The Cross

"The End"

Spring, 1997

"I can't believe it... investigating burglaries! B&Es! Geez.."

"Relax, least we're not on traffic detail."

"Yeah... I'm not sure I could still fit- er find my old uniform."

Nick gave his partner an amused look. "I thought Myra had you on a diet."

Schanke shrugged, as they headed for the apartment building. "When doesn't she have me on a diet?" His tone was one of a man resigned to chronic suffering... and sneaking donuts while at work.

"Yes, but I thought she meant it this time."

Schanke laughed. "Yeah, yeah, she does. And to be honest, this one doesn't seem so bad... lots of pasta, stir fry, the most incredible homemade bread you've ever tasted in your life..." His eyes began to glaze over, as he imagined the delicacies with which Myra had begun tempting him. She'd changed her tactics recently, from denying him all the "good" stuff, to simply providing ever better stuff. Homemade whole grain breads, pastas and vegetable dishes, all designed to please the most discriminating gourmand. And make him lose weight.

Nick ignored the litany from long practice. He did smile fondly at the brief memory he had of pasta and wine, almost three years ago now. The flashback lasted only long enough to remind his mouth of the flavour of the tomato and garlic sauce, and then they reached the apartment door. Detective Murdock greeted them, and waved them inside. "Hey, boys, glad you could join us!" His gleeful smile was only a hint of the amused hilarity with which the other squadron detectives usually greeted the homicide detectives. So far, none of them had been able to figure out exactly why the two homicide hot shots were on this detail.

Nick and Schanke weren't talking. Despite everything else they'd ever done, *this* was embarrassing. "Hey, Murdock. What's up? Why'd you need us?" Nick refered to the fact that Murdock and his partner Simmons were already on the case.

"Well, to be honest it's because of you guys' reputations. You've dealt with some... well, shall we say unusual, cases before. In fact you seem to get more than your fair share... not that I'm complaining. But Simmons and I figured we'd let you take a look... maybe give us your expert opinions."

Schanke just sighed, shaking his head at whatever destiny he'd earned which had made him well-known for getting odd, weird, and down-right unnatural investigations. "Sure, Murdock, what's happened? Somebody get a stake through the heart? Silver bullets? Little green men?"

"Worse." Murdock motioned them further into the apartment. For the first time the two homicide detectives noticed the decor. Every available spot in the living room was filled with potted plants, books, and gruesome statuettes. The smell of incense assaulted them as they stepped inside, Nick recognising it immediately and realising that indeed, something was going to be unusual about this robbery. He didn't even need to go into the workroom to know what they'd find.

"This is Melody Harper. Ms Harper, these are Detectives Knight, and Schanke." Murdock introduced them to a young woman, long brown hair tied back and green eyes flashing with the air of a very, very impatient and frustrated victim of a crime. Typical. The medallion around her neck, and the jars and other paraphernalia Nick could now see behind her, in the workroom, were not typical. "She's a witch."

Nick didn't blink at Murdock's polite but obviously derisive tone. "Ms. Harper. What's happened? What's been stolen?" Behind him, Schanke was inspecting the apartment, looking over everything casually, so later when they learned the facts he'd have seen that 'little thing' that didn't quite fit.

Melody turned to Nick, and for a silent moment simply stared at him. Then she slowly nodded. "Yes, you might at that."

"Excuse me?" Nick was used to being confused by humans' odd actions, but he felt justified at this one.

She seemed to give herself a little mental shake. "I'm sorry. I only meant you might be able to find the item that was stolen from me."

"And what item is that?" Nick didn't have to sound polite, he'd learned long ago to respect witches' powers. He didn't have to fake believing in them, like Murdock and Simmons.

"A small jar of specially prepared herbs, spices, and a certain... liquid."

"Blood." Simmons' voice floated over at them, where she stood lounging against the kitchen's doorway. She was doing a better job than her partner at hiding the amusement in her voice, but she clearly thought Melody Harper was eccentric. It remained to be proven that she was a *harmless* eccentric.

"Goat's blood," Melody explained. Nick knew she was used to such explanations, and from her tone he figured she didn't care what the officers really thought.

Nick barely spared Simmons a reproving glare, and turned back to the witch. "And why would anyone want this jar... the potion? What does it do?"

Melody smiled, and Nick felt as if this were a person he'd enjoy being friends with. He was spared a flashback by virtue of never having met anyone quite like her before. "Because, Detective Knight, the potion is a cure for a certain... ailment. A supernatural ailment."

Oh, no, this was going to be too easy, Nick thought. Fighting to hide his nervousness, he asked, "What kind of ailment?"

"Hauntings." Her matter-of-fact answer hit Nick like a blow. Like a *relieved* blow. Nick nodded.

"Do you know anyone who would want such a potion?"

Instead of answering, Melody smiled at him again. "You know, you're the first person to *not* ask me why I'd have such a thing? Or even what it's for?"

Nick returned her grin, knowing that Murdock's and Simmons' exchanged stares would be easily brushed off. It wasn't like he could start protecting his reputation *now*. "You said it was for curing hauntings. I imagine that's why you have it."

Schanke was grinning to himself, as he continued his survey of the apartment's furnishing. He knew Murdock and Simmons would be going back to the precinct, and entertaining their cohorts with tales of Nick the Mad and Schanke the Insane. He wondered if he'd get any good opportunities to embellish their stories. He kept half an ear on Nick's conversation with Ms. Harper.

"I don't really know who would take it, Detective Knight. Any honest person would simply be able to purchase it from me. Any dishonest person... well, there are other witches who would sell a person like that such a potion. It isn't a difficult thing to create. I can make another this weekend for the woman that one was intended for."

"Excuse my asking, but why did you call the police? Unless it was simply because someone broke in...?"

Melody sighed, and sat down on the long brown object which turned out to be a couch buried in vines. "Because of the jar it was in. A witch on the east coast prepared it, took her a very long time and a lot of energy. It's designed to contain a different type of potion- in fact, it's the jar that gives that potion its power."

"What potion?"

"A potion that cures vampirism."

The foreboding feeling had returned.

Previous winter

Lacroix sat staring moodily at the bookshelf opposite him, seeing none of the tomes before him. It wouldn't have mattered, he'd read them all a thousand times. He wasn't interested in diverting himself, wasn't interested in learning or being amused or... he wasn't bored, either. Far from it. That was exactly the problem.

He was brooding. Thinking deep, delicious thoughts about just what the hell he was going to do. Eight hundred years, and he had never succeeded in getting what he wanted. He was willing to concede that nothing he'd tried before would work. The difficulty was, he had a feeling he'd tried everything.

He wasn't about to admit defeat, not with untold thousands of years to contemplate the problem. But he was frustrated. And being frustrated made him angry. Especially since the solution to his problem was so simple; simple for him, anyway. It was Nicholas who was making things so difficult. Lacroix swore softly, the latin still flowing smoothly off his tongue as it always did.

Several months ago he'd realised that he was not going to get Nicholas back. He'd had that coroner over the edge, was only a fraction away from getting to kill her- squeeze the life from her, slowly, mercilessly. And Nicholas had refused him. Nat's voice, pleading with him not to give in- that a soul was worth far, far more than a life. Lacroix snarled again at the memory of Nicholas' expression- pain, anger, and most infuriatingly, love. Nicholas had refused to return to his master's side, willing to let Lacroix do whatever he threatened. He remembered the tone of Nicholas' voice, as he explained through the tears that his penance couldn't be traded, couldn't be saved if he ever returned to Lacroix.

Lacroix had barely glanced back, after throwing the woman at Nicholas in disgust. He'd glimpsed the way they fell into each others' arms, she crying and he whispering absurd, disgusting comforts. He'd conceded the fight because he knew that killing Natalie would not only not win him back his Nicholas, but would probably drive him to spend the rest of his life trying to destroy Lacroix.

He'd returned to Nicholas' loft the following evening to kill him. If he wouldn't return to the fold there was no reason to allow him to live. But as he'd stood outside the building, staring down into the room where Nicholas lay sleeping, unaware, he knew he couldn't. Nicholas was his one weakness, and if after eight hundred years of manipulation and enticements he couldn't keep him at his side then he would concede his weakness. He would have to let it go.

He hadn't survived this long persisting in foolhardy conquests- not forever, anyway.

The question was whether he could get *anything* at all, of what he wanted, before he left Nicholas alone? The contemplation of that question effectively blinded him to the real question- could he leave Nicholas alone?

Lacroix sat in his living room, staring at everything and nothing, letting the wash of flashbacks remind him of failures, near wins, and the endless stream of ultimate frustration of his desires. He'd wanted to possess the young knight from the moment he'd seen him. He'd stolen- seduced away, the young man's soul and everything that went with it. Now that Nicholas was fighting to regain it... would it be possible for Lacroix to save any of what he'd tried so hard to gain?

It worried him that he might not, and he wasn't entirely certain how he was going to survive that loss. Fortunately, he had one last thing he could do. One last thing, something to give himself which would last him- have to last him, throughout eternity. He finally stood, idly flicking a finger against the bottle of wine that had sat unnoticed all evening. He had plans to put into motion... one more time.

Spring, 1997

"I don't believe this..."

"What don't you believe?" Nick asked his partner, not really wondering because he was long used to his partner grumbling. Especially during the weird ones.

"A potion to cure vampirism? That's almost as nuts as that dog one, last fall. What are they gonna give us next? Werewolves invading City Hall?"

Nick smiled. "Well, if there *are* any, rest assured you and I will be on it."

"Yeah, yeah..." Schanke settled himself deeper into the passenger seat of the teal-infested Caddy. "What about purple?"

"What?!" Nick's outraged surprise wasn't unusual. For months Schanke had been trying to convince him to repaint his car. Worse, was that lately Nat had been making suggestions as well. "Schank, *nobody* owns a purple car."

"Nobody owns a teal car... has that stopped you?"

"That's not true. What about that truck we saw last week?"

"That thing? Nick, that 'truck' as you so politely call it wasn't even running. It was-"

They continued the conversation into the precinct, debating the merits of colour coordination and strained eyesight. Schanke stole a donut as they wandered by the break room, munching oblivious to Nick's reproachful glare. They found their desks- little more than two tables pushed together, and tried to sort through the evening's events. Murdock's and Simmons' reports were waiting for them, along with the transcript of Ms. Harper's call reporting the theft.

After staring at everything for a few minutes, Nick leaned back. "Do we know anyone with connections in the witch community?"

Schanke gave him a 'get real' look. "Jenny dressed as a witch for Halloween last year. Does that count?"


"Uh... what about Sandra Calhern? Didn't she say-"

"She moved to Doaktown."


"New Brunswick."

"And they don't have witches in New Brunswick?"

"Somebody in Toronto."

"Uh... Melody Harper?"

"Somebody else..."

"Stan Richardson?"

"Stan Richardson... good idea, Schank. Why don't you give him a call?"

"Because he's *your* weirdo... er, excuse me, eccentric but amusing friend."


"You call."

Nick gave his partner a conciliatory smile and made the call. Soon he had arranged to meet with Stan the following evening, to find out what might be going on- why anyone would want to steal Melody's jar. Then they set that case aside and pulled out the Wilson Dog file.

"Why would anyone steal a dog?"

"Are you kidding?" Schanke shook his head. "Do you know how many times I've lost sleep because some mutt can't keep its yap shut?"

As morning approached, Nick pushed the paperwork aside and called it a night. They had gotten only marginally farther along on each of their cases- demonstrating that homicide cops just didn't have the instinct for solving what Schanke insisted on calling 'silly crimes'. Not where the other cops could hear him, of course. Nick said his good mornings, and clocked out.

On his drive home he thought more about Melody Harper, and the jar she'd lost. How could a jar help cure vampirism? If there really was a such a cure, why hadn't he heard of it? There had been a few times he'd consulted witches- not only in Wales, Ireland, and France but here in North America. If such a spell truly existed, he felt certain he'd at least have heard of it. Probably it wasn't a real cure.

That didn't make him stop wondering, of course. It occurred to him, as he pulled into his garage, that it was *possible* that whoever it was that had created the jar had created the spell, also. Maybe it *was* real...

So lost in thought, he didn't hear the voice of his intruder until he heard it say his own name.

"...Nicholas. You really should pay more attention."

"Lacroix... what do you want?" He felt more tired than anything, at the once again intrusive presence of his master.

"What do I always want, Nicholas?" His calm, smiling expression was not lost on Nicholas.

"Usually to make my life a living hell. That is the phrase you used, isn't it?"

"Is it my fault you always react so... badly to my overtures of friendship?"

"Is that what you're calling it now?" Nick didn't try to hide his anger.

"Nicholas..." Lacroix stopped, and suddenly seemed to look every one of his two thousand years. "Nicholas, I didn't come here to fight with you. Not this time." His voice was low, and totally lacking in its usual charm, or seductive, manipulative tone.

"So why did you come?" Nick obviously wasn't buying into it. "Let me guess... you want something."

"Of course. But I have come to offer something, as well. A trade, if you will."

"A trade? Lacroix, if you've kidnapped some innocent mortal--"

"Nicholas, this is not a game. It involves no one, but you... and I. I am completely serious... and if you agree to this trade... It will be the last you will ever see of me."

"You'll understand if I don't believe you."

Lacroix ignored the snide tone, and walked closer until he was standing barely a hand's breadth away from Nick. "What have I ever wanted? What is the one thing I have wanted most of all?"

Nick forced himself not to back away. He knew the answer, and it was an answer that frightened him. "To get me back at your side... to be a vampire, like you want me to be. A killer."

"Hmm. Mostly true. I have always wanted you with me, Nicholas. It is all I have ever wanted, for the last eight hundred years."

"I'm not going to trade you anything, for that. I'm not retur-"

"I'm not asking you to."

"You're not?" Nick's surprise was well-tinged with sarcasm. "Then what *do* you want?" He grew thoughtful. "Are you going to promise to let me go, if I come back for a hundred years? Or more?"

Lacroix shook his head. "That didn't work five hundred years ago. I doubt it will work now."

"Then I don't understand what you could possibly be trading for."

"Something you've never given me... something which... might help me let you go."

Nick gave the elder vampire a look normally reserved for the certifiably insane. "And that is?"

Lacroix gave him a measuring stare. "I think, perhaps I should show you what I am going to offer, in return."

"All right... what are you going to give me?" Nick asked indulgently.

"Come with me," Lacroix gestured, and headed up the stairs to Nick's bedroom. Nick followed, stopping suddenly as he saw the young woman lying on his bed. The young vampire. She was asleep, unaware of their presence. Nick stepped around Lacroix, and moved to her side. "It's Cherise... what have you done?" He turned, fists clenched and voice rising.

"She owed me a favour... she is going to demonstrate that what I have to offer... is genuine."

"And what is your 'offer'?" Nick bit off the words, furious at whatever game his master was playing, bringing in the innocent, unwary, and unlucky into his plans to recapture Nick.

"Take a look, Nicholas. Look at her... listen to her heart."

Confused, Nick turned back to her, and saw again the young vampire he'd met three hundred years ago, seen occasionally throughout the decades. He began to listen... and he heard a beat. Then he heard another one. And a third. He gasped, and stared up at Lacroix. "Her heart's beating. Quickly, like--"

"Yes, it is. She's been brought back across."

Nick felt himself freeze. "You brought her back... why? How?!" He moved forward, grabbing Lacroix by the lapels of his coat.

"The how, I will tell you once you've agreed to my offer. The why... to prove to you how serious I am. Oh, don't worry about Cherise... I'm going to bring her across again, later tonight. I only needed to show you that it can be done."

"How?" Nick demanded.

For an answer, Lacroix reached into his coat's deep pockets and withdrew a small red jar.

"That's Melody Harper's jar... you stole it?"

"It was simple, really. She has a well-protected home... nothing for an immortal like me to get by, of course. But it made for an interesting exercise."

"Why did you take it, Lacroix? All these centuries you've been trying to prevent me from crossing back... why should I suddenly believe you've changed your mind?" He let go of Lacroix, moving away from him.

"Because... you have something I want. I have something you want. I believe... we can make a trade."

"What do you want, Lacroix?"

"You, of course."

Nick stepped away, watching Lacroix warily. "How can you have me, if I become mortal again? I'm not going to follow you around, as a mortal--"

Lacroix shook his head, and Nick saw real sadness in his eyes. "I wouldn't require that of you. No, I am asking for you... before you cross back. For one night and one day... I want you."

Nick stared, and as his master's words sunk in, he realised what they meant. All of the automatic denials and refusals flew to his lips, only to die as he saw the young woman lying on his bed, and he could not deny that to all appearances she had become mortal again. Nat had convinced him a life was less important than a soul- how then, could a body be more?

The following night he met with Stan Richardson. Schanke had offered to stay behind at the precinct, catching up on paperwork. Nick took it as a sign that Schanke thought Stan was *really* nuts. Either that, or that the Burglary squad had a better sense of what made for an appropriate number and kind of snack. Nick wasn't sure what the small brown things had been, but from Schanke's response he guessed they were good.

He didn't bother teasing Schanke about it, though, too preoccupied with the problem Lacroix had given him. He had to find out, through channels he knew Lacroix couldn't have tainted, whether or not this cure was genuine. Regardless of the vampire-turned-human-turned-vampire in his bedroom, he had to know if what Lacroix was suggesting would really be the cure. He had to do everything he could to ensure the trade was fair.

Hopefully Stan could tell him something useful. He went to the bookstore where Stan worked, and was met and brought inside. "Nice to see you, Nick. How long has it been?" The young man pushed his eyeglasses up his nose as he spoke.

"A few months, Stan. How have you been?"

"Oh, great super. If I thought you were really interested I could go on for hours. But you want information, don't you?"

Nick shrugged. "I *am* interested, Stan. I just don't know how much time I've got."

"Of course, I understand. This is about Melody's missing jar, right?" When Nick nodded, Stan waved for him to follow, and turned to walk into the backroom. Nick pushed aside the black curtain which was inscribed with what he knew was nonsense but impressed the clientele- witch wannabes and occult fans who were easily impressed by things they didn't understand but that looked cool. Real witches made their purchases at other, less obvious and much less showy stores. But as Stan often said, a witch has got to make a living.

Nick blinked once as they reached the darkened back room. His eyesight had adjusted immediately, but the sting of incense made them water. Er, 'blood'. Stan seemed not to notice as he snapped on a lamp and sat down. "She told you who made it?"

"No, she only said it was a witch on the east coast."

"Hmm... well then, that probably won't matter. If it did, they wouldn't have gone to Melody, they'd have gone to her. So... you want to know who stole it?"

"Actually... I was wondering if you could verify something someone told me about it. What the jar is for... how it works. Whether it works."

Stan's flickering glance told him nothing about what Stan might be thinking, Nick had never been sure that Stan knew, or didn't know what Nick was. But he remained relaxed, and began to explain. "The jar is used to hold a potion, which when administered properly, will cure a vampire. Make him or her mortal again. I have every reason to believe it works."

"And how is it supposed to be administered?"

"The potion is prepared and stored in the jar. While it sits in a protected place, the vampire has to be drained, completely. It... helps if the vampire is in a state of heightened awareness- aroused in some way. Adrenalin or testosterone works best. Then, the potion is fed to the vampire. After a while, when he or she starts trying to breathe, an IV is set up- to replenish the lost blood. Normal, healthy, human blood is put back in the veins. If everything is done correctly, he or she is now mortal. The trick is, of course, to keep the person alive long enough to recover having lost all his blood."

For a moment Nick said nothing, caught up in the enormity of what Stan was saying. It made Lacroix' few words of explanation ring true, made him think that perhaps this was, after all, a cure. If it was, if it worked... at such a low price. Something he'd have done willingly long before, if it meant living and dying as a man should.

He looked back at Stan, who was waiting patiently. "Thank you... I don't suppose you could tell me... no, no maybe it's best I don't know. Thank you, Stan. I owe you one." He'd been about to ask about the witch who created the jar, the spell. But it would be easier to protect her if he didn't know who or where she was.

"You owe me several, but then I owe you a few as well. Don't worry, Nick. It all evens out in the end."

"I still appreciate it," Nick held out his hand, shook Stan's. He grinned, knowing that had Schanke accompanied him Stan would have behaved much differently- putting on his 'amuse the civilians' act. He'd never indulged in the harmless quirks around Nick alone, which made Nick wonder if he didn't really know. Or maybe it was just that Nick had hung around witches enough, knew enough about their practices, that Stan simply thought he was a witch as well.

In the end it didn't matter. What *did* matter was the decision that was now before him. Did he, could he trust Lacroix to make this trade?

As he left the store he knew he would never be able to discover for sure if he could trust Lacroix in this deal. But he had to decide if the risk was worth it. He turned his car around and headed for the Coroner's Office.

"Well, I guess the question is whether you can trust him."

Nick carefully looked over at Nat, trying to gauge if her calm tone was her true reaction to this proposal. "I don't think I can ever really trust him. But..." Nick sighed. "I know enough about him to know... what he's asking for is something he really wants. And... It might be enough to make him think the trade is fair. If *he* thinks it's fair, then why should he renege on it?"

"To get the upper hand?" Nat's voice was much more amused this time, although there was the undercurrent of seriousness. She knew that the stakes of Lacroix' games were always too high. He wanted Nick, wouldn't stop until he got what he wanted. But could she believe- could she let Nick believe that he'd changed his mind about what he wanted and was willing to accept?

"I know, Nat. I've been worrying about this for a week, now. I know you have too- but I don't think there is any way I can know for sure what Lacroix is going to do. I think... that the risk is worth it. He isn't asking for much- and if he's right, if the potion works... if he really gives it to me I've have gotten everything I have ever wanted. I'll have my mortality, Nat. How can I pass up that chance?"

Nat's face now showed her concern. All week long she'd played Devil's Advocate, trying to find the weaknesses in Nick's arguments, trying to find the reasons why he should not do it- or why he should, when Nick argued against it. But above it all she was worried for him. Worried that no matter what he decided, it would be the wrong thing. She knew that Lacroix was perfectly capable of rigging the trade so that he would get everything, and Nick nothing. She wasn't certain she could ensure that Nick would be protected from that.

Nick knew it as well, they had both said all the same things until finally they had reached the conclusion- there was no way to know, for sure.

"I have to take the chance, Nat. I can't not."

Nat sat down next to him on the couch in his loft. "I know, Nick. I just don't like it. I'm scared."

Nick reached over, and brushed her face with his fingers. "I know, Nat. So am I. But I can't let that stop me." His voice was soft, gentle, and for a moment Nat let herself forget the words he was speaking, and let herself drown in the sound of him. She wanted to wrap herself up in it, and never be freed. If this worked, if it really worked... she could. She looked up, and saw by his eyes that the decision was made. She nodded. "Tell me what you want from me."

"Could you be there, to keep an eye on the jar? Make sure that it's... used properly?" Nick tried to keep himself from shifting from one foot to the other, anxiously.

"I suppose so... although if he wants to mess with it- I doubt I could stop him."

"I know that," Nick assured her. "But if he's got some trick up his sleeve- nothing I do will stop him, either. If he's sincere... he won't have any reason not to let you take care of the jar. I'd feel better, if it was you doing it, rather than him." Something suddenly occurred to him. "For that matter, I'd rather *you* prepared the potion."

Melody nodded. "I can understand that. Ok, yes I'll do it. But-" she held her hand up, warning, "I expect to have some kind of protection from him. I'm not going to be his next meal."

Nick smiled. "Of course. Nat will be able to help you... she knows everything there is to know about it. Thank you, for doing this. I can't begin to explain what it means..."

"I think I can guess." Melody smiled at him, for the first time since he'd started explaining what he wanted. What he was. At her kind expression Nick again felt as if this were somebody it would be easy to call a friend. Perhaps, as a mortal, he could.

"Here's the address," Nick held out a slip of paper, then took it back long enough to write a number on it. "And Nat's phone number. If you need anything, anything at all, please call me. If you decide you don't want to do this-"

"Don't worry, I'll do it. Once I've made up my mind, very little can change it." She grinned, Nick found himself returning it.

"Wednesday night, then... I'll see you."

"Eight o 'clock, exactly. I'll be there with bells on... or crosses."

"Right then. I'll... see you." Nick left Melody's apartment, still not quite convinced he was actually going through with this. When he'd decided he would, it had simply seemed like another dream- possible wishes to never come true. Now that he was actually making plans, arranging for Melody to administer the potion and for Nat to meet him at his own home afterwards to give him the transfusions he'd need... it all seemed unreal. Perhaps it wasn't, and he'd wake up Thursday morning with nothing changed.

Perhaps he wouldn't. Perhaps...

Tuesday evening Nick left his home and flew to the address Lacroix had given him. He tried not to think about the expression on Lacroix' face when he'd stopped by and told him he'd accepted the offer. The delight, the glint of triumph had made him want to back out right there. But he didn't say it aloud, and Lacroix let it pass. Very little had been said, Lacroix had told him when and where to be, informed him of the preparations Nat should make. Then he'd let Nick leave, and Nick had the suspicious feeling it was because Lacroix didn't quite believe it was true, either.

Now, facing him for what he hoped was the last time, he felt more doubt than conviction. Before he could say anything he saw Lacroix staring at him, saw- and for once, correctly read, the expression on his face. Lacroix believed he would be losing more than Nick ever could. That thought stopped him. True, Lacroix had been wrong to try and own him, control him. But Nick suddenly realised that couldn't change how Lacroix felt. Nick stepped inside without a word from Lacroix.

Demeanor very serious, Lacroix refrained from inviting him further into the apartment. "Nicholas... everything has been prepared, arranged exactly how I said it would be. Ms. Harper will be arriving tomorrow night, at exactly eight o 'clock to prepare the potion. At 10.51 she will come upstairs, and give it to you. I will then take you to your home, where Dr. Lambert will be waiting for you. That is the last you will see of me." Lacroix stared at Nicholas, steel blue eyes staring back at him with a hidden joy he'd hoped never to see. Not like this, not because of a bribe, an offer of something so grand, for something so slight. Lacroix wondered if it was too late to cancel his plans, and go back to try to win the whole of this man. It was too late, though; if he reneged on *this* Nicholas would run from him so far and so fast... He waited.

For a moment Nick couldn't say anything. It felt as if Lacroix was sincere- that everything would truly go according to plan, and Thursday morning he'd awaken as a mortal. Everything he'd ever wanted would be his and everything he'd ever known would be gone. That momentary flash of panic didn't surprise him, the voice that said not to do it, not to change, not to go into the unknown. He nodded, to Lacroix. There was really nothing he could say.

Both of them stood still, frozen in a second of utter stillness, the crux of the universe which would forever change waiting in the wings. One last second of the world as they knew it. Then Lacroix held out his hand, and led Nick down the hall.

The tenderness shouldn't have shocked him. He'd felt it before, that first night he'd awakened, in what had become his master's arms. He'd looked up, feeling the then unknown hunger burning at him, and those soft pale lips had pressed against his and he'd been shocked at the tenderness. This stranger, unnaturally silent and pale, cradling him and looking at him with such... well then he hadn't been able to define it, and soon he'd not cared to. Tonight he felt it again and knew what it was. It didn't stop him.

Nick let Lacroix kiss him, held close to the elder's slender, cool body. Nick felt the pulse of Lacroix's passion in the rush of his blood; felt it where his fingertips lay on Lacroix' arms. Nick had wondered if he would find himself struggling, at this moment of truth. He'd wondered if he would go through the motions, listlessly but well enough for Lacroix' desires. He wondered if he'd succumb to the passion he had felt himself, in those few times he and Lacroix had been on good terms, happy and together.

Now that the moment was here, he couldn't tell. Lacroix didn't give him time, after breaking the first kiss he picked his protege up and carried him into the bedroom, darkened and waiting. Nick caught the scent of an opened bottle of human blood. He knew it wouldn't matter, tonight, that he wouldn't drink. That fight was long gone.

Lacroix never offered. One glass for himself and he came forward again, saying nothing as Nick let him remove their clothes, neither fighting nor hindering and when Lacroix would have let his pain show in vicious anger Nick slid his hands along Lacroix' skin, around his back, and let him venture closer.

They met again in a kiss, and from watching one would never know it was anything but the union of two lovers well used to the touches and needs of the other. Nick never realised before that first kiss how much he knew about his master. Now, as he felt the press of limbs and torso against his own he knew without asking just where the touch of his fingers would most arouse, just how hard and how delicately he should lick, which places Lacroix needed most and when to allow him there.

There were no words, silent or spoken aloud, no entreatments of pleasure or concern, no whispered requests or muttered endearments. Instead there was only the twining of two pale bodies, in what might have been a mockery of true love dressed in passion had the love not been real- only too long unfelt. Lacroix caressed the body he'd longed for, in a myriad ways and a thousand lifetimes, not asking if his price was too high, or if it was too low. He pressed his lips once again into the nape of his lover's neck, and knew the sweet taste he would find there.

He pulled away before the thirst took hold; he wanted to make this last. He had an entire day, it had to last. Had to last forever. He turned his attention to other, less enticing portions of Nicholas' body. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he thanked whichever gods were playing the strings tonight, that Nick had come here willingly.

As the sun crawled closer to the horizon the two remained together, the stamina of the vampires enabling them to forego the long periods of rest mortal lovers would need- enabling them to get a fortnight's worth of love expressed and exchanged in a single night. Through it all, as they kissed and caressed and brought each other and themselves to orgasm, there was silence. It would be a very long time before either of them asked why.

"The Beginning"

Melody sat quite still, the jar and small lit candle before her. What she was about to do... what she was already doing, was going to require an effort of concentration she hadn't been called upon to make for years. Not since her apprenticeship had she had to focus so tightly, endeavouring to remember the steps, the words, the motions. She knew she could not fail, tonight. Too much was at risk. Too much to lose, too much to gain for her to allow failure.

Besides, if she failed she had a suspicion that the elder would take her life as payment. If she failed the younger would die, and she knew from the look the elder had given her when he'd visited her to give her her instructions, that he valued the younger more than she could ever realise.

She knew, also, that the younger didn't realise it either. She put the thought of the two out of her mind, and saw only the flame before her. A hand reached out, and she took the tiny blue petals that her fingertips brushed. Added them to the flame.

She had one hour.

They had heard her arrive, of course. Being locked in an embrace did not cancel out the hearing; when the door clicked open downstairs they simply exchanged a glance, and then Nicholas bent down again to the spot he'd been licking. Neither had to say 'this is our final hour' because they knew. Nick felt his passion stirring higher- passion now twinged with a spark of excitement that soon, soon it would all become his.

Lacroix leaned forward, pressing his body against Nicholas', passion now twinged with a spark of desperation, that he take now what he could for soon it would all disappear. He placed his hand low on Nicholas' back, pulling the younger vampire's hips towards his. Nicholas let him, easily responding to the elder's touch- as he had during the previous twenty-three hours. He let Lacroix pull at him, press their groins together while he continued the motions of his fingers and tongue against Lacroix' chest.

Each lost in his own physical pleasures, deeply enmeshed in the throes of a blind passion, neither realised the silence that echoed not only in the room but in their thoughts. Harsh breaths the only sound that punctuated a gasping cry when one, pushing harder in sudden need, found a brief cascade of ecstasy, only to fall back into silence. Then the exorcism would begin again, for the one, as the other would never have broken his own search, digging and wending his bodily way through the form and patterned motions of the other.

Lacroix found himself gazing down at his lover, some few moments after he'd heard the door close behind the witch's entrance below. Nicholas' eyes were focused on something far away, while his mouth was occupied with the taste of his master's skin. Lacroix pulled back, watching as Nicholas followed the movement by lowering himself along Lacroix' body, unheeding of the attempted absence and only repositioning himself to continue the contact. Lacroix reached out with one hand, and stopped; an arrested stroke of his beloved' hair, the fine sheen of gold that he'd longed to feel the freedom to touch.

Only then did he realise what they'd done, what they had been doing, how horribly his cherished desire had gone awry. Making love, here with the body of his adored, and the entire time they had been locked away in separate cages of flesh and will. Making love... no, merely having sex, using the body of the one lain with, neither of them seeming to realise another lay beside.

It wasn't about this. It wasn't supposed to be about satisfying centuries of subdued desire in a single day of indulgence. It was supposed to be his last- his only, chance to take something of his beloved, to keep with him forever. Lacroix continued the motion of his hand, reached out and raised Nicholas' head by a brief touch under his chin. Nicholas looked up willingly, waiting for a hint of whatever it was Lacroix wanted from him.

He started, to find Lacroix content to merely look at him. He watched, for a moment, as Lacroix simply stared. When the elder vampire did not move, Nick found himself beginning to fear- was this the moment when Lacroix betrayed him?

Lacroix' eyes suddenly changed, the dark mirror vanished and the depths of his life shone through. His lips formed a word which Nick did not need to hear. "No." As he watched, he saw what the other had seen, and knew what Lacroix was trying to find.

Perhaps he should be grateful it was only for an hour; perhaps he should regret having stolen so much, when he was asked for so little. Whichever the case, Nick leaned forward with an awareness of his purpose here, a feeling of unlimited, unquenchable power as he realised the control he wielded. He placed a kiss on his long-time adversary's mouth, feeling the way those lips opened, soft, for his touch. He knew, then, that what his master needed was something he ought to give, if only to show his thanks for the price he would exact.

For the remainder of their last hour, they made love; watching each other's eyes, feeling the needs revealed in each other's touch, hearing the whispers still unvoiced. Finally making love with the soul beside which each lay, rather than fulfilling a lust of the body which had no eyes.

Nick felt a hint of grief, as he lay on his back, feeling the shaft of Lacroix enter him. He did not know from whence the grief came, but dismissed it, knowing it was not at the moment important. He forced himself to keep his gaze on Lacroix, giving the vampire the touch of contact he'd been pleading for, all these years. Silently he heard himself whisper his name, and the feeling which gave it form made Lacroix freeze, momentarily, in shock.

He came in one last great shudder, as Nick reached up to hold him. It was not love, of course, there had been too much enmity for that. But a touch of benign forgiveness, well-wrapped in something akin to affection- perhaps as close as Nicholas would ever come to actually liking his master, but it was more than Lacroix had learned to expect.

He held himself up, away from the body laying below him, as if afraid to touch it lest it fragment in a disappearing dream. Nick smiled, and pulled him down. Fifteen minutes left, and for five of those precious minutes Lacroix let himself a luxury, and cried on Nicholas' shoulder. Nick said nothing, wrapping his arms around the elder vampire's body.

When the clock beside the bed indicated twenty minutes to eleven, Lacroix moved away. This time, when he gazed down at Nicholas, the lust was tempered by something else. He bent down to lick the tender spots his lover found most arousing, but the tempo had vastly changed. Nick dug his fingers in Lacroix' back, arching as the tongue and brush of teeth stirred his body. He felt his body's reaction, inevitable and expected, but not for this purpose was his pulling Lacroix closer. Five minutes of rushed biting kisses, urgency making their motions violent and harsh, instead of the distanced lust that marked the most of their day together, or the bittersweet tenderness of the last hour.

Without looking into his lover's eyes, Lacroix unleashed the hunger he'd muted for the last twenty four hours. Fangs finally bared, he leaned down and sank them deep in the crook of Nicholas' neck. As he drank, feeling the younger's body thrashing and writhing beneath him, his vision was shattered, visions of this final act interspersed with the memory of the first time he'd loved this man, drank the life's blood from his body and replaced it with the spirit of his own.

His hands held Nicholas firmly, protectively, without the mockery of tender care one might have expected of one who'd spent so much of his time bending the will and the flesh to desires not its own. Nicholas held on, muscles growing weak but with fingers still clutching, as if knowing that in this act of destruction he need not fear. The passion that aroused his body faded only slowly, as the blood it needed to sustain itself was sucked away, feeding a vampire's hunger with a sustenance that, for once, would not meet it.

As Nicholas' eyes fell closed, the last drop of blood nearly drained, Lacroix looked up to see the witch standing in the doorway, jar held carefully before her. He nodded, let her approach. Without moving away, Lacroix let her bring the jar and pour its contents gently down Nicholas' throat. 'Til now he need not have feared the loss of his life from the draining; as the potion took ahold of him, if it was a truly cast potion, he would begin to grow in desperate need of blood.

Lacroix watched as the dark liquid was swallowed, he knew Nicholas was no longer aware of his surroundings, of what he did. Lacroix held him gently, feeling the weight of his body grow heavy on his arm; it did not come close to matching the weight he felt settling around his heart. Finally the potion was gone, and the young witch stared him boldly in the face.

She did not tell him to take him, now. He knew. He stood, lifting Nicholas in his arms. Nicholas' eyes had closed, his head lay limply against Lacroix' chest. Without bothering to dress, Lacroix stepped away from the bed in which they'd spent their time together and headed for the open window. The night sky greeted him, silently, paying its homage to the thing which had happened there.

The breeze seemed to carry him, Lacroix barely noticed the warm air that wafted by in small updrafts. He saw nothing, only bleakness as he approached Nicholas' loft; his last deed, his last act which would ever touch this man. He carried Nicholas to his home, through the bedroom window which had been left open for this arrival. He carried Nicholas through, and laid him on his bed. He brought the blankets up to cover him, knowing that his newly-mortal nature would require external assistance to preserve itself. A weakness he's always despised, but would not begrudge this man. Not now, not ever again.

He turned to leave, hearing the clock click over from 10.59. As he stepped to the ledge he heard the doorknob turning. Exactly as arranged, exactly at eleven, Natalie Lambert would enter the room with all the necessary transfusion and drugs she'd require to keep... her lover alive. Lacroix did not turn his head, as he flew into the sky never knew if she saw him leave, or if she had even cared to look. He headed for the pinnacle of a vampire's sky, the higher edge of the troposphere where a vampire who pushed could fly.

Tonight he had no care if the exertion sent him tumbling back down into the ground below, unable to pull himself free of gravity's pull. The moon greeted him kindly, as he came close.

She couldn't believe it. He was actually lying there. For the briefest second she froze inside the door, unable to truly believe he was there, that Lacroix had kept at least this part of his promise. Then she was running forward, trying to ignore the voice that insisted on telling her he might already be dead, he might have been killed hours ago or minutes, that he might if still alive die as she tried to save him.

She ripped the IV tubing from its place, taped on the headboard to ensure minimal time before she could replace the precious blood Nick would have lost. Without even a glance at his face, not asking herself if that was breath she saw or only her imagination, she inserted the needle and began the flow of blood.

She remembered, only three days ago she'd thought to type him. He'd been surprised, glad she'd realised it, both of them paranoid at all the other details they'd discover too late they'd forgotten. Nat didn't worry about them now, it was now-or-never time and she had to hope they'd thought of them all.

When the IV was in, and the blood flowing, she looked at him. His skin was pale- but that was normal, that was how she'd always seen him, pale. But the sunken hollows of his face scared her, and she did not know what, if anything, she could do if he did not begin to breathe. She thought back over everything she'd been told, by Melody, by Nick, by Lacroix even. Everything she had to do, every contingency she could plan for. There was nothing, she had to admit, that she could do right now. She had to wait for the blood to enter his body and be accepted, rejected, or simply too late.

A hand on her shoulder made her scream; spinning, she saw a kind friendly smile greeting her. "Who the hell are you?"

The woman held out a hand, whether to take Nat's or simply greet Nat couldn't tell. "My name is Alanja." She seemed about seventy, she also seemed about twenty- grey hair and wrinkles, but a sparkle and energy usually found only in children.

Nat stepped back, keeping herself between the stranger and Nick. She wanted to turn back, to stare and keep watch, but she couldn't until this woman left. How had she gotten in?

"Who are you?" Nat was surprised her voice didn't shake.

"I'm the one who made the potion. I thought I should come and see, ensure that it works. Reassure that it will."

"Wha... huh?" It was all Nat could manage. She hadn't slept in days, worry and fear gnawing at her, hitting her all the harder know that the change- if it was to be a change, had begun.

The woman came forward and took Nat's hand. "It's all right. We'll watch him, make sure no harm comes while he takes back what is his."

"What is...? You'll forgive me, but I don't think I know what you're talking about."

"The blood. Human blood... in his veins, where it belongs, not in his stomach. He's coming back, where he belongs."

"Uh. yeah... at least I hope so." Nat felt oddly reassured by the presence of this woman, Alanja. She turned to look down at Nick, laying so still, and felt some of her fears fade. Not because she trusted the stranger, but because having someone hold her hand while she waited made her realise that sometimes, everything you tried simply had to be enough.

And oddly, she felt maybe she *did* trust Alanja. She felt the woman move behind her, and then she was being gently pushed down, to sit on the edge of the bed beside the motionless form of her best friend. She heard that voice, again, demanding to know why she wasn't asking if Alanja was sent by Lacroix to foul things up, or some wandering lunatic here to murder them both. When she would have questioned the voice, she decided to simply trust her feelings for a change, and let it be.

Alanja squeezed her shoulder, and said nothing.

He didn't notice the paper, blown by the wind, trying to tangle itself around his ankle. All his attention was focused on the building ahead of him. He felt nervous; he hadn't expected to, he had no reason to think that this would be the worst mistake of his life. Why would things be anything other than how he anticipated them to be- strained, awkward, and very, very brief.

One hand clutched at the lapels of his coat, the cold spring breeze bit at him, making him shiver violently. He wasn't used to such cold, he'd lost whatever resistance he may have had to the elements of weather; his wardrobe had quickly been increased to include wool sweaters and gloves, hats and scarves. Nat had laughed with him, when he'd first discovered that being cold was unpleasant.

It wasn't pleasant now, even though his partner had assured him it was a perfectly normal late spring season. Perhaps it was the coldness inside himself, that was making it so difficult to bear at the moment. The past two weeks he'd spent in such a daze, he'd not had time to think about what happened or what was going to. But now, released from his doctor's (Nat, of course) care only yesterday, he retraced steps he'd sworn he'd never need to take again.

He stood, facing the last place he'd known Lacroix to be. He'd already gone to his home, and upon finding nothing had begun to search all his local hangouts, places he owned and places he frequented. Then he'd begun to search places Lacroix did not frequent, in hopes that somewhere he might find what he was looking for.

The building was empty, a notice in the window informing anyone who cared that the place was for sale. He saw that it was the same realtor that was handling the sale of several of Lacroix' other properties; he already spoken to the woman and learned there had been a death in the family...

For long, silent moments Nick stood on the sidewalk, staring at the blackened windows of the radio station Lacroix had once delighted in tormenting him with, using it to follow him around with his voice, when his arm couldn't reach. He'd stopped broadcasting his show a year ago, but had still spoken of it fondly- the few times Nick had hung around to listen to him. It seemed he had always been gloating about something he'd done, or taunting Nick with something he was about to do. Not once had he made mention of what he wanted.

Obviously Nick had known, what he wanted. But it had been going on so long that the rules had been laid and set, agreed upon so long past that Nick hadn't even thought of them in years. Not until now, when Lacroix broke them all, and accepted a defeat... left Nick, and the city far behind. For all appearances Lacroix *had* truly left... and Nick wasn't entirely sure he was pleased.

Perhaps it was simply paranoia, the firm belief that Lacroix would never truly let him go. Maybe he would have a year to enjoy his new existence, then Lacroix would appear again out of the night and drag him back, screaming and kicking all the way. Perhaps he'd even get to live a longer life, maybe Lacroix had simply decided he wanted an older- appearing companion.

Maybe he was watching even now, waiting for the chance to make the most of his deceit.

Nick turned on his heel and walked away from the desolate building. There was nothing he could do for it, now. Absently he fingered the necklace hanging around his neck; Nat wore one identical to it, given them by Alanja and Melody ostensibly to celebrate their new lives together but in reality a potent charm against the attentions and potential attacks by a vampire. Nick had doubted it, naturally, when he'd placed it around his neck and felt nothing.

It hadn't yet sunk it, at that point, what had happened. But when it had... only Nat's sharp voice telling him his hug was squeezing her ribs painfully had gotten him to let go, calm down. The celebrations had begun that night, dinner with friends and drinks with Nat and the two witches, then taking Natalie home and telling her in no uncertain terms that he had dreams he wanted to make reality.

That first moment, when he'd kissed her, felt like opening a door onto his soul and finding a light inside he'd thought forever darkened. The pounding of his heart startled him, feeling a rise of passion which he'd so long schooled to fight back, ignore, and the fear he needed to wrench himself away pulled at him. Nat's smile, and the shine in her eyes told him not to, the press of her body against his making him tremble.

He did pull back, once, wanting to voice the fears and uncertainties. But Nat had shook her head, knowing them all for she'd felt them too. She knew time would come that they could voice them, but not now. Not when they could easily banish them by proving them unreal. She'd leaned forward, capturing Nick's mouth in a fierce kiss that startled Nick; he realised that perhaps vampires weren't the only ones who suffered unfed hungers.

He'd interrupted that ferocity only once, to hold her close in his arms, closing his eyes and resting his head on her shoulder. He had to stand still, drinking in the smell of her skin he knew so well and never been able to indulge himself in. He listened to the voice of hunger inside him, waiting for that instinct to come at him, he pushed at it, resting his mouth against her shoulder as if taunting himself, saying 'get it over with and let it be lost'. But that need was gone, and the only burning desire he had was to caress that skin and take nothing that wasn't offered willingly and joyfully, take what wouldn't hurt, only heal.

He'd drawn her forward again, kissing and licking at every spot of bared flesh he could find, pushing away clothing unheedingly. Nat's gasps and moans spurred them both on, and soon they'd had to separate only long enough to drop clothes onto the floor and then engage once more in the unleashed passion.

Nick had delighted in discovering how quickly he could bring his love to delighted cries with only his mouth, tasting her in ways he'd never thought possible, in ways he'd never thought more alluring than the hated need for the salt of her blood. He dimly noticed the way her hands tugged at him, fingernails digging into his back leaving scars that did not fully heal for days.

Then, as he'd looked down at her laying beneath him, eyes glowing and heated breath against his chest, and he felt he could hold himself back no longer, needed to feel her surround him, feel her body fully beneath his, pressing down and joined.

She'd seen the look in his eyes, knew it, and smiled, reaching up and drawing him close. He'd needed no more encouragement and when they were together she wondered if it hadn't been like this forever. The moans and undulations of their bodies quickly found a single rhythm; then Nick looked once more at the woman he held and the sight of her pushed him over the brink. He came, more forcefully than he'd expected, pushing against her with a power he'd once feared would break her in two; now he knew he had nothing to fear of her body and soul. It was her heart, he knew, which he had to worry for breaking now.

Fortunately he had no intention of bending it, in the slightest.

They'd remained wrapped in each others' arms, saying nothing, as their breathing slowed and heart rates lessened. Nick smiled, thinking of some remark which would make her laugh. He left it unsaid, knowing that for now they were content to be together, spent and sweaty, collapsed against the nearly-sleeping body of a lover.

When Nick had wakened, he'd found a healthy, happy, smiling- living, body beside him. She'd laughed at him then, when he'd bemoaned the fact that what he wanted most he couldn't have.

"Perhaps when you've recovered your strength, you can get it up more than once." She'd teased him, knowing that only days after the night she'd spent wondering if he would even live, she should be grateful to see his eyes open, much less enjoy the pleasures of his love.

That morning he'd settled for the pleasures of breakfast- which was enough, more than enough especially when he'd seen the plate piled high with what he knew was a favorite recipe of Schanke's. Nat had admitted to not being a breakfast person - "Toast and juice and I'm out the door." The omelets and marmalade could only have suggested by a gourmet; Nick realised he would finally get to taste those Belgian waffles his partner was forever harping about. Not to mention discovering the appeal of coffee and donuts.

But there was something left undone, and after another week had passed he'd realised what it was. Hence the search for his former master, which turned out to be fruitless. Lacroix was gone, vanished only the way a vampire could into the night. Nick looked back at the Realtor's notice which would tell him nothing, as he walked away. He would never see him again. He knew he would never quite relax, too many centuries spent distrusting the promises of the man who'd made this possible.

But for now he would try to relax, learn to live again as a mortal must, and find the happiness he'd told himself would never be his as long as he wore the cloak of a damned creature of the night.

Schanke had agreed, with unrestrained delight, to request a move to the dayshift. This would be his last night walking abroad, as he walked down the street Nick felt the swirling ebb of the people and traffic around him flowing away, as if he had become detached from more than his immortality when he'd crossed back.

He smiled. Some things he could stand to lose. He headed for his car, intent on returning to one thing he hoped he'd have for the rest of his short, harsh, difficult life. He laughed. All those things, and glorious too. He headed for home, and Natalie.


Two hundred years later

Lacroix walked into his sitting room, and smiled. The bottle he'd opened tonight was a particularly good vintage, especially brewed by an old, dear friend with a knack for blending the sweet liquids. He took a moment to enjoy it, gazing over at his companion who sat quietly, waiting, partaking of his own preferred blend. The man did not smile, but Lacroix didn't mind. He would, later. He would learn to smile again.

"What did you think of my show?"

That caught his friend's attention. Deep blue eyes turned his way, blinking, as if only then realising he was being addressed. "I'm sorry?"

"My show... you *did* see it tonight, didn't you? I sent a ticket." Lacroix' tone was gentle, indulgent; but then he could afford to be.

"Oh, yes..." He stirred, trying to think. "Yes, I saw it... it was fine, I suppose. Not really my thing, I didn't quite... enjoy it."

"Well I didn't expect you would, Nicholas. But I'm glad you saw it, all the same."

Again, tired, confused eyes fixed on him. "Why did you send me a ticket, then? If you knew I wouldn't like it?"

Lacroix laughed. "To see if you'd come! Why else?" He walked closer, looking down at his companion. He reached out, brushed a hand through soft hair which had grown thin, grey, but still was marked by a golden hue he treasured. The other didn't stir away from his touch, that made Lacroix smile, and made something flare deep within his chest. Lacroix took another sip from his glass, then set it beside the other nearly empty glass on the small wooden table. "Will you see the show tomorrow?"

"I suppose..." A lifeless voice answered him, and Lacroix knew the agreement came from lack of any will to argue, or to even think of something better to do than attend a play he'd no interest in seeing.

"Perhaps you should find someone to attend with you? The company might-"

"No." Nicholas said it sharply, showing signs of real interest for the first time all evening. "That won't be necessary."

Lacroix sighed. "All right." He brushed his fingers through the man's hair again, wondering, hoping. "Would you like to go upstairs, now?"

For a moment there was no reply, then, "Yeah, why not?" He stood, not looking up at Lacroix, glancing back at his glass as if wondering if he needed the fortification. He walked away without a glance at the other, not wanting to see the eager glint in his eyes, and silently headed for the bedroom upstairs. Lacroix followed, putting out lights as he went.

In the bedroom his companion stopped, and waited. He made no move, waited for Lacroix to take control, direct the motions of the love-making. Lacroix ignored his lover's passivity. He undressed quickly, and stripped the clothes off the younger man. Not too gently he pushed him down onto the bed. With a snarl he knelt on the mattress, above him. "Nicholas... look at me." His lover did as he was bid. "Say it." There was no response, although he knew quite well what it was Lacroix wanted. "Say it!" Lacroix snapped, patience nearly at an end.

"I..." He stopped, found his voice again. "I belong to you, Lacroix. I am yours."

Lacroix smiled, a vicious triumphant smile. "Yes... you are, Nicholas. You are mine. And what can I do with you, dear Nicholas?"

In a lost, aching whisper he answered, "Anything you want." He stared at the ceiling to avoid those eyes which bore into him, seeing through to his soul.

Lacroix leaned down, resting his chin on the other man's stomach, a mockery of intimate affection. "That's right, Nicholas. Don't ever forget that." With that he stopped the conversation and began running his hand along the other's side, dragging his nails along the skin and watching with satisfaction as the red welts appeared.

He repeated the motion on the other flank, then, kneeling above his lover, reached down and began scratching and pinching his chest. The other man moaned, and began moving beneath him; not quite trying to get away, not quite lost in passion. When Lacroix leaned down to kiss him, his mouth opened readily enough; when Lacroix pulled him over he rolled easily, presenting himself to Lacroix.

Lacroix tried to be gentle, indulging in his pleasures while never forgetting the other's needs. His actions were tender, betraying the depth of his love and need for this man he'd found. As he moved, hands cherished the body; as he whispered, voice spoke of his passion. For an hour he worshiped this body below him, giving them both delights that only come from the inspiration of a man possessed.

Lacroix felt his passion rising and without thinking he lowered his mouth to his lover's neck, and softly bit. The rising tide of desire burned through him, the triumph at possessing the man beneath him driving him to possess him utterly, take his body and soul and blood. His fangs went deep, and before he realised it he was sucking the blood more quickly than he'd ever fed.

It was when the taste of the blood touched his tongue that the fantasy shattered. As the blood coursed, his passion vanished in a flash and the snarl of need changed from the need of possession to the need of destruction. Within moments the blood was drained, and a thin lifeless body lay upon his bed, deep blue eyes staring at nothing.

Lacroix sat back, lip curling first in disgust at the piteous body of the mortal he'd killed; the disgust quickly gave way to the grief which had lived with him constantly for the last hundred and seventy five years. He shoved the body away from him, and walked away no longer wanting to see that face which reminded him of his love. The stranger would be disposed of, like the bodies of so many others, discarded when the illusion could no longer be sustained.

Lacroix walked to the window and gazed out. He couldn't let go.