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Even in the Darkness There is Light

Continues....

 

Nick made his way back downstairs and headed for the refrigerator.

He stared at the contents for a moment. Natalie’s latest protein shake was sitting on the top shelf taunting him. Next to the shake mixture was several bottles of cow blood. Behind the cow, peaking out from the rear sat several bottles LaCroix had sent over for Shay. They contained pure human blood, uncut with wine and suitable for the young fledgling along with two bottles of LaCroix’s finest vintage of bloodwine. Obviously LaCroix had these sent along with the pure blood for Shay. Nick knew why. He would be forced to go back to human if he were to be able to help Shay. As a surrogate father to a young fledgling he would need to be in peak condition. The vampire had been weakened by years of consumption of cow rather than his natural diet of human blood and that state was unacceptable for raising a fledgling in Shay’s condition.

Nick considered for a moment longer. The human blood, both pure and cut with wine had been freely donated. Was it so wrong, Nick wondered, for him to consume that which had been freely given?

Ignoring Natalie’s protein shake as well as the cow’s blood, Nick reached for the bloodwine. He convinced himself that he needed its calming effect. Pouring a generous amount into a mug, Nick made his way to the sofa.

Shay would wake after nightfall and would want answers to questions that Nick would have to give. LaCroix would want an answer as well. Shay’s fate rested in his hands. Deep inside he knew he’d already made the decision. He could not stand by idly and watch the Enforcers inflict their death sentence upon Shay.

She had made an impression on Nick from their first encounter. If LaCroix kept his word and did not interfere perhaps he could teach her compassion for the mortals which she was meant to prey upon. Once she was older he could wean her off human blood and she could survive on cow as he had for so many years. She was young enough to be untainted by the sins he’d committed. Could he keep her from making the same mistakes he’d made? By doing this could he make up for his own mistakes? He could try and only time would tell if he could be successful. Draining the contents of his mug he settled down on the sofa for the day. He would need to be well rested for the events of the coming evening. The whirring of the shutters filled the loft blocking out the encroaching sunlight as they closed against it.

Nick awoke to the sound of the shutters whirring again this time opening to allow the darkness to enter the loft. It surrounded Nick as he lay on the sofa bathing him in its comforting familiarity. He lay there awake but unmoving considering his situation until he heard Shay descending the stairs. He sat up and turned to watch her. She did not speak to him as she moved to the refrigerator.

“The bottles in the very back with the blue labels are for you.” Nick called to her. He listened to the clinking of bottles against the metal shelving as she retrieved a bottle. He sensed her slight hesitation. “Glasses are in the cabinet to the right.” He called to her. A moment later she reappeared with her breakfast in hand.

Nick watched her, trying to gauge her emotional state. Shay looked around the loft taking in her surroundings. It was the first time she’d really had a chance to really look at it, the past two nights she’d been far to preoccupied to even care. She moved to Nick’s piano and ran her hands over the smooth black surface towards the keyboard. She reverently lifted the cover and ran her fingers lightly across the ivory keys. Nick simply watched her as she pressed a few keys in succession the sound echoing around him.

“Do you play?” he asked her.

“A little.” she admitted quietly apparently lost in her own memories. “I play guitar much better though. You?”

In answer to her question, Nick moved to the piano and took his place on the bench. He played a short upbeat piece. Shay watched in awe as his hands negotiated the keys with expert precision. His performance hinted at the immense talent he possessed. The last note still echoing through the loft he turned to Shay. “Perhaps we can play together sometime.” he looked at her hopefully.

“Maybe, if I can make it through this.” She had barely finished her sentence when her attention was suddenly riveted on the lift as it groaned in protest.

Recognizing Natalie’s familiar heartbeat he watched Shay’s reaction for any sign she might see Natalie as breakfast. Nick moved to place himself between the lift and Shay when he noticed flecks of gold in her brown eyes. As the lift ground to a halt and Natalie emerged Shay seemed to realize her state and shook her head in an effort to rid herself to the urges threatening to overwhelm her better judgment. Natalie froze in place as she realized that Shay was struggling with her control. Shay closed her eyes in concentration for a moment. Natalie wondered if it had been unwise for her to show up at Nick’s loft unannounced, or perhaps at all. After a moment Shay reopened her eyes and smiled at Natalie. Natalie let out a sigh of relief.

“Sorry about that. I don’t know what came over me. I’m not normally like that.” Shay lowered her head in embarrassment and regret.

“Maybe I should have called first.” Natalie regarded Shay cautiously.

It was the first time she had really gotten a look at the young vampire. She had undergone a striking change from the previous night when she had been ragged and disheveled. Her silky raven hair framed her aristocratic face falling well below her shoulders. A tiny delicate braid fashioned from a small strand of her hair laid aside her face giving her a Native American look. Her dark piercing eyes radiated warmth and a wisdom beyond her years. She was dressed in jeans and a simple light blue argyle sweater which contrasted pleasantly against her dark complexion. Shay was not as pale as Nick. Whether it was the remnants of tan that was yet to fade or if her complexion was darker and would remain that way Natalie did not know. Shay was, in a word, stunningly beautiful without the benefit of fancy dress or make-up. She radiated a natural beauty all her own.

“Come on in, Nat.” Nick motioned her closer once Shay had regained her delicate control.

Nick seemed pleased to see her but she was still unsure if she should remain. She had the night off and had stopped by on a whim to check on Shay and Nick. It wasn’t unusual for her to drop by unannounced. Just as it wasn’t unusual for Nick to drop by Natalie’s apartment on a whim. Of course Nick’s loft wasn’t usually a shelter for orphan fledgling vampires.

“Should I go?” She directed her question at Nick but Shay answered her without hesitation.

“No, please stay a while.” Natalie saw the pleading look in Shay’s eyes. She suspected that Shay was a little uncomfortable around Nick. After all she had spent most of her life around other women, growing up with her mother and sister and then Allison.

Natalie looked towards Nick her question unspoken. If Nick did not feel it was safe, she would go. Nick nodded his head in approval. Shay was visibly relieved. Nick only hoped it wasn’t an unconscious attempt on Shay’s part to seek an opportunity to get close to Natalie. Though Shay exhibited an extraordinary amount of control for one her age Nick would not take any chances with Natalie’s life.

Nick made his way to the couch. Shay took a seat in the overstuffed chair across from him while Natalie made her way to the kitchen. She rifled through the cabinets until she found the coffee she’d left there.

A few minutes later Natalie joined Nick on the sofa.

“I guess I was a little tired when we left the Raven.” Shay was saying to Nick.

“I’ve never seen a fledgling your age who could stay awake that close to dawn.” Nick smiled at her. “Now I believe I owe you an explanation.”

Natalie listened to the conversation. This could be enlightening she thought. Slipping off her shoes and drawing her legs onto the sofa into a comfortable position she listened.

Nick went on to explain to Shay the same things he’d told Natalie the night he’d found her. Shay was disturbed to learn many of the details.

He explained that many of the vampires that frequented the Raven were also orphans but not near as young as Shay. Most of them had heard stories of how the Enforcers deal with orphans and none had any desire to encounter them. It wasn’t surprising then that they were very wary of Shay. An orphan fledgling of her tender age was sure to attract a lot of attention. Should the Enforcers show up in Toronto they could all be under their scrutiny. The result was that they were frightened, not of Shay but of what her presence could mean to them. If no one was willing to act as a surrogate parent for Shay she would likely fall victim to one of the other vampires protecting their best interest.

She was even more disturbed when Nick referred to the feeling of loss, the void that would overcome her. It was exactly how she felt. Could it be true, she wondered. Would she loose all control and become something akin to a wild animal? She had always been able to remain in control. She had almost lost it when Natalie had shown up. She’d not been so close to loosing control since she’d made her first kill only days after having been brought across.

“You need the guidance of a older, more powerful vampire.” Nick continued. “If someone suitable can be found and will agree, he could act as a surrogate. It’s not an easy task to take on a fledgling in your situation but it can be done.”

Shay stared into the empty mug she held in her hands. The blood it had contained had sated her hunger for the moment but she knew it would return eventually. “What should I do, Nick?” she looked at him barely holding back the tears.

“Don’t worry, we’ll think of something.” he assured her. His confidence soothed Shay’s fears. She felt very fortunate indeed that it had been Nick who had found her only two nights ago.

“Nick, I’d like to thank you for all that you’ve done for me. I can’t imagine what would have happened to me without your help. No, I take that back, I can imagine but I don’t want to. I already have enough nightmares.”

Oops, she thought. She hadn’t intended on mentioning the nightmares that had haunted her sleep that day. Nightmares of death to any who were unfortunate enough to cross her path, nightmares of intense hunger rivaling the first hunger she’d experienced nearly two months ago. Nick was right, it was beginning.

Nick decided to ignore her mention of nightmares. He knew they would have come. He did not need her to verify that for him. “Shay, do you think you’d be alright alone here for a while?” Nick turned to Natalie. “I’d like to talk with Natalie.”

Shay nodded. “I think I’ll be ok.”

“Just don’t leave the loft, for any reason. We’ll be back in about an hour. I’ll take my cell phone in case you need me.” Nick turned to Natalie. “Would you mind a walk, Nat?”

Natalie wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to spend some time alone with Nick. “Sounds great.” she told him pulling on her shoes.

Nick led Natalie out of the loft and they headed out into the night. It was just cool enough to warrant a light jacket. The sky was clear and the stars shone down along with a nearly full brilliant moon.

“So, what did you want to talk to me about?” Natalie was curious.

Nick wasn’t sure how to approach this but he needed to tell her this. If taking Shay would cause her to loose her faith in him he would not do it. Natalie was too important to him. He wanted her support but he feared her rejection.

“LaCroix refuses to take Shay and there is no one suitable who is willing.”

Natalie was silent. She had liked Shay from the beginning and wished desperately there was something that she could do to help.

Nick slipped an arm around Natalie’s waist as they walked. “There is one possibility.”

“And that is?”

“Me.” he stated simply not elaborating at this point. He wanted to judge her reaction. After a moment she spoke.

“And what would that mean, Nick?”

Nick stopped and stood in front of her looking into her eyes. “Nat, I’d have to go back to human blood.”

Natalie looked at him not really surprised by his admission. “Why?”

“I have to be able to control her, physically and through the link that would be created. Cow is not the vampire’s natural food. It weakens me. I would need the strength I can only get from human blood.”

Natalie took his hand in hers and pulled him along resuming their walk. “For how long?”

Nick shrugged his shoulders. “It’s hard to say. A year or so maybe. It just depends on how things go.”

Natalie nodded but didn’t respond. Nick knew Natalie would be disappointed when he told her this but she deserved to know the truth. He wanted her to know what taking on Shay would entail. In truth he suspected he would have to stay on human blood for several years but he simply didn’t have the heart to break this to Natalie just yet.

Gathering his nerve Nick avoided her eyes as he quietly whispered, “Nat, I’d have to give up my search for a cure.”

Natalie was not surprised by this either. “Only for a while, Nick.” she tried to console him.

Nick shuffled his feet kicking a small rock from his path. “I’m just not sure, Nat. I’m not sure that I want to do that. It’s all I’ve been working towards for so long to just give it up when we may be so close.”

Natalie thought carefully trying to decide the best way to word what she had needed to say for some time. She stopped and stood in front of him. Taking both of his hands in her own she took a deep breath. “Nick…I don’t know how to say this…” she lowered her eyes unable to look into his.

Nick squeezed her hands in a silent gesture of support.

Could she do this to him? Could she destroy the one little bit of hope he’d held onto for so long? Did she have the strength? She didn’t know but she knew that she couldn’t keep lying to him. He deserved to hear the truth. She took a deep breath to steady herself before continuing.

“Nick, we’ve been looking for a cure for a long time. I know we seem to have come close a few times. But, the truth is that we’re no closer than we were when we started.” The words tumbled from her lips out of her control.

Nick lowered his eyes staring at Natalie’s hands as they grasped his own. It was as if she was holding on to him to keep him from falling off some unseen cliff. His own hands he realized were holding onto hers just as tightly. They had both been holding on. Both too afraid to let go. Natalie afraid to let go of the search for fear of losing him and he afraid to let go in fear of losing her.

Natalie interpreted his silence as disappointment. The last thing she had ever wanted to was to hurt him. She wondered briefly if she’d been wrong to tell him this. Was it better to hold on to lies than to have nothing to hold on to at all? No, she decided, he deserved the truth from her, the whole truth. With renewed conviction she made the decision to tell him everything, to keep nothing from him.

“Nick, I don’t think there is a cure. Your condition is based on a physical affliction but it’s more than that. There’s so much we just don’t understand. Maybe one day technology can help you but in order for that to happen we’ll have to consider more than the physical aspects. I should have realized that a long time ago but I was too stubborn. I hope I’m wrong Nick and I don’t want you to stop looking.” Natalie held back the tears as the words flowed from her like a raging river. “Nick, I’m so sorry.”

Nick pulled her into an embrace. “Natalie, you have nothing to be sorry for. You’ve given me so much more to hope for than my mortality. You’ve become much more a part of my life than that. Don’t you know that?”

Nick held her for a moment and caressed her hair as she sobbed into his shoulder. “Natalie, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Natalie pulled away from him and looked into his eyes. “Because it means so much to you. It’s so much of your life, I just couldn’t take that hope away from you.” She hesitated for a moment before continuing. “And I’m selfish.”

Nick pulled away from her and looked into her eyes, puzzled at her comment. “What do you mean?”

Natalie bowed her head partly to hide the tears from him and partly in shame. “At first I was doing it for the challenge. Then because it meant so much to you. Somewhere along the line I came to realize that I wanted it for you as much as you did. I wanted to see you happy. I wanted to give you all that you wanted so badly. I wanted to see you in the sunlight.” She hesitated for the moment convincing herself that when she’d decided to get it all out in the open she meant everything then boldly looking into his sky blue eyes she admitted what she’d been afraid to admit even to herself. “Nick…I love you.”

She placed a finger on his lips as he opened his mouth to speak. She needed to say this, all of it. “I have for a long time and it seemed that the only way for us to be together was for you to become mortal. So, I kept looking although I had nowhere else to look. I’ve been stringing you along, Nick. I’ve been giving you false hope in a misguided effort to keep you here for my own benefit. I’ve been afraid that if I gave up you’d give up too or that you’d just leave. I guess I was hoping that I’d have some flash of inspiration and find the miracle cure if I could only keep you here long enough. Nick, I’m sorry, believe me, I really am sorry.”

Nick pulled her back into his embrace. She laid her head on his shoulder, the tears streaming down her face uncontrollably now.

Nick buried his face in her auburn curls and chuckled. Natalie raised her head and glared at him.

“I’m sorry, Nat. It’s just ironic.”

“Ironic? I don’t see any irony here, Nick. Care to enlighten me?” She had just bared her soul to him and he was laughing at her.

“I’m not sure of what I want any more Natalie. I’ve fought so long to find a cure. I’ve convinced myself that if I became mortal again I could be forgiven for what I’ve done. I’m not sure that’s the answer anymore. I’m not sure I ever believed it was I just didn’t know what else to do. I knew I hated what I was and all I could see was that I had to get away from it.”

“Nick, running away isn’t going to help. You know what I think?”

“I have no idea but I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”

Natalie poked him in the side. “I think you’re trying to undo the mistakes you made in the past.”

“Really? And you’re just now figuring that out?”

Natalie tried to poke him again but he caught her arm before it reached his side. He pulled her into an embrace and kissed her lips. Gentle and tender at first then hinting at a passion too long ignored and a love too long denied.

Natalie slipped her arms around his neck and laid her head against his chest as he broke the kiss.

“Nick, you made choices in the past and be they good or bad you can’t change them now. You can’t go back, Nick. No matter how hard you try. If you became mortal, nothing would change. You would just be a mortal who used to be a vampire. The things you did in your past won’t go away. You have to face that, Nick.”

“Maybe.” Nick whispered into her hair as they stood together wrapped in the darkness of the night.

“You know how you said that you realized you were looking for a cure so we could be together?” He was venturing into foreign territory but it was time for some things to be said.

“Yeah.” She whispered, still cuddled into his chest.

“Well, I’ve been doing the same thing.” Nick pulled away from Natalie and took her chin in his hand tilting her head up to look into her eyes.

“Natalie, I love you.” Natalie started to speak as unshed tears began again to well up in her eyes. Nick released her chin and placed a finger over her lips to shush her.

“I want to be with you, Natalie. You have no idea how hard it is for me to stay away from you sometimes. I’ve tried to leave but I just can’t. I can’t imagine my life without you and yet I can never be with you, not as long as I am a vampire and you are mortal. I kept hoping we’d find a cure so we could be together. You’ve become the reason I want to be mortal, Natalie.”

Natalie could hold back the tears no longer. Nick brushed away a tear from her face as it rolled down her cheek.

“Please, don’t cry, love.” Nick pulled her into an embrace as red blood tears began to fall from his own eyes.

“Nick, I know we’ve talked about this before but---“ Nick interrupted her before she could finish, he knew exactly what was own her mind. She had asked him to bring her across and he had refused on more than one occasion. It was something that had been on his mind the past few months.

“I know, Nat.”

“Would you reconsider?”

Nick sighed in resignation. “Maybe.” he admitted reluctantly.

“Nick…there’s something I need to tell you.” Natalie was reluctant to bring up the issue but if they had even the slightest chance they had to be honest with one another. “I remember that night at Azure.”

Nick swallowed hard. He had hoped she wouldn’t remember but he was not surprised that she did.

“Natalie---” Nick started to explain but Natalie cut him off.

“Nick, it’s ok. I understand why you did what you did. It took me a long time but I finally put most of the pieces together. I know that you and LaCroix had some sort of deal that involves him killing me. I didn’t see any point in bringing it up it because it doesn’t really matter. There’s no need for you to apologize for anything you said or did; it’s all in the past. Let’s just leave it there.”

Nick stared in wonder at this incredible woman before him. She loved him, regardless of what he’d done in the past, regardless of what he’d been or what he still was, she still loved him. He could see it in her eyes. Unconditional love, forgiveness and trust. He swore at that moment that he would never do anything to forsake her love, a love that he didn’t even deserve.

“Natalie, LaCroix will not forgive the debt I owe him. Eventually he will either force me to bring you across or he will kill you. Even if I had the strength to leave Toronto, to leave you behind, I fear he would still come for you.”

Natalie silently urged him to continue.

“For some reason he wants me to take Shay. I think he sees my taking on a fledgling as a step towards ‘embracing my true nature’ as he says. I couldn’t handle two fledglings at the same time so if I tell him that I will bring you across once Shay is on her own he may be satisfied. It would give you plenty of time to consider the options. It’s not what I wanted for us Natalie and I know it’s not how you expected your life to turn out but I don’t want to loose you and if that’s what it takes then so be it.”

“Nick, believe me when I say that I’d rather spend one day in the darkness with you than a lifetime in the light without you. All that matters is that we can be together.” The sincerity in her eyes touched what little was left of Nick’s soul.

He took Natalie by the shoulders and looked into her eyes his face dark and serious. “Natalie, I want you to think long and hard about this. Taking Shay will give you that chance. I want you to take advantage of it. Once it’s done, it’s too late. There’s so much you don’t know, so much you can’t understand. If you do this, I want you to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. I don’t want you to go into it blind like I did.”

“Things are different now, Nick. You can survive without killing. It isn’t the same as it was when you were brought across.” Natalie wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince, Nick or herself.

“Yes, Nat, some things are different. But a lot of things aren’t. There are many things about vampires and vampire society you don’t know. The killing is only a small part. I’m not going to keep anything from you, Nat. I want you to know it all and some of it is ugly but you need to know. Just promise me one thing, Nat.”

Nick looked deep into Natalie’s eyes pleading with her. Natalie felt as if she could loose herself in those beautiful eyes forever. “Anything, Nick.”

“Promise me that you will look at it from every angle before you make a decision. Please listen to everything I tell you and take it to heart. I’ll do my best not to lead you astray, to tell you the truth but please promise me you will take it all into consideration.”

“Nick, I promise but only if you promise me one thing.”

“Anything, Nat, anything.” He brushed a stray lock of hair from her face tucking it behind her ear.

“Promise me you will tell me the good along with the bad. You have hated what you are for so long that all you see is the negatives. I know there are some positives too and I want to know both sides.”

Nick smiled sadly at Natalie. “I know I tend to harp on the bad things. I’ll try to remember to tell you the positive side too but you may have to remind me sometimes.”

“No secrets then?” If he was going to tell her the truth, she wanted to be sure that it was the whole truth.

“No secrets. But I’ll warn you, some of it’s not pretty.”

“I don’t want pretty, I want the truth. Are you sure you can trust LaCroix?”

“If LaCroix gives his word, he will not break it. That is one thing you can count on.” Nick’s certainty offered Natalie only a small amount of comfort.

“I only see one problem with you’re plan, Nick. Can we continue to be so close yet so far apart? Are you all right with that? I mean, things will have to stay just like they are between us, right?”

“Maybe.” Nick gave her a mischievous grin.

“Maybe? What do you mean maybe? What aren’t you telling me?” she glared at him suspiciously.

“Being close to you, physically, makes it hard for me to control the vampire. It’s a control issue, Nat. Vampires have to bite to…well to…complete the act.”

“Ok…so you’re saying you have to bite me and you don’t want to do that.”

“Oh, I very much want to bite you, Natalie, very much.” Nick pulled her closer inhaling her sweet scent and began trailing tender kisses along her jaw. “The problem is whether or not I can stop before I drain you. With other vampires that’s not an issue but with a mortal it’s deadly.”

“So what’s the maybe mean?” Natalie managed to ask breathlessly once she’d recovered from his assault.

Nick pulled away from her reluctantly as he felt the beast begin to stir and threaten to make an untimely appearance.

“It’s been a long time, a very long time since I’ve fed on human blood. It should give me more control. No promises though. We’ll have to take it one step at a time.” Nick caressed her cheek with his thumb relishing her warmth beneath his hand. “Deal?”

“Deal.” Natalie leaned into his hand. Looking into her eyes Nick felt a sense of peace. He slipped his hand behind her head and pulled her face to his lips placing a gentle kiss there before pulling away.

“We had better get back and check on her before she gets in trouble.” He whispered softly.

“Nick, what will your taking Shay entail?” Natalie asked as they turned and headed back for the loft.

Nick shrugged his shoulders. “I will have to teach her everything she needs to know.”

“Like what?” Natalie prodded him for details.

Nick hesitated. “Nick, you promised, no secrets,” she reminded him.

He smiled at her. Yes, he had promised and she did deserve to know. “Everything. Flying, finding shelter from the sun, hypnotism, and even hunting.”

“Hunting?”

“Yes, hunting. Modern vampires survive on bottled blood but she will need to know how to hunt in order to be able find food if bottled blood is unavailable for some reason. I can teach her to hunt animals but she will need to know about hunting humans as well. I don’t like it but it’s the truth.” Nick lowered his head shamefully as he explained. It was the one aspect of Shay’s education that he dreaded.

Natalie nodded. She knew Nick was right. Vampires survived on blood. That was simply a fact of life. Though Shay wouldn’t need to kill to survive in this day and age, Natalie could understand that she needed to know how should the she be forced to do so.

“It’s ok, Nick. I understand. What I don’t understand is how you are going to control her. You’ve told me that vampires have a mental link to their creators but how does that work in this case?”

Nick was reconsidering his promise to tell Natalie everything. Some things were so hard to explain. He was terrified she might not understand some of it and see it for something it wasn’t. This was defiantly one of those things. “Shay and I will…well…we’ll exchange blood.”

Natalie felt herself blush. “Oh.” was the only reaction she could manage as they walked into the garage on the lower level of the loft.

Nick stopped her before they entered the lift. How did he explain the importance of the exchange of blood to a mortal? It was something that mere words could not describe, something that was beyond explanation, beyond understanding without experiencing.

“Natalie, vampires exchange blood for a variety of reasons. We take blood from mortals to survive. We take blood from one another for the connection that is forged by the act and for pleasure. I won’t deny that it is a sensual experience. For the vampire it is a sexual act. However, the exchange between a sire and fledgling is different than the exchange between friends or lovers.”

“Friends?” Natalie asked the surprise evident on her face.

“I told you there were things about vampire social relationships that you wouldn’t understand. Some things that are normal in vampire society are totally unacceptable and immoral in human society. It’s a completely different world in many ways and it’s difficult to explain.”

Nick took her by the shoulders and forced her to look into his eyes. “I want you to be ok with this Natalie. You have to understand that Shay and I will exchange blood not only this once but on a regular basis. I know it sounds like a sexual relationship but it’s not. Vampires can perform sexually the same way as humans the only exception being that we must take blood to complete the act. It’s not uncommon for sire and fledgling to have a relationship in that aspect as well.”

He removed his hands from her shoulders and wrapped them around her waist as she slid her arms around his neck as he whispered into her ear, “But Shay and I won’t. I’ll save that for you.”

Natalie pulled back and gazed into his eyes. The love she saw there was nearly overwhelming. His eyes were such a beautiful shade of blue that she felt as if she could look into them forever.

Nick leaned in and touched his lips to hers, hesitantly at first then more aggressively when Natalie responded. Fearing that her legs would no longer support her, Natalie leaned into his strong embrace. His soft kisses became more passionate and he nibbled her lower lip seeking entry into the warm recesses of her mouth. Natalie complied with his demands and returned his affection with equal adoration. For several blissful moments, the world melted around them. Natalie froze for a split second as she felt his fangs descend under her assault. Gathering all of her courage she ran her tongue over one fang careful to avoid it’s sharpness. Her actions elicited a deep moan from Nick. Feeling his control wavering under her ministrations, he reluctantly pulled back. Natalie moaned in protest at his withdrawal. Nick gazed into her eyes, knowing his own were shimmering gold, expecting to find at least a small measure of fear. Instead, he marveled at the unconditional love and trust he saw there and he knew he’d found his soul mate as he struggled to regain control of the vampire.

She waited for a moment; her arms still wrapped around his neck her hands caressing his blonde curls until he’d recovered. Then in a gesture of complete trust, she laid her head against his chest. Nick moved his hands from her waist to caress her back and run his fingers through her auburn locks. For a moment neither spoke. Then Nick pulled back reluctantly and looked into her eyes. “I love you, Natalie Lambert.” he spoke the words so softly, so sincerely that Natalie felt as if they had invaded her very soul. “I love you, Nicholas de Brabant Knight,” she told him with equal sincerity, her voice shaky with emotion. Unlike the first time, the words came easily and for a brief moment, all was right with the world.

At last, Nick broke the spell and pulled Natalie into the lift returning them to Nick’s soon to be daughter.

Shay had watched as Nick and Natalie had left her behind in the loft. It was to be the first time she’d been left alone since Allison’s death. Part of her thought about running. Nick had only asked her if she would be all right. He’d never made her promise she would be there when he got back. The only thing keeping her from running what that she had nowhere to go.

Allison had arranged for their move to Toronto. All of their things had been put into storage. Shay’s financial resources had been handled by Allison as well. Once they had found a suitable place to settle, Shay was to take on a whole new identity. Unfortunately, Allison had not shared the details of any of the arrangements with Shay leaving her homeless and penniless. The situation would have been bad enough for a mortal. For a vampire it was even worse. Without a new identity, she was dead to the mortal world. She would be forced to find adequate shelter out of the sun during the day. In addition, she would need to obtain a source of nourishment. Not only had Allison taught her precious little about hunting but Shay found the idea extremely unpleasant.

Even if she were able to survive the emotional and mental stress of the loss of her master, she would never make it completely on her own. She needed help and she’d been fortunate to fall into the hands, almost literally, of someone who seemed willing to give it. No, running from this was not the answer it would only add to the problem. So, she waited.

Shay sat up when she heard the lift engage. The same instant her senses were flooded with the unmistakable sound of a mortal heartbeat. She was overcome with an overwhelming desire to move towards the sound as it called out to her, taunting her. She shook her head vigorously in an attempt to rid herself to the sensations. “NO!” said under her breath. Shay closed her eyes and balled her hands into tight fists as she struggled to rein in the beast within her. She rapidly drained the mug she’d left nearby and forced her eyes to return to normal just as the lift ground to a halt.

Nick regarded her suspiciously as the couple emerged but he refrained from comment. Shay watched the couple as they moved towards her hand in hand. There was something different about them she couldn’t quite put her finger on just what it was. Shay knew that the two had been friends for a number of years but she was certain there was more than friendship between them. Briefly, she wondered why Nick didn’t simply bring Natalie across. What, she thought, could possibly be stopping them?

“Shay, I have a proposition for you.” He sat in a chair across from her as she curled up on the soft leather sofa. Natalie settled down on the floor between Nick’s feet and removed her shoes. He reached down and absently ran his hands through her hair.

“What kind of proposition?”

“Assuming you have no arguments against it, I will take you as my daughter.”

Shay shook her head. “Nick, you’ve already done enough for me. You don’t have to do this. Something will work out.”

“Shay, I’m not doing this just for you. I have an ulterior motive.”

Shay looked at him quizzically. What could he possibly get out of this? Shay had no illusion that she would be a burden on him. “Which is?” she asked him.

Nick glanced down at Natalie. “It’s complicated.”

“It must be. I can’t imagine what you could possibly get out of this. But, Nick, I need to know. I need to know everything. I don’t want to be an unnecessary burden on you and I don’t want to be used either.”

Nick took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound like that. If we do this I promise you I will do everything in my power to do it right, to give you everything you need. It’s just that doing this may have an unexpected benefit for me.”

Shay wrinkled her brow in suspicion. Natalie sensed Shay’s reluctance. She could understand why she needed to understand Nick’s motives. If this was going to work not only was Nick going to have to be honest with her; he’d have to be honest with Shay. “Nick, she has a right to know the whole story.” Natalie looked up at him.

“I guess you’re right, Nat.” He turned to Shay, “This is going to take a while.”

Shay smiled at him. “I’ve got nowhere to go, Nick.” Then she down at Natalie with pleading eyes, “how about you?” She was silently asking Natalie to stay, to be her moral support. Nick might not have picked up on it as hard headed as he was but Natalie didn’t miss it.

“Nope. I’ve got the whole night off. I’m going to fix myself a cup of coffee. Can I get you a refill, Shay?” she nodded to Shay’s empty mug as she stood.

“That’d be great Natalie, thanks.” Shay handed her the mug. She definitely needed a refill if she was going to maintain her fragile control.

“Nick?” Natalie smiled broadly at him knowing he be shocked at her offer. She had always avoided him when he was feeding. It was her way of denying it, now she was facing the truth, acknowledging it.

Nick allowed a thin smile to cross his lips. He had always made an effort not to feed in front of Natalie certain that she must find it appalling. Apparently, she was not as disgusted by it as he’d assumed. “Sure, Nat. The bottles with the blue labels are for Shay, the green labels are mine.”

The green labeled bottles contained not his usual cow blood but the freely donated human blood cut with wine. If he was going to go through with this returning to human blood was something he’d have to do and there was no time like the present to get started.

Natalie returned a couple of minutes later with three mugs each containing their preferred refreshments.

“Shay,” Nick wasn’t sure where to begin. How did you explain what it had taken him hundred of years to face? “I’m not sure where to start.”

“The beginning is always a good place.” Natalie commented as she settled down on the floor in front of Nick. Shay waited patiently an expectant look on her face.

“I had just returned from the crusades when I met LaCroix and Janette. Janette is LaCroix’s other child, my sister.” He added for Shay’s benefit. He didn’t bother explaining that Janette was technically his daughter now, it was simply too complicated.

“Anyway, when I was brought across very willingly but I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. For years, the three of us lived together in peace. But, LaCroix was a cruel and vengeful master. He did his best to mold me into what he was but I resisted. He was often a ruthless killer. For a time I reveled in the power of the vampire but over time I realized the error of my ways. I began to feel guilt over those I’d preyed upon.” Nick stood and moved to gaze out the window into the darkness that had been his constant companion for so long.

“Eventually I resorted to preying only on those whom I felt deserved to die. However, even this added to my guilt. Who was I to judge who had a right to live or die? I haven’t killed, at least for food, for several hundred years surviving on cow’s blood. I wanted to pay for my sins so I punished myself.”

Natalie listened closely, this was not something he’d admitted before even to her, and she suspected not even to himself. He was punishing himself, forcing himself to ingest either cow or her protein shakes neither of which were what his body or the vampire within craved. He was depriving himself as punishment for depriving his victims of their lives.

“I’ve been searching for a cure, a way to cross back over, to become mortal again for nearly as long.” He turned to Shay, judging her reaction. Her face revealed nothing to him.

Shay shook her head confused by his words, “So you’re saying you don’t want to be a vampire?”

“Tell me truly, Shay, do you?”

Shay considered for a moment. She had chosen this life willingly and had never regretted her decision. “Nick, I chose this willingly and with full knowledge of what it entailed. I can truly say that yes I do.”

Nick looked down into the mug in his hands swirling the contents.

Shay stood and moved to stand beside Nick at the window. “Allison had a unique outlook on life. She shared with me a belief about the existence of the vampire. She believed that the vampires like mortals have an immense potential for evil but she did not believe that we were destined to be evil. She instilled in me her belief that we must all, vampire and mortal, choose our own paths. She chose to use her vampiric abilities not for evil but for good, as did I. Like most vampires this day and age, she survived on bottled blood. She did kill on occasion but it was always with good reason and I don’t mean just to survive.

“I too have killed, Nick. My first kill was only a few days after I’d been brought across.” Shay turned to the window and stared into the darkness of the Toronto night remembering that first time.

***FLASHBACK***

Dark clouds obscured the nearly full moon in the Seattle sky. Rain was imminent as was often the case in Seattle. Shay had begun to feel cooped up in Allison’s apartment. Reluctantly Allison had agreed to take her new daughter for a walk around the neighborhood. It was the first time Shay had ventured out since she’d become a vampire only three days hence. Allison knew she’d needed to get out. Megan’s funeral had been held the previous day and Shay had not attended for fear of being so close to the mortals who would have come to pay their respects. The stress of the previous week was building within her new daughter.

As they returned Allison stopped suddenly near the front the apartment building she owned and managed.

“What is it?” Shay asked. She could feel Allison’s annoyance through their newly formed link.

Allison held up her hand indicating for her daughter to remain silent. Shay listened. The sounds of the night were still nearly overwhelming to her sensitive hearing. She made a conscious effort to filter out the normal sounds of the city’s mortal inhabitants. Her efforts were rewarded when she heard the angry voices of two mortals yelling above the cries of a young child.

Shay nodded at Allison in understanding. They both knew even without the benefit of their vampiric senses where the voices were originating. Keith had returned to torment Mary yet again.

Mary and her four-month-old daughter Kelly lived in apartment next to the one Shay had shared with her now dead sister. Mary’s ex-boyfriend and Kelly’s father Keith had been a constant source of torment for the past several months. He had shown up shortly after Kelly’s birth after having abandoned Mary when she’d become pregnant. Shay couldn’t remember ever seeing him sober or without a beer in his hands. He often threatened Mary with physical harm and on numerous occasions followed up on his threats. Allison had told him in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome in her building and Mary was trying her best to make it on her own.

At first, Allison had simply thrown him out. Later she’d called the police hoping that mortal justice would prevail. Unfortunately, it had not. Keith been jailed several times but he always returned. Allison’s patience was wearing thin. The sounds of arguing were punctuated by the crash of breaking glass. Allison turned to Shay. “We will put an end to this tonight.” Shay nodded in agreement.

Mary screamed in terror when the door to her apartment crashed to the floor. Keith turned his anger nearly a tangible thing in the air. “What the hell?” he screamed as he turned to see Allison in the doorway, Shay hovering close behind her.

”I though I told you not to come here.” Allison glared at him, her voice filled with anger rivaling that of Keith. Mary retrieved her daughter from the sofa where she’d been screaming at the top of her tiny lungs obviously distressed by the events unfolding around her and moved to the far side of the tiny apartment.

Keith took a step towards Allison as she moved gracefully into the apartment raising his fist at her threateningly. “This is none of your business, bitch!!” he yelled at her and swung his fist at her face. Allison did not step back from the path of his fist but simply raised her own hand capturing it with graceful ease.

He stared at her, stunned by her swift action. Shay simply watched.

“I’m afraid you have outstayed your welcome here and since you insist on returning to torment this young lady I am forced to step in.”

Keith jerked his hand from Allison’s grasp. Allison remained frozen in place her face a cold mask of rage.

“And just what do you think you’re going to do? You can’t keep me away! Call the cops and I’ll just come back again!” he roared at her.

Allison moved to stand behind him faster than the human eye could see and Keith found himself held tightly in her grasp.

“My daughter needs to feed. I think it’s time she learned to feed from humans.” Allison allowed her eyes to glow and her fangs to descend. Mary stood on the far side of the room still holding her screaming daughter in her arms. Her face was a mask of horror mixed with fascination but she made no attempt to interfere.

Allison looked to Shay. “Come.” Shay’s eyes had begun to glow shortly after they’d entered the apartment. The adrenaline pumping through the veins of the mortals was exciting and tempting the vampire. At Allison’s words, Shay ceased her efforts to restrain herself and allowed the vampire to fully emerge. Following her instincts she rushed for Keith still held in Allison’s arms. Once Shay had a grasp on him, Allison released him to her daughter urging her to rid the city of Seattle of this retched excuse for a man.

Keith had quieted under the spell cast by Allison’s voice. Shay gazed into his eyes and captured them in her own. “You will not harm her again.” She told him as she instinctually focused on his elevated heartbeat. Then without hesitation she sank her fangs deep within his flesh and promptly drained him of every last drop of blood.

Shay released the body letting it fall with a thud on the floor. Allison was comforting Mary, assuring her that she was safe from not only herself and Shay but free from Keith’s oppressive hold. Shay watched in awe as the fear drained away from Mary’s face. She looked at Allison then at Shay. “Thank you,” she told the two vampires just before Allison caught her eyes and focused on her heartbeat. The child in her arms had quieted and lay comfortably in her mother’s embrace. Allison took Mary’s memories of the event with ease and replaced them with something more appropriate.

****END FLASHBACK****

“He would have killed her and the baby had we not interfered. I saw it in his blood.” Shay continued to gaze out the window remembering the pleasure she’d felt at taking the life of the worthless man. She had never regretted her actions. Yet, she could see how easy it would be to take the life of an innocent mortal just as easily. She knew that would be something she would regret. How many innocent lives had Nick taken? It would have been so easy in the time he’d been brought across. Unexplained disappearances and deaths were commonplace. Would she have revealed in the power of the vampire as he had? Shay realized just how profound the guilt and regret Nick had carried with him for hundreds of years must truly be. It was no wonder he no longer wanted to be a vampire, no wonder he’d stopped consuming human blood.

Natalie was intrigued by Shay’s story. She wondered if she would have reacted the same way. Would she feel any guilt for doing what Shay and Allison had done? Somehow, she didn’t think so.

Shay turned from the window back to Nick who had joined Natalie on the sofa. “I don’t regret what I did, Nick.” She told him with utter conviction. “Mary thanked us for what we did. We gave her something that mortal society had been unable to give her. We gave her back her freedom. Do you think that was wrong?”

Nick did not speak for a moment studying his hands. “I don’t know,” he admitted quietly.

Shay moved to the sofa and kneeled in front of Nick placing her hands on his knees. He looked into her deep brown eyes and was astonished by the depth of her compassion.

“Nick, I think I can understand why you feel the way you do, why you feel so much guilt. I can’t tell you that you made the wrong or the right decision when you turned away from the light, Nick but you have to live with that decision.” Shay paused allowing her words to sink in.

“What if I can’t live with what I’ve done?” Nick asked softly.

“Well, you can’t change the past but perhaps you can make up for it.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do for centuries.” The frustration was evident in his voice.

“Then what’s the problem?” Nick just stared at her. He wasn’t sure of the answer; suddenly he wasn’t so sure of anything.

“It’s all in how you perceive things, Nick. Allison avoided killing innocent mortals but she had no sympathy for murders, rapists and the like. She did not hesitate to relieve society of those who preyed on the weak and underprivileged.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right, Shay.” His words lacked conviction.

“No, they don’t. Tell me, Nick, how many criminals have you taken off the streets? How many of those would have escaped if you had not used your vampiric abilities?”

Nick considered for a moment. Indeed, he had often wondered how effective he would be as a mortal cop. Much of his effectiveness stemmed from not only his use of his vampiric powers but from his lack of fear. How many criminals waving guns in the air had he approached without caution simply because he knew they could not harm him?

Shay continued, not really expecting an answer from him. “I don’t believe vampires are destined to do evil, Nick. I believe that we can use our abilities for good as well. True, we certainly have the potential but then so do mortals. It’s up the individual to decide which path they want to follow. You have traveled both paths, Nick. You have done evil things but you realized you had chosen the wrong path and you changed course.

“I chose this life, or unlife as the case may be. I saw it as an opportunity to make a positive impact on society. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do even before I learned about vampires. There are times that I have to fight to restrain myself from making the wrong choices but that’s no different from when I was mortal. As I said, it’s all in how you choose to perceive yourself and your existence. You can do the best with what you’ve got or you spend your life regretting the choices you made in the past. You can’t change your past but you can shape your future.”

Nick remained silent sitting on the couch deep in thought. Natalie watched him as he considered Shay’s words carefully.

Shay studied his face. “I think I know what you’re worried about,” she said at last. “You don’t want to be responsible for a vampire that kills innocent mortals the way you once did. I can’t promise you I won’t kill at all but I can promise you that I will not do so indiscriminately, I will not take any who do not deserve it. I also know that you question whether we have the right to judge who deserves to die. I don’t have the answer to that, Nick. I can only trust my own judgment and ask that you do so as well.”

Natalie moved closer to Nick and took his hand in her own. Nick looked into her eyes seeking her approval. He looked back at Shay kneeling before him. Beside him sat the woman he loved more that life itself and before him a woman just as remarkable in her own way. He felt surrounded by the love and acceptance from each of them. Suddenly he realized that he was indeed blessed despite his long time belief that he was damned.

Shay rose and moved back to the window with a sigh of resignation. Nick needed to find his own path, a path he must travel as a vampire for that was what he was like it or not. He needed to make peace with his existence as it was. No one could do that for him; no scientific or mystical cure could do that for him. Even if he found a way to cross back, to find the mortality he was seeking, he would still need to make peace with his past; nothing would change that simple fact.

Would Shay’s willingness to embrace the vampire on her own terms cause him to reject her? The answer remained to be seen. She could only hope that he would not resent her for what she felt was right but she needed him to understand before she could accept his help.

Nick remained silent staring up at the high ceiling of his loft. Natalie felt it best to simply be there for him. She too knew that the ghosts of his past were something he had to deal with on his own and as much as she wanted to there was nothing she could do to help.

Shay turned back to Nick. There was one more thing she needed to know then the decision was up to him. “Nick, I’ve been honest with you, now there is something I need you to be honest with me about.”

Nick shook himself of his deeper musings and regarded Shay with admiration. “If we’re going to this we need to be honest, Shay. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”

Shay nodded in agreement. The relationship they would form would last many years, perhaps many centuries. It would have to be based on trust from the start. She glanced nervously at Natalie. “I don’t mean to overstep my bounds here but it’s obvious that there is something between the two of you. I need to know what your intentions are, Nick. Do you intend to bring her across? Two young fledglings would difficult at best. If you do this, Natalie would have to wait and I don’t want to come between the two of you.”

Nick and Natalie looked at one another. Natalie nodded encouraging Nick to reveal the things that they themselves had only just revealed to one another.

Nick’s voice was edged with tension and anxiety. He was torn by the decision he’d made to consider bringing Natalie across. “If you had asked me a year ago I would have told you without doubt that I would never condemn Natalie to this eternal darkness. Recently, however, I have come to realize several things. Natalie has been trying to find a cure for several years. We’ve come close a few times but the truth is that there is likely no cure, that I will never find the key to the mortality I seek.” Natalie bowed her head in resignation. It was one thing to know this in her mind but another to hear it said aloud. Nick took her hand in a supportive gesture. She had done all that she could, much more than he could have asked for. “In the time that Natalie and I have know one another we have tried to remain only friends but the truth is that we have become much more than that. We have avoided acknowledging our feelings to ourselves and to each other for far too long. I have realized that we cannot continue this way. As it does not seem likely that I will become mortal, we are left with two choices. Either I bring Natalie across or I disappear from her life, which is something I am not sure I can do.

“Last night I agreed to at least consider bringing her across. I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do but I’ve also realized that I can’t make that decision for her. You’re right about one thing, Shay. Each of us must find our own path. I want Natalie to be completely sure that it’s what she wants, I want her to know what she’s getting into. In the end she only she can turn away from the light.” Nick glanced again at Natalie. The love and devotion was evident in his eyes but there was something else there that Natalie could not quite identify. Was it hope, dread or perhaps it was simply doubt.

Nick rose and moved to stand beside Shay at the window. “You are the key to my plan, Shay. LaCroix has been pushing me to take some action for some time. Partly because of a mistake many years ago.”

Shay watched Nick as he drifted about the loft stopping to study various artifacts perched here and there. Shay suspected each and every one held a story for Nick. She marveled at the enormouity of pain, suffering and joy he must have experienced over the centuries.

Nick moved to the piano and sat on the bench before it. He lightly ran his fingers across the smooth ivory keys not quite pressing hard enough to produce a sound as he continues. “LaCroix had fallen in love with my mortal sister, Fleur. He wanted to bring her across. I begged him to leave her be. At last, he agreed but his agreement came with a price. He vowed to take away from me any mortal I fell in love with.” Nick paused for a moment gathering his thoughts.

“I agreed without hesitation because I could not fathom myself ever falling in love. I have been able to keep Natalie safe from him for now but I fear that he will eventually insist on collecting his debt. However, I believe that LaCroix would release me of the debt if I agree to bring Natalie across.”

Nick rose from the piano and moved to stand before Shay still standing at the window. “If I take you as my daughter,” he looked into her eyes pleading with her for understanding. “I could stall for a time. LaCroix would not question my reluctance to have two young fledglings. It would give Natalie plenty of time to consider the options and learn the truth. I will allow Natalie to make the final decision but only after she knows exactly what she is getting into. I want her to know everything. I’ve promised not to keep any secrets from her, Shay. I would need your help to show Natalie the truth about our kind.”

Shay remembered the time she’d had to think about becoming a vampire. Though she’d been brought across as a result of a near fatal auto accident, it had only happened sooner than she’d anticipated. Shay had had plenty of time to really think about what it would mean to become a vampire. Allison had told her everything and she had thought she was going into it prepared but she’d been wrong. Nothing can completely prepare you for the experience. She couldn’t imagine going into it knowing less than she had. Nick was trying to give Natalie the opportunity to see the good and the bad before it was too late.

“I was given that opportunity, Nick and believe me when I say I was grateful for it. I cannot imagine being brought across not knowing what to expect. Even though I thought I was prepared I wasn’t.” Shay looked at Natalie. “Nothing, and I mean nothing can fully prepare you for this but not being prepared at all would be an utterly horrid experience. Listen to what he says, Natalie. I’m not encouraging you either way but the more you know, the better prepared you are the easier it will be. Believe me.”

Natalie nodded. She knew more about vampire physiology than probably any mortal alive, perhaps more than anyone, mortal or vampire. But when it came to the lifestyle, the sociology, the day-to-day existence she knew precious little.

Shay turned back to Nick. “Are you sure you want to do this? I realize that you will be compromising some of your beliefs. I don’t want you to do this if you’re not sure.”

“Shay, I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t sure. I admit I would not do this for just anyone but you are a special circumstance and I believe we can help one another. I can help you avoid the mistakes I made and you can help me by simply letting me.”

Shay looked into Nick’s clear blue eyes. She saw the sincerity there along with a small amount of doubt over his decision. Her own stomach was knotted with anxiety. Was this the right thing to do? She and Nick would be linked not only by the loyalty she would have for him or the responsibility he would feel for her but by a strong mental link as well. They would in a sense become part of one another. The strength of the bond would weaken over time but it would never disappear. It was a lifetime commitment and for a vampire a lifetime was forever.

Nick watched as a myriad of emotions cross Shay’s face. There was relief, fear and doubt. At last, she seemed to have come to a decision. She squared her shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes. “If you will have me, it will be a great honor to be your daughter.”

Nick sighed with apparent relief. She was going to be an interesting addition to his life he had no doubt. He reached to take her hands in his. Regally her lifted on delicate hand to his lips and placed a light kiss there. “I assure you, the honor is all mine.”

With that said he disappeared into the kitchen after gathering his and Shay’s empty mugs.

Shay glanced at Natalie still sitting on the sofa. She had remained silent but attentive throughout their entire conversation. She had been enthralled with Shay’s story. Then she’d been shocked as Nick had revealed the details surrounding his and LaCroix’s agreement over Nick’s sister.

“Are you all right with this Natalie?” Shay moved to stand before Natalie a frown of worry on her face. She seemed far more concerned about encroaching upon the relationship between Natalie and Nick than she was about her own fate.

Natalie seemed to consider Shay’s query for a moment. A part of her was jealous, she could not deny it. She and Nick had only begun to explore their relationship, only took the first tentative steps beyond simple friendship. Natalie knew Shay and Nick would develop a close relationship, even a physical relationship in a sense. Yes, the green monster of jealousy was threatening to raise its ugly head. She kept reminding herself of what Nick had said about the vampire social structure. Nick loved her; she knew that and whatever feelings he had for Shay were something totally different. “I want this to you for both you and Nick, Shay.” Natalie glanced towards the kitchen where Nick was busy tidying up. “To tell you the truth, I think you would probably be a good influence on him. I admit, it’s not going to be easy but I believe it is the right thing for both of you, and for me.”

Shay nodded. “I want us to be friends, Natalie. We have to be for this to work. I will not be a wedge driven between the two of you. You have something special, that is obvious. You and I will need to be honest with one another as well as with Nick and he with us.”

Nick listened to the two from the kitchen. He’d left them alone just so they would talk about this. It was to be an agreement between not just Nick and Shay but between Natalie as well. He smiled to himself as he heard Natalie promise Shay she would try to be honest with her and that she too wanted to be friends. Nick returned to the two just in time to see the two shake on their agreement to share Nick. This could get very interesting, very interesting indeed.

“Shay, I need to speak with LaCroix again before we do anything else. This whole plan depends on him agreeing not to harm Natalie until she can be brought across.” Nick moved to retrieve his coat and tossed Shay her own.

Shay wrinkled her face in disgust. “Not the Raven again!”

Nick snickered at her reaction. “Don’t worry, I promise not to leave you there this time.”

Reluctantly Shay donned her coat as Nick did the same.

“Natalie, I’ll see you tomorrow?” Nick glanced at Natalie.

She took the hint and reached for her shoes. “Promise?”

Nick moved to stand before her and placed a kiss on her lips. “Promise.” he confirmed.

Natalie was intrigued by Shay. She was obviously comfortable with the choice she had made. Would she be as comfortable when the time came? She was suddenly glad for the time she would have to consider her options she slipped her key into the ignition and her sedan roared to life. On one hand, she and Nick could be together. On the other hand, was it too high a price to pay? She shook her head at the thought. No, she wanted to be with Nick no matter what the cost. If she regretted the decision, she could begin searching for a cure again. Eventually, she believed, she could find one it was only a matter of time. Time however was not a luxury she had as a mortal.

Shay was prepared for the onslaught of sensations this time as they approached the Raven. Nick led her to the front door this time. The bouncer manning the door nodded politely as he opened the door allowing them access much to the dismay of the mortals standing in line there. As usual, the club was filled with a mixture of both mortal and vampire patrons though it always seemed as though the latter made up the majority. Allison had told Shay a similar club in Seattle. She wondered if every big city had a ‘vampire’ club. It would seem logical but then vampires weren’t always logical.

Nick led Shay through the nearly crushing crowd towards the back rooms and to LaCroix’s office. LaCroix was relaxing in front of a roaring fire a glass of ruby red liquid in his hands.

“Nicholas, do come in.” He turned to look at the pair as they entered but did not move to stand. Shay instinctively assumed a submissive posture before the ancient vampire. “And Shay, how nice to see you again.”

“Good evening, LaCroix.” Nick nodded a greeting to his father.

“Sir.” Shay responded to his acknowledgement.

“Please, sit.” LaCroix gestured to the black leather sofa. Nick escorted Shay and indicated that she should sit next to him. Shay took her seat without ever meeting LaCroix’s eyes.

“What have you decided, Nicholas?” LaCroix asked. He knew his son was between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Being involved in the making of another of his kind was in direct conflict with his desire to protect the mortal he surrounded himself with.

Nick however, had made his decision. He would do this. That is as long as LaCroix would go along with the terms he had in mind. Nick steadied himself in preparation. He hated asking favors of his father.

“I have a counter offer in response to your offer last night.” Nick told him with all of the confidence he could gather.

“Go on.” LaCroix prodded.

“We both know that if I take Shay as a daughter I will have to go back on human blood.”

LaCroix nodded. This pleased him very much.

“In addition I will give up my search for mortality. We both know that you have been urging me to do both for quite some time.”

LaCroix watched his son carefully trying to anticipate what it was that would undoubtedly be required of him. He nodded nearly imperceptibly encouraging Nick to continue.

“I am willing to do this for Shay but I’d like two small favors from you. The first you’ve already offered. You agreed to allow me to see to Shay’s education as I see fit and to provide me with assistance should I require it.”

“Yes, I did agree to those terms, Nicholas. What else do you require of me?”

“I’d also like your word that you will not harm Natalie.” The words tumbled out of Nick’s mouth. He cringed mentally and physically preparing himself for LaCroix’s reaction.

LaCroix’s face grew darker. Dr. Lambert had been a thorn in his side for quite some time. At first, he had only allowed her to live because of her continued assistance to the community. Her position as coroner had been auspicious for the community on numerous occasions. This in addition to the fact that she had been instrumental in saving the community from the fever several years ago had compelled him to tolerate her for some time. Now his son wanted his word that he would continue to tolerate the irritating woman. The truth was that he had slowly come to respect Dr. Lambert. This, of course, he would never admit to Nicholas. He had waited patiently for his wayward son to give in to his darker desires, hoping that the result would be a new addition to the family. There was, however, still the question of their little agreement regarding Fleur. LaCroix considered carefully for a moment as Nick tried unsuccessfully to read his face.

“Nicholas, what are your intentions towards Dr. Lambert?” LaCroix had intended to push the issue hoping that a new daughter may help him either relinquish his relationship with the good doctor or decide to offer her eternity.

Nick drew a deep breath. “I have agreed to consider bringing Natalie across.”

LaCroix looked up at Nick, stunned and shocked at his words. It was exactly what he’d hoped for from his son. He had never expected Nicholas to come to this decision on his own but he was not one to, as they say, look a gift horse in the mouth.

Nick continued. “Naturally, I would have to wait until Shay is older before it could be done. I want Natalie to be certain this is what she wants. I would like your permission to allow her to become closer to the community so that she can fully understand our kind. Once Shay is on her own, I will bring Natalie across if she is willing. I simply want you’re assurance that she will not be harmed until then.”

“Nicholas, this is a welcome surprise. I must say I did not expect this from you, however I am certainly pleased. It will be my honor to allow the doctor to explore the benefits of the community. In addition, I assure you she will come to no harm from me or any other member of the community. She will be under my protection. I ask only one thing from you, Nicholas.”

“Yes?”

“If Dr. Lambert does not choose to join us, you will leave Toronto.”

Nick considered for a moment. This was not an unfair request. He had not thought about what he would do if Natalie decided against coming across. In truth, it was not something he wanted to consider. He did know that if that were to be the case he would be unable to remain in Toronto anyway. He would need to move on and leave Natalie to the life she’d chosen. A pang of fear stabbed at his cold dead heart at the thought of losing Natalie. Part of him hoped desperately that she would not ask him to condemn her to the darkness but a more powerful part hoped just as desperately that she would.

“Yes, LaCroix, I will agree to that.” He said at last.

LaCroix nodded in approval.

Did that cover all of the bases? Was it that easy? At the loft, he’d made it sound as if he was certain that LaCroix would agree to the terms. In truth, he’d been much less sure than he’d let on. “So, with Shay as a witness, I will discontinue my search for mortality, I will go back to human blood and I will take Shay as my daughter. You will not interfere with Shay’s education or any other aspect of my relationship with her unless I specifically ask for your help. Additionally, you will allow Natalie get acquainted with the community, not harm her or allow any of the community to do so if I promise to leave Toronto should Natalie decide not to be brought across?” He asked in order to clarify the details. If anything were unclear, LaCroix would be certain to use it to his advantage later.

“That is what I said, Nicholas.” LaCroix answered without hesitation. Yes, this was acceptable. His son would be forced by necessity to take a step closer to his true nature, he would gain a granddaughter in Shay and later another granddaughter in Dr. Lambert.

“If Natalie does not come across and I leave Toronto as promised, will you leave her alone?”

LaCroix smiled. Nick had found his little loophole. What a shame. Still he really did not wish her any harm to befall Dr. Lambert.

“No, Nicholas she will not be harmed as long as she does not share her knowledge of the community. I cannot protect her from others as I will leave Toronto if you do so but I promise she will come to no harm from me.”

Nick’s voice became nearly a whisper as he asked with pleading eyes, “And what of our agreement regarding Fleur?”

Nick thought he saw a flash of pain cross his master’s face at the mention of his mortal sister’s name. LaCroix rose and moved to refill his glass. Several silent moments passed punctuated only by the clink of glass against glass. Finally, he spoke.

“You know I always keep my promises, Nicholas. However, I believe it would be best for all concerned if I simply released you from that particular agreement.” Nick was speechless. His father’s back was turned to him which was just as well as Nick’s mouth was agape in stunned silence.

“It has come between us far too many times and has caused us both far too much pain. It is time to leave Fleur in the past where she belongs. Do you not agree?” He turned to Nicholas handing him a glass of bloodwine and another of pure blood for Shay. Nick regained his composure and stood before his father.

“Yes I do agree, LaCroix. And I’m sorry.” Nick spoke the words quietly. LaCroix was right. Their disagreement regarding Fleur so long ago had haunted them for far too long.

“Sorry, Nicholas?” LaCroix regarded his son, surprised at his admission.

Nick bowed his head in surrender. “Yes. I’m sorry for asking you to leave her behind. I think I can understand now how you felt. I should not have interfered. I should have allowed Fleur to make her own choice rather than making it for her. I was wrong.”

LaCroix looked at Nick with adoration. He remembered the times they had spent together along with Janette. Often there was so much hostility but for a short time, they had all three been very happy. LaCroix longed for those days again. Perhaps this would be the first step back. Yes, he was willing to compromise for his son. It was a price he was more than willing to pay. He had grown tired of the games they had played. He had lost his mortal daughter, his creator, Divia not once but twice. He had lost Janette and he had pushed Nicholas away in his desperation to keep him close. He had believed he was looking out for the best interests of his family but in the end, he had nearly lost everything he’d held dear. Now, before him stood his precious Nicholas. He could not change the past but he had an opportunity to shape the future. Eight hundred years of trying to force Nicholas had only caused more resentment. It was time to approach things from another angel. “As I said, it is all in the past, mon fils.” LaCroix raised a hand to stroke Nicholas’ cheek lightly. Nicholas found himself unconsciously leaning into LaCroix’s touch.

“Thank you, father.” Nick said his voice barely above a whisper.

Shay had watched the events, unfolding between father and son in respectful silence. She found herself again thinking of Allison. Their relationship was not a close as Nick and LaCroix’s had apparently once been but Shay knew given time it would have been.

“Nicholas, you have everything you need?” LaCroix ended the rare moment of contentment reluctantly as he stepped back from Nick.

“Yes, thank you.” Nick had received the shipment of pure uncut blood for Shay as well as the bloodwine he would consume.

“Very well then. If you will excuse me, I have business to attend to.” He paused before Shay and took her hand in his. Bringing it up to his lips, he lightly placed a kiss there. “Welcome to the family, my dear.”

***

Nick detected a bit of fear in Shay along with something else he couldn’t quite identify as he opened the door to the caddy for her. She slipped into the car without a word. She was looking out the passenger side window at the line of mortals stretching out from the Raven. One hand was tightly gripping the door handle and the other was balled up into a tight fist. “Are you alright, Shay?” He asked with deepening concern.

“I’m suddenly feeling a little…hungry.” She admitted.

Nick nodded. He sensed her control slipping even though she’d fed while he and LaCroix had talked. It wasn’t mere sustenance she craved but something else. She was suffering from the loss of her creator and she craved something to feel the void. The time had come for Nick to fill that widening void before her control slipped beyond her reach.

“What happens now?” She asked her voice a little shaky still staring at the crowd of mortals.

“Now,” Nick said as he slipped the key in the ignition. The powerful motor came to life with a roar. “We go back to the loft and I make you my daughter.”

Shay looked at him, searching his face for reassurance. She’d only shared blood with Allison before. She had no idea what would occur but it undoubtedly including her and Nick sharing blood. Nick placed a hand atop hers offering the comfort and reassurance she sought in his face. “It’ll be alright, Shay. I promise.”

Shay followed Nick into the loft silently. She was nervous to the point of feeling nauseous. She feared that she would be unable to keep anything down at this point including the blood she would take from Nick to complete the process. The very thought of consuming anything nearly made her wretch.

“Nick, I’m not sure I can do this right now.” She told him, her voice strained. He moved around the loft lighting a number of candles and activating the remote causing the fireplace to erupt in a roaring fire.

Nick approached her and took her by the shoulders. “Shay, it’s alright. Don’t be nervous. Just follow your instincts. You’ll be fine.” With that said Nick allowed his eyes to glow and his fangs to drop.

The effect on Shay was immediate. Her undead heart beat several times in rapid succession. God, but he was beautiful. The candlelight bathed the loft in a soft glow. Nick’s golden eyes reflected the flickering flames surrounding them. His silky blonde curls glimmered in the light giving him the appearance of a golden angel. Shay’s own fangs dropped in response to the sight and her eyes too became golden with anticipation as a feral growl emanated from deep within her chest.

“You see.” Nick whispered as he brushed her raven hair from one shoulder baring her delicate neck. Shay merely nodded basking in his cool touch.

“Now, just follow my lead and do what comes natural. Release yourself to me, Shay. Let me see all of you,” he whispered his voice sensual. He wrapped one arm around her waist the other moved to behind her head supporting it gently.

Shay watched in awe as his eyes changed from glowing gold to the blood red her own quickly following suit. She swallowed hard preparing herself for the onslaught of images she knew would come with the exchange of blood. Nick reared his head back slightly before he struck.

Shay gasped in pleasure as she felt Nick sink his fangs into her sensitive skin. It had always been an erotic experience even with Allison though it had been awkward at first. The sharing of blood was a sexual experience for the vampire and Shay had been reluctant to share that with another of the same sex. But, she had quickly learned that it was simply the vampire’s way.

For a split second Shay basked in the pleasure then when she could hold back no longer she sank her own fangs deep into Nick’s flesh. Nick growled in pleasure as he felt her fangs pierce his own sensitive skin completing the circle.

He watched in wonder as the images of Shay’s life flashed him. He marveled at the depth of her convictions. She was not merely comfortable with her existence as a vampire, she revealed in it. At first, Nick felt a strong aversion to the feelings but he soon realized that she did not revel in the power of the vampire in the same way as so many of their kind. Shay firmly believed she could use her abilities for good rather than evil. He felt the depth of sadness she felt at her loss of first her beloved sister, Megan and then at the loss of Allison. Then beneath her sadness, overshadowed by it but not yet consumed Nick saw another side of Shay. She could be witty and lighthearted. She was optimistic always looking for the silver lining in the clouds, often she found not only the silver lining but a great deal of humor as well. Nick couldn’t help but smile at the image he got from her blood of a tiny stuffed bat hanging from the rear view mirror of the car she’d driven in Seattle. Shay had become fascinated with the myths and folklore surrounding the vampire shortly after she’d learned of their existence. She had studied the old legends. She had eagerly collected all of the books and watched all of the movies she could find based on the vampires of legend. Allison had found her enthusiasm quite amusing. Shay had retained her fascination even after she’d joined the ranks of those the legends were based upon. She was amazed at the aspects that had been portrayed correctly and laughed for hours at the absurdity of the aspects that were so wrong.

Shay remembered being overwhelmed with the images she’d received from Allison the first time they’d shared blood. She had tried to prepare herself for something similar from Nick but nothing could have prepared her for all that she saw in his blood. Where Allison’s father had been kind and loving, LaCroix had often been cruel and possessive. Allison, at her father’s insistence, had avoided killing innocents from her very beginnings. Nick on the other hand had revealed in killing the innocent and guilty alike at LaCroix’s insistence. She felt his shame and guilt at what he’d done. She felt his confusion over his feeling towards his father. She felt his concern for her and his determination to guide her through the tumultuous storm and to help her emerge without the same guilt and regret that weighed heavily on him. Beyond all of this Shay saw the deep love he had for Natalie. It was a love so deep and true that all else paled by comparison.

Slowly, Nick removed his fangs from Shay as she did the same. Neither spoke as Nick pulled her into his embrace and held her tightly there as she wept. She wept for Nick, his life so filled with pain and regret. She wept for suffering he’d withstood over the years and for the suffering he’d caused others. Mostly though, she wept for herself. She wept for the loss of her father whom she barely remembered, for the loss of her mother, her beloved sister, Megan. Finally, she wept the hardest for the loss of Allison. It was not only the physical loss for which she wept but for the place left empty in her very soul, a place now occupied by Nick’s comforting presence. She vowed never to forget Allison and all that she had given her. At last, Shay wept in overwhelming happiness for the opportunity she’d been given to start over again, for Nick’s generosity and compassion.

Nick held her close, caressing her back and whispering comforting words in her ear. He sent his love for his new daughter to her through their newly formed link. He was rewarded with feelings of undying devotion, love and gratitude from her.

Shay had been brought into the darkness willingly. Nick had been swallowed up by the darkness, transformed by it into something he had come to detest. Shay had been prepared for the darkness, she did not allow it to engulf her, and instead she had brought into the darkness a bright shining light, a light which Nick could now see, burning brightly within his daughter. He basked in the glow of it, surrounded himself with it. Was there such a light deep within himself? Could it be rekindled to burn as brightly? “Perhaps,” Nick thought, “perhaps I can find my own light in this darkness.”

The End!

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