To The Victor Go

He didn't want to look up, for fear of the expression he'd see. He'd done some horrible things in his life, it was true, but after all this time he never thought he'd betray his friends.

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm sorry, Schanke. I just..."

Schanke gave him a look of disbelief. "Get real, Nick. I'm a detective, I get paid to figure things out."

Nick glanced up, confused. The words surprised him, but the tone surprised him even more. Schanke was entirely too calm. "What do you mean?" It was possible they were talking about two different things. With Schanke, anything was possible.

"I've known for a long time."

Nick felt everything stop. His entire body froze, his heart, his thoughts, as he assimilated what Schanke had said. It was too much to hope... "You've known?"

"Yeah, Nick. I mean, come on. It's a pretty big thing to hide from a guy you spend most of your nights with, don't you think?"

Nick looked Schanke full in the face. His partner seemed calm, unsurprised, and... amused. "We are talking about the same thing, aren't we?" he asked carefully.

Schanke grinned. "What, you being a vampire? I hope so. If you've been trying to tell me you're a Scientologist I may not be able to deal with it." Schanke gave his partner a light-hearted smile, and looked down, spying an errant cinnamon roll on his desk. He rescued it, then, as he started to bite into it, stopped and gave the still-silent Nick a look. "You're not a Scientologist, are you?" There was a hint of doubt in his voice.

"No," Nick shook his head. Later he might wish he'd answered the joke, something to torment his partner with for a few days or years -- but right now, he was just wondering if he were dreaming.

Nick tried not to pace nervously. He covered it by going through the motions of making coffee. He had to go through the motions; he'd never actually made it before. But he'd seen Nat do it; it couldn't be too difficult...

"Here, let me." Schanke took the filters from his hand. Nick muttered a half-hearted 'sorry' as Schanke made the coffee. Nick wandered back towards the fireplace, nervous as all hell, but he grinned when he heard Schanke say to himself, "I knew it wasn't for painting. Ox blood. Ha!"

Nick sat down on the couch and waited. Centuries of practice let him not fidget, although he knew he wanted to. Could feel every muscle in his body screaming at him "fidgetfidgetfidget". Finally Schanke came over and sat down; Nick could hear the coffee perking gently to itself.

"So." Schanke said.

"So..." Nick echoed, wondering what he was supposed to say now. He glanced over at his partner, who was waiting patiently. "Schanke, I'm sorry... that I didn't say anything before. Though I'm sure you can understand why I didn't."

Schanke half nodded. "I admit, it wasn't the first thing I'd have thought of to explain all your 'eccentricities'. But -- hey," Schanke broke off, and his expression changed as though he'd just realised something. "Does this mean you're going to stop brushing me off every time you have to fly off somewhere and talk to your vampire friends?"

Nick blinked twice. "Yes, I suppose it does. I can."

"And you'll stop ignoring me whenever you meet someone from your past? Or whenever you flake out on me because you're having some kind of flashback?" Nick barely had time to nod, and eke out an apology before Schanke continued. "And when you have one of your unexplained hunches, you'll explain them for a change? And you'll actually tell me where you are, once in a while? And all those lunches you owe me... you're gonna buy me dinner, right?"

Nick stared, slightly overwhelmed. After a moment he managed, "Only if you don't order souvlaki." He paused; Schanke only smiled. "I suppose I've been rather rude, haven't I?"

But his partner waved it off. "Yeah, well, you had a good reason." He pointed his finger at Nick. "Just don't do it again, you hear?"

"All right, Schanke."

"All right," Schanke nodded. "Hey! Coffee's ready." He jumped up and headed for the kitchen. He looked back at Nick. "I...don't suppose you want something to drink?" He half-gestured at the fridge. It was the first sign of hesitation Nick had seen, and it reassured him.

"No, I'm fine."

"Yeah, well, that's one person's opinion." Schanke poured his coffee. "Hey, you got any cream?"

Five hours later Schanke was stretched along the couch, playing with an empty coffee mug. Nick was standing by the fire, half staring at it, half staring at the past. He suddenly realised had no idea what he'd been saying, what he'd been about to say. He looked up and found Schanke watching him patiently. Nick wondered how long it had been since he'd spoken, how long Schanke had just been waiting. They simply stared at each other for a moment, then Schanke stood up and walked over to stand beside him. He rested his hand on Nick's shoulder.

"Nick... I can't pretend to know any of the things you're looking for. I can't give you some quick and simple advice for how to get away from this guy, or how to become human again. But I do know this -- you've got friends who are willing to help, who are willing to stand by you whenever and wherever you need us. Now, I'm not saying that I think I can go up against this LaCroix guy for you, not and win. But I am saying that you don't have to face this, or him, alone."

Shocked, Nick said nothing. In all his existence he'd so rarely let anyone into his life, shared his secrets, his dreams, his desires; and now he was beginning to think he'd been missing out on one of the better parts of life. If he could feel *this* warm, in a still undead body... "Schanke... all this time you've been there and I've been blind..." He stopped, swallowed. "Thank you." He held out his hand, and clasped Schanke's.

Schanke grinned suddenly. "Hey, what are partners for? You owe me twenty bucks." Nick blinked. He tried to figure out how he could owe Schanke twenty bucks for telling him his secrets, or for accepting his friendship. Schanke shook his head and sighed. "From the Nickson case, remember? I told you it'd turn out to be the daughter, you said it was the gardener. We bet twenty dollars; I won. You never paid." Schanke grinned. "And I know you can afford it!"

"I can't believe it." Schanke shook his head. "This is just too weird." He stood up from where he'd been crouching and looked at back Nick, who was standing behind him, watching. "Do you realize I have the exact same collection of Oz books at home? Well, actually they're in my daughter's room; she sort of inherited them. But -- and don't tell Myra this -- I still sneak in and read them once in a while."

Nick observed that Schanke didn't look very guilty. He laughed. Once the initial shock had worn off, he'd found he enjoyed the camaraderie with his partner. It seemed weird when he tried to spell it out to himself, but after all this time of working together, Nick was beginning to feel as if he liked Schanke. Heck, they might even become real friends after tonight.

Nick had watched as Schanke started wandering through his apartment, asking about the odd item here and there. Nick began explaining where they were from, sometimes laughing at Schanke's 'you own something that looks like this?' expression. Several times Nick had just shaken his head and told him he probably didn't want to know the whole story... at least not tonight. Some stories required an evening unto themselves, and a few bottles of beer.

Suddenly Schanke cursed. "Shit! Is this the real time? Myra's going to kill me." He started looking around frantically, and Nick pointed to where he'd left his coat. "I promised I'd pick her up... her car's in the shop; she made me swear to remember not to be late... oh god, I hope the traffic's light." He fumbled with his coat for a moment, then got it on. Nick followed him to the door, amused. Before he left, Schanke turned and put his hand on Nick's shoulder. "Hey... remember what I said. You're buying breakfast tomorrow."

Nick smiled and nodded. As Schanke disappeared into the daylight, he watched and wondered at this strange, unexpected turn of events. Maybe, just maybe he didn't need to understand them right now. Maybe he'd just let them happen, and later he'd try to figure out why. He did wonder what he'd done right, lately or ever, to deserve finding such friends now. Finally he turned and went back into the kitchen, poured a small glass of blood, then carried it with him to the couch where he spent the rest of the day, sitting and staring into the distance.

It wasn't until he realised what would happen when LaCroix found out, that he reconsidered the value of letting Schanke get close. It was too late, though, and he could only hope he didn't regret his decision.

The night was fresh -- the air was clear, cold, and sharp. It made one feel glad to be alive, or, at least, animate. Nick was glad the cold didn't bother him -- the top was down and the crisp night air greeted him as he pulled out of the garage. He welcomed the night with mixed emotions -- a good sign in itself, Nat would say. He was looking forward to seeing what was going to happen to his and Schanke's working relationship, now that Schanke knew why his partner was so... strange. But Nick was afraid for him, as well. He kept thinking of LaCroix, and what would happen if he ever discovered just how much these mortals were learning about Nick.

The cold air whipped through him like ice, as he pictured LaCroix's doubtless actions. Was friendship worth that? Death, or worse? Nick drove by instinct and habit, his eyes blind to the cars in favor of the blood he suddenly couldn't stop seeing, running down Schanke's neck. He gripped the wheel and told himself he would not let it happen, but the doubts whispered to him just the same. He turned on the radio in an effort to distract himself.

"And that was 'Nightmare' by our friends in Seattle, Rumours of the Big Wave. Dedicated, as always, to my dearest companions... of the night."

Nick glanced at the radio. He'd forgotten which station he'd had it tuned to -- what he always had it tuned to -- then looked back at the road in time to run a yellow light.

LaCroix continued, a note of delight in his voice, as if he knew Nick had just been surprised by him, again. "Tonight we've been taking calls from our citizens of the darkness, telling us tales of woe and misfortune. Life is hard, my children, very hard. But it is so much easier, is it not, with friends by our side." LaCroix paused. Nick could hear the smile as he continued. "It is so good to have friends... friends who will listen to everything you need to say. The Nightcrawler is your friend, children. Talk to him, let him know what is on your mind... for he knows, already."

Nick pressed down on the accelerator a bit, a bit unconsciously. The voice on the radio followed him. He always told himself it was coincidence. But that never changed those times when he discovered LaCroix somehow knew.

"Perhaps its time for another song dedication. Perhaps this time I will send a song out to one of my favorite people of the night. You know who you are, little one. This one is for you."

Nick held tightly to the steering wheel, waiting to hear what twisted message LaCroix was sending him this time. When U2 started playing over the airwaves, his jaw clenched and he told himself he should just shut the damn thing off. The line 'carry the cross of my shame' could mean a lot of things. Couldn't it? It would have to be 'Still Haven't Found What I'm Lookin' For' LaCroix had chosen to play.

Nick wished, one more time, that LaCroix would leave him the hell alone.

Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique filled his ears. The mighty strains of music echoed their beat into his heart, throughout his entire body. He closed his eyes and let the music drive him higher into the night until he was so high the air seemed to thin and the entire city could almost be seen, spreading out below him. The headphones continued their charge, drifting from Berlioz to Peer Gynt's In the Hall of the Mountain King. This song did not speak to him tonight, though. Tonight was a night for melancholy, for sorrow. He turned the volume down a bit, and let the music sing without him.

The night was quiet, as if silenced just for him. The air was still, the sounds of the city were muted, from so far away. He continued his slow circle, hoping to find something that would ease the hollow ache inside. The music wasn't helping that much. It usually did; usually the music came in and created life where sometimes there was none, or it provided him a way to let go of the feelings inside -- letting the music take them out so he wouldn't have to claim them. Tonight it wasn't working; all the pain was still inside, rising to the surface of its own accord, where he could feel it, where he had to claim it as his own.

He hated that.

When Liszt's Mephisto Waltz finally came through the earphones, he dialed the volume back up, and, in sheer defiance of his emotions, began to waltz under the stars, high above the city. His unseen partner danced with him; he smiled in grim delight -- his unseen partner would dance with him again, he would see to that... if it took a dozen more centuries he would not let him go...

The following night.

Nick stood on the roof, looking down into the night-time. He rarely came up here; he hated to remind himself that he was what he was, and how could he reach this part of the building but by flying? But tonight was different. Tonight, for the first time in a very long time, he felt something inside him that let him come to this perch without feeling nervous, self-conscious, or disgusted at his own nature. Tonight, he felt peace.

It was an unusual feeling. He didn't feel it often, nor had he ever felt it for long. He had never dreamed that simply telling his partner the facts of his life would bring him this feeling. Despite the dangers, despite the uncertainty of what to do now, he knew he would never take back last night for anything. He realized he had stepped across a threshold by saying aloud to Schanke those simple, frightening words -- 'I am a vampire'. The cloak of secrecy, of fear -- of shame -- had broken and fallen around his feet like dust. He knew he couldn't walk the streets with his head held high -- not yet. Not until he crossed back.

But there were two people, now, with whom he could be not afraid, not hide himself away. Two people would knew what he was, and still called him a friend.

He felt himself smiling. He wanted to shout out, in the sheer happiness that feeling brought. Friends. He had friends. What a simple notion, to get excited about, eh? But there it was...waiting to be shouted. Nick felt himself take a deep breath.

"It's lovely, isn't it?"

Nick spun, nearly losing his balance by the roof's edge. The man who had spoken stood, smiling at him. He looked quite undangerous. Nick gave him a quizzical look, and half-turned towards him.

"I mean the view. It's beautiful. I've always liked seeing the world from above." The man stepped closer, towards the edge, where he could look out at the city. Nick watched him. He didn't recognize the man -- the vampire. Before he could ask, the stranger told him, "My name is Andrew. I forget my last name... Right now I think it's McGowan." He looked at Nick, a sly but still friendly expression on his face. "And you're Nicolas. Nick Knight."

"How did you know?" Nick was beginning to feel suspicion. Who had sent this man here? LaCroix? Janette?

Andrew smiled. It made his manner seem like a gentle uncle, or the grandfather who'd raised you when your own father had to work all the time. Nick had to remind himself not to trust a strange vampire just because he looked kind.

Andrew said, "I know you. I have heard about you. You're actually rather infamous, you know. A vampire searching for a way back. Quite a few vampires spend their spare time gossiping about 'what has Nick done now'?" His tone was not mocking, rather more matter-of-fact. Almost... understanding. His tone became gleefully mischievous as he added, "Much to the consternation of a certain maker?" Andrew grinned, like it pleased him to no end that LaCroix would be annoyed by something. Nick said nothing, just waited. He didn't trust this vampire, not at all.

He wasn't exactly sure why, because everything about Andrew seemed to say 'trust me.' Maybe that was why. Maybe because he was used to other vampires being on LaCroix's side... or at least on any side not his. Janette, while not exactly against him, didn't necessarily agree with him.

When Nick said nothing, Andrew turned back to the city lights. "It is beautiful. Sometimes I wonder what it looks like in the sunlight."

It felt he was being baited, and decided he wasn't having any. He'd felt too good to let this stranger come ruin everything. Impatiently, he asked, "What do you want?"

Andrew glanced over, and said, calmly, "To offer you hope. You can become mortal again."

The rooftop seemed suddenly quiet, as if the city below had vanished.

Nick simply stared at Andrew. He didn't believe it, of course. No vampire besides Janette had ever really wanted to help him, or even be very nice to him. He wondered what trick Andrew was up to, if LaCroix was behind this... and felt a pang of sorrow, that mistrust was the first and only true emotion he seemed to know anymore. The brief happiness had already faded to vague memory.

Andrew's smile fell as he read and interpreted Nick's expression. "You don't believe me? Do you think I want something? That this is a trick of some sort?" He sounded disappointed, but accepting.

"It must be." Nick said it sharply, quickly, to hide the pain that threatened to well up inside him. He squelched it through long practice and his face turned hard. "Whatever your game is, I'll have none of it."

"Nicolas, this is no game. I promise you, what I've said is true. You can become mortal. I've seen it."

"You've what?"

"I have seen it," Andrew repeated. "I have watched someone, a vampire, whom I knew well for centuries, turn mortal, grow old, and die like humans do. I saw her walk in the sun, eat meat and bread, even get sick for days..." Andrew's voice half-choked, at the memory of his friend's illness.

"Why haven't I heard about this? Surely if it were true, some rumours would be floating around." Nick fought down the surge of surprise that would become hope, if he let it.

"Because I haven't told anyone. I thought it would be safer. If the Enforcers knew... Well, I didn't want to risk telling anyone. But I kept hearing rumours about you, young Nicolas. About how you wanted to become mortal. When the stories persisted over the centuries... I thought perhaps they were true. And I thought I might tell you -- it can be done."

"How?" Nicolas heard his heart beat. If it were true... He wouldn't have to believe Andrew, in order to hear his story, would he? Of course not. He could find out how this other vampire had done it, then talk to Nat. Maybe she could help him tell if it were a trick or not. Maybe... maybe he could finally...

"I don't know."

"What?!" Nick nearly screamed his frustration. "Then why did you say--"

Andrew held up a placating hand. "I said I had come to offer hope. I never meant to make you think I had the answers. I'm sorry. But... isn't hope worth something, at least?"

Nick glared at the other vampire. "Depends on what the price is."

Andrew shrugged. "The price is just listening. Listen to my story, of the other vampire to regained mortality. You can believe it or not, but I promise you it is true. And if it is done once, it can be done again. It will simply be up to you to discover the way."

Yeah, thanks, Nick thought. All the hard work would still be left to do. But... would knowing that it could be done, wouldn't that be almost as precious as knowing how it was done? For all Nat's cures, and ideas, she didn't really know, she only guessing. He was only guessing. If this stranger could tell him something to convince him it could work... whatever 'it' was... well, listening for awhile wasn't going to hurt him in the least.

"Why don't we go downstairs?" Nick offered. Andrew nodded.

Nat looked up from her desk at the knock on her door -- the paperwork had been piling up for what seemed like weeks and she was glad for a distraction. She knew it was really only days, but a deluge of murdered corpses had put her behind the more mundane aspects of her job. She hoped to take a long lunch, and go bug Nick on his night off.

"Come in," she called to whomever had actually knocked instead of just walking in. Who did she know that would do such a thing?

"Hey, working hard?" Schanke poked his head around the door.

"Schanke?" Nat was surprised. Why had he knocked? "Er, yeah. Just doing paperwork. Do you... need something?" There was something odd about his demeanor, which made her wonder what was up. Another fight with Myra? Had he come looking for a woman's opinion of whatever mess he'd been accused of making? If so, was there a meeting she could fake having to go to?

"No, no... not really. I just wondered... thought you might like some coffee." He suddenly glanced down at the cups in his hands, and offered her one. She took it, not mentioning the half-empty mug on a counter behind her.

"Thanks." She gave Schanke an odd look. "Is there something wrong?" Why beat around the bush?

"Er, no... nothing's wrong." Schanke looked down at his cup and leaned against a counter.

"Is it Myra?" Nat tried to sound sympathetic.

"No! No, Myra's fine. Well, she's still upset about our latest cancelled vacation, but... you know. A little silk and chocolate body paint and all's forgiven." He had a slight grin on his face, convincing Nat that the problem wasn't with Myra, and she didn't want to hear about the chocolate body paint.

"Is it Nick?" she asked carefully.

Schanke sighed. "Yeah, it's Nick. But I... I mean, it's not a problem, it's just... I don't know who I can talk to about it. I don't have a problem, I really don't. I just... it's kinda weird -- hell, it's a lot weird, and I wanted to bounce it off someone. But I don't know who I can talk to. I thought... I figured, as close as you and Nick are, I figured if anyone else knew, you would."

Nat's eyes grew huge. Schanke couldn't be talking about that, could he? She slowly stood up from her desk. "Schanke, what are you talking about?" She tried to remain calm, as if she wasn't thinking about vampires being discovered in the modern twentieth century.

Schanke gave her a measured look. "You do know, don't you? About Nick...?"

Nat nodded, still carefully. "If you mean what I think you mean... ."

"I do. I think I do. We are talking about the same thing, aren't we?" He suddenly looked suspicious -- if Nat didn't know, what was she talking about?

Nat took a deep breath. "About Nick being a vampire." She waited for Schanke to laugh and say he'd been talking about something else entirely different.

Schanke sighed in quick relief. "I was hoping you knew. I mean, I don't know a whole lot of people whose friends and co-workers are vampires. There should be a PFLAG for vampires. PFLAV? Sounds like a dessert."

Nat grinned. Then she realized -- "Nick told you?" Why on earth would he tell Schanke? And why hadn't he badgered her for months beforehand, asking her advice?

"Oh, he didn't. I mean, when I asked him he told me -- didn't deny it. But I figured it out. They don't call me 'Detective' for nothing, you know." He grinned, then laughed. "Ok, it took me a couple years. But to be honest, it wasn't the first thing one would think of, to explain all Knight's quirks."

Nat grinned. 'Quirks' was a good word for it. She realized that she felt relief, as a tension she hadn't ever felt before melted away. Finally, she wasn't the only one responsible for being a bridge between worlds, for Nick. She sat down and leaned forward, her elbows on her desk and chin in her hand. "So what did you want to ask?"

"He's never bitten you, has he?"

The question wasn't exactly what she'd been expecting. "That's a rather personal question, don't you think?" she said, as if affronted.

"Oh! I didn't... Is it? I was just thinking we spend a lot of time on stake-out." Schanke winced as he said the word. "I was just wondering if I should get him a thermos, so he doesn't... you know."

Nat grinned. Actually, the thermos idea was a good one. It would give Nick a counter to the smell of souvlaki.

"All I have is this." Nick held out the bottle of cows' blood. Andrew waved it off. Nick shrugged and put it back in the fridge. He hovered -- figuratively -- in the kitchen, nervous, not really sure what to do next. Except wait.

Andrew sat down on the couch and looked up at Nick. He raised his eyebrow, as if to ask if Nick were going to stand in the kitchen while he told his story. Nick blushed faintly and came over, sat down. He tried not to fidget.

Andrew sighed. "Well, Nicolas. The story I am about to tell you is absolutely true. But you must never tell anyone from whom you heard it. No one must know. But I swear to you it is true." He leaned forward, to exact Nick's promise to keep his secret. Nick nodded.

"Of course. I won't tell a soul."

Andrew leaned back, and took a deep breath. "Well then... The vampire who achieved this miraculous thing was my sister. Well, sort of my sister -- my master made both of us, about thirty years apart. He raised us like siblings... for the first hundred years.

"He was killed when I was 134. Vanesse was just over 150. We were... probably too young, as vampires go, to be left on our own -- but there we were. You can imagine we didn't look to finding another master, someone who could teach us what we still needed to know. We had each other, that was enough. We stayed together for two, three hundred years. Then we parted for a time. Went our separate ways.

"About four hundred years ago, she contacted me. Said she wanted to see me again, talk about old times. I had no idea... when I arrived, she acted like there was nothing at all the matter. Like nothing had changed. But I quickly noticed something was different. She wouldn't go hunting with me, and she stayed up later... went to bed earlier. And of course I had noticed before I ever saw her, how faint her presence was. But ... I didn't ask her. I knew she would tell me, when she was ready.

"When I caught her coming inside from a walk out in the morning's dawn, I had to ask. And she told me. She was becoming mortal again. At first I couldn't believe it. No vampire had ever, could ever become mortal again! I told her it was impossible. She smiled at me, and opened the front door... and I watched her step into the sunlight.

"I screamed, I thought she was going to burn. But she just stood there, her hair glistening in sunlight I hadn't felt in far too long. And there she was, someone with whom I had hunted, flown through the night sky, shared more than I had ever with any mortal. And there she was, standing in the sunlight completely unharmed.

"I stayed with her, and she showed me all the things she had learned to do. She ate food -- she cut her hand once while cooking, and it healed slowly, as slowly as a human's hand. She... one evening I woke up and couldn't feel her at all. I panicked, I thought she'd been killed. I ran into the sitting room and found her; she looked up at me... and we both realized she had done it. She had crossed back over.

"I left, then. I couldn't stay with her like that. I told her I was happy for her, but she had left my world behind, and me with it. She said she understood. All she asked was that I visit, from time to time. I said I would... and I did.

"I saw her get old. In ten years her hair had coloured, her face had begun to show wrinkles. She was centuries old, and looked forty. She had left her eternal youth as far behind as everything else. Once... the last time I saw her, she was very old. She had fallen ill, what humans call cancer. I stayed with her until she died. I watched as she faded, fell victim to the diseases of mortal life. A woman I had known and loved for so long. I saw her give up that life and become mortal, and saw her pay the price of mortality. She died.

"And part of me died with her."

For a long time they sat, neither of them saying a word. Nick was lost in thought, in wonder that one vampire had succeeded in achieving his own most precious dream. Andrew sat lost in the thought of a smiling face that had withered before his eyes. When Andrew stood, to take his leave, Nick stood and offered his hand. "Thank you, Andrew. I don't know if you can understand how much this means to me."

Andrew smiled, sadly. "I'm sorry I can't tell you what she did. When I saw her, by the time she contacted me, she was already living as a human. I don't know what she did; I never asked. She never offered to tell me. I'm glad to know that Vanesse's... what she did can bring someone happiness. I wish you luck, Nicolas. I mean that." Nick didn't know what to say. Andrew left without another word, left Nick standing in his apartment, feeling the surge of hope that threatened to grow inside his chest until it filled him with fire.

He smiled. It could be done!

The door banged open; Nat and Schanke both jumped a mile into the air before turning to see who it was. They'd been sitting at Nat's desk, Schanke on the desk, chatting and exchanging stories. They both smiled when they saw the subject of their conversation standing in the doorway.

"Nick! I thought you were off today... what is it?" Nat couldn't help grinning at Nick's expression of pure excitement.

Nick came into the room, giving Schanke a nod and taking a moment to be pleased and not surprised to find him here, talking to Nat. Then with the exuberance of a child, he explained. "I just heard the most wonderful story. I can't tell you from who, but it was about a woman named Vanesse. She died." Nick's eyes were bright and he had to work hard to keep from shouting.

Nat and Schanke gave him odd looks. "Uh, Nick... I think we need to hear more of the story." Schanke said, obviously getting infected by some of his partner's excitement, but confused as hell as to why a woman's death would be so wonderful.

Nick stared at Schanke for a moment. "Oh! She was a vampire. Don't you get it? She died!" Nat and Schanke exchanged concerned looks. Before Nat could ask if Nick was drunk or stoned or the vampiric equivalent, Nick continued. "She ate... she grew old... don't you see? She went back." Nick stared at them both, his eyes drinking them up and drawing them into his excitement, his passion, his hope. "She became mortal." His voice had dropped to a whisper, as if by saying it he might jar it, break the truth of it, wake himself out of this dream. He repeated it anyway. "She became mortal."

"What? I thought you said it had never been done. Um, before." Schanke said.

Nick looked at Schanke, and Schanke had to wrench his gaze back out of the vampire's stare. "I did. I mean it hadn't. I didn't know. I thought it hadn't been done before," Nick babbled. "All the stories I'd heard of cures, I'd never really heard stories of those who had succeeded. Until tonight. He told me. He saw her... It really has happened."

Nat rushed around the desk and held him in her arms, squeezing with all her might. "Oh, Nick, I'm so happy for you! Congratulations!" She pulled back with a hesitant expression on her face.

"I don't actually know," Nick said before she asked. "How it was done, that is. He couldn't tell me. She'd already crossed back when he saw her again. But he knew it had happened. I know it can be done! Oh, Nat! Do you know what this means?" Nick was trying very hard not to bounce off the walls and ceiling.

Nat laughed. "It means I won't have to yell at you so often?"

"No." Nick smiled. He knew how grateful he was for all the times she had yelled. "I'll still need your help." He glanced over at Schanke. "Yours, too. But now that I know it can truly be done... I don't care how long it takes, what I have to do. I'll do anything, I don't care -- I know someday I'll be back!"

Schanke gave his partner congratulations and a hug of his own. Nat reflected on how she'd heard Nick say those words before, that he would do anything to get back. But before there had always been so much desperation in his voice, so much anguish. Now there was only joy, and hope. "This calls for a celebration!" Nat declared.

Schanke nodded, and offered, "Hey, I know this place that makes the best souvlaki!"

Nick only laughed at him. "Someday, Schanke, maybe I will eat some with you."

Schanke clapped his shoulder. "Maybe we'll start you off on donuts. Souvlaki's not for beginners."

Nick looked to Nat. "So what did you have in mind?"

Nat had a mischievous glint in her eye. "Well... it's too late tonight. But tomorrow... meet me at my place. I know a place that's open till midnight which would be just perfect!"

So, the next evening, they went to play miniature golf.

Three days after Nick told his friends about Andrew's story, he found himself standing outside the Raven, still bouncing on his toes. He hadn't felt this good, ever. He'd tried to wait and let the news, the hope, sink in before he talked to Janette. Though he couldn't tell her about Andrew, he could find out what she knew in more general terms.

But he couldn't calm down, and she was too good a friend not to tell her *something*. She might not be happy, but maybe she would be. Surely she could be happy for him, pleased that he could finally meet his heart's desire, become mortal, become human. Though she would also tell him LaCroix would never let him cross back. She would tell him LaCroix would kill him, as soon as he became mortal, or bring him back across. She would tell him... she would tell him. Regardless of any happiness she felt for him.

Nick had been thinking of reasons not to tell her all day. He knew she might say things that would be hard to hear, ask questions he might not be able to answer. She might even ask him to stay with her, immortal, not to leave her alone with -- against -- LaCroix. But he had to tell her that he knew it could be done. When it came right down to it, he couldn't imagine not telling her.

He entered the Raven, and was assaulted by the noise, the smell, the heat of the place. Humans dancing, talking, drinking; vampires dancing, talking... drinking. The place was a strange mixture of life and death, of undeath, like it was a gathering place where all kinds of creatures could come together. Where the undead could feed on the blood and energy of the living; where the living could feed on the passion of the dead. The darkened lights and heavy beat of the bass filled every crevasse of everyone who walked inside, drawing them in and sucking whatever it wanted out of them. It was as if the place itself were alive, breathing, waiting, feeding on the living, undead, dead and dying. Nick could almost feel it looking at him, as if wondering if he would be its next meal.

Nick decided he had been spending too much time working. He scanned the room for Janette, with both his eyes and his heart. He felt her close by and started to turn towards her. He stopped when he saw Andrew, sitting at a table.

With LaCroix.

LaCroix looked up at that moment and met Nick's gaze. He raised his glass in toast, the dark red liquid sloshing gently against the side. LaCroix smiled, and looked back to Andrew and continued his part of their conversation.

Nick felt his world shatter and disappear into the cracks in the floor. In his shock, he found himself thinking, quite calmly, that perhaps the club would feed on LaCroix tonight, and free Nick from his cruelty.

He turned and fled the Raven, leapt into the night, and didn't stop to look around until he was safely underneath the blankets of his bed.

Schanke stumbled to the front door, rubbing his eyes and muttering thinly veiled threats to whomever was banging on his door. At least they'd had the good sense to interrupt his and Myra's nap, not...earlier things. He narrowly avoided tripping over something owned by his daughter. He tried to peer through the peekhole, but saw nothing resembling anything other than the empty yard.

He cautiously opened the door.

Nick looked at him, miserably. "Nat wasn't home. Can I..." he stopped trying to voice his woe, and just stared at his partner. Schanke felt dread curling his toes.

"Nick, what happened? You want to come in?" He glanced over his shoulder, wondering if Myra had followed him.

"No. Can we... go someplace?" Nick looked on the verge of tears, something Schanke had never, ever seen before. Not this total abject misery, the total lack of hope.

"Oh god, Nick. Lemme grab my shoes. And some pants."

Nick nodded, and followed Schanke as far as the living room. He stood in the dark room and waited, ignoring the noise of Schanke dressing, and telling his wife he would be back, police business, not to worry. He came back and herded Nick back outside, to his car. They didn't say anything as Schanke pulled out of the driveway and began driving, aimlessly.

"He knew. He knows LaCroix. It... it was a hoax, a game. It isn't true..."

The despair in Nick's voice pierced Schanke's heart. It had been so wonderful seeing Nick full of life, of hope, this last week. He had seemed more human, in his joy, than ever before. And now... now his whole world had crumbled.

Gently, Schanke said, "Tell me what happened, Nick."

Nick stared out the window, seeing the store fronts and pedestrians float by. He found himself wishing a flashback would take him, and deliver him from this pain, for now, for a moment. But he had never felt this way before. Maybe because he'd never let himself truly believe, before. Slowly he began telling his partner of his history with Lacroix. How he had been brought over, how he'd fought so hard to be free of him. How he'd tried so hard, so long, to become mortal again.

"And I really believed... this time, I don't know what it was, but something made me believe that I could be free. That I could be mortal." Anguish choked him as he spit out the words. "And it was all a ruse of LaCroix's. It wasn't even a clever one, no setting me up, no drawing me in, no dragging it out over days, or years. He just sent in one vampire with a story, then pulled it all out from beneath me. And I fell for it." Nick couldn't contain it any longer. He slid down the seat until his head was below the headrest, wrapped his arm around his face and let himself cry. The red stained his jacket, as the pain and misery of eight-hundred years leaked out.

The night before.

"So, Angelo, what brings you to Toronto?" Lacroix sat at a table in the Raven, sipping his glass of House Specialty Number Four.

"Nothing special, LaCroix. When I left my last home, I decided I'd travel a bit. See the country... or at least those parts I haven't seen in a while. It's been almost two hundred years since I've been to North America." He took a sip of his own glass of HS #3. "It's changed."

LaCroix gave him a reproachful look. "Of course it's changed. Two hundred years, what did you expect?"

"I expected it would change." Angelo smiled at him.

"So why Toronto?" LaCroix maintained a calm, unconcerned demeanor.

Angelo shrugged. "Why not? Thought I might take in a Jays game."

"In the middle of the afternoon?"

"I'm sure they broadcast the games." The other vampire seemed totally unconcerned with LaCroix's questions, as he absentmindedly sipped his blood-wine and watched the pretty humans dance.

"They black them out," LaCroix told him with a trace of disgust.

Angelo raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know you were a baseball fan."

LaCroix shrugged. "It passes the time... sometimes."

"Yes, well, it helps when they aren't on strike." Angelo almost laughed.

"So, you came just to watch the Blue Jays?"

Angelo gestured towards the dance floor. "There are other appeals, of course. That one, for instance, is nice." He pointed at one of the dancers.

LaCroix barely glanced over. "Other towns have baseball, and dance clubs. I am curious why you came to Toronto?"

Angelo fixed him with a stare. "Why are you so concerned about my travel preferences?"

LaCroix spread his hands as he replied, "I don't particularly care." Then he set his glass down and fixed Angelo with a stare of his own. "But I have heard about you. And it seems, that wherever you travel, vampires disappear. Not often, of course, but at least one or two a century. Or so I hear." He smiled, his usual, evil, LaCroixian, going-to-come-out-on-top smile.

Angelo blinked once, then laughed. "Is that all? LaCroix, do you think I've gone into head-hunting? Or are you wondering if I work for the Hunters? Maybe -- this must be it! I work for the Federal Vampire Relocation program!" He laughed, sounding delightfully amused. "Ever since I arrived in Toronto you've been trying to meet up with me... and this is why? Old rumours about disappearing vampires? Oh, LaCroix! Don't you have anything better to do?"

LaCroix growled under his breath. If he could not get the truth out of Angelo, he would have to work on Nicolas. Because if the stories were true -- and he didn't doubt it for a moment, despite the other vampire's reaction -- then Nicolas might be the next to disappear. And that was not going to happen... until LaCroix wanted it to.

He spent the next few minutes regaining his ground in the conversation, countering accusations that he spent his days watching soaps. He had almost enticed Angelo into admitting the truth, when he felt Nicolas walk into the club. He felt a grin spread across his face, and invited Angelo to the next Jays night game.

Then he looked over, raised his glass to Nicolas, smiled, and suggested that they see a boxing match instead. All that lovely blood...

Schanke and Nick sat by the waterfront; Nick stared out at the black water hoping that the rushing sound in his ears would be the water coming up to take him away. Schanke stared at his partner, worried as hell. He put his arm on Nick's shoulders, trying to stir him out of his shock. After a couple gentle shakes, and some "Hey, Nick"s he finally got a response. Nick turned his head and looked at Schanke, his eyes showing the desperation that can only come after eight-hundred years of losing hope.

"Nick, has it occurred to you that this is exactly what LaCroix wants you to do?"

Nick gave Schanke a confused look. "Of course this is what he wants!" he shouted. "He wants me to suffer, he enjoys it when I think I'm going to succeed, then fail..." He glared at Schanke, for suggesting such a stupid thing. "I haven't thought he wants anything else!"

Schanke shook his head. "You're not listening, Nick. I mean -- maybe all LaCroix is doing, is making you think he set you up." Schanke leaned closer, as Nick began staring at the water again. He had to make Nick hear him. "Maybe what this other guy told you is true -- wouldn't LaCroix do anything he could to make you believe it wasn't true? And what better way than to make you think he was behind it all? Think about it -- what better way to keep you from becoming mortal than to convince you there's no way to do it? It sounds perfect. No matter what you do, what you try, if LaCroix can make you think it won't work, it won't matter if it would, because you'll stop trying!

Nick wasn't convinced, and his expression must have told that to his partner.

"Nick, that means the best way to beat him is not to stop believing! Look, ever since you talked to that vampire, you've been ecstatic! You've been acting like, like life was worth living again. Like a cancer patient who was on the road to remission, or something. You... you've been more human than I've ever seen you. And it's all because you had hope, that you could be human again. Don't you see? It isn't about drinking blood, or walking in the sunshine. It's about enjoying life, about being a good person, being loyal and trustworthy and honest. Nick, it doesn't matter what you are, it only matters who you are. You're one of the best people I know -- and that is something you should be proud of. And you can't let LaCroix take that away from you. You have to hang on to what makes you a wonderful friend, a great partner, and a lousy golfer."

Nick hid a quick smile as Schanke continued.

"You have to hang on to your self. Then nothing LaCroix can do can make you lose hope. And that's that makes you human, Nick. Hope -- hoping that life will get better, hoping that tomorrow will be just as great as today, hoping that your wife won't ask where you've been all night when you've been sitting in a car watching suspects who just happen to be young gorgeous females. Hoping that someday you'll get to share a plate of souvlaki with the best darn cop on the streets."

Nick did smile, this time. He continued staring at the water for a bit, then wiped the red streaks from his cheeks. "Don... thanks. I... . It's been a long time since I had friends like you and Natalie. You make me feel... cared for." He looked at Schanke. "I think that's also what being human is about. Compared to mortals, vampire emotions seem so superficial. It's like we... they know that it doesn't matter what you do, or feel, because in a hundred years you'll still be around. But for humans, everything is so much more intense, and that makes it much more real. I think love is more important to humans, than to vampires. And..." the red tears were streaming again, but this time they didn't hurt. "I think that's what I missed, most of all. Being loved."

Schanke clapped his shoulder. "Then I'd say you're on the right track."


"Not you again." Andrew didn't glance over. He was enjoying the view of the city, and while he'd felt the approach of the other vampire he hadn't thought to leave. He didn't say so aloud, but LaCroix was beginning to be annoying. Every time Andrew went out somewhere to relax and enjoy the city, LaCroix showed up and harassed him about the 'rumours.' Or, even more annoyingly, just hung around chatting. The last time Andrew had seen Nick in the distance -- and he'd realized LaCroix was up to something, and was using him to do it.

Andrew was *very* annoyed.

LaCroix smiled at him. "Angelo, I just thought I would drop by. When I saw you here I wondered why on earth you would just be hanging around, fifteen-hundred feet above Toronto."

"Why are you calling me Angelo?" Andrew glared at him.

LaCroix blinked, momentarily taken aback. "Because that is your name. What else should I call you?" His voice took on that 'come now, dear boy' tone that he used on Nick so often. "Surely you do not mean for me to call you... what are you going by this time, anyway?"

Instead of growling, because he knew LaCroix knew it was 'Andrew', Andrew just smiled. "I see your point... Eddy."

LaCroix choked then recovered almost smoothly and asked, "Eddy? Where did you come up with that?" His innocent tone didn't fool Andrew in the least. Andrew just smiled at LaCroix. "Look, I am just trying to be friendly. Why are you being so resistant?"

Andrew grinned -- a hunter's grin. "Because I don't need anything from you, LaCroix."

Realizing it was time to drop all pretense, LaCroix growled right back. "Then why are you trying to take something from me? Something more precious to me than life?"

Andrew smiled. "What, Nick? I don't know what you're talking about." This time Andrew had an innocent smile.

"I warn you, I will not let him go. He will never cross back. I will kill him first."

Andrew flew close, until he was right in LaCroix's face. "You're too late!"

"What have you done?" LaCroix spit out the words and his thought about tearing off Andrew's head.

Andrew grinned. "It wasn't me." He laughed, gleefully and maliciously, then sped off into the night. His laughter echoed in the air around LaCroix, not softened a bit by the vampire's growl.

"Wow. I turn off my phone for one night, and this is what I miss?" Natalie sounded amazed. Nick and Schanke were sitting in her dining room; Nat and Schanke were sharing Chinese take-out. Nick was playing with a pair of chopsticks and telling Nat about what had happened since he'd first seen LaCroix and Andrew together. He'd seen them talking several times after that, but he assured Nat that he believed Schanke. His partner had repeated himself a few times since their conversation at the wharf, until Nick found himself genuinely persuaded -- if only to get him to change the topic.

"Besides," Nick smiled at them both. "It feels better to have hope. It really gets depressing, being... depressed all the time."

"Yeah, I guess eight-hundred years of depression can get old." Nat smiled at him -- for the first time Nick seemed sincere in his expression of wanting to be free of the guilt and pain he'd created for himself. Nick just threw a fortune cookie at her.

Later, with Nick safely home an hour before the sunrise, Schanke headed for his own home. He hadn't figured out what to tell Myra, although he suspected the cruise ship tickets he'd finally received from the travel agent would make up for any lingering hostility she might feel. He patted his coat pocket to assure himself they were still there.

As he left his car in the driveway and headed through the garage, someone blocked his way. He stopped, startled, and felt his cop's sixth sense tell him he should just shoot this guy now and save everyone a lot of trouble. "Who are you?" He went for the polite approach, instead.

"I think you and I have to have a little talk." LaCroix smiled.

For the first time in his life Schanke felt as if he were truly defenseless. But for some reason, Schanke felt no fear. Something told him he was not going to be attacked. Not that he had any defense if he were -- but his instinct told him he was not in immediate mortal danger.

He told his instinct to get real, and wondered if he had any garlic in the house. "So... what can I do for you?" He kept his tone cool, and calm. He remembered reading that you should show no fear to the elves who came for your soul; maybe it would work for vampires, too.

LaCroix sneered. Then he smiled -- and Schanke was at a loss to decide which worried him more. "I just thought we might have a little chat. We have never met -- properly, you know."

"Yeah. Nick's mentioned you, but he's never seemed real keen on introducing us."

"Yes, well, Nicholas has many faults. His disrespectful treatment of his father is only one of them."

Ah, Schanke thought. This is supposed to elicit sympathy? Aloud, he said, "I'm sure he has his reasons."

"Perhaps. But that is not why I am here, tonight. I have something more... pressing to discuss with you." He stepped closer, until he was almost within reach. Schanke was pleasantly surprised to notice he didn't flinch.

"And what would that be?"

"I want you to leave Nicholas alone."

Schanke laughed. "That'll be kinda hard, as we work together."

"That's not what I meant." LaCroix's voice was smooth, it slid in and threatened to wrap itself around Schanke's throat. "What I mean, is," he sounded like a patient father speaking to an imbecile child. Or more precisely, the imbecile friend of an imbecile child, "I want you to stop telling Nicholas that he can be mortal. He cannot, you know, and this delusion of his will only bring him misery and regret."

"You know, I heard it the other way around." Schanke was able to keep his voice steady, through years of practise.

"I am sure. But I have been a vampire for a much longer time than your partner has. I know what can and cannot be done. And crossing back cannot be done. Nicholas would do well to accept that, and get on with his life!"

"Why don't you talk to Nick about it, instead of me?"

"He does not listen to me anymore. But you... you had better listen. Stop filling his head with false hopes and encouragement. The sooner Nicholas comes to his senses, the better off we all will be."

"Well, I hear what you're saying, but I'm afraid I don't agree with you. In the last few days Nick's been happier and more relaxed than I've ever known him to be. And I think it's because he's let himself believe he can cross back. And even if he can't -- he's a hell of a lot better off being happy, than being miserable. He's a better person for all his hoping."

"He is not a person! He is a vampire, and he is mine!" LaCroix snarled.

Schanke gave him a look, and Lacroix saw the hidden pity in it. "You don't know what you have, do you? You should be proud to have a son like Nick. Instead you want to destroy him?" Schanke shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. And I'm not going to tell him he can't cross back. Even if he can't." With that, Schanke stepped aside, to walk past LaCroix.

As he passed, he heard a whisper, "Are you certain that is your final word?"

And *then* Schanke felt the icy cold lump in his stomach, telling him to be afraid, be very afraid. In a flash he saw all that could happen if this vampire remained pissed off at him -- death, for him and his family, or worse -- being brought over. He could suddenly and silently lose everything he'd ever loved, and there was nothing he could do about it.

He stopped and turned, and saw in LaCroix's face that the vampire knew everything that had just gone through Schanke's head. Schanke smiled, suddenly calm. "Yeah, that's my final word."

LaCroix stepped closer, smiling in pure delight. If he couldn't get what he wanted, at least this one particular thing that he wanted, he would at least get a meal out of the attempt. Then he'd get to tell Nicholas...

"I'd like to point out one thing, if I may?" Schanke sounded as upset as if he was asking Nick to type up the reports so he could go bowling.

"Some last words, perhaps?" LaCroix could be gracious, oh yes. Sometimes he liked being nice to his meals before torturing them some more. Perhaps he'd kill the daughter, first.

"This won't change anything."

LaCroix stopped, and gave Schanke an amused look. "I dare say it will. You will be dead. Your wife and child will be dead. It will be, for you, a new experience."

"I mean for Nick. You won't convince him to believe you, to go back to living your kind of life by killing me and my family. You'll never win him back that way -- in fact you'll just convince him that he's right. That he doesn't want to be the kind of person you are. You've got only one weapon, LaCroix -- and that's killing people. Nick has a lot more ways to fight you. He has friends; he has hope. And that's a lot stronger. He'll beat you. I'd say he already has."

LaCroix was glaring at the foolish mortal. Luckily he knew this game. "Ah, so you are saying I should not 'waste my time' killing you? That I should go talk to Nicholas instead?"

"I'm saying it won't matter if you kill me. Go ahead -- kill me. Kill my wife and daughter. It won't get you what you want."

"And if what I want is revenge? And blood?"

"Well, in that case you'll definitely get the blood. Revenge, that's trickier. Didn't Kahn say he'd rather torment than kill his enemies?"

LaCroix was somewhat startled. "Genghis Kahn? I don't remember that he ever mentioned--"

"No, not Genghis. Kahn Singh. Don't you ever watch Star Trek? Or was that the Klingon who said 'revenge is a dish best served cold'?"

LaCroix just stared at the strange human. He shook his head. "What are you talking about?"

"Look, LaCroix, all I'm saying is that if you want Nick to go back to being a full-time vampire, killing me won't do it. Asking me to talk him into it won't do it, either. Don't you get it? Killing me will prove to Nick that he's right! He wants to be happy, and living your kind of life won't do it for him."

"That's where you're wrong. We were very happy together, at first. Before he became deluded about this whole 'cure' nonsense."

Schanke shook his head. "Then you're deluding yourself."

LaCroix's jaw actually dropped. "What did you say to me?"

"I said you're wrong, you're deluding yourself."

"Do you realize," LaCroix's voice dropped, hissing like a pissed-off vampire. "That no mortal has ever dared to speak to me that way? Such insolence! I should kill you for that!"

"I thought you were already going to kill me?"

LaCroix just growled. His fists clenched, and he felt his heart beat once. The hunger for blood and revenge burned in him, and he could smell the mortal's blood, almost taste it. And he could see dear Nicholas's face, when he found his partner, dead, drained of blood. He could hear his own taunting voice saying, 'You see, Nicholas, if you stayed with your own kind you wouldn't lose your friends to such things.' He imagined the look on Nicholas's face...

He looked at Schanke, who was waiting, calmly. LaCroix felt the hunger die away. He took a deep breath, and found himself saying something he'd never expected himself to say. "Then how do I get him back?"

Schanke sighed, and felt his feet relax -- the only part of him he'd dared let show the tension, the fear, the utter certainty that he and his family were about to die. "Eventually, LaCroix, every father has to let his children go. If they love you, they come back."

LaCroix rolled his eyes. "How trite."

Nick paced in his living room. It was the exact same room he'd been living in for the last three years, but it seemed new, somehow. As if it were a room for living and not just a place he hid when the sun was up. It struck him that over the centuries he'd had very few places that felt like home; this felt like it might become one of them. It had nothing to do with the place itself. Rather, it was the warm fuzzy feeling he got from knowing he had friends who cared, and could be himself with, without being afraid.

He fell backwards onto the couch and stared at the wall. Maybe he'd paint the walls. As he pondered the color -- something light? -- he heard the door open and felt LaCroix come in. He turned, surprised, and defensive. Whether LaCroix had or had not had anything to do with Andrew's story, he had certainly done his best to confound Nick. It wasn't something he was ready to forgive.

LaCroix strode in, calm and confident as always. He tossed his coat across a kitchen chair. "Do not get up, Nicholas. I just came to let you know -- I have dealt with your detective friend, and now I am off to Egypt." He sat down on the chair, and rested his feet on the table. He smiled at Nick.

"You what?" Nick could hardly believe what he was hearing. Please, don't let it be, he whispered to himself.

"I said, I have dealt with Schanke, and I am going to Egypt. Are you getting hard of hearing?"

"How did you 'deal' with Schanke?" Nick stood up, and decided this might be the time he tried to rip LaCroix's head off.

LaCroix gestured casually with his hand. "We talked. About you, as it was. We... aired our grievances." He patted his stomach, lightly and absentmindedly, not quite conveying the idea he had fed well. "Really, Nicholas, you are too suspicious."

"What did you do to him?" Nick was regretting not having eaten today, as he feared he would need all his strength to revenge his partner's death.

"Do? I have not the faintest idea what you are talking about." LaCroix looked up, all innocence. "Don't you want to hear why I am going to Egypt?" He sounded hurt.

Nick didn't buy it. "LaCroix, I'm warning you..."

LaCroix stared at Nick, into his eyes and into his soul. He took a moment to identify what he saw there, then smiled sadly. "He was right. I did not believe it, but that impudent mortal was right." He stood up and stepped away from Nick. "I suppose it is just as well I did not kill him."

"What?" Nick stopped in his tracks. "You didn't? Then what...?"

"I told you, we talked. That's all, Nicolas. We talked. Myra seems like a very nice woman, really. She offered to fix me breakfast, but you know -- eggs are so difficult to digest."

"You were at Schanke's house? Just to talk?"

"Oh, no. I admit, I originally went there to kill him. But... I changed my mind."

Nick stared at him for a few moments. Finally he asked, "Why?"

"It did not suit my purpose."

"And going to Egypt does?"

LaCroix smiled. "As a matter of fact, it does. It may, that is. I believe I will find out, after I get there. Or perhaps after I return."

"Why are you going to Egypt?" Nick felt as if he had been totally left out of this conversation. He reached out for something that might make a little sense.

"It has been a while since I was in that part of the world. I have some old friends to look up... and I have always loved the Nile at night."

"And?" Nick wasn't ready to stop being suspicious.

"And nothing. Aren't I allowed to do some traveling?"

"I suppose... I just don't understand why. Why now?"

"Really, Nicholas, you are becoming tedious. I am just going. I want to see a bit more of the world, and it will leave you alone to do whatever it is you think you want to do."

Now Nick knew LaCroix was up to something. "You mean finding the cure?"

LaCroix shrugged. "I do not think there is one. But you do, and there is no way I can convince you. So, I have decided to leave you alone, and let you discover the truth on your own. At least with me out of the way, you will not have to worry about your friends becoming a midnight meal."

Nick had never in his life imagined he would be hearing words like these from LaCroix. He wondered if he was going senile.

"I am not senile." LaCroix sounded for a moment his old disagreeable self. Then his voice softened. "But I am tired. I am tired of fighting with you, Nicholas. I want nothing more than for us to be a family again. But it seems that the only way I can get you back is to leave you alone. So that is why Egypt, and why now, and why I did not kill your partner or your Dr. Lambert or her annoying cat. You are more important to me than some mere mortals, or their opinions. So, I am going to Egypt," he stressed each word, as if knowing Nick still wouldn't believe him. "And you will remain here, to do... whatever it is you decide you want to do." He looked at Nick, and Nick got the distinct feeling LaCroix was trying not to say good-bye.

LaCroix picked up his coat and slung it over his shoulder. Nick followed him halfway towards the door, when LaCroix suddenly stopped and turned. He briefly placed his hand under Nick's chin, and Nick saw something almost like emotion in his eyes. "Perhaps we will see each other again, soon." He dropped his hand and spun, striding for the door.

"LaCroix..." LaCroix stopped, and glanced over his shoulder. Nick walked up to him. "You... you're really...?"

LaCroix sighed. "Yes, Nicholas. I am really."

Nick said nothing. Then he stepped around, in front of LaCroix, and surprised the older vampire by giving him a short hug. "Then I will see you when you return."

LaCroix smiled. "Thank you, Nicholas." And he was gone; with a last swirl of his coat and a tug at Nick's soul, he was gone into the night.