You want to know where we go from here.
So many roads, but none that seem clear
Is what we have enough to last a whole life through
Who knows? Baby, who knows?
"Natalie? Natalie, are you here?"
"Well, let's see, it's almost midnight, I work the night shift and I have no life, so where else would I. . . Nick!" Her words were cut off as Nick grabbed her around the waist, lifting her off the floor into a bear hug. He spun her around as she laughed partly from shock, partly because his mood was so catching.
He finally put her down, only to catch her into an even closer kiss. By the time he drew away, her heart was racing from more than just adrenaline. "Nick, what on earth has happened?"
"I just got a call from Lily. She's done it, Nat." He looked at her expectantly, his eyes shining, his face happier than she'd ever seen.
Unfortunately, she didn't have a clue what he was talking about. "What, Nick? What has who done?"
"The Abbarat, Nat! She's found the Abbarat!"
Her mind raced until she connected the name with the correct flashback. "Oh, my God. The ancient book -- is it in there, Nick? The cure?" His smile, a bright jubilant hosanna of a smile, was answer enough. "Oh, Nick, that's wonderful!" She threw her arms around his neck.
"She's waiting for me to come pick it up in New York." He pushed her away enough to take her face between his hands. "Will you come with me to get it, Natalie?"
"I wouldn't miss it," she promised and he swept her off her feet again, dancing her around the morgue to the music of their joyful laughter.
Outside, a shadow watched, and listened. And laughed with them. Or rather, at them.
"Now, the Abbarat is ancient, and we don't even know if anything in it is real -- or whether it will be effective. You know it's been thousands of years since anyone tried any of its cures."
"I know, Nat." It wasn't sinking in, she could tell. The lunatic grin stayed firmly in place. She loved that grin, and never got to see it; it took all of her willpower to continue on her wet-blanket crusade.
"This may not even be the real thing. . . "
"Lily says it is, and she'd know."
"Yes, but even experts can be fooled. Nick. . . " she forced him to look at her. "Don't get your hopes too high. Not yet."
He smiled at her gently. "They're not too high, Nat. This is it, I can feel it. Soon, this curse will be broken, and I'll be human again. I'll be able to start a whole new life, Nat." His eyes went suddenly intense, his hand reaching across the arm rest to take hers. "*We'll* be able to start a whole new life."
She caught her breath at the look on his face; she'd seen it only once before, on that Valentine's Day when he had sworn he loved her. He'd meant it then -- did he still? She licked her suddenly-dry lips. "Nick, what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that. . . that after tonight, we'll be safe, able to do things we've only dreamed about." He smiled, that charming, lopsided smile. "And I've had some pretty interesting dreams. How about you?"
She couldn't believe it -- she actually blushed. "Well, maybe one or two daydreams, occasionally." She shook herself. "Nick, you're getting ahead of everything, here. First, we have to see if this really is a cure. then, we -- you -- can start thinking about the future."
He just kept looking at her with that funny smile, then sat back in his chair, still holding her hand. "Whatever you say, Natalie."
She nodded, then did it again to try and get a little more authority in it. "Good." She settled back in her own seat as the seatbelt light came on. "Good."
"Lily!" He was calling her name even before he dragged Natalie away from the cab and to the stairs of the old brownstone. "Lily, it's Nick, are you there?" He rang the doorbell impatiently, almost vibrating in place. When there was no answer, he rang again, the pounded on the door. It swung open.
Natalie's gasp was swallowed up by Nick's low, unbelieving curse. All the lights were on, the living room completely lit -- and completely destroyed, the chairs and lamps overturned, the bookcases emptied, their contents on the floor -- and near the stairs, a blond woman sprawled, horribly still.
"No," Nick said, almost silently. "No. Lily."
He seemed frozen in place; Natalie moved past him, kneeling next to the body. She was a still beautiful woman in her fifties, or had been. Now her skin was pale with death, and her face marred with blood from the twin punctures in her neck. On the floor near her hand was a small pile of ashes -- if Natalie tried, she could almost make out writing on the tiny pieces that remained of the book that had burned. She closed her eyes, trying to figure out how to tell Nick.
"She's gone. and the Abbarat is burned again." She jumped as Nick spoke past her shoulder, his voice flat. Nat could only nod. "LaCroix."
That seemed pretty obvious; she nodded again. "Nick. . . "
He didn't seem to hear her; his entire attention was on Lily. "We escaped from Berlin together; her family and I. The bargain was the Abbarat for their escape. Everyone upheld their parts, except LaCroix. He had her brother arrested, and when that failed to stop us, he burned the Abbarat. Burned my hopes and dreams."
"Nick. . . " She tried to interrupt him, to offer comfort. He shrugged her off.
"She swore she'd keep looking; that she'd find the Abbarat, or another book that had the cure. For thirty years, she searched. And now she's dead because of that search."
"Nick, it wasn't your fault!" Natalie had had about as much self-pity as she could take. "LaCroix killed her!"
"My quest killed her!" Nick turned on her, eyes livid with hatred and self- disgust. "She died because she found something to help me! She died. . ." his voice gave out; he turned away.
Natalie laid a hand on his shoulder. "It was her choice to look, Nick."
"Maybe," he said, not looking at her. "But it was my fault. Who will he kill next, in his obsession? Schanke? You? Will my obsession kill you next?" She tried to speak; he wouldn't let her. "Get out of here, Natalie. Get as far away from me as possible. Maybe you'll be safe from me then."
She stared at him speechlessly. In the silence, sirens began to sound from down the street, forcing her into motion. "Stop talking like that, Nick, there's no time. We need to leave!"
"I'm not going to leave her."
"You have to! Or we're going to wind up trying to explain things to the police, and I don't think we'll do too well at that! Come on!" She pulled at his shirt, hauling him reluctantly away from Lily's body. He never looked away, not until the door shut behind them.
The ride to the airport was silent. Even the cab driver sensed Nick's dark mood and didn't speak. When the cab pulled up to the curb Nick helped Nat out, and walked her to the door of the terminal, but didn't follow her in. Instead, he started to walk away.
She grabbed his sleeve before he could get very far. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Away from here," Nick answered simply. "As far away from you as I can get."
The words hit her like a blow. "Nick, no! You can't just leave like this! What about what you said earlier, what about those dreams? What about us? You can't just walk away!"
"I don't have a choice." The words were quiet, empty. He dragged a hand through his hair, suddenly looking every one of his 800 years. "Those dreams can never come true. All I do by dreaming is put you at risk."
"That's my choice."
"No. Not anymore." He looked at her with eyes that carried more guilt than any soul could bear. "Do you think LaCroix would let you live one second past the moment you found the cure, found a way to bring me back across? He'd kill you, just like he killed Lily." He stumbled over her name, closing his eyes in pain.
"You wouldn't let him do that."
He laughed, a bitter laugh with no humor. "I couldn't stop him, not if I were mortal. Probably not even if I were still a vampire. And even if I could protect you from LaCroix, the Enforcers would destroy both of us. There is no dream, Natalie. Nothing I can do but put you and the others at risk."
He started to walk away again. "Death follows me as closely as my shadow, and nothing can ever change that. I was a fool to try."
Quite abruptly, Natalie decided she had had it. "That's enough, Nick!" Her voice cut through the darkness like a whip crack, over the noise of the skycaps and the crowd milling around the terminal, even at 4 a.m. Some of them turned to stare, but most, being New Yorkers, ignored her. She returned the favor, advancing on Nick in something close to a stalk. "You listen to me, detective. You are not the walking jinx you think you are. You are a good man who made a terrible mistake and has spent his entire life atoning. You screwed up a few times -- but Nick, you've paid it back. You're lucky -- you've had 800 years to make up for your mistakes."
"Made up for my mistakes? Put a few lowlifes behind bars, shut down a few crime lords -- but how many did I kill along the way? And how much good did that do anyone?"
"Ask Lisa. Or Schanke. Or Stonetree. Or Lily." She gestured expansively. "Ask any of the people you've rescued, or gotten justice for, or protected from all of the ghoulies in the night. Protected because you were faster, and more experienced and more dedicated than anyone else." She was close enough now to touch him; her hand found a place on his cheek, making him look at her. "Nick, your 'curse' had made a difference, has let you make a difference. To Toronto, to the department . . . to me."
She almost managed to laugh. "After all, if you'd died 800 years ago, how would I have ever found you?"
He was seeing her now, maybe even listening. She could see the tears, glistening rubies in the corner of his eyes as grief and fear took their toll. "I can't lose you, Natalie. You mean too much to me -- light after centuries of darkness. I can't see you hurt because of me. Not after the hurt I've already given you."
"My choice, Nick." One of the tears snuck loose; she wiped it away. "It's my choice to stay; the only way you will lose me is if you walk away. The only way you can hurt me is if you leave me alone again."
He took her hand, studied it as if he'd never seen it before, as he tried to keep his emotions in check. "You should have let me go," he said, his voice husky. "I won't be able to walk away again."
"Good." She stood tall enough to kiss him once, gently. He kissed her again, unable to match her gentleness in his desperation. She was out of breath when he let her pull away.
"I searched for you for 800 years. I will keep you safe." It was a vow.
She smiled, and shook her head. "Just keep me with you, and remember the gifts that your 'curse' can bring. And someday, we'll start working on those dreams of yours."
He returned the smile shakily, warmth and love shining from his eyes along with the grief. "We already are, Nat."
He took her hand in his again, and together they walked into the terminal, never seeing the many eyes that followed them. And if a few more men than usual went home that night and told their wives they loved them -- well, it just goes to prove that even New Yorkers can still be touched by strangers.