Disclaimer: The Forever Knight characters and universe don't belong
 to me.  They belong to: Sony, Columbia/Tristar, Parriot, & Cohen.
 I'll give 'em back, I promise.

Spoilers: Up to and including "Ashes to Ashes."

--Permission is given to archive this at: http://www.fkfanfic.com.
--It will also be archived on my web site at:
--Any one else must ask permission.

Please send all comments, caffienated beverages, and requests for
missing posts to cerk@rocketmail.com.  Please send flames elsewhere.

You must see "End Part 1" or something bad happened.

Darkened Beings 01/09
by Kusine Kaninchen

    "Altogether, man is a darkened being; he knows not
     whence he comes nor whither he goes..."


"I just want to know that he's OK," the young woman said.  "I don't
want to take him or talk to him, I just want to be able to look at
him from afar occasionally.  I want to know that he's still
around--to know I did the right thing."

"You made your choice when you signed the papers," the older woman
behind the desk said coldly.  She toyed idly with a file folder
while the young woman seated across from her tried to see inside it.
 "But we'd agreed," she continued, "you give me the reports, and
I'll tell you how to find him."

The young woman looked at the thick manila envelope resting on her
lap.  If she gave this up, she gave up all of her power and had to
trust this little sharp-featured woman.  It had taken her over a
year to amass the evidence of their crimes.  She had copies of
everything at home, but only she knew where they were.  She had told
no one of her discoveries, though she planned to...It didn't matter:
she'd never promised to give up the evidence.  She was going to turn
them in, once she had the information she needed from this woman.

"No," the young woman said firmly, "you have to tell me first."  She
nervously covered the precious envelope with her small hands.  "And
I never agreed to give the papers to you.  I said I'd let you _look_
at them."

"I'm afraid you'll have to give them up to find out where he is.
You need my help," the other woman pointed out.  "You'll have to
play by my rules."

"No!" The young woman stood up, her figure in shadow as she rose
above the small circle of light from the desk lamp.  "I won't give
them to you!  I was coerced by you once before; I won't be again.
Tell me where he is!"

"Give up the papers first," the woman behind the desk repeated.

The young woman leaned down to get her purse and never heard the
opening of the drawer.  When she again stood straight to make one
last biting comment, she saw a bright flash and nothing more as the
force of the bullet propelled her backwards.  The other woman stood
and wrinkled her nose, shoving the still warm gun into her jacket
pocket.  She switched off the desk lamp and carefully walked around
the body.  She snatched up the fallen envelope and walked quickly
out the door.

End Part 1

Darkened Beings 02/09

>From across the street in the shadows, LaCroix could
see...something...in the doorway of the Raven.  It was small and
moving--not like an animal, too small for a person.  It was alive;
he could hear its heart beat quickly: pitter-pat, pitter-pat.  From
what he could detect through the rain, the scent of it was not
unpleasant: like fresh, warm laundry, one of his few secret

The rain dripped off the brim of his hat and slid down the front of
his leather greatcoat.  What ever it was would have to move; he
would have nothing sheltering in his doorway, no matter how cold the
rain on this dreary autumnal evening.  However, his recent
experience with his daughter had renewed his caution.  He would
approach with care.

LaCroix moved across the street in the space between two fast moving
cars.  Nothing human could have seen him, and few vampires either.
His two millennia of experience gave him advantages.  He never would
have imagined that a skill meant to capture prey would be so useful
in traffic.  He stood in the doorway before the spray from the cars
he had slipped between had splashed to the ground.

It was a human child.  It sat on a dry patch of concrete, looking up
at him with wide brown eyes.  He looked up and down the street, but
no one was in evidence on such an unpleasant evening.  Had the child
been abandoned?  Had some confused mortal mistaken his nightclub for
an orphanage?

He returned his attention to the child.  It was very young, he could
tell that, but he was unable to determine the age any more
precisely.  What use had he for the appearance of age?  It still
looked like an infant, though it could probably walk: its small
white tennis shoes had scuffed soles.  It had no coat.  Hesitantly
bending down and touching the child, he felt that its skin was
nearly as cold as his own.

The child grabbed the hand that had brushed its cheek and pulled
itself up.  It held its arms up, and after a moment, LaCroix
realized that it wished to be lifted, to be _held_.

As he automatically reached down for it, he stopped.  Why should he
take in this child?  What would he do with a baby?  He could drain
it, surely, but babies were usually missed quickly.  As delicious as
it was to drink in their purity and honeyed innocence, it was simply
not worth the risk.  Would he take it in and raise it?  No, that was
a mortal folly that he would expect of Nicholas, not himself.  But
he _could_ take it inside and call the police, like any good
Canadian citizen.

He would have Nicholas retrieve the infant and the police would look
upon him with less displeasure than of late.  Undercover officers
had recently been in the Raven, attempting to find some illegalities
with which to close the club.  The memory of Divia's unpleasantness
was keeping away the immortal patrons, and the police were keeping
away the mortals.  He needed something to return at least some of
his customers...not that he needed the club's income.  Janette would
not like to see the club disgraced or abandoned, however.

He pushed open the heavy metal door, and the child quickly grabbed
onto his long coat.  Its face wrinkled up, and it looked up at him
with piteous eyes, pushing against his legs.  It would not move, and
LaCroix was forced to reach down and lift the child by its clothing
and carry it into his rooms behind the club.

He retrieved a large towel from the bath and covered the couch to
protect it from any childish depredations.  He set the child down
and crossed the room to the phone.  He had crushed his cordless one
in a fit of pique last night and was being forced to use an old
office phone until a new cordless could be delivered.  It was the
one from Janette's former office and had a long, black, snarled cord
that snaked itself around the phone's user at any excuse.  He tapped
the speed-dial code he had programmed for Nicholas' cellular number,
and waited for an answer.

"Knight here."

"Ah, Nicholas," LaCroix said smoothly, "I have a gift for you."

"What do you want?"  his child asked curtly.

Nicholas was at his police precinct.  LaCroix could hear the sounds
of computer keyboards and radios, telephones and fax machines, all
suddenly muted.  Nicholas was trying to cover the mouthpiece with
his hand.  His blonde partner was probably there with him, listening
to one half of the conversation.

"That's no way to act when I've offered you something," LaCroix
reprimanded.  "I have something that you might wish to know about.
I've found something that seems to have gone astray."

"What are you talking about?  Quit speaking in riddles!" the muffled
voice hissed at him.

"Nicholas, if you think that's a riddle, your mind could use some
exercise-" There was a loud thump and LaCroix whirled around to see
the child sitting on the floor, partially entangled in the towel.
"But I have no time for this," LaCroix said quickly, turning around
again to avoid being trapped in the phone cord.  "I have found a
child and I wish for you to retrieve it."

"A child?"  Nicholas asked incredulously.  "Is it...?"

"Alive?  Yes." There was another thump, and LaCroix turned to
discover that his eighteenth century handcarved marble chess pieces
bounced on carpeting.  Luckily.  "But not for very long, if you
don't hurry up," he added as the child began to pound an exquisitely
detailed queen on his glass coffeetable.

"Can you give me a description?  I can have Missing Persons start
searching the reports."  His voice became less muffled as he picked
up a writing implement and began to make notes.

"It's young, but it can walk," he observed as the child toddled over
to the endtable.  "It has brown eyes and short, brown, curly hair."

"Boy or girl?"  his son inquired.

LaCroix paused as he considered the question.  It was too young yet
to have any differentiating characteristics.  Wasn't it pink for
girls and blue for boys?  He checked.  The child was wearing green
overalls with yellow frogs that appeared to be...dancing.

"It's wearing green," he replied.  "Aren't they supposed to be

There was a strangled sound that sounded suspiciously like repressed
laughter before Nicholas spoke again.

"Can you...check?"

"I will do no such thing!" LaCroix hissed.  "If you do not
immediately come to fetch this creature, I shall soon be having a

There was a crash as a large bust of Caesar fell from the endtable
and failed miserably to bounce on the carpet.  The child stood
stunned amongst the wreckage of the priceless work of art for a few
moments, then began to bawl.

"What happened?" Nicholas shouted in his ear.

"My bust of Caesar has broken," LaCroix said softly, unbelievingly.

"The child?!"

"It's crying, though it appears to be uninjured...How do I make it
stop?" he asked as the sound began to hurt his sensitive ears.

"I don't know!  Why are you asking me?"  Nicholas asked exasperatedly.

"You spend time with mortals.  Surely you know how they care for
their young."

"This isn't 'Wild Kingdom.'  Try picking it up," he suggested.

LaCroix stretched the phone cord over to the couch and managed to
catch the back of the child's overalls.  With one strong arm, he
lifted the child and held it at arm's length.  It stopped crying as
it assessed its new position and altitude.  Deciding that it was
better than being on the floor, the child kicked its feet and giggled.

"Sounds like it likes you," Nicholas said cheerfully.

LaCroix growled in response and threw the telephone at the wall.
His captive stopped giggling and stared wide-eyed at the shattered
telephone.  He put the child down on the floor and began to pick up
his chess pieces.  As soon as he placed a piece on the coffeetable,
however, the child knocked it gleefully onto the floor.

LaCroix sighed.  It was going to be a long wait.


Nick tried not to exceed the speed limit on the way to the Raven.
It was difficult, though.  Tracy had wanted to come with him-it
turned out she really liked children.  Nick knew, however, that
LaCroix would not welcome the intrusion of a mortal into his private
domain.  The Raven had recently become the center of a major effort
to cut crime in Toronto, and the last thing he wanted was to bring
his perky partner to LaCroix's attention when he was already annoyed
with the police.  Despite Nick's complaints that the money could be
better spent funding more homicide detectives or better equipment
for forensics, the Police Commission had focused on the nightclub.
In their opinion, a place that found an unexplained body in their
beer cooler was a likely place for less obvious crimes, as well.  So
far, no one had been arrested there, but it was only a matter of
time before a vampire was careless or a mortal was stupid.  The
place was watched twenty-four hours a day, so it was a good thing
that his master had called him about the child.  That would make
things somewhat easier to explain to the officers staking out the

He pulled up to the club and parked his car directly in front.  It
was illegal, as Schanke had found out for him, but he didn't think
he'd be inside for very long.  LaCroix would want to give the child
to him and get him out of there before the club opened for the

The door was unlocked, and Nick slipped inside.  He could hear noise
from the back , and he followed the sounds to LaCroix's sumptuous

He opened the door to find LaCroix slumped in an armchair with a
pile of objects in his lap.  In a quick glance, Nick could pick out
a small Italian hand-blown glass bottle, a Japanese tea set, a
selection of ancient Roman coins, a trilobite fossil, several of
LaCroix's prized chess pieces, and, oddly enough, a fresh peach.  A
brown-haired toddler plucked a statuette of Venus from a low shelf
and gave it to LaCroix.  His master took the item from the tiny hand
and added it to his collection as the child wandered off for more

"LaCroix," Nick said, gaining his master's instant attention.  "I've
got the car outside."

"Splendid," the older vampire said, in obvious relief.  "I shall
unearth myself and be with you in a moment."

Nick turned his back to hide his smile.  It would do no good to have
LaCroix kill the child now out of spite if he thought that he was
being mocked.  Nick took a deep breath--he didn't need to breathe,
but it sometimes helped to steady his thoughts--and turned back

LaCroix was carefully placing his pile of objects on the endtable
next to him.  The child was staring raptly at something that it held
in its chubby little hands, but from this angle, Nick couldn't see
what it was.  It talked softly to itself, but it was all nonsense,
at least to him.  It probably made perfect sense to the child.

LaCroix bent over and reached for whatever the child was holding.
It pulled the object away and backed as far away as the glass
coffeetable would allow.

"No!" it said firmly.  "Mine."

"I'm afraid not," LaCroix said, stepping forward again.  "Give it to

"Mine," the child repeated.

"No.  Give it to me."

Nick could hear the familiar tone of voice that indicated that his
master was attempting to hypnotize the child.

"No!"  it yelled, not fazed for an instant.

"What does it have?"  Nick asked, trying to deflect the anger
LaCroix was sure to be feeling.

"My Faberge egg.  Given to me by a Russian Countess," he said
distractedly, not even turning.  He returned his full attention to
the toddler in front of him.  "It's mine."



"Mine!" the child said petulantly and clutched the precious egg

LaCroix sighed dramatically and stood up.  He reached for the child,
but Nick grabbed his arm.

"Don't," Nick said.  "Let it go.  I'll try."

LaCroix raised an eyebrow at him in a practiced movement.  His
master lowered his eyes and stared at the hand on his arm until Nick
removed it and shoved it into the pocket of his coat with an
apologetic, sheepish smile.

"It may have the thing," LaCroix said grandly.   "What use have I
for it?"

LaCroix reached down again, but grabbed the back of the child's
overalls and held it at an arm's length to his son.  Nick backed
away quickly, out the door, and into the club.

"I'll get the doors," he said.

He liked babies, but they never seemed to like him.  They screamed
and cried; just more proof of his innate evil, in his opinion.  Of
course, they didn't usually like LaCroix, either, but this one
seemed to be thrilled by the attention it received from the ancient
vampire.  It kicked its feet and smiled up at the impassive pale
face above.

"I think you're supposed to hold them closer," Nick ventured, as he
saw the denim of the child's clothing stretch under the strain of
its full weight.  "You wouldn't want her to fall and the egg to

LaCroix again only raised an eyebrow, but moved the child awkwardly
to his hip, in the fashion of parents throughout the centuries.
This was probably the first time his master had ever held a child in
that way.  Roman fathers weren't very close to their children,
especially very young ones.  Even the General he had been had only
doted on his daughter, Divia, when he had been on one of his
infrequent visits to Pompeii.  He had probably not even seen her at
this same age.

Nick held the door to the outside while LaCroix passed through and
stood in the scant shelter of the doorway.  Nick ducked his head
from the rain and darted the three feet to the green Caddy and held
open the door.  LaCroix only looked at him.

"Come on!" Nick exclaimed.  "I'm getting soaked!"

"Do they not have some sort of restraining device?"  his master asked.

"What?"  Nick asked incredulously.  "I don't have a carseat.  It's a
short drive; we'll be fine."

"I did not save this child to be killed by your driving."  His
master glanced at the sky, then shook his head dismissively.  "It's
too wet to be taken by...other means--at least for one so young."
LaCroix paused, apparently to consider his few options.  "I will
accompany you."

Nick only stared as LaCroix tucked the child under his long leather
coat and slowly walked to the car.  He got into the front seat and
positioned the child carefully on his lap, wrapping one arm around
the child, who was happily patting its new red and gold toy,
oblivious to the change in surroundings.  Nick shut the car door and
stood in the rain for one further long moment.

What was LaCroix's interest in this child?  If he had planned to
kill it, the deed would have already been done.  If he wanted to
keep it, for whatever reason, why would he have called?  What was
his master up to?

LaCroix tapped on the rapidly fogging window and Nick was wrenched
out of his thoughts.  He jogged around the car, waving at the
building where the surveillance teams were stationed.  He'd get in
trouble for that--possibly giving them away--but he couldn't resist.
Besides, he had no doubt that LaCroix already knew exactly where
they were.

He slid into his seat and started the Caddy.  He glanced over to see
LaCroix staring intently at the curly-haired child on his lap.
In-between closing the passenger door and starting the engine, the
child had fallen asleep, its cheek resting in the crook of LaCroix's
arm.  Its hands still firmly held its treasure, and it snuggled into
a more comfortable position, never relinquishing its grip on the
irreplaceable object.

In silence, Nick pulled away from the curb.  Something was going on,
but he didn't know what.  He would find out.

End Part 2

Darkened Beings 03/09

LaCroix disliked the police station.  It was like police stations
all throughout history: noisy, untidy, and smelling of mortal sweat.
 His last visit here had not been a pleasant one: he had actually
been put in a cell, though not for very long.  He _had_ enjoyed
terrifying the other prisoners with a brief monologue on ancient
Roman torture techniques.  After his lecture, they were much less
inclined to ask for cigarettes.

Now, however, he was at least here under better circumstances.  The
child that he carried by his side was no doubt lost from some
inattentive mortal parent.  He understood the pain that losing a
child caused.  He had lost Janette.  She was now of Nicholas' blood,
not his own.  He still felt her, but only weakly, and not at great
distances--enough to know that she had not chosen to face the rising
sun when Nicholas had robbed her of her mortal death.  She was not
in Toronto, and would no doubt never return in this century.

He shook his head slightly to halt his reverie and looked around
him.  Nicholas had stopped where his partner sat at a desk and the
lovely Dr. Lambert was perched on another.

"Oh, adorable!" his son's partner, Tracy, exclaimed and took the
child from his arms.

He had visited Tracy last night to make some arrangements to her
mind as Nicholas had requested.  He had not done precisely as he had
been asked, but there were times when he knew what was best.  Her
actions now demonstrated that she recalled nothing of their meeting.
 It was almost a pity, really: she was intelligent, attractive, and
arousing, if a bit too cheerful for his tastes.

The young detective laid the child on the desk and quickly unsnapped
the child's overalls with expert ease.  After a brief glance, she
announced, "Congratulations, it's a girl."

Nicholas suddenly began to cough furiously, but LaCroix could feel
the amusement through their bond.  He frowned at the younger
vampire, but was _not_ rewarded with sudden, obedient silence.
Nicholas apparently found this entirely too humorous.

"What shall we call her until we find out who she is?" Dr. Lambert
asked, apparently attempting to deflect his attention from Nicholas.

"Mara," LaCroix said firmly.

"That's beautiful," the doctor said in amazement.  "Why that?"

"It means 'destruction'," he answered.


Nick was relieved.  LaCroix had actually made a statement to help
with finding Mara's--as they had agreed to call her--parents.  Then
he had patted the child on the head awkwardly, and leaving the
Faberge egg with her, had gone away.  The little girl had cried as
the older vampire left, but she was soon distracted by the numerous
people vying for her attention.

Leaning on the water cooler, Nick watched as several dignified
Internal Affairs officers embarrassed themselves making strange
faces at the child.  She watched them large-eyed for a moment, then
began to giggle and make comical faces back.

"Funny, isn't it, how silly people can be around children?"  Natalie
asked as she sidled up next to him.

"Yeah," he agreed, making room for her to lean on the notoriously
obstinate cooler.  "When I was a boy, children weren't treated the
same way.  They were loved, but most weren't expected to live; you
tried not to get too attached.  Fleur-" His voice caught as he
though of his centuries-dead younger sister, feverish in a crib.
"We nearly lost Fleur when she was about this age."

"Well, medicine has advanced quite a ways since medieval times,"
Natalie whispered.  She smiled and then schooled her features into
her sharp-eyed "doctor" expression.  "I had a look at her while you
were filling out the paperwork.  She's about two to two and a half
years old.  She seems healthy, but, then again, the 'patients' that
I'm using for comparison are distinctly _unhealthy_," she said,
referring to her job as the city's coroner.  "No identifying marks
of any kind, and no signs of abuse.  A healthy, happy little girl."

"So what was she doing outside of the Raven?" Nick mused.

"I have no idea.  You're the detective," Natalie said.  "Social
Services just called back.  They're really busy tonight, and can't
send anyone over for a while.  Captain Reese said that--"

Natalie's beeper went off and she jumped.  She pulled it out of her
pocket and looked at the small digital readout.

"A case," she observed.  "Reese'll be out right about...now!"  she
said as the door from the captain's office opened.

"Knight!  Vetter!" he yelled.  "Time for work."


The press was already at the scene when Natalie got out of Nick's
Caddilac.  Their flashbulbs blinded her as she tried to duck under
the crime scene tape.  Didn't they already have enough pictures of
her getting out of cars?  They took her picture almost every time
she arrived on a scene, and she rarely looked much different.

She waved at Nick and Tracy as she ran through the rain to the front
door of the Happy Families Adoption Agency.  A homicide had been
reported by the cleaning staff just fifteen minutes ago, but the
brownstone building was already teeming with police and her staff.
One of her assistants--she couldn't remember his name, he was
new--corralled her just inside the door and handed her bag of
instruments and a pair of sterile gloves.

"It's a young woman, shot in the forehead," he said quietly, leading
her into an office as she snapped on the gloves.

She took the clipboard that someone handed to her and noted the
time, place, and her name before she even looked at the body.  When
she did look, she saw exactly what had been described: a young
woman, probably twenty-two to twenty-seven years old, with a
centimeter bullet wound smack in the middle of her forehead.  She
was lying on her back and blood had coagulated in a pool around her
head, making her light blonde hair look auburn.

Natalie pulled a thermometer out of her bag and stabbed it into the
body though a gap in the shirt.  She began to make her field notes
as she waited for the core temperature of the body to determine the
approximate time of death.


Nick pulled his partner through the clamoring reporters and into the
building.  They were both good copy and he knew it: the city's hero
cop and a police commissioner's daughter together on a homicide.  He
shouted one last "No comment!" and slammed the door on the rain and

"I hate that," Tracy said, pulling her fingers through her wet hair.
 "They're just vultures, feeding off the unhappiness of others."

The statement made him give a wry smile, reminding him of how he had
once made a similar comment regarding LaCroix.

"They're just trying to do their jobs," he said.  "Just like us."

"Yeah, but we're trying to solve problems, not cause them," she
countered, taking a pair of latex gloves a uniformed officer handed
her.  "They create a climate of fear and despair.  They convince
everyone that the world is a frightening place, when they don't even
know the truth of what they say.  They want to believe that they
know right from wrong, good from evil, but there really are no
absolutes.  Good is relative.  Evil is relative.  Sometimes, what
you think is evil...isn't."

Nick stared in amazement at his partner.  She never spouted off like

"Trace, is something wrong?" he asked.

"No...well, yes...not really..." she equivocated.  "I'm fine.  Let's
just get this over with, OK?"

Nick watched as his partner turned to question the cop next to her.
Her facial expression was strong, but her slump-shouldered posture
belied her words.  She needed to talk, but she was holding it in.
She was trying to deal with something by herself, and it wasn't good
for her.  Her work wasn't suffering; if anything, it had gotten
better recently.  She went after cases like there was nothing else
in her life...like he did.


Natalie stood and turned to the two detectives beside her.  The body
was still warm.  The cause of death was also obvious.  This was
going to be a fairly cut and dried case, at least on her end.

"So what have we got?" Tracy asked, carefully peering at the corpse.

"Bullet to the head, probably a .9 mm, but I'm guessing till you
find a bullet.  The exit wound looks to be pretty high in the back,
but I won't be able to confirm that until I get her back to the lab.
 She's only been dead for a couple hours; I'd say the time of death
was around seven or eight tonight,"  she supplied, checking her
details against what she had written down.  "Even back at the lab, I
don't think that I'm going to be able to tell you much more.
There's no sign of assault or any sort of struggle.  I don't know
how much I'm going to be able to help."

"So she was in here a couple hours after the place had closed for
the day," Nick mused.  "An employee or meeting someone?"

Tracy took a plastic bag handed to her by a uniformed officer.
Inside were all manner of cards, obviously the contents of the
woman's wallet.

"Karen Martinez, age 27, 168 cm tall," she said, reading a card.
"Needs to wear glasses to drive." She pushed around the cards
through the plastic until she found a business card.  "Employee of
the First National Bank of Canada--a financial advisor.  Probably
meeting someone then."

"OK," Nick said.  "So who was she meeting and why did they kill her?"

"Hmmm..."  Tracy looked at the body on the floor and across the
desk.  "The killer was sitting behind the desk?" Tracy theorized.
"She's pretty tall and that would explain the high exit wound: if
she was standing and it was coming from below."

"Can I tag and bag her now?" Natalie asked, tired of standing and
waiting.  "I'd like to get back and get started."

"Sure," Nick said distractedly, walking around to the other side of
the desk.

Natalie motioned to her assistants, then watched as Nick crouched
down to the level of the chair and looked across the desk.  He held
his hand up, as if he were holding a gun, and look aim at an
invisible victim across the desk.  Tracy followed his imaginary line
of fire and saw a small hole high up on the opposite wall.

"Bingo!"  the younger detective exclaimed and snagged a passing
forensics technician.

Nick stood and pulled Natalie to the side as Tracy began to explain
exactly how she wanted the bullet extracted.  Nick was worried about
something that had nothing to do with the case; Natalie knew him
well enough by now to be able to tell that.

"Have you noticed Tracy acting strangely lately?" he asked her in a

"No...She seems a little down, though," she added after a moment's
thought.  "Why?  What's up?"

"I'm worried about her,"  he said, raking his fingers through his
sandy blonde hair.  "She hasn't been the same since Vachon..."

"Did LaCroix...do what he was supposed to?" Natalie asked quietly.

She hadn't approved of what Nick had asked of the older vampire.  He
wanted LaCroix to insert a false memory into Tracy's mind, one in
which Vachon, her vampire friend, had moved on, not died at her
hands.  She didn't approve of messing with Tracy's mind, mostly, if
she was honest with herself, because it meant that being a resistor
was no barrier to LaCroix.  The possibilities inherent in that
terrified her.  She was a resistor, but if that was no defense
against a creature such as LaCroix, then her life would never be

"I'm not sure," Nick whispered, pulling Natalie out of her thoughts.
 "I haven't asked him.  He's kept to himself for the past couple of
weeks, ever since...Divia.  He always pays his debts, though."

"In either case, she's dealing with a loss.  One that she can't talk
to anyone about,"  Natalie said as she watched Tracy make one last
point to the technician.  "Just try to be there when she needs you."

"I will...That's what partners are for," he responded quietly.

End Part 3

Darkened Beings 04/09

Tracy pulled out her chair and sat down, absently leafing through
the papers in her hands.  It was all the information that they could
find concerning Karen Martinez, the victim in their case.  She hated
cases when the victim was this young: it always made her picture
herself in their place.  Ever since she had first realized what her
father did for a living, she had been terrified of being one of the
victims he investigated.  To be the one strangled or knifed or--

Tracy was abruptly yanked out of her self-examination by a tug on
her pant leg.  From under the desk.  She rolled her chair back, and
a toddler, still attached, slid out.

"Mara!"  She exclaimed, reaching down and picking up the child.
"What are you doing here?"

The little girl beamed at her and handed her a set of keys and a
pair of handcuffs.  She reached into Tracy's nearest jacket pocket
and began to investigate the contents.

"Anything interesting?"  she asked the little girl.

"Mine!"  the child declared triumphantly and closed her chubby fist
around something.

"Let me see," Tracy said dubiously.

The child looked suspiciously at the young woman, but held out her
find.  It was a guitar pick.  Tracy had found it in the pocket of her
jeans yesterday afternoon, but had no idea how it got there.  For
some reason, though, she had been unable to throw it away.  She knew
that it meant something to her, but she had no idea what.

"No, that's too small," Tracy told Mara.  "You could choke on that."
 The child clutched the tiny object close to her chest and looked
fiercely at the detective.  Tracy sighed.  "I'll trade you something
for it."

She opened her desk drawer to look for something more
child-friendly.  Pencils with sharp points, tiny paperclips, a
cherry-flavored condom, chewing gum, a fountain pen...nothing she
could give to a toddler.  She rolled her chair around to her
partner's side and began to rummage though his top drawer.  Pens,
rubberbands, an autographed photo of the Nightcrawler, an origami
bat, a pillbox...a coaster from the Raven!  She snagged the piece of
cardboard and offered it to Mara.

"Here.  This is more interesting anyway."

Mara opened her hand at looked comparatively at the small, brown,
plastic triangle and the red, white, and black picture.  She dropped
the pick and yanked the coaster out of Tracy's hands.

"Hey!"  her partner's voice exclaimed.  "That's mine!"

Tracy looked up to see Nick pointing at the coaster in great

"Not anymore," Tracy said, rolling her chair backwards to her own
side of the desk and re-pocketing the pick.  "You might be able to
trade her for it, though."

Nick made a disgruntled face, but offered nothing in exchange.

"What's she doing here, anyway?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," Tracy said, watching the child tap herself on the
nose with the coaster.  "She was hiding under my desk with these."

As she tossed the keyring and handcuffs across the desk, there was a
pounding on the glass of the captain's office behind them.

"Knight!  Vetter!"  Reese's muffled voice yelled.  "Unlock this door!"


Nick listened in amusement as the captain gave strict instructions
to the rookie cop.

"...Don't let her out of your sight for even a second.  And for
god's sake, don't let her have your keys!"

The young officer looked at the child as if she might explode at any
moment, but obediently took Mara back to one of the questioning
rooms.  Reese turned around to face the homicide detectives, his
face promising fury if they even _thought_ about asking how the
toddler had outwitted him.

"What have you come up with?"  Reese asked, nodding at the papers on
Tracy's desk.

"Not much," Tracy said.  "Karen Martinez was a good driver and had
no criminal record.  Single.  Her parents are her next of kin; we're
heading out to see them next."

"What did the cleaning woman who found the body have to say?" the
Captain asked Nick.

"Nothing helpful,"  he said, recalling his frustrating interview
with the frightened woman.  "Liz Burton didn't usually go in that
early, but her daughter needed to borrow the car, so she had her
drop her off.  She always does that office first, so she found the
body immediately."

"There were no signs of forced entry into the office or the
building, so we're guessing the killer had a key--probably an
employee," Tracy added, looking over her notes.  "I sent an officer
to the house of the agency's owner, Margeretha Woods.  He just
called in: she should be here soon with a list of employees."

"Which means we should get going if we want to see Ms. Martinez'
parents and get back soon," Nick said and grabbed his jacket off the
back of the chair.


Karen Martinez' parent's lived within ten minutes of the station,
but to Tracy, the ride seemed to be taking forever.  She didn't feel
like talking, and Nick seemed to be trying to get up the nerve to
say something to her.  She leaned over and switched on the radio.

"...loss of a child, a lover, a friend.  Forget the tang, the salt,
the life of them.  What use is there for love, for future, for past
in immortal eternity?  To have and to hold, to cherish and to honor.
 To care for and defend.  To abandon and destroy,  to crush and
defile.  Duty and obedience.  What mockeries they become-"

Tracy jumped as Nick turned off the radio.  She turned to glare at

"Hey!" she exclaimed.  "I was listening to that."

"I thought you thought the Nightcrawler was creepy?" Nick asked,
glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.

"I do, but right now...he strikes a chord,"  Tracy said musingly.
"Besides, I like his voice."

Last night, she had dreamt about the Nightcrawler.  In the dream, he
had stood behind her, his arms around her, his lips almost brushing
her ear, his breath hot and cold at the same time.  She had leaned
against him, listening to the sound of his voice, the languid
comfort there, the delicious danger.  She paid no attention to what
he said, just the velvet tone snaking its way into her mind, and his
lips on her exposed throat.  She had woken up, sprawled across her
bed, fully dressed.  She didn't even remember falling asleep.  She
had felt so...empty...when she awoke, like the world had shifted
slightly while she slept, like something just wasn't quite
right...But she still couldn't figure out what it was.

Nick stopped the Caddy in front of a large brick house, and Tracy
took a deep breath before she got out of the car.  This, except for
looking at bodies during an autopsy, was her least favorite part of
the job.  She hated notifying the family of murder victim.  She
never knew how they were going to react, so she had no way to
prepare herself.

Nick's phone rang as he stepped out of the car, and he paused in the
rain to answer it.  Tracy listened to his half of the conversation
as she opened her umbrella and walked around the car to shelter Nick
with it.

"Knight here...Hey, Nat...Oh, really?...Yeah, that _is_
interesting...Thanks...We'll let you know."

"What did Natalie find?" Tracy asked her partner as they started up
the front walk to the house.

"Seems that Karen Martinez was a mother.  She had a Cesarean delivery
 about two to three years ago, looking at the scar," he said.

"So we have a reason for her to be at the agency," Tracy said
thoughtfully.  "I guess we can ask her parents."

Tracy knocked on the door.  She _really_ hated this.


Nick collapsed into his chair and dropped his head onto his folded
arms.  Talking with the Martinez family had been one of the most
difficult ones in all his years of police work.  Karen's parents
hadn't cried, hadn't been angry--those, he was used to, had dealt
with before.  Mr. and Mrs. Martinez had simply clung to each other
and spoken softly through voices thick with repressed emotion.

Karen had given up a child for adoption, but they didn't remember
which agency she had used.  She had been young and single, unable to
care for a child on her own.  She had given the child up to make
sure that it had a better life.  As far as they knew, she had been
comfortable with her choice and had moved on with her life.

Tracy sat down heavily in the chair across from him.  Nick looked
up; she looked as drained as he felt.  Her face was pale and dark
circles were beginning to form under her eyes.  The hair around her
face was slightly damp.  She had been in the restroom, probably
dashing cold water on her face.  He wished that he could do that to
the same effect as mortals, but that no longer worked to refresh
him.  What _he_ wanted was a drink, but he couldn't exactly pull out
a bottle of cow blood and start drinking.

The captain came up behind Tracy and looked at them with some amount
of sympathy.

"Margeretha Woods is in one of the interrogation rooms," he informed
them.  "I've had an officer take her statement and copy the list of
employees.  They're being called in now to get fingerprints."

"Thanks, Cap," Tracy said, and stood slowly.  "Well, let's do this,
then maybe we can go home."

The captain followed them to the back of the precinct.  He moved
into the observation area while Nick followed Tracy into the room.

Margeretha Woods looked to be approximately 45 years old.  She was a
tall, Nordic woman with her gold hair in a slightly disheveled bun.
Her brown silk suit was rumpled and creased, but that was
understandable, since it was almost two in the morning and she'd
probably been at the station since midnight.

"Ms. Woods, I'm Detective Knight, and this is Detective Vetter," he
began, sitting down across the table from her.  Tracy leaned against
the wall to better watch Ms. Woods' face and judge her reactions.
"You know by now that there was a murder tonight at your agency?"

"Yes," she replied in a gravely, tired voice.  "In _my_ office, if
it's been described correctly.  I would be very happy to help as
much as I can, but I'm afraid I didn't know the victim."

"You brought the list of employees who would have had access to the
building after hours?"  Ms. Woods handed over a sheet of paper with
a short list of names.  "Thank you, that will be very helpful."
Nick paused for dramatic effect.  "Where were you tonight, Ms. Woods?"

"I was at an awards dinner for most of the evening.  I returned home
near eleven to find a police officer camped on my doorstep."  She
sniffed.  "I can't imagine the stories my neighbors have concocted

"When did this dinner begin?" Tracy asked.

"It began at 7:00; I got there at 7:30.  I called a cab from my
house at 6:30, but it didn't get there until nearly 7:15.  I was
furious," she said, with a trace of annoyance in her voice.  "I
berated the driver the entire way there."

"Can anyone else cooberate your whereabouts between the time you
called for the cab and when it arrived?"  Nick asked.

"Do you think I called a taxi, rushed over to the agency, murdered
someone in my own office, left the body for Liz to find, and went
home in time to meet my cab, all before receiving an award for
Volunteer of the Year?"  Ms. Woods laughed heartily.  "No, I don't
have an alibi."  She smiled at the two detectives as if they were
very young, very stupid children.  "But I also don't have a car, and
I would have had to call a cab to get to get across town at that
time of night.  Well, I could have taken public transportation, as I
do every business day, but it takes thirty minutes to get there."
She stood up and took her purse from the table.  "I'm sorry,
detectives, but I'm tired and I want to go home and go to sleep.  If
there's nothing else...?"

"No, thank you," Nick said quickly, standing up to open the door.
"You've been very helpful.  We'll let you know if we need anything."

Ms. Woods made her way down the hall while Nick watched.  He turned
to Tracy, who was still leaning against the wall.  She was smiling.

"So, do you think that was all just a clever ruse to throw us off
her track?" she asked.

"It could be, but I think it's more likely she just didn't do it."
Nick walked out the door and he could hear Tracy follow.  "Of
course," he said over his shoulder, "That doesn't mean she doesn't
know who did it."

"Well, we've got one more thing to do tonight," Tracy said.
"Karen's apartment.  Why don't I meet you there?  I want to head
straight home afterwards."

"Fine with me," Nick agreed.


Tracy grabbed her jacket and purse from her locker and slammed the
door.  She smiled at the other night shift officers as she headed
out, but she really wasn't paying any attention to them.  She had
been so wrapped up in her own head lately that she barely noticed
anyone.  She pushed open the heavy back door of the station and
trudged through the rain towards her Ford Taurus.

"Why did I get this car?" she mumbled to herself as she quickly
deactivated the security system and unlocked it.

She slipped inside and slammed the door as she pondered her choice
of automobile.  It wasn't that she didn't like her car.  It was a
good car, got great gas mileage, handled well, was very safe, but it
had no..._style_.  Her father had recommended it, and without much
consideration to other advice, she had bought it.  Her mother had
suggested that she get something fun and fast; after all, she would
have plenty of time for practical cars when she was old.  She had
laughed at her mom, but, as it turned out, she was right.  This car
wasn't any fun.  It didn't even have a good stereo; she had spent
the extra money on the safety package to get the insurance reduction.

She ejected the tape from the player and tossed it on the passenger
seat.  She really ought to put it in the case, but, what the hell,
her car was spotless otherwise.  She started the car and headed out
for Karen Martinez' apartment, tuning in CERK on the radio.

"We all lose things: car keys, phone numbers, jewelry, mementos,
people...ourselves," the sleek voice of the Nightcrawler intoned.
"What do you do when you lose your self?  When you no longer know
who you are or why you do what you do?  Life becomes a rote lesson,
a play with no meaning, a meal with no substance.  What you once
enjoyed becomes stale and dull.  Your life measured out in
coffeespoons.  Will the mermaids sing to you?  They sing to me."

Tracy turned off the radio.  Nope, still creepy.  Of course, her
opinion could be being influenced his choice of topics,
but...that was really something she'd rather not think about.  She
never had been one for self-examination.  She was usually happy and
never had to worry about it.  She sighed.  Her life used to be so
simple.  Now it was complicated, and she didn't even know _why_.

She slammed her hand against the steering wheel, causing the car to
jerk.  She quickly straightened out and paid closer attention to her
driving.  She was almost there, just a few more blocks.  *Keep it
together, Vetter,* she told herself.  *Just look over the apartment
and then you can go home.*


Nick stood on the porch outside the apartment building.  Strange.
It looked just like Natalie's: several stories high, a couple
different colors of brickwork, big bay windows.  There were quite a
few of these in Toronto, it seemed.

A horn honked, and he turned around to see Tracy wave at him and
make a circular motion with her hand.  She probably meant that she
was going to look for a parking spot.  He had had to look for
several minutes to find a spot big enough for the Caddy, then walk
three blocks in the rain back to this building.  If it weren't for
the trunk space, he might consider putting the behemoth in storage.
It really wasn't practical for city driving, and he was always
afraid it was going to get keyed or stolen when he parked it on the
street.  Last month, the convertible top had gotten slashed and that
had been expensive to repair.  Maybe he should think about getting a
second car...maybe a minivan or SUV, something that could hold
supplies for long, boring days stuck in the back under blankets.

He heard Tracy's heartbeat as she rounded the corner.  Huddled under
her black umbrella, she still looked distracted and upset.  How
could he get her to open up to him?  Tell her that a friend of his
had recently moved away, see if she reciprocated with a story of
Vachon?  That would be too obvious, like he was fishing for that
response.  He would just have to let her know that he was there if
she needed to talk.  They weren't always the most communicative of
partners, but Tracy was turning out to be a good cop, and he wanted
to continue as her partner.  They needed to communicate to work
together, as Capt. Reese kept telling them.

"Hey, Trace," he said as she stamped up the stairs to the porch.
"You found a spot faster than I did.  Think I should get rid of the

Tracy gave him a strange look and shook off her umbrella.  She
opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it again.  With
no comment, she pulled open the door and went inside.

"OK," Nick said after a pause.  "Is that a no?" he asked as he
followed her into the building.

"I like your car, Nick," she said, closing her umbrella and leaning
it against the wall.  "It's fun, it's sexy, it has fins.  Don't get
rid of it."

She stalked down the hall, and after a moment of stunned silence,
Nick followed.  As LaCroix would say: she was in a mood tonight.  It
would be best, then, to get this over as quickly as possible and go
home.  Tracy could probably use some sleep...or a smack upside the

"Here it is, Number 107," she said, and pulled the key out of her

She unlocked it, and Nick stepped into the apartment.  There was a
heartbeat, very fast and very faint...an animal...a small dog or a
big cat.  He sniffed the air: eau de litterbox was evident to his
sensitive nostrils.

"She's got a cat," he told Tracy, and flipped on the overhead light.

He pointed to the top of the curtains.  A large orange shorthaired
cat perched on the curtain rod, watching them warily.

"It's huge!" Tracy exclaimed.  "Look at it!  It's got to be as big
as a cocker spaniel."

"Cats don't like me, "Nick informed her.  "Why don't you see if you
can get it to come down.  We should call her parents or Animal

"We can call her parents later.  This poor kitty doesn't need to be
locked up," she said.  "I can take it till then."

Tracy advanced slowly, giving the cat plenty of time to get used to
her presence.  It watched her intently, but was seemingly
unconcerned.  Nick didn't trust cats.  You always knew where you
stood with dogs, but cats were secretive.  Cats reminded him of
LaCroix: silent, sneaky, and predatory.  He never knew why people
kept them as pets.  He hated going to Natalie's apartment because of
her cat.  Sidney always watched him carefully, ready to defend his
mistress if Nick should ever attempt to hurt her.  She claimed that
Sidney was just a big softy, but he didn't believe it.

While Tracy was charming down the feline, Nick looked for anything
that would help them in their investigation.  He turned to the desk
beside the door.  On it was a neat pile of bills, another neat pile
of correspondence, and a third neat pile of junk mail.  He pulled
open a file drawer, finding everything alphabetized and labeled.
Flipping through, he saw one labeled "Medical--GYN" and pulled it
out.  He flipped through the contents, but couldn't identify most of
the notations.  He'd let Nat take a look at it.

He pulled out the "Veterinary" folder as well.  Opening it, he read
the cat's name.

"She's named Peaches," he called over his shoulder to Tracy.

"This big thing?" Tracy laughed, and continued to sweet-talk the
cat, but now using its name.

There were no folders labeled "Adoption" or "Evidence" or "Look in
here, Cops," much to his dismay.  He sighed.  That would have made
it too easy.  It was strange, though.  She was so organized,
otherwise, like his partner.  Why wouldn't she have all the papers
 she would have had to sign for the adoption?

Pulling open the center drawer of the desk, he found an expensive,
leather-bound desk planner.  He took it out and opened it to
yesterday's date.  There were three notations: "Lunch-JP--12:30,"
"Call Joyce," and "HF-7:00."  Today's notes were: "Call" an
unreadable scribble and "Nails-2:30."

Looking through the rest of the drawers, he found nothing of
interest.  Tracy's voice suddenly lowered to a croon, and he turned
to see her cradling the big feline in her arms.

"Find anything?"  she asked, bringing over the purring Peaches.

The cat eyed him suspiciously as Tracy flipped through the
"Medical--GYN" folder.  He considered hissing at the feline, but
Tracy would probably yell at him.

"This is mostly just routine stuff," she said, closing the folder,
"Pap smears and that sort of thing."  Seeing the baffled look on his
face, she began to explain.  "The doctor scrapes...forget it.  Have
Natalie tell you."  She looked at the date book.  "'HF'...Happy
Families.  Well, we know now that she had an appointment with

"Too bad she didn't put down with whom," Nick said.  "Let's take
these and call it a night."

"Fine by me," she agreed.  "Can you help me find food and a cat
carrier for Peaches?"

Nick watched Tracy nuzzle the cat.  She looked more relaxed than she
had been for days.  Maybe it would do her good to have someone, even
a cat, to worry about for a while.  He definitely knew what it was
like to get wrapped up in self-pity.

"Food's probably in the kitchen," Tracy called, as she headed down
the hall towards the cat-box smell.  "Look for clean litter, too!"

Nick wandered into the kitchen and began opening cupboards at
random. On his fifth try, he was lucky: this was apparently the
cat's private stash.  He pulled out a half-empty bag of clay
granules, an unopened bag of dry food, and a few tins of something
called "Liver Delight."  He seriously doubted that there was
anything delightful about it.

"Nick!"  Tracy yelled.  "I've found something!"

Nick jogged down the hall and peered in the door.  Tracy slid her
fingers under the edge of a sweater on the floor of the closet while
Peaches watched, entranced.  The cat slowly flattened herself out
until she was a long orange cylinder on the floor.  She reached out
a paw and held it above the motion, waiting for the perfect moment.

"What?" Nick asked from the doorway.

Tracy looked up, and the cat struck.

"Ouch!"  she yelled, snatching her hand back.  "Hey!  That hurt!"

"You found a viscous beast?" Nick asked, grinning.  "Or did you find
something pertaining to the case?"

"The case," Tracy said, disgruntled, and tossed him a folder with
her uninjured hand.  "I found it in the cat carrier."

"You OK?" Nick asked, staring at the thin scratches on her hand.

In spite of himself, he felt himself drawn to the blood.  He could
smell it, the sweet, floral fragrance calling to him.  He could feel
her heart beat and hear the blood rush in her veins.  He knelt on
the floor beside her and took her hand.  There were lilies there and
a soft hint of apricot...and something more delicate, more
elusive...All he would have to do is put her hand to his lips...

"I'm fine," she said, trying to pull her hand away.  "Really."

Nick didn't want to release her.  The more she tugged her hand away,
the tighter he held on.  He wanted her to struggle, to make him take
it from her.  His heightened senses sought out the delirious scent
of her, demanding that he feed, _now_.

"Nick, let go!"  she exclaimed, pulling harder.

The cat growled at him low in her throat, and Nick caught himself as
he was about to growl back.  He shook his head and kept his eyes
lowered, hiding his golden eyes and extended fangs until he could
control himself.  He released her hand.

"Sorry," he said.  "I worry about you sometimes," he added lamely.

"It's just a scratch.  I'll wash it, I promise," she said, kneading
her hand where he had gripped it.

He opened the folder and flipped through the papers.  They were
financial documents relating to the Happy Families Adoption Agency.
Their bank accounts were much larger than one would expect of a
small agency that was not supposed to concern itself more with
people than with money.

"I think we have some evidence," Nick said, finally looking up, his
eyes again blue.  "Good work."

End Part 4

Darkened Beings 05/09

Nick collapsed into his leather chair and aimed his universal remote
control at the answering machine.  He had tried to program it last
night, now to see if it worked.  He pressed a button.

"Hey, Nick, it's Nat," the answering machine played back.  "Just
calling to let you know that Mara was picked up from the station
about twenty minutes ago...it's 2:15 AM now and I'm heading home.
I thought you might like to know about Mara...in case you needed to
tell a certain someone."

The machine beeped, and Nick took a long swallow from the glass
beside him.  Would LaCroix be interested in Mara's life now that it
was uninvolved with his?  He hoped not.

"Knight, it's Reese," the machine continued.  "Man, I really hate
these damned machines...anyway, we can't do anything about opening
the Martinez adoption records until tomorrow.  Maybe we'll have them
by the time you and Vetter get in, but don't count on it."

Nick shook his head.  They needed those records to find out at least
what agency Karen had used for the adoption.  They could assume the
Happy Families agency, but they couldn't prove it.  They needed a
court order to open the records, and it didn't look good.  The
machine beeped again.

"I find it disturbing that I am reduced to such means to track you
down," the annoyed voice of LaCroix issued from the machine.  Nick
slumped in his chair, as if to hide from the voice.  "I wish for you
to come to me this evening; I have some information for you."

There was a final beep and the machine turned itself off.  At least
he had finally gotten the remote to work.  He had been trying to get
it to work with the answering machine for three years now.  He had
finally gotten it right.

What kind of information could LaCroix have for him?  Was it about
the case?  Or Mara? ...Or both?  Was Mara Karen Martinez' child?
The child looked nothing like the young woman, but Karen had looked
little like _her_ parents.  Could LaCroix have somehow found a
connection for him?  What _was_ his interest?  What did LaCroix want
from him?

He looked at the time display on his VCR-it was only 3:00 AM.  There
was still plenty of time before dawn for him to get to the Raven and
back...but LaCroix had said "this evening."  If he had specified the
time, then there was probably a reason.  If there was one thing that
he truly knew about his master, it was that he did nothing without a
reason.  However, discovering that reason could be impossible, if
LaCroix did not want it known.  Even if he did find out the reason,
there was no guarantee it would make sense to him.

Nick picked up the folder from Karen's apartment.  _This_ he could


"Here it is," Tracy said, opening up the cat carrier.  "Home sweet

The orange cat cautiously stuck her head out of the door.  After a
moment of judicious sniffing, she stepped regally from the carrier,
as if the trip had been all her idea.  She moved to the nearest
piece of furniture and rubbed against it: "I claim this couch for

"Come on," Tracy told the cat and moved over to an open door.  "This
is where you find your litterbox.  Please use it."

Peaches followed her new human to the bathroom door and looked
disinterestedly at the catbox.

"Please," Tracy repeated.

Pointedly ignoring her, the feline turned around and began a circuit
of the living area, rubbing against each object and investigating
each corner.

Tracy sighed.  At least Peaches knew where the box was.  It would
almost serve Tracy right if she failed to use it: her lease
specifically forbade pets.  That was one of the reasons she had
rented in this building.  It would be less dusty and dirty if no pet
fur was wending its way through the air vents...at least that was
her father's theory.  She hadn't really thought about it, just
agreed with him.

She didn't really know why she had taken Peaches.  The cat would
have been fine at the apartment until later today when they could
call Karen Martinez' parents or Animal Control.  But she didn't want
to leave her there, alone and abandoned.  If Karen's parents didn't
want Peaches, she would keep her, regardless of her lease.

Tracy moved to her answering machine: no calls.  She was unloved.
Well, not really, that was just what she always thought when she
came home to an unblinking light on her machine.  Her parents, as
screwed up as they were, loved her.  The few friends she had managed
to keep loved her.

Not that she had many friends.  When she had gone into police work,
the nature of her friendships had changed.  Her friends got nervous
around her, as if she might arrest them for the slightest
infraction.  Most had drifted away, but a few really good ones had
stayed...  Besides, it was quality, not quantity that counted,
right?  And she was at fault for her lousy social life more than
they were.  She didn't return phone calls and broke dinner dates.
Working the night shift didn't help much either.  She had one friend
who kept after her and who had a similar schedule; maybe she would
call him and arrange to get together with him sometime this week.
He could always pull her out of a funk.

A long, low growl broke into her thoughts.  Tracy turned to find
Peaches on the window sill, batting against the glass.

"What's the matter?" Tracy asked, and moved across the room to look
out the window.

The feline suddenly quieted and jumped down from the sill.  Tracy
looked quizzically after her, then cupped her hands around her face
and looked out into the dark.  There wasn't anything there: nothing
in the tree, nothing in the street, nothing in the window of the
next building.  The rain had finally stopped, though.  She pulled
back and closed the curtains behind her.

"You just wanted to make me look, didn't you?" Tracy accused the now
unconcerned cat.


LaCroix moved from behind the tree as the curtains closed and the
pool of light on the ground disappeared.  He had not remembered a
cat.  He had, perhaps, been as surprised as it was, when it has
sensed his presence in the tree.  The feline had acted in
instinctual defense, and LaCroix found that admirable.

He respected cats as much as he did any lower life form.  They were
intelligent and crafty, fierce and cunning, all qualities that he
admired.  Dogs were stupid and obedient, but cats thought for
themselves.  They were not loyal, however.  That was the only point
where dogs bettered them.  Felines were not to be trusted.

But his feelings about cats did nothing to explain why it was there.
 It had not been there when he had last visited Tracy Vetter's
apartment, of that he was sure.  Perhaps she had attempted to fill
the void that he had created.  His lips curled in a smirk: perhaps
it was a witness to a murder.

LaCroix tracked the heartbeats in the rooms several flights above
him.  He could easily recognize Tracy's rhythm in the slow,
slumberous beating around her.  Her blood whispered to him, and had
he not given his word to Nicholas to never interfere with his mortal
friends, he would have drained her.  The mere scent of her blood was
intoxicating, he could hardly imagine the exquisite taste of it.  It
had been many years since he had found someone whose blood taunted
him so.  Nicholas had more strength than he had given him credit
for, if he constantly worked with her exhilarating scent in his

In her apartment, the living room light turned off to be replaced by
a much dimmer light in the bedroom.  He instantly moved from the
street to the roof of the building next to hers.  She was being
careless: he watched her disrobe, the soft light of a low-watt bulb
highlighting her porcelain skin.  She reached for a t-shirt to pull
over her near nakedness, then stopped.  She slid her hands down her
sides, snagging her fingers in her white cotton panties.  Pulling
them off, she stepped out of them and moved to the bed, out of his
range of vision.

The light disappeared, and LaCroix prepared to leave.  As he was
about to take to the sky, however, he felt Tracy's heartbeat quicken
instead of slow.  Intrigued, he lingered and focused on the rhythm.
 The throbbing grew faster, racing feverishly, consuming his mind
with its chant.  He heard her breath catch and heave.  After that,
the pounding slowed just as rapidly as it had grown.  After a moment
of thought, LaCroix smiled to himself; young Tracy Vetter had
unimagined possibilities.

End Part 5

Darkened Beings 06/09

"Trace, you're late," Nick said quietly as his partner slipped
behind her desk.  "I told Reese you were taking care of a family

"Thanks," she responded, and began to read over some paperwork on
her desk.

"Uh...where were you?" he asked.

She paused in her reading, and after a moment, looked up.  Her eyes
were bright with unshed tears.  Nick looked around quickly to make
sure no one else had noticed, but the precinct was quiet and mostly
empty.  He rolled his chair around to her side of the back-to-back
desks and took one of her hands in his.

"Come on, what's wrong?" he asked softly.

"I took the cat to the Martinez'," Tracy said, sniffling.

"You're crying over a cat?"  he asked disbelievingly.

"I'm not crying!" she exclaimed, then quickly lowered her voice.
"It's not that...I don't know what it is.  Something's just not
right lately.  It's like there's something missing, but I don't even
know what it is.  I'm beginning to think that I was abducted by
aliens!  I can't explain it, I'm sorry."

"It's OK," he said.  "Are you going to be all right?"

"I'll be fine.  Thanks."

She pulled her hand away and Nick could see light purple marks on
her wrist.  He hadn't been holding her hand that tightly...but he
had last night.  He rolled his chair back to his desk, not taking
his eyes off Tracy's injury.

He had hurt Tracy: his partner, the one he was supposed to back up
and protect.  A moment of lust for her blood and all of his care and
concern meant nothing.  Her blood was a symphony of scent and taste,
waiting to be devoured or it would be lost to decay and rot.  It
begged him to take her.  The current of it drew him in as he watched
the blood blaze under the translucent skin of her wrist.

"So, did you find anything?"  Tracy asked.

"Hmm?  What?" Nick yanked himself out of his contemplation.

"In the financial papers we found at Karen's.  Did you find
anything?" she repeated.

Nick opened the folder on his desk and handed over the relevant
papers as he spoke.

"Well, Happy Families has some interesting accounting.  They have a
couple small bank accounts at the First National Bank of Canada,
where Karen worked.  However, they also have another account with a
Jamaican bank.  There are large deposits made at least once a month."

"Selling babies?!" Tracy asked in shock.  "How could they do that?"

"And Karen was blackmailing them?" Nick theorized.  "That's a lot of
money.  Each deposit is at least $70,000."

"Maybe she didn't want money," Tracy said slowly.  "She gave up a
baby, right?  What if she changed her mind?  She could have been
blackmailing them for information."

"That's a possibility," Nick agreed.  "We can't even get the records
opened for a criminal investigation."  Nick stood and pulled on his
jacket.  "Which reminds me: I have to meet with someone who might
have some information on the case."

"I'll come with you," Tracy offered.

"No, he'll only talk to me.  Why don't you call Social Services and
see if they have anything on Happy Families?" he suggested.  "Maybe
Karen spoke to someone there about her suspicions."

Nick left before Tracy could complain.  He would have liked to stay
with her, but he needed to talk to LaCroix, and not just about the


Nicholas' anger was palpable as soon as he entered the Raven.
LaCroix watched him through the glass of his soundbooth, shoving
through the early evening crowd.  Cooperating with the police had
eased the surveillance on his club.  He could only spot one
undercover officer, and she was beginning to enjoy the club's
atmosphere of carefully controlled danger, and was, therefore, less
attentive to her job.  Things were working out splendidly.  Now only
to discover why Nicholas was cross.

LaCroix motioned for Nicholas to enter the booth.  He did, as well
as a burst of noise from the club.  His child shut the door, and
again there was silence.

"What's wrong this time?" LaCroix asked in a bored tone.

Suddenly, Nicholas had him by the lapels, pressed against the back
wall of the booth.  The vampire was in full force, and his son
growled in fury.

"Upset?"  LaCroix inquired.

His wayward child released him and regained control of himself.
LaCroix seated himself in the only chair in the room and watched as
Nicholas paced with frantic energy.

"What did you do to Tracy?" the younger vampire demanded, stopping
in front of him.

"I did as you asked...approximately," LaCroix said casually.


"She _is_ a resistor," LaCroix pointed out.  "Even for one of
my...considerable...skills, it is not easy to determine which
memories to suppress.  If the wrong one is left, the whole house of
cards comes tumbling down and all is remembered.  It's not a perfect
science.  I did what I had to do."

"You've taken everything?  Her knowledge of vampires?" Nicholas

"It was better for her.  She was distraught; I eased her pain,"
LaCroix explained.

LaCroix smiled at the memory of the beautiful Tracy in his arms,
embracing him, wanting him.  An angel goddess sacrificed to liquid
desire.  It was a pity that she was his son's partner, it truly was.

"You've destroyed her," his son bellowed.  "She's
different--miserable; her world is falling apart.  You have to give
the memories of Vachon back!"

"It isn't that easy, fool," the ancient vampire hissed back.  "She
would have to know the truth...Do you want me to take her to
Vachon's grave?  The one that _she_ put him in?  If you think that
your pretty partner is miserable now, how would you like to see her
when she remembers that she stabbed a stake through the heart of
someone she loved?  Is that what you want, Nicholas?  To replace her
champagne blood with rusty dread?"  LaCroix raged.  "Do you not
think I have felt her desire for oblivion and yearned to give it to

His son bowed his head in defeat.  The rage within him dissipated
almost visibly, a mist in the air around him.

"I don't know what's better," the younger vampire said.  "She's
so...depressed.  She's no longer happy with her life."

"Perhaps, for her, it is time to move on," LaCroix said gently.
"Mortals feel the urge as well as we.  Your partner is a strong
woman with unexpected depths; she _will_ survive."

Raising his head, Nicholas looked at him curiously.  His son studied
his face, but apparently found no answers there.

"You said you had information," Nicholas said, changing the subject.

"Ah!  Yes, I do.  I overheard a conversation, but made no
connections until much later in the night," LaCroix said.  "I was at
the bar and heard two men talking with a woman.  They spoke of a
young woman and adoption records.  I thought that they might have
something to do with the child I discovered yesterday."

LaCroix was still unsure of his motives concerning this child.  It
was simply not like him to be so interested in an infant.  However,
he had discovered that he wanted this child to be returned to her
parents.  Family had always been important to him; it was more so
now, with Divia dead and Janette gone.  Nicholas was all he had
left.  He had created other vampires, but Janette and Nicholas had
always been his favorites, the ones he considered to be his eternal

"What did they look like?" Nicholas asked, pulling out a notepad.

"The men appeared to be in their mid-twenties, and the woman in her
thirties, but I'm not very good with ages." LaCroix smirked, then
continued.  "None of them were the type to frequent this club.  The
woman was small and wore business attire.  She was not very
attractive, so I paid little attention to her.  The young men were
in blue jeans and t-shirts.  The slogan on one shirt said
"Skavoovie!" if I read it correctly, and I did.  That one had short
brown hair, and the other had striped hair-he looked like a zebra."

"Why do you think that they might have something to do with Mara?"
his child asked when he finished scribbling.

"The woman said that she had just come from the 'agency'; I intuited
from context that she meant 'adoption agency'.  It wasn't until I
was out later that night that I passed a crime scene at an adoption
agency within easy walking distance from here," he explained, "even
for a child."


"Hey, Nick," Tracy called as he entered the precinct.

She was determined to be more cheerful, more like her old self.  She
was tired of everyone asking if she was OK, if she needed anything.
She was a grown woman; she could take care of herself.

"Find out anything?" she asked as her partner sat on his desk.

"I have some possible suspects," he said, handing over his notebook.
 "It's not much, but it's better than nothing."

"'Skavoovie,'" Tracy read.  "That's a word used in ska."

Nick raised his eyebrows in confusion.  There were times when Nick
acted a lot older than he really was; it was frustrating.

"It's a type of music: a blend of reggae, big band, blues, and
today, punk," she explained.

"Do you know where someone with that kind of musical taste would
hang out in Toronto?"

"As a matter of fact," she said, smiling, "I do."  She stood and
grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair.  "What's tonight?"

"Thursday," her partner answered.  "Why do you ask?"

"No reason.  Come on, I've got some stuff to tell you, but I can
tell you on the way."

"Trace, where are we going?"  Nick asked as he hurried to catch up
to her.

"A club called the Crash; it's ska night." Tracy pushed open the
front door to the precinct and headed for Nick's car, which she
could see parked down the street.  "Can I drive the Caddy?"

Nick finally caught up to her.

"No!" he exclaimed.

"Why not?" Tracy asked as she reached the green car.  "I've never
driven it.  Nat told me once that you used to let Schanke drive it
all the time."

"Yeah, and he used to crash it, too." He opened up the passenger
door for her.  "Get in and give me directions."


Tracy hadn't found out much, but what was more important was what
she _hadn't_ been able to find out.  No one in Social Services had
been willing to talk about the financial position of the Happy
Families agency.  They were all interested in what information she
had, but were unwilling to give her any.  They seemed to know that
something was suspicious, but they weren't willing to make any

She also had the forensics report on the room.  The only people in
the office had been employees, or the killer had been wearing
gloves.  There was nothing missing from the office, and no signs of
picked locks.  So, most likely, they were looking for someone in the

"Who would sell babies, and be willing to kill for it?" Tracy asked.
 "Turn left on Yonge."

"That's a lot of money, Trace," Nick said, following her
instructions.  "Some people care more about money than they do
anything else."

"But Ms. Woods got a Volunteer of the Year award!  Doesn't that make
you sick?" she asked.

They stopped at a traffic light, and Nick looked at his partner.
She was happier now, but earlier she'd been about to cry.  Her moods
were swinging all over the place...maybe it was PMS.  That wasn't
exactly something he could ask without sounding like an ass.  If it
were, Nick was _truly_ glad he wasn't a woman.  Natalie had
explained a pap smear to him, and he'd been appalled.

"Nick, the light's green," Tracy said.

"Oops!"  he exclaimed and hit the gas.  "It doesn't mean she's
involved.  Though it would be very hard to set up something that
complicated without the owner's knowledge."

"Yeah, I know." Tracy sighed.  "It just makes me lose faith in human
beings.  Oh--turn right onto Alexander St."

Nick yanked the steering wheel to make the turn they had almost
passed.  Tracy appeared to be deep in thought and didn't seem to
notice that they had almost crushed a fire hydrant and a Lexus.

"Left on Mutual and another left on Maitland, then find a place to
park," Tracy instructed.  "Do you know how many people have to be
involved?  This goes way beyond one simple homicide."

Nick glanced at her out of the corner of his eye as he hunted for a
parking spot.  She wasn't paying any attention to his serious
parking situation.  The Caddy wouldn't fit in just any spot; it had
to be a big spot, a _safe_ spot.  He rolled down his window as he
slowly moved up on a woman about to pull into a spot perfect for his
car.  He caught her eyes and captured her heartbeat with his mind.

"You don't want to park there, do you?" he asked softly.

The woman shook her head and pulled away.  Nick parallel parked with
decades of practice and was in the spot on the first try.

"I mean, there's got to be lawyers, government people, _mothers_!"
Tracy said, getting out of the car.  "It's incredible!"  She looked
up and down the street as Nick joined her on the street.  "Come on,
it's down here."

Tracy led the way down a dark set of stairs.  As she opened a
nondescript door, a burst of horns played a flourish, then there was
loud cheering and applause.  A young man with short, bleach-blonde
hair yelled into a microphone.

"Thanks!  We're gonna' take a break, then come on back for more!"

The man bounded off stage and the rest of the band--seven of them in
all--followed him off.  The bleach-blonde sat at the bar, and Tracy
made her way toward him, pulling Nick after her.

"Tracy!"  the young man exclaimed when he caught sight of Nick's
partner.  "How ya' doin'?  Come to play with us tonight?  Ya'
haven't been in for weeks.  You know we always keep a spot open for

Nick was stunned: Tracy in a band?  A ska band?  What secrets did
she keep hidden under that perky cover of normalcy?

"No, not tonight, Matt, but I might take you up on that offer
sometime really soon.  I was planning on giving you a call, anyway,"
she said, and perched on a barstool next to him.  "Besides, I don't
have my horn."

"That's no excuse!  You know Skazzy always has an extra trumpet
around, Trace," the young man-Matt-admonished.

"Yeah, like I'm going to play one of his instruments without
thoroughly disinfecting it first!" Tracy laughed.  "No, I'm here on
business."  She tugged Nick forward.  "This is Detective Nick
Knight, my partner.  Nick, this is Matt, one of my best friends from

"Nice to meet ya', Knight.  So what's it like workin' with the
hottest horn player in all of Toronto?"  Matt asked, slapping Tracy
on the leg.

"Hey," Tracy said, "I'm not _that_ good."

"I wasn't talkin' about your playin'.  Ya' know you're a babe,
Trace."  Matt put his arm around her shoulders, and Nick could see
the tail of a Chinese dragon tattoo wrapping around his upper arm.
"Skazzy's livin' your room now, but we can always kick him out...or
ya' can stay in my room..."

Tracy rolled her eyes and grinned at Nick.  He had never known that
she played the trumpet, let alone in a band.  And she had lived with
this guy?!  He was going to get a _lot_ of mileage out of this!

"Enough with the clever quips, you," Tracy said, playfully shoving
him away.  "We _do_ need your help.  Nick, do you have those

"Yeah."  He pulled out his notebook and read the descriptions to the
young man.

"Naw," he said, "I don't know anyone who looks like that; I think
I'd remember that hair.  Lemme get Skazzy, though.  He knows

Matt hopped off his stool and threaded his way through the bar's
crowd.  Nick sat in his place, and swiveled to look at his partner.
He didn't even know where to start teasing her.

"Don't even say anything," Tracy said, eyeing him sternly.

"About what?"  Nick asked innocently.  "About your hot trumpet
playin', babe?"

Tracy glared at him, but didn't have time to respond before Matt
returned with another young man in tow.  While Matt was dressed in
baggy jeans and a faded t-shirt, this young man wore a neat brown
suit.  He looked more like a young executive than a musician.

"Hey, baby," the young man said, kissing Tracy on the cheek.
"Where's Vachon?  I know he always complained there weren't enough
guitars, but he did like the music.  Trade him in for this one?"

Nick froze at the mention of the dead vampire's name, but Tracy just
looked confused.  This was something he hadn't counted on: that
people would ask Tracy about Vachon.  Would this be enough to bring
the memories back?

"Who?"  Tracy asked, looking at the dapper young man as if he'd gone
insane.  "Skazzy, I don't know who you're talking about."

"Oh!  Of course!"  Skazzy said knowingly, looking quickly at Nick.
"You've got some people you're looking for?"

Nick re-read the descriptions.

"Yeah, I remember the cat with the striped head.  I thought he
looked like a skunk," the young man said.  "He and his friend were
from out of town, but they didn't say where.  I gave them a ride
home, though, to a hotel near the airport.  Casa Raton, I think."

"Oh, thank you, Skazz!"  Tracy exclaimed.  "I owe you one."

"Go see my kid; he misses his Aunt Tracy.  He's taught that big mutt
you got him some tricks that he'd love for you to see," he said
seriously, then grinned.  "And, hey, if you ever decide to drop
_this_ one, just keep me in mind."

End Part 6

Darkened Beings 07/09

As they drove to the motel near the airport, Tracy thought about
the bar.  She'd forgotten how much she missed those guys.  A few
weeks ago, she had stopped going to see them, had stopped playing a
few numbers with them, but she couldn't remember why.  She had just
...stopped.  She searched her mind for a reason, but couldn't
come up with any.  How strange!  She loved playing with the band;
why would she just stop?

And what was up with Skazzy?  Herbert Eugene Scasington III was a
strange guy with an unfortunate name, he always had been, but what
had he been talking about?  She didn't know anyone named Vachon.
She would surely remember that...wouldn't she?

Maybe she _had_ been abducted by aliens.  She had gone online today
and looked up the indications of abduction, and memory loss was one
of them.  So was the sense of lost time.  She had checked her body
for any strange marks or implants, but she hadn't found any.  She
had slight bruises on her wrist where Nick had held it, but that was

Nick had been giving her odd looks ever since they left the bar.
She knew that he was surprised by her friends and the fact that she
played in a band, but that didn't seem to be what the looks were
about.  He was probably worried about her again.  It was nice to be
cared about, but he was her partner, not her personal savior!  Her
life had somehow suddenly been turned on its end, but she would
manage to pick up the pieces, no matter where they fell.

"Think we should call for back-up?" Nick asked, breaking into her

"We probably _should_," Tracy responded, "but we don't even know if
they're still there.  Why don't we wait and see."

"Sounds good," he agreed.  "Trace, I...Nothing, forget it."

Tracy raised her eyebrows at him, but he didn't continue.  Probably
for the best: she was going to throttle the next person who offered
to help.

They pulled into the Casa Raton Motel, a seedy place right under the
flight path to the airport.  The paint was peeling and the entire
two-story building shook when a plane roared overhead.  The parking
lot glittered with broken glass.  Nick pulled the car into a spot in
front of the office, the tires crunching and they rolled over broken
bottles and crack vials.

"Lovely.  This looks like a place bad guys would be," Tracy
observed, getting out of the car and slamming the door.  "I locked
it," she assured her partner as he got out and looked dubiously
around the parking lot.

They entered the motel office, and a bored man looked up from behind
the counter.

"Twenty bucks an hour," he told them, "or seventy for the whole

Nick pulled out his badge and showed it to the man.  He looked
carefully at it, and made no further comment.

"Metro Homicide," Nick said.  "We're looking for some suspects.
You'd remember them: two young men, one with black and white striped

The man gazed defiantly at them, but didn't say anything.

"We know they were here," Tracy said.  "We can take you downtown and
do this there, if that's what you want."

"All right," the man said.  "I don't get paid enough to deal with
this.  The two guys are in room 203.  They've been here since
yesterday afternoon.  They paid in cash, but they signed for the

He shoved the register across the desk at them, and Tracy read the
signature next to the room number.

"I'm not going to put an APB out for Ben Dover.  Are you, Nick?" she

"Why not--oh.  No," he agreed.  "You wouldn't happen to know if
they're in right now, would you?" he asked the desk clerk.

"Hey, I'm not a baby-sitter.  If you want to know, go knock on the
door like anyone else," he said, and looking down at his magazine,
pointedly ignored them.

Tracy pushed open the door and headed up the open stairwell to the
second level.  Nick followed behind her, and she heard him take out
his gun and cock it.

"Think we'll need those?" she asked, looking over her shoulder.

"Better safe than sorry," he said.  "Besides, I don't really like
the look of this place."

Tracy nodded and got out her semi-automatic.  It was times like this
when she was glad that she didn't carry a revolver.  She hated the
idea of only having six shots before she had to reload.  Most of the
guns on the street were semi-automatic, if not full-auto.  She liked
to be at least as well armed as the criminals.  She clicked off the
safety, chambered a round, and pointed her gun at the ground.

They reached the door and Nick knocked, but there was no response.
Nick cocked his head to the side and listened.  She couldn't hear
anything, but he apparently could.  He knocked again,louder this

"Metro Homicide!  Open up!" he yelled.

There was a flurry of movement even Tracy could hear, then loud
shot.  Nick was knocked backward into the walkway railing then
crumpled to the ground.  She had no time to check on him before
another shot came through the large ragged hole in the thin door.
She ducked to the side.  She heard the distinctive sound of a round
being jacked into a shotgun and reached out to drag Nick to the
side.  She got him into cover as another shot whistled by her head.
There was the sound of breaking glass, then silence.

"Damn," she said.

She turned to Nick.  His eyes were open, amazingly enough.  He
smiled thinly at her and waved her away.

"I'm fine," he said weakly.  "It was just buckshot.  It stings, but
I'm fine.  I think they got out a back window.  You're going to have
to check.  I'll stagger down to the car and call it in...  I guess
we should have waited to get back-up."

Tracy helped her partner up, then turned to the room.  She kicked
open the ruined door, then peered into the room.  She didn't see
anyone, and there was glass on the floor under a window in the back.
 She edged cautiously into the room, straining to hear any sounds.
She heard nothing, but they could be being very quiet.  She checked
behind the bed, then in the bathroom, but there was no one there.
She crunched on the broken glass to look out the window, but whoever
had jumped out of it was long-gone by now.

"Clear!" she called out the front door, clicking the safety back on
her pistol and putting it back in the holster.

Nick was outside the room and Tracy could hear sirens in the
distance.  Her partner was hunched over slightly, but appeared to be
mostly unhurt.  Thank god it had been buckshot and not a bullet.
Had it been, she might not have her partner anymore.


Nick flinched as Natalie pulled his shirt away from his chest.  The
dried blood made the task difficult, but she was being as careful as
she could.  It wouldn't actually hurt him if she just yanked the
shirt away, but she'd been too well conditioned at medical school to
do something like that.  He was probably just flinching out of
embarrassment.  After all, it was somewhat inglorious to have badly
misjudged a situation and to have a friend digging the reminders of
that out of you.

"You know, you're lucky you were wearing black," she commented.
"Otherwise, Tracy would have been able to tell how bad this was."

"I know," he said.  "I'm just glad it was me in front of the door
and not her.  This might not have killed her, but it would have hurt
a lot."

"Well, be happy that Reese took your word that you were going to the
ER.  Otherwise, it would have been mighty hard to explain to the
paramedics why having a chest full of double-ought buck wasn't
bothering you."  Natalie shook her head at the centimeter-sized
holes dotting Nick's torso.  "Lay down and don't complain."

Nick obediently reclined on his kitchen table while Natalie went to
work, digging through his chest for the buckshot.  After a few
moments of staring at the high ceiling, he began to wriggle.  Nat
smacked his abdomen lightly with her gloved hand and he stopped, but
as soon as she began to poke around again, he moved.

"What?" she asked, exasperated, putting her instruments down.

"I'm hungry," he said in a very small voice.

Natalie sighed.  She preferred her usual patients to Nick.  They
didn't complain, and never fidgeted while she was working on them.

Natalie handed him a tumbler full of red liquid and pulled a bendy
straw out of her purse.

"It's been used, but I don't think a few germs are going to hurt
you," she said.  "You can drink that lying down, so don't move."

Nick took a large sip through the straw and sighed with contentment.
 She had given him human blood against her own better judgment.  It
had been donated, so she could rationalize it.  It would also let
him heal faster.  It was already working: as soon as she pulled out
a piece of shot, the hole closed up.  She had a nice pile of metal
growing on the table.  She was almost done.

"What did you find at the scene?" she asked, digging out the last
clump of metal.

"Other than a furious Capt. Reese?  The phone number of the Happy
Families Adoption Agency, plus a bunch of child care stuff-toddler
age--and from the descriptions, they don't seem to be the parental
types," he said, sitting up as she finished.

"Why would they have that?" Natalie asked, stripping off her gloves.

"Tracy thinks, and I agree with her, that not only are they involved
in selling babies, but they may be stealing them, too."  Nick pulled
a clean white t-shirt over his head and continued to speak through
the fabric.  "LaCroix pointed out to me that Happy Families is
within walking distance of the Raven.  That's how Mara could have
gotten there."

"That reminds me!"  Natalie pulled a folded piece of paper from her
pocket and handed it to Nick who had finally struggled into his
shirt.  "You got a fax from a secretary at Social Services.  I
couldn't help but notice that it has her phone number and a big
heart on it.  Admirer of yours?"

Natalie tried to make the question sound casual, but she knew that
it wasn't.  Seeing that telephone number had made her seethe with
jealousy, about which she wasn't proud.  She kept telling herself
that she and Nick were just friends, but that didn't seem to be
helping.  She _did_ love him, and in much more than a platonic way.
She thought that Nick felt the same way, but she wasn't positive.
Soon, however, something was going to happen to bring their
relationship to a turning--or breaking--point.

Nick grabbed Natalie's hand and pulled her over to him.  He put his
arms around her and buried his face in her hair.

"Thank you for your help...and just for being there," he whispered.
"I know that I can depend on you."  He held her out at arm's length.
 "Jane from Social Services is 62 and wants me to meet her
grand-daughter.  I've turned her down for three years, but she's
very persistent.  I think she does it now as a joke...OK?"

"Hey, I have nothing to say about it," Natalie said and smiled.
"Read your fax."

"Mara is really Maria Miller of Meridian, Mississippi... Kidnapped
in the Emergency Room when her mother was taking her to the hospital
for a high fever," he read aloud.  "Missing for three weeks.
LaCroix was only one vowel off on the name."

"At least she has a happy ending," Natalie said.  "I'd begun to
wonder if she was Karen Martinez' child."

"Me, too," Nick said, finishing off his glass of blood.

Natalie watched Nick drink through the straw.  She could almost
convince herself that it was Kool-Aid (tm) that he was drinking, but
not quite.  He looked kind of cute using the straw, though, with his
cheeks sucked in and a studious look on his face.  She hid a smile;
Nick wasn't so grown-up after all.


Tracy pulled her car into the spot next to the side door of the
abandoned church.  She had been driving aimlessly when she found the
church, and something about it was familiar, though she didn't know
what.  She sat and looked at it for a few minutes, then decided to
get out of the car and go inside.  Capt. Reese had sent her and Nick
home for the night, promising to call them with any new information
gleaned from the room at the motel.  For once, she hadn't
complained.  It wasn't as if she had anyone waiting for her, so what
the hell: she'd check out the church.

She got out and opened her trunk.  Grabbing her flashlight, she
noticed a large black duffel bag.  She didn't remember putting it in
there, but she must have.  Turning on her flashlight, she pulled the
bag closer.  She unzipped it, and stared in shock at the contents.
Why on earth would she have a vampire-killing kit in the trunk of
her car?  The duffel had sharpened stakes, a crucifix, garlic, and a
bottle of water she could only assume was holy.

Tracy slammed the trunk.  This was getting ridiculous.  She was
going to have a quick look around the church, go home, take a long
hot bath, and go to bed early.  She just needed some sleep.  That
had to be it.  Either that, or she was going insane.

The door opened easily, as if it had been in use recently.  She
flicked the lightswitch by the door, but it didn't work, so Tracy
aimed the flashlight at the floor.  Stairs led steeply up, and with
no other choices, she went up.

Dust swirled in the light as she moved, and Tracy saw no footsteps
but hers.  *Big surprise,* she thought.  *It _is_ abandoned.*  She
reached the top, pushing through dark curtains and a few more short
flights of stairs, both up and down.  She stopped in a big room and
a feeling of vertigo overtook her.  She had been here before.  She
didn't _remember_ it, but she knew she had been.

But this wasn't what she was looking for.  She didn't know how she
knew, but she did.  Moving her light across the walls, she spotted a
narrow doorway leading down into the dark.  She walked down two
flights of steps; she had to be underground now.  The stairs
suddenly opened into a hallway faced with old, cool stone.  Ahead of
her was an archway.  _That_ was the place she was looking for.

Hesitantly, she moved forward, and down two more short flights of
steps.  She shone the flashlight over the room, and picked out
several candelabra.  Feeling in her jacket pocket, she pulled out a
book of matches and the guitar pick.  *I got this pick from here,*
she realized suddenly.

The room almost breathed a feeling of despair and fear.  Tracy could
sense the tragedy that had happened in this place, whatever that
was.  Raw hopelessness pushed against her, as if it permeated the
stones and would crush her in an instant, given the chance.

She walked around the room, lighting the candles, and soon, she was
able to turn off her flashlight.  Someone had obviously lived here,
though not in the past several weeks.  There was a mattress in one
corner, separated from the rest of the room by heavy curtains.  A
pair of electric blue, patterned boxer shorts were visible in a
tangle of blankets.  Looking closer, but not touching, she saw that
the underwear had little suns wearing sunglasses cavorting across
them.  There was other evidence of male habitation: a lone, dirty
sock on the floor, an unwashed wineglass, a magazine about

A cordless telephone lay on the floor.  Tracy picked up and tried
it, but there was no dialtone.  There were several large, sheeted
objects, which turned out to be statues of saints, on closer
examination.  One was St. Christopher, the other Ursula.  A long
extension cord snaked around one statue and led to a chair with a
guitar leaning against it.  Tracy brushed her fingers across the
unamplified strings, setting free a metallic chord.

Stepping back from the chair, she stumbled over a wooden crate.  It
made a clinking noise, and she pulled the top off to find green
bottles full of a dark liquid, though they had no labels.  Homemade
wine, maybe?  She glanced around the room: no wine-making equipment.
 The cork was half-way out in one; she pulled the bottle out and
opened it up, lifting it to her nose for a sniff.


She yanked her head away and quickly put the cork back in the
bottle.  It had smelled of copper and salt, a ocean smell...like
blood.  She held the bottle up to the light of the nearest candle.
It looked like red wine in the bottle, but when she swirled it, it
was thicker and moved slower than wine should have.  Holding her
breath, she uncorked the bottle and poured a small amount on the
ground.  She re-corked the bottle quickly and let out her breath.

Setting the flashlight on the floor next to the small puddle, she
turned it on.  The liquid was dark red, no doubt about it.
Hesitantly, she stuck her finger in it and brought it to her mouth.
*Please,* she thought, *let it be spoiled Ribena (tm).*  One quick
taste confirmed her suspicions: it was blood.  She'd sucked on
enough papercuts to recognize the taste.

"OK, Vetter," she said aloud.  "Why is there bottled blood in here
and an anti-vampire kit in your trunk?"

She moved the guitar and sat in the chair.  She was obviously nuts.
She had, apparently, at some time in the past, believed in vampires.
 However, she had no _memory_ of believing in vampires.  Maybe
vampires, not aliens, had abducted her.  They brought her to this
abandoned church and played mind games with her.  Maybe this
mysterious Vachon was a vampire and had lived here and she and he
had been secret lovers before he erased her memory when she refused
to have his vampire love-child.  Yeah, that was it.  Maybe she
should call a tabloid.

She was getting no where this way.  She would do this like a math
proof: assume certain things to reach a conclusion.  Since she was
obviously insane, she would also speak aloud, to make things clearer
to herself.

"Assumption One: I have forgotten something important.

"Assumption Two: I have forgotten someone named Vachon.

"Assumption Three: I have a vampire-killing kit in my trunk.

"Assumption Four: I have been in this church before...ooh, a rhyme...

"Assumption Five: A man lived in this church.

"Assumption Six: There is bottled blood in this abandoned church.

"Conclusion: I believe that vampires exist, and whoever lived here
was one," she declaimed to the empty room.

She was no more convinced.  What she needed was hard evidence,
something that her cop mind would accept.  Pictures, fingerprints,
evidence...  She had an undeveloped roll of film in her purse; maybe
that had some pictures on it!  If she had taken this Vachon to the
Crash, then she must have been good friends with him: not many
people knew about her university friends.  She always took pictures
when she played with the band--they used them for publicity.  There
was a good chance that she had a picture of Vachon on that film.
But would she recognize him when she saw him?

"Are there any one-hour photo places open at 2:00 AM?" she mused

End Part 7

Darkened Beings 08/09

"Late again?"  Nick asked as Tracy slid into her desk chair.
"Visiting the cat?"

"Ha ha," she answered, and pulled out a pile of photographs.  "No, I
was picking up some film I had developed.  It was only supposed to
take an hour, but it took two."

"And you couldn't get them later?" he inquired.

"Nope.  This is important," she said, beginning to flip through them.

"You couldn't call?"

"Jeez, you sound like my dad," his partner said, not looking up from
the photos.  "What's new with the case?"

"Well, we found a name in the perps' room that matches a name on the
employee list from Ms. Woods," Nick said, but got no reaction.  "The
two men have been identified as U.S. citizens." Still no reaction.
"One is Elvis and the other is J.F.K." Tracy flipped through her
pictures.  "I've decided to change my name to Barbie, get a sex
change, and strip on Saturday nights."  Tracy didn't even blink.
"Tracy?  Nick to Tracy.  Come in, TRACY!"

Tracy sighed and put down the pile of pictures.

"I'm sorry, Nick.  What did you say?  I wasn't listening," she said

"Obviously.  The two men from last night were U.S. citizens and had
an agency employee's name in their belongings."  Nick tossed over
faxed mug shots.  "The name was Brenda Terr.  She was not at home or
the office."

"Think they all high-tailed it for the border?" Tracy asked,
examining the fuzzy images.  "They had plenty of time, especially if
they caught a plane."

"I checked passenger lists, but no luck," he said, leaning back in
his chair.

"Wow.  You've been busy," Tracy observed.

"Came in early to make up for having to miss most of last night."
He saw Tracy about to ask how he was and held up his hand.  "I feel
fine, thank you--"

The phone on Tracy's desk rang and she answered it.  Out of
politeness, Nick listened only to her half of the conversation,
though with minimal effort, he could have heard the other person as

"Detective Vetter...Oh, hi, Jane.  Did you want to talk to
Nick?...OK...We warned you!...No, we haven't seen her...We'll give
you a call if we do."  Tracy hung up the phone.  "You'll never guess
who's gone missing: Maria Miller, that little

"What happened?" Nick asked.

Should he call LaCroix?  Had his master changed his mind about
returning the child to her parents?  When Nick had phoned him last
night to inform him of the toddler's identity, his master had been
carefully unconcerned about Maria's fate.  Had he had another in
store for her?  Or did he just not want his son to realize that he

"Seems she just wandered out of the children's home she was in.  She
was gone when someone went to tuck her into bed.  Do you think maybe
she was re-kidnapped?" Tracy speculated.

"That's an awful lot of effort to go through," Nick pointed out.
"Especially if she's only just recently disappeared.  It's more
likely she's hiding somewhere in the building."

"Yeah, you're probably right," his partner agreed.  "So...since
you've been so busy, have you gotten us a warrant for Brenda Terr's
office and house?"

Nick smiled and waved two folded pieces of paper.

"I was just waiting for you to ask."


A thorough examination of Brenda Terr's residence and office showed
no evidence of any wrong-doing.  However, her home did show signs of
a hasty departure: drawers were emptied, files were burned.  Her
office also had a large chunk of files missing.

Margeretha Woods was furious when Tracy requested that she come down
to the station for questioning.

"How dare you?!" she exclaimed.  "Don't you know who I am?  I help
people!  I won't go anywhere with you.  And Brenda would never do
any of these things that you say she did.  She is my most trusted
employee!  I couldn't run this agency without her."

Ms. Woods stormed out of the room, and Tracy let her go.  They had
only circumstantial evidence at the moment.  They needed something

more concrete to tie the murder to the financial records.  They
needed a murder weapon or one of the three missing suspects,
preferably all of the above.

Tracy took one last look around the office, and backed out of the
room, feeling that she was missing something.  Of course, she had
been feeling that a lot lately.  It was nothing new.

"Find anything else?" Nick asked, catching her in the hallway.  "I
took another look around the crime scene, but didn't see anything
that we haven't looked at already."

"No," Tracy said.  "It's just so frustrating!  We _know_ that she
had something to do with it, but we have no proof!"

"Well, sometimes that's the way it is, Trace," Nick began.

Tracy's cell phone rang, and she snatched it out of her pocket.

"Vetter...Matt...  Yeah.  Look, can I call you back?  I'm
working...They are?...We'll be right there."  Tracy flipped phone
closed and started out the door.  "The two perps from the motel are
at the Crash!"


Nick and Tracy made their way along the bar through the crowd at the
Crash, searching for a black and white striped hair-do.  Even with
his enhanced vision, Nick couldn't find it in the bouncing, seething
crowd.  He looked down at the pictures in his hand, but photocopying
an already fuzzy fax had made the faces nearly unrecognizable.

A hand latched onto his arm and attempted to pull him aside.  Nick
quickly reversed the grip and twisted the arm behind the body it was
attached to.

"Hey, man!" the body exclaimed.  "It's me, Matt, Trace's bud!"  Nick
released the young man and Tracy caught up to them.  "Tracy, hey."
Matt pointed down the bar.  "I've been keepin' an eye on 'em for
ya.'  They're the two down there with the black hair, bad attitudes,
and leather jackets."

Nick looked.  That easily described half of the young people in the
club.  He looked at his fuzzy photocopy again, then saw them.

"The ones with the bad dye jobs and cocky looks?"  Nick asked,
nodding at the two pleased-with-themselves men leaning against the
wall about twenty feet away, at the end of the bar.

"That's them," he agreed.  "I wouldn't have recognized 'em, but the
one on the left was bitchin' about havin' to cover up his zebra dye.
 I read about the shootin' down by the airport in the paper last
night, remembered ya' lookin' for these guys, and gave the babe cop
here a call."

Nick tried to hide his surprised expression, but apparently didn't

"Don't let the language fool you, Nick," Tracy told him, smiling.
"By day, Matt's one of the best computer programmers in Toronto.  He
can make connections where none seem to be.  I tried to get him to
go into police work, but he just wouldn't do it."

"Too bad," he agreed.  "How do you want to go about this?  We know
they're dangerous."

"Backup should be here soon, but this place is too crowded.  If they
have guns..." Tracy said.

"I've been thinkin' 'bout that," Matt said.  "They're right by the
fire door.  If they get jostled a bit more towards it, then ya' can
push 'em right out."  He smiled grandly.  "Ya' get 'em outside with
a minimum of fuss, and no one gets hurt, least, not in here."

"How're we going to get them closer to the door?" Nick asked,
assessing the plan.

It sounded good, but there were so many people in here.  He didn't
want this to turn into a bloodbath.  The last time innocent
bystanders had gotten hurt, he had felt like we would be buried under
 the guilt.  He didn't want that to happen again.

"Oh, that should be no problem," Tracy said and pointed to the
writhing mass of bodies that filled to room almost to the edges.
"Just get the pit to shove them over.  Matt, you can do that, can't

"No," Nick said.  "We can't put anyone else in danger."

"This is the best way," Tracy asserted.  "You go outside and tell
backup to go around back, and you'd better be there when I come out
that door with them!"

"You?!  No.  I'll do it.  You go around back," Nick argued.

"You stand out like a sore thumb in here, Nick.  You may as well be
wearing a neon sign that says 'Cop.'  People know me here and I fit
in," she pointed out rightly.  "I'll just stumble against them and
push them out.  I can pull my gun as we go out, but you need to be
waiting in back."

Nick didn't like the plan at all.  Unfortunately, Tracy was right.
He was the oldest-looking person in here by almost ten years.
Tracy, though a bit more conservatively dressed in a thigh-length
leather jacket, black jeans, and a tucked-in white t-shirt, was at
least the right age.  Nick sighed.  The plan had holes big enough to
drive a truck through, but it was the best they had.

"OK," he agreed reluctantly.  "But you have your gun out and ready
under your jacket."


Tracy could feel the heat of the dancing bodies pressing up against
her as she pushed through the crowd of people.  She was beginning to
sweat, and her hair was already damp around her face.   *Good,* she
thought.  *I'll fit right in.*  Matt kept a hand on her hip as he
followed after her.  He would join the crowd right near Tracy to
help her push them out if needed.  Skazzy had been enlisted, as well
as a few other friends, to make a kind of mosh pit pseudopod to
jostle the bad guys.  Luckily, the Crash was small, so any pit on a
Friday night tended to expand to fill the entire place.

Matt's hand disappeared as she reached the fire door.  She casually
leaned next to it, watching Matt bounce around on the edge of the
crowd.  She would have to push the safety handle down at the same
time the two men were pushed against it.  Resting her left hand on
the handle, she reached under her coat and surreptitiously removed
her gun from its holster.  The safety was off and she was ready to
go.  A quick glance across the fire door told her that the two men
weren't paying any attention to her.  They were entranced by a young
woman whose ample busom was soon going to bounce out of her tight
tank top.

Matt caught her eye and winked.  The world seemed to move in slow
motion as the crowd suddenly surged to the left of the perps and
pushed them towards her and against the door.  She heard them curse,
then she pushed the door handle.  The two men fell backwards out the
door.  Tracy yanked out her gun and had it trained on them before
they even hit the ground.  The fire door slammed behind her, and
time resumed its normal speed.

They began to scramble up, but Nick's voice called out.

"You're under arrest, don't move!"

The perps sat still and Tracy looked up to see Nick standing at the
top of the stairs, pointing his gun down.  Uniformed officers ringed
the stairwell, their guns all trained at the two on the ground.

"Chalk another one up for the forces of good," Tracy said, satisfied.


"Well," Capt. Reese said, leaning against Nick's desk, "When they
realized the number of charges, they were more than willing to
cooperate with us.  They've named several people in the Happy
Families agency that they had contact with."

"But the main one was Brenda Terr, and she fled the country," Tracy
said, shaking her head.  "At least they told us it was her who shot
Karen Martinez."

"If we can believe them," Nick said.

"Why shouldn't we?" Tracy asked.  "She was second in charge at the
agency, and we've got her fingerprints at the scene.  Karen probably
knew that she was responsible for the Jamaican bank account and set
up a meeting."

"Well, I believe them," the captain said, and stood up.  "You did
good work with little information.  Social Services has closed down
the agency for now, but with Terr gone, it'll probably open back up.
 It doesn't look like Ms. Woods knew anything about it at all."

The captain walked off to his own office, and Nick looked across the
desk to his partner.  She was staring expressionlessly at a
photograph.  Before they had left the scene, she had corralled Matt
and Skazzy into a corner and made them look through her pile of
pictures.  He had caught Vachon's name several times, and even
Screed's once.  When her friends left, she had put all the pictures
in her jacket pocket, save one--the same one she was looking at now.

He had gotten only one quick glance at it, but that had been enough
for his superior vision and memory.  It had been taken inside of the
Crash, and the point of view was from onstage.  Vachon and Screed
were leaning against a speaker, grinning at the camera at the edge
of the mass of dancers.

Nick didn't know if that image would be enough to jog Tracy's
memory.  He had had little experience with this sort of thing-this
was more LaCroix's territory.

"Nick!  Your phone's ringing!"  Tracy exclaimed, smacking one of his
hands that lay on the desk.  "I wonder about you sometimes..."

Nick smiled sheepishly and pulled his cell phone out of his jacket

"Knight here."

"Was I mistaken in my assumption that the child would be returned to
her parents?"  his master's voice asked coldly.

"What are you talking about?" Nick asked, trying to figure out what
he'd done wrong.

"A rather familiar face appeared at the front door of the Raven as I
was locking up.  Is there something you wish to tell me?"

Nick could almost see LaCroix's crossed arms and annoyed expression.
 The annoyance vibrated along their mental link, making Nick fidget
in his chair.

"Maria got away from Social Services," he explained apologetically.
"I'll come get her."

"No," LaCroix said.  "Bring someone from that worthless government
agency with you.  I will have a...discussion with them.  Either
that, or the child remains missing and I have a bedtime snack."

"You wouldn't..."  Nick thought.  He would.  "I'll be right there."

Nick flipped shut his phone, and Tracy looked up.

"Found her at the Raven?" she asked.  "What, does she have a homing

"I don't know, but I'd better go get her." He stood to leave, then
paused to watch his partner stare again at the photo.  "Why don't
you go on home, Trace.  It's about quitting time anyway."

"Yeah, I will," she said, not looking up.  "I'm still waiting for
some info to come back on the Pollard case, though.  It should be
here soon, then I'll go."

He wanted to say something to explain, to tell her why she couldn't
remember Vachon, but he knew that he couldn't.  Maybe LaCroix would
be able to help.  That's all he could hope.


LaCroix shut the door to the living room and looked at the little
girl on his bed.  She was dressed in red and white sleeper pajamas
with filthy soles.  The child had walked here from wherever she had
been being held, that was obvious.  Looking closer, he could see
holes in the feet of the garment.  She kicked her feet, and long,
black stains appeared on his cream brocade duvet.

"Stop that," he commanded, and moved over to the bed.

Maria looked at him with large eyes, then slowly and deliberately
dragged a dirty foot across the cover.  Moving faster than she could
see, LaCroix scooped her off the bed and held her above his head.

"Stop that," he repeated.

Kicking her feet, the child giggled.  She squirmed in his arms,
trying to get down.  Still holding her with one hand, LaCroix
unzipped her sleeper and pulled it off in one swift motion.  He
dropped her on the bed from a height of three feet, and she shrieked
in delight.  She sat up against the pillows and held her arms out.

"Again!" she demanded.

"No."  LaCroix attempted to hypnotize the child.  "Sleep."

"No!"  she exclaimed.  "Story."

"You want a story?" LaCroix asked.

He could tell stories.  He was good at that.  However, he doubted
that he knew any suitable for one so young and untutored in the ways
of the world.  Most of his stories involved blood and death.  Fairy
tales were silly and full of helpless maidens being saved by idiot
knights.  *No pun intended,* he thought, grinning wickedly.  Ah, he
knew the perfect one.

"An epic," he told the toddler, sitting on the bed with her.  "How
is it they all begin?  Yes...

"Once upon a time, a lonely king had a daughter.  They were happy
for a time, but soon, the king became lonely again.  He loved his
beautiful, intelligent daughter, but he wanted a son with whom to
share his wisdom.  The king's daughter found the perfect man and
brought him before the king.  'Ah,' said the king, 'I like that
one.'  So the king made this man his son.  He shared everything with
his son, and for a long time, they all lived together happily."

Maria clambered into his lap and rested her head against his chest.
After a moment's pause, the ancient vampire reclined against the
pillows and continued his story.

"But the good times couldn't last forever.  Like all sons, the
king's son believed that he knew better than his father, and left
the family to live on his own.  The king could see that his son's
way would only bring pain to them all, so he tried to stop him.
 They fought, and the king, rather than alienate him forever, let
his son go to make his own mistakes.

"The king hated to see his son hurt himself over and over, but he
knew that he must not interfere.  He watched over his son and hoped
that one day, his child would come back."

"Nice story," Nicholas' voice said from the door.

"Good, you have come to collect her," LaCroix said, attempting to
hide his discomfiture.

He had not intended for Nicholas to hear his story.  So intent had
he been on this mortal child that he had not sensed Nicholas'
arrival.  He had not even felt the pounding heart of the mortal
woman with him.  The story was a bit more personal that he preferred
to be with Nicholas.

"Shhh!" the woman admonished.  "She's asleep!"

LaCroix had been about to move, but instead sat perfectly still.  He
did not enjoy being shushed by a mortal.  He raised an eyebrow at
the woman and she flinched back behind his son.

"You will come here," he told the woman, allowing the sound of her
beating heart to fill his ears and mind.  The woman did as she was
bid.  "You will not allow this child to come to any harm while she
is in your care.  You will not allow her to be unsupervised.  You
will ensure that she is returned to her family."

The woman nodded dumbly, her eyes unfocused.  She nodded her head and
held out her arms for the child.

"I'll take her.  I'll make sure nothing happens to her."  LaCroix
carefully passed Maria into the woman's arms.  "I'll definitely make
sure she's not unsupervised again!  Thank you, Mr. LaCroix, for
finding her for us."

The woman left, taking the sleeping child with her.  LaCroix tried
not to watch the child's exit, but found himself doing so anyway.
*This is ridiculous!* he scolded himself.  *It's a mortal child!*
But he had enjoyed her strong will.  Pliancy was his preference in
mortals, but for a child so young to be unfazed by his presence, to
_enjoy_ it, was refreshing.  Perhaps he would find this girl again
when she was a woman.

Smiling at that thought, he turned to Nicholas.  His child smirked
at him.

"What?" LaCroix asked him.

"Nothing," he answered, smiling even wider.  "Sorry to see her go?"

"She was entertaining," LaCroix said indifferently.  "I was almost
sorry to see you arrive; I would have liked a taste."

Nicholas scowled at him, and LaCroix knew that he had succeeded in
making the younger vampire want to change the subject.

"Tracy has a photo of Vachon and Screed," his son announced.

"And...?"  LaCroix inquired, standing up and retrieving his glass.

"She'll remember!"  Nicholas exclaimed.

"You wanted her to forget, not me," LaCroix pointed out.  "I made
her forget.  We are _even_."


Tracy pushed the blue boxers off the bed and curled up in the soft
white sheets.  She pulled the red blanket up and just laid there,
feeling warm and cozy.  And hungry.  She hadn't eaten all night, and
it was almost dawn now.  She sat up and reached down for her
anti-vampire duffel which she had filled with overnight stuff and
snacks.  She pulled out the makings for a very fine picnic and
pondered as she ate by candlelight.

Matt and Skazzy had found Vachon and a guy called Screed in one of
her photographs.  The guys had said that both had been to the Crash
with her, and had looked very worried when she said she didn't
remember either of them.  Matt had offered to fill in some blanks,
but Tracy had refused his offer.  She wanted to figure this out for

She was going to spend the day here, in the hope that it would jog
her memory.  It had already helped a little.  When she had stood at
the top of the stairs leading down into this room, she had had a
quick mental image of Vachon across the room, begging her on his
knees.  For what, though, Tracy didn't know.  But she figured that
this had been Vachon's home.

She had had research look into the church for her, telling them it
was for the Pollard case.  That wasn't strictly legal, but...she
needed to find out.  The utilities had been paid by a J.D. Valdez,
but she, Tracy Vetter, herself, had turned them off three weeks ago.
 The mailing address for the bills was a PO Box, but Tracy knew that
she wouldn't be able to get access to it unless she found the key.

Balling up her trash, Tracy threw it across the room and lay back on
the bed.  *Have I been in this bed before?* she wondered.  Maybe
this wasn't the first time she had spent the day here.  She wasn't
afraid to do so, she didn't feel uncomfortable here.  It felt quiet
and empty and sad, but not frightening.

Tracy began to drift between waking and sleep.  The room seemed to
constrict around her, the shadows growing longer and enveloping her
in warmth and comfort.  Images began to flash through her mind,
whether they were memories or fantasies, she didn't care.

She saw Vachon: stringing his guitar, teasing her, taking her hair
out of her barrette, driving her car, talking to a reporter,
standing on a streetcorner.  She heard his voice: "Because I can,"
"Anything," "the most erotic thing I ever experienced," "you have to
kill me."

At that, Tracy sat up and her world that had shifted suddenly
shifted back.  She remembered everything: vampires, Vachon, Screed,
the graves...  Tears coursed down her face, remembering him dying in
her arms, how he'd managed to almost smile at the end.

How she had lost those memories, she didn't know.  Vachon had told
her that she couldn't be hypnotized, but maybe another vampire had
managed it.  She still couldn't remember that.

End Part 8

Darkened Beings 09/09


Tracy sat on the mounded earth of the graves, looking over the dark
water at the glittering city.  She had buried Vachon here, next to
his friend Screed.  Digging the hole had been one of the most
difficult things she'd ever had to, both emotionally and physically.
 The hole had kept filling with water, and she had stood knee-deep
in mud, trying to dig as far down as she could, to bury him far from
the sun.  Even in death, she couldn't stand the thought of the sun
burning him, turning him to dust.

She had pushed his body in, watching it float through a haze of
tears.  Then she had pushed the dirt on top of him, until she had
completely obliterated any sign of the hole.  A few judicious rocks
and sticks, and it had looked almost like it had before she had been
there.  In a few short hours, Javier Vachon, who had lived for
nearly five hundred years, had disappeared from the world.

But that had been almost a month ago now.  After she had regained
her memories, it had taken Tracy another week to make the trip to
his grave.  The emotion was still as raw as it had been then, made
fresh again by the resurgence of the memories.

Tracy up-ended the bottle she had brought and poured the blood over
his grave.

"Thought you might like this better than flowers," she said, trying
to sound cheerful.  "I know you can't really appreciate it anymore,
but, what the hell, it was just sitting around over at the church."
Tracy smiled.  "I traded in my car for a Mazda Miata.  You'd like
it; it can really move." She laughed.  "It's still got ABS and dual
airbags, though."  Tracy tossed the bottle aside and pressed her
hand against the blood-soaked dirt.  She could feel the dirt shift
beneath her palm as the ground absorbed the liquid.  "Oh, Vachon, I
miss you."

The End

cerk@rocketmail.com - Cousin, NA, FK Mail Loop
FK Fan Fic writing resources at:

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