lost no time in heading for the bedroom.

End Chapter 4

Contradiction in Terms (5/9)

Nick was comfortingly spooned up to Natalie on her bed. Enough of the shock and fear of the Enforcer's visit had worn off so that Natalie was thinking again. "I've got to wonder, Nick, just what it was she saw in Sidney. She certainly seemed to like him." She reached out and stroked the cat, who was curled up next to her stomach.

"Maybe it's just his predator nature, Nat," Nick responded thoughtfully. "Also, he seems to be a lot more intelligent than the average domestic animal."

A worrisome thought occurred to Natalie. "Do you think she knows about me trying to cure you, Nick? I can't imagine the Enforcers would be terribly happy about that!"

Nick rubbed her shoulder soothingly. "Either they don't know, or they do know and it doesn't bother them. I don't think it's worth our concern right now. We've got enough to do as it is. Let's get up and go visit Vachon."

Natalie sighed and sat up. "OK, it needs to be done, I guess." She glanced at Sidney and a new idea occurred to her. "Nick, why not take Sidney with us this time? I'd like to teach him how to fly, too, and where we're going there should be only vampires."

Nick got out of bed slowly, giving himself time to think. "I *think* it'll be all right. Screed might be there, but he and Sidney should get along well. Fellow ratcatchers and all that."

Natalie shook with laughter even as she put on her shoes and coat. "I suppose so." The three of them headed for the balcony.

****

Once again the whole flying experience enraptured Natalie. She picked up similar feelings from Sidney, who soared beside her. She delighted even in the simple straight flight of here-to-there, but wanted to experiment further. 'Sometime, I just HAVE to go somewhere uninhabited,' she thought, imagining grand swoops and swirls. 'I'll bring my Walkman and some good tapes to fly to. What would you call it, anyway? Aerial ballet? Nah, just call it skydancing...'

She broke off her fantasy as the trio arrived at their destination, Vachon's church. "How do we know he's home, Nick? Is there a way to call first?" She scooped up Sidney to keep him from wandering.

Nick chuckled. "No, there's no phone here, but this is a good opportunity for another lesson." He backed away from Natalie, and requested, "Close your eyes."

She obligingly shut them. "What's this about, Nick?"

"You know where I'm standing, Nat. Where am I going?" Nick's voice came at her out of the darkness.

"I can't hear you moving, so you're staying...no, you're behind me now!" Natalie could not have explained how she knew, but Nick had moved without making a sound and she STILL knew where he was.

Nick responded approvingly, "Excellent! Now 'look' at the church

with this new feeling and tell me if anyone's there".

She pushed her awareness out, in the remembered direction of the church, and inside..."There's someone there - some *vampire* there!"

Nick asked encouragingly, "How do you know that?"

"Because I feel someone there, and I hear them moving around, but they have no pulse - oh!" Natalie's eyes sprang open with her astonishment. "Nick, how could I have heard that?"

He answered, "Remember our enhanced senses. You'll be able to see and hear far more than you're used to. If what you're hearing ever becomes overwhelming, try to focus on some nearby sound and ignore everything else. You'll get the hang of it soon." Nick moved to her side and gave her and Sidney a quick hug. "Let's go inside."

****

Vachon had settled down with his guitar, and was strumming it idly as they entered. He gave Nick a casual nod, and then sat bolt upright as he recognized Nick's companions and their new status. "Uh, welcome to the Community, Doctor Lambert...and cat," Vachon managed. He waved his visitors to nearby seats, and offered refreshments. Both said yes, to his surprise, but he covered that with a blink and handed them each a glass. He was considering what to do for Sidney when a new voice was heard.

"'Ey, is that a vamp kitty I espy?" They all turned in the direction of Screed's voice. "I bet 'e'd give me a run for me money at chasin' down the squealers!"

A fascinated Sidney regarded the newcomer for a moment, then walked over to rub his head against Screed's hand. He then graciously accepted the live rat Screed pulled from the squirming sack beside him, and settled down for his snack. The others watched in fascination as they sipped their own drinks.

"So, what brings you to my humble abode?" Vachon queried lightly. He hoped that it was nothing too troublesome, but where Knight was concerned, that was sometimes too much to wish for.

Natalie had not been at all happy about the Enforcer holding Nick responsible for her. She decided to speak for herself, pre-empting a startled (and somewhat annoyed) Nick. "I need to arrange for a regular supply of blood - one obtained without anyone's death or coercion. I'd really rather not go through the Raven for this."

Vachon immediately asked, "Why not?"

"Because I don't want Lacroix to know about this yet." Natalie answered. "You know him - he's going to consider me his new plaything the moment he finds out about this. I'd rather get myself settled first." Natalie gave him a wry grin. "I'm sure you know what I mean."

"Uh huh," Vachon conceded. "But why trust *me* with this?"

Nick, fuming a little, tried to break in, but Natalie laid a hand on his arm to silence him. "Because you owe me," she stated firmly. "You would be dead now, if it weren't for me. This is a relatively easy payback, don't you think?"

Vachon stared hard at her, then barked a laugh. "Yes it is; so easy that I'm wondering what the catch is!"

"You're right, but it's a simple one," Natalie asserted. "I just want you to spread the word that *no one* is to tell Lacroix about me. Most of the rest of the Community owes me the same way you do."

Vachon shot back, "What about the rest?"

Nick could restrain himself no longer and jumped in at this point. "You can tell them that anyone informing Lacroix before Natalie wishes will answer to *me*! They don't think much of me, but I'm still their elder; most of them, anyway. Their contempt won't help them much when I ram a stake through their hearts!"

Natalie and Vachon exchanged startled glances, while Screed did his best to seem invisible. Vachon finally sighed, and gave in. "All right, I'll do my best. For now, I'll buy extra blood and you can get it from me." He hesitated, then continued, "You do know you can't hide forever, don't you?"

Natalie smiled reassuringly at Vachon, "Don't worry. When I'm ready, I'll throw a party or something like that!"

Vachon nodded, then smirked as another thought occurred to him. "You know, Nick, this is going to make it even harder to hide you from Tracy..."

Screed brayed with harsh laughter and Natalie burst out giggling as Nick glared at them and stalked out.

"Screed, I was very glad to hear you'd made it," Natalie finally managed. "When I was getting blood samples from you that time, it didn't look too good."

Screed nodded in agreement, still grinning. "I was real bad off, but the V-man he didn't give up. Kept at me with that cure of yours, an' the blood...guess I got tired of 'im pesterin' me, so I woke up."

All three of them laughed at that, then Natalie rose to go. She went to the now-sated and grateful Sidney and picked him up. Unexpectedly, she gave Screed a quick hug, startling herself. He stared at her in surprise, and she was moved to say, "Uh, I think that was thanks for the rat." Recovering, she finished, "Thanks for everything. I guess I'll see you later, okay?"

****

Natalie emerged from the church to find an annoyed Nick, arms crossed, facing away from her. 'He is such a little boy sometimes,' mused a half-irritated, half-amused Natalie. 'Might as well get this over with!' She walked over to face him. "Nick, what's wrong?"

Nick's expression was a mixture of hurt and anger. "Nat, I thought we'd agreed I'd handle that!"

Sidney remained utterly still in Natalie's arms as she blinked in surprise, then straightened, her face resolute. "No, Nick, we didn't. You made statements, I stayed quiet. I needed time to think. You were right about what had to be done, but I decided it would be better to do it myself."

Nick glowered at her. "I suppose that means you don't need me anymore. You can handle it all yourself, right?" He turned with a silent snarl, moving away a few paces.

"Oh, come on, Nick, don't you think you're overreacting just a bit?" Natalie said in an exasperated voice. "Does it really offend you that I spoke for myself?"

"That's not it and you know it!" Nick spun to glare at her.

Natalie took a deep breath and hugged Sidney tighter, knowing that screaming wouldn't help them communicate. She thought back over what he'd said '...you don't need me anymore...' So that was it. "Nick, c'mon, please, we're on the same side here, OK?" She walked over to him and took his hand.

Nick turned his face away and muttered sarcastically, "I don't know about *that*. Your side seems all right just with you...and *him*." He jerked his chin at Sidney.

Natalie chose to ignore the jibe at her cat and gently turned Nick back to face her. "Nick, in order to be me, I have to do for myself all those things I *can* do. That doesn't mean I can do everything, or that I don't need your help on the other stuff." Nick mumbled something she couldn't make out. She whispered, "I love you, you know."

Nick finally sighed and hugged them softly, murmuring, "I'm sorry, Nat. I shouldn't have come down on you or Sidney like that. I love you, too."

"Let's go home," Natalie suggested. Nick didn't seem to mind.

End Chapter 5

//..// shows communication of both words and feelings, with the feelings indicated by the .. ..

Comments, chocolates, and cute vampires to

janwiles@juno.com

Contradiction in Terms (6/9)

Natalie bounced out of bed and headed for the shower, eager to begin her new training program. Behind her, Nick protested sleepily, and untangled himself from the bed in a much more leisurely fashion. As he opened the bathroom door, a clean and towel-swathed Natalie breezed by him. Nick laughed, and went in for his shower.

As soon as she was dressed, she picked up Sidney and headed for the kitchen. Collecting a bowl, a glass, and a bottle from the fridge, she placed Sidney on the the table and sat down.

"Okay, Sidney, here's what we're going to do," she told the expectant cat. "We're going to sit here with the blood right under our noses, and let the hunger rise. We'll hold back from drinking as long as we can." As she spoke, she projected pictures of Sidney and herself doing what she was saying.

Sidney responded, //..agreement/support..//

Heartened, she continued, "Then, we'll take just one big mouthful, and then stop."

Sidney meowed. //..query?..//

Natalie recognized the 'why?' feeling. "Because then we can do it again right away," she responded, showing them repeating the exercise. "We'll quiet the hunger, then make it come back, over and over."

Sidney almost seemed to shrug. //..confusion/trust/acceptance..//

Natalie smiled in relief. He didn't completely understand, but trusted her and would follow her lead. "Sid, I've got to teach you a few words, but let's try this first..."

****

A fully-clothed Nick came out of the bedroom and was greeted by an unusual sight. Nat was seated at the table with a glass of blood in front of her. Sidney was on the table beside her, with his own bowl of blood nearby. They both showed yellow eyes, but were not as yet moving to drink.

Just then, both pairs of eyes flashed red. Natalie gasped, but clenched her hands and did not reach for the glass. Perhaps ten seconds passed, then she clutched the glass and gulped. She stopped herself quickly, then cried, "Sidney! Stop! Stop!" For the cat, who had gone for the blood when she did, was still drinking.

Sidney hissed, yellow-eyed, and lifted a paw menacingly. Then, he checked his movement, and shrank back. //..embarrassment/regret..//

Natalie laughed shakily. "I guess that's your version of an apology, huh?" She stroked Sidney comfortingly. "I know this is tough, fella, but we've got to do this." She grinned at Nick. "Well, it's a beginning!"

Nick came around the table and hugged her. "That it is. If you don't mind, I'll sit here and watch for a bit before I go into work."

She shrugged. "Sure, but it won't be Academy Award material." They laughed together. "Okay, Sid, let's try to rouse the hunger, OK?" She thought hard about the unique hunger that the blood roused, so unlike the desire for food. Abruptly, she was starving again, but even more strongly than before. She held back, then picked up the glass and took a big sip. Natalie held it in her mouth for a long moment, then swallowed.

Nick smiled, encouragingly, at her. "It looked like you induced a strong hunger, there. You've made a good start at controlling it."

"But," he cautioned sternly, "remember that only practice makes perfect."

Natalie rolled her eyes, then nodded dutifully. In unison, they looked at Sidney. Oddly enough, he was just then bending to lap his mouthful. She and Nick exchanged a glance, but she was not inclined to worry about a little idiosyncracy. "Well, we'll continue on with this, Nick, and I'll try to teach him a few words."

"Sounds good, Nat, but...I know this sounds pushy, but please don't go out unless I'm here." Seeing the spark of anger in her eyes, he hastened to add, "At least for now. That Enforcer is going to be watching like a hawk, and both our lives - all three of our lives," indicating Sidney, "are at stake here."

Natalie heaved an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes. "All right, Nick. At least for tonight. But," she leveled a stern gaze at him, "I don't promise to be your woman in purdah for any longer than I have to!"

Nick came over and held his arms out for a farewell hug. "Not one second more than necessary, I promise!"

****

Natalie and Sidney continued to work on rousing the hunger to different levels, but so far could not quell it without actually consuming some blood. Finally, Natalie called a halt to the practice for the moment. "Let's not work ourselves to frustration, kiddo," she told the patient cat. "We've got a lot more to work on than just this."

She refilled her glass and Sidney's bowl, and the pair actually finished breakfast. Then, she moved to the couch and held out her arms for the cat. Sidney settled down in her lap and eyed her in anticipation.

"First," she began, "let's find out if true telepathy really works." She pictured a generic black cat, and projected the word "cat" at her friend.

Sidney's eyes went wide, and his sending of //..surprise/confusion..// was so clear, she almost thought he 'said' "Say WHAT???"

Patiently, she repeated the thought.

Sidney shook his head hard, then repeated his previous emotion, with a little irritation thrown in. Before Natalie could try again, he rested a paw on her chest and stared up at her.

She obeyed the implied 'wait' and made herself receptive. The first thing she 'saw' was the black cat she'd shown him. Next, she 'heard' the word 'cat' clearly. Just as she was about to praise him, she 'saw' a confused pattern of black-and-white that gave her a headache.

Natalie rubbed her temples. "What? Sid, try that again, I didn't understand," she replied, trying to project //..expectancy..//.

Sidney repeated his sequence, and this time Natalie could make out that the black-and-white pattern was his attempt to show the *printed* word 'cat'. Since she was a voracious reader, and her job involved so much writing, she tended to think in text. Of course he would have trouble with that! As far as she knew, cats didn't even have the concept of written language. She decided to use spoken language, and focus on just sending the accompanying pictures.

It took a few fumbles, but then she got the hang of it, and managed to communicate a number of nouns; 'cat', 'human', 'food', 'blood', et cetera. She ran into a bobble, though, when she sent several different cat pictures along with 'cat'. Sidney seemed surprised, and then, when she sent a picture of him, replied with //..disagreement..//.

Natalie laughed. "I think the word you want is 'no', Sid."

Sidney shrugged, returned the //no//, then projected a picture of himself, and the word, //Sidney.//

 "Ah!" She returned the picture, and said "Cat name Sidney."

He seemed to think about that for a moment, then sent a picture of herself and the phrase //Human name Natalie?//

"Yes, Sidney, that's right." She was delighted with his speed of comprehension.

Sidney wasn't finished, though. In quick succession, she 'saw' herself, //Natalie human//, and Nat's friend Grace, //Grace human?//

Natalie understood the distinction he was trying to make. She answered, "Natalie vampire human", and "Grace mortal human" with accompanying images.

//Yes,// Sidney 'said'. //Sidney vampire cat// accompanied his own image, then //Princess mortal cat// showed an image of the cat down the hall.

"Yes!" Natalie jumped up in sheer exuberance, and hugged the cat. "We'll work on more words, but I think we're starting to get somewhere." Sidney purred loudly and rubbed her chin with his. At least for now, cat and human were in perfect agreement.

****

After they ran out of word ideas, Natalie realized she already had a library at her fingertips, and logged onto the Internet to look for information on Basic English. What she found enabled her to round out the vocabulary somewhat, and she scribbled down some good ideas for consistent sentence structure with limited words.

Just as she finished, she heard a sound at the window as she simultaneously 'felt' the presence of another vampire. She turned in time to see Vachon, with a crate in one arm, opening the window.

"Hello!" Natalie greeted her visitor eagerly. As alone as she and Sidney perforce were, it was nice to see someone 'safe'. Vachon grinned in return and climbed in, setting the crate on the floor.

"Hey, Doc," he responded. "Just picked up your first blood shipment from the Raven. Where's the fridge?"

Natalie pointed it out to him, and he gallantly carried it over to the kitchen and began loading bottles. She lounged against the counter, watching him, then she asked, suddenly, "Does it freeze well?"

Vachon paused, shrugged, and replied, "I've never tried it myself, but I'm told it ruins the flavor. Even more than bottling it does." He smiled almost apologetically.

Natalie flinched away from thinking about blood "from the source", and queried, hastily, "How are things going over at the Raven?"

He finished with the bottles and shut the door. "The usual. Well, almost usual...for some reason, Lacroix's in an even fouler mood than he normally is. Vicious with everyone, not just his poor hapless radio callers. Mostly, he just sits in his booth and broods."

Natalie thought instantly of Enforcer Kerris. "Maybe he's had some bad news." A gurgle of guilty merriment escaped her. To distract herself, she picked up her wallet and asked Vachon, "How much do I owe you?"

 

End Chapter 6

//..// now shows communication of both words and feelings, with the feelings indicated by the .. ..

Contradiction in Terms (7/9)

Natalie and Sidney continued to attempt suppression of the hunger, but finally gave up in frustration. Then, Natalie remembered a technique she'd learned in college, and figured it was worth a try. Sidney was left behind, puzzled, as she went into the bathroom and dove under the sink, rummaging for what she needed.

"Aha!" she announced, emerging with a small makeup mirror on a stand. She sat back down at the table, arranging the mirror so both Sidney and she could see themselves closely. "Maybe if we concentrate on the effects of the hunger, and try controlling those first, we'll have a start!"

//..puzzlement..// came from Sidney.

"You don't get it, huh?" No response. "Not understand, Sidney?" she tried.

//Not understand!// he sent, meowing pitifully.

Natalie hugged him, understanding his frustration. "That's okay, Sidney. Just watch me, feel what I feel, and pick it up that way." She released him, and summoned the hunger as she had learned to do.

Then, she stared into the mirror, picturing the yellow draining from her eyes, leaving them their normal blue. She tried to feel the fangs pulling back into the gums until they were normal length. To cap it off, she imagined the gnawing of her stomach fading into a soft warmth.

"They call this 'biofeedback', Sid," she murmured, concentrating hard. "Of course, this isn't what it's supposed to be used for, but if you can use it to control pain and such, I don't see why this won't work!"

Sidney watched without understanding, but he trusted Natalie. He would wait and see.

It took a while, but eventually Natalie's strong will and powerful visualization skills won out. "I'm sure getting good at focusing on what I'm doing, Sid!" she giggled, as she practiced moving from hunger to satiety. "Why don't you try it now?"

Once Sidney had Natalie's newly-learned sensations to work with, rather than her verbal explanation, he was able to copy her achievements. It didn't take long before they'd both had enough, and she got up to pour them both dinner. As soon as she had put Sidney's filled bowl on the floor, the phone rang.

It was Nick. "How's the most wonderful woman in the world?" he purred. "Everything's doing well, I hope!"

For all that she'd heard that voice so often lately, Natalie still shivered with delight. "Absolutely perfect, my love, " she whispered seductively.

"That's nice to hear, beloved." It was like warm honey, that sound.

It took Natalie a moment to snap out of it, and think normally. "I thought you'd like to know I figured out the other half of what I'm working on. Now it's just practice, practice, practice," she said joyfully.

"Wonderful!" Nick declared. "You'll have to show me when I get home."

Natalie laughed. "Oh, I'll show you, all right...I have *lots* to show you." Her tone insinuated far more than just her training techniques.

Nick inhaled sharply. "I can hardly wait. See you *very* soon!" They exchanged goodbyes and hung up.

Natalie turned away from the phone with a happy sigh, and abruptly frowned. Sidney had barely touched his dinner. "Sidney! What's wrong, fella? Aren't you feeling well?" She picked him up for a cuddle.

Sidney hesitated, then sent //..confusion/frustration..// At the same time, he rubbed her chin with his muzzle.

"Not enough words, but not a real problem, huh?" Natalie guessed. "Well, if it continues to be a problem, you'll be able to tell me eventually." She gave him a good scratch behind the ears, then set him down. To her surprise, he promptly emptied his bowl.

***

As time went on, Natalie noticed that Sidney made a point of watching television with her. When she asked him why, the impression she got was that he was frustrated by his lack of understanding, and was looking for every way possible to learn more of the language. She was well content with that.

The pair continued their training, with a resultant increase of self-control. Natalie, in particular, was delighted and proud of how much hunger she could contain. Finally, she thought, it was time to walk among mortals and see how she did.

Nick was naturally hesitant. "Nat, it hasn't really been all that long. Are you sure you want to take the risk?"

She sighed with irritation, but suppressed it immediately. "Nick, I've got to find out if this *really* works, and this sort of acid test is the only way! I promise that if I have any problems at all with control, I'll let you drag me back here at top speed!" Her eyes pleaded with him.

Apparently, Nick wasn't the only one with the 'lost puppy' look. He melted, and hugged her tenderly. "All right, let's try this, then."

Natalie beamed at him, and scooped Sidney up. "Great! We'll all go!" She bounced out the door before he could object to the cat.

***

As they strolled along, Natalie felt a upwelling of optimism.

Her training had given her great control over the hunger, and the passersby were easy to ignore. At last, they turned the corner towards home. Almost over! She smiled up at Nick as a cab passed them by and stopped at the light.

The sudden earsplitting wail of a fire engine's siren nearly startled Natalie into flight. Nick clasped her hand a little tighter, and they grinned sheepishly at one another. Down the street, they saw the engine in question coming towards them, preparing to turn left.

"Nat, they're going too fast!" Nick gasped. As the great vehicle turned, its momentum caused it to tumble. The driver of the stopped cab had only enough time to throw himself flat on the seat before the engine rolled over the car, crushing it.

Then the screaming began.

All of the firefighters were injured as well as the cab driver. It would take only a short time for any rescue vehicles to arrive, but Natalie knew that if the cabbie were to be saved, seconds counted. She put Sidney down, then began to run towards the accident scene, only to be brought up short by Nick.

"Nat, wait, you can't!" he protested. "You're just starting to be out among people, and you want to dive into a bloody accident scene? You're crazy!"

For an instant, Natalie's eyes blazed so red they could have been used for stoplights. She raged, "Get it through your thick head, buster! Before ANYTHING else, I am a doctor! I will do whatever is necessary to help and I don't need your damned approval!!!" She ripped her hand out of his grip and ran for the heap of twisted metal.

By the time she arrived at the crumpled cab, she had gotten herself back under control and was able to surreptitiously help get the door off the cab. The dying man was bleeding so heavily that it was obvious they could not wait any longer to pull him out of the wreck. Numerous others helped her lay him on the ground. Others began offering various pieces of clothing to use as bandages and tourniquets.

Exposed to all this fresh blood, it was inevitable that she would have to keep quelling her hunger. It was relatively easy at first, but as time went on, Natalie found it harder and harder. Each suppression of the hunger lasted for a shorter period of time, as well.

Once she had finished with the cabbie, she moved on to the other wounded people. She splinted broken limbs, bandaged wounds of varying severity, and (in one case) tourniqueted one man's bleeding arm stump. She wept inside that so many were so grievously hurt through one man's momentary carelessness.

Then it happened.

As Natalie walked back to check on the cab driver, the hunger crashed in on her with a ferocity she had never known. Images of herself causing bloody, terrifying death filled her mind, and an unholy joy coursed through her. She closed her eyes against it, hardly aware that she'd fallen to her knees.

'No!' she thought fiercely. 'I won't kill! I won't do this!' She clenched her fists and gathered herself to fight. 'Just don't move! Focus, like you learned in your exercises. Concentrate on holding perfectly still. If you're not moving, you're not hurting anyone. Just hold still!'

Just hang on...

 

End Chapter 7

//..// shows communication of both words and feelings, with the feelings indicated by the .. ..

Contradiction in Terms (8/9)

Nick glared at Natalie's retreating back and realized that the only thing he could do was try and help out. He gritted his teeth and followed her to the accident scene, leaving Sidney behind to fade into the shadows. At first, he helped her with the people whose injuries she was working on. When he saw, though, that she wasn't even noticing he was there, he let himself drift off to help others.

Nick had found a firefighter he knew among the victims, and was questioning him in an attempt to find out what happened. "It looked like the engine tried turning too quickly," he commented. "Which one of you was the driver?"

The other man sighed tiredly, and pointed to a very still form. "Poor kid. He passed the training course with such high marks - he was supposed to be the best. I guess the adrenalin got the better of him. What a price to pay for a little inexperience."

Nick nodded sympathetically. He'd seen it way too many times before. He moved away, restlessly looking for other ways to help out. Other ambulance crews had arrived, so there was thankfully less for him to do. He tried talking to a few of the other victims, but had trouble concentrating. Oddly enough, his feelings of concern kept getting worse, rather than being relieved by the care the accident victims were getting. It was almost as though someone kept poking him with a pin. Finally, the mental "pin" turned into a word.

//Help!//

Nick looked around wildly, finally meeting the unwinking green eyes of Sidney. The cat was standing next to a nearby wall, his tail lashing in agitation.

//Help Natalie!!!..fear/desperation..//, Nick 'heard'. Suddenly realizing he'd lost track of her, he searched for her. Just in time, too, as he found her collapsed to her knees with her arms wrapped tightly around her. A well-meaning mortal was already reaching for her with a concerned hand.

***

Natalie hung in a desperate limbo, fighting to block out the sounds of people around her and the tantalizing smell of blood. She thought she should have broken already, but the flow of love and support from Sidney was helping her hang on longer.

Just as she was about to lose her grip, she felt Nick pick her up.

Amidst a confused babble about her recent 'illness' and probable relapse, she sensed herself being carried away from all the terrifying temptation. After a seeming eternity, she felt the comforting 'pressure' of walls around her, and realized she was at last home.

Nick lowered her feet to the floor. "Go ahead and drink, love," he said softly, as he pressed her lips to his throat. "It'll help, I promise."

Natalie instantly plunged her fangs into Nick's neck, to the nectar she needed so badly. She drank desperately, unable to stop or even slow down. Even when he began to stagger, she continued on. Abruptly, she was compelled to stop and move away from Nick. She shook her head to clear it, and turned to meet Sidney's gaze.

"So. You are my master after all." she stated flatly.

//Only when need, Natalie. Only when need.// was his calm response.

Natalie covered her face with her hands, utterly overwhelmed by the night's events. But it wasn't over yet.

"Well, that wasn't a *total* disaster," remarked a dry voice. Nick and Natalie spun to face Enforcer Kerris. They were frozen by her sharp gaze for a timeless moment, then Kerris relaxed with a wry smile. "Go ahead, sit down. You didn't break any rules, and I think you could use a little advice."

Natalie detoured to the kitchen long enough to pick up a bottle, glasses and a bowl, then returned to the living room and poured them all a drink. She handed glasses to Kerris and Nick, and lifted Sidney to the coffee table to allow him to drink. By the time she finally seated herself next to Nick, the atmosphere had relaxed considerably.

"So," Natalie said. "What did I do wrong?"

Kerris smiled a little, and leaned back in her chair. "It's not exactly what you did wrong...it's what was *missing* from your training. Which I have been observing, by the way. Others could definitely learn from your methodical and patient approach to things."

Natalie refused to be distracted by compliments. "Well, then, something was missing. But what? I can't think of anything!"

Kerris pursed her lips. "Well, let me draw you a mortal analogy. Say you've decided to improve your physique, and you choose weight training to help do that. You start out with a relatively light weight, lift that eight or nine times, and that becomes easy. So, you move on to heavier and heavier weights. What happens?"

That seemed obvious. "You bulk up, you get stronger. So?" Natalie was puzzled.

"So then, you decide to help a friend move a lot of heavy furniture. At first, it seems easy, but very soon you're exhausted. What's happened to all that wonderful new strength?"

"Uh...that sounds like a stamina problem, not a strength problem. If all you're doing during training is increasing the weight, you're *only* improving your strength. You have to add more repetitions of each weight exercise as you go along to get endurance...Oh, no!" Natalie was aghast. "I've been working so hard on how much hunger I could control, that I forgot that I would need to maintain that control for longer and longer periods of time!"

Kerris nodded, smiling. "Exactly."

Nick moaned and shut his eyes. "I can't believe I missed that!"

"Neither can I," Kerris responded tartly. She glared at Nick for a moment, then her expression eased. "Fortunately, due to the work Natalie had already done, there's no harm done, and she only needs to adjust her 'workouts' to include 'stamina'".

Some earlier incidents leaped to Natalie's mind then, and she turned on Sidney. "Hey, you knew about this! All those times where you forced yourself to wait longer before you drank! You knew! Why didn't you *tell* me??" Her voice rose hysterically.

Sidney reared back, his eyes more than just a little gold. //Sidney not know!..indignation/anger..//

Nick took Natalie by the shoulders and shook her gently. Kerris looked on in avid interest. "Nat, let me ask him what's going on, okay?" Natalie quieted and clung to him. "Sidney, why *were* you practicing waiting to drink, then?"

Sidney seemed to pause, thinking. //Sidney mortal, wait hungry.// A picture of Sidney formed in their minds. He was sitting in front of his empty food dish, waiting impatiently for Natalie to come home from work. //Sidney vampire, same.// The cat flashed the same picture at them, only they knew he was waiting for blood instead of cat food.

Kerris nodded in understanding. "Natalie, Sidney is not human, even though his intelligence has been vastly enhanced by such close contact with you. You cannot expect him to think exactly as you do. I'm impressed he realized the need for future self-control at all." She finished her drink and rose. "I will leave you to your work, then." Kerris reached out to stroke Sidney. "By the way, very good work, young master."

Sidney purred at the approval. //Do what need, no more.//

Kerris gave him a final pat, then stepped to the balcony door and was gone. Nick and Natalie stared at one another for a moment, then fell into each other's arms, crying in shock and relief. Each tried to apologize to the other, Nick for missing the problem, Nat for rejecting Nick's advice. Natalie did not fail to include Sidney in her tearful pleas for forgiveness.

At last, the human pair quieted,and looked up to see Sidney facing them proudly on the coffee table, a fresh box of Kleenex beside him. Nick and Natalie both laughed, and Natalie reached to scruffle the cat behind the ears as she plucked a tissue from the box. "I love your sense of 'appropriateness', Sid," she chuckled, weakly. She mopped the copious flow of red from her face and neck. "Thanks for the help - in more ways than one!"

Sidney leaped lightly to sit on her lap. //Happy it work out ..profound relief..// He cocked his head at Nick. //??//

Nick chuckled, and stroked Sidney's head. "I'm just as happy as you, my friend!" He retrieved a tissue for himself.

Natalie stiffened in surprise. "You can hear Sidney too, Nick?" She looked from cat to man in astonishment.

"Yes, and it's all that saved our butts, Nat! Even with his help, I barely got to you in time. I hate to think what Enforcer Kerris would have done if I'd been even a few seconds late." They shuddered in unison.

"For all that, she seems to be a nice person," Natalie mused. Then she giggled a little hysterically. "A nice Enforcer - now there's a real contradiction in terms!"

End Chapter 8

//..// shows communication of both words and feelings, with the feelings indicated by the .. ..

Rated PG-13 for one swear word.

Contradiction in Terms (9/9)

The next evening found Natalie sitting on the couch, staring off into space. She couldn't stop thinking about the images of killing and bloodthirst that had nearly destroyed her control. She was completely overwhelmed by the idea that such violence, such pure *evil*, could come from her own mind. Nick had talked about the evil in himself, but even though she had tried to understand, it hadn't seemed real. It would have been nice to be able to blame her drinking of Nick's blood for it, except that Nick had been very careful to block such images. She supposed she'd have to learn to do that eventually, but at the moment it didn't seem important.

Nick came out of the bedroom, prepared for work, but paused when he saw her and came to sit beside her. Taking her hand, he asked tenderly, "What's wrong, love? Can I help?"

The tears started down her face. "*I'm* what's wrong, Nick. How could I possibly think such horrible things? Revel in them, even?" She shuddered and pulled her hand free of Nick's to hug herself tightly.

Nick put his arms around her, ignoring her lack of response.

"Nat, I know you don't want to believe this, but the vampire is an evil thing in and of itself." He stroked her hair, tenderly. "Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that it magnifies the evil that's already there within every person."

Natalie wailed softly, "Doesn't the evil ever go away? Do I have to endure that every day for the rest of my life?"

He shook his head, slowly, sadly. "The evil never goes away, Nat. Keep in mind, though, that the good never goes away, either. You're the one who helped me see that." He was rewarded with a faint smile from Natalie. "It's an ongoing fight, every single day. It's that way for everyone, mortal or vampire." He shifted to cuddle her more naturally as she relaxed. "It's just that, for us, letting evil win has more immediate, and drastic, consequences."

Natalie digested that for a long moment, then pulled away from Nick and sat up to stare into his eyes. "Nick, I swear to you, I won't ever kill an intelligent being for food. Reducing people to the level of cattle - that's the real evil!"

He smiled approvingly, though worry still haunted his eyes. "Hang on tight to that oath, Nat. Don't ever lose sight of it!"

****

Natalie and Sidney prepared to begin once again on a round of training practice. It was even more dull this time, as it required so much more time. She could not figure out a way to speed *this* up, unfortunately. Natalie was all too aware now of the consequences of being in a hurry.

She had called her boss to pass on the "excuse" Nick had thought up; that the extreme stress of the rescue had caused a relapse, and Natalie needed more recovery time. She received a loud grumble in return, but also recognition of the good job she'd done with the accident victims. Not to mention lightening the morgue's workload by saving all those lives...

As the days passed, Natalie noticed that Sidney was beginning to respond to thoughts directed at him, and not just spoken words. She found this interesting, though not worrisome, and mentioned it to Nick. He was both intrigued and a little perturbed by it. He decided to try questioning the cat.

Nick relaxed on the couch with Natalie against his shoulder. Sidney curled up in the opposite chair, watching Nick in anticipation. "Sidney, do you hear what I say up here," Nick pointed to his forehead, "like you hear what I say here?" tapping his mouth.

Sidney arched his whiskers in agreement. //Sidney hear both. Mouth easy, head hard..amusement..//

Natalie giggled. "I think he just made a pun!"

Nick smiled. "Pretty good, actually, but I'm a little concerned about this. I sort of *like* my privacy."

"No kidding," she smirked, then sobered. "Sidney, do you 'listen' to me and Nick all the time?"

//No,// the cat responded instantly. //Think Sidney, Sidney listen. No think Sidney, Sidney no listen.// He appeared to reconsider. //Sidney danger, Natalie danger, Sidney listen.//

Natalie 'listened' to not only the words, but the 'flavor' of them' as well. "I think he means he'll listen if we're thinking at or about *him*, or if he thinks we're in danger. Not otherwise." She smiled up at Nick. "I think that's a good compromise, don't you?"

//Nick danger, Sidney listen?// the cat broke in.

Nick thought about that, then shrugged. "Well, Sidney, if you don't mind...it's always good to look out for your friends, huh?"

Sidney abruptly jumped into their laps, then rubbed his muzzle against each human's jaw. //Friends, yes. Friends *good*!//

Natalie hugged both man and cat, then sat up, squaring her shoulders. "Time for us to get back to work, Sid. Things are going well enough, I think," she said to Nick, "that we can have that party in about a week. Then I'll return to work the next day, hmm?"

 Nick looked like he wanted to argue, but acquiesced. "I'll set it up and send out the word. I'm afraid, though, that Lacroix will have to be there. Unless you want to snub him!"

"No, I don't think so!" she said with a wry laugh.

****

Dusk fell on the evening of Natalie's coming-out party; a perfect night for a vampire's party. Moonless for flying, a light breeze, temperature such that no one needed heavy clothing to blend in with any mortals that might see them.

People began arriving through the skylight. Natalie personally greeted each guest with a blood-filled, beautifully designed silver cup intended as a keepsake.

There were a few comments when Screed arrived along with Vachon and Urs, but Natalie ignored them and greeted the carouche as graciously as any of the other guests. "Screed, Vachon, it's nice to see you again," she said, the warmth in her voice genuine. Who is your guest? I don't think I've seen you before?" This to Urs, who smiled shyly in return.

Vachon smiled and laid an affectionate hand on the blond woman's shoulder. "This is Urs, Natalie. She's a fledgling of mine, and she dances at the Raven."

Natalie offered drinks to the pair and nodded in understanding. "That explains it, then. I don't hang around there very much. It's very nice to meet you, Urs." She was eager to get to know another female vampire.

Urs seemed just as pleased. "I'm glad to meet you as well, Natalie. I'm really impressed - I don't often see vampires as young as you who project such self-discipline, such comfort with who they are." Her gaze held genuine admiration.

"Thank you," Natalie replied, a little embarrassed. "It's taken a lot of work - dull, boring work, at that - but it's been worth it." The goblet that Natalie handed Screed contained rat blood, but she could see he was becoming rapidly uncomfortable. "Screed, if you'd like to say hi to Sidney, he's just outside. Crowds are not his thing either," she confided with an encouraging smile. Screed lost no time in slipping out the door to the roof.

When Lacroix arrived, the conversation hum dipped a bit, then picked up. Natalie's welcome was coldly correct; as was his acknowledgement. As Lacroix moved through the other partygoers, some were moved to make a brief comment, but he was mostly left alone. Finally, he lounged against one side of the fireplace in an attitude that masked his snarl of rage.

'Damned bitch,' he thought. 'She was supposed to be the one who suffered! Instead, I am hounded by the cursed Enforcers...chastised for endangering the Community...commanded to leave her alone! How dare they order me around? Me! I was a general in Imperial Rome's armies when most of *them* weren't born, much less brought across!'

Lacroix paused for a swallow of blood, and a sneer at anyone who glanced at him. 'Everyone knows by now that that cursed Kerris has been watching me, waiting for me to do something wrong. They're probably all laughing behind my back, these...children. No! Puppies! Filthy flea-bitten curs! Just you wait, you Enforcers and you other fools...I haven't been around this long without learning patience. Eventually, my dear Natalie, you won't matter to anyone but Nicholas, and then I shall have some fun. Then... what a delightful toy you shall make!'

****

Outside the window, a small cat watched and seethed.

He was flanked by Enforcer Kerris and an *extremely* nervous Screed. Kerris could tell that Screed would rather have been anywhere but here, but she approved of the way he stood by his feline friend. She reached out a soothing hand to caress Sidney, but he didn't even notice. Sidney could hardly form thoughts, so great was his rage and fear. //Not toy! Not toy! Natalie NOT toy!//

"I know, Sidney," Kerris said softly. "Don't worry, I am watching this one. I can tell he intends to break his word after what he considers a suitable time. He WILL pay, I promise you."

Sidney shuddered with the effort to control himself, then was still. //Pay? Lacroix pay?// He gazed at Kerris with a terrible intensity. Screed looked on with equal interest.

She nodded reassuringly. "He will be properly punished in accordance with the Code that binds us all."

Sidney seemed to mull this over, then abruptly, the tone of his sending changed, from anger to a positively evil glee. //No, Natalie not toy. Lacroix toy!//

"Really!" Kerris pulled back to look at Sidney mischievously, as Screed's face lit up in anticipation. "Tell me MORE!"

The End

Watch for the next exciting episode-

"I Didn't Say NatPack, I Said CatPack!"

Considering how long finishing this one took, I have no idea

when the next one will be out...

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