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Even In the Darkness There is Light
K. Williams
April 2000
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This is my first FK story and only my second fan fiction ever so please be gentle with me! I take full blame for all typos, grammar or punctuation errors as the story has not been beta read.

Feedback is greatly appreciated. I'm standing by with a garden hose to douse any flames before they get out of control. There is potential for a sequel if this is well received. Feedback may be sent to mpd527@cs.com

Permission granted to archive on the FK fanfic site and the ftp site, all others please ask.

Disclaimer: Nick and company don't belong to me. I've only taken them out for a spin; after all they do need their exercise. Original characters including Shay, Megan and Allison are mine though I'm not sure just how they got into my brain nor can I figure out how to get them to leave.

There are a few scenes that are a little suggestive and probably warrant a PG-13 rating.
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When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
-Charles A. Beard

Nick drew his brush lightly across the canvass leaving behind a streak of yellow to contrast against the black background. Many of his paintings reflected his overall mood and this one was no exception. Unlike most, however, this one eluded a brighter mood than usual. Things had been relatively good in his life over the past few months. LaCroix had been less oppressive and he and Nick seemed to have come to some sort of mutual understanding if not respect of one another. Nick thought back over the past year trying to pin down the occurrences which had precipitated the beginnings of the rebuilding their fragile relationship. The events surrounding LaCroix's mortal daughter/vampire master Divia's demise seemed to have affected LaCroix in some profound way. Perhaps LaCroix had come to terms with Nick's refusal to embrace what LaCroix termed his 'true nature'. Was it too much to hope that LaCroix would accept Nick as he was? Probably so, he thought. Still, things were much easier without LaCroix's continuing interference in his life and he had no intention to do anything to endanger the current state of affairs.

Janette was gone, off to places unknown. Nick had received a letter from her some weeks earlier. She had explained how she needed time away from him and LaCroix to come to terms with the turn of events in her life. She had forgiven Nick for bringing her back across but she wasn't ready to face him just yet. Nick was still riddled with guilt over what he'd done. He had simply been unable to let her go. She had been his friend, his lover, his companion for far too long so he'd brought her across and taken away from her the very thing he himself had sought for so long. In the end she had admitted that it was her decision to turn away from the light for the second time, he had merely given her the choice.

Natalie was still diligently searching for a cure though she had admitted to him the previous week that she was starting to run out of ideas. Surprisingly this didn't really bother Nick. True, he still wanted to become mortal but it seemed to have become less important somehow. Why had he begun to seek mortality anyway? Somehow he had begun to believe that by reclaiming his morality he would find redemption. Was it really that simple? Was anything really that simple?

Nick brought the brush back to the pallet and picked up a touch of bright red paint before returning to the canvas. Outside the soft pitter patter of raindrops helped to sooth his too long tormented soul.

Nick's thoughts wandered again to Natalie. Their relationship had remained a close friendship yet they both knew deep down inside that each felt much more for one another. So where did that leave them? They danced around the issues just as they had for several years. She had asked Nick to bring her across on several occasions. He had refused to even consider the idea. He held fast to his belief that doing so would mean eternal damnation for her. Did he have the right to make that decision for her, to deny her the right to make her own decisions? Did she have any idea what the consequences would be, what she would be getting herself into?

Nick stepped back to admire his work. As he did so something touched the edge of his consciousness causing the vampire within him to come instantly alert. Reaching out with all of his senses he detected nothing at first. Then suddenly he felt it. Another vampire was near. Nick stood perfectly still for a split second before a look of confusion crossed his face. This was not a vampire he was familiar with but a stranger. A piercing noise ripped through the darkness, a noise somewhere between a scream and a growl. It was a sound that could only have come from a vampire. It was the scream of death.

Moving faster than mortal eyes could have detected, Nick crashed through the skylight landing on the roof. He listened to the echoes of the scream as they faded trying to locate their source all the while reaching out with his mind. Suddenly, without hesitation he took to the air. On the far side of the building that housed his loft in a narrow alleyway he found the source of the sounds. His vampiric vision allowed him to get a glance of a man running from the alley the sound of his footsteps bouncing off the surrounding buildings. His instincts screamed for him to pursue the man but something in his subconscious disagreed and compelled him to land gracefully near a severely wounded vampire. He could not ignore the call to assist one of his own. LaCroix would have been proud of his son.

The vampire lay withering in agony on the wet asphalt. Nick kneeled down beside her as she looked at him, her piercing green-gold eyes pleading with him for relief. He brushed back a lock of golden hair from her face. Protruding from her chest was the short wooden shaft of an arrow. She mumbled something unintelligible as he took hold of the shaft. She grabbed his hands with more strength than he would have expected from a vampire in her condition stopping him from ripping it from her chest.

"Let me help you!" Nick pleaded with her, his voice verging on panic.

"It's no use." Her voice was ragged with pain, "the tip...it expands on impact sending out ...tiny splinters of wood into the heart." The effort to speak had taken its toll on her and Nick felt her hands loosen their grip on his.

Though the arrow seemed to have imbedded itself close to her heart missing it's intended mark but, if she was right her heart would have been impaled with wood splinters. There was nothing that could be done for her. Nick watched as the anguished look on her face became more panicked as she struggled to speak again. "Please, see to Shay..." she managed to speak before her face relaxed suddenly. Her hands fell from Nick's coming to a rest on her chest encircling the arrow shaft which had taken her life.

Nick's glowing golden eyes reflected eerily in the puddles of water on the ground. There was no doubt that this vampire's killer was a hunter. The weapon, though effective on a mortal, was obviously designed specifically for a vampire. He couldn't have gotten far, Nick was certain. Taking one last look at the dead vampire before him, Nick stood intent on taking to the sky in search of the killer. But something stopped him. He had not noticed it before, his full attention having been on the dying vampire at his feet. Now he felt strongly, there was another vampire nearby. He looked around the alley searching for another of his kind lurking within the shadows but he saw nothing. He forced his eyes to return to normal and his fangs to resend as he cautiously started down the alley. He moved like a predator approaching its prey, slowly and stealthily. Even with his enhanced vision, he saw nothing at the end of the alley except for a pile of overstuffed trash bags and crushed cardboard boxes, nothing but rubbish.

Approaching a large pile of trash, he stared at it intently. Then slowly and cautiously he kneeled down and peered into the darkness between the rubbish. Ever so slowly and carefully Nick reached to pull the rubbish aside all the while speaking in hushed whispers. "It's alright...I won't hurt you..." Pulling away the remnants of a cardboard box he revealed the form of an extremely frightened, extremely young vampire.

She sat curled into a ball against the filthy brick in a vain attempt to hide herself. Her raven hair dripping wet from the rain obscured her face.

Her hiding place discovered she turned to look at Nick with glowing golden eyes. She barred her fangs at him and made a poor attempt to hiss at him in warning. The sound she produced however was far from what Nick would classify as threatening, instead it weak and scarcely audible. Nick thought it was probably the most pitiful sound he'd heard come from any vampire in all of his eight hundred years.

Resisting his natural urge to hiss back at her, Nick allowed his eyes to glow and his fangs to descend while trying to appear as non-threatening as possible to the youngster. He wanted her to realize that he was a vampire as well. She should be able to sense the fact but he took no chances with one as young and defensive as this. She simply stared at him not daring to move.

"The sun will be up in a few hours." Nick stated gauging her reaction. She looked towards the east instinctively then back at Nick. Forcing his eyes to return to their normal sky blue he offered a hand to her. "Come with me. It's all right."

Reluctantly she took his hand and Nick pulled her to her feet. A shudder coursed thorough her body as she leaned on him for support. He turned and followed her gaze to the body of the dead vampire. He knew the body would turn to ash the minute the sun rose above the horizon. Placing a comforting hand on the fledgling's shoulder he led her into the air and back to the loft.

***

She stood uncomfortably in the center of the loft looking completely lost. The light blue sweater she wore heavy with rain hung loosely on her petite frame. Her jeans were wet and tattered. She wrapped her arms around herself in a vain attempt to control her shivering. Nick was not oblivious to this. If she were mortal he would have turned up the heat but being a vampire himself he knew the temperature had little effect on either of them. Nick suspected her problem was something else entirely.

He returned from the kitchen with a full bottle which he presented to her. It was human, one of a stash he'd kept for emergencies. He didn't bother to bring her a glass as he knew she wouldn't bother to use it. He was right in his assumption. She snatched the bottle from his hands and finished it in seconds. Sheepishly she handed the empty bottle back to him. He smiled at her. "Better?" he asked.

She simply nodded.

"Wait here." he told her before he disappeared up the stairs.

When he returned he presented her with a dry pair of sweat pants and sweatshirt. "I'm sure they'll be a little big on you but at least they're warm and dry." She took the clothing with a nod and moved towards the bathroom Nick pointed her to.

A few moments later she returned looking much less worse for the wear. She was young in mortal years, perhaps twenty. Her dark hair hung below her shoulders. It was still wet but had been brushed back to reveal her angelic face. Nick was struck by the sadness in her deep brown eyes which were fixed on the second emerald colored bottle he'd retrieved.

"Sit." he told her motioning to the black leather sofa.

She moved uneasily never taking her eyes off the bottle and did as she'd been told. Nick followed her with his eyes noticing for the first time her slight limp. He moved to sit in a chair across from her. It was obvious from her stiff controlled movements that she was restraining herself from reaching for the fresh bottle of blood Nick held in his hands.

Her effort was not lost on Nick. "Tell me your name first." He told her softly withholding the bottle from her until he got what he wanted.

"Shay Jenkins." She whispered, her voice cracking with effort.

"Nick Knight." he smiled and handed her the bottle as a reward for the information. She took it reverently this time drinking only a few swallows, savoring the taste.

"Thanks...Nick."

"You're hurt?" He told her, it was more of a statement than a question.

Shay looked up at him and shrugged her shoulders in indifference. "I'll live, so to speak. Allison....she's not as fortunate."

Nick regarded her solemnly. Shay was young, very young and Nick was certain the vampire in the alley had been her creator. Nick stood and moved to sit beside her on the sofa.

“Let me have a look.” He pointed to her ankle. She nodded and reached to pull the borrowed sweat pants out of the way. She flinched when he poked at the wound. Nick had taken enough bullets himself to recognize it as a small caliper bullet wound. It wasn’t going to endanger her life and the wound would heal but if the bullet were not removed it would make the process damned uncomfortable.

Nick said nothing but stood and walked to the other side of the couch and picked up the phone. Shay pulled the borrowed pants back over her ankle and took another sip from the bottle.
She could have easily heard both sides of the conversation if she’d tried but her mind was on other things. She found herself fighting a rising panic that was threatening to overcome her. Perhaps if she closed her eyes she’d wake up to find this all a terrible nightmare.

Nick placed the received back on the hook and returned to Shay. She had laid down on the sofa curling herself into a ball, her legs pulled up to her chest, arms hugging them close and her face buried from view.

“Shay?” Nick asked growing a little concerned. She didn’t answer nor did she move. Nick laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. Still she did not move or make a sound. The young vampire was obviously traumatized by her experience and even more devastated by the loss of her master but there was nothing Nick to do to bring back the dead vampire.

Nick brought a blanket and tucked it around her all the while talking in soothing tones. His heart went out to her. Being such a young fledgling she undoubtedly relied completely on Allison. Without her she would be completely alone. Nick’s thoughts strayed back to the cause of her plight, the man he’d seen running from the alley. Tonight he would go in search of this hunter who’d ripped this delicate creature’s only source of hope.

Much to Nick’s surprise Shay didn’t even flinch when the lift ground to a halt and Natalie stepped into the loft. Nick stood by the sofa watching for any reaction from the young orphan. He had expected a fledgling in her current condition to react instinctively to a mortal. But much to Nick’s relief on one hand and deepening concern on the other, Shay had not even lifted her head instead she remained curled up on the sofa.

“Nick?” Natalie moved towards Nick noticing the concerned look on his face.

“Wait right there a second, Nat.” He held his hand up motioning her stay where she was.

Natalie, unsure of the situation stopped in her tracks. The couch was sitting in a position which prevented her from seeing what it was that Nick was watching. She had already assumed it was a vampire. Nick had called her and asked to come over as soon as she could and to bring her supplies. Natalie knew from his tone what ‘supplies’ he was referring to. It had been a slow night so she booked off early and headed straight to the loft.

After a moment Nick, satisfied that Shay wasn’t about to make an unwarranted appearance, motioned for Natalie to join him near the sofa. Cautiously Natalie walked around to stand beside Nick. Looking down at the small figure on the sofa Natalie found she had more questions than answers.

“Nick, who is that?” she whispered.

Nick pulled Natalie away from the sofa and into the kitchen positioning himself so that he could still keep an eye on the fledgling and at the same time leaving himself a pathway to intercept should it be necessary.

“All I know is that her name is Shay Jenkins.”

“Well, where did she come from or did you just find her on your couch?”

“I heard a scuffle in the alley out back. When I got there I found a dead, or at least dying, vampire and her,” he nodded towards Shay, “at the rear of the alley. They had been attacked by a hunter. She was hiding behind a pile of trash.”

Nick turned and focused his attention on the vampire on his sofa as she shifted her position. Satisfied after a moment that she was going to say put he turned back to Natalie and continued. “She took a small caliper bullet in her ankle. It’s not too bad but-“

Natalie interrupted, “You want me to get it out, huh?”

Nick grinned like a cheshire cat at her, “Would you mind?”

Natalie would have done it even if he hadn’t looked at her that way, even if he wasn’t so damn irresistible. She gave him a condescending smile and took a step towards her patient but was stopped by Nick’s hand on her arm.

“Nat, she’s young. Very young.” he told her his voice taking on a serious tone.

“Ok…so what does that mean?” Nick had never been very forthcoming about vampire nature and her knowledge of ‘young’ vampires was virtually zip.

“Fledglings…have less control. The older a vampire gets the better their control becomes. I just need to be close, very close.”

Natalie was growing concerned. She trusted Nick with her life but this strange vampire was something else entirely. “Are you sure it’s safe?”

“Speed and strength increase with age too, Nat. I’m faster and stronger than she is. As long as I’m close you’ll be safe.” Nick caught her eyes and added softly, “Trust me.”

“I’ve always trusted you, Nick.”

Nick crouched down in front of the sofa and spoke softly to the fledgling. “Shay, this is Natalie Lambert. She’s a friend of mine.” Slowly Shay raised her head to look at Nick. The depth of concern she saw in his eyes touched her. His eyes reminded her of Allison’s so full of compassion yet commanding at the same time. Shay swallowed hard fighting back the tears at the very thought of Allison. She managed to push down the panic threatening to overwhelm her yet again.

Nick was not oblivious the signs of struggle that played across her face. He simply waited patiently for her to gain control of her emotions before continuing. “Natalie is a doctor. She knows all about our kind. I asked her to take a look at your ankle if that’s ok with you.”

Shay nodded her consent and started to sit up when Nick stopped her. The last thing he wanted to do to this fragile creature was to upset her but Natalie’s safety may well depend on it. “Shay, Natalie is not to be harmed in any way.” His voice taking on a commanding tone Shay could not ignore, “Do you understand?”

Again Shay nodded in agreement.

“Ok then.” Nick helped her into a sitting position then motioned for Natalie to come closer.

Natalie kneeled on the floor before her patient part of her wondering if there might be some safer position to examine a wounded vampire. Natalie was astonished by the deep sadness she saw in the vampire’s eyes. She seemed as if she was simply a shell of a being, hollow and alone on the inside.

“Shay, this is probably going to hurt a little.” Natalie told her gently, “Just let me know if it’s too bad.”

Not waiting on a response from Shay, Natalie examined the wound all the while trying to hide her nervousness from her patient. Shay remained silent and still while Natalie removed the small bullet. Fortunately it was not lodged deep and the procedure seemed to cause the vampire little discomfort. She cleaned and bandaged the wound, more out of habit than necessity.

“There, that wasn’t too bad. Judging by this,” Natalie examined the bullet she had extracted, “it ricocheted off of something before it got to you.”

“Thank you.” Shay’s voice was barely above a whisper but was filled with sincere appreciation.

Nick handed Shay the half empty bottle he had given her earlier. Shay took a tentative sip.

“Are you ok?” Natalie asked her while removing her gloves. Physically she appeared fine but she certainly wasn’t fine otherwise, Natalie didn’t need her to answer to know that.

Shay did not raise her eyes to meet Natalie’s but shook her head and whispered a tormented, “No.”

Natalie knew she was traumatized that much was obvious but Nick hadn’t explained any details. She sat down next to Shay and took her cool hand in her own in an effort to comfort and ease her suffering. “Would you like to talk about it?” Natalie asked softly.

“You wouldn’t understand, Nat.” Nick interjected before Shay had a chance to answer. Both women looked at Nick with a very ‘how-dare-you’ look on their faces. Nick realized all to late that though one woman was a vampire and the other was mortal, they were both still women and women tended to stick together. He recovered from the glare and added, “Then again, maybe you would…”

“Nick, can I talk to you for a minute?” Natalie pulled Nick by the arm into the kitchen.

“What happened to her, Nick? Physically she’s fine but she’s in shock. What is it you’re not telling me?” Natalie waited expectantly for an answer.

Nick sighed. He didn’t really want to get into vampire family dynamics with Natalie. It could be complicated and often overstepped moral boundaries of mortal society.

“It’s complicated, Nat.” She knew he was stalling.

“I’ve got time.” Natalie folded her arms across her chest.

“The dead vampire was her creator. Fledglings have a strong bond with their creators. Especially at first.” Nick paused and glanced at Shay who was still sitting on the sofa staring off into space. He looked back at Natalie’s expectant face. “She’s young. A fledgling as young as her will be profoundly affected by the loss of her master on a emotional and mental level.”

“Will she be ok?” Natalie asked growing concerned at Nick’s tone.

“I don’t know. Vampires depend heavily on a mental link forged between themselves and their creator for a long time. Most fledglings don’t survive an ordeal like this. Most of them go insane and attract the attention of the Enforcers and are destroyed.”

Natalie was appalled by the very idea. “They just kill them? That’s not fair, it’s not her fault!” she shouted causing Shay to flinch.

Nick shrugged his shoulders. “That’s just the way it is, Nat. Nobody ever said it was fair.”

Natalie took a moment to digest the idea turning to look at the doomed vampire. Shay looked so lost, so alone and afraid. Natalie realized she had a lot to learn about vampire culture and she had the feeling there were a lot of things she wouldn't like.

"Isn't there anything we can do?" She asked Nick sadly.

"We?" Nick didn't want Natalie involved. Suddenly he regretted even telling her about Shay and her plight.

Natalie didn't reply she only glared at Nick who let out a long sigh.

"If another vampire was willing to take her and see to her education, act as a surrogate of sorts she may be able to overcome the loss."

"Sort of adopt her?" Natalie saw a sliver of hope. For some reason she didn't want to see this vampire become a victim of the Enforcers. Perhaps it was her medical ethics. She'd been taught and firmly believed that a doctor had the responsibility to see to the well being of their patients be it physically or otherwise. Even as a coroner she took the responsibility seriously. She did all she could to determine how and why her patients died and helped to bring to justice the criminals who took had taken their lives prematurely. Shay was her patient and therefore she had a responsibility to help in any way she could. After all medical ethics didn't discriminate between the living and the dead or the undead for that matter.

"It's not quite that simple, but that's the general idea." Nick told her without further explanation.

"Has she told you what happened?"

"No. She'd hardly said a word." Nick glanced at Shay, the worry evident on his face.

"Let me try to talk to her." Natalie started to move back to the couch but Nick stopped her.

"Nat, she's a vampire, you couldn't begin to understand what she's going through."

"Nick, she doesn't need someone to understand, she just needs someone to listen."

Nick considered for a moment. Shay had seemed a little more relaxed since Natalie's arrival. Perhaps Natalie would be better able to find out exactly what had happened than he would. Shay had given no indication of loosing her control around Natalie but he knew better than to take chances. "I won't leave you alone with her." Natalie knew from his tone that was not open for discussion. That was fine with her, after all Shay was a vampire. Natalie knew enough about vampires to know that she could be in serious danger should Shay's control slip.

Nick felt Shay's control was strong enough that he could protect Natalie by simply staying near. Natalie thought that Shay would probably be more responsive to her without Nick looking over her shoulder so he resigned himself to returning his painting.

He mused on how he'd ever gotten into this situation. All he'd wanted was to spend the evening working on his painting but had ended up with a young homeless fledgling in his living room. What had he done to deserve this? More importantly what was he going to do now? He couldn't turn her loose on Toronto that was just asking for trouble. Could he convince some other vampire to take her in? Although he was known in the community it was more due to the fact that he was LaCroix's son than anything else. He had gained little respect on his own merits. What would he do if no one was willing to help the youngster? Could he turn her over to the Enforcers knowing what they would do with her? He knew the answer to that already. Vampire or not, she didn't deserve to die. Natalie was right, it wasn't her fault that a hunter had killed her vampire mother and when it came to orphan fledglings, the Enforcers didn't play fair.

Natalie settled down on the soft leather beside Shay, a fresh cup of coffee in her hands.

Shay inhaled the rich aroma. "Damn, I miss coffee."

Natalie chuckled. How many things did she take for granted every day that vampires were deprived of? She couldn't begin to imagine. "How long ago were you brought across?" Natalie asked slightly uncomfortable with the subject but at the same time curious.

"Six weeks and three days." Shay answered without hesitation. It had been so recent that she could still remember the last cup of coffee she'd had. It was the morning before the accident. She shook herself out of her memories. She had no desire to go there right now it was far more than she could handle. "Can I ask you a question, Dr. Lambert?"

"Only if you call me Natalie."

Shay smiled warmly at Natalie, "Ok, Natalie. How long have you known about vampires?"

Natalie thought for a minute. How long had it been? She tried to remember what her life had been like before she had met Nick. It hadn't been very memorable. "Let's see, I guess it's been about six years since Nick sat up on my exam table."

"Sat up on your exam table?" Shay looked at her quizzically.

"I'm a coroner." Shay laughed aloud when Natalie explained. "I'm sorry," she apologized, "it's just ironic. You're patients are either dead or…well undead."

Natalie chuckled "Yeah, I know. Sometimes I think I should have into family medicine. But it wouldn't have been near as enlightening."

"I guess that was a shock, I'd say you're lucky to be alive. I mean most vampires…well, I guess you know." Shay regarded Natalie thoughtfully.

"Lucky for me, Nick's not like most vampires. He tried to make me forget the whole thing but I'm a resistor." Natalie glanced across the room at Nick. Shay followed her gaze. There was definitely something between these two.

Shay leaned in closer to Natalie all the while keeping an eye on Nick. Natalie started to move away at first thinking the worst of Shay before she realized the vampires intentions were simply to whisper to her. Shay didn't seem to notice Natalie's initial concern or at least she didn't acknowledge it.

"So, what's his story anyway?" she whispered barely loud enough for Natalie's mortal hearing.

"It's a long one." Natalie whispered back wondering just how sensitive Nick's hearing really was. He continued with his work apparently unaware of Shay's whispered question or Natalie's answer.

Shay nodded, satisfied with Natalie's answer and leaned back heavily into the sofa's soft embrace. Her face had becoming sad and lonely again.

"Shay is an interesting name. Is it short for something?"

Shay gaze remained straight ahead but corners of her mouth turned up in a wistful smile. Natalie suspected she'd stirred up some memories.

"I can attribute that to my little sister. My real name is Stacey. I was six when Megan was born. When she started to talk she couldn't say Stacey. It came out Shay-She. Somehow it kinda stuck."

"So where is your sister now?" Natalie asked trying to make conversation. She wanted Shay to feel comfortable enough with her to open up about the nights events.

Shay turned to look directly at Natalie. Her deep brown eyes seemed to stare straight into Natalie's soul. Not for the first time Natalie felt a prick of fear of this vampire. Shay's sensitive hearing allowed her to hear Natalie's heart rate quicken slightly and her breath catch in her throat.

"I have no intention to hurt you, Natalie." Shay assured her. "But you are wise to be cautious."

Natalie nodded, feeling only slightly better, and glanced at Nick. He stood with his back towards them seemingly concentrating on his work but he stood unnaturally still. Natalie knew he was monitoring the conversation and suspected he had detected her slight fear as well as Shay.

Shay let out a sigh of resignation. "I have a feeling I know where this is going. You both want to know all about me and what happened to bring me here." Shay glanced in Nick's direction then spoke to him without increasing the volume of her voice. "Nick, I know you're listening. I don't blame you. Why don't you join us so that you don't have to deny it and I won't have to tell the story over again."

Shay knew he wasn’t trying to pry, he only wanted to protect his mortal companion and she couldn’t blame him for that. Allison had told her that control is something that is developed over time and that being among mortals would push her control to the limit. Contrary to Allison’s expectations, however, Shay had proven that she possessed far more control than most fledglings her age. Still, she felt uneasy around them without Allison there to guide her through their link. How would she ever make it without her?

Nick turned to face them. He felt a little guilty eavesdropping on them but it was necessary. He was glad to know that Shay seemed to understand. Without a word he wiped his hands on a cloth to remove the stray paint and moved to join Natalie and the young fledgling.

Shay took another sip of her beverage as Nick settled down on the sofa next to Natalie without a word. Natalie watched as she swallowed reverently as if she required the strength it would give her to continue.

Shay stared across the loft but she did not see it at all. Her mind was on her past as she related her story. “As I said, I was brought across just over six weeks ago. Allison was not only my creator; she was my friend long before I became a vampire.”

“I was born in Seattle in 1968. Megan, my sister, was born in 1974. Our father died a few years later. Megan and I grew up in Seattle in your typical suburban neighborhood with your typical suburban life. I went to college in Seattle and studied psychology. When I was 23 and working on my graduate degree when our mother died of cancer. Megan was 17. We had no other family so in the end Megan and I moved into a tiny apartment. I worked full time to help make ends meet and went to school at night while Megan finished her last year of high school. Mom had stashed away a little money so we were able to do alright as long as we were careful.

“The building we lived in housed three other small apartments and the landlord lived in the basement. She was known as a rather odd character but she took good care of the building and the tenants.”

****Flashback****

Megan breezed into the tiny apartment and tossed her overstuffed book bag on the well-worn sofa. Shay looked up from the laptop perched atop the makeshift desk she sat at.

“Hey, Shay! How was your day?” Megan quipped giggling at the rhyme she’d made with her big sister’s nickname. Shay just shook her head at her baby sister’s antics. It was good to see Megan happy. It had taken both of them a long time before they could laugh and smile again after their mother’s death.

“Ok, I suppose. I’m almost done with this dreaded paper. At least I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Did you drop off the rent with Allison?” Shay punched a few keys on the keyboard.

“Yeah but she wouldn’t take it.”

Shay looked up in surprise. “What do you mean, she wouldn’t take it?”

Megan shrugged her tiny shoulders. “She said that in honor of our one year anniversary of living here and because we were such good tenants we could have a month off. You know how she is. You never know what to expect out of her.”

Shay did know and she felt very fortunate to have such a caring and generous landlord. When they had first moved in things had been real rough. It took time to get things in order after their mother’s death and money had been tight for a while. Allison had let the two move in without paying a deposit and had even let them borrow a little money for groceries. Shay and Megan were forever grateful for her generosity.

***End Flashback***

Shay took a deep breath and ran her slender fingers through her still damp hair. “Allison and I became good friends. She kept an eye on Megan for me while I was at school in the evenings. Not that Meg was a bad kid or anything; she was just a typical teenager.

“I thought it was a little odd that I’d never seen her outside during the day but seeing as how I worked during the afternoons and went to school at night I never really thought that much about it. Little did I know.”

Natalie nodded in understanding. She often wondered how many vampires lived among mortals. She suspected there was a fair number.

“Well, I found out Allison’s secret one night. I was lucky she was there.”

****Flashback****

Shay walked along the sidewalk enjoying the warm evening breeze on her face. She’d just finished up with finals and Megan would soon graduate and start college. All in all things were going well.

The neighborhood was not in the best area but Shay felt relatively safe in her surroundings. She knew people who carried themselves with an air of fear were often targets so she straightened her shoulders and lengthened her stride exuding an air of confidence.

As she approached the front entrance to her apartment building a grungy drunk stepped out of the shadows.

He reeked of liquor nearly making Shay choke when stepped in front of her and leaned into her face. “Hey, honey. Don’t ya know it ain’t safe out here alone?” he asked, his speech slurred and his eyes wild.

Shay glared at the offensive man and made a move to step around him. He was quicker than she’d anticipated and he countered her move preventing her from moving ahead.

“Excuse me.” She spat venomously at him as she reached out meaning to push him aside with her arm. Again she had underestimated him and instead of stepping aside he grabbed her arm and pulled her roughly close to his chest. He opened his mouth to speak but he never had a chance to form the words.

Shay watched in shock as a dark figure appeared seemingly from thin air. The man released his hold on her as the figure knocked him to the ground effortlessly. Shay gasped in horror as she caught a glimpse of glowing gold eyes and luminous white fangs. As she watched in fascination the mysterious figure subdued the man then bent over him emitting a feral growl and drained him of his life. The whole event had happened in seconds yet it all seemed to have been in slow motion. The dark clad figure rose and turned to Shay. Shay’s eyes grew wide in shocked recognition.

“Allison? What…?”

“You know better than to be walking the streets alone at night, Shay.” Allison’s eyes had returned to their normal emerald green.

Shay glanced back down at the man who’d so recently attacked her without provocation. Allison followed her gaze. “He won’t harm you or anyone else again.” Allison spoke the words with conviction and without regret for her actions.

Shay looked back at Allison unable to comprehend what she’d just occurred, refusing to believe what she’d seen with her own eyes.

Allison caught the rapid beating of her heart and looked deep into her eyes. Shay marveled at the clarity and depth of Allison’s green eyes and briefly wondered what sort of trick the streetlights must have played to make them look gold. She felt herself becoming lost in those deep green pools and she heard Allison’s smooth comforting voice.

“Shay, you had an enjoyable but uneventful walk. You were not nearly attacked and I did not intervene.” Allison’s voice echoed in Shay’s mind commanding and insistent.

Shay heard Allison state what she wanted her to believe was fact. But it wasn’t true and Shay knew it. With a conscious effort she tore her eyes from Allison’s gaze and looked back at the dead man on the sidewalk.

Allison breathed a sigh of frustration. Shay was apparently a resistor. She was not surprised. She was hardheaded, stubborn, intelligent and a bit of a rebel all the typical traits of a resistor.

Allison needed to dispose of the body before some poor unsuspecting soul stumbled across the scene. It would be just her luck they’d be a resistor too. Checking the area to make sure there was no one around to discover the body, she took a still shocked and unable to speak Shay and pulled her into her apartment.

“Wait here. I’ll be right back.” Allison’s told he in a commanding tone which left no doubt she fully expected Shay to obey.

Shay watched Allison leave as she tried to come up with a logical explanation. She and Allison were friends. Allison had become something of a big sister to Shay. She had always there to give advice and lend an ear when she had needed someone to talk to. Shay was not frightened of her. Perhaps, she thought, she should be but she wasn’t.

***End Flashback***

“Allison came back a few minutes later. We spent the next couple of hours talking. She revealed the truth about the mythical vampire to me. Not only that but she told me about her early life in Scotland in the 1400’s.

“I think she was glad in a way that she had someone she could talk to. Allison went on to explain how dangerous it was for me to know of the existence of her kind. She offered to bring me across. I have to admit; I considered it then I thought about Megan. In the end I declined her offer at least until Megan was out of school and on her own. Allison was very understanding. She agreed with my decision but warned me that should there be any problems I may not have the luxury of a choice in the matter.”

Nick listened to Shay as she spoke of her now dead creator and friend. Her voice had become shaky at times as she struggled to avoid being overwhelmed by her grief. He thought about how different his conversion had been from Shay’s. He had not fully understood what it was to be a vampire and at the time he hadn’t cared. Had Shay understood? Did she even understand now? She was so young there was so much she didn’t know. How much regret and guilt would she carry with her for the rest of her unnatural life? Nick glanced at Natalie who was totally absorbed in Shay’s story. How ironic is was that had the worst thing in his life not happened, had he not become a vampire, he would have never met Natalie.

Glancing at Nick, Shay recognized the blank look on his face. She had seen it many times on Allison’s face. He was remembering some time in his past, reliving some long finished event. What was it about vampires, she wondered, that drew them back to the past. Natalie followed her gaze and realized that Nick was somewhere far away.

“Nick?” she elbowed him in the side.

“Huh?”

“Where were you?” Natalie asked teasingly.

“Oh, uh, just thinking. Sorry.”

Natalie turned back to Shay apologetically. “Sorry, he just spaces out sometimes.”

Shay snickered. “I know. Allison did that a lot, too. It must be a ‘vampire’ thing.” she made a quotation mark gesture with her hands at the word vampire.

Natalie vaguely thought about the possible medical explanations of this spacing out syndrome which seemed to affect vampires. Maybe it had something to do with the way the brain handles the ‘perfect recall’ vampires were alleged to possess.

“Anyway,” Shay continued, “things continued on much as they had before I was attacked. Allison who had become somewhat protective of Megan and me became even more so. Not in an overbearing way, mind you. Just like a big sister or something. Megan had no clue about what Allison really was and I’d promised Allison to keep it that way.

“Then everything changed. It was a Saturday,” Shay stopped mid sentence and cocked her head calculating the date, “six weeks and 4 days ago yesterday. Megan and I had spent the day together at a lake just outside Seattle. Megan was driving home. It had gotten dark but Megan was a good driver although she didn’t have much experience. Not that it would have mattered in the end.” Shay’s gaze shifted to the floor as she shook her head sadly.

“A deer darted out in front of the car. Megan swerved to miss it purely out of instinct. The next thing I remembered was seeing Megan pinned by the steering wheel. I panicked. I knew Megan was in bad shape and the only thing I could think of was that she’d never make it to the hospital. I managed to find the cell phone I’d slipped in my jacket pocket. Instead of calling for help I called Allison. The only way I could think of to save my sister was for Allison to bring her across. By the time Allison had gotten there it was too late for Megan.

“The truth was that she died on impact I just didn’t want to believe it. It wasn’t until Allison arrived that I realized that I was badly injured as well. I guess there was so much adrenaline in my system that it just didn’t register. When Allison realized that my injuries were life threatening she offered to bring me across again. It may sound like it was a spur of the moment decision but in fact I had already made my decision. Allison had shared much with me over the past few months since I’d discovered her true nature that I knew it was what I wanted. She had a unique view of life which she passed on to me. There was so much left for me to learn from her. So much she’d hinted at, so many things I’ll never know now.” Shay’s voice had dropped to a mere whisper.

Nick and Natalie remained silent as they watched the young vampire try to gain control of her emotions. It was obvious that she was teetering on the edge between despondence and hysteria. Shay reached for the green bottle and slowly sipped the ruby red liquid it contained. It seemed to help her regain control of her emotions. After a moment, she continued.

“We stayed in Seattle for a while. A couple of weeks ago Allison decided it was time to move on so that I could put everything behind me and start over. She made all of the arrangements and three days ago we boarded a plane for Toronto.

“I’ve always loved to fly but Allison seemed nervous on the fight. She never said anything and I guessed she was just nervous about flying. Once we had checked into a hotel she seemed a little more relaxed. That was when she told me that there had been a hunter on the plane with us. He followed us from the airport but Allison thought we’d lost him. Either Allison was wrong or he found us up again. Allison and I rushed from the hotel when he turned up at our door. Somehow he followed us. If Allison had been alone it would have been easy for her to get away but I slowed her down. I haven’t learned to fly so we were forced to try to escape on foot. He cornered us in that alley…I don’t remember much after that.”

It was then that something seemed to snap somewhere within Shay. Her body stiffened and a look of resolve crossed her face. Nick sensed the change in her and moved to place himself in a defensive position between her and Natalie.

Natalie froze watching partly in fascination, partly in horror as the seemingly gentle and calm vampire’s eyes began to glow. She saw her sleek fangs were suddenly peeking out from behind her lips. Finally, Natalie forced herself to take her eyes from Shay and realized Nick was gesturing for her to put some distance between herself and the young fledgling. Natalie moved away slowly and cautiously.

“This ‘hunter’ must pay for what he has taken from me. He has taken the only thing I had left.” Shay said menacingly to Nick her voice deep and rough with the emergence of the vampire.

Nick let his own eyes glow asserting his power and dominance over Shay in hopes of preventing her from losing what little control she had. It seemed to work as Shay reverently lowered her gaze in submission to the older vampire.

“It will be taken care of, I assure you.” Nick told her, his voice calm and gentle.

“You would deny me my revenge?” she raised her eyes to meet his in challenge.

Nick stepped closer to her again asserting his dominance. Natalie watched as Shay again backed down from Nick.

“Your control is fragile. You are too young and you lack the experience needed to deal with a hunter. You would only suffer the same fate as Allison.” Nick’s tone had turned cold making it obvious that he would not tolerate any argument from the fledgling.

“Perhaps that would be best.” Shay dropped her gaze to the floor, her eyes returning to normal. “I have nothing without Allison. No home, no money, no family, no future…nothing.”

What she said was true. She was dependent on Allison but Nick suspected she did not fully realize the just how dependant. Shay needed Allison’s presence more than she needed material possessions. Nick had seen it before.

***FLASHBACK***

“Come, Nicholas, we must leave here.” Nick opened one eye and glared at LaCroix. “We’ve only just arrived. I like it here.”

“What you like is not the issue. Our safety may be in jeopardy should we remain here.”

Nick pushed himself into a sitting position tossing off the silk bed linens. He glared suspiciously at LaCroix. Nick sensed his unease. He’d never sensed anything like this from his vampire father. It was very disturbing. “Why?” Nicholas demanded. “We are immortal. What do we have to fear?”

LaCroix sighed. This young one was obstinate and most difficult at times. In the three years since he’d been brought across LaCroix had been able to do precious little to tame the boy. “There is a orphan fledgling here.” LaCroix stated as if this explained everything and reached to pull Nicholas to his feet. Nicholas pulled his arm from his masters grasp.

“So?”

LaCroix was nearing the end of his patience. “So we must go, quickly!” He spat out at Nicholas just as the door opened.

LaCroix turned to face his daughter. “Janette,” he looked at her with irritation, “see that he is ready by sunset.” Janette merely nodded as LaCroix left the room without another word.

“Must you irritate him so, Nicola? You only make things more difficult.” Janette purred as she moved to his bedside.

“Why won’t he ever give me a straight answer?”

“Perhaps you ask too many questions.” Janette pulled back the remaining bed linens in an effort to encourage the young vampire out of the bed.

“Why does an orphan fledgling concern us so, Janette?” Nicholas swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

Janette sat beside him. He was so childish as times. She sighed. “Because, Nicola, a fledgling without his father to guide him becomes unruly. He is a danger to the community. The Enforcers will come and destroy him for the sake of the community.”

Nicholas let this sink in for a moment. LaCroix had told him about the Enforcers. If what LaCroix had said were true, it was indeed dangerous for them to remain. The Enforcers would destroy any that dared to oppose them and they had been know to destroy anyone who suited them at the time. They were best avoided at all costs.

***END FLASHBACK***

Nick shook himself free of the memories of the past and looked thoughtfully at Shay. “Shay, I won’t lie to you. It is going to be difficult for you without Allison but it’s not hopeless. There’s no point in jumping to conclusions just yet.”

Shay was not convinced. Then neither was Nick.

Natalie glanced at her watch when she noticed Shay struggling to keep her eyelids from closing. Dawn was fast approaching. Thought Natalie knew precious little about fledgling vampires she did know that the younger the vampire the more he or she slept. Young ones found it impossible to remain awake as the sun began its assent. Nick was not oblivious to this either and saw this as an opportunity to quell Shay’s concerns of her future until he could find some answers for her. Shay bid Natalie a sleepy goodnight and followed Nick as he escorted her to his bedroom.

“I’d say she’s down for the count.” Nick returned and sat down heavily beside her.

“She seems to be handling it pretty well. What are the chances she’ll be alright?”

Nick shook his head. “She’s alright for now but it won’t last long. Right now she wants to avenge Allison’s death. Once that is done things will get worse. She’ll start to feel the void left by Allison’s death but instead of getting better in time it will get worse. Eventually she’ll turn to her very nature in an effort to fill the void. She’ll kill. But it’s like a black hole, it sucks up everything. The more she kills the more empty she will feel. No matter how hard she tries she’ll never fill the void.”

“So what are you going to do?” Natalie was beginning to understand the gravity of the situation.

“She can’t be left alone. I’ll ask LaCroix if she can stay at the Raven tonight while I try to find this hunter. After that I don’t know.”

“Are you sure you want to get LaCroix involved? Why can’t she just stay here at the loft?”

“She’s too young to be left alone, Nat. In vampire terms she’s like a newborn infant, she needs constant supervision without Allison’s influence. The Raven is the safest place for her. She’ll be safe from the hunter there and LaCroix will be sure she doesn’t get into trouble.”

Natalie rose to gather her things, preparing to go. Slipping her coat on she turned to Nick, “Nick, please be careful.”

“I will, Nat.” Nick walked her to the lift and pulled open the heavy door for her. He touched her arm as she stepped in and she turned to face him. Nick gave her a smile and pulled her into his embrace. Natalie returned his hug and they stood in one another’s arms for a moment neither daring to speak. Natalie cherished these rare moments when Nick let himself get close to her.

“Thanks, Nat.” he whispered into her hair before pulling away and taking her hands in his.

“Anytime, Nick.” Natalie looked into his soft blue eyes as he made a bold move leaning close he placed a loving kiss on her soft lips. He was so gentle and tender it nearly brought tears to her eyes. Not trusting her voice she merely smiled at him and turned back into the lift.

Natalie leaned heavily against the wall of the lift as it began it downward descent and wiped away the single tear that had spilled onto her cheek.

Nick knew that the sun was approaching the horizon well before the steel shutters hummed into place. He picked up the phone and dialed the Raven’s number.

“Hunters here, in Toronto? Are you certain, Nicholas?” LaCroix seemed only mildly concerned.

“I’m sure, LaCroix. Although there’s no reason to believe there is more than one.”

“They do tend to work in groups. It would be wise to assume there are more.”

“I don’t think so but I can’t be sure. The vampire that was destroyed had a fledgling with her. Hunters working in groups generally don’t try to take on two of us at once unless they are working alone and have no choice.”

“Perhaps.” LaCroix agreed, “What of this fledgling?”

“I have her here at the loft. LaCroix, she’s very young.”

“I see. And what do you intend to do with her?” LaCroix’s tone did not change making it difficult for Nick to judge his reaction.

”I’m not sure. I was hoping you might have some suggestions.”

“I will give it some thought, perhaps I can locate a suitable surrogate. How young is she, Nicholas?”

“She was brought across a little over six weeks ago.”

“That young? This could be a problem. Fledglings of such a tender age are far too much for anyone without substantial age to surrogate. Have you seen to her immediate needs?” His voice was growing mildly concerned.

“Of course, LaCroix. Even I am aware that a fledgling can’t handle cow. She’s sleeping now.”

“I shall have someone deliver a fresh supply as soon as possible. She will sleep at least until dusk.”

Nick hesitated before he spoke again. “LaCroix, I need another favor.”

LaCroix sighed in resignation. He’d expected this. “Since I assume you will be searching for the hunter once the sun has set and she is too young to be left alone you want me to look after her. Nicholas, I am not in the habit of baby sitting orphaned fledglings. However, as I did assure Janette that I would provide for the lost as she had. She may stay at the Raven tonight as long as she does not cause trouble. If she does, you will be held responsible, Nicholas and I do not intend on making a habit of this.”

“Neither do I. I’ll drop her by around ten.”

“Very well, Nicholas. I expect there will be mortals in and around the club, be sure that she is well fed and is aware of what is expected of her.”

Tracy stared out at the passing lights of Toronto as they sped past the Caddy. As usual, Nick had insisted on driving.

“So, what’s on the agenda for tonight?” Tracy forced her attention back on her partner. He had been in quite a mood earlier when she’d found him in the morgue with his favorite coroner. Now he seemed to have slipped into a more quite and introspective state.

“I thought we’d check with Mr. Morris and see if he’s remembered anything else about the Collins case.”

Morris had been the only witness to the murder of a young woman in a rather seedy side of town a few nights ago. He’d been in such a state of shock that he’d been unable to recall any of the details. Nick hoped he might be able to tell them more after things had settled down. It wouldn’t take them more than half an hour.

“Ok, then what?” Tracy questioned him.

Nick shrugged his shoulders. The Collins case was the only active case they had, things had been unusually slow. “I’m sure we can find some kind of trouble to get into.” He grinned at Tracy mischievously.

“Uh, Nick, I don’t want to criticize but we’re going the wrong way. Mr. Morris lives on the other side of town, remember?”

“Yeah, I know. I just wanted to stop by the loft for a minute first.”

“The loft? What for?”

“Uh…” Nick stumbled to come up with a believable lie. “I forgot something. I just need to run in and pick it up.” He hoped Tracy bought that. He couldn’t very well tell her that he suspected a vampire hunter who’d killed one vampire and left another orphaned would return to the scene of the crime. No, that wouldn’t do at all.

His plan was to check the alley and the surrounding area by air while Tracy waited in the car. It would only take a few minutes. The hunter may not even return here but his instincts, detective and otherwise told him different. Most likely the hunter had sensed Shay’s presence and would have come after her had Nick not arrived. Sensing the presence of a yet another vampire he would have felt outnumbered and made a hasty retreat only to return in hopes of picking up their trail.

Nick pulled the Caddy up to the garage and activated the opener. He turned to Tracy, “I’ll be right back.” Tracy considered objecting. She’d only seen the inside of the loft once and her curiosity was getting the better of her. Instead she opted to respect her partner’s privacy and consented to wait in the car.

Nick took the lift to maintain the charade for Tracy. Once inside he took off through the skylight and headed for the alley. All of his senses on alert he scanned the area but found nothing out of the ordinary. Making a pass around the block and checking the surrounding areas he still found nothing to indicate the return of the hunter. Disappointed but not surprised, he headed back to the loft. It would have been almost too easy to find the killer like that.

His course back to the skylight took him directly over the alley he’d become far to intimate with the previous night. As he approached he sensed something. Slowing his flight he reached out with all of his senses and felt what was unmistakably the same hunter who’d taken Allison’s life the night before. He circled the alley slowly, surveying the area for any witnesses and making sure the killer was alone.

Nick’s presence did not go unnoticed by the hunter. The man nervously readied an evil looking crossbow as he scanned the area for the vampire he sensed was near. He made the mistake of assuming that the attack would come from the ground and neglected to look above his head. Nick landed without making a sound directly behind the young red headed man. He looked to be no more than twenty. “Looking for someone?” Nick whispered from behind him.

The hunter swung around, crossbow at the ready. Nick grabbed it faster than the man could react and tossed it out of his reach. The hunter was taken off guard but quickly recovered. Nick made no attempt to hide his golden glowing eyes and allowed his fangs to descend as he stepped toward the enemy forcing him to stumble backwards.

Tracy glanced at her watch. “Come on, Nick. I don’t want to sit here all night.” He’d been gone plenty long enough. He’d taken the keys to the Caddy and left her sitting in the cold car. That would have been fine had he only been gone a couple of minutes like he’d said he would but it had been well over twenty minutes. The old Caddy was never very warm but after sitting in it waiting for Nick, Tracy was really getting cold. She rubbed her hands together in a fruitless effort to create a little warmth. Sitting still wasn’t helping matters much so she decided to get out and stamp her feet hoping a little movement would ward off the chill. Slamming the door and cursing Nick under her breath she stomped around the car.

Suddenly the stopped in mid stride. Something was wrong; something was making her blood run cold. She listened and thought she heard the sounds of a struggle. She held her breath and stood motionless, listening.

There was definitely something going on in the alley just around the edge of the building. Falling back on her instincts and the training drilled into her throughout her academy days she drew her gun and cautiously approached the alley.

The streetlights illuminated two figures struggling with one another. Tracy watched in horror and gasped as she got a glimpse of the golden glowing eyes of one of the figures. Before she could react report of a high-powered handgun echoed through the darkness.

Nick staggered back against the hard brick wall as the force of the bullet hit him in the shoulder from point blank range. Tracy watched as he fell. Her eyes grew wide in recognition as the streetlight illuminated his face of her partner.

The hunter had managed to draw the weapon as they had struggled. Though the bullet posed no threat to Nick’s life, it would effectively even the odds at least for a moment.

Nick hit the wall with a sickening thud that made Tracy cringe. The hunter took only a split second to turn and retrieve the crossbow. Turning to Nick he took aim directly at his chest.

Stunned by the sheer force with which he’d hit the wall, Nick was unable to react. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as Tracy made a split second decision. The red laser sights on her weapon marked the path of the bullet as she squeezed the trigger.

The hunter was prepared to fire just as Tracy’s bullet penetrated his skull. As he fell his finger tightened on the trigger of the crossbow. His fall sent his aim off only slightly causing the arrow to lodge itself in the mortar of the brick wall nearly impaling Nick’s shoulder.

Tracy lowered her weapon and looked at Nick slumped against the wall. He looked back at her, his eyes still glowing and the tips of his fangs barely visible peaking out from behind his lips. She shook her head as she approached him. Nick simply remained against the wall watching Tracy with dread as she slid down the wall and sat on the pavement next to him.

“You could have told me, Nick.” She said her voice dripping with sarcasm. “It’s not like I don’t know about vampires already.”

Nick regarded her carefully as she sat with her back against the wall next to him, her gun still in her hands.

“Tracy, I’m sorry.” he mumbled.

Tracy chucked. “Some detective I am. I should have figured it out. I mean the sunlight allergy thing, the ‘special diet’, how could I have missed it?”

Nick grinned at her, his eyes back to their normal blue. “Maybe you just didn’t want to see it, Trace.”

“I can’t believe it. Mr. GQ himself, a vampire. Damn. I take it Natalie knows.”

Nick nodded.

“Well,” she pushed herself to her feet and dusted herself off. “I asked her about her relationship with you once. She told me it was complicated. I’d say that’s an understatement.” Tracy offered Nick her hand and pulled him to his feet. “Are you ok?” she nodded to the obvious bullet wound in his shoulder.

Nick glanced down and grimaced. “It went straight through. I guess I’ll live.”

Tracy shook her head. “Yeah, I guess you will.” She turned back to the wall and leaned over examining the arrow lodged there. Nick looked over her shoulder as she reached to pull it out. It wouldn’t budge. “Wicked looking thing.” she said.

“And quite effective.” Nick grasped the shaft and pulled it free with little visible effort. It was the same type of weapon that had killed Allison the previous night. The tip was steel but upon impact it expanded sending tiny shards of wood into the intended victim. If it found its mark the shards would penetrate the heart of a vampire assuring death even if the arrow itself were removed.

Nick turned back to the body of the hunter. “Tracy…”

Tracy interrupted him before he could finish. “You’re going to ask why aren’t you?”

Nick nodded. He was certainly grateful for Tracy’s interference. Had she not turned up when she did, had she hesitated a split second it would be him lying dead in that alley. Something inside of him wandered why she would choose to save the miserable life of a vampire.

“Because I know you, Nick. No matter what you are, I know you’re not the bad guy here. And besides, vampire or not, you’re still my partner.” With that said, Tracy headed for the Caddy to call it in leaving Nick wondering what he’d done to deserve such an understanding partner.

Thirty minutes later the alley next to Nick’s loft was crawling with uniformed officers, various technicians and internal affairs investigators.

Nick had changed clothes and fed so that the wound in his shoulder could heal. He and Tracy had fabricated a story making it look as though Nick had surprised a would-be burglar. The struggle in the alley was retold, minus Nick being shot, just as it had happened. Tracy had heard the struggle and came to Nick’s rescue. For the most part the story was true with just a few of the details altered to avoid any unnecessary questions.

The preliminary report from the internal affairs investigators deemed Tracy well within her rights to shoot the perpetrator. As per departmental policy both partners were told to take the rest of the week off pending the outcome of the investigation.

Nick was secretly relieved to have the paid vacation. It would give him a chance to decide what do about Shay.

It was nearly 3 AM before Tracy and Nick were released from the scene. Nick took Tracy back to the precinct then headed for the Raven.

Shay sat in a corner booth hidden amidst the shadows of the club. It had been difficult at first until she’d learned how to filter out the presence of the multitude of vampires pressing in on her mind. Although she sat alone she was well aware of the multitude of eyes watching her every move. LaCroix had indeed introduced her to the staff. He had made it all to clear that they were to keep a close watch on the fledgling. Shay felt like an animal in a cage.

LaCroix had kept a close eye on her personally for the first couple of hours. At last he’d seemed satisfied with her behavior and had disappeared. He was still near. Shay could feel his ancient presence in the club. It was unnerving. A few of the younger vampires had acknowledged her presence but most had ignored her completely. She felt like an outcast. Never, since she had lost her mother had she ever felt so alone. Even then she’d had Megan. Now she was totally and completely alone.

Pushing away the insistent urge to run from this place she turned up her glass and swallowed the remainder of blood it held. Soon, she knew from earlier experience, one of the waitresses would be by to refill her glass with a pure uncut human vintage. LaCroix had insisted the she have a continuous supply so that his mortal patrons would be less tempting. A fledgling of such a tender age, he had said must not be allowed to go hungry. Shay suspected there was something he’d failed to mention. Actually it seemed as though there was something everyone had failed to mention to her. She felt as if she was missing out on something.

Just as she had suspected, a young female vampire appeared with a fresh bottle. Unlike the previous however, this vampire seemed a little friendlier. She smiled at Shay as the placed the bottle on the table but like the others she said nothing.

Shay watched the patrons come and go for what seemed like hours. She made a point to try to determine which of the patrons were mortal and which were vampires to pass the time. It wasn’t long before she felt confident in her ability to differentiate the two.

She couldn’t help but laugh when she saw the two young women step in the door. Shay saw them look around in confusion. It obviously wasn’t the type of place they frequented. One of them squinted up her face in disgust before turning to the other and mouthing something Shay couldn’t quite hear. The two immediately turned on their heels and made a beeline for the exit. “Good decision.” Shay said aloud.

She had been so wrapped up in the women’s antics she hadn’t noticed that Nick had slipped up behind her. “What decision?” He leaned close to her and whispered in her ear.

Startled, Shay nearly tipped over the wine bottle atop the table. Nick grinned playfully at her than slipped into the booth across the table.

“Before I was brought across, Allison would sneak up on me like that. Once I decided to get her back. It was just after Halloween and I picked up some of those cheesy fake fangs. When she came up behind me I turned around and showed her my own set of pearly whites. That was the last time she did that!” Shay laughed as she remembered Allison’s shocked reaction.

Nick smiled. Shay and Allison must have been quite a pair. He drained the contents of a glass he had in his hands then regarded the bottle on the table carefully. The scent of human blood assaulted him, taunted him with its sweet scent. Shay watched his indecisive expression. At last he seemed to come to a suitable decision. He poured a generous amount of liquid from the bottle into his glass before refilling Shay’s as well. He hesitated momentarily then paused to inhale the scent before finally lifting the glass to his lips. Shay watched as an expression that could only be described as intense pleasure crossed his face.

“If you tell Natalie I did that, I’ll deny it.” He grinned at Shay.

“You’re secret’s safe with me.” Shay replied with sincerity. Silently she wondered what would possess a vampire to drink cow’s blood by choice and why he didn’t want Natalie to know he was drinking human.

“So, did you find him?” Shay asked as staring into her glass.

“Yes.” Nick answered studying her face.

“So, it’s taken care of?” Shay swirled the ruby red liquid in the glass.

“Just as I promised you it would be.” Nick assured her though he did not offer any details.

Shay sighed. “Nick, I want you to know that I really appreciate your help. If it hadn’t been for you I would have either been his next victim or been french fried by morning. You didn’t have to help me.”

Shay looked around the club at the other vampires. “I’m not sure any of these others would have been as generous.”

Nick shrugged his shoulders with indifference. “I’m just glad I was there.”

Shay reached for her leather jacket laying on the seat beside her. Draping it over her arm and taking one last swallow from her glass she started to slide out of the booth. Nick reached across the table and took her hand. “And just where are you planning on going?”

Shay stared at him for a moment unsure of how to respond. “To tell you the truth,” she finally answered, “I have no idea.”

Nick regarded her carefully. She seemed to have no idea of the seriousness of the situation she’d ended up in. “Shay, you’ll never make it on your own.”

She misinterpreted his comment. “Nick, I appreciate your concern but I’m not a child, I’m quite self-sufficient.” she replied angrily.

“I’m sure you are, as a mortal. However, you’re not mortal any longer. You’re a vampire and in vampire terms you’re barely an infant. You can’t just leave.”

Shay hadn’t thought about where she’d go or what she’d do without Allison. All she knew was that she was on her own. She had little money, no friends, no family, nothing. She figured she’d make it somehow but she hadn’t thought it through at all. She tossed her jacket back in the booth and sat down in frustration.

“Why is it I get the feeling there’s something no one’s told me? I understand your reluctance to leave me alone with Dr. Lambert. I can understand why you didn’t want me to go after the hunter myself and I can even understand why you didn’t want to leave me alone in your home. What I don’t understand is why you brought me to this place. I guessed you assumed that I’d be more comfortable with others of our kind and a part of me thought you were probably right. The fact is that I’ve sat here the whole night being stared at. No one, aside from LaCroix has even spoken to me but they’ve watched me like they expected me to explode at any second and now you’re telling me I can’t leave.” Her voice had become louder as she spoke.

Nick looked around to see how much attention Shay’s outburst had drawn. A number of vampires that had turned to watch the spectacle turned away as Nick glared at them. None of them were willing to risk angering LaCroix’s favorite son. Satisfied that he’d gotten his point across to the vampire patrons he turned back to Shay.

“Shay, there is a lot you don’t understand.” He said simply as if that explained it all.

“Care to enlighten me?” Shay spat at him sarcastically.

“Not here. We should go back to the loft but first I need to speak with LaCroix. If you will wait here for me I promise I will explain everything.”

“Fine.” she said quietly. She was at a loss as to what else she could possibly do at this point. At least Nick’s loft would afford her protection for the sun until she could determine her next move.

Nick left her sitting at the same booth she’d occupied all night. The mortal crowd had thinned and most of the clubs patrons were of the vampire persuasion. Still none seemed any friendlier towards her either glaring at her suspiciously or ignoring her altogether.

Nick found LaCroix in his soundproof studio. He checked to be sure the ‘on air’ light was not lit then knocked on the heavy door. There was no need for him to knock as his master would have sensed his arrival; it was simply a gesture of respect.

“Come in, Nicholas.” LaCroix’s smooth voice answered without hesitation.

Nick entered and took a seat on the black leather sofa positioned against one wall of the room. Though it was small by necessity, LaCroix had seen that the room was comfortable and adequately supplied. LaCroix offered Nick a glass of what Nick knew was a superb human vintage. Just as LaCroix suspected, Nick declined his offer.

“I trust the situation regarding the hunter has been taken care of.”

“Yes but unfortunately it lead to a small complication.” Nick had decided that LaCroix was likely to find out the truth anyway so it was probably better he hear it from Nick.

“A complication?” he looked expectantly at Nick as he sipped from the crystal goblet in his hands.

Nick took a deep breath to steady himself before beginning. He went on to explain how he’d confronted the hunter in the alley. Reluctantly he admitted that Tracy had learned his secret.

“It seems as though I owe Ms. Vetter a great debt. Her quick thinking and good judgment undoubtedly prevented the hunter from taking my son from me.”

Nick remained silent as the ancient vampire seemed to consider his options. Finally he spoke. “Ms. Vetter seems to be a valuable ally. She and the Spaniard have become rather close. I expect he will bring her across in the not to distant future.”

Nick opened his mouth to protest. LaCroix held his hand in the air to silence him. There had been a time in the not to distant past when Nick would have unleashed his anger at his master but he realized that there was no anger to be released. Though he did not like the idea of his young partner becoming a creature of the night like himself he knew that Tracy would have to make the decision on her own. She knew enough about his world through Vachon that she knew what she would be getting into. He could only hope she gave it careful consideration. Perhaps he would have a talk with her soon just to be sure.

“In the meantime,” LaCroix continued, “she is under Vachon’s protection. As long as she continues to be discreet I do not see the need to interfere.”

Nick let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Tracy’s knowledge of Vachon was dangerous enough; now that she knew about Nick as well she could be put in a very bad position should the Enforcers become aware of the situation.

“What about Shay?” Nick looked at his father hopefully. LaCroix had promised to try to find an older vampire willing to take Shay as their own.

“As you are well aware, Nicholas, Janette has transformed the Raven into a safe haven for many young ones who have been betrayed by their creators. Many of those whose creators neglected their duties to their children have found their way to Toronto.” LaCroix paused to sip from his goblet again savoring the taste of the blood it contained. “This fledgling is a special case, however. Unlike many of those here she is far to young to be without a master.”

Nick flinched at the term ‘master’ but he knew it to be the truth. Allison would have provided Shay with not only education and protection but would have controlled her and helped her control herself in her first few years.

LaCroix stood and gazed out the soundproof glass at the crowd in the Raven. There were no mortals among them as this late hour. He watched with pleasure as several couples eyes flecked with gold and tips of fangs visible as they moved across the dance floor with their respective lovers. He remembered a time when his son would have been among them moving in perfect harmony with his beloved daughter, Janette. He longed to see Nick as he had been in those days when their family had been at peace. Turning back to Nick he wondered how things had become so very different.

He continued to gaze out the window as he continued. “None of these young ones would be able to provide Shay with all that she needs. There are a precious few here who could.”

Nick stood and moved to stand by his father’s side. Across the club he could see Shay waiting patiently for him as he had asked. He was saddened by her lost and lonely expression.

“Father,” Nick regarded his creator carefully. He rarely called LaCroix father but the situation had forced Nick to take any advantage he could.

“No, Nicholas. I will not take responsibility for her.” LaCroix knew what Nick was thinking. It was written all over his face and he had felt his pleading through the link they shared. “I have enough to keep me occupied without being burdened with a fledgling. You have caused me enough grief, Nicholas. I will not raise another child.”

The subject was not open for further discussion; Nick knew this not only from his father’s tone of voice but from the strong negative feelings LaCroix was sending across the link. Nick was at a loss.

LaCroix turned from the window and moved to refill his glass. “Perhaps, Nicholas, you would be a suitable surrogate for the child.”

Nick was taken aback by LaCroix’s very suggestion. “You can’t be serious, LaCroix!” He stared in amazement at his father whose back was turned to him.

LaCroix, his face hidden from Nick’s view smiled at his son’s reaction. It was exactly what he’d anticipated.

“Quite to the contrary, Nicholas, I am very serious.” He turned back to Nick. His trademark cold and emotionless features replaced the smile he’d hidden. “But I see that you have no interest in helping the child.” He paused for a moment, letting his words sink into Nick’s thick skull.

“LaCroix, I have neither the desire or the patience to surrogate a fledgling.”

LaCroix simply nodded in disappointment. “What a pity. She is quite a bright child. She shows much promise. I will contact the Enforcers. They will, no doubt, remedy the situation.”

Nick nearly lunged at his master in anger. Clenching his fists in an effort to restrain himself he glared at LaCroix. “The Enforcers will destroy her!”

LaCroix regarded Nick thoughtfully. “Yes, they will. However, I see no other option.”

Suddenly Nick knew he’d been set up. He turned and looked out the soundproof window at Shay again. She sat in the booth; her head laid on her arms folded atop the table.

“It’s not fair. None of this is her fault. Why should she have to pay with her life?”

“You know very well why, Nicholas. Without Allison she will become uncontrollable. She would bring unwanted attention to the community. Many of the young ones here fear the Enforcers. They fear that they may suffer the same fate should the Enforcers become aware of them. If she were left alone it is likely that she would fall victim to another orphan fledgling before the Enforcers would have a chance at her. It is my responsibility as the elder of this community, Nicholas, to protect them as best I can. I will not tolerate unrest among the community. Either you agree to take her or I will contact the Enforcers.”

Nick knew LaCroix was right though he was more than reluctant to admit it. LaCroix sipped from his goblet as Nick considered the situation. This was not a decision Nick took lightly. He had no intention to participate in the propagation of a vampire. He did not want to create another damned creature like himself. Then he had not been the one to bring Shay into the darkness. Could he teach Shay to use her abilities for good rather than evil? She was yet to be marred with the guilt he carried. He could not give her back the light but perhaps he could keep her from slipping further into the darkness.

At last he turned to LaCroix. “I will consider it.”

LaCroix simply nodded in agreement. It was more than he’d expected from his errant son. He considered a moment the wisdom of what he was about to offer. Finally he concluded that it was most likely an offer Nicholas would never take him up on anyway.

“I have an offer for you, Nicholas.” LaCroix announced.

Nick glared at him suspiciously. LaCroix’s offers usually ended up with LaCroix holding the upper hand.

Ignoring the suspicious glare from Nick, LaCroix continued. “As I said I have no desire to raise another child. However, I would be willing to assist you in the child’s education. Perhaps to ease the burden a bit.”

Nick had more than enough experience with LaCroix’s idea of education. “No. If I agree to do this, I will do it my way. I will not have you interfering.”

LaCroix raised an eyebrow at Nick tone. Nick prepared himself for LaCroix’s retaliation but it never came. His response only left Nick nearly speechless.

“Nicholas,” he told his son, “it is our way that the education of fledglings is the responsibility of the creator, or in this case the surrogate master. Interference is not an accepted practice and is not tolerated. You should know that I would not break that tradition. If, however, you should ask for my assistance, I would be glad to provide you with advice.”

Nick knew LaCroix had spoken the truth. There was a code among vampires, which was especially honored by ancients such as LaCroix. Promises were always kept, secrets were never revealed and the relationship between master and fledgling was sacred not to be intruded upon by anyone.

“What’s the catch, LaCroix?” Nick was not convinced LaCroix did not have ulterior motives.

LaCroix studied the contents of his glass for a moment. He had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. He had wanted to convince Nicholas to do this on his own but as usual Nicholas was resisting. He owed it to Allison and if telling his son his true motives to convince him than so be it. Still he refused to explain the entire situation. The reason he owed this to Allison was irrelevant.

“I knew Allison, Shay’s master. I owed her a debt and as I will not be able to pay it back properly the least I can do is see that her child is taken care of.” LaCroix told Nick without taking his eyes from his glass.

Nick considered the situation. LaCroix always paid his debts, this he knew for fact. “Then why don’t you take her?”

“Allison and I shared differing opinions, shall we say. I do not believe she would see my raising Shay as a favor to her. I had a great respect for her but her outlook on things ran more parallel to yours than to mine. Perhaps Shay will tell you more about her. She was quite remarkable in her own way. I believe you would have been very fond of her.” Nick detected a fleeting look of sadness cross his father’s normally cold and hard features.

“Let me know of you decision by tomorrow morning.” with that he turned and left Nick standing alone in the small sound booth wondering exactly what had just conspired between them.

Shay had drifted off to sleep by the time Nick returned. He touched her on the shoulder and she raised her head sleepily at him.

“Ready to go?” He asked her.

“Yeah.” she retrieved her coat and followed Nick to the Caddy. During the short ride back to the loft Shay found herself unable to remain awake. Sunrise was less than an hour away as Nick carried the sleeping fledgling into the loft. She did not even stir when he took her up to his bed and tucked her in for the day.

CONTINUED.....