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Ghosts of the Past...Continued

Shay forced herself to calm down before she stepped onto the sidewalk from the old apartment building. Her anxiety was building and though she was excited about the prospect of her beloved sister being alive, she was filled with an unexplainable feeling of dread at the same time. Something else was also nudging at the edge of her consciousness. She suspected that something was Nick. He was close she was almost sure of it. 'He's coming after you, Shay. What else did you expect?' she asked herself.

Shay took a deep breath and stepped onto the sidewalk. She had the overwhelming urge to take to the air in order to reach her destination but again she resisted. Instead, she opted to walk the few blocks hoping that she could use the time to clear her thoughts. If Megan were indeed working, she would likely be there for the remainder of the evening. Even if she got off earlier she would likely walk back to the apartment and Shay's route would intercept her easily.

Shay's thoughts wandered back to Nick as the made her way through the night. He had been so kind to her. He had provided her with not only a place to stay but a reason to stay. He had made untold sacrifices that first week after they had shared blood. Her emotions been up and down like a roller coaster but he had stuck with her through the whole adjustment period. He had done so much for her, sacrificed so much and here she was precisely where he told her not to go doing precisely what he'd forbade her to do. He had every right to be angry with her. He had every reason to abandon her here in Seattle and leave her to her fate. Yet he was here, she could feel him. Had he followed her simply to punish her for her disobedience or to take revenge on her for interrupting his life? He had every right to want revenge, to want her out of his life. Her presence had obviously been a strain on his relationship with Natalie. Of course, it wasn't surprising. Who could blame Natalie for being jealous? Shay had tuned up out of the blue, within days moved into Nick's loft, spent his money, and even shared blood with him. Her care had demanded a great deal of Nick's time and energy especially at first leaving him less and less time for Natalie. Natalie had been such a good sport about it. Shay had made it clear from the beginning that her relationship with Nick was strictly that of a master and fledgling and Natalie had accepted Shay in that role. Still Shay could see the jealousy in her eyes just below the surface ready to boil over at any moment.

Shay glanced back at the apartment building before she turned the corner out of sight. So much had happened there, so much had changed. It was like walking away from an old and dear friend. She briefly noticed a white Jaguar parked just across the street. It seemed out of place but she gave it no more thought as she continued on her way. The engine of the Jaguar roared to life and it rolled out nearly silent into the street.

***

The apartment was a half an hour drive from the airport under normal circumstances. Nick made in twenty minutes.

Natalie glanced down at the map in her hands. "This looks like the place," she said as she studied the building.

"This is it," Nick told her with unwavering conviction.

Natalie reached for the door but she was stopped by Nick's hand on her arm.

"Natalie, wait." Natalie turned back to Nick unsure of his intentions.

Nick reached into the back seat and retrieved a large leather bag. He rummaged through it for a moment as Natalie watched. Finally, he pulled out a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Natalie recognized it immediately as the backup weapon he carried back in Toronto. She looked up at him questioningly as he shoved it into her hand. "Take it, Nat. Just in case. You know how to use it."

That she did. She was no stranger to guns but that didn't mean she had to like them. "Nick-" she started to protest.

"Nat, please just take it. I did some checking on this Rachels before we left. He's been known to kill mortal sympathizers especially if they get in the way. It'll make me feel better if you have it." The look on his face was what convinced Natalie to take the weapon and slip it into the spacious pocket of her jacket. It was heavy and awkward there but somehow comforting as well.

Natalie followed Nick as he crossed the street and into the building. Nick took her hand is his as he lead her up the stairs to the second floor. The building had a slight musty smell but wasn't offensive. She could hear voices murmuring behind several of the doors as they passed.

Natalie stood in the shadows as Nick instructed. She fingered the gun in her pocket nervously. Nick listened for a moment before knocking on the door. His sensitive hearing detected only the sound of a single mortal heartbeat but no indication of a hunter nearby. The echoes of his knuckles against the wooden door still filled the hallway when the door creaked open. The face of an elderly woman peeked out at Nick through the few inches the door opened still secured by the chain on the interior. Nick produced his badge and held it out for her to see. He had absolutely no jurisdiction in Seattle so the badge meant nothing but he knew from experience that people were more likely to open up to an officer of the law.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, ma'am, but I'd like to ask you a couple of questions if you don't mind," Nick gave the woman his best boyish smile.

She nodded her head and pushed the door closed. Nick heard the rattle of the chain being unfastened before the door opened wide. He took the opportunity to peek over her shoulder into the apartment. It was immaculately clean and neat. A cat was perched on the sofa glaring at him defiantly. It reminded him of Sydney.

"What can I do for you?" the elderly woman smiled pleasantly at Nick and glanced at Natalie standing nearby.

"Do you know a young woman by the name of Megan Jenkins?"

The woman seemed to concentrate for a moment as if searching her memories. "No, I can't say I do," the woman answered at last. Her answer seemed to lack conviction.

"How long have you been living here?" Nick asked her studying her face.

"Oh, just a few weeks. Is there some sort of problem?"

"No, ma'am. I'm just trying to find this person. I believe she lived her before you." Nick fished a photograph out of the pocket of his coat and held it out for her. She took it with unsteady hands and held it close to her face. "Do you recognize her?" Nick asked as she adjusted her bifocals to get a better look.

"No, I'm sorry, I don't," she shook her head handing the photo back to Nick.

"All right. Thank you for your time." Nick glanced over her shoulder into the apartment again a distant look of confusion on his face.

"I'm sorry I couldn't help you," she smiled apologetically at Nick oblivious to his glance into her home. Nick returned her smile and bid her a good night.

"Shay's been here," Nick said matter-of-factly as he turned towards the stairs.

"How do you know that?" Natalie joined him and they started back down.

"I can feel it," he replied without looking at Natalie. "She's somewhere near, Nat."

Natalie followed him outside of the building and nearly ran into him as he stopped suddenly on the sidewalk. He seemed to be listening and in a sense, he was. Natalie watched in fascination. He was in 'hunter' mode. Slowly he turned his face to upwards to look into the blackened sky. At last, he turned to Natalie seemingly satisfied with his survey of the area. "Nat, I want you to take the car and drive around the area. Call me if you see anything." He turned to walk away but Natalie caught his sleeve.

"Where are you going?" her voice had taken on a demanding tone. She didn't appreciate being left out in the cold. She'd come her to help not to drive around aimlessly.

Nick turned to her and pointed to the sky.

"Oh." Natalie responded.

"She's close Nat. I can use our link to track her down from the air but I may need you to be close by with the supplies when I find her."

Natalie nodded. That did make sense. "Nick, be careful," she told him.

Nick leaned over and placed a kiss on her lips. "I will."

Natalie watched as he disappeared down a nearby alley before she headed back to the SUV parked nearby. After adjusting the seat and mirrors, she slipped the key into the ignition. She was just about to turn the key when someone knocked on the passenger's side window. She was wound up as it was and the unexpected noise made her nearly jump out of her own skin. She turned to peer out the window thankful that the door was locked. The windows were darkly tinted but she could still make out the figure of the elderly woman from the apartment.

"Excuse me," she was saying. Natalie activated the power window rolling it half way down. The woman had a worried expression on her face.

"Yes?"

The woman paused a moment as if the gather her courage. "Look, I'm just an old lady. I've never been in trouble with the police in my whole life. Is that girl in some sort of trouble?" She asked Natalie.

"No, she's not in any trouble. He sister is looking for her. Nick and I are not here in an official capacity," Natalie assured her. "Do you know something about her?"

She held up a stack of envelopes for Natalie to see. Curious, Natalie rolled the window the remainder of the way down. The old woman extended her bony hand through the window indicating for Natalie to take the items.

"I don't know anything about her. I didn't lie to you," she told Natalie nervously. "Yesterday a man came to my apartment. He told me that a young lady was looking for the girl who lived there before me. He didn't explain anything else but he offered me a thousand dollars to leave that out where it could be seen and to leave my apartment until he called me to come back. He told me that if anyone asked about this girl to tell them I didn't know her.

Natalie shuffled through the stack as she listened to the woman's confession. Nick was right. It was a trap and Shay had walked right into it. She realized that though it was nothing more than junk mail and a check stub it was all addressed to Megan. Rachels had planted just enough to lead Shay on a wild goose chase.

"I don't want to get into trouble. I didn't think I was doing anything illegal and a thousand dollars is a lot of money for an old lady like me. When I realized you were from the police I decided I might better fess up before I got into real trouble."

Natalie looked up and smiled at her. "You're not in trouble, Mrs...."

"Stevens. Greta Stevens."

"Mrs. Stevens, thank you for telling me this. You've been a great help."

"Oh, I feel much better getting that off my chest. I hope it helps you." Natalie thanked her again then watched her as she hobbled back into the building.

Nick had sensed that Shay had been in the apartment and now it looked like he was right. Pulling out her cell phone she punched in Nick's number. Her efforts were rewarded with an irritating buzz in her hear. She checked the number and re-dialed thinking she'd dialed incorrectly. Still she was unable to get through to Nick. "Damn." She cursed the phone. Did it even have coverage in the states? She looked at the mail again and noticed the check stub. Closer examination revealed an address that she suspected was the address of the business that had issued the check. She pulled out the map of Seattle they had picked up at the airport. Just as she suspected, it was close to the apartment, only a few blocks away. She turned the key in the ignition and the truck roared to life.

The old warehouse stood amidst a number of other old buildings that looked just as decrepit as it did. Unlike the others, the street number was marked plainly on the front of the building as if it had been placed there recently.

Shay stood across the empty street and studied the building carefully. It was, no doubt, the address that had been listed on the check stub. Why, then, did it look abandoned? Was there some small insignificant office somewhere hidden in the bowels of the old brick structure? The company name had give no indication as to what sort of business was done there.

Shay took a step towards the building but stopped short when her sensitive hearing detected the heartbeat of a mortal approaching. Stepping back into the shadows she listened as the sound grew louder. Suddenly she realized that she was hungry and just a suddenly she realized she'd sat her duffle bag down in the apartment. In her rush to leave, she had left it there with the only bottles of blood she had brought from Toronto. Shay made a vain attempt to move back further from the approaching human but her progress was halted by a hard cold brick wall against her back. Still, the heartbeat came closer. Shay was well hidden from the approaching mortal but now she was unconsciously trying to hide from something much stronger, her own nature. Her body tensed as an elderly man dressed in rags shuffled into view. She slammed her eyes shut in an effort to gain control of the raging vampire within her. After what seemed like an eternity, the tantalizing sound of the vagrant's heartbeat faded into the distance. Even after she was sure he'd gone she remained hidden not sure she could trust herself to move. Finally, she dared to open her eyes knowing they were still glowing a golden hue and started across the street.

All of the windows on the front of the building were boarded up. Shay tried to peak through the wooden slats to get a glimpse of the interior but she could see nothing. Twin wooden doors closed against the night at what was once the main entrance to the building. Shay stood before the doors considering her next move. Nick was right, there was something strange about this whole thing. Shay shook her head at the passing thought she had of turning back. She had come this far she couldn't stop now. Tentatively she reached out for the tarnished brass doorknob. The metal was roughened from corrosion due to age and exposure to the elements. The wooden doors though obviously old and worn still hinted at their original grace. They had originally been a dark hunter green but now the paint was faded and peeling from the surface. The original purpose of the building was lost in the past but it was obvious that it had been lavishly decorated.

Shay was reluctant, something simply didn't feel right. Still she found herself slowly turning the doorknob. Encountering no resistance from the lock, she cautiously pushed the door open. It groaned in protest causing Shay to grimace at the sound as she stepped inside. For a moment, she remained completely still, listening for any sound indicating the presence of mortals within. She detected nothing yet she found herself fighting an overwhelming feeling of dread. The combination of this overwhelming dread, anxiety and growing hunger made her head swim. She started to turn back to the door when she suddenly remembered where she had experienced a similar sensation. Her body tensed as she remembered with perfect clarity that night in the alley near Nick's loft only a few weeks ago. She had felt the same overwhelming feelings of dread as she and Allison had been pursued by the hunter. Shay's eyes changed and she felt her fangs as they emerged. There was a hunter near she was certain of it and suddenly she wanted revenge.

Concentrating on the sensations, she moved deeper into the building. It had served as a warehouse in its most recent incarnation. The interior had been stripped converting the building into little more than a brick and mortar shell. In the darkness Shay could make out the scattered remains of wooden crates, some covered by tarps along with various rubbish strode around the floor. She moved forward silently looking and listening for any indication of the hunters hiding place. Shay whirled around with vampiric speed as her sensitive ears caught the swish of material against a wooden crate. She got a glimpse of something but her attention was redirected to the sudden sting she felt in her abdomen. Looking down she saw the source of the pain protruding from her body. Reaching down she ripped the dart out and flung it forcefully onto the floor. The warehouse remained silent and the dart clinked metallically as it hit the cement floor and bounced away. Eyes flaming blood red Shay let out a feral growl at the stinging sensation in her flesh. She tried to take a step forward towards the remote corner of the building where the dart had originated but she found herself unable to control her own feet. The floor abruptly rushed up to meet her as her vision became fuzzy. She shook her head in an effort to clear her mind but it was no use. Her own body refused to obey her commands. Confused and frightened she instinctively called out both with her weakening voice and in her mind for Nick.

****

Nick was in mid flight when Shay's mental cry for help struck him like a sledgehammer. Her onslaught caused him to loose concentration and consequently altitude. He nearly slammed into a nearby building as he struggled to regain control of his faltering flight. At last, he managed to land less than gracefully and without detection. Gasping for breath he leaned heavily against a brick wall and tried to get his bearings. Shay's cries had been strong enough for Nick to determine that she was very close but now he could not feel her at all. He slid down the wall in defeat. He searched his mind in vain for any indication of Shay's presence. There was nothing. Lowering his head into his hands, he fought back the tears. He had failed her. He had promised to protect her, to teach her, to guide her but in the end, he had failed her. Now she was gone.

Nick's self induced guilt session was interrupted when he heard the sound of a vehicle approaching. He got to his feet and moved back into the shadows to wait for the vehicle to pass. Instead of continuing down the darkened street, it came to a stop. Nick was waiting for the occupant to disappear into one of the nearby buildings when he detected a familiar heartbeat.

Natalie climbed down from the oversized sport utility vehicle onto the street. She rechecked the address on the check stub the elderly lady had given to her against the numbers on the sign hanging over the door of the building in front of her. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught movement in the shadows near the alley on the side of the building. Without hesitation she reached for Nick's 9mm she had stashed in her coat pocket.

"It's no use, Nat." A familiar voice said. Natalie breathed a sigh of relief as she recognized the figure approaching her from the alley.

"Nick, you nearly scared me to death," she admonished him then she saw the look on his face. "Nick...?"

"We're too late," he said as he approached his voice barely a whisper.

Natalie stared at him in shock. "You found her?"

Nick shook his head staring at the dirty grimy street under his feet. "No, but I can't feel her anymore."

"That doesn't mean she's dead...does it?"

He shrugged his shoulders dejectedly. "I can't feel her anymore. Why else would that be?" His voice was shaky with emotion.

Natalie moved close and pulled him into an embrace stroking his golden curls. "What if she was just unconscious? Would you still feel her?"

"I don't know, Nat. There aren't many things that would make a vampire simply loose consciousness like that. Trauma maybe but it was so sudden. One second she was there then something happened, something terrible. I felt her fear, she was calling for me then she was gone like she'd never been there at all." Nick returned Natalie's embrace and buried his face in her soft auburn locks.

Natalie pulled back from him and looked into his eyes. "Nick, is she were injected with curare would that sever the link?"

Nick considered for a moment then a tiny spark of hope began to burn. He nodded. "Yeah, it would."

"Nick, after you left the lady from the apartment came outside. She confessed that someone had paid her to lie about Megan. He instructed her to leave some things in the apartment that would have sent Shay on a wild goose chase and right into his trap." Nick listened as Natalie explained. "Most of it was unimportant but there was a paycheck stub with Megan's name on it. The address on it is that building over there." Natalie nodded towards the building across the street.

Nick followed her gaze. "That would fit. I know I was close to her." He turned back to Natalie. "I'm going in, Nat. You wait here."

Natalie reached out and grabbed hold of the sleeve of his coat. He turned back to her and looked into her pleading eyes. "Nick, it's a trap."

"I know but if Shay is still alive I have to get to her. I promised to protect her."

"Nick, please be careful," Natalie pleaded with him.

Nick smiled sadly and moved close to Natalie. "I will. I promise." He whispered in her ear before he kissed her forehead.

Natalie watched him walk across the street feeling more helpless than she'd ever felt in her entire life. She couldn't bare the thought that he might not come back, that he might be walking right out of her life. She wrapped her arms around herself and pushed back the overwhelming urge to run after him, instead she broke into tears.

***

From the shadows, he watched as the blond man moved stealthily towards the building. A smug smile crossed his face. The man was a vampire, he had no doubt. The woman on the other hand was obviously mortal. Just as obvious was the fact that she meant something to the vampire. Perfect, he thought, this was going to work out just perfect.

Natalie had been so caught up watching Nick that she didn't even notice the man sneak up behind her. Her first indication of his presence was his hands clamping over her mouth. His hands prevented her from screaming but she had tried nonetheless. Her muffled cries along with her suddenly elevated heartbeat had been more than enough to get Nick's attention just before he'd entered the building. He turned back just in time to see Natalie struggling against the man's hold. Immediately his eyes went from clear blue to blood red bypassing the intermediate golden hue. He rushed towards the man but halted his advance as he realized her captor held a small revolver to her head.

"I see I was correct in my assumptions, she does mean something to you." His menacing voice hinted of his British ancestry. Nick glared at him his muscles tense and ready to spring into action. He did not attempt to conceal the vampire from his enemy. This man knew exactly what he was; this man was without a doubt a hunter. Nick kept his distance but began circling his prey menacingly.

The man's snorted laugh only served to inflame Nick more. "Release her," he commanded.

The man laughed even harder. "No, I don't think so."

"What do you want?" Nick asked him, his voice full of venom.

"Only to see you and your kind wiped from the face of the earth," he retorted calmly. "But first allow me to introduce myself. I want you to know who I am before I destroy you. My name is Peter Rachels. I would offer to shake your hand but I detest touching the likes of you."

"You're weapon won't harm me," Nick nodded at the gun still resting against Natalie's head seemingly unfazed by Rachel's derogatory comments.

"No, of course it won't but I don't think she'd fare quite as well."

"She's not part of this. Let her go. It's me you want," Nick glared at him. Natalie stood completely still in Rachel's grasp, her eyes wide with fear. "Let her go and I will come without resistance."

"NO!" Natalie screamed struggling in the iron grip of her captor. She would not have Nick walk into the grasp of this hunter to save her. She would not give up without a fight.

Nick did not respond. His face remained a cold emotionless mask. For a split second, he reminded Natalie of LaCroix.

Rachel's seemed to consider Nick's offer for a moment. Nick watched his face. He needed to keep the man talking, to keep him distracted. Unbeknownst to Natalie or to Rachels he sensed Shay was indeed alive and was coming around. If he could stall long enough, if Shay could escape, if he could draw Shay outside perhaps they could all get out of this alive.

"No, I don't think that's a fair trade." Rachels shifted his hold on Natalie. Natalie took the opportunity to attempt an elbow to his stomach but he was able to restrain her.

"What would be a 'fair trade'? What do you want in exchange for her life?" Nick did not intend to bargain with him but it was a suitable tactic to stall until Shay could awaken.

"I've gone to a lot of trouble to set up this little ruse. I intend to come away with quite a bit. You're young fledgling fell right into my trap. She was so vulnerable, so easy to draw to me. She's incapacitated for the moment. I'm sure I could get plenty of information from her but you...well you can tell me so much more. I was pleased that you came to her rescue."

"I'll tell you whatever you want to know," Nick tried to force his eyes back to normal. They were again clear blue but still flecked with gold and blazing murderously at Rachels.

***

Shay felt like she'd been hit by a freight train. She struggled to sit up and take in her surroundings. She looked around confused unable to remember where she was or why. Suddenly it hit her. She gasped in shock and fear as she remembered some kind of dart striking her in her stomach. She remembered falling to the floor and being unable to move her limbs. Then there was nothing. She looked around and realized that she was still in the abandoned warehouse. She started to get to her feet but found her wrists cuffed to chains set in the concrete floor.

Shay reached out with her mind searching for Nick. She had felt him before she'd entered the warehouse she was certain. He was close, she could feel him. Shay frowned in concentration. He was agitated. She reached out for him. It was a skill she'd not yet learned and she was going purely on instinct. At last she found him, he was calling to her, he needed her help. Shay tried to concentrate but her hunger was becoming overwhelming. She'd been hungry when she'd entered the warehouse and whatever had knocked her out had taken its toll as well leaving her ravenous. She looked down at the shackled wrists cursing her luck. Growling in frustration, she yanked with all of her might. She felt the concrete give a tiny bit so she yanked again.

***

"Fine. Let's start with Toronto," Rachels glared at Nick daring him to move closer as he pressed the gun to Natalie's head. Natalie let out a frightened whimper causing Nick to become even more agitated. "How many are there in Toronto?"

"How many what?" Nick ground out the question angrily, "Say the word, Rachels!"

"Vampires!" Rachels spat the word at Nick. "How many vampires?" his voice grew louder and angrier.

"How should I know?" Nick answered in a calm bitter tone.

"Don't play games with me, I'm warning you!" Rachels pressed the barrel of the gun harder against Natalie's temple resting his finger on the trigger.

Nick shrugged his shoulders. He really didn't know how many vampires there were in Toronto. He didn't associate with the community. Since the whole mess with Divia, many vampires had chosen to move on. "Fifty or so maybe," he guessed.

***

It had taken several good yanks but at last, the chains holding Shay captive had given away. Her wrists were bleeding and bruised from the effort but she was free. The cuffs, chains still attached dangled from her wrists as she stood trying to get her bearings. Nick's calls still echoed in her mind. She had to get to him, that and the hunger spurred her onwards.

***

Nick felt Shay's approach as he tried to formulate a plan in his mind. He hoped that her appearance might distract Rachels long enough for Natalie to escape his grasp. He only hoped that Natalie would recognize the opportunity and be able to get away unharmed. It was risky at best and he would have to act fast. He sensed Shay's hunger as well. Not only would he have to get Natalie out of Rachels' line of fire, he would need to protect her from Shay as well. Nick took a deep breath just before the rickety old doors gave way under Shay's uncontrolled wrath.

Rachels spun to face the building, startled by the commotion, Natalie still held in his grasp. He stared with horror at the creature that emerged. Eyes blazing blood red, fangs bared menacingly, cuffs still dangling from her bloody wrists she looked like something straight out of a bad horror movie.

Natalie felt Rachels' grip loosen as he took in the sight. Without concern for the consequences, she yanked her right hand from his grasp and reached into her coat pocket. Nick had not anticipated her move and he watched helplessly as she pulled the 9mm pistol from its hiding place. Nick yelled for her to run but she did not respond. Everything went into slow motion. Rachels went for Natalie's free hand with the hand in which he held the small revolver he'd pressed against her head. He was obviously unaware of what she held in her grasp. Natalie turned and shoved the gun into Rachels' abdomen and pulled the trigger. The sound of the shot was muffled by direct contact with Rachels flesh but it still echoed through the night.

Rachels looked at Natalie his eyes wide in shock and fear. He tried to form a word but the only sound he made was a gurgling whimper. Natalie did not move as he reached out for her. She watched in mute horror as he slid to the ground at her feet leaving his blood smeared across her clothing.

Shay caught the scent of fresh blood immediately. Acting on pure instinct, she was by at the dying man's side in an instant. The vampire had been attracted by the blood but finding it spilt on the ground, she sought out the nearest source of fresh blood. Nick reached her just in time to prevent her from attacking Natalie.

Natalie stood over the body staring down at it in pure horror. Rachels' blood had begun to pool on the darkened street. She looked down at her blood-covered clothing then at her blood-covered hands. Her eyes locked on the gun she still held tightly. She stared at it in revulsion then let it fall to the ground with a loud thud.

Nick had pulled Shay away from Natalie and back to the SUV where he pulled out the bottles he'd brought along. Leaving her there to feed he moved to Natalie's side. She had shaken herself out of the initial shock and had gone into doctor mode. She kneeled before the man desperately feeling for a pulse. Finding nothing, she was about to start CPR when Nick kneeled behind her and wrapped his arms around her.

"Let me go!" she screamed at him and struggled in his grasp.

Nick shushed her, pulled her to her feet and turned her away from the body. She resisted with all of her strength but she was still no match for Nick.

"Nat, its over," he whispered to her again and again until she relaxed in his arms.

"He's dead. I killed him," she said as he looked into her tortured eyes.

"Nat, you had to."

Natalie could only stare into Nick's eyes. 'How many times has he killed?' she wondered. 'How can he bare the guilt?' Suddenly it all crashed down on her and she broke into tears. Nick simply let her cry soothing her with gentle words and holding her tight as her body was wracked with sobs.

***

Nick sat in silence in the hotel room. Natalie had fallen asleep at last. Nick had driven them to the hotel after taking care of things at the abandoned warehouse. Peter Rachels body lay at the bottom of a nearby lake. All evidence of any of the events that had taken place at the warehouse was gone. No one would ever know, only the three of them.

Natalie had remained silent as Nick had driven to the hotel. She went through the motions of changing clothes and showering as if she were in a dream. She slept soundly now as Nick watched her. Shay too slept in an adjoining room. She had recovered from her injuries and regained her delicate control after feeding. Nick had found the keys to the cuffs on Rachels' body and removed them from her wrists. They had arrived at the hotel far too close to sunrise for Nick to approach Shay regarding the events of the last few days. That would have to wait for tonight.

Nick doubted he would be able to sleep. There was simply too much to keep him awake today. Still he climbed into the bed next to Natalie and gazed at her face. She seemed so peaceful in her sleep the events of the night did not seem to have invaded her dreams but they would. Nick knew they would. He draped an arm across her waist protectively. He could protect her from so much but he could offer her little protection from herself and from the guilt of taking a life.

Shay stared out the window of the hotel at the Seattle skyline. 'How had it all come to this?' she wondered. She had drug Nick and Natalie both into a trap in her foolish attempt to find a sister she knew in her heart was dead. They had survived all three of them but they had not emerged unharmed. Shay had seen the look of horror on Natalie's face, the look of sadness on Nick's when he saw Natalie standing there over the man she'd killed.

Nick had said only a few words to Shay since then and each time he's spoken Shay had seen the bitter regret, the disappointment in his eyes. She could feel him now through their link strengthened by their close proximity. He knew she was awake just as she knew he was as well. He was waiting, waiting for her to approach him and take the blame for this entire mess.

Shay sighed in resignation before draining the remaining ruby red liquid in the glass she held in her hand. It was time to face the music. The was no use putting it off any longer. Shay knocked on the door connecting to the adjoining room. She waited for a moment before the door opened to reveal Nick waiting for her. Glancing over his shoulder, she noticed Natalie was still asleep. Nick looked as if he hadn't slept at all. His face was haggard and drawn with worry. He glanced at Natalie then turned back to Shay. "Lets talk in there," he nodded indicating Shay's room. Shay stepped aside allowing him to enter then closed the door quietly behind him.

Nick moved silently around the room examining the meaningless paintings decorating the walls. Shay remained near the door in silence.

"Sit," he commanded his back towards her as if he were unwilling or unable to face her.

Shay moved to the bed and settled down on it crossing her legs. She suddenly felt like a child awaiting a scolding from her parents. Indeed, she had received many a verbal scolding as she sat on her own bed in her own bedroom but that was many years ago.

After a painful silence, Nick finally turned to face her. Shay could not bear to look him in the eyes instead she studied her hands as they lay in her lap. Still he did not speak, he only looked at her. She could feel his eyes drilling into her.

"Nick..." she said quietly in an attempt to end the uncomfortable silence.

"Quiet!" he interrupted her his voice cold and ominous. Shay flinched at his angry tone. She prepared herself for the onslaught she knew was about to come but he simply remained silent. She could still feel his eyes on her, shooting daggers into her very soul, that is if she still had a soul.

For a moment, she managed to retain her composure but she felt it slipping away beyond her grasp. She tried to stop the tears but they came without her consent and she found herself sobbing uncontrollably. Nick continued to glare at her seemingly unaffected by her tears.

Nick regarded her bitterly. Did she have any idea of the consequences her actions had lead to? True she never meant this to happen but the fact remained that she was the cause of the events that had so tragically unfolded. It had been a mistake to offer to share his life with her to begin with. He was certain of that now. If he had not agreed to play surrogate parent to her, none of this would have happened. Natalie would not have to go through the rest of her life knowing that she'd taken the life of another human being. How could he have been so stupid?

Nick was interrupted from his self-scrutiny as Natalie emerged from the adjoining room. She glared at Nick who stood dumbly in front of the bed where Shay had been reduced to a sobbing lump under his cold glare.

"What the hell did you do to her?" she demanded angrily. In an instant, she was beside Shay on the bed rubbing her back comfortingly and murmuring soothing words to her. Nick stared at the two women dumbstruck. Natalie looked up at him coldly, "Maybe you should leave."

Her tone left no doubt that she fully expected him to vacate the room. Without a word, he disappeared leaving Natalie with a still sobbing young vampire.

Once she was out from under Nick's accusing glare Shay began to regain her composure. "Natalie, I'm so sorry," she choked out at last.

Natalie remained by her side embracing her gently. "Shay, this was not your fault," she assured her.

Shay pulled away from Natalie and repositioned herself to face her. "It is all my fault," she said quietly.

'Great,' Natalie thought, 'another guilt ridden vampire!'

"Listen to me, Shay," Natalie said in a commanding tone, "Nick and I came her to find you because we suspected the whole thing to be a trap. You only did what anyone would have done under the circumstances."

Shay stared at her hands struggling to control the tears again, "Nick blames me, that's all that matters. He regrets ever helping me. He should have left me there in that alley."

"Shay, look at me," Natalie demanded. Reluctantly Shay raised her eyes to Natalie's. "Nick cares about you. Believe me, he really does." Natalie chuckled, "He was a nervous wreck on the way down here. He blames himself for all of this. He feels like he's failed you."

Shay forced a hesitant smile. "Yeah, that sounds like our guilt ridden Nick alright." Her expression turned serious again. "Natalie, are you alright? Nick's really worried about you."

"I'll bet." Natalie stood and moved to the window. "I'm okay. I know it was either him or me. It was just such a shock at first. I didn't really plan to do it, it just happened."

Shay nodded. "Have you talked to Nick?"

Natalie turned back to Shay. "No, I guess when he gets back I need to. He probably thinks I'm devastated and guilt ridden."

Shay smiled, genuinely this time. "Oh, he didn't go anywhere. He's just outside the door."

Nick cringed when he heard that. He hadn't really meant to eavesdrop but he still wasn't completely comfortable leaving Natalie alone with Shay. What he had heard had been enlightening. Shay truly thought he regretted 'adopting' her. How could she believe such a thing? True he was angry with her, he had even told himself taking her had been a mistake but he never meant it. Shay had become a part of his life, a welcome addition in fact. No, he didn't regret making her his daughter, in fact it he considered it one of the best things he'd ever done.

Natalie opened the door to find Nick sheepishly standing there a guilty look on his face.

"I'm going to find myself something to eat. I suggest you make nice with your 'daughter'," Natalie slipped by him and into the hallway. Nick watched her disappear around the corner amazed at her intuitive understanding and honest acceptance of the relationship between himself and Shay.

Shay was still sitting cross-legged on the bed. Her face was streaked with tracks of red from the blood tears she'd shed. Nick looked at her sadly. "Go wash your face," he told her softly as he walked into the room closing the door behind him.

Shay returned a few moments later. "Nick, I'm sorry," she said quietly.

"I know." Nick studied her face for a moment. Her eyes downcast and her face etched with regret. "Come here," Nick spread his arms wide welcoming her into his embrace.

Still not daring to look up at him, she moved crept towards him slowly and reluctantly stopping within arms reach. Nick reached out with his hand and gently tilted her face up encouraging her to look into his eyes. Shay squeezed her eyes tightly shut in an effort to avoid his penetrating gaze. "Shay, look at me," Nick whispered.

Reluctantly she opened her eyes to meet his. Instead of the cold angry stare she had endured earlier, she saw warmth and compassion in his clear blue depths. The tears threatened to fall again as he spoke.

"Shay, promise you'll never do anything like this again."

Shay tried in vain to form the words but she found herself only able to whimper and nod her head. The last vestiges of control slipped from her grasp and she collapsed into Nick's embrace sobbing uncontrollably.

Nick found himself too fighting tears as he shushed her and caressed her gently. Together they stood lost in emotion until at last Shay quieted. She felt a mental nudge as Nick turned his head baring his neck to her. Shay pulled back from his embrace and looked up at him quizzically.

"Take it Shay, take my blood and know how much you've come to mean to me," he told her through the link between fledgling and master as well as with his gentle calming voice.

Shay was touched by his gesture, his sincerity, the nearly pleading look in his eyes. She nodded slowly as her eyes began to glow in a gold and her fangs descended. Slowly and ever so gently, Shay sank her fangs into Nick's cool flesh.

Nick reveled in the sensations as Shay gently fed from him. He sent his love and devotion for her across their link and received the same love and devotion as well as a deep and unfaltering gratitude back from her along with an unspoken request. He smiled and complied with her request by sinking his own fangs into her shoulder completing the circle of blood.

***

Natalie had wandered down to the hotel lobby leaving Nick and Shay alone to work things out. Nick had been afraid he might loose his temper with Shay and harm her physically. To the contrary, what he had done was in many ways worse. He had wounded her emotionally. When she had stepped into the room and seen Shay sobbing hysterically on the bed the look on Nick's face had enraged her. He stared at her so coldly that physical punishment would have been far preferable. Shay had no defense against his stares and silence. Natalie knew this from experience. She had suffered not only physical abuse from her grandmother but she'd been a victim of emotional and verbal abuse as well. Wounds from physical abuse would heal but the wounds from emotional and verbal abuse left much deeper scars.

Natalie finished the bagel and juice she ordered from the snack bar. She glanced at the clock on the wall. She'd been gone just over a half an hour. Slipping down from the barstool, she nodded her thanks to the young bartender and left him a generous tip before heading back to the room.

Natalie paused and listened at the door to Shay's hotel room. She heard nothing. Was that a good sign or was Nick simply giving Shay the silent treatment again? She raised her fist to knock just as Nick opened the door.

"Come in, Natalie," Nick smiled warmly at her.

"Everything okay?" Natalie stepped inside and saw Shay staring out the window.

"Everything's fine," Nick wrapped an arm around Nat's waist and pulled her over to the window beside Shay. Shay turned to smile at Natalie. She looked much better, her eyes no longer swollen and bloodshot from crying and the red tearstains cleaned away. She looked content. Nick moved to stand between Natalie and Shay as he too studied the Seattle skyline. He silently wrapped an arm around women's waist and pulled them both close to him. Shay leaned in and rested her head against his shoulder and Natalie did the same. Nick looked at each of the women and smiled. "My two girls," he whispered as he placed a kiss into first Natalie's hair then Shay's.

***

A light breeze rustled the leaves on the trees. For any not accustomed to the sounds and the sights of the night it might have been unnerving. Nick was comfortable with the sounds of the night and though he longed for the daylight at times, he felt at home in the darkness. Shay too was beginning to feel comfortable in the darkness though she had lived in it's midst many centuries less than Nick. Alone Natalie thought she might have been a little nervous here but with Nick by her side, she felt safe. The trio picked their way through the cemetery in companionable silence searching for one grave in particular. At last, Shay, who was leading the way, came to a halt. She stared down at the headstone set at the head of the still fresh grave. Nick and Natalie stood back allowing her time alone.

Shay kneeled down and ran her fingers along the word inscribed on the marble. Megan had been so young, so full of life, so innocent and her death so tragic. Shay laid the bundle of roses atop the grave. "I miss you, Meg," she said quietly. Shay remained there for only a moment before she rose feet. She moved back to stand beside Nick and Natalie. Nick gave her a gentle embrace and the trio turned and walked away from grave. Shay did not look back. She missed Megan but her sister was part of another life, a life it was time to leave behind, a past best laid to rest. Shay would not forget but she would move forward into a new and promising future.

The end.

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