What He Deserves

"Why does he do this to me?" Nick slammed his fist into the wall, checking his swing only at the last moment. The last time he'd lost his temper he'd had to rebuild the wall. He sighed. Checking his swing didn't do much to alleviate his anger. Maybe he'd go find an abandoned building...

He dropped his hand before he could swing again. His apartment was silent, and he was suddenly struck by how lifeless it was. The colours seemed faded, fake- like they'd been stuck on in someone's half-hearted attempt to pretend the rooms were lived in. The furniture, all the little bits and pieces of his collections sat scattered round, and he felt hollow inside. They meant nothing, their stories were scattered in the ashes of times long forgotten. The craftsman who had made the statue so lovingly, with such care and devotion, had died and his memory had gone, except for one lonely vampire.

And Nick felt like even that was nothing. His mind was an encasement of histories and families and friendships which were meaningless to the people who now lived in this land. The nights he'd treasured so much, laughing with a new acquaintance, was so distant it was as if it had never existed.

The past had slipped away, leaving behind only empty shells of its passing- and the one man who should have taken such pride to rejoice in the memories, the one man who cared enough to carry the stories into the future, saw with painful clarity that he was surrounded only by useless artifacts.

He held his head in his hands, feeling the hot tears washing down his face. When had he lost so much? When had he stopped being in his life, and started running back into the past? When had he started hanging onto every icon of his lives, clinging desperately to the ornaments and trappings of his mortal aliases. When had he stopped enjoying the life he had been given?

He raised his head at stared out at the star-lit sky. He wanted to fly into the night, leave this pitiful monument behind him, to fall apart like paper in the storm winds. He wanted to let go, let everything be destroyed... so that he might, finally, find some measure of freedom.

He needed something to free him from this pain.

She had died only tonight, and yet he knew that something greater than her, had ended. Even as he'd held the tiny hands that grasped at his, seen her eyes as they pleaded with him to keep ahold, even as she'd slipped away he knew. More than a child had been lost tonight.

The last shred of innocence, the last shred of self-deception, the last shred of hope left him. Nick had dropped her hands, after her life faded, and he stared into the darkness that had surrounded them. He did not know if he would do what must be done. But he also knew he had no choice.

The echoes of the night called out to him, as if mocking him in their signs of activity. He stepped away from the window, and considered. How much longer would he wait? He closed his hand on the remote he held, and dimly heard it break. He didn't need it any longer. He wouldn't need any of this...

"Why did he do it?" Nick said quietly. He wasn't sure whom he was asking, or whether he really wanted... needed, an answer. He rolled the glass by its stem, between his fingers. The blooded wine swirled gently. He wasn't drinking, he had no intention of drinking. But he needed something to hold, something to show him the way- something to tell him he was who he was, in spite of all the posturing to the contrary.

He held the glass of human blood in defiance. He would not drink, he knew that. The moment the girl had died, he had felt that last of his weakness slip away. Whatever he was, whatever he would be, it would not be what he had been these last few centuries.

He watched the others in the club, drinking, laughing, dancing. As if totally unaware of the presence among them- the vampire with the soul of a man, standing among them. he felt a moment of hatred, disgust wash through him and it was gone. They were of as little consideration to him as the others, the humans mixed in among them. Right now he needed only one thing, one person. And whatever he became after that, was what he would be for the rest of his life.

He set the glass down on the bar and walked through the crowd. The noises reached his ears as though through a tin shield. Hollow and meaningless, he ignored them as the voices brushed his mind and fell away. It no longer frightened him, seeing mortals unaware dancing with the killers of the night. Each one would come to his or her fate, and he no longer had the time, or inclination, to occupy himself with their protection.

He had something more important to do. He had his own destiny, awaiting him. The world had finally called him, and he had finally heard its message. As the pretense of his mortal and vampiric life had fallen away in the arms of a dying child, Nick had finally seen a truth, and he let himself be taken by it.

He stopped blaming himself for the sins of his life, he stopped faulting himself for the weaknesses of his attempts in being mortal. Something more important than his struggles was about to occur, and he needed to be there, to make sure it happened.

One more death was waiting in the wings, and Nick had to be there, to usher it in. He didn't concern himself with the consequences. He only knew it was going to be done.

As he stepped out onto the staircase, and looked down into the basement of Janette's club, her venture into the mortal world he felt a pang of sorrow. What would her world be like, tomorrow? Would she be able to let go, and begin again? Or would she be brought down as well, into the black spiral that was growing beneath Nick's feet. He stepped down, and wondered how much she would blame him.

As Nick descended another step, the events of the previous night came back to him.

A routine stop, checking in on the family of the murdered man. His widow and three kids were afraid when he and Schanke first appeared on their doorstep, afraid that they came with more horrible news, more questions, more 'we haven't found him yet's. Nick had quickly reassured them- the killer had been caught, little more would be required of them. While Nick didn't pretend they would be able to start putting the tragedy behind them, he could at least assure them nothing more would happen.

The woman seemed grateful for their visit. Nick and Schanke took some time, and spoke with the kids. Nick was again amazed at a child's ability to continue to see the world around them, even in the face of such a loss. The little boy had asked to see his badge. The two girls spoke with Schanke about their collection of Troll dolls. When they left, the woman gave them what might have seemed a smile.

Nick wanted to suggest they stop by again, but he knew the family's fate was no longer their concern. Friends, relatives, counselors would take over the job of helping them through the ordeal. Nick had followed Schanke back to the car, taking a moment to relax before tackling the next night's case. He felt good, which surprised him a bit. He had refrained from drinking any blood for nearly a week, instead forcing down Natalie's protein concoctions. They still tasted terrible, but he noticed his body seemed to be accepting it. He felt tired, of course, he wasn't eating as well as he could. But it seemed like the transition was growing closer. He almost felt confident enough to suggest that he and Schanke stop and grab a bite at a nearby diner. he smiled at the thought of Nat's face, if he went back and told her he'd had french fries again.

The cry of terror shattered his calm. A child's voice, shrieking in sheer unmitigated fear echoed through the night. Nick and Schanke looked back, to wards... the house they'd just left. They saw the widow and two kids running out into the yard, screaming...

They ran back to the house, Schanke asked the woman what had happened. In a shaking, shocked voice she told them of the stranger who had grabbed her little girl, her oldest, right out of the kitchen and had disappeared into the night. Her disbelief masked her pain, surely this couldn't be happening her eyes said. Surely Detective Knight had been correct in saying nothing more would happen to them now...

Nick felt her unconscious accusation stab through him. He told Schanke to radio for help, and he took off, following the shrieks that now could only be heard by vampiric ears. Whoever had stolen the girl was moving fast, but Nick ran after them, wishing he had the strength to fly.

He came to halt beside the building. Five stories tall, ancient and imposing, the building stared down at him, mocking his need to fly to the roof. He could hear the little girl's cries coming from above him. Somehow the kidnapper had climbed those five stories to the roof in too a short a time... Nick felt the sudden dread. It couldn't be one of his own kind. Who would have the nerve, the stupidity to steal a girl from her home, in front of her mother and siblings? Nick stepped back, craning his neck to search for any signs of movement.

He saw none, but still he could hear. He ran to the fire escape and began climbing with almost mortal speed. The stairs shook beneath him, and for the first time in ages he felt a stab of fear that he might fall. A small part of him noticed and rejoiced in it. The rest of him ignored it and kept climbing. Above him a girl's life waited; he had to save her. He grabbed the railing as he ran upwards, trying to propel himself onwards, as fast as his dwindling superhuman strength could carry him.

As he emerged onto the roof he saw the dark figure in the shadows, holding the child. The girl was still kicking and screaming, her neck exposed to the stranger's face. Nick yelled, and the vampire turned to smile at him.

Nick felt his heart plummet into the roof below. He stared in disbelief as his own master stared back at him, smiling. He held the girl firmly, as if unaware of her struggles. Nick began walking closer, waiting for any moment to the warning to stop, don't get to close, or the girl will die...

He heard Lacroix laughing. He didn't care if she died. Nick continued walking forward, slowly, knowing that whatever Lacroix was up to he might let the girl go... if all he wanted was to torment Nick, he might be persuaded that killing the girl was not necessary. Lacroix backed up, until he stood beside the edge. His smile invited Nick to follow, and he suddenly shifted his grip on the girl.

He held her over the edge, and laughed at her renewed screaming.

"I noticed you no longer had the strength to fly, dear Nicholas."

He took the next step down, and the previous night faded away into memory. Nick listened to the darkness below him, and heard only the gentle hissing of the building's central air. He half-expected to be met with a feeling of dread, but he discovered a rare feeling equanimity instead. He came to the bottom of the stairs and looked around.

He was waiting for him, down here. He must be. Nick decided on a hallway, and continued into the basement dwellings. Lacroix was waiting for him. Somewhere.

His footsteps left no echo, soft soles against the concrete and the assured tread gave no warning of his approach. He knew his master would need no such pitiful clues, the resonance of his approach would sound in the vampire's skull, like a foghorn's warning. Nick was not afraid- Lacroix would not run; Nick had always been the one to turn, to hide, to hope for escape from the other's nefarious plots. Tonight the positions were reversed. Nick had no intricate plan, no devious traps; yet Lacroix would be the one to run... or there would be no escape.

The underground apartment lay waiting, as if it too had been expecting his arrival. The lamps, the candles all lit, as if in greeting. Nick felt a sudden sense of comfort. The red carpeting and tapestries sang of dark foreboding, of the stains of blood which might soon be spread. Nick stepped into the room, letting the heavy curtains swing closed behind him. Lacroix was not to be seen.

Nick stood and waited.

Only moments later the door to the inner room opened, and Lacroix stepped through. His cruel smile greeted Nick like an old familiar companion. Nick ignored it, ignored the hand raised in greeting, ignored the taunt which would soon fall from his master's lips. He raised his hand, pointing it Lacroix with all five fingers, and tensed. The muscles of his forearm sprung the pressure trigger of the wrist-mounted dart shooter.

The wooden spike buried itself in Lacroix's chest. Nick watched as the expression of cold greeting turned into shock, and surprise, then pain as the spike pierced his heart and the blood began to run freely. He felt no joy, only the quiet sensation of knowing he had succeeded. The shock of his master's pain ran through him, along the bond that connected them. He remained where he was, and watched his master fall.

Lacroix landed on his knees. He raised one hand to the tip of the spike which barely showed itself against his chest. He looked down at it, and Nick wondered if the possibility of dying had ever really occurred to him before. When he raised his head and looked at Nick, his expression had changed. Nick was shocked, and confused to see the smile.

He looked as if a weight had been broken from his back. The relief was unmistakable, and Nick wondered if somehow he had failed again. Was this a test? A trick? Was Lacroix wearing some sort of armour, beneath his clothes? Nick stepped forward, frustrated and nearly crying out in his anguish. He had thought it would be done... finally. Then he stopped.

There was no mistaking the amount or colour of blood that ran from the wound. Lacroix was hit, the spike had done its work. He was dying... and he was glad. Nick came forward in a rush, not understanding why this was happening. He'd had to kill him, he knew that. But why this reaction? Why...

He caught Lacroix as he fell forward, and gently turned him over. Lacroix looked up at him, as the very last of the blood drained away. Nick saw the gratitude in his eyes, the regret and the apology left unspoken.

"Thank you, my son..." Lacroix spent his last breath in his goodbye.

Nick watched his eyes closed, and as his master died he closed his eyes and screamed. The hate, the anger had vanished with his death, leaving only grief. Nick cried out again, and when he opened his eyes he found only ashes on his hands.

He stood, tears in his eyes blocking his vision. Carefully he found a glass vase, and tenderly he poured the ashes inside. He stood, and let his memory of the rooms lead him out of the apartment and down the halls, up the back stairs and to the doors. He looked down at the vase, at the dark ashes inside.

He opened the door, and saw the morning sun. With the vase tucked carefully against his side, Nick stepped outside.

Nat rubbed the sleep from her eyes. It was early morning, barely an hour past sunrise. She groaned- the fact that someone might work the night shift never occurred to the salesmen who barraged her door with cheery smiles and empty promises. She grabbed a robe and stumbled to the door.

She peered through the peephole, and jerked the door open in surprise. Nick stood there, still dressed for night, sunglasses shading his eyes. A small vase was in his hand, and he indicated it.

"Will you accompany me, to scatter these?"

His soft tone made Nat swallow her questions, her demands, and she only nodded. He stepped inside as she went to get dressed and stood quietly by the door. When she returned he only escorted her out to her car, ignoring her stares at the sunlight which cascaded over his features.

The pale skin looked unnatural in the light, his entire body looked fragile, as if he might might dry up and fall away. She put her hand on his arm, to reassure herself. He said nothing, only instructing her to drive to the museum.

In the grounds in front of the museum, he scattered the ashes, saying only that the one who'd died should be returned to his time. Then he took Nat's hand, and walked with her away, carrying the empty vase.