Thus Spake Zarathustra

And so it ended, as endings are wont to be, long, slow, torturous. Not entirely unexpected, but unforeseen for all of that. It had come, as it had been long in coming, and now all that remained where the fractured particles that he might have once though to pick up, piece together, and reform something like a new life.

Not anymore. Not this time, not now, not again. This time the ending had taken its rightful place as the final stage of whatever it was he had had. Was it a life that had ended? Something more? Something less? He didn't know; he wouldn't care, for wondering and caring were part of that which had ended.

Instead he moved on, shuffling slowly among the dust and bones, not even asking himself where he thought he might go. Where he might be. Didn't even step aside when his booted foot kicked against a bone that would have been unmistakably human; the reminder said nothing to him. Meant nothing- it was no reminder. It simply rolled a bit, pushed out of the way by a traveler who did not stop to look down at the ground upon which he walked.

Bones meant nothing.

He might have cried out, beseeched something of someone- if only to discover if there was anyone to hear him, regardless of whether they might care to answer. But there was no sound, voiced or even that of harsh breath as he staggered up another incline in the middle of nowhere. It might have been nowhere, it might have been somewhere very real, very important. It didn't matter, not now, not to him. It had ended, and what was gained by noticing?

Spring, 1994

"Nicholas, wait!"

Nick turned, not because the request needed to be answered but because he knew if he didn't he'd only have to go through the entire argument again. He said nothing, but waited, not quite patiently.

"Why are you leaving?"

The question brought a shocked, startled gasp from him. Nick shook his head, incredulously. "You can't really stand there and say you don't know? You can't expect me to believe you thought I'd stay?"

Lacroix shrugged, as if the fight, the shouts, the incredulity now facing him were nothing. "I only intended the invitation to be a friendly one. Really, Nicholas, how many old friends do you think I have?"

Nick half-snarled. "You don't want me to answer that, do you?"

At this Lacroix glared, then his expression softened into something another might have called the hunter's delight. Nick just called it creepy. "Someday, Nicholas, you will push too far. You do not realise the... advantages you have. The advantages I give you. Someday, Nicholas, you shall regret the things you've done."

"I already regret them, Lacroix. That is why I am leaving!" Nick turned, then, and strode away. Lacroix said nothing after him but Nick knew he wouldn't turn back, not this time. He'd managed- how he didn't know, to stay out of Lacroix' machinations this time. When the elder had arrived, with his offers and tales, Nick had been able to brush them aside and hold firm.

Not at first, of course, Lacroix had had too many years to learn just how to push his young erstwhile companion. But Nick had been able to dig in and push back, long enough to look beyond what Lacroix was offering and say no. He'd told Lacroix that it didn't matter, that all Nick wanted was to be free of him. Mortal or no, he wanted to live his life without the influence of his master.

Lacroix had laughed, but now, as Nick walked away, he only watched. Silently. Considering. When Nick disappeared in the shadowy confines of his car, and then the traffic, Lacroix turned and walked in the opposite direction.

The air might have been thick. It might have been thin. It might have been perfect; he didn't really know. Nothing inside him was paying the least bit attention to mundane matters such as those. He breathed, and it must have been enough for he never had to turn his attention to it. Didn't even know if it carried odors which he might have identified, good or bad, or inbetween, the air was as much nothing as was everything else.

Perhaps his sense of smell had ended, too. He didn't know. He might have cared, had he seen where it was he walked.

Spring, 1995

"Nicholas, please wait."

Nick turned, slowly. He hadn't wanted to, but something in the tone bade him; something inside said it might be for the last time. He looked, and waited. Janette came closer, began to raise a gloved hand to his cheek.

"Nicholas... I should say I'm sorry."

"For what?" Nick didn't understand. For all their shouting at one another it was nothing they had fought over- and resolved, many times over. If anyone had asked, Nick would have said that it was because they loved each other. Love can make you forgive, forget, try again even when everything else says you are better off apart.

"You will understand. Later. For now... just remember this. I am sorry." She looked at him, not revealing anything in her gaze, or in her tone. Nick thought that perhaps she was apologising for something for which he might not truly demand one; he smiled easily at her.

"It's all right, Janette. For what ever it is, I accept your apology." He leaned forward and placed a slight kiss on her cheek. It could be nothing more, not after the fight they'd just endured. But it was enough to say that come what may he would be willing to let himself love her.

Janette smiled in return, the shadow of sadness hidden quickly in her decision. It had been her decision, and that made it easier. Harder. It didn't matter, perhaps, for she knew her young knight would be there for her when she needed him. The only thing she was no long sure of, was whether she would be able to call when she did.

She watched him leave, the door closing slowly on him, and when the wood shut firmly behind him she let her head fall. Perhaps one day he would understand. Perhaps one day she would.

Autumn, 1995

"Why did she leave?"

Lacroix glanced over at him. "Why did you?"

"What?" Nick drew back, startled. "I haven't left."

Lacroix shook his head. "Oh no, Nicholas. It *is* you who left. You who keep on leaving. Do you ever wonder why?"

Angry, Nick shook his head. "This isn't about me. I left because I was trying to make something better for myself- live a life I can't, when you're around."

Lacroix inclined his head. "Than perhaps that is why Janette has left."

"You're not serious? You think Janette's leaving has anything to do..." Nick paused, then tried to think through the implications of Lacroix' suggestion. "She's never tried to escape you. Why would she now?" He shook his head, knowing that was not why she'd left.

With a bitter laugh, Lacroix answered, "I didn't mean me, Nicholas. I meant you."

"Me?" Nick stared, aghast. "You want me to believe that I had anything to do with her leaving?" Nick stepped towards him, threateningly.

"Why, Nicholas, why would I want you to believe something like that?" His master's voice was gentle, as if ironically surprised. But the bite in the next told Nick otherwise. "Why should I have ever tried to convince you of anything?" When Nick didn't answer with more than a shake of the head, Lacroix continued. "I ask you, Nicholas... why did you leave?

Wary, Nick asked, "Which time?"

Lacroix nodded. "Exactly my point." With that Lacroix walked away from him, into the back rooms of the club. Nick watched him go, no urge to follow him and get more of this word game. It was obvious he wouldn't find his answers here; he could only hope Janette would decide to contact him, and tell him herself.

Lacroix' words repeated themselves quietly, in the back of his mind, until he turned his attentions to the night's case and immersed himself in work. His new partner was enough to keep him distracted from worrying about hidden meanings and ulterior motives of the impenetrable vampire.

It didn't occurred to him, until much later, that Lacroix *had* answered him.

Gradually the shadows and unseen lines formed more sharply around him. Something, he didn't know what, had made him stop here. He turned his head from side to side, without making any effort to see. The dark corners that surrounded everything pulsed in time to something he knew, but couldn't place. Perhaps if he'd thought, he would have know it. Perhaps once he'd known it very well.

He remained standing still for a very long time, but of course time meant as little as everything else. He finally moved his foot to go on, and his toe hit something solid in front of him. He looked down.

The stone tablet that was propped there took him by surprise; that in itself was a noteworthy accomplishment. He knelt, trying to see what it was. The shadows swirled away as if to help him read. The carvings there meant nothing to him, so after another timeless meaningless moment he stood and walked away skirting the edge of the stone. The dark corners gave a quiet laugh and followed.

Winter 1995

"Nicholas! Nicholas?"

There was no answer, he had not expected there to be one. He'd felt that wrenching at his heart and knew it for what it was. He'd come here hoping that there might be some other reason for it. Hoping that perhaps what had been done could be undone.

He found an empty loft and silence. He stood there, staring about him, listening for something, looking for something more, feeling for anything at all. Nicholas was not there to be found. The silence crept inside him, and he stood, staring, out at nothing at all.

It was over. It had ended. There was nothing more to be done. He bowed his head and whispered his farewell. Then he strode away, looking at nothing.

There was plenty to be seen, had he only turned to look at it. had he opened his eyes, had he felt, inside, that he could bear to see it. He knew, or perhaps only suspected, that he could not. And so he walked on through the wilds that formed this place knowing and seeing and hearing and being nothing at all.

Had he been able to see, he would have recognised the graveyard. Had he been able to hear, he would have heard the cries of the dead, and the requests of those still living. Had he been anything, he would have moved with the purpose which had set him here, that had obstructed him in every way it knew how, finally placing the stone for him to trip over only to have that, too, fail.

Had he known, he would have known this was Hell, and his place in it was to find his soul and retrieve it. But the shock and the fear of what it had meant-- the shock to find that after everything at all he'd come here, had sent him stumbling away mindlessly, unable or unwilling to do more than what his body might try. Had he known, the stone might have reminded him, inscribed with the name of the one who loved him most, who gave him the most, who had asked for the chance that he redeem.

The surprise, or realisation, or perhaps it would have been shock- or perhaps, it would have been none of those things, might have reminded him. Might have told him why he was here, might have told him he was not lost, forsaken, or damned.

Had the name been seen, it would have made him wonder, long enough to realise the truth. Truth is all we're after, be it love or hate or divine indifference. The name, you know, is Lucius, and the love is his supreme. The request? His final farewell, that his dearest find the truth he needed. What did he give? Need you ask? His life for what did he have that was not Nicholas?

And tough, like Nicholas, you might ask how it is that the one who created the demon now aimlessly wandering, we offer only truth- sometimes love is enough.