Written for FKFicFest 2011. Gen prompt by pj1228: “Nick’s partner finds out what he is. How does this affect their professional relationship?”
“The curse of awareness
Is no peace of mind”
– Within Temptation, “A Dangerous Mind”
When Natalie pressed her key against the doorknob, with the intent to slide it into the keyhole, her apartment door swung wide open. The pressure she had exerted was negligible at best, and she couldn’t hide the immediate sense of alarm she felt. Leaning in through the doorway without stepping into her apartment, she immediately fumbled for the light-switch panel on the inside wall about a foot from the lintel.
The switch was successfully flicked on, throwing soft radiance onto the destruction that remained of her personal items. The apartment looked like nothing so much as a cyclone had hit it. Tables were overturned, breakables shattered and, from where she stood, she could see one of her many shelves of books had been tipped over and the bound contents sprawled in a haphazard heap on the floor.
Her heart leaped into her throat and she quickly dug out her cellphone from her purse, instinctively reaching out to the item that could bring the only person she could think of to her aid. In her panic, she forgot the speed dial number she’d programmed in, and instead scrolled through her list of contacts. The right identity highlighted, she pressed the call button, and sighed in relief when the voice she’d recognize anywhere answered.
“Knight.” The familiar sound of his calm, smooth baritone with its indeterminate accent took the edge off her fear. But only a little.
The words came out in a rush. “Nick, I need you. My place has been broken into. I don’t know if anything was taken, or if the person responsible might still be around or-or-or…” Any remaining verbiage she might have uttered seemed to get stuck on the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat.
“Natalie, take a deep breath,” he commanded. His exerting a gentle authority over her pacified her; Nick knew what to do, and he would help her, would make things better. “Now, get back into your car, and make sure you lock all the doors. I’ll be right over.”
“Ok.” She ran back down the stairs that led from her second floor domicile to the ground level. Frantically whipping her head around to see if anyone with hostile intentions might still be present, she fumbled for her car keys. The car keys slid from her fingers to the pavement, and she whimpered in spite of herself.
“Natalie?” Nick’s voice on the other end of the line crackled with the depths of his worry for her. “Are you all right?”
“Dropped my keys,” she mumbled, her breath coming in heavy pants from her sudden flight down the stairs and back to her automobile.
“You’ll be all right,” he soothed. “Just get in the car and lock yourself in. I’m just a few blocks away from you.”
She recovered her car keys and, opening the driver’s side door, slid into the seat. But not before a quick glance in the backseat, of course. She slammed the door shut, hit the locks and double checked to make sure the windows were rolled up. She found she was as much reassured by the tonnage of metal surrounding her as the voice on the phone talking to her. She would be safe; Nick was coming for her.
“Nat, I’m gonna hang up now, ok? But I’ll be right there, I promise. Just stay calm and remain in the car.”
“Ok. I’ll see you soon.” After she’d given that rejoinder, he hung up, and she initiated a pattern of deep breathing to alleviate the instinctive terror that had welled up in her from seeing her home so violated.
* * *
The quick rap of knuckles against the window glass a few short minutes later was unexpected, and she jumped in her seat, her heart pounding in her chest. But she had nothing to fear; Nick had arrived, as promised. He mimed a request for her to roll her window down, and she did so, the pane of glass fully retracting into the door. Her heart slowed its frantic pace, and her thoughts flooded with the sudden intense relief at his appearance.
His blue eyes were dark as thunderclouds over the inscrutable ocean, and his blonde hair was luminescent in the glare of a nearby street lamp. For all his misgivings about his own benevolence, to her he was ever her guardian angel; an enigmatic protector who dwelled in the ever-encroaching world of arcane and ancient shadows, rather than the bright rafters of heaven.
In the curious dance that was their relationship, she was the humble little gray moth bobbing and reeling with the flickering light of his candle, forever hungering for the warmth of a true union yet fearful of the flame’s destructive power. She needed him far more than he needed her, with an all-encompassing necessity which far transcended the feebly understood human notions of love and lust. She was hard-pressed to find the right words to explain such overwhelming feelings to him, and doubted more if he’d be willing to embrace the reality of it. So, she’d shied away from the possibility of his rejection before he could ever give it.
But the politics of their singular alliance was of little import right now. All that truly mattered that he was here, his presence an assurance that she’d be safeguarded from whoever or whatever might wish her ill.
He reached through the empty space that had been occupied by only a thin pane of glass to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear. His touch was as light as the faintest breath, his hand dropping away all too soon, in order to prop his arms along the empty window space as he hunkered down closer to her level.
“You ok now?” His voice was soft and gentle, lulling her thoughts into more peaceful channels. If she hadn’t known any better, she would have sworn he was using his formidable powers of hypnotism on her. But no, he did not have the capability to wrestle psionically with the indomitable force of her will; it was simply the intoxicant of his presence that altered her state of mind.
“Yeah, I’m ok.” Then her eyes widened in recollection. “Oh my God, Sidney!” The danger to herself gone, she could only fret for the feline that had been her constant companion in the quietude of her living quarters. He had been an indoor cat all his life; the odds were slim indeed that he would survive outdoors if he’d escaped during the siege of her personal effects by the unknown intruder.
“I’ll find him, Nat.” Nick’s certitude was another reassurance. After all, he’d tracked far more challenging and cunning quarry in his eight centuries than a simple housecat. Sidney, doubtless, would be found in relatively short order before any misfortune could befall the unfortunate pet. “Stay right here. Some uniforms are on the way, too.”
She nodded, and his lips brushed against her forehead in a tender benediction. He left her to create a perimeter around the apartment complex, and secure the crime scene from interference.
As he ascended the stairs to her apartment, he began to swear fluently in his native Brabançon dialect. Only now could he smell the coppery tang of blood, the kind of spoiled smell that could only have issued from a heart that had ceased to beat and grown cold some time ago. How long ago, only someone with Natalie’s expertise could guess. But, as her own home was now the site of a murder, she would not be privy to the investigation, much less participate in it.
Nick had the task of explaining it all to Natalie, as much as he was permitted in his official position as the first officer on the scene and lead detective of the investigation. She acknowledged, with great sorrow, that per the legalities of the situation, he would not be allowed to give any details to her than he already had. It was a long standing legally-binding custom that existed to prevent witness testimonies from being tainted by official examinations, and any attempts to filter further details of the murder to her would only result in significant repercussions.
Once he had left her side again and had begun to examine her spare room, which had also been ransacked, he heard the faint double time pitter-patter of a tiny heart, like butterfly wings against a snare drum. It seemed to be coming from a closet that had been pinned shut by an overturned wardrobe. With little effort, he righted the wardrobe and cracked open the closet door.
Peering in, he was relieved to see a pair of iridescent green eyes staring back at him, and hear the grating cry of a frightened animal issuing forth. Once the few seconds it took his eyes to adjust from light to the dark had passed, he could clearly see the lithe form and gray and white patchwork markings of Natalie’s beloved cat. She would be most relieved to know that her “baby” had not been harmed.
* * *
After the grateful cat owner had been reunited with her feline, all possible samples had been collected and evidence had been bagged, and the unfortunate dead person had been tagged and shipped to the morgue, Nick volunteered himself to take Natalie to his place without being prompted.
Natalie, holding Sidney securely in her arms, slid into the passenger seat of her car and let Nick take the driver’s seat. He had to push back the seat to accommodate his significantly longer frame, but the drive itself was otherwise uneventful.
Natalie, overcome by exhaustion, very nearly fell asleep several times on the drive over to the loft. Sidney’s tail whipping against her arm and his front paws kneading at her breast prevented her from entering blissful unconsciousness, however.
When the fortress that was Nick’s Gateway Lane residence rose into her view, the last remaining vestiges of the evening’s earlier excitements evaporated from her mind. Sidney, no doubt, would find great enjoyment in hunting down the vermin that still made themselves at home in the great seething mass of the warehouse from time to time.
“I updated all the security protocols last month, during my vacation time,” Nick was saying. “I usually acquire the latest state-of-the-art equipment on a yearly basis but, given how often the loft has been broken into, I figured there’d be no harm installing the new stuff ahead of schedule.”
Her interest had been piqued. “What kind of updates? I mean, any ones that would affect my popping in for a spell?”
“There’s an identification pad, which requires confirmation with the visitor’s palmprint.” He grinned, adding in a sly tone, “I had the option of voice activation, as well, but given how finicky and shoddy voice confirmations tend to be, I decided to pass on that.”
Natalie chuckled in agreement, remembering all too well her frustrations with technical support calls; the types one had to go through hours of computerized messages to get to a human, and meant her ultimately yelling the same thing repeatedly over a dozen times with a prerecorded voice droning ‘I’m sorry, I did not understand that – please repeat your request’. “Yeah, I can imagine how well that would’ve worked out,” she remarked.
He pulled in to the parking level of the warehouse, and she saw the touch panel glowing a faint blue in the dimness of the parking area. She got out of the car, and walked over to it. He was behind her immediately. “Don’t touch it yet, Nat,” he said, his fingers moving in a blur on a keypad beside it. She wasn’t sure, but he appeared to have entered a code with at least sixteen digits. Then he stepped back. “Ok, now place your hand on it.”
She did as she was told, her hand flat against the panel. A blue-white light appeared within the screen, rolling along underneath where her hand touched the panel. Then the full surface of the panel altered to green, as it apparently had accepted her handprint.
The door automatically released from its catch, and Nick pulled it open for her to enter first. “Pretty nifty thing to have,” she mused. It was a relief, of course, that he’d beefed up his security to what was apparently a military-grade identity scanner. She idly wondered how much he had to pay or who he had to bribe to find such a thing.
But it only proved absolutely that she’d be safe here.
* * *
Nick had let her sleep upstairs in his big comfy bed, while he took the couch downstairs. He had slept in less pleasant places over the centuries, he’d informed her, so getting the necessary forty winks wouldn’t be all that difficult.
She’d woken up ensconced in his black silk sheets to hear arguing downstairs. It sounded like Nick was having it out with… Schanke?!? She had no idea what they were saying, but it sounded like Schanke was deeply perturbed and Nick was attempting at contrition.
She frowned. Slipping as quietly as she could out of the bed, she tiptoed to the bedroom door, which was open a crack. Trying to quiet the sound of her breath as much as she could, so as to not alert Nick of her eavesdropping, she strained to hear the conversation downstairs.
“…can’t believe you didn’t tell me! Must’ve thought I was some A-class chump, huh Knight? Why, huh? Why couldn’t you trust me?”
“Schanke, it’s not that easy. You’re not supposed to know. There are those who would kill you for having that knowledge. Why do you think Janette and I both tried to derail your train of thought?”
“Wait a minute… that Nightcrawler guy did it to me too, didn’t he?”
“Not the wisest decision you’ve ever made, Schank, visiting him. It’s quite likely the only reason he didn’t kill you was because it’d either get too messy to kill a cop, or it be another thing I owe him that he could hold over my head.”
“Huh. So, is he your… sire, master, vampire dad, or whatever?”
A sigh from Nick. “Unfortunately, yes.”
“Does Natalie know? I mean, about you and your, uh… family?”
“Yes. And the only reason those who keep our existence a secret are willing to let her live is because she’s useful to them.” The word was spat out like a pejorative. “When she stops being useful…”
“…Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, huh?” Schanke’s tone was sympathetic now.
“Yeah. And that’s what you’ll have to face, if you’re determined to keep your knowledge of this.” He sighed. “Think about it, seriously. You’ll never be able to tell another soul. Not even Myra.”
There was a long pause. She started when she heard Nick speak a little louder. “Natalie, I know you’ve been listening. You can come down now.”
Flush with embarrassment that she’d been caught in her eavesdropping, she shuffled down the stairs. “I didn’t mean to,” she mumbled, partly from still being caught in a sleep fog and partly shamed by her social gaffe. “It’s just that your arguing woke me up.”
Nick didn’t seem upset by her little attempt at sneakiness. He wrapped an arm around her waist as delicately as if she were made of glass and dropped another one of his light affectionate kisses atop her head.
Schanke was suitably repentant. “Sorry, Natalie. I just… I just feel like ten kinds of fool for not figuring things out sooner.” He stared at the couple intently, clearly fitting the last piece of the puzzle into place. “But that’s why you’re not together. Like, ‘an item’ together. Because he’s a vampire, and you’re all too human…”
Nick’s voice was so soft, she almost didn’t catch what he said. “Yeah. And I wish to God it weren’t so.” His grip on her tightened slightly but, even with that slight increase of pressure, she’d likely be sporting a bruise later. “I wouldn’t wish this hell on her, so…”
“I’m trying to help him become human again,” she finished, fluidly completing the sentence Nick had begun.
“Man oh man,” Schanke said, with a sigh. “That’s rough. I hope it works out someday. You guys deserve happiness.” She couldn’t tell as Nick was standing behind her, but he must have given Schanke quite an odd look because the corpulent detective then added, “Knight, I know all I need to know about you. You’re a great cop and a great partner, and I’ll take you however I can get you. And I suspect the Doc’s the same, and then some.” Then Schanke fixed Natalie with a look. “And you work too hard, Miss Aux de Formaldehyde…”
Natalie attempted to glare at Schanke for the moniker, but ended up giggling in spite of herself. “Oh, you’re right, Schanke. I do work too hard.”
There was suddenly a long, uncomfortable silence between the trio. Schanke’s mood had changed to a less jovial one.
“What, Schanke? What’s wrong?” Natalie was alarmed by the sudden change in mood.
Schanke absently scuffed his shoe against the floor of the loft. “Well, I didn’t come here just to chew Nick out,” he replied, looking glum. “Reports just came in from the 27th about a prisoner that was being transferred from one of our prisons to one in Winnipeg, just a few days ago. They got as far as the provincial border when the transport vehicle got smashed by a tractor trailer. Freak accident. Every body was accounted for… except for the prisoner.”
Natalie’s brow furrowed. “Who was it? Who was the prisoner?”
Schanke’s frown deepened. His eyes locked with hers, and he finally came out with the name she had once hoped she’d never have to hear again. “Roger Jamison.”
* * *
Natalie grunted and swung her fist, attempting to connect the hit to the object of her attack. The punching bag swayed only slightly, unperturbed by being the subject of her ire. She winced, as a brief jolt of pain shot through her clenched fingers, and she swore.
“No, Natalie. Don’t tuck your thumb inside your fist.” Nick’s voice issued from behind her, reproving. “Tuck it against your fingers.” He took her hand in his, and demonstrated, gently curling her fingers and then tucking her thumb against them. “Like that. And don’t flourish your movements, or you won’t connect with the same force you’re putting into it.” He positioned her arm so her elbow was at the height of her shoulder, then brought her arm straight forward, so her clenched fist rested against the surface of the punching bag.
“You see?” he asked. “You feel the muscles working, how your body responds to the movement?” When she nodded, he gently shooed her away from the punching bag. “Here. Back up a moment, and watch me.”
She stepped out of his way, and he took position before the punching bag. There was a brief moment of silence between them before his arm shot out like a cannon, iron fist slamming into the hard leather with a solid thunk. His form had been slow enough for her to catch the details, and light enough not to punch through the bag, yet she instinctively jumped at the sound of the impact. The punching bag swung wildly on the chain that bound it to the steel rafters above, and he placed his hands on it, stilling it once again.
“Now, try it again. Remember, feet planted and arms straight.” He moved behind the punching bag this time, holding it steady as she stepped back up to it and practiced her technique again. He inserted occasional commentary into the training session, encouraging or checking her as needed.
“It’s good to see that my gym’s finally getting some use from someone other than me,” he finally remarked when she called a timeout. “You should see how many punching bags I go through in a month.”
Natalie glared at him. “Nick, I’ve just been told that the guy who attempted to rape and murder me two years ago escaped prison. I’m not doing this for my health, y’know.” At the quelling look he gave her, she sighed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t take it out on you. It’s just that I’m tired of being made off with like the damsel in a B-movie who gets tied to the train tracks. Is it so wrong that I don’t want to hide behind my supernatural chum every time all hell breaks lose?”
He gently pulled her into an embrace, tucking her head underneath his chin. She leaned into him, the soft curves of her body seeming to mold perfectly against the sturdy angles of his frame. “No, it’s not wrong at all, Nat. But you shouldn’t have to worry about things like this. That’s why I’m here.” He pulled back from her slightly, tilting his gaze downward in order to look her in the eye. “And you’re stronger than you realize.”
“But…?” She sensed there was more he was about to say.
“But, if you want to be able to defend yourself, throwing a proper punch is barely even a beginning.” Nick was scrutinizing her now, practically sizing her up.
Then, quite suddenly, he whirled her around in his arms, so her back was pressed against his chest. An arm snaked around her waist, restraining rather than comforting her, and his free hand held her head immobile. She might as well have been chained to a concrete wall, for all the movement she was permitted in his iron grip. While a small part of her felt a brief jolt of fear, there was another side of her that found such a display oddly… affecting.
His voice in her ear was sibilant, and the effect on her was like a bolt of electricity grounded itself in her spine, even as she was acutely aware of the message he conveyed.
“What are you going to do when he’s got you right where he wants you?”
* * *
Nick had put up considerable argument against Natalie returning to her apartment, but eventually gave in to her demand to recover some of her personal items. The quarrel was extended further, however, when she insisted she’d go by herself and that she’d be all right, no really, and he really ought to stop scowling like that because didn’t his mother ever tell him his face would get stuck that way. His response (surprise, surprise) was to glare at her and mutter some obscenities in a language she didn’t understand, before declaring in English that she would be certain to drive him mad one of these days.
But, ultimately, she won the debate and got to visit her apartment without an escort. As far as she knew, anyway.
It struck her as odd that things were quieter than usual. Old Man Withers’ big-screen television wasn’t blaring the latest hockey game, and the tenants directly upstairs weren’t screaming and throwing things, before… well, throwing down on their much abused and hopelessly rusted mattress.
Perhaps it was because of her preoccupation with the almost unnatural hush that she didn’t notice someone had snuck up behind her. Until, of course, an arm was around her and a knife to her throat. “Ya miss me, sweetheart?”
“Not on your life!” she snarled. Pushing the hand that held the knife away from her throat, she freed her other arm in order to slam her elbow into his stomach. Then, she stomped hard on his instep, satisfied with the sounds of bones crunching under the force she applied.
Roger had begun to lose his grip on the weapon. She wrenched it from his hand and tossed it some distance away. Then she completed it by a punch to the jaw (thumb tucked behind, not under the fingers, like Nick had instructed her). She turned and saw Roger crumpling in a heap on the floor; not in surrender, but in an attempt to regroup.
She found herself wondering why she’d ever been afraid of him. He looked rather sad and pathetic to her now.
Nick showed up at that instant. Their ruse had been textbook perfect. Nick picked up the waste of oxygen up off the floor and slapped a set of handcuffs on him, making sure to wrench Roger’s arm just so, for an extra dose of misery that would add more time to his healing in a nice comfy jail cell.
Nick winked at Nat on his way out to the squad car that had pulled up. She grinned back at him, grateful that he’d let her handle it instead of rushing in as he was wont to do.
This certainly called for a celebration of some kind.
* * *
A few hours later, when life was somewhat back to normal, Nick graciously held open the door to her lab. She laughed at the little display she saw when she walked in; her desk was cleared, a white tablecloth on it, a small unscented votive candle burning in a holder, and an order of her favourite Chinese food waiting for her.
“Nick!” she squealed. “This is just too cute!”
“Well, since we don’t have much time to actually go and eat somewhere, I figured it might as well be here.” Nick said, with a slight grin. “It also doesn’t hurt that this is where we first met.”
Natalie grin widened. Sometimes, Nick could really be the sweetest guy. She circled around the desk to her chair and stopped cold in her tracks when she saw a small box sitting on top of the chair cushion. She shot a look at him in surprise and confusion, and he shrugged in response.
“You’ve faced one of your fears, so I figured it’s only right for me to deal with one of mine,” was his cryptic response.
She picked up the small jewelry box, not daring to hope…
She popped it open. Inside was a beautiful ring that defied accurate description; a silver ring with a red gem in the center, perfectly balanced and full of fire in the stone.
She turned to look at him, her eyes wide in realization of the intended meaning of this entire situation. He smiled, his expression communication far more than what mere words would allow; that he loved her beyond all comprehension.
“I can’t give you the kind of life you deserve, Nat,” he told her. “But, a little Polish-Italian birdie told me that love is all that matters and everything else is just ‘stuff’. So, all things being equal, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Natalie smiled up at him. “I thought you’d never ask.”