Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Dreams and reality

Karen Gunther

<Back to fiction page>

Timeline: 3rd season, after 'Human Factor'

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

CHAPTER 1/11

 

The fire flickered and danced, silence filled the room as Natalie and Nick pondered their own dreams of the future, their recent encounters with the spirits of Kessel House and the events that kept them together .. and apart. Natalie leaned against Nick, curling into his strong arms. She feared he would soon move on, and did not know what she would do if he left her. They had been through so much in the past three months.. the investigation at the haunted house, which forced both of them to confront issues from their past- although Nick would not say who had come to him. He just seemed down.. less resolute in his pursuit of a cure even after seeing Janette and her brief return to humanity.. and he would not even discuss trying to use the same method as Janette. Of course coming so soon after that demonic possession, and the fever.. not to mention his near fatal head wound..

 

Natalie was just so tired.. she fought the fatigue and queasiness at work every night.. although working nights as a coroner did not help either problem. Her assistants were nagging her to see a doctor.. this had continued way too long for a flu.. but for now it felt good to just rest in Nick's arms. This was her reality right now and it felt good.

 

"So.. Natalie.. is it mine?" Nick asked softly, allowing one arm to drift lower on her abdomen. Only once had their relationship progressed beyond the semi-platonic friendship they enjoyed.. and yearned for more.. but at the time, he had forgotten what he truly was.. and now he lived with the memories of that night.. as well as his 800 years as a vampire.. and the incessant hunger that prevented him from showing Natalie his love as much as he'd like.

 

"Is what yours?" she turned slightly to meet his eyes, a puzzled expression on her face.

 

"You don't know? The baby.. Is it mine?" he asked patiently.

 

"What baby?" She sat upright looking directly at him, her heartrate rising. <is that possible? We were together only once.. but I thought vampires were sterile.. oh my..>

 

"Oh, Nat, I thought you knew.. I thought that was why you came over today." Nick sighed and looked very apologetic <how could I be wrong.. the signs are all there>.

 

"Umm.. if I can ask.. since I have not even suspected this.. how do YOU know?" she looked at him hesitantly. Nick was always so reticent to talk about his vampire senses, urges, abilities. What she knew she picked up by observation mainly.

 

He wrapped his arm around her, inhaling deeply, pulling her closer. "Your blood.. it smells different."

 

"Smells different?" she asked.. <this is a new one..>

 

"Yes.. every mortal has a unique smell.." he began to caress her abdomen, feeling the very slight fullness.. trying to sense her more fully..

 

"So.. What's mine? My smell that is..?" she asked snuggling closer leaning against his strong shoulder <as long as he's talking, might as well learn as much as I can>

 

"Apples and cinnamon.. sweet but spicy.. just like you.." he kissed her forehead lightly. "But now.. I detect something more, undefined but different.. its not the aura I'd feel if a vampire had fed from you." she looked at him quizzically. "If a vampire feeds from a mortal, they leave a scent.. kind of a 'hands off'.. and most vampires will then stay away.. unfortunately, the vampires I worry about most in your regard, would not respect that.. or I would have already tasted you.." his voice trailed off. Natalie just sat there stunned at this revelation.. this was all news to her. "And besides.. you haven't had a period in at least two months"

 

She pulled away, her face flaming and walked toward the fireplace, keeping her back to him. "Uh.. how do you know THAT?"

 

"Oh, Natalie.. you don't know the temptation you present to me.. I want you so much.. and when you are having your period.. the blood scent is so strong that I fear for your safety .. I just can't be around you.. I'm so afraid of hurting you.." He stood and walked up to her. "You never noticed?"

 

She searched her memories, and indeed, she could not remember ever being at the loft during 'that time'. A thought came to her suddenly.. she turned and faced him directly. "But couldn't we use that to our advantage?"

 

"How so?" Nick had always avoided menstruating women.. and as a mortal in the 13th century, they were an absolute taboo.

 

"Umm.. how do I put this delicately..? Uh.. would that blood be enough to satisfy the vampire enough for us to be together? Trust me.. that first day.. the flow is pretty heavy.." her cheeks were flaming.. she had never discussed such personal matters with a man.

 

Nick looked at her thoughtfully, sensing her embarrassment. "I've never tried that.. but you know it might work.. would be messy though.. but I don't mind messy." He grinned, a glint in his eye spoke of deep desire. "That still does not answer my original question."

 

She turned and leaned against his chest and sighed. "IF I am pregnant, then yes. It is yours. I have not been with anyone besides you in years. But I thought you could not father children.."

 

"That's what LaCroix always told me.. but then it could be because mortal women do not usually survive an encounter with one of us.. they are either killed, or brought across.. in which case, they could not support a pregnancy. Have I ever, uh.. given you, um.. a specimen to analyze?"

 

"No.. and it might not be a bad idea.." the scientist was working overtime on this theory that she was indeed pregnant. "But you are going mainly on a smell.. can you hear a heartbeat?"

 

Nick turned her around to face him. "No, not from here. At least not yet, but I can listen if you want.. at this age, though, I will need direct contact."

 

"Direct contact?" she almost hesitated to know what he meant.

 

"Yeah.. skin to skin.. my ear directly against you.. umm right over your uterus." He looked in her eyes, trying to stay clinical.. just the thought of being against her warm body was enticing.. but she had to want it.. had to trust him..

 

"Do it. I want to know." She said firmly and walked back over to the couch, unbuckling her belt and loosening her slacks, pulling them down. He put a hand out and stopped her.

 

"That's far enough.." he said softly. "Lie down." As she complied he looked at her. "Don't worry, Natalie.. I may change.. but I won't hurt you." She nodded, and reached up to touch his tousled blond hair as he knelt next to the couch. He leaned over and laid his head lightly on her belly, and concentrated.. a broad grin lit his face when he found the sound.. the rapid, muffled beat of an unborn heart.. his eyes glowed golden for a minute and then returned to the clear blue before he spoke. "Hello, little one. You don't know what a miracle you truly are but your daddy loves you.." his eyes filling with blood tears, he gently kissed Natalie's belly and looked up. "Yep.. you're pregnant.."

 

He turned and stood as Natalie refastened her slacks. "well, I guess I DO need to make that doctor's appointment that Jill and Grace have been nagging me about." She looked at him sharply. "And when do we announce it at work? If I request any special restrictions at work, the gossip lines will lead right back to you. And fast.. you know Grace is the main pipeline between the police department and the coroners office.. and her suspicions about us are getting too accurate for comfort."

 

"That's OK, Nat. I fully intend to take responsibility. I am looking forward to being a father.. and formalizing our relationship."

 

"Won't that be dangerous? It will get back to the Community.." she did not comment on his last statement, not totally sure what he meant.

 

"I'll talk to LaCroix.. see what his 'price' is.." he grimaced at the thought.. La Croix's price was generally pretty high and he wasn't sure what bargaining power he had. "I don't think the rest of the community is a problem.."

 

"Oh, since when? What about enforcers?"

 

"The fever.. Nat. Too many debts owed to you. No.. the only problem is LaCroix.. if he pushes, the Enforcers might be called.. but if I get to him first.. Don't say anything yet.. not even to Grace.."

 

"OK.. but I will go ahead and set up my doctor's appointment."

 

"Nat.." he hesitated and looked at her. "Would you consider moving in here? I want to share this miracle every step of the way.. and I don't think you should live alone.."

 

"You know I'm a package deal.. with me you get Sydney.."

 

"And baby.. I think we can all share.. I'll even add another bedroom and a nursery.. say yes, Natalie, please..." he looked at her with that wide-eyed 'little boy' innocent gaze that melted her heart..

 

"Yes.. Nick. I will live here.. but I won't kick you out of your bedroom.. either we share or no go."

 

"You would trust me? To sleep with you.." he looked at her incredulous. This was better than his wildest dreams..

 

"Yes, Nick.. I trust you implicitly.. I have never feared you.." She gazed at him directly, no hesitation in her eyes. He could sense her peace and contentment... and utter trust... and wondered how he could be so fortunate to have found her.

 CHAPTER 2

 

The morgue was quiet that night. No new cases. And now that Natalie knew what was causing her fatigue and nausea, she knew how to manage it. An unexpected cancellation had allowed Natalie to see her doctor that afternoon and she confirmed it.. Natalie was indeed pregnant.. twelve weeks pregnant. After being chastised for delaying her prenatal care so long, she did an ultrasound and routine blood tests...

 

Natalie was trying to catch up on paperwork but was distracted by her thoughts and the small picture she slipped into the frame next to Nick on her desk. Lost in her thoughts, she did not notice that the door of the lab had opened until Jill spoke up.. "Got any of the files done? Oh.. what is so fascinating? Hey, an ultrasound picture.. oh, I love looking at these.. who's is it?" she snatched the picture before Natalie could stop her. Reading the radiology label, she looked at Natalie with a big smile. She enveloped her in a wide hug.. "Oh, Natalie, this is great.. I am so happy for you.. I have to call Grace.."

 

Natalie put out a hand to stop her from touching the phone. "No. Don't. Please, Jill, let me handle it.. You know how I hate being the latest fodder for the gossip mill.. and this will be a doosy.. it'll be all over town within hours.. and I have not even told family."

 

"OK" she said reluctantly. "So.. how far along are you? Does Nick know?" at Natalie's shocked look, she giggled. "Nat, honey.. of course I know he's the father.. I've not seen you with anyone else since I started here.. and I HAVE seen how he looks at you."

 

Natalie looked sheepishly at her. "I didn't know we were that obvious. But please, Jill.. I am not ready for this to be common knowledge. Don't say anything yet."

 

Jill smiled and seeing Nick at the door, stood up. "OK.. if that's what you want.. Oh, hi Nick, come on in.. good to see you." she walked past him and whispered "daddy."

 

Nick looked darkly at Natalie as Jill closed the door behind her. "I thought we weren't saying anything."

 

Natalie sighed. "I didn't say anything. She saw this." She handed Nick the ultrasound picture. "You know what they say about empirical evidence.."

 

"OK.. OK, sorry I snapped at you. I called LaCroix.. he wants to meet with both of us today. And how did she know it was mine?"

 

"What does he want with me..? I thought you were going to take care of it." she sighed.. LaCroix was not one of her favorite people.. just the thought of a command meeting with the ancient vampire was enough to send chills down her back.

 

"He didn't say.. and he didn't act surprised when I told him about the baby .. so we may be in trouble."

 

"Trouble? With whom? I thought you said I was owed.." she began to pace. This was not good.. not good at all.

 

"What about Jill? Will she keep quiet?" he asked calmly, putting his arms around her shoulders and leaning against the cooler door.

 

"I swore her to secrecy.. I said I had not even told family yet.. and she said it was obvious that it was yours." Natalie answered, trembling slightly.

 

"That what was yours, Nick?" Tracy stood at the door, looking at the two of them. <I interrupted something here.. they are looking guilty again.. something is up..>

 

"What brings you here, Tracy?" Nat spoke up.

 

"We have a call Nick. And aren't you going to answer my question?" Tracy tried to meet his eyes.

 

"No, Tracy. I'm not." Nick said flatly, turning to Natalie he whispered "Nat, I'll pick you up at 4." Standing up, he gently kissed her forehead and walked out, hearing Natalie's phone ringing.

 

"I'll drive.. get in" she said and Nick sighed. He hated riding.. but was sufficiently distracted that this was not altogether a bad idea.

 

They drove for a while, Tracy kept giving Nick puzzled looks. "Tracy.. spit it out.. Just ask, before you explode." He said patiently.

 

"Is there something going on with you and Natalie?"

 

"That's a rather personal question, Tracy. I'm not sure you need to know just yet."

 

"No.. it is my business if it's my life I'm worried about. I don't want my partner distracted every time the ME is around. And it is obvious that the two of you are more than casual friends. I just want to know.. how much more.."

 

"You're that second person today who has claimed that we were 'obvious' about something. Well, if it is that obvious, you don't need to ask.." Nick answered in his best matter-of-fact cold voice. Tracy sighed.. she would need to go to a different source.. after all, she was a detective.. it was time she had a little girl talk with Natalie's assistants.. she knew that Grace was very observant.. and a leading source of the police department grapevine.. if anyone knew, Grace would.

 

*********

The flashing lights and buzz of activity made the crime scene stand out.. a beacon in the night. Parking behind the morgue's van, Natalie got out grabbing her clipboard and bag. She walked through the crowd of on-lookers and stepped under the yellow tape barrier, looking for Nick and Tracy. Walking up to them.. she looked around and asked.. "so what did you have for me?"

 

"Body found by the lake by some boaters.. floating. We're not sure it's a drowning though. And it has been in the water for a while." Tracy answered, shuddering slightly. But then, Tracy was not known for handling bodies well.

 

Natalie groaned inwardly and reached into her bag for the jar of wintergreen gel. Better to prepare myself, she thought, dabbing it under her nose. The body was covered by a thick plastic tarp. Natalie laid down her bag and slid on her gloves before removing the tarp. Trying her best to fight down the nausea, she methodically jotted down her observations.. she was a professional.. she could do this..

 

Rolling the body over, a wave hit her.. the odor was more than she could stand. She turned, leaning on a tree and took a deep breath. <I won't be sick.. I won't be sick..> it was a mantra, and she reached into her bag for some crackers. Seeing her distress, Nick came over and took her hand.

 

"Sit down, Nat. Deep breath. Good. Do you need to leave?" he murmured to her.. rubbing her shoulders as he crouched by her. They were starting to attract attention and Captain Reese walked over.

 

"Dr. Lambert? Are you OK? You look a little pale." He looked at the couple closely. <hmm, he is hovering.. something is up..>

 

"I'll be OK.. I don't know what hit me.. I just felt nauseous. I'm OK now.. I can finish.." with Nick's help, she stood and headed back to where the body lay.

 

"Knight, don't you have work to do?" Reese nudged him. He was just standing and staring at Natalie. <There was definitely more to this relationship..>

 

Natalie finished, and motioned to the attendants to come and bag the body as she walked over to Reese, stripping off the gloves. "OK, Captain.. this was not a drowning.. he was dead when he went into the water.. oh 4, maybe 5 days.. the water's cold enough that I may be able to get more for you later but those are definite ligature marks on hands and feet. I'd say he was tied up.. I'll list as homicide and get you a report by the end of the shift."

 

He nodded. "Take care of yourself, Doc. I've never seen you react to a body.. and your assistants say you've not been feeling well. Have you been to the doctor?"

 

"I AM a doctor.. but yes.. I have.. and I am fine.." he looked at her doubtfully. Natalie was beginning to wish they could just announce it.. her professional life would be easier if everyone knew she was pregnant.. No one questioned a pregnant woman being queasy.

 

****************

On the dot of 4 am, Nick walked into the morgue to find Natalie still at work. She paused her dictation long enough to motion to her desk. "Have a seat.. almost done."

 

"We have an appointment, remember?" he was anxious to get this over with.. and not be stuck at the Raven for the day.

 

"How could I possibly forget, Nick?" She looked at him grimly. "You think if I still smell of formaldehyde, I'll be less appetizing?"

 

"Nat.." he smiled. "Never.. you are always appetizing.." he said sliding the chair closer to her and breathing on her neck, kissed her lightly.

 

"Natalie, I have those lab reports for you.." Grace's voice could be heard as she quickly took in the two of them.. very close.. "Ooops.. hope I'm not interrupting.."

 

"No, Nick is here to give me a ride.. and he is being entirely too distracting.." she teased, pushing her chair back. Scanning the report, she hit print.

 

"OK.. Grace, could you send this to Captain Reese.. I have an appointment today and need to get home."

 

"Sure.. are you ever going to make that doctors appointment? Nick, you have to talk to her.. this nausea is just not normal." Grace's friendly concern was evident but Natalie merely thought <yes, it is.. it is very normal>

CHAPTER 3

 

The crowd had thinned when they walked into the Raven, and Nick could sense that most of the patrons were vampires. The entrance of a mortal female drew some interested looks until it was seen how close Nick held her. While many of the community did not agree with Nick's quest, his age and family lines garnered a grudging respect.

 

"Where's LaCroix?" Nick hollered at the bartender, who waved toward the back offices. Taking Natalie firmly by the hand he went to the door of the office and knocked.

 

The door was opened, and LaCroix stood there, dressed in his usual black, sipping from a stemmed glass. "Ah, Nicholas, how good of you to join me today. And it is a pleasure indeed to see you again, Doctor." His smooth voice and mannerisms belied his long history of violence.. and power. LaCroix was not a man to be trifled with.

 

"Yes, well, I did not think this meeting was optional." Nick replied calmly as they sat in the indicated chairs. He held Natalie's hand firmly.

 

"Indeed. It was not optional. I am glad you had the wisdom to comply with my wishes for once." He turned his gaze to Natalie, catching her eyes directly as he sat in the overstuffed chair opposite hers. "So, doctor. Nicholas tells me that you are in a family way." LaCroix looked at her intensely. He usually had no respect for mortals and their weaknesses.. but had developed a grudging admiration for the young mortal woman who had captured his son's eye. He had shown better taste than usual.. this one would even be a good addition to the family..

 

"Yes. That is correct." Her voice was steady, clear.. showing no hesitation or fear.

 

"And Nicholas is the father?" he gave her a penetrating look.. no emotion.

 

"Yes." she kept her replies brief.. nothing to anger him.. just answer the question.

 

"How unusual. I have never known a vampire to father a child.. much less a mortal woman to survive the mating. And Janette always said that our Nicholas was not much in the control department.. somehow I don't see it. Are you sure..? Whom else have you been with?" his voice was almost accusing.. threatening.

 

"No one. I have been with no one else. The child was conceived the night Nick came home from the hospital after being shot.. he functioned as a mortal.. in all ways.. for a brief time." She keep her voice calm, and Nick squeezed her hand. He knew that his input just yet would only make things worse.. this was her interview.

 

"And yet, he IS a vampire. Vampires cannot father children." He gave her his best 'evil' tone

 

"They can't normally. But even today, Nick could father a child.. just by artificial means." She ignored his attempts to rattle her and put on her best 'clinical' persona.. the one she had perfected in residency

 

"What does THAT mean, doctor? Please be specific." His anger was tinged with curiosity <just how far had this research gone?>

 

"OK.. you want specifics. I'll give you specifics. I'll give you the medical facts. His sperm count is normal. It may look like blood, but there is a sufficient quantity of viable sperm to impregnate a woman. If you would like, I could do a count on you... if you think that Nick is not normal, that my previous work has altered him. Its just that no woman ever survives conception with you guys. But with artificial insemination.. " She looked between Nick and LaCroix.. taking in their surprise.. obviously no one had ever studied them that closely.

 

"But you were not.. artificially..?" LaCroix watched her closer.. more intently.

 

"Uh.. no.. I was inseminated the um.. natural way.." she began to flush..

 

"Fascinating.. tell me doctor.. oh, that is a delicious color you turn..." he glinted a cold smile and Nick reached up to tighten his grip on her arm. "And Nicholas was able to achieve this act without taking your blood?"

 

"Yes.. but remember... he did not remember what he was." She looked at Nick before continuing. "And we have not tried since.."

 

"But you would..?"

 

"Yes." her voice was quiet, calmly resolute.

 

"But he won't, I would assume, then. Has he ever taken your blood? Even a sip?"

 

"No.." she said and Nick nodded in confirmation.. he was beginning to become concerned about this line of questioning.. LaCroix would be able to tell if he had fed from Natalie.. why ask?

 

"Tell me doctor, what are you going to do about this child?" he leaned back in his chair, steepled fingertips pressing at his mouth as he watched her closely.

 

"Do about it? Excuse me, LaCroix? What are you getting at..? If the question is abortion, the answer is no.. and I am too far along anyway." She said with more intensity than she'd intended. <ah.. she has fire.. a worthy addition indeed..>

 

"Are you going to stay with Nicholas?" he moved closer, catching her eyes.

 

"Yes." she answered avoiding his stare. <I will not let him hypnotize me>

 

"As a mortal?" he asked slowly.

 

"OK, let's lay the cards on the table.. what do you want of me? I don't like the cat-and-mouse games. What is the penalty or price for getting pregnant by a vampire?" she was getting impatient. Time for the real negotiation.

 

"Indeed.. the direct approach. A woman after my own style, yes. Very well, doctor. The community elders have heard of your dilemma." Natalie looked at him shocked, and then at Nick, who merely shrugged. "We have our ways.. I knew of this before you did, my dear. You carry Nick's aura.. and I knew he had never partaken of your blood.. which you have so eloquently confirmed for me.. and now the child's heartbeat is quite evident.. at least to me." He smiled at her like an indulgent father. "You will have our protection for the duration of the pregnancy and the child's infancy. On the child's first birthday.. you will be presented with an option. Be brought over by Nicholas.. or by me."

 

"And if I refuse to be brought over?"

 

"Then you and the child will be targeted for execution by the Enforcers." At her sharp gasp.. he went on.. "Natalie, you know too much.. you've seen too much .. and you have too much evidence.. if Nicholas EVER moves on, they would have been called. And now, well, the child changes everything. This child is a half-breed. It carries the aura of a vampire but is mortal. It likely will have some of the powers of a vampire. The elders are concerned a mortal parent would not be able to control it.. And that puts the community at risk... an unacceptable risk.."

 

"And if we disappear?" Natalie looked between the two men.. she had to know all of her options..

 

"They'll find you Nat.. you cannot hide from them.." Nick said sorrowfully. "Is this really necessary LaCroix?"

 

"Yes, Nicholas.. you know the Code and chose to violate it.. you are getting off rather lightly in my opinion. It is only because the Elders respect the good doctor and her previous contributions to the Community that you all are not simply to be executed now." LaCroix said with fury.

 

"OK, OK.. I agree.. I agree.. just, stop it you two.." Natalie spoke up, and both men looked at her questioning..

 

"Natalie.. you don't know what you are saying.." Nick said with a desperate tone.

 

"Yes, Nick.. I do.. I am saving the life of my child.. your child. This is what mothers do.. sacrifice for the sake of the child.. protect the child. And I can think of worse things than to spend eternity with you.."

 

"Very good, my dear." LaCroix spoke smoothly. "I look forward to welcoming you into the family." His expression had changed to a tentative smile. "And Nicholas.. your choice is to accomplish her conversion privately before the child's first birthday.. or you will have witnesses. A lot of witnesses." LaCroix said, taking her hand and pulling her up.. gently touching her slightly full abdomen, he said. "ahh.. you will be a very loved child... you see my dear, doctor.. there are many in the Community anxious to see this child grow up strong and healthy. Do keep in touch, my dear."

 

She just looked at him, slightly shocked, as Nick tightened his grip around her waist. "OK, LaCroix.. that's enough.. Do you mind if we leave now? "

 

He led Natalie out and they drove back to the loft in silence, riding up the lift before either said anything. "Nick.. we never went to my place.. can I borrow a t-shirt? And I will need to go over this afternoon to feed Sydney."

 

"Natalie, how can you be so calm? You have just been handed a death sentence.."

 

"No, Nick.. I prefer to think of it as a transition. I have a year and a half to get used to the idea.. to spend time in the sun.. and then I join you in eternity. And I still have your child to raise. Not a bad deal from my perspective. Oh, I know there are a lot of things you regret.. feel guilty about... But Nick, don't you see.. that was how you were raised. Much has changed since 1228.. I don't have that sense of punishment and guilt and I will be able to drink bottled.. not to kill. Think about the research I could accomplish if I did not have to worry about a virus killing me.."

 

"You have a unique perspective, Nat.. what did I ever do to deserve you?" he said with a kiss to her cheek.

 

CHAPTER 4

 

The shrill ringing of the phone woke them both.. Natalie had drifted up against Nick in sleep and they both laid in the middle of the big bed, cuddled together, arms around each other. Nick reached over and picked up the phone.

 

"Yeah.. Knight here.." he said groggily.

 

"Nick.. Tracy.. do you have any idea where Natalie is? She is not answering her page and her machine picks up at her apartment." She went on breathlessly as Nick just handed the phone to Natalie.

 

"Here, it's for you." he mumbled.

 

Natalie took the phone from him and nervously answered, "Uh.. hello?"

 

"Natalie??" she could hear Tracy's voice, sounding very shocked. "OK.. well.. this answers a lot of questions that Nick would not answer."

 

"Tracy.. what was so important that you had to wake us both up?" Natalie asked impatiently.. she could sense the office grapevine gearing up.. oh, well.. they had not even heard the best part..

 

"Oh, yeah.. I just never expected to find you at Nick's place" she giggled <in Nick's bed, you mean> "Anyway.. there was a drive by shooting on the 401.. multiple casualties. You are needed to come in early... Jill called me for Nick's number. I thought she was crazy.. but I guess not.. anyway, I said I'd call. So could you call your office?"

 

"OK Tracy.. and you can stop giggling anytime. Bye.." Natalie clicked the phone off and sat up. "Well.. the cat is definitely out of the bag now. Tracy will waste no time telling the world where I was.. including the sleepy voice on the phone." She dialed the phone "Hi Grace.. yes I just heard. I'll check my pager.. I think I left it in the kitchen.. or I was sleeping too soundly.. No I am not at home.. I am sure there are messages there.. OK, OK.. Give me a half hour to get some breakfast and I'll be in.. No, Tracy found me.. I said I'd be in.. Bye, Grace." She looked at Nick, already asleep again. <well, no sense trying to wake you.. I'll just leave you a note.>

 

*************

Walking into her lab, already changed into scrubs,, her hair still damp, clipped behind her neck.. she found the amused gazes of both assistants. "What.. did I forget to tie my shoe?"

 

"You've been holding out on us, girl.." Grace said sternly. "You did not say WHERE you were.. we had to hear that from Tracy."

 

"And I'm sure she did not leave out a single detail.. like Nick being half asleep.. I am sure he won't even remember talking to her." Both assistants laughed at that as Jill handed Natalie the reports of the pending autopsies on her schedule.

 

"So.. Natalie.. did you have that other appointment yet?" Jill looked at her hopeful..

 

"OK, Jill.. if I am going to be fodder for the grist mill, I'll let you two leak out something even better than Tracy's scoop. I'll get everything over with at once." Her eyes glinted as Grace looked at her puzzled. "Jill, why don't you show Grace that picture you were admiring yesterday." Jill grinned at her and took the ultrasound, strategically placed in Nick's frame.

 

"She's REALLY been holding out on us, Grace.. look at what I found yesterday.. Pay close attention to the name labels on the scan.."

 

It did not take Grace long to figure out what she was being told and she gave a 'whoop' and hugged Natalie firmly. "Oh, Natalie, honey.. I am soo excited.. how far along are you? And why didn't you say anything? We've been nagging you about the fatigue and nausea.. if I'd known.."

 

"It's OK, Grace.. I am just glad to have such good friends who care so much. And I am twelve weeks along.. I'm due the end of June and everything is going quite well." She moved over to the table. "And since you all dragged me in here so early.. let's get started."

 

***********

They had completed two of the post-mortems before Natalie declared it time for a break.. now that they knew.. she could take care of her needs properly.. and maybe the nausea would not be so pronounced. Grace came back from the break room with fruit juice and a bagel for her as she entered data into the computer.

 

Looking at the clock, she suddenly realize it was 5:30 already.. the sun would set shortly. She dialed the loft and waited for the machine to pick up.. Nick always screened calls. "Hey there Knight.. I know you're there.. are you awake? Pick up.." she waited and sure enough, Nick answered.

 

"Nat.. where are you? I woke up and you were gone?"

 

"I'm at work.. Oh.. you don't remember the phone ringing around 2 o'clock?"

 

"No.."

 

"Brace yourself.. it was Tracy.. looking for me."

 

"Oh, my.. god.."

 

"Yeah.. and you were very groggy.. and just handed the phone to me.. so, guess what?"

 

"I don't think I need to guess.. the entire precinct knows you were at my place.. in my bed.."

 

"Yep. And I figure.. since we are feeding the purient interests of the entire police force.. I might as well really make it juicy.. I told Jill and Grace about the baby.. so God only knows how far the news has gone.."

 

"OK, deep breath.. yes.. thank you for the warning.. you're at work, then?"

 

"Yes.. I came straight here.. could you stop by and feed Sydney and load up some clothes?"

 

"Like what?"

 

"Like the contents of my top drawer, a few suits for work.. my makeup."

 

"OK, yep.. I'll see you around 9.. OK?"

 

"See ya.." Natalie hung up the phone and saw both assistants leaning against the wall, with Tracy Vetter staring at her, an amused look on her face.

 

"Oh, Natalie.. I'm sorry I got the giggles.. Its just that, well, I tried to ask Nick about your relationship and he gave me the run around.. I just never expected you to be there.."

 

"In his bed.." Natalie looked at her intently "Go ahead.. say it.. And by the way.. he does not remember you calling. Its OK, Trace.. Nick is just a very private person.. and he detests being part of the grapevine.. but I assume that more than the four of us know where you found me.."

 

Tracy looked sheepishly at her.. "well, I was at my desk when I called.. and umm, I was giggling so hard.. people wanted to know what I found so amusing.. so umm, well.. the entire precinct knows.. but it really did not surprise anyone that I know."

 

"Its OK, Tracy.. I'm tired of hiding things.. so now I don't need to." She smiled at Tracy.

 

"Are you feeling better today? You looked kind of pale at the scene yesterday.."

 

"I'm fine Tracy.. I won't guarantee that it won't happen again.. but its nothing to worry about."

 

"Nat? You looked like you were going to throw up.. I have NEVER seen you get ill at a body.. no matter how bad it was.."

 

"Tracy" she said quietly. "I'm pregnant."

 

Tracy looked at her, speechless.. recovering quickly, she giggled again.. "Oh, I can't wait to see that partner of mine.. when he keeps things to himself, he does a damn good job.." She walked over and gave Natalie a quick hug. "Congrats Nat.."

 

*************

Evening had fallen, Nick had postponed showing up at the precinct as long as he could. He had gone over to Natalie's apartment, fed Sydney and then packed several boxes full of clothing, essentials and non-perishable food.

 

He walked into the precinct making a direct route to his desk.. and seeing Tracy seated, facing the door he slowed.. looked around.. and saw the stares of the other detectives.. and the balloons tied to his chair.

 

"Uh, Trace.. what is this?" he asked evenly.. he was not going to fight this.. obviously Tracy was going to have fun teasing him.

 

"Well.. things are making a lot more sense now. I had an illuminating discussion with Natalie" he looked at her intently <not that illuminating, I hope>. She grinned at him, "Read the balloon, Nick." He looked up and saw it read 'Happy Father's Day'. "I know I am like, really early and I had to search for one of those in December.. but I couldn't resist.. and you would not believe how many people noticed.. Nick.. I think you will be a wonderful father.. I am so excited for you and Natalie." She stood and gave him a quick, tentative hug and went back to her own desk.

 

"Thanks Tracy.." he smiled, and sat down. "I'm glad you are enjoying this." He looked at her big grin and shook his head. "Tracy.. don't we have some work to do?"

 

"Knight.. office!" Captain Reese's voice boomed over the room, and Nick stood and followed him into the office. He could see his personnel file sitting on the desk blotter.

 

"So.. you are full of surprises it seems." Reese looked at him sternly. "Just how many adjustments do we need to make in your personnel file..? and when were you planning on telling me that you and the coroner were living together?"

 

"Well.. she is just moving in today.. This is not going to be a problem with the department is it?"

 

"Yes, we found that out.. the hard way. Well, her supervisor will deal with that omission.. so you will be staying at your current address? I assume she is now your next-of-kin? And I hear that a baby is on the way.. actually.. the entire department knows you have a baby on the way .. so when is the wedding? And no, the department will have no problem with you two being married, or co-habitating or whatever."

 

"Uh.. yes to the address and yes to the next-of-kin.. and to the baby.. as to a wedding.. we'll see. I want her to see that I am not marrying her only because of the baby.."

 

"Obviously not planned.." he was puzzled how two very intelligent people, one of them a doctor could be surprised with a pregnancy.

 

"No.. but this has been a rough year for both of us.." he looked at the captain seriously. "The baby was conceived the night I came home from the hospital after being shot.. when she was the only thing I could remember... and I could not even remember her name, just how I felt about her. I pushed Nat into going further than we'd ever gone before.. and while I don't regret the result.. I don't want to push her right now." he looked up again. "Please, Joe.. that little confession was just between us.. it is NOT for public consumption. I think I have given the rumor mill enough grist for a while."

 

"Of course, Nick. Just tell me whenever you're ready for that classification change. If you need time off with short notice, I think I can swing it. And you know that when the baby comes, you are entitled to 2 months paternity leave. I suggest you take it.. you will need the time as a family... Nick.. you will be a wonderful father.. that child is lucky."

 

CHAPTER 5 (two months later)

 

Moving into the loft had been easier than Natalie ever thought possible. She found that she enjoyed the space.. and waking up next to Nick every afternoon had a calming effect on her. The nausea had passed.. and while she felt 'bigger' every day, she had more energy. They had met with architects the day before and made plans for the renovations which would add a nursery and another bedroom.

 

Humming softly, she pulled the cookie tray out of the oven. She loved to cook.. and if Nick could not enjoy it.. her co-workers would. Tonight was their potluck to celebrate Valentine's Day.. any excuse for chocolate was good enough. She was distracted enough that she did not notice his presence until he spoke.

 

"Good evening, Doctor." LaCroix said smoothly, smiled as she jumped slightly.

 

Turning to face him, she let her annoyance show. "I wish you would not do that!" she thumped her wooden spoon on the table. "What do you want now? Nick is out.."

 

He walked over to her slowly. "I know.. I waited for him to leave.. I wanted to see you alone.. hmmm, such spirit for a fledgling.. enticing to say the least." He smiled running his hand over her neck and then gently massaged her enlarged belly. "And how is the little one and her mother."

 

"I'm fine.. and my child is fine.." she did not move as the baby began to kick against LaCroix's hand.

 

"Ah.. a greeting. Yes, she shows fire and desire.. much as her mother.."

 

"LaCroix.. do you know something I don't..? They have not seen on the ultrasounds.. is this a girl?"

 

"But of course.. I know. I can feel it, sense it.. after all, Nicholas and I are bonded.. as you and he are bonded. In the legal sense, as well, I would assume?"

 

"No.. he's hinted at 'formalizing the relationship' but that is all."

 

"Surprising.. one so medieval in many ways, allowing his child to be considered a bastard?"

 

"Well.. the child is not here yet.. And I thought vampires did not believe in such mortal conventions as marriage."

 

"Ah.. but you have a child who will grow up among mortals.. For the sake of the child, conventions may be warranted. As long as you don't take the phrase 'till death do us part' too seriously. You realize that Nicholas and Janette had a pseudo-marriage for about a century already. Yours may last longer, but eventually you will part your ways."

 

"Yes, I knew that they were together.. only a century you, say. Well.. maybe I'll have to talk to him.. I'm sure we will last longer than that.."

 

"Oh, but you can do so much more than talk.. you have a power over him which even I do not control. Do you realize how frightening that is.. for one as old as I?"

 

"OK.. you know I prefer the direct approach.. spill it.. what do you want?"

 

"As you say.. the direct approach.." he sat down at the table and smiled as Natalie began taking the cookies off the tray to cool. "Oh how domestic.." he smiled at Natalie's glare. "I know we have a year before decisions will be made.. but it is inevitable and I thought I should begin your tutelage.. make the transition easier so to speak."

 

"OK.. but why wait until Nick is out.. surely he would not object?" she said hesitantly.

 

"Oh, my dear.. he had not yet reconciled himself to the very idea that you will join the community whether or not he approves. Tell me, Doctor. If there was not a child to consider.. would you still agree to this?"

 

"Yes. I would.. with no hesitation. I am not suicidal, LaCroix.. was that really a choice you presented?"

 

"If your life was not in danger? Would you still?"

 

"Yes. And even if Nick were to reject me later .. I don't think your existence is as terrible as he says."

 

"Would you kill?" he asked softly, barely audible. She looked around hesitating. "He cannot hear you, my dear.. I will not tell him of this conversation."

 

"Yes. Not at random or indiscriminately.. and not unless my survival was dependent upon it.. but yes."

 

"Good.. very good.. I thought you showed promise and would adapt well. There is something you should know.. If you want Nicholas to succeed with your conversion, he must get off the bovine." She looked at him quizzically "It weakens him.. your spirit is quite strong, you will overwhelm him... if you want him to do it.. he must be stronger than you. And when you first come over, you must consume only pure, fresh human stock."

 

She laughed nervously. "I can get that at work easily" She stood and looked at him. "So, do you want me to just switch the bottles on him?"

 

"No, my dear.. talk to him. If you must, tell him we spoke. He will know I was here."

 

"Oh? How?"

 

"We can sense one another's presence. Especially family. I will be happy to arrange for your supplies both now and in the future. But this needs to be voluntary. Much as you have consented to me.. and freely. Nicholas will still see your conversion as involuntary and that concerns me.. I do not want his attitudes to bleed through and infect you."

 

"Well, is this yet another campaign stop? I know you are willing LaCroix.. when the time comes.. I'll know who is right for me.. OK?" Natalie smiled calmly.

 

"Agreed. And Natalie.. please, keep in touch.. you are welcome at the club.. Trust me, his aura comes through loudly enough, no one would dare touch you.." She smiled at him and allowed his brief, formal, embrace before sitting down in the chair.

 

Encounters with LaCroix took a lot out of her, emotionally and physically. It was as if the tension of being so strong was exhausting. It was another half hour before she felt like moving and by then it was time to get ready for work.

 

************

It had been a quiet night at the morgue. For a change, paperwork was the main agenda. Cleaning off a big stack of files and sorting them by precinct, Natalie prepared to make the rounds to deliver her file reports.

 

"Hey, Jill.. I'm off to play delivery-person. I'm on pager." She pulled on her heavy coat and picked up the stack for the 96th. Her coat did not quite close any more.. and she had not gone to the precinct in over a month.. since the big 'announcement'.. it was time to bite the bullet and be seen.

 

"No messengers tonight, huh?"

 

"No.. I feel the need to see the sights.. umm, be seen."

 

"Get it over with, you mean... I know you've done a great job of hiding." Jill smiled indulgently. She did not know why Natalie was so embarrassed to show off her relationship with Detective Knight. After all, he was a gorgeous guy.. and obviously loved her.

 

The drive to the 88th was short.. and Natalie had only a few files for them. She was their back-up ME, so did not see nearly as many cases.. and rarely got called to crime scenes for them. The 27th was her next stop. She had first come to the coroner's office as their primary, but when Nick transferred to the 96th, she had also. She still had many friends there, who were all delighted to see her in a maternity dress. Her only disappointment was that their captain had the night off.

 

Finally pulling up to the 96th, she parked and lifted the stack of files. Most of her cases were here. The pavement was wet, and just a little slick, but as she tried to keep her balance, she felt a hand at her elbow. A uniformed officer supported her and took the files. "Hey, Doc.. let me give you a hand.." he said walking her to the door. "Can't have you hurting yourself.. or the little one" Natalie blushed at the attention. She was not accustomed to being so obvious.. indeed, she had only begun wearing maternity dresses that week and while they were certainly more comfortable, she felt awkward wearing them.

 

"Thanks, Sullivan." She said, taking the files from him when they were inside. Walking up to the desk, she checked the duty roster <yep, they are both here..>, she signed in and went into the detectives room. Nick looked up as she walked in.

 

"Nat? What's up?" he said as she walked up to his desk.

 

"Deliveries.. and here are some reports for you.. and for you Tracy.." she smiled.

 

"Decided to show your face finally, eh, Nat?" Tracy teased. "Take off your coat.. let's grab some coffee."

 

"I don't think it is my face that people are looking at." She said dryly, sliding the coat off, into Nick's hands. He walked over to the rack and hung it up, admiring the deep blue dress she wore.. it was simple but accentuated her softly curving belly, now clearly visible. "Even you.. Nick.. stop staring.." she whispered as she followed Tracy to the break room.

 

"Yep.. you DO know how to make an appearance. I don't think a single eye saw your face.. but they did see what you were wearing." Tracy said, handing Natalie a mug and a tea bag.

 

"You mean they saw my belly.. Yeah, its kind of noticeable now. I can't hide forever, Tracy. I think people are morbidly fascinated by this." Natalie responded, stroking her abdomen gently. "I mean, we kept things so secret for so long.. I just don't think anyone sees the same side of Nick as I do.."

 

"Got that right." Detective Miller smiled grabbing a coffee mug and filling it. "Personally, I don't think I NEED to see the same things you do.." he leered at her.

 

Tracy slapped his arm playfully. "Enough, Miller. Down.."

 

"OK, OK.. just having some fun.. after all, Nick so seldom gives us anything to have fun with.. we're getting great mileage out of this.. and you showing up tonight.. well, let's just say that those who thought this was an elaborate hoax are now paying up.. unless, of course, that is a pillow under there.."

 

"It isn't." Nick's voice was stern, flat and Miller scurried out the door. There was a reason for Nick's precinct nickname of the 'Knightmare' and few of his co-workers wanted to tempt fate.

 

"Nick.. be nice.." Natalie scolded stepping closer against him. "Happy to see me?" she whispered softly.. their lips meeting. Forgetting Tracy was even in the room, he pulled her closer, one arm on the flat of her back and the other twined into her auburn curls.. twisted his way into her conservative knot as their kiss deepened. His tongue ran over her lips, seeking entrance. She opened her mouth and met his explorations with her own. He wound his hand across her back, caressing her as she moaned softly pulling him tightly against her.

 

"Ahem.. shall I fetch some ice?" Tracy said loudly as they broke apart and both looked at her, sheepishly. Applause broke out and Nick looked back and saw that most of his fellow detectives were peering into the break room.

 

"Well.. anyone have ANY doubts now?" Detective Lock said loudly. "Doctor.. thank you for the demonstration.. and it was so good to see you.. both. Nice dress, by the way." She grinned at Natalie. "I don't think Detective Knight knows the penalty for public displays of affection in the precinct." At Nick's puzzled look, she continued. "Guys.. what do you think?"

 

"Hmm.. this was more than a peck on the cheek"

 

"Or even a closed mouth smooch."

 

"I think there was tongue action." Detective Miller spoke loudly. At Natalie's flushed expression, he looked triumphantly around the room. "Ah, hah! Class A PDA.. at least they kept their clothes on.. this time.. we know that at least once they did not." A chorus of laughs circled the room. Natalie remained against Nick's chest looking up at his closed eyes and frustrated expression.

 

"Donuts for a week." Lock called out.

 

"A week? Too easy.. donuts and gourmet coffee!"

 

"Agreed?" Lock called out.. "Detective Knight.. how do you plead?"

 

"Guilty.. on all counts.. in more ways than you'll ever know." He finally released that big teasing grin and Natalie breathed a sigh of relief. At the hum of laughs and teasing remarks, he looked at his fellow detectives "And since I don't drink coffee, or eat donuts.. I will have Nat as my technical adviser."

 

"Yeah.. I bet she's your technical adviser in more than one area.." Miller did not finish the comment as Nick stared coldly.

 

Quickly returning to the open smiling expression, he went up to Tracy. "So.. are there any other little rituals that I have somehow missed out on?"

 

"Well.. the bachelor party.. cops usually throw a pretty wild bachelor party." Nick just looked at her silently.. his eyes dark and threatening.. OK that was a forbidden area. " And I will warn you.. a second offense of a class A PDA is donuts for a month. You don't even want to know the penalty for a third offense."

 

"So in other words.. go to the interrogation room and lock the door?" Natalie piped in. Nick just looked at her astonished. "Play along.. this is all in fun.." she murmured. "Lighten up, would you?"

 

"Hey.. that could be fun.. uh.. Tracy.. if we did a , what did they call it.. um.. a class A.. is there more?" Nick stammered. He was really trying to get into the right frame of mind.. he was trying.

 

"Yep.. Class B is clothes loosened.. class C is clothes off.. and you REALLY don't want to know the penalty for that one."

 

"Oh, but I do, Tracy." Natalie was intrigued.. obviously Nick was not comfortable with the friendly teasing that was commonplace among mortal co-workers, but she was, and would do her best to get him to go along.

 

"Next girl's night out, I'll tell you all.. but not here.. and not where my partner can listen in.. you can tell him if you want.." her eyes twinkled and Natalie smiled in understanding. "Speaking of which.. some of us ladies, including YOUR two assistants have already made plans for tomorrow night.. Join us?"

 

"Oh, Tracy, I don't know.. a pregnant lady wouldn't be much fun." Natalie hesitated.

 

"It's OK, Nat. Go. Have fun. They need a driver anyway.. at least I won't have to worry about bailing you out again." Nick teased.

 

"Oh? What is that? Do I know that story?" Tracy was intrigued. She had never heard the story of Natalie's wild night out several years back.. and the booking photos had mysteriously disappeared shortly after the event, so it was never discussed.

 

"No.. It was before you were at this precinct and I won't tell you.. .. ask Grace. She might remember part of the evening.." Natalie grinned. "So, where do we meet?"

 

"My place, ten pm sharp. OK?" Natalie just smiled and nodded. "Nick.. don't we have some work to finish?"

 

"Yeah, yeah.. yeah.. see you in the morning, Nat .. OK?" He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and followed Tracy out. Natalie followed, finished passing out the files and was grabbing her coat when Captain Reese walked out and motioned to her silently. Nick had not noticed, and Natalie followed Reese into the office and closed the door.

 

"Umm, sorry about all that in the break room.. I didn't know they would do that.." she said apologetically.

 

"Oh, Natalie.. that was all in fun.. As long as my officers do their jobs, I don't mind a little fun. But not in the squad room. The break room is fine.. But that is not why I wanted to see you."

 

"Oh, what's up, Captain?"

 

"I just wanted to know how you are doing.. I've noted no more problems at crime scenes.. how about in the lab?" she shook her head. "And this may be none of my business.. I know how secretive both of you are and have been about all this.. but I am still not seeing a ring on your finger."

 

"Joe.. don't push.. the baby is not here yet.. and I know Nick better than you."

 

"In more ways than one.." he smiled.

 

"OK, OK.. we are committed to each other in our own way.. and we are not big on public events.. so don't plan on anything elaborate.. if we need you, we'll call and tell you to meet us at the Courthouse."

 

"Anytime, Natalie.. anytime. I just want Nick to stand up to his responsibilities to you and his child."

 

"Oh.. he will, Joe.. I have no doubt that he will." She said ... <and a 2000 year old Roman general will make sure of it>

 

************

Natalie was still awake and reading on the couch when Nick strolled in shortly before dawn. He tossed his jacket on the armchair and shrugged out of his holster before sitting down at her feet. "Cutting it a little close there.." she said quietly, looking up.

 

He started to massage her feet. "Seconds to spare.." He looked around, sensing a residual presence... "Nat, why was LaCroix here today?"

 

"To talk..." she said simply, seeing his look of distrust. "And you know what we talked about?"

 

"No.. but Natalie, he can be very manipulative. Please be careful."

 

"Nick.. he was very polite. He only had two things to say to me.. the first is that he wondered why we have not married yet."

 

"He actually said that?"

 

"Umm.. no, I think he phrased it as 'we should go through with the mortal conventions'. Now I translate that as marriage."

 

"And the second thing?"

 

"You aren't even going to answer the first?"

 

"I want to respond to both things at once.. OK?" he said lightly, moving his hands up her leg, massaging her calf.

 

"OK, OK. You win. He wants me to convince you to 'go off the bovine'." Nick looked at her and groaned. "Now, before you go off on this.. he does have a point. For my sake, I need you in control. I am not going to attempt you crossing me, if I don't think you have control.. He has offered several times.. and he probably will keep offering until it is done. I'd rather you do it, but I WILL go to him before our deadline. I may not know exactly what happens but I know that I do not want to have an audience."

 

"And afterwards?"

 

"I will drink human.. but you are welcome to drink whatever you want.. even my protein shakes. He will supply your needs. I know how you feel about killing.. and that is NOT what I am asking of you."

 

"OK. Natalie.. I love you enough to strengthen the vampire in me. You are right. I do need to have better control before I would dare being with you. I will go back to his special vintage." Nick kissed her hand gently and stood. She watched as he walked across the room and went to the safe. Opening it quickly, he pulled out a velvet pouch.

 

She watched silently as he walked back over to her. "And everyone thinks I am ducking responsibility.. I know Reese spoke to you also. Natalie, I wanted to do this right.. you were correct, I am a medieval man in many ways.. I would not allow my child to be illegitimate. But I also did not want you to think that the only reason we were together was for the child."

 

"Nick, I have never thought that." She said softly, swinging her legs off the couch and sliding closer to him.

 

"Natalie, I love you. I know of the tremendous sacrifice you will be making for me." He put his fingers over her lips. "Shhh. Its OK.. I know you believe you are giving free consent, but I exposed you to my world so it IS my fault that you will be brought into it."

 

"OK, yes.. that much is true.. but I am truly happy to be joining you.."

 

"So.. if you are joining me.. you need the appropriate symbol. And that takes time." she just looked at him silently, questioning. "I had this shipped from my estate in Brabant.. it has been in the vault for 700 years.. waiting for the right woman. I needed to get it cleaned up, sized and refurbished." He sighed and looked deeply into her blue eyes. "Miss Natalie Lambert, you would do me great honor if you would consent to be my wife.. now and for eternity." He said formally and took her left hand.

 

"Yes, of course I will marry you Nick.. and no matter what LaCroix says.. this is for eternity." She replied, looking back into his blue eyes, now rimmed with gold. She was even getting used to the way his eyes changed.. she felt the coolness of a ring being slid onto her third finger and looked down. It was an exquisite diamond bordered with rubies all set in a wide gold band engraved with a filigree pattern. "Oh, Nick.. this is incredible.."

 

"It was my mother's ring.." he said quietly and Natalie just stared, realizing how old that made it.

 

"Nick.. are you sure you want me to have it? Its priceless.."

 

"And so are you, my love. Perfect fit, I would say .." He reached for her, and their lips met in a long, tender kiss. All too soon, he broke away, eyes glowing and fangs dropped. "Sorry, Nat.. I really want to go further.. but I DO need better control."

 

She reached up and touched his hand gently.. "Yes, Nick.. its OK. I love you. I can wait. Maybe you should make that call to LaCroix?"

 

"No.. I think I need to make another call first.. like an appointment for us.. at the Clerk's office. And then.. what's your preference? Remember no churches."

 

"How about a walk across the hall to a judge? We just ask a few people to meet us as witnesses.."

 

"No white dress? No ceremony?"

 

She laughed. "First off, Nick.. obviously I am not a virgin.. so no white dress. And I have never dreamed of a ceremony.. and I really don't need one.. I just need you.."

 

"No argument here.." he pulled out his cell phone and dialed as she went out to the kitchen, poured him a mug of cow blood and herself a glass of juice.

 

"OK.. the clerk's office is open until 6 on Thursdays.. so I made us an appointment for 5:30. And then a 7:00 appointment with Judge Bains. So who do we want there?"

 

"Tracy, Grace, Jill and Captain Reese. Anyone else? Do we dare ask LaCroix?"

 

"He might not show.. but I'll invite him. Let's see, Reese may still be at the precinct.. he is usually there until 10. You'll see the others tonight. And Nat... I have a feeling that as soon as Reese knows, he'll drag me out tonight.. so don't worry if I am not here when you get home."

 

"You are assuming that I will be home first." She smiled. "But at least we know, I'll be completely sober."

 

He just laughed and dialed the phone.." Yeah, Captain Reese please.. OK.. thanks... Captain, Nick Knight here.. Is that offer for unplanned leave still open? .. No.. Cap, she's fine. Umm.. I want to book off Thursday night.. yeah.. its important.. and umm.. we'd both like you to meet us at Judge Bain's office at the courthouse at 7:00 PM.. Yeah.. We are. Thanks.. You'll be there?.. OK, great." He hung up the phone.. Natalie swore she could hear the captain's cheer. "OK, Nat.. your turn to book off." He handed her the phone and she dialed quickly.

 

"Terese.. hi.. this is Natalie Lambert... I know, I just left.. no I'll see her tonight. Actually, I need to speak with Dr. Coburn.. He is? OK.. well, book me off for Thursday. Yeah.. personal day. Yeah.. very important. OK.. yes, I will be in on Friday."

 

CHAPTER 6

 

Natalie dressed in her new black long sleeve sheath.. the silk draping over her abdomen elegantly. With black hose, heels and a glittery gold necklace, she was ready for a night on the town. She saw Jill's car in front of Tracy's building when she got out.

 

"Wow.. you are dressed to kill.." Grace gushed, opening the door.

 

"Maybe.." Natalie smiled as Tracy came out in a short black leather skirt and royal blue silk blouse. "Hm. Not bad Detective.. so what is on the agenda, ladies?.."

 

"We're meeting Maria from Vice.. you know her .. she knows all the best clubs, and Angela, Homicide from the 27th . They'll be waiting at a club downtown called the Raven." Jill spoke up. Natalie tried to keep a straight face as Tracy gasped. "Oh, you've been there?"

 

"Umm, yeah. Once or twice. It's kind of gothic."

 

"Well, that sounds like Maria. Do you mind Nat?"

 

"Not at all.. sounds like fun.. remember.. I'm just the driver.. Just tell me where to go.. and we're there..." she twirled her keys for effect. The light reflected off her ring and cast a pattern on the walls and Tracy gasped.

 

"OK, Nat. Stop it right there. Hand.. Out. Now." she commanded, grabbing Natalie's left hand. "Oh.. My.. God... am I hallucinating.. or were you NOT wearing this ring at the precinct this morning?"

 

"How very observant of you detective.. no I was not." She grinned.

 

"Nat, honey.. tell me that you are wearing it there for the reason I hope.." Grace asked hopefully.

 

"Yes.. This was Nick's mother's wedding ring and he gave it to me this morning. We are making it official and would like all of you to join us."

 

"Of course.. you know we'd love to be there. When?"

 

"Thursday night, 7:00.. Judge Bains office."

 

"Nothing like a short engagement, huh Nat?" Jill teased.

 

"Well, it's not like I should wear white.." Natalie laughed.

 

"Well, that changed the theme of tonight's festivities.... Ladies, this is now a bachelorette party." Tracy announced. "Let the revels begin.." She swept on her jacket and led the way to the parking lot.

 

"Natalie, this IS your party.. you sure you don't mind driving?" Grace asked as they all climbed into Natalie's car.

 

"Really.. I do not mind.. I won't be drinking, so it makes the most sense." Natalie replied and drove directly to the Raven. She found a parking spot in the alley and got out.

 

"Natalie.. you've been holding out on us too, I didn't give any directions.." Jill teased as they walked into the club.

 

"Yes.. I have been here before.." Natalie answered, scanning the crowd. <still mainly mortals.. strange that I can tell the difference so readily>. She spotted the two detectives seated on the upper level and waved. "Over there.. I'll get the first round.." she motioned to the table and walked up to the bar.

 

The bartender recognized her from her previous visits with Nick. "Good evening, Doctor. Where's Nick?"

 

"Not here.. I'm here with friends. I'll have a club soda with lime.. and send over a bottle of champagne for my friends.. and.. put it on Nick's tab." She smiled broadly, pointing at the table.

 

"Yes, got it.. I'll have a waitress bring it over. And HE wants you to say hello." He motioned his head to LaCroix who stood at the other end of the bar, sipping his drink.

 

She glanced over and saw that her companions had sat down and started animated conversations. When she saw the waitress bring the order over to the table, she moved over to where LaCroix stood. "Yes..?" she looked at him.

 

"Welcome, my dear. You are looking, shall we say, breathtaking." He said smoothly, nodding toward the table "Who are your companions?"

 

"My assistants, Nick's partner and a couple of detectives. We are just here for some relaxation. Nothing official. I trust my friends are all safe, as I am."

 

"But of course.. I will see to it when the crowd changes.. Have fun.." he smiled indulgently and kissed her hand lightly. She smiled back at him and made her way to their table.

 

"Uh, Natalie.. do you know that man?" Tracy whispered as Natalie slid off her coat and sat down. She knew the main clientele of the club were vampires.. and suspected that the owner was one as well..

 

"Yes, I do.. he is the owner and a friend of Nick's." she said quietly and sipped her drink. Tracy was quiet but did not say anything.

 

"Natalie.. not that I'd ever turn down champagne.. but did you see this label? This has to cost a fortune.." Jill sipped the drink and pointed at the bottle. "This is your party.. you should not be buying the drinks."

 

"Well.. thank Nick.. I put it on his tab.." she laughed.

 

"No.. you didn't.." Maria laughed. "I don't know Nick very well .. but from what I've heard.. you don't mess with the Knightmare. I would never have the guts to do that."

 

"Oh.. Maria.. I don't think you've met Natalie." Tracy said, glancing around nervously, checking for Vachon or Urs.. or any of the other vampires she'd met. And puzzling over the revelation that her partner evidently had an ongoing 'tab' at the Raven... and was 'friends' with the owner.

 

"Yeah.. you're the night shift ME, right?" at Natalie's nod, she continued. " I guess you pack a good scalpel."

 

"Among other things.." Natalie giggled.

 

"Hey.. that's a gorgeous ring, Natalie.. and I see the rumors were right. You're looking great." Angela interrupted, sipping her drink. "I never did hear.. who's the lucky guy?"

 

"Nick Knight." She said with a smile, catching Maria's shocked look. "So.. yeah.. I may have guts putting our party on his tab.. but at least I'll come home tonight sober.. and I'm sure Reese will do his damnedest to make sure Nick is feeling no pain."

 

"Well.. if the party is on him.. then let's stay here.. they usually have a great band on Wednesdays.. and Natalie, I didn't mean anything by the comments about Nick." Maria looked at her concerned.

 

"I know.. hey, don't worry about it.. I know what his nickname is.. and believe me, I have seen him worse than any of you can even imagine." Natalie smiled. "Now ladies, I believe we are here to have fun.. And Tracy you promised to tell me what the penalties are for a class B and class C PDA."

 

Tracy flamed red.. but Maria spoke up. "So they nailed you, huh..? What did they get you for?"

 

"Umm, just some deep kissing.. a bit of tongue and a moan or two."

 

"That was YOU moaning, Nat.." Tracy giggled. "Yeah, we clipped him for a week of donuts and gourmet coffee."

 

"First offense, huh? Did Tracy explain what a class B is?" At Natalie's nod, Angela continued "Varies.. for the guys it is usually something gross or physical .. for women, it's just doing everyone's paperwork or something menial."

 

"And a class C?"

 

"We hide the clothes.. and everything else that can be used for cover.. and if things are quiet and the command officer is out or distracted, we haul the offending officer out in cuffs to be umm, booked for indecent exposure." Tracy giggled "So please Nat.. a little restraint would be nice.. I have no desire to know if my partner is circumcised or not.."

 

"He's not.." Natalie said with a devilish gleam.. causing them all to break out in peals of laughter.

 

"Oh, Nat.." Tracy giggled, wiping tears from her eyes. "I have to work with him.. you know I'm going to spend my next shift giggling and staring just at the thought."

 

"And.. you'll be too embarrassed to tell him what is so funny.. right?" Tracy merely nodded, but the ice was broken.. and the jokes began to fly..

 

Two hours and two bottles of champagne later, they were all in the spirit of the party.. and enjoying their company and the attentions of male guests on the dance floor. Natalie could sense a change in the clientele. Tracy and Natalie were the only ones at the table when a young dark haired man walked up to the table. Natalie could sense he was a vampire.. and from the tenseness of her smile, she knew that Tracy did also.

 

"Doctor.. I do not mean to intrude.. but I just wanted to thank you for the care you gave me and my friends. You have my eternal gratitude.." he took her hand and kissed it and suddenly stepped back "Oh.. please, pardon me.. tell him I would never ..."

 

She reached out and smiled "Don't worry, it's OK.. I know.." she whispered and then murmured "I think you have said all that needs be said.. and I trust my friends are also safe.." He smiled and backed away, nodding in agreement.

 

Tracy turned and looked at her intensely. "OK Natalie. What was THAT about? And don't say nothing."

 

"I provided medical care to some of the city's lesser known population. So he's thanking me.. that's more than my usual clients."

 

"Uh, huh.. Natalie.. I know more than you think I do.. and I have a feeling you do also.."

 

"Tracy.. there are a lot of things I know that would surprise you. And a lot of things that I really cannot discuss. Even with you." She took a deliberate sip from her beverage. Tracy just looked at her and said nothing.

 

Grace and Jill had returned to the table when Natalie noticed LaCroix making his way across the club. <Hmmm.. the balance must have shifted..>

 

"Ladies.. I hope you are enjoying your evening.." LaCroix said smoothly sitting down at the next table and nodded to Natalie to join him. Motioning to Tracy to stay, she moved over to his table.

 

"So.. the balance has shifted?" she asked softly, knowing that he would be able to hear her clearly.

 

"How observant doctor... you show great promise indeed. And speaking of which.. I note that you were successful in both of your missions. My congratulations indeed.. and that is an exquisite ring...wherever did he get it?"

 

"Belgium .. it was his mother's. So, you have spoken today?" she had very quickly adapted to the 'no name, vague topic' discussions that were safe to overhear.

 

"Yes.. and the first delivery was sent. And I will see you tomorrow evening. I hope your attire is as alluring as tonight's is.. and now.. since all have seen that this table is under my protection, I will take my leave.. but please, let me know if you need assistance of any kind." He stood and gently kissed her hand and walked away. Natalie moved back to their own table to the stares of her companions.

 

"Natalie.. you have REALLY been holding out on us.." Maria said, shaking her head. "Do you know that is the owner?" at Nat's nod, she went on.. "And half the people here are terrified of him. They call him 'the General' ... but no one will say what branch he was a general in.. or when... they just say you don't mess with him.. and here you have him charmed.."

 

"Well, I don't know about charmed.. he does have a violent side.. but then, so does Nick.. and they are friends from way back, as close to family as you can get. I guess I know how to deal with it. He is very loyal to friends.."

 

"You really do have no fear?" Tracy just shook her head. Up close, she could tell that LaCroix was indeed a vampire.. either Natalie did not know.. or she did not fear.. either way was dangerous.. She looked up to see the band setting up <oh, no.. Vachon..> His eyes met hers.. as well as the other women at the table.

 

After enjoying the first set of music, Natalie stood.. she was by far the most steady of her companions who had managed to polish off yet another bottle of champagne.. <oh well, Nick can afford it..> and with a quick apology to her companions, made her way towards the ladies room. To her surprise, the crowd gave her wide berth.. although she sensed their eyes following her. Walking past the stage she glanced up at Vachon. "Hey Vachon.. I enjoyed the music.. introduce me to your friends?"

 

"Hi Doctor.." He ran his eyes up and down her figure with an appreciative eye. "You know, I did not believe it when Tracy said you were pregnant."

 

"Well.. as you can see.. I am."

 

He moved closer and spoke softer. "But what I find truly astonishing is who the father is. And don't try to lie about it. I can sense it clearly.. the fact that everyone is staying away from your table is not just that HE came over to talk.. although that was a nice touch. No.. they fear you both.. a mortal carrying a vampire's child." His voice had dropped even lower. "And that vampire is known for his violent temper.. even for one who drinks cow."

 

"Not any more." She whispered and smiled at his startled look.

 

"Well.. I bet that endeared you to the General."

 

"Indeed. I know who not to piss off.. and he is Number one on the list. He gives me an assignment.. I pay attention. Is it my fault that his son listens to me, and not to him?"

 

"Smart thinking.. and don't look now, but Tracy is coming over. She doesn't know yet?"

 

"No.. and it is not my decision, so I will respect his wishes." She said softly and then raised her voice to a more normal level. "So, who are your friends?"

 

"Tom is on drums.. Rick on bass.. Jose on keyboard.." They each came over and shook her hand, looking her over carefully.

 

"Good job guys.. we're enjoying the music.." she said loudly "Oh, hi Tracy."

 

"Natalie, can we talk?" She glared at Vachon and steered Natalie into the ladies room. After determining that they were alone she turned to Natalie with an alarmed expression. "OK Natalie.. enough. How do you know Vachon?"

 

"Medical care of a friend.. I told you. I treat some of the city's lesser known populations. Don't worry, we are all perfectly safe."

 

"Uh, huh." She said uncertain, then looked at her closely.. "you know what he is?"

 

"Yes.. I do.. and I know that you do also.. and I also know that it is not smart to talk about it. But yes.. I have treated some of his friends.. done them some favors.." Natalie's voice was low.. but calm.

 

"Favors?" she repeated, looking at Natalie curiously.

 

"Tracy, I am the night shift coroner.. think about it. There are occasions where my descriptive abilities are needed."

 

"You cover for them?" Tracy asked incredulous. Natalie was the last person that she would imagine would fudge a report.

 

"No.. Tracy.. I simply do not call attention to things which are beyond our jurisdiction. When appropriate I send findings to my contact and they take care of it. What goes into my reports are things which the department can handle. If you really know what he is.. you know that there are things which we cannot and should not interfere with."

 

"Who is your contact?" she probed. All this time, and Natalie knew about vampires, too....

 

"I cannot tell you that. He swore me to secrecy. And my very life depends on my ability to keep a confidence.. and so does yours. There are those who would not hesitate to kill us both.. just because we know of their existence. Remember your first encounter.. did he not try to take your memory of him?" Tracy was silent.. thinking back to her initial meeting with Vachon.. how he tried to hypnotize her.

 

"OK, Natalie.. I trust you.. I hope you know who you are playing with." She leaned back on the wall and watched Natalie closely. <oh.. if you only knew.. >

 

"Come on.. Grace will think I fell in.." Natalie smiled and led the way out into the club. She could again sense the watchful eyes of LaCroix.

 

It was close to 3 am when the women left .. all were feeling no pain.. and Natalie was the only one standing upright without assistance. She drove each to their home.. with her best medical advice for hangovers and a reminder of their plans for the upcoming evening.. and returned to the loft.

 

The shades were up.. but lights were all off. Natalie got off the lift and found her way to the nearest lamp by feel.. she was getting better at not tripping on the rug.. and was really not surprised to see LaCroix seated on the couch.

 

"So.." he looked at her through steepled fingers. "Did you and your associates have a pleasant visit to the club? You know, I AM honored that you came."

 

"Yes.. we did. But that is not the real reason you are here." She stated patiently. One did not rush these conversations.

 

"Nicholas's young partner. She knows?" his question was brief.

 

"Yes. Very little though. She knows of Vachon and Urs. And she knew Screed. But her senses are too keen. She was asking me questions about you. About what I know."

 

"Hmm.. And Nicholas?"

 

"She has not made the connection.. yet.. but it is only a matter of time, I fear."

 

"Indeed... A problem?"

 

"You tell me.. I realize that I knew too much.. like medical profiles that even you did not know.. but is it too much that she knows that I know?"

 

"That you know of what?" he asked swiftly.

 

"The concept that vampires exist in the modern world. She saw me talk to Vachon and knows that I know what he is.. I did not confirm anything else, but I have to tell you she is pretty perceptive. Look, the word 'vampire' did not come out.. I believe her exact words were 'You know what he is?' and I answered 'yes, and I know that you do, and I also know that it is not smart to talk about it'. I know you guard your existence closely and don't want her probing any further but she was worrying me."

 

"Indeed. Well, I believe our first lesson will be the Code."

 

"The Code?"

 

"You do not know of the Code?" she merely shook her head, and he smiled. "Ah.. so Nicholas has NOT been so free with information. The Code is the rule of the Community.. known only to its members.. but you, my dear have already committed to join.. and are under constant surveillance.. so you may learn it.. and it is not written.. it is learned. After that.. we will discuss what to do with Ms. Vetter."

 

"She is a Resister. At least that's what Nick told me when she first met Vachon and the Inca."

 

"Yes.. well.. if she is a problem, decisions may be forced. Let's be honest.. you may be willing, but your decision is being forced." He looked at her gently. "Oh, do not fret.. I won't kill her.. merely scare her. I am quite capable of that."

 

"I'm sure you are. And are probably very good at it.. One of the detectives with us tonight.. and she doesn't know what you are.. but she is afraid of you.. and I was making her very nervous. But then, she just thinks I am very gutsy.."

 

"That you are, my dear. That you are." He stood and looked up at the skylight.. "I will take my leave of you now.. and see you later this evening."

 

With that, he rose and flew out though the skylight. It almost frightened her how quickly she had become comfortable around LaCroix.

 

**********

Natalie had gone up to bed shortly after LaCroix left, with Sydney curled up behind her knees. Although she knew he didn't need it, she left a candle lit on the piano.

 

Nick got in shortly before dawn and stumbled up the stairs. It had been a long time since he consumed that

much alcohol.. and he was more nauseated than intoxicated. He had grabbed a bottle of LaCroix's special stock. He could tell by her soft breathing and steady heartbeat that Natalie was asleep. He drank deeply from the bottle, savoring the tangy flavor, the scent, the sensations.. ahh.. how had he tolerated drinking cow.. For once, he felt it safe to move in close to Natalie. Usually, he kept a distance, although in sleep they moved closer, almost as if their subconscious was unafraid. Changing into his black silk pajamas, he slid into the bed and laid behind her, sliding an arm over her until it rested on top of their child and was promptly rewarded with movement and a kick. What could be better?

 

Natalie woke briefly.. squinting at the clock.. 9:30 AM.. ahh.. don't need to get up yet. She could feel Nick's cool, firm body nested against her snugly with his arm around her tightly. She sighed in delight and rolled on her other side facing him and nestled herself against his chest, with her arm around his back. Thus entwined, she slept.

 

************

Waking in mid-afternoon, Natalie went downstairs and prepared breakfast for them both.. toast and coffee for her.. a crystal goblet of LaCroix's special vintage for Nick. Belting his robe around his waist, Nick walked slowly down and gave her a big hug..

 

"So.. you have fun last night?"

 

"Yes.. we did.. and I am sure that I am in much better shape than any of my companions.. who turned it into a bachelorette party.. and was your evening as much fun?"

 

"Interesting is more the word.. I hope there are no homicides tonight.. I don't think anyone from the 96th will be in ANY shape to do much thinking.. and I had forgotten how nauseating whiskey is.."

 

"Whiskey??"

 

"Jack Daniels.. shots of Jack Daniels and poker.. and a scantily clad stripper.." He grinned at her. "But I much prefer women who are pregnant and smell of apples and cinnamon.." he kissed her forehead lightly. "And we have an appointment tonight.. unless you have changed your mind?"

 

"Never.. I will be ready in a half hour.." Natalie smiled seductively and went back upstairs to shower and dress for her wedding.

 

Precisely at 4 pm, Nick came into their room, dressed in an elegant black silk suit.. carrying a slim box wrapped in gold paper. Natalie was putting the finishing touches on her makeup.. her cream colored silk dress hugged her soft curves and fell mid calf.. with heels and shimmering hose and her pearl earrings they made an striking couple.

 

"I have something for you.. call it a wedding present.." Natalie looked at him, startled.

 

"But Nick.. I didn't get you anything.." she protested, taking the box hesitantly.

 

"You have given me a child.. hope for the future.. and love for eternity.." he whispered as she opened the box.. to find a heavy gold necklace with a diamond and ruby pendant that matched her engagement ring.

 

"Oh.. Nick.." she breathed, staring at the necklace. "Its gorgeous"

 

"It pales next to you, my love.." he murmured, nuzzling her neck before fastening the necklace. "Come.. it is time.. my beautiful bride.."

 

The drive to the Courthouse was short, and their appointment at the clerks office was quick. License in hand, they emerged to meet their companions in the hallway outside the judge's chambers.

 

"Nick.. Natalie.." Captain Reese nodded to them. "You are both looking very stylish.. and I must say.. it is about time you two stopped the cat-and-mouse game"

 

Tracy walked up and handed Natalie a box from a florist... "I thought every bride needs a bouquet.. and I didn't think Nick would get out today.. So, partner.. feeling any pain today?"

 

"Thanks Trace.. and I am feeling about as much pain as you.." He handed the bouquet to Natalie, who had greeted her assistants and looked down the corridor to see LaCroix walk toward them. Tracy stood in stunned silence as Natalie walked up to him and gave him a friendly kiss on the cheek and allowed him to stroke her abdomen.. and Nick walked up and engaged him in friendly conversation.. obviously Natalie was not kidding when she said that the fierce owner of the Raven was a friend.

 

Looking around at the assembled group, Nick took Natalie's hand, glancing at his watch.. "I would like to thank you all for joining us as witnesses. Come.. it is time.." together they went into the judge's chambers.

 

After a simple twenty minute ceremony, Nick and Natalie emerged, now married and accompanied by their police department friends, went over to the 96th precinct for a reception. Citing the need to return for his nightly broadcast, LaCroix excused himself after thanking both Nick and Natalie for including him in their celebration.

 

CHAPTER 7 (two months later)

 

Closing down the computer, Natalie stood and stretched, rubbing her aching neck.. only to find strong, cool hands touch hers and caress her back. "Ah.. Nick.. that feels great." She turned and put her arm around his neck, drawing his face closer. As their mouths met, she pulled closer, molding herself to him.. that is, as much as her rapidly expanding abdomen would allow.

 

"Are you ready?" Nick said, breaking the kiss and gently rubbing the mound where their child rested.

 

"Yeah.. are you sure we need to go to the club? I could really use some rest.." this latest 'command performance' had her worried. Although LaCroix came over to the loft at least once a week, ostensibly to tutor Natalie.. and harass Nick, she had not been to the club since their wedding.

 

"Yes.. he said it was important.. someone from out-of-town that you need to meet. And I am not ready to cross him right now."

 

"OK, OK.." she agreed, and taking his arm, followed him out to the parking lot into the warm spring air..

 

The drive across town was quiet. Parking in the alley, he led Natalie into the club. Few mortals remained inside but the dance floor remained well populated with the immortal clients.

 

"Where is he?" Nick hollered to the bartender, who simply pointed to the door leading to the private quarters. Shrugging his shoulders, he led the way for Natalie and knocked on the door.

 

LaCroix answered the door, holding a stemmed glass, as usual and smiled at the couple before him, motioning them inside and securing the locks.

 

"So, why the summons?" Nick asked patiently.

 

"Sit here, Nicholas.. you and I will enjoy one of my finer vintages.. This summons was for your lovely bride. And I did not think you would permit her to come unescorted." He did not mention Natalie's previous visit and had never sent the bill. "My dear, you are looking radiant.. motherhood agrees with you. My guest is waiting down the hall for you."

 

He escorted Natalie to another room down the corridor and opened the door, waited for Natalie to enter and then returned to the main room. Natalie tried to adjust her eyes to the darkness as the figure struck a match and lit the candles. "Bon nuit, Natalie." The lilting French accented voice brought back many memories..

 

"Janette.. why the secrecy?" Natalie recognized her immediately.. she was not the confused mortal woman sitting on her autopsy table for a 'bullet removal' that she had seen six months previous, but rather the smooth confident courtesan that Natalie had first known .

 

"I am still a wanted woman in this town.. one cannot be too careful.. and I am not ready to deal with Nichola's angst over bringing me back over." She said casually.

 

"So.. what do you want from me..?" Natalie asked cautiously. While she had met Janette several times, she'd never thought of her as a friend.

 

"Simply to chat, my dear." She shrugged. "I see that my sources were reliable."

 

"Oh??" Natalie probed. She had gotten somewhat used to being the focus of the grapevine.. but the lines of communication within the vampire world were still unfamiliar.

 

"I had heard that Nichola had managed to impregnate a mortal woman. I just knew it had to be you.. it is quite the talk.. no one has ever heard of this before.. I just had to see for myself."

 

"So, I'm famous.. great." Natalie was starting to feel like the immortal sideshow.. and while she and LaCroix had formed a loose alliance of sorts.. well, she was not sure how she felt about Nick's former lover, pseudo- wife, one-time sibling and now child.

 

"And, Natalie.." her voice dropped lower. "I heard of the judgment pronounced against you. I know we have not been the best of friends.. but, well.. I thought you might need someone to talk to.. that is not going to fight with or about you."

 

Natalie just looked at her for a minute, and then relaxed a little. Yes, she really did need to talk.. and Janette would be the most appropriate person right now. "Yes.. well, I have agreed to it. What choice is that anyway? Nick is still trying to figure out a way to appeal or delay. But unless, I get pregnant again immediately, I don't see how we can stop it. And I am not sure I want to stop it.." her voice trailed off.

 

"So, he is being reluctant?"

 

"And that worries me.. I mean, there is always the risk he will drain me and then let me die.. I don't want that. I'm almost ready to just tell LaCroix that the job is his.. he keeps offering.. but having him as a master scares me. I have seen how possessive he is with Nick, I don't know if I could deal with him for eternity."

 

"There is another option." Janette said softly, calmly. "I could do it.."

 

"But I was told specifically that my choice was Nick or LaCroix.. or the enforcers."

 

"No my dear, the choice is immortality or death.. preferably immortality.. the community merely wants you converted, but would prefer that an older, stronger person do it. I believe I would qualify. Despite my month as a mortal.. I have regained all my powers.. almost as if that month never happened.. and I am older than Nichola."

 

"But why does it matter?"

 

"You are very strong, even as a mortal.. and I can already feel you as I would a vampire. By carrying Nichola's child you are already developing our senses. Some of that could be temporary.. but no one really knows.. and no one knows how you survived the mating act.. so you are already perceived as being very powerful. As a vampire, even a fledgling, you will need a strong master, an older vampire .. even that young Spaniard that you know.. you would overwhelm him.. he would not be able to control you... it is possible one so young could perish even in bringing you over."

 

"Oh? How is that possible?"

 

"I doubt you have been told much of the actual process of bringing someone over.." at Natalie's nod of agreement, she continued. "Well, the master must feed his own blood to the fledgling.. there is a fine line between giving enough for the conversion and too much, allowing the fledgling to overpower the master and drain him."

 

"Oh, I see." She said slowly. " Janette.. I thank you for the offer.. and I will take it into consideration. I have not decided whom I will trust with my life just yet. In any event, I would like us to be friends.." Janette smiled and reached over to take Natalie's hand.

 

"Of course, cherie.. we have an eternity.. and you are family. But if you don't mind, my dear.. I know what a passionate man Nicholas is.. it has been nearly a century since his last warm meal.. and all he drinks is cow.. How DID you survive?"

 

Natalie looked at her calmly. "He didn't bite me.. he has still never tasted my blood." At Janette's surprised look, she continued. "Nick took a bullet in the line of duty last October. In the head. Obviously it didn't kill him, although they did take him to a trauma center.. and pronounced him dead."

 

"Not too far off the mark, Natalie.." Janette merely smiled.

 

"Well, I got there just before they sent him to the morgue, and fed him some fresh blood and LaCroix hypnotized the staff.. and he recovered.. although the bullets are still in there somewhere. I can't exactly extract them easily from that thick head of his." This brought a muffled laugh from Janette. "Anyway, he had amnesia.. did not remember who he was.. what he was.. I took him home.. he remembered me enough to know that he wanted me.. and things went a little farther than I'd intended.. anyway he made love to me as a 'mortal' man. While I slept, he snuck out of the loft, and got caught out in the morning sun.. got burned but made it back to the loft. I had to tell him what he was, get him some blood to feed.. well, we have not made love since then.."

 

"But you are married..?"

 

"Yes, and we sleep in the same bed.. and somehow, even though we always start the morning at opposite sides, by dusk we are in each others arms. And usually he is holding the baby.. he has a knack for holding me in exactly the position she is laying.." Natalie sighed. "It is only in my dreams though... that we can do more."

 

"Oh, Natalie.. This has to be difficult for you.. so many changes. It is much more complex for you than it was when I came over."

 

"And I've really needed another woman to talk with.. one with whom I don't need to keep secrets."

 

"Ahh.. then Nicholas has not said anything to his young partner. Good. Surprising, but good."

 

"She knows of Vachon though. She knows just enough that I am not sure how well I will be able to conceal myself.. after all, how do we explain my sudden 'allergy'?"

 

"You don't. You are just too busy, or unavailable to come out.. or the baby is sleeping. Whenever someone calls during the day, you have an appointment.. there are many ways to be vague."

 

"What about work? I have always needed to take a lot of call."

 

"Negotiate.. tell them that you do not have a daytime babysitter.. you will only take call at night. Threaten to quit. They will not want to replace a full-time permanent night shift coroner. If you need to push the issue.. post-hypnotic suggestion helps."

 

Natalie laughed. "Yes.. I have seen Nick has use that to his advantage.."

 

Janette smiled in return "Yes.. well, we were trained by the best. That is something for you to consider as well.. your sire is responsible for your education. LaCroix may be overbearing at times, but he takes care of his own."

 

"I know." Natalie looked at her, understanding clearly. "He has already started tutoring me."

 

"Really?" Janette could not help but show surprise.

 

"Yes, well, he said I am under constant surveillance.. and I can feel it.. even during the day if I am out on a call, I feel like they know where I am.. it is weird... Anyway, he said I could start lessons. I have been studying the Code.. and a little bit about the history of the Community."

 

"I can believe you are being watched.. I am just surprised that he would start already."

 

"Personally, I think he is trying to butter me up.. make me see him as my teacher so that I will let him bring me over.. The way he and Nick argue about it, I almost think there is something sexual about it. Especially when they threatened to have witnesses if we delay."

 

Janette did not respond at first <oh, you do not know how close you are>. "I am sure he wants to control you and therefore control Nicholas. And then there is the element of taking someone that 'belongs' to someone else.. that is part of his personality.. you know he once fathered a child on the wife of one of the Roman senators.. everyone knew it but dared not say anything.. even as a mortal, he had a nasty temper." She kept her voice low pitched.. she knew that if he wanted, LaCroix could listen to every word.. but he had promised her a little privacy.

 

"Well that explains so much." Natalie said thoughtfully. She had never heard so many personal details of their past lives. "Janette this has truly been an enlightening meeting.. and much more pleasant than my LAST command visit here."

 

Janette smiled warmly. "I am glad that I could be of service.. now here is my card with my private number, should you need a woman's ear. I will come if you need.. perhaps when the baby is here, I will be ready to see Nicholas again." She smiled and handed Natalie a business card and then moved to sit next to Natalie on the couch. "May I?"

 

"Certainly.. and she should wake up soon.." Janette looked at her, and laid a tentative hand over the swelling mound. "Janette, it's OK.. you aren't going to hurt me." She took Janette's hand and moved it lower, holding it firmly against the spot she knew the baby rested.. and was promptly rewarded with a kick. Janette's eyes glowed for a minute and her smile got bigger. "She says hello, auntie.. you know .. it is weird. She does not kick on command for Grace or Jill.. but whenever LaCroix touches her, she kicks.. and now she did for you as well."

 

"Could be coincidence."

 

"Oh, but you should see my belly when Nick touches it.. I swear she does back flips until he talks to her."

 

"Doesn't that hurt?"

 

"No.. it just feels weird.. and now she is getting big enough that I see the ripples when she is flipping." Natalie replied, looking up at the other woman "Janette, I would like to see you again, if that is OK.."

 

"But of course.. Now, my dear.. dawn approaches and unless you want to be stuck here or leave your husband here.. you had best head home.. I have SO enjoyed our chat." She stood and gave Natalie a friendly hug. "Please keep in touch."

 

"Oh, I will.. and thank you for your understanding.."

 

***************

Janette's comments about feeling Natalie's presence still haunted her the next night. She had not said anything to Nick.. indeed, she would not even said who she had spent 2 hours talking to.. other than to say 'an old friend' and that 'it was a surprise' but she could tell it bothered him. She figured she would confess the next day, when she was sure that Janette would be out of town again.. and she knew, as Nick did not, that Janette's new home was just across the lake in Buffalo, New York.

 

On a whim, she waited until she knew both of her assistants were busy elsewhere and Nick was tied up doing interviews and drew a sample of her own blood. Taking it, and recent samples from Nick and a pre-pregnancy control sample of her own blood, she went across town to the Research facility to borrow time on her friend's electron microscope. The equipment was seldom used in the middle of the night.. and she had a standing offer. Nick's sample, as usual showed an abundance of what she called 'the vampire virus'. She usually used her own blood as a control, so had seen it under this equipment before.. but was not prepared for what she now saw. A mixture.. not pure vampire, as Nick's.. but not human either. The scientist in her started to think of variations. She got out a fresh slide, placed a drop of her control sample, and then watching under the scope, placed a drop of Nick's blood in it.. and watched as the 'vampire' cells consumed her normal cells.

 

"Oh this is weird.. too weird" she muttered. <ok.. phase two..> she did the same test in reverse.. and the result was the same. And then she took her own fresh sample, added Nick's blood and watched.. and nothing happened.. the cells co-existed.. "hmm, this is weird, too." She looked again at her original slide and did some calculations. "OK, time for the second opinion." Packing up all her supplies and evidence of her nocturnal visit, she returned to the lab.

 

Everything was still quiet.. opening a stray file to cover, she picked up the phone and dialed LaCroix's private line... she knew he was doing his show but she knew a call from her would prompt a visit.. soon.

 

"LaCroix.. this is Natalie. I need to talk to you." she said when the machine clicked on. <he knows how to find me.. and he'll be too curious to ignore me>

 

Indeed, he did.. before she knew it.. music came across the radio instead of his smooth voice and the rush of air she felt told her of his arrival.

 

"Yes.. you called?" concern was clear.

 

"Let me know if anyone comes this way." She began and then dropped her voice to a low confidential tone. "First, thank you for inviting me over to see Janette. We had a lovely chat."

 

"So she said.. and she, too, is looking forward to your joining us."

 

"Well, I may be closer than you think."

 

"What do you mean?" his voice was dark, still. "You aren't doing anything to harm the child?"

 

"Absolutely not.. but last night, Janette said she could feel me as a vampire feels another. I know you of spoken of the baby having Nick's aura.. but this description.. she wasn't talking about the baby.. she was talking about me."

 

"And?" he prompted.

 

"Well, I ran some tests." She looked up to see his indulgent smile.

 

"Yes.. your inquiring mind cannot resist a challenge.. so what did you find?"

 

"Anyway.. I had previously identified an element in Nick's blood that I call the 'vampire virus'. It really is not a virus.. but every vampire sample I have studied has this anomaly. Well, I have it now... in my blood"

 

"Really? How fascinating.. and Nicholas has still not shared his blood with you?"

 

"No.. he is afraid of hurting me or the baby.. anyway.. about 95% of his cells have this anomaly.. and about 10% of mine. What is weird is when I mix his blood with a pre-pregnancy sample of mine, his cells overwhelm and destroy mine."

 

"As I would expect."

 

"Yes, well, now when I added his to my current sample.. I increased the percentage to 50%, but they did not destroy my normal cells."

 

"This is all very fascinating.. but as you say.. cut to the chase.. what are your questions..? And I will warn you, I may not have answers. We are entering uncharted territory. I have told you, I have never seen a mortal woman carry a vampire's child."

 

"Have I already started across?" she whispered.. looking up to see his eyes focused on her intently.

 

"Yes.. I have suspected for some time that this was happening, which is why I wanted Janette to see you.. get a second opinion as it were." He replied, his clear, confident voice breaching no doubt.

 

"OK.. what happens then.. will I come completely across this way.. or do we need to finish it at some point?" she asked.. the scientist now needed something to focus upon.

 

"I doubt very much that you will come completely across this way. At some point, our hand will be most likely be forced.. and either we complete the process or you will either die or go insane.. But, Natalie, I do not think you will have that year as a mortal mother.. actually, by the time you give birth, you will probably have very little time left.. a few months at most." He reached out to take her hand, not sure how eager she was to embrace immortality. He knew that Nick would be quite upset..

 

"How will I know?" she asked softly.

 

"You may not have any signs.. or you may simply stop tolerating food.. and I am not speaking of simply the nausea of pregnancy.. and you will have developed vampiric abilities.. that is why the lessons.. I am watching .. and the Elders are monitoring you.. they will let me know if we delay to a point of danger." He smiled at her. "I will not let any harm come to you.. tell me when you are ready.. and whether Nicholas is ready or not.."

 

"If I have not given birth yet?"

 

"You are far enough along that the child would survive if born today.. even as a mortal?" Natalie nodded

 

"Yes, I have only two more months.."

 

"Well, we could arrange an accident that would force an emergency delivery." At Natalie's shocked look, he smiled.. "Oh, please.. you would never be in any real danger.. they would merely think you were.. if I can conceal a bullet in the head.. you don't think I can rig a fetal monitor strip showing distress.. or produce enough blood that it would appear that your life was endangered?"

 

"Oh, OK.. sorry.. and I did not mean to doubt you.. I was just surprised by this.. I needed to know I was not crazy."

 

"Never, my dear.. never." He smiled indulgently. "Anything else?"

 

"Yes.. a favor. If they take any blood specimens from me or the baby when I do deliver, I need you to make sure nothing unusual is seen. Or remembered."

 

"Absolutely my dear.. I will take care of it.. and my price will be named later." He smiled again.. his trademark calculating look that made most mortals run away scared. Natalie merely strengthened and stared back. <ah, she shows great promise. Already thinking of protecting the community.. I shall enjoy extracting payment from her... for years to come>

 

"Yes.. I am sure it will be.. and thank you for coming so quickly." Natalie stood and gave him a quick embrace before going to unlock the door.

 

"Pleased to be of service.. I will be in touch.." he nodded, and with a whoosh was gone. Natalie sat down and put her documents away and stared again at the unfinished files, but not really seeing..

 

************

Nick picked her up at 5 AM as usual and spoke at length about the case he was working on.. the renovations that were almost done.. the need for her to decide a theme for the nursery.. and finally stared at her. "OK, Nat.. am I in the doghouse about something?" he looked at her intently. "Why the silent treatment?"

 

She startled and stared at him, as if she had not heard a single word he'd said. "Oh, Nick.. I am so sorry.. no, I am just a little distracted."

 

"Feeling OK?" he asked solicitously.

 

"Yes, physically I am fine.. right now." he just stared questioning, at this distinction... "let me make some tea.. and I will talk .. OK, not in the car.."

 

He pulled the car into the garage and they rode up together in silence. He went up to their room and changed into pajamas and grabbed a bottle from the refrigerator.. and sat down on the couch. After changing into a loose cotton nightgown and taking her mug of tea, she sat down in the crook of his arm.

 

"I met Janette last night." She said quietly.

 

"And she did not wish me to know?" he asked softly, stroking her shoulder.

 

"She did not say.. only that she was not ready to see you.. but she thought she would want to see you when the baby is born."

 

"What did she want?"

 

"To chat." At his quizzical look, she smiled.. "a little girl talk.. that is all. She thought I might want to talk to a woman.. she's heard about the sentence.. and the baby. Nick, it really helped.. you don't know what a weight was lifted.. She is truly the first woman that I have been able to talk about everything with. Every other woman that I know, cannot know the whole story.."

 

"I am glad you two can be friends.." he said sincerely. "Where is she?"

 

"Nick.. please don't push.. anyway.. she said she could sense me.."

 

"She probably meant the baby.. she is sensing me through the baby."

 

"No.. she sensed ME.." Natalie sighed at Nick's questioning look. "So I drew a sample tonight and took it over to the Institute for a little research."

 

"Obviously, it showed something.. or you would not be bringing this up.. OK.. give me the news."

 

"I have already started across.. I spoke to LaCroix tonight as well and he agrees with my theory.."

 

"You told him... before you told me?" Nick's voice became dark.. threatening.

 

"Nick.. stop it.. jealousy does not become you.." Natalie's voice was equally threatening and their eyes met.. both rimmed with gold.

 

"Nat.. your eyes!! OHMIGOD!!" Nick just stared.. his own eyes returning to a clear blue.. and watched as hers became their usual soft blue.

 

"What about my eyes?"

 

"They changed... they became gold when you showed anger.. How do you know you've already started?"

 

"My blood.. carries the vampire factor. When I tried to mix a pre-pregnancy sample with your blood, the vampire factor engulfed and consumed all the normal cells. Now, they are simply mixed.. and when I added your blood, it merely changed the concentration.. but the normal cells were not harmed or changed."

 

"OK.. so what did LaCroix have to say? And I really am sorry I jumped at you.."

 

"That I won't have a full year to be a mortal mother.. we may need to act out of necessity sooner.."

 

"What about the baby?"

 

"If I have not already given birth.. delivery may be umm, pushed up.."

 

"Won't that be dangerous?"

 

"Nick.. the baby is far enough now that even a mortal child would survive with good neonatal care. But remember this child is not purely mortal.. no one knows what a normal gestation is.. for a mixed child"

 

"So how will we know?"

 

"When I can no longer eat.. and have more pronounced abilities. Nick.. I don't think flashing my eyes is what he meant.. But it might be helpful if YOU refrain from pissing me off in public.." she smiled, playfully punching his arm.

 

"OK.. I'll do my best.. but I will still need to finish bringing you over?"

 

"Yes.. It won't happen completely.. for all I know these effects are temporary.. but I don't know if I can afford to wait to find out.. Are you OK with doing this on potentially short notice? I have no doubts.. and I don't want you doing it if you have doubts.. Janette has offered her assistance as well."

 

"Personally, I would prefer Janette to LaCroix.. but in any event you will still be bound to him indirectly. I don't want to lose you.. or our child. I want us to be a family. I have accepted that it means you join me. I am looking forward to the day when I can fully express my love, and not fear for your life." He spoke quietly, firmly and pulled her tighter, splaying his large hand across her abdomen, feeling their child move across his caress. She sighed in contentment and turned slightly to face him.. their mouths meeting.. the kiss deepening .. opening her mouth to his tongue. His hand moved across to cup a full breast, caressing it gently through the thin nightgown. She ran her hand across his chest, slowly unbuttoning his pajama top and pushing it off his shoulder. He shrugged it off and slid his hand inside the nightgown to massage her breast.. circling the nipples with his fingers. She gasped with pleasure and rained kissed down his face, his neck .. his chest.. while moving a hand lower... "Natalie.. stop." He pulled her hand back up to his face and kissed it gently.. "We are not prepared for that yet.." she looked at his eyes, golden with passion.. and sighed.

 

"Someday, Nick.. someday." She pulled his hand back to her abdomen.

 

"If you were not pregnant.." his eyes glinted at her and he feathered kisses across her forehead, her neck, her lips. "I would not have stopped you.. and you would.. very shortly... be joining me in eternity.."

 

"Then.. it is sexual?" Natalie looked at him with a broad smile. "Coming across, I mean."

 

"It can be.. and that is the most enjoyable way.." he smiled back, kissing her neck again. "Not how I was brought over.. exactly."

 

"How were you brought over, Nick..?" this was something she had never dared ask.. but now felt she needed to know.

 

"Janette seduced me.. and then introduced me to LaCroix.." he again kissed her.. "They had been watching me for several days.. she wanted me.. and her control was not very good.. so she asked him to do it.. He offered me life never ending and after the Crusades and being imprisoned for a year, it sounded good. I agreed." He sighed. "And I reveled in my existence.. my immortality.. the hunt.. the kill.. for a long time... then I began to question it.. the random kills.. so I would only kill the wicked.. the 'guilty'.. But you know what? There is no difference between guilty and innocent blood.. killing is killing. I have sought mortality for the past two hundred years.. and have not killed in a hundred years." He hugged Natalie closer, and she remained silent.. this was the most honest he'd ever been about his vampiric past.. and this was something he needed to do.. "My love.. if it means a life with you, I will abandon that search.. you are what I sought, my dream was not life in the sun but light in my soul.. peace in my soul.. a chance to atone for my wrong doings.. I can still do this.. be with you, raise our child.. our reality can be my dream in so many ways.." he kissed her softly.. and stood, raising her to her feet.. and holding her tightly, walked up the stairs to their bedroom

 

He quietly laid down next to her, face next to her abdomen and began to sing softly in French. She was not sure exactly what he was saying, but it sounded like a lullaby.. and she drifted off to sleep, comforted by his strong arms and the strength of his love.. now and for eternity.

 

CHAPTER 8 (one month later)

 

Natalie sat quietly on a bench in the park across from the Coroner's office, sipping her tea and watching the sunrise. Since her discovery of the changes occurring in her blood, she had taken to working late.. with the excuse that she wanted everything caught up before the baby came and watching the sunrise before going home. Nick understood and said nothing. He knew she had no regrets about the transition that she would soon make, but also understood the need to savor the warmth while she could.

 

The May morning was already hot.. and her bagel was gone.. she was about to head back to her car when she heard a familiar voice calling her name.. she turned, seeing an old friend, the captain of the 27th precinct.. her first assignment when joining the coroner's office.

 

"Natalie.. I thought that was you.. working late? I thought I'd miss you.. isn't your shift over at 5?" Joe Stonetree smiled and sat down next to her.

 

"Joe.. what brings you down here? My shift was over at 5, but I want to make sure my files are all up to date and complete at all times now.. I never know if it will be my last shift.."

 

"Ah, yes.. you're at that point are you? I'm sorry I missed your party. You and Nick certainly caused a stir." He smiled teasingly. "Not that I did not know a long time ago that there was something between you two. And talk about keeping secrets.."

 

"Well.. we have both been trained in confidentiality.. so we took it to the extreme. You know what a private person Nick is.. and Schanke was the only one who could really tease him and get away with it."

 

"Yes.. I miss him too." He said quietly.. thinking of Nick's former partner, killed in a plane crash almost two years previous. "But I am sure that he is watching you two.. and enjoying this immensely."

 

"Joe. I am sure you did not come all this way to talk about my marriage. What is up?"

 

"That is the Natalie Lambert I remember.. the direct approach... well, I'm here to ask you to come back to the 27th as primary ME."

 

"Joe.. I would love to work with you, but I am happy at the 96th.. I'll continue to do some of your cases.. any time you'd like, just request me."

 

"Natalie.. have you reviewed the departments policies regarding assignments of parents?"

 

"Umm, no.. I did not know there was such a thing. Could you send me a copy?"

 

"It's on your desk with a memo from your supervisor. I saw you out here and thought I'd speak to you first. The department has a policy forbidding assigning both parents of a minor child to the same crime scene. In your case, it means that you cannot report to crime scenes that Nick is handling. I know you enjoy working with him.. you still can.. just not in the field. So when you come back from your leave, one of you will be reassigned. I can put in a request and the spot will be held.. otherwise, the department will hold off re-assigning either you or Nick until you come back. There might be a day position if you'd prefer.. but I'll hold the night shift if you want to stay on shift with Nick. I'd like you to consider picking up more of my calls.. I have a lot of green detectives.. they could use a more experienced ME."

 

"Joe.. this is all news to me.. let me talk to Nick.. read the memo.. I'll get back to you before I start my leave. Fair enough?" She stood, with some difficulty and picked up her briefcase.

 

"Fair enough.. and from the looks of you.. that won't be any too soon. You are looking well, though.."

 

"Thanks, Joe.. and I will consider what you said." She walked back to her car slowly.

 

The warmth of the morning sun felt good.. but she had noticed that sunburn was a bigger problem than previous springs. The few times that she had gone to the park with Tracy in late afternoons had all resulted in a painful sunburn.. no matter how much suncreen she used, so she had declined Tracy's last few invitations.. being a 'beached whale' gave her a more plausible explanation than being an 'almost vampire'. The mornings were not a problem, though .. and food was not an issue yet.. but her last sneak visit to the institute had shown an increase in the vampire factors to 45%.. and an admonishment from LaCroix just last week to be ready..

 

***********

Nick was still up, composing a new piece on the piano when Natalie came in. "Good morning.. nice sunrise today, my love..?"

 

"Beautiful." She put down her briefcase and walked up to him for a quick kiss. "I saw Joe Stonetree this morning.. he says hello"

 

"Oh.. what was he doing at the Coroner's office?"

 

"Trying to recruit me.."

 

"Come again?"

 

"Department regs.. parents cannot work together at crime scenes .. so one of us is being reassigned. Since you have a partner involved, it makes more sense for me to take the reassignment. At least that is what the department is saying. At least Joe had the courtesy to say something to me directly .. My boss just stuck a memo on the desk when I was not there. Anyway, he wants me to go to days at the 96th which I already emailed him and refused.. The other options are swing shifts with a split assignment or nights at the 27th.. or wait until after my leave to be reassigned and taking what is available.. so it looks like deja vu for me.."

 

"How do you feel about that?"

 

"Well.. I'd rather work with you of course.. but I can live with going to the 27th.. at least I won't have to worry about Tracy figuring anything out."

 

"Is she a problem?" Nick asked with surprise. He had thought that he was doing well at concealing his identity to his partner.

 

"Nick.. did I ever tell you about my bachelorette party?" at Nick's shake 'no', she continued. "Well.. they took me to the Raven." He looked at her, shocked and was about to speak.. "Let me finish.. well, first she saw me with LaCroix.. I was only saying hello and making sure we would be safe.. anyway she kept asking about him and looking at him funny.."

 

"Yeah.. I noticed that at the wedding as well."

 

"I just said you were friends.. your families went back a long way.."

 

"True.. very true.." Nick said thoughtfully.

 

"Anyway, I thought she was distracted.. she was pretty plastered.. I was going to the ladies room and Vachon spoke to me.. she saw it.. I tried to bluff my way past how I knew him.. but she pulled me into the ladies room and straight out said 'I know you know what he is.' Well.. I admitted that I did.. I didn't have a lie ready to come out glibly.. but I also warned her to never speak of this again to anyone.. but she looked at me funny the rest of the night.. and every time I went out on the dance floor.. all the vampires moved away.. it would have been funny to watch except Tracy seemed to notice... Vachon said the younger ones were afraid of me."

 

"Afraid of you?"

 

"Yeah.. they were leaving me alone because they did not want to make you or LaCroix angry." She smiled. "See.. you can protect me even if you aren't there."

 

"Wise idea.. especially not upsetting LaCroix.. he is not someone to trifle with.. and I know that you have spent time with him.. while I am not thrilled by it.. I can't exactly say I am not glad you have his support. It will make your introduction to the community much easier. And you speaking to him would have made it quite obvious that you were under his protection.. but why would the young ones even make the connection to me? It's not like you come to the Raven with me.."

 

"Vachon said he could sense you through me.. and quite clearly even at that point. Maybe they thought you'd bit me.. didn't you say that gave a scent?"

 

"Yeah.. but you don't carry that kind of marker.. oh well.. it is too late now.. everyone knows I am the father.. and I'll warn you.. I am sure we will get some kind of summons to meet the Elders after you come over."

 

"Have you ever been summoned?"

 

"No.. I have met Enforcers twice.. and that is frightening enough. I don't know what to expect... but you are a bit of a special case.. and I am sure that your knowledge will be archived."

 

"So, what do we do with Tracy?" she asked.

 

"Nothing, as long as possible. But before we move on.. I'll make sure LaCroix takes her memories if Vachon does not intend to bring her over. I won't leave her a target.. OK?"

 

CHAPTER 9 (one month later)

 

It was the topic they'd steadfastly avoided since learning of Natalie's impending conversion. Moving on. Neither one wanted it. And yet, neither one was sure how long it would be before questions were raised. Questions that could not be answered. It was more common to leave the mortal ties immediately.. but since Natalie's family had all died.. her only ties were to the vampire community and work.. and Nick was confident that it would work... for a while...

 

The warmth of friendship was something that Natalie cherished and sitting at her baby shower opening gifts, she knew she would tough it out.. at least for a few years...

 

****

Tracy helped her carry the gifts up to the loft. She really was there to see the nursery.. and get some answers... It had been three months since the party at the Raven, and the discussion in the ladies room, laced in secrecy. Seeing LaCroix at the wedding the next evening, and watching the way he had interacted with the two of them had her even more baffled. They both seemed comfortable, almost casual with the intense man.. and neither of them seemed to notice the aura of evil that surrounded him.

 

"Can I get you something, Trace..?" Natalie called out , moving the last of the boxes into the nursery. She had left Tracy admiring Nick's latest painting.

 

"Oh, I'll just grab a coke from the fridge.." Tracy replied opening the refrigerator door. Standing in the nursery, Natalie looked up quickly... <no, don't.. please don't look>.. but it was too late. Tracy stood silently, a confused look on her face.. the can of soda in one hand.. a glass bottle in the other. She watched as Natalie walked out of the nursery and toward her... a sad, but resigned look on her face. "Raven Private Reserve? I'm not totally ignorant.. I know what this is.. Entertaining lately? I somehow don't picture Vachon coming to call.. is this for LaCroix? You know a lot more that you let on." She said accusingly.

 

"Put it back, Tracy.. and sit down." Natalie said firmly. "I'll be right back." She went upstairs to their room and nudged Nick awake.

 

"Nat.. is it time..?" he said sleepily.. he could sense that the sun was still up, but would soon set.

 

"Time for something.. but not that." She said grimly, Nick instantly became more alert at the tone in her voice. "We have a problem. And I need your advice, and help."

 

"What is it?"

 

"Tracy" she said matter-of-factly. "She found a bottle in the fridge. She asked if it was for LaCroix. She is firmly convinced that she knows.. and if she is that accurate about him.. it is only a matter of time.. and I don't want her going into the Raven to ask him for information."

 

"Oh" he said pausing to think. "I know LaCroix thinks she's dangerous. She takes being a detective too seriously sometimes.. and Vachon cannot or will not control her." He sighed, coming to a decision. "But I think she'll be less dangerous if she knows more and is scared into silence. I'll talk to her.. and have LaCroix scare her. He's good at it. You go downstairs.. I'll get dressed and come down soon."

 

"Do you want me to say anything?"

 

"Not yet.. just pour a glass and have it ready for me."

 

"Ah.. the shock method." She smiled.

 

"Yeah.. I do it well." he laughed, their eyes meeting as both recalled how they met.. when Nick had been brought into the morgue as a bombing victim.. and came back to life on her autopsy table.

 

Natalie walked back downstairs, feeling Tracy's eyes on her.

 

"You did not need to wake Nick. This is between us.. I just need to know what you know. It's driving me crazy.. I keep thinking I am seeing vampires where none exist."

 

"Tracy, what I know could get you killed." Natalie said firmly, grabbing two stemmed goblets. One she filled with milk, the other with blood. She walked over to the couch and set both very deliberately on the table in front of her and faced Tracy, seated in the armchair.

 

"Expecting company? The sun is still up.."

 

"No Tracy, no company." Nick spoke as he walked down the stairs and sat on the couch next to Natalie. He picked up the goblet of blood, and facing Tracy directly, drank it down in one swallow.

 

"More..?" Natalie murmured as Nick and Tracy just stared at one another.

 

"Bring the bottle." He said quietly. "OK, Tracy. I am putting your life in danger, but if you probe the wrong people that could be equally fatal as honesty from me." He took a swallow from the bottle directly and let his eyes glow briefly. Tracy sat speechless.. "The bottles are not for Vachon.. or LaCroix.. they are mine."

 

"Nick?? That's blood.." Tracy stammered, not believing that her partner was calmly drinking blood..

 

"Yes Tracy. It is." He look up at her, and smiled.. fangs fully extended. "It's breakfast."

 

"OHMIGOD... Nick.. you're a.. a.." she stammered and moved to stand, to leave.. Natalie took her hands and held them tightly.

 

"You were right Tracy.. I knew more that I would say... a lot more.. You asked who my contact was in the community.. You wanted to know. Now you know." Natalie said calmly, firmly.

 

Tracy had recovered from her original shock and had developed a sense of anger, betrayal. "You kept this from me for two years.. knowing I knew about Vachon.. was dating him.." she looked between the two of them.. "You are my friends.. my partner.. and you lied to me.."

 

"I never lied, Tracy.. I may not have told you everything, but I never lied. You never asked me." Nick answered emphatically.

 

"It was for your own safety." Natalie said patiently.

 

"Oh, I don't believe that.. you know.. and have known longer than I.. and obviously know more than I do.." she looked pointedly at Natalie's rather enlarged abdomen. "You are married to one.. and are carrying his child. You are safe.."

 

"Yes.. I do know a LOT more.. and have medical documentation to prove it.." Natalie said frankly. "But I am not safe. Not by a long shot.. you see, Tracy there are those in the vampire world who have a zero tolerance for mortals having any knowledge.. Vachon protects you with a death oath.. as Nick has protected me for several years.. But my knowledge was becoming too great for even that promise. I will be joining the community within the next year.. for eternity."

 

"To be with Nick, you mean.."

 

Nick stood and moved closer, shaking his head. "No.. either she comes over or she and our child will be executed because of her knowledge.. I would have preferred waiting a few years.. have another child.. but we were not given a choice."

 

"And because Nick got me pregnant.. if I refused to come over.. he would be killed as well. This is nothing to joke about." Tracy just sat silently, trying to absorb what she was being told.

 

"Why now.. ? Obviously you have known each other for some time.."

 

"Because of the pregnancy. You see, Tracy.. that is not supposed to happen. Mortal women die when they have sex with vampires. A vampire, umm.. must take blood to uh.. finish. And they generally don't stop with a little taste" Natalie replied.

 

"You didn't..?" Tracy looked at her confused. This had matched something that Vachon had said one night when they were getting close to intimacy.

 

"Well, I did not know who or what I was at the time.. I could only remember my feelings toward Nat.. and my desire for her.." Nick interjected, and Tracy could see the love reflected in his eyes.

 

"You remember.. he had amnesia when he was shot..." Natalie answered the unspoken question.

 

"That's when..? But you remembered Nat?" she paused, searching her memories of that night, that horrible night when she thought she'd lost her partner. "Oh.. Um.. Nat.. tell me.. I was there.. I saw the shooting. Did that bullet really glance off his 'rather thick scalp'? I held him until the paramedics came... it sure looked worse to me..."

 

"No, Tracy.. it's still in there.. I've been pulling bullets out of other parts of his anatomy for years.. but I am not going into his head.." Natalie laughed.

 

"I know I have been asking a lot of questions, Nat.. but I am a detective.. it's what I do.." Tracy said, as if preparing for another line of inquiry.

 

"Well, Tracy in this case.. discretion will keep you alive. There are those you should not ask.." Natalie asked.. trying her own way to end the questions.

 

"Like LaCroix.. very perceptive of you to figure out his secret.. but very dangerous. He has a very low tolerance for mortals.. especially curious ones. Tracy, he is the one who brought me over. Made me what I am." Nick answered patiently.. beginning to set her up for LaCroix's appearance.

 

"Nick, I heard him called "General". Just tell me, is he still in the military?" Natalie started laughing loudly.

 

"Nat.." he looked at her "This is not funny.." Nick took another sip as Natalie collected herself. "Tracy.. he was a general in the Roman army.. before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii." At this, Tracy took a deep swallow of her soda and began to tremble. "About 2000 years ago.."

 

"And he brought YOU over..?" she started, and Nick nodded. "If I may ask.. how old are you?"

 

"804 years. I was brought over in 1228. Returning from my second tour in the Crusades."

 

"Oh, wow.. Nick, this is incredible.. But, Nick.. why the sudden honesty?"

 

"Two reasons." Natalie interjected. "One. Your questions are getting too close to the mark and we don't want you attracting attention. Attention which could prove fatal. If you are told the truth.. perhaps you will leave it alone.. ask only one of us or Vachon. And two. Because of me. Nick has learned to hide things well. I will be young, have less control. You would eventually notice. And if anything was said in the wrong company, people could die or at minimum we'd have to move on."

 

"Wrong company? Nat, I would never.."

 

"Not intentionally. But you could and not even know it. Tracy.. NO ONE is to know. Not Grace. Not Jill. Not our bosses. NO ONE." Nat said forcefully.

 

"I thought you told Grace and Jill everything."

 

"And you thought Nick told YOU everything. NOT THIS."

 

Nick spoke up. "Tracy, because you cannot be hypnotized.." Tracy looked at him surprised. "Vachon told me that he'd tried... and since your knowledge was his fault, he has shielded you since then. But if he or I ever leave you here unprotected, you will be killed."

 

"Or brought over." Natalie interjected. Nick may not be thrilled at the idea.. but Natalie felt she should know really what the options were.

 

"I won't say anything.. I promise." Tracy said earnestly.

 

"Tracy, we are not, as a rule, very trusting of outsiders. Your promise to me, I accept. But the others won't and eventually you will have to deal with the others."

 

"So.. you kill me? That's pretty cold Nick."

 

"No. You allow yourself to be hypnotized. You will remember Nat and I and Vachon.. just not as vampires but as friends."

 

"You could do this? Vachon could not."

 

"I am older.. stronger. And if you are willing, submit to me, it might work. But I would not do it. I would have LaCroix do it." With a silent whoosh of displaced air, LaCroix stood behind Tracy.

 

"What if I don't agree to it Nick?" Tracy asked.

 

"Ah, detective.." LaCroix smiled his best cold, evil tone. Eyes glowing red, fangs fully extended, he spun Tracy around and held her easily a foot of the ground. "I do not require your cooperation."

 

Tracy stared, her heart pounding. "Who? Who are you? Oh my God.. Nick.." she stammered, the fear evident. LaCroix set her on her feet but held her tightly, one hand on her shoulder, his eyes returning to normal.

 

"Lucien LaCroix at your service. And you are detective Tracy Vetter. And your knowledge of us is only acceptable temporarily because Nicholas has vouched for your silence.. your young Spaniard's word alone is not sufficient.. he is not known for keeping his oath. Break it and you and he are both dead. Understand?" Tracy nodded vigorously. "And when he leaves, you will not longer be permitted to keep this knowledge." He laughed coldly. "you may have more options that our good doctor here.. or I should say.. our protÈgÈ.. Her days in the sun are now numbered in double digits and counting down quickly..."

 

Tracy tried to gather thoughts. "OK, options.. what are they?"

 

"One. You are killed. Naturally you don't want that.. so let us skip to number two. You are brought across and become one of us.. and unlike our doctor you may select anyone you desire to be your creator. OR finally, number three. Your memory is removed."

 

"Do I have to decide right this minute? And what do you mean when you refer to 'moving on' when and what is that."

 

"Tracy, as a vampire.. I do not age.. Neither will Natalie." Nick explained patiently " Eventually it is noticed. Because I create personas which mingle with the mortal world, I can only stay in one existence ten to fifteen years.. tops. So we leave before then. Start a new life. Disappear completely."

 

"Ms. Vetter.. you do not need to decide now. When Nicholas leaves, you will be visited by Enforcers.. our own police force. If he has not done #2 or I have not done #3, they will do #1 and then find Vachon, Nicholas and Natalie... and the child. Now we do not want that. Do we?" his glare became icy.

 

"Absolutely not. OK, OK.. I'll be quiet and I'll stop asking questions. And I will decide when I have to.."

 

"Very good. I will be watching you." LaCroix stared intently for a minute and then nodded to Nick and rose through the skylight. Natalie sat down next to Tracy, taking her hands.

 

"Tracy, are you OK with this? I'm sorry we had to be so rough with you." Natalie said softly.

 

"Its just a lot to take in.. you weren't kidding.."

 

"No. I wasn't kidding. About any of this.. And it is not too late for you.. you can still escape.. you still have a choice.."

 

"Natalie. What did he mean when he said your days in the sun are numbered?"

 

Natalie sighed and looked at Nick. "Go ahead, Nat.. let's get everything in the open." He murmured.

 

"OK Tracy.. When I was found to be pregnant, the community determined that my level of knowledge and involvement was no longer acceptable and a judgment was passed on me. As I said before.. I will be joining the community within the next year."

 

"But he said DAYS.. not a year."

 

"And I said this was not supposed to happen.. any of it. I am in uncharted territory here, Trace. By carrying Nick's child.. his DNA is affecting mine.. we were not expecting this. I have already started to change.." She hesitated and Tracy nodded, thinking of the reaction of Vachon and others at the Raven that night. Now things were making sense. "You know why I wouldn't go to the park with you? Because I can no longer tolerate direct sun.. Or indirect afternoon sun. Even with the strongest sunscreen, I burn and blister with as little as 5 minutes."

 

"As least you don't smoke or flame.." Nick said dryly.

 

"Yet" Natalie returned.

 

Tracy smiled and finally relaxed. "I never knew. I thought it was just the pregnancy."

 

"You weren't supposed to know.. remember?"

 

"Oh, yeah.. so now you will just kind of change and one day you wake up a vampire?"

 

"No. Nick will still need to complete the process.. but I am past the point of it being reversible.. even if I wanted to avoid it or we were permitted to avoid it. It will be soon. While I am on my leave."

 

"When do you start your leave? And you are going to come back?"

 

"I'm already off field work. That last crime scene was hard.. took two uniforms to help me stand up.. and Grace can tell you about me almost falling into an open abdomen last week.. it wasn't pretty.. my center of gravity is a little off. I start my actual leave on Friday.. I'm just cleaning up the files right now. Chang will take over for the 96th. When I come back, I'll cover the 27th... department regs."

 

"Tracy." Nick broke into the discussion. "I know this is kind of a bad time to ask you for a favor since we just finished shocking you.. but if Nat goes into labor during the day..?"

 

He did not even finish the question when she smiled. "Of course Nick.. I would be happy to drive you both in.. I'll even drive that boat of yours so you can use the trunk.. and now I know why you like that big trunk.. Just call my cellular.. unlike some people I know.. mine is always on and charged."

 

CHAPTER 10

 

"Knight, Vetter.. got a call." Reese's voice boomed across the squad room overshadowing the din of shift change. He strolled over to their desk. "Body found in an abandoned house. Check it out.. ME is rolling." He looked at Nick. "I think its Chang."

 

"Yeah.. Nat started her leave yesterday.. Too hard to work around a dancing belly she said.. And whenever I'm around, the baby is doing back flips.. And you know how she refused to compromise her standards."

 

"I know.. and I'll miss her doing our cases."

 

"Cap.. she'll still be doing curbsides for me." Nick grinned. "It may not be on city time.. or city property though."

 

"Can't complain about that.. and I won't.. and if Chang doesn't like that.. he can talk to the two of you. Now go.. get out of here.. report back by the end of the shift.."

 

******

Natalie was enjoying her new freedom.. catching up on journals,.. even reading fiction. Knowing that eventually she would need proficiency in other languages, she'd decided to surprise Nick and brush up on her French. She sat at the dining room table, popped a CD-ROM into the laptop computer and sipped her tea. Even though she was on leave, she was keeping the same nocturnal hours. <might as well get used to it> she thought. Her last blood test, most likely the last she'd be able to do legitimately, showed her count up to 62%. Her vision and hearing had become sharper and the queasiness of early pregnancy was back.. only worse...

 

It came as no surprise when she felt a tingling on her neck. Without looking up she spoke. "Hello LaCroix.. time for a lesson?"

 

Standing behind her, out of her vision, she could not see his wide smile. "Very good my dear. You've made progress." He walked up to peer over her shoulder. "Ah.. thinking ahead? But I could teach you this as well.." he indicated the grammar exercise that appeared on the screen.

 

"I know that. I wanted to surprise Nick. We have not decided where we will go next.. but he has always talked about taking me to France on a holiday. I guess you don't surprise easily."

 

"Natalie.. you are full of surprises." He sat down next to her and looked into her eyes. "Your time grows short, does it not?"

 

"I am due in three weeks, yes."

 

"That is not what I meant."

 

"I know. And you are right. I can only eat dairy and sip tea.. the protein shakes I made for Nick. And I sensed you very clearly."

 

"So. Are you ready? Do we proceed with an accident as we discussed before?"

 

"I'm ready. But I have a different idea."

 

"I'm listening."

 

"My water breaks.. either I go into labor.. or they will stimulate it or deliver me. But in any case, I deliver the child within 2 days.. come home.. and if my symptoms don't improve.. be brought over. Do you think a week is safe?"

 

"Yes.. that sounds reasonable.. won't even require much assistance. So how does one 'break water'?"

 

"Do YOU really have to do it? Umm.. I'd rather Janette do it." he looked at her questioning. "It involves a vaginal exam. Sorry, LaCroix.. but there are only two vampires that I will allow down there.. and you aren't one of them."

 

He smiled indulgently. "Of course, my dear. I will call her.. go pack your bag.. find what ever you need."

 

***

Her bag was by the door, all ready. Natalie sat on the couch trembling slightly. She had thought she was ready, told him she was ready.. but now that the dream was a reality.. she was nervous.

 

"Natalie.. it will be fine. You will be fine.. Nicholas is at work?" she nodded. "Should you call him?"

 

"When we are done. Everyone must think this happened on its own. If Janette cannot get to the bag.. I need to start bleeding.. and that may take a little more doing."

 

"Understood." He stood behind her and massaged her shoulders.

 

Janette arrived quickly, flying through the skylight, landing softly in front of the couch. "Mon pere.. Natalie .. how may I be of assistance?"

 

"Natalie will explain." He stood and moved into the kitchen. "I will await you.."

 

Natalie nodded, and took Janette's arm, walking with her into the bathroom. "Janette, you know how I have been changing?" she nodded and indicated Natalie should continue. "Well. I need to finish the change. Soon. very soon."

 

"You know, I will be happy to bring you over, but what about the child..? And I would want to speak to Nicholas first.. I will not do it as a surprise." Janette answered sternly.

 

"Janette.. I need your help to go into labor. Not come over. I need to give birth... see my daughter .. then I will have Nick bring me over.."

 

"Very well." she replied, a relieved tone in her voice. " In that case, I am happy to help. What do I do?"

 

"You are going to break my bag of water." Natalie said, walking into the bathroom, handing her an amniohook and loosening her clothing. Janette took it, a skeptical look on her face. "Oh, don't worry. I'll talk you through it.. it is safe for us both. Then I call Nick.. say it is time.. and we go to the hospital."

 

"Are you sure?" Janette said watching as Natalie undressed and eased herself onto the floor of the bathroom.

 

"Janette.. I would rather you do this than LaCroix. I am ready.. to have the baby.. and to come over." She sighed. "I can no longer tolerate the sun. I can barely tolerate food. I need to do this."

 

Janette knelt and gave her a hug. "OK, Natalie.. I have never done this.. I helped friends deliver babies when I was mortal.. but that was a very, very long time ago.." Natalie laid down and gave Janette a step by step guide.. and was rewarded by a gush of warm amniotic fluid... followed by a sharp pain. "Natalie.. what is it..? Are you OK?"

 

"Ooh.. umm... thank you Janette.. uh, it worked.." she caressed her abdomen and breathed deeply as the contraction eased. "That was just a contraction. I'm OK.. time for step two. I need to call Nick and let nature take its course." She readjusted her clothes and walked into the main room.

 

"So.. Natalie.. Janette..?" LaCroix looked up as Natalie picked up the phone and dialed.

 

"Damn.. he doesn't have his portable on.." she mumbled. "Yes, LaCroix.. it worked." She dialed the precinct and feeling a contraction begin.. put the phone on speaker and motioned for them to be quiet.

 

"96th precinct. Sergeant Wells."

 

"Hey Bob.. this is Natalie." She began to breath heavy as the contraction peaked. "Uhh.. is Nick there?"

 

"You OK? You sound out of breath.." she could hear sounds of other voices, getting closer and could picture in her mind, him pulling the office pool off the bulletin board.

 

"I need Nick. His portable is off." She repeated, caressing her abdomen as the contraction eased, she could feel fluid trickle down her legs.

 

"He isn't here, Natalie .. he and Vetter are out on a call. I can take a message." He said, business-like.

 

"No.. I need Nick.. now.. I can't wait for him to finish an investigation." she repeated, knowing that her statement would start the phone tree on the office pool.

 

"OK, I'll put you through to the captain." She heard the phone click over.

 

"Natalie? Is this business or social? Nick is out on a call." Reese's voice was concerned. Since their marriage, he had become rather paternal to both she and Nick, and hovered around her at crime scenes.

 

"Yeah.. that's what Bob said. I need Nick umm, now.." she felt another contraction begin and looking at her watch, realized that this was going to go quickly.

 

"Is it that time, Natalie?" he asked calmly, patiently, hearing her breath coming deeper. "How far apart are the contractions?"

 

"Yeah.. umm, three minutes apart and my water just broke.." she replied, taking short shallow breaths as the contraction peaked.

 

"OK.. stay calm.. I'll call dispatch.. have Vetter bring him to the hospital. Are you alone? I can send a unit to get you.."

 

"I have a friend here, she can drive me in.. I'll meet Nick at University Hospital.."

 

"Nat.. good luck.. I'm looking forward to meeting the baby.. we'll get Nick there.." she heard the phone disconnect and Natalie turned to her companions.

 

"OK.. step three.. who wants to drive me into the hospital?"

 

"My dear, nothing so mundane.. Janette will bring your bag.. and you packed some sustenance for Nicholas?" She nodded and LaCroix picked her up and flew her out the skylight.

 

*************

The investigation was, so far, difficult. No witnesses. Cause of death unclear. Drug paraphernalia present and a lot of vague signs of a fight..

 

"I miss Lambert already." Muttered one of the attendants.

 

"She'd be done and have an answer already." the other agreed. Nick said nothing but moved closer to the body and started to point out his observations.

 

"Knight.. stick to the detective work. I will do the pathology. You may be married to one, but you are not a coroner." Dr. Chang glared at him. Nick stared back, eyes glittering, anger rising.

 

"OK.. give me a TOD? A Cause? Even an opinion.. is this a homicide? Or are you incapable of sticking your neck out?" Nick said coldly and Tracy moved closer. She could tell that Nick was getting dangerously close to losing control.

 

"Guys, guys.. Enough already.. face it Nick.. your mind is more on other issues right now. Cool it." The anger was palpable and Tracy did her best to diffuse it.

 

"Knight.. hey, Knight.." a uniformed officer strode in. "Your phone off?"

 

Nick reached into his pocket and checked. "Ooops." He said sheepishly... but the tension was broken.

 

"Hey.. Todd.. you're in the running.. don't you have today?" another uniformed officer called out and Nick looked up sharply.

 

"What was that?" Nick said quickly.. that sounded like the office pool.. date, time, weight, sex.. cops bet on anything.. He knew that there was a pool about his child's birth.. but tried to ignore it..

 

"Yeah.. Knight.." the first officer continued, glaring at the other. "got a call from dispatch.. your wife called the precinct looking for you .. she is enroute to University Hospital. Contractions three minutes apart. Vetter is to drive you there.. and Reese said to use the siren... and to call when she delivers."

 

"Come on Nick.. we're out of here.." Tracy pulled on Nick's arm and put out her hand for the keys. She knew he would want to fly.. but would take him sufficiently far away from the crime scene..

 

**************

Nick strode into the hospital emergency department and went to the information desk. An elderly woman with stacks of files surrounding her, sat typing on a computer.

 

"Excuse me.." he looked at her, locking on her heart beat.. forcing her to look at him. "Natalie Knight?"

 

The woman smiled. "Ah, yes.. a labor case.. came in about fifteen minutes ago.. you must be her husband... she went straight up to OB.. take the elevator, at the end of this hallway.. third floor, take a left and check at the desk."

 

Nick nodded his thanks and moved swiftly.. stepping off the elevator.. Nick could sense Natalie.. truly sense her. And seeing LaCroix, Nick walked over.

 

"Thank you for bringing her in.. how did you know?"

 

"I was merely checking on her.. knowing you were out. That is all. And she kicked me out of the room. Nasty temper that woman has.. she is over there.. room 8." Nick laughed at his description of her temper.. <yeah.. Nat could be pretty abrupt.. even if she was not in labor... but now.. was probably not a pretty sight.>

 

He walked into the room, and was shocked to see Janette holding Natalie's hand.. soothing her through a contraction.

 

"Janette, what are you doing here?"

 

"What does it look like, Nick?" Natalie snapped. "She is helping me.. you weren't here yet.. Come here.." He walked closer and took her hand, giving her a quick kiss on the forehead. He sat down on the bed and met her eyes.. and was surprised to see the power.. she was further gone than he'd realized. With sudden certainty he knew that seeing his vampiric family together and Natalie's labor was not a coincidence.. and knew that he would soon have a job to do.

 

"How close are you?" he said looking deeply, intently in her eyes.. not noticing Janette sneak out of the room.

 

"Very close.." she said softly and squeezed his hand tightly as a contraction began. He supported her gently, rubbing her back, her shoulders and gently hypnotizing the pain away.. willing her to relax.. and it wasn't long before her mood changed.. darkened.. he could see on the monitor tracing that the contractions were firmer, longer. He could smell her blood, oozing out.. and his eyes began to glow.

 

"Nick.. in the suitcase.. two flasks for you.." she gasped between contractions. He quickly drank one as the nurse walked into the room. Before she could see anything he was back at Natalie's side.

 

"Hi.. you must be Daddy.." she said with a warm smile..

 

"Nick." He said, shaking her hand firmly.

 

"I'm Susan.. and it looks from the monitor tracings that you're making progress, Natalie... I think it's time for a status report, no?" She had a calm, experienced tone.. confident mannerisms.. and Nick felt very much at ease.

 

"OK.." Natalie answered and bent her knees up so Susan could check her. Nick just watched, fascinated.

 

"Oh.. are you sure this is your first? You are moving along very fast.. You are 8 centimeters. Well.. I hope you were serious about not having an epidural.. 'cause you're too far along for one." Susan informed her. "I'm just going to give your doctor a jingle, and then I'll be back to start setting up for the party.. OK?"

 

"Yes.. I am sure.. I want to do this naturally.." Natalie smiled, wiping the sweat from her brow. As Susan left the room.. she murmured to Nick.. "finish the bottle.. it will get pretty bloody before we are alone again. Childbirth is a vampire nightmare.. and tell LaCroix and Janette to find something to eat if they plan to stay the day. I will bleed for at least a few days and I don't want to be too tempting." He complied and stepped to the doorway to motion for LaCroix.

 

"We are very close.. you may want to find a snack or something if you intend to stick around. It is almost dawn.. Nat is concerned about our reactions to the smell. She said it will be strong," he whispered and LaCroix nodded as Nick went back in to support Natalie.

 

By the time that Janette and LaCroix had returned from their little visit to the blood bank, they could see a red flag above the door, and activity increasing.. and the doctor stride in breathlessly.

 

"Natalie.. my dear.. you don't mess around, do you?" Dr. Wagner said teasingly. "Hi, Nick.. well.. I hear it is time for the big event.." She bent over and quickly examined Natalie.

 

"Yeah, Sarah.. you know me.. always in a hurry." Natalie joked. "So?? can I push?"

 

"By all means.. but please.. give me a chance to go change.. so not too vigorously.."

 

It only took a few pushes.. and Nick could see the pale curls on his daughter's head.. Natalie had lost any sense of modesty by this time.. and did not care that Nick was coaching her from the end of the bed.. staring at her..

 

"Whoa.. slow it down Natalie.." Susan cautioned.. sticking her head out the door to wave at the desk. Another nurse came in wheeling a clear plexiglass crib loaded with blankets. Dr. Wagner strode back in, now dressed in scrubs, dark hair contained in a paper cap.

 

"OK, Natalie.. let me put on the catcher's mitt.. and we'll have a birthday party.." she said cheerfully and two pushes later, their daughter slipped out and let out a vigorous wail.

 

"Welcome to the world little one.." Nick murmured gazing intently at his daughter, watching the nurses dry her off, wrap her tightly and bring her over for Natalie to hold..

 

"You did great.. absolutely great Natalie.. No stitches.. there was just a small scrape.. if I did not know your membranes popped on their own, I'd say it was from a hook.. but it isn't enough to stitch... so if she is eating well, and you don't bleed.. you'll both be able to go home tomorrow. Who's your pediatrician?"

 

"Paula Faye.. and you think I may bleed?"

 

"Well.. your labor went so fast.. I'm going to have them take a look at the placenta.. but I think you were starting to abrupt.. that's why you had the bleeding toward the end. Nothing to worry about.. but I just don't want to send you home today."

 

"Whatever you think is best.. but Nick is allergic to sunlight.. so I really want to leave before sunrise then."

 

"OK, OK.. I'll start rounds at 5am.. but I usually start in the ICU.. I'll see you first though.. You better tell Paula that.. she usually rounds later.. Congratulations."

 

She walked out of the room.. and except for Susan putting away all evidence of the recent activities and every so often checking on Natalie, and the baby. Nick reached for the phone and dialed the precinct.

 

"Hey Bob.. Nick Knight... yep.. OK.. pull out the grid... ready..? It's a girl, 2810 grams ; 7:35 am. Claire Marie. .. Vetter still in? OK.. Hi Tracy.. it's a girl.. yeah, pretty amazing.. blond hair, lots of it.. Yes.. you can come visit whenever ... Oh, hey.. who won the pool? Yes, I will.. see ya!"

 

"So who won?" Natalie asked, playing with her daughter's small hand.

 

"Andy Taigget.. day shift vice. Tracy says congrats.. she'll come over later this afternoon. Umm, are you ready for visitors? I know two who did not leave when the sun came up.."

 

"They stayed..? I thought LaCroix would leave in a snit.. I was pretty nasty to him.." she said in surprise as Nick walked to the door, and motioned them in.. They followed him hesitantly.. seeing the room tidied up.. and Natalie perched upright in the bed, cradling a blanketed bundle. "Come on in.." she called out to them.

 

"I would like you both to meet Claire Marie deBrabant Knight" Nick said formally taking his daughter from Natalie and pushing aside enough blanket for the others to see her clearly.

 

"She is exquisite.. like her mother.' LaCroix whispered.. and then said something softly in what sounded like Latin.

 

"So, am I forgiven for kicking you out?" Natalie teased.

 

"Of course, my dear.. I am not your husband.. and I had no business watching that process.. truthfully, I was thankful that you did not expect me to witness this event." Natalie just smiled at him.. amazed that she could now be so comfortable around her former enemy.. "Now, I believe we all need to rest.. Congratulations both of you.. I will see you after sunset.."

 

*********

Nick sat in the recliner, his daughter resting snugly on his chest, Natalie sleeping in the bed next to him. He began to sing softly.. a lullaby in French..

 

"That was beautiful, Nick." She said softly gazing at the picture of her husband and child.

 

"So.. Nat.. you pushed things.. didn't you? That scrape was what she described.. wasn't it?"

 

"Yeah.. I talked Janette through it. I'll be fine. I had to, Nick. I am getting too far.. I need to.."

 

"Yes, I know.. I could sense it when you were in labor.. but how do YOU know?"

 

"I have not kept solid food down in a week. I've been living on yogurt, milkshakes and those protein shakes I used to make for you." she looked at him, the fatigue still evident. "No one knows if the effects are temporary.. if I cannot eat now that I've delivered.. it is time."

 

"Time?" he looked at her questioning.

 

"For you to intervene." She said simply, matter-of-factly

 

"So soon? I had hoped you'd have some time to heal a little." He sighed.

 

"I thought everything was taken care of after.."

 

"Well.. I could just use the traditional method." Nick scratched his head, avoiding her questioning look.

 

"What are you trying to say.. but not say? Let me guess.. you are embarrassed.. so it must be sex." Natalie looked at him intently.

 

"Oh, Natalie.. there are times that my 13th century upbringing really shows. OK.. I was going to use a slightly different technique.. make it a little more pleasurable for you." he looked at her, taking her hand gently. " To be precise.. I would make love to you.. and at the umm.. peak.. I would bring you over.."

 

Natalie followed his gaze, sensing his discomfort. She reached over and touched his hand, which was still gently stroking their daughter. "Its OK, Nick. I'll be healed enough. I want you to do that.. I want it to be as special as you'd planned. I know this is not the dream you had for us.. but it is our reality.. and it is my dream.. an eternity to be with you.. to love you.. and a child as well."

 

"Whom we will outlive."

 

"You don't know that.. no one does.. she will grow up knowing the truth.. and if she chooses, she can join us.. then again.. you don't know whether she is affected or not.."

 

"OK, OK.. you are the optimist.. I am the pessimist." Their eyes met and he moved to the side of her bed, gently embracing her... until a loud wail interrupted the moment and their daughter opened her eyes wide and turned her head to nuzzle Nick's neck.. "uh, Nat? You think she's hungry?" Nick laughed.

 

"Yeah.. let me take her.. I don't want her getting YOU too turned on.." Natalie laughed and took the bottle to feed her.

 

CHAPTER 11

 

Claire was a week old.. and thriving.. for the first few days after giving birth, Natalie could once again eat solid foods. Then it came back.. the nausea.. intense nausea.. and hunger.. worse than before and unrelenting.. she felt herself weakening..

 

After an unsuccessful attempt to eat yogurt.. about the only food she had been able to eat for several days.. Natalie knew it was time... she could not tolerate it any longer. She crawled into bed where Nick still slept. Curling herself against him, she began to caress him. Unbuttoning his pajama top to reach his bare skin, she caressed his chest.. kissed him softly.. moving higher to meet his lips.

 

"And good afternoon to you.." he met her eyes and kissed her gently. "I'm not arguing with your method.. but is there a reason you woke me?"

 

"Nick.. I can't keep yogurt or tea down today. I'm ready. I don't want to wait any longer."

 

He looked at her intently, studying her face. "I agree. Let me call LaCroix for some supplies. And a babysitter. We can't have Claire need something.. you will not be safe around her at all today.. and for a few days, not alone." He got up, slipped on a robe and went down stairs to the phone. Speaking rapidly in French.. he came back upstairs drinking deeply from a bottle marked with a wide red ribbon. Natalie had noticed it appear after the birth.. it was labeled in an old French dialect.. and had been hidden in the back.

 

"Gift?" she asked indicating the bottle.

 

"From LaCroix.. extra special blend... includes umbilical cord blood from Claire.. It will make me stronger.. better control. Better for you as well." he smiled, taking another swallow. "Nat, Janette is going to take care of Claire. LaCroix will be downstairs. He won't watch but he will be aware of what is going on.. and stop me if needed. OK?"

 

"Sure. Whatever you need. It is strange but I do trust him.. at least to do this for us.." she sat on the bed, her quiet calmness hiding her pounding heart.. but not enough that Nick was not fully aware. He sat behind her and began to massage her shoulders. He said nothing as he sensed that LaCroix and Janette had arrived. Natalie sensed them as well, and reached for her robe. She stood and walked up to the bassinet. Picking up her sleeping daughter, she went to the stairs with Nick close behind.

 

"So, my dear.. it is time." LaCroix said quietly. "You know I will be here.. not to intrude, but.."

 

"Yes, I understand. And I appreciate your concern.." she stood on tip toe and kissed his forehead before walking over to Janette. Giving Claire a kiss on the head, and clutching her to her breast briefly, she placed her in Janette's arms. "And I appreciate your part in this as well, Janette. There are bottles made up already if she gets hungry. Just warm them.. she doesn't like it cold any more than you.." her tone was teasing.

 

"I will cherish and protect her, Natalie." She touched Natalie's arm. "And I will be here waiting for you to come back to us.. it will be all right. Everything will be fine.. you are ready.."

 

Natalie smiled nervously as Nick grabbed several bottles from a box that LaCroix carried. Taking her hand, he led her back upstairs and closed the door. Setting the bottles on the nightstand, he walked over to where she stood silently, motionless.

 

"Nat.. don't be afraid." He said, pulling her into his arms and gently kissing her forehead, her eyes, her nose and then her lips.. at first tentative, gentle. As she relaxed and began to respond, he deepened the kiss, probed her mouth with his tongue.. traced the inside of her warm cavity.. She pulled his head down closer, wrapping her arms around his neck. Sliding his arms around her, under her legs, he picked her up and laid her on the bed, shedding his robe and top at the same time.. and loosening her robe. Laying down next to her, he rained kisses down her neck, her shoulder and untied her gown to reach within and cup a full, firm breast.. trailing kisses to the rosy tips.. he pushed the gown off.

 

"Careful, Nick.. I don't think the milk has dried up.. I wouldn't suck there.." she murmured as his kisses focused on her breasts.. although she was enjoying the tingling sensations that he created. And as if to prove her point.. a stream of warm milk jetted out and caught him on the cheek.

 

"OK.. OK.. guess I have to be more careful with the new mother.. should have had Claire empty you out first." He laughed, continuing to caress her sides.. reaching down lower. He stood to stood to shed his pajamas and helped her off with her gown and panties.. his caresses were gentle, deliberate as he sought to give her pleasure but still acknowledge her recent delivery. The evidence remained in the fullness of her breasts and the roundness of her abdomen.

 

"Nick.. don't stare, please.. I look horrible.. so flabby.." Natalie whispered self-consciously as he gazed at her figure.

 

"Nat.. you are beautiful.. you just gave birth to my daughter.. I would expect changes.. I am not into anorexic.. remember.. when I was growing up, a woman was not a beauty until she had given birth.. Now.. before I get too excited.. are you sure you want to do it this way?"

 

"Nick.. I am fine.. and I think you are already getting excited...." She murmured and reach out to caress him.

 

He gasped at the unexpected sensation of her warm hands on him Meeting her lips with his own, he kissed her forcefully, his tongue parting her lips, exploring her mouth, his hands exploring her body and pulling her tightly against him. Trailing kisses down her face, her neck and beyond, he rolled her on her back.. feeling the vampire rise within him.

 

Eyes glowing and fangs fully extended, he looked down at her smiling. "Ready?" he whispered between kisses. Natalie merely smiled and pulled him closer.

 

"Do it." she said forcefully. Pulling his face to hers and kissing him intensely. She felt herself riding a wave of passion.. higher and higher.. and then she felt the sharp prick of Nick's fangs in her neck.. and her blood flowing into him as he sucked gently.. she saw jumbled images.. Nick's past.. his life as a mortal.. coming over.. traveling with Janette and LaCroix.. and then she sensed his deep abiding love.. and then all was black..

 

Nick pulled away.. her heart was slowing.. he sensed LaCroix in the room.. silent.. observing. Feeling her to be at the threshold between life and death, he nipped his wrist, drawing on it until he had started the blood flowing.. laying next to her on his side, he reached over and dripped the blood into her mouth and began to whisper into her ear. "Natalie.. come back to me.. turn away from the light.. come back to us.. I love you.. I need you.. your daughter needs you.." he felt a gentle tugging on his wrist as she first licked and then began to suck earnestly. The tingling he sensed began to burn but he did not move away.. finally LaCroix stepped forward and pulled Nick's wrist away but held a bottle to her lips as she drank fervently.. and her eyes popped open. Glowing green eyes.

 

Nick smiled broadly. "Welcome back, my love." He said, pulling her into a deep embrace.

 

"Nick.. I'm hungry.. where's that bottle?" she whispered.. taking in the sensations fully..

 

"Yes.. I know.. here.." he said, handing her a bottle and helping her into her gown and robe... and putting on his own robe. She drank both bottles quickly and LaCroix returned with another one for her.. and handed one to Nick as well.

 

"It's uncut. Pure and fresh.." he murmured as Nick's eyes glowed with the first taste. "Nothing but the best for my new granddaughter.. and for my son." He looked at Nick with pride.. waving at the bed .. "I didn't think you had it in you.. this way requires so much more control.."

 

"Ah, but it is more pleasurable for the fledgling. And she will be stronger than the average fledgling.." he returned. "We may not have had a choice in whether it would happen.. but at least I can give Natalie every possible benefit."

 

"She is already stronger than the average fledgling.. and I am still proud of you, mon fils..." He turned to Natalie. "So.. my dear.. welcome to the night.."

 

Leaning on Nick's arm, Natalie looked up at the elder vampire. For all the years that they had been at odds with each other, he now gazed on her like a proud father. "Thank you, Lucien." She replied, her voice sounding strangely loud.

 

Extending an arm, he grasped her hand lightly, squeezing it gently. "Natalie... you have nothing to fear from me. For now and eternity you are of my family... my blood. I will protect you with my very life." Their eyes met with an intensity that Natalie had never experienced, as Nick held her tightly. "I will take my leave of you... but please come see me soon." With a nod to Nick, he left them alone.

 

Natalie turned in Nick's embrace, kissing him lightly. "So, when do I see Claire?" she asked softly.

 

"Not yet." He replied, pulling her tighter against him. "We aren't quite done yet.." he smiled, twining his hands in hers and leading her to the bed.

 

"What? I'm not across yet?" she asked in confusion. She could hear Claire's cooing as Janette rocked her downstairs...

 

"You are." He said, pulling her next to him on the bed. "And I have shared of your life tonight, but you have not fully experienced mine...." He kissed her with increasing intensity, caressing her shoulders as he pushed the robe off.

 

"Wait... Nick. What are you doing?" Natalie said in a panic, feeling her desire for him growing. A tingling sensation filled her as he pushed off her gown.

 

"Making love to my wife..." he said with an innocent grin. His eyes had taken on the luminescent quality that she'd always associated with the vampire. "Fully... without worry of killing her. And this time, you will be able to understand why we could not do this before..."

 

"Well, why didn't you tell me?" she grinned, pushing his robe off. The room seemed to fill with a golden glow as she began to trail kisses across his chest. His caresses grew more deliberate, the sensations intense. She realized suddenly, that the milk no longer filled her breasts... and her belly bore no evidence of her recent pregnancy. "Nick... the milk..." she said with a panic.

 

"Is gone." He confirmed, caressing her breasts gently to confirm it. "I told you that would happen. Vampires don't have children. Remember?" he slid down next to her.

 

"Yeah... I just didn't think it would be instantaneous." She sighed, gazing at his face, his eyes golden with passion. "So, are my eyes still blue?"

 

"No... they aren't..." he replied, rolling her onto her back, caressing her body in ways that she'd never imagined. The sensations were more intense... and with a start, she felt a sharp pain as her canines elongated, and her fangs dropped for the first time.

 

"Oww." She exclaimed, reaching up to feel them. "Nick? How did that happen?"

 

He continued to caress her, kissing her neck lightly, licking the vein. "Its supposed to." He said simply, smiling so that she could see that his fangs had dropped as well. "There are two things which will cause the vampire in you to surface." He explained in between kisses. "Hunger... the need to feed." He whispered, his kisses traveling down her belly. "And then there is passion..." he whispered, his eyes lightening up.

 

"Nick..." she pulled him up to face her. "I need something... I don't know what... but I need something. Hand me the bottle." She murmured desperately. She could see, faintly, the veins on his neck. Her fangs ached...

 

"No" he said firmly, pulling her closer.

 

"No? Nick..." she said louder, starting to panic.

 

"No. That is not what you need." He grinned, moving next to her, whispering in her ear. "Take me."

 

She pulled back slightly. "Take you?" she asked, horrified.

 

"Take me. Bite me... drink of me." he moved his next closer to her face, "it will give me pleasure. It is what you want. Do it." he said firmly and moaned in delight as he felt her fangs penetrate his neck tentatively. Feeling her reach the vein and begin to drink, he leaned slightly and penetrated her shoulder, feeling her sweet blood... her essence mingling with his.... Her thoughts becoming his....

 

With a low growl, she pulled back and met his delighted gaze. Her eyes were, at first, unfocused, but began to clear. Her fangs had retracted and she gave him an embarrassed smile. "What was that?"

 

"Good? Huh?" he prompted with a leering gaze.

 

"Uh, yeah... is that supposed to happen?" she stammered looking up at him. His memories were a blur in her mind, but she could feel his love, knew his delight in their new bond.

 

"Absolutely. And I hope more than once..." he pulled her tight, kissing her forehead. "You could call that the vampire version of losing your virginity."

 

"What, the biting? Nick. You never told me that I would want to bite you." she looked at him deliberately, leaning back into the pillows.

 

"Its kind of hard to explain." He shrugged. "I thought it would be better to just let your instincts guide you." Caressing her shoulder lightly, watching the punctures seal and close, he continued. "The sharing of blood, the sharing of ourselves... that is more important than the physical part of sex."

 

"So, we won't... ummm... be able to..." she stammered, surprised at her own embarrassment.

 

"No, of course we can. Didn't we just...?" he grinned, noting her embarrassed smile. "But you will need blood... fresh blood... in order to finish..."

 

"So that is why you would never?" she began.

 

"Except when the vampire was dormant. And you know what it took for that to happen" He said with a nervous laugh, wrapping his arm around her. "There are some who can take just a sip... but I was never able to do this with women that I love."

 

"And now?" she asked hesitantly.

 

"Now we have eternity...." He said kissing her forehead lightly.

 

"Eternity..." she whispered sleepily, leaning into his embrace. The reality of her dreams was better than she'd ever imagined....

 

*****fin****

 

the saga is continued in 'Dreams and Eternity'

Thank you to all who wrote me encouragement...

<Top of Page>

  the Author

 

to the Non -Adult Fiction