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Phoenix Rising continued...

The water flowed by her without anything to block its path. Days and nights passed unnoticed by the endless flow. Impervious, by its very movement to the winter temperatures. If the stream were to cease its movements it would become frozen, trapped, unable to continue its endless journey to the sea. But there was nothing to stop the timeless flow. It was hindered by nothing, it simply kept flowing day after day, month after month, year after year…forever.

Shay picked up a twig and tossed it into the water. She watched it as it was carried away, until it disappeared out of sight.

Nick stood a few hundred feet away, watching his daughter. She sat beside a small stream she had discovered on the outskirts of Toronto. She had come here after relinquishing Brooks. Nick turned the investigation over to Tracy and booked off the rest of the night. He had met Natalie at the loft and told her what had happened before he set out in search of Shay.

Shay had made no attempt to block him from her mind. She had not attempted to hide from him or prevent him from finding her. She knew he was there, watching her, yet she chose not to acknowledge his presence. After a few moments, she felt him move closer to her.

"I almost killed him." Shay's soft voice was barely above a whisper. Without the advantage of vampiric hearing, Nick never would have heard her admission at all.

Nick remained standing a few feet behind her. "You did the right thing, Shay."

Shay did not respond. Instead, she found another twig, breaking it in half, she tossed it into the stream.

"It was so easy the first time, Nick."

Nick sighed. He did not need the link they shared to know how she felt. He had been down this road himself, more times than he cared to remember. Nick moved to her side. She had spread a quilt out across the snow so that she could sit there by the edge of the stream. Had she been mortal the heat from her body would have melted the snow beneath the quilt soaking it through, but then, she wasn't mortal. Wordlessly, Nick sat beside her.

"It's always easy the first time." Nick responded softly.

"No, you don't understand. It's not the act but how I felt afterwards." Shay shook her head, never taking her eyes from flowing stream. "The first time I was so certain I did the right thing. I've never doubted it…until now." Nick stared at the flowing water, listening to the music it made as it washed across the rocks. "The first time I killed I took one life but I saved another. I'll never forget how she thanked us for what we did. Was I wrong, Nick?"

"I don't know, Shay." Nick lay back on the quilt and stared up at the stars in the clear night sky.

They sat in silence for a moment before Shay spoke again. "I just keep thinking about how that baby will grow up without a father because of me. She's probably better off without him, the way he was. But what if he had changed? I took her father away from her, Nick. Did I have that right?"

"I wish I knew all the answers, Shay, but I don't."

Shay laid back beside Nick and together they studied the stars in silence. Like the stream, they were unaffected by their surroundings. No matter what happened, they never changed.

"It would have been so easy to drain him tonight, Nick. It was so hard not to do it." Shay's voice came out in a tortured whisper.

"I know."

"Maybe this was all a mistake."

"What was a mistake?"

"Accepting this existence, turning away from the light. I was so sure at the time. I thought I'd found my purpose, becoming a vampire. Now I'm not so sure."

Nick rolled to his side to face Shay. "You were so sure when we first met. You wanted to make a positive impact, to use the vampire's powers to do good things. You were so comfortable with your existence, so sure of your purpose."

"Suddenly, I don't feel so sure anymore."

"We all go through this, Shay. Questioning our existence, mortal or vampire."

"I think I could handle it as a mortal, but as a vampire, well it's so much more complicated."

Nick rolled back onto his back to gaze at the stars. "When I was young, LaCroix kept telling me I had to let go of my mortal bonds, my mortality."

"But you never did, did you? And you still haven't come to terms with your existence."

Nick didn't answer her. He didn't need to, she knew the truth. Some small part of him was almost frightened of this young vampire. Her depth of understanding, her ability to seemingly see right into his soul amazed him. She never misjudged him, and at times, she seemed to know him better than he knew himself. She had opened his eyes allowing him to see things as he'd never seen them in all of his eight hundred years.

"Is that what I have to look forward to, Nick. Hundreds of years of doubt and guilt?"

"Not if I can help it, Shay. I don't want you to go through everything I've been through."

"If you could do it all over again, what would you have done differently?"

"Steer clear of LaCroix and Janette?" He rolled back onto his side and grinned at her. He knew that wasn't exactly what she meant.

Shay sat up and turned her body to face Nick. "You'd never have met Natalie. You wouldn't be here now."

"I suppose you have a point."

"What about after you came across?"

Nick sat up beside Shay. Finding a twig, he broke it in half and tossed it into the stream, unconsciously imitating Shay's actions. "I've made so many mistakes. I regret so much."

"But you've done a lot of good too, Nick."

"Not enough. I can never make up for all of the pain I've caused, all of the disgraceful things I've done."

Shay shook her head. "That's where you're wrong, Nick. I have a lot of respect for you. You know that. You've done a lot of good things. You've made a difference in a lot of people's lives, you've made a positive impact in a lot of ways."

"If you want to make a positive impact on mortal society as a vampire, the best thing you can do is isolate yourself from them." Even as the words passed his lips, they didn't feel right. It felt like a lie, like something he'd said but didn't truly believe.

"Bullshit. How many perps have you caught that would have slipped away if you hadn't swooped down on them from the air? How many have you caught up with on foot when a mortal didn't have a chance? How many bullets have you taken for your partner or for other officers? How many confessions have you 'coerced'? Don't deny it, Nick, I've heard the stories! We've talked about this before. Don't think you don't make a difference, because you do. You don't give yourself enough credit."

"Don't put me on a pedestal, Shay. I don't deserve your admiration, I'm no hero."

"Nick, I know you're not perfect. Hell, none of us are. You can't expect perfection from others, or from yourself. But whether you like it or not, I do admire you. I only hope I can come close to what you've done. I still want to make a difference, Nick. I want to do something that matters."

"And just how do you intend to do that, little one?" Nick slipped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. Shay leaned her head against Nick's chest.

"I was hoping you'd give me a few pointers."

"I suppose I can tell you what not to do, if you'll only listen."

"I know I'm hard headed, Nick. Sometimes I just have to make my own mistakes. Just like I did tonight." Shay pulled away from his embrace. "Are you angry with me?"

"I'm furious with you, Shay." He glared at her, but then his expression softened. "But I know from experience that being angry with you won't help either of us."

Shay looked Nick directly in the eyes. "Nick, would you help me get on with the police department?"

Nick looked at Shay in surprise. "You want to be a cop?"

Shay shrugged her shoulders. "It's something I can do to make a difference. It's one of the few places I can make a positive impact."

"You've already made a positive impact, Shay."

"I have?"

"You have a gift, Shay. You can see things in people that they can't see in themselves. What I said a minute ago, about isolating yourself being the only positive impact you can make on mortals, it's not true. I used to believe that, but I don't anymore. You've opened my eyes, Shay. You've shown me that I can and I have done things that mattered, that it's not what I've done in the past that is important but what I'm doing now and what I do in the future. I used to think that all I could bring mortals was pain and death. I've realized that I've been selfish. I've been looking for the answers in all the wrong places. I've searched for centuries for a way to cross back, to become mortal again. I thought that by becoming mortal again, I could make up for what I've done in the past, but the truth is that I can do much more good as a vampire. You've helped me to see that, Shay. You're special, don't ever forget that."

Shay smiled warmly at him. "I'm glad I could help, Nick and thank you. But you didn't answer my question."

"We'll see,"

"Come on," Nick rose to his feet and offered his hand to Shay, "I left Natalie at the loft. If we don't get back soon, she'll send out search party."

Shay looked up at Nick. Her eyes were filled with regret. "Nick, I'm sorry." Shay took his offered hand, but she did not move to stand. "I was wrong, I know that. Are you disappointed in me?"

Nick lifted his other hand and ran it across her hair as she leaned into his touch. "No, Shay. I'm not disappointed."

Shay looked up into his eyes and saw that he was telling the truth. Looking away from his gaze in a submissive gesture, she whispered quietly, "Thank you, Nick…" then even more quietly, she added, "father."

Nick was touched by her gesture and stunned beyond words. She had never called him 'father' before. He wasn't quite sure how to respond. The rare occasions he called LaCroix 'father' were when he was begging for his forgiveness. Except, in those early years when LaCroix and Janette had truly been like family to him. When he and LaCroix had been on better terms, when things had been easier in some ways and harder in others. Those had been the times when he and LaCroix had been close, the way that he and Shay had become close. He pulled her to her feet and into his embrace. "You have given me so much, it is I who should thank you, my daughter."

******************** Natalie was curled up on Nick's couch when he returned to the loft. She had resigned herself to simply wait when Nick had left to look for Shay. He'd told he what had happened when he and Tracy had went back for Brooks. Shay's reaction was not surprising to Nick. Less than a year across her control of the vampire that lurked within her was still tentative at best. Nick knew from experience that anger and frustration would weaken her ability to control her darker side. Only Nick's timely appearance had prevented Shay from draining Brooks in pure anger and rage. Natalie sat up the instant she heard the lift rumble to life.

"Did you find her?" Natalie asked as Nick stepped into the loft. She knew from the expression on his face that he had. Whereas his face had been creased with worry when he'd left, he now looked relieved and relaxed.

"Yeah, I found her." Nick affirmed as he made his way to the couch and sat beside Natalie.

"And? Is she okay?"

"She's fine."

"Are you angry with her?" Nick wanted so badly for his new daughter to avoid all of the mistakes he'd made in the past. In a sense, he was trying to relive his own life through her. It was not at all unlike what mortal parents did with their own children, desperately wanting them to have a better life than they had themselves.

"No, I'm not angry with her, Nat." Nick didn't offer any more, but Natalie refused to relent.

"So, what happened?"

Nick shrugged. "We just talked for a while."

"About what? Or am I being nosey?"

Nick looked at her, a serious expression on his face. "Nat, I promised you I'd tell you everything. I don't have any secrets to hide from you." Nick put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close basking in her warmth. "She wants me to help her get on with the department."

"Really?" Natalie asked, a little surprised.

"She's got this crazy idea that she can use her vampiric abilities to do something good."

"Hmmm, I wonder where she got that from," Natalie teased him.

"I have no idea."

"And what do you think about her working for the department?"

"That's not really what I'm thinking about right now." Nick turned his head a placed a gentle kiss into her hair.

Natalie laid a hand on his chest, tracing her fingers across the red silk shirt he wore. "And just what are you thinking about?" she asked in a sensuous voice.

"I was thinking we might could pick up where we left off the other night," he replied, just before moving to capture her lips with his own.

Natalie melted in his embrace as her hand slid across the silk, until she encountered his collar and slipped her fingers under the shirt to touch his cool skin. Nick's hands were on a journey of their own, caressing her back, relishing the softness of the angora sweater she wore. Moving further down to her waist, Nick cautiously slid one hand under her sweater to touch the bare skin of her back.

Reluctantly, Natalie pulled away from his tender kiss, needing to catch her breath. She looked into his eyes, which remained brilliant blue. The love she saw there touched her very soul. How far could this go before the inevitable awakening of the vampire she wondered. The previous night Nick had pulled away from her all too soon, his eyes golden and wild.

Nick turned her in his embrace so that he could place delicate kisses along her jaw and lower onto her neck. Natalie closed her eyes, relishing the rare moment, never wanting it to end. Her own hands continued their exploration, moving to run her fingers through his silken locks. She marveled at the feel of his cool hands as he continued to caress her bare skin beneath her sweater. Ever so slowly, she felt his explorations becoming more daring as he slid his fingers across her skin, making their way towards her breasts.

Determined to make the most out of the rare moment, Natalie took the opportunity lightly place kisses across his face then, daringly, she moved lower to run her lips across his neck. Immediately, she was rewarded with a low growl emanating from his chest. Nick leaned his head back allowing Natalie access to the sensitive area, as his breath grew ragged. Encouraged by his response, Natalie brazenly dragged her teeth lightly across his skin. She felt his body tense beneath her. Had she gone too far? She froze, judging his reaction.

"Nat…" he moaned in ecstasy.

"Too much?" She whispered in his ear.

Nick nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Natalie pulled away and gazed into his eyes. Just as she suspected, they were no longer blue but had taken on the golden hue, indicating the awakening of the beast. She pulled further away, intending to put some physical distance between them as he had done so many times before. This time, however, Nick did not release her from his embrace.

"Do you trust me to just hold you, Natalie?" His voice was filled with deep regret. "Just let me hold you, my love. I want you so badly but I'm so afraid."

Natalie laid her head down against his chest, nestling into his embrace. He sounded so small and frail, his voice so tortured. At that moment, she thought, she would do anything for him. "It's okay, Nick. I understand. It's too soon. I'll wait for you. I'll be here for you when you're ready, when you feel comfortable."

Nick closed his eyes in an effort to fight back the tears threatening to fall. They were in part tears of frustration and in part tears of joy.

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

Shay walked out of the Phoenix Center and scanned the horizon. She had less than an hour; just enough time to make it home before the first rays of the sun fell upon the city.

Mitch was sitting on the steps leading to the entrance. He turned as Shay appeared through the doorway.

"You're up early." Shay sat down beside him.

"Yeah, couldn't sleep."

"So you're sitting out here in the cold?"

"Just thinking about Stevie."

Shay sighed and gazed out into the street. "Do you know why this place is called the Phoenix Center?"

Mitch shrugged his shoulders. "I never thought about it."

"Do you know the legend of the Phoenix?"

"The city?"

Shay chuckled. "No, but the city is probably named after the same legend. The phoenix was a mythical bird in ancient Egypt. The myth describes it as an incredibly beautiful bird, larger than an eagle, with bright, multicolored plumage. It is said that only one phoenix can exist in the universe at a time. Once every five hundred or so years, the phoenix felt it was time for another of its kind. It would build a huge nest to be used as a funeral pyre where it was consumed by flames. Then from the ashes would arise a new phoenix, even more beautiful and majestic than the first. The phoenix is the symbol of rebirth. I think Mr. Henderson sees the Phoenix Center as a place where lives can be rebuilt, where people who need a second chance can start over."

"Is it a true story?" Mitch asked when Shay finished.

Shay shrugged her shoulders. "No more true than, say, werewolves or vampires."

Mitch looked at her curiously but didn't comment.

Shay stood and pulled her coat tighter around herself. "I've got to get home," she told him as she descended the steps. "The sun's coming up." With that said, she walked away leaving Mitch lost in his own thoughts smiling to herself as she headed for home.

The end!

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